October 26, 2000
World Series Prospectus
Game Four was another very good game with some interesting critical tactical decisions. We got to see Joe Torre get as creative as he's going to get and we got to see Bobby Valentine get boxed into a couple of corners and dodge some bullets.
Torre's decision to yank Denny Neagle with two outs in the fifth inning and Mike Piazza up, after Piazza had blasted a foul home run and a fair home run in his first two plate appearances, is being touted as the critical decision in the game. Although David Cone isn't the guy I would have wanted to use, given the pretty good odds that the pitcher's spot was going to have to bat in the top of the sixth, picking one of the three cheerleaders--Cone, Dwight Gooden and Jason Grimsley--to pitch that third of an inning makes sense (although the home scorer subsequently jobbed Cone out of the win). It allowed Torre to avoid having to bat or pull one of his three good relievers.
The move also gave Jose Canseco a chance to finally bat, as he hit for Cone in the top of the sixth. Because Bobby Valentine did not have a right-handed reliever up and ready during the inning, there was the possibility that Bobby V. could take one on the chin, but Glendon Rusch did an outstanding job of setting up Canseco for a called strike three by first whistling a couple of pitches inside.
That wasn't the only bad spot Valentine got caught in, however. He basically blew through the core of his bench in the bottom of the seventh. The most bizarre element of Valentine's tactical gambits is his determination to secure platoon advantages when the only decent pinch-hitters he has are Bubba Trammell and Darryl Hamilton. Blowing both on a single plate appearance is something Valentine should be trying to avoid.
The seventh was the inning for Valentine to pull some levers, what with the heart of the order likely to bat in the eighth and trying to use home-field advantage to avoid a bottom of the ninth. The game ended with Mariano Rivera facing the bottom of the order with a one-run lead because of what I think was the critical decision of the game: Torre's decision to have Rivera to face the heart of the order in the eighth. Among Edgardo Alfonzo, Mike Piazza, Todd Zeile and Robin Ventura, only Zeile managed a single, and the Mets' best chance of tying or winning the game went out the window. Torre chucked regular-season tactical orthodoxy out the window and went for the win.
Similarly, yanking Neagle in the fifth is something you wouldn't see in the regular season. We've said it in the past, and this postseason only seems to confirm it: the Yankees and Joe Torre seem to have a much better grasp on what kind of tactical decisions need to come into play in the postseason than any other team and manager.
Some of the less interesting things that we got to see was a pretty flagrant case of the Enrico Palazzo effect, courtesy of home-plate umpire Tim Welke. Ringing up Derek Jeter on a ludicrously outside pitch in the fifth cost us a chance to see if Jeter was going to hit for the cycle in reverse order. Welke did the same to Bernie Williams in the top of the seventh. At least he was equal opportunity when it came to his called-strike showmanship, because he nabbed Jay Payton in the bottom of the seventh on a pitch that was low and outside and, appropriately enough, ended the game on a called strike three to Matt Franco.
Tim McCarver and Joe Buck occupied their time by saying some incredibly silly things. McCarver went on in the bottom of the second about how Benny Agbayani should have lit out for second base on contact on Jay Payton's pop single to right with one out. I say, why risk a double-play on something that wasn't a sure hit, with the action effectively behind Agbayani's right shoulder as he headed for second base and with Mike Bordick and Bobby Jones due up next? Why run yourself out of the inning when you could instead work Neagle for a couple of extra pitches, and at worst have the near certainty that the pitcher's spot would be out of the way for the third inning?
The other silly thing that McCarver and Buck felt inclined to blather about was the historic character of the series as evidenced by all the writers covering it. Maybe people like Mike Lupica can write and have just been playing possum for the last couple of decades, but as this World Series and the hysteria over the bat-shard incident reflects, the art of the game story is as dead as Ring Lardner.
It's been a great series so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing whether the Mets will get us to Game Six, or whether we'll get treated to the spectacle of the Mets PA system blaring something at a zillion decibels after the game to try to drown out several thousand Yankees fans singing Sinatra's "New York, New York" Either way, it's going to be fun.
Chris Kahrl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.