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Monthly Archives: October 2003

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STAND BY YOUR MAN

I’ve made no secret about how much I appreciate Jason Giambi’s game. But in the wake of the World Serious loss to Florida, the big lug continues to have his character besmirched by the local press. Yesterday, John Heyman blasted Giambi in Newsday. According to Heyman, the Yankees need to:

Finally pry Jason Giambi’s “personal trainer,” Bob Alejo, and Giambi’s father, John, out of the clubhouse.

“They just legitimize his failures,” a Yankees official said of the soft Giambi.

… “The guys who struggled in the postseason were the selfish guys, plus Aaron Boone, who just panicked,” another club official said.

… When the heat is on, Giambi melts. This October, he rarely hit when it mattered, and never with anyone on base. Also problematic, he’s like a single entity in the clubhouse, he and his enablers. “He’ll strike out, then go back into the clubhouse and look at smut magazines,” one club official complained about an in-game passion Giambi copped to earlier.

I have no way of knowing whether or not any of this is true or not. I wouldn’t be especially shocked if it were true either. But the little kid in me is sticking by my boy. I know the alarmists–or realists—have a point: Giambi is now a gimpy DH with many years remaining on a bloated contract. His decline could start sharply. He will most likely not return to the form he displayed in Oakland. But I will have faith until further notice, and I’m expecting Giambi to be a great hitter again next season.

YOU WON’T HAVE GRADY LITTLE TO KICK AROUND ANYMORE

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the management of the Boston Red Sox have decided not to bring Grady Little back to manage the team in 2004. Little took a beating in the Boston Press after the Red Sox lost Game 7 of the ALCS and he knew last week that it was all but over for him in New England. There was a shrill cry for his head in Red Sox Nation too.

Is this the right move? Has management under-appreciated Little’s contributions? Regardless of whether or not you hold Little accountable for Boston’s Game 7 loss, he had two terrific seasons in Beantown. The 2003 team showed the kind of resolve and determination that kept Yankee fans up at night all season long. But as Gordon Edes notes in The Boston Globe, Game 7 isn’t the only reason Little won’t return:

The Sox no longer want to discover, to their dismay, that the manager, according to a team source, failed to hold a hitters’ meeting before the Oakland playoff series, wasting countless hours of traditional scouting work and sophisticated video and statistical analysis that was done ostensibly to give the Sox an edge.

…The Sox, who as of last night had not contacted or asked permission to interview any candidate, plan to go beyond the traditional, just-show-up-in-a-coat-and-tie-and-answer-our-questions evaluation process. They will want hard answers, using specific situations, perhaps even using video, on how a manager handles the game within the game. No more guesswork on whether the manager will know that he should bring in Alan Embree to face Jim Thome, not only because the stats are weighted in Embree’s favor (0 for 7, 5 whiffs) but because Embree’s strengths are best suited to exploit the weaknesses in Thome’s swing.

It was not Little’s managerial style to meticulously anticipate every game situation that might arise, and, armed with the best possible information — some statistics-oriented, some not — react to those situations in a manner that would satisfy an owner as mathematical in his world view as a John W. Henry. That is why the Sox are not being dishonest in their insistence that Little was not being cashiered because of what happened in Game 7 of the ALCS. They had reservations that extended back to his first season on the job, which is why they did not exercise his contract option this spring, according to one of the team sources.

The Sox are looking for the ideal manager to fit their sabermetric-run organization, and that’s fair enough. Edward Cossette for one, trusts in Theo (Edward hits the nail on the head when he talks about the animosity that exists between the media and The Bill James Gang). Maybe the Sox won’t skip a beat. Hell, they might even improve—though how much better can you do than 95 wins? But imagine the pressure the incoming skipper will feel. If he falls short of making the World Serious, the season will be deemed a failure. If not in the eyes of management–and the more sympathetic and patient fans like Cossette, and Ben Jacobs—than at least to the general public and the press. Jeez, who do the Sox think they are: The Yankees?

ZIM TO BOSS: “THAT’S ALL I CAN STANDS, I CAN’T STANDS NO MORE.”

True to his word—and we know a man is only as good as his word—ol’ Popeye Zimmer quit the Yankees immediately following their Game 6 loss. Zimmer and George Steinbrenner–old track buddies–have been in a spat all season. According to Popeye’s ghost writer, Bill Madden:

Choking back tears, Zimmer said: “I woke up this morning and my wife was crying. She said: ‘Don’t make yourself a little man.’

“Usually she does the dishes and I do all the talking, but this time, I’ll do the dishes. All I’m gonna say is for 25 years Steinbrenner called me ‘Zimmer’ and I called him ‘Boss.’ From now on as far as I’m concerned he’s just ‘Steinbrenner.’”

Zimmer’s hairy spaz in Game Three of the ALCS is what King Leyritz called Popeye’s “Woody Hayes” moment. I think that probably led to him finally walking away as much as all the garbage with George. But George made this an especially uncomfortable season for Zimmer, Stottlemyre, Rick Down and the rest of the Yankee coaches. Stott was measured in his response:

“Zim’s an emotional guy,” Stottlemyre said. “I was hoping that he would do the same thing I’m doing: go home, think about it and let his mind clear up. But he seems to be dead set on what he wants to do.”

