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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Little Mysteries

Every manager makes mistakes. But Grady Little is the only manager I know of who's been fired for one bad move. Little's decision to leave Pedro in just a bit too long in the 2003 ALCS has gone down in history as the epitome of boneheaded mishandling of a pitching staff. But, at the time, I remember thinking that it would've been very difficult for me to take tht ball from one of the games greatest pitchers and hand it to "Wandering" Mike Timlin or B. Y. "Word Series Meltdown" Kim. Boston's firing of Little for that one mistake seemed even more unjust to me when he became manager of the Dodgers last season and I had the opportunity to become very familiar with Little's managing style. Little handles matchups very effectively. He's not afraid to bench veterans when the situation dictates. He gets great performances from mediocre players like Marlon Anderson, Ramon Martinez, and Wilson Valdez by finding situations for them to suceed, much like Tony LaRussa. He seems to get more than the average number of clutch performances, both at the plate and on the mound. Like last night, when he pinch-hit Olmedo Saenz for Luiz Gonzalez and Saenz knocked a game-winning single with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th. But Little has one strange, and very glaring weakness, which also showed itself in last night's game. When he makes a mistake, it's a doozy, one that has an effect (like the Pedro fiasco) that goes well beyond a single game. In the 6th inning, with the Dodgers up 1-0, Little pinch-hit Nomar Garciaparra for starting pitcher Brad Penny, with 1 out and men on 1st and 2nd. Penny had thrown only 95 pitches, allowing only three hits and, obviously, zero runs. He certainly had enough for at least one more inning. The choice would seem like something of a toss up were in not for a few other considerations. The Dodgers were only two games removed from a 17-inning extravaganza with the Padres which had obviously reaked havoc on the bullpen, such that both Derek Lowe and Brett Tomko had been on call for the D-Backs series. Getting a long, strong outing from on of their top starters was of paramount importance, and every indication was that Penny was ready to give it to them. Additionally, the pinch-hitter, seemingly an obvious choice since Garciaparra is one of the Dodgers best, was sitting out for a reason. He was 0-for-his career against D-Backs' starter, Livan Hernandez. Little had wisely chosen this game to rest his (supposedly brittle) star first baseman. Garciaparra (only 19 career pinch-hitting appearances) was clearly uncomfortable in his AB, but Hernandez, struggling with his control, managed to walk him anyway. Nonetheless, the Dodgers couldn't squeak a run out of the bases loaded opportunity, as Furcal and Pierre both popped up. Sure enough, the D-Backs tied it up the next inning and it looked as though the Dodgers could be headed into another extra-innings marathon with an already depleted bullpen. Thankfully, pinch-hitter extraordinaire, Olmedo Seanz, saved his manager from a mistake which could've put the Dodgers at a disadvantage for weeks to come. Still, one has to wonder, in a situation like this, what is Little thinking?

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