Wednesday, August 10, 2005

(Mile) High on Chacon

A day game normally helps the healing process following a night like last night. And who knows, maybe we’ll have a game like one summer Wednesday game last year, when Ruben Sierra hit a walkoff jack in the ninth to defeat the Tigers 1-0. Because that would certainly fit the two-game trend the Yanks and Sox have started.

What I’ve noticed this morning in the New York media is the attention to Contreras rather than Chacon. Look, fellas, Contreras left town last July. I know it’s a story and all, him pitching against his former team for the first time and winning. But there’s another story in town, and this guy may affect us not only down the stretch this year, but in the years to come.

In the process of picking up his first loss in pinstripes, Chacon actually lowered his ERA to 1.42. Over the course of his longest start thus far – seven strong – the only aberration on his record was a solo homer to Tad Iguchi, who would get my vote for Rookie of the Year if 1) I didn’t think voting a 30-year-old as ROY was stupid and 2) I had an actual vote.

Once again, Chacon hurled six innings – plus the bonus seventh inning – and gave up less than three runs. When his fellow newcomers Aaron Small and Al Leiter put up such figures, the Yanks had enough in their bats to overcome their foes. But last night, and also in Chacon’s two prior appearances, the bats just weren’t there. Maybe Chacon is cursed (though the connotation of that word is much weightier in other contexts), maybe the team was just overmatched by Contreras last night. In any case, Chacon is proving that if you score him runs, he’ll win you ballgames.

After the fourth inning, Chacon had thrown 67 pitches, 31 balls to 36 strikes – not exactly a solid ratio, though he only had walked one at that point. Fast forward to the end of the seventh inning. Chacon left the mound having tossed 120 at Posada, 69 of which were strikes, an improved ratio from three innings earlier. He also walked two more over that span, meaning he really locked in and threw strikes when he really needed them.

This leads me to the one real problem I have with Chacon: the walks. Not that they’re overt totals; eight over three games. But I’ve always been a believer in the walk to strikeout ratio. If you’re not going to overpower guys and strike them out, you’d better not put them on for free. This is especially true for fly ball pitchers like Chacon, who won’t see a festival of double play balls.

But he managed to escape the free passes unscathed. Chacon actually worked out of quite a few jams, including two instances of Scott Podsednick dangling off of first base. But what impressed me most was his endurance in throwing those 120 pitches. Guy looked strong from pitch one to pitch 120, and there can’t be enough said of that. Now all he has to do is throw more strikes and take down his average of 17 tosses an inning.

Oh, and have I mentioned his curveball yet? Kid has a NASTY hook, and now that he’s hurling it in the thick Bronx air, it’s actually dipping and diving, fooling hitters like it was intended, not hanging all the way to the seats in Denver. My favorite instance of it: with Podsednick on first and one out, Tad Iguchi was standing in the batter’s box. A guy like Podsednick – with Henderson-esque base swiping talent – needs to be held in check. This caused Chacon not only to throw over every other pitch (sometimes two or three times before delivering to the plate), but forced him to throw heater after heater, in order to give Posada an inkling of a chance to gun him down.

And Iguchi just kept fouling them off. Of course, during that series of foul balls, Podsednick took off twice, but all for naught. After too many fastballs to count, Jorge finally made the right call and signaled for the deuce. Forget Podsednick, let’s get this guy and then worry about Pierzynski. That they did, and Iguchi was sent back to the dugout. It was such a great moment that it may have bought Chacon some confidence from Joe and Mel, which he parlayed into a trip to the mound in the seventh.

It was not meant to be for Chacon, though, as he left with a 1-0 deficit, which was widened by a Paul Konerko dong off Alan Embree in the top of the ninth. This woke the sleeping monster, as George ripped Torre for the decision to leave Embree in the game. This is reminiscent of the message boards I read daily, where guys will relentlessly rip Torre for mismanaging the bullpen. I actually agree on this one. As I’ve said before, Embree is a one, maybe two batter guy out of the ‘pen. His worst outings are the ones where he’s in for more than an inning, and last night was such an instance. I guess Joe wanted to see this for himself. I do hope he keeps using Embree in a situational manner, however, as he can get the job done for a batter or two.

And finally, Bernie Williams. In a season where he has done little right, he actually came within inches of tying the game last night. I can’t even blast him for not coming up with the tying run on third, because he hit a SHOT that would have normally been a double, which could have scored the winning run from first. But, Konerko was playing a few step towards the line, which put him in perfect position to snag the liner.

But as I said just a few paragraphs ago, a day game can heal all. Aaron Small experiment, take four. I have a good feeling about today…but then again, I had a good feeling about Pavano.