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

 

The Weird Series

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 standing by.

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