“Oh well…just give me an easy life and a peaceful death…”
– from "Goodbye" by the Sundays
“So do you still have to pay the extra 15 bucks?” Tony Sherry asked me the other day as I was driving to the Stadium for game four. “Yeah. Even though they don’t have it in stock, I guess the idea is that they’ll overnight it when they do…” “So this crushes your entire plan. You were going to ride that sweatshirt to the World Series.” “Yeah… We’ll have to see what happens. Maybe we won’t need it….”
So another season has come and gone. And I don’t consider myself any smarter as far as the game of baseball goes. It’s like anything else, I guess. The more you know, the less you know. The Yankees are not going to be the world champions in 2007, and absolutely no one is going to feel sorry for them. And that’s fine. It’s part of rooting for the Yankees. It’s what we sign up for.
There was a good article on espn.com the other day. I should link it and credit the author, but that would force me to drudge through the gleeful squeals of the Yankee-hating mass media again, and I just don’t see a good reason to do that at this point. The gist of the article was that Yankee fans have to remember to enjoy the journey. It’s not all about the result. I’m just as guilty as anyone on that. Anything short of a World Series win is a failure. And I know the knee-jerk is to say that we have been spoiled by winning. Here’s why that doesn’t hold water. You can tell somebody who’s bored of winning by their reaction when they’re winning, not when they’re losing. Everyone hates losing. Everyone’s miserable when they lose. There aren’t too many people out there who truly are “just happy to be there.” I still remember the feeling of sitting in Mike Sherry and Acc’s old house in Long Beach, Long Island, stunned and devastated about the finish to the 1995 division series against the Mariners. I wasn’t spoiled by winning them. I hadn’t won a d*mn thing in years. But I was sick. No, the true test is how you react when you win. So listen to the roar of the crowd at Yankee Stadium on any given day in May when the Yankees come back to win. Listen to the sound of the Stadium when the Yankees are the Yankees. The big ballyard explodes into a thousand pieces. This isn’t the sound of boredom. This is a chance for people to get excited about something. The reason why Yankee fans want nothing short of winning the World Series is because they are so close to it. When you’re that close to the brass ring, you might as well reach for it. Every time. So that’s what we do.
I still remember the night, long enough, but not so long ago, that I asked the missus to be my “girlfriend.” There was a time when that was a big deal. We were walking through Greenwich Village in early summer, having just walked out of Asti, the old opera-themed restaurant on 12th Street. And as I was making my pitch, standing in front of a brownstone, I stopped in the middle of my sentence and blurted out, “George Plimpton!” He was walking right past us. He stopped, a little surprised. Maybe because I was kind of a young guy to know who he was. “Hello,” he said in a friendly voice. I didn’t really have the makings of a conversation, so I said, “Beautiful night for a walk, no?” “Yes. Splendid,” he said. Then he turned to walk up the steps, hesitated, turned back to us and said with a smile, “You make a wonderful couple.” The missus got a kick out of that. Then she asked me who he was. And as I ran through some of the ways she might know him, it finally clicked when I said that he was featured in the Ken Burns “Baseball” documentary (I made her watch the video about 20 times) in the piece about Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard round the world.” And to this day, when George Plimpton’s name comes up, I think of one of two things. That early summer night in June, and his recollection of the Thompson home run at the Polo Grounds. And I’ll never forget what he said. He was a Giants fan, and he said that he couldn’t remember another time in his life when he experienced the kind of pure, momentary joy that he felt when Russ Hodges repeatedly screamed, “The Giants win the pennant!” As a Yankee fan, my first thought would probably be that they went on to lose the World Series. To the Yankees, of course. But you could argue that that would be missing the point. Because they got a moment that will live longer than any of us. And that’s what we are chasing. That’s why we watch. That pure, momentary joy of being on top of the world.
I want to take a second to thank everyone that came in and commented. That’s what keeps this thing interesting. As I always say, I am just the catalyst. The back and forth is what makes it the BPS. And I appreciate everyone that took the time to put their thoughts down in the comments. I know it takes an extra minute, but if I’m going to post these things five nights a week, it’s nice to know you guys are out there. So thanks to Happymeds, Lucky, Jason from the Heartland, JD, Nick, H810, Ras, Raoul, Joseph the Statistician Magician, Aubrey, Yankeegirl23, time2goJoe, TS Mike, red, level, Mike W, Mannino, Petey Goods, Mike Sherry, Vino, Saif, Umair, Chris Woy, GJP, BobbyWales, Mike Maz, retropopper, amber11, Sean, Dale, rjcgoodbuys, Lola, NYAngel, Alsshed, the incomparable Mikey Juice, graveljones, Lisa, Vanessa, aaltman265, Rick, Derek, Triple J, krystopolski (bananas foster – I got it now), Russel, Acc, Matt from Diamondhacks, Reid, jcastiglio, Michael Norton, Chris, theohuxtable44, Beth, J-Boogie, paulsdalton, Coral, Mike Sherry, paulzuvella, myp, no.1yankfan, kyler, Stevie D, Gabriel, benji_bruneel, Felix, the LT, rumormill, showa, jpmagoots, sarann0826, Richard, and stolen_base22.
You know how this works, guys. I’m not much of a hot stove guy, as I’ve said many times. I like to think I just show up in section 24 on opening day, look at the lineup card, see who we have and who we don’t have, and start the magic. I’ll pop in from time to time, but other than that, I’ll just be biding my time here in Brooklyn, ready to pop the lid in April, as hope springs eternal.
I strolled in the door around eight on Tuesday night. The Yankee season had ended the night before, so I was facing a night (and a winter) on the couch with the missus, probably watching Dancing with the Stars or some sort of awards show or something. I’m not ready for this, I thought to myself, as I put my bag down next to the closet. As I turned around, I saw a box sitting next to the door. I stared at it for a second. Then I reached back into my bag and pulled out my phone. I tapped through my numbers, found the one I was looking for, and hit the call button. “Yello.” “Big Joe, son-in-law here.” “Hey, what’s happening son-in-law…” “Listen, I’ve got something for you to give your guys in the warehouse. An official 2007 Yankees playoff sweatshirt, brand new, not even out of the box…..”
