Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas
How did the Joe Torre era end with the New York Yankees? Why did the Joe Torre era end with the New York Yankees? Before looking forward to the 2008 season, let’s look back at, arguably, Joe Torre’s biggest mistake as Yankee manager.
It was Game 2 of the 2007 American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, forever to be known as the “bug” game. Cleveland had won the first game of the (ridiculous) best-of-five series. If you go down 2-0, the series is pretty much over, except in rare instances (the 2001 ALDS against Oakland comes to mind but, as Derek Jeter has pointed out, these Yankees aren’t to be confused with those championship-winning Yankees).
THE BUG GAME
So what did Joe Torre do or, even better, what did he not do?
With the Yankees leading Game 2 (1-0) in the bottom of the seventh, Torre brought in rookie sensation Joba Chamberlain to relieve Andy Pettitte with men on first and second and one out. Chamberlain, making his first post-season major league relief appearance ever, got the next two batters to protect the one-run lead.
So what would happen in the eighth inning? Wouldn’t Torre have the world’s greatest closer ever, Mariano Rivera, ready to start the eighth? Wouldn’t Torre at least have the greatest closer ever ready in case Chamberlain got into trouble early in the inning? After all, Rivera had pitched more than one inning in about 40 playoff games with rare failures. Few doubt that he’s the biggest reason the Yankees have had the playoff/World Series roll that they’ve had, easily the best since baseball went the divisions route and added the losers-can-win team(s), the wild card(s).
The first sign to Torre, bugs aside, should have been the four-pitch walk to Grady Sizemore. In the past, that would have been enough to go right to Mariano. If that wasn’t a sign, the (first) wild pitch of the inning should have been. Then, with Sizemore on third and one out, Travis Hafner lined out to first, hitting the ball about as hard as you can hit a ball. Throw in the lunacy of the bugs, the delay that occurred, the seeming confusion from Joe Torre (he later said his mistake was not asking the umps to stop the game). But that mistake would be a non-baseball one – the bigger mistake was not bringing in Mariano.
THE WRONG DECISION
With three clear signs (four-pitch walk, wild pitch number one, rocket line drive to first) that Chamberlain was losing it, nervous, bugged-out, you pick the best one (or add your own), Torre nonetheless left his man in. Eventually, they would all go down with the ship. Where was the pitching coach? (Where have you gone, Mel Stottlemyre? – you know he would have said something).
Chamberlain stays in, throws another wild pitch (number 2), hits a batter, walks another batter (good grief) and finally ends the inning with a strikeout. It was all inexplicable.
Or maybe it wasn’t. It’s bizarre how sports are covered in the 21st Century. A few announcers don’t know, some writers miss the obvious and the talk show hosts don’t get it (my two favorites are: “It was Joba’s inning to finish” and one I heard recently on WFAN: “he didn’t give up a hit in that inning.”). Yikes!!
Finally, and too late, as it turned out, Rivera came in and pitched his two lights-out innings (0 hits, 3 Ks, 1 BB), but it eventually didn’t matter as the Yankees would lose in 11, 2-1.
While the Yankees would win Game 3, since these aren’t the championship Yankees, they would go down to defeat in Game 4 (with Rivera entering the game in the middle of an inning and pitching an inning-and-two-thirds while trailing).
Could the end of the Torre era simply have been a mistake in judgment? You betcha. The decision-making in the Yankee dugout had gone down in recent years since Don Zimmer left; it only got worse when Mel Stottlemyre left after the 2006 season.
If Rivera comes in at virtually any point in that inning, it’s almost a sure bet that the Yankees win Game 2. With the win in Game 3 (obviously much could have changed), they certainly would have been set-up to win their first playoff series since 2004.
Yet, virtually everyone seemed mesmerized by Chamberlain’s regular-season performance. He simply didn’t pitch well in the post-season (he would give up one run and three hits the next game), bugs or no bugs (while they were terrible when Chamberlain was out there, they were problematic for other pitchers as well).
THE END OF AN ERA
What this did was put the nail-in-the-coffin of the Joe Torre era. While he deservedly attained Hall-of-Fame status during his four World Championships in his first five years (1996-2000), from 2004-2007, he had arguably the worst post-season run ever – he presided over the greatest collapse in baseball post-season history in 2004 to the Boston Red Sox (up 3-0, then losing four in a row) and then was knocked out three years in a row in the first round. A mediocre manager (much like Casey Stengel before he came to the Yankees and won five World Series in a row) prior to his Yankee run, Torre deserves his superstardom.
But it really makes you wonder what could have happened if he only had done what he did dozens of times before in the post-season –bring the greatest closer ever into the eighth inning in the biggest game of the year. As it turned out, he didn’t, and the ensuing events (the “insulting” contract offer, the rejection, the move to the Dodgers, the beginning of the Joe Girardi era) all fell into line over the next couple of months.
Both franchises (Yankees and Dodgers) then tried to lower expectations – just in case. Virtually everybody laughed at Hank Steinbrenner’s “be patient with this young team” comments – they were laugh-out-loud funny (after all, these ARE the Yankees). Torre was a little more subtle, with his “yes, we want to win, but more important is putting in place a culture of winning” comments. Neither will fly. Either you make the playoffs (at least) or you’ve failed. That’s how it is with the Yankees and that’s how it will be this year with the Dodgers. We’ll see how it all shakes out in 2008.
© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.