The Futility Infielder
A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe
I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.
Wednesday, October 31, 2001
Very weird game last night, and an even weirder odyssey to get there. I left work on the waaaay west side of Manhattan, walking past Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, where several fire trucks had their sirens blaring. "What now?" I thought to myself. Anthrax, bomb scare, the return of the undead Michael Jordan.... the mind reels these days.
Got on the subway around 6:40 PM, and after transferring trains, was forced, with everybody else, to get off the train one stop early (they had shut the 161st Street/Yankee Stadium stop due to security issues) and walk 12 blocks through the Bronx to Yankee Stadium. I was by myself, as my fellow ticketholder plans to arrive late due to other obligations. No expert in Bronx geography, I could see the glow from the stadium lights once I emerged from the 149th Street station and simply followed the throngs of people to the ballpark. Where even more throngs awaited. I believe the polite term is "clusterfuck". Due to the heavy security surrounding President George W. Bush's visit to throw out the first pitch, every ticketholder had to pass through a metal detector prior to entering the ballpark. But seemingly no one was even being let in prior to Bush's entry--I stood in a crowd for well over an hour without moving significantly closer, and the ballgame started without me and at least ten thousand other paying customers getting in. We all missed Bush throwing out the first pitch, though we did see his helicopter come and go, not to mention the thunderous F-16 flyover. I was briefed on the first inning by a man with one of those headphone radios, and as I neared the entry, another fan dictated a rudimentary play-by-play from his wife via cel phone. Ah, the wonders of technology.
I finally made it to my seat (row T, five rows from the top, but behind home plate, so pretty good, actually) a few minutes past 9 PM, just in time for the bottom of the second inning. Jorge Posada led off the inning with a solo home run to left field. Suddenly, I felt right right at home.
The ballgame was tense, puncutated by fielding gaffes on Arizona's part and gems by the Yankees. Diamondback catcher Damian Miller had a rough night, dropping one pop foul, letting another one drop in fair territory before rolling foul (replays looked as if it actually glanced off his glove, which would have allowed the go-ahead run to score for the Yanks), and later nearly collided with first baseman Mark Grace, who dropped another foul. Meanwhile, Yank second baseman Alfonso Soriano made a diving stab to hold Erubiel Durazo to a single and keep the go-ahead run from scoring in the sixth. Then Shane Spencer made a diving catch on a sinking Matt Williams liner to left field to close out the threat.
Roger Clemens came up big for the Yanks, with seven strong innings. He teetered on the brink of several walks; each time I muttered something about "a fat sack of Texas horseshit" getting the ball over, and the Rocket, fortunately, complied. Only in the fourth inning, where he issued a leadoff walk to Steve Finley, who scored on a sacrifice fly, did his control hurt him. Mariano Rivera smothered the Snakes in the final two innings, striking out four and making a spectacular unassisted tag on Craig Counsell, who inexplicably (but almost successfully) bunted Rivera's first pitch. With no margin for error, it's a great feeling to have the surest thing in World Series history protecting your lead.
A few thoughts on Bob Brenly's decision to start Curt Schilling on short rest. We've heard a lot about the poor track record of pitchers starting on three days' rest in recent postseasons, and the numbers aren't pretty: 2-10, 6.95 ERA in 17 starts since 1998. But that cutoff is a totally arbitrary one--stretch the horizon back a little further and you've got Randy Johnson in '95
, Andy Pettitte in '96
, Mike Mussina
and Jared Wright
in '97 pitching well and winning some BIG games.
In Jim Baker's e-mailed Baseball Preview (which I highly recommend reading on a daily basis; email Buick8@aol.com
to get added to the list), today Baker ran a quick study of pitchers in the postseason who, since 1968 (the year of Bob Gibson's last big postseason) started a Game 4 on three days rest after starting Game 1. The names are some pretty formidable ones: Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Mike Cuellar, Ken Holtzman, Luis Tiant, Jack Morris, Jon Tudor, Frank Viola, Jose Rijo, Dave Stewart, Tom Glavine and Kevin Brown--two Hall of Famers and a few who may get there eventually. Overall, the pitchers were 9-9 with an ERA just over 3.00 in 21 starts. Six times, though, two pitchers who met the criteria started against each other, accounting for 12 of the 21 starts. A pretty strong showing, overall.
Though I am by no means an unbiased observer, I agree with Brenly's decision. The Yanks are not hitting well and the D-Backs have a chance to go up 3-1. Schilling only threw 102 pitches in Game 1, and was never really pressured. If the Yanks somehow find a way to beat Schilling and tie the series 2-2, the D-Backs still have Miguel Batista going in Game 5 against Mike Mussina, who was less than effective in Game 1. Regardless of the order of the rotation, the games' results are by no means academic (with a couple breaks, Brian Anderson would have beaten them last night, sheesh), and the D-Backs still have two to win one and take the lead leaving town. The absolute worst-case scenario for Brenly is that he goes back to Arizona down 3-2, with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, possibly the two best pitchers in baseball, lined up to face the Yanks in the final games. If Joe Torre could switch benches, I think even he would take those odds in a New York minute.
The Yanks now have some signs of life. Tonight they have El Duque, a pitcher with a great postseason track record, in a situation analagous to his 1998 start in the ALCS against Cleveland, down 2-1 in games. But this time he's in the Bronx, where good things seem to happen to these Yankees. I've got my fingers crossed that trend continues, and a couple orders of grilled pork chops
Tuesday, October 30, 2001
That Purple Team
That purple team, the one with the Escape from Taco Bell uniforms and the most lethal pitching duo to reach a World Series since Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale
, has got the New York Yankees by the throats. Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks have throttled the three-time defending World Champions in the first two games of this World Series to the tune of 1 run, 20 strikeouts, and a .102 batting average. The Yankees' deer-in-the-headlights stare looks familiar, if only because we've seen it on their victims' faces in Octobers past, as the Yanks forced the errors, pummelled the lame fastballs, and mounted the endless rallies.
But those days seem a long ways away right now, and it's the Diamondbacks who are rallying. The Snakes emphatically took control of the series in the third inning of Game 1, when Luis Gonzalez crushed a Mike Mussina pitch for a two-run homer and a Steve Finley fly ball clanked off the iron glove of Justice (David Justice, the Yanks' rightfielder). The onslaught was enough to end the evening of Mike Mussina, the Yanks' best pitcher over the past two months, at an early hour. But the D-Backs weren't done, adding another quartet of runs in the fourth inning at the expense of Randy Choate, thanks in part to a Scott Brosius error. It was a lost night for the Yanks, as Schilling cruised through seven innings before yielding to the ancient Mike Morgan.
The Yanks made a better show of it in Game 2, as Andy Pettitte hung in there against the Big Unit. Pettitte was nicked for a run in the second inning, as Danny Bautista doubled in Reggie Sanders, but he was dominant nonetheless, throwing only nine balls in his first 66 pitches and striking out seven. But Pettitte found trouble in the seventh, when he hit Luis Gonzalez and couldn't get a double-play on an infield grounder by Reggie Sanders (announcer Tim McCarver harped on Brosius's double-clutch before releasing the ball, but the fact is that speedy batter, Reggie Sanders, grounded into only 2 double plays in over 500 plate appearances this year). Then Bautista hit a comeback shot that richocheted off of Pettitte, and suddenly Andy was in a jam. He made his only real mistake of the night on an 0-1 fastball to Matt Williams, who deposited it in the left field stands for a 3-run homer. That lead was downright insurmountable against Randy Johnson, who went through the Yankee lineup like a blowtorch. Johnson struck out nine through the first five innings and allowed only one hit until the Yankee eighth. The Yanks mounted their closest thing to a rally, but pinch-hitter Luis Sojo, overmatched against the Big Unit, grounded into an inning-ending double play.
That move--pinch-hitting Sojo--is a telling one for the series. While Sojo has had his share of big hits, including three game-winners this year and the World Series-winning hit against the Mets last fall, his presence in theis crucial situation revealed just how thin Joe Torre's bench is, and how desperately he seems to be grasping for past glories. With lefties Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, and David Justice out of the lineup and righties Shane Spencer and Randy Velarde in, Torre was left with Enrique Wilson, Clay Bellinger, Todd Greene, and Sojo as his options (Rob Neyer examines this state of affairs here
). Bellinger, nothing if not a decent fastball hitter, would have probably been a better choice, but we can second-guess about that one until the cows come home and it still won't change the score.
If any second-guessing of Torre should come about, a better place to start would be the decision to keep Pettitte in the game after Bautista's ricochet. Ramiro Mendoza was already warmed up, and with Matt Williams, a struggling but powerful righty with a significant platoon differential (935 OPS vs. lefties, 719 vs. righties) at the plate, it made sense to go with Mendoza. Pettitte had pitched his heart out, but Torre's loyalty to his starter cost them both the game.
But credit the Diamondbacks. They have played nearly flawless baseball in the series. Schilling and Johnson have continued to pitch like the ones in the catalog, and are now a combined 7-1 with a 1.07 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 67 innings this postseason. Their infield, particularly third baseman Williams, has played stellar defense. Unlikely hero Craig Counsell, with the most ridiculous batting stance this side of Tony Battista, continued his postseason tear with a home run in Game 1. Danny Bautista has continued to justify Bob Brenly's faith in starting him over the red-hot Steve Finley by getting big hits. The Snakes are hungry, and they're now two games away from dethroning the Yankees.
