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October 11, 2004

Famous Last Words
by Larry Mahnken

The dumbest thing said in the eighth inning Saturday was, surprisingly, not said by Steve Lyons.

For those of you that missed it, with the Yankees trailing 5-1 in the eighth inning, with Sheffield on second and Matsui on first and Bernie at the plate, Lyons said:
Even the Yankees would rather not see a Home Run right here; I really feel that in order to keep this rally alive you need to keep runners on the bases.... I really believe that with the 5-1 lead that the Twins have right now, the Yankees are far better off keeping guys on base. If Bernie hits a double, it's probably better than if he hits a Home Run. Keep guys on base, keep the pitcher in the stretch, keep the rally going. Hit a three-run homer right now, you're back in the game, but you have to start over. In order to tie or win this game, someone's going to have to come up behind Bernie and drive him in anyway.
That's one of those things that, when you first hear it, it sounds pretty good. Then you think about it a little more, and you realize it's an incredibly stupid idea, and something that you'd expect from a guy nicknamed "Psycho" (a nickname he accquired when he stabbed a woman to death in the shower, after which he pulled down his pants to wipe the blood off his legs...). There are no circumstances where you would prefer to score fewer runs, even if theoretically it could make it easier to score more.

Then you realize that Juan Rincon is a relief pitcher, and he's always throwing from the stretch, and you realize why Elvis used to shoot televisions.

But anyway, that wasn't the dumbest thing said in the eighth inning.

I was watching the game in the break room at work, and after Bernie singled home Sheffield and moved Matsui to third, Posada came up. While he batted, they showed Ruben Sierra on deck. I turned to the guy sitting next to me in the break room and said:
Posada better hit a home run here, because Sierra sure as hell ain't gonna do anything.
Well, Jorge didn't homer. He struck out, and the pitch that Rincon gave him to drive, he looked at it. Then up came Sierra. On the first pitch he took a pitch that was actually four inches outside for a called strike. He then took a pitch high, and fouled the next one back. Another pitch high, another foul ball to the left side. The next pitch was belt high over the outside part of the plate. Sierra swung.

Silence. The ball hit twenty feet over the baggie in right, and the game was tied, and all the advantages previously enjoyed in Game Four by the Twins were no more. The Yankees were back in the game -- they were suddenly favorites to win the game. The tiny amount of doubt that had crept in about the Yankees' hanging on to win the series was erased. Even if they didn't win this game, they were going to win this series.

All people make mistakes, and often they are aware of the mistakes they've made. Wise men will admit their mistakes, take responsibility, not make excuses. And I guess I can do that, too.

In April, I wrote:
Joe Torre has a lot of merits as a manager, particularly his ability to handle volatile personalities in the clubhouse, and keep the wrath of George Steinbrenner away from his players. As an in-game strategist, he has many flaws, and many of the moves he makes in game, or in constructing the roster and lineup are highly questionable.

That's not to say that Joe Torre is responsible for the Yankees' woes. He's made some decisions that may or may not have made it harder for the Yankees to win a few games, but he's done nothing that specifically cost the team a game. However, some of his most egregious mistakes this season have to include:

- Leaving Ruben Sierra in to bat in the ninth inning on April 22 against Chicago, with the tying run on base and Jason Giambi on the bench.

- Putting Ruben Sierra in the starting lineup several times instead of Tony Clark, Travis Lee or Don Mattingly.

- Pinch-hitting Ruben Sierra for anyone other than Enrique Wilson or Miguel Cairo.

- Keeping Ruben Sierra on the roster after Spring Training.

- Not taking Ruben Sierra out to the woods and putting him out of our misery when he had the chance.

Ruben Sierra is what he is: he can't run, he can't field, and his bat speed is gone. He can only hit a fastball over the middle of the plate, and when he gets that, he can crush it almost to the wall. If your other pinch-hitting options are replacement-level middle infielders, he's got some value, but with two first basemen who can play the outfield at least as well as he can on the roster, he's worthless.

