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J.A. Adande

Tracy and His Team Are Forever Losing by Decision

September 20, 2003|J.A. Adande

Jim Tracy can't win.

If the Dodger manager doesn't bring in Eric Gagne, he gets blasted. If he brings in Gagne too soon, he gets second-guessed.

Jim Tracy can't win because the Dodgers aren't properly equipped to make the postseason, and his choices are limited to changing lanes on a dead-end street. He's playing chess with a set of pawns.

And now, after a 6-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Friday night that almost forces the Dodgers to win their remaining 10 games to have a shot at the playoffs, it's time to wonder if the Dodgers must also enter this stretch with less confidence in their manager.

This is looking more like a long-term issue than an immediate concern, now that the Dodgers are three games out of the wild-card spot.

It's a legitimate question, as The Times' Jason Reid reports that Tracy apologized to his team two days after leaving Gagne in the bullpen when the Dodgers blew a four-run lead at Arizona on Sept. 10, after initially insisting that he had made the right move.

It's one thing to get it wrong. It's another to be wrong about getting it wrong.

By taking 48 hours to acknowledge his mistake, Tracy only prolonged the lingering effects of that heartbreaking loss.

Everyone knows America is a place that offers forgiveness almost as soon as the confession comes out. We can "put it behind us," as the athletes and celebrities always say in the tearful news conferences. But woe be to those who don't 'fess up immediately. That's the quickest way to draw suspicion, anger, even impeachment, if you're a president.

Instead of hearing "My bad; it won't happen again" from their manager right away, the Dodgers sleepwalked through a 2-0 loss the next night. After Tracy apologized one day later, the Dodgers swept the Padres.

A week later, Tracy acknowledged in an interview with Fox Sports Net's Carolyn Hughes that the Gagne call in Arizona was the one thing he's regretted in his tenure as Dodger manager.

That came right after he went to the other extreme Thursday night and brought Gagne in with a one-run lead at the start of the eighth inning. It was the first time Gagne had been asked to get six outs to save a game. After some shaky moments, Gagne came through.

As Tracy is forced to toss the book aside and become increasingly proactive and bold, he risks subjecting himself to even more criticism. Especially when it comes to using Gagne, who is really the only card Tracy has to play. (His best hitter, Shawn Green, is damaged, and there's no one to ride to the rescue the way a hot Jim Thome has for the wild card-leading Philadelphia Phillies.)

When Tracy summoned Gagne to start the eighth inning Thursday, it was the clearest indication yet that the season had entered the desperation phase.

If it's time to sacrifice all of the principles and tendencies Tracy followed all year, then it's also time to cut loose pride. He can't worry about perceptions when he makes moves, and he can't stubbornly defend them when they're wrong.

Every manager in the playoff race will make mistakes; the lucky ones will have their boo-boos covered up by the players. The Dodgers don't have enough weapons to overcome strategic blunders.

How would you like to be Tracy, making the go-for-broke call to pinch-hit for Kevin Brown after five innings in a two-run game Friday

The subsequent sequence of events made it all the more maddening. Cesar Izturis scored after singles by Dave Roberts and Shawn Green to pull the Dodgers to within two, 5-3. And then reliever Guillermo Mota gave the run back in the top of the seventh when he served up a two-out home run to Barry Bonds.

Would Bonds have taken Brown deep? Perhaps. He can do it to the best of them. And Brown is one of the pitchers with the confidence to challenge Bonds, who is hitting a mortal .244 against him. In the third inning, Bonds fought through a 1-2 inside pitch from Brown to hit a double down the left-field line.

Should Tracy have ordered an intentional walk to Bonds with two out and no one on base in the seventh? Once again, he was in a no-win situation.

The offensively challenged Dodgers are in no position to offer opponents a free run. They'd already dished out two in the first inning thanks to uncharacteristic errors by Izturis and Alex Cora on grounders up the middle. And they made a gift run out of Bonds' fifth-inning at-bat with a runner on first. The Dodgers walked him on four pitches, and Edgardo Alfonzo followed with a two-run double that made the score 5-2.

Tracy danced through the lion cage again in the top of the ninth. Bonds came up with one out and runners on first and second. Tracy brought in Tom Martin to pitch to Bonds. Yes, pitch to him. Martin had struck him out three times in the eight times he'd faced him (Bonds had two hits off Martin).

Martin got ahead of Bonds, 0-2, and Bonds whacked himself in the helmet with his bat for letting the second pitch go past him. Martin's third pitch went outside. Bonds connected on the fourth pitch but didn't quite get enough, and the ball settled into Shawn Green's glove in front of the warning track in right field.

Is there a worse dilemma in sports than the Bonds decision?

It's a no-win situation. Just like managing the Dodgers.


J.A. Adande can be reached at

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