October 20, 2003
It's been so long since we've seen a nondescript baseball game that when we finally got one, it felt strange, and I'm left not knowing how to write about it.
Think about it. For the first time in weeks, we had a day of baseball that provided no real tension, no elimination hanging over a team's head, and no question as to who would win. Other than Friday, when no games were played, we'd been riding a red-stitched roller coaster for two weeks, spoiled by games that left us on the edge of our seats, holding our breath and repairing the damage to the walls of our homes and offices. (OK, so that last one is just me.)
In fact, the only think we learned yesterday was how Hideki Matsui, with just 16 home runs and a .435 slugging percentage, Matsui turned on a 3-0 fastball from Mark Redman and launched a three-run home run over the 408-foot marker in center field that put this game away early for the Yankees.
It was shocking in a number of ways. Matsui is a fairly patient hitter, so the fact that he swung at the 3-0 pitcher was out of character. Seeing him display that kind of raw power, after a season and a postseason largely sponsored by the letters "G" and "B" and the numbers "4" and "3" was refreshing. Matsui came to the U.S. as the Japanese version of Brian Giles, and his lack of power during the year was disappointing. Seeing that he can monster a ball out provides hope that he'll be more productive in 2004.
More importantly to the Yankees, the shot gave them a lead on a night when they wouldn't need much more. Andy Pettitte, further burnishing his reputation as a postseason ace, took a shutout 26 outs into the game and settled for 8 2/3 innings of one-run baseball. One of the game's hot phrases is "changing a hitter's eye level," and Pettitte did that last night with aplomb, mixing cut fastballs up and in with ankle-height breaking balls. The Marlins, who destroyed lefties during the regular season and hit Kirk Rueter well in the Division Series, failed to do much damage against a southpaw for a second straight night.
One of the things that helped the Marlins lose last night was a first-inning strikeout/throw-out double play that ended the first inning. Luis Castillo was the victim, out by yards when Ivan Rodriguez took strike three, or a facsimile thereof. Later in the game, Jorge Posada would become the victim of the same play, when Aaron Boone swung at ball five and struck out.
I don't know what the postseason managers are doing, but we are seeing far too many wasted outs, many on these double plays. There is already a well-established tendency for teams to waste outs on one-run strategies in the postseason, a tendency that, in the years leading up to 2002, had driven postseason run scoring down well below seasonal levels. The lower-scoring games are something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as teams give away outs in pursuit of one run and cut off the possibility of big innings.
The strikeout double plays are just one example of the self-defeating baserunning that we've seen this October. From the A's mistakes in the Division Series to the Yankees getting two runners picked off in the first two games of the series (including the first straight pickoff of a runner at third base in the World Series in 50 years, per SABR), the non-batting outs in this postseason have piled up like garbage in Chicago, but without smelling so sweet.
Neither one of these teams is so good offensively that they can keep wasting outs. As the series turns to Florida, they both need to address their baserunning and ensure that they're not doing more to lose the Series than they are to win it.