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Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Ozzie ball backfires on White Sox

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Tuesday, October 11

Editor's note: By popular demand of fans, skeptics, retirees and people who love to mock other people, Second Guessing returns for more October baseball.

Rob Neyer: The title of this edition of "Second Guessing" should probably be "Out at Second."

In a game that figured to be run-starved -- October in Chicago, two excellent pitching staffs against two middling lineups -- Ozzie Guillen and his "smart ball" risked 11 percent of his precious outs on one-run strategies. Earl Weaver famously said that if you play for one run, that's all you'll get. Three times, Guillen played for one run and didn't get anything at all.

In the fifth inning, Scott Podsednik was caught trying to steal second.

In the seventh, A.J. Pierzynski was caught trying to steal second (on what looked like a busted hit-and-run).

In the ninth, pinch-runner Pablo Ozuna was out at second base on Aaron Rowand's failed sacrifice attempt.

More playoff coverage
Click here for complete coverage of the MLB playoffs, including Insider columnist Rob Neyer, who will be contributing to Second Guessing during the postseason.

Rob Neyer: Oct. 11 chat wrap Insider

Playoff theories: What really wins in the postseason

Angels-White Sox series page
Astros-Cardinals series page

As I'm sure you know, the White Sox scored runs this season not because of Guillen's machinations, but rather because they had a bunch of guys who hit home runs. Maybe the home runs just weren't going to come tonight. But the fall-back didn't work so well, either.

David Schoenfield: Actually, I'd argue that "smart ball" hurt the White Sox even more than your 11 percent, if you include Podsednik's failed sacrifice attempt in the eighth inning, when he fouled off two bunts before taking a called third strike, and Jermaine Dye -- your No. 3 hitter who hit 31 home runs -- trying to bunt his way on leading off the sixth.

So that's five precious outs.

I suppose we should be disagreeing here, but five outs are five outs -- Ozzie Guillen lost this game for the White Sox. Smart ball don't look so smart when this happens.

Of course, I guess you can just blame the players for not executing the fundamentals.

Rob: Well, that's right. But of course, even if they "execute" -- and I think the other meaning of that word is often appropriate in this setting, too -- you're still playing for just one run. Or rather, you're playing for one base. I mean, Jermaine Dye did hit 31 home runs this season. Do you really want him bunting, even if he's got a decent chance of doing it successfully?

It's one thing to try this stuff when you're good at it. But Jermaine Dye's no bunter. And since August, Scott Podsednik's been no basestealer. I think that Guillen decided, early in the game, that this one was going to be a low-scoring affair. And once a manager and his players decide that, it's sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you wind up doing silly things like sending A.J. Pierzynski with Bengie Molina behind the plate.

You and I are charged with the task of second-guessing, so it might seem like we're blaming Guillen for this loss. I'm not. The White Sox lost because they were very slightly outplayed by the Angels. But I think that Guillen's tactics in this game lowered his team's chance of winning, just ever so slightly.

David: Here's another thing, and I don't remember Tim McCarver or Lou Piniella pointing this out on the TV broadcast: Scot Shields and Frankie Rodriguez have some of the filthiest, toughest-to-bunt pitches you can imagine. It's not an easy task trying to get one down against those guys. They will be wild at times, but if you bunt, then you're not even thinking about taking a strike and trying to work a walk, either.

And, just so we're not totally blaming Ozzie ball, the White Sox also gave the Angels two outs in the field in the third inning. Joe Crede was unsure how to play Orlando Cabrera's slow chopper, so instead of getting the sure out at first and letting the run score, he let the run score and got nobody out. And then Jose Contreras tried to turn the 1-4-3 double play on Vladimir Guerrero's little tapper instead of getting the sure out at home plate on Kennedy.

In fact, I wonder how much that inning influenced Ozzie's decisions the rest of the game. The Angels set up their two runs with Chone Figgins' bunt (which moved runners to second and third). Ozzie probably thought he had to out-smartball Mike Scioscia -- and was determined to prove so.

Rob: Right. If we're going to talk about execution, the real issue is the White Sox's poor execution. Crede blew that play, and Contreras had absolutely no business going to second base on Guerrero's comebacker. If Crede gets the out at first base or Contreras gets the out at home -- both of them relatively easy plays -- the Angels score just one run in the inning, and at this moment we might still be watching Big Time Baseball.

But this gets back to the original thread, in a way. Offensively, the White Sox tried to take bases that weren't there. Defensively, the White Sox tried to get outs that weren't there.

Grown men have been playing this game for a long, long time. They've figured out the best way to do things, for the most part. So if you try to get too cute, try to take things that probably aren't there, more often than not you're going to look foolish for your efforts.

David: I think Game 2 will be a good test to see if Chicago re-thinks its approach. With Jarrod Washburn starting, and with him having Mad Cow Disease or whatever he came down with, you have to think his stamina will be a little low (excluding, of course, any possible effects he may get from stimulants such, as, umm, extra shots of Starbucks espresso), and the White Sox would be smart to actually work the count, run up his pitch count, and try to get to the softer side of the Angels' bullpen (Kevin Gregg and Esteban Yan).

Then again, they were in a similar situation against Paul Byrd and made him throw five pitches in the sixth inning.

Do you think the White Sox are actually capable of playing smarter than they did in Game 1? Or is it live by Ozzie, die by Ozzie?

Rob: I don't know know if the White Sox are capable of running up anybody's pitch count. Not on purpose. Remember, this is a team that 1) ranked 11th in the American League in walks (just barely ahead of the Royals!), and b) is managed by Ozzie "See ball, hit ball" Guillen.

Again, this team simply has to hit home runs. They hit more home runs than the Red Sox this season. I know it's not fashionable to "sit back and wait for the home run," but I think that's preferable to running and bunting into outs you can't afford to give away.

More than anything, though, this team simply has to pitch better than the other team. The White Sox finished ninth in the league in runs scored, which is awfully low for a team that also won 99 games. Granted, tonight they pitched well and lost anyway. But if they can limit the Angels to three runs per game, they'll win four of the next six games. And considering the pitchers on their staff, they're capable of doing exactly that.

Previous Second Guesses
Oct. 10: $203 million down the drain

Oct. 9: 'Chris Burke Game' is an all-timer

Oct. 8: Braves' bullpen stinks it up

Oct. 7: Unit left in too long

Oct. 6: Jumpin' on the White Sox bandwagon

Oct. 5: Why leave Wang in the game?

Oct. 4: Colon over Lackey ... say what?