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August 23, 2006

Prospectus Game of the Week

New York Yankees @ Boston Red Sox, 8/20/06

by Derek Jacques

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Welcome, once again, to Prospectus Game of the Week. As Joe Sheehan pointed out last week, you might be familiar with this matchup. Here at Game of the Week, we're definitely familiar with the teams involved: the New York Yankees played our inaugural game this season, a matchup against the Detroit Tigers; the Red Sox followed not long after, with a pitching duel between tonight's starter, Curt Schilling, and Johan Santana of the Twins.

So the question is, why are we back with these two teams? They came into this weekend series a game and a half apart in the standings atop the AL East. So far, the Yankees have taken the first three games-sweeping a Friday doubleheader that featured an afternoon blowout and the longest nine-inning game in major league history in the nightcap, then blasting past the Sox in the late innings of Saturday's game. With two games left in the series, the Red Sox have the opportunity to salvage the series, or to watch a prime chance slip through their fingers. With the level of competition we are seeing in the AL Central, the loser of this division race is anything but guaranteed a playoff spot via the wild card.

On that note, let's get to the lineups:

Yankees                             Red Sox
                      EqA   VORP                        EqA    VORP
Johnny Damon, CF     .290   40.4    Coco Crisp, CF      .249    8.0
Derek Jeter, SS      .303   55.5    Mark Loretta, 2B    .258   21.1
Bobby Abreu, RF      .356   14.1    David Ortiz, DH     .322   54.7
Jason Giambi, 1B     .323   42.4    Manny Ramirez, LF   .341   61.7
Alex Rodriguez, DH   .297   33.7    Kevin Youkilis, 1B  .287   23.3
Robinson Cano, 2B    .278   25.6    Mike Lowell, 3B     .269   14.0
Jorge Posada, C      .279   21.7    Wily Mo Pena, RF    .279   11.5
Melky Cabrera, LF    .268    9.5    Doug Mirabelli, C   .221   -2.2
Nick Green, 3B       .293    3.5    Alex Cora, SS       .254    4.5

Starting Pitchers
                      IP    ERA   RA+   SO/9  VORP
Mike Mussina         165.3  3.54  1.27  8.06  41.0
Curt Schilling       173.7  3.83  1.31  7.93  45.3
The Red Sox are among the league leaders in runs scored, but outside the Dominican Bash Brothers, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, the rest of the lineup is rather pedestrian. Right now, Kevin Youkilis is the third-best hitter in the lineup. Like Mike Lowell, Youkilis has cooled off a bit after starting off this season like a house on fire. With team captain Jason Varitek and right fielder Trot Nixon on the DL, Boston's lineup is predominantly right-handed. The only way for the Beantowners to avoid a long string of righthanded batters-as they have in the four through eight slots tonight-would be by starting Eric Hinske in place of Youkilis, Lowell or Wily Mo Pena.

As for the Yankee lineup, it's a standard formulation, other than Alex Rodriguez taking up the DH slot, with Nick Green getting a start at third base. Putatively, it's just a planned day of rest for Rodriguez-manager Joe Torre wisely announced that Derek Jeter is getting a breather in the DH slot for Monday afternoon's series finale. However, it's notable that tonight's starter, Mike Mussina, hasn't won in a month, and that in his last two starts, Rodriguez's weak defensive play at third put Mussina behind the eight ball. Now, Rodriguez gets some rest during Mussina's start, and it's hard not to think of this as a no-confidence vote in Rodriguez's defensive abilities.

Getting to the action at Fenway, Curt Schilling starts off Johnny Damon with a 94 MPH fastball. Damon is nine for 18 in the first three games of this series against his former team, driving in eight of the 39 runs the Yankees have scored. On a full count, Schilling breaks Damon's bat with a fastball up and in, fielded by the first baseman, unassisted.

Facing Derek Jeter, Schilling continues to pump nothing but fastballs, now reaching 96 MPH. With an 0-2 count, Jeter defends the plate, fouling off balls back and down the rightfield line. On pitch 17 of the inning, Schilling paints the inside corner, up on Jeter's hands. That's a backward K in the scorebook, on a very marginal pitch--someone was going to come away complaining no matter which way this call went. Schilling gets ahead of Bobby Abreu 1-2-still all fastballs-before he finally unveils the splitter. You can almost see the surprise on Abreu's face as he swings over the pitch in the dirt.

In the bottom of the frame, Mike Mussina starts off Coco Crisp with a ball. Mussina's fastball is coming in at 90 MPH, which is about the top of his range these days. What you see from Mussina in 2006 is a whole lot of breaking stuff, delivered from as many different arm angles, speeds, and locations as the crafty righthander can come up with. Facing this barrage of slop, Crisp pops to third. Mark Loretta goes after Mussina early in the count, and grounds the ball hard through second base, past a diving Robinson Cano.

