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October 31, 2003

Looking forward: First Base
by Larry Mahnken

After the Yankees lost the fourth game of the World Series, Joe Torre juggled the lineup, benching Alfonso Soriano and playing Nick Johnson instead of Jason Giambi. When David Wells had to leave after one inning, the bullpen gave up six runs, enough to hold of New York for a 6-4 win. Soriano and Giambi came in to pinch hit in the later innings, though Giambi was inexplicably sent to the plate with nobody on in the ninth, instead of the bases loaded in the seventh. After the series, some of the blame for the loss was directed towards Giambi, who some claimed "begged" out of the lineup--although other reports are that Torre pulled him after seeing him limping. Jon Heyman and Mike Lupica have played this up as a character flaw, Lupica wrote that an another Yankee said that Paul O'Neill would have hidden the injury from Torre. Therefore, Jason Giambi is not Paul O'Neill, and thus is not a winner. Gotta dump him.

Jon Heyman actually suggested that. He also said that Giambi went from "zero" to "sub-zero" this postseason. Because he didn't actually hit those two home runs off of Pedro.

Giambi didn't have a bad postseason by any standard except the one he's set for himself. He only hit .237, but he had a .357 OBP and a .849 OPS--including those 2 HRs vs. Pedro. Derek "Clutch" Jeter had an .856 OPS this postseason. Giambi did fine. But he usually does better. Hell, he was better last season, with a 1.071 OPS in the ALDS.

Why didn't he do better this postseason? Well, it wasn't his character, it was that knee, which has been bothering him all season, and contributed greatly to his worst offensive season since 1998. Of course, he was still one of the five best hitters in the league, but if he had been healthy, his batting average would have been closer to .300, and his OPS would have been around 1.000. Perhaps Giambi might have had surgery on the knee earlier in the season had Jeter, Johnson and Williams not been injured, and perhaps have come back strong for the postseason, but it wasn't an option that they could afford (and he probably wouldn't have fully recovered this season, if ever).

The media needs to label someone as the goat when expectations are not met, and I guess Aaron Boone and Alfonso Soriano weren't enough for them. But not only is Jason Giambi not one of the things that's wrong with the Yankees, he's one of the things that's right with them.

Sure, it would be nice if he wasn't locked up through his decline, but if that's the price you need to pay to have one of the best hitters in the game in the middle of your lineup, I think it's one worth paying. Unless the injury to Giambi's knee is much worse than currently believed, his OPS should be above .950 again next season.

Problem is, Giambi isn't a very good defensive player--not so much with catching the ball, but with throwing it. Defense isn't a crucial asset for a first baseman (although Shredder at Baseball Primer has pointed out that winning teams seem to usually have good defensive first basemen, but it's probably just a coincidence), but it makes it likely that Giambi will be the Yankees' designated hitter as long as Nick Johnson is on the team. In yet another unexplained correlation, Giambi's career OPS is .116 higher as a first baseman than as a DH, and was .205 higher in 2003. I don't claim to know why this is, or if it's real. Nick Johnson was better at first base than at DH this season, too, so I don't think it's worth playing Giambi at first base to find out.

As for Nick Johnson, I think he is going to be a great, great hitter, and he's already a pretty damn good one. His .894 OPS was third among American League first basemen this season, behind only Carlos Delgado and Jason Giambi, and his .318 EqA was ninth in the league, tied with Jorge Posada and Frank Thomas, better than Magglio Ordonez, Bret Boone and David Ortiz.

And Johnson is only 25, he's likely to get better than that. Earlier in the season, he was better than that, leading MLB in walks, and prompting Billy Beane to call him "another Jason Giambi". But then he broke a bone, and missed nearly 2½ months. The injury didn't seem to affect him, he was dominant with a 1.024 OPS in August, but was dreadful after that, putting up a dreadful .708 OPS in September and a .634 OPS in the postseason. But as terrible as that was, it doesn't concern me tremendously--good player have bad slumps sometimes--what does concern me is his odd proclivity for getting hurt, especially in the hands. He's missed time in three of the past four seasons with hand or wrist injuries, and I don't know whether it's bad luck or a harbinger of things to come. If Johnson stays healthy, I think it's likely that within the next two seasons, he'll be putting up numbers similar to those that Jason Giambi has put up in the past five. And even if he doesn't improve, he gets on base more than 40% of the time. I think I can live with a decade of that.

If the Yankees want to add a bat on the bench (and I think they should), they should keep switch-hitting International League MVP Fernando Seguignol on the roster. His huge numbers in AAA probably had a lot more to do with having mastered the minors rather than anything else, but he's a pretty good hitter--probably better than Ruben Sierra--has good power, and can fill in adequately in case Nick Johnson does get hurt again. He's certainly be better than last year's backup first baseman, Todd Zeile.

The Yankees don't need to make any moves at first base, and there's probably not any moves they can make that would make them better there, anyway. If the Yankees could get Carlos Beltran for Nick Johnson (they can't--Mike Sweeney), then I'd say claim Manny Ramirez and make that trade. It's unlikely the Yankees will get equal value for Nick in a trade, so I'm against them making any moves with him other than that one, and I don't think they will.

October 30, 2003

Manny Ramirez a Yankee?
by Larry Mahnken

Art Martone, the brilliant sports editor of the Providence Journal , reports that the Red Sox have placed outfielder Manny Ramirez on irrevocable waivers. That means that if a team claims him, and has a higher waiver priority than any other team that claims him, they've got him. The Red Sox can't pull him back.

The Yankees are currently discussing whether or not to claim Ramirez. On one hand, it might seem like a no-brainer, Manny Ramirez is one of the best hitters in baseball. He's due nearly $100 million over the next five seasons, and it will cost the Yankees more than that because of the luxury tax. If the Yankees take Ramirez, it means that a) they won't be signing either Vlad or Sheffield, b) they won't be improving their defense, and c) they're basically giving Vlad to Boston.

While Ramirez is overpaid in the current market, and it does hurt them in some ways, it does mean that they don't have to give up a draft pick to sign a right fielder, whatever that's worth. I really don't know whether the Yankees should claim Ramirez, I guess it depends on whether or not they think they can sign Vlad. If they can, then I'd let Ramirez pass, but if they're unsure, then I'd grab him.

Interestingly, if the Yankees do grab Ramirez, it places an enormous amount of pressure on Boston to sign Guerrero. The Red Sox are not the only team that's going to be trying to sign him, and MLB might want to keep him in Montreal to increase the resale value of the Expos. It should be interesting to read the media reaction once this gets out.

Update: ESPN's Buster Olney is reporting that the Yankees will not claim Ramirez. We'll see how accurate this report is.

Looking forward
by Larry Mahnken

So, I took a few days off. I needed a few days off.

It hurts to lose. It doesn't matter how often your team wins, losing still hurts.

Well, it's time to move on. The Yankees lost, the lost to a team that they're better than, and a team that they played better than. They were in control of the series, and had a chance to put the Marlins away, but they couldn't get the big hit, Joe Torre put the wrong pitcher into the game, David Wells's poor work ethic caught up to him at the worst time, and then they were dominated by an excellent young pitcher, and they didn't do what was needed to get him out of the game. More than being beaten, they lost, and it sucks.

It happens. That's the way the postseason works, that's the way baseball works. There's changes that need to be made, but an overhaul would be a bit extreme. They didn't lose because of some character flaw, but because they didn't get hits at the right time. The Yankees could bring in the best player at every position, and it still could happen again.

But changes need to be made, improvements need to be made. The don't need to be made because the Yankees lost the World Series, they would need to be made even if they won. Boston is going to get better, Toronto is going to get better, and if the Yankees stay at the same level, or get worse, making the playoffs is not going to be a sure thing. If they want to make the playoffs next season, if they want to win a title next season, they're going to have to make moves to get better.

Over the next few days, I'm going to outline what I think the Yankees should do in the offseason with their roster. For Bryan Smith's Wait 'Til Next Year blog, I answered some of his questions, and I caught some flak from a couple of Primates for my comments that the Yankees should try to sign not only one of the big free agent outfielders but also one of the big free agent pitchers. I didn't make this suggestion because having the best players on the Yankees is "some kind of birthright", but because I think the Yankees have as much right to sign those players as everyone else. It doesn't matter that the Yankees have won more of their fair share of World Championships, it's still fair for them to try to win more. (By the way, the Yankees would have to go over 620 years without a title to balance the scales. Seriously.)

I don't expect the Yankees to make most of the moves I suggest, and they might not make any of them. They might not even be the best moves: feel free to contribute your ideas in the comments.

Today, I'll look at the catchers:

The Yankees have Jorge Posada signed for the next few years (he can void his contract after next season, but with him being due at least $21 million over the final three years of the contract, it's unlikely that he'll do that), so they don't have to worry at all about a starting catcher. Posada was the best offensive catcher in the American League in 2003, and a legitimate MVP candidate. At 32, a decline is inevitable, and his defense is not strong, but he should still remain one of the top catchers in the game, and be a huge asset to the team.

Where the Yankees have room to improve is with their backup catcher. John Flaherty filled that role this past season, and while his OPS looked pretty good for a catcher, that was mostly because of his 2 HR game in Baltimore this August, for the most part, he was the same weak-hitting catcher he's always been. Joe Torre has always liked the glove men as backup catcher, so they might bring back Flaherty or someone like him, but it's important to remember the price the Yankees paid for having him on the roster. In Game Four of the World Series, the Yankees pinch-ran David Dellucci for Jorge Posada when he was the tying run on first with two outs. It was the right move to make, that run had to score. But when that run did score, they had to put John Flaherty into the lineup. Flaherty came up twice in extra innings, went 0 for 2, and the Yankees ultimately lost the game, and the series. If the Yankees had a good hitting backup catcher, they might have won the game, and if they had won that game, they would almost certainly have been World Champions.

A better hitting catcher would have helped the Yankees during the regular season, too. When Flaherty gave Posada a day off, it left a hole in the Yankees' lineup, and often they would have to bring Posada in to pinch hit and catch when the game was close in the late innings, and Flaherty came up in a clutch spot. The lack of production from Flaherty might also have dissuaded Torre from giving Posada enough time off, and while Posada kept hitting in the second half, he was also an offensive zero in the ALDS and World Series (though he was great in the ALCS). A better hitting catcher might give Posada a game off a week, and keep him fresh for October, and also help him maintain his offensive value for a couple more seasons.

