Monthly archives: August 2007
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
The Boston Red Sox are the best team in baseball, and the Yankees just swept them in a series in which the Sox threw their three best starting pitchers. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are the worst team in baseball and the Yankees took six of eight from them after the All-Star break. This weekend the Yankees will once again miss not only Scott Kazmir, but James Shields as as well. Can you say extended winning streak?
The catch, of course, is that the Yankees will have Ian Kennedy making his major league debut on Saturday. Kennedy's tremendously talented, but so is Phil Hughes, and he's been experiencing some growing pains thus far this season despite the fact that, as a man in his third full professional season and with seven major league starts under his belt, he's a veteran compared to first-year pro Kennedy. Hughes, who starts tonight, has just two quality starts in those seven major league outings and is coming off a pair of similarly frustrating outings in which he allowed just eight hits in 12 1/3 innings and struck out ten, but also allowed ten runs due to five walks in the first game and three homers in the latter.
Opposing Hughes will be Andrew Sonnanstine, who, as a fourth-year pro with 16 major league starts under his belt, is of similar vintage to Hughes (though, as a Kent State product, he's three years older). Sonnanstine's only career start against the Yankees was his first following the All-Star break. He allowed five runs on a walk and nine hits, including homers by Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui, in 6 1/3 innings in that game and hasn't been much better since, posting a 7.28 second-half ERA despite allowing just three more homers in his last eight starts and posting a solid 2.49 BB/9. The Yankees swept the Red Sox on the strength of their pitching. There's no reason they can't sweep the Devil Rays by preying on their pitching, just as they did the last time the Rays came to town and the Yankees scored 45 runs in the process of winning the final three games of that four-game set (the loser in game one, incidentally, was Mike Mussina).
Pastime Passings for July and August
Baseball has lost some good people during the middle of the summer, including a pinstriped icon and a onetime Yankee from the late 1960s. With details of those deaths, along with some other baseball losses, here is the latest edition of Pastime Passings.
Phil Rizzuto: (Died on August 13 in West Orange, New Jersey; age 89; pneumonia and effects of Alzheimer’s disease): Considered one of the lynchpins to Yankee success throughout the 1940s and fifties, Rizzuto helped New York to seven World Series wins—in 1941, ’47, and ’49, and from 1950 to 1953. Regarded as a slick fielding shortstop and a top-flight bunter, the five-time All-Star provided both stability to the middle infield and to the top of the Yankee batting order. In 1950, Rizzuto batted .324 and drew 92 walks to earn American League MVP honors. After his playing days, "The Scooter" became a Yankee institution as a broadcaster. Anchoring WPIX, cable, and radio broadcasts for 40 years, the colorful and charismatic Rizzuto emerged as the centerpiece to television and radio coverage of the Yankees, replete with trademark catch phrases like "Huckleberry" and "Holy Cow!" In 1994, Rizzuto earned baseball’s ultimate honor—after being passed over 26 times—when he was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Commentary: Phil Rizzuto broke almost all of the rules of broadcasting. He often failed to follow the play, botched home run calls, interspersed his broadcasts with "Happy Birthdays" and personal notes, and sometimes even failed to take note that a no-hitter was in progress. Yet, none of that mattered. "The Scooter" was so personable, so charming, so completely entertaining that most Yankee fans loved listening to him, regardless of whether the Yankees were winning, tied, or being blown out.
There were also times that Rizzuto could be say, shall we say, somewhat risqué on the air. For example, during the 1969 season, the Yankees made one of their first trips into Seattle’s Sicks Stadium to play the expansion Pilots. (Rizzuto, by the way, hated Sicks Stadium, in part because it required climbing a ladder to reach the broadcast booth.) While on the air, Rizzuto made mention of the fact that his Seattle hotel room had only rounded walls. "There will be no cornering of Cora tonight," Rizzuto exclaimed, referring to his longtime wife. Perhaps the Scooter thought no one was listening since it was so late on the East Coast.
Steve Lombardi of waswatching.com recalls another one of Rizzuto’s less than politically correct moments. Late in the 1975 season, Rizzuto was announcing a game on the radio with longtime broadcast partner Bill White. Noting that the fans at Yankee Stadium had started to cheer loudly, Rizzuto announced that Bobby Bonds was coming into the game as a pinch-hitter. White then corrected him, saying that the pinch-hitter was actually Rich Coggins, who like Bonds was African-American, but wore No. 26, as opposed to Bonds’ No. 25. Rizzuto then tried to defend his error. "Well, you know, they all look alike to me," said Rizzuto, drawing loud laughs from White, also an African American. Only someone as well liked as Rizzuto could get away with such a statement on live radio.
Because of The Scooter, Yankee broadcasts in the seventies and eighties transcended sports; they became a mix of situation comedy, talk show, and baseball. Thanks, Rizzuto.
Series Wrap: v. Red Sox
Offense: The Yankees only scored 4.67 runs per game, but that's actually excellent considering the fact that the Sox have allowed just 3.63 runs per game since the All-Star break. Not only that, they did it against the Sox's three best starters, beating Matsuzaka and Beckett, and tagging one of the league's best relievers in Hideki Okajima in the finale.
Derek Jeter 7 for 11, 2B, HR, RBI, 2 R, BB
Bobby Abreu 2 for 11, 2B, RBI, 2 R, BB, 2 K
Wilson Betemit went 0 for 1 with a K and a run scored as a pinch-runner after entering the opener in the seventh inning. Jose Molina and Shelley Duncan did not play in the series.
Rotation: Outstanding. Pettitte came up huge with seven strong innings in the opener, limiting the Sox to six leadoff hits (though two were homers and a third was a triple, which also scored) and a pair of walks while striking out six. Clemens then no-hit the Sox for 5 1/3 innings before allowing his only run (and one of only two hits) in six innings on a David Ortiz homer. Chien-Ming Wang then no-hit the Sox for six innings and shut them out for seven on a single hit while striking out five. Sure, Clemens and Wang walked a combined nine men in 13 innings, but I'll take nine walks and three hits in 13 innings any time. The last time the Yankee starter earned the win in three consecutive games? Pettitte, Clemens, and Wang against the Tigers two weekends ago. On both occasions the Yankees allowed just six runs total across the three games.
Bullpen: Well, Kyle Farnsworth turned back into Farmaduke, but otherwise, excellent, which is how it tends to go when the starters are strong and the lesser arms in the pen aren't required. Remember in my series preview when I said, "If Torre needs Britton tonight, something's likely gone wrong?" Well nothing went wrong. Though here's hoping Britton and Brian Bruney get some work in against the D-Rays this weekend, but not because things have gone wrong. The good news on Bruney, by the way, is with rosters expanding tomorrow, he's here to stay. I just hope Torre gives him the opportunity to succeed or fail legitimately.
Mo pitched 2 1/3 perfect innings and struck out two to pick up saves in the first two games. His four-out save in a one-run game in game two was huge, even if he did face the turnaround of the Boston order. Those four outs took him 14 pitches, 11 of which were strikes. Joba Chamberlain actually allowed four baserunners and struck out just two in his 2 1/3 innings, but one of those baserunners was the walk of Youkilis after he got tossed in the finale, and he still hasn't allowed a run in 11 1/3 major league innings. Edwar Ramirez threw that ball four to Youkilis as well as a pair of wild pitches, but struck out the hot-hitting Mike Lowell and stranded Youkilis at third to wrap up the shutout in the finale. Luis Vizcaino walked one and struck out one in a scoreless inning in the middle game to the delight of Roger Clemens.
Farmaduke faced five batters in relief of Vizcaino, one struck out, one walked, one singled, one homered. Fortunately the walk came after the homer. Still, he nearly blew the middle game and didn't even finish his inning, necessitating that four-out save from Mo.
Conclusion: The Yankees quite simply played great baseball over the last three games and swept the best team in the majors as a result. I don't know what more there is to say. As a special bonus, they are now a game up in the Wild Card race and tied in the loss column with the Mariners, who were swept by the Angels and have lost six straight.
Read 'Em and Sweep
The Yankees shut-out the Red Sox this afternoon, 5-0, completing a timely three-game sweep. New York now trails Boston by five games, and this one got contentious before all was said and done. Chien-Ming Wang took a no-hitter into the seventh inning (thanks, in part to three stellar fielding plays by Jason Giambi), and out-dueled Curt Schilling, who was excellent for Boston. Robinson Cano drilled two solo dingers off Schilling, both to left center field, the only runs allowed by Boston's starting pitcher.
After Kevin Youkilis reached on a throwing error by Derek Jeter to start the seventh inning, Mike Lowell slapped a single to right for Boston's first hit of the game. J.D. Drew followed and hit a ground ball to Alex Rodriguez, who lunged to tag Youkilis, before throwing on to first. Drew was called out at first on a close play as Youkilis and Lowell advanced. Rodriguez had missed the tag but soon he, and manager Joe Torre, were arguing that Youkilis had run out of the baseline. (It didn't look as if he was that far out of the baseline when he passed Rodriguez, but his momentum carried him onto the infield grass a few steps later.) The umpires huddled and the call was overturned. Terry Francona, already having a tough day, came out, argued, and was run from the game.
I was watching the game with a friend who said, "Youkilis got himself out because he looks so awkward." Wang struck out Jason Varitek, got out of the jam, his day complete.
Joba Chamberlain did not allow a run in the eighth but didn't look particularly sharp. He could not control the slider. Still, after the Yankees scored three times in the bottom of the inningtwo runs scoring on an errand throw by VaritekChamberlain, rules be damned, was still pitching. He retired David Ortiz on a fly out and then buzzed two consecutive pitches up and over Youkilis' head. There was no warning from the umps. Instead, Chamberlain was thrown out of the game. The Red Sox players, notably, Josh Beckett, hollered at Chamberlain as the rookie pitcher walked off the field. "If that young man was trying to get our attention," Francona said later, "he did a good job of it."
Edwar Ramirez replaced him and got the final two outs to preserve the shutout.
After the game, Youkilis told reporters:
"You know, two balls going over somebody's head at 98 mph, I don't know. I didn't see any other pitches going that far out of the strike zone. Those balls were pretty close to the head. There were a couple of nods here and there. Who knows what it really meant? Ask him what his intent was. He's going to probably tell you he didn't mean to throw those. It's one of those things where only one person, or maybe a couple people on their team know.
So, the Red Sox are angry about the Youkilis call in the seventh, about Chamberlain throwing at him in the ninth, and most importantly, about getting swept. Boston still has a healthy five game lead, but there is sure to be more theatrics, posturing and general huffing and puffing the next time these two teams meet in Boston in a couple of weeks. (What a cheery thought.) Welcome to the Rivalry, Mr. Chamberlain.
In the meantime, it was the best possible outcome for the Yankees. They defeated Boston's three best pitchers and swept a series that needed to be swept. Now, here's hoping they don't lose site of things this weekend against the Devil Rays.
UpdateThe Mariners rallied to tie the Indians in the top of the 9th but lost the game when Rick White issued a bases loaded walk to Kenny Lofton with two men out in the bottom of the inning. The Yanks are now alone in first place for the wildcard, tied with Seattle in the loss column.
Ah Shaddapa You Face
I'm up in Vermont this week, hanging at Em's folks' place. It is gorgeous up here, even though it's been hot during the day. Em's old man is some kind of gardener, and there is nothing like walking barefoot through the grass, onto the dirt of his garden, and picking fresh tomatoes and basil for a salad.
I don't know that I could live up here--it's just too country for me. But the air is clear and crisp, and the open spaces are beautiful. Clean-living, friend, clean living.
So yesterday, I had to stop in at a local supermarket to pick up a few things. I'm wearing a navy-blue t-shirt with a Yankee logo (and Hernandez, 26 on the back). I didn't walk two feet into the place when a woman in the produce section looks at me and goes, "Ewww, boo-booo." She drops her melon and makes the sign of a cross with her two fingers and then goes on to mumble something about the Yankees beating the Red Sox on Tuesday night.
"Try and keep it together," I said cheerfully. "You can get through this, be strong." It wasn't so much being booed by a Red Sox fan that got me--heck that's okay by me. It's the fact that this lady was dumb enough not to know the standings. Sox got a seven-game lead (now six), lady, stifle, will ya, hah?
Anyhow, the Yanks and Sox finish their three-game series at the Stadium this afternoon. Should be plenty hot as Curt Schilling goes up against Chien-Ming Wang. With the Mariners coming into town for a critical three-game set starting Labor Day, the Yanks can't fall asleep in this final game, and especially this weekend against the Devil Rays.
But first things first.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Yanks Beat Sox, Tie M's for Wildcard Lead
Roger Clemens did not have his famous out-pitch, the split-finger fastball, working tonight. He did not have good control in general, issuing five walks in six innings. His face looked heavy and drawn. You could see him willing his old body through it tonight. How many more innings does he have left with all the wear-and-tear he's endured through the years? Regardless, in a case of substance over style, Clemens did not allow a hit through the first five innings (he also did not have to deal with Manny Ramirez who sat out with an oblique injury). David Ortiz deposited a flat-splitter high into the upper deck for Boston's first hit in the sixth.
Josh Beckett, on the other hand, was tougher than his numbers suggest. He used a sharp curve ball to record five of his six strikeouts, and looked decent, despite giving up a career-high thirteen hits. The Yankees scored three runs with two men out in the seconddinky, ground ball, RBI hits by Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon, but otherwise found themselves stymied by Beckett, who got big outs when he needed them most. The Bombers didn't help themselves either (Alex Rodriguez ran himself into an out after hitting a single to start the third), swinging at too many first pitches with runners on; with two men on, one out, and Beckett on the ropes in the sixth, Robinson Cano skied out to left on the first pitch. Johnny Damon eventually tapped out to first with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Beckett came back in the seventh and quickly retired Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu. He baffled Abreu, throwing him four curve balls in five pitches. But then he left a curve over the plate to Rodriguezit wasn't exactly a "hanger," but it was flat. The Yankee third baseman hooked it, and muscled the ball on a line over the wall in left field, good for his 44th homer of the season. It was an insurance run that had eluded the team inning after inning, and, as it turns out, it would be the difference in the game.
Cut to: Kyle Farnsworth. Do I need to get into it? Doesn't the name say it all? Well, after retiring Ortiz on a fly ball, Cooter gave up a single to Mike Lowell and then Kevin Youkilis drove the first pitch he saw from Farmadooke into the left field seats (it was a harder version of Rodriguez's dinger). J.D. Drew struck out next but then Farnsworth walked Jason Varitek and the reliever's night on the mound was over.
Enter Sandman. Mariano Rivera got Coco Crisp to tap a ground ball back to the mound to finish the eighth. After Mike Timlin retired the Yankees, Rivera threw a strike one fastball to Eric Hinske and then got a generous call on another fastball, this one on the outside corner. Rivera threw the following pitch to the same spot but did not get the call. So he threw it againnot one cutter in the sequenceand Hinske made like Coco and tapped out to Rivera. Julio Lugo hit a 1-0 pitch on one-hop to Rodriguez at third; though it took a tricky hop, A Rod made the play look easy for the second out. Finally, Dustin PedroiaOnly the Angels have Dirty Faces, right?fell behind 0-2, fouled a pitch off, took a cutter outside for a ball, and then hit a nubber up the third base line. Rivera made the play, Andy Phillipswho replaced Jason Giambi in the sixthmade a nice catch, and Ortiz was left in the on-deck circle. Hot Dog.
The win moves the Yankees to within six of the Red Sox. More importantly, it ties them with the Mariners for the wildcard lead (though Seattle is still up a game in the loss column). Both starting pitchers were quietly impressive tonight. Neither was great, but they both displayed how tough they are.
Yanks go for the sweep tomorrow afternoon when Chien-Ming Wang faces Curt Schilling.
Roger Clemens was the Red Sox's young fireballing ace. Josh Beckett is the Red Sox's young fireballing ace. The two face off tonight at the Stadium in a series that got a heckuva lot more exciting after the Yankees decided to show up last night and make things interesting.
If you were to plot this series out, you could see a focused Yankee team winning behind Pettitte and Wang on the days Joba's available to nail down the setup innings and against two pitchers the Yankees have fared well against thus far this year in Matsuzaka and Schilling. That would chalk tonight's game up as the loss, as Beckett has finally put it all together at age 27, while Clemens has just two quality starts in his last five tries at age 45. As great a player as Hanley Ramirez has become/is becoming, if Beckett and Mike Lowell can lead the Sox to another World Championship this year, it'll be hard to call that trade a mistake.
One positive for the Yankees tonight is that Manny Ramirez's back is tense. Manny left last night's game with back spasms, isn't in the lineup tonight, and is likely unavailable. Erik Hinske gets the start in left. Jason Giambi starts at first base for the Yankees. The other positive is that, if the Yankees do manage to win tonight, they'll be in great position for a very unlikely sweep.
Yankee Panky #22: The Bull and the Moose
The consensus when the Yankees re-signed Mike Mussina in the winter was that at $23 million for two years, he was a bargain. He was coming off his best season since 2003, was healthy, and for all intents and purposes, would have his best chance at winning a World Series title in New York.
