Because of the way the game is played today, the toughest job for a big-league manager is making pitching changes before trouble develops -- without bringing it on yourself.
Phil Regan stared down the second-guessers twice yesterday and survived -- barely. Had Toronto staged another of the late-inning rallies for which it has become noted (at least against the Orioles), Regan would've been dutifully fried.
Not once, but twice he tinkered with the machinery when everything appeared to be in working order. He lifted Jamie Moyer with one out in the eighth when the left-hander appeared to be cruising with a 4-2 lead. Then, after Terry Clark routinely retired the only two hitters he faced, Regan went to closer Doug Jones even though the Orioles had added another two runs.
It may appear that Regan was tempting fate, but both moves were explainable. Moyer had thrown only 83 pitches when he was nominated for an early shower, low enough to suggest he still had some effective pitches left.
But Regan weighed that against the veteran's penchant for allowing the long ball, and his history of running into trouble the third and fourth time through the lineup.
Making the call in that spot is a move Regan might not have made before the bullpen personnel was altered about a month ago. But he obviously already had made up his mind that Jones would close out the game. He also rationalized that his best chance of getting to that point was to have Clark, rather than Moyer, face two right-handed hitters to finish the eighth.
It was a gamble, because even one base runner most likely would've dictated another change in that inning and the chain reaction could've been disastrous. However, it wasn't until the ninth that the coulda, shoulda, wouldas tested Regan's patience, not to mention his nerves.
Jones got two batters out before giving up a double and two walks to bring the tying run to the plate. The ninth-inning SkyDome nightmares were plainly evident before the last out finally was recorded with no damage on the scoreboard.
Whether you agree with the decision to bring Jones into the game or not, you have to like the fact that Regan wasn't influenced by the no-save situation. A three-run lead is the cutoff point for the closer's reward in such cases, but that didn't influence Regan.
Jones was up and ready, and needed the work after a few days of inactivity. And a good rule of thumb for the last-inning specialists is to get them ready only when you're certain they're coming into the game. And once Jones had gotten himself in a hole, there was no point making another change -- the last out of the game presented exactly the type situation he's supposed to resolve.
vTC But had the Orioles somehow managed to blow their lead yesterday, Regan's strategy would've been severely questioned. Nobody's ever been wrong on a second-guess.