Monthly archives: September 2006
Good News/Bad News
Okay, the bad news first. Randy Johnson has a herniated disk in his back and it is not certain whether or not he'll be able to start Game 3 of the ALDS or any other game in the playoffs. The Yankees won't have any real answers for a few days, but, naturally, losing Johnson would be a blow.
Johnson received an epidural yesterday at Beth Israel Hospital in hopes that the treatment would relieve the discomfort in his back to the point where he would be able to pitch next Friday. An epidural is an injection in the back that is usually a combination of a cortisone-type medication and a local anesthetic that reduces inflammation.
Hold your breath everybody and hope that the bats and bullpen can carry the team.
Now, for the good news. The Yanks beat the Jays 7-2 last night. Combined with the Tigers stunning loss to the Royals, the Bombers have secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Gary Sheffield hit a three-run bomb, Jorge Posada added a two-run shot of his own, and Alex Rodriguez had three hits as Mike Mussina pitched a nice game and notched his 15th victory of the year.
4:05 start today. It's sunny but brisk and chilly in the Bronx. Gametime temp: 64 degrees. We'll see some terrific shadows on the field this evening.
Let's Go Yan-kees.
UPDATE Actually, the sun isn't anywhere to be found. It is cold and breezy at the Stadium. There is a lot buzzing around the park today with the playoffs just a few days away. Pete Abraham has the latest. Also, the Twins lost this afternoon. Unless the Tigers lose today and tomorrow and the Twinkies can pull out a win in the final game of the season, the Yanks will face Minnie in the ALCS. Scary match-up as the Twins have Santana, a great bullpen, the Metrodome, and some unfinished business with the Yanks in the playoffs. They'd love some payback. We already know that Twins' owner wants to face the Yankees. Look like his wish is going to come true.
The Jays are in town for the final weekend of the regular season. It's fall in New York, folks. It's been chilly today, I can only imagine it'll be downright cold tonight. Mike Mussina is on the hill for the Bombers.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Robinson Cano broke up Daniel Cabrera's bid for a no-hitter with one out in the ninth inning when he slapped a humped-back line drive to left field for a single. Bobby Abreu followed and hit into a game-ending double play. Final Score: O's 7, Yanks 1 (the Bombers scored a run, thanks to three Baltimore errors). Exhale. And good by Bollymore.
Four More Games Left
One of Cliff's favorites, D. Rasner is on the hill tonight for the Infamous Bronx Bomb Squad. The hapless Orioles are a team simply going through the motions at this point. Wonder if they can muster up the umph to play a competitive game tonight?
Oh, and off-the-topic, if anyone is interested in checking out some of my artwork--or music--check out my souped-up web site. Got some good tunes for the Hip Hop heads out there, as well as series of famous sports tirades (including ones from Goose Gossage, Lee Elia, Earl Weaver and Bobby Knight).
Calm Before the Storm
Sometimes, there is nothing as satifying as getting to the ballpark early. Last night, I went with Jay Jaffe to the Yankee game and he had cherce seats in the lower section of the tier directly behind home plate, possibly my favorite general location in the entire park. Until about 35 minutes before game time, the house organist played a string of older popular melodies: "Sunny," "Groovin," and even my sentimental favorite, "Angela's Theme," (more commonly known as the theme music for the show "Taxi"). Then Bob Sheppard announced the "dos and donts," in his inimitable articulated and understated fashion. As he read the rules of conduct, a round consessions man who looked very much like a bloated toad, moved around the walkway in the upperdeck, leaning on the railing as if to keep his balance, and repeated Sheppard word-for-word.
At 6:38, the TV screen in centerfield showed Bruce Springsteen sitting in the front row next to the Yankee dugout. Sun-tanned and handsome, the Boss, wearing a blue baseball cap, green army jacket and organge t-shirt, smiled for the camera and spoke in a serious and unselfconscious way to a reporter standing over him. Two teenage girls wearing Yankee caps sat next to him and could not stop giggling as "Glory Days" blared over the P.A. system. The TV screen now showed the two girls and a message read "The Other Boss" (I assumed that one of the girls was Springsteen's daughter). When the reporter left and the cameraman turned away, the Boss leaned forward and opened his program as his daughter held a camera out with an extended arm and took a picture of herself and the other girl.
By now, the calming sounds of the organ was replaced by the blaring sound of TV highlights and commericals. My section was populated with season ticket holders, many of them older couples, all of them eating. The early bird special. The first pitch was thrown out by Kathy Johnson Masser who in the early fifties (I missed the exact date) became the first girl to ever play in a Little League game. As she left the field, escorted by a younger woman in a business suit, Masser, a short woman wearing a oversized white jersey, was stopped by two of the Yankee players who were leaning over the top rail of the dugout. They said a few words to her and then she walked away.
The Mid Island Little League All Stars from Staten Island--dressed in red and white uniforms--were announced to the crowd and the kids got to stand with the Yankee players on the field during the playing of the National Anthem (the U.S. Army Band recording, which I find to be true and without pretension). The three middle infielders stood with Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Robbie Cano at the lip of the outfield grass near shortstop. Three outfielders stood around the Yankee outfield in short right field. Two kids flanked Jorge Posada at home plate. One kid stood next to Gary Sheffield at first and another with Chien-Ming Wang on the mound. All of the big leaguers leaned down slightly and talked to the kids. When the anthem was over, the kid standing next to Sheffield didn't move. It was as if they didn't know exactly what to do. I'm sure the last thing these kids wanted was for this moment, on a beautifully crisp and pleasent night in the Bronx, to end. The three infield kids were dispatched first and they sprinted towards first base. The kid at first waited for them to reach him before he moved. As Sheffield began to get ready to throw grounders to his infielders he motioned "yo" with his glove to the kid who was walking from the mound to the dugout. Big leaguers all the way.
As for the game itself, the Bombers were in fine form, beating the hell out of the Orioles 16-4. The Yanks are now one game ahead of the Tigers for the best record in the league. Chien-Ming Wang was not sharp but he pitched well enough to get his 19th win of the season. Jason Giambi returned and had three hits and 4 RBI (guess his wrist is feeling okay); Jorge had 4 RBIs as well. Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu and Cano all hit dingers as well. Rompalicious.
A fun, carefree night of it for Yankee fans. It was fun to think that in a week, the place would truly be packed, the weather a little colder, and the energy entirely different. For a drunk sitting nearby--"Hey, nine dollar beer guy, over here!"--booing the wave, and everyone who participated in it, was the highlight of the night. "Where are you? This isn't Shea. We don't do the wave here!" An almost impossible cute little baby girl held in her mother's arms directly in front of us, cooed at Jay and me throughout most of the game. She had blond hair and big blue eyes and had already learned the art of flirtation. Two french kids in their early twenties, who like basketball far more than they like, or even know, baseball, sat behind us and told us about the World Cup and how excited they were to see Tony Parker play at the Garden later this fall. And, wouldn't you know it, but in the ninth inning, fellow blogger Ben Kabak spotted me (he recognized my mugshot from SI.com) and he came by with his friend Ben for the final outs.
A nice, relaxing evening of it. The calm before the storm...
Jay Jaffe and I will be at the Stadium tonight hoping to see Chien-Ming Wangarulo pick up his 19th victory of the season.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Keep it Rollin...
My apologies, y'all, but I'm mad busy this morning. Yanks beat the O's 5-4 last night. Bobby Abreu hit a bomb, Godziller Matsui looked good in left field, Scott Proctor earned the save (the first of his career), and Derek Jeter and Robbie Cano are bringing back memories of 1984. If only there wasn't that guy Mauer in front of 'em...
Corey Lidle goes tonight for the Bombers while Godzilla Matsui will start in left field. Sheff is at first again, while Robbie Cano will DH. It's a beautiful night for it in the Bronx. Let's hope it's a fun game--yes, I know they are playing the Orioles--and, again, that nobody gets hurt.
The Yankees knocked the snot out of the Devil Rays to the tune of 16-1. The highlight of the game came in the first inning after Bobby Abreu hit a three run dinger. Tampa's starter, Jay Seo was clearly getting squeezed by home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez. He didn't get a call against Alex Rodriguez, who walked. Robinson Cano reached base on an infield single, and then Seo got ahead of Hideki Matsui 0-2. After taking a ball and fouling two pitches off, Seo didn't get another call. A couple of more foul balls, followed by another near miss.
That was when D Rays' skipper, Joe Maddon and pitching coach Mike Butcher had all they could stand. The two men went Batsh**t Tavarez on Marquez, really letting him have it. Marquez was not passive, as he and Maddon looked like two chickens, yelling in each others faces, moving back slightly and then going back in for more. Crew cheif Larry Young was pushed aside by Butcher, and two Tampa Bay coaches had to restrain their pitching coach. Maddon and Marquez were ejected from the game and when play resumed, Matsui fouled off three more pitches before depositing the fourteenth pitch of the at bat over the wall in right field for another three-run bomb.
In more important news, Randy Johnson has been scratched from his start this Thursday due to a strained back which he said "locked up" at the moment:
"I'd rather have 10 or 12 days between starts and feel better than pitch on my regular turn and feel the way I do now," Johnson said. "I'm missing my last regular season start, which has no bearing on me statistically or on the team, basically, in order to get healthy, or as healthy as I can get, for the playoffs."
As it stands now, it seems as if Chien-Ming Wang will start Game 1 of the ALDS, Mussina will go in Game 2, and the Big Unit will pitch Game 3. It's a strong possibility that Jaret Wright will start Game 4. In other injury-related news, Mariano Rivera looked much better last night than he did in his return last Friday. Hideki Matsui is expected to start in left field tonight while Jason Giambi will hit off a tee today (Torre insists that Giambi needs to be able to play the field in the playoffs).
Monday Night at the Trop
Ah, so with Cliff and his bride living the life of Riley in the motherland, you all are going to have to put up with my, well, less than comprehensive pre-game posts. Yanks finish up down in Tampa tonight.
Go git 'em boys. Don't nobody get hurt now, ya hear? (And here's to Alex Rodriguez breaking out of his mini-slump with a big night.)
The Yanks got smushed by the Devil Rays on Saturday 8-0, and then 11-4 on Sunday, almost as badly as Manny Ramirez did by Boston Globe columnist Gordon Edes over the weekend (yikes). Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina were the losers; yesterday, Ron Villone continued to struggle. Moose was hit in the hand by a line drive off the bat of Carl Crawford in the fifth, but was not hurt seriously. He was more upset about losing the game. Later, he told the New York Times:
"It's a big deal," said starter Mike Mussina, who lasted four and two-thirds innings Sunday and was the losing pitcher. "It was a big deal last year, and we let it get away. When you clinch this early, you've got to find a way to get motivated and stay after it for another week. We've got to win some ballgames and not let it get away from us."
With Sunday's loss, the Yankees fell a half-a-game behind the Tigers for the best record in the league. According to Pete Abraham, Torre told reporters after the game that while home field advantage throughout the post-season is important, it's not worth exhausting his players this week. "I'm not going to beat the hell out of them," he said. This isn't the first time in recent memory that the Yankees have slipped a bit towards the end of September. I don't think it will sperl them for the playoffs.
"Once I go through it and see it once, I'll get it," Sheffield said. He added: "I'm willing to learn. I'm putting the work in and the time, and eventually I'll get it."
Jason Giambi hopes to return later this week. I think it's safe to say that Torre and the Yankees are not sure yet what their first base/DH plans will be come next week.
A Fine Day For It
Chien-Ming Wang won his 18th game of the season as the Yanks beat the Rays, 4-1 on Friday night. Gary Sheffield didn't get a hit but made a couple of nice picks at first. Mariano Rivera wasn't particularly sharp in his return but he did manage to strike out the side in the ninth.
Cliff is getting married today and will be honeymooning in Italy for several weeks (he won't return until after the ALDS). Go Cliff and Becky and go Yanks!
Surf's Up, Yankee Fans
The Boss speaks (says he feels fine and that the Yanks will go "all the way"); Jason Giambi might need surgery on his left wrist this off-season (he's playing with a torn ligament); Tyler Kepner profiles Brian Bruney; Will Weiss looks at the Yankees division-clinching games since 1996; Christian Red writes about Ray Negron's new book; the Yankees are moving their AAA operations to Sranton, P.A.; over at the Replacement Level Yankees Blog, SG takes a look at the Good, Bad and the Ugly of the 2006 season; and last but not least, Bronx Banter reader Pistol Pete has arranged some clips of the Yankee's post-game celebration the other night over at You Tube. Good looking, bro.
I'm looking forward to see Gary Sheffield play first base this weekend down in Tampa. Nothing like a little hometown cooking to get him going again.
Kick the Bobo
And now... for the Prime Minister, sinister.. Pete N-hi-hi-hi-hi-hi-hice! (Nice nice nice)
Kick em in the grill, Pete. Props to Jack Curry.
This Never Gets Old
The Yankees lost 3-2 to the Blue Jays last night in Toronto but clinched their ninth straight American League East Division title when the Twins spanked the Red Sox in Boston, 8-2. The young kids in the Yankee clubhouse--Melky Cabrera, Robby Cano, Jose Veras--led the champagne and beer-soaked celebration. Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez could not stop smiling. Gary Sheffield talked about how eager he is to contribute in playoffs. Derek Jeter was bumrushed by the young Latino mob during a TV interview with Kim Jones, who was repeatedly (and perhaps mean-spiritedly) doused by Randy Johnson. Naturally, Jeter managed to keep his composure. So did the veteran Jorge Posada who stressed that this was just a good start.
All of the older guys mentioned how tickled they were at the energy and enthusiasm of the younger players. Bernie Williams, who really looked geeked, his eyes wide open and innocent like a kid on Christmas morning. Williams knows that the end is near for him, and it appeared as if he was taking a special pleasure in the moment. Joe Torre's eyes started welling-up when he first spoke with Jones. Unfortunately, he kept his composure. We'll have to wait for a more significant celebration to really see the waterworks, bless his heart.
This doesn't get boring. Every year that the Yankees make the playoffs is a special occasion, something to be treasured and appreciated.
Congrats to the team on a fine regular season. Now, as the Captain likes to say, the real season begins...
The Doctor Will See You Now
Doc Halladay, I presume?
One More Pin Rodney
There is only one kind of real daily tension remaining in the regular season for the Yankees and that's hoping that the team can get through each game without losing anyone to a significant injury. On Tuesday night, Derek Jeter was hit in the hand with a pitch, Johnny Damon made a funny motion with his left arm after making a poor throw from the outfield in the fith, and, later in the same inning, sustained some minor cuts on his left hand after making a terrific, game-changing catch. Jason Giambi left the game early with tenderness in his aching hand. The YES announcers did not say that anything to lead us to believe that it's a devastating issue, but nevertheless, it's enough to make you hold your breath.
Ron Guidry looked like his old fluid self tossing bp to Gary Sheffield this afternoon. The Yankee slugger, wearing a sweat-soaked t-shirt cranked Gator's first offering into the second deck of the Rogers Centre. He was activated and available to pinch hit tonight but did not appear. However, we will see him soon--regardless if Giambi will need a few days to rest. Joe Torre has stated that he'd like to wait until the Yankees clinch the division before he uses Sheff, and tonight, the Bombers (with a little bit of help from the Twinkies) moved two steps closer, their magic number reduced to one. Not bad when you consider the fact that Roy Halladay is pitching for Toronto tomorrow.
Jeff Kartsens pitched a very nice game and the bullpen was effective as the Yanks beat the Blue Jays, 6-3. Bobby Abreu broke a 3-3 tie with a two-run dinger to straight away center in the seventh and Godziller Matsui added a solo shot in the eighth (earlier, Jorge Posada cranked his 20th homer of the season). A good job all around by the boys tonight.
The Yankee announcers spent a good deal of the broadcast talking about Verducci's cover story on Alex Rodriguez, which will be on the stands tomorrow. After thinking about it for a few hours the thing that really stands out about the story is not that it tells us a lot that we don't already know, or haven't already suspected about Rodriguez and his teammates, but the fact that it reveals some of the behind-the-scenes atmosphere of the Yankees. One thing that has been a constant during the Torre Era is that the Yankees have kept their business to themselves. When Buster Olney wrote his book about the team he learned about a dispute that Jorge Posada and Tino Martinez had had while Olney was covering the team. Olney never knew about it and Posada told him that was because the Yankees didn't let anyone know about that kind of stuff. It was all handled in house. It doesn't get into the papers.
Af for the SI piece, well, I can't remember the last time we've read anything as intimate or direct about the Yankees since Torre came to town. It's not as if Giambi or Torre didn't realize that their words would get out there. Maybe that is part of what they are trying to do. I've spoken with a few people today who thinks if that is the case it's a lousy move on their part. No matter, let's just hope this doesn't shake Rodriguez out of the nice groove he's started to get in. The Yankees have too many good things going on to let themselves get sucked into any kind of controversy. Still, cruddy timing continues to plague Alex Rodriguez (who was 0-3 with a walk tonight).
Hold your head, bro, and way to go Yanks!
Nobody in Yankeeland has been analyzed half as much as Alex Rodriguez has been this year. But just when you thought the horse couldn't take another lash, Tom Verducci arrives with an insightful, behind-the-scenes profile of Rodriguez. There are especially good quotes from Jason Giambi. Check it out.
Three is the Magic Number
"We were dead," said Rodriguez, whose 34th homer made it 3-2. "This is as tired as I've seen this group in probably three years. A.J. Burnett was dominating us, about as much as we've been dominated all year."
Man, was anyone else fired-up watching that game last night? After the bullpen blew two games on Sunday, I was in rare form as A.J. Burnett dominated the Bombers through the first five innings--cursing, kvetching, and shouting loud enough to drive Emily from the couch. Burnett had his fastball and his breaking ball working and he simply overpowered the Yanks who didn't arrive in their hotel 'til the wee hours of the a.m. The team got a jolt of life when Johnny Damon was ejected for arguing balls and strikes after Hideki Matsui was called out on a check swing in the fifth.
The Jays held what seemed like a commanding 3-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth when Burnett could not finish off Bobby Abreu with two men out. Abreu worked a full count and then slapped a single up the middle. Then Alex Rodriguez planted a 1-0 fastball over the wall in left center field and the Bombers were on the board. Suddenly Burnett lost his groove. Jason Giambi walked on five pitches, Burnett balked him over to second and then walked Jorge Posada. However, he got Robinson Cano to pop a fastball up to shortstop to get out of the inning. As good as his stuff is, you have to wonder about Burnett's mental toughness. I was calling him everything in the book from where I was sitting.
Godzilla Matsui singled sharply to center to start the seventh but was retired when Melky Cabrera hit into a 6-4-3 double play. But Aaron Guiel--who replaced Damon in center and made a fine sliding catch to boot--dunked a 1-2 curve ball into left for a double. Burnett fell behind Derek Jeter 3-0 before the Yankee captain crushed a home run over the wall in left center field, putting the Yankees ahead for good. It was only the second time that Jeter has swung at a 3-0 pitch since 2002 (the other time came in his final at bat on Sunday night). Hot damn and go figure, right?
The Yanks added three in the ninth (with Bernie Williams doing his best Albert Belle routine) before Posada waved at ball four with the bases loaded to end the inning. As it turns out, they would need all the insurance they could get as Troy Glaus lined a three-run dinger off Octavio Dotel in the bottom of the ninth. More moaning in the Bronx. The only reason I wasn't more upset was that I had called Glaus' dinger two innings earlier. It took four Yankee relievers to seal the deal, but when all was said and done, the Yanks had a 7-6 victory, and saw their magic number for clinching the AL East cut to three games.
