Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Fateful Fifth

Without falling victim to the fallacy of the predetermined outcome, there are is a rational way to look back at a baseball game and wonder what might have been. You have to identify a turning point in the game and restart from right there, assuming nothing going forward. But that method is always going to be unsatisfying because you can't say that that the Yankees would have won if a certain event didn't happen, you can only say that they might not have lost.

There are a lot of points that the Yankees probably wish they could rewind time and start last night's game from. Perhaps they'd like to put Brett Gardner up again with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning. The score was tied, but that was a real chance to break it open. Instead, Gardner settled for an RBI fielder's choice, Francisco Cervelli stayed in - instead of Jorge Posada pinch hitting - and struck out looking against Derek Holland and the Yankees walked away with a scant one run edge.

If they had to choose one spot though, it would likely be the moment before Mark Teixeira's fateful, balls-out sprint to first in the bottom of the fifth. As the ball dribbled up the third baseline, Teix reached for an extra gear that he apparently didn't have in order to beat out the double play and about fifteen feet from first, then reached for his right hamstring, lost his momentum and fell into an inadvertent feet-first slide, narrowly beating out the throw.

[As an aside... Could the hamstring have been weakened by the awkward attempt at tracking down the ball popped just into the stands by Nelson Cruz in the fourth inning? Maybe that at-bat would be a decent place to restart the tape from.]

Teixeira is a defensive wizard and generally a great hitter, but something about the postseason doesn't seem to agree with him. He's always said that one of the reasons he tends to start slow at the beginning of the regular season is that it takes time for both his right and left handed swings to align properly. Perhaps the long layoffs that are inherent to October baseball keep him too off balance to be the kind of devastating hitter he has the ability to be. In any event, it's not inconceivable that his replacement could hit better than he would have, in a small sample, from here on out. The Yankees will surely miss the plays Teix makes in the field (like the 3-6-1 DP he started in the top half of the fifth inning) but it's not impossible that the Yankees could win a World Series without him in their starting line up.

Nonetheless, this was still a soul-crushing moment. You could hear a groan of pure despair emanate from the crowd as he was helped towards the dugout and the feeling was that, even if the Yanks got out of this game with the win, their chances of defending their title just took a big hit. It was all too easy to forget that they were still holding at 3-2 edge, with men on first and second, only one out and had a roughly 75% chance of winning the game, according to WPA.

But A-Rod rapped into a double play, putting an end to what had begun as a two-on, no out potential rally and dropped that WPA down to 63%. That twin killing completed what might have been the worst imaginable outcome of having your 3 & 4 hitters up with two men on base and nobody out: force out (season ending injury), double play.

Still, it wasn't the end of the world. A.J. Burnett had acquitted himself quite nicely over the first five innings and seemed to be about as in control as one could rightfully expect him to be under the circumstances.

Burnett allowed a single to Vlad Guerrero to start the frame but sat down Nelson Cruz on a pivotal fielder's choice. Why is that important? Because Ian Kinsler, the next batter up, ripped a deep fly ball into center field that Curtis Granderson caught just off the warning track. The ball was so deep in fact, that Cruz tagged up from first base and slid safely into second, just ahead of a high throw from Granderson. Would Vlad and his ancient legs have tried to tag up under those circumstances? Highly doubtful.

So by advancing to second, Cruz opened up first base. And with David Murphy due up, Joe Girardi made one of the more controversial decisions of the evening and chose to intentionally walk him based on his history with Burnett, opting to face Bengie Molina with two men on instead of Murphy with just a man on second.

David Murphy is a capable hitter, but if Joe Girardi didn't like the match up, then why didn't he go to his bullpen in an attempt to shuffle the deck instead of putting a guy on base and leaving Burnett in?

What was he going to get out of Burnett, one more inning at most? Burnett was supposed to be on a short leash. Girardi might be the biggest proponent of two out pitching changes in the history of the fucking sport. Joba Chamberlain had been warming up for roughly two hours at that point. WHAT THE FUUUUCCCKKKK!??!?1

Sorry, I lost it for a second there. But for all the talk that there would be a quick hook for Burnett, the decision to walk Murphy (in addition to the one not to pinch hit for Cervelli) simply don't make any sense. Girardi was trying to ride Burnett for as long as possible and he paid dearly for it.

We all know too well what happened next. Molina took the first pitch he saw deep into the left field seats an delivered the running cockpunch from which the Yankees wouldn't recover.

