No Rivera in Game 4? Inexcusable

Today, just a few random thoughts about the 2003 World Series, composed after Game 4 while listening to Elliott Smith before going to sleep just before dawn.

  • There were two questionable pitching decisions in Game 4 -- one of them excusable, one of them not.

    Excusable: Jack McKeon's decision to pull Carl Pavano after eight innings.

    According to ESPN.com's Buster Olney, Pavano told McKeon and pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal that he was getting tired. Pavano had thrown 115 pitches in his eight innings, and if he'd given up a two-run homer on Pitch No. 123, McKeon would have been fitted for Grady Little's goat horns.

    So out came Pavano, and instead Ugueth Urbina gave up the extra-base hit that tied the game.

    Not Excusable: Joe Torre's willingness to let a World Series game end with his best relief pitcher having never left the bullpen.

    Every year, some nitwit manager does this, and every year it makes me crazy. Yes, we all know that Torre was holding Mariano Rivera until the Yankees got a lead. Except the Yankees never got a lead. And they never got a lead, in part, because Torre was holding Rivera until the Yankees got a lead.

    Yes, we're in Joseph Heller territory. If only he'd been sitting on the bench instead of Donald Zimmer, maybe Torre would have gotten the advice about this Catch-22 situation he apparently needed.

    Or maybe Torre felt like he could use Rivera for only one inning because Rivera pitched two innings in Game 3 and might well be needed for Game 5. To which I would respond, "Then why did you let Rivera pitch in Game 3 when you had a five-run lead? Wasn't that the time to baptize Jeff 'Wild Man' Weaver in the postseason waters?"

  • C'mon, admit it ... You thought, just like I did, that once the Yankees tied the game in the ninth, why of course they would eventually win. And when they loaded the bases with only one out in the 11th, then of course they would not only take the lead, but blow the game wide open.

    But they didn't do either of those things. Yes, the Yankees are better than the Marlins, but they're not that much better. In the end, it's just one game between two teams not so far apart. And anybody can win a game like that.

    What struck me, though, was that if the Yankees had pushed across a couple of runs in the 11th, we'd have heard about their resiliency and perhaps even their awesome mystique, which not only allows them to shine but also intimidates their opponents. But instead the Marlins won, which means that for at least 20 hours we'll hear instead about their resiliency, and their youthful ignorance of that dreaded Yankee mystique.

    And of course, none of it means anything. It's just something to say, in lieu of anything interesting.

  • Was anybody just a little put off by Roger Clemens last night? He acquitted himself on the mound quite well, once the first inning finally ended. I'm talking about the interview with Clemens that aired, in bits and pieces, before and during the game. At one point, Clemens (in a separate spot) was described -- and this is an exact quote -- as "a phenomenal human being."

    Taken literally, I'm sure that's true. There aren't many human beings who can do what Clemens can do. But in our common vernacular, isn't "phenomenal human being" generally reserved for human beings who do something a bit more selfless than devote themselves to throwing a ball in exchange for vast sums of money? Wouldn't "phenomenal athlete/capitalist" be a bit more accurate, and leave "phenomenal human being" for beings who might deserve it, like inner-city schoolteachers or Peace Corps volunteers or Zell Kravinsky or overpaid baseball writers?

    OK, maybe not that last one. But you get the point.

    What really bothered me wasn't that, exactly. What really bothered me was that a few minutes later, Clemens was shown talking about how much it bothers him that other pitchers aren't willing to do all the incredibly hard work that he's done. Maybe this part of the interview was left on the cutting room floor, but does Clemens ever feel blessed for having been born with a rear end the size and strength of Texas and a lightning bolt in his right arm?

    Don't get me wrong, I respect Clemens for all the work he's put into his craft, and as I've written in this space, I think he's the greatest pitcher since Tom Seaver (at least). But hey, Rocket, how about a little humility? Is that so much to ask?

    (P.S. After the game, Clemens said more obnoxious things about how great he is.)

  • The shark has been jumped. Within seconds last night, Derek Jeter was 1) referred to as "Mr. Clutch" and 2) labeled "The New Mr. October."

    And so the legend grows.

    But should it? Nearly four years ago, I wrote a column in which I suggested that while there certainly are players who have hit particularly well in clutch situations, the evidence that some players have the ability to hit particularly well in clutch situations doesn't exist. In the nearly four years since I wrote that column, a number of people have told me that I'm wrong, and in the same nearly four years not a single being has presented me with even a shred of evidence. I'm not saying nobody presented me with evidence, and I rejected it. I'm saying that I've not seen any evidence of any sort.

    Which doesn't surprise me, because there isn't any evidence. The number of hitters with surprisingly good clutch stats is exactly the number you'd expect if you took all the hitters and all their plate appearances and flipped thousands and thousands of pennies.

    Or if you flipped one penny thousands and thousands of times. You know what I mean.

    But it's important to make the distinction between saying a player has a special ability to hit in clutch situations (there are no such players) and saying a player has done particularly well in clutch situations (there are many such players).

    Jeter, for example. To my friends who think it's ridiculous for him to be labeled "Mr. Clutch" ... well, yes. It's somewhat ridiculous; when we say somebody's a clutch hitter, we usually mean he's performed better in clutch situations than all those other "meaningless" (he used quotation marks, in place of arched eyebrows) situations.

    Just looking at Jeter's postseason stats, though, he hasn't done that. In fact, Jeter's postseason numbers are virtually identical to his regular-season numbers.

      OBP Slug
      Regular .389 .462
      Post .380 .468

    But those numbers miss a couple of things, don't they? For one thing, Jeter's facing significantly tougher pitching in the postseason, which means his postseason numbers are significantly more impressive than they might otherwise seem. And for another, as Jim Caple points out, Jeter's had a number of big hits and big defensive plays in the postseason.

    But what about this guy?

      OBP Slug
      Regular .390 .492
      Post .389 .486

    That's Bernie Williams, and he too has done almost exactly as well during the postseason as the regular season. Should we be surprised? No, not particularly. Jeter's played 97 postseason games, Williams 102 postseason games. And if you give a player -- any player -- enough postseason games, there's a pretty good chance his postseason stats will come to resemble his regular-season stats.

    So should we give these guys extra credit for essentially just doing what they naturally do?

    Sure. A little. Because they're facing those tough pitchers. But I still don't understand this impulse to anoint one of these great players the new Mr. October, when there's a significantly better candidate wearing the same uniform.

      ERA H/9 W/9 K/9
      Regular 2.49 7.1 2.5 8.1
      Post 0.77 5.6 1.1 7.2

    That's Mariano Rivera, and that's your Mr. Clutch. Your Mr. October. Your Mr. Should Have Pitched in Game 4.

    Is there an ability to pitch better in clutch situations? If anybody's checked, I haven't seen the findings. What I do know is that while both Jeter and Williams have played well in the postseason, they've done little more than they're supposed to do. Rivera, meanwhile, has put himself in the Hall of Fame.

    Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.