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Thursday, April 22, 2004

Galante's Gambles 

In an attempt to ignite an otherwise punchless offense, Mets third base coach Matt Galante has been sending runners home for plays at the plate with what some perceive to be reckless abandon. The Mets have had four runners gunned down at the plate so far, including Kazuo Matsui in San Juan against the Expos, Matsui again against the Pirates, and two last night when Mike Piazza and Karim Garcia were waved home where each met an out. Hindsight is always 20/20, but let's review each of these plays a bit closer.

Friday 4/9 vs. the Expos: In the top of the 9th inning in a tie 2 to 2 game, Matsui doubles with two outs followed by a Gutierrez walk so now runners on 1st and 2nd base. Shane Spencer digs in and hits a single to left field and Galante sends Matsui home. Juan Rivera fields the ball cleanly and makes a perfect throw to the plate to nail Matsui to end the inning. The Mets end up winning the game in the 11th. I like this call. The Mets just got a new toy in Matsui, who some say is faster than Ichiro, and Galante wants to see what he can do. It took a perfect throw from Rivera and as luck would have it, that's just what he delivered.

Sunday 4/18 vs. the Pirates: With the Mets down 1 to 0 in the bottom of the third Matsui doubles. Todd Zeile hits a one out single to right field and Galante sends Matsui around again. Raul Mondesi shows off his strong throwing arm in gunning Matsui down at the plate. Karim Garcia strikes out the next at bat to end the inning and the Mets fail to score. The Mets go on to lose the game 8 to 1. This is a closer call than the 4/9 game. The hit was to right field which is an easier throw to make than the throw from left to home since the fielder does not have to contend with trying to not hit the runner with his throw. Additionally, it's no secret that Mondesi has a cannon for an arm. Finally, the heart of the batting order is coming up in Garcia, Piazza, Cameron and Phillips. This all said, I still can't fault Galante for sending Matsui here. It seems the situation warranted Matsui being held up but there's something to be said for pitting our best against theirs, that is, our fastest runner versus their strongest arm. Sending Matsui puts the pressure on the Pirates defense to make a perfect play. They did. Matsui's out. All you can say it, "damn."

Wednesday 4/21 vs. the Expos: The score is tied 0 to 0 in the bottom of the 2nd inning and Mike Piazza doubles to deep left field to lead off the inning. Mike Cameron walks and Jason Phillips strikes out. That brings up Shane Spencer with one out and runners on first and second. Spencer singles to right center and Piazza comes lumbering down toward third base to see Galante waving him home. Piazza must have been shocked to see that he was being waived home and might have hesitated, thinking Galante was waving for a hot dog instead. Piazza rounds third while at the same time Juan Rivera charges the ball, bare hands it, and makes a strong throw to catcher Brian Schneider who, despite Piazza's valiant efforts to avoid the tag, gets nipped on the shoulder by Schneider's glove. Joe McEwing is up next and singles to score Cameron. Tom Glavine grounds out to end the inning. The next play at the plate occurs when Karim Garcia finds himself at 2nd base in the 8th inning down by one run after hitting a one out double. Mike Piazza singles to center field and Galante sends Garcia home while center fielder Brad Wilkerson came up throwing to nail Garcia at the plate despite Garcia's best efforts to take Schneider's head off. Mike Cameron strikes out to end the inning and the Mets go on to lose the game 2 to 1.

While I'm in Galante's corner for his 4/9 and 4/18 calls, I can't back him up here on the 2nd inning decision to send Piazza. Sure, you can say that with McEwing and Glavine next to bat you have to take your chances and I'm sure that is what was going through Galante's head but c'mon, this is Mike Piazza we're talking here. If Juan Rivera managed to throw out Kazuo Matsui only a week and a half earlier, what makes you think he'll have a harder time throwing out Mike Piazza? I'll take my chances with McEwing with the bases loaded and one out any day of the week and twice on Sundays over putting the game in the hands of Mike Piazza's legs. As for sending Garcia, sure, I can agree with that call. Garcia has shown good speed and tuffness so far this year and with a struggling offense I can agree with testing Wilkerson's arm.

Like I said, hindsight is 20/20 and even after sitting back and looking more closely at the situations I can back Galante on 3 of 4 decisions and I even admit that the one call I don't agree with was pretty close. It's also fair to point out that if the Mets offense wasn't struggling so mightily the Mets could afford to not send runners on close plays and trust that they will get a hit to score the run. That obviously isn't happening.
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