Results tagged ‘ Joe Girardi ’

Looking back, looking ahead

THIS QUOTE COSTS ONLY FIVE CENTS
jeter_rivera_300_110609.jpgThe Yankees clubs for which Lefty Gomez pitched (1930-1942) went to seven World Series and won the first six. Thus, when the Yankees dropped the 1942 World Series to the Cardinals, he was less than excited to have “just” won a pennant. “The Yankees’ victory celebration,” he said after the fifth and final game, “will be held at Horn & Hardart. Don’t forget to bring your nickels.” Despite all the rings, Gomez never got a tickertape parade, so perhaps he had cause to be jaded. On the other hand, Derek Jeter will never get to eat at an automat, so you win some, you lose some.

COFFEE JOE’S NEW NUMBER
My pal Colonel Lindbergh suggests that “Coffee Joe” Girardi should perhaps now be called “Champagne Joe,” but I think not — it sounds too much like “champagne chicken.” Besides, “Champagne Joe” describes some toff who appears on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Indolent,” not a manager who is often thinking not two steps ahead of the opposition, but 42 steps with a half-twist to the right (in the Olympic thinking event, Girardi gets high marks for difficulty of routine). Perhaps he should be called “Calculator Joe,” and were this the 1920s or 30s, when sportswriters were all about bestowing nicknames like “The Little Napoleon” and “The Tall Tactician,” perhaps he would be.

In any case, I am sticking with my Girardi nom de baseball, even though Girardi is not going to be sticking with his uniform number, trading up from No. 27 to No. 28 to symbolize the quest for the next championship. Fortunately for Joe and his motivational techniques, No. 28 is not one of the many numbers the Yankees have nailed to the wall, though one very prominent Yankee, a Cy Young winner, did have a long hold on the digits.

Courtesy of the book, “Now Batting, Number…” by Jack Looney, select Yankees who have worn No. 28: outfielder Myril Hoag (1931, 1934-1935), pitcher Atley “Swampy” Donald (1938-1945), pitchers Tommy Byrne (1948-1951) and Art Ditmar (1957-1961), famously busted outfield prospect Steve Whitaker (1966-1967), relief ace Sparky Lyle (1972-1978), first basemen Bob Watson (1979-1980) and Steve Balboni (1983), southpaw Al Leiter (1988-1989), future pitching coach Dave Eiland (1991), pitcher Scott Kamieniecki (1993-1996), outfielder Chad Curtis (1997-1999), and DH David Justice (2000-2001). The current holder is Shelley Duncan.

Perhaps the Yankees could bring Sparky in for the ceremonial change of jerseys. He did a lot for the team and deserves the nod.

BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY, A TO-DO LIST
In no particular order, and without going into detail just yet, just a few of the matters that Brian Cashman and pals will have to grapple with in the coming days. Let me know if I missed anything:

? Derek Jeter is going into the last year of his contract. Do the Yankees try to offer an extension now, so as not to have the matter be a distraction throughout 2010? How will baseball’s post-downturn economic realities — for the most part, players are not getting $20 million a pop any more — affect negotiations?

? Mariano Rivera is also going into his walk year and expressed a wish for an extension in the giddy, celebratory moments after the World Series. He had a great season and was a key factor in the postseason, but he turns 40 in about three weeks. As with Jeter, the lack of a contract post-2010 might be a distraction.

? What roles will Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes have next year? Will they be starters? Relievers? Swing men?

? Does outfielder Austin Jackson, who hit .300 at Triple-A (but with only four home runs) have a role to play on next year’s club?

? How to approach aging but important free agents Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Andy Pettitte?

? How about lesser free agents like Xavier Nady, Jerry Hairston, Jose Molina and Eric Hinske?

? Are any members of a weak free agent class worth bidding on? If Damon or Matsui departs, do the Yankees want to take a shot at Jason Bay or Matt Holliday? Instead of trusting in Joba or Hughes again, do they want to bolster the back of the rotation with a veteran starter like John Lackey?

? Do they offer Chien-Ming Wang a contract and thus get tied into an arbitration situation with an injured player?

? What about other arbitration eligible types like Chad Gaudin, Melky Cabrera and Brian Bruney?

? Do they pick up the club option on Sergio Mitre?

? Coffee Joe is also going into the last year of his contract. Does the World Series win earn him an extension as well?

Man, do the Yankees have a lot to talk about, and so do we. If I’m Cashman, I don’t linger at the parade. I get right back to the office and start working this stuff out. After all, yesterday the Red Sox picked up outfielder Jeremy Hermida (career .276/.359/.456 outside of Florida, and still only 26 next year), so the opposition is already hard at work trying to knock the Yankees off their perch.

I met my old lover on the street last night

BOMBERS-250.jpgHey, beautiful. It’s been awhile. Can I say, you look really, really good? You haven’t aged a day. Don’t feel the obligation to say the same thing, even just to be polite. I know I’ve seen some dents and scratches. There have been a few accidents along the way in getting to this little reunion. Mistakes were made, I know that. Innocence is not a concept I cling to. Sometimes it seemed like there would never be a safe harbor, and yet, here we are at last. It’s so good to be with you again. Thank you, I really mean thank you, for letting me feel this way one more time. I heard Jorge say you never know when you’re going to get another chance. I know that you don’t have a lot of time to stay, but Jorge was so very right, and he would know, wouldn’t he? All I’m trying to say to you is, kid, let’s not rush it. Let’s just enjoy the moment. Let it breathe, because all I want to do is feel this way a little longer. And when it stops, give me one last look before you go, so I can make up another dream.

