For Yankees, One Inning Mattered
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
If the Yankees win the American League East — and after this weekend, they should — they’ll be able to look back at one specific inning as the one that made the difference between spending October playing baseball and spending it watching the games on television.
That’s incredibly unusual, as baseball seasons are so long, so complicated by good and bad luck, and so dependent on what other teams do that almost no team can ever point to a singular game as the one that made the difference between success and failure. This year you can not only isolate it, but you knew it was happening as you watched it.
Saturday, the Yankees got out to an early 3–0 lead, which evaporated quickly enough in the fourth inning when Manny Ramirez crushed a three-run home run and Wily Mo Pena drove in the go-ahead run. Surely in spite of himself, as we know that in key situations he wilts and becomes half the ballplayer and a quarter the man he usually is, Alex Rodriguez drove in the tying run straightaway in the top of the fifth, and after Robinson Cano was walked to set up the double play, Jorge Posada got a run in on a fielder’s choice.
As every single person watching the game knew he would when he came up in the bottom of the inning with a man on third, David Ortiz got in the tying run. At this point, coming off a doubleheader that featured the longest nine-inning game in baseball history, the teams weren’t even like tired boxers with their guards down hitting one another in their turn; they were more like fighters backed into the corner throwing hooks simultaneously at one another’s temples.
Sox starter Josh Beckett, when he came out for the top of the sixth, had given up more home runs than any other pitcher in baseball, which is not what team management had in mind when they traded the Florida Marlins an exceptional collection of young talent and assumed third baseman Mike Lowell’s bloated contract in exchange for the 26-year-old former World Series MVP, whom they promptly signed to a contract extension. There are three theories on why he’s been so horrible: One, that he’s tipping his pitches; two, that the American League is so brutally difficult that it takes a young pitcher a year to adjust to it; three, that he has a mechanical flaw that’s causing his 95-mph fastball to flatten out as it approaches home plate, rather than breaking the inch or two that makes the difference between bad contact off the end of the bat and a home run off the sweet spot.
Whatever the case, what happened was a perfect Yankee inning, recalling the long-ago days when they not only won playoff series but it seemed impossible that they would ever lose one. Ninth-place hitter Melky Cabrera worked the count to 2–2 and grounded out, and that was all for Beckett. Johnny Damon hit a perfect Fenway double to left.Derek Jeter walked on four pitches. Bobby Abreu took a strike and then moved the runners over with the mythical productive out, a grounder to the right. After that, everyone simply stopped swinging.Jason Giambi worked the count full and then took a free pass without lifting the bat from his shoulder, loading the bases. Rodriguez, again overcoming the fact that he is a tenth the man and a hundredth the ballplayer Jeter is, walked on four pitches. (Statistically, according to a chart at the invaluable www.fangraphs.com, that took the Yankees’ chances of winning from around 50% to around 70%.)
A reliever was brought in, hometown boy Manny Delcarmen. Four pitches, four balls, another run driven in without a bat being stroked in anger. Then Posada took another four pitches, three of them balls, before finally getting the pitch he wanted and clearing the bases with a triple.19 pitches, no offering made at 18 of them, and the Yankees doubled the Red Sox’s score on the way to a rout.
In this inning, you saw every single thing that’s gone right for the Yankees this year, and every single thing that’s gone wrong for the Red Sox. Beyond the systematic and brutal approach, look at who the Yankees had up: Cabrera, the stopgap product of the farm system who’s begun swimming after being tossed not even in the deep end, but in the middle of the sea; Jeter, Posada, and Bernie Williams, the three key players in their dynasty; Giambi, at the time he came to New York the seeming symbol of the unwise largesse of the early part of the decade and a player who’s more than justified his salary; Cano, the team’s brightest homegrown positional talent; and Damon, Rodriguez, and Abreu, the products of the team’s untold wealth.
Every type of player, for better and worse, that the Yankees have, came up, and they all did what they do. Williams made the last out of the inning; Rodriguez drove in the key run in the season’s key inning, a run for which he’s only going to get so much credit; the captain keyed the onslaught. So it goes.
And for the Red Sox, you had the brilliant plan that just doesn’t work. Would any general manager in baseball have given his eyeteeth to get Beckett this winter? Yes. Is relying on young, homegrown prospects like Delcarmen the ultimate key to a successful bullpen? Yes. Is sticking with players who haven’t succeeded as well as you’d hoped with the idea that they’ll play up to their talents given enough time the right idea? Yes. None of it much matters.
The Yankees hardly have the division salted away, but things aren’t looking good for the Red Sox, as they lost three games in two days and now look to be in a dogfight with Chicago and Minnesota — both superior teams — for the last playoff spot. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Smarts and infinite money beats smarts and a lot of money, and the heart of the Yankees’ order, the most imposing I’ve ever seen, beats everything.