Gary Sheffield had a thorough tutorial at first base yesterday afternoon and it looks like we'll see him at first base, if not in Toronto, then later this week or this weekend down in Tampa. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:
Sheffield has spoken recently with Fred McGriff, a former teammate who lives near him in Florida. McGriff reinforced the message that the position change would benefit Sheffield.
Sheff will face Ron Guidry in a live bp session today. Yo, I'm just licking my chops to see that man hit again, aren't you?
Toronto Blue Jays
I really don't have much to say about the Blue Jays. As the season winds to a close it looks as though their splashy offseason will have netted them an extra six wins. That's nothing to sneeze at, but 86 wins just isn't going to cut it in the American League.
What's most compelling about the series that begins in Toronto tonight is that a) the Yankees could make like 1995 and clinch in Canada and b) because the rest of the rotation was scrunched into two days over the weekend and Cory Lidle is out with tendonitis in his pitching hand, the Yankees are running out a trio of rookie starters. This spring I did a lot of blabbing about the trio of 25-year-old pitchers in Columbus which I thought could produce this year's Chien-Ming Wang for the Yankees. Things didn't work out that way. Sean Henn and Darrell Rasner spent large chunks of the season on the DL and Matt DeSalvo was so awful that he was exiled to Trenton where he continued to walk more than he struck out. Henn inspired little confidence when healthy and was eventually converted to relief, though he'll return to the rotation in Lidle's stead on Wednesday.
Of the three, only Rasner, who starts tonight against the Jay's offseason poster boy A.J. Burnett, has displayed the sort of potential I had trumpeted in the spring. Rasner has been uniformly excellent for the Yankees in his limited opportunities this year. He posted a 2.89 ERA in the minors with a stellar 3.93 K/BB ratio--which includes a few rehab starts following his three-month DL stay due to shoulder soreness--and has allowed just one run in 11 2/3 major league innings (0.77 ERA), striking out eight and walking none. In his only previous start for the Yankees, Rasner held the Twins to a run on four hits over six full. Most recently he pitched in relief of tomorrow's starter Jeff Karstens and threw four one-hit shutout innings against the Devil Rays, striking out five and throwing a staggering 80 percent of just 45 pitches for strikes. That outing came on Thursday, which means Rasner is pitching on three-days rest, albeit from what amounts to half a start. I continue to hold out hope that Rasner will be a part of the discussion for next year's rotation. While I don't think he'll be able to work his way into the fourth spot in the playoff rotation, a good outing tonight could clinch his spot on the postseason roster as he could do for the Yankees what Ervin Santana did against them in Game 5 of the ALDS last year.
As for Burnett, he has been dominant over his last three starts--24 IP, 16 H, 4 R, 1 HR, 5 BB, 22 K--but it's too little, too late. In his last start against the Yankees, Burnett was bounced after giving up four runs in four innings and throwing 86 pitches. That start came in the Bronx. At home against the Yankees in late June, Burnett turned in 7 1/3 strong innings to earn just his second win of the year. He'll have to face a full set of Yankee starters tonight, though I expect to see Torre start resting guys again tomorrow as the Yankees play their second of three games on the Rogers Centre turf.
Hmmm, Rasner plus a full-strength Yankee line-up. I could get used to this.
Coco B. Ware
If the Yankees won the Saturday's night cap despite the performance of their starting pitcher, they were inversely swept in Sunday's split-double header despite the fine performances of their starters. Jaret Wright and Mike Mussina combined to hold the Red Sox to four runs on eleven hits over twelve innings, walking four and striking out nine. The bulk of the hits and strikeouts were Mussina's, the bulk of the walks were Wrights, the runs and innings they split evenly.
In both cases the Yankees came up short due to shoddy relief pitching and Joe Torre's ultimately wise decision to play these games as if the division had already been clinched. Torre did not run out his full starting line up in any of the four games this weekend, resting Posada in Saturday's day game, Damon, Matsui and Cano in Saturday's nightcap, Abreu, Giambi, Jeter and Posada in yesterday's opener, and Damon, Rodriguez, and Matsui in the finale. As a result, the Yankee offense scuffled despite facing the likes of Kyle Snyder and Kevin Jarvis.
In yesterday's day game, Nick Green and Sal Fasano went a combined 0 for 6 with three strikeouts. Indeed, it was Green and Fasano who made the first two outs of the fourth inning after Hideki Matsui, Aaron Guiel and Chris Wilson had loaded the bases to start the inning. That, plus a Johnny Damon strikeout for the third out, killed that rally and ultimately cost the Yankees the game. It also helps explain how Kyle Snyder was able to hold the Yankees to two runs over five innings while striking out seven.
Game one was tied 2-2 after six, when Joe Torre turned to Ron Villone. Things started innocently enough. Eric Hinske flied out on Villone's first pitch. Villone then walked Doug Mirabelli on five pitches, but rallied to strike out Alex Gonzales for the second out, keeping pinch-runner Coco Crisp at first base. With Mark Loretta at the plate, hitting for rookie David Murphy, Villone appeared to pick Crisp off first base. Crisp, fooled by Villone's move, took two quick steps toward second and Craig Wilson received the throw at first. Crisp then froze and, as Wilson charged down the baseline toward him, Crisp danced around him to the outfield side of the baseline and jogged back to the bag untagged. Wilson and Joe Torre argued that Crisp should have been called out for running out of the baseline, but rookie first base umpire Mike Estabrook and veteran crew chief Jerry Crawford, who was umpiring second, ruled Crisp safe and the inning continued.
The Yanks and Sox each won a game yesterday as the Bombers magic number was reduced to four. If the Yanks sweep today's so-called double header, they will clinch the AL East (Cliff will be in the house for the second game). Josh Beckett survived a second inning jam, while Chien-Ming Wang was not particularly sharp as Boston beat New York 5-2 in the afternoon game. And though Randy Johnson wasn't brilliant either in the night game, the Yanks pulled out a 7-5 victory. (Johnson vs. Tavarez was some kind of fugly starting match-up, eh? Like Lee Van Cleef goes to Jurassic Park.) Derek Jeter had singles in each game, extending his hitting streak to 25.
I was at the matinee with my cousin and we sat in the rattle-your-jewlery seats, three rows behind home plate, where people are more interested in anything and everything but watching the game. Look, there's Spike Lee. Oh my god, is that Adam Sandler and Kevin James? There is a sign that reads "No Cell Phones," that is completely ignored. Oy. These seats are mostly populated by well-healed clowns dressed-down in fancy t-shirts and ripped jeans, sandals and designer baseball caps. Two rows in front of us sat the film producer Brian Grazer with his son, and a thin, blond man. The back of Grazer's neck looked like a piece of old leather--years of tanning by the pool. His hair was spikey, and he wore a black iozid shirt. His son wore a Che Guevara t-shirt. Grazer spent much of time on his cell phone and he was gone by the seventh inning. Two women behind us, with lungs that'd put Ethel Merman to shame, carried on at length about bridal showers, driving directions and how overpaid ball players are. "I don't even mind that they are so loud," my cousin said, "but at least they could be interesting."
The seats were spectacular (and they were free thanks to the generosity of another cousin), but the atmosphere was repulsive. I felt like I could use a shower when it was all said and done.
The highlight of the game for us came when Jim Kaat threw out the first pitch. Accompanied by his three grandchildren (two boys and a little girl), Kaat watched a video tribute and then tossed a ball to Mike Myers. His granddaughter, wearing a pink Yankee cap almost bigger than her entire body, ran off the field and slapped somebody five by the Yankee dugout. She threw her arms around her grandfather as he held her in his arms during the National Anthem and in that moment it was clear why Kaat is leaving the game. Some things are just more important than baseball.
Two mo' today. Let's go Yankees!
Boston Red Sox
On the morning of June 30, the Boston Red Sox had won their last twelve games and held a four-game lead in the American League East. A month later their lead in the East had shrunk to 1 1/2 games. From there they went into a free fall, winning just nine of their next 31 games. The Sox are now 11 1/2 games behind the first-place Yankees and could be eliminated this weekend should they fail to at least split the four games they'll play in the Bronx.
So what happened? Simple really, their pitching completely imploded. No team gave up more runs in August than the Red Sox, who allowed a major league worst 5.97 runs per game as their opponents posted a .314 batting average against them.
Why? Look no further than this weekend's probables. Josh Beckett has been an utter disappointment, mixing a 6.38 August ERA with his 33 home runs allowed in 184 innings (1.61 per 9 IP). Curt Schilling, who came out of the gate looking like the ace of old, posted a 5.22 ERA in August and has missed his last three starts due to a strained back. The Sox had hoped he'd return to pitch on Saturday afternoon, but instead they'll have to give a fourth start to Julian Tavarez, who was moved out of the bullpen into the rotation in Schilling's stead in part because he was so ineffective out of the pen that the team figured it couldn't hurt to try it. The second game of Saturday's double header will see Kyle Snyder take the mound for the Sox. Snyder has a 7.02 ERA as a starter this season, but the Sox rotation is so depleted that they keep running him back out there. Saturday's nightcap will be his tenth start for Boston. Worse yet, Snyder isn't their most desperate attempt to find a starter. Things have gotten so bad that the Red Sox are carrying 37-year-old Kevin Jarvis, he of the career 6.05 ERA. I mean, seriously, look at these numbers! Finally, Monday's starter will be rookie Kason Gabbard. Who? Exactly.
It's telling that Tavarez and Gabbard have actually improved the Boston rotation as they've replaced the since-released Jason Johnson (7.36 ERA in six starts for the Sox) and highly-touted rookie Jon Lester, who has alarmingly been diagnosed with lymphoma, but nonetheless posted a 7.66 ERA in five August starts before landing on the disabled list. With Tavarez and Gabbard in the rotation, the Sox have split their last dozen games. That counts as progress in Beantown these days.
