Friday, October 23, 2009

Today In Headlines That Shouldn't Need To Be Written

Jon DeLessio over at The Sports Section at New York Magazine would like to talk you down from a metaphorical ledge. His hostage negotiation tactics include A) comparing 2009 A-Rod to 2004 David Ortiz, B) saying that the homefield advantage is somehow better this time although both teams went (57-24) at home, and C) pointing out that CC Sabathia would start a Game 7 should it be necessary. Guess which one of these is a valid point. If you said C, congratulations, you may be a rational person!

The problem is that the people who are standing on said ledge are not going to be talked down from it.
If you've given up on this series after one loss, you're a special kind of pathetic. That's the kind of fatalism reserved for Red Sox, Cubs and Mets fans.

Here are some reasons that this year, even if the worst case scenario comes to fruition, isn't 2004:
  1. The deficit wasn't 3-0
  2. These aren't the Red Sox
  3. This isn't 5 years ago
  4. There are 5 players out of 50 that the two playoff rosters have in common - six if you count Johnny Damon, which I don't
So no, Wallace Matthews. This wouldn't be worse than 2004, you moron.

Just as a blowout victory in Game 4 didn't predict success in last night's game, one tough loss doesn't mean the Yanks are going to drop the last two. Relax everyone, it's still match point and we've got the next two serves.

Remember when everyone was in agreement that this was going to be a great series? Well, in a great series, there are going to be triumphs and tragedies. Glorious victories and heartbreaking losses. Let's try not to lose our minds so badly in the latter that we can't enjoy the former.

It's Friday night. Blow off some steam. I might be witnessing some amateur pugilism. Some of you are probably planning to get extremely drunk. Others may be doing slightly more respectable activities like going out to dinner and seeing a movie. Do your respective things and let's meet back here sometime tomorrow afternoon.

Padres' GM Search Impacts The AL East

According to multiple reports, the San Diego Padres are close to naming Jed Hoyer their new General Manager. Hoyer is currently Theo Epstein's top lieutenant in Boston, and served a brief stint as the Red Sox' co-GM in late 2005 when a gorilla-suited Epstein temporarily left the organization following a lover's spat with boss and mentor Larry Lucchino. Hoyer and holdover Paul DePodesta will give the Padres a pretty formidable brain trust.

The Yankees stand to benefit from this hire. Not only does their principal rival lose a key member of their front office, but as a result, the Yankees get to keep a key member of theirs. Billy Eppler, the Yankees' Director of Pro Scouting, was rumored to be a candidate as well. Eppler is Brian Cashman's most trusted advisor, likely the most statistically inclined member of the Yankees; front office, and is responsible for finding players like Alfredo Aceves, Ramiro Pena, and Edwar Ramirez. He also recommended the Yankees select Joakim Soria (from the Padres no less) in the 2006 Rule 5 draft, but the Royals beat them to the punch.

Another interesting story line here is what will become of former Padres GM Kevin Towers? Towers attended Game Four of the ALCS earlier this week and has said that he plans to accept a job sometime around the Winter Meetings. Earlier this month River Ave Blues speculated that Towers, who is close with Cashman, could accept a scouting job with the Yankees. However, Epstein and Lucchino are both familiar with Towers from their time with San Diego in the late 90s and have apparently already offered him a job. With Hoyer departing, Towers would be a great addition to the Sox' brain trust. This one will warrant watching as the hot stove league heats up.

Don't Kill The Manager

Morning Fackers. Last night sucked. There's no way around it. But what sucks even more is that we are going to have to listen to people second guess every managerial move made last night for two days before Game 6.

I'm not going to name names, but there were a lot of people on Twitter last night who couldn't possibly understand why Mike Scioscia took John Lackey out with 104 pitches with the bases loaded in the top of the 7th (you know, after the Yanks scored all their runs). Interestingly, they were also conveniently outraged that Joe Girardi let A.J. Burnett come out for the 7th inning with 80 pitches (but only after Burnett allowed two men to reach base, of course). And what was pretty much the only thing that those two moves had in common? Neither worked out.

I'm sure they weren't just on Twitter. These Monday morning quarterbacks were probably in the bars and living rooms where you guys were watching the game as well. These people know who they are. Actually, they probably don't because they only deal in hindsight and therefore always agree with the decisions that work out and can't possibly believe what the manager was thinking when one goes wrong.

