Thursday, October 09, 2003

That old black magic 

Oh man. I'm so glad I skipped my softball game tonight. What a huge win for the Yanks. What a great effort by Pettitte. Just goodness all around, makes me all warm and fuzzy like the marshmallows in my Rocky Road (which are neither warm, nor fuzzy, but make me feel both warm and fuzzy).

Let's get straight to the


Gabe Kapler, filling in for a still-woozy Johnny Damon (who fits Bill Simmons' description as "The Unfrozen Caveman Centerfielder" even more now that he's got a black eye, a week's beard growth and a slightly dazed stare), leads off the game with a grounder deep in the hole between third and short. Jeter fails to execute his patented ranging-right, leaping-turn-and-throw move, infield single. With Kapler on first, Bill Mueller takes the count full. After fouling off Andy's sixth pitch, Mueller looks at strike three despite the fact that the hit and run appeared to be on. Jorge's throw to second reaches Soriano while Kapler is still several strides from the bag. Two outs, none on. So far, so good.

Suddenly Nomar and Manny knock singles to center on a total of four pitches and David Ortiz, after falling behind 0-2, draws a walk on four straight balls. It's the top of the first and after erasing one baserunner Andy's got the bases loaded. I'm getting a bad feeling. Fortunately, Mr. "Cowboy Up" himself, Kevin Millar, pops out to short on a 1-0 count. Deep Breath. Hopefully Andy can straighten himself out between innings.

Top of the second, Andy gets 0-2 on Varitek. Looks good. But then Varitek lines the next pitch into right for a double. Nixon then laces a single to center on the second pitch he sees, sending Varitek (who, out of all of the Red Sox, looks the worst with his head shaved--the guy's got a head like a toaster) to third. Next up is Damian Jackson. Jackson's starting in place of Todd "Home Run" Walker because of the lefty on the mound and to sure up the Sox defense behind groundballer Derek Lowe. If you could have your pick, this is the Red Sox batter you most want to face in a first-and-third no-outs situation. Andy gets ahead of him 1-2, but his next pitch is up in the zone and Jackson shoots a single into center, scoring Varitek. Now there's a run in and runners on first and second. Andy allowed four baserunners in the last inning and has yet to retire a batter in this one. I'm starting to freak out. Did Bad Andy show up today? Was it too much to ask him to save the Yankees' season two starts in a row? Would the baseball gods allow the Red Sox to do this to the Yankees, in the Bronx no less? Isn't there some cosmic law against this?

Andy's very next pitch is grounded to the right of short by Kapler, Jeter fields, steps on second and fires to first. Double play! Oh man, did he need that. No Yankee pitcher has relied on the double play as much as Andy has over the years and that was a huge one. With Nixon on third and two out Andy deals to Bill Mueller. Strike called. Ball one. Ball two. Ball three. Come on! Foul, strike two. Another foul. Torture. Mueller then hits a weak bouncing ball up the third base line, Aaron Boone on a full run gloves it off balance and fires a side-arm throw to first. Out! It wasn't pretty, but that was a great play by Boone that saved a run.

Things are looking dire. Andy's thrown 39 pitches in two innings, three men have reached third, the Sox have had the bases loaded once. If not for the broken hit-and-run in the first, Kapler's double play and Boone's play to end the second this could be a lot worse than a 1-0 game. The Yankees have to count themselves lucky at this point, but something has to change and soon.

I immediately run upstairs and change my entire outfit, even switching Yankee caps (from the current model to my 1922-style Babe Ruth model, which I put on just before the Yanks scored their two in the seventh last night).

Okay. Bottom of the second. Time to score some runs. Posada walks on five pitches to lead off the inning. Nice. Matsui grounds into a fielder's choice, replacing Posada at first. Fair enough. Derek Lowe is the most extreme groundball pitcher in the game and Matsui hit more ground balls this year than any other player. At least it wasn't a DP. Let's see what Nick can do. Lowe's first pitch to Johnson is a called strike. His next is an arrow-straight fastball that tails over the plate waist high. Nick crushes it into the right field seats. 2-1 Yankees. I'm so glad I changed! Boone and Garcia (who finally got the starting nod from Torre) ground out, but the Yanks have their first lead of the series. 2-1 after two.

Top of the third and Boston has the heart of their order up, Nomar, Manny and Ortiz. Gulp. Foul, strike one. Ball one. Nomar pops out to short. Ball one. Manny flies out to right (slapping his bat and shuffling to first like his mom just ordered him to take a bath). Foul, strike one. Ball one. Foul, strike two. Ortiz grounds out to short. Nine pitches, three outs. Nomar, Manny and Ortiz down in order. Huh.

Yankees half of the third. Soriano makes good contact but flies out to Ramirez in left. Jeter hits a dribbler down the third base line for an infield single. Giambi singles to left, Jeter to second. Lowe's first pitch to Bernie is looped into right, Giambi holds at second, but Jeter, who Tim McCarver informs us has been thrown out taking an extra base (not counting stolen base attempts) just ten times in the last four years (!), comes all the way around to score. It wasn't even that close. An error by defensive upgrade Jackson at second on a ball hit by Posada leads nowhere as Matsui and Johnson ground out to end the inning. 3-1 Yankees.

In the fourth, Nixon walks on a full count with two outs and steals second without drawing a throw on a 1-2 count to Damian Jackson, but Andy strikes Jackson out two pitches later to retire the side. Hmmm.

In the fifth, Andy again allows a man to reach first with two outs as Nomar singles to left. On a 1-2 count Manny lines a shot to deep right which Karim Garcia snares just a few steps from the wall. Still 3-1 Yanks.

At this point I'm starting to think about the pen. Conteras for two, Mo for two, game over? I like that idea. More than anything else I just want this game to end. The sooner the better. Having the win hanging there for the taking as the game slowly inches by is torture. What if something goes wrong? Just end it now while the Yanks are still ahead. Hurry up!

In the bottom of the fifth, Bernie smacks a double to deep left with one out. Posada hits Lowe's first pitch to Manny in left. Bernie holds. Two outs. Matsui takes ball one, fouls off strike one, then raps a single into right. I figure Bernie's going to have to hold at third, but Willie Randolph waves him home. With that bum knee and Varitek's ability to block the plate I figure Bernie's toast, but Nixon hits the cut-off man and Matsui takes a big turn around first drawing the throw and winding up in a run down. It looks bad, but it's a brilliant baserunning move and allows Bernie to score. Inning over, but the Yanks add a run 4-1.

It's a good thing too, because Andy allows another two-out baserunner in the sixth, but this one doesn't stop anywhere. On a 1-0 count, Varitek lines a shot into the net in front of the retired numbers. Nixon flies out to end the inning. 4-2 Yanks. If you had told me in the second inning that the Red Sox wouldn't score again until the sixth, I'd have been delighted. As it is, Varitek's homer doesn't bother me much.

Andy takes the mound in the seventh and I'm officially impressed. He's done it again. Even if he gives up a homer to the first batter he can still give the game to the bullpen with a lead in the seventh. Even better, Andy gets the first two outs again before allowing a single to Mueller on a 3-1 pitch. Torre comes out to make the call for Contreras and Andy leaves to a huge ovation, raising his cap high to the crowd before entering the dugout.

Contreras needs just one pitch to get Garciaparra to pop out to end the inning. The Yanks are up by two with six outs to go, Mariano's getting loose in the pen. I'm anxious as ever.

In the bottom of the seventh Sori and Jeter both work deep into the count before grounding out. Giambi then takes three straight balls, a strike down the middle and a questionable strike on the outside corner before lining a single into right. Lowe then walks Bernie on four pitches and Grady Little comes out to replace him with Scott Sauerbeck. Sauerbeck last pitched in the regular season and his second pitch to Posada is pounded to the wall in center for a double scoring Dellucci (who went in to run for Giambi) and Bernie. Jorge reaches third on a passed ball and Matsui works a walk from a 1-2 count, but Nick grounds out to end the inning. 6-2 Yankees.

With a four run lead, Torre stays with Contreras as Boston sends Manny, Ortiz and Millar to the plate. Manny works the count full from 1-2, but is absolutely fooled on a nasty Contreras splitter for strike three. Ortiz and Millar pop out to the left side of the infield and the Sox are down to their final three outs.

