Friday, October 23, 2009

The Tortured Psyche of Brian Fuentes

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia isn't doing his closer Brian Fuentes any favors.

Fuentes, of course, gave up a game tying home run to Alex Rodriguez in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the ALCS. The Yankees went on to win that game in the 13th on a throwing error by Angels second baseman Macier Izturis.

But it was Fuentes who became the goat of the game with many wondering why he hadn't intentionally walked A-Rod or at least pitched around him.

Fuentes has twice faced A-Rod since then - once in Game 3 and once in Game 5. The Angels won both of those games and I suspect if Fuentes faces A-Rod tomorrow night in Game 6 he will do the same. But when he walked A-Rod yesterday it burned him. You could see it in his face. He would later vent his frustrations and I don't blame him.

In Game 3, Fuentes intentionally walked A-Rod to begin the inning. In Game 5, Fuentes intentionally walked A-Rod after easily retiring both Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon. After he issued the intentional pass to A-Rod, Fuentes proceeded to walk Hideki Matsui and then plunked Robinson Cano to load the bases. So instead of pitching to A-Rod with two outs and nobody on, Fuentes has the bases loaded with Nick Swisher up. Fortunately, he got Swisher to pop out to Erick Aybar to end the game. So the Angels got the win and live to fight at least one more night. But at what expense?

Think about it. Fuentes led the American League in saves. But because he gave up a home run to A-Rod he can never pitch to him again? What happens if Mark Teixeira goes deep off Fuentes? Will he be prohibited from pitching to him too? By telling Fuentes to intentionally walk A-Rod, Scioscia is telling his pitcher, "You can't get this guy out." That's the worst thing you can do to a pitcher. It's demoralizing. Now it's one thing to give A-Rod a pass if first base is open or if it can set up a double play. But if Scioscia doesn't believe Fuentes can get A-Rod out then he shouldn't be out there period. It's the kind of thing that can ruin a career, if not a life. The Angels should be acutely sensitive about that given the tragedy that befell Donnie Moore after he gave up the home run to Dave Henderson in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS with the Angels one strike away from going to the World Series.

Now I'm not suggesting Fuentes is going to do anything rash. But I think what Scioscia is doing could cause long term damage to Fuentes' confidence if it hasn't done so already. I just have a bad feeling that if Fuentes has to intentionally walk A-Rod again in the ALCS that the Angels won't be so lucky next time.

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