First, the Lackey move. Don't forget that two batters before he was pulled, Lackey showed up home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth by waving his arms and yelling at him after a called ball four. He then walked Derek Jeter on 4 pitches and left a ball fat and over the plate that Johnny Damon luckily didn't do much with. Lackey had lost his composure and lost his strike zone and I doubt Culbreth was dying to give him any close pitches. While it was a debatable decision, I can see why Scioscia went to his bullpen. Whether it should have been Darren Oliver is another issue.

As for Burnett, he had given up all four of his runs in the first inning before he even recorded an out. Therefore, he had just pitched 6 consecutive scoreless innings leading up to that point and needed only 68 pitches to do so. What would you have thought about leaving him in if he hadn't allowed those runs in the first? Because what happened in that inning was not nearly as relevant as how he had been throwing the ball since then.

Sure, Girardi could have gone to the bullpen, but the people who are smugly second guessing that decision are the same ones who have been crying about "overmanaging" throughout this postseason mostly because it's become the in vogue thing to say.

Perhaps Girardi could have pulled Burnett after the lead-off single to Mathis. But the only right handed reliever who was ready at that point was Joba, and I think we can agree that he didn't have his best stuff last night. Perhaps he should have had Hughes warming up, but the same thing applies to him. So Burnett gave up the single to Mathis. Is it Girardi's fault that the Angels' back up cather has decided to turn into Josh Gibson during this series? He's literally a career .200 hitter - on the nose.

Does anyone remember how the Yankees got the two outs in that inning? It was Damaso Marte, who Girardi chose over Phil Coke to face Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu, but I don't hear anyone acknowledging the fact that decision worked out well for him.

The reality is that no matter how the Yankees blew the lead - if Girardi had brought in Joba, Hughes, Robertson, Coke, Aceves, Marte or Rivera in any order - he would be taking shit for it this morning. For instance, if he brought in Hughes and he coughed up the lead, people would be exasperated that Girardi had pulled Burnett after only 80 pitches. Ergo, at a certain point, the blame goes to the players.

Although the offense scored 6 runs, they were useless for 8 innings. The black hole in the bottom of the line-up known as "Nick Swisher" made the Yankees 32.3% less likely to win this game with his offensive contributions (or lack thereof). Johnny Damon wasn't helping either (-11.9%).

Phil Hughes needed to get one out in the 7th inning and the Yankees would have held onto the lead. One out and no one would have been talking about Girardi's bullpen management this morning.

Instead, Hughes issued a pass to Torii Hunter that I'm sure anyone reading this blog could have worked since none of the four balls even sniffed the strike zone. Next, he had Vlad Guerrero right where he wanted him - in a 1-2 count after an ugly swing and miss. Jorge Posada called for a pitch up in the zone, momentarily standing up from his crouch to indicate it, but Hughes served a belt-high meatball along with some spaghetti, Bolognese sauce, grated Pecorino Romano and some delicious garlic bread. He's lucky Vlad is half the man he used to be or else that would have probably been a grand slam instead of a bobbling single up the middle.

The least defensible move that Girardi made, which hardly anyone is talking about because it didn't end up mattering, was the decision to pinch run for A-Rod in the 9th inning. The game almost equally likely to be tied up at that point with A-Rod or Guzman running the bases, as Dave Cameron from FanGraphs demonstrated. Cameron estimates that the marginal gain of putting in Guzman is something like 1%. Girardi traded that in for having his best hitter (and a solid defender) on the bench in extra innings should the Yankees have tied the game. Imagine the uproar if A-Rod's line up slot had come up again.

I understand that Girardi has made his bed by executing a ton of agressive moves this postseason, most of which have worked out but some of which have not. He's exerted too much control over the games too many times, so now people are all too willing to critique every move he makes. He's made the game too much about himself as opposed to the players which is why people are so open with their complaints. But save your breath. As Cameron said in the linked post above, we're tilting at windmills. You can assign blame 'til you're blue in the face, but it's not going to put the Yankees in the World Series. They're going to have to do that themselves sometime this weekend.

The One That Got Away

It came down to a 3-2 count with the bases loaded in a one run game. For different reasons at various points throughout, it didn't seem like it would end up quite that close. But it did, and that made the outcome all the more excruciating.

