"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Being able to laugh helps

Peter White, one of the authors at the USS Mariner was in town this week and got together with Alex Ciepley and me last night for eats. Ciepley had us over his place on the Upper West Side and made a delicious Thai meal. We caught bits and pieces of the Yankee game thoughout the evening. White is a good-natured guy, originally from Tulsa, and a classic Yankee-hater. But he wasn’t hostile and it was fun watching the game with him, seeing the Yanks from his perspective. Interestingly, the two Yankees he not only tolerates but admires happen to be my two favorites: Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera. Of course, Alex Rodriguez is his least-favorite Yankee, a bonafide Judas if there ever was one. Peter likened him to Anakin Skywalker.

Given the company–Ciepley hates the Yankees too–it is fitting that the Bombers suffered an almost comic loss last night. Al Leiter was in fine, dramatic form–as if every inning, every batter, each pitch, was the last act of “Camille.” (Or “Macbeth,” or “The Iceman Cometh”…insert your favorite melodrama here.) At this point, Leiter looks more like an actor than he does a great athlete which makes him even more compelling. Like other great Yankee dramatists in recent years (Cone and El Duque come to mind), Leiter doesn’t have much left in the tank in terms of pure stuff, but he’s got career’s worth of guile and expertise by his side. If he has to go to 3-2 on every hitter (which he often does), and load the bases before he gets an out (ditto), he’ll do it. This kind of living-on-the-edge style of pitching can be infuriating to watch, but as uncomfortable as it is at times, I’ve always found it entertaining and admirable. It’s hard for me not to appreciate the humanity in it. Leiter is probably smarter than he ever was, but there is a disconnect between his intelligence and his physical ability. Mistake pitches are not fouled off, they are crushed for home runs. Everything is so hard-earned. You become aware of just how hard it is to get major league hitter’s out.

Anyhow, Leiter loaded the bases many times, and threw about 7,000 pitches by the fourth inning. He wasn’t terrible and allowed one run over five innings (115 pitches). But the Twins scored six runs off the Yankee bullpen (Sturtze, Proctor, Graman) while Johan Santana pitched seven scoreless. The Yanks came close at moments, but not close enough. In the third, Alex Rodriguez narrowly missed hitting a three-run home run to left, flying out to the warning track instead; in the eighth, he would just get under another one and fly out to deep center.

The Yanks did manage to score three times in the eighth, then Bernie Williams hit what looked to be a game-tying three-run dinger to right field off Joe Nathan. I got out of my chair and yelled. But the ball hooked foul and for the third time in the game, I looked foolish. (I don’t know what it was, but my home-run-call judgement was way off last night.) Williams, who, like Leiter is playing the final games of his career, struck out on the next pitch, a nasty splitter in the dirt.

Rodriguez capped a frustrating night by striking-out looking to end the game. Nathan threw two fastballs by him, wasted another up and away and then painted the outside corner with a heater, a perfect, unhittable pitch. Twins 6, Yanks 3. Happy Birthday indeed. Lots of humble pie to go around for the Bombers, who fell another game behind Boston who beat the Devil Rays yesterday.

Speaking of which, the final bit of comedy–or tragedy, depending on your viewpoint–is that the Yankees have signed Hideo Nomo. It says something about the state of affairs when the Yankees pick up a guy like Nomo who was cut by the last-place Devil Rays. Ciepley and White got a kick out of that. I could only laugh to keep from crying.

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1 mikeplugh   ~  Jul 28, 2005 7:03 am

1.  I have to agree with the notion that the Leiter story is compelling human drama. Mainly, because you can read every emotion on his face as he tries to make it work.

I've always admired the man on and off the field for his passion and respect for the sport, and you can see him gritting down now to get out of every jam.

Whatever happens from here on out, I plan to cheer on Al Leiter with everything I've got, because he cares. He's the anti-Kevin Brown. He goes out there and focuses. He may not be able to throw strikes anymore (like Kevin Brown) but he doesn't implode emotionally.

That's all a New York fan can ask for from a guy in Leiter's position. That's what we'd settle for in 100 million dollar Kevin Brown at this point, but we'll never get it. Leiter was born a Yank and it appears as though he'll go out like a soldier, on the field, as a Yankee. Good luck Al.

2 sabernar   ~  Jul 28, 2005 7:06 am

2.  I posted this on the previous entry, but I thought that I'd repeat it here since no one is going to look there:

Jose Cruz Jr was just released by the D'backs. I say we pick him up and stick him in CF. His BA is low (.217), but his OPS is a healthy .795, thanks to 41 BB in <200 AB.


3 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 28, 2005 7:25 am

3.  The other thing about Al, is that the fans sense his mortality and his effort and really get behind him which makes it all the more dramatic. Very much like Cone.

4 Shaun P   ~  Jul 28, 2005 7:32 am

4.  Following sabernar's lead, here's my response to his post from the previous entry (with some additions):

sabernar, his OPS aside, your link to Cruz Jr.'s DT card at Prospectus gives him an 87 Rate2 as a CF. Even Bernie has a 93 Rate2.

If Rate2 isn't your choice defensive stat, Cruz Jr. also got the lowest zone rating (.766) for any CF who actual plays CF often (more than 40+ games), and the worst range factor (1.91) for CFs with 40+ games. (Bernie has a .837 ZR and a 2.30 RF in CF.)

If all that isn't enough to change your mind, Cruz Jr. also missed a month of the season with lower back problems. No thanks.

5 Beth   ~  Jul 28, 2005 7:48 am

5.  Alex, I may also be a classic Yankee hater, but I love your writing. Keep it up.

6 rbj   ~  Jul 28, 2005 7:48 am

6.  It doesn't matter much who we've got in CF. In the playoffs the hitters will be seeing good pitching, which will keep the offense down. And with only two starters, if we split those games with, say, the Twins, then who have we got for the others.
I like Leiter, and he's doing a serviceable job for the regular season, but if he goes up against Boston's lineup, he'll get killed. Still, I'd rather have him out there in a game seven than Kevin "ow, my back again" Brown.

7 jedi   ~  Jul 28, 2005 8:05 am

7.  rbj,

Did you see Leiter pitch at all against Boston this year?

8 Oliver   ~  Jul 28, 2005 8:06 am

8.  I feel the need to point out that Leiter did go up against Boston's lineup July 17, and he most definitely did not get killed (6.1 innings, 3H, 1R, 3BB, 8K).

Not that that's any predictor of future performance, of course. :)

9 Rosbif22   ~  Jul 28, 2005 8:18 am

9.  i'm a bit confused about one of your (rbj) statements...in the playoffs, won't hitters be seeing the same pitchers that we're throwing at them now? It doesn't look like we're going to acquire anyone of value, so I'm assuming it's gonna be the same pitching in the playoffs.

10 Knuckles   ~  Jul 28, 2005 8:27 am

10.  I am thrilled to have Leiter back in the Bronx; I ahd actually wanted them to sign him last winter. He came up with the Yanks when I was 9 and just starting to differentiate between veterans, rookies, stars, and scrubs= prior to that every Yankee was equally awe-inspiring, with only Donnie and Winfield being my faves for whatever reason.

Plus he's a Jersey guy and kinda looks like a cross between Rags and a younger Bill Murray, so he's got that goin' for him, which is nice. Last night's game was entertaining as hell until the bullpen gave up that quick buncha runs. I was especially pissed about Jeter's getting gunned down at home because had A-Rod hit the same fly ball with Jeter on 3rd, at least they'd have scored one run then. He was out by a mile which makes no sense with A-Rod, Giambi, and Po coming to bat.

Hideo Nomo. All I can think of is the Biggie song, "I don't wanna live no mo'" because that's almost what the Yankees are starting to sing, trotting out Nomo, Small, and the rest of these retreads...

But hell, if they can win today, they'll have won another series against a playoff caliber club. Just keep doing that and don't worry about the Sox, esp when they're playing Tampa. Just win, and be glad in the fact that the Schilling experiment has not paid dividends yet, and hopefully will cost them some more games again once they start playing decent clubs.

11 Deltasocrates   ~  Jul 28, 2005 8:31 am

11.  My take on yesterday's game is that there is no way you can win a ballgame in which you only score 3 runs and leave 26 men on base (as per ESPN's LOB stat for the game).

The two silver linings that I see here are that: a) Flash Gordon did not pitch yesterday, which means that his arm should not be falling off today;

b) Félix Rodríguez did pitch, and pitched well, so maybe Torre will start using him more, even if it's only as his 4th best reliever (I've griped about this in the past).

12 Murray   ~  Jul 28, 2005 8:45 am

12.  Yes, Jeter probably should have held, but the coaching staff's typical way to think about a game like this is: "We have to take every chance we can to score against this guy Santana or we may not get another chance."

Also, give Torre credit for recognizing that this was the game the Yanks were destined to lose. During the regular season, it's all right to manage like there will be a game tomorrow.

So, Alex, when's your big splash review of the new "Bad News Bears" movie going to be posted? I was very skeptical, but I liked the remake a lot.

13 Nick from Washington Heights   ~  Jul 28, 2005 8:48 am

13.  Why is Proctor still allowed to pitch? Torre seems to have infinite patience for this scrub but refuses to give Colter Bean a shot. What does he have to lose? Proctor is awful and Bean could be good.

14 Dan M   ~  Jul 28, 2005 8:56 am

14.  26 LOB? The Yanks had 9 hits, drew 5 walks, reached on one error. That's 15 baserunners. Three scored, one erased on a DP, and one thrown out trying to scored. That's 10 LOB on base.

15 Shaun P   ~  Jul 28, 2005 9:04 am

15.  Sierra-Cano 'mentoring' update:

ESPN's broadcast team last night (Jeff Brantley - who's awful, IMHO - and someone else) told a story about Ruben taking Cano under his wing. Earlier this week, Sierra brought Cano to the kids' wing of the hospital at Hackensack University in NJ, to visit with the sick kids and their families. Sierra told him that such visits were part of being a major leaguer, too. Cano apparently got a big kick out of talking with one kid and his family, as they were from the Dominican Republic, as Cano himself is.

He may not know how to take a pitch, but that's a classy act on Sierra's part. I'm glad that's the kind of mentoring he's doing with Cano.

16 Shaun P   ~  Jul 28, 2005 9:08 am

16.  Dan M, I just noticed that the ESPN box score has two LOB entries: 26 "LOB", and 10 "Team LOB". That "LOB" number makes no sense to me. Anybody know why they track it?

17 rbj   ~  Jul 28, 2005 9:12 am

17.  Rosbif22, I meant the Yankees' hitters are going to be going up against really good pitching. Which is fine in the games we've got Moose and Unit pitching; those games I think get split down the middle, half the time we'd win in a Santana v. Unit game (for example, and only if the Yanks win the division & Twins are WC, but you could plug in the White Sox best or the Angels best). It's when you've got to go to a number 3 and/or 4 starter that I worry.
And so Leiter did do ok against Boston already, but does anyone, based upon what he's done the last year and a half, want him to be a number three starter in October. I don't have anything against him (unlike Brown), but I just don't think he'd do well in game three against either LAA or Chicago.
My main point is screw CF, we need a starter and middle relievers or else even winning the division won't take the Yankees far into October.

18 Deltasocrates   ~  Jul 28, 2005 9:20 am

18.  Dan M,

This stat counts certain men twice, if different batters left them on base (i.e., if there's 3 men on with no outs, and none of the subsequent batters manage to drive them in, those original 3 men would count as 9 LOB).

It's really a matter of perception, since the argument is that while it is still the baserunner, each batter can leave that runner on base independent of what other batters do... (if you really want to get into these types of arguments, look at the comments page of The Monty Hall Problem on Wikipedia).

19 Mick S   ~  Jul 28, 2005 9:40 am

19.  I did see one thing in last night's game that probably won't show up anywhere but I liked it nonetheless. After Boone was gunned down at the plate and was laying on the ground, Posada gave him a hand and helped him up. Maybe it was thanks for not trying to run him over, but it was a nice gesture. It has always bothered me in the NBA how rarely players from opposing teams will each other up off the ground.

20 Dan M   ~  Jul 28, 2005 9:47 am

20.  Any stat that "double counts" is per se suspect. Plus, under that theory, if a guy singles a guy to third, he's charged w/ 1 LOB. That's ridiculous. It should be a team stat, not an individual stat.

21 Deltasocrates   ~  Jul 28, 2005 9:54 am

21.  Dan M,

I disagree with your argument, provided that a Team LOB stat is also provided (see 16) so you can massage the kinks out of this stat.

IMHO, this stat does not double count anymore than OPS double counts by adding up OBP and Slugging. It's just up to you to understand what it does and what it doesnt' do....

22 Dan M   ~  Jul 28, 2005 10:16 am

22.  The cumulative stat can actually triple count. Plus, comparing it to OPS doesn't persuade me, as I always thought that OPS was fairly crude and unscientific. Which is why writers at BP and WSJ tried to come up with better markers.

The team LOB stat has uses, and does the individual LOB stat (e.g., "Giambi had 6 LOB in 4 ABs"), but a team cumulative stat like that perverts the numbers and is misleading. Typical that it's used on ESPN.

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