If only I was a neutral observer. Then it would be easier to watch this series, in particular the latest Yankees comeback, and enjoy a strangely competitive and interesting Fall Classic. Dramatic home runs, late inning
Unfortunately, I'm not a neutral observer, and if you're reading this site then you probably aren't either. Tonight was an excruciating loss, the kind that gnaws at your bones and stares out at you from the mirror. We went into New York in control of the series. We now leave New York hoping to go the distance. Grisly details after the jump.
Having tied up the series last night, the Yankees turned to their Game 1 starter, Mike Mussina, and asked him to survive. He would do that and more, and really only made two mistake pitches. The Diamondbacks would counter not with Randy Johnson on short rest, as many critics and fans were calling for, but instead the enigmatic Miguel Batista, a pitcher who hadn't been on the bump since October 6th. Both moves would largely work out for the respective teams.
Batista was shaky early on, as he gave up a walk and a single in the first. Around this he induced a couple flyouts and a strikeout to escape the danger. It would be a theme all night for the Dominican, as he would work in and out of minor jams but never fully collapse.
Mussina, for his part, was a completely different pitcher than the one that barely showed up in Game 1. He preyed on the over-aggression of the Arizona hitters, and picked up 10 strikeouts in 8 innings of work. In fact, if it wasn't for one bad inning featuring 2 bad pitches, he likely would ended the night with the win, and there would have been no need for an extra-inning win for the Yankees.
That bottom of the 5th seemed to be a fatal blow for the Yankees, taking the crowd and the energy of the home team out of the game. Steve Finley led the inning off with an absolute bomb to right field after falling behind Mussina in the pitch count. After eliminating Reggie Sanders and Mark Grace, Mussina seemed to be escaping with minimal damage, but then Rod Barajas stepped up to the plate. Yes, that Rod Barajas, the one who was starting only his second game of the postseason, the one who was only tapped because Damien Miller was still nursing a sore calf muscle. Barajas managed to catch a ball that hung just a little bit, and his solo shot made the game 2-0 in favor of the Diamondbacks.
Let's take a second admire the game Barajas had for Arizona. Imagine sitting on the bench as a backup catcher. You know you're only likely to see playing time if the first string catcher gets injured, or if it's late innings and the first string catcher has been lifted for a pinch running. Maybe you get called to pinch hit, but Barajas isn't known for his bat. He only hit 3 home runs in 110 PA's during the season this year, so his start was purely a desperate, stop-gap measure. To make matters worse, he's notorious for being easy to steal on, and his 23% caught stealing rate this year was the worst amongst catchers that had 30 or more attempts on them.
Despite these things, Barajas came to play. He ended the night 2 for 5, joining Finley as the only D-backs to have more than one hit in the game. He also threw out a crucial runner in the 3rd inning when Alfonso Soriano, perhaps the fastest player on the Yankees roster, tried his luck. It might not happen again, but Barajas was ready to play when his number was called. You can't ask for much more from a bench player.
Another player to admire from tonight is Craig Counsell. He didn't get much going with his bat, but he was a wonder with the glove. His range during the game was magnificent, and he was vacuuming virtually every ball that came his way. I counted 3 spectacular plays from the second baseman, and he probably helped keep the game closer than it should have been.
So with a 2-0 lead, and Batista dealing, the game seemingly was going Arizona's way. They couldn't get anything going on offense, but their starting pitcher threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings, and the game went into the bottom of the 9th with the score still in favor of the Diamondbacks. All they had to do was rely on their closer and they'd have a 3-2 series lead.
Of course, we know what happened next. Poor Byung-Hyun Kim. He seems destined to be the goat of all goats in Arizona sports after 2 horrendous appearances in this World Series. Tonight he led things off by giving up a double to Jorge Posada. The Yankee catcher is no slouch with the bat in his hands, though, so sometimes you just have to tip your cap. Kim seemingly calmed down after this, and retired the next two batters without much concern. One more out, and we'd be sitting with the momentum right now. Instead, Scott Brosius stepped up and launched a 2 run home run to send the game into extra innings.
Mike Morgan worked the next 2 1/3 innings, keeping things in control. The Diamondbacks still couldn't get anything going offensively, and a feeling of dread began to bubble up for the Arizona fanbase. In the bottom of the 12th, Albie Lopez was called into the extend the game to 13 innings, making it the 2nd longest World Series game by inning (after the 1916 Game 6 that went 14 innings). Chuck Knoblauch stepped up to the plate, having been quiet in the game after pinch hitting for David Justice. He wasted no time in getting on board, though, lacing the first ball served for a leadoff single. He would be advanced to the second on a sacrifice bunt by Brosius. Finally, the night came to end when Soriano, that young Dominican, hit the walk-off single. Game over, Yankees take a 3-2 Series lead.
Comment of the Game goes to Rod Barajas, who channeled his inner Yogi in this summary of the game:
"It was deja vu all over again."
So now we head back to Phoenix where hopefully Randy Johnson will continue his dominance. Even more importantly, however, is the offense. Will it show up? And if we can take Game 6, will another short rest outing by Curt Schilling be enough to give Arizona it's first ever major sporting championship? I don't know about you, but I have a bad feeling about this one.