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October 6, 2004

Annoying Loss
by Larry Mahnken

I don't think very many of us expected the Yankees to win Game One. Ultimately, the result wasn't substantially different from what was expected, but the route taken was very much so.

Moose was great last night, Santana was merely good. But when it counted, the Yankees couldn't get the job done against Santana. They screwed up, running themselves out of rallys, hitting into double plays at the worst possible times, and in general just not doing quite enough. It was a game that they could have won, perhaps even should have won, but they didn't win.

So, that's that. They're down 1-0, and they have to win tonight. That they did it last year is irrelevant, that they're 19-4 against Minnesota in the last three years is irrelevant -- what does Jason Giambi's 14th inning Grand Slam have to do with tonight's game?

And as disappointing as the loss was, I don't see it as being much more than that -- a disappointment. A letdown, a lost opportunity, but hardly a demoralization. They knew what they were facing here going in, and that if they didn't beat Santana they'd have no margin for error. They've have to beat Radke twice and Silva. They can beat those guys, and they can get good pitching out of Lieber, Brown and Vazquez. But now they need it.

I think the Yankees have made some errors coming into this series. They made the mistake down the stretch of not giving Jason Giambi enough playing time to get his timing down. Not playing him against Boston is understandable, but they should have given him at-bats in every other opportunity. They knew they were going to the playoffs, and while winning the division is and was an important goal, winning in the playoffs is a greater one, and they'd have a better shot with Giambi ready and going in as the Wild Card than with no Giambi and as division winners. The only way to justify not playing Giambi is if they felt there was absolutely no way he could possibly be ready, in which case playing him at all may not have been a wise idea.

They also didn't give Steve Karsay a real shot to get ready to pitch in October. Karsay returned at the beginning of September, but found his way into only seven games, faced only 27 batters. He wasn't great, wasn't terrible, but he didn't really get much of a shot either way. There were several opportunities to bring him in, they did not. Again, if they felt there was no way he could be ready, then that might explain it, but if there was any chance for him to be ready, they should have made that effort. If Karsay was at even 75%, they would have an important arm in the bullpen before Gordon and Rivera, rather than having to hope that Paul Quantrill stops sucking or that Tanyon Sturtze doesn't remember that he's Tanyon Sturtze.

They also erred in not calling up Colter Bean, a right-handed reliever who dominated AAA again, and who may not have what it takes to get major-leaguers out, but on a team with a severe problem finding middle relievers who can do that anyway, had more than earned a look. He wasn't on the 40-man roster, but he should have been brought on board and given a look. Maybe he can't get out lefties. But a reliever who dominates righties is an asset, period. Not giving him a shot was stupid.

They screwed up in the contruction on their postseason roster. I think Giambi should have been on anyway, he could have taken Crosby or Loaiza's roster spot. Even if he hasn't found his swing, the Yankees are severely limited on the bench, and he can at least take a walk. Bubba Crosby is the Yankees' best defensive outfielder, but if they stick him into a close game for defense, especially if he's replacing Cleanup Bernie, I'm going to be pissed off. We don't need Crosby hitting in the middle of the lineup in a close game, especially not with that bench.

They shouldn't have taken Esteban Loaiza, who has done nothing in pinstripes to warrant getting a baseball in his hand in October. Even Jeff Weaver was more worthy of a postseason roster spot last year than Loaiza this year. If you wanted another arm in the pen, take Brad Halsey. Taking The Run Fairy was not the best move, either. Heredia has been horrid this season, and while he's a lefty, he hasn't exactly been dominant against them.

This is what $185 million bought, huh?

The Yankees could have done so much better, but they didn't. Now they've got to win with this squad, and they can. But they absolutely need to win tonight to have a realistic chance of advancing. This isn't the day after The Sweep, or the 22-0 loss, or the game where Boston came back in the ninth in September. This is much bigger than all those games combined. It's must-win time, and to win they're going out with a guy I wasn't certain I wanted in the rotation last winter -- Jon Lieber.

Prove me wrong, Jon.