But history will note that a similar cast of Yankees overcame a similar hurdle
five years ago. After being destroyed by the Atlanta Braves 12-1 and 4-0 in the first two games of the 1996 series, the Yanks roared back to take the next four. This time, they have the luxury of trying to get a leg up on their home field. Roger Clemens, nine days removed from his last start and apparently healthier, is faced with his biggest start as a Yankee. No team has ever come from down 3-0 to win a series, so Game 3 is about as must-win as they come. Fortunately for the Yanks, the back end of the Diamondbacks rotation is considerably less imposing than the front--the D-backs were 49-58 in games where their big duo didn't get a decision. Quirky lefty Brian Anderson, 4-9 with a 5.20 ERA, faces Clemens in Game 3, and Miguel Batista will go in Game 4--unless Brenly deviates from his plan and brings back Curt Schilling on three days rest. Not exactly a rosy picture for the Yanks.
In the great tradition of lefty pitchers, Anderson is quite a wit. Talking about how the public sentiment largely seems to be backing the Yanks, even in the quarters of their most-hated rivals such as Boston, he said, "They're anti-New York but they can't be too happy about a purple team from Arizona winning it all."
Thanks to the partial season ticket package in which I partake, I'll be attending Game 3 in Yankee Stadium (look for me up in Row T of the Upper Deck, with the oxygen tank and the binoculars). The last time I was in Yankee Stadium for the World Series, I was in a similar seat, watching Roger Clemens nail the coffin shut on the Braves in the 1999 World Series for a four-game sweep. I can only hope Clemens summons up a similar result on Tuesday night. If he doesn't, that purple team will be one win away from a World Championship.
Saturday, October 27, 2001
The Buck Showalter Alumni Classic
I suppose I ought to tear myself away from reading my brand-new copy of The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
for long enough to jot down some thoughts about the World Series before it actually starts, especially given that the team I spend so much time following (and writing about) is one of the participants. But not before I pause to recommend that any baseball fan who spends significant time thinking about the game should avail themselves of a copy of this 1000-page masterwork. As somebody whose own view of baseball was shaped by James' work in the eighties, and who still gets great mileage from that work (the 1985 version of the Historical Abstract
is still close at hand and often referred to in my household), I am excited to see the developments in his analytic approach. I look forward to exploring the book in detail in the very near future and sharing my thoughts on it. I think it promises to revolutionize how we view certain aspects of the game and answer some of its Really Big Questions. But I'll get to that another time...
Now then, onto the World Series, or the Buck Showalter Alumni Classic
(Showalter is the immediate predecessor of both managers, having been fired by the Yanks before Joe Torre took over the team in the winter of 1995, and by the Diamondbacks after last year in favor of Bob Brenly). The past three days have been an opportunity for me to catch my breath after two solid weeks of exhilirating baseball. I have long held the first weekend of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament to be the most thrilling concentration of sporting action in all of this great land. This year's baseball postseason, up to this point, has been as heart-stopping as several of those weekends played consecutively, especially if you are a Yankees fan, which I am. Their sustained comeback against the Oakland A's was remarkable, and their upset of the mighty Mariner juggernaut was even more so, even to somebody who, like me, still had every confidence
that the Yankees could win.
I don't mean to be smug here. And I don't want anybody reading this who's NOT a Yankees fan to get the idea that we Yankees fans take this for granted. Every year of this dyansty has brought new challenges, and each of their wins has felt like a completely different task from the one before it. The 1998 team had the pressure of validating their 114-win season as a motivator (see Mariners, Recently Departed). The 1999 team, more of a human-interest drama, had to overcome several brushes with mortality--Joe Torre's prostate cancer, Darryl Strawberry's colon cancer, the deaths of three players' fathers, including Paul O'Neill's on the day of the final World Series game--along with the usual pressure to repeat as champions. The 2000 team flopped historically down the stretch, nearly got waxed by the upstart A's, then managed to Turn It On and peak at exactly the right time. This year's run, in the aftermath of September 11, has taken on a symbolic significance to the city of New York that is unlike any other run I've ever witnessed in sports. I've been exhausted by it, at times, but I'm a damn long way from being tired of it.
For all of the Yankees surprising success in the first two rounds of the playoffs, it's very clear to me that facing the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series is a completely different type of challenge from those they've conquered. That's primarily due to the presence of two of the best and most dominating pitchers in baseball, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. While both the A's and the Mariners threw some very good pitchers at the Yanks, none of them are as overpowering as the Snakes' duo, and none of them are as experienced, either. Both Schilling and Johnson have long histories of pitching in big games to call upon, a significant advantage over the Tim Hudsons and Freddie Garcias at this time of year. Schilling carried the 1993 Phillies on his back through a very competitive World Series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Johnson, who beat the Yanks twice (once out of the bullpen) in the 1995 AL Divisional Series, has had some hard luck in his postseason career, but he's unlikely to wilt beneath the harsh glare of the World Series spotlight.
For a franchise which has been in existence only four seasons, the Diamondbacks have a team which can go toe-to-toe in the Grizzled Veteran sweepstakes; statistically speaking, they're the oldest team in the bigs, with an average age of 31.9 for hitters and 30.9 for pitchers (the Yanks are 30.9 and 30.8, slightly behind both the Snakes and the Mariners' 31.3 and 30.8). Matt Williams, Steve Finley, and NLCS MVP Craig Counsell have all played in the World Series, as have pitchers Schilling and Brian Anderson (the surprise Game 3 starter despite his 4-9, 5.20 ERA season)--not a ton of players who've been there before, but enough of a steadying influence on those who haven't.
Arizona's a very good team all around. Their offense was the third best in the league, scoring 5.05 runs per game, albeit in a hitters' park. Luis Gonzales is the big bopper, with 57 home runs (adherents to the Curse of the Balboni
theory, which holds that no team has won the World Series with a player who more than 36 home runs since Balboni's KC Royals in 1985, please take note). Reggie Sanders has good power, and the team has nine players who reached double digits in home runs. The D-Backs get on base--their .341 OBP was 14 points higher than the league average, thanks particularly to Gonzales (.429), but also first baseman Mark Grace (.386) and second baseman Counsell (.359). They have a very strong bench, which will give then an advantage when they get to add a designated hitter (Erubiel Durazo, who should be a regular and is such a darling of statheads that "Free Erubiel Durazo"
has become a rallying cry, will likely see most of the ABs here) or have to pinch-hit--Greg Colbrunn is one of the best in that department. Add Danny Bautista, Jay Bell, and David Delucci to the mix, and you've got plenty of options for manager Bob Brenly in the late innings.
Their pitching, on the strength of their two aces, was second in the league in ERA, and led the league in fewest baserunners per nine innings. But their starters beyond those two are question marks. Anderson and Miguel Battista are scheduled to get three starts between them--a controversial move
, given that Brenly could have ordered his rotation such that one of his horses could pitch a Game 7 and the two could combine to start five of the seven games. Their bullpen features some real warhorses--Mike Morgan, Bobby Witt, and Greg Swindell average 19 years apiece in the bigs, with a combined record of 405-462 (I didn't say they were good, necessarily)--the Kingsford Trio, as my pal Nick refers to them. Closer Byung-Hyun Kim is solid, but he's no Mariano Rivera, and here the Yanks appear to have a big edge.
Arizona's defense made the fewest errors of any team in the league, and their D, from what I've seen in the postseason, has been stellar. Counsell, shortstop Tony Womack, and third baseman Matt Willaims have all made some great plays lately. Steve Finley is a four-time Gold Glove winner in centerfield. I don't think the D-backs will self-destruct the way the A's, especially, did in the critical moments of a series when the Yanks applied the pressure.
Whether we're talking about Arizona or the Yankees, it all comes back to Good Pitching beating Good Hitting. Both teams have the benefit of aligning their rotations for the series. The Yanks have a foursome as battle-tested as anybody, with their top starter, Mike Mussina, opposing Schilling in Game 1 on Saturday, and Andy Pettitte, MVP of the ALCS, countering Randy Johnson on Sunday. Roger Clemens, clearly stronger in the ALCS than the previous series, will have had over a week between starts to recharge his ailing body sufficiently. Given that Schilling and Johnson are pitching twice for the Snakes, the Yanks will have to beat one of them at least once in order to take the series. I think they can do that, because I think their primary asset of being able to outlast even the best pitchers
will come into play. I also think that the thoroughness of Yankee scouting
will have found some small chinks in those pitchers' armor. Look for the revitalized Chuck Knoblauch to set the tone at the top of the order with long at-bats. Look for Randy Velarde, with a .452 career average against the Big Unit, to start at either third base or first base in Game 2. And even though Paul O'Neill is slated to be on the bench in both games, don't think that Torre doesn't remember his 10-pitch at bat against Armando Benitez in Game 1 of last year's Series. He'll likely get a key late-inning at bat somewhere.
These Yanks have beaten the likes of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Kevin Brown, Mike Hampton, and Al Leiter in winning four of the last five World Series. My money says they can get through to the Snakes' best enough to win this one. It won't be easy, by any stretch, but I'm taking the Yanks in six.
One Man's Ballot
I finally managed to find the time to vote in the just-completed Internet Baseball Awards
and wanted to put my ballot on record. I did it very quickly, though I'd given a fair amount of consideration to each award in the recent weeks. I'll admit that postseason peformance may have seeped into one or two of these, despite the fact that it's not supposed to (the real votes are done before the end of the regular season to insure this). Anyway...
1. Barry Bonds 2. Sammy Sosa 3. Luis Gonzalez. 4. Albert Pujols 5. Rich Aurilia 6. Chipper Jones 7. Shawn Green 8. Paul LoDuca 9. Lance Berkman 10. Ryan Klesko. Comment: While I may have been swayed against him at earlier points in the season, Bond's history-making
, finally put in perspective, was waaaay too much to ignore.