They surely tried, however. With the bases loaded and the Bombers down by four in the eighth inning, Nick Swisher tried to avoid an inside breaking ball that got away from Darren Oliver. Replays showed that it caught Swisher's pant leg and he should have been awarded first base, thereby forcing in a run and putting the go-ahead run at the plate with just one out.

But on a night where almost everything went just about as wrong as possible for the Yanks, Angel Hernandez didn't see the contact and didn't buy Swisher's attempt at selling the fact that he got clipped when was contorted in some sort of yoga position (the dying giraffe?) on the ground.

There are losses and then there are impossibly brutal, heart-stabbing defeats like last night. The Yankees are still technically alive in the series and are a good bet to win tonight behind CC Sabathia, but even if they take the next two games, they'll have to get past Cliff Lee in Game 7. It's not over, but it certainly fucking feels like it is.

Other incredible/horrible moments that didn't make the cut:


  1. Unfortunately it appears this team never found the extra gear that they were going to need to grind through October. I had a lot of hope that brutalizing Minnesota again would erase the sour final 62 games of the season (31-31 with terrible pitching and very uninspired offense), but the last four games have been awful except for one inning.

    Of course I'm still hoping we can get a spark with a final win at home... of course I also watch games where we're down by ten in the ninth and try to figure out who the tying run might be.

  2. Jimmy, I think most of that extra gear you talk about comes down to having things go your way, as opposed to grinding it out. One of the most frustrating things about baseball is that the amount of effort you put forth can only have so much of an impact on the outcome of any given situation. Better players win out over time, but a best of seven series isn't always long enough for things to even out.

    There have been a lot of pivotal moments in this series and basically every one of them has turned out poorly for the Yanks. That doesn't excuse the fact that they haven't really pitched well or scored runs, but I don't think it's for a lack of effort or motivation.

  3. Tough to watch last night. Texas is doing everything right this series (except for one inning).

    I'm still convinced Berkman's ball grazed the foul pole.

  4. All of these points are right on the money. I'm getting extremely frustrated at the Yankees lack of breaking through. I don't know if I would call it a lack of motivation or effort, but I DO get a feeling that the Yankees were expecting Texas to be intimidated and really only have to deal with Cliff Lee.

    These playoffs have had the arguable 5 best pitchers in baseball; David Price, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum and CC Sabathia. Every one of these guys have been knocked around in a game too, with the exception of Cliff Lee. My thing is, the Yankees have had the best offense in baseball this year and while it's understandable to not hammer Cliff Lee, it bugs me that we couldn't really even get to CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis and Derek Holland (yet to give up a run in like 6 IP).

    I don't know if we are intimidated or what, but the way I see it (which is an understandably strange way), the Giants weren't intimidated by Roy Fucking Halladay (whos previous start was a damn no hitter!), the Phillies drove in some run on Tim Lincecum and the Rangers hit CC Sabathia for 3 runs in the 1st inning! If these guys are bonafide aces and they can be hit be offenses worse (on paper) than ours, why the hell can we not take advantage of the #2 & #3 guys?!? I'm not taking away from Wilson or Lewis, they pitched very well... but I actually feel like the Yankees are making these guys out to be better than they really are. What are we holding back? It's not like we are new to postseason play either! I loved how the Twins were handled. Where is our Yankee swagger?!

    Texas has capitalized on every opportunity offensively and with a staff of pitchers that is good, not great. We let a 40 yr old journeyman (Darren Oliver) slam the door on us last night. Wilson and Lewis aren't exactly young prospects either. Holland is a very good young pitcher, but we have hit him before! I'm just out of excuses and it is driving me nuts that thsi series is getting blown out in the late innings. It's an embarrassing pile-on. The fans are right to leave early and boo. I liked the way AJ pitched last night (and yeah, he shoulda gotten the short leash hook before the 6th or right after Vlad). Bullpen blew it just like they blew Pettitte the previous night.

    We can still win this series...but do we really want to?! Maybe losing Teixeira and the added adversity is what we need to turn this corner?? God I hope so. I want to beat Texas AND Cliff Lee.

  5. what a flopper last night! Girardi, Burnett and most of the oofense...
    yikes what happened to our post season clutch players?
    Thats right two of them are watching this mess on tv...

  6. girardi knows when to go to the pen for the guy eating the double xl chilupa, but not in real life, i guess

  7. I believe some of this has to fall on Girardi, it makes no sense that this offense is playing so god awful..why keep Tims (Thames) in the game Monday night after striking out again and again and again...and last night after Burnett almost threw the ball over Cervelli's head, I think that should have been a BIG sign to get him out of the game....