Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ms 7, Yanks 6 (Or How the Streak Ended, But It Shouldn't Have)

It’s not like they were going to go 143-19. So why, then, is it so damn disappointing that the Yanks dropped the series finale to the Ms? (Thinking…thinking…thinking) I got it! It’s because we shouldn’t have lost the game in the first place.

The worst part about the loss is that we had multiple chances to put it away, recover from blunders, and prevent the Ms from getting on the board. Then again, the situations were quite unique, making it hard to place the blame squarely on anyone (well, except Jorge, and I’ll tear into him later). So, in the words of Paul Vitti, I’m real conflicted about it.

Who better to begin discussions with than the starter, Mike Mussina. After being spotted four in the first by this more than generous Yankees lineup, Mussina goes and blows half the lead via a Raul Ibanez double, scoring Randy Winn, and a single to Bret #$%& Boone, scoring Ibanez. Moose did settle down over the next few innings, allowing no runs and only one hit (a monster double by Wilson Valdez) over the next three innings. But then comes the fifth, where Moose’s pitch count was in the 90s, and it showed. Ibanez came through for the Ms again, doubling home Ichiro and Winn. Worst part about these runs is Mussina retired the first two hitters of the inning, but gave up consecutive singles to Ichiro and Winn before Ibanez tattooed his second double of the game.

Thankfully, by this point, Giambi had come through (how many more times are you going to hear anyone say that?) with two RBI, so the score was still 6-4. And even though Mussina was done after five, the Yanks were turning the game over to a bullpen that has been much more efficient over this ten game stretch (I don’t think they would have won ten straight otherwise).

So enter Sturtze, who I’m really keen on right now. And, for the most part, he did his job, though he could have done without walking Jeremy Reed. See, that’s why I’m not jumping all over Mussina for allowing four runs in five innings and running his pitch count up; he didn't walk a single batter. But, Sturtze rebounded from the walk nicely, getting Dobbs to pop up, and striking out Olivo to end the inning. What’s this you say? There was a two spot on the scoreboard in the sixth? Oh yeah, credit those to Jorge Posada. The splitter that struck out Olivo ended up in the dirt, and Jorge did a great job of blocking it and keeping it in front of him, but he abandoned all fundamentals thereafter, looking to first before he accomplished his primary task: picking up the ball. And you know how it goes; give them extra outs and they’re bound to capitalize. Yeah, Valdez singled home Reed and Olivo. Thankfully, Sturtze found a way to retire the next batter, Ichiro, to end the inning. AND he got the next three in the seventh. Pat on the back, Sturtze.

Now, notice what I just said about giving teams extra outs and them punishing you for it. See, the Yanks just didn’t do that, and it cost them the game. In the top of the sixth, with two away and the Ms still down 6-4, Sheffield hit a chopper to Valdez at short, surely the third out of the inning. But, Valdez made one of those blunders on a routine play, loading the bases for Godzilla, who had two hits and an RBI coming into the at bat. But Hasegawa picked up for his defense and made Matsui look foolish on a 3-2 pitch. End of threat.

Then our best friend Jeff Nelson comes on in the eighth and walks the leadoff man, and anyone who watches Yankees games and endures the commentating crew (I’m exempting Ken Singleton from this criticism) knows that a walked leadoff man scores 60 percent of the time. That stat, however, has to be adjusted when a rookie comes up and grounds into twin killings. I’m not bashing Cano here, I’m merely pointing out that while he hits the ball harder than anyone on the team other than Sheffield, but his newbie status is still evident.

Oh, and the ninth. Sheffield walked, followed by Matsui trying to make up for his big K by singling. First and second, one out and A-Rahd at the dish. Of course, my father at this point would expect him to go down whiffing, but I expect more from A-Rod at this point. He’s beginning to realize what it takes to win, and it’s been more evident over the course of the streak. So he pulls a Ron Villone pitch hard to the left side, but Valdez makes a heck of a play on it, and his momentum allows him to get Sheffield going into third. First and second, two out, Jorge Posada up, and he dinks an infield single – not exactly his forte – making it bases loaded, two outs, and Giambi’s ugly mug facing Villone.

And all the sudden I’m feeling like Paul Vitti again. Giambi has already knocked in a run earlier in the night, so can it really be expected of him to come through a second time? Hell yes it can be expected of him! He’s a $120 million MVP! These are the situations where Giambi is supposed to earn his money. Well, not only did Giambi not earn his paycheck, but he didn’t even take the bat off his friggin shoulders with two strikes. Yes, big effin surprise, Giambi went down looking to end the game. Man, it must feel great to be able to collect a heavy daily paycheck for doing jack squat. Memo to Joe: this is exactly why Giambi shouldn’t be playing every day. Sometimes RBI early in the game aren’t enough; sometimes you have to come up clutch.

This leaves just one man left with blame on his shoulders, and that’s the set-up man himself, Tom Gordon. The worst part about his outing is that he didn’t even retire three batters. Posada had to take care of Olivo – who singled home the go ahead run – trying to steal second. And he damn well better have, considering his previous blunder that cost a few runs. The guy (Gordon) has appeared in 21 games, and has a mere seven holds. Now, I realize that earlier in the season he was called on to pitch while the Yanks were down, but come on. He’s 0-3 now, and I’m sure he hasn’t come into ELEVEN games without a lead. The guy is 37, he’s having an uncharacteristically crappy year…do you think he might be finished? I do.

I guess this was the best time for a loss on the road trip. The streak had to end at some point (obviously), so it might as well be the day before an off day. Now the Yanks can regroup and go out firing against cross-town mini-rival Mets. But here’s the problem: Kevin Brown is on the hill Friday. Back during the Yanks championship runs, Andy Pettite was always there to bail the Yanks out after a loss. That was his strength, that was what he brought to the table: he stopped the bleeding. Does Kevin Brown have the same effect on the team? Oh, hell no. In fact, if this was 18th century literature, Brown could very well be Pettite’s foil. But that’s nerdspeak.

If Brown wants to be effective and escape a few innings – particularly the first – unscathed, he’s going to have to reach back and get some heat behind that fastball of his. Oh, and he’s going to have to work the inside portion of the plate, even dusting some guys off if need be. Because we all know what happens when Browney, or any pitcher for that matter, leaves the ball over the plate. Yes, you get six run firsts like Brown has been accustom to this season.

Thankfully, his counterpart will be Victor Zambrano, the less charismatic, weaker throwing version of Rick Vaughn. Combine his wildness with the Yanks plate discipline, and I’d say we’re facing the bullpen by the third. So all Brown has to do is not run up the score early on, and we should be able to take this one with ease. Randy and Pavano are on tap for the following two games, facing Kris Benson and our beloved son, respectively. If the Yanks don’t take two of three, I’m going to have to question the team’s ability to make the postseason.