Archive for October 21st, 2010

The 1958 Yankees are enjoying a bit of a revival thanks to their status as the franchise’s only team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a seven game postseason series. At the Pinstriped Bible, Steve Goldman took a look at how Casey Stengel guided his team back from the brink of elimination, while TYU examined the players who made up the 1958 squad.  Perhaps the most interesting part about looking back at baseball’s past, however, is learning that the narrative hardly ever changes.

The press pin used by writers covering the 1958 World Series. Fifty years later, many of the same storylines from that Series apply to today.

Just like the 2010 NLCS opener (and again tonight’s game five) featured a much anticipated showdown between the Giants’ Tim Lincecum and the Phillies’ Roy Halladay, the 1958 World Series opened with White Ford squaring off against Warren Spahn, an encore of the previous seasons’ World Series opener that Ford won 3-1.  After Spahn’s victory in the rematch, noted sportswriter Jimmy Cannon crowed that the Braves’ perennial 20-game winner was still the best in the game, even if more scholarly observers preferred dynamic young arms like Don Drysdale, or veterans like Ford, who had much better peripheral statistics despited failing to win more than 19 games. Sound familiar? Needless to say, Cannon probably wouldn’t have been swayed much by the fact that Spahn only ranked tenth in ERA+ in 1958.

Baseball is not a complicated game, but those who know most about it appear to resent the simplicity of it. So they have a tendency to reject the standards by which all players must eventually be judged. Numbers count in baseball as much as they do in dice. You measure a man by the record he leaves behind him in the guides. There is no other way and, in time, the book wins all arguments. This makes Spahn the greatest pitcher now throwing for a big league club.” – Jimmy Cannon, North American Newspaper Alliance, October 2, 1958

Showing that he was fair to all parties, Cannon also wrote about the Yankees’ mystique after they came back to win the series. “It does no good to be influenced by the final conclusions of the accountants who compute the worth of ballplayers as if they were figuring a grocery bill. The Yanks are a special breed of ballplayer and they are loaded by some magic you can only comprehend vaguely,” Canon penned after game seven.

In addition to Cannon’s hyperbole, the storylines from each game would all sound familiar if written today. After going up 2-0, the main story was Braves’ manager Fred Haney’s cautious declaration that the “series is far from over,” but that quickly changed to the “worried Braves getting set to face the carefree Yankees” once the series reached a seventh game. Managerial second guessing was also rampant, particularly with regard to Haney’s decision to use Spahn on two days rest in game six. Of course, Spahn only gave up two runs in eight innings, and his mound opponent, Whitey Ford, who was also going on two days rest, didn’t make it out of the second inning, but just about every decision by the losing manager was fair game. When the Yankees polished off the comeback, they did so by beating Lew Burdette, the Yankee killer who bested the team three times in the 1957 World Series, and in the process stopped being the old, fading dynasty and resumed their rightful status as champions. Or, as Sarasota Herald-Tribune Sports Editor Nick Robertson wrote, “since this is the dairy state, it seems apropos to point out that cream always rises to the top”.

It remains to be read what the modern day scribes will write about the 2010 Yankees when all is said and done, but as Yogi Berra, the catcher on the 1958 team, once quipped, it could very well be “déjà vu all over again”.

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The legendary folk hero Davy Crockett once said, “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas”. To those who doubted their resiliency, the Yankees used game five of the ALCS to say exactly the same thing.

Which way to Texas? (Photo: AP)

Although the Yankees had to feel comfortable with their ace going on full rest for the first time in the postseason, the irony of yesterday’s victory is C.C. Sabathia didn’t pitch particularly well. In fact, Sabathia became the first Yankees’ starter in 50 years to win a postseason game while giving up at least 11 hits. And yet, the ace lefty still managed to keep the Rangers at bay by getting a big strikeout or inducing a key double play at just the right time. The mark of a great pitcher is the ability to win despite not having his best stuff, and game five was exhibit A on why Sabathia qualifies as one.

The Yankees entered game five in a terrible slump, batting .198 for the entire series and producing only three hits in their last 33 at bats with runners in scoring position. Without a turnaround in that performance, it probably wouldn’t have mattered how well Sabathia pitched. In the second inning against C.J. Wilson, the slumbering lumber was put to an immediate test.

After being gifted two walks by Wilson in the bottom of the second, the Yankees finally came through in the clutch as RBI singles by Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson plated three runs. One of the runs, however, was actually produced by the speedy legs of Posada. In a scene out of an old cops and robbers silent movie, Posada rounded second and headed for third on Granderson’s single, which probably made right fielder Jeff Francoeur jump out his shoes. In his haste to nab the slow footed catcher, Francoeur short-hopped Michael Young, whose haste to make a tag allowed the ball to roll toward the dugout screen. Without looking, which is usually the way he runs the bases, Posada sprang up from his slide and continued his mad dash around the bases by heading home. Unfortunately for Posada, Wilson had backed up the errant throw and merely had to flip the ball home to nab him at the plate. Flip it he did, but about 20 feet over the catcher’s head.

Although it wasn’t exactly Enos Slaughter’s Mad Dash to win the seventh game of the 1946 World Series, Posada’s trip around the bases not only produced an important run, but also seemed to lighten the mood in the Yankees’ dugout. That relaxed feeling only increased after back-to-back homers by Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano in the following inning gave the Yankees a 5-0 and made game six seem like a certainty. It wasn’t that easy, however, because Sabathia never really found the rhythm he needed to sail through the game. Before handing the ball off the bullpen in the seventh, Sabathia had to retire the red hot Josh Hamilton with two men on to end the fifth and then wiggle out of a bases loaded jam in the sixth. It wasn’t pretty, but at the same time it was exactly what the Yankees needed.

After six solid innings from their starter, the Yankees closed out the game with three shutout innings by Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera. That formula could come into play again on Friday, as Phil Hughes looks to rebound from his awful start in game two. Of course, the only way to earn the right to face Cliff Lee is by scoring runs off Colby Lewis, so the offense will also have to improve in its second go round against the Rangers’ righty.

With game five in the rearview mirror, a dramatic high noon showdown against the postseason’s best hired gun seems to be on the horizon. However, the Yankees can’t be too quick to the draw because before they can face off against Lee, they must shoot their way out of game six. The Rangers will be waiting in ambush, so the onus is on the Yankees to come out on Friday with guns blazing. The defending champions aren’t dead yet; they’re going to Texas.

Postseason Victories by a Yankees Starter With 11-Plus Hits Allowed

Player Date Series G# Opp Rslt IP H ER GSc
Waite Hoyt 10/6/1926 WS 4 STL W 10-5 9 14 2 52
Bob Turley 10/6/1960 WS 2 PIT W 16-3 8.1 13 2 44
Jim McDonald 10/4/1953 WS 5 BRO W 11-7 7.2 12 5 36
Bob Shawkey 10/13/1923 WS 4 NYG W 8-4 7.2 12 3 41
CC Sabathia 10/20/2010 ALCS 5 TEX W 7-2 6 11 2 49
Waite Hoyt 10/9/1928 WS 4 STL W 7-3 9 11 2 60

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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