Saturday, May 19, 2007

Maybe Buddy Bell knows what he's doing

PRELUDE: FSN Rocky Mountains did a nice job with the interstate/league game between the Royals and Rockies last night. The announcers pointed out that home plate umpire Tim McClelland is the same Tim McClelland featured here. The producers found a bunch of cowboy hat-wearing fans and noted that Thursday is Trucker Hat night. The station even made time for an Arena Football League pregame segment promoting the Colorado Elways.

But in the bottom of the 9th, could the camera work have been worse for the Yorvit Torrealba fly out to deep left? Runners on first and second and down three, Torrealba pulls a Joakim Soria fastball off the end of the bat, and if you let your eyes center on the TV screen, you'd have thought Torrealba hit the ball to Colorado Springs. This was purposeful, I'm sure, but it nearly gave me a heart attack.
I will never agree with a manager pinch-running for one of his best hitters before the 8th inning, especially if the team's on the road and trailing. The only time it makes sense to replace your cleanup hitter is if 1) his run will almost certainly decide the game, or 2) the man replacing him is the Tazmanian Devil.

Angel Berroa is no screeching marsupial, and one run matters less at Coors Field than anywhere else. So last night, the Royals' half of the 7th provoked out of me one of my loudest, most vehement outbursts all season.

Let's set it up. My thought process building up to the inning:

Bot 1st: Matt Holliday is really good. One run isn't going to hold up though.
Top 2nd (after Royals record a couple of hits): One run definitely won't hold up.
Top 3rd (another base runner): Won't hold up.
Top 4th (two more hits): Not holding up. No way.
Top 5th: One run won't hold up.
Top 6th: One run won't hold up.
Top 7th: Mike Sweeney hits a lead-off double! One run not gonna hold up!

At this point -- down 1-0, none out -- Buddy Bell sends in Berroa to pinch run for Sweeney. This is a curious move, considering the only way Sweeney's spot in the order won't come up again is if the next nine Royals all make outs. And if you must replace one of your best hitters, at least have the decency to send in someone who accelerates faster than a steamwheeler.

So what happens? Berroa runs on contact -- why, Bell/Brian Poldberg, why? -- but he doesn't really run. He scampers a few steps down the line before realizing third baseman Garrett Atkins already has the ball. The way he hesitated when the ball was hit made me question whether there wasn't miscommunication between him and the coaches -- the ones that aren't his father-in-law, I mean. I scream all sorts of unpublishable words after he's tagged out, and more after Rockies starter Jeff Francis works out of the jam with his lead intact.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. In the top of the 8th, Esteban German -- in as a pinch hitter for Jorge De La Rosa, who turned in another great start -- hits a lead-off double over Willy Taveras's head in center. After David DeJesus strikes out, Rockies manager Clint Hurdle removes his starter in a 2-0 game and hands the ball to the hard-throwing Manny Corpas. Two batters later, Sweeney's spot in the order, now filled by Berroa, comes up again, which leads Bell to make another excellent decision: he inserts the left-handed Shane Costa to face the righty. Costa delivers the game-tying RBI with a single to right that scores Mark Grudzielanek from second. After Emil Brown's three-run homer gives the Royals a 5-2 lead -- a cathartic moment in the IDWT household -- Bell lets reliever Brandon Duckworth bat for himself, and lo, wouldn't you know, Ducky comes through with a single up the middle. Not a bad 24 hours: witnessing the birth of your child, picking up a base hit, collecting the win.

Watching the late innings of that game, you would've guessed that Hurdle -- who was booed lustily and even inspired a "Hurdle sucks" chant -- was the AL manager visiting the NL park. Of course, Bell managed in Colorado before Hurdle replaced him, and Hurdle was the Royals' first round pick in the 1975 amateur draft -- there's a connection here, I'll let you make it though.

Sure, I was worried just a little that Bell -- who used three pinch-hitters and a pinch-runner -- would run out of position players. But in the end, he proved he knew what he was doing, and an old sports cliche was proven correct once again: when you win, you're a genius. And the Royals haven't lost in a while.

(Who's that calling, dear? Three-game win streak? Never heard of em. No no, I'll take the call.)

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