When a player is pressing, especially in the late innings, one tool at the manager's disposal is to sit him down for a day - give him a chance to get a little rest and clear his head. David Wright is playing like he could use a day off. And now Jerry Manuel is managing as if he, too, could use a day off. How else to explain pinch-hitting Omir Santos for Ramon Castro with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning on a day when Castro already had two hits?
Not every bullpen move will work out, nor every lineup change. But moves as bizarre as pinch-hitting for Castro with a player whose major league experience can be measured in days, coming on top of batting Gary Sheffield cleanup two days in a row, call into question Manuel's overall judgment.
Manuel did not lose this game - J.J. Putz did. There's no way of knowing what Castro would have done if he had the chance to bat in the ninth. Maybe Manuel is right that Castro would have had a poor chance against the Marlins' Matt Lindstrom. But if you are going to take Castro out, it needs to be for a lefty at least, not a righthanded rookie unaccustomed to pressure at-bats.
Santos hit a first-inning grand slam off of a struggling pitcher who probably had almost no idea who he was. That one hit does not elevate Santos to the player you want up when the game is on the line.
But Manuel has already shown that he can blow one homer out of proportion. Just because Sheffield reached a milestone with his only homer, Manuel treats him as if he is the Sheff of old. Last night, when the Marlins walked Carlos Beltran in the fifth with runners on second and third to face Sheffield, the Met announcers began talking about "picking your poison." But choosing between Beltran and Sheffield is like choosing between the food at Citi Field and the food at Shea. Sheffield struck out and is hitting .167, slightly below Beltran's .388.
Along with strategic moves, the manager is supposed to motivate his players. But while some players such as Santos see their hitting rewarded with playing time, others such as Daniel Murphy and Castro get the opposite treatment. You can bench Murphy for his fielding, but not if you are replacing him with Sheffield, another poor fielder who is now a much poorer hitter than Murphy.
Go play golf tomorrow, Jerry. Catch up on "Lost" or whatever TV show you like. Don't think about baseball. Clear your head and come back strong for the showdown in Philly.