Mike Matheny's only managerial experience prior to his current position was managing his kids' youth teams, and he seemingly manages the Cardinals as if they were his own flesh and blood. No doubt, Matheny's success as a manager is the result of a special bond with his players that generally results in them maximizing (or coming close to maximizing) their potential. Matheny's fatal flaw is that he believes any struggling player can be fixed with positive reinforcement, to the point that he repeatedly puts struggling relief pitchers (first Boggs, now Mujica) into high leverage situations and expects everything to magically work out. Matheny is so invested in his players success, that it can cloud his judgement - especially when he feels on some level responsible for the struggles that a given player is experiencing. Matheny believes not only that he can fix Mujica, but that it's his duty to fix Mujica.
Listen to Matheny describe his thought process in regards to Mujica in Friday night's game.
Maybe a batter longer than you wanted me to...
We're trying to get our closer right.
That's what we're trying to do.
We're one ground ball away from turning a double play.
We turn a double play, he gets a save, we get a win,
and he's feeling pretty good about himself.
There is so much wrong with that, I'm not sure where to begin...
Let's start with Mujica's diminished performance: on August 11th Mujica pitched the 8th and the 9th for a 2-inning save against the Cubs that ended a 4-game skid. 2 days later he pitched the 9th and the 10th in the Marte drop game that Cards eventually won in 14. 2 days later he pitched the 10th and the 11th against the Pirates in a game the Cardinals won in 12. At the time, these felt like WIN AT ALL COST games, but the reality is that Mujica has not been the same pitcher since.
In Mujica's previous 11 appearances before tonight, he posted the following aggregate line
10.0 IP, 16 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO, 3 HR, 1 HBP, 5.40 ERA, with an opposing slash line of .390/.419/.732
Now, given that Mujica has not been the same pitcher over the last month that he was in the first half of the season, and given that he'd pitched on Wednesday and Thursday - and not particularly well, one would think he needed a day off. It's extremely dubious that Matheny went back to him again on Friday night to close out a 2-run game in the 9th. To make matters worse, Matheny doubled down after Mujica gave up 2 hits, clinging to the hope that he could induce a game ending double play. He cared more about Mujica getting the save than he did about the Cardinals getting the win.
I suspect that Matheny feels guilty for abusing Mujica's arm in August. How else to explain him outright admitting that he's more invested in Mujica's success than the team's success. It's one thing to pull this kind of ego coddling crap in April - Matheny doesn't get enough credit for being a good manager of the marathon aspect of the baseball season - but with 9 games left in the season and the division and home field advantage up for grabs this is time for the sprint. In prioritizing Mujica's (at this point unlikely) redemption effort above winning ballgames, he's betraying his responsibility to the organization and everyone from the owners, to the other players, to the stadium vendors, to the fans who all have a stake in how the rest of this season turns out.
Less significant, but equally frustrating is that Matheny is unbearably smug in his postgame comments to anyone who dare questions his assinine decisions. Matheny clearly doesn't realize that the entire RightsHolder chorus (Hrabosky, Parris, Benes) are openly advocating for someone else to close out games. Just because the Cardinals went on to win the game does not excuse Matheny's horrible decision to leave Mujica in when he clearly didn't have it, nor does it give him a pass to act smug in the postgame comments.
Either Mozeliak needs to sit Matheny down and tell him what's what, or he needs to once again take the passive aggressive route and simply take Mujica (and Salas while he's at it) off the active roster like he did with Boggs.
We all collectively deserve better than this.