“Why should I? If I did that they’d just use it…”
- John Ford
So here we are again. Same place we were last year. And the year before. Things tend to compound when you fail again and again, particularly when you don’t seem to make any progress. The past few days I’ve been running through the glaring futility of the New York Yankees in the playoffs recently, so I guess this keeps the momentum going full speed. Going into 2008, we’re holding steady at 4-13 in our last 17, with a four-series losing streak fully intact, including a six game losing streak on the road. If we are lucky enough to find ourselves in the playoffs next year, we will start the first series bursting with pride to know that we haven’t won consecutive playoff games in four years – the first of those coming 19 games ago. I guess everyone should prepare to hear whispers of Atlanta Braves or Buffalo Bills. Tough to argue. I guess the key argument point would be that the Yankees have walked away with 6 pennants and 4 world championships during this run. But the counterpoint would be that in all of the Braves and Bills years of futility, they were mostly overmatched. The Yankees have been the favorite almost every single year.
So make of it what you will. As far as the games go, I’m sure we’ll hear the usual. People want to explain it, so they will come up with very general reasons why the team got bounced early again; the bullpen’s no good, Torre’s no good, the hitters aren’t clutch, the pitchers aren’t clutch, they don’t play small ball, they’re spoiled and overpaid, they have no heart, they didn’t want it enough, they’re too old, etc. You will hear each and every one of these things over the next few weeks and months from whatever and wherever. Bet on it. They might be used by fans in their lament, and they might be used by management/ownership to explain wholesale changes that might be made.
So which one is right? Are any of them right? Who knows… We’ll never know. Could you argue that fate wasn’t with them? That if any more than 1 of the 7 home runs they hit in this series came with anybody on base, they would be moving on, or at least still playing? Sure you could. Could you argue that if a swarm of gnats doesn’t infest Jacobs field, they’re still playing? Okay. Could you argue that if our ground ball goes a foot further to the left, and theirs goes a foot further to the right, our double play scores two and their two rbi single becomes a double play? Absolutely. You can always argue those things in this game of inches. And you might be absolutely right. Could you argue that this is just the law of averages playing itself out, that our astronomical success in the late nineties was no more likely than our stunning descent into failure the past few years? You can do that too. Again, I don’t know what to make of it.
Most people will argue that the Yankees just ran into the better team each year. Some people do this because they like things wrapped up in nice packages, some people do it because they feel that the victorious team has earned that title as part of their victory, and some people will just look at the two teams and draw that conclusion. Again. I’m not telling anybody they’re wrong. I have to believe that psychology plays a large part in it. Some teams are just good at winning, and some teams have got losing programmed into them. I can say that it’s probably not a good sign when a team goes into such a tailspin in the early going that they have to make up ten games just to make the playoffs out of the wild card slot. The “playoff winning is random” argument gets tougher to swallow with each measure of futility. Although it does get a big boost when teams like the Cardinals win it all.
Anyone else think it’s a bit ironic that the one thing that everybody looked at as a huge advantage this year, the emergence of Joba, might have cost them this series? Somebody tell me at what point over the last ten years would Mariano Rivera not have been in a one run game in the eighth inning with two outs? I’m not trying to kill Joba. I blame Torre and the umps for not stopping the game until those gnats went away. But I just thought that was just one more in a jar full of gumdrops.
So about the quote that I started things off with tonight. John Ford was a Hollywood director, as most of you probably know, with lots of films and Oscars to his credit. There was one particularly famous scene in one of his movies – it may have been How Green Was my Valley, but don’t quote me on that – in which Maureen O’Hara rode off in a coach with another suitor, while the silhouette of the man she really loved could be seen in the distance watching the coach ride off. Ford’s cinematographer asked him if he wanted to shoot the man’s face in a close-up, to see his expression as they rode away. And that was his response. The “they” in the quote referred to the studio execs, who at that time had final cut, and would probably go with the more descriptive shot instead of the more artistic. And this is how I felt about Joe Torre’s use of Doug Mientkiewicz. Dougie is a trap. He is the siren on the rocks. He seduces you with the promise of solid defense, and before you know it you’re thinking about how many games his D is going to win you and you don’t care how much he hits. Boys, it’s a ****** bet. If someone came in last off-season and asked you if you would trade Dougie for Giambi straight up, but you still had to pay Giambi his salary, you would laugh him out of the room. If you polled every GM in baseball, and told them they could pick either Giambi or Dougie for $1mm per year, what do you think they would say? Maybe I’m nuts, but I’m going with Giambi in a clean sweep. The Yankees got Dougie off the scrap heap this year, and maybe someone takes him off the scrap heap next year. Or maybe not. Maybe he just calls it quits. Either way, you get the idea, I hope. For the Yankees, they’re paying Giambi anyway, so for them it’s just a matter of who they think will help the team more. And with both of them available and healthy, the Yankees consistently went with Dougie in the playoffs. And for all of the falling-flat the Yankees did with their bats in this series, there was only one guy who didn’t get at least one hit. Anybody want to guess who? People might point to some of the great plays he made. There were two in the Pettitte game that might have saved runs. But you know what? We lost that game. You know what it turns out we really could have used? Some runs. Giambi is a former MVP. Two of his four at-bats were pinch-hitting, and he never got any consistent playing time to get himself right. And even if he isn’t right, he works the count and takes bullets out of a pitcher’s arm. Who knows how many times he might have turned on balls in this series to deliver key hits? As it happened, there were only two swings of the bat in this entire series that produced more than one run, both in game 3. And that’s why I cringed when Andy Phillips went down. I saw this coming. Because if you put Dougie back on this d*mn roster, Joe was only going to use him.
So it’s no secret. I didn’t like the way Joe Torre managed this series. Do I think he should go? Well, they’re going to do what they’re going to do. I like the guy, so I am reluctant to say yes. You put a gun to my head I probably say no. But I do think they’re going to fire him. And I hope they go with Girardi over Donnie Baseball if they do.
