Saturday, August 20, 2005

Willie Learns Lesson

With his ball club well on its way to a second straight victory against the Nationals, Willie Randolph called off the dogs after six innings, pulling ace Pedro Martinez with an 8-0 lead.

The game was over. Or at least that's what he thought. No way could the lowest scoring team in the majors comeback from that kind of deficit with three innings left. But not so fast. With washed up middle reliever Danny Graves in, suddenly Washington scored a couple of runs and loaded the bases with an out forcing Randolph to bring in Dae-Sung Koo. But after Koo whiffed Nick Johnson for the second out, it got even hairier when Ryan Church plated two more runs with a single to center.

Suddenly, what was a laugher turned into a ballgame. Adding insult to injury, Randolph's third reliever Aaron Heilman reloaded the bases when he hit Preston Wilson and then gave up another two-run hit to Brian Schneider. Just like that it was a two-run game.

With the Mets never a lock when things are tight, you just knew somehow Braden Looper would blow it in the ninth. As is his custom, he recorded the first two outs on weak groundouts. But then suddenly, the right-handed version of Mitch Williams imploded. He gave up consecutive singles to Church and Wilson to put runners on the corners before Schneider ripped a double into the gap to miraculously tie the game, sending off a chorus of boos at Shea Stadium.

Unbelievably, Pedro's 13th win was gone and so too was an easy win. Luckily for Randolph, fate would be on their side in the 10th. When 40-year-old reliever Roberto Hernandez put runners on the corners with two out and Johnson crushed a pitch 400 feet, fortunately it was hit to the deepest part of the ballpark with Carlos Beltran hauling it in on the track.

In the bottom half of the frame, Gerald Williams worked a one out walk. After everyone's favorite whipping boy Kaz Matsui lined out to right, Jose Reyes walked forcing Williams to second. At that instant, Randolph made a move that made sense, sending up Chris Woodward to pinch hit for Hernandez. Woodward, who was a hero earlier this year with a walkoff homer, came through with an RBI single up the middle to win the game, sending 51,785 home happy.

With his team in a crazy wild card race, Randolph took a calculated risk pulling his best pitcher early. He had done this before and gotten away with it. Why take out Pedro when he only threw 78 pitches? The bullpen all year has been inconsistent. Would sending him out for another inning have hurt? At least then he could have gone with his best guys for the final two frames.

Randolph is a first year manager and should be given some leeway. However, in the heat of a playoff race with teams in front of them seesawing back and forth for the wild card lead, he can't be messing around. The Mets need every game. They are 63-59 and trail the Phillies by two games. One in the loss column. In between them, the Astros, Marlins and Nationals sit making this too unpredictable to call.

There's roughly 40 games remaining for almost everyone. One bad move can prove costly. For Willie, last night should serve as a lesson.


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