Finally the reign has ended, but not without a fight. After one of the greatest World Series in recent history, the Diamondbacks are the new world champions in only their fourth year of existence.
Five key points to the Series:
1. Relief pitching
Not surprisingly, this series came down to relief pitching. But, what was surprising was how the relievers played into the series results.
The bullpens didn’t really play a part in the series until game three, when Mariano Rivera notched his first save of the series. After great starting pitching performances from Curt Schilling and Miguel Batista in games four and five, the D-Backs were set to dominate the Yankees in the series. Byung-Hung Kim had been nearly unhittable all season long, but then he allowed game tying and winning home runs three times in two games. I have never seen anyone implode to that degree in the national spotlight like Kim did.
And then the unthinkable happened: Rivera blew a save. Throughout his career, Rivera has been outstanding in the postseason. He is the owner of the best career ERA in the playoffs, has gone since 1997 without blowing a postseason save and before game seven he had been the same dominating presence. In games three through five, Rivera picked up two wins, one save, pitched five innings and completely dominated the D-Backs. After Alfonso Soriano hit the solo home run in the eighth inning to give the Yankees the lead, it looked like the series was over because Rivera was coming in. And after the eighth, when Rivera struck out the side, the game again looked like it was decided. But as Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ’till it’s over.” Rivera lost control in the ninth inning, allowing three hits and committing an error, finally proving that he is human.
2. Starting pitching
The starting pitching in this series was exceptional. Other than the performances in games one and six by Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte, every one of the starters was dominant.
The Diamondbacks won because of their starting pitching. Schilling pitched three games and allowed four runs. Pitching twice on three days rest, Schilling put the team on his back and carried them to the promised land. Randy Johnson exorcised the demons of postseasons past and won three games during the series, including both games six and seven. Even the D-Backs’ supposedly weaker pitchers, Brian Anderson and Batista, pitched well.
And the Yankees pitched admirably in defeat. Roger Clemens won game three and gave the Yanks a great chance to win game seven. Mussina rebounded from his loss in the first game of the series with a great performance in game five, and Orlando Hernandez pitched well enough in game four to keep the D-Backs from taking a 3-1 series lead. Pettitte had trouble in both of his starts, losing both games, but he was also matched up against Johnson twice-not an easy task.
This series was one of the best ever from a pitching and defensive stand point, and not surprisingly it was lacking in offense. With the exception of game six, in which the D-Backs blew out the Yanks, every game of the series was close and low-scoring.
The Yankees have some rebuilding to do in the offseason. Their team has aged greatly over the course of their championship run, and it is clear that some of the players on the current team will be replaced by younger talent. During the series not many of the Yankees scared me at the plate, but the one who did was Soriano. For some reason it seemed that he had the ability to break out and deliver the big hit whenever necessary-witness his game winner in game five and his home run in game seven-and he was also able to take advantage of the D-Backs on the bases. Derek Jeter was clearly not himself during the series, and it is likely that he could have added another dangerous offensive weapon to the lineup had he been completely healthy, but the Yankees need to get more players to fill in around these two young stars.
The D-Backs are in much the same boat as the Yankees, as most of their team owns AARP memberships. But they were able to manufacture runs much better than the Yanks were, and it also seemed that their players stepped up at crucial times to secure wins for the team. The game one home run by Matt Williams is the first example of this, and clearly the ninth inning rally in game seven is another good example. The Yankees had their chances to step up, and they did in all three games in New York, but in the end they weren’t able to generate enough offense to win the series.
4. Managerial decisions
Although Bob Brenly didn’t really distinguish himself as a manager, he did enough good things to win the series. Joe Torre made a few decisions that were questionable, but as a whole he made the decisions that he always had.
Brenly showed this season that he isn’t afraid to lay it on the line when the stakes are the highest. He pulled Craig Counsell late in the series when he wasn’t hitting his weight-which is minimal to begin with-after Counsell was the NLCS MVP, played Danny Bautista in centerfield in game six, and made a few other risky decisions. The only move that he should be questioned on-and he would have looked like an ass if the D-Backs lost the series-would have been his usage of Kim in the 10th inning of game four and the ninth inning of game five. But sometimes going with your gut is better than going by the book, and Brenly became the first rookie manager to lead his team to the title.
5. Reversal of fortune
Finally, the Yankees were caught by a bit of their own medicine. Every postseason that I can remember, the Yankees have gotten all of the breaks en route to their world titles. Remembrances of Jeffrey Maeir pulling Jeter’s home run over the wall in 1996, or Chuck Knoblauch pulling phantom tags in 1999 are just a few instances of the Yankees getting all the breaks. This year, they didn’t get them in the series.
Whereas in years past every bounce went the Yankees way, this year they made errors on routine ground balls, made bad throws and made bad decisions on the basepaths. Without these key mistakes the D-Backs probably would not be world champions today.
Major League Baseball is finally making the right decision involving the number of teams in the league. After years of expansion and a watered down talent pool, the big leagues are looking to contract over this offseason.
The current plan of commissioner Bud Selig calls for the removal of two teams, the Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos. Neither one of these teams has a good fan support base, they have both struggled over the years and it doesn’t seem that either one of these teams will be able to recover in the upcoming years. With these two franchises acting like a cancer upon the whole league, it is the right decision to cut them. Granted, arguments can be made for other teams to be cut in addition, but, for now, these two are good choices.
The most exciting side effect of contraction will be the dispersal of players. Although it is likely that the players union will lobby for these players to become free agents, that won’t happen. Selig will order a dispersal draft, and the players in this draft will immediately make an impact in the big leagues. Players like Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Vidro, Javier Vasquez, Brad Radke, Joe Mays, Cristian Guzman and Eric Milton will change teams this season. When one considers the free agents that could change teams this offseason-Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds and Chan Ho Park among others-we can expect to see some significant changes in the balance of power next season.
The game of baseball has suffered recently because of the dilution of talent in the majors. With contraction, we can expect to see a better level of play next year, and the game will continue its upward ascendance after the 1994 strike.