Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
The Big Fizzle
2005-08-22 05:18
by Alex Belth

"How do you explain that?" Johnson said, clearly exasperated. "That's the one thing I'm going to walk away from this game not understanding."
(N.Y.Daily News)

When Randy Johnson pitches a complete game like he did yesterday, chances are the news is good for Yankee fans. Johnson looked good early on against the White Sox. Then came the fourth inning. Johnson allowed consecutive home runs to Iguchi (fastball away, hit over the right field fence), Rowland (fastball at the shoulders hacked over the right centerfield wall), and Konerko (flat slider, low and over the plate, deposited deep into the left field bleachers). After two more hits, back up catcher Chris Widger woodchopped another fastball ball up between the shoulders and eyes for a three-run dinger:

"He makes that pitch, and 99 out of 100 times, there's no way I even put that ball in play," Widger said. "That just happened to be the one where I did. I hit it solid, but it was a two-strike swing, and I didn't know it was going. Shoot, after I hit it, I was just happy that I made contact and put it in the outfield, to be honest with you.

"I'm not that good, especially. Even the good hitters aren't going to hit that pitch very often. He put it right where he wanted to at 94 miles an hour. Somehow, the barrel of my bat hit it. I'm not going to question why it happened. I'm just happy that it did."

Six runs before you could blink. Rowand and Widger took defensive swings, but they were both strong enough to muscle the ball over the fence. It was the first time in Johnson's career that he allowed back-to-back-to-back homers, and the first time in his career that he'd ever allowed four in one inning. He's given up 29 on the year, one shy of his season record.

The Big Unit actually pitched well after the one horrific inning, but the damage had been done. Though Jose Contreras wasn't dominant he was good enough as the Yankees could not get a legitimate rally cooking and the White Sox avoided being swept, winning 6-2.

According to John Harper in the News:

"Have you guys ever seen anything like it?" he asked reporters in something of a hopeful tone after the 6-2 loss to the White Sox.

Uh-oh. It's not a good sign when the famously defiant Johnson starts looking to reporters for answers, but it was surely a peek into his state of mind. In truth, he's looking for someone, anyone, to tell him this season is all some practical joke - that one of these days he's going to wake up and be the Big Unit again.

The Yanks badly need Johnson at a time when he's become their most unpredictable pitcher. Well, at least the bullpen got some rest. Still, it was a discouraging loss. The Yanks lost ground to the Red Sox, while they remain a half-a-game behind Oakland for the Wildcard. A win yesterday would have put them in the lead. Oh well, no use a-looking after spilt milk, right?

Around the Clubhouse

Jason Giambi, who has been laid up with a sore calf, is losing his longtime trainer Bob Alejo. Alejo is starting a job as the strength coach for the University of California at Santa Barbara this fall.

Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez went 2-4 yesterday, was robbed of a single by Joe Crede, and ran himself into an out on the base paths. Evidentally, the White Sox aren't too thrilled with Rodriguez. Step in line. Joe Torre explains:

"A-Rod (ticks) everybody off, because there's a lot of jealously involved," Torre said. "He makes the game look so easy, he plays very hard, and it's something he has to live with. I don't think he sticks it in anybody's face, because that's not his personality. It's just something that's going to follow him around."

..."The money (sure), but the talent is the reason he's making the money," Torre said. "He's a very talented kid, and he was blessed with it, but he certainly doesn't take it for granted. He works at it."

Oh, also, there is a good column on Frank Robinson by William Rhoden today in the Times.

That is all...

2005-08-22 05:59:32
1.   joe in boston
Another low point. Another game we needed from the Big Nothing. Another game that I thought was an automatic win. Another letdown. What is up with the guy ???

Can he brush someone back just once? Can he be mentally tough enough to dominate ? Is he hurt ?

Wow, this one really hurt. How many times this season have I thought that !?

2005-08-22 06:20:31
2.   Knuckles
At what point does someone on the Yankees question the need for Flaherty to catch RJ all the time? He serves up the taters no matter who's behind the plate, so we might as well have a catcher back there who doesn't hit .187.
2005-08-22 06:25:17
3.   Alex Belth
Decent point Kuncks, but I think they've gone too far and won't have Posada catch Johnson unless it's a playoff situation. And even then...
2005-08-22 07:12:13
4.   Murray
If this is such a big problem, then why can't Flaherty call Johnson's game from the bench with Posada behind the plate? Or why can't Johnson call his own game? He's a sixteen year major league veteran.

