Tuesday, October 20, 2009

ALCS Game 4: Climb To Safety

The first five games of the 2009 postseason weren't a cake walk for the Yankees, but they had made it through them unscathed. They were like a prizefighter, working his way through the early rounds, landing some good shots and avoiding getting hit. Well, the double 12th inning by Jeff Mathis last night was a clean shot to the jaw and the Yankees were left sitting on the mat.

It was a wake up call to a team who had found a way out of tight spot after tight spot, including the one that Mariano Rivera wriggled his way out of in the 10th inning. But when Alfredo Aceves left that four-seam fastball up in the zone and it hit the wall in left center, just out of the reach of Jerry Hairston, Jr., the invincibility was gone and the Yanks were getting the standing eight count.

Tonight they'll try to shake it off and prove they don't have a glass jaw.

The Angels chose to hold Scott Kazmir back until Game 4 of this series instead of throwing him at Yankee Stadium, so he will be the one facing down the Bombers tonight. Since Kazmir had spent his entire Big League tenure in the AL East before being dealt to the Angels in a post-non-waiver deadline deal, the Yankees have a pretty long history against him - at least for a 25 year old. In 87 IP against the Bombers, Kazmir has a 2.67 ERA and nearly one strikeout per inning pitched.

He was having a pretty terrible season with the Rays before being traded to Anaheim, sporting a 5.92 ERA and a WHIP of 1.58. However, in the six September starts he made with the A's, Kazmir had a 1.73 ERA with an opponents' line of .212/.273/.288 and a WHIP under 1.00.

The start that he made against the Red Sox at Fenway in the ALDS resembled the portion of the year with the Rays much more than his month with the Halos. He was tagged for 5 runs in 6 innings and only struck out one batter. Which Kazmir is going to show up tonight is anyone's guess.

As has been discussed thoroughly since the series began, the Yankees are starting CC Sabathia on short rest tonight in lieu of trotting out Chad Gaudin on 16 days rest. Seems like a pretty obvious decision to me, but get ready for a deluge of second-guessing should this go the slightest bit awry.

You can look at Sabathia's performance on short rest, which has been quite good, but this is a much different year than 2008. The Yankees have taken care to keep the Big Fella's workload down during this season, spacing 12 of his 34 starts on 5 or more days rest. The result is that he threw 230 regular season innings, his lowest total in the past three years. And unlike the time he made a start on 3 days rest in the postseason last year, this won't be his 4th start in less than two weeks.

The Yanks offense has scored 4 runs in each of the first three games of the series, despite putting 42 men on base in 29 innings and hitting 6 home runs. Needless to say, they need to start knocking some dudes in. Contributions from Mark Teixiera, Melky Cabrera and Nick Swisher in particular would be much appreciated tonight.

It goes without saying that tonight is a pivotal game in the series. A win puts the Angels on the brink of elimination and a loss evens up the series. The Yanks are in danger of losing the advantage they gained during those bitter battles in the Bronx. Hopefully some timely hitting and a solid performance by Mr. Sabathia can return them to safer grounds.

[Note: Oddly, FOX has been playing this song (Climb To Safety by Widespread Panic) coming in and out of commercial breaks during the ALCS. Not exactly a song you'd expect to hear from a major network so apparently somebody there enjoys a little Panic.]

Scream at the conductor,
He's been deaf for 20 years,
Hear the other people laughin',
As it grinds to where it began.

Go to grab your nerve,
You find that it's been missin',
See you've lost your faith,
In everyone you know.

Well I surely hope,
That you dont plan on winnin',
There's no payin more attention,
Won't until you care,
You are seconds from the impact,
And were movin' way too slow.

In Defense Of Mark Teixeira

Mark Teixeira is hitting .120/.241/.240 with just one extra base hit in 29 PA this post-season. That assuredly is not a good line, particularly from a team's number three hitter. Unfortunately, Teixeira has begun this post-season in a slump much like the one he had to begin the regular season, except thus far he hasn't had the walk rate or the power to supplement his poor batting average as he did early the season.

Partly because of the game winning home run Teixeira hit in Game Two of the ALDS and partly because everything had been all puppy dogs and roses for the Yankees up until yesterday, Teixeira hasn't yet come under any A-Rod style media fire. Yet rest assured, should his struggles continue or should the Yankees have the audacity to lose another game, Teix is going to start feeling some heat.

