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July 3, 2000

Francona's Follies

Friday Night in Philly

by Jeff Hildebrand

Friday night in Philadelphia, we were treated to another sampling of managerial genius by the imcomparable Terry Francona. Through seven innings, Randy Wolf had been overpowering, giving up only three hits, with no walks and seven strikeouts, and holding a 3-1 lead over the Pirates. His pitch count was up to 94, so I was kind of hoping he might get yanked before starting the eighth.

Well, he came out to start the inning, but with Chris Brock--who has actually pitched decently as a setup man--warming up in the bullpen. I figured they were going to try and sneak Wolf through the inning quickly, but bring Brock in if he got into trouble. Fair enough, perhaps not the strategy I would use, but certainly defensible.

The first two batters each singled on a total of five pitches, so the count is up to 99 and the Pirates have far and away their biggest threat of the evening. Time to bring in the reliever, right? Nope. Well, OK, a pinch-hitter is up and he's probably going to bunt, so maybe Wolf will just take care of that. After running a 2-0 count for only about the third time all night, the bunt is put down and the Phillies get the lead runner at third base. OK, Wolf is getting tired, it's time to yank him. With Aramis Ramirez and Jason Kendall the next two hitters, it's time to get the fresh arm in there as well as pick up the platoon advantage.

Nope. After a lengthy series of foul balls, Ramirez hits a double off the wall in left field to tie the game. So it's now 109 pitches, the chance for a win is gone and Brock has had plenty of time to warm up. And still no sign of anyone coming out of the dugout.

Kendall then bloops a single that moves Ramirez to third base. After allowing only three hits in the first seven innings, Wolf has given up four hits to five batters in the eighth, with the only exception being someone who bunted. Gee, you think it's time for a change? Nope, it's only Galen Cisco coming out of the dugout to talk with Wolf. He's staying in there.

Wil Cordero smokes a triple putting the Pirates up 5-3. Wolf has now thrown 115 pitches in the game and given up five hits in the inning, two of the last three being hit very hard. Not only has a promising start gotten away from him, he's now on the hook for a possible loss. And Terry "It's good for a pitcher's confidence" Francona is leaving him in there!

This time it's another lengthy at-bat for Brian Giles, who eventually singles in the fifth run of the inning. So that makes six hits in seven batters, a total of 28 pitches, with a reliever warming up the entire time. Finally, Francona makes the move. Wolf racked up 122 pitches on the evening, almost a quarter of them when it was blatantly obvious that he was tired. In the process, what had been a great outing turned into a complete disaster.

Forget about the long-term implications for Wolf's arm--and believe me, I'm trying to forget in order to avoid screaming--this was just plain stupid managing in terms of trying to win the game. To hell with firing Francona: that's too quick. How about drawing and quartering?

Jeff Hildebrand can be reached at jhildebrand@baseballprospectus.com.

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