Leyland makes Rogers call without a smudge of doubt

World Series

October 28, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

St. Louis -- I was awakened by a phone call early yesterday from a friend in L.A. who wanted one good reason why Kenny Rogers would not be taking the mound for Game 5 of the World Series.

The gummy-thumbed Gambler would have been on regular rest and the Detroit Tigers were down to their last 27 outs, but manager Jim Leyland chose to stay with rookie Justin Verlander instead of the guy who was working on a string of 23 scoreless postseason innings.

It was a fair question, though I hate it when people on the West Coast just naturally assume you will be up at 11 a.m. because they're already at work at 9. Kenny had been untouchable throughout this postseason and Verlander is a rookie who gave up seven runs in Game 1.

Of course, it would have been inconceivable three or four years ago to think that anyone would ever be clamoring for Rogers to move up in a postseason rotation, but Leyland found himself at back-to-back news conferences Thursday night and yesterday afternoon explaining why it wasn't going to happen.

"I'm not going to pitch him in this atmosphere," Leyland said. "We have to win three ballgames. If we had to win one game, if it was the seventh game, I'd pitch him. We have to win three games."

I'm down with that logic. How much sense does it make to disrupt everyone in the rotation to move one guy up when you need all three to pitch well to complete a very unlikely comeback from a 3-1 Series deficit?

My human wake-up call was looking at it differently. He felt that Leyland should have viewed it like it was Game 7 and pulled out all the stops. There is no Game 6 if you don't win Game 5, so why not just grease Kenny up and worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes? The question still lingered as the Cardinals celebrated their 10th world title late last night.

If we were talking about Roger Clemens, I would have agreed, and I'm pretty sure Leyland would, too, but we're talking about a guy whose emotional stability has been a hot topic of discussion just about everywhere he has played. Leyland knew what would be in store for Rogers at Busch Stadium.

Even though Rogers didn't pitch in St. Louis, creative Cardinals fans brought signs commemorating the Smudgegate controversy from Game 2. My favorite was from Game 3 and read, Employees Must Wash Hands Before Leaving Dugout.

There was another - Cheater, Cheater, Cameraman Beater - to remind everyone that Rogers went after a TV camera guy last year at Ameriquest Field in Arlington and was charged with misdemeanor assault.

Still, it was a little surprising that Leyland would be so open about it. You had to read between the lines a bit Thursday night when he said he wouldn't pitch Rogers in "this atmosphere," but he pretty much came out and questioned Rogers' mental toughness yesterday.

"You know, this is another one of those where it's good for the journalists, because they all have opinions, and that's good," Leyland said, and I'd just like to take this opportunity to thank him for his help.

"My view was I want to pitch him in Game 2 and 6, and I heard one TV personality say he thinks the hostile environment would really motivate Kenny. I don't buy that. I think it would probably work the opposite. I think the environment in Comerica Park motivates Kenny."

There are three things you can take from those comments: (1) Leyland thinks Rogers probably would have wilted under the pressure of elimination on the road; (2) Leyland understands the important role that journalists play in the information age; and (3) TV guys should stick to stuff like predicting the weather and using the right hair spray.

I agree with him on all counts, so I'll defer to him on the issue of who should have pitched Game 5, regardless of the outcome. I mentioned to the human wake-up call that if I had to choose who I wanted to make that decision, I probably would go with the guy who has spent the past eight months with the Tigers over some fair-weather fan in L.A. who gets his kicks rousting hard-working journalists out of bed at the crack of noon.

He hung up and I resumed my beauty sleep, which does not appear to be working very well. I'm sure the phone will ring again today with an "I told you so," but Leyland played his hand correctly, even if he didn't win the pot.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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