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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Latest & Greatest Fiasco

Manuel outdoes himself with this one.

You would think that after the Mark Buehrle-Neal Cotts fiasco that the last of the defenders of Gen. Disarray’s battle tactics would have either defected or at least gone into hiding.  However, such is not the case, and it’s really hard to understand why they still continue to defend his actions. 

For those of you who have been in a monastery the past week, here is what happened.  On Tuesday and Wednesday in New York, the Sox pounded on Yankee pitching, scoring 13 and 11 runs respectively off Roger Clemens and David Wells while Sox pitchers Esteban Loaiza and Bartolo Colon gave up two runs each. 

Mark Buehrle, who has pitched well most of the year, despite a record of 11-12 at the time was scheduled to pitch Thursday in the final game of the series.  Or was he? 

It seems that in Buehrle’s last start against the Rangers, Buehrle had trouble loosening up.  He told his team mates, “I’m a little stiff today.  You’re gonna need to get me ten runs.“  They did, and then some.  As it turned out, Buehrle only gave up two runs and Gen. Disarray was so concerned about the pitcher’s stiffness that he let him throw 104 pitches. 

For the next few days, chaos seemed to reign as the general and pitching coach Don Cooper vacillated over whether Buehrle should get an extra day’s rest.  By the time the Sox arrived in New York on Tuesday, however, the general said that he was “ninety-nine point nine percent sure” that Buehrle would be Thursday’s starter. 

Meanwhile, Buehrle announced that he was ready to pitch.  He went so far as to tell his manager that he never had pitched in Yankee Stadium, and requested that the general give him a start there.  Yankee Stadium was the only American League ball park Buehrle hadn’t pitched in.  Unless the Sox make the playoffs and play the Yankees, it is still the only American League ball park Mark Buehrle hasn’t pitched in. 

That’s because despite the “ninety-nine point nine percent sure” declaration on Buehrle’s chances of pitching Thursday’s game, Gen. Disarray decided after the Sox won the first two games of the three game series, that Neal Cotts was the better choice for the final game. 

“Our goal is to win every series for the rest of the season,” declared the general.  “Giving Mark an extra day’s rest gives us a better chance to win this series [against the Tigers].  It also gives Mark an extra day of rest without missing a start.” 

So Neal Cotts started in Yankee Stadium and the rest is history.  In the 23-year-old’s fourth career start, in the most legendary ball park in the game, the kid choked…big time.   Spotted a two-run lead Cotts couldn’t find the strike zone.  Had the general left him in longer than a third of an inning, the Yankees would have been crossing the plate like the “Gorillas” conga line in that Bugs Bunny cartoon. 

Gen. Disarray was unruffled, despite the fact that the Sox were now percentage points behind the Royals.  “Mark does exceptionally well against the Tigers,“ he declared.   

The result was predictable.  Spotted a one-run lead, Buehrle gave up five in his first two innings.  Scott Schoeneweis gave up three more in the fifth, and the Sox lost 8-4. 

How much of this, though, was the fault of Gen. Disarray?  Here are some of the arguments his defenders have put forth: 

Buehrle was hurt.  Manuel needed to give him that extra day’s rest. 

Then why did Manuel use Buehrle for 104 pitches in the start where he said he had trouble loosening up?  That, by the way was the extent of Buehrle’s injury.  And exactly how much is one extra day’s rest going to alleviate that particular “injury”?  And why just three day’s after Buehrle complained about his stiffness was Gen. Disarray “ninety-nine point nine percent sure” that Buehrle would start Thursday’s game?  Buehrle himself declared that he was ready and eager to start against the Yankees. 

The Yankees series was already won.  It was important to get a win against the Tigers to give us the best possible chance to win the Tigers series. 

The problem with this argument is the entire idea, expounded by Gen. Disarray and repeated by his defenders that it is winning series that is important now.  This is utter nonsense.  The Sox were tied in the loss column with the Royals, but the Royals have two more games to play between now and September 28.  The Sox had twenty-nine games left.  The Royals had thirty-one. 

The Sox have a tougher schedule than the Royals.  As was pointed out last week in this column, the Royals have eight games left to play against teams that are playing over .500.  The Royals have eight, and seven of those are against the Sox.  Every game is important now.  The idea of “just winning every series” getting you to the playoffs is fine in April and May, and maybe even in June and July.  But by late August-early September, when you have a slim lead, the idea is to win every game, especially when twenty-three of your twenty-nine games are against teams playing over .500 

Of course it’s an impossible goal, but it’s the one that has to be in the minds of the players.  Every game is important.  Teams have been known to go on tears where they play close to .800 ball in September, especially teams that have a lot of games against poor teams.  Kansas City and Minnesota have a lot of games against poor teams. 

This means you have to give your own team the best possible chance to win every game.  Buehrle stood a lot better chance of beating the Yankees in Yankee Stadium than a rookie in his fourth major league start.  Cotts had a much better chance to win in Detroit than in New York. 

The flip-flop with Buehrle and Cotts gave Buehrle an extra day’s rest without losing a start. 

This was the general’s reasoning.  Apparently he never looks ahead at the schedule.  He continually gives extra days of rest to players just before off-days.  The Sox have days off on Monday and Thursday.  He could have used those days to give Buehrle his extra day’s rest without missing a start and used him against the Yankees. 

Buehrle would have gone against Mike Mussina, while Cotts probably still would have lost against the Tigers. 

You can’t predict the future.  The idea is to give your team the best chance of winning every possible game down the stretch.  The fact that Gen. Disarray thought Buehrle had a better shot against the Tigers proves that he was conceding the final game of the Yankees series by starting Cotts, a rookie with three starts under his belt. 

This leads to Gen. Disarray’s greatest misstatement of the facts.  Before Friday’s game in Detroit, the general said to John Rooney in a pre-game interview on WMVP radio that he felt that by starting Buehrle on Friday, this gave the Sox a better chance to win than if Cotts pitched.  He added, “We think that it’s important for a young pitcher like Neal to pitch every five days.” 

So what’s wrong with that?  The fact is that all year, Gen. Disarray has been spot starting his fifth starters to give his top four pitchers four days rest wherever possible.  By saying that he was going to start Cotts on Friday if Buehrle had pitched Thursday, the general would be starting Cotts in preference to his fourth starter Jon Garland. 

In fact he has already done that by using Cotts against the Yankees.  Here is the rotation that the general would have followed if he were following his usual pattern for the season: 

August 28 at New York:  Buehrle

August 29 at Detroit:  Garland (on five days rest)

August 30 at Detroit:  Cotts (spot start)

August 31 at Detroit:  Loaiza 

Garland is no Buehrle, but there is no reason that Cotts had to pitch the first game of the Tigers series, and the Sox have shown that they are perfectly able to win with Garland on the mound. 

If the Buehrle or the team are disappointed by this move, they still need to suck it up and be professionals. 

Sure, and you suck it up when you get kicked in the seat of the pants by your boss for no reason.  You perform just as well after you don’t get the promotion you were as much as promised.  Or maybe when the first chance becomes available, you look for a job in St. Louis.  Athletes seem to thrive on emotion more than those of us with regular jobs.  Buehrle had a lot of wind taken out of his sails.  I have no doubt that St. Louis is looking awfully good to him right now. 

The club saw that the general was conceding a game.  Still they managed to score two runs off Mike Mussina to spot Cotts a lead that he promptly choked on.  That’ll take the wind out of your sales fast, yet they still managed to score another run off Mussina and two more off Jeff Nelson.  When Buehrle came out the next night and bombed, there wasn’t much left in them. 

The whole Buehrle-Cotts affair was an unmitigated disaster.  It has damaged the confidence of a 23-year-old pitcher in himself.  It has made a pitcher longing to be in another city even more disgruntled with his current employers.  It has upset fans and players alike.  It made absolutely no sense from a strategic standpoint, and it pointed out what could very well be the fatal flaw in Gen. Disarray’s strategy, assuming he has one. 

There is no upside to this fiasco


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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