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October 27, 2000
World Series Prospectus
It seems a shame that the first thing that comes to mind after a game--after a series--that has been so exciting is a criticism. But there's no way I can write about this game and not have one single, overriding thought.
Where was Armando Benitez?
Tie game in the ninth inning, two outs, two poor right-handed hitters (Scott Brosius and Luis Sojo) due up, go-ahead run on first base. Al Leiter not only was up close to 140 pitches, but was clearly struggling, going deep in the count before walking Jorge Posada. He was having a lot of trouble getting guys to swing and miss: the first three batters in the ninth inning fouled off nine pitches total.
Wednesday, Bobby Valentine used Benitez down a run in the ninth to try and keep the game close, so he clearly isn't locked into the "Benitez as closer only" mentality. While the right-hander had pitched on consecutive nights, it had been for just one inning each, so asking him to get one batter and then having him pitch a potential top of the tenth wouldn't have been unreasonable.
There were even a couple of double-switch options available. Either Kurt Abbott or Jay Payton could have been removed, with Mike Bordick or Darryl Hamilton placed in the #9 slot leading off the bottom of the ninth.
Benitez wasn't even warming up.
Brosius pulled a 1-1 pitch into left field for a single, making it first and second for Sojo.
Benitez still wasn't up, although John Franco was. Valentine elected to stay with Leiter at this point, and Sojo grounded the first pitch up the middle for a single. Jay Payton made about as good a throw as he can, but it hit a sliding Posada and bounced into the Mets' dugout, allowing Brosius to score the final run of the series.
There's loyalty to a veteran starter, and there's recognizing that your pitcher is tired and needs to come out. Forget the pitch count: Leiter was having difficulty finishing guys off, his last pitch had been pulled by Scott Brosius, and you have a guy who throws 100 mph on your roster.
Take nothing away from the Yankees. Posada worked the walk, Brosius and Sojo hit the ball hard, and they absolutely did everything they had to do to win the game. Certainly, there's no guarantee that the Mets would have won the game even had they gone to Benitez, which I'd imagine will be a popular theme in some circles (and was even the point of a snippy Valentine comment after the game).
But in a series in which he had done so much right, the last decision Bobby Valentine made is the one that is going to stick in many people's minds for a long time. And that's a damn shame.
The 2000 World Series goes into the books as a 4-1 win for the Yankees, but that in no way reflects the kind of series it was. Late in last night's game, I found myself thinking that if this series could get to Saturday, you'd have to start comparing it to the 1991 World Series, which is the gold standard for sustained tension in October baseball.
The five games were decided by one run three times and by two runs twice. In 48 innings, the teams were tied or separated by one run for at least part of 36 of them; throw out Game Two, which the Yankees led most of the way, and the other four games were uniformly close.
All of the games were in doubt in the ninth inning, with the losing team having the tying run at the plate in their last at-bat in all but Game One (the 12-inning game won by the home Yankees).
It was probably the best five-game World Series ever, which sounds like damning with faint praise, but is really a tribute to the show these teams put on this week.
Joe Sheehan can be reached at email@example.com.