Zimmer is a one proud, stubborn man.

“The man obviously didn’t want me here,” said Zimmer. “That was very obvious throughout the winter and the summer. How much can you take?

“I can remember eight years ago, we were all together in the coaches’ room, and one of the coaches said something about George, and Joe (Torre) said, ‘Wait a minute here. Anybody here should know what they got into. It should be no surprise.’ And Joe made a statement: ‘If you’re going to take his money, you’ve got to take his guff.’

“Now it’s, where do you want to draw the line?” Zimmer said. “Some people here never draw the line. I’ve had enough. It’s that simple.”

Stottlemyre has been hurt by George’s antics too:

“This has been my most stressful year out of the eight,” said Stottlemyre, who was a member of Torre’s first Yankees staff in 1996. “A lot of things have happened during the course of the season: the way we battled, some problems that we had early and off-field happenings.

“Normally you just kind of let them go by. But in my case, I feel personally abused because of some things that happened during the course of the season. It was a tough situation for me. I’m over it. But nevertheless, it was a tough year.”

So while Rick Down waits for the axe to drop, Zimmer walks. Nuts to you George. Make no mistake, this was a premeditated act of spite on Zim’s part: I’m going to show George up and go out like Yogi, on my own terms. Say what you want about Yogi, but Zimmer is in the running for Least Mature Man of the Millenium. He actually makes George look like the sane, rational one even though there’s really not much difference between George and Zim in terms of emotional development at all: they are a both high-maintenance babies. The Daily News reports:

Zimmer, 72, said his relationship with Steinbrenner began to sour after the Yankees’ division series loss to the Angels last season. He said that Steinbrenner came to believe several rumors about comments Zimmer supposedly made, like the leaking of the Yankees’ interest in signing Jose Contreras. “I didn’t even know who Contreras was,” Zimmer said.

The rift snowballed. Zimmer said Steinbrenner didn’t speak to him at the Florida racetracks they frequented. He said Steinbrenner took away his spring training rental car. He also cited constant scrutiny of the coaches, some of whose jobs may be in jeopardy.

“I think the whole year has been disappointing in that respect,” Zimmer said. “Every time you pick up the newspaper, the coaches are getting fired.”

But Zimmer wasn’t satisfied with simply stepping away. He not’s that big of a guy. Fighting below the belt, Zimmer’s vowed never to return to Yankee Stadium again as long as George Steinbrenner owns the team. According to the Post:

Zimmer said he wouldn’t come back to the Yankees, even if they had a day for him.

“I ain’t coming back to work for Steinbrenner or be around him,” Zimmer told reporters. “No. They could have a day for me and the answer would be no and only because of him.”

Zim often changes his mind, but not this time, “Nobody talks me out of it,” he promised. “When I make a decision, I’ve made it and I’ll live with it.”

Oy veh. As Kevin Kernan opines, this is like watching “Grumpy Old Men.” The Reality TV show. Zim should just get over himself, because he’s an adult like everybody else. But he doesn’t get over himself–he’s all schtick like Tommy Lasorda. You have to take him as he is and either love the lunkhead or disgard him as an ignorant old putz and be done with it.

Zim probably figures the best way he can get back at George is by out-living him. Then he can go back to the Stadium like Yogi. Now that would really piss George off, huh Zim?

WORLD SERIOUS GAME 6: MARLINS 2, YANKEES 0

END OF THE LINE

Josh Beckett pitched a complete game shutout and the Marlins beat the Yankees 2-0 before an energetic crowd at Yankee Stadium to become World Champs. Andy Pettitte pitched a good game as well, but the Bombers made several mistakes in the field which again, proved costly. As good as Beckett was—and there is no two ways about it, he was brilliant—the Yankees inability to hit in the clutch sealed their fate.
According to Buster Olney:

The Yankees went 0-for-12 with runners on base, sabotaged by their offense, as they had been throughout the World Series, and now New York faces an uncertain future with many changes imminent: volatile owner George Steinbrenner is bound to make extensive alterations to a franchise that is just starting to list, because of advancing age and increasingly impulsive personnel decisions.

The game was scoreless in the fifth when the Marlins connected with back-to-back, two-out singles. Pettitte then struggled to put away Luis Castillo; with two strikes Castillo eventually slapped an outside breaking ball to right for a base hit. Karim Garcia fielded the ball and made a strong throw home, but Jorge Posada was out of position, and Alex Gonzalez made a nifty play to avoid the tag and Florida had a 1-0 lead. (The throw was slightly up the line, but if Posada had been behind the plate, he would have had a great chance to record the out.) Pettitte intentionally walked Pudge Rodriguez and then came back to whiff Miguel Cabrera with the bases loaded to get out of the inning.

The Stadium crowd was as loud as I can remember it being in the bottom of the third inning when the Yankees had runners on first and second with just one out. (Until late in the game, the crowd did its best to pump the team up.) Bernie Williams worked Beckett deep into the count, but then hit into a double play to end the frame. Derek Jeter struck out with a runner on second base to end the fifth, and then made an error to start the sixth on a ground ball off the bat of Jeff Conine. (Jeter was 0-4 proving that even “Mr. Clutch” himself—if you believe in such a thing—is human.)

Pettitte then walked Mike Lowell and Derrek Lee came on to sacrifice the runners over. He bunted the ball directly to Pettitte who inexplicably went to second base to get the first out. Soriano could not complete the double play. Apparently Posada was yelling for him to go to third, but Pettitte didn’t hear him. With runners on the corner, and just one out, Juan Encarnacion’s soft fly ball to right was deep enough to score the Marlins second run.

That was all they would need, as Josh Beckett stymied the Yankee hitters with an array of change ups, sharp breaking balls, and blazing fastballs.

While there is plenty of blame to go around for the Yankees, credit the Marlins: they played better than the Bombers, Cubbies and Giants and deserve to be the Champs. William Rhoden notes:

The talk in New York will quickly shift from the Yankees’ suffocating defeat to who gets the blame for losing a World Series.

The question seems ridiculous, unless you’re in the Yankees’ universe, where success and failure are determined by championships. There will be finger-pointing and talk of trades and shakeups, but please: let today be a day of introspection and humility.

As dejected as I felt after the game, I wasn’t furious. (Larry Mahnken got it right when he writes that he feels frustration more than anything else.) It didn’t sting watching the Marlins celebrate as it had when the Yanks lost to Arizona a few years back, or even when the Angels beat them last year. The Yankees simply didn’t play well enough win, even though they could have won each game they lost in this Serious. If you’ve followed them all year, there was nothing shocking about the way in which they lost. Yup, poor fielding and poor hitting overwhelmed their good pitching. But as David Pinto notes, it wasn’t exactly like the Marlins were great offensively either:

The Yankees offense isn’t perfect like in was in 1998, but I’d much rather have the Yankees lineup than the Marlins lineup. The Marlins won because they were able to take advantage of local weakness in the Yankee lineup (the bottom of the order), injuries (Giambi) and slumps (Soriano). They also got lucky with the one bad managerial move Torre made in the series, leaving Jeff Weaver on the mound in game 4.

And it wasn’t exactly like the Marlins were wizards with men in scoring position. They hit .233 as a team in the series, which while better than the Yankees, it did not result in any more runs, as both teams had 14 RBI with their limited success in that situation.

There was nothing special about Scott Brosius or Jim Leyritz or Tino Martinez. They were decent players on a great team, and they all got lucky, just like Alex Gonzalez got lucky in this series. And sometimes, that’s all you need to win a championship.

What hurts is that the Yankees were so close to another title. Who knows when they’ll ever get so close again? But hell, the Cubs haven’t been back to Serious since 1945, so all considering it could be far worse. I feel more resigned and wistful than enraged or bitter. Had the Yankees played better and then lost, that would have been something different. But they didn’t deserve to win, so what can you do but shrug your shoulders, and appreciate what the Marlins have accomplished? Joe Sheehan opines:

The Marlins did a lot of things right in the World Series. They finally got the good starting pitching that, Beckett aside, had eluded them on the way there. They didn’t beat themselves in the field; other than Brad Penny’s misplay of a bunt in Game Five, I’m hard-pressed to remember any Marlins’ fielding miscues. The Yankees seemed to have one a game, from blown rundowns to bobbles–Derek Jeter’s sixth-inning error last night led to a critical insurance run–to plays that their fielders, with their limited range, just couldn’t make.

The Marlins did what they had to do to win. The Yankees didn’t. Flags fly forever.

The end of the World Series caps what was an amazing stretch of baseball. I’ll let historians pass the final judgment, but for me and the postseasons I’ve experienced, this series ranks right there with 1991 and 1986 for quality of play, for drama, and for sheer enjoyment.

Still, this was another great year for the Yankees, in spite of all the mishigoss that enveloped them. And it was a sweet ride for us fans as well. When the pain of losing the Serious slips away over the next few days, or the next week, we will have some wonderful memories of the 2003 season, most significantly beating the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS.

For now, there is some emptiness, and that’s OK. There are sure to be changes, both good and bad this off season. Quite frankly, I think I’m less upset that the Yankees lost than I am about the fact that baseball has finally ended and there won’t be another game today. It is unseasonably warm and muggy in New York: feels like there should be another game to play.

UNDER THE KNIFE

The New York Times is reporting that Jason Giambi will have surgery on his left knee at the conclusion of the season (tell us something we don’t know):

A magnetic resonance imaging test yesterday revealed an inflamed tendon in Giambi’s left knee, as well as chronic patella tendinitis.

… “Jason has been dealing with the knee throughout the year,” General Manager Brian Cashman said. “Most of the way through, we tried to just tough it out and keep it as quiet as possible. But then it got to the point where it was becoming a problem.”

Maybe Giambi’s not such a coward after all. He’ll be in the line up tonight as the D.H.

LONELY AVENUE

When the Yankees were in Miami this week, it was difficult for pitcher Jose Contreras not to dwell on missing his family. Johnette Howard had a nice piece on the pitcher’s lonliness in Newsday a few days ago:

When he stands on the beach here in South Florida and looks toward the horizon, Contreras says, he thinks how the family he left behind is out there somewhere, barely more than 100 miles away.

“Sometimes I just stand on the beach and look at the water,” Contreras says, “and Cuba feels so close, it’s unbelievable. Sometimes I have a dream that I’m back together with everyone. Then I wake up and I’m still in bed by myself.”