THE LORDS OF THE RINGS
Given that the Yankees won four World Series in the span of five years not terribly long ago, it is somewhat shocking to consider that there are fans–Yankees fans, baseball fans–now 18 years old who were only nine when the Yankees last hosted a championship trophy. This is not long by the standards of some teams; there are some Cubs fans who are now on their second or third afterlives since the last time their club got to dance on the field. Nor is it long by the standards of my own youth, when the Yankees got a little lost, a little tragic, and a little angry on their way to defending the 1978 championship and gradually disappeared, first from the postseason winners’ circle, then from the playoffs, and finally even from the list of .500 teams. Eighteen years went by, each one of them more difficult and bizarre than the last. The Yankees only waited half as long this time, and yet, but the standards of expanded postseason baseball and the changed economic environment of the game, and the obvious effort the Yankees organization put in to winning, eight years seems like a very long time. Throw in painful lose-from-ahead defeats like the 2004 Championship Series against the Red Sox, throw in the midges that ate Joba Chamberlain, throw in Jeff Weaver, and (especially) throw in the last ten minutes of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, and nine years seems like a very long time indeed. Derek Jeter turned 35 this summer. He was a youthful 26 the last time he earned a new ring.

Many congratulations are due to Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman, the latter of whom was strangely and undeservedly absent from the winner’s podium. They made smart offseason acquisitions, certainly the best of Cashman’s entire run. No Tony Womack this time, no Carl Pavano. They bought the best in Mark Teixeira, and had the perceptivity to see that the White Sox had badly undervalued Nick Swisher. They were also lucky in getting big rebound years from Jorge Posada (injury), Robinson Cano (inexplicable slump), Derek Jeter (uncharacteristic malaise), Melky Cabrera (wholly explicable slump), and Hideki Matsui (injury). Johnny Damon contributed his second solid year in a row, which also wasn’t a sure thing, and Alex Rodriguez came back reinvigorated from personal scandal and surgery, which also didn’t have to happen. All of these elements, when combined with a new ballpark that seemed to favor raw power (“seemed”  because the jury is still out on YS II’s true nature), gave the Yankees one of the best offenses in club history, one which would be able to hold its own if it ran into any other great offense in club history, 1927 and 1998 Yankees included.

With four switch-hitters and three left-handers in the lineup, opposing managers couldn’t match pitchers with them, and even the weakest spot in the lineup was a short distance from average (center fielders hit .273/.338/.400; the average AL hitter averaged .267/.336/.428). All those comeback wins aren’t surprising given that kind of depth. There have been years in the past when the Yankees have gone to the ninth inning down a run or two, and when I looked ahead to see who is coming up to try to pull the game out of the fire, I would see Andy Phillips and Miguel Cairo, or Bubba Crosby and Kelly Stinnett. “Oh great,” I might sigh to myself. “Here comes Ruth and Gehrig.” You knew the game was almost certainly over. There were very few moments like that in 2009, because in a lot of cases, Ruth and Gehrig, or some very reasonable facsimiles, were in fact coming up to the plate.

On the pitching side, the team also bought at the top of the market, bringing in CC Sabathia and the oft-dominant but erratic A.J. Burnett, as well as re-signed Andy Pettitte. Just as significant is what they did not do, which was hurl loads of cash at name-brand relievers, who rarely reward the investment. Instead, they were satisfied to stand pat with their improvised pen of late 2007, all balanced on the Rock of Panama, Mariano Rivera. When the relievers faltered, they didn’t trade the farm for veteran help, as the organization almost certainly would have done in the past. Instead, they reconfigured the relief staff once again and emerged with the best bullpen in baseball–at least in the regular season, but the Rock was always there in the postseason to set things right. 

Not every string that Girardi pulled, not every move that Cashman made was perfect, and as in any year there is a lot that you can argue about (as we often did in this space). As we’ll discuss in the coming days and weeks, there were a few moves that they’re unlikely to get away with twice. Still, as the old saying goes, flags fly forever, and for now those disputations are reduced to mere quibbles. They organized this team almost as well as a team can be organized, and I cannot wait to see what they do for an encore. Congratulations to the brains trust, to the coaches and scouts, to ownership and executives and interns, and, most of all, the players. Well played, gentlemen.

STAY TUNED–ALL WINTER LONG
Even though the lights have gone down on the 2009 baseball season, the Pinstriped Bible will be maintaining its usual five-day a week schedule, plus more when there’s breaking news to discuss. Baseball never stops, and we’ll immediately light up the hot stove and start talking about the path to championship No. 28 and all the other doings around baseball. It’s going to be a fascinating winter, especially for the Yankees. I look forward to passing the cold months with you, and I hope you’ll stay and be part of the discussion.

As I always do at this time, I’d like to thank you for reading the Pinstriped Bible. It has been my privilege to write the PB for about ten years now, and I never feel less than blessed to have the opportunity to (I hope) entertain you, challenge you, and learn from you. Even if your only contact with me was to register a compliment or a disagreement, I appreciate the fact that you took the time to give me your thoughts. I have the best job in the world, and it’s all due to your support. Once again, thank you so very much, and may you enjoy this championship as much as I have enjoyed writing about it.

Sights and sounds from Citizens Bank

COUNTING OUT TIME
You ever see everything wrong with a team come out in one game? There isn’t a lot wrong with the Yankees. The team won 103 games in the regular season and 10 more in the postseason so far. They’re one win away from a World Series title. And yet, no team is perfect, and most of the weaknesses that the Yankees have bit them all at once in Game 5:  

? Last winter, the Yankees were perceived to have paid too high a price for A.J. Burnett, because at times he fumbles on the mound like a schoolboy on his first date, and at others he has not been available at all. Given those negatives, only the Yankees were willing to pay a premium for all the good stuff in between. Last night, they got the schoolboy, the guy who can’t find the zone. As Peter Gabriel sang in “Counting Out Time,” “Better get [his] money back from the bookstore right away.”

I don’t think this was Burnett on short rest (something he hadn’t done this year, though he had a few times in 2008); I think it was just Burnett being Burnett. Still, let us say this: If we say Burnett, or (in the future) Andy Pettitte, or CC Sabathia did not pitched well on short rest for reasons other than the missing day, we’re making an assumption — we can’t know the real answer one way or another. No one can. That said, can we ask if the decision to change the pitchers’ routines was inevitable based on the talent the Yankees have on hand? Heck yes, we can ask, and heck no, it was not inevitable. The “rise” of Sergio Mitre coincided with the infliction of the bizarre and ever-changing Joba Rules II. Had the Yankees been less interested in giving Mitre chance after botched chance, and more alert to other options, such as pulling Alfredo Aceves and his low-leverage innings out of the bullpen (there is another righty long reliever out there) or (dare I say) stop worrying about the eighth inning and let Phil Hughes start, and the Yankees might have had another rotation option now. As things are presently constructed, Girardi has no choice but to push. Had different avenues been pursued beginning three months ago, it might be different now. It is precisely because you cannot precisely anticipate the contingencies that future events might require that I go on and on about seemingly insignificant matters like the Yankees throwing away every fifth start on a punching bag — that punching bag could have been a postseason contributor. Complacency, as the saying goes, sucks.

coke220_110309.jpg? Phil Coke is exceptionally home run-prone. In the regular season, he had the 12th-highest rate of home runs allowed per nine innings in the big leagues, relievers who pitched 50 or more innings. Even with Damaso Marte hurting, the Yankees had other options in the Minors. They didn’t try them. Coke’s inability to retire left-handed hitters Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez gave the Phillies the cushion they needed. Remember, the Yankees didn’t need to beat Cliff Lee, they only needed to keep the game close enough that they could beat the Phillies’ relievers. That is almost what happened but for Derek Jeter’s ill-timed double play (with Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui on the bases, Ryan Madson’s mild ground-ball tendencies, and Jeter’s own high percentage of ground ball double plays, this was pretty much as close to an inevitability as you can get) and Coke’s largesse. A home run is a home run, but Ibanez’s shot, one of the longest I have ever seen in person, really sums up the problem with Coke.

? There’s a flipside to Coke’s performance, which is that the fellow has pitched 2.2 innings in the last month, having been pushed to the back of the reliever line by Girardi. I’m not making excuses for Coke, who as I pointed out above, has a tendency to get hit for airline-like distance. Still, it is hard to believe a pitcher can stay sharp on that basis. I also felt — and as for everything here, this was something I first-guessed at the ballpark — that the Yankees could have used a bit more Coffee Joe on Monday. Burnett gave up three runs in the first inning, walked Jimmy Rollins in the second, and opened the third with two walks. We’ve all been down this road with Burnett before; it was spectacularly unlikely that things were going to get better before they got worse. Burnett should have been pulled right after ball four to Ryan Howard. Instead, he remained to pitch to Jayson Werth, giving up a ground-ball single. He also pitched to the next batter, Ibanez, which was two batters too many. By the time Girardi got out of the dugout, the inning was out of hand.

ONE OTHER NOTE, WHOLLY SARCASTIC AND GREATLY BITTER
It sure is too bad that Mark Teixeira was too injured to play in this series and the Yankees had to play some nameless Triple-A guy at first base, Doug Miranda-something. Doug has a good glove, but man, he can’t hit at all. I know Teixeira is trying his best to get back into the lineup before the series ends, but he’s running out of time.

TOMMY’S HOLIDAY CAMP

I had the good fortune to attend Game 5 in the company of a cadre of Yankees employees, who did their level best to root the Yankees on in a highly hostile environment, one marked by a state of denial inhabited by approximately 45,000. It’s fair to chant “A-Rod sucks,” if not particularly original, but if A-Rod sucks, how the heck do you characterize Ryan Howard? Gamesmanship is swell, but let’s maintain at least a slight tether to reality.

employees320.jpgLet it not be said that the Yankees’ staff lacks a sense of humor. If you’ve been to the new Yankee Stadium, you’ve seen those ballpark flight attendants carrying “May I help you?” signs with the Yankees’ logo on them. The staffers appropriated these for the ballgame, and frantically waived them whenever the Yankees came to bat or took the field (the photo is from the top of the first). The Phillies fans loved this and chuckled kindly at the New Yorkers’ amusing antics. Or something like that. One Phillies follower shouted, “Go back to your apartments!” I think might have been an attempt at class warfare, though not a very wise one. Does he know what those apartments are worth? There were other comments, some wholly inappropriate in any venue, and mostly went to underscore why I rarely attend games as a civilian — drunk people say and do stupid things. I got to my seat at about 5:50 p.m., or two hours before game time. The beer vendors were already working the stands.

Human beings, tough to tolerate anywhere, aside, I enjoyed Citizens Bank Park. The interior design is industrial, featuring brick, high metal catwalks, and exposed girders. The effect is of going to see the world’s most highfalutin factory team. This is both sad and amusing, as America distinctly lacks factories these days. In that sense, CBP isn’t a throwback ballpark, it’s throwback Americana, the playground of Ozymandias the Industrialist. It’s as if Rome had a team and they built a replica Colosseum, complete with missing walls and fractured statures. “Celebrate the grandeur that was the empire! Have a hot dog!” As I walked through this memorial to Philadelphia’s receding industrial past, down concourses that would have been wide had they not been stuffed with choke points due to various vendors, displays, and a sit-down restaurant, I kept imagining a sign that said, “If you worked here, your job would be in China by now.” There has always been a school of thought that criticized America’s predilection for creating faux experiences in place of actual ones. Disney architecture, with its miniaturized versions of actual places, is supposed to be th
e height of this tendency to vulgarize the real, creating facades that  trivialize and sanitize without providing any illumination. I never felt that way before. CBP made me empathize for the first time.

hopp250_110309.jpgJust as I was mulling these things over, two men in business suits pushed past me. One was tall and heavy, the other short and thin. It was kind of a Mutt and Jeff cartoon come to life. The taller one was carrying a huge, overstuffed cheesesteak sandwich in his giant paw. The shorter man looked down at it. “How can you do that in this economy?” he asked. The big man strode away, the shorter one hastening to keep up. At that moment, the ballpark PA system blasted a cover of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma:” Instant Karma’s gonna get you… Gonna knock you off your feet… Better recognize your bothers: Everyone you meet… My favorite moments in life are the ones in which the universe acts as your iPod.

I spent a few minutes at the Phillies’ MLB-authenticated collectables booth. An autographed Jayson Werth ball (regular season) will set you back $60. Brad Lidge will bite you for $125. Happy people in red drifted past, holding hot dogs the size of my forearm.

On the whole, though, CBP seems like a fair place to see a ballgame, and probably a friendlier one on days in which the championship is not at stake and fewer Yankees are waiving “Can I help you?” signs around. You can see a few things not evident at Yankee Stadium, like fans standing along the railings during batting practice. Also, note the woman in the lower right-hand corner. Is her jersey:

A)    A tribute to Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ, misnumbered and misspelled?
B)    A tribute to 1940s outfielder/first baseman Johnny Hopp who never played for the Phillies but did play, briefly, for the Yankees?
C)    A tribute to rabbits, who both hop and breed frequently, hence the high number?
D)    Just a boring personalization?

I never did find out. I should have approached her with a “Can you help me?” sign. Finally, I never did find McFadden’s Restroom, but it sounds enchanting, the Fiddler’s Green of bathrooms.
mcfaddens200_110309.jpg

 

The spine

teixeira_300_110209.jpgAs the old saying goes, momentum in baseball is only as good as your next day’s starter. The Phillies have a very good starter going in World Series Game 5, so perhaps it is premature to say that the Yankees may have broken their opponent’s spine. Yet, the dramatic action of Game 4’s eighth and ninth innings, which wrapped an entire “Yankees Classic’s” worth of action into about 20 minutes, suggests that conclusion.

Let’s review. The Yankees took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth. CC Sabathia, looking a bit frayed around the edges, pitched just that much better than Joe Blanton. The fifth inning was particularly tough, with the Phillies putting two on with none out for Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and the deadly-to-lefties Jayson Werth. Sabathia induced pop-ups from Utley and Howard, and struck out Werth to end the threat. In many games, that might have been the end right there.

Regarding the Sabathia- Utley relationship: I am reminded of Don Mattingly vs. Don Aase, who was the Orioles closer for a couple of years during the center of Mattingly’s career. Aase was often a good pitcher, but he could do nothing with Mattingly, who went 6-for-7 with two home runs against him. After Mattingly hit his second ninth inning homer off of Aase in a year, Orioles manager Earl Weaver was asked if he would ever let Aase pitch to Mattingly again. “Not even to intentionally walk him,” Weaver said. It’s getting to that point with Sabathia and Utley.

Utley’s home run in the seventh chased Sabathia, so Joe Girardi bringing in Damaso Marte’s fresh arm to go after Howard. Marte again rewarded Girardi’s faith in him this series. The Yankees stranded two runners in the top of the eighth, and Girardi decided to roll the dice on a new eighth inning man… Firpo Marberry! Actually, with Werth due up, he went for Joba Chamberlain with Phil Hughes being too scary and David Robertson having left the stadium to pick up some Chinese take-out. Joba is right-handed and has pitched a good inning in this series, so the manager was entitled to his fantasies of 2007.

Chamberlain seemed set to pay those off, as the old Joba was suddenly back, back for perhaps the first time all year, pumping 97 mph fastballs at the Phillies hitters. Unfortunately, Pedro Feliz took one of those 97 mph fastballs and made a souvenir out of it. Joba came back to get Carlos Ruiz on off-speed pitches, striking out the side around the game-tying home run. Baseball is a punishing game. For a moment, Joba had turned back the clock, and yet he still was punished. It’s like something out of Greek myth.

That sets up the ninth. With the game tied, the Yankees finally got their first look at Brad Lidge, the lost-then supposedly-found closer. Lidge looked very tough in retiring Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter, but then came Johnny Damon’s terrific, nine-pitch at-bat. As Lidge threw fastball after fastball trying to get the elusive third strike, you could see Damon getting his timing down. We’ll never know why Lidge didn’t go back to his slider in any of his last five pitches to Damon given that the fastball wasn’t fooling the left fielder. Damon finally singled to keep the inning alive. If Lidge wasn’t unnerved at this point, he surely was after Damon — who didn’t run much in the regular season (and why would you if you’re on base in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez?) — promptly stole two bases on one play, one by taking advantage of the Phillies’ defensive alignment to swipe an unguarded third.

That was all it took for Lidge to turn into the pitcher who went 0-8 with 11 blown saves this year. He hit Teixeira, grooved a pitch to A-Rod for an RBI double, and couldn’t retire Jorge Posada despite getting ahead 0-2. By the time Posada retired himself on the bases, the Yankees were up 7-4. Now, here is where I think we find the broken spine. Girardi called on Mariano Rivera to close out the game. The Phillies have now seen Mariano more times than I’ve seen “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” That’s about a bajillion times, for those keeping score at home. Nonetheless, the Phillies did not battle, did not make it tough on the Yankees’ Father Time. They went out on eight pitches — two to pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, three to Jimmy Rollins, three to Shane Victorino. Some of that economy is due to the greatness of Mo, but it also, I think, reflected the mood of the moment, that this was too high a mountain to climb.

As I said at the outset, Lee is a terrific pitcher, and if the Phillies chose the better part of valor in the ninth inning, there is nothing in that to indicate that they won’t come out fighting in Game 5. These are, after all, the reigning champions. If they don’t get up off the mat, though, no one can blame them — they’ve had to overcome a great deal of adversity this year, much of it at the hands of Lidge and their manager’s loyalty to them. If this loss is one cut too many, it will be understandable. No team in the history of baseball has ever had to work harder to overcome one of their own relievers than the Phillies have had to work to overcome Lidge.

The real Burnett stands up

My friend and colleague Stephanie Bee suggested that I write up World Series Game 2 as follows:

1. Mo was a bit over-used
2. Jeter shouldn’t have bunted
3. Burnett was brilliant
4. Umps still [expletive]

That seems like a fair rundown to me, though while my temptation is to cavil about numbers two and four, it’s probably best to stick with one and three. Actually, four is just a fact of life, and will be until Major League Baseball accepts that replay in baseball games need not be the Supreme Court hearing that is replay in the NFL and opts for having the most accurate baseball game possible, we’re going to have to live with cloddish umps. There are fewer things happening at once in most baseball replays than in football. Balls are caught or not, fair or foul. It’s not “did the wide receiver have his toes in bounds as he was/was not juggling the ball and did it cross the plane of the goal line or didn’t it?” One replay umpire stationed off the field could have overturned Ryan Howard’s non-catch in 10 seconds.

