Saturday, April 12, 2008

Blame It On the Rain

Saturday's game was winnable. It was winnable in the sixth inning, when the Yanks' 2-1 lead--by the way, when is this team gonna start scoring?--was blown on a tactical gamble. Mike Mussina, who was sterling in his last start (six two-hit innings against the Rays), was having a fine afternoon through five, marred only by a Manny Ramirez homer. In the sixth, a one-out single and double had put men on second and third for the struggling David Ortiz, and the Moose, showing some old-school stuff, struck Ortiz out on four pitches. And then, with Manny coming to the plate, Joe Girardi held a conference on the mound. The question, of course, was whether to walk Ramirez.

According to Pete Abraham, Mussina told Girardi that Ramirez was the matchup he wanted, and Girardi went with his pitcher's call. Moose's first pitch was waist-high and caught too much of the plate--Manny (being Manny) ripped it for a double, and the lead.

Now, coming into today's game, Manny was 17 for his last 44 against Mussina, with four homers--that covers the period from 2003-2007, postseason included. Yes, it's a small sample, but after Manny belted one halfway to the moon in the fourth inning, maybe Girardi should have considered the matchup between Mussina's cerebral stuff-challenged pitching style and Ramirez's, um, not-so-cerebral hitting style an advantage for the batter.

Yeah, I know Mussina has lots of experience. Yes, he'd just gotten a big out against the Sox's other big bopper. And no, I don't blame Mussina for thinking he could get Ramirez out. He's an athlete--he has to believe he can get Ramirez out. Girardi isn't obligated to listen to Mussina, much less agree with him. This was the manager's bad call.

The Moose apparently felt he'd rather face Manny Ramirez than Kevin Youkilis, and that's exactly the way it worked out. Just not in a good way. One bad turn followed another, as the pitcher brought in to replace Mussina was Brian Bruney, the, what, eleventh? Maybe even twelfth man to make the pitching staff out of Spring Training. Youkilis hit a single, and now it was 4-2.

The game was still winnable, though. The Yanks brought the score within one in the seventh inning. That rally stalled out when Jose Molina--who had to bat because the Yanks aren't carrying a third catcher and Jorge Posada is still injured--struck out against Manny DelCarmen with the tying run on second base. The Yanks rallied again in the eighth, against Hideki Okajima, when the Yanks got two men on with two outs, and Alex Rodriguez coming to the plate. This time, it was Terry Francona who seemed caught off-balance by the turn of events--the two baserunners came over the space of just five pitches--and closer Jon Papelbon was rushed into the game. The tide was turning...

...and then, as Papelbon warmed up to face A-Rod, the rain came. The umps made a judgment call to put the tarp on the field rather than let the inning go one more batter--a call that looked kind of stupid when the rain died down immediately after the tarp was rolled out, and seemed to stay okay for at least 15 minutes before the rain started in earnest, for matbe two hours. Maybe someone who was in Beantown can tell me that this was a monsoon, but it just didn't look that way on the tube.

Now, maybe the result would have been the same had Alex gotten to face Papelbon at 6:20, rather than 8:30. But because of the delay, Papelbon got to warm up again (a couple of times) in a leisurely fashion, rather than with the sense of urgency they had when he was first called into the game. Meanwhile, Rodriguez had to sit in what's reputedly the smallest, crappiest visitor's clubhouse in baseball, getting cold and thinking about the at-bat. When his opportunity finally did come, it was a three-pitch strikeout, and the epic poem "Alex Rodriguez Chokes in the Clutch" had a new verse or two.

Papelbon's pitches were nasty, but Alex has to get tired of saying "you just have to tip your cap to the pitcher..." Now Phil Hughes takes the mound tomorrow hoping to salvage a series win.

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