Happy Columbus Day!
I figured the holiday was a good time to start this thing up. With the playoffs down to five teams and the World Series less than two weeks away, what better time, I say.
Yesterday's games were probably the highlight of what had been a fairly dull playoffs thus far. The White Sox and Cardinals swept through to the LCS's in short order. The other series were slightly more dramatic, but to this point had not yet provided any classic moments.
That was, until yesterday. The Braves and Astros had an instant classic in the afternoon game, an 18-inning marathon featuring two grand slams, the Houston bullpen throwing 10 consecutive shutout innings, and arguably the best pitcher of the past 75 years giving one of the most memorable performances of his career. Looking back, I'm not sure how much Bobby Cox could have done differently. Hudson was looking great through seven, and was only at about 80 pitches, so it was no surprise to see him in the 8th. He didnï¿½t mess around with setup men either, going straight to Kyle Farnsworth to try to close the door. Sometimes the magic just doesn't work.
The Yankees and Angels featured the most exciting game of their series as well, a pitchers duel between Shawn Chacon and the man who is probably the least talked about good pitcher in the American League, John Lackey. The two matched zeroes through five innings, combining to give up all of two hits. The Angels broke through in the top of the sixth with a walk to former Yankee Juan Rivera, and back-to-back doubles by Chone Figgins and Orlando Cabrera.
The Yankees answered with one in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI single by Gary Sheffield, which knocked John Lackey out of the game. After two hits and all of 78 pitches, John Lackey gave way to the vaunted Angel bullpen with two outs in the sixth inning, to get them ten outs and into the League Championship Series. This is where the trouble started. While Scot Shields was probably the top middle reliever in baseball this year, he had already pitched 4.1 innings in the first three games of the series, and may have been suffering from overuse. He certainly did not look sharp in giving up two runs to the Yankees in the bottom of the seventh. He was victimized by the poor throw by Chone Figgins, but by then, much of the damage had already been done. Scot Shields gave way to Kelvim Escobar, who had been used quite a bit, two innings each in both of the previous games. He was clearly not sharp, walking three of the eight hitters he faced, but managed to escape without allowing any runs.
The decision to remove Lackey looked bad at the time, and looks worse now. The Angels have to play a deciding game five tonight, and may not be able to use Shields and Escobar (and they certainly won't be able to use Lackey). Even if they are available, who knows how able they will be, having logged a total of 11 innings between them so far in the series. Going to a bullpen as good as the Angelsï¿½ to get ten outs isnï¿½t inherently a bad idea, but it probably was in this circumstance, considering that their bullpen had to come in for the 4th inning on Friday, and how well John Lackey was cruising along. Unless Mike Scioscia saw something specific with Lackey that said he was slowing down, he has to take his share of the blame for them losing this game.
In the meantime, while it's fun to put in predictions for tonight's game, it's always good to remember inexplicable things like Adam Kennedy hitting three home runs in the deciding game of the 2002 ALCS.