Hey, 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.
Andy Pettitte has made 14 regular season starts on three days’ rest. His ERA in those games is 4.36. He has made 281 starts on four days’ rest. His ERA in those starts is 4.28. This seems like an insignificant difference and it is. Unfortunately, it is rendered even more insignificant by the fact that, like Jerry Hairston’s supposed track record of success against Pedro Martinez, it all happened so long ago that we may as well be talking about another person. Pettitte last made a regular season start on three days’ rest in 2006. The time before that came in 2001. All we can really say right now is: “The Golden Age Andy Pettitte wasn’t better when he pitched on three days’ rest — though he also wasn’t significantly worse — and we don’t really know what the Silver Age Andy Pettitte will do under like circumstances.”
Even had Pettitte pitched to a 2.00 ERA in an extensive course of short-rest starts, we wouldn’t have been able to generalize about the outcome of any one game, particularly one against the defending champions. However, such a generalization would have at least provided more of a sense of comfort after the debacle that was Game 5. In most cases, there is little reason to fear a pitcher being physically unable to withstand the rigors of short rest; they do throw extensively on two days’ rest, after all. There is, though, something to be said for not asking your pitchers, particularly the 37-year-olds, to do something you have never asked them to do before in the tensest situation of the year. If you don’t have any choice about it, fine. You do what you have to do. If the general says you need to take that hill to win the war, you go try to take that hill. Yet, the Yankees did have choices, and if Pettitte doesn’t take that hill, Girardi’s decision to ask both Burnett and him (and to a lesser extend CC Sabathia) to perform new tricks at this late date will have to be questioned. This is particularly true in the case of Burnett, whose poor work at Fenway Park this year (his ERA in three starts was 14.21), not to mention Game 5 of the ALCS against the Angels, suggested that he might get twitchy in a big spot on the road. That’s in addition to the three-day element. Indeed, the three-day aspect may be irrelevant where Burnett is concerned — the problem is emotion, not fatigue.
At the risk of repeating myself (and when has that risk ever stopped me?), subtract 10 Sergio Mitre starts from the regular season and this might not have happened. Chien-Ming Wang made his last start of the season on July 4. Alfredo Aceves took his next start. The next time the spot came up was during the All-Star break. Mitre made his first start on July 21 and got creamed. He made his second start five days later and got creamed. He made his third start five days after that and got creamed. He made his fourth start… The Yankees acquired Chad Gaudin shortly after the July 31 trading deadline. At that moment, Mitre’s ERA was 7.50. Had Gaudin been immediately inserted into the rotation in Mitre’s place, the Yankees might have felt more comfortable starting him in Game 5, instead of trying to do stunts with Burnett and Pettitte. When the Yankees say that they had some tough breaks with pitching this year — Chien-Ming Wang and Ian Kennedy getting hurt — we have to remember that there were other options, like Gaudin, like Phil Hughes, like Alfredo Aceves, that they did not use. The decision to just soldier on with Meatball Mitre was as complacent as any they’ve made in recent years and has led them to build the foundation of their World Series strategy on a very risky basis.
Still, they have a very good chance of winning tonight. The bullpen is rested from its day off, so Joe Girardi can go Coffee Joe10 if Pettitte falters. They’ve got the designated hitter back. Pedro Martinez’s act may not be good enough to fool the Yankees a second time so soon after his last start. Martinez is unlikely to go all the way, and the Phillies relievers can pour gas on any fire. Mark Teixeira or Robinson Cano might actually hit something. Chase Utley might get lost in the subway on the way to the ballpark. Stranger things have happened. The 2009 season should come to an end tonight, one way or another, making Girardi’s gamble an act of genius. And if not, he still has one day to think of something else.
THE SHOT HEARD ‘ROUND THE CAMERA
I’m not sure how we ever had baseball without replay. I’m not sure how we can continue to have baseball without replay. Pennant races worth millions of dollars to the teams and a great deal of emotion to the fans are resolved on the whim of umpires — any time a team loses a race by one game, you have to ask, “Did they earn that, or did a blown call earn it for them?” And we have had World Series games decided by poor calls in the past, going back at least as far as the 1922 World Series between the Yankees and the Giants when umpires decided to call Game 2 for darkness in the middle of the afternoon. As far as pennant races altered by umpires, they go all the way back to the very beginning — just ask Fred Merkle. Wherever you are, Fred, we’re sorry.
Alex Rodriguez’s timely camera-shot would have been reviewed whether it occurred in the regular season or the postseason, but all calls should be reviewed. Baseball shouldn’t be a game that is sometimes accurately refereed and sometimes not. As I’ve suggested in previous installments, it wouldn’t have taken a booth umpire much longer than 30 seconds to change Rodriguez’s double into a home run, whereas there had to be a complaint by Joe Girardi, followed by a near-minyan of umpires conferring on the field, followed by the long march off the field, the review, the long march back on — what the heck is this, Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow? Baseball is famous for being a retrograde institution, but let’s get on with it already. Baseball games are slow enough without the March of the Penguins added for no good reason.
That said, the games aren’t too slow for instant replay properly handled. On Saturday, my Baseball Prospectus colleague Joe Sheehan wrote at Sports Illustrated:
The most common objection to this system is that it would cause delays, but both pro and college football have survived, in part by selling additional television ads during the breaks. Delays would happen, but the improvement in accuracy, especially on high-leverage, high-profile plays, would be worth the time investment. You may even save time by eliminating the long arguments and conferences that currently occur.
Actually, the best way to save time would be to have umpires vigorously enforce pace-of-game rules. Doing that would more than make room for the occasional replay. Batters don’t step out. Period. Batters don’t get time called when the pitcher is already in his wind-up. Period. The pitcher holds the ball more than a set number of seconds — less than it is now — then it’s a ball to the batter. Period. If the plate umpire or the base umpires can’t manage a ten-second countdown between pitches, then the aforementioned booth umpire can do it.
…There isn’t much in the way of deep analysis to do with Game Three. Andy Pettitte didn’t pitch well by his standards, but the offense helped him out, including Andy himself. Phillies pitchers were wilder than they’re accustomed to, both with walks and hit batters, and the Yankees finally got a look into the bullpen, and they saw that it was good — looking into it, that is, not the bullpen pitchers themselves. Nick Swisher came back to himself. Jorge Posada stranded a bunch of runners but got a key single. We’re still waiting on Melky, Robbie and Teixeira. Joba Chamberlain pitched his first solid inning in recent memory. Phil Hughes didn’t. Girardi seems convinced that Damaso Marte is back to his pre-injury, 2002-2007 form — I will never cease to be bugged that the Yankees were smart enough to sign Marte as a free agent (out of the Mariners system, where he was a starter), smart enough to move him to the bullpen and make something out of him, and dumb enough to trade him for Enrique Wilson, one of the worst hitters ever to wear a Yankees uniform, worst even when you cut him some slack for being a utility infielder.
When Hideki Matsui came up to pinch-hit for Chamberlain with two outs in the eighth, I said, “This is a kind of low-leverage situation to use Matsui in, but then at this point in the game, a high-leverage probably isn’t going to come up. Girardi might as well just go for it and hope for a solo home run.” Moments later, Matsui made the move pay off, giving the Yankees an extra bit of cushioning which would make Hughes’ failure to contain postseason superman Carlos Ruiz a bit less of a cause for tension. The only drag about THAT was that it momentarily pushed Girardi into Coffee Joe mode and he got Mariano Rivera into a game that he should have been kept out of.
On the topic of subjects for another day, if the Yankees are determined to keep just one from the expiring Johnny Damon/Hideki Matsui duo of imminent 36-year-olds, I’m beginning to wonder if the right answer isn’t Matsui, regardless of the roster limitations a pure DH brings.
BLANTON TO START GAME FOUR
This is how chess is played: the Phillies have a paper advantage on the Yankees in starters because Joe Blanton > Chad Gaudin, but CC Sabathia > Joe Blanton. Move and countermove. Of course, it could have been CC Sabathia ? Cliff Lee, but Charlie Manuel didn’t feel comfortable with that. Maybe with tonight’s loss he’ll rethink that decision, but I’ve not heard anything of the sort. Thus Sabathia goes on short rest, and he’ll have to perform to make the chess move good. It might not matter: in four career starts against the Yankees, Blanton is 0-3 with an 8.18 ERA. The last time was in June, 2008, so we probably shouldn’t become over-stimulated by this particular bit of trivia.
SOMETIMES 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…
I was called into a meeting with the YES men today, so I’ve been trapped away from desk. As such, I am so far beyond the schedule that, in the words of Mel Brooks, I’ve gone to plaid. Herewith, a r-r-r-rapid run through the head to head matchups we still had yet to cover–and if anyone asks, the dog ate my homework, too.
THE STARTING ROTATIONS, AND GAME 1 STARTERS
CLIFF LEE vs. CC SABATHIA
This is as perfect a baseball matchup as any of those 1912 Walter Johnson-Smoky Joe Wood confrontations you’ve read about in the history books. Two top lefties with a shared origin in Cleveland. Lee had a slightly better year than Sabathia, with two thirds of it against the same DH-infused competition in the AL. The wins aren’t there, but that was a function of run support early on than it was anything that Lee did wrong–his quality start percentage was over 80 percent as an Indian. The Phillies gave him more support later, but thanks to some late-season hammerings he wasn’t quite as effective as he had been. The one thing Lee retained all the way through was excellent control, walking just one batter per nine with the Phillies. The Yankees will of course test this aspect of his game, but it would probably be better to disregard most of the career stats you’ll see quoted during the broadcasts–it’s nice that Mark Teixeira has done well against Lee, but Lee has been a lot of different guys in his eight seasons and most of those guys weren’t as good as the version that won the Cy Young award last year.
Shifting haphazardly to CC (everything about this installment is haphazard), if you emphasize late-season action then you can make a more pointed comparison between the two. Lee made his last 12 starts for the Phillies and was a 50-50 proposition, making a quality start half the time. Even so, his low ERA testifies to just how good he was when he was on. “Unhittable” wouldn’t be too strong a description. CC wasn’t quite as spectacular in his last 12 games, but he was more consistent overall, making 10 quality starts and posting a 2.52 ERA overall. Both Sabathia and Lee are getting to innings totals that they’ve never reached before, so fatigue could be a factor.
As for the rest of the rotations, you’d think the Yankees would be up to dealing with Pedro Martinez’s artistry. He was Leonardo da Martinez against the Dodgers, but the Yankees have a very different offense than the one Joe Torre had in Los Angeles, with more impact hitters getting the platoon advantage on Pedro. Cole Hamels can be dominant, but that wasn’t the case this year, either in the regular season or the postseason. As I wrote earlier this week, a key to this series for the Yankees is whether their slumping switch-hitters can find themselves against Lee and Hamels.
On the Yankees side, In Andy Pettitte we trust, but I fear A.J. Burnett’s wildness and right-handedness against hitters like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. That said, lefties had a harder time with him this year than righties did (.217/.310/.343) which could be a fluke or a sign from Zeus. Your pick until the actual game. If the Yankees have to go to a fourth starter, the Phillies are in a better position with either J.A. Happ or Joe Blanton. A slim EDGE: Yankees, assuming CC takes Game 4 again. Otherwise, we’re even or very slightly leaning towards Philly.
I only have time to say that the Yankees have far greater depth, assuming Coffee Joe doesn’t start making like a hyperthyroid octopus and start pulling two relievers at a time from the bullpen. Note that though Phillies relievers have not been as problematic in the postseason as expected, they have allowed 25 hits in 25 innings while walking 13 and striking out 19. That suggests to me that their aggregate 3.24 ERA ain’t worth the pixels it’s written on. Again, the Dodgers had a lot of guys who could be pitched to, or pitched through to get out of trouble. The Yankees are, at least on paper, a far deeper lineup.
The other day I suggested the Yankees pull Mike Dunn back from Arizona to become the bullpen’s third lefty. Dunn is crazy wild, but that’s not such a bad thing–a walk to Howard from Dunn is better than a home run off of Bruney. This point may be moot if Coffee Joe is careful and doesn’t spend his southpaws too early. The good news is that thanks to his cutter, Mariano Rivera can sort of pass as a third lefty. EDGE: YANKEES
Again, the Clock-Hounds nip at my heels, so I will again resort to something I wrote earlier: Should Girardi play the hyperactive, overly fastidious neat-freak to Charlie Manuel’s laid-back slob, this version of the Odd Couple will benefit Philadelphia. EDGE: PHILLIES.
I worry about Burnett and I see a bullpen loss somewhere due to missed matchups, but CC and Pettitte come up big again and some of the sleeping Yankee hitters will wake up. Yankees in six games.
ONE OTHER QUICK NOTE ON THE ROSTER
I was in such a rush that I forgot to comment on the addition of Brian Bruney, which is good, but I’d hate to see him slide ahead of David Robertson if the latter is actually healthy enough to pitch. This actually raises two questions: if Robertson isn’t healthy enough to pitch then why is he still on the roster, and if he is healthy enough to pitch than why isn’t Girardi pitching him? There’s really no good answer to either of those questions.
As for Eric Hinske returning and displacing Freddy Guzman, that undoes a move that should never have been made. Hinske gives the Yankees some pop off the bench that they lacked last time around, something that became obvious in all those tight late- and extra-inning games where Girardi ran out of players. Guzman was essentially a kick-returner on a baseball team. Even if the Yankees had a 50-man roster available to them, the utility of a kick-returner would be questionable as there is no kicking in baseball. Steve Martin once referred to luxuries like a gasoline-powered sweater and a fur-lined sink. That’s what Guzman was, and the only times that Girardi used him his impact was solely negative in that he achieved nothing decisive on the bases while depriving the Yankees of a more useful player. That Guzman actually got to bat in the ALCS demonstrates that if there’s a manager who can correctly utilize this particular chess piece, he’s not working this World Series.
Thus: up with Hinske! ? with Bruney, S-O-S to Robertson, and as General McAuliffe said to the Germans at Bastogne, “Nuts!” to Guzman. Finally, best of luck to the Yankees and may this be a fun series for all.
As mentioned earlier, I go directly from here to a live Baseball Prospectus roundtable at game time. It’s a fun way to watch the game, with a parallel commentary track, somewhat on the tart and irreverent side. All are welcome, and I look forward to hearing from you then… And I’ll be back with some more commentary after the game. Somebody hose me down, ’cause I’m burning up!
ON NICK SWISHER, BABE RUTH, AND OTHER FAILURE-MINDED BALLPLAYERS
Nick Swisher had a very difficult ALCS. In six games he went 3-for-20 with three walks. He struck out seven times, didn’t have an extra-base hit, didn’t drive in a run. This is the definition of a miserable performance. However, extrapolate at your own risk. Reggie Jackson, Mr. October himself, went 2-for-16 in the 1977 ALCS, just days before he personally bombed the Dodgers to death in the World Series. As I’ve been saying all along, this stuff happens. But don’t take my word for it. Here are just a few other examples:
- Babe Ruth, 1922 World Series: 2-for-17 (.118), no home runs, one RBI.
- Tony Lazzeri, 1926 World Series: 5-for-26 (.192), no home runs, three RBI.
- Bob Meusel, 1927 World Series: 2-for-17 (.118), no home runs, one RBI.
- Joe Gordon, 1939 World Series: 2-for-14 (.143), no home runs, one RBI.
- Bill Dickey, 1941 World Series: 3-for-18 (.167), no home runs, one RBI.
- Phil Rizzuto, 1941 World Series: 2-for-18 (.111), no home runs, no RBI.
- Joe DiMaggio, 1949 World Series: 2-for-18 (.111), one home run, two RBI.
- Mickey Mantle, 1962 World Series: 3-for-25 (.120), no home runs, no RBI.
- Willie Randolph, 1976 World Series: 1-for-14 (.071), no home runs, no RBI.
- Dave Winfield, 1981 World Series: 1-for-22 (.045), no home runs, one RBI.
- Paul O’Neill, 1996 World Series: 2-for-12 (.167), no home runs, no RBI.
- Derek Jeter, 2001 World Series: 4-for-27 (.148), one home run, one RBI.
That’s a dozen examples, and all, with the exception of Winfield, picked at random from the long list of Yankees greats. There are eight Hall of Famers on the list, plus Jeter, who is going in as long as he doesn’t rob any banks between now and 2020 or so. For some of them, the series listed above represented their only poor postseason; for others, I had several choices. Swisher hit very badly in the series just ended. There is no way around that. It changes nothing about the valuable season that he had or other series that he might play in the future.
