Move, counter-move game is hardly moving

INSIDE PITCH

May 24, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

When Johnny Oates and Buck Showalter played the trendy game of revolving relievers Sunday, they knew one of them would pay the price.

It had to happen that way because both followed baseball's strategically correct manual. That's the book that takes the platoon system to the extreme, requiring moves until each team runs out of pitchers or hitters, or both.

Were it not for financial considerations, the system might even lead to an increase in the number of players allowed on a roster. In the final game of the Orioles-Yankees series, each team used five relievers.

With a 4-3 lead in the eighth, Oates used three different pitchers to face as many hitters. It isn't a style he prefers, but given the uncertain status of his bullpen and an offense that has been inoffensive, Oates was merely protecting his flanks.

"I'm not normally like that," he said of his eighth-inning changes, "but that was a situation where the matchups I wanted were available. I wasn't going to let [Danny] Tartabull face a left-hander [Alan Mills replaced Tom Bolton]. And I sure wasn't going to let a right-hander face [Paul] O'Neill [Jim Poole replaced Mills].

"It wasn't just that we haven't been getting many runs -- we haven't been getting many wins," said Oates.

And if the Orioles didn't get this one, it was going to be with Oates

making a move rather than not making one. In an era of move-counter move, it has become imperative for a manager to avoid getting beat on a right-left matchup if he has an alternative.

Late in the game, every available reliever becomes a mini-closer, and the ace is saved for the final inning. For that we can blame the save rule, which is fodder for future discussion.

It was the last move of the eighth inning that didn't work for Oates, as right-handed-hitting Jim Leyritz homered off right-hander Mark Williamson to tie the game. Oates' strategy was to have three pitchers record one out apiece and turn the game over to closer Lee Smith.

It didn't quite turn out that way, even though Williamson regrouped and kept the Orioles in the game for another inning. The game provided yet another example of how ultra-sophisticated statistics are dominating baseball. The era of the closer has now been expanded to include a horde of one-out setup specialists, which is good for the pitchers' faction of the players union.

When the American League introduced the designated hitter in 1973, some managers took advantage of the rule and trimmed their pitching staff to nine in order to have an extra position player. Now just about everybody has 11, and with trendsetter Tony La Russa blazing the trail, some are going for an even dozen.

If this keeps up, the players who man the other nine positions (including the DH) will be outnumbered -- both in the clubhouse, and in the union.

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