Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Off Day Ramblings

Another off day, which means another boring day. Seriously, how am I supposed to kill the hours between 7 and 10 p.m. without the Yankees on? Thankfully, we had the Mets-Braves and Game 1 of the Heat-Pistons series to curb my boredom a bit.

Before I launch into how critical this upcoming series with Detroit is, I just want to pen a few words about the Mets game last night. If you live in the New York area, all you have to do is turn to WFAN for about 30 seconds to understand how appalled everyone is over the David Wright interference call last night. In fact, it was the only thing talked about from 2:30 a.m. until 5:30, when Imus came on (don’t ask how I know that). So I listened for three hours what I could have surmised in 30 seconds: Wright’s slide into Rafael Furcal wasn’t blatant enough to warrant an interference call. Not at that juncture in the game, not ever.

Joe Nelson, the umpire who made the call, justified himself after the game by hiding behind the fine print of the interference rule, and I suppose that’s fine. A rule is a rule, and rules need to be followed, lest we have chaos. Yes, that makes me sound like I have a stick jammed firmly up my ass, but rules are in place for a reason in sports. And when it’s a rule like interference, which has been around longer than any of us have been alive, it should be enforced. The problem here is the subjectivity of the call. Nelson thought that Wright was out of the basepath when sliding into Furcal, and therefore called him out for interference. But after watching the replay, it was at least clear that it was a borderline call. And when you’re in the eighth inning of a close game, how do you make that call? Shortstops are taken out on a daily basis trying for double plays. How is this so different?

What compounds the situation is the liberty given to shortstops/second basemen on double plays. Yes, I’m referring to the neighborhood rule (or ghost rule, or however you refer to it). So a shortstop is allowed to sidestep the bag in order to make for a smoother double play, but a runner isn’t allowed to be six inches – if that – out of the basepath to do his part and make the shortstop work to turn two.

So that’s my stance on the issue. But, if Kaz Ishii doesn’t give up seven runs, the Mets aren’t even in this situation. Yes, Wright made a costly throwing error, but – and I have brought this up before – it then becomes Ishii’s job to pick up for his teammates. Your defense is going to make some spectacular plays on your behalf, so you had better pick them up when they blunder. Ishii didn’t, and that’s one of the many reasons he should be sitting in the bullpen and Heilman should become a regular facet in the Mets rotation.

But enough about the cross town mini-rivals. The Yanks are entering quite a unique situation this week, one they haven’t faced in possibly decades. We have a meaningful series against the Detroit Tigers. Normally, the Tigers are so dismal that they don’t even warrant getting worried over, but this year’s Tigers are actually showing signs of life. After 42 games, they’re just two below .500, though they’re five games behind the second place Twins in the AL Central.

Detroit has a decent formula going, their offense mixed with vets and youngsters and a very young pitching staff. Led morally by Pudge Rodriguez and statistically by Carlos Guillen, the Tigers are missing just a few pieces to their puzzle, though solving it also hinges on the development of Mike Maroth, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson on the rubber. Their bullpen seems solid, hosting three solid arms in Kyle Farnsworth (a steal from the Cubbies), Ugueth Urbina and Troy Percival, though he’s on the DL. Thirty-three year old Jamie Walker has also been a nice surprise out of the bullpen, delivering 11 strikeouts through 15 innings of work (in 18 apperances), allowing just four runs in those innings and boasting a WHIP of a hair over one. This is exactly what you need from a lefty in the pen – much to the contrary of Mike Stanton.

So why is this series so critical for the Yanks? Other than the fact that they need to start stringing together some wins to gain ground on the Orioles, the Red Sox are headed to town this weekend. As we all know, this is the biggest deal in baseball. But if the Yanks drop two of three to the Tigers this week, how are they supposed to approach the Boston series with any kind of confidence?

Thankfully, tonight’s matchup works in the Yanks favor. Mike Mussina, who is beginning to look like the guy we paid for (though he’s certainly not all there yet), is going up against the Tigers fifth starter, Wilfredo Ledezma. Not only is this guy saddled with a 1.6 WHIP and a 5.79 ERA, but he’s a lefty, meaning Bernie will most likely be DHing and batting from the right side, which is only 84892 times better than having Giambi in the lineup.

I know I said it over the weekend, but I think same applies here: the Yanks MUST take at least two of three here. In fact, I bet I’ll be saying that a lot over the next few months, especially when we start to play Toronto and Baltimore more often.

My father thinks the Yanks “don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of making the postseason.” There it is, in quotes, from him over the weekend. I’m holding him to this one.