Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Game 71: Hot 'Lanta

Daytime highs in Atlanta today were in the low 90's and by the time game time rolls around this evening, it should still be in the upper 80's. During the hottest stretch of the season thus far for the Yanks, a road trip through Miami and Atlanta, their bats have gone cold. Averaging fewer than 3 runs per game, they were held to one run by Josh Johnson on Saturday and the Marlins and shut out by Tommy Hanson and the Braves last night. Before that, they managed only 7 runs in three games against the Nationals.

It certainly hasn't been the pitching. Aside from CC Sabathia's early exit from Land Shark Stadium, the Yanks haven't allowed more than four runs in any game. Out of the past six contests, the Yanks have lost three of them while holding their opponents to three runs or fewer, something they hadn't done all season until that point. When pitchers struggle, it's easy to point the finger at one guy. When it's the offense that is faltering, the failure is more often projected on the team as a whole.

Over the last 13 games, the Yankees OPS leaders are Hideki Matsui (okay) and Brett Gardner (yikes) and they've combined for only 48 at bats. The least productive hitter with significant playing time? A-Rod at .486. That's an OPS that even David Ortiz can scoff at. If we gave A-Rod credit for energizing the team upon his return, he certainly deserves some blame for this recent slump. Unfortunately, as Tyler Kepner points out, there's no guarantee that he'll return to form.

The slumping bats have in turn put Joe Girardi back onto the hot seat. Local scribes have speculated that is Girardi fails to make the playoffs with a $200M payroll once again, it could be the very last time he gets the chance to manage in the Majors. There have been conflicting reports, but some have said that the decision to bench A-Rod came from the front office. The fact that Angel Berroa was on the roster that entire time, presumably ready to play in place of A-Rod, but was never used would seem to back that up.

Girardi getting overruled when it comes to the handling of the team's most valuable asset seems a bit like the Joba Rules being imposed on Joe Torre. If the front office needs to step in and make decisions because they don't trust the manager to, it probably doesn't bode well for Girardi's future as Yankee skipper.

Of course, with a dominant performance by the offense or Joba Chamberlain tonight, these issues could be temporarily swept aside. Joba had a respectable start last time out against the Nationals, going 6 innings and allowing three runs, but was still tagged with the loss. Given the way the offense has (not) produced recently, they might need to do better than that.

Tonight will be yet another chance for the Yankees to shake the notion that they can't hit pitchers they haven't seen before, as the Braves send Kenshin Kawakami to the mound. The Japanese rookie turned 29 on Monday and aside from Hideki Matsui who can't play the field and probably won't face him, he is completley new to the Yanks.

If you look at the MLB odds page on Bodog, the over/under for the game sits at 9 runs. Neither Kawakami or Chamberlain have allowed more than three earned runs in a start since the beginning of May, they are playing in a National League park and neither of the line ups have been able to manage much offensively as of late. All of these things would seem to portend another low scoring game. But baseball in funny like that... perhaps things are about to heat up.

1996 World Series: My Look Back

As I mentioned in my Dave Winfield post a couple weeks back, I began following the Yankees closely in 1988. In many ways, it was a watershed season for the Yankees. It was the last of Billy Martin's five tours of duty as Yankee manager and the last time Lou Piniella appeared in a Yankee uniform. It was the swan song for co-captains and longtime Yankees Ron Guidry and Willie Randolph - the last two connections to the glory years of the late 70s and early 80s, and essentially the last hurrah for Winfield as well. It was also Rickey Henderson's final full season in pinstripes.

Don Mattingly had another very good year, but it wasn't quite as good as the lofty standards he had set from 1984-87, and he failed to finish in the top ten in MVP voting for the first time since his rookie year. He would be productive again in 1989, but only show flashes of his former brilliance thereafter.

In the broadcast booth, Bill White was calling his 18th and final season of Yankee baseball with Phil Rizzuto on WPIX, leaving after the season to become President of the National League. On the cable side, it was the Yankees' final season on SportsChannel before moving to MSG Network the following year and ushering in a new era for baseball TV contracts.

On June 13, 1988, the Yankees were 39-21, playing .650 ball and leading the AL East by 3 games. They went 46-55 the rest of the way, finishing at 85-76, only 3.5 games out of first but fifth in the seven team division. For the next several years, that would be the highwater mark of my Yankee fandom, at a time when to me Yankee baseball was most important thing on the face of the planet.

