Results tagged ‘ Mark Teixeira ’

No Tex, Lots Of Texas

The bad news for the Yankees is that Mark Teixeira suffered a Grade 2 strain of the hamstring and will miss the rest of the season.

The good news for the Yankees is that likely means he’s only going to miss one game.
Ron Washington, concurring that to beat this crumbling but still dangerous New York team requires treating them like vampires, did exactly that the last two nights, managing as intensely in the 9th Inning as he did in the 1st. The results are obvious and the Yanks’ best news is probably that ex-Golden Gloves boxer “Grim LeRogue” didn’t get close enough Monday night to try to beat up Alex Rodriguez in some kind of expression of obsession with actress Cameron Diaz.
The Rangers did it for him, and not just to A-Rod. As it proves, should’ve been a sweep. The questions are obvious: why wasn’t Joe Girardi satisfied with five two-run innings from A.J. Burnett? How is Sergio Mitre at the playoffs without a ticket? Just leave the pile of queries in a box for the next manager.
One non-ALCS note: Barry Bonds at the Giants game. Just me or did it look like he lost weight? From his head!
Let’s go to the pretty pictures:
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More than a little fuzzy (sorry). But the gentleman leaning on the seat ahead of him, hands together, upper left, is Nolan Ryan. In the lower right, Mayor Mike Bloomberg. This was taken Monday Night, but each deserves a shout-out. Bloomberg stayed until nearly the final out of each Yankee debacle and despite the vast numbers of empty seats, Ryan politely stayed in his 6th row locale.

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Delighted to find Mgr. Washington is a viewer of the tv show. We had two nice chats pre-game and he did a heckuva job. On the right of course, Martha Stewart, who, so long ago, on Opening Day, took a picture of me and tweeted it to her followers, so tonight I took this picture and tweeted it to both her followers and my own.
Big celeb night, half the cast of Saturday Night Live in the front row (Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Fred Armisen, Kenan Thompson, Jay Pharoah, producer Lorne Michaels and that could’ve easily been this week’s host Emma Stone). Across the aisle from Martha: Mark Cuban. Upstairs, Michael Jordan and Jay-Z. 
And any of them could’ve pitched better than Sergio Mitre.
One more photo, this is from Monday night – a friend of the blog. That is your Toronto Blue Jays’ rehabbing reliever and author (hard at work at his sequel to the now classic Bullpen Gospels, to say nothing of trying to explain pitching to me) Dirk Hayhurst:
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Rangers Run Past Yankees?

Whether or not his team actually beats the New York Yankees, I have to start this by standing up and applauding Ron Washington’s primary gamble.

He has in large part been forced into it by the reality of the fifth game against Tampa Bay, but there were other options and he chose the one in which unless the ALCS goes seven, he will only start Cliff Lee once. This means that one of the three key figures in this series will be not Lee, but C.J. Wilson.
Thus a lefthander will start Game One against the Yankees, and another one would start Game Seven, and because they are so scheduled, they would also each start a game in Yankee Stadium. Lefties in Yankee Stadium – your best bet to beat them. Provided they are good lefthanders.
The Yankees’ switch-hitters are all more powerful against righthanders. Their lefthand bats (Cano, Gardner, and Granderson) tend towards bad splits against southpaws. And Alex Rodriguez has mysteriously lost much of his punch against lefties (he hit .214 against them during the regular season). 
But is Wilson a good lefthander, or a bad one? Consider what the seven susceptible Yankee bats (Cano, Gardner, Granderson, Posada, Rodriguez, Swisher, Teixeira) did against the Twins’ southpaws:
Versus All Minnesota LHP                  11-39  .282  two 2B, two 3B
Versus Fuentes & Mijares                     1-7   .143
Versus Duensing & Liriano                  10-32  .313

Admittedly it’s a small sample (two starts and five relief appearances) but there are some indicators. Though Marcus Thames tattooed Brian Duensing for a home run, none of the Yankee Seven hit a long ball off any of the lefties, even though Posada, Rodriguez, Swisher, and Teixeira all batted righty against them.

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The inference, I think, is not a very complicated one. The entire Yankee line-up save for Jeter and Thames are stymied by effective lefties and merely slowed down a little by bad ones. We can pretty well guess to which category Cliff Lee belongs (although the second time the Yankees faced him in the World Series last year they beat him up for five runs, even in defeat). The question is, which kind is Wilson (the guess is: the good and improving kind). The indeterminable is whether either of the Rangers’ righties steal a win against New York, which would obviously reduce the Texas reliance on their former closer and their mid-season acquisition.
I described Wilson as one of the three key figures in this series. Given that Manager Washington tipped his hand against the Rays, the other two are Francisco Cervelli and Jorge Posada. The Rangers were the runningest team in the first round, and they are now facing the team with the fewest caught-stealings in the major leagues in 2010. Cervelli, Chad Moeller, Posada and the Yankee pitching staff stopped just 23 out of 155 would-be thieves during the year.
Minnesota didn’t try to swipe one bag in its cameo against the Yankees. Texas tried seven (and succeeded six times) against Tampa. Rays’ catchers had nailed 25 percent of runners during the season. The Yanks only caught 15 percent.
I think you see where Washington is going with this. Try to at least slow the “Susceptible Seven” down with Wilson and Lee, to say nothing of Darren Oliver in relief. But much more impressively, run the Yankees crazy. Five Rangers stole 14 or more during the regular season, Josh Hamilton had eight, and Jeff Francoeur had eight while with the Mets.
The Rangers may literally steal this series. I think the Yankees are utterly unprepared for this kind of onslaught, and if you think there’s a Plan B about swapping Cervelli in for the decreasingly mobile Posada, think again. Posada may have only caught 13 of 85 bandits, but Cervelli only got nine out of 64.
As suggested here when New York swept a series which I thought they’d lose, the Yankees are vampires. Manage passively against them as Ron Gardenhire did, let them up off the mat for a second, and you lose. But Ron Washington has already shown an absolute unwillingness to sit back, and that aggressivenes won him Game Five against Tampa. Take the chance with me. Rangers win, and might just get to hold Mr. Lee back to start Game One of the World Series.

Such A Strange Day At Yankee Stadium

Alex Rodriguez: DNP – Broadcast-related injury.

There are two versions of how A-Rod came to miss this afternoon’s second game of the Yankees-Red Sox series. In the first version, with Rodriguez standing near third base while teammate Lance Berkman took his batting practice cuts, my former Fox Baseball colleague Joe Buck shouted out to him. Rodriguez, in his 17th professional season, inexplicably turned to answer him, and while not keeping his eye on what was happening at the plate, got nailed in the shin by a Berkman liner.
In the second version, Buck was minding his own business in foul territory behind third base, when Rodriguez, in his 17th professional season, inexplicably turned to yell “Hi, Joe!,” and while not keeping his eye on what was happening at the plate, got nailed in the shin by a Berkman liner.
Both versions then converge with Rodriguez then doing the Elizabeth-Elizabeth-This-Is-The-Big-One-I’m-Comin-To-See-You-Elizabeth bit, trying to shake off the pain, finally collapsing to the turf behind a protective screen in centerfield, not far behind second base (“I just remember getting hit and started jumping around like a rabbit,” he told The New York Times, “It looked like a scene from ‘Platoon.’”). Several of his teammates, who have long found Mr. Rodriguez to be a kind of dramatic figure, laughed uproariously as they surrounded him, assuming he was overdoing it. The Times includes Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira in this list. 
After being attended to by Yankee trainer Gene Monahan and a couple of Yankee Stadium paramedics Rodriguez limped off. We are told he personally told utilityman Ramiro Pena something like “You’ll have to play kid, I’m not going to make it.” It is believed the Yankee team laughter ended before the pronouncement but this has not been verified.
X-Rays of Rodriguez’s leg showed no damage and, to date, no nomination for a Tony, Emmy, or Oscar.
MEANWHILE, IN A HOLE IN THE GROUND:
Since the new Stadium opened a year ago, media have noticed this odd scene — just to the visitors’ side of the area behind home plate —  in the giant aqueduct-sized main tunnel that connects the clubhouses and runs from one end of the park to the other (forgive the eerie green colors, that’s pretty much what it looks like back there):
My assumption all this time – and my fairly good sense of direction/location from my tours of the park while still under construction in 2008 – was that this was the exact spot from which the contractors pulled the David Ortiz shirt which had been buried by a mischievous Red Sox fan (I was told the guy also buried a scorecard from the 2004 ALCS in which Boston rallied from down oh-three, but the Yanks have always denied this). But why the railing?
The answer is below:
The hole was never filled back in!
The seemingly solid surface shown in the first photo is in fact a large piece of plexiglas, clouded with dust, which can be lifted up by an alert uniformed attendant, for the benefit of fans in the Suites Club. They can then stand around and take pictures of an attempted Reverse Curse (or, for the less dramatically-inclined, a hole in the ground).

