Wells' injury leaves Yankees stranded
MIAMI -- Before Yanni finished the National Anthem, Yankees manager Joe Torre knew he would have serious problems in Game 5 of the World Series. David Wells was having trouble warming up in the bullpen because of chronic back trouble, and Torre began to consider an emergency starter.
Game 5 breakdown
Alex Gonzalez. A night earlier, he was the ultimate hero with his walkoff solo homer in the bottom of the 12th inning. In this game, Gonzalez's two-out RBI double gave the Marlins their first run of the game, tying the score 1-1. Florida tacked on two more runs in the inning and never relinquished the lead.
Jose Contreras and Joe Torre. Contreras took over for David Wells, who left with a back injury, to start the second inning. His biggest problem was his inability to close out innings. In both the second and fourth innings, the Marlins scored a combined four runs, all with two outs. Torre, meanwhile, shook up his lineup, benching both Alfonso Soriano and Jason Giambi. Sitting Soriano was certainly the right call as he's been dreadful in the Series, but having Giambi out of the lineup was questionable. Giambi made Torre look bad when he hit a pinch-hit solo homer in the ninth inning.
The second inning when Contreras replaced Wells. Contreras retired the first two batters he faced in the inning. But then he ran into trouble as he walked the next two batters and then surrendered the RBI double to Gonzalez. The inning turned even worse when pitcher Brad Penny lined a two-run single to right-center.
Eight of the Marlins' nine starters had a hit, and only one (Gonzalez) had two hits. Now that's a team effort.
Andy Pettitte will pitch for the Yankees in Game 6 on Saturday at Yankee Stadium. The Marlins haven't officially announced a starter yet, but speculation is that Josh Beckett will get the call on three days' rest. Pettitte tossed 8 2/3 innings in Game 2, allowing just one unearned run to earn the victory. Beckett was the tough-luck losing pitcher in Game 3.
Wells did make the start, but after throwing the first inning he walked stiffly into the trainers' room in the Yankees' clubhouse, unable to continue, and the Florida Marlins exploited the relievers who followed to win, 6-4, leaving the Marlins just one victory shy of a championship. Brad Penny threw seven strong innings to get his second win of the series; Florida leads three games to two in the best-of-seven series and need to win either Game 6 or 7 in Yankee Stadium this weekend to clinch the championship.
The Yankees will start Andy Pettitte on Saturday, and if there is a seventh game, Mike Mussina. Florida manager Jack McKeon is being coy about what he intends to do, but it is possible he will ask two starters to work on three days' rest -- Josh Beckett in Game 6 and Carl Pavano in Game 7. "We got a few options," McKeon said. "We're not opposed to starting somebody with three days' rest."
Torre said, "Certainly I'd rather be up 3-2 than down 3-2, but I feel good about who we have pitching."
Torre had busily tinkered with his lineup card all day, effectively benching two players who combined for a third of the Yankees' exceptional home run production during the regular season. Second baseman Alfonso Soriano had looked completely lost at the plate in the first four games of the series, and had seven strikeouts in his last 14 at-bats, 25 strikeouts in 67 post-season at-bats. Torre replaced him with utilityman Enrique Wilson, a better defensive infielder; it's quite possible that Wilson will start the rest of the series.
And about an hour before Game 5, it was announced that first baseman Jason Giambi had been scratched from the starting lineup because of left knee trouble. Torre said he watched Giambi take grounders, limping on his left knee, and when Giambi went into the trainers' room, Torre followed and asked about Giambi's knee. "He sort of didn't really answer me," said Torre.
So Torre told Giambi that Nick Johnson, more mobile defensively and a better contact hitter, would play, and Giambi went along with the choice. "My knee is fine, I just couldn't get around the bag, and I didn't want to cost us defensively," said Giambi.
It's possible that Torre preferred Johnson, anyway, and needed a reason to sit down Giambi, who is earning an average of $17 million annually. Some members of the organization say Giambi has not required regular treatment on his knee this year, and Giambi will serve as the designated hitter in Games 6 and 7; it's not as if he was debilitated. Giambi was batting only .214 against the Marlins before this game, and for the first time, two hitters who had slugged more than 30 homers in the regular season -- Giambi 41, Soriano 38 -- were benched for a World Series game. "It's definitely a little weight off my shoulders when you see both those guys not in the lineup," said Penny.
With the sluggers out, the Yankees played small ball in the first inning and took the lead, Wilson bunting after Jeter singled; because of a misplay by Florida pitcher Penny and an error by first baseman Derrek Lee, the Yankees had first and third and nobody out, and Jeter scored on Bernie Williams's sacrifice fly.
Wells, a dominant October performer in his career, went out to the mound with a lead, and in pain. When Juan Pierre bunted Wells' first pitch, the burly left-hander came off the mound to pursue the ball and appeared to pull up, his back straightening, and he grimaced slightly. He walked off the mound stiffly. "I knew he was done," said pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. "It's a lingering problem."
Wells said, "I couldn't do it. If I had stayed out there, I would have collapsed on the mound."
Within minutes, reliever Jose Contreras stood in the Yankees' bullpen and began to stretch. The injury to Wells was devastating for Torre and the Yankees, because of the lack of quality depth in their relief. Besides Contreras, the only other right-handed middle relievers to face the mostly right-handed Florida lineup were Jeff Nelson -- a short specialist -- and Jeff Weaver, the beleaguered pitcher who gave up the game-winning homer in the 12th inning of Game 4.
Torre also had three left-handed relievers: Gabe White and Felix Heredia, who have pitched only in short situations in the postseason, and Chris Hammond, a veteran in whom Torre never really developed any trust during the season, despite Hammond's great success with Atlanta in 2002 (Hammond probably would have been the emergency starter if Wells hadn't been able to open Game 5).
So Torre went with Contreras, who worked two innings in Game 4. "I felt strong," Contreras said. "I was throwing hard."
But he could not locate a proper release point, or establish any command of his secondary pitches. After getting a couple of outs in the second on hard hit balls, Contreras walked Mike Lowell on four pitches and Lee on five pitches. Stottlemyre thought that Conteras, like Roger Clemens in Game 4, initially struggled to make the transition from the relatively flat bullpen mound to the higher mound in the center of the diamond here. "Most of my pitchers had trouble getting adjusted here," said Stottlemyre. "It's noticeably taller. I'm not blaming the mound; it's an adjustment you have to make."
The Marlins had runners at first and second, two out, and Contreras threw a fastball with his first pitch to the next batter, Game 4 hero Alex Gonzalez. But then Contreras tried to spin a slider, and the pitch hung over the plate like a piñata. Gonzalez whacked it, bouncing a ground rule double off the warning track in right-center field to score Lowell. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, superstitiously wearing dark sunglasses during this series, seemed to lose the color in his face, as he watched in a private box.
The game was tied, but there were two outs and Penny was due to hit. Penny, however, looked for a first-pitch fastball, jumped on the first-pitch fastball, and smacked a bullet single into right field, driving home Lee and Gonzalez. Florida led, 3-1, and even if the Yankees came back, Torre would still have to figure out a way to get at least another 16 outs from his bullpen before he could turn to Mariano Rivera. "The thing we were happy about was we knew their bullpen was going to be taxed a little," Lowell said later. "They had to pick up eight innings of relief there."
Contreras allowed another run, and after Hammond took over in the fifth, the Yankees' botched a rundown. Third baseman Aaron Boone made a nice grab, flipped the ball quickly to Wilson at second base -- probably too quickly, Torre would say afterward -- and Ivan Rodriguez was caught between second and third. Boone began running toward second base, following his throw. But with Rodriguez moving toward third, Wilson tried to fire the ball right back to Boone -- and there was nobody near third to take the throw. Lowell singled home two runs, giving the Marlins a 6-1 lead.
Penny, his fastball reaching as high as 99 mph, held the Yankees to eight hits and two runs over seven innings. The Yankees made a late charge, Giambi hitting a pinch home run in the ninth to cut the lead to 6-3, Wilson smacking a double to drive home Jeter.
Ugueth Urbina, who blew a two-run lead in Game 4 Wednesday, threw a pitch that Bernie Williams launched to deep right-center. Williams thought he might have tied the game, and so did Torre. Right fielder Juan Encarnacion retreated to the track, back, back. And caught the ball. Hideki Matsui grounded out to end the game, leaving the Yankees' one loss away from a major overhaul affected by the angry, superstitious man in the dark sunglasses, and the Marlins one victory removed from an improbable championship.
"We're focused," said Lowell. "I think we know it's going to be a tough battle. But I think we'll be ready."
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
FLA leads 3-2
- Home Plate Umpire - Ed Rapuano
- First Base Umpire - Tim Welke
- Second Base Umpire - Randy Marsh
- Third Base Umpire - Larry Young