Monthly archives: June 2006
The Mets, Take Two
The Mets have the best record in the National League, 3.5 games better than the Cardinals, lead their division by 11 games over the Phillies, and are two games better than the crosstown Yankees. Of course the Metropolitans play in a weaker league and a far weaker division than the Bombers. Still, when these two teams faced off in Shea Stadium in late May, they played a trio of one-run games and the Mets took the series two games to one having outscored the Yankees by a single run. It was every bit as close as that sounds, with the first two games being decided in the victor's final at-bat and the third ending with the tying run on base.
At the time, the Yankees were at their most banged up, with Jorge Posada and Kyle Farnsworth unable to participate thus reducing the available roster to 23 men. Since then both teams have jettisoned the dead weight from their rosters (though Robinson Cano's injury has reinstated some to the Yankees'), the Yankees releasing Scott Erickson and designating Aaron Small for assignment, the Mets designating Jose Lima, trading Jeremi Gonzalez, Kaz Matsui and Jorge Julio, and, for good measure, releasing Bartolome Fortunato, the other pitcher obtained in the Kazmir trade who, like Victor Zambrano, had been placed on the 60-day DL following Tommy John surgery.
As a result, the Mets that the Yankees will face this weekend, despite their just-concluded sweep at the hands of the streaking Red Sox, are a better team than the one the Yankees saw in May. The Mets have the second best offense in the National League, led by old Yankee-killer Carlos Delgado, 23-year-old David Wright, who is one big postseason away from rivaling Derek Jeter as the city's biggest sports star, Carlos Beltran, who is serving up crow to his doubters daily by having the best year of his career, and Jose Reyes, who's finally drawing walks thus becoming a weapon rather than a liability in the lead-off spot. To that tremendous core, they've added Jose Valentin at second base, slugging .529 in place of Kaz Matsui's .200/.235/.269 performance, pushing Xavier Nady's .497 slugging all the way down to the seventh spot in the order.
The Mets also have the second stingiest pitching staff in the NL, trailing only the Petco-assisted Padres. Tom Glavine, experiencing a Mussina-like resurgence, and Pedro Martinez give them a pair of Hall-of-Fame aces in the front of their rotation, both of which the Yankees will be fortunate to miss this weekend. Meanwhile the Mets bullpen has been the best in baseball, posting a staggering 3.19 ERA with only frustrated starter Aaron Heilman currently sporting an ERA above 2.80. Yes, even Darren Oliver has pitched well this year, posting a 1.02 WHIP and a 2.45 ERA as the long man in the pen.
Incidentally, I find Heilman's to be an interesting case. Originally ticketed to be the fifth starter, he was passed over for the job by Willie Randolph in favor of rookie Brian Bannister despite a 1.59 spring ERA. As the primary set-up man in the bullpen He posted a 1.42 ERA through May 22, during which span he was twice passed over for openings in the rotation when injuries to Bannister and Victor Zambrano lead to the desperation employment of Jeremi Gonzalez and Jose Lima because Randolph claimed that Heilman had become too valuable in his role to move out of the pen. The Mets finally came to their senses, releasing Lima on May 20, but instead of relenting and moving Heilman to the rotation, where he'd both be most valuable and most happy, they reached down to double-A to promote Alay Soler. Since then, Heilman has posted an 8.66 ERA.
Tonight the Yankees send Mike Mussina, who won a tense duel against Dontrelle Willis his last time out, to the mound to face old Yankee warhorse Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. El Duque, who last (and first) faced the Yankees as a member of the eventual World Champion White Sox last year was traded to Arizona this winter in a package for another ex-Yankee Javier Vazquez only to return to New York just days after the last meeting between these two teams in exchange for misbegotten Kris Benson trade booty Jorge Julio. Since then he's made six starts for the Metropolitans, the best being a three-hit complete game against his ex-teammates in Phoenix and the worst being his last, when he was sent packing after surrendering six runs while getting just five outs in Toronto. Sounds about right from the fiery Cuban with the Milk Dud head. His starts are like a box of chocolates. Indeed, his style is much the same, hitters never know what they're gonna get, how hard, or from what angle. With Moose working his Bugs Bunny change and Duque always a threat to lob in an eephus, tonight's match-up should be a lot of fun to watch, no matter who comes out on top.
Meanwhile, for the first time since the '80s, the Mets are threatening the Yankees' grip on the back pages (remember, the Yanks were repeat Champions entering the 2000 World Series while the Mets were considered serial chokers). These three games could go along way toward reestablishing order should the Yankees prevail in a convincing manner. On the other hand, if the Mets take the series, clinching just their second season series victory over the Yankees in the now ten-year history of interleague play (the other coming in 2004), los nuevos Mets just might wind up painting the town orange and blue all over again.
The Man You Want to Love, but Love to Hate
I saw a big, bald-headed Spanish guy wearing a maroon throwback Mike Schmidt jersey (with a 1979 barnstorming tour in Japan on the sleeve) today on the 1 train. The guy looked to be in his mid-to-late thirties. I didn't really catch him until we were about to both exit the train. He was with two other kids, both in their early twenties I'd guess, maybe younger. I caught the dude's eye as we went through the turnstiles. I complimented on him on the jersey and one of the kids says to the dude, "That's the second guy on that's said something to you since we got on the train."
I told them that I had Schmidt on the brain lately thinking about the kind of treatment Alex Rodriguez is getting from a lot of Yankee fans this year. But before I could finish getting the words Alex Rodriguez out of my mouth, one of the younger kids skipped ahead of me as we walked down the steps of the 231st street station and said definitively, "A Rod sucks."
I think Rodriguez is a great player of course. Got a piece on him over at SI.com today, just in time for the subway serious. I enjoy rooting for Rodriguez because his at-bats, particularly at home, really seem to matter. Just like they do for all of the superduper stars. Though he has not come through as often as Yankee fans would like he has had many great moments in his two-plus years with the team. As Ben Kabak points out today, Rodriguez particularly struggles when the Bombers are behind, so when Yankee fans are amped for a rally, that is when Rodriguez is faltering, magnifying his failures in the process.
Have you ever heard the term "passing?" Until recently, I had not. The way I heard it used, "passing" refers to a situation where you decide not to address something that might offend you. For instance, you are in a conversation with some people--at work let's say--and somebody says something bigoted. It bothers you but you choose, for whatever reason, not to confront it. You change the subject or ignore it altogether. That's called passing.
Most of us encounter these kinds of situations all the time. Two days ago at the ball game, I found myself unable to "pass." I was watching the Yankee game with my cousin and two guys I played high school ball with--one of whom is a good friend. The two jocks started talking about women and baseball and the gist of the discussion was, "Let's make fun of women because they don't have a clue when it comes to sports." I just knew where the conversation was going and it instantly made me uncomfortable, not only because my girlfriend is a devoted fan but because sitting in front of us was a woman who is more knowledgable about the game than most men could ever hope to be.
I caught myself and thought, "Aha, so this is a 'passing' sitation." At first I didn't know how I was going to respond. One instinct was to join them. I had an ideal story. Earlier in the day, my cousin Eric and I were playing stickball on 5th street between first and second avenues. We were pressed for time and only had about ten minutes left to play when a sexy young thing walked towards us. She had been watching us play for a few minutes when she approached me and said, "Can I play?" She was friendly and exceedingly cute. How do you say "no" to that? If I were single, I'd have turned into Charlie Lau and not only let her play with us but I'd teach her how to hit, anything, in the process. But not only am I not single, I don't have wandering eyes like that and am not that tempted to flirt with hot young East Village women. So I told her that it was nice of her to ask but that we only had a few more minutes left and we wanted to finish our game. "But if you ever see us playing down here again, feel free to stop by and you can join us then." I was as friendly as possible and it felt good not to compromise the moment Eric and I were sharing. She looked surprised--not quite comprehending how we could turn such an offer down--and quietly walked away.
Anyhow, I was pleased with how I handled the situation--tactfully but with conviction. Now, I could use this story as a way to join the "He Man Woman Hater's Club" brewing behind me. Screw women, this is our sport, kind of a thing. I turned around to the guys and instead of directly confronting their chauvanism, or joining it, I started talking to them about Emily and how much of a baseball fan she's become. I told them that sometimes Em will ask me what I think is a ridiculously stupid question but other times she'll come up with something simple and logical that I just can't answer. For instance, say the Yankees are at home and have a runner on first. If the opposing pitcher throws over to first more than once the crowd--any home crowd--will start to boo. One day Emily asked, "Why are they booing?" I stuttered and finally had to look at her and tell her I hadn't the foggiest idea why. "Because...that's just the way it is," was the best I could come up with.
My friend Adam was amused by the story and told me I was so right. The conversation shifted and that was that. But it got me thinking about the different, often refreshing sensibilities women bring to a male-dominated world like baseball. Nancy Smith, the woman sitting in front of us, had an opportunity to meet several of the Yankees last summer and she told me that she had a pleasant ten minute conversation with Mariano Rivera. "He's a very nice man," she reported. What did they talk about? Where he lives when he's up here, how much his kids love the winter and the snow. You know, regular stuff. Things that most guys would never think of talking about if they were to ever to meet a baseball player.
I'd be asking him all sorts of questions about baseball, about pitching. I'd never think to talk to him about such mundane things as the weather. The irony is Nancy probably put Rivera more at ease, and had a more intimate, natural conversation with him than I would have in the same situation. She might enjoy being around him as much as any male fan, but even if she was geeked about it, there was probably nothing urgent beneath the surface, no agenda. She didn't "want" a piece of him, she just wanted to chat.
Nancy's story reminded me of something Jane Gross, a former sports writer, once told Roger Angell (from the story "Sharing the Beat," which can be found in Angell's "Late Innings" collection):
"I think women reports have a lot of advantages [over male reporters], starting with the advantage of the players' natural chivalry. We women are interested in different things from the men writers, so we ask different questions. When Bob McAdoo gets traded from the Knicks, my first thought is, How is his wife, Brenda, going to finish law school this year? And that may be what's most on his mind.
Not better, not worse, just different. Sure, there are times when Emily asks a question that has my snotty-ass rolling my eyes. Other times, she'll just floor me with her insights--whether simple or profound. I deliberately use my love of baseball as a way to relate to other men. But some of the greatest fans I know are women. And that's a beautiful thing, bro.
Rock the Vote
The All-Star voting closes tonight at 11:59pm, so with the Yankees enjoying a day of rest after Alex Rodriguez's big bang I thought I'd share my ballots.
With no designated hitter spot on the ballot due to the fact that the game is taking place in an NL park, this spot is mighty crowded. In fact, with Jason Giambi now a full-time DH due to the long awaited arrival of Andy Phillips, Paul Konerko is the only full-time first baseman worth looking at here (though I do have to give a shout to Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox' Andy Phillips).
Here are the key stats on Konerko, Giambi and the three top designated hitters, all of whom shift to first base in NL parks, along with the number of games they've played at first thus far this year (all stats prior to yesterday's games).
Travis Hafner's career line is .296/.399/.568. Last year he hit .305/.408/.595 with 42 doubles, 33 homers, 108 RBIs and a .345 EQA and finished fifth in the MVP voting. The year before he hit .311/.410/.583 with 41 doubles, 28 homers, 109 RBIs and a .335 EQA. Travis Hafner has never been selected to an All-Star team, even as a reserve. This has to end this year. David Ortiz is the vote leader, but he's the least worthy of the five candidates above. What's more, Hafner is David Ortiz. He's a hulking, late-blooming lefty 1B-turned-DH who was tossed aside by his previous team. The primary differences between the two are that Ortiz has had the media exposure and postseason opportunities Hafner hasn't and Hafner is a year younger than Ortiz and is thus Ortiz, in a rather startling parallel, has made Hafner's improvements in production a year ahead of his Cleveland counterpart. At any rate, given the defensive shortcomings of his rivals and the relative insignificance of first base defense, Travis Hafner is my pick hands down.
How You Like Me Now?
"Alex has gone from town to town, and there's been just resentment all over the league for him because of how much money he makes," Manager Joe Torre said before the game. "And nobody ever feels that anybody's worth this money. Like, you know, he went in there and held somebody hostage to get the money. Somebody made a choice to give it to him. And it's just something that he has to live with."
Yesterday started off so badly and well, just look how it ended. My girlfriend Emily would have some new-age Wayne Dyer words of wisdom for me, that's for sure. I take that malarky with a grain of salf, but often, the essence of what a guy like Dyer is saying makes a good deal of sense, the power of intentions and all that.
I had to fight up all the positive vibes I had in me when I awoke at 5:30 in the morning to the pattering sounds of raindrops against our bedroom air conditioner. The weatherman has called for rain and thunderstorms for much of the last week. When they got Monday and Tuesday's games in without a hitch, I figured Wednesday was the day that it'll all fall apart. I had taken a vacation day to go to the Stadium with a high school friend and his wife. My pal had an extra seat so I invited my cousin Eric along. But early in the morning it was pouring outside my window in the Bronx and the skies were dark. I sulked like a little boy.
It's as close to sunny in downtown Manhattan as I've seen it in what feels like at least a week, so the Yanks and Braves should be taking the field in about a half an hour. Alex, in a blatant attempt to make our Wednesday workdays feel even longer, is at the game, which pits young Chien-Ming Wang against veteran John Smoltz, a pitching match-up I'd love to see. Alas, I'll be watching it on Gameday with the rest of you working stiffs. Those in front of a TV or even a radio please help with details and descriptions.
Melky Cabrera, coming off a 3 for 4 day that saw him drive in both of the Yankees runs, one via his second career homer, is back up in the two spot. Bernie's in right batting sixth, followed by Phillips, Cairo and, in the day game after night game, Stinnett.
Jaret Wright and Horacio Ramirez are pretty evenly matched, but go figure that their pairing would result in a pitchers duel. That's exactly what happened last night, with the Braves clinging to a 1-0 lead after six frames, that run scoring in the second when Jeff Francoeur singled home Andrew Jones' lead-off double.
Jaret Wright completed the sixth inning for the first time since June 2, equalling his longest outing of the year, allowing just three other hits, all singles, and two walks while striking out four. Ramirez, meanwhile, had held the Yankees scoreless on four hits and a walk through the end of the sixth despite striking out just one.