My suggestion would be to sign free agent catcher Todd Pratt, who played with Philadelphia the past couple of seasons. Pratt isn't much with the glove, but he can hit quite well. He likely can be signed for about the same the Yankees were paying for Flaherty this past season, and in addition to giving Posada time off without being a major hit to the lineup, he can also be used as a pinch-hitter.

The factors that decide whether the Yankees can bring in Pratt are whether Philadelphia brings him back (and if he wants to come back), and if Joe Torre is willing to have a backup catcher who can hit but not field. I think it's likely that he'll go back to Philly, and even if he doesn't that the Yankees will bring in another weak-hitting catcher. The Game Four situation is unlikely to happen again next year, and it didn't really cost the Yankees the World Series by itself, anyway, so backing up Posada with a similar player to Flaherty won't kill them, but the benefits of a player like Pratt: more rest for Posada, less of an offensive hit when Posada sits, and a deeper bench makes it, in my opinion, a move that would make the Yankees a better team.

October 26, 2003

Not with a bang, but a whimper: Florida 2 , New York 0
by Larry Mahnken

Since becoming a hardcore Yankees fan in 1991, I have seen my favorite team win four World Championships, six American League Pennants, make the playoffs nine consecutive years, and be robbed of a playoff appearance and a possible World Championship by the strike. I came in just as the Yankees were climbing out of the cellar (although I had always been a fan, just not devoted), and I witnessed their entire rise to glory. I have, most definitely, been spoiled.

Maybe I take defeat harder than the average fan, because it's something that I haven't been used to. Maybe all fans take defeat as hard as I do. In 1995, I was miserable, because of how they lost, and how sure I was at the time that they'd never win a title. '97 was, at the time, depressing and frustrating, but I've since buried that loss, as they followed it up with a perfect season, and two more titles after that. I was miserable again in 2001, because of how very close they were, and the manner in which they lost it. Last season was more rage than anything else, as they got their brains beaten out by the Angels. This season, the beat the Twins fairly handily, which I expected. They had their hands full with the Red Sox, which I also expected, and at the moment when I was sure they were going to lose, they won, and I was joyful. Now they've lost the World Series, and I'm not angry, I'm a bit sad, but mostly, I'm frustrated.

The Yankees were the better team in this World Series. The better team does not always win a short series though. The Braves were better than the Yankees in '96, the Indians were perhaps better than the Braves in '95. The Yankees defeated two superior teams in the 2001 American League playoffs, before falling to a team that they were fairly evenly matched with. They beat a team that was probably better than them in the ALCS. The 1960 Pirates beat the Yankees, the 1953 Yankees beat the Dodgers, the '54 Giants beat the Indians. The '69 Mets beat the Orioles, the 1906 White Sox beat the 116-win Cubs. I could go on and on about how often the inferior team wins a postseason series. That the Marlins won this series does not make them the better team. But that also doesn't matter, because they did win the series, and they do get the trophy, and the rings, and the flag to fly. And that, in the end, is what matters. Goliath didn't go home and say, well, I lost to David, but I still know that I'm stronger than him! Because he was dead. Dead men don't gloat, and pennant winners who lose to inferior teams in the World Series don't gloat, either.

I won't write much today about how and why the Yankees lost--I probably won't write much about that for quite a while. They played poorly, they failed to capitalize on the many, many opportunities they had, while Florida seemed to capitalize on every one they had. They were only outplayed in one game--last night's game, but they gave away three games in the first five, and did themselves in.

And so that's it, the season is over. The Yankees will go out and sign one or two big free agents, probably make a trade. Assuredly, some mediot will write about how the Yankees have ruined baseball with their buying of titles, and how small market teams can't compete, yadda yadda yadda. Of course, a small market team won in 2001, and a mid market team whose lease makes them essentially a small market team won this year, and of course, Bud Selig has stopped preaching the doctrine of competitive imbalance and is trying to take credit for the success of Florida, saying the new CBA made it possible (it did no such thing). Whatever. People who write that should be fired. It never was true, and now the irrefutable evidence of it's falsity exists. Small market teams can compete just fine; small payroll teams can compete when the circumstances are right. Go ahead and let the Yankees buy up the free agent market. Take note: the Yankees didn't sign a single premier free agent from 1996-2000. Since signing Mike Mussina in late 2000, they haven't won a single title.

The Yankees won't collapse. They're old, they're declining, but 1964 isn't just around the corner. The collapse will be a few 85-win seasons, just out of contention--if, of course, it happens at all. They'll contend for a title again next year, but it'll be tougher. Boston and Toronto will be better, and the Yankees might not even make it out of the East.

But let's talk about that tomorrow, or next week, we've got a few months to bitch before they play again. The 2003 season is over, but the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog isn't out of stuff to write--I think. Especially with the Yankees, you know that there will be a lot to talk about in the offseason. Although I hope to, I might not be able to write everyday, but I'll try, and I'll keep the site regularly updated, and I'll write about any important story involving the Yankees (and some that don't).

I started this blog as a way to put my opinions about my favorite team and sport out there for people to read. Some of you liked my style of writing, some of you liked my analysis, and some of you hated me, although I'm not sure why I'm worth hating. I thank you all for reading, and I hope that you return regularly during the offseason, and that I can make your visits here worthwhile. I'd like to offer special thanks to some people who have particularly encouraged me in my writing: Art Martone, Jay Jaffe, Alex Belth, Aaron Gleeman, "Repoz", and everyone in the Yankees Game Chatters on Baseball Primer this year, all of whom I consider my friends. Also, I'd like to mention Dan Szymborski, who didn't actually do anything, but who said I've never mentioned him on the blog. Well, now I have.

I'd also like to give personal thanks to my friends and family: Dad, Mom and my sister, Beth; I love you all. My friends Stef, Bella, Mikey, Kosko, Chrissy, Tyler, Rob, Bill, and Jeff Patrick, who hates baseball with a passion, and who I'm sure will torture me mercilessly about the Yankees' loss, but has encouraged me in my writing nonetheless.

Sorry for all that personal crap that you likely don't care about, and if I forgot to mention you, well, now you know that I don't care. Just kidding. If I forgot you, I'm sorry.

October 25, 2003

Last Dance
by Larry Mahnken

I look at tonight's Game Six with anticipation and dread. I don't feel confident that they'll win this game, or certain that they'll lose it, either. I know they can win, I know they should win, but they should also have won all five of these games, and they lost three of them. So much for should.

I dread defeat. I can visualize that moment in the postgame, where Bud Selig hands the World Series trophy over to Jeff Loria, and in that instant, as they both touch it, that trophy becomes a conduit through which so much evil passes that it explodes in a blinding flash of red light, and breaks open a vortex in the Visitors' Clubhouse, destroying all of civilization, and through which pass the terrible minions of Satan, bringing down 10 million years of darkness upon mankind for allowing such evil to not only exist, but triumph.

I could deal with the Cubs winning, I could even be willing to accept, eventually, a Red Sox victory. And I have nothing against the Florida Marlins or they're devoted fan(s). Jack McKeon is a man deserving of a title, and he should never have been cast aside by the Cincinnati Reds for Bob Boone. He has done an excellent job.

But Jeff Loria is evil. To non-Yankees fans, this series has been likened to the Eastern Front in World War II--who do you root for, Stalin or Hitler? It cannot be disputed that Steinbrenner is an egomaniacal asshole. He fires people for minor indiscretions, and is brutal in handing out blame for the team's on-field failures. But he tries to win, and that, above all else, is his motivation in running the team. He could make many millions more if he fielded consistently strong teams that didn't win titles, but still filled Yankee Stadium with fans, while costing tens of millions of dollars less in payroll (Connie Mack's stated desire for his teams). That tact would even have helped fend off Bud Selig's drastic revenue sharing demands, and perhaps saved him tens of millions more. But while he's a good businessman, and won't risk losing money, he also puts winning above maximizing his profit, and tries to put the best team on the field that he can.

Jeff Loria, on the other hand, destroyed baseball in Montreal. Taking advantage of the revenue sharing program in place, he invested as little money as possible in the team, instead collecting massive revenue sharing checks year after year--making the safe profit, or at worst taking a minimal loss. He maneuvered the rest of the Expos' ownership out of the way, taking over the majority of the team, then proceeded to destroy the fan base in Montreal, while simultaneously demanding that the taxpayers finance a brand new stadium for him to field crappy teams in. When MLB bought the team from him with the intention of contracting it before last season, he insisted on being allowed to purchase another team, and so MLB fixed the sale of the Red Sox to John Henry's group to free up the Marlins for him.

Now, I know what you're thinking, the Marlins won the pennant this season, Loria can't be that bad, he's obviously committed to winning. No, he's obviously committed to looking good to the public in South Florida, who he will press to buy him a new stadium, and is also trying to put forward a good image in defense of himself in the RICO suit brought against him and Bud Selig by Loria's former partners in Montreal. Have no fear, Marlins fans, in a few years--shiny new stadium or not--Loria will proceed to operate the Marlins in the same manner in which he did the Expos: don't spend money, and cash the big fat Yankees checks. Like anyone, he enjoys winning, but he enjoys money more.

But while I dread defeat, I can see victory. The Yankees go into the last game with the pitchers who recorded victories in both of their wins: Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina. Both were not just good, but dominant, and should be able to keep the Yankees in the game. Pettitte is streaky, and if he goes out and throws a clunker, the Yankees are dead. But I think Pettitte can give them the strong performance they need to survive.

What is comes down to is whether or not the Yankees can score off of Beckett and Pavano. McKeon is taking a tremendous gamble: Beckett is a fastball pitcher, and has never started on short rest. He is less likely to be dominant, and less likely to go deep (Florida's bullpen has a 5.29 ERA in this series), although he did throw 4 innings of 1-hit ball on two days' rest in Game Seven of the NLCS. Pavano was also excellent in Game Four, but will also be going on short rest coming off of 115 pitches. This strategy of using his two best pitchers on short rest would be an excellent one if the Marlins were facing elimination tonight, as it maximizes their chances of winning both games, but they're not facing elimination, and the strategy of using Beckett on full rest in Game 7, and Redman tonight maximizes their chances of winning one game.