The bottom of the eighth is uneventful for the most part, but with two outs and the bases empty, Bronson Arroyo (making his postseason debut), hits Soriano with an 0-1 pitch. In the top of the inning, Contreras threw high and inside to Ortiz on an 0-1 count. Ortiz is a huge, left-handed hitter who sits right on top of the plate and leans over it (now that I think about it, he kind of reminds me of Mo Vaughn, another left-handed-hitting 1B/DH for the Red Sox whom I dreaded seeing in the opposing batter's box). It's very unlikely that Conteras was not trying to back him off the plate, and just as unlikely that Arroyo was not retaliating. Soriano certainly wasn't pleased. The hit-by-pitch was of little consequence to this game, but it's worth noting, particularly with Pedro and the Rocket, two pitchers who refuse to give a batter the inside of the plate, going in Game 3.

Mo allowed his first baserunner of the 2003 postseason in the ninth by way of a single to pinch-hitter Todd Walker (another two-out baserunner--the fifth inning of the game in which the Red Sox sent a total of four batters to the plate with the third man reaching base and the others making outs), but struck out two of the other three batters he faced to nail down the win for the Yankees.


This was a huge win for the Yanks. It's anybody's series now.

On to the Heroes and Goats:

Yankees Heroes:
Andy Pettitte it wasn't quite as pretty as Game 2 of the ALDS, but once again Andy took the mound in a game that could make or break the Yankees season, and again he came through. After the game Posada and Torre said that Andy was simply overthrowing in the first two innings. He had six days rest going into the game and was trying to win the game on each pitch in the first two innings. Maybe those 39 pitches in the first two frames helped tire him out to the point at which he became effective. Maybe Stottlemyre and Posada were able to calm him down. Whatever happened, Andy survived six hits and a walk in the first two innings, allowing just one run and finished with this line: 6.2 IP 9 H 2 ER 2 BB 5 K. More importantly, he got the win. New Yorker's don't riot when their teams win championships, but there might be rioting if the Yankees fail to resign Pettitte.
Nick Johnson his two-run homer in the bottom of the second gave the Yankees their first lead of the series and very well may have helped calm Pettitte down. After escaping the first two innings down just 1-0 it was crucial that the Yankee bats put up some runs. Nick did the job.
Jorge Posada his lead-off walk in the second help set-up Johnson's homer. His two-run double in the seventh gave the Yanks some needed breathing room. His throw to nail Kapler in the first erased what would have been Boston's first run of the game.
Bernie Williams went 2 for 3 with a double, a walk and two runs scored.
Hideki Matsui his single in the fifth plated Bernie, but would not have had he not had the presence of mind to draw the throw by getting into a rundown. Matsui also made a great play in left on a ball hit deep into the corner by Ortiz.
Jose Contreras and Mariano Rivera combined to allow one hit and strike out three while walking none in 2 1/3 innings. Contreras will be starting next year, and for good reason, but right now this could be the best bullpen tandem the Yanks have had since '96, meaning all the Yankee starters have to do is give them the lead after six. Heck, if Contreras's arm responds well, they could shave four innings off the end of a game if need be. This could be huge, especially against a big-hit/no-quit team like the Red Sox. What wonderful irony that after all his in-season struggles, Contreras might wind up giving the Yankees the advantage they need over the Sox, who tried so desperately to sign him. Ah, the baseball gods are alive and well.

Yankees Goats:
Aaron Boone he's basically an automatic out in the line-up at this point. He did, however, save a run in the second with a key defensive play. But I had to chose somebody, and I dread his at-bats right now.

Red Sox Heroes:
Jason Varitek went 2 for 4 with a solo homer and scored both of the Red Sox runs. C'mon, can't he catch Wakefield? Does Grady Little understand what he's losing when he puts Mirabelli in there? I'm sure the Yanks will be delighted to see him on the bench again in Game 5.
Damian Jackson for all the trouble Andy Pettitte got into in the first two innings, Damian Jackson was the only Boston hitter to get an RBI hit in those two frames. For that I'll excuse his harmless error.

Red Sox Goats:
Gabe Kapler his caught stealing in the first cost the Sox a run and his double-play grounder in the second took the wind out of a potentially game-breaking rally.
Scott Sauerbeck with the Red Sox needing to keep the game close, Sauerbeck entered the game with two men on and two outs and promptly allowed both runners to score. He then walked another batter before finally getting the third out.
Kevin Millar went 0 for 4. His pop out ended the Sox's two-out bases-loaded rally in the first without a run crossing the plate.
Derek Lowe actually pitched a solid game. Had Sauerbeck not allowed those runners to score his line would have looked like this: 6.2 IP 7 H 4 ER 3 BB 2 K. Not great, but considering his ALDS workload, not terrible. At the same time, a starting pitcher's job in the postseason is to make whatever runs he's given stand up. Lowe let the Yankees chip away.

ONWARD . . .

Tonight's win makes a world of difference for the Yankees heading into Boston. Had they lost, they'd be 0-2 heading into a game that they're expected to lose, facing Pedro at Fenway. Instead the series is tied and a split in the next two games would be just fine. Thus the pressure is off for Game 3, which could result in a surprising outcome. I for one am not willing to count that game as a loss until the last out.

That we're getting an exact rematch of Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS (Rocket vs. Pedro at Fenway) is very exciting, and a little eerie. The Yanks lost this game 13-1 in 1999, but the circumstances were drastically different. For one, it was Clemens' first season with the Yankees and just his second postseason start with them, his second since 1995 as a matter of fact. Pedro was at his peak in 1999 and Rocket had just had an off year interrupted by leg injuries. These two pitchers are much more evenly matched this year. Certainly, Pedro remains the more dominant hurler, but he's more human than he was four years ago, as we saw in his two ALDS starts in Oakland, while Clemens had a much stronger campaign this year than he did in 1999. What's more, Clemens has 12 more postseason starts under his belt than he had in Game 3 in 1999. He's learned to control his emotions in big games and his public reconciliation with the Fenway faithful in his final regular season start there should help take the edge off the taunts he's sure to hear on Saturday. If Clemens can keep his composure, the game will be in the hands of the Yankee batters. Joe Torre's said that there's a strong possibility that Enrique Wilson, who holds a .500 career batting average against Pedro, will start in Game 3, I assume in place of Soriano.

Don't get me wrong, I still think the Sox are the favorites to win Game 3. I'm just saying that I don't think it's a forgone conclusion. Check my September 5th entry for more on Pedro's history vs. the Yankees.

posted by Cliff at 11:42 PM

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

The Moose is too loose 

So what did we learn tonight, boys and girls?

Something I meant to mention before (no, really) but kept forgetting: Mussina doesn't do well when he has extended rest. Don't believe me? Check out his Yankee postseason starts:


ALDS Game 34 days74014W
ALCS Game 24 days64213W
WS Game 18 days35314L
WS Game 54 days852310ND


ALDS Game 34 days46402ND


ALDS Game 15 days77336L
ALCS Game 17 days5.28424L

Breaking it into simple terms there are four good starts and three bad starts in that list. All four of the good starts are on 4 or 5 days rest. If we throw out the 2002 ALDS (after all Moose's start against the Angels was actually the second best performance by a Yankee starter in that series) we see that the two remaining bad starts are on 7 or 8 days rest. It's hardly an water-tight argument (the sample size is miniscule, the evidence less than overwhelming), but having watched him pitch each of these games, I think there's something to it. Mussina just isn't sharp when he has too many days off between postseason starts.

Not that there was anything Joe Torre could have done about this. Perhaps he could have had Moose pitch a simulated game this past Saturday on three-day's rest and then swapped him and Pettitte in the rotation for the ALCS. But that's grasping at straws. Rather, this is consolation. If we accept that it was the extra rest that led to Moose giving up three taters, then we can also assume he'll be much sharper in Game 5 in Fenway. That would coincide nicely with the numbers he put up from 2000-2002 in the Fens:

53.1 IP 35 H 9 BB 55 K 2.70 ERA .187 BAA

At any rate, the Sox took Game 1, here's the usual . . .


Do I have to?

Okay. Moose escaped a pair of walks in the second, but it was already clear that he wasn't on his game. He went to a three-ball count on four of the inning's five batters, throwing 24 pitches in the inning, 18 of which were taken, 15 called balls. He allowed a harmless two-out single in the third, but got bitten in the fourth. Things started well, two swinging strikes on Manny Ramirez for an 0-2 count. After fouling the third pitch, Ramirez looped Moose's fourth offering to the right of the mound. Moose leapt of the hill in an attempt to snare the ball, but simply deflected it into no man's land between Soriano and Johnson. With Manny on first, he again got ahead 0-2 on David Ortiz. Foul. Ball one. Ball two. Foul. Ball three. Ugh, from 0-2 to full count. Ortiz then rocketed Moose's next pitch into the upper deck in right. A no-doubter. 2-0 Sox.

Moose regrouped to strike-out Millar on three pitches and got Mirabelli and Kapler to whiff on 2-2 counts after a Nixon single.

Okay, not terrible. Then the fifth. 2-0 pitch to the leadoff hitter Todd Walker, just foul in the upper deck in right. No, wait. Home run. Ugh. To my eye the umpires got it right. Walker's ball either bounced off the foul pole even with the front railing of the upper deck, or hit a fan's hand immediately in front of the pole. Either way, it was a home run, Walker's fourth of the postseason. 3-0 Sox.

Mueller flies out on the first pitch he sees. Nomar works a 2-0 count then fans on the next three pitches. Next up, Manny. Swinging strike. Ball one. Homer to right. Crap. Ortiz gets slightly less lift on the next ball he hits fair, grounding out to Posada. 4-0 Red Sox after 4 1/2. Well at least there's still time.

But then there was Tim Wakefield. Through the first six inning Wakefield allowed the Yankees just two baserunners on back-to-back one-out singles by Posada and Matsui in the second. His knuckleball danced plenty, outside of those two hits and a pair of line-outs to the left side of the infield, the Yankee lineup couldn't do anything with it.

Boston tacked one on in the seventh. With Jeff Nelson in the game and two-outs Manny singled to right, Nelson hit Ortiz on the back foot with one of his frisbee sliders, and Millar dunked a single into shallow left to score Ramirez. Having retired Nomar before Manny's single, Nelson was then relieved of his duties: 1 out, 2 singles, 1 run, 1 HBP. Yup.

The Yankee lineup saved some face in the bottom of the seventh. Giambi and Bernie walked on a total of nine pitches and Little brought in Embree to face Posada, who promptly shot Embree's second pitch into the gap in right center plating Giambi and putting runners on second and third with no one out. Matsui worked a 2-0 count before lifting a weak fly to left that scored Bernie. Boone then flied out on a 2-1 pitch for the second out. Johnson got good wood on Embree's 1-1 offering but the ball held up enough for Kapler to snare it. I said some face.

That was that, the Yanks never got another baserunner. They did, however, get all four of their middle relief men into the game, which could prove to be useful as they saw a total of 3 1/3 innings of work in the ALDS. Heredia retired the only two batters he faced. White gave up two hits in 1 1/3 innings and Contreras gave up one hit in the ninth while striking out the side. Nelson we discussed. Contreras' stuff looked spectacular, ten of his 14 pitches were strikes. If nothing else, this game got Moose back on regular rest and should have given Torre the confidence he needs to go to Contreras in key spots in the remainder of the series.

Now Heroes and Goats:

Red Sox Heroes:
Tim Wakefield shut the Yankees down putting up deuces across the board (hits, runs, walks, Ks) in six plus innings of work.
Manny Ramirez went 3 for 4 with a homer and three runs scored. He also made a great baserunning play in the ninth moving to second on a wild pitch that didn't get very far from Posada. Go figure that Manny would be that heads up in the ninth inning of a 5-2 game.
David Ortiz much like the ALDS, he only got one hit, but it was a big one, a two-run shot into the upper deck in left that put the Sox up to stay.
Todd Walker two hits, one homer. Not bad.
Mike Timlin and Scott Williamson combined for two perfect innings of relief, striking out three.

Red Sox Goats:
Doug Mirabelli catches Wakefield's knuckler, which means Varitek rides the bench. Every time Mirabelli stepped to the plate there were men on base, only once did he get a hit. He left six men on, including hitting into an inning-ending fielder's choice with the bases loaded in the seventh. Had Varitek been in the game, it may not have been as close as it was.
Nomar Garciaparra went 0 for 5 with two strikeouts, he was the only Sox starter other than Kapler not to get a hit.
Alan Embree came in with two men on and allowed them both to score. Those were the Yankees only runs of the game.

Yankees Heroes:
Jorge Posada got the only key hit of the game, an RBI double in the seventh. He had two of the Yankees three hits on the evening.
Hideki Matsui got the only other Yankee hit and drove in the only other run on a sac fly.
Jose Contreras not exactly heroic, but his three Ks in the ninth today may prove to be the foundation for his playing a key role in this series.

Yankees Goats:
Mike Mussina extended rest or not, giving up three homers and failing to get out of the sixth is not what the Yankees wanted Moose to do tonight.
Jeff Nelson like I said in the recap, one out, two hits, one run. Not good.
The Yankee offense reached base just five times, only four men made their way on (Posada reached twice). Seven of the nine spots in the order took 0-fers. Not many strikeouts, but not many balls hit hard either.

ONWARD . . .

Tell me if this sounds familiar . . . the Yanks have dropped Game 1 and need Pettitte to come up big in Game 2 to leave town with a split. Yup. Been here before. Let's hope Andy can repeat his performance from last week. An 0-2 deficit in a 7-game series is less damning than the same in a 5-game series, but the Yanks will face Pedro in Game 3. I'm not counting that as a loss before it's played, but it sure would set the Sox up nice if they went home up 2-0 with Pedro ready to take the hill. Tomorrow's game is now huge. The good news is that Derek Lowe has not fared well at the Stadium this year (5.11 ERA, .333 BAA) and had a 4.33 ERA and .308 BAA in the previous three combined. I'm hoping the Yanks will be so happy to be facing a "normal" pitcher that their bats will come alive. We shall see.

posted by Cliff at 11:52 PM

He's got a buffalo shoulder/25th man on de rasta . . . 

Both the Yankees and Red Sox have made some changes to their 25-man playoff rosters in preparation for the ALCS.

As expected, the Red Sox have left Byung-Hyun Kim off the roster due to a sore shoulder, itchy flippin' finger, and overactive gag reflex. Kim pitched just once in the ALDS, appearing in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 1 with the Red Sox up by one. Kim faced four batters, retiring the two righties and putting the two lefties on base via a walk and a hit-by-pitch. Alan Embree relieved Kim and gave up a game-tying single to his first batter, the run was charged to Kim. By the end of the series, Kim was spending his time in the Red Sox dugout, rather than in their bullpen.

In place of Kim, the Red Sox have activated Jeff Suppan and Todd Jones. Suppan pitched just one game in relief all season and had a 5.57 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and .281 BAA in 10 starts after coming to Boston from the Pirates at the trading deadline. Suppan's one appearance against the Yankees in the regular season was impressive, however, as he gave up just three-hits in a seven-inning loss to David Wells in the final game of the season series at the Stadium. Todd Jones, who drew attention to his 8.24 ERA in Colorado by making homophobic comments to the press earlier this season, had a 5.52 ERA, 1.53 WHIP and .269 BAA in 26 relief appearances after being picked up by the Red Sox. They will combine with Scott Sauerbeck and Bronson Arroyo, neither of whom made an appearance in the ALDS, to fill out the Boston bullpen behind Williamson, Timlin and Embree.

In order to make room for the additional pitcher, the Sox have dropped Adrian Brown from the roster. Brown appeared in four games in the ALDS and was hitless in two at-bats. In the regular season he was 3 for 15 in nine games. It seems like a no-brainer to drop an extra part like Brown in favor of more pitching, but with Johnny Damon's availability in question, the Red Sox have temporarily limited themselves to one reserve outfielder. With Kapler in center and Damon unavailable, the only Red Sox outfielder on the bench will be Dave McCarty. Little's only other outfield option would be to move Millar into the outfield, put Mueller at first (because if they put Ortiz at first they lose the DH) and insert Lou Merloni at third. Damian Jackson has played just five games at third in his career, Doug Mirabelli just two games at first.

One would think that the mighty Red Sox lineup should be able to play nine without a need for substitutions (barring injury), but thus far in the playoffs Grady Little has shown that he does not agree. Kapler, Jackson, and Brown each appeared in four ALDS games and Little's bench got 20 at-bats against Oakland. By comparison, the Yankee bench got two ALDS at-bats, both by Ruben Sierra in Game 1. Dave Dellucci made the only other appearance by a Yankee bench player in the ALDS, pinch running for Giambi in Game 3.

The Yankees meanwhile have decided to go with an extra infielder, activating Erick Almonte. This was a move that I had hoped they would make for the ALDS, as Almonte hits better than Enrique Wilson (though Wilson eats Pedro alive for some reason--it will be interesting to see if and how Joe works him into Game 3) and gives the Yanks some extra manuverability should a game go into extra innings or an injury occur (god forbid!). To make room for Almonte the Yankees have removed Chris Hammond from the ALCS roster.