1. Jason Giambi 2. Alex Rodriguez 3. Brett Boone 4. Roberto Alomar 5. Derek Jeter 6. Ichiro Suzuki 7. Jim Thome 8. Manny Ramirez 9. Bernie Williams 10. Jorge Posada. Comment: Giambi and A-Rod are pretty much in a dead heat offensively
. A-Rod gets more points for his defense. My vote for Giambi was definitely swayed by his role in leading the A's back from the depths of an 8-18 start to become the hottest team in baseball down the stretch. Boone's monster season, though likely a fluke, was too good to ignore. Ichiro definitely made an impact and deserved to be among the top 10, but I think his hype outweighed his numbers. The same can always be said about Derek Jeter, but I watch him play every day and despite his lousy defense (especially the first half of the year), he continues to amaze me.
NL Cy Young:
1. Randy Johnson 2. Curt Schilling 3. Matt Morris 4. Greg Maddux 5. Wade Miller. Comment: This one was easy. As good as Schilling has been, Johnson was better--an ERA half a run lower, more strikeouts, fewer baserunners, fewer home runs. Morris was a strong third.
AL Cy Young:
1. Freddy Garcia 2. Mike Mussina 3. Roger Clemens 4. Tim Hudson 5. Mark Mulder. Comment: Much less clear cut than the NL. Clemens was impressive for going 20-1, but he lost twice to the Devil Rays at the end, and his ERA started to inflate. Mike Mussina, on the other hand, got better as the season went on, and his September showing put him right in the mix. The fine trio of A's pitchers was impossible to ignore, and I'm not even sure I voted for the right ones. Jamie Moyer, Joe Mays, and Mark Buehrle deserved consideration as well. In the end, Garcia's low ERA and high winning percentage won out.
NL Rookie of the Year
: 1. Albert Pujols 2. Roy Oswalt 3. Adam Dunn. Comment: Pujols had an amazing season, hitting .329 with 37 HR, 130 RBI and an OPS of 1013. Oswalt was fantastic as well, 14-3 with a 2.73 ERA despite the Enron Field factor. Dunn looks like he's going to be a good one.
AL Rookie of the Year
: 1. Ichiro Suzuki 2. Alfonso Soriano 3. C.C. Sabathia. Comment: I don't like the rule that gives the experienced Japanese players eligibility--this guy won eight batting titles in his career already--but the precedent has been in place for a long time, and it's impossible to deny his impact. Soriano showed vast improvement as the season wore on--who could have forseen him going from a walkless wonder to drawing key bases on balls in both playoff series thus far? In a normal year, I'd have taken him. Sabathia looks to be a good one if he cuts down his walks. The Angels' David Eckstein probably deserved a mention as well.
NL Manager of the Year
: 1. Bob Brenly 2. Jim Tracy 3. Tony LaRussa. Comment: Probably swayed by the postseason. I don't like Brenly, not after his tantrum over the bunt that broke up Schilling's perfect game. But it's tough to deny what he's accomplished in his first season as a manager, taking the well-aged D-Backs into the World Series. Tracy kept the ailing Dodgers in the race for much longer than he had any right to, but batting Tom Goodwin or Marquis Grissom in the leadoff spot when your team is starving for runs is just plain stupid. Tony LaRussa is here because I couldn't bring myself to vote for the red-assed Larry Bowa, who kept the Phils in it right to the final week. I can probably find a reason to vote against every single NL manager, now that I think about it.
AL Manager of the Year
: 1. Lou Piniella 2. Art Howe 3. Jimy Williams. Comment: Much more palatable and competitive lot than the NL. Piniella deserves a hell of a lot of credit for the Mariners' season, and though they came up short, he showed a lot of class. Howe never let his team quit; despite his bulletin-board fodder for the Yanks, I've always liked him as a manager. Jimy Williams had the Red Sox 12 games above .500 for no good reason when Dan Duquette fired him; the Red Sox went straight down the shithole thanks to that maneuver, which just goes to show how good a job Jimy was doing. Joe Torre continues to amaze me with his calm ability to keep the Yanks focused on the things that matter.
Those were my votes. I'll dole out some awards of my own, including the coveted Futility Infielder of the Year Award, in the coming weeks.
Wednesday, October 24, 2001
Bring Us Your Finest Grilled Meats
Those of us who gather under the warm pink glow of the Chow Mein sign in Manhattan's East Village to watch the Yankees annual playoff run are a quirky lot. Since the 1998 season, my friends and I have assembled in some combination or other to share in the excitement and the tedium of modern-day postseason baseball, to cheer the Yankees and share the accompanying suffering which awaits us in those times we've got nothing to cheer for (fortunately, there haven't been too many of those).
Along the way, we've honed our routines and developed various superstitions. Lucky t-shirts and replica jerseys, rally caps, brands of beer, you name it, we've tried it. For example, my pal Nick always brings over several bags of David's sunflower seeds; no other brand will suffice. Nick munches on the seeds nonstop throughout the games. I, as my own personal logic dictates, only partake in the seeds when the Yankees are at bat, and then only if I feel the necessity for a rally. This formula, we have found, works very well.
I am, as my readers may have noticed, a firm proponent of rally totems, both at home and at the ballpark. To that effort, I introduced the Rally Beer™
concept to the general masses back in June (as if any of us needed an extra reason to reach for a cold one), and once I did, the American League East race was never the same. At times, I've even encouraged other people's children
to sit in specific seats to keep the Yankee mojo working.
The Yanks' just-completed AL Championship Series with the Mariners found my friends and I searching for new combinations of the right stuff. At the same time, we were on the lookout for objects and habits to act as scapegoats. On Saturday, my girlfriend innocently bought a bag of unsalted peanuts from the downstairs deli. When all hell broke loose and the Mariners exploded for nine runs over the next two innings, I began having my doubts about the peanuts. And when the score went from 9-2 to 14-3 after we turned the game off, I knew that the peanuts, not the suddenly awakened Mariner bats, were the cause of the Yanks' defeat. So the nuts went. My poor, puzzled girlfriend, a rookie in our October gatherings, endured a very curt explanation about the hard facts of autumn in relation to her chosen snack. Fortunately, she understood.
Sometimes, thinkgs get silly. On Sunday night, amid the world's sloppiest pitching duel ever, between Roger Clemens and Paul Abbott, Nick reached an absurd and spectacular level of desperation. He spent two innings wearing a black plastic bag (the very same one from my just-procured Rally Beer™, actually) tied around his head as an ad-hoc rally cap. When that didn't work, he resorted--I shit you not--to an attempted headstand which lasted all of one minute. Skeptics may guffaw (I know several of us in the apartment did so). But it's worth noting that the next time the batter for whom Nick stood on his head, Bernie Williams, came to bat, Williams tied the game with a solo home run. Coincidence? I think not. Even my brother, decidely not a Yankees fan, refused to cast aspersion on such a ridiculous display: "You gotta do what you gotta do," he said.
In the afterglow of Alfonso Soriano's game-winning home run on Sunday night, I issued a decree that had as much to do with the Yanks closing out the series the next night as did Lou Piniella's choice of starting pitchers. With the chance of victory imminent, tomorrow night's dinner, I announced, would be grilled pork chops from our favorite Vietnamese takeout joint, New Saigon. Laugh all you want, but the pork chops have history on their side. Last year, during the first-round series against Oakland, with the Yanks having lost Game 1, we ordered the very same pork chops and were rewarded with a 4-0 shutout, courtesy of Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. When that series came back to a do-or-die Game 5, the Yanks' starting pitcher and our choice of meals were the same. The Yanks scored six runs in the first inning, and though Pettitte faltered in the fourth, the Yankee bullpen, inspired by our choice of cuisine, held off the A's to take the series.
When an ailing Roger Clemens took the mound for Game 5 in this year's series with Oakland, we knew the Yanks would need all the help they could get. Once again, pork chops were in order. End result? Yanks win. So it made sense that we would again be dining on New Saigon's finest grilled meats when the appropriate time presented itself, and in the jubilation of Sunday night, Monday's menu seemed obvious. It worked yet again, as the Yanks trounced the Mariners 9-3 to take the series, four games to one.
Now, I'm sure some of you out there are snickering. Why would someone (like myself, and to some extent my friends as well) who spends so much time trying to rationally analyze a baseball game resort to such superstitions? There's no simple answer. The human tendency to resort to myth and superstition in the face of powers we don't understand is older than organized religion, so ten thousand years of human culture obviously plays a part. As does the near-interminable length of playoff games--with thirty-second pauses every time Chuck Knoblauch steps out of the box to undo and redo the velcro on his batting gloves, we have plenty of time to tend to our oral and manual fixations. And occasionally, like with Nick's headstands, those of us who spend so many tense hours huddled together throughout these games simply need something to break the tension and get us laughing again, reminding us that this is all supposed to be FUN.
Even the Boss, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, gets into the act. During Sunday's game. Steinbrenner excused himself from the company of Reggie Jackson, Mr. October himself, to return to his lucky spot
, where he was standing when Reggie hit three home runs against the Dodgers in the 1977 World Series. The results--Williams' and Soriano's home runs--speak for themselves. And that's not even exploring the superstition
behind Steinbrenner's chosen attire of turtleneck and blazer for such affairs.
The Yankees recent playoff success, to some extent, defies rational analysis anyway. Facing two teams which were supposedly superior on paper--the brash A's with their 102 wins, and the Seattle Mariners with their record-setting 116 wins--the Yanks dismantled their opposition with conviction, and the aid of little extra mojo as well. Sojo Mojo, to be exact--what else could explain the reason for Joe Torre including the veteran futility infielder Luis Sojo on his postseason roster at the expense of an extra pinch-hitter like Nick Johnson. Opposing managers Art Howe
and Lou Piniella
made bold predictions of Yankee doom, but it was Sojo's brash prediction
of Yankee victory that held up (an aside: my favorite scene from the Seattle series was Sojo and fellow Yankee subs Clay Bellinger, Enrique Wilson, and Shane Spencer singing along to "Y.M.C.A"--the song played over the P.A. at Yankee Stadium during the fifth inning of Game 5 while the grounds crew raked the infield--complete with hand gestures. Priceless).
