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October 18, 2009
Absent Without Leave
I get accused of bias quite often, so I'm going to cop to one here. When I wrote :
For the sake of everyone involved-by which I mean 50,000-odd baseball fans currently chugging Theraflu prophylatically-let's hope MLB makes a call on this game early. … If it's going to rain all night-and it's going to rain all night-call it at 4 p.m. and show that you give a darn about the fans.
…it wasn't entirely a neutral position. I've been pretty sick since Thursday, and because of that and the brutal forecast, I gave up a ticket to last night's game. It just seemed like a bad decision, during the busiest month of my year, to spend four hours with a whole bunch of strangers in the rain and cold when I'm already fighting off something that's affecting my ability to work. It was the mature, professional thing to do.
Maybe I should have resigned, because not only did it not rain for most of the night, but as you all know, Game Two of the ALCS was a classic contest that will be remembered for years. In what has become one of those Octobers, one of those months that leaves you breathless until Thanksgiving, last night's game may be the signature game. We got five hours and ten minutes of baseball that, fittingly, wasn't always clean, wasn't always well-umpired, wasn't always played in the best of conditions, but nonetheless left us even more in love with the game than ever before.
It ended, appropriately, with a series of mistakes. With first and second and one out in the 13th, Maicer Izturis ranged to his left to play a ground ball by Melky Cabrera. Instead of taking the out at first base, a sure play, he tried to wheel and get the runner at second. His poor throw was what allowed Jerry Hairston Jr. to round third and score the winning run, but it was the decision that was the real problem. There was no chance at all at a double play, given how far Izturis had to range and that Cabrera started from the left-hand batter's box. The value of the runner going to second was zero; the only runner who mattered was Hairston, who was going to third in all cases. Even nominally "keeping the force alive" wasn't in play, as Cabrera would have likely taken an unoccupied second base via defensive indifference on the next pitch. Izturis chased a play with no chance of success and a high risk of catastrophic failure-the spin throw to second is a tough play under the best of circumstances-for absolutely no benefit.
The decision was the first mistake, the throw the second. Perhaps lost in the chaos is that if Chone Figgins takes his time and makes a clean play on the errant throw, he would have had a great shot at gunning down Hairston at home plate; I would go so far as to say Hairston was a dead duck. Perhaps understandably, Figgins wasn't able to get a handle on the ball, and his bobble was the final mistake that ended the game. Physical errors happen, but the mental error, losing sight of the importance, or lack thereof, of a baserunner, was the real cause of the game-winning run.
Maybe it was inevitable that the Yankees would win once they got into the Angels' bullpen. Like the Phillies' pen in the NL playoffs prior to Friday, the Angel bullpen had avoided losing games thus far, but loomed as the Achilles' heel of the roster. Last night, that pen allowed seven hits and one unintentional walk in 5
The idea that Alex Rodriguez had some character flaw that prevented him from succeeding in the postseason was always ridiculous. I don't know yet how the last few weeks will eventually be spun, but what we're seeing isn't some change in a person, some growth in his character, something that makes it easy to differentiate his performance in October 2009 from his performances in October 2005 and 2006. We're just seeing a great player across five games of his career, doing the things great players do, the things Rodriguez has been doing since he first reached down, picked a baseball off the ground and felt the power that baseballs have over young boys. Rodriguez had nine bad games, 38 bad plate appearances, a week and a half in which he didn't hit, split by a year, and millions of people reached a dumbass conclusions over those nine games.
He'll never get an apology. That's not how it works, of course. Whether you base your evaluations on careful analysis of performance or on pop psychology, you never have to apologize. But if anyone deserves an apology for how he was treated by fans, the media, and even his manager, it's Alex Rodriguez. One of the dozen best players in baseball history was demoted to the eighth spot because his own manager couldn't see past a week's worth of failure. That will always be the low point of Joe Torre's tenure in New York.
Rodriguez's game-tying homer in the rain last night was helped along by Brian Fuentes, who followed up two pitches right on the edges of the zone with an 0-2 fastball that got way too much of the plate. If you're going to make mistakes in this ballpark, you can't make them up and away to right-handed batters, it's just too easy for them to poke the ball out. Given how the rest of the inning laid out-Brett Gardner, Freddy Guzman (probably Hairston), Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera-Fuentes just had to keep Rodriguez in the park. He failed because he made a bad pitch to a great player.
It's 2-0, but does anyone think this series is over? The Angels have held the Yankees to eight runs in 21 innings, and at that have given up maybe half of those with their defense. They'll have the better starting pitcher in Game Three and Game Five, and might even get a second hit out of Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu at some point (the two are 1-for-16 with four walks and a hit-by-pitch).
I am feeling a little bit better this morning. I guess that's something.