If Kaz Ishii keeps pitching the way he did last night, the Mets will unretire Jason Phillips’ jersey. If Kaz Matsui (above) continues to come through in the clutch, he’ll only have to learn how to play 2nd base to stop the booing.
Willie Randolph, the Mets’ first-year manager, promised himself that he would be flexible about using closers, and he proved it last night by inserting Dae Sung Koo instead of the team’s regular closer, Braden Looper, in the ninth. But Randolph’s decision produced a sticky inning and might make him more cautious about trying it again.
With three left-handed hitters up for the Cincinnati Reds, Randolph used the left-handed Koo instead of Looper, a right-hander. Koo allowed two of the three batters to reach base, so Randolph had to summon Looper after all. Looper recorded two outs and saved the Mets and Randolph in their 2-1 victory.
Randolph said he told Looper about a month ago that there might be games where he would use Koo against lefty hitters in the ninth. Although Looper recalled the discussion, he still seemed jarred about being bypassed for a pitcher who has now allowed 20 base runners in 11 2/3 innings.
“I’m not an angry person,” Looper said. “I think surprised is a better word. I’m more disappointed. I’m not sure what the word is. I wanted to be in the game.”
In choosing Koo to pitch to Sean Casey, Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, Randolph was relying on a modest statistical sample. Casey was 0 for 3 off both Koo and Looper. Griffey was 1 for 3 with two strikeouts against Koo and 3 for 6 with a homer against Looper. Dunn struck out twice in his at-bats versus Koo and was 2 for 6 with two homers versus Looper.
The numbers favored Koo, but Randolph said, “I always try to trust my instincts.”
Looper, who has nine saves in his last nine chances, was hovering around Randolph’s office after the game. It was unclear if they met. Looper repeatedly said he was not the one to decide who pitches the ninth, but it was obvious he expected it to be him.
“Looper is good, and he’s my guy and our guy,” Randolph said. “I got a lot of confidence in him. Who knows? Even if I had Mariano, I might have done that.”
When reporters politely chuckled at Randolph’s claim that he might have used Koo ahead of the Yankees’ Rivera, who is among the best closers in baseball history, Randolph asked if they believed him. No one did.
Looper was interviewed by WFAN’s Ed Coleman after the game and expressed more than a little frustration that he wasn’t asked to start the 9th inning. While acknowledging that this was the manager’s call, Looper did argue that his numbers this season are unduly tainted by the opening day collapse against the Reds (which, the last time we checked, was a loss that counted in the standings).