On this date in 2003, Josh Beckett pitched a complete game shutout to lead the Marlins to a 2-0 victory and a World Series championship against the Yankees. What many Yankees fans remember most vividly about that series was a decision made by Joe Torre in Game 4. In an article about Tony LaRussa’s interesting evening in Game 5 last night, Jay Jaffe referenced Torre’s gaffe:
If a Hall of Fame-bound manager has had a worse night in a nine-inning World Series game—for the sake of argument, we’ll chalk up Joe Torre’s decision to pitch Jeff Weaver in 2003 as an extra-inning folly—then I haven’t seen it.
Let’s take a look at Torre’s decision and see whether it was quite as awful as we remember.
After losing Game 1 by a 3-2 score, the Yankees strung together consecutive 6-1 victories and were looking to take a stranglehold on the series in Game 4. Roger Clemens was matched up against future pain in the butt Carl Pavano, and Pavano stuck it to the Yankees by pitching 8 innings of one run ball. A key moment came in the 2nd, when the Yankees loaded the bases with no one out. However, Karim Garcia struck out, Aaron Boone managed a sacrifice fly, and Clemens grounded out (yay NL baseball!) to end the threat. Pavano then settled down, retiring 18 of the next 20 hitters, while Clemens allowed 3 runs over 7 solid frames. Jeff Nelson then pitched a shutout 8th, setting the stage for a dramatic 9th inning.
Future attempted murderer Ugueth Urbina replaced Pavano and retired Jason Giambi to start the inning. Bernie Williams followed with a line single to center, Hideki Matsui walked, and a Posada grounder forced the runner at second. Torre then made two good moves, hitting Ruben Sierra for Garcia, and running for Posada with David Dellucci. With two on, two outs, and the game hanging in the balance, Sierra delivered a triple to right, evening the score and taking the air out of the Marlins. Aaron Boone could not bring Sierra home, but the damage had been done and it seemed like the Yankees were closing in on another World Series title.
Jose Contreras followed with two shutout innings, while Chad Fox pitched a shutout 10th inning. This sent the game to the 11th, where things began to get complicated for Torre. Bernie doubled to start the frame, and Matsui followed with a walk. Dellucci bunted the runners over, bringing the pitcher’s spot up and necessitating the use of a pinch hitter. Juan Rivera entered and was promptly intentionally walked. With the bases loaded, Braden Looper entered the game, and he got Aaron Boone to strike out and John Flaherty to pop up to end the threat. That turned out to be the turning point of the game and the Series, as Torre was now faced with a pitching dilemma.
While Mariano Rivera had pitched two innings the previous evening, he had done so on 23 pitches and was certainly available for a save situation. Other available pitchers (assuming starters were not available) included:
(Wow, that is a crappy bullpen)
The first 3 guys are all left-handed, which is significant because the next 5 Marlins hitters were all righties. While Hammond and Heredia both actually had a reverse split for 2003, their career numbers are worse against righties, while White was not very good at all. I can see why Torre avoided using any of them for that stretch of the lineup. This meant that Joe had to choose between two pitchers. He could go to Jeff Weaver, who had not pitched in 28 days and had a 5.99 ERA on the season, with his worst work coming in August or September. Furthermore, he was far from a world beater against righties, with a .750 OPS against them in the regular season. Or he could go to Mariano Rivera, extend the game, and then figure out what to do in a save situation if it presented itself.
Torre went with Weaver, and the rest of the contest had a feeling of inevitability about it. Weaver actually retired Conine, Lowell, and Lee in order in the 11th, using just 8 pitches to do so, which earned him plenty of rope from Torre. The Yankees went quietly in the 12th, and Alex Gonzalez stepped to the plate for the Marlins to start the bottom of the frame. On the 8th pitch he saw, Gonzalez lined a Weaver offering over the wall in left, sending the Marlins into a frenzy and eventually costing the Yankees the series.
So now we come to evaluating the decision made by Torre. Using Weaver over the lefties may have been a mistake considering the rust on Weaver and his subpar numbers against RHB, but it certainly was not egregious. It would be like Joe Girardi using AJ Burnett as a reliever rather than Boone Logan to face righties. The real problem is that Torre held Mariano Rivera for a save situation.
I understand that managers are often married to convention and that they prefer to hold onto their closers in a tie game on the road. I am willing to give them some leeway when they have a reasonably competent alternative ready to pitch instead of the closer. Even someone like Luis Ayala circa 2011 would suffice. I would not like it, but I could at least understand that the manager is in some ways a slave to the methods of the industry and is simply working within the parameters set forth by those that preceded him (Torre stated that he had no choice, adding, ”If he’s not in the game there, he shouldn’t be on the roster.”). But when the alternative is a guy who had one of the worst seasons in franchise history and had not pitched in a month, how do you not extend the game with the greatest reliever of all-time?
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