I can’t imagine what that must be like, but it sure helps to put the winning and losing of baseball games into some perspective.

ENDGAME

David Pinto thinks that the Marlins could be making a big mistake starting Josh Beckett on three-day’s rest for Game 6 tonight:

…If the Marlins were losing 3-2, pitching Beckett in game 6 would be the right thing to do. But up a game, where they can afford to lose game 6, I think it’s a mistake.

Andy Pettitte wasn’t sharp in Game 6 of the ALCS, and he got hammered in Arizona in Game 6 of the 2001 Serious (I like to remember that day as “The Day Andy Lost the Lord”). Can he reverse that trend tonight? If the Yankees’ season is to continue, he had better.

BANG FOR YOUR BUCK

Seth Stohs has an interesting article that evaluates which players are the best value in the majors. Take a look.

WORLD SERIOUS GAME FIVE: MARLINS 6, YANKEES 4

THINGS FALL APART

It all started so well. Derek Jeter led off the game with a single to right, and then Enrique Wilson–starting in place of the slumping, not to mention wistful Alfonso Soriano–sacrificed him to second. Brad Penny botched Wilson’s bunt, Derrek Lee threw the ball away and the Yankees had runners on the corners with nobody out. Bernie Williams’ sacrifice fly scored Jeter, and the Yanks were up 1-0. But Brad Penny worked out of the inning without any further damage.

In the bottom of the first, David Wells got three ground balls–Derek Jeter and Nick Johnson made a nifty play to retire Luis Castillo–and three quick outs. But that would be all for Boomer. His creaky back could not hold up and as the Yankees were hitting in the top of the second, Jose Contreras was warming up. Some way to end his Yankee career. Oy veh.

At that point, every Yankee fan must have been hold their breath. Contreras, who had thrown two innings of relief the night before, retired the first two hitters he faced. But he then walked two, and gave up an RBI double to the number 8 hitter, and a 2 RBI single to the pitcher. The pitcher. Let the cursing begin. Both pitches were tits-high fastballs. After Penny’s single I thought I was going to damage something in my apartment for the first time in a long while.

A couple of innings later Contreras left another fastball up in the zone to Juan Pierre and the Marlins increased their lead to 4-1. Chris Hammonds would replace the soporific Cuban, and two unearned runs scored on his watch, no thanks to a throwing error by Enrique Wilson (on a rundown of all things). Mike Lowell’s bloop single to center scored two as Florida padded its lead to 6-1. Mistakes cost the Yankees once again.

Brad Penny was bullish, pounding the Yankees with the gas, and mixing in a decent breaking pitch. He allowed a run in the seventh, but got out of a major jam when Bernie Williams flew out to right with the bases loaded to end the inning. Once again, the Yankees simply did not hit with runners in scoring position. According to one major league player who attended the game:

“This is definitely the worst situational-hitting team they’ve had (under Torre),” the player said. “They’ve struggled before. They didn’t hit much in 2001 (postseason), but it was a different kind of thing.

“This team gets guys on base, but they don’t make productive outs, and they don’t get enough clutch hits. They’ve got too many guys who strike out and too many who don’t make adjustments in RBI situations just to make sure they put the ball in play.”

Larry Mahnken adds:

If you’re going to focus on one reason the Yankees are one game away from losing the World Series to a vastly inferior team, look at the offense. They’ve failed to come through with clutch hits time and again this series, failed to score nearly as many runs as they reasonably should have expected to. There’s been bad defense, and some poor managerial decisions, but if the Yankees were hitting anywhere near as well as they should be, it wouldn’t matter. This isn’t the case of dominant Florida starting pitching completely shutting down the Yankees’ hitters, as you could say was the case in 2001 against the Diamondbacks. No, the Yankees have actually hit well in this series, but they haven’t gotten the big hit in the many, many scoring opportunities they had. If the Yankees were playing well, they would have swept this series. If they were playing just okay…they probably still would have swept this series. Instead, they’re playing terribly, and so are now one game away from losing to the Marlins.

Dontrelle Willis pitched the eighth, setting the stage for Josh Beckett to pitch Game 6 on three days rest in New York on Saturday night (although David Pinto doesn’t think that would be the best idea). In the ninth, Jason Giambi pinch-hit for the pitcher. Giambi was a late-scratch due to his aching-knee–Nick Johnson went 2-4 in his place—but he came through with a solo home run off of Braden Looper. Derek Jeter, who had three hits on the night, followed with a single and then Enrique Wilson’s double down the right field line closed the gap to 6-4.

Ugie Urbina was now pitching, and Bernie Williams flew out to the warning track in right. As the ball was in the air, I thought for a second that the game was tied. Williams knocked it but good, deep to right, but in Pro Player Stadium it was nothing but a long out. Ooohhh. Hideki Matsui ended the game with a smash that Derrek Lee deftly picked. The long first baseman then beat Godzilla to the bag for the final out.

In all, it was a deflating and humbling night for the Bronx Bombers. With their backs against the wall, Andy Pettitte needs to come through with another huge outing if the Yanks are to force a Game 7. Of course, the Marlins are now one win away from a title.