As for Jeter’s non-bunt, although the Old Captain is top-20 in double play percentage (17 percent of his chances, worst on the Yankees) giving away outs, as opposed to gambling on the better than 80 percent chance that a very good hitter WON’T hit into one, is not good managing. It was a poor decision by Joe Girardi which Jeter doubled down on by bunting foul with two strikes.

burnett_275_103009.jpgThose two items dispensed with, on to the better stuff. On A.J. Burnett’s loss/no-decision days this summer, he walked 4.8 batters per nine innings. When he won, it was only 3.4. Therein lies the sign of a happy curveball or an unhappy curveball. On Thursday night, the curveball was happy, and thereby were the Phillies made unhappy.

It’s the most basic of all human relationships. If only Burnett could be the pitcher he was Thursday night a tad more often, and had had more health — well, never mind. If your grandmother had wheels she’d be a wagon, and if Burnett had health and consistency he wouldn’t be what he is, and that’s plenty good in six starts out of 10. You just have to hope that the other four don’t come at important times.

With the help of umpire Jeff Nelson’s roomy strike zone, Burnett walked just two and struck out nine. In the game’s Nelson umpired this year, the number of strikeouts were average or even a bit below, so it’s puzzling that he gave the pitchers so much room off the plate. Still, he was consistent in having a wide zone for both teams, but for a pitcher like Burnett that little bit of generosity goes a long way. I’m not trying to diminish what Burnett did — he saved the World Series from getting out of hand — but the confluence of umpire and pitcher could not have been more perfectly timed.

During the YES postgame, one of the Yankees’ players (Jeter, I believe) was asked how it felt to know that Girardi had the “confidence” to use Mariano Rivera for two full innings. The choice of term was ironic, as Girardi was really expressing a lack of confidence in any of his other relievers. Insomuch as Game 2 was a must win, it wasn’t a bad call, but you have to question how long Rivera can keep this up. He threw 39 pitches, another high for the year, and though Girardi said in his postgame press conference that he didn’t ask Rivera to do this all year precisely so he could do it now, I’m not sure that that reasoning makes very much sense.

You’re talking about a 40-year-old guy who averaged 16 pitches per appearance this year more than doubling up his pitch counts. Given the lack of an off day between Games 3 through 5, can you really expect him to keep that up? Moreover, can you expect Rivera, a one-trick pony — it’s a wonderful trick, but it’s still just one — to keep fooling the Phillies at that rate of exposure? Andy Pettitte averaged 102 pitches per start this year and his 6.1 innings in each of his ALCS starts were the deepest into a game he’s pitched since August, plus there’s pinch-hitting for pitchers to consider in the National League park.

All of this means that Girardi is going to have to confront his bullpen problems as soon as Saturday. Rivera won’t be able to carry the whole load in Game 3, and maybe not in any of the games in Philadelphia. We will see if anyone else stands up to shoulder his burden. 

Just a little patience against Phils, for Swish

lee250.jpgSOMETIMES IT DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK
Before Game 1, I suggested that the Yankees’ trademark patience would test Cliff Lee’s exemplary control. Score that one a clean miss. Unlike just about every other pitcher in the biz, Cliff Lee, who had the demeanor of someone who had just enjoyed a Prozac cocktail, did not bend, did not waver for even a moment. He threw nine innings of mistake-free baseball, never giving the Yankees a chance. A team that walked 38 times in six games against the Angels did not earn one free pass in the game.

You could dismiss this performance as just one game, and say, “Let’s see the next guy do that,” but for two problems. One, the bullpen took a close game and turned it into a rout. Two, Pedro Martinez. Martinez isn’t the old most-dominant-pitcher-ever Martinez, but the new version, which throws strikes and pulls strings, is still plenty good. He completely embarrassed the Dodgers in the NLCS. I will again cling to the belief that the Yankees’ lineup isn’t the Dodgers’ lineup, isn’t a National League lineup, and that lefties hit Martinez reasonably well in the future Hall of Famer’s brief regular season tune-up. The Yankees have also done good work against him (and bad, that also) in postseasons past.

Lee’s start and Pedro’s excellent control points up a way in which this Phillies rotation can take the Yankees’ best trait, their patience, and turn it against them. The Yankees like to work counts and take ball four. Phillies starters just don’t issue ball four. As a whole, Phillies starters averaged just 2.5 walks a game. Lee walked just 1.1 batters per nine innings as a Phillie, Martinez 1.6, Cole Hamels 2.0. The National League average was 3.5 walks per nine innings (the American League was roughly the same). Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ, the club’s wildest starters, walked 2.7 and 3.0 respectively. This staff is simply very good at throwing strikes, and if the Yankees play their usual game — and it’s not advisable that they start hacking, because that doesn’t work either — they may find themselves facing some long counts.

As for the bullpen failure, it had limited bearing on the outcome of the game — you could imagine that if the relievers had held serve, Charlie Manuel might have been more inclined to go to his bullpen — but since the Yankees never made up the initial deficit that resulted from the CC Sabathia-Chase Utley confrontations, it didn’t matter. The real impact is in the uncertainty about the bullpen unit as a whole, which seems to have gone down the rabbit hole this October. Perhaps the relative inexperience of the unit has got them twitchy. Whatever the reason, they have to get over it quickly, particularly Phil Hughes, or this Series is going to end a lot faster than anyone anticipated. Worse, a bad performance could mean a winter of reaction from the Yankees’ front office, chasing veteran relief hands at high cost. This is a subject for another day, but that would be an extremely counterproductive strategy that has rarely worked for any GM that has tried it. It’s a quick path to a job on ESPN, however temporary.

We shouldn’t overstate the impact of one game. Two is a different matter. A lot of pressure falls on A.J. Burnett’s right arm. Does he come ready to dance, or does the wild, uncertain version of the pitcher show up? Mister Cream Pie could do more to improve the Yankees’ morale tonight than all of the cans of shaving cream he’s gone through put together — or he could break it.

AND ONE COFFEE JOE NOTE: THINK!
I buy that Nick Swisher needs a mental health break, but considering yesterday’s performance to be part of his slump isn’t exactly fair given the way Lee pitched. After Lee, the whole roster might need a mental health break. In addition, Swisher continues to get into good counts, working the pitcher, which has value in itself if you want to get to the Phillies’ relievers already. In any case, Jerry Hairston is a bizarre choice to substitute for him. I’m thrilled that Hairston has had 10 hits in 27 at-bats against Martinez IN A PERIOD THAT BEGAN IN 1999 AND ENDED FIVE YEARS AGO. Martinez ain’t the same Martinez, Hairston ain’t the same Hairston, and the relevance is extremely, extremely debatable. As with Jose Molina’s time in the game, we’ll assume that this decision won’t have more than an at-bat or two’s worth of impact, but wow, Coffee Joe, that’s an odd call. You readers know I believe in the stats, but you can’t be a slave to the numbers. You also have to THINK.

More to come…

To the mats: Reader comments from Game 5

1: DESPITE WHAT W.C. FIELDS SAID, SOMETIMES WE GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK
I’m surprised you ignored the single worst tactical decision Girardi made: pinch-running for A-Rod. See this article at Fangraphs. And while there is an argument to be made for starting the 7th with a reliever, leaving Burnett in is also an acceptable decision. It’s not Girardi’s fault that Mathis has turned into Superman this series, or that Hughes grooved one to Vlady when Posada’s target was at eye level.– L.Bury

Always good to hear from you, Dr. Bury. To deal with the last point first, a few readers took my including Mathis’s success in the list of questions as a criticism of Joe Girardi. That wasn’t the case. It was, probably alone on the list, a rhetorical question with a bit of Old Testament “How long, O Lord?” tossed in (let’s go with Habakkuk 1:2, just to be esoteric). As I said in an earlier installment here, these things happen — Pat Borders, a thoroughly risible hitter, was the MVP of the 1992 World Series after hitting .450 in six games. Bucky Dent was the MVP of the 1978 World Series, having hit .417 with seven RBIs in six games. Dent probably went whole months during the regular season without driving in seven runs — the guy averaged 38 per 162 games played. When a hitter muscles up and goes crazy like this during a short series, it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, nor an indication that the scouting reports are off. It just happens. Dent played in five postseason series and didn’t come close to that level of success in the other four.

Pinch-running for Alex Rodriguez was ludicrous. Even with a bum hip, Rodriguez is still a relatively fast runner (he does take some bad gambles running the bases); it’s not like we’re talking about Jorge Posada, who by one measure was the second-worst player to have on the bases this year. Had the game gone into extra innings, that move would have badly punished the team. I stayed away from it because I was focusing on the crucial seventh inning, whereas the removal of A-Rod came in the ninth and had no bearing on the outcome of the game. It was a decision that had an extremely limited upside compared to the possible negative consequences. A full-blown “Coffee Joe” call by Mr. Girardi.

2: FAIR IS FOUL AND FOUL IS FAIR

Haven’t been here for awhile. Are you still pushing Nick Swisher as the be all end all? How could you have left him out of your Friday Morning Quarterbacking Second Guess-a-thon? We all knew his odds of hitting safely in that situation as close to nil. Other commenters were dead on – HINSKE NOT GUZMAN ON THE BENCH. In fact I’d start him over Swisher with the funk he’s in.– Javamanny

Welcome back, Javamanny (is that like Coffee Joe?). Among the things you missed: I said Hinske-not-Guzman as well. I’ve also brought up Duncan-not-Guzman and am leaning towards Chicken Stanley-not-Guzman. Also, these are first-guesses, not second-guesses. If you read the live chats I’ve been doing during these playoff games, you will see me make a lot of the same points, though it happens I didn’t do one for Game 5. I wouldn’t kill the manager for swisher200.jpgsomething that wasn’t an obvious problem as it was happening. In fairness, I would use words like, “In retrospect…” Thursday’s game situations weren’t all that subtle.

As for Swish Nicker, I still think he’s a very productive player and far superior to the alternative initially proposed, but right now he’s in a disastrous slump. There’s just no other way to put it. That’s he’s in the wrong slump at the wrong time doesn’t change my earlier opinion on him, just like Gil Hodges’ infamous 0-for-21 in the 1952 World Series didn’t make him a bad player or Dave Winfield’s 1-for-22 in the 1981 World Series made him bad player. In the same way that sometimes a hack like Jeff Mathis suddenly turns on the hitting in a short series, other players… don’t.

3: THE EXECUTION BLUES

Why, why, why do you throw Vlad a fastball again with 2 strikes, curveball, curveball, curveball. Posada/Hughes come on, are you guys kidding me.– jesseguerrero30

I find this one harder to complain about. Sometimes pitchers just miss their spots. By a lot. Had the pitch been out of the strike zone where it was supposed to be, there might have been a different result. As it was, it’s not like Guerrero nuked it. He hit it up the middle and Derek Jeter just missed catching up to it. It was a mistake, but pitchers miss their spots and hitters swing at bad pitchers. I’m trying to imagine the mechanics of the game if players always performed exactly as they intended to — you get into a paradox where hitters always swing at pitches they can hit, but the pitchers always make the right pitches so they get them out. I think my head is going to explode like one of those computers on the old “Star Trek.”

4: DETAILS, DETAILS…
Don’t the biplanes win in the end???? Otherwise, I love Rally Kong.– stultusmagnus

This remake ends differently. The biplane pilots realize that their reliance on fossil fuels is kingkong.jpgdamaging the environment and fly home, leaving the giant ape to root on his favorite baseball team and turn the Union Square Greenmarket into a million-dollar business due to his high-volume grape purchases.

5: SOMEDAY THEY’LL KNOW BETTER
Goldman, posts like these are why you are my favorite NYY analyst. WHERE THE HECK IS DAVID ROBERTSON!?!?– nyyls1fan

I happened to tune in to WFAN in the car this afternoon, and Mike Francesa was shooting down callers who were intent on asking why Robertson hasn’t been used properly by saying that you shouldn’t make him the flavor of the month based on two innings in this season. “He hasn’t been there all year,” he said, which I found very odd given that he pitched in 45 games and generally did very well, with that high strikeout rate to which I keep referring. Francesa is correct in insisting that Robertson is in no way a proven postseason performer, but then no one is asking for him to close games, just to be used in the situations in which he might help the team. He also was incredulous that Robertson might be ranked ahead of Joba Chamberlain, but that fails to take into account just how poorly Joba has been pitching. Better to go with the untried pitcher who you feel has a reasonable chance of succeeding than with tried solutions that have already failed.