Yet, home run aside, Teixeira has been a valuable player for the Yankees this post-season. Through Games One and Two of the ALCS, he made several good plays around first base, coaxing outs from errant throws out of the cold hands of Yankee infielders. In Game Two of the ALDS Teixeira was David Robertson's biggest ally in pitching out of a bases loaded no out jam in the eleventh inning, spearing a screaming lining drive off the bat of Delmon Young for the first out and then fielding a hot shot grounder and firing home for the second.

Yesterday, Teixeira went 0 for 3 with 2 BBs, but he made several key plays in the field. In the eighth, Bobby Abreu led off with a double to the center field fence. Abreu spent two and a half seasons with the Yankees. He knows the strength of Melky Cabrera's arm. He knows Derek Jeter's knack for being in the right spot and making head's up plays. He assuredly saw Jeter's role in getting big base running outs against Carlos Gomez and Nick Punto in the ALDS. What Abreu didn't know was that with both Jeter and Cano in short center field for relay throws, Mark Teixeira was trailing him up the base line. When Abreu took an overly aggressive turn towards third base, Teix called for the ball. Jeter adjusted as he returned to the ground from his leap, and he and Teix had Abreu dead to rights as he retreated to second base. The play gets lost in the shuffle of what came after it and the Angels' eventual victory, but this was a huge huge play at the time.

Later in the inning, Teix snagged an errant throw from A-Rod as it tailed towards the home plate side of the first baseline, and managed to tag Vladimir Guerrero on his way by to record the innings final out. In the ninth, Teix snagged a hot shot liner off the bat of Kendry Morales for the second out.

In the tenth, as the Yankees faced a huge jam with the winning run on third and no one out, Teixeira once again played a key role in defusing the situation. With the infield drawn in, Teix made a diving stop on a hot shot grounder from Chone Figgins, looked the runner back to third, and tagged first for the inning's first out. A batter later he snagged a hard grounder from Torii Hunter and forced the runner at home for the second out. Finally, he snagged Vlad Guerrero's grounder in the hole and beat him to the bag for the final out.

First baseman are paid to hit. Number three hitters are expected to hit. And eventually the Yankees are going to need some offense from Teixeira this month. But, even with his current struggles at the plate Mark Teixeira is making some big contributions to the Yankees.

MLB Reviewed Rivera Spitgate Tape

And you're not going to believe this, but they didn't find any evidence that Mo spit on the ball. Joel Sherman with the scoop:
The initial reaction by the league had been that the video plus still pictures they have of the incident were inconclusive if Rivera actually spit on or near the ball. But after further review of what they had, the Commissioners Office determined that Rivera was not spitting directly on the ball.

On a couple of the still pictures in MLB's possession, it apparently looks as if Rivera is spitting near, but not on, the ball. Also, as even the league office is aware, Rivera is a player who spits constantly while in action.
Glad we solved that one. Now the Sherlock Holmeses over at Halos Heaven can move on to other pressing issues such as the Yankees' rampant steroid use, FOX's blatant favoritism towards them, and the fact the umpires are on the Yanks' payroll. (Not kidding, they have suggested all of those things in the past three days.)

Checking In With The Best Fans In The World

Yesterday Mike Lupica declared Yankees fans the best in the world, not just the MLB. We took exception to that, and figured that today would be a good day to reassess that statement.

Let's see how these unparalleled, die-hard, loyal, knowledgeable and passionate fans dealt with their first loss in 17 days (all [sic'd], obviously). Enjoy:
Gardner in CF 8:36 pm
melky didn’t even go after that. i hope he never puts on a Yankees uniform again.
Mark B 8:38 pm
Torre would not have made that error….Girardi better learn from the mistake and move on tomorrow

Howie 8:40 pm
Girardi manages like a kid who found his Fathers gun.

EY 8:42 pm
Here’s a suggestion.

Take out Aceves and add Bruney.
swish 8:44 pm [Presumably not the actual Nick Swisher]
If they go on to lose the series i hope they fire Girardi.

What an awful display of managing.

