- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Rookies and veterans lacking stretch-run experience aren't the only ones who succumb to the pressures of a pennant race. It's crunch time for managers, too. Recently, they have been feeling the heat, and it has caused some pretty odd behavior.
Lou Piniella, whose Reds as of Sunday had lost 21 of their last 36 games and had seen an 11-game lead in the National League West reduced to 6� games, has been the most volatile manager. His troubles started two weeks ago, when he traded barbs, and then apologies, in the press with San Francisco manager Roger Craig. On Aug. 21, as Cincinnati continued to tumble, Piniella held a closed-door clubhouse meeting during which he told his team the story of the tortoise and the hare. "We've been the hare all year, and now we've got to be the turtle," he said. Reds pitcher Rick Mahler said, "It made a lot of sense. I especially liked it when he acted out all the characters."
The sight of Piniella bunny-hopping through the Cincinnati clubhouse couldn't have been any better than his imitation of Earl Weaver later that night. During an argument with umpire Dutch Rennert after Rennert had called Cincinnati's Barry Larkin out in a close play at first base, Piniella flung his cap, then picked up first base and threw it about 18 feet. He chased down the base and tossed it another 35 feet.
That's nothing new for Piniella, who has always been temperamental. But some people think that Piniella may be more nervous than ever because as a first-time National League manager, he must make more decisions on pitching changes than he did as skipper of the Yankees. Keep in mind that after the first game of the season, Piniella was telling Reds general manager Bob Ouinn that he was already running short of pitching and needed an 11th and maybe a 12th pitcher.
The Dodgers' Tommy Lasorda has seen it all in his 15-year managerial career, but on Aug. 21, even he was left muttering over and over, "I can't believe it, I can't believe it," after Los Angeles blew an eight-run lead in the ninth inning to lose 12-11 to the Phillies. The Dodgers led 11-1 in the sixth inning, when Lasorda began benching his starters. The move exploded in his face—and prevented L.A. from closing to within 5� games of the Reds—when rookie shortstop Jose Offer-man committed two errors in the ninth, which kept Philadelphia in contention until pinch-hitter John Kruk hit a three-run homer to tie the game and Carmelo Martinez hit a run-scoring double to win it two batters later.
Other than hurling a few objects in the dugout that night, Lasorda was too stunned to get angry until a reporter asked him if he felt like screaming. Lasorda threatened to throw his desk at the reporter. He should have thrown it at the three relievers who blew the lead: Dave Walsh, Tim Crews and Jay Howell.
The manager who seems to be handling the pressure the best is Pittsburgh's Jim Leyland (SI, Aug. 27). He has blown up with the best of them, but he told his players at a meeting after the All-Star break that no matter what happened in the second half, he wasn't going to start smoking cigarettes again, and he wasn't going to Hip over the post-game buffet table anymore. "We have a mature team. I don't have to do that now," says Leyland.
The low-key approach has worked for him. The Pirates are playing aggressively on the field and staying loose in the clubhouse. At week's end, they held a three-game lead over the second-place Mets in the National League East. Leyland's theory for the stretch run is simple: "Stay with what we've done all year."
He has not had any reliever appear in more than two straight games and, according to pitching coach Ray Miller, "He won't the rest of the year, cither." Nineteen Pirate pitchers have won a game this season. Leyland's strength as a manager is his willingness to use all his players. "Give everyone the chance to be the hero," he says.