Thursday night, New York City. October is quickly tumbling towards November, and the weather is following along, obediently. The missus is out with her crew in Staten Island. The baby boy is at his grandparents’ house. That leaves me in the blue room, trying to pack my thoughts on the 2008 season into something coherent. I have game 2 on in the other room, but as always, I couldn’t care less. If the Yankees aren’t playing, I’m not really interested.
So let’s begin where we left off. The Red Sox ran out of pixie dust. As I watched game 6 with Big Joe, the Red Sox still peacocking all of their magic down in Tampa, I relayed to him something Acc told me years ago, when the Yanks were in the middle of all of their glory. “Someday,” he said, “This is going to end. It can’t go on forever.” And further to that, I said to Big Joe, when it ends, it tends to come crashing down. I can’t say it crashed down as badly for the Red Sox as it did for the Yankees in 2001, but hey – the bigger you are, the harder you fall. I’ll repeat what I said last week. As a dynasty, the Red Sox were always going to be a fraud. That’s not what they were, for a thousand reasons. But man, they knew how to dig in their heels.
So a few thoughts on the new Stadium. My opinion hasn’t changed from when they first announced this whole thing. Do they need it? No. Do I have an issue with them putting up a new Stadium? No. Does it thrill me? No. Does it kill me that they’re moving the field where Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly, and Bernie Williams played? It crushes me. That totally devastates me. Why would you do that? The field is the thing. Not the building. It’s the field. I hate that they’re moving the field. My thought is, if you’re going to move the field, then you might as well pack the whole thing up and move it to Manhattan. The building is the building, and the Bronx is the Bronx, but the field is the key. So I get that things change, and I’m not against putting up a new building with an opportunity to make millions upon millions more. Honestly, I’m okay with that. But back in ’74, you realized it was better to find temporary accommodations than to lose the one thing that matters. The field. That’s the one thing that bothers me. That they didn’t want to take a bit of a financial step backward for 2 years (if that?!) to keep the one thing that has always made Yankee Stadium Yankee Stadium. The field.
I promised Big Joe and his buddy Charlie that I would do a bit on the Mets, so here goes. The Mets. Man. What can you say. Two years of devastating meltdowns. I was listening to some of the banter on talk radio in the days following, and I was a bit confused by what I heard. Met fans, specifically and particularly the talking head radio and TV personalities, seemed to be coming out in favor of keeping Jerry Manuel on as Mets manager. So let me get this straight. There was one constant in the coaching ranks for two of the most colossal collapses in baseball history. Jerry Manuel. It was cool to blame Willie for a while, and it still is, but who was his bench coach? If you’re going to argue that Manuel didn’t have any accountability for ’07 just because he was bench coach, then why do you have a bench coach? If he’s useless and not accountable, why are you paying him in the first place? I was listening to Joe Benigno (who I love) and Evan Roberts (can go either way) on WFAN as I was driving around on Columbus Day, and anytime a caller would suggest the Mets should get a new manager, they would immediately jump down his throat. “Who?!” they would bark at him. One guy suggested Buck Showalter. “What has he ever won?!” they screamed. But here’s where that falls down. You’re not going to get a new manager because there isn’t anyone available who has a history of winning consistently? That’s completely idiotic. How many of those are there? Four? If that? What did Joe Torre win before he got to the Bronx? What did Terry Francona win before he got to Boston? What had Scoscia won before he started with Anaheim? Or Joe Maddon? Find someone you believe in and take a shot. That’s what winning teams do. Jerry Manuel needs to go, and the Mets need to start fresh. I think they have the right core of players. They need more depth at pitching and they need more consistency from their bats. They shouldn’t, because they have lots of marquee names in that lineup, but they do. David Wright is getting killed in New York for failing to come up clutch. They’re calling him D-Rod. Yikes. But for my money, the guy who needs to go is Jose Reyes. Jose Reyes is bad for a baseball team. I always marvel that Mets fans trip over themselves making excuses for him. He acts like a total *ss, and the fans turn a blind eye. The day before the Mets collapsed again, when Johan Santana came out and threw a gem, there was Jose Reyes, running out to do his ridiculous dancing out on the field when somebody hits a home run. Dude, everybody else in the league knows to keep it in the dugout. Especially when your season is hanging on by a thread. What is your problem? And for the second year in a row, he’s disappeared down the stretch. I know he’s a scary player with a ton of weapons, but guys who carry that kind of bad karma generally don’t win. (See: Bonds, Rodriguez…okay, Manny is clearly an exception). The good news is that the collapse, in a strange way, doesn’t seem as monumental after you watch the Phillies do what they’ve done. It was tougher to swallow last year when the Phillies mugged the Mets and then got swept in the first round.
