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.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
A Baseball Prospectus reader brought to my attention a rather unfortunate error in my World Series Game Two diary
. Namely that the list of scoreless inning streaks we discussed and passed along is for a single postseason
, not overall consecutive scoreless postseason innings.
Reviewing the TiVo, the Fox graphic was titled "Longest Scoreless Inning Streak: Single Postseason," and I simply missed the distinction. Babe Ruth (29.2 innings, 1916, 1918), Whitey Ford (33.2 innings, 1960-1962) and Mariano Rivera (34.2 innings (1998-2001) have all accumulated more scoreless frames than the pitchers on that list, though they took multiple seasons to do that.
Thanks to BP reader SK for pointing out the mistake. Apologies to anyone who lost their shirt in a bet or got their ass kicked in a bar fight because of my faulty information.
Monday, October 23, 2006
As most of you reading this are aware, I'm a TiVo evangelist, and never moreso than when it comes to the postseason on Fox. Nonetheless, last night I watched Game Two of the World Series -- the I [Heart] NY matchup between faield Yankees Jeff Weaver and Kenny Rogers -- more or less in real time so that I could cover the game in live diary format
for Baseball Prospectus. Riding shotgun with me for most of the way was Steven Goldman, and Neil de Mause interjected a bit as well, though his best line, impugning Weaver's literacy, got left on the cutting-room floor.
Anyway, the game was a tight one, unlike the opener, with Rogers carrying a one-hit shutout through seven frames. There's a lot of talk today about the substance on his thumb and its disappearance prior to the second inning, as well as who said what when. I didn't delve to deeply into that, nor do I intend to here; as I understand it La Russa never formally asked the umps to inspect Rogers, and the gunk was moved at the umps' request. It didn't help the Cards solve the Gambler; they managed just two hits off of him all night, and one of them came with the offending substance in place. Move along.
My chat with Steve took us on all kinds of tangents, and I was able to back up and add a bit of Retrosheet-flavored debunkery to a couple of Fox's statistical nuggets:
10:11: Rogers retires Eckstein on a grounder to Inge, and at 20.1 consecutive scoreless postseason innings, he's now sixth all time:
1. Christy Mathewson, 1905, 27 innings
2. Lew Burdette, 1957, 24
3. Jerry Reuss, 1981, 23
4. George Earnshaw, 1930 22
5. Orel Hershiser, 1988, 21.1
6. Kenny Rogers, 2006, 20.1
A fun list, that, representing the two Dodger World Championships of my lifetime. Everybody remembers Hershiser in 1988, coming off of that record-breaking 59-inning scoreless streak; after being touched up by the Mets in his first LCS appearance, he went right back to shutout ball, and over a span of 101.2 innings between the regular season and post, he allowed just four earned runs. Reuss, on the other hand, is somewhat forgotten. In the strike-induced Division Series against the Astros, he tossed nine innings of shutout ball in Game Two, but the Dodgers didn't score for him, and the 'Stros won 1-0 in 11 innings. Undaunted, Reuss came back in Game Five against Nolan Ryan and threw up nine more zeroes, while the Dodgers scrapped for four runs and advanced. In Game Three of the LCS, Reuss then blanked the Expos for five before allowing four runs in the sixth, three on a Jerry White homer... wait a second. There were two outs before any of the runs scored, so that total should be 23.2. Damn it, Fox, I WILL LOOK IT UP! Don't trust those totals, kids.
About an hour later...
11:04: Returning from the commercial break, the camera cuts to the Tiger dugout, where Rogers appears to be accepting job-well-done congrats. Those 23 scoreless innings, we're told, tie him with Reuss, but I know better.
The appearance of Hershiser and Reuss on that scoreless list has prompted an ongoing background discussion between Steve and myself about Rogers' place in history.
steve: There are so many pitchers in that 200-250 win zone they're in, where you have to take them seriously historically, but they're not quite all-timers. Orel [204 wins] is on the high side of that zone, Reuss [220 wins] on the low...
jay: agreed on the 200-250. I mean, David Cone and Dwight Gooden [both with 194 wins, oddly enough] didn't get there, but at their peaks were better than a lot of those guys
steve: A shame Cone tapped out so fast. He might have made it.
jay: that missed year  at the end cost him
steve: At 207 wins, Rogers is in that group too, though to this point I would have said he was disqualified by cowardice under fire.
jay: he's closer to David Wells than David Cone or some of those other guys, but with poorer surroundings.
steve: That's probably right. Cone won a Cy... Rogers has never been mentioned on a ballot. If you look at Baseball-Reference.com, btw, David Wells is high on the list of Rogers comps.
jay: Wells-Rogers makes sense. Was Boomer ever on a Cy ballot?
steve: Twice. 1998 and 2000. Distantly.
steve: And Orel... and... Charlie Root? Did Rogers give up a called shot to anyone?
jay: No, but he punched a camera man.
Real time is a scary place both on Fox and in front of my laptop; by the end of the game my fingers were aching, I was soaked with sweat, and I'd seen far too many commercials. Still, and particularly with Steve to liven things up, it was good fun, if not something I'm eager to try again tonight. Enjoy.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
On the eve -- or rather afternoon -- of the World Series opener, I'll apologize in advance to the Detroit Tigers and their fans. I've got a lousy track record of rooting in this postseason, whether out of genuine affinity (the Dodgers and Yankees, who both lost in the first round), geography (the Mets, who of course were eliminated on Thursday night), philosophy (the Padres, whose front office impresses me, regardless of their rivalry with the Dodgers), or professional preference (the Twins, who I'm covering for Baseball Prospectus 2007, trump a very uninteresting A's team no matter what appreciation I have for Moneyball
). The Tigers' win over the A's in the ALCS is the only time I've come out ahead this fall, and I'm 0-2 rooting against the St. Louis Cardinals.
That said, there's no other way my rooting interest could fall here. I've got no love lost for the Cards -- who may be the worst team ever to make the World Series; they hold the lowest Hit List Factor
of any team to make it to the big show -- but I have to hand it to Tony La Russa for going against his own tendencies
and riding the hot hands of Jeff Weaver and Jeff Suppan to the World Series. Time and again in the NLCS, opportunities to pull both pitchers for more favorable platoon matchups reared their heads, and time and again, La Russa stuck with his guns and was rewarded for his faith. I'd still never want to be caught with a rotation like his in the playoffs -- my memory for Weaver goes back far too long to be swayed by three good starts in a row, particularly with a K/BB ratio of 5/7 -- but it worked out for the Cards in the most unlikely of ways.
Despite the wrong team coming out on top, the NLCS was a fascinating series, the Mets an enjoyable bandwagon to climb aboard. As a carpetbagger in the New York baseball scene, I've never been somebody who could justify a hatred for the Mets simply because I root for the Yankees, and while I love lording the Dodgers' 1988 NLCS victory over Mets fans, my view of the team has changed since moving here. I've got enough Mets fans for friends that my empathy for the team is genuine, as is my desire for them to uphold the "Our City Can Kick Your City's Ass" worldview.
This particular team also had such a cast of familiar characters, from former Yankee coach Willie Randolph to former Dodgers Shawn Green, Paul Lo Duca and Jose Valentin (the Matador, as my friend Nick likes to call him, is a particular favorite), to the injured El Duque, to the admirably outspoken Carlos Delgado, and so on, that rooting for them under the circumstances came easily. Randolph's calm demeanor echoes mentor Joe Torre's, and while so does his postseason bench management
, his ability to manage his depleted pitching staff made for fascinating viewing this October.
Lost in all the hoopla about Oliver Perez as the worst Game Seven starter ever
was the fact that it wasn't too long ago we were talking about him as a future Cy Young candidate. Yes, he had a miserable year with that 3-13, 6.55 ERA line, but how many other pitchers in the running for the dubious distinction struck out 239 hitters two years before? The upside for Perez is clearly still there, so you have to tip your hat to Omar Minaya for acquiring him as a throw-in via the Roberto Hernandez-Xavier Nady deal. Even if Minaya intended to flip Perez back to the Padres but missed the gun at the deadline
, in pitching coach Rick Peterson he's got a much better shot at solving the enigmatic Perez's mechanical and woes than most other teams (Yankees = shudder).
From a pure baseball standpoint, Game Seven
was a pleasure, a taut drama full of unlikely storylines, where one mistake would mean the difference between success and failure. From Perez's early dominance and Albert Pujols' struggles to Endy Chavez's brilliant catch to rob Scott Rolen of a home run -- quite possibly the best I've ever seen given both the context and the sheer unlikelihood of him snagging that ball -- to .216-hitting Yadier Freakin' Molina knocking the pennant-winning homer to Cardinal-killing Carlos Beltran looking at strike three with the bases loaded to end the series -- what's the last backwards K you can remember in the final out of an elimination game? My mind is blank -- this one had everything. And it's a game that will justifiably be long remembered.
But know this one thing: whatever Randolph's similarities to Joe Torre, the latter wouldn't have been caught dead with anyone less than Mariano Rivera out there on the mound with a ninth-inning 1-1 tie in an elimination game. Randolph stuck with Aaron Heilman, who'd tossed the inning prior, and he was afraid to call upon Wagner, who'd been torched for five runs in 2.2 innings by the Cards in the series. Now, I don't know if there's something physically or mentally not right with Wagner at this point in time, but for all of the hoopla that greeted his coming to town, and all of the high-profile shaky performances that the stats belie -- he was second in the NL in Reliever Expected Wins Added
, and as dumb as the save rule is, his five blown saves aren't a ridiculous number (26 pitchers including sainted Jonathan Papelbon blew more, and another nine, including sainted trevor Hoffman, blew as many) -- I was pretty surprised not to see him out there with the season on the line. Exit Sandman.
It's been a week since I thought much about the Tigers, but I still have to hand the way they buzzsawed their way through both the Yankees and A's this month. Their young arms -- Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, tendonitis-striken triple-digit tosser Joel Zumaya -- should be well-rested, and the likeable Jim Leyland can seem to do no wrong these days. Their lineup is full of potholes and will likely be rusty from a week off, but I'm guessing the rested staff makes up for that.
Leyland and La Russa will be managing for the right to join Sparky Anderson as the only managers to guide winners from both leagues to a World Championship (Anderson completed the task with the last Tiger champs in 1984, of course. By way of offering even a modicum of analysis instead of rambling and procrastinating my other work, I'll point to Nate Silver
's preview at BP, where he had this to say about the managers:
La Russa should remember Ken Macha’s fate, because for all the warm fuzzies that Suppan and Molina’s heroics generated on Thursday night, he could still be managing for his job. A competitive performance by the Cardinals should buy him some more time under Walt Jocketty, but if the Tigers win in four games or five, the stench of failure could be too much for Jocketty to ignore, especially after the Cardinals’ shaky regular-season performance. Beyond that, there’s the mutual passive-aggressiveness between La Russa and Scott Rolen, and the general feeling that the PETA-supporting La Russa is a little too blue for the red-state Cardinals. We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, of course, but one suspects that the underlying dynamics might further augment La Russa’s compulsion to over-managing, which could translate to something silly like Taguchi making an unexpected start in left field.
As far as Jim Leyland goes, I'm willing to give him a mulligan until we have more than one season’s worth of results to look at. He pretty clearly makes some technical mistakes, like the resistance to using Zumaya as the closer, or hitting Perez toward the front of the lineup. But the more important function of the manager is to get the best performance that he can out of each man on his roster, and on that front Leyland scores well. Part of that might be psychological -- Leyland pretty clearly has his fire back after being after his burnout in Colorado, whereas the Tigers had suffered under the leadership of a never-ending string of ex-jocks who seemed all too complacent with the team going 70-92 (or much worse) every year. It's also a matter of Leyland not asking his players to do what they aren’t capable of doing. Granderson isn’t asked to steal bases, in spite of being the leadoff hitter; Jones isn’t asked to strike people out, in spite of being the closer. One suspects it’s this same tendency to that makes Leyland extremely reluctant to use his defensive players out of position. There are days when the Tigers’ lineup would probably have been better off with Marcus Thames playing at first base, or something of that nature, but Leyland plays to win the war rather than the battle.
Besides my willingness to continue riding the Tigers' bandwagon for the rest of the month, another reason I'm looking forward to this World Series is because I always enjoy hearing about the two teams' storied Series history. Their 1934 matchup
pitted the Gashouse Gang against the Tigers of Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer and Mickey Cochrane, with the Cards winning in seven thanks to Dizzy and Daffy Dean, who started five of those games; Diz shut out the Tigers in Game Seven on one day's rest. Their 1968 rematch
featured nothing less than the defending champion Cardinals sending Bob Gibson (1.12 ERA that year) to the mound three times, losing the finale to rotund Mickey Lolich, who went 3-0 while tossing three complete games.
As for predictions, I'll say Tigers in six games, with Kenny Rogers and Carlos Guillen leading the way (man, who'd have thought I'd ever type that sentence?). Ultimately, I'm less concerned with who wins and loses here than the opportunity to ride another week of exciting baseball into the October sunset. We've got far too much darkness ahead of us not to enjoy this matchup while it lasts, so here's hoping it lives up to its storied history.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Though I spent a good amount of the weeknd watching the NLCS, I haven't had much chance to write about it since covering the lefty matchup angle in Game One here
and at BP
. I did, however, have time to tape an appearance on Baseball Prospectus Radio
earlier today. It's about eight minutes long and centers on the two teams' rotations and pitching plans, though the lineups are discussed as well.
I had a fun time debating my Game One coverage with Cardinal foes and fans, most notably Brian Gunn, keeper of the defunct Redbird Nation
blog. The consensus among Cards' fans seemed to be towards giving Tony La Russa a pass on sticking with Jeff Weaver, and while I'll admit that for most pitchers 84 pitches and 5.2 scoreless innings would have made for an early hook, my view of Weaver is colored by 3 1/2 years of frustration watching him pitch for the Yankees and Dodgers, and by the fact that inexperience or no, the Cards' bullpen had done a decent job up to that point.
Up until last night
, actually, when they were hung for 10 runs, five of them charged to Josh Hancock, who didn't even record an out. The two Carloses, Beltran and Delgado, combined for three homers, a double and seven RBI, all without facing either lefty out of the Cardinal pen despite those massive platoon splits I harped about
. As the oft-quoted Joe Sheehan
Blaming the manager when his relievers allow nine runs before getting a fourth out may be missing the point, but La Russa did not help himself in the key innings of last night’s game. He opened the fifth wih Brad Thompson against the 2-3-4 spots in the Mets lineup. An error by Ronnie Belliard, a walk and a home run later, the Cards were down 5-2. Two batters later, after a Shawn Green single, La Russa brought in lefty Randy Flores to get out of the inning.
After a David Eckstein homer cut the lead to 5-3, La Russa started the sixth with Josh Hancock, who got hammered: after five batters and no outs, the Cards were down 7-3 with the bases loaded, and La Russa went to Tyler Johnson. The game was over at that point.
Take a look at the usage. La Russa managed to use three pitchers in a 13-batter stretch, one of them Randy Flores... but Carlos Delgado batted twice against right-handers in that span. Flores was brought in at the seven spot, after Delgado and Green had batted and used for two outs. Johnson came in to face Green in the sixth. Twice, La Russa had opportunities to force the middle of the Mets' lineup to face lefties, and twice he went to right-handers.
Platoon matchups aren't everything, although Tony La Russa has spent nearly 20 years managing as if they were. I’m not sure how you use both your lefties in consecutive innings and yet Carlos Delgado doesn’t face either of them. Perhaps it would not have helped anyway, but La Russa did not give the Cardinals the best chance to win last night with his decisions. If you're going to beat the Mets, you start by making Beltran, Delgado and Green bat against lefties in close games.
Meanwhile, the other story I took from this weekend -- aside from the unlikely heroics of Jeff Suppan and Jim Edmonds' microcosmic career revue (crash into wall making catch for third out, homer immediately afterwards) -- was the job Darren Oliver did on Saturday evening
. My wife and I had friends over for dinner and baseball, among them a Mets fan who had been to the first two games, and after watching the Tigers dramatically finish off the A's to head to the World Series, we were were somewhat disappointed that the NL game appeared to be decided early. So disappointed that we went through five bottles of red wine among the five of us over the next several hours, accompanying our beef fondue and homemade ice cream sandwiches (not the world's healthiest dinner; that's why we needed the red wine, see?). With Steve Trachsel unable to make it out of the second inning and his bullpen in shambles, Mets skipper Willie Randolph turned to Oliver, who after allowing two of Trax's three baserunners to score (still 0.37 runs better than expected
) blanked the Cardinals for the rest of his six-inning stint. Tim McCarver took Randolph to task for letting Oliver hit leadoff in an inning instead of yielding to a pinch-hitter, but Randolph was already looking ahead, preserving his tired pen for the next day.
That decision was vindicated with Oliver Perez sponging up 5.2 innings last night, putting the Metropolitan bullpen back on the good foot, and I think at this point Darren Oliver -- a journeyman pitcher whose ERA in 13+ seasons is just a tick below 5.00 -- has to be considered the team's Game Seven starter if it comes to that. We're still a ways from that point, however; right now the question is whether the weather will allow the two teams to play tonight. As much as the delay would appear to benefit the Mets -- and 40-year-old starter Tom Glavine, who like counterpart Jeff Weaver, is slated to pitch on three days' rest -- more than the Cardinals, I'd rather see baseball than not.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Say it Ain’t So... Taguchi
Futility Infielder research assistant Peter Quadrino was at Shea Stadium on Friday night for Game Two of the NLCS. Here's his report of the game...
• • •
When I made it to the train platform at Grand Central it was 5 o’clock and the place was filled with Mets fans. As the Number 7 train pulled up at Grand Central I could already see it was completely packed to the gills. When it stopped and the doors opened, only two or three people got out and I somehow managed to squeeze in along with a few other people while most of the others were stuck to wait on the platform for the next train.
It was an express train so it zoomed past a couple of stops and after we had made into Queens and the doors opened up at the first stop, the people waiting there started just pushing themselves into the train car. This was rush hour on a Friday and these people had probably already let a couple trains pass that were too filled with Mets fans to let them in, so they couldn’t take it anymore. This was followed by some screaming, of course (“You can’t fit!!” “Stop pushing!!”) and the whole scene would have made John Rocker
proud. These people that had squeezed in at the last stop couldn’t hold onto any of the bars on the train so as we swayed back and forth and side to side they just used everybody else as a cushion. It made for some discomfort to say the least.
After the whole zoo scene on the subway I finally arrived at Shea, picked up my official NLCS program and started making my ascent into the upper deck to meet my brother John at our seats. The official program, which cost $10, was going to be my only means of keeping score at the game so I was a little disappointed to see that they had squeezed seven miniature scorecards into the middle of the book, making it a very intricate and difficult task for someone like me who was trying to keep a full scorecard of just the one game that I was at, and very convenient for a mouse with good penmanship to keep score of all seven games.
Making my way through the hordes of Mets fans that were all over the concourse of Shea Stadium, I eventually met John at our seats which were straight behind the right handed batters box, in the second to last row of the stadium. I had never sat this high up at a baseball game and I couldn’t have been happier (well, if we were in the last row I might’ve been a little happier). We had the entire stadium right in front of us and if we turned around to look behind us we had a majestic view of the New York City skyline lit up on a cloudless night.
This was my first ever playoff game at Shea (I had been to two at Yankee Stadium, Game 1 of the ’96 World Series and Game 2 of the this year’s ALDS with the great Jay Jaffe himself) and the place was buzzing as the Mets took the field and 25-year-old John Maine began his warm-up tosses. David Eckstein stepped to the plate a couple minutes after 8 PM and as he looked over Maine’s first pitch for a strike, the 56,349 fans in attendance went wild. When he swung at the next pitch and looped the ball into centerfield to be caught by Carlos Beltran, I realized that the angle at which we were watching the game from up so high was going to make every batted ball tough to determine because I thought Mini-Me David Eckstein had smoked one that was going to leave the park (and every time somebody fouled a pitch off into the 3rd base stands it looked at first like a shot up the middle). Chris “The Coach’s Son” Duncan then worked a full count without taking the bat off his shoulders and promptly grounded out to second (there would be many of these). Albert Pujols was up next. After going 0-for-3 against him the previous night, Pujols had ripped
the Mets’ future Hall of Fame pitcher and 290-game winner, Tom Glavine saying that “he wasn’t good at all” and that he “did the same thing he always does. Throw a changeup and fastball and that’s it.” Well, he was certainly wrong about one thing, as Glavine had thrown about four or five looping curves to Pujols in the game. And the guy has been using the same repertoire and pitching-strategy for most of his long, successful career so even though Pujols is probably the best hitter in baseball his quote only made himself look like a fool and probably gave Glavine a good snort. Well, when the new Mean and Angry Pujols took his spot in the batters box the crowd was booing their lungs out at the very sight of his awkward looking batting stance. Whereas in the past, Shea fans had booed Pujols just because he was so good, now we were booing him because was an asshole. It felt better this way. Albert launched Maine’s first offering into right field and from my vantage point I thought it was hit into another dimension, but Shawn Green made his way under it and the ball fell into his glove at the warning track. The retirement of Pujols and the Cards in order caused the anxious, chilly crowd to go into a frenzy after which I said to my brother, “I think I lost my voice already.” In the middle of the first inning.
There was much more screaming, jumping, and fist-pumping to come in the bottom half, though. The Mets’ leadoff firecracker Jose Reyes got the New York offense started with a lined double to rightfield on ace Chris Carpenter’s fourth pitch of the evening. Paul Lo Duca sac-bunted Reyes to third and this seemed like a good play because they were facing the Cardinals’ and probably the National League’s best hurler, but it turned out to be a wasted out as Beltran looked at a strike and then four consecutive pitches outside the zone for a walk and his pal Carlos Delgado smashed a three-run homer into the bleachers in left-centerfield to give the Mets a 3-0 lead. Carpenter looked a little shaken as 7 out of his next 10 pitches were balls but he escaped further trouble retiring Shawn Green and Jose Valentin to end the inning.
The youngster Maine got himself into trouble quickly in the Cardinal half of the second by walking Juan Encarnacion (.317 OBP in the regular season) to load the bases with nobody out after he had let Jim Edmonds reach on a walk (at least according to the umpire’s “strike zone”
) and our heroic slugger but atrocious fielder Delgado bobbled a Scott Spiezio grounder. After inducing a pop-up for the first out, Maine gave up a 2-run double to Yadier Molina, he of the .209 EqA this season. We could see this wasn’t going to a pitcher’s duel. But the crowd got behind the kid and he managed to strand runners on second third, striking out the pitcher Carpenter and getting lucky on an Eckstein liner to second base.
Maine’s troubles were far from over, though. After the Mets pieced together a double and single to go up 4-2, Maine found himself bowing to the Red Birds’ two best hitters after dueling with them. He had struck out Chris Duncan to lead the inning off, fell behind Pujols 3-1 after which Pujols fouled off three straight pitches before Maine lost him. As Edmonds stepped up to bat, my brother pulled out some stat sheets he had printed out for both teams. As I started looking for Edmonds’ numbers this year, Maine got right ahead of him with two strikes. At about the same time Edmonds took two balls to make a 2-2 count I remarked “Edmonds had a weak year, he only slugged .471” and the smooth-swinging lefty launched a parabola over the centerfield fence to tie the game, almost on cue. Maine would only make it through 4 innings on the night, leaving for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 4th. Although he only gave up 2 hits, he let 5 men reach by way of the walk, and gave up 4 runs (3 earned).
By the time the Mets came to bat in the bottom of the 5th inning, the temperature had gone down considerably since the first pitch (I didn’t have a thermometer on me but the other upper deck fans and I were visibly starting to freeze our asses off) and with the score still tied at 4-4 we needed something to get excited about. Carlos Delgado would once again provide that for us. With a full count, Carpenter threw a 94-mph dart that Delgado launched into deep left field. Chris Duncan had his eye on it and started edging closer to the wall as the crowd stood up in anticipation. He gave it one last look, leaped, and it was over the fence for Delgado’s second opposite-field homerun of the game. The crowd went into euphoria. Jumping up and down and giving high fives to strangers, I could feel the place shaking. As Delgado was mobbed by his teammates in the dugout, the elated crowd started to chant for him, “Car-LOS, clap, clap, Car-LOS, clap, clap” but before he could make a curtain call (or at least I didn’t seem him do one from up on the roof), David Wright put the first pitch in play and got on by a Ronnie Belliard fielding error. Shawn Green singled and everything was looking beautiful for us Mets rooters. But Carpenter found his composure and retired the next two. Eh, no biggie, the Mets had the lead and they had one of their biggest strengths, the bullpen, taking over the rest of this match.
At this point, the cold was starting to become unbearable and even though I had worn four layers of clothing, I needed to take a walk to get my blood flowing and also get some hot chocolate. After a short wait on the line for the concession stand, I was told they were out of hot chocolate and I should go down to the next concession to get some. So I did. I waited on the line for about 5 minutes and was assured that they still had hot chocolate by the lady working there. When I finally made it to the stand I said “two hot chocolates please” only to notice that the two tall, inconsiderate assholes standing on the line next to me had just ordered 10 (yes, I said 10) hot chocolates and the concessionaires were in the process of filling this insane order. Well, of course on the ninth hot chocolate that they were filling up they announced “that’s it there’s no more.” The people on line started grumbling loudly and a riot was about to ensue but I had to get back to my seat as I didn’t pay $75 bucks to watch the game on a mini-television. Chad Bradford and Pedro Feliciano combined to keep the Cardinals scoreless in the 6th and the Mets added another run to their lead when Jose Reyes scored from first on a Lo Duca double to left field off of Josh Hancock. Randy Flores relieved Hancock and ended any troubles with two 4 to 3 putouts in a row to end the inning.
The top of the 7th is when the craziness began. This was to be the inning that would drive all the sports talk radio fans mad the next day. With a two-run lead, Mets manager Willie Randolph went to his new favorite toy, former Met-enemy
Guillermo Mota. “Why aren’t they bringing in Heilman?” my brother asked me, to which I responded that Mota was pitching well for the Mets lately and told him how the Mets statheads prompted GM Omar Minaya to acquire Mota and have him rely more on his changeup
. Mota quickly got two outs on only 4 pitches and Albert Poo-Holes came up to bat once again to a chorus of boos. Mota fell behind the slugger, 3 balls and no strikes but this was followed by another battle where both competitors refused to give an inch. Mota followed with a strike that Pujols looked at and then the probable MVP fouled six straight Mota offerings, slapping souvenirs all over the park, before he ended the duel with a single. This was followed by a four-pitch walk to Jim Edmonds and a rare Willie Randolph mound visit for a pep talk. As Joe Sheehan
points out, Mota would get ahead 0-2 on the next hitter Scott Spiezio, but fail to finish him off:
Mota pulled it together in a hurry. He got ahead of Spiezio, a good fastball hitter, 0-2 by pulling the string on a pair of change-ups. At 0-2, he threw a fastball inside that Spiezio hooked foul down the right-field line. Three pitches thrown, two on which Spiezio had looked helpless, one that he hit very hard. You probably want to stick with the first, right?
It’s never clear who makes a decision like this, but we do know that the fastball Mota threw was not only a peculiar choice of pitch, but it was horribly located. Paul Lo Duca was set up over the outside edge, perhaps even off the plate. Mota put the fastball over the inside half, and Spiezio jerked it over the right-field fence, and although robbed of a homer by Shawn Green, settled for a game-tying two-run triple.
The Mets were one pitch away from ending the game. The Cards would have been down two with six outs left, with the bottom of the lineup up in the eighth and Billy Wagner ready for the ninth. Instead, for want of a change-up, or for any kind of location on the fastball, the Cardinals now had their first real chance to make this a series. Their bullpen held on, Taguchi had a Bucky Dent moment, and now there’s no guarantee that Shea Stadium will see another baseball game this year.
The at-bat by Spiezio was eerily similar to the one he had in the 2002 World Series with the Angels, when Felix Rodriguez tried to sneak a fastball by him with the Giants up 5-0 in the seventh. Spiezio homered on that one as well, triggering a six-run comeback that put the Angels on track for a championship. Spiezio has a remarkable track record in these situations; Fox reported that he was 13-for-19 in his postseason career batting with runners in scoring position…right before he hit a double to go to 14-for-20. It’s not predictive, and it’s not reflective of a particular skill, but it is an eye-popping number that has meant an awful lot for his teams.
Nobody in the park had any idea where Spiezio’s shot had landed. When LaRussa came out to argue the play, instead of the scoreboard screen showing a replay of what just happened they put up a Mets logo and left it there, not wanting to help the umpires out in any way. The umps eventually ruled it a triple, but Spiezio had tied the game against the mighty bullpen of the Mets and his own pen would hold down the Mets in the 7th and 8th innings, making for a Billy Wagner entrance into a tie game in the top of the 9th. The lead off hitter would be a non-descript, good-field no-hit Japanese import named So Taguchi. Taguchi had come into the game in the bottom of the 8th to replace shaky-fielding Chris Duncan out in left field. At the start of that inning, the Cards’ left field spot was vacant as Taguchi had gone down into the tunnel to prepare for a possible pinch-hit appearance in the 9th. LaRussa called down to him to get out onto the field and there was a short pause as everybody stood around waiting for number 99 to make his way out there. The apprehensive crowd didn’t know what the short pause was for and then the PA announcer called out “now playing left field for the Cardinals, number 99 So Taguchi” and there was a sound of “Huh? Who cares? Let’s get this over with!” all throughout the stadium as it was now nearing 11:30 pm and getting colder.
Billy Wagner got ahead of Taguchi 0-2 before the outfielder worked a full count (this seems to be a common theme) and then hit a 98 mph fastball over the fence in left field and knocked the wind out of everybody in the ballpark. This is the same So Taguchi who had hit only 2 homeruns all year in the regular season and none since June 21st. But this was the playoffs. Taguchi now had 2 at-bats in the playoffs and 2 homeruns (he also hit one against the Padres last week). Two doubles and a single later and the Mets were now losing 9-6 and the ballpark was hemorrhaging Mets fans. Roberto Hernandez got the last out of the inning and ended the horror but this game was over. Even with a 3-run lead, La Russa wasn’t going to take any chances with Carlos Delgado so he brought in lefty Tyler Johnson. Delgado hit .226 against lefties this season and showed why as he flailed at 2-2 pitch for the first out. Adam Wainwright came in to finish off the Mets with two groundouts (Shawn Green ended the game with the 14th 4-to-3 putout of the evening).
I wasn’t as upset about the loss as most of the other fans at the game. From my seat perched high atop Shea Stadium I certainly enjoyed the baseball. Don’t get me wrong, I surely would’ve preferred to see my team win this playoff game that I had paid a lot of money to attend and froze my ass off to sit through and watch. But, it was surely a fun game with a lot of excitement and this is baseball, you can’t win them all. In baseball, as in life, things don’t always work out perfectly. Sometimes in baseball, as in life, a So Taguchi comes along and bops a homerun off the hardest thrower on your pitching staff...
Friday, October 13, 2006
One facet that I highlighted in my NLCS preview
at Baseball Prospectus was the vulnerability of the Mets' two big sluggers, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, to lefthanded pitching. Last night, with Jeff Weaver beginning to falter in the sixth inning, I figured Tony La Russa would call the number of either Tyler Johnson or Randy Flores, his two southpaws. Neither of them is any great shakes, but combined with Weaver's track record of being tattooed by both sluggers and the fact that he was around 100 pitches, the move seemed academic.
But La Russa left Weaver in to face Beltran, and Beltran jacked a two-run homer for the game's only scoring. On the whole it was a tight game with good plays and other strategic decisions that could have negated the impact of Beltran's home run. One can certainly argue that neither Johnson nor Flores is a very experienced, top-flight reliever, that Weaver was in a groove and hadn't allowed much in the way of hard-hit balls, hadn't reached 100 pitches, and had handled both Beltran and Delgado before. The non-move wasn't indefensible, and it's not as though the rest of the game didn't have moments that merit scrutiny.
But since I'd keyed on that particular set of matchups, I did find the decision somewhat out of character. I was surprised enough about this sequence of events to bang out a quick piece for BP
, trying to understand La Russa's thought process and showing how just about every piece of matchup data favored him making the call to the bullpen. Here's a taste:
We spend a lot of time around these parts preaching the gospel of avoiding slavish devotion to LOOGY matchups mainly because they often involve the deployment of an organization's 14th- or 15th-best pitcher in a high-leverage situation; it's more constructive to take your chances with a better pitcher regardless of handedness, even on a staff as relatively threadbare as the Cards' is. Weaver's been on a roll for the last six weeks--3.22 ERA in 44.2 innings coming into that frame--enough of a roll that you probably have to credit Cardinal pitching coach Dave Duncan for helping him make adjustments and regain some of his former confidence. But Weaver simply doesn't have a track record of success against the Mets' two most dangerous hitters.
Meanwhile, La Russa appears to have lost some confidence in his southpaws because they contributed their share of gasoline to the near-massive flameout of September. Flores was dinged for seven runs in 5.1 innings of September action, retiring just 16 out of 30 batters--he was scored upon in five of his last eight appearances. Johnson's also been shaky, charged with four runs in 6.1 September innings; though he retired 19 out of 26 hitters, he surrendered a pair of homers and took the loss in both of those games amid the seven-game losing streak that put the noose around the Cardinals' neck.
Still, like every other Cardinal, the southpaws got a new lease on life in the Division Series against the Padres; La Russa called their number a combined total of six times in the four games, and though both pitchers occasionally hiccuped, as a unit the Cardinal bullpen did the job.
The piece hasn't been up an hour and it's already burning up my inbox. This should be fun.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Ask any Red Sox fan who their least favorite Yankee middle infielder from the 1978 season is, and as you've ducked the first projectile, you're sure to hear the name Bucky %$@#*! Dent; as every baseball fan knows, his unlikely home run off of Mike Torrez in the one-game playoff to decide the American League East winner is the stuff of legend.
Dent continued his unlikely heroics in the '78 World Series against the Dodgers -- my
Dodgers -- winning MVP honors for a .417/.440/.458 performance with seven RBI. But ask any Dodger fan their
least favorite Yankee middle infielder from that year, and the name that comes up isn't that of Dent but Brian Doyle. Excuse me, Brian %$@#*! Doyle. Playing in place of the injured Willie Randolph, Doyle hit .438/.438/.500, with three hits in each of the final two games; he was right in the middle of two key rallies in the decisive Game Six
. He played stellar defense as well, making 24 error-free chances in 36 innings of action (he was a late-inning replacement for Fred "Chicken" Stanley twice) and taking part in six double plays. Brian %$@#*! Doyle.
A few years ago, I did a research piece
for this site on a 19th-century ballplayer named Tony Suck
who more than lived up to his name. I set out to find the most futile hitters in major-league history, using OPS+
and drawing an arbitrary cutoff of 200 plate appearances. Doyle, with an OPS+ of 11 (100 is league average) based on a career line of .161/.201/.191, was the second-worst of all qualifiers; only John Black
, at 6, was worse. That finding was both gratifying and infuriating. Does pointing out how badly a guy sucked make the fact that he broke your heart any less painful?
Today I learned something about Doyle that I didn't already know. My former Baseball Prospectus colleague Jonah Keri reveals in an ESPN Page 2 piece
that it took special dispensations to get Doyle on the roster for the postseason:
As a 23-year-old rookie in 1978, Doyle shuttled between the Yankees' big club and their Triple-A team five times and hit .192 with zero RBI in 52 at-bats. The Yankees kept Doyle in Triple-A for that league's playoffs, making him ineligible for the major league postseason. With standout second baseman Willie Randolph manning second base in the Bronx, though, that hardly seemed to matter.
But just before the end of the season, fate intervened, as an injury felled Randolph for the duration of the regular season and playoffs. The Yankees lobbied the league and the Royals, their ALCS opponents, to allow Doyle onto the postseason roster. Doyle responded by going 2-for-7 with a run knocked in, as the Yankees knocked out Kansas City. After the Dodgers also granted Doyle special permission to play in the World Series, the Yankees started Fred Stanley at second in Game 1, an 11-5 New York loss. Doyle returned for Game 2, but the Yanks lost again, falling behind 0-2 in the series. Doyle went 0-for-4 in Game 3 and was on the bench for Game 4, both Yankee wins to square the series.
But in Game 5 and Game 6, Doyle and light-hitting double-play partner Bucky Dent took over. Batting in the No.8 and 9 spots, Doyle rapped out six hits and scored four runs in the two games, while Dent went 6-for-8 with two runs scored and three RBI. On a team that featured Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Lou Piniella and other stars, the two little guys loomed largest.
Grr. The Dodgers certainly didn't think they were sowing the seeds of their own demise by agreeing to allow Doyle on the roster, but it just goes to show that October can make for some unlikely heroes.
Those heroes are the stuff of Keri's piece; "The Replacement Killers" (great title) examines a handful of scrubs who shone in a spotlight yielded due to injury. Leading off the piece is a personal favorite, Mickey Hatcher, who went 7-for-19 with a pair of homers and five RBI in the 1988 World Series, helping the upstart Dodgers shock the mighty Oakland A's. Reviewing a set of Dodger World Series DVDs
recently, I was struck by how hilariously amped
If the recent past has colored our view of the A's, led by Bash Brothers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, as juiced-up wonders, then it's only fair to admit that after watching this, one comes away with the sense that the Dodgers weren't skimping on the pharmaceuticals either. They look greenied to the gills from the moment Steve Sax, after getting drilled in the back by fearsome A's hurler Dave Stewart, sprints to first base in the home half of Game One's first inning. Indeed, what looked like a mismatch on paper between the heavily favored A's and the underdog Dodgers turns out to be one going in the opposite direction because of the super-energized play of Dodger scrubs such as Mickey Hatcher (who runs the bases with abandon, arms aloft, after homering) covering for the absence of injured Kirk Gibson.
My affection for Hatcher goes back nearly a decade before that series. In August of 1979, on a road trip to California in the back of my parents' station wagon -- the kind with the faux wood grain down the sides, of course, to preserve the illusion that those mechanics at Chevrolet carved the chassis out of oak -- I heard Vin Scully call a game for the first time, his distinctive voice cutting through the tedium of our nighttime travels. Hatcher, a week into his major-league career, went 3-for-3 with two walks and hit his first major-league homer, a solo shot off of Tom Griffin to lead off the fifth. Accompanied by homers from Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, and Derrell Thomas (who hit a grand slam), they smoked the Giants 9-0, with Don Sutton completing his 50th career shutout. Damn straight you could look it up.
Anyway, Keri not only relives the exploits of Doyle, Hatcher, and Buddy Biancalana -- Buddy Biancalana! -- he catches up with them today while pointing to D'Angelo Jiminez, Alexis Gomez, Scot Spiezio and other potential rags-to-riches stories on this month's rosters. Someday, you too might be cursing some of those names. Good times.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Early Wednesday afternoon, a small airplane crashed
into an apartment building on the Upper East Side of New York City. Initial fears that this was somehow a terrorist-related incident have fortunately proven unfounded, but the latest news reports -- now on the local TV stations as well as ESPN
-- are that the plane belonged to Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle, who was piloting it.
Last month the New York Times
ran an article
on Lidle's burgeoning interest in flying:
When the Yankees fly, the pilots are not only in the cockpit. There is another pilot in the main cabin, where the players sit. He is probably studying his hand-held Global Positioning System receiver, tracking the weather and noting the plane's precise speed and altitude.
He is Cory Lidle, who has been a major league pitcher for nine years and a pilot for seven months. He earned his pilot's license last off-season and bought a four-seat airplane for $187,000. It is a Cirrus SR20, built in 2002, with fewer than 400 hours in the air.
A player-pilot is still a sensitive topic for the Yankees, whose captain, Thurman Munson, was killed in the crash of a plane he was flying in 1979. Lidle, acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies on July 30, said his plane was safe.
From the ESPN report:
A small plane piloted by New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle crashed into a 50-story condominium tower Wednesday on Manhattan's Upper East Side, killing at least four people, authorities said.
Lidle died in the crash.
The twin-engine plane came through a hazy, cloudy sky and hit the 20th floor of The Belaire -- a red-brick tower overlooking the East River, about five miles from the World Trade Center -- with a loud bang, touching off a raging fire that cast a pillar of black smoke over the city and sent flames shooting from four windows on two adjoining floors.
Unbelievable. Regardless of your feelings about the Yankees or Lidle's performance and comments
regarding the Yanks' lack of preparation in the postseason, this is just sad, sickening, and downright surreal, a cruel coda to what's already been a crazy week in Yankeeland.
I recall vividly that the Times
' article's mention of Munson sent chills up and down my spine, and today's news invokes the memory of hearing that horrible Munson news back in August of 1979, when I was nine. Despite the fact that I was on the other side of the aisle as a Dodger fan, the Yanks, Munson included, had my respect. Even then I sensed their seductive appeal; I remember sending away for team sets of Topps' 1979 baseball cards, $3 apiece, and once I got the Dodgers, I bought Yanks, Red Sox, and Reds sets, less because I liked
the teams than that they were concentrated with superstars.
Like most nine-year-olds, I wasn't on close terms with death, but Munson wasn't even the first active ballplayer whose demise I'd experienced. That grisly distinction belonged to Lyman Bostock, who was murdered
late in the 1978 season. But what really hit home was when the Yankees, playing at home two days later, were on NBC's Game of the Week, and there was a moment of silence at the outset of the game in tribute to Munson. All of the Yanks were at their positions, but as the TV cameras showed, the catcher's box behind the plate was empty.
Even then, it hit me: death equals loss, a void. It's the emptiness, the absence of the player you admired, the friend whose laugh used to light up your parties, the grandparents whose loving phone calls no longer come. Ultimately if we're lucky we have fond memories of a time when that space was filled and the world felt whole. If our luck continues to hold, we gradually find a way to re-fill that space so that the world may feel somewhat closer to whole again.
Cory Lidle played for seven teams in his major league career, reaching the majors with the Mets in 1997. He had gone to camp as a replacement player during the 1995 strike, a fact that may have had something to do with the reason he bounced around so much and often found himself engaged in verbal fisticuffs with his teammates. It was only a couple of months ago, just after Lidle had been traded to the Yankees, that former Phillies teammate Arthur Rhodes called Lidle a scab
and said, "The only thing that Cory Lidle wants to do is fly around in his airplane and gamble. He doesn't have a work ethic. After every start, he didn't run or lift weights. He would sit in the clubhouse and eat ice cream."
As the premature passing of former umpire Eric Gregg illustrated
, there's always another side to the story of those who are are mocked or vilified in the sports pages or the stat lines, a human side that puts the battles on the field and in the locker room into proper perspective. Cory Lidle may not have been a consensus choice to start Game Seven of a playoff series, but there's no question his untimely death touches a lot of people in the game and on its periphery. My condolences to all of you out there affected by this, as well as to Lidle's family, friends, and teammates.
Item 1: my preview of the National League Championship Series between the Mets and the Cardinals is up at Baseball Prospectus
. Playoff preview pieces are plum assignments at BP, so I feel honored to represent; it takes a little of the sting out of the fact that neither of my teams were able to advance so far. Here's what I had to say on the topic of the two opposing managers:
Weaned across town in a culture where an October berth is almost taken for granted, Willie Randolph managed the Mets to the postseason in just his second year on the job. Thanks to a hot start, the team's first place finish was a foregone conclusion by Memorial Day, but Randolph managed to keep the Mets sharp throughout the summer patching over injuries, and resting his big guns down the stretch. He played a big role in Reyes' great leap forward, he coaxed career years out of left-for-dead role players like [Endy] Chavez, [Jose] Valentin, and [Darren] Oliver, and he demonstrated a deft touch with running a bullpen. He even found a way to keep [Paul] Lo Duca fresh for the entire season, a challenge that's befuddled even Nobel Prize-winning scientists. Even more impressively, Randolph spun a disadvantage -- the injuries to the rotation -- into an advantage in the first round, demonstrating an unflappability that Joe Torre would be proud of.
There's a school of thought which says that due to all of the injuries the Cardinals sustained, this might rank as one of Tony La Russa's finest managerial seasons. That he and his staff were able to patch this team into the NLCS despite a sub-.500 Hit List Factor, the second-lowest of any playoff team ever (the 2005 Padres at .483 are the worst; the 1987 Twins were .0001 higher than this year's Cards), is definitely noteworthy. However, it's difficult to maintain such a sanguine view of the job La Russa has done in light of the team's near-collapse, given the Genius' insensitive reaction to [Jim] Edmonds' woes and his failure to integrate [Anthony] Reyes into the rotation early enough to save himself the trouble of being served Cream of [Jason] Marquis every five days.
Still, we are talking about a manager with 11 division flags, four pennants, and a World Championship to his credit, not to mention three straight berths in the NLCS. La Russa not only was able to guide his reeling team past the much hotter and more heavily favored Padres last week, but savvy enough to go for the kill by starting his ace in Game Four. It would hardly be out of character if he pulls off another surprise here.
Despite the fact that the Mets ended the Dodgers' season and stand to up the misery index in the Bronx with every additional October win, I'm pulling for them over the Cardinals mainly because of the contrast between skippers; I gained a lot of respect for Randolph last week, whereas my distaste
for La Russa has only increased of late. Hell, I even have it on good authority the man likes to sneak the occasional ham sandwich despite fronting as a vegetarian.
Late note: Reyes is on the St. Louis roster
and Marquis is not; since that information wasn't in by publication time I had to account for both contingencies in my writeup.
Anyway, the preview is free, so check it out.
Item 2: sharing space on the BP bill today is Alex Belth's touching, personal remembrance of Buck O'Neil
. It's Mr. B. at his best. Go.
Item 3: Joe Torre is returning
. On Sunday the situation looked grim, and as late as that evening there were still rumors all over the Internet that his firing was imminent. But by the time Brian Cashman had professed his desire for Torre to stay, it was pretty clear that an overly hasty removal of the manager simply to appease George Steinbrenner's rage would have plunged the organization into chaos, likely signaling a return to power of the Tampa mafia at the expense of the GM's neck. Sadly, I can't actually share all that I know on this topic without violating confidences (sorry to be a tease), but even an amateur Kremlinologist with a Yankee org chart could have fingered the loyalists who might whisper in the Boss' ear that Joe Must Go.
That said, I'm not 100 percent convinced that keeping Torre was absolutely the right thing to do; it was the hotheaded rush to judgment -- particularly to anoint notorious hothead Lou Piniella -- that angered me. I'd be sad to see Torre go, but I'd be devastated to see the toppling of the team's Age of Reason and culture of accountability.
At least one writer has argued that the latter has already been damaged. Joe Sheehan
has suggested that Torre's handling of the Alex Rodriguez situation, inciting the drama by talking to Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated
instead of defusing it as he's so expertly done for the past decade, then throwing his star third baseman under the bus in the elimination game by batting him eighth, was the nadir of his tenure and perhaps a fireable offense. Derek Jeter's complicity in this charade -- a team captain unwilling to show leadership by standing up for his teammate -- was utterly contemptible as well. At some point, Torre needed to bar the clubhouse door and bitchslap his players, saying words to the effect of: we're a team, we win as a team, we lose as a team, we don't point fingers, we don't kick each other when we're down, we pick each other up because ultimately everybody will need to help carry the load if we're going to win the whole thing instead of being catcalled from the back pages of the tabloids. Anything less than that was hearkening back to a Yankee tradition that had more to do with bloated egos, internecine power struggles and clubhouse disharmony of the late '70s than some hallowed pinstriped ideal.
What concerns me isn’t that the Yankees lost. What concerns me is that they and their manager set themselves up for a free ride going into the playoffs. After a season of laying all failures at the feet of Alex Rodriguez, and going so far as to inspire and participate in a Sports Illustrated story that furthered that storyline, the Yankees absolved themselves of responsibility. Complicit with the media, they washed their hands and let Rodriguez carry the water for their performance.
At just about any point along the way, one of the two most visible Yankees -- Joe Torre or Derek Jeter -- could have come forward and said what should be obvious: Alex Rodriguez is a great, great player, and in the worst season of his career he’s a star. Defining his season by his lowest points is doing him a disservice, and the constant focus on his play is an insult to the other members of the team. Whatever Rodriguez’s performance issues, such as they were, his overall contributions were valuable. Beyond that, he’s one of the game’s model citizens, with barely a controversy to his name in a time when so many others have been tainted.
That statement, completely true, would have done more to alleviate the pressure on Rodriguez than anything else. They didn’t do so, instead allowing petty nonsense like his desire to please people (heaven forfend) and his performance is varied subsets (in Boston, in the playoffs, against a small handful of pitchers, in 20 at-bats in July) to substitute for real information. They didn’t defend their teammate, and by allowing, even stoking, the situation, they absolved themselves and every other Yankee of blame for their fortunes. If they lost, it would be Rodriguez’s fault, no matter how the rest of them played.
...As far as Jeter goes, any claims to a captaincy or leadership skills are and will remain in doubt. His refusal to provide a full-throated defense of the player whose willingness to take his Gold Gloves to third base allowed the illusion of Jeter’s defensive prowess to grow to a point where he could get his own hardware is as much to blame as Torre’s sudden open-mouth policy. He could have stopped this with 50 well-chosen words. He didn’t, and it’s fair to wonder why.
John Harper of the New York Daily News
was another writer willing to point the finger
squarely at St. Derek:
There's only one person who can change the dispassionate climate surrounding the Yankees, and it's the reluctant captain, Derek Jeter. But if he hasn't been willing to embrace A-Rod by now, it's hard to believe anything is going to change.Steve Goldman
...But the bigger problem is A-Rod's addled state of mind, the steady erosion of confidence that made him look clueless at the plate during stretches of the 2006 season, when he was guessing so badly that he was missing sliders by a couple of feet. And that surely is tied to his relationship with Jeter.
It is no news bulletin that A-Rod wants to be liked, accepted, loved, however you want to say it, by his teammates, especially Jeter. And the captain hasn't budged on the matter...
...Jeter sets the tone for everything the Yankees do, so where he got tons of credit, and rightfully so, when they won, he has to take some of the blame now for allowing the A-Rod mess to seemingly suffocate this team. He has kept A-Rod at arm's length, apparently all because he can't get past the famous Esquire article of five years ago in which A-Rod allowed his jealousy and self-esteem issues to first show publicly.
kept the onus on the skipper:
Torre is a rotten tactician, though watching opposing managers I suspect he pulls fewer rocks than the average skipper. Despite this, when I consider the list of managers above and contemplate the alternatives -- Joe Girardi, who lost his job in Florida because he clashed with the front office and yelled at the owner? Lou Piniella, who maneuvered himself into the Tampa Bay job and then spent three years bitching about the club? -- I can see the Yankees taking a step back into a less rational time.
Still, Torre's day may be at an end. All managers, even the great ones, reach a point where they have been in one place too long, gotten too comfortable, too satisfied with their own judgments, too predictable with the players to keep them motivated.
...In the final analysis, it's the manager's job to get the most out of his players. Not only did Torre fail to do that with Rodriguez (not that Rodriguez needed all that much help), but he actively undermined him. Rodriguez is one of the best players in baseball, and certainly among the most talented. The Yankees organization has devoted major resources to obtaining and paying him. It is not for any manager, even a future Hall of Famer like Torre, to lightly throw that player away. Now, though, possibly as a parting gesture, Torre has put the Yankees in a difficult position. He's alienated Rodriguez from the team, or at minimum from the manager. Both cannot return.
At this moment, Rodriguez is staying as well
, and I can't disagree there. Getting full value for A-Rod isn't likely, and the Yanks are better off being big boys and figuring out how to make the combination work instead of falling victim to the craven impulses of a bloodthirsty mob. Besides, as Peter Abraham
points out, "[I]t does Cashman no good as a negotiator to say, 'Yes, we want him out.'"
Meanwhile, everybody and their mother has a plan on how to fix the Yanks' aging, expensive and largely inflexible roster. I'm in no mood to rush my own fixes into the blogsphere, largely because my winter plate is full of similar responsibilities for three other teams for Baseball Prospectus 2007
. Rest assured I'll be weighing in on the Yanks soon enough.
Item 3A: speaking of rumors, Jon Weisman
offers a handy guide to interpreting those of the Hot Stove variety. Read, take a deep breath, and read again.
Item 4: as for the rest of the playoffs, I've been laughing like hell with that Tommy Lasorda tough-love campaign
for fans to watch the playoffs even after their teams have been eliminated, and I fully intend to follow suit.
"You guys can't handle October without your Indians? So your team's been knocked out, big deal! Buncha babies! But you're baseball fans, right? Get outta there. I live for this, you live for this, and the whole world lives for this. To the TV!"
Amen to that, Tommy. Amen to that.
Monday, October 09, 2006
I'll be appearing on a radio segment this evening, talking about the Yankees and Mets with Joel Blumberg of WGBB Sports Break, whose show I've appeared on before
. The spot airs at 6 PM on 1240 AM in the New York area; you can hear it on the dial or via the station's website
, and after it airs, I'll have a clip to download here.UPDATE
: the clip is here
, and it's just shy of 19 minutes. Thanks again to Joel Blumberg for having me on!
The Old Saw
So, which postmortem shall we get to first? You, the angry mob with the pitchforks and the torches and the burning effigies and the bloodlust -- what's your pick? The Yankees? Very well, then.
The 2006 version of the New York Yankees, the $200 million modern-day Murderer's Row, were bounced out of the playoffs by the Detroit Tigers because one of the hoariest clichés in the baseball universe showed itself to be true. Lather, rinse, and repeat after me:Good pitching will beat good hitting.
Before we take a tour of the series, consider the following work by my colleagues at Baseball Prospectus, much of it featured in the excellent Baseball Between the Numbers
• For an average or better team, a marginal run saved is slightly more valuable than a marginal run scored. This is a counterintuitive finding, but inasmuch as Bill James' Pythagorean formula and its various offshots are valid -- and nobody's suggested they aren't -- it holds true within a range where a team's net run differential is greater than zero. The kind of team that might find itself in the playoffs. A team which has scored and allowed the same number of runs will increase its expected winning percentage (EWP) more by subtracting runs off of its ledger on the defensive side than by adding the same number on the offensive side. Even a team with a decisive net run differential on the order of the Yanks and Tigers (162 and 147) will benefit.
Take the Yanks' 930 scored and 768 allowed. That's a Pythagenpat expected winning percentage (EWP) of .592; rather than simply squaring the runs scored and allowed, the Pythagenpat formula uses an exponent based on scoring levels equal to (rs+ra)/g)^.285
. Add 50 runs to the Yankee offense while keeping the defense constant and you get an EWP of .618. Subtract 50 runs off the defensive side instead and you get an EWP of .623. Do the same exercise for the Tigers (822 scored and 675 allowed); add 50 runs and you get .619, subtract 50 instead and you get .625. Prefer straight up Pythagorean out of the old Baseball Abstracts
? You get a seven-point spread for the Yanks' two options (.627 to .620) in favor of the defense, and a nine point spread for the Tigers (.634 to .625).
The take-home message of this exercise is that run prevention, which the Tigers were very good at all year long, is highly underrated relative to run scoring. Those zeroes in the opponent's column may not be as sexy as the threes in yours, but they're ultimately a hair more valuable, at least when we're considering the types fo teams one comes across in the playoffs.
• As discussed in this space
recently, Nate Silver and Dayn Perry discovered that in the history of the postseason, three factors
have shown a statistically significant correlation with teams that win:
* A power pitching staff, as measured by normalized strikeout rate (EqK9), which accounts for park and league differences
* A good closer, as measured by Reliever Expected Wins Added (WXRL), which accounts for the degree of difficulty (runners inherited and run margin) of a reliever's appearance
* A good defense, as measured by Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA)
In other words, Silver and Perry couldn't find any offensive measures which were significantly indicative of postseason success:
More remarkably, all three of these characteristics relate to run prevention, rather than run scoring. That does not mean that offense is of no importance in the playoffs. But there is a lot of noise in the postseason record, and offense did not produce enough signal to emerge through it. The reasons are too complicated to get into here, but have to do with what happens when good offenses face good pitching. Pitching does have some tendency to dominate these match-ups, whether they occur in the regular season or in the playoffs. Because "plus pitching" versus "plus hitting" duels occur more frequently in the post-season, we tend to notice the effects more then.
In any event, this "secret sauce" is fairly pungent. The two teams that rated most favorably in these categories in the 2005 playoffs were the White Sox and the Astros, who met in the World Series. The formula also predicts the success of some surprise World Series winners like the 1990 Reds and 1979 Pirates. Conversely, of the ten post-season teams since 1972 that rated worst in the "secret sauce" rankings, none advanced beyond their LCS.
Here are statistical totals and relative rankings of the eight playoff teams in those "secret sauce" categories:
# TM FRAA RK EQK9 RK WXRL RK TOT RK
2. MIN 4 14 6.9 2 6.154 3 19
4. NYN 14 7 6.3 10 5.624 5 22
7. DET 32 1 5.8 23 4.732 10 34
10. NYA 6 13 5.9 19 5.281 8 40
11. SDN 9 11 5.7 26 5.633 4 41
13. OAK 11 10 5.9 17 3.571 15 42
17. LAN -5 19 5.9 18 4.966 9 46
23. SLN 16 6 5.3 29 2.591 21 56
Yes, the top-ranked Twins ended up being swept by the A's, and the Cardinals bounced the Padres, but there's more historical weight behind the methodology than a single season's results. Note that the disappearance of Mariano Rivera, who was limited to one inning in Game One, took away the Yanks' biggest advantage over the Tigers, and that the Twins' Joe Nathan and the Padres' Trevor Hoffman were similarly neutralized, being held to two-thirds and one inning, respectively.
• Mike Carminati's article about early and late clinches
among playoff teams wasn't specifically designed to address the pitching/hitting divide, but it did reveal a rather alarming dropoff in offense, no matter when a team sewed up a playoff berth:
OBP SLG OPS
Reg .338 .407 745
Post .312 .369 681
I'd love to have the data to present a more detailed breakdown by level of scoring (teams in the various quartiles perhaps), but even those two lines ought to hit you like a ton of bricks: teams in the postseason generally don't hit as well as they did in the regular season, and it's not because they suddenly turn into sissies. It's because there's a higher concentration of good pitching in the postseason.
The Tigers, who led all of baseball in run prevention at just 4.17 runs per game, topped the Yankees, who led the majors in scoring at 5.74 per game. They limited the vaunted Bronx Bomber lineup -- one which included a current or former All-Star at every single position -- to 14 runs over a four-game span and just six in the last three games; two of those were merely window dressing in the ninth inning of Game Four. They hung 20 straight zeroes on the Yanks, from the fifth inning of Game Two through the sixth inning of Game Four. Thanks to Jeremy Bonderman's five spotless innings at the start of the finale, the Tigers came within three outs of a "hidden no-hitter," as the Yanks failed to record a base hit between Jorge Posada's double to lead off the seventh inning of Game Three and Robinson Cano's leadoff single to start the sixth in Game Four.
For the series, a team which bashed to the tune of .285/.363/.461 (leading the majors in OPS by 13 points) was held to a pitiful .246/.303/.388 showing. You can point a finger at poor, poor, pitiful Alex Rodriguez (1-for-14), who admitted
afterwards that he sucked, but you can't avoid dishing out responsibility to Gary Sheffield (1-for-12), Robinson Cano (2-for-15), Hideki Matsui (4-for-16, with zero walks), and Johnny Damon (4-for-17, with just a .278 OBP for the series), to name a few names. Take away Damon's three-run homer in Game Two and Posada's two-run afterthought in Game Four, and you've got a team that went 3-for-26 with runners in scoring position against the Tigers, with all of those hits in the first game. Pundits from coast to coast will bloviate on how this proves some kind of moral failure on the part of these players, and a certain portion of Yankee fans will support a jihad against those they deem weren't clutch, including manager Joe Torre, around whom the vultures continue to circle.
