October 12, 2004
I found myself in a strange position over the last week or so. First, I defended a decision Ron Gardenhire made and got bombarded with e-mails telling me how wrong I was. Then, a couple days later, I criticized a decision Gardenhire made and got bombarded with e-mails telling me how wrong I was. In addition to making me doubt my sanity and ability to convey rational thought, this gives me an opportunity to touch on an interesting topic.
Essentially, the first set of dissenting e-mails said that I was silly for suggesting that Gardenhire leaving Joe Nathan in for the 12th inning of Game 2 was a sound decision, because Nathan failed and the Twins lost the game. The second batch of e-mails said that I was silly for suggesting that Gardenhire taking Johan Santana out of Game 4 after just five innings was a bad decision, because Grant Balfour pitched scoreless sixth and seventh innings anyway, and Juan Rincon would have had to pitch the eighth regardless of when Santana left.
The point I tried to make in the case of Nathan in Game 2 and the point I should have made in regard to Santana in Game 4, is that the quality of the decision should not be based on whether or not it worked. On the most basic level, you don't even need the result of the decision to form your opinion of it, just as Gardenhire didn't have knowledge of how things would turn out when he made the decisions.
I know that running across a busy intersection with my eyes closed is dumb whether I get flattened by a semi-truck or not. I know that calling someone's all-in bet with six-high is dumb regardless of whether or not I hit two more sixes on the flop. In the same sense, leaving Nathan in was either a good or bad decision before Nathan struggled, just as taking Santana out was either a good or bad decision before Balfour pitched his scoreless innings and Rincon fell apart in the eighth.
The reality, as so many e-mailers yesterday pointed out to me, is that the Twins lost Game 4 because Rincon gave up four runs while recording just one out in the eighth inning, not because Santana only pitched five innings. However, waiting until things play out to form your opinion of whether or not it was a good decision is silly, and it is the worst form of second-guessing.
Gardenhire could have taken Santana out after two innings and turned to Jose Offerman to make his major-league debut as a pitcher and finish the game. If Offerman somehow threw seven shutout innings and the Twins won, was the decision a good one? If you said yes, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree. Rather than individually reply to all the e-mails I've gotten on this subject over the last few days, I figured it would be just a little more practical to lay that all out here.
Oh, and one more thing ... During Game 4, the TV announcers reported that Santana was surprised when Gardenhire lifted him from the game and wanted to stay in. On the other hand, Gardenhire said on his radio show that Santana told him he was getting stiff between innings and seemed to be saying he was just about done. There's obviously a big difference between those two stories and this is something that has been woefully under-reported in the local media. I'd like to see a quote from Santana and a quote from Gardenhire, in print, and if they differ I'd like to see some investigation into why.
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