2001 MLB Postseason - American League Championship Series

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Risky business

Stanton's uncharacteristic gamble opens floodgates

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Posted: Saturday October 20, 2001 10:12 PM
  Mike Stanton Mike Stanton's poor decision led to a seven-run sixth inning for the Mariners in Game 3. AP

By Jamal Greene, Sports Illustrated

Look up conservative in the dictionary. Next to the entry is a photo of Derek Jeter flashing his four World Series rings and matinee idol grin on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The small type reads "syn. Yankees."

One of many constants about these Yankees over the last five years, and over the last 100, is that they don't like to take chances. They have preferred clean-cut to scraggly, tradition to innovation, and they've played the percentages so well that when they do take risks, they are too well-calculated to seem risky.

Yankees manager Joe Torre was asked before Game 3 about his decision-making. "A lot of it is gut," Torre said, "but, you know, the gut comes from knowing your opponent." He then added, "I'm very fortunate to have Don Zimmer .... He's got the gambler's mentality."

With Seattle leading 3-2 with no outs and runners on first and second in the sixth inning Saturday, a big gamble didn't work. Seattle catcher Dan Wilson dropped a bunt down the third-base line. Yankees reliever Mike Stanton, who had just entered the game, pounced on the ball, but instead of playing it safe and getting the lead-footed Wilson at first, he fired to third. It's a play the Yankee pitchers were drilled on in spring training and throughout the season, but this time, it went horribly awry.

Even a good throw might not have gotten the runner, Stan Javier, and it would have been difficult for third baseman Scott Brosius, who was retreating toward the bag, to attempt a tag. Stanton's effort, though, was an off-balance, short-armed dribbler that bounced several feet wide of the base and down the left-field line. Javier scored Seattle's fourth run, Mike Cameron went from first to third and Wilson reached second. By the time the inning ended the Mariners had scored seven runs, tying an ALCS record.

"I pretty much personally and solely just gave that one to them," Stanton said. "I rushed it. If I make a good throw, he's out."

Speculation on what would have happened had a certain play gone differently, as we know, could not be less idle: Pitchers gear their pitch sequences to the situation, so to assume identical results is specious at best. But for argument's sake, let's play out what might have happened had Stanton played the bunt more conservatively.

Wilson would have been out at first, leaving New York trailing by a run with runners at second and third. David Bell's fly out to medium right would have been the second out instead of the first. Mariners third base coach Dave Myers did not send the speedy Cameron home with one out, but conventional baseball wisdom says that with two outs, he would have sent him.

Right fielder Paul O'Neill's rifle one-bounce throw to the plate, useless in the original scenario, probably would have thrown out Cameron in the revised scenario. The Yankees might well have been out of the inning trailing by only a run. The record for runs in an inning that the Mariners tied in Game 3 is shared by the 2000 Yankees, who broke out of a hitting slump with a single big inning in Game 2 of the ALCS against Seattle and went on to win the series in six games.

Is the cleat on the other foot now? Said Seattle manager Lou Piniella before Saturday's game, "One game can turn it around, very quickly. You go out and you swing the bats the way you are fully capable of, and all of a sudden, it becomes a contagious thing and it can carry through the rest of the playoffs."

The Mariners certainly hope Stanton's errant gamble makes Piniella's words ring true.

Related information
Boone gets Mariners on board in ALCS
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