Winning Must Come First In A Pennant Race
I like Mike Matheny. He seems like a great guy; warm, protective, loyal, even-tempered, and fair. He’s certainly in the learning stages of his managerial career (and dealing with the second-guessing that comes with the territory), but his record of success so far has been quite impressive.
I’m hoping that Matheny learned something new during last night’s ninth inning collapse by Edward Mujica. Several Cardinal sites (including this one) have been blaring the warning sirens about Mujica’s freefall into ineffectiveness over the last two months, but Matheny has loyally supported the beleaguered closer despite the mounting evidence. This is not a bad thing to do in July and August; Mujica is one of the important reasons why the Cardinals are within a whiff of the postseason. After three months of incredible relief, Matheny’s choice to support Mujica when he began to falter is the right thing to do.
But Matheny’s comments of support sound ridiculous and out-of-touch as we enter the final week of the season fighting for our postseason lives. Statements like this one border on insanity:
“We’re trying to get our closer right. That’s what we’re trying to do. And we were one ground ball away from turning the double play. If we turn the double play, he gets the save and we get the win and he’s feeling pretty good about himself. It didn’t happen tonight. We hurt for him, and we hurt for us, obviously.”
We’re trying to get our closer right? Try telling that to the other members of this team who have battled all year to reach this point in the season! Their efforts deserve some respect, too!
I’m sorry, but I don’t care about Mujica’s ego or his standing on this club right now. We’re on the brink of a postseason berth, and we’re fighting some tough, determined, and extremely talented National League teams to get there. Stubbornly depending on a faulty reliever at a time in the season when every single pitch matters is the height of stupidity. There is no excuse for this kind of chance-taking. The fortunes of so many other players hang in the balance while Matheny repeats the same mistake again and again like the world’s dumbest lemming.
Mujica should be relieved of his duties — full stop. This isn’t personal, it’s business. And right now, the business of the St. Louis Cardinals is winning the division and (hopefully) winning the National League’s best record. Mujica should be quarantined in long relief or a spot appearance until further notice without a moment’s hesitation.
Will the “demotion” hurt Mujica? Probably. But if he’s truly a Cardinal, loves his teammates, and wants a ring, he needs to step aside and contribute in any way he can. As for Matheny, now is the time he must actually make the tough decision and have the difficult discussion with a player he truly loves and respects. This is part of the managerial learning process. Hopefully Matheny can take that next step.
In the end, this is about winning the World Series. It’s larger than any one player’s ego, or any one manager’s empathies. The time to “get our closer right” has passed. We must now get the team right, or winter will be coming sooner than anybody anticipated.