October 13, 2003
Zimmer, Yankees subdued by fluttering baseball
Amazingly, Game Four of the ALCS came and went without incident. Well, there was that thing in the 8th inning when the umpires strip-searched Jeff Nelson on the mound (seriously), but I think that was just an effort to prepare him for prison-life with charges for the whole Game Three bullpen-scuffle looming.
Tim Wakefield was fantastic, pitching into the 8th inning while allowing just 1 run on 5 hits. He did walk 4 Yankees, but also struck out 8. Grady Little yanked him from the game after he handed out a walk to Jason Giambi to start the 8th, bringing in Mike Timlin to relieve him.
Timlin continued his run of complete dominance this post-season, setting Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui down 1-2-3. Timlin has now thrown 7.1 perfect innings this post-season, while striking out 9 batters.
I thought it was an interesting decision to bring Timlin into the game at that point. As good as he has been this season and as great as he has been this post-season, Timlin struggled quite a bit with left-handed hitters for most of the year. Lefties hit .287 with a .502 slugging percentage against him in 150 at bats. So, bringing him in to face Williams, Posada and Matsui - all left-handed hitters - was a risky move, but it certainly worked out.
Then, with Boston up 3-1 heading into the 9th, Grady Little pulled Timlin in favor of Scott Williamson. Personally, I would have left Timlin in. He's been great of late and he only threw 11 pitches in the 8th. Of course, Williamson has also been fantastic in the post-season.
Williamson came in and was extremely good, except for one really awful pitch.
The first batter he faced was Nick Johnson and he got ahead of him 1-2 and then threw an absolutely disgusting slider down in the zone that Johnson swung right over for strike three.
Then he had Ruben Sierra in the same spot, down 1-2, and he threw him a fastball right over the heart of the plate. Sierra took a monster hack at it and deposited it into the seats in right-center. 3-2 Red Sox. Ruben Sierra isn't exactly a patient hitter and considering how silly the 1-2 slider made Nick Johnson look in the previous at bat, I can't figure out why Williamson would throw Sierra something that good in that spot.
The next batter was Alfonso Soriano and when he got down 1-2, Williamson threw that exact same filthy, sharp-breaking slider down in the zone for strike three, ending the game.
I normally get annoyed when an announcer says a pitcher "made a mistake" every time someone gets a hit (and particularly a homer) off him, but in this case I definitely think the 1-2 fastball to Sierra was a mistake. Not necessarily a physical mistake (although it was not a good pitch), but more a case of a pitcher and catcher trying to get too "cute." When you have the ability to throw a slider like Scott Williamson was throwing last night, that should be the one and only option anytime you have two strikes on a hitter and you're ahead in the count.
Wakefield was awesome, the Sox bullpen was great (anyone complaining about that whole bullpen-by-committee thing any more?) and the series is now tied at two games each.
I picked the Red Sox to win this series in seven games and I am going to stick with that prediction because I think it's looking pretty good. It is now a best-of-three series and Boston will have Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez starting two of those three games. Of course, Pedro didn't look like Pedro in Game Three and it is likely John Burkett will be starting the other game, so it's not all good news for the Red Sox.
By the way, is anyone else wondering if Tim Wakefield could possibly start Game Six? I know that sounds crazy, it being on Wednesday and all, but trying to come up with a way to avoid a Burkett start seems like a good plan and Wakefield is a knuckleballer, after all. I mean, does his arm get tired?
Okay, I'm sure it gets "tired" in the same way my arm gets tired when I play catch for an hour, but does it get tired like most pitchers' arms get tired? Does he have to ice it after a game? Does it get swollen the next morning? Does his arm get so tired that he needs more than a 48 hours to recoup before he can take the mound again? Who knows. I think I might take my chances with Wakefield on 1-day of rest, throwing the knuckler left-handed before I gave a fully-rested John Burkett a shot at this point.
Some other random thoughts on last night's game and this series...
Only fellow Bill Simmons fans will understand this, but when Jeff Nelson was called into the game from the bullpen last night I suddenly thought of this...
"OH MY GOD! That's...that's...THAT'S JEFF NELSON'S MUSIC!"
I watched Don Zimmer's tearful apology yesterday and I now feel sort of sorry for him. I still think what he did was very stupid and very wrong and that Pedro is getting far too much heat for defending himself, but I do think Zimmer is genuinely sorry for what he did and I can respect that.
I also saw some clips of Grady Little talking to the media. It was the first time I had ever seen or heard Grady Little speak for an extended period of time. Where exactly is his accent from? That is perhaps the strangest and most disturbing way of speaking that I have ever heard. It's like a cross between the guy from Sling Blade and Forrest Gump, except not as intelligent sounding.
What is up with Todd Walker?! The guy slugs .428 with 13 homers in 144 regular season games and he's already got 5 homers in the playoffs? He's hitting .393/.452/.964 in the post-season so far. Can you imagine if a certain shortstop on the other team was doing that? I think Tim McCarver might have an accident live on the air.
As good as Walker has been, Nomar Garciaparra has been nearly that bad. He went 0-4 last night, striking out once and grounding into a double-play. He's down to .216 in the post-season overall, and he's now 2-17 in the ALCS. It seems like he is either popping up to the infield or striking out in every at bat, and Nomar is not a guy who whiffs very often. Nomar also hit just .170/.248/.351 in September, so this isn't just some 3 or 4 game slump that he's in.
What exactly is the deal with Boston's idiotic baserunning? I believe they have botched a hit-and-run in every game of this series, which is simply something that cannot happen to a team that had the best team slugging percentage in the history of baseball. Sure, they have been hitting into a few double-plays, but they had like three billion extra-base hits this year, so it might be best to just keep everyone in one place until someone smacks a ball off that gigantic green wall in left field.
The Sox also had runners on first and third late in the game, with Johnny Damon at the plate. The runner on first, Jason Varitek, took off for second base and then stopped about half way there. Jorge Posada made a strong throw to second, at which point Varitek was a dead man. Trot Nixon took off for the plate to draw a throw home, which is the smart thing to do in that situation, but then he tried to scramble back to third and was gunned down to end the inning. Sure, there were two strikes, but Johnny Damon is a pretty good bet to make contact and even if you had the love-child of Russell Branyan and Rob Deer at the plate, a catcher taking off for second in that spot is really stupid. Not just regular-stupid, I'm talking Jessica Simpson eating tuna fish stupid.
The Official Part-Time Announcer of Aaron's Baseball Blog was once again awesome last night. Bret Boone and McCarver once again bickered throughout the entire game, which is always a lot of fun. I particularly liked when Boone was talking about how he did something at the plate (hitting the knuckler, I think) and he then asked McCarver how he did it, asking "Do you remember way back then?"
At one point there was a shallow fly ball hit to CF with Alfonso Soriano on third base. Soriano bluffed a tag, drawing a throw home from Johnny Damon. To say Johnny Damon throws like a girl is fairly inaccurate, because I have seen many girls throw with at least some semblance of correct form and with at least a reasonable amount of velocity. Johnny Damon throws like whatever the gender or species on this planet that is the worst at throwing a baseball is.
I would run on Johnny Damon's arm in almost every situation. And I mean that literally. I would run on him, as in me, a big, slow goofball who probably hasn't run more than 30 consecutive feet at any point in the last 3 years. If I was Soriano, I would have tagged up, scored, and then gone back to third and done it again, in the hopes that the umps would award my team two runs instead of just one.
Speaking of Boston's outfielders, Manny Ramirez is an improved and underrated left fielder, but every time a ball is hit to him I get the feeling he is incredibly annoyed by being forced to move to catch it. It's like when someone asks you to take out the trash or to clean your room. You know you should do it and you do it, but you don't have to be happy about it.
While watching Tim Wakefield pitch last night, was anyone else completely overtaken by the urge to go outside and play catch?
I enjoyed the "WE WANT NELSON!" chant while Jeff Nelson warmed up in the Yankee bullpen late in the game. It was not quite as good as Yankee fans calling out Pedro with a "WE WANT PEDRO!" chant earlier in the series, but it was still funny.
I was also amused by Jeff Nelson who, when he got Nomar to hit a grounder to Derek Jeter with a runner on first base, hopped off the mound, turned toward second base and then screamed "TURN IT!" at the top of his lungs.
Do they have a Boston Penal League or will they let Nelson serve his time in New York, so he can play for the Prison-Yankees? Either way, I can't wait for that Jeff Nelson-Rick Vaughn matchup in Game One of the Penal League World Series next year.
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