1989 started a string of four consecutive losing seasons for the Yanks, lowlighted by an American League worst 67-95 (.414) season in 1990, the Yankees fifth worst winning percentage in their history and the worst since 1913. The only MLB team worse that year was the Braves at 65-97.

As I touched in the Game 6 recap, things began to change in 1993. General Manager Gene Michael and manager Buck Showalter had changed the culture of the team, bringing in character veterans like Key, O'Neill, Boggs, Mike Stanley, and Mike Gallego and fostering the development of young talent like Bernie Williams, Jim Leyritz, Sterling Hitchcock, and Bob Wickman.

The 1993 team spent a record 21 days tied for first place without ever being able to get ahead of the mighty Blue Jays. In the last season of the two division format, the Yankees finished with the third best record in the league, but were left to watch the postseason on TV.

In 1994 the Yankees were 70-43 with the best record in the AL and second best in baseball when the strike hit and Bud Selig and the recently retired Donald Fehr elected to leave the biggest black mark on the game's history since the Black Sox Scandal.

In 1995 the Yankees won the innaugural Wild Card and jumped out to a commanding 2-0 lead over Seattle in the best of five ALDS. They then lost three straight in Seattle, Games 4 and 5 in heartbreaking fashion.

That offseason the team changed drastically: Showalter and Michael were gone. Mattingly left the game, holding off on official retirement for a year. Stanley was traded to the Rockies. They were replaced by Joe Torre, Bob Watson, Tino Martinez, and Joe Girardi. The roster was peppered with young unproven players like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte. I wasn't quite sure what to make of this new guard.

But as the 1996 season unfolded, it became apparent that there was something special about the team. By the time the World Series rolled around I had just turned 16. While my suffering certainly wasn't as bad as what fans of other teams have had to endure, I was elated to see my favorite team in the World Series for the first time in my conscious memory. After a rain delay pushed Game 1 back a day, the first two games amounted to a beatdown and stomach punch. Suddenly the luster of just being there had worn off. But the Series was about to change, for the Yankees and for me.

On the morning of Game 3, Tuesday October 22nd, I boarded a plane for Washington, D.C. A teacher had nominated me to attend a leadership conference and my parents were insistent that I go. I was less than enthused about it to begin with, but now, as it interfered with my watching of the Yankees in the World Series, I was postively pissed about it.

Seeing as the conference entailed taking two hundred some horny teenagers and boarding them together for five nights, the organizers figured it best to have every moment of every day planned from roughly 7 AM to 10 PM, so as not to allow any time for extracurriculars. It didn't leave much time for watching baseball either. My memories of Games 3 through 5 are sketchy at best. I was able to catch a bit of the late innings. I remember the Boggs walk. I remember the dramatic catches by Tim Raines and Paul O'Neill to end Games 4 and 5, O'Neill screaming and slapping his hand against the fence in right-center, as his torn hamstring just barely held up. But I missed all of Game 3. I missed the Leyritz home run. My team was charging like a freight train and after waiting nine years for it, I couldn't even enjoy it.

Game 6 fell on Saturday night, my final night in D.C. I phoned my parents numerous times that day, making sure the VCR would be running. Meanwhile, the conference bussed us all off to some hotel in D.C. for a farewell dance. I kept sneaking out. I saw the Girardi triple while hanging out in the hotel bar. The chaperones came and pulled me out of there, but I snuck off again. I found the hotel's weight room. The door was locked, but miraculously the TV was on and it was showing the game. I stood there, peering through the window. I saw Grissom get thrown out at second and Cox get tossed. Shortly thereafter, the power to the weight room went out. As I wandered the hotel searching for another TV, I began considering taking to the streets of D.C., trying to find a bar or someplace where I could watch the game.

It wasn't to be. The pesky chaperones hunted me down again, and this time I was a marked man. Like a prisoner on suicide watch, I was brought back to the dance and placed under constant surveillance. There were no radios there, no TVs, and cell phones had yet to proliferate the earth. I was stranded.

Later in the evening, as Billy Idol's version of "Mony, Mony" played, the DJ dropped the volume and got on the mic. "I have some bad news," he announced, "The Yankees have just won the World Series". I erupted. I don't remember the specifics, but I know that I and a few less dedicated Yankee fans I had befriended over the week spent some time high fiving and yelling and such. To this day I can't hear that song without thinking of that moment. But it was odd, and in some ways sad. It was killing me not to watch; I should have home witnessing it with my father.

