"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

It Didn’t Have to Be This Way

Before we even get started, let me tell you one thing. I’m not going to complain about the Yankees’ lack of hitting with runners in scoring position, mainly because that’s like complaining that the sun is rising in the East. Even without that issue, there’s plenty to discuss here, and several issues to chew on, so let’s get at it…

Things couldn’t have started out better. Derek Jeter quieted the raucous Baltimore crowd with a line drive single to right center off rookie Wei-Yin Chen to lead off the game, and the suddenly dynamic Ichiro followed by reaching on a questionable error to set the Yankees up with two men on, no one out, and the heart of the lineup due.

The papers will be awash this morning with doomsday headlines about Alex Rodríguez and damning statistics on the ineptitude of the offense, but A-Rod came to bat in the first inning and laced an absolute seed just a few feet to the right of second base. The infield defense was pulled around to the left as it usually is for A-Rod, but even positioned close to the bag, second baseman Robert Andino only had time for a quick step and a dive. He snared the line drive, then flipped to second to double off Jeter. Had that ball been just two or three inches to the left, a run would’ve been in and a rally would’ve been rolling with the hottest hitter on the planet due up next.

As it was, there were suddenly two outs and a man on first, A-Rod was still a dog, and the Yankees still couldn’t hit when it counted. It’s a game of inches, you know. But then Robinson Canó dug in and ripped a laser of his own off the base of the wall in right field. Always one to push the edge of the envelope, third base coach Robby Thompson windmilled Ichiro around third, but the relay throw from Andino appeared to have him dead to rights. But as Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters took the throw and lunged to make the tag, Ichiro took a right turn. He avoided the tag, but missed the plate by several feet, skittered counter clockwise around the dish, then leapt in the air like a cat to avoid Wieters’s second attempt before finally tagging the first base side of home plate. It was so much work it probably should’ve been worth two runs, but the score was only 1-0. Even so, it was a start.

This was Game 2, so naturally Andy Pettitte was on the mound for the Yankees, and naturally he was dominant early on. How good was he? He retired the first eight batters like this: fly out, ground out, backwards K, pop out, ground out, strikeout, fly out, ground out. He made a tough pitch to the ninth hitter, but it was too tough, as Andino broke his bat and lofted a base hit over second base. Then things got sticky.

Nate McLouth knocked a clean single to center, then J.J. Hardy walked on four pitches to load the bases for Chris Davis, a left-hander who had struggled against Pettitte in his career. After taking ball one, Davis poked a single to right to score two, and the Orioles suddenly had a 2-1 lead, just as they did in the third inning of Game 1. (An interesting note here: Nick Swisher actually came up with a good throw to third, one that Jeter could’ve cut off but chose instead to let go. He couldn’t have known this, but Hardy had rounded second a bit too aggressively, and had Jeter cut off that throw where he stood atop second base and then looked for the tag, Hardy would’ve been out before McLouth would’ve been able to score with the second run. No shortstop in his right mind would’ve cut that ball off, but it’s the type of play we’ve come to expect from Jeter in October. Not this time.)

And so the inning continued. Adam Jones bounced a grounder deep into the hole at short, forcing Jeter to range far to his right. Jeter and A-Rod, as well as Hardy running from second, probably all realized the only play would be at third. As a result, Hardy was digging hard for the bag and didn’t notice when the ball rolled just under Jeter’s glove. A-Rod was giving his best decoy at third, waiting for a throw that would never come, so Hardy also didn’t notice his third base coach furiously waving him in. He pulled up at third, much to Jeter’s amusement. Wieters popped up the first pitch he saw, and Hardy never scored. The inning was over.

The Yankee hitters, meanwhile, weren’t scoring, but they were making Chen work hard. It looked like that strategy might pay dividends in the top of the fourth when they loaded the bases with one out after Mark Teixeira singled, Russell Martin walked, and Curtis Granderson singled.

(Speaking of Granderson, TBS showed a revealing statistic during his first at bat. (And speaking of TBS, their coverage is bordering on unwatchable. Cal Ripken and John Smoltz have fallen into the trap that awaits most postseason announcers: they make a point and then react as if they’ve discovered penicillin. I watched large chunks of Game 1 with the mute button engaged. During Game 2, Ripken even tried to tell me that switch hitters used to regularly bat left-handed against Pettitte to counteract his power cutter, even though I’m fairly certain this never happened. That was Mo.) But back to Granderson. Peep this: When he puts one of the first two pitches in play, his batting average is .405, slugging percentage .767. After that the numbers drop to .190/.425. Ouch.)

But we were discussing the fourth inning, and the bases loaded buffet awaiting Eduardo Nuñez. He came to the plate needing just a quality out to tie the game, but imagine what a simple base hit would do. With his pitch count mounting, every fan in the park on edge, his entire home nation of Taiwan having called in sick to watch their countryman’s first playoff appearance, this was clearly a critical moment for Chen. A base hit would likely give the Yankees the lead and fill Chen’s head with doubt as the lineup turned over and Jeter, Ichiro, and A-Rod readied for their turns at bat. The game would open up, and the series would close.

But that’s not how it happened. Nuñez popped out, Jeter grounded to third, and the inning was over. Late Monday night Curt Schilling and John Kruk gushed about Chen’s game plan and execution, but I kept wondering if they had watched the same game I did, and I think Jeter’s reaction might’ve been similar. When he was asked about Chen after the game, the Captain was clearly suppressing a grin as he generously allowed, “He was hitting his spots.” It reminded me of an interview Kobe Bryant gave after the Lakers lost a tough playoff game to the Phoenix Suns. When asked if Raja Bell had given him some trouble, Kobe simply laughed. “Raja Bell? Raja Bell?” More laughter. “No.” Jeter was more diplomatic, but the message was the same.

What can’t be denied, however, was that Chen made it into the seventh inning, which is probably more than the Orioles had hoped for. Now trailing 3-1, the Yankees mounted a rally as Nuñez poked a ball into short right center and hustled it into a double, then came home on a Jeter single to cut the lead back to one at 3-2. After Ichiro forced Jeter at second and Darren O’Day came in to strike out A-Rod for the second day in a row, Buck Showalter chose to bring in Brian Matusz to walk the HHOTP and face Swisher with two outs and the tying run on second. I’m guessing Showalter wasn’t worried. Swisher entered that at bat with a 1 for 33 career postseason mark with runners in scoring position, and a career 1 for 19 against Matusz. Predictably, he popped out to left.

And then came the eighth inning, perhaps the most frustrating frame of the night for me. Teixeira led off with a rocket that looked ticketed for the left field corner and a sure double. But McLouth hustled over to cut it off, and the hobbling Teixeira was forced to stay at first. Here’s how the rest of the inning should’ve played out: Brett Gardner pinch runs for Teixeira and remains in the game in left field; Ichiro moves to right field; Swisher comes in to play first. Gardner steals second (because if he doesn’t, why exactly is he on the post season roster?), then Martin can either bunt him over or take a shot to right field. Assuming this works, Granderson needs only produce a fly ball to tie the game.

But Joe Girardi wasn’t interested in any of that, so he let Teixeira sit at first base as Martin and Granderson struck out and Nuñez popped out. The game wasn’t over, but it certainly felt like it. Baltimore closer Jim Johnson worked the ninth inning and smartly set down Jeter, Ichiro, and A-Rod in order, leaving Canó in the on-deck circle.

You have to admit, it was a nice way for 2012’s final game at Camden Yards to end. Orioles 3, Yankees 2.

[Photo Credits: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images (1); Patrick Semansky/AP Photo (2&3); Nick Wass/AP Photo (4)]

Categories:  1: Featured  Game Recap  Hank Waddles  Playoffs  Yankees

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1 Fuller R   ~  Oct 9, 2012 5:45 am

Holy cow.

"they make a point and then react as if they’ve discovered penicillin."

I almost spit coffee all over the place when I read that.

Truer words have never been spoken.

Great recap, as always...

2 Boatzilla   ~  Oct 9, 2012 6:08 am

Great report, Hank. I didn't even register the missed pinch-running opportunity in the 8th. Sheeeeaht.

For the record, is there anyone more offensive in sports broadcasting in both appearance and personality that Craig Sager?

He seems like a character from Laugh-In (if anyone remembers that show)...or perhaps from In Living Color for you youngsters. What a freak!

3 Sliced Bread   ~  Oct 9, 2012 6:51 am

Yeah, that was a good time to use Gardner. He's on the roster for that purpose, and Tex has got to be on the list of guys you run for.
Or maybe he's not, given his crucial defense at first. I dunno. I would have had Gardner run for him.
In one run losses like these Girardi gets killed for either overmanaging, undermanaging, or middle managing.
We'll get those dirty, stinkin' birds next time.
Great writeup, Hank.

4 Sliced Bread   ~  Oct 9, 2012 6:57 am

very clever, and accurate headline at Yankeees.com:
"Ichiro makes like 'The Matrix,' deftly avoids tag"

5 rbj   ~  Oct 9, 2012 7:52 am

"You have to admit, it was a nice way for 2012′s final game at Camden Yards to end. "
We hope.

Couldn't make it to the end of the game. Had to bail at about the same time as the Yankee offense.

6 Bronx Boy in NC   ~  Oct 9, 2012 8:12 am

Waking up to a wet, grey morning where your first conscious thought is the memory of a Yankee playoff loss is like getting kicked in the nuts.

This is not breezy simile; I mean it in a very specific way. It's a particular, deep, lingering ache that colors your whole day. It floods the mind with memories of all the other times it's happened. And you can never in a million years explain the feeling to someone who isn't equipped to share it.

Now: Hank's apologia for ARod is not misplaced. But I still fault him for that last at-bat. For very clearly trying to hit the 7-run home run -- the Centaur as renewed hero -- instead of just putting the ball in play and getting Robbie to the plate. Or taking a walk, maybe. Did Johnson even throw a strike the whole time?

7 Jon DeRosa   ~  Oct 9, 2012 8:58 am

This series is playing out exactly how I thought, close but with the Yankees having better starters and more scoring opportunities. Except that I thought the yanks would win both games and sweep the series. Oh well.

Kuroda and the Yanks win a game that's not as close as the score would indicate on Wednesday and then Thursday they win a laugher and Hughes pitches OK. 5-2 on Wednesday 9-4 on Thursday.

8 TheGreenMan   ~  Oct 9, 2012 9:28 am

I'm generally a Girardi apologist and I think he does a pretty good job, but not sending in Gardner in the 8th as a pinch-runner is unforgivable. As you stated, that's why he's on the roster. I was screaming at the television during Martin's AB for that to happen. Ugh.

Also, Swisher's at-bats, plate discipline/waiting for mistakes, work great during a long season. Lots of walks and good power when you add it all up. But during a short playoff series they can be so frustrating. His AB in the 7th unfortunately went exactly the way I called it after the wild pitch. He took a couple of strikes, worked a full count and then ineffectually flew out to LF. Seems to be what happens to him every post-season. Wait and wait and then nothing. Getting tired of that.

9 Hank Waddles   ~  Oct 9, 2012 9:59 am

[8] Perhaps that's why Billy Beane's Moneyball teams did well over 162, but fizzled in the post season. And you're right about Girardi. I tend not to be as critical of him as some, but that just seemed like an obvious call there. I missed the beginning of his presser. Anyone know if he was asked about that decision?

10 Jon DeRosa   ~  Oct 9, 2012 10:31 am

[8] You prefer the top of the 5th inning to Swisher's drawn out ABs? No doubt Swisher's 1/33 is annoying beyond belief, but the process of working the count has nothing to do with the results. If he comes up with nothing after 10 pitches, that sux, but it's not like the first nine pitches cause the result. Also, didn't he get on base 3 of 5 times and drive in a run w/ a sac fly just one game ago?

11 RIYank   ~  Oct 9, 2012 11:01 am

8 - 10:
What Jon said. I believe in Swisher's approach, just as much for playoffs as for regular season. What's truly maddening is a 4-pitch inning (that is, being the victim thereof).

12 Greg G   ~  Oct 9, 2012 11:19 am

Thanks for the summary. I tried to block it out as much as possible, and I appreciate that you were not concentrating on the obvious of RISP failures.

This was such a frustrating game, and the O's are a gritty team, and they find ways to keep it close and, as was the case last night, pull out close wins.

Girardi certainly should have pinch run for Tex. Come on Joe!

When the stat came on about the O's 75 wins when leading after the 8th, I thought he jinxed them.

(2) Sager cracks me up. These outfits from the 70's that he wears. He takes fashion cues from Ron Burgundy. I also don't need to know how loud it is on the field during the 8th inning. Maybe he can tell us how the popcorn at Camden Yards is buttery and salty too.

13 TheGreenMan   ~  Oct 9, 2012 11:22 am

[10] [11} I hear you. That 4-pitch inning sucked big time. Still Swish can be frustrating even with the walks. Maybe it's a situational thing. Felt like the Yankees really needed a hit there in the 7th (obviously), not a walk. He took two pitches right in the heart of the plate to put himself in a hole. Not saying that Swish should change his approach even if he could. It's just something that has been frustrating to watch in his Yankees post-season career (.160/.262/.321 in 30 Yankees post-season games). It's a small sample size, and I hope he has a breakout game so everyone (including me) can stop obsessing about his failures with RISP. Like I said...it's just frustrating.

For what it's worth, I feel the same way about Tex (.193/.295/.316 in 29 Yankees post-season games). Both players have a similar approach that, for one reason or another, hasn't translated into results in the post-season. Where every plate appearance is put under a microscope.

14 Bronx Boy in NC   ~  Oct 9, 2012 12:00 pm

Last night I honestly felt more optimistic during Russell Martin's critical at-bats than I did during ARod's.

15 Jon DeRosa   ~  Oct 9, 2012 12:05 pm

[13] I do agree that thier futility is tough to stomach. I just think you're mixing in something that doesn't belong when you say their "approach" is causing their failure. For that to make any sense, you'd have to look at every patient player in history and see how their approach worked in the post season. And you'd have to answer the question why wouldn't the same approach that is successful in one single game / plate appearance in May work in the same circumstances in October? That wouldn't stand up to scrutiny.

If you want to say, Swisher's approach doesn't work against this pitcher or this type of pitcher, fine, but blanket postseason statements don't pan out I don't think.

16 OldYanksFan   ~  Oct 9, 2012 12:33 pm

[15] I'll give it a shot.
1&2) No problems with Jeter or Ichiro. They both try to put the ball in play.
3) ARod has shown a number of times that he's willing to go the other way and just put the ball in play. His problems are just a general decline. He is simply missing pitches he used to hit. At least he's working walks.
4) Robbie is a fantasic hitter. But not as good as he could be. I honestly believe if he were more selective, he would hit at least .350. He makes a lot of his outs on pitcher's pitches.
5) Teix was actually better last night. He actually hit the ball up the middle. But usually, it's 500' or bust.
6) Swisher is selective. He works walks. But often his '2 strike' swing is as big or bigger then his normal swing. I'm OK with trying to drive the ball with no one on, or less then 2 strikes. But when a hit is critical, I wish he would be focused on soild contact as opposed to power contact.
7) Grandy is all or nothing. He doesn't walk and refuses to change his approach with RISP. He's either the HR gero or the goat. No inbetween.
8) Martin is Swisher light, without as good an eye. Almost 1/2 his hits are doubles or HRs, as opposed to Jeter, who doubles and HRs make up about 20% of his total hits.

A soft line drine hit 150' is almost always a hit. There is something to be said for 'swatting' the ball. Again, no one on or less then 2 strikes... have at it. But a 150' soft liner is better then a warning track fly ball... or strike out.

Basically the DRIVE the ball/HR approach with our roster kinda works over the regular season, although I believe it was responsible for our tremendous RISP fail, and poor record when we don't hit a HR. It's a poor approach in a shot series.

17 TheGreenMan   ~  Oct 9, 2012 12:39 pm

[15] Jon - I'm sure you are correct. Obviously I don't know that their approach is what is calling their failures. As I said, maybe it's a situational thing that is frustrating me. I seem to be fine with Swish's patient approach when they are tied or up, but I get frustrated when he does the same when they are down and seemingly need a big hit. A classic case of wishing I could have my cake and eat it too, I guess. And, again, it's a small sample size. 30 games or so. The larger study you suggested might be an interesting one.

18 Jon DeRosa   ~  Oct 9, 2012 2:32 pm

[16] We know you favor the "good things happen when you hit the ball" approach. That's the way I always played it too, though I am less than convinced that it's the "right" way for everybody. But you're talking about your preferred approach of situations always dictating approach, from April through October. Not that you think it's superior to swing for the fences in April with a man on third and nobody out and superior to just make contact in that same spot in October.

The debate we are having is not what is the best approach to hitting, but whether there is some "shit that doesn't work in the Postseason."

[17] Whatever the case, I am certain we will both agree to be happy when one of these guys finally comes through with a big hit in a big spot.

19 jfd001   ~  Oct 9, 2012 8:48 pm

Didn't AR strikeout swinging at ball 4?

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