Manager Charlie Manuel, long chided for old-school thinking, did something that would have made Bill James proud: He used his best reliever in the highest-leverage situation yesterday, even if it was inadvertent.
With two men on and one out in the eighth inning, Jamie Moyer’s tank appeared to have run dry and Manuel decided to turn it over to the bullpen. With a 3-0 lead and a runner in scoring position, Manuel handed the ball to displaced starter Brett Myers to shut down the Marlins’ rally. Displaying a dominant hammer, and reaching 96 mph with his fastball, Myers put out the fire with back-to-back strikeouts of Miguel Olivo and Mike Jacobs. The Phillies tacked on three runs in the bottom half to put the game out of reach by the final count of 6-1. The ninth-inning pitcher, which turned out the be Antonio Alfonseca, was irrelevant.
James, a sabermatrician currently in Boston’s employ, has long championed the cause of using something called a ‘relief ace’ for the highest-leverage innings when the opposition threatens to take the lead. That could be as early as the 7th inning or whenever the outcome of a ballgame is most in doubt. Often, the most valuable relievers, statistically, are used to shut down rallies during an inning, not in the ninth for the higher-profile save situation.
Manuel addressed his struggling bullpen by pulling his No. 1 starter out of the rotation, a move labeled as "desperation." So far, that move appears to be working. Myers has been effective, Jon Lieber has been solid in the rotation, and the rest of the bullpen has found stability.
Every writer has been trying to place a nice, clean label on Myers’ new role and have been hounding Manuel for answers ever since the move. Is he a setup man? Closer? Part-time stopper? Maybe the best term, for everyone’s sake, should be ‘fireman,' a term last used during the days of Hall-of-Fame relief ace Bruce Sutter.