Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Eight Is Enough
2008-04-14 22:47
by Cliff Corcoran

Three of the first six Yankees to come to the plate against Andy Sonnanstine last night hit solo home runs, including one on the second pitch of the game by Johnny Damon (Alex Rodriguez and Morgan Ensberg, who got his second start of the year at first base, hit the other two). When the Yankees bounced Sonnanstine ("Sonny" per the inscription on his glove) in the midst of a four-run fourth inning, it seemed the Bombers would cruise to an easy victory.

Making just his second actual start of the season, Ian Kennedy held the Rays to two runs over six innings (7 H, 2 BB, 4 K) and came back out to start the seventh, but the first batter he faced in that frame, Jason Bartlett, lined a comebacker off Kennedy's right hip. Kennedy emerged with just a bruise, but was in obvious pain, so with Bartlett on first and the three lefties at the top of the Rays' order due up, Girardi called on Billy Traber. Traber got Akinori Iwamura to fly out for the first out of the inning, but gave up a two-run homer to Carl Crawford on a 0-1 pitch to make it 7-4 Yankees. Traber then hit Carlos Peña on the hand and was pulled in favor of Brian Bruney, who promptly gave up another two-run homer, this one to B.J. Upton, to make it 7-6, and then Even Longoria's first major league tater to tie the score.

Facing Al Reyes in the top of the eighth, Girardi pinch-hit for Alberto Gonzalez, who had started at second base in place of the struggling Robinson Cano, with Robinson Cano and was rewarded when Cano hit a taser . . . er, laser out to right field to give the Yankees an 8-7 lead.

Brian Bruney, who had gotten the final two outs of the seventh after giving up the two homers that tied the game, got the first two outs of the eight, but the second was a long fly ball to left and, with those lefties at the top of the order coming back up, Girardi brought in Mariano Rivera for a four-out save, which is exactly what Mo delivered, along with an 8-7 Yankee win.

A few game notes: Derek Jeter went 2 for 5 and, though he didn't run all-out, didn't appear limited by his quadraceps. Gonzalez and Hideki Matsui were the only Yankees without hits, though Gonzalez drew a walk. Alex Rodriguez went 4 for 5 with his 521st career homer. Morgan Ensberg went 2 for 5 in his spot start and is hitting .385 as a Yankee despite his infrequent use thus far. The Yankees' eight runs and 15 hits were both season highs.

Finally, while Cano's homer was obviously the key hit in the game, my favorite might have been Chad Moeller's first Yankee hit. With one out and Melky Cabrera on first base in the fourth, Girardi put on the hit-and-run. The Rays guessed correctly and pitched out, but Moeller reached out and slapped the pitch past Iwamura (who was heading over to cover the bag for the expected throw) picking up a single and moving Cabrera to third base. Both men ultimately scored on a double by Johnny Damon amid the Yankees four-run rally in that inning.

2008-04-15 02:54:21
1.   Shaun P
I turned the game on just after Cano's HR. It was so nice to see how happy and relaxed the dugout was right after, especially Cano himself. It'd be nice if the bats stayed awake tonight. Jackson must be due to start giving up some runs, right?
2008-04-15 03:49:28
2.   Yu-Hsing Chen
hopefully they start getting going now... hows the weather in NY these days..
2008-04-15 05:40:46
3.   Rob Middletown CT
Traber and Bruney conspired to ruin my night, but Robinson and Mo made it alright.

Good job by IPK.

2008-04-15 05:59:47
4.   Bama Yankee
0 "Cano hit a, laser"

Good line.

I wonder how many times Reyes is gonna hear:
"Don't tase me, bro!" from opposing fans this year?

2008-04-15 06:11:48
5.   RIYank
By good fortune, I turned the game off for exactly the horrible part.
I have to admit that I was thinking, "Not so sure that Cano in April is a better bet than the AG," but that worked out real well. And yeah, how 'bout our BUBUC? Cool.

We wrecked the Rays' bullpen last night, so if Jackson's a little off we might get a bunch of chances at big innings. Here's hoping the boys cash in a couple of those.

2008-04-15 06:17:09
6.   rbj
Bruney gets the W. It kinda stinks that the least effective pitcher gets the W. Although to be fair, Bruney wasn't issuing walks and the Devil Rays do have good young hitters. Still, vulturing just ain't right.
2008-04-15 06:18:54
7.   RIYank
Oh, also: Joe Borowski sucks. Next time somebody complains about our bullpen (which I have a feeling must have happened once or twice here last night, huh?), I'm going to insist that we count our non-Borowski-closer blessings. How can he possibly be the closer on a good team? It's mind-boggling.
2008-04-15 06:23:01
8.   monkeypants
7 Just more evidence for how, except in extreme cases, overvalued the closer role is.
2008-04-15 06:48:24
9.   horace-clarke-era
Compassion, brothers and sisters:

guess who has BOTH IPK and Westbrook on his fantasy team? Can we hear some pep talks, please?

From the other thread:

"We seem to not take much joy in winning and it's pretty sad. "

I do agree. It seems a mixture of being too used to it and a kind of sense of entitlement sometimes. This decade + with Torre's teams have been absurdly successful by any detached measure in a sport where playoff turnover is the norm, even with salary skewing.

Many here were obsessed/excited with the idea of going 'with the kids' and it is a lot of fun to watch youngsters mature beside the aging vets (if they do) but the 'goes with that' is that we can be both too old and too young at the same time, with issues both ways.

And I include Girardi in the too young part, frankly. Will he be a good manager? No reason to assume otherwise. Will he be excellent out the gate? Hard to do.

Meanwhile, the quoted comment's right. Last night was almost a train wreck and wasn't. Enjoy the fact?

2008-04-15 06:50:31
10.   horace-clarke-era
7 Monkey, it can be argued the other way: the truly excellent closer is NOT overvalued. The 'cast in the part' ones are.

Remember when Bill James was hired by Boston and persuaded them that closers meant nothing, go with committee, hot hand. That was a disaster year and only when they emerged with a real closer did they get it together.

2008-04-15 07:04:07
11.   dianagramr

Makes me wonder why the Twins decided to give 33-year-old Nathan big market money and 3 years to stay ... couldn't Liriano or Neshek take over that role for a fraction of the price?

Nathan was going into his walk year ... his Ks per 9 dipped last year (though still very good). But the Twins must have known they weren't going to contend this year, so why shell out $33 million for Nathan (unless they trade him at the ASB).

But yes .... the Indians have been making a strange choice to go with Borowski (almost at bad as Todd Jones in Detroit).

2008-04-15 07:10:02
12.   dianagramr

Maybe Borowski shouldn't have been in last night's game at all?

Joe Borowski doesn't know what's wrong. One day he feels like he can throw the ball through a brick wall.

"The next day, I feel like I'm throwing through water," said Borowski.


Borowski met with Tribe manager Eric Wedge, General Manager Mark Shapiro and the team's medical staff after the game to discuss the condition of his right arm and shoulder.

"I hope we can pinpoint something," said Borowski. "Right now, it's driving me crazy. I'm grasping at straws. Maybe it's something. Maybe it's nothing."

He could undergo tests today."

2008-04-15 07:13:39
13.   horace-clarke-era
7 I've been thinking about this (to get over the IPK + Westy fantasy pain).

You know, couldn't this be an example of NOT overvalueing closers? The Indian braintrust has decided that their two lights-out (sort of) left-right set-up men (with a third dude now present, too, we are told) are more useful in the key 7th and 8th innings, often for the heart of the order.

Isn't this what many people have been arguing for? A breaking free of the locked-in idea your best P has to go the 9th?

Isn't it inconsistent to say closers are overrated and then dump on the Indians for not using a 'real' closer? They ARE doing the backwards bullpen thing. Means some games will be lost in the 9th, but some may be won in the 7th and 8th (maybe even the 6th now). Worth watching?

2008-04-15 08:11:38
14.   MikeK
10 , 13
You misstate the argument. In terms of the closer-by-committee in Boston, the problem was that that whole committee sucked not that there was anything wrong with the concept. You've got to have pitchers capable of being a "hot-hand" for it to have a chance.

In any case, these days I see it put forth less frequently as "anyone can close, do the committee thing" and more as "quit babying your elite RPs." And this is why Cleveland is hurting themselves with Borowski: if you're still dedicated to handing him the ball in every save situation just b/c it's a save situation, you don't get it. If the Indians had "broken free", they would be using their top pitcher in the most crucial situations (be it the 9th, 8th, or 3rd) and using him for more than one inning. But they're not, and sometimes the most crucial situation does come in the 9th. Running Borowski out there without fail shows either a lack of imagination or a lack of backbone (to buck the status quo).