Twenty-three seasons of watching baseball have proven to me that even with fancy formulas and expert analyses at hand, we simply can't explain everything that happens on the baseball diamond. Some of it--Mariano Rivera's postseason prowess, Tony Battista's batting stance, Leo Mazzone's rocking motion on the Atlanta Braves' bench, and the perpetual presence of not one but two pathologically mediocre players named Brian Hunter, for example--simply defies both logic and random chance. There's more between home plate and deepest centerfield than is dreamt of in our philosophies. Drama, magic, clutch performance. And the seeds.
Saturday, October 20, 2001
I've spent most of the past twenty-two years of my sports fandom with one team nearest and dearest to my heart. I'm not talking about the Yankees; by the standards of most fans I'm a front-running bandwagoneer. I'm talking about my original hometown NBA team, the Utah Jazz. The Jazz have made the NBA playoffs in each of the past 17 years and they've developed something of an annual custom. Each year, they fail to show up for one ballgame per series. I mean, their performance in that game is bad enough to make commentators like the annoying Bill Walton struggle for the appropriate hyperbole to describe how a team that wins sixty or seventy percent of its ballgames can get blown out by thirty or forty points. I refer to these games as their Publishers Clearinghouse Annual Sweepstakes, because on those days, they could have mailed in their performance.
The Yankees had a game like that on Saturday. After going up 2-0 in the first inning, courtesy of a Bernie Williams home run, the Yanks just fell apart. Once the Mariners broke through to tie the game in the fifth inning off of Orlando Hernandez, everything that could go wrong did. El Duque allowed a leadoff home run to John Olerud to start the sixth, and by the end of the inning, some 45 minutes later, the score was 9-2. From there, things proceeded to go from bad to worse, as the Mariner bats, mostly silent up to this point in the series, took out their frustration against the butt end of the Yank bullpen. The final score, 14-3, was the worst loss the Yanks have ever experienced in the postseason.
Yet just as the Jazz have continually shown, just as the Mariners showed after losing Game 3 of the ALDS last Saturday to Cleveland by the mind-boggling score of 17-2, an embarrassing loss still only counts one game toward the series. So it came as no surprise that the Yanks, still up 2-1 in the series, came out having put all of yesterday's dreadful mistakes behind them. A gimpy Roger Clemens, considerably stronger than his two outings against Oakland last round but still a far cry from 100%, walked a tightrope through five innings, allowing only one hit and striking out seven while walking four. His opposite number, Paul Abbott, walked an even stranger tightrope to go with the eight batters (tying an LCS record) he put on base on his own accord--the man still had a no-hitter going through five innings when Lou Pinella removed him.
Piniella deprived Abbott of his chance to be the modern-day Bill Bevens
. So this one came down to the bullpens, two of the best in baseball. The M's Norm Charlton and Jeff Nelson pieced together the sixth and the seventh, putting Yankees on base (Charlton allowing a double to Tino Martinez to end the no-hit bid) but continuing to escape unscathed. The Yanks turned to Ramiro Mendoza, who continued his string of postseason effectiveness. He had put together 8.1 innings of shutout ball this postseason before yielding a solo home run to the Mariners' top RBI man, Brett Boone in the top of the eighth.
Arthur Rhodes came on in the bottom of the eighth to protect the lead, set to face his nemesis, David Justice. He struck out Justice looking (and grimacing) before Bernie Williams took him over the right field wall to tie the game. Mariano Rivera shut the M's down on three pitches, sending the Yanks into the bottom of the ninth to face the Mariners' closer, Kazuhiro Sasaki. Sasaki retired Shane Spencer, then allowed Scott Brosius to reach on a hard grounder which shortstop Mark McLemore speared but couldn't get rid of in time.
The stage was thus set for Alfonso Soriano, the Yanks' talented rookie second baseman. Soriano has had his share of lapses in this series. In Game 1, he failed to run hard out of the box on a fly ball he thought might reach the seats. When it didn't, he was held to a long single, and it took a face-saving steal of second base, followed by a David Justice single, to add the insurance run Soriano thought he'd already banked. He was scolded
by his teammates and his manager for that lapse. In Game 4, his failure to cover second base on a force play in the seventh inning caused Mark Wohlers' throw to go into centerfield, setting up another pair of runs.
But those gaffes might as well have been ancient history by the time Soriano stepped into the box against Sasaki. Drawing ahead in the count, he hit a juicy 1-0 fastball just hard enough to reach the right-centerfield fence and give the Yanks a thrilling walk-off home run, their first in postseason play since Chad Curtis ended Game 3 of the 1999 World Series with a dinger prior to snubbing Jim Gray's request for an interview.
So now the Yankees find themselves one game away from ending the Mariners' 116-win dream season and returning to the World Series for the fourth straight year. It's comforting for Yankee fans to note that they have their two hottest starters lined up with a chance to put it away, Andy Pettitte in Game 5 and Mike Mussina in Game 6. Pettitte will face Aaron Sele, a pitcher the Yanks have made a routine of beating on during the last three Octobers. Sele has never won in the postseason, going 0-5 with a 4.73 ERA. Should the Mariners win, the Yanks are faced with yet another cross-country flight and a battle against Freddy Garcia on Wednesday.
Premature jocularity is out of the question. Yesterday's gone, just like Soriano's home run, and as Joe Torre reminded (referencing Earl Weaver), momentum is today's starting pitcher. No one should believe that a 116-win team is vanquished until they watch it melt with their own eyes, a la the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. Lou Piniella's team has their backs to the wall, and the Yankee fans have to like their team's odds. But Yogi Berra's maxim applies equally to all those still playing ball at this time of year.
Some more equally than others, perhaps.
[actual date of publication Monday, October 22, 2001, 6 PM]
Friday, October 19, 2001
Two Games, Two Stories
Given that it's drunk and I'm late (tee hee), I'll dispense with a full analysis of the Yanks-M's series to date. Up 2-0 coming home from Seattle is a nice position to be in--certainly not enough to get giddy about (this ain't Oakland, for those of you just tuning in), but it beats the alternatives. It is rather amazing that the Yanks have gone from down 0-2 and facing elimination against a 102-win team to up 2-0 over a team which won 116 games the span of six days. Credit the Yankees' ability to win postseason games on the road during the Age of Torre: 29-7 since 1996, even better than their home record of 22-10 over that span. Whew! Andy Pettitte pitched an absolute gem in Game 1, once again showing his postseason mettle, and tonight Mike Mussina labored through a Granny Drinking Bird outing, escaping after having made only one real mistake, a 2-run HR to Stan Javier.
Beyond the pitching, the story line of this series thus far seems to be revolving around two batters--Chuck Knoblauch and Edgar Martinez--who may be in their final days with their respective teams. Knoblauch, if you'll recall
, was nearly traded to the Mariners in mid-June, for leftfielder/designated bigamist Al Martin and pitcher Brett Tomko. Reportedly, the Yanks nixed the deal because of the prospect that Knoblauch could come back to haunt them in the postseason. And reportedly, the Mariners were not all that eager to get him, either. Several Mariners--all unnamed--were quoted as being against the deal. Typical of the reaction is one Mariner quoted in the New York Daily News
as saying "I don't see that guy making us better."
Now, Knobauch has had a rough season. He's a free agent at the end of the year, and it was long rumored that he had a 2-year, $18 million handshake deal in place as an extension. But his throwing woes at second base necessitated a move to leftfield and his production tailed off to a career-low .339 OBP, 66 runs scored, and a lot of gray hair over his play in left (though not as much as the jury would have you believe). Repeadely over the course of the season, both he and the Yankee brass have denied that a deal is in place. He seems likely to leave the Yankees at the end of the season, though if you listen to him tell it, he hasn't given that prospect much thought
But damned if Knoblauch hasn't been the Lil' Bastard of old in the postseason, probably making the Mariners wish the Yanks had been willing to complete the deal (which Yankee GM Brian Cashman reportely nixed) if only to get him out of the way. He hit well against Oakland and keyed a run in Game 5 on a single and a Jason Giambi error on a botched pickoff . And in the LCS he's been as pesky as a scorpion in a sleeping bag, going 5-for-10. In Game 1, he scorched a hard grounder off of Mariner third baseman David Bell's glove, driving in Jorge Posada with the game's first run. In Game 2, his blooper into centerfield just barely eluded Mike Cameron (who tried to sell a catch, though the umps--as replay confirmed--got the call correct), allowing Scott Brosius to score the third and final Yanee run.
On the other side of the coin is the Mariners' designated hitter, Edgar Martinez. Martinez has owned the Yankees ever since he drove the game-winning run in Game 5 of the epic 1995 ALDS saga between these two teams. He is one helluva hitter, with a career .319 AVG/.425 OBP/.530 SLG--as tough an out in baseball as you could want. His stats against Yankee some Yankee pitchers coming into the series were unreal:
vs. Mike Mussina: .377 AVG, 1122 OPS
vs. Andy Pettitte: .382, 1147 OPS
vs. Orlando Hernandez: .364 AVG, 1136 OPS
vs. Mariano Rivera: .818 AVG, 2492 OPS (no, that's not a misprint)
Pettitte struck out Martinez in the second inning, allowed him a single in the fifth (the clearly hobbling Martinez came around to score on Mike Cameron's double and John Olerud's groundout. But in the seventh inning, with the M's down 3-1 and with a runer on first, Pettitte struck out Martinez again before Cameron grounded into a double-play, ending the inning and the Mariner threat. In the ninth, Edgar came up again, this time against Rivera, with a runner on second and still a two-run defecit after the Mariners had gotten a ninth-inning run back. He grounded to first baseman Tino Martinez, ending the game. Amazingly enough, the embarrassingly bad Fox TV crew of Steve Lyons and Thom Brenneman (a.k.a. "Psycho" and "The Other Dumb Guy," respectively) made no mention of Martinez's history against Rivera.
In Game 2, Edgar's woes played a huge role again. He grounded into a double play with two on and one out to end the first inning, flied out to end the third inning, and struck out leading off the sixth. He managed a single in the eighth, after which manager Lou Piniella lifted him for a pinch-runner whom Rivera erased on a forceout. For the series, he's now left five baserunners on, more than any other Mariner. Clearly, he looks to be struggling with lower-body woes; it's possible they're affecting his swing. As writer Jeff Fogle, subbing for Jim Baker in the daily Baseball Previews mailing list, writes, "[B]ecause he’s nursing a groin injury, Martinez runs like Greg Luzinski carrying Boog Powell on his back." Ouch.
Still, the Yanks are obliged to treat him with some well-earned respect; sooner or later, he'll probably come through with a big hit. The 38-year old has hinted at retirement several times over the past two seasons, though he did sign an extension
earlier this year. The Yanks will have to settle for retiring him three or four times a night. Right now, the story of his missed opportunities is one of the key stories of the series.
Wednesday, October 17, 2001
The New York Yankees completed their comeback against the Oakland A's in the AL Division Series Monday night, taking their third straight game from the A's and coming from two runs down against the man who baffled them in the Series' opening game. By now you know all this, and if you've been reading this web log for any length of time, you must know that I'm a happy man today.
With the vultures circling their dynasty, the three-time defending champions won their third game in as many days, enduring a cross-country red-eye flight before the final game and luring the upstart A's to the killing-est floor in all of sports, Yankee Stadium. The White Elephants'
graveyard, if you will. In the deafening roar of the Bronx, the A's imploded with three errors in the early innings, all of them because the Yanks kept the pressure on the A's defense to make the plays.
In the third inning, catcher Greg Myers threw wildly to first base as Bernie Williams ran out a dropped strike three, allowing Williams to reach base. Four batters later, third baseman Eric Chavez bobbled a Scott Brosius grounder just as baserunner Tino Martinez entered Chavez's immediate field of vision. Williams scored the go-ahead run on that play. In the fourth inninng, Chuck Knoblauch was picked off of first, but first baseman Jason Giambi's errant throw allowed Knoblauch to reach second with no outs. The Yanks sacrificed him into home on Randy Velarde's bunt and Derek Jeter's fly ball.
The defensive collapse added to the woes of Mark Mulder, whose riddle the Yanks seemed to solve with 7 hits and 2 walks over 4.1 innings. Tim Hudson came on in relief and yielded a pinch-hit home run to David Justice after the A's had narrowed the gap to 4-3.
By then, Roger Clemens, the Yankee starter, had also left the game, lasting only 4.1 innings himself. But Mike Stanton kept the A's at bay, pitching out of the mess the gimpy Clemens had left behind--two on, one out, and Jason Giambi at the plate. Stanton's performance echoed a similar appearance in last year's Game 5 between the two teams, and one of my favorite images of the Yanks 2000 postseason run--the lefty, out of the pen early to protect a slim lead bequeathed by a struggling starter, with all of the money on the table and the fort under siege. Both times, Stanton delivered big. When he and Ramiro Mendoza shut down the A's through the seventh inning, Joe Torre had the luxury of the surest bet in October: Mariano Rivera with a lead
. Rivera has now converted 20 consecutive saves in the postseason, 16 of them longer than an inning.
Nearly all of the levers Joe Torre pulled in this game yielded jackpots: the decision to start Velarde at DH and bat him second for his bat-control abilities, the decision to lift him for pinch-hitter Justice in the sixth (a move I was in the process of second-guessing--I thought Justice should sub for Shane Spencer because he could play defense as well and because Spencer's D in the game had already proved dicey--when Justice parked Tim Hudson's pitch in the right-field bleachers), and the decision to suffer Clemens' struggles until he could get through the game with his three most reliable relievers. Contract extension, anyone?
As for A's manager Art Howe, he was left with the knowledge that his pre-series assessment--that the Yanks would have to play at the top of their game to beat his A's--had become bulletin board fodder for the Yanks. It was yet another echo of last year's series, as A's third baseman Eric Chavez prematurely applied the past tense to the Yankees' run in an interview broadcast over the Oakland Coliseum PA before Game 5. Deja vu all over again, anyone? It's worth noting, and somewhat gratifying to Yankee fans, that Chavez looked more lost than any other A's batter during the series, going 3-for 21 (.143) with a 333 OPS.
Howe was gracious in defeat, but the future of his team is uncertain. Jason Giambi is a free agent with a yen for big bucks and perhaps the bright lights of New York City. Centerfielder Johnny Damon is also a free agent, and even if the A's can iron out a contract with Giambi (they reportedly had a tentative agreement on a 6 year-$90 million dollar contract that fell apart over the exclusion of a no-trade clause), there's probably no way they can sign both. Howe and the rest of the A's are also left to ponder whether the result would have been different with Jermaine Dye, felled by a broken tibia in Game 4, in the lineup. Ouch. Still, the A's pitching nucleus of Mulder, Hudson, and Barry Zito has a bright future ahead which includes several years locked in at reasonable salaries. So long as General Manager Billy Beane remains creative (and he resists the overtures for a more high-profile job), this team will be in the hunt.
One more word about the A's. I've watched this team grow for the past four seasons, and have pulled for them to get to this point. Had they beaten the Yanks, I would have had no problem rooting for them to go all the way. Despite their overly brash predictions and their fans' premature jocularity after Game 2, this is a class organization with classy support. Doing this web site has put me in touch with several A's fans whom I've enjoyed chewing the fat with over the course of the year. To them I say, keep supporting your team, especially at the box office. In this age of economic disparity, baseball needs the A's to remind us of the possibilities (and occasionally the limitations) of a well-run, low-budget team. And to them I also say those famous last words: wait 'til next year. Despite my Yankees cap, I know how it feels, both from the twenty years I spent with the Dodgers as my favorite team and the twenty years I've spent rooting for the Utah Jazz in the NBA. Trust me, folks, I know how it feels.
As for the Yankees, they now face a series with the Seattle Mariners rich in subtext: a rematch of last year's LCS, in which the Yanks beat the M's in six games, a defense of the 1998-model Yanks' legacy of 125 wins
, including a World Championship, and, on yet another personal note, a clash with both sides of my own family tree thanks to all of my relatives in the Pacific Northwest. The early line shows some favorable pitching matchups
for the Yanks: they face Aaron Sele, whom they've beaten each of the past three postseasons, in Games 1 and 5; they face the M's ace, Freddy Garcia, on three days rest in Game 2, they've got Mike Mussina, their hottest pitcher, in Games 2 and 6, and their weakest link (due to injury), Roger Clemens, slated only in Game 4.
It promises to be a helluva series. Am I bold enough to pick the Yanks again? The longer the series goes, the better the Yanks' chances. You think I'm ready to jump off the bandwagon? Read every word I wrote about the Division Series and tell me. The Yanks have question marks up and down their offense and their pitching staff. To paraphrase what the sportswriters used to say about the old Dodger infielder Jim Gilliam, they can't do anything except beat you. Yanks in six.
Tuesday, October 16, 2001
Notes on a Playoff Weekend
Between watching the games, reading about them, and writing about them, I've been so absorbed with the Yankees-A's series (which I'll get to in my next post) that I haven't had a chance to say much here about the other three postseason series. Not that I saw all that many of those games--I do work for a living, and I had my parents in town this past weekend. But I have to say that we've had one hell of a week of baseball--three deciding Game 5's in the space of two days, decided by a total of five runs, one of them won in a final at-bat, three 1-0 gems, and several unforgettable defensive plays, including two by Derek Jeter. I went 4/4 in my predictions, and got the Game 5 part right on two of them as well. Anyway, here are few notes about those series:
• Atlanta over Houston 3-0
. I didn't actually get to watch more than 10 minutes of this series due to its daytime schedule. But it didn't take an astrophysicist to see this one coming; an Astro physician could have done the job just fine. With half of their rotation down with injuries, the poor Astros continued the slide that watched them lose nine out of their final 12 regular season games. Once again, the Astros Killer B's, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, proved anything but killer in the postseason. The Astros are now 0-4 in postseason series with those two, and they've combined to hit .178 with 0 HR over the course of that run. Baseball Prospectus's Joe Sheehan points out
that the 'Stros have faced some seriously great pitching in those appearances, which explains a good portion of their woes. Baseball Axiom #1 of the 6000 or so my father taught me as a tyke is that Good Pitching Will Beat Good Hitting, Especially in October.
I'm not a Braves fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think their run of 10 straight division titles is an underappreciated level of success. And since I've always had such great respect for their Big Three, I'm heartened that my favorite of the bunch, John Smoltz, has made an amazing comeback from Tommy John surgery by reinventing himself as a closer. Smoltz closed out all three games in the series, and was reportedly throwing as high as 98 MPH. Thanks to the trade of John Rocker, the Braves now have a bullpen as good and as deep as any in baseball east of Seattle. And while their offense was decidedly inferior to all of the other postseason teams (see the analysis at Mostly Baseball
, a brand-new web site run by two frequent contributors to the discussions over at Baseball Primer
), they hit the Astros pitching to the tune of .303 AVG/.333 OBP/.545 SLG. Battle-honed thanks to a three-way race for the NL East title (they played the Phillies and the Mets, their competition for the crown, 13 times in their final 20 games), they seem a lot closer to the Braves of old than the less-than-dominant team they resembled this year.
