“It was a good game all the way around, and I don’t ever want to play it again.” Joe Torre
My girlfriend Emily loves baseball. She enjoys listening to the first couple of innings on the radio as she drives home from work. Then she settles in with me to catch the rest of it when he gets home. Em appreciates the Yankees win or lose and tolerates my pouting, shouting and other assorted pessimistic behavior as the game unfolds. Quite frankly, she still doesn’t understand why I let myelf get so upset when things don’t go well, and perhaps she never will. But most of the time now she lets me act the fool without much commentary. A typical scene goes like this: A Yankee hitter has two strikes on him. I predict a strikeout before the pitch reaches the plate, sometimes standing up and walking out of the room as I’m speaking. Emily always thinks the Yankees will do okay in the end. She also believes that it’s plain bad karma to articulate negative thoughts like I do. But she’s got a kind heart, bless her. Whenever something good does go down, as it did last night, she doesn’t gloat or rub it in. It’s gotten to the point where she doesn’t even say anything. I just glare at her out of the corner of my eye and she gives me a look that says “I told you so, you big dope.”
Before the Yankees pulled out a 5-4 victory in the bottom of the ninth last night, I was in fine form, gloom-and-doom all the way. As Joe Torre said about the current wildcard chase, “It’s good for baseball, it’s bad for my stomach.” Last night, the Yankees seemingly wasted a good outing from Al Leiter (they can’t expect him to pitch much better), saw Taynon Sturtze and Mariano Rivera come up lame in relief, Derek Jeter muff a difficult but makable play in the ninth, Alex Rodriguez fail with runners in scoring position in the eighth, Gary Sheffield go hitless on the night, and yet they still pulled out the win. Hideki Matsui came through with a clutch home run in the ninth and Felix Escalona had the game-winning knock later in the inning.
I like how Tyler Kepner put it in the Times this morning:
The Yankees have had a handful of hard-luck losses this season, games that they probably should have won but somehow found a way to throw away. If the Yankees do not make the playoffs, the thinking goes, they will look back at those defeats with tremendous regret.
Last night’s game, tense from start to finish, was different. They easily could have lost it but fought back from three deficits. If they make the playoffs, they will surely remember last night.
Here are some numbers to consider. This is what some of the Yankees best hitters are doing this season with runners in scoring position:
Here is what the same hitters are doing with runners in scoring position and two out:
Finally, in close and late situations:
I’m far from a whiz with numbers but these are the three categories that seem to be the most important when determining how effective a hitter has been in the clutch. If I’m missing something, feel free to chime in and let me know. But judging from these numbers, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and Alex Rodriguez are the team’s best clutch hitters. Rodriguez struck out in a key spot last night (he fouled off a 2-2 fastball that was his pitch to nail) and has been stuck with a reputation as a poor clutch performer. Personally, I feel more comfortable with Sheffield and Matsui at the plate in big situations, but I think Rodriguez is unfairly criticized while Jeter and Posada get a pass. I realize a lot this has to do with past performance and lofty expectations, but Rodriguez has had plenty of huge at bats for the Yankees this year.
On the Run
On a sad note, Dwight Gooden is on the lamb. Gooden was pulled over earlier Tuesday morning by Police in Florida. He refused to submit to cooperate with the offiers, who suspected that he was intoxicated, before fleeing the scene. He has yet to turn himself in. Gary Sheffield, his nephew, told reporters:
“It’s just one of those things when he hurts, I hurt.”
…”I’ve done pretty much everything you could possibly do,” Sheffield said. “It just comes to a point where you have to let him go through what he’s got to go through. Sometimes, it is God’s plan for us to back off and let him do it, because the family has tried everything.”
This is not a new story but it remains a troubling and sad one.