Sunday, October 11, 2009

ALDS Game 3: Idle Time

When the Yankees left the field victorious exactly two weeks ago, they had just clinched the AL East and the best overall record in the American League. In doing so, they rendered the season's final six games, split by another Thursday off day, as essentially meaningless. It also gave them the right to choose which ALDS schedule they wanted to play.

When the Yankees left the field victorious exactly one week ago, they had just finished the regular season. They were off the next two days, still not knowing who their ALDS opponent would be, as the Twins and Tigers needed one extra game and three extra innings to decide the AL Central.

In order to allow themselves the option to use only three starting pitchers in the ALDS, the Yankees chose the "A" schedule. So, after playing Game One on Wednesday, the Yankees sat through the extra off day on Thursday, and then enjoyed an off day for travel yesterday following Friday night's Game Two thriller.

All of which is a long way of saying that by the time the first pitch is thrown tonight, the Yankees will have played just eight games in the last fourteen days, six of them meaningless, and just two games in the last seven days. In other words, they've had a lot of idle time on their hands of late.

Tonight it will be Idle Time of a different sort at the Metrodome. Carl Pavano, infamously dubbed the "American Idle" by The Post's George A. King III during his four injury plagued years in New York, takes the hill for the Twinkies. While no Yankee fan is fond of Pavano, we may have something of a debt of gratitude to him at present. In un-Pavano-like fashion, he asked for the ball on short rest on the season's final day. While Pavano didn't have a good start (5.2 IP, 8 H 4 ER), it was enough to keep the putrid Royals at bay, and he picked up the "W" in what was essentially a must win game for the Twins, forcing Tuesday's one game playoff and further depleting the Twins' starting staff heading in to the ALDS.

The Yankees had two shots at Pavano this year, both coming while he was still with Cleveland, and both times they failed to extract their pound of flesh. In 13.1 innings of work against the Yanks, Pavano pitched to a 2.70 ERA and allowed just 12 baserunners, but didn't record a decision. Less recently, Pavano made two appearances against the Yankees in the 2003 World Series, one start and once in relief, and allowed just one run and nine baserunners in nine innings of work. Despite his reputation of lacking in intestinal fortitude, Pavano pitched 19.1 innings in that 2003 post-season, going 2-0 while posting a 1.40 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Here's hoping those small trends get derailed tonight.

Opposing Pavano will be a far more experienced post-season starter, the third and final different starting pitcher the Yankees intend to use in this series. Andy Pettitte will make the 36th post-season start of his career tonight, all but four of them coming with the Yankees. He's 14-9 with a 3.96 ERA in those games, but has shown a knack for coming up big in the biggest games. He's made nine post-season starts (eight with NYY) with an opportunity to end a series. In those games, Pettitte is 3-2 (his teams are 5-4), with a 4.47 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Subtract out his disastrous pitch-tipping start in Game 6 of the 2001 World Series, and Pettitte is 3-1 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in those games. Pettitte faced the Twins in Game 2 of 2003 ALDS. With the Yankees in an 0-1 hole, Pettitte gave up one run and allowed seven baserunners while fanning ten in seven innings of work and earning the victory.

The Yankees return to their normal line-up tonight. For the Twins, Brendan Harris replaces the injured Matt Tolbert at third base. Tolbert has been removed from the Twins' roster all together. Jason Kubel returns to RF after DHing Friday, Denard Span slides back to center, Carlos Gomez goes back to the bench, and Jose Morales enters the line up as the DH.

When the Yankees left Minnesota in July, we bid a premature adieu to the Metrodome. The Twins were a .500 team following that Yankee sweep, and were four games back in the AL Central with a little less than half the season to play. The Twins certainly weren't out of it at that point, but it did take a historically unlikely late season comeback for them to reach the post-season. They now return home with their backs to the wall. While the Metrodome has been lauded as one of the biggest homefield advantages in all of baseball, the Twins have lost seven straight post-season games there, four of them against the Yankees. With any luck, the Yankees will give the dome its final send off tonight.

