USC 45, Arizona State 7.

But I guess you guys want to read about baseball.

Yankees vs. Red Sox

  • That was a completely unexpected result. The Red Sox being down 2-0 was surprising enough, but I don’t think anyone expected such an unimpressive showing in their first game back home. Bronson Arroyo had been much more effective down the stretch than Kevin Brown had been, and the Sox were 55-26 at Fenway Park this year. Considering the caliber of games these teams had played this year, how closely matched they’d been, 19-8 was very hard to see coming.

    Arroyo just got pounded, in part because he was up in the zone, in part because he couldn’t get the Yankees to chase his breaking stuff. Tim McCarver would later say that the Yankees didn’t swing and miss once at an Arroyo offering. Actually, they did so four times in 60 pitches, but his point, that he wasn’t fooling anyone, was salient.

  • For their part, the Yankees had used about $17 million worth of pitchers by the bottom of the third inning. Brown allowed four runs in the second and didn’t come out for the third. The tallies reflected both his own problems with left-handed batters and the inefficiency of the Yankee defense. Joe Torre brought in Javier Vazquez to start the third inning, and that Vazquez ended up throwing 4 1/3 innings for the win shouldn’t make us forget that he was largely ineffective and came very close to not making it out of the fourth inning. The identity of the Yankees’ Game Three starter in the World Series has to be considered unknown.
  • In a game eventually decided by 11 runs, it may seem silly to question particular decisions, but you have to wonder about the outs the Red Sox made on the bases early on. In the first inning, Manny Ramirez was thrown out trying to go from first to third on a two-out single by David Ortiz. The conventional wisdom about never making the third out at third base actually holds up under analysis; you don’t chase the extra 90 feet when it’s going to take a hit to score you.

    If I were looking to defend the decision, I might say that scoring from second base is harder in Fenway Park than it is in a lot of other places, because of the short left field, but that’s just rationalizing. Ramirez short-circuited a rally with his play, a decision that looked worse when Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon opened the second with a walk and a homer.

    The other baserunner kill might have been even worse. Down 6-4 in the third, the Sox loaded the bases off of Vazquez with one out. Orlando Cabrera ripped a double into the right-centerfield gap. Kevin Millar didn’t get a great jump off of second base, thining Sheffield had a play, and rounded third with Bill Mueller on his heels. Dale Sveum sent both players home, and they arrived right behind one another; the ball made it in time for Mueller, who was tagged out.

    The Sox had tied the game the second the ball hit the grass. Given that Mueller was riding Millar’s back already, and that the Sox had the top of the order coming up against an ineffective Vazquez, you can make a very strong argument that the benefit of sending Mueller home wasn’t worth the risk of his being thrown out. Sveum has few defenders among Sox fans, which is saying something when you consider the venom they unleashed on Wendell Kim last year. Last night didn’t help him.

    I’ve written before that in general, teams are too risk-averse on the bases, and would be well-served to take more extra bases. Last night, the Sox took chances and, in doing so, made a great argument against the idea. Maybe third-base coaches, like doctors, should “first do no harm.”

  • The Sox seem to feel the effects of losing Curt Schilling at every turn. With Arroyo not giving them innings last night, they were caught short in the bullpen, as they have to start Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield in two of the next three games. Wakefield relieved last night, which probably means that the Sox will go with Pedro Martinez if the series reaches a fifth game. (What a strange sentence to write.)

    Because the Sox have more high-leverage and short relievers than long men, the decision to remove Ramiro Mendoza so quickly was a curious one. Mendoza, who committed a strange brain-lock balk while pitching to his first batter, escaped the fourth inning without any more damage. After he hit Miguel Cairo with the first pitch of the fourth, however, Francona brought in Curtis Leskanic.

    Set aside Leskanic’s results–walk, homer, double, exit–and consider the process. Leskanic isn’t a long man, and at best could be counted on for an inning, maybe two. There are very few roads, once you bring in Leskanic, that don’t lead to using Wakefield. If you’re going to have that quick a hook on Mendoza, why bother bringing him in? You have him on the roster for just that occasion.

    That sequence–taking out the long man who hadn’t pitched poorly to bring in the short reliever–was as curious as any we’ve seen this postseason. The whole Phil Garner/Brad Lidge thing can be explained by buying into the “closer” concept. What Francona did last night was simply random.

  • Is this series over? Yes. No team in MLB has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series, and just two teams have done so in the history of major professional sports. The Sox may squeeze out a win today in what amounts to a rehab start for Orlando Hernandez, but expecting them to win four in a row without Curt Schilling–who even if he comes back won’t be much better than he was on Tuesday–is just dreaming.

Cardinals vs. Astros

  • Remember when Roger Clemens was dogged by questions about his ability to perform in the postseason? There was the famous “taking himself out” in Game Six of the 1986 World Series, and the meltdown with Terry Cooney in the 1990 ALCS. When he got pounded in Game Three of the 1999 ALCS, in his first postseason game at Fenway Park since leaving the Red Sox, his reputation seemed to be cemented. Two losses in the Division Series the next year added to the body of evidence.

    On October 14, 2000, Clemens stepped to the mound at Safeco Field in Seattle with the Yankees holding a 2-1 edge in the ALCS. He stepped off it nine innings later having changed many, many minds. Clemens tossed a one-hitter against the Mariners, striking out 15 men in one of the most dominant performances in postseason history. A week later, Clemens tossed eight shutout innings against the Mets in Game Two of the World Series.

    Since then, Clemens has been considered much differently. He’s definitely pitched better: 4.32 ERA in 83 1/3 postseason innings before the one-hitter, 2.56 ERA in in 91 1/3 innings since.

    Clemens helped the Astros avoid the Red Sox’ fate yesterday by allowing just two runs, both on solo homers, in seven innings to the Cardinals. Thanks to Clemens, the Astros were able to get through the game without using anyone named Chad, and are now back in the series.

  • As effective as Clemens was, the story of the NL playoffs is Carlos Beltran. In just eight games, he’s tied the record for homers in a postseason, held by two guys who each played to the seventh game of the World Series in 2002 (Troy Glaus and Barry Bonds). He’s hitting .469/.553/1.219 in the postseason, which looks so much better than “in his last eight games,” but shouldn’t be imbued with any more meaning.
  • It’s clear now that Phil Garner isn’t the Jack McKeon of 2004. He appears to have gotten half of the notion of how to use your best reliever. Garner, as he showed against the Braves, is willing to use Lidge much earlier in games than a closer would be used. However, he’s only willing to do so when he has the lead. That explains Lidge’s absence from the second game of this series, when Garner left him in the bullpen as Dan Miceli lost the game.

    Lidge pitches with a lead. He’s made four postseason appearances, and in only one of those was it not possible for him to get a save (Game Four against the Braves, when he pitched out of an eighth-inning jam).

    Whether Garner lets himself out of that particular box will have a big impact on the rest of this series. Every time a pitcher other than Lidge comes out of the Astros’ bullpen, Cards’ fans hearts beat a little bit faster.

  • Thinking about it, though, I should probably address last night’s bullpen usage by Tony La Russa. Down one run in the eighth inning, La Russa left his closer, Jason Isringhausen, in the bullpen, while lesser lights Dan Haren and Ray King gave up home runs that turned a 3-2 game into a 5-2 game.

    If everyone from Garner to Mike Scioscia to Ron Gardenhire can be pounded for leaving their best pitcher unused in an important eighth-inning situation, why not La Russa? There are a number of differences; one is that Isringhausen hasn’t shown any ability to pitch multiple innings. Isringhausen, who has been handled carefully by La Russa over the past two years, rarely is asked to go more than one inning, and threw more than 30 pitches just once all year. October is a bad time to ask your players to try something new.

    Another reason why you wouldn’t force it is that Isringhausen isn’t as good as Lidge or Joe Nathan or Mariano Rivera. He’s a good reliever, but not a shutdown one.

    Finally, the workload you have to place on your best reliever is impacted by the quality of the guys around him. The Cardinals have a good, deep bullpen, and the difference between King or Julian Tavarez and Isringhausen isn’t remotely close to the difference between, say, Lidge and the rest of the Astros’ pen.

    Saying you have to use your best reliever in all game-critical situations is no less silly than deciding you’ll only use him in save situations. Every game is different, every roster is different, and the most important thing is to not set absolute rules for how you’ll manage. Flexibility is critical in October.

  • Jason Marquis, coming off of a poor outing against the Dodgers in the Division Series, takes on Roy Oswalt today. I think the world of Oswalt, who was my pick for NL Cy Young back in the spring, but I don’t think this is such a great matchup for him. The Cardinals have been extraordinarily patient in this postseason, and I think they can lay off that great curve of his, creating hitters’ counts and running up his pitch count. This won’t be 19-8, but I think we’ll see a lot of runs scored today.
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