- Rays 7-Yankees 5:
Darrell Rasner was a godsend to the Yankees injury-tattered starting rotation when he was recalled as a desperation stopgap in early May. A pitcher who could only be referred to as a journeyman/Triple A filler did an excellent job in five of his first six starts in May and early June. Such a string of performances for a pitcher of Rasner's severely limited talent wasn't going to last and it didn't as he fell into the pattern of battling his way through five innings or so and keeping the games within reason for the Yankees offense to try and slug their way through. Last night, it couldn't have been expected that Rasner was suddenly going to revert into what he was in early May.
It was clear by the second inning that after Eric Hinske and Dioner Navarro singled and Rasner wild pitched Hinske to third that the game was one or two pitches away from blowing up completely. It was at that point that Girardi should have gotten someone up in the bullpen. He didn't.
Gabe Gross ripped a double to right scoring Hinske and sending Navarro to third. Still no action in the bullpen.
Jason Bartlett hit a sacrifice fly to center to score Navarro; Akinori Iwamura singled to center to score Gross; 3-0 Rays. Still no action in the bullpen.
B.J. Upton singled to center and only then did pitching coach Dave Eiland visit the mound and Alfredo Aceves began warming up in the bullpen about three batters too late. Carlos Pena then walked to load the bases (the Yankees were lucky Pena didn't hit one out of the park) and Girardi finally yanked Rasner. Alceves, with the bases loaded, allowed a seeing-eye grounder by Willy Aybar into right field to score two more runs and give Rays All Star Scott Kazmir a 5-0 lead. Even with the Yankees comeback in the ninth inning to make the score a respectable 7-5, the game was out of reach in the second inning and there was no reason for it on several levels.
The swing between an eleven game deficit in the standings and a nine game deficit is mountainous. The Rays are still a young team that isn't sure whether or not to believe that their sudden leap into contention is real even with all of their success this season; a series of losses to a team like the Yankees----especially having them come into Tropicana Field and sweep them three straight----when the Rays have been so dominant at home this season may have planted a seed into the minds of the young players that a collapse was possible. After the anecdotal evidence of what happened with the Phillies and Rockies in 2007, how much would it realistically have taken for the Rays to start doubting themselves? What would they be thinking if the Yankees came in and beat them so convincingly? Despite all of the struggles the Yankees have had this season, their aura is still there. The veteran warhorses like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte aren't going to go down without a fight and the Yankees' mere presence still within unlikely, but doable, striking distance may have sent the Rays into a tailspin.
While the Rays are traveling to Toronto to play the blazing hot Blue Jays this weekend, the Yankees are heading home to play the atrocious Mariners. What would be going through the minds of the Rays if they lost to the Blue Jays on Friday (it would've been their fourth loss in a row) as the Yankees were battering the Mariners? Would the Rays start getting nervous? Playing tight? Making mental and physical mistakes? Would things snowball and spin out of control as they did with the Mets last season? Let's say the Yankees sweep the Mariners and the Rays lose three out of four to the Blue Jays putting the Yankees within 6 1/2 games of first place as the Rays head to Boston and then New York; what would be going through the heads of the fragile, young Rays if it started to appear possible that the Yankees were going to catch them? We won't know because Rasner was allowed to pitch to three batters too many and let the game get out of hand with a crooked number 5 up on the board in the second inning. You could almost feel the reeling Rays relax as they built that 5-0 lead and it was because of Joe Girardi staying too long with his starting pitcher; a starting pitcher that should have been on the shortest of leashes given the circumstances and importance of this game.
The argument that it was too early to go to the bullpen is an empty alibi as well. It's September; the Yankees are carrying fifteen pitchers including Alceves, who pitched very well; and Dan Giese who would have been better options than leaving Rasner in to get shelled and put the game out of reach. In fact, one of the long relievers should have been stretched and ready to start loosening up be before the game even started given how shaky Rasner's been since June.
There's no excuse for this kind of gaffe in what amounted to a playoff game for the Yankees. They had to win this game if they wanted to still be on life support as they headed back home to play the Mariners, but they're not because of their manager. This entire season has been more of a learning experience than anyone anticipated for Girardi, and in what was his first unofficial playoff game----a must win----he failed miserably because he didn't act and it cost the Yankees any chance of climbing back into the race which was, for a day at least, a realistic possibility. The game might have blown up no matter what Girardi did with Rasner, but if he'd pulled him when he should have, at least he wouldn't have been the one to light the match.
- Blue Jays 9-Twins 0:
How many more years is Ricciardi, whose bluster was one of the reasons he got the job in the first place, going to get to have his team in realistic contention? 2008 will be the sixth time in seven years that the Blue Jays have been "sort of" okay, "sort of" competitive, but not really in any position to make a genuine playoff run. Under Ricciardi, they've never won more than 87 games; never ended any closer than eight games within a playoff spot, but again, they're having a late hot streak to make their record look respectable on paper and possibly save Ricciardi's job.
If Ricciardi's failures were only in the standings and he had some basis for the decisions he'd made that haven't worked (getting Scott Rolen for Troy Glaus for example), it'd be one thing; but just about every season in which he's been the Blue Jays GM has been pockmarked with some off-field controversy from players fighting with the manager; to Ricciardi lying to the press and blaming the press for it; to the contract-related release of Frank Thomas; to the embarrassing episode in which Ricciardi criticized Adam Dunn on his radio show...*
*Just one question: why does the GM of the team have a call-in radio show anyway?!?
....among many other things. And the team has never been in contention by season's end. Amid all the complaints that it's hard for the Blue Jays to contend in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox, it's conveniently missed that the formerly woebegone Rays have surpassed all three teams a year after losing 96 games. And where are the Blue Jays? They're in fourth place; not in contention, but not ending so terribly that a GM change would be fait accompli.
Whether or not the Blue Jays notoriously patient (to their own detriment) ownership realizes it, they're never going to take the next step under Ricciardi. They need to bring in a Brian Cashman-type GM who's not going to have a radio show; who's not going to openly spar with the press over petty matters trying to exert his machismo over them; and who's not going to preside over a team whose record never reflects the season they actually had. Former Angels GM and now Senior Advisor Bill Stoneman, who pitched two no-hitters in Canada for the Montreal Expos and ran the team before moving to the Angels, is someone I would want to speak to if I were advising the Blue Jays, but since this hot streak may save Ricciardi's job, finding a suitable replacement won't be necessary and history shows that this team's going to be in this same position a year from now and they can repeat the process all over again.