Game Four was another very good game with some interesting critical
tactical decisions. We got to see Joe Torre get as creative as he’s going
to get and we got to see Bobby Valentine get boxed into a couple of corners
and dodge some bullets.
Torre’s decision to yank Denny Neagle with two outs in the fifth
inning and Mike Piazza up, after Piazza had blasted a foul home run
and a fair home run in his first two plate appearances, is being touted as
the critical decision in the game. Although David Cone isn’t the guy
I would have wanted to use, given the pretty good odds that the pitcher’s
spot was going to have to bat in the top of the sixth, picking one of the
three cheerleaders–Cone, Dwight Gooden and Jason
Grimsley–to pitch that third of an inning makes sense (although the
home scorer subsequently jobbed Cone out of the win). It allowed Torre to
avoid having to bat or pull one of his three good relievers.
The move also gave Jose Canseco a chance to finally bat, as he hit
for Cone in the top of the sixth. Because Bobby Valentine did not have a
right-handed reliever up and ready during the inning, there was the
possibility that Bobby V. could take one on the chin, but Glendon
Rusch did an outstanding job of setting up Canseco for a called strike
three by first whistling a couple of pitches inside.
That wasn’t the only bad spot Valentine got caught in, however. He
basically blew through the core of his bench in the bottom of the seventh.
The most bizarre element of Valentine’s tactical gambits is his
determination to secure platoon advantages when the only decent
pinch-hitters he has are Bubba Trammell and Darryl Hamilton.
Blowing both on a single plate appearance is something Valentine should be
trying to avoid.
The seventh was the inning for Valentine to pull some levers, what with the
heart of the order likely to bat in the eighth and trying to use home-field
advantage to avoid a bottom of the ninth. The game ended with Mariano
Rivera facing the bottom of the order with a one-run lead because of
what I think was the critical decision of the game: Torre’s decision to
have Rivera to face the heart of the order in the eighth. Among Edgardo
Alfonzo, Mike Piazza, Todd Zeile and Robin
Ventura, only Zeile managed a single, and the Mets’ best chance of
tying or winning the game went out the window. Torre chucked regular-season
tactical orthodoxy out the window and went for the win.
Similarly, yanking Neagle in the fifth is something you wouldn’t see in the
regular season. We’ve said it in the past, and this postseason only seems
to confirm it: the Yankees and Joe Torre seem to have a much better grasp
on what kind of tactical decisions need to come into play in the postseason
than any other team and manager.
Some of the less interesting things that we got to see was a pretty
flagrant case of the Enrico Palazzo effect, courtesy of home-plate umpire
Tim Welke. Ringing up Derek Jeter on a ludicrously outside pitch in
the fifth cost us a chance to see if Jeter was going to hit for the cycle
in reverse order. Welke did the same to Bernie Williams in the top
of the seventh. At least he was equal opportunity when it came to his
called-strike showmanship, because he nabbed Jay Payton in the
bottom of the seventh on a pitch that was low and outside and,
appropriately enough, ended the game on a called strike three to Matt
Tim McCarver and Joe Buck occupied their time by saying some incredibly
silly things. McCarver went on in the bottom of the second about how
Benny Agbayani should have lit out for second base on contact on Jay
Payton’s pop single to right with one out. I say, why risk a double-play on
something that wasn’t a sure hit, with the action effectively behind
Agbayani’s right shoulder as he headed for second base and with Mike
Bordick and Bobby Jones due up next? Why run yourself out of the
inning when you could instead work Neagle for a couple of extra pitches,
and at worst have the near certainty that the pitcher’s spot would be out
of the way for the third inning?
The other silly thing that McCarver and Buck felt inclined to blather about
was the historic character of the series as evidenced by all the writers
covering it. Maybe people like Mike Lupica can write and have just been
playing possum for the last couple of decades, but as this World Series and
the hysteria over the bat-shard incident reflects, the art of the game
story is as dead as Ring Lardner.
It’s been a great series so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing whether
the Mets will get us to Game Six, or whether we’ll get treated to the
spectacle of the Mets PA system blaring something at a zillion decibels
after the game to try to drown out several thousand Yankees fans singing
Sinatra’s "New York, New York" Either way, it’s going to be fun.
Chris Kahrl can be reached at email@example.com.