Thursday, October 1, 2015

Are Yanks Ready for October? Meltdown vs. Sox Suggests Not

In the year 2000, the Yankees lost 13 of their last 15 games of the regular season, including their last 7 straight. They made it 8 straight and 14 out of 16 by losing Game 1 of the American League Division Series to the Oakland Athletics. At home. They'd won just 87 games all season. Only a handful of teams had ever won so few games in a full 154-game or 162-game season, and still won the Pennant.

(In 1973, the Mets did so despite winning only 82. In 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals set a record for a non-strike year by winning just 83 games and still winning the World Series. Just last year, the San Francisco Giants won the whole thing despite winning only 88.)

The Yankees did, however, hang on to win the AL Eastern Division title, then beat the A's in 5, then beat the Seattle Mariners for the Pennant, and then the Mets for the World Series.

That was a Yankee team with 7 players who either already are, or (in the case of Derek Jeter) will be in Monument Park. (The others being Mariano Rivera -- who doesn't yet have a Plaque, but will, and whose number is retired -- Andy Pettitte, Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez and Jorge Posada. And that's not counting manager Joe Torre.)

This current Yankee team has only 4 players left who've won a World Series. And 2 of those, CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner, are looking terrible these days. Another, Mark Teixeira, is out for the rest of the season with an injury. The other is Alex Rodriguez, and although he homered last night, he's been in a bit of a slump, too.

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Despite their overall slump, the Yankees had reason to feel confident going into this 3-game series with the Boston Red Sox. After all, The Scum have stunk up the joint most of the season.

Apparently, though, Dr. Joe Girardi was able to cure them, simply by being the Yankees' manager these last 3 nights.

On Monday night, Jacoby Ellsbury led off the game with a ground-rule double. Gardner bunted him over to 3rd base, and A-Rod hit a sacrifice fly to get him home. One-nil to the Pinstripe boys.

From that moment on, the Yankees had 4 singles, a double, 2 walks, and a player reach base on an error, and none of them scored. Eduardo Rodriguez and 4 Sox relievers held them at bay, and they could not drive a run home.

In contrast, Ivan Nova did not pitch well, allowing home runs to Travis Shaw and Jackie Bradley. It's not even worth mentioning how well the bullpen did.

Red Sox 5, Yankees 1. WP: Rodriguez (10-6). No save. LP: Nova (6-10), who is looking more and more expendable as the season draws to a close. But who would want to trade for him?

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On Tuesday night, the Yankees scored 4 runs in the bottom of the 1st inning, including 2 on Dustin Ackley's 10th home run of the season.

Which didn't matter, because The Scum shelled Michael Pineda for 6 runs in the top of the 1st. Pineda has been awful lately.

And after that 1st inning, Sox starter Rick Porcello settled down. The Yankees had 3jsingles, a walk, 1 man reach on an error, and another hit by a pitch. (It was Didi Gregorius. At this point, despite the opponent being the Red Sox,I don't think it was intentional: Porcello doesn't have that kind of reputation.)

The Yankees are still capable of scoring runs in bunches, but for most of these games, they can't seem to get anything going.

Red Sox 10, Yankees 4. WP: Porcello (9-14). No save. LP: Pineda (12-9).

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And then last night, Masahiro Tanaka pitched for the 1st time in 12 days. He gave up a home run to Shaw in the 1st, and allowed another run in the 3rd. Otherwise, he was fine. He closed his outing with a nasty strikeout to end the 6th.

Rob Refsnyder, showing Brian Cashman that he should have been at the major league level for most of the season, hit a ground-rule double to close to within 3-1 in the 2nd. Carlos Beltran hit a ground-rule double of his own in the 5th, to get the Yanks within 4-2. The Yankees scored 2 more runs in the inning to tie it.

In the 6th, A-Rod gave the Yankees the lead with his 33rd homer of the season, the 687th of his career. (He now trails Babe Ruth by 27, Hank Aaron by 68, and Barry Bonds by 76. He has 2 years left on his contract. He looked good this season, but he's 40. We shall see.)

