Tuesday, April 02, 2002

A Yankee Ran Reviews the Ill-Fated Playoff Run of the 2001 Yankees by Jeff Herz

I have been a Yankee fan since the 1976 World Series when I was 7 years old. That was the year my beloved Thurman Munson played his heart out, batting .539 despite being swept by my neighbor and best friend’s team, the Johnny Bench-led Cincinnati Reds. From that fall on I had my team. I knew not of the future to come, six more World Series Championships, the most in my lifetime (Ed note: see sidebar below). I just knew that this was the team I was going to root for forever.

I love the New York Yankees but they should have lost earlier in the playoffs last year. The 2001 version of the Yankees was not that good. They were getting old (Scott Atrocious and Paul O’Neil retired at the end of the season as did Luis Sojo but he seems to have resurfaced again), they had lost some speed and punch (Chuck Knoblauch and Tino Martinez), and the 4 and 5 pitching spots were suspect all season long (who remembers Christian Parker as the 5th starter in April?). Injuries proved costly to them over the course of the season, but they were still able to make the playoffs because the Red Sox, as predicted, self-destructed before September.

Somehow, the Yankees were able to get past a hungry Oakland team in the Divisional Series. The Young A’s nipped at the Yankees’ heals for a second straight year. Pushing them to the brink until Jeremy Giambi’s inability to slide at home plate allowed Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada to make perhaps the best post season play I have ever witnessed (time and again on ESPN’s Sportscenter). Had he slid, he probably would have been safe and New York would not have even made it to the Series. It would have allowed the Mariners to fulfill my preseason prediction of the M’s going to the Series, since the A’s would have believed that they did what they needed to do by knocking out the dreaded Yanks. But Giambi did not slide. I bet the Oakland coaches have slid him to death this spring.

The Yankees were able to ride the momentum of that play through the ALCS and past the 116 win Seattle Mariners in a series without much drama. Some will claim that this series was payback for the 1995 Division Series, but enough players had turned over to make this theory a real non-issue (hell, Tino Martinez and Luis Sojo played for the other side in ’95 plus Jeff Nelson and Sterling Hitchcock had been back and forth in that time). Needless to say the New York Yankees were on to their fifth World Series in six years, and playing the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks, who were under rookie manager Bob Brenly.

On paper, the World Series looked pretty even. It will go down in history as one of the best Series of all time. Most of the games were close and had the intensity that you would expect from a World Series. The home team wound up winning every single game, which sent the fans home happy. The Yankees showed their legacy and pride, the fight and determination that had won four of the previous five series.

However, they only did this for four of the seven games played (games 3, 4, 5 and 7). They were manhandled and had their asses handed to them in the other games. They barely bothered to show up for the other games hoping for some kind of Yankee magic to miraculously lift them to victory.

Let me give credit where credit is due. The Diamondbacks deserved to win and were the better team. They outplayed and out-hustled the Yankees. They had a 1-2 pitching punch of Schilling and Johnson that was, in the end, impossible to beat. I don’t wish to take anything away from the—this hurts—World Champions since they were the better ball club, but here is my rant nonetheless.

Bob Brenly is a horrible manager, not the genius that he was made out to be after the World Series. His decision in Game 4 to pull Schilling in the seventh inning because of a pitch count is ludicrous. He has the three-time defending Champs on the ropes with his ace, who has no problem racking up the innings, on the mound in a groove killing the Yankees. Why is he concerned about Game 7 when he is about to go up 3-1? Does he believe in the Yankee mystique so much that he knows they are going to come back?

Then in just about the opposite situation in Game 6, he leaves Randy Johnson in for seven innings in a 15-2 blowout. He should have brought Johnson out in the fifth so that he qualified for the win. That way he could have used Johnson sooner in Game 7 (which he was obviously planning on playing since Game 4) than he actually did if Schilling ran into any problems. I have no idea what would possess him to leave his second ace in for all this time, in a blowout, and burn his arm out when he could have needed him earlier in Game 7. In retrospect he did not need Johnson until the 8th, but if you are going to play Game 4 conservative, why not play Game 6 conservative as well. I just don’t get it.

