Saturday, October 09, 2004

Breathing Room 

Remember when I said I'd be lucky if I could sit still for more than an inning or two of last night's Yankee-Twins ALDS Game 3? Well, for some reason I was strangely calm throughout the game. Perhaps it was the fact that I was too wrapped up in the drama of the Angels' comeback against the Red Sox when the game started. Perhaps it was just the ol' Spirit of '98 coursing through my veins like ice-water. Whatever it was, I was cool. Almost too cool.

Fortunately, so was Kevin Brown. While just a few weeks ago I said that I was not optimistic about Brown's return and would be perfectly happy to see the Yankees proceed without him as I felt they were perfectly capable of doing so, El Duque's sore shoulder has changed things considerably. The Yankees needed Brown to be healthy and effective if they were going to win anything this postseason. Thus last night's performance was huge, not only because it led to a victory that at the very least prevents the Twins from being able to clinch the series with Santana today, but because it established Brown as part of the rotation moving forward, should they be lucky enough to do so.

The raw numbers: 6 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 HR, 74 percent of 84 pitches for strikes. The one run came in the bottom of the first in the form of a 2-2 breaking ball that Brown hung in the zone (a hung breaking ball by Kevin brown is about thigh-high rather than the waist-high-or-higher of your typical hanging curve, partially because Brown doesn't throw a curve) to Jacque Jones, who promptly deposited it in the bleachers behind left-center. Add in a pair of scoreless innings from Paul Quantrill (with a one-batter assist from Felix Heredia on Justin Morneau) and that was all the Twins could muster over the first eight innings.

Meanwhile, the Yankees came right back to take the lead in the top of the second and never looked back. With two outs in the top of the second, five consecutive singles off Carlos Silva by Posada, Olerud, Cairo, Lofton and Jeter lead to three runs. Despite the 3-1 lead, by the time Bernie Williams followed a lead-off single by Hideki Matsui in the top of the sixth with a homer into the vampire seats above the baggy in right, I was starting to flip back and forth between the game and the debate. There was just an odd lack of suspense about the game. Bernie's homer was followed by another Posada single, which drove Silva from the game in favor of J.C. Romero, who then walked Olerud and was given the gift of an ill-advised Cairo sac bunt (when the first four men in an inning have reached base and two runs are already in don't give up the first out without a fight). Romero then struck out Kenny Lofton and yielded to Jesse Crain, who gve up a two-out, 2-RBI single to Derek Jeter to run the score to 7-1 Yanks.

Things just got ugly from there. In the bottom of the sixth, Torii Hunter singled past Alex Rodriguez at third. Hideki Matsui came in to field the ball but literally kicked the ball backwards toward center field. As Matsui ran after the ball, Hunter rounded second and headed toward third where a quick and accurate throw from Matsui nailed him by a good three feet. After Justin Morneau (who, by the way, has a delightful helicopter follow-through a la Fred McGriff) flied out to left, Corey Koskie singled to center where Bernie Williams was playing, having been switched just prior to game time with Kenny Lofton who wound up as the DH. Just as the Twins did twice successfully in the double header between these two teams in the Bronx a week or so ago, Koskie attempted to stretch the single into a double on Williams's weak arm and lazy maner of fielding singles, only to be thrown out by several feet by a perfect throw from Bernie. Thus, down by six runs, in desperate need of baserunners, and with the middle of the order up, the Twins two best all-around players ran into outs on the bases.

In the top of the sixth, Hideki Matsui launched a shot to the warning track in left center off of Terry Mulholland (no really, Terry Mulholland). Torii Hunter, as he is wont to do, tracked the ball down and caught it just short of the wall. However, straight off his humiliating out at third in the previous half inning, Hunter slammed into the wall in such a manner that the wrist of his glove hand hit the top of the wall, releasing the ball into the stands for an assisted home run. It was actually a scary moment as Hunter went down hard and appeared to be injured, but he remained in the game and seemed to be okay. Matsui, meanwhile, had rounded second and thought he had been called out. He started out of the baseline only to have the next batter, Bernie Williams, shout at him to finish his trot, signaling that he had hit a home run.

The Yankees got to share in the ugliness in the bottom of the ninth. Leading 8-1 entering the inning, Joe Torre decided to leave Heredia out there to face Corey Koskie and whomever else he could get out. Heredia's first pitch hit Koskie between the shoulder blades. His second pitch to the next batter, Lew Ford, hit him in the back foot. Torre then called on Tanyon Sturtze who quickly gave up a pair of singles to Cristian Guzman and Michael Cuddyer, scoring Koskie. Conscious of the importance of this game, Torre then reluctantly brought in Mariano Rivera to finish the job. (By the way, when I say reluctantly, I mean it. Torre made a series of faces that could only be described as Jeff-Weaver-like on his way out to hook Sturtze.) Mo retired the next three batters in order on ten pitches (seven strikes), though two more Twins scored in the process to make the final score 8-4.


Yankees' Heroes
Kevin Brown went a long way to make up for his broken left hand, potentially saving the Yankees season with six one-run innings and one less question mark for a potential ALCS match-up with the Red Sox.
Derek Jeter 3 for 5 with 3 RBIs and a stolen base.
Hideki Matsui maybe the home run wasn't really a home-run, but he did hit the dickens out of the ball, he also went 3 for 5 with an additional run scored.
Jorge Posada 2 for 4, started the Yankees' two-out rally in the second inning.
Bernie Williams just 1 for 5, but the one was a two-run homer, he also kept Matsui from negating his assisted homer in the seventh and threw out Koskie stretching, which may keep the Twins from trying that for the rest of the series.

Twins' Heroes
Jacque Jones 2 for 5 with a home run for the only run off of Kevin Brown.
Cristian Guzman 3 for 4 with a run scored and a stolen base

Yankees' Goats
Felix Heredia plunk, plunk, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is
Tanyon Sturtze in his defense, he threw 56 high-octane pitches on Wednesday night. His use last night was proof that Esteban Loaiza will not pitch in a game the Yankees are winning.
Alex Rodriguez 0 for 5, but he played solid defense and earned the 0-fer with his 6-for-10 performance in Games 1 and 2.

Twins Goats
Carlos Silva 5 IP, 10 H, 6 R, almost identical to his 5 IP, 9 H, 7 R performance in Minnesota against the Yanks in mid-August.
J.C. Romero came in and issued a walk, two batters later he was replaced by . . .
Jesse Crain came in and gave up a 2-RBI single
Torii Hunter 1 for 4, the one being erased by his attempt to stretch a double into a triple with his team down by six runs. Then in the next half inning he turned a Matsui double into a homer (though you can't fault him too much for that).
Justin Morneau 0 for 4


Pretty simple really. Tomorrow's game, with Johan Santana going against Javier Vazquez, is the Twins' to lose. Which is a shame, because the idea of such a match-up earlier in the season would have been fantastic. Sadly the two pitchers have gone in opposite directions since April, with Vazquez losing his command in the second half while Santana became utterly dominant. Vazquez will be working on eight day's rest after a decent, but not especially impressive start in the Bronx against these same Twins in what turned out to be the AL East clincher. His line from that game: 6 2/3, 7 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 2 HR, 71 percent of 95 pitches for strikes. Santana will be starting on three-days' rest for the first time in his major league career, having already thrown 76 1/3 more innings this year than last. Those two factors might give the Yankees a window of opportunity against the man they collected nine hits against in Game 1. Whether or not Vazquez can keep that window open remains to be seen. But even if not, the Yankees will get a second chance to knock off the Twins in the Bronx on Sunday with a fully rested Mike Mussina going against a short-rested Brad Radke. This is still a wide-open series, but for the first time, the Twins do not have the upper hand as the two consecutive Yankee wins have essentially negated the impact of Johan Santana.

posted by Cliff at 3:41 AM

Friday, October 08, 2004

Scary Sox 

Despte the fact that last night's ALDS Game between the Yankees and Twins was the most important game the Yankees had played all season (in a dead tie with Wednesday night's contest), it turned out to be only the third most compelling thing on television last night. The first, which I almost forgot about, was the second Presidential debate (and with that I leave that topic alone, at least for now). The second was the riveting contest between the Angels and Red Sox at Fenway.

