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October 20, 2010

Playoff Prospectus

ALCS Game Four

by Christina Kahrl

Television ratings for the postseason are up, or at least they were for Game Three of the ALCS. You can wonder what that really means, of course. Maybe folks like TBS, and maybe the games and the matchups are a lot more interesting. And maybe, just maybe, what America is tuning to is baseball's answer to the WWE. That's because if they're dialing up diamond drama, they've been getting one Yankee smackdown after another.

If not for Ron Washington's hamfisted mismanagement of the eighth inning of Game One, we'd already be done. As I noted Tuesday night before Game Four, coming into the action A.J. Burnett had a little bit more going for him than you might initially anticipate if all you'd heard was the cacophony of concern in the Big Apple's media echo chamber. His performance against the Rangers on the season should have helped alleviate some of the fright-mongering accompanying the decision to use him. But loathe or merely tolerate the decision to start Burnett, a short leash was in order.

To his credit, Burnett was throwing in the mid-90s from the start of the action, looking very much in command as he dispatched the first six batters in order. But then he had very Burnett-y problems in the third, issuing a leadoff walk to David Murphy. With veteran moxie—I jest—Burnett plunked Bengie Molina after his wild pitch took the double play out of order. Not to be out-moxied, Washington had first baseman Mitch Moreland drop his first successful sac bunt in the bigs to move both runners up to second and third, going small ball and giving away an out to a weak starter at a time when he had his own starter's weaknesses to consider. This “worked” insofar as Elvis Andrus' grounder plated a run, with Michael Young's infield single plating another.

Burnett ran into trouble again in the fifth, putting three men on base, but escaping damage because of a double play. However, with the heart of the order due up in the sixth, and with the Burnett-bashing Murphy batting fourth in the frame, I was among the twitterati who anticipated the wisdom of a hook after five with a one-run lead. Joe Girardi didn't see it that way, and Burnett set about pitching his way back into danger, giving up his fourth baserunner in six batters with Vladimir Guerrero's leadoff single.

It's at this point that a combination of happy chance, the virtues of Rangers aggression accruing an outsized benefit, and Girardi's hyperactive tactical responsiveness decided the outcome. First came the happy accident for the Rangers: Nelson Cruz's grounder to third swapped in a better baserunner on a fielder's choice. So, when Ian Kinsler's loud out to center field on the next pitch was reassuringly run down by Curtis Granderson, Cruz did what you rarely see enough of, but which the Rangers to their credit did here—he tagged and took second base, easily. The contrast with the Yankees' decision to hold up Alex Rodriguez at third on a single to right field could not have been stronger; Girardi's club came away with a lone run from a bases-loaded, one-out situation.

So, with Murphy at the plate and a one-run lead and two outs, what did Girardi do? He walked the leading run to pitch to Molina, who homered on the next pitch delivered in anger. That's the sequence for Burnett: a fourth baserunner allowed in his last six batters, a fielder's choice, a hard-hit loud out, electively adding a baserunner to the mix for grins and a full pen, and a homer. Whatever vindication Burnett had achieved through five was washed away by Girardi's failure to let the batters tell him when his pitcher was done until they'd placed an exclamation point at the end of the sentence. That Girardi added a run to the tally just tacks on the indignity of doing harm where doing none should usually be a manager's first order of business.

These weren't the last mistakes in his defensive innings. Using Boone Logan against Josh Hamilton seems like a formula for failure, a case of matching power against power and getting burned Tuesday night as on Monday; that Hamilton homered instead of “just” doubling as he had on Monday shouldn't make too fine a point. But why, with a four-run lead and one last inning to come against a combustible Rangers pen, was Sergio Mitre pitching in the ninth when he'd warmed up before the game with Burnett and pitched the night before? That he was crushed should have been as unsurprising to those with memories of how the 1960 Yankees lost the seventh game in no small part because they asked Ralph Terry to stand up and sit down a few times too many before they finally got him into the game he would lose.

The problem is that Girardi also bollixed up his offensive innings. Walking out of the park with an equally exasperated Joe Sheehan after the game, we mused over what would have been better, pinch-hitting for designated Burnett mollycoddler Francisco Cervelli in the fourth with two men on and two out (Joe's point), or pinch-running Jorge Posada for the injured Mark Teixeira in the fifth (mine) to keep a better bat than Marcus Thames' in the third slot of a game that was far from over. My thought was that if you swap in Posada at that point and in that slot, whether you hook Burnett, at least that also frees up the ninth slot in the order for a better defender in right than Thames; stick in Austin Kearns and finally give him something to do in this series, because he's at least more glovely than Thames' frozen-footed brand of defensive indifference that helped make Guerrero's sixth-inning leadoff single possible. Conversely, to follow up on Joe's point and pinch hit for Cervelli in the fourth is a tactic any table manager would love—but so too would a real-world skipper like Earl Weaver, because he would start people for defense, and then exploit big-inning possibilities in-game, even if it meant sacrificing some defense.

As we know, Girardi did neither, because Girardi was busily doing nothing, apparently nothing beyond just hoping that something big and exciting on offense would just happen on its own. By the time Posada batted in this ballgame, the Yankees were down by four instead of one, and Thames-batting-third had created a nice, big, obvious place for Washington to use situational right-hander Darren O'Day in the eighth inning, which he did, to mixed effect—O'Day got Thames, then walked A-Rod, the man who had beaten him with a first-pitch single in Game One's ugly eighth inning. That was the best part of another ill-conceived eighth on defense, because the question of what Clay Rapada is for provided no happy answer, and letting Darren Oliver face an aging Lance Berkman now a few years removed from making reliable contact against lefties was successful owed much to Girardi's decision to use Thames on defense early and avoid using Kearns at all.

You can also wonder why Neftali Feliz was seemingly still warming up in the bullpen while the Rangers dismantled Mitre. At least here you might figure that Washington hadn't anticipated another trio of runs to truly put the game away in the top of the ninth, because using Feliz with a four-run lead would have made sense. Maybe there was a slow reach for the phone. But here again, you can also wonder why Feliz wasn't warming up earlier in the eighth, for use to help protect that four-run lead with the bases loaded. So now Feliz has been used to little point in Game Three and then warmed up and not used at all in Game Four. The way this series is going, this won't matter, but it's not a very good sign for the World Series if Washington's making a hash of using his best pitcher in potentially game-deciding eighth innings in the LCS.

Looking at Tuesday night's action, questions about the Yankees' roster design go begging for answers. What was carrying Kearns for, if he won't hit for Granderson or Berkman? Where's an extra lefty bat on the bench? Why carry both Mitre and Dustin Moseley and then repeatedly use Mitre? The Rangers have their own perplexity involving Rapada and too many specialists in the pen, an error hopefully corrected if they advance. But in general, looking at both of these rosters, you might wonder where the extra bats are, or if either skipper would know what to do if he had one. In the “compromise” of going from 12 pitchers during the regular season to 11 in the postseason, at least in this series you're left with an ugly assemblage of bench players you avoid and relievers you ought to.

However, we need to credit Washington and his team for the things that they're definitely responsible for, because they won them this critical 3-1 advantage in the series. Cruz's advancement to second on that fly to center in the sixth inning was the most critical play of the game, but we should also credit Washington with having a quick hook for Tommy Hunter after 80 pitches only got him into the fourth inning. If you want to talk about a talented young Texas player, talk about Derek Holland, because his freezing the Yankees through the seventh was what won the game on the defensive side of things.

The couple of runs Washington scrabbled after in the third mattered, in that lining up a pair of contact hitters behind Moreland provides possibilities for plating one or both; it's conservative, but defensible, because as we noted in Girardi's performance, the world isn't populated with new-age Weavers. Against these things, Hamilton's two homers were nice, but were the products of securing a lead already gained against pitchers he can beat in a game they shouldn't be facing him in at all.

Before much of this happened, there was plenty of initial in-game chatter about the ghosts of postseasons past—not Gabby Hartnett or Carlton Fisk, but Jeffrey Maier and Steve Bartman. Robinson Cano's third-inning homer involved a fan reaching and interfering with Cruz's glove as Cruz reached from fair territory. Maybe it deserved review, but at this point, the shrieking for reviews of every and all sorts have long since passed into self-satisfied, metastasizing, futile snark. Yes, it would be nice, and no, the powers that be don't really move at the pace of Twitter outrage. Whatever sunny pronouncements made about the industry's disinterest in replay made by Bud Selig at the All-Star break in July might get some worthwhile additional concern in November and December, in a rare opportunity for “might” to make it right. Certainly, Berkman's subsequent first-pitch drive to the right-field foul pole, initially called fair in an act of Men in Black self-immolation, proved that there's some hope the system can work, since the call was overturned and called what it was, a foul ball.

After the night's massacre had been brought to a successful conclusion, the points about replay seem much less pointed—those events that caused concern might have changed the outcome, but apparently were rendered moot. You can argue causation and suggest they might have encouraged subsequent actions and reactions; causation's a slippery little minx, after all. But in the face of so much managerial misconduct, the significance of operator error from the arbiters makes for just one more poor joke in a full-scale romping farce.

So now the Yankees are down three games to one, and to echo that point I made earlier, bringing up Casey Stengel's mismanagement in the 1960 World Series, the last time the Bombers came back from being down 3-1 was in 1958, in the World Series against the Milwaukee Braves—Stengel's last crown. The irony for the Yankees is that the present is a situation that calls for tactical acumen that's to be found in the past, especially when both skippers in this series have created openings that go crying for exploitation. Whether Girardi or Washington learn from it will have to be seen, but with Teixeira gone for the rest of the year, the Bombers' only answer to so many questions might be this one: Wednesday with Tex gone, Nick Swisher probably playing first, and with their going up against C.J. Wilson, they may have finally found something for Kearns to do.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

40 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

BurrRutledge

To use Jay's phrase, there was a lot of "first guessing" Girardi's moves by the people around me in the stands last night. The "second guessing" was vocalized in the bronx cheers the remainder of the night. But make no doubt about it, the fans were very skeptical of most of the managerial shenanigans you mention above as they happened, not just after they failed.

Oct 20, 2010 04:43 AM
rating: 2
 
BurrRutledge

And another very nice writeup, thank you CK.

Oct 20, 2010 04:44 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

As ever, many thanks, I appreciate the compliments, BR.

Oct 20, 2010 11:42 AM
 
sandwitchmann

Check the replay of Berkman's ball. There is a noticeable change in direction of the ball as it went past the foul pole, indicating that it at least made contact with the pole. Think it should have been a homerun as originally called.

Oct 20, 2010 04:57 AM
rating: 0
 
jlefty

I was watching at a bar and one guy I was with (admittedly a former astros fan and therefor unabashed berkman-believer) swore it hit the pole, while another was certain it was foul. I am completely undecided. I could watch that replay 100 more times and still not be able to form an opinion. I was hoping that at least that would make for 'inconclusive' evidence and the call would hold.

Oct 20, 2010 07:00 AM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

I was sitting down the first baseline, right next to the ballboy. I thought the ball was going to be foul as it passed by me, and I decided to watch the players on the field rather than watch the ball. A moment later, I thought I heard a 'clang' over the roaring crowd.

Oct 20, 2010 11:12 AM
rating: 0
 
Rob_in_CT

I was unhappy with the IBB to Murphy at the time. Then AJ almost threw one away while walking him! Molina may stink, but so does AJ, and I don't think it could have been clearer that his early-game command had vanished. It was a minor miracle he had pitched that well so far. The move was to use Logan vs Murphy or, failing that, just bring in Robertson there.

Regarding the decision to hold ARod... well, he'd have been out by a mile. It was the right call. Cruz has a great arm. The offense just never got the big hit.

Oct 20, 2010 05:26 AM
rating: 1
 
JParks

On TBS - The announcing team of Darling, Smoltz, and Ernie is really starting to grow on me. A good group IMHO.

Oct 20, 2010 06:07 AM
rating: 0
 
McNulty

Eh, Ernie simply cannot introduce a batter without saying, "Here's (Marcus Thames)". He can't think of any other way to start a new AB.

Oct 20, 2010 06:29 AM
rating: 0
 
kjgilber

Me too. I admit Ernie isn't great, but for a play-by-play guy these days, you almost have to settle for "not infuriating", ala Buck and Brenneman. And though Darling and Smoltz can get caught up in all of the typical baseball purest dogma (my favorite last night was the notion that losing game one was "good" for the Rangers because now they are mentally tougher), they aren't too bad. I was pleasently suprised that Darling admitted that despite Nolan Ryan's emphasis in his pitchers going longer into games (which has been mentioned and praised approximately 3,000 times during the playoffs) the Rangers actually led the AL in bullpen innings this year.

Oh... and have to mention that CK is the best. Just fantastic articles throughout the entire playoffs.

Oct 20, 2010 06:45 AM
rating: 3
 
McNulty

Christina, I understand your point about Cano's homer, but what I don't get is the downside to taking a look. Take 5 minutes to at least review it. That's the outrage here. Not the judgment call that would ensue.

I've been an O's fan my entire life, and by God, I will not abide another Maier.

Oct 20, 2010 06:33 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I guess my point here is that hauling the torches and pitchforks around gets tiring after a while--the fact that the problem's there and has so many different forms as far as the frustration it provides seems fairly well known. Raging about every instance of failure... I guess I'm tired of striking that note, as well as frustrated with the problem. It won't get fixed now, not unless the Commish moves with the same alacrity as he did on Tampa Bay's catwalk-related ground rules.

Oct 20, 2010 11:46 AM
 
mikebuetow

Great writeup.

One small correction: The "Burnett-y problems" started in the third, not the second.

Oct 20, 2010 07:03 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Thanks, and that's the problem with writing until almost 4 AM, you just don't have that daisy-fresh feeling or bright eyes by the end of it.

Oct 20, 2010 11:48 AM
 
dbiester

Ron Washington won the game by pulling his starter on time, Girardi lost it by not.

Another excellent write up. The rest of this comment is a rant about how long the game was so you can all skip it if it's a waste of your time --

Great Googly moogly if the powers that be silent were really worried about the pace of the game, last night's torture test should have given them some ideas to work with other than keeping a lid on replay. I'm all in favor of pitcher-cathcer communication, but do the outfielders need to gather? Seriously? Yes, it's a playoff game and I want to see it played at the highest quality, but no, I did not pay to see people talk to each oterh. No wonder they kept showing Martha Stewart on the REALLY BIG TV. 4 hours for a nine-inning game that had no rain delay is NOT a good thing. There were more meetings during the game, more stepping off the rubber/stepping out of the batters box, and more ear splitting growl from the stadium pa system than actual baseball. Give the ump some real leverage to move the thing -- if he reaches the mound before the the pitcher & catcher break it up, he takes them both out of the game. Give each team a maximum number of mound conferences per game -- treat them like time out's in other sports, because that's what they are. If the pitcher steps off the rubber twice before throwing a pitch he gets a warning. After that, further delays should result in ejection. If a batter steps out twice before a pitch, same treatment.

Oct 20, 2010 07:22 AM
rating: 1
 
T. Kiefer

Re: length of games, conferences, batters stepping out et al.--welcome to Yankees-Red Sox style baseball!

Oct 20, 2010 08:41 AM
rating: 1
 
dbiester

well no, the Texas pitcher stepping off the rubber is not the Yankees fault, nor were all of the mound conferences by the Yankees.

Oct 20, 2010 13:34 PM
rating: 1
 
ttomae8833

Length of game was absurd last night. On the game side of things, at one point, Derek Holland stepped on the rubber, and then off, three consecutive times. Every Texas pitcher threw over to first at least two, maybe three times, when a Yankee baserunner reached home. Every time I looked out to the mound, I feel like Francisco Cervelli was pitching he was on it so much discussing strategy with Burnett. I believe Angel Hernandez started following Cervelli to the mound the instant the catcher broke from behind home to go out there, just to ensure he kept it short.

On the TV side of things, is it just me, or are the commercial breaks 50 to 75% longer? During the season, they are typically two minutes in length. During the entire post-season they are AT LEAST three, sometimes three and half minutes in duration. Thats an additional 10 to 12 minutes added on to the already painfully long game time.

So to hear MLB talk about how implementing instant replay would impact the pace of the game, and then allow the networks to do this, makes me laugh.

Oct 20, 2010 09:53 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Thanks for the compliment... and yes, as far as your complaints. Of course, being here makes you that much more aware of the endless tedium of GBA on top of a normal stretch; I'd suggest they do one or the other, but not both.

Oct 20, 2010 11:50 AM
 
Patrick

I don't understand why the trend of playing "God Bless America" (and treating it like a second national anthem) has lasted this long. Do fans really like it?

Oct 20, 2010 12:04 PM
rating: 4
 
McNulty

I find one patriotic display per night a bit much already. Not the right venue for me, and I say that as someone who is active duty.

Oct 20, 2010 12:20 PM
rating: 13
 
BarryR

Thank you for your service and I agree wholeheartedly. Personally, I believe that giving an Irving Berlin song the featured, mid-game, on air, slot diminishes the importance of the actual national anthem, which isn't on television and often isn't even heard by fans at the game.

Oct 20, 2010 12:48 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Let me thank you as well, those who serve command my full respect.

Oct 20, 2010 13:39 PM
 
BarryR

Some fans do, some don't. This is about Bud Selig's football envy -- you can't have too much patriotism.

Oct 20, 2010 12:44 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

The question is, who stops doing it first and takes the heat for being "unpatriotic"? To use an extreme example, it's rather like standing and applauding Stalin during a politburo speech -- who dares to sit down first? (And no, I'm not trying to say that our current political climate is in any way akin to the USSR under Stalin ...)

Oct 20, 2010 12:53 PM
 
dianagram

The IBB was the deathknell. I was sitting in the stands, and turned to my friend and said "Girardi is overmanaging again, isn't he?"

As an aside, I think A-Rod would have been a dead duck on that single to right. The throw was strong and true.

Oh, and to the fan in the Legends seats who went for the foul ball that Gardner could have caught? .... You obviously could afford to pay $8 for a ball .... let the player make the play!

Oct 20, 2010 07:23 AM
rating: 2
 
iddscoper

I was in the left field bleachers and *everyone* in our section saw what was coming when Girardi got up to his usual antics, including the Rangers fans sitting next to me. We were far more upset by Girardi's over managing than the actual HR.

Oct 20, 2010 09:41 AM
rating: 1
 
dianagram

Yes, and when we booed at the end of the top of the 6th, we were booing Girardi much more than Burnett.

Oct 20, 2010 09:59 AM
rating: 1
 
BurrRutledge

Agreed!!! How can I give more than +1 to these comments?

Oct 20, 2010 11:27 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

That's good to hear, because that was my inference from my alpine remove, that the fans were exasperated with Girardi more than they were angry with Burnett. It really should have been five-and-dive to stay alive from the outset.

Oct 20, 2010 11:52 AM
 
dbiester

Also a bit jarring being at Yankee Stadium without its Voice.

Oct 20, 2010 07:24 AM
rating: 0
 
jhardman

Thanks for noting the contribution of Derek Holland in this game, Christina. This game screamed of the Rangers minor league philosophy of "tandem starter". With CJ Wilson going in game five, this was the game that use of the long reliever could almost be planned, especially with Tommy Hunter being a poor match for the situation. Plus, should the Rangers need a long reliever in game five, they still have Michael Kirkman to eat innings.

Also, that guy taunting Cruz from the right field stands after the Cano homer might have actually been Jeffrey Maier. :-)

Oct 20, 2010 07:27 AM
rating: 0
 
Bill N

He was not, ESPN had an article relating to his involvement in the original affair that said he was watching the game in LaGuardia.

Oct 20, 2010 10:12 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

That's the part I don't get, the MSM framing. The great tout-worthy Ranger who won this game for them wasn't Hamilton, as awesome as what he's done is--it was Holland.

Oct 20, 2010 11:53 AM
 
mcesare

Nice write up. Even after the questionable IBB to murphy. Why not bring in joba to face molina? Molina arguably gave him more trouble in the lineup than anyone else at that point. Was girardi going to try bring Burnett back for the 7th and the top of the order? I don't think so. If before the game someone told you burnett would go 5.2, give up only 2 runs and leave with a 1 run lead most yankee fans would been estatic. In the most critical game of the series so far instead of going with his strength, the bullpen, girardi went with his weakness, the starting pitching. Actually he went with the weakest part of his weakness, burnett.

Oct 20, 2010 07:51 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Thank you, mcesare. I wondered about the failure to get tactical as well, and it was pretty clear that the batters had long since sent memo after memo to Joe Girardi about whether or not Burnett was done.

Oct 20, 2010 11:55 AM
 
Dr. Dave

@ dianagram (since "Post Reply" isn't working for me):

"As an aside, I think A-Rod would have been a dead duck on that single to right. The throw was strong and true."

Yes, that throw would have had A-Rod by a mile. But that's not the question -- the question is what were the odds that the the throw and tag would be good enough? With 2 outs, you have to believe that the runner on third has less than (about) 1 chance in 3 of scoring on the play, if you're going to hold him at third.

Strong, accurate throws from the outfield are pretty rare these days. I'm not sure that sending him wasn't the correct call, even though (as it turns out) he'd have been dead meat.

Oct 20, 2010 10:05 AM
rating: 1
 
jlefty

Arod was at most, what, 3 strides off of third base by the time Cruz got to the ball in fairly shallow right? A strong, accurate throw wasn't even necessary; a 5-hopper beats him to the bag.

Oct 20, 2010 10:20 AM
rating: 0
 
Ira

Nelson Cruz has a cannon for an arm, and his throws have been pretty accurate this year. As a fan of the Rangers, I thought the Yankees did the smart thing (damn them) by NOT sending A-Rod, as there's no way he scores on that play, unless Molina drops the ball.

Oct 20, 2010 10:34 AM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

There was no way that ARod had a chance at scoring if the throw was anywhere close to the plate. It wasn't a difficult throw, since the ball was well struck and Cruz was charging straight at the plate as he approached the ball (as far as I could tell).

This was a classic example of when a third base coach should be jumping up and down with his arms-held-high like he's auditioning for a deoderant commercial.

Oct 20, 2010 11:34 AM
rating: 0
 
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