We could also throw a Jorge Posada series or two onto the list above; in 23 World Series games, he’s a .208/.337/.338 hitter. He’s also had some very good postseason series. For example, he drove in six runs against the Red Sox in the 2003 ALCS. These are very small segments of performance we’re talking about, and they don’t have much in the way of predictive power. As the Jackson and Jeter examples above show, they can call you Mr. October or even Mr. November, but, in the words of Casey Stengel, sometimes it doesn’t always work.
There were no insects this time, no Paul Quantrill making his 90th or so appearance of the season. A terrified Esteban Loaiza did not make an appearance in extra innings. Tom Gordon did not pitch with his arm hanging by a thread. Tanyon Sturtze was not called upon in a big spot. Alex Rodriguez did not hit .133 for the series and get demoted to eighth in the batting order. The starting ace, whoever it was, did not fold in the key game. Jaret Wright did not start, and Kyle Farnsworth could not be found in the bullpen. Randy Johnson did not pitch like a 42-year-old. An injured Gary Sheffield was not called upon in desperation. In short, aside from some compulsive pinch-running and pitching changes by the anxious manager, there were no Hail Mary passes, no fourth stringers dressed up as stars. There was, shockingly for the Yankees, NO WEIRDNESS. They played their games, played them well, and for the first time since 2003, they will return to the World Series. The 2009 Yankees have one of the deepest rosters in the history of the club and they played like it. Finally. Congratulations and good luck to the entire organization.
SOME NOTES ON GAME SIX
1. Even though he didn’t hit, Nick Swisher played his best defensive baseball in this series, culminating in his doubling Vladimir Guerrero off of first in the second inning. He also looked more relaxed at the plate in this game.
2. Jorge Posada was having a decent offensive series (.267/.450/.533, a home run and five walks) before Game 6, in which he had several chances to break the game open and failed miserably, going 0-for-5, hitting into two double plays and stranding 10 runners. Had the Yankees somehow lost the game, you would have had to point the finger his way.
3. Joe Girardi was fully in the grips of Coffee Joe mania when he went to Mariano Rivera for a two-inning save. Asking your closer to pitch two innings is normally a great idea — it’s always better to cut out the (pardon the expression) middle-man — and that’s the way it was done until Bruce Sutter and then Dennis Eckersley cemented the idea that closers could only be used one inning at a time. The truth was that THEY could be used one inning at a time, but not everyone was subject to the same limitation. The difficultly with asking Rivera to do it in Game 6 is: (a) He’s about four weeks from turning 40; and (b) He had been asked to get six outs just once all year, and that was during a tie on May 16; so (c) As a result, Rivera threw over 30 pitches (31 and 32) just twice all season, and between 20 and 30 pitches just 11 times. This meant that (d) when Rivera ended his difficult eighth inning having already thrown 21 pitches, he had already exceeded his pitch count for all but a handful of his appearances. By the time it was all over, Rivera had thrown 34 pitches, his high for the season, and that was after sitting through the long bottom of the eighth. It worked, but it was risky, and it did nothing to reestablish Phil Hughes, who is going to be needed.
4. I wonder if Dave Robertson is going to get dropped from the World Series roster on the basis of injury. Girardi said he pulled him from Game 3 because his velocity was down (though he had pitched well) and never went back to him again. It wouldn’t serve the Yankees to announce that Robertson was injured as long as the round continued given that they couldn’t do anything about it, and the idea that their bullpen was short a man could somehow impart a psychological or tactical advantage to the Angels. Perhaps we will see the triumphant return of Brian Bruney, though part of me thinks that with the Phillies’ left-leaning batting order, the Yankees would be better off pulling Mike Dunn out of the Arizona Fall League, thereby giving themselves a third bullpen southpaw. I’m half-kidding about that, but only half.
5. It’s amazing how badly one can mess themselves up by thinking about purely physical things. Normally, your hypothalamus controls your breathing. Start trying to control it with your conscious mind — you’ll be gasping for air directly. Similarly, pick up a baseball and simply throw it as you’ve known how to do all your life and you make the play. Think about it, aim it, and you’re going to toss it into short right field. Yes, I’m talking about Scott Kazmir, who could probably make a 40-foot throw to first base blindfolded. Under most conditions, you and I could (I would probably need an empty stadium and advance notice that all errors would be forgiven). Make things just a little tense and even a professional ballplayer can fumble away a key play. The Angels, normally a very together club, did it repeatedly in this series.
6. Why was Gary Matthews, Jr. allowed to make the last out of this series? Why was he allowed to make any outs this series? Why did Mike Scioscia keep pinch-hitting him for Mike Napoli and Howie Kendrick, who are both far better hitters than Matthews? I’ve been hard on Girardi, but Scioscia, normally a fine manager, had his own Coffee Mike problems during 30 Days of ALCS.
7. At least there were no umpiring controversies in the last game.
8. What is with the faux-stitch-style league championship caps? They’re terrible. From spring training, your team plays nearly 200 games to get to the World Series and then you’re forced to put something on your head that looks like it was cut from the backside of your overweight older brother’s hand-me-down jeans. I guess someone thinks the kids really like stitching this year.
9. I don’t know what’s going to happen when Andy Pettitte becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame. I imagine not much, just “thanks” and “no thanks.” Before the voters dismiss him, they ought to give him some outsized credit for his going 16-9 in 38 postseason starts.
10. Was their ever a time in history when players actually drank the champagne they were given upon winning? That must have been the original intention, and then somewhere in the TV era somebody started spraying champagne, and everyone watching thought that was pretty novel, and soon everyone was doing it. Now the original thing would be to have a decorous toast. If players know to bring goggles to the party, the celebration is no longer spontaneous.
We begin the Yankees-Phillies head to head comparisons.
The Yankees are currently on a pace for 103 wins, and given their remaining schedule, they could win more than that. Should they hold up, the 2009 Yankees would become the 18th team in club history to win 100 or more games. Note that this is no proof of destiny–the 2002, 2003, and 2004 Yankees won over 100 games and only one of them got to a World Series. Still, winning 100 games is the traditional mark of a club that is dominant in a historically significant way, so at some point we will have to figure out where this Yankees edition ranks among the great teams, both in comparison to Yankees predecessors and the 75 other 100-game teams from 1901 onwards.
Should this year’s team exceed 103 wins, they would join a most elite list of Yankees teams that have exceeded that mark — 1998 (114 wins), 1927 (110), 1961 (109), 1932 (107), 1939 (106), and 1963 (104). While dispensing with the normal allowances made for modern conditioning, relievers, the slider, night baseball, integration, and other factors that make comparing teams and players across eras an exercise in futility, it’s hard to see this team competing too strongly with the six listed above, except perhaps for 1932, a very similar outfit that was all about the offense (the only consistent pitchers were Red Ruffing and the fiery Johnny Allen), and the overrated 1961 team. The 1961 team had better starting pitching and a couple of Hall of Fame-level offensive seasons from Mantle and Maris, but the rest was unremarkable.
If you want to go by winning percentage, then the bar gets a little higher, with the 2009 team’s current .636 tied with five other clubs for 18th-best in club history, some non-100-game teams like the 1938 and 1953 Yankees sneaking in ahead of them. No one ever talks about the champion 1953 team as one of the best in club history, but it was a very good offensive unit (Mantle, Gene Woodling, and Hank Bauer all had big years in the outfield, and the only starter not to have at least a league-average season was second baseman Billy Martin) with a deep, versatile pitching staff.
We have another month to figure out where the 2009 team fits, or if they fit at all, so this is premature, but it’s more fun talking about this than the stuff we were talking about at this time last year.
POSADA AND THE PARK EFFECTS…
…That would be a swell name for a band, particularly if your name was Posada. It was good to see him swat a couple of home runs on the road, as he has largely confined his hitting to Yankee Stadium II this year, and we wouldn’t want folks to conclude he was merely banging ’em over the Blue Enabler (see, the Red Sox have the Green Monster and the Yankees have, heh, the Blue… oh, forget it). He still has some distance to go to overcome the possibility of being labeled the anti-Swisher, with .227/.314/.399 rates on the road versus a Piazza-like .335/.403/.658 at home. Despite the imbalance, his current 883 OPS ranks 15th among Yankees catchers (single-season, 300 PAs and up), mostly exceeded by Bill Dickey, Mike Stanley, and Yogi Berra, plus about three seasons from Posada himself. It has been a fine year, though slightly subpar by Posada’s own high standards as his walk rate has hit the lowest level of his career. Given that Posada is a 37-year-old catcher having one of the top 20 seasons at his position in team history, it probably would be ungrateful to kick about a detail like that.