John Holway / Yankees / Red Sox
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JOE GIRARDI AND
BASEBALL's UNBREAKABLE CODE
By John B Holway
Back from a trip to Turkey. Before my space ship disappeared on the other side of the moon, out of contact with Earth (have you ever watched European TV news?), the Red Sox were in a fight for their lives with two games left. All I could find out was that Boston lost a tough-fought finale to last-place Baltimore, and the Rays beat a second-string Yankee line-up.
This violates baseball's century-old Code: If you are out of the pennant race, it is a matter of honor to play your best against any teams that are still in it. If you pitch your ace against one contender, you are honor-bound to pitch him against the other, etc. This is the Code that John McGraw and Connie Mack played by.
It is the Code that Joe Girardi and the Yankees violated.
This time with a new twist. In effect, the Yanks had an opportunity to choose the second-round oponent they preferred in the playoff. They lost their season series against the Red Sox. They played hard against them in September, then rolled over against Tampa Bay , thus insuring that the Sox would give them no more trouble in October. Just a coincidence? Fairly or unfairly, it could be interpreted that way.
If so, it pretty much destroyed the integrity of the game and the integrity of the playoff system. It also raises a question about Tampa Bay's otherwise thrilling comeback. Did the Yankees hand them a gift?
The last-place O's, on the other hand, never give up against Boston, which was playing without Kevin Youkilis and both its regular catchers. Pitching on three days rest, the Sox' Jon Lester gave two runs in six innings, enough to win most of the time. The Sox banged 11 hits. But the O's wouldn't quit. They played their regulars right to the end and won it 4-3 in the 9th when Carl Crawford missed a shoesting catch by an inch.
The Code had been upheld.
In the National League, the Phils also played hard against Atlanta . Centerfielder Michael Martinez robbed Chipper Jones of a winning hit in the 10th before Philadelphia won it in the 13th.
Again, the Code had been honored.
But in New York it was a different script. The Rays' pitchers were battered for seven runs in six innings. Then, for the next five innings, it was the Yankees' turn to play dead. Girardi "rested" three regulars - Granderson, Swisher, and Montero - who had a day off the next day anyway. He replaced them with no names, two of whom were batting .182 and .158; they went 1-for-5 the rest of the game.
Meanwhile, Girardi was running eight mostly no-name pitchers on and off the mound. The last one, a non-entity named Logan , wilted and gave up three runs in the 7th. Then someone named Ayala put two men on base. This was the spot for Soriano, the seventh-inning set-up man. Instead, Girardi left Ayala in to throw a three-run homer to Evan Longoria to tie the game.
If Girardi had been playing to win, he'd have next used his 8th-inning set-up specialist, Robertson. But again Joe picked another no-name, this one called Wade.
The teams battled into the 9th, the perfect spot for the great Mariano Rivera. But Mariano remained in the bullpen, scratching himself, and someone named Wade came in and gave up the tying run.
Next Girardi pointed to another obscure hurler named Proctor, who was forced to go three innings. It was just one batter too many. The last one, Longoria, smacked another homer to redeem the gift card the Yanks had given to Tampa .
If New York had won, Boston had Clay Bucholz, 6-3 before his injury in June, ready for the sudden death showdown the next day. How that game would have come out, we'll never know.
I say the integrity of baseball, especially the playoff system, was violated.
I get no sympathy from friends who tut-tut that it was OK, because the Sox "didn't deserve" it anyway. This is a brand new corollary to the ancient Code. How do we know who "deserves" it until all 162 games have been played?
New York and Tampa Bay played 161 games, and one travesty.
Commissioner Buddy Selig should investigate and issue a clear directive to all future teams that will be in the same situation.
Until the playoff system was instituted, it was last-place teams that were in position to make or break the pennant winner. And baseball history is replete with cellar teams that rose up and knocked an arrogant front-runner down. (In 1934 the Giant's Bill Terry sneered, "Is Brooklyn still in the league?" The Bums showed him on the last day; they kayo'd the Giants, and St Louis slipped in to win the flag.)
But now, the first-place team, with its pennant already sewed up, can play hard against one wild card contender and let up against the other.
The Rays' victory was as tainted as the Yankee loss. For everyone's sake, it must not be allowed to happen again
If the Sox had won one more game in April
If the Rays had won one more, or lost one more .
If we'd been playing the old 154-game schedule .
If we'd been playing without a playoff or a wild card .
The problem would not have arisen.
But these are the facts:
1. It was not a 154-game schedule.
2. The Sox did not win one more game.
3. The Rays did not win one more.
4. The Rays did not lose one more.
5. On the final day the Sox and Rays had each won exactly the same number.
6. On the final day the Yankees had two possible motives not to play hard.
a. They wanted to rest before the playoffs.
b. They preferred to play the Rays in round 2.
Number 6 would not have come up under the old, traditional rules: Two league champs. One World Series.
We now see what we had overlooked before.
And it can happen again in the future. Probably with three different teams. One of them may be yours.
What should we do to prevent a recurrence?
b. Eliminate the wild card. Give one of the division champs a bye.
c. Put all 30 teams on notice that when a wild card or a division title ior pernnant is at stake, every team is honor bound by the Code of Baseball to play to win and will be closely monitored to make sure the integrity of the game is upheld.