A game like Friday's has the potential to suck the life out of the losing team; I'm hopeful the Yanks can put them to sleep for good tonight. With the Angels completing an improbable sweep of the Red Sox this afternoon, they have the luxury of being off until Friday, when the ALCS begins. As such, they'll be able to rest up and set up their pitching as they see fit. It would behoove the Yankees to wrap up their ALDS business tonight as well, as it would allow them the same benefits the Angels are currently enjoying. Another four days off would be quite boring, and wouldn't exactly be ideal after all the down time in the past two weeks. But those would be awfully nice problems to have right now given how the Yankees' last three Division Series played out. Time to shake out the pain of the past three post-season series and ensure a little more idle time.

I might need some assistance if I don't get my pass
Looking for some time off to shake this pain out of my past
That island's not too far away, I think that I can swim
Maybe I'll just stick around and sift through this trash bin

Let 'em dance, let 'em sing
There'll be time enough for me
Daylight colors off the shore, I lay silent on the floor
Slowly sipping on my tea

Idle time brings idle wind
Ease your mind
Fall asleep again

Umping The Foul Lines

The Division Series round isn't even over yet and this post-season already has been a breeding ground for debate over umpiring. With the blown calls in Game 1 of the Angels-Red Sox series, TBS' introduction of PitchTRAX, and Phil Cuzzi's incorrect call on Joe Mauer's flyball in the eleventh inning Friday night, there's been no shortage of fuel for that fire.

No one wants to get jobbed by a bad call. But for better or worse they are part of the game. While the Yanks got shorted on one or two earlier this season, they've been fortunate to be on the good end of some bad calls in the post-season over the past 13 years. Friday night marks at least the third time that one of those calls involved an outfield umpire - the Jeffrey Maier homerun in ALCS Game 1 in 1996 and Jermaine Dye getting picked off by the right field ump in Atlanta during the 1996 World Series come to mind.

In Joel Sherman's Birth of Dynasty, chronicling the '96 team, former umpire Richie Garcia gave a lengthy explanation as to what happened during the Maier home run. Much of the explanation centered around the fact that umpires spend the entire six month season working the plate and the bases, and as such are unaccustomed to the rather unique task of working the foul lines in the post-season. In his post-game press conference Friday night, crew chief Tim Tschida gave a similar explanation as it related to Cuzzi's blown call. I think it's also possible that Melky Cabrera charging into Cuzzi's field of view may have had an impact on the mistake.

Neither Garcia nor Tschida used the unfamiliarity with the task as an excuse, but rather as an explanation as to how it could happen. I don't know if it's just correlation and not causation, but it does seem that umping the foul lines, which should be a rather anonymous task, too often becomes an ignominious task. That it happens when the games mean the most is very unfortunate, because I do think that the MLB umpires generally due a very good, if thankless, job.

I don't expect the Twins to be happy about Friday's call, nor should they be. They likely would have benefited from a lead-off double more than they did from Mauer's eventual single. But before anyone jumps to the conclusion that Mauer assuredly would have scored had he been rightly awarded the double, let me remind you of the "fallacy of the predetermined outcome" that local phallus-head Michael Kay so often likes to mention.

Mauer not getting the double does not change the fact that the Twins left 17 runners on base over the course of the game, nor does it change that they could easily have had an extra run in the fourth had Carlos Gomez either not stumbled or managed to get in a rundown after he did, nor does it change that they failed to score in a bases loaded, no out jam in that eleventh inning.

And as Ron Gardenhire rightly pointed out after the game, the Twins were the beneficiaries of an incorrect call in Tuesday's play-in game, as Brandon Inge was (technically) hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the twelfth and final inning. Instead of forcing in the go-ahead run for the Tigers, Inge bounced into a force play, and the Twins, just as the Yankees did Friday, won it in the bottom of the inning.

Of course, I completely reserve the right to change my tune should the Yankees get hosed at any point this post-season...

Ruminations On Game 2

Hello Fackers. Sorry for my recent absence - if any of you in fact noticed - various family, work, and laptop failure issues have kept me off the internets for most of the past 10 days or so. Thankfully Jay more than kept things afloat around here.

My uncle had tickets to Friday's ALDS Game 2, and my brother and I were fortunate enough to get the invite to join him and my cousin at the game. I'd never been to a post-season game before, and if I go to a hundred more, it'll be tough to match the excitement of Friday's game.

