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Thoughts on ALCS Game 6

Featured — By Scott Ham on October 26, 2009 2:49 pm

Reflections on an evening I spent singing the Theme to New York, New York over and over while alone in my kitchen:

◊ Great game pitched by Andy Pettitte last night. It’s rare that you see Pettitte let out a yell or a fist pump but clearly, Andy was dialed in and on a mission.

It’s funny thing to look over Pettitte’s postseason history.  He’s always referred to as a “big game” pitcher, a rep that surely started sometime after game 5 of the 1996 World Series when he threw 8.1 shutout innings against the Braves, capping an improbable three straight wins in Atlanta and bringing the Yankees a win away from winning the Series.

Andy’s had some stinkers (game 2 of the 1997 ALDS, game one of the 1996 World Series, game 6 of the 2001 World Series, game 3 of the 1998 ALCS), and he’s pitched some gems (the 1996 game 5 in the World Series, 1998 game 4 of the World Series, 2000 game 5 of the World Series).

Thankfully, in the final tally the good games outweigh the bad, and Pettitte has been a lot more consistent in the postseason since 2003. Not surprisingly, Pettitte’s postseason ERA of 3.83 is just a hair under his career mark of 3.91 with his walk and strikeout rates following similar trends.  Pitch enough innings and it usually evens out.

◊ Joba came in during the seventh last night and a nation of fans held their breath. He got the job done, though, retiring two batters on ground balls with only seven pitches, four of which were strikes.  The confusion continues.

The one thing I think we have learned about Joba over the last two months is that it doesn’t matter what role he is in if he isn’t pitching well.  I am firmly in the Joba as a starter camp and nothing that has happened this season has changed my mind.

Joba hasn’t come out of the pen during the postseason and blown people’s doors off like he did in 2007.  He’s a kid who hasn’t pitched nearly as long as some other guys his age.  He’s learning his craft on the major league level and, because of that, he’s going to have many ups and downs.

That’s learning.  It’s rare that the Yankees let a guy learn on the big club, but Joba is getting that chance.  If he stays healthy and isn’t too pigheaded to learn a thing or two, it will likely pay dividends for the Yankees rotation for years to come.

◊ Nick Swisher got a hit and scored a run! He also reached on some shoddy Angels defense that basically ended their season.

I am not a big fan of the sacrifice bunt.  Late in games when you need a run, okay, sometimes I can live with it.

However, I think it’s a bad move when you’re asking a guy like Nick Swisher who, in 3189 plate appearances, has sacrifice bunted 8 times.  Chances are, he’s not very good at it.  Once Swish found himself on first base (aided by the fundamentally unsound Angels defense), Girardi replaced Nick with pinch runner Brett Gardner.

Well, Joe… If you didn’t mind losing Swish for Gardner, and Swish is going to square before the ball even leaves the pitcher’s hand, why not just pinch hit Gardner and let HIM bunt?  If the bunt is THAT important, put up a guy who can bunt and stands a better chance of beating out the play at first.

Joe was hedging his bet.  If the bunt failed, Joe didn’t want Gardner’s bat at the plate with two strikes.  It’s that kind of half-hearted approach that continues to make Girardi a confusing manager to follow.  He’ll pinch run for Alex Rodriguez on the 4% chance that Freddy Guzman’s speed will help tie a game, but in willingly giving up and out, he will play it half way.  Doesn’t make sense.

◊ Swisher’s bunt left runners on first and second for the red hot Melky Cabrera who, of course, bunted.  Never mind that Melky is 9-23 with 3 walks and two doubles in the ALCS.  The important thing was to get the runners over.

This is called managing scared.  There was a runner in scoring position already in the person of Robbie Cano.  Not the fastest set of wheels on the track but certainly able to score from second.  Instead, Girardi decides to try and give up an out again to avoid a double play.

Do you know what the average number of double plays per game was in 2009 for the AL?  .80.  Less than one.

Do you know how many double plays there were in this game?  4.

I’m not going to say that the law of averages means that there wouldn’t have been another double play.  Averages are comprised of extremes and on occasion those extremes need to happen.

I just can’t get my head around the concept of giving up an out because there’s a 2% chance of giving up two outs.  You only have three outs, guys.  You shouldn’t go wasting them.

Naturally, there’s little reason for many to second guess because again the Angels season crumbled with errors abound, giving Mariano Rivera insurance runs that turned out not to be necessary.  Maybe if the Yankees swung away like they’ve been doing in late innings most of the year, they would have scored four runs instead of two.

If you play for one run, you’re usually lucky to get one run.  You’ll rarely get more.

◊ Damon and Teixeira continued to emerge from their postseason slumber, each going 2-4 with 3 RBI between them.  Damon added a walk while Tex hit a long sac fly that many (including John Sterling) thought was going to leave the park.  It would be nice if this streak continues into the World Series as, you know, that’s a pretty good time for an offense to get hot.

◊ You know that Hideki Matsui is not doing well when he hits three ground balls to the right side.  Matsui is notorious for trying to pull outside pitches when he’s not going well, the result usually being weak toppers to the right side.  Hideki did that three times last night before finally taking one the other way for a flyout in the seventh.  The World Series could be a little rough on Matsui as he’ll be on the bench for games three, four and five without the DH and relegated to pinch hitting duties.  I hope his bat can stay lukewarm at least.

◊ Some people questioned CC Sabathia getting the ALCS MVP award over ARod.

First off, who cares?

Secondly, CC almost single-handedly won the Yankees two games.  He threw 16 innings, gave up two runs, nine hits, three walks and struck out twelve.  The Angels really didn’t stand a chance against him.  Two victories are squarely on his back.

ARod has been fantastic.  There’s no arguing it.  I think CC gets the nod, if you care about such things.

◊ Speaking of ARod… Does the new found respect for ARod go completely in the can if he has a less than great World Series?  I certainly hope not.  I think ARod has stepped up and proven what we all hoped he would.  If ARod is merely average during the World Series, it doesn’t negate what he has done to this point.

◊ Mariano Rivera… I didn’t think Girardi should have started the eighth inning with Rivera.  I thought Girardi could have mixed and matched a little bit and kept Rivera warming in the pen.  Yeah, yeah, it’s the playoffs, all hands on deck, blah blah blah.

The Yankees record when leading in the eighth inning this year was 79-4. 

79-4.  Think about that.

That means one of two things: either the closers role is an over-hyped waste of time, or the Yankees have a pretty good bullpen.

The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.  Having a great closer is certainly a nice thing to have but sometimes that closer can be wasted when  locked down to the ninth inning (Thanks, save statistic!).  Girardi was smart in his use of Rivera in this series, twice throwing him into high leverage situations with runners on base and Rivera delivered.

The point is, the Yankees should have the arms to at least start the eighth inning.  If Rivera needs to come in early, so be it, but I didn’t see enough of a reason to completely ignore the rest of the pen in that situation.  Girardi managed the eighth inning like a man who didn’t want to be second guessed anymore.  Just stick Rivera out there and, if he blows it, well what am I supposed to do?  He’s Mariano Rivera!

Is that adequate or even smart managing?  It seemed like a man who didn’t want to be second guessed, even if it meant throwing Rivera out for more pitches than he’s thrown in an outing all year.

Tags: ALCS, Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, Brett Gardner, David Robertson, Joe Girardi, Mariano Rivera, Melky Cabrera, Nick Swisher, Phil Hughes, Playoffs

2 Comments

  1. Zod says:

    I have not felt the thrill of a playoff like this since the 1996 team started their epic run. This team has rejuvenated my enthusiasm for the post-season.

  2. Scott Ham says:

    Agreed. Even though they’ve only lost two games, the series have felt a lot closer than that. I guess a bunch of extra inning games will do that to you.

    They certainly didn’t destroy the Angels. Get rid of a few key errors and we’re probably watching game 7 tonight.

    Still, like you said, there’s an excitement around this team that I haven’t felt in awhile. After a few years of watching them flounder in the playoffs, it’s almost odd to see them succeeding again.

    It really makes me wish I could sit through the ’96 – 2001 period again and not know the outcome. It’s quite amazing what those teams accomplished, especially in the age of three playoff series. There is an extreme amount of luck involved there, but as Branch Rickey said, “luck is the residue of design.”

    And sometimes, a twelve year-old kid steals a home run for you.

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