Boos, bombs rain on Johnson's outing
Randy Johnson's playoff debut wasn't what the Yankees expected when they acquired him in the offseason, writes Jim Caple.
NEW YORK -- It probably wasn't pleasant for the New York fans who sat through the nine innings and four hours of rain at Yankee Stadium during Game 4 Friday night. Then again, it probably was less comfortable sitting in the dry shelter of George Steinbrenner's owners box.
Poor George. He responded to last year's embarrassing postseason collapse in predictable fashion by awarding Halliburton a no-bid contract to rebuild the Yankees rotation. The Yankees invested $40 million on Carl Pavano, $21 million on Jaret Wright and $32 million on Randy Johnson. Yet now that we're in October, neither Pavano or Wright are in the rotation and Steinbrenner probably wished Johnson wasn't, either, during New York's 11-7 Game 3 loss to the Angels. In an awful performance, the Big Unit dug the Yankees into a 3-0 hole before their first at-bat and left trailing 5-0 in the fourth inning.
So with New York one loss from postseason elimination, its world championship drought at 1,805 days and George's face steadily turning the color of Chief Wahoo, the Yankees will start a pitcher who began the season with the Rockies and is 17 games below .500 for his career. Admittedly, Shawn Chacon has pitched well since New York picked him up (7-3, 2.85 ERA) but it's doubtful he's ever going to find his bronze image in Monument Park.
About the only positive for the Yankees was Angels catcher Bengie Molina getting hit with a pitch that knocked him from the game, albeit after he hit his third homer of the series. X-rays on Molina's elbow were negative but his status for Game 4 is uncertain. Of course, even if he isn't able to play, the Angels could probably put their extraordinary utility player, Chone Figgins, behind the plate and do just fine. After making a possibly game-saving, diving stop at third base in Game 2, Figgins moved to center and made a possible game-saving diving catch there.
"He's probably capable," scheduled Game 4 starter Jarrod Washburn said. "If we asked Figgy to get in there, he would."
Angels fans must forgive me for not giving their team its proper due, but the way Anaheim is playing, there will be many more opportunities to talk about its superb defense, small-ball style and well-rounded attack (it doesn't get much more balanced than having one Molina brother homer and the other brother score on a suicide squeeze). The Yankees, however, appear to have a shorter shelf life.
Fans were under the assumption that the Yankees acquired Johnson specifically to win games like Friday's, to be the dominating stopper they were missing against Boston. After all, he had already beaten the Yankees five times in as many postseason meetings -- twice when he was with the Mariners in the 1995 division series and three more times with Arizona in the 2001 World Series. He was such an icepick to their heart that he beat them on consecutive days ... in November.
He was, shall we say, less effective Friday. He's spent almost his entire home career pitching in domed stadiums but he struggled in the rain, allowing nine hits -- five for extra-bases -- in three-plus innings. And the damage could have been far worse but Aaron Small bailed Johnson out by stranding two runners when he took over with no outs in the fourth.
"If you don't make your pitches," Johnson said, "regardless of who you are, they'll make you pay for it."
Almost every Angels batter blistered the ball off him, beginning with Figgins, who took him to the warning track on the very first at-bat. Four batters later, Garret Anderson broke an 0-for-8 with a three-run homer. The always-patient, ever-appreciative Yankees fans began booing Johnson in the third inning and chased him off the field with the sort of chorus of boos they normally reserve for when the Red Sox come to town or when the vendors cut off beer sales.
"If I had paid for a ticket and watched that, I would have booed, too," Johnson said. "They have come to expect a lot more out of me. I expect more out of me. It's one thing to have a game like this during the regular season because you have a couple games to redeem yourself but you don't in the postseason."
The Yankees rallied to take a 6-5 lead, but New York's bullpen couldn't hold it. While Small -- 10-0 for the Yankees this season -- bailed Johnson out of that one jam, he wound up allowing two runs, as did relievers Tom Gordon and Al Leiter. The defense had a hand in those runs, making two more errors -- including a strange gaffe when Robinson Cano took his foot off the bag on a force play at second base -- to give New York five in this series.
"I'm not concerned about our being in the game or our ability or stuff like that," manager Joe Torre said. "Yeah, we're making errors. I'm not trying to make an excuse for it. It's just -- let's put it this way. I'm satisfied with the way we're going about it."
It's safe to say that if New York doesn't win Saturday, someone in the owners box will not share the same sentiment.
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," was published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.