How did things get so bad? Let's take a look at the Red Sox opening day rotation:
Q&A: Johnny Damon
LICKSHOT GUEST SPOT
As the Red Sox prepare for another late-season, AL East showdown with the Yankees, Hub heartthrob and longtime Idiot Johnny Damon sat down with Bronx Banter correspondent Jacob Luft for an exclusive one-on-one interview.
BB: Johnny, It's been about 10 months since you turned down the Yankees' offer in free agency and decided to stay with the Red Sox. Any regrets?
JD: Absolutely not. What we have here and what we've built here the past couple of years, winning the World Series in 2004 and finally overtaking the Yankees in the East last year ... it's just too special. This group of guys, we've been through a lot together and management has done a great job of keeping this core together.
BB: How close did you come to donning the pinstripes?
JD: I mean, I thought about it. You have to. Business is business and their offer was pretty strong. Pedro went through the same thing when the Mets came calling last year, and Derek Lowe almost went to the Dodgers after '04. But at the end of the day, John Henry and [Boston GM] Theo [Epstein] came to the same conclusion that, as with those guys, they knew I would be too difficult to replace and came through with the years and money I wanted.
BB: C'mon Johnny. We all know you couldn't handle losing those locks of yours.
JD: [Laughs] Yeah, you got me. That was definitely a factor. But I'd like to think there's a little Vanity Smurf in all of us.
BB: You mentioned Derek. With Curt Schilling and Pedro taking turns on the DL, how big have the contributions from Derek and Bronson Arroyo and rookie starter Jonathan Papelbon been in keeping the Red Sox in the hunt?
JD: They've been huge. What can you say about Arroyo? The guy would be an ace anywhere else, especially for any middling NL Central team. Plus he signed a team-friendly contract to stay here and be a part of this. Papelbon is the real deal. His arsenal makes him perfectly suited for the rotation. Cla Meredith is unorthodox but has done a fine job as the closer. And Derek, ever since we shored up our infield defense [the Orlando Cabrera-Nomar Garciaparra trade in 2004] he's been lights out.
BB: That left side of your infield, with rookies Hanley Ramirez and Andy Marte. How tough is it to hit a ball past them?
JD: It's like a brick wall over there with those two guys. I doubt the Red Sox have ever had a better defensive shortstop than Hanley. In fact, we're planning on interrupting a game during our next homestand to honor him with a plaque saying, "Best Defensive Shortstop in Red Sox history."
BB: Didn't you do that already? Maybe I'm confusing that with "Best Fourth Outfielder/Pinch-Runner Dave Roberts Day."
JD: Maybe so. I can't really keep track with all the hype surrounding this team. I mean, every day there's another book that comes out about us. Somebody out there must be buying all this junk or else they wouldn't keep writing them.
BB: Who is the MVP, Manny Ramirez or Big Papi?
JD: Well A-Rod was in the mix there until recently when he went down with those heart palpitations. I hope he's OK. Yankee fans need to give him a break. As for the MVP, it's tough because Papi gets the big hits but he wouldn't have the chance if Manny wasn't protecting him. It's totally a Mantle-Maris thing. I hope they split the award.
BB: In hindsight, how disastrous would it have been if the Red Sox had not backed off of the Josh Beckett trade talks? He ended up with the Yankees, where he has floundered against the tough AL lineups.
JD: Well that trade would have cost us Hanley, who looks like he might be the next Barry Larkin. I'll be shocked if Derek Jeter ever wins a Gold Glove again. Besides, have you heard of this kid Anibal Sanchez? He'll be in the rotation next year for sure. Beckett is a nice talent and maybe he'll turn into the ace the Yankees thought they were getting when they traded Wang and Cano for him, but he's still got some learning to do, and we've handled him pretty well so far.
BB: So has Vernon Wells.
JD: Yeah, Vernon told me the other day he's going to buy Beckett a Rolex for Christmas to thank him for all the gopher balls he's thrown him.
BB: What do you want for Christmas?
JD: Another ring. We got one two years ago but last year we fell to the White Sox in seven games in the ALCS. We have a veteran group here that has been together a long time and knows how to win. It's a good thing the front office never carried out those elaborate plans for overhauling the ballclub. Sometimes, it's just better to stick with what works and not to outsmart yourself.
BB: Thanks for your time, Johnny. Just for the record, I think you would have enjoyed being a Yankee. I know the fans here in the Bronx would have loved it. Instead we're stuck with Coco Crisp.
JD: [Laughs] I'm not touching that one.
Six of One...
Man, I didn't think they were even going to play last night. Neither, apparently, did Joe Torre, who scratched Chien-Ming Wang, and kept Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu out of the starting line-up and off the slick outfield surface. It rained all day long in New York, but the waterworks stopped shortly before five o'clock. Jeff Kartsens got the nod instead and wasn't especially sharp, giving up two long balls to Rocco Baldelli in the early going. The rain started up again by the end of the fourth inning, and the Rays held a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the fifth, three precious outs from an official game.
But the Yanks rallied to tie the score, propelled by RBI hits from Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. Two innings later, Cano broke the tie with a two out single to left and Alex Rodriguez added a two run base hit through the right side of infield. Darrell Rasner pitched the final four innings, and did a wonderful job getting ahead of hitters. He allowed just one hit and stuck out five. Oh, and Godziller Matsui homered for the first time since May. Final score: Yanks 7, Rays 4.
With the win the Yankees' magic number is now six (Boston beat the O's in Baltimore last night). About the only drag for the Yanks was when Jorge Posada was plunked in the elbow during the seventh inning. Posada was removed from the game. While it does not appear to be serious, he will be checked-out today to make sure that everything is copasetic. Ol' Snuffleupagus Fasano could see a lot of burn this weekend. Speaking of which, click here to buy one of those dope Sal's Pals t-shirts.
So Long, Old Friend
There is some sad news to report on this rainy afternoon in New York. Jim Kaat is retiring. Tonight and tomorrow will be his final two broadcasts for the Yankees. While I had heard that Kaat might call it quits at the end of the year, all of sudden, he's going to be gone. I don't exactly know why he's leaving before the end of the season. I can only speculate that Kaat didn't want to call attention to himself as everyone around him was gearing up for the playoffs. Regardless, Kaat deserves a long, loud ovation from Yankee fans near and far for the steady and insightful work he's provided over the years.
Man, I'm not ready to see him go and I've been feeling upset about it all morning long. I haven't always agreed with Kaat's analysis, but I have never had anything but the utmost respect for his professionalism, his eloquence and his willingness to speak his mind. He is a terrific storyteller, has an easy-going sense of humor, and has been a wonderfully measured prescence in the Yankee Universe. I remember my uncle spotting him in a bank on the Upper West Side during his stint with the Yanks at the end of his playing career, and I've always thought of him as a guy who appreciated New York City, and come to think of him as one of our (adopted) own. Richard Sandomir has a piece on Kitty today in the Times. The YES Network will have a tribute to Kaat up on their website later this afternoon, or perhaps this evening.
Kitty, you haven't even left yet and I'm missing you already. But here is wishing Kaat the best of times with his grandchildren and on the golf course down in Florida.
Wham, Bam (Ho-Hum)
I can't recall the last time I was at the Stadium when things were as relaxed as they were last night. The announced paid attendance was over 52,000, but there were far less who actually turned out to watch the Bombers plow past the hapless D-Rays, 8-4. Truth be told, it wasn't a particularly exciting game. The pace was American League East Sluggish as the starting pitching for both sides was mediocre. However, there were some highlights: Derek Jeter's first inning single, which extended his hitting streak to 22 straight; Robinson Cano's five RBI, and Alex Rodriguez's drive that landed half-way up the black seats in dead center. Rodriguez had three hits on the night, and helped keep a first inning rally moving by taking out shortstop Ben Zobrist with a hard, but clean slide. Jason Giambi had two hits and though Godzilla Matsui went hitless, he just got under a pitch in his first at bat and lined out hard to left later in the game.
Bernie Williams celebrated his 38th birthday from the bench. At one point between innings, the P.A. blared the Beatles tune, "Birthday," and Bernie waved to the crowd. Joel Sherman spoke with Bernabee, who remains a class act:
Williams admits having to battle the dissatisfaction of devolving from star to spectator. "I'd rather be frustrated about not playing, then accept it and then not be ready when playing time comes," Williams said. "The frustration tells me I'm ready and I'll be ready when they need me."
Sweet Love Hangover?
Last night the Yankees returned home from the road, dropped a nine-spot on the D-Rays in the bottom of the first that featured 6 RBIs from deadline pick-up and emerging fan favorite Bobby Abreu, got 6 1/3 scoreless innings from recently activated rotation vet Mike Mussina, and saw Hideki Matsui return from four months on the DL to a tremendous ovation followed by a four-for-four performance in which he reached base in all five trips to the plate. That's a tough act to follow, especially with Cory Lidle, who has been exactly what the Yankees needed in the fifth spot in the rotation, even if that does mean he's been pitching like a fifth starter.
Lidle's last four starts have alternated twelve scoreless innings with a pair of disaster outings in which he gave up a combined 11 runs in 5 1/3 innings, inflating his Yankee ERA to 4.81. His opponent tonight will be 24-year-old rookie Jason Hammel. Hammel, a tall slender righty, has made five career big league starts, two back in April and three in a row leading up to tonight. His last, which came at home against the Twins, was the best: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 4 K. Hammel has progressed steadily through the Devil Rays organization and has solid hit, walk and strikeout rates in the minors, so there's reason to believe tonight will be the first of many times the Yankees face him over the next several years as he projects as a mid-rotation mainstay for the Rays.
