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August 12, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Execution has killed the Yankees in these past weeks, but fortune has kept the Red Sox at arm's length. The Yankees could have opened a sizeable lead in the East had they executed, but they are still in control.

Tonight, failure to execute beat the Yankees once again. Alfonso Soriano, who had one extra base hit in his previous 14 games, led off the game with a double to left, bringing up Nick Johnson, who has been one of the best hitters in baseball this season. What does Johnson do? He lays down a bunt, moving Soriano to third, giving up what was not unlikely to be a productive plate appearance to move Soriano to third. It was almost certainly a misinterpreted sign (I don't know, I didn't watch the postgame), because not even Don Zimmer is foolish enough to call for a Nick Johnson bunt there. While you have to credit Johnson for his team spirit, you have to wonder why he didn't ask for the signs again. I mean, shouldn't he be thinking to himself, "It's the first inning, Paul Abbott's on the mound, we're not in a huge offensive slump, this is an offensive ballpark, Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi are behind me, and I'm NICK JOHNSON! And Paul Abbott's on the mound. Maybe I should check again to see if that's right, and if it is, maybe I should go back to the dugout and beat Joe Torre to death with my bat."

Even worse, Derek Jeter followed with a hard shot to third, and Alfonso Soriano got caught halfway home, and even though Derek Jeter was able to get to second, two outs were now gone, and no runs were on the board. The Yankees did push three runs across that inning, but after singling the third run of the inning home, Jorge Posada was thrown out trying to get to second base. The Yankees scored three runs that inning, but wasted two, and maybe all three outs wish poor execution. For that they would pay.

The scored two more runs in the third on Jason Giambi's home run, but failed to score their sixth run when Bernie Williams failed to run all out on Posada's double, and was stranded at third base. In the fourth, Soriano doubled again, but was thrown out trying to steal third base with Nick Johnson up again, on a play where he should never have made the attempt, his jump was so poor.

When David Wells was forced to leave the game with back problems, the Yankees had no choice but to bring Sterling Hitchcock into the game, and stick with him. But Hitchcock couldn't get the job done, and gave up the lead in the sixth inning. The Yankees climbed back to within 8-7, but poor relief pitching did them in again. Chris Hammond gave up a leadoff double to Dee Brown in the 8th, but after a sacrifice and a ground ball to Soriano off the end of the bat, Brown was still on third with two outs, and the Yankees had a chance to get out of the inning. But Hammond has struggled against lefties this season, which in Torre's selective memory means he can't get lefties out. So he brought in Jesse Orosco to pitch to Raul Ibanez, who walked.

Now don't get me wrong, bringing in Orosco was not a bad move. If he gets Ibanez, the inning is over, you go to the ninth down by one, and have a shot to tie the game. The alternative was to trust Hammond to pitch to Ibanez, or even walk him and pitch to Sweeney, which is not an appealing move, but Hammond has been exceptionally good against righties this season. No, the mistake Torre made was in who he told the bullpen to have throwing next to Orosco. Instead of Jeff Nelson he warmed up Bret Prinz, leaving him no choice when Orosco walked Ibanez. Nelson wasn't warm, and Orosco couldn't face Sweeney, unless you really wanted it to be 11-7. No, the only choice was Prinz, and while the implosion that followed couldn't have been expected, it didn't come as a tremendous shock. Prinz is...well, he's not exactly predictable. An awful performance put the game more or less out of reach, and became more painful when the Yankees put two runs across in the ninth. Not to say they would have done it anyway, but if they had gotten that last out in the ninth...

Execution killed them. It cost them runs on both sides of the ball, and cost them the game. But Oakland's victory over Pedro and Boston keeps the Sox 3 games out, 4 in the loss column, and takes some of the frustration off of tonight's game. If the Yankees come back and win the next two--no easy task, mind you--they will have done well. But again, they should have done better.

Here's a good reason to join my Yahoo! Group (see post below, or link on sidebar): I just added the workbook I use to calculate DIPS ERA, along with Home Run Park Factors (and Quick DIPS when I don't have those PF) to the files section, and by joining you can download it. I've never been entirely certain that I got the formula for DIPS right, so someone familiar with DIPS might do me the great favor of confirming it's correctness for me. I'll also try to post HRPFs for past seasons when I get the time to calculate them. I also have some other Excel Workbooks on my hard drive that I'll make available when I clean them up and make them user-friendly (stuff like EqA, Run Park Factors, Favorite Toy, etc.). If you have files or spreadsheets like that which you'd like to make available, let me know.