04 October 2007

ALDS Game 1: New York Yankees @ Cleveland Indians

The first inning is almost over, and this has already been an unusual game.

First Batter: Johnny Damon facing C.C. Sabathia. As Damon works the count to 3-1, I'm telling my wife how Sabathia has walked very few batter this year, only 37 in 241 innings (about one per 6 IP). Sure enough, Damon lines the 3-1 pitch into the right field stands...but on which side of the Foul Pole? After initially getting it called foul, Torre emerges from the dugout, demands an Umpire Groupthink, and get his Christmas Present early: a home run, 1-0 Yankees.

Then Jeter works the count to 2-2 and then pops out to second base.

Abreu, who walked 84 times this year, drew one from C.C., despite the latter's typical stinginess with such charity. Alex Rodriguez, who was 7th in the al in walks (95) and 4th in OBP (.422), also walked, but then Jorge Posada struck out and Hideki Matsui grounded to second to end the threat.

But Sabathia has already thrown 33 pitches, and hopefully won't be around after the 5th or 6th. He definitely doesn't look like the 19-game winner and Cy Young contender we saw for most of the 2007 season.

Bottom of the First:

This is not good. Chien-Ming Wang hits Grady Sizemore with the very first pitch of the game. He hit only 8 batters in 200 innings this year, or one every 25 innings or so. I guess he's done for the postseason, right?

The next batter, rookie 2B Asdrubal Cabrera, grounded into a double play, and it looked momentarily like Wang may escape the first with his 1-0 lead intact, but alas, 'twas not to be.

Travis Hafner, an extremely patient and dangerous hitter, drew a walk, followed by a single by Victor Martinez. Ryan Garko then singled Pronk home, tying the game. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta then walked, and a conference was called on the mound to remind Wang that he should probably get somebody else out so they could go back to the dugout and take a load off for a while. Wang, however, being Taiwanese, missed this message and allowed a 2-run single to Kenny Lofton instead, and the inning only ended when Peralta was tagged out at second.

Analysis: Wang has two things going against him in this game:
1) His ERA for the year was 4.91 on the road, vs. only 2.75 at Yankee Stadium. The difference for his career (4.62 vs. 3.04) is not quite so severe, but still notable. Given that Wang relies so much on ground balls for his outs, it surprises me that there would be such a difference in his home/road stats. You'd think that infields are infields are infields, right? But mabe opposing teams cut the grass especially short on days when they know Wang will be pitching. Wouldn't be the first time. I remember the Padres especially watered down a patch in front of home plate at Qualcomm Stadium during the 1998 World Series. Not that it helped much.

B) He hasn't pitched since September 26th, eight days ago. Initially I thought this might be an issue, as the Traditional Wisdom dictates that sinker-ball pitchers tend to do better if they're a little tired, and that might be true. However, Wang's career ERA with 6+ days of rest is only 2.66, compared to 4.01 with the normal 4 days, so maybe that's not true in his case.

Second Inning:

Fortunately, nobody scored or anything whilst I pontificated about ERA and Home/Road splits. C.C. walked another batter (Robinson Cano, who doesn't walk very much) but then popped up Melky Cabrera to first and got Doug Mientkiewicz to pop up to short. Cano, who doesn't usually stel bases either, got caught stealing second and ended the inning.

In the bottom of the second, Wang again got two outs and then got himself into trouble. He got Franklin Guittierez to pop up to third, and then struck out Casey Blake (another rarity, for Wang, at least), but then Grady Sizemore singled. Sizemore is quite speedy, stealing 33 bases this year, but he was also caught 10 times, second most in the AL. So it wasn't a total surprise when Posada gunned him down at second to end the inning.

Third Inning:

C.C. seems to have settled down. He whiffed both Damon and Jeter, and though he walked Abreu again, A-Rod popped up for the third out.

