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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.