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July 29, 2004

Exit Light, Enter Night
by Larry Mahnken

Mariano Rivera is one of the steadiest closers in the game.  When Rivera comes in, it usually means game over.  Okay, maybe not for the past few games, but usually.

He has an opposite.  His name is Felix Heredia, and when Heredia comes in, it usually means game over.  In the bad way.

Last night, with the Yankees leading 2-1 in the eighth inning, with Jon Lieber having pitched an outstanding game, Joe Torre lifted him with two outs, after he put the tying run on, with Carlos Delgado at the plate.

It was a good decision.  Lieber had thrown 112 pitches and even if he hadn't lost his effectiveness, you still want to be careful with him.  It was the eighth inning, and though Gordon was unavailable after being used for two innings the night before, Quantrill and Rivera were available -- and Quantrill was up and ready in the pen.

But while taking Lieber out was a good decison, the other half of that move was not a good decision.  It was not even a bad decision.  It was a hopelessly stupid decision that said to the Blue Jays, "We don't want this win -- take it.  Come on, take it!"

Enter the Run Fairy, Felix Heredia.

Entering last night's game, Heredia had a .757 OPS allowed against left-handers.  Quantrill had a .672 OPS allowed against lefties.  But in came the Run Fairy, and his first pitch was in the dirt.  His second pitch was at Delgado's nose, but Delgado swung and missed anyway.  The third pitch was in the dirt, another swing and miss, and the fourth pitch was high for ball two.  Then the predictable happened, and Delgado doubled down the right field line.  Wells raced to third, and Sheffield's throw went past second, allowing Wells to score the tying run.

Anyway, Wells hit a game-winning homer in the tenth, and the Yankees lost.

What was Torre thinking bringing in Heredia there?  After the game, Torre said he was bringing him in to get Delgado out, who was hitting under .200 against lefties this season.  Yes, it is possible that Torre is insane, but there is another possibility.

On Monday, Brian Cashman told the New York Times that Heredia would not be released, because there's another year left on his contract.  Perhaps Torre was trying to send the same message he sent when he started Enrique Wilson in right field a couple of years ago: Yeah, it'd be great to have Randy Johnson, but get me something I actually need.  I need a lefty reliever.

Of course, last time that strategy got us Raul Mondesi and his mad GIDP skillz.

So, if you want to keep faith in Torre, then believe hid did what he did last night with purpose.  I just wish he could do that without having to ruin my evening.