Results tagged ‘ Johnny Damon ’

2010 Forecasts: AL Central

Having picked Tampa Bay to upend the Yankees in the East, we move to the AL Central.

I’m less
confident about assessing CHICAGO than I am about any other team in the majors.
Here is a team with the terrific burgeoning talent of Gordon Beckham and Carlos
Quentin – yet its success will depend much more on virtual castoffs like Andruw
Jones, Juan Pierre, Alex Rios, and Mark Teahen. Here, if Jake Peavy rebounds,
is a four-man rotation as good as any in the game, but a bullpen where only one
guy (Matt Thornton)
does not
start
the season as a question mark (how could you possibly get as many ex-studs in
one place as Kenny Williams has in Scott Linebrink, J.J. Putz, and
Tony Pena?). The White Sox could
easily win the division, but I would hesitate to bet on it.

Everybody
scratches their head at the quick demise in CLEVELAND – except I appear to be
the only one who’s doing the scratching in surprise that everybody else is so
confused. What do you suppose happens
to a team that is just one game from going to the World
Series, and then fire-sales Cy Young Award winners in consecutive season – and also
gets rid of their
catcher (who just happens to be the second-best offensive weapon at his
position in the game)? While the Indians may see some pay-off from these deals
this year (LaPorta at first, Masterson pitching, and, at least for the moment,
Marson catching), there is no reason to assume that the Indians have simply
corrected a temporary two-year blip. It is plausible that returns to form from
Fausto Carmona, Grady Sizemore, and Travis Hafner could propel this team to the
flag, but it is just as plausible that the bullpen will again be its undoing.
Remember, this is a team that has not had a reliable closer since Joe Borowski
in ’07 (and this requires you to believe that Joe Borowski was a reliable
closer). There is the one wildest of wild cards: the chance that the Kerry Wood
injury is the ultimate blessing in disguise – that it shelves Wood and his
not-so-awe-inspiring 20 saves of a year ago and forces Chris Perez to live up
to his talent. Of course as Winston Churchill answered that clich 65 years ago,
“if it is a blessing in disguise, it’s very effectively
disguised.”

What if
Dontrelle Willis really is back? What if Miguel Cabrera’s career flashed before
his eyes over the winter? What if Scott Sizemore and Austin Jackson are actual
major leaguers? If Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski come up trumps with those
four names, DETROIT should walk away with the division, because the rotation
seems outstanding, and the Tigers may have created its best bullpen (mostly by
default, and even though they’re about to find out what the Yankees did late
last year: Phil Coke can’t really get good lefties out). There are reasons to
suspect Johnny Damon will not be the kind of all-purpose threat he’d developed
into in the Bronx; 17 of his 24 homers in 2009 were hit at Yankee Stadium. It’s
possible Ryan Raburn or Wilkin Ramirez might have to be rushed into the
line-up. Then again it’s possible Alex Avila may force himself into it, behind
the plate.

When the
A’s still played there KANSAS CITY was the club on whom the Yankees palmed off
the guys they didn’t want any more. Funny that this year’s Royals start Chris
Getz and Scott Podsednik, and have Josh Fields on the
bench and Brian Anderson in the convert-to-pitching Skinner Box. The excuse that the Royals are the quintessential victim of the small market/big
market divide is nonsense: according to the Forbes figure filberts, the Royals
profit about ten million a year, gain at least thirty million more from revenue
sharing, and the franchise is worth three times what David Glass paid for it a
decade ago. So the free agents brought in to surround the American League’s
best starter, second or third best closer, fifth or sixth best first baseman,
and third or fourth best DH – are Rick Ankiel and Jason Kendall? It’s pitiable:
with a little investment from management the Royals could contend in this
division.

