June 28, 2001
The Daily Prospectus
Setting it up...the D-Rays had just blown the last of a 6-0 lead in the seventh inning. Leading 6-3, Paul Wilson--yes, BP2K1 owners, that Paul Wilson--had served up a home run to Trot Nixon opening the inning. Manny Ramirez reached when Aubrey Huff played a pop-up to third base about how you might imagine me playing it. Troy O'Leary singled, and Chris Stynes brought two runs home with a double.
Now, the Devil Rays have gotten some really bad relief pitching lately. Really, really bad. This implosion was just the latest; in the last week alone, the bullpen had blown a lead of 5-1 in the seventh inning in one game (a 7-6 loss), a 1-1 tie in the seventh of another (a 2-1 loss), and, most spectacularly, a 4-3 lead with two outs and no one on in the ninth (a 7-4 loss). The team had even brought in two completely unready--but live--arms from Triple-A in Victor Zambrano and Jesus Colome to try and stem the flow of runs: 14 in the pen's last 14 1/3 innings entering last night's game.
So with Brian Daubach at the plate, McRae went to one of the only guys he has who has been reasonably effective, his spot left-hander, Doug Creek. Used primarily in the specialist role (33 2/3 innings pitched in 32 appearances), Creek had posted a 3.48 ERA and the third-best Adjusted Runs Prevented (1.2) on the team. He does get lefties, though, but he didn't here, walking Daubach. McRae left him to face Lou Merloni, and Creek got a double play to end the inning. The D-Rays picked up a run in the top of the eighth to take a 7-6 lead.
That's when it got fun. McRae didn't even have anyone up in the bullpen as the Devil Rays took the field in the eighth. Creek struck out Jose Offerman, then got a pinch-hitting Shea Hillenbrand on a groundball. As a reward, Creek got to face the left-handed-hitting Trot Nixon, but lost him on a walk (in what was an excellent PA for Nixon). The tying run on first base, the lead run coming to the plate in the form of Manny Ramirez.
We pause here for some numbers. Here are Creek's platoon splits in 2001:
AVG OBP SLG vs. LHP .213 .321 .383 vs. RHP .293 .393 .507
Ramirez, you may have heard, is a pretty good right-handed hitter. McRae left Creek in; again, no one up in the pen, no trip to the mound. Creek walked Ramirez on eight pitches to bring up Dante Bichette, who has been pounding the ball this month. No trip to the mound, no action in the bullpen, just a tiring Doug Creek and the sound of crickets.
What the hell, let's look at some more numbers. Creek's platoon split in 2000:
AVG OBP SLG vs. LHP .170 .303 .250 vs. RHP .260 .370 .527
McRae catches a break, as Creek gets Bichette to pop to first base on the second pitch, and escapes to the dugout with a one-run lead. The D-Rays tack on two runs in the ninth, giving them a 9-6 lead. With Creek into unfamiliar territory--just three of his 32 outings going into last night had gone past the 34 pitches he'd thrown at that point--it seemed like time to get Jeff Wallace or Jesus Colome an easy save.
Nope. Creek to the mound to face the lefty O'Leary. No one up in the bullpen. Strikeout. Stynes now, who draws a walk. Now another lefty, Daubach, who strikes out on five pitches (the first of which was one of the more generous called strikes you'll ever see). This is now Creek's longest outing of the season, and there's still no one up in the pen. Creek is visibly tired at this point, with a loss of velocity and command, especially on his breaking ball.
Merloni comes up and hits a monster home run to center field, only the call is blown, making it a monster double. 9-7, tying run at the plate in the form of switch-hitting Jose Offerman.
All together now: no one up in the bullpen!
Offerman just gets under a 1-0 pitch, ending the game with a fly ball to left-center field. The Devil Rays win, and they wake up McRae as they file into the clubhouse.
Look, I know that D-Rays' relievers have done a collective face plant in June, but any notion that Hal McRae has matured since his days running the Royals went out the window last night. He put a win for his team at risk for no reason other than he was frustrated, and while the Devil Rays won the game, it was in spite of McRae's tantrum, not because of it. About the only difference between last night's actions and those when he went haywire on the media one infamous night in Kansas City was that he wasn't waving a bottle of liquor last night.
The outcome-based evaluation of decisions so prevalent in baseball will probably let McRae off the hook here, but that doesn't make it right. Whoever is making decisions for the Devil Rays these days needs to take a real good look at who they've left in charge on the field, because he doesn't have any better control of his emotions than he did seven years ago.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.