MORE FROM ME…
After the game. If we have a game. I just saw Aquaman swim past my window, and I’m on the second floor. 

Coffee Joe extends ALCS

Despite getting some things in Game 5 that seemed impossible just hours and minutes before they happened — big hits from Mark Teixeira and (holy cow) Robinson Cano — Joe Girardi helped pay back a terrific Yankees rally by once again mismanaging his pitchers. There are many questions to ask about the fatal bottom of the seventh, some in the Yankees’ control, some not.

1. Why can’t the Yankees retire Jeff Mathis, a career .200 hitter who normally strikes out once every 3.3 at-bats, equivalent to 152 Ks over a 500 at-bat season?

girardi275.jpg2. With a rested bullpen and another day off in front of him, why did the previously hyper-twitchy Joe “Coffee Joe” Girardi stay with A.J. Burnett to open the frame? Sure, his pitch count was on the low side, but he had also been on the bench for nearly half an hour and, despite settling down after being roughed up in the first inning, had struck out only three Angels, suggesting that, lacking his best stuff, he could again be damaged by a combination of walks and balls in play.

3. Why wasn’t Burnett yanked after the Mathis single to open the inning? Having broken ground on his grave, he was allowed to dig further by walking Erick Aybar, a hitter who took just 30 free passes in the regular season in close to full-time play. Girardi, who was so pepped to make changes in prior games, sat on his hands after the Mathis hit.

4. Why not start the inning with Phil Hughes? The way relievers pitch when they enter with men on is very different from the way they pitch when they start an inning. Though Mariano Rivera has performed some Houdini-like escapes in this series, including one to bail out Joba Chamberlain in this very game, even he yielded to the Twins in Game 2 of the Division Series, entering with two men on and allowing an RBI single.

5. If the Angels’ batting order was the problem and Girardi didn’t want to have Hughes pitch to Chone Figgins after (theoretically) retiring Mathis and Aybar, then why not burn David Robertson and his strikeouts in that spot, then pull him for the inevitable lefty?

6. Related to the previous question, is it really even necessary to worry about the platoon matchup when facing Chone Figgins? The Yankees have done a great job of taking him out of this series, in part by giving him a steady diet of lefty pitching to face. But even if Figgins beats a righty pitcher, he is likely to beat him with a single; this is a guy who homered once every 123 at-bats this year. The same is true, though to a lesser extent, of Bobby Abreu. Even against right-handers, he hit just 12 home runs in nearly 400 at-bats. That’s one per 32 ABs. Against hitters like these, a manager should only pursue the platoon advantage if it’s not going to trip them up in other ways.

In this case, it led to Girardi, so profligate with relievers previously, to keep his starter in the game, solely so he could avoid making a pitching change before those two lefties were due up. And as long as we’re on the subject of platoon advantages, let’s talk about Damaso Marte for a moment, and for that matter, Phil Coke as well. Even Casey Stengel, who loved the platoon more than anything else in the world save his wife, said that you don’t switch out a good pitcher for a bad one just to get a platoon advantage. You can see that done every day of the regular season, and though the move worked out in Game 5, Girardi might have been guilty of it here.

7. It didn’t have an impact on the game thanks to Rivera, but why is Chamberlain pitching ahead of Robertson, or Urban Shocker for that matter? It’s depressing, but sending Joba back to the bullpen has not magically turned the clock back to 2007. There are still the makings of a fine pitcher here — the guy just turned 24, which means he’s about 2.5 years younger than Tampa’s Jeff Niemann, who is going to get some Rookie of the Year votes. There is still time for him, but his moment might not be now.

8. I am sick of the Rally Monkey. Have the Yankees’ scoreboard operators gotten to work on the New York equivalent as of yet? Guys, I want to see Rally Kong climbing the Empire State Building and smashing biplanes. You don’t need more than a day to get that set up, right?

kingkong.jpg

Impatience leads to no reward

TEMPTED, BUT THE TRUTH IS DISCOVERED
With the Phillies in place for the World Series, the temptation is to jump ahead and crank up the head-to-head comparison with the Yankees. That would be premature. A.J. Burnett can be a riddle wrapped in an enigma decorated in squid ink, and when he’s off he’s really off. Yet, it would be wrong to think of him as truly unpredictable, because he gave the Yankees a quality start roughly two-thirds of the time. This was just a bit better than John Lackey (who did suffer from a strained elbow this year).

The great break that Burnett gets in this series is that when he’s off his game, he’s wild, but the Angels, by nature of their offensive approach, are not inclined to let him be wild. Despite all the talk that Bobby Abreu has made the Angels more successful by his example, if you remove him — along with Chone Figgins — from the equation (and they’ve pretty much removed themselves in this series), and they remain a team that likes to hack. The Yankees have nearly doubled them up on walks, 23-13. Arguably, they are also putting better pitches in play, as they’ve struck out more than the Angels but have gotten far better results when they have made contact.

As I write this, Coffee Joe is still mulling his lineup, which one assumes will be sans Jorge Posada. Melky Cabrera’s solid showing in the previous game probably bought him another start, whereas before it seemed likely that at some point Girardi would go to Brett Gardner for a game. We’ve seen the manager navigate the Jose Molina/Posada switch a couple of times now, and it hasn’t cost the Yankees. However, it remains to be pointed out that if there’s a high-leverage situation early in the game, he must pull the trigger on a pinch-hitter.

All of his fooling around with pinch-runners and incessant pitching changes doesn’t have half the potential to change the game’s outcome as putting a good hitter up with two runners on. Maybe Burnett’s comfort level is affected after such a switch, maybe not, but if you’re up by a few runs instead of trapped in a game where the score is just a run or so apart, you can pay a torre275.jpglot less heed to that particular issue. Plus, with the possibility of getting a nice rest before the World Series as part of the payoff for winning today, you can throw the bullpen at the Angels — which, let’s face it, Girardi was going to do anyway.   