Manager
Ron Gardenhire of MINNESOTA knows 447 times more about baseball than I do. But
there is one fact that has been irrefutable since Tony LaRussa began to use
relievers on schedule, rather than when needed: Bullpen By Committee Does Not
Work. Gardy steered out of the skid just in time last night, designating Jon Rauch as his closer after weeks of saying he’d try the committee route. 
Do not be fooled by
reminiscences of the “Nasty Boys” – the 1990 Reds had 50 saves, 31 by Randy
Myers, 11 by Rob Dibble, 4 by Rick Mahler, 2 by Tim Layana, and 2 by Norm
Charlton. The Reds would trade Myers within a year and Charlton within two.
Minnesota’s committee could have been Jeff Reardon, Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado, and
Al Worthington, and it still wouldn’t have worked. There are reasons to fear this team might not be competitive -
the tremendous home field advantage that was the Metrodome is gone (although
depending on how the wind current works – see “Yankee Stadium, 2009″ – it could
turn Joe Mauer into a 50-homer man). The new double-play combo is also symbolic
of some serious problems. It is made up of two very nice men named J.J. Hardy
(who was run out of Milwaukee even before the ascent of Alcides Escobar), and
Orlando Hudson (who has been run out of Arizona and Los Angeles and who somehow
lost his job to Ronnie Belliard in the middle of the pennant race last
year).
It is also
the direct result of what must be viewed as two disastrous trades (Jason
Bartlett and Matt Garza to Tampa for Delmon Young, and Johan Santana to the
Mets for Carlos Gomez – now swapped for Hardy – and nothing of even impending
value). Nothing would please me more than to see the Team They Tried To
Contract rear up and fulfill its potential. I don’t think they have the front
office personnel to pull it off.

PREDICTIONS:
I like Detroit to get more lemons out of the slot machine of chance that is
this division, than I do Chicago. Thus, the Tigers, close, over the White Sox.
Minnesota and Cleveland will spar for third place and whether the Twins get it
will largely depend on how Target Field “plays” as a new home. Kansas City is
last again, which offends me, because there is as little excuse for this
perpetual state of suspended animation as there would be in Cincinnati or
Milwaukee or maybe even Denver and Tampa.

 

2010 Forecasts: AL East

Having careened through the NL (Rockies beating the Braves in the NLCS, after the Rockies had beaten the Reds, and the Braves the wild-card Giants), we begin three nights’ worth of AL divisional previews, in the East:

Wow does
BALTIMORE not have pitching. Surely they could
have pitching by 2011, but right now
there is nothing on which to rely beyond Kevin Millwood, and no team relying on
Kevin Millwood has made the post-season since 2002 (and what is the excitement over
a pitcher who has produced exactly three winning seasons since that long-ago
last playoff appearance?). There are also worries offensively. Adam Jones was a
superstar at the All-Star break, but flatlined soon after, and any team relying
on Garrett Atkins clearly has not seen a National League game since 2006.

Here is
the unasked question in BOSTON: would the Red Sox rather have David Ortiz at DH
this year… or Luke Scott? Where, production-wise, will Not-So-Big-Papi fall in
2010? I think he’s behind Guerrero, Kubel, Lind, Matsui, Scott, and maybe
others. If the demise of the beast continues, the Red Sox are suddenly
presenting a very pedestrian line-up, one that might be the second weakest in
the division. Of course, Theo Epstein might have made this determination
already, which would explain the willingness to fill the big openings with the
great gloves of Beltre, Cameron, and Scutaro, rather than slightly bigger bats
that couldn’t have changed the overall new dynamic – the Red Sox are a pitching
and defense outfit. Mind you, as those outfits go, they’re among the best in
recent years. The rotation is deep enough to survive Matsuzaka on the DL, the
bullpen robust enough to survive if that soggy finish by Papelbon in the ALDS
was more than a one-game thing, and the cadre of young cameo pitchers has been
refreshed with the rapid maturation of Casey Kelly. But no matter how the Old
Towne Team fairs in 2010, keep the Ortiz thought in the back of your mind. What
if the second half of ’09 was the aberration, not the first half? Will the Sox
have to bench him? And if so, could the twists and turns of fate find them
suddenly grateful that they had been unable to trade Mike Lowell?