So let’s get to an annual favorite: the smartest and dumbest things I said this year. As usual, the dumb thing was way dumber than the smart thing was clever. And believe it or not, my insistence that the Rays weren’t for real wasn’t the dumbest thing (although it was plenty dumb, obviously). The dumbest thing I said this year was this, on April 3rd:
“The fact is the Yankees are playing in their second game of the season and the best they have to throw out there is Mike Mussina. I know there are a lot of guys out there who love the Moose, and have for years. People get on me immediately when we kill him in the BPS. But guys – he is a number five starter. Number five. Is there anybody out there who thinks Moose has a better chance to throw a killer game than Phil Hughes? Somebody explain that to me…. Or Ian Kennedy, for that matter…. “
Yup. That’s me, with the razor-sharp insight that Moose was a dumber choice to start a game in 2008 than Ian Kennedy. Further proof that I haven’t the slightest idea what I’m talking about. I owe Sean a beer just on principle.
On to the smartest thing, posted on April 15:
“You’ve seen [Francona] 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.”
This wasn’t the first time I’ve talked about this. The implication, of course, is that one day this was coming to come back and bite Francona. And bite him it did. Only it wasn’t Dice K. It was Beckett. If he yanks him when he should have yanked him in game 2, the Sox probably win that game and take 2-0 back to Boston. And in one of the few times I’ve ever felt Francona was being disingenuous, he said after the game, “I felt he was the right guy for that spot.” I’m not Terry Francona, but his track record betrays him here. He was trying to get him a win. Period. And he got burned.
Last thing. My heart sank when I read yesterday that Mike Cameron was “high on the Yankees priority list.” As I said to Acc today on the phone, if that’s true, the Yankees are already out of contention for 2009. Not that Cameron himself is the reason (although he would be an awful, awful pick-up), but it would be clear that the Yankees are headed in the wrong direction. I think Mike F had a great tidbit in his comment the other day about Girardi saying that the Yankees “needed to swing early” against the better pitchers. Big Joe confirmed that he heard it also. If that’s his attitude, fire him right now. I’m not kidding. That’s exactly what you don’t do. What you can’t do. And that’s just it. Mike Cameron isn’t the type of player that is going to help you. I have to say, I’m really having trouble with that one. Who exactly in the Yankees front-office was the guy saying, “Cameron might be available?! Get him!!” What sense does that make? He’s hit .242 the last two years with low 20′s in home runs and a million – a million – strikeouts. He is exactly what was wrong with the Yankees last year. If that’s the type of guy they’re going to go after, and the type of team they’re going to be, they’ve already lost. I will note, though, that the Yankees did not confirm the report.
Maybe I’ll stop back in after the World Series. I hope this isn’t going to be a long off-season….
At the end of my last post, I said I had a number of things to go through when I checked back in. And I still do. But I’m not going to talk about any of them. It’s Thursday night/Friday morning, I have to talk about what I just saw. I guess they would have to close it out for this to be perfected, but however it ends, we are watching one of the most incredible teams of all time, in any sport. When the Red Sox won the World Series last year, there were whispers of the “D” word. Dynasty. Two Championships in four years really doesn’t get you there, though, so they were just that. Whispers. They got louder after the first round of the playoffs, and reached a crescendo (so far) after the Red Sox game one win in Tampa.
