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The Pits
2005-08-04 04:43
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

The Yankees were leading 4-0 last night when Derek Jeter walked to lead-off the top of the fifth. Mike Mussina was crusing (he struck out six through four innings of work) and the offense was looking alive (back-to-back doubles by Matsui and Giambi followed by a two-run dinger by Posada). Then something happened and the course of the game changed for the worse.

Inexplicably, Robinson Cano was called on to bunt Jeter to second. On the YES broadcast, Michael Kay questioned such a move while the Yankees held a decent lead. Cano took two strikes right over the plate, making half-hearted attempts to actually connect with the ball, which is to say that he squared to bunt but then tentatively pulled his bat back. He compounded the problem when did lay a bunt down on the next pitch. It rolled foul and he was retired on strikes. Third base coach Luis Sojo threw his arms up and turned his back to the plate, and when Cano reached the dugout he went straight to principal Joe Torre's office. All I could think about was when Reggie Jackson tried to show Billy Martin by bunting with two strikes, but I doubt whether this was an intentionally defiant act on Cano's part. It was just the wrong time for a rookie mistake.

The Yankees did not score a run in the inning and then Mussina simply lost it (he walked four). While he wasn't getting the calls he would have liked from the home plate umpire Rob Drake, Mussina's pitches--fastballs, change-ups and breaking balls alike--all missed their spots, hanging up over the plate instead. The Indians pounced and scored six runs in the bottom of the fifth, chasing Mussina from the game. Everything had been looking up for the Yanks. Suddenly, they were sunk, and they went listlessly in the second-half of the game. Cleveland picked up the win (and the series), 7-4. After the game, Mussina told The New York Times:

"I tried everything I had, and I thought I had good stuff," Mussina said. "I just couldn't get it right. For 10 hitters, I couldn't get it right. When you have a 4-0 lead and things are going well for the club and that stuff happens, it's frustrating, disappointing. It's been a long time since something got away from me like that."

Joe Torre added:

"It looked like he had knockout stuff...Then it got ugly. It got away from him; it got away from us."

It was as discouraging a loss as the Yanks have had in a while. There were many long faces in the Yankee dugout, none more grave than Joe Torre's--heck, I wasn't feeling too chipper at home either. They didn't lose any ground in the wildcard race as the A's finally lost, but the Bombers did lose another game to the Red Sox who won their seventh straight last night in Boston.

Oy and veh.

Comments
2005-08-04 05:19:17
1.   mikeplugh
We're not out of it yet, but it's getting late, early...as Yogi's been known to say. You'll see a lot of what's left with this group of Yankees for the rest of the year, or they'll finally roll over.

If they can light a fire, get some pitchers back in the mix, and make a run, we'll pop the cork in October and enjoy at least one series....hopefully more.

If they keep going this way, we'll limp into the off-season a broken and aged team in need of a serious overhall. You may see Torre and his staff out. I hope to see Girardi in his seat, if that happens. You'll see Bernie, Tino, Womack, and maybe Posada out. You'll say goodbye to Kevin Brown (thankfully) and I have to wonder if anyone except Mussina and Johnson remain on the starting end of things.

Personally, I am really cheering for this bunch to make the playoffs, whether we win a single game or not. For the sake of the great Yankee players on the wrong side of their careers, I would like to see a last run this year, because it's probably over after 2005.

I'd love to see a few budding 24 year olds in CF, at catcher, and especially on the mound. If Oakland can keep reinventing themself, why can't we? Especially with some real studs left in the lineup and money to burn.

Let's go Andy Phillips!!

2005-08-04 06:42:01
2.   strangeluck
I've got to wonder whether Torre's decision to have Cano bunt was a product of trying to get one more run, or whether Mussina's performance was making him overconfident and he just wanted to see Cano attempt a bunt. Not that it was a good idea either way.
2005-08-04 06:50:52
3.   JohnnyC
minor point but I've never liked Cano in the second slot...too undisciplined for what Torre and traditionalists want: bat control, ability to bunt, better speed, willingness to take pitches so that Jeter or whomever can try to steal a bag. another in a long line of Torre's curious miscalculations. is it because he can't properly evaluate his players' skills? Cano was always a middle of the order hitter in the minors (because of his power and lack of burner speed). Did he suddenly get faster and more patient in the bigs?
2005-08-04 06:56:22
4.   Shaun P
Cano and Jeter trying to bunt where the situation absolutely does not call for it has become my #1 pet peeve, more so than poor bullpen management. Recall Joe T did this during Saturday's game, too - thank God for K-Rod's wildness - Cano made the only out of the 9th inning because he kept trying to bunt. I swore profusely as I heard the ESPN radio guys say, "Cano squares to bunt . . . strike two."

