10/13/2003 7:31 PM ET
All-Star infielders' bats still flat
Soriano shows patience, but Garciaparra still off
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
BOSTON -- Nomar Garcaiparra insists there is no need to worry, but do Boston Red Sox fans have to take his word?
Nomar, Soriano due to break out?
The matchup: Yankees leadoff man Alfonso Soriano and Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra are in awful slumps this series.
Soriano has shown little patience at the plate while going hitless in 11 at-bats. He can share bad at-bat stories with Garciaparra, who is 2-for-13 in the series and has fanned four times.
Soriano can have a series of bad at-bats, but run into a pitch and launch it deep, so there doesn't seem to be much worry in the Bronx. Also, he has succeeded against Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield -- 6-for-22 (.272) with two homers and four RBIs, although that included 0-for-3 with a strikeout in Game 1.
Garciaparra has had less success against Yankees starter Mike Mussina (2-for-13, including 0-for-3 with a strikeout in Game 1), plus manager Grady Little's explanation that's it's simply a little funk is not being accepted in Boston. The Boston Globe even wondered if Garciaparra is hiding an injury.
The expectation: Soriano made a series of adjustments and showed patience against Wakefield, and looked much better. Garciaparra knocked a hard liner to center field in his first at-bat, but clearly isn't swinging well.
The result: Check back after the game.
Alfonso Soriano gave the New York Yankees less reason for concern about his hitting, but it still isn't good.
Garciaparra, who occupies the important No. 3 position in Boston's batting order, and Soriano, the Yankees' leadoff man, entered Monday night's Game 4 of the American League Championship Series due for a breakout. By the end of the game, they were still due, but they have time.
Soriano mustered a walk to lead off the game and a fifth-inning single for his first hit of the series, during which he has batted .067 (1-for-15). Garciaparra will have to be happy with a hard line drive to center field in his first at-bat while going 0-for-4 for the game and falling to .118 (2-for-17) for the series. But Garciaparra did leave with fewer worries, because the Red Sox won, 3-2, to tie the series at two games apiece.
Garciaparra said he felt all right at the plate. "I hit the ball hard, lined out a couple of times," he said. "It's a good thing that we won. That's really all my concern.
"This team's been pretty resilient. Nobody gives up. Even if we were down, nobody gives up. But we like the fact that when you're down 2-1, you'd rather be back 2-2 than 3-1, definitely. There's a lot of baseball left. We've got to maintain playing good baseball."
Garciaparra's bat was one reason the Red Sox played excellent offensive baseball during the regular season, but he declined during the second half (.319 before the All-Star break, .274 afterward), bottomed out with a .171 September and hasn't bounced back. He still doesn't have a postseason RBI.
"I think hitters have these ups and downs during the course of the season," Sox manager Grady Little said going into the game. "We have an awfully good lineup here on our ballclub that's been very productive all season long.
"I think that we have been productive by being strong from No. 1 in the order all the way through No. 9 and at no time during the season have every one of them been swinging the bats well on the same day."
However, Boston is trying to win a championship without one of its marquee players swinging well at any point.
The one time that Soriano made hard contact sparked a brief Yankee threat in the fifth.
David Dellucci singled with one out, Soriano followed with his single and Derek Jeter knocked an RBI double, all against winning pitcher Tim Wakefield.
The Yankees managed no further scoring, but at least Soriano -- who could have scored had he not been held up by third base coach Willie Randolph on Jason Giambi's short fly ball to center -- was in the middle of something for his club.
Also, Soriano showed that he is thinking his way through the slump.
He walked just 38 times during the regular season, but carefully took a five-pitch walk from Wakefield, a tough-to-hit knuckleballer, on the opening plate appearance. Soriano, whose results were bad but not as bad as other Yankees against Wakefield before Monday, adjusted by moving to the front edge of the batter's box and keeping his feet quieter than usual when he swung. It paid off with the single.
The game ended with Soriano striking out -- for the sixth time in the series -- on nasty sliders from Boston closer Scott Williamson.
"It's always hard against him, because the ball doesn't move out of his hand," Soriano said. "You have to adjust and try to wait for a good pitch.
"It's tough to hit a knuckler for seven innings and then have a fastball coming at you at 92 or 95 mph. It's hard."
When it comes to taking hard falls in this series, Garciaparra and Soriano have company in their clubhouses. Boston's Bill Mueller, the AL batting champ, and New York cleanup hitter Giambi check in at .154 through four games.
Several players who hoped to have a great fall are having just that. But not everyone you'd expect.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.