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October 20, 2003

Prospectus Today

Game Two

by Joe Sheehan

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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.

Notes

  • Have you watched the players in this series? They don't know which pitches are strikes and which are balls. A month of, how can I put this, "interpretive" strike zones have left 27 of the best hitters in the world at a complete loss.

    This has been creeping up on me, but it was particularly noticeable last night on 3-2 pitches, both called balls, to Bernie Williams and Juan Encarnacion. The payoff pitch in both cases was pretty clearly outside the zone, and both players turned, looked at home-plate umpire Larry Young, and stayed in the box for a few seconds, apparently waiting for a strike call.

    Between not having any idea what state is serving as the model for the strike zone today (Rhode Island? Texas? Hawaii?), and the delayed calls favored by about half the umps, the hitters have been completely befuddled. The lousy plate umpiring is screwing with the game, and has to be addressed in the offseason.

  • Then again, maybe we can just do away with the home-plate umpires and teach all hitters to hit like Aaron Boone. Batting in the sixth inning against Chad Fox, who had just opened his appearance by walking Jorge Posada on five pitches, Boone proceeded to have an at-bat from the Soriano Collection, swinging at two pitches about eight inches off of the outside corner.

    It didn't make any difference in the game, but it was one of those moments that reinforced just how random the end of the ALCS was.

  • Fox's inning was a hoot. He threw something like three strikes, one of which was crushed by Nick Johnson for a double. He got two outs on the fifth ball he threw to Boone (with Posada running into the second) and exited the inning on a Juan Rivera fly ball. We should all have such bad days at work.

  • Without getting into the fake controversy about its singing at every Yankee home game, isn't "God Bless America" supposed to be a march? I know people love Ronan Tynan, but his verson of the song sure as hell has the pace of a dirge.

    I have the same problem with most renditions of the National Anthem. Maybe it's just me.

  • Sunday's column went up pretty late, because the columnist made a boo-boo. You can check it out here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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