Thursday, August 31, 2006

You Gonna Eat That Stapler? Wanna SPLIT It?

At about 9:15 last night, I began devising my column for today. It was to be a joyous poring of words, reflective of the Yankees season-long dominance of the Detroit Tigers. But now? Not so much. I'd like to thank Scott Proctor, but most of all I'd like to thank Joe Torre for burdening my mind with last night's ninth inning loss. You know how I always get a little more worked up when the Yanks lose a winnable game? This is like that times a thousand, because there is absolutely no reason for a team to blow a game in the ninth inning. Especially not when you have the greatest closer in the history of the game roaming in your bullpen.

But Mo was unavailable for last night's bout because he closed the 2-0 win earlier in the day. And while I agree that Mo shouldn't have been used in both games, I don't exactly see eye-to-eye with Torre on his usage in the first. Obviously, the thought process was that they had a game to win right then, and he wanted to make sure his team closed it out. That's all fine and good under normal circumstances. Had Wang finished the eighth, I would have wholeheartedly agreed with the move to pitch Mo in the ninth. The reason I disagree is the same reason the Yanks lost the second game: Scott Proctor.

With a man on first in the top of the eighth, Curtis Granderson doused a double off Wang, leaving runners on second and third. This was cause for the hook, and Proctor was brought in to finish off the inning. And he did, in remarkable fashion by getting Magglio Ordonez to pop out on the first pitch. Excellent, right? With a two-run lead, the Yanks have a little wiggle room, and Proctor should have been fully prepared to pitch the ninth. I mean, what's the sense of warming up one of your best relievers, having him toss one pitch, and then pulling him at the end of the inning? Joe Torre is notorious for his overuse of trusted relievers, a group to which Proctor belongs. It would stand to reason that Torre fully intended to use Scott in the second game, especially since Jaret Wright was to pitch.

I do not subscribe to such logic. If you're going to get Proctor up and warming – and according to Gamecast, he was up in the seventh – you might as well use him to his full capacity. Because using him for that one pitch and that one pitch only is a complete waste if you're playing a doubleheader. If you want to use him again, you have to get him up and warming in the second game and then trot him out there. All told, Proctor probably threw some 50 pitches yesterday with all his warmups included. True, some of those pitches aren't with full exertion, but he's still performing an unnatural motion 50 times. Proctor blamed his failures on not attacking hitters, and while that's mostly true, the objective reason he failed last night was fatigue, which played a part in his hanging of a slider to Craig Monroe.

My suggestion, if you will, is that Proctor should have closed the first game since he was already in it. He's a big boy and he hadn't pitched in a few days. A rested Proctor could have handled the Tigers in the ninth, but a tired Proctor had too much going against him to stave off the best team in the AL. It's not that he was doomed from the start; it's that the probabilities involved were pretty much against him. And I don't know the exact odds or the calculations, but I'm saying this from an anecdotal point of view. Trust me, if I had time to study the effects of using a pitcher twice in the same day, I certainly would. And maybe I will make that a future endeavor. But for now, you'll just have to follow the logic.

The last-minute loss places the pressure firmly on Randy to avoid a series loss. The Yanks have dropped two straight series on the heels of the Red Sox sweep, so while it's not completely necessary to take two of three from the Tigers, it would be a nice step in the battle to attain home field advantage in the playoffs. Because with eight games separating the Yankees and Red Sox, the AL East seems all but a certainty.

My favorite appearance of the night was by newcomer Brian Bruney, of whom I've become very fond lately. He was cast off by the Diamondbacks in late May, and was signed by the Yankees in early July. Now he has the chance to make an impact in the bullpen down the stretch. The guy tosses gas, and I figure that a little work with Joe Kerrigan and Ron Guidry could mean miles of progress for this kid (and I use kid lightly; he's but two months older than yours truly). And, dare I say it, he could end up being our Bobby Jenks/Francisco Rodriguez. The best part about that is he wouldn't even be saddled with the pressured burden of closing games. He'd be another guy in the seventh and eighth inning mix, and would clearly give the Yanks the best bullpen in the league. I may be getting ahead of myself here, because we've seen precious little of Bruney. But you can be damn sure he'll get his work in, and we'll have a great gage of him by the time the playoffs roll around.

While I'm talking about pitchers, let's talk about Sunday. The rainout gave the Twins a break, as they won't have to see the Yankees ace during their weekend series. It is extra burdensome to the Yankees, as they need yet another starter to fill a gap, a gap that Carl Pavano should be filling. But he's a bum and isn't there when his team needs him, even though he should have been back for that start. The YES commentators were speculating that Ron Villone could be called on to start, but he's far too valuable in the bullpen to waste for six days (figure three days before the start, and at least three days after). The roster expand tomorrow, so a minor leaguer could be an option. But who? Tyler Clippard? Certainly Phil Hughes won't be in the discussion. Personally, I believe it will be recently activated Darrell Rasner, who had an “eh” outing for Columbus earlier this week. He definitely has Major League stuff, and probably would already have started a game or two for the big league club had he not gone down with a phantom/freak injury shortly after his June call up. For the sake of testing the youth, I'd like to see Clippard in that spot. But since he's just 21 years old and likely doesn't have enough stuff to face Major Leauge hitters yet – not to mention that the Thunder are headed for the Eastern League playoffs, possible with Hideki Matsui on their roster – I'd expect to see Rasner in that spot.

In closing, I'd like to thank Alex Rodriguez for barely nubbing the ball last night, which allowed Derek Jeter to score from third. A pop up and the game is still tied; a strikeout and we want to kill him; even if he had hit the ball hard, there's a chance that he hits it right at someone, reducing Jeter's chances of scoring on the play. So, uh, thanks for not hitting the ball hard, Alex. Now acknowledge my gratitude by getting a hit today. Just one. All I ask is that you just hit it hard somewhere. Hell, if someone makes a diving catch on a ball you hit hard, I won't even get mad. I'm just sick of the pop outs and the strikeouts.