How to Lose a Ballgame

added 5/21/2001 by Darrell Pittman

After today's disappointing 6-5 loss to the Reds, I came away amazed that the Astros would field such a bizarre lineup at the same time that their worst, most inconsistent starting pitcher, Jose Lima, was to start.  With Lima pitching, I reasoned, why compound one's liabilities by starting with less than one's A-team on the field?  Especially when we had just climbed back up to tie the red-hot St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the NL Central Division.  Wouldn't one think that a victory today would be deemed important, perhaps even crucial?

I guess winning's not that important, after all.  Silly me.

Houston started the game without mainstays Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio (hereinafter referred to collectively as "Baggio"), the heart and soul of the ballclub.  Further, thus-far solid performer Vinny Castilla was replaced by the mediocre Charlie Hayes.

Baggio are certainly deserving of rest and time off.  I have no problem with that, but why did it have to be both of them on the same day, with a gopher-ball server like Lima starting?  Surely, the thought must have crossed the mind of manager Larry Dierker that with El Loco pitching and his recent history, the on-field leadership that Baggio provide (not to mention their offense and defense) might just be required as insurance.

The weird lineup, giving credit to the Astros' depth, managed to score five runs, good enough to win most ballgames.  That did not, in retrospect, lose the game.  What lost it was Dierker not seeing (or perhaps ignoring?) the red flags of an impending Lima-meltdown in the third inning, then inexplicably trotting him back out to pitch the fourth.

Lima gave up one run in the first inning.  Okay, not good, but not unheard-of, so no panic at that point; it's only 1-0.  He had a 1-2-3 second. He then gave up back-to-back homers to Michael Tucker and Sean Casey in the third, plus a single to Alex Ochoa.  Middle of the third, Reds lead 3-0.

Not good at all, but still not out of reach... but...

I like The Wrangler and I don't like second-guessing him: it's not entirely fair to him, because he doesn't have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight that fans like you and I do...

And yet... and yet...

I'm sorry Larry, but with Lima on the mound and his history of meltdowns, the back-to-back homers in the third should have been the red flag for you to yank him.  I was, at the time, shocked that there wasn't anyone even moving in the bullpen at that point.  I was even more shocked when Lima batted in the Astros' third, then took the mound in the fourth.

As is now well known, Lima gave up three more runs in the fourth before Dierker saw fit to stop the bleeding and bring in Roy Oswalt.  It was then 6-0, a hole just deep enough to keep the Astros from crawling out of.  The tourniquet was applied too late, and the patient bled to death on the table.

Dierker just stuck too long with the wrong horse, and it cost the Astros the ballgame.  With Lima, a "zero-tolerance" policy should be adopted.  One dinger, and he's out of the game.  Whenever Lima takes the mound, the Astros might as well start warming someone up to take his place at the same time; a 'designated reliever', if you will.  Until these Jekyl-and-Hyde performances cease and we figure out which Lima is going to show up to pitch on a given day, we need that insurance.

One can't contend in a tight pennant race (as this year's race shows every sign of turning into) and trot out a Lima to pitch every fifth game for an all-but-certain loss.  Why not just forfeit instead, take the extra 20% loss rate, and neither risk injury to our good players nor inflict the extra workload on our bullpen?  We're carrying around a liability, the proverbial crazy aunt in the attic.

The real answer, of course, is to park El Stinko in the bullpen, and to heck with what it might do to his "confidence", such as it may be.  On what does he base his confidence now?  A 1-2 record with seven no-decisions?  An ERA that will shortly require scientific notation to describe?  How much worse does this charade have to become before someone wakes up and smells the napalm?  I say it's time for the Astros to stop dancing on eggshells around his overrated confidence.  His confidence, what there is of it, certainly didn't do the Astros any good today, nor is it likely to any time in the near future.

There comes a time where you either fish, or cut bait.  If you're the Astros, and you're serious about winning, that time is now.  Lima is on his own personal Titanic, and he hit the iceberg last season.  The Astros have waited over a year now for him to turn it around, and sad to say, he just can't do it.  I wish he could, but he can't.  He has to be kept around, I realize, because his salary has to be paid, but put him in the bullpen where he can do no harm and pitch if we're ahead, say, 92-3.  Or perhaps he can earn his keep by sweeping parking lots, cleaning restrooms, or wandering the upper decks of Enron Field yelling "Cole Beer!"  Perhaps he could vend catered victuals from Casa Ole while backed up by his meringue band... "Casa Ole, Get Some Today..."

I hope that Lima is putting his salary in the bank, because I think his longevity in major-league baseball is rather limited.

Once again, kudos go to the Astros offense for crawling back into the game and making the outcome respectable; enough, indeed, to threaten to tie it up in the ninth.  Also, kudos to the bullpen for not allowing another run after Lima's inglorious but too-late exit.

On the Trubycam:  Chris Truby went 2 for 4 today, scoring two runs for the Zephyrs.

Some more creative uses for Jose Lima:

Instead of having Lima pitch the ball, perhaps he should just place it on a waist-high tee, let the batter whack at it, and hope he doesn't get hit by a come-backer.  I think it would drive down his ERA, hopefully to some point below the Gross Domestic Product of South America.

Here's another: in addition to fantasy baseball, we could have 'nightmare baseball', kind of like the XFL is to football. Lima starts against pitching "ace" Rick Ankiel. Backing Lima up as the starting eight are the Bad News Bears (who do, after all, have Astrodome experience) with their slugger, BoogerAnkiel leads the Racine Belles from the movie "A League of Their Own", with their slugger, Rosie O'DonnellHarry Caray comes back from the grave to call the game, with Howard Cosell, Spuds McKenzie, and Marcel Marceau providing the color commentary.  The home plate umpire is Stevie Wonder.  Just to add to the fun, baserunners get to keep their bats.  Final score 46-45, Ankiel and the Belles taking it in a 27-inning nail-biter.

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