a) Speeding Bullets
c) Tall Buildings
Last night was a cold, wind-whipped night in Boston that would end bitter for Yankee fans for reasons other than the cold. Tim Wakefield started things off by setting the Yankees down in order in the top of the first, thanks in part to that wind which kept a Jason Giambi bomb from reaching the centerfield corner of the Red Sox bullpen, just as it would stop several shots off the Red Sox's bats short of the Green Monster throughout the game. That same wind would later cause Derek Jeter to do something he rarely does, look absolutely foolish on a pop up in the seventh inning, though the botched play wouldn't hurt the Yankees.
Chien-Ming Wang followed in the bottom of the first by walking Kevin Youkilis on four pitches. Youkilis then moved to second on a Mark Loretta groundout and was singled home by David Ortiz, who served a low outside pitch through the shortstop hole vacated by the shift. Wang then walked Manny Ramirez and Trot Nixon to load the bases for Mike Lowell, but got Lowell to ground into a fielder's choice in which Miguel Cairo, starting at first base because of a solid history against Wakefield, threw home to force out Ortiz. With the bases still loaded and two outs, Wily Mo Pena got ahead of Wang 3-1 and drove a ball to shallow right but Bubba Crosby, starting for the injured Gary Sheffield, made what for the next six innings would look like a game-saving catch to end the inning.
Wang worked a quick, clean 1-2-3 second, but got into trouble again in the third when a one-out walk to Ortiz was followed by a Manny Ramirez single. Trot Nixon followed Ramirez with a hot shot just to the right of second base, but Robinson Cano made a running stab on the ball and flipped it over his shoulder to Derek Jeter, who turned a double play to end the inning. It was the start of a terrific night for Cano, who went 2 for 3 against Wakefield and made another great play up the middle in the seventh to stab a Mark Loretta line-drive (which essentially evened out with Jeter's botched pop up later that inning).
Having dodged that bullet, the Yankees fired one of their own, following a Derek Jeter lead-off walk in the fourth with walks by Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez. A Matsui groundout tied the game and, after a second groundout by Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano singled up the middle to plate the two walks and give the Yankees a 3-1 lead.
Wang followed that with a seven-pitch 1-2-3 fourth, but once again got into trouble when the top of the order came back around in the fifth. The trouble started when ninth-place hitter Alex Cora beat out a well-placed bunt to the third base side. Youkilis followed with a single to push Cora to second, but an attempted sacrifice by Loretta backfired when Wang forced Cora at third. David Ortiz followed with another single to left, loading the bases. Manny Ramirez followed with a broken bat single that looped just over Miguel Cairo's leap to plate Youkilis, and a Nixon groundout tied the game.
All of those small nicks in the fifth required just 14 pitches, leaving Wang at 77 at the end of five, but Joe Torre decided to start the sixth with Aaron Small, who had just been activated from the DL earlier in the day. Small, a pitcher who had yet to throw a major league pitch this season and was quite obviously performing over his head during his stint with the club last year, was a dubious choice at best, but made Torre look smart by pitching a scoreless sixth and getting Pena to fly out with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh to maintain the tie.
Then it all went wrong. After the Yankees failed to do any damage against Mike Timlin in the top of the eighth, Joe Torre once again fell victim to Jeff Weaver Syndrome. Tell me if this sounds familiar:
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.
The situation was a tad different last night in that Small, quite literally the last man in the pen by virtue of his being activated that afternoon, was already in the game and the eighth inning was not yet a sudden death situation, but results were the same. Torre stuck with Small to start the eighth rather than turning to Rivera or Kyle Farnsworth. Small started okay by getting even newer arrival Doug Mirabelli to ground out to start the inning, but followed that by walking Alex Cora on four pitches. Cora was Small's third walk in six batters, but perhaps consumed by his desire to avoid making a pitching change prior to bringing in Mike Myers to pitch to third-place hitter David Ortiz, Torre left Small in to pitch to lead-off man Kevin Youkilis. Small's first pitch hit Youkilis in the elbow, pushing the go-ahead run to second and forcing Torre to make a change.
So who did he bring in? Not Rivera. Not even Farnsworth. No, he brought in Tanyon Sturtze, who has the worst ERA of any man in his pen. Sturtze gave up a bouncing-ball single to Mark Loretta that went right through his legs to plate the go-ahead run. Torre then went to Myers as planned, only to have Myers fall behind Ortiz 2-0 and 3-1 before running the count full. Hoping to avoid walking his only batter, Myers then left a fastball over the plate, which Big Papi launched into the Red Sox bullpen for a three-run home run which landed poetically in the glove of Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, who was warming for the ninth. Papelbon, who has yet to give up a run this year, set the Yankees down in order in the ninth, and that was that. 7-3 Red Sox.
I can't blame Torre for using Myers the way he did, and I credit him for Small's unexpectedly strong performance (though things did get rocky for him in his second inning of work and he did wind up with the loss) as well as with starting Crosby over Bernie in right and Cairo over Giambi at first, as both saved key runs with their defense, but once Torre got to the eighth inning with the game still tied, there was no excuse for not going to his big guns. True, both Farnsworth and Rivera had thrown more than an inning on Sunday, but neither pitched in either of the two games before that, and Rivera needed just 12 pitches to get through his 1 1/3 innings on Sunday. Once that go-ahead run got into scoring position it officially became Rivera time. Because Torre failed to recognize that, his team lost a full game in the standings, a full game that will count just as much on October 1 as it does this morning.