The Yankees won the rubber match in their series with the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium in a rather odd fashion. After being led by Mike Musina for eight strong innings, the righty allowed two baserunners in the ninth and was replace by closer Mariano Rivera. Rivera proceeded to give up five hits and allow the Red Sox to tie the game in his one-inning performance but he earned the win because of an unusual couple of plays.
The score was tied, 5-5, there were two out, and there were men at first and second. The lead runner, Hillenbrand, was the go-ahead run. On the next play, Trot Nixon hit a ground ball that went through Todd Zeile at first and went toward the right-field line but was retrieved in time by Alfonso Soriano to get the sluggish Hillenbrand at home.
In the bottom of the ninth with one out, Hideki Matsui hit a long fly ball to left that was a sure double. Designated left fielder Manny Ramirez threw the ball toward teh third-base, visitors' dugout, which allowed Mastui to go to third. The Red Sox were lucky that the Yankees had installed a fence in front of both dugouts. If the ball had gone into the dugout, Matsui woukld have been awarded two bases, and the Yankees would have won right there.
As it was, the next two batters were walked intentionally to load the bases. Jorge Posada then drew a full count walk to force in the winning run. Baseball Tonight argued as to whether the third ball was a bad call or not, and I have to agree with Harold Reynolds that it was too far inside.
So there were a couple of key decsions made by Red Sox manager Grady Little that affected the outcome of the game that I's like to critique. First, I agree with the decision to keep Hillenbrand representing the go-ahead run at second base in the ballgame and not bring in a pinch-runner. One could argue that a speedier runner would have scored on the loose ball, but the Red Sox didn't have any speedy runners left. Damian Jackson had already been used in that inning and that left a collection of first base/corner outfield types plus the backup catcher. You're better off with Hillenbrand.
And as far as sending Hillenbrand home on that play, sometimes you have to say what the... heck. Soriano had to make a very good play, first to retrieve the ball and second to make a good throw. Even with Rivera on the ropes, there's no reason to play conservatively. If it takes a very good play to stop the runner from scoring then I would send him. It seems a high-percentage call to me.
Second, I disagree with the walk that loaded the bases full in the bottom of the ninth. This is an easy one to disagree with as it led to the bases-loaded walk and the winning run. However, with one out, I do not see much of an advantage in walking the bases loaded as opposed to walking the first batter and playing for the double play. In either case, a single, a deep fly ball, a wild pitch/passed ball, or a balk will score the run. However, the advantages in just walking one man are that the pitcher cannot walk in the winning run on the next batter. The disadvantage is that you lose the out at every base. Big deal! Also, the runner at third can hold up on a shallow ground ball hit to the drawn-in infield. You still have the same doubleplay possibility, however. I know that the load-the-bases strategy is set in stone, but I believe the obvious disadvantages outweigh the plusses. The advantage of a force out at home does not outweigh the possibility of walking in the winning run.