Monday, May 17, 2010

Morning: Mariano's Annual Show of Humanity

1) Well, it happened yesterday. Mariano showed himself to be human. After Joba failed to do his job in the 8th, Mo came in with the bases loaded and 2 outs, Yanks ahead 3-1. He walked Jim Thome to make it 3-2, and the next batter, Jason Kubel, smashed a grand slam. 6-3 Twins, game effectively over.

This happens about once or twice a year, so it shouldn't come as a huge surprise. But it always does. It's a little like God materializing on Earth, sitting down on a porch stoop with some of the local old timers, and complaining about a patch of psoriasis on his leg. A little unsettling, a little out of character. For a second, your foundation is semi-shattered. Then things resume their normal role; God changes the clouds into a humongous replica of a Salvador Dali painting, and Mariano earns 30 straight saves with his ridiculous cutter.

The girf* and I were on the road home yesterday, and had to listen to the game on the radio. She conked out by the 8th inning, and I was tired too, nodding and swerving at the wheel before waking with a start. We'd just spent a solid week meeting her family, watching her family meet mine, logging 20 hours on the road to see more of my family, and getting minimal sleep. The week actually went quite well, but it took its toll.

Speaking only for myself (but still using the universal 'you'), extreme fatigue tends to shift the world into odd shapes. The desultory, rambling thoughts you get just before sleep become more frequent, and you catch yourself in strange flights of fancy. In those moments, the string tying your mental hot air balloon to a grounded reality becomes a bit more frayed. I can't remember what was going through my mind when Mariano gave up the grand slam, but it coincided well enough with the Sandman's failure that for the briefest second, I thought I'd finally gone nuts. Schizo time! Buildings collapse! The land moves in waves! My brain picks up radio frequencies! Mariano blows save after save!

*New lingo for 'girlfriend.' It'll catch on.

Then we stopped for gas, and things normalized. And I remembered that this does happen once in a while. I'm still a little suspicious, though...if any office supplies start giving me coded messages, it won't take me by surprise.

Until then, here's a picture of Mariano pointing to the sky. When most players do this, it signifies a 'thank you' sent to God. Mariano? He's saying "your move."

2) Minnesota's curse is unfortunately over.

Going back to the second half of '06, the Twins were 5-22 against the Yanks, and 2-15 in Yankee stadium (including 10 losses in a row). For a team that routinely makes the playoffs and competes for the AL Central title, that is an absurdly low number. As you might guess, it involved a lot of bad luck. I was at game 2 last year when A-Rod hit a two-run homer in the ninth to tie the game, and Robertson got out of a bases loaded, no-out jam in the 11th before Tex ended it with a bomb. During the '09 regular season, the Yanks swept the home series with three straight walk-offs. It's been an incredible streak.

Sadly, yesterday might mark the end of that dominance. Why? you might ask. It was just one game. True, but teams that overcome the Yankee obstacle tend to do so with a dramatic win over Mariano Rivera. Two classic examples:

a) After the Yanks won 3 titles in a row, the Diamondbacks had to win game 7 of the 2001 World Series by getting to Mo in the bottom of the 9th. That was less a case of a team overcoming the Yanks, and more like an entire league. The Bombers were weak that year, and were only in position to win because of a miracle victory over the Athletics (Jeter's defensive play), and two unbelievable walk-off wins at Yankee Stadium.

b) When the Sox finally broke their 85-year streak, they had to come back from a 3-0 deficit and win two games with Mariano on the mound.

It may be the same with Minnesota. It's like the baseball Gods dictate that in order to triumph, you must beat the best the Yanks have to offer. None of this 'backdoor' crap- you fight the big boss.

3) Hmmm, Girardi...

Why bring in Mariano in the 8th? Yes, Joba had loaded the bases. But don't we want an 8th inning guy we can trust? Doesn't Girardi want to instill confidence? Isn't that show of trust worth the possibility that he doesn't get Thome out? Won't Joba be second-guessing himself and stealing glances toward the bullpen every time he encounters a little trouble in the near future?

I didn't like it, and it has nothing to do with the fact that Mariano gave up the grand slam. That was totally unpredictable; in a playoff game, entering the Sandman to face Thome would have been the right move. But why not show some faith in Joba? It's mid-May, for God's sake. This is another case of Joe's neurotic over-managing creating the possibility of long-term detriment. And it happened to fail in the short term, too, but that's basically irrelevant. For a guy who usually excels in bullpen management, he could stand to cultivate a little trust in someone as variable as Joba.

4) A-Rod!

Did you see that?!?!?! The girf and I had just arrived at my mom and stepdad's place in Saratoga after Marte blew AJ's lead in the top half of the 7th. We watched Gardenhire walk Teixeira intentionally, loading the bases and disrespecting the man who had ruined their season last October. What a mistake, Ron. Miffed and cussing, A-Rod crushed a Guerrier fastball into the seats, and the stepdad and I had our first in-person Yankee high-five moment of the year. And the girf got to see the source of (some of) my insanity. It was also her first grand-slam. Nice moment all around.

Hopefully this gets A-Rod out of his recent all-singles groove.

5) The Slump Roll

Jeter and Cano and the permanent resident, Randy Winn. Also, the YES cameras cut to a shot of the dugout after A-Rod's home run, and everyone was going nuts and cheering and racing out to the field except one guy: Randy Winn. He was on deck, already wearing his batting helmet, and he showed absolutely no reaction. I was wondering if I was just crazy, so I checked my faithful message board, and sure enough, everyone was piling on. Does this guy hate playing baseball, hate New York, or just hate A-Rod? In any case, we need to look for other options.

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