Asseves sucks and he is the last to know! Wow.

Joker, The 8:44 pm
I hate Girardi. My dog could manage better than him. And as for Cano, Swisher, and Melky? They can all go to hell.

100 pitches of fun... 8:45 pm
Girardi is CLEARLY in over his head in these games. He is “choking” more than Arod ever did from 04-07. It’s almost like he gets too nervous and doesn’t know what to do.

H.E.PennyPacker 8:46 pm
Fire Girardi. He is incompetent.

Jeana 8:49 pm
I would bench Melky tomorrow….really. And Cano….I don’t even know WHAT to say about his performance.

Upstate 8:53PM
[About Melky] Lazy, overrated, pudgy, idiot who swings at crap – every time !!!

haiku-man 8:57 pm
Why did Joe walk to the mound so much?He has others that can relay his message. We never seen the pitch coach. I HOPE HE CAN’T SLEEP...

Oh no, Joe G over-managing again 9:00 pm
Joe Girardi needs to get fired for the sins he committed today….
This is even worse than Grady Little….

CR9 9:01 pm
While I will not blame Girardi for using Aceves, I have come to my final opinion on Aceves. He cannot and should not be used anymore this postseason. I would rather have Jerry Hairston Jr. pitching than Ace. Aceves is a worthless bum.

On a side note, did anyone notice the 15 cheap calls at least on the right side of the plate in favor of the Angels...

The Ghost 9:06 pm
The thing that Joe needs to learn about the post season is that some guys have the gut for it and some don’t. He should be able to look in a players eyes before the game and know if they could be of any use to him. The eyes can never lie. When a guy like Drob is feeling it you have to milk it for all its worth.

Trevor 9:07 pm
Explain to me how this years offense is better in the playoffs now then years past?
Outside of Arod and Jeter they look no different then typical October Yankee offense: Can’t get sac fly’s, can’t hit with RISP, can’t bunt except for Jeter….
The offense absolutely sucks right now and I’m wondering will they get out of it the rest of the way.

Oh no, Joe G over-managing again 9:07 pm
Aceves should never be used again in the postseason.

Every time he comes in, we give up a run.

Fire Girardi, bench Melky and Aceves, and we win WS.

KarlHungus212 9:08 pm

Every single person watching the ballgame not named Girardi knew it was idiotic to take Robertson out after facing two batters, easily retiring them. Girardi must go regardless of the outcome of the rest of the postseason.

Jeremy 9:10 pm

Tex was a loser of the game. Yeah he helped save some runs and made some great plays but he was horrible at the plate. It’s like he never saw a breaking pitch in his life. The same goes for Cano, Swisher, and Cabrera. All losers of the game.

100 pitches of fun... 9:16 pm
Is the $180m 1st baseman actually going to show up tomorrow? Or is he trying to take Arod’s old job.
CR9 9:18 pm
There is a reason why the Red Sox were able to easily sweep 2 World Series and come back from 3-0 and 3-1 defecits and 2-0 deficits in Division Series. They do not get their ABs changed by umpires cheap calls.

We have had to work for every win this postseason. Nothing has come easy, mainly due to the HP umpires...
KarlHungus212 9:19 pm
JoeT, regular season is not what counts in New York. Girardi has proven to everybody that he is in over his head managing this team. A meat popsicle could have managed this team to a division title.

NOW is when it counts and Joe has managed worse than anybody I’ve seen in my life.
And finally, I believe that "dave c." here may be advocating some form of terrorism...
Even we are up 2-1, we are not going to win the series… not unless someone blows up Angels stadium.

Series over. Angels in 6 games.

July 10, 2009, Yankees led 4-0, Angels won.
July 11, 2009, Yankees led 4-0, Angels won.
October 19, 2009, Yankees led 3-0, Angels won.
Hmmm... quite the convincing argument he puts forth. The Angels have comeback against the Yankees two other times this season, therefore the Yankees are going to lose the next three games. Brilliant.

Quite the resilient fan base, huh? One loss and Girardi is no better "meat popsicle" and should be fired either immediately or after they lose this series (which they inevitably will). "Asseves" can never be used in the postseason again (and/or somehow be replaced by Brian Bruney despite rules to the contrary). Three starting position players can "go to hell" and Melky should never play for the Yankees again. Despite several huge and potentially game-saving defensive plays, Mark Teixeria is a loser. Even though the Yanks are 5-1 in the postseason, the umps are screwing us. And most devastatingly, the series is now officially over.


