On Monday night, Astros manager Phil Garner went to the mound to talk to closer Brad Lidge before Albert Pujols came up with men on first and second and two outs in the ninth. I don't know what was said, but I'm pretty sure Garner didn't tell Lidge to hang a slider over the middle of the plate. Lidge did just that, Pujols homered, and the Cards hung on for a 5-4 win.
I'm not sure what I would have told Lidge. It was a tough situation for a manager because Lidge depends on a supersonic slider that no one, even Pujols, can hit. But he doesn't always have good control of it. When he hangs the slider, it can be hit, and he hung it to the wrong guy, dying on the sword he has lived by all year.
I probably wouldn't have told Lidge to pitch around Pujols. To pitch around a hitter you have to have good enough control to throw pitches that are almost strikes. I don't think Lidge has good enough control to do that. So then the decision is, do you want to go after him with good stuff, or walk him and try to get Reggie Sanders to make the last out. In retrospect, the Sanders option would have been better.
Still, I think I would have pitched to Pujols. I would have told Lidge to keep the ball down at all cost. He could still afford to give up a single, but he could not risk a home run. I would have been careful not to say, "Don't let him hit a homer."
That would have reinforced the home run thought that was likely on his mind. I would just say, "Go after him with your best stuff, keep the ball down and don't worry about walking him."
If you walk Pujols, you put the game-tying run in scoring position. Sanders could tie it with a single. I think Reggie is more likely to get a base hit than Pujols is to get an extra-base hit. Of course, we'll never know what Reggie would have done if Garner had walked Pujols, but he did make an out after the Pujols homer.
These are the kind of things that make managers grow old before their time. There is no right way or wrong way to do it from a strategical point of view. There are options, but none of them are obviously correct or incorrect. There are the match-up numbers for Pujols, Sanders and Lidge. And then there is your gut feeling. Phil decided to pitch to Pujols. I think most managers would have done the same thing. It's just hard to justify intentionally putting the tying run on second with two outs -- especially with a good hitter on deck.
Now the scene moves to St. Louis. I'm not sure what that means, but I do know that Ozzie Guillen can set up his pitching rotation any way he wants to. Phil Garner and Tony La Russa will have to go with the best they have in St. Louis.
My guess is that it is an advantage for either the Cardinals or the Astros to play a game or two this week while the White Sox watch and wait for six days. The Sox will benefit to the extent that any players who are hurt will have a chance to get healthy. But the Astros or the Cardinals will go to Chicago for the first game of the World Series with the momentum of playing more recently and winning the National League flag.
If Garner gets another chance, he will walk Pujols!