So you guys know the drill by now. I’m going to wait a day or two for the sting to soften, then I’ll write a wrap-up. And then I’ll disappear…
“Which one of you guys just dropped that ball?” Mike Sherry demanded when he called me somewhere between the third and fourth inning. “Who do you think,” I answered. “Please don’t say Acc.” “Yup. Johnny Damon caught the third out, tossed it right to Acc, who had boxed out four guys to be perfectly in position, and Acc bobbled it, bobbled it, and dropped it right onto the dirt.” “No way. Please tell me you’re kidding,” Mike Sherry said. “There’s more,” I said. “Since Acc dropped in onto the field, Johnny Damon had to go back and pick it up. Then he handed it to some other dude.” I was telling the same story to Big Joe when he called me on the ride home, and as I got to the part about him handing it to somebody else, Big Joe could hear Acc, who was driving, mutter the f-bomb in background, as just hearing it got him ruffled. Big Joe laughed so hard he almost accidentally hung up on me.
During the season, although it was never intended this way, I realized I would get a lot more people calling and texting me during the game when I was wearing the green Yankee hat with the shamrock on it, as it was easy to pick out. As interesting as that is, I really only have one criterion for the gear that I’m going to wear, and that’s whether or not it’s “winner” gear. So today I pulled out the green hat, for no other reason than that it has a great track record. And it came through for me. We also bought new shirts before the game, with the five of us getting Jeter, Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle shirts so we could line up 2,3,4,5,7 across the rail. And I got calls and text messages from about 10 different people who saw us. Vino was in the house, and he stopped by section 24 early on to pool the vibes. Brooklyn’s own Mike Dantone was in the house, taking care of business out by our old seats over first base. And in section 24 we were lined up with me, Acc, Bri Rumble, Big Ange, and Acc’s little brother Brian. Big Ange is a spectacle. In a good way. He has this thing he does when the Yankees do something good, sort of a swan dive into the group with his arms spread wide, and he kind of falls into you. Big Ange is not short on excitement.
Things started ominously. Brooklyn’s own Mike Dantone and I were texting each other that something good needed to happen soon. At one point after the fourth I sent him a note saying that I had been watching nothing but ground ball outs for the last 15 innings. It was getting pretty annoying.
So you can look at this in one of two different ways. You can take the point of view that Jake Westbrook tired slightly, got his sinker up and started to get hit, as well as not being as elusive the second and third time through the order. Or you can just look at the game with a broad stroke and say that it was just high time the Yankees started to hit and started to win. However it was going to happen, I was squarely in camp number two. The Yankees are going to win today, I told the missus before the game, not because they have a favorable pitching match-up or because they’re playing at home, but because it’s just time. The numbers on their playoff futility had become astoundingly outlier-ish (definitely just made up that word), and the individual numbers that made them up were even more staggering. The Yankees had only eight hits in the whole series. They had scored one run in their last fifteen innings. They had not gotten back-to-back hits in the series. They had not scored more than one run on any one swing of the bat in the series. Indeed, they had only scored a total of four in 20 innings. And as you looked at their wins and losses, you realized that in addition to having lost 12 of 15 playoff games, they hadn’t won back-to-back playoff games in three years – 16 playoff games. They were also 1-4 in their last 5 elimination games, meaning, of course, that when they were on the ropes, they generally went down. All of this was off the charts. I guess the won-loss record was what got me most of all. To illustrate it for you, I asked the boys this question today. Let’s say MLB was going to decide to throw the Pirates and Royals in the playoffs, regardless of the fact that they are to losing what Picasso was to oil and canvas. And they would play in the playoffs for a couple of years in a row, until they had played fifteen games. And let’s say we set the over/under for wins at two each, and you had to put up your life savings and bet on one of two options. Would the Pirates or Royals win two or fewer games out of fifteen played, or would they win three or more? Everybody said that in fifteen games, of course they would win three or more. And that’s where the Yankees were squarely sitting earlier today. The mighty New York Yankee juggernaut had won exactly three.
Point is, lads, they were due to win. So due. And so they won.
Now, that doesn’t mean there weren’t spectacular performers. Phil Hughes and Johnny Damon need to be front and center on that list. Allie came up with two hits, which was huge in terms of him getting up off the mat. Melky and Cano, the Wonder Twins, both came up large today, as did the Ferocious Lion. Even Posada got his first hit of the series. Mo continued to clean up. As for Joe Torre… what can you say. I really didn’t understand leaving Joba out there for a million pitches, frankly. Suzyn Waldman seemed to say that they did that rather than bring in Mo because they figured the plan tomorrow would be to use Joba for one and Mo for two. Unfortunately, it kind of underscores the fact that there are only two guys who can get anybody out. And now that Clemens has been removed from the postseason roster, it becomes even more pronounced. But I don’t know. I actually think with a five run lead, you need to bring in Jose Veras or Vizcaino or Farnsworth to pitch there. No better time, and you can save Joba. If things really get weird, you can always go to Mo. Didn’t love that move. Brooklyn’s Own Mike Dantone was livid. I probably got 6 or 7 texts from him calling for Torre’s head on that.
I like the fact that Wang is going tomorrow. He usually doesn’t stink it up two games in a row, and he’s a lot better at home. He’s also a more reliable option than the Moose, at this point. The Indians are a good team, and Paul Byrd is a pretty good pitcher, but the Yankees are supposed to win this game tomorrow, and they need to deliver. Wang is leaps and bounds better than Byrd, and he’s pitching at home. The Yankee bats should come out. But if we do go down, at least we go down with our best.
If the Yankees manage to plug on here, this postseason will have taken on a sort of 2003 feel, with the Yankees playing the role of the 2003 Red Sox and vice versa. If you recall, the ’03 Red Sox were down 0-2 to Oakland, and might have lost in extra innings of game 3, when Eric Byrnes thought he touched home plate. And then if you further recall, upon realizing too late that he missed it, he was tagged out, and then proceeded to hop around for a few minutes with some mysterious “injury,” which seemed to me to be a badly ruptured ego. And so the Sox went on to meet the Yankees, who had breezed pretty easily through the first round. I realize this might be a bit unsettling for some of us…
So section 24 rides again on Monday night. Another night of playoff baseball in the Bronx is a good thing, regardless of where the series stands. Remember those trends? Remember the one about the Yanks not winning back-to-back playoff games in 16 games? Just asking…
Rock bottom. I guess you never really know where it is, or where it was, until you start to climb out of it. That’s true for lots of different things, you could say. But since we’re here to talk about the Yankees, let’s talk about the Yankees. Have they hit rock bottom yet? Now, people might be thinking – so let me get this straight. These guys have made the playoffs every year since 1995, and you’re going to tell me they’re flirting with something you’re calling rock bottom? Fair point. But you have to understand. The rules are different when you have the highest payroll and the most talent. I’m talking about playoff rock bottom. Maybe there’s no such thing. But I would argue that the Red Sox hit playoff rock bottom in that third game in Boston in 2004. The year before was the Aaron Boone debacle, maybe the ultimate humiliation in their 86 years of futility. And then, with an opportunity to redeem themselves the very next year, they came out and dropped the first two games in New York. And then they got up to Boston, hoping things would be different. But it was worse. The Yankees proceeded to pound the life out of them, hitting double digit runs in a walk-away laugher, the only question being whether or not they were going to hit 20. That was rock bottom. From that second forward, they clawed their way back up. And we know the rest.
