24 May 2005

Subway Train Wreck Series Review

What a weekend.

We had the opening of Star Wars Episode III, almost 30 years after Episode IV debuted in 1977. We had the Preakness Stakes, in which the Kentucky Derby winner was not the favorite for the first time in forever, and with another surprise winner. We had that big showdown in the U.S. Senate, where the President's judicial nominees have apparently been blocked by a Democratic senator named Phillip Buster. What state is he from?

Not to be outdone, Major League Baseball held its first weekend of Interleague Play, with most of the regional rivalries taking place, including that classic Washington-Toronto Series we'd all been anticipating. These games generally tend to be the most popular, best attended games of the season for many teams, and the New York Yankees/Jamaica Mets rivalry is no exception. Unfortunately, in retrospect, much of the Subway Series looked too much like a train wreck.

Friday night's game saw some hopeful signs for the Yankees. Kevin Brown, despite getting into trouble a few times, managed to succeed in not failing once again, pitching only five innings but allowing no earned runs in that span. He did allow an unearned run, or rather Derek Jeter's two errors in the fourth inning allowed them. No Gold Glove this year, Derek.

Though he had walked four baters already, Brown had only thrown 90 pitches when his spot in the batting order came up in the top of the sixth, so he was lifted for pinch hitter Ruben Sierra, who had just come off the DL. Sierra, like Robinson Cano before him, was lucky enough to hit the ball right at a member of the Mets' porous infield defense. Sierra, however, hit his ball right at the normally sure-handed Doug Mientkiewicz, whereas Cano had been fortunate enough to hit a grounder to consistently inconsistent Mets' 2B Kazuo Matui, who's working hard this year to prove that he can suck equally regardless of which side of the keystone they want to station him.

Nevertheless, both plays resulted in errors, and runs scored for the Yankees, leaving the score at 3-1 Evil Empire, where it stayed until the Resistance struck back in the seventh. The Mets had another opportunity to score in the eighth, when Tony Womack returned the favor to Mientkiewicz by misjudging a fly ball to left and allowing him to get on base. Womack gets a little slack, since he's playing out of position in left field so someone who can hit can start at 2B, but with over 150 career games in the outfield, that excuse seems pretty thin. More sloppy play by the Mets infield helped the Yanks tack on two insurance runs in the ninth, and that's how it ended, 5-2, Visitors. Five errors, thirteen walks, but only seven runs. Not the neatest of affairs.

Saturday's game should have been closer than the 7-1 Mets victory it became, what with Randy Johnson on the mound and the most prolific offense in the majors at the plate. Alas, the Yankees couldn't do anything with Mets' starter Kris Benson (career: 49-54, 4.26 ERA) or Mets relievers, 36-year old rookie Dae-Sung Koo, 40 year old Roberto Hernandez or Braden Looper and his 4.41 ERA in 2005. In fact, not only did Koo strike out all three batters he faced, he also got his first major league hit off Johnson, an RBI double over Bernie "Can You Throw This For Me?" Williams' head, and then scored from second base on a sacrifice bunt by Jose Reyes. Jackie Robinson he's not, but jackie would have been proud.

Johnson, for his part, seemed something less than the 5-time Cy Young Award winner for whom the Yankees mortgaged their future in the off season. He allowed 12 hits and four runs in less than seven innings of work, while striking out five and walking none. Yankees' catcher Jorge Posada maintains that Johnson's relative ineffectiveness is simply due to growing pains in their relationship, difficulty in calling and shaking off signals, and the like. But unless Johnson is somehow confusing the sign for "98-mph, up and in" with the sign for "91-mph, belt-high, middle of plate" I don't buy that excuse.

Want some evidence that Johnson isn't quite right? After the sacrifice by Reyes, Miguel Cairo hit a home run off Johnson, and Cairo has never hit more than 5 bombs in any season of his 10-year career. To his credit, Cairo had owned Johnson coming into the game, with eight hits in 19 career at-bats against him (.421). However, only one of those was for extra bases, a double in April of 1996, Cairo's second major league game, and in the early part of an injury-plagued season for the Big Unit. Johnson would make three more starts after that one in 1996, none more than 5 innings, before spending three months rehabbing an injury.

Correlation? Sure. Causality? Who knows? I'm not saying that Johnson is headed for the DL again, but Randy's clearly not as spry as he used to be. Robert Adair explains in The Physics of Baseball that the elasticity of a pitcher's arm is as important a factor as strength, if not more so, for determining how hard he can throw. Like everyone else, the elasticity of tendons and cartilige tends to decrease with age, so if I were Randy, I'd be buying up as much collagen supplement as I could get my big, lanky hands on.

Sunday's rubber match between the teams wasn't quite the catastrophe that Friday's game had been. The defenses combined for only three errors instead of five, and the starting pitchers combined for only two walks and two earned runs in 14 total innings. But this time the left side of the Mets' infield threw (or bobbled) the game away, as Jose Reyes and David Wright both committed critical errors in the eighth inning. Both players recorded their sixth errors of the season on Sunday, and Reyes tacked on his seventh on Monday against the Braves, meaning that the left side of the Mets' infield is currently on a pace to commit a Jeter-esque 47 errors. No wonder Tom Glavine can't get anybody out.

But the Yanks won 2 of three, enough to keep their overall record above .500, 2.5 games behind the Red Sox, tied with Toronto for 3rd place in the AL East. It was not, however, enough to prevent WABC-NY AM talk show host, Guardian Angels' founder, Mets-hater and lover of his own voice, Curtis Sliwa from having to wear a Mets hat and jersey Monday morning, the result losing a bet that the Bronx Bombers would sweep.

See kids? That's what you get for betting.

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