Oh is this
a conflict of interest. This will be the 39th season my family has
had season tickets in NEW YORK, and I’m not convinced the Yankees will be
hitting me up for playoff ducats this fall. Things I do not expect to see
repeated from 2009: 1) A.J. Burnett’s reliability and perhaps even his stamina;
2) Joe Girardi’s ability to survive without a reliable fifth starter (if Phil
Hughes really can pull it off in this, his fourth attempt, he might become the
fourth starter if my instincts on Burnett are correct); 3) Nick Swisher’s
offensive performance (his average and his RBI totals have never
increased two years in a row); 4)
Derek Jeter’s renaissance (as the Baseball Prospectus
folks note, 36-year old shortstops
deteriorate quickly); 5) Jorge Posada’s prospects of getting 433 plate
appearances (which begs the question: if you were hoping to DH Posada on
occasion, why did you sign as your primary DH, a guy who cannot play the
outfield, and can barely play first base?). As I have written here before, I am
not buying the premise that what in essence was a trade of Melky Cabrera,
Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, for a full-time Brett Gardner plus Curtis
Granderson and Nick Johnson was necessarily an upgrade – even if Javier Vazquez (9
career post-season innings; 11 career post-season earned runs) was thrown in,
in the bargain. Anybody wanna buy some of my tickets?

In TAMPA
BAY, I’m betting 2009 was the fluke and not 2008. What does one not like about
this team? Is rightfield confused? Stick Ben Zobrist there and let Sean
Rodriguez have a shot at second. That doesn’t work? Wait for mid-season and the
promotion of Desmond Jennings. You don’t like Crawford and Upton? Bartlett and
Longoria? Pena? The law firm of Shoppach and Navarro? The Rays seem to summon a
fully-grown starter from the minors each year – Price in ’08, Niemann in ’09,
Wade Davis in ’10. I do not think Rafael Soriano is the world’s greatest
reliever, but his acquisition is an acknowledgment that championship teams do
not muddle through with closers who pitched in All-Star Games prior to 2001.
What is the most remarkable fact about this extremely talented and balanced
team can be summed up by the caveat I have to offer in praising them. Shortly
after they were ransomed from Vince Naimoli, I discovered to my shock that a
college pal of mine had, for all these years, been married to the man who had just
done the ransoming.
A
few innings later, Stu and Lisa Sternberg and I sat in their seats at Yankee
Stadium and he was earnestly asking how I thought he could convince the players
to accept a salary cap so the Rays could contend. I told him I wasn’t sure, but
he wouldn’t have to worry about it any earlier than our next lifetimes. So what
you are seeing in Tampa is, in fact, Plan “B” – and it may be the greatest Plan
“B” in baseball history. 

Did you
know TORONTO is a small market team? Here is something the writers apparently
promised not to tell: the Jays got almost nothing for Roy Halladay. Sorry. When
the reward was Travis D’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, and Michael Taylor, it was only a
pair of pants being pressed. When the Jays inexplicably swapped Taylor to
Oakland for the lump-like Brett Wallace, it became the full trip to the
cleaners. One of the oldest rules of talent evaluation is: if a prospect has
been traded twice in four months, he may not be quite the prospect you think he
is (one of the older rules is: if one of your starting middle infielders has a
weight clause in his contract, you only have one
starting middle infielder). On top of
which, when you consider the Jays paid $6 million in salary offset for the
privilege of giving Doc away, this trade has to be called what it was: a salary
dump in which ownership was admitting it had no interest in competing. Jays
fans are left to cheer three very exciting hitters in Aaron Hill, Adam Lind,
and Travis Snider; to try to get the correct spellings and pronunciations of the
guys in their rotation (“excuse me, are you Brett Cecil, or Cecil Brett?”);
and, since there really won’t be much else to do under the roof this summer,
buy and read injured reliever Dirk Hayhurst’s marvelous book The Bull…
oh, sorry, did I already mention it?

PREDICTIONS:
Tampa Bay steps back into the forefront in an exciting race with the
well-managed but decreasingly potent Red Sox, and bests Boston by a game or
two. The Yankees contend – possibly even dominate – into June or July before the
rotation, and/or Posada, and/or Jeter, blow up, and they fade to a distant
third. The Jays and Orioles compete only to be less like The Washington
Generals.