Wait a second.

Apparently Jeff Weaver has more value as an inning-eating mop-up reliever than Hammond and his Bugs-Bunny change-up have as a brick in the mythical bridge to Mariano (?). Perhaps Hammond's 6.23 ERA against the Sox and 11.57 ERA in Fenway this year had something to do with that. In fairness to Hammond, those numbers were the result of 4 1/3 and 2 1/3 innings of work respectively. Most likely, Hammond's blown save on July 27 in Boston is still fresh in the minds of Torre and his staff. In the seventh inning of that game, Hammond came in to preserve a 3-0 Yankee lead handed to him by none other than Jeff Weaver (!). Weaver had walked and hit his last two batters leaving runners on first and second for Hammond. Hammond, who had given up just one home run all season up to that point, gave up a game-tying three-run job to Jason Varitek on his third pitch of the game. He then worked the count full on the next batter, Johnny Damon, before giving up a go-ahead solo shot to right. Hammond was quickly yanked in favor of Armando Benitez, who only made things worse. I doubt Hammond expected that that performance would keep him off the ALCS roster two and a half months later, even after he posted a 2.28 ERA in the second half.

This move reduces the Yankees middle relief corps to four men: Contreras, Heredia, Nelson and White, with Mo to close and Weaver to rest the rest in a blowout. It is clearly the result of Torre's confidence in his starters, but I'm concerned that he's being too confident. I'm also concerned that Hammond may have been more effective than Nelson and that eliminating an effective reliever from the roster while continuing to dedicate a spot to a pitcher who will only be useful if there's a good ten-run difference in the score is at best extremely foolish. This is a move the Yankees should not have made. The only scenario in which Almonte will be more valuable than Hammond could have been is one involving an injury, in which case the Yankees are in bad shape to begin with. As for Almonte's numbers against the Sox this year? He didn't have any. He never faced them.

posted by Cliff at 1:00 PM

Ironing out the details 

Joe Torre's officially put to rest any second thoughts about starting Clemens in Game 3, saying he'll use the same rotation against Boston as he did in the ALDS.

Meanwhile, Johnny Damon will indeed miss some of the ALCS due to the concussion he suffered in his Game 5 collision with Damian Jackson. Grady Little will use Gabe Kapler in center in Damon's place. The Red Sox hope to have Damon available at some point during the series, so he will remain on the Red Sox ALCS roster, thus giving Little a short-handed bench during the first few games.

posted by Cliff at 10:27 AM

Holy mackerel! (oops, wrong fish) 

Is this Florida Marlins team capable of playing an uninteresting postseason game? A two-out Sammy Sosa home run onto Waveland Ave to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth? A Mark Lowell pinch-hit homer to dead center to win the game for the Fish in the eleventh? Never mind the seesaw battle that preceded those two storybook shots, the great fielding plays, the pitching highs and lows. Ridiculous. The Fish needed this win and they got it in typical Marlins fashion, hard-earned and by the skin of their teeth. If they can win one of the next two against Prior and Wood they very well might become the favorites in this series.

Myself, I was having problems choosing sides all game. I've been for the Cubbies all season, but this Marlins team is something special. They're young and exciting, especially in contrast to Baker's dusty veteran club. What makes the Cubs exciting is Prior and Wood, Wrigley field, and the fact that they're the Cubs, fercryinoutloud. In my October 6 post I wrote at length about my opposition to a Sox/Cubs series, which would have me root for the Fish, thus keeping the baseball stars aligned. I also listed the four reasons why I can't root for the Marlins franchise to succeed, regardless of the ebullience of their team. What I've decided is that I will root for the Cubs to win exactly as many games as the Yankees have won in their series. Thus, if the Yanks beat the Sox tomorrow, then I will be rooting for the Cubs to beat the Marlins (of course the games are being played simultaneously--thanks MLB!--but you get the idea). If the Yanks win Thursday, I root for the Cubs on Friday. A Yankee loss means I'll be pulling for the Fish. This puts extra pressure on the Yanks to win (in my mind, that is) because the Cubs have Prior and Wood going in the next two games. Ultimately, I'd like to see a Yanks/Cubs World Series. Wrigleyville and the Bronx, Wood, Prior, Moose, Pettite, Clemens, Wells, Sosa, Giambi, Jeter . . . Could it get any better? The Yanks defending 95 years of history?

Oh man, Moose gets the ball in the Bronx in just 17 hours to face the Red Sox in the ALCS. Yeah, my concentration level at work is gonna hit the skids right quick. I'm already getting the butterflies in my stomach. Oh man . . .

posted by Cliff at 12:49 AM

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Tales from the Dark Side 

Check out Bill Simmons' "therapeutic rant" about the Sox/A's series.

I look forward to reading his comments on the ALCS (provided the Yankees win, of course).

While you're at it, check out Larry Mahnken's breakdown of the NLCS matchups. Larry's done the smart thing comparing players by position in the batting order rather than defensive position. The conclusion he reaches is that the Marlins have the stronger line-up. Looking at the numbers, it's clear that the Fish get on base more often, though the Cubs have more pop, but then you didn't really need the numbers to tell you that, did you? The Fish are probably better defensively as well. They'll need those advantages to overcome the Cubs pitching.

Aaron Gleeman points out that the Marlins' offensive advantage is likely to disappear when the Cubs have a right-hander on the mound. The Cubs rotation consists of four righties, including two of the very best in the League, if not the sport. The Cubs offense has a similar problem, but they'll face two lefty Marlins starters, one of them twice. The Cubs' offensive numbers spike against lefties. All of this makes a Marlins World Series berth a considerable long shot. Just one more reason that the Yankees have to beat the Sox.

Wait a second. Did I just say that the Cubs are a near lock for the World Series? Did I miss that Yom Kippur thing? Because the time for atonement is nigh. (gulp)

posted by Cliff at 2:59 PM

NLCS quickie 

Here are the expected pitching matchups for the NLCS:

Game 1 (and 5): Zambrano vs. Beckett
Game 2 (and 6): Prior vs. Penny
Game 3 (and 7): Wood vs. Redman
Game 4: Clement vs. Willis

It's a no-brainer to say that the Marlins need to win every game not pitched by Prior and Wood and hope they can pull out one of the four against the Cubs' two aces. Tonight they face Zambrano, a must-win right off the bat. I'm so against the idea of a Sox/Cubs series that I feel I have to root for the Fish in games like this until the Yanks have the Sox on the ropes.

Good lord, I don't know if I can take three more weeks of this . . .

posted by Cliff at 9:50 AM


What a game. Forget the first eight and a half innings for a moment, this is what transpired in the bottom of the ninth.

The A's enter the inning trailing the Red Sox 4-3. One run will extend the game, two runs will extend their season. The A's knocked Boston starter Pedro Martinez out of the game in the eighth as they scored their third run. One-time Boston closer Byung-Hyun Kim is sitting in the dugout, having declared himself unavailable due to a sore shoulder. Boston manager Grady Little instead gives the ball to Scott Williamson, whom the Sox acquired late in the season from Cincinnati. Williamson has come up big for the Sox thus far in the series, allowing just three baserunners in five innings pitched while striking out eight and not allowing a run. He has appeared in every game in the series, earning the win in both of the Red Sox victories at Fenway.

Scott Hatteberg is the first Oakland batter.

The first pitch from Williamson is ball one. The next ball two. Then ball three. The network announcers point out that Williamson has had problems with wildness in the past. Desperate to get on base, Hatteberg takes the fourth pitch straight down the middle for strike one (somewhere David Justice is shaking his head). Next pitch: ball four. The tying run reaches base. Knowing he needs to use smallball tactics to save his team's season, Ken Macha then sends in Game 3 Goat (with a capital "G") Eric Byrnes to run for Hatteberg. Across the Bay Area, A's fans are praying Byrnes remembers to touch home this time.

Next up is Jose Guillen, Williamson's teammate in Cincinnati earlier this year and one of the A's hottest hitters, having gone 2 for 3 with an RBI double off Pedro Martinez earlier in the game. Again, Williamson throws three straight balls followed by a gimme strike one. Guillen fouls of the next two pitches to bring the count full, Byrnes was running on the second. Williamson's seventh pitch is ball four. The winning run is now on base, the tying run at second.