That the way that the catcher catches has an effect on a pitcher's performance is one of those things that's too difficult to measure. Then again, I'm not even sure that's it's worth measuring. Time to grow up, gentlemen. We don't care whether you like each other.

2005-08-22 07:24:33
5.   JohnnyC
it's obvious the guy's been pitching hurt all season with varying degrees of effectiveness. his fastball has never reached 97 all year. his slider lacks consistent bite. this points to his back. all the parties involved believed he could "muddle" through. it's a lot tougher trying to muddle through AL line-ups. look at Pedro...clocked at 86 max in his last two starts, a near-no-hitter and a 6 inning shutout. how do you think his "artistry" would work if he were still pitching for the Red Sox? unless you're miracle man Curt Schilling, it's hard to pitch well when you're hurt. Perhaps the Yankees should look at the way they prepare pitchers in Spring Training. Get some input on conditioning.
2005-08-22 07:41:03
6.   KJC
"That the way that the catcher catches has an effect on a pitcher's performance is one of those things that's too difficult to measure."

True, but sometimes the numbers don't lie. While I don't know how RJ's numbers are when pitching to Posada vs. Flaherty, I know that Wakefield pitched poorly this year when throwing to Varitek (instead of Mirabelli).

2005-08-22 07:52:38
7.   Shaun P
The only positive I can take from this one is that Johnson did pitch a CG, giving the 'pen yet another day of rest.

29 HRs allowed. Second in the majors to Eric freakin' Milton. Ouch.

2005-08-22 08:16:21
8.   Murray
I think one has to make an exception for the designated catcher of any knuckleballer. But that's the exception. Again, I am unsure whether the differences show up well in such measurements as Catcher ERA, W/L records, etc. I think it's hard to make a general measurement.

Earl Weaver and Rick Dempsey used to fight all the time about whose job it was to call games. In "Weaver on Strategy," Weaver, who advocated having pitchers call their own games, says he told Dempsey (I'm not sure I have the quotation exactly right): "Rick, a pitcher pitches, and a catcher catches. When we change your duties, we'll change your title to 'Executive Receiving Engineer' or something like that."

2005-08-22 08:26:40
9.   Alex Belth
I agree, it should be noted that he did pitch a complete game. And without knowing anything, I've assumed that he's been playing at less than 100% this season. I don't think he's a guy whose "mental toughness" can be questioned. He seems plenty tough to me. Hopefully, he can contribute down the stretch here and recover during the winter, and comeback improved next year.
2005-08-22 08:35:27
10.   Nick from Washington Heights
Murray, do you make an exception for all the weak-hitting cathers Greg Maddux prefers?

I don't have a big problem with Flaherty being Johnson's designated cather. The numbers before the game bore out Johnson's (superstitious?) belief that he works better with Flaherty. And Posada is clearly showing the effects of being a full-time catcher for the past whatever seasons. He needs a spell more regularly than in previous years. The problem comes when Tony Womack also takes a spot in your line-up. Suddenly the Yanks resemble a weak-hitting National league team at the back of the order. If Torre is going to play Womack (and the wonder is that he plays him at all), then he has to make sure it's on the days Posada plays.

2005-08-22 09:55:28
11.   JL25and3
With Posada: 4.55 ERA, 9.5 H/9, 7.6 K/9, 2.1 BB/9.

With Flaherty: 4.11 ERA, 8.9 H/9, 9.7 K/9, 1.4 BB/9

So there is some improvement with Flaherty catching. I think a little caution's in order, though. Flaherty became the designated catcher after two straight outings where Johnson was completely dominant. Having seen Johnaon's inconsistency all year, though, I think it's perfectly possible that it was simply coincidental that Flaherty was catching. And since then, the numbers with Flaherty have been no improvement over Posada: 4.93 ERA, 9.74 H/9, 9.6 K/9, 1.7 BB/9.

I'm all in favor of resting Posada more, though it's probably three or four years too late. But having Flaherty as Johnson's exclusive catcher makes no sense. Among other things, should the Yankees make the postseason, they'd need Posada in there, so he should be ready.

2005-08-22 10:04:12
12.   Schteeve
Saying that A-Rod "Ran himself into an out" is a little unfair. He got hit by a batted ball. He jumped about 14 feet off the ground to try to get out of the way and it just nicked him.

A-Rod is an amazing baseball player and I really pity all the baseball fans and players for that matter who try so hard to point out his shortcomings, instead of enjoying and admiring the unbeliveable talent and production he posseses. I am so freaking happy that the guy is a Yankee.

