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Last night’s performance by Bud Smith really illustrated for me one
of the difficulties of being a major-league manager. Smith, as you probably
know, no-hit the Padres last night in just his tenth major-league start,
becoming the second Cardinal rookie in three years to throw a no-hitter
(Jose Jimenez in 1999).

The hard part for Tony LaRussa was allowing Smith to complete the game.
Smith tossed 134 pitches, a figure that would normally have us screaming for
LaRussa’s head, given Smith’s age (21) and his talent level. Of course, last
night wasn’t an ordinary circumstance; no-hitters never are. Smith entered
the ninth inning having thrown 114 pitches, a reasonable figure, and if he
hadn’t been gunning for history, I would have endorsed his removal.

The situation, though, dictated a looser hand. Pitchers don’t often get the
opportunity to throw no-hitters, and allowing a pitcher to complete one
falls comfortably into the category of reasons to exceed a safe pitch count.
Smith went to deep counts on the first three hitters in the ninth inning,
walking D’Angelo Jimenez in the process, before getting Phil
Nevin
to ground out on a 2-1 pitch to end the game.

For all our ranting about pitcher abuse, we fully realize that there are
situations in which an individual game’s importance takes precedence. A few
years ago, Jaret Wright was worked hard down the stretch and in the
postseason as the Indians went to the World Series. Tim Hudson threw
a lot of pitches in getting the A’s close to the postseason in his rookie
year of 1999, and then again in September of 2000. There were good reasons
to push these pitchers, despite their age and inexperience: team goals can
be placed in front of individuals’ needs.

There’s a big difference between these cases, and pushing a pitcher into the
high 120s or low 130s just to get him a complete game, or to "build his
confidence." Last year’s Ruben Quevedo fiasco, or the more
recent Paul Wilson debacle, don’t carry the justification that last
night’s Smith start, in the middle of pennant race, does.

Tony LaRussa has the luxury that this is September, and with some extra
pitchers lying around, he can push Smith’s next start back a day and even
limit his pitch count in his next outing. Smith threw 15 more pitches last
night than his previous major-league high, and did scuffle a bit in the
ninth inning, so here’s hoping that’s exactly what LaRussa does.

I can’t criticize LaRussa for allowing Smith to complete the game, and I
would not criticize him had he elected to remove Smith at some point. I’m
actually pretty sure LaRussa would have removed Smith had he failed to
retire Ryan Klesko with one out in the ninth, as much over concern
about losing the game as to protect Smith’s arm. It was a tough situation
for LaRussa, and a good reminder that not every decision has clear right and
wrong sides.

For another perspective on last night’s game, I’ll turn the column over to
Craig Elsten. Craig is the co-host of the Padres pre- and post-game shows on
flagship radio station KOGO (www.kogo.com)
in San Diego, and a longtime friend. He was at the game, and sent in this
report:


After last night’s game, a couple of callers to the Padres postgame show
expressed outrage that a "Quadruple-A pitcher" could throw a
no-hitter against San Diego. First of all, BP readers know that Bud Smith is
anything but a fringe pitcher. Smith, in fact, threw TWO no-hitters in the
minor leagues last year, albeit of the seven-inning variety.

The young left-hander lulled the Padres to sleep at the plate. Seven Padres
struck out, but five of the seven were caught looking. Only three balls were
hit hard all night: a liner off the bat of D’Angelo Jimenez found the glove
of Edgar Renteria in the third inning; Ray Lankford hit an
opposite-field drive to the middle of the warning track in left-center in
the fifth; and Bubba Trammell just got under a pitch in the seventh,
again flying out to the warning track in left. Other than that, Smith was
effective, although anything but dominant.

Watching the game from the press box, it was hard to understand why San
Diego was failing. Watching the highlights afterward, it became easier to
understand. Smith had impeccable control of his 86-88 mph fastball, and used
his heater to set up a deceptive, dropping change-up. His curve was an
afterthought, although Smith was unafraid to throw it in the most dire of
circumstances. With one out in the ninth, Jimenez on second base, and Ryan
Klesko at the plate with a 3-1 count, Smith dropped a hook on the inside
corner, freezing Klesko, who had turned his back on the pitch. The ability
to throw your third pitch for a strike, behind in the count, with a
no-hitter on the line–never mind the ballgame–is impressive.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by
clicking here.