The same was said for re-signing Andy Pettitte. The media downplayed Mussina's re-signing more than it hyped Pettitte's return, but in both pitchers — at least, according to the numerous reports that surfaced at the time — the Yankees thought they were getting proven winners, people who had performed at the highest level of pressure in the greatest pressure-cooker environment Major League Baseball has to offer.
My thoughts at the time were thus: I disagreed with both acquisitions, but was more in favor of the Pettitte signing, because (a) I believed he had more left physically, and (b) he would approach this second go-round with even fervor and provide something to the rotation that's been lacking — leadership. I didn't come to that theory initially, however. Immediately after the signing was announced, it seemed to me that signing Pettitte was a means of assuaging guilt over what happened in the offseason between the 2003 and '04 seasons that led to the Carl Pavano/Jaret Wright/Javier Vazquez/Kevin Brown atrocities. I believe that part of why the Yankees allowed Pettitte to leave New York after the 2003 season, despite his 21-win season and victories in Game 2 of each of the team's three postseason series, was because they believed his left forearm and elbow were fragile. That he made only 15 starts for Houston in 2004 because of elbow problems corroborated the damaged goods theory. I said at the time of Pettitte's exodus that come 2007, when he's turning 35 years old and practically done, he'll be perfect for the Yankees again.
I didn't question his competitiveness, but I did wonder how he would handle returning to the American League. Pettitte has surprised me in many respects. As Al Leiter alluded on Tuesday's YES Postgame, Pettitte has a bigger, sharper curveball, and because his velocity isn't what it once was, he's mixing his pitches better, using both sides of the plate with more regularity and changing hitters' eye level. In other words, his patterns are less predictable. Pettitte has been far and away the Yankees best and most consistent starter, and if not for the rickety bullpen in April and May, would have three or four more victories to his credit.
Tuesday's series opener with the Red Sox was a perfect example of Pettitte's worth. He hung tough, going pitch for pitch with Dice-K, and gave the Yankees a chance to win. Johnny Damon's home run, which proved to be the game winner, allowed Pettitte to run his August record to 6-0. In his Yankee career, he is 69-33 in starts following a loss.
Then there's Mussina. In Baseball Prospectus 2007, Steven Goldman, who wrote the Yankees chapter, had this to say about Mussina in his player analysis for the team: "The Yankees took a good risk in turning Mussina's one-year option into a discounted two-year extension."
I thought Steve was being generous. Because Mussina was healthy, for the most part — he made 32 starts despite a short DL stint with a groin injury — and he added the splitter, last year was the only year in the last three years he had fewer hits than innings pitched, a WHIP of less than 1.20, at least 15 wins, and an ERA less than 4.00. I thought it was an anomaly. Including the improvements in 2006, his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) over the last three seasons was .310. That's not good for any pitcher, let alone one who's being relied upon as a potential 15-game winner. PECOTA projected a slip back to his '04 form was projected: 12-9, between 40 and 50 walks, 29 starts, an ERA in the 4.25 range, and a WHIP near 1.30.
I thought the declining velocity — NoMaas.org's assessment is stinging yet hilarious — would catch up with him. He's been more reliant on his off-speed stuff and the assortment of curveballs does not have the same bit as it did even four years ago. Based on three straight seasons of landing on the disabled list with assorted elbow and leg ailments, I didn't believe he was in good enough shape to handle a 32-start workload. I also thought his finicky nature would wear thin. It seemed like the Yankees signed him because no one else would.
Save for a few standout performances, Mussina's Yankee career has been good, but generally nondescript. Yes, he was one out away from a perfect game Labor Day weekend in Boston six years ago, and he kept the Yankees alive with a brilliant performance in Game 3 of the DS that same year, and his three innings of relief in Game 7 against Boston in the '03 ALCS laid the foundation for the comeback. But it appears the negatives outweigh all that. There's a faction of fans that believe he's gutless because he won't buzz opposing hitters to protect his own guys who've been hit (see July 7, 2003 vs. Boston), which projects an image that he's selfish and not a good teammate. If the home plate umpire isn't giving him the corners, he gives the steely stare as if to say, "Do you know what a strike is? I do." And he'll keep throwing pitches in the same location to get the ump to cave in a psychological game of cat-and-mouse.
Mussina has always thought himself to be his own pitching coach. He's a "creature of habit," and is outspoken when certain elements of his routine are altered. He can be stubborn and abrasive, and is prone to shun accountability for his deficiencies. Last Wednesday night in Anaheim, following a sequence that led to Garret Anderson's RBI double in the disastrous second inning, YES cameras caught Mussina mouthing to Jose Molina, "That's not what I said. It wasn't my fault," referencing the pitch sequence.
Who threw the pitch?
To that point, I shot through the archives and stumbled upon a column from Ian O'Connor in USA Today recapping Game 4 of the '03 ALCS, in which he railed Mussina for not taking responsibility for the loss and minimizing his effect on the result of the series to that point.
"It seems like we do well when I don't pitch," Mussina said at the time. "We'll just let the other guys have at it, we'll win the series and move on."
Mussina's self-deprecating assessment can be applied to this current spate of distress that had Joe Torre and Ron Guidry visibly at odds in the dugout during Monday's third straight calamity.
Steve Lombardi, our friend at WasWatching, makes an apt comparison:
"At this stage, Mike Mussina has become to the 2007 New York Yankees what Luis Tiant was to the 1980 Yankees. Moose is an imported star who has reached the end of his effective days. If you told me, at this point, that Mussina would not win another 10 games in the major leagues, I wouldn't fight you, with tooth and nail, to make you say 'Take it back.'"
David Justice was more forthright on Monday's postgame.
"Mike Mussina has been so successful for so long doing it his way," he said. "How do you sell him on committing to something different? It's a tough sell. … In my opinion, he just doesn't have it anymore."
Mussina, in his current way, cannot help the Yankees. He is 0-7 this season after Yankees losses, and 2-6 against teams with winning records. In his last two starts, the Yankees have been outscored 34-9.
Monday night, he did not pitch like a man willing to fight for his spot in the rotation. When presented with a challenge, an affront to his position on the team, he did not pitch like someone determined to work through his struggles; he pitched like a complacent man who responded, "Who would they replace me with?" when asked about his tenuous position.
The answer came late Tuesday: Ian Kennedy. Torre announced that Kennedy would take Mussina's place in the rotation and make his major league debut Saturday versus the Devil Rays.
Reporters relayed Mike Mussina's message that he "didn't feel like anything good was going to happen" when he let go of the ball. Clearly, neither does the Yankees' brain trust.
[OOPS: Monday's NY Times notebook hinted that Kennedy was an unlikely call-up, even if Mussina had a bad outing. It was probably correct at the time.]
On Tuesday's postgame, when asked what Kennedy's promotion means for Mussina, Justice had this to offer:
"You're asking him to go into the bullpen. That means long man. Mop-up. It's not about Moose's feelings right now. It's about winning ball games and getting into the playoffs."
At least the Yankeees' hunch on one veteran pitcher was correct. And the assessment of the two pitchers, especially over the past month, has been fair.
Until next week …
The Stopper Returns
Everything that went wrong for the Yankees in Detroit went right in the Bronx last night. Andy Pettitte came up big once again, and the Yankee offense kept picking up the runs they needed to make it count.
The Yanks got out ahead in the first thanks to some of Daisuke Matsuzaka's bonus baserunners. Johnny Damon got things started with a single and moved to second on a Derek Jeter groundout. Matsuzaka then walked Bobby Abreu and nailed Alex Rodriguez in the back with his next pitch to load the bases for Hideki Matsui. Matsui hit a double play grounder, but didn't hit it hard enough and, with Alex Rodriguez sliding hard, Julio Lugo's throw pulled Kevin Youkilis off first as Damon scored the first run of the game. Jorge Posada then twisted the knife a bit with an RBI double before Coco Crisp ran down a deep Robinson Cano drive to center to end the inning.
Then a curious thing happened. The Red Sox led off each of the next six innings against Andy Pettitte with a hit, but those were the only six hits they managed off Pettitte all night. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the first of those leadoff hits was an opposite field Manny Ramirez homer in the third, and the second was a Julio Lugo triple in the third, the latter of which was plated by a David Ortiz sac fly to tie the game.
Matsuzaka, meanwhile, settled down after that rocky first, allowing just a walk to Alex Rodriguez over the next three innings. In the fifth, however, Derek Jeter, who was in an 0-for-14 slump at that point, delivered a go-ahead solo homer to the Armitron sign in right center that made it 3-2 Yanks.
Andy Pettitte entered the seventh inning having thrown 103 pitches, Luis Vizcaino warming in the bullpen, and Joba Chamberlain stretching to pitch the eighth. Four pitches later the Red Sox had tied the game yet again on a front-row Jason Varitek homer to left, but for the fourth consecutive inning Pettitte retired the side in order after allowing a leadoff hit, and the Yankees retook the lead in the bottom of the seventh when Johnny Damon snuck a two-run home run around the base of the foul pole in right, plating a leadoff single by Andy Phillips.
With that, Joba and Mo took over. Chamberlain appeared to be overthrowing a bit at first, issuing a leadoff walk to Kevin Youkilis (Boston's seventh straight leadoff baserunner), but despite that walk and later a single by Mike Lowell, Chamberlain survived his first taste of "The Rivalry"
It was a big night for the Yankees. Not only did they win a game that was crucial to the emotional state of the team, but the Wild Card-leading Mariners blew a 5-0 lead over the Angels to lose 10-6, so the Yankees are now just one game behind Seattle in the Wild Card race, and just two back in the loss column. (And, don't look now, but the Mariners are on a four-game losing streak.)
But that's not the big news. The big news is that despite my assumptions about Ian Kennedy's innings pitched limits (which were apparently picked up by Rob Neyer over on his ESPN.com blog), the Yankees are going to promote him to take Mike Mussina's start on Saturday after all. As that start falls on the first day of expanded rosters, the Yankees will not need Mussina to work out of the bullpen to justify his roster spot. Thus Moose will work on the side, but not out of the pen, with the hope of reclaiming his spot in the rotation next week. I'm still concerned about Kennedy's innings (he threw just 104 1/3 innings last year between USC and the New York-Penn League and has already thrown 146 1/3 innings across three minor league levels this year), but, given that the team that has implemented the Joba Rules is likely being mindful of such things, I'm delighted to see him get Saturday's start. Incidentally, here's a scouting report on Kennedy from Rich Lederer via a post of Alex's in the wake of last year's draft.
Here's the skinny on Kennedy, who will be the sixth man to make his major league debut by starting a game for the 2007 New York Yankees. Kennedy was the Yankees' top draft pick last year, taken ahead of Joba Chamberlain, both players coming via the compensation picks the Yankees received when Tom Gordon signed with the Phillies. Kennedy has often been referred to as a young Mike Mussina (which, lest you forget, is a very, very good thing) as he is a slender, 6-foot-tall righty who throws a low-90s fastball along with a very effective curve/slider/change repertoire, all of which he can throw for strikes. Just as Chamberlain fell to the Yankees in the draft due to concerns about his conditioning (which has obviously improved) and a forearm injury which put a damper on his senior year at Nebraska (which was last year, by the way, and may be why Joba has Rules and Kennedy does not), Kennedy fell to the Yankees at the 21st pick because of signability concerns linked to his being represented by Scott Boras. Both Chamberlain and Edwar Ramirez have raved about Kennedy to the press, and he's posted a 1.91 ERA along with a 10.03 K/9, 0.96 WHIP, and a 12-3 record in 26 games (25 starts) between single-, double-, and triple-A this year.
The best part about this move is that, if Kennedy has any sort of success at all, it increases the chances of the Yankees opening the 2008 season with Kennedy, Chamberlain, and Phil Hughes in the major league rotation behind Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte.
The Boston Red Sox
The Yankees and Red Sox last met in Boston in early June. To illustrate how long ago that was, Jason Giambi had just hit the DL and Roger Clemens had yet to throw a major league pitch this season. Entering that series, the Yankees were seven games below .500 and in fourth place in the AL East, 13.5 games behind the Red Sox. It was then that I became convinced that the Yankees only hope for the postseason was the Wild Card.
A lot has changed since then. The Yankees took two of three in Boston that weekend and have gone 50-30 (.625) over the last three months to pull their record 13 games above .500. They've passed six teams in the Wild Card race and shaved five games off their deficit there, while moving comfortably into second place in the East and decreasing their deficit there by 5.5 games. However, they're still eight games behind Boston, which has gone 44-35 (.557) over the last three months and is coming off a four-game sweep of the White Sox. A lot has changed, but with just six head-to-head games left against the Red Sox, the Yankees still only have one route to the postseason, and that's the Wild Card.
That doesn't mean these three games against the Sox are meaningless or pointless. Every game counts, and the Yankees need a strong performance to bounce back from their 2-5 road trip. Prior to the Yankees' home series against the Tigers two weeks ago, I looked ahead at the "very tough stretch of fourteen games that begins tonight against the Tigers, continues on a road trip through Anaheim and Detroit, and concludes with three against the Red Sox back home. If the Yankees can't at the very least split those 14 games, all the good work they've done since the calendar turned to July might have been for naught." Thus far the Yankees are 5-6. They would have to take two of three from the Red Sox in order to have split those 14 games. Looking at it now, I won't say that a 6-8 record in those 14 games would be the death knell of the Yankee season, but the three games by which they trail the Wild Card-leading Mariners in the loss column loom large, as do the three games they will play against Seattle at the Stadium beginning a week from today. It would be hard to have much optimism regarding either should the Yanks lose their third-straight series to a contender.
As for the Sox themselves, they not only have the best record in baseball and the biggest lead of any team currently holding a playoff spot, but they just beat the everloving snot out of the White Sox, taking four games in Chicago by a combined score of 46-7. They're also coming off a day of rest while the Yankees took a night-game beating at the hands of the Tigers, then had to fly home on the red eye. If ever there was a test of the Bombers' resolve, this has to be it.
Fortunately, the Yankees send their stopper to the mound tonight. Since the All-Star break, Andy Pettitte has gone 7-1 with a 2.67 ERA in nine starts, averaging 6 2/3 innings per start, and striking out 7.71 men per nine innings. The Yankees have gone 8-1 in those nine games, rallying to win Pettitte's one no-decision by a score of 3-2, and failing to do so in Pettitte's lone loss, a 4-2 defeat in Baltimore. Pettitte is 1-1 with a 5.01 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox this year, but, again, a lot has changed since then, and his last start against the Sox at the stadium was a seven-inning, one-run gem.
On the hill for the Red Sox will be Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka hasn't dominated in his first major league season, but, if not for Josh Beckett making the leap, he'd be the Red Sox's best starter. As it is, his hit and strikeout rates have been outstanding (he is one of just four qualifying starters in the American League to have a K/9 rate over 9.00), and his 3.76 ERA works out to an impressive 120 ERA+ given that he pitches his home games in hitter-friendly Fenway. Matsuzaka has turned in quality starts in 17 of his 26 games including five of his last six.
If anything, Matsuzaka's biggest problem has been putting runners on base via walks and hit-batsmen. On its own, Matsuzaka's walk rate isn't particularly troubling, but when you factor in his eleven hit-batsmen (the fourth-highest total in the league), you get 3.92 men reaching base without a hit per nine innings, which is a bit much, especially facing a team like the Yankees that's third in the majors in walks and fifth in the majors in being hit by pitches. Matsuzaka has faced the Yankees twice this year, doing so in back-to-back starts in late April. He walked five and hit two in those 13 innings (4.85 BB+HBP/9), posting a 6.92 ERA, but striking out 14 and winning both games, the first of which was the game in which Chase Wright allowed four consecutive home runs, the latter of which came against a poor Pettitte outing in the Bronx.
On a final housekeeping note, as expected, Sean Henn is on his way to Scranton, and Chris Britton is, at long last, back in the Yankee pen. If Torre needs Britton tonight, however, something's likely gone wrong.
Series Wrap: @ Detroit
Offense: They may have scored 5.67 runs per game, but I consider that a poor performance against a team that had allowed 6.4 runs per game over their previous 34 contests. What's more, the Yankees lost two of the four games because they couldn't scratch out an extra run, losing in extra innings in the opener, then falling 5-4 in the penultimate match.
Hideki Matsui 5 for 13, 2B, 3 RBI, 3 R, 4 BB
Derek Jeter 0 for 11, 2 R, 2 BB, 2 K
Rotation: If you want to find out how the Yankees could drop three of four to a team that was playing .324 ball over it's last 34 games, look no further than the starting rotation. Outside of Chien-Ming Wang's outstanding return to form in game two (8 IP, 1 ER, 6 K, 4.00 GB/FB), no starter allowed fewer than five runs or pitched more than six innings, both marks set by Phil Hughes. Mike Mussina was awful, of course, but so was Roger Clemens, who allowed six runs in five innings in the opener. Fittingly, the Yankees won Wang's game, but lost the other two.
Bullpen: Taking Sean Henn out of the picture, the pen was outstanding, allowing just a solo homer off Edwar Ramirez in 10 1/3 innings. Henn, however, allowed 12 runs in 3 1/3 innings to push his total on the trip to 18 runs in 6 2/3 for a 21.60 ERA. Kyle Farnsworth dominated in his two innings, striking out three of the six batters he faced. Joba pitched just once, striking out one and retiring the side in order on ten pitches (seven strikes). In 2 1/3 innings, Brian Bruney allowed a single and a double, but no runs and no walks (though also no Ks, and that double did plate a runner he inherited from Henn). Mariano Rivera allowed a leadoff double to Magglio Ordoñez in the tenth inning of the opener and needed a spectacular stab of a line drive by Andy Phillips to keep the run from scoring, but he did escape, and Joe Torre deserves credit for twice using Rivera in a tie game on the road on this trip, even if they lost both games because the offense couldn't score before Torre ran out of quality relievers. In addition to the solo homer by Placido Polanco, Ramirez walked two and struck out two in two innings, but allowed no other hits. Luiz Vizcaino allowed three baserunners in his two scoreless innings of work.
Conclusion: Henn should be on his way to Scranton before game time tonight, so that solves that problem, but the Yankees have had consistently disappointing performances from their starting rotation of late, with Andy Pettitte being the only consistent exception. Hopefully Wang's performance on Saturday marks a permanent return to form for him, but even having both Pettitte and Wang pitching in top form won't be enough to get this team into the playoffs. Clemens and Hughes need to step it up, and Torre and Guidry need to find a solution to the Mike Mussina problem. This is paramount as the offense is cooling off a bit, which was to be expected. This is a very talented team, and one that deserves a playoff spot, but it will only go as far as it's starting rotation can take it.
Mike Mussina only lasted three innings last night. If not for a tremendous Willie Mays-style catch by Melky Cabrera with the bases loaded and a questionable out call at home on a great throw by Robinson Cano, Mussina might not have made it out of the first. As it was, his final line was 3 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 0 K, 0 HR.
After the game, Mussina compared his performance to his previous two stinkers:
The first two games I was trying to pick corners, throw a lot of offspeed pitches, pitch backwards all the time. Today I thought I was going right after people. I threw a lot more fastballs today. I got ahead in counts today. I had a lot of two-strike counts. [Moose threw 68 percent of his pitches for strikes last night compared to 64 and 56 percent in his last two starts.] And when they put the ball in play, they just put it in play someplace where we weren't playing defense.
Moose would later return to that excuse, saying that the Tigers only hit three balls hard off him and curiously asserting that his velocity isn't down from when he was pitching well (it is). While it's true that some of those nine hits were seeing-eye ground balls, flares, and flies that dropped just out of the reach of Melky Cabrera and Bobby Abreu, there were still nine of them in three innings, and, again, Moose was saved by his defense in the first inning.
Despite that excuse, Mussina wasn't defiant. If anything, he sounded lost while reflecting on his last three starts:
I really don't feel like I can do much of anything right . . . Probably the last nine innings are the worst nine innings I've pitched in my whole career, in a row. It's tough to take. I don't even know how to describe it because I've never had to deal with it before. . . Right now I let go of [the ball] and I don't feel like anything good is going to happen. It's tough to pitch that way. You can't play the game that way. You feel like you have no control over anything, and that's how I feel right now. Even the sixty feet six inches [from the mound to the plate] doesn't seem like I have a grasp of, and two weeks ago I felt like I could do anything I wanted. And that's how this game is, it'll slap you in the face when you think you've got it. And I felt good about it, and now I don't feel good at all.
And so the question becomes, will Mike Mussina take his next turn against Tampa Bay on Saturday. Peter Abraham thinks it's "unlikely" citing Mussina's 7.59 ERA in two starts against the Rays this season (Moose had one quality start and one disaster in consecutive starts against the Rays in mid-June, the former in Tampa, the latter in the Bronx, but he allowed 13 baserunners and strike out none in six innings in the "quality" start). Mussina had this to say:
If Joe thinks that somebody else can give us a lift or do the job better, then that's up to him. I'm certainly not hoping that somebody else is taking my spot. I want to keep going out there and figure out what's going on, because I can't believe in three starts that I forgot how to pitch after seventeen years. So I hope he has confidence enough in me to keep sending me out there and let me figure this out, but at the same time we've got to win ballgames, and I'll understand if he thinks that we need to do something else.
For his part, Torre said that he and Ron Guidry would talk to Mussina today to determine his status for his next start and that he should have some answers on Mussina's status soon, but did not offer any immediately following the game last night. Torre suggested that what Mussina has to say would greatly influence the decision. Looking at the above quote from Mussina, I could see it going either way. Moose obviously wants to keep going out there, but that he even acknowledged the fact that a change might be best for the ballclub is a huge admission and could signal to Torre and Guidry that a change may indeed be necessary.
As for how that change might be implemented,
Kei Igawa has pitched better for Scranton than he did for the big club, but he hasn't been great (2-2, 4.21 ERA in six starts since his last demotion). Steven White has posted a 3.75 ERA and a 2-2 record in his last six starts for Scranton, but has never pitched in the majors. The last two men in the Scranton rotation are Matt DeSalvo and Jeff Karstens, neither of whom I want to see in the Bronx again this year. To my mind it's between Igawa and White. Igawa would be closer to regular rest on Saturday having last started on Sunday, while White last started on Friday. Also, of the four pitchers I just mentioned, White is the only one who is not on the 40-man roster. So, really, that's the question Torre and Guidry will be asking themselves today: With the season running down and every game crucial to the Yankees' postseason hopes, are they better off hoping that Mike Mussina can find those five miles per hour on his fastball and the break on his curveball that have gone missing in his last three starts, or are they better off hoping that the third time's the charm for Igawa, who went 0-2 with a 5.97 ERA, a 1.71 WHIP, and seven homers in six starts after his last recall from the minors (though the Yankees went 4-2 in those six games)?
As for the rest of last night's game, Justin Verlander was in top form, holding the Yankees to three hits and a pair of walks over seven scoreless innings, and Zach Miner mopped up with a pair of perfect innings. The only Yankee to reach second base was Bobby Abreu with two outs in the first, and the closest the Yankees got to a run all night was a drive by Hideki Matsui that was caught at the top of the right field wall by Ryan Raburn in the seventh.
Meanwhile, Edwar Ramirez allowed a solo home run to Placido Polanco in his lone inning of work, and Sean Henn continued his impression of Oscar the death-dealing cat by appearing in four of the Yankees' five losses on the road trip, topping this one off by allowing nine runs in 2 2/3 innings to set the final score at 16-0. Henn's last six outings have all come in Yankee losses. He posted a 21.60 ERA on the road trip, taking the loss in both extra inning games, and giving up 18 runs in 6 2/3 innings while mopping up in Mussina's two starts. Expect Henn to get farmed out before tonight's game. The only question is whether or not the Yankees finally bring back Chris Britton, or if they'll instead feel the need to replace Henn with either a lefty or a long man, in which case Kei Igawa could make a very different return to the majors than anticipated above.
Mike Mussina's been mind-bottlingly awful in his last two starts. Justin Verlander was pretty awful himself last week against Cleveland (4 IP, 7 R). The weekend prior to that, Verlander worked 5 1/3 inefficient innings in the Bronx (119 pitches), but managed to pull out the win as he allowed only three runs and the pitcher he was facing was none other than Mike Mussina (5 IP, 7 R). The Yankees are hoping the rematch will tilt the other way, as they need this last game of the series to salvage a split and some dignity from this road trip before heading home to play three games against the suddenly out-of-reach Red Sox. Mussina, meanwhile, could very well be pitching for his job.
Damon in left, Matsui DH, Giambi at first for the second day in a row. Putting G'Bombi in the field scares me, as supposedly that's how he hurt his foot in the first place, but this is undoubtedly the Yankees' best offensive alignment.
One of my favorite local pastimes is keeping tabs on those non-Hall of Famers who visit Cooperstown over induction weekend. Given the induction of heavyweights like Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn, an unusually large number of former big leaguers came to town at the end of July. The list of former Yankees included Jesse Barfield, Paul Blair, Rich "Goose" Gossage, John "The Count" Montefusco, Graig Nettles, and current Yankee broadcaster Ken Singleton. Of this group, the one I took the most interest in was Montefusco, who ironically enough was the player least associated with the Yankees. Why Montefusco? Well, I knew I would have a chance to talk to him since he was scheduled to sign at the Main Street CVS Pharmacy, where my wife works.
Although I didn’t have an opportunity to interview Montefusco, I did meet him on the Saturday of Hall of Fame Weekend. As advertised, he signed autographs for any customers purchasing Coke products, with the proceeds going to a CVS employee who is battling cancer. I came away impressed with the former Yankee, Padre, Brave, and Giant right-hander; Montefusco was scheduled to appear for only two hours, but willingly continued to sign for an extra half-hour and didn’t turn down a single request for a personalized autograph or photograph.
Montefusco came across much differently than I expected. He was quiet and polite, nothing like his reputation as a player. Now, let’s emphasize that I liked him as a player. He was colorful, with a great nickname, and he played for the Yankees—an excellent combination. Beginning with his earliest major-league days in San Francisco, Montefusco had established a reputation for brash words and flamboyant behavior, making him one of the most distinctive players of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Montefusco loved to make bold predictions, which he sometimes fulfilled—and sometimes failed at miserably—earning himself the additional nickname, "The Mouth that Roared." Prior to a 1975 game against the eventual World Champion Cincinnati Reds, he predicted that he would strike out Johnny Bench four times and shut out the "Big Red Machine." He fell short on both counts; he allowed seven runs in a third of an inning, with three of the runs scoring on a home run by Bench.
Regardless of his failure that day, Montefusco made strong impressions as a rookie. With his 97-mile-per-hour fastball and 90 MPH slider (think of him as a thinner version of Joba Chamberlain), Montefusco earned National League Rookie of the Year honors and had some San Francisco followers proclaiming him the heir apparent to Juan Marichal. Earning the nickname "The Count" from broadcaster Al Michaels (a play on his last name’s similarity to Monte Cristo), Montefusco seemed destined for cult status in the Bay Area. The following year, he pitched a no-hitter, once again procuring himself national attention.
Unfortunately, Montefusco couldn’t avoid injury. Pitching with an undiagnosed broken bone in his ankle, Montefusco hurt his elbow late in 1977, forcing him to make the early-career adjustment from power pitcher to sinkerball specialist. Montefusco adopted an unusual motion; he appeared to hunch his back while delivering the ball from a three-quarters arm slot, but he remained mildly effective in stints with the Giants and Padres.
Montefusco found once last return to glory in 1983. After pitching well for the non-contending Padres, the Yankees acquired him in late August for a pair of players to be named later. Almost single-handedly, Montesfusco did his best to help the Yankees win the American League East, winning all five of his decisions while sporting an ERA of 3.32. (Come to think of it, the 2007 Yankees could use a late-season acquisition like Montefusco.) Yet, he didn’t have enough help from the supporting cast of pitchers (there were too many ineffective starts from the likes of Doyle Alexander, Jay Howell, and Matt Keough), as the Yankees finished third behind the Orioles and Tigers in a stacked Eastern Division.
Continuing arm problems relegated The Count to secondary status for the remainder of his Yankee days and ultimately resulted in his 1986 retirement. Just as injuries had become a recurring theme, Montefusco often found himself involved in controversy throughout his career. While with the Giants, he regretfully engaged his manager, Dave Bristol, in a fistfight. The incident resulted in his departure from the Giants, who traded him to the Atlanta Braves. Unhappy with his role in Atlanta, Montefusco failed to make the plane for the team’s season-ending road trip to Cincinnati and earned himself a suspension.
More serious controversy followed Montefusco after his playing days. His wife filed charges that he had committed aggravated sexual assault and made terrorist threats against her, among a number of charges. Unable to afford bail, he spent two years in jail awaiting trial. All along, he maintained his innocence, claiming that his wife had twisted the circumstances of their marital problems. While I don’t know all of the details of the situation, the newspaper accounts I’ve read indicated that many of his wife’s charges may have been "trumped up," if not out and out fabrications. Montefusco was eventually acquitted of all the felony charges and only had to serve probation for criminal trespass and simple assault.
As Montefusco met fans in Cooperstown, I heard him discuss his hopes for the future. He would like to return to baseball with the Giants, his first major league organization, as a pitching instructor. According to some of the people who worked with him while he was coaching in independent minor league ball, Montefusco is particularly good at breaking down a pitcher’s mechanics, a valuable skill for any pitching coach. He has no interest in becoming a coach at the major league level, but would like to work with young pitchers in San Francisco’s minor league system. Given what he’s been through, I hope The Count gets that opportunity.
Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books, including The Team That Changed Baseball, and writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Great Flydini
For the second straight start, Phil Hughes allowed five runs in six innings despite allowing only four hits. In Anaheim last week it was because he walked five and Luis Vizcaino allowed both of Hughes' bequeathed runners to score. In Detroit yesterday, Hughes walked only one, but allowed three home runs which plated all five baserunners.
Only two of those homers were really Hughes' mistake, however, as Curtis Granderson led off the game by slicing a pitch down the line in left where Hideki Matsui made a vain attempt to make a running catch, allowing the ball to skip by him and ricochet into the roomy depths of Comerica Park's left field as Granderson came all the way around with an inside-the-park home run. The two-run homers by Carlos Guillen later that inning and Marcus Thames in the third, however, were simply a case of Hughes throwing a couple of fat fastballs right over the plate. Hughes, who allowed just six home runs in 275 career minor league innings, has now allowed five in 38 2/3 major league innings. Of course, Granderson's homer was a fluke, but those homers have called attention to the fact that the ground-ball tendencies Hughes showed in the minors (2.35 groundouts per flyout in his eight minor league starts this season) have decreased in the majors (0.84 GB/FB).
That last stat is a bit misleading, as Hughes has really been all over the map, showing strong groundball tendencies in his first two starts before his hamstring injury (2.14 GB/FB) as well as in his last start in Anaheim (3:1), but occasionally extreme fly ball tendencies in his other four big league starts, topping out with his 1:11 GB/FB ratio yesterday. It could be that Hughes has been a bit tentative since coming off the DL and isn't getting on top enough on his pitches to get them low enough in the zone (his splits before and after his DL stint are rather telling, with him posting a 0.61 GB/FB ratio since and the above 2.14 ratio before). Or, given his strong groundball rate in Anaheim, there could be something else going on. Either way, it bares watching as Hughes' dominance is tied to the fact that he keeps the ball in front of his outfielders.
As for the game, despite the fact that Detroit's rookie starter Jair Jurrjens (whose name, it turns out, is pronounced exactly like it's spelled) had to leave due to a sharp pain in his shoulder after giving up a solo home run to Jason Giambi with one out in the second inning, the Yankees couldn't overcome those five runs allowed by Hughes. Robinson Cano added a three-run dinger off emergency reliever Chad Durbin in the fourth, but over the last 4 2/3 innings Bobby Seay, Joel Zumaya, and Todd Jones held the Yanks to just an opposite-field Giambi single in the ninth.
And so the Yankees lost 5-4 and have to somehow win tonight's matchup between Mike Mussina and Justin Verlander to leave Detroit with a split.
How do you spell Relief?
After three straight shaky outings, Chien-Ming Wang threw more than twenty pitches and allowed a run (an RBI single from, guess who, Magglio Ordonez) in the first inning. But his sinker was moving in the right direction and Wang settled in, giving up just one more run over the next seven innings. Wang gave the Yanks length just when they needed it the most (Brian Bruney tossed a scoreless ninth), as New York beat Detroit, 7-2. While the Red Sox bombed The White Sox again, the Rangers beat the Mariners. So the Yanks gain a game in the wild card. They are two behind the M's, three in the loss column.
The Yanks scored a couple of early runs off Jeremy Bonderman, who also fell into a groove. But Bonderman is not the pitcher he was last year. His fastball is not in the mid-to-upper 90s and eventually, the Yanks got to him. Melky Cabrera hit a triple with the bases loaded in the sixth, Johnny Damon hit a solo dinger and a triple, and Hideki Matsui had three hits and a couple of RBI.
It wasn't a terribly exciting game, which was just fine with me--my body is still recovering from Friday night. Jorge Posada caught all nine innings so I assume we'll see Molina this afternoon. Joe Torre talked about giving Alex Rodriguez a rest last week but that hasn't happened yet (Alex was 1-3 with two walks and a run scored last night). I wonder if Damon gets another start today at DH, or if Giambi will get the nod.
Today is pivotal. Phil Hughes, this is your life, kid. With Mussina-Verlander going tomorrow, this is the game the Bombers need to have.
Henn Pecked: Up (all night) with the Chickens
I went out to Brooklyn last night after work to watch the game and cook dinner with my old friend Anthony Pick, aka Piccalini, aka Tony Pickles. Anthony and I went to school together and have made many a delicious meal together over the years. Well, we had another good one last night (heirloom tomato salad, basil and tomato sausage ring, home fried potatoes, corn on the cobb and a peach crumble with mint) but no game, as it was pouring in the Motor City. I left Brooklyn after 10:30 and didn't get home until just after midnight. Before hitting the sack I figured I check the scores. That's when I found out the Yanks and Tigers were actually playing. Top of the fifth, Tigers 6 Yanks 3. Yup, they waited four hours to start the game. Impressively, there was still a good-sized crowd, one that didn't leave until the final out.