If I was to speculate . . . Joe T is treating Cano like a number two hitter from the 60s and 70s (ie a guy who can do just two things: make contact and bunt). WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU HAVE A GUY HITTING .296 - WHO HIT .319 IN JULY - EVER GIVE UP AN OUT BY BUNTING, WHEN YOU HAVE A HUGE LEAD OR NEED AS MANY RUNS AS POSSIBLE (AND ONLY HAVE SO MANY OUTS TO GET THEM IN)!? My guess is that Cano is thinking the same thing: I'm not a bunter, I'm a hitter, let me hit, dammit. Maybe he was trying to make a point last night? If so, another rookie mistake for sure.

I think we can all agree that Cano can hit major league pitching. Someone want to send Joe T a memo to remind him to let Cano hit?

BTW - if this bunting crap is coming from Girardi - an "old school" NLer himself - time to either re-educate the man or stop the talk about him taking over some day. I do not want to see another 10 years of Cano bunting in the 4th whenever the guy in front of him is on base.

2005-08-04 07:06:25
5.   singledd
While Cano does not have a great OBP, I think its good to have Cano in the top of the line-up. Hit hits for average and extra bases. It is also important not to have the bottom of the line-up too weak. This is already somewhat of a problem. If you switched Matsui to 2nd, and Giambi 5th, it leaves our 6-9 positions questionable.

I almost feel that early on, the Yanks' O felt 4 was enough. They were pounding the ball. It looked like they could score 10... if they really wanted to. By the time we needed 10 (or 8), the guys didn't have it.

ARod was prophetic in his 'we need to score 6' attitude. Our O needs to be intense ALL the time. They just can't wait for the pitching to help them out.

Even the comebacks against the Angels were rooted in walks (or no control by the pitchers) and a error. It's not like we slugged our way to those comebacks.

I don't think we have a chance to catch Boston. It's the WC or nothing. If we can play .600 baseball for the rest of the season, it's just a matter of the Angels or A's slowing down.

Painful to see Moose melt down when we were one out... one strike even... a number of times, from getting out of it.

2005-08-04 07:09:56
6.   JohnnyC
why do you think this "crap" is coming from Girardi? Jeez, is Torre the Teflon skipper? isn't it reasonable to think that these idiotic moves come from...ta da...the manager? maybe the misuse of the bullpen "crap" is the fault of Neil Allen, for chrissake.
2005-08-04 07:12:33
7.   singledd
P.S. I wasn't crazy about Cano bunting... but remember that our 'Dynasty Team' was able to play small ball and eek out extras runs here and there... some that were the winning run. I can't blame Torre for wanting to score runs without waiting for extra base hits. Its great we have so much firepower, but the offense does not have to be one-dimensional.

I think Torre was just trying to avoid a DP, and give Shef and ARod a chance for an RBI.

2005-08-04 07:26:43
8.   JohnnyC
You don't "tack on" by playing small ball in the 4th inning when you're leading 4-0 and there's a runner on first with nobody out. That's not moneyball, it's common sense. You're facing a pitcher who's given up 4 runs in 3 innings...that's extremely high leverage for trying to knock the guy out. "Tacking on" is a late inning strategy to cushion your bullpen and comes into play in low leverage situations when you're not beating the opposing pitcher's brains out...hence trying to bunt men over, working walks, hitting and running, stealing bases, "productive outs." Face it, Torre is clueless.
2005-08-04 07:34:49
9.   Ben
"I think Torre was just trying to avoid a DP, and give Shef and ARod a chance for an RBI."

Great point singledd.

I remember reading Moneyball how the sacrifice doesn't pay with a man on first and zero outs because the numbers say man on first, no outs has better scoring potential than man on second, one out. Something like that. But as you insightfully point out, it depends who's up next. Sheffield or A-rod with man on second and one out is probably better than Cano with man on first and zero outs. It would be even more true if the batter with no outs, man on first was a groundball hitter like Bernie or Matsui.

I was watching the game with my wife, her seventeen year old brother and my mother-in-law last night. My wife is a pretty educated fan, but the other two needed some help to follow the action and drama. Explaining situations like the one above reminded me of how much I love this game.

2005-08-04 07:41:23
10.   Shaun P
JohnnyC, I'm usually a defender of Joe T, but not on this bunting issue. I agree that "this crap" is coming from the manager - it fits his profile 100%. And that bunting is no way to "tack on" runs. (Let Cano hit, and the odds say he'll at least single, maybe even double, and then with Sheff, A-Rod, etc. due up, we see the underside of the Cleveland bullpen, and score 6+ runs.)

My concern is that IF Girardi is contributing to this crap - "hey Joe, you want Cano to practice bunting, why not now when we have a big lead and Moose is pitching all-world" - and I suspect, given Girardi's background, he MIGHT be - then someone needs to set him straight, IN ADDITION TO giving Joe T a clue that bunting is a bad idea when a hitter of Cano's ability is up.

2005-08-04 07:55:36
11.   bp1
Re: Cano's bunt.

I think someone hit the nail above. I think Torre, while never admitting it to the press, tests players in non-key situations. Cano needs to learn how to bunt. He's been up a few times this season where a bunt was the right call, but he couldn't handle it. Non-game practice is good for learning the technique, but he needs to show he can do it during a game with a real pitcher on the mound. When do you let him try? During a critical moment in the game, or when it's relatively low risk? I'd opt to let him work out his bunting problems during low-risk situations. Who'd a thunk Moose would give up a 4-0 lead like that? I think that was more of an "on the job training" move by Joe, rather than trying to tack on a run or avoid a double play. He was seeing if Cano can bunt. Once again, we learned he cannot. (Sojo's reaction was priceless).

I believe he's also followed that same philosophy with his relief crew. Test them in a game situation to see what they have, so when a critical spot comes up, he knows what he's dealing with.

Joe would probably roll his eyes reading this, but that's sure what it seems like sometimes. That he's not always managing for the "now", but rather trying to gauge what he's gonna have down the road, 'cause it was always a foregone conclusion that the team would make the post season. Problem is - this year we might not have a "down the road". I sure hope so - but it ain't gonna come easy. If we make it - it's gonna be tense right to the last weekend.

BP

2005-08-04 07:59:18
12.   bp1
One more thing. While Cano might have been a "heart of the order" hitter in the minor leagues, that's not the situation on the Yankees. We've got plenty of able bodies for the 4-5-6 spots.

He may grow to be a #3 hitter someday, but it ain't gonna be with the 2005 Yankees. He needs to learn to do the things you expect from a #2 hitter. The sooner he learns, the better.

BP

2005-08-04 08:03:44
13.   Shaun P
Ben and singledd, I agree, MAYBE Joe T wanted to avoid the DP, or eliminating the lead runner - both admirable goals. BUT, there's a better way to do it - just have Jeter take off with the pitch!

According to Prospectus's 2005 expected runs matrix:

Man on 1st, 0 outs: 0.9025 runs
Man on 2nd, 1 out: 0.7084 runs

So the numbers suggest it is better to have Cano hit with Jeter on 1st. Note that, if Sheff makes the 2nd out, you go down to:

Man on 2nd, 2 outs: 0.3497 runs

These numbers say you're both right on preventing the lead runner from becoming an out:

Man on 1st, 1 out: 0.5552 runs
Man on 2nd, 1 out: 0.7084 runs

I still think the hit and run is the better way to achieve that goal, instead of the bunt.

2005-08-04 08:38:37
14.   JohnnyC
if Torre is really "testing" players in tough situations as you say, then he's actually even goofier than I thought. It's also not backed up by his more recent moves. Pitching Wayne Franklin in a 1 run game in the 7th inning of a must-win Mussina start is not my idea of a "low-risk" situation. And in a "low-risk" situation (2 and 3 run leads in the 7th inning)he hooked both Scott Proctor and Felix Rodriguez after they walked one batter...guess they "failed" his test of one batter? Last night's Cano debacle was the wrong, wrong place to test his ability or lack thereof to put down a bunt. You're leading by 4 runs in only the fourth inning and you've raked the guy on the mound for 3 innings. If you don't think Cano is able to get a basehit because he's mired in a slump, don't frigging bat him in the second slot. Take some pressure off the line-up and him by batting him 8th or 9th until he comes out of it. Don't have him practice bunting in a championship season game in the middle of a pennant race. For chrissake!
2005-08-04 09:14:48
15.   Shaun P
On a side note, did anyone else read Hall-of-Famer Peter Gammons's latest espn.com column? (I know its behind the curtain . . .)

"The only way there would be a deal is if Boston could reach its endgame of Mike Cameron, which involved a fourth team, the Reds, and Adam Dunn; in that, Manny would have gone to the Mets; Hanley Ramirez and Mets players would have gone to Tampa Bay; Lastings Milledge and Anibel Sanchez would have gone to Cincinnati; and Boston would have received Cameron, Dunn, Aubrey Huff and Trever Miller."

WTF?!?!?!? The give up Manny, and a couple prospects - their worst top-tier prospects, BTW - and they get a brand new OF of Cameron, Huff, and tied-for-NL-lead in HRs Adam Dunn?!? I don't care how they dumb are as GMs, we all owe a huge thanks to Chuck LaMarr and Dan O'Brien.

2005-08-04 09:39:35
16.   Rich
Cano's so called "slump" only appears to exist at home. He has had two hits in the two games since the road trip started. He is one of the best doubles hitters on the team.

