Monday, June 19, 2006

With Rivera Resting, 9th Becomes Wang's to Lose--NY Times

  • NY Times, T. Kepner, 6/29/06
"In the left-field bullpen at R.F.K. Stadium late Sunday afternoon, the greatest closer in Yankees history began to stretch. It was the ninth inning, and the Yankees had a one-run lead. Mariano Rivera wanted the call.

Before the game, he had told the pitching coach, Ron Guidry, that he would be available. Scott Proctor warmed up, and so did Mike Myers. Not Rivera.

So he sat back down to watch Chien-Ming Wang try to complete a masterpiece in the broiling heat. As usual, Wang had induced ground balls at will, and he was one inning from a complete-game victory on a day the Yankees needed just that.

Rivera sat as Wang got a ground out. He sat as a pinch-hitter, Marlon Anderson, rolled a single to right. He sat as Ryan Zimmerman came to the plate determined to swing at the first pitch. Then his heart sank.

Zimmerman blasted that first pitch, a high sinker, through the thick air, over Rivera's head and off the concrete wall behind the Yankees' bullpen. It lifted the Washington Nationals to a 3-2 victory, their first to end with a home run since they moved from Montreal before last season.

Wang had pitched nobly and lost. But Rivera, who never pitched, blamed himself.

"It was my fault," he said. "I have to be there. Not him. I have to be there."

Guidry and Manager Joe Torre disagreed. They had used Rivera in the eighth inning in each of the past two games. Wang's pitch count was low enough. There is a long season ahead, and Rivera cannot pitch every day.

"Deep down inside, you know what kind of guy he is, and you know he would have pitched if we needed him," Guidry said. "But, you know, it's early. It's not panic time."

Wang accomplished plenty in defeat. He got 17 outs on grounders and allowed just six hits and two walks. After short outings by Jaret Wright and Shawn Chacon— who will be separated the next time through the rotation, Wang kept the bullpen fresh for the next series, in Philadelphia's cozy Citizens Bank Park.

But it was little consolation in the immediate aftermath. As Zimmerman bounced with his teammates at the plate, Wang tossed his glove to the floor of the dugout. Torre and Guidry consoled him, telling him they appreciated his effort.

"The only pitch he made bad all day was the one he got beat on," Guidry said. "That's the only one. And it's hard to walk off like that knowing you'd pitched your butt off and you got the loss."

Wang threw 96 pitches through eight innings; two starts ago, he threw 109 in seven. He did not seem bothered by the 89-degree heat, and the first two batters of the ninth put the ball on the ground.

Then came Zimmerman, who scored Washington's other run after a leadoff single in the fifth. In Zimmerman's previous at-bat, Wang jammed him on a high, inside pitch. This time, Zimmerman said, he guessed Wang would try the same pitch.

Wang said he was only trying to throw a sinker. But as soon as it left Wang's hand, catcher Jorge Posada said he knew it would be high.

"I was just hoping he didn't swing at it," Posada said.

If Zimmerman took it, Posada said, the pitch would have been a ball. But Zimmerman was ready.

"I was looking first pitch," he said. "A lot of this series, I took the first pitch. But the way he was going, if he was going to make a mistake, he'd make it early. I figured, why not look for a ball up and try to do some damage with it?"

So Zimmerman connected, spoiling the Yankees' chance for a victory on a day when they barely hit.

They struggled to solve the rookie left-hander Michael O'Connor, collecting just four hits and a run in seven innings. It was the latest example of the Yankees' chronic problem with pitchers they had never faced.

"They tend to give us some trouble," said Johnny Damon, who broke his bat twice and went 0 for 4 against O'Connor. "It seems like we would rather face Cy Young Award winners."

Gary Majewski took over in the eighth and gave up the lead. Alex Rodriguez, who homered Saturday, drilled a double to the gap in left center to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Rodriguez clapped his hands three times at second as he watched Melky Cabrera slide in at home.

Rodriguez may have bottomed out Friday, when he struck out three times and pushed his June slump to 7 for 45. In morning sessions with the hitting coach, Don Mattingly, Rodriguez has tried to keep his weight back and refine his leg kick. In the past two days, he is 4 for 7 with two walks.

"It's a work in progress," Rodriguez said. "I don't think I'm quite back to where I want to be or where I need to be, but I'm definitely getting better."

His double stood to win the game, and the Yankees believed it should have. It was a shame, Posada said, for Wang to lose.

But that was the risk Torre took in giving Rivera a rest. It was June, not October. It was Washington, not Boston. It was Wang, not Rivera."We were in position to win a ballgame without Mo," Torre said. "We just didn't get away with it.""by Tyler Kepner, NY Times, 6/19/06

  • The Yankees continue having trouble against pitchers they haven't seen before. Which wouldn't be that big a deal, except there's been much discussed in the past few years about their scouting.
  • Get ready for Dibs and others to say how easy Joe Torre makes life for Rivera (Just the opposite-the Yankees have to win, can't afford to have a guy who just wants to win an individual award like the "regular season total save stat.") Rivera has been OVERUSED as usual--when I looked a few days ago he had the most IP's of the top 20 AL late inning relievers. He'd started in the 8th inning in both of the past 2 days, the 2nd day a day game after a night game. How many years did Dibs pitch a full season followed by 3 levels of post season competition? Did Dibs ever pitch after November 1st? Never, but Mariano Rivera has, with all the pressure in the world and next to no run support.

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  • I liked this comment from Mariano:

    "I wanted to be there, but it's not up to me," Rivera said. "I'll never second-guess Mr. Torre. If it was up to me, I'd pitch every day. But I look at today and he looks at the season. That's why he's the manager and I'm a pitcher."


    Gotta love a player with that kind of perspective and team-centered attitude. It's just too bad Wang's solid performance had to be lost at the end like that. But, as an aside, Ryan Zimmerman is already an exceptional all-around player at age 21 (!), and he is going to be a lot of fun to watch in the coming years.

    By Anonymous margin, at 5:59 PM  

  • oops, the link didn't copy:

    MLB article with quote cited above

    By Anonymous margin, at 6:00 PM  

  • Thanks very much for the link & for noticing the great qualities of Mariano Rivera. I do want the Nats to
    do well, & am glad that young Ryan Zimmerman got a chance to shine.

    By Blogger susan mullen, at 6:57 PM  

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