Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Witch is Dead

Friends of MTAC were wild on the emails yesterday. Should they or shouldn't they start Paul Byrd? I received this email from a buddy yesterday at 6:04 PM EST:

"All i'm going to say is Chad Ogea. You know what he did in '97. Byrd vs. Wang is not nearly as much of a mismatch as the Ogea vs.Kevin Brown matchup. One thing we've learned all year us not to understimate these guys. They have a way of surprising you. That will be in full effect tonight."

I wrote back that it's supposed to be in the 50-'s and rain here Wednesday night for a potential Game Five. His response:

I don't think it's going to come to that. Tribe wins 6-4 tonight.

How is that for a call? I can't believe it. The series is over. The Yankees are done. We no longer have to hear all about them. This is about the Indians. A true team in every sense of the word. Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez make more than the entire Indians roster combined. Guess what? It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that the Yankees payroll was over $200 million and the Indians ranked 24th at $61 million. The Indians are moving on and the Yankees are going home...again.

All the credit in the world goes to two men for last night - Paul Byrd and his manager Eric Wedge. One "expert" after another said Wedge was crazy to start Byrd in Game Four. Lefties hit Byrd at a .322 clip this season. He made one start against the Yankees this year and lasted just two innings, giving up seven runs on seven hits. He had an ERA over five and a half in five September starts. None of it matter on this Monday night in October. Byrd did what we have watched him do all year; get in and out of trouble and produce a quality start when the Tribe needed it most.

Byrd had all the motivation he needed in his pregame press conference. "I only had two questions," said Byrd. "The first one was, 'Did you think they were going to go with C.C.?' The second one was, 'If they would have gone with C.C., how would that have made you feel?' That was it. I walked out of there feeling like a loser. I think I'm a pretty heavy underdog."
"So, I was waiting for question three but there wasn't one," added Byrd. " I went back to the hotel and told my wife. I really kind of used it motivate myself a little bit."

While it was far from a gem, Byrd got the Indians where they wanted to be; into the sixth with a four run lead before turning it over to the best corps of setup men in Baseball. Then it was Raffy Left for two innings, Raffy Right for one inning, and "The Heartbreak Kid" Joe Borowski in the ninth.

Now on to Wedge. I'm sure the stoic Tribe manager doesn't read newspapers or listen to sports talk radio. He is as thick-skinned as they come. He stuck to his guns and had all the faith in the world that Byrd wouldn't let him down. He was right. Another much-less talked about decision was starting Byrd's personal catcher Kelly Shoppach, moving Victor Martinez, and sitting one of his best bats, Ryan Garko in the process. This is what Wedge has done all year; he wasn't going to change that now. Shoppach was in the middle of all the action it seemed. In the second inning, he was sent up to sacrifice bunt and took a Chien-Ming Wang pitch on the hand. In his second at-bat in the fourth, he led off with the double and eventually scored on a Martinez RBI single. In the ninth, he missed a Home Run by about three feet for his second double of the game. Not to mention the fact that Shoppach handles a pitching staff as well as anyone and has a cannon for an arm. The Yankees didn't even attempt to steal a base in Game Four.

Eric Wedge pulled every right string this series. His grind it out, one game at a time, one at-bat at a time approach is embedded in his players heads. He stuck to his plan and it worked. Rafael Perez got himself into some trouble putting two one with one out. Just when the Yankees Stadium crowd screamed for more and expected magic one more time, Raffy's nasty splitter induced Derek Jeter to ground into a 6-4-3 inning ending double play in the 6th. I literally hurt myself doing a Tiger Woods fist-pump in my living room. Rafael Betancourt was devastating in the eight, striking out two of the three batters he faced. Everyone in Cleveland was thinking the same thing - "Wedge isn't really going to go to Borowski in the ninth, is he?" Ever loyal to his players, Wedge went to JoBo in the ninth. Yes, he gave up a one out pizza to Bobby Abreu, but in the end, he struck out Jorge Posada for the win. "All year long they say I've put some drama into the game, so I guess I had to do it again," said Borowski. "It was one home run with no one on base. It didn't matter." Said Wedge, "I have so much confidence in Joe. Very few things in life are black and white. A closer's job is. He gets it done."

The Indian offense cannot be short-changed either. Grady Sizemore led off the game with a solo pizza. Jhonny Peralta's two out RBI single followed in a two-run first. Asdrbual Cabrera delivered another two out RBI single scoring the Indians fourth run in the second inning. Martinez delivered his first clutch hit since game one, a bases loaded RBI single scoring Shoppach and Sizemore. The did it the Tribe Way - good pitching and timely hitting. So it's on to Boston for Game One Friday night. It should be a classic series. C.C. Sabathia vs. Josh Beckett. The two Cy Young candidates facing off at Fenway.

Thank goodness there won't be a Game Five Wednesday night. I need my rest this week. So many emotions came over me. As Borowski struck out Posada to close it out. My thoughts turned to my late father. I just wish he was around to witness this. But we've still got two more mountains to climb.


1. Jhonny Peralta quietly hit .467 in this series. He completely outplayed "the great" Derek Jeter, who failed to show up. While A-Rod got all the attention for his lack of postseason success, it was Jeter who failed the New York faithful. He went 3-17 in the series and hit into three rally killing double plays, including the biggest one of the series in the sixth inning last night.

2. Is there anything better than eliminating the Yankees? Even in defeat, its all about them. SportsCenter was "The Indians win, now what does the future hold for Joe Torre and the Yankees." I found Chip Carey to be extremely pro-Yankees last night. Not as much Bob Brenly and Tony Gwynn, but Carey's voice seemed to gather more steam when the Yankees did anything. The worst however, was ESPN Radio's play by play voice Jon Miller. I heard a replay of his call of Johnny Damon's Game Three Homer. You would have thought he was working for the Yankee Radio Network. Yet, you can hear all day today on ESPN Radio his call of the final out of the series. He had ZERO enthusiasm in his voice. It was appalling.

3. Sorry to the Fox Network, ESPN, and the rest of the media outlets - you do not get to shove more Red Sox/Yankees Armageddon down our throats for two weeks. "I'm sure the networks wanted Red Sox and Yankees,'' said Indians outfielder Trot Nixon. "You've got two marquee teams, so many big names and big payrolls. But if you're a baseball fan, this is what it's all about. The game is decided on the field, not by all that other stuff.''

4. Joe Torre will probably be fired by the end of the week. His decision to go to Chien-Ming Wang on short rest blew up in his face as Wang went just one-plus, giving up four runs on five hits. But bottom line, Torre is a class act. He threw bouquets at Wedge during his postgame press conference and before he started he said "first of all, give all the credit to the Indians. They are a great team." He deserves better than this and his players let him down.

5. The old adage reigned true yet again. Great pitching trumps great hitting. A lineup full of all stars has now lost three straight years in the first round of the playoffs, mostly because the pitching has been sub par. Makes you appreciate just how good the Tribe staff is. Who wouldn't kill to have two studs at the top of the rotation and four dependable relievers in the pen?


Tribe Quality Tops Yankees Quantity - Bud Shaw, Cleveland Plain Dealer

Wedge Never Waivers, Wins - Terry Pluto, Cleveland Plain Dealer

An Error-Plagued Game, but From the Broadcast Booth - Richard Sandomir, New York Times

Yankees Wedged Out - Sheldon Ocker, Akron Beacon-Journal

I Love N.Y.! - Jim Ingraham, Willoughby News Herald

Byrd Comes Up Big - cbssportsline.com

No More Magic Left at Stadium for Yanks, Torre - Mike Lupica, New York Daily News

No comments: