Friday, June 12, 2009

The sun will rise, the sun will set and the Red Sox will beat the Yankees

The Yankees probably enjoyed this role reversal movie a little more than the one they're starring in right now. Photo from this site.

I know this isn’t a terribly original thought after the Red Sox’ stirring 4-3 win over the Yankees last night, but as someone who was living in New York during the Yankees’ recent dynasty, it’s still mind-boggling to see how dramatically the two teams have switched roles.

(So who stars as the Sox in the movie version? Kirk Cameron or Fred Savage?)

To watch the Sox last night was to once again be reminded of the Yankees from 1996-2001. It was always the manager opposing Joe Torre who left his ace starter out there too long. It was always the other team that was mixing flotsam and jetsam in a desperate attempt to bridge the gap between starter and closer. It was always the other team helplessly watching as the Yankees received clutch performances from role players such as Tim Raines, Chad Curtis, Jim Leyritz and Luis Sojo.

Now it’s Joe Girardi who is trying to coax 120-plus pitches out of CC Sabathia on a cold and rainy night and indicating his interpersonal skills might be better than his managerial skills. It’s the Yankees who are turning the eighth inning over to rookies like Phil Coke, who spent six years in the minors before he made his big league debut last season, and Alfredo Aceves, who spent six years in the Mexican League before he signed with a big league organization.

Fun fact: As good as the Yankees’ bullpen was during the dynasty—when the likes of Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson and Ramiro Mendoza excelled in setting up Mariano Rivera, whose dominance in a set-up role in 1996 redefined the role—it never had a season like the one Sox relievers are authoring. Manny Delcarmen’s struggles last night raised the bullpen’s ERA to 2.88, still the best in baseball. The Yankees’ lowest bullpen ERA between 1996 and 2001 was the 3.22 mark it fashioned in 1997.

And it’s the Yankees watching as Brad Penny, rescued off the scrap heap and seemingly not long for the rotation with John Smoltz returning, regularly hits the high 90s in allowing one run in six innings. It got worse after Penny left: Rocco Baldelli, who is battling a rare muscular disorder that saps his strength and has forced him to spend what should be his peak years as a reserve, made a diving, game-saving catch in the eighth and Nick Green, who collected 121 big league at-bats the previous three seasons, delivered a key hit in the bottom of the inning and ranged well to his right behind second base to rob—irony alert!!—Derek Jeter of a hit leading off the ninth.

It makes you wish this was 10 years ago, when George Steinbrenner was healthy and making his employees miserable, because can you imagine the fun he’d be having watching Green—who spent all of last season with the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate—beat the Yankees?

“Cashman! You let this guy get away! This is on you if we lose the pennant by one game! How did you let this happen?”

“But Boss we have a sure-fire Hall of Famer at shortstop and our middle infielders missed 21 starts last year.”

“Shut up! You’re not allowed to spend Thanksgiving at home! You’re going to watch Nick Green videos and eat Chef Boyardee out of a can!”

The Red Sox are better than the Yankees in every way—the micro and the macro, the measurable and the intangible. If everything seems to go right for the Sox, it’s because they prepare better than anyone else, just like the dynasty-era Yankees.

Along those lines, there’s a pretty good chance the Sox dominated the Yankees in the draft room the last three days, too. The Sox have drafted and signed 14 big leaguers since 2003. Three of their top draftees (David Murphy in 2003, Dustin Pedroia in 2004 and Jacoby Ellsbury in 2005) are in the majors and their top picks in 2006 (Jason Place), 2007 (Nick Hagadone) and 2008 (Casey Kelly) are still in the system and still viewed as prospects (and, in Kelly’s case, much more than that).

The Yankees have drafted and signed nine big leaguers since 2003. Phil Hughes (2004) is in the majors and Ian Kennedy (2006) made it to the bigs in a little over a year, but Eric Duncan (2003) is stalled at Triple-A and likely headed for minor league free agency after the season, C.J. Henry (2005) now plays basketball at Kansas, Andrew Brackman (2007) walked 10 batters in 3 1/3 innings in a start at Single-A in late May and Gerrit Cole (2008) couldn’t come to terms with the Yankees, which is a lot like Bill Gates getting outbid on EBay.

On draft day and every other day, the Sox are the dominant team and the Yankees are in futile pursuit. And unlike role reversal movies circa the late ‘80s, this is no fad.

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