Or does it? After all, Redman is not a particularly consistent pitcher, and he wasn't fooling the Yankees at all in Game Two. Redman might get torched if he starts tonight, and it won't matter how Pettitte pitches. Then it would be up to Beckett against Mussina, and even if Beckett totally shuts down the Yankees for nine innings, Moose is capable--perhaps more capable than Beckett--of shutting down the Marlins. The Marlins aren't facing Pedro Martinez in Game Seven, but they are viewing that matchup as if they were. They don't want to have to beat Mussina, and so their strategy is to do all they can to avoid a Game Seven, and win tonight. With Beckett and Pavano going in the two games, you increase your chances of winning tonight--it puts much more pressure on Pettitte right from the start, as he knows he has to be almost perfect, or he may be facing elimination, and if the Yankees do win, Pavano seems nearly as likely of outdueling Mussina as Beckett is.

There's no way to say that the Yankees have an advantage in tonight's game, or in this series. They don't, they're up against the wall, and the Marlins have to win only one game to be World Champions. If the Yankees start taking advantage of their opportunities, or at least work the pitch count to get Beckett out early, they should be able to score more than enough runs to win tonight, even if Petitte doesn't pitch well. And if they do win tonight, then they do have the advantage, as the Marlins are facing elimination against a superior pitcher and lineup.

But they have to win tonight, or it's literally over. They can, and they should, but like I said, should means nothing tonight. Either they do or they don't, there's no way to rationalize defeat.

October 24, 2003

Pathetic: Florida 6, New York 4
by Larry Mahnken

If you're going to focus on one reason the Yankees are one game away from losing the World Series to a vastly inferior team, look at the offense. They've failed to come through with clutch hits time and again this series, failed to score nearly as many runs as they reasonably should have expected to. There's been bad defense, and some poor managerial decisions, but if the Yankees were hitting anywhere near as well as they should be, it wouldn't matter. This isn't the case of dominant Florida starting pitching completely shutting down the Yankees' hitters, as you could say was the case in 2001 against the Diamondbacks. No, the Yankees have actually hit well in this series, but they haven't gotten the big hit in the many, many scoring opportunities they had. If the Yankees were playing well, they would have swept this series. If they were playing just okay...they probably still would have swept this series. Instead, they're playing terribly, and so are now one game away from losing to the Marlins.

No player has exemplified the impotence of the Yankees' effort more pathetically than Alfonso Soriano. Soriano has run almost exclusively hot and cold all season, and this postseason he has been exclusively cold. He's batting .158 in this series, and barely over .200 for the postseason, and along the way, he's set a postseason record for strikeouts.

The problem has been exacerbated by Joe Torre's insistence on batting him leadoff throughout the postseason. Last night, finally willing to accept that Soriano has been killing the Yankees at the top of the lineup all postseason, Joe Torre... benched him. His stated reason was that Soriano seemed to have broken out of slumps after having a day off earlier in the season*, so he figured he'd give him a day off . Yeah Joe, that's it, he's tired. Maybe Soriano is tired, but it's more likely that Soriano's problem is his total lack of even a modicum of discipline.

I've explained this before, I'll do it again: Plate discipline does NOT mean taking walks. The essence of plate discipline can be summed up by one piece of advice Rogers Hornsby gave to a 20-year old Ted Williams while serving as hit hitting coach in the minor leagues: "Get a good ball to hit". If you only swing at balls you can hit well, you're more likely to hit those balls hard--raising your batting average and your slugging percentage. And because no pitch outside of the zone is one that you're likely to hit well, you'll draw more walks, too--raising your on-base percentage. On the other hand, if you take the approach that Soriano seems to take: swing at any pitch you think you might be able to hit, you might get some hittable pitches, but you'll get mostly pitches that you can't hit hard, you won't get hits, you won't get on base, and you won't hit the ball hard.

This isn't a new problem for Soriano. He's been hitting like this since he was in the minor leagues, and it's this style that led many statheads to believe that he would never amount to very much as a major leaguer. The belief that D'Angelo Jimenez would be a better player than Soriano had less to do with a belief in Jimenez's upside than a view towards Soriano's downside. It hasn't happened, and it's not likely to happen, but before the past two seasons, you could see Soriano collapsing as a hitter. Billy Beane doesn't think that plate discipline can be learned, that you either have it or you don't, but I firmly believe that it can, at the very least, be improved, simply by drilling into a ballplayer's head this simple adage: "Get a good ball to hit."

But you know what? The World Series isn't the right time to change a batter's approach, and I lay the blame at the feet of Joe Torre and Rick Down for failing to recognize Soriano's fatal flaw in the past three seasons, and be proactive about it. Most bullheaded of all has been Torre's insistence in batting Soriano leadoff, even though his on-base percentage is pathetic, and it leads to him hitting many leadoff home runs, home runs that might otherwise have come with men on base. The appropriate reaction last night to Soriano's slump--well, the appropriate reaction before the World Series began--would have been to drop him down in the lineup, where his PAs would be minimized, and a superior hitter's would be maximized.

But Torre dropped Soriano from the lineup, and replaced him with Enrique Wilson. There is one legitimate justification for playing Wilson ahead of Soriano, and that's the fact that Wilson usually hits better than Soriano is right now, so if Wilson were to hit at his normal level, you might actually gain something with the bat. But where Wilson batted--second--defies explanation. This is Enrique Wilson, he has a .654 career OPS, and a .296 career OBP. If you're going to play him, for God's sake, bat him eighth!

At first glance, it appears that the move worked out for Torre. Wilson was 2 for 4 with a walk, his bunt single in the first led to the Yankees' first run (actually, the error on the play led to the Yankees' first run), his walk in the seventh brought the tying run to the plate, and his double in the ninth did the same. He drove in two runs, and for the most part helped the Yankees' lineup--although his GIDP in the top of the third, after Florida scored three runs to take the lead, killed the Yankees' chances for a rally that inning.

But, of course, baseball is not just offense, and Wilson may have cost the Yankees the game with his glove. In the second, Brad Penny smacked a ball to the right side of second base, and Wilson took a Jeteresque step and a dive, and the ball was by him. Now, while Bret Boone probably would have made the play on that ball, Wilson shouldn't have, and Soriano probably wouldn't have...but, on the other hand, Soriano is two inches taller than Wilson, and has much longer arms...he might have. But that wasn't the play that killed the Yankees, even though it scored two runs, when an out would have ended the inning.

No, the play that killed the Yankees came in the bottom of the fifth, with Ivan Rodriguez on second, and one out. Jeff Conine hit the ball hard past third base, but Aaron Boone made a spectacular play to field it. Rodriguez was caught off of second base, and Boone smartly chased him back to second, and threw the ball to Wilson, who briefly chased Rodriguez to third, then threw the ball to nobody, allowing Rodriguez to reach third safely and Conine to reach second. The next batter, Lowell, singled to center, both runs scored, and--hey, wouldn't you know it, that was the winning margin. And you kind of knew it would be at the time, too.

On television, it was speculated, probably correctly, that Wilson threw to third so quickly because he wanted to avoid a long rundown, which would get Conine to second base. However, if the Yankees--and this includes Boone--had properly executed the rundown, Rodriguez would have been out, Conine stuck on first base, and it is likely no runs would have scored.

The proper way to execute a rundown in this situation is simple: Boone fields the ball, sees Rodriguez stuck between second and third. He immediately starts running towards Rodriguez, to get him to run to second base to avoid the tag. At this time, Wilson should be running towards Rodriguez from second, and as soon as Pudge is committed towards second, Boone should flip it to Wilson, who catches the ball, and tags Rodriguez--whose momentum doesn't allow him to change directions quickly enough to get away from Wilson. One throw, one out, Conine stuck at first. There should never be more than one throw in a properly executed rundown, the key is to get the baserunner to commit to running towards one base, which makes him unable to avoid the tag from the defensive player standing there. You, of course, never see it done properly, the defensive player usually pump fakes the ball to try and get the runner to slow down or come towards them, leading to exactly the opposite result of the one intended--the runner doesn't commit to one direction, and rather than running into the tag, he gets chased long enough for the runner to move up.

Of course, what was probably the biggest factor in the loss was the injury to David Wells, who had to leave after a perfect first inning. Wells was very good in the first game, and his strong start--and a 1-0 lead, gave hope that he might send the Yankees back to New York with a 3-2 lead, instead of a 3-2 deficit. But Wells started suffering from back spasms, and fortunately told Torre and Stottlemyre about it, rather than going back to the mound and getting hammered. But the bullpen wasn't able to shut Florida down, the defense didn't help out much, and the Yankees are now facing elimination.

Florida likely goes to Josh Beckett and Carl Pavano on short rest now, looking for one win against Andy Pettitte or Mike Mussina. Hey, the Yankees can do it, they're a better team than Florida, and Pettitte and Mussina on full rest are probably better than Beckett and Pavano on short rest. They're at home, and the last two World Champions won Games 6 and 7 at home. But it's looking somewhat bleak.

Move over, '88 Dodgers, you may have competition soon.

*(in 24 PAs after a day off this year, Soriano was .364/.417/.409/.826)

October 23, 2003

Wasted Heroics: Florida 4, New York 3
by Larry Mahnken

I've heard from a lot of Red Sox fans in the past week that if Joe Torre was manager of the Red Sox, they, not the Yankees, would have won the American League Pennant. Perhaps. But both Little and Dusty Baker, whose failure to recognize his pitcher was done in the NLCS cost the Cubs a pennant, had a legitimate point in leaving Pedro Martinez and Mark Prior on the mound: if you're going to lose, you might as well lose with your best pitcher.

Evidently, Joe Torre doesn't buy into that theory. He seems to follow the less popular theory of "losing with your worst pitcher".