I settled in, watched the Yanks quickly tie the score, and then waited up until 3:30 a.m. when Carlos Guillen ended it in extra innings with a three-run home run against Sean Henn. Final: Tigers 9, Yanks 6. With the Red Sox sweeping a double-header and the Mariners winning again, this will surely go down as one of the heartbreaking losses of the year. The only reason I wasn't more upset when it finally ended was because I was too tired, and, after all, Sean Henn was pitching.
"Whether I'm on the mound or not, going that many innings, till 4 in the morning, it's tough," said Henn, who also lost in extra innings on Monday in Anaheim. "But it's that much tougher to swallow when I'm the one walking off the mound and they're celebrating at home."
Alex Rodriguez homered but Magglio Ordonez, the other only viable candidate for AL MVP, also went deep and had four hits. The final one, against Henn, was a check-swing, excuse-me single, which helps explain why dude is hitting just about .360. Andy Phillips made a wonderful, reaching catch to save the game while Mariano Rivera was pitching in the 10th; Bobby Abreu, who entered the game late as a pinch-hitter, smacked the ball hard twice with nothing to show for it. Most notably, Jorge Posada was run by home plate umpire Bob Davidson for arguing balls and strikes. Davidson was calling strikes on pitches six inches off the outside corner all night. He did a lousy job, though to be fair, he was equally lousy for both sides (before Ordonez's check swing hit against Henn, Mags was barking at Davidson too). "His strike zone was a mystery - on both sides," Joe Torre said after the game. Posada added, "He should be answering the questions, not me."
Probably not a lot of good rest for these Yankees last night as this was a bitter pill to swallow. But they have to pick themselves off the mat and show some fortitude tonight by winning and not letting this thing spiral out of control.
Detroit Tigers Again
Picking up what I wrote about the Tigers in my quickie look at the AL contenders over on SI.com today, Detroit is playing terrible baseball right now, their best pitchers have been horrible since the break, and they just lost Gary Sheffield for this weekend's series. Picking up part of what I wrote about the Tigers when they came to the Stadium last week, Detroit has faired much better on the road than at home this year, though of late they've been equally awful no matter where they play. Seeing as the Yankees took three of four from the Tigers in the Bronx last weekend, they have not excuse not to do at least as well in Motown this weekend.
Other than losing Sheffield, which has bounced Sean Casey up to the three spot in the batting order, the big changes for the Tigers are the return of flame-throwing setup man Joel Zumaya, who took the loss in yesterday's rubber game against the Indians, and tonight's starter Andrew Miller. The left-handed Miller was the sixth overall pick in last year's draft and made his major league debut against the Yankees last year in a brief relief appearance mandated by his contract (he pitched a scoreless inning marred only by his plunking Craig Wilson). This year, he joined the Tiger rotation in June after pitching six scoreless innings in a spot start in mid-May. He's only turned in a quality start in three of his ten appearances since then--one of those coming by the slightest margin (three earned runs, but four total in six innings in Philadelphia)--and spent the last three weeks on the DL with a hamstring strain. In his last three starts before landing on the DL, Miller posted a 8.56 ERA, a 2.34 WHIP, and opposing hitters hit .367/.465/.550 against him. Miller is, of course, a much better pitcher than that, and in his brief major league career has held his fellow lefties to a .169/.324/.237 line, having never allowed a homer to a major league southpaw. Indeed, Shelley Duncan will start in place of Bobby Abreu in right field tonight and Andy Phillips will start at first base, though Johnny Damon does get the start at DH.
In other roster news, the Yankees have called up Brian Bruney and Pete Abe suspects it's Ron Villone who's been designated for assignment to make room for him. Bruney had made just four appearances since being demoted. Here's his line from those outings: 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 1 HR, 2 BB, 5 K, 1.17 WHIP, 6.00 ERA, 2-0, SV. Meanwhile, Chris Britton's line since coming off the DL at the beginning of the month: 11 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 0.64 WHIP, 0.82 ERA, 1-1. Amazingly, even Bruney's 6.00 ERA is a significant improvement over the 7.59 mark Villone has posted in August, and that doesn't even include the inherited runners he's allowed to score.
Opposing Miller tonight will be Roger Clemens, who struck out eight Tigers and walked none while holding them to two runs over six innings in his last start. Clemens did spend a fair portion of that game in trouble, however, as he allowed ten hits, including the first hit and later the first home run of Cameron Maybin's major league career. Clemens has been everything the Yankees had hoped for since his stinker against the White Sox two starts ago, holding the Tigers and Blue Jays to three runs on 12 hits and a walk and striking out 14 in his last 12 innings. Clemens had similar success in his last visit to Comerica Park with the Astros last June, but suffered a hard luck loss as the 'Stros failed to score a single run for him. Here's hoping he avenges that loss tonight.
Series Wrap: @ Anaheim
Offense: Twenty-three runs in three games against the third-stingiest staff in the league? Yeah, that'll do.
Alex Rodriguez 5 for 12, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 6 R, 3 BB, SB
Robinson Cano 3 for 11, 2 RBI, R, BB, K, 2 GIDP
Rotation: If not for Mike Mussina's stinker in the middle game it would have been easier to see the bright side of Phil Hughes start in the opener. Hughes turned in a quality start through six innings, slamming the door on the Angels after a three-run double in the second inning, but having thrown just 81 pitches he went back out for the seventh, put two of the three batters he faced on base, and then watched as Luis Vizcaino let them score. The bright side there being that he made in-game adjustments to keep his team in the game against a contender despite not having his best stuff. Of course, Andy Pettitte came up huge in the finale.
Bullpen: Fourteen runs in 11 1/3 innings? To be fair, 11 of them came in 5 1/3 innings in Tuesday's disaster. Still, three runs in 6 frames ain't so hot neither.
Just Joba, but sooooo goood! He struck out the side around a single in the eighth inning of the finale, finishing up with a three-pitch K of Vlad Guerrero.
Everyone else. Sean Henn had the roughest week, taking the loss in extra innings in the opener after facing three batters, one he retired, one who scored the winning run, and the other who drove it in. He then took the hit in Tuesday's blowout, allowing five runs in three innings. Actually, he allowed those five runs in one inning, allowing just a walk in the two frames that sandwiched it. Ron Villone was supposed to take the bullet in that game, but he allowed four of the five batters he faced to reach, walking in a run in the process. Edwar Ramirez allowed the rest of Villone's runners to score as well as one of his own on a sac fly and a three-run homer, then added another run in the following inning, though he did strike out four in the process. Luis Vizcaino allowed the two runners he inherited from Hughes in the opener to score, then plated one of his own. The next night he allowed two more baserunners in a scoreless inning. Kyle Farnsworth nearly blew the opener before Henn had a chance, but was saved by a great play by Wilson Betemit and a questionable check swing call after getting the first out of the inning on a sac bunt. Mariano Rivera didn't do any harm, but he allowed five baserunners and one run in his two innings of work.
Conclusion: Lotsa runs. Too many runs, really. This team needs to start winning some low-scoring games. They sort of did that in the finale as most of those runs were tacked on to a pitchers' duel after the Angel pen came into the picture. Still, all those runs both hide faults in the pitching staff and lead to some poor performances being written off as flukes, such as Henn's and Ramirez's in the middle game, whether or not they really were.
Seven Letter Word for "Finished"?
Gary Sheffield aggrivated a shoulder injury on Tuesday and is out indefinitely. I don't think any of the Yankee pitchers will bark about not having to face Sheff.
Meanwhile, is Mike Mussina done? Is he finished, kaput? Anthony McCarron examines this question in the Daily News:
A major league scout familiar with Mussina's work said yesterday that velocity "is his problem." Mussina has never been a power pitcher, nor has he needed to throw that hard to win. But his hard stuff was clocked mostly around 86 mph Tuesday night in Anaheim, which the scout says hinders Mussina's arsenal of off-speed and breaking pitches.
Mussina is a number five pitcher now. The Yanks still have some weak teams to play in October. He still has a chance to contribute. The question is, does he have enough stuff left? Color me skeptical.
* I bit the headline from one of the comments the other night.
Having dropped the first two games in Anaheim, the Yankees needed Andy Pettitte to come up big in the finale, and that's exactly what he did. Pettitte held the Angels scoreless through five innings (though a blown call at first base by Dan Iassogna on an inning-ending double play in the fourth helped). The Yankees, meanwhile, scratched out a run in the fourth off John Lackey, bringing around a one-out walk to Alex Rodriguez to give Pettitte a 1-0 lead.
Pettitte made his only mistake of the night in the sixth, doubling up on curveballs to Orlando Cabrera, who knocked the second one over the fence in left just beyond Johnny Damon's reach to tie the game. The 1-1 tie didn't last long, however, as the Yankees rallied to take the lead against Lackey in the seventh. Jorge Posada, who was 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles on the night, led off with a walk and moved to third on a single up the middle by Robinson Cano. Wilson Betemit, who had struck out in his first two at-bats, followed by yanking a line drive to right, but right at Vladimir Guerrero, whose strong arm held Posada at third. Melky Cabrera then followed with an RBI single past Howie Kendrick at second, and, after a quick fly out by Damon, Derek Jeter delivered a two-out single to plate Cano.
Curiously, both run-scoring innings by the Yankees to that point ended with outs on the bases. In the fourth, Jorge Posada got caught in a run down between third and home as he tried to score on John Lackey's wild throw to first on Cano's infield single which had plated Rodriguez. In the seventh, Jeter was thrown out trying to advance to second on Guerrero's throw home.
Fortunately, the Yankees didn't need any extra runs as Pettitte stranded a leadoff single by Kendrick (that was aided by a Robinson Cano bobble) in the seventh, and the Yankees piled on in the eighth. A leadoff homer to dead center by Bobby Abreu bounced Lackey, after which the Bombers added two against the struggling Scot Shields and plated a third run charged to Shields with Chris Bootcheck on the hill. With a 7-1 lead, Joba Chamberlain came on to strike out the side, all on that nasty corkscrewing slider, around a Reggie Willits single in the eighth. The highlight of Chamberlain's inning was his three-pitch strikeout of Vladimir Guerrero. Vlad fouled back a 100-mile-per-hour fastball on 0-1 only to come up empty on that slider for strike three.
The Yanks and Angels each added a run in the ninth, the Angels on three dinky singles against Mariano Rivera, to set the final score at 8-2.
With the Red Sox and Mariners both losing, the Yankees gain a game in both the Wild Card and the division with the win, which also moved Joe Torre past Casey Stengel and into second place on the Yankees' all-time managerial list. The Yankees are just 4-5 in their last nine games, but they're 7-3 against the contenders they've faced over the last two weeks and will have today to rest up before starting a seven-game stretch against Detroit and Boston.
Could be Worse (Could be Raining)
What to say, what to say? We've bitched and moaned for two days now as the Angels have once again handed the Bombers their bacon. Lots of humble pie round these parts, dag nabit. The Yanks put Andy Pettitte on the spot to come up with another huge performance tonight, hoping they end their losing skid at two. It'd sure be nice to see 'em leave Southern California with a victory. Unfortunately, they've got to deal with the tough John Lackey, but hey, playoff teams beat good pitchers, and if the Yanks think of themselves as a playoff team, well, they'll have to face the likes of Lackey, Escobar, Beckett and Matsuzaka somewhere along the line. So never mind the bollocks, Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Yankee Panky # 21: The Joba Chronicles
We are learning more about Joba Chamberlain every day. At first, the stories ranged from, "What kind of a name is Joba?" to tracing the line of Yankees with Native American ancestry (those of you proposed the "Superchief 2" nickname last week, nice call).
Tyler Kepner informed us yesterday of the special relationship Chamberlain has with his father, who contracted polio as a child and is sometimes relegated to a wheelchair. We’ve surmised through various television interviews that he has a competitive drive with a demeanor that leads us to wonder whether he’s oblivious to the fact that he tore through three minor-league levels and is succeeding in baseball’s grandest league and with its most hallowed franchise. We’ve seen that his Clemensish body produces Clemensish pitches.
We've learned other things, too. For example, there are rules for Chamberlain’s usage. He will not pitch on consecutive days. Joe Torre won’t summon Chamberlain in the middle of an inning. We've learned that the plan is still for him to be a starter next season, but with many comparisons of Chamberlain's ascent to that of Bobby Jenks in 2005 and Jonathan Papelbon in '06 — and verbal comparisons to the 1995-96 edition of Mariano Rivera — that the Yankees would be wise to at least consider Chamberlain to succeed Rivera as the Yankees' closer.
The way he has captured our attention is not unlike the means Shane Spencer made an all-time season even better in 1998. His once-in-a-lifetime September that featured 10 home runs, including three grand slams, 27 RBIs and a silly .910 slugging percentage, led Torre to add his righty power bat to the postseason roster, where he played a role in the Yankees’ first-round sweep of the Texas Rangers. But Spencer never recaptured the ’98 magic. He shuttled back and forth between the majors and minors for the next four seasons. He did participate in more memorable Yankee moments — he started the relay that became the Derek Jeter “flip” play in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS at Oakland — but his utility was limited. His batting average was 77 points lower versus righties (.239, as opposed to .316 vs. lefties), and when given every possible chance to win the everyday right-field job after Paul O’Neill’s retirement, he could not follow through.
Stories like Spencer's and Chamberlain's got me thinking about an old media trick: building up the “Cinderella story, out of nowhere,” and offering us every possible bit of information we could consume about the player. Murray Chass compared the effects of the Red Sox’ latest bullpen acquisition — the Quebecois Jon Favreau look-alike — to the Big Nebraskan's effect on the Yankees. (I'll cut Mr. Chass some slack; he probably didn't read this blog or our discussion on that topic last week.)
At what point is it too much hype? Will it cause the guy to crack? I don’t believe this will happen, given what I’ve seen from Chamberlain, but the name Rick Ankiel continues to pop into my mind. The buzz surrounding Ankiel as the Cardinals’ next great young pitcher in 2000 was enormous, and on a national stage, he turned into Nuke LaLoosh when he stopped breathing out of his eyelids. Luckily, and perhaps remarkably, Ankiel proved to be an excellent hitter and had a fallback option, having worked his way back to the big leagues as an outfielder.
Do you object to this kind of buildup of 20- and 21-year-olds? There is no such thing as a sure thing, so why present Joba Chamberlain, or anyone, for that matter, in such a light, regardless of whether or not it sells papers? I ask you: Do you want to read these stories for the hero buildup, to learn more about him as a person, or to learn more about him as a ballplayer?
The crapshoot element of Chamberlain’s short- and long-term success was echoed in last week’s comments. If he is lightning in a bottle, then as fans, we should make like the Metallica album and ride the lightning. It’s not as if we haven’t done that before.
Hide this one from the kids.
The Yankees scored five runs in the first three innings last night against Kelvim Escobar, but it didn't much matter. Mike Mussina, who was throwing 86-mile-per-hour fastballs and an assortment of hanging curveballs, didn't make it out of the second inning, and Ron Villone, who replaced him, only managed to record one out.
Mussina put the Yanks in a 7-1 hole after two. The Yanks rallied to make it 7-5 heading into the bottom of the third, but Villone, who got the final out of the second in relief of Mussina, loaded the bases with none out then walked in the eighth Angel run. Looking to keep his team in the game on the heels of their rally, Joe Torre called on Edwar Ramirez to minimize the damage. It was a gutsy move, and it almost paid off. Hideki Matsui ran down an Orlando Cabrera drive tailing toward the left field corner to turn a would be extra-base hit into a sac fly for the first out. Ramirez struck out Vlad Guerrero for the second out, but then he fell in love with his changeup against Garrett Anderson. Anderson took the first three changeups to get ahead 2-1, swung over the fourth, then parked the fifth in the left field seats for a three-run homer that made it 12-5 and put the game back out of reach.
Ramirez allowed another run in the fourth, though he did strike out four men in his two innings of work, including Guerrero twice. Sean Henn then came on to take one for the team, allowing five more runs in the sixth, the capper being a Garret Anderson grand slam that gave Anderson a franchise record ten RBIs on the night. The Yankees got four consolation runs off rookie reliever Marcus Gwyn in the top of the ninth on homers by Wilson Betemit, a three-run shot, and Alex Rodriguez, his second solo shot of the game and third tater of the series, to put the final score at 18-9.
Mussina's start (1 2/3 IP, 7 R) was his worst in his seven years with the Yankees and one of just four starts in his 17-year major league career in which he failed to complete two innings. Mussina is now 0-6 in seven starts following Yankee losses this season. The most impressive part of Mussina's night was that he faced the media after the game and offered no excuses.
And so the Yankees are four games behind the Wild Card-leading Mariners in the loss column. The good news? They've got their ace, Andy Pettitte, going tonight followed by a day off.
Keep Hope Alive
Why do Yankee fans loathe the Angels so? There's the simple fact that no other team, not even the Red Sox, has a winning record against the Yankees since Joe Torre's arrival in the Bronx in 1996. Derek Jeter is fond of saying that boos on the road are the same as cheers at home. Yankee fans hate the Angels because the Angels have tortured them over the past decade. Indeed, with last night's win, the Angels won the season series from the Yankees for the fourth year in a row. Here's another simple fact: Since the end of World War II, only two teams have defeated the Yankees more than once in the postseason. The first is the Dodgers, against whom the Yankees hold a 7-3 advantage in postseason play (all World Series, of course, the most recent coming in 1981). The other is the Angels, who are 2-0 against the Yankees in the postseason, knocking them out in the first round twice in the last five years.
Quick note on last night's game: Phil Hughes said after the game that he knew from the get-go that he didn't have his stuff. Given that, it's pretty impressive that he was able to hold the Angels down after giving up that bases-clearing double to Jeff Mathis on a hanging curve in the second (though Hughes was charged with five runs in total, Luis Vizcaino had as much to do with the last two as Hughes did). Hughes was also really bothered by the five walks he issued. He said he wasn't sure he'd ever given up five walks total in back-to-back starts before, let alone in a single start. Looking over his minor league record without the benefit of game logs, he could very well be right. Hughes walked just 66 men in 54 minor league appearances (53 of them starts).
As for tonight, here's hoping Mike Mussina has his stuff (or his scuff). He sure as heck didn't in his last start in the opener against the Tigers. Moose had four strong start before that however and, unlike Hughes, has walked just four men over his last five starts, that disaster included. Mussina last faced the Halos in late May, turning in a strong outing (6 1/3 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K, 0 HR), only to have the Yankee offense struggle and Scott Proctor blow the Yankees' slim lead. Sometimes it seems that could describe every game the Yankees have played against the Angels over the past four years.
The Yanks really have their work cut out for them tonight as they face one of the hottest pitchers in the league. Kelvim Escobar is second in the AL with a 2.68 ERA, but he's been far better than that over the last two months. In his last start in June, Escobar allowed seven runs in 4 1/3 innings to the Orioles. Since then he's posted a 1.56 ERA, averaged 7 1/3 innings per starts, and allowed one, count it, one home run in eight starts (congratulations, Travis Buck). Escobar has allowed more than one earned run in just two of those eight starts and in his last outing he struck out nine Blue Jays in seven innings and walked none. The Yankees last faced Escobar the day before Mussina's start in late May and saw more of the same: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K, 0 HR. Yes, Escobar is pitching over his head, but only slightly. His BABIP is a favorable, but not fluky, .289, and he's been succeeding beyond his usual level by suppressing hits and homers. He has not, however shown the increase in groundball rate that might explain those decreased rates.
There are some positives the Yankees can latch on to. First, 15 of the 17 men who have tried to steal against Escobar this season have been successful, that's a tremendous 88 percent success rate (on his career, baserunners have stolen at an 80 percent clip). Second, though Escobar has dominated his last eight starts, the Angels have only won five of them due to poor run support. Over that stretch, the Halos have scored just 3.5 runs per game on Escobar's behalf. Of course they just dropped seven on the Yanks last night, but you gotta have something to cling to, right?
With Jorge Posada having caught five games in a row including ten innings last night, Jose Molina starts behind the plate against his old team tonight. The hot-hitting Andy Phillips is at first. Jason Giambi will DH.
It's cold and rainy in New York today as we Yankee fans moan about last night's game. At least, the Yankee fans I've spoken to have been whinning (and none louder than me). Here's a couple of links to break the mood. Okay, first, Steven Goldman 'splains why Scioscia-Ball works more than it should; Mark Lamster writes that sometimes nice guys finish last, Hank Waddles interviews Jayson Stark and Baseball-Reference's Stat of the Day blog notes that Jorge Posada is on his way to having the best season ever for a 35-year old catcher. And for something completely different, check out this series of recordings by former Yankee organist Eddie Layton. Ed Alstrom, the regular weekend organist at the Stadium these days (who is also a Bronx Banter regular), posted the Layton recordings, which are from the 1950s. Don't sleep, peep.
You'll Never Guess How I Feel About the Angels
It’s funny: as much as I hate the Angels, I’ve never found much to dislike about their individual players. If we're being honest, they're a pretty inoffensive group*; I mean, John Lackey tends to breathe through his mouth all the time, which is a pet peeve of mine, and Chone Figgins has been slightly overrated, sure... but I think that’s about it, really. I just loathe them as an entity, the entire organization, the whole idea of them. Individual Red Sox have irked me far more – Schilling, Pedro back in the day, Carl “The Bible Never Says Anything About Dinosaurs” Everett, etc – but ultimately I respect the Sox, and clearly baseball is richer for their existence...whereas I firmly believe the Angels should be legally abolished.
*I'm not as down on Torre as many of you, but I will say that when a third of your bullpen has left games openly weeping**, that's probably a sign there's room for improvement in that area, no?
**Or set their equipment on fire in front of the dugout.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
In case you had forgotten, the Yankees kicked off their current hot streak by taking three of four from the Twins and then two of three from the Angels at Yankee Stadium in the final two series before the All-Star break. Since then, the Angels have gone a modest 19-16 in the second half. Along the way they've lost series to the D-Rays, Twins, A's (twice), M's, Blue Jays, and most recently split four games with the Red Sox. The bad news is that the Halos have maintained their considerable home-road splits over that stretch, going 8-12 on the road and 11-4 at home, the latter including a series win against the Red Sox and sweeps of the Twins and Tigers. Indeed, the Angels have a losing record on the road for the year, but have played .702 ball at Angel Stadium. Meanwhile the Yankees are still a game below .500 on the road.
The good news is that the Yanks, who have played .717 ball dating back to that Twins series, have also gone 12-5 on the road since their disastrous swing through the NL West in late June. That sets up the three-game series in Anaheim that kicks off tonight as a real battle of the titans. Indeed, the Angels are just 2.5 games ahead of the Yankees in the overall American League standings and are one of just three teams in baseball that has won more games than the Bombers (Boston and upstart Arizona being the other two). Of course, every stat about the Yankees recent success comes with the caveat of the quality of their second-half competition, but now that the Yankees have taken six of seven from the Indians and Tigers, with three of those coming on the road, one needn't sound that warning quite so loudly.
As for the Angels, rookie sensation Reggie Willits has crashed back to earth in the second half, returning the left field job to Garret Anderson, who had a hot July, but has been awful in August. With Anderson in the field, Mike Scioscia has been using the DH spot to give rotating rest to his three outfielders, with Willits picking up most of those spot starts and some extra time at DH himself. Elsewhere, the team's young catcher Mike Napoli just can't seem to stay healthy. That's why Jose Molina was starting for the Angels earlier in the year and that's why backup Jeff Mathis is doing so now. Mathis, who started five games over the season's first four months,has started 19 games since Molina was traded and has hit .237/.299/.373 over that span, which is actually a fair upgrade from what Molina had done as the Angel starter. Fortunately, Molina, who should get a start against his old team as Posada has now started four straight, has stepped up his game since coming to New York.
Tonight, the Yankees send Phil Hughes, who has been excellent in his two major league road starts, to the hill to face fellow rookie Dustin Moseley. Though a starter by trade, Moseley has spent most of the year in the Angel bullpen after opening the year with two solid starts in place of the injured Jered Weaver. Moseley returned to the rotation in late July after the Angels optioned the disappointing Ervin Santana to triple-A and Bartolo Colon hit the DL with elbow trouble once again. Moseley's made four starts since then, but failed to make it out of the sixth inning in any of them alternating stinkers against Detroit and Boston at home with solid, but short outings against the A's and Jays on the road. Moseley's back home facing another good offense and due for one of those stinkers. Here's hoping his trend continues. Either way, with Santana having made a triumphant return in Boston on Friday, it appears Moseley will be heading back to the pen after tonight.
Card Corner--Graig Nettles
As The Bronx is Burning winds down its two-month run on ESPN, it’s time to present the last in our series of three tributes to members of the 1977 Yankees. One of the few criticisms I have of the riveting miniseries is the lack of face time given to the character of Graig Nettles, whose cutting sense of humor and sincere dislike of Reggie Jackson represented two interesting sub-themes in 1977. Nettles might have been the most underrated member of the "Bronx Zoo" Yankees; he was a terrific defender and power source at third baseman, a borderline Hall of Famer who remains underappreciated, especially by those who never saw him play.
When the Cleveland Indians traded Nettles and catcher Jerry Moses to the New York Yankees for a package of four players on November 27, 1972, the Topps Card Company was left with a familiar quandary: how to portray the players on their new 1973 cards? As Topps often did, it resorted to the art of airbrushing, a re-touching method that involves drawing in new colors and logos onto existing photographs. In the case of Nettles’ 1973 Topps card (No. 498), we might call it a case of airbrushing gone mad. After selecting a 1972 action shot of Nettles (playing in a game for the Indians at either Milwaukee’s County Stadium or Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium), the Topps artist decided to brush in the colors of the Yankees’ road uniform, which is gray. Instead, the artist came up with a kind of bluish hue, giving the card somewhat of a surreal look. The blue on the helmet and the socks is also the wrong shade of blue—a light blue, instead of the traditional Navy blue used by the Yankees (a blue so dark that it looks black, especially from a distance). Showing further unawareness of the design of the Yankees’ road uniform, the artist decided to play a game of mix-and-match, drawing the famed interlocking "NY" logo onto the front of the jersey. Of course, the interlocking "NY" is only worn on the home uniform, and not the road jersey, which features the words "New York" spelled out in block print. So what we have is a rather intriguing amalgam of a uniform, one that has never been worn by the Yankees anywhere or anytime in their history. Yet, it’s actually somewhat attractive and might provide a reasonable basis for future changes. Heck, the interlocking "NY" looks better than "New York;" perhaps the Yankees should carry the "NY" both on the road and at home.
Here’s one other trivial note about Nettles: for those wondering why Nettles first name is spelled "GRAIG," instead of the conventional "GREG," here’s the story. According to Wayne Nettles, Graig’s father, it was Nettles’ mother who came up with the idea for the unusual birth name. Mrs. Nettles wanted to name him Greg, but she hated the longer version of that name, which is Gregory. So she found a way around that conventional trap by coming up with the alternate name of Graig, so that once others realized how his name was spelled, they would never try to lengthen it to the more formal version of the name.
Series Wrap: vs. Tigers
Offense: The Yankees scored 6.25 runs per game against a Tigers team that had been allowing 6.70 runs per game over their previous 27 games. I'm going to call that disappointing, especially as they got a few lucky hops along the way.
Bobby Abreu 8 for 16, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 5 R, 2 BB, 2 SB
Derek Jeter 3 for 12, 3 R, BB, 2 K, GIDP
Shelley Duncan struck out in his only at-bat of the series. Jose Molina did not appear.
Rotation: A solid showing with three quality starts followed Mike Mussina's stinker (5 IP, 7 R) in the opener. Andy Pettitte was again the best, holding the Tigers to one run on five hits and a walk over eight while striking out five. Roger Clemens and Chein-Ming Wang combined to strike out 14 Tigers in 12 innings, though they also allowed 19 hits. Clemens allowed two runs and walked no one. Wang allowed three, walked two, and also balked and bounced to wild pitches.
Bullpen: Farming out Jeff Karstens and Jim Brower and bringing back Edwar Ramirez has done wonders for a bullpen that had already benefited from replacing Scott Proctor with Joba Chamberlain. Sean Henn (who replaced Karstens) was the only reliever who didn't appear in this series and together the remaining six men allowed just one run and only five baserunners in 11 innings while striking out 14.
Edwar Ramirez struck out three in two perfect innings in the finale. Joba Chamberlain faced the meat of the Tiger order twice and allowed just a single while striking out three in two scoreless innings. Kyle Farnsworth allowed just a walk while striking out two in two scoreless innings. Luis Vizcaino did the same replacing the walk with a single. Mariano Rivera pitched around a walk to earn the save in Saturday's game, striking out one.
Ron Villone struck out three men in his two innings in the opener, but also allowed a solo homer to Ivan Rodriguez. Then again, Rodriguez was Villone's only baserunner in those two innings.
Conclusion: If Joe Torre starts trusting Edwar Ramirez late in close games like he did in the finale, something he already does with Chamberlain, and Farnsworth can continue to succeed in the earlier innings (his two innings in this series came in the sixth on Thursday and seventh on Saturday), Vizcaino won't be overworked and can slot in either the middle or late innings as needed, and Mariano Rivera will get the rest down the stretch that he's seemed to need in recent years. That means that, save perhaps for swapping Villone out for Chris Britton, the bullpen is as fixed as the bench, which puts the onus now on the starting pitchers to perform up to their abilities and reputations. If that happens, this team could be unstoppable.
There's No D in "Relief" Either, I Don't Care What Rolaids Taught You
Prior to Friday's game I said that, despite the Yankees' ugly loss in the opening game of their series against the Tigers, I had feeling that they'd win the remaining three, just as they had done against the lowly Devil Rays four weeks earlier. It says something about a team when you can make a statement like that about a series against a playoff contender and have the team fulfill that expectation, which is exactly what the Yankees did, concluding their series win with a 9-3 victory in yesterday's finale.
Chien-Ming Wang wasn't particularly sharp again yesterday, but he battled through to turn in a bare minimum quality start (6 IP, 3 R). Wang didn't get his second ground ball out until the fourth inning, but did record six strikeouts, four of them coming in those first three innings. I can only assume that Wang was working his slider more in the early innings then shifted back to the sinker as his final three innings saw him record just two more strikeouts, but six of his seven ground-ball outs. Unfortunately, they also saw him cough up his three runs.
The Tigers cut the Yankees' early 2-0 lead in half with a run in the fourth, then took the lead on Wang in the fifth. Wang, who stranded five men through the first four innings including men at second and third in the fourth, really struggled with men on base in the fifth. Curtis Granderson led off the inning with a single then moved to second on a groundout. Granderson's dancing off second resulted in a pickoff throw that bounced into centerfield. Granderson didn't advance on that, but he took off on the next pitch, causing Wang to balk giving Granderson third. Wang then walked Gary Sheffield and gave up an RBI single to Magglio Ordoñez that moved Sheffield to second. Sheffield and Ordoñez then pulled a double steal on Wang and three pitches later, Wang bounced a pitch past Posada to allow Sheffield to score the go-ahead run. Wang rallied to strike out Carlos Guillen, and Ryan Raburn did the Yankees a huge favor by bunting with two outs and a man on third. I can only assume he was trying to catch the Yankee defense by surprise, but his bunt went right back to Wang, who threw to first to end the rally.
The Yankees tied things up right away in the bottom of the fifth against Jeremy Bonderman. Bobby Abreu led off with a single back through the box. Alex Rodriguez shot a grounder right through Brandon Inge's legs for a two-base error that moved Abreu to third, and Hideki Matsui plated Abreu with a sac fly to left. Wang struggled through the sixth, throwing another wild pitch with two runners on, but escaped with out further damage, and Johnny Damon gave the Yankees the lead in the bottom of the inning with a towering upper deck home run that just stayed fair down the right field line.
Then the fun started.
With a one-run lead and the heart of the Tiger order due up in the top of the seventh, Joe Torre called on Joba Chamberlain, who received a hero's welcome from the packed Stadium, then earned it. Chamberlain retired Gary Sheffield, Magglio Ordoñez, and Carlos Guillen on nine pitches, eight of them strikes, striking out Ordoñez and Guillen on seven pitches with Ordoñez going down on three fastballs, the slowest being clocked at 98 miles per hour. Perhaps most impressively, Chamberlain had faced the same three hitters in the ninth inning on Friday night and did better against them yesterday.
Buoyed by Chamberlain, the Yankees added a pair of insurance runs against Zach Minor in the seventh and three more against Aquilino Lopez in the eighth. One of the fun subplots of the these late innings was the fact that the Tigers twice intentionally walked Robinson Cano to pitch to Wilson Betemit, who started at shortstop in place of the generally banged up Derek Jeter. Betemit had struck out in his first two at-bats against Bonderman. In the fifth, with two out and Rodriguez at second, Bonderman intentionally walked Cano to pitch to Betemit, who hit a sharp sinking liner to right field but right to Ordoñez for the third out. In the same scenario in the seventh (two out, Rodriguez at second), Miner also intentionally walked Cano to pitch to Betemit, who this time hit an RBI single back up the middle, setting up another RBI single by Andy Phillips. In the eighth, Betemit came to the plate with the bases loaded against Lopez and cracked a bases-clearing double into the gap in right center that put the game out of reach.
Also putting the game out of reach was Edwar Ramirez, who struck out the side in the eighth to preserve what was then a three-run lead, then came back out in the ninth with a six-run lead and retired the Tigers in order on seven pitches. Together Ramirez and Chamberlain pitched three perfect innings of relief, striking out five and throwing just 31 pitches. Torre, meanwhile, used them perfectly, bringing in Chamberlain to face the heart of the order in the seventh, then calling on Ramirez to face the weaker hitters in the eighth and sticking with him to avoid using Mariano Rivera with a six-run lead in the ninth. Here's hoping Ramirez, who has now pitched 4 1/3 innings since being recalled, struck out six, and allowed just one baserunner on a bunt single, becomes as important a part of the Yankees' end-game as Chamberlain has.
The Yankees now sit three games ahead of the Tigers in the Wild Card race and are a game and a half ahead of the AL Central-leading Indians for good measure. The Mariners, however, refuse to lose, and still hold a half game advantage on the Yankees and lead the Wild Card by two games in the loss column. Two weeks from today, the Mariners come to the Stadium for a three-game showdown. Time to circle that one in red.
Catch A Tiger By The Tail
The day after his best bud Andy Pettitte broke the Yankees' three-game losing streak by shutting down the Tigers over eight innings, Rocket Clemens turned it into a winning streak with six strong frames of his own. As has been his way this season, Clemens used up a lot of pitches and gave up a fair number of hits, but he clamped down with runners on base yesterday afternoon, didn't walk anyone, and used a particularly crisp and accurate fastball to rack up eight strikeouts, four of them coming with runners on base.
One of those strikeouts started an extremely rare 2-1 double play in the third inning. With one out, rookie Cameron Maybin on first via his first major league hit, a groundball through Robinson Cano's vacated second base position on a hit-and-run play, and Brandon Inge on third, Marcus Thames battled Clemens to a full count. Maybin took off on the next pitch, which Thames swung through for Clemens' sixth strikeout of the game (91 mph fastball up and in). Jorge Posada then fired to second, but Clemens cut the ball off and charged Inge, who had taken off for home when Posada released the ball. Inge was a dead duck as Clemens applied the tag for the final out. According to the FOX broadcast, the last time a runner was caught stealing by a throw to the pitcher was a whopping 21 years ago, when the Cardinals Vince Coleman was nabbed by the Giants Bob Melvin and Juan Berenguer in the fifth inning of this game (note how the play-by-play differs from the play in the second inning of this game, on which a runner was thrown out at home trying to advance on a wild pitch with the pitcher covering the plate), and even that wasn't a double play. I find it both difficult to believe and very disappointing that no pitcher has caught a runner by cutting the throw from his catcher with runners on the corners and the man on first stealing second in 21 years. I am, however, encouraged by the fact that, in this case, the play was entirely premeditated as Posada and Clemens had conferenced at the mound before the previous pitch.
Despite nailing Inge (and nail him he did, Clemens almost knocked Inge into the Tiger dugout with the tag) and stranding eight other men, Clemens left the game trailing Detroit. In the fourth, Clemens got into a one-out, bases loaded jam and escaped after allowing only one run on a sac fly. In the fifth, the rookie Maybin led off the inning by hitting what looked like either a lame splitter up in the zone or a rare curveball (Clemens' fourth if not fifth best pitch) to dead center for his first major league homer and just second career hit. The Yankees, meanwhile, had managed just one run off quadruple-A journeyman Chad Durbin, who was making just his third start since mid-June.
Durbin allowed just three hits and a walk through the first five innings, one of those hits being a solo Jorge Posada homer to the retired numbers in the second inning. He then allowed three more hits to start the sixth, including a two-run Bobby Abreu tater off the left field foul pole that would give Clemens the win. The Yanks then scratched out two more in that inning against relievers Tim Byrdak and Jason Grilli and shut the door with Farnsworth, Vizcaino, and Rivera each pitching a scoreless inning to wrap up the 5-2 win.
For what it's worth, Farnsworth looked as good in the seventh inning yesterday as I've seen him all year. It took him ten pitches to get leadoff hitter Sean Casey to fly out, but he came back from that to strike out Gary Sheffield and Magglio Ordoñez, the two most dangerous hitters in the Detroit lineup, on a total of eight pitches, finishing both off with high heat in the upper 90s. The last pitch to Ordoñez was 98 mph, but the third strike to Sheffield was the most exciting as it was 97 miles per hour and literally head-high. In his last four outings, Farnsworth has allowed just one baserunner, no hits, and struck out five in four scoreless innings. That's his best multi-game stretch of the season.
The Yanks look to take the series this afternoon in a matchup of excellent young pitchers who have struggled of late. Chien-Ming Wang has allowed 20 baserunners and 13 runs in his last two starts totaling just 8 2/3 innings. Most of that was his disaster outing in Toronto, but his last start was one of just three others in which he's allowed five or more runs this season. Jeremy Bonderman was actually excellent in his last start in Cleveland (7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 8 K), but before that he put together a 11.28 ERA across his previous four, all losses. Like Wang, most of that damage came in a single disaster start (Bonderman's came in Anaheim), but he still posted an 8.10 ERA in the remaining three starts from that rough patch.
Mr. Big Stuff
Rain delayed Friday night's game for just over an hour, and for the rest of the night, the field was swarmed by moths. I don't recall ever seeing that at The Stadium before. Time was called when a moth flew into Jorge Posada's eye, otherwise, they didn't interfere with the game.
I had a good feeling about the Yanks last night, didn't you? Soup to nuts, it just felt like a game the Bombers would win. I wasn't the only one feeling good--the crowd at the Stadium was intense, the atmosphere like that of a playoff game. Yankee fans know how important these games are, and remember the sting of losing to the Tigers last October.
After watching Mike Mussina flirt with the edges of the strike zone the night before, it was immediately comforting to see Andy Pettitte pound the strike zone, early and often. As a Yankee, Pettitte was 66-32 in starts after a Yankee loss coming into the game. When it was all said and done, the Bombers rolled to a 6-1 win.
The Yanks got the breaks. Down 1-0 in the third, the Yanks had runners of first and second with two out when Bobby Abreu's seemingly routine ground ball to short hit the lip of the infield grass and hopped over Carlos Guillen's glove, allowing the tying run to score. Alex Rodriguez hooked Nate Robertson's next pitch to left. On TV, I thought it might have gotten enough of it to poke it over the seats for a home run. But the ball hit off the end of Rodriguez's bat and didn't have the distance. However it landed just fair before bouncing over the fence for a double.
The Yanks never looked back. Andy Phillips, who has not been hitting at all recently, had three hits and two RBI. Jason Giambi hit a couple of long home runs. The second dinger went a-way up in the upper deck, a truly monstrous shot. Pettitte pitched eight innings and Joba Chamberlian cleaned-up the game in the ninth (he allowed a single to Magglio Ordonez and struck out Pudge Rodriguez with a slider to end the game).
Gary Sheffield was booed each time he came to bat. He was revered when he played in New York, in spite of what some fans thought about his mouth. And I think he would have been received much differently now if he hadn't blasted Torre in public.
Another thing that I've been meaning to mention, only because there haven't been any screaming headlines about it in these parts. In a contract year, Mariano Rivera is having the worst season of his career. I've been avoiding calling it like it is for a while now, but the numbers don't lie, do they?
Welcome Back to the Five-and-Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean
Finally, on a personal note, Cliff and I would like to echo Emma's recent comments about Bronx Banterite Jim Dean who passed away last month. Jim was watching the Yankee game, hanging in the Bronx Banter comments section when his heart gave in. Neither Cliff nor I were on-line at the time. Jim knew his baseball and loved to provoke conversation and arguments. I didn't know Jim personally, but my dad died earlier this year, so I'm familiar with the feelings that surround death these days.
I want to send our deepest sympathies to Jim's family. It is humbling to discover that one of our own has passed, especially in our midst, so to speak. It could happen to me or you anytime. The fact that he died while hanging with us on the Banter chokes me up. I don't know how to honor the moment exactly, but in a strange way--and I don't mean to sound trite--it feels like an honor that he would be with us during his last moments. His spirit remains with us. Next time Torre makes a lousy bullpen move, we'll be thinking of you, J.D. and how you won't be resting easy about it. We'll make sure to give 'em hell on your behalf.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Maybin? I'm Amazed
The good news about last night's loss to the Tigers was that it came in the game with the least favorable pitching matchup for the Yankees. In a way, it reminded me of the team's 14-4 loss to the Devil Rays in the opening game of a four-game series in the Bronx four weeks ago. Mike Mussina got torched in that game (4 2/3 IP, 6 R), and then the Yankees torched the Devil Rays over the remaining three games.
Indeed, tonight's matchup favors the Yankees quite a bit. Nate Robertson is 1-3 with a 6.39 ERA over his last five starts, while Andy Pettitte has recovered from his stumble just before the All-Star Break to go 5-1 with a 3.15 ERA in seven post-break starts. Five of those seven have been quality starts and the only two that weren't saw Pettitte fall just one out short. The biggest difference between the two of late has been extra base hits. Opposing hitters have hit just one home run and slugged just .352 against Pettitte over those last seven games while hitting four jacks off Robertson in his last five and slugging .557 against the bespectacled Bengal. Altogether, 41 percent of Robertson's hits allowed over that span have gone for extra bases, while just 23 percent of Pettitte's have.
Finally some roster notes on the Tigers. Remember in yesterday's preview when I said "Monroe has been so bad . . . that he appears to be losing his job." I meant his job as the starting left fielder. Turns out, he just lost his job as a Detroit Tiger, getting designated for assignment this afternoon so that the Tigers could call up top prospect Camron Maybin. Maybin, a 20-year-old righty-hitting outfielder, is a classic five-tool prospect who was the organization's minor league player of the year while in low-A ball last year, but this might be a little too much too soon. Maybin just hit double-A this month and comes to the majors with just six games above A-ball under his belt. Of course he went 8 for 20 with four homers in those six games, but it's still just six games. He also struck out 83 times in 83 games in high-A and six more times in those six games in double-A. Nonetheless, he'll make his major league debut in left field at Yankee Stadium tonight in a game with playoff implications. But no pressure, kid.
Less exciting is the swap of right-hitting backup infielders Omar Infante and Ramon Santiago. A lot less exciting.
Meanwhile, Joe Torre seems unconcerned about Robertson's left-handedness and rather fierce platoon splits. Torre's keeping Bobby Abreu in the lineup, starting Jason Giambi at DH, and giving Melky Cabrera a day of rest, which puts Johnny Damon in center field. Save for Abreu, who should be platooning with Shelley Duncan, there's really nothing wrong with that lineup. Andy Phillips starts at first over Duncan as well, but with the groundballing Pettitte on the mound, that's legit, too.
Did He Who Made the Lamb Make Thee?
I recently returned from a trip to Taiwan, on which more later. (I’ve braced myself, and I’ll try not to take it personally when the inevitable slew of “Go back to Taiwan! Quick!” comments appear below.) I had no trouble following the Yankees while I was there, because ESPN Taiwan shows every game, first live (at 7 am or one in the morning), then repeated at least two or three times throughout the day. But it’s all in Chinese of course – with the occasional “wow” or “home run!” thrown in, or “ooh la la!,” which I think is like the ESPN Taiwan version of “booya!” - so I may have missed a few subtleties; if so, please don't hesitate to correct me.
Unfortunate juxtaposition of the game, brought to you by Michael Kay: “He could tell you what his plans were for the 7th, 8th, and 9th inning - for pinch-hitting, hitting and running, the way he'd use his pitchers - in his office before the game. If there's such a thing as a genius in baseball, Billy Martin was a genius in baseball. He was a genius … and there you see Ron Villone beginning to throw...”.
Anyway. The Tigers added a run in the 5th, on singles off Mussina in his final inning of work, and in the 7th, with a Pudge Rodriguez home run off Villone. One interesting note: with two on in the bottom of the sixth, Joe Torre pinch-hit for Johnny Damon with Shelley Duncan. Now, Damon’s been very gracious about his recent lack of playing time, saying he’ll fill whatever role the team wants, anything to help - but man, that’s got to sting a little.
The Detroit Tigers
This is it. The make-or-break part of the Yankees' season has arrived. The team's next fourteen games all come against playoff contenders, six against the division leading Angels and Red Sox and, starting tonight, a whopping eight games against the Tigers, who are currently tied with the Indians atop the Central. After that, the Yanks have just three in Boston, three at home against the Wild Card-leading Mariners amid 21 more games against the cupcakes (though that 21 does include six more matches with Baltimore). Two weeks from tonight the Yankees will either be heading toward the playoffs or reeling from a harsh dose of reality.
The good news is that they've played contenders well since flipping the switch in July, going 5-1 against the Indians and Angels with an addition 3-1 against the pretending Twins. The Tigers, meanwhile, have been heading in the other direction.
The Detroit Tigers' high water mark came at the conclusion of a three-game sweep of the Twins in Minnesota on July 19 when they were 21 games over .500 and held a two-games lead over the Indians in the AL Central. Detroit hasn't won a single series since then and counts among their loses two of three at home to the Royals in which their only win came in extra innings, six of eight to the White Sox, four of seven to the A's, and a four-game split at home against the Devil Rays. In total, the Tigers have gone 9-18 since leaving Minnesota and have fallen into a tie with the similarly slumping Indians atop the Central and a game behind the Yankees in the Wild Card race.
Whereas the Indians problem of late has been scoring runs, the Tigers' problem has been preventing them. Over those last 27 games, Detroit has allowed 6.70 runs per game, this despite 21 of those contests occurring in the typically pitcher-friendly Comerica Park and the even more pitcher-friendly
The reason for the Tigers' pitching struggles throughout the season has been injuries. Ace set-up man Joel Zumaya hasn't pitched since May 1 following surgery on the middle finger on his throwing hand (he's due back soon, but not for this series). Kenny Rogers, who was a huge part of their pennant-winning season last year, had offseason shoulder surgery and was active for just about a month beginning in late June before landing back on the DL with elbow inflammation after posting a 9.98 ERA in the last three of his six starts. Andrew Miller, the team's top pitching prospect and 2006 draftee who was promoted to fill the rotation spot vacated when the struggling Mike Maroth was traded to St. Louis, strained a hamstring in his August 3 start against the White Sox and landed on the DL. Filling in for those three are 33-year-old journeyman Tim Byrdak, who didn't see major league action from 2001 to 2004 and had his own DL stint in July due to elbow tendonitis, journeyman Chad Durbin, who last started in the majors in 2004, and rookie Jair Jurrjens, who made his major league debut in a loss to the Indians last night.
Further complicating the issue, remaining starters Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman have underperformed. Bonderman was expected to have a break-out season, but has been merely average, spending some time on the DL himself in May due to a blister, and posting a 9.20 ERA over his five starts since that Minnesota series. Robertson pitched over his head last year, but has gone too far in the other direction this season and was actually DLed in June due to what was termed a "tired arm." Similar things can be said about incumbent set-up men Fernando Rodney, who was awful earlier in the season and spent all of July on the DL with shoulder and elbow tendonitis, and Jason Grilli, who's been overused as a result of the injuries to Zumaya and Rodney and has seen his performance suffer as a result.
The Tigers can't even count on 2006 Rookie of the Year and current staff ace Justin Verlander to hold the wolves at bay. Verlander, who starts tonight, has a 5.14 ERA over his last eight starts despite solid peripherals, has lasted more that six innings in only one of his last five starts, and has turned in quality starts in just two of his last six and three of those last eight. To all of that you can add the flu, which has been going around the Tiger clubhouse of late and could impact Verlander's performance tonight.
On the flip side, the Tiger offense is second only to the Yankees in runs per game this season. The key difference being that, unlike the Yankees, the Tigers have some soft spots in their batting order, specifically third baseman Brandon Inge (.239/.316/.391), 35-year-old catcher Ivan Rodriguez (.278/.288/.426), and left fielder Craig Monroe (.222/.264/.373). Monroe has been so bad, in fact, that he appears to be losing his job to the recently reactivated Marcus Thames, starting only when Thames shifts to first base to spell Sean Casey against lefties.
At the same time, the tough spots in the Tiger order are very, very tough. Gary Sheffield, Curtis Granderson, Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco, and especially Magglio Ordoñez are all having outstanding seasons. Sheffield's season is a dead ringer for his two healthy seasons in New York except he's been far more active on the bases, stealing 18 of 22, and even harder to strike out. Granderson appears to have made the leap at age 26. The most remarkable thing about his season isn't necessarily his 18 triples, but the fact that 12 of them have come on the road. Polanco is enjoying a career year with a performance that's a dead ringer for what he did over the remainder of 2005 after being acquired from the Phillies. Guillen is merely playing to his usual high standard. Finally, Ordoñez is a legitimate challenger to Alex Rodriguez's MVP hopes, matching Rodriguez in the cumulative total-performance stat VORP despite fewer plate appearances. In third place in the AL: Jorge Posada. In fact, the Yankees and Tigers combine to employ ten of the top 22 VORP totals in the American League. The five Tigers are the men just discussed. The three Yankees after Rodriguez and Posada are Jeter, Matsui, and Cano.
The man who will try to tame those Tiger bats tonight will be Mike Mussina. Moose has been on a roll of late, posting a 2.84 ERA over his last four starts, all wins. He's not walked a batter in his last 22 innings pitched. He will, however, have to cope with Jason Giambi at first base tonight, as G'Bombi will get the start at first for the first time since May 3. Hideki Matsui will DH, Johnny Damon's in left, and the Yankee lineup is utterly seamless. Wow.
