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October 23, 2000

World Series Prospectus

Game Two

by Joe Sheehan

Yankee fans are only now beginning to breathe normally again, after last night's ninth-inning rally by the Mets fell one run short.

For eight innings, Game Two was completely dominated by Roger Clemens and the Yankees, but once Clemens left--after just 112 pitches--the Mets scored five runs off of Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera before Kurt Abbott took a called strike three to end the rally.

This was that rare situation where a manager may have been a bit too conservative with his pitcher's arm. Joe Torre has pretty much committed to using a four-man rotation in Game Two, so Clemens isn't going to come back on short rest in Game Five. He was pitching this game on a week's rest and hadn't shown any signs of tiring in the eighth inning.

Additionally, Torre had been forced to use his three good relievers, including ace Rivera, for a total of 5 1/3 innings the previous night. Allowing Clemens to finish the game, or at least start the ninth inning, would have given him the opportunity to give the core of his bullpen the night off.

What's more puzzling is that once Torre removed Clemens, he went to Jeff Nelson. The Yankees were up 6-0 in the ninth inning; if Jason Grimsley isn't going to pitch in that situation (or, for that matter, Dwight Gooden or David Cone), when is he going to be used? Is Torre really carrying three pitchers who will only pitch in losses or 13-inning games?

As you saw, Nelson was ineffective, giving up two singles and a home run, which forced Torre to use Rivera. It was only the fourth time all season Rivera had been asked to pitch on the day after throwing as many as the 34 pitches he'd tossed in Game One. Rivera struggled, giving up another near home run to Todd Zeile, as well a a real one to Jay Payton before finally closing the door.

Close the door he did, though, and now the Yankees have another 2-0 World Series lead.

In what must have been an effort to keep the audience, Tim McCarver mentioned that the Yankees had been in a similar situation to the Mets in 1996, down 0-2 in that World Series, before going to win the next four games. 'Tis true, but the Yankees also had 2-0 leads in the 1998 and 1999 World Series, and went on to sweep both of those. I'm thinking those are the more relevant data points here.

Game Two Notes

  • We should never again have to hear about Roger Clemens's inability to pitch in the postseason, I'd imagine. He followed up his ALCS one-hitter with eight innings of two-hit ball (an 87 game score). His World Series ERA is now 1.66 in four starts; the last two years, he's allowed one run and six hits in 15 2/3 innings of World Series play.

  • Using Lenny Harris as a designated hitter is a waste of everyone's time. I'm fairly happy with the job Bobby Valentine is doing, but Harris didn't even muster a 700 OPS in 2000. Of the available options--Darryl Hamilton, Bubba Trammell, Todd Pratt, Ed Kranepool--Harris was probably the worst. Letting Mike Hampton bat would have been a better idea.

  • Valentine also should have called back Kurt Abbott with two outs in the ninth inning. I know he was saving Trammell to hit for Timoniel Perez, but you have to get to Perez. If Trammell reaches without tying the game, there's still Pratt and Matt Franco available to hit for Perez.

    Then again, if you have to hit for your leadoff hitter in an important spot when he would be batting with the platoon advantage, that probably tells you something about said leadoff hitter.

  • After all the questionable baserunning decisions we've seen so far this postseason, it was nice to see the Mets be appropriately aggressive in the ninth inning last night. With second and third, one out and the Mets down 6-2 Robin Ventura broke for home on Lenny Harris's ground ball to the mound. It's the right play: the worst-case scenario is first and third, two outs, and there's really no reason for the defense to do anything but concede the run.

    The bizarre thing was that Mariano Rivera elected to check the runner coming home, then try and make a play on Benny Agbayani going from second to third. Passing up the force at first base to go for a tag play with a four-run lead is a terrible call. It worked out, as Rivera made a good throw Derek Jeter, who threw Ventura out at the plate, but it was a brutal decision by Rivera, and could easily have been disastrous for the Yankees.

  • That's not the throw most people are talking about this morning, though. I don't think Clemens had any malice aforethought in the already-played-out bat-throwing incident. He said after the game that he was just discarding the bat piece, albeit aggressively, and never expected Mike Piazza to be running to first base on the foul ball.

    Given a choice between believing that, or believing that Clemens was electing to throw a large piece of sharp wood at the greatest catcher ever, I'll go with Clemens.

    That said, he exercised terrible judgment. Look at the replay: the bat fragment, splintered like Chris Turner's rear end, comes damn close to bouncing into the stands. And that, my friends, would have been a disaster.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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