Wang, on the other hand, still has not found his rhythm. He allowed a rare homer to Cabrera, even after getting two strikes on him. Hafner then grounded out and Martinez flied out, but Garko got another hit, a single to right that would have been an out if Bobby Abreu didn't have so little range. Jhonny Peralta then obligingly hit the second pitch he saw right into Abreu's glove, and the inning was over, with the Yanks down, 4-1.

Fourth Inning:

Posada serves a ball into right field that found the glove of Franklin Gutierrez without too much trouble, and then Matsui struck out.

Incidentally, why is Hideki Matsui playing in this game? Granted, he generally does not have a terrible righty/lefty split (.814 OPS vs. .872 this year, and .810 vs. .877 for his career), but there is a disadvantage there. In addition, he does't seem healthy. He's admittedly not well enough to run and play the field, and he hit only .185 in September, so why not let Shelley Duncan play? He's a righty, he's got power, both of his legs work properly...why not?

In any case, seeing that Matsui wasn't going to help, Robby Cano took thinks into his own hand, and his own bat, by hitting a line drive homer that just barely cleared the fence in right, bringing the Yanks to withing two runs. Cabrera then popped out to end the inning. Apparently the Melk Man does not always deliver.

Wang looked a little better in his half of the 4th, getting Lofton to pop up and Casey Blake to ground out and Sizemore to strikeout, even though he walked Gutierrez, the second batter of the inning. Gutierrez has only walked about once every 6 games in his brief major league career, but fortunately the INdians were unable to capitalize on this rare gift.

Interestingly, even though Wang had a 2.68 Ground Ball-to-Fly Ball ratio this year, 6th best in the majors, he's gotten four fly ball outs and only three ground-outs, at least up to this point. Clearly the sinker isn't sinking in its usual manner.

Fifth Inning:

Things are looking up for New York...

Joe Torre was apparently reading my blog between innings and decided to bring in Duncan to hit for Mientkiewicz. They're sacrificing late-game defensive needs for the offense they need now. Duncan dunked one into right field for a single and then went to second when Damon drew a walk. Jeter worked the count full but then flied out to right, not deep enough for Duncan to advance to third. But then Abreu doubled to left and Duncan scored, making it 4-3.

Of course, with first base open, nobody in their right mind would face A-Rod, so he got a free pass. Bases loaded, 1-out for Posada, who hit .338 this year, but is 0-for-2 in this game...it's 3-0 on him now, Sabathia's struggling...Posada fouled off the 3-0 pitch, then swung through the 3-1...full count...after two more foul balls, Posada whiffs on a high, 95-mph heater. Two out.

Matsui stands in. Have I mentioned that he's never gotten a hit off Sabathia. He was 0-for-9 against him coming to the game, which is admittedly a small sample, but a sample nonetheless. Godzilla looks more like Baby Godzilla as he pops a 2-0 pitch up to short and kills the rally. Still 4-3 Tribe.

Bottom of the Fifth...

Or, not.

Another walk, the third time that the leadoff man has gotten on base. Travis Hafner flied out, but then Victor Martinez hit a no-doubt-about-it homer to right, unfortunately just as the TBS announcer was interviewing the guy with the Indian drum in the outfield, so we got an extra-loud sample of the instrument as the ball cleared the fence.

Garko then grounded out, making it two-down, but Wang couldn't seal the deal. A bloop double by Peralta and then an RBI single by Lofton ended Wang's night, 4.2 innings, 7 runs (plus Lofton on first...make that second, since he just swiped it) only 5 ground ball outs. A very un-Wang like appearance, all told.

Rookie Ross Ohlendorf comes in to relieve Wang, but proves little relief. Rookie isn't the word for it. Ohlendorf has 6.1 innings pitched in his entire major league career, just a half dozen appearances. Sure, he pitched well, facing predominantly a bunch of nobodies during mop-up work in September. Torre may have jumped the gun a little putting him on the postseason roster ahead of Edwar Ramirez or Ron Villone. Ohlendorf struggled, allowing Lofton to steal, walking Gutierrez (his 2nd of the game) and then serving up a 2-run double to Peralta before finally (mercifully) getting Sizemore to fly out to left. Still, the damage was done, and the Yankees were down 9-3.

Sixth Inning:

With 114 pitches thrown already, Sabathia did not answer the bell in the 6th. Rookie southpaw Rafael Perez (1.78 ERA, 62 K's in 61 innings) took his place and did not disappoint. Robby Cano grounded to 2nd, and then Cabrera and Duncan both whiffed to end the inning without even putting up much of a fight.

Ohlendorf is still out there to start the bottom of the 6th. I guess with a 6-run deficit, you might as well let him pitch. We can only lose this game once, right? For what it's worth, Ohlendorf has good stuff: a mid 90's fastball that moves (a little too much, sometimes) and a sharp, 12-to-6 curve and a sinker or slider or something that hits about 83 mph.

Of course, Travis Hafner just Pronked one of those fastballs into the right field stands, so maybe it doesn't move as much as I think. 10-3 Cleveland. Martinez just doubled to left on another one, which earned Ross a lecture from Posada and pitching coach Ron Guidry, who evidently came out to remind him that this is not batting practice, and you know, maybe you wanna get some of these guys out. Ohlendorf, like Wang, may only speak Chinese, because his next act was to plunk Ryan Garko. He did manage to induce a grounder to short off the bat of Peralta, but then Lofton doubled and drove in the 11th run for the Tribe, and Ohlendorf's night was over.

Another rookie, Jose Veras, comes in to relieve. Veras was the closer for AA Trenton last year and AAA Scranton this year. He throws hard (that last one was 96 mph, but way high, as he looked like he was trying to throw it through Jorge Posada rather than to him) and has a slow curve, a good combo for a closer (just ask John Wetteland). He pops up Gutierrez and the inning is finally over. 11-3 Indians.

Seventh Inning:

Damon strikes out, the third in a row for Perez. Derek Jeter hits one of his patented inside-outers to right field, but Gutierrez makes a nice, running, diving catch for the second out of the inning. Abreu then strikes out looking and the half-inning is over.

In the bottom half of the inning, the Yankee Rookie Pitcher Parade continues with Phil Hughes. Hughes sandwiches a Sizemore pop-up between strikeouts of Casey Blake and Asdrubal Cabrera (finally, someone who can get him out!), to keep it close...only 8 runs down with two outs to go! Wooo-Hooo!

Eighth Inning:

Another Indian Rookie comes in, Jensen Lewis, who struck out 34 batters in only 29 innings this year, with a 2.15 ERA. Lewis made quick work of the Yankees, with a pop-up to A-Rod, a fly out to Posada and a strikeout of Matsui. Have I mentioned that Matsui shouldn't even be playing in this game?

Lewis is an interesting looking pitcher. They talked about him as a "flame thrower", but he seems to sit in the low 90's most of the time, 92-93 or so. What makes him seem faster is his delivery, a quick, explosive jump toward home plate, sort of like Roy Oswalt, but with less extension. Anyway, before you know he's pitching the ball is already past you. Which makes it harder to hit.

In the bottom of the 8th, Hughes is still pitching. A fly-ball pitcher, predominantly, like most 4-seam fastball, 12-6 curveball types, Hughes gets Hafner and Martinez to fly out, but then allows a homer to Garko before getting Peralta to fly out. 12-3 Indians.

Ninth Inning:

Well, this sucks. Rafael Betancourt just struck out Robby Cano. Two outs left...Cabrera's trying to keep the dream (fantasy?) alive...working the cout to 2-2...Betancourt is really taking his time, but Cabrera can't catch up to him anyway...He doesn't miss much, only 68 strikeouts in 545 at-bats, and you can see why as he keeps fouling pitches off. Eventually working the count full and then fouling out to left.

Down to one. The power lefty, Jason Giambi pinch hits for Duncan against Betancourt, the power righty. Even with the Giambi shift Jason singles right past the fielder in short right field. Damon stands in with the Yankees first baserunner since the 5th inning. He's quickly down, 0-2. Works the count to 3-2...and then flies out to center, ending the game.

See you tomorrow.

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