Yankee Panky #20
By Will Weiss
I'll begin with a note on the Phil Rizzuto coverage. All outlets did a good job, but I thought the Daily News hit every angle yesterday. Even the normally crusty Bob Raissman provided a touching eulogy in his column. On the radio broadcast, beat man Mark Feinsand told a story about how he went to grade school with Rizzuto's granddaughter, and when he'd come for Grandparents Day, he'd sign autographs and talk with every kid in the class. Great information all around.
For anyone who believes athletes when they say they don't read the papers or they don't check the standings or the scoreboards, Curt Schilling has burst your bubble. A compliment from 38pitches.com:
"The Yankees have begun playing like we knew they would, which makes how well we played and the cushion we built a nice thing to see. I expect that team, managed by that guy, to maintain that pace the rest of the year.
The bottom line is the ball's in our court, we have a 6 game lead so for us to not be Division Champions will rest squarely on us. As a player I don't think you can ask for anything more. If we win it's our fault, and if we lose it it's our fault as well. No relying on someone to beat someone for it to work out for us. Now we spend the off day in Baltimore and go up against a team playing very well right now. We don't need any one thing to get where we are going, we just need to play better as a team, which we will."
That post was from last Thursday, the 9th, and since then the Yankees have nearly cut that six-game lead in half. Counting Monday's victory over the Orioles, the Yankees are 30-13 since July 1, playing a remarkable stretch of .698 ball to vault over seven teams into the Wild Card lead, and to our delight and the New Englanders' dismay, within striking distance of the Red Sox. In only one week have the Yankees lost three games that was July 26, 27 and 28, when they lost the last of a four-game set in Kansas City and the first two games of a three-game weekender at Camden Yards.
Series Wrap: vs. Orioles
Offense: Once again, the Yankee offense went missing in action against the Orioles, this time going 17 straight innings without a run between Tuesday's shutout and Erik Bedard's performance yesterday afternoon. Shelley Duncan's three-run homer with two out in the ninth yesterday drove in all of the runs the Yankees have scored since Melky Cabrera's game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth on Monday night.
Alex Rodriguez 6 for 10, 2 BB, 2 R, 2 SB
Derek Jeter 1 for 12, RBI, HBP, 2 K
Rotation: Not s'good. Not a single quality start. The Jeff Karstens' disaster can be dismissed as he's been optioned and was merely spot-starting for Clemens anyway, but Chien-Ming Wang and Phil Hughes, the present and future aces of the Yankee rotation, combined to allow eight runs (seven earned) in a mere 11 innings. Wang's last two starts have increased his ERA by 0.60 runs, pushing it above 4.00 for the first time since the beginning of June. His next start comes on Sunday after an extra day of rest due to Clemens' return on Saturday.
Bullpen: Due to the lack of a quality start from the quality starters and Karstens' disaster, the pen was called upon to pitch as many innings as the rotation in this series. Things rarely go well when that happens, and indeed they did not.
Just typing this is fun: Joba Chamberlain struck out two in a perfect eighth inning on Monday, and Edwar Ramirez struck out three while allowing only a bunt single in 2 1/3 innings yesterday afternoon. Edwar also stranded the two inherited runners he picked up from Sean Henn, who was also solid, allowing just those two singles, one of which didn't leave the infield, in 1 2/3 innings. Luis Vizcaino and Kyle Farnsworth both struck out one in very efficient 1-2-3 innings to finish up the Karstens disaster. Farnsworth threw eight of nine pitches for strikes in his frame.
Jim Brower poured gas on Karstens' fire and thus joined Jeffrey on the trip to Scranton. Here's hoping he had a one-way ticket. Ron Villone allowed all four of his inherited runners to score and added one of his own. Finally, Mariano Rivera blew a one-run save on Monday night only to vulture the win as the Yankees rallied. Brought into the tenth inning of a tie game yesterday, he coughed up the lead after two batters, then heaped on some insurance to take the loss.
Conclusion: The seven runs in the opener and the two bottom-of-the-ninth rallies were nice, as were the performances of the rookie relievers, but otherwise the Yankees stunk up the jernt. Here's hoping this works the way the last Orioles series did to get that bad play out of the Yankees' systems and wake them up for the very tough stretch of fourteen games that begins tonight against the Tigers, continues on a road trip through Anaheim and Detroit, and concludes with three against the Red Sox back home. If the Yankees can't at the very least split those 14 games, all the good work they've done since the calendar turned to July might have been for naught.
O's No, Mo!*
I often wonder about the common practice of sending righty-heavy lineups against dominant lefties at the expense of starting a team's best players. I'm not saying that Joe Torre was necessarily wrong to use a day game after a night game to give Robinson Cano and Bobby Abreu days off or to give Jorge Posada a spell as the DH while putting Jose Molina behind the plate. Indeed, one of the advantages of the strong Yankee bench is that the lineup doesn't actually suffer that much when such moves are made. I just wonder if the practice artificially inflates the performance of both the lefty pitchers who face these second-rate lineups and the lefty batters who come down with what has been referred to as the 24-hour Randy Johnson flu.
Take for example some of the statistics quoted in the comments early in yesterday's game thread. Erik Bedard entered yesterday's game holding righties to a .208/.261/.335 line, and lefties to .230/.329/.385, but, as reader NJYankee41 pointed out, a lot of that left-handed production is courtesy of Carl Crawford, who is 7 for 12 with two doubles, a triple, and a homer against Bedard on the season. Even without his performance against Bedard, Crawford has a pretty even split this year, but historically he's had a more typical platoon split. Who's to say that some of the other high-profile lefties who have been sitting against Bedard wouldn't find similar success against him (or Johan Santana, or whomever) if given enough exposure? In fact, I can guarantee that some of them would simply because they're good hitters. What's more, while Bedard is undoubtedly one of the elite pitchers in the game this year, would his performance against righties be as strong if it weren't for the fact that a great many of them are reserves rather than his opponents' regular starters?
Yesterday's Yankee lineup had Wilson Betemit batting from his weaker right side in place of lefty Robinson Cano, righty Shelley Duncan in place of lefty Bobby Abreu, and righty Jose Molina pushing switch-hitter Jorge Posada to DH (Jorge's numbers are pretty even from both sides of the plate) and thus starting in place of either Jason Giambi or Johnny Damon, both lefties. For good measure, switch-hitter Melky Cabrera was batting from his weaker side as well. That lineup struck out five times before Alex Rodriguez picked up the first hit off Bedard leading off the fourth and was held scoreless by Bedard over seven full innings with Rodriguez (twice), Hideki Matsui (the only lefty in the starting lineup), and Duncan (who also struck out twice) picking up the only four hits against Bedard.
A Day With Sunshine
It's an absolutely perfect day in the tri-state area. Beautiful, sunny, low humidity, a nice crisp breeze. What a day for a stellar pitching matchup in an afternoon rubber game at the Stadium. Orioles ace Erik Bedard has been one of the best pitchers in the league since April (2.32 ERA, 9-2, 87 hits and 157 Ks in 128 innings, quality starts in 17 of 19 games) and is a legitimate Cy Young contender. Yankees rookie Phil Hughes has a 4.64 ERA in just four major league starts, but two of those starts can be written off as one was his major league debut and the other was his first in the majors after three months on the DL. The two starts that followed those two have seen him post this combined line: 12 1/3 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 12 K, with the lone run coming on a solo homer. Hughes threw a career-high 95 pitches in his last start in Cleveland finishing six strong, so endurance is no longer a concern. Sit back and enjoy this one.
Aiding the enjoyment is the knowledge that Jeff Karstens and Jim Brower have both been jettisoned from the roster (via option and likely DFA, respectively) and replaced by Edwar Ramirez (who was back to his old tricks in Columbus, striking out 22 in 12 1/3 innings while allowing just 12 baserunners and two runs since being demoted) and Sean Henn. In his most recent major league stint and subsequent work in triple-A combined, Henn has posted this line: 11 1/3 IP, 13 H, 5 ER, 5 BB, 13 K, which yeilds a 3.97 ERA.
For those of us who grew up listening to Phil Rizzuto during the lean years (be it the days of Horace Clarke or Stump Merrill) it seemed oddly fitting that the Yankees got their clocks cleaned last night, allowing Michael Kay and Ken Singleton to reminisce about Scooter uninhibited by compelling game action. In the seventh inning, with the Yankees already trailing by the eventual final of 12-0, Kay shared the fact that the Yankee booth had received a memorial box of cannolis from one of Scooter's favorites, Artuso Pastry in the Bronx. That set Kay and Singleton off on remembrances of Scooter during which they talked straight through a pitching change with hardly a mention of the on-field action until Kay caught himself as the reliever warmed up:
". . . he was such a student of Yankee history and he knew exactly what was going on . . . and, by the way, this, I feel like Phil, the Orioles just changed pitchers, they brought in Paul Shuey . . . but, he was such a student of Yankee history . . ."
And so forth. In general, YES did a great job honoring Rizzuto, compiling several clip packages, including a hilarious collection of his famous on-air antics supplemented by additional clips scattered throughout the broadcast. They even replaced the commercial break in the middle of the first inning with an excellent montage of Rizzuto's playing career. It's one thing to pay lip service, but by skipping that break and the break that would have come during Shuey's warmup pitches, YES showed that they were willing to put Rizzuto's memory in front of the bottom line for a night, which, in this day and age, may be the classiest move of all.
As for the game, spot-starter Jeff Karstens got rocked and bounced after throwing 74 pitches and allowing five runs in just three innings, four of them scoring on a third-inning grand slam by Aubrey Huff. Jim Brower was just as bad in his two-plus innings of work. He let two runs in on his own, then left the bases loaded with no outs for Ron Villone, who finished the job by allowing all three of Browers' bequeathed runners to score and adding a solo homer by Kevin Millar in the following frame. With the pen otherwise empty, Kyle Farnsworth and Luis Vizcaino turned in 1-2-3 frames to finish things off. The Yankee offense, which had scored seven or more runs in ten straight home games prior to last night, one short of the franchise record, managed just two hits off Daniel Cabrera and none off of his two relievers, Shuey and Rob Bell, but walked nine times only to strand all 11 runners without so much as a double play or caught stealing. Only one Yankee got as far as third base all night. If ever there was a night to leave early to beat the traffic.
It sounds like a curse word, or a sneeze. It's tonight's starting pitcher. This is what Rod's "Ha!" hath wrought. The O's counter with the untamable fastball of Daniel Cabrera. Three of the last four Oriole games have ended in the victor's last at-bat, all to the Yankees' favor. Could more late-inning heroics be in the works? That might be the only way the Yanks get out of this one with a win.
In Memory of Scooter
There's a certain irony to the fact that the last game the Yankees played during Phil Rizzuto's lifetime ended with a situation taylor-made for a Scooter squeeze bunt only to see the team decline the opporunity to put on the play. It's also fitting that that game was won in that situation on a dink hit by the Yankee shortstop, a player who won the Rookie of the Year award in Rizzuto's final season as a Yankee broadcaster much to the enduring delight of the Scooter himself, and a player who has come to replace Rizzuto as the greatest Yankee shortstop of all time.
Rizzuto was a tremendously important figure in my life given the importance that baseball and Yankee baseball specifically has taken in it. Rizzuto was the voice first, but more than that the spirit and the passion and the humor that lured me back to the game day after day during the lean years of the 1980s when my fandom coalesced. I put a few words together about Scooter over on SI.com. As you've done in the last thread, please continue to post your memories, anecdotes, and feelings about Scooter below. And feel free to repost things here that you've said elsewhere, it would be great to have all of them in one place.
When You're Hot...You Win
"We've been on the balls of our feet lately," Torre said. "We're not waiting for something to happen." Joe Torre
For most of the first half of the season it felt like the Yankees were always losing by three runs, even when the score was tied. Just one of those seasons, man. But now, as they are playing their best ball of the season, the Yankees are finding ways to win games, even when their ace pitcher does give up three runs in the first inning. And so it went last night in the Bronx as the Yanks won a nail-biter in the bottom of the ninth inning, 7-6. Mariano Rivera blew his first save since April 20th, but Derek Jeter's infield single drove home the winning run as the Yanks remain tied with the Mariners for the wildcard and just four games behind the Red Sox in the AL East.
I expect the Yankees to win these days, but I'm not that brave. I kept thinking they were going to find a way to lose last night, especially since Chien-Ming Wang was far from sharp for a second straight outing. They tacked-on runs after taking a 4-3 lead on Wilson Betemit's two-run homer in the second inning, but left runners on second and third twice with two out. They just could not seem to pull away, and the Orioles have been more than pesky against New York this year.
A two-out wild pitch with a runner on third and two men out by Ron Villone in the seventh inning shaved the Yankee lead to 6-5. Then came Joba Chamberlain in his Yankee Stadium debut. He fell behind Miguel Tejada 3-1 but came back to strike the slugger out on a wicked slider. Joba got ahead of Kevin Millar who grounded out sharply to Alex Rodriguez. Joba ended the inning by striking out Aubrey Huff with another nasty slider. Joba was pumped, the Stadium was rockin.
Onto the ninth, and here is where I really started to squirm, knowing that Rivera was not sharp on Sunday in Cleveland. Mo generally has a bad spell right around this time of year, so it's not as if I'm alarmed. Still, there was a ballgame to win. Melvin Mora singled and moved to second when Ramon Hernandez grounded out weakly in front of the plate. With all three outfielders playing in, Tike Redman--what a name!---blooped a single to center. Melky Cabrera charged the ball and fired a strike home where Mora was nailed for the second out of the inning.
"They were playing very shallow and I think it was a really poor decision by me," [O's third base coach, Juan] Samuel said. "That was my decision that cost us the ballgame. Yes, we tied, but you can't predict what's going to happen next. You have to make your decision on that particular play, and that was a bad one by me."
Redman moved to second on the throw, and Jorge Posada overthrew the bag trying to get him. Fortunately, Melky was there to back the play up. Unfortunately, that little gnat of a Yankee-Killer, Brian Roberts was up next. Right on cue, he fisted a little fly ball into shallow right. Abreu fielded the ball on a hop and fired home. The throw was in plenty of time but it was high. Posada had to jump to catch it and Redman slide in safely with the tying run.
But with one out in the ninth, Chad Bradford hit Melky in the back. Jason Giambi pinch-hit for Shelley Duncan (who had pinch-hit for Johnny Damon in the sixth) and singled between first and second. Cabrera took third, Jeter at the plate. Would the Yankees try a squeeze? Perhaps if Jeter could push a bunt towards second. Well, that is essentially what happened. Jeter swung and tapped a dinky ground ball past Bradford. Roberts charged and fielded the ball, but it was too late. Cabrera, who doubled earlier in the game to extend his career-high hitting streak to 18 games, crossed the plate and the Yankees had themselves another win.
We'll take it.
The Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles are the only team to take a series from the Yankees since the A's won a rubber game in the Bronx on July 1. Now 25-22 under replacement manager Dave Trembley, the O's have gone 5-7 since taking two of three from the Yankees in Baltimore three weekends ago. Included in that 5-7, however, is a six-game split with the Red Sox which the O's just completed by taking two of three from the Sox at Camden Yards. On Friday night the O's rallied four four runs in the eighth against Eric Gagne and Hideki Okajima, then pushed accross the winning run against Okajima in the ninth following a leadoff double by Brian Roberts. Yesterday, the O's rallied for two in the eighth against Okajima and Gagne (in the opposite order) to tie, then won on a three-run Kevin Millar walk-off homer in the bottom of the tenth.
So the O's are feeling good, but so are the Yanks, who should be extra determined to put Baltimore in their place as they visit the Stadium over the next three nights. The only problem is they'll have to start things off against Jeremy Guthrie, who has already beaten New York twice this season (12 1/3 IP, 13 H, 4 R, 1 HR, 4 BB, 10 K -- Johnny Damon hit the homer). The good news is that Guthrie's last start, which came against those inexplicable Mariners, was one of his worst of the season and he's allowed nine runs (eight earned) in 9 1/3 innings since last facing the Bombers, who are bombing a lot more now than they were back in Baltimore as they were suffering from a brief team slump that weekend. Of course the O's could say similar things about Chien-Ming Wang, who is coming off the worst start of his major league career tonight.
Jorge Posada is finally back in the lineup. Wilson Betemit curiously draws the start at first behind the groundballing Wang. Damon starts at DH, perhaps because of that homer. As for the O's, they have Melvin Mora, back, but have lost Jay Gibbons to the DL for the season following labrum surgery and Chris Gomez to the Indians via waivers (in case you didn't notice who started at third base for the Tribe yesterday). Sorry for cutting this one so close, folks. Game on!
Observations From Cooperstown--Bobby Bonds
By now you’ve probably read just about every thing you ever wanted to know about Barry Bonds. With all of the attention directed toward the new home run king, I found myself thinking a lot this week about his late father. To Barry’s credit, he talked about his father during the on-field celebration that accompanied his record-breaking 756th home run on Tuesday night. Bobby Bonds was an extremely important man in his son’s life—and a noteworthy figure in baseball history who has become overshadowed by the exploits of his talented and controversial son. He was also a man that might provide us some insight into his son, both currently and in the future.
