Update [2007-4-7 18:45:0 by lboros]: lineups for tonight's game are here.[end update]
a groundball double play on a squeeze bunt? that i had never seen before; i don't think i had ever even conceived of it. it didn't look like wainwright fielded the ball so much as paddle it back to the batter's box; he re-bunted it, in essence ---- or maybe i should say un-bunted it. molina caught the throw (if that's what it was) and the baserunner all in one motion, then had the presence of mind to wheel and peg to first base to retire leadfoot ausmus. what an unbelievable, beautiful play. i appreciated it all the more after watching fly balls bounce off outfielders' heads for three games. the bats remain hollow, but at least the gloves are back to taking runs away instead of giving them away.
that play almost directly mirrored beltran's much-discussed throw to the plate on opening night to nail eckstein: in both cases, the fielder took a big risk in throwing home in the first place. the safe and proper play last night would have been to concede the run and take the out; that'd leave it 3-2 with one out and the tying run at second base. contrast that with 3-2, nobody out, and both the tying and winning runs on base --- which is the situation wainwright was courting in throwing home. he made a brilliant play, but one with a very high risk of failure. suppose he throws home and the runner's safe? damn near happened, even with a perfectly executed field/throw. suppose he doesn't get the call on a bang-bang play? suppose he fails to execute the barehanded grab cleanly --- or fields it cleanly but throws the ball away? keep in mind, wainwright wasn't trying to start a double play; he simply made a fielder's choice to try for the difficult out at home (and thereby save a run) instead of taking the easy out at first. i would submit that, on a play that difficult and that close, he had less than a 50 percent chance of success. and if he fails, where does that leave the cardinals?
probably at 0-4.
but --- and here, too, we hear echoes of the beltran play --- if the fielder made a questionable decision, the coach (or manager, in this case) made an even worse one to send the runner home in the first place. why call for the squeeze there? it's an all-or-nothing play, but even if it works you're still behind by a run; if it fails, you've screwed up a rally. now look at the circumstances last night: a tiring pitcher who has yielded a double and single to the previous two hitters; who's making his first start in over a year (and his first major-league start ever) and is almost at 100 pitches; who's backed up by a questionable bullpen. why was garner trying to give the cardinals an out? go for the jugular, man! he's got palmeiro, loretta, ensberg and lane sitting on the bench; should have sent one of those guys up there for ausmus and another for the pitcher (who was going to be pinch-hit for under any circumstances) and tried to win the game right there.
another point: the cardinals were playing the infield back and conceding the run, so almost any ball in play (anything but a popup or a caught line drive) would have gotten the runner home. they didn't need a risky strategy there.
if garner was worried about hitting into a double play there --- a reasonable concern --- then how about a safety squeeze? the runner stays at third but will still score on almost any subsequent ball in play, the tying run moves into scoring position, and you've got pretty much the same situation you were trying to achieve via the squeeze bunt --- a single ties it up.
garner didn't explain himself after the game, but alyson footer wrote at the astros' official site that "the offense has yet to produce, and the teamwide struggles in that department probably gave Garner reason to try the squeeze." she then adds, "The strategy was correct"; i can't agree with her. under no circumstances should garner have put that runner on third in peril. the fact that ausmus got the bunt down, and that it took an outstanding defensive play to nail burke at the plate, is beside the point. like oquendo on opening night, garner took a needless chance on a run that wasn't that important, where the benefit far outweighed the risk. he gave a good defensive team a chance to make a play and beat him.
anyway, back to wagonmaker: the guy pitches, hits, fields --- he has presence, no? if you appreciate jason isringhausen for nothing else, at least appreciate him for so diligently and determinedly rehabbing that hip of his. his swift recovery provided the brass with enough certainty in the closer's role that wainwright could be slotted into the rotation right from the start of spring training. that allowed him to focus on his new role and work on his arm and repertoire accordingly.
as for the cardinal bats . . . . wandy bleepin' rodriguez tamed them for 7 innings. only allowed 5 baserunners, and 3 of those were accounted for by duncan and wainwright. against oswalt tonight, hoo boy. . . .
now just watch. they'll hang 6 runs on him.
here's erik's minor-league report; good nights for stavinoha, brendan ryan, and chris lambert.