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It's Good. It's Good.
2008-07-09 16:49
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

On "Support The 'Stache" day at Yankee Stadium, Jason Giambi got the Yankees on the board in the bottom of the first with a two-out single that plated Derek Jeter from second base. Sidney Ponson then miraculously made that run hold up for five innings by stranding six baserunners (including three in the third inning) and erasing two others via a first-inning double-play and a caught stealing by Jose Molina, which ended the fifth.

Carlos Peña led of the sixth inning by trying to bunt his way on base, but his attempt rolled foul. Three pitches later, he launched a Ponson pitch into the bleachers in right center to tie the game at 1-1.

And so it remained, through a pair of perfect innings by Jose Veras and Kyle Farnsworth. In the seventh, Melky Cabrera led off with a single and was bunted to second by Jose Molina, but J.P. Howell relieved Edwin Jackson and struck out Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter to strand Cabrera. Mariano Rivera worked around a one-out walk in the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth, DH Jorge Posada led off with a walk and was pinch-run for by Justin Christian, who was then bunted to second by Robinson Cano. After Grant Balfour came on in relief of Howell, Christian stole third base, but Howell struck out Melky and got Molina to pop out to force extra innings.

Mo was perfect in the top of the tenth, and with one out in the bottom of the inning, Jeter worked an eight-pitch walk against Balfour. Bobby Abreu then fouled off four straight fastballs from Balfour, took a slider low for a ball, and then laced another slider into the gap in right center for a game-winning double, his first walk-off hit as a Yankee.

The Yankees thus swept the first-place Rays in their short two-game series and improved to 7-5 against Tampa Bay on the season. The Yanks played loosely and confidently in this series, as evidenced by their embracing Mustache Day (Joe Girardi conducted his entire post-game interview looking like this), and by class clowns Cano and Cabrera dumping a cooler of ice water over Abreu's head as Kim Jones was preparing to conduct an on-field interview with him after the game.

With the sweep, the Yankees have pulled up to 6.5 games behind the Rays in the AL East. The Yanks are also just a game behind the Twins and a half game behind the A's in the Wild Card race, though they still trail the Red Sox, who beat the Twins at Fenway today, by 4.5 games.

That's the good news. The bad news is that, while the Yankees have won four games in a row, they have only averaged 3.5 runs scored over those four games and 3.63 runs per game over their last 11 contests. Setting aside their 18-run outburst against the Rangers a week ago, they've averaged 2.4 runs per game in ten of their last 11 games. Take out their two game-winning runs in extra innings, and they've scored just 2.2 runs per game during regulation in those ten games. It's a great credit to their pitching staff, particularly their bullpen, that they've gone 6-5 in those last 11 games.

Here are the starter's on-base percentages over those 11 games:

.368 - Robinson Cano (10 GS)
.360 - Jose Molina (7 GS)
.355 - Alex Rodriguez (11 GS)
.355 - Derek Jeter (10 GS)
.346 - Johnny Damon (8 GS)
.315 - Jason Giambi (9 GS)
.307 - Jorge Posada (10 GS)
.302 - Bobby Abreu (10 GS)
.222 - Wilson Betemit (6 GS)
.216 - Melky Cabrera (10 GS)
.212 - Brett Gardner (7 GS)

Okay, so maybe Molina's not the problem. Melky's picking things up, and Betemit has been sitting with Jorge Posada DHing, but Brett Gardner's game is built around his ability to get on base and he needs to start proving it. Hopefully Johnny Damon will only miss the minimum and be back soon after the All-Star break. I just worry that the break will allow Molina and Melky to cool back off. However it breaks down, it's clear that Damon and Hideki Matsui, who's off to Tampa to kick his rehabbing up a notch, can't get back soon enough.

Comments
2008-07-09 20:52:11
1.   Mattpat11
Something about Gardner reminds me of Mark Bellhorn. Taking a ton of pitches does not necessarily mean you have this great sense of the strikezone. It just means you take a lot of pitches.
2008-07-09 21:34:39
2.   Shaun P
I want Gardner to start getting on base too, and when I worry about him, I remind myself he still doesn't have 30 ABs in the bigs yet.

It'd be nice to see the bats bust out the whopping sticks for the next 4 games.

