October 17, 2003
Let me check again.
Wow. It really happened.
It still doesn't seem real. Game Seven of the American League Championship Series, even now, feels more like a weird morphing of Game Six of the NLCS and Game Four of the 2001 World Series.
Three runs down... five outs left... best pitcher in the league... tiring suddenly... manager riding him... extra innings... solo home run... Yankee Stadium bedlam.
It's like a playoff edition of Mad Libs.
I gave up. I carried hope through the seventh inning, but when Alfonso Soriano was allowed to face Pedro Martinez as the tying run--I was begging for Ruben Sierra, to give you an idea of the desperation--with as much chance of hitting Martinez as he did of spontaneously combusting, I packed it in. The Sox had outplayed the Yankees, they had the best pitcher in the game pitching well, and for the umpteenth straight game, the Yanks hadn't looked good at the plate. Jason Giambi's two home runs only served to taunt Yankee fans with the thought of how either of those blasts, in one of his many high-leverage at-bats, could have made all this unnecessary.
In the bottom of the eighth, I sent this e-mail to the internal BP list:
Time: 7:58 p.m.I was kidding, of course, making a reference to Tuesday night's events in Chicago primarily as a way to keep my hands occupied. Sophia wasn't pleased with Wednesday's damage to the office, and I'd promised to behave.
Sixteen pitches later, the whole world had been turned upside down. In 16 pitches, the game was tied. In 16 pitches, 80 years of history came crashing into the ballpark, making a racket so loud you had to scream to be heard over it.
In 16 pitches, Grady Little lost his job.
Pedro Martinez is a truly great pitcher... for the first 100 pitches he throws in a game. That's the number he threw through seven innings--seven beautiful innings of six-hit, two-run baseball. Opening the eighth, he fell behind Nick Johnson 3-1, but battled back to get a pop-up. Derek Jeter swung through pitch 108 and fouled off pitch 109. On pitch 110--an 0-2 pitch--Jeter drove a ball to the right-field warning track for a double.
That was the first sign.
Pitch 111 was taken for a strike by Bernie Williams. Pitches 112 and 113 were balls. Pitch 114 was fouled off, and pitch 115 was hit hard to center field, landing in front of Johnny Damon for an RBI single.
ESPN.com, using data from Stats, Inc., breaks down pitcher performance by 15-pitch chunks. Martinez falls off a cliff once you get him into triple digits:
AB AVG OBP SLG Pitches 61-75: 107 .215 .234 .355 Pitches 76-90: 93 .215 .276 .290 Pitches 91-105: 65 .231 .306 .354 Pitches 106-120: 27 .370 .419 .407 Pitches 120-135: 6 .333 .429 .500It's not just this season. From 2000-2002:
AB AVG OBP SLG Pitches 61-75: 281 .199 .243 .310 Pitches 76-90: 257 .195 .247 .268 Pitches 91-105: 180 .183 .236 .300 Pitches 106-120: 74 .297 .391 .338 Pitches 120-135: 12 .250 .400 .333 More 1 .000 .000 .000Small sample sizes? Damn straight, because Little knows that Martinez can't handle much more than 100 pitches and gets him the hell out of Dodge. Martinez has been removed from a game with a shutout intact 20 times in the last three seasons, not counting a few three-inning starts that were injury- or playoff-related. His performance record is studded with eight-inning shutouts that most pitchers get to finish; Martinez has no shutouts in those seasons. Little knows how to manage Martinez, and he knows what the limits of his ace are. Or he did until last night.
Pitches 116 and 117 were absolutely beautiful. Hideki Matsui took both of them for strikes. On pitch 118, Matsui pulled a fastball into the right-field corner for a double, the second 0-2 double that Martinez had allowed in three batters.
That was the second sign.
We'd already seen this with Martinez. Think about he labored to get through the seventh inning against the A's in his first playoff start. That was all post-105, and he barely survived. He's an amazing pitcher who has this one flaw that you have to find a way to handle. Little knew this, and he handled it all season long. Having seen this act just two weeks earlier, and with relievers in the bullpen who had been just killing the Yankees, Little stayed in the dugout.
Pitch 119 was a ball up and away. Pitch 120 was a breaking ball over for a strike. Pitch 121 was ball two. Pitch 122 was another great breaking pitch that Jorge Posada swung over for strike two.
On pitch 123, Posada fisted a blooper that landed in short center field, well out of the reach of three Red Sox. Jeter and Matsui scored, the ballgame was tied, and Jillian's was oddly silent.
There is no way to get around this. Dusty Baker, who made almost the exact same error with Mark Prior, can at least point at Alex Gonzalez and Kyle Farnsworth, both of whom failed to do their jobs. All Grady Little can do is look in the mirror. He chose the wrong path, and he had absolutely no reason to do so. Every bit of information he had at his disposal pointed to taking out Martinez, and he chose to stay with a pitcher who was tired, and who had a history of declining rapidly when pushed too far.
What makes it most galling is that Little's bullpen has been completely untouchable in the postseason. You know who the best reliever in the ALCS was? Not the guy who got the big trophy; it was Mike Timlin, who'd thrown 5 1/3 completely ridiculous innings. He allowed a single and two walks, one intentional. Alan Embree threw fastballs by almost everyone. Scott Williamson was lights-out every time he pitched. Little had at least three better options than an obviously gassed Martinez.
The Red Sox players did a hell of a lot to win this series. They needed their manager to, in the vernacular, "Cowboy Up." Little didn't, in what was one of the greatest instances of a manager failing the players in baseball history.
I can't imagine you'll find many Red Sox fans who'll say they didn't know it was over at that point. Embree and Timlin escaped the eighth inning, and Timlin continued to embarrass the Yankees in the ninth, giving his team every chance to do something. The Sox even threw a scare into New Yorkers in the ninth, as Todd Walker hit a jam shot off of Mariano Rivera that bore far too much resemblance to Luis Gonzalez's World Series-winning hit in 2001. The ball settled into Soriano's glove, and a city--and its expatriates--exhaled.
When Aaron Boone etched his name into baseball history two innings later, there was joy and sadness, pleasure and pain, but I don't think there was any surprise. The Red Sox didn't deserve to be in a tie game in the 11th inning, but once there, there wasn't much sense that they were going to find the escape hatch to the World Series.
It's just a shame, because it didn't have to be this way.
No World Series prevew in this space. I've got the main slot on the front page. Check it out, and I'll be back Sunday with a look at Game One.