But Mookie Betts took Dellin Betances deep in the 7th to make it 5-5. Question, Joe Girardi: Why was Betances pitching the 7th, when he's your 8th-inning guy?

The game went to extra innings, as the Yankees could not score in the 7th, the 8th, the 9th or the 10th. Girardi brought Andrew Bailey in to pitch the top of the 11th, and the Sox got to him. Then Girardi brought in Chasen Shreve, and the Sox got to him, too, including another homer by Betts. The Yankees could do nothing in the bottom of the 11th.

Red Sox 9, Yankees 5. WP: Alexi Ogando (3-1). No save. LP: Bailey (0-1).

The Yankees scored 9 runs in the last 2 games, but that total wouldn't have been enough to win either of those games. It's also worth nothing that the Red Sox got 3 wins, and didn't need a save in any of them.

Markus Lynn "Mookie" Betts, a center fielder from Nashville who turns 23 next week, is batting .293 with 18 homers and 76 RBIs this season. He went 6-for-15 with 3 homers, 3 doubles and 4 RBIs in the series. I thought the Red Sox were supposed to lose against guys named Mookie in New York!

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So here's how things stand at the dawn of October, with 4 games left in the regular season:

* All Divisions have been clinched, except for the American League Western. Those pesky Toronto Blue Jays clinched the AL Eastern Division last night, and the St. Louis Cardinals clinched the NL Central with their MLB-best 100th win. As Division Champions, they join the Mets in the National League East, the Kansas City Royals in the AL Central, and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.

* The NL Wild Card game is set: The Pittsburgh Pirates will visit the Chicago Cubs. The winner will face the Cardinals in the NL Division Series. The Mets will play the Dodgers, and the Mets will likely have home-field advantage.

* The AL West is not yet won. The Texas Rangers lead both the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim by 2 games with 4 to play. The Rangers probably will win it, but it's not sealed yet.

* The AL Wild Cards are very much up for grabs. The Yankees have still not clinched a berth in the play-in game. Yet they have the inside track to clinching home-field advantage. Their magic number is 1: 1 win in their last 4 games of the season, tonight at home to the Sox and then 3 away to the Baltimore Orioles, and they host the thing at Yankee Stadium II this coming Tuesday night. Either the Astros or the Angels will be the opponent, unless the Rangers choke, in which case it could be them. Theoretically, though, the Rangers could choke their way out of both the Division and the Wild Cards.

* And, of course, if the Yankees should get swept in Baltimore -- and don't think it can't happen, after all, that 2000 regular-season downslide ended in Baltimore -- and the Astros and the Angels both win their last 4, the Yankees could still be out. It would be a collapse even freakier than the 2004 AL Championship Series, especially since, this time, we wouldn't be able to blame the Red Sox' steroid use. (Okay, we can blame them for juicing their way to 3 wins over us that they didn't deserve in the series that just ended.)

This, after the Yankees had been in 1st place by 7 games on July 28, and blown it by August 12, then were tied for 1st with the Toronto Blue Jays as late as August 24, and as close as 2 1/2 games on September 22. Overcoming a deficit of 2 1/2 games with 12 to go isn't easy, but neither is it unreasonable.

And yet, last night, the Jays clinched the Division for the 1st time in 22 years. (Over those same 22 years, the Yankees won the AL East 14 times, the Red Sox 3, and the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays twice each. Only twice, in 2006 and last year, did the Jays even finish 2nd.)

Through July 28, the Yankees were 57-42, playing .575 baseball, a 93-win pace. But the Yankees didn't strengthen at the trading deadline, July 31, and the Jays did, getting Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. Since July 28, the Yankees are 29-29, exactly .500.

On September 7, the Yankees were 77-59, playing .566 baseball, a 92-win pace. Since then, they are 9-12, playing .429 baseball, a 93-loss pace.

You can't play at a pace for 93 wins from April 6 to July 28, and at a pace for 93 losses from September 8 to September 30, and expect to make the Playoffs. Even if you're brilliant in between -- and, from July 29 to September 7, the Yankees weren't brilliant, going 19-17, a pace for 86 wins.

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Here are the projected pitching matchups for the final 4 games of the regular season. Keep in mind that Hurricane Joaquin could well soak the Northeast, putting the games on Saturday, especially on Sunday, and possibly even an already-postponed to Monday game in jeopardy of postponement.

* Tonight, the series finale vs. the Red Sox, at home, 7:00: Sabathia vs. Hill.

* Tomorrow night, the series opener at the Orioles, 7:00: Girardi hasn't named a starter, while Buck Showalter will go with Chen.

* Saturday night, 7:00: Neither manager has named a starter. For the Yankees, it would be Nova's turn in the rotation.

* Sunday afternoon, scheduled for 3:00, but likely to be rainy due to the hurricane: Again, neither manager has named a starter. It might not matter if the game is postponed, thus messing up everybody's rest days. It would be Pineda's turn. Of course, presuming the Yankees don't still need to clinch, the starter could be someone we haven't thought of, with Girardi giving his rotation rest to set them up for the Division Series, starting on next Thursday.

* Therefore, assuming the Yankees do win 1 of their last 4 games, Tanaka would be scheduled to go out on Tuesday night at The Stadium, against either the Astros or the Angels -- both of whom have given the Yankees fits this season. And, of course, there's Girardi's Binder, which may see him pull Tanaka at any time to go through bullpen musical chairs.

Brace yourself: October isn't just coming. It's here.

Are you ready for it? Is Girardi ready for it? Are the Yankees ready for it?

UPDATE: They weren't.

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September 29, 1932: Game 2 of the World Series. The Chicago Cubs take a 1-0 in the 1st inning, but the Yankees score 2 in the bottom half, and Lefty Gomez handles the Cubs the rest of the way. The Yankees win, 5-2, and take a 2 games to 0 lead as the Series heads out to Chicago.

September 29, 1954: Willie Mays makes The Catch. It was Game 1 of the World Series. The New York Giants had won the National League Pennant, beating out their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Cleveland Indians had won the American League Pennant, winning League record 111 games to beat out the Yankees, who had won the last 5 World Series. Indeed, the last 8 AL Pennants had been won by the Indians (1948 & '54) and the Yankees (1947, '49, '50, '51, '52 & '53).

Game 1 was played at the Polo Grounds in New York. The game was tied 2-2 in the top of the 8th, but the Indians got Larry Doby on 2nd base and Al Rosen on 1st with nobody out.

Giant manager Leo Durocher pulled starting pitcher Sal Maglie, and brought in Don Liddle, a lefthander, to face the lefty slugger Vic Wertz, and only Wertz. Somehow, this got into Joe Torre's head (despite being a native of Brooklyn, Torre says he grew up as a Giants fan) and into Joe Girardi's binder (Girardi wasn't even born for another 10 years).

Liddle pitched, and Wertz swung, and drove the ball out to center field. The Polo Grounds was shaped more like a football stadium, so its foul poles were incredibly close: 279 feet to left field and 257 to right. In addition, the upper deck overhung the field a little, so the distances were actually even closer. But if you didn't pull the ball, it was going to stay in play. Most of the center field fence was 425 feet from home plate. A recess in center field, leading to a blockhouse that served as both teams' clubhouses -- why they were in center field, instead of under the stands, connected to the dugouts, is a mystery a long-dead architect will have to answer -- was 483 feet away.

Mays, at this point in his career, was already a big star. Just 23 years old, he had won that season's NL batting title. He had been NL Rookie of the Year in 1951, but had missed most of the 1952 season and all of 1953 serving in the U.S. Army, having been drafted into service in the Korean War. He had become known for playing stickball in the streets of Harlem with local boys in the morning, and then going off to the Polo Grounds to play real baseball in the afternoon. This raised his profile, and made him an accessible figure to City kids. His cap flying off as he ran around the bases, his defensive wizardry, and his yelling of, "Say hey!" endeared him to Giant fans. (Note that, while he made the "basket catch" nationally popular, he didn't invent it. In fact, he wasn't even the first Giant to use it, as Bill Rigney, who would succeed Durocher as manager in 1956, was using it in the 1940s.)

Even so, the days when the Giants were the team in New York sports were long gone, this week's events notwithstanding. At this moment, Mays was, in the public consciousness, where Babe Ruth was in May 1920, where Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams were in May 1941, where Mickey Mantle was in May 1956, where Reggie Jackson was in September 1977, where Roger Clemens was in April 1986, where Derek Jeter was in September 1996, where David Ortiz was in September 2004: A star, well-known and popular, but not yet a legend.

Mays ran back to try to catch the ball. In mid-stride, he thumped his fist into his mitt. His teammates, who had seen this gesture before, knew that this meant that he thought he would catch it. But most fans didn't know this. Watching on television (NBC, Channel 4 in New York), they figured the ball would go over his head, scoring Doby and Rosen, and that Wertz, not exactly fleet of foot, had a chance at a triple, or even an inside-the-park home run.

Willie has said many times that he was already thinking of the throw back to the infield, hoping to hold Doby to only 3rd base.

With his back to the ball all the way, he caught the ball over his head, stopped, pivoted, and threw the ball back to the infield. Doby did get only to 3rd.

The announcers were Jack Brickhouse, who normally did the home games for both of Chicago's teams, the Cubs and the White Sox, but was the lead announcer for NBC in this Series; and Russ Hodges, the usual Giants announcer, made nationally famous 3 years earlier when Bobby Thomson's home run made him yell, "The Giants win the Pennant!" over and over again.

Brickhouse: "There's a long drive, way back in center field, way back, back, it is... Oh, what a catch by Mays! The runner on second, Doby, is able to tag and go to third. Willie Mays just brought this crowd to its feet with a catch which must have been an optical illusion to a lot of people. Boy! See where that 483 foot mark is in center field? The ball itself... Russ, you know this ballpark better than anyone else I know. Had to go about 460, didn't it?"

Hodges: "It certainly did, and I don't know how Willie did it, but he's been doing it all year."


It has been argued by many, including Bob Feller, the pitching legend sitting on the Indians' bench, that the reason so much is made of this catch, to the point where it is known as The Catch, capital T, Capital C, is that it was in New York, it was in the World Series, and it was on television. "It was far from the best catch I've ever seen," Feller said. Mays himself would say he'd made better catches. But none more consequential.

Durocher yanked Liddle, and brought in Marv Grissom. Upon reaching the Giant dugout, Liddle told his teammates, "Well, I got my man."

Yeah, Don. You got him.

Grissom walked Dale Mitchell to load the bases with only 1 out. But he struck out Dave Pope, and got Jim Hegan to fly out, to end the threat.

When the Giants got back to the dugout, they told Willie what a hard catch it was. He said, "You kiddin'? I had that one all the way."

The game went to extra innings. Future Hall-of-Famer Bob Lemon went the distance for the Tribe, but in the bottom of the 10th, he walked Mays, who stole 2nd. Then he intentionally walked Hank Thompson to set up an inning-ending double play. It didn't happen: Durocher sent Dusty Rhodes up to pinch-hit for left fielder Monte Irvin, and Rhodes hit the ball down the right-field line. It just sort of squeaked into the stands.

On the film, it looks a little like a fan reached out, and it bounced off his hand. A proto-Jeffrey Maier? To this day, no one has seriously argued that the call should be overturned.

The game was over: Giants 5, Indians 2. The Indians, heavily favored to win the Series, never recovered, and the Giants swept. The Series ended on October 2, tied with 1932 for the 2nd-earliest end to a World Series. (In 1918, the season was shortened due to World War I, and ended on September 11.)

Still alive from this game, 60 years later, are: From the Giants: Mays, Irvin, and shortstop Alvin Dark; from the Indians, Rosen, and his usual backup, a pinch-runner in this game, Rudy Regalado.

Victor Woodrow Wertz, a native of Reading, Pennsylvania, was a right fielder and 1st baseman. He made his name with the Detroit Tigers, hit 266 home runs in his career, had 5 100-plus RBI seasons, and made 4 All-Star Teams. He went 4-for-5 with 2 RBIs in this game. He should be remembered as more than a man who hit a 460-foot (or so) drive that was caught, while another guy in the same game hit a 260-foot drive that won the game as a home run. He died in 1983, aged only 58.

