PHOENIX – Rookie managers invite second-guessing in the playoffs. Even after leading their teams to historic regular seasons, they appear jittery. Even when they are men in their mid-50s, they exude greenness. Even when they undoubtedly will rank Nos. 1 and 2 in Manager of the Year voting, they are questioned.
Kirk Gibson of the Arizona Diamondbacks deserved every bit of the criticism directed his way in the first two games of the division series, both losses. He should have walked Prince Fielder(notes) in Game 1. He should have lifted reliever Brad Ziegler(notes) sooner in Game 2. Gibson has admitted as much in a roundabout, begrudging way. Case closed.
Ron Roenicke, though, shouldn't be faulted for a move that backfired Tuesday night and put his Milwaukee Brewers on a downward spiral in an 8-1 loss that will force Game 4 on Wednesday. Even if he faults himself. Even if perhaps he could have done something different.
With two out and runners on second and third in the fifth inning, Roenicke elected to walk Miguel Montero(notes) intentionally and have Shaun Marcum(notes) pitch to Paul Goldschmidt(notes). Montero had singled, doubled, driven in two runs and introduced the Diamondbacks' answer to the Brewers' "Monsters, Inc." beast gesture, emulating a striking snake with his right arm. Goldschmidt had singled in a run and hit a lazy flyout to center field.
This time Goldschmidt took a two-strike four-seam fastball and drove it over the right-field fence for a grand slam. Marcum flipped his glove in the air in disgust. Roenicke was stoic in the dugout. A two-run deficit suddenly was a blowout.
Roenicke preempted questions about the move in the interview room moments after the game, saying, "I have the first question: Before Goldschmidt went deep, did you guys think it was the wrong move?"
Not a single reporter admitted as much.
"That's the dilemma a manager has," Roenicke continued. "That's why I don't like walking people. I think it was the right move. I just don't like it."
Maybe he should have lifted his pitcher before Goldschmidt came to bat because Marcum was stewing over earlier events and had lost his composure. Diamondbacks pitcher Josh Collmenter(notes), a .150 hitter, began the onslaught with a single, then with one out and runners on first and second, Marcum misplayed a comebacker by Justin Upton(notes) that might have been a double-play ball and had to settle for an out at first that advanced the runners.
First base was open, Montero was walked, and Marcum might have been thinking about all that had transpired instead of focusing on the next pitch. A clue was ball two to Montero during the intentional walk, a lob that came perilously close to crossing the plate. "It was like a softball pitch," Montero said. "I couldn't believe it. It took me by surprise and I didn't swing."
But Marcum had thrown only 78 pitches when Goldschmidt came to the plate and Roenicke didn't consider pulling him. The situation was reminiscent of Gibson leaving in Ziegler in Game 2 after the submariner had balked and panicked on a squeeze play, making an ill-advised toss to the plate rather than conceding the run and recording an out at first.
Sometimes a manager needs to consider a pitcher's state of mind, regardless of his pitch count or track record or the game situation. Marcum, like Ziegler, was flummoxed, and sure enough, the fat fastball he threw to Goldschmidt even Marcum described as "a mistake, up and over the plate."
Goldschmidt, a rookie who hit eight homers in 156 at-bats with the Diamondbacks after belting 30 in Double-A earlier in the season, feasts on mistakes. Marcum was in full gaffe mode.
"I'm sure he missed his spot because it ended up down the middle," Goldschmidt said.
Montero was less analytical, crediting it all to something zany, as ballplayers often will. Standing on second base after an RBI double in the first inning opened the scoring, he placed his right elbow in his left palm, formed a snake's head with his right hand and emulated a strike.
"The snake is gonna bite you, bro," he said afterward, grinning. "Give 'em poison. Something like that worked for them, so I thought we needed something to work for us. I hit the double and, boom, I dropped the snake."
In the wake of the Texas Rangers' "claw and antlers," Miguel Tejada's(notes) "spotlight" and the Brewers' "beast mode," you sort of wondered why it took the D'backs so long to come up with the snake thing.
As for the victory, maybe it could have been predicted. The Diamondbacks were 51-30 at home and the Brewers are the only team this postseason that had a losing regular-season record on the road.
Collmenter, a rookie with an over-the-top delivery that truly is over the top, was unscored upon in 14 regular-season innings against the Brewers. He allowed only a home run to Corey Hart(notes) in seven innings Tuesday.
Goldschmidt and Collmenter, largely unheralded first-year players, played with the poise of veterans. With their team on the brink of elimination, they delivered. Those first-year managers, Roenicke and Gibson, also are under the microscope. They excelled during the regular season, gaining the confidence of their players and making sound decisions. They were excellent hires.
Yet something about the playoffs exposes their inexperience. Every move is instantaneous and every result unforgiving. They won't look so wobbly a year from now. But in Game 4 on Wednesday they'd better beware of monsters and snakes.
- Ron Roenicke