If Cox really thought his best lineup included Troy Glaus at third base and Omar Infante at second base, that’s the lineup he would have been writing out every game.
He hasn’t been. In his heart, Cox believes his best lineup includes Infante at third base and Brooks Conrad at second base. Except now psychology has come into this thing . . . If Conrad really isn’t good enough to start, Cox should have known that
before today. And I can’t stop thinking that all this could have been
avoided, if Cox had simply lifted Conrad for a better defensive player
in the ninth inning of Game 3.
I’m sorry to say this about a Hall
of Fame manager who’s on the way out. But he blew this one from six
ways to Sunday. Plain and simple.
Is psychology such a bad thing in this instance? I ask because in many ways Cox has operated like this for his entire career. He has pitched Charlie Liebrandt or started Keith Lockhart or any number of other things that weren’t always the best tactical move. Maybe not even what he thought was the best tactical move himself. Such an approach may have cost him some games. Maybe even some big ones.
But he’s never lost his clubhouse. He’s never, as far as I know, had his players seriously question his judgment. His steadiness and his attention to player psychology has arguably been his greatest asset over the years. It’s who he is as a manager. It’s who the Braves are as a team for better and for worse.
We on the outside can’t know for sure, but I bet Cox’s decision to go with Glaus is a function of him knowing — as really only he can know — that his players need that lineup tonight. That no matter how politic he has been, Derek Lowe will freak out if he looks back and sees Conrad at second tonight. That Alex Gonzalez or Derek Lee will try to do too much if they see him there. That Conrad himself may freeze up and, if it’s at all possible, play worse himself if he gets the start.
Maybe Cox does realize, deep down, that starting Glaus is the wrong move, tactically speaking. But for him to ignore what is most likely unanimous — albeit likely unspoken — team sentiment that Conrad shouldn’t start tonight would be for him to reject everything that has made him the manager he is. At this late date — perhaps six hours before his career comes to an end — how could he possibly change the only approach to managing that he’s ever known? And why would any Braves fan want him to, no matter what the stakes?
We’ve reached a point where the micro-level tactical considerations seem, I don’t know, beside the point. The Braves are bleeding. They’re tired. There’s only one bullet left in the chamber and the place they’ve holed up in is surrounded. Even if they get out of this mess, there’s a much scarier horde waiting for them just over the ridge.
No manager is perfect. Bobby Cox certainly isn’t perfect. But I believe in Bobby Cox. I have no choice but to. And if he’s going to go down tonight, I want him to go down doing it the way he always has. I think his players do too. And I think he’s doing just that.