Unlikely Spring Training Questions From A Waiting Room

These have been bouncing around my head all off-season; some are tempests in teapots, some a little more substantial – I just havent heard many of them asked…DID the Yankees actually upgrade? Acknowledging that a healthy Nick Johnson, freed of all defensive worries, could win a batting championship (or at least the On Base crown), is a trade-off of Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera for Curtis Granderson, Johnson, Randy Winn and Brett Gardner really a win? Has Cabreras clutch late-inning hitting been forgotten, or merely written off as a statistical fluke?…ON the other end of the Granderson trade, do the Tigers know Phil Coke wasnt that great against lefties during the first half of last year, and basically stopped getting them out at all after September 1 and in the post-season?…HAS Roy Halladay ever been tested in a pennant race? Does it matter? I seem to recall several clubs drooling over the various Javier Vazquezes who pitched in obscurity in Montreal and Arizona and even Chicago…DID the Angels look at Joel Pinieros last months worth of work in 2009? Did they break out his fly-ball to ground-ball ratio? Did they note that a sinkerball pitcher who cant get the ball down will probably end up in mopup relief?…WHY hasnt anybody else written that if Milton Bradley doesnt sink the Mariners, theyll be the first?…lastly IF you are the Nats and you have as exciting a prospect as Ian Desmond and you havent unloaded Cristian Guzman, why do you go ahead and sign Adam Kennedy?

Game Six: Godzilla Versus Mega-Damon

Fascinating subtext to Hideki Matsuis five-RBI night and Johnny Damons MVP-caliber performance over the first five games. They are in essence competing for the sane job on the 2010 Yankees. It is unlikely New York wants to trust either in leftfield next year, certainly not at these prices. But either would make – as Matsui already has proven – a top-of-the-line DH.

The Nine Smartest Plays In World Series History

Inspired by Johnny Damon’s double-stolen base in Game Four on Sunday, I thought it was time to salute a part of the game rarely acknowledged and even more rarely listed among its greatest appeals to the fan. What they once quaintly called “good brain-work”: the nine Smartest Plays in World Series History.

We’ll be doing this on television tonight, illustrated in large part with the kind help of the folks behind one of the most remarkable contributions ever made to baseball history, The Major League Baseball World Series Film Collection, which comes out officially next week, and which, as the name suggests, is a DVD set of all of the official “films” of the Series since  ex-player Lew Fonseca started them as a service to those in the military in 1943. The amount of baseball history and the quality of the presentation (the “box” is by itself, actually a gorgeous Series history book) are equally staggering.

We start, in ascending order, with a famous name indeed, and Jackie Robinson’s steal of home in the eighth inning of the first game of the 1955 World Series. It is perhaps the iconic image of the pioneer player of our society’s history, but it was also a statement in a time when the concept was new. Ironically, the Dodgers were losing 6 to 4 when Robinson got on, on an error, moved to second on a Don Zimmer bunt, aggressively tagged up on a sacrifice fly.

Robinson was at third, but up for the Dodgers was the weak-hitting Frank Kellert. And, after all but taunting pitcher Whitey Ford and catcher Yogi Berra of the Yankees, Jackie seized the day, and broke for the plate. No catcher has more emphatically argued a call, and no moment has better summed up a player, his influence, or the changes he would bring to the game.

Ironically, that was the last run the Dodgers would score and they would lose the game. But the steal set a tone for a different Brooklyn team than the one which had tried but failed to outslug the Yankees in their previous five World Series meetings. The Dodgers would win this one, in seven games.

The eighth play on the list is another moment of base-running exuberance. In a regular season game in 1946, Enos “Country” Slaughter, on first base, had been given the run-and-hit sign by his St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Eddie Dyer. Slaughter took off, the batter swung and laced one into the outfield. As Slaughter approached third base with home in his sights, he was held up by his third base coach Mike Gonzalez. Slaughter complained to his skipper. He knew better than Gonzalez, he told Dyer, whether or not he could beat a throw home. Dyer said fine. “If it happens again and you think you can make it, run on your own. I’ll back you up.”

It indeed happened again – and in the bottom of the eighth inning of the seventh game of the 1946 Series! The visiting Red Sox had just tied the score at three, but Slaughter led off the inning with a single. Manager Dyer again flashed the run-and-hit sign, and Harry “The Hat” Walker lined Bob Klinger’s pitch over shortstop for what looked to everybody like a long single.

Everybody but Slaughter. He never slowed down. He may never have even seen third base coach Gonzalez again giving him the stop sign. When Boston shortstop Johnny Pesky turned clockwise to take the relay throw from centerfielder Leon Culberson, and, thus oddly twisted, could get little on his throw to the plate – Slaughter scored, the Cardinals led, and, an inning later, were World Champions.

The Red Sox should’ve seen it coming. Long before Pete Rose, Slaughter ran everywhere on the field, to the dugout and from it, on walks, everywhere. He said he had learned to do it in the minor leagues, when as a 20-year old he walked back from the outfield only to hear his manager say “Hey, kid, if you’re tired, I’ll get you some help.”

That manager was Eddie Dyer – the same guy who a decade later would encourage Slaughter to run any and all red lights.

The particulars of the seventh smartest play in Series history are lost in the shrouds of time: the 1907 Fall Classic between the Tigers and Cubs. This was the Detroit team of the young and ferocious Ty Cobb, but its captain was a veteran light-hitting third baseman named Bill Coughlin. In the first inning of the second game, Cubs’ lead-off man Jimmy Slagle walked, then broke for second base. Catcher Fred Payne’s throw was wild and Slagle made it to third. Coughlin knew the Tigers were in trouble.

There are two ways to do what Coughlin did next; we don’t know which he used. Later third basemen like Matt Williams were known to ask runners to step off the base so he could clean the dirt off it. Others, through nonchalance or downright misdirection, would convince the runner that they no longer had the ball. Which one Coughlin did, we don’t know. The Spalding Base Ball Guide for 1908 simply described it as “Coughlin working that ancient and decrepit trick of the ‘hidden ball,’ got ‘Rabbit’ Slagle as he stepped off the third sack. What the sleep of Slagle cost was shown the next minute when Chance singled over second.”

Coughlin snagged Slagle with what is believed to be the only successful hidden ball trick in the history of the Series.

 
Sixth among the smartest plays is another we will not likely see again. The New York Mets led the Baltimore Orioles three games to one as they played the fifth game of the 1969 World Series. But the favored Birds led that game 3-zip going into the bottom of the sixth. Then, Dave McNally bounced a breaking pitch at the feet of Cleon Jones of the Mets. Jones claimed he’d been hit by the pitch, but umpire Lou DiMuro disagreed – until Mets’ skipper Gil Hodges came out of the dugout to show DiMuro the baseball, and the smudge of shoe polish from where it had supposedly hit Jones. DiMuro changed his mind, Jones was awarded first, Donn Clendenon followed with a two-run homer, Al Weis hit one in the seventh to tie, and the Mets scored two more in the eighth to win the game and the Series.

But there were questions, most of them voiced in Baltimore, about the provenance of that baseball. Was it really the one that McNally had thrown? A nearly identical play in 1957 with Milwaukee’s Nippy Jones had helped to decide that Series. And years later an unnamed Met said that ever since, it had always been considered good planning to have a baseball in the dugout with shoe polish on it, just in case.

Today, of course, players’ shoes don’t get shined.

Hall of Fame pitcher, Hall of Fame batter, Hall of Fame manager, all involved in the fifth smartest play. But only two of them were smart in it. Reds 1, A’s nothing, one out, top of the eighth, runners on second and third, third game of the ’72 Series, and Oakland reliever Rollie Fingers struggles to a 3-2 count on Cincinnati’s legendary Johnny Bench. With great theatrics and evident anxiety, the A’s battery and manager Dick Williams agree to go ahead and throw the next pitch deliberately wide — an intentional walk.

Which is when Oakland catcher Gene Tenace jumps back behind the plate to catch the third strike that slides right past a forever-embarrassed Bench. As if to rub it in, the A’s then walked Tony Perez intentionally. For real.

Another all-time great was central to the fourth smartest play in Series history. With Mickey Mantle, you tend to think brawn, not brain, but in the seventh game of the epic 1960 Series, he was, for a moment, the smartest man in America. Mantle had just singled home a run that cut Pittsburgh’s lead over the Yankees to 9-to-8.  

With one out and Gil McDougald as the tying run at third, Yogi Berra hit a ground rocket to Pirate first baseman Rocky Nelson. Nelson, having barely moved from where he was holding Mantle on, stepped on the bag to retire Berra for the second out. Mantle, on his way into no man’s land between first and second, about to be tagged hi
mself for the final out of the Series, stopped, faded slightly towards the outfield, faked his way around Nelson, got back safely to first, and took enough time to do it, that in the process, McDougald could score the tying run.

Mantle’s quick thinking and base-running alacrity would have been one of the game’s all-time greatest plays – if only, minutes later, the 9-to-9 tie he had created, had not been erased by Bill Mazeroski’s unforgettable Series-Winning Home Run to lead off the bottom of the ninth.

 

Like the Mantle example, the gut and not the cerebellum is associated with the third smartest play in Series history. It’s Kirk Gibson’s epic home run to win the opening game of the 1988 classic. The story is well-known to this day; Gibson, aching, knees swollen, limping, somehow creeps to the batter’s box and then takes a 3-2 pitch from another hall of fame Oakland reliever, Dennis Eckersley, and turns it into the most improbable of game-winning home runs.

But the backstory involves a Dodger special assignment scout named Mel Didier. When the count reached 3-and-2, Gibson says he stepped out of the batter’s box and could hear the scouting report on Eckersley that Didier had recited to the Dodgers, in his distinctive Mississippi accent, before the Series began. On a 3-2 count, against a left-handed power hitter, you could be absolutely certain that Eckersley would throw a backdoor slider. He always did it. And as Gibson once joked, “I was a left-handed power hitter.”

So Gibson’s home run wasn’t just mind over matter. It was also mind. And it was also Mel Didier.

The second smartest play in Series history came in perhaps the greatest seventh game in modern Series history. The Braves and Twins were locked in their remorseless battle of 1991, scoreless into the eighth inning. Veteran Lonnie Smith led off the top of the frame with a single. Just like Enos Slaughter in 1946, he then got the signal to run with the pitch, and just like Harry Walker in 1946, his teammate Terry Pendleton connected.

But something was amiss at second base. Minnesota Shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Chuck Knoblauch were either completing a double-play, or they had decided they were the Harlem Globetrotters playing pantomime ball. Smith, at least momentarily startled by the infielders pretending to make a play on him at second, hesitated just long enough that he could not score from first as Enos Slaughter once had. He would later claim the Twins’ infielders hadn’t fooled him at all with their phantom double play – that he was just waiting to make sure the ball wasn’t caught.

But he never scored a run, nor did the Braves. The game, and the Series, ended 1-0 Minnesota, in the 10th inning on a pinch-hit single by Gene Larkin from — appropriately enough for the subject — Columbia University.
 
480-damonstealing3rd.jpg

All-stars and cup of coffee guys; fielders and hitters and baserunners and pitchers and even a scout, and stretching over a span of 102 years of Series history. And yet the smartest play is: from this past Sunday. Johnny Damon not only worked his way back from down 0-2 to a line single on the ninth pitch of the at bat against Brad Lidge, but he quickly gauged the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with which the Phillies had seemingly presented him. Few teams employ a defensive shift towards the left side or the right when there’s a runner on base. This is largely because if there is a play to be made at second or third, the fielders who would normally handle the ball are elsewhere. With Mark Teixeira up, the Phillies had shifted their infield, right.

So Damon realized.

If he tried to steal, the throw and tag would probably be the responsibility of third baseman Pedro Feliz. Feliz is superb at third base, fine at first, has experience in both outfield corners, and even caught a game for part of an inning. But his major league games up the middle total to less than 30 and this just isn’t his job. Even if Feliz didn’t botch the throw or the tag, his meager experience in the middle infield slightly increased the odds in Damon’s favor. The question really was, what would happen immediately afterwards, if Damon stole successfully: Where would Feliz go, and who would cover third base?

Damon chose a pop-up slide so he could keep running. Feliz took the throw cleanly, but did not stop his own momentum and continued to run slightly towards the center of the diamond. And nobody covered third base. All Damon needed was daylight between himself and Feliz, and Feliz would have no chance of outrunning him to third, and nobody to throw to at third.     

And all of that went through Johnny Damon’s mind, in a matter of seconds. Before anybody else could truly gauge what had happened, he had stolen two bases on one play without as much as a bad throw, let alone an error, involved. It is a play few if any have seen before, and it is unimaginable that any manager will let us ever see it again!

Thereafter, in a matter of minutes, the Yankees had turned a tie game, with them down to their last strike of the ninth inning, into a three-run rally that put them within one win of the World’s Championship. And all thanks to the Smartest Play in World Series History.

How The Phillies Can Still Win

So,
once again, how happy would they have been if you had told the Phillies before
the World Series started, that after four games, all this would have been true:

- CC
Sabathia would be winless against them in two starts?

- Chase
Utley would have hit three homers against Sabathia?

