Thursday, August 02, 2007

Grim And Grimmer

When the great closers of the past came into a ball game, you could normally expect them to enter throwing heat or nasty breaking stuff and opposing batters to be flailing away or frozen hopelessly. Sure, the occasional batter would get a hold of one and turn it around, but not very often. Goose Gossage. Bruce Sutter. Rollie Fingers. Dennis Eckersly. All of them came in throwing strikes.

In his short career as a closer Brett Myers has shown none of the dominance of these men or others like John Smoltz, Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera. Last night's performance demonstrated conclusively why Myers will forever remain an unfulfilled promise: two wild pitches, one of them a walk-off wild pitch. It's one thing to leave a fastball over the middle of the plate and quite another to sail one pitch over the catcher's head and a few pitches later throw one in the dirt with the winning run on third.

There's never been much reason to admire Myers as a pitcher (let's leave aside his personality). Two nights after pitching a 1-2-3 ninth inning to save a ball game he came back and had a miserable evening. Perhaps he was unnerved by the play by defensive substitute Jason Werth, who dived attempting to field a ball but could not hold on to it. Myers has a history of unraveling when someone fails to make a play behind him. In Werth's defense, however, he was just coming off a rehab stint and had not appeared in a game prior to being inserting in left field instead of Pat Burrell. Moreover, it was a very tough play to make under any circumstances and Werth could hardly be faulted. The loss of two outfielders the night before last left the Phillies with few options. Normally, Werth would not have been in there. Still, Myers was all over the place, walking one batter unintentionally and another deliberately. It should be noted Tom Gordon was unavailable last night, reporting he had some shoulder tightness that was "nothing [he] was too worried about."

Some of this drama might have been averted had Ryan Howard not made two bonehead plays earlier in the evening. Howard made the first out of the fifth inning at third base after doubling in a run. Howard hesitated at second base and then tried to stretch his hit into a triple before being thrown out. Aaron Rowand followed with a home run, a solo shot instead of a two-run dinger. Howard also made yet another fielding gaffe, throwing high to second base after J.C. Romero picked off Alfonso Soriano. Though Soriano failed to score, the errant throw by Howard (who didn't get an official error) was one more instance of mediocre play at first base. Apart from the double, Howard has been struggling mightily since the Washington series ended last week. He is striking out at a prodigious rate and looking awful doing so. Only a few weeks ago he was named NL player of the week and looked like he had solved his batting woes. Against Pittsburgh and now Chicago he has looked absolutely lost, lunging for ball way outside and pulling off others. Howard looks grim and disconsolate, often walking back to the dugout muttering to himself. He isn't helping the team much.


David said...

Despite his still-monstrous power numbers, Howard has been lost for the vast majority of the season. Every time he seems to be getting locked in, he'll suddenly revert to his hideous habits. He's followed up his best two-week stretch of the season with one of his worst weeks yet. It will almost seem absurd to suggest this, but the one player on the Phillies Howard needs to pay the most attention to is Pat Burrell. Burrell, almost to a fault, has become exclusively a zone hitter, refusing to swing at anything that's not in a very specific location. Howard can either have an illustrious career by implementing the same strategy, or he can have an erratic career by not making any further mental adjustments. Even by accident, he'll hit 40 homers a season. But as you said, Tom, the protracted slumps that result from poor technique certainly don't help the team. The biggest difference from last year to this one is consistency. The team needs him to carry it the way he was able to late last season, but it's clear he isn't up for that task with the approach he's taken to the plate all year. Take a look at the picture of him which accompanies the game article, hopelessly lunging at a pitch a few inches off the ground. He should be embarrassed. There's no reason a major league hitter should repeatedly look that terrible.

I'm willing to give Myers a partial pass for that game last night. His first two outings since rejoining the team were relatively easy assignments. Last night was his first real challenge back in the fray, and he may need to get re-acquainted with those kinds of situations. I don't think you can discount the success he had in this role before he went down.

Tom Goodman said...

It's difficult to believe the Ryan Howard of the past six games is the same one of the previous six. Myers is always the same in my opinion: fine one outing and miserable the next. He will never be reliable.