The Yankees blew out the Devil Rays in the first inning last night, driving Tampa starter Tim Corcoran from the game before he had recorded the inning's second out, then touching up his replacement Brian Stokes for a four-spot. The first time through the Yankee order, only Jason Giambi, who made his first start in four games at first base, made an out, flying to left. The rest of the inning went like this: single, steal, walk, homer, walk, steal, fly out, double, single, single, pitching change, single, K, walk, double, K. Two of the three extra base hits came off the bat of Bobby Abreu, who came to the plate with five men on base during the inning and drove all of them home along with himself on a three-run homer in his first at-bat and a bases-loaded double in his second trip. All totaled, the Yankees sent 13 men to the plate, ten of whom reached base, nine of whom scored.
From there, the story of the game became Hideki Matsui, who picked up an RBI single on a bloop to center in his first at-bat since May 10, then proceeded to pick up three more singles and a walk, while scoring two runs, finally leaving for a pinch runner in the eighth having yet to make an out. Matsui looked great at the plate, keeping his weight back and powering through the ball, hitting mid-90s fastballs with authority and hooking a foul home run into the upper deck in right.
While the offense was feasting--they'd score three more in the third while Bobby Abreu came just a few feet short of a grand slam, flying out with the bases loaded to end the fourth--Mike Mussina kept the Devil Rays fasting, setting down the first ten Rays in order and leaving after 6 1/3 scoreless innings having allowed just five hits. Moose threw 70 percent of 87 pitches for strikes, striking out five and walking no one.
T.J Beam kept Tampa off the bases in relief of Mussina in the seventh and eighth while Torre turned to his bench, resulting in an eighth-inning defensive alignment that included only Melky Cabrera from the starting line-up.
The only blight on the game as far as the Yankees are concerned was Octavio Dotel's performance in the ninth. In to get the final three outs with a 12-0 lead, Dotel had nothing, surrendering four runs on a walk to pinch-hitter Shawn Riggins in just his second major league plate appearance, singles by rookies Dioner Navarro and Ben Zobrist, and doubles by Ty Wigginton and Jorge Cantu. Final score: Yankees 12, Devil Rays 4.
On the YES broadcast, Jim Kaat speculated that Dotel, who had thrown just 5 1/3 innings over eight appearances prior to last night, is in the typical dead-arm period that most pitchers experience during spring training. Given that Dotel went through a sequence in that inning in which he threw five straight pitches into the dirt in the left-handed batters box, I'd have to agree. Certainly one hopes that's what's going on with Dotel, as it provides hope that Dotel still might come around before Joe Torre has to decide his playoff roster. Whatever the cause, Dotel has really struggled with his control since being activated, and has now walked seven men in his 6 1/3 innings, one more than he's struck out.
In other news, Gary Sheffield did indeed take live batting practice before the game, taking 32 swings. He's also continuing to work out at first base, and he and Torre are now saying that Sheff could be activated during this homestand.
Finally, Philip Hughes, Tyler Clippard and J. Brent Cox, the three double-A pitchers who many hope will form the core of the Yankee pitching staff of the future along with Chien-Ming Wang, were in uniform in the Bronx for last night's game. The three will not be added to the active roster (only Hughes is on the Yankees' 40-man), but the Yankees wanted to give them all a taste of the big leagues as Hughes and Cox especially could find themselves a part of the big league roster next year.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
For several seasons now, the buzz around the Tampa Bay Devil Rays has been their crop of young talent that has been bubbling just below the major league surface. One can trace it all the way back to 2002 when 20-year-old Carl Crawford made his major league debut and 25-year-old Aubrey Huff hit .313/.364/.520 with 23 homers. The next year, Huff hit 34 dingers and drove in 107 runs, Crawford played his first full season, stealing 55 bases, and 21-year-old Rocco Baldelli finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Meanwhile, the 2002 draft brought Jonny Gomes, who made his debut the next year, B.J. Upton, Elijah Dukes and Jason Hammel, and 2003 added Dmitri Young's little brother Delmon. Upton made his major league debut in 2004 and at that year's trading deadline the Devil Rays swiped 20-year-old lefty phenom Scott Kazmir from the Mets for Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato.
Still, the Devil Rays' bright future seemed perpetually over the horizon. That is until this year's trading deadline. On July 12 they traded the now 29-year-old Huff, whose production had been in steady decline since his break-out 2003 season, to the Astros, getting pitcher Mitch Talbot and 25-year-old shortstop Ben Zobrist in return, clearing room for the relocated shortstop Upton at third base in the process. At the deadline, just after their last series with the Yankees, they traded 30-year-old shortstop Julio Lugo to the Dodgers, clearing space for Zobrist. In late August, they sent three-true-outcomes hero Russell Branyan to the Padres, clearing room for Delmon Young in right field. They also recalled failed 25-year-old fireballing starter Seth McClung and made him the team's closer, while recalling starters Hammel and J.P Howell, acquired earlier in the year from the Royals for no-hit speedster Joey Gathright, and installed them in the rotation beside fellow rookie Jamie Shields.
At long last, the Tampa Bay youth movement has begun in earnest. Should Elijah Dukes win the first base job out of camp next year, something the Devil Rays cleared room for by releasing Travis Lee on Sunday, the D-Rays could have a 2007 opening day line-up whose oldest member is 26-year-old DH Jonny Gomes. Dig (with ages and 2006 stats):
1B - Elijah Dukes, 22, AAA: .293/.401/.488
SP - Scott Kazmir, 23, MLB: 3.24, 10-8, 144 2/3 IP, 132 H, 52 BB, 163 K
Gomes, who is on the DL due to season-ending shoulder surgery, is a good bet to revert back to his 2005 form (.282/.372/.534) in 2007, which leaves just Cantu, who slugged .497 in his first full season last year, and Upton, who hit .303/.392/.490 at triple-A Durham last year, who will need to shape up at the plate, assuming, of course, that Young, Dukes and Zobrist will continue to hit in the majors.
"I can't expect to win a postseason game giving up five runs," Johnson said. "I got away with one tonight and I'm very grateful."
Indeed, Johnson was far from terrific last night, allowing five runs in six innings, but the Yankees bailed him out with six runs in the top of the seventh and Johnson earned the win (the 280th of his fine career), matching his win/loss total from 2005 at 17-10. The final score: Yanks 9, O's 6. The critical play came when Fernando Tatis, a third baseman playing left field, misplayed Robinson Cano's fly ball, allowing three runs to score. The Yanks did not look back.
Derek Jeter had two more hits, extending his hitting streak to 21 straight, and is now batting .346. Jeter characteristically remained mum about his chances to win the MVP award, refusing to react to David Ortiz's recent kvetchfest. Alex Rodriguez returned from a nagging stomach virus and collected three hits of his own, including a home run. Rodriguez ended the night with 101 runs scored for the year, and has scored more than 100 runs in 11 consecutive seasons (oh, and he's now driven in 100 plus runs ten times in his career). As Emily said when Rodriguez was rounding the bases in the ninth inning, "Rock on, Pukearella."
The final word in the milestone dept: Joe Torre passed Miller Huggins on the all-time win list for Yankee managers last night. Only Casey and the great Joe McCarthy have won more games for the Bombers. Not bad for a boy from Brooklyn, eh?
The Yanks' return home tonight with their magic number down to ten. The Devil Rays are in for three, with the Red Sox following this weekend for a four-game set. I'm sure we'll hear more from the likes of Pete Abraham as the day moves on, but it's likely that Hideki Matsui will be in the line-up tonight.
Welcome back Godzilla!
Get Away Day
After dropping the opening game of their current series in Baltimore, the Yankees have won the last two despite being without Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Mariano Rivera, and having to push Mike Mussina back in the rotation. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they're playing one of just four mathematically eliminated teams in baseball, but it sure is a nice boost to put up a few W's with inferior line-ups while the big guns get healthy for the postseason. Tonight Randy Johnson and Kris Benson square off as the Yanks go for the series win and the O's try (or at least we'll asume they'll try) for a series split. Benson's been solid in his last two turns: 15 IP, 14 H, 4 R, 2 HR, 5 BB, 9 K. RJ's been downright dominant. Throw out a two-run ninth-inning homer by Craig Monroe in his penultimate start and his combined line for his last two outings is 15 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 BB, 16 K. Purdy.
Some Bright News on a Somber Occasion
It is a bit chillier in Manhattan than it was five years ago to the day. Otherwise, it is a brilliantly sunny day, eerily reminiscent of that fateful morning that altered the city and the country forever. I rode the IRT to work this morning and there was the usual commotion, but there were also some hints of somberness too--a business woman in a black suit, a strapping Jewish kid with a black yarmulke, a gray-haired liberal with a black t-shirt that read, "What Really Happened?" Today is certainly a day to remember those who lost their lives in-and-around 9.11 as well as an opportunity to appreciate the good things we've got in our lives.
I sure have plenty to appreciate, that's for sure. On Saturday, Emily and I took a ride up to Westchester to spend the afternoon with my mom and my step-father. While Em and Tom busied themselves with a project in the back yard, mom and I made a batch of madeleines, the shell-shaped cookies made famous by Proust in "Remberance of Things Past." They are wonderful tea-time cookies, and must be eaten almost immediately. Even an hour or two after they've come out of the oven, they begin to change in nature, going from a light, sponge cake to a heavier, greasier cookie. It's not even that they are my favorites, I just like the idea of them--the immediacy of it all. And you just can't have them without a strong cup of tea for dunking.
Here they are fresh out of the oven. That's my ma, adding some confectionate sugar, the final touch (dig, her beloved Tintin swatch).
And here is the final product, along with a simple plum tart and a strong cup of Earl Grey tea.
A small, good thing, if there ever was one.
A heppy ket.
The Yankees struggled against Adam Loewen again yesterday afternoon. Fortunately the Orioles had even more trouble with Chien-Ming Wang, who allowed just one seventh-inning run in 7 1/3 innings on his way to his major-league leading 17th win.
