Overcoming Torre is Team USA’s biggest win yet

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Four sacrifice bunt attempts in one game.

I’d be pretty disgusted if it were the Marlins trying such a thing to beat the Mets in mid-August. But, no, that’s what Team USA did on Sunday on its way to topping Canada 9-4.

Technically, it will go into the books at three sacrifice bunt attempts, since Shane Victorino merely fouled back his one attempt before later striking out in the seventh. The first two were successful, the second especially so. The first, coming in the second, was put down by Adam Jones with two on and none out. No runs followed, though. Ben Zobrist’s bunt in the fourth resulted in a Taylor Green error, scoring a run and opening the door for a two-run inning.

The last bunt was a huge flop, with Zobrist popping one up for the first out in the eighth. Fortunately, Jones bailed the team out afterwards, delivering a two-run double to put Team USA on top for good.

So, yes, everything worked out in the end. Even though Joe Torre’s team tried to give away four outs. Even though Giancarlo Stanton, the country’s (and maybe the world’s) best power hitter, sat out in favor of Shane Victorino. Even though Torre was more worried about making sure everyone got into the game than trying to win it.

And that last part may be the biggest problem of all. Joe Torre works for Major League Baseball. He made commitments to teams in return for acquiring the services of players. While the managers of Japan and the Dominican Republic are doing the best they can, within the WBC’s pitcher usage rules, to win their games, Torre is going above and beyond; making sure everyone gets a turn, not using a reliever after he’s already warmed up once and not letting any of his true relievers pitch more than an inning.

Of course, Torre isn’t exactly a tactical genius even when he doesn’t have to deal with such limitations. Witness today’s eighth-inning gem to intentionally walk light-hitting left-hander Pete Orr in a 5-4 game to load the bases for a left-handed-hitting pinch-hitter. Given that it meant a walk could force in a run, I doubt it improved the U.S.’s chances of staying ahead in the eighth. What it definitely did do is guarantee that Joey Votto would bat in the ninth, with Justin Morneau due up fourth, something that might have made a big difference had the U.S. offense not finally found itself and, absent any sac bunt attempts, piled on four runs in the top of the inning.

At age 73, this is probably Torre’s last time in a dugout. He was pretty close to a Hall of Famer as a player and he’s certainly going in as a manager after all of his success with the Yankees. And deservedly so. It’d be a nice victory lap for him if Team USA could somehow win the World Baseball Classic in its third try. Torre, though, needs to back off a bit, because he’s really hurting the cause right now.

Astros advance to the World Series with 4-0 finale against Yankees

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The Astros punched their ticket to the World Series on Saturday, shutting out the Yankees 4-0 to take their first Game 7 victory at home. Charlie Morton was nearly untouchable on the mound, holding the Yankees to two hits, a walk and five strikeouts en route to his first career postseason win.

Morton and Sabathia carried their duel through three solid innings. Morton struck out three batters and allowed just one baserunner. Sabathia worked in and out of jams in the second and third innings, supplying and stranding two runners in scoring position.

Evan Gattis was the first to strike. In the fourth inning, he punched a 2-2 slider from Sabathia into the left field wall, where it registered a projected 405 feet and broke a homer-less streak of 115 at-bats by designated hitters in the 2017 postseason. The home run signaled the beginning of the end for the Yankees’ starter. He induced a groundout from Marwin Gonzalez, then walked Brian McCann on six pitches and allowed Josh Reddick his first base hit of the playoffs. That was enough for Joe Girardi, who pulled Sabathia for righty Tommy Kahnle and an inning-ending double play to close out the fourth.

Even with Sabathia gone, there was still some hope that the middle of the order could bail the Yankees out. Greg Bird led off the fifth with a first pitch double and Aaron Hicks took a four-pitch walk. A wild pitch from Morton allowed Bird to reach third base, but Alex Bregman and Brian McCann weren’t about to let the Yankees spoil their starter’s shutout. Todd Frazier bounced a ball toward third base, where Bregman grabbed and fired it to home plate, catching Bird just as McCann put his glove down.

The bottom of the inning wasn’t any easier for Sabathia’s successors. Jose Altuve went oppo-taco on a 1-1 changeup from Kahnle, postmarking it 364 feet into the right field stands. Kahnle labored through the next four at-bats, handing out a pair of singles to Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel before sending Gattis down swinging. The next at-bat was even more troublesome. McCann roped a two-out, two-RBI double to the warning track in right field, clearing the bases and boosting the Astros’ to a cushy 4-0 lead.

The excitement fizzled a little over the next few innings. Brett Gardner muscled a leadoff single off of Lance McCullers, but was later caught at second on a force play to end the sixth. McCullers didn’t let go of the ball again. He was lights-out through the end of the game, scattering a walk and six strikeouts over four innings and clinching the pennant with a 1-2-3 performance in the ninth.

Whatever confidence the Astros had coming off of their three-game sweep in the Division Series was tested and tested again in their pennant run. They battled through three tough losses in Games 3 through 5, staved off elimination with a gem from Justin Verlander in Game 6, and finally emerged victorious tonight. Three days from now, when they enter Dodger Stadium for Game 1 of the World Series, they’ll have the chance to do it all again.