Saturday, October 16, 2004

Rain out fallout 

As expected, Game 3 was rained out last night pushing the three (potential) Fenway games back one day each, filling Monday's off day (potentially).

Before I get into the possible implications this might have for the series, I've not griped about FOX's broadcasts in this space despite having ample reason to do so, but I simply cannot excuse baseball's decision to avoid announcing the cancellation of last night's game until it could be made on FOX's regularly-scheduled 8:00 "pre-game" show. Pathetic though it may be, there are a lot of people who schedule their days around these games (never mind the people with tickets who fought through rain-soaked Friday evening rush-hour traffic in the hopes that the game would be played). Last night's game probably could have been called by 7:00 if not earlier, but instead baseball and FOX sucked an extra hour or more out of everyone's lives so that they could keep Jeanne Zelasko from rusting up in the rain storm, or keep their Xplode-O-Vision graphics from revolting and running off with Tim McCarver's hair. Whatever it was, it was a cheap move that served as further evidence that baseball has absolutely no control over these broadcasts and that the producers of MLB on FOX have absolutely no regard for their viewers.

That said, the Yankees have announced that they will not alter their rotation as a result of the schedule change. Mike Mussina could have pitched on regular rest tomorrow against Tim Wakefield, but Joe Torre is going to stick with El Duque in that game and pitch Moose on an extra day's rest on Monday (if necessary). The Red Sox, meanwhile, have not announced whether or not they will go to Pedro Martinez on regular rest in (a possible) Game 5, or proceed with their plan to throw Derek Lowe. That decision appears to depend on what happens tonight and tomorrow. If the Sox manage to tie the series, expect to see Lowe. If the Yanks win one of the two and the Sox are facing elimination, expect to see Pedro. I, of course, hope this is all irrelevant come Monday.

These rotation moves really don't mean much of anything. No pitchers are getting skipped or getting extra turns if this series goes the distance. If the series goes long enough, Derek Lowe is going to have to match up with either Mussina in Fenway or Lieber in the Bronx, with Pedro facing the other. The only difference here is that Brown and Hernandez will have an extra day's rest to sooth their aching whatevers.

Conversely, if this series does return to the Bronx, both teams lose the travel day with which to rest their bullpens. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the next two or three games. Certainly if the Yankees have a late lead, they will go for the kill with Gordon and Rivera. The Sox, who need to win four, will likely have to consider easing back on their finishers (specifically Timlin and Foulke, Embree being a LOOGY will likely have the length of his outings dictated by match-ups) should they get a footing in the series.

The x-factor lurking behind all of this is Curt Schilling, who long tossed in the rain last night and then went into the Boston bullpen and threw a reported 70 pitches while switching shoes and trying to get his feel back. The Red Sox seem cautiously optimistic about the work he put in, claiming he was pushing off better than in Game 1 and throwing with a more natural motion, all of which opens the possibility of Schilling reappearing in (a possible) Game 6 or 7. Otherwise, the most likely Game 7 scenario (if necessary) would be an Arroyo and Brown rematch on three day's rest, which could be bad news for the Bombers, though they do have Vazquez on hand as well as Sturtze and Loaiza, and could try to put together a committee game at the first sign of trouble from Brown, though that's a frightening proposition for a potential Game 7. Then again, leading 2-0, a necessary Game 7 alone is a frightening proposition for the Yankees.

Tonight is a huge game for the Red Sox. If the Yankees can put them down the Yanks will have four chances to win just one, forcing the Red Sox to sweep the rest of the way to pull out the series. If the Sox win, they'll be in position to tie things up with a win tomorrow. Tonight's not a must-win for the Yankees, but a win would be absolutely huge, especially after two off days and a switch to the Red Sox home park. I'll have the recap tonight.

posted by Cliff at 3:20 PM

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Sorting out the rotations 

It's official. The Yankees will send El Duque to the hill in Game 4 and the Red Sox will be forced to go with Derek Lowe in a possible Game 5. The former, in addition to giving the Yankees a better outlook in Game 4, means that Joe Torre will have the option use Javier Vazquez out of the pen, which could be significant considering the severe lack of depth in the Yankee pen. Conversely, the latter means that the Red Sox pen shrinks by one with Schilling out of action and Lowe being designated for a start on Sunday. According to the Red Sox, their announcement does not necessarily mean that we've seen the last of Curt Schilling, though I'd be willing to bet that we have. The sort of injury he has is not going to get better with an extra day or two of rest.

The one caveat to all of this is that there is a chance that tomorrow night's game might get rained out. If that happens, the travel day would be eliminated and the three Fenway games would each be pushed back a day allowing the Sox to use Pedro Martinez on full rest in a potential Game 5, though they would still need Lowe if the series went six and would have to start Arroyo on short rest in a potential Game 7. Something similar happened last year when there was a rain out following Game 3 of last year's ALCS that allowed the Red Sox to push John Burkett back from Game 4 to Game 6 in favor of Tim Wakefield. The Sox won both of those games.

posted by Cliff at 4:46 PM


The last time the Yankees were up 2-0 in a postseason series was in the 2001 ALCS against the 116-win Mariners. That also happened to be the last time the Yankees were an underdog entering a postseason series (which, in case you missed it, they were again entering this series with the Red Sox). They defeated the M's in five games in that series. Not that that means anything.


After Jon Lieber set the Red Sox down on nine pitches in the top of the first, Pedro Martinez took the mound throwing gas, his fastball immediately clocking in at about 95 miles per. Unfortunately for Pedro, despite possessing some nasty stuff, he didn't really have control of it right away. His first six pitches were balls. The first four walking Derek Jeter, who then foolishly stole second on the fifth despite a perfect throw from Jason Varitek (Bellhorn couldn't glove the throw and the ball got trapped under Jeter's body). After his first strike and a foul ball, Pedro threw a pitch that sailed up and in, grazing Alex Rodriguez on the wrist to put runners at first and second (good thing Jeter stole second!). Pedro then unleashed a 95-mile-per-hour heater up and in to Gary Sheffield, but the pitch cut across the plate and Sheffield smacked it into left center for an RBI-single.

