Why the Yankees lost to the Indiansby Larry Mahnken
October 09, 2007
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The Indians won this series, but the Yankees also lost it. Fausto Carmona was great, but the Yankees were also awful. Chien-Ming Wang was awful, but the Indians were also great. Blame goes hand-in-hand with credit, and you can’t place the responsibility for any event on one player—if someone failed, someone did something right to help them fail.
So why did the Yankees lose? Because they played poorly, and the Indians played well. Did they lose because the Indians had Carmona and Sabathia? Not any more than they lost because Chien-Ming Wang pitched two of the worst games of his career.
Joe Torre, no doubt, is gone now. Likely gone with him are Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Bobby Abreu, Roger Clemens, and perhaps some other stars. A new era is beginning in the Bronx, built around the kids. And it may well be a glorious era, but it is also not likely to be a successful one immediately. Unless some of the stars who I predicted to defect above stay with New York, you will not see the Yankees in October next year.
But that’s looking forward. Looking backwards, there is the matter of blame to be dished out. Everyone, of course, could have done more, but there are a few players in particular whose performances wounded the team, in some cases mortally.
Chien-Ming Wang: 0-2, 19.06, 5.2 IP, 14 H, 4 BB, 2 Ks, 3 HRs
You can stop right now, really. The Yankees lost because Chien-Ming Wang was awful, awful, awful. If he was okay in game one, they probably would have won. If he was okay in game four, they probably would have won. Instead, he made it nearly impossible for them to win either game—and they lost them both.
This isn’t really a problem of design: game one was the second-worst start of Wang’s career, game four was the ninth-worst. Maybe you’d like a better pitcher to start game one of a series, but there’s nothing really wrong with going with someone like Wang in that situation.
But the fact remains that Wang didn’t get his sinker down and couldn’t throw strikes, allowing the Indians to wait for and drive pitches up in the zone. Maybe there was something physically wrong with Wang, or maybe it was just bad luck two times in a row. The cause isn’t nearly as important as the results, which were disastrous.
Jorge Posada: .133/.235/.200, 0 RBI
After a career offensive season, Posada, who has rarely been a postseason factor in his career, had perhaps his worst playoffs ever. Not only did he hit horribly, but he failed to stop two blockable wild pitches in the eighth inning on Friday that allowed Grady Sizemore to advance to second and then score, taking a win away from the Yankees. That wasn’t entirely Posada’s fault, of course, but it was still a failing on his part.
Posada’s strikeout to end the season was possibly his late at-bat as a Yankee. After his spectacular regular season, Posada will be an attractive free agent to most teams, and the Yankees—despite not having any apparent replacement for him arriving any time soon—might be willing to let him leave. Posada might not be keen on returning anyway, with Joe Torre likely out the door.
Derek Jeter: .176/.176/.176, 3 H, 0 XBH, 0 R, 0 RBI, 0 BB, 3 GIDP
The Teflon Yankee has had awful postseason series’ before, but always seemed to redeem himself with a great series later on, or a big play in the bad series. Sometimes he did neither, but escaped blame for no other reason than his past successes.
It’s hard to see how Jeter can escape blame in this one.
He was a non-factor in games one and two, and despite a couple of singles early in game four, he may have sealed the team’s fate by killing a 1st-and-3rd one-out rally with a double play in the sixth. To be fair, Jeter has been hurt down the stretch, but even a hurt Jeter should do better than three singles, zero walks and three GIDPs.
Hideki Matsui: .182/.438/.182, 2 H, 0 XBH, 0 RBI
The five walks and four runs scored mask Matsui’s utter failure to be a useful hitter this series. Two singles and no RBIs were all he could muster, which was especially bad considering that he started the series as A-Rod’s protection.
Matsui can be a dangerous hitter at times, but he’s a mediocre fielder at best, and a terrible burden on the lineup when he’s slumping.
This was probably Torre’s last game in pinstripes, and while it may not be fair that he’ll take the blame for this, he didn’t have a very good series.
