Friday, October 30, 2009

All's Well That Ends Well

Good morning, Fackers. We can all exhale a bit as the Yankees did what they had to do last night in order to even the series on the way to Philly. The outcome was on the line until the very last at bat, and there were a lot of people that were acquitted of some bad decision making when Matt Stairs went down swinging.

Joe Girardi made a couple less-than-optimal line up choices, Derek Jeter made a terrible, inadvisable bunt attempt with an 0-2 count, and the umpires made two incorrect calls on double plays within an inning of each other. Fortunately, the two guys that Girardi inserted both responded with positive contributions, and the mistakes by Jeter and the umpires were saved from more intense scrutiny by Mariano Rivera's two inning save.

Most importantly, A.J. Burnett came up with a dominant performance and saved Girardi's hide from the most obvious backlash. Burnett needs to pitch well in every game Molina catches him or else it becomes a bad decision in hindsight. Molina did a good job of corralling the breaking balls he bounced in the dirt and they seemed to be on the same page in terms of pitch selection for the most part.

As far as his offensive contributions go, Jose Molina was never in real danger of getting a hit in his first at bat as he took six pitches and fouled one back from Pedro Martinez on the way to working a walk. He grounded out to weakly to third in his only other plate appearance.

The one play where Molina truly made his presence felt was on a snap throw to first, just inches behind Raul Ibanez's head, to erase Jayson Werth's lead off single in the fourth. You can debate the merits of having Molina behind the plate in terms of pitch calling, but it's inarguable that Molina's throwing arm is a tremendous asset. Posada simply never makes that play.

Surprisingly, with Philly's lefty-heavy line up and two righties in Burnett and Rivera on the mound, Jerry Hairston's defense didn't really come into play. He didn't make any great plays nor did he miss any by a couple of feet. What he did do was come up with a big base hit to lead off the 7th inning against Pedro and Brett Gardner (who replaced him as a pinch runner) came around to score an important insurance run.

The end goal of a manager's moves should be to put the best team on the field with the information available at the time. Joe Girardi's two decisions worked out well for him, but doesn't mean that they were the right ones. Girardi got away with those calls, but Derek Jeter wasn't so fortune with the choice he made.

With two men on, no one and a run already under their belts in the 7th inning, the Yankees looked as if they were poised to break the game open. Against Chan Ho Park, Jeter showed bunt and took a strike on the first pitch. He watched another fastball go past for the second strike. Before the third pitch, Tim McCarver boldly stated that "there's no way Jeter's bunting again", which seemed like a mind-numbingly obvious point at the time, but Jeter actually did bunt.

Bunting with one or no strikes in this spot with a hitter as good as Jeter at the plate is a bad decision. Bunting with two strikes - where the most likely scenario is giving away an out to move the runners over and the second most likely one is to bunt foul and give away an out for nothing - is inexcusable. Jeter would have to have gotten that bunt down something like 80 or 90% of the time (which is clearly much higher than even the best bunter's success rate) for that to be a defensible play. He admitted that it was a "stupid decision" during the postgame press conference but had the luxury of a win to cover up his impulsive and foolish move.

Brian Gorman was similarly left off the hook by the result of the game. He made two wrong calls at a very crucial part of the contest but luckily the one that was the biggest rally killer was called against the team that was already leading. The difference between having the bases loaded and being out of the inning like the Yankees would have been had Gorman saw the ball hit the ground ebfore Ryan Howard's glove is 1.65 runs on average. Had Gorman got the play at first involving Utley in the top of the 8th, it would have been the difference of .538 runs. So please don't tell me "we're even" because the calls went both ways.

Gorman was not in a great position to see the ball on the play by Howard, but the first baseman had to reach across his body and glove the ball thumb down to make the play; more likely the way to catch a short hop than a ball on the fly. Howard reacted as if he didn't catch the ball when he fired it wildly to second base but Gorman had already made the call. It might not have been his fault, but that's all the more reason to institute replay; to examine plays that the umpire could not have made correctly with any level of certainty.

Flying under the radar in all of this is Alex Rodriguez, who went 0-4 with three strikeouts last night and is now 0-8 with 6 Ks in the series. Luckily for him, there are other things to make a big deal out of.

The reactions to a win are always going to be softened by the enjoyment of the victory. We should be thankful that the Yanks came away on top because if they had lost last night, it would have left a bitter taste for a long, long time.


  1. That was a big win for us last night. I agree with you whole-heartedly about Girardi's risky changes. Yeah, the critique is much less since we own, but you are right; just because the moves worked, doesn't mean they were the right ones. I thought Burnett pitched huge. I tell you this, it is a beautiful thing watching those pitches move up and down and left to right the way they did. It is simply a filthy, nasty trick to play on batters.
    The 2 double-play calls got under my skin. However, I actually blame the lack of Instant Replay instead of the umpires. Yeah, Howard reacted like he trapped it, but we would be pissed if we found out the ump made a call based on reaction of the player. Even on the replay angles it was a tough call to make. That we got the benefit of the call on Utley didn't make me feel entirely better, but it was also a very close call. Again, instant replay would have helped. the umps did conference i think too. Didn't seem to be an ego thing.

    Philly fans were interesting after. check out this post from 700Level

  2. I really don't see benching Swisher as a bad call. He is an automatic out at this point and mediocre outfielder. The only way it could have been a called bad decision is in hindsight, if the game was lost as a direct result of an error by Hairston.

    PS I said benching Nick was fine before the game even started.

  3. Joshua - Burnett was magnificent last night. It was his best start of the postseason and probably one of top 3 or 4 of the entire season. His curveball is a sight to behold. It's the one thing that makes me want to keep Molina behind the plate. He's bound to spike a couple in the dirt over the course of the game and if there's a runner on third, it could mean the difference between a run scoring and not.

    You're right, the ump can't wait for the player's reaction to make the call because most of the time they act in whatever way would be favorable to their team. Just thought it was worth noting that if Howard didn't even think he caught it, maybe the umps should have taken then into consideration when walking over the decision afterwards. But I'm probably just pissed because that represented a massive shift in momentum.

  4. Jay -

    you and i think alike. I was ready for Yankee staduim to just explode. Man, I just KNEW that if they got that call right, it was gonna be a big inning. All of those runners were comin around to touch home. Be it a barrage of singles, or Teixeira rocketing HR #2 or Alex breaking his mini slump with a bomb. They were poised.

    I was surprised that the Philly fans didn't say much at all on the two calls, but rather the few strikes Mo got the benefit of. Sure he got a few, but I thought that all pitchers got a healthy dose of calls in their favor. I thought for sure they would be like "UTLEY WAS SAFE BY A MILE! THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK!" But lo and behond, nothing but class.

    Apparently, Pedro said he was a bit sick, not as an excuse, but followed by a "no way was i going to let that stop me from pitching in the world series." Hats off to Pedro. He's not a power pitcher, but it DID seem the Bombers were acting as if he was throwing 95+.

    Also, how about Brett Gardner PRing for Hairston and getting from 1st to 3rd on that shallow hit. Damn he was fast!

  5. BigWillieStyle: Remember Swisher played heads-up outfield which doubled-up Vlad Guerrero in the ALCS and if my memory's intact, Swish was similarly heads-up in the ALDS too although I can't remember on whom (Gomez?)