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Where Do We Go From Here?
2003-10-20 21:06
by Mike Carminati

Where does it go from here?
Is it down to the lake I fear?
Ay ah ah ah ah ah
Ay ah ah ah ah ah

—Lyrics to "Love Plus One" by Haircut 100, which sadly I know by heart.

Where are we headed in the 2003 World Series? Why, back to Miami of course. And you thought I meant something more profound?

Metaphysically speaking, this series is heading to perhaps its most important game. After game two, both teams are tied and both have a right to be optimistic. The Marlins earned a split in New York and could win the Series with a three-game sweep on their own turf. The Yankees dominated game two from Matsui's home run in the bottom of the first until the end and can find solace in the game one loss coming as it did with one day's rest after the dramatic seven-game series against the Red Sox and in the fact that their starting pitchers, putatively their number 3 and 4 starters, have outperformed the Marlins'.

Besides game one was highly winnable for the Yankees, a poor decision to cut off a ball to the plate by Boone and a little alertness by Nick Johnson at third (as well as Soriano's inability to move runners along) made the difference in the game. Perhaps that's a positive for both teams: the Yanks can feel good that played well enough to win and the Marlins can feel good that the made the key plays when it mattered and the Yankees did not.

The Yankees appearance in the World Series is remarkable given that they have gotten very little production from two of their first three batters (Soriano and Giambi) and from their erstwhile game-seven hero, Boone. That's really an understatement—all three have been sinkholes in the lineup, just collecting really bad at-bats: failing to work pitchers, chasing bad pitches, and striking out often. Maybe that's a bit hard on Giambi. Due to injury, he has just been unable to catch up with even a decent fastball given. Soriano and Boone would swing at a pitch from The Bad News Bears' Rudy Stein. Game 2 saw Giambi break out slightly from his slump with double the opposite way in the seventh and witnessed Soriano being a bit more patient (he actually walked and struck out looking, not swinging) and possibly breaking out with a homer. If those two players break out, the Yankees could take the Series in five games.

There are other positives for the Yankees: Hideki Matsui has been hot in the first two games. Williams is getting on base. Nick Johnson came up big (3-for-4) in game two and somehow Torre is squeezing the most out of Juan Rivera, Karim Garcia, Ruben Sierra, and David Delucci as bit players and part-time right-fielders. The Yankees pen, especially Mariano Rivera, who pitched three innings in game 7, is well rested. Rivera will become more dangerous to Marlin hitters the less the get to see him (though Conine, Pudge, and Encarnacion have faced him in previous, AL lives).

Defensively, the Yankees have played consistently well. A number of Yanks have stepped up their defense since their embarrassment in game one of the Twins series. Posada is imitating Pudge. Jeter has been solid at short and his arm has seemed much stronger than during the season. Soriano has stopped imitating Jerry Lewis at second and has even turned in a couple of great plays. Williams range in center no longer seems a liability. Boone is the only sore sport with two errors yesterday and a costly non-relay on a play at the play in game one.

For positive signs, the Marlins can point to the tablesetters, Pierre and Castillo, getting on base. And Lee has a couple of good at-bats at the end of game two as he tries to break out of his playoff slump. The bullpen has done relatively well (aside from a Rick Helling homer ball to Soriano yesterday), given the amount of work it has already gotten. Their defense has been solid and Rodriguez has had some spectacular throws in both games. Game one starter Brad Penny pitched reasonably well and may have righted himself.

The Marlins have far more negatives yet far though. Pudge Rodriguez has been flat and was involved in two doubleplays in game 2. Lowell may not yet be 100% and has not yet hit. Conine looked great in game one and flat in game two, which personae will he inhabit the rest of the Series? Alex Gonzalez had looked as bad as Soriano and Boone at the plate and shows no signs of breaking out of it. The Marlin offense has not yet produced an extra-base hit in the first two games as the Yankees hit four home runs.

The Florida bullpen has been overworked. The Yankees are becoming familiar with Dontrelle Willis and Carl Pavano, one or both of which will be a starter later in the series. And however Willis is to be used, as a spot starter and/or long reliever, he again showed in game one that he is prone to getting into jams. Closer Ugueth Urbina worked himself into trouble with walks in game one, though he did work himself out of them as well. Redman, a reliable starter all season, has had a poor postseason. He has gotten into trouble with walks, and having to continually work out of jams seems to have worn on him. The Marlins displayed little patience with his problems yesterday and may have to lift him from the rotation if they can afford it.

The Yankees only issues stem, basically, from Aaron Boone. He did not have a quality at-bat after the game seven home run until his seven-pitch single in the eighth yesterday. His defense has been very good at times and spotty in others. Giambi, aside from the two-homer, "I'm po'ed because I was dropped to seven in the order" game against the Red Sox and Pedro Martinez, has looked pretty bad against any hard fastball. Soriano has been downright awful at the plate but may have started to come out of it.

Without the DH, the Marlins may bench Mike Lowell in favor of Cabrera at third and Conine in left like in the NLCS. The Yankees will probably bench Giambi the way he's been hitting.

Now, both teams head into game three with arguably their best starters facing off in Mike Mussina and Josh Beckett. And a lot of the nebulous pros and cons for each team will fall away and one team will set a tone by winning game three. A Marlins win could right them after a game two loss. However, a Yankee win could prove devastating for the "little ballclub that could". One thing is certain, however, Fox's coverage will be abysmal. I'm just waiting for Steve Lyons to interview "The Next Joe Millionaire" in the stands. That would be the ultimate Fox moment.

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