2008-07-09 21:55:28
3.   bobtaco
You know, I like all the joking around lately. I can't really imagine Joe Torre supporting the 'Stache like Girardi today. Hopefully, they can keep it loose and continue with this run.
2008-07-09 22:33:17
4.   Schteeve
I don't know when people decided that Gardner was anything better than a maybe bench player, but he isn't. His respectability in the minors, doesn't project to translate, because he slugs like a pitcher. Good defensive replacement, great pinch runner, but I wouldn't waste any time waiting for him to start hitting.
2008-07-09 23:03:26
5.   Cliff Corcoran
4 His ability to play center field lowers the offensive bar, but, yeah, he's most likely a fourth outfielder in the long run. That said, Kevin Long is trying to get him to put his legs into his swing and thinks he can hit for respectable power, which would make his minor league OBPs sustainable in the majors. Word is Gardner hit one into the upper deck in right during BP yesterday, but his game swings were all arms.
2008-07-10 03:35:56
6.   williamnyy23
1 If I am not mistaken, Bellhorn used to always lead the league in taking called third strikes. What Bellhorn did have going for him, however, was a little pop. You couldn't simply pour a fastball down the middle to him, which I think you can do to Gardner.

2 It may only be 30 ABs, but from my untrained eye, I see a hitter who seems to lack many fundamentals. He completely swings with his upper body and shows absolutely no ability to turn on a fastball. That kind of game might work in the minors, but not up in the bigs.

4 I think what people are forgetting is that Gardner has compiled his numbers in the minors at an advanced age: 21 in rookie ball; 23-24 in the high minors. If he didn't have solid numbers, he wouldn't even be minor league filler. Gardner's one major league level asset is his speed, so I agree that his role is as a late inning defensive replacement and pinch runner.

5 It worries me when I hear that a 24-year old rookie is only now being taught how to hit.

2008-07-10 03:38:04
7.   williamnyy23
Off topic, Arod made himself one-quarter billion in his new contract, yet AP chose to look at the cup as being half empty with the following headline and lead. Ridiculous.

A-Rod loses $200,000 in All-Star bonuses

Alex Rodriguez's decision to opt out of his contract last October cost him $200,000 in All-Star bonuses from the New York Yankees this year.

2008-07-10 04:18:36
8.   OldYanksFan
8 Maybe we can take up a collection?
2008-07-10 04:35:40
9.   Shaun P
4 5 It is possible to have middling power and still contribute. For example, this line - .305/.361/.373 - was good for 30.1 VORP in 2003. So while I don't think Gardner is a long-term solution, he certainly could be useful.

6 Or perhaps that 24-year-old is just taking time to adjust to major league pitching, and so is pressing, and is not using his legs.

Someone ask Chad Jennings - was Gardner using his legs at AAA? My guess is yes.

2008-07-10 04:57:03
10.   williamnyy23
9 There is something to be said for making an adjustment to major league pitching, but that usually doesn't include a complete regression of hitting fundamentals. I've never seen Gardner in the minors, so I'd definitely be interested in the thoughts of someone who has.
2008-07-10 05:06:53
11.   Sliced Bread
10 I'm not trying to sugarcoat Gardner. He's looked overmatched at times, but just because Long is working with him doesn't mean he's being taught how to hit. He's made it this far for a reason. Young hitters can fall into bad habits, especially when they're anxiously trying to prove their worth. Long's job is to break those habits.
2008-07-10 05:20:43
12.   williamnyy23
11 I am not sure Long is trying to break a bad habit as much as teach him a new way to hit. Going from an all upper body approach to using your legs is a pretty dramatic change. Unless Gardner has really regressed in his short MLB stint, it does seem to me as if Long is re-teaching Gardner how to hit.
2008-07-10 05:31:53
13.   Sliced Bread
12 I can't pinpoint the at-bats for you, but we've seen a few good cuts from Gardner. He's not all upper body.

Does anybody know if Groucho Girardi was asked about the Cano bunt?
I might have been the only Banterer who didn't have a problem with it at the time.

I think the plan was for Christian to steal second before Cano laid it down. I'm pretty sure Robby showed bunt on a few pitches, to give Christian an opening, but the kid didn't go.

After Christian advanced on Cano's successful bunt (shocking!), during the pitching change, Meacham talked to him at 2nd base, and from what I'm reading in the papers, he was urging the kid to be more aggressive. Meacham's approach with the kid made me wonder if it was more than that. Did Christian miss a steal sign during Cano's at-bat? Was he told in advance to bolt at the first opportunity?

