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.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

 

Clearing the Bases: Be-Bop-Posada-Hey! Edition

So much to write about, so little time...

• A reminder that I will be making an appearance out on Long Island at 7 PM on Friday evening, though my Baseball Prospectus colleague Steven Goldman, has had to cancel due to health woes:
Guest speakers Jay Jaffe and Steve Goldman, contributing authors of Baseball Prospectus (www.BaseballProspectus.com) will present "Baseball for Freethinkers," an overview of Sabermetrics, the scientific approach to baseball. Jay will challenge the common wisdom or "religion" of baseball strategy and touch on the history of baseball mathematical analysis from Bill James to "Moneyball." This is not your parent's baseball discussion! At the Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Library, 999 Old Country Road, Plainview, Nassau County, NY. For info call 516 742 1662 or email LISecHum@aol.com.
If you're in the area, I hope you can make it. For more details, see here.

• This week's Hit List has Detroit ranked first for the third non-consecutive time this year. If it were the Indians, we could call them the Grover Cleveland Indians, or something like that, but the Tribe -- who finished last season at the top of the Hit List -- is too busy letting teams like the Tigers and the Royals (!) walk all over them.

The Yanks were number two on the list, mainly owing to the fact that their offense has fallen off considerably since Hideki Matsui broke his wrist against the Red Sox. Including that game (since Matsui didn't hit), the Yanks scored only 10 runs in their final four games of the week, just 2.5 per game, whereas they had been averaging an impressive 6.23 per game.

• The Yanks did break out for 14 runs on Tuesday, in one of the most incredible games of the Joe Torre era. Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small spotted the Texas Rangers a 9-0 lead in the first two innings, but the Yanks, playing without Matsui, Gary Sheffield (still on the DL due to a wrist injury) and Jason Giambi (out of the lineup with a neck strain sustained while diving for a ball on Monday night) clawed their way back.

I flipped the game on in the bottom of the second when the score was 9-1 and swore a blue streak that caused leaves to fall off one of the nearby houseplants. I kept the game on while I worked on the computer and then went to join Andra in watching an episode of Lost when the score was 10-3. Taking a break midway through the show, I came out of the bedroom where we were watching and realized that I'd left the TV on, with the score now 12-11. I quickly started recording the game, grabbing the half-hour worth of action in the buffer as well. The TiVO had picked up right after Derek Jeter's three-run homer in the sixth inning cut the score to 10-8. I missed that, as well as the play where Jorge Posada held onto the ball in a collision with Mark Teixera at the plate, but there was still plenty of action to come.

The Yanks actually took the lead in that sixth inning, with Bernie Williams lashing and RBI double and Miguel Cairo (playing first base, ugh) a two-run single. But they couldn't hold the lead. An obviously gassed Scott Proctor -- his velocity was about 5 MPH short of his usual mid-90s heat, and his command was a mess -- walked the first batter he faced, Kevin Mench, then immediately yielded a two-run homer to Brad Wilkerson. He scuffled his way through the rest of the inning, and the Yanks tied the score in the bottom of the seventh on an error, a Jeter bunt single, a feeble Alex Rodriguez groundout, and a Posada sacrifice fly.

The eighth inning passed without incident, and in the ninth, Mariano Rivera came on in relief of Kyle Farnsworth, who'd struck out Teixeira and Hank Blalock in his scoreless frame. Mo got into trouble by yielding a single to Mench, a sacrifice, a walk, and then an RBI double from Rod Barajas, the Rangers #9 hitter and their last to get a base hit, to make the score 13-12 Rangers. D'oh!

In the home half of the ninth, facing Texas closer Akinori Otsuka, Johnny Damon reached on an infield single. Jeter and A-Rod both made outs, the former advancing Damon on a grounder and the latter lining out sharply to centerfield, taking the Yanks down to their final out. Up came Posada, already with three RBIs on the night as the lineup's cleanup hitter in the wake of the injuries. He got ahead in the count 3-0, then took a strike, and on his next pitch he launched a ball about four rows deep into the rightfield bleachers for the Yanks' first walk-off win of the year. The Yankees win! Thhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhe Yankees win!

The YES broadcast -- mercifully just Ken Singleton and Jim Kaat, thank you Lord -- of the homer and its aftermath was priceless. Only after his teammates had mobbed him at home plate and every player and coach on the bench had hugged, bumped, high-fived, or patted Posada did he emerge from the dugout for a curtain call to acknowledge what remained of the 40,000+ fans in attendance. The camera stayed on him as he returned to the dugout following his well-deserved ovation; he was the last man around, and the shot showed him quietly gathering his catching gear. Even the heroes pack their own bags on the Yankees.

Posada was extremely photogenic on this night. Several times YES cut to the play at the plate, where he took 220 lbs of a full-bore Teixeira setting his shoulder just as he received the ball. After the ump called the out, Posada sat on the ground, legs outstretched, and half-dazed, looked at the ball with pride, as if to say, "Yeah, I held onto that one, suckers." A priceless moment for the mental scrapbook.

• There wasn't much that could top Tuesday night's game, but the good feelings were still in the House That Ruth Built on Wednesday, when I went to the game in the company of my wife Andra (if you read the Hit List, you'd know that we celebrated our one-year anniversary on Monday, May 15). Replays of the comeback were running on the Yankee scoreboard, and Posada drew a standing ovation when he came to bat in the bottom of the first. Facing Kameron Loe, he promptly blooped an RBI single down the leftfield line, scoring Jeter and giving the Yanks a 1-0 lead.

Facing Chien-Ming Wang, the Rangers drew even in the fourth on a messy series of events that included an error on a potential double play by Robinson Cano and a 7-5-6 putout at second base on Mench, who had just driven in the tying run. I had gone for a beer run and was standing in line as this happened. Andra couldn't even begin to recount the sequence of events for me, so I had to fill in my scorecard using the play-by-play when I got home.

The Yanks broke the tie in the bottom of the fifth with five consecutive two-out base hits. Giambi, back in the lineup, started things off with a double into the left-center gap, went to third on an infield single by A-Rod (his second of the night and the Yanks' third), and scored on a shot up the middle by -- guess who? -- Posada. Cano atoned for his error by driving in Rodriguez, Bernie slapped a single to left to score Posada, and suddenly it was 4-1.

Wang took a four-hitter into the eighth inning, having thrown just 71 pitches. He got one out, then yielded a double to Gerald Laird, and on the next pitch, Gary Matthews Jr drilled a homer to rightfield to cut the score to 4-3. He went 2-0 on Michael Young and I expected Joe Torre to come out of the dugout, but he retired Young on a grounder, and escaped the inning by getting Teixeira to ground out as well. Mo came in and closed the deal in the ninth, wrapping up the game in a neat 2 hours, 34 minutes. Gotta love it.

• Turning my attention away from the Yanks, I am LOVING the long, drawn out Barry Bonds deathmarch to 714. Bonds hit homer number 713 on May 7, his fifth homer in a 15-game span. He's been stuck on that number for 10 days now, and managed just a 1-for-18 showing during a week-long homestand. Better still, he didn't tally number 714 against the Dodgers, who held him hitless in eight at-bats over the weekend as they took two out of three.

The delay as Bonds attempts to tie and pass Babe Ruth on the all-time homer list has given fans and writers that much more time to vent their frustrations regarding the cloud under which he's reached this pinnacle. Give him a break? Why the hell should we? As the Washington Post's Tom Boswell wrote on Tuesday:
For the past week, at home in San Francisco, the left fielder finally looked his age. For six games, he was naked before his enemies, even though he was playing before friends. Every time Bonds popped up or struck out, and even when a well-hit ball ended up in the glove of Juan Pierre inches above the center field fence, the expression that played on his face ranged from disgust to frustration to something akin to athletic fear.

Suddenly, as Bonds is on the verge of passing Ruth, the pertinent question is no longer whether Bonds can overtake Hank Aaron's total of 755 home runs next season. Now, after one single in 26 plate appearances in that whole homestand, a slump that left Bonds with a .217 batting average, the issue has become, "Is the end in sight for Barry?"

...Throughout his career, Bonds has played with a chip on his shoulder and a mask on his emotions. He has wanted to appear invincible and untouchable. Outs were a mistake, home runs an inevitability. Now, his facade has cracked wide open. When Bonds hits a routine fly ball, he often smacks the barrel of his bat in anger before he even begins the obligatory jog out of the batter's box. When Pierre robbed him of what would've been homer No. 714, Bonds waved his arm disparagingly, dismissively at Pierre as if his excellent play in a close game were disgusting, an affront. How dare you?

But that's the point. Now, when it comes to Bonds, everyone dares, even Joe Beimel. In the wake of BALCO, the exhaustive exposé "Game of Shadows," an official MLB probe into steroids and the possibility that Bonds may have committed perjury before a grand jury, Bonds is now fair game for anyone. The New Yorker magazine recently ran a cartoon on its cover with normal-size baseball players at each position -- except in left field, where one gigantic man stands wearing No. 25. If that isn't evidence of an irreparably ruined athletic reputation, then it's close.

Bonds will now face a week on the road with No. 714 and 715 in sight -- what he didn't want. Perhaps only Bonds, often motivated by hostility and isolation, could respond well to the prospect of visiting cities where fans treat his arrival as a civic theme contest. So far, Philly is winning: "Ruth Did It With Hot Dogs and Beer. Aaron Did It With Class. What Did YOU Do It With?"

...As Bonds rounds the bases for No. 715, don't feel guilty if a clap of the hands escapes you, an appreciation of the difficulty of what he did, even if he shouldn't have been able to do it quite so well. As he touches the plate in what may be his last truly historic baseball moment, try to appreciate the one harsh certainty about the remainder of Bonds's life. Whatever he did, the penalty he will pay -- in a multitude of forms -- will surely fit the crime. And probably much more.
Things came to a head Tuesday evening in Houston, when reliever Russ Springer drilled Bonds after throwing one behind his back and four inside pitches, the last of which hit Mr. Potato Head in the shoulder as he turned away from the pitch. Springer was ejected, but he drew a standing ovation from the 35,286 fans at Minute Maid Park as he departed.

It was a bush league spectacle, and in the words of Chris Rock, while I don't condone it, I understand it. Springer, who has a lifetime ERA of 5.05 to show for a 15-year career -- a pretty impressive record of futility, especially for a righthanded reliever -- was little more than a Tie Domi to those of us who loathe Barry Bonds with every ounce of our being, a common hack of a thug summoned to deliver a message: FUCK YOU, BARRY!. To borrow another favorite phrase, one from the movie Coup de Torchon, it's a dirty job, and we deserve all of the dirty pleasure we get out of it. Any joy Bonds might expect to get in passing Ruth appears to have been completely drained, and in fact Bonds sounds like he's cracking under the strain:
After Bonds went homerless on the homestand, was there still an urgency to hit his 714th homer and catch Babe Ruth? Maybe it's more than that.

"This thing, it's like chasing two ghosts, you know?" said Bonds, referring to Ruth and all-time leader Hank Aaron. "I can imagine what Roger Maris went through. ... Babe Ruth, I think he just kind of hovers over people a lot."
Yeah, ask the Red Sox about that ghost sometime. Ask Pedro Martinez. Babe Ruth's been dead for nearly 58 years and he's still a sonofabitch when it comes to reckoning with his legacy. Bonds' baggage regarding the Bambino is biting him in the ass.

Anyway, Springer's probably facing a suspension for his actions, not that he'll be missed all that much. But his actions definitely provided a focal point to some of the anti-Bonds sentiment out there, and so long as Bonds remains in this tortured limbo, I've got no problem with that.

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