2005-08-22 10:52:05
13.   vockins
I'll take Johnson at his word when he said he doesn't pitch well when it's relatively cold, and that's when Posada caught him. Regardless, the difference just isn't good enough to justify playing a man that's batting sub .180. I understand that Posada has to rest sometime, but I think that option is out the window when the playoff race is this tight.
2005-08-22 10:59:15
14.   bp1
Johnson keeps referring to making "a couple mistakes". I bet in years past, he could get away with those mistakes, 'cause the hitters were quite defensive at the plate. That does not appear to be the case this year. As others have said - the batters are locked in at the plate - and every mistake is getting hammered. His margin for error is razor thin.

With that comes the excuses. First, it was cold weather at the start of the season. Well, it ain't gonna get much hotter than this past month. Then it was the sore groin. Then the fouled up mechanics. Then it was the five days rest. Then he needed his own catcher. Then his back was barking. These all may be valid excuses, but excuses don't put w's on the board. At least RJ's not making the excuses. He is pretty blatant in his post game reviews. It's everyone else that comes up with the "excuse du jour" to explain his non-dominance, especially his manager. It gets tiresome.

I have no pet theory. Could be a combination of all of the above. The only thing I know is that Randy Johnson came here to be the Difference Maker - to eliminate the possibility of what happened in ALCS Game 7 last year. Now I don't see how he is any different than Javy V. Just taller and lefty - and more expensive.

Hopefully whatever is barking now stops soon and he can start pitching like the back of his bubble gum card. If (if) the Yankees make it to the post season, we cannot have Javy-esque performances from him.

2005-08-22 11:04:43
15.   JohnnyC
please remember that Joe Torre has explicitly stated more than once that the decision to catch Flaherty when RJ pitches did not come from Johnson. the move actually points to some under-the-surface friction between Posada and the pitching staff/Torre & Stottlemyre that's been brewing for a while. whether Posada is truly at fault here is beside the point. Torre evidently believes that Flaherty is a better match for Unit. The unintended consequences of that decision...a line-up that any AA pitcher could figure out how to maneuver around (as Contreras managed to do despite giving up 11 hits). It does not help Torre's case that Cano, ARod, Matsui, and Giambi are slumping, leaving him an effective line-up of 2-3 dangerous batters out of 9.
2005-08-22 12:59:30
16.   NetShrine
A-Rod is slumping?
2005-08-22 13:25:52
17.   JohnnyC
for the month of August, ARod is hitting .167/.273/.222 with RISP, .324/.419/.730 with bases empty. I call that a slump, don't you? I'm not hating on him, just pointing out that practically all corners of the Yankees offense are under par of late.
2005-08-22 13:39:26
18.   Murray
No, Nick. I don't.
2005-08-22 13:48:01
19.   NetShrine
JohnnyC - what are the PA totals for RISP and not? Could it just be that he's getting fewer chances with RISP?
2005-08-22 13:48:07
20.   Alex Belth
Looking at the offensive numbers over the past month, it doesn't look to me as if Rodriguez is slumping:
2005-08-22 14:04:38
21.   JohnnyC
Shrinie, on further reflection, you may be right...he's not slumping, relatively speaking. Since the All-Star break, he's hitting .158/.250/.342 with RISP. that makes his .167/.272/.222 in August almost a hot streak.
2005-08-22 14:07:27
22.   JohnnyC
pre-All-Star break, ARod was hitting .301/.416/.476 with RISP.
2005-08-22 14:21:08
23.   Marcus
According to YES, Jeter is out of today's lineup. Womack is hitting lead off, with Escalona playing SS.

Maybe that means A-Rod will get a chance to pad his numbers with bases empty?

2005-08-22 15:32:05
24.   Harley
Well, okay. It's bad news day. But let's not ignore one little ray of sunshine from the Times. Wang is throwing and might be ready for some September games.
2005-08-22 16:01:04
25.   randym77
I don't think of games when Johnson is on the mound as "automatic wins." He's just been way too inconsistent. Maybe he just needs time to adjust to a new team, a new league, New York. Maybe he's getting old. I dunno what his problem is. All I know is that while a lot of Yankees fans were talking "sweep," I was thinking the only sweep we were likely to get from him was of the dugout floor. :-P

By the 3rd inning, I was starting to think it would be okay after all. Then came the 4th inning. Arrghhhh.

A-rod...fantastic player, and a joy to watch, but I've noticed that he's not the one you want coming to the plate with runners on base. An awful lot of his hits seem to be solo home runs. He plays better when the pressure isn't on.

That is great news about Wang. Maybe there's still hope...

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