GAME 5 YANKEES-ANGELS – A TALE OF THREE PITCHES

                                                                                      Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

 

This article was started during the first inning of Yankees-Angels, Game 5, eventually won by the Angels.  A stunning call, discussed below, could have been the key to the whole game.  Can one ball/strike call early in a game change the entire game?  Absolutely.  But since it became a game about, mainly, three pitches (and back and forth leads), we’ll save (arguably) the most fascinating pitch (because of when it was thrown – only three batters into the game – and the total lack of coverage about it) for last and take the three in reverse chronological order.

PITCH 1: THE 1-2 PITCH TO VLAD GUERRERO IN THE BOTTOM OF THE SEVENTH INNING

You’ve heard a lot about this pitch:  Bottom 7, 6-5 Yankees, 2 outs, first and third and Vlad Guerrero up.  The count is 1-2 after Phil Hughes throws two sliders that Guerrero takes (ball one, strike one) and then Guerrero looks bad on a great curve ball by Hughes.  Catcher Jorge Posada clearly wants the fastball (maybe he originally called for another curve?) that’s coming up and out of the strike zone.  But Hughes throws it, essentially, down the middle and Guerrero gets a huge single up the middle to tie up the game.

So what happened?  Well, virtually all of these “experts” have little or no clue as to how difficult it is to throw a pitch exactly where you want to, especially in such a big spot, with a young pitcher like Hughes who has been ineffective this post season.  Frankly, the more interesting thing about the call is the left to right location Posada was looking for.  You want the fastball high (and it’s a fastball out of the zone to set up the curve that’s coming – you’d rather not throw back-to-back curveballs) but, just in case your young pitcher isn’t great on location, you want it up and in or up and away, not up and down the middle (because of exactly what happened when Hughes misses his spot).

In the perfect world, you want that pitch up and in (to set up the curve down and away).  Your second choice would be up and away (you can’t really throw anything in the dirt because the tying run is on third).  So, as with Brian Fuentes 0-2 pitch to A-Rod for the game-tying home run earlier in the series or even Mark Wohler’s slider to Jim Leyritz in the 1996 World Series (that was wrong pitch and bad location), in a big spot, these things happen and pitchers, especially not top pitchers, simply miss their spots.  The problem here is that calling for the high fastball down the middle was a mistake.  Up and away, fine, up and in, fine (and up and in is only fine – not great – because you don’t want a nervous Hughes to hit Guerrero).

And while experts like Tim McCarver said that you could have thrown another curve to Guerrero, experts like Jim Kaat have often said that if you’re going to throw breaking ball after breaking ball after breaking ball, you’d better make sure the next one is better than the one before.  Again, a very difficult thing for a young pitcher like Hughes to execute in a big spot.

So it wasn’t just about Phil Hughes missing his spot.  It was about him missing his spot and throwing a fastball down the middle.  He should have been protected by his manager and/or his catcher to give him some leeway to make a mistake.

PITCH 2: THE 3-2 PITCH TO JORGE POSADA IN THE TOP OF THE SEVENTH

You’ve heard a lot about this pitch as well:  Top 7, 4-0 Angels, 1 out, runner on second, John Lackey throws a perfect 3-2 pitch on the inside corner to Jorge Posada, similar (but more inside) to the one he had struck Posada out on earlier in the game.  Posada takes it for ball four.  Lackey stupidly goes ballistic, even though he was right.  His dumb reaction (maybe as much as anything?) would lead Mike Scioscia (thankfully, if you’re a Yankee fan) to take Lackey out of the game after he walks the next batter (Jeter) on four pitches and gets Damon on a short fly to left.  Then the roof caved in on the Angels as the Yankees scored six runs. 

Do the Yankees score six runs without that call?  Well, we’ll never know, but it’s very unlikely.  It might have very well been another ho-hum inning for Lackey (two out, four-run lead) if the proper call was made.  But, that’s baseball (I guess).

PITCH 3: THE 3-2 PITCH TO MARK TEIXEIRA IN THE TOP OF THE FIRST

You’ve heard absolutely nothing about this pitch (it got no coverage because of the two other pitches discussed above) but, in its own way, it could have been the biggest pitch of the game. Had the game stayed 4-0 Angels (after the Angels scored four in the bottom of the first) or something close to it for the rest of the game, this pitch, without question, would have been the biggest pitch of the game.

Top 1, no score, first two Yankees single, first and second, nobody out, 3-2 to Mark Teixeira, A-Rod up next.  John Lackey throws a back door breaking ball to Teixeira.  It leaves his hand outside the strike zone, it breaks outside the strike zone, it goes past the plate outside and the catcher catches it outside the strike zone.  Nonetheless, it’s called strike three.  Teixeira, a guy who doesn’t argue or rarely show any emotion on bad calls, is shocked and says something.  Just a terrible call.

Why did it get no coverage?  Well, as often happens, when an ump makes a bad call (as on the Lackey pitch to Posada), EVERYONE can see the obvious when the Yankees score six runs.  But, when an ump makes a bad call and nothing happens, very few realize what happened.

Do you think it’s a different game if it’s bases loaded, nobody out and A-Rod, Matsui and Cano are coming up?  So do I.  And if the Yankees score one or two or five runs, do you think Burnett has a different mindset coming out in the bottom of the first?  So do I.  But, once again, we’ll never know what would have happened.

The above examples are just more reasons why baseball is the most nuanced, most fascinating game.  But the 3-2 pitch to Teixeira in the first inning, completely forgotten by virtually everybody because of what happened later, is the kind of thing that slips through the cracks and isn’t even mentioned in the coverage of a major league playoff game in the year 2009.

© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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