Anyway, when the bats are struggling as they've been lately, I have no problem with calling for the bunt. Robby's heating up, but not so great that he can't be asked to lay one down in the 9th inning of a tie game, as I see it.

Despite the percentages, I don't think Girardi was crazy or irresponsible to think one of the lesser bats behind Cano could get the run in.

2008-07-10 06:05:54
14.   Shaun P
10 I saw Gardner play once earlier this year at AAA, and to be honest, I don't remember his swing at all. FWIW, I remember liking his approach. He did seem to have a very good knowledge of the strike zone.

I have a ton of pics from that game, so I'll go through them when I get a chance and see if they shed any light. Or at least, as much light as a few pics from a couple of ABs of one random AAA game shed. =)

Of course, last night Chad Jennings posted that he'll be on vacation until Monday, so I guess we have to wait to ask.

2008-07-10 06:09:34
15.   horace-clarke-era
Gardner, I agree with Cliff, is a likely 4th OF, though I'm not sure william's right to say that 23-24 is 'old' in the high minors. I do have a sense he does the 'body' equivalent of choking up on the bat when under 2 strike (or simply big league) pressure ... in other words, he stops using his legs. I believe THAT is what Long's trying to adjust ... not to teach him to do it but to keep him from NOT doing it under pressure. The K's yesterday afternoon really did look like a little league kid up there HOPING to be walked. Early days, but watching him and the Melkman I do find myself half-joining those here wanting a CF for next year. The shopping list grows?

Like the Breadman here, I had zero problem with Cano bunting, only with the obvious amateurishness and sheer LUCK of his technique in getting it down. He reminded me of the scene in Men in Tights when Robin and Little John find their dueling staves shrinking.

I know there is little time to drill players during the season with few off-days, but with the young ones this is surely a major part of the coaching staff's job?

And to be contrarian, I thought Girardi's stache gig, far from showing how Torre's era wasn't relaxed, felt like an attempt to show he COULD be as relaxed. I have been arguing all along that Torre's calm and relaxed manner through last year's early traumas were what allowed the team to stay loose and confident enough to make that 2nd half surge.

2008-07-10 06:13:53
16.   Sliced Bread
Here's a YES network profile on Gardner.

He's flatfooted in his approach. Not a lot of leg in his swing, which definitely accounts for his lack of power.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EI7Pvc-ZJe0

I wouldn't say Long is trying to teach him how to hit, but, like Cliff says, it attempting to maximize whatever power he has.

2008-07-10 06:22:58
17.   Sliced Bread
While everybody who's not trying to sell newspapers, or TV shows, is trying to downplay A-Rod's marital problems, I'm worried about the third baseman.

Yeah, Alex has shown that he can shine in the midst of adversity, but don't underestimate the amount of pressure he's currently under from the paparazzi.

Have you seen any of the footage of him leaving his apartment? He's getting dogged by major league midges, and they're following him, and his wife everywhere.

He didn't fly with the team so he could take care of something today, as Girardi explained.

I'm not sure what Alex can do, or say to get the pack of scavenger dogs off his back -- but how fitting was it that a coyote pup was discovered wandering around the Bronx, of all places, yesterday?

2008-07-10 06:28:23
18.   williamnyy23
13 I think I've seen every Gardner AB, and maybe one or two good swings stand out, but both were balls hit the other way (a hard grounder to Lowell stands out). I don't think I can even remember a well struck foul ball that was pulled. It may not be all upper body, but it very close.
2008-07-10 06:31:49
19.   williamnyy23
17 In a weird way, I think off the field distractions are a good thing for Arod because they might prevent him from dwelling on that 2-2 pitch he just missed two days ago...or his inability to knock in runners from third...etc. When Arod thinks about baseball too much, he goes into a slump.
2008-07-10 06:32:15
20.   horace-clarke-era
The A Rod circus will be in town till one with a newer act shows up. That's NY. And it'll get new life when the proceedings start, though that may be after the season. There is a LOT of money involved and there WILL be specific allegations made of name, time, place for other women.

Alex is one of the few athletes, because of his income, who slides into the 'nationwide celeb' category for the media hounds and when you add Madonna, who is one of their prime targets, this will be circus squared.

Hmm, maybe a reason to sign Bonds! (Kidding, kidding!)

2008-07-10 06:36:57
21.   williamnyy23
15 23-24 isn't old for the high minors. In fact, AAA is full of much older players just hanging on. That age is, however, old for a prospect. Before you project a player's minor league stats, you have to consider his age.
2008-07-10 06:37:12
22.   Felix Heredia
Hey people - I think it's time to stop bashing Sidney Ponson. Last night he was mixing Wang-like 91 mph sinking fastballs with Moose-like two seam fastballs. If the guy can eat six innings (and he appears to be able to eat a lot of things) and give the Yankees a chance to win, he's very valuable.

Besides, he's a knight. Sir Sidney Alton Ponson. It's true.

2008-07-10 06:37:55
23.   williamnyy23
20 The bottom of the Yankees lineup is a reason to sign Barry Bonds.
2008-07-10 06:40:59
24.   Sliced Bread
make no mistake, I don't feel sorry for A-Rod. He invited the midge swarm into his life cavorting (even if innocently, which seems unlikely, if not impossible) with Madonna.

but I'm worried about him because he didn't look comfortable yesterday. Maybe I'm reading too much into his body language, but he didn't look right.

I hope this is just another dramatic episode in his life, and that he and wifey-poo work things out. They've been together a long time, they have kids. Work it out for the sake of the team, ARod.

Both home teams need you, big fella.

2008-07-10 06:44:46
25.   Sliced Bread
22 I'll give you this: When they signed Sid, I said I'd rather see Igawa. I'm not so sure about that now, no matter what Iggy's doing in triple-A
2008-07-10 06:50:29
26.   Rob Middletown CT
22 I won't argue with the results so far, because they've exceeded expectations. He's not a good pitcher, though. He's got baserunners coming out his ears. It's only a matter of time before he gets pounded (actually, he already did get pounded once, but the Yanks offense woke up and won the game).

I want Phil back.

2008-07-10 06:51:56
27.   JL25and3
22] I'm sorry, I don't think I'll ever be able to stop bashing Sir Sidney.
2008-07-10 06:54:30
28.   JL25and3
Btw, Sliced, you should take a look at my response to you on the Harry S. Truman thread.
2008-07-10 06:59:19
29.   Sliced Bread
28 [ignorance on] The Truman thread?
2008-07-10 07:02:58
30.   JL25and3
29 Oops, my bad. It wasn't you, it was RIYank. You guys look so much alike, I always have trouble telling you apart.
2008-07-10 07:14:32
31.   Chyll Will
30 Leave tha brothas alone, man! >;) BTW, did you ever see my home post about a certain blank space down Beekman Avenue way?
2008-07-10 07:22:49
32.   Shaun P
28 Not to go all CC on you JL, but isn't that Harry S Truman (no period)?

How did I miss that thread?

2008-07-10 07:31:10
33.   vockins
20 I don't have any trouble thinking of reasons to sign Bonds.
2008-07-10 07:47:26
34.   Chyll Will
20 Horace, if the A-Rod circus gets way out of hand even for him, that's EXACTLY why they would sign Bonds...
2008-07-10 07:48:25
35.   pistolpete
23 By the time Bonds gets back in game shape, we could have Damon and/or Matsui back anyway. What then?
2008-07-10 07:55:36
36.   Raf
35 You rotate them in and out of games. I'm sure the Yanks can find AB's for a hitter of Bonds' caliber.
2008-07-10 08:07:24
37.   monkeypants
I was at the game--great seats, great game.

12 The problem I had with Cano bunting is who was was following him. Why bunt a player to 2B and sacrifice an out in order to set the table for Melky, Molina, and Gardner. Of that lot I would have taken my chances with Cano getting a hit, rather than relying on the other three.

Now, if Girardi had planned to PH for Molina, with etemit againstthe RH reliver who came in the game, that's another story.

But once again, a close game saw Molina still batting in the late innings, Moeller still playing solitaire in the clubhouse, and a pretty inflexible Yankee bench.

My only other beef with the game from a tactical perspective: I did call for Girardi to quit while he was ahead and pull Ponson after 5, then go to Veras for 2 innings. It was odd not having the fellow banterers to annoy with my tactical wizardry!

Anyway, minor complaints about an otherwise excellent game. The most entertaining I have seen in years (in person). And the view was great from Tier Section 4 Row V.

2008-07-10 08:08:01
38.   JL25and3
32 That was the discussion. It's not at all clear.
2008-07-10 08:17:36
39.   pistolpete
36 There's no guarantees Bonds jumps right back into being the hitter he's been the last few seasons. IMO it's not worth the public scorn & aggravation just to get 10-12 extra HRs and about 30 RBI from now until the end of the year.

Besides, if the rest of the lineup continues to hit like it's been hitting, Bonds will simply be walked most of the time anyway.

2008-07-10 08:22:32
40.   williamnyy23
39 I'd be willing to take a chance on Bonds being able to hit and certainly wouldn't allow public scorn to deter me from trying to win games. Also, what's wrong with Bonds being walked most of the time? This team could benefit from having more runners on base and a hitter who takes more pitches.
2008-07-10 08:25:37
41.   Raf
39 Screw the public scorn and aggravation. The objective is to win games. There was much handwringing when the Yanks picked up Darryl Stawberry, Steve Howe, Doc Gooden, etc. Those moves worked out quite well, IIRC.

If Bonds gets walked, that's a good thing. Can't score if you don't get on base.

Bat him 3-4 in the lineup, and let him work. Even if he's 1/2 the hitter that he is, he'll still be effective.

2008-07-10 08:32:26
42.   Sliced Bread
37 yeah, who knew that would turn out to be a memorable (for positive reasons) game to attend? Glad you had a good time, and Ponson didn't spoil your visit to the Stadium.
2008-07-10 08:33:19
43.   williamnyy23
Looks like Dustin McGowan has fallen victim to the innings limit rule. McGowan jumped from 111 professional innings in 2006 to 190+ last season. Isn't JP Riccardi supposed to be a progressive GM?
2008-07-10 08:34:01
44.   Shaun P
39 OBP is life, life is OBP. Nobody does OBP like Barry does OBP.

37 That's awesome, monkeypants, glad you got to see a great game. Nothing like a walk-off win! mehmattski, IIRC, saw one of the TB games too. Except for poor Bama Yankee, us out of towner Banterers seem to have good luck seeing games this year.

And you were worried that you were seeing the game Pontoon was pitching. =)

38 I had no idea there was a question about it. I lost bonus points on a history quiz in junior high (I think?) because I put the period after the S, so I've always remembered it as not belonging. Wow.

2008-07-10 08:36:37
45.   Shaun P
43 I think he lost his way a long, long time ago.

Though in fairness, once the pitcher hits 25 - which is what McGowan was last season - I think the rule might not apply anymore; I don't remember clearly.

2008-07-10 09:07:32
46.   horace-clarke-era
43 william, that is really interesting ... I hadn't tracked the innings at all. Shaun, I think the age 25, age 26 thing is a rough marker, and a jump of 80+ innings is hard, period.

There is no way to prove it is the innings jump, and it might be too easy to dive back into this debate (whatever happened to complete games, where have you gone Bert Blyleven, etc.) but I am completely comfortable with the Yankees 'babying' Joba so far. I have a bit of a worry now about PKH, since his injuries, twice now, mean his innings still need to be very closely monitored ... in other words, he is likely to be in the Joba position next year, best I gather, with a cap.

And yes, Shaun, the odds on Ricciardi keeping his job have to be pretty long. The Jays made a major salary jump, committed to some people long long term, and are slipping.

2008-07-10 09:37:54
47.   pistolpete
40 41 44 All I'm saying is that he's been on the shelf for half a year now and I don't think it's worth the trouble to get him back in game shape, especially with Damon and Matsui possibly coming back. With Posada also not catching full-time anymore, we're dealing with what, 4-5 DHs?

Someone might say to simply but him back behind the plate and just bench Molina, but then our defense drops a few notches. If Bonds was a utility infielder, I don't think I'd be having the same issues. If he was able to effectively replace Betemit, I'd be more willing to give this a shot.

Sorry, but I'm also still burned by the Clemens fiasco. Was that really worth all the hype and money for 6 lousy wins?

2008-07-10 12:19:24
48.   Shaun P
47 Forget the bad outcome; the Yanks probably wouldn't have make the playoffs last year without Clemens.

I think Posada has not been catching because, with Damon and Matsui on the shelf, DH has been open - so why not get Posada rest now, when its easy to do, and avoid his typical September swoon? Add in the heat and I've no worries about Jorge. Or finding ABs for Bonds. Especially if Matsui's knee knocks him out for the year.

And FWIW, Bonds' agent says Barry would be ready to hit major league pitching in 10 days. Caveat emptor, but if true . . . its a whole 'nother ballgame.

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