Baseball is designed to trick you. It is the game of lazy summer days and endless tomorrows. Stay even keel and do not overreact to one game because the season is long. Above all, consistency is cherished.   

Then suddenly and without warning it is September.   

And managers who continue to manage as if it is May do not stay managers very long.

Ned Yost learned this the hard way back in 2008 when, in one of the most brutal sackings in memory, the Brewers, who would earn the NL wild-card slot, whacked him with just 12 games left.

Now, we’re about to find out if the lesson took.

Click Ahead to Other Topics

Playing truth and consequences in Philadelphia
Looking for answers? The Dodgers have them
• The Mariners take to the skies, again and again
No one should underestimate the Padres’ new GM
• Tigers’ bullpen may get boost at the perfect time
• Have the Yankees found their new star closer?
• Paul Goldschmidt still making his mark on D-backs 
• An intriguing look at baseball’s need for speed

It was a riveting weekend in both Kansas City and Seattle, where a couple of sexy Cinderella stories sustained serious cracks in their glass Nikes. Cracks that were preventable had their managers been more aggressive in pulling the rip cord.

With one key win over Oakland already in the bag from Friday and a sold-out Safeco Field howling Saturday night, Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon watched closer Fernando Rodney’s epic meltdown a few beats too long, and the series got away from the Mariners.

Yost, meanwhile, had a horrendous day Sunday as the Royals’ fade continued.

Exactly how and why reliever Aaron Crow was left in the game long enough to serve up a Daniel Nava grand slam that obliterated a 4-3, sixth-inning lead for the Royals demanded an explanation.

“It’s frustrating that we were one out away from getting to Kelvin Herrera with a one-run lead,” Yost told reporters in Kansas City. “That was frustrating.”

Wait. That’s the explanation?

You’re the manager. You’re the one who can make things happen.

Why wait that one more out to bring in Herrera? Why not just summon him for Nava? Especially because Crow’s numbers this year are worse against left-handed batters than righties?

“Aaron Crow’s inning is the sixth inning,” Yost replied. “Kelvin’s is the seventh.”

Quite simply, at this time of year and under these circumstances, that reasoning is just not good enough.

Among the very best ways to blow games, blow leads and, ultimately, blow whatever good collateral a club has built to this point in the season is by steadfastly refusing to recognize that you need to maximize every moment. There comes a point when you owe it to your team to go with the hot hand, specific roles be damned.

Crow came into the 4-3 game with one out and two on. He walked Yoenis Cespedes to load the bases, then fanned Allen Craig.

Bases loaded, two out, Yost said he wanted a strikeout in that situation, of course. But Crow’s five strikeouts per nine innings is a career low. How pedestrian is Crow this season? That 5 K/9 is down from his 9.4 K/9 when he was an All-Star in 2011.

After Crow whiffed Craig…well, Herrera’s K/9 is 7.8.

But it wasn’t Herrera who was warming in the pen. It was mop-up man Louis Coleman.

The wait for the seventh inning—and Herrera—was on.

Until Nava stepped up next and rendered it moot. By Monday morning, a half-game lead in the AL Central as of last Thursday had become a one-and-a-half game deficit.

Winning teams and winning managers seize the moment when the finish line is in sight. They go for the jugular right now.

One of Joe Torre’s greatest assets when he managed the Yankees was that at the first scent of blood when the leaves began to change, he went for the kill. Mariano Rivera may have been a one-inning closer most of the time from April through September, but from 1997 through 2008, according to Torre’s book The Yankee Years, Rivera scooped up more postseason saves of six outs or more (12) than the rest of baseball combined (11).

During that same time frame, Rivera “obtained at least four outs in 79 percent of his postseason saves, more than triple the incidence of such heavy lifting by all other closers combined (25 percent).”

Granted, this isn’t October, and there are no Mo Riveras out there. But the larger point remains: A winning manager recognizes winning moments down the stretch. The problem with closers is that sometimes games are won and lost in the sixth inning. Or the seventh. It is not always the ninth, and this is not a new development.

In Seattle on Saturday night, it happened to be the 10th, when McClendon called on Rodney to start the top of the frame in a 2-2 game.

But after starting Coco Crisp 0 and 2, Rodney walked him. Then, after a sacrifice bunt, Rodney intentionally walked Josh Donaldson. Then came another walk to Alberto Callaspo.