I watched the tape as soon as I got home, but it was anticlimactic. In a well-intentioned effort to better me, my parents and former teacher had robbed me of something far more valuable: seeing the Yankees win their first World Series in my lifetime. I was fortunate that just two years later, as I shipped off to college, the Yankees started a run of three consecutive championships, so that helped ease the pain. But they say you never forget your first, unless of course you never remembered it in the first place. To this day the Yankees have never won the World Series with me in my home state of CT. So if any of you would like to take up a collection to set me up with a nice place in Manhattan, let me know.

1996 World Series: Game 6

[With the Yankees squaring off against the Braves this week, we thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at the two World Series during which they faced off in the late 90's]

As the Yankees left New York following Game 2, they were trailing in the Series two games to none and had been embarassed in the two losses. Yet Joe Torre had assured George Steinbrenner they would win all three in Atlanta and take Game 6 in New York. Now, five days later and back in New York, Torre was 75% of the way to being prophetic.

Game 6 was a rematch of the last game in New York, Game 2, in which Jimmy Key and Greg Maddux squared off. The 1992-93 offseason was a critical juncture in the transformation of the Yankees from a losing franchise to a championship team. Bernie Williams had just finished his second consecutive half season with the Major League team, and was primed to become the full time centerfielder in 1993. Derek Jeter had just been drafted sixth overall and had made his professional debut that past summer. Mariano Rivera had finished the year in High A Ft. Lauderdale while both Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada were transitioning from Low A Greensboro to High A Prince William.

Paul O'Neill was acquired in a trade for Roberto Kelly, opening up centerfield for Williams, and Wade Boggs was signed on the free agent market. But as good as both O'Neill and Boggs would be, neither filled the team's biggest need.

The Yankees were the winningest team of the 1980s, but all they had to show for it was the 1980 AL East title and the AL Pennant in the strike-shortened 1981 season. They were always good, but never great, and it was usually due to a lack of pitching. From 1988, the last Yankee winning season as they entered that offseason, through 1992, the Yankees pitching staff gave up more runs per game than the AL average every year, never finishing better than 11th in the 14 team league. So with a mouth-watering crop of free agent pitchers hitting the market that offseason, the Yankees were hell bent on fixing that problem once and for all.

The team first set their sites on David Cone and Greg Maddux. On December 8th, Cone signed with the Kansas City Royals for a suitcase full of Ewing Kauffman's cash. On December 9th, Maddux chose to sign with Atlanta for less than what the Yankees were offering. So on December 10th, the Yankees settled for Cone's former Blue Jays teammate, Jimmy Key, for 4 years and just under $17M. Key might not have been the pitcher Cone and Maddux were, but as Jay detailed yesterday, he was brilliant in pinstripes and earned every penny of that deal. The Yankee staff would find itself above league average every year of his time in pinstripes. Game 6 of the 1996 World Series proved to be Jimmy Key's final appearance for the Yankees, and it would be the cherry on top of an outstanding four year stay in the Bronx.

Key had it easy through the first three innings. He retired the side in order in the first, allowed just a walk in the second, and a one out double in the third that was left stranded.

In the bottom of the third, the Yankees knocked the air of invincibility off Maddux. Paul O'Neill and his gimpy hamstring led off with a double, then moved to third on a Mariano Duncan groundout to second. Girardi then knocked a triple to deep centerfield, over the head of Marquis Grissom. As O'Neill crossed the plate giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead, Yankee Stadium was literally shaking.

The lineup turned back over to Derek Jeter, who drove Girardi in to make it 2-0. Jeter stole second, then Wade Boggs popped out for the second out of the inning. Bernie Williams then drove Jeter home with a single for his 15th and final RBI of the '96 postseason.

Key gave a run back in the fourth. With one out, he walked Fred McGriff, then gave up back-to-back singles to Javy Lopez and Andruw Jones to load the bases. Jermaine Dye worked a five pitch walk to force McGriff home, but Key then got out of the jam by getting Terry Pendleton to ground into a doubleplay.

In the fifth, Key faced the minimum. Marquis Grissom managed a one out single, but he was erased at second when trying to advance on a pitch that squirted away from Girardi. Replays showed he was clearly safe, and Grissom lost it. He was fortunate he didn't get ejected, making repeated contact with umpires as he protested. Bobby Cox was not so lucky; he got tossed and watched the rest of the World Series from the clubhouse.

