"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Verdict: Wang Innocent, Torre Guilty

Chien-Ming Wang acquited himself quite nicely against Baltimore’s sluggin’ O’s last night, posting his seventh quality start in ten starts on the season with this line: 7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 HR, 0 BB, 3 K.

Unfortunately, Joe Torre’s notorious push-button bullpen mismanagement and continually fragile faith in Wang conspired to rob the rookie right-hander and his team of a win.

Here’s the situation: Bottom of the eighth inning. The Yankees have a 4-3 lead. Wang has thrown just 83 pitches, 68 percent of them strikes. In the seventh he got Sammy Sosa to groundout on a full count, gave up a full-count single to Luis Matos, induced a double play grounder from Chris Gomez on a 1-2 count that was turned into a fielder’s choice when Matos forced Robinson Cano to make a wide throw to first, then got pinch-hitter Eli Marrero to fly out on a 1-0 count.

The top of the Oriole order is due up in this inning: Switch-hitter Brian Roberts (ground out, fly out, double), lefty Larry Bigbie (homer, two ground outs), and righty Miguel Tejada (ground out, single, foul out to Posada). Everyone is available in the pen.

What do you do?

To me, it’s a no-brainer to let Wang try to either finish the game or, at the very least get you straight to Rivera. Joe Torre, of course, handed the ball to Tom Gordon.

Now, I’m not saying that Wang would have absolutely held that lead, nor am I saying that Gordon shouldn’t be used to hold small leads in the eighth inning. What I am saying is that when you have a small lead behind a pitcher who is more or less cruising and is no where near his pitch limit for the night, leave him in there.

As it played out, Gordon walked Roberts, made a throwing error on a sac bunt by Bigbie that put runners on the corners, then gave up a game-tying single to Miguel Tejada. Three batters, no outs, lead gone.

In his defense, Gordon then struck out Palmeiro and Gibbons and got Sosa to ground out. He then struck out two more in a 1-2-3 ninth inning. So, at the very least, he managed to avoid losing the game.

For that Torre had to make another bullpen move. So here we are again. Those same three batters due up, but this time the game is tied 4-4 in the tenth. You’re playing on the road, so you have to keep the opposition scoreless in order to get another chance to score yourself. Again, everyone is available. Does Torre go to Mariano Rivera, who has not allowed a run since May 6? No. Does he go to Tanyon Sturtze, who has the third best ERA on the team after Rivera and Gordon, is coming of five scoreless innings in his last three games, and could last two, even three innings if necessary? No.

He goes to Mike Stanton, who has a 6.43 season ERA entering the game because, reasoned Torre after the game, “We saw enough of Roberts hitting left-handed. We just wanted to turn him around and see if it made a difference.” (for what it’s worth, Roberts was 1 for 3 with a double and walk from the left side)

Mike Stanton threw one pitch. I’ll let him explain it:

It’s supposed to be a fastball-sinker, down and away, and I throw it right down the middle. I could have hit that one out. It’s hard to take. Regardless of what happens before I go in there, he puts me in there to hold the lead and I throw one pitch. It’s just disgraceful. Somebody swings like that, you hear how solid he hits the ball, you don’t even need to turn around.

Roberts did indeed cream that pitch, dropping it in the left field seats to break the O’s six-game losing streak and hand the Yankees a 5-4 loss in ten innings.

Again, I’m not saying that the Orioles wouldn’t have come back and won this game had Torre stuck with Wang and gone straight to Rivera (though the odds seem pretty good they would not have), nor am I saying that the Yankees would have been able to score in the top of the eleventh following a scoreless tenth from Rivera, or that Sturtze would have done any better than Stanton in the following innings.

But I am saying that Torre failed to give his team the best chance to win this game and that’s unexceptable. Poor performance on the field from time to time is unavoidable. Poor performance in the dugout should not be, though when it comes to Torre’s use of the bullpen (which can be said to have, at least in part, cost his team the 2003 World Series and the 2004 ALCS), it has come to be not just unavoidable, but expected.

Adding insult to injury, the Red Sox lost to Cleveland again last night, thus the Yankees had the opportunity to gain a game on both of the two teams ahead of them in the east for the second straight night.


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1 rilkefan   ~  Jun 28, 2005 11:01 pm

1.  Ignorant question - Wang's a rookie, how many pitches do the Yankees want him to throw this year? And how many innings? It's great how economical he is, but I'd rather not see a CG every time from him when he doesn't get rocked.

Similar question for Sturtze.

2 rilkefan   ~  Jun 28, 2005 11:09 pm

2.  BTW, Foulke is in Stanton territory. Shockingly high ERA. On the night, 47 pitches, 5 earned runs. How bad would I be feeling if Mariano was having such an awful year?

3 Rich   ~  Jun 28, 2005 11:31 pm

3.  The reason I hated the Heredia for Stanton trade is that I feared that Torre would overuse him as a result of what he had accomplished in the past.

The FO needs to waive Stanton and Quantrill to deliver Torre from temptation.

Foulke has been dreadful. There have been rumors that the Sox are trying to acquire another starter. Their more pressing need may well be in the pen.

4 Shaun P   ~  Jun 29, 2005 4:28 am

4.  I didn't destroy my DirecTV remote, as someone in the other thread did, but I too was pissed to see Stanton come in to start the 10th. I didn't think it was possible, but I think he's WORSE than f#%&#% Heredia was.

As for turning Roberts around, righties are hitting .478! off the Arsonist (as my dad calls him). I know, "small sample size" but geez, why even take the risk? You NEED this win - that should make Mo automatic. Doesn't Joe know that??

Bullpen mismanagement is Torre's tragic flaw. Is this the price we have to pay for all those years of success, when pushing buttons worked 99% of the time?

5 joe in boston   ~  Jun 29, 2005 4:48 am

5.  You know what ? As soon as I saw Stanton come in, I changed the channel. I just KNEW he was going to blow it. (Little did I know it was going to be just one pitch). At least I got to see the Red Sox implode....but boy, this one hurt. I too wanted to see Rivera in there.

6 jedi   ~  Jun 29, 2005 5:17 am

6.  Whats this nonsense I hear of that the Yanks want to trade Sheffield for Cameron?

7 Simone   ~  Jun 29, 2005 5:19 am

7.  Eh, another loss. The Yankees are a typical mediocre team, losing in a variety of creative ways.

When Mariano Rivera blew 2 seasons early this season, it was the lead story on SportsCenter with Olney and Gammons cheerleading. Rivera is DONE was the consensus. Now that the closer of the World Champion Red Sox, Keith Foulke is imploding with a sky high ERA, it gets a snippet of attention. This along with the coverage of the Yankees' internal meetin confirms what I have always said, the Yankees drive MLB and the sports media. If the Yankees' misfortunes continue for a couple of years all their critics in MLB and the media who are yukking it up at the moment will soon discover that it is the Yankees who put money in their pockets.

8 rbj   ~  Jun 29, 2005 5:22 am

8.  Waste of a great outing by Ming. Feh. To be fair to Gordon, he hadn't given up a run in something like a month. Still, at 83 pitches, let the young arm go a bit longer.

9 JohnnyC   ~  Jun 29, 2005 7:18 am

9.  Absolutely right about the media, Simone, but it has always been thus. It gets red hot when the Yankees are winning, as in the last decade. It's so short-sighted. It wasn't Ripken that brought baseball back after the strike/lockout of 94-95, it was the ascendancy of the Yankees, the only team in the sport that demands attention whether you love them or hate them. I'd like to see if Peter Gammons could get into the Writers' Hall of Fame by writing about Jerry Remy and Lou Merloni for 25 years.

10 JohnnyC   ~  Jun 29, 2005 7:33 am

10.  On Gordon: Torre has never noticed (because he's clueless) that when Flash has to pitch to lefties (hello, David Ortiz!), he's forced to not use his best pitch, his curveball, for obvious reasons. Gordon's ability to spot his fastball in the lower quadrants of the strike zone are, let's say, below average. He ends up walking lefties or giving in and throwing fastballs down and in (not advisable). Gordon was not a top-tier closer precisely because he had no third pitch he could throw lefties (like a change-up) that could move down and away. He was somewhat successful as a closer in Fenway because of the park's bias against lefties who aren't dead pull hitters. Torre doesn't understand the fundamental reason that Gordon is the pitcher he is: deadly on righties with his curve/fastball combo, below average on lefties as he's reduced to just throwing one pitch. Alas, Torre will sooner be put out to pasture before he realizes this. All those observers who wonder why Gordon doesn't throw his curveball as much during his Yankees tenure...well, when your manager pitches you regardless of the match-ups by inning or opposing line-up...

11 KJC   ~  Jun 29, 2005 8:23 am

11.  // Foulke has been dreadful. There have been rumors that the Sox are trying to acquire another starter. //

Foulke is painfully bad right now. I don't know what rumors you heard -- why would the Sox need another starter? They already have 5 decent guys, plus Schilling is coming off the DL. It seems that both the Sox and Yanks could use some bullpen help...but at least NY has an actual closer!

12 Patrick   ~  Jun 29, 2005 8:55 am

12.  Right on, Simone.

If Mariano is done, what's Foulke? 6 feet under?

I'm disappointed like anyone, but about Torre not putting the team in position to win: I don't really agree with the accessment that it "unacceptable." I mean, if you are saying that he is purposely throwing games, then that is a very serious accusation and if true, it is unacceptable. But, that's not what you're saying. Stanton had held lefties to a .176 BA and Roberts was hitting around .270 vs. lefties and over .400 vs. righties.

Would I have brought Mo in? Probably. But, is it "unacceptable" for Torre not to do what Cliff Corcoran, Patrick O'Keefe and (I am sure) plenty of others would have done or feel he should have done? No. So, I disagree with the choice of words. Best chance to win is a matter of opinion. Hindsight is 20/20. Assuming this is counted as poor performance, poor performance certainly isn't "unavoidable" in the dugout, not in a million years. Especially because it is so subjective.

13 atc   ~  Jun 29, 2005 10:20 am

13.  And a nice job by Bernie hustling down the line on the ball Tejada bobbled.

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