Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Executioners

  • Microcosm:

I haven't read the game recaps with quotes from the players and manager (I don't find much use in them), but I can pretty much tell you what they've said----the statements emanate from the well-thumbed and dog-eared "book of baseball cliches" that is in every baseball player's bookshelf; the managers and GMs have it too to go along with the invisible "book" of strategy that exists----somewhere----yet few have ever seen.

Like Bigfoot sightings, the closest we've come to catching a glimpse of it is Joe Girardi's Blue Binder and the anecdotal and legendary (not in a good way) past work of Jeff Torborg.

The statements are obvious and easy to memorize: "This team never quits." "We have confidence in our ability to come back." "Joba Chamberlain and Dustin Moseley quieted the game to give us a chance to rally." "We've been here before."


What they were really saying in the dugout probably went something like this: "Let's get (C.J.) Wilson outta there and get into that bullpen." And, "Let's force Wash (Ron Washington) into some mistakes."

Dugout chatter is more blunt and coarse than that, but we'll keep it clean.

What I want to know is why people are surprised by the storyline from last night? I've seen this movie again and again; the Yankees 6-5 win over the Rangers exemplifies one of the main reasons they've got those five championships in the past fifteen years. It's not about money; power; pitching; or luck----not totally.

Those aspects are factors, but not the overwhelming reason for the way they repeatedly leave teams in ruins after completing a systematic dismantling neatly encompassed in a SparkNotes-style summary like last night.

In short, the game came down to: the relentless pursuit of execution by the Yankees; the Rangers failure to bust the game open when they had the chance; Ron Washington's overmanaging/stupidity.

Going back in history, the Derek Jeter "flip" in the 2000 ALDS vs the Athletics is a seminal Yankee moment; it was partially attributed to luck that Jeter happened to be roving and in position to grab Shane Spencer's errant throw in time to nab Jeremy Giambi at the plate; but how much of it was, as Branch Rickey used to say, "the residue of design"? The Yankees do the right things because they're well-schooled in doing the right things.

In the first inning, as the Rangers loaded the bases with two outs against a staggering C.C. Sabathia, a Sabathia wild pitch to Jorge Cantu bounced off the backstop in a most fortuitous way for Jorge Posada to catch it and toss it to Sabathia covering the plate in time to tag Nelson Cruz for the third out. It could be chalked up to luck, but the Yankees are "lucky" often enough for it to be judged as a bit more than simple divine intervention or serendipity.

Another positive for the Yankees----in retrospect----with Sabathia is that he was pulled after only 94 pitches; he'll be fresh for a game 4 start if he's needed to go on short rest.

The Rangers had the opportunity to blow the game open with important tack-on runs in the third and fourth innings, but failed to capitalize, thereby leaving the Yankees within reasonable striking distance. Another hallmark of championship teams----of the Yankees and Phillies----is hammering an opponent when they're at their weakest; not even giving them an inkling that they can win.

Then there are the all-too-prevalent strategic blunders by Rangers manager Ron Washington.

Before getting into the pitching decisions, what was with: A) having Elvis Andrus bunt with no outs and Mitch Moreland on first after a leadoff single against Mariano Rivera? And B) having him bunt with 2 strikes?!?

The only time I say you bunt down a run in the ninth is if the hitter leads off with a double; then you get him to third where there are a multitude of ways for him to score; you don't bunt with a hitter as fast as Andrus at the plate----a double play was highly unlikely----nor do you bunt with a runner on first base.

As for having him bunt with 2 strikes? It was absolute and utter lunacy and, to me, more of a fireable offense than Washington's failed drug test----and I'd have fired him for that too.

Finally, there are the pitching decisions.

It's a classic second-guess to quibble with the pulling of C.J. Wilson in the eighth inning after an infield single to Brett Gardner and a double by Derek Jeter; you can make the case for it; but you can make a better case for leaving him in. It comes down to a question of "who would you rather..."

Would you rather have Wilson or Darren Oliver pitching to Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira?

Wilson had handled both Swisher and Teixeira last night; Swisher was a 6 for 20 in his career vs Wilson with 3 doubles and a homer; Teixeira was 0 for 5 in his career and had also been mitigated in the game. Wilson had thrown 104 pitches.

Oliver dealt with Swisher and Teixeira in last year's playoffs while pitching for the Angels and had never had much of a problem with them in the regular season; but the consequences of pulling Wilson and inserting Oliver became clear once he'd walked both hitters: with Wilson out of the game and as Washington dove into his shaky bullpen, it was essentially "all in" for the Rangers with the weakest part of their club----the bullpen; and he was going to have to do as he did in the series against the Rays (and failed) by wearing out a path from the dugout to the mound to replace one young and/or journeyman reliever with another and hoped that one of them could record an out.

He had two choices as I saw it: leave Wilson in, or go with his closer, Neftali Feliz, for 2 innings. Both are explainable; both are understandable; both would've been the right thing to do.

Because Feliz is his best available option out of the bullpen, that he's so young and inexperienced and he's rarely been asked to go more than one inning, it was a risk----no doubt----but this is the playoffs; the adrenaline would've carried him through and might----might----have set the tone for the rest of the series. Had he come in and blown it, there would have been a negative reference for Feliz to turn into Jonathan Broxton against the Philies and wilt at the sight of them; but what if he'd gotten the job done? What kind of tone would that have set for the young closer for the rest of the series and maybe his career?

It would've been an Al Davis-style deep strike and was fraught with variables, but the Rangers aren't in a position to be playing it safe. When you're facing a champion, you have to throw everything you've got at him with abandon----it's the only way to win.

Safety first is for losers.

The Yankees of 1996 won and built the foundation for their dynasty with Joe Torre making such controversial decisions as he did in game 3 in Atlanta. down 2-0 in the series and in the sixth inning, David Cone was nursing a 2-0 lead; Torre left Cone in to pitch to Ryan Klesko with a 2-0 lead, saw Cone load the bases, get Fred McGriff to pop up for the second out; walk Klesko to force in a run, then let him pitch to Javier Lopez with the game (and series) in the balance.

In the middle of the Braves rally, Torre had gone out to the mound to give Cone a chance to convince his manager not to pull him. Cone later said he lied right to Torre's face insisting that he had enough left in the tank; Torre undoubtedly knew Cone was lying; but they trusted one another.

Lopez popped out; the Yankees held on and won and swept the subsequent three games with that mentality of having to beat the champion out of the champion.

The Yankees did it, won the 1996 World Series and three more in the next four years; the same core also won last year.

The Rangers could've done taken that giant step last night.

But they played it safe.

And they lost.

Contrary to the overreactions on both ends of the fan spectrum----fans, reporters and commentators of the Yankees and Rangers----the series isn't over, but last night's game will be tough to overcome. It's going to take major effort and leadership to get them past it----leadership the Rangers don't seem to have.

They had the series in their grasp last night and let it slip away. We'll know quickly whether they can recover. Suffice it to say it's going to be very, very hard to regain control after the devastation inflicted upon them by those relentless champions----the Yankees.

  • Viewer Mail 10.16.2010:

Dave writes RE "straw men"

A straw man is much more than a "weak argument that is easily refuted". A straw man refers to the practice of attacking an opponent's beliefs/ideas based on a misrepresentation of those beliefs/ideas. That is, it's not just a weak argument, but a falsely projected one.

I'd written in my (increasingly popular) posting about Sandy Alderson----link----the following:

"A straw man is a weak argument that is easily refuted. Like a scarecrow, it’s there for the purpose of subterfuge and those that don’t think or aren’t bright enough to realize its unreality are held to the whims of the assertions of others."

After consulting Merriam-Webster, I'd say we're both somewhat right, but Dave's statement is duly noted. Maybe he's more "right" than me. Yes. I said it.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE my LCS predictions:

You made me sweat until I read all the way down to the end: Yanks in six. I'd like nothing better than for my team to "pop the Rangers in the mouth."

I'd say they did it.

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes my LCS predictions:

*Calling my bookie now* betting record isn't particularly impressive, but I'm much better when I'm making assessments/predictions without my own money at stake; could it be that I find my credibility to be a more valuable currency? We're getting into psychology and existentialism----and with me, that's highly dangerous.

Gabriel (Capo) writes RE Yankees-Rangers:

I say Rangers in seven. Today the bullpen faltered, tomorrow they'll win.

Tonight's not "must-win" with Cliff Lee pitching game 3, but it would behoove the Rangers to win tonight.

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz yesterday talking about the LCS and managerial machinations. Click here for Sal's site or here to listen directly. It's creepy in its accuracy before the fact. Creepy.


Joe said...

I didnt watch the game, but know the gist of what happened. If they inserted Feliz with no outs in the 8th, they didn't necessarily need him for the ninth too. If he would have gotten out of the 8th -- and they didn't feel comfortable stretching him for that 2nd inning -- then they could have used another reliever to hopefully close it out. Managers too often avoid their best guy in the 8th -- because it isn't the 9th. And it's a flaw most of them have.

She-Fan said...

I, too, questioned why Washington didn't bring in Feliz. I know there are risks, but as you say this is Game 1 of the ALCS. What was he waiting for? This is when you throw the rulebook out the window.

Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

As of this comment game 2 has been played so I'll stay away from hindsight. But no one thought they had that win in them yesterday. You have to admit the response on Texas' part was impressive. Game two cancels out their game one melt down rather convincingly. What do ya think Jonestein is feeling on this Sunday morning? After game 2 I will say the Yankees' bullpen has been brilliant so far. Cano continues to be insane. Michael Young needs to be a factor if the Rangers are to win this series.