The best-played game of the series so far went to the Mets, 4-2. Unlike the
first two games, this one lacked the controversial baserunning and
managerial decisions that gave us so much to talk about over the weekend.
The primary thing to take from Game Three is an object lesson in what
"bad defense" really is. For so long, the main focus of defensive
analysis has been on errors and fielding percentage. The equation was
simple: errors=bad defense, a thought process that led to some truly bad
defenders being handed defensive awards and accolades.
In the eighth inning of last night’s game, the Mets scored two runs on
three hits. Both runs went into the book as earned, and looking at the box
score or play-by-play wouldn’t give you much of a clue that it was the
Yankees defense, and not Orlando Hernandez‘s pitching or the Mets’
hitting, that was the driving force behind the rally.
With one out, Todd Zeile pulled a ground ball just to the left of
Derek Jeter, who dove without making the stop. The grounder was
playable and the play on it by Jeter recalled the "step-and-dive"
style popularized by Carney Lansford near the end of his career.
The next batter, Benny Agbayani, drove a liner into the
left-centerfield gap. Now, Todd Zeile isn’t Karrosian on the bases, but he
doesn’t score from first on too many doubles. Still, neither Bernie
Williams nor David Justice could cut the ball off nor make the
play quick enough to hold Zeile at third, and he scored without a play to
give the Mets the lead
Then, with Agbayani on second and one out, Jay Payton chopped a
grounder past the mound; Jose Vizcaino took a lousy angle to the
ball, allowing Payton to reach on an infield single and giving the Mets
first and third with one out. That set up the second run. Vizcaino circled
the ball rather than taking a direct line to it, which was all the speedy
Payton needed to turn the out into a hit.
The Yankees are considered a good defensive team, and there are some things
they do well. But as the eighth inning of last night’s game, the lack of
range that doesn’t show up in traditional statistics cost them a shot at
putting the Series out of reach.
About the only big mangerial question mark was Bobby Valentine’s
decision to pinch-hit for Mike Bordick with a one-run lead in the
eighth inning. He sent Bubba Trammell up, Trammell hit a sacrifice
fly to center and Kurt Abbott played the bottom of the ninth.
Hitting for your defense with a lead is an odd move. What makes it seem
odder is that Valentine had let Bordick bat in the sixth inning of a tie
game with the bases loaded. That’s not a bad decision; it’s just a
difficult one to reconcile with the eighth-inning move.
Joe Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.