• Arizona over St. Louis 3-2
. Back in the 1993 postseason, I fell for the Phillies, thanks largely to the gritty performance of Curt Schilling. Shilling won the NLCS MVP award despite not getting a decision in either of the games he started, though he posted a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings and the Phils won both games in extra innings. He got roughed up by the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 1 of the World Series, but with the team down 3-1 in games, he tossed a 5-hit shutout to keep the Phils alive. I never forgot that performance, and so I was pumped to see him pitch in the postseason. He didn't disappoint in his first shot, winning a 1-0 gem of a duel against the Cardinals' ace and fellow 22-game winner Matt Morris. And he almost topped that Sunday, with a 1-run complete game in the finale. He's now 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 49.1 innings. Money, man.
I didn't see any of his fellow ace Randy Johnson's performance, or much else of the series except for a few innings here and there. But it did seem to me that the D'Backs made some huge plays on defense--the Game 3-ending 5-3 double play by Matt Williams, those line drives speared by Tony Womack and Craig Counsell on consecutive batters last night, for example.
As for the ninth inning of Game 5, I was glad to see Williams make a positive contribution toward the series' winning run (though technically it was his run that was cancelled out in the form of Tony Womack's missed squeeze play). I've had a soft spot for the man since 1994, when he hit 43 HR in 112 games and had a legitimate shot at Roger Maris's record until the strike hit. He's had his struggles with injuries, but I've never heard the guy complain about missing out on the chance to make history. Anyway, while I didn't think much of Womack's execution on the squeeze, the important part of the play was that the trailing runner, Danny Bautista, alertly advanced himself into scoring position. In the end, Womack's redemptive base hit made for a feel-good story, especially when he dedicated the hit to his late father.
As for history-makers... if it ends here for Mark McGwire, that's a sad thing. The man is, by his own admission, physically and mentally worn down, but no one can say he didn't give us, as fans, our money's worth of thrills. Even looking as bad as he did at the plate during the series, he did seem to make several good defensive plays, and he handled his woes with class. While Barry Bonds has already eclipsed McGwire's single-season HR record, McGwire seemed to bring much more joy to the Great Home Run Race, both in his own demeanor and the hearts of fans. I hope he uses the offseason to recuperate and gives it another go.
• Seattle over Cleveland 3-2
. I didn't watch too much of this series very closely due to my own schedule. But I rooted for Cleveland in this one, mostly because I'm a spiteful bastard. I admit it, I was looking for the outcome that best helps my rooting interest, the Yankees--the current model and its chances, and the 1998 team and its place in history. Yes, the M's have an awesome team, and yes, I like that team, by and large, especially manager Lou Piniella, and yes, I like the fact that A-Rod and Junior can kiss their collective asses from their second-division vantage points. But if the M's want the World Championship and the "Best Team Ever" moniker (as the '98 Yanks so brashly put it on their rings), they've got to earn it just as the Yankees did in '98, by sweating out one playoff game at a time and seating all comers. And if somebody comes along and bumps them off, well, fair play to them.
Besides, it wouldn't be unprecedented. By now, you've probably seen the following chart, which shows where the M's fit in. Note that two of the top four teams in terms of wins didn't win the World Series:
Team W-L Pct. WC?
1906 Cubs 116-36 .763
2001 Mariners 116-46 .716
1998 Yankees 114-48 .704 Y
1954 Indians 111-43 .721
1909 Pirates 110-42 .724 Y
1927 Yankees 110-44 .714 Y
1961 Yankees 109-53 .673 Y
1969 Orioles 109-53 .673
1970 Orioles 108-54 .667 Y
1975 Reds 108-54 .667 Y
1986 Mets 108-54 .667 Y
I have a large number of family members who live in the Pacific Northwest and who I know are pulling for the Mariners, especially against the hated Yankees (I'm the black sheep of the family with my rooting interests). Should the M's win, I won't begrudge them their happiness, but should they lose, well, that's baseball.
• One other note, only tangentially related to the playoffs. Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly retired the other day after 15 seasons and two World Championships. As someone who took great pleasure in those two championships (see the Department of Anything Can Happen in a Short Series), I'll drink a few toasts to the man who guided those teams. Any manager with the balls to send his ace out for the 10th inning of a scoreless World Series Game 7, as Kelly did for Black Jack Morris in 1991, has earned my respect and given me a story to tell my grandkids.
The early favorites to take over from Kelly include Twins coaches Paul Molitor and Ron Gardenhire, which brings me to yet another tangent. Back when I decided to do this web site, the phrase "futility infielder" had been kicking around my head for awhile. It was an instant fit in my mind for the name of this site, and an instant hit among my focus group of friends and family. I'd never heard anybody else use the term, which was another plus. I had no visions of an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, however, and to futher disabuse myself of that notion I did a web search for the term. Two entries came up, one of them this piece on Gardenhire
from the Naples (Florida) News, March 12, 2000:
"He bounced up and down between AAA and the big club. In 1986, major-league rosters reduced from 25 to 24 players, and Gardenhire began the season at AAA Tidewater.
"'I was what you call a futility infielder,' Gardenhire said."
The other reference was from a Sporting News feature
on a baseballl roadtrip back in 1997. One of the writers referred to the Mets' Luis Lopez as a"futility infielder who misplays grounders at every position." That doesn't rate as highly as a good self-deprecating description, so you'll forgive me for reserving a special place for Gardenhire in my personal pantheon alongside Luis Sojo as the standard-bearers of the Futility Infielder brand name, and for rooting for him to get the Twins job over a classy player who racked up 3319 hits and was one of my favorites for 21 seasons.
Monday, October 15, 2001
The team they still call World Champions is in the house, y'all! The New York Yankees, whose dynasty was on the brink of crumbling a mere 72 hours ago, have evened their Division Series with the Oakland A's in emphatic fashion. With literally no margin for error, they won a 1-0 thriller on Saturday night. On Sunday, they pounded the A's for 9 runs in an epic that felt, to a Yankees fan, like an all-day sucker. Four hours? Six hours? Who cares?
I didn't see most of Saturday night's game; my parents were in New York City for the weekend and we had 7:30 PM dinner plans. I couldn't have timed my entry into the ballgame better, arriving home and flicking on the TV to find Mike Mussina in the middle of a matchup with Terrence Long, the A's hottest hitter. On the first pitch I watched, Long lined a shot into the rightfield corner, where Shane Spencer struggled to chase the ball down, then overthrew two cutoff men. But Derek Jeter, in one of the most incredible displays of instinct
I've ever seen manifested on a diamond, picked up the errant throw as he cut across the infield toward the first base line. Like an option quarterback, he shovel-passed the ball to catcher Jorge Posada in time to tag Jeremy Giambi as he lumbered into home plate standing up.
As the play unfolded, I was standing in front of the TV. When Jeter got to the ball I started jumping up and down, screaming, "OUT! MOTHER******! OUT MOTHER******! OUT!" so loud that my voice cracked, pumping my right arm (recently strained in some mysterious exercise mishap) so frantically that it was throbbing deep into the night. But what a play! I watched the replays several times, still barely believing what I'd seen. The replays looked conclusive only from the angle where one could see Giambi from the back, tagged on the inside of his right leg by Posada before his left one reached the plate.
Mariano Rivera came on in the eighth inning to preserve Mussina's 1-0 lead, keeping things interesting by allowing baserunners in both the eighth and the ninth. But he shut the door successfully, allowing the Yanks to finally record a win in the series.
That win did more than allow the Yankees to avoid the indignity of a sweep. It put the pressure back on the A's to close out the series or face a long cross-country flight to play the deciding game in the home of the World Champions--a mirror image of last year's series, when the Yanks couldn't close out the A's in Yankee Stadium and had to head to Oakland to play the deciding game.
Having finally caught a break or two the night before, the Yanks appeared much more confident on Sunday. They ran up long at bats against Oakland starter Cory Lidle, who performed effectively as the A's fourth starter this season but who is clearly a notch below their young trio of heralded hurlers. They manufactured not one but two runs in the second inning without benefit of a hit--two walks, an error by Oakland second baseman F.P. Santangelo, and a groundout. Then they added two more on a Bernie Williams double in the third inning, and bled Lidle for another run in the fourth after a Paul O'Neill double and a timely single by Alfonso Soriano.
Coming into the game, the big question was how effective Yankee starter Orlando Hernandez would be. Hernandez started the season 0-5 before missing two months on the DL, but he finished with a strong 4-1, 2.88 ERA September. Still, he was removed from his final start in the second inning, unable to gain command of his pitches, and only four innings of shutout relief on the season's final day guaranteed him a roster spot for the series. El Duque has excelled in the postseason for the Yanks during this run, with an 8-1 record and one of the Yanks' biggest wins along the way (1998 ALCS against Cleveland, down 2-1, he hung a 4-0 shutout on the Indians in Jacobs Field). He didn't have nearly that kind of dominance today; instead he gave the Yanks what my friend Nick Stone refers to as a "Granny Gooden" outing--one watched with all of the trepidation reserved for witnessing an elderly woman navigate an icy staircase, so named for a certain former Yankee starter.
But Granny Hernandez, despite throwing 30 pitches in the first inning and allowing two runs in the third, got stronger as the epic (two hours old in the third inning!) progressed. He allowed only one baserunner in the fourth and fifth innings combined, and when he departed up 7-2 in the sixth with two runners on, not a single Yankee fan could complain that this wasn't the equal of his past clutch performances. Mike Stanton, as he is prone to do with the dynasty's foes at the gate, beat back the A's threat in the sixth, and yielded to Ramiro Mendoza in the eighth inning with the game under control.
So in one afternoon, the Yanks totaled more runs than the A's had for the entire series, and more tripled their own offensive output. Meanwhile, the A's woes with runners in scoring position, an oversight as they raced to a 2-0 lead, have now become dire: 1-for-31 through four games. Worse, they've lost their fine rightfielder Jermaine Dye for the season. Dye, whose arrival in Oakland via trade set the tone for a remarkable 48-14 run (he drove in 59 runs in those 62 games), fractured his tibia in the third inning by fouling a pitch off of the leg, then crumpling awkwardly to the ground in obvious agony. Ron Gant, whose solo home run paced the A's in Game 2, will fill in for Dye, a serious downgrade both offensively and--in the spacious outfield of Yankee Stadium--defensively.
A's manager Art Howe made one questionable change in his lineup, subbing lefty-hitting utilityman F.P. Santangelo at second base for righty regular Frank Menechino. Santangelo's error in the second inning opened the door to the first Yankee runs; it was his first error this season, but it cost the A's big time. On the other hand, Howe managed to spread the workload throughout his bullpen, using five pitchers after Lidle departed, notably sparing both setup man Jim Mecir and closer Jason Isringhausen.
Torre's lineup decisions paid off for him on Sunday. David Justice, batting third once again, reached base three times out of five, battling for walks in the middle of two rallies and hitting a triple to key the Yanks' final two runs. Paul O'Neill, batting seventh after sitting Saturday night, hit the tough grounder which tied up Santangelo for the error, then doubled and scored in the fourth inning. What's more, when O'Neill grounded out in the fifth with the Yanks already up 7-2, he spent the rest of the inning visibly cursing a blue streak at himself, displaying the fiery defiance which had seemed absent in days past.
Suddenly this rematch has achieved the fever pitch we all hoped for. Never mind the broom-speak, here's an elimination game. The big question mark is the health of Roger Clemens. Is the hamstring problem which forced his removal after four lackluster innings in Game 1 sufficiently healed to allow him to pitch effectively Monday night? Clemens' throwing session on Sunday was good enough for the Yanks to send him back to New York ahead of the rest of the team, allowing him a relatively restful night. The Yanks will likely have all hands on deck, including Andy Pettitte, to bail him out should he falter.
As for Torre, the Yanks' resurgence in this series should offer some vindication for the manager's critics. While many folks--Yankee fans and Yankee haters alike--would have liked to bury Torre's future with the team after the first two games of the series, news of a contract offer of a two-year extension worth $10 million dollars clearly shows he's still in the driver's seat. The fact is that Yankee owner Steinbrenner needs Torre
now more than ever. With his new network in place to start next season, Steinbrenner needs to protect his flagship property, and that means having Torre at the helm. The economic climate being as lousy as it is means a scramble for advertisers for the new network, and far more advertisers are likely to come on board with the known commodity of a Torre-managed team that looks as if it can still contend for a World Championship. Anything less, especially with the retooling
the Yanks appear headed for (likely no O'Neill, no Martinez--two underperforming but popular players), is a less bankable commodity.
So the Yankee dynasty lives to fight at least another day. And after sitting, standing, pacing, high-fiving, wincing, and writing my way through nearly NINE HOURS of intense playoff baseball (a few words about Curt Schilling's performance are certainly in order, but time doesn't permit right now), I can hardly wait for more. Bring it on.
Friday, October 12, 2001
It didn't take long for the Oakland A's to push this year's model of the New York Yankees to the brink of elimination. Quite simply, the A's are beating the Yanks at their own game. Their hitters are using their discipline at the plate to work deep into the count, exacting a toll from the pitcher even when lose a battle, collectively outlasting the starter and breaking into the soft, creamy center of the opposition's relief pitching to increase their margin. The A's pitchers are getting ahead in counts and controlling the at bats, forcing the Yanks into weak tappers and infield popups.
In the two games, the A's hitters have forced the Yankee pitchers into throwing 329 pitches, an average of 4.83 per plate appearance. The Yanks, who once excelled in this category, are down at 4.04, slightly above the major league average (3.78) but clearly not good enough against the A's fine young starters. The A's have drawn seven walks to go with their 19 hits, while the Yanks have only two, and it took them until the fifth inning of Game 2 to draw their first one.
Mark Mulder looked like the one in the catalog on Wednesday night, the man who racked up a 21-8 record in only his second season. In the harsh environment of a Yankee Stadium playoff, he had no shortage of poise or control, and dominated the Yankee hitters. Roger Clemens, on the other hand, didn't look right from the start, and left after four grueling innings with an ailing hamstring. Sterling Hitchcock pitched credibly in relief of Clemens, but Joe Torre stayed with him too Long (as in Terrence, the A's leftfielder who clubbed his second HR of the game off of Hitchcock in the 8th). The Yanks had a shot against setup man Jim Mecir, thanks to Tino Martinez's 2-run HR, but closer Jason Isringhausen slammed the door on their fingers in the 9th.
Last night, Andy Pettitte pitched a typically gutty game, allowing only one run, but he threw 115 pitches in only 6.1 innings and was out of bullets. Tim Hudson's 113 pitches, by contrast, took him through 8 innings, and he was simply brilliant, as the Yanks could barely manage to get the ball out of the infield until late in the ballgame.
Thus far, the thing that's driven me and nearly every other Yanks fan up the wall is Joe Torre's lineup selection. Starting two gimpy lefties, Paul O'Neill and David Justice, against A's lefty Mark Mulder looked like a bad idea on paper and an even worse one on TV. Justice's at bats, in particular, looked wretched. He was either way out in front or about five minutes late on each swing, with a little hop thrown in there to insure his bad timing. O'Neill, likely playing his final days, just doesn't seem to have fire anymore. I'd kill to see that helmet-throwing intensity, the defiance in his eyes, one more time, but he looks like a golfer in search of the clubhouse after a rough back nine.
As Rob Neyer pointed out, righty Shane Spencer would have been a much better option for either of those two against Mulder. Not only is Spencer healthy, but he also hits lefties LAMF: .313 AVG/.348 OBP/.563 SLG this year (though in only 64 ABs), and .335/.361/.616 for the previous three. Hello, Joe?
Torre's unswerving loyalty to those who brought him to this point has manifested itself up and down the Yankee lineup: from the decision to start Roger Clemens (who had lost his last two starts to Tampa Bay) over Mike Mussina (his hottest pitcher) in Game 1, to using Knoblauch in the leadoff spot (one decision that's working, at least, as the Lil' Bastard is 3-for-8 with some good at bats), to playing the struggling lefties, to the last-minute decision to fill his final roster spot with good-luck charm Luis Sojo over spot lefty Randy Choate (who pitched well against Oakland this season) or rookie first baseman Nick Johnson, whose keen batting eye could come in handy in the late innings.
Considering Torre spent so much time agonizing over the selection of his bench, it seems amazing that thus far he's been so reluctant to use it. Anybody, including Sojo, who stumbles into clutch hits like a blind squirrel with a nose for acorns, could have given Torre a better at bat in the late innings of Game 1 than Justice. Brosius has looked fairly lost as well, and with FOUR potential third basemen on the bench-- Velarde, Wilson, Sojo and Bellinger--there's no excuse for watching him pop out every damn time up. Brosius, O'Neill, and Justice thus far are a combined 1-for-24 with 15 men left on base. C'mon, Joe, take a risk, play a hunch, pull a lever once in awhile just to see if the result changes and to prove that you're not a statue waiting for the birds to land on you.
Even with Mussina, their hottest hand, going for the Yanks tomorrow, the outlook for the Yanks is not good. The A's are tough at home, they're loose, and they've got another young lefty, Barry Zito, going for them. Zito's only won 9 straight starts. The Yanks have no choice but to get past him and hope that El Duque can pull a win the magnitude of his '98 ALCS Game 4 start against Cleveland. Can it be done? Yes. Will it? Ask Joe Torre, he's the one with the lineup card.
Tuesday, October 09, 2001
Yankees-A's: Measuring the Rotations
I don't have enough time to do all of the in-depth analysis I'd like to regarding the playoff matchup between the Yankees
and the A's
. But I did want to take a look at what is probably the series' most important aspect, starting pitching.
There's a lot of talk about how good the A's top 3 pitchers (Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, and Barry Zito) are. They're young, they're successful, and with two out of three lefties, they're likely to give the Yanks plenty of trouble. But looking at their combined stats compared to the Yanks big 3 (Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Mike Mussina), I don't see a distinct advantage. Both have impressive Won-Loss records, and their ERAs are virtually a wash. The Yanks trio has better strikeout-related ratios and better durability (I excluded Andy Pettitte's recent 3-pitch outing from the IP/GS calculation because it's such an obvious fluke, but they still come out ahead if you factor that in). Both teams play in pitchers' parks, but Oakland's is a more extreme one, which leads me to give the Yanks trio a slight upper hand.
Yanks Big 3 combined:
52-24 (.684), 3.53 ERA, 649.2 IP, 6.70 IP/GS, 1.21 WHIP, 3.88 K/W, 8.18 K/9
A's Big 3 combined:
56-25 (.691), 3.43 ERA, 678.2 IP, 6.53 IP/GS, 1.20 WHIP, 2.66 K/W, 7.14 K/9
The key here is bases on balls: both Mussina (1.65 walks per 9) and Pettitte (1.84) are very stingy with the walks, as is Mulder (2.00). Hudson (2.72), Clemens (2.94) and Zito (3.36) are considerably higher in this department. Given the emphasis both teams place on drawing walks, an advantage here could be significant. It isn't too big a stretch to say that the Yanks have been known to turn a postseason series around on the basis of a single base on balls.
As it stands, both managers are planning to use four-man rotations, and on the surface it would appear that Oakland has an edge. Unless the two managers deviate from their plans, Cory Lidle (13-6, 3.59) opposes Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez (4-7, 4.85). But El Duque was 0-5, 5.14 when he went on the DL for two months, and he finished the season looking like the one in the catalog, going 4-1, 2.88 in September and October. Of course, he's been nothing but money for the Yanks in Octobers past: 8-1, 2.20. If he's healthy--and at the very least he should be well-rested--that's a big plus in favor of the Yankees.
Looking at the home-road breakdowns of the pitching matchups, with Games 1 and 2 in New York, Games 3 and 4 in Oakland, and Game 5 back in da Bronx:
Game 1: Clemens (10-1, 3.10 at home) vs. Mulder (10-6, 4.12 on the road)
Game 2: Pettitte (10-3, 3.16 at home) vs. Hudson (11-5, 3.33 on the road)
Game 3: Mussina (6-6, 3.19 on the road) vs. Zito (9-3, 3.71 at home)
Game 4: Hernandez (3-4, 4.74 on the road) vs. Lidle (8-5, 4.03 at home)
The Yanks have the better ERA in 3 of the four matchups. But the most interesting thing about these breakdowns is two splits that aren't shown because they're not scheduled to come into play: Mulder was dominant in Oakland (11-2, 2.69); Andy Pettite has struggled away from Yankee Stadium (5-7, 4.97). That combination of non-occurrences definitely favors the Yanks (still with me?). Based on this, I'd conclude that the Yanks rotation is better optimized for the venues and the schedule.
As I see it:
* The key for the Yanks starters is simply the health of Pettitte and Hernandez. With serious question marks hanging over their heads, both pitched well in their tuneups last weekend, but Pettitte has been very
spotty in the second half (6-6, 5.22).
* The key for the A's starters is whether the extra innings they've thrown this season will catch up to them. So far there aren't any signs of that; like the rest of the team, they are, dare I say, en fuego: a combined 14-3 with a 2.81 ERA since the beginning of September. But their big three all three set career highs for themselves in Innings Pitched, by a wide margin, and they're in uncharted territory now.
* The Yanks rotation has a huge advantage in postseason experience, with 51 starts and 23 postseason wins versus 2 starts and 1 win.
It's a classic experience-vs.-youth showdown, and of course I'm not addressing the other aspects of both teams. But this one's probably going 5, and if I had to pick, I'd take the Yanks because of the home-field advantage and because their rotation is better set up for the venue. That may be an analysis that comes more from the heart than the head--after all, I could dig through statistical splits until the cows come home and end up proving entirely the opposite of what I'm arguing here. But these Yanks have shown me too much over this extended championship run to ever count them out.
Seattle over Cleveland in 4 (I'll admit, I revised this from my post earlier today on Baseball Primer, after the Indians surprised everyone by taking Game 1)
Atlanta over Houston in 4
Arizona over St. Louis in 5
Right now, I don't see the Yanks getting past Seattle even if they should survive Oakland, but the time to worry about the nuts and bolts of that matchup is a long ways away. As for the National League, I'd love to see Houston finally shed their postseason jinx, but I don't think that's going to happen. My money is on whoever wins the Arizona-St. Louis matchup going to the World Series and losing to the American League representative, no matter who shows up.
Monday, October 08, 2001
With his 73rd dinger yesterday, Barry Bonds capped one of the most remarkable performances in baseball history. He set single-season records for Home Runs, Slugging Percentage (.863), Bases on Balls (177), and Home Run Percentage (15.34 per 100 At Bats). And don't forget the share of the National League record for Extra Base Hits (107), a share of the major league record for OPS with 1379 (tying Babe Ruth's 1920 mark), and an On Base Percentage of .515, the first man over .500 since Mickey Mantle in 1957.
But there's one other record Barry broke. Not only did his 73 homers set a Major League record, they also broke much less well-known record for HRs at any level of professional baseball. In 1954, Joe Bauman
, a 6'5" lefty first-baseman slugged 72 HRs for the Roswell (New Mexico) Rockets of the Class C Longhorn League
. Playing in some small parks (the Sporting News article places the dimensions at 340 to left, 385 to center and 330 to right) and aided by high elevations (Roswell sits at 3570 feet above sea level--not as high as Denver, but higher than any other Major League city), Bauman put up a remarkable line for the year, batting .400 with 72 HR, 224 RBI, and 456 Total Bases in 138 games. Bauman, who was 32 at the time, won 4 minor league home run titles but never reached the majors. According to Bill James's Historical Abstract, he finished his minor league career with 337 HRs and a .337 average.
Incidentally, the Longhorn League, which covered New Mexico and western Texas, featured some colorfully-named teams in 1954: the Artesia Numexers, Big Spring Broncs, Carlsbad Potashers, Wichita Falls/Sweetwater Spudders, Midland Indians, Odessa Oilers, and the San Angelo Colts, along with the Roswell Rockets. The league operated as a Class D league for the first few years of its inception (1947-1950), then became a Class C league from 1951-1955. It evolved into the Southwestern League (1956-1957) and finally the Sophomore League (1958-1961) before going defunct (all of this info comes from Mike McCann's Minor League Baseball Page
, an complete list of minor leagues and their franchises).
Thursday, October 04, 2001
A Good Day for Great Leftfielders
It was a pretty eventful day yesterday for three of the best leftfielders ever to play the game:
• Barry Bonds set a record
, but it wasn't the record he's been gunning for, the single-season Home Run record. Bonds broke the major-league record for Bases on Balls in a season, with his 171st free pass. It was the second of three walks Barry drew from the Astros pitchers, who obviously wanted no part of him. Their pitch plan might as well have read: "Away, awayer, awayest." In the poetic justice department (if you're a Giants fan, which I most certainly ain't), Bonds scored all three times he was walked, and then blooped a run-scoring single when he finally did get something to hit, and the Giants won 11-8.
• Rickey Henderson tied the career record for Runs Scored when he came all the way around from first base on a double by Ryan Klesko. The run was Henderson's 2245th, which tied Ty Cobb's all-time mark--at least according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Total Baseball has Cobb's total at 2246 based on additional research, with the extra run coming in 1912. While Total Baseball is "The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball" (as it's subtitled), Major League Baseball recognizes the Elias total as the record. Go figure.
In any event, as I write this Rickey has scored again
to either break the record or tie ol' Ty yet again. He hit a home run (his 2998th hit) and then slid into home plate to punctuate his feat. Though he was unable to yank home plate out of the ground and hold it aloft, as he did when he broke the record for Stolen Bases, he was presented with a gold-plated replica of the plate by Tony Gwynn.
Here's a head-scratcher: if indeed Rickey gets his 3000th hit before the end of the season and joins Gwynn in that exclusive club, will it be the first time two 3000-hit members have played for the same team AFTER having done so? I know several teams have featured multiple players who went on to get 3000 hits--the Milwaukee Brewers with Robin Yount and Paul Molitor come to mind, as do the Baltimore Orioles with Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.
• Tim Raines Sr.
was traded by the Montreal Expos to the Baltimore Orioles so that he could join his son, Tim Raines Jr., in the lineup against the Toronto Blue Jays. Little Rock started in centerfield and went 2-for-4 with a double, while Rock the Elder entered the game as a pinch-hitter and went 0-for-1 with a sacrifice fly. The duo thus joined the Ken Griffeys as the only father-son tandems ever to play simultaneously for the same team in the majors.
This story makes me warm all over. It's been quite a season for the Raineses. After sitting out the entire 2000 season recovering from lupus, Tim Sr. started the season where he began his career, with the Expos. He tore a biceps tendon and missed about three months, but got a chance while on his rehab assignment to play against his son in a AAA game
, the first time a father had ever opposed his son in a pro game. He made it back to the Expos and has been pinch-hitting and drawing spot duty amid their lost season--and doing it pretty well: .304 AVG/.424 OBP/.430 SLG in 79 ABs. Meanwhile, Tim Jr. has spent time at four different levels, from the Class A Frederick Keys on up the ladder, and was promoted last week when the injury-depleted O's placed their 10,000th player of the season on the disabled list (or something like that).
Given his performance this year, it's a distinct possiblity that Rock could catch on as a pinch-hitter somewhere next year. Will the O's keep him around to tutor his son and provide a strong veteran presence? They could do a hell of a lot worse.
Anyway... I'm off to Baltimore this weekend, after all--my Ripken tix went unbid upon. After all is said and done, I'm happy to be going to this historic finale. I'm even happier that not only will the Rainses also be there, but that David Cone is slated as the starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Could this be Coney's finale as well? Damn, I'm full of questions today. I suspect Cone would probably rather have rotator cuff surgery without anesthesia than return to the disheveled and disgruntled Sox. My hunch is that he'll end up with an offer from the Mets. I'd love to see it.
Oh, and as for Bonds--he's walked three times tonight against the Astros, and it looks like he'll go into the final series of the season still one shy of Mark McGwire's record. Wonder of scheduling wonders, the Giants' final opponent is the Dodgers, who were eliminated earlier this week. Now, I'm all for Barry setting the record at this point--in theory. I hold no grudge against him, and even if he doesn't his season should be recognized for what it is, one of the greatest single-season offensive performances ever. But I relish the fact that the Dodgers have an opportunity to play the spoiler, not only for Bonds' record, but also for the Giants' slim playoff chances. Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the Shot Heard 'Round the World, and as I figure it, every Giants-Dodgers matchup with something on the line is a chance to exact some revenge. Don't be surprised if Tommy Lasorda himself comes in in the 9th inning to plunk BB in the ribs. After all, it's still Payback Time.
Subscribe to Posts [Atom]