Some New York writers–John Harper, Mike Lupica, and Joel Sherman–are questioning the character of Jason Giambi this morning. If he were a true Yankee, they say, he would have played through the pain last night, regardless if he would have been a defensive liability. For the kind of money he makes, he had to play last night. For that kind of money, he needs to be Paul O’Neill and then some. He should not make reporters wait for 45 minutes to come out of the trainer’s room to speak with them. Call me a Giambi apologist—and I am–but I think this is terribly unfair. The guy has played hurt all year, and now he’s a bum? If he plays last night and makes a couple of errors, how sympathetic would the press be then?

Ah, there is nothing like kicking somebody when they are down. But the Yankees are not out, and hopefully, they will still provide us with some thrills. Sure, the Yankees were expected to beat the Marlins, and yeah, they might even be the better team. But the Yankees have been correctly criticized for some glaring flaws all season long, and it is those weakness’ that have hurt them in the World Serious.

* * * *

Many of the posts that I write here at Bronx Banter are comprised of other writers’ material. I love to not only link articles, but to ‘sample’ relevant excerpts too. Sometimes I get over-zealous, as I believe I did yesterday with Joe Sheehan’s analysis of Aaron Boone’s Game 4 performance. I just wanted to apologize to Joe if he thinks I went too far. I felt a little funny when I posted the bit, but in my defense, I would only make sure an error because I thought the material was insightful, and because without a subscription to Baseball Prospectus, many readers would have missed it. But again, I was out of line, and I am sorry.

KILLIN IT

Here is what Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus has to say about Aaron Boone:

Dear Aaron Boone: It was a home run, not diplomatic immunity.

Love, Joe

Boone, whose Game Seven home run won the ALCS and sent the Yankees to the World Series, has been swinging at pitches he has no hope of hitting ever
since then.

I looked it up, expecting to see that Boone has taken about four pitches in the World Series. It turns out that he’d actually let 25 baseballs go by in the first three games, just shy of half of the 51 pitches he’d seen. He’s pushed counts to 3-2 in a number of at-bats, so it’s hard to make the argument that he’s not being patient enough.

That said, he was horrific last night. The Yankees’ three biggest chances to win the game landed in his lap, and he approached his at-bats as if it were fifth-grade gym class or a co-ed softball league with some goofy rules like "swing or you’re out." Against Carl Pavano in the second inning, with the bases loaded, one out and the Yankees down 3-0, Boone swung at the
only two pitches he saw and flied to center field on the second one. Sacrifice flies down three runs with the pitcher coming up aren’t team baseball, they’re a lifeline for the opposition.

Boone got another chance in the ninth, after Ruben Sierra’s triple tied the game. Boone again went up hacking, fouling off the first and third pitches he saw to fall behind 1-2, then grounding out weakly to shortstop after two more
foul balls.

Finally, in the 11th inning, Boone again batted with the bases loaded and one out. And just as he had against Pavano and Ugueth Urbina, he made Braden Looper’s job easy by hacking at fastballs up and in, pitches he doesn’t have the bat speed to hit. Boone swung at six of the seven pitches he saw, looked completely overmatched, and struck out.

Three at-bats, two pitches taken out of 15 seen, three times falling behind in the count, three outs. Boone needed to have a solid approach last night, and his mental effort was completely lacking, leading to wild swings that gave the pitchers all the leverage they needed to get out of jail.

The truth hurts.

WHO YOU CALLIN’ CLUTCH?

Rob Neyer’s latest addresses several issues from last night’s game, almost all of them thought-provoking and relevant. Here is a sampling:

Not Excusable: Joe Torre’s willingness to let a World Series game end with his best relief pitcher having never left the bullpen.

Every year, some nitwit manager does this, and every year it makes me crazy. Yes, we all know that Torre was holding Mariano Rivera until the Yankees got a lead. Except the Yankees never got a lead. And they never got a lead, in part, because Torre was holding Rivera until the Yankees got a lead.

Derek Jeter is often regarded as the Yankees new “Mr. October,” their most “clutch” performer. But Neyer notes that Bernie Williams is practically his equal in this regard, and that the true Captain Clutch is Mariano Rivera.

Is there an ability to pitch better in clutch situations? If anybody’s checked, I haven’t seen the findings. What I do know is that while both Jeter and Williams have played well in the postseason, they’ve done little more than they’re supposed to do. Rivera, meanwhile, has put himself in the Hall of Fame.

And finally:

C’mon, admit it … You thought, just like I did, that once the Yankees tied the game in the ninth, why of course they would eventually win. And when they loaded the bases with only one out in the 11th, then of course they would not only take the lead, but blow the game wide open.

But they didn’t do either of those things. Yes, the Yankees are better than the Marlins, but they’re not that much better. In the end, it’s just one game between two teams not so far apart. And anybody can win a game like that.

What struck me, though, was that if the Yankees had pushed across a couple of runs in the 11th, we’d have heard about their resiliency and perhaps even their awesome mystique, which not only allows them to shine but also intimidates their opponents. But instead the Marlins won, which means that for at least 20 hours we’ll hear instead about their resiliency, and their youthful ignorance of that dreaded Yankee mystique.

And of course, none of it means anything. It’s just something to say, in lieu of anything interesting.