2008-04-15 08:15:26
15.   Just fair
If Cano has ever hit a harder, no-doubter homer in his career, I don't remember it. Man, did he turn on that. A thing of beauty. Come to the ballpark, folks. You might see something you have never seen or won't see again. That pitch out-hit and run single was incredible. i know it happened with another team in recent years. Don't remember who. Too bad Al Gonzalez can't catch. Or can he?
2008-04-15 08:27:22
16.   liam
15 do you mean the intentional walk homerun? miguel cabrera in 06?
2008-04-15 08:56:56
17.   51cq24
16 not a hr, just a single, but still pretty awesome
2008-04-15 08:58:23
18.   51cq24
2008-04-15 08:58:27
19.   monkeypants
10 et al.

It was only a disaster and abandoned from a PR perspective, because somehow losing in the 9th in worse than losing in the 7th.

My main point, however, is that even with a sucky closer Cleveland will still win a pile of games; and even the suckiest closers manage to accumulate large numbers of saves and convert a high % of save opportunities. All of this suggests that the closers role--touted in the press as critical to a team's success--is overblown. And frankly, it's the same logic that leads to the "Joba is too valuable in the 8th so he can't start" position.

I am not at all convinced--though the numbers could prove me wrong--that teams leading in the 7th or 8th or 9th win at an appreciable higher rate in closer days (say, 1990 and forward) than in the old days when BPs were used quite differently.

2008-04-15 09:05:12
20.   Just fair
16 Yeah, that's the ticket. Thanks. Kelly Leak did something like that in the Bad News Bears, as well. : )
2008-04-15 09:16:20
21.   williamnyy23
19 The reason awful closers like Borowski will rack up saves is due to the kind of opportunities they inherit. If you bring Joe Borowski into a game with a 3-run lead in the 9th, many more times than not, he'll give up less than 3 runs (as would most pitchers). Where a closer defines his value, or lack thereof, was evident in both games last night. Last run lead...middle of the order coming up. Mo blew away the Rays, while Borowski spit the bit.

I don't think closers are overrated. I think saves are overrated. When managers tailor their use of the closer to the save rule is when the closer becomes marginalized.

2008-04-15 09:25:08
22.   williamnyy23
15 I also recall Alvaro Espinoza doing the same thing Moeller did, but on a pitch out that was even further than the plate.

Of course, my favorite "pitchout" story occurred duriung the 1972 World Series. Rollie Fingers was pitching to Johnny Bench with men on 2nd and 3rd and one out in the 8th. Fingers decided to pitch to Bench, who eventually worked the count to 3-2. Dick Williams visited the mound flashing 4 fingers and then Gene Tenace set up to receive the free pass. Bench waited with the bat on his shoulders, but just as Fingers went into his delivery, Tenace jumped behind the plate and caught the third strike!

2008-04-15 09:26:18
23.   williamnyy23
22 Should be "from the plate".
2008-04-15 09:29:38
24.   Rob Middletown CT
Yep. For instance, Mariano isn't overrated. He's legitimately great. But his useage is suspect, and it's largely b/c of the save rule and the way relievers get paid.

For instance, the truely enlightened move in last night's game would have been to bring in Mo after Traber. He then throws however many pitches is deemed to be a good limit for him and then you finish things off with a lesser pitcher, facing lesser batters in the 9th (the heart of the order wouldn't have been up in the 9th under this scenario).

2008-04-15 09:32:57
25.   Mattpat11
12 I just sort of assumed he was pitching like Joe Borowski.
2008-04-15 09:37:38
26.   williamnyy23
24 Actually, I don't agree with that. Traber left the game with the score 7-4 and a man on base, essentially the same 3 run save opportunity. The game really wasn't on the line until after Upton's HR. Considering that you still needed 7 outs, you can't really predict when the most important ones would be.
2008-04-15 09:52:00
27.   Rob Middletown CT
26 IMO, Mo's role should be to put out fires. The 7th inning last night was en fuego.

If Cano doesn't hit a HR in the 8th, does Mo even pitch in that game?

That's more my point. He's the best reliever on the team (either him or Joba, but Joba isn't gonna stay a reliever), and oftentimes doesn't pitch in close losses (wherein he may have prevented the loss) while instead pitching in 5-run wins b/c he needs some work...

2008-04-15 10:10:45
28.   monkeypants
21 "I don't think closers are overrated. I think saves are overrated. When managers tailor their use of the closer to the save rule is when the closer becomes marginalized. "

Bingo! But the reality is that the "closer" is a product of the save rule (well, that and Tony La Russa). So, if managers used their closers without paying attantion to saves--ie, tie ball games or not in the 9th inning--they would stop being "closers."

That's just another way of saying what I have been saying. We agree!!