BYE BYE BLACKBIRD
Joe Torre has gone home again, and it was a bit sad to watch him try to hold back the tears at this latest disappointment. More than ever, it seems like he’s never going to get another chance to live down the 2003 World Series. Or 2004. Or Joba’s 2006 Attack of the Insect Kingdom.

Give Torre credit for surviving to manage, and manage relatively well — at least in the regular season — to the age of 69.  As I said last night, not too many managers are working successfully at his age, or working at all. Unfortunately, Torre has never been a great in-game manager, and while it’s hard to pin too much of the blame on him for a series in which his pitchers had an ERA of 7.38 and his hitters put up a .287 on-base percentage, he still made numerous decisions, from starting Ron Belliard ahead of Orlando Hudson (reminiscent of his benching Tino Martinez for Cecil Fielder in the 1996 postseason) to casting Chad Billingsley into the bullpen. He emphasized a player’s short-term struggles or hot streak over longer-term results.

He didn’t show the same kind of manic hand in the postseason that Coffee Joe has displayed this year, but he never did. He just made his choices, picked his loyalties and stuck with them. This was a great asset in the days when George Steinbrenner was inclined towards a more impulsive leadership, but it’s a serious detriment when you have to shift gears on the fly, which the postseason demands. With luck, he’ll get to try again next year, assuming the strained ownership situation with the Dodgers doesn’t curtail their offseason efforts to get what they’re missing: one more starting arm, one more starting bat.

Breeze it, buzz it, easy does it

girardi_300_102009.jpg(AND LAY OFF THE COFFEE, COFFEE JOE)
The postseason’s many off days have frequently been observed to allow shenanigans with starting pitchers that wouldn’t be possible in the regular season, such as reducing the rotation to three pitchers as the Yankees are doing in the ALCS.

Less often remarked upon is the freedom it allows a coffee-achiever/manic manager to run pell-mell through his bullpen, pulling out relievers like they were blades on a Swiss Army Knife — Mariano Rivera is the bottle-opener, Phil Hughes is the screwdriver and Alfredo Aceves is the one whose function you’re not quite certain of. If a manager acted that way in the regular season, he’d burn out his bullpen in about a week.

Thanks to the schedule, Joe Girardi has had the freedom to ignore questions of fatigue and can make changes on a whim, or at the command of a black binder that suggests you ignore what’s happening right in front of you in favor of oracular advice in the form of head-to-head data and scouting reports. In the case of the former, the samples are so small as to be meaningless, and as to the latter, whatever Howie Kendrick’s preferences are insofar as whether he likes fastballs better than curveballs or boeuf bourguignon to Lobster Thermidor, his interactions with David Robertson have been so limited that all you really have is a theory along the lines of, “If a tiger fought a lion, we believe the tiger would win,” or “In our prior experience we have seen that when sodium hits the water, things go boom, and we believe that Robertson is sodium and Kendrick is water.”

It’s speculation. There’s no fact behind it, just inferences. You can’t know if those inferences are correct until you test them. Girardi opted not to, and in a situation where he had the platoon advantage all along. Unless Aceves is harboring a specific pitch that we’ve not yet heard of — The Klingon Ball? The High ‘n’ Tight Hemingway Paragraph? The Astro Orbiter? — and Kendrick has been seen to wet himself at the sight of the Klingon Ball, there is no advantage that Aceves could have had over Robertson to justify the switch.

In fairness to Coffee Joe, we don’t know would have happened had he stuck with Robertson. Perhaps Kendrick would have hit the ball to the moon and the game would have ended right there. It could be that the manager’s hunch was correct and Aceves didn’t execute. What we do know is that Robertson was doing a fine job, has done a fine job, and that learning to trust him is a big part of this manager’s and this team’s future. If Hughes rejoins the rotation next year, Robertson could be your eighth-inning guy, and no reason that he shouldn’t be.

The Robertson/Aceves switch, and the Damaso Marte/Phil Coke switch earlier in the game, or all of the hectic pinch-running (which has not availed the Yankees and has actively hurt them) are also symptomatic of a manager who is managing too much in the moment and not thinking about what will happen if it turns out he needs the player he just chucked away. In particular, he seems to have forgotten that Brett Gardner is not just a runner but a full-function player. Since Eric Hinske is not on the roster, he’s the closest thing the Yankees have to a competent hitter on the bench. Because of the way he’s been used, the Yankees have been forced into having Freddy Guzman, Jerry Hairston, and Francisco Cervelli hit in key spots and potentially lost an extra inning of work from Rivera because they gave up the DH to replace Johnny Damon on defense.

This is the opposite of good managing. For the rest of the series, Girardi might better focus on imparting some of his high-caffeine mojo to his hitters, who haven’t had a hit with a runner in scoring position in the last two contests. The speed of the runners on base matters not a bit if the next three guys make outs and that is exactly what’s been happening. Alas, this aspect of things might be out of Coffee Joe’s hands.

YESTERDAY, CC SABATHIA SEEMED SO FAR AWAY
BUT OBJECTS IN THE MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

As for today’s matchup, when the three-man rotation concept was first floated, I brought up Luis Tiant in the 1975 World Series. El Tiante, who had been just so-so in the regular season that year but was nonetheless the team’s ace, had a week to get ready for Game 1, and he pitched a five-hit shutout. He pitched Game 4 on three days’ rest and was just good enough, holding the Reds to four runs in nine innings as the Red Sox won 5-4.

After Game 5 there was rain, which meant that Tiant got to pitch Game 6 after a five-day layoff. He shut out the Reds for four innings, but they broke through for three runs in the fifth, two in the seventh, and one more in the eighth. Given the long rest, the issue wasn’t fatigue, but familiarity — the Reds had seen all of Tiant’s tricks and were ready for them (they would go on to lose the game in extra innings on Carlton Fisk’s famous home run).

Obviously the Yankees don’t want this series to go seven games, and if Sabathia pitches well tonight it might not have to, but they have an extra reason to hope that it does not — a third helping of Sabathia might prove to be too much of a good thing.