Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Walking In the Winning Run

I didn’t want to say this, in fear that I’d piss off the baseball gods. But this needs to be said: good teams don’t lose games like last night’s. The night was theirs, but they allowed Tampa Bay to waltz back into the thing and eventually overtake them for an 11th inning win.

It wouldn’t have been that bad had the Rays won the game outright in nine. If Randy had a shaky performance, gave up five runs, and our bats got stuck after that third run scored in the second inning, I’d let it go and anxiously await tonight’s game. But that’s so far from how it went down.

Randy…actually…pitched…well. Very well indeed. The only aberration in his seven-inning performance was a two-run shot to Eduardo Perez, who by the way owns us. Nine homers on the year, four against the Yanks. You just can’t explain these things. Not that Perez isn’t a solid player. It’s just that he turns into Manny Ramirez when he’s in the box against the Yanks.

We sure could have used some more pop in the bats tonight, but I guess you really can’t complain about the hitters having an off night. It’s just a shame to see a Randy start – in which he threw 70 percent strikes – go to waste. This is emphasized with the slow night with the bats. See, not only did Randy pitch well last night, but he pitched well in a game where the bats couldn’t produce runs at the normal, 6-per-game clip.

And everything was rolling along smoothly, until the ninth inning that is. A night after putting two guys on before recording an out, Mo succumbed to the rule of the 162 game season: if you’re overused out of the bullpen, you’re going to give up runs. I don’t know how to put it more simply. Mo needs rest, so the rest of the pitching staff – and the bats – are going to have to pick up for him.

It’s a given that he has tonight off, followed by Thursday’s off-day. But then we’re in Chi-town, facing off against the best team in the AL, a team that took two out of three from us a week ago. If the trend of one-run games continues between the clubs, Mo is going to be an integral part of any winning during those three games.

The whole team needs to band together to give Mo some rest, and if this truly is a team – despite what the media portrays them as – they’ll step up and do it. That means blowing Tampa Bay out of the water tonight. That means Al Leiter throwing strikes and letting the guys behind him take care of the rest. That means winning by at least three.

Not only that, but it would serve the Yanks well to break out their Wonder Bats (I heard Tony Womack got his magic bat off a piano) and kick the ever loving crap out of the White Sox on Friday, giving Mo yet another day’s rest.

The lack of off-days is really going to hurt the team, though it’s not like other teams are getting any better rest. Mo is the closer, the guy who finishes everything off. When we have a lead and need three, four outs, he’s the guy. Has been since ’97. We’re heading down a stretch where wins are essential to a postseason birth.

But Mo is tired. Mo needs rest. But Mo needs to come in and save games. Mo can use all the days off he can get. Mo is ineffective when overused, as evidenced by last year and his few shaky outings in the past week.

So the test of the team goes beyond this weekend and throughout September. Not only do they have to win, they have to win comfortably enough that Mo won’t be needed.

This also means a lot more Aaron Small, on a more daily basis than his stint in the rotation. While I still decry Torre for replacing him as a starter, he may prove invaluable out of the pen. Not only can he eat up innings, he can get the last three outs (see Saturday, Texas Rangers).

I actually just – as in five minutes ago – thought of the possible ramifications of Small in the bullpen, and really, it might just save the season. Sure, his four wins and sub-three ERA have picked up the Yanks in the Dog Days of Summer, but having him in the bullpen strengthens it immeasurably. Think about it: Mo, Gordon, Sturtze, Embree (not great, best lefty we’ve had this year in the pen), Proctor (the Proctor who throws strikes, not ball four over a guy’s head), and Small.

And hell, on those nights when the bullpen needs a rest (which will be a lot of nights to come), Small can act as the entire triumvirate. Instead of throwing Sturtze in the 7th, Gordon in the 8th and Mo in the 9th, Small can go all three innings, spelling the rest of the crew.

See, this is how creative we’re going to have to be down the stretch to stay in this thing. I’ve just never thought of Torre and Mel as the height of creativity…