For their part, the Yanks got two off Loewen in the fifth when Kevin Thompson drew a one-out walk, Nick Green singled, Johnny Damon singled Thompson home, and Melky Cabrera plated Green with a sac fly. Loewen was pulled after throwing 113 pitches over seven innings and the Yanks picked up an insurance run against displaced starter Rodrigo Lopez when Damon lead off with a double, Melky Cabrera bunted him over, and Derek Jeter singled him home.
That third run proved to be the difference as, with Mariano Rivera still on the shelf, Joe Torre turned to Kyle Farnsworth to protect a two-run lead in the ninth. Farnsworth did so by striking out Jay Gibbons, giving up a solo home run to Kevin Millar on a jock-high first-pitch fastball down the middle, then getting the final two outs on six pitches. Yanks win, 3-2.
The absence of Rivera highlights the far more significant story for the Yankees right now, which is the need for the team to get healthy. There's no real time table for Rivera's return from a muscle strain in his right forearm, though he plans to throw on flat ground today, just as he did on Friday, and Joe Torre claims he's improving. Jason Giambi received yet another cortisone shot in his left wrist yesterday and won't play until the Yankees return to the Bronx on Tuesday. Mike Mussina, who would be on regular rest today, has also been pushed back to Tuesday due to right shoulder soreness, this following his first start after being activated from the DL due to a groin pull. Alex Rodriguez, meanwhile, has come down with a stomach flu for the second time in Baltimore this season, and everyone else just needs some rest.
The good news is that the Yankees' lead in the East continues to grow as the Red Sox managed to lose a 12-inning game to the Royals by a score of 10-4 last night, dropping to ten games back. The Yankees win over the O's, meanwhile, officially eliminated Baltimore from the division race. Oh, and Matsui went 1 for 3 with a double and a pair of walks in the Thunder's 4-3 loss to Portland.
Today the Yanks send Jaret Wright to the mound in Mussina's place while the O's counter with September call-up Hayden Penn. Wright hasn't pitched at all since hurling 6 1/3 strong innings against the Tigers on August 30th. The 21-year-old Penn, meanwhile, was excellent in triple-A this year, but didn't make it out of the first inning against Oakland a week ago in his only major league appearance this year. Last year he came up straight from double-A to make eight starts for the O's, four of them during interleague, only to walk more than he struck out and post a 6.34 ERA.
The Yanks got smoked down in Baltimore to the tune of 9-4, but didn't lose any ground in the standings as the Red Sox continued to find new ways to lose last night in Boston. Gilbert Bogie was the one bright spot for the Bombers. Miguel Tejada made a marvelous catch in left field. Otherwise, it was a snoozer. Today gives a late afternoon game, 4:30 start. I kind of dig late afternoon games, particularly because of the way the light moves over the field. It presents a different beauty for fans--and different challenges for the players, subtle as they may be. Especially now that it's getting to be the autumn, the light is unlike it would have been in April or May. I love it. Maybe you can watch the game eating the last of the good local tomatoes or corn. Should be a relaxing day for a game. The sticks are going to break out. What can I say, but let's go Yanks, man.
There are 24 games left in the Yankees' 2006 season, all of them against AL East opponents. Tonight they play the first of seven remaining games against the Orioles. They also have seven left against the Devil Rays, six against Toronto, and a four-game home set against the second-place Red Sox.
Entering tonight's action the Yankees have a nine game lead in the division and their magic number to clinch is 15. The Orioles, meawhile, would be eliminated from the division race with a single Yankee win this weekend and could be eliminated from the playoffs altogether before the Yankees leave Baltimore.
Hideki Matsui is 1 for 6 in his first two rehab games with the Trenton Thunder, but the Thunder's playoff series is knotted at 1-1, so he should have plenty of opportunities to get the kinks worked out. In last night's game he walked in his first trip, coming around to score, then grounded out to second and popped out twice to the left side of the infield.
In other news, Kevin Thompson has been activated, having recovered from the staph infection that developed after he fouled a ball off his shin. There's a Carl Pavano dig in there somewhere.
Cory Lidle starts tonight against Erik Bedard. Lidle has pitched six shutout innings in two of his last three starts. If you ask me, the 27-year-old Bedard is quickly becoming overrated, though he did hold the Yankees to one run over six innings the last time these two teams met.
The Yanks are running out the usual suspects, with Craig Wilson getting the first base start against the lefty Bedard, and the lefty Cano hitting behind Jorge Posada.
Seven more games against the Orioles. Have they banned greenies for bloggers as well?
Boids...Dirty, Disgusting, Filthy, Lice-Ridden Boids (so Sayeth the Concierge)
The Yanks are in Baltimore for a four-game series this weekend and well, it's just hard to get juiced about this one, isn't it? Four-hour games, a boring Orioles team, makes for precious little to say this morning. However, here are some links from around the 'Net which may be of some interest:
Yankee GM, Brian Cashman talks to Roger Rubin about what we can expect from Hideki Matsui.
Earlier this week, Joe Sheehan chimed-in on Alex Rodriguez's season over at Baseball Prospectus:
Hey, is Alex Rodriguez still a choking scrub unfit to occupy the same infield as Derek Jeter? It's kind of hard to keep up. I just happened to look today and saw that Rodriguez is 17th in the AL in EqA, 15th in RARP and 17th in VORP among position players. He leads AL third basemen in VORP and will likely hold that ranking until the end of the year. Defense could push Mark Teahen and/or Joe Crede ahead of Rodriguez in overall value, so you can figure he's one of the two of three best third basemen in the league.
I have to admit that I underestimated the kind of impact that Johnny Damon would have on the Yankees this year. But as the season draws to a conclusion, and Derek Jeter is the thick of the MVP mix, I've come to believe that Damon has been almost as important for the Bombers, both in the locker room and on the field. Jeter smiles plenty during the games--he's always enjoyed himself playing the game--but Damon is downright goofy. His smile is infectious, and along with the broad, carefree grins we see nightly from Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera (and across town from Jose Reyes), I don't recall the last time a Yankee team seemed this loose, while being completely focused at the same time. As Pete Abraham recently noted, "I'm not sure there are 10 people in the world who enjoy life more than Damon."
And yet, even if Damon is a flake, he's also a gamer too. He's played hurt all year, and you know that his teammates must appreciate that. Earlier this season I was in the Yankee locker room for a Sunday matinee against the Royals. It was get-away day, which means that the players arrive wearing suits. Damon was in the clubhouse early, before most of his teammates had arrived, wearing a stylish tan suit. Before he undressed, I saw him kneeling down in the the corner of the room, picking through a case of cds. After a few minutes, he stood up and groaned in pain--his foot has been killing him all year. He winced and hobbled for a minute as he balanced himself. Nobody was around, none of the reporters were paying attention to him at that moment, and there was no sense that he trying to attract attention to himself. It was just a small moment, but one that indicated that this was one tough dude.
The press absolutely love him. Damon might be the best daily talker the team has had since David Cone. In all, he's been the perfect tonic for the traditionally tight-assed Yankees. Aditi Kinkhabwala has a piece on Damon today over at SI.com.
Randy Johnson threw six no-hit innings in Kansas City last night as the Yankees clobbered the Royals 8-3. The Red Sox were blown-out at home--and had some salt poured onto their wounds down in Florida to boot--as New York's lead is back to nine games. Johnson (16-10) absolutely cruised, getting ahead of batters, and then putting them away. He threw only 81 pitches in seven full innings of work, walking two and striking out eight. To be sure, the Big Unit was aided by home plate umpire Charlie Reliford's more than generous strike zone and an impatient KC lineup. But hey, the Yanks'll take it.
David DeJesus broke up the no-no with a lead off triple in the seventh, but he was promptly picked-off of third by Jorge Posada. Down 5-0 at the time, I was surprised how DeJesus--who robbed Robinson Cano of a hit and also threw the Yankees' second baseman out at the plate earlier in the game--could make such a careless play. Good as he is, I suppose this is why the Royals are in last place.
Posada powered the Yanks with two, three-run home runs. In the sixth, Jason Giambi--who had hit the ball hard in his previous at bat--doubled to the gap in right center. Alex Rodriguez followed with a walk and then Posada crushed a dinger to right. In the eighth, Andy Phillips--who had replaced Giambi in the seventh--doubled and Rodriguez walked again. This time, Posada hit one out to dead center, good for his 19th tater of the season (he also has 79 RBIs).
About the only drag for the Yanks was the performance by Kyle Farnsworth, who gave up a couple of runs in the ninth. Fortunately, the Bombers are winning without Mariano Rivera, who isn't expected to begin throwing a ball around again until tomorrow at the earliest. According to Sam Borden in the News:
"We've been winning some games without him but no one is delusional enough to think we can do that in the future," [manager, Joe] Torre said. "He could go out and pitch right now. What we're trying to do is alleviate the discomfort. He's very important to us. The ability to get it all the way well is our priority."
Will the Yankees pull out what should be a gimme series win tonight, or will the make like the Twins and White Sox before them and drop the three-game set to the Kansas City Spoils? Randy Johnson goes against Runevlys Hernandez to decide. Randy was excellent in his last start at home against Detroit, though his line is distorted by a two-run homer he gave up in the ninth inning with a 6-2 lead. Runelvys, meanwhile, is another one of those all-over-the-map Royals pitchers. Once considered a bright light in a youth-driven Royals rotation (check one of my earliest posts on the BRB), he is now a 28 year old disappointment with weight problems. But then he has won three of his last four and posted this line against the Blue Jays and White Sox in his last two starts: 15 IP, 12 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 BB, 7 K. Let's see, the Yankees mind-blowing offense got shut out last night and the execrable Hernandez has allowed just one run in his last 15 innings? That dam's gotta break tonight, no?