When I nodded off on the train on my way home from work last night, the Red Sox were leading the Angels 5-1 after four, having driven Kelvim Escobar from the game down 3-1 in the fourth and plated two more runs charged to Escobar off reliever Scot Shields. When I stepped off the train in New Jersey, the Angels had loaded the bases in the top of the seventh on a pair of walks and a single, chasing Boston starter Bronson Arroyo and burning through Boston's lefty specialist Mike Myers and a significant portion of their own bench. Mike Timlin was pitching to Darin Erstad, whom he started off 0-2 only to walk him at the end of a seven pitch at-bat, forcing in a run to make it 6-2 with the bases still juiced and Vladimir Guerrero due up.

Listening to the ESPN radio broadcast as I walked home from the train station, I heard Guerrero take a mamoth hack at Timlin's first pitch and then drive his second over the Boston bullpen in right for a game-tying grand slam! It was all I could to to avoid hooting and hollering to my self on the dark suburban street I was traversing (actually, I did let out a hoot or two).

I arrived home, informed my girlfriend of the fantastic feet my ears had witnessed, gave her a kiss and flipped on the TV to watch Brendan Donnelly, Alan Embree, Keith Foulke and Frankie Rodriguez exchange zeros for a few innings. With Keith Foulke on in the ninth, Chone Figgins hit a one-out single that was followed up by a double by Darin Erstad. Erstad's double banged off the Green Monster, but Manny Ramirez deeked Figgins into believing he had a chance to catch it, forcing Figgins to pause at second and thus keeping him from scoring on the hit. With runners on second and third and one out, Foulke intentionally walked Guerrero to get to Garrett Anderson.

If Rodriguez was throwing nasty pitches (and he was--I just love to watch that guy pitch, with his goofy glasses, jerky motion, nasty stuff, and Gossage-like follow-through), Foulke did some of the nastiest pitching I've ever seen to retire Anderson and Troy Glaus to get out of the inning. Featuring his excellent change-up, Foulke busted them inside low, brushed them back inside high and got both batters (one left-handed, one right-handed, mind you) to look absolutely miserable on swinging strikes outside and low.

With that it was time to switch over to the Yankee game, but I have to confess, I was so wrapped up in the game at Fenway (rooting for the Angels to put a chink in the Red Sox armor, of course) that I found myself flipping back between pitches. Hey, great baseball is great baseball, and this, well, it was great baseball.

After a perfect inning by Rodriguez in the ninth, Francona went to Derek Lowe in the tenth. The Angels got another man to third in that inning on a one-out walk to Jose Molina, an Amezaga sac bunt, and an Eckstein infield single, but Chone Figgins (solid candidate for series goat, having gone 2 for 14 with a pair of costly errors) grounded out to end the inning.

In the bottom of the tenth, Rodriguez gave up a lead-off single to Johnny Damon (7 for 15 with a double and three stolen bases on the series), who was replaced at first on a failed sac bunt by Mark Bellhorn. Rodriguez then struck out Manny Ramirez on four pitches for the second out to bring David Ortiz (6 for 11 with five walks on the series) to the plate. With the lefty Ortiz up and Rodriguez having thrown 38 pitches after throwing 44 in Game 1 (just the second time all season he had surpassed 40 pitches, the first coming in the season's final week as the Angels chased down the A's), Mike Scioscia went to the only left-handed pitcher on his staff, Game 1's starter (and Kiefer Sutherland look-alike) Jarrod Washburn. Washburn got beat around in Game 1, lasting just 3 1/3 innings, but thus only throwing 79 pitches. He did, however, fail to retire Ortiz in either of the big man's at-bats, allowing a single and a walk to the Red Sox DH. In this game, he threw just one pitch, which Ortiz deposited over the Monster for an opposite-field, two-run, walk-off, series-winning home run.

And so it is that the Red Sox lie in wait for the winner of the Yankees-Twins series, something neither of those teams should be looking forward to, at least not as enthusiastically as the editorial staff Boston Herald cleary does.

As for Ortiz's homer, it's been widely presented as just the fifth series-ending walk-off home run in postseason history, which is true, but it was by far the least dramatic. In order of importance:

Bill Mazeroski (Pirates) off Ralph Terry (Yankees), solo, Game 7, 1960 World Series: Tie game, tied series, bottom of the ninth in an all-or-nothing game for both teams. Clinched the Pirates first Championship in 35 years. The ultimate backyard fantasy writ large. The only time it ever happened.

Aaron Boone (Yankees) off Tim Wakefield (Red Sox), solo, Game 7, 2003 ALCS: Tie game, tied series, bottom of the eleventh in a win-or-go-home game for both teams. The biggest moment in the history of the sport's greatest rivalry.

Chris Chambliss (Yankees) off Mark Littell (Royals), solo, Game 5, 1976 ALCS: Tie game, tied series, bottom of the ninth in a win-or-go-home game for both teams. The Yankees return to the World Series for the first time in 12 years and a brief but intense rivalry is born.

Joe Carter (Blue Jays) off Mitch Williams (Phillies), 3-run, Game 6, 1993 World Series: Blue Jays trailing by one in the game, but winning the series 3-2, bottom of the ninth. Yes this came in the World Series, and yes, this is the only homer on the list to overtake an existing lead by the opposing team, but if Williams had retired the Blue Jays, who were the defending World Champions at the time, they would have lived to play another day, albeit an all-or-nothing Game 7.

David Ortiz (Red Sox) off Jarrod Washburn (Angels), solo, Game 3, 2004 ALDS: Tie game, Red Sox winning the series 2-0. First off, this is the lowest round of any of the above mentioned, second it is the only home run that neither prevented a team from being eliminated or being forced into an elimination game. Cripes, the Angels had a lead for exactly 1/2 an inning in the entire series (middle Game 2).

Of course, this list of five fails to include Bobby Thompson's home run off Ralph Branca that lifted the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the bottom of the ninth of the final game of a three-game playoff in 1951 as tie-breaker playoffs are considered regular season games in baseball's record keeping. Thompson's shot was a 3-run shot that came with the Giants down by two runs. As there were no postseason games outside of the World Series at the time, this amounted to a best-2-out-of-3 NLCS. Thompson's home run sent the Giants to the World Series for the first time in 14 years and easily ranks above Boone's and possibly above Mazeroski's (I leave that to you).

posted by Cliff at 11:43 PM

Who's on first? 

Hey, anyone else notice that five of the eight division series games played thus far have ended in a score of either 8-3 or 9-3, including all four games of the Red Sox's and Cardinals' series? Just curious. Anyway . . .