Key returned for the sixth and gave up a leadoff double to Chipper Jones. McGriff then grounded to second, moving Jones to third. Torre came out and got the ball from Key. He ended his Yankee career in line to be the winning pitcher in the clinching game of the World Series, the same way he ended his tenure with the Blue Jays.

David Weathers relieved Key. Like Graeme Lloyd, Weathers was atrocious to the tune of a 9.35 ERA in 17.1 IP after being picked up from the Florida Marlins at the July 31st deadline. But also like Lloyd, Weathers put it together in the postseason, working eight scoreless innings of four hit, five K ball in the AL Playoffs. He entered Game 6 having given up a run in 2.2 IP in the Series.

Weathers fanned Lopez for the second out of the sixth and then walked Andruw Jones to put runners on the corners and the potential tying run on base. Torre called on Lloyd to face fellow lefty Ryan Klesko and Lloyd completed his perfect World Series by getting Klesko to pop out.

In the seventh it was time for Torre's Formula. Mariano Rivera, the MVP of the 1996 Yankees, came in from the pen for the eighth and final time that postseason. After a leadoff walk to Pendleton, Rivera put down three in a row. He followed that with a perfect eighth.

John Wetteland, the other half of the The Formula, took the mound for the ninth. He fanned Andruw Jones, then gave up singles to Klesko and Pendleton. Once again, there were runners at the corners and the tying run was on first.

Luis Polonia pinch hit for Jeff Blauser and struck out for the second out of the ninth. But Marquis Grissom temporarly postponed the celebration, singling on the first pitch he saw to make the score 3-2, moving the tying run into scoring position and putting the go-ahead run on base.

Mark Lemke stepped to the plate. The New York native worked a full count. He fouled a 3-2 pitch off to the left side. Charlie Hayes, a defensive replacement for Boggs at third, gave chase and fell into the Atlanta dugout in a futile attempt to snag it. On the next pitch, Lemke popped another foul ball, just behind third base, over by the tarp. Hayes settled under it, hauled it in, and gave the Yankees their first World Series Championship in 18 years and 23rd overall. Wetteland had saved all four Yankee victories and was named the MVP of the Series.

Three years later, they would meet again in the Fall Classic.

1996 World Series: Game 5

[With the Yankees squaring off against the Braves this week, we thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at the two World Series during which they faced off in the late 90's]

Before Game 5 rolled around, Andy Pettitte didn't have the most spectacular resume as a postseason pitcher. In 30 2/3 innings he had given up 29 hits and walked 15 while only striking out 11. As a result, he had allowed 21 earned runs, translating to an ERA of 6.16. His one solid playoff start, an eight inning, two run effort against Baltimore in Game 5 of the ALCS had been more recently overshadowed by the runaway train that bowled him over in Game 1 of the World Series.

As was the case in that game, his opponent was John Smoltz, who was well on his way to establishing a postseason resume which might be the best of all time, behind Mariano Rivera. After what was his finest season as a starting pitcher, Smoltz had already notched wins in all four of his postseason starts, allowing 5 runs in 30 IP (1.50ERA).

Due to the Game 1 rainout, this was the fourth straight day on which a World Series game occurred. As your average armchair prognosticator might predict, this would weigh more heavily on the position players who had taken the field all four days than the starting pitchers, and set the stage for a classic October pitchers' duel.

Regardless of the outcome, Game 5 of the '96 series was going to be the final event ever held at Fulton County Stadium, which amplified the electricity even beyond a World Series game which would determine which team went ahead 3-2. Smoltz took the hill in the top of the first and struck out the side in order, sending the home crowd into a frenzy. Pettitte countered by getting Marquis Grissom and Mark Lemke to swing through strike threes and then retiring Chipper Jones on a long fly to left.

Smoltz and Pettitte both allowed baserunners in the second inning, but each avoided trouble with two groundouts and a punchout. Smoltz tallied his fifth and sixth strikeouts in the third inning while Pettitte worked around a walk to Marqius Grissom and stranded him at second after a stolen base.

Leading off the top of the fourth, Charlie Hayes poked a ball towards the gap in right center. It was placed directly in between centerfielder Grissom and right fielder Jermaine Dye. As the two converged, Grissom called Dye off, but instead of getting out of his way, Dye stepped in front of Grissom, creating an unintentional screen for his teammate. Grissom momentaily lost track of the ball and it bounced off of his glove. Grissom was charged with the error, although if you were to ask Jermaine Dye, he would probably accept the blame. It would prove to be a costly mistake.