Road: .339/.363/.539/.902 (6 2B)
Home: .246/.264/.366/.630 (16 2B)

Consequently, he should have been permitted to swing away. It was just the latest example of Torre putting a player in a position to fail.

Also, it was nauseating, but not unexpected, that Kay blamed Cano for Jeter's throwing error. I love Jeter, but he is given a pass by most people, no matter what.

Gammons has become a Red Sox shill. He negotiates for Theo is his column. It's a pathethic way to end his distinguished career.

2005-08-04 10:49:58
17.   Cliff Corcoran
I was gonna ask about that Jeter error and Cano's involvement. I missed the play when it happened, but caught Kay saying Cano had screwed up. When I saw the replay in the game wrap it looked like Cano made a nice play and Jeter threw it away. What gives?

As for Cano bunting, anyone consider that he just missed a sign? That would explain Sojo--who gives him the signs--having such an obvious reaction.

2005-08-04 11:32:53
18.   Shaun P
Cliff, good point - maybe RC missed the sign on the pitch he bunted foul to strike out on. IMHO, though, it was stupid to have the bunt sign on in the first instance. Maybe you show bunt once to bring in the infield, but not after that.

ESPN's pitch-by-pitch data says the first two pitches were balls. That means Lee had thrown 6 balls in a row (4 to walk Jeter). This makes the bunt all the more inexplicable. Even Phil Rizzuto wouldn't have tried to bunt with a 2-0 count and a pitcher showing no control.

2005-08-04 11:51:54
19.   Paul in Boston
I hate to change the subject, but there's no one beating the Sox these days: down 5-0, they just scored 1 in the 3rd and 8 in the 4th to take a 9-5 lead. They are firing on all cylinders now, and while their pitching may not match up with last year's team, it's certainly better than the Yanks'!

Bye bye AL East ...

2005-08-04 12:28:46
20.   Dan M
Paul, you might be right, but I'll wait until they're not playing KC and the punchless Twins (w/o facing Santana).
2005-08-04 12:36:23
21.   Alex Belth
Cliff, what happened was the ball was hit up the middle to the right of second base. Cano fielded the ball a few steps away from the bag. It appeared as if he was going to step on second and make the throw. Instead, he flipped the ball to Jeter, who was caught off guard. Jeter, standing flat-footed on the bag, then hurried the throw to first and in the process threw it away.

It was poor communication. Looking at the replay, Cano might have been thinking about pitching the ball the Jeter all the way, but he was at a poor angle to do that. It caught Jeter by surprise. That's why the announcers blamed it on Cano. Jeter probably should of held onto the ball instead of making the throw.

It was a rookie mistake by Cano compounded by a lousy throw by Jeter. Credit them both with an error.

2005-08-04 12:52:57
22.   Cliff Corcoran
I gotcha. I imagine those sorts of things will go away as Cano gets more experience and he and Jeter spend more time working together. Not worth fussing over if you ask me.
2005-08-04 13:06:55
23.   Alvaro Espinoza
You guys annoyed w/ the Cano bunt ain't seen nothing. Yost had Overbay, his 3 hitter, bunt w/ 2 on and no one out in the 9th in NYM-MIL game. He was down 2 but your 3 hitter? Come on... Unfortuantely, he got away with it as Hernandez has nothing and security had to be called to the bat rack.

As for that BOS-KC game, the Sox scored 9 runs in 4 innings on 3 hits!!! Now, I don't expect help from other teams - the Yanks are in this mess b/c they're in this mess (i.e. it's their own fault) - but when will MLB wise up and contract, at the very least, 1 team from each league.

2005-08-04 13:45:24
24.   JohnnyC
Shaun P, it's a good thing the Commish didn't grease the wheels behind the scenes they way he's been known to do from Day 1 for good buddy John Henry and personal hero Larry Lucchino (Lucky Luke managed to rob not one but two cities blind by blackmailing them into building stadiums in Baltimore and San Diego on the taxpayers' dime). The only thing that stopped him was...not his conscience...the Red Sox were in first place and not in mortal danger of falling out anytime soon (as we bitterly see in recent days). If the Yankees were in first on deadline day, Selig would have broken ten rules to Sunday to help Boston make a 6 team trade!
2005-08-04 14:09:46
25.   Alex Belth
Cliff, I agree with you. It's just a matter of them getting their timing down. It takes longer than 1/2 a season for that kind of thing to happen. It was a bummer that the mistake allowed a run to score but it's the kind of thing that is just gunna happen.
2005-08-04 20:27:08
26.   brockdc
Uh, I sort of thought everyone had already agreed that Cano can't bunt. And as for Torre "testing" his players in less dire situations, such a situation no longer exists in the 2005 season. And, as we've seen ad nauseum, no lead is safe.

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