Joe Torre has announced that he will put Kenny Lofton in centerfield tonight in Game 3, shifting Bernie Williams to DH and Ruben Sierra to the bench. This is a smart move on Torre's part, as Lofton is the superior fielder (this season he posted a 102 Rate to Bernie's 96). Playing on the quick turf of the Metrodome against the speedy Twins, the Yankees can't afford to have balls scooting by Bernie. Likewise, Lofton is exactly the kind of offensive player who can make good use of the slick turf and his own speed to help the Yankees at the plate. Sierra, meanwhile, went 0 for 8 with a walk in the first two games. True, he's a more dangerous hitter on the road and against righties (in Game 1 he made nothing but outs against the left-handed Santana), but having him available to pinch hit in a big spot doesn't hurt. Then again, Tony Clark is also better on the road vs. righties, and Torre's refusal to hit Clark for Cairo in the twelfth inning in Game 2 implies that there is no one in the current Yankee line-up for whom he would pinch-hit, save Olerud or Lofton against a lefty, which negates Clark and Sierra's strength anyway.

Meanwhile, Ron Gardenhire has made an announcement of his own that his starting pitcher for Game 4 will be Johan Santana. My initial reaction to this is that it's foolish of Gardenhire to commit to Santana for Game 4 prior to Game 3. Certainly, if the Twins lose tonight and are facing elimination tomorrow, they have to go with Santana. But if the Twins win tonight, they could start Lohse or Mulholland, or use both in tandem, tomorrow. If they were to then win Game 4 they'd have Santana rested to start Game 1 of the ALCS. Rather, by committing to Santana now they're guaranteeing that he won't be able to pitch before Game 3 of the ALCS (unless they used him on three-days' rest in consecutive starts by throwing him in Game 2). Of course that sets him up for a potential Game 7, but the Twins may never get to a Game 7 if they don't have Santana start Games 1 and 5 (just look at what happened with the Red Sox in the 1999 ALCS when they couldn't use Pedro until Game 3 and that turned out to be the only game they won in that series against the Yankees).

All of that said, Gardenhire's decision is a calculated risk. First, he's betting that Santana, who has already thrown 76 1/3 more innings this year than he did a year ago, will be more effective starting on three-days' rest in the controlled climate of the Metrodome than starting on regular rest on what could be a cold night in the Bronx. Second, he's giving the Twins two shots to win the series with their two best starters, Santana in Game 4 and Radke in Game 5, rather than use up one of those opportunities with his fourth best starter on the mound.

This brings us to the fact that Joe Torre is expected to announce his Game 4 starter this afternoon with Javier Vazquez expected to be named over the still sore-shouldered El Duque. If the Yankees lose tonight and have to face Santana tomorrow and don't send Mike Mussina to the mound on short rest in Game 4, both Torre and Mussina should be run out of town on a rail.

That said, hopefully the Yankees will make the majority of preceding three paragraphs moot by pulling out another win tonight in a game that is every bit as much of a must win as Game 2. Either way, I'll be lucky if I can sit still for more than an inning or two of tonight's game.

posted by Cliff at 1:35 PM

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Don't look now 

But the Red Sox have taken a 2-0 lead on the Anaheim Angels, outscoring them 17-6 behind a pair of solid, though not phenomenal starts from Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez. This is rarefied territory for the accursed Sox. They've not held a two-game lead in any of their eight postseason series since they started the 1986 World Series by taking two from the Mets. The last time the Sox were up 2-0 in a best of five series was when they were on their way to a 3-0 sweep of the Oakland A's in the 1975 ALCS, which remains the only postseason series sweep out of the nineteen postseason series in Red Sox history. The Red Sox last two-game lead in a postseason series before 1975? A 2-1 lead on the Cubs entering Game 4 of the World Series in 1918. The Sox had two-game leads in all four of their World Series in the 1910s. The 1986 World Series marks the only time in Sox history in which they lost a series that they at one point lead by two games.

The Angels will send Kelvim Escobar to the mound tomorrow to try to hold on against Bronson Arroyo. If necessary, Game 4 should see John Lackey face off against Tim Wakefield. Lackey and Escobar were the Angels two best starters in September (2.82 and 3.10 ERAs respectively), which means the Angels have a chance to push the series to the limit, but taking three straight against this Red Sox team is not a task I would wish upon any club.

posted by Cliff at 2:17 PM

Heart attack 

Having lost game one to Johan Santana on Tuesday night, the Yankees were in a must-win situation last night, needing a win to avoid having to beat Santana in his second start and sweep the remainder of the series in order to move on. The Yankees eventually defeated the Twins 7-6 in twelve innings, but despite the favorable result, I didn't enjoy the game much at all. Rather I spent most of the game pacing in front of my television, fidgeting, pulling my hair and causing myself undue internal distress.


Jon Lieber takes the ball in his first postseason start for what is easily the most important game he's ever pitched. Things start well as Shannon Stewart flies out and Torii Hunter grounds into a fielder's choice following a Jacque Jones single, but then Justin Morneau drives Lieber's first offering into the corner in deep right. The ball takes an unexpected bounce off the exposed concrete below the outfield wall's padding, causing Gary Sheffield to stumble before firing the ball to Cairo, whose relay to Posada at home is high and too late to catch the streaking Hunter who comes around with the game's first run. The Yankees avoid further trouble when Posada comes down with the ball and fires to Alex Rodriguez to nail Morneau trying to stretch at third to end the inning.

Already trailing in a must-win game before they've had a single turn at bat, the Yankees lead off with Derek Jeter. I'd like to say I know before he does it that he's going to hit a lead-off home run, but it's more accurate to say I hope he will. Indeed, Jeter crushes Radke's 1-1 offering into the black batters eye in dead center, an absolutely mamoth shot for Jeter, who usually pokes his home runs the opposite way into the short porch in right. Jeter becomes the third player to hit a postseason home run into the black, the first being Reggie Jackson with the third of his three home runs in Game 6 in 1977, the second being Jay Buhner in the 2001 ALCS. After infield outs by Rodriguez and Sheffield, a Hideki Matsui walk and a Bernie Williams double put runners on second and third, but Jorge Posada pops out on the first pitch he sees to end the inning. Tie game.

Undetered, the Twins come right back on a five-pitch walk to Corey Koskie, a one-out Cristian Guzman single, an RBI single by Michael Cuddyer and a sac fly by Henry Blanco to take a 3-1 lead.

After Radke and Lieber exchange 1-2-3 innings, the Yankees come right back in the bottom of the third. With one out, Rodriguez singles on the first pitch he sees, bringing Gary Sheffield to the plate. Sheffield blasted two foul balls into the upper deck in left before grounding out in his first at-bat. This time up he works the count to 2-1 and then crushes a homer to left field that gets out so quickly it actually warps space-time and lands in the stands before Sheffield hits it. Tie game.

A two-out Olerud double in the fourth and a lead-off Cuddyer single in the fifth go for naught and the game enters the bottom of the fifth still tied at three. Then, with one out, Alex Rodriguez lanches a first-pich homer into the net over Ron Guidry's number to put the Yankees up 4-3.

In the sixth, Torii Hunter singles with one out and steals second despite being picked off (Lieber stayed on the rubber and threw to first and Hunter beat the relay to second), only to be stranded by Lieber. Radke returns the favor on a two-out walk to and stolen base by Ruben Sierra (!) in the bottom of the sixth.

