Friday, August 12, 2005

Some Positives After A(nother) Bullpen Meltdown

Add another name to the Miracle Boys of the ’05 New York Yankees. Not that this is a magical season where miracles appear at just the right time, saving the team from sure peril. But in a season in which the Yankees have struggled more than any season since ’95, you learn to appreciate the little June, July, and August miracles that keep the team from crumbling.

Last night was one of those games. Coming off a series loss to the AL best White Sox, the Yanks needed a shove in the right direction. The man scheduled to start the game was just the man for the job: Randy Johnson.

Wait, scratch that last line. No, Randy’s back forced him to miss the start, and he’s not the guy I’d want pitching that day, anyway. Scott Proctor was the guy tossing warm-ups right before the Thursday night game, and Scott Proctor was out there to accomplish one task: keep the Yanks in the game.

Maybe that’s Randy Johnson’s problem. He sees these three and four pitchers being praised by Torre for keeping the team in the game, and all the sudden he thinks that’s his objective. “You mean all this time I was dominating games and striking out batters, I should have just been trying to keep the team in the game? Damn, how many wasted years?” So maybe it’s a mental thing…and maybe Randy’s brain runs all the way down his posterior.

But I digress. Great job by Proctor, though, tossing 76 pitches, which must be more than he’s thrown in three years. And he even came out for the sixth, which was a great move when you’re up 6-2. But when Barajas reaches on a strikeout because your catcher misjudged a waster pitch and the guy who has taken you deep twice is stepping up, the logical move is to go to the pen.

Which Joe did. Embree didn’t exactly do his job, surrendering a hit to the guy he came into face and allowing two runs (including Barajas’s unearned one) to score. But, he got the other big lefty in the lineup, Blalock, to strike out, which is big. Not huge. Big.

Bringing in Felix right there was the move to make, as was letting him start the seventh. And then bringing in Sturtze when F-Rod got in trouble was also the right move, despite the ding-dong he served up (and the subsequent bewildered look on his face. Combination bewilderment and constipation).

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I’m sick of the slew of Yankees fans that ride Torre every night for his bullpen management. Yes, there are times that I disagree with his choices of arms, but since everyone in the area seems rely solely on short-term memory, I’ll give a refresher. 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000. Torre was in the driver’s seat those four years, and something tells me he’s not quite senile enough at this point to up and forget everything he knows about bullpen management. The problem simply is that there is a lack of dependable arms out there. It’s like the cliché goes: pick your poison.

And I can tell all of you this: if we weren’t up 6-2, Torre might not even have sent Proctor out for the sixth. F-Rod would have probably been in the game, but Sturtze would have started the seventh, with Gordon possibly taking some of the inning. See, this is what I love about baseball; everything, every little detail changes the strategy of the game.

Not really much else to comment about from last night. The bats came alive, and everyone either got a hit or was on base twice. Hats off to Robbie Cano for his smash double in the gap. Kid needed a hit like that to break out of this rut he’s in. Let’s see if he rides that into tonight.

But a commentary on last night’s game wouldn’t be complete without a pat on the back to Tony Womack, who produced in the only manner he is capable. First at bat, an infield single, which caused my buddy Andy and I to refer to him as Willie Mays Hayes. “For every ball you hit in the air, you owe me 20 push-ups.” Yeah, and maybe after you do 6,000 of them, Tony, you’ll be able to put enough mustard into your swing to get an extra base hit.

Anyway, second at bat, bloop single to center. Third at bat, sacrifice bunt. So instead of trying to be the guy he was last year (.307/.349/.385), he played within his means. Problem is, he plays outfield now, and you expect a little more in terms of slugging percentage from your outfielders. If Robbie Cano can pick his pace back up, though, having Womack doing the little things might just work out.

And that’s what we’re going to need down the stretch. We’re going to need somebody to sacrifice a guy over, and Womack is just the guy to do it in the nine hole. But then we need someone to get on base ahead of him. Enter Bernie, who can draw walks with the best of ‘em, like he did pinch-hitting last night.

And kudos to Jorge for his dinger last night. Now, buddy, I know I’m just a (lunatic) fan, but hear me out. Jorge and Bernie should only bat from the right side now. I understand that there’s the whole match-up thing, and that too many righties in a row isn’t good for a line-up, but if Jorge and Bernie are batting seven and eight, they’ll be surrounded by lefties – Matsui and Giambi at five and six, and Womack at nine. In fact, against a righty, that’s five lefties in a row, even if you throw Tino in and take Womack or Bernie out. It makes too much sense to not try.

So tonight the Miracle Boys (Small, Chacon, and now Proctor) send out their doofy older brother who, with a quality game tonight, will officially join their ranks. Just the prospect of six solid starts in a row is exciting, and especially since only one of them was tossed by a regular facet in the rotation.

Coming Monday: Jaret Wright, We Barely Knew Thee.