Grady Little quickly summons Game 3 starter Derek Lowe to replace Williamson. The first batter Lowe will face is Ramon Hernandez, who won Game 1 by laying down a surprise bunt with the bases loaded and the game tied in the bottom of the eleventh inning. The man who threw the pitch Hernandez bunted was Derek Lowe.

Again playing smallball, while the Joe Morgans of the world gloat, Hernandez shows bunt on Lowe's first pitch, ball one, then lays down a beauty to move the runners to second and third on Lowe's second pitch. One out.

With the righty Lowe in the game, Macha pinch hits for Jermaine Dye, who hit the home run that almost won Game 4 for the A's, with switch-hitting backup catcher Adam Melhuse, who went 3 for 4 in that game, hitting an RBI triple ahead of Dye's homer. Melhuse did have better numbers from the left side on the season. Here he looks at ball one low, fouls off a close pitch for strike one, looks at another ball low, and fouls off another close pitch to bring the count to 2-2. Lowe then throws what may have been the best pitch of his career. A two-seam fastball that left Lowe's hand headed straight for Melhuse's belt buckle only to make a sharp right and dive into the strike zone at the last second. A beauty of a pitch. Strike three looking. Two outs.
One wonders if Macha should have called for the squeeze but with the tying run at third and one out. It appears, however, that Macha is playing for the win with the go-ahead run on second. It's possible that neither Dye, Melhuse nor Terrence Long, the only position player remaining on the Oakland bench, could be trusted with the squeeze. It's also important to note that the Boston infield was way in during Melhuse's at-bat, ready to come home with any ball they could glove. On the flip side, one wonders why Little didn't opt to walk Melhuse, setting up the force at home and the double play. All of this is moot, of course.

So with the tying run on third, the winning run on second and two outs, lefty Chris Singleton comes to the plate. Two balls, strike one looking, foul, ball three. Here it is. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, winning run in scoring position, full count. I can only imagine what is going through the heads and hearts of Boston and Oakland fans at this point as my heart is beating through my chest. I grab a fist-full of couch to keep me in my seat. Ball four, bases loaded.

The A's can now tie the game via a passed ball, wild pitch, hit, error or walk. There is no room for error.

Macha sends up his last man, lefty Terrance Long for Frank Menechino. Never mind who will play second in the tenth. This isn't about the tenth. This is about right now.

Strike one looking. Ball one. Foul ball. Count is 1-2.

I know what's coming, you know what's coming. Terrence Long had to know what was coming. The next pitch leaves Lowe's hand headed straight for Long's belt buckle. At the last second it makes a sharp right and dives into the strike zone. The two-seamer. Strike three. Red Sox win.


I'm sure you can find the rest of the details elsewhere. Varitek and Ramirez hit homers to give the Red Sox their four. Pedro pitched well through seven though he didn't dominate (seven hits, three runs). Zito on short rest looked great through five but tired in the sixth, allowing Manny's three-run blast. Johnny Damon left the game with a concussion after colliding face-to-head with Damian Jackson on a bloop by Jermaine Dye in the seventh. Dye tried to stretch that play into a double and was thrown out to end the inning, one of two inning-ending outs made by Oakland baserunners trying to take an extra base (Guillen made the last out at third in the fourth trying to stretch an RBI double). David Ortiz and Damian Jackson almost got into a scuffle with some Oakland fans behind the dugout who were taunting them immediately following the Damon collision. For the fourth straight year, the Oakland A's have lost Game 5 of the ALDS.

The Yankees will now face the Boston Red Sox in what is sure to be an epic ALCS. Around the time the Yankees were clinching the East, I emailed Bronx Banter's Alex Belth expressing my desire for a Yanks/Sox ALCS. My logic at the time was that to be the best, you have to beat the best, and the Red Sox have clearly been the only legitimate challenger to the Yankees in the AL all season. I was also hungry for pulse-pounding playoff baseball, and nothing can deliver like Yankees/Sox. Alex wanted no part of such a matchup. I certainly see his side now that I've gotten my one-time wish. This ALCS could very well end me. I couldn't bear a Red Sox victory. Sure the Sox and Yanks met up in the ALCS in 1999 with the Yanks taking the series quite painlessly 4-1, but that was the Joe Torre Yankees at the height of their powers, and a Red Sox team that had Kent Mercker starting Game 1.

These Red Sox are far tougher, and this nailbiter of a series against the A's (four one-run games, two in extra innings, three coming down to the final pitch) may very well have stirred players like Ortiz and Ramirez who were dormant for the better part of the ALDS. The advantage the Yankees may have gained with the Red Sox needing Pedro to throw 100 pitches today is counterbalanced by the fact that Pedro will be able to pitch on full rest in Game 3, thus allowing him to come back on full rest for a potential Game 7. Going in, it looks like a near dead heat. Boston has found arms they can trust in their bullpen (Timlin, Williamson, Lowe when properly removed from his starts, and Embree), the Yankees have Mo in top form but the rest of their pen barely pitched against the Twins, just Heredia and Nelson (to one batter) while trailing in Game 1 and White in the clincher with a six, then seven-run lead. Oakland proved that good pitching can keep the Red Sox offense at bay, and the Yankee starters all look to be in top form, but a little variation in either direction could make a huge difference. This series could come down to the Yankees ability to generate runs against Wakefield, Lowe and Burkett. Here are their numbers against the Yanks this season:


The big advantage here, at least on paper, is Derek Lowe, who should pitch Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 6 in the Bronx. The Yankees have had a good deal of success against him (despite the 2-0 record in four starts), and he has not been nearly as successful on the road as he has at home. In 17 starts at Fenway, Lowe has a 3.21 ERA and a .220 batting average against. In two starts at Yankee Stadium he has a 5.11 ERA and a .333 BAA, looking at a larger sample, in 16 road starts he has a 6.11 ERA and a .332 BAA. It is extremely unlikely that the Red Sox will opt to go with Burkett on three-days rest, bumping Lowe to Game 5 (after Pedro) and, in turn, setting Burkett up for a potential Game 6. Even if Burkett, like Wakefield has actually been moderately more successful on the road than in Boston. Theo Epstein & Co. are very much aware of the lack of success of starters pitching on three-day's rest in the playoffs, and surely are similarly aware that those numbers are heavily reliant on the Barry Zitos of the world, never mind the John Burketts.

Thus we're looking at something like this:

Game 1: Moose vs. Wakefield (and possible Game 5)
Game 2: Pettitte vs. Lowe (and possible Game 6)
Game 3: Rocket vs. Pedro at Fenway?! Wait a second . . .

Will Joe Torre allow that matchup to reoccur? This is the same situation that resulted in a 13-1 Red Sox victory in 1999, the Sox only win of the series, and a very ugly scene for Clemens and his family. Granted that was a much stronger Pedro, and Clemens has actually been much better this year than he was in 1999, and has twelve additional postseason starts under his belt, not to mention a public kiss-and-make-up with the Fenway crowd. Still, Torre did his best to keep Clemens out of Fenway all season long, is it possible that he'd switch Andy and Rocket in his rotation? Clemens would be on just three-day's rest on Thursday for Game 2, while Andy would wind up with eight day's rest if he were to be held for Game 3. I can't imagine that Joe would go to those extremes. Looking at the Rockets numbers, he's been far worse against the Red Sox (8.67 ERA, .328 BAA in 5 starts) than he has against any other team that he faced more than once this year. He did, however, win both of his starts in Fenway (4.26 ERA, .294 BAA), losing all three against the Sox in the Bronx, where the worst of those numbers were acquired. This makes the prospect of a Clemens Game 7 start against Pedro in the Bronx all the more frightening. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. Wells has a 2.19 ERA in Fenway in two starts this year while Moose and Pettitte have both pitched very well against the Sox in their careers. Andy's stats are skewed by his Bad Andy start against the Sox in the final series at home, but he still held them to a .250 average on the season, which is a good 20 points better than his total for the league. Moose, meanwhile, posted a 3.04 ERA and a miniscule .163 BAA against the Sox in 2003.

Anyway, Game 4 would see Wells vs. Burkett. In light of the above, I'm hoping the Yanks can pull it off in five or six. Six would be great, since I have a ticket, but really, this series could go either way if the Boston bats get hot.

Tomorrow the Cubs and Marlins kick off the NLCS. Wednesday the Yankees begin to go about their historic duty of knocking off the Sox.

posted by Cliff at 12:25 AM

Monday, October 06, 2003

How do you say Grudzielanek backwards? 

Thanks almost entirely to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, the Cubs won their first postseason series since 1908 last night, knocking out the Braves 5-1 in Game 5 of the NLDS. It’s a shame that it didn’t happen in Wrigley, though for the first time ever the Cubs get a second shot at it as they host the Marlins in the NLCS. There’s a part of me that hates to see that kind of history erased, but since the Cubs 58-year World Series drought and 95-year World Championship 0-fer are still intact, I’m delighted to see the Cubbies and their Wrigley faithful finally get a taste of champagne. Even better, this was the year that I saw my first game in Wrigley Field (Mark Prior complete game win over the Dodgers). I also ate at the curse-giving Billy Goat Tavern (cheezboorgur! cheezboorgur!) during the same trip. No, Cubs fans, you don’t have to thank me for breaking the curse. It was my pleasure.

I was resistant to the idea before, but I think I’m now prepared to see the Cubs in the World Series. Part of it has to do with the fact that, as exciting as the Marlins are as a team, as a franchise I resent them for 1) being one of the four expansion franchises whose creation resulted in the three-division-plus-wild-card format and recent contraction talk, 2) the shameful dismantling of the 1997 Champions, 3) wearing teal and black uniforms while playing in a football stadium, 4) the shady backroom dealings that gave the franchise to current owner Jeffrey Loria and left the Montreal Expos, whom Loria had done his best to drive into the ground, to the buzzards. I also love the idea of a Yankees/Cubs World Series, though it would represent another case of interleague play robbing a terrific World Series matchup of it’s novelty, much like the 2000 Subway Series, which was far too anticlimactic after several seasons of interleague games between the Mets and Yanks.

What cannot be allowed to happen, however, is the much talked-about Red Sox/Cubs World Series. I plead to the baseball gods, do not make it so! It would be one thing if the Cubs or Red Sox were to win the series against a team like the Yankees or Marlins. But for these two teams to face one another after failing to win the Championship for a combined 175 years, I could see no greater injustice to the fans of either team. After waiting this long for a Championship, you don’t want to win by beating another team that can’t. If the Cubs won it would be because the Red Sox are cursed. If the Red Sox won it would be because they played the Cubs. It’s a no-win situation for those two teams. Yes, I’m sure fans in Boston and Chicago would take a Championship any way they could get it, but ultimately, that’s just not the way you want to get it.

Personally, I would hate to see either team win the series, not because of any hard feelings toward the Cubs (who I’m still rooting for) or the Red Sox (well, maybe some hard feelings toward the Red Sox), but because the droughts suffered by these two teams are a huge part of what gives baseball it’s sense of history and legend. So much has changed about the game, but one thing that can always be counted upon is the fact that the Red Sox and the Cubs will fall short again this year. I’m no David Halberstam, Roger Kahn, or Roger Angel (at least not on my lunch hour at work), but I treasure the history of the game and it’s lyricism as much, if not more, than the next baseball fan, and I’d hate to see a part of that chipped away, especially in so cheap a manner as a Cubs/Red Sox World Series matchup.

There’s also the "just another team" argument. The Phillies set the standard for futility before Carlton and Schmidt came along, losing in their only two World Series appearances in 1915 and 1950 and suffering one of the all-time worst September collapses in 1964. The Phillies didn’t even win a nineteenth-century NL Championship. Nothing. The Phils then made the post-season three consecutive seasons from 1976-78, won the big prize in 1980, and returned to the World Series in 1983 and 1993. Now they’re just another struggling team. There’s no lyricism to it, no legend. The Phillies don’t warrant books and HBO specials or a national fondness. No, the Phillies just lose. They’re just another team, no different from expansion teams like the Brewers or Padres. For all my Yankee-bred anti-Red Sox feelings, I don’t want to see that happen to the Sox, and I certainly don’t want to see it happen to the Cubs, who have a tremendous potential to be very ordinary were it not for their ballpark and their inability to win it all. Do you think there would be a queue of celebrities singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during the seventh inning of an August day game against the dregs of the NL had the Cubs won the world series in 1969? I don’t.

This is but one more reason to root for the A’s tonight. As little as they deserve it, an A’s win would help eliminate that dreaded series matchup (and, as I wrote yesterday, give the Yankees a huge advantage in the ALCS). With an A’s win I could root for the Cubbies in the NLCS with a clear conscience. I also get a kick out of watching Pedro mow down the opposition for seven innings only to earn a no decision due to the futility of the Boston bats and bullpen. Those games are beautiful little microcosms of the Red Sox’ postseason futility. Whatever the result, tonight at 8:00 on network television Pedro Martinez and Barry Zito face off in a postseason elimination game. I think we can all agree that that is good for baseball. I can’t wait!

posted by Cliff at 2:27 PM

Shouts Out 

I just wanted to thank Alex Belth and Jay Jaffe for recommending the BRB in their playoff coverage. Alex writes Bronx Banter and Jay's The Futility Infielder, both are excellent Yankee blogs and can be reached via the permanent links to the left. Speaking of which, with the exception of Aaron Gleeman's recently eliminated Twins, all of the blogs on the left focus on teams in the playoff hunt. The top three on the Yanks, Universal Baseball Blog is indeed universal but penned by a dirty Sox fan, and The Cub Reporter . . . well, obviously. Check 'em all out and, as is the wonderful thing about blogs, they'll lead you to more (and hopefully back here).

Meanwhile, thanks in large part to folks like Alex and Jay, and surely due in part to the playoff fever epidemic, the BRB really seems to be gaining steam, reader-wise. That's terribly exciting for me as this blog is barely two months old. Thanks to all of you who have become regular readers and to those who have helped spread the word. Please continue to do so (read and spread), and don't forget to drop me an email to let me know what you do or don't like about the BRB, what you'd like to see more or less of, to tell me I'm wrong, tell me I'm brilliant, or to just say "hi."

More on yesterday's games and tonight's Game 5 in Oakland in a bit.

posted by Cliff at 12:37 PM

Sunday, October 05, 2003


Much like yesterday, the Twins didn't put up much of a fight as the Yankees rolled to an 8-1 victory in Game 4, and a 3-1 victory in the ALDS. Torre's decision to go with Wells turned out to be the right one as Wells shut the Twins down over seven-plus. Using Wells also allows Torre to keep the starters in line for the ALCS, with Moose pitching Game 1 followed by Andy, Rocket and Boomer. As for the Twins, I always hate to see a scrappy, likeable underdog like them eliminated, but I can't say I'll miss seeing playoff games played in the Metrodome. The miserable turf, creepy lighting, vampire seats and hefty bags . . . ugh. Just miserable. Looking at the wire photos of the last two games, I now understand why you never see any Twins wearing their home unis on their baseball cards.


Over the first three innings David Wells allowed just two harmless hits, while Johan Santana allowed nothing more than a single to Jeter in the first. It looked like this was going to be a fantastic pitcher's duel. I was mentally prepping myself for the emotional strain when out of nowhere the Yankees racked up six runs in the fourth, knocking Santana out of the game.

After Jeter struckout on four pitches to lead off the inning, Giambi doubled to left center. Bernie, who hit .400 on the series with 3 RBIs and 3 runs scored, then doubled on an 0-2 count to plate Giambi. Jorge then singled Bernie to third, collecting just his second hit of the series and his first with a runner on base. On a 1-1 count, Matsui creamed a ground rule double to deep center, driving in Bernie and putting Jorge on third. After Boone popped up for the second out, Santana fell behind Juan Rivera 2-0 at which point the Twins intentionally walked him to face the slumping (and left-handed) Nick Johnson. Juan Rivera was intentionally walked . . . in the playoffs . . . by Johan Santana. I still can't believe it. Nick, who had been further demoted to the nine spot for today's game, then broke an 0-fer that stretched back five games into the regular season (his last hit came against the White Sox, fercryinoutloud) with a 2-RBI double, knocking Santana out of the game. Righty Juan Rincon was brought in to face Soriano, who promptly singled home Rivera and Johnson on Rincon's second pitch. Rincon then walked Jeter, threw a pitch in the dirt that evaded Pierzynski sending Sori to third (ruled a passed ball), and walked Giambi on four pitches to load the bases. Gardenhire was forced to go to the pen for the second time in the inning, bringing in Eric Milton, who got Bernie to ground into a fielder's choice on his second pitch. 6-0 Yankees.

Wells gave one back in the bottom of the inning via one-out singles by Torii Hunter, A.J. Pierzynski and Michael Cuddyer, plating Hunter and leaving runners on first and second. But that was all there was for the Twinkies as it took Wells only two more pitches to retire Jacque Jones and Corey Koskie to end the inning.

Milton cruised through the next three innings, but Gardenhire brought in LaTroy Hawkins in the eighth and the Yankees went back to work. Boone lead off with a single and stole second on Hawkins' first pitch to Rivera. On the next pitch Rivera bunted toward third. Hawkins fielded, looked to third as Boone slid in safely, then threw wildly to first allowing Boone to score and Rivera to go to second. Nick Johnson then hit a shot to deep left that Shannon Stewart chased down, making a spectacular leaping catch, landing on his feet and relaying the ball back to second to double off Rivera. Sori struckout on a full count to end the inning.

In the eighth, the Twins got a man to third when Doug Mientkiewicz and Torii Hunter singled with two outs putting runners at the corners. Torre then went to Gabe White who got Pierzynski to hit a comebacker on a 2-2 count.

The Yanks topped of their scoring when Derek Jeter hit Eddie Guardado's very first pitch of the game over the left-field wall to lead of the ninth. Jeter had been robbed of a homer by Shannon Stewart in the sixth.

White finished the game off in the ninth, sending the Yankees to the ALCS for the first time in two years.

Yankees' Heroes:
David Wells for the fourth straight game, the Yankees got a terrific performance from their starting pitcher. Wells' line: 7 2/3 IP 8 H 1 ER 0 BB 5 K. Pure Wells. He scattered his hits and walked nobody, and never really got into a jam.
The Yankee offense really spread it around today. Everyone got a hit and either scored or drove in a run.

Yankees' Goats:
Can't help ya.

Twins' Heroes:
Shannon Stewart his two excellent plays in left field saved three runs.
Torii Hunter went 3 for 4 and scored the Twins only run.
Michael Cuddyer in his first appearance of the series he drove in that lone run, though he also struckout with a man on second and one out in the second inning.
Eric Milton shut the Yankees down for 3 1/3, allowing just two baserunners. Of course things would have been different had Stewart not snagged Jeter's first home run ball.

Twins' Goats:
Johan Santana the Twins needed their young ace to shut the Yankees down and help keep their season alive. Santana didn't make it out of the fourth inning and was charged with six earned runs.
Juan Rincon in relief of Santana he faced three batters, allowing a two-run single to the first and walking the next two, but not before skipping a pitch in the dirt allowing his first runner to advance.
LaTroy Hawkins was unable to hold the Yankees in his one inning of work, giving up a run and two hits and making his second throwing error of the series.
Eddie Guardado the Twins' closer also gave up a run and two hits, finishing the series with an ERA of 9.00.

Ah, but that's not all . . . since this was the last game of the series I present the Yankees and Twins ALDS Heroes and Goats!

Twins' Heroes:
Shannon Stewart he made what might have been a game-saving catch in Game 1 and saved three more runs with his glove in Game 4. On the other side of the ball, he hit .400 (6 for 15) with two doubles, two walks and a stolen base. However, he neither scored, nor drove in a single run.
Torii Hunter the only other Twin to hit over .250, Hunter hit .429 (6 for 14) with two walks, two RBIs and three runs scored. He also hit one of the Twins two home runs and was credited with a triple on the ball Bernie misplayed in Game 1.

Twins' Goats:
The Twins' offense even with Stewart and Hunter factored in, the Twins hit just .198 on the series, scoring just six runs in four games. Take out Stewart and Hunter and the Twins hit .137 with 27 strikeouts in 102 at-bats. In fact, A.J. Pierzynski was the only other Twin to collect more hits (3) than strikeouts, and that was because he was the only Twin who didn't strike out in the series. Pierzynski also hit the Twins only other home run. For all the pre-series hype about the Twins taking the extra base and little-balling the Yankees to death like the Angels did, Stewart stole the Twins only base on the series.
Johan Santana pitched just four innings in Game 1, leaving due to leg cramps that, as some rumors had it, were the result of dehydration that resulted from Santana vomiting due to nerves the night before. Given a second chance in Game 3 he failed to last even a full four, finishing the series with a 7.04 ERA.
LaTroy Hawkins after dominating the Yankees in Game 1 and picking up the win, he only fueled the Yankee fire in Games 2 and 4. In Game 2 he came in with the game tied and a man on second and left with the Twins down 4-1 having not retired a single batter. In Game 4 he gave up a run in one inning of work. He also made throwing errors in both appearances.
Eddie Guardado nearly blew the Twins only victory in Game 1 and then in Game 4 was unable to hold the Yankees even with his team down by six runs. He gave up five hits in two innings of work and finished with an ERA of 9.00.

Not good when your three best pitchers and the bulk of your line-up are your goats. For the Yanks we'll do goats first:

Yankees' Goats:
Nick Johnson hit .077 with just one hit in 13 at-bats and was demoted from the two-hole to the eighth and then ninth spots in the batting order. Nick did draw three walks, drive in two with his lone hit and score two runs, however, making him far more productive than our next two goats.
Jorge Posada hit just .176 (3 for 17) with six strikeouts and no walks, he and Boone were the only starters who didn't drive in a single run during the series.
Aaron Boone like Posada, didn't walk once, nor drive in a single run and only scored one. He hit .200 (3 for 15) on the series.
Jeff Nelson walked the only batter he faced in the series.

Yankees' Heroes:
The Starting Pitchers all four starters worked seven innings (with Wells working 7 2/3), all but Mussina allowed just one run. Mussina allowed three, thanks in large part to the terrible defense being played behind him. All totaled their line looks like this: 28 2/3 IP 24 H 6 ER 7 BB 27 K. That's a 2.83 ERA, take out Moose and the Game 1 defense and you get a 1.25 ERA. It's hard to lose when your starters give you that kind of performance. Special mention goes to Andy Pettitte who turned the series around with his 7-inning, one-run, 10-strikeout performance in Game 2.
Mariano Rivera struck out four while pitching four perfect innings to save Games 2 and 3, the two biggest games of the series.
Derek Jeter hit .429 with four walks, a home run, a stolen base and two runs scored.
Bernie Williams hit .400 with two walks, two doubles, three RBIs and three runs scored.
Alfonso Soriano hit .368 with a double, four RBIs, two runs scored and two stolen bases. He also broke the tie in Game 2, helping to turn the tide in the series.
Hideki Matsui hit only .267, but he smacked one of the Yankees two home runs, putting them ahead for good in Game 3, in addition to a double, two walks, three RBIs and two runs scored.

And finally the BRB ALDS MVP:

Andy Pettitte

Had to give it to a starter, and Andy had the biggest start of the four and dominated. A great performance.

ONWARD . . .

The Red Sox and the A's play tomorrow night to decide who will fly to New York to face the Yanks in the ALDS. It's Zito vs. Pedro in Game 5. Wow. For the Yankees sake I hope the A's pull it out. They've been playing terrible ball recently, more or less handing the Red Sox their two wins at Fenway. Plus, Hudson went down with an injury in today's game and they have to burn Zito in Game 5, that means the Yankees might only have to face Zito once in the ALDS and might not see Hudson at all. The same holds true for the Red Sox and Pedro, but the Sox remain a more dangerous team, especially if they're offense is able to build on what they did today.

That being said, a Sox/Yanks matchup would be a true classic, especially the Yankees starters against the Red Sox bats. I'd love to see the Yanks beat the Sox in the ALCS and then take out the Cubs in the World Series, helping to maintain order with the baseball gods (and avoiding the presence of teal uniforms in the fall classic). Meanwhile, enjoy tomorrow night's game. Should be a doozy.

posted by Cliff at 11:24 PM


Re: Marlins: Hot damn! The Marlins took three straight from the defending NL Champion Giants, the last two with great dramatic flair. They walked Barry eight times and got him out seven more. Ivan Rodriguez was their clear MVP, driving in all of the runs in their Game 3 victory, including the tying and winning runs in the eleventh. He hit .353 with six RBIs, three runs scored and a stolen base on the series and took a hard shot at the plate from J.T. Snow, who represented the tying run in the ninth inning of Game 4, to make the final out of the series. Juan Pierre (5 R, 3 RBI), Miguel Cabrera and Jeff Conine also performed well, as did rookie sensation Dontrelle Willis, who went 3 for 3 with a triple in the finale. On the mound, Josh Beckett pitched a 9 K two-hitter only to loose to Jason Schmidt in the opener, while fifth starter Carl Pavano got some key outs for the Fish out of the pen. For his part, Mark Redman pitched to Bonds all three times he faced him giving up just an infield single in their final confrontation.

