"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Winning Ugly

Wait a second, Kevin Brown and Victor Zambrano faced off in a game that included five errors and thirteen walks and it was just 3-2 going into the ninth inning?

Yup. Both starters belied their shoddy reputations, despite exhibiting the same tendencies that typically get them in much bigger trouble. Zambrano walked six, but allowed just three runs, two earned. Kevin Brown, meanwhile, escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first (single and two walks) by striking out Doug Mientkiewicz on three nasty pitches low in the zone. He then survived a lead-off single in the second and a lead-off walk in the third and a one-out walk in the fifth. The only run he allowed all evening came in the fourth and it was unearned.

Despite cracking a double into the left field gap to lead off the fifth (he was stranded), Brown was pinch-hit for during a sixth-inning rally, leaving him with a strong 5 IP, 3 H, 1 R (0 ER), 0 HR, 5 K line despite walking four and throwing a mere 54 percent of 90 pitches for strikes.

Suddenly, it seems Brown has figured out how to compensate for his struggles (primarily, keeping his pitches down, where they’re the nastiest), posting the following line in his last three starts combined:

18 IP, 16 H, 6 R (3 ER), 0 HR, 5 BB (4 last night), 10 K.

As the unearned runs and K/BB ratio(s) indicate, he’s not quite where he should be, but as he’s currently the Yankees fifth starter, he’s certainly getting the job done.

For his part, Zambrano followed the script, allowing just four hits in 5 1/3 innings, but walking six. Like Brown, he survived a one-out single in the first, a lead-off walk in the second, and Brown’s lead-off double in the fifth, adding a 1-2-3 third for good measure. Also like Brown, the fourth was where he ran into trouble.

That inning began with the first of two walks drawn by Tony Womack on the night, which leads to a developing theory of mine regarding Womack’s walk rates. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Tony Womack, despite his abysmal walk rate, sees as many or more pitches per at-bat as the rest of more “patient” Yankees (save Giambi, who’s off the charts). Watching his at-bats, it’s clear that Womack is not a hacker. He swings at strikes and takes most everything else (including some strikes), often fouling off pitches and battling the pitcher. So why doesn’t he draw more walks? Is there really a difference between taking the first three balls and taking the fourth?

I don’t think there necessarily is. One reason Womack doesn’t walk more is that that his methods get him into as many two-strike as three-ball counts, and when in that situation, he’s more likely to swing at borderline pitches, as well he should be (see: Giambi, Jason). More significantly, I think that given Womack’s slap-hitting ways, pitchers are unafraid to groove one to Womack, who has never slugged above .385 in a season and has just 35 homers in his eleven-plus years in the big leagues. Thus, when a pitcher gets three balls on Tony Womack, he’s not going to nibble at the corners for fear of giving up an extra-base hit. He’s going to throw a strike as the odds are in his favor that Womack won’t get anything more significant than the one base he would have gotten from the walk, while his chances of making an out rise dramatically. As a result, I think the only pitchers who walk Tony Womack are not the ones who won’t throw a strike, but the ones who can’t.

Victor Zambrano is one of these men, and he started off the top of the fourth of last night’s ballgame by walking Tony Womack, who took three straight pitches after getting ahead 3-0, guessing correctly that Zambrano couldn’t throw three straight strikes. Womack then stole second, moved to third on a Sheffield fly out to center, and was doubled home by Hideki Matsui, who is officially out of his slump having gone 12 for his last 30 with five doubles and a hit in each of his last six games.

Kaz Matsui (with the help of Derek Jeter) returned serve in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Jeter attempted to backhand a David Wright grounder only to have the ball take a high bounce and kick off the heal of his glove for an error. Matsui then double deep into the gap in left (a nice back-handed running play by Hideki had robbed Kaz of a hit slightly less deep in the gap in previous at-bat) and Wright was waved home. Matsui did a great job of getting the ball back in to Jeter, and with a typically strong and accurate Jeter relay throw, Wright would have been out by the length of at least one Luis Sojo, but Jeter launched his throw well up the first base line and past Posada (who, as you know, lurks there anyway) to the backstop. Tie game.

Inspired by Jeter’s two fourth-inning errors, Kaz Matsui (Warning: Kazerdous Materials) and the Mets got in on the act in the sixth. Hideki lead off with a single, then took second on the napping Zambrano. E-Rod walked, Tino grounded them both over. Zambrano then walked Posada to load the bases with one out.

Batting eighth in front of the pitcher’s spot, where he extended his hitting streak to eight games, Robinson Cano in this at-bat reverted to his grounder-to-second ways with a perfect double play ball to Kaz Matsui that the smaller-headed Matsui Bucknered, then bobbled when trying to get Cano at first. One run in, still one out, bases still loaded.

Joe Torre then pinch-hit for Brown with Ruben Sierra, who was just activated before the game (replacing Andy Phillips, the only Yankee bench player with options, on the roster). Sierra worked a full count, then hit a roller to first that could have been a first-home-first (3-2-1, 3-2-3, 3-2-4, whichever) double play, and should have been one out for sure. Instead, Gold Glover Mientkiewicz pulled a Jeter by popping a backhand into the air with the same results as Matsui’s bobble. Another run in, still one out, bases still loaded.

Willie Randolph then called on Heath Bell, who struck out Jeter (who was 0 for 5 with 3Ks and six men left on base in addition to his two run-producing errors) on three pitches and Tony Womack on five to end the inning.

Trailing 3-1, the Mets got one back in the seventh against Tanyon Sturtze when Jose Reyes smoked a one-out double down the first-base line and scored on a two-out Carlos Beltran single.

Finally, the Yankees put it away in the ninth against Roberto Hernandez, who walked Tony Womack (who again took three pitches after getting ahead 3-0) to start the inning. Gary Sheffield followed with a grounder in the shortstop hole that scooted under David Wright’s glove and into Jose Reyes’s. With his momentum going into the hole, Reyes was unable to get his throw to first in time to retire Sheffield. Meanwhile, Tony Hustle was on second by the time Reyes righted himself and took third on the long throw, putting runners on the corners with none out.

Hideki Matsui followed with an RBI grounder, plating Womack and replacing Sheffield at first. E-Rod then singled to put runners on the corners again and Tino lifted a sac fly to left that scored Matsui to put the final score at 5-2.

Stanton (who finished Sturtze’s seventh inning), Gordon and Rivera finished the Mets off, allowing just one walk by Gordon over the final 2 1/3. The fifth error in the game was an ultimately harmless one when Tony Womack made and ill-considered dive for a blooper to very shallow left off Gordon that allowed Mientkiewicz to reach second on what was most likely a tweener single for which Minky didn’t receive credit.

With last night’s win, the Yankees are assured of coming back home with a .500 record. Meanwhile, with the Blue Jays having lost to Minnesota on Thursday, but beaten the Nationals last night (anyone else think they should restructure the “natural rivalries” so that the Nats play the O’s, and the Phillies the Pirates?), the Yankees have finally moved into a tie for third in the east and are now in a three-way tie with Toronto and Texas for the sixth best record in the AL, 2.5 games behind the Red Sox and Angels.

Today at 1:10 Randy Johnson and Kris Benson kick off the FOX season with the Game of the Week (“MLB on FOX” my arse). Here’s hoping Randy strikes someone out this time.

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1 Rich   ~  May 21, 2005 1:35 am

1.  The Yankees need to acquire another OFer,and make Womack a supersub.

btw, D'Angelo Jimenez was DFA by the Reds. He would be an upgrade over Sanchez.

2 Paul   ~  May 21, 2005 3:49 am

2.  For the sabermetrically inclined -- and I'm one of them, I admit -- Jimenez is an interesting case. Probably all of you remember that he was considered a better prospect than Soriano by the Baseball Prospectus crowd. Apparently he's a clubhouse nightmare, which is something that no statistics can account for.

With Brown pitching well, that Brown for Andruw Jones trade is starting to sound very nice ... any chance in the world it could happen without our trading a prospect (Cano, Wang)? After all, Atlanta is rumored to want out of Jones' bloated contract, and who knows what magic Mazzone can work with Brown?

Final question: Why are there so few (if any) Friday night Yankee games on the MLB Extra Innings package?

3 Alex Belth   ~  May 21, 2005 5:18 am

3.  Man, was that one of the worst nights Jeter has seen in a while or what? The first error, on the Wright's ground ball was common enough, but the throwing error was surprising. He wasn't able to make up for it at the plate either.

The one stand out for the Mets last night was Heath Bell. He overpowered Jeter, Womack and Rodriguez, and jammed Sheffield but good. He has a sneaky, almost short-armed delivery, and his heater was jumping by them. I can't tell if it was a case of the Yankee hitters just not being familiar with him, or if his stuff is really that good.

Womack's error in the eighth was bad, but Flash gets kudos for working out of it. That said, the Mets had some terrible-looking at bats last night. As did the Yanks, who were 1-15 with men in scoring position going into the ninth inning. Bases-loaded in the fourth, and Posada goes after the first pitch then pops out on a check swing on the next one after Zambrano walked two to load the bases. Then Cano goes down on three in a row. Yikes.

Womack made up for it with some nifty base running in the ninth. After working a lead-off walk, he was running when Sheffield reached on an infield single. David Wright stepped in front of Reyes, couldn't come up with it, and by the time Reyes got the ball, Womack was at second, standing up. He waited for Reyes to throw to first and then he took off for third, making it easily.

A win is a win, right guys? It was a really ugly game though for both teams. But we'll take it every day of the week.

Mariano's looking fine these days, huh?

4 singledd   ~  May 21, 2005 5:43 am

4.  Between not playing winter ball and a cold spring, it looks like Rivera just needed some time to oil up his joints. It sucks seeing players get old and become ineffective... but when this happens to Rivera, it will be the biggest loss in a long time. It will be hard to feel secure without the Sandman on call.

5 Simone   ~  May 21, 2005 5:58 am

5.  I didn't see the game, but it must have been really ugly given the comments here as well as the SportsCenter highlights, but a win is a win. This had to be one of Jeter's worse games. I'm just glad that Brown and Gordon were able to keep it together and pitch well despite the defensive misplays which are standard for this Yankee team. This is type of fortitude I expect from Yankee pitchers.

It is great that Mo seems to be out of his funk. I agree wtih singledd, when Mo goes through his inevitable final decline, it will be the greatest loss to the Yankees organization.

6 jkay   ~  May 21, 2005 6:05 am

6.  Most friday night games are on Ch. 9 which is not picked up by Extra Innings. Dems the breaks.

7 Simone   ~  May 21, 2005 6:06 am

7.  Btw Cliff, if A-Rod is E-Rod, shouldn't Jeter be E-Jeter or maybe JEter? The defense from both of them this season is average at best and probably should more adequately described as horrific. I don't know what is going on left side of the infield, but an exorcism isn't a bad idea.

8 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 21, 2005 6:33 am

8.  Ah, Simone, ye of so much faith. ;)

You're right, of course, except that you're not.

This is not a championship-caliber team. It's looking like the sloppiness is part of the package and not just aberration. They can't slug up for their sloppiness in October. (I coined a phrase, there, 'slug up' for 'make up'. Nice, right?)

9 Nick from Washington Heights   ~  May 21, 2005 7:02 am

9.  weeping, which teams are championship-caliber? Looking around the majors, I still rate this team as top 3. I don't buy the ChiSox, and that anemic offense. I do think the Red Sox are a championship-caliber team (although, the age and injury-risk on their pitching staff is somewhat troublesome). But what other team out there is more championship-caliber than the Yanks?

10 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 21, 2005 7:11 am

10.  Nick, this is a fine question, and one I'm not educated enough to answer.

So perhaps I'm wrong, maybe the Yanks really can win, lapses and all.

Of course, if this is the case, then it's a sad commentary on the state of the game that a championship-caliber team is capable of and can get away with abysmally sloppy play with such frequency.

11 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 21, 2005 7:18 am

11.  BTW, I don't mean to be too doom-and-gloom, so I'll say this; that ninth-inning rally was classic and extremely promising. I like that they scored two runs on outs. Matsui's grounder and Tino's sac, set up by Womack's working out that walk and then running like the wind, and with aplomb. That's the stuff that wins championships, execution. If they can maximize such play (i.e., scoring without slugging) while learning to catch the ball, I'll feel WAAAYYYYY more comfortable.

Sure it's upsetting to see Matsui hit a ground ball instead of a double, but sometimes that's all it takes. If Boone and Giambi had managed to put the bat on the ball when it counted back in 2003 they well could have beaten those Floridas.

12 Nick from Washington Heights   ~  May 21, 2005 8:06 am

12.  I should follow up and say that I personally view the top 3 this year in this order:
1. Red Sox
2. Cards
3. Yanks

13 jkay   ~  May 21, 2005 8:12 am

13.  Regarding championship caliber:

The offense was ranked #1 in runs scored last I checked.

The starting pitching has come around nicely.
Moose, RJ and Pavano would be tough in a playoff series, not to mention a healthy Brown.

The pen is pretty solid these days. Gordon has regained his good form and Mo is sharp.

All that is left is the defense which is horrid at times. Another outfielder would go a long way to fixing the D. Womack/Bernie are not the answer. They need some new blood out there and they might have to wait for the trade deadline to get help.

When you add it up, they are close to championship calaber now and getting a decent fielding OF will bring them much closer.

14 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 21, 2005 8:26 am

14.  "When you add it up, they are close to championship calaber now and getting a decent fielding OF will bring them much closer."

Agreed, jkay.

They definitely need a defensive upgrade in the OF or they have no chance of winning in the postseason.

As far as the offense, the runs scored is a little deceptive because of the many slugfests and drubbings. Such production can't be relied upon in the postseason, of course, so it's well to focus on manufacturing rather than slugging.

All I'm saying is I'd feel much more comfortable scoring fewer runs and being better-sutied to winning one-run ballgames, which entails flawless D.

15 singledd   ~  May 21, 2005 10:27 am

15.  brunnhilde - It's said that the post season is about pitching and defense, but pitching and offense will also do it, when you have top notch offense. Note last years (and this years) Red Sox... average D at best. Manny and Milar could be the 2 worst at their positions. The Yankees have the potential to be top 3 in both pitching and offense. They also lead the league in Bean Count, which I believe is an important stat. Bad D is embarrassing but when you score 7 or 8 runs with good pitching, you are hard to beat.

16 singledd   ~  May 21, 2005 12:30 pm

16.  I am getting a rare opportunity to see my boys on Fox TV. Am I nuts.... the commentators are talking about how good Benson is, but I don't see it. His ball isn't moving that much and plenty of pitches are catching plenty of plate. Looks to me like that Yankees are just missing the ball. Am I missing something? Shit - ARod just picked off.

17 Harley   ~  May 21, 2005 12:41 pm

17.  I'm only listening via the net, but Waldman is pounding the same point repeatedly. Johnson is throwing, when he throws them, flat ninety mph fastballs right over the plate. Which, I guess, might help to explain the eleven hits, including a double by previously 0-17 Koo. That's right. Koo.

Uhm. At what point does Johnson get his fastball back?

18 Harley   ~  May 21, 2005 12:43 pm

18.  It might even explain Miguel Cairo's two-run homer. His first of the year. Gack.

19 Paul   ~  May 21, 2005 12:54 pm

19.  Painful painful painful. Even if Posada did tag Koo, even if Rodriguez was not caught off first, even if it was Anna Benson pitching and not her husband -- Johnson was way too hittable today. And it's not the first time.

20 JohnnyC   ~  May 21, 2005 1:58 pm

20.  There is much I could say. I'll try to be succinct."Insignificant" games like this reveal how badly Torre prepares his team to play now that we are close to 5 years since the last parade down The Canyon. Their total lack of intensity is great for a 64 year old who's bored with the Subway Series and has iron-clad job security but, last I looked, these 3 games this weekend were on the Championship Season schedule and actually count in the standings. Items: Sojo not sending ARod with the pitcher on deck (we're playing NL rules today, Luis, wake up!), Benson showing Cashman what an $8 million pitcher looks like (sarcastic but well-deserved), batting Bernie third for no apparent reason (just pure laziness on Torre's fault to plop Bernie in Sheff's vacated slot...don't have 30 seconds to restructure the line-up, Joe?), the Koo inning...if losing 4 straight to the Red Sox doesn't upset Torre's placid demeanor that embarrassing travesty probably won't.

21 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 21, 2005 2:19 pm

21.  Singledd, I think the thing with Benson was that he was keeping the hitters perpetually off-balance by changing speeds.

And a small point, but at the time I was irate--why did RJ through that pitch to Reyes that he smacked early on? It was 0-2 and all I ever hear about Reyes is that he'll fish after garbage. Why, then, doesn't RJ get him to fish on a slider or two in the dirt instead of pounding him inside with heat?

22 Cliff Corcoran   ~  May 21, 2005 2:22 pm

22.  In small defense of Torre, it is possible that Bernie was subbed in after the line-ups had been submitted to the umpires. Not that I think that's actually the case.

Also, Simone, you're right, in the recap for Friday Night's game I meant to write JEtEr. That said, his defense on the season has not only been by far the best he's played in his career (105 Rate, the first time he's been in the black . . . ever), but is, count 'em, 18 runs better (per 100 games) than E-Rod, who's been by far the worst defender on the team all year acording to Rate, Bernie included.

23 Jen   ~  May 21, 2005 3:45 pm

23.  Actually Cliff you may be right. When I checked the lineups online right before the game Bernie wasn't there. It wasn't until after the game started that they changed it.

24 brockdc   ~  May 23, 2005 11:13 pm

24.  I'm growing tired of A-Rod's mental lapses.


Florida would manhandle any one of those three teams in a 7-game series.

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