Of course, that wasn't what Torre was actually thinking:
Weaver, he's our long guy, and unfortunately he hasn't pitched a whole lot, but he's been throwing, and the home run, he got to 3-2, and you certainly don't want to walk somebody to lead off an inning. He made him hit it, and he did, and the game's over. That was basically it. They're primarily right handed over there, and that's why Weaver was in the game. I mean, if he's not in the game there, he shouldn't be on our roster.
Joe made a good point, but probably not the one he intended to.

Jeff Weaver's not a bad pitcher. He may very well be a good pitcher. But this year, he wasn't, especially in the second half. Hit unlucky, distracted, poorly supported by his defense, whatever. He had an awful season. Hey, maybe he'll turn it around in October, maybe he'll live up to his potential, and maybe he'll be valuable. Maybe Jeff Weaver will throw three strong innings, and you'll win the game. And maybe that girl I've been pining over for months will have a change of heart and decide that she loves me, after all. But I probably shouldn't be counting on that, and showing up at her door with a dozen red roses.

And Jeff Weaver shouldn't be in a game if there's another option, and he might not even deserve to be on the postseason roster (DePaula was up before September 1, right? How about him?). The situation for Weaver to be in the game would be once everyone else was used. Contreras, White, Heredia, Hammond, Nelson--and even Rivera. Torre probably made a mistake Tuesday night leaving Rivera in to finish the ninth with a five-run lead, and he definitely made a mistake not bringing him in for the bottom of the ninth last night. What are you saving Rivera for? A lead you might never get? Tomorrow? When you might not win, let alone need your closer?

It was a tied game, and you couldn't afford to give up a single run. As I said, if you're gonna lose, you lose with your best on the mound, and Mariano Rivera is the Yankees' best. You bring in Rivera for two innings in the ninth, Contreras for three in the 11th, and then you go down the list--and when there's nobody left, and you need someone who can go several innings, then you go to Weaver. Only then.

The most frustrating thing to me is that, had the Yankees not brought in Weaver, they probably would have won the game. Do you really think that Florida bullpen was going to keep holding the Yankees scoreless, inning after inning? I don't.

And now you can see the Marlins winning this series, maybe. Their next two games are against lefties, David Wells and Andy Pettitte, and the Marlins kill lefties, for the most part. They're unlikely to sweep--I think they're unlikely to win either game, but they can, and then it goes to Game Seven, and Josh Beckett. And when you've got a pitcher like Beckett on the mound, you've got a chance to win. Florida snuck away with one today, because Pavano pitched great, Clemens had one bad inning, and Joe Torre made some foolish decisions. But once again, a win's a win, and both teams now have two.

Ralph Terry was redeemed, as was Mariano Rivera, and Byung-Hyun Kim, sort of. But Ralph Branca and Mitch Williams were not. Gonzalez's HR wasn't as big as those, and won't be remembered as those were--even in South Florida, were they've already forgotten that the Marlins won last night--but if the Yankees lose this series, Jeff Weaver will become a pariah in New York, and he'll have to live with the thought that he cost his team the World Series, just like Buckner was blamed for costing the Red Sox the World Series. But just like Buckner, his mistake didn't lose the series, and it didn't lose a win. And just like Buckner, Weaver shouldn't have been in there. If the Yankees lose this series, I hope people remember that. Joe Torre set him up to fail--there was nothing to be gained by having him in that situation, and everything to lose. He shouldn't have been in there.

October 22, 2003

Lucky and good: New York 6, Florida 1
by Larry Mahnken

Sure, everyone was hoping for the Red Sox and Cubs to make it to the World Series, guaranteeing that one of those star-crossed franchises would win their first World Series since the days when Presidents were elected based on issues. Everyone was probably pulling for those two teams to win just so the rest of us wouldn't have to hear their fans whining anymore, but it's probably for the best that they didn't, as most of those fans probably don't understand that nine decades of whining kind of limits the amount of gloating we're willing to put up with when they finally do win.

What everyone's desire for the Sox/Cubs series caused us to miss was the real Cinderella story, the Florida Marlins. In late May, they were 10 games under .500, and their ace pitcher had been knocked out of action thanks to the wacky antics of Jeff Torborg, whose parents were apparently killed by a young pitcher. But they finally go rid of Torborg, and replaced him with Jack McKeon, former manager of the Royals, A's, Reds, Padres and Knickerbockers, and in late May, their season began to turn around.

Sure, they really had no business being in the playoffs, coming in the backdoor that was reserved for teams that were actually good. But they finished with the best record of any team that didn't actually win it's division--and a better record than two teams that did--and knocked off the defending NL Champions in four games, and then came back from a 3-1 deficit, and a 3-0 deficit with 5 outs to go in Game 6 to defeat the Cubs, and advance to play the Yankees in the World Series.

But sometimes, the carriage turns back into a pumpkin, the mice get eaten by a cat, and Cinderella gets her head lopped off by a light saber. Sure, the Series is only 2-1, but the Yankees have almost completely manhandled the Marlins in the first three games. Florida has scored only five runs in the first three games, and collected a grand total of 3 extra-base hits, all doubles, all last night, and one of which would have been an out against any team with a half-decent defense. The Yankees had most of the breaks go their way last night: a bad stop at third base on Pudge Rodriguez by Ozzie Guillen, and a foolish attempt to score by Pudge later that inning, a terrible call for ball four on a 3-2 count with the bases loaded and two outs for the Yankees, and a 39-minute rain delay that may have prevented Florida's ace from pitching a complete game. But the Yankees didn't just win because they were lucky, they won because the Fish weren't lucky.

People have made a connection between this series and the 1960 World Series, where the Pirates won 4 close games from the Yankees, the last on Bill Mazeroski's HR, and lost 3 blowouts. History, of course, is not cyclical, nor is history cyclical, and history is not cyclical, either, but that series, the most obvious case of how a short series can go to an inferior team, shows that the Marlins can win this series, even though the Yankees are a superior team on paper. They have to win the close games.

Except the Yankees are better equipped to win the close games than the Marlins are. Sure, Florida utilizes one-run strategies better than New York does, but while that helps them score in more of their opportunities, it also makes them likely score fewer runs overall, putting the outcome of the game even more in the hands of their pitchers.

Aside from Josh Beckett, none of Florida's starters can match the Yankees' starters, particularly considering the quality of lineup they have to face. Sometimes, like Saturday, a mediocre starter can give you a strong outing, and put the game in the hands of your bullpen, but the Yankees are stronger there, too. Florida lacks a strong situational lefty, forcing McKeon to send Dontrelle Willis out to the pen to try and do the job. Willis pitched strong in Game One, but last night walked two and gave up a single in the crucial eighth inning. If the Marlins do get the lead late in the game, they turn to Braden Looper and Ugueth Urbina, neither of whom is especially reliable. The Yankees, on the other hand, have Jeff Nelson, who is almost useless versus lefty batters, but still dominates righties. And if you get the game to the eighth with the lead, Mariano is about as close to a sure thing as you can get from a pitcher, having failed only twice in his long postseason career.

Even if the breaks had gone Florida's way last night, had there been no rain, had Pudge scored from second and Posada struck out, they still might have lost. I just can't see Florida scoring a bunch of runs off of the Yankees, and in most cases, the Marlins are going to have to go through their extremely shaky middle relief to get to Looper and Urbina, something the Yankees' hitters should be feasting on before this series is over--the feast may have already begun last night.

If the Marlins had won last night, I might see them as having a chance to win this series, but I still think the Yankees would have won. Now, they have to rely on two hittable righties and a lefty who doesn't scare the Yankees to do what they couldn't do tonight, and win two of three just to get the series back into Josh Beckett's hands. I just can't see that happening. Really, I think they'd be lucky just to get this back to New York.

October 20, 2003

New York 6, Florida 1
by Larry Mahnken

Almost nobody picked the Marlins to beat the Giants, but they did. Of course, if Jose Cruz, Jr. hadn't dropped that ball, or if J.T. Snow hadn't tried to score from second on a single to left, it might have been the Giants who won the series, and maybe in four games.

Almost nobody picked the Marlins to beat the Cubs--almost nobody wanted the Marlins to beat the Cubs--and when the Cubs went up 3-1 in the series with Prior and Wood pitching two of the last three, everyone wrote the Marlins off. And yet they won. Of course, the Cubs were an 88-win team, and they still would have won the series if Dusty Baker knew how to handle pitchers. And even if he didn't, they would have won if he had Mariano Rivera.

Hey, the Marlins are a good team, they won 91 games in the regular season, and they had the best record in baseball for the past few months. But the Cubs are not the Yankees, and the Giants are not the Yankees. And the Marlins are not the Red Sox. As much as everyone wants to spin it to make it more exciting, the Yankees are a much better team than Florida. They have a better lineup than Florida, they have a better rotation than Florida, and they have a better bullpen than Florida.

That doesn't mean that the Marlins can't win, lesser teams than them have beaten greater teams than the Yankees, and their style of play does a good job of exposing New York's defense, which helped Anaheim beat the Yankees last October. Of course, without the great relief pitching and big home runs, Anaheim wouldn't have beaten New York last season.

For Florida to win, they need the breaks to go their way. They need to score lucky runs, like the three they pushed across Saturday, and keep the Yankees from taking advantage of scoring opportunities. They need to hit better than they have--they haven't gotten a single extra base hit in two games--and they need to ignore the "little ball" hype. Florida got past San Francisco and Chicago by creating runs, not manufacturing them, and they need to keep doing it.

And they need to win Tuesday. Josh Beckett is a legitimately great starter--probably the only one Florida has--and the Yankees should have trouble putting runs on the board against him. Of course, Mike Mussina is also a legitimately great starter, and the Marlins are going to have just as much trouble putting runs up against him. It doesn't mean anything that Florida now has "home field advantage"--home teams are 16-18 in the postseason, the Yankees are 4-4 at home and 4-1 on the road, and had the best road record in baseball this year. They won two straight in the freaking Metrodome, I think they can handle Pro Player Stadium.

* * *

Quick thoughts:

- Was this the last time we'll see Andy Pettitte as a Yankee? I'm pretty close to 100% sure that's a negative, and not just because this series will likely go six or more games. Andy Pettitte wants to come back next year, the Yankees are going to need a starter like him next year, and it's unlikely that any team will be able to offer him enough money to pry him away. However, he is a free agent, so you never know. But I think it's probable that Pettitte will finish his career as a Yankee.