Despite giving up three runs in the first two innings, by the time the seventh rolls around it's clear that Lieber has done his job. He's held the Twins scoreless over the previous four frames, allowing just two singles and no walks over that span. What's more, he's needed just 70 pitches to get through six, 69 percent of them going for strikes.

The Yankees are nursing a slim one-run lead when Ron Gardenhire pinch-hits Jose Offerman for Henry Blanco with a runner on second (via a one-out single and a groundout) and two outs in the seventh. At that, Joe Torre comes out to pat Lieber on the behind and bring in Tom Gordon. Gordon falls behind Offerman 2-0 before the man formerly known as JosE6 lifts a blooper into shallow right that Miguel Cairo chases down and catches in stride with a Statue of Liberty pose to end the inning and preserve the lead.

And how many times does it happen . . . a man makes a great play to end an inning and winds up leading off the next one? {/broadcasting cliches} Cairo then leads off the bottom of the seventh with a full count walk and is bunted over to second by Jeter (this is one situation in which I support a Jeter sac bunt). Alex Rodriguez then bows at the waist to reach a 0-1 pitch on the outside corner, looping it into left center for an RBI single, padding the Yankee lead to 5-3.

So the Yankees enter the eighth with a two run lead, Tom Gordon on the mound, and Mariano Rivera warming up in the bullpen (though disturbingly, he's doing so next to Esteban Loaiza, who has about as much reason to be on the Yankees postseason roster as I do). Gordon starts the inning by getting Shannon Stewart to fly out to right to end a tough eight-pitch at-bat. He then strikes out Jacque Jones on four pitches.

. . . but strike three, which is low and away, gets away from Posada and rolls all the way to the backstop. Jones reaches first safely and Torii Hunter follows with a single to put runners on first and second with just one out. Not messing around, Joe Torre brings in Mariano Rivera to face lefties Justin Morneau and Corey Koskie.

Morneau, however, turns on Rivera's first pitch, dropping a single in front of a charging Sheffield in shallow right. Sheffield has to slide to trap the ball and keep it from going by him. His momentum kicks the ball out in front of him and while this is going on, Jones, who had struck out, scores and Torii Hunter goes to third (though in Sheffield's defense, they likely would have wound up doing so if he had played it cleanly). Rivera quickly gets ahead of Koskie 0-2, but Koskie battles back to run the count full. After ball three, Gardenhire sends Luis Rivas in to run for Morneau at first and sends the runners. Koskie then laces Rivera's eighth pitch down the left field line for a double. Fortunately for the Yankees, the ball bounds into the stands and Rivas is forced to hold at third, but Hunter nonetheless scores the tying run, making this Rivera's third blown save in 33 postseason opportunities (the others being '97 vs. Cleveland and '01 vs. Arizona).

Having gotten that out of his system, Rivera then strikes out Jason Kubel on three pitches and needs just three more to get Cristian Guzman to ground back to him on an 0-2 count.

With the game tied, Gardenhire turns to Juan Rincon who sets the Yankees down in order in the bottom of the eighth. Rivera returns the favor in the ninth, and Rincon serves it right back. Joe Torre then turns to Tanyon Sturtze, who, alarmingly, was the best remaining bullpen option with Gordon and Rivera done for the night. Sturtze walks Matt LeCroy (hitting for Rivas) with two outs but otherwise inflicts no damange in the tenth. Gardenhire, in turn, goes to his ace closer in the bottom of the tenth. Joe Nathan works a perfect tenth and Sturtze pitches around a one-out, four-pitch walk to Cristian Guzman, who moves to second on a passed ball that goes through Posada's legs, in the eleventh. Nathan walks Bernie on five pitches in the bottom of the inning, but otherwise returns serve to Sturtze who strikes out Shannon Stewart and gets Jacque Jones to pop out to Cairo to start the twelfth. Torii Hunter then steps to the plate and crushes a 1-0 pitch over the wall in left to put the Twins up 6-5. Matt LeCroy follows with a single and Koskie with a five-pitch walk. Torre then gives the ball to Paul Quantrill, who gets Jason Kubel to ground out for the final out.

So here we are, in a game that looked like it would be over by 9:30, a game in which the Yankees handed Gordon and Rivera a two-run lead in the eighth, the Twins are winning 6-5 in the bottom of the twelfth and it's already past 11:00. Joe Nathan, whose top single-game pitch count this season was 33, has already thrown 32 pitches, but despite having Jesse Crain and J.C. Romero warming in the bullpen, Gardenhire elects to stay with his relief ace.

Nathan makes Gardy look good by striking out John Olerud to start the inning. With Miguel Cairo due up, I'm convinced Torre should pinch-hit Tony Clark, who has slugged .553 against righties with a .291 GPA this season, but Joe sticks with Cairo. The move works as Nathan, now up to 37 pitches, quickly loses his control, walking Cairo on five pitches including four straight balls. Jeter also watches four straight balls go by, bringing Alex Rodriguez to the plate with the tying and winning runs on first and second and one out.

Gardenhire sticks with Nathan, who throws his ninth straight ball to Rodriguez before taking a gimme strike to even the count. Rodriguez then leans out over the plate once again and drives Nathan's fourty-ninth pitch deep into the power alley between left and center. Despite Shannon Stewart's best efforts, the ball bounces off the warning track and over the wall. Incredibly, in the same way the Twins were prevented from taking the lead in the ninth by a ground rule double, the Yankees are here as Jeter is forced to hold at third. The ball bounces back onto the field to would-be Twins hero Torii Hunter, who furiously fires the offending orb out of the park.

With the winning run just 90 feet from home, Gardenhire wisely has Nathan walk Gary Sheffield and calls on lefty J.C. Romero to pitch to Hideki Matsui. Matsui offers at Romero's first pitch lining it to medium-depth right field. Without hesitation, Derek Jeter tags up and heads home. Jacque Jones, however, fails to set himself properly for the throw, instead flipping the ball to the cuttoff man, who fires to home as Jeter slides in safely and bounces up to celebrate a hard-earned 7-6 Yankee victory with his teammates.

Yankees' Heroes
Alex Rodriguez had a huge game, going 4 for 6 with a homer, a double, three RBIs and two runs scored. His game-tying ground rule double in the twelfth was the biggest hit of the game.
Derek Jeter 1 for 4 with a walk, an RBI and two runs scored. Jeter started the game for the Yankees by hitting a lead-off home run. More than four hours later he finished it by scoring the winning run.
Gary Sheffield 1 for 5, but the one was a two-run homer that tied the game at 3.
Miguel Cairo made a game-saving catch to end the seventh inning, he also walked twice, coming around to score both times, the second time scoring the tying run in the bottom of the twelfth.
Jon Lieber despite his early struggles, he pitched almost as well as Mussina on Tuesday, getting the job done with the following line: 6 2/3 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 65 percent of 78 pitches for strikes.

