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Made To Order
2005-04-13 22:03
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Last night, the Yankees won a gem of a ballgame in Fenway that pressed all the right buttons for a Yankee team that seemed to be on the verge of a slump.

With Curt Schilling coming off the disabled list, Jaret Wright coming off a disaster start against Baltimore, and the Red Sox coming off an 8-1 win over the Yankees in their celebratory home opener on Monday, everything seemed to be leaning the Red Sox way.

In the early going it stayed that way. Schilling looked dominant, while Wright appeared to be hanging on by his teeth. Schilling struck out four while allowing just two hits in the first three innings. Then Wright--who stranded runners at the corners in the first, and pitched around a lead-off single in the second--got himself into an awful mess in the bottom of the third.

He went to a full count on the first two batters, getting Ramon Vazquez (starting at second for Mark Bellhorn) to groundout before yielding a double to Johnny Damon. He then walked Trot Nixon and Manny Ramirez on five pitches each to load the bases. That brought David Ortiz to the plate with one out. Wright promptly fell behind Ortiz 3-1, who was 5 for 10 lifetime against him coming into the game. Miraculously, Wright got Ortiz to lift a mere sac fly to left. He then walked Kevin Millar to re-load the bases and fell behind Edgar Renteria 2-0 only to get him to ground to short on the 2-1 pitch to end the inning.

Despite struggling through the heart of the Red Sox order, walking three men and allowing a double to another, Wright escaped down just 1-0. He then settled down in the fourth, pitching around another lead-off single by racking up his only two strikeouts of the game.

In the fifth, the Yankees finally got to Schilling. After Jason Giambi reached on an infield single into the shift, Tino Martinez followed with a booming ground rule double that bounded into the Boston bullpen, pushing Giambi to third. After a Bernie fly out to shallow left, Tony Womack drew his third walk of the season (more on this later)--after falling behind Schilling 0-2, no less. That loaded the bases. Jeter then singled Giambi home, keeping the bags juiced, and Gary Sheffield followed with a sac fly to center that put the Yankees ahead 2-1.

Trot Nixon then tied the game, leading off the bottom of the inning by sending Wright's third pitch into the Boston bullpen. The Yankees returned serve in the top of the sixth when Jorge Posada singled and Jason Giambi cranked a two-run homer into the seats in right field. After a Tino groundout, Bernie cracked a shot to right center, putting the Yanks up by the eventual final of 5-2 and driving Schilling from the game.

Tanyon Sturtze and Tom Gordon (TanGorMo?) followed with three scoreless innings, two for Sturtze, who pitched around a lead-off single in the sixth and needed just six pitches to retire Ramirez, Ortiz and Millar in the seventh. Gordon then set down the next three Sox in order on nine pitches in the eighth.

That brought in Mariano Rivera to sarcastic cheers from the Fenway Faithful in the ninth. Rivera is still not up to his usual form (with two outs he walked Trot Nixon on five pitches, and he needed 18 pitches, only half of which were strikes, to get through the inning), but he nailed down the save without incident, the perfect cherry on top of a delicious Yankee win that evens their record and guarantees that they'll leave Fenway no worse than tied with the Red Sox in the season series.

In addition to beating Schilling and the Sox and getting a solid outing from Mo, the big story of the night was the bottom of the Yankee order. Posada, Giambi, Martinez, and Williams went a combined 8 for 15 with two doubles (Bernie, Tino), two homers (Bernie, Giambi), three RBIs, five runs scored, a walk, and just two strikeouts. Bernie Williams went 3 for 4 with seven total bases and, after starting the season hitless in his first four games, now has a four-game hitting streak going in which he is six for thirteen. Bernie has also reached base in all but one of the Yankees games thus far this season.

Another interesting wrinkle to last night's game was the Yankee batting order itself. A sign that the Yankees were taking their 1-4 run as hard as some of their fans, Joe did the Torre shuffle and wound up with this:

Womack
Jeter
Sheffield
Matsui
Rodriguez
Posada
Giambi
Martinez
Williams

Now, I know what you're thinking, "Womack leading off? Cliff's face must be melting off his skull." Actually it's not, and I'll tell you why. As I mentioned in the above recap, Tony Womack drew his third walk of the season last night. Thus far Womack is walking something in the neighborhood of 70 percent more often than his career rate, in fact he's walking more often than Derek Jeter's career rate (and about as often as Jeter is in the young season).

The sample size is miniscule (we're talking about three walks), but if he can keep it up, Womack will have greatly increased his value and could even prove to be a legitimate lead-off candidate. Right now Womack has a .355 on-base percentage, a total about 70 points higher than his batting average. If Womack can keep that up, I'll keep quiet about Torre leading him off. Sure a potential .340-.360 OBP would be among the "worst" in the Yankee line-up, but it's a far sight better than his career .319 or PECOTA's projected .303.

