Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ghost of Castillo play hangs over Met win

Last year's Bronx Subway Series opener ended in the ultimate nightmare for the Mets when Luis Castillo's drop turned victory into defeat. This year, two of Jerry Manuel's moves almost caused the same result.

Things could hardly be going better for the Mets right now, so I hate to harp on the few negatives. And Manuel did manage the bullpen well in the seventh and eighth. But when the Mets tacked on runs in both the eighth and ninth, this should have been a routine victory, not one in which future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter got to bat in the ninth as the tying run.

Manuel brought in Elmer Dessens to start the seventh, then pulled him after Dessens gave up a double to Francisco Cervelli. Pedro Feliciano entered, got all three outs in the seventh, then pitched the eighth as well. So far, so good. Manuel managed the bullpen aggressively, pulling Dessens quickly, then letting Feliciano go an extra inning. Thanks to the tack-on runs, the Mets led, 4-0, going into the bottom of the ninth.

With a four-run lead, it makes sense to at least start the ninth with someone besides Francisco Rodriguez. Granted, with Feliciano and Dessens already used, there was no clearly good option. But Raul Valdes, who had pitched only once since June 2? And there was a reason he has pitched so infrequently - his meltdown in San Diego when he allowed eight earned runs in two appearances while getting only one out.

Bringing in Valdes to start the ninth was a mistake. But leaving Valdes in after he gave up a single to Cervelli was a bigger mistake. You want to give him a chance with a four-run lead? Fine. But when Dessens, who is pitching a lot better than Valdes, gave up a hit to Cervelli in the seventh, Dessens was out. So why should Valdes get another chance?

Once Valdes gave up a hit to Curtis Granderson, Manuel finally brought in Rodriguez. After a 12-pitch at-bat, Brett Gardner walked. Suddenly, the bases were loaded with one out and the top of the Yankee order was coming up.

I was watching in a bar that was showing the YES broadcast, and they decided this was a good time to show the Castillo play. (I'm guessing SNY did not make the same decision.) But the Yankees were suddenly in a position to pull out what looked to be a hopelessly lost game. And once again, the culprit was Manuel's book.

In the postgame, Manuel admitted that he was not going to bring in K-Rod until it was a save situation. Manuel manages by the book way too often, without considering other factors. Here's a thought - a four-run lead against the Yankees, in their ballpark, is not as safe as most other four-run leads. Manuel didn't need to wait for the second baserunner to consider it a save situation.

I know the Yankee bats are slumping right now, but it's still a great lineup, and they bombed Roy Halladay just three days ago.

Fortunately, it all worked out. The Mets have won eight in a row, are 7-0 on the road trip, and have clinched at least a tie in this year's Subway Series.

The ghosts may have come out at the old Yankee Stadium, but the closest we came to the ghost of the Castillo play came when tonight's Met second baseman, Ruben Tejada, dropped a ball in the eighth, allowing Nick Swisher, who had tagged up, to slide safely into second. But Swisher didn't score.

I couldn't help but wince, though, when David Wright caught the game-ending popup with one hand.

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