Ball Bearings


Every once in a while, the time-consuming process of applying ink to paper and delivering same to your newsstand causes problems. This is one of those times. At press time, as they say, the Yankees are up 3­2 and the Padres are up 3­1 in their respective League Championship Series. By the time you read this, both series could/will be over. Still, we forge ahead with our analysis, skewed toward the assumption that it’ll be a Yanks-Padres World Series. If it’s not, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

On the Yankee Offense and Clutch Pitching: Here’s the first theory. The biggest diff between the regular season and the playoffs? Better players, duh. Much of what helped the Yankees win 114 games against teams like the Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Devil Rays doesn’t work so well in the playoffs. The ultrapatient Yankee offense is built around waiting for pitchers to fail. The problem for guys like Tino Martinez (batting .148!) is that the pitchers who get postseason starts can and do throw strikes. And when the umpire starts calling a strike zone that looks like something from Picasso’s blue period, pitchers like Kevin Brown will take advantage. Which is why the Yankees’ bats have been as cold as the October air.

Conversely, what we perceive as clutch hitting–Reggie Bar stuff–is really a failure of clutch pitching. Think about it. Why can Reggie Jackson react to a fastball better in the ninth inning than he can in the first? Extra adrenaline? More focus? If that’s the case, why couldn’t he do it during every post-
season at bat? Or could it be that the pitcher up on the mound is watching Reggie in the on-deck circle and thinking: “Shit, I’m facing Reggie Jackson, and if he turns on my fastball, I’ll be watching it on Classic Sports Network until the next millennium. But if I walk him, the pitching coach is going to kill me, I’ll get shipped back to the minors, and my kids will have to go to public school.” And in the face of an existential crisis, he serves up a batting-practice fastball or a sinker that doesn’t sink. This is why there hasn’t been (and won’t be) much clutch hitting going on when, say, David Wells, David Cone, or Orlando Hernandez pitch.

On Joe Morgan: Former Cleveland pitcher Johnny Sain has a theory about old ball players. The older they get, the better they were. Joe Morgan says there’s no comparison between his 1976 Reds and the 1998 Yankees, but let’s poke a few holes in his argument. Where are all those expansion pitchers coming from, he asks? Look at the Yankee lineup, Joe: Cuba, Japan, Australia, the Dominican Republic. And when he does match the teams, he forgets to mention the Reds’ pitching staff–their ERA was sixth best in a 12-team league. Just what are Morgan’s ground rules anyway? If you’re sticking to a strict season-for-season comparison, then you have to take the 1998 model, Jorge Posada and his .268 average with 17 homers, over the 1976 Johnny Bench, who hit .234 with 16 home runs. Dave Concepcion really goes to his left better than Derek Jeter? We’ll believe it when we see it. After all, he turned 50 in June.

On the Underachieving Atlanta Braves: The Bill Gates theory. If you’re successful, people assume you’re smart. But the Braves make you wonder. Has any manager in history lost more close postseason games than Bobby Cox? And why hasn’t John Schuerholz traded Denny Neagle, Kevin Millwood, or a bunch of prospects to get a closer with a heartbeat. Even Ted and Jane can’t bear to watch this team in late innings.

On the Contagious Kevin Brown: One final theory. Good pitching is contagious. And Kevin Brown is a carrier. When a guy like Randy Johnson comes along, his new moundmates say, “Wow. I wish I could throw like that.” But when the new ace is Kevin Brown, a guy who was 88­73 heading into ’96, suddenly learned to hit his spots and bear down on every hitter, and transformed himself into a Randy Johnson­eatin’, Tom Glavine­defeatin’ hoss, they say, “Hey, I’ve got better stuff than him. My record’s as good as his was,” and start taking notes. And that’s why Andy Ashby and Joey Hamilton and even relievers like Dan Miceli have all started to live up to their potential. Come to think of it, the Oakland A’s had a Kevin Brown­ type guy. Dave Stewart, wasn’t it? Wonder what ever happened to him. He’s the San Diego pitching coach? No kidding.

Our predictions (pick one): Yanks over Padres in five. Yanks over Atlanta in six. Padres over Indians in seven. Indians over Braves in six.