Ray Negron knows that he is blessed. In the spring of 1973, when Negron was 16, none other than George Steinbrenner, the Boss himself, caught the teenager tagging an "NY" logo on the outside of Yankee Stadium. Instead of pressing charges, the Boss gave Negron a job as a batboy. Negron has been around the game ever since. He was drafted in the second round by the Pirates in 1975 but couldn't hit enough to play pro ball so he returned to the Yankees where Billy Martin and Steinbrenner kept him busy. When Reggie Jackson arrived in '77, Negron became the superduperstar's personal assistant away from the park. "Reggie used to say that if he was the King of New York, then I was the Prince of the City," says Negron.
Negron was the one person who was close with Reggie, Billy and George during the most volatile days of the Bronx Zoo, making him a unique figure in Yankee history. After Jackson left New York, Negron tried his hand at acting, and later became a player agent, working first in Japan and then back in the States. He was the only minority GM in the short-lived Senior League in the late eighties. But he's perhaps most recognizable as an advisor to both Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden, the man who helped broker deals to bring the erstwhile Metropolitans to the Bronx in the mid-nineties. Negron's biological father was a physically abusive alcoholic, and his two younger brothers are addicts as well. Subsequently, he has specialized in drug counseling. Negron worked for John Hart in Cleveland and then Texas as a player liason--he was especially close with Roberto Alomar and Juan Gonzalez--before returning to the Yankees last year.
Negron appreciates how much his chance meeting with the Boss has helped shape his life. He is committed to sharing his success story, speaking often at local schools and hospitals. Last week, Negron released the first in a series of children's books he plans to write on topics like racism and drug abuse. The first title, The Boy of Steel, is a story about a young cancer patient who enjoys a magical experience at Yankee Stadium. Featuring large color illustrations, it is an ideal gift for any kid who loves the Yankees. Keep it in mind on your holiday shopping list this year. It's for a good cause, as all the profits will be distributed to various charities.
Whole Lotta Nothin'
The Yankees put an unlucky thirteen runners on base last night, but couldn't get a single one of them home. Against Kansas City starter Jorge de la Rosa, they stranded men in the second through fifth innings, including runners at first and second with one out in the second and third and a lead-off double by Melky Cabrera in the fifth. In the sixth, with a blister forming on the middle finger of his pitching hand, de la Rosa surrendered a one-out single to Alex Rodriguez, got Posada to ground out for the second out, then walked Robinson Cano on four pitches (amazingly Cano's second walk of the game; even more amazingly those two walks to Cano were the only free passes de la Rosa issued last night).
With Tuesday night's implosion still fresh in his mind, Royals manager Buddy Bell was forced to go to his bullpen. Smelling blood, Joe Torre went to his bench and sent up Jason Giambi to hit for Craig Wilson. Bell brought in hard-throwing righty Todd Wellemeyer, who got ahead of Giambi 1-2, then bounced a pitch past catcher John Buck. Rodriguez took off for third, but the ball ricocheted right back to Buck, who threw to third where Mark Teahen dropped the tag on Rodriguez's back foot for what should have been the third out as his front foot had sailed high and clear of the bag. However, third base umpire Greg Gibson, who erroneously called David DeJesus safe at home on Tuesday night despite the fact that DeJesus appeared to miss the plate entirely on his slide, called Rodriguez safe. Giambi then creamed Wellemeyer's next pitch, but hooked it foul, doing the same two pitches later, this time sending the ball into the upper deck far down the right field foul line. Having twice been too quick on his pitch, Giambi then failed to catch up to a Wellemeyer heater, striking out to end the Yankee threat.
Having found a good thing, Bell stuck with it. Wellemeyer stranded Aaron Guiel, who doubled for Nick Green, at third in the seventh by striking out Derek Jeter. He then stranded a four-pitch lead-off walk to Bobby Abreu in the eighth by striking out Alex Rodriguez on three pitches, then getting Posada to hit into a double play. In the ninth the Yankees mounted their biggest threat of the night, loading the bases on a four-pitch walk to Giambi, a Melky Cabrera single and, after pinch hitter Bernie Williams struck out, an infield single by Johnny Damon, but Wellemeyer once again struck out the Yankee Captain, this time on three pitches, to end the game.
Give the offense's futility, it was largely insignificant that Mike Mussina showed some rust by giving up four runs on eight hits in five innings despite excellent control (67 percent of 86 pitches for strikes and four Ks against just one walk in five innings). Moose was driven from the game in the sixth by a lead-off homer by Emil Brown. Brian Bruney finished the inning on eight pitches.
In the seventh, Joe Torre brought in the latest September call-ups. Andy Cannizaro made his major league debut as a defensive replacement for Aaron Guiel/Nick Green, but was later robbed of a chance at his first plate appearance when Torre turned to Bernie during the Yankees' ninth-inning rally. Sean Henn, who made three ugly starts for the Yanks last year and has since been converted to relief after an injury plagued season with the Clippers, pitched the seventh, giving up a lead-off double to Andres Blanco then two booming flies that drove Blanco home.
Finally, Octavio Dotel, who apparently does still work here despite pitching just one inning in the past week and a half, worked the eighth. Dotel started his inning by striking out Mike Sweeney on three pitches, but the last skipped by Posada allowing Sweeney to reach base. Dotel then walked Emil Brown to put two on base with none out, but recovered to retire the next three men on eight pitches.
Mike Mussina returns to active duty tonight to take the ball against the Royals. Mussina has now hit the disabled list in the second half of each of the last three seasons. In 2004, Moose missed nearly a month and a half in July and early August with elbow pain. After returning, it took him three starts to get up to speed, after which he dominated in six September starts (3-1, 2.14 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.00 K/9, 4.20 K/BB). Last year he missed the first three weeks of September due to more elbow issues, returning in time to make just two final regular season starts, the first good but not great, the second awful, with nearly identical results in his two ALDS starts.
This year it wasn't his elbow, but a nagging groin injury that pushed Mikey Moose to the DL, and rather than three weeks or a month and a half, he's missed just the minimum 15 days. The way the schedule pans out, Mussina, who has been stuck at 13 wins since July 30, could make as many as six more regular season starts (ain't that always the way for Moose). That should be plenty of time for him to pitch himself back into a groove for the postseason, while feeling the benefits of the two-week respite. You see, Moose had a 5.14 ERA in August that was less the result of any gaudy runs-allowed totals than his increasing inability to go deep into ballgames due to both the groin and general inefficiency.
Opposing him tonight will be lefty Jorge de la Rosa, whom the Royals acquired from Milwaukee at the deadline for Tony Graffanino. De la Rosa is a hard thrower who strikes out a fair number of batters, but also walks more than his share and is thus in his fourth organization at the tender age of 25. After being converted to starting while in the Red Sox system in 2002, the Brewers put him back in the pen last year with disastrous results (8.08 BB/9). This year they used him as a swing man, giving him three starts, until the Royals mercifully took him and his 8.60 ERA off their hands. He's since made six starts for the Royals which have been a total mixed bag, but without much upside. His first AL start--6 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K vs. Texas--remains his best. Of course he's pitched on irregular rest almost every time out (though not tonight), which may have something to do with the fact that he was just coming off the DL due to blister problems when the Royals acquired him. Dayton Moore must have gotten one hell of a scouting report on this guy.
Who's Scruffy-Looking? Laugh it Up, Fuzzball Edition
"I tell you, I've been here a month and a couple of days, and I've seen some crazy things," said Bobby Abreu, who broke a 5-5 tie with a double to deep center. "This team has come back at any time, no matter what."
Well, it was just a matter of time, I guess. The Yankees left runners on base in the first six innings last night in Kansas City and had just one run to show for it. They were retired in order in the seventh and then broke out for ten runs against the Royals' bullpen in the eighth, turning a 5-1 deficit into an 11-5 lead. The final score on "Star Wars" night in KC: Evil Empire 12, Royals 5. Chien-Ming Wang was not great though he did not pitch poorly either (Wang was victimized by a botched double play and a missed call at the plate in the sixth). Luke Hudson was what they like to call "effectively wild." His hard change-up was particularly sharp and he struck out ten Yankees. He also brushed a few Yankees back. In the third, Hudson knocked Jeter down with a pitch around the shortstop's noggin; after shooting Hudson a dirty look, Jeter lined the next pitch right back through the box, into the pitcher's body. You can only dream about stuff like that.
But KC's bullpen was awful in the eighth and the Yankees pounced. Forty-four pitches were thrown, ten runs scored, and when all was said and done, the Yanks remained nine ahead of Boston, who beat the White Sox in extra innings last night at Fenway Park. The magic number to clinch the division for the Bombers stands at 17. I wonder if Giambi and Damon partied with any Wookiees after the game.
Kansas City Royals
When the Yankees last played Kansas City, the Royals were a historically bad ballclub. When the team bus pulled up at Yankee Stadium back in late May, the Royals had a .222 winning percentage. Had they kept up that pace, the Royals would have surpassed the 1916 Philadelphia Althetics as the worst team since the arrival of the twentieth century.
Of course, they weren't really that bad. Their Pythagorean record at the time was .261 and by June 15 they had indeed pulled their actual record up to .262, which would merely have been sixth worst since 1901. Since then, however, Royal baseball has been a whole new ballgame, as the team has played at a comparatively world-beating .466 clip.
So what changed? Well, most obviously, they fired general manager Allard Baird and replaced him with former Atlanta Braves assistant GM Dayton Moore at the end of May. Not that Moore can really be said to have been responsible for having turned the team around on his own. During his first month on the job, Moore reinstated Mark Teahen at third base, acquired Joey Gathright from the Devil Rays, claimed Todd Wellemeyer of waivers from the Marlins, bought Brandon Duckworth from the Pirates, and restored tonight's starter Luke Hudson to the rotation.