After a Bernie Willaims ground out moved Hayes to thrid, the Braves brought the infield in for Cecil Fielder. Big Daddy smashed a one-hopper off the left field wall, driving in Hayes and leaving Fielder on second base. It was an unearned run, a designation which only matters on paper.

Pettitte allowed base runners in the bottom of the fourth, fifth and sixth innings but was helped out by a caught stealing and two double plays.

Smoltz did the same in the fifth through seventh using three strikeouts and a double play to avoid further damage. However, after those seven innings, Smoltz had already thrown 126 pitches. Mike Bielecki had been used for two innings the night before and instead of bringing him out in a game the Braves were losing, Bobby Cox opted to leave Smoltz in. It turned out to be a good decision and he mowed down the Yanks on nine pitches in the top of the eighth.

Pettitte, by contrast, had only thrown 88 pitches. He got behind all four hitters in the frame 1-0, but needed only two pitches for each of them. Jeff Blauser flew out to left, pinch hitter Mike Mordecai grounded out to short, Marquis Grissom singled to center but Mark Lemke grounded out to Charlie Hayes for the third out.

Mark Wohlers came in for the ninth and walked Paul O'Neill with one out. Paulie was erased by a Mariano Duncan force out. This brought up Jim Leyritz with Andy Pettitte on deck. Wohlers intentionally walked the catcher, and instead of using Wade Boggs or Tim Raines, Torre opted to allow Pettitte to bat so he could face Chipper Jones and Fred McGriff in the bottom of the inning. Pettitte hit a flyball to left and went back to the dugout to grab his glove.

He got ahead of Jones 1-2, but Chipper laced a double down the left field line to lead off the inning. Torre stuck with his plan and left Pettitte in to face McGriff, who grounded out and advanced the runner to third. Pettitte's night was done as Torre summoned John Wetteland to face Javy Lopez and try to get out of the jam. With Mariano Rivera at his disposal, Torre almost never called on his closer to get out of a tight spot in the middle of an inning.

Wettleland got Lopez to ground out to third base, holding the runner and putting the Yankees two outs away from living up to the seemingly impossible promise Torre made to George Steinbrenner after losing Game 2. Cox pinch hit lefty Ryan Klesko for righty Andruw Jones and Torre responded by giving Klesko a free pass and putting the winning run on base. He made another unorthodox decision that had the potential to look awfully foolish if the game did not go his way.

Jermaine Dye was due up next and to that point in the postseason was hitting .163 and had only drawn one walk. Cox summoned Luis Polonia and although he had yet to reach base in the '96 playoffs, had appeared in two World Series before. Polonia fouled off six straight fastballs from Wetteland, causing first base coach Jose Cardenal to shift the defensive alignment left, on the hunch that Polonia would be unlikely to pull the ball. Wetteland delivered another fastball up in the zone which Polonia redirected into the gap in right-center. With the runners going on contact, Klesko would have likely scored from first base had the ball landed. However, due to the keen repositioning by Cardenal, O'Neill tracked down the ball just in time, and made the catch before his momentum carried him into the wall.

The only run of the game was unearned, an unfortunate occurrence that had only befallen three other teams in World Series history: the 1905 Philadelphia Athletics, the 1921 Yankees and the 1986 Mets.

Amazingly, the two biggest plays of the game took place in almost the same spot on the field, both ending up, against all odds, in favor of the Yankees. If either of those go the other way, the Yanks would have been staring down 3-2 deficit on the plane ride home and would have had to take both games at Yankee Stadium. Instead the needed to win only one of them to clinch their first Championship in 18 years.

1996 World Series: Game 4

[With the Yankees squaring off against the Braves this week, we thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at the two World Series during which they faced off in the late 90's]

Joe Torre had held back David Cone for Game 3, believing it to be the most critical game of a series. That move worked like a charm. But the Yankees still trailed two games to one, making Game 4 nearly as critical. A win would even the Series, but a loss would push the Yankees to the brink of elimination.

The difference between Game 4 and Game 3 was that instead of handing the ball to the gutsy, tested David Cone, the start would go to Kenny Rogers. A native of nearby Savannah, Rogers had signed a four year, $20M free agent contract following the 1995 season, as he, Jack McDowell, and Ken Hill went on a free agent carousel that mirrored a three team trade.

Rogers had been a successful pitcher in Texas, spending his first four seasons as a reliever. Converted to a starter in 1993, Rogers performed well, going 44-25 with a 3.95 ERA (117 ERA+) in his final three seasons in Arlington. The Yankees always seek quality left handed pitching, but almost immediately following the signing there were questions as to whether Rogers had the right mental make up for New York.

1996 got off to a rough start for The Gambler, taking a BP line drive from Tony Fernandez of his pitching elbow early in spring training. He recovered to make thirty starts, going 12-8. He posted an ERA of 4.68, which was actually below league average in a record setting offensive year, good for an ERA+ of 107. But he was a constant tightrope act, allowing nearly 1.5 baserunners per inning, and posting a K/BB of only 1.11. He had been a disaster in his three postseason appearances, allowing 6 ER in 5 IP and failing to make it to the fourth inning in either of his starts.

For Game 4 he was opposed by future Yankee and friend to streetwalkers everywhere, Denny Neagle. Neagle was a deadline pick up for the Braves, and he pitched poorly in his six starts for the Braves, going 2-3 with a 5.59 ERA. But he had been dynamite with Pittsburgh earlier in the year and his final line for 1996 was 16-9, 3.50 ERA 126 ERA+. He had yet to register a decision in the '96 postseason, but entered Game 4 with a postseason ERA of 2.63 over 13.2 IP.

Rogers worked a perfect first, inducing three groundouts. He was an utter disaster thereafter. The Crimedog led off the bottom of the second with a solo shot. Rogers then issued free passes to Javy Lopez and Andruw Jones. Lopez moved to third on a Jermaine Dye flyout to right, then scored on a bunt single from Jeff Blauser. Neagle sacrificed the runners to second and third, then Marquis Grissom cleared the bases with a double. A Mark Lemke groundout ended the inning, but the damage was done. Rogers had spotted the Braves a four run lead.

Rogers returned to the mound for the third, but threw only seven more pitches, yielding back-to-back singles to Chipper Jones and Fred McGriff to put runners on the corners. As he had in Game 1, Torre turned to Brian Boehringer in the early going, and Boehringer faired far better this time around. He set down three in order to wriggle out of Rogers' jam, allowing the Braves fifth run to score on a sacrifice fly. Boehringer followed that with a perfect fourth.

Boehinger gave way to David Weathers for the fifth. He sandwiched two walks between two Ks, before allowing the sixth Brave run on an Andruw Jones double.

Neagle entered the top of the sixth up six runs and cruising. He had gone five scoreless innings, retired the first eight in a row, and allowed just two hits - one of them an infield single. His only hiccup came in the fourth when he walked three, but used a double play and his third strikeout of the night to get out of trouble. He had been close to untouchable, but his luck was about to change.

Derek Jeter led off the sixth with a single and moved to second on a Bernie Williams walk. Cecil Fielder and Charlie Hayes, starting against the lefty in place of Tino Martinez and Wade Boggs respectively, followed with back-to-back singles. An error by Jermaine Dye on the Fielder single allowed Williams to score, and Fielder to move to second then score on the Hayes single. That was it for Neagle; he exited leading 6-3 and responsible for Hayes on first.

The remainder of the sixth turned into a chess match. Terrell Wade relieved Neagle and walked Darryl Strawberry, making it first and second with no one out. Wade gave way to Mike Bielecki. As Jay pointed out yesterday, Bielecki wasn't the Atlanta closer, but he was their fireman. The veteran righty was in the second to last and best season of his 14 year career. He put out the blaze by striking out the side, getting Mariano Duncan and pinch hitters Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez although it took him 15 pitches to do so.

The game stayed at 6-3 for the remainder of the sixth and through the seventh. Jeff Nelson worked those two frames for the Yankees, yielding no hits and a walk against 2 Ks. Bielecki was nearly as effective in the seventh as he was in the sixth, giving up just a walk and notching another strikeout.

In the top of the eighth the whole World Series changed. Bobby Cox turned to his closer Mark Wholers. Hayes and Strawberry led off with back-to-back singles. Strawberry was erased on a fielder's choice from Duncan, leaving runners at the corners with one out. Jim Leyritz stepped to the plate and was about to make a career for himself.

Leyritz had first come up to the Yankees in the disastrous 1990 season, making him the most tenured member of the team. It took him until '92 to stick for good, but one thing Leyritz never lacked for was confidence, even as he hit .182/.300/.221 in '91. His brashness rubbed some the wrong way, but also earned him a measure of respect amongst him teammates, as well as two good nicknames: Elvis and The King. He already had won a bit of a reputation for coming up big in the post-season, as his 15th inning home run ended Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS.

Leyritz had entered the game in the bottom of the sixth, after O'Neill pinch hit for Joe Girardi, and had to face the fireballing Wholers in his first plate appearance of the night. Wholers peppered Leyritz with fastballs approaching 100 MPH and Leyritz struggled to keep up with them. Then, Wholers inexplicably threw a 2-2 slider. He hung it, and Leyritz yanked it over the left field fence to tie the score at six.

Mariano Rivera took over in the bottom of the eighth and worked around a leadoff single to keep the score tied. Wholers made it interesting again in the top of the ninth, allowing three consecutive two out singles to load the bases, before getting Duncan to line out and end the threat.

In the bottom of the ninth, Rivera put two on with one out when Torre summoned Graeme Lloyd to face McGriff. Lloyd was absolutely awful after coming over from the Brewers in an August trade. His ERA was 17.47 and WHIP was 3.00 over 13 appeances. There were rumors that he was damaged goods and there was reason to believe that he was. The initial trade also had former Rookie of the Year Pat Listach going to the Yankees until he was found to be injured, requiring the Brewers to send Ricky Bones to complete the deal.

But as the fall dawned, Lloyd turned over a new leaf. He allowed just one hit and no runs over four appearances and 2.2 IP between the ALDS and ALCS and was perfect through 1.1 IP between Games 2 and 3 of the World Series, striking out three of the four batters he faced. Lloyd continued his superb October by getting a doubleplay grounder from McGriff to send the game to extra innings.

In the tenth, Cox replaced Wholers with Steve Avery. At the outset of the Braves postseason run in 1991 it appeared that Avery would be part of "The Big Three" with Glavine and Smoltz. He went 47-25 from '91-'93 and finished sixth in the '91 Cy Young Award voting. But Avery began slipping in '94 and by '96 he was a sub-.500 pitcher with an ERA slightly poorer than the league average. The arrivals of Maddux and Neagle had bumped him from the postseason rotation.

Avery recorded two quick outs. But Tim Raines drew a walk, followed by an infield single from Jeter that put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Cox elected to intentionally walk Bernie Williams to load the bases. Light hitting Andy Fox was due up, but Torre had one last bullet in his gun.

Wade Boggs was the last position player on the bench. Hayes had started at third with the lefty Neagle starting, and Torre had elected to use O'Neill, Martinez, and even Mike Aldrete for earlier pinch hitting duties. It was almost as if Torre was waiting for this opportunity to come around.

Boggs had suffered through the Red Sox collapse in the 1986 World Series as well as their beatdowns at the hands of the Oakland A's in the 1988 and 1990 ALCS. His arrival in New York was a big part of changing the culture of the organization, and he rewarded the team with two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers in his first four seasons in pintstripes. But Hayes' arrival at the waiver deadline reduced Boggs' playing time. He had gone a combined 3 for 27 (.111) in the AL playoffs, but rebounded to go 3 for 8 between Games 1 and 2 of the Series.

Boggs pinch hit for Fox, and as he had done so often in his career, he worked a full count, then drew a walk to give the Yankees the lead. Cox pulled a double switch, putting Ryan Klesko at first and bringing in Brad Clontz to face Charlie Hayes. Hayes popped up to first, but Klesko made an error, giving the Yankees a two run lead.

Lloyd came back to the mound for the bottom of the tenth. He struck out Klesko leading off the inning, to run his World Series ledger to 2.1 perfect innings with four strikeouts. Torre then called on John Wetteland to get the final two outs. Wetteland gave up a single to Andruw Jones, then ended the game by getting both Dye and Terry Pendleton to fly out to left.

With that, the Series became a best of three.

Get Back To Me In 2016

You know it's bad when PeteAbe starts stirring the pot, but this is just incorrect:
$423.5 million doesn’t buy what it used to

After 70 games in 2008: 37-33, six games out of first.
After 70 games in 2009: 38-32, five games out of first.
So by that logic, after these 70 games, the Yankees will have spent nothing, correct? Or are we just going to use that $423.5M figure ad infinitum? Nevermind the fact that the Yankees' payroll is actually lower than it was last year by about $8M.

