Tagged: playoffs

A postseason thriller for the ages

This was one for the ages, a nail-biter all the way through, a game with clutch failures and successes, controversial moments. As I write this, the game has been over for about an hour and I don’t feel like I’ve absorbed all of it; I feel like I should watch it again right away, like a great movie you need to go through one more time to make sure you caught all the important lines.

There were many reasons why the Yankees should not have won this game. The Twins reached base by hit, walk, or hit batsman 21 times, the Yankees only 10 times. The Twins stranded every runner in baseball history this side of Goose Goslin. If Kirby Puckett were still alive, they would have stranded him, too. Rickey Henderson in his prime could not have scored for the Twins on this particular night. Part of that is a reflection of the depth of the Yankees’ bullpen, which is undergoing a kind of trial by fire; some of it is bad luck for the Twins and good luck for the Yankees; a big bit of it might have been a blown call by an umpire.

Much of it, though, was purely magical, the culmination of stories long brewing in the Bronx. Alex Rodriguez had two big hits and looks so mellow that you expect to see him turning up at Bernie Williams’ next cool jazz concert sitting in on the pan flute. If Mark Teixeira’s excellent regular season hadn’t earned him his “True Yankee” badge, he won it tonight with his walk-off shot. Rodriguez and Teixeira hit their shots off one of the top two closers in the league and an up-and-comer who may soon aspire to that status, respectively. We also saw the arrival of David Robertson as a bullpen force to be reckoned with. No Edwar-dian flash in the pan, Robertson was on the verge of establishing himself as a late-inning alternative to Phil Hughes when elbow troubles halted his progress. After pitching out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam tonight, it seems likely he’s back on the path towards replacing Hughes in the eighth inning when the latter graduates (back) to the starting rotation next year. First, though, we may see more good things from this 24-year-old, a 17th-round pick of the Yankees in 2006.

So you had heroism, but you also had the Twins failing to execute. Last week, when I wrote up my hypothetical awards ballot, one reader took me to task in the comments for failing to include Ron Gardenhire. I’m not a Gardenhire fan, and we saw why tonight. Gardenhire has undoubtedly achieved something in posting a .547 record and five postseason appearances in eight years as Twins manager given just how little ownership supports that team. The Twins do not sign big free agents and they rarely make a big effort at the trading deadline (this year they did reach for Jon Rauch and Orlando Cabrera, though more was needed). The Twins try to mask their complacent approach by hyping themselves as paragons of fundamental baseball. Yet, when you see them in a big spot, they don’t carry through. Their defense shakes, they get caught up in one-run strategies, and they go home. The Twins should not have been expected to win this series against the Yankees, and they almost certainly will not. They should, however, be expected to win the games that they can win, and Friday night’s contest was one of those that was gift-wrapped for them. Instead, they ran into outs, threw away balls, and helped the Yankees stay alive.

A last note: in my pre-game entry, I challenged Joe Girardi to get Jose Molina out of the game as soon as possible so as to minimize the downside of using him. This he did at the first opportunity. Indeed, he used all three of his catchers, also pinch-running for Jorge Posada in the tenth. All credit to the Yankee skipper for making the obvious strategic calls. That sounds like a weak compliment, but most managers never get that far.  


Not meaning to jump on the now famously mal-informed TBS broadcast crew, but Ron Darling said that Nick Swisher was primarily a designated hitter and first baseman with the White Sox. In fact, he played 97 games in the outfield for the Sox, played first base 71 times, and did not DH once. Not ever. None. Indeed, Swisher has always been a fielder, DHing exactly 10 times in his career.


At this writing, the Angels are up on the Red Sox late. A Yankees-Angels ALCS sounds scary given the history between the two teams, but given seven games and home field advantage, the Yankees will take that series on pitching depth every time.  Before I attempt to defend that statement, let’s see if we actually get there. Due to the glacial pace of these series, there’s a Marco Polo road-trip’s worth of off days before we’ll get any resolution. 

The day after, sans hangover

yanks250.jpgIT’S ABOUT TIME
It seems as if the Yankees have been waiting to clinch for about three months, but seven weeks, ever since the Yankees swept the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium from August 6 to August 9 and went up by 6.5 games. You can shave the Countdown to Coronation to just over a month if you choose August 23 as your starting date. Since August 9, the Yankees have gone 31-14 (.689); since the 23rd, they’ve gone 23-10 (.697). They’ve more than held up their end of the bargain, as even the 1927 Yankees would have had a hard time overtaking them given that level of success. Since August 9, the club has allowed 4.5 runs per game while scoring 5.9. If you discount Sergio Mitre’s starts, the team’s runs allowed in that stretch drops to about 3.2. That’s simply astounding, and given the level of the offense, borderline unfair. Since Mitre won’t come within sniffing distance of the mound in October, that’s the real measure of the offensive/defensive balance that opponents will face. Anything can happen in a short series (stop me if you’ve heard this one before), but the Yankees have to be considered the favorites at this point.

If you’re looking for a key stat, it’s this: the Yankees lead the American League in strikeouts per nine innings, something they haven’t done since 2001 (they finished a close second in 2002 and 2003, those squandered seasons). It’s not a foolproof formula (again, nothing is), but when confronted with a tough offense, as most postseason offenses are, the best thing a team can do to beat them is to get them to swing and miss. When the Royals make contact, the ball doesn’t go too far. When the Angels make contact, it leaps tall buildings. As such, it’s best to keep the bats and the balls from meeting as often as you can.

If the Tigers hold on to their division lead, the Yankees will actually confront a postseason team with a fairly mediocre offense, and that would represent the best of all worlds, regardless of the prowess of their pitching staff — said prowess possibly having been overstated. More on that when and if the Yankees face the Tigers. We’ll be doing the usual head-to-head, position-by-position rankings as soon as the Central race is decided.

Joe Girardi’s day-after-clinching lineup has no Nick Swisher, no A-Rod, no Jeter, no Teixeira, and the opponent is the Royals. This game should be part of a two-for-one special–buy one ballgame and we’ll give you a pseudo-Yankees game for free. At least Robbie Cano is still in there. It would be something of a shock if he wasn’t. The last time he didn’t start was August 16. The last time he didn’t play was, I believe, on July 3, 1928, when Miller Huggins benched him against Rube Walberg in favor of Mike Gazella. Cano sulked for weeks and ultimately got into a fistfight with Leo Durocher, hastening the latter’s release. Since then, managers have been afraid to bench him, with the result that Cal Ripken, Jr. shattered his record for consecutive games played back in 1995, the record that, paradoxically, Cano is still building.

All of this will be explained in a future installment of “Robinson Crusoe Cano, Time-Tossed Traveler.”

Louis Armstrong, “Hobo, You Can’t Ride This Train.” Big hit for Satchmo in 1932.

Last week I commented on the child who was forced by his teacher to reverse his Sabathia T-Shirt, and said, among other things, “Longtime readers know that I am no fan of the teaching profession.” This comment reaped the usual mix of responses, and I was prompted to go back and see what I had said here in the past. I first raised the topic in an off-hand remark on Don Mattingly becoming a Yankees coach way back in 2003, and got the predictable firestorm of hostility. Here was my answer then:

The most controversial comment in last week’s PB was this one from the discussion of Don Mattingly as hitting coach: “My own educational experience, which I assume to be typical, is that the ratio of good teachers to mediocrities hacking it out for a paycheck is approximately one out of ten.” Some correspondents thought I had nailed the pedagogical profession while others thought I was being grossly unfair.

The qualifiers offered above were meant to indicate that the statement was entirely subjective. That being said, I feel safe extrapolating from my own experience for this reason: I grew up in a prosperous, middle-class suburban town, one whose school district benefited from an inordinate amount of financial and emotional support from the community. It is considered one of the best in my state and has been cited as one of the best in the nation. And yet, it was terrible.

At six years old I encountered a teacher who was physically abusive (not to me, thank goodness, but to my classmates). Severe verbal abuse was commonplace. Female students were treated by male teachers in a patronizing, insulting manner that would be classified as sexual harassment today. I spent a year with one aged English teacher who was clearly senile–classes sometimes consisted of watching him stare silently at the ceiling–and yet he was allowed to remain. As for Mister Chips, John Keating, Albus Dumbledore–I never saw them. Even the few inspiring teachers I had were flawed. My one favorite, the only one I really admired and to whom I felt sincere gratitude, once, in a rage, attacked me with the blade from a pair of broken shears (long story). I just got away.

This was a good school district, a great school district, so I can barely imagine what an average one must be like, let alone a bad one.

I think back on those shears quite often, as the blade was whipped past my face, knife-thrower style, just missing what is now the eye I can see out of. Then again, it might not have blinded me, it might have just killed me. As I look back over this, I can think of so many details and stories that are left out of that very abbreviated telling, and I may write more about the story in another forum.

The topic came up again a couple of years later. At that time, I received many responses along the lines of those this weekend. Here’s one response along with my answer.

A word about educators. I want you to know that they’re not all bad. My cousin is a teacher in the NYC public school system. She teaches first and second grade. The majority of her students do not speak English at home. The problems she has dealt with include overcrowding, rodents in the classroom, children who are not properly bathed, etc. Many people, include those within my family have encouraged her to seek a position with a private school, where she would be better paid and work under better conditions. She told me something like, “I love these kids, I can’t leave them. Who would take care of them if I didn’t?” To me, she is a great hero! I am a product of a NYC public school education. And as I have moved and traveled extensively throughout the US, I have become more aware of the quality education I received in comparison to many, even private school educated people, in other parts of the country. Just wanted to get that off my chest. — Lis

Lis, I appreciate what you’re saying. I struggle with this all the time. I know generalizations are for dopes and bigotry is for the simpleminded, so for me to paint an entire profession as all good or all bad is weak. I have known good teachers, and I can think of one in particular that had a huge positive impact on my life. Yet, given my own experiences and observations, I do feel that educators like your cousin and the person I’m descri
bing are the exceptions that prove the rule. In fact, the teacher I just mentioned is no longer a teacher, having found, after a long career, that the harassment that came with being good at his job was just too much to take. Perhaps this is true of most professions; one individual excels, all the mediocrities below him try to pull him down. Or perhaps I’m cynical.

The “one in particular” noted above is the same guy that hurled half a scissors at my head. I must have been in a forgiving mood. At the time this response appeared, my oldest child was just starting school, so I had nothing to work with except my own experience. Said child is now well into elementary school, and she has had one or two encounters that have rivaled my own, though no blades were thrown. I don’t want to violate her privacy at this time by writing about what she has gone through in specific terms, since at her age I can’t ask her for her permission in a way that’s really fair. What I can say is that I’m in there fighting for her, because I will not let her be terrorized the way I was.

All I can say is that I’m sorry and I’m not sorry. I’m sorry I hold this particular view, because as I said above I recognize that it is not wholly fair, but I’m not sorry because I am justifiably bitter and will remain bitter for the rest of my life. I love learning. I like being challenged to pick up new things. I’m like that now and I was like that as a child. Then I saw six-year-olds hauled out of chairs and thrown to the floor, or I was repeatedly brought up before a class, harangued, and called stupid because of some perceived offense like poor penmanship. I fondly recall the elementary school gym teacher who called me “[reproductive gerund] useless” in front of my class because I couldn’t do X number of chin-ups one day, or the junior high school English teacher with whom, because of a little classroom disagreement, called my father and told him I was in danger of failing out of school–you can imagine how my father let me have it when I got home–a story she invented out of whole cloth (this incident damaged by relationship with my father for years), or the high school teacher who admitted I knew more about history than he did but was going to fail me anyway. Where I was at first eager, I became afraid, then angry, then resentful, and pretty much turned off until college. I am admittedly biased, and yet I have seen what I have seen. I have seen my education and my daughter’s. I am working against a confirmation bias, but it can’t be helped.

Are there great teachers? Sure. I don’t deny their existence and never have. Do I think they’re anything like in the majority? No. Do our educational statistics bear out that they are anything like in the majority? No (that’s not letting the parents off the hook, of course). I have had friends who have become teachers, but only after failing at some other profession. I had friends in college who became teachers, but only after failing at some other major. Again, these are very narrow slices of information and seen the way I want to see them. I admit that. My anger overcomes that rationality. As a victim of a kind of abuse, what I most want is to run into one of those by-now ancient men or women and be able to say, “Scream at me now! Call me stupid now!” I want to say now what I didn’t have the power to say then. Once I’ve gotten that out of my system, I might be more able to hear arguments about this prejudice, the only one I permit myself.

In closing, to all you great teachers out there, to all of you who are proud relatives of great teachers, I apologize and would very much like to know what it is that makes you different. As for the rest of you, my wish for you is that you find another line of work… But before you do, please join that Yankees-hating teacher on the concourse outside of the Stadium, starting an hour before the first game of the ALCS. Tell everyone who comes by wearing a Sabathia shirt, or better yet a Jeter shirt, to cover it up or else. I promise I’ll send flowers.

On Tuesday at 1 PM EST, I’ll be fielding your questions live at Baseball Prospectus. As always, if you can’t tune in and participate at the starting time, you can post your questions in advance here.