Six years later, Boone’s shot still resonates

TV1017_game7

As we await Game 1 of the 2009 ALCS, tonight marks the anniversary of the Yanks’ last American League title. Six years ago, Aaron Boone, an unlikely hero, launched a Tim Wakefield offering into the left field stands to to win one of the best Game 7’s of all time. While I enjoyed the game from the den at my grandparents’ house in Florida, my dad and sister were at Yankee Stadium. My sister, currently in Nicaragua where she will have to watch los playoffs in Spanish, offered up to share her memories of the game. So a guest post by Victoria Kabak on Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS…

During the Octobers that I was 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17 years old, my family employed an elaborate rotation system to determine who went to which playoff games and with which other family member. Sometimes I wasn’t so lucky—the Yanks’ sweeping the 1999 World Series was a mixed blessing, as Ben and I were supposed to go to Game 5 (we each have a framed laser copy of the tickets, but it’s not quite the same).

But sometimes I did get lucky. It was with my dad, sitting on the main level in foul territory in left field, that I witnessed Roger Clemens pick up a piece of a broken bat and hurl it at Mike Piazza in 2000. Ben and I watched Jeter back flip into the stands in the 2001 ALDS against Oakland. All of these times I remember the palpable fervor of the crowd, especially as everyone exited the stadium at the end of the game, barely moving down the ramps and spontaneously erupting into cheers and chants.

Never did I experience a mania that came anywhere close to what I experienced six years ago today. I was 16 and it would appear that luck was on my side for that postseason family rotation. Again with my dad, I sat in the Tier Reserve down the third base line to watch the Yankees and the Red Sox determine who would play in the World Series and who would go home. The game had been going on for over four hours. The series had been going on for seven games. I would either go to school the next day tired and happy, or I would go tired and sad, with the prospect of five and a half boring months without baseball.

The game had already been an exciting one, with a less-than-stellar outing from Roger Clemens, a more-than-stellar relief appearance by Moose, and Pedro Martinez’s blowing the Sox’s three-run lead in the bottom of the 8th. Whatever happened after the 9th inning would be very exciting to one team’s fans. The feeling in the crowd was truly electric.

In the 11th it was really time for the Yanks to wrap it up. Probably the least desirable batter was at the plate—Aaron Boone. I’m sure my dad and I groused, wishing someone else – anyone else – was up.

Of course, as it happens, this is baseball we’re talking about here and the impossible is possible. Aaron Boone, in the peak moment of his career, sent the ball sailing into the seats behind left field. I had the most fleeting sense of worry as I could feel the upper deck literally moving up and down, palpitating below my feet. As the celebration continued, I called my mom, who was watching the game alone at home. I have no idea what, if anything, she said to me, but I know what she heard: a crowd of Yankee fans going wild.

Even though Boone’s homerun came after midnight, on October 17, it is an omen of the highest order that the Yanks are beginning their final push toward the Fall Classic on the sixth anniversary of the day Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS began—the sixth anniversary of a seemingly impossible occurrence. I only hope that the Terrace can shake the way Tier Reserve did.

NLCS Game Two: Phillies @ Dodgers

Joe Torre may or may not have left Clayton Kershaw in too long last night, but George Sherrill did the team no favors by walking two before giving up a three-run bomb in the 8th inning. The Phillies are sending Pedro Martinez (5-1, 3.63) to the mound against his former team, looking to give themselves a 2-0 series lead before heading back east. LA will counter with Vicente Padilla (12-6, 4.46); meanwhile people complain about the Yankees fourth starter options. TBS has the call, first pitch is set for 4:07pm ET. Chat about the game here if you want.

RAB Live Chat

Damon Runyon 5K at Yankee Stadium

An email dropped into my inbox yesterday, asking to promote the upcoming Damon Runyon 5K at Yankee Stadium, which will help raise money for cancer research. I figured this qualifies as my good deed for the day (kidding, kinda). The event will be held on November 15th, and you can learn all about it at the foundation’s website. If you’re a runner and have the inkling to do something good, here’s a great chance to do so while hanging out in the New Stadium.

Tickets available for tonight’s game

A longtime reader has a pair of tickets to unload for tonight’s game. The seats are in section 410, which is the upper deck in right field, along the first base line. Face value is $40 each, so $80 for the pair. Because he physically has the tickets and can’t email them, you’d need to meet up with him at 55th and Madison to do the exchange.

If you’re interested, email me via the link on the far right sidebar, and I’ll put you two in touch.

Update (1:20pm): The tickets have been claimed.

ALCS Preview: The Outfields

Left field: Juan Rivera vs. Johnny Damon

PA BA OBP SLG wOBA SB CS% UZR/150
Juan Rivera 572 .287 .332 .478 .348 0 100 13.8
Johnny Damon 626 .282 .365 .489 .376 12 0 -11.9

What is more important in a left fielder, hitting or defense? Juan Rivera is a good hitter who, according to UZR, plays excellent defense. Johnny Damon is an excellent hitter who plays terrible defense. That depends on how highly we value defense. Is poor defense acceptable from a hitter like Damon? Or will we look to the Mariners for an example of how a top defense can make your pitching staff remarkably better?

According to WAR, Rivera’s combination of solid offense and excellent defense is preferable to Damon’s superior bat and terrible glove. Damon has 54 more plate appearances, meaning his offensive counting stats are that much higher than Rivera’s. Still, WAR has Damon at 2.8 and Rivera at 3.5. (And yes, WAR works.) In other words, the runs that Damon creates with his bat are to an extent negated by the ones he allows with his glove. Rivera is on the positive in both aspects.

Damon is going through a prolonged and pronounced slump, ending the season poorly and then going 1 for 12 in the ALDS. The good news is that he can break out of it at any time. But when will that be? Meanwhile, Rivera went 3 for 11 with a double against the Sox. Last time these two teams met in the postseason, 2005, Rivera went 6 for 17 with a double and a homer.

Edge: Angels. Damon’s slump removes any qualms I had with giving this to Rivera.

Center field: Torii Hunter vs. Melky Cabrera

PA BA OBP SLG wOBA SB CS% UZR/150
Torii Hunter 506 .299 .366 .508 .379 18 18 -3.5
Melky Cabrera 540 .274 .336 .416 .331 10 17 2.6

Torii Hunter has always been known for his defense. But, like Derek Jeter, he’s more known for his flashy plays. UZR has never liked Hunter, rating him as lowly as -13.0 (in 2008), and not above 4.5 since 2003. His -3.5 mark this year is one of his best. This runs contrary to public perception, and it raises a good question. Is UZR that horribly flawed, or does our perception of Hunter mask the poorer aspects of his defense? I’m not prepared to answer that, though I’m apt to lean towards the accuracy of UZR.

As it pertains to the series advantage in center field, it doesn’t mean much. Hunter is a far better hitter than Melky, more than making up for the defensive gap. WAR agrees, with Hunter at 3.8 and Melky at 1.6. No further deliberation is required.

Edge: Angels

Right field: Bobby Abreu vs. Nick Swisher

PA BA OBP SLG wOBA SB CS% UZR/150
Bobby Abreu 667 .293 .390 .435 .367 30 21 -5.2
Nick Swisher 607 .249 .371 .498 .375 0 n/a -1.6

Bobby Abreu is getting a lot of attention this postseason, perhaps undeserved. He’s had a good season, but it wasn’t MVP-caliber, as one sports writer claims. Seven AL right fielders produced higher WAR values, including Nick Swisher. So why is the media fawning over him?

It’s probably because the Angels got such a great deal. The free agent market was depressed for no-defense, mid-30s outfielders, and Abreu’s best offer was for $5 million plus $1 million more in incentives. He clearly outperformed his deal. But what about Swisher? He made less money than Abreu this year, and the Yankees acquired him for Wilson Betemit, who was DFA’d during the season and then granted free agency a week ago. That’s a pretty good story, especially after Swisher’s poor 2008, isn’t it?

Abreu and Swisher are pretty even according to wOBA, though it comes from different components. Bobby hits for better average, gets on base more, and steals a lot of bases. Swisher has the advantage in power, and it’s a decided advantage — his Iso is .249, compared to Abreu’s .142 mark. Swisher also plays better defense. WAR values Swisher at a win over Abreu, and I’m apt to agree. Bobby’s a useful player, but I’ll take Swisher.

Edge: Yankees

The Yankees have a clear edge in the infield, at least offensively, but the Angels have as clear an edge in the outfield. Defensively, the two teams are more evenly matched in the outfield than the infield, though Damon’s poor defense drags down the Yanks.

The Yankees’ fly ball tendencies should play well against the Angels. Their outfield defense isn’t bad, but it’s not as good as their infield. The Angels have a similar advantage, a groundball-hitting team against a team with questionable infield defense, and better defense in the outfield.

The teams are constructed differently, but the Yankees and the Angels seem pretty evenly matched. The Yankees have strengths that play to the Angels weaknesses and the other way around. These were the two best AL teams during the regular season, the way the ALCS should be. Now please, just let it start.

Jon Heyman wants Joba in the pen

So who’s the first reporter seduced by 1.2 innings of ALDS work? Why, it’s Jon Heyman of course. In his latest Daily Scoop post, Heyman drops the following tidbit:

There is growing sentiment around baseball that Joba Chamberlain will be a reliever next year, especially after he looked great in that role in the Division Series.

Now, the skeptic in me says that this “growing sentiment around baseball” is none other than Heyman himself. He has long been an outspoken B-Jobber, firm in his belief that young Mr. Chamberlain is better suited for the bullpen than the starting rotation. The truth of the matter is that Jon Heyman’s opinion just doesn’t matter.

Let’s, though, assume that Heyman is telling the truth. Let’s assume that some anonymous people around baseball think that Joba will be a reliever next year. The truth remains that, well, their opinions just don’t count. Unless that sentiment comes from Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi, it doesn’t matter. The Yankees are committed to Joba the Starter, and no amount of media blustering can change that fact.

We can’t ignore the fact that Joba as a reliever is a tempting proposition. At the very least, he’s comfortable coming out of the pen and, despite early-season reports concerning his shoulder, he had no problems warming up to come on as a reliever during the ALDS match-up against the Twins. The real question though surrounds his stuff. How did he play as a reliever?

In terms of results, Joba mostly got the job done. He threw 1.2 innings over three games and allowed two hits and no runs. After struggling with the base on balls during the regular season, he walked none but struck out only one. His one hiccup came during Game 3. With out in the sixth and the Yanks clinging to a 2-1 lead, he came in and gave up a double to Delmon Young. At the time, I was surprised Girardi would go with Joba instead of Aceves or Coke, his usual 7th inning guys, but Joba got the next two outs to escape the inning unscathed.

On the stuff side of his apperances, Joba’s fastball and command were better than the regular season. In Game 1, he hovered around 94, but in Games 2 and 3, he nearly hit 97 with his fastball. He slider was around 89, and his one postseason curveball was at 82. So yes, Joba flashed the velocity and the breaking pitches.

But the truth remains that good starters make good relievers. Joba Chamberlain, despite his second half struggles, was not a terrible Major League Baseball starter. He threw 157.1 innings and didn’t get hurt. The only start he missed, in fact, was when the Yanks made him skip an outing. He’ll be in the rotation again, and for now, Jon Heyman’s desires aside, he will be a starting pitcher.