AND FINALLY:
The front edge of a new age. Heard, for the first time, before the Yanks and Sox met, from a fan, to one of the swarming Stadium employees, outside the home plate entrance: “And where did you say the old stadium was?”

Yo, Out Of Here, Adrian – And The Bunning File

I guess you mention this now to decrease your client’s trade value, so maybe the best option for his current team winds up being letting him walk as a free agent. They take the draft choice; you take the percentage of whatever the market can bear. Otherwise there can’t be anything logical about the agent for Adrian Gonzalez explaining he is expecting a Mark Teixeira deal, from the Padres, or from which ever the Padres deal Gonzalez to, or from the free agent market in the winter of 2011-12.

The Padres are not going to summon $180,000,000 even to keep a popular hometown superstar, and it seems unlikely that many other franchises would. If the Cubs really aren’t looking at Derrek Lee long term (how is my Micah Hoffpauir recommendation working out, by the way?), the Chicago teams might battle for him, maybe the Mets, but without the Yankees there to help drive the market, the money just isn’t going to be like that for a player who is not Teixeira’s defensive equal, and it would presumably limit trading interest in a pre-free agent Gonzalez to lesser prospects.
Consider what a difference a year – and a conviction by one team that they could sign him, and the conviction by another that they could not – did to Teixeira’s “value.” In 2008 the nonpareil first baseman was a nice rental in Anaheim at a price of Casey Kotchman and Steve Marek. In 2007 Atlanta (in retrospect, disastrously) gave up Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Beau Jones, thinking they were buying Teixeira.
If new Padres’ GM Jed Hoyer somehow doesn’t see those stark options, there is the added dimension of Gonzalez’s salary. At just $4.75 million this year, with an option for $5.5 million in 2011, he will be paid for two seasons what Jonathan Papelbon asked for in arbitration for just the one ahead of us.
With even the false pretense of a hometown discount erased by the agent’s remarks, there would seem there are three stages to the Padres’ end game with Gonzalez: 1) trade him immediately for a package not unlike what the Braves gave for Teixeira, to a team that believes it can sign him (if you are getting ten years of Gonzalez for the price of eight of Teixeira, the deal suddenly begins to make a little more sense). 2) It is conceivable the personnel price might peak as late as this year’s trade deadline, but certainly beyond it, it will deflate. 3) The last stage is when it just isn’t worth it for anybody to go to the prospect bank to rent Gonzalez for all or part of 2011.
Think of it this way. Trade him today and you can have Andrus, Feliz, and Saltalamacchia. Trade him in July and it might just be Andrus and Saltalamacchia. Wait until July 2011 and maybe it’s just Saltalamacchia.
BUNNING DECONSTRUCTED
I vowed when I started this blog last year to keep politics out of this, so I’ve waited until the news story involving Kentucky Senator/Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Bunning changed from active to past tense tonight, to share an odd bit of research I compiled awhile back.
One of the more intriguing measures of a pitcher is his record in the heat of pennant races. Don Drysdale, measured against the Dodgers’ chief rivals in each season of the ’60s, was only about a .500 pitcher. Juan Marichal pitched closer to .600 ball against the key teams in the Giants’ various pennant pursuits.
Another measure paints a very odd picture of Bunning the pitcher. He just wasn’t that good down the stretch.
Only once in his years with Detroit were the Tigers competitive. On July 15, 1961, they were tied for first with the Maris/Mantle Yankees. From that date on, Bunning posted a record of just 7-5 and his losses were not exactly to the cream of the crop (Baltimore twice, Boston, Chicago, and Minnesota). The Tigers plummeted to second place, eight games out.
1964 can hardly be blamed on Bunning alone, or even to a great degree. But it is still fascinating that however foolhardy Gene Mauch was in running his starters into the ground, the facts were pretty straightforward: On the morning of September 16, Bunning was 17-5 and the Phils were still five games in front. Their ace would make five starts between that day and September 30, and he went 1-4 with a 7.46 ERA. The Phils finished third, though Bunning did win on the last day of the season in a game that could have theoretically forced a playoff.
In 1966, the Phils were still on the outskirts of the pennant race on September 5th, seven out. Bunning had a 16-9 record. He dropped five of his remaining eight decisions and the Phils were no factor down the stretch.
In the winter of 1967-68, the Pirates stripped their farm system of a couple of top prospects (shortstop Don Money, who made it, and lefty pitcher Bill Laxton, who didn’t) and packaged them with quality lefthander Woody Fryman to pry Bunning from Philadelphia. I can recall vividly that many believed the addition of a pitching ace like Bunning made the Pirates the NL favorites for 1968. He went 4-14.
In 1969, the Pirates sold Bunning to the Dodgers in mid-August (and got a couple of fringe prospects to boot) as LA sought to replace the suddenly-retired Drysdale during the frantic five-team NL West title hunt. On August 19, Los Angeles was half a game out. They proceeded to lose six of Bunning’s nine starts (four of the five after September 5, when they were still only a game-and-a-half back). The Dodgers finished fourth, eight out.
Again, you can’t pin any of these pennant race collapses entirely on Bunning. In ’64 the Phillies would never have been in the position to fold had he not dominated the league until the middle of September. In ’68 a lot more went wrong with Pittsburgh than just Bunning. And in ’69 he pitched some fine games in LA that the Dodgers could not win for him. 
But it is odd that not once in four pennant sprints did he finish strongly.

Game Six: Damon Hurt; Booing The Cheerable

Passing by almost without notice here in the Stadium that Johnny Damon just exited after a not-so-vigorous race from second to score the Yankees fourth run. There was no delay or dither about this; Joe Girardi bounded out of the dugout at innings end to tell Joe West about the change, apparently the result of a calf strain. One wonders if one of the Series previous hurts keyed the New York rally: Shane Victorino not only badly misread Derek Jeters fly, but seemed a little hesitant to dive for it (although obviously he was not leading with the hand hurt by the Burnett Hit By Pitch on Monday). And to prove not everybody gets it, even at Game Six of the World Series, when Pedro Martinez plunked Mark Teixeira to load the bases ahead of Rodriguez and Matsui, much of the crowd here booed. The way Teixeira hasnt hit in this Series, if he doesnt hurt him, Girardi would be happy to carry him to first base on his back if Martinez will keep hitting Teixeira all night.

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.
 
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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.

Phils: Winning Stats, Losing Series

So, you’re the Phillies and three games into the World Series, you have already beaten CC Sabathia, and two of your stars have each produced a two-homer game. You’ve limited Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira to one hit apiece. You caused Joe Girardi to bench Nick Swisher, you’ve faced Phil Hughes for four batters and gotten three of them on base, and you’ve not only scored first in every game, the latest you’ve scored your first run is the third inning.


You’re winning the Series, right?
If the Game Three loss were not critical enough – throw in the wasting of a two-clout night from Jayson “Stop Calling Me Dennis, Olbermann” Werth – please note Swisher is a breathing cliche of a streak hitter and a road hitter. I am still not a believer in using starters on short rest, but to tie the Series, the Phils must now defeat, or at least not be defeated by, Sabathia, again. 

Swish

Notes From A Sickbed

OK, not that sick. Just enough.

As you watch the rest of the Yankees’ post-season, especially these first two games against the Angels, consider this: What do these guys have in common? Wilson Betemit, Johnny Damon, Shelley Duncan, Morgan Ensberg, Juan Miranda, Chad Moeller, Jose Molina, Xavier Nady, Jorge Posada, Cody Ransom, Richie Sexson, and Jason Giambi?
They played first base for the Yankees last season. Where would the Yankees be right now – just from a defensive point of view – if any of them were still playing first base for them, and were reaching for the high-degree-of-difficulty throws of CC Sabathia, Molina, Robinson Cano, et al, instead of Mark Teixeira? Apart from the likelihood the Angels might be leading this game and might’ve won last night’s, I wonder if the Yankees would even still be playing.
Two other notes. Interesting that given my speculation last night that Erick Aybar might have had an auditory awareness problem because he had been dressed “like a teletubby” – as Joe Buck put it – that Aybar went with just an ordinary cap tonight. 
Also, credit to Fox for an intriguing innovation following a Tim McCarver query – a measurement of the speed of pitches as they leave the pitcher’s hand, and, separately, as they arrive at the plate. For A.J. Burnett’s supposed 93 MPH fastball, it was 93 at his hand, and “only” 86 at the plate. It’s pure guesswork, but the differential might explain the concept of the “heavy” pitch catchers and hitters talk about, as one that somehow partially overcomes the aerodynamic drag that affects any object in flight. If another pitcher’s 93 MPH fastball actually hits the glove at 87 or 88, it might  explain the otherwise anecdotal concept of a “heavy ball.”

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