Twins' Heroes
Torii Hunter 3 for 6 with an RBI and three runs scored. Hunter scored the tying run in the eighth, then hit what could have been a game-winning homer in the top of the twelfth.
Justin Morneau 2 for 4 with 2 RBI. Doubled in the first to drive in the first Twins run, then singled off Mariano Rivera's first pitch in the eighth, a key hit in the Twins ralley. Gardenhire was a fool to pinch run for him, as his spot in the order came around two more times.
Corey Koskie 1 for 4 with two walks and RBI and a run scored, that one hit was huge as it drove in Hunter to tie the game in the eighth. On the list with Luis Gonzalez and Sandy Alomar Jr. as the only men to erase a Rivera save opportunity in the postseason.
Juan Rincon pitched two key innings, striking out four, throwing 70 percent of 33 pitches for strikes

Yankees' Goats
Mariano Rivera imagine, Mo as a postseason goat! Rivera actually lowered his near-invisible postseason ERA with 1 2/3 "scoreless" innings, but he gave up two key hits to Morneau and Koskie that allowed the Twins to tie the game in the eighth. Fortunately, he recovered to retire the last five men he faced and finish with 80 percent of his 25 pitches having gone for strikes.
Jorge Posada the pitch that allowed Jacque Jones to reach base rather than become the second out of the eighth inning was ruled a wild pitch by Tom Gordon, but that combined with an actual passed ball in the eleventh and Posada's 0 for 5 showing at the plate earns him a pair of horns.
Tanyon Sturtze the Yankee stadium crowd gave him an ovation despite his almost losing the game, but don't you be fooled, Sturtze walked three and gave up two hits in 2 2/3 innings and only half of his 56 pitches went for strikes. Most importantly, he almost lost the game by allowing Hunter's twelfth inning home run.
Ruben Sierra his second 0 for 4 in as many nights, though at least he drew a walk last night. I don't know what to make out of his stolen base. Sierra has just four stolen bases in parts of four seasons with the Yankees, one each in 1996, '97, '03 and '04.

Twins' Goats
Brad Radke, Bradke blew it: 6 1/3 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 0 K, 3 HR
Ron Gardenhire it seems unfair to blame Joe Nathan for falling apart in his third inning of work when he's never gone that far all season, rather blame Gardenhire, who after the game admited to his mistake, but also said something along the lines of "I didn't like my other options very much either," which was meant in his own defense, but if I were Jesse Crain, J.C. Romero or Terry Mulholland I would take offense.
Jacque Jones so what was with his lame attempt to throw out Jeter anyway? Add that game-losing defensive play to a 1 for 6 night with three strikeouts and one run scored that came only because he reached on a K.
Shannon Stewart nice to finally see him on this side of things, 0 for 6 with no walks, ouch.
Jason Kubel the rookie who started the year in AA got three hits off Lieber one week ago, but last night went 0 for 6 with two Ks.


I'll be happy to have a day off for my nerves today. The probelm is that tomorrow night's game is every bit as much of a must-win as last night's was. The Yanks will send Kevin Brown to the hill against Carlos Silva. Silva, a groundball pitcher who ranks with Radke and Lieber among the five stingiest pitchers in the AL when it comes to bases on balls, was roughed up by the Yanks for seven runs on nine hits in five innings in the Metrodome back on August 19, but he's not allowed more than two runs in any of his seven starts since then.

Kevin Brown, who earns the start over the still questionable El Duque, calmed some concerns about his effectiveness with five one-hit innings against the Blue Jays last Saturday, allowing just one unearned run. He did however walk two while striking out but two Jays and throwing only 56 percent of his 73 pitches for strikes. The good news is that Brown didn't appear to tire before being removed from that game. In his final inning he struck out Gabe Gross on three pitches and needed just eight (seven strikes) to retire the side in order.

If the Yankees can win tomorrow they can afford to drop Game 4 to Santana and take another shot at Radke in the Bronx on Sunday. If they lose, they'll have to beat Santana to save their season. That makes Game 3 a must-win if I ever saw one.

posted by Cliff at 1:02 AM

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Reading Material 

I'm stressed out to the point of distraction over tonight's must-win game at the Stadium. When I get like this, rather than try to divert my attention from baseball, I find it helpful to read as much as possible about the issue in question, to engage my mind rather than let my emotions run wild. In doing so this morning I was particularly moved by the following:

Amid his Game 1 summary over at the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog, Larry Mahnken lets Joe Torre have it over his failure to give opportunities and postseason rosters spots to fringe players, such as Colter Bean and Steve Karsay, who might actually have been useful. Readers of the BRB know that I'm with Larry 100 percent on this subject.

Steven Goldman sings a similar song as he reviews the match-ups heading into the ALDS in the latest Pinstriped Bible, leading to a prediction that helps my nerves not at all.

On the Twins side of thing, Bat Girl's game summary is ample evidence of why everyone is in love with the Girl.

That post is also worthwhile for leading to some sharp criticism of FOX's baseball broadcasts from Bat Girl herself, and's Phillip Michaels. The latter, an article inspired by Michaels' viewing of the seventh game of the 2002 World Series, is particularly delightful.

posted by Cliff at 1:38 PM

Just little bits of history repeating 

After the Cardinals and Red Sox took the first games of their respective series by six runs each, it was left to the Twins and Yankees to provide some compelling postseason drama. Their response was a error-free, 2-0 pitchers duel that played out almost exactly as one might have expected.

Game One of the 2004 ALDS was played on a crisp autumn night in the Bronx. Armed with a 44 ounce coke (no ice) and a hot Italian sausage (both of which cost a quarter or two more than they did during the regular season), I took in the festivities from box 604 in the upper deck behind home. Following the player introductions, during which Felix Heredia was booed and Tanyon Sturtze received a surprising cheer, Gary Sheffield's wife, DeLeon, sang the national anthem and Yogi Berra threw the first pitch high and outside to John Flaherty. The highlight of the introductions for me was seeing Don Mattingly introduced in a postseason game at Yankee Stadium for just the third time in his career as a player and now a coach. After the players returned to the dugout, Mattingly could be seen exchanging unique and elaborate handshakes with each of the Yankee batters, who took turns approaching him for the ritual.

As for the game itself, it was the pitchers duel many of us had hoped for. Both starters went seven innings. Mussina allowed seven hits and struck out seven, Santana nine and struck out five, both walked just one. It seemed they were matching each other pitch-for-pitch (95 for Mussina, 93 for Santana, 68 percent strikes for both), but there was one key difference. Mussina allowed two runs, Santana none.

In the top of the third, Michael Cuddyer, starting for the injured Luis Rivas, singled to right. Henry Blanco bunted him to second and Shannon Stewart singled him home for the first Twins run. Stewart and Cuddyer were the only Twins with multiple hits on the night, each had two.

The Yankees, meanwhile, were getting men on base against Santana at a surprising rate (11 in seven innings), but fell victim to five rally-killing double plays.

Derek Jeter lead off the bottom of the first by flying out to center on Santana's first pitch. Alex Rodriguez followed with an infield single that evaded Santana and Cuddyer, echoing Shannon Stewart's infield single to Rodriguez that started the game in the top of the inning. Gary Sheffield followed with a four pitch walk. For the first time the side scoreboards at the stadium (or "lightning boxes" as Jay Jaffe calls them) featured pitch speed. Since Santana's primary pitches are a fastball and a change-up that differ by about 20 miles per hour, this was tremendously helpful to my understanding of last night's game, and it seemed to me that Santana was having trouble throwing his change-up for strikes, at least early on. The four-pitch walk to Sheffield likely resulted from a combination of this difficulty and his reluctance to throw one of the game's best fastball hitters a fastball.

