Felipe Was Not an Idiot 

During recent hard times, the whining about Felipe Alou's on-field decisions has gone from low-grade grumble all the way up to, well, 11. Like Spinal Tap's greatest hits, it's loud, it's constant, and it often makes no sense.

I'm not a huge Felipe fan, but it's getting ridiculous, folks. Just to show that not everything the old man does is the result of missing that day's meds, let's look at yesterday's game, in which I submit to you he made not a single tactical error. In fact, he may have saved the game.

The first big decision was with Jason Schmidt. He was dominant, but his pitch count was rising fast. After six innings, it was 116. With a losing streak about to be broken and a pesky team in the opposite dugout, Felipe might have been tempted to squeeze another inning from his ace, but with a 6-1 lead, taking him out was the right move.

The game then reached the moment often known as "Felipe's Bullpen Carrousel." Kline started the seventh. His line looks bad -- 2/3 IP, 2 ER -- but a botched grounder by Feliz, generously ruled an infield hit, made things worse. And Soriano's home run? That's a tip-o-the-hat scenario: if a guy can hit an outside pitch that far to the opposite field, you tip your hat and move on. After Soriano, Lopez dribbled an infield single, and Alou replaced Kline with Hennessey, who has earned the right to relieve in high-pressure situations. This was righty-righty in a spot where a Zimmerman HR would make the game 6-5. Hennessey's been successful mostly thanks to his sinker and slider, two pitches difficult to hit out of the yard. He didn't exactly dominate, giving up a double to Zimmerman, but he got Nick Johnson when he needed to.

Hennessey pitched a scoreless eighth and should have finished the ninth, but again the defense hiccupped. Vizquel made an error, Lopez dribbled another infield single, and Johnson hit a good pitch -- a sinker low and away -- out to left-center. That made it 8-6.

With the righty Kearns up, Benitez got the call. Turns out Felipe told him he was in for one batter only. Smart. And when Mando walked Kearns, Stanton made Felipe look smarter by getting the save that Benitez couldn't.

Felipe used four relievers in three innings, and even with the advantage of hindsight I can't find fault in a single move. What's more, he was forced into making moves because of shoddy defense (Feliz and Vizquel), tough hitting by the Nationals (Soriano and Johnson's oppo-field HRs), and bad luck (all those infield singles). Felipe responded quickly, decisively, and the Giants won.

As I said, I'm not his biggest fan, and I think the Giants might benefit from a new manager next year, but I don't subscribe to much of the anti-Felipe ranting. One trope I think is particularly misguided: he burns out the bullpen. He uses too many relief pitchers. He makes them warm up too many times per game. Really? More than any other big league manager? Proponents like to point to the occasional reliever who leaves the Giants and descends into oblivion: Jim Brower and Matt Herges are two who come to mind. But a certain percentage of relievers from all teams will suffer injury or performance decline in any given year. And there are plenty of ex-Giants who prosper: Scott Eyre is doing fine with the Cubs. Joe Nathan, who was worked hard in '03, hasn't done too badly. Dustin Hermanson left the Giants and pitched well for the White Sox (until his chronic back problems flared up). These examples don't prove anything, no more than the Browers and Hergeses of the world prove Felipe's bullpen is a torture chamber.

Before Felipe is castigated, I'd like to see stats that show how Giant relievers suffer worse than league average. My gut tells me it isn't so.


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