I’m pretty happy with Phil Garner right now.

See, each day, I watch the games and look for interesting angles I can use to produce a fresh column. Whether it’s managerial decisions, great plays, interesting tactical approaches or personnel moves, each game usually provides something new.

Today, I get a day off, because Phil Garner made all the same mistakes he did in Game One, and I can just run a link to yesterday’s column and point you all there.

Think I’m kidding? I’m not. In both games, Garner:

  • Went too long with a mediocre starting pitcher with a big platoon split, rather than being proactive about getting him out of the game
  • Warmed up Mike Gallo 13 times without using him, despite the Cardinals’ left-handed batters coming up in key situations
  • Lost the game with his second-, third- and fourth-best right-handed relievers, while saving his best, Brad Lidge, for luggage handling on today’s travel day.

The last of those was absolutely inexplicable. I can see the reluctance to use Lidge in, say, the bottom of the sixth of a tie game, which was the situation in which I wanted him to pitch Wednesday. But Lidge was warming up in the top of the eighth inning last night, and everyone–statheads and casual fans alike–expected him to pitch the bottom of the inning. When Dan Miceli came out instead, my cats even started whining.

Phil Garner: outthought by house cats.

Unlike Game One, the Astros’ offense can take a chunk of the blame. While they picked up an early lead, they also left 11 runners on base, had three others thrown out on the bases, and blew a sacrifice bunt with first and second and no one out in the sixth. Like the Dodgers and, to a lesser extent, the Braves in the NLDSs, the Astros are hitting homers and putting a lot of runners on base, but not doing both at the same time. Last night’s game could, maybe should, have been a blowout. Maybe then Lidge would have pitched.

The problems on offense don’t excuse Garner, who has managed these first two games as if he were up 3-0 in the series and didn’t really need the wins. Gallo may not be a great lefty specialist, but if you’re not going to use him, why keep getting him up? I don’t think he actually went home between games, as Garner wanted him loose in case he needed a left-handed reliever for his waiter at breakfast. You can’t warm him up as a bluff, because Tony La Russa isn’t hitting for Tony Womack, Larry Walker or Jim Edmonds or changing his lineup to accommodate the “threat” of Gallo.

Choosing Miceli over Lidge is the jaw-dropper, but given that Womack and Walker have been in the middle of some of the Cardinals’ most important rallies, Garner’s resistance to using his only left-hander has been just as baffling.

Phil Garner got reasonable starts from the back of his rotation in both of these games. His team was ahead in the fifth inning twice, tied in the sixth once and in the eighth once. He managed to watch his bullpen lose both games without once getting his best reliever in, the second time not using him in a very obvious best-reliever situation.

Give the Cardinals credit. When you make mistakes against them, they beat you. Garner has left the door open for two games, refusing to play matchups with Gallo or be aggressive with Lidge. The Cardinals have taken advantage by pounding the Chad class for nine runs plus some extra tallies allocated to the starters.

Maybe it’s the difference between championship-caliber and just shy of it.

Presented without comment, my 2004 Internet Baseball Awards ballot:

American League MVP

  1. Vladimir Guerrero
  2. Johan Santana
  3. Miguel Tejada
  4. Melvin Mora
  5. Ichiro Suzuki
  6. Carlos Guillen
  7. Manny Ramirez
  8. Travis Hafner
  9. Ivan Rodriguez
  10. Gary Sheffield

Honorable Mention: Curt Schilling, Alex Rodriguez, Eric Chavez, Derek Jeter, Javy Lopez.

American League Cy Young

  1. Johan Santana
  2. Curt Schilling
  3. Brad Radke
  4. Pedro Martinez
  5. Tom Gordon

American League Rookie of the Year

  1. Zack Greinke
  2. Bobby Crosby
  3. Shingo Takatsu

American League Manager of the Year

  1. Buck Showalter
  2. Alan Trammell
  3. Terry Francona

National League MVP

  1. Barry Bonds
  2. Albert Pujols
  3. Jim Edmonds
  4. Adrian Beltre
  5. Bobby Abreu
  6. Carlos Beltran
  7. Scott Rolen
  8. Todd Helton
  9. J.D. Drew
  10. Mark Loretta

Honorable Mention: Jim Thome, Brad Lidge, Aramis Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Randy Johnson.

National League Cy Young

  1. Randy Johnson
  2. Ben Sheets
  3. Roger Clemens
  4. Jason Schmidt
  5. Livan Hernandez

National League Rookie of the Year

  1. Khalil Greene
  2. Jason Bay
  3. Akinori Otsuka

National League Manager of the Year

  1. Bobby Cox
  2. Tony La Russa
  3. Jim Tracy
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