Sox/Yanks Showdown, Parts 1 and 2

Early Morning, August 29th, 2007

The Showdown, Part 1.

Looking at the pitching matchups in this series, you figured that the
Yankees have the best chance of winning game one, with Pettite pitching great
of late and Daisuke only “very good”; the Red Sox had the best chance of
winning game 2, with Beckett pitching great of late and Clemens pitching so-so;
and anybody’s guess in an unpredictable game 3, with both Schilling and Wang
having 2 very good outings and 2 very bad outings in their last 4 starts.

Certainly, in game 1, an extra edge for Pettitte would be his greater
experience pitching in the atmosphere of Yankee Stadium in a big game.

You also figured that coming home after a tough road trip had to give the
Yankees a confidence boost, and having gotten beaten so badly the night before
had to give them a motivation boost to set things straight, as if simply
playing the Red Sox wasn’t motivation enough.

Of course, the Red Sox are playing with a ton of confidence, too, right
now, but you had to give the motivation and the pitching edge to the Yankees.
It certainly went their way, in a close, exciting game played by two talented,
confident, motivated teams. This was good baseball to watch, even for a Red Sox
fan. Kind of strange to say after a loss to the Yankees, but a large lead in
the division helps you to detach from the consequences and just enjoy a
well-played, exciting game.

Given the potent offenses of both teams, the 2 starters did about as well
as you’d expect.

Each starter gave up 2 homers, each of which just barely cleared some
short fences, and the starters kept the damage to a minimum by keeping men off
base. Great pitching battling great hitting, what more could you ask for? Well,
good aggressive baserunning, and good fielding, I suppose. There was a good
amount of both of those, too.

Joba to the rescue

Mariano Rivera has to be happy to finally have a legit setup man in the
bullpen to give him more save chances and take some pressure off his back in
the bullpen.

This was my first time seeing Joba Chamberlain pitch, and I can see why
Yankees fans are so excited about him. He’s the real deal. A fastball at 99 mph
with good control, and a splitter or slider, whatever it was, thrown at 88mph
which drops off the table, just diving downward, getting a lot of hitters to
swing way over it. Also, he has the confidence to throw the latter pitch on a
3-2 count, where if the batter doesn’t bite, it’s a walk. The first hitter he
faced was the ultra-patient hitter Kevin Youkilis, one of the league leaders in
pitches per at bat, and 14th in the league in walks. Youkilis wasn’t
fooled by the 3-2 dipper, laying off it to draw a leadoff walk.

He threw the same pitch 0-2 to Hinske after 2 straight fastballs, and Hinske
swung way over it. He threw it again with a 3-2 count to JD Drew with 2 out and
2 on and got JD to take a weak swing way over it to end the inning.

The impressive piece of hitting was by Mike Lowell. On a 1-1 pitch, he
was able to slow his bat down and move it down to meet the dipping pitch to make
solid contact and poke a soft liner for a single to the outfield. Mike Lowell’s
bat control and eye just impress me more and more the more I see him play.

So, the summary: The very good hitters did OK against Chamberlain, but
the mediocre hitters were clearly overmatched. Makes you wonder what might have
happened if Manny Ramirez hadn’t had his back cramp up 2 innings before, as he
would have hit 3rd in the inning instead of the overmatched Hinske.

Excluding Chamberlain’s first appearance of the season, he’d given up
just 2 baserunners in 7 innings. This was the first time he’d given up 2 baserunners
in an inning since that first outing, and certainly this was the closest score
and most high-pressured game he’d been in, and he didn’t seem to be affected by
the pressure. This guy’s legit.

I can see Papelbon and Chamberlain battling each other for single-season
and career closer records over the next 10 to 15 years. This could be a fun
rivalry-within-the-rivalry to watch for years to come.

Comparing the bullpens

Where does that leave the relative bullpens? Long term, the Red Sox and
Yankees both have top-notch setup men (Okajima/Chamberlain) and closers (Papelbon/Rivera).
Not much difference in the 8th and 9th innings for these
2 teams.

The difference comes in the 6th and 7th innings, if
you need the bullpen then. The Red Sox have Delcarmen, Timlin and Gagne all
pitching great at the moment, with only occasional bad outings this season (ERAs
2.30, 2.86 and 3.74, respectively). Even Kyle Snyder has been OK, with a 3.78
ERA for the season, and Javier Lopez has been quietly superb with a 2.73 ERA,
with 0 runs given up in his last 11 outings, spanning 8 innings, with just 3
hits and 0 walks in that time.

The Yankees have, well, um, uh, geee. “The good, the bad and the ugly”.
The bad: Farnsworth has a 4.21 ERA. The ugly: Henn is at 7.49.

Vizcaino has been good at 3.66 ERA, but at 67 appearances, he’s overused
and due to get a tired arm.

Bruney has a good 3.22 ERA, but with 30 walks allowed in under 45 innings,
he’s a ticking time bomb, which may be why he was sent down to AAA and only
recalled when Villone got injured. Villone wasn’t doing great anyway, with a
4.42 ERA and a bunch of recent poor performances.

So it’s understandable, then, and quite telling, that after Pettitte had
thrown 103 pitches through just 6 innings tonight, the Yankees brought him back
out for the 7th inning, despite him being several pitches above his
average pitchcount for this year (96, I think).

In a very important and close game, they’d rather have a tiring Pettitte
than any of their middle relief. Varitek took him deep to tie the game, but
otherwise Pettitte scratched his way through the inning, ending with his
longest outing of the season at 119 pitches.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, had no hesitation using their middle
relief. They had 2 relievers warming and ready with 1 out in the 7th
inning, long before Matsuzaka reached his average pitch count of 109. He
started the inning at only 94 pitches, but as soon as he showed some wildness,
leaving his 102nd pitch over the plate for a homer to Damon, then
walking the next batter with the last 2 pitches bouncing in the dirt and far
outside, he was yanked for Lopez, who threw just 1 pitch, then Delcarmen, who
finished things.

Pitching Forecast for Wednesday’s
Game 2

The Yankees burned their only reliable bullpen fuel to win game 1. The
Red Sox bullpen is fully loaded and ready for action. Clemens has not gone more
than 6 innings in August, and is 45 years old, so we’re likely to see the
Yankees middle relief for at least a couple of innings in the 2nd
game. Beckett has averaged more than 7 innings per start since the All-Star
break, and is 27 years old. The Red Sox are not likely to have to go deep into
their bullpen, and even if they do, they have plenty of great, well-rested arms
to choose from.

If the Red Sox have the lead after 6 innings in game 2, it’s over. Even
if they’re behind, there’s a good chance they’ll come back.

Keep in mind that the 3rd game of the series is a 1pm “getaway day” game on Thursday, leaving even less recovery time for the bullpens. This
means the Yankees can only use Chamberlain and Rivera in 1 of the 2 remaining
games each. They’d have to be in a real bind before bringing either of those
guys in for game 2. The Red Sox can go deep with strong relievers in both
remaining games.

The way Beckett has pitched lately, he’s most vulnerable in the first
inning. After that, he settles in. If the Yankees don’t have a multi-run lead
after 1 inning, the Red Sox are highly likely to win game 2. Don’t be late for
this game! You might miss the most important part of it! A lot hinges upon
inning number 1.

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