With that as background, this is probably the right time to point out that there are three people you generally can’t afford full credibility to when they are opining on the Yankees, Red Sox, or Mets, and that’s Yankees fans, Red Sox fans, and Met fans. All of them have a stake in all of the others’ situations. Met fans and Red Sox fans ( in general – doesn’t apply to every case, of course) might tell you that they’re agnostic on the fortunes of the other, but scratch the surface, and they will all probably admit that they like to see the other succeed just because it might p*ss off Yankee fans. My point is, I’m a Yankee fan, so feel free to stop reading here if you feel my allegiance will “Lupica” my credibility in this debate.
As a “dynasty,” the Red Sox were always going to be a fraud. You can argue that it all hinges on what your definition of dynasty is, and you can certainly throw a number at it and say that, say, three, championships in five years or so constitutes a dynasty. Tough to argue. For me, a dynasty is a team that goes out and beats you because they’re the best team every day, every year. The Red Sox have not been that. And I understand that Red Sox fans would want to use the word. It’s a big word; there aren’t too many opportunities to use it in sports. It’s a marquee term. But frankly, to use that term with this Red Sox team would be missing the point of this team. What they aren’t is the team that goes out and beats you day in and day out. In thirteen years, this team has won its division exactly once. One time. And if not for a four-run April comeback in the ninth inning against Mo Rivera, they don’t even finish first that one time. They always say that the season is a marathon, not a sprint. And in this marathon, Boston has just once in thirteen years been able to beat out just four other teams to win their division. Fifty years ago, they never would have made the playoffs.
So what are they. Well, they are simply the most brilliantly, fantastically, spectacularly resilient team I have ever seen in professional sports. I can’t think of a close second, or even a distance second. They own it, entirely. Let’s start from the beginning. In 2003, the year they came of age, the Yankees had run away with the division and the Sox were fighting for a Wild Card. And as the season wore on, I remember laughing with a couple of the boys that the Red Sox just seemed to be able to yank a game out of their butt whenever they absolutely needed it. You could almost predict it. You could look at the standings and the games that were in progress on any given night, and if the Red Sox were going to take a significant ding with a loss, you would see them start some crazy three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth. It was automatic. I always used to say they had a pocketful of miracles. So they ride their miracles into the playoffs, and they find themselves down 0-2 to the A’s and in extra innings. Eric Byrnes should have crossed the plate with the winning run, but the umps ruled (correctly) that he never touched the plate and was called out as Varitek chased him halfway to the dugout to apply the tag. The Red Sox survived and eventually won the game, then followed it with two wins to take the series. Then they face the Yankees, who took a 3-2 lead back to Yankee Stadium. With a Yankee lead in the 8th inning in game six, they got a routine fly ball that got caught in the wind by Nomar, and then a go-ahead shot that sparked a multi-run inning to steal game six. Game seven in 2003 was the one and only time in this decade that their luck abandoned them. Fast forward to 2004. Goes without saying. Then ’05 and ’06 were a bust. Then ’07. Down 3-1 to the Indians, they pulled off the ALCS win. So at that point they had pulled off, in their two Championships, the greatest and the second greatest series comebacks in the history of baseball. Now 2008. Again down 3-1, but this time losing 7-0 with two outs and a man on in the seventh inning. Guys, say what you want. I know ’04 was a 3-0 deficit, and I know it was against the Yankees. For a Red Sox fan, I can understand if that was their favorite. But if they pull this off in ’08, and I would not be the slightest bit surprised if they do, this beats them all. Down 3 games to 1, and losing by seven runs in the seventh inning with two outs, having to not just win, but go back on the road and win two more. I have not seen a more unbelievable feat in my entire lifetime by one team, in any sport. That would absolutely beat them all. And then you would be looking at a team that came back from 3-0, 3-1, and 3-1 down 7 runs with 7 outs to go, resulting in 3 Championships. There is no precedent for that anywhere in professional sports, as far as I know. And I challenge anybody to find me something even close. I know you might think I’m getting ahead of myself here, but am I? Is Tampa really going to snap back from this? Particularly since Big HGH and JD Drew seem to have survived their slumps and gotten their strokes back? Really? I don’t see it. And I certainly don’t have any faith in the National League. Now I’ll admit, I’ve been dogging the Rays all year. I openly admit it. But for the last few days I’ve been telling everybody – Let’s just see them close it out. Let’s see if they really are immune to the Red Sox magic. And wow. Wow, wow, wow.
So why not a dynasty? Because that’s not them. This win tonight made them 12-2 in their last 14 playoff elimination games. Just drink that in for a minute. Fourteen elimination games, and they’ve won twelve. Astounding. And to get it done this year it would be fourteen out of sixteen (at least), including their last ten in a row. So what was the Yankees record in elimination games in their run from 1996-2000? One and one. And that’s the point. They just didn’t find themselves in elimination games. They pretty much just buzz-sawed through everybody. If you’re asking me, that’s a dynasty. But that doesn’t take away from what the Red Sox are. Frankly, there have been lots of dynasties in sports. I don’t know if you’ll ever see another team like this crazy Red Sox team. They are almost beyond explanation.
I know, I know. I’m already giving them 6 wins in their next nine games. Getting ahead of myself. Fine. Is anybody out there betting against them?
“Son-in-law…” It was Big Joe calling from Chicago. He was at a trade show. “I’m here in Chicago, and everyone keeps coming up to me asking if you’re okay. They all want to know why you fell off the face of the earth. I told them you’re busy changing diapers and all that….“ Big Joe was running cover. There’s some truth to what he was saying, I guess, but I would have to say it’s a combination of things. I admit, it’s a lot of work juggling the baby boy’s schedule with side cars like the BPS. Not that I’m doing a lot of heavy lifting where the boy is concerned. To say that I’ve been spending the bulk of my time changing diapers and getting bottles ready would be a disservice to the missus. I am merely an available and sort-of capable assistant most of the time. But it does get tricky trying to fit everything in. And to say that this was the only reason for the slide of the BPS would be kidding myself. I have to admit, as the team slips down in the standings, it’s tough to get as amped up. And not knowing how I would respond to the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time since I was barely able to drive, I guess I figured I would still be as glued to the proceedings, right up to the last out. And to an extent, I was. Many nights Acc and I would exchange texts to the effect of, “I don’t know why I’m still watching this, but I am.” But not amped enough that I would be storming into the blue room after a tough loss to pound out all of my thoughts on the BPS. Besides, I’ve always warned you guys that I’m the laziest guy in America.
So how do we analyze the 2008 season? Was it the injuries? A lack of clutch-hitting, mismanagement, front-office savvy? Was this team just not as good? After spitting and bleeding thorough six months of Yankee baseball, I’m kind of surprised that after all is said and done, I’m still sitting here wondering what just happened…
First things first. The Tampa Bay Rays. Guys, I’ll stand and take my flogging now. I promise I won’t squawk. Yup, I was the guy. No revisionist history here. I’m not going to say that I hedged on this one bit. I came out many times this year breathing fire that they weren’t for real. That they were the fortunate beneficiaries of a soft, home-friendly schedule in the first half. The end would see the cream rise to the crop. I could go on and on. Bottom line; they got it done. Kudos to them, shame on me for being a non-believer.
