Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wood you believe it?!

Astonishing game in Philadelphia tonight.

The Cincinnati Reds' Travis Wood, making his third Major League start, carried a perfect game into the ninth inning before it was broken up by a double by the Phillies' Carlos Ruiz -- who was just activated from the disabled list earlier in the day.

The problem for Wood, and the Reds, was that he was dueling Roy Halladay -- who threw a perfecto of his own earlier this season -- and the game was scoreless. It became a battle of the bullpens as the game went into the 11th, where Ruiz hit another double and scored the winning run on Jimmy Rollins' single. It was the third consecutive walk-off loss the Phillies dealt the Reds in the first three games of this four-game series.

The game was spectacular to watch, albeit excruciating for Reds fans, and it prompted a most intriguing National League-style scenario in the eighth inning.

The Reds, believe it or not, are in a pennant race, leading their division by two games -- and every win is monumental. But with the score tied at zero and Wood working on his perfect game, Miguel Cairo led off the eighth with a double and was bunted over to third. Halladay then struck out Ryan Hanigan, giving the Reds two outs -- and whose spot was up next? Wood.

Here is an extremely rare situation, and an agonizing decision for a manager to make. You have to win this game, and yet you just can't pinch-hit for a pitcher who is throwing a perfect game. So what do you do? Well, Dusty Baker did what every manager in baseball would and should do. You let the kid hit, so he can stay in the game.

But by doing that, is that as good as admitting that the opportunity to throw a perfect game is more important than winning the game? Letting your pitcher hit instead of bringing in a pinch-hitter, who has a better chance of getting that run home? I don't know. It's such a razor-thin line you have to run there, and I'd hate to have to be in that position.

And how poetic it would have been had Wood calmly stepped into the box and helped his own cause with a sharp RBI single back up the middle, giving the Reds the lead and clearing his path to history ...

Instead, he struck out to end the threat, and what would prove to be the Reds' hope of winning the game -- whether they'll look back on this game as October nears remains to be seen. But Baker gave solid rationale for the decision he had to make afterward.

"It was a little tough when he has a perfect game," he said. "You have to give the kid an opportunity to get that because how many times in your life are you going to have that opportunity? At the same time, we had to reward his performance. There were two outs in the inning, if there was one out, then you have a decision to make. Plus, he's a pretty good hitter."

Well said, and nobody to blame in this. The Reds' bats were facing a guy who's as stingy as they come and just weren't able to break through for the rookie. And, sadly, Wood will always be left to wonder what may have happened had the Reds faced a different pitcher on this night.

Until, perhaps, his next bid.

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