But that kind of shutdown isn't a coincidence. Bonderman, Kenny Rogers, Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, and company stuffed the bats up the Yanks' asses. They did their homework (Bonderman supposedly had a tipster
suggest his plan of attack, and I'll wager $20 that the Detroit Deep Throat was Curt Schilling, who's owned the Yankees for the better part of the past decade), they had their mojos working (Rogers' curveball gave him a knockout punch against a team that had dominated him for over a decade, while Zumaya's and Verlander's fastballs proved impossible for most for the Yankee hitters to catch up with), and they didn't just throw strikes, they threw unhittable strikes. Looking over the pitch-by-pitch data (gathered from Sportsline.com's play-by-plays, with the help of Peter Quadrino), a few things stand out:
UIB% 36.4 33.5
k% 63.6 66.5
take% 50.9 51.9
k/take% 29.3 35.9
b/take% 70.7 64.1
Swing% 11.2 7.6
Look% 14.5 18.6
Foul% 13.8 19.2
BIP% 21.7 20.9
k/nBIP% 53.4 57.7
The Tiger pitchers not only threw a higher percentage of strikes (k%) than the Yankee pitchers, they threw more strikes on balls that weren't put in play (k/nBIP%) and got significantly more called strikes on pitches taken (k/take%). Think about that last one for a moment; the notoriously hacktastic Tiger hitters, who struck out 2.90 times as often as they walked unintentionally this year, took more called balls than the patient Yankee hitters, who struck out only 1.75 times as often as they walked unintentionally. Why? Basically, because the Tiger pitchers were hitting their spots more often than the Yankee ones. They didn't make the Yankee hitters swing and miss more often (swing%), but they deceived the Yankee hitters on pitches they didn't swing at, and thus far we haven't heard much rumbling about Eric Gregg-type strike zones. The Tiger pitchers earned it.
Bonderman needed just 40 pitches to get through the first five innings on Saturday, and only seven of them were balls. Even when the Yanks tried to wait him out, they found themselves in the hole; of the nine first pitches they took in that five-inning span, six were called strikes. And when the Yanks did manage to make contact, it was weak contact. From Games Two through Four, they went just 17-for-73 on balls in play (.233) and slugged just .288 on those balls. For purposes of comparison, the team's numbers during the regular season on balls in play were .319 and .403.
The Yankees, meanwhile, exhibited the mediocrity of a pitching staff that's become a latter-day hallmark, one that allowed an unremarkable 4.74 runs per game, sixth in the AL (to finish out the comparisons, the Tigers, at 5.07 runs scored per game, were fifth in the AL). Chien-Ming Wang pitched well in Game One, and Mike Mussina didn't embarrass himself in Game Two, though he did very slowly cough up a three-run lead. But Randy Johnson pitched like a 42-year-old with a herniated disc and a shortage of cartilage in his knees, surrendering five runs in 5.2 innings, and Jaret Wright was an unmitigated disaster in an elimination game, failing to survive the third inning intact. The latter threw Ball One to nine of the 15 hitters he faced, including five of the first six in the second inning, when he surrendered three of his four runs. In all, the Yankee starters were charged with 15 earned runs in 22 innings, a 6.14 ERA. The relievers were charged with six runs in 12 innings, a 4.50 ERA. The failures of the rotation beyond Wang meant the neutralization of one of the Yanks' biggest assets; Rivera wound up with his mug on the side of a milk carton.
Hitting, particularly in a lineup as good as the Yankees have, gets all the glory. Chicks dig the long ball, and MVP voters drool over the guys with the big RBI totals. But hanging zeroes on an opponent is just as important, and it's not like the Tigers did that with a bunch of guys they rounded up at the bus station. Bonderman and Verlander were first-round picks, the former the bounty of the three-way deal which sent Jeff Weaver to the Bronx and Ted Lilly to Oakland (insert groan here), the latter only the #2 overall pick in the 2004 draft. Both are 23 (Bonderman turns 24 later this month). Rogers, for all of his baggage and his perceived character flaws, has lasted 18 years in the majors, winning 207 games with an ERA 10 percent better than the league average. Their catcher, Ivan Rodriguez, has already has coaxed a World Championship out of a green pitching staff (the 2003 Marlins, another Yankee killer) and is headed to the Hall of Fame. Ultimately, you have to tip your cap to the work they did. Congratulations to the Tigers on a job well done.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
That was, without a doubt, the single worst day I have ever had in nearly three decades of life as a sports fan. The Yankees, expected to storm through the American League playoff bracket on their way to yet another World Series, were eliminated
in four games by the upstart Detroit Tigers, and nearly no-hit on their way out the door. The Dodgers, themselves a surprise to be in the postseason at all, were swept out of October
by the New York Mets after running out of mirrors, miracles, and middle relievers capable of recording three straight outs. And Buck O'Neill, one of the game's great ambassadors, passed away
at age 94. It really couldn't get much worse.
Actually, it could; this morning marks the beginning of the annual Blame Game in Yankeeland. The Associated Press
is citing a New York Daily News
report based on anonymous sources within the Yankee organization that manager Joe Torre will be fired, drawn, quartered, doused in gasoline, set aflame, shot out of a cannon, then vaporized by an intercontinental ballistic missile. His ashes will then be gathered, pressed into a high-density pellet and smashed with a diamond-encrusted titanium hammer personally wielded by George Steinbrenner as the Tampa mafia sacrifices 72 virgins in unison, using their blood to anoint Lou Piniella the new Yankee manager while Satan himself massages his nipples in the background.
Or something like that.
The Daily News
article in question appears to be this one
by T.J. Quinn (thanks to Derek Jacques for the pointer):
Several sources within the organization said there has been a widespread feeling that Torre has been increasingly disengaged from the team, and that his failure to get out of the division series yet again, despite his autonomy, is more than Steinbrenner can stand.
...Members of the organization now speak of a Torre who they think is distracted by his outside interests, his family, his Safe at Home Foundation. All are admirable pursuits, but a Yankee's only mandate is to shave frequently and win constantly. When Torre took over the team in 1996, sources said, he was a manager and little else.
Blah, blah, blah. The Torre Out/Piniella In meme is an old favorite, one that got a lot of airing after the Yanks were eliminated in the first round last year, and one which Fox "sideline reporter" Ken Rosenthal was hyping by the middle innings of Game Four. In his guise as a writer for Fox Sports and the Sporting News, Rosenthal long ago surpassed Peter Gammons as the league leader in scoops, but that doesn't mean you should buy what he or any of the other breathless pundits pushing this are selling. The bottom line is that until the Yankees call a press conference to announce a change, all we're talking about is an echo chamber based on what tabloid-minded types and irate fans WANT to see happen rather than what will happen, a mixture of bullshit, bloodlust, and mob mentality.
Take a deep breath and hope that the tenor of the past decade, the Yankees' Golden Age of Reason, will prevail. And if it doesn't, Yankee fans should be far more irate about that than about being bounced out of the postseason by a hungry young team whose pitchers had everything working for them for three straight days.
Back with more later...
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Riding the Octobercoaster, Part III
continued from Part II...
Back to the Stadium on Thursday
, with my Futility Infielder research assistant, Peter Quadrino in tow instead of my wife. Whereas Wednesday evening had brought unseasonably high temperatures prior to the rain, Thursday felt like a classically crisp October afternoon, with temperatures in the mid-50s as the game started. Paul O'Neill reprised his ceremonial first pitch to a half-empty stadium dotted with the wives and children of men too busy to get to the ballpark on time. Two rows in front of us was a woman with three-year-old twins, one boy and one girl, all of them bedecked in about $300 worth of Yankee Stadium store mersh: pink Yankees cap for the girl plus pink pinstriped Derek Jeter jersey atop a pink long-sleeve Yankees shirt; boy in Yankees cap and midnight blue jersey, mother in Yankee sweatshirt and beige 2000 commemorative World Championship cap. Dressed to the hometown nines, I suppose.
Despite pairing a rookie phenom and a 16-year veteran with a shot at Cooperstown, the starters of this game, Justin Verlander and Mike Mussina, had one thing in common: both hurlers had gotten off to strong starts before more or less limping to the finish line in Mike Mussina in Justin Verlander. Their ERAs by month:
Apr 2.31 3.52
May 2.53 1.73
Jun 4.93 4.17
Jul 4.22 1.01
Aug 5.14 6.83
Sep 2.89 4.82
Mussina's September ERA conceals four unearned runs, the most he allowed in any month, and to some extent his downward spiral began against the Tigers; on May 31
, Moose notably waved manager Joe Torre back to the dugout so he could finish off his only complete game of the season. He managed just one quality start out of his next four, and the before-and-after split on his ERA was 2.42/4.28. Still, his overall 3.51 ERA was his lowest since 2003, and both his counting stats (innings, wins, K's) and his rate stats (K/9, K/BB, HR/9) were easily his best since then.
Verlander was part of a bumper crop of rookie hurlers; as noted in the Hit List
, 10 rookie hurlers managed VORP totals above 30.0
, as many as in the previous three seasons combined. The 23-year-old Tiger righty was second only to Francisco Liriano at 46.2. Much was made early on of his strikeout rate, just 6.0 per nine innings on the year, but like the Yanks' Chien-Ming Wang, the kid offers nasty
stuff, including a fastball that tops out at 100 MPH, and the data suggests a strong situational pitching abilities. In mid-June, Nate Silver
noted the following breakdown:
• Verlander records a strikeout 10% of the time with nobody on base;
• Verlander records a strikeout 21% of the time with runners on;
• Verlander records a strikeout 27% of the time with runners in scoring position!
Mussina came out of the gate in strong form, striking out the side in the top of the first, an inning marred only by a Derek Jeter throwing error on a grounder from #3 hitter Sean Casey. The crowd groused over first-base transplant Gary Sheffield's inability to haul in the low throw, but as Pete astutely noted, it was Jeter's failure to set his feet before throwing -- a consistent problem -- that was the root of the problem.
Another Jeter mistake helped a shaky Verlander get off the hook in the bottom of the first. After a leadoff single by Johnny Damon, Jeter -- who'd gone 5-for-5 in Game One -- tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt but popped up to catcher Ivan Rodriguez. The move stuck out like a sore thumb after Verlander walked both Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi to load the bases. He escaped by striking out Alex Rodriguez looking on a pitch that hit triple digits on the radar gun. The crowd, which had cheered A-Rod wildly as he came to the plate, hoping the embattled slugger could put this season's love-hate relationship behind him to come through in the clutch, groaned loudly. Business as usual.
Here's an understandably irate Joe Sheehan
, dishing out the religion regarding Jeter's bunt:
That guy who hadn’t made an out all series? The one who hit .343 this season, having the second-best year of his life? He decided -- decided -- to make an out, squaring to sacrifice and popping up to Ivan Rodriguez. He didn’t work the count, he didn’t go to the opposite field, he didn’t pull a ball into a hole. He tried to bunt. They hadn’t gotten him out yet, and he tried to bunt. The Yankees got two more runners on base in the inning and didn’t score, and if you want to blame the last hitter in the inning for that, you can, but at least he tried.
This has gotten out of control, and needs to stop. I know that any time a good player bunts we’re supposed to genuflect, but Derek Jeter does this far too often. Him laying down a sacrifice -- and we can debate whether he was bunting for a hit or not, but it did not look quite like that, and he’s sacrificed in similar situations -- is a gift for the opposition, an absolute gift. Any time a .340 hitter offers you an out, you take it and thank him profusely. Jeter does this all the time. I don’t think he’s doing it to burnish his reputation, I think he’s doing it because someone told him a long time ago that it was winning baseball, and no one’s told him otherwise since.
This isn’t Little League. This isn’t college. This isn’t 1905. Great hitters put runs on the board by swinging the bat, not by passing the baton to the next guy in the lineup. I know that Derek Jeter is the Teflon Shortstop, but he’s wrong in his persistence in sacrificing bunting, and he was egregiously wrong today. A sharp single to left might have helped the Yankees put the game away early.
The Tigers struck against Mussina in the second. Craig Monroe blooped a two-out double down the leftfield line, and Marcus Thames laced a single up the middle to bring him home immediately afterwards. Aloud, we wondered at the sequence of events which had brought Thames from the Bronx to the Tigers; I recalled an intermediate stop in Texas but couldn't remember the how or why, and punched out a text message to a friend for further research (answer: it was a trade with the Rangers that brought back Ruben Sierra in June 2003).
Despite the lead, Verlander continued to struggle; a single by Hideki Matsui and a walk to Jorge Posada to start the second inning looked promising, but Robinson Cano hit a sharp shot to third baseman Brandon Inge right at the bag; he got the forceout and wriggled out of the jam unscathed. A sharp liner off the rightfield wall by Bobby Abreu to lead off the next inning went for naught as Sheffield grounded into a double play.
The Yanks finally broke through in the fourth. After a Rodriguez blooper nearly turned into a three-man pileup, another Matsui single and Posada walk put two men on. Cano flied out, but Johnny Damon cranked a three-run homer that brought the Stadium crowd to life. Jeter immediately ripped a double (yet another reminder about the stupidity of that bunt attempt), and manager Jim Leyland emerged from the dugout to try to calm his rookie hurler.
That might have been the turning of the game; up to that point, Verlander had faced 20 hitters, with 10 of them reaching base via four walks and six hits. He'd thrown 76 pitches, with first pitch strikes to just 11 out of the 20. Following that, he retired the next five hitters -- throwing first-pitch strikes to four -- before yielding a single to Posada. After drawing to a 1-1 count against Cano, Leyland pulled him mid-batter, giving him the proverbial slap on the ass and thanking him for a job well done. As the Tiger manager said later
: "I just didn't like the fastball before that. It was 92... I just said, 'This is it. I'm going to make my move now. I know there's a count on the hitter, but I'm going to make it right now.' Just all of a sudden, your instincts take over and say, 'Look, this is just not right." Those instincts were correct. Leyland summoned southpaw Jamie Walker, who induced Cano to GIDP on his third pitch, ending the threat.
By that point, the TIgers had tied the game. Thames led off the fifth with a double down the leftfield line and advanced to third on a wild pitch; again, my man Pete correctly anticipated the play when Posada came to the mound on a 1-2 count, remarking that perhaps Moose was going to throw one way out of the strike zone. He did, and the ball nonetheless got away from Posada. Grrrr. Inge struck out, but Curtis Granderson plated the run on a sacrifice fly. Carlos Guillen knotted the game at 3-3 one inning later when he crushed a 2-0 pitch into the rightfield stands for a solo homer.
Despite having surrendered the lead, Mussina was still around to face the Tigers in the seventh; their free-swinging approach had kept his pitch count at 77 through six frames. Pitch 78 was a single to Thames, and he advanced to second on a passed ball by Posada. Inge sacrificed him to third, and then Granderson brought him home with a triple into the left-center gap, a shot that emphasized Hideki Matsui's slow-footedness and the Tiger leadoff man's speed. Detroit was poised to pad that lead when Placido Polanco ripped a shot down the third base line, but A-Rod nearly made a spectacular play, catching the liner and nearly doubling Granderson off the bag. Damon flagged down Casey's long fly ball as the crowd breathed a sigh of relief.
After Walker retired Damon on a line drive to second base to start the bottom of the seventh, Leyland unveiled his bullpen's pièce de résistance
: rookie Joel Zumaya, a flamethrower who was one of the game's 10 best relievers according to the advanced metrics at Baseball Prospectus
. "Flamethrower" is understating things perhaps; Zumaya consistently hits triple digits on the radar gun. Pete and I both kept an eye on the Yankee Stadium scoreboard, jotting down the speed of each pitch. Here's the sequence, the reported velocity, and the results as compiled by Pete:
BOTTOM of 7th, 1 out
Jeter: Ball (100), Ball (99), Strike looking (100), Foul (101), Ball (97), K on foul tip (98)
Abreu: Foul (100; "the ugliest swing I've ever seen from Abreu in my life"), Strike looking (86), Ball (101), Foul (102), Groundout 4-3 (86, his first curveball)
BOTTOM of 8th
Sheffield: Line out to centerfield (98, the only solid contact made by the Yanks against Zumaya)
Giambi: Ball (99), Strike swinging (100), Strike swinging (100), Ball (102), K swinging (101)
Rodriguez: Ball (86), Strike looking (102), Strike looking (102), K swinging (101)
"He's like Mariano in '96," marveled the man next to me. Later we were told ESPN's telecast had him as high as 103 MPH, and that 15 of his 21 pitches had crossed the century threshold. It was a dazzling display, and even as a Yankee fan, I had to tip my cap to the performance. Zumaya? Zoom-By-Ya. Can I get a Kumbaya?
When Tiger closer Todd Jones emerged to start the ninth, the crowd breathed a welcome sigh of relief. The 38-year-old is arguably only the third-best reliever in the Tiger pen behind both Zumaya and Fernando Rodney, not that that's an argument against his being the closer; given what we know about proper bullpen deployment, the Tigers' use of Zumaya (83.2 innings) and Rodney (71.2), often for more than an inning at a time, is sound baseball strategy.
The Yanks looked to be summoning some patented October magic when Matsui greeted Jones with a sharp single up the middle and yielded to pinch-runner Melky Cabrera. But with Pudge behind the plate, the maneuver was moot; Melky was never a threat to go anywhere, and even from out in leftfield, we could see his leadoffs were shorter than usual. Jones buckled down and got Posada to strike out looking; only on an 0-2 foul ball did he take the bat off his shoulder. Cano quickly fell behind 0-2 as well but fouled off six straight pitches before succumbing to a fly out. Damon, the sole Yankee hero of the day, became the third hitter in a row to start in an 0-2 hole, and though he drew the count to 2-2, he could only manage a fly ball to centerfield as well. Game to the Tigers, 4-3, and a tie in a series where some had predicted a sweep.
• • •
I'm not really qualified to offer a full analysis of Friday's Game Three
of the Yankees-Tigers series, which took place in Detroit. With close friends from England in town for the weekend, I started my evening with drinks on the roof of the Metroplitan Musuem of Art at sunset, traveled from there to a cocktail party in honor of my friend Nick's engagement (congrats, Nick and Atoussa!) to a late dinner in an East Village Italian restaurant to a nightcap at a bar that was converted from a laundromat. I didn't even get home until nearly 2 AM, but determinedly fired up the TiVO and watched the equivalent of a condensed version of the game, fast-forwarding to the payoff pitches, the activity of my thumb all that stood between me and my slumber.
But from what I saw, 41-year-old Kenny Rogers pitched the game of his life. The Gambler -- "the consumate October choke-artiste," to quote Alex Belth
-- came into the game with a lifetime postseason record of 0-3 with an 8.85 ERA in five starts and nine total appearances. All of those save for a brief relief stint in 2003 came with New York teams; with the Yankees he was bombed in three 1996 starts, most notably departing in the third inning of Game Four
of the World Series, having yielded five runs; it took Jim Leyritz's three-run homer in the eighth to tie the game and Wade Boggs' bases-loaded walk in the 10th to give the Yanks a lead, enabling them to knot the series at 2-2. With the Mets in 1999, it was Rogers who surrendered the series ending-run in the 11th inning of Game Six
, walking Andruw Jones with the bases loaded. Good times.
Add to that the fact that Rogers had never enjoyed much success against the Yanks. He hadn't beaten them since 1993, and as the New York Times
noted, since then he'd gone 0-7 with a 9.21 ERA and a 24/33 K/BB ratio in 56.2 innings -- more than a decade of futility. Couple that with Randy Johnson's herniated disc, and you had a storyline that recalled the famous Warren Brown line, "I can't conceive of either team winning." (The quote, written by Brown at the outset of the war-torn 1945 Cubs-Tigers World Series, is actually
"I can't conceive of either team winning a single game.")
Rogers had his curveball mojo working, and his eight strikeouts fired up a hometown crowd that hadn't seen a playoff game in nearly two decades. The Yanks were helpless against him; they managed three doubles among their five hits, but only once -- in the seventh -- did they advance a runner. Bernie Williams, in the lineup
instead of Gary Sheffield due to a 12-for-34 (.353) career record against Rogers (Shef was just 3-for-17, though with two homers) had two of those strikeouts, one immediately following a Hideki Matsui leadoff double in the fifth, the other stranding that lone advanced runner, Jorge Posada, to end the seventh.
By then the damage was done. The Tigers rolled up three runs on Johnson in the second inning via three straight singles, a botched double play, a steal and another single. They tacked on two more in the fifth when Carlos Guillen reached on a two-out infield single, a hot smash off the glove of Derek Jeter, and Pudge Rodriguez and Sean Casey followed with doubles; the latter ended the Big Eunich's night and possibly his season. The Tigers stretched the lead to 6-0 when Curtis Granderson homered in the sixth, so by the time Williams struck out to close the seventh, the Yanks were merely looking for window dressing. And at that, I was looking for my pillow, flooring the fast-forward button to stop only for Joel Zumaya's rematch against A-Rod (a flyout to end the eighth following Rogers' triumphant departure).
Long story short, the Yanks now trail the series 2-1 and face elimination at Comerica Park as I put the finishing touches on this blog entry. The Octobercoaster may be crashing early, bringing new meaning to the phrase Bronx Bombers.
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