When the elder Bonds splashed onto the San Francisco scene in the late 1960s and early seventies, a few observers might have been excused for thinking that he would eventually become the game’s home run king, surpassing Babe Ruth, who held the mark at the time. Bobby Bonds displayed such a combination of athleticism, pure power, and baseball instincts that some fans were convinced they were watching the new Willie Mays, too. As it turned out, Bonds and the "old" Willie Mays were playing together in the same Giants outfield, Willie tracking down balls in center field while Bobby used his speed and arm to cover right field. Frankly, it was like having two center fielders on the field at the same time, even if Mays was starting to show the effects of age.
In spite of unfair expectations brought about by the comparisons to Mays, Bonds responded with a succession of marvelously productive seasons from 1970 to 1973. He put up three 30-30 campaigns, narrowly missing out on becoming the first 40-40 player in 1973. (He missed by one home run.) During that four-year span covering the early part of the 1970s, Bonds played like a superstar, with all the earmarks of a future Hall of Famer. At his peak, Bonds could do it all—he had enormous power, sprinter’s speed, athletic grace in the outfield, and a powerful arm that could play in either center or right field. It’s not a stretch to say that Bonds had more talent than his son, when considering his far superior throwing arm and his ability to play center field. That’s just how good Bobby was.
Unfortunately, the Giants saw red flags that may have affected his production in 1974. Bonds drank too much, smoked too much, and his general fast-lane lifestyle raised questions about his commitment to the game, leading the Giants to consider a change. After the ’74 season, a season that saw Bonds slump to 21 home runs and a .256 batting average, the Giants did what was once considered unthinkable, trading Bobby to the Yankees for Bobby Murcer.
Bonds played well in his one season for the Yankees, slugging .512 in 1975, despite having to play in the hitter’s Hades of Shea Stadium. In a way, it didn’t really matter what Bonds hit for the Yankees; he was doomed to unpopularity as the exchange rate for Murcer, who was simply beloved in the Bronx. Bonds could never make people forget the more popular Murcer and soon moved on to Southern California, in exchange for the uncelebrated but talented package of Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa.
While with the Angels, Bonds’ outfield play began to draw criticism. He was also disparaged—and rightly so—for his unwillingness to run out ground balls and pop-ups, a chronic problem throughout his career. His reputation tarnished, Bonds began to average about a team per season. After only 26 games with the White Sox, he was traded to the Rangers in mid-season, who then sent him to the Indians after the 1978 campaign. During his one season with the Indians, teammates railed at Bonds for his inability to hit the cutoff man on routine throws and for failing to hit in the clutch. By 1979, Bonds had made so many stops that he earned a reputation—fairly or unfairly—as a player who quickly wore out his welcome despite his overwhelming on-the-field talents of speed and power. Some said he was a good player, but not good enough for teams to make him untouchable. Others felt he was a talented underachiever who disappointed his teams, resulting in the inevitable trade.
Then there were the strikeouts. Bonds always piled up large numbers of K’s, even in his glory days in San Francisco. If he had played in the contemporary game, most fans and writers would have forgiven him. But in the 1970s, a tendency to strike out so often carried with it a nasty stigma—with both the media and the baseball establishment. Some managers felt they couldn’t employ such a blatant "swing-and-misser" in the leadoff spot. Other managers felt Bonds’ inability to make contact prevented him from being a true cleanup man. In the eyes of some, Bonds’ strikeouts made him the square peg in a round hole when it came to finding any suitable spot in the lineup.
Bonds also aged badly. Injuries to his hand, coupled with his off-the-field habits, rendered him over-the-hill by the age of 34. After short stints with the Cubs and Cardinals, Bonds’ career was over by the age of 35, quite a contrast to the ability of his son to play at a peak level while in his late thirties.
Just four years ago, we all learned that Bobby Bonds was very ill, stricken with both lung and brain cancer. He endured a taxing series of chemotherapy treatments that unfortunately could not prevent his passing at the age of 57 during the summer of 2003. At the time of Bonds’ death, I started thinking about the increasing number of players from his era (the late sixties and seventies) who had been hit with lung cancer, the probable result of a culture that too readily accepted cigarettes, in part because they didn’t have the volume of medical information that we have today. Longtime Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger, a persistent smoker, died from lung cancer. Former Mets slugger John Milner, also a heavy smoker, died from the same kind of cancer. And in the fall of 2003, former Orioles left-hander Dave McNally would succumb to lung cancer.
These tragic developments served as a reminder to us that previous eras in baseball history had their vices, too. As much consternation as the use of steroids has created in the new millennium, the cigarette smoking of the 1960s and seventies has begun to inflict its own toll. There is another similarity between the use of steroids in the current day and the heavy smoking (not to mention the drinking) of years past. We don’t completely know the full long-term effects of steroids today, just as many of the players of the sixties didn’t understand the havoc that cigarettes (and alcohol) would cause to their bodies in their later years.
Perhaps that’s just one more item we need to be thinking about this week, in the days after Barry Bonds passed the most significant milestone in the history of the game and stirred some memories of his once famous but somewhat forgotten father.
Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com and has authored eight books on baseball, including The Team That Changed Baseball. He, his wife Sue, and their daughter Madeline reside in Cooperstown, NY.
Series Wrap: @ Cleveland
Offense: The Yanks got to one of the league's best pitchers (this year at least) in the opener, then dropped 11 runs on the Tribe in the second game. Another very strong offensive performance.
Robinson Cano 6 for 12, 2B, RBI, R, BB
Andy Phillips 1 for 7, RBI, R, BB, CS
Wilson Betemit went 0 for 2 with a sac bunt in the opener. Shelley Duncan did not come to bat in the series. Don't look now, but Andy Phillips has become Doug Mientkiewicz.
Rotation: The Yankee pitching was outstanding over the weekend. The only concern is that the scuffling Cleveland offense might have been part of the reason. Phil Hughes dominated for six innings in the opener. Mike Mussina turned in his best start of the season on Saturday night, and Andy Pettitte cruised through the first six innings of the finale allowing just one run before being removed with one out in the eighth.
Bullpen: The pen only had to pitch six innings and go figure that Mariano Rivera would give up the only run (though Luis Vizcaino did allow an inherited runner to score in the finale).
Joba Chamberlain was incredible in the opener, pitching two perfect innings and striking out four.
Mo, Vizcaino, and Ron Villone were the only other relievers who appeared in the series. Mo dominated in his first outing, but was shaky in his second. Neither Vizcaino, nor Villone was especially impressive, but neither did much damage either.
Conclusion: The Yankees have been catching a lot of teams at the right time, missing their ace starters, catching them during slides, etc. The good news is that they've taken advantage of every single one of them. Sweeping the season series against Cleveland is huge. Everyone had this series circled on their calendars at the All-Star break, and the Yankees made it look like they were playing another cupcake. In doing so, they knocked Cleveland back out of the AL Central lead and now hold a 1.5-game lead over them in the Wild Card race (though they're still trailing Seattle by that pesky game in the loss column, but they play the M's at home in three weeks--circle that one too). Perhaps best of all, they seem to have taken the sweep in stride, like it's no big deal. This team is dangerous.
Homina, Homina, How Sweep it is
"I feel like we're the team, you know?" Pettitte said Sunday. "It doesn't surprise me. I'd be extremely disappointed if this team didn't get to the playoffs. That's just kind of the way I feel."
I was flipping around the channels one night last week when I landed on a dicey situation. The Mets had a one-run lead against the Braves, who had loaded the bases in the top of the ninth inning against New York's closer, Billy Wagner. There was nobody out and I thought, "Man, am I lucky this isn't a Yankee game. I'd be so stressed, I would't know what I'd do with myself." As fate would have it, Wagner got two ground balls to get out of the inning, earn the save, and save Met fans everywhere from a sleepless night.
The Yanks held a 5-2 on Sunday afternoon when Mariano Rivera was called into the game with two runners on base and two men out in the eighth inning. First thing Mo does? He hits a guy on the elbow to load the bases. But Jhonny Peralta grounded into a 4-6 force to end the inning. The drama was not over, however, as Rivera allowed back-to-back singles and then a double to start the ninth. Cleveland's offense had been D.O.A. all weekend long, but suddenly, they were back in the game, down 5-3, with the tying runs in scoring position and nobody out.
The number nine hitter, Asdurbal Cabrera, who, thanks to a misplay by Johnny Damon the night before, had his first career hit, struck out. Back to the top-of-the-order where Grady Sizemore got the Good Morning-Good Afternoon-and-Goodnight (called strike three on the outside corner) strikeout experience. Two out, and Rivera gets Casey Blake to loft an easy fly ball to right for Abreu to end the game.
Exhale. Yanks 5, Tribe 3.
It wasn't easy, but it was an enormous win for the Yanks, who keep pace with the Mariners in the wildcard, and gain a game on Boston, who lost in extra innings to the Orioles. Bombers are now just four behind the Red Sox. (Shhhhhh.)
Jason Giambi hit a two-run, line drive home run off Cleveland starter Jake Westbrook, and once again it was most entertaining watching Shelley D wait his turn to bash forearms with Giambi in the dugout. Robby Cano had three more hits (his average is up to .315) and a RBI, DJ had a RBI single, and Melky Cabrera extended his hitting streak to 17-games with a solo homer.
Andy Pettitte pitched a good game. His only real trouble came late, when, in the seventh inning he allowed a couple of singles before walking Peralta to load the bases. The Yanks were leading 4-0 at this point. And before you knew it, Pettitte picked Peralta off first. My initial reaction was that the Indians were putting on that old Billy Martin play when the runner on first acts a decoy while the runner on third scoots home. No such luck, if you are an Indians fan. Peralta simply fell asleep. The Indians did score a run on a sacrifice fly, but that was it, just one run and Pettitte escaped his biggest jam of the afternoon.
Yanks come home and begin a three-game set vs. the Birds tonight, followed by four against the Tigers. Keep grinding boys, the next couple of weeks could make or break the season.
Each time Mike Mussina takes the mound I think, "Okay, he's going to get ripped tonight." That's just the way it goes with aging control pitchers (just ask Paul Byrd). Much to my delight, Mussina delivered his best outing since beating the Diamondbacks in mid-June, holding the Indians to just two runs in 7.2 innings. It was his fourth good start in-a-row as the Yankees bombed the Tribe, 11-2. Hot fun in the summertime. For Mussina, it was victory #100 with the Yankees, who are now 22-8 since the All-Star break. Boston still has a five game lead in the AL East, and New York trail the Mariners by the slimmest of margins for first place in the wild card standings.
The Yanks drained any tension from the game in the second innings, scoring seven runs off Byrd. Cleveland's offense was jumpy, swinging early in the count all night long, a dream for Mussina. Really, the most entertaining moments of the evening was watching Shelley Duncan's eyes pop out of his head with excitement as he prepared to smash forearms with Alex Rodriguez and, later, Jason Giambi after they hit home runs. Giambi's pinch-hit dinger in the ninth was a rainmaker, an absolute blast. As he returned to the dugout, Joe Torre looked up at his slugger, headcocked to the side, with a perfectly deadpan as if to say, "Are you kidding me?" Meanwhile, Duncan was in the background, shaking like Beavis on a sugar high, ready to pop his forearm into one of the big sluggers who might actually like that sort of thing.
Jose Molina had the first four-hit game of his career (they were all to right center field), Derek Jeter added three hits of his own, and Robby Cano and Bobby Abreu are still rolling. Oh yeah, Rodriguez hit two home runs, giving him 39 for the year, along with 114 RBI. The first one looked like a line drive double to straight-away center--the ball was in on his fists some. But dude is so strong he simply muscled it over the fence. In the YES booth, Paul O'Neill mentioned how envious he was of Rodriguez. The ball just comes off his bat in a way that it doesn't for other players, even other star players.
Yanks go for the sweep this afternoon then return home to face the Orioles and Tigers. Ian Kennedy could start in the BX on Tuesday.
Winning another series is a beautiful thing but a series sweep would make for a wunnerful Sunday, wouldn't ya say?
Moose and Byrd
The Indians got five men on base last night and only one of them scored. Place your bets as to when they'll equal those totals tonight against Mike Mussina. Before you do, note that Moose has gone 3-0 in his last three starts with a 3.06 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. Going back further, Moose has a 3.68 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over his last 11 games. Not so bad for a guy who might just be the Yankees' fifth starter if Phil Hughes can put a few good starts together.
Paul Byrd is the same guy he's always been: a shade better than league average, control/contact junkballer, and Kelsey Grammar look-alike with an odd crouching-dragon delivery straight out of the 1930s. Byrd faced the Yanks twice last year, his first with Cleveland. The first time he held them to one run over seven innings but lost 1-0 to Chien-Ming Wang. The second time he got rocked for nine runs (only four earned) in 3 2/3 innings as the Tribe lost 11-3. Byrd is 4-1 with a 3.34 ERA over his last nine starts and is coming off a shutout of the Twins in Minnesota. Key stat: Byrd has walked just 1.07 men per nine innings on the season. The Yanks will have to hit their way on tonight, not that they've had much trouble with that of late.
Jorge's still out with that stiff neck. Jim Brower's away to be with his wife and newborn baby. And Pete Abe reports that the "Joba Rules" stipulate one day off for each inning pitched, so no more Joba in this series.
Update: Joe Torre suggested that Posada is actually feeling better and will likely return to the lineup in tomorrow's day game.
If this is a dream, don't wake me:
Phil Hughes 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K
The turning point of the game came in the first inning. Hughes started each of his first four batters with balls, mostly fastballs that just missed outside. He got the first two to fly out, but Victor Martinez ripped a two-out double to right field and Ryan Garko battled to draw a seven-pitch walk on a questionable ball four on the inside corner. Jhonny Peralta then battled Hughes as well, taking to a 1-1 count, then fouling off three straight pitches. With two on and two out, the outcome of Peralta's at-bat looked like it might set the tone for the night with the Yankees having gone down in order to Fausto Carmona in the top of the first. Hughes, who had stuck mostly to his fastball to that point, mixing in a pair of curve balls, broke off an absolutely nasty slider that appeared to head right toward Peralta's belt before making a sharp right turn back over the plate for strike three. Alex Rodriguez led off the next inning with a second-pitch home run to dead center and that was that. The Yankees added one here and another there to run their tally to six, while the Indians lone score was a Josh Barfield solo homer off Hughes in the fifth.
I literally got chills watching Hughes carve up the Indians last night with well-located fastballs in the low-90s, off-the-table 12-to-6 curveballs in the low-70s, and the occasional low-80s slider or changeup. Hughes was throwing all four pitches for strikes and, much like in his aborted Mayday no-hitter in Texas, looked every bit like the ace he's projected to be. Chamberlain, who threw easy heat in the high-90s and that nasty corkscrewing slider that dives at the feet of lefthanders, looked to be nearly Hughes equal in relief of his fellow 21-year-old.
Unfortunately, the Yankees will have to pick their spots with Chamberlain, who is a young starter pushing his innings limit for the season. Right now it looks like they might try to get a couple innings from him every other day, which would keep him on a start/throw day schedule. However, both Chamberlain and Hughes should be members of the Opening Day rotation next spring. The mere thought quickens my pulse.
Returning to the present, the Tigers and Mariners both lost last night, putting the Yankees in a virtual tie with Seattle for the Wild Card lead (a game behind in the loss column) a game ahead of Detroit.
In other news, Joe Torre served his one-game suspension last night and Roger Clemens declined to appeal his five-gamer, which thus began last night. The thinking behind Clemens decision was surely that the start he'll miss now will come against the Orioles, the worst team the Yankees will face over the next 19 games. Chien-Ming Wang has been moved up a day to take Clemens' spot on Monday (he'll be on full rest due to Thursday's off day). The Tuesday start against the O's will then be taken by a spot starter, with Jeff Karstens and Ian Kennedy, who has dominated in three starts for triple-A Scranton, being the leading candidates.
Final note, the entire Indians team wore number 14 last night in honor of Larry Doby, who broke the American League's color line in 60 years ago, less than three months after Jackie Robinson did the same in the National League. I'm not sure why they chose August 10 (Doby's first game was July 5 in Chicago, his birthday was Dec. 13, and he died four years ago on June 18). Perhaps the date was chosen to use the high profile matchup with the Yankees to bring added attention to their recognition of a player whose been somewhat slighted by history.
The Cleveland Indians: Put Up or Shut Up Edition
Okay, now things get serious. Going 20-8 against the cupcakes was a lot of fun, but now the Yankees face a twenty-game stretch in which 17 games come against contenders (with the other three coming against the Orioles, the only cupcake team to win a series from them over that last 28 games). Of those 17 games against contenders, 14 of them come against teams the Yankees are chasing for a playoff spot including this weekend's opponent the Cleveland Indians.
This weekend's series, which will conclude the season set between the two teams, was supposed to be a battle for Wild Card supremacy, but a few things have gotten in the way in recent days. To begin with, the Indians aren't technically in the Wild Card picture anymore as they slipped past the freefalling Tigers to reclaim the AL Central lead a week ago. What's more, it's those pesky Mariners, who I remain convinced are all smoke and mirrors, not the Tigers, that hold the Wild Card lead entering tonight's action. