The Yankees left ten men on base last night, six of them in scoring position, but what cost them an otherwise thrilling game was the same old bullpen mismanagement that has long plagued Joe Torre's stay in the Bronx.
Give the A's credit. They can pitch. Rich Harden wasn't dominating, but as he showed in the first by striking out Sheffield, Rodriguez and Giambi to strand Damon and Jeter at second and third, even on an off night he has the stuff to get the job done when he needs to. Of course, he got a big assist in the third when Rodriguez cracked a two-out hit to right with Sheffield on second, then proceeded to run into an out between first and second to end the inning. That stopped the Yankees at one run in that inning. Harden continued to struggle in the fourth, but got three straight outs with men on second and third, though another run came home in the process. When the Yankees finally got another RBI hit in the sixth (Posada's first safety of the season, but second RBI of the game) followed by yet another single, A's manager Ken Macha took it as a sign that Harden was cooked. Justin Duchscherer came on and struck out Cano to end the inning.
Duchscherer can pitch too, as he proved again the next inning by retiring Sheffield and Rodriguez to again strand Damon at second. In the eighth, the Yankees had Hideki Matsui at second with two outs and lesser pitcher Joe Kennedy on the mound, but their worst batter was up and Bernie flied out to end the inning. In the ninth it was ace closer Huston Street who would strand Damon at second, this time walking Sheffield, but retiring Jeter and Rodriguez around him.
As for the Yankees, Mike Mussina exceeded expectations by holding the A's to three runs through seven full while striking out six, a very solid outing for Moose despite homers by Swisher and Chavez. The key is that, since he only allowed two walks and three other hits, the two dingers were solo shots. With Mussina out of the game after 102 pitches (63 percent strikes), Torre expertly managed his pen in the eighth, bringing in Myers to face the lefties Kotsay (strikeout) and Chavez (walk) and then calling on ace set-up man Farnsworth to get the right-handed Frank Thomas despite the temptation of lefty Dan Johnson hitting behind him.
Unfortunately, that's where Torre's wisdom ran out. It took Farnsworth all of ten pitches to retire Thomas and Johnson, yet for some reason Torre decided not to use him in the ninth inning of a game that remained tied. That was mistake number one. Mistake number two was who Torre brought in instead.
We've seen this before, most famously in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series. On the road in a tie game, when the time comes to use Rivera, Torre thinks to himself, "I have no idea how long this is going to go. I'm not going to burn Mo here. I'm going to save him to get those last three outs once we get a lead. In the meantime, I'll use my long man because he can pitch all night while we wait for the offense to score." Usually that long man only gets an inning or two of work in because, with no room for error in a game that will end the second the home team scores, that's exactly what happens. The home team scores off the sixth best man in the pen and the game ends without Rivera throwing a pitch. We saw it with Jeff Weaver in the 2003 Series and we saw it again last night.
Torre should have left Farnsworth in for the ninth and used Rivera for the tenth and eleventh before resorting to his lesser relievers. Rivera last pitched on Saturday and threw just 12 pitches in that game against the Diamondbacks. Farnsworth last threw on Friday, using just 20 pitches against the D-Backs. What's more, the Yankees have an off day on Thursday. To make matters worse, the A's had already blown their best set-up man (Duchscherer) and were an inning deep on their closer. The Yanks end-gamers had every opportunity to outlast their Oakland counterparts. There's simply no excuse, especially in a game that could have clinched a series win from the league's top team.
Instead, Torre turned to Scott Proctor, literally the last man in the pen both by virtue of his making the 25-man roster at the tail end of spring training and his recent absence from the team to attend to his newborn daughter in the wake of her cardiac surgery for a congenital heart defect. Proctor's daughter, Emmy, is expected to make a full recovery, but it doesn't take the most sympathetic soul around to imagine that Proctor's focus may not yet be as sharp as it might be after he's had a few more days to lose himself in his daily routine with the team (he rejoined the Yankees after the pre-game introductions on Monday night).
Not that Proctor's mental state should have come into play. Nor should have Proctor himself. But he did. Twelve pitches later, only eight of them thrown with purpose, the Yankees, or more accurately, Joe Torre had blown a winnable game.