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Posted: Thursday May 22, 2008 12:39PM; Updated: Thursday May 22, 2008 1:37PM
John Donovan John Donovan >
INSIDE BASEBALL

Yost is the man Brewers fans love to hate (cont.)

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Eric Gagne
With five blown saves and a 6.98 ERA, Eric Gagne is one of many Brewers underperforming this year.
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With all the defensive shuffling, the Brewers are playing better in the field. But their pitching has been mediocre, at best. ("Losing Gallardo for the season felt like coming home one night in a great mood to discover that your house was on fire," Sackmann says.) Two regular starters, Carlos Villanueva and Dave Bush, have ERAs over 6.00. The team has some effective relievers, some struggling ones -- and a reluctant closer, Gagne, another major source of fan anger.

Earlier this month, after blowing his fifth save of the season, Gagne called his effort "embarrassing" and said, "I don't deserve that ninth inning right now." The Brewers promptly pulled him from the closer's role, but they soon put him back, despite his lack of control (16 bases on balls in 19 1/3 innings).

Earlier this week, they shut him down when he complained of shoulder soreness. He's now awaiting word from doctors on his next step. And this is the Gagne that Melvin paid $10 million for this winter?

"His stuff is pretty good. Is it as good as it used to be? Probably not. But it's good enough to save games. It's good enough that he should be able to save 30-35 games," says Melvin, who says he will stick with Gagne as long as he's healthy. "In our situation [being a smaller-revenue team], when we make offseason decisions, we're not a club that can flip-flop and go somewhere in a different direction. You pretty well have to live with your offseason decisions."

Whatever decisions have been made, whatever ones lie ahead, the disappointment with the Brewers always seems to get back to Yost. Melvin continues to support his manager, praising him for the positive attitude he brings and detailing how he has brought along the young roster. But Yost, a longtime coach alongside Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, remains a mystifying figure to many in the city.

Not only do fans constantly question his on-field moves -- fans do that in every city -- they bristle at his unwillingness to concede any point. Mere days before the Brewers yanked Gagne as closer, for example, Yost said that even discussing a role change was "ridiculous."

A couple of his former players have called the manager "Nervous Ned," remarking how he gets uptight in pressure situations late in the season or in close games. Yost nearly fought with former Brewers' catcher Johnny Estrada in the dugout last August when Estrada came to the defense of a teammate whom he felt Yost had unfairly criticized. Afterward, Yost typically tried to whitewash the altercation, caught by TV cameras, and insisted everything was fine.

Late in September, the Brewers and Cardinals engaged in an ill-advised beanball battle in a critical game that the Brewers lost, dropping the Cubs' magic number to three. Afterward, Yost insisted, "We still have math on our side." It was vintage Yost. Defiant and dogmatic.

"He has an amazing ability to piss you off, I will admit that. He comes off as condescending," radio host True says of Yost. "And I like him. I support him."

At two games under .500, and 5 1/2 games behind the division-leading Cubs, and with more than four months left in the season, there's still time for the Brewers to get their act together. But, as Melvin warns, "You can't always say 'It's still early.' You dig yourself in too big of a hole, it's hard."

For the Brewers to overcome their foundering start, they're going to have to hit more like they did last year, when they were second to the Phillies in slugging percentage. (They're currently ninth in the league.) That means Hall and Weeks and Hardy and even Fielder need to get going to provide Braun and the others some support.

They're going to have to solidify the pitching staff, with Bush and Villanueva and Jeff Suppan providing good, quality starts behind ace Ben Sheets (who threw a complete game Wednesday against the Pirates). The bullpen must be shored up, with or without Gagne at the end.

Maybe most critically, Yost, the man Milwaukee baseball fans love to hate and live to bash, is going to have to find a way to pull all those parts together. If he can't, nobody's going to like how this ride ends.

 
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