The Yankees led off the game with two singles by Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon and for a second, it looked like they might jump on John Lackey as they had done in Game 1. Mark Teixeira strode to the plate, looking to bust out of his postseason funk and get the Yanks out to an early lead. He fell behind 1-2 but took two balls to force the count full. Lackey then threw a back door curveball that was called a strike despite being off the plate inside according to Pitch f/x. Instead of having the bases loaded with no one out for A-Rod, Lackey had men on first and second with one down. He got A-Rod to pop up in foul territory and Hideki Matsui to ground out to first.

The Yankees came away empty handed and they began to regret it immediately.

A.J. Burnett left the offense in a 4-0 hole before recording an out. He stopped the bleeding right there with the help of a double play, but the damage was done; the hole was dug. Twelve pitches, four runs. It was like he blew two tee shots on the first hole out of bounds. Not the best way to start off an outing.

Lackey allowed only 4 baserunners over the next five innings and held the Yankees scoreless. A.J. Burnett was just as good, settling in after his shaky start, efficiently working through the Angels' line up, leaving himself with 80 pitches through 6 IP.

In the seventh, after Nick Swisher flied out to begin the inning, Melky slapped a double to right and Jorge Posada then worked a walk. The last pitch to Jorge was a fastball low, but should have been called a strike. It was not and Lackey promptly lost his mind, gesturing wildly to the home plate umpire even though it was just one pitch and he had got some favorable calls from the umps, including the strikeout of Teixeira in the first inning and an obviously blow call at first base in the third inning when Johnny Damon should have been called safe. Lackey then lost the strike zone, walking Derek Jeter on 4 pitches to load the bases. After retiring Johnny Damon, much to Lackey's dismay, Mike Scioscia pulled him for Darren Oliver.

Oliver wasted no time, giving up a three run double to Teixeria on the first pitch he threw and an RBI single to Matsui that tied the game at 4. All of a sudden, the Yanks were back in the game. Scioscia again went to the pen, this time for Kevin Jepsen who allowed a 2 run triple to Robby Cano before getting Swisher out to end the inning. (Yes, Swish made the first and last out of the frame)

Sitting on a lead for the first time in the game, Girardi brought A.J. Burnett out to begin the 7th presumably because he'd throw only 80 pitches and had been cruising since the initial meltdown in the first. His faith was not rewarded as Burnett allowed a single to Jeff Mathis. Despite have two men up in the pen, Girardi stuck with Burnett to face Eric Aybar. After getting ahead of him 0-2, A.J. threw him 4 straight balls.

Damaso Marte was then summoned from the bullpen. Chone Figgins sacrificed the runners over, and Marte got Bobby Abreu to ground out to first, bringing the score to 6-5 in favor of the Yankees. Next up from the 'pen was Phil Hughes. Hughes needed one out any way he could get it and the Yanks would have escaped the inning with the lead. However, he walked Torii Hunter, gave up a game-tying single to Vlad Guererro on an absolute meatball in the middle of the plate and the go-ahead base knock to Kendry Morales.

The Yanks were sat down in order in the 8th, and Joba Chamberlain was called on to keep them within one in the bottom half of the inning. He began the inning by giving up a double to Juan Rivera, then got Jeff Mathis swinging before Eric Aybar bounced a slow infield single to second and the Angels were in position to add some some insurance runs.

Girardi has no intention of allowing Joba to face Chone Figgins and began using some blatant stall tactics - a mound visit, Joba stepping off the runner, some throws to first - to allow Mariano Rivera a few last moments to get ready. Mo finally jogged in and did his thing, getting Figgins to line out to shallow right and Abreu to fly out to center.

The Yanks had one chance left at the plate to tie the game and the heart of the order due up against Brian Fuentes, starting with Johnny Damon. Four pitches later, Damon lined out sharply to first. Then, Teixeira jumped on the very first pitch he saw, hitting a high fly to right that landed in the glove of Bobby Abreu. Down to their last out, A-Rod represented the Yanks' last hope, but Scioscia called for the intentional walk. Fuentes then unintentionally walked Hideki Matsui and hit Robinson Cano with a breaking ball to load the bases for... Nick Swisher. After falling behind 0-2, Swish took a ball. Then fouled one off. Two more balls. The count was full.

And then he popped out to end the game.

If the Yanks had simply faded away after Burnett dug that 4 run hole in the first inning, the loss would have been a little easier to stomach. But they came up with that huge top of the 7th and took the lead by two runs only to give it right back in the home half. And then they tantalized with the threat in the 9th, only to have to head back to the Bronx and play at least one more.

There were some questionable decisions by both managers and more questionable umpiring. It's going to be a long 36 hours until first pitch on Saturday.