Some Thoughts On Day 3 Of The 2011 MLB Playoffs

How are you fat, you dance all the time

A funny thing happened in New York this afternoon. You might've missed it if you switched over to the Diamondbacks and Brewers, assuming that the Yankees were already toast. You also might've missed it if you were spending that portion of the day watching football. All right, the Seahawks are almost not bad!

The Tigers were coasting. For eight and a half innings, the Tigers were coasting. Miguel Cabrera put them up by two in the top of the first, and then not a whole lot happened for a long time. The Yankees mounted a couple threats, but they didn't do anything, and the Tigers added two more runs in the sixth. Curtis Granderson homered in the eighth, but it was a solo shot, and then the Tigers got that run right back a few minutes later, so the game was 5-1 Detroit going into the bottom of the ninth.

Taking no chances, Jim Leyland called on Jose Valverde to slam the door. And then the trouble started.

A home run. A triple. A triple that was the first playoff triple of Jorge Posada's career. It was a clean one, too. A walk. Suddenly, the tying run was at the plate, and there was nobody out. Andruw Jones hit a sac fly. 5-3. Derek Jeter struck out. Two down, but still, the tying run was at the plate, and it was Granderson. Granderson, who'd homered in the previous inning. Granderson, who'd finished second behind Jose Bautista in homers during the year. And on deck was Robinson Cano, another left-handed power hitter whose reputation is spiraling out of control.

Watching, one kind of sensed that something big was going to happen. Then Granderson lifted a foul pop-up. A simple foul pop-up in front of the third base dugout. Alex Avila jogged over, and it looked like the Tigers were going to escape then and there.

Except Avila slipped. It had been raining, and the on-deck circle was wet. Avila stepped on it, he slipped, and the ball dropped un-caught, giving Granderson and the Yankees new life.

Back in Old Yankee Stadium - which, at one point, was New Yankee Stadium, I suppose - there was a lot of talk about playoff ghosts. It was a daunting, intimidating place to play, and though obviously there's no such thing as playoff ghosts, those words just stood in for the feeling that, in Yankee Stadium, things just happened that helped the Yankees and hurt the opponents. No lead ever felt safe in Yankee Stadium in October. No matter the circumstance, it always felt like the Yankees had the edge, and one rooting against the hosts couldn't exhale until after the final out.

That feeling hasn't really carried over to New Yankee Stadium. Not that I've felt, not yet. Maybe there just isn't enough history. But today - I mean, Avila slipped. It was a routine foul pop-up, and Alex Avila slipped on a wet surface. At that point, after that happened, that sensation of certain doom flooded into my mind. Of course it was irrational, but the way you feel is the way you feel, and I knew, I just knew the game was going to turn.

Granderson walked. A few pitches later, he walked, and Cano came to bat with the rain pouring down. The previous game, Cano had hit a grand slam and driven in six runs. He's become something of a popular MVP candidate, even though he doesn't deserve it, and lately people have been talking about Cano as if he's larger than life. I could close my eyes and picture the next pitch screaming out to the right field bleachers.

It didn't help that the rain had gotten the ball wet, and that Valverde probably didn't trust his splitter grip. So when Valverde faced Cano, he challenged him. Four straight times, Valverde challenged Cano with elevated fastballs. Valverde was just asking to get torched, and Cano was barely missing. It was inevitable. I don't like Jose Valverde, but I really don't like the Yankees, and a walk-off win felt inevitable.

With the fifth pitch, Valverde threw a low splitter. Cano rolled over on it and grounded out to second. The Tigers won and Valverde danced, laughing that "I know, I know" laugh that a closer always laughs when he lets things get too close.

I guess in the end, there's not really any lesson of value here. Dozens if not hundreds of times during the baseball season, we know things are going to happen that don't end up happening. Baseball games aren't built around narratives; narratives are built around baseball games. Thinking that we know what's going to happen is absolute silliness. But I knew that the Yankees were going to win in the ninth. I knew it. They lost.

That was a hell of a ninth inning.

---

That went on longer than I thought it would, so I'm going to make these bullet holes shorter and go to bed.

  • The way some people - mostly national journalists and broadcasters - have been talking about Robinson Cano lately has been absolutely bewildering. I hit on this on Twitter earlier so I apologize for the redundancy if you already saw that, but while Cano is a very good hitter, he finished with a lower wOBA this season than guys like Adrian Beltre, Alex Gordon and Michael Morse. He drew 27 unintentional walks. And most astonishingly, or at least most astonishingly to me, is that his approach is not very good. Cano swung at a higher rate of balls this season than Yuniesky Betancourt. And Jeff Francoeur. And Delmon Young. And Jose Lopez. He makes contact, yes, and he hits the ball hard a lot, but Cano is not a perfect hitter, or even anywhere close to a perfect hitter. He's just a good hitter in a lineup full of pretty good hitters. Some people need to slow down with the whole Robinson Cano thing.

  • Maybe the pitch of the day, from Joaquin Benoit to Derek Jeter with two on and two out:

    Benoitch
    Jeterpitch_medium

     

  • The TBS (sponsored) turning point in today's Tigers/Yankees showdown was a bloop single in a 4-0 game that didn't lead to a run.

  • Time and time again, the numbers have shown that, by and large, starting a pitcher on short rest is a bad idea. For whatever reason - and there are countless possible reasons - pitchers perform considerably worse on three days' rest than they do when they get the normal four or five. And yet, managers continue to use guys on short rest, like Tony La Russa did with Chris Carpenter today. Carpenter was bad, and the Cardinals had to rally to win.

    Now, starting a pitcher on short rest isn't always a bad idea. CC Sabathia, for example, has been dominant in his admittedly limited history. And if a pitcher says that he feels fine, a manager will be inclined to take his word. But I think the main reason we see guys used on short rest despite the evidence is that a pitcher is a pitcher, and it can be hard for one to wrap his head around the idea that a given pitcher might do worse because he's had a little less time off. Chris Carpenter is Chris Carpenter. If he says he can go on three days, why shouldn't be able to go on three days? He'll still throw Chris Carpenter pitches, right? With Chris Carpenter mechanics and Chris Carpenter grips?

    It's hard. So much of it is the same. But the history shows that just enough is usually different that the pitchers end up having a more difficult time. I think most managers know this, too, but name value is a powerful thing. There's comfort in names.

  • In Cliff Lee's first eight playoff starts, he allowed 12 runs in 64⅓ innings, and he was being talked about as one of the greatest playoff pitchers of all time. In Cliff Lee's last three playoff starts, he's allowed 15 runs in 17⅔ innings. Granted, over those three starts he's also posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 22/3, but he's gotten hit, and the narrative has disappeared.

    Of course, nothing has changed. Cliff Lee is still Cliff Lee, and Cliff Lee is amazing. But this means that there will be all kinds of stupid questions going into his next start, and if he pitches like normal Cliff Lee, people will be amazed again. I guess maybe this is a neat way for Lee to make sure people don't take him for granted.
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