Of course, Womack could go the remainder of the month without drawing another walk and I'll go right back to burying him in this space, but thus far I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. One major reason for that is that all three of Womack three walks have come in the middle of Yankee rallies, which suggests that, rather than submitting to the opposing pitcher's wildness, Womack is being strategically selective. Schilling walked just one man last night: Tony Womack. This could actually be significant.

Meanwhile, Womack leading off pushes Alex Rodriguez into the heart of the order, which is a nice trick as it protects Hideki Matsui and surrounds him with MVP-quality righty bats. Of course, it would have been easy enough to move Matsui to third and have Sheffield protect him in the clean-up spot, which with the 2004 Matsui apparently the real deal, is the more appropriate order anyway, but having Rodriguez hit fifth accomplishes something else significant: it keeps Ruben Sierra out of the heart of the order. For some reason Joe has refused to bat Jorge Posada fifth since the season's opening series, instead using Giambi and Tino once each and Sierra thrice in that slot. Unless and until Giambi proves that he can again be an offensive force, this just won't do, and Sierra batting fifth really won't do. Putting Rodriguez there would, obviously, protect against that impulse.

Lastly, I was very interested in the roster move the Red Sox made when activating Curt Schilling yesterday. The parallels between the Red Sox and Yankees 25-man rosters are surprising. Both started the season with four-man rotations due to an aging ace starting off on the DL. As a result, both teams had seven-man bullpens and five-man benches. It is widely assumed that the Yankees, upon activating Kevin Brown this weekend, will stick with 12 pitchers (an uncessecary number), and demote Offical Bronx Banter Lost Cause, hella-hitting corner infielder Andy Phillips.

Similarly, it was assumed that the "smarter" Red Sox, would stick with eleven pitchers, understanding the value of a deeper bench during the regular season and recognizing the twelfth pitcher as extraneous. It was assumed National League import Blaine Neal would be the man to get the bump. Not so, Neal is out of options and the Sox don't want to lose him, despite having six better options in their pen. The next best candidate for elimination would have seemed to be Matt "Sea Cow" Mantei, but his upside is too high for the Sox to cut bait this early in the season. Thus they're going to stick with 12 pitchers, just like the "misguided" Yankees.

Thus, the Sox had to get rid of a bench player to make room for Schilling. Ramon Vazquez, who started at second last night in place of Mark Bellhorn (who supposedly has terrible numbers against Jaret Wright), is the weakest hitter on the Sox bench, but he's the only man who can replace Renteria at shortstop (a problem the Yankees shouldn't have with Rey Sanchez thanks to their playing a Gold Glove shortstop at third base). The next man on the list appeared to be Dave McCarty, who was the last man to make the team out of camp and is a tad redundant as the team's fifth outfielder and third first baseman. But no, the Sox have sent down the 26-year-old Greek God of Walks himself, Kevin Youkilis.

The parallels between Youkilis' and Phillips' situations are many. Both are corner infielders who are more valuable at the plate than the majority of their team's major league bench players, both are a bit old to be top prospects, but would be the youngest position player on their respective teams, both have impecable track records (though Youkilis hits for less power) . . . and both have options left.

There are several teams in the Major Leagues that would be improved by having Youkilis start at third and Phillips start at first. But what at first glance would seem to be a byproduct of the opulence of the game's two most powerful teams, the burying of these two young men in triple-A, is actually the rare instance of the Red Sox utilizing their resources as poorly as the Yankees. There's consolation there somewhere.

Tonight, the Yanks send Randy Johnson to the hill as the Red Sox hope to even the season series behind Bronson Arroyo. Here's hoping we get another gem.

Comments
2005-04-14 02:27:07
1.   David
On a side note, who is the Yankees 12th pitcher? In other words, I agree that 12 pitchers are too many, especially because Torre won't use them all anyhow. He'll stick to ones he has confidence in. So, who is the least useful pitcher on the Yankee staff?

My feeling is that the Yankees don't know the answer to this question. Karsay could be the least useful, yet if he recovers his past form, he'd be excellent. Stanton is apt to be kept just because he's a lefty. Rodriguez

2005-04-14 05:00:29
2.   seamus
David, that is a good question. Rodriguez is also good against lefties. Not sure this is an easy decision but I'd expect that someone will be the odd man out soon enough based on performance or health.
2005-04-14 05:38:59
3.   rbj
Nice to see Torre basically tell Wright, "You got yourself into this mess, now get yourself out of it" and have Jaret do it.
2005-04-14 06:16:54
4.   Dan M
Cliff, you'll be happy to know that I made everyone in the bar listen to my "Where is Andy Phillips?" rant when Torre let Womack bat against Mike Meyers. Thanks to Womack's immediate and all to predictable GIDP, I looked like less of a raving drunk than I had seconds before.