- What is up with Hideki Matsui against NL teams? During interleague play this season, in 77 PAs (BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!) Matsui's line was .493/.558/.881/1.439. 1.439!!! That's Barry Bonds on a hot streak!!! Even more incredible is that his line versus the AL was .263/.327/.381/.708. His OPS vs. the NL was DOUBLE his OPS vs. the AL. That's insane. I don't know why Matsui hits so well vs. the NL, but he appears to be continuing the trend, going 4 for 8 in the first two games with a homer. If he keeps it up, and the Yankees win, he looks like a good pick for MVP.

- I love Nick Johnson, but there's no question that Jason Giambi should be starting in Florida. Nick's a great hitter, but Giambi's still much better, and while both have struggled in the postseason so far, Giambi's struggles haven't been as great as Nick's.

- Aaron Boone made a mental error in Game One that gave the Marlins a run, and might have cost the Yankees the game. He made two errors last night, the last of which cost Andy Pettitte the shutout. But I'm not upset, because I really don't think the Yankees would have won on Thursday if he hadn't hit that home run right then.

- If the Yankees win this series, and the last game is a blowout, does Joe Torre bring in Roger Clemens to get the last out?

- A guy at work today said that even when the Yankees were down 5-2 to Pedro and five outs away from losing, he had no doubt that they'd win. I told him that was too bad, because if he's telling the truth, he couldn't have enjoyed the victory nearly as much as I did. Winning is far more fun when you don't expect it.

October 19, 2003

Letdown: Florida 3, New York 2
by Larry Mahnken

I don't know about anyone else, but for the first few innings of last night's game, it didn't feel like the World Series. Obviously, when your team has been in the World Series 6 times in the past eight seasons, you do get used to the way the games feel. But this was different, almost like a mid-summer game against Toronto, and it didn't feel like winning was that important.

It was, to use a sports cliche, a letdown. There was no way that last night's game could match the emotional high of Thursday, and it was almost as though my emotions shut down for a couple of days, knowing that if I allowed myself to invest myself emotionally in the outcome I could only be disappointed, and hurt, because it couldn't match the joy of Thursday.

Maybe the Yankees to a degree felt the same way, or maybe some of them did, but I doubt it. I criticize Joe Torre's in-game decision making incessantly, but he's an exceptional manager of men, and there is no doubt in my mind that he, and Derek Jeter, reminded the team on Friday that beating Boston was not what they're getting paid for. There is still more work to be done.

They didn't get the job done last night, falling 3-2 to Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis and a predictably shaky Ugueth Urbina. There is plenty of criticism to go around--and believe me, I'll get to it--but the failures of the team last night was not because they came out flat. They just plain failed.

Florida was pretty lucky to win last night, which is not to say that they didn't play well--they played excellent baseball--but that the formula they followed last night is not one that's likely to win them this series. They will have to play better than they did, and differently than they did to win, and they likely will. But getting a few bloop singles, bunting runners matter what Joe Morgan thinks, if that's how they play this series, they're going to have to shut the Yankees' offense down every game to win, and they still might lose. It's not how they beat San Francisco, and it's not how they beat Chicago.

But it is how they beat the Yankees last night, and a win from a bad formula counts the same as a win with a good formula--and more than a loss with any formula. Brad Penny was surprisingly strong, and the Yankees' failed to come through with the big hit in several situations. But they did create those situations, and ultimately, it should pay off. They just have to hope that Florida hasn't stolen a couple more games before it does.

But then again, the Yankees have seemed unable to get the big hit all season long. I think a large part of that has to be lineup construction, particularly the insistence of Joe Torre in batting Bernie Williams cleanup, which might be more ridiculous than Soriano batting leadoff. Coming off of knee surgery, Bernie has hardly displayed any power this season--last night's home run was only his 4th extra base hit this postseason, he's only slugging .422--but he's still getting on base at a decent rate, because he still has an excellent eye.

Torre made a bold move in dropping Jason Giambi to the seventh spot for Game Seven on the ALCS, and it was, in my opinion, a good move, getting Giambi out of pressure situations, so he wouldn't hurt the team as much if he failed. He didn't fail, he hit two home runs off of Pedro Martinez.

But rather than bring Giambi right back up to the third spot, he left him batting seventh. If he was doing it just because "it worked" it would be silly, but the reasoning that it was only one game, and he may not be out of his slump yet tells you that it's probably not an awful move to leave him there. I'd still move him back up, but Torre's decision is defensible.

But his decision to leave Soriano and Williams where they are is not. Williams isn't hitting for any power, and his singles are moving runners from first to third rather than bringing them home, leaving it up to other people to finish the job. The Yankees would be better served moving Bernie up in the lineup, where his ability to get on base makes him a better asset, and the people who are capable of moving people up will get more opportunities to do so.

Soriano, on the other hand, isn't doing anything. He's not hitting for power, he's not hitting at all. He's not getting on base. He's not moving runners up. He's not making things happen. He's been worthless this October.

So, of course, let's give him more plate appearances than anyone else on the team. No better way to start the game than with an out. On one pitch.

Leaving him batting leadoff is insane. While he's ice cold like this, he's killing the team, and when he's hot, a lot of his value is wasted. Michael Kay may marvel at all of Soriano's leadoff home runs, but I look at every one of those HRs as a lost opportunity. Had Soriano been batting lower in the order, perhaps someone would have been on when he hit those. For some of them, at least, someone would have been.

It's obvious that Soriano is lost at the plate, looking for fastballs in the strike zone. Throw him a changeup in the zone, he'll swing and miss, throw him a breaking ball that leaves the zone, he'll swing and miss. Throw him one that breaks into the zone...he'll take it for a strike. He's looking for heat over the plate, and nobody's that stupid, he's not going to get it.

And yet, he keeps batting leadoff. Because Torre thinks that there's a real psychological advantage to a leadoff home run (scoring the first run of the game isn't any more important than scoring the second one), thinks that speed on the bases is important high in the order (it isn't), and that he doesn't have a better leadoff option (he has at least three). I don't expect it will ever do any good, but I'm going to keep saying it: batting Soriano leadoff is idiotic.

Well, it's one game, I'm not too worried right now. Andy Pettitte's a lefty, but should do fine against the Marlins tonight, and Mark Redman doesn't really scare me. I think they'll win this one.

* * *

MLB has a rule that an umpire can't work consecutive postseason series. I'm not sure why, but I suppose it's in the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the umpires. MLB also doesn't assign umpires by performance, and the umpires are fighting MLB's use of the Questec system to evaluate calls of balls and strikes.

I've never been in favor of an electronic ball and strike calling system. I like the human element in the game, and arguing a close call is fun. But then there's this:

I don't know if you can pick up the ball in that picture, it's the faint white streak just to the left of Posada's right shoe. That was the pitch called strike two with two outs in the eighth inning with runners on first and third. That ball was not a strike. It wasn't anything close to being a strike. It was at least six inches off of the plate--I measured it. It showed up better on TV, but take a close look at the faint white line under the white streak: IT WAS IN THE BATTER'S BOX.

Now, if that was outside, I suppose I could accept that. The umpire is seeing it from the side, not straight on, so missing by a few inches is understandable. But take a look at Randy Marsh's head. It's right over the inside of the plate, right where it should be. The key to this is that from his perspective--right on the inside boundary of the strike zone, the pitch was to his right. And not a tiny bit to his right, it was to the right of his entire head. Visualize yourself back there, a 100 mph fastball coming in, all you see is a fraction of a second, a white streak. Visualize yourself standing right where Randy Marsh is standing, and how the pitch would look from that perspective.

There's no way you could call that a strike. But Marsh did, probably because he decided that he was going to call his own strike zone last night, and that it was going to be 12 inches wider than the plate.

And some would say that as long as both teams get the same strike zone, then it's fair. First of all, it's not fair--it's unfair to the batters, it's simply unfair to the batters on both teams. Secondly, it's not the umpire's job to decide what is or isn't fair, it's the umpire's job to enforce the rules, period. It's the job of the rules to make things fair, and what the rules have determined is that it is fair to both the batters and the pitchers for the strike zone to be from the batter's knees to his letters, and over the plate.

My regular job is making bagels. There are three requirements for a bagel to be a bagel. It has to be round with a hole in it, it has to be boiled, and it has to be baked. If I decided to ball the bagels up, they wouldn't be bagels, they'd be balls of bagel dough, boiled and baked. And I'd lose my job. If I decided to bake them and not boil them, they'd look like bagels, but they wouldn't be chewy inside, and they wouldn't be bagels. And I'd lose my job. If I decided to boil them and not bake them, well, they'd be soft rings of dough, and that wouldn't be very appetizing. And I'd lose my job.

But if an umpire decides to redefine something as clearly defined as what a strike is, he doesn't get fired. Or reprimanded. Or, if the umpires had it their way, even told that he's doing it wrong. No, he gets to work the World Series.

I'm not bitching that this call cost us the game, it didn't. If called properly, the count would have been 3-1 on Posada with two outs and two on, and Posada did strike out one pitch later, but you don't know what would have happened. he might have walked, and Giambi would have made an out. The Yankees have had bad calls go there way before, that's not the point. Sometimes an umpire makes a mistake--like when a 12-year old kid interferes with a fly ball and the ump calls it a home run--but that happens. It's not a redefining of the rules, but rather an error. But what umpires do behind the plate is redefine the rules to suit their own whims. They're not calling a ball six inches off the plate a strike because they made a mistake and didn't see that it was a ball, they're doing it because they've decided that's how they want it to be. They've decided that they'd rather just boil the bagels, and skip the baking. And that's not only wrong, it's inexcusable.

October 18, 2003

And this, too, shall pass away
by Larry Mahnken

It is said an eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him with the words, "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!

-Abraham Lincoln

Aaron Freakin' Boone. I still can't believe it.

Thursday seemed like waiting for an execution, knowing that it was going to happen, but hoping for a call from the Governor, and a miraculous pardon. And that pardon came, but it wasn't until your head had been shaved, you were strapped into the chair, and they had their hand on the switch. Five outs away, three runs down, and the greatest pitcher on earth on the mound. And they won. I still can't believe that this happened.

The way it happened, the glorious comeback, the shocking home run, the utter joy that surged through me, makes the World Series almost an afterthought. If they lose--if they get swept, and crushed, it won't take away from the joy of that one moment, when the ball left Aaron Boone's bat, and I knew: they did it. I can't believe they did it.

But let's make sure that we appreciate this World Series, even if they don't win, even if they don't play well, because look around the American League, and look at the Yankees' roster. This could be it. The last stand for the great dynasty of the Yankees.

Boston's not going to fall into fourth place next year. They'll be back, and they'll be better. So will Toronto. The Yankees can't just glue the pieces of this roster back together and hope to snatch another title, and they can't just tack on a couple of free agent studs and think that it will work. They need to reevaluate the roster, and rebuild, and look to the future.

That doesn't mean that they have to stop trying to win, it means that they can't win with the same core in the same way. They can't just convince themselves that Alfonso Soriano is going to be a good defensive second baseman, or that the combination of him and Jeter up the middle is anything close to acceptable for a team trying to win titles. They can't let Bernie fade away in center field, turning outs into singles and singles into doubles. They can't keep trading away their prospects for mediocre third basemen who need to hit dramatic home runs to validate the transaction. They need to rearrange the pieces they have, and instead of finding a piece that looks nice and they can jam into the puzzle, they need to find the right pieces that complement the pieces they have.

And in doing that, the results might equal disaster. The pieces might not come together, and the team might collapse. But if they keep going like they have, the team will slowly decline into mediocrity, and when they get there, they've still got to make the moves to turn themselves around. No, they have to turn around now, to make success a possibility, instead of making decline a certainty.

I don't know if it's going to happen, they might be even better next season than they were this year. But they might not be, and it might be many years before we see the Yankees in the Series again. So we'd better appreciate it.

Of course, a victory would be much nicer than defeat, at least for us Yankees fans. A Red Sox fan at work asked me during last Saturday's game "aren't you sick of them winning all the time?"

Uh, no.

Oh yeah, I'm really sick of my team winning. I'd be so much happier if they lost. Especially to our arch-rivals. Because they wouldn't gloat or anything. Rivals are always respectful towards one another. Anyone who's sick of their team winning (as I understand it, David Pinto knows such a fan) is missing the point. The point isn't to have one title, or even to win the most titles. It's to win THIS title. You won last year? Hey, that's great. As soon as you're eliminated this season, it doesn't matter anymore. Go ahead and enjoy all your past glories in the offseason, but when the games are being played, the only thing that matters is winning the World Series this year.

I can understand fans who don't get upset when their team doesn't win, or comes close and falls short. That's fine--that's HEALTHY. But not caring if they WIN? Not WANTING them to win? That's...stupid. What's the point of being a fan then?

But I digress. Can they win? Well, yeah, but it's not going to be a cakewalk.

The Marlins beat the 100-win Giants in four games, but then the Giants' lineup, outside of Bonds, wasn't that impressive, and neither was their rotation, outside of Schmidt. They beat the Cubs in seven, and while Wood and Prior are great pitchers, they didn't have much of a lineup, either.

The Yankees have a great lineup. They've played like garbage in the postseason, but Thursday's victory may have awoken their most dangerous bat, Jason Giambi. Giambi hit two home runs off of Pedro Martinez--who allowed 7 all year. One went into the black, the other fell just short of it, and those followed a first inning homer off of John Burkett in Game 6. Maybe it was just a couple of lucky swings, but if Giambi is hot in the World Series, you can throw out every other factor, the Marlins are done. When he's good, he's really that good.

The Yankees can't count on that happening, though. Derek Jeter was excellent in the first round, not so good in the ALCS, but you can expect him to be solid again in the World Series. Bernie Williams is inexplicably batting fourth in the postseason, but at least he's still getting on base somewhat. But he needs to get a couple of extra base hits to justify pushing Posada to fifth in the lineup. Nick Johnson wasn't good in the first two rounds, but the Yankees will likely miss his bat all the same in the three middle games of the series. And Aaron Boone...well, it was just one home run. I hope he'll keep hitting them, but in all likelihood, you're not going to get much from him. He's had his Tino moment.

The pitching staff comes into the series a bit screwed up by Game Seven, and as a result David Wells will be the Game One starter. On one hand, he's been great this October, but on the other hand, Florida kills lefties. If he's not sharp, this could get ugly.

Except Brad Penny isn't exactly making the Yankees shake in their cleats. A large part of the Yankees' offensive struggles in October has to be Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez and Tim Wakefield when his knuckeball was dancing. Brad Penny is none of those pitchers, and while he's no John Burkett, the Yankees are more likely to hit him like Burkett rather than the others. The only starter Florida has that really fits in with that group is Josh Beckett. For all the talk about Florida's pitching, they gave up 6 runs a game to the Cubs, for goodness sake.

What Florida won with is their offense, which is the only thing that scares me about the Marlins. They're a team that doesn't strike out or walk, they put the ball in play, and try to make things happen. Remind you of anyone? Yep, that was the Angels formula last season.

Except the Angels had a more balanced lineup with lefties and righties, and a much better bullpen than Florida's. The Marlins did well against the Cubs, but Chicago lacked any real lefty threats in their lineup, which allowed the Marlins to hide their lack of a solid matchup lefty in the pen. Florida doesn't have any real lefties in their lineup, either (Pierre and maybe Hollandsworth), which somewhat pushes Gabe White and Felix Heredia out of the picture and makes Jeff Nelson and Jose Contreras huge. Torre is also deactivating either Erick Almont-E or David Dellucci to get Chris Hammond on the roster, recognizing that his changeup is extremely effective against righty batters. While Hammond was essentially abandoned in the last month of the season, he could play a crucial role in the World Series.

Florida's lack of a matchup lefty will probably cost them at least one game. The Yankees as a team hit far better against lefties than righties, and Jason Giambi's split was particularly extreme (1.022/.718).

Anaheim kept the game away from Mariano Rivera in every game last postseason but the one they lost, and for the Marlins to have a chance, they need to do that, too. Joe Torre isn't going to make the foolish decisions that cost the Cubs the pennant, mostly because Mariano Rivera is a guy who makes it easy to pull your starter in the eighth. Florida needs to beat up on the Yankees' starting pitching and hope that the Yankees' offense continues to hibernate for another week. Otherwise, they have no chance.

I think they'll get to David Wells tonight, but I don't think that Brad Penny is going to shut down the Yankees' offense like Boston and Minnesota did. This should be a high-scoring series in the games Boomer and Pettitte pitch, and I feel good about the Yankees coming out on top in the end. It would be nice to see it come back to the Stadium for a clincher, and to give Roger Clemens a fond farewell, so I'll tack on one more win than I really think Florida will get: Yankees in Six.

October 17, 2003

Miracle in The Bronx: New York 6, Boston 5
by Larry Mahnken

Several hours ago, I was questioning the wisdom of remaining a baseball fan. I place far too much importance on the outcome of a game played by other men, and give that game for too much power over my emotional well being. I take the losses far too hard to be healthy for me, and the joy that I once got out of a mid-summer victory is no longer there.

In 1996, when the ball landed in Charlie Hayes's glove, I wept, joyful that I had finally gotten to see my favorite team win the championship. In '98, my reaction was bland, as it was not new, and was somewhat anticlimactic after a 114-win season. '99 was another anticlimactic victory, the ALCS was the real pleasure of that season. 2000 was nice, because it was the Mets, but it wasn't the same.

The childlike joy that I felt when Mel Hall made me an eternal baseball fan with a line-drive home run off of Jeff Reardon on Memorial Day was no more. Sure, I was happy when they won, always happy, but the defeats weighed more heavily on me than they did in that 91-loss season of 1991.

And facing elimination at the hands of the Red Sox, the hated rival, and facing the taunts of the many Red Sox fans at my workplace, I began to wonder if it was worth it anymore. I love baseball, but I love it too much, and I ask for too much out of it. More than it could every possibly give me ever again.

Or so I thought.

I didn't see the eighth inning, but I heard it. I was...occupied in another room at the time. But that fabulous inning didn't give me the joy that you thought it might, because I was still nervous about losing, and all the miseries that would entail. The next three innings were torture on my nerves, because I now knew that I couldn't just turn the TV off and not see the Red Sox celebrate their AL title, because it would be close, and the Yankees would have a chance.

Rivera came in. I felt...less nervous, but still on edge. Rivera pitched three effective innings, but the Yankees were unable to end the game in the ninth or the tenth. Meanwhile, the Red Sox brought in knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who needed only for the Red Sox to score another run to be named MVP. Facing a pitcher they hadn't touched all series, I began to despair. He wasn't going to tire, he'd be in there until the sun came up.

And after the 11th, the Yankees would have to lift Rivera, and put a less appealing reliever in his place: Jose Contreras, Gabe White, or if worse came to worst, Jeff Weaver. It seemed that the Yankees' last chance to win had come, and it would be up to Aaron Boone, Karim Garcia and Alfonso Soriano.

Garcia had a decent series, coming up with big hits in Games 3 and 5, and taking a pitch off the "back" to start the hubub in Boston last Saturday. But I couldn't see him doing anything with the knuckleball. Nor could I see Alfonso Soriano doing anything with anything, he had lost all discipline, and was now swinging at anything that came out of the pitcher's hand, be it the ball or the resin bag. And Aaron Boone...

Well, Aaron Boone sucks. In August, the Yankees had traded their last good prospect, Brandon Claussen, for Boone and, technically, Gabe White. The move further inspired them to trade third baseman Robin Ventura to the Dodgers, where he proceeded to put up what were, for Dodger Stadium, decent numbers. Meanwhile, Boone did nothing. He hit a big home run in Baltimore, but that was, well, against Baltimore. Against quality competition, he was incompetent, and the rage we felt at his accquistion was being justified almost nightly by weak plate appearances.

And his play in the postseason was even worse--almost as bad as his play in the first weeks after the trade. Benching him in Game 3 and Game 7 to play Enrique Wilson against Pedro Martinez was wholly excusable. If you've got a hunch that someone can get a couple of hits against the greatest pitcher of his generation, it's all right to bench an offensive zero like Boone. Of course, it appeared early on that the Yankees were going to pay for benching Boone, as Enrique Wilson threw a ball into the stands on a routine play, giving the Red Sox a run.

Still, going into the postseason I thought he could do something of some value. I wrote:
He is what he is, an average player, and as long as he stays what he is, he won't hurt the Yankees in the postseason, and could help if he hits a homer in a key spot.
I also told sjohnny that I could see him having a "Tino Martinez" moment in the postseason (a huge hit that forgives horrible play the rest of the series).

But when Boone came up in the 11th, I had no hope of him doing anything. I don't know if it was a bad knuckleball by Wakefield (other than being right over the middle of the plate), or Admiral Ackbar's fortuitous appearance in a commercial (he appeared before the 8th inning in Game 6 of the NLCS, too), but a miracle happened.

Aaron Boone hit a home run. Aaron Fucking Boone, as he will forever be known in Boston.

I immediately started crying. "I can't believe it, I can't believe that happened," I said to myself. I still start crying with joy when I think of it. I can't believe it. It was, perhaps, the greatest moment I have ever experienced as a sports fan. Pure joy.

And that's why we come back, because sometimes, when you think it's over, it's not, and sometimes, something you never thought could happen, but fondly hoped would happen, does. The worst player on the field can be the biggest hero, and all your dreams can come true.

But I can't help but feel for the Red Sox fans, who had to feel they had this one in the bag, and could see the end of 85 years of frustration not very far away. Okay, not too bad, but I do feel somewhat sorry that they had to lose this way, again. I tip my cap to the 2003 Boston Red Sox, who I still believe had the best team in baseball, but came up short. And I will not indulge in any vainglory before them, I will treat them as I wanted them to treat me had they won--although I know they wouldn't have--and I know that my fellow Yankees fans probably won't, either.

That's okay, I suppose, it's every fan's right to brag about their team. And I've done my share, but not this time. Besides, half my readers are Red Sox fans. Don't piss off your audience.

And I still don't believe in curses. Boston will win a title before decade is out.

But not this one.

* * *

Oh, I know this is what you all came here for:

The trade was worth it. If Brandon Claussen wins ten Cy Young Awards, pitches five perfect games, cures cancer, finds Osama bin Laden and opens communications with the Brenlyite civilization in the Baker galaxy, it was worth it. If Aaron Boone never gets another hit as a Yankee, even if he costs them the World Series, it was worth it. Because this was the greatest moment I have ever had a baseball fan.

You don't suck, Boone. And I will never again say that you do.

October 16, 2003

Crushed: Boston 9, New York 6
by Larry Mahnken

Well, you didn't think they'd finish the Red Sox off that easily, did you?

After 25 games, most closely contested, these two teams now square off in one final meeting, Game Seven, the one that will decide it all. But it didn't have to come to this. It shouldn't have come to this.

It's been several hours since Game 6 ended, and I still have no heart to write about it. It feels as though the Yankees have lost their chance, that they've already lost the series. I felt this way going into Game Four last season, Game Five in 1995 and 1997. Defeat seems an almost forgone conclusion. The Yankees, particularly at the plate, have played a terrible series. Really, how many good at-bats have you seen the Yankees' batters have? They've mostly scored on mistakes by the Boston pitchers, not by working counts and looking for their pitch. They've stopped batting and they've commenced trying to hit, and they've wasted many of the few scoring opportunities they've had by trying to do too much.

They did beat Pedro, but it was the only time that Pedro has ever lost a postseason game, and he pitched, by his standards, poorly. He's not going to throw offspeed pitches all game, and hang breaking balls over the plate, he's going to hit his spots, keep the Yankees off-balance, and as long as they keep batting like they have, he's going to go at least seven, by which time, it should all be decided.

The only chance for the Yankees is Clemens, pitching to save his career. He's come through big for the Yankees several times before: in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS and Game 2 of the 2000 World Series, in Game 5 of the 2001 ALDS and Games 3 and 7 of the 2001 World Series. And he has to do it one more time, shut the Red Sox down for seven innings, hope the Yankees can scratch a run or two, and give the ball to Rivera.

Torre's decision to use Rivera for two on Tuesday didn't burn the Yankees yesterday, but his decision to not warm anybody up until the damage had been done to Jose Contreras in the seventh killed the Yankees. Gabe White gave up a nail-in-the-coffin homer to Trot Nixon in the ninth, but it appears that Torre gave up on White long ago, for no apparent reason. Other than Rivera, Contreras and Heredia, Torre seems unwilling to give the ball to anyone in the bullpen, although Jeff Nelson has curiously found his way back into the mix in the past few games.

But where this game will be decided tonight is with Clemens. If someone other than Clemens or Rivera is pitching tonight, the game is probably lost for New York.

I can't write any more, I'm too upset by the outcome of yesterday's game. With the Florida Marlins waiting to be crushed, this game will likely determine who wins the World Series.

Worst of all, if the season ends tomorrow, it will end with there likely being no great moment to remember this season by. If you can recall one, please remind me. I'd love to know.

October 15, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

I refuse to link to the article, but the Chicago Sun-Times has outed the fan who interfered with the ball.

I will never again read the Chicago Sun-Times, or go to the website. This is shameful journalism. I am disgusted.

Here is the feedback page of the Chicago Sun-Times to complain, and here are the email addresses of the writers who did the story:

Annie Sweeney
Frank Main
Chris Fusco

A Day to Remember--and the Yankees and Red Sox Played, Too!: New York 4, Boston 2
by Larry Mahnken

I don't believe in curses. Boston and Chicago have failed because of bad management, bad luck, and quality opposition standing in their way, not one bad trade or a stupid goat. It doesn't matter if the Red Sox and Cubs never win, or how they lose, I won't believe in curses. It belittles the teams that do win.

But I do feel bad for the Cubs, and their fans, and one fan in particular. Sure, he was stupid to stick his hand out there, but if the Cubs lose tonight, that man will have to live the rest of his life with the burden of blame, that he might have cost his team a Pennant, and a World's Championship. Sure, it wasn't a certain catch, and it wouldn't have ended the inning, but it would have changed things, and if everything else had gone the same, Jeff Conine's fly ball would have ended the inning, and it would have been 3-2 Cubs going to the ninth. We saw his face on national television several times--will ultimately see it thousands of times--and his face will be printed in every sports section and on websites, and columns will be written in ever paper about how he cost the Cubs the pennant. And he will have to live with it until the day he dies. It is a terrible, terrible burden, and nothing he hears from any fan will be worse than his inner torment.

We've seen his face, but I hope that the media has the good taste to not seek out his name, and if they find it, not print it. There is no need for any of us to ever know that man's name. But I'm sure that some reporter somewhere will be making calls and asking around, trying to find out that man's name, so he can help his own career. And dozens of other reporters, not wanting to get scooped, are making the same effort. And there's no need for it. It's despicable, making an active effort to ruin a man's life for a tiny, irrelevant scrap of information that adds nothing to the story.

So was this 1986? 1929? 1984?

Cubs fans have to hope that it's 1975, when the Reds came back from Bernie Carbo and Carlton Fisk's dramatics to clinch their first title in 35 years. With Kerry Wood on the mound against Mark Redman--remember, the Cubs kill lefties--they have a chance. I don't believe in curses, and momentum is only as good as your starting pitcher. The Cubs can overcome this. I hope they do.

* * *

In 1998, the Yankees had about as perfect a season as a team could have, winning 114 regular season games, sweeping the World Series, winning a record 125 games in total. They had a great lineup, a great bench, a great rotation, a great bullpen, and their defense was actually pretty good back then. They were quite possibly the most perfect team ever assembled.

But they almost lost in the ALCS. Looking back, a 4-2 series win doesn't seem that closely contested, but the Yankees entered Game 5 of that series trailing 2-1, having lost on a stupid play by Chuck Knoblauch in Game 2, and getting smacked around a bit in Game 3. (By the way, if the Yankees had lost that series, considering the ridiculous importance people place on the postseason as a measure of a team, would the 89-win Indians have been considered better than the 114-win Yankees? Anyone who thinks that should be lobotomized.)

The Yankees avoided falling behind 3-1, and perhaps saved their season, behind the brilliant pitching of "rookie" Orlando Hernandez, who allowed only 7 baserunners and no runs in over 7 innings. El Duque's heroics are remembered by Yankees fans, but often forgotten is the game that followed, which was nearly as crucial for the Yankees as Game Four. David Wells, the Yankees' best pitcher that season, wasn't as perfect as Hernandez, giving back two of the three runs he started the game with right away in the first inning. But he held the Indians to only three runs into the eighth, and struck out 11 (Boomer actually used to strike out some guys back then). The Yankees won 5-3, and came back to New York and finished the Tribe behind David Cone, and moved on to beat the Padres.

Yesterday, David Wells faced a situation just as--probably more important than the one he faced in 1998. He isn't the same pitcher he was five seasons ago, but with the Yankees' season on the line, he came through once again, and was probably better than he was back when he was the ALCS MVP.

Four hits, two walks. Eight baserunners in seven innings, and one run--and that was off of a home run by Manny Ramirez.

While Boomer was shutting down the Greatest Offense Ever™, the Yankees were getting the job done against Derek Lowe. They didn't pound him--they didn't even get an extra base hit--but they took advantage of opportunities, scoring three runs in the second with two outs, and tacking on an insurance run in the eighth--though Hideki Matsui did his best to hit into an inning-ending double play.

Torre's decision to use Rivera for two innings with a three run lead was questionable, Jose Contreras and Gabe White were perfectly capable of shutting down the Red Sox for an inning--maybe even two, if needed--but Torre decided not to take any chances, and went to his ace reliever to start the eighth. Rivera wasn't untouchable, but he was still damn good, giving up only two hits and a run, and sealing the Yankees' third win. The ultimate impact of Torre's choice of Rivera won't be determined until tomorrow night, when Rivera will certainly be available for one inning, perhaps four outs, but probably not more than that. With Andy Pettitte starting against John Burkett, and Contreras and White having been plenty rested, the game shouldn't come down to Mo in the eighth, but if it does, then Torre might have follied.

I don't have a major problem with Joe's pinch-running for Giambi in the eighth, either. Giambi has a very sore knee, hasn't hit at all in the postseason, and David Dellucci was far more likely to score an insurance run on a ball in the gap than Giambi was. Normally, when Giambi is close to healthy, or at least hitting well, this is a decision that I would jump all over Joe for, but in this case, it's an understandable move. I probably wouldn't have made it, but I won't criticize Torre any further than that.

And, of course, I owe an apology to Torre for a previous criticism that, as it turns out, was unfair.

In late September, as it became obvious that the Yankees were going to win the AL East, it was also becoming obvious that David Wells was going to be Torre's fourth starter in the postseason, over Jose Contreras, who, save one disastrous start in Fenway, had been far better than Wells down the stretch. I believed that Joe was going with Wells because of his veteran status (and perhaps that was the case), but that Contreras would be the superior option. With the back problems that Wells had experienced in the second half, and the fact that his pitching relied on the Yankees' horrid defense to turn balls in play into outs, rather than Contreras' style of keeping the ball out of play, that Wells was a far riskier choice than Contreras. I felt that Joe Torre was making a bad decision based on irrational distrust of Contreras, and an undeserved trust of Wells.

I was wrong. I was completely and totally wrong.

If David Wells's back was bothering him, it is true that he could have been crushed. But I'm just a guy in Upstate NY following the team on television and in print. Joe Torre deals with Boomer on a day-to-day basis, and deals directly with the trainers that monitor Wells's back. He knows far better than I do how Wells feels on gameday, and who's to say that he wouldn't pull Boomer from a start if his back was sore? If it wasn't, then he was probably right to go with Wells in the postseason, despite the fact that his style of pitching was unsuited to the Yankees' defense--or the artificial turf and roof of the Metrodome.

And that's because both Minnesota and Boston were appreciably worse versus lefthanded pitching than they were versus righthanded pitching, something that has become apparent in every game David Wells and Andy Pettitte have pitched. I can't imagine Contreras pitching as well as Wells has if he had started instead.

But that's not the only reason the decision was the correct one. Torre put Contreras in the bullpen, and didn't use him in the Division Series, but his lack of hesitation in bringing him into crucial situations in Games One, Two and Three of the ALCS shows that he never lacked any confidence in El Titan, but rather had a great deal of confidence in Wells. Contreras has become a valuable reliever in this series, and the decision to place him in the pen rather than Wells may be one of the deciding factors in the Yankees' favor.

So, bravo, Joe. I criticize you a lot, but you made absolutely the right decision in this situation, and I was wrong. My criticism was unfair, and I apologize.

This afternoon, Andy Pettitte looks to reprise his Game Two performance, or at least the least the second half of it. This is by no means a certain win--John Burkett is capable of shutting down the Yankees' bats (remember the late July start in Fenway...), Bad Andy might make an appearance, and Burkett is sure to be on a short leash anyway. They are unlikely to get more than a couple of runs off of him before seeing a different pitcher. The pressure is quite obviously on Boston, facing elimination with their worst postseason starter on the mound, but the pressure for the Yankees to finish itexpeditiouslyy, and avoid Pedro in Game 7 is enormous, too.

I will make no prediction, except for the fact that I sit in many uncomfortable positions on my couch, and at least once, swear quite loudly. And hopefully, I'll get a phone call from my Dad at game's end, and I'll spend the evening writing about the World Series--and hopefully how the Yankees match up against the Cubbies.


October 14, 2003

Baseball Prospectus - Prospectus Today: The Politics of Glory
by Larry Mahnken

I've lost any ability to understand the Derek Jeter thing. For years, statheads who pointed out how Jeter ranked at or near the bottom of every defensive statistic every single year were derided for being critical of such a great player. I actually understood the difficulty in getting the idea across to people. Jeter is a smart, athletic player with excellent physical tools. He would often make good-looking plays, relying largely on his strong arm. It is hard to convince people that a player who looks very good isn't; the defensive metrics aren't easily explained and they come with many caveats, and there's an ingrained bias against evaluating defense with statistics.

Now, however, Jeter looks terrible. The Yankees give up hit after hit up the middle on balls that average shortstops handle easily, and it passes without mention. The standard line you hear is that Jeter's shoulder--the one he injured on Opening Day--is affecting his play. That may be so, but the fact is this is the same defense he played before the shoulder injury. He has had terrible footwork for his entire career, and I believe that his outsized defensive reputation has been a considerable barrier in getting him to improve that, actually.

That Tim McCarver can look at Derek Jeter and praise his defense is something I do not and cannot understand. This isn't about stats, it's about competence. If you can't look at Jeter and see that he's completely overmatched by the defensive demands of shortstop, then why should I believe anything you have to say about baseball? You've made up your mind based on a set of criteria that you believe is important, and which has little to do with how Derek Jeter plays shortstop.
And that's just a small part of a FANTASTIC article by Joe Sheehan. It's a free BP article, though the stuff behind the subscription is awesome as well. Make absolutely sure you read this.

Chair, Wall. Wall, Chair: Boston 3, New York 2
by Larry Mahnken

If anyone ever again says that they're sick of the Yankees getting all the breaks, take a tape of this game, and beat their brains in with it.

The Yankees had a chance tonight to put the Red Sox against the wall, to take a nearly insurmountable lead in the series, to take all the momentum from beating Pedro, and with their best pitcher on the mound, establish control of the American League Championship Series, and practically ensure a return to the World Series.

They didn't. The Yankees lost last night because they were outplayed; they were unlucky, but they also made poor decisions, and poor plays.

The bad luck came right away, in the top of the first inning. Tim Wakefield had trouble getting his knuckleball to dance, walked Soriano and gave up a bloop single to Derek Jeter. With first and second and nobody out, the Yankees had a great chance to take the lead, perhaps even start a rally. And Jason Giambi did exactly what was needed, hitting a ball on the nose--and right at Kevin Millar, who stepped on the bag for a rally-killing DP. Had the ball not been at Millar, Soriano would have easily scored, and Jeter may have as well. One run that would prove costly was lost, maybe two.

The second bad break came in the fifth, when the Yankees did score a run. With first and second and one out, Derek Jeter hit a hard ground ball down the third base line, which hit the bag and bounced high in the air, over Bill Mueller's head, and Nomar Garciaparra was unable to field it cleanly. David Dellucci scored from first, but because the ball was fielded so close the infield, Alfonso Soriano was only able to get to third. Had the ball bounced over the bag, or been slightly to the right of it, it would have gone to the wall in left, and Soriano would likely have scored easily. Instead, it was second and third with one out, and the Yankees had lost another costly run.

Of course, they did make poor plays, and failed to take advantage of opportunities, as well. In the first, Bernie Williams followed Giambi's double play with a walk, but Jorge Posada was unable to get an RBI single to bring Soriano home from second. With second and third and one out, the Yankees had the chance to score two runs with a single to anywhere but left. They couldn't even get that, as Giambi flied out to center, and Jorge Posada followed another Williams walk with a fly out to left.

And there were the mistakes of Alfonso Soriano and Willie Randolph. On Giambi's fly out, Randolph did not send Soriano, because the ball was hit very shallow. But Damon does not have a strong arm, and the throw was up the line, not to the plate. Had Randolph sent Soriano, he probably would have scored, and while it was a risk, the chances of Damon making an accurate throw were not tremendous, and the Yankees had obviously been having trouble scoring runs against Wakefield. And so the Yankees lost a chance to score a run.

Soriano's big mistake came in the seventh, with the bases loaded and one out--for Boston. Pinch-hitter Jason Varitek hit a sharp ground ball to Derek Jeter, who fielded it well, threw to Soriano, who relayed it on to first, where Varitek was safe by the smallest of margins. But Soriano's throw, while not a lollipop by any means, was not very strong, as if he felt he had plenty of time to throw. He could have thrown stronger, and certainly would have retired Varitek, but perhaps he was worried about throwing it away, and bringing home a fourth run. It's not a mistake worth crucifying him over, and Jeter and Soriano are not very good at turning the double play anyway, but most double play teams would have retired Varitek. And it gave Boston a run.

Finally, Soriano came up in the ninth, with two outs, with a chance to tie the game. Ruben Sierra hit a home run with one out to bring the Yankees back to within 3-2, but Soriano showed, typically, no plate discipline against Williamson. The three pitches he swung at and missed were not in the strike zone, and even a moderately disciplined hitter would have been standing on first with a walk after that plate appearance. But Soriano struck out, looked bad doing it, and the series was tied.

Now, of course I have to give credit to the Red Sox, too, who earned a victory even though the Yankees had chances to win. Tim Wakefield was, brilliant again, and will likely be the Series MVP if Boston wins. Todd Walker and Trot Nixon his crucial home runs off of Mussina, who was otherwise exceptional. He's now 0-3 in this postseason, but if not for his defense, and with better run support, he'd be 2-1, at worst, maybe 3-0. And Boston's bullpen has been exceptional in the postseason. It shouldn't be a tremendous surprise that they were able to turn it around, Williamson, Timlin and Embree are all extremely talented pitchers who have done well in the past, and the nature of relief pitching is such that minor slumps will have a huge impact on the overall value of a pitcher's performance. That they conveniently turned it around for October is strange, but the fact that they did it at all isn't really.

So, it's tied. It'll go back to New York tomorrow, and the Yankees have to win two games against Derek Lowe, John Burkett and Pedro Martinez (one of these names does not belong here, one of these names is not the same...). Boston has to win two against David Wells, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, so it's not like the Yankees are against the wall, but with the specter of Pedro looming in Game Seven, they are almost in a must-win situation these next two games.

This afternoon, it's all on Boomer. The Yankees can get to Lowe--his success at Fenway is overblown, as I showed yesterday--so if Wells can hold Boston to only a couple of runs, they can win this game, and take it back to New York, and try to get Andy Pettitte to finish it off (and if he does, he's likely the MVP). With Boston's weakest starter going in Game Six, and their best in Game Seven, this game today is crucial for both teams. I wish I believed in curses, because then I'd have no lack of confidence in the Yankees winning these next two, because Boston could not possibly beat them. But they can, and they might, and someday, they will. Hopefully, it won't be this one.