The Secret To Mariano Rivera's Dominance

Are you ready for this, guys? Because it's pretty earth shattering. All these years, all those effortless strikeouts and escapes from impossibly high leverage situations... how did Mariano Rivera do it? Could he possibly have been that good? Then when the pressure rose, get even better? That tiny, tiny postseason ERA. The best playoff pitcher of all time. The best closer to ever live. The aura of impenetrability. The numbers to back it up. What was his secret?

Brace yourselves.

It took 15 seasons in the major leagues for someone to notice this, and when it happened, it wasn't a guy on third base, the opposing manager, an umpire, or one of the 20 million people that have seen him play live from stands. No, it was a vigilant Angels' blogger over at Halos Heaven in Game 3 of the 2009 ALCS. Mark this down, folks. Yesterday was the day that Mariano Rivera's legacy died.

Personally, the video you are about to watch is pretty amazing: I would say this is pretty conclusive evidence of why Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera is able to throw only one pitch that has unpredictable, yet precise movement.
You see, the reason that Rivera's cutter is so hard to hit is because it's the physical incarnation of an oxymoron.

Here's said video. Avert your eyes if you are easily upset.

And they've uncovered totally conclusive screen grabs that PROVE IT. FOX is on on the conspiracy too! That's why they cut away so fast when it happened!!! The show the spit literally hovering of the ball for several frames, surrounding it with some sort of force field! I knew there was something special about this gu...

/touches earpiece

What's that? Oh, I've just been informed that it's actually the Majestic logo on Mike Scioscia's jacket coming through as FOX faded to the next shot.

Do these hacks at Halos Heaven really think that's been the key to throwing the cutter all these years? Spit directly on the ball and hope no one notices? FOR FIFTEEN YEARS? If it was his super-secret method, don't you think he'd be a touch more discrete about it?

Go there. Defend our honor. Do not stand for such slander. Explain to them the concept of "camera angles". Ask why no one else has ever called him out on this. Do it for Mo.

[Note: Don't be surprised if it starts showing up in other places, sort of like the YouTube clip of Joe Mauer "stealing signs".]

Four Bad Decisions

Good morning Fackers. Over the course of the season we haven't been shy about being critical of Joe Girardi, particularly as it relates to his bullpen management. That said, I've been very pleased with his tactics this post-season. Over the course of Game Two on Saturday night, I thought he might have been burning through his relievers too quickly, but in thinking about it over the past few days he was consistent. His decisions were very similar to ALDS Game Two: aggressive, keeping the pressure on the opposition, and trying to leverage the advantage his deep bullpen offered him as much as possible. Outside of allowing Freddy Guzman to hit once and not using Francisco Cervelli to pinch run for Jorge Posada in the twelfth, he managed "all in" all game.

That said, there were a few decisions made yesterday that were downright ponderous. I know this is going to come across as Monday morning quarterbacking and second guessing, but I can assure you, and Jay can attest, these were first guesses. I imagine Girardi has his explanations for why he made these moves and others have their thoughts on them as well. In order to not let those things cloud my opinions, and because I'm probably a bit burned out at this point, I've intentionally avoided reading anything following the conclusion of yesterday's game. Without further ado, here are my thoughts as they unfolded:
  • Pinch running with Brett Gardner in the seventh. After Hideki Matsui's leadoff walk, pinch running was the absolute right move. However, pinch running with Brett Gardner was the wrong move. Freddy Guzman is on the roster exclusively as a pinch runner. Hideki Matsui is on the roster exclusively as a designated hitter. Subbing one for the other goes together like chocolate and peanut butter. Putting Brett Gardner in this spot confined the best defensive outfielder to the DH spot. (As an aside, I thought attempting to steal with Gardner as the potential tying run was a bad idea too, particularly in a count that was ripe for a pitch out, but that's not my main gripe here).

    Sure enough, later in the game Girardi used Jerry Hairston Jr. to pinch hit for Gardner, which he just as easily could have done had Guzman been in that spot. Then in the tenth, Hairston, rather than Gardner, was sent in to substitute for Johnny Damon for defensive purposes, costing the Yankees their DH and necessitating Frankie Cervelli pinch hitting in the eleventh. Lastly, even though Hairston barely missed Jeff Mathis' game winning hit, I can't help but think that had Melky Cabrera been in left and Gardner in center that the ball would have been hauled in for an out.

  • Substituting Phil Coke for Damaso Marte to start the bottom of the eighth. For the life of me, I can't figure this move out. The whole point of carrying two lefties is to have the option to match up twice over the course of the game. After Joba Chamberlain got knocked all over the yard in the seventh, Girardi summoned Damaso Marte with two outs. In doing so he forced Chone Figgins back to the right side of the plate, where he is far, far weaker, and had Marte on the mound to face Bobby Abreu should Figgins have reached. Marte retired Figgins on a lone pitch.

    I have no earthly clue why Girardi chose to burn his other lefty immediately thereafter. I realize the Yankees had a rather long top of the eighth, leaving Marte sitting for quite a while. But he couldn't face one more batter? If Coke was the guy he wanted to face Abreu, why not just bring him in the inning before to face Figgins? Why not just let Phil Hughes, who replaced Coke after a single batter and is far and away the best pitcher amongst the three, come in to face Abreu to start the inning? Instead, Girardi burned his two lefties, in back-to-back plate appearances with a grand total of four pitches. Unfathomable.

  • Pinch hitting for Mariano Rivera in the eleventh. I'll fully admit this one is borderline. It might be equally questionable to risk sending Mo to the plate, for fear of injury, but it didn't stop Girardi from doing it twice over the course of interleague play in June. I thought of it this way: There were already two outs, and no one on. The Yankees had little chance of scoring in the eleventh at that point and had three equally craptastic pinch hitting options on the bench: Cervelli, Guzman, and Jose Molina. Mo had thrown just 17 pitches, albeit high stress pitches. Why not concede the at bat, keep Mo on the mound for one more inning, and take your chances with Teixeira, A-Rod, Hairston, and Posada in the twelfth? I realize Mo threw 20+ pitches Saturday, and I realize there's a game today. But, Girardi has been very aggressive all post-season and has utilized the off days to his advantage. I would have been tempted to push Mo for another inning in Game Three and take my chances at the back end of Game Four with the off day Wendesday.

  • The entirety of the bottom of the eleventh inning. This entire half inning was a managerial abortion in my opinion. First off, I would have brought Alfredo Aceves in to start the inning. Once again, the bullpen was thin, down to just Alf, David Robertson, and Chad Gaudin (of course). There was no telling how long this game would go. And no matter how long it went, if the Yankees were going to win they would need to close out the Angels at some point and to do it without Mo. Given that there's not a huge discrepancy in talent between the two, that Alf could give them three innings if needed, and that D-Rob is the more "closer-ey" of the two, I'd rather Aceves have started the inning. Plus, that would leave Robertson and his league leading K-rate at the ready in the pen in case Alf pitched into a jam where a big strikeout might be needed.

    Instead D-Rob started the inning. Not even close to my biggest disappointment on the night. Not the move I would have made, but one I could live with. D-Rob made it look wise by retiring the dangerous Juan Rivera and the more dangerous Kendry Morales. Then, inexplicably, Girardi yanked him, after just 11 pitches, in favor of Aceves. I have absolutely no idea why this move was made. I'm completely, totally, and utterly stupefied by it. Seven pitches later Howie Kendrick had singled and light-hitting Jeff Mathis had driven him in with the winning run.
Sometimes shit just happens. The Yankees had plenty of opportunities to win this game in the earlier innings. They caught some big breaks when Torii Hunter got caught stealing, Bobby Abreu made an inexcusable baserunning gaffe, and Mo pitched out of a seemingly inescapable jam in the tenth.

While the Yankees are undoubtedly a very good team, they've also caught some unbelievably good breaks over the course of this post-season without ever really getting burned by a bad one. It was almost as if they were due for something like this to happen. I certainly didn't expect them to go 11-0 in the post-season. But, the four decisions above certainly didn't help matters at all last night.