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Mets 5, Nationals 3: Niese Gets Win, Rodriguez The "Save"

Thanks to Jerry Manuel, a lovely recap about a wonderful Jon Niese start has gone down the toilet, replaced by yet another needless rant about how experienced managers make game-altering tactical decisions based on the arbitrary prerequisites of a meaningless stat "invented" by sportswriter Jerome Holtzman.

With the Mets leading 5-1 in the ninth, Pedro Feliciano came on -- yes, again -- to face Adam Dunn. Dunn promptly struck out and Feliciano promptly exited stage left. Now let's pretend for a moment that the save wasn't a thing. Up four runs with one out in the ninth, what is the most appropriate bullpen move when all relevant factors have been considered? You're trying to win the game, sure, but you have to weigh that against the need to get your relievers adequate rest as well as adequate work, consider lefty/righty matchups, and so on. Given all of that, maybe you bring in your best reliever to lock down that victory. That's Francisco Rodriguez.

Or, maybe you want to give Rodriguez an extra day of rest. A four-run lead with two outs to go is pretty comfortable and just about any big league pitcher could be expected to protect it 90+% of the time. Elmer Dessens is as good a choice as any, so you bring him in and he gives up a walk and a double to put runners on second and third, but he also records the second out of the inning, leaving the Nationals four runs down with just one out remaining. Even with two runners in scoring position, practically every major league pitcher will be able to get out of the inning without surrendering the lead.

Again, let's assume there's no such abstract quantification called a "save". Is there any reason to bring your best reliever in now? Any at all? How much more likely is it that Francisco Rodriguez will retire one batter before allowing four (or more) runs than Elmer Dessens will? Dessens will probably get the job done 95% of the time, so how fantastic is Rodriguez that he'd significantly improve upon that? He's not, of course, which is the only reason we're discussing this in the first place.

Here's a simple rule for all of the managers out there: Before making any pitching decision, ask yourself whether you'd make that same decision if there was no such thing as a save. If the answer is clearly "yes", go ahead and make the move. If the answer is "no", go back to the drawing board. That's it, dead simple.

Poem by Howard Megdal

(Again, sung to Mona Lisa)
Bernadina, Bernadina
Where you running?
Willie Harris, when he faces Mets, he wins
Bernadina, Bernadina
Blunder stunning
In ninth inning, simply are no greater sins
Did you try to force a balk there, Bernadina?
Or just get a healthy lead and running start?
Then Tejada snuck in right behind you
Mets had guy there
So you die there
Are you thick, are you dense, Bernadina?
Or in a loss, you simply wanted starring part