Even-handed analysts like Neyer and Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus actually study baseball in an empirical fashion, while also appreciating the stories, drama and emotions that the game has to offer. They simply don’t let a good story obscure the facts. Not only that, but they also have terrific bullshit detectors, and don’t suffer fools lightly. Since the mainstream media coverage of baseball tends to get thick and deep, writers like Neyer and Sheehan are never at a loss for something interesting to write about. That they usually do it with clarity and precision–not to mention humor–makes their contributions essential and lasting.

CURTAIN CALL FOR CLEMENS

Tom Boswell has an appreciation of the final game of Roger Clemens’ great career.

BLAME GAME

While getting on Jeff Weaver—or Joe Torre for letting Jeff Weaver pitch–may be in the front of every frustrated Yankee fan’s mind today, the poor play of Aaron Boone and Alfonso Soriano can’t be far behind. In his latest column–which features a nice tribute to Orlando Cepeda–Bruce Markusen defends Boone (not to mention Grady Little). The column was written prior to last night’s game, so his thoughts are dated, but Markusen’s work is always worth checking out.

David Pinto isn’t so forgiving of Boone’s careless approach to hitting. However, watching Boone fail miserably in extra innings last night has given Pinto a better appreciation of Godzilla Matsui’s talents:

Boone was just the opposite [of Godzilla] at the plate in the 11th. The Yankees had the bases loaded, 1 out and the Marlins brought the infield in. Matsui (and most great hitters) in this situation would wait for a pitch that he could handle. The pitcher can’t afford to throw balls in this situation, since a walk gives the opposition the lead. Unless the first pitch is the phattest you’ve ever seen, you should take it. Give the pitcher a chance to put himself in the hole so you can force him into the strikezone. Boone swung at the first pitch and missed. Now Boone’s in the hole. He swings at the 2nd pitch and fouls it off. Now he’s really in the hole, and has to swing defensively.

And, I might remind, that these were full-force spin-me-around grand-slam swings. He wasn’t just trying to meet the ball, he was trying to kill it. The infield was in! If he just meets the ball the likelihood is that the Yankees are going to score.

In the end, Boone saw seven pitches and swung at six of them, missing the last one. He did not adjust to the initial situation. He did not adjust during the AB. He did everything wrong. I was waiting for Willie Randolph to run down from the third base coaching box and yell at him to choke up on the bat. Matsui or Jeter or Posada or (choose your favorite Yankee other than Soriano) would have approached that situation differently. I can’t say that the outcome would have been different, but I can the chance of a better outcome would have been a lot higher. I hope Aaron’s been properly scolded about that event.

I have to agree with Pinto. I think Boone’s at bat was far more upsetting than the dinger Weaver allowed. Today, Aaron Boone and Alfonso Soriano’s names are mud. But there is always tonight…

WORLD SERIOUS GAME FOUR: MARLINS 4, YANKEES 3

BEWEAVE IT OR NOT

In the final start of his Hall of Fame career, Roger Clemens allowed three runs in the first inning last night, and Florida made it hold up until the ninth, when Ugie Urbina coughed up a 3-1 lead to send the game into extra innings. Ruben Sierra had the key knock, smashing a two-out, two run triple which scored Bernie Williams (who continues to sizzle at the plate with four hits) and Dave Dellucci.

Aaron “All-or-Nothing” Boone had a golden opportunity to put the Yankees ahead in the 11th with the bases loaded, one out and the infield drawn in. But in one of the worst at bats in what is a continuing series of awful at bats, Aaron Boone–swinging for the fences like his name was Alfonso Soriano–whiffed. John Flaherty then popped out to third to end the threat.

The drama climaxed in the 12th when the slumping Alex Gonzalez roped a line drive just over the low fence in the left field corner for a walk-off homer. Jeff Weaver, working his second inning, after not having pitched since the regular season, allowed the tater. (How many Yankee fans were shouting, “I told you so?”) Where was Gabe White, or Chris Hammond or a guy named Rivera? The Marlins won 4-3, and now, the Serious is tied at two games apiece. This was a game that Florida had to win, and just when it looked as if they were going to waste a brilliant performance from Carl Pavano, they fought back and earned the victory.

Inspite of a noble comeback–Sierra’s at bat was particularly memorable–the Yankees once again wasted scoring chances, and paid for it.

This was a thrilling game, but one that must have left Yankee fans muttering to themselves as they tossed and turned and tried to fall asleep. Peter Gammons notes:

This pitching matchup and game as a whole will no doubt be looked at as one of the more amazing World Series games ever played. Add in the fact this game ended on a walk-off home run by Gonzalez, and it’s easy to see this night was truly something special.

If the Yankees lose the World Serious, they will look at this game as the one that got away. Larry Mahnken opines:

And now you can see the Marlins winning this series, maybe. Their next two games are against lefties, David Wells and Andy Pettitte, and the Marlins kill lefties, for the most part. They’re unlikely to sweep–I think they’re unlikely to win either game, but they can, and then it goes to Game Seven, and Josh Beckett. And when you’ve got a pitcher like Beckett on the mound, you’ve got a chance to win. Florida snuck away with one today, because Pavano pitched great, Clemens had one bad inning, and Joe Torre made some foolish decisions. But once again, a win’s a win, and both teams now have two.