The Yankees are in the midst of a tremendous period of playoff futility. They’ve lost 12 of 15 playoff games, 6 of their last 7 and 8 of their last 10. It doesn’t make any sense. They’ve got to hit the floor sometime. At least they do if they want to continue as a top-tier team. I guess you could go the way of the Braves, who peaked with a fourth pennant in 9 years in 1999, and then just hung around, making the playoffs every year until 2005, when they just stopped being an elite team. But the Braves never had the commitment to talent and the resources that the Yankees had, and have. Once the big three were scattered, the Braves were always in it, but they were a guaranteed first-round knockout. And you never heard their name in championship-contender conversations. So which team are the Yankees going to be?
The one thing that’s difficult to quantify is guts. The Yankees are not particularly plucky in big moments. They’ve had some moments, without question. But they are notorious for losing close games and extra-inning games. If the Yankees find themselves in a tie game, late, on the road, they are going to lose. Bet your beer money on it. So was this it? Was this the floor? Or will it take a first-round sweep to finally begin to scrape sand? Or is there more to come? It’s hard to imagine there is a whole lot more. How long can this go on? You have to win sometime… The Yankees at their lowest point in 2005 were 11-19 (.367 wn pctg), and at their lowest point this year were 21-29 (.420 wn pctg). In their last 15 playoff games they are 3-12 (.200 wn pctg). Meaning they would have to go on a sick run of winning to get up to those two marks. Fascinating.
Today was a strange day. I was telling some people that, sad as it is to say, I’m getting used to the losing these playoff games. How can you not? You watch the sun come up every day, you come to expect it, as they say. And last night, you really weren’t the slightest bit surprised. But then came this game.
I got to Tony Sherry’s in the top of the third. I walked in about 30 seconds after Melky gunned Jhonny Peralta at the plate. So as I watched the next nine innings play out, I saw exactly two Yankee hits. One run. I watched the Indians get the leadoff runner on in 8 of 11 innings, I saw them put runners on base in every single inning, and I saw them get what, 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position? That’s about one and-a-half cracks at a run per inning, or two cracks at it every three innings. I saw the Yankees pull off a few miracles to keep the runners off the bases. I watched Carmona, Pettitte, and Perez dealing. The Indians pitching has been phenomenal, but when the Yankees are in these funks, they couldn’t even hit Jay Witasick with the big green wiffleball bat… But even with all of that, the Yankees were winning. Just like old times, they were winning. They were going to find a way to win. And they came so d*mn close. And just like that, the anguish came flooding back…
I thought Laz Diaz had an awful night behind the plate. Are these guys really the best we can do? His strike zone was all over the place, and many times he called the exact same pitch back-to-back different ways. I counted about six times when Tony and I leaped off the couch to scream about a ball or a strike call. Torre gestured a few times from the dugout, and he rarely does that. The Ferocious Lion got an abominable strike from Rafael Perez called against him, and the Yankees got squeezed mercilessly in the 10th and 11th, with the absolute worst example being the 1-1 pitch to Hafner in the 11th which was called a ball. What an absolutely colossal pitch. The ball-call put Hafner in the driver’s seat, allowing him to take the count to 3-2 and get a batting practice pitch to win the game. Also worth noting that he swung and missed on the following pitch, which would have been strike three and out three, if things remained the same.
Gnats. Actually, they’re called “Canadian Soldiers,” according to Suzyn Waldman. “If it got any worse, we were going to delay the game until it subsided,” said the umps after the game. If it got any worse? Joba’s face and neck were covered in those things as he was pitching. It was the grossest thing I’ve ever seen. He was literally spitting them out of his mouth. Joba, who walked one guy all year, walked two, hit one, and threw a wild pitch. Didn’t allow a single hit. But the bugs were all over him, to the tune of the tying run on a wild pitch. Good thing it “didn’t get any worse.”
Allie. I just feel bad for the guy. He is not a little bit back; he is all the way back to his lowest point of last year, when he was an automatic strikeout every time up. You can see it immediately in his face; it’s almost like he doesn’t know what to do with his facial muscles as he’s walking back to the dugout. Yesterday wasn’t a terrible day. He was 0-for-2 with two walks. A .500 on-base percentage. And ordinarily that’s what it would have been. But when you pile it on top of 4 for-his-last 42, it becomes tremendous. So it became 4 for 48 at the end of today. That’s about 10% of the at-bats he would get over the course of an entire season, and he would be hitting .083. He’s just completely lost up there. What needs to happen is the Yankees just need to come out and crush a team going away, where he can come in against a mop-up type pitcher and hammer with no pressure. Those games may not mean a thing, but they are great for busting an “ugly-number” streak. Unfortunately, when your team only wins 3 playoff games out of 15, you’re not going to get a lot of chances to do that.
So again I prove that I know nothing. Eric Wedge brought Rafael Perez back in tonight, and he was dynamite. And man, did he get calls. At least two of the times Tony and I leaped up were Perez strike calls. I was busy yesterday saying that Wedge was crazy for bringing him in for 33 pitches yesterday. Well, he was just crazy enough to bring him back in for 23 more tonight. In other words, he went for it. And he got it. So what if it cost him 56 pitches in two days? He never gave the Yankees a chance. Unlike Joe Torre, whose first call to the pen was in the name of Ross Ohlendorf…
The problem now is that these next few games are no fun. If you win you’re just sort of relieved, because you’re still up against it. If you lose you’re gone. So you’re not really psyched when you win. It’s more like relief, immediately followed by more impending pressure.
