I love Bobby Cox (as a manager) and there's almost no one else I would prefer running the hometown baseball collective, but he has never had an especially good tactical acumen, especially when it comes to utilizing his bullpen, and yesterday's game was a perfect example. Lest you think that I'm engaging in Monday morning managing, my friend Daniel and I both said after the seventh inning: "Surely that's it for Smoltzie." The players in the dugout seemed to agree, as they were all shaking his hand after he came in after the seventh. It was very obvious that, as dominant as he had been, he was losing steam. He had just gone over 100 pitches for the first time in years. He had given up a sharp single in the seventh and ended the inning by fielding a hard grounder from Pedro Martinez of all people. He only struck out one batter in the seventh, which after he had struck out 14 over the past six innings, was another sign that he was done. Aside from the tactical aspects, strategically, Cox was risking an injury to Smoltz by allowing him to run up a high pitch count on a suspect elbow.
Nevertheless, Cox left Smoltz in for the eighth inning and sure enough, a single, a sacrifice, and a homer later, he was leaving with 15 Ks and a 2-1 deficit. Cox then added to his tactical blunder by permitting Tom Martin, the very personification of gasoline on a fire, to emerge from his cave to allow a homer and a double without recording an out. (Could we get a local Infiniti dealership to sponsor Martin's statistics for the rest of the season?)
Maybe the bullpen wouldn't have held the lead. After all, Roman Colon and Jorge Sosa both looked a little shaky when they came in, although by the time they entered, the game was lost and they were stemming the bleeding, rather than trying to win the game. Nevertheless, it was OBVIOUS that Smoltz needed to come out, but Cox made the Grady Little mistake and deferred to his pitcher. And what a crock it is that a manager would ever ask a pitcher if he wants to come out. What pitcher, especially one as competitive as Smoltz, is ever going to ask to come out of the game?