I'm a little late to the party on this one, so I don't want to recreate the game recap or echo Ben Kabak's sentiments about being there Friday night. But beyond my gratitude for being able to be there (and not having to suffer through Chip Caray in the process), there are a few thoughts I'd like to share on the game:

  • I've been very critical of many Joe Girardi decisions over the course of this season. As I mentioned briefly last week, I wasn't completely sold on starting Jose Molina in Game 2, but beyond that, I agreed with every move Girardi made over the course of the game. For once, I thought the match ups he played with the bullpen were the right ones, even if not everyone executed properly (Marte). I still fear that Girardi's love for little ball will cost the Yankees a game at some point, but I'll give credit where it's due right now. I think he managed a great game Friday night.

  • Last week I also questioned the need for three catchers on the ALDS roster. I still don't think it's the wisest use of a roster spot, but in light of the decision to start Molina, it allowed Girardi not only to pinch hit with Posada, but also to pinch run for Posada with Brett Gardner later on. It nearly worked to perfection in the eleventh inning.

  • Like nearly everyone else, I thought the Yanks were screwed in the eleventh with the bases loaded and no one out. Yet, because of his league leading K-rate, David Robertson was exactly the pitcher I wanted on the mound at that point - and why I thought it was a smart move for Girardi to go to Aceves rather than the twice warmed D-Rob to start the tenth - better to save Robertson for a runners on jam like the one Marte pitched into. That Robertson was able to pitch out of that jam is remarkable. That he was able to do it without a strikeout or a doubleplay is amazing. Mark Teixeira will be remembered for his walk-off HR in this game, but he made two huge defensive plays to get the Yanks out of the jam in the top half of the final inning.

  • Another play that will get lost in the noise of the dramatic home runs and furor over the blown foul ball call was a head's up defensive play from Nick Swisher and Derek Jeter in the fourth inning. As Carlos Gomez stumbled and fell rounding second base, Jeter wisely signaled for the ball and Swisher got it there in time to catch Gomez before Delmon Young could score. Not only did the Yankees catch a big break in Gomez falling, but the caught an even bigger one when Gomez instinctively scrambled back to the bag. Had he allowed himself to get caught in a rundown instead it would have been enough to prolong the play long enough for Young to cross the plate.

Lastly, thanks to all the matching up, Chad Gaudin was lone remaining active player out the bullpen when Teix ended the game. So while everyone else was partying at the plate, I caught this extremely amateurish shot of Gaudin (in the jacket) trotting in from the pen, past the ball boy, to join the party.

Back with more in a bit...

Some Sunday Reading

Usually the wait for a 6:07 playoff game on a weekend day would be fairly excruciating, but the Red Sox fire up just after noon (off an extremely unhealthy breakfast) and then we're in for a typical NFL Sunday with the Giants playing the Raiders at 1:00. If you need some reading to fill in the gaps, we've got some of that for you too.

- I didn't want to link to this before I read the entire thing so it's not hot off the press, but here Wright Thompson's feature on the Legends Seats for's E-Ticket. Our buddy Jason's work was used in creating the piece - a quote clearly derivative of this piece appears in the second section - but was sadly not specifically cited. It's an excellent read as it intertwines the culture on Wall Street with the advent Legends Club and gives some perspective how the economy of attending sporting evens has changed in the past 20 or so years.

- In other sports business news, Maury from the Biz of Baseball takes a look at how and how much teams revenue draw from their playoff appearances.

- Another great read that I didn't want to link before I read: A former Major League pitcher explores the neuroscience of trying to hit a baseball.

- Carson Cistulli over at FanGraphs relates the psychological concept of "flow" to Jered Weaver's postseason performance, but I think it makes even more sense when applied to A-Rod.

- Scott Piloti of the Newark Star-Ledger gives some background on Phil Cuzzi which I would highly recommend to those who calling for him to be fired because of one blown call. Umps are a lot more like you and I than they are like the players so let's all take a step back before demanding that someone lose their job over one mistake.

- Oh, NOW people want to talk about instant replay... Joe Posnanski hits some of the same notes I did, albeit a day later. Joe Girardi thinks things are fine the way they are. So does Ron Gardenhire also citing the "human element" - see Posnanski's take on that. Also, the managers know the umpires personally and can't see the replays that we do on TV so they're never going to be the ones spearheading the movement.

- An update on the Babe Ruth video previously discussed by the New York Times.

- Ian O'Connor talks to Tino Martinez about these Yankees and their new swagger.

We've got some more stuff coming throughout the afternoon so feel free to stop by and check it out.