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Team USA poorly managed by Davey Johnson


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LOS ANGELES - And Davey slept.

Actually, as poorly as Davey Johnson managed, the people at USA Baseball who appointed him should be even more embarrassed.

Johnson was once a great manager, a master handler of bullpens, the cocksure leader of the 1986 Mets. But he's 66 now, and his best days were behind him when the Dodgers fired him in 2000.

What Team USA needs for the next World Baseball Classic is an obsessive-compulsive, detail-oriented control freak such as Buck Showalter.

A manager who will yank his starting pitcher at the first sign of trouble rather than wait for a reliever with a tight groin who needs extra time to warm up on a cold night.

A manager who will avoid using left-handed hitters against left-handed relievers and right-handed hitters against right-handed relievers in critical situations.

A manager who will put his players in the best positions to win rather than offer post-game explanations that are nearly as incomprehensible as his moves.

Japan 9, United States 4.

Maybe now Team USA's leadership will figure out this was an elimination game, the semi-final of the tournament. As beautifully as Japan played, right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka was in mid-season form, reaching the 100-pitch limit in 4 2/3 innings, waiting to be had.

The outcome could have been reversed.

The whole thing was unfair.

Unfair to Johnson, who was the wrong man at the wrong moment. To his players, who were good enough to beat Japan even without injured and absent stars. To the WBC, which frankly deserves better out of Team USA.

If the U.S. wants to win the tournament, it will need a more engaged manager, more experienced coaches, more aggressive leaders than general manager Bob Watson and executive director Paul Seiler.

More urgency, period.

Johnson stuck too long with Jake Peavy in a second-round loss to Puerto Rico and explained afterward that the pitcher needed to get his work in, as if the WBC were just a different form of spring training.

The manager repeated his mistake Sunday night with Roy Oswalt, failing to have left-hander John Grabow ready for three straight left-handed hitters after Japan opened the inning with three straight hard-hit balls.

A 2-1 lead became a 6-2 deficit, and the U.S. never recovered.

Johnson said afterward that he wanted Grabow to face the first of the left-handed hitters, Akinori Iwamura, who hit an RBI triple. But Grabow was not even throwing when Iwamura batted. He did not enter the game until after Oswalt faced three more hitters.

"It was my fault. It took (Grabow) longer in the cool weather to get loose," Johnson said. "I still thought (Oswalt) was throwing good enough to stay in the ballgame."

Really?

Oswalt allowed five hits in the inning, two for extra bases. The total would have been six if a hard grounder that deflected off second baseman Brian Roberts' glove had not been scored an error.

Ah, but the belated call for Grabow was only the first of Johnson's pull-your-hair-out decisions.

With two on and two out in the fifth, Johnson allowed Adam Dunn, a left-handed hitter, to face a lefty even though Evan Longoria, a right-handed hitter, and Shane Victorino, a switch-hitter, were available.

Dunn struck out on a 3-2 count.

With one on and two out in the sixth, Johnson allowed Curtis Granderson, a left-handed hitter, to face the same lefty. Pinch-hitting in that spot would have carried consequences, forcing the defensively challenged Dunn to remain in right field the entire game. But why was Victorino the only outfielder on the bench?

Because the Team USA braintrust had declined to replace the injured Kevin Youkilis with another position player for the final round, choosing only to summon Longoria in place of Chipper Jones.

The addition of Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore would have given Johnson the flexibility to hit Victorino for Granderson and go with a late-inning outfield of Ryan Braun in left, Sizemore in center and Victorino in right.

But no.

Granderson flied out. Another rally sputtered. And still, Team USA had one more chance.

It came with one out in the eighth, after Mark DeRosa hit a two-run triple to reduce the deficit to 6-4. Johnson had told Victorino he was going to hit for Granderson. But at the last minute, the manager changed his mind.

Longoria, a right-handed, strikeout-prone slugger who had just joined the team, got the call over Victorino, a left-handed contact hitter who was 6-for-19 in the tournament — and was entering the game anyway as Granderson's replacement.

"I was trying to get Longoria in the game," Johnson said. "That was going to be the tying run."

Japan reacted unconventionally — and urgently — bringing its infield in, unwilling to concede a run even with a two-run lead.

Longoria struck out, Brian Roberts grounded out and Team USA's final threat was over.

"I didn't know exactly when I was going to hit until he said, 'You're going up right now,'" Longoria said. "There's no excuse. I was getting ready the whole time, especially in the role I was in. I was a little surprised, but I did my best to prepare myself."

All of the U.S. players did their best, even though the team made three errors and Dunn misplayed a ball in right field, unpardonable sins against a club as fundamentally sound as Japan.

Maybe, to keep pace with Japan and Korea, Team USA should start training even earlier than it did this spring. But for all the talk of injuries and absences, the players were the least of the team's problems.

Let this tournament be a wakeup call.

Next time, find the equivalent of a Theo Epstein or Billy Beane to manage the roster. Next time, find Showalter or some other preparation guru to manage the games.

Get serious. Get smart. Or get out.

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