In game one, he was too slow with the hook on Wang—it wasn’t a case of a guy getting unlucky that night, Wang was throwing bad pitches and getting properly punished for it. Torre should have lifted him after it was 4-1, brought in Hughes instead of Ohlendorf, and maybe given the team a chance. Instead, Ohlendorf turned a decent lead into a huge lead, and the game was over halfway through. Then Torre inexplicably brought Hughes in for mopup duty.
In game two, Torre probably should have had Rivera ready in the eighth and lifted Chamberlain after the first wild pitch. Chamberlain was wild all inning, clearly was struggling with the bugs, and the team couldn’t afford to give up a single run in that situation. Might they have lost anyway? Sure, Rivera would have had to get out of a runner-on-third with one out situation, but Torre should have recognized that right then was the most important out of the game, and Rivera, not Chamberlain, was the pitcher who should be trying to get it.
Finally, in game four he made the error of starting Doug Mientkiewicz over Jason Giambi. He justified it by saying that if Wang pitched well they could use the defense, but when Wang didn’t pitch well, they immediately needed the offense, and Torre stuck with Mientkiewicz anyway. And so a man who batted .500/.579/1.313 against the Indians this season got four plate appearances against them this series, all in the name of first base defense.
There are dozens of good reasons to not bring Joe Torre back. The Yankees’ loss this series isn’t one of them, but he had a bad series.
Alex Rodriguez: .267/.353/.467, 1 RBI, 1 XBH
A-Rod has been unfairly blamed disproportionately for the Yankees’ losses in 2004, 2005 and 2006, while somehow being ignored for his contributions in the 2004 ALDS. He finally got out of a huge postseason slump in the final two games of this series, but while he’s not the reason they lost, he could have done a lot more to help them win. Indeed, he probably could have carried them to victory with a slightly better performance in the right spots.
In game one, Rodriguez was walked in his two most important plate appearances, popping out with a runner on and two outs a runner on first. It was a solid game with little opportunity to make a difference – and ultimately anything he could have done wouldn’t have changed the outcome.
In game two, Alex struck out three times with runners on base, twice with a runner on second. A single in either of those two chances would have won the game, as would a double in the other one. A home run in any plate appearance of course would have had the same impact. It was a total failure by the offense that day, but you can’t completely discount A-Rod’s failure because of it.
They won game three, and he did fine, so there’s nothing to nitpick there.
In the elimination game he got an infield hit and a home run, but in the first inning when the team had a glorious opportunity to get back into it with two on and one out, he struck out swinging, killing the momentum.
Of all the “goats”, A-Rod is the least responsible for the team’s loss—but he had opportunities to make a difference with just a little success—a single, a double, even a walk in a couple of situations. By his own standards he didn’t have a great series, but it was definitely a solid one.
Most importantly for him, the pressure of hitting in the postseason is somewhat gone—he hit quite well his final two games, and there shouldn’t be many questions going forward—whether it be in New York or elsewhere. The biggest cause of his postseason struggles the past couple of season hasn’t been a lack of clutch ability, but a tendency to dwell on his failures. As his slump got worse, he dwelled on it more and tried too hard. With the four hits in two games, particularly the home run, he likely won’t dwell anymore, and wherever he plays his next postseason series, he’s likely to have a huge impact.
And thus ends the Yankees season. Had they won the AL East, it could have been remembered fondly by Yankees fans. As it was, they came back from well behind to even make it into October, but they let up down the stretch because they didn’t care how they got into the playoffs, so long as they go in. Without a division title, with a meek exit in the first round, and with a like Red Sox championship coming in the next few weeks, there will be little to remember fondly for Yankees fans in 2007.
But it’s probably the last October they’ll have for a little while. Maybe next time they’ll appreciate it more.
References and Resources
Check back tomorrow for Ryan Richards' companion piece from the Indians perspective
Larry Mahnken is a staff writer for The Hardball Times, and co-editor of the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog. You can contact him with your comments, questions, romantic propositions and incoherent rantings at DLMahnken@hardballtimes.com.