2008-04-15 11:05:44
29.   williamnyy23
27 I don't agree that the biggest threat was in the 7th, at least not until the Longoria AB. With Joba down, bringing in Mo in the 7th meant you still needed three other outs. I would have preferred to leave Bruney in for Longoria and the bottom, as opposed to having someone else (Farns, Hawkins) face the top of the lineup in the 9th.
2008-04-15 11:08:07
30.   williamnyy23
28 We agree...but not totally. Your position seems to ignore the "theory" that the last inning has more leverage. In other words, those last three outs are a little harder than the other 24. While clearly not scientific, I do think there is merit in using a closer at the end of a game, just not when you are up by three runs.
2008-04-15 11:16:10
31.   RIYank
30 It depends on what you mean by the last inning having more leverage. There's a lot more leverage in a tie game in the ninth than a tie game in the fifth, sure. But when you're making your decision in the seventh, close game, you don't know what the ninth is going to be like. Man on, one out, three run lead, that's fairly high leverage. I don't think it was obvious that Mo should have gone in when Traber got in trouble, but it's a reasonable idea.
2008-04-15 11:30:43
32.   monkeypants
30 Well, I guess I do not believe that those last three outs are any harder than any other three outs. Maybe there is something psychological, I don't know, but I'm not sure I buy it.

I might accept that losing a game in the 9th has a disproportionate psychological effect--though one would have to verify this by looking at the results of games following such losses). If that is the case, then the 9th inning does not represent a higher leverage situation so much as a higher value situation: that is, the tight spot in the 7th might have greater tactical bearing on the outcome of the game, but the team cares more about holding the lead in the 9th than losing it in the 7th, even though the Ws and Ls all count the same in the standings.

Otherwise, yes, I discount that there is much merit to having a "closer" whose explicit job is to end the game, whether we are talking about 3 run leads or 1 run leads.

On a side note, I think that a typical "closer's" most important attribute is his ability to pitch back-to-back games--what they used to call a "rubber arm." Being able to pitch in many, short appearances at a high (or relatively high) level allows the manager to deploy such a pitcher repeatedly in high leverage, tactical situations. Of course, one need not be a closer to possess this valuable attribute. That is why, in part, Mariano Rivera 1996 was more valuable than John Wettland 1996, and more valuable than Mariano Rivera 1997-2007 (any given year).

2008-04-15 12:24:15
33.   horace-clarke-era
Closer talk is even more fun than sac bunt stuff!

MikeK & Monkey ... Mike I am really not sure your argument is an argument. You say closer-by-committee works if the committee are all good. Man, if anyone has a team with all relievers good ... they are a happy squad! Your alternative is: the manager is savvy enough or has sufficiently skilled tarot card readers to spot the revolving door hot hand.

Sign that man up!

In other words, the argument leads nowhere. If everyone's good you have an easy life. If they take turns being adequate you are lacking a reliable closer. I don't expect to see Nathan, K Rod, Papelbon in the 7th anytime soon.

I do take the point that Cleveland have not entirely 'bought' the best pitchers as required by situation ... because Borowski (till today) was their dude in the 9th. I was just suggesting that often their best pitchers (the 2-3 set-up guys) WERE on the mound in critical innings. I agree that this should include the 9th.

I think William's 'saves are overrated' is valid, and compounded by managing to the save. The old story of a closer almost offended by being in there with a 4 run lead, giving up 2-3 runs before actually trying hard (or sometimes giving up 5). A 3 run lead in the 9th is rarely a crisis situation deserving of a stat, and certainly not on par with a single run cushion. Having said this, I'm one of the ones who DO believe the 3 outs in the 9th are harder, just as the at-bats are harder. Or a free throw in the dying seconds in hoops.

Awareness of context is surely a HUGE part of sport. Whether the moment, or the game itself (playoffs, etc.) Some people handle this better than others, it seems silly to ignore it.

2008-04-15 12:43:43
34.   monkeypants
33 "Having said this, I'm one of the ones who DO believe the 3 outs in the 9th are harder, just as the at-bats are harder. Or a free throw in the dying seconds in hoops."

Fair enough. What is the evidence? Do hitters have lower BAs in the 9th, which would prove that hitting in the 9th is harder? But if they do, doesn't that make pitching in the 9th easier? In any case, surely there must be evidence to back up this claim.

I can imagine that hitting a free throw late in the game is harder, mainly because you have been running around for 45 minutes. But again, has anyone done a statistical analysis?

2008-04-15 13:40:10
35.   Rob Middletown CT
In the case of Mr. Borowski, I don't think he failed b/c it was the 9th inning. I think he failed because Manny Ramirez > Joe Borowski...

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