Wednesday, October 6, 2004THE OTHER PLAYOFF GAMES
THE PERFECT FORMULA
Last night, the Twins set out to prove themselves to the baseball world. No one is really giving them a legitimate chance to beat the Yankees. I guess you could call them the Rodney Dangerfield of the AL Playoff teams; they don't get any respect. (For those who didn't know,Mr. Dangerfield passed away yesterday due to complications following heart surgery.)
Everyone contended, and it is probably quite accurate, that Game 1 was a must-win for the Twins. With Johan Santana, the best pitcher in baseball, on the mound, it was an opportunity for the Twins to steal a game on the road.
Yesterday, in my preview of the Twins/Yankees series, I presented a formula that I thought the Twins needed to follow if they wanted to win. If they could do just that, they would have a chance to win any game. If not, it could be a short, ugly series that would make the Fox execs very happy (Because we all know that they want another Yankees/Red Sox series)! What was that "secret" formula?
For the Twins, they would love to get seven innings out of Santana and Radke and hand the ball to Juan Rincon for the 8th and Joe Nathan for the 9th.
The Twins did just that, beating the Yankees 2-0. Johan Santana pitched seven, tough, shutout innings. Juan Rincon got some defensive help to complete a scoreless 8th inning before Joe Nathan pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the Save.
Today I am going to walk you briefly through the game, noting some thoughts I had as I was watching.
The first thing that had to make Twins fans cringe was the fact that Joe Buck and Tim McCarver would be in the broadcast booth. That alone just makes things a little harder to swallow. We did find out that Jacque Jones would be in the lineup, despite arriving in New York on a plane at 7a.m. I read a lot of places about how Ron Gardenhire is not loyal to his players, quick to give a starter's job to another player. That is so unfair. Gardy has stuck behind Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas to the point of ridiculous. Despite the fact that the Twins continued to play Doug Mientkiewicz at 1B with Justin Morneau mashing everything at Rochester. He stuck by Kyle Lohse in the starting rotation. There are other examples, but another great example of this is how he has continued to stand behind Jacque Jones. He has had a brutal year at the plate, and Jason Kubel came up to the big leagues after punishing Eastern League and International League pitchers all year and was clearly unfazed, hitting .300, and hitting the ball well. But Gardy continues to stand behind Jones.
Other thoughts... well, I have been waiting for this game for 24 or more hours. I'm ready for the game. As my friends from Outkast say, "Let's Get it Started." Enough thinking about it, let's start the game.
The camera angle, directly behind the pitcher, but higher than normal, was incredibly annoying! It is just a strange look. I know it's straight on, but it is so different.
Shannon Stewartled off the game with an infield single. Gardy was trying to get the first run of the game and asked Jacque Jones to sacrifice bunt. Jones attempted to bunt a head-high fastball and later struck out looking at a strike. Torii Hunter swung at some high fastballs before grounding out. Justin Morneau took a first pitch for a strike. The pitch was a curveball that Jorge Posada caught outside, meaning there is no way it crossed the plate at any point. From that point on, the rest of the game, Morneau looked as if he didn't know what would be called a strike.
The Yankees apparently had a plan to be aggressive with Santana. Derek Jeter flew out on the first pitch. Alex Rodriguez was way out in front of a changeup and Michael Cuddyer was unable to bare hand the ball and make a play. My immediate thought was that I would hear from people saying that Luis Rivas would have made that play. No he wouldn't have, and even if he was able to bare hand it, Rodriguez would have beat it out anyway. Johan then walked Gary Sheffield on four pitches. He then had a long, nine pitch battle with Bernie Williams before striking him out on a great change up. On the pitch, the runner tried to steal, but Henry Blanco threw Rodriguez out at 3B by 15 feet. (although if we see that attempt at 3B, A-Rod may have actually been safe!)
With two outs, Cristian Guzman tried to drag a bunt down the first base line. He popped it up to John Olerud at first. As we went to commercial, Tim McCarver complained that it was a bad play. I completely disagree. If Guzzy gets that ball down, it's a single and the inning continues. It's not like he's the #8 hitter in the National League. If he gets on base, it extends the inning and Michael Cuddyer has an opportunity with a runner on base to do more damage. Worst case, Mussina still has to throw more pitches. I would have been interested to hear McCarver's thoughts on the play had Guzman reached first base.
In the bottom half of the inning, Jorge Posada led off with a single off Corey Koskie's glove. I think Koskie makes that play 95% of the time. Hideki Matsui followed it with a single. Ruben Sierra lined a fly ball to the warning track in left field. Shannon Stewart made a very awkward catch, and well, he proved how terrible his throwing arm is with the throw in to the infield as Jorge Posada advanced to third. But the next play may have been the big play of the game for the Twins. John Olerud lined a medium-deep fly ball to Torii Hunter in center. Posada took off for home and Hunter unleashed a perfect, one-hop throw to Henry Blanco who did a great job making it look like there would be no play while still protecting the plate. The 8-2 putout kept the game scoreless and really gave the Twins a little momentum which they carried into the...
Michael Cuddyerled off the inning with a solid single to right centerfield. (remember, there are still a lot of people who think that Luis Rivas should start at second. A lineup that has Rivas and Henry Blanco batting 8-9 in the order doesn't deserve to be in the playoffs!) Blanco laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, advancing Cuddyer to second. It was the perfect example of manufacturing a run when Shannon Stewart blooped a single to left field that scored Cuddyer from second. I'm not a big supporter of early-game sacrifice bunting. However, in this situation, with a runner on first and no one out and the nine-hitter (who hit .206 for the season) batting, it was the right move. Jacque Jones ended the inning with a tailor-made double play.
Heading into the bottom of the 3rd, Fox's little dumb Scooter thing explained the changeup to us. What a dumb concept! But, I guess it is good for the casual and young fans, and they do need to cater to those people. Santana struck out Miguel Cairo before hanging a slider to Derek Jeter who lined it to left for a single. But on a 3-2 pitch, Santana got A-Rod to swing (and miss) a high fastball. McCarver is "shocked" that Jeter wasn't running on the pitch. It would have been dumb for them to have Jeter run for a number of reasons. First, you had to expect a fastball. Second, Alex Rodriguez strikes out a lot. Third, Johan Santana struck out more hitters than anyone in the AL. And finally, Henry Blanco throws out about 50% of would-be base runners. Putting all of that together, there was no reason to send Jeter. A-Rod strikes out, but you've still got Gary Sheffield coming up with a runner on base. Fortunately, Santana got Shef to pop out to third base to end the inning.
With two outs, Corey Koskie ripped a single to right. However, Lew
Ford struck out to end the inning. For really the first time all year, it
actually looked like Ford was confused at the plate. The reason I say this is
because he took two hanging curveballs that were right down the middle of the
plate. They didn't look like the sharp knuckle-curve that we usually see from
Mussina. Then he was late on a high fastball, something that never happens with
The top of the 5th was awful for the Twins (excellent for Mussina!). Cristian
Guzman looked awful flailing at three consecutive curveballs in the dirt. Michael
Cuddyer saw four curveballs in his at bat. Two bad swings, one great take,
and taking a third strike. Henry Blanco weakly popped up to second.
This is the point in the game when I really started to get nervous. Mussina was really throwing well now, and the Yankees lineup is just so potent. The inning led off with Santana hitting John Olerud on a three-ball pitch. He got Cairo to strikeout again. He was then able to get Derek Jeter to ground into another 6-4-3 double play to end that inning!SIXTH INNING
Mussina continued to be dominant, striking out Shannon Stewart, an accomplishment in its own right! Jacque Jones came up and looked hideous on a swing-and-miss. I was chanting "Kubel! Kubel!" as Mussina delivered the second pitch to Jones. It was a fastball on the outside part of the plate and Jones actually made solid contact, lining the ball over the fence in left-field for a home run! I couldn't help but smile! And then thinking about the emotions that must have been going through his mind as he raced around the bases, as well as the emotions of the guys on the bench, the guys like Ron Gardenhire who stuck by him and knew what Jones was going through. What a feeling that must have been. And what a big run for the Twins, increasing the lead of the Twins to two.
The next batter was Torii Hunter and on a 2-0 pitch, he lined a single past a diving Alex Rodriguez. Justin Morneau had another long at bat. But, remember that first pitch that was called on him in his first at bat? Well, he got another pitch just a bit further outside and not wanting to go down looking, flailed at for a third strike. It really seemed as though that one pitch called a strike on Morneau really affected his strike zone judgment the whole game. Corey Koskie came up and on a 1-1 pitch, Hunter did one of his patented stolen bases where he takes off and is halfway to second base by the time the pitcher delivers the ball. Koskie went on to walk, but Ford grounded out to 3B to end the inning. Again, it was just a different Lew Ford at the plate that we have become accustomed to.
Santana came back out for the bottom of the 6th and again gave up a leadoff single to Alex Rodriguez. Santana had a long battle with Gary Sheffield before breaking his bat and getting a fielder's choice grounder to short. Bernie flew out to center before Jorge Posada single to left to put the tying run on base. But Santana got Hideki Matsui to ground out to second base (Cuddyer!) to end the threat and the sixth inning.SEVENTH INNING
With one out, Michael Cuddyer lined his second single of the game about an inch over Mike Mussina's head! Unfortunately, the Twins felt the need to hit and run with Blanco and Cuddyer. The Yankees knew it was coming and pitched out the first pitch. Blanco took a bad swing and Cuddyer was thrown out easily. Two pitches later, Blanco struck out to end the inning. I love the hit-and-run play. Absolutely love it! But a couple of things are needed for it to make sense. The most important thing is for the hitter to be a relatively good contact hitter. That's not Blanco. But, the Twins had a lead and it may have been worth the chance.
Opera singer Morris Robinson came out for the seventh inning stretch to sing "God Bless America", the extended version. You know Gardy and all Twins fans were timing that song!! Thankfully, the Twins stayed in the dugout until after he was done, so they didn't warm up, cool down, and then try to play or specifically pitch.
And things got scary. Santana hung yet another slider right over the plate and Ruben Sierra launched a towering shot down the left field line. It was ruled a home run by the ump nearest the play. The Twins argued, and the call was overturned. So, of course, Joe Torre had to respond. But in the end, the right call was made as the ball was like 3 inches foul! A couple pitches later, Santana got Sierra to swing and miss a change up for strike three. John Olerud flew out. But then Santana hung another slider to Miguel Cairo drilled a double just out of the reach of Shannon Stewart (would Ford have caught it? I think so.). Derek Jeter came up which, of course, meant that Joe Buck had to say, "And who else would Yankees fans want coming to the plate in this situation?" Derek Jeter grounded out to short for the third out.EIGHTH INNING
Mike Mussina'sday was done. He really was excellent. In his seven innings, he gave up the two runs on six hits and a walk. He struck out seven. Tom Gordon was in, and used his 95 mph fastball and biting curveball to pitch a 1-2-3 inning.
Johan Santana's night was done too. Seven innings. NO runs. He gave up an unusual nine hits and walked one. And he struck out just five Yankee hitters. What is the sign of a GREAT pitcher? Is it complete dominance? Or is it not having your best stuff, giving up hits and working out of some tough situations? Because Santana did just that. He worked out of some tough situations against the potent Yankees lineup, and gave up NO runs! Have I stressed enough yet that he gave up NO runs?
Juan Rincon came into the game for the 8th inning. I commented before the innings started that it was a scary inning. Rincon needed to face Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Bernie Williams. I made a call that on the first pitch Rodriguez would hit a homer. On the first pitch, A-Rod launched a shot to dead center. It wouldn't have been a homer as it would have hit near the top of the center field wall. "Would have" because Torii Hunter used his legs and his glove of gold to get to the ball and catch it for the first out. Rincon then kept me feeling plenty nervous (it just seemed too ironic that there was a Pepcid Complete commercial before this inning began.) by walking Sheffield on four pitches. But Rincon did what Santana had done so well throughout the game; he got Bernie Williams to ground into another double play to end the inning.
The Yankees surprisingly brought in Mariano Rivera to pitch the 9th inning. But he did what he does in the postseason, getting the Twins out without a baserunner.
The Twins formula continued to hold as Joe Nathan came in for the 9th inning and the save opportunity. He used ten pitches to get three fly outs to end the inning, and the game, and give the Twins the 2-0 victory. Of his ten pitches, nine were fastballs. The speed of those fastballs were: 95, 97, 97, 98, 96, 96, 96, 97, 96. That's tough!FINAL THOUGHTS
The perfect formula for the Twins:
For the Twins, they would love to get seven innings out of Santana and Radke and hand the ball to Juan Rincon for the 8th and Joe Nathan for the 9th.
They fit that script perfectly. But from the Yankees perspective, so did they. Mike Mussina went seven before Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera pitched the 8th and 9th respectively.
But the Twins did exactly what they needed to do, win Game 1. That takes home-field advantage away from the Yankees and puts it back with the Twins. Today, the Twins will have Ace #2 Brad Radke on the mound against the Bombers. The Yankees will counter with Jon Lieber who has been fantastic at Yankees Stadium. This should be another close game where runs will be at a premium. If the Twins can steal a second game on the road, they should consider themselves very fortunate, but also have the goal of finishing the series with Carlos Silva on the mound on Friday night!
That's right, John Kruk, Carlos Silva is the Twins 3rd starter. Take a look at his numbers this year and tell me he isn't worth knowing. Kruk continues to ask the question who will pitch for the Twins after Santana and Radke. He mentions Kyle Lohse. He even mentions Terry Mulholland. He never mentioned Carlos Silva. Silva was 14-8 with a 4.21 ERA. Not All-Star caliber, but certainly worth knowing, especially since the Twins have said for the last two to three weeks that he would start Game 3. The Yankees have absolutely no idea who will pitch for them in Game 3 or Game 4.
Kruk is typical of my feelings toward the Baseball Tonight crews. It is my opinion that the former players (Kruk, Harold Reynolds and especially Jeff Brantley) express some opinions but use way too many cliches and just don't think much. However, the likes of Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark and Tim Kirkjian are very good and very smart. The hosts say a million really dumb things too.
At no point during the game did I feel completely comfortable. I uttered the phrase, "I want to vomit" a lot! And, with more frequency starting in about the 6th inning. There is not one hitter in their lineup that you can look past.Jason Giambi was left off of the postseason roster for this series. It does make sense. He probably would not be able to contribute at this point, which really is unfortunate. I think with a full off-season to get back into a training program, he will be fine and back to 100%. He has been through a lot this year, physically and mentally!
Tonight's game is on ESPN at 6:00. I'm already anxious!
If you're looking for some perspective from Yankees bloggers, check these out:
Clifford's Big Red Blog
Replacement Level Yankees Weblog - Annoying Loss
The Midnight Hour
The Weblog that Derek Built
Boy of Summer
If you have any comments on the game or the series, pleasee-mail me.
THE OTHER PLAYOFF GAMESBOSTON RED SOX 8, ANAHEIM ANGELS 3
The Red Sox used a couple of Chone Figgins errors to put up seven fourth inning runs and take an 8-0 lead. From that point on, the Sox just cruised. There was some concern about Curt Schilling hurting his ankle, but that seems to be OK. Manny Ramirez and Kevin Millar each homered. Basically, this wasn't much of a game at all. Tonight, the Angles and Sox will play again, this time with a real pitching matchup (apologies to Jarrod Washburn, but he should not have been a Game 1 starter) as Pedro Martinez and Bartolo Colon will deal.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS 3, ST LOUIS CARDINALS 8
In the first game of the day, the Cardinals did what they did all season; they powered their way to a big win. Things started out great when Albert Pujols gave them a 1-0 lead in the first inning with a solo home run. Then they put a 5-spot on the board in the third inning. Larry Walker hit the first of his two homers. Edgar Renterria drove in two with a double which was followed by a two run homer by Jim Edmonds. Woody Williams was solid in his start for the Cardinals and obviously Odalis Perez was not! Game 2 isn't until tomorrow night.
HOUSTON ASTROS vs ATLANTA BRAVES (GAME 1 today)
Game 1 is today and will match Roger Clemens and Jaret Wright. Both pitchers have done surprisingly well this season. Clemens was supposed to be enjoying his retirement. Wright was just trying to make a team! I predicted that the Astros would win this series in five games and I really believe this will be a very entertaining series.
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