Willie Howard Mays Jr., a native of Fairfield, Alabama, outside Birmingham, became one of baseball's greatest legends. He hit 660 home runs, collected 3,283 hits, made 24 All-Star Games (there were 2 every season from 1959 to 1962), won a Gold Glove the 1st 12 seasons it was given out (1957 to 1968), won the 1954 and 1965 NL Most Valuable Player awards, and played on 4 Pennant winners -- but 1954 would be his only title.

The Giants, with whom he moved to San Francisco in 1958, retired his Number 24, dedicated a statue to him outside AT&T Park, and made its official address 24 Willie Mays Plaza. He played with the Giants until 1972, when he was traded to the Mets, going back to New York at age 41. He retired in 1973, and the Mets have rarely given out Number 24 since.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his 1st year of eligibility, 1979. In 1999, he was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team, and The Sporting News put him at Number 2 on its list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players -- 2nd only to the long-dead Babe Ruth, so Willie was tops among living players. No player has since come along to suggest otherwise -- not later Giant Barry Bonds, not Derek Jeter. Willie is 83 years old. Last week, the Giants held a pregame ceremony honoring the 60th Anniversary of The Catch, even though it happened all the way across the country from where they play now.

September 29, 1955: Game 2 of the World Series. Tommy Byrne goes the distance and singles in a run, as the Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers, 4-2.

The Yankees have a 2-games-to-0 lead as the Series goes to Brooklyn. Dem Bums is in deep trouble.

September 29, 1959: Game 2 of the National League Playoff, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Like in 1946, but not 1951, the Dodgers make sure the Playoff series doesn't go to a Game 3. They score 3 runs in the bottom of the 9th to send the game to extra innings. With 2 outs in the 12th, Gil Hodges draws a walk, Joe Pignatano singles, and Carl Furillo singles home Hodges with the Pennant-winning run, 6-5.

The Dodgers had won the 1st Pennant by any team west of St. Louis. The City of Milwaukee has had just 1 Pennant winner in the 56 years since, the 1982 Brewers; and the Braves wouldn't win another Pennant for 32 years, and by that point they were in their 26th season in Atlanta.

September 29, 1977: Billy Joel releases his album The Stranger, including the title track, "Just the Way You Are," "Only the Good Die Young," "She's Always a Woman," and perhaps his best (if not most-played) song, "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," a.k.a. "The Ballad of Brenda and Eddie." Or "Brender 'n' Eddie." It is one of the greatest albums in history.

This album wouldn't seem to have anything to do with sports, but the cover does show a pair of boxing gloves hanging from a nail on the wall.

September 29, 1988: Kevin Wayne Durant is born in Washington, D.C. A 6-time All-Star, he's already played in an NBA Finals for the Oklahoma City Thunder (2012) and won an NBA MVP award (2014).

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September 30, 1936: Game 1 of the World Series. George Selkirk hits a home run, but that's the only run Carl Hubbell, in the middle of his 24-game regular-season winning streak, allows, as the New York Giants beat the Yankees 6-1 at the Polo Grounds. Dick Bartell homers for the Jints.

September 30, 1942: Game 1 of the World Series. Red Ruffing takes a no-hitter into the 8th inning, before Terry Moore breaks it up with 2 out. In the bottom of the 9th inning, the St. Louis Cardinals scored 4 runs and then managed to load the bases, bringing Stan Musial -- then a rookie, but already The Man -- to the plate as the winning run. Yankee manager Joe McCarthy brought Spud Chandler in to relieve, and got Musial to ground out. Yankees 7, Cardinals 4.

As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, 3 months away from being born, would later say, "There's always these omens in baseball." Going into that bottom of the 9th, the Yankees led 7-0. Over the rest of the Series, the Cardinals outscored the Yankees 21-11.