Ralph Terry was redeemed, as was Mariano Rivera, and Byung-Hyun Kim, sort of. But Ralph Branca and Mitch Williams were not. Gonzalez’s HR wasn’t as big as those, and won’t be remembered as those were–even in South Florida, were they’ve already forgotten that the Marlins won last night–but if the Yankees lose this series, Jeff Weaver will become a pariah in New York, and he’ll have to live with the thought that he cost his team the World Series, just like Buckner was blamed for costing the Red Sox the World Series. But just like Buckner, his mistake didn’t lose the series, and it didn’t lose a win. And just like Buckner, Weaver shouldn’t have been in there. If the Yankees lose this series, I hope people remember that. Joe Torre set him up to fail–there was nothing to be gained by having him in that situation, and everything to lose. He shouldn’t have been in there.

Mariano Rivera never made into the game, and the Yankees were left wondering “What if?” Tonight, Boomer Wells goes against Brad Penny, and the Yankees must win.

WHO SHOT J.R.?

Not for nothing, but allow me to be a fashion snob for a minute. For years, I thought it would be cool to find an old Astros jersey. I wasn’t going to mess with e-bay and spend tons of money though. I have cousins who live in Houston and I thought maybe I can visit them and then poke around the used clothing shops and Salvation Army stores down there.

Then of course, throwback gear became all the rage, and now you can find one of those ridiculous Astros jerseys for about $300. OK, first of all, I would never spend $150 on any piece of gear let alone three bills, but that is besides the point. The fact is, kids who rock throwback jerseys are trying to be cooler than cool at all costs. That’s fine too.

Usually the jerseys have no names on the back, but if an Astros jersey does have one, it would be that of Nolan Ryan. I don’t mean to take anything away from Ryan, but if you really wanted to be down, really wanted to be hip, wouldn’t you want a J.R. Richard joint?

That’s what I asked an unsuspecting kid who happened to be wearing an Astros jersey a few months ago. I caught him standing on Broadway and 231rst street on my way to the subway and I just had to open my mouth. Needless to say he didn’t know who J.R. was. Fair enough, the kid wasn’t even born when J.R. collapsed on the mound, his career ended prematurely by a stroke. I explained to the kid who J.R. was, how imposing and nasty he was, and the little dude looked at me like I was out of my bird.

Which may be true, but still, I know what is cool, and I’m not crazy enough to shell out hundreds of dollars for a retro Astros jersey. Especially if I don’t see J.R. Richard’s name on the back. Now this kid had an excuse, but what about all the rap stars who are old enough to know better?

Come back to me now.

GREENER PASTURES?

Jon Weisman has a follow-up piece on the future of my man Shawn Green over at Dodger Thoughts.

SWEET AND SOUR

I received the following story from a co-worker this morning. I don’t know who wrote the piece but whether you root for the Red Sox or the Yankees, you may find it amusing:

Two boys are playing hockey on a pond near Boston Commons when one is attacked by a rabid Rottweiler. Thinking quickly, the other boy takes his stick, wedges it down the dog’s collar and twists, breaking the dog’s neck.

A reporter who was strolling by sees the incident, and rushes over to interview the boy. “Young Bruins Fan Saves Friend from Vicious Animal,” he starts writing in his notebook. “But I’m not a Bruins fan,” the little hero replied.

“Sorry, since we are in Boston, I just assumed you were,” said the reporter. “Redsox Fan Rescues Friend From Horrific Attack” he continued writing in his notebook. “I’m not a Redsox fan either,” the boy said. “I assumed everyone in Boston was either for the Bruins or Redsox.

What team do you root for?” the reporter asked. “I’m a Yankees fan,” the child replied.

The reporter starts a new sheet in his notebook and writes, “Little Bastard from New York kills Beloved Family Pet”.

Speaking of the Sox, Peter King, who writes about football for Sports Illustrated gave his take on Game 7 of the ALCS in a column earlier this week:

The Red Sox lost, yes. But that team didn’t lose. LET ME STRESS THIS RIGHT NOW FOR EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT HAVE THE SICKNESS I HAVE: THIS IS WORSE THAN BUCKY DENT IN ’78, WORSE THAN BILL BUCKNER IN ’86 BECAUSE OF ONE VERY SIMPLE REASON: The players did not lose this game. The manager lost it. And one more point: How could you not know your ace pitcher is going to say he’s fine even when he isn’t? You don’t know him that well? Well, you should. There’s a fine line between showing faith in your ace and being too chicken to take him out, and that’s what Little was.

King adds a nice personal touch too:

I was out Friday night in my hometown of Montclair, N.J.., and someone I met asked me, “How can you stick with [the Red Sox] after this? How many broken hearts can you take?” I mumbled something about being loyal, but then I thought about it for a while.