So maybe we’ve hit rock bottom. Maybe the Yankees have some fight left. Maybe they’ll start a run. Or maybe we haven’t fully paid our debt for the glory years… We’ll find out soon enough….
“I’m going to tell you guys something I probably shouldn’t tell you, and you’re going to think it’s the craziest thing you’ve ever heard in your life.” I was walking with the Sherry brothers to Mike’s car, getting ready to head over to Sly Bri’s for the game. The Sherry brothers looked at each other for a second, and then bit. “Okay…,” said Mike, not satisfied that I was moving the story along quickly enough. I continued. “I have never seen the Yankees win a playoff game wearing this shirt. The first day I wore it was when Pettitte got jablasticated in game six in Arizona in 2001, and it’s probably lost four or so playoff games since then. It’s probably something like oh-for-five…” Tony just looked at me incredulously. “Are you insane?” was all he wanted to know. “I know it’s a bit nuts, but here’s where I’m coming from. The Yankees are going to lose tonight.” Tony cut me off. “Don’t do this to me,” he said with exasperation. I had to explain myself quickly. “Dude, I’m telling you. They’re not going to win two in Cleveland. They just need to steal one. And it’s going to be Pettitte tomorrow. And then Cleveland’s going to have to win one at the Stadium with two bad pitchers going in order to stave off elimination. Tonight just isn’t going to work out, bro. How do I know this? Because I ordered my navy blue ‘2007 Playoffs’ Yankees sweatshirt today on-line, and I paid the extra $15 to get it overnighted, and they’re not going to win until it gets here tomorrow. Then – they’ll be unstoppable…” And that’s really how I see it going, with the sweatshirt as the cornerstone of the plan. The Yankees clubhouse store at the seaport only had the steel gray, which looked terrible. They didn’t have the navy. So I went on-line and took care of things…
So…anybody see the game?
Whoops. That could probably have gone better, I would say. Good crew at Bri Rumble’s. Good spread, cooler full of drinks, everybody in gear (except Mike Sherry – thanks Mike, but don’t worry, it probably only just cost us the game). But bad result. So because I was an incoherent, raving lunatic most of the night, I’ll just spit out a random series of thoughts on the game, not necessarily in any logical stream of thought.
- The Yanks have now lost 11 of their last 14 playoff games. Wow. Maybe this is payback for the late nineties when we would go 22-3 (98-99), and when we won 14 World Series games in a row. But 11 out of 14? I mean, these are good Yankee teams, no? We’ve lost 11 out of 14 playoff games, including 5 of the last 6 and 7 of the last 9. We’ve got to be due, no? Somehow I have a hard time believing that this is going to reach 13 out of 16. It’s one thing if you’re terrible. But to make the playoffs every year, all but one by winning the division and multiple times having the best record in baseball? And then lose 11 of 14 playoff games? It just doesn’t make any sense. Or am I insane?
- The loser of game one has gone on to win every first round Yankees playoff series since 2001. Six in a row (and counting, hopefully).
- The Yankees got crushed, but it wasn’t like they got crushed from the word go and it just wasn’t their night. The Yankees had their chances to win this game. Sabathia was not good, and the Yankees had him all over the ropes by the fifth, when he had thrown well over 100 pitches with 6 walks.
- The Yankees did not have good at-bats. Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada both swung at very blatant ball fours in huge spots in the fifth (Posada also swung at ball 5 and ball 6). And then with Sabathia still in a huge jam with the bases still loaded and having trouble throwing strikes at 115 pitches, the Ferocious Lion swings at a 2-0 pitch instead of making him throw a strike. With Sabathia exhausted, they could have and should have taken command of the game there in the 5th. You do that, the rest of the game looks different, as you go to Joba, Mo, etc. Kind of interesting. The old guard doesn’t usually let them down like that…
- Ross Ohlendorf. It sounds like you would hear it in a movie followed by, “If that is your real name…” I’m sorry Joe Torre… I didn’t realize the playoffs were amateur night. Zero major league experience before three weeks ago, and that’s who you’re going to put in there? If you’re going to go to Phil Hughes later on, why not put him in there in the fifth and try to win the game? This is no time to “see how he (Ohlendorf – if that is his real name…) responds.” Are you insane? If you were going to tell me that you were conceding this game so you can save everybody for tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t agree, because it was clear that Sabathia was done and you were going to see their bullpen for four innings, but at least I would have understood what you were trying to do. But this didn’t make any sense. You brought Hughes in later on anyway. Did you really think Ohlendorf had a better shot of getting guys out than Hughes? Really? It was still only a three-run deficit at that point in the fifth…
- Why was Eric Wedge throwing his two best bullpen weapons out there in this game? He’s really only got two dependable weapons out there, Rafael Perez and Rafael Bettencourt. So in a laugher, Wedge uses…both of them. Why? Not only do you let the entire Yankee team see what they’ve got, but you burn their arms. Perez threw 31 pitches and Betencourt threw 22. That’s a lot. Are they both going to be available tomorrow? I could see if Wedge wanted to give them some confidence pitching in a game with no pressure, but I don’t know how smart it is to give the Yankees some valuable at-bats to see them in action. And they threw a lot of pitches because a lot of guys fouled off a lot of pitches and got a real good look at them… I don’t know, but it seemed crazy to me…
- The Indians didn’t miss anything tonight. Either they are just really locked in as a team right now and this will be a short series, or they just had a sick night. If this continues tomorrow….not good….
- The Yankees couldn’t get a big hit. Abreu got the only one, in about a million chances with base runners everywhere. Is this team really just not good with everything on the line in October, or is it just an unlucky coincidence? I know there are a lot of people who would hope for the former.
- Allie. It would have been huge for him to get a monster hit tonight, or any hit, to shake the monkey off his back for the series early on, but he still ended up oh-fer. It wasn’t an awful oh-fer, as he had two walks and didn’t kill the big rallies, but it was still an oh-fer. It would have been nice to get him going early. Who knows if this starts to creep into his head.
- Things are not as dire as they might seem. With the 2-2-1 format, all the Yankees need to do is steal one of the first two. It’s not realistic to expect that you’ll take both. If they take one, suddenly the Indians have to go on the road and beat a future hall-of-famer and a borderline hall-of-famer with two marginal starters at the house of mystique and aura. This thing turns on a dime for the Indians if they don’t win tomorrow. They’ve got a lot of pressure on them. Plenty for the Yankees also, but regardless of the outcome tomorrow, they’ve got two games coming up in which they’ll be heavy favorites…
- This is why we got Andy Pettitte. This is exactly why we got Andy Pettitte.
- You know who we missed tonight? Andy Phillips….
So tomorrow is another day. What a difference a day makes, as the song goes. I just hope tomorrow Torre plays to win, and I hope that the Yankees shake out of this playoff funk. It would be nice to jump out to an early lead and get some of the bats going. It would be nice. I understand Carmona can be a monster, but we’ll just have to take it one step at a time. Pettitte needs to be Pettitte again. We haven’t won a close playoff game in a long, long time. The three we have won were kind of blowouts. We’re due. How many times can I say that? Besides, this is the way I drew it up today. The magic wasn’t going to start until my 2007 playoff sweatshirt came tomorrow. And then; look out…
So I just got an e-mail from shop.mlb.com. It said, “Thank you for shopping at shop.mlb.com, your business is important to us. We received your order, which included advanced sale items that are unavailable for immediate shipment. Once the product is available for processing, you will receive a new order confirmation email. The item(s) will be shipped when it is in stock.”
Is that bad?
I keep thinking about what Chris “Mad Dog” Russo said to Mike Francesa a few weeks ago on WFAN radio. Russo is a notorious Yankee-hater, but he gave a pretty blunt assessment of the American League over the last ten years. “It will be interesting to see how that American League will play out this year,” he said. “It’s been the same for a long time. The Yankees can’t beat the Angels, the Angels can’t beat the Red Sox and the Red Sox can’t beat the Yankees.” That pretty much wraps it up. There have been a few miracles here and there, but that’s it in a nutshell. So now that the Red Sox have continued to hold up their end of that bargain, I have to think that if that’s true, then the Yankees should be pretty pleased with the draw. If the theme holds up, the Red Sox beat the Angels, the Yankees beat the Red Sox, the Yankees will miss the Angels altogether, and I’m sitting in section 24 at the Stadium for game 1 of the World Series. Although that does leave one small question mark. Where does Cleveland fall in all of this? They really don’t have a recent track record, it would seem. After all, the last time they were in the thick of things, Manny was playing left field at Jacobs field, Chuck Knoblauch was blowing bubbles, and the Indians had one of the most ferocious lineups you’re going to see one through nine. Lofton, Manny, Thome, Albert Bell (until ‘96), Matt Williams, Robbie Alomar, Sandy Alomar, Vizquel, and even Carlos Baerga was a killer back then. But just when you thought they were invincible, they would throw Charles Nagy out there in game one of a series. But all of that is moot now. What are we supposed to make of these Indians?
The first thing that everyone wants to tell you is that they’ve got maybe the best one-two punch in the postseason. Okay. You have a real good case. But how often does that work? The Twins have failed with that formula a few times, when they’ve had Santana and Radke and then Santana and Liriano. The A’s have failed a few times when they’ve had the best one-two-three punch. So have the Braves. More than they haven’t, actually. Sabathia has had a career year, and Carmona has had a breakout year, but what about the bats? Hafner and Grady Sizemore have had off years. In fact, Sizemore, Hafner, Casey Blake and Jhonny Peralta, four key pieces of the lineup, were mired in the .260’s and .270’s for the season. So what wins out? Do they all play at the top of their game at the same time? Does everything come together for them at the right time? We’ve seen that happen too. The White Sox, Cardinals, Red Sox, and Florida Marlins have all won championships like that the last few years. That takes a little luck, though. Maybe a lot of luck.
The reason the two-deep theory is tough against the Yankees is that they’re so good at waiting you out. Chances are you’re going to get some no-decisions. Carmona pitched two games against the Yankees this year and was 0-1 with a ND. If those guys don’t win two games in the first four, you’re counting on Westbrook and Byrd at Yankee Stadium with a so-so bullpen. And the Yankees would be heavy favorites in those games. We’ve seen stranger things happen over the last five years, of course, but not coming out of the box with wins from those two guys would be putting the Indians in a hole. Some like to re-create history and say that the D-Backs took out the Yanks with just two guys. I would argue that that isn’t really the whole story. As I always point out, when Schilling and Johnson were both sitting in the dugout for good, having thrown their last pitch, their team was losing in game seven. They needed a miracle to win, which they got from Tony Womack. So having two starters is nice, but they’re going to need more offense than they’ve gotten for most of the year, and they will have to play their absolute best. There is a reason that they don’t have a winning record against any of the AL playoff teams. The Yankees have a little bit more margin for error, as they’re a much deeper team, they put up a lot more runs a lot more quickly, and they can pitch late in games.
Travis Hafner. In case anyone is interested, I am on record (since ’05) theorizing that he is a monster juice-head. After all, you’re talking about a guy who refused to explain his nickname, “Pronk,” until it was revealed by an unnamed source that it was short for “Project Donkey.” That’s “Project Donkey.” And if you look at the guy, he’s a cartoon character. His face and body are completely disproportionate. But he can smash. Go figure.
Following on yesterday’s discussion about the two-two-one format versus the two-three format, I think it makes sense that the Yankees only need to steal one in Cleveland. Again, you take one at the Jake and you make them beat you with Westbrook and Byrd at the Stadium. On the flip side, if they were starting at the Stadium, Cleveland would only need to take one of two with their two aces going, and then go back and play every game at the Jake. Just the fact that it would be impossible to win it in New York would be a bit intimidating.
If Allie gets going early, the Yankees will be so dangerous. Because you’re probably not going to get everybody hitting, but you’ll always have few guys hitting. And if Allie’s one of them, we’ve got a ballgame. And simply put, he’s due to get going in the playoffs. When you see all of the media outlets splashing his playoff futility all over the screen, you always see that little disclaimer in the corner – “*since game 3 of the 2004 ALCS”. He hasn’t always been a poor playoff performer, not even while a Yankee. He’s due, just like he was due this season after last.
We will have a crew at Sly Bri Rumble’s tomorrow. And we’re h*ll-bent on bringing back a win… It’s on.
Home field advantage. Is it as important as everyone thinks it is? I am a huge proponent, as I’ve said many times. I immediately think of playing game 5 in Anaheim in 2005 (thanks Buck Showalter) and game 7 in Arizona in 2001. There’s nothing worse than being tangled up in a series in which the home team wins every game and the other guy gets game 7 in his home park because of circumstance, instead of anything meaningful, like best record. In 2001 it was still alternating leagues. But in the last few years we’ve seen a proliferation of series in which the team with the home field advantage goes out early, often at the hands of the wild card team, prompting MLB last year to look for ways to give the team with the best record a bit more of an advantage in order to provide an incentive for teams to shoot for that goal. A noble idea, certainly, but let’s not kid ourselves. What they came up with was lame. The team with the best record gets to pick the series over 7 days or 8 days. Awesome….
Here’s what I think. I think many people miscalculate when and where home field is advantageous, particularly in a short series. When two playoff teams are involved, it’s very difficult to win two games in a row to start a series. It happens, often, in fact, but it’s difficult. It’s more likely that two teams will split the first two. Here’s what I’m driving at. In a five game series, I don’t like the two-two-one format. I know it looks good on paper, and I know it checks all of the boxes that you think you should check, i.e. the team with home-field advantage gets to start at home (guaranteeing them two gates), and they get to finish at home. The only down side, on paper, is that you end up doing more traveling, particularly if you have to fly cross-country if your short series is east coast against west coast. But here’s what I’ll offer. I think the old two-three format, the format that they used back in ’95 when the Yanks lost to the Mariners, was a lot more advantageous to the team with home-field. Here’s why. Most teams in the post season will have at least two top-flight starters. Usually the first two games are great match-ups. Home or no home, it’s tough to win both of those games. And the minute you split at home, the other team has a shot to win two games in their own park to take you out without you ever coming back home. And in those third and fourth games, you usually have the shakier back end guys going. It’s those games where home field advantage will give you some more juice. Two great starters locking horns will usually trump home-field. I’ve seen this up close. The Yankees lost two short series’ in the last five years this way. Exactly this way. And the other three also featured a split in the first two games. Only once did the fifth game decide the series, and it certainly did matter for the home team. So if you look at the two-three format, as soon as you split the first two, you go play the duration in the team with home-field’s park. That’s a big monkey on your back as the away team, to know you have to go into the other team’s park and win two of three with your back-end starters. And odds are your back-end starters are weaker if you aren’t the team with home-field (this doesn’t always hold true, as I would submit that the Yankees are stronger than the Indians at the back-end). The downside is – surprise – money-related. Teams are worried that they’ll close it out in three and only get one gate. This, in my ever-so-humble opinion, is short-sighted, as the goal is to play as many games as possible. Give yourself the best chance to move on and you’ll make even more money, I promise. Keep in mind that all of this goes out the window once you get to the seven-game series. This is strictly for the short series.
So my point here is twofold. First, if MLB wants to give the guys with the best records a bigger advantage, let them decide whether or not they want the 2-2-1 format or the 2-3 format. If teams are smart they’ll give it some thought. The other part of my point is that the Yankees are not really up against it being on the road in the first round. All you need is one slip in Cleveland and the only thing separating the Indians and the golf course is Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd at Yankee Stadium. Something to think about.
Just saw happymeds comment that Gerry Davis is working left field this series. Interesting note – the left field ump stands exactly in front of us in section 24. Exactly in front. So much so that I have cell-phone pictures of the left-field ump right in front of me in past years, and we have been known to chat them up between innings. Not sure what I’ll do… I’ll try to control myself…
So I would be remiss if I didn’t give a recap of the super-successful 3rd Annual Wifflemania at Acclestick Park. First and foremost, I usually post the pictures, but I’ll have to get them uploaded from Acc’s camera, so give me some time on that. Paddy B had some good pictures also, so maybe I’ll see if I can track down some of those. There was a bit of a shake-up this year, as regular Wifflemania all-star Mike Sherry was unable to participate. This unraveled the 2005 champion and 2006 finalist Bombers, and had repercussions throughout the tournament (and for Acc, who Mike Sherry has only recently forgiven – maybe- for scheduling it when he couldn’t go). Pitching sensation Sean was paired with Spiff on the Cryptonic squad, while Acc joined his two cousins, section 24 regulars Bobby and Big Angelo on Team Acc. Newcomer Chris B, Paddy B’s older brother, made a splash on Big Red with Friedo and G. Burke. The Pig, finalists from 2005, were split up, with McHale joining Petey Goods and Robbie Wonderful on Orange Crush, Greg Wilbs joining his two brothers on Striking Resemblance, and me joining Cryptonic. Mikey Juice and Stevie D anchored Golden Shower along with Majtika, while everyone’s favorite was again Slim Richie, Mikey Rumble and Tony Sherry on Jeremy’s Wig/Green Bay/Crème de menthe/ Cream duh mint. But the ominous presence looming over the tournament once again was the indomitable Stevie C. and Blue Balls, also featuring Paddy B and Marshall. So when the dust cleared and the playoff round began, Rookie of the Year Chris B carried Big Red to extra-innings against Cryptonic, but Sean’s tying two-run bomb brought Cryptonic back, and they finally secured the win on a walk-off triple in extra-innings. The tournament wasn’t without controversy. Team Acc, fresh off a beating from Cream duh mint, had to face them again in a one-inning, start-with-the-bases-loaded game to decide the final playoff spot, and finally won on a walk-off walk. There was some question about whether or not tournament rules actually called for the one-inning playoff, but the league commissioner decided it was called for. The league commissioner, incidentally, is Acc. Because it’s his house… But all of this was moot in the end, as Blue Balls easily dispatched Team Acc in the first playoff round. New tournament rules dictated that all three members of the squad had to pitch an inning in the playoffs, preventing the unhittable Stevie C from dominating the tournament as he did as the MVP in 2006. This set up the match-up between the defending champion Blue Balls and Cryptonic. In an upset, Cryptonic took down Marshall for eight runs in the first inning on their way to a 10-2 victory. Congratulations to the 2007 Wifflemania at Acclestick Park champions, Cryptonic. Some notables:
Best moment: tie between Tony Sherry’s Petey Goods impersonation and Slim Richie kicking the bucket of wiffleballs over and calling the ump a “crazy *sshole.”
Best pitch: Stevie C’s “kindergartener” so named because that’s what you look like trying to hit it.
Best play: Chris B’s diving catch of a ball of the back wall with two men on to save two runs.
Looked coolest in their uniform: Robbie Wonderful Flavors, of course. Who else? He won this award before he even showed up.
Most eaten at the barbeque: Tough to say. It was a free-for-all for the better part of the day. It actually may have been Ciampi, even though he only showed up for five minutes. Yup. That’s how impressive the kid is.
Most alcohol consumed – team: Cream duh Mint. Team motto – “Cryptonic and Red Bull in one hand, bat in the other.”
Most alcohol consumed – individual: Gotta be McHale….
Best footwear: Tie – Bobby “Boots” and Mikey “flip flops” Juice
Most insults hurled at the umps: Petey Goods
Most insults hurled at him while umpiring: Petey Goods
All in all, great day as always. Great job by the Big Boy putting on the show…
I just found myself hurriedly rushing into the blue room and fumbling to turn the computer on. I was taking out the garbage about a minute ago, and when I got back in and turned the game back on, I saw Jorge Julio on the mound in the top of the 13th inning for the Colorado Rockies. The first thing that flashed across my mind was ‘man, I would not want my season on the line in extra innings in the hands of Jorge Julio.’ I remember him pitching for the Orioles, and I remember the warm, fluffy-towel feeling you would get when he would come in to try and close a game against the Yanks. And then I saw the look on his face. It looked like he had a half-a-bottle of liquid heat in his shorts. And then he started to pitch. Ball one. Ball two. That’s when I thought to myself, let me run in and start the post before he walks the bases loaded and I’m just another guy coming in after the fact. So I got into the blue room. Strike one. Booted up the system. Ball three. Waiting. Ball four, man on. Still booting. Visit to the mound by the shortstop. My icons pop up on the screen. I hear some commotion from the TV inside. Gone. Padres take the lead. All before I stroked one key. So yup, I’m just another jerk coming in after the fact. But we’re still in the top of the 13th here, so maybe they’ll have some drama yet. I’ve always said that in the limited experience I’ve had watching Trevor Hoffman; I’ve seen him blow the big situation almost every time. Scotty Brosius in the ’98 series, the all star game a few years back, the all star game last year. I don’t know. I’m sure all the hype is justified, as he’s put up a career full of great numbers. But every time I’ve seen him, he’s been suspect. What do I know….
So what about our Yankees. Cleveland it is. We’re already setting up the crew for Thursday night at Sly Bri Rumble’s house. The Sherry brothers, Sean, Petey Goods, The Big Boy, the Rumble brothers, Mikey Juice, etc. All hands on deck. I’ve had it with this first-round-exit garbage.
Uh oh. Kaz Matsui just led off with a double against Hoffman. As if the Met fans didn’t get a big enough kick in the nuts. And Hoffman…I’m telling you… Well, I just stepped out to watch the game. The Rockies have just tied it in the bottom of the 13th against Hoffman, with a man on third and nobody out. It’s now official, as far as I’m concerned. Hoffman is not anybody I want on the mound in a big spot. His team is going to lose this game.
Okay. Wow. What do you do here… TBS had their baseball post-season debut tonight with this play-in game, and it ends, well…wrong. What do you do? Here they are, wanting to show everyone that they can cover this celebration, trying to prove that they can hang with their new coverage team. So there is the last play of the game, called dead wrong by home-plate ump Tim McClelland. And they are glossing it over so it doesn’t ruin their story. Sure, they mentioned it, and they’re admitting that it was wrong, but this is the story, boys. Sorry it’s not what everybody wants, and sorry it’s going to make MLB extremely uncomfortable over the next few days, probably longer. But think about what you’re thinking if you’re the Padres. You’re just supposed to eat the wrong call on the biggest play of the season that sends you home erroneously? What a kick in the face. If it was the Yankees going out like that, I would be tearing the blue room into splinters this very second. The “courageous” Stuart Van Pelt on ESPN described it this way: “We still don’t know if he touched the dish, but it doesn’t matter, blue says safe….” Right. It doesn’t matter? Go tell that to San Diego. Why does everybody piling on one side of the story, the “Yay Rockies” side, pass for acceptable coverage? Go talk to the Padres, guys. See what they have to say. On second thought, don’t let it get in the way of your story, Stuart. In this era of talk radio and non-stop media coverage, I have to believe that this will get to be a very big story in the next few days. It should. And that’s when all of these guys that didn’t want to be interrupted in their gush-fest will all have short memories, and will start to treat this like a story. But for now, things like, “It doesn’t matter” passes for coverage.
Here’s the problem. Tim McClelland knows better. By not calling the play right away, he was telling everybody in the stadium that Holliday never touched the plate. We see it all the time. And then when Barrett retrieved the ball and tagged Holliday, McClelland nonchalantly and inexplicably called him safe. When he gets around to commenting on this, my guess is his excuse will be that he didn’t call it right away because he was concerned for Holliday’s safety. That will be bogus. The “courageous” Tim Kurkjian just said this, “You have a whole stadium full of fans going nuts right there. I’m sorry. The spontaneity of the game is more important than getting that call right.” That is a direct quote. Is he kidding? What is going on here? You’re going to get a call wrong because you want to make the home fans happy? And it’s cool? The fans that are watching in their park only because their team won a coin flip? Then the courageous Scott Van Pelt and Kurkjian tried to create some mystery. “Can you really be sure if he touched the plate? You can’t…” Guys, what are we talking about? He never touched the plate. It was absolutely clear. Don’t hide behind a bogus “maybe the whole thing never really happened.” What are you, in kindergarten?
This is all I can say. I have no stake in the San Diego Padres. I couldn’t care less about the San Diego Padres. Or the Rockies. But I hate it when a season ends on a bad call. And I hate it even more when the national media all piles on the winners, and ignore what is just wrong, wrong, wrong because it gets in the way of their story. After 163 games, the Padres deserved better than this. Baseball deserved better than this. Nicely done, Tim McClelland. Why don’t you do yourself a favor and go find a nice comfortable seat for the rest of the playoffs, dude…