Sunday, August 14, 2005

Gassed

The Yanks broke a streak of one-run ballgames yesterday, a streak which went back to the beginning of the White Sox series on Monday, by beating the Rangers 7-5 .

The Yanks were up by two, 5-3, going into the ninth inning, when they brought Mariano Rivera in for the save. The Yankees had scored early on some home run goodness by Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez, and Mike Mussina was cruising until he got touched up for a two run homer by Kevin Mench in the 8th. In the ninth, Rivera allowed three singles and a hit by pitch, which allowed the Rangers to tie the score. Then, in the tenth, Rivera allowed two more singles in a scoreless inning.

Mariano looked gassed. He's pitched five times this week, for a total 6 2/3 innings. Gordon, who was called on in the 8th after Mussina gave up his homer, has five appearances, for 4 2/3 innings. Sturtze has also appeared in five games, pitching 3 1/3 innings with the save in Friday night's win.

To put things in perspective, the 6 2/3 innings Rivera pitched this week equals his total for the entire month of April. Mariano's gone from that ridiculously low total in April, to pitching under 12 innings in both May and June, to pitching nearly 17 innings in July, and on a pace for about that much in August.

The reason for the swing is the fact that the Yanks have managed more close games in the past couple of months. Since Joe Torre lets the save rule govern his use of Rivera, the man who is arguably the Yanks' best pitcher is entirely dependent upon what his teammates do in the first seven or eight innings to determine whether he'll get to play.

While Torre's bullpen use has its bad sides--the Rivera/save rule bit being almost as bad as his philosophy that the bullpen is only three men deep--he'll sometimes improvise in ways that show more flexibility. For example, in Friday's game, Torre used Shawn Chacon--today's starter--to pitch the 8th inning. Yesterday, Aaron Small--who is still presumptively in the rotation--was used to pitch the 10th inning. That's old-school bullpen usage, hearkening to years of old. For example, in 1955, Whitey Ford threw six relief appearances along with his 33 starts. If the save stat had existed in '55, Whitey would have had a couple of saves. Seven Yankees started at least 10 games that season, and all of them made relief appearances. That's unimaginable these days, where everyone--from players and their agents to the managers--seems so obsessed about each player having a defined "role."

You'd think it'd be good enough to tell a pitcher, "Your role is to get outs, when I tell ya to." But it just doesn't fly anymore. That's a shame, because with the Yanks' pitching staff having the assortment of injuries and ineffectiveness that they've experienced, getting guys to pitch in beyond their roles is taking on greater importance. Otherwise, another stretch of close games could render key pitchers like Rivera and Gordon down the stretch in September, and (hopefully) October.

A quick segway--I chose the '55 Yanks somewhat at random, but it's no surprise that a Yankee team that was successful and where the players were used very flexibly was also a team managed Casey Stengel. This week, I'm going to start posting book reviews starting with Steven Goldman's Forging Genius, a look at the experiences that shaped Stengel's management philosophy. Other books on the cue are Will Carroll's The Juice, and Matt McGough's Bat Boy. After that, I'll try to covince the authors to grace this space with a few words about their work.

UPDATE:

Yanks up 7-3, in rain delay. They were trailing 3-2 in the fifth inning when, with two outs, Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez each walked, setting up a three-run upper deck homer by Hideki Matsui. Matsui's shot just cleared the foul pole, and could prove a game-winner if the rain keeps coming.

1 comment:

Phil Elkin said...

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