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August 17, 2004

House Money
by SG

Like Gordon Gecko, I hate losses. I am a Yankee fan, and I am spoiled, and I want this team to win every single game they play. I had a theory about the way Joe Torre seemed to manage games where a series victory had been guaranteed due to the Yankees winning the first two games of a three game series, or first three games of a four game series. I call this my House Money theory. I've heard Michael Kay mention this when not calling every single fly ball deep, but haven't ever heard Torre say it directly. With Sunday night's loss fresh in my mind, and bored at work today, I figured I'd take a look at the Yankees' game log this season and see if there were any interesting trends in the so-called "House Money" games. There were 14 series which qualified as having one of these games. The Yankees record in these games is 7-7. I will list them below with a few comments about the final game in each series. What I tried to look for are any discernible trends that may signify a different approach from Torre in these particular games.

Series: 4/20 - 4/22 at Chicago
W 11-8
W 3-1
L 4-3

Nothing unusual here. The regular lineup all played, and Mussina pitched a complete game in the loss. The Yankees stood at 4-4 at this point in the season.

Series: 4/27 - 4/29 vs. Oakland
W 10-8
W 5-1
W 5-2

The series that was probably the turning point of the season. Again, the regular lineup all played, and QuanGorMo made their token appearance. This pushed the Yankees to .500, at 11-11.

Series: 4/30 - 5/2 vs Kansas City
W 5-2
W 12-4
W 4-2

Another finale that featured the regular starting lineup, as well as Gordon and Rivera in relief of Mussina. At this point the Yankees were 14-11.

Series: 5/4 - 5/6 at Oakland
W 10-8
W 4-3
L 7-4

The first hint of Torre perhaps managing slightly differently showed up in this game. With a 4-3 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth, Vazquez got two quick outs before giving up two singles and a walk. Another walk forced in the tying run, at which point Torre brought in Gabe White to try and retire Mark Kotsay. Kotsay singled in two runs, and that ended up being the difference in the game. Torre was still trying to integrate White as the main lefty in the pen at this point, so I wouldn't read to much into this game, however it seemed like he stayed with Vazquez a little bit too long. This loss dropped the Yankees to 16-12 on the season.

Series: 5/25 - 5/27 at Baltimore
W 11-3
W 12-9
W 18-5

Turning point of the season # 2? The regular lineup all started, with the exception of Giambi, who missed 11 games around this time. In a big blowout, I wouldn't read too much into The Run Fairy™ pitching two innings. This win upped the Yankee record to 19-12.

Series: 5/28 - 5/30 at Tampa Bay
W 7-5
W 5-3
L 7-6

Lieber got shelled early, and the Yankees put up six runs in the last two innings to make it close. Flaherty and Wilson both started this game. The most glaring thing about this game that I recall was that when the Yankees had cut the deficit to 6-4 in the top of the 8th, Torre kept Tanyon Sturze in there for the bottom of the eighth. Sturze had pitched a scoreless 7th, but gave up a homer to Brook Fordyce in the 8th for what proved to be the margin of victory. A questionable decision, but he had pitched well in the 7th. Yankees drop to 29-18 with this loss.

Series: 6/1 - 6/3 vs. Baltimore
W 8-7
W 6-5
W 5-2

Once again, Flaherty got a start in a "house money" game, but thanks to solid pitching by Vazquez, Gordon, and Rivera, it was a moot point. Back up to 33-19 with a sweep.

Series: 6/8 - 6/10 vs. Colorado
W 2-1
W 2-1
W 7-5

Batting 8th, the catcher, John Flaherty. Batting 9th, the second baseman, Enrique Wilson. Luckily, Colorado was bad enough that it didn't matter, as the dearly departed Jose Contreras pitched seven decent innings in a blowout victory, mopped up by White and Prinz. Yanks move to 38-20 with this win.

Series: 6/15 - 6/17 at Arizona
W 4-2
W 9-4
L 6-1

Despite the misleading final score, this was a close game until the bottom of the 8th.
The regular lineup started, Trailing 2-1, Torre let Lieber start the inning. A single to Finley and a double to Bautista made the score 3-1. Enter The Run Fairy™, to walk Luis Gonzalez. Out goes TRF™, in come Prinz. Shea Hillebrand doubles to right plating two more runs, and the ballgame was basically over. It could be argued that Quantrill should've been brought in instead of Prinz, but it's not likely to have mattered. Yanks fall to 42-22 with the loss.

