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NYM 2, STL 1, F/20: A Baffling Game

There was an epic 20-inning affair between the Mets and Cardinals last night (box score available here). It was entertaining to watch from my vantage point, Safeco Field. My friends and I started rooting for 20 innings as we watched the out-of-town scoreboard. We also wondered how long things would go in that game before hitters started taking the mound, and chaos in general started to reign supreme in high leverage situations.

By the 19th inning, even from the limited information an out-of-town scoreboard can provide, it was obvious the game had entered a surreal state. Joe Mather, primarily an outfielder, had taken the mound for St. Louis. I would later check the box score and find out he replaced middle infielder Felipe Lopez. It was very amusing, but not surprising, given the situation.

Then it became apparent that this game was in an alternate baseball universe. Once the Mets grabbed the lead, Francisco Rodriguez came in the game to close it out.

How in the world did the closer get saved until the 19th inning?

K-Rod faced Ryan Ludwick to start with, who got aboard. Up to the plate stepped Albert Pujols. This was a golden opportunity! Ludwick expunged it himself though, getting caught stealing second. Oh well, I thought to myself, when you go a long time in a baseball game, odd things happen to perpetuate the game. Adding insult to injury, Pujols doubled.

Next, Kyle Lohse stepped to the plate. As in starting pitcher for the Cardinals, Kyle Lohse. I turned to my friend next to me and pointed it out. A position player was pitching, so where was Lohse playing? St. Louis had literally used everyone on their bench, and were playing a pitcher somewhere in the field. Our best guess was left field, and checking the box score afterwards, we were right.

In the end, Joe Mather struggled some, and the Mets prevailed 2-1. Francisco Rodriguez got the least-earned victory in major league history, after blowing the save in the 19th inning. Instead, Mike Pelfrey got that in the 20th, after starting for the Mets the day before.

The game features all sorts of goofy stats. For instance, the Cardinals left 22 men on base in the game, yet only scored 1 run. Lots of guys had odd nights at the plate with their 8-10 at bats. Mather pinch hit in extra innings, got the equivalent of a whole game in, and then came in to pitch.

Some of the numbers were expected. Long extra inning games almost always feature tons of men left on base. It intuitively makes sense. Most often, something has to go wrong to prolong a game so long, and it's much more likely to strand runners than to not get runners at all.

However, I am not sure this game had any business going 20 innings. Either that, or perhaps it should have gone even longer. Both managers made some very curious decisions.

Consider the 18th through 20th innings for the Cardinals. They were all pitched by position players, and to facilitate that, Kyle Lohse, a pitcher, came into the game in left field. You can't make this kind of stuff up. For the 19th and 20th innings, an outfielder was pitching, while a pitcher was in the outfield. I don't care that Lohse is a starting pitcher. The bottom line is that a pitcher was in the outfield while an outfielder was on the mound, and that is supposed to make good baseball sense?

The winning manager, Jerry Manuel, is far from immune either. K-Rod came in for the 19th inning, albeit in the first save situation of the game. However, the cost of saving him for that point was warming him up multiple times, starting in the 8th inning. Rodriguez said after the game he may have thrown as many as 100 warm-up pitches in the bullpen before finally entering the game.

As a brief side note, Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin came in for the 17th inning. I doubt he is in much better shape after warming up numerous times.

The bottom of the 19th as a whole should have played out quite differently. Francisco Rodriguez should have been used well before it. Ryan Ludwick never should have tried to steal second with the best hitter on the planet at the plate. Furthermore, why did the Mets even pitch to Pujols? On deck was Kyle Lohse! He of a career .369 OPS Kyle Lohse! It makes Ludwick's decision to steal even more preposterous, as well as the decision to pitch to Pujols.

Maybe the game was destined to go on forever no matter what. I didn't have the privilege of seeing it, so I don't know the vibe that it had, especially by the 11th or 12th inning. However, after seeing some of these antics from the latest innings, I wonder what got the game to that point in the first place. It is hard to leave 22 men on base, but it's easier to fathom when Ryan Ludwick is running with Albert Pujols at the plate and Kyle Lohse on deck.

I tend to believe that MLB managers have far less impact on games than their counterparts in other sports. It isn't like managers really get a chance to call plays, or decide where the ball is going to go. Their biggest impact on the game most often is made when they fill out the lineup card, before the game even starts.

However, I assumed that managers are smart enough to not put a position player on the mound by placing a pitcher in left field, that they won't get a reliever up seven or eight times before putting them in, and won't pitch to the best hitter in the game with a pitcher on deck and a base open (especially after another dumb decision to run with said hitter in said situation at the plate). Even in the absurd circumstances that a 20th inning presents, some baffling decisions were made last night. At least these two teams have the punishment of facing each other again tonight, after the self-inflicted wounds the managers placed on each of their rosters last night.