Dierker makes lemonade

added 6/10/2001 by Ray Kerby
In stark contrast to Friday night's tense game between the Astros and the Rangers, Saturday's contest turned into a laugher rather quickly. Anyone familiar with Kent Bottenfield could have guessed that his start would be the Rangers' best chance to win, but I don't think anyone would have predicted a 16-4 blowout. Considering the lopsided score, I think that manager Larry Dierker did a fine job of minimizing the damage.

There are a lot of Dierker critics that might take exception to that, but I'll explain my reasoning a little later. It was obvious the first inning that Kent "Batting Practice" Bottenfield had nothing. It only took three batters to realize that it was going to be a looong night for Astros fans. Everything hit off of him was a rope, even the first out. After Gabe Kapler's two-run homer, Dierker came out and seemed to settle Bottenfield down. After that visit, Ken Caminiti grounded out and Frank Catalanotto struck out.

In the second, things didn't improve. Ruben Sierra hit a shot off of the wall in deep center, and several hitters hit opposite-field shots to the warning track or out of the park for homers. You know things are going bad when you spot Jose Lima warming up in the bullpen in the 2nd inning.

But Lima was no better. In the 3rd inning, he loaded the bases with two outs before serving up a grand slam to Pudge Rodriguez. That made the score 10-1 and snuffed out any realistic chance the Astros had of winning the game. Sure it was early, but the Astros would have to score nine runs to catch up PLUS whatever additional runs Lima and the bullpen allowed. To rub salt into the wound, Lima coaxed an easy groundout from Alex Rodriguez immediately after the grand slam. It sure would have be nice to get that grounder one batter earlier.

Lima settled down and didn't allow any runs in the 4th or 5th innings. But with the team down by 8 runs, manager Larry Dierker threw in the towel in the bottom of the 6th by pulling Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio out of the game. We were a little confused at first because the change wasn't announced to the fans, and we still wanted to think that we had a chance to make a comeback. In hindsight, however, I think this was the right move to make.

Joe Slusarski pitched the final three innings for the team, allowing six runs. The stadium started clearing out in the 7th inning, which surprised some of the Ranger fans around me. Their thought was that everyone should savor each moment of this victory since wins have been so hard to come by this season.

By the time the 9th inning rolled around, the Astros fans in our area were in better spirits. After all, we had been given 5 or so innings to accept the defeat and everyone seemed to be taking the loss in stride. There was a lot of good-natured ribbing between the opposing fans in our section. We tried several times in the 9th to start a wave, and we got the laughs we were looking for. Then we started encouraging the Astros fans to put on their "rally caps" despite being down 12 runs. When ninth inning started, I shouted "we only need 17 walks!" and got a lot of laughs. When Julio Lugo walked, I shouted "just 16 more walks!", and got some more laughs. When Jose Vizcaino walked, I shouted "just 15 more walks!", and not as many people were laughing. Funny.

Still, the family had a lot of fun, even in the loss. I've always said that I'd rather lose a blowout than a close game because, afterwards, you're not second-guessing decisions and playing "what if" games in your head. In other words, winning yesterday's game was just not meant to be.

And that brings me back to Larry Dierker. For good or bad, Dierker realized early on that this game was not going to be won and managed accordingly. He rested Biggio and Bagwell, allowing Charlie Hayes and Julio Lugo to get some playing time. But, more importantly, he spared the bullpen and allowed our three worst pitchers to pitch the entire game. Notice that he didn't pitch Jose Lima or Joe Slusarski on Friday night when the game was on the line and the bullpen had to pitch six innings. And additional side benefit is that the mediocrity of Bottenfield, Lima and Slusarski were made glaringly obvious at the expense of only one game. If this brings better pitchers like Tony McKnight and Tim Redding to the team any faster, then so much the better.

For Sunday's game, our bullpen will be well-rested and our chances for winning will be better. I like the matchup between Wade Miller and Doug Davis. But win or lose, our family will be screaming ourselves hoarse for the team.

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