September 30, 1944: James Connolly Johnstone in born in Viewpark (now Uddingston), a suburb of Glasgow, Scotland. An outside right (a right winger in today's formations), Jimmy Johnstone, a.k.a. Jinky, played for hometown soccer team Celtic from 1961 to 1975, winning 9 League titles and 4 Scottish Cups, and was voted the club's greatest player ever by its fans.

In 1967, he was the big star of their team that became the 1st British side to win the European Cup (the tournament now known as the UEFA Champions League), defeating Internazionale Milano at Lisbon, Portugal (earning the team the nickname the Lisbon Lions). Later that year, he played for the Scotland national team that beat World Cup holders England, leading Scottish fans to proclaim their team "World Champions." (It doesn't work that way, as boxing does.)

In 1975, he played for the original San Jose Earthquakes, in the original North American Soccer League. He died in 2006.

September 30, 1947: Game 1 of the World Series. The Brooklyn Dodgers have won the Pennant, and, all together, Jackie Robinson and his 24 white teammates, stand on the 3rd-base line at Yankee Stadium, hearing the National Anthem. Jackie would write in his memoir I Never Had It Made that this was the highlight of his career: Not only that he had played in the white major leagues, but that he had been accepted by his teammates, and, together, they had succeeded. They were the National League Champions.

But they still had a World Series to play, in front of 73,365 people -- over twice the capacity of Ebbets Field. Dodger Captain Pee Wee Reese scores all the way from 2nd base on a wild pitch by rookie starter Frank "Spec" Shea in the 7th inning. But that's the only real highlight for the Dodgers, as the Yankees batter 21-year-old 21-game winner Ralph Branca for 5 runs in the 5th, and go on to win 5-3.

September 30, 1953: Game 1 of the World Series. Gil Hodges, George "Shotgun" Shuba and Jim "Junior" Gilliam hit home runs for the Dodgers. It's not enough, as Yogi Berra and Joe Collins do the same for the Yankees, who win 9-5.

Johnny Sain is the winning pitcher. The Yankees gave up Lew Burdette to get Sain from the Boston Braves. Burdette would help the Braves, by then in Milwaukee, drive the Yankees crazy in the 1957 and '58 Series. But Sain helped the Yankees big-time, so it was an even trade.

September 30, 1955: Game 3 of the World Series. The Dodgers get back into the Series, thanks to the pitching of Johnny Podres and a home run by Roy Campanella. They beat the Yankees 8-3, and close to within 2 games to 1.

September 30, 1978: Ed Figueroa becomes the 1st pitcher born in Puerto Rico to win 20 games in a season (and is still the only one), pitching a 5-hit shutout. The Yankees knock Cleveland starter Mike Paxton out of the box before he can get an out, and Rick Wise pitches the rest of the way, with Reggie Jackson homering off him in the 5th inning. (Mr. October was pretty good in September, too.) Given the boost, Figgy cruises to a 7-0 victory.

The next day is the last day of the regular season. All the Yankees need to do is beat the Indians again, or have the Boston Red Sox lose to the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Yankees will win their 3rd straight American League Eastern Division title.

They didn't get the win, and they didn't get the Boston loss. It would go to a Playoff at Fenway Park. Well, we know how that story ends, don't we?

September 30, 2014: The current and former Kansas City teams face off in the American League Wild Card game at Kauffman Stadium. The Oakland Athletics score 5 runs in the top of the 6th inning to take a 5-2 lead over the Kansas City Royals, but the Royals score 3 in the bottom of the 8th to stun the A's and send the game to extra innings.

It looked like the A's have it won in the top of the 12th, as Josh Reddick leads off with a walk, gets bunted to 2nd by Jed Lowrie, advances to 3rd on a wild pitch by Jason Frasor, and then scores on a single by Alberto Callaspo.

But in the bottom of the 12th, Eric Hosmer triples with 1 out, and Christian Colon singles him home with the tying run. Colon steals 2nd, and Salvador Perez singles him home with the run that puts the Royals in the Playoffs proper, 9-8.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Wouldn't be surprised if Joe managed to blow this somehow. Only consolation is that after a collapse like that, maybe he will finally get fired.