The Save – Part 2

After the Twins blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning Saturday night against the lowly Brewers, Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse astutely criticised Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire for managing for statistics. By that Reusse meant that if the lead had been three runs, Gardy would have brought in his closer, Jon Rauch, to pitch the 9th; but because the lead was four – and it was therefore not a “save” situation – he used the less dependable Ron Mahay, until Mahay had loaded the bases and the Twins turned to Rauch, unfortunately too late.
In any other situation, Gardenhire would bring in whichever reliever was best positioned to get the job done. Since the job here was closing the game, and Rauch is his closer and hadn’t pitched recently, Rauch was the logical choice. Except for the mindset that Gardenhire, like many other managers, won’t use his closer unless there is a save to be gained. But designating a three-run margin as a save situation is an arbitrary stat-driven determination – one that, like the closer role, didn’t exist for much of baseball history. In every other aspect I can think of, the game is played to win, and the statistics are compiled after the fact, and fall where they may. This is the only instance I can think of where an arbitrary statistic itself determines how the game is played.


The air went out of the Twins tonight – and I hope it was just for one game, not the whole season – when that least-admirable of Yankees, Alex Rodriguez, turned a painfully wrought 4-3 Twins edge into a 7-4 Yankee pounding with one swing of his bat. One must question why Ron Gardenhire brought in Matt Guerrier to face A-Rod with the bases loaded, even though Rodriguez was batting .750 against Guerrier, including three homers in only eight times at bat. But then we all know that Gardy is strictly a by-the-(obsolete)book manager, who plays the right-against-right “percentages,” just as Yankee manager Joe Girardi brought in lefthander Damaso Marte the same inning to face Joe Mauer, even though Mauer’s average against lefties is about 150 points higher than against righties. Mauer proceeded to drive in the tying run, then left Justin Morneau drove in Mauer to give the Twins their shortlived lead.
I feel sorry for Scott Baker, who left the game with the lead but will have the loss on his record, but even worse for Brian Duensing, my current favorite Twin pitcher. Brought in to relieve Baker with men on second and third and no outs, Duensing retired the dangerous Brett Gardner on a popup, then was told to intentionally walk Mark Texeira before giving way to Guerrier. Of the four runs Guerrier surrendered on the Rodriguez slam, two go against Baker’s ledger and Duensing is charged with one run in one-third inning pitched, seriously damaging his ERA even though he did absolutely everything asked of him.
The Twins’ TV announcers were noticeably deflated, and the players seemed to merely go through the motions in their final two at-bats. The damn Yankees, whom the Twins haven’t defeated in years, had done it again, and what is more depressing is that Baker pitched a good game, Kubel broke out of his slump, and the two big men, Mauer and Morneau, came through with big at bats. And still, it wasn’t enough.