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It seems a shame that the first thing that comes to mind after a
game–after a series–that has been so exciting is a criticism. But
there’s no way I can write about this game and not have one single,
overriding thought.

Where was Armando Benitez?

Tie game in the ninth inning, two outs, two poor right-handed hitters
(Scott Brosius and Luis Sojo) due up, go-ahead run on first
base. Al Leiter not only was up close to 140 pitches, but was
clearly struggling, going deep in the count before walking Jorge
Posada
. He was having a lot of trouble getting guys to swing and miss:
the first three batters in the ninth inning fouled off nine pitches total.

Wednesday, Bobby Valentine used Benitez down a run in the ninth to try and
keep the game close, so he clearly isn’t locked into the "Benitez as
closer only" mentality. While the right-hander had pitched on
consecutive nights, it had been for just one inning each, so asking him to
get one batter and then having him pitch a potential top of the tenth
wouldn’t have been unreasonable.

There were even a couple of double-switch options available. Either Kurt
Abbott
or Jay Payton could have been removed, with Mike
Bordick
or Darryl Hamilton placed in the #9 slot leading off the
bottom of the ninth.

Benitez wasn’t even warming up.

Brosius pulled a 1-1 pitch into left field for a single, making it first
and second for Sojo.

Benitez still wasn’t up, although John Franco was. Valentine elected
to stay with Leiter at this point, and Sojo grounded the first pitch up the
middle for a single. Jay Payton made about as good a throw as he
can, but it hit a sliding Posada and bounced into the Mets’ dugout,
allowing Brosius to score the final run of the series.

There’s loyalty to a veteran starter, and there’s recognizing that your
pitcher is tired and needs to come out. Forget the pitch count: Leiter was
having difficulty finishing guys off, his last pitch had been pulled by
Scott Brosius, and you have a guy who throws 100 mph on your roster.

Take nothing away from the Yankees. Posada worked the walk, Brosius and
Sojo hit the ball hard, and they absolutely did everything they had to do
to win the game. Certainly, there’s no guarantee that the Mets would have
won the game even had they gone to Benitez, which I’d imagine will be a
popular theme in some circles (and was even the point of a snippy Valentine
comment after the game).

But in a series in which he had done so much right, the last decision Bobby
Valentine made is the one that is going to stick in many people’s minds for
a long time. And that’s a damn shame.

The 2000 World Series goes into the books as a 4-1 win for the Yankees, but
that in no way reflects the kind of series it was. Late in last night’s
game, I found myself thinking that if this series could get to Saturday,
you’d have to start comparing it to the 1991 World Series, which is the
gold standard for sustained tension in October baseball.

The five games were decided by one run three times and by two runs twice.
In 48 innings, the teams were tied or separated by one run for at least
part of 36 of them; throw out Game Two, which the Yankees led most of the
way, and the other four games were uniformly close.

All of the games were in doubt in the ninth inning, with the losing team
having the tying run at the plate in their last at-bat in all but Game One
(the 12-inning game won by the home Yankees).

It was probably the best five-game World Series ever, which sounds like
damning with faint praise, but is really a tribute to the show these teams
put on this week.

  • Bobby Valentine may have made an error in the ninth inning, but he had
    made a good move before the game. He started Bubba Trammell over
    Timoniel Perez in right field and moved Benny Agbayani to the
    leadoff spot, where his on-base skills were desperately needed.

  • In addition to throwing 8 2/3 innings of great baseball, Al Leiter
    might have made the play of the game prior to Sojo’s game-winning single.
    Leiter’s drag bunt in the second inning tied the game and allowed Benny
    Agbayani
    to give the Mets the lead with a groundball one batter later.

    Leiter’s bunt was placed beautifully, and though it took an error by Andy
    Pettitte (one he could share with Tino Martinez) for him to be safe,
    the decision and the execution were simply fantastic.

  • Kurt Abbott forgot to read the scouting report. On first base
    behind Jay Payton on second with one out in the fourth inning,
    Abbott got himself picked off by Andy Pettitte.

    Getting picked off as a trail runner is one of those things that should
    never happen. Since Abbott watched Pettitte pick two Mets off first base in
    Game One, he should have been aware of Pettitte’s great move and been careful.

    The pickoff turned first and second with one out into runner on second and
    two out, and took the sacrifice option away from Leiter. He grounded out,
    and the game remained tied.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

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