That was my text to the Big Boy at 10:19pm Eastern Daylight time. It was the culmination of a furious half-hour or so or texting, starting when the Longoria bomb went over the wall to tie the game. Good, bad, or indifferent, there was nobody more surprised than me that the Yankees ended up winning that game.
The Yankees averaged six runs a game last season, and here we are, 14 games deep into this season, and the Yankees scored more than six for the first time all year. But we’ll get to that.
Tonight was a wild one. An odd one, actually, and not really in a good way. Sure, a win is a win, but if you have to choose from all of the ways to win a game, this might be the last. There is nothing elegant or comforting about blowing a 7-1 lead. I’ll tell you why it doesn’t really concern me though. This game is over and done in the seventh if Joba is available. No questions asked. With that part of your game gone, you just hope that in the three games he’s out you don’t feel the sting in the win/loss column. You’ve already felt it in the stat column, as Ian Kennedy suffered a hard-luck no decision tonight in an excellent outing, which was only underscored, I think, when the Rays reminded everyone there in the seventh that they can mash. This brings me to my keynote topic tonight.
In the spirit of comparisons, I think the Yankee/Red Sox series was a brilliant juxtaposition of two teams that have the gunpowder to get there. Now which team can fire it. It looks, again, like the season might hinge on one game here or there. The Red Sox find themselves in a position similar to the Yanks. They are down a major cog. Everyone can say whatever they want about Red Sox pitching, about defense, about whatever they want. The cold, hard truth about the Red Sox of this era is that it is all – all – about Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. They have been the best 1-2 punch in baseball over the last five years, and not just good. Automatic good. Uncanny, never miss good. And with two very different styles. Ortiz came out of nowhere and rode his vials of HGH from getting cut by the Twins to being an unimaginably fearsome power hitter. Manny, who I do not believe has ever used a performance enhancing drug, nor do I believe he knows what they are or has ever heard of them, is just one of the best pure hitters you will ever see in your lifetime. Both shared a preposterous ability to produce in the clutch, Ortiz seemingly drawing from an enormous store of confidence while Manny enjoyed a complete immunity to nerves due to the fact that he purely, simply, did not care whether or not he won or lost. Either way, the Red Sox won without Beckett, without Papelbon, and with Schilling decidedly mediocre. They never won without Manny and Ortiz. The start to this season has been a brilliant example of this. Ortiz, who is suffering mightily, has watched Manny single-handedly win two games for his team to pick him up. If one is up, the other is down. When they are both up, only the Yankees can stop them.
So with that lead-in, I have a couple of observations from this past weekend. First, hubris. The Yankees have suffered from it on occasion over the last ten years, particularly when it came to the Red Sox. Saturday was maybe the best example. Why was Mussina pitching to Manny in that spot with two outs and first base open? Kudos to Girardi for admitting he made a mistake, but what was his thought process? I hope it wasn’t, as I submitted after Moose started the second game of the season, that he is reluctant to say no to a guy who was his more highly-regarded peer as a player? Did Girardi walk off that mound without Moose next to him because he was reticent to say, “Mike, I appreciate that you made a good pitch to Ortiz and you think you can get Manny out, but give me the ball and go take a shower. Now.” I don’t know. Joe Torre took a different approach. He would yank pitchers incessantly. Then he would go to his guys, like Scott Proctor. But neither would do what probably should have been done. Walk Manny. They never walk him. Or Ortiz. I know one hits behind the other, but there have been many opportunities over the years, Saturday being the latest example. I’ll tell you what else they don’t do. Brush them back. Never, with the exception of Clemens. Maybe it is hubris. “We’re the Yankees….we can get them out.” Great, dude. Walk him.
Interesting difference in styles between Terry Francona and Joe Torre. Jury is still out on Girardi, I think. Francona is always very mindful of the psychological game. You’ve seen him many times over the last few years take risks in order to “write the story.” Dice K is a great example. At least three times last year against the Yankees, and this year’s game makes four, Francona stayed far too long with an ineffective and mightily struggling Dice K to try and get him a win. On Sunday, 120 pitches deep after four and a third, he left Dice K in with two on and one out in the fifth. You could see what he was doing. If Dice K finishes that inning and gets the win, the story will be “Dice K battles for a win.” If you replace him just two outs earlier, the story is “Dice K is largely ineffective in a no-decision.” And it resonates particularly with Dice K, because there is such attention paid to the huge contract and the hype. One slight tilt and the story becomes “Dice K is a flop.” And that comes with ramifications. The toll that would take on the pitcher might cost him his confidence. So ultimately, I think there is a lot to it. Sure, you’re taking a chance. Giambi smashed his last pitch of the night with two on in that fifth inning; John Sterling correctly saying he probably hit it harder than he hit his bomb on Friday night. But the vicious wind held it up and saved Dice K’s night and justified Francona’s gamble. But look what you get. Last year most people recognized that Dice K’s ERA was way too high for someone who anyone was going to consider an ace. He managed 15 wins because he was playing for the team with the best record in baseball, a team that scored a ton of runs and bailed him out of losses countless times. His double-digit losses belie that. But there are those who still hold his 15-win house-of-cards as a reason he should be considered an ace. Thank you Terry Francona. Joe Torre would never do that. He was famous for yanking a guy with two outs in the fifth with a two run lead if his last batter got on via a bunt single or an error. You’re not gambling, perhaps, but perhaps you’re not building any confidence, either.
So who do you like – the Red Sox or the Yankees? The series over the weekend was basically even, with the difference being that Girardi learned a lesson not to pitch to Manny there. Both sides were handicapped, the Yankees without Posada and Jeter, the Red Sox without Lowell and a badly slumping Ortiz. You could throw Schilling in there, I guess, but I honestly don’t think the Sox are going to get anything out of his this year, so I’m going to throw him out the window until further notice. The Red Sox were at home, so they had a bit of an advantage there. If there is another point worth noting, it is probably that the Red Sox sent out their 1-2-3 starters (I hope nobody is going go to try and sell Wakefield to me as anything better than a fourth starter), and the Yankees sent out their 1, 3, and 4 starters, the difference being Pettitte. The Red Sox can’t compete with Joba/Mo, so the bullpen in a close game goes to the Yanks. The Red Sox have a pluckier offense, though, and that trademark resiliency, on display both Saturday and tonight. My verdict is it’s too close to call. Frankly, we’re not going to find out anything until the Yankee bats wake up. And if they don’t, well there’s our answer.
Glad to get one tonight. Kennedy deserved better. Hopefully this rouses the bats. Time will tell….