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.
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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.