Eric Wedge pulled his best player for a pinch-runner with two outs in the ninth inning tonight, down 5-3, because he knew he had one shot to tie the game, and that there was no way Victor Martinez, representing the tying run, was going to score from first base on a gap-shot double. As it turned out, Travis Hafner delivered the double up the alley in right-center on the next pitch, and pinch-runner Ben Francisco sprinted in to score the tying run easily.
I realize this was not rocket science. Thousands of armchair managers had to be screaming at their TV's to pinch-run for the slowest man in the American League at that point in the game. And more times than not, you'll get a routine grounder to second to end the ball game instead of the hoped-for extra-base hit, and the managerial moves go unremarked. In this case though, it won the game for the Indians, because Kelly Shoppach followed Hafner's hit with a walk-off homer to beat the A's 8-5. (photo)
Since everyone and his brother made the right call along with Wedge tonight, I won't hold that out as an example, but I don't think I'm alone in my observation that Wedge is managing better this year, and that it shows in the team's record. He is making the most of what has to be considered a fairly weak bench (Gutierrez, Rouse, Francisco, Shoppach) and my sense is that he's more aggressive in general, and more confident in managing the game his way.
I thought he handled the team admirably in the NL ballparks during interleague play, even though the record was only 9-9. And he has to be given credit for the attitude of the club day to day, and for fostering the closeness that is obvious to anyone watching these guys play regularly. But they were a close-knit group last year too, when they were losing 84 games. So it's cool, but it doesn't make up for a lousy bullpen.
I would not have foreseen a few months ago saying these positive things about Eric Wedge. I was a skeptic from the beginning, and slammed him early and often. But the All-Star Game approaches, and he has his team tied for first place with the Tigers. They have 11 wins in their last at-bat, the defense is improved, they win at home, and they seem to genuinely like each other. And so far this year, Wedge's moves are paying off in wins.
One bitch: Why does he keep trotting out Trot Nixon to right field every day? He's in a horrible slump, (.160 in June) looking absolutely over-matched at the plate most of the time. But on the other hand, he's a lousy defensive outfielder, and slow as a truck on the bases. I know, I know...clubhouse leader...got a ring...veteran presence...blah, blah. Sorry, this guy needs a few days off. I think he's done. Prove me wrong, Trot. Quickly. We have some good young outfielders sitting because you're a "grizzled veteran" ....or something.
Another bitch, but not with Wedge: When will the self-proclaimed "greatest fans in the country" get their asses out to the ballpark to watch their first place team? You don't have the excuse that it's too cold anymore. The game time temperature tonight was 89 degrees. A paltry 18,494 showed up, and the average attendance for the season is about 23,000, which is near the bottom of the league rankings. Pitiful.
The seven day lapse between posts is, I believe, the longest such gap in the four years plus I have been maintaining this enterprise, and is owing to my focus on some home improvement projects at the moment, along with the busy summer schedule....oh, and that real job I have to show up at once in a while. I guess I feel the need to explain the lack of activity. To whom I'm not quite sure. But thanks for being here, and come back.