The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, August 31, 2007

 

Clearing the Bases - Long Day's Journey Into Night Edition

Guy: It's August 31. Have you got waiver trade deadline fever?

Other Guy: (checks thermometer) Nope.

Guy: But... but... some teams need second LOOGYs! And third pinch-hitters! MIGUEL CAIRO may be headed back to St. Louis.

Other Guy: (breaks out into a cold sweat) Better drink a beer and go straight to bed.

Guy: I've pulled down the shades and barred the door.

Other Guy: (looks at watch, digs finger in ear, looks at watch again) Any news?

Guy: Jesse Orosco has put on his conversation hat, just in case. Tony Fossas is using his cell phone to call his home line and vice versa, just to make sure both are working. Paul Assenmacher got a phone call, but it was a wrong number. He went back to sleep.

Other Guy: on the couch, in his stained wifebeater, with two-week old chili stains...

Guy: ...sprinkling Doritos crumbs on top of last night's pizza.

Other Guy: (gags)

Guy: Hey, you think being a retired LOOGY is all skittles and beer? Far too often, it's Milk Duds in scotch. Or simply 1¢ gumballs in Mad Dog.

• • •

As for the tribulations of Mike Mussina, who's been torched for 17 runs and 25 hits over his past 9.2 innings, the reason is now clear. From today's New York Times:
The self-analysis has become so painful for Mussina that he has stopped doing his regular interviews with the author John Feinstein, who is writing a book about Mussina’s season. Mussina would prefer to focus on whatever positives remain.
Holy cow, it's A Pitcher's Story: Innings with David Cone all over again. Recall Cone's 2000 season, in which the 37-year-old Yankee hurler collapsed from a 12-9, 3.44 ERA season to a 4-14, 6.91 debacle while working on a book with Roger Angell. Instead of writing about the normal ups and downs of a pitchers' season, Cone and Angell were forced to confront the darker side, the possibility that Cone might have Lost It. By Angell's standards, the book wasn't great, but his depiction of the likable Cone twisting and turning as he candidly sprinkled the discussion of his troubles with a touch of gallows humor made for a compelling read.

Moose, who replaced Cone when he signed as a free agent in the winter of 2000-2001, is probably every bit as cerebral as Cone, but from a public persona standpoint, he's always lacked his predecessor's candor, up-front accountability and sense of humor. That's not a criticism, it's just fact, as are the numbers which say he's got a much stronger Hall of Fame case even with a less crowded awards shelf, or the ones which say he's had a few bad starts in a row, not an entire season in hell.

I can't fault Mussina for wanting to shut out the coverage, but it makes me wonder if he's as equipped to handle adversity as Cone; his career has run far more smoothly, with no major injuries or troubles outside the lines to put his 60'6" struggle in perspective. Given that he's under contract for 2008 (Cone was facing free agency), the hope is that he turns things around in short order and writes a happier ending to his tale. But I'm not holding my breath.

• • •

Thursday was a memorably great day for games with playoff implications, and as I worked on the Hit List, I had a fantastic time following the action. In the early afternoon, I followed the Yankees-Red Sox game and was treated to Chien-Ming Wang taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning, less than 24 hours after Roger Clemens had held the Sox hitless into the sixth. Wang lost his no-hitter one batter after Derek Jeter made a throwing error on Kevin Youkilis' grounder, his second of the game; with first baseman Jason Giambi (!) holding the runner, Mike Lowell singled through the opening into rightfield. Rats.

The game was a tight 2-0 affair at that point, and it quickly got interesting when Youkilis ran out of the basepaths and onto the grass on J.D. Drew's grounder, avoiding a tag by Alex Rodriguez, who fired to first to get one out. Not until the umps convened did they actually call Youkilis out for his transgression, but the replays showed he was clearly coloring outside the lines. Of course, that meant Terry Francona needed to enact the getting-tossed ritual, and he got his money's worth. Jason Varitek struck out to end the frame and Wang's afternoon.

The Yanks opened up their lead in the bottom of the eighth off Hideki Okajima thanks to a Jeter single, a Bobby Abreu RBI double, an intentional walk to A-Rod, and a double steal accompanied by a horrible throw from Varitek that went down the leftfield line, with both runners scoring.

With the lead expanded beyond a save situation, Joe Torre bypassed Mariano Rivera, who'd worked the previous two nights, in favor of a second inning from Joba Chamberlain. The kid added a level of intrigue when he sent consecutive 98 MPH pitches over Youkillis' head and to the backstop on the fly. It was unclear if Chamberlain was throwing at him, and if so, on what grounds, but after the second one, home plate ump Angel Hernandez -- one of the worst umps in the majors long before this -- tossed the rookie. Chamberlain denied intent:
Chamberlain threw up his hands in a mixture of confusion and disgust before leaving the game.

"There's no chance I'm trying to do that," Chamberlain said of his intent. "I definitely don't want to send that message, because that's not who I am."

Youkilis anticipated Chamberlain's reaction, and rebuffed it in advance.

"Two balls going over somebody's head at 98 mph, I don't know," Youkilis said. "I didn't see any other pitches going that far out of the strike zone. Those balls were pretty close to the head."

"That's the second time," Youkilis continued, referring to a similar situation that occurred on June 1. "Scott Proctor hit me in the head. Coincidence? I don't know. It doesn't look good. When two balls go at your head and the guy has a zero ERA and is around the strike zone pretty good, any man is going to think there's intent to hit him in the head."
In any event, the Yanks completed a sweep of the Red Sox, but after a 2-5 road trip, that only cut the AL East gap to five games.

Following the conclusion of that contest, I flipped over to the Mets-Phillies game, a wild affair which saw the Phils, who were gunning for a four-game sweep, blow an early 5-0 lead; neither Kyle Lohse nor Orlando Hernandez completed four innings. The Phils recaptured the advantage in the fifth, 8-5, but fell behind 10-8 in the eighth.