Bases loaded and one out, it would have been one heck of a predicament to hand another reliever. But it was clear Rodney, who tied the Mariners’ franchise record for saves with No. 45 a night earlier, couldn’t find the strike zone with a guide dog.

Catcher Michael Zunino brilliantly saved him from a couple of would-be wild pitches that would have scored a run. But after striking out Brandon Moss, Rodney threw four straight balls to Jed Lowrie to force in what would be the winning run.

Yoervis Medina was warming in the pen but was left there.

“You stick with your closer, but you don’t want him to throw too many pitches,” McClendon told Seattle reporters. “That’s why Medina was up.”

Rodney threw a total of 32 pitches—22 of which were balls.

It might not have been too many total pitches for the night. But it was entirely too many balls to allow him to continue.

Now the Mariners, like the Royals, are playing from even further behind, falling from a half-game back in the wild-card chase as of last Thursday to two games back as the sun rose Tuesday morning.

Yeah, this game is sweet and innocent as spring gives way to the carefree days of summer. But in September, baseball can turn devious very quickly.


2. American Idiot Part I

Even when Jonathan Papelbon is going good, his four-year, $50 million contract is still bad.

Or, at this point, awful.

He deserved every bit of the seven-game suspension he received Monday for grabbing his crotch in an obscene gesture directed at Phillies fans Sunday who were booing him and, yes, helping to pay his overrated freight. He had, of course, just blown a save—only his fourth in 41 opportunities this season.

Umpire Joe West deserved a suspension as well for grabbing the crotch-grabbing closer by the jersey. No word as to why West eluded punishment.

As for Papelbon, he met with Ryne Sandberg for 20 minutes or so before batting practice in San Diego on Monday and, according to the Phillies’ manager, adamantly maintained he was simply “adjusting” his equipment.

“The biggest thing he indicated to me from what happened [Sunday] is whether it was poor timing on the field or whatever, he had no intent of giving any type of signal or gesture when he left the game,” Sandberg said.

Did the manager believe him?

“It’s not my job or position to believe him,” Sandberg said.

Remember when we talked about baseball with the Phillies at this time of year?


3. American Idiot Part II

The Dodgers emerged from San Francisco over the weekend with a commanding three-game lead in the NL West with only 13 games to go and with a swagger that would make Green Day proud.

Regarding Clayton Kershaw’s chances to rack up the NL MVP award in addition to the Cy Young…

“If someone even tries to mention someone else, they’re an idiot,” slugger Adrian Gonzalez told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

Regarding talk of clinching the division…

“Still too close. Only an idiot would say it’s over,” Gonzalez told Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times.

In non-idiot news, the Dodgers punched out 24 hits in Saturday’s 17-0 slaughter of the Giants. Last time that happened in a Dodgers-Giants game?


4. Men of the Sea, but successful frequent fliers, too

In the midst of an enormous seven-game stretch with Oakland and the Angels, perhaps the Mariners have things right where they want them: Starting with Monday night’s series opener in Anaheim, Seattle plays 11 of its last 14 games on the road.

Road-field advantage? You bet: Seattle, entering the week, was 38-40 in Safeco Field and 42-28 on the road. The .600 road winning percentage is best in the American League and second in the majors to the Dodgers’ .608 (45-29).

The Mariners have clinched their first winning season on the road since 2003, when they went 43-38.

By the time the M’s finish this trip to Anaheim, Houston and Toronto, they will have logged roughly 5,662 air miles this year through three different time zones. And however they finish in the standings, the Mariners will lead MLB in air miles.


5. A.J. Preller pulls on his Friar’s clothes

Young A.J. Preller had barely pledged the San Diego Padres’ fraternity as their new general manager before sharpshooters started shrugging off the endorsement of Rangers general manager Jon Daniels.

The two were roommates at Cornell before growing up and drawing up the Rangers’ World Series blueprints in 2010 and ’11. You bet that’s part of what attracted a downtrodden Padres’ organization searching for bluer skies over its baseball beaches to Preller.

When the final handshakes were done on the deal, Daniels told Padres president Mike Dee exactly what he thought. “You just made a hell of a hire,” the Rangers’ GM said.

“People may pass that off as, ‘He was your college roommate,’ ” Daniels told B/R the other day. “You know what? I’ve got a lot of college roommates that I wouldn’t hire to run a company.

“I’m glad the Padres are not in our division.”

They will win, Daniels promises. And, again, while it’s easy to slough off the Rangers and their thoughts at 57-92, this is a team that was ambushed by an extraordinary raft of injuries this year. Whatever the Rangers’ record at the moment, no front office has been smarter, sharper, more savvy and more in sync over the past few years than Daniels and Co., who have been so good they actually at times even diverted attention away from the Cowboys in the autumn.

Preller’s job is a big one: Looking at the Padres as presently constituted, the only everyday player who should be invited back for 2015 is second baseman Jedd Gyorko, who has had a disappointing sophomore campaign. Otherwise, the Padres should non-tender both first baseman Yonder Alonso and shortstop Everth Cabrera and look to move outfielders Cameron Maybin (who is owed $15 million through ’16 with an option for ’17) and Will Venable (signed next year for $4.25 million). Yasmani Grandal is not the answer at catcher.

At least he’s in a good place with San Diego pitching. Though with Ian Kennedy a free agent after next season, he likely will explore deals there this winter.

Preller is not known as a schmoozer. In fact, there are a surprising number of scouts and executives who really don’t know him. But that’s mostly because he’s always working and has spent an inordinate amount of time in the Dominican Republic.

“Even people here with the Rangers said to me, ‘I’m skeptical; how do you think he’s going to handle the media, and ownership?'” Daniels said. “I think he’s going to handle them well. A.J. didn’t do those things not because he couldn’t, but because he didn’t see it as part of his job.

“I think people are missing the boat if they think that’s going to be an issue for him. He’s passionate and knowledgeable about the game and about building an organization. And it’s easy to talk about things if you’re passionate and knowledgeable about them.”


6. Motown’s Secret Weapon?

It is not going to affect the Tigers in Minnesota this week, or their showdown series in Kansas City this weekend, but Anibal Sanchez was slated to begin throwing off of a mound Monday.

And that could be big news in October.

On the disabled list since early August with a strained pectoral muscle, Sanchez does not have enough schedule left to rebuild his stamina to start in October. But given the exasperating Tigers’ bullpen, a postseason return could be huge for Detroit.

This is a guy who won the AL ERA title last year. His sudden availability to start the sixth inning, or the seventh, could turn things sharply in Detroit’s favor.

Of course, Sanchez also is a guy with just one career relief appearance on his resume.

Still, remember what a boost Tim Lincecum gave the Giants’ bullpen during their ’12 World Series run. Sanchez’s health very much remains a key for Detroit in the postseason…but perhaps not in quite the way you might think.


7. Shades of Mariano Rivera?

There’s no getting around the fact that it’s been a disappointing season for the Yankees and it’s verging on getting worse just as soon as they’re officially eliminated.

Then there is Dellin Betances bringing exactly what Joe Girardi’s team needs: Fresh, young talent that will play. On Sunday night, as pointed out by stats guru Bill Chuck, he tied the legendary Mariano Rivera for most strikeouts in a season by a Yankees reliever at 130.

As Chuck notes, Betances reached the 130 mark in just 86.2 innings. When Rivera did it in 1996, he needed 107.2 innings.

Obviously, this is not to say that Betances is better than Rivera, or even in the same league. For one thing, Rivera wasn’t a strikeout pitcher—his cutter allowed him to pitch to contact. So let’s see how long Betances sticks around and what he accomplishes.

But for an organization desperate to get younger talent, this is a glimmering light.


8. Snake eyes

Despite finishing second in last year’s NL MVP voting to Andrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt mostly remains under the radar.

So as a public service, either to Goldschmidt’s value or to the woes of the Diamondbacks, here’s this:

Because of Goldschmidt’s fractured left hand, he has not played since August 1. Yet he likely is still going to finish the season as the D-backs’ leader in home runs (19), runs scored (75) and doubles (39). As it is, Miguel Montero (71) just passed Goldschmidt (69) for the team lead in RBI.


9. Look at those guns

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the new fall TV season is cranking up. But I’m finishing now with a rerun: If you missed it last week, Danny Knobler’s opus on The Radar Gun Revolution is absolutely worth reading. Just fascinating. Check it out here.

9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week:

Paging Jonathan Papelbon…


“I turn on the tube and what do I see

“A whole lotta people cryin’ “Don’t blame me”

“They point their crooked little fingers at everybody else

“Spend all their time feelin’ sorry for themselves

“Victim of this, victim of that

“Your momma’s too thin; your daddy’s too fat

“Get over it”

The Eagles“Get Over It”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball @ScottMillerBbl.

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