Was it me or did it seem like the Yanks helped Curt out early on by swinging at too many pitches up and out of the zone?

2005-04-14 06:38:57
5.   rsmith51
I also was wondering why Torre left Womack in against Meyers. It seemed like a good spot for Phillips or even Sierra. What's the point in having a bench if you don't use them? Maybe that is why they carry 12 pitchers.
2005-04-14 06:51:25
6.   STONER
WHEW! Is all I can say about last night's game - I know it's really early, but that win for the Yanks was necessary for a bunch of reasons (not the least of which was beating Schilling.) Big welcome back to Bernie and Mo...David Justice was saying Mo never really had a spring training (bursitis), did not throw during the winter, and is just now starting to come around - so we can expect the good old dominant Mo from here on out. A-Rod? He worries me. He is in the spotlight and playing under intense pressure and he is NOT producing - do we have another Winfield on our hands?
2005-04-14 07:08:06
7.   Cliff Corcoran
Stoner, you take that back about Winnie! He hit .350/.381/.550 against the Brewers in the '81 Divisional Series, .250/.357/.542 (2 homers) against the powerhouse A's in the '92 ALCS, and then got the Series-winning double in that year's World Series. Most importnatly, his teams won four of the five postseason series in which he played.

As for Rodriguez, he's a .330/.395/.583 career postseason hitter who, you may recall, was the unofficial ALDS MVP last year hitting .421/.476/.737 and manufacturing the winning run in Game 4 on his own. That said, I do think there's something to the fact that he presses too much against the Sox.

2005-04-14 08:06:41
8.   Zack
How ironic that Womack leaves the bottom of the order and it starts to hit, and joins the top of the order and it stops (well, really, did it ever start besides Jeter?) I just hope maybe Torre sticks to something like this for a little bit, especially where A-Rod, Bernie, and Giambi are. Bernie and Giambi hitting that high up just kills our lineup. Give them some time.

As for both the 12th pitcher and Phillips, its just Torre being Torre. He likes his "warriors" and doesn't trust anyone else. Odly enough, and as inexplicable as it seems, Sturtze is a good example. Here's a guy who came in as a vet with minimal success, but because he was a vet, Torre allowed him to get his work in and figure himself out (maybe we should just make Mo the pitching coach, as he has "saved" more pitchers than Mel at this point). Torre never lets his rookies do the same, one bad start and they never get his trust again.

2005-04-14 08:14:33
9.   murphy
'ts funny, cliff: when i heard womack was batting leadoff, you were the first person i thought of. i was almost dissapointed that i didn't get to read one of your great rants. dissapointment aside, big ups to torre, who, in his ultimate wisdom, responded to Sterling complimenting him on the lineup during the pre-game: [ed] it's only a good lineup if we win - so if we produce, it will validate that compliment...

and produce it did.

2005-04-14 08:15:26
10.   Alex Belth
Cliff, I gotta agree. Give me a bunch of guys like Winfield anyday. He was an excellent Yankee and suffered because he wasn't Reggie Jackson. Well, in many ways he was a better player for the Yanks than Reggie was, but few players in history were as good in big games as Jackson.

Schilling is something, isn't he? He looked like his old self there for four innings, and realistically, I don't think the Sox expected to get much more out of him. He's another guy who seems to rise to the occasion.

Although he grounded out to Renteria in his second at bat, Jeter couldn't catch up to Schilling's fastball. In his third time up, he fouled a slider, or a splitter to the right side, but was trying to go there, and then of course, his RBI single to right came off a fastball on the outside corner.

Rodriguez, on the other hand, had a few really good swings off of Schilling, he just didn't have anything to show for it. He just missed one in his first at bat (I think it was the third or fourth pitch of the sequence). Schilling did a great job striking him out on a low and outside splitter.

I think it's true that Rodriguez presses against Boston but he only had one poor at bat last night, the one against Blaine Neal. He was trying to do too much in that one. Otherwise he had some good swings.

It was great to see Bernie have a productive night. Both of his hits off of Schilling came on breaking pitches. I thought Schilling got too cute with him in his first at bat, throwing him a curve ball, when he could have just blown him away with the heater. The home run Bernie hit came off a lousy splitter that just hung up there for him.

Also, Giambi's dinger looked great. Sweet swing, and there was no doubt about that one.

Yeah, Wright had a weird night. In the third inning, he looked like he lost all feel for the plate. But I give him credit weasling out of it with only one run scoring. It turned out to be the pivotal moment in the game for him. Also, nice charging play by Jeter to end the side. At first glance, I thought that Renteria beat the throw and that the Sox had gotten jobbed. But I think the replay showed that Renteria was out by a half-a-step.

Also, Sturtze was impressive. Damon put together a tough at bat against him in the sixth. What was it, something like 10, 11 pitches before he whiffed on the splitter? I thought that might gas Sturtze. But was really notable was out quickly he worked through Ramirez-Ortiz-and Millar in the seventh. He couldn't have thrown much more than 10 pitches. That was outstanding.

