Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Yankees 12, Tigers 3

It’s one thing to annihilate a team like the Yanks did the Tigers last night. It’s another to annihilate a team while proving something beyond scoring runs in bunches. And with so many question marks still swirling around the Bronx, punctuating any of them alternately is a relief. The key here is to not get over excited and start acting like callers on WFAN who think we’re going to dominate the league here on out. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, and I’m sure those same callers will be singing a different tune after this weekend’s series with the Botox. So the question will remain for the time being, “Are they going to stay consistent?”

Consistency is the prime concern of the starting rotation, which is – as I understood it – the entire reason for brining in Randy Johnson. And, as I and plenty of others have pointed out, he’s just not providing that consistency yet. As much as we’d all like to sit back and relax because we know that Randy is Randy and he’ll surely come around, it’s certainly not a given. As precedent, I’d like to cite Steve Carlton, who hurled 18 consecutive seasons (with over 150 innings pitched) without breaking a 4 ERA (his highest was 3.90 with Philadelphia in ’73). Not even Randy Johnson boasts such numbers, though their respective dominance is comparable.

But then in 1985, at the ripe age of 40, Carlton ran into injury problems and managed only 92 innings and an abysmal 1-8 record, yet still managed a 3.33 ERA (though his WHIP was up at about 1.50. The guy could scatter his hits). Then in ’86, Carlton – now at Randy’s age, 41 – hurled only 83 innings, but allowed 102 hits and a staggering 44 walks for an ERA of 6.18 and a WHIP of 1.75 in his abbreviated season.

Am I singing a similar song of doom for Randy? Absolutely not. Aside from the age and dominance, there aren’t many more Johnson-Carlton similarities. Randy is (was?) a power pitcher, recording more strikeouts per 9 innings than Carlton in almost every year of his career. This brings up another point: between 1967 and 1984, Carlton logged under 200 innings just twice, tossing 193 in ’67 and 190 in ’81. In 1972 this guy was on the mound for 346.1 innings! Randy, on the other hand, hovered right around 250 innings just six times in his career. And, if you look at total innings pitched before the age of 41, Carlton had 4,213 while Randy has logged 3,368. So yes, Carlton had much more mileage, leading to his injuries and sudden decline, which differentiates him from Randy, but if you take nothing else from the preceding two paragraphs, take this: it has happened before.

It’s funny how everything is coming back to Randy now, even the day after Mike Mussina threw a superb game. Taking a page from Carlton’s book, Moose scattered six hits over seven beautiful innings, and even struck out six. Oh, and he didn’t walk a single batter, which is of more importance than the strikeouts. When the opponents got on, they had to earn it, and Moose never let things get out of hand. So is it safe to say that Mussina is going to provide the pitching consistency that we expected from him when we inked him to that huge deal? I’d say it’s as safe as it’s ever going to be, but that’s not to say that Moose is going to end up like he is now. Injuries are always a factor, especially with an aging guy like Mussina, who spent a month or so on the DL last year with elbow problems.

Aside from the hitting display put on by all the starters sans Jeter and Womack, I have to say that Quantrill drilling Jason Smith in the 8th may be the most important “X” factor (and I really do hate that term, but it fits here) of the game. After a spring training where the Red Sox let loose on a pacifistic A-Rod, there was talk everywhere – but especially from those Boston geeks Bill Simmons and Peter Gammons – about the Yanks not backing up A-Rod. But that’s exactly what Quantrill did last night, not only plunking Smith square in the back, but subsequently challenging the entire Tigers bench, who were on the field following the hit batsman. Torre and Quantrill were tossed, but it certainly was for a good cause. Quality teams/players will rally around events like this, so it will be interesting to see how A-Rod and the rest of the team react in the next few days (on the field, that is).

And there is some entertainment value to be had from the situation, provided by the sarcasm-laden post-game statement by Quantrill. "When guys get wild when our guys are having a fantastic day at the plate, that leads to tension. The guy pitching for the Tigers, whatever his name is, it must have been the rain, the ball was slippery.''

If I have one complaint about the game, it’s that the Yanks hit six homers, but none off the mezzanine. My buddy Andy and I were driving around, listening to the radio while waiting for another friend to finish up dinner so we could watch the game at the bar. We were in the car for A-Rod’s second, both of Jorge’s, and Sheff’s dingers, and were waiting in anticipation each time as Sterling lauched into his “It is high, it is far, it is gooooooooonnnnnnnnnnneeeeeee!” schtick, hoping and praying that that he’d add “off the meeeeeezzzzzzzzzaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnniiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnneeeeeeeee!” I know Sterling takes a lot of crap from the local print media, but his calls are priceless. Now if he only didn’t have to babysit Susyn Waldman in the booth…

It’s Chien-Ming Wang vs. Mike Maroth tonight, and this scares me just a little. Maroth had a couple of solid to great outings against the Yanks last year, and when this is combined with the Yanks history this season of dropping the game following a blowout (vs. the D-Rays and the Angels in April), it really makes one uneasy entering tonight’s game. But I have faith in the Taiwanese righty, and it’s not like Maroth has been lighting it up this year. Tonight obviously isn’t a must win game, but it certainly would be nice to see them win a game after a rout, especially with Boston looming.