That's where I came in, with the surprise that Billy Wagner was on the hill, gunning for his first two-inning save in eight years. After striking out Chase Utley, Wags yielded a solo homer to Pat Burrell, his second longball of the day. Wagner escaped the inning, but the contest had tightened.

After the Mets went 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth, Wagner found trouble when he yielded a leadoff single to Jayson Werth. One out later, with the pitcher paying him no mind -- not that Wagner has much mind to pay -- Werth stole second and third on consecutive pitches, setting up a game-tying single from Tadahito Iguchi. The Gooch stole second, Jimmy Rollins was intentionally walked, and then Utley, who had come off the DL at the start of the series and gone 3-for-5 with a homer, delivered again, with a single to rightfield. Ballgame.

After burrowing into my Hit List work for a few more hours I stopped for dinner, where I flipped back and forth between the Indians-Mariners (a makeup game from that absurd snowed-out series back in April) and the Brewers-Cubs. The Tribe had already taken 3-0 lead when I tuned in, and Aaron Laffey looked sharp in protecting it. They wound up falling behind 4-3 as Laffey ran out of gas, but won 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth when Kenny Lofton drew a bases-loaded walk off Rick White.

Which brings up the question: what the hell was M's manager John McLaren thinking? With his team having lost five straight, why wouldn't he call upon closer J.J. Putz, the most effective reliever in baseball this year according to BP's metrics? Putz hadn't pitched at all during the streak, apparently because of the lack of save situations, but this was the kind of brain-dead Joe Torre mistake that's been railed at before. Particularly in a high-leverage game such as this, you owe it to the team to force the opposition to beat your best pitcher, not some fringe guy with bad facial hair. Just absolutely one of the dumbest moves of the year. In case you were expecting surprises:
Other than Putz, who hasn't pitched since Aug. 24, the bullpen has been overworked.

McLaren said he didn't use Putz in the ninth inning on Thursday night because, "We had to have J.J. available in case we got the lead and had to wrap it up. If we don't do that and we count on the other guys (to finish the game), we're really behind the eight ball."
Right, because only a guy wearing the scarlet letter C can possibly protect a lead. Now's the time to shell out for that plasma TV, McLaren; you'll want something big to watch the playoffs.

Over to the NL Central game, the rubber match of a three-game set that could trim the Cubs' division lead to a half-game. The day before, the Brewers had clawed their way back to .500 -- yes, it's gotten that bad for Milwaukee, who is 17-28 since the All-Star Break -- on the strength of Ben Sheets' return from a six-week absence.

The Brew Crew took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first against Ted Lilly, forcing him to work through eight batters, with Kevin Mench dealing the big blow via a two-run double down the leftfield line. The Cubs came back in the second, scoring three against Manny Parra, a rookie who tossed a perfect game in Triple-A earlier this year but has mostly been confined to mop and bucket duty -- not that the Brewers have had much other work these days, what with a staff ERA above 6.00 in August.

Mench tied the game up with a sac fly in the third, but the bad omen arrived in the fourth. Parra bruised his thumb bunting and departed in favor -- no, that's not the right word -- of Chris Capuano, bumped from the rotation recently after an epic winless streak; in fact, the Brewers had lost every one of the last 15 games he'd appeared in.

Make that 16. Capuano worked out of minor trouble in the fourth and fifth, but surrendered back-to-back solo shots by Matt Murton and Alfonso Soriano with two outs in the sixth. The Brewers looked like they might claw their way back from the 5-3 deficit, but with two outs and runners on second and third, home plate ump Brian Gorman made a horrible strike three call on a Carlos Marmol pitch to Corey Hart; Eric Gregg would have been shamed by that one.

Fast-forward to the ninth, where the Brewers made it interesting. Supersub Joe Dillon doubled into the gap in left-center, Rickie Weeks was hit by a pitch. J.J. Hardy bunted them over, a move I didn't hate; it set up the possibility of a game-tying hit and kept them out of the double play. But slugger Ryan Braun, the likely NL Rookie of the Year, chopped one to third base. Prince Fielder was intentionally walked, then Hart worked an RBI walk. That set up a final showdown between Mench and Cubs closer Ryan Dempster, but he induced a fielder's choice to end the game. Ah, shitfuck.

But wait, there's more! I'd actually left the house in the middle of that game and the Hit List to see off some friends who were ending an extended stay in the city; with the tone of four teams' entries riding on the balance of the night's action, I downed a couple pints before returning.

Once the Cubs prevailed, I flipped over to Diamondbacks-Padres -- the one game of the day where first place was actually on the line -- as I resumed my work. The Pads had taken the first three games of their four-game series to recapture first place on a percentage point basis, but they trailed 8-0 at the seventh inning stretch. Then 8-1, 8-3 as starter Doug Davis ran out of gas. To the bottom of the eighth, where Juan Cruz and The Other Tony Pena coughed up another three runs before LOOGY Doug Slaten ended the threat with runners on second and third, inducing a pop-up from Brian Giles. Hmmm.

Finally, I stopped working to see the bottom of the ninth, where Jose Valverde yielded a one-out solo shot to Milton Bradley, his 10th homer in just 135 plate appearances since being picked up off the scrap heap; the dude is hitting like Gary Sheffield in a grudge match.

Alas, the Pads got no closer, as Valverde K'd the next two hitters in short order, but after all that excitement on a full, rich day of baseball, I was hardly in a position to complain. What a day, what a day.

• • •

Oh, and in case you haven't had enough of me yet, here's Tuesday's Hit and Run, featuring Stupid VORP Tricks and a look at the recently deceased Phil Rizzuto's Hall of Fame case.

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