That brings up the deadliest bat in the East-deadliest left handed one, anyway-David Ortiz. Ortiz grounds Mussina's second pitch, a curve low and away, up the middle for a single. Mark Loretta goes to third as Damon bobbles the ball. Up comes the player who is batting a bit better than Ortiz this season, but receiving only a fraction of the hype-Manny Ramirez. On an 0-1 count, Mussina tries to bring his 90 MPH heat to Ramirez, up and in. Big mistake. Ramirez hits a booming shot over Damon's head, a double against the wall. Loretta scores, and the Red Sox lead 1-0.

This brings up Kevin Youkilis, the artist formerly known as the Greek God of Walks. Youkilis slashes a line drive toward Damon, who again has a hard time fielding the ball. Big Papi scores, Ramirez only advances to third on the single. Mike Lowell follows by blistering a ball down to third base, fielded by Nick Green, who goes around the horn in a bid for the double play. Cano makes a bad throw on the relay, which almost drives Giambi off the bag, the first baseman does an outstanding job diving to salvage the throw and twisting to keep a foot on the bag. Giambi is often torn down for his bad defense, but he has pretty soft hands here. Inning over.

Despite a leadoff double by Giambi, Schilling escapes the second inning unscathed, and Mussina cuts through the bottom of the order with ease to end the inning, retiring the side on eight pitches. But when the third inning begins, the Fenway grounds crew is rolling out the tarp. According to sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein, showers are expected, along with high winds and hail.

So we wait. And wait. The Baseball Tonight crew does a miniature version of Sportscenter during the rain delay, with John Kruk nimbly muttering about basketball, golf, and NASCAR.

About an hour later, the tarp is back off the field, and Schilling is back on the mound. Over the last fiftysome hours, the Red Sox bullpen has thrown 13.3 innings, so Schilling leaving the game after two innings is not an option. The big righthander looks no worse for the wait, disposing of the Yankees on just seven pitches. His opposite number actually seems better after the layoff, getting the fastball up to 92 miles per hour while retiring the top of the Boston lineup in order.

In the top of the fourth, Derek Jeter singles on a 95 MPH fastball, a grounder up the middle. Bobby Abreu follows by a low and away fastball out to left field and against the Green Monster. Ramirez makes a nice barehand grab on the carom to hold Abreu at first. With men at the corners and no outs, Schilling takes the count full against Giambi. The prevailing wisdom on how to retire Giambi calls for fastballs high in the strike zone and in on his hands. Schilling gives Giambi a 97 MPH heater at the letters but over the plate, which the first baseman crushes over the rightfield fence. Just like that, New York leads, 3-2.

Alex Rodriguez keeps the momentum going with a single off the Monster, but Robinson Cano helps Schilling out by hitting a double play grounder. After a Jorge Posada walk, Schilling gets out of the inning, retiring Melky Cabrera.

Leading off the bottom of the fourth, Ramirez runs the count full against Mussina, then positively nails a liner to center. Damon traps the ball, which holds Ramirez to a single. Youkilis comes up, his big lantern jaw accentuated by a soul patch, and he watches Mussina's offerings to bring himself to a 2-1 count. The Mohel of Swat-as Steve Goldman has christened him-hits a ball very hard but Green dives to stop it, and throws from his knees in a bid for another around-the-horn double play. Youkilis foils that attempt, beating out the relay throw. He moves to second on Lowell's single to left.

This brings up Wily Mo Pena. As we learn from the ESPN crew, the Mo in his name is for "Modesto." On a full count, Pena's results are pretty darn modesto, popping it up to the right fielder Abreu. Another member of the Soul Patch Brigade, Doug Mirabelli, hits a gork to short right field. This one falls in front of Abreu, for a single and a tie game. Alex Cora looks like he might get the lead for the Red Sox, but his hard grounder is blocked by Cano, who corrals the ball and throws to first, retiring the side.

In four innings, Schilling has thrown 73 pitches to Mussina's 62. Schilling retires the side in order, the rough patch he hit in the fourth inning now behind him. In the bottom of the fifth, Mussina isn't able to take the mound. We're told that Mussina's groin has tightened up on him, and given the rainy conditions-a light but steady rain continues to fall-you wouldn't want to risk Mussina slipping on field and making his groin problem worse.

Ron Villone, Joe Torre's new favorite pitcher, is summoned to take over for Mussina. The lefthanded Villone leads the Yankee bullpen in appearances and innings since the All-Star Break, just behind the reliever with the biggest workload in all of baseball, teammate Scott Proctor. Villone retires the first two batters he faces, which brings up Ortiz. Ortiz gets hold of a pitch that wasn't low enough or away enough, blasting homer number 44 for the season, and giving the Red Sox the lead. Following Ortiz's titanic homer, the Yankees want no part of Ramirez, who gets what looks like an unintentional intentional walk. Youkilis is unable to make them pay for that decision, flying out to center.

