Tommy Henrich, a great player and man
FAREWELL, TOMMY HENRICH
One of the great Yankees passed away today. Tommy Henrich, an outfielder and first baseman with the Yankees from 1937 through 1950 (with a break for three years of World War II) has died at the age of 96. Mel Allen named him “Old Reliable” because of his reputation for delivering in the clutch. One of my favorite lines about Henrich was written by sportswriter Tom Meany during the 1949 season when for the first three quarters of the season Henrich was the only Yankee who stayed healthy — then he got hurt too, having run into an outfield wall:
Tommy Henrich hit a home run for the Yankees to win the opening game of the 1949 season. Tommy Henrich hit a home run to win the pennant for the Yankees in the closing game of the season. Tommy Henrich hit a home run for the Yankees to win the opening game of the World Series. What’s the matter with the guy? Is he in a rut?”
Henrich (middle) made up one-third of the greatest Yankees outfield with Charlie Keller (second from left) and Joe DiMaggio (second from right). Given frequent injuries, which he either missed time for or ruined his stats playing through, a bit of platooning, the war, and a late start to his career, Henrich’s career numbers don’t really show how good a player he was — he only had a few seasons where he played a full campaign and hit up to his full capabilities. That said, even below-peak Henrich was very good. He had power, hit for good averages, and walked 80 to 90 times a year. I’m trying to think of a contemporary player who is a good match for Henrich. Baseball Reference.com cites J.D. Drew as a comp for Henrich, and statistically it’s right on. Drew, however, provokes a lot of negative reactions while Henrich was not only completely uncontroversial but widely admired for his professionalism. In that sense, the comparison doesn’t fit. Henrich hit like Drew and had Don Mattingly’s attitude — perhaps that does the trick.
Henrich’s career might have been a little different had he not signed with the Indians as an amateur. He got buried in their farm system and it took a direct appeal to the Commissioner to get him out of his contract. Declared a free agent, the Ohio native decided he liked the Yankees best. He was sent to Newark for about three seconds and hit .440. Simultaneously, veteran outfielder Roy Johnson greatly annoyed Yankees manager Joe McCarthy. After the Yankees, who were playing with their usual excellent form of those days, dropped a close game, McCarthy groused in the clubhouse. “Does he expect us to win them all?” Johnson replied flippantly. Actually, that’s exactly what McCarthy expected. Johnson was instantly released and Henrich was recalled.
The two most famous plays of Henrich’s career came in the World Series. The lesser known of the two was the walk-off home run that broke a zero-zero tie and won the first game of the 1949 Series. The other occurred in the top of the ninth of Game 4 of the 1941 Series against the Dodgers at Ebbets Field. The Yankees came to bat in that frame trailing 4-3. Dodgers ace reliever Hugh Casey was in the game. The first two batters of the inning grounded out. Henrich came to bat. The count went to 3-2 and Casey fired off his put-away pitch, a sinker. Henrich swung and missed, but the ball ticked off of catcher Mickey Owens’ glove and rolled behind the plate. Owens got after the ball in fairly good form, but Henrich beat the play at first.
With that, the wheels came off for Casey and the Dodgers. DiMaggio singled. Keller doubled to right, scoring both Henrich and Joe D. Bill Dickey walked. Joe Gordon doubled to left field, scoring Keller and Dickey. By the time Casey finally recorded the final out, the Yankees were up, 7-4. Yankees’ fireman Johnny Murphy got the Dodgers in order in the bottom of the ninth and the World Series, which could have been tied at 2-2, was now 3-1 in favor of the Bombers. The Yankees would close the series out behind pitcher Tiny Bonham the next day. Henrich homered in the fifth.
Henrich had been in ill health for years, but in the early 1990s he would still give the odd interview, talking candidly about the great Yankees teams he played for and his relationships with (each in their own way) outsized and difficult personalities like DiMaggio and Casey Stengel, or Lou Gehrig and McCarthy. I always wished I could have heard more — I would have listened for hours.
It’s one thing to be remembered as a great baseball player. It’s another thing altogether to be recalled as a great professional, a great teammate, and a good man. I’ve never heard or read a word said about Henrich that detracted from the image of a man who was a pleasure to be around, who was always ready to play, who set an example for his colleagues. Tommy Henrich really was Old Reliable in every sense of the name. You can’t ask for a greater legacy than that.
I met my old lover on the street last night
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.
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.
? 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.
Let 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.
Just 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.
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!
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 something 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 damaging 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?
2. 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?
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 lot 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.
Sabathia sets an example
During last night’s chat, I made an off-hand comment that CC Sabathia had just pitched one of the best postseason games in Yankees history. This is undoubtedly true, but I had forgotten just how many Yankees had gone out and pitched shutouts in World Series play. Whitey Ford had three, Allie Reynolds two, and then there were one-offs by Waite Hoyt, Carl Mays, Vic Raschi, Ralph Terry, Spud Chandler, and (oh yeah) that Don Larsen guy. Going down to the League Championship level, there’s the nigh-obscene game Roger Clemens pitched against the Mariners in 2000, in which he held them to one hit, two walks and 15 strikeouts.
Still, if Sabathia’s night isn’t in the top echelon, it was close enough. The game lacked any tension once the Yankees took the lead, in large part because Sabathia didn’t allow them to build any momentum. He also set a terrific example for the occasionally twitchy A.J. Burnett to live up to in Game 2, assuming rain delays don’t knock him out after an inning or two.
I wish I had stats that showed how Burnett has fared pitching in freezing rain, but given that he spent most of his pre-Yankees career in the warmth of Miami or under a dome in Toronto, doubtless he hasn’t too much experience in that regard. Whatever the conditions, he’s made six starts against the Scioscia-men and has gone 2-2 with a 4.43 ERA. The overall line, 40.2 innings, 43 hits, 22 runs, 20 earned, five home runs, 11 walks, 39 strikeouts, doesn’t look all that bad; sometimes the little white ball just takes a funny bounce or two and things go all pear-shaped.
As you know, Jose Molina is catching again today, while Mike Napoli is in the battery for the Angels, so shift a little offensive advantage the Angels’ way, at least for the at-bat or two that goes to Molina before Joe Girardi pulls him. He did so well with this in the last round that I don’t see the point in worrying about it. The only point to raise, as I did last time, is that the manager should be aggressive — if Molina bats in a key situation early, it might be worth sacrificing the defense for a chance to put some crooked numbers on the board. That’s Casey Stengel speaking through me on that one, and he got seven rings out of thinking that way so I believe him.
A couple of quick notes:
? No matter how many times the announcers say that Bobby Abreu somehow turned the Angels into a team of Ed Yost-ian walking men, it just ain’t true. With the exception of Howie Kendrick, who was threatened with professional extinction if he didn’t get wise to himself and his impatient approach, most of the improvement shown by the Angels is down to Abreu himself. As with so many things, like the Angels “creating havoc” on the bases, it just ain’t true. They were third in the league in stolen bases and got caught more than anyone else. If this be havoc, the Yankees should say, let us have more of it. This should work to Burnett’s advantage. Note that even when the Angels beat him, it wasn’t because he went walk-crazy, as he sometimes does. In fact, his walk rate against the Angels is about half of what it is normally.
? Second point about “havoc.” It’s just one bloody base. If Team A steals three bases and Team B hits three home runs, guess which team is going to win? As with the sacrifice bunt, the stolen base is a situational tool, and that’s all. Babe Ruth changed that in 1920. At the end of his career, after Lefty Gomez was let go by the Yankees, he had a tryout with a National League team. Asked the difference between the two leagues, Gomez said, “Over here they play like they don’t know John McGraw has been dead for ten years,” by which he meant that Dead Ball-era tactics were still being employed in the Senior Circuit. That Gomez was incorrect to cite McGraw notwithstanding — the Little Napoleon was among the first to realize the strategic implications of the lively ball and to change his ways — he was correct that many in baseball did not know that those old weapons had diminished in value, and even today there are many who do not know.
Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland
From the comments on yesterday’s entry: You wrote this article about CC purely for the reason so that if for whatever reason he doesn’t pitch well in Game 4 you can say “I told you so.” Nice self-serving article. It would have nothing to do with the fact that the angels have always hit him well, or that after they see him in Game 1 they make some adjustments and take him the other way like the Twins did. Especially since that is what the Angels do. Just a very selfish posting.– acepoint01
Acepoint01, I’m flattered that I strike you as the kind of evil genius that would have the foresight and coordination to place an item like that purely for my own aggrandizement, but if you’d been around longer, it would be obvious to you that I have a hard enough time putting my shoes on the right feet each day, trying not to get lost on the way to the office–which, for the most part, is in my house–and writing an entry or two each day. Honest, pal, I’m just trying to present both sides of the issue, not polish my own statue–for more on the state of which, please see Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince”:
“The ruby has fallen out of his sword, his eyes are gone, and he is golden no longer,” said the Mayor in fact, “he is little better than a beggar!”
“Little better than a beggar,” said the Town Councilors.
…So they pulled down the statue of the Happy Prince. “As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful,” said the Art Professor at the University.
By the bye, Sabathia had two rough-ish starts against the Angels this year, but prior to that, his career record against them was 5-5 with a 4.24 ERA. In those two difficult starts, he struck out 11 in 13.1 innings, walked just four, and allowed no home runs. I don’t see those two games as having much predictive power given that the abuse he suffered was a matter of balls in play finding their way to safety, not grape being blasted over the walls. Sabathia missed the Angels completely in ’08, and was 2-0 with a 1.12 ERA against them in ’07, so not only do I find your evaluation of my motives mysterious and misguided, but your basic premise is inaccurate.
…With Angels-Yankees Head to Head Part II.