- Two
Philly sluggers would have produced two-homer games and seven blasts total?

- Joe
Blanton would have produced a five-hit, two-walk, seven-strikeout performance?

- Cliff
Lee would have pitched a complete game?

- The
Phillies would have rallied off the Yankee bullpen in the eighth?

- Ryan
Howard would have stolen a base and then scored the tying run thanks to his
daring base-running?

- Mark
Teixeira would have held to 1-for-14, Melky Cabrera 2-for-13, Robinson Cano
2-for-14, and Alex Rodriguez, 2-for-15?

- Joe
Girardi would have had to bench one outfielder and might have to replace
another one due to injury?

These
are the little things that usually put a team ahead three games to one, not
behind by that margin. While Johnny Damon has rightly been lionized (and would be the Series MVP to this point), there are two totally under-reported secrets to the
Yankees’ success. Consider the last outs Sabathia got last night: Jimmy Rollins
lined a one-bouncer directly to Alex Rodriguez, and Shane Victorino flied right
to Nick Swisher. Throughout the Series, particularly last night, the Yanks’
major league scouting – coordinated by Gene Michael – has positioned its
fielders nearly perfectly, exploiting pitch selection and a thorough knowledge
of where each Philadelphia hitter is likely to hit a given pitch. I’ve always
thought somebody could get a PHD calculating just how little Yankee fielders
had to travel to get balls hit by the Braves in the 1999 Series, when Michael’s
charts were at their maximum value.

The
other hidden headline: Damaso Marte, a pitcher who before the Series would have
been ranked somewhere behind the Phillie Phanatic in likely impact on the
outcome. All he has done thus far is strike out Utley and get Howard on a fly
while the first game was still close, punch out Howard and Werth and get Ibanez
on a liner in the third game, and retire Howard on another fly last night. He
has been flawless after a 9.45 ERA and just five holds during the regular
season.

But by no
means are the Phillies dead. One of the realities of those “Advantage Phillies” stats listed above is that they either won’t last, or that if they do, they are likely to suddenly start producing dramatic results for Philadelphia, and possibly in sufficient supply to produce three straight wins. And Joe Girardi has opened the door for that slim hope with the decision to go with A.J. Burnett on short
rest tonight.

Rather than risk Chad
Gaudin, with Burnett available on extra rest in Game Six, and Andy Pettitte on
the same (or Sabathia) for Game Seven, he will pitch Burnett with a line-up
behind him that could lack not just a DH, but also perhaps Cabrera and Jorge
Posada. As it lays out now, Burnett, Pettitte and Sabathia will all go on short
rest in pursuit of one win. Or it won’t be Pettitte in Game Six – it’ll be Gaudin anyway.

Game 4: The Eddie Collins of 2009

Even if Johnny Damon had gone oh-for-the-first-four years of the 52-million dollart contract he signed with the Yankees after the 2005 season, he might have earned most of the cash with one of the most heads-up plays in World Series history.

As the potential winning run with two out in the top of the ninth inning of a game New York had nearly blown, he not only got a great jump on Brad Lidge to cleanly steal second base, but because the Phillies had employed the shift on Mark Teixeira, Damon had the presence of mind to realize Carlos Ruiz’s throw to second might be handled by a fielder unaccustomed to the role, who was also leaving third base unoccupied. Thus Damon utilized the pop-up slide, and when Feliz went to the wrong side of the bag, Damon accelerated past him and cruised into third as the Phillies watched helplessly. Lidge’s inning immediately cascaded into chaos and Mariano Rivera suddenly had a three-run lead in a game the Phils had just tied.
In the broad sense, at least, Damon’s dash was reminiscent of the famous Eddie Collins-Heinie Zimmerman play that decided the 1917 Series. Scoreless in the fourth inning of the finale, the White Sox cringed as Collins was trapped in a rundown. Giants’ catcher Bill Rariden correctly ran Collins back towards third, presuming that either his first baseman Walter Holke or his pitcher Rube Benton would cover the plate. But neither did, and as Rariden tossed to Giants third baseman Zimmerman, Collins burst past him, leaving Zimmerman to define futility to chase Collins towards the dish.
Though Ring Lardner actually made up the quote, Zimmerman was long credited with one of the most telling of acerbic explanations for a pivotal Series play: “Who the hell was I supposed to throw it to? The umpire?” It will be fascinating to hear if Feliz says anything similar.