Lastly, Rivera was good. Still falling behind in the count, and yeah, Bellhorn's line out was hit hard, but though it wasn't vintage, I'll take it any day of the week. I understand why some Sox fans would razz him, but isn't just silly to get too sure of yourself when it comes to a guy like Rivera? Aren't you just going to make yourself look dumb in the end?

Oh well. It was a good win. And it'll be nice to see Randy Johnson in there tonight. He's due for a stellar outing, right? Also, I'm curious to see how Arroyo does. My call is that Rodriguez is going to have a good night.

2005-04-14 08:36:33
11.   Patrick
When are people going to ease off Womack and give him a legit shot? So far, I like him. Soriano he's not. But, Cairo he can be. He's the weakest bat in our lineup like Cairo was the weakest bat in the lineup. Just because we don't have a 20 HR guy (I know HRs aren't that big a deal if you can do other things, but for emphasis) at 9 positions instead of 8 doesn't mean we should act spoiled...
2005-04-14 08:37:46
12.   Patrick
Oh and was the Bernie home run sweet or was it sweet? Awesome!
2005-04-14 10:09:48
13.   Nick from Washington Heights
I agree with Patrick. Womack thus far has been a solid contributor. Hopefully it will last because part of the enjoyment of watching baseball is in watching players play over their heads. Anyway, I like his no nonsense hustling approach to the game.

Man, Bernie looked like the old Bernie last night. It was great to see.

One thing of some concern: Is Torre planning on pitching Sturtze every game so that he can be out of gas come playoff a la Quantrill 2004? Considering that he insists on a 12 pitcher rotation, he uses very few of those pitchers. Perhaps, when the Sox are out the way, he'll be a bit more liberal. Torre does manage tight especially against the Sox.

2005-04-14 11:33:22
14.   Alvaro Espinoza
Poor T-Wo can't catch a break (not that he deserves one). Seems like a lot of you walk around w/ a t-shirt bearing his face surrounded by a large circle w/ a line through it. Anyway, same situation, reverse the score, Torre PH's for Tony w/o a doubt. Up 3 in April, he gets to hit (and yes, it was a miserable AB).

Still not the worst AB of the night. That honor goes to: A-rod's AB in the 7th, 1 out, runners on the corners. Put the ball in play!!! Yanks futility at getting runners in from 3rd w/ less than 2 out the past couple of years has been staggering.

Torre has settled on Sturtze/Gordon/Rivera and yes, there is the potential for the same overworked bullpen as last year unless another guy(s) steps up. Season is still young.

Would like to see Unit earn his $$$ and pitch 7 strong innings tonight. Mo closing it out a 2nd night in a row would be the icing on the cake.

2005-04-14 11:49:06
15.   Pete
Last night during the game, Kaat and Murcer talked about if Giambi would just go the other way, he could go 4-4 against the shift. They alluded to a Paul O'Neill comment about how you can't ask a hitter to go against his swing. My question is, why not? How come in golf, Tiger Woods can retool his swing twice and win the Master's, but Giambi can't learn to hit the ball the other way once in a while? Ortiz learned to do it to take advantage of the Monster, Matsui can do it when the count gets to two strikes, why can't Jason Giambi? I know he hit the big dinger last night, but it is frustrating to see that gaping hole down the third base line and watch him hit into the teeth of the shift all the time.
2005-04-14 11:54:29
16.   Beth
re Youkilis situation--Sox 2b has been a platoon situation for years. 3b with the former AL batting champ is not. sox want youkilis to get ABs, so he goes to pawtucket where he can play every day and get ready for when / if mueller leaves.

our bullpen, in case you haven't noticed, needs all the help it can get. kevin millar runs like a tree, and needs a pinch runner often. nixon will be out of the game vs. lefties, hence another reason to keep mccarty. but the big reason to send youkilis down is so he'll see more playing time.

makes sense to me.

2005-04-14 13:56:29
17.   Nick from Washington Heights
hey beth, just curious to read your view on what you think theo and co have done wrong this off-season? I'm in earnest when I ask this question and i'm not taking any shot at you as an overly loyal fan (hey, that's a good thing anyway), so please don't read this the wrong way. Yanks fan like myself have a lot to scratch our heads about (Wright, Womack, not going after Beltran). what about sox fans? the one move i found slightly odd was the signing of renteria to such a large contract when you have hensley ramirez waiting in the wings. what do you think?
2005-04-15 05:12:09
18.   Beth
Agreed re hanley / renteria. Renteria's not helping by really sucking at least so far.

Also I think the signing of David Wells, and the trading away of Dave Roberts to do so, is a major mistake. MAJOR, and it'll probably torpedo this season.

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