And that was it. For four and a half innings.

Desite having men on first and second and a run in with no outs, Pedro was able to control his pitches and strike out Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams and induce Jorge Posada into a weak grounder to second to avoid further damage.

Curiously, of the eight strikes Martinez threw to those three batters, seven were called strikes. Other than one swing-and-miss by Bernie Williams in the first, Pedro wouldn't make a man miss until his fifth pitch of the fourth inning to Posada. Similarly, it would take Jon Lieber until his ninth and final pitch of the fifth inning to get a second swinging strike. For both pitchers this is evidence of how mesmerizing their stuff was last night. Both of them practically paralyzed the opposing hitters. Martinez struck out seven through six innings and of the 21 outs Lieber recorded, just five of them made it out of the infield.

The Yankees threatened again in the second on a one-out walk to Miguel Cairo and a Kenny Lofton single that pushed Cairo to second. Derek Jeter got good wood on a 2-0 pitch but it hung up for Johnny Damon in deep center, moving Cairo to third with two outs. Alex Rodriguez then worked a full count only to be called out on a devistating cut fastball that started out inside and knee-high, tailing in toward Rodriguez, only to slam on the breaks about five feet in front of the plate and dive back over the corner, buckling Rodriguez's knees and ending the Yankee threat.

Only three men would reach base over the next three innings: Orlando Cabrera on a single in the third, Jorge Posada on a walk in the fourth, and Alex Rodriguez on an infield single to third, a dribbler up the line the Rodriguez was able to beat out because Mueller was playing him deep at third.

With one out in the top of the sixth, Johnny Damon battled Lieber, who had thrown just 47 pitches to that point, in an epic 15-pitch at bat (2 called strikes, 2 fouls, ball 1, two more fouls, ball 2, three more fouls, ball 3, three more fouls, payoff) only to line out to Bernie Williams in center for the second out of a 1-2-3 inning. That at-bat seemed like it might snap the Red Sox out of their offensive funk (only David Ortiz on a second-inning lead-off walk and Cabrera had reached base).

In fact, it was the Yankees who broke the tension. After Jorge Posada drew a one-out walk in the bottom of that inning, John Olerud took three pitches from Martinez, falling behind 1-2. Pedro then threw Olerud the exact same pitch he had thrown Sheffield in the first, a high fastball (this one going 93 mph) that tailed in across the plate where Olerud was able to get the barrel of the bat on it and yank it out of the park to right for a two-run homer. That pitch was Pedro's 106th of the night and after throwing seven more to retire the side, he was done. With the Red Sox desperate for a split in the Bronx, having potentially lost their Game 1 starter for the remainder of the postseason, Martinez pitched beautifully for six innings, but left down 3-1 to the team he notoriously called his "daddies" after his last start against them in September.

Mike Timlin came on in the seventh, giving up a two-out single to Gary Sheffield. Terry Francona then brought in Alan Embree to face Matsui, who blooped a single to center, pushing Sheffield to second, only to watch Bernie fly out on the first pitch he saw to end the inning.

Jon Lieber, meanwhile cruised through the seventh, erasing a David Ortiz single with a Kevin Millar double play ball. Through seven innings, Jon Lieber allowed just three baserunners on two singles and a walk (two of the three being David Ortiz) and faced just two more than the minimum number of batters. He then came back out for the eighth and gave up a 1-1 single to Trot Nixon at which point Joe Torre relieved him of his duties. In Lieber's last start against the Red Sox (also in the Bronx) he allowed just two Sox to reach base through seven full and just one (a walk to Doug Mientkiewicz) through six and two-thirds (the second baserunner? David Ortiz). This time out, in an ALCS game no less, he allowed just three baserunners through seven full and just two through six and a third.

Adding Lieber's performance to Mike Mussina's 6 1/3 perfect innings in Game 1, the Red Sox have had only two total baserunners through the first six innings of both games in this series. After trailing in just one half inning of the ALDS against the Angels, the Red Sox have not held a lead at any point in this series thus far. The Yankees established their leads with two outs of the bottom of the first in Game 1 and with no outs in Game 2, after which the Red Sox have not even managed to tie the score.

The Sox did manage to get Trot Nixon home in the eighth last night. Tom Gordon relieved Lieber, fell behind Jason Varitek 2-0, then came back to even the count before running it full and leaving a pitch up in the zone that Varitek drove to the gap in right for a double. Nixon held at third but an Orlando Cabrera groundout drove him home for what would be the only Boston run of the game. Gordon then fell behind Bill Mueller 3-1 only to run the count full again and induce a groundout that pushed Varitek to third. Enter night, exit light. Rivera strikes out Damon, inning over.

The Yankees loaded the bases on the bottom of the eighth off Alan Embree (Posada single) and Keith Foulke (Cairo hit in the shoulder by a pitch, Jeter walked on five pitches), but Alex Rodriguez flied out to Nixon on a full count to end the inning.

With one out in the ninth Manny Ramirez crushed a double to right center, but Rivera countered by striking out David Ortiz on three pitches (high inside swinging, waist-high even more inside crushed foul, high inside swinging) and getting Kevin Millar swinging to end the game.


Yankees' Heroes
Jon Lieber an absolutely domnant performance. Lieber doesn't strike many out (just three tonight), but to take on this Red Sox line-up for seven innings and allow just four baserunners, only one of whom advanced on his watch, and no extra base hits is tremendous. To need just 82 pitches (70 percent strikes) to do it is incredible. Fercryinoutloud, Lieber out-dueled Pedro Martinez on a night when Pedro had a 95-plus-mile-per-hour fast ball and nasty offspead stuff! There aren't words . . .
John Olerud his sixth-inning homer was his only time on base in four trips, but it was also the difference in the game.
Mariano Rivera four outs to shut the door, stranded Varitek at third in the eighth and then made paper dolls out of David Ortiz's swing when he represented the tying run in the ninth. Mo has now pitched 8 1/3 scoreless innings this postseason.
Jorge Posada 1 for 2 with two walks, one preceeding Olerud's dinger in the sixth.
Gary Sheffield 2 for 4, it was his RBI single that put the Yankees up in the first.

Red Sox Heroes
Jason Varitek I'm reaching here, but Varitek's double off Gordon was the only big hit the Sox had all night, even though it didn't drive in a run, it made that run possible by pushing Nixon to third with none out. 1 for 3.
David Ortiz the only man to reach twice against Lieber, he walked in the secnod and singled in the seventh. Of course he also got eaten alive by Rivera while representing the tying run in the ninth, but I'll give him a pass on that since he accounted for one third of his team's baserunners last night.
Orlando Cabrera drove in the only Red Sox run with a groundout and got the only hit off Lieber through 6 1/3. 1 for 3.

Yankees' Goats
Tom Gordon Gave up that double to Varitek and allowed Nixon's lead-off single off Lieber to come around and score.
Alex Rodriguez I'm reachig here, but A-Rod twice made the third out to end a rally, in the second with men on first and second and in the eighth with the bases loaded. 1 for 4.

Red Sox Goats
Pedro Martinez didn't I just praise his outing and his stuff in the recap? Yes, but I stand by my position that, in the playoffs, if your opponent allows one run you can't allow any. A lack of control in the first and a pair of identical pitches to Gary Sheffield and John Olerud were enough to get Pedro a pair of horns. Three runs was too many last night.
Kevin Millar Jason Varitek's double was the only Red Sox hit with a runner on base in last night's game and Millar was the main offender, popping out following a lead-off walk to David Ortiz in the second, grounding into a double play following a one-out Ortiz single in the seventh, and striking out to end the game while representing the tying run. 0 for 4.
Bill Mueller and Johnny Damon Both had two at-bats with men on, both advanced Orlando Cabrera on groundouts in the third, taking a lead-off single and turning it into a man on third with two outs, and both made unproductive outs with Varitek on third in the eighth, Damon's ending the inning. A combined 0 for 7. Damon is 0 for 8 with 5 strikeouts on the series.


I'll be honest, I never would have believed you if you told me the Yankees would head for Fenway up 2-0. Part of the reason is that this Red Sox team scares me, still does. The good news is the Sox can sweep in Boston and the series would still have to come back to the Bronx. If the Yanks can take just one of three in Fenway they'll come back to New York up 3-2 with two chances to finish the job and Jon Lieber taking the mound again in Game 6. Best of all, the Sox will likely have to start Derek Lowe against Mussina in Game 5, that or start a hobbled Curt Schilling, either of which greatly increases the Yankees chances of at least coming home up 3-2 and perhaps even sealing the deal in the Red Sox's house, which would be as sweet as it would be dangerous. Remember, Fenway is where the fights happen, be it the fans littering the field with garbage in '99, Pedro nearly insighting a riot last year, or 'Tek taking on A-Rod in full body armor earlier this year. Pray no one gets injured, ejected or suspended.

The Yankees send Kevin Brown to the hill tomorrow night and will likely bring El Duque out of mothballs for Game 4. Both are huge question marks that could dominate or implode. The Sox will counter with Bronson Arroyo--whom I expect to peform well--and Tim Wakefield, whose knuckler avoids the fat part of Yankee bats like the plague. Game 5 will see Mussina face off with either a mummified Curt Schilling or Lowe, who has thrown just three innings all month.

Though it's a deliciously fascinating possibility, I seriously doubt that the Yanks can sweep. I can't imagine the Red Sox going out without putting a good solid scare into the Yankees and their fans. This offense gets significantly better in its home park, especially Millar, Mueller and Varitek. That said, I could see the three games in Boston going 2-1 in either direction. I could even see the Sox sweeping at home. But as I said, up 2-0 even a Sox sweep in Fenway wouldn't be the end of the world for the Yankees (though it would mean that they beat Mussina in his second start).

One thing's for certain, my stress level concerning this series, while still unhealthily high, has dropped considerably with these two Yankee victories. That said, in the words of Frank Stallone, this is far from over.

posted by Cliff at 1:40 AM

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Too close 

Yeah, so Curt Schilling got lit up, Mike Mussina was perfect through 6 1/3 and the game ended 10-7 with the tying run at the plate. You know, just like we figured.


Through six innings, Game 1 of the 2004 ALCS was drastically lopsided. The reason for this was the drastically disimilar performances of the two starters. Mike Mussina was perfect through 6 1/3 innings, striking out eight including five in a row at one point to tie his own LCS record (which he coincidentally shares with Curt Schilling). Mussina had everything working, nasty breaking stuff and crisp fastballs, and made the dangerous Red Sox offense look weak, allowing just four of the first 19 batters to hit a ball out of the infield.

As incredible as Mussina's stuff was, that's how flat Schilling's appeared to be. Most likely struggling with the tendinitis in his right ankle, which was reportedly injected with a numbing agent prior to the game, Schilling didn't have the necessary speed on his fastball or a convincing break on his offspeed pitches. In the first inning, after both Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez flew out to Trot Nixon in right, Gary Sheffield smacked a double into the alley in left. Hideki Matsui then followed by putting a fantastic swing on an 0-2 slider that broke in on his shins, driving it to the opposite field past Manny Ramirez to plate Sheffield. Bernie Williams followed with a first-pitch RBI single and the Yankees had a 2-0 lead after one.

With Mussina looking sharp, a 2-0 lead over Curt Schilling seemed huge at the time. Thus when the Yankees rallied again in the third after Schilling set down the bottom of the their order 1-2-3 in the second, the game seemed to be all but won.

