WASHINGTON — Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Russo went on a tirade decrying Matt Williams on MLB Network’s High Heat” Wednesday afternoon. But really, his problem with the Nationals climbs higher than the manager.
Russo first took exception with Williams’ decision to pitch Casey Janssen instead of Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s tied game against the Cardinals, which was in St. Louis, and the Nationals eventually lost 8-5 when Janssen gave up a walk-off home run.
Janssen had also blown the Nationals lead while allowing four runs against the Cardinals in the seventh inning the night before.
“Matt Williams is getting heat now all over the place after the game,” Russo said. “‘I can’t bring in Papelbon. I got nobody else I can bring in in the bottom of the 10th. I can’t let Papelbon pitch in that spot. It’s on the road.’
The Nationals have since won a game, quelling some of that heat, locally. But from a national perspective, media are still questioning Williams’ logic for not pitching Papelbon in that spot, which Williams explained simply enough as, “He’s our closer. He’s the one that closes the game.”
“He’s trying to give you a lesson,” Russo said. “We all know he’s on the road, Matt. We all know at home it’s a big advantage your closer can pitch the top of the inning in a tie game. We’re not dumb. We know how baseball works.”
“But there are certain situations where, if you’re Matt Williams, you have to manage it here seat-of-your-pants!” he shouted (as Russo’s wont to do). “Get out of the book! Get out of the dogma for managers — we’ve seen it too many times.”
Russo recalled the 2014 NLDS between the Nationals and Giants to prove that Williams now has a track record of withholding his best pitchers from meaningful games to save them for situations which may or may not arise.
Pointing to Game 4, Russo shouted: “He loses with [Aaron] Barrett for crying out loud!”
He then brought up the Mets’ late July/early August sweep of the Nationals, in which neither Papelbon, Storen nor Scherzer were used — meanwhile, the Mets had lined up their best starters — and after three games, Washington had conceded the division lead.
“[The Mets] were really reeling and the Nationals let them off the hook!” he said. “Papelbon, Storen — they don’t pitch. They lose extra-inning games. And they let the Mets breath. That was a mistake.”
“Then he throws Janssen at you two days ago, and last night you cannot pitch him in that spot!” he said. “That is lousy managing! You have to sit there and say, ‘I’ve got to get to the top of the tenth. The Mets have lost. I’m 6.5 back. It’s September. We’re a game or two over .500 and I can win this game. I’ve got Scherzer tomorrow, maybe he’ll come around and pitch better. I can win my fifth consecutive series, and then I have Atlanta at home before the Mets come in and [we can] build a little momentum.’
“Instead, he wants to let Janssen start the inning. You know, your fingers tightly crossed. He almost got away with it. But after he gives up the double, he has to be out of that game! I’m not interested in Papelbon batting in the top of the 10th, the third guy up. I don’t care! And you know what? Maybe the first two guys hit home runs so Papelbon can hit. I don’t care! I’ll worry about the top of the 10th and the bottom of the 10th when I get there, on the road, against that team at 5-5. It’s a terrible job. It’s awful.”
Russo then took aim at Rizzo — who, since this segment aired, has defended his manager’s decision-making in the game, calling it “masterful” — claiming the Nationals’ GM doesn’t keep his manager’s game strategy high enough on his priority list.
“It’s about the games!” Russo shouted before recalling the Strasburg shutdown of 2012. “Strasburg three years ago is a sin in baseball. A sin that [Rizzo] forfeited a playoff series because he was worried about the innings scenario with Strasburg. Have they done anything in the playoffs since? Have they?! No they have not. They have done nothing but underachieve. Has Strasburg did anything since? No he has not. Yet, they lost to the Cardinals because the front office didn’t want to push the envelope with Strasburg, and now they can’t get back to the friggin’ postseason!!”
Russo suggested, this late in the season, Williams take on the strategy of throwing “all caution to the wind” and doing whatever’s necessary, whether by the book or not, during games in the interest of salvaging the season.
“I’ve got to make sure that [the Cardinals] don’t score in that bottom of the ninth inning,” he said. “And I’ve got to put my best out there. It’s September. I am dead as a door nail. I’ve had a lousy year. I’ve got to salvage something. And he did not do that. He did not do that.”
“And I hate to say it, because I loved him as a player — he’s a good guy — Matt Williams does not know what he’s doing in these games,” he said. “You gotta say it. You HAVE TO SAY IT! This is a bad, bad baseball job here!”
“And I’m telling you right now: It’s almost like there’s a curse for the Nationals because they played with the baseball gods three years ago,” he said. “They had the Cardinals dead to rights. They would have won that series if Strasburg was allowed to pitch. They did not manage the innings properly! They buried Strasburg almost arrogantly.
“You know what? We’ll be here so many times in the future. We’ll learn we’ll have so many chances at this. And they learned … you DON’T have chances at this! When you have a chance to get the brass ring, you get it! Rizzo did not play that way! And it’s cost him.”
Where have we heard this before?