Series: 6/29 - 7/1 vs. Boston
W 11-3
W 4-2
W 5-4

The best series of the season in my opinion, with one of the best regular season games that I've ever had the pleasure of watching. The Yankees had every intention of sweeping this series, and did so. The Yankees moved to 50-26 with the sweep.

Series: 7/8 - 7/11 vs. Tampa Bay
W 7-1
W 5-4
W 6-3
W 10-3

The last game before the All Star Break featured the triumphant return of El Duque. After five, and up 5-2, the first call to the bullpen went to TRF™, who promptly gave up a run then settled down to pitch 2 and 2/3 innings. The Yankees added another five to put the game out of reach. Yankees enter the break at 55-31.

Series: 7/26 - 7/28 at Toronto
W 6-5
W 7-4
L 3-2

The Yankees took the first two games at Toronto during WWwMW™(What's Wrong with Mariano Week), despite a blown save by Mo in the first game. He ended up pitching two innings in the first game, throwing 33 pitches. Gordon also pitched in that game, 1 and 1/3 innings and 18 pitches. The next night, in a 5-2 game, Torre brought in Gordon in the bottom of the eighth. He got through the inning, then the Yankees hit two HRs to extend the lead to 7-2. No need for Mariano now, Gordon closed it out despite allowing two more runs, requiring 35 pitches for his night's work. That brings us to the finale. With the Yankees nursing a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth, Lieber retired Rios and Hinske, before walking Vernon Wells. Up stepped Delgado, and in came TRF™. Double for Delgado, tie game. Out came TRF™, in came Quantrill. He got out of it, and pitched one more inning. The Yankees failed to score in the 9th or 10th, and so Torre brought in Scott Proctor to pitch the bottom of the tenth. Proctor got one out, then Wells took him over the fence for the game winner. The most galling thing about this game at the time was the fact that Heredia was brought in to face Delgado, but looking at the prior two games, Gordon was probably not available, and Mariano had pitched two innings the night before and was going through WWwMW, so it probably seemed worse than it was. This was another game started by Flaherty and Wilson, incidentally.
Yankees go to 63-37 after this one.

Series: 8/6 - 8/9 vs. Toronto
W 11-4
W 6-0
W 8-2
L 5-4

So, if winning the first two games of a three game series means you're playing with house money in the third game, how about winning the first three of a four game series?
Posada did start, but so did Wilson. Trailing 5-2 in the top of the 8th, Torre brought in Gordon with a runner on second. He got out of it, Quantrill pitched the 9th, and the Yankees scored two runs thanks to a Meaningless-zilla™ HR, to lose 5-4. Interesting use of Gordon by Torre in this game, and seems to be an argument against the house money concept.

Series: 8/13 - 8/15 at Seattle
W 11-3
W 6-4
L 7-3

The last series I will talk about was the one over this past weekend, at Seattle. Flaherty started the last two games, due to Posada being sick with the flu. The Yankees took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the 7th thanks to a Clutch-zilla™ two-run bomb in the sixth, but with Brown not looking sharp, the game quickly imploded. A single and a double off Brown cut the lead to 3-2. Brown recovered to strike out Willie Bloomquist, but enter the latest crappy Yankee lefty to pitch to ICHIRO!!!! Nitkowski walked ICHIRO!!!!!, and in came Quantrill. It is safe to say that Quantrill did not have it this evening, as he gave up three straight singles to Randy Winn, Edgar Martinez, and Raul Ibanez. Scott Proctor came in to put a capper on it by walking in a run and then giving up two run single. Final score, Seattle 7, Yankees 3. My feeling is that Gordon could've been brought in to pitch to ICHIRO!!!!!!, and this game would not have been a loss.

It seems that my initial perception that Torre calls off the dogs in these games is off-base. Flaherty started only 5 of the 14 games, a bit higher than his normal rate, but also with mitigating factors(day game after a night game, illness, injury). When he hasn't used Gordon or Rivera in a key situation, it has usually been due to their use in prior games. Torre gets a lot of flak from most sabermetrically aware baseball fans because of some of his proclivities which fly in the face of statistics, and he does do some short-sighted things. However, one of his biggest strengths as a manager in my opinion is his view of the big picture. He understands the need to occassionally lose a battle to win a war, and is often experimenting with players in roles to find out ways in which they can contribute to the team. When the team has a big lead in the divisional race, this is what I want from my manager. So, while I still hate every time the Yankees lose, and will complain about it non-stop, I understand what Torre is trying to do, and I respect him for doing it. It could be worse after all, we could be dealing with Larry Bowa.