Following Sheffield, Bernie Williams came back from an 0-2 hole to work the count full. Bernie battled Santana for eight pitches, but on the ninth he took a borderline pitch that was called strike three despite the fact that Torre had put on the hit-and-run. Rodriguez was thrown out at third by a good 40 feet and the resulting double play ended the inning at a time when it seemed unlikely that the Yankees would be in so advantageous a position again any time soon.

As it turns out, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui lead off the bottom of the second with back-to back singles. A Ruben Sierra fly-out to left moved Posada to third, bringing John Olerud to the plate. Down 0-2, Olerud flied out to center, but not particularly deep. Luis Sojo sent Posada anyway and Torii Hunter let loose a perfect throw that nailed Jorge at home by several steps, killing the Yankee rally with the second inning-ending double play in as many innings. For what it's worth, I think it was a good send. Miguel Cairo was due to bat next with two outs and anything other than a perfect throw would have meant a 1-0 Yankee lead with Mussina having retired six in a row and Santana more likely to slam the door than leave it open. As if to prove Luis Sojo right, Cairo struck out swinging to lead off the third.

A one-out Derek Jeter single in the third went uncashed, as did a lead-off single by Bernie Williams in the fourth, the latter erased by a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of Jorge Posada. Hideki Matsui, batting sixth against the lefty Santana despite looking good against him for the second time in one-week's time, followed Posada's DP in the fourth with a double just to make the double play sting all the more. Matsui himself was stranded by an inning-ending Sierra groundout.

John Olerud lead off the fifth by working the count to 3-1 before getting drilled in the shoulder by a Santana pitch that looked like several of the high-and-outside change-ups he had thrown to righties earlier in the game. Cario the struck out for the second time in as many at-bats and Jeter grounded into a 6-4-3 of his own to end the inning.

Mike Mussina got through the top of the fifth on nine pitches and from the last out of the fourth through the first out of the sixth struck out four of the five batters he faced. The sixth batter in that sequence, Jacque Jones, swung and missed at strike one and then lifted a surprising solo homer just over the wall in left. Mussina would pitch around a single and stolen base by Torii Hunter and his only walk of the game to finish the inning. Jones's home run would be the last run scored in the game.

The Yankees got two more baserunners off Santana in the sixth via a Rodriguez single, a Sheffield fielder's choice that looked like it would be the third 6-4-3 in as many innings before Sheffield beat the throw at first, and a two-out Posada single. Matsui, perhaps pressing after the many missed Yankee opportunities earlier in the game, then reverted to his 2003 form and grounded out to second to end the inning.

In the bottom of the seventh, Ruben Sierra blasted a 1-1 Santana pitch to left field for what looked like a home run. Third Base Umpire Mike Everitt initially ruled the ball a homer and Sierra circled the bases while Santana and catcher Henry Blanco screamed their heads off. To the my naked eye looking from behind home, the ball appeared to disappear behind the left-field foul pole, meaning it was fair. But Sterling and Steiner on WCBS said that the ball was clearly foul on the replays and the umpires conferred and correctly reversed the call. Sierra then took a ball and struck out swinging. Miguel Cairo raised the hopes of Yankee fans with a two-out double, but Derek Jeter grounded out to end the inning.

With that the game was placed in the hands of the top two men in the two bullpens. Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera each pitched a perfect inning for the Yankees. Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez rocketed Juan Rincon's first pitch in the bottom of the eighth to the top of the adidas ad in deep right center only to have Torii Hunter do like he does and snag the ball at the top of the wall for an out. Gary Sheffield followed with his second four-pitch walk of the night, but one final 6-4-3 Twin killing, this off the bat of Bernie Williams, ended the inning. Joe Nathan needed just ten pitches to induce three flyouts to end the game in the ninth, the only inning in which a Yankee did not reach base.

Ignoring the key category of runs, the Yankee's top three pitchers outpitched the top three Twin hurlers ever so slightly:

Yankees: 9 IP, 7 H, 1 BB, 8 K, 71 percent of 120 pitches for strikes
Twins: 9 IP, 9 H, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 HBP, 65 percent of 113 pitches for strikes

But the runs are the only thing that counts.


Twins' Heroes
Torii Hunter - threw out Posada at home to save one run, then robbed Rodriguez at the wall to save what was likely another, he saved the game with his defense and added a single and a stolen base for good measure.
Johan Santana - 7 IP, 0 R, and the win, the only stats that count.
Shannon Stewart - 2 for 4, drove in the first Twins run.
Jacque Jones - 1 for 4, solo homer for the only other Twins run just two days after his father died young at age 52.
Michael Cuddyer - 2 for 3, scored the Twins first run (though he was also caught stealing to wipe out the second single).
Joe Nathan - worked the only perfect inning by a Twins pitcher to save the game.

Yankees' Heroes
Alex Rodriguez 2 for 4 with a pair of singles, but was robbed by Hunter of an extra base hit and possible home run in the eighth.
Jorge Posada 2 for 4 and the only Yankee to reach third base, also threw out Michael Cuddyer stealing with one out in the seventh (though Jorge did ground into one of the double plays, his was the only one that didn't end an inning).
Hideki Matsui 2 for 4
Gordon & Rivera you can't really be a hero pitching in relief with your team behind if they don't come back to at least tie, but Mo and Tommy worked two perfect innings throwing 20 of 25 pitches for strikes (80 percent), that has to be recognized.

Twins' Goats
Torii Hunter's wall-climbing and another 6-4-3 saved Juan Rincon from the bold type here. Otherwise, there are no candidates.

Yankees' Goats
Mike Mussina hard luck here. Moose pitched like an ace, but in the playoffs, when the opposing starter puts up zeros, you have to as well. Moose allowed two runs and gets the horns for Game One.
Ruben Sierra 0 for 4, the only Yankee not to reach base. Also the only one to touch home, but it didn't count when he did.
Bernie Williams 1 for 4, took a called strike three with the hit-and-run on to start an inning ending strike-em-out-throw-em-out DP in the first with runners on first and second, grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 DP in the eighth.
Derek Jeter 1 for 4 with a inning-ending double play in the fifth and a groundout with two out and Cairo on second in the seventh.


On this occasion a year ago I wrote the following in this portion of my ALDS Game 1 summary:
The Yankees need to win [Game 2]. Being down 0-2 after the first two at home is bad enough (yes the Yanks have overcome that in the past, but this is not that team), but being down 0-2 and heading to the Metrodome with it's deafening noise, mysterious air conditioning, artificial turf and baseball-colored roof is baaaaaaad. Plus, since he only threw 59 pitches today, they're sure to see Santana again in the second game in Minnesota.

I'm more confident about the Yankees general level of play this year, such that the environs of the Metrodome are less intimidating to me, but the core message of the above applies in spades. With another Santana start assured should this series go four or five games, the Yankees need to win when Johan is not on the mound. That makes tonight's game a true must-win. It will be no easy task with Brad Radke pitching like Mussina of late, but since early August Jon Lieber has been excellent when pitching at Yankee Stadium.

One week ago, the Twins collected ten hits and four runs (though just two were earned due to a Knoblauchian throwing error by Lieber) in 5 2/3 innings against Lieber, meanwhile the Yankees picked up a pair of runs on six hits and a pair of walks in five innings of Radke. I'll be watching most of tomorrow night's game alone, curled up in a fetal position on my couch. If the Yankees lose tomorrow it would take a momentum shift of seismic (or perhaps just 2001-level) proportions for them to win this series.


