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ALDS: Indians' 'pen the difference
In the 2001 ALDS, the Oakland A's quickly jumped ahead of the Yankees 2-0 on the strength of fine starting performances from their aces, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson. After the Yankees won Game 3 -- the Derek Jeter Flip game -- the A's decided to pitch Corey Lidle in Game 4 instead of Mulder. The Yankees pounded Lidle and then got to Mulder early in Game 5. By the time Hudson came in for relief, the damage had been done and the Yankees went on to win the series.
Eric Wedge was in a similar Game 4 predicament but he never wavered in going with Paul Byrd.
"I came to the press conference last night, and they asked me two questions." said Byrd when Game 4 was over. "The first one was, do you think he should have gone with C.C. [Sabathia], and the second one was, if they would have gone with C.C., how would you have felt. And I waited for question three, and there wasn't one, so I walked out of here feeling like a loser." Byrd laughed. "I told my wife, hey, I think I'm a pretty heavy underdog."
Byrd was far from brilliant -- allowing 2 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks over 5 innings -- but he kept the Yankees at bay and got the win.
"He controlled the game," said Wedge when it was over. "He was aggressive, he worked ahead. Defensively, we made a few big plays. But I just liked the way he composed himself. I liked his rhythm and tempo."
I questioned Wedge's move to go with Byrd before last night's game, but the Indians got exactly what they had hoped for. Wedge comes out smelling like a rose because now he's got his rotation set exactly as he wants it for the ALCS against the Red Sox. C.C. Sabathia will start Game 1 on Friday night in Boston, followed by Fausto Carmona. Sabathia could conceivably pitch three times in the series, though considering how Wedge mapped-out the first series, he'll likely only pitch twice.
Sabathia is 0-1 against the Red Sox this season, though he only allowed 1 run over 7 innings; Carmona is 1-0, throwing 8 scoreless innings. Overall, the Indians were 2-5 vs Boston.
Beyond the starters, however, it was Cleveland's bullpen -- led by Rafael Perez and Rafael Betancourt -- who were the key factor in beating the Yankees.
"They're very impressive," said Joe Torre after the game. "They have great balance out of that bullpen. They've got some young kids that are going to give the Red Sox some problems, because they can switch back and forth, and they're very aggressive, and they throw hard. And, again, they're not afraid to throw strikes."
Perez pitched gave up a run on three hits (1 walk and six strikeouts) over six innings. Betancourt, the best reliever on the team (and one of the very best in the league), only pitched a total of two innings, both scoreless. The bullpen's streak of 10 scoreless innings in the ALDS was snapped by Alex Rodriguez's solo home run off of Perez in the seventh last night.
Joe Torre is not the only face who may not be in pinstripes next spring. Roger Clemens is probably finished. Who knows if Andy Pettitte will return? Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera are free agents. And then there is Alex Rodriguez.
Things won't be the same in the Bronx without Torre.
After the game, I caught up with Steven Goldman from Baseball Prospectus and YES.com.
Q: Why was Joe Torre successful as a Yankee manager? Goldman: He was in a position, much like Casey Stengel before him, where this was bonus time. He was playing with the house's money. He had managed the Mets at the worst moment in their history and didn't get anywhere, managed the Braves and had some success but was ultimately let go in a way that was probably a little embittering. He had the long stint in broadcasting where it didn't seem like he'd ever come back. He then got one of the best jobs in baseball in St. Louis, but he had the double-handicap of following a legend in Whitey Herzog and picking up this great franchise at a moment where it was in transition and ownership wasn't too invested in making anything happen. The Yankees job really came out of left field, so in a lot of ways the pressure was off of him, outside of his own ambition. A lot of people would feel desperate in that situation, but I think that like Casey he was freed by it. The other thing is that he seems to have really paid attention to what happened in New York under George Steinbrenner, and seemed to understand that if he rose to Steinbrenner's bait in public he would lose, that he would diffuse rather than exacerbate the Boss's rages. No one before him really seemed to get that. And unlike a lot of George's other managers, he was likeable. No doubt in private he could be more of a hardass, but I think that time in media was really helpful to him. He was likeable, he won, and he didn't get into bar fights or take George on and so he really disarmed the old man. He became bigger than the Boss, and that maybe one underappreciated reason that Steinbrenner receded like he did – rumors of ill health aside, he had finally met his match. It's not a coincidence that he emerged the other day, when Torre was finally in a weak position.
Q: Why did he put up with so much crap from George? Goldman: For the reasons I outlined above. I think he liked the job, liked being Joe Torre of the New York Yankees, and he understood what he had to put up with to keep the job. I don't think he put up with crap as much as let it roll off of him.
Q: Where does his legacy stand in Yankee history? Goldman: Well, obviously he's up there. We can fault his tactical management all day long, and I have, but at the end of the day he came in and got the team focused on winning and never let George subvert that. Earlier today, I heard a radio host talking about how George was brilliantly motivating his team by threatening Torre this week. My question was, "When did that work?" I always go back to 1985, when he called Dave Winfield "Mr. May" and ripped half the team and they went on an eight- or nine-game losing streak. I also think we can overrate the tactical thing. He was better than many, worse than some, but I'm not sure who those "some" are. If there's a John McGraw-level strategist working today, who is it? Mike Scioscia? He hasn't won like Torre has won. As far as historical Yankees managers go, I'd probably take Casey and Joe McCarthy first. I have a hard time getting a bead on Miller Huggins, but I suspect Torre was more relatable. You'd certainly take him over Bucky Harris, Ralph Houk, Showalter, or Billy.
Q: Is it the right move to get a new man and move on? Goldman: Not if it's punitive, you know, for losing the series. You move on if there's a better man. I don't know that another manager would have gotten more out of this team than Torre did. I think they kind of screwed up the postseason rotation, but I think he had to have had help there. I also suspect that most other managers wouldn't have done what needed to be done, which was bypass Clemens and take a flier on Hughes. That takes a lot of guts, and if it doesn't work out you're more screwed with the public than if you made the conventional choice. Look, one of the things we always got on Joe for was sentimentality. There shouldn't be any. But there shouldn't be pointless hostility either. You do what will improve the team, period. If someone else is going to get the Yankees to another championship, fine, but you had better be sure.
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