In the sixth, the Yankees squander an opportunity to bring the game even. Abreu singles to lead off, and a wild pickoff throw both manages to get Youkilis spiked, and sends Abreu to third base with only one out. Alex Rodriguez is unable to convert the scoring opportunity, popping up high over the infield to keep the runner at third. Then Cano hits a flare to Cora to end the inning. With Schilling at only 96 pitches, it seems certain he'll come out for the seventh inning.

In the bottom of the sixth, Villone allows a leadoff single to Lowell, then gets Pena to pop out and Mirabelli to whiff. A two-out single by Cora past Cano brings up Coco Crisp with two on and two out. Although Crisp was greeted enthusiastically in Boston after Damon left for New York, the bloom certainly seems to be off the rose-particularly with the offensive clinic Damon gave Red Sox fans on Friday and Saturday.

Crisp's .247/.299/.362 line away from Fenway is completely embarrassing, and his overall numbers fall below his 10th percentile PECOTA projection. The little excuse-me swing he manages against Villone won't win him any new fans in New England. It's a groundout to Giambi and the end of the inning.

In the top of the seventh, Schilling remains in control, getting Posada and Cabrera to fly out, and Nick Green to strike out for the third time this game. Schilling comes off the mound, still looking like he could pitch another inning, but likely done for the night.

After the seventh inning stretch, another Red Sox-turned-Yankee, Mike Myers, enters the game. Now, Myers is the picture in the dictionary next to the term LOOGY, but Torre has used him a little more flexibly, on account of markedly better results than usual against righthanded batters. For his career, Myers has allowed a .875 OPS against righties, this season that figure is down to .657, actually better than the .729 OPS lefties are maintaining against him this season.

After all that, Myers walks the leadoff batter, righthanded Mark Loretta. That leaves Myers up against the man the Yankees acquired him to face, David Ortiz.

Ortiz shows bunt on Myers' first pitch, then goes on to battle Myers a bit before sending a grounder toward first base. Giambi fields the ball and briefly looks at second base, but then remembers that he throws about as well as Chuck Knoblauch, and he takes the easy out at first. With Ortiz out of the way and first base open, Torre has Myers give Ramirez the intentional walk, then brings in Scott Proctor to pitch to Youkilis.

Youkilis hits an 0-2 slider for a single to left. Loretta scores, and Boston leads 5-3. Now Lowell hits a soft grounder to second, and Cano--who has had a brutal game there, today--loses the ball on the transfer to his throwing hand. Error, and bases loaded for Wily Modesto. Proctor goes after Pena with high 90's fastballs, then finishes him with a sweeping slider. Mirabelli flies to Abreu, and it's the Yankees' turn at bat again.

In the eighth, Mike Timlin takes over for Schilling, and Gabe Kapler takes over for Pena. This is a little surprising, since Terry Francona has shown am aptitude for pitching his closer, Jonathan Papelbon, multiple innings, and Papelbon only pitched once the entire week, on Wednesday against the Tigers. In short, the Red Sox have a two-run lead, need to win this game, and have Papelbon well-rested in the pen. Oh, and the top of the Yankees' lineup comes up this inning, and Papelbon is far and away the team's best reliever:

                     G   IP     RA+   WXRL
Jonathan Papelbon    53  61.0  5.70   5.777
Mike Timlin          49  46.7  1.19   1.389
Manny Delcarmen      37  39.0  1.03   0.870
Keith Foulke         30  34.0  0.96   0.474
Craig Hansen         27  29.0  0.70   0.305
Javier Lopez         15   8.7  0.54   0.236
Kyle Snyder          10  32.0  0.82   0.049
Julian Tavarez       50  62.0  0.91  -0.820
Still, there might be other considerations in question here-there have been reports that Papelbon is wearing down-so maybe Timlin is the right call. Damon hits Timlin's 0-1 pitch hard, Loretta dives for it, but can't handle the hot shot. Single. Timlin follows that up by nailing Jeter on the elbow, which puts the potential tying run on base with Abreu and Giambi coming up.

So in comes Boston's only lefty in the bullpen. Javier Lopez is a 29 year-old former Rocky and Diamondback. Lopez comes sidearm, not quite submarine, and he's popping the ball in there in the high 80s. Impressive, but Abreu-the Venezuelan God of Walks, anyone?-works a full count, and then walks.

So now the Yankees have loaded the bases, Jason Giambi is coming up, and now they decide it's time to call on Papelbon. Papelbon's fastball is 98-99 MPH, and he quickly falls behind to Giambi. He battles back, finally giving Giambi a full-count fastball that Giambi hits a ton, but which Kapler catches on the warning track. Sac fly, Sox now lead by one. Alex Rodriguez comes up with one out, and first and third. Again, Papelbon falls behind 2-0, and again, the count runs full, but this time, Papelbon walks Rodriguez.

This brings up Robinson Cano, who has struggled on the field and at the plate tonight, despite hitting well in the three preceding games. Finally, Papelbon gets the first pitch over for a strike. Papelbon takes the count 1-2, and throws a perfect splitter to strike Cano out. Against Posada, Papelbon mixes in a two seam fastball to strike the catcher out. Great relief job, but one that shouldn't have been necessary. Papelbon will now go into the ninth with 24 pitches on the odometer.

After a quick bottom of the eighth, Papelbon's back on the mound. Melky Cabrera takes a 1-1 pitch to the gap in right center, a double. Bernie Williams now pinch-hits for Green, meaning that should the Yankees take this game to the bottom of the ninth or beyond, they're going to need Rodriguez to take the field, and lose the DH. On a 1-2 pitch in the dirt, the ball squirts away from Mirabelli and Cabrera goes to third. Williams is unable to hold up on another pitch down and out of the strike zone, so he strikes out. The infield is in for Johnny Damon. No need for 'em, as Papelbon blows three fastballs past the center fielder, and the Fenway crowd goes wild.

Now it's all up to the Yankees' captain, Derek Jeter, to try and bring in the runner from third and keep this game alive. He lets 98 MPH fastball on the outside corner go by, but has an inside-out swing on the next pitch on his hands, a flare into right. Tie game. Abreu battles, but strikes out against Papelbon, to end the inning. Due up in the bottom of the ninth? Ortiz, Ramirez, and Youkilis. And they'll face Mariano Rivera.

Bottom 9: Rivera gets behind Ortiz, 3-0, looking like a semi-intentional walk, then comes back with a couple of strikes. The second ball in the zone Ortiz bounces to first base--and it gets away from Giambi. With Bernie Williams in right field--Torre bats Rivera in Abreu's spot, after losing the DH in the top of the inning--Papi hustles to second base. That's probably a net negative with Ramirez coming up next. With first base open, they walk Ramirez. Now Youkilis is up to bunt, and that doesn't work out too well. The Red Sox are next to last in the league in bunts, and according to the ESPN crew, Youkilis has only one sacrifice in his career--back in the minors. Youkilis doesn't get the ball past Mariano Rivera, and Ortiz is out at third.

That's undone as Rivera's pitch gets past Posada, and the runner advance to second and third. So now Rivera walks Lowell intentionally, to face Eric Hinske, pinch-hitting for Kapler. After missing inside with the cutter, as he had been at the beginning of Ortiz's at bat, Rivera reverts to his 1995-1996 form, blowing mid-90's four-seam fastballs past Hinske, upstairs, three times for the second out. Following that, Mirabelli chops a ball back to Rivera, and the Yankees escape the inning.

Craig Hansen, who's had a nightmare month of August (8.64 ERA in 8.3 IP) comes in to pinch the top of the tenth. He faces Giambi, Rodriguez and Cano. Giambi takes a 1-1 pitch out to center, Crisp is in pursuit, at the short wall near the Sox bullpen, and he misses the ball by maybe two inches. That's a home run. Adding injury to insult, Crisp then slams into the short wall with his glove arm extended awkwardly. He's on the ground, writhing in pain.

After the trainer determines that Crisp can stay in the game, Hansen whiffs Rodriguez on three pitches. Cano doesn't have any such trouble with Hansen, taking a ball down the leftfield line for a double. Hansen's allowing a .877 OPS against lefties this season.

With Hansen pitching to another lefty batter, switch-hitter Posada, we see a rare play: ball is awarded Posada because Hansen went to his mouth while on the mound. The result is Hansen throwing his 97 MPH heat right down broadway on a 2-1 count--and Posada lining the ball down the rightfield line, a home run. The Yankees now lead, 8-5. Finally, Bernie Williams drives a sinking line drive to center, which Crisp dives for and catches, landing hard on his glove arm. It's good enough to end a painful inning for the Sox.

In the bottom of the frame, Loretta manages to keep things exciting with a two-out single, but Rivera is able to retire Ortiz on a fly ball to right field, sealing the victory, and officially turning this series into a debacle for the Sox.

Be sure to join us this Sunday, as we catch up with the AL West, where the Oakland A's are facing the Texas Rangers.

Derek Jacques is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Derek by clicking here or click here to see Derek's other articles.

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

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