Analyzing the Eighth; Should Wagner Have Pitched?

There have been rare occasions this season - nine times - when Billy Wagner has pitched more than one inning. After Monday night's loss to the Mets, he was wondering why he didn't have a chance to make it number ten in a key game that wound up in the loss column for the Phillies. Plus, there were other moves that could have been made or not made that might have brought better results.

Brett Myers threw seven strong innings for the Phillies Monday night. He threw 109 pitches in the outing and was deemed to be out of gas by manager Charlie Manuel. The plan has been for Ugueth Urbina to pitch the eighth and that's the direction that Manuel went in trying to beat the Mets.

Lifting Myers wasn't exactly a controversial decision and neither was going to Ugueth Urbina to pitch the eighth. It's how things have worked for most of the season and generally, it has worked well. There was no reason to believe that the plan wouldn't work again.

So, where did things go wrong and where does the controversy come in? Let's take a look at how things played out and how they might have been different.

The eighth inning started with the Phillies holding a 5-2 lead. Former Phillie Marlon Andersen led off the eighth with a double off Urbina. Jose Reyes then worked a walk, putting runners on first and second. At this point, fans, players and coaches are fidgeting.

Miguel Cairo rips another double off of Urbina and Andersen scores to cut the Phillies lead to two. Carlos Beltran hits a shot to Chase Utley and the usually pretty dependable Utley boots a play that he would normally make and two runs score, putting the score at 5-5.

Here's where the second guessing comes in. Should Manuel have had Billy Wagner instead of Aaron Fultz ready in the bullpen? Wagner had pitched an inning in five of the last six games, including getting the save in Sunday's game against Cincinnati. Manuel reported after the game that Wagner had some stiffness in his shoulder, which Wagner dismissed.

Fultz came on to face the left-handed hitting Cliff Floyd, who singled to right, putting runners on the corners with nobody out.

Again, time for second guessing; Manuel elects to lift Fultz in favor of Ryan Madson.

While Fultz is thought of as a left-handed specialist, right-handed hitters are hitting just .174 against him this season. Instead, Manuel went to Madson who has struggled horribly of late, going 0-1 with a 7.81 ERA in the month of September. Madson is simply out of gas and was a bad choice at that point in the ball game.

It looked like the move might work when Madson struck out David Wright for the first out of the inning. Then, Mike Piazza stepped to the plate and Madson hit him with a pitch to load the bases. Again, Wagner stayed put and Mike Jacobs lifted a long fly ball that scored Beltran from third with the go-ahead run. From there, Madson worked out of the inning without any further damage.

Another interesting move came to start the ninth. Geoff Geary went to the mound instead of Wagner as the Phils looked to hold onto a 6-5 lead. Geary threw a perfect inning, but Wagner probably should have been on the mound at that point if not earlier.

Wagner was noticeably upset after the game, insisting that he could have and should have pitched. As for the stiffness in his shoulder, Wagner said "Everybody's got soreness. Don't make no (expletive) up." From there, Wagner refused to say any more and stormed out of the clubhouse.

Wagner says he was available, Manuel wasn't so sure. Nobody can say whether going to Wagner in the eighth inning would have been the right move. He may have struggled as well in either the eighth or ninth. When you think back to 1980 though, Dallas Green rode Tug McGraw into the dirt and the fan favorite found a way to get it done. If Wagner insisted that he was okay, Manuel should have gone to him; if not to start the eighth, then when Urbina worked himself into a jam.

If Manuel was truly worried about Wagner, there was another move that he could have made; or not made as the case would have it. Ryan Madson should have stayed in the bullpen. He's done. He's pitched a ton of innings and has shown of late that he can't be relied upon at this point. There was no use beating a dead horse and a look at the numbers says that Fultz should have been given the responsibility of pitching to more than just Cliff Floyd. At this point, Fultz is a stronger option in that situation than Madson is and if Wagner wasn't able to give two innings, then Fultz needed to pitch more.

Going by the book works to a point, but with the season winding down, the book goes on the shelf. All through the eighth inning, there were spots to improvise and Manuel ignored them all in order to go by the way things should work instead of how they were most likely to work.

Columnist's Note: Reader's comments, questions and suggestions on this or any other article are always welcome. Please direct your thoughts to Chuck Hixson at

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