The Yankees suffered another heartbreaking loss yesterday afternoon, dropping the rubber game of their series against the major league leading Chicago White Sox by a score of 2-1 in ten innings. The decisive blow came against Mariano Rivera in the top of the tenth. Following a strikeout of John Flaherty's predecessor, Chris Widger, Juan Uribe fouled off four Rivera pitches, taking two others for balls in the process, then lifted Mo's seventh pitch to deep center field where the ball evaded Bernie Williams for a one-out triple.
Lead-off man Scott Podsednik, who lead off the series with a bunt base hit against Mike Mussina, then took strike one, fouled off a bunt on an apparent safety squeeze attempt, and grounded to Robinson Cano at second. Cano fired home, but, according to reader Johnny C:
Uribe got a great jump off third and when Cano made a decent throw home to Posada, he was barely safe. You could say that the throw was a little to the first base side, or that Posada didn't straddle the plate the way Scioscia would have, but it's a moot point. Good play on Uribe's part.
Credit Ozzie Guillen's small-ball tactics for this win, as the first White Sox run came when a Carl Everett double cashed in a bunt base-hit by Pablo Ozuna in the third. That and Uribe's mad dash for home were all the White Sox would need as Freddy Garcia cruised through eight innings, allowing just one unearned run on six hits and a walk.
The lone Yankee run came right away in the first inning. Derek Jeter lead off with a infield single to shortstop and moved to second on a throwing error by Uribe. He then moved to third on a Cano groundout and scored on a single by Gary Sheffield.
And that was it. The Yankees were held scoreless by Garcia and relievers Neal Cotts and Dustin Hermanson for the remaining nine innings, putting just seven more men on base via two walks and five hits, all singles. The only time the Yankees even mounted a legitimate threat was in the fourth when Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui lead off with consecutive singles and moved to second and third on a Giambi groundout only to be stranded by a Bernie Williams strikeout and a John Flaherty pop up.
If there was a goat in this game, it was Williams, for that strikeout, his team-high four men left on base over an 0 for 4 day at the plate, and for playing Uribe's tenth inning fly into a triple, which, according to the comments on the game thread below, was a direct result of Bernie's inability to cover ground in center.
This all comes back around to Joe Torre failing to put his team in the best position to win. I tried to absolve Torre in my mind, reasoning that, given the sorry state of the Yankee bench, in a tie game against the stellar White Sox bullpen, Torre could not afford to take Bernie's bat out of the line-up, no matter how ineffective it had been all game, or even all season. But the reality is that Torre could have improved his defense and his offense by putting Bubba Crosby in for Womack and rearranging the outfield defense to put Bernie in left, Crosby in center and Matsui in right.
Still, in this case the blame goes beyond Torre to the front office, which has failed to supply the Yankee skipper with the best possible roster given the available players at triple-A (never mind completely tanking the offseason). Surely Torre's played a role in this as well, failing to request certain players, or misusing (or not using) them once he has them, but it strikes me that the Yankees could vastly improve their chances by making a few simple moves.
Demote Wayne Franklin in favor of Colter Bean, who has belonged in the Yankee bullpen for the better part of two seasons now, but has only made one appearance with the big club because the organization continues to prefer Scott Proctor for reasons I fail to understand.
Release Tony Womack and promote the triple-A outfielder with the strongest pulse, be it Kevin Thompson, or Kevin Reese and platoon him with Bubba Crosby in centerfield. If half of the platoon greatly outplays the other, congratulations, you've found a starting centerfielder! You then have the option of swapping out the inferior half of the platoon for Mitch Jones or Mike Vento, who has come on strong in the second half.
Undo the exchange of Andy Phillips for Felix Escalona, and platoon Phillips and Tino at DH, but with Phillips getting half the starts rather than the one-third or so that the right-handed half of a platoon would normally get. The hope here is that Phillips will eventually steal the job from Tino entirely. In the meantime, Tino's been so bad against lefties this year that Phillips couldn't possibly be worse.
Farm out Proctor in favor of Russ Johnson as, with Phillips at DH, the Yankees will need a back-up infielder.
Make sure that whenever Jason Giambi starts, he starts in the field, as Giambi has a .297 GPA when DHing, but a .392 GPA (!) when playing first base this season. Over his career he has a .299 GPA as a DH, but a .335 GPA while playing first.
Drop Robinson Cano in the order (though it would probably be best to wait until he has a couple of good games at the plate in a row so the move does not appear punitive, which it would not be).
The end result of these changes would be a line-up that looks like this:
R Jeter (SS)
R Sheffield (RF)
R Rodriguez (3B)
L Giambi (1B)
L Matsui (LF)
S Posada (C)
L Cano (2B)
R/L Phillips/Martinez (DH)
R/L Thompson-Reese/Crosby (CF)
There's no need to stagger the lefties in the line-up as Matsui has been crushing portsiders this year. In fact, batting Giambi and Matsui in that order actually sets a nifty little trap for the other team, as their attempts to match-up will simply make Matsui a better hitter, while Giambi has held his own against lefties just fine. Even better, if they decide to leave the lefty in to face Posada and Cano, Posada has been a far better hitter from the right side this year (which always seems to be the case when he's struggling, I remember a slow start he had one year that made me think he should give up switch hitting and just bat righty).
Assuming Phillips and, say, Kevin Reese win the centerfield and DH jobs, that gives you a bench that looks like this:
L Tino Martinez (1B)
S Bernie Williams (OF)
L Bubba Crosby (OF)
R Russ Johnson (IF)
R John Flaherty (C)
R Andy Phillips (IF)
S Bernie Williams (OF)
R Russ Johnson (IF)
R John Flaherty (C)
In addition to being a man deeper, that bench, in either configuration, has a more useful variety of useful pinch-hitters, pinch-runners and defensive replacements than the Yankees currently enjoy. Meanwhile, the Yankees will be getting better centerfield defense, and will be losing nothing offensively. They even stand to gain at the plate should Phillips or the centerfielders start to hit like they have in the minors (Bubba being the exception as he hasn't hit a lick in triple-A either this year, thus the need to promote a platoon partner who could take the job from him rather than giving it to him outright).
Meanwhile, the bullpen will contain:
R Mariano Rivera
R Tom Gordon
R Tanyon Sturtze
L Alan Embree
R Felix Rodriguez
R Colter Bean
Not a cringe-inducing choice among them.
What these moves (essentially promoting Phillips, Johnson, Bean and a center fielder while demoting Proctor, Escalona, Franklin and cutting Womack) do is tighten up the parts of the Yankee roster that are leaking water, which should be just enough to keep Joe Torre's managerial bobbles from costing the Yankees their chance at the playoffs.
To begin with, the number of poor choices Torre could make would be greatly reduced. Secondly, the Yankees are just a run here and a run there from being in a much better place (just think of the two one-run loses they just suffered, or the other two or three one-run games that Torre's late-game bullpen management has cost them in the past month or so), runs that could be provided (or prevented) by such subtle roster tweaks.
While some might argue that it would just be simpler to fire Torre, there are two major problems with that line of logic. The first is that there's no guarantee that Torre's replacement would succeed where Torre has failed. The second is that Torre is, if nothing else, a player's manager, who has the respect and admiration of the vast majority of his players (the odd Buddy Groom being the exception). There's no telling how the removal of Torre would affect the attitude of the team, but I can only imagine that it would do more harm than good, thus completely derailing the season.
Brian Cashman was able to effect meaningful change in early May when he booted Bernie from center and Womack from second and installed Robinson Cano in the line-up. Just because his attempt to do the same with Melky Cabrera failed, doesn't mean he shouldn't try again.
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