Game 123: August 20, 2006
Yankees (74-48), 8
Red Sox (69-54), 5
W: Mariano Rivera (5-5)
BS: Jonathan Papelbon (6)
L: Craig Hansen (1-1)
Something is rotten in the state of New York.
The reinvigorated Jason Giambi launched two home runs and was responsible for five runs batted in last night. Without his ill-gotten RBIs, the Red Sox would have won this game. (That is, unless Terry Francona’s idiocy increased in inverse proportion to his team’s lead.) They would have won the 2003 ALCS as well.
It’s disappointing to me that Giambi has been allowed to evade criticism given the unwavering scrutiny and vitriol heaped against, say, Barry Bonds. Bonds is a vestige of his former self, playing in a weak division on a team with a sub-500 record. His impact on playoff standings is and probably will continue to be negligible.
And yet Giambi is allowed to participate in season-deciding games with a wink and a smile.
In twenty years or so, when his career is over, when his body is ravaged by illicit drug use, when his bank account is depleted by having to pay off his conspirators, Giambi will cash in again with a tell-all biography detailing how he eluded detection, just as David Ortiz’s grounder escaped the Yankee first baseman’s grasp in the ninth. It seems human growth hormone or whichever designer performance-enhancing drug regime Giambi may allegedly partake in doesn’t heighten fielding reflexes. If it did, I imagine he’d pass some over to his fellow corner infielder.
I’d rather my team lose honestly than win fraudulently, just as they did last night. Honestly, Francona’s in-game decisions are bewildering.
Of course the Red Sox have a large portion of the blame in this defeat, and the hour-long rain delay after the second inning didn’t help matters. Curt Schilling did face the minimum number of hitters in the third, but labored in the fourth, allowing consecutive singles to Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu and then the go-ahead roundtripper by Giambi. Schilling defied Mother Nature and Father Time to compile seven innings of near-pristine pitching during which he walked only one batter and struck out seven.
(Side note to Bonnie Bernstein: comparing Schilling to Mike Mussina, who exited the game in the fifth due to tightening of the groin, is like comparing the Hoover Dam to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.)
Although he had to counter against the advantage gained by the cheating Yankees, Francona didn’t put his team in the best position to win. Boston inched two runs ahead with a fourth-inning Doug Mirabelli bloop and an Oritz-patented go-ahead four-bagger in the fifth.
After the home team squandered a bases-loaded opportunity in the seventh, Francona went to Mike Timlin for the top of the eighth. Johnny Damon squibbed a single just past Mark Loretta. Since it wasn’t hit hard, you can’t fault the field manager for staying with Timlin. The aged reliever hit Jeter with his first pitch.
Like a ponderous pendulum, everyone could feel the momentum shift. But Jonathan Papelbon wouldn’t be permitted to be General Lasalle. Instead, lefty submariner Javier Lopez walked Abreu to load the bases.
One batter too late, Francona called on Papelbon. He induced a deep fly ball to right off the bat of Giambi, far enough for Damon to tag up and bring New York within one run. Papelbon walked Rodriguez but struck out Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada with the bases loaded.
Perhaps it was Francona’s decision on outfield position, or perhaps the fault of Gabe Kapler’s route-running, but in the ninth Jeter accomplished one of his signature bloop RBI singles with Melky Cabrera on second to push the game into extra innings. There could have been more damage, but Papelbon struck out Bernie Williams and Damon after giving up the leadoff double.
For the bottom of the ninth, Joe Torre elected to insert Rodriguez as third baseman. Since Rodriguez started as the designated hitter, for the remainder of the game Yankee pitchers would have to hit.
Torre’s gambit paid off, unlike Francona’s. Ortiz hustled on Giambi’s misplay to reach second. Since first base was open, Manny Ramirez was intentionally walked so that Mariano Rivera could face Kevin Youkilis. For some inexplicable reason, the sacrifice bunt was called for despite Youkilis being an excellent contact hitter and Rivera being extraordinarily difficult to bunt against. Rivera reached the ball in time and Ortiz was effaced from the basepaths.
You can’t tell me that Francona had such faith in his bullpen that he thought he should leave Ortiz in on a bunt play. Ortiz could have had eight more at bats and hit a solo home run in each, and the Red Sox bullpen would have given up nine.
Sure, the runners advanced on a passed ball with the next batter, Mike Lowell, at the dish. But the Yankees faced far less pressure because of that wasted out. Lowell would be intentionally walked so there would be a force at every station.
Not that New York needed it. Eric Hinske pinch hit for Gabe Kapler and struck out. Mirabelli tapped weakly back to Rivera to end the inning.
In sum, Torre’s ploy, along with his team’s unfair advantage, worked, while Francona’s maneuver, accompanied by his players’ lack of execution, failed.
Craig Hansen grew up a fan of the Yankees. Judging by his choice of agent, he’s also a fan of money. But he’s so not money, and he knows it.