I think it goes back to being 6, in 1963, and going to my first game at Fenway, a 90-mile drive from my home in Connecticut, with my family and walking up the tunnel underneath the rotting grandstand and being so open-mouthed shocked at seeing the field for the first time and smelling the grass and the hot dogs and the beer and the popcorn all mixed together, and sitting for two hours in the rain waiting for a Red Sox-Yankees showdown (in those days, there were plenty of good seats still available), and thinking how beautiful it was and seeing the wall in person and thinking how majestic it was, and then almost every spring and summer Saturday of my youth riding in the car with my father the ironworker to get the papers at a little newspaper store in our Connecticut hometown, Enfield, and devouring every word on the Red Sox, and sitting there on Friday nights and Sundays with my father watching them, and then dreaming of replacing Carl Yastrzemski one day in left field, and later dreaming that if I couldn’t replace Yaz maybe I could write about them for the Globe, and thinking how the luckiest person on the planet must be Peter Gammons because he got to see them every day in person, and then going to Ohio University and being the only person in the basement of my dorm in the big TV room rooting for them against Cincinnati in the ’75 Series, and how I almost hit my head on the ceiling when Carlton Fisk hit the home run in Game 6, and then, in the intervening years, trying to make sure I saw them a couple of times every year, either in Boston or when I not-so-secretly arranged an SI road trip around a Red Sox trip to Oakland or Seattle or somewhere, and then thinking nothing of going from Indianapolis at dawn to Charlotte for the afternoon to Boston at night in order to catch Game 4 of the ALCS and feeling so high walking out of Fenway after a win, just about as happy, at 46, as a grownup can be. Forty years. You might call them 40 heartbreaking years. I call them 40 wonderful years with a few heartbreaks that make me realize how much this game is like life. That is why I will buy the digital cable baseball package next spring, and why I will find a way to see a few innings of at least 80 Red Sox games next year. I don’t get divorced if my wife cracks up the car. I don’t divorce my baseball team if the manager blows the pennant.

From the Yankee perspective, Jay Jaffe’s girlfriend Andrea Hardt, aka Pinky Yankadero, was at Game 7 and offers her memories of what will likely be the greatest game she’ll ever attend. And Steve Bonner, one of David Pinto’s loyal readers was at the game as well. I love his take:

People who don’t understand baseball like to say that Yankee fans feel it’s their right to win the World Series every year, that we take no joy in it because it is such a common occurrence. They are wrong, nothing is guaranteed, nothing is taken for granted and the joy I felt watching my team come back against their most bitter rival, against one of the best pitchers to ever pitch in the big leagues, to overcome a bust of a start by the Rocket, to still rally after Wells gave up the home run to Ortiz…well it’s the most pure sort of joy I think I am capable of feeling over something that I didn’t personally accomplish. I’ll never forget how lucky I am that this team happens to be my team.

Amen, brother.

EVERY MOOSE HAS HIS DAY

Tom Boswell has a fine appreciation of Mike Mussina–not to mention Josh Beckett–in The Washington Post today. Boswell covered Moose when he was a young pitcher coming up wtih the Orioles, and probably understands the acerbic right-hander as well as anyone:

Though it hardly seems possible, Mussina will be 35 in a few weeks. Once, greatness seemed his certain destiny. Now, a lasting place in baseball history is almost out of his grasp; instead, mere excellence may be the consolation prize that galls him all his life. For this driven perfectionist who still thinks he can win 300 games and be a Hall of Famer, this was the night when he needed to prove to his harsh adopted town that he was a big-game pitcher.

… It was Mussina’s raw courage — the quality for which he is given the least credit — that ultimately marked this game as a prize worthy of any Series.

…For Mussina…this first World Series victory will have to suffice for many years of frustrations, so many figurative rain delays which have stood between him and historic greatness. For this one night, every promise he ever showed was fulfilled.

I understand why New Yorkers are quick to criticize Mussina. They are looking for results, not the process. But I think that Mussina is a great pitcher, and in fact, I probably find him more appealing because he’s had some rotten luck over the course of his career. It makes for a better story that way, to recognize a vunerability. But then again, look at what he has accomplished, and it is nothing to sneeze at. I know that I feel good about the Yankees chances of winning each time he takes the mound, and what more could you ask from a pitcher?

WORLD SERIOUS GAME THREE: YANKEES 6, MARLINS 1

The pitching duel between Mike Mussina and Josh Beckett lived up to its advanced billing last night as the Yankees beat Florida 6-1 to take a 2-1 series lead. The game was much closer than the score suggests, but the Yankees were able to break it open late. Beckett was nothing short of dominant to start the game, blowing the Yankees away with a John-Blaze four-seam fastball, and a knee-buckling curve ball. He retired the first ten batters he faced. Mussina, Mr. Hard Luck himself, started the game behind the eight-ball once again when Juan Pierre led off with a bloop double that was misplayed by Bernie Williams. Nothing new there. Miguel Cabrera then collected his first hit of the Serious, slapping an inside fastball through the right side for an RBI single.

But that didnít deter Mussina who collected himself and settled down. According to Peter Gammons:

After that Mussina scratched and clawed and showed why he’s truly a big-game pitcher. He made big pitches throughout — using mainly a steady diet of cutters – and in the end came away the winner.

I THINK WE’RE GOING TO NEED BACK UP

I read a great post on David Pinto’s Baseball Musings today and wanted to create a link to it, but then I couldn’t get back onto the site all afternoon. I received an e-mail from David this evening reporting that he’s having operating difficulties, but have no fear because Mr. Pinto has a back up plan. For all of you Baseball Musings fans, head over to the alternate site here and enjoy tonight’s game (Josh Beckett just blew away the Yankees in the first inning and his stuff looks nothing short of electric).

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver