Thursday, October 7, 2004
THE OTHER PLAYOFF GAMES
A "FALL" CLASSIC:
A SECOND-GUESSERS DREAM
I have to be honest with you. After watching last night's Twins/Yankees game in its entirety, I really don't want to write anything today. Of course, I was excited about writing following the Torii Hunter home run in the top of the 12th that gave the Twins a 6-5 lead. But that excitement turned into extreme disappointment as the events of the bottom of the 12th progressed. But, like the Twins will have to do, I have to put this game behind me, move on and become ok with it. I need to be tough, strong, and try to struggle through it for you, my readers. So, I dug deep, and tried my best to give it 110%. I have to write just one day at a time, and the good lord willing, I hope I was able to write something worthy of your time.
Today I am going to again discuss inning-by-inning what happened, and what I was thinking. There were plenty of chances for second-guessing, and I will certainly address those topics as they occurred in the game. I will try to express my opinion on the situations. However, I should warn you: if you're looking for someone who is going to second-guess and act angrily about every decision, you're going to want to go elsewhere. I will definitely stand behind Ron Gardenhire's decisions throughout the game. There were other decisions by some of the players that I took note of during the game that I will point out. (and yes, there will be plenty of sarcasm and bashing still!) Twisn fans may not agree right now, but that game was a classic playoff game.
If you have any thoughts on the game, or if you want to tell me about your emotional roller coaster last night, send me an e-mail.
The game was on ESPN broadcast by their #1 announcers, Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. I had always liked listening to these guys. I thought that Miller led by asking great questions, and that Joe Morgan did a great job of explaining how a player might be thinking. However, in recent years (directly correlating to the time I started reading all these web blogs), I started listening to what they said in a completely different way. You realize in the end that they basically are reading the media guide and game notes, and maybe talking to some people before the game starts. However, you and I could probably do a better job of more accurately explaining what is happening in the game. Just a couple of opinions. I'm not saying they do a poor job and can't be entertaining, but it is important to remember that they really don't know everything. (It actually becomes fun to listen to and find their errors!)
I feel it is important that the Twins win Game 2. Although I think that the Twins can beat the Yankees twice at the Dome, their lineup is so strong that it is no given. Winning two in New York would mean that they would only need to win once in Minnesota.
Jon Lieber has really struggled against lefties all year, so the Twins went with a primarily left-handed lineup. Included was the Morneau/Koskie/Kubel middle of the order. Some may question using Jason Kubel in the Designated Hitter role in place of Lew Ford, but heading into the game, it was really hard to disagree with that decision. (Note - after his 0-6 performance, it's probably even easier to second guess, isn't it?) But it was the right decision.
With one out, Jacque Jones was jammed but singled to right field. After a Torii Hunter fielder's choice, Justin Morneau ripped the first pitch right down the right field line and into the corner. When the ball ricocheted off the cement portion of the wall rather than the padding, it caused Gary Sheffield to bobble it enough to allow Hunter to score. Unfortunately, Morneau was thrown out easily going to 3B for the third out. You never want to make the third out at 3B, but I didn't have a problem with that play. Maybe Al Newman waved him around? Maybe Morneau thought Newman was waving him to third (when actually waving Hunter to the plate)? Maybe Morneau saw the trajectory of the Cairo relay throw and Posada's need to jump for it and thought he could make it. It's hard to be upset with hard play and hustle.
In the bottom of the inning, Brad Radke served up a fastball right down the middle of the plate and Derek Jeter absolutely launched it wayyyyy over the fence in dead center to tie the game at one. Radke stayed calm and got A-Rod and Sheffield out easily. But then inexplicably he walked Hideki Matsui. Bernie Williams followed with a double, but Matsui advanced only to 3B. Posada popped up to end the inning.
Just a couple more thoughts. Is it possible that Joe Morgan is more annoying to listen to with his Yankee, and specifically Derek Jeter, fandom than even Tim McCarver? Also, Morgan keeps referring to Brad Radke throwing his sinker. Radke doesn't have a sinker. He has a fastball and a change up, and a curveball he throws no more than a couple times a game, and that's it.
Remember how I hated Fox's over-the-pitcher's head camera angle? The ESPN pitch camera was further into left centerfield than I have noticed in the past. That was bad.
The Twins had the bats going and it was looking like they would have Jon Lieber's number. Corey Koskie led off with a walk. Kubel struck out. Cristian Guzman singled to right. But then Michael Cuddyer blooped a single to right field that scored Koskie and advanced Guzman to 3B on a very close play. Henry Blanco then got behind in the count and fought just to push a pop fly down the right field line. Gary Sheffield made the catch, but his momentum and the strange dimensions of their field meant the he could not get a good throw home, allowing Guzman to score to give the Twins a 3-1 lead. It is just important to note that at bat. Blanco didn't get a hit, but he battled and by simply putting the ball in play, he made something happen.
Radke had a nice, quick bottom of the inning.
Lieber got the Twins 1-2-3 in the top.
In the bottom of the inning, Morgan talks about how Jeter has 14 homers in 397 post season at bats, as if that's great. Well, it is a homer every 28 at bats. In a season of 550 at bats, that would equate to 19 or 20 homers. That is about what Jeter gets in a regular season. Anyway, Jeter flew out, but Rodriguez ripped a single down the left field line. Then Gary Sheffield went to the plate with one thing in mind, and he came threw drilling a thigh-high changeup into the left field bleachers to tie the game at 3.
The Twins had another wimpy 1-2-3 fourth inning, and the Yankees were unable to score John Olerud from 2B after his 2-out double.
Michael Cuddyer stayed hot with another single to lead off the inning, but he was quickly erased by a Blanco double play ball. In the bottom of the inning, Radke allowed another homer. This time it was A-Rod with a solo shot off of a fastball that was right down the middle. 4-3 Yankees.
Jacque Jones struck out to lead off the inning, on a pitch well outside. Torii Hunter swung wildly at more sliders as I yelled at him to keep his shoulder in! He listened and lined a single past a diving Alex Rodriguez. Hunter left early again on a stolen base attempt. Lieber threw to 1B, but Hunter beat the throw to 2B for the SB. Unfortunately, Morneau and Koskie were unable to score him.
The Yankees were unable to score Ruben Sierra, who walked with two outs.
With out out, Cristian Guzman singled solidly up the middle. Cuddyer grounded out to 3B. Joe Torre went to Tom Gordon at this point and Ron Gardenhire chose to pinch hit Jose Offerman for Henry Blanco. I absolutely agree with the move, even though Gordon threw three fastballs right by Offerman just last week. He at least has a chance against him. Gordon threw him off speed pitches mostly, and Offerman hit a little blooper toward right, but it was an easy play for Miguel Cairo to get to to end the half inning.
I am happy that ESPN did not subject us to listening to God Bless America. I love the song. It's great, but can't it be sung as part of the pre-game ceremonies? Let Take Me Out to the Ballgame keep the 7th inning stretch.
The Yankees used a little small ball to generate (I know SABR people hate the word "manufacture!") their 5th run off Radke. Miguel Cairo walked. Derek Jeter bunted him to second, and Alex Rodriguez singled to left to score him. Then Grant Balfour came in and got a crazy 1-4-3 double play to end the inning. It was really an incredible play by 2B MICHAEL CUDDYER (Note - not Luis Rivas!) to not only catch the ball but fire a rocket to 1B to complete the nifty double play.
Things got interesting in the 8th inning. Plenty of strategy went into the rest of the game. That's what you have to love about baseball!
Shannon Stewart led off the inning with a lazy fly ball to right field. Jacque Jones was made to look silly by Tom Gordon with some nasty curveballs. Fortunately, the curveball that struck Jones out bounced away and allowed Jones to reach 1B. Torii Hunter hit a very hard line drive to centerfield to advance Jones to 2B. They show the Yankees bullpen. Esteban Loaiza and Mariano Rivera were warming up... who do you think is coming into the game!? Ha! Rivera comes in and on his first pitch he jams Justin Morneau. But Morneau is so strong that he muscles it into right field for a single that scored Jacque Jones. Torii Hunter read the ball off the bat perfectly and advanced to third. Corey Koskie worked Rivera in a great, classic type of at bat. Rivera threw his best stuff and Koskie fouled off a number of tough pitches. Koskie decided to choke up. This helps him become quicker with his swing, but it also gives much more control of the bat, helping not to swing and miss. Rivera threw Koskie a pitch a few inches outside and Koskie went out and got hit, hitting a ground rule double down the left field line to score Hunter. Luis Rivas, who was running for Morneau, would have scored easily on the play, but had to go back to second. As it turned out, that could have very well been the difference in the game.
With the score now tied at 5, Jason Kubel was set to bat. He took a first pitch strike and then swung at a fastball in his eyes. On 0-2, Rivera went right back up there and Kubel could not lay off. With two outs and runners still on first and second, Cristian Guzman grounded back to Rivera to end the inning.
They showed Gardy in the dugout and he just looked mad. Was he mad at Kubel for putting that poor of an at bat in that situation? Possibly. Was he questioning whether or not he should have gone to Lew Ford to pinch hit in that situation? Very possible, but again, last week, Kubel had good at bats against Rivera. Was he possibly upset that Cristian Guzman did not try to bunt for a hit in that situation against Rivera, trying to get that 6th run in?
Something that can not be second guessed is hit decision to go to Juan Rincon for the bottom of the 8th. Rincon was absolutely dominant, striking out two (Matsui and Posada) on nasty sliders.
Speaking of dominant, Mariano Rivera was in the top of the 9th, getting three easy outs, not allowing anything to even get near the outfield grass.
Rincon struck out two more (Sierra and Cairo) in the bottom of the 9th, forcing extra innings.
The Yankees decided to take Mariano Rivera out at this point. When pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre told him he was done, Rivera had a very upset look about him, but didn't say a world. Tanyon Sturtze came in to relieve. OK, when they showed close-ups of Sturtze looking in for the sign, did anyone else want to take a black marker, go up to your TV and draw a little mustache on him, like in those Twins commercials? OK, it was probably just me.
Sturtze was good though. He had excellent movement on his pitches and kept the Twins off balance. Matthew LeCroy, who pinch hit for Luis Rivas had a two-out walk but was stranded.
The Twins wisely went to their bullpen and called on their closer, Joe Nathan. He was dominant in the 10th, using his 90 mph slider to set up his 96 mph fastball. He got Jeter, Rodriguez and Sheffield in order.
In this inning, Jason Kubel led off with a pop out to short. He really didn't have a good at bat the whole game. He hit the ball hard just once. Some may still wonder why he played in the game, and again, I can not argue with Gardy at all for playing him for the reasons I mentioned above. Also, if you're going to bad-mouth Kubel for his 0-6, you better bad-mouth Shannon Stewart for his too!
Guzman walked on four pitches and went to second on a wild pitch. He advanced to 3B on a groundout by Cuddyer, but Pat Borders struck out. I wondered if maybe Gardy would pinch hit for Borders in that situation. Maybe he has Ford pinch hit, LeCroy go behind the plate, Cuddyer move back to 1B again, and Augie Ojeda go to 2B. If there were less than two outs, I may have done that, but not with two outs. Also, managers hate to have no position player options, and that would have left the Twins with none. The announcers talked about how LeCroy is a bad catcher. Actually, he's not a terrible catcher, he just can not throw anyone out. Well, if you look at the Yankees lineup, they would not be likely to run in this situation anyway, so it may have worked out.
Nathan walked Bernie Williams with one out, but got the next two hitters (Posada and Sierra) to strikeout.
Sturtze got both Shannon Stewart and Jacque Jones out to start the inning, but left a fastball right over the heart of the plate to Torii Hunter, and he deposited it deep into the left field stands. He flipped the bat and watched the home run quite nicely. I'm a Twins fan, so it didn't bother me. It was also in a pretty intense, late-inning situation so it might be excusable. If that happens during the regular season, someone for the Twins gets drilled for Hunter's bat flip. Matthew LeCroy singles and Corey Koskie walked. Joe Torre had a decision to make with Jason Kubel coming up. He could bring in lefty Felix Heredia, but then Lew Ford would have hit. Or he could stay with Sturtze and let Kubel hit. Torre went with Option #3. He went to Paul Quantrill, a righty. That shows that he wanted no part of Lew Ford in that situation, and I can't say that I blame him at all! Quantrill got Kubel to ground up the middle for a fielder's choice.
But now, a decision had to be made. In the 11th, Jesse Crain had been warming up. I said that was pretty telling about how the team feels about bringing JC Romero into a tight situation. Joe Nathan had thrown two innings and 44 pitches. He hadn't thrown any more than that all year. So, do you stick with a tired, yet previously very effective Nathan? Or, do you bring in Jesse Crain, who was the closer in Rochester most of the season and did well most of his appearances setting up for Nathan?
Gardenhire decided to stick with Nathan, and I have to admit that I completely agreed with that decision. But, as well all know, it proved to be the wrong decision. That doesn't change the fact that it was the right decision. You have to go with your best. Nathan wanted it, and the Twins wanted to head back to Minnesota up 2-0 in the series. The reasons for going to Crain would have simply been to bring in a new hard-thrower and keep from extending Nathan. Crain has the stuff to be a closer, and he would have been able to face the #8 and #9 hitters before getting to Derek Jeter. The case against bringing in Crain is simply that Nathan is your guy in that situation. Also, what happens if Crain is brought in and he gives up the lead. He's 23 years old. Nathan is 29. We know Nathan will be able to handle it. Will Crain? Of course I think that he could, but that is a thought that runs through a manager's mind. And at this point, bringing in JC Romero is not even an option!
Nathan got John Olerud to strikeout on a questionable check swing call. But then he walked Miguel Cairo. At this point, the phone in the Twins bullpen was off the hook. Romero was warming up, then Crain was warming up. Then they were both sitting down. Then Nathan walked Jeter on four pitches, and Crain was warming up. Then A-Rod drilled the ground rule double to tie the game (and would have won the game had it not bounced over the fence). At this point, there was only one thing to do. They had to walk Gary Sheffield and hope for a double play off the bat of Hideki Matsui. And, the decision had to be made to bring JC Romero in. As poor as he has been, they were in a bad situation and had to get an extraordinary event and performance to get out of it. Romero is capable of such a performance, and we have seen it before. But last night, it wasn't to be. Matsui drilled Romero's first pitch into Right Field. Jeter tagged up and scored when Matthew LeCroy's relay throw was wide. The Yankees had won.
Also, I have to comment on Jones' catch. I have already read in a couple places that people question what Jacque was thinking, or if he had just given up. Normally, we see Jones unload a throw to wherever. I wonder if he knows where it's going sometimes. He caught Matsui's liner almost flat-footed, not allowing himself to get a strong throw off. My initial reaction was the question the effort as well, but replay showed different. He, like the rest of the outfielders, was playing shallow. The liner was hit so hard that Jones didn't really have time to step back and all to prepare for the throw. He had to first catch the ball. He did the best he could, made a good throw to the cutoff man, and it just didn't work out. But I refuse to question the effort in any way.
Juan Rincon has made a name for himself.
Mariano Rivera blew a lead for just the third time in his postseason career. You remember most probably the bloop single he gave up to Luis Gonzalez in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series to give the Diamondbacks the title.
Lew Ford should be back in the lineup on Friday. That said, Gardy should not be questioned for putting Jason Kubel in the lineup last night. And, with the 'stuff' that Kevin Brown is capable of having, it could be a tough matchup for any right-handed hitter, meaning that should Gardy again go with Kubel, I can't question it again. That said, Ford should be in the lineup, like Stewart, like Hunter, etc.
Man, that would have been a nice win! But, the Twins did come out of New York with a split. The difficulty may come in just trying to get over this game. They have to be able to forget about it and play the game again on Friday night. The Yankees will be ready. I think it will be important for the Twins to get ahead early to re-gain their confidence.
Please don't tell me that anything that happened last night was because the Twins didn't have home-field advantage. It had nothing to do with the Twins loss!
I am excited to go to the games on Friday and Saturday nights! With the loss last night, it does assure that I will get to see two games this weekend!
Carlos Silva will face Kevin Brown on Friday night in Game 3. Silva has been great the last 6 weeks. Brown was awful in his first post-broken hand outing. Last week, he came back and one-hit the Blue Jays for five innings. It will be interesting to see what Brown is able to do, and what his endurance will be like. It may be good if the Twins make him throw some pitches early in the game!
Who knows who will pitch on Saturday in game 4?! The Twins have said they might go with Kyle Lohse if they hold a 2-1 lead in the series. I think that if Johan can go on Saturday, he absolutely should. Sure, it'd be nice to give him that extra day of rest, but let's let him pitch in the climate-control of the Dome rather than in the cold of Yankees Stadium in a Game 5. Also, he threw just 93 pitches on Tuesday night, so he could recover quickly.
I know there will be panicking Twins fans out there who think that this loss means the end of the Twins chances of winning the series. That bugs me. It is still one game. Yes, you want to win every game, and yes, it was a TOUGH loss last night. But we have to realize that the goal is to win three games before the Yankees do. Now, it has become a best 2 out of 3 series. The key to the players is to get over this loss as quickly as possible, so we, as fans, need to too!
Most of you know that I will be heading to the Twins Cities from Warroad for the two home Twins playoff games this weekend. However, I will be posting a new entry for Friday. It may be posted tonight. It may be posted at about 8:30 on Friday morning. So please, be sure to check back. If you have any questions or comments on anything, please e-mail me.
Again, if you're looking for some perspective from Yankees bloggers, check these out:
Clifford's Big Red Blog
Replacement Level Yankees Weblog
The Midnight Hour
The Weblog that Derek Built
Boy of Summer
If you have any comments on the game or the series, please e-mail me.
THE OTHER PLAYOFF GAMES
BOSTON RED SOX 8 ANAHEIM ANGELS 3 (Top 9)
Pedro Martinez gave up three runs in 7 innings last night. Bartolo Colon gave up three runs in six innings (impressive considering he was totally squeezed early in the game). The Red Sox managed a run in the 7th against Francisco Rodriguez to grab the lead. Manny Ramirez scored Johnny Damon with a sacrifice fly to give them the lead. Jason Varitek had tied the game at three with his two-run homer in the 6th inning. Trot Nixon singled in Manny Ramirez, who actually hustled out a double to start the inning, to extend the lead to 5-3 in the 9th. With runners now on 1st and 2nd and former Twin Doug Mientkiewicz batting, Brendon Donnelly uncorked another wild pitch to advance the runners. It was a mute point when Mientkiewicz grounded out to Chone Figgins (the second baseman), who ran it to 1B because Darin Erstad had dove for the ball and could not get back there. With runners still on 2nd and 3rd, and now one out, the Angels intentionally walked Jason Varitek to load the bases for Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera came through with a bases-clearing double to the left-centerfield gap, increasing the lead to 8-3. Keith Foulke finished the ninth.
Now the Red Sox have a 2-0 lead heading out to Boston for Game 3!
Is it just me, or does it look like it absolutely kills Vlad Guerrero to even move. I mean, he looks like he is in more pain than even Willie McGee seemed to be in during his playing days!
LOS ANGELES DODGERS vs ST LOUIS CARDINALS (Game 2 tonight)
Game 2 tonight - Jason Marquis versus Jeff Weaver. Cardinals lead the series 1-0.
HOUSTON ASTROS 9 ATLANTA BRAVES 3 (GAME 2 tonight)
Roger Clemens wasn't great, but he was good enough. The Rocket walked six batters and gave up six batters, but somehow, he allowed just three runs (and 2 were earned) in seven innings. Clemens got plenty of run support. The Astros scored four in the third off Braves starter Jaret Wright, and three more in the fifth. The team got homers from Brad Ausmus, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran and Jason Lane. Tonight, the Astros will send out 20 game winner, Roy Oswalt, against the Braves Mike Hampton.
And on that note, thank you for stopping by my site. Tomorrow I will post my Award Winners. I will be out of town for the weekend, at the Twins games, so if I'm a slow responder, that is why. Also, there will not be new entries until late Sunday night, or Monday morning. If you have any questions or comments, send me an e-mail.
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