With Wright at 90 pitches and three lefties due up in the seventh, Joe Torre brought in Ron Villone, who promptly doubled the Braves lead by surrendering a lead-off home run to Adam LaRoche on his first pitch of the night. Villone then got the next three men to ground out and the Yankees finally broke through against Ramirez, getting LaRoche's run back in bottom of the seventh on singles by Jorge Posada and Melky Cabrera.
Cabrera's RBI single was proceeded by groundouts by Bernie Williams and Andy Phillips, which pushed Posada to second and third respectively. The contrast between Phillips' and Cabrera's at-bats was a telling look at the frustrating nature of baseball that so tortured Paul O'Neill during his 17 year career. The first pitch to Phillips was a fastball inside that Andy laced past Chipper Jones at third, but just foul. Phillips then swung through a slider inside to fall behind 0-2. He then fouled a fastball straight back to stay alive. Ramirez then tried to get him to chase a breaking pitch low and away, but Andy laid of that one and two more up and away out of the zone to run the count full. Ramirez finally came back inside where Phillips could really rip one and after fouling off Ramirez's seventh pitch, Phillips laced another shot between Jones and the third base bag only to have Jones backhand the ball and fire to first for the out. Phillips' at-bat was the hardest any Yankee had made Ramirez work all night, but despite getting the pitch he wanted and hitting it well, Phillips had nothing to show for it. Cabrera then came up and hacked at the first pitch he saw, a slider that looked headed for his front shin, producing a weak looping grounder that headed straight for Jones, only the ball took an odd last hop and Chipper booted it, conspiring with favorable official scoring to give Cabrera an RBI base hit. Such is baseball.
Villone came back out to start the eighth, but was again greeted by a hit, this time an Edgar Renteria single. After Chipper Jones lined out to left, Joe Torre brought in rookie T.J. Beam to face Andruw Jones. It was an impressive move on Torre's part, trusting a rookie to face one of the league's top hitters late in a one-run game (though I wonder if he would have done it up by one run rather than down by one run). The tall, lanky Beam rewarded Torre's faith by striking out Jones on a sequence of hard, mid-90s heaters for the second out. Unfortunately, Beam forgot about Renteria on first and while Beam worked to the next batter, Brian McCann, Renteria practically waltzed over to second. Behind McCann 2-1, Beam intentionally walked the lefty to face righty Jeff Francoeur. Beam got ahead of the free-swinging Francoeur 1-2 only to have Francoeur pick the 1-2 pitch practically out of the dirt and loop it into shallow center for another RBI single. Mike Myers came in to get the lefty LaRoche for the final out.
Again down two runs, the Yankees failed to do anything with a lead-off single by Derek Jeter in the bottom of the eighth when Jason Giambi was unable to beat out a squibber down the third base line, Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging on a slider down and in from Ramirez and Jorge Posada launched a pitch to deep left that settled into the glove of Ryan Langerhans for the third out.
Still, Joe Torre didn't back off, going to Kyle Farnsworth in the ninth. Unfortunately, Farnsworth's recent struggles continued. Pinch-hitter Marcus Giles lead off with a single and moved to second on a wild pitch. With one out, Wilson Betemit singled to left and third base coach Fredi Gonzalez sent Giles home. From deep in left field, Melky Cabrera fired a strike to Jorge Posada that had Giles beat easily, but Posada, likely anticipating Giles' arrival, flinched, booting the ball and allowing Giles to score. Betemit moved to second on the play. Farnsworth then struck out Renteria on a full count, but his second pitch to Chipper Jones skipped past Posada for a passed ball that moved Betemit to third. That prompted a mound visit from Ron Guidry. As Farnsworth and Posada waited for Gator to arrive, Farnsworth turned his back on Posada and walked off the back of the mound. When Guidry arrived, Farnsworth returned to the mound and Posada stormed off toward home plate. After Guidry returned to the dugout, Jones doubled Betemit home and Joe Torre replaced Farnsworth with Matt Smith. Smith intentionally walked Andruw Jones, unintentionally walked Brian McCann, and struck out Francoeur to end the inning.
Down 5-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Melky Cabrera hit his second career home run with two outs, but that was all the Yankees could muster against newly appointed closer Jorge Sosa to fall 5-2 after beating the Braves by the same score the night before.
For what it's worth, Cabrera's homer was his first from the left side of the plate and was a convincing short-porch shot on a pitch down and in. Cabrera finished the night having gone three for four, driving in both of the Yankees' runs and scoring one of them. Cabrera and Jorge Posada combined for five of the Yankees' nine hits. On Monday night, Jason Giambi drove in all five of the Yankees' runs, scoring two of them and he and Andy Phillips combined for five of the Yankees' nine hits. For those inclined to read something into that, those similarities are fun, but meaningless.
This afternoon, the Yankees get their third exciting pitching match-up in four days with a hot Chien-Ming Wang taking on John Smoltz in the series' rubber game. Weather permitting, of course.
After Moose v. D-Train on Sunday afternoon and Johnson vs. Hudson last night, Jaret Wright vs. Horacio Ramirez is going to be a heck of a let-down tonight. You all know about Wright. He has exceeded some very low expectations by simply being able to take the ball every five days and upped the ante by actually keeping the Yankees in the game in most of his starts, but his limitations, particularly when it comes to innings pitched and strikeouts, are glaring. Ramirez, meanwhile, is young and left handed, but otherwise unexceptional. He does a pretty good number on lefties and gets more than his share of ground balls, which is fortunate for the Braves as Ramirez's peripherals are as unimpressive as Wright's. The upside is that with Miguel Cairo forced into the line-up by Robinson Cano's hamstring (Cano's just been placed on the DL with Nick Green being recalled to back-up Miggy . . . gulp), Bernie still the go-to choice in right field, and Andy Phillips on another hot streak, an unimpressive lefty is just what the doctor ordered for the Yankees' offense.
Lo Hud, Big Unit
Randy Johnson struck out a season-high nine batters and did not allow a run over seven innings. Not so long ago, Yankee fans wondered if the real Big Unit would ever return. Well, he may never be the 38-year old version again, but clearly, he isn't completely cooked either. The Atlanta Braves' hitters didn't help themselves much--jeez, what a bunch of hackers--but there is no denying that Johnson is pitching effectively once more. Jason Giambi hit a two-run homer in the first and a three-run dinger in the second and that was all the Yankees would need as they cruised to a 5-2 victory in the Bronx.
Tim Hudson was wild early and Giambi hit what looked like split finger fastballs for his home runs. Some friend. The Bombers' offense didn't do much else on Derek Jeter's 32nd birthday (also Mike Myers' 37th), but they'll take the win. Scott Proctor allowed a two-run bomb to Chipper Jones in the ninth after pitching a scoreless eighth. That was the lowest part of the night for the Yankees, aside from Alex Rodriguez's 12th error of the season which matches his 2005 season total. I was never sold on Rodriguez being a Gold Glover last year--though he was a fine defensive player--and he has regressed this season. He's got a strong, true arm, but his lateral movement appears sluggish. I wonder what's up with that? Anyhow, Mariano Rivera came in for the final two outs. He walked a batter and struck two men out looking, and that, as they say, was that.
It is not certain that Robinson Cano will be placed on the DL but my guess is that he likely won't get much burn until after the All-Star break. Meanwhile, Octavio Dotel pitched yesterday. According to reports, he's likely a month away from joining the big league club. Lastly, Aaron Small cleared waivers and has returned to Columbus.
Say what you want about Leo Mazzone's ineffectiveness as the Baltimore Orioles' pitching coach thus far this season, but the Braves, who won their division 14 straight times (not counting the strike year of 1995) with Mazzone rockin' in their dugout, are about to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990 when Mazzone was hired mid-season to be the Braves' pitching coach. And the reason the Braves are languishing in dead last place below the mismanaged Nationals and post-fire sale Marlins? Yup. It's the pitching.
The only NL teams to have allowed more runs per game than the Braves are the Brewers and Pirates, while the Atlanta bullpen's 5.06 ERA is essentially tied with the Reds' (5.07) for the worst in the NL and second worst in baseball (the Royals' pen is on a whole other level of suck). What's most dispiriting about the Braves' pitching is that there's not a large range of performances there. Other than failed closer Chris Reitsma's 9.11 ERA (now on the DL), and swing-man Lance Cormier's 6.23 on one end and new closer Ken Ray's 2.80 on the other, everyone on the current roster falls between Chad Paronto's 3.80 and Jorge Sosa's 5.18. Yes, John Smotlz and Tim Hudson fall toward the low end of that spectrum, but neither has been the stopper this team needs. Absent that kind of ace, the Braves have been on a dramatic downward spiral all month. After pulling out of a losing April to finish May three games over .500, the Braves have gone a staggering 4-19 in June, low-lighted by a ten-game losing streak that was snapped by the Devil Rays on Friday. Indeed, before that weekend series in Tampa the Braves were 2-18 in June.
It's the end of an era in Atlanta. John Smoltz, the only man other than manager Bobby Cox and Mazzone to have participated in all fourteen playoff appearances, is a free agent after this season and has said he would accept a trade. Andruw Jones, who has been with the team since he was a teenager in 1996, Cox and GM John Schuerholz are all signed through 2007 only. Could be Chipper Jones, signed through 2008 with a 2009 option that will likely vest itself, will be the last man standing. I for one welcome the release of the Braves' grip on the NL East division, but with the end finally here, the fact that this team only won one Championship and failed to reach the World Series in their last six postseasons leaves even me with an empty feeling.
That said, here's hoping the Yankees party like it's 1999 and sweep the Bravos over the next three games. Robinson Cano is not in the line-up tonight due to the left hamstring injury he suffered yesterday while running out a double, though early reports are that he will not have to go on the DL. Instead, Joe Torre gives Miguel Cairo the start at second, but sullies his lineup by batting Miggy second once again. Jason Giambi, who missed the first game of yesterday's double-header with a bad back played last night and is back in there tonight. Bubba Crosby gets the start in right as Tim Hudson and Randy Johnson give the Yankees their second marquee pitching matchup in as many days.
W SO 1 Cy Young 511 2802 2 Walter Johnson 417 3509 3 Christy Mathewson 373 2502 4 Warren Spahn 363 2583 T5 Roger Clemens 341 4506 T5 Tim Keefe 341 2521 7 Steve Carlton 329 4136 T8 Nolan Ryan 324 5714 T8 Don Sutton 324 3574 10 Greg Maddux 325 3101 11 Phil Niekro 318 3342 12 Gaylord Perry 314 3534 13 Tom Seaver 311 3640 14 Bert Blyleven 287 3701 15 Ferguson Jenkins 284 3192 16 Randy Johnson 271 4448 17 Bob Feller 266 2581 18 Bob Gibson 251 3117 19 Frank Tanana 240 2773 20 Mike Mussina 233 2500
Blyleven and Tanana are the only retired fellas on the list who are not in the Hall of Fame.
Boring Ballplayers Sure Beat Bobby "Boogie Down" Bo
Bobby Blue Bland? Bob Klapisch recalls his infamous clubhouse incident with Bobby Bonilla over at The Baseball Analysts. An excellent read, Klap illustrates why modern athletes often prefer to be cautious and boring. Sure beats having to deal with a goon like Bonilla.
Waiting For You, Bro
Tyler Kepner profiles the Yankees' best pitching prospect Phillip Hughes today in the New York Times. Don't miss this one.
After playing in front of more than 53,000 in the afternoon, the Yankees and Marlins performed in front of less than 7,000 last night. Now that's a kind of crowd the young Marlins are familiar with. It almost seemed as if the Yankees themselves forgot there was a second game yesterday as they fell to the Marlins, 5-0. The Bombers are the last team in the majors to get shut out this season. Jason Giambi made two errors which led to three runs, nobody could get anything going offensively, and to make matters worse, Robinson Cano came up lame with a hamstring problem in his left leg. Early reports do not tell us how serious the injury is, but it was the most remarkable event of the game for the Yanks. Cano has been exceptionally durable so far this year and it would be a tough loss if he is lost for an extended period of time.
Anibal Sanchez, the former Red Sox who went to Florida in the Josh Beckett deal this past winter, made the most of his major league debut for the Marlins and successfully kept the Yankee hitters off-balance. (The Bombers scored two runs over both games.) With runners on second and third and one out in the sixth, Bernie Williams ripped a line drive to the right side of the infield. It was snagged by the first baseman and was the last batter Sanchez would face. It was also the closest the Bombers would come to staging any kind of rally. It was a dream come true for Sanchez, who was called-up just for this one start.
Sunday Best Comes First
Mike Mussina was just this much better than his counterpart Dontrelle Willis on a rainy Sunday afternoon in the Bronx, as the Yanks beat the Florida Marlins 2-1. Moose notched the 2,500th strike out of his career and pitched a nice game--he was particularly crisp early. Johnny Damon drove in both New York runs, Kyle Farnsworth got the blood a-boiling in the eighth, and Mariano Rivera earned the save in the ninth. Cliff was out there in the bleachers. If we're lucky and he's not too beat when he gets home, we'll get his take on what was a well-played game.
I was supposed to be there myself but my plans fell through. Instead, I spent most of the day in the kitchen. I made a couple of different tomato sauces (garlic, olive oil, parsley, crushed red pepper, zucchinni and tomatoes with fresh thyme, and the other one, onion, butter, olive oil, eggplant, pancetta, crushed red pepper, tomatoes and fresh basil) for my brother who is on the DL and needed some kitchen help, a ratatouille with roasted potatoes for Em's weekly grub (she does the laundry), and then the project: a dozen jars of jam from fresh strawberries that Em and I got upstate yesterday. The best strawberries are only around for a couple of weeks each June and we got some good beauts. My Ma used to make jams when I was growing up. I haven't done it much myself but it's not hard and man, oh, man, how I love good jam. Em helped out with the canning--she's a cracker jack with that kind of thing--and so while I know that the game featured several sparkling defensive plays, I caught most of them as replays, running in from the kitchen.
The second game of this Day-Night doubleheader kicks off at 8:00 pm. However, due TV restrictions, the game will not be televised in many parts of the country. (Man, I wish I had a clever Gil Scott Heron line.) Apparently, it will be televised in New York (thanks for the knowledge Mr. Kabak). The Red Sox were rained out today while the Blue Jays lost to the Mets. It'd be gravy if the Yanks can win another one, but I wouldn't count on it. Not with Chacon on the hill. These Marlins are scrappy. But one never knows does one?
Let's Go Yan-kees!
The Marlins kicked the ball around like they were Chico's Bail Bonds in the first inning last night (actually it was two players who accounted for three--should have been four--errors), but escaped only down 3-0. They tied the game swiftly and hung around for the rest of the evening. It was a very warm in New York and it rained steadily during the middle innings. Chien-Ming Wong pitched well, though he wasn't nearly as impressive as he was in his previous two outings. Kyle Farnsworth did what he does best--give Yankee fans indigestion--as the Marlins crept closer in the eighth. But Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth as the Yanks held on for a 6-5 victory. Alex Rodriguez, Andy Phillips and Jorge Posada each had three hits, and Jorge had three RBI as well. The Yanks remain two behind the streaking Red Sox who won again last night. The Blue Jays, however, fall to four games out of first, after their loss to the Mets in Toronto.
Today is hot and it is very dark outside. Looks like Old Timer's Day could be a warsh out. The regular game is scheduled to start in the late afternoon, but it could be pushed back to this evening, cause man, it sure feels like the skies are going to open up and drench New York City. Hopefully, they get it in. Enjoy!
The Florida Marlins, Mach III
One of the big stories this offseason was the Marlins' second fire sale in the past decade, but buried beneath the outrage was the fact that the Marlins actually made a large number of smart baseball decisions in purging their roster of aging, overvalued players while stocking their system with prospects. Now, in last June, the team everyone had written off over the winter is in third place in the NL East, three games ahead of the perennial division champion Braves, and sports a Pythagorean record just a hair shy of .500.
That's impressive enough, but what's been even more impressive is how this team has gelled. Don't look now, but the Marlins have gone 20-7 since May 22 including a 10-game winning streak that was halted on Wednesday and climaxed with a three-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays last weekend. The secret to that recent success has been pitching. The Marlins have held their opponents to less than three runs in 13 of those 20 wins and allowed more than three runs in just three of those 20 victories, a 5-4 win over the Cubs, a 6-5 win over the Braves, and last night's 8-5 victory over the Orioles.
So who are these guys? Here's a quick look at the Marlins' rotation along with their ages and 2006 salaries:
Dontrelle Willis, 24, $4.35 million
You know D-Train, he was the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year and just missed out last year's Cy Young. 'Nuff said.
Josh Johnson, 22, ML minimum ($327,000)
Drafted by the Marlins in 2002, Johnson was solid in double-A last year and finished the season with four appearances for the Fish. This year, without the benefit of a stint in triple-A, he's posted a 2.01 ERA while striking out 7.93 men per nine innings in nine starts. Josh Beckett, meanwhile, has a 5.09 ERA and just 7.41 K/9 for more than ten times Johnson's salary in Boston, while trading Beckett netted the Fish their starting shortstop, top pitching prospect Anibal Sanchez, and two other minor league arms, one of whom, Jose Garcia, has joined Sanchez in double-A and just may be pitching his way past his more highly touted teammate.
Ricky Nolasco, 23, ML min.
Nolasco came over from the Cubs in the Juan Pierre deal along with Sergio Mitre and Renyel Pinto. The 25-year-old Mitre was in the rotation until he hit the 60-day DL with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. The 23-year-old Pinto did not allow a run in four big league innings earlier in the year and is pitching very well save for a high walk rate in triple-A Albuquerque. Nolasco turned in a strong season in double-A last year and has posted a 3.15 ERA in 60 innings for the Fish thus far this season with a solid 6.45 K/9. Pierre, meanwhile, is hitting .242/.290/.306 for the Cubs, fulfilling my prediction of a Womackian future for the 28-year-old who is pocketing $5.75 million of the Cubs greenbacks for his services.
Scott Olsen, 22, ML min.
The left-handed Olsen, like Johnson, is a home grown product who pitched well for the double-A Carolina Mudcats in 2005. A strikeout machine in the minors, the 22-year-old Olsen has struck out 7.79 men per nine innings with the Fish in twelve starts this year and held hitters to less than a hit per inning, but has struggled some with his control, resulting in a 4.70 ERA. Burnett, meanwhile, has made just three starts for the Jays thus far this year due to repeated problems with his surgically repaired pitching elbow. In those three starts, Burnett has a Beckett-like 5.06 ERA thanks in part to his surrendering four home runs in 16 innings.
Brian Moehler, 34, $1.5 million
Moehler, tonight's starter, was retained as a budget rate, league-average insurance policy. He's not held up his end of the bargain, posting a 6.29 ERA while allowing 97 hits in 73 innings.
From that alone this fire sale thing doesn't look too shabby, does it?
The trend continues around the diamond. The best player the Marlins traded this offseason was 34-year-old Carlos Delgado, who is still owed $52 million over four years, only $7 million of which the Fish picked up in the deal. In that trade they acquired not only pitching prospect Yusmeiro Petit, but 25-year-old first baseman Mike Jacobs, who tore the cover off the ball in 100 at-bats for the Mets last year (.310/.375/.710) and is representing this year with a .269/.357/.486 line and ten homers as the Marlins' first baseman.
They dumped an overrated and overpaid ($10 million over two years) 30-year-old Luis Castillo on the Twins for a pair of minor league arms and handed the second base job to 26-year-old minor league free agent Dan Uggla, who had lit-up the Southern League with the Diamondback's double-A franchise in 2005. Uggla has the early lead in the NL Rookie of the Year race, hitting .313/.366/.532 with 13 homers while playing a Gold Glove-level second base.
At shortstop the Beckett deal netted them 22-year-old Sox prospect Hanley Ramirez, who caused a sensation over the first two months of the season before a recent slump that is strangely in synch with his team's winning streak torpedoed his numbers. Ramirez was hitting .340/.417/.484 with 16 stolen bases in 19 attempts on May 23, but has hit just .139/.187/.257 since then. Still, that deal not only netted them those three aforementioned pitching prospects in addition to Ramirez, but it allowed them to unload 32-year-old Mike Lowell's contract ($25.5 million over three years left), thus opening third base for their 23-year-old future Hall of Famer, Miguel Cabrera. The Marlins wisely recognized the fact that it would be easier to find viable corner outfielders than a third baseman that can hit like Frank Robinson or Albert Pujols (Cabrera's top two PECOTA comps).
In Cabrera's place in right field the Fish have installed 22-year-old home-grown prospect Jeremy Hermida, who is hitting a solid, if somewhat powerless .286/.385/.429. The good news is that at 22, Hermida has time to develop his power stroke. In the opposite pasture, the Marlins finally found a home for 27-year-old former catching prospect Josh Willingham, who has hit.268/.352/.470 and will be activated from the disabled list for this weekend's series.
With those six stacked at the top of the line-up, of whom only Cabrera at the insane low price of $472,000 is earning more than the league minimum, the Marlins have installed 27-year-old veteran Miguel Olivo behind the plate for the modest sum of $700,000 and have been able to give 25-year-old Reggie Abercrombie an extended look in center. Of the six rookie Marlins in the everyday lineup, only Abercrombie has failed to rise to the occasion, but given the success of the others, they're able to remain patient with the man they, perhaps erroneously, still hope is their center fielder of the future.
So maybe the bench is a bit thin (Helms has pop, Amezaga can play anywhere, Borchard and Ross once had promise and are still in their 20s, Treanor is a holdover) and the bullpen is a bit of a hodgepodge (veterans Borowski and Herges, 2005 A-ballers Martinez and Tankersley, holdover Messenger, rookie Logan, and the truly off-the-radar Fulchino), but you have to commend a team that's able to purge $60 million in active payroll and tens of millions more owed in subsequent seasons, get 3 ½ years younger as a team and actually improve its long-term outlook in the process. Willis and Cabrera are young enough that they will peak along with the new crop of players, rather than ahead of them. It may have looked ugly this offseason, but with the Braves having finally tumbled off their perch and the Mets relying on a crop of old fogies (Pedro, Glavine, Trachsel, El Duque, Wagner, Valentin, ex-Marlin Cliff Floyd and 2005 Marlins Delgado and Paul Lo Duca), these Fish just might surprise a lot of people in a few years. If so, one might have to wonder if the Marlins have stumbled upon a new method of small-market management in which a Championship is followed by a fire sale which leads directly to another Championship within the decade, repeat. Remember, Burnett and Derrek Lee were picked up in the post-1997 purge, as was Preston Wilson who was flipped for Pierre, and Ed Yarnall who was flipped for Lowell, while Josh Beckett was drafted second overall in 1999 after the Marlins finished 1998 with the worst record in baseball (the expansion Devil Rays got the number one pick). Also, don't forget that the Marlins won two Championships in their first eleven years of existence, while no other expansion team has ever won more than two titles (Mets, Blue Jays) and seven expansion clubs of equal or older vintage are still looking for that first ring. Kinda makes you think, don't it?
My 25 Least Favorite Yankees of the Last 20 Years
Inspired by Catfish Stew, here's a list of my least favorite Yankees from the last twenty years:
25. Tim Stoddard Stoddard was 6'7", 250 pounds and looked like Wally Walrus from the Woody Woodpecker cartoons. What's not to like about that? Well, Wally was the bad guy in those cartoons and Tim posted a 6.38 ERA out of the Yankee pen in 1988 earning his release that August. Worse yet, Stoddard was all the Yankees managed to get in return for Ed Whitson, who would surely make this list if I extended it back further. Just a series of unpleasant memories there.
24. Xavier Hernandez The Yankees began to turn things around in 1993 with the additions of Paul O'Neill, Jimmy Key and Wade Boggs. Going into 1994, Hernandez was supposed to be part of the solution as a young (28) rubber armed reliever who had just turned in two excellent seasons for the Astros. Plus his name started with an X. How cool is that? Turns out his arm wasn't really made of rubber after all and those 207 2/3 innings over two seasons in Houston resulted in a 5.85 ERA in his lone season for the Yanks, which was itself cut short by injury in late July. I suppose I should have blamed Houston manager Art Howe, but I was less enlightened then. Speaking of which, it didn't help that the Yanks dealt no-hit fan favorite Andy Stankiewicz ("Stanky the Yankee") to get Xavier.
23. Rich Dotson One of many Stump Merrill-era hurlers on this list (a term I use for those lean late-'80s, early '90s years regardless of whom the manager was, Dotson, for instance, never actually pitched for Merrill). The Yankees sent fan favorite Danny Pasqua to the White Sox in the deal to acquire Dotson. In his only full year with the Yanks, Dotson posted a 5.00 ERA (79 ERA+ in those days) and things got so bad the following season he was released in June . . . only to resign with the White Sox! It was a trick! We wuz robbed! Dotson, of course, pitched better for the Chisox over the remainder of the 1989 season than he ever had for the Yankees, but at least he had the decency to burn out after that. Oh, it bears mentioning that Dotson wore his hat high on his head so it boxed up in front. Some players can pull that off. Dotson couldn't.
22. Terry Mulholland Believe it or not, the Yankees were just Mulholland's third team, though he was already in his early thirties back in 1994. Mulholland's offenses are similar to Hernandez's. Thought to be part of the solution in 1994, he was so very much part of the problem, struggling to stay in the rotation and posting a 6.49 ERA, which remains his worst single season ERA more than a decade later.
21. Randy Keisler With his jug-handle ears and bulging eyes, Keisler looked ready to crap himself on the mound and when he pitched like crap he had the nerve to bitch about being sent back to Columbus. Normally I'd sympathize with a young player's gripes about getting a fair shot with Steinbrenner's Yankees, but a) keep your mouth shut rook and make your statements on the field and b) Keisler, who made his major league debut at age 24, was such a hot prospect the Yanks just flat released him after he missed the 2003 season due to injury.
20. Carl Pavano I was ready to like Pavano despite the ridiculous contract the Yankees gave him, but once what was supposed to be a minimum DL stay last June turned into a full calendar year of inaction amid rumors of the Yankees questioning Pavano's fortitude, he'd hung himself with the rope I was prepared to give him. He'd rank higher, but there's still time for Meat to redeem himself.
Jaret Wright was not able to pitch deep into last night's ball game, but he threw up zeros for the five innings he did pitch. He also put some good wood on the ball and drove in the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly to deep left field. Ron Villone, Scott Proctor, Kyle Farnsworth and finally Mariano Rivera each pitched scoreless innings as the Yanks beat the Phillies 5-0. Miguel Cairo, Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano led the offense. Bobby Abreu whiffed three times for the Phils and Wright struck out Ryan Howard twice as well. Cole Hamels allowed two runs over seven innings and was impressive for Philadelphia (he mastered Jason Giambi all night). The victory gave the Yanks a 3-3 record on the road trip. The Bombers return home to face the Marlins (Old Timer's Day is this Saturday), Braves and Mets in the final home stand before the All-Star break.
Young King Cole
Thanks to ol' buddy Arthur Rhodes, all that stands between the Yankees and a series win in Philadelphia and a split of their southern dip in the NL is Cole Hamels. A tall, slender lefty, the 22-year-old Hamels is the posterboy of pitching prospect hype, having gone 11-3 with a 1.54 ERA, 208 strikeouts and just 88 hits in 152 innings over his first three professional seasons. Of course, all but the final 19 innings in that stretch occurred in A-ball. And then there's the fact that he only made four starts in 2004 due to issues with his pitching elbow.
Hamels started this season back in the Florida State League, but was so dominant he was jumped straight to triple-A, where after three even more impressive outings he was promoted to big league rotation. After holding the Reds scoreless across five innings while striking out seven in his first turn, Hamels looked rather human against the Brewers in his next start, allowing four runs on five hits and four walks in six and a third while striking out five. He then landed on the 15-day DL with a strained left shoulder. Hamels only missed the minimum and has made three starts since returning to action. The good news for the Phillies is that the control issues that have plagued him on occasion throughout his career and over his first two starts (9 BB in 11 1/3 IP) seem to have gone away (5 BB in 14 1/3 IP in June), but his overall results have not responded in kind. Hamels beat the Diamondbacks in his first start off the DL, but lasted just 5 2/3 innings and struck out just two. In his next start he struck out eight, but lasted just five innings and yielded four runs on six hits while taking a loss against the Nationals. In his last turn he was summarily beaten about the head and neck by the Devil Rays, who touched him up for his first two big league homers allowed and a total of six runs (five earned) on seven hits against just three Ks in 3 2/3 IP.
Is Hamels hurt? Was he rushed? Is he just a tad overrated to begin with?
It's unlikely that we'll find the answer to any of those questions tonight as he goes up against Jaret Wright, who's five-inning limit should at least be properly motivated tonight when he's pulled for a pinch-hitter. After a consistent streak in May in which Wright allowed no more than three runs in no less than five innings for six straight starts, Wright has allowed a total of nine runs across his last ten innings. Given his ugly peripherals, it seems reality has caught up to the Yankees' fifth starter. I wouldn't expect to see that trend reverse in the hitters' haven that is Citizen's Bank Park. Let's just hope he keeps enough men off base that he can pitch around "Blastmaster" Ryan Howard. I'll be covering my eyes during those at-bats.
Boys with be Boys
I really enjoyed the second season of HBO's "Entourage," mostly because when it comes down to it, the show is about the ties that bind guys together. We may not be living in an age where athletes are especially revealing or candid with the media, but all we have to do is watch the games, particularly the action in the dugout, and we can get an idea of how men get along with one another. You can get a better impression of Derek Jeter's personality by watching how he interacts with his teammates than you ever will from what he tells reporters. I was thinking about this last night after Mariano Rivera batted in the ninth inning. It reminded me of something Roger Angell once wrote (in his collection, "The Summer Game"):
"We (nonathletes) had never made it. We would never know the rich joke that doubled over three young pitchers in front of the dugout; we would never be part of that golden compnay on the field, which each of us, certainly for one moment of his life, had wanted more than anything else in the world to join."
We may never be entirely "in" on the joke, but we can enjoy watching the players be the insiders. Since we as fans are all drawn together by baseball, we make up our own "in" crowd. And just as many of us will never get to know what it's like for them on the inside, most players don't know what it is like to be an obsessive fan. However, we are all drawn together by a mutually shared experience. And companionship--or just plain ol' good comapany--is a beautiful thing.
The "P" is Still Free
"Mo's in the game, man," said Derek Jeter, when asked if he was worried. "Mo doesn't give up many hard hit balls, let alone home runs. When Mo's in the game you're thinking it's over, no matter who's up."
It feels like the Yankees have been playing catch-up ever since they blew a 9-2 lead last Saturday in Washington D.C. The Bombers fell behind early last night, but hung tough in a see-saw affair down in Philly, eventually pulling ahead against their old friend Arthur Rhodes. Mariano Rivera pitched two innings to nail down the save as the Yanks beat the Phils, 9-7.
Mike Mussina retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the first and then gave up a single to Bobby Abreu and a walk to Pat Burrell. Mussina was furious at the ball four call to Burrell and not only glared in at the home plate umpire but he started lecturing him too. The umpire took off his mask, which didn't help matters. "No, it wasn't low," complained Mussina, who rarely displays as much irritation as he showed here. It was like a professor being incorrectly corrected by a student in front of the entire class, and Mussina's feathers were clearly ruffled. His next pitch--the first to Ryan Howard--was absolutely crushed into the right field upper deck. It was almost comical. Ryan looks like the legendary New York rapper KRS-ONE, whose moniker used to be the "Blastmaster." I think it's appropriate to pass that nickname onto Howard, who would go on to homer in his next at bat against Mussina too.
The Yanks tied the game at three, thanks to RBI singles from Bernie Williams and Kevin Reese and a solo dinger from Jason Giambi. (Old man Bernabee went 5-5, two doubles and three singles...how about that?) Reese's bloop single to left in the third inning was particularly enjoyable as he slapped at a pitch way out of the strike zone (with the pitcher on deck there was no way he was going to get a good pitch to hit, so he made the most out of a bad one). Howard put the Phils ahead with his two-run blast in the fourth. Jorge Posada popped a solo homer in the sixth and Alex Rodriguez tied the game with an RBI ground ball single in the seventh. That man Howard was at it again in the bottom of the inning as he drove in two more runs (giving him seven RBI on the night) on a triple off of a flat breaking ball from southpaw Mike Myers.
Arthur Rhodes pitched well against the Yanks on Monday night but would not record an out on Tuesday. Bernie Williams reached on an infield single, Miguel Cairo (in for Cano) walked and then Melky Cabrera slapped a single to right driving in a run and putting runners on the corners. It was an impressive at bat for Cabrera who had been 1 for his last 19 going into the inning. Cabrera fell behind in the count but fouled a few pitches off before going the other way with the pitch. Damon was next, and he lifted a fly ball to center field, enough to tied the game for sure. But Aaron Rowand was playing too shallow and the ball sailed over his head. It appeared as if Damon thought it was a routine fly out. He did not run hard out of the box but turned the jets on and when all was said and done wound up on third with a triple and two RBI. Damon scored on Derek Jeter's single and the Yanks had a two-run lead.
Rivera pitched an easy eighth inning and even got a chance to hit in the top of the ninth. It was the first regular season at bat of his career (he is 0-3 in post-season play). Joe Torre huddled with him before Rivera grabbed a helmet--Jeter's as it turns out. Torre was probably telling him not to swing. Rivera could barely hide a smile as he walked to the plate. Rivera took the first pitch for a strike and then took two mighty cuts before returning to the dugout. Jeter and Jorge had big smiles for Mo upon his return.
In the bottom of the ninth, Chase Utley blooped a one-out single to right. After Rivera struck out Abreu on a very hittable pitch--Abreu was immediately vexed because he knew Rivera had gotten away with one--pinch-hitter Dave Dellucci blooped a single to left, setting up a boffo confrontation with the Blastmaster. The Philly fans, who had been tame for much of the evening, came alive. But the fight was over before it really even begun. Rivera threw Howard a cutter, and the young slugger tapped it to second base for the final out of the game. The Blastmaster had a tremendous night, but in the end, it was Rivera and the Yanks who came away with the win.
Maybe Yankees left-hander Randy Johnson is coming around. He has produced quality starts in four of his last five outings, and teammates are noticing his willingness to make adjustments; Johnson is pitching to both sides of the plate and becoming less predictable in his patterns. Johnson says he is watching more video than at any point in his career, and working as hard at his mechanics as he ever has before.
Where Things Stand
Our pal Mike Plugh takes a look at the state of the Yankees.
There is more on Alex Rodriguez via No Maas, Was Watching, and the Lo-Hud.
Three Times Doh!
"We're two games out, and we feel we should be up," said Johnny Damon, who had an infield hit in five at-bats. "We've had a lot of games this year where we just came up a little short. We've got to do a better job with runners in scoring position."
For the second consecutive game, the Yanks were involved in a pitcher's duel. Again, they came up short, as Brett Meyers struck out 11 and the Phillies beat the Bombers, 4-2. For his part, Randy Johnson pitched very well in defeat. A one-out boo boo in the fourth by Robinson Cano (scored as a hit, but a play that should have been made), followed by a walk to Chase Utley set the stage for Pat Burrell's line drive double to left. Aaron Rowand later added an RBI double and Kyle Farnsworth's wild pitch with the bases loaded in the eighth (which just so happened to strike David Bell out) led to another run.
It was all Philadelphia would need. The Phillies were able to get out of big jams when they needed to, and were aided by two wonderful diving plays--one by Abraham Nunez, who robbed Randy Johnson of a game-tying single, and another by Jimmy Rollins, which helped preserve the lead in the seventh.
In all, it was a frustrating night for the Yankees, an even more frustrating time for Yankee fans, but as my writing partner Cliff pointed out, this was a well-played game. Unfortunately, the Bombers have lost 8 of their last 11 games. New York left 11 men on base but some credit must go to Philadelphia's pitchers. Jason Giambi had three hits including a solo home run, and Alex Rodriguez had a double and two walks. Melky Cabrera is in the middle of a growing slump (he's 1 for his last 18), and Joe Torre will most likely give the kid a rest. The Bombers have now lost three in a row.
According to Tyler Kepner:
Octavio Dotel's comeback was stalled Sunday when he felt discomfort behind his right elbow while playing catch. Dotel, who had reconstructive elbow surgery last June, was found to have tendinitis. He was pitching for Class AAA Columbus and had been aiming to join the Yankees this weekend. Instead, he will report to Class AA Trenton on Thursday to throw on flat ground. "Of course I worry about it," Dotel said. "Tommy John surgery is not an easy surgery." Dotel said the doctor who performed the operation, James Andrews, assured him tendinitis was normal and not a cause for alarm. ... The Yankees released the veteran right-hander Scott Erickson.
Despite all of the upheaval on their roster, the Yankees have been alarmingly consistent thus far this year, avoiding slumps, but also failing to go off on any dazzling winning streaks. The Yankees have lost more than two games in a row just twice this year (a fact they hope will remain true after tonight), with both losing streaks having maxed out at four games. On the flip side, they've won more than three in a row just three times, with two five-game winning streaks, one four-gamer and just one other of as many as three in a row.
The Phillies' season has followed a very different course. They started the season losing six of seven, then from the end of April to mid-May won 13 of 14, beginning that run with a nine-game winning streak. That was immediately followed by a five-game losing streak and coming into Sunday's game against the Devil Rays, the Phillies had lost eight of nine. That last spell included a six-game losing streak that was snapped with an 8-5 win yesterday.
The Phillies' big problem is starting pitching. Randy Wolf hasn't thrown a pitch all year, Jon Lieber is currently on the DL, lefty phenom Cole Hamels has also spent time on the DL, while the current version of the rotation includes reliever Ryan Madson and rookie Scott Mathieson, who was in the Florida State league last year. The only Phillie starters to take all of their turns thus far this year have been Brett Myers and Cory Lidle. The result is a rotation that has been the second worst in baseball, just barely allowing fewer runs per start than that of the neighboring Baltimore Orioles.
Good thing then that the Philadelphia bullpen has been so strong. The Phillies' 3.25 Bullpen ERA has been the best in baseball thus far this year, with ex-Yankee Tom Gordon leading the way with 18 saves, a 1.61 ERA and 17 hits, 8 walks and 37 strikeouts in 28 innings. Behind Gordon the Phillies have a strong pair of veteran LOOGies in Rheal Cormier and old Yankee whipping boy Arthur Rhodes. The problem is that this pen is built to win now (Rhodes is 36, Gordon is 38 and Cormier is 39), but the Phillies have a losing record and are 9.5 games behind the NL-best Mets. Good thing there's not much competition for the NL Wild Card (the Phils trail the unlikely Reds by three).
Curiously, given the extreme divergence in performance between their starters and relievers, the Phillies are a terrible defensive team (third worst defensive efficiency in the majors) playing in an extreme hitters park. The primary offenders on defense are Utley and Howard on the right side of the infield (Bell and Rollins have been excellent on the left) and, to a lesser degree Burrell and, believe it or not, Aaron Rowand in the outfield. I'm not sure what's going on with Rowand, save for having seen about eleventy zillion replays of that catch against the Mets during which he broke his face on the chain link fence in center, but it is interesting to note that Rowand's Rate stats haven't been as strong as one would expect over the past three seasons, with the former World Champion rating as simply average in both 2003 and 2004.
Today the Phils send their best starter, Brett Myers, against Randy Johnson, who rebounded from a tremendously discouraging start against the A's to enjoy one of his best starts of the year last time out only to get tossed for throwing at old nemesis Eduardo Perez with one out in the seventh inning. Myers, meanwhile, had turned in ten-straight quality starts before getting mugged in his last two starts by the Mets and Nationals, resulting in a combined line of 5 2/3 IP, 16 H, 12 R (11 ER), 1 HR, 2 BB, 5 K.
The Phils typically have four fantastic hitters in a row in their line-up in Utley, Abreu, Burrell and Howard. Fortunately for Johnson and the Yankees, three of them are lefties. The right-handed Burrell, however, will bear some watching tonight.
Tugging at the Heart Strings
Eight Letter Word for Pitcher Who Enjoys Crossword Puzzles
Drop a Gem on 'em
"It was great when we didn't see Rivera out there in the ninth," [Washington's second baseman, Jose] Vidro said. "It was like, 'Oh, man, we got a pretty good chance now.'"
Chien-Ming Wang was everything the Yankees hoped he'd be on Sunday afternoon. He gave them length--pitching into the ninth inning--was efficient as well as effective. Beautiful, right? The Yankees led 2-1 and the 'Nats were down to their final two outs. Alex Rodriguez (2-2 with two walks) crushed an RBI double to left in the eighth to put New York ahead. But Mariano Rivera was unavailable. With Ron Villone and Scott Proctor warming in the bullpen, pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson rolled a ground ball through the right side for a base hit. And then Wang made a mistake. Perhaps it was a sign of fatigue, but he hung a sinker--his 107th pitch of the game--to the powerful Ryan Zimmerman who promptly smacked the ball over the left field fence. Nats 3, Yanks 2.
And with that, the Nationals took weekend series in front of the largest baseball crowd RFK has ever seen. Wang walked off the field and threw his glove. It was as emotional as I've ever seen him. As he sat on the bench, Joe Torre and then Ron Guidry both tried to console him. Wang pitched a fine game, and was everything he needed to be, minus one pitch. You can't fault him for that. In my mind the goat of the weekend was Shawn Chacon, who pitched miserably with a seven-run lead on Saturday.
Ah, but there is no use crying over spilt milk. What's done is done. The Yanks head to Philadelphia for three against the Phillies starting tonight. Wang's performance could be a success in the long run. There should be plenty of offense in the coming series and the Bombers may need all the help they can get from their pen, who got a much-needed day of rest on Father's Day.
Okay, so it isn't exactly that hot. I mean, it will get hotter this summer, but I want to save the "Hotter than July" headline for a later date. So today gives a Neil Simon reference (and believe me, that's not something you are likely to see often around these parts). It am mighty steamy here in the Bronx this morning, and I can only imgaine what it is like down in Washington D.C.
It's gunna be a schvitz-a-thon for sure.
