Happy Labor Day! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume on Tuesday, September 2.
October 1, 2003
Bury the Corpse
I'm wondering what I would have given for the Twins' chances if you'd told me yesterday morning that Rick Reed would be pitching the fifth inning. Johan Santana's pre-game bout of vomiting dehydrated him and left him unable to go more than four innings. Reed managed to get two outs, however, and he and J.C. Romero combined for the six most important outs of the Twins' year to date, bridging the gap to LaTroy Hawkins in the seventh.
If something like this was going to happen, best that it happen when the teams would be playing just one game in the next 3 1/2 days. I actually was pressing for Ron Gardenhire to start the sixth with Hawkins, but in retrospect, his decision to get through the leftycentric part of the Yankee lineup with Romero was the better one. Gardenhire handled an awful situation well and got good performance from pitchers he probably doesn't want to be leaning too heavily on. Now, he has a one-game lead and the certainty that he can bring back Santana in Game Four.
It helped that Bernie Williams' Corpse was on display. While much of the post-mortem seems to be focusing on Alfonso Soriano's throw to the Fulton Fish Market on the same play, it was Corpse's brutal misplay of a Torii Hunter single that changed the game.
We go through this every year with the Yankees. Maybe it's time to issue a public challenge of some sort, because the naked-emperor thing is getting out of hand. To hear Joe Morgan and Jon Miller--a combination I enjoy--go all Claude Rains when the Yankees display the defensive ability of Kuwait is ridiculous. It's as if they expect service time or postseason appearances to make plays, disregarding the fact that Williams hasn't been even an adequate center fielder in two years. He can't throw--as evidenced on the first run of the game, when he just missed gunning down Cristian Guzman at the pitcher's mound--and his diminished lateral range no longer makes up for a first step measured in geologic time.
Bernie Williams' Corpse can't play center field any longer. It actually kills me to write things like this, because Williams was my favorite Yankee in the post-Don Mattingly era, a classy, complete ballplayer who did everything on the field and nothing off it to embarrass anyone. I still firmly believe that if you get him to left field, he'll have a renaissance at the plate and go on to make the Hall of Fame. In center field, though, he's a liability who costs the Yankees two-to-three wins a year with his glove.
I recently read Alan Schwarz's piece on Barry Bonds, in which Schwarz makes reference to how Willie Mays ended his career in 1973. I was two at the time, so I can't say I remember, but could Mays really have looked any worse than Corpse does now? If Mays' play in the field had people cringing and looking away, how is it that there's not a similar groundswell over Corpse? Is this something I can get on the ballot in California, a recall petition for the Yankee center-field job? "Vote Matsui: Because Some American Real Estate Really Should Belong to the Japanese"
The Yankees may yet advance past the Twins, but whenever their season ends, they have to get serious about realigning an outfield defense that no longer can just be dismissed as a weakness. It's a massive problem.
As expected, this one was a pitchers' duel, as two power right-handers locked up against teams that don't handle the type very well, in a place that is very favorable to the breed. Jason Schmidt was a little bit better than Josh Beckett and didn't get hosed by his third baseman on a bunt play, so the Giants are up 1-0 today. I don't mean to be cliché, but today's game is something of a must-win for the Marlins, who will be feeding left-handers to a team that eats them alive in Games Three and Four.
True to Jack McKeon's stated intentions, the Marlins walked Barry Bonds three times in his four plate appearances. I know there has been a lot of study that indicates pitching to Bonds is superior to walking him, but I think I agree with all three bases on balls yesterday:
Getting caught up in the outcome of decisions is bad. The Giants scored after two of Bonds' walks, but that's going to happen sometimes, and it's not like they pounded the Marlins into submission. The way to analyze the decision is to look at the information available at the time of the decision. In both cases where the walk was intentional, the four balls were defensible and even a good idea.
I'm with McKeon on this one. I'll keep taking my chances with Edgardo Alfonzo, and if Alfonzo beats me, he beats me.
Last fall, when I launched the e-mail newsletter that got me writing about baseball again, I provided a prediction for each game of the World Series. I actually did fairly well until Dusty Baker decided to give Russ Ortiz a game ball for a game that still needed a ball.
I meant to do the same for the playoffs this year, but forgot to include the picks in yesterday's piece. I really wish I had, because I got all three winning teams, and the type of games that were played, right. I'm most proud of calling the Cubs' win over the Braves, because things happened almost exactly as I expected them to: Kerry Wood was electric, and Ortiz, now a Brave, showed why his Cy Young candidacy is a joke.
It almost didn't work out this way. The Cubs had rallies in four of the first five innings, hitting into double plays twice and getting nothing from a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the fourth. When they got themselves into the exact same situation in the sixth, it again looked like they would be denied.
The Cubs were helped considerably by Ortiz. For some reason, he decided that he had to nibble against the grand parade of lifeless right-handed bats, which created rallies where there didn't need to be any. Why you would work the outside corner with breaking stuff against people like Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek is unclear, but Ortiz did so and kept putting guys on base, only to be rescued time and again.
Finally, with the Cubs having tied the game on a Paul Bako groundout that probably should have been an inning-ending double play (people who think players today can't play defense can't even see around the piles of exhibits they collected yesterday), Wood had one of those moments where you'd just love to have been inside his head before it happened. All but saying to his impotent teammates, "Screw you guys, I'll do it myself," Wood crushed a 1-0 fastball into the left-center gap, plating two runs with a double and putting the Cubs ahead for good.
The aftermath of that double was pretty funny. Kenny Lofton singled Wood home on a blooper to center off Ray King, after which Fox's Steve Lyons went crazy praising the pitcher for getting a good jump from second base on the play. It might have been a cogent bit of analysis, except for one thing: there were two outs at the time...
Now, I know Lyons didn't get to second base very often in his playing days, but you'd like to think that a broadcaster, titularly an analyst, would know how many outs there are in every game situation. Wood didn't get a good break because he's an instinctive baserunner; he got a good break because he's got the whole "counting to two" thing down.
Wood was awesome last night, allowing two hits and striking out 11 men in 7 1/3 innings. Baker might have gotten him a batter or two sooner, but he did get him in time for his underrated bullpen to close out the game.
I said before the series that the Cubs' pitching could take over this matchup the same way the Braves' pitchers used to take over Division Series matchups against great offenses. I saw nothing last night to dissuade me of that notion.