The bottom of the third stared with a single up the middle by Jeter, an infield single by Rodriguez (on which Orlando Cabrera was unable to execute Jeter's famous jump-turn throw from the hole), and a seven-pitch walk to Gary Sheffield. That brought Matsui back to the dish with the bases juiced and no one out. Without batting an eye, Matsui yanked Schilling's first pitch down the right field line for a bases-clearing double. Gary Sheffield, who scored from first without difficuly, was absolutely pumped as he slid across the plate, popping up and shouting enthusiastically in Rodriguez's face. Matsui then came home on a groundout by Bernie Williams and a Jorge Posada sac fly. A four-pitch walk to John Olerud and a fly out by Miguel Cairo later and Schilling was done for the night, leaving in his wake a 0-6 Red Sox deficit, this line: 3 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 2 BB, 1 K, 58 pitches, and a lot of questions about his viability for his next start.

Curt Leskanic and newly activated Ramiro Mendoza held the Yankees scoreless over the next two frames, but when Tim Wakefield came on in the sixth, his fifth pitch to lead-off hiter Kenny Lofton wound up in the right field stands to push the Yankee lead to 7-0. After Wakefield retired Jeter and Rodriguez, Sheffield and Matsui struck again with a double and an RBI single to run the Yankee lead to a game-high 8-0.

Mike Mussina began the top of the seventh by striking out Johnny Damon for the third time, marking the 19th straight Red Sox batter he'd retired. He then got ahead of Mark Bellhorn 0-2. His next pitch was a fastball on the lower outside corner that Bellhorn laced to deep right field for the first Boston hit of the game, a double. Mussina got Manny Ramirez to ground out on his next pitch but then gave up a two-out single to David Ortiz, a 2-RBI double to Kevin Millar, and an RBI single to Trot Nixon to reduce the Yankee lead to 8-3.

The three Red Sox runs happened in the course of 12 pitches, thus Joe Torre was unable to go to his pen any earlier, but as soon as he could he brought in Tanyon Sturtze. Sturtze's first batter was Jason Varitek, who fell behind 0-2 before blasting Sturtze's third pitch into section 39 of the right field bleachers for a two-run homer that brought the Red Sox within three runs of the Yankees.

With that Terry Francona went to his finishers, bringing in Alan Embree for a scorless bottom of the seventh. Meanwhile, the Sox just kept hitting. Bill Mueller lead off the top of the eighth with shot up the middle off Tom Gordon that Miguel Cairo was able to glove, but couldn't transfer to his throwing hand. Two outs later, Manny Ramirez singled to left center putting runners on the corner and bringing David Ortiz to the plate as the tying run (!).

Mariano Rivera had arrived at the ball park in the third inning to a huge ovation from the crowd and appreciative and sympathetic hugs and smiles from his bullpen mates. By the time Ortiz strode to the plate in the eighth inning, Mo was already warming up in the Yankee pen, but Joe decided to stick with Gordon. It was a move I agreed with at the time. Ortiz has a homer off Gordon this year, but that is his only hit off Flash in five at-bats. Meanwhile, Cookie Monster is 5 for 10 off Rivera (though none of the five were homers). Joe Girardi explained after the game that Mike Mussina had been able to keep Ortiz at bay in this game with his curve which breakes in on Ortiz's shins. Tom Gordon has a similar curve. Mariano Rivera does not.

Ah, but a man who slugs .671 against righties is always a threat and after Gordon fell behind him 3-1, Ortiz blasted Gordon's fifth pitch to A-Rod's favorite spot in right center. Hideki Matsui actually overran the ball, which hit the heal of his glove and bounced out as Hideki hit the wall. It then scooted by Bernie Williams who rather than backing up was also attempting to track the ball. When everything came to a stop, Ortiz stood at third with a 2-RBI triple that reduced the Yankee lead to a single solitary run represented by Ortiz standing 90 feet from home.

Enter night, exit light. Millar pops out to end the inning, but it's still muuuch too close for comfort.

Nursing their now wafer-thin lead, the Yankees enter the bottom of the eighth desperate for some insurance. With Mike Timlin on the mound, Derek Jeter grounds to short for the first out. Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield then single to left, bringing hitting hero Hideki Matsui to the plate with two on and one out, but Matsui popps out to short. Next up is Bernie Williams, who doubles to deep left, sending both Rodriguez and Sheffield around third. As what looks like the entire Boston defense lines up in a succession of cut-off men, both Yankee runners score and Williams trucks around second and into third just ahead of the throw from Bill Mueller, who was stationed near the pitchers mound.

With a more comfortable three-run lead, Rivera returns to the mound in the ninth, getting Trot Nixon to pop out to Jeter on his first pitch. Jason Varitek, who had not recorded a hit in Yankee Stadium all year prior to his seventh-inning home run, works Rivera over for seven pitches, eventually singling to right. Cabrera follows with a first-pitch single to put runners at first and second and bring Bill Mueller to the plate representing the tying run. As FOX plays the footage of Mueller's walk-off homer off Rivera in the brawl game at Fenway, Mueller works ahead of Mo 2-1. He then fouls off Mo's fourth pitch before chopping the fifth back to the mound. Rivera pounces, whirls, and throws to Jeter who makes a graceful sidestep at second and throws on to first for the game-ending double play.

The Yankees take Game 1, but considering how it started it was much too close for comfort. Still, a win is a win and with the heart of their order clicking and Mo and Moose looking sharp, the Yankees have very little to complain about.


Yankee' Heroes
Mike Mussina never mind the seventh inning meltdown, you just can't argue with 6 1/3 perfect innings against the Red Sox. Absolutely money.
Hideki Matsui 3 for 5 with a pair of doubles off Schilling, 5 RBIs and two runs scored. Drove in the Yankees' first run with two outs in the first, then drove in runs 3-5 with a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double in his next at-bat.
Mariano Rivera Mo began the day by attending the funerals of his family members who were killed on Saturday. He then took a very difficult five-hour plane flight back from his during which he was alone with his thoughts. He arrived at the stadium after the game had already begun (he was introduced by Bob Sheppard before the game as "on his way to the Stadium") and just five innings later entered the game with the tying run on third. To watch him you'd never know any of it. He pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings to nail down what could turn out to be a crucial win in this ALCS.
Gary Sheffield 3 for 4 with a walk and 4 runs scored.
Bernie Williams 2 for 5 with three RBI including a two-out RBI in the first and a 2-RBI double in the eighth to give the Yankees two much needed insurance runs.

Red Sox Heroes
David Ortiz 2 for 4, drove in the first Red Sox run off Mussina, then put the Sox 90 feet away from tying the game with his two-run triple off Tom Gordon.
Jason Varitek 2 for 4, his two-run homer off Sturtze put the Sox back in the ball game.
Mark Bellhorn his double off Mussina broke up the perfect game and opened the door for the Red Sox rally.

Yankees' Goats
Tanyon Sturtze gave up a two-run homer to Jason Varitek, the first batter he faced, allowing the Red Sox back into the game when he had entered with a five-run lead. Retired his second batter and called it a night.
Tom Gordon brought in to nail down a three run lead he gave up two runs on Ortiz's triple, leaving the game with the tying run on third having recorded just two outs.

Red Sox Goats
Curt Schilling by far his worst postseason outting, allowed six runs in just three innings on 58 pitches. He had nothing.
Tim Wakefield allowed the Yankees to tack on two more in his only inning of work.
Mike Timlin with his team within one after having trailed 8-0 he gave two runs back when the Sox could least afford them, forcing Francona to turn to Keith Foulke for the final out.
Johnny Damon 0 for 4 with four strikeouts from the leadoff spot.


Lieber (who threw 6 2/3 hittless innings of his own against the Sox back on September 18) vs. Pedro tonight. I refuse to even try to predict this series at this point. All I can say is that I'm pleased as punch the Yankees already have one game in the bag.

posted by Cliff at 1:12 AM

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Semi-half-assed ALCS Preview 

A little less than a month ago I wrote two extended posts comparing the Yankees and Red Sox. The first took a look at the pitching, the second the hitting. The conclusions I reached were that things were basically even, the only significant difference being a Boston advantage in the bullpen.

Of course, those comparisons were done with a few weeks left in the season, so there were still a few things for each team to shake out. For example, I had considered the possible contributions of Steve Karsay and Jason Giambi, of which we now know there are none. Thus, please allow me to rapidly revisit those comparisons using the teams' actual postseason rosters and roles.

First let's address that bullpen gap. I had imagined a Boston pen that looked like this:

Keith Foulke
Scott Williamson
Ramiro Mendoza
Mike Timlin
Alan Embree
Mike Myers

Mendoza had a 1.88 ERA at the time of that post (Sept. 16) and Williamson finished the season with a 1.26 ERA, but neither made the ALDS roster. Mendoza was left off because of a rapidly ballooning ERA (which jumped a full run when he allowed three runs in a single inning against the Yankees that Saturday). Williamson was eliminated by the torn UCL tendon in his pitching elbow, which he has since had surgically repaired.

Mendoza, who finished the season with a 3.52 ERA, has reportedly been added to the ALCS roster at the expense of Kevin Youkilis, giving both teams seven men in the pen. Here's a list of those six men with their ERAs for September and for the entire 2004 season:

Boston2004SeptNew York2004Sept

While the Sox don't have any numbers as ugly as Quantrill's and Loaiza's September ERAs, they also don't have anyone who can counter Tom Gordon (which is what I had suggested Williamson might be able to do).

Taking a look at their performance in the ALDS, the only Sox relievers to work more than an inning were Foulke (3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K) and Mike Timlin (3 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR). Timlin pitched two perfect innings in Game 1 only to narrowly avoid a paragraph of his own in Dan Shaghnessy's book when he gave up a game-tying grand slam to Vladimir Guerrero in Game 3, which other than Curt Schilling turning his ankle was about the only thing to go wrong for the Red Sox who trailed the Angels for just one half inning on their way to a three-game sweep.

The Yankees, meanwhile, got two scoreless innings each out of Paul Quantrill and Esteban Loaiza and five scoreless innings out of Mariano Rivera, in addition to the 2/3 IP that kept his third postseason blown save from turning into this third postseason loss. The two runs that blew Mo's save in Game 2 were charged to Tom Gordon, who otherwise threw three scoreless innings allowing just one hit.

Bearing in mind that the Angles are a superior offensive team to the Twins, here are the aggregate lines of the two bullpens in the ALDS:

Yanks: 3.31 ERA, 16 1/3 IP, 14 H, 6 R, 3 BB, 10 K, 1 HR
Sox: 4.32 ERA, 8 1/3 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 5 BB, 11 K, 1 HR

I would say that, at the very least, the bullpen advantage held by the Red Sox has disappeared. Though I also think that the deeper into the pen each team must go, the more the Red Sox advantage begins to reappear.

As for the starting pitching, I had originally given the Red Sox a slight advantage, but ultimately called it even. That was before the Red Sox wised up and declared Bronson Arroyo their third starter. It was also before Orlando Hernandez's shoulder took him out of the Yankee rotation all together.

El Duque had a positive throwing session yesterday and may wind up as the Yankees' starter in Game 4 after all, but it's unlikely even if he does start that he'll be as effective as he was before his shoulder started acting up. The advantage here is clearly Boston's.

As for tonight's match-up, both pitchers are coming off strong ALDS performances (Moose: 7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 7 K, 1 HR; Schilling: 6 2/3 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K, 2 HR), but both are dealing with x-factors. Schilling's is the right ankle that bothered him through part of the regular season which he reaggrivated in Anaheim. He'll be wearing a brace on the ankle tonight and I would not be surprised to see Jeter lead off with a bunt tonight to try to get Schilling to test it. For Mussina the x-factor is extended rest (six days to be exact). As the Red Sox found out last year, Mussina is rarely at his best on long rest, especially in the playoffs (just ask Schilling, who beat an over-rested Moose in Game 1 of the 2001 World Series in Arizona).

Speaking of question marks, the Yankees have some surrounding their top two relievers. Tom Gordon was hit in the left eye with a champaign cork during the team's celebration on Saturday. He is still experiencing difficulties with his vision, though it doesn't appear that it will keep him from pitching.

Mariano Rivera, meanwhile, spent the weekend in Panama attending the funerals of his wife's cousin and that cousin's son. The two men were electrocuted while cleaning the Rivera's pool on Saturday, something Rivera and his teammates learned not long after the final out of Game 4. Rivera is likely on his way back from Panama as I write this. I do not expect Rivera's performance to be effected, but one never knows what impact the long plane trip and the emotional strain of the weekend might have.

In other Yankee news, Kenny Lofton will get the start at DH tonight over Game 4 hero Ruben Sierra based largely on Lofton's career numbers against Schilling. Props to Torre for going with his head on that one. As for why Lofton's two postseason starts have come at DH rather than in center, Torre has said that he'd prefer not to risk any communication problems between this three outfielders that might result from having part-timer Lofton in center.

Apologies to those expecting a more coherent (or at least more systematic) preview from me. This series is already giving me actual headaches. I'll be fortunate if I make it through the whole thing without vomiting blood.

Hopefully I can refresh my take on the offense (which hasn't really changed much at all, save Trot Nixon playing full-time and at full-ability, gulp) tomorrow.

posted by Cliff at 1:24 PM

. . . damned to repeat it 

Some highlights from a year of Yankees vs. Red Sox on the BRB:

2003 ALCS
Game 1 (The Moose is too loose)
Game 2 (That old black magic)
There's a rumble in Boston tonight . . .
Game 3 (Yes, there was a game yesterday)
Sox catch break, chickens all wet/Rotation corrections
Don Zimmer vs. The Beanball: A History/Bill Madden on Zimmer
Game 4 (Slider outside)
Game 5 (One win away)
Game 6 (Blown)
Rocket vs. Pedro
Double Elimination
Believe the hype
Game 7, pt. 1 (recap)
Game 7, pt. 2 (heroes & goats/onward)
(this link just for the photo)

Nice try, Theo
A Not-So-Curt Response

Spring Training
Three in a row
Not the face! Anything but the face!

2004 Regular Season
Round 1:
Al East Preview (part 1): Yankees
Didn't we just do this?
AL East Preview (part 2): Red Sox
Game 1: Red Sox 6, Yankees 2
Game 2: Red Sox 5, Yanks 2; Lee Activated
Game 3: Yanks 7, Sox 3
Game 4: Red Sox 5, Yankees 4; Sox take the series 3-1
Preview/One pitch
Round 2:
Red Sox quick hits
Parasite lady, no need to cry
Speechless/Another look at Thursday night (July 1)
There's no crying in baseball!
My fist your face
Round 3:
A very good day
Yankees vs. Red Sox, part 1: pitching
Mariano's Secret
I love it when a plan comes together
Yankees vs. Red Sox, part 2: hitting
Six Pack

I hope to have an update of my two comparison posts from September (Yankees vs. Red Sox, pts. 1 & 2) up later today, but in the meantime, there's a lot to be had from the above.

posted by Cliff at 10:08 AM

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Comeback Kids 

As I said on Saturday morning, with Johan Santana taking the hill against Javier Vazquez, Game 4 was the Twins to lose. Little did I know that was exactly what they'd do.


In the bottom of the first the Twins get an early run against Vazquez on singles by Shannon Stewart and Jacque Jones and a Torii Hunter sac fly. Surprisingly, the Yankees tie the game up before things get any worse. As they did in Game 1, the Yankees are continuing to get runners on against Santana (they eventually get at least one man on base in every inning Santana pitches in the series). Unlike Game 1, however, they don't hit into a single double play and are actually able to scratch out a run in the third inning on a Derek Jeter single, a Gary Sheffield groundout, and an RBI single from Hideki Matsui (whom Torre wisely bats fourth in this game).

Ruben Sierra and Miguel Cairo single off Santana in the fourth inning to become the sixth and seventh baserunners the young ace, starting on three days' rest for the first time in his career (last year's Game 4 start was on full rest), has allowed. With two on and two out Derek Jeter strides to the plate, but Santana rings him up for the second time on the day to end the inning. Surprisingly tollerable FOX announcer Steve Lyons declares the at-bat the most important of Santana's young career. Indeed, the strikeout, Santana's fifth in four inning of work, does seem to remind everyone involved who's in charge here, thus swinging the momentum back to the home town Twins.

Right on cue, the Twins break the tie in the bottom of the inning. Javier Vazquez starts the frame by walking Torii Hunter on five pitches. Justin Morneau follows by lifting a ball to right field that Gary Sheffield completely loses in the baseball-colored Metrodome roof. In the top of the third inning, with Derek Jeter on first, Torii Hunter had turned his palms skyward and shrugged while tracking an Alex Rodriguez fly ball in an attempt to convince Jeter that he'd lost the ball, thus enabling him to double Jeter off the bag. Jeter didn't fall for the ruse, but acknowleged the attempt on his way back to the base, causing both players to burst into the playfull grins which have made them fan favorites in their respective cities. On Morneau's fly, Sheffield makes an identical shrugging motion, except he isn't kidding. The ball hits the turf a good twenty feet behind Sheffield where Miguel Cairo, racing out from second base, retrieves it to hold Morneau to a double and Hunter to third. Corey Koskie then follows with a sac fly to plate Hunter to give the Twins another one-run lead.

Minnesota then breaks the game open in the bottom of the fifth, beginning with a lead-off homer off "Home Run" Javy (surprise) by Henry Blanco (okay, that really was a surprise). Vazquez then retires the next two batters only to give up singles to Hunter and Morneau, hit Koskie, and surrender a two-RBI double to Lew Ford before recording the final out, at which point the score is 5-1 Twins.

Then something bizzare happens. With Johan Santana having thrown just 87 pitches in five innings, allowing just one run and striking out seven, Ron Gardenhire pulls him from the game and sends Grant Balfour to the mound for the sixth (reportedly Santana stiffened up during the Twins long run-scoring bottom of the fifth, but was willing to go back out in the sixth if given a short leash). Even more bizzare, the move, which I can only imagine was motivated by his desire to keep Santana fresh for a potential ALCS, doesn't backfire on him. Balfour actually out-pitches Santana by tossing two perfect innings.

The Yankees likewise pull Vazquez after five and go to . . . Esteban Loaiza? Clearly, Torre is saving his bullpen for Game 5, more or less conceding this contest to the Twins. Loaiza gives up three singles in his first inning of work, but avoids allowing a run thanks to lead-off hitter Michael Cuddyer getting thrown out stealing second. Loaiza similarly clears a two-out Lew Ford single in the seventh on yet another caught stealing (one of the two caught stealings coming on a well-timed pitch-out).

Regardless of Loaiza's two scoreless innings (which I fear may land him on the ALCS roster), the Twins have the Yankees right where they want them, thanks to the tremendous performance of Grant Balfour. Up by four runs after seven innings, Gardenhire calls on his ace set-up man Juan Rincon, assuming his season-long formula of Rincon in the eighth and Nathan in the ninth will send his team back to New York for a decisive Game 5. Amazingly it is here, not back in the sixth when he decided to pull Santana, that Gardenhire loses control of the game and his team's season.

Rincon, who allowed just one walk and no hits while striking out four in three innings in Games 1 and 2, begins the inning by breaking Gary Sheffield's bat, but Sheffield reaches base on the resulting infield single. It soon becomes clear that Rincon does not have his best stuff. Rincon's second pitch to Hideki Matsui is wild, sending Sheffield to second. Matsui then completes a walk and moves to third on a Bernie Williams single that plates Sheffield to bring the Yankees within three.

Whatever second guessing of Ron Gardenhire one might be tempted to do, this is the crucial moment. After three batters, Rincon has allowed two singles, a walk and tossed a wild pitch. As a result, Jorge Posada stands at the plate as the tying run with men on the corners and no outs and Ruben Sierra on deck. True, Posada and Sierra are not Rodriguez and Sheffield, but they are home-run threats nonetheless. With Gardenhire six outs from extending his team's season, it would not be unreasonable for Gardenhire to pull Rincon now and go to Joe Nathan, who has had two days off since throwing 53 pitches in losing Game 2. Instead Gardenhire elects to leave Rincon in the game.

The non-move works at first. Rincon alternates balls and strikes to set down Posada on six pitches, but that will be the last out Rincon records this season. With one out and runners on the corners, Ruben Sierra steps into the left-handed batters box representing the tying run. Again Rincon alternates balls and strikes. Strike one looking. Ball one. Foul ball, strike two. Ball two. Another foul. With a 2-2 count, Rincon tries to drop a curve on Sierra, but the ball doesn't break. It does, however, stay high and away. Still, Sierra manages to get the barrel of his bat out across the plate and pull the ball, crushing it to right where it ricochettes off the vampire seats above the baggy in right for a game-tying three-run homer.

Amazingly, Gardenhire continues to let Rincon pitch, but after the next batter, John Olerud, doubles to the warning track in center, he makes the delayed switch to Joe Nathan, who quietly retires the side.

Torre then quickly switches in to kill mode, bringing in Tom Gordon, who pitches around a two-out double by Jason Kubel (hitting for Blanco) in the eighth that momentarily looks like a home run to this nervous viewer.

The Yankees threaten in the ninth following an Alex Rodriguez lead-off ground rule double to left center off Nathan that is a carbon copy of his game-tying shot in Game 2. After Sheffield pops out, Nathan intenionally walks Matsui hoping for a double play ball out of Bernie Williams. Williams strikes out after fouling off four straight 0-2 pitches, but Nathan's fourth pitch to Jorge Posada skips by new catcher Pat Borders, advancing the runners. Nathan then recovers to strike out Posada.

Gordon retires the Twins on 12 pitches (and two strikeouts) in the bottom of the ninth and Gardenhire turns the game over to the man he wouldn't let start this game, Kyle Lohse. Lohse only needs 12 pitches of his own to set down the bottom of the Yankee order.

Perhaps having learned from the mistake he made in Game 4 of last year's World Series, Torre then breaks character and turns to his closer in a tie game on the road and, surprise, it works. Rivera needs just ten pitches to get through the top of the tenth tenth.

In the bottom of the inning, after Derek Jeter's fourth strikeout of the game, Alex Rodriguez hits his second double in as many at-bats. With the count 1-1 on Gary Sheffield, Rodriguez steals third without a throw (with an assist from Sheffield showing bunt). Sheffield then works the count to 2-2, fouling off a pair, when Lohse's seventh pitch sails low and outside. Rather than blocking the pitch like a hockey goalie with his glove open toward the infield, Borders slides over but tries to backhand the ball, which hits the dirt and ricochettes over his left shoulder to the back stop allowing Rodriguez to score what turns out to be the winning run without the Yankees getting another hit.

With Rivera already in the game, all that reamains for Torre to do is sit back and watch as two Twins pinch hitters and discredited Yankee killer Shannon Stewart (3 for 20, all singles) go down on ten more Rivera pitches, Stewart's final out coming on a grounder to Cairo at second.

For the second straight year the Twins and Yankees have met in the ALDS with Johan Santana defeating Mike Mussina in Game 1 and the Yankees taking Games 2, 3 and 4 (the last a game started by Santana), to take the series in four and move on to face the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. One can only hope history continues to repeat itself, at least for one more round.


Yankees' Heroes
Ruben Sierra a three-run game-tying homer in the seventh inning of an elimination game? Yeah, that's a post-season hero right there. 2 for 4 with a walk on the day.
Alex Rodriguez he scored the winning run all by his lonesome, getting to third via a double and a stolen base and scoring on a passed ball. 2 for 4 with two walks on the day.
Gordon & Rivera needed just 43 pitches to record four shutout innings allowing just one baserunner (Kubel's double off Gordon). Props to Loaiza for two more scoreless innings, giving the Yankees a total of six Goose eggs out of the pen.

Twins' Heroes
Johan Santana 5 IP, 1 R, 7 K
Grant Balfour two perfect innings in relief of Santana.
Joe Nathan held the Yanks scoreless for 1 1/3.
Henry Blanco 2 for 3 with a homer.

Yankees' Goats
Javier Vazquez 5 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 2 HBP. That's a lot of crooked numbers and 11 baserunners in five innings. Miraculously his token homer came with the bases empty (though it also came off the bat of Henry F-ing Blanco!).
Jorge Posada 0 for 5 with three strikeouts, including making the only out recorded by Juan Rincon while representing the tying run in the eighth inning.
Gary Sheffield lost Justin Morneau's fly ball leading to a tie-breaking run. Failed to advance Alex Rodriguez following his lead-off double off Nathan in the ninth. 1 for 6 on the day.
Derek Jeter he did single and score in the third, resulting in the only run off Santana, but he also struck out four times in six at-bats (1 for 6, no walks), including an inning-ending K with the go-ahead run on second in the fourth.

Twins' Goats
Juan Rincon undid everything his teammates had accomplished by allowing four runs while recording just one out after being handed a four run lead in the eighth. Likely having nightmares about Ruben Sierra as I write this.
Pat Borders Alex Rodriguez scored the winning run on Borders' passed ball and was in position to do so because he stole third without a throw from Borders.
Kyle Lohse actually pitched well, striking out three in two innings and allowing just one baserunner, but that one baserunner turned into the winning run. He gave up the double to Rodriguez that put him on base, failed to keep him close to second, allowing him to steal third, and threw a ball in the dirt with Rodriguez on third that went for a passed ball charged to Borders that allowed the winning run to score.

Special Bonus ALDS Heroes and Goats!

Twins' Goats
Juan Rincon see above
Ron Gardenhire for failing to hook Nathan in Game 2 or Rincon in Game 4 before the Yankees tied each game.
Pat Borders and Kyle Lohse see above
Carlos Silva 5 IP, 10 H, 6 R as the starter in Game 3.
Jason Kubel 1 for 7 with a now infamous three-pitch strikeout with the go-ahead run on third and just one out in the eighth inning of Game 2 in which the final two strikes were swings at balls practically over his head.
Brad Radke 6 1/3 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 3 HR as the starter in Game 2
Shannon Stewart former Yankee killer went 4 for 20 with no walks or steals, and all four hits singles for a .200/.190(sac fly)/.200 line from the lead-off spot.
Jacque Jones played despite the death of his father last weekend, was the only player in the series to hit two homers, and went 6 for 20 (.300/.300/.650), but his poor throw in the twelfth inning of Game 2 allowed the winning run to score, and that ultimately had a greater impact on this series than anything else he did.

Yankees' Goats
Javier Vazquez see above
Jorge Posada 4 for 18 (.222/.222/.222) all singles, 6 strikeouts, no walks, no RBIs.
Felix Heredia hit consecutive batters to start the ninth in Game 3, forcing Joe Torre to use a still-tired Tanyon Sturtze, eliminating him from Game 4, and Mariano Rivera for three outs in a blowout.

Twins' Heroes
Johan Santana 12 IP, 1 R, 12 K, winning pitcher in the Twins only victory.
Torii Hunter 6 for 17 (.353/.368/.588) five runs scored, a double, two stolen bases, a would-have-been game-winning homer in Game 2, and a key catch at the wall in Game 1.
Corey Koskie 4 for 13 (.308/.474./.385) with three walks and the ground rule double in Game 2 that kept Mariano Rivera from converting a postseason save for just the third time in 33 chances.
Michael Cuddyer 7 for 15 (.467/.467/.467) and turned the pivot on three double plays in Game 1.
Cristian Guzman 5 for 15 (.333/.412/.333) with two walks and a stolen base, started three DPs in Game 1.
Grant Balfour 2 2/3 perfect innings

Yankees' Heroes
Alex Rodriguez 8 for 19 (.421/.476/.737) with a homer, three doubles, two walks and two stolen bases (not counting the extra base hit Torii Hunter stole from him in Game 1). His game-tying ground rule double was the key hit in Game 2 and he manufactured the winning run in Game 4 on his own.
Hideki Matsui 7 for 17 (.412/.476/.647) with a double, a homer and three walks, his sac fly won Game 2.
Derek Jeter 6 for 19 (.316/.350/.526) with a double, a homer, a walk and a steal. His agressive baserunning resulted in the winning run in Game 2.
Ruben Sierra the 2 for 12 (.167/.286/.417) wasn't very impressive, but his game-tying homer in Game 4 was big enough to put him on this list.
Kevin Brown Stepped up to give the Yankees six one-run innings in Game 3 for the win.
Mariano Rivera despite the hic-up in Game 2, the two hits he allowed in the eighth inning of that game accounted for the only base runners against him in the series. He pitched 5 other perfect innings, picking up the win in Game 4.
Jon Lieber 6 2/3 IP, 3 R in Game 2
Mike Mussina I goated him after Game 1 because he didn't pitch well enough to win, but 7 IP, 2 R, 7 K is damn fine pitching.
Paul Quantrill 2 H, 0 R in 2 IP and the win in Game 2.

BRB ALDS MVP: Alex Rodriguez

posted by Cliff at 11:48 AM

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