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October 25, 2000

World Series Prospectus

Game Three

by Joe Sheehan

The best-played game of the series so far went to the Mets, 4-2. Unlike the first two games, this one lacked the controversial baserunning and managerial decisions that gave us so much to talk about over the weekend.

The primary thing to take from Game Three is an object lesson in what "bad defense" really is. For so long, the main focus of defensive analysis has been on errors and fielding percentage. The equation was simple: errors=bad defense, a thought process that led to some truly bad defenders being handed defensive awards and accolades.

In the eighth inning of last night's game, the Mets scored two runs on three hits. Both runs went into the book as earned, and looking at the box score or play-by-play wouldn't give you much of a clue that it was the Yankees defense, and not Orlando Hernandez's pitching or the Mets' hitting, that was the driving force behind the rally.

With one out, Todd Zeile pulled a ground ball just to the left of Derek Jeter, who dove without making the stop. The grounder was playable and the play on it by Jeter recalled the "step-and-dive" style popularized by Carney Lansford near the end of his career.

The next batter, Benny Agbayani, drove a liner into the left-centerfield gap. Now, Todd Zeile isn't Karrosian on the bases, but he doesn't score from first on too many doubles. Still, neither Bernie Williams nor David Justice could cut the ball off nor make the play quick enough to hold Zeile at third, and he scored without a play to give the Mets the lead

Then, with Agbayani on second and one out, Jay Payton chopped a grounder past the mound; Jose Vizcaino took a lousy angle to the ball, allowing Payton to reach on an infield single and giving the Mets first and third with one out. That set up the second run. Vizcaino circled the ball rather than taking a direct line to it, which was all the speedy Payton needed to turn the out into a hit.

The Yankees are considered a good defensive team, and there are some things they do well. But as the eighth inning of last night's game, the lack of range that doesn't show up in traditional statistics cost them a shot at putting the Series out of reach.

About the only big mangerial question mark was Bobby Valentine's decision to pinch-hit for Mike Bordick with a one-run lead in the eighth inning. He sent Bubba Trammell up, Trammell hit a sacrifice fly to center and Kurt Abbott played the bottom of the ninth.

Hitting for your defense with a lead is an odd move. What makes it seem odder is that Valentine had let Bordick bat in the sixth inning of a tie game with the bases loaded. That's not a bad decision; it's just a difficult one to reconcile with the eighth-inning move.

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

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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