"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Passing the Test

When the Yankees won ten in a row against the lowly A’s and Mariners (who currently have the second and third worst records in the AL) there were many observers, myself included, who felt that the true test of this Yankee team would be what they did next, particularly against the rival Mets and Red Sox. Well, since returning from the west coast, the Yankees have won six of seven including two of three from the Mets and their last five straight. The most recent of those victories came last night at the expense not only of the rival Sox, but against a pitcher who always seems to have their number, knuckleballer and would-be 2003 ALCS MVP Tim Wakefield, who was 3-0 with a 1.34 ERA in last six regular-season starts against the Yankees.

Opposing Wakefield on the mound was Randy Johnson, who has yet to turn in the sort of dominating performance the Yankees expected they’d get routinely when they traded twenty percent of their starting rotation and their Catcher of the Future for him in January. Last night was no different. Despite dialing his fastball up to 95-96 miles per hour for the first time all season, Johnson struggled with his control and threw far to many hittable pitches. Fortunately, he was able to get out of the almost constant trouble he got himself in.

In the first inning the Red Sox loaded the bases on a Robinson Cano error and a pair of walks only to have the struggling Kevin Millar crush a 400-foot fly out to center to end the inning. With two outs in the second, Mark Bellhorn walked and moved to second on a Johnson wild pitch only to be stranded by a Johnny Damon groundout to short. In the third, Johnson stranded Edgar Renteria who smacked a lead-off double on his way to a 3-for-4 night in which he reached base four times. In the fourth a Buell Mueller walk and a Jay Payton single with one out amounted to nothing as Johnson struck out Bellhorn on three pitches and got Damon to fly out to Womack.

Then came the fifth. Renteria lead off with a single. David Ortiz popped out to short. Manny Ramirez ground into a fielder’s choice, replacing Renteria at first. Two outs and Ramirez on first and Jason Varitek, the Sox best hitter thus far this year, stepped to the plate. Tek took Johnson’s first three pitches to get ahead 2-1, then Randy tried to get him to chase a slider, but the pitch didn’t slide far enough away and Varitek just dropped the bat on it and launched it over the wall in left.

That made it 2-0 Sox, as Wakefield, true to form, had allowed just one Yankee hit through the first four. Of course, he had also walked four men and Cano had reached on an error by Bellhorn, but hadn’t allowed a run. In a way, Johnson and Wakefield were locked in an unimpressive pitcher’s duel. The only 1-2-3 inning between the two of them was Wakefield’s first. Both had walked four men through four, but neither had allowed a run until Varitek’s homer.

With the stalemate finally broken, the Yanks got one back right away in the bottom of the fifth. Jeter lead-off with a hustling triple and Womack got him home on a groundout. The Yanks then proceeded to load the bases on two more Wakefield walks and a hit by pitch (Rodriguez got one in the lower back), but Posada, who owned just one of the Yankees two hits to that point in the game, just got under a knuckler (which is the idea, they’re hard to center on the bat), flying out to center to end the inning.

Unfortunately, Johnson gave that run right back in the sixth on a one-out Jay Payton double and back-to-back singles by Bellhorn and Damon. But then the tide turned.

With one run already home to make it 3-1 Sox, one out, and men on first and second, Edgar Renteria singled to left. Dale Svuem, the much maligned Boston third base coach, sent Bellhorn home from second. Womack delivered a sharp one-hop throw to the plate that bounced in a way to put Posada in perfect position to block the plate, which he did, hitting Bellhorn with and elbow and the ball as he tried to slide around the Yankee catcher. Two outs.

Let me repeat that. Jorge Posada blocked the plate!

For those who missed it when we discussed this earlier this season, Jorge suffered a nasty, season-ending leg injury in the minor leagues because of a collision at home plate. As a result, he’s extremely reluctant to block the plate and usually takes throws in fair territory or up the first base line and then dives for the runner. When this happened earlier in the year, with the runner easily evading Posada’s tag, I wrote that I hoped that with Joe Girardi on hand, Jorge would finally be broken of this habit. Last night, we may just have seen evidence of exactly that.

Although there was not a significant collision between Posada and Bellhorn, Jorge looked somewhat shaken after the play. In his defense, I’m sure he has a legitimate and deep-rooted fear of home plate collisions because of that minor league injury. But then something even more amazing happened.

Womack’s throw had bounced in such a way that Jorge had almost no choice but to block the plate. But then the next batter, David Ortiz, hit a single up the middle that Robinson Cano was able to stop behind second base, but unable to come up with cleanly. As the ball trickled away from Cano, Svuem sent Damon (who had moved to second on the Renteria single) home. Cano scrambled after the ball and fired a low one-hopper home which Posada fielded and then again set-up to block the plate. With no where to go, Damon made a half-assed attempt to go over Posada’s left shoulder only to get tagged out for the third out of the inning.

What would turn out to be Randy Johnson’s last inning of work on the night went: ground out, double, single, single, single, single. But the Red Sox only scored one run thanks to a strong throw by Womack, impressive range and heads-up play by Cano, and Jorge Posada blocking the plate twice in one inning.

As if on cue, Bernie Williams lead off the bottom of the sixth with a walk (Wakefield’s seventh of the game) and Robinson Cano crushed Wakefield’s first pitch over the wall in right center to tie the game at 3-3. The ball Cano hit was a knuckler that didn’t knuckle, thus becoming a belly-high BP pitch, but Cano didn’t miss it, hitting it deep into the bleachers over the Armitron sign in right center for his second major league home run.

Derek Jeter followed with a single, driving Wakefield from the Game. Tony Womack then attempted to bunt Jeter to second, but after fouling off his first two attempts against Alan Embree settled for a single of his own (Becky, who seems to have an implicit understanding of Moneyball, but is a bit hazy on players’ individual limitations, argued during Womack’s at-bat that having him bunt was stupid when they should just “let him hit a home run”). Next up was Gary Sheffield, who took one strike from Embree and absosmurfly moidilized his next pitch, sending it into the upper deck in left field for a three run homer to put the Yankees up by the eventual final of 6-3. Sheffield’s shot had to be seen to be believed and surely came complete with a meal, an in-flight movie, complementary beverage service and a bag of peanuts.

And that was all she wrote. Tanyon Sturtze pitched around a two-out single in the seventh. Buddy Groom came on to strike out pinch-hittin’ Trot Nixon in the eighth and Tom Gordon relieved him to strike out Edgar Renteria to end that inning. Gordon then struck out Ortiz and walked Manny in the ninth before Joe Torre, who claimed after the game that he was trying to get away with not using Rivera, who had pitched the previous two nights, called in Mo. Rivera took eight pitches to strike out Varitek for the second out and then gave up a 1-2 single to Millar, bringing Bill Mueller to the plate as the tying run only to have Mo exact his revenge by striking Mueller out on four pitches to pick up the save.

Special bonus: in addition to the Yankees beating the Red Sox, the Tigers (whom the Yanks just swept) beat the Orioles and the Twins (whom the Yanks face next weekend) beat the Blue Jays, giving the Yankees second place all to themselves and moving them within 3.5 games of first place.

Today Matt Clement and Carl Pavano face off on FOX, a rematch of the second game of the season, which the Yankees won 4-3 on a walk-off homer by Derek Jeter off Keith Foulke after Rivera had blown a one-run save in the ninth. This is a particularly intriguing match-up for me because I had hoped the Yankees would sign Clement rather than Pavano this offseason based on his superior strikeout rates, steadily improving walk rates, and his more consistent and largely injury-free track record. Here are their lines thus far this season:

Pavano: 10 GS, 61 IP, 73 H, 37 K, 11 BB, 11 HR, 1.38 WHIP, 3.69, 4-2
Clement: 10 GS, 64 2/3 IP, 62 H, 47 K, 22 BB, 2 HR, 1.30 WHIP, 3.34, 5-0

Pavano has six quality starts (min. 6 IP, max. 3 ER), Clement has seven. Here’s hoping Meat evens that number this afternoon.

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1 Hank   ~  May 28, 2005 10:06 am

1.  I wasn't aware of Posada's issue with blocking the plate -- thanks for bringing it up again. Like you, I was also impressed with Canó's awareness on that play at the plate. He didn't hesitate a second, just came up throwing. Maybe Jeter was hollering at him, but a nice play either way.

What I don't like, though, is that every time Canó make a nice play or strokes a big hit, I get a vision of him in an Astro uniform (likely along with Wang). When will this team realize that it might be a good thing to have a solid young player making $300,000 for the next few years? If Johnson doesn't regain his expected form (or maybe this IS his expected form at age 41), the silver lining could be that Steinbrenner might begin to place more of a premium on youth.

2 singledd   ~  May 28, 2005 11:35 am

2.  If RJ doesn't perform, Steinbrenner will place more of a premium on Clemens! This is a man does not learn from his mistakes.

3 Simone   ~  May 28, 2005 12:37 pm

3.  I go run an errand and when I come back, the Yankees have given up 7 runs in the 5th. Ugh. It is on Moose tomorrow.

Also, Clement is a shit who hit Jeter on purpose. I'm buying any excuses about him pitching inside and not meaning it. It is time for Yankee pitchers to start mowing down the hitters of other teams because it has become intolerable how often Yankees hitters have been hit.

4 Simone   ~  May 28, 2005 12:44 pm

4.  The only positive thing about this blow out is that it sinks FOX's ratings like a rock and no television network deserves this more.

5 redshift   ~  May 28, 2005 12:45 pm

5.  Time to just shut off the TV, go outside, and count the hours until we can watch the Yanks beat up on Wells.

6 JohnnyC   ~  May 28, 2005 1:02 pm

6.  The only thing worse than having to watch this embarassment of a game is realizing that there is no way we can be rid of Joe Torre's even more embarassing management of it. Mr. No Intensity did it again. Going against the Red Sox's best pitcher this season, Torre chooses to rest Posada (with an off day on Monday and a NIGHT GAME tomorrow!)and start Giambi. Yes, the daily double! Then he slots them, yes, back to back in the line-up...I guess to remind Clement of NL line-ups. All the people who laughed at George for not allowing on-air interviews with his manager DURING A GAME hopefully witnessed the 5th inning. Yeah, Torre really nailed it on his pitching changes in that inning. After all, he couldn't take Stanton out until the bases were loaded...er...I mean, the interview was over.

7 rbj   ~  May 28, 2005 1:05 pm

7.  Nothing to see here, move along you Looky Lous.

8 Cliff Corcoran   ~  May 28, 2005 1:28 pm

8.  JohnnyC, those interviews are conducted between innings and shown on tape during the following half.

9 Simone   ~  May 28, 2005 1:56 pm

9.  JohnnyC, are you saying that you don't value Giambi's wonderful ability to walk over the much maligned ability of actually hitting the ball? LOL! I know you are pissed, but Torre had nothing to do with this fiasco, it is strictly on the shoulders of the pitchers who sucked all the way around.

Did anyone see Flaherty's at bat where Clement threw 6 balls and Flaherty actually swung at 3 of them and got himself out? What a dope.

10 markp   ~  May 28, 2005 1:57 pm

10.  "Torre chooses to rest Posada (with an off day on Monday and a NIGHT GAME tomorrow!)and start Giambi. Yes, the daily double! Then he slots them, yes, back to back in the line-up...I guess to remind Clement of NL line-ups."

Giambi and his 730 OPS shouldn't play at all, and Torre's an idiot for putting him in there, but it's OK to bat Matsui and his 716 OPS 4th and the guy leaindg the world in HR, runs, and RBI 5th?

11 brockdc   ~  May 28, 2005 2:35 pm

11.  Wow, lucky me for living on the West Coast! I WAS pissed about not getting the Yanks-Sox in lieu of the Giants-Padres 3 hour lullaby, but I'd much rather sleep than throw my flaming TV across the room in a fit of rage.

12 murphy   ~  May 28, 2005 3:50 pm

12.  allow me to throw our resident foil (or maybe voice of reason?), markp, a bone: despite the our team looking like the f'in ROyals today, this comment board's favourite whipping boy, ERod, DID go 2 for 2 against the SUX, against which he had not yet risen up the mendoza line prior to this game.

13 singledd   ~  May 28, 2005 4:25 pm

13.  How do you blame a manager for how 15 different men perform? How do you blame a manager for how Pavano performed? Was Joe's line-up the reason RJ gave up 5 hits in one inning? Do you mean if Posada was in the line-up, the Sox would have only had 6 hits? Do you happen do know how Posada feels today(after 2 guys colliding with him yesterday)? Is this the first time you have seen a catcher sit a day game after a night game? Is there a particular day you prefer Posada out of the line-up, as opposed to today? Just how much effect do you think a manager has on a game of this nature?

I NEVER like to see Posada out of the line-up. But maybe, maybe Joe knows something that you and I don't. It's possible.

The Indians? did it to us last year. For some cosmic reason, there are always a few disasterous blow outs like this. Lets just hope there are not many more, or we are on the other side of it.

Let's get to Wells early tomorrow and take the series. 2 out of 3 from Boston is good enough.

14 Hank   ~  May 28, 2005 4:26 pm

14.  Seems to be an odd Quantrill-Rodríguez connection. First Quantrill retaliates against Detroit after A-Rod gets hit, and today -- just like A-Rod a couple weeks back -- Quantrill comes a solo homer away from the home run cycle. Anyone know if a pitcher has ever accomplished this feat? If so, I can't imagine a reliever ever has. (I remember Chan Ho Park's double grand slam inning a few years back.) Hats off to you, Paul Quantrill!

15 Adam B   ~  May 28, 2005 7:54 pm

15.  Johnny C, it's better that Posada was rested today for the long run. Last year Posada's performance faded off in mid September because he wasn't rested enough. Torre resting him now can only help the Yankees down the stretch.

16 monkeypants   ~  May 28, 2005 9:40 pm

16.  "Johnny C, it's better that Posada was rested today for the long run. Last year Posada's performance faded off in mid September because he wasn't rested enough. Torre resting him now can only help the Yankees down the stretch"

"Is there a particular day you prefer Posada out of the line-up, as opposed to today? Just how much effect do you think a manager has on a game of this nature?"

Yes, Posada needs to be rested throughout the year, as he his not only a catcher but an aging catcher at that. And no, the way things turned out, Posada's not playing likely had no impact on the outcome of such a rout. However, I too share the frustration at Torre's by-the-numbers-managing. A number of posters commented (jokingly?) on the the Fox afternoon game curse, but sometimes I think it's more the case that Torre seems to just throw away weekend day games.

Does Posada need to be rested EVERY day game following a night game, no matter the opponent? Maybe Torre should work in a few mid-week games off against lesser opponents, perhaps tied to the usual Monday or Thrusday off day so that Jorge gets two games off in a row.

Does Posada have to rest for an entire game? When the game was still winable, men on base and two outs, I was hoping Posada would get the PH call, but no, we got to watch Flaherty flail away. Would it have been so bad to play Jorge for half the game today?

Didn't Casey Stengel used to save certain players (esp. Whitey Ford) for good teams by resting them against weaker opponents?

17 JeremyM   ~  May 28, 2005 9:44 pm

17.  Yes, Stengel used to do that. Wonder what he'd think about Johnson whining about his rest? Or was Johnson really whining because he'd rather face Detroit than Boston? Am I the only one extremely annoyed at him making this an issue?

18 Simone   ~  May 29, 2005 5:57 am

18.  JeremyM, you are not the only one annoyed by RJ's whining about staying on schedule knowing that he would miss Boston. RJ needs to understand that he isn't in Arizona any more. Playing in NY means stepping up and embracing the pressure to put the beat down on the Red Sox when called upon.

19 JohnnyC   ~  May 29, 2005 4:25 pm

19.  "Torre had nothing to do with this fiasco" Let that be Joe's epitaph for these last 5 seasons, my fellow fans. So be it, since you're all willing to accept it. Thanks, markp, for some back-up on the line-up. You're right about Matsui batting clean-up (another example of Torre being wedded to ideas just don't pan out and being stubborn about making reasonable adjustments). But the Giambi and Flaherty thing (by the way, singledd, you're right I don't know a lot of things that you and Torre probably do...but I do know that Jorge asked to start on Saturday, as reported by Suzyn Waldman on the pre-game show)illustrates Torre's infuriating attitude of "gosh, it's only one game out of 162." As I recall, Torre's still working on winning that "one game" from last year's ALCS. It's o.k. to be blase about the Mets but this is the friggin' Red Sox who humiliated you last year. I would think he'd take every opportunity to bury them. But, I guess Joe knows something I don't.

20 brockdc   ~  May 30, 2005 12:27 am

20.  Simone,

...Or get beat down.

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