Teahen has been a revelation, hitting .318/.390/.568 with 16 homers, 58 RBIs while being a perfect 8 for 8 on the bases and playing outstanding defense, but the other moves have had minimal impact. Gathright has hit just .234/.319/.291 and been caught in five of his eleven steal attempts. Wellemeyer leads the Royals pen with a 3.98 ERA (ouch), but has walked more than he's struck out. Duckworth posted a 6.11 ERA before landing on the DL. In fact, the 29-year-old Hudson has been the second most successful of Moore's initial fixes, going 7-2 since his recall despite a 5.01 ERA.
But then, it's not fair to judge Moore on his short-term results. The Royals are such a bankrupt organization that there's very little anyone could have done with them mid-season. Rather, Moore has been the early beneficiary of a few lucky breaks, such as the 24-year-old Teahen exceeding the expectations he'd previously failed to live up to, and David DeJesus and Mike Sweeney getting healthy. That said, he does deserve credit for bringing in first baseman Ryan Shealy from the Rockies, who has since hit .312/.363/.456. With Shealy and DeJesus replacing injured underperforming vets Doug Mientkiewicz and Reggie Sanders, Sweeney replacing the underutilized Matt Stairs, and Teahen replacing miscast utility man Tony Graffanino, the Royals have shown signs of life on the field, sweeping the Red Sox in early August and going 4-2 over their last six games against Wild Card contenders Chicago and Minnesota. In Kansas City such signs of life are a major accomplishment.
Free and Easy
While a distinct autumn chill has been felt in New York for much of the past week, Sunday was a reminder that summer isn't quite over yet. It was a brilliant afternoon, sunny but not hot, and Yankee fans were treated to a 10-1 romp in the park over the Twins. Combined with a Red Sox loss, the Bombers now lead the AL East by nine games. The only Twins run came when Torii Hunter blasted a 3-0 fastball off starter Darrell Rasner in the second inning. Otherwise, Rasner, who has pitched well in the minors this season, had a fine outing in just his second big league start (and his first in pinstripes), allowing just four hits over six innings.
As for the offense, Robbie Cano, Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Bobby Abreu all had three hits. Rodriguez crushed two home runs--one into the black--and added an RBI single. The Twins' centerfielder thinks Rodriguez is pretty okay. According to Larry Brooks in the Post:
"They showed every bit of why they got A-Rod. The way he hit the ball today was not even right," Hunter said after Rodriguez had pounded a solo shot in the fifth to the right-center bleachers and then a three-run blow in the seventh into the black. "It's not even human. He's not human.
Abreu tied a career-high by hitting three doubles. The most impressive came when Abreu led-off the bottom of the seventh and fouled the third pitch of the sequence off his lower leg. Abreu hobbled around the plate and eventually, Joe Torre and trainer, Gene Monahan came out to look him over. Abreu stayed in the game, and after taking ball two, slapped a ball into the gap in right center field. The ball was not that deep but Abreu turned-on-the-jets and beat the throw to second. He slid into the base head first and had to hang on to the base so as not to come off the bag entirely. It reminded me just a little bit of Paul O'Neill's desperate double in Game 5 of the ALDS back in 1997. The fans appreciated his hustle and gave Abreu a nice ovation as he came out of the game for a pinch-runner. After the game, Torre hoped that Abreu would be fine, adding, "He looked pretty good going from home to second."
Just about everything the Yankees did yesterday looked pretty good. They even had promising news to report about Hideki Matsui, who will play a rehab game this Wednesday in Trenton. We could see the return of Godzilla as soon as sometime next week. Bam.
The Yanks lost a rain-shortened contest 6-1 yesterday afternoon, despite the best efforts of rookie Jeffrey Karstens, who allowed just two runs, one on a solo Torii Hunter home run, in seven innings. Today the Yankees throw another rookie to the wolves in Darrell Rasner. Because I'm on my way to the game and on my way out the door, here's what I wrote about Rasner when it was announced he'd start today.
Rasner looked sharp in a lone relief appearance for the Yankees back in that first loss to the Tigers in May, utilizing a nasty curve. He then landed on the 60-day DL with a sore pitching shoulder. After a brief rehab stint in A-ball in which the threw 13 innings across four starts, he was activated and optioned down to Columbus where he started this past Monday, allowing three runs on seven hits over six innings, striking out five and walking none.
Opposing Rasner will be 22-year-old Twins rookie Matt Garza, who was drafted out of Frezno State in the first round (25th overall) just last year. Garza has steadily improved across his four big-league starts, though his competition has also been progressively weaker in each one.
I Love a Rainy Night
I can only imagine what must have been running through a Minnesota Twins fans' mind last night as they watched Alex Rodriguez hit two homers and a bases loaded RBI single--"This is the guy who is supposed to stink?" Now batting .282 with 29 dingers and 99 RBI, Rodriguez, according to my pal out west, Rich Lederer, "is having one of the best seasons for a bum in recent memory." Rodriguez had that good look back last night--even when he grounded into a double play his second time up, his frustration inspired confidence, instead of a "here we go again" feeling. Lee Jenkins reports in The New York Times:
"He looks more comfortable," Manager Joe Torre said. "I'm pleased and everybody else is pleased, too, because he makes a huge difference."
The Yankee third baseman was not the only offensive star--Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu had three hits apeice too, as the Bombers rolled over the Twins, 8-1 on a rainy night in the Bronx. Corey Lidle got ahead of hitters consistently and tossed six shutout innings. Meanwhile, the Twins committed three errors and played a sloppy game.
The rain held off enough for them to get the game in. The swirling winds made virtually every fly ball to the outfield an adventure. Late in the game, Jorge Posada hit a line drive to center field. On the crack of the bat, Torii Hunter turned and ran to the spot where he thought the ball would land (Charles Euchner has a fascinating chapter about how outfielders track fly balls in his book, "The Last Nine Innings"). When he looked up, he discovered that the ball had dropped in behind him by a good 20-30 feet. "Wow," was all he could say.
It's actually not raining right now, but the winds are fierce. Not exactly an ideal day for playing ball, forget about sitting in the stands. Both Cliff and I will be at the park tomorrow. Hopefully, the weather will improve some by then.
Jason Giambi was back in the line-up but Mariano Rivera was unavailable and, as Kevin Kernan reports in the Post, the Yankees are holding their breath that their star closer will be okay come October. However, it is possible that both Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield could return before all is said and done. A dizzing proposition, for sure.
After starting the season 17-24, the Twins moved 22-year-old lefty über-prospect Francisco Liriano from the bullpen into the rotation on May 19. They then played .500 ball over their next twenty games before catching fire in mid-June, winning 18 of 19 games, 15 of which came against National League teams, specifically the Dodgers and the four weakest teams in the NL Central. After dropping a pair of series to the Royals and Rangers, they again went on a tear after the All-Star Break, winning 12 of their first 14 games of the second half, a stretch that concluded with a three-game sweep of the White Sox.
Those streaks obviously weren't all Liriano's doing, but the decision to move Liriano into the rotation was a lynchpin for the team, which started the season with Tony Batista at third, Juan Castro at shortstop and with plans to carry Ruben Sierra. Not long after Twins got wise on Liriano, they dumped Batista (.236/.303/.388), Castro (.231/.258/.308), Sierra (5 for 28 with one extra base hit and four walks) and Kyle Lohse (7.07 ERA), replacing them with Nick Punto (a surprising .307/.383/.405), Jason Bartlett (finally living up to his minor league track record with a .342/.409/.447 line), Jason Tyner (ditto, hitting .314/.343/.346 in place of the injured Shannon Stewart's .293/.347/.368 in left field), and, of course, Liriano (12-3, 2.19 ERA, 10.74 K/9). Add in a tremendous two months from Justin Morneau (.387/.415/.719 with 18 homers in June and July) and you get a Twins team that went 42-17 (.712) from May 19 until July 28.
It was that later date when Liriano suffered a hard luck loss against the Tigers after which he complained of pain in his pitching elbow. He's made just one abbreviated start since then and the Twins have gone 18-13 in his absence. That's a .580 record, an almost exact match with the team's overall record, but a considerable drop from the dominant two months in which Liriano took the hill every fifth day, and not enough to push them past the White Sox, who currently sport a .586 winning percentage.
Once again, Liriano has been the lynchpin as the team has started to regress without him. Brad Radke, who has said he will retire after this season, has been pitching with a torn labrum and a shredded rotator cuff, figuring there's no reason to save his arm. It worked in August, when he posted a 2.48 ERA, but his shoulder is deteriorating faster than expected and didn't respond to his latest cortisone shot. As a result, Radke won't start Saturday, and could be done for the season, and thus his career. That's bad news for a rotation that's still without Liriano and is still carrying tonight's starter Carlos Silva, who has a 6.50 ERA on the year. While rookies Boof Bonser and Sunday's starter Matt Garza appear to be rounding into shape, Scott Baker, who will take Radke's turn tomorrow, has been on the Richmond express all year and sports a 6.93 ERA in 12 starts.
To make matters worse, the offense is experiencing some correction, with MVP candidates Morneau and Joe Mauer cooling off and Punto coming back to earth. It doesn't help matters that Luis Castillo sprained his ankle and could miss the entire series this weekend. Thus, despite the continued excellence of Johan Santana and the bullpen (which has added dominant rookie Pat Neshek to the Big Three of Nathan, Rincon and LOOGY Dennys Reyes), the recent surge of surprise clean-up hitter Michael Cuddyer (.311/.398/.594 in August), and last night's addition of Phil Nevin (who will replace the Rondell White's miserable .215/.242/.308 at DH), I'm just not convinced that this team can overtake the White Sox, despite the two teams being tied in the loss column, without getting Liriano back, and soon.
The latest report from Will Carroll is that Liriano is throwing "sneaker sessions" (meaning he's throwing off a mound, but in sneakers rather than cleats, the unproven theory being that the reduced traction also reduces effort and strain on the arm) and could return mid-month. Unless Bonser and Garza maintain their improvements and Nevin hits like he did in Chicago rather than the way he didn't in Texas, that might not be soon enough
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01