Game 2: So…

…pretty much all of my complaints and critiques before Game Two were wrong. And not just wrong, but comprehensively, even spectacularly so. Not only was A.J. Burnett crisp but Jose Molina kept him focused, and the timing of Jorge Posada’s appearance facilitated Pedro Martinez’s exit, and it secured the Yankees’ first World Series game win since 2003, and they head to Philadelphia in exactly the situation (1-1 with two southpaws ready to dominate Ryan Howard in that ballpark) even though I thought Sabathia would win and Burnett would lose. So I’ll just shut up for awhile.

But first: you think Ryan Howard had a tough night with four strikeouts and now six in nine at bats? Or A-Rod? Six in eight AB’s, without a hit? How about Brian Gorman? I wanted to wait to see the video, but live from behind the plate it seemed pretty clear that Gorman had falsely called “catch” on Johnny Damon’s dying liner to first in the seventh – leading to a critical Phils’ double-play. In the following half inning Gorman did it again, calling Chase Utley out at first on a 4-6-3. Kevin Millar, seated a few rows closer but about eight more farther away from the bag, called Utley safe, and the replay backed him up. Umpiring is ever more difficult as video improves, but when did the arbiters ever have a worst post-season than the current one? If you and your colleagues blew as many big decisions in as short a span, either you’d all be fired or your company would be out of business by now.

Something Happened To Him

The very first entry in this blog was about the spring training work of a young relief pitcher, so impressive that it inspired home plate ump Tim Tschida to come over to the pitcher’s bench and say it was the most remarkable thing he’d seen all spring. Daniel Bard had not only struck out the Tampa Bay side, but he had cleared 100 MPH four times, and, according to Tschida he had put one in each corner of the strike zone. 

“How can you resist the temptation to take him north?,” I asked Terry Francona. The Boston manager laughed. “He’s still so young. If something happened to him, it could be crushing. But you’ll see him by summer.” 
Tonight here at Yankee Stadium, something finally happened to Bard. 
Brought in to protect Boston’s lead after 31 innings without a run and 36 without an extra base hit, having logged a save, five holds and 42 strikeouts in his first 30 appearances, the rookie instead surrendered a blast to Johnny Damon, who seemingly began to swing as the ball left Bard’s hand. With all false modesty aside, I then turned to one of my oldest friends, ESPN Radio Network Senior Director/Executive Producer John Martin and said “if Damon can time him, Teixeira can time him.” Teixeira promptly timed him into the upper deck. 
And now Francona has more to worry about than being swept four games here and falling six-and-a-half out. He has to deal with Daniel Bard’s first “something” – his first big league loss – a pivotal moment in the kid’s career and his team’s season.

Johnny Damon, Baseball Historian

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Do not undervalue the historical import of Spring Training games in big league parks – especially brand new ones. Johnny Damon, videographer, records part of the Yankees’ christening of the second (third?) Yankee Stadium while coach Tony Pena apparently spots a guy who borrowed money from him in 1989.
For your record-keeping pleasure, Aaron Miles got the first exhibition hit in the place, Derek Jeter the first Yankee safety, Robinson Cano the first home run. The first celebrity in the stands was Paul Simon – and parenthetically he sat through the whole rainy magilla. And, yes, as suggested Thursday, the ball rockets to right field. Cano, Matsui, and Cody Ransom hit bullet home runs off Ted Lilly (notice: two lefties going to the shortened-by-wind short-porch in right off a lefty) and Miles and Reed Johnson both rattled extra-base hits into the corner. It’s going to be a take-it-to-RF ballpark.
Fly on the wall time – as caught by the stadium cameraman just before the man in the suit threw out the first pitch, and as the man in the Cubs’ cap was telling me that the new place was magnificent, and that the Yankees had managed both to “recreate the history of the old place, and capture the splendor of a brand new place.” Me? I just listened and learned.
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By the way, Lilly looked like crap, Wang didn’t look much better, Brett Gardner forgot to mosey down to the infield to cover second on a rundown play as they were running back Miles to second, and the Yankee bullpen (Rivera, Veras, Ramirez, and Albaladejo, pitched four hitless – oh, and the place looks pretty at night from the visitors’ dugout:
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