The amount of money the Yankees will spend this year on CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett is $54.5M. So for the first 70 games of the season, the Yankees have spent $23.5M on those players. I guess that seems like a lot, but unlike last year they've also spent a grand total of nothing on Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Kyle Farnsworth, Carl Pavano and Mike Mussina.

I understand the temptation to add up contracts that account for t-w-e-n-t-y player seasons and act like somehow the Yankees have already spend that money over just 43% of one season. But that's no better than something Wallace Matthews would write. Sorry Pete, but I expect more from you.

The LoHud of the Rings also took two shots at his favorite target, A-Rod, last night. From the post linked above:
This comment from A-Rod should cheer you up:
A-Rod said his swings are getting more aggressive. Well that’s good.
“I’ve got to take it one day at time. I certainly don’t think it’s going to be a bad year. I think I’m going to do a lot of good things to help the team win. I have complete certainly I’m going to do a fine job.”

Well, complete certainty. You can’t ask for much more than that. As your[sic] his slump, maybe it’s October on the Kabbalah calendar. Somebody needs to check that out.
He's never had a bad season in his career, what do you want the guy to say: "I'm absolutely horrible, I have no idea whether I will ever break out of this funk, and I'm not sure if the team will ever recover"? Personally, I don't have a problem with athletes being optimistic.

Well, At Least It Wasn't A Game 1 Redux...

Tommy Hanson was not Greg Maddux tonight, not by a long shot. But that didn't stop the Braves from duplicating the score of Game 2 of the 1996 World Series, which we recapped earlier in the day.

Hanson, the top pitching prospect in the Braves' organization and one of the very best in baseball posted a 0.73 ERA in 11 starts in AAA this year before earning his call up to the Majors. Since then he has made four starts, winning three and hasn't allowed a run in either of his last two. Tonight, however, was more about the Yankees' failure to convert opportunities than them being stifled by the young stud.

After a 1-2-3 first inning for Hanson, the Yankees put 10 runners on base (4H, 5BB, 1HBP) in the next 4 1/3, none of whom came around to score. They left the bases loaded in the second and fourth innings and Jeter grounded into a double play to end the sixth.

Hanson struggled with the same issues that Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes have been battling early in their careers: a lack of control and inefficiency with his pitch count. He walked more men than he struck out (5 to 4) in 5 1/3 IP and needed 99 pitches to get those 16 outs. The Braves bullpen finished out the game for Hanson, allowing no hits and only one walk in the final 3 2/3.

Hanson deserves credit for shutting the Yanks down, but getting a team to go 0-8 with runners in scoring position isn't just about dominant pitching. Failures on offense account for a large portion of that. The 2-4 hitters when 0-12 with a lone walk and Jorge Posada struck out four times. That's going to make it hard to win against anyone.

With the lack of any run support whatsoever, Chien Ming Wang's quest for a victory was once again put on hold, dropping him to 0-6 on the season. He pitched decently for the most part, with all three the runs he allowed coming in third inning on back to back doubles by Brain McCann and Garret Anderson, but never had a chance for a W.

Wang lasted only 5 innings, but for the first time this season he wasn't pulled due to his ineffectiveness. In the top of the sixth, Wang was due up to bat third. Since he had thrown only 62 pitches, if no one reached base in front of him he would have likely batted and come out to pitch the bottom half. But Brett Gardner singled and Hideki Matsui was sent in to pinch hit for Wang. Matsui walked, but that only led to the aforementioned Derek Jeter DP. From there on out, the only Yankee to reach base was Johnny Damon, who worked a pinch hit, one out walk in the top of the ninth only to be stranded at 2nd.

In what little good news there was for the Yanks, Phil Hughes came on in relief on Wang and pitched two perfect innings, striking out two in the process. Yay!

Yeah, it could have been worse, but not by a whole lot. In nine games against the bottom of the NL East, three teams with records under .500, the Yankees are going to have to win two in a row just to go 4-5. This is the tpye of stretch the Yanks are supposed to get fat off of, but instead they are falling back to the pack.

Before getting shut out by Josh Beckett in Fenway they were in first place by one game. Since then they have gone 4-9, which should be 3-10 if Luis Castillo made the most routine of plays. They now sit 5 games out of first, are tied with Toronto and two games ahead of the Rays. Will the real New York Yankees please stand up?