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.

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.

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