It’s not like the Yankees couldn’t beat the good teams. Putting aside the kryptonite-in-their-pocket Angels of Anaheim, who are always a Vincent Price movie for the boys from the Bronx, the Yankees didn’t have a losing record against any of the other playoff teams, including both Minnesota and Chicago. In fact, only Boston was even able to eke out a season series tie in extra innings on the last day of the season. It was a lot of stumbling around with teams like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City that cost the Yankees this season. The Red Sox again settled comfortably into their familiar second place cubby, although this year with a new Queen Bee to serve at the top. Not sure how they’ll fare in the post-season, but at least they know who they are. The Yankees ended up in first place all these years because they were the best team. The Red Sox snuck into the playoffs all these years because they’re never dead until you kill them. The chips have fallen the last twelve years or so such that the Yankees can’t beat the Angels, the Angels can’t beat the Red Sox, and the Red Sox can’t beat the Yankees. The Red Sox got their one exception; let’s see if the Angels can get theirs. Funny.
So let’s start at the top. The last deal on the table for Johan Santana was Hughes, Kennedy, and Melky for Santana. Just about no one in Yankee-land wanted this to happen. Way too much, considering the promise shown by those three guys, who by season’s end in 2007 were all starters. Well, you know what they say about hindsight boys. Melky is not a major league baseball player and Ian Kennedy is not a major league baseball player. Phil Hughes, it seems, has a long way to go. You live and learn. That was a colossal mistake. Speaking of Kennedy and Hughes; zero, that’s zero wins between them for the season. Wow. Kennedy was not only awful, he was delusional, thinking he “pitched well” after getting pounded by the Angels. Dude, when you’re wearing the Yankee pinstripes, the only way you pitch well is when you end up with a “w” next to your name. Hughes, when he finally got healthy, was subject to his old bugaboo. He can’t put people away. Gets two strikes pretty easily, and then hitters start to battle him. Even if he gets them, his pitch count goes sky high and he can’t be effective. It’s one of the key reasons the guy had no wins. Even when he pitched well in a game the Yanks would eventually win, like he did in the final two weeks, he didn’t get the win because his pitch count was blown long before he was out of the fifth. Not good. Not sure what kind of major leaguer he turns out to be.
So we know about the injuries. Posada, the Ferocious Lion. Alex Rodriguez was out and/or hurting for about six weeks early on. Wang was lost early on. Definitely a key theme for the collapse, without a doubt. But I can’t say that I’m qualified to say how or why the end came. If I had to pick one thing, I would probably say the general approach to hitting. The Yankees just weren’t tough outs in 2008. Cano, Melky, Molina, Alex, and sadly, Derek Jeter swung far too early in the count at far too many pitches. That’s the key thing for me. It wasn’t just the futility; it was the quick outs and the quick innings. There were too many mediocre pitchers that turned into Preacher Roe facing the Yankees. It would always drive me nuts to hear guys like John Sterling saying, “Boy, you better go up there swinging against a guy like Roy Halladay, because he’s going to throw strikes.” And that’s just what the Yankees did. The problem is that’s just what you don’t do against a guy like Roy Halladay. Okay, he throws strikes. But opponents hit what? Low two-hundreds against him? If that? Bottom line is, you don’t swing against Roy Halladay. Because the odds are great that you’re not going to get a hit. Of course I don’t mean you never swing, but you don’t want to go out there and try to shell Roy Halladay. It’s not going to happen. You do what the Yankees of the past few years were legendary for doing. You wait him out and get to the bullpen. He’s not going to throw three straight strikes to everybody. Make him work for it. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but against a guy like Halladay, you’d rather make out after an 8-pitch at-bat than get a base hit on the first pitch with two outs and nobody on. If the next guy also swings at the first pitch and gets out, you’re no closer on the scoreboard but you’re six pitches behind in terms of getting into the bullpen. The current Red Sox, watching the Yankees all those years, are great at this. I was in section 24 for the last Red Sox/Yanks series at the Stadium, and I distinctly remember at one point (I forget which inning) there was a man on first, one out, and the count was 2-1 on the batter. And the Red Sox had swung at exactly one pitch in the inning. One. Brilliant. The Yankees need more tough outs in their lineup.
Not done yet, boys. I’ll be back with a few more thoughts. What changes need to be made, what can be done better, the old Stadium, the new Stadium, the Mets (ugh, the Mets), etc… See you then.