All is right in Yankeeland because Mariano Rivera got Jim Thome to ground out to second for the final out of the game, preserving the 7-6 for the Yankees in a game that started with previously-struggling Randy Johnson no-hitting the powerful White Sox lineup through six innings, earning the team a split of the first two games of this three-game set. But that doesn’t eliminate the unnecessary drama caused by poor decision making in the Yankee dugout in the seventh inning, which can all be pinned on one man.
It took about ten minutes for Randy Johnson to go from dominating the White Sox’ lineup to struggling and unable to work out of a jam. And it’s all Ron Guidry’s fault.
Why is it Ron Guidry’s fault? Well for starters, it can’t be Randy Johnson’s fault. He pitched a tremendous game, carrying a no-hitter through six innings, and had to sit through a long rest while the Yankees scored two in their half of the inning. So if it’s not Johnson’s fault, the blame lies with the team management, with the people who make the in-game substitutions.
But I can’t blame it on Joe Torre because I’m familiar with his work. I knew long before last night’s game that Joe Torre can’t handle a pitching staff, especially in this type of situation. I know that Joe Torre must think that a pitcher can’t experience a mental let-down after surrendering a no-hitter late, that the mental part of the game is a myth. I know that Joe Torre’s thought process as Johnson struggled in the seventh must have gone something like this: he’s in the seventh; he just had a long rest and is probably a little tight; he just gave up the no-hitter and probably just wants to be done with his night; he’s really struggling and we’re potentially one big swing away from being in a fight for what is now a must-win; Ron Villone is warm and ready to go in the bullpen; in addition to our regular offensive injuries, we’re also without Johnny Damon and Jason Gaimbi; ah, what the heck, let’s leave him in there.
So if I can’t blame Joe Torre, I have to blame Ron Guidry. I have to blame Ron Guidry for not knowing what I know about Joe Torre. I have to blame Ron Guidry for not grabbing Torre, giving him a smack in the side of the head, and saying to him, "It’s my pitching staff, and I’m taking him out."
As it turned out, Jermaine Dye — the first batter to come to the plate after the point where it was completely apparant that Johnson was done — almost delivered that big shot, but his blast hit the right field wall to score one run instead of going over to score three, which would have cut the Yankee lead to 7-4 in the bottom of the seventh. If that had happened, the White Sox’ four-run outburst in the bottom of the eighth would have given them an 8-7 win instead of leaving them a run short of tying the game.
It wasn’t until after Dye’s double that the Yankees finally called on Villone, who was wild early but eventually retired the side without allowing another run to preserve the Yankees’ 7-2 lead.
Even though Joe Crede’s three-run homerun in the eighth inning made it a 7-6 game, which meant that that "throw-away" seventh inning could have resulted in a completely different outcome, it turned out all right for the Yankees, but they shouldn’t have had to rely on Ron Villone working out of a two-on, no out jam — which then became a bases loaded, no out jam — and Mariano Rivera getting four outs to do it.
Looking back, this is why many Yankee fans wanted the living legend Leo Mazzone to serve as the pitching coach for this team instead of the rookie Ron Guidry. It had nothing to do with a lack of knowledge or a lack of teaching ability. It had to do with experience and the confidence that goes along with it. Where Guidry might feel a need to acquiesce to Torre, Mazzone has the confidence to do what he feels best. In any close race for the Yankee pitching coach, it’s never a bad idea to go with the guy who will keep Joe Torre as far away as possible.
Maybe Ron Guidry last night, by failing to take the reigns from Joe Torre, hurt his starting pitcher’s psyche by allowing him to get banged around and pulling him on a bad note, and maybe he indirectly put extra strain on Mariano Rivera, who had to come in to get four outs to save what was once a 7-0 seventh inning lead. But let’s ignore that and, since the Yankees held onto the lead and won the game, call it no harm, no foul. But consider this your warning, Guidry. Now you’ve seen how Joe (mis)handles a pitching staff, so there’s no excuse. I expect this error to be corrected immediately.