Finally, bringing in a 21-year old Byong-Hyon Kim in Game 5 after he got shellacked in Game 4, when you have experienced veterans like Mike Morgan, Greg Swindell, and Bobby Witt in the bullpen. Now, in hindsight there is no way you can predict that your reliever is going to self destruct two nights in a row, but Brenly had ample opportunity to see that Kim did not have his best stuff and could have pulled him prior to giving up the second bomb, that almost brought the Yankees back from the brink.

That is just bad managing. Brenly alone gave the Yankees multiple opportunities to come back, when he had the hammer in his hand ready to hit the nails in the coffin. Game 7 would never have been played. Had Brenly been a better manager, the outcome that will go down in the ages, should never had occurred. But it did.

In the end, if the D’backs had won Game 7 by a score such as 7-2 or 4-1 or even blew the Yankees out again a la Game 6, I would have been satisfied with the outcome. I would have been able to commend them on being the better team with no second thoughts. I might have even been able to read the paper and news articles about the greatness of the series or the individual games, without my stomach turning over. But how they won Game 7 will forever burn in my stomach, at least it still does today, five months later. They beat us at our own game, coming back in the ninth against the best and most clutch reliever in the history of the game, with one bunt, three dribblers (two that should have been turned into DP’s) and one well-hit ball. (Ed note: see sidebar below) It was a nice run while it lasted. The 2001 Yankees went further than they really deserved.

However, all is fair in love and baseball and April 1 we start anew. I expect the 2002 Yankees to reclaim the crown stolen by those snakes in Phoenix and I don’t really expect the Diamondbacks to repeat, nor do I predict they will even make it back to the Series this October. But that is just me, I have been a Yankee fan for over a quarter century.

Yankees over Cardinals in 6 games, unless Rick Ankiel pitches then the Yankees sweep.


World Series Championships in my lifetime (1969-present)

NY Yankees – 6 (1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000)

Oakland Athletics – 4 (1972, 1973, 1974, 1989)

Cincinnati Reds – 3 (1975, 1976, 1990)

Baltimore Orioles – 2 (1970, 1983)

Los Angeles Dodgers – 2 (1981, 1988)

Minnesota Twins – 2 (1987, 1991)

New York Mets – 2 (1969, 1986)

Pittsburgh Pirates –2 (1971, 1979)

Toronto Blue Jays – 2 (1992, 1993)

Arizona Diamondbacks – 1 (2001)

Atlanta Braves – 1 (1995)

Detroit Tigers – 1 (1984)

Florida Marlins – 1 (1997)

Kansas City Royals – 1 (1985)

Philadelphia Phillies – 1 (1980)

St. Louis Cardinals – 1 (1982)


Let’s painfully relive Jeff Herz’s thoughts on that (un)fateful night...

The unheralded rookie Alfonso Soriano hit what should have been a Series winning and MVP producing home run in the eighth. That should have been sufficient for the Yankees. Instead Joe Torre reached into the well a little too early and perhaps a little too often, starting the bottom of the eighth with Mariano Rivera. I suggested at the time he should have gone with Mike Stanton a little longer or brought Ramiro Mendoza in to start the inning. If either one of them got into trouble you could always go to Rivera and they were able to get through the eighth then that leaves Rivera fresher for the ninth, when you really need him at his best. Somehow, we got through the eighth virtually unscathed though Rivera looked shaky. It was raining in the desert, which is never a good sign. The Yankees went quietly in the ninth as the Big Unit retires Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez and Jorge Posada in order.

Then Mark Grace, Mr. Cub as far as I am concerned (why the hell didn’t the Cubbies re-sign him?) and Mr. Poopy-pants from my fantasy team perspective gets a lame hit off of Rivera to lead off the ninth. The rain continues to fall, making the grip on the ball more and more slippery. Grace is taken out for a pinch runner, you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to know that Grace is no Carl Lewis. A dribbler is hit back to the box. Rivera fields the ball cleanly then…


Ok, first and second, no one out. It should have been a DP, but whatever, he still has not blown a save in the postseason since 1997. Jay Bell then pinch-hits for Randy Johnson. He bunts. Rivera fields it cleanly throws to Atrocious at third for the force. But Atrocious does not attempt the DP. AAAARGGGH. He holds the ball instead of trying to get the slow-footed Bell at first. That would have left a one run lead, with two outs and a man on second. But no, now we have a one run lead, men at first and second and only one out. The rest is history: Womak doubles, scoring a run, Counsell is HPB, Gonzalez bloops a ball to left over a drawn in infield, game over.

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