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.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

 

Torre's Last Stand

Not a lot to say about the spot the Yankees find themselves in going into this evening's ballgame. I watched Friday evening's taut and thrilling pitching duel between Fausto Carmona and Andy Pettitte on TiVo delay, getting to the bugfest -- the ickiest non-injury scenario I've ever seen on a ballfield -- around 1 AM. I roused my half-asleep wife to come take a look at the sight of the Yankee infielders spraying each other with OFF, and of poor Joba Chamberlain's neck crawling with gnats.

As somebody who spends much of my backwoods time slathered in Ben's 100 -- the no-bullshit equivalent of bug napalm, exponentially more powerful than OFF -- because I'm so prone to insect bites, I can't say Chamberlain's meltdown surprised me. When you're caught in a swarm, staying focused isn't easy. I'm not sure that the umpires should have stopped play on their own accord, but I wouldn't have blamed Torre for pulling the team from the field and engaging in a lengthy discussion with the umps and the grounds crew to buy his flustered pitcher some time to calm down. Still, part of being a well-paid professional athlete is keeping your cool under extreme pressure. Chamberlain did not -- hell, Jeter looked just as flustered, but the ball wasn't in his hands -- and it led to the Indians tying the game.

Blaming Chamberlain or the infestation for losing the game isn't appropriate, however. Over the course of nine innings, the offense simply couldn't solve Carmona, the Tribe's even filthier equivalent of Yankee sinkerballer Chien-Ming Wang. On the eve of the series, one pro-Yankee BP reader, responding to my series preview, suggested I wasn't giving the Bronx Bomber lineup their due going into the series: "Don't you think your undervaluing offense a little here? The Indians clearly have the better top two starting pitchers but the Yankees seem the perfect team to combat them with an incredibly patient offense that can push them out of the game early."

"You mean like the vaunted Yankee offense waited out the Tigers in the first round last year, and the Angels the year before?" I retorted. I got no reply.

Indeed, the storyline isn't too dissimilar to years past; the Yankee offense I "undervalued" isn't hitting (.121 through two games), and they left just three runners on base on Friday. By contrast the Indians left 14 on before finally breaking through against Luis Vizcaino in the bottom of the 11th. Vizcaino's capitulation was inevitable; the Yanks don't have a reliable reliever after Chamberlain and Rivera, nor do they have a lefty specialist to match up with lefty Travis Hafner, who stroked the game-winning hit.

With the Yanks facing elimination this evening -- I was none too optimistic about Roger Clemens in my preview, and here I'll predict a departure by the third, down 4-0, red-faced and limping -- the word on the street is that this may really be the last night of the Yankee dynasty. George Steinbrenner has stopped drooling long enough to assert that Torre's job is on the line: "I don't think we'd take him back if we don't win this series." With the Yanks having not reached the World Series since 2003, or the LCS since 2004, his point becomes increasingly valid. I'm not sure that what's behind door number two -- Don Mattingly, Joe Girardi or the Ghost of Billy Martin as skipper -- is anything to write home about, but I won't be surprised if we get to find out very soon.

For what it's worth, Torre reminds us why he's lasted this long in his job as Yankee skipper in this audio clip from Peter Abraham. If this is it, let the record show Torre remains the coolest customer around when it comes to the Boss' yapping, and for those of you calling for his head if the Yanks lose, don't be surprised when the next guy doesn't handle the heat so well.

• • •

With the first round of playoffs threatening to end tonight, the regular season already seems far off. Nonetheless, I couldn't achieve closure without running a season finale edition of the Hit List; it's up today at BP. Check it out.

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