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The Names Have Been Changed To Punish the Guilty
2004-06-07 09:17
by Jon Weisman

To put the final three innings of the Dodgers' 6-5 loss to Arizona on Sunday in perspective, I'm giving responsibility for the eighth-inning managerial decisions to Darren Dreifort and Tom Martin, for it was their ineffective pitching that was the root cause of the trouble.

So we go now to the top of the eighth, with the Dodgers trailing, 5-4. Dreifort and Martin put pinch-hitter Jason Grabowski in for David Ross with one on and none out in the eighth and were delighted to have Grabowski single.

Dreifort and Martin then had Alex Cora sacrifice, even though Cora has only grounded into 13 double plays in his past 964 plate appearances - one per 74. Dreifort and Martin should have reconsidered giving up an out so freely, but in any event, Cora executed the play.

That put runners on second and third base with one out, and Dreifort and Martin faced a choice. They could send contact hitter Paul Lo Duca up as a pinch-hitter for Martin, knowing he would probably be walked intentionally. Or, he could send up a hitter shaky enough that the Diamondbacks would pitch to him - the equivalent of a basketball coach drawing a game-winning shot in the final seconds for the beloved Mark Madsen.

Dreifort and Martin followed the latter path. They chose to send up Robin Ventura, the idea being that Lo Duca's at-bat would be wasted if he were walked intentionally. But isn't that a fallacy? Would you keep Kobe Bryant on the bench just to avoid a double-team? No, because his mere presence causes trouble. With an intentional walk loading the bases, the Dodgers could then send up Dave Roberts and Cesar Izturis - both contact hitters. Roberts in particular would even be a good bet to squeeze home the tying run with one out.

Madsen/Ventura struck out. Roberts walked, to load the bases, and then Kobe/Lo Duca came up to bat for Izturis. By this point, this was the right move by Dreifort and Martin - you don't want to compound missing your first opportunity to use Lo Duca by missing your second. Izturis has been hitting well, but Lo Duca has been hitting better, and having him up with the bases loaded is still a great situation. The strikeout that followed, to be fair, is the last thing you would expect.

Although Dreifort and Martin made decisions in the top of the eighth that I wouldn't agree with, the fact remains that the game was lost on their pitching in the seventh inning, during which Arizona went 4 for 6 with a walk.

Dreifort has now allowed eight runs on 10 hits and eight walks in 8 1/3 innings since May 9. He pitched an outstanding inning Friday night, but probably should not be allowed to pitch in close games right now.

Postscript: Dreifort and Martin could probably be excused for thinking that they would get through the bottom of the eighth without allowing a run. After all, they had Jim Tracy and his 1.69 ERA on the mound. Unfortunately, Tracy allowed two hits and a run. Guillermo Mota then took over the managerial reins from Dreifort and Martin in the ninth - and almost got off the hook when Adrian Beltre homered and Juan Encarnacion reached third, but Jose Hernandez struck out.

Update: Studes at The Hardball Times has a chart comparing how often today's managers use the stolen base, sacrifice and intentional walk. Believe it or not, Tracy is at the bottom of the National League sacrifice list - a point in his favor and an illustration that he does think twice about it. Arizona manager Bob Brenly, by the way, leads the majors in issuing intentional walks.

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