To be fair, he did stroke the game-winning double against Oakland last night, but ultimately that should do the team more harm than good, as it will ensure many more at-bats for him.

Sierra would be a waste of a roster space if the Yankees had any options to fill that roster space. Whether he should be on the bench is debatable, but he shouldn't come off of it very often.
Maybe that was funny, but in all honesty, it was very much my view at the time. Sierra had several hits immediately after that to make me look stupid as he won some games for the Yankees, and in general he proved himself a solid pinch-hitter. Overall, he wasn't really that terrible. He didn't get on base, but he showed himself to still have some pop in his bat, and is an adequate fill-in at DH, though certainly less than ideal.

I've been personally critical (though not openly) of his playing DH in the ALDS, as it resulted in Bernie "Plays It On A Hop" Williams being in Center for all the games (which, regardless of what Josh Lewin said Saturday, you really can't do much worse than, and most of the ways you could involve me playing out there). If Bernie's going to be in center anyway, I'd rather see Giambi DH. If Kenny Lofton's going to play, it's just plain dumb to be sticking Bernie out in the field.

But anyway, I was wrong about Sierra, he came through and made all those outs earlier a worthy trade-off. I still don't think he should be, as he will be, a regular player in the ALCS, and that he's best-suited to pinch-hitting, but I can live with it.

Now the Yankees have two days off to get ready for the Red Sox. Boston was able to set their rotation, but the Yankees, not having to play a Game Five, could set their's, too. Kevin Brown is obviously the best matchup with Pedro Martinez, but Jon Lieber has a much better line at home than away this year, so starting him in Game Two (and a potential Game Six) keeps him out of Fenway. It also lines Kevin Brown up to start Game Seven instead of Lieber, which I'd say is better.

I'm feeling pretty good about the Yankees' chances. I have no idea which games they're going to win, I think they can win them all -- except Game Four with Vazquez, of course. It should be a great series.

* * *

Some Quick Ramblings:

- Esteban Loaiza pitched in 10 games for the Yankees before Saturday, giving up a run in every single outing. He sure picked a good time to end that streak, huh?

- Whose brilliant fucking idea was it to build a baseball stadium with a white roof? Did they not see that being a problem? "Hey, it'll be fun!" Jesus, how about blue? That would work for both the baseball games and the football games.

- Ron Gardenhire is being criticized for pulling Santana so quickly on Saturday. He said after the game that Santana was spent after 87 pitches going on three days rest for the first time in his career. That's surprising considering that he didn't break 100 pitches in Game One, and averaged over 100 pitches/start over the season, but since Santana didn't dispute it, to my knowledge, I can't criticize him.

Besides, it wouldn't have mattered. Santana wouldn't have done better than Balfour, who retired all six batters he faced on 28 pitches. That would have brought Santana up to 115 pitches after seven, assuming he didn't throw more or fewer, and he wouldn't have come out for the eighth. Rincon, not Balfour, would have been in, and the result would have been the same. The Yankees might have scored off Santana as he tired, too.

If Gardenhire had pushed Santana seven, he would have had Balfour for extra innings instead of Lohse. But Lohse, surprisingly, didn't lose it, A-Rod won it.

Gardenhire's mistake was being too slow to get Nathan warming, but perhaps just three days removed for him throwing 53 pitches, he was a little wary of going to him too quickly. I can understand that.

- Had the Twins pulled the game out, Nathan wouldn't have been available for Game Five. Balfour certainly would have relieved Radke, but neither Rincon nor Romero were particularly frightening to the Yankees. Minnesota was going to have to hit Moose, and it wasn't going to happen. Ruben's homer won the series, even if it didn't win the game.

- Seriously, did nobody involved with building the ballpark stop and think, "Hey, baseballs are white, right? They're going to play baseball here, too!" No, let's just make it some kind of evil, twisted Home Field Advantage! But for the first few years, of course, everyone's screwed!

- The news after the game was sure a buzzkill. My condolences to Mo and his family for their losses. R.I.P. Ken Caminiti, R.I.P. Superman.