I think this Marlins team is going to challenge whichever team they face in the NLCS. They've got their rotation set up, with Beckett ready to go in Game 1. They're a dangerous team right now.

Speaking of the NLCS, the Cubs and Braves play their decisive Game 5 tomorrow in Atlanta. Kerry Wood will face off against Mike Hampton. Should be a doozy. If Wood can repeat his Game 1 performance (with or without driving in the winning runs himself) the Cubs should take it. Don't forget that in his classic confrontation against Sammy Sosa to end Game 4 (Sammy, representing the tying run with two outs in the ninth, hit a ball to the warning track in center for the last out), Smoltz appeared to be in considerable pain. If that doesn't hurt the Braves tomorrow, it very well could against a Marlins team that doesn't give up in the late innings.

Lastly, the A's deserved to lose to the Sawx tonight. The only run the Red Sox scored in regulation came in an inning that included three Oakland errors and was the result of an obstruction call on Chavez during a botched rundown between home and third. In the sixth, the A's got a rally going. Byrnes singled and stole second. McMillon (yes, Billy McMillon got a start in a playoff game) moved him to third on a ground out and Durazo walked. Tejada then grounded back to Lowe who fired home to catch Byrnes coming from third, but bounced the throw past Varitek. The ball and Byrnes both arrived near Varitek, who is one of the best at blocking the plate (he's got Jorge by a mile in that department), at the same time. Byrnes slid into Varitek's shin guard and flopped forward over the plate, but never touched it. He then proceeded to grimace and hop toward the dugout as Varitek retrieved the ball and tagged him out. Byrnes was not injured on the play and the umpire did not make a call until Byrnes was tagged. That's one run the A's just gave away.

Durazo and Tejada moved to second and third on that play so the Sox intentionally walked Chavez. Ramon Hernandez then hit a shot that evaded Garciaparra (ruled an error) and scored Durazo with what would have been the go-ahead (and thus game-winning) run had Byrnes, who had plenty of time to limp to home on the previous play done so. When the ball was hit to short, Mueller ran to cover third. As Tejada rounded the bag coming from second he collided with Mueller. Rather than continue home, Tejada slowed up, pointing at Mueller to get an obstruction call, assuming he would be awarded home. The obstruction was called but it was judged that the collision did not effect Tejada's ability to score, so he was not awarded home. Meanwhile the ball was relayed in to Varitek who tagged Tejada in the basepath for the final out of the inning. Had Tejada run home and slid into the plate he would have been safe, but because he was to busy arguing about what would have ultimately been a moot obstruction call, he was tagged out (paging Chuck Knoblauch). Thus what should have been a 3-1, series clinching victory for the A's became a 1-1 extra-inning game and an A's loss at the hands of Trot Nixon (or Jesus himself if you take Trot at his word), who blasted a 1-1 Rich Harden pitch to the deepest part of the park.

All of this crybaby nonsense makes it very difficult to continue rooting for the A's, but since they're playing the Red Sox, I can deal. It'll just make it that much more fun to root against them should they face the Yanks in the ALCS.

posted by Cliff at 2:30 AM

Can a Yankee playoff win be dull? 

Maybe it's because I was watching the game on tape at 4:30 and not live at 1:00, but today's Yankee victory seemed less than spectacular. No, I didn't know the outcome until I finished watching the game. Yes, it was a big win for the Yanks, putting them one victory from the ALCS. Maybe it was that there was no scoring after the third inning. Maybe it was just the fact that the Twins never really seemed to pose any threat. Maybe it was in contrast to the Marlins' amazing 7-6 victory over the Giants, which ended on a collision at the plate as J.T. Snow came around as the potential tying run for the Giants. Maybe it was in contrast to the 8pm, must-win, home-field pitcher's duel on Thursday night. I think the turf had something to do with it.

Nonetheless, here's the recap:

The Yanks got on the board early as Bernie led off the second with a double. Posada, who still hasn't come through with a useful hit, at least managed to move Bernie over to third via a ground out. With one out and Bernie on third, Matsui hit Lohse's first pitch, a high fastball, into the vampire seats behind right field. I thought it was going to be a sac fly, but the ball carried pretty well. With that the mighty Metrodome crowd fell stone silent, which robbed the game of some of it's playoff atmosphere.

In the top of the third Juan Rivera reached on an infield single deep in the hole to shortstop. Sori struck out. Jeter singled to center, moving Rivera to second. Giambi field to center, runners held. Then Bernie singled on a 2-2 pitch scoring Rivera. Good work. Up 3-0. Ho hum.

Leading off the bottom of the third, A.J. Pierzynski worked a full count, fouled of a pitch, and then hit Clemens' seventh pitch to about the same spot as Matsui's homer. 3-1. Credit Pierzynski as it was the only hard-hit ball off Clemens in his seven innings of work.

In the fifth the Christian Guzman singled with two outs. Shannon Stewart then hit a bouncing ball to Boone deep behind third and just beat the throw, which was so long that Guzman, who was running on a full count, was able to move to third. Gardenhire then pinch-hit for Luis Rivas with rookie Michael Ryan, who promptly struck out on four pitches.

Leading off the bottom of the sixth, Doug Mientkiewicz hit a single to center which Bernie misplayed allowing him to go to second. Rivera was in a good position to back Bernie up this time, getting the ball back into the infield quickly, and Clemens got the next three men in order without Mientkiewicz advancing. The Twins went down in order in the next three innings and that was that. Yankees up 2-1.

Clemens didn't really give the Twins much of a chance and Mo, who pitched two more perfect innings to nail it down, gave them none. Kyle Lohse did a fair job over five innings, but didn't stand much of a chance against Clemens.

So on to heroes and goats:

Yankees' Heroes

Hideki Matsui hit the Yankees first postseason homer of 2003 and put them ahead for good.
Bernie Williams went 2 for 3, scoring the first run (on Matsui's homer) and driving in the third. Bernie's now hitting .500 for the series. He and Jeter (.400) are just amazing when October rolls around.
Juan Rivera deserves mention for going 3 for 3 off the right-handed Lohse (3 for 4 on the day), scoring the third run, and backing up Bernie in the field.
Roger Clemens yet another great start for the Yanks. Here's his line:
7 IP 5 H 1 ER 1 BB 6 K. He threw 99 pitches and probably could have pitched the eighth, maybe even the ninth, but Torre, as he admitted after the game, lost his courage.
Mariano Rivera for the second straight game Mo blew 'em away for a two-inning save. That's 12 up, 12 down for Mo in the playoffs thus far. Just like old times.

Yankees' Goats:
There really weren't any. Nick remains hitless, though he did pick up another walk. Jorge took another 0-fer and is now hitting .083 for the series. No bold for them today, though.

Twins' Heroes:
A.J. Pierzynski his homer accounted for the Twins' only scoring (hmmm, sounds like something I wrote about Game 2 -- weren't the Yankees supposed to be the team that did all it's scoring via the longball?).

Twins' Goats
Michael Ryan seems a bit unfair to jump on a rookie who had just one pinch-hit at bat, but he was also the only Twin in the game to bat with a man on third and he struckout.
Matthew LeCroy, Jacque Jones and Torii Hunter failed to advance Mientkiewicz who made it to second on a single and an error to lead off the sixth. Hunter, by the way, is 0-for-40-something career against Clemens. LeCroy went 0-for-4 with two Ks. Hunter 0-for-4 with one K. Jones 1-for-4 with 2 Ks. Really I should just list the Twins' offense as a whole with the exception of Pierzynski.

ONWARD . . .

Tomorrow the Twins go back to Santana in an effort to stay alive. Supposedly Johan's cramping in Game 1 was the result of dehydration. Apparently his nerves got the better of him the night before and he coughed up a few of his more recent meals. One wonders how the pressure of an elimination game in front of the home crowd will effect him (though once on the mound in the Bronx he didn't show his nerves). The Yanks go with Wells, which I think is a good move now that they're up one game in the series. Wells has a great history against the Twins both this year and prior (that perfect game thing, ya know). The Twins also struggle against lefties, as Andy helped demonstrate in Game 2. The way I see it, the worst case scenario is that Boomer gets pulled early for Contreras, who hasn't appeared yet in this series (actually, other than Rivera, the Yankee pen has seen very little action, which is just fine by me). I wouldn't be surprised to see the Yanks wrap it up tomorrow, though if I'm wrong, I've got a conciliation prize: two tickets to Game 5. Honestly, though, I'd rather see them take the series tomorrow than get to use my tickets (besides, if they win in four I get my money back).

posted by Cliff at 1:12 AM

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