I attended my first ball game of the year last night out at Shea. It wasn't much of a game at all as the Phillies battered Tom Glavine on the field and the Mets fans booed him off it. The highlight of the evening for the hometown fans--other than Cliff Floyd's line drive homer--came in the ninth inning when Jose Reyes drew his first walk of the season, on four pitches no less. The fact that it came with the bases loaded and earned him an RBI was a nice touch.
Carlos Beltran threw a runner out at home plate, but earlier in the game he made a strong throw to third base after catching a fly ball. There was a man on second base who thought better of trying to tag, and it was just one of those plays that make baseball such a great game to watch live. It didn't show up in any box score, yet it was just an impressive athletic feat. The throw attracted the appreciation of the crowd. For me, it was just reminder of what could have been.
Jonah Keri wrote about Sunday's Yankee game for Baseball Prospectus this week and noted that Bernie Williams' failure to throw out Eric Hinske on a shallow fly ball in the seventh inning, prompting the roster shake up, could turn out to be the turning point in the Yankees' season. Keri concluded:
The scariest part of Tony Womack's shift to left field is that Williams' physical skills have eroded so badly that the banjo-hitting transplanted second baseman may in fact be a reasonable alternative to the erstwhile All-Star center fielder. This is a team that was horribly constructed in the offseason, having failed to address what's become the worst defense in baseball, with a bullpen springing leaks everywhere, and even some significant offensive holes in a lineup that remains good but not as terrifying as it once was. The Yankees fell back on a false sense of security, assuming that Pavano and Wright would duplicate their career years of 2004, ignoring--or more likely not realizing--that the team won an amazing 12 more games than their component runs scored and runs allowed totals suggested, that the multiple mid-30s and older players on the roster would suddenly find the fountain of youth.
In the long run, the Yanks should benefit from giving Cano, Phillips, Wang and other young players a shot. If they perform, that could further inspire the team to renew their efforts to build a strong farm system. It was that system, after all, that fueled the nucleus of the great Yankees teams of the '90s, with Jeter, Posada, Rivera and, yes, Williams that led the Yankees to multiple championships. In the short run? It's going to get ugly.
Steven Goldman believes that Bernie's oven-stuffer roaster has indeed, popped:
There is no doubt that many fans are wounded by the decision to bench Williams, a preliminary step to saying goodbye to him when his contract expires at the end of this season. Many, many fans will argue that this was a panic move that had nothing to do with Williams' abilities. They would be in denial. Williams is 36 years old and has been in clear decline for years. Not many players rediscover their skills, particularly not centerfielders, at his age. His overall contribution to the winning effort this season has been nil. His current Value Over Replacement is 0.1.
...Baseball often makes us choose between the players we root for, and winning. When Don Mattingly was allowed to retire it signaled the end of youth for a lot of fans. Yet, it was time. Mattingly couldn't help the Yankees anymore. It took one right for everyone to see the truth of that. The same drama was reenacted when George Selkirk took over for Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle pushed Joe DiMaggio into retirement, and so on. It's just part of the game. The Yankees made these choices when they did because there is a fork in the road between winning and personal loyalty. The Yankees can win or they can have a daily Old Timers game. Winning is more fun. This move is no insult to Williams, and it's not a misjudgment, but the cold reality of the situation.
How low are the Yankees' spirits right now? Consider what their skipper told reporters after last night's game:
"This is the toughest time, no question," Torre said. "But you don't sit around and complain about it or say 'Woe is me.' After the success we've had, you're not going to have everyone writing you any get-well cards.
"The times that have been tough in the past nine years, you've always had leads that have been diminished," Torre went on. "You've been in a position of strength. But here we are in the first week of May and we're talking about trying to get to .500." (N.Y. Daily News)
It is too early for the Yankees to go out and buy more replacements. So for now they go with kids from their farm system: Wang, Henn, Cano, Phillips. Wow. This is the way other teams do it, in the real world, where you don't go get Raul Mondesi in a trade because Enrique Wilson drops a fly ball.
The arrogance of the Yankees and their fans is that they are supposed to be a sure thing every year, because of the money, and the name. They aren't a sure thing this time. This is the way it works everywhere else in sports. Part of sports is overcoming things. Sometimes overcoming things makes you stronger. The Yankees are asked to overcome some things now. So are Cashman and Torre. This will be a good season to see what everybody has left in the tank.
So, what's the good news in all of this? Well, there's another game tonight. Here's hoping (fingers crossed) that Mr. Henn--and the Yankee offense--has something to make us smile about.