Here's a photo from my seat last night taken in the top of the sixth after Jones' homer as Mussina deals to Morneau with Hunter leading of first.

posted by Cliff at 1:20 AM

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Rosters n' Flashbacks 

Check out the Yankees and Twins postseason rosters over at Transaction Guy.

The Yankees will have a bench of Lofton/Sierra, Clark, Wilson, Flaherty and Crosby. Giambi did not make it. All five Yankee starters made the roster, with a bullpen of Mo, Go, Quantrill, Sturtze, Heredia and . . . Esteban Loaiza?! That's inexcusable. Meanwhile Brad "LOOGY" Halsey and Steve Hearsay (according to Torre) have to watch from the sidelines. Hell, I'd take Proctor or Prinz, even Nitkowski over Loaiza. Awful, and a direct echo of Jeff Weaver's inclusion one year ago. It's bad enough to know Torre's about to make a bad move. It's so much worse to see him actually make it.

The Twins meanwhile have a bench of Cuddyer/Rivas, Kubel, LeCroy, Offerman, Ojeda, and Pat Borders, who I didn't even know was eligible, but will serve as catching insurance as the Twins appear unwilling to let LeCroy catch, though having him don the tools of ignorance would boost their offense considerably. In the pen they have Nathan, Rincon, Romero, Crain, Balfour and either Mulholland or Lohse, with the other potentially starting Game 4.

I'm off to the Stadium with a ticket for a seat right behind home in the upper deck. Those looking for more to read in anticipation of the game, check out the Yankee and Twin blogs listed on the side bar, or check out some of my posts from a year ago:

Super half-assed ALDS Preview
Game One: Twins beat Moose and the Yankees despite Santana leaving with cramps
Game Two: Pettitte beats Radke, Gardenhire blames Ronan Tynan
Game Three: Clemens, Yanks roll into the Metrodome
Game Four: Yanks beat Santana, who again leaves early, win series 3-1

posted by Cliff at 5:33 PM

ALDS Preview: Yankees vs. Twins 

Just over one year ago, the AL East Champion New York Yankees and AL Central Champion Minnesota Twins kicked off a best-of-five ALDS in Yankee Stadium with a pitching match-up of Mike Mussina against Johan Santana. Prior to that game, I summarized the differences between the two teams this way:

Yankees strengths: offense, starting pitching
Twins strengths: defense, bullpen

Indeed, bad defense by the Yankees and good defense by the Twins combined with a stellar performance by the now-departed LaTroy Hawkins out of the bullpen gave Game One to the Twins. The Yankees then stomped the Twins in the next three with their superior starting pitching and offense.

This time around, some things have changed. According to defensive efficiency, the Yankees are actually the better defensive team this year. Meanwhile, the Twins one-two punch of Johan Santana and Brad Radke gives Minnesota an advantage over the series of question marks set to start for the Yankees. Others (Twins still have the better pen, Yanks still have the better bats) have not. What this means is that these teams are much more evenly matched this postseason than they were a year ago. What this year's series boils down to is strength (Yankee bats) against strength (Twin pitching) and weakness (Yankee pitching) against weakness (Twin bats).

Let's first take a look at how much of a lead the Yankees have on offense using my methods from the Red Sox comparison I did a week or so ago.

The Yankees have an indisputable advantages at the heart of their order. The Twins' 2-4 hitters, Jacque Jones (.249 GPA), Lew Ford (.283) and Justin Morneau (.287) just can't hang with Alex Rodriguez (.297), Gary Sheffield (.314) and Hideki Matsui (.306), despite the fact that Ford and Morneau represent an improvement over the heart of last year's Twins order.

Elsewhere things are closer, but still tend to fall the Yankees way. Dig:

Derek Jeter (.275) falls a bit short of Shannon Stewart (.283) on the year due to a OBP deficit. But in the second half we get this:

Jeter: .307/.370/.495 (.290)
Stewart: .310/.369/.469 (.283)

Jeter had a much hotter September than Stewart, who struggled with hamstring problems, but Stewart tends to do well against the Yankees (10 for 14 with 5 extra-base hits in Minnesota in August), and was the only Twin to produce at the plate in last years ALDS (6 for 15 with two walks and two doubles). Then again, Jeter also steals bases at an 85 percent clip. Stewart is no longer a threat to steal (6 for 9 on the year). Slight advantage Jeter, but essentially even.

Torii Hunter (.267) and Bernie Williams (.268) are an even closer match. Bernie was a tad better in the second half (.267 to 264) and had a better September (though both outperformed their season numbers in September). Bernie consistently gets on base more often than Hunter and occasionally slugs with him to take the lead. Hunter steals bases, but at an even 75 percent clip, which neither helps nor hurts. Slight edge Bernie, but not by much. (Twins fans calm down, we're not involving defense in this discussion)

Jorge Posada (.300) beats out Corey Koskie (.278) pretty convincingly on the season, but Koskie closed the gap (.285 to Posada's .287) in the second half. That said, Jorge out-hits him in both halves of every split (home/road, right/left). Koskie's put the hurt on the Yanks this season (6 for 10, HR, 2B). Still, this one goes to Posada easy.

John Olerud (.255) has an even stronger lead on Christian Guzman (.235), as well he'd better. The only exception here is that Guzman has the most extreme advantage among the Twins regulars batting at home. In the Metrodome Guzman has a .266 GPA, which makes him a slightly better hitter than Olerud has been on the road this season (.262). With the conditions reversed, however, Olerud has an even larger lead on Guzman than that indicated by their overall season numbers.

Similarly, Henry Blanco's .209 GPA would make it seem as if anyone the Yankees put opposite him (likely either Lofton-.254 or Sierra-.247) would win the nine-hole by a mile. But Blanco has put up a .251 GPA on the road, beating Sierra's Yankee Stadium line (.230 GPA) across the board. Lofton, however still wins out (.270 GPA at home), as do the Yankees here. Blanco, incidentally is 0 for 1 with a walk lifetime at Yankee Stadium.

Lastly, there's the eighth spot in the orders, which is filled by the second baseman from each team. If that man for the Twins is Luis Rivas (.235), Miguel Cairo (.260) and the Yankees win the spot outright. However, Rivas missed most of September with an elbow injury and is not expected to start until Game 3, when his defense will be needed behind sinkerballing Carlos Silva. That promotes Michael Cuddyer (.263) to this spot. Cuddyer was significantly better than Cairo in the second half (.292 to .255), despite Cairo wasting him with a sensational September. If Gardenhire sticks with Cuddyer for all but Game 3, I'll give this spot to the Twins.

Thus the Twins take the eighth spot, lose tie-breakers for lead-off and the five spot and the Yankees win the other six places in the order, frequently by a significant distance. Is the Yankee hitting significantly better than the Twins'? Yes. Is the Twins pitching significantly better than the Yankees'? Well . . .

Each team has two sure-thing starters who will be going in Games 1 and 2. The difference being that "sure thing" for the Twins means "likely to win" and "sure thing" for the Yankees means "95 percent chance of lasting five innings." Actually that's not entirely fair. Since returning from the DL in mid-august, Mike Mussina has been a tad better than Brad Radke, which is saying something. Check out their September lines:

Radke: 1.97 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 5.63 K/9, 1.69 BB/9
Moose: 1.75 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 9.75 K/9, 1.50 BB/9

The problem is that Mussina won't be facing Radke. He'll be facing Johan Santana, who has put up this line since the All-Star break:

1.18 ERA, 0.74 ERA, 11.23 K/9, 1.99 BB/9

In September he was even better (0.25 ERA, 0.66 WHIP, 12.09 K/9, no home runs).

Santana is pitching as well as a pitcher can pitch right now, alternating a 95-plus mile-per-hour fastball with a sub 80-MPH change-up and a hard slider. He's flat unhittable and has been drawing comparisons to Pedro Martinez and Sandy Koufax at their peaks. Thus, Mussina has to try to match zeros to even keep up. The good news is that he's facing the much weaker Twins offense. The bad news is that, in his last start, that weaker Twins offense got eleven men on base in Mussina's six innings of work. More troubling, after four flat-out dominating starts to start September, Mussina settled down some in his last two starts (the second coming at home against the Twins), posting this line: 12 IP, 12 H, 6 R, 3 HR, 7 BB, 9 K.

With Mussina going in Game One, Brad Radke, owner of the stellar line above, will be facing Jon Lieber. Lieber's managed to hang close to Radke since the break, but still trails him:

Lieber: 3.99 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.04 K/9, 1.23 BB/9, 6.77 IP/GS
Radke: 3.49 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 5.58 K/9, 1.39 BB/9, 6.45 IP/GS

More importantly, despite pitching even better in September (3.12 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 6.75 K/9, 0.52 BB/9, 6.93 IP/GS), Lieber can't hang with Radke's September numbers above.

In Game 3 the Twins will sent Carlos Silva to the hill. Silva is a groundball pitcher who had yet another great September (1.85 ERA, 1.15 WHIP), but got lit up by the Yankees in Minnesota back in August (7 runs in 5 IP). There's an opportunity here, but the Yankees can't even figure out who to start in Game 3 right now. The leading candidates are Orlando Hernandez and Kevin Brown.

Hernandez was outstanding until making a rain-shortened start against the Red Sox in the Bronx three weeks ago. Since then, he's struggled with a sore shoulder and posted this line in two starts: 9 1/3 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 2 HR, 6 BB, 8 K. His most recent start was a three-inning disaster against the Blue Jays on Friday that raised more concerns about his shoulder. He threw on flat ground yesterday and is scheduled to throw a bullpen today. He's been included on the ALDS roster, which may be a good sign, but the Yankees don't seem ready to announce him as the Game 3 starter quite yet.

The other choice would be Kevin Brown, who infamously screwed up his (and perhaps the Yankees) season by being a big (blanking) baby. The good news here is that Brown was able to get two starts in before the regular season ended. The first was a disaster in Boston, but the second was promising, although it did come against the last-place Blue Jays in their second-to-last game of the season. Still, 5 IP, 1 H, 1 R (0 ER), 2 BB, 2 K is encouraging. Though it's worth noting that only 56 percent of his 73 pitches went for strikes.

Game 4 could see the return of Santana on short rest, which might force the Yankees to move Mussina up a day. Otherwise Javier Vazquez will go, possibly against either Kyle Lohse or Terry Mulholland. All three of those starters have been equally poor this season, and thus the potent Yankee offense would seem to have an advantage here, despite the fact that the game will be in the Metrodome.

Regardless of how the rotations shake out when the series moves to Minnesota, it's clear that the Twins have a significant advantage with their starting pitching, largely because of the tremendous recent performance of Johan Santana. As I said, the Santana is frequently compared to a peak-era Pedro Martinez, a pitcher against whom the Yankees had surprising success. The game plan against Pedro was always to take pitches and wait him out. If the Yankee starter could keep the game close, the Yankee bats would victimize the Red Sox bullpen and frequently pull out a win.

This is more difficult with the Twins bullpen, which, other than Tom Gordon, outmatches the Yankees right down the line, including Mariano Rivera. Dig:

Joe Nathan: 1.62 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 11.07 K/9, 2.86 BB/9
Mo Rivera: 1.94 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 7.55 K/9, 2.29 BB/9

Nathan takes a larger lead in since the break:

Nathan: 2.22 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 11.12 K/9, 1.91 BB/9
Rivera: 3.56 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 8.31 K/9, 1.19 BB/9

I won't even get into Mo's 7.27 September ERA.

As I said, Tom Gordon sneaks past Ricardo Rincon:

Gordon: 2.21 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 9.65 K/9, 2.31 BB/9
Rincon: 2.63 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 11.63 K/9, 3.51 BB/9

even more so in the second half:

Gordon: 2.95 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 10.78 K/9, 1.47 BB/9
Rincon: 3.86 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 11.85 K/9, 2.48 BB/9

But after that the Twins have lefty J.C. Romero (3.51 ERA, 1.30 after the break), rookie Jesse Crain (2.00 ERA) and Aussie long man Grant Balfour (4.35 ERA, 3.94 after the break) to throw against the Yankees lefty Felix Heredia (6.28 ERA, 7.71 after the break), long man Tanyon Sturtze (5.47 ERA, 6.17 since the break) and the imploded remains of Paul Quantrill (4.72 ERA, 7.23 since the break, 11.46 in September).

Small consolation for the Yanks is that Heredia and Sturtze finished the season pitching over their heads:

Heredia: 8 G, 2 2/3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Sturtze: 6 G, 12 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 14 K

Meanwhile, J.C. Romero got slapped around in the Bronx last week: 1 1/3 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 2 HR.

That I felt the need to quote those stats shows you what an awful state the Yankee bullpen is in.

So where does this leave us? Well, pretty even. The Twins could win this in four, taking two starts by Santana and one by Radke, or either team could win in five.

Tonight the Yankees have to find away to get to Santana. In his warm-up start in the Bronx last week, the Yanks got a run in the first on a Derek Jeter double and a Gary Sheffield single. Hideki Matsui also doubled off Santana and hit a fly ball to the deepest part of center in his second at-bat against the young lefty. Back in August, the Yankees scraped two runs off of Santana, though both came in the eight inning, one scoring after Santana had left the game.

Jeter, Rodriguez, Sheffield and Posada all have GPAs over .300 against lefties, while Bernie Williams and Miguel Cairo both have GPAs over .280 against portsiders. Jeter, Sheffield, Williams and Cairo also have better splits at home than on the road. Look for those names to key any offensive attack the Yankees manage to mount tonight.

On the flip side, five of the first six men in the Twins' line-up are stronger against righties, with Lou Ford being about even. Expect Ron Gardenhire to sub in rookie Jason Kubel for Jacque Jones tonight. Jones was away until yesterday on bereavement leave and tends to struggle against Mussina, while Kubel's numbers jump both against right-handers and on the road. Kubel was 4 for 9 against Mussina and Lieber in last week's double header against the Yankees.

No final word yet on the ALDS rosters, but I do now that Jason Giambi has been left off, while El Duque and Kevin Brown have both been included.

As I write this the Cardinals are destroying the Dodgers 8-2 on homers by Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Mike Matheny and a pair by Larry Walker, while the Red Sox and Angels are just about to get underway in Anaheim with Jarrod Washburn taking on Curt Schilling. Playoff baseball. It's a wonderful thing.

posted by Cliff at 1:31 AM

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