Chien-Ming Wang takes the hill for New York today and the Yanks are praying he can go at least seven innings if not more. Farnsworth won't be available out of the pen today, and I doubt that we'll see Rivera either. Slim pickings as far as healthy, rested relievers go. So it'll be up to Wang and the offense to lead the Bombers today. How about another good day from Rodriguez and Damon? And Cano...wait, it seems like he has a good day every day. No matter who does well, so long as the Yanks can pull out a victory, we'll take it.
Let's go Yan-Kees.
Without further ado, let me wish a happy Father's Day to all you dads out there. I hope you feel proud. I'm not a father but I recognize that it is one of the most demanding (and ultimately rewarding) jobs you could ever have. Keep up the good work, men. There aren't a lot of great fathers or male role models out there, especially for young boys, so keep up the good work, fellas.
Pat Jordan, a writer who has never been anything less than brutally honest, particularly when writing about himself, has a piece about his old man in the New York Times magazine today. Be sure and check it out. Perhaps it will make you appreciate the relationship you have with your pop even more.
The Yankees designated journeyman pitcher Aaron Small for assignment just prior to Saturday's game. "This is the hardest demotion I've ever had to face," said Small, who had an improbable, storybook, 10-0 season in 2005. But Small's chariot has unsentimentally turned back into a pumpkin this year. By all accounts, Small is a swell, likable guy. Here's wishing him success no matter where he winds up. The bottom line is, no matter what happens from here, nobody can take away what Small did last season. Yankee fans will always appreciate him for his efforts.
"As bad as you can get," manager Joe Torre said.
I brooded and pouted throughout most of Friday night's game. It was the first time since last season that I felt sure the Yanks would lose in an ugly, frustrating manner. Well, they pulled it out and waited for Saturday afternoon to make Yankee fans ill. Thanks to a wonderful offensive afternoon from Johnny Damon who had four hits, including two doubles and a grand slam, the Yanks led 9-2 after four-and-a-half innings. Alex Rodriguez added two hits--a solid line drive single to center and then a monstrous two-run homer to straight away center--but nine runs would not be enough. Tbe Nats rallied to win 11-9.
Mariano Rivera was eventually saddled with the loss but a lion's share of the blame for this one falls on the shoulders of a highly ineffective Shawn Chacon. When he walked Alfonso Soriano on four pitches to start the bottom of the fifth, man, I just started to think the worst. For my money, this was the worst loss of the year. Fortunately, they play another one in less than 24 hours, cause for all of the good things that happened offensively for the Yanks today, this one ended fugly ugly. A regrettable, unfortunate loss if there ever was one.
Still, the Yanks have a chance to win the series on Sunday. The bats are alive, now they really need some length from a starting pitcher. Paging Mr. Wang. Whatta ya hear, whatta ya say, bro?
Damned Yankees: Bernie Goes to Washington
On a warmy, muggy evening in the nation's capital, the Yankees appeared poised to lose the opening game of a three-game series against the Nationals. The Bombers would leave thirteen men on base on the night, as Alex Rodriguez struggled again--striking out with two men on in the seventh and then again with the bases loaded in the eighth. But the Yanks were saved by good ol' Bernie Williams. Williams had a sorry arm as a center fielder and now has an almost embarrasingly poor one as a right fielder--the Nationals scored their fourth and fifth runs by testing it. But Williams collected four hits, including a double and a solo home run in the top of the ninth which gave the Yanks the lead for good. Williams traditionally heats up when the weather gets warm and he's now got his average up to a respectable .286.
Mariano Rivera was forced into the game in the eighth inning after Kyle Farnsworth left the game with back spasms (early word has Farnsworth missing the rest of the series in Washington). Rivera retired all five men he faced to earn the save. It was a long, frustrating game to watch, but hey, a win is a win and the Bombers will take it. Final score: Yanks 7, Nats 5, before the largest baseball crowd RFK has seen since baseball re-opened for business in DC last year. Some old friends, Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano hit well for the 'Nats in the loss.
The Washington Nationals
The last time the Yankees played a ballgame in Washington, D.C. was September 30, 1971. Jim Acker gave up two runs in the bottom of the eighth to cap a comeback by the Senators, who had trailed 5-1 after five in their final game in Washington. With the Yankees trailing 7-5 in the top of the ninth, Felipe Alou and Bobby Murcer grounded out only to have the Senators' fans pour onto the field forcing the game to be forfeited to New York, giving the Yankees a winning record of 82-80. The next year the Senators would play in Texas as the Rangers, swapping divisions with the Milwaukee Brewers. Both the Brewers and Rangers would finish in last place.
Thirty five years later the Yanks are back in DC and back in first place (a game up on both the Red Sox and Blue Jays), but the Washington club, wearing red caps that match those of the 1971 Senators, is still awful.
The Nationals don't do anything particularly well, and their two best players are a pair of former Yankee prospects, Alfonso Soriano, who is just two behind the injured Albert Pujols for the major league lead in home runs with 23, and Nick Johnson, who in his peak age-27 season has yet to miss a game due to injury for the first time in his career. Nick the Stick is hitting a robust .309/.436/.554 and has walked nine times more than he's struck out.
The Nationals actually have a fairly dangerous top five in their order, with Soriano inexplicably leading off and followed by Jose Vidro (hitting .309 with a .365 OBP, but virtually without any power), Johnson, 21-year-old phenom Ryan Zimmerman (on pace for 44 doubles, 22 homers and 100 RBIs), and the combative and injury-prone (read: undesirable) Jose Guillen. Guillen has an unimpressive stat line, but has gone 5 for 13 with two doubles, a homer and three walks since being activated following a stay on the DL due to a hamstring injury.
Of course, things drop off a cliff after the five spot. The last three men in the Washington line-up are lead by Royce Clayton's .259/.315/.339. They're so bad that when Livan Hernandez pitches he's the best of the last four hitters in the Nats' lineup. The Nats' bench, meanwhile, is filled with multi-position players, but other than Daryle Ward, whose likely just enjoying a small-sample surge, none of them can really hit.
Then again, the Nats play in one of the most extreme pitchers parks in the majors, which is why their weaker hitters look so darn awful, and why their unexceptional pitching staff appears to be loaded with solid individual performances. The top three in their pen, closer Chad Cordero and righty set-up men Jon Rauch and Gary Majewski have done the job, as have rookie starters Shawn Hill and Michael O'Connor and rookie ROOGY Saul Rivera. What's more, Ramon Ortiz, who was dreadful pitching his home games in the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark last year, has been on a solid streak of late that has included three games at RFK but also three on the road, while former Yankee farmhand and Expos DL mainstay Tony Armas Jr. has been both active and effective and is still just 28 years old. Last year's ace John Patterson is due to come off the DL soon and the Nats response just might be to deal innings eater Livan Hernandez. He may be their best bottom of the order hitter, but he's their worst starter.
So things are looking slightly up for the Nationals. They have real owners at long last and plans for a new ballpark. Jim Bowden has hired Davey Johnson as a special advisor to save him from himself. Johnson and Zimmerman are a fantastic pair of corner infielders in their 20s, they've got a crop of young pitchers who are contributing to the big club, and to top it all off, Alfonso Soriano is taking walks. Yes, the 30-year-old converted second baseman who entered this season with a career rate of one base on balls per 22.23 plate appearances has been taking ball four once every 12.62 trips this year.
Tonight the Yanks send Jaret "Five Innings Are Just About" Wright to the mound to face 25-year-old righty Shawn Hill. The Canadian Hill made his major league debut with the Expos in 2004, pitched terribly and then missed all of 2005 following Tommy John surgery. Back in action this year, he excelled in eight starts for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators, made one triple-A start and was then called up to replace Zach Day in the rotation. He's since made three starts for the Nationals, all of which have been quality, but two of which have resulted in hard-luck losses. In the two he's made at home, Hill has allowed just one run on seven hits over 14 innings.
I don't have much to say about yesterday's 8-4 loss to the Indians. Moose had his first truly bad start of the year, with the Indians six-through-eight hitters doing the bulk of the damage. The offense tried to come back thanks to homers by Alex Rodriguez and Bernie Williams, but Aaron Small and Ron Villone put the game further out of reach and Rodriguez struck out with men on the corners in his next trip to add fuel to a very nasty fire.
The most compelling things about the game for me were Melky Cabrera's first career home run--Melky was batting righty and appeared to get under a pitch up in the zone which just cleared the left field wall around where he made "the catch" (check the highlights, it could be a while before he hits another)--and Matt Smith's appearance in the seventh inning in which lefties Travis Hafner and Ben Broussard both battled him for identical eight-pitch walks (swinging strike, foul strike two, ball one, foul, ball, ball, ball) prompting a two-out mound visit by Ron Guidry, after which Smith got Ronnie Belliard to fly out on two pitches to strand both runners.
In other news, it's almost two weeks old now, but I only recently stumbled across this article by Yahoo!'s Jeff Passan on the Yankees' infamous 1991 number-one draft pick Brien Taylor. While it borders on rubbernecking at times, I found the article compelling and somewhat timely given the recent draft and the influx of homegrown players on the Yankee roster (ten of 25, not counting Crosby and Proctor, who came over from the Dodgers as minor leaguers).
The Yankees will visit two more of their home grown stars this weekend in Washington, but I'll have more on the Nats, Nick and Sori later today. For now, I'll share this on the Nationals' recently fired bullpen coach John Wetteland, courtesy of The Griddle. Apparently the 1996 World Series MVP was having a bit too much fun with his charges out in the pen (who include former Yanks Mike Stanton and, until a recent DL stint, Felix Rodriguez) and former MLB discipline czar and current Nationals manager Frank Robinson didn't appreciate that.
Despite being arguably the American League's best pitcher thus far this season, Mike Mussina has pitched in a lot of hard luck. If you don't believe me, consider the fact that he and Randy Johnson have the same number of wins despite the fact that Moose's ERA is more than two and a half runs better than Unit's. Indeed, in his last start he lasted seven innings, allowed just six baserunners and struck out seven, but earned a loss as four of those six men scored and the Yankee bats could only muster up two runs in his defense. The Indians have scored just one run over the last two nights, and with Moose facing off against Cliff Lee (5.12 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) the sweep would appear to be in order, but for some reason my confidence is low. Then again, this team hasn't given me any reason to doubt them thus far.
With Derek Jeter having played the field the last two days and Bubba Crosby having homered to lead off the Clippers' contest last night, Bubba has been activated and Nick Green (I swear he really was on the roster for the past week) has been designated for assignment. Having Bubba's legs and glove around for the Yankees upcoming six games under NL rules should be handy. I can envision a reoccurring late-game strategy that has Bubba running for Giambi, then moving into right field while Andy takes over at first and hits in the right fielder's spot, or better yet, hits in the pitchers spot and a new reliever hits in the right fielder's spot. Throw in Kevin Thompson as a righty foil to Bubba's leftyness (though I'd prefer to see Kevin get a few starts, that would make Bernie the righty bat off the bench, which would be fine) and the Yankees have a pretty solid bench for their second interleague stint of the year.
Meanwhile, despite being hit on the elbow by Jason Johnson's pitch last night, Jorge is back in the day game after the night game, with Joe Torre posting the same line-up as last night (no start for Kevin today). Hey, it worked last night!
'Lil Big Man
Jack Curry has a fun piece on our boy, 'Lil Soriano, who is swinging some kind of big stick for the Nationals this year. Soriano and Nick Johnson will face the Yanks this weekend in Washington.
High and Inside
Randy Johnson pitched an excellent game last night at the Stadium against the Indians as the Bombers moved into first place in the AL East with a 6-1 victory. But the game will be remembered for Johnson getting tossed for throwing the ball at Eduardo Perez in the seventh inning. You remember Perez, the guy who beat Johnson about the face and neck last year when he was with the Devil Rays. It was the old eye-for-an-eye as Johnson was "protecting" his teammate Jorge Posada, who had been plunked the inning before. No matter what you think of such machismo, the move can only win Johnson favor in the Yankee clubhouse. You could also argue that Johnson getting thrown out when he was pitching so well--and against as good a line up as Cleveland's--was foolish. Regardless, the Yankee bullpen did a fine job and the "What were you thinking?" headline will have to wait for another day.
The rumpus began when Jorge Posada was hit in the right elbow by a Jason Johnson pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Yankees had a 3-1 lead at the time (thanks to RBI's by Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano and a solo dinger by Johnny Damon). Posada started to walk away from home plate but as he moved towards first he started riffing at Johnson. It didn't seem that Johnson was intentionally trying to hit Posada, but Yankee hitters have been getting drilled a bunch lately, and it was the veteran catcher--who has always had a good dose of the red ass in him--who finally freaked. Posada was in enough pain that he couldn't grip a bat and was removed before the game concluded. Both benches were issued a warning. Whether or not the incident bothered Johnson, he would not make it through the inning. Robinson Cano to hit into a double play--the only time Cano was retired (he had three more hits and swung the bat with authority all evening). But then Williams doubled to the opposite field before Andy Phillips smacked a two-run dinger to extend the lead to 6-1.
The Big Unit recorded one out in the seventh before throwing way inside to Perez. The pitch did not hit him but it was considered intentional. Perez was heated and the teams meakly emptied out of their dugouts but there was no brawl. As Johnson walked off the field the crowd gave him an ovation. Joe Torre was automatically ejected as well. Johnson appeared more comfortable than usual last night, throwing strikes early in the count and staying ahead of the hitters. He struck out six and didn't issue a walk. I thought the Big Unit missed his location at least four times in the first inning but he only allowed one hit. After that, Johnson settled into a good groove. Again, no small feat against the potent Cleveland line up.
Andy Phillips made the first play of the game when he stabbed a Grady Sizemore ground ball and then raced to first, beating the speedster for the out. Phillips came up limping ever so slightly as he may have jammed his foot sliding into the bag. But that was nothing compared with the aches and pains that Phillips will be feeling after he recorded the final out of the game. Victor Martinez lofted a foul ball to the right side and Phillips gave up his body--his airness!--diving into the stands. It was a scary-looking play at first. Not as reckless as Jeter's famous dive into the stands against the Red Sox, but along those lines. Yes, it was terrific that Phillips made the catch, but he fell hard, banged his chin against a seat and tweaked his back a little something. With the Yanks playing their next two series in National League parks, they cannot afford to lose Phillips (particularly with Giambi--who returned last night and hit a double--still banged up).
It was one of those nights where even the potentially damaging plays worked out for New York. It also reflects just how poorly things are going for the Tribe right now. Today gives Mikey Moose in an afternoon matinee. Joe Torre said that Posada will not be playing today. It is muggy in New York and we are supposed to see showers. But even if the game is delayed some, I think they should get it in.
Johnson & Johnson
Call the doctor, this ain't gonna be pretty.
After showing signs of improvement in his three previous starts (18 1/3 IP, 14 H, 9 R, 3 HR, 8 BB, 20 K, 1.20 WHIP, 4.42 ERA, 2-0), Randy Johnson spit the bit in his last outing against a weak-hitting Oakland A's team. With that start--which included the first homers of the year for Bobby Kielty and Antonio Perez (the latter of whom remains 1 for 31 off the rest of the league this year)--my hopes of Johnson finding his old form this season have been crushed like yet another hanging slider. To make matters worse, the Indians are the current employer of Mr. Eduardo Perez, the lefty-killer who brutalized Johnson while with the Devil Rays last year. Perez has faced the Unit more than any other Indian over the course of his career and is hitting .296/.387/.778 against him with four dingers in 31 plate appearances. Run and hide, Yankee fans. Run and hide.
On the flip side, facing the Tribe's big Johnson, the 6'6" Jason, could be just what the doctor ordered for Alex Rodriguez, who is 9 for 20 with a trio of taters against the former Oriole and Tiger. Jason's been every bit as bad as Randy this year, but unlike with the 42-year-old in pinstripes, there are reasons to be optimistic about the 32-year-old with Chief Wahoo on his cap. Again, the hope lies in a trio of starts. In Jason's last three outings he's done this:
18 IP, 20 H, 7 R, 1 HR, 5 BB, 9 K, 1.39 WHIP, 3.50 ERA, 1-2
Okay, so that's not great, but it's a whole heckuva lot better than his overall 5.71 ERA and a damn sight better than his 9.13 mark from May. Hey, maybe the grass is greener on the other Johnson, but the combination of Jason's relative youth, his suddenly extreme ground ball tendencies, and the fact that the one guy in the Yankee line-up who owns him is all kinds of mixed up at the plate right now (thanks in part to the mooks who have been booing him of late) makes me more willing to believe that Jason Michael (not to be confused with left fielder Jason Michaels) is going to right his ship tonight than that Randall David is.
Either way, there will be more than one run scored tonight, I can guarantee that. And I'll be there to see the bloodletting. Last year I wrote about taking my 67-year-old boss to his first Yankee game (which just happened to be the game after Alex Rodriguez smacked three dingers off Bartolo Colon). Tonight the same crew will be taking the now-retired Ray to his second game at the big ballpark in the Bronx. Here's hoping we won't be wishing we were at last night's 1-0 gem. Hey, at least the weather is better. Uh, it will be better, won't it?
Sparkle Like a Diamond
So I go for Chinese with a motley crew of old New York Giants fans last night in my neighborhood and by the time I get home, Mariano Rivera is on the mound and the game is in ninth inning. And it was barely 9:30. Is this the American League or what? Chien-Ming Wang pitched a terrific game as did Cleveland's Paul Byrd. Robinson Cano's solo shot accounted for all of the scoring as the Yanks won 1-0. A nice victory on a night that saw several brilliant pitching performances around baseball (including Doc Halladay, Chris Carpenter, Jared Weaver, and of course, the great Schilling-Santana duel).
On Friday we learned that the A's disappointing season has largely been the result of injuries and massive offensive outage. The A's then proceeded to sweep the Yankees, scoring an average of 5 2/3 runs per game.
Tonight the Yankees open a three-game series with the American League's second most disappointing team, the Cleveland Indians. So what's Cleveland's problem? It isn't injuries, only relief pitcher Matt Miller currently resides on the Tribe's disabled list. It isn't offense, the Indians have rivaled the Yankees for the major league lead in runs scored all year (both teams have scored 359 runs thus far, though the Indians have needed one more game to reach that total). What does that leave?
That's right, pitching. Only five teams in baseball have allowed more runs than the Indians, the Brewers and post-Mazzone Braves in the NL and the terrible trio of Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Kansas City in the AL. One reason for that is that in the AL only those three embarrassments and the major-league worst Twins have less efficient defenses than the Indians, who are in a very bad way on both sides of the ball at third (ol' buddy Aaron Boone) and second (the erratic Ronnie Belliard) and will be in right field as well as soon as Casey Blake's bat crashes back to earth.
Curiously, the fact that two of the Tribe's four infielders have had their gloves turn to stone hasn't had a tremendously negative effect on extreme groundballer Jake Westbrook, but extreme flyballer Cliff Lee has been having a rough go of it. Meanwhile, new addition Jason Johnson has doubled his groundball rate and seen just about every other number on his stat sheet (save for Ks and homers) shoot up as well.
C.C. Sabathia continues to progress toward being a true ace, and Bob Wickman continues to get the job done in the ninth, but elsewhere things are, if you'll pardon the term, thin. The three best bullpen ERA's after Wickman are Rafael Betancourt's 3.57, Jeremy Guthrie's 4.63 and Rafael Perez's 0.00, the last representing a single inning's work. Other than those four and Sabathia, the only man on the staff with an ERA under 5.00 is Jake Westbrook. Guillermo Mota has been a flat disaster, closer of the future Fernando Cabrera has struggled with wildness, and would-be fifth starters Fausto Carmona and Jason Davis have been just plain hittable.
Still, as bad as things might look, that offense counts for a lot. In fact, the Tribe's Pythagorean record is four games better than their actual mark and would rank them just a game and a half behind the Yankees in the East or all alone in first in the West. Cleveland has a supply of reinforcements in the minors. If things don't shape up soon, expect to see some of them in Cleveland as we approach the All-Star break and the trading deadline.
Paul Byrd, the other big pitching addition for 2006, will take the Yankee Stadium hill for the Tribe tonight. The Yankees handled Fraiser pretty well in last year's ALDS (though that fact was obscured by Randy Johnson's own failings in Game 3). That's reassuring as Byrd has settled down after a rough April to turn in quality starts in five of his last seven outings. Opposing him will be Chien-Ming Wang, who finally turned in a solid outing against the Red Sox in his last turn.
Something to Chew On
I caught portions of the Rangers-White Sox game on ESPN last night and dag, Steve Lombardi, you read my mind.
Do you think that Joe Torre is giving Andy Phillips an unreasonably hard time?
You May Be Warshed Up, But You're Ours and We Luh Ya
At Yankee Stadium, it doesn't much matter that Bernie Williams is no longer a star player. Williams is cheered for just about everything he does well and is forgiven for his short-comings. He's earned it, so it has been a pleasure to watch Yankee fans show their appreciation for Williams this year. Not everyone is so lucky. According to Peter Botte in the Daily News:
"Bernie will make an error and they'll cheer him when he comes up (to bat). For the guys who get booed off the face of the earth, I'm sure they feel it's unfair, but that's the way it goes," [manager] Joe Torre said Sunday. "Bernie's just never changed. From the first day I met him 11 years ago, to now, and he's made a ton of money . . . but this man has never changed one bit."
Williams tells Tyler Kepner how influencial Don Mattingly was for him during the early '90s:
"He taught me a piece of advice that I take even to this day," Williams said Sunday. "He said to me: 'I don't really care what you do the night before or the week before when you come to the field, you come ready to play. Mentally ready to play. You've got to be all there. You can't worry about maybe I don't feel too good today, or I don't feel 100 percent. You've got to go like: dude, get it done.'"
The Kepner article is worth checking out just to see the photograph of Williams when he was a young major leaguer. He's rocking the Dorkasaurous Rex glasses and everything.
Bit by Bit
Here is another reason why I admire and appreciate Godzilla Matsui.
Read it and Sweep
No soup for Moose, and none for Shawn Chacon, Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez or Kyle Farnsworth either as the Yankees dropped two more over the weekend to Oakland. Joe Torre held a player's only meeting before Sunday's game. Johnny Damon, who was critical of the team's play after Saturday's game, felt the effort was better yesterday, though the Yankees couldn't come away with the win.
A Very Large, Angry Man
Randy Johnson got served by the A's on a windy, and ultimately wet, Friday in the Bronx. He not only got hit by the A's good hitters but by their scrubs as well. It was another frustrating outing for Johnson, whose famous temper got the better of him. Johnson sulked during the game and then again later on to reporters. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:
In a crowded ballpark, long before the rain came, the ranting of one angry pitcher pierced the air. Randy Johnson's fury could be heard in the second deck of Yankee Stadium last night, and his distraction was obvious to everyone.
By the middle innings, hot dog wrappers and debris were swirling all around the park. Down 6-1, the Bombers climbed back in the game, on the strength of Jason Giambi's three-run home run. Giambi's dinger came against Brad Halsey after an hour-and-a-half rain delay. They closed the score to 6-5 but Oakland's pen shut the door in the eighth and ninth. The Bombers made it fun for those who stayed but they came up just short. These feel like games they are going to win even if that isn't always the case. Final score: A's 6, Yanks 5.
The two teams go right back at it this afternoon on the Fox Game of the Week. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, no soup for you. Mike Mussina is on the hill for the New Yorkers, which is very definitely a good thing. Mussina has been terrific all year and is coming off his worst game of the season. Let's hope he's sharp again today.
Later this evening I'm going to be talking about Curt Flood and my book "Stepping Up" at the Coliseum book store in midtown Manhattan (42nd street between 5th and 6th, right across the street from Bryant Park). Actually, I'm the opening act for Rob Neyer, who'll be there promoting his new book, Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders." Talk about a good dude to open for, right? I know Neyer a little bit, he helped do some research for my book, and he's always been a good guy with me. It starts at 6:00 and should be fun. If you are in and around the city and don't have anything going tonight, roll through, it'd be great to see you.
Having just taken five of seven from two of the three best teams in the American League other than themselves, including the league's most surprising and best team, the Detroit Tigers, the Yankees now have seven games against the league's two biggest disappointments, the Oakland A's and Cleveland Indians, two preseason playoff favorites whose records currently sit just below .500. Exactly what's gone wrong in Cleveland (it certainly hasn't been Casey Blake and Ben Broussard, who appear to have been traded to an alternate universe for their more talented evil twins) we'll examine on Monday. As for the A's, the answer is rather simple: injuries and a nearly complete offensive breakdown.
On offense Eric Chavez is putting together his best season and Nick Swisher has broken out to make Chavez's production seem tame. Frank Thomas has stayed relatively healthy and, despite a .234 average, has put up on-base and slugging numbers befitting his Hall of Fame talents. But everyone else has been a tremendous disappointment.
Consider these stats:
Bobby Crosby: .291 OBP
A knee injury put Milton Bradley on the DL for more than a month, creating playing time for this:
Jay Payton: .266 OBP
And now Mark Ellis is on the DL, putting this in the line-up:
Marco Scutaro: .191/.290/.255
That doesn't even bring into account futility infielder Antonio Perez, who's single against the Yankees in mid-May remains his only hit of the year in 35 plate appearances, 16 of which have resulted in a strikeout.
If not for Swisher, Chavez and Thomas, the A's would be the worst offensive team in baseball. As it is, they're the third worst in the AL, with only the lowly Devil Rays and Royals below them
Then there's the pitching. Their young ace, Rich Harden, has made just six starts, the same number as replacements Kirk Saarloos and Brad Halsey. Harden is currently on the DL for the second time this year, this time with elbow problems that some believe could end in Tommy John surgery, which would be a huge blow to the franchise. The two A's relievers with the best ERAs, Justin Duchscherer and Joe Kennedy, are also on the DL having thrown just 28 2/3 innings between them (by comparison, Scott Proctor has thrown 40 1/3).
Among the healthy, Joe Blanton has disappointed, posting a 5.60 ERA thus far. Meanwhile scheduled fifth starter Esteban Loaiza, one of four ex-Yankees on the A's staff, has been both hurt and terrible, posting a 6.39 ERA in just five starts.
Tonight the Yankees face one of the few A's to keep his head above water, 25-year-old Dan Haren. Haren has essentially repeated his 2005 season exactly save for a nicely improved walk rate. Indeed, in the last meeting between these two teams, Haren pitched a one-run, six-hit, no-walk complete game gem to beat . . . well look at that, tonight's starter, Randy Johnson.
For all of his struggles, the Yankees have won Johnson's last three starts and the Unit himself appears to be coming around some, having struck out eight in two of those three games and pitched six scoreless innings in the other. Here's hoping he can take advantage of the week underbelly of the A's lineup and doesn't give Thomas anything to hit.
Derek Jeter will sit out yet again, but is expected to start tomorrow. Curiously, Torre has swapped Cairo and Cabrera in the order. Otherwise, with Jorge back behind the plate to catch the Unit, Andy Phillips is back at first base, and Bernie remains in right.
Sheff of the Future?
It dawned on me last night that Gary Sheffield may never play another game for the Yankees. Now, I hope this isn't the case, I hope he can come back by the end of the season, but who knows? Will the Yanks try and sign him again this fall? It's certainly not a lock. Man, it would be a shame if this is how Sheffield's Yankee career ends. He's had two memorable seasons in the Bronx, adding to his Hall of Fame resume. I'm not ready to see Sheff and his inimitable bat wiggle go just yet, are you?
Can't Win 'Em All
Just like they did the last time he pitched against them in the Bronx, the Yankees hit three home runs off Curt Schilling last night. This time, however, all three were solo shots (by Johnny Damon leading off the game, Bernie Williams again batting lefty, and Robinson Cano snapping a 158 at-bat homerless streak). Otherwise, Schilling faced the minimum, walking none and allowing only one other hit, a Damon double in the third that was erased when Damon wandered off second expecting a Melky Cabrera fly out to center to drop in front of Coco Crisp.
Still, the Yankees carried a 3-1 lead into the sixth thanks to Jaret Wright's first-inning Houdini act. After giving up singles to three of the game's first four batters, the last off the bat of Manny Ramirez driving Coco Crisp home with the game's first run, Wright walked Trot Nixon to load the bases with one out. With his team on the verge of giving Curt Schilling a big early lead, Jason Varitek hit a ball right back to Jaret Wright, who body-blocked the ball, picked it up and threw home to start an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play.
From there Wright settled down until the top of the sixth when he walked Ramirez, and allowed singles to Trot Nixon and Varitek, the latter plating Ramirez. Wright then clipped Mike Lowell on the jersey to load the bases, ending his day. With none out, the bases loaded and the Yankees clinging to a slim 3-2 lead, Joe Torre called on Scott Proctor to face the bottom of the Red Sox order.
Proctor got ahead of Kevin Youkilis 0-2 before getting him to fly out to center for the first out. That tied the game at three. Proctor the got ahead of Alex Gonzalez 0-2 only to have Gonzalez foul off three pitches and take what looked like strike three on the inside corner to everyone but home plate ump Tim McClelland and Gonzalez for ball one. Gonzalez then fouled off one more pitch before yanking a fastball down the middle past Alex Rodriguez for an RBI double. The ball, which was hit hard and took a sharp hop over Rodriguez's glove, actually tipped off the pinky of Rodriguez's mitt. Initially ruled a double, the scoring was briefly changed to an E5 before being reversed yet again. Proctor then fell behind Crisp 3-0, but the Red Sox's lead-off hitter swung at the 3-0 pitch and grounded out and Mark Loretta flew out to left on Proctor's next pitch.
Down just a run, the top of the Yankee order went down on seven pitches in the bottom of the frame, capped by Giambi striking out on three pitches.
Joe Torre stuck with Proctor to start the seventh against the Sox big guns. David Ortiz lead off with a double and the Yankees somewhat wisely decided to walk Manny Ramirez rather than let Manny's personal whipping boy, Proctor, pitch to him. A better move likely would have been to pull Proctor there and then, but as was revealed after Proctor surrendered a game-breaking three-run homer to Jason Varitek five pitches later, the next man in line was Scott Erickson.
Erickson started his day by giving up a single to Lowell and cracking Kevin Youkilis on the elbow with a wildly errant fastball. He then allowed both runners to score on a two-out Crisp single, running the score to the eventual 9-3 final.
No word yet on the fate of tonight's game, but the rain has been much lighter in the city today and things appear to be drying up a tad on the streets. Having postponed yesterday's contest and with double headers scheduled in both of their remaining series with the Sox (five games in four days in Fenway in August and four games in three days in the Bronx in September), you know the Yankees want to get this one in. If so, we'll see the matchup we were supposed to get last night with Jaret Wright taking on Curt Schilling.
A mismatch on paper given that the Yanks are throwing their fifth starter against Boston's ace, I have an odd feeling that the Yankees have a decen shot tonight. Part of that is that Jaret Wright has impressed of late, at least by fifth starter standards. His aggregate line over his last six starts is now:
33 2/3 IP, 36 H, 13 R (12 ER), 2 HR, 8 BB, 17 K, 1.31 WHIP, 3.21 ERA, 3-1
That's plenty solid given the Yankees major league best offense. Jaret's remaining bugaboo is length. He's finished the sixth inning in just half of those starts and hasn't answered the bell for the seventh in any of them. That seems unlikely to change against the Red Sox. Then again, Wright's shortest outing in those six turns was five full and he left that game due not to poor performance (he had kept the Red Sox scoreless on 73 pitches), but because of a tweaked groin.
That was the only time Wright has faced the Sox thus far this year. Schilling, meanwhile, has faced the Yankees in two of his last five turns with markedly different results. Most significant about Schilling is that he hasn't walked a single batter in his last four starts, which is a mighty powerful way to counter the Yankees historic on-base pace. That said, save for his last outing against the Yankees in Fenway, he hasn't been particularly efficient in any of those outings, so while they might not get to ball four, there's little reason for the Yankees not to continue to work the count tonight.
Let's Get it On
In his column "OBP is Life," which appeared over at BP yesterday, Joe Sheehan points out just how well the Yankees have been getting on base this season:
The Yankees have achieved their success by leading the majors in runs scored with 344, and they've done that by leading the planet in OBP with a whopping .375 mark. You can't understate how impressive that figure is. The post-1900 record for OBP is .385, set by the 1950 Red Sox. (Six teams, including three John McGraw/Hughie Jennings Orioles squads, topped that figure between 1894 and 1897.) Just 19 teams have ever had a .375 OBP, and none have done so since those '50 Sox. Since then, a mere two teams have cracked .370: the 1994 Yankees and the 1999 Indians. The latter is the only team in the last 56 years to score 1000 runs, while the former went into the season-ending strike second in the AL in runs scored.
The Bombers can thank Jason Giambi for boosting their team OBP. Giambi is the subject of my lastest column for SI.com. Check, check it out.
In his latest mailbag column, SI's Tom Verducci writes:
The injuries will catch up to the Yankees. Teams often get a short-term boost from these situations because everyone senses a feeling of urgency. But losing front-line players eventually catches up to you. The Cubs and Derrek Lee come to mind. But I will say that the Yankees needed an infusion of youth on their roster. Look at the past four or five teams to win the World Series: They were not loaded with players in their mid-30s and older. Teams like the Yankees and the Giants were breakdowns waiting to happen. Don't forget, the Yankees' money also gives them an edge in the international market, where they have signed such "homegrown" players as Orlando Hernandez, Alfonso Soriano, Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, etc. Their draft picks have not worked out nearly as well.
I keep thinking that Soriano will wind up back in the Bronx before the summer is over.
It is gray and rainy again this morning in New York, but it's not nearly as wet as it was yesterday. The sun was actually peeking through the clouds when I left my apartment in the Bronx this morning. Curt Schilling and Jaret Wright will give it another try tonight, weather permitting. I believe they'll get this one in. A day of rest isn't the worst thing in the world right now, for either team.
On the Low
Ben Kabak has an interview with Yankee beat writer Peter Abraham over at Off the Facade. Check it out.
On the Sheff
Melky Cabrera has done a nice job of late, but if the Yankees are going to be without Gary Sheffield for a long period of time, I have little doubt that they'll be in the market for another outfielder before the trading deadline. Several days ago, Will Carroll had the following to say about Sheff over at Baseball Prospectus:
The injury to Gary Sheffield is devastating. I dug and dug to get the information on what was actually going on with Sheffield, knowing that while the Yankees were not lying about the injury, they weren't giving anyone the whole story. Just as I was putting the pieces together, having two of my best advisors pointing me in what was the correct direction, Sheffield's wrist made my work moot. Sheffield's injury was not a bruise or a fracture, but a soft tissue injury. The torn ligament and translocated tendon have only an outside chance of repairing themselves without surgical intervention, but the chance that they could--along with the timetable of surgery--means it makes sense to wait. If Sheffield had surgery now, he wouldn't be back in time for the playoffs and waiting a month just pushes it a bit further into the off-season. Yes, you'll note that if he waits that will possibly affect him next season, but that's not really the Yankees' concern given his contract situation--or is there some handshake agreement that helped Sheffield stay patient on the chance he gets better? We don't know. Sheffield has a small chance of avoiding surgery, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
It'll be interesting to see what the Yankees do, huh?
Wetting Our Appetites
It's been raining all day here in NYC and as I look out the window now around 4:45 pm EST, all I see are umbrellas with feet and shiny wet streets. Indeed, the Yanks and Sox have been rained out, which is a shame given the high the Yankees are riding after the last two days. Then again, there's no harm in basking in the glory of last night's contest and giving Cap'n Grumpypants an extra day to let his thumb heal.
No make-up plans have been announced just yet. I'll update this post with that information as well as the impact the rainout will have on the Yankee rotation (will they skip Chacon's turn on Friday to give him another rehab start?) when I know more.
Update: The game will be made up during the one remaining series between the two teams in the Bronx, turning the September 15-17 three-game series into a four-game set via an as yet to be determined double header. Torre meanwhile has decided not to skip anyone in the rotation, though there are conflicting reports about whether or not Mike Mussina will start as scheduled on Saturday, pushing Shawn Chacon to Sunday, or in turn on Sunday following Chacon's return on Saturday.
Rich Lederer watched Ian Kennedy, the Yankees' top pick in the 2006 draft, pitch in a college game earlier this season (check out Rich's pitch-by-pitch post of the game). Lederer's scouting report on Kennedy goes something like this:
Following in the footsteps of fellow Trojans Tom Seaver, Randy Johnson, Barry Zito, and Mark Prior...Consensus All-American...Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year...Two-time pitcher for Team USA...Although stuff is no better than average for a major league hurler, the right-hander exhibits outstanding command of four pitches...Fastball ranged from 89-91 all night...Throws strikes and changes speed...His stretch position is similar to Mike Mussina...Top ten draft pick unless his advisor and soon-to-be agent Scott Boras scares off potential suitors.
The Ice Man
"Listen," Jeter says, "I'm not just saying this to say this. But if you don't win it's a waste. It's not enough to win your division, it's not enough to say you made it to the League Championship Series and you battled. Or that you lost the World Series, but boy, did you battle. That's not why I play. It shouldn't be why anybody plays. Here's the deal: You start working out in November, and you keep working, through spring training and into the season, and the whole time, there's only one goal, and that's to win the World Series. Not win the division. Win the Series. And if that's not the way you look at things, then you shouldn't even be here."
Watching Jeter on the bench two nights ago, I was struck with just how blue the guy looked. I know I have a hard time taking good care of myself when I'm sick, but looking at Jeter I thought, "Man, dude looks so bummed. Just what is he going to do with himself when he can't play ball anymore?" Jeter's got the Michael Jordan red ass. You know, the whole Pat Riley thing--you either win it all or you are miserable. It may not make for great mental health on his part, but as a Yankee fan it's comforting to know that the captain of the team has that kind of competitive attitude.
I've never felt as good about a big Yankee loss as I did back Cleveland, 1997. When they lost that series, I remember several members of the team stading around, red-faced in the dugout as the Indians celebrated. David Cone stands out. I recall thinking, "Wow, these guys are as upset than I am, maybe even more so...cool." Jeter is still one of those guys.
I Know You Got Soul (If you didn't, you wouldn't be in here)
Just Win, Baby
When the Yankees dumped 13 runs on the Red Sox in the first three innings of Monday night's contest it was the largest early-game outburst in the rivalry's history. Last night's game didn't start out quite so promisingly for the Yanks. Chien-Ming Wang needed 47 pitches to get through first two innings, pitching into and out of jams in both frames. Then David Ortiz smacked Wang's fourth pitch of the third inning off the facing of the upper deck in right to give the Red Sox an early lead 1-0. Red Sox rookie David Pauley, meanwhile, kept the Yankees scoreless through the first four innings, stranding four Yankee baserunners including the station-to-station Jorge Posada in scoring position twice.
But Wang settled down in the fourth, needing just sixteen pitches in the fourth and fifth combined and getting five of the six outs in those two innings on grounders. Bernie Williams then hit Pauley's first pitch of the fifth over the fence in right center to knot things up at 1-1. The shot was Bernie's first left-handed homer of the year and just his third overall.
From there, Wang and Pauley emptied their tanks to keep things locked up, Wang with a bit of help from Manny Ramirez, who decided to try to stretch a single into a double with one out in the sixth only to be easily thrown out by Johnny Damon of all people. Pauley again stranding Posada in the bottom of the sixth (Jorge was 2 for 3 with a double and a walk on the night).
Pauley finally ran into a mess he couldn't escape in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs, Miguel Cairo hit a low hopper back to the mound that skipped right under Pauley's glove for an infield single. As if distracted by the inning-ending play he should have made (after Cairo reached, Pauley stared at his glove searching for the hole that wasn't there), Pauley proceeded to surrender a single to Damon and walk Melky Cabrera on four pitches to load the bases.
With the rookie up to 98 pitches, Terry Francona called on Rudy Seanez to face Jason Giambi, only to watch Seanez issue a full-count walk to the man with the highest on-base percentage in the American League, forcing in the go-ahead run. Seanez then struck out Alex Rodriguez on three pitches to end the threat.
With Wang having thrown his season-high 108th pitch to end the seventh--saving Scott Proctor, who leads the majors in relief innings and had been warming in the pen, from what would have been an American League-leading 29th appearance--Joe Torre turned to Kyle Farnsworth to face the heart of the Red Sox line-up in the ninth.
Mark Loretta flied out to Damon in center on Farnsworth's first pitch, bringing Big Papi, the man responsible for the lone Red Sox run of the night to the plate. The highlight of Farnsworth's season to this point has been his bases-loaded strike out of Ortiz in Boston on May 24. That K came on a high slider that dropped into the strike zone for called strike three. This time out, Farnsworth fed Papi cheese, pumping a pair of 97 mile per hour heaters past Ortiz up in the zone to come back from a 2-1 count and strike out the big man.
All seemed to be going the Yankees way. Then Manny Ramirez cracked a 1-0 pitch from Farnsworth some 400 feet to the gap in left center. As the ball rocketed off of Manny's bat, Melky Cabrera broke for the gap, eventually leaping right at the 399 foot sign, colliding with the window in front of the Yankee bullpen and bringing Manny's game-tying homer back, turning it into the third out of the inning as he landed back on the warning track and stumbled forward, landing chest-first on the grass, his glove extended with Manny's shot tucked firmly in the webbing.
Johnny Damon, who had leapt at the wall several feet to the right of Cabrera (imagine and outfield defense that actually overlaps on a 400-plus-foot bomb), immediately started celebrating Cabrera's catch, throwing his arms in the air as he came down on the warning track and throwing a round-house fist pump as Cabrera fell onto the outfield grass. Ramirez meanwhile had rounded second by the time Cabrera had completed the play and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw that Cabrera had the ball, removing his helmet in a daze and muttering to himself in Spanish.
At that, all that was left was for Mariano Rivera, showing no ill effects from the back spasms that held him out of action over the weekend, to set the Sox down on five pitches in the ninth, which he did. The 2-1 victory gives the Yankees a guaranteed split in the current series, wins in their last four confrontations with the Sox, a 5-4 lead in the season series, a game and a half lead in the AL East, and ties them with the White Sox for the second best record in the major leagues, just a game and a half behind the Tigers, from whom they just took three of four last week. The Yankees, who have won nine of their last eleven and eleven of their last fourteen, are the hottest team in baseball right now despite a list of injuries and illnesses that would make Def Leppard blanch.
The 2006 Amateur Baseball Draft is underway. With the 21st pick in the first round (compensation from the Phillies for Tom Gordon, moving the Yankees up from their original 28th pick, which went to Boston for Johnny Damon), the Yankees have drafted Ian Kennedy, a righty pitcher out of USC. Kennedy throws a low-90s fastball along with a curve, change and a slider. He also is represented by Scott Boras.
The Angles drafted Hyun Choi Conger, a switch-hitting catcher considered the best backstop in the draft with the 25th pick. The Dodgers then nabbed Preston Mattingly, Donnie Baseball's shortstop son, with the 31st pick.
The Yanks supplemental round pick for Gordon (overall #41) is on deck.
Update: The Yanks' supplemental round pick is another college righty, Joba Chaimberlain out of the University of Nebraska. He sounds like Kennedy minus the curve.
Update: The Yanks didn't have a pick in the second round (it went to the Braves for Kyle Farnsworth), and in the third round they've chosen high-school hurler Zachary MacAllister, a 6'5" righty from Illinios with the same repertoire as Chaimberlain.
Will Weiss wrote a nice piece on Melky Cabrera last week over at YESNetwork.com. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to put up a link to it, but in light of last night's Bad News Bears play, there's no better time than the present, right?
A few weeks ago Alex Rodriguez was taking a beating for his slow start. Dag, I guess even when he "sucks" he's pretty good. Rodriguez won the AL Player of the Month award for May. [Insert Dave Winfield joke here.]
Boogie Down Beat Down
Mike Mussina had his worst outing of the year on Monday night and yet he still came away with a "w." A nice turn of fortune for "the unlucky one," as Mussina improves to 8-1. Josh Beckett, however, didn't make it out of the second inning. The Yankees collected at least 10 hits for the 12th straight game, a team record. The Baby Bombers pulled a Gashouse Gorillas Conga-Line on Beckett, capped by two three-run home runs--one by Andy Phillips, the other by Jason Giambi.
But the most exciting play for the Yankees occured in the first inning. With one out, Melky Cabrera was on first and Giambi was at the plate. Beckett, who could not locate his curve ball, threw a breaking pitch in the dirt. It skipped away from Jason Varitek and Cabrera took off for second. Varitek's throw was wild and went into the outfield. Melky ducked as he reached second and then took off for third. But since Boston had the shift on for Giambi, there was nobody covering third. Instead, Varitek had travelled half-way up the third base line. At Larry Bowa's prompting, and without skipping a beat, Melky suddenly broke for home. So did Varitek. Cabrera won the race, beating the catcher and the throw to the plate for the Yankees' first run. Boston's sloppy fielding and Cabrera's alert base-running made for perhaps the most joyous Yankee run of the season:
"The way we got that first run today, that may never happen again," Mussina said. "That was just pure youth and speed and recklessness. That's why we play these games: to see something new every day."
It is the kind of play that Jose Reyes has been making across town for a couple of seasons now, but one we haven't seen from a Yankee player in some time. The game was a laugher through and through for the Yanks last night and a snoozer for Sox fans. Boston throws a rookie tonight against Chien-Ming Wang, who was far from stellar last week in Detroit. There is a long way to go in this series but the Bombers sure managed to get off on the good foot.
Have We Met Before? You Look Familiar (I know you from some place...I just can't put my finger on it)
Pair of aces on the menu tonight as the Yankees and the Red Sox sqaure off in the Bronx. If the glass is half-empty for you Yankee fans, you are probably convinced that Mussina will suffer his first bad outing of the year tonight. If you are a Sox fan, you can only hope that Beckett feeds off of his first performance against the Yanks, and not how he pitched against Toronto recently. Course the Sox also hope that Mussina finally slips. Mikey Moose has been brilliant so far, every bit the ace of the staff. With the Yankees at less than full snuff he's more important that ever. It's a cool spring evening in New York. It should be a fun one.
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
Aaron Small didn't have much on Sunday afternoon and was thoroughly beat-up by the Orioles who sailed to a tension-free 11-4 against the Yankees. David Ortiz, move over--Miguel Tejada has simply murdered the Yanks this year (16-26 this year).
Jason Giambi sat for a second straight game with a stomach virus. Alex Rodriguez returned from his bout with the bug and looked far from crisp. Worse still, Derek Jeter had to leave the game after being hit by a pitch in the right thumb. The initial x-rays were negative and Jeter is listed as day-to-day. With a whopping four-game series with the Red Sox kicking off tomorrow, the Replacement Level Yankees can ill-afford to lose their captain.
Would You Believe?
With the meat of the Lumber Company--Matsui, Sheffield, Rodriguez and Giambi--unavailable yesterday, it looked like it'd be an uphill battle all afternoon for the Bronx Bombers. When Randy Johnson allowed three runs in the first I wondered if Miguel Cairo might get some mound time before the game was through. But Johnson settled down nicely and pitched into the eighth inning. Scott Proctor blew a two-run lead but Johnny Damon hit a line drive, solo home run against Chris Ray in the top of the 10th, and Chien-Ming Wang survived some tension in the bottom of the frame as the Yankees beat the Orioles, 6-5.
Damon had three hits, Jeter had two, while Bernie drove in three and Andy Phillips popped another dinger. But the big story was that Johnson gave his team the length they were looking for. Though he did not figure in the decision, it was an encouraging performance. And another "W" for the Relacement Level Yankees? Yo Snoops, we'll take it.
The Yankees won a back-and-forth contest against the Orioles on a damp Friday night in Baltimore, 6-5. The Bombers' bullpen could not hold a two-run lead late in the game but a bit of good base running fortune involving Johnny Damon and then a key single by Derek Jeter in the ninth was enough to put the Yanks on top to stay. Kyle Farnsworth redeemed himself after Thursday's outing in Detroit, pitched effectively and earned the win.
Offensively, Damon and Jeter had nice games, and so did Andy Phillips and Jason Giambi (who both hit home runs). Giambi's dinger was a rainmaker to right and he's swinging the bat considerably better than he was just a week ago. Phillips has caught fire at the right time too. Jaret Wright pitched relatively well and Melky Cabrera made a good throw home to nail Javey Lopez in the second inning.
With the score tied at 5 in the ninth, Johnny Damon reached base with a two-out single off of Baltimore's closer, the gangly hard-thrower, Chris Ray. He then tried to steal second. Ramon Hernandez's throw beat him to the bag but second baseman Brian Roberts could not hold onto the throw. Damon slid into Roberts' glove. As the Orioles ran off the field and the TV prepared to go to commerical, the umpire changed his initial call of "out" to "safe." The ball fell to the ground as Roberts still tried to sell the call to no avail.
The play kept the inning alive. Jeter then sliced a low fastball into right for a single--his signature base hit and his third hit of the game. In all, it was a satisfying win for the Yanks. With all of the injuries the team is facing, and with the likes of T. Long (who didn't play tonight) and Scott Erickson (who did pitch, and pitched poorly) playing vital roles for the Bombers at the moment, every win feels that much sweeter (while every loss feels that much worse). Alex Rodriguez missed the game due to a stomach virus but Jeter, Giambi and company held it down.
The team will look to the Big Unit tomorrow to live up to his moniker and give them some length, just as Mike Mussina did the other night against the Tigers. Camden Yards is a far cry from Comerica so it should be interesting to see how he performs.
The Orioles are a bad team. But unlike the Devil Rays, who have some exciting young players, or the Royals, who are historically awful, they're also dull. Their pitching is somehwere between nonedescript (tonight's starter Kris Benson) and awful (the re-pumpkinized Bruce Chen). Their best pitchers are young relievers, which won't get them anywhere. As for their hitting, it's the same old story, stop Tejada and Mora and you're in good shape. The only interesting story here is that Corey Patterson is thriving as their starting centerfielder, hitting .291/.342/.496 with a whopping 21 steals in 22 tries.
Jaret Wright opposes Benson tonight looking to build on his strong May (3-1, 3.25 ERA).
No Sweep For You
Unimpressed by the Tigers' young ace Justin Verlander, the Yankees staked Chien-Ming Wang to a 5-0 lead in the third inning last night, but the Yankee sinkerballer couldn't hold it, giving back three in the fourth and loading the bases with no outs to start the fifth. Though a Jason Giambi solo home run had increased the Yankee lead to 6-3, Joe Torre had seen enough, Yanking Wang in favor of rookie Darrell Rasner.
It was a hell of a position for Rasner to make his Yankee debut in, and somewhat reminiscent of Torre bringing in a struggling and homer-prone Javier Vazquez in a similar situation in the seventh game of the 2004 ALCS. Indeed, Magglio Ordoñez laced Rasner's first pitch into center to bring the Tigers within one, but Rasner recovered to set the next three men down in order and preserve the lead, finishing the inning by getting Omar Infante waiving at a nasty breaking ball.
The Yankees loaded the bases themselves with one out in the seventh against fireballer Joel Zumaya, but because of the injuries to Derek Jeter and Gary Sheffield, had Terrence Long and Miguel Cairo due up. Long fouled out on the first pitch he saw and Cairo grounded out to end the threat.
Scott Proctor and Fernando Rodney then traded pairs of scoreless innings, leaving it up to Kyle Farnsworth to protect the Yankees' one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth because Mariano Rivera--two days after pitching three innings in a regular season game for the first time since 1996, the third of which came with a five-run lead--strained his back putting on his spikes before the game.
Farnsworth was greeted by lead-off hitter Curtis Granderson, who worked him over for nine pitches before flying out to left. Marcus Thames did the same, but instead worked a walk, thanks in part to the small strike zone of home-plate umpire Laz Diaz. Farnsworth then got ahead of Ivan Rodriguez 0-2 on a called strike and a checked swing only to have Rodriguez yank a ball out of the dirt and into left field for a single pushing Thames to second. That man Ordoñez then poked Farnsworth's next pitch into right for an RBI single, tying the game and pushing the winning run to second with one out. Farnsworth then fell behind Carlos Guillen 3-1. Guillen sent Farnsworth's 27th pitch of the inning into right to score Rodriguez for the win, preventing a four-game Yankee sweep.
Hey, tough knocks. Whatchugonnado? The Yankees have bigger problems than taking three of four from the team with the best record in the majors. Gary Sheffield has a torn ligament and a dislocating tendon in his left wrist that, if it doesn't respond to a few weeks of therapy, will require surgery that could keep the Yankee right fielder out for the remainder of the season. Derek Jeter was useless in Tuesday's game after jamming a finger on Monday and hasn't played the last two days. The severity of Rivera's back problems is unknown, and Johnny Damon and Jorge Posada are both playing hurt, the latter's torn hamstring tendon costing the Yankees a crucial run in the seventh last night when Jorge was unable to score from second on an Andy Phillips single and was instead stranded at third by Long and Cairo.
The good news is that Damon, whose foot injury has finally been identified as a broken sesamoid bone in his right foot, is feeling better after sitting out Tuesday and Wednesday and that Jeter is expected to play against the Orioles tonight. In addition, Shawn Chacon's rehab remains on schedule with him set to make a rehab start with the Trendon Thunder on Sunday and, if all goes well then, return from the DL to start on Thursday. The Yankees are also hoping Octavio Dotel will be ready to join the team a week later following a minor league rehab assignment that's expected to begin next week.
Oh, and Bubba Crosby's recovery from his hamstring injury has been slower than expected. He's now expected back next weekend, which is at least good news for Kevin Thompson.
Icing On The Ace
If yesterday's win was gravy, a victory tonight to finish off a four-game sweep of the Tigers, who despite the last three games still have the majors' best record, would be icing on the cake. It won't be an easy task, however, as the Yankees will get their first look at the Tigers' young ace, Justin Verlander.
Drafted out of Old Dominion second overall in the 2004 amateur draft, Verlander signed too late to play that year, instead making his pro debut in the Florida State League (high-A ball) in 2005. Verlander dominated in thirteen starts there, then turned it up a notch with double-A Erie, allowing just eleven hits and one run (on a homer) in 32.2 innings across seven starts. That earned him a September call-up in which the 22-year-old looked plenty human.
Verlander won the fifth starters spot out of spring training this year and has since emerged as the Tigers' ace in just his second pro season. His only non-quality start of the year came in his second start when he was roughed up by the World Champion White Sox. In his last seven starts he's compiled the following line: 50 1/3 IP (7+ IP/GS), 44 H, 3 HR, 10 BB, 25 K, 1.07 WHIP, 1.61 ERA, 6-1. Again, this is a 23-year-old in his second pro season. Sick.
Trying to keep pace with Verlander will be Chien-Ming Wang, who has won four of his last five games and got a hard-luck no-decision in his sixth.
Moose to Nuts
I was out at Shea Stadium last night, soaking in the cheerful noisiness of a decidedly motley crew in the upper deck, and missed all of Mike Mussina's complete-game beauty in Detroit. Final score: Yanks 6, Tigers 1 (Moose missed a shutout due to an error by Alex Rodriguez, but it only took him 100 pitches on the nose, to finish the job regardless.) The Mets and the Diamondbacks featured a terrific billing--Pedro Martinez v. Brandon Webb. Both pitchers were excellent and neither team scored a run until Endy Chavez's RBI single in the bottom of the 13th. By the time we filed out of Shea, the Yanks had a 4-0 lead in the eighth inning and that's all I knew until I got home just past midnight.
What a game for Mussina. If the Tigers have one flaw it is that they are over-aggresive offensively and that obviously worked in Mussina's favor. Andy Phillips and Miguel Cairo--who started in place of the aching Derek Jeter--flashed some leather, the defense turned three double plays, and Mussina cruised. He has pitched at least six innings in each start this season and has 12 consecutive "quality" starts (I know that stat isn't especially impressive, but when you have a dozen straight in ain't bubkus either). With Jeter, Sheffield and Damon all sitting and the young Verlander going tonight, Wednesday night's victory was sweet for the Yankees. Jason Giambi and Rodriguez had three hits each and provided more than enough support for Mussina, undeniably the team's ace this season.
So? What did I miss? What stood out to those of you who caught it?
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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