Friday, October 23, 2009

The Choke Roster




I'd add Joba, but I don't think you can call it a choke when the player just isn't good anymore.

Am I being harsh? In Girardi's case, maybe. But not having Eric Hinske on this roster is killing us. Swisher needs to be replaced in right field, big time, but there's no good option. Brett Gardner has a lot of speed, but his bat is weak and it's hard to imagine him getting on base without being subbed in as a pinch runner. Believe me, I'd still take him at this point; that's how bad Swish has been.

But Hinske would be the perfect option. He's got power, he hits for decent average, and you can hide him defensively in right. Instead, Joe took Freddy Guzman, a speedster with absolutely no hitting skills that can't function as anything but a second pinch runner. It was a misguided attempt to counter the Angel running game, when the sad fact is that he should have left at least one fearsome bat on the bench. Instead, our go-to pinch hitter is Jerry Hairston, Jr.


Oh, and a last thing about Girardi: AJ Burnett is the one guy on our roster who always, always, always makes a bad situation worse. It happened in the first inning, when he put is in a huge hole by letting a rough start snowball into a 4-run deficit. So heading into the 7th with a lead, any manager in his right mind evaluates him on a batter to batter basis. After he gives up the single to Mathis, you DO NOT let him stay in to walk Aybar. You DO NOT. This is what AJ does. He makes mountains of molehills. Yank him, yank him, yank him. I'm still furious about this.

Let's keep that fury rolling like a tumbleweed right onto our so-called 'set-up' man. After a terrific, essential, utterly dominating regular season, Hughes has managed to completely lose everyone's faith in two weeks. (Postseason line: 4.2 IP, 9 hits, 3 ER, 5.79 ERA, 1 L) Aside from a strong outing in game 3, he's had a miserable postseason. Last night capped it off; after the Yanks took a miraculous 6-4 lead in the 7th, Hughes inherited a guy on third, two outs, and a 6-5 lead after Damaso Marte somehow managed to do his job. With a 1-2 count on Vlad Guerrero (who had just looked idiotic flailing at Hughes' gravity-abusing curve), he shook off Posada's sign. Three times. In my living room, I had the sinking sensation that he was about to throw a fastball. To "surprise" Vlad, I guess, which is fine if the heater is high and unhittable.

Actually, who am I kidding? It's not fine. A curve ball would have struck him out. There's just no room for debate. That's what Vlad does- strike out on nasty curves. Anyway, Hughes threw a fastball down the middle, Vlad got the single, and before the inning was over we'd lost that World Series fast track.

Nick Swisher: Good Lord. After an 0-5 night, he's now batting .118 for the ALCS. And he keeps coming up in clutch situations. It's uncanny. It's like a baseball God is so mystified by Girardi's loyalty that he wants to see just how far it'll go by putting Swisher on the spot over and over and over. And he keeps failing. It's no exaggeration to say that if Swish were batting .200, rather than .118, we'd already have won this series. He's honestly cost us both games with his gagging act. He even managed to make two outs in a single inning last night.

But the most egregious example of his playoff failure came in the 9th, with the bases loaded and two out, yanks trailing 7-6. He managed to work a full count, by virtue of hitting two weak grounders that barely went foul and then praying for balls. In the 3-2 situation, Fuentes has to throw a strike. Has to. A walk, and the game is tied. There's no option besides a fastball right down the plate. You can't risk any breaking stuff. Swish has his chance to sit dead red and tee off on the cheese.

So, what happens? The fastball comes, Swisher hits a weak pop-up to short. Game over. The guy can't even make solid contact when he knows the fastball is coming. Playoff pressure is just wrecking him, and it's awful to watch.

I'm totally fed up with last night. We're still in the cat-bird seat, up a game with the last two played in the Bronx. But a lot rides on game 6 now. If we go to a deciding game 7, CC will have to pitch, and even if we win, we lose him for game 1 of the World Series. Which means you can only use him twice against Philadelphia at most. Which means Gaudin starts game 4. Which is not something you can afford against a team with the second-best lineup in baseball.

But it's time to forget Philly, and it's time to forget the World Series. The Angels aren't going away, even though our foot was on their throat last night (and in game 3). Andy Pettitte pitches game 6 against Joe Saunders Saturday night. The pressure is completely on the home team, and if I know pressure, it's going to spotlight some guys who don't excel in tense conditions. Let's just hope the old reliable Texan southpaw comes through, and the functioning bats in our lineup put the game out of reach early.

By the time I post Monday, either the Yanks will be in the World Series, or the 2004 nightmare will have reared its teratoid head and gnashed a dream season to pieces.

How about it, Andy? One more win...for old time's sake? We need that pennant, and my champagne is lonely.

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