- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2001

If a tie is like kissing your sister, then what's an intentional walk?

Hmmm. Better not go there.

In case you hadn't heard, Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez was intentionally walked four times Tuesday night, tying the American League record in Boston's extra-inning win over Detroit. In the 14th inning, Tigers manager Phil Garner had Ramirez walked even though it meant putting the potential winning run on second base. In the 16th, Garner refused to pitch to him again, even though the sacks were empty.

"Respect," Bosox skipper Jimy Williams said afterward.

Respect? How about cowardice? How about overmanaging? How about, "I paid $55 [the price of a box seat at Fenway Park] for this?"

Only in Our National Pastime (cough, cough) can you nullify a player's existence offensively, at least. Yeah, the NBA has Hack-a-Shaq, but he still gets to go to the free throw line. In the NFL, you can put eight men in the box to stop Eddie George or drop eight into coverage to discourage Kurt Warner but you can't take the ball out of their hands. And aside from the occasional slash or elbow, what can NHL teams do about Mario Lemieux?

But in baseball, you can literally take an opposing player out of the game and be hailed as a brilliant strategist for it.

It's funny, because just last week there was a big hoo-hah in Arizona when San Diego's Ben Davis broke up Curt Schilling's perfect game with a bunt single in the eighth inning. It's just not in the spirit of the game, Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly said (though in much more colorful language). But I've yet to hear anybody give Garner grief for wimping out against Ramirez. How can what he did be in the spirit of the game?

Heck, even Ramirez seemed unconcerned about it. "It doesn't matter to me," he said. "They have to do what they think is best for them to win. I just want to get on base."

Must be a baseball thing.

Discretion is the better part of valor, sure, but not four times in one game. You're going way beyond discretion there. You're venturing into the territory of: Overanalysis leads to paralysis.

Let me provide a little perspective. Remember in 1995, when Albert Belle became the first man in major league history to have 50 doubles and 50 homers? Well, he had five intentional walks that year one more than Ramirez had Tuesday night. Remember in '78, when Pete Rose hit in 44 straight games? Well, he had six intentional walks that year two more than Ramirez had Tuesday night.

Have I got you mad yet? No? Then try these numbers on for size: A third of the way through the season, Ramirez has 14 intentional walks. Mickey Mantle only had six the year he won the Triple Crown (1956). Carl Yastrzemski had a modest 11 the year he won the Triple Crown ('67). Here's my favorite, though: The year he hit 61 homers ('61), Roger Maris didn't have a single intentional walk. Not one. (And Mantle, who batted behind him and had 54 dingers himself had a mere nine IBBs.)

No wonder a lot of people think the game was better then.

To me, the only good intentional walk is a fake intentional walk. I refer to Game 3 of the '72 World Series, when the A's had a 3-2 count on the Reds' Johnny Bench with runners on second and third and bluffed like they were going to put him on, then zipped a third strike past him. Now that was a brainy play.

But four intentional walks in one game? Preposterous. Possibly even grounds for a class-action suit. After all, they don't do that sort of thing in cricket, do they? (Not even if the batsman has a 99.94 career average, like the late great Sir Donald Bradman.) Think about it.

OK, that's long enough.

You can make excuses for Garner if you want. You can say, "The Red Sox were asking for it. They had weak-hitting Darren Lewis batting behind Ramirez in extra innings [after the more formidable Troy O'Leary was removed for a pinch-hitter]." You can say, "The Tigers tried to pitch around Manny in the 12th inning and he blasted a ball that was almost in the dirt off the Green Monster. Who wouldn't walk him after that?" You could say a lot of things. I'm just not buying any of 'em.

In sports, the fans pay to see resolution, not avoidance. Tuesday night at Fenway Park, Phil Garner gave them the latter over and over again. Fortunately, in the end, he got what he so richly deserved: Boston 4, Detroit 3.

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