09 October 2004

I Don't Get it

Well, you win some...you lose some, right?

Unless you're the Twins and you're playing the Yankees, apparently. In that case, you win some, but you lose about three or four times as many, it seems. Minnesota's defenders coming into the ALDS argued that these Twins aren't the same Twins who lost 20 out of their last 23 contests with the Yankees. These twins are better, more experienced, more seasoned, with an ace pitcher who's as good as anyone to toe the rubber this side of Sandy Koufax, and the Soul-Train outfield, or whatever their stupid nickname was.

And do you know what? They're right. Almost everyone who's not with the team any longer from the 2003 season wasn't much good anyway: Denny Hocking, Doug Meintkiewicz, Eric Milton, A.J. Pierzynski. All are over paid, overrated, underperforming, or all three, and are no longer an albatross around the Twins franchise's collective neck.

But in the end, it didn't matter. The Yankees won anyway, though not without some excitement. The first game saw the Yankees lose by two runs in a game Johan Santana started but didn't finish, just like last year. Game Two saw the Yankees come back to win, as did games three and four. But where ten runs separated the two teams over the four games of last year's series, only four runs separated them this year. Two of the three Yankee wins, including tonight's ALDS-clinching game four victory. Yesterday's 8-4 victory wasn't really even that close, as three runs were scored on the Yanks' mop-up guys before Torre brought in Mariano Rivera to stop the nonsense an get two outs to end the game, which he did.

It's hard not to give some of the blame/credit, perhaps the largest share, to Twins' manager Ron Gardenhire. Gardenhire has, by most accounts, the best starting pitcher on the planet, in Johan Santana, and yet he yanked him after seven innings and only 93 pitches in game one. Granted, they won that game so I look silly criticizing a move Gardenhire made in it, but he took a bog chance taking out Santana and entrusting two innings of a two-run lead to his bullpen. Of course, it helps that he's got one of the more effective closers on the planet, with Joe Nathan, who pitched well in Game One.

And in Game Two, for that matter, at least until he tired in the tenth inning, as I mentioned a couple of days ago. Another questionable decision by Gardenhire, and this one led to a loss. Game Three hardly offered the opportunity to second-guess Gardenhire, since Carlos Silva and the Twins were already down by five runs when the bullpen came into things in the sixth inning.

But Game Four? Game Four is a whole different story. Again provided with Santana to start the game, Gardenhire made perhaps the strangest decision we've seen in the playoffs thus far. He pulled Santana again, this time after 87 pitches and only five innings. And not five so-so innings either, five innings of one-run, seven-strikeout ball. Don't get me wrong. I'm as big a believer as anyone in the effects of high pitch-counts on short term pitcher effectiveness and long-term injury risk, but with your season on the line, I think you can afford to leave in a guy who's pitched so well for so long in for another inning or two. What's he saving him for? Spring training against the Reds? Heck, Santana averages 111 pitches in five June starts against the vaunted offenses of the Mets, Devil Rays, Expos and Brewers (twice). One of the FOX commentators said that he'd seen Santana in the tunnel after he was taken out, and that Johan indicated that he was still raring to go, wishing he could still have been pitching. But at least he'll be fresh for those all-important March contests against the University of Central Florida.

Admittedly, the main reason the Twins lost this game was that Juan Rincon could not get the outs he needed. He managed to get one, but an RBI single and a three-run homer by Ruben Sierra ended his night prematurely. Anything is possible, of course, but it's quite likely that another solid inning or two out of Santana would have allowed Grant Balfour to bridge the gap right to Joe Nathan, who could have closed it out and necessitated a Game Five. Nobody really knows, and frankly I'm not complaining really, but I think I'd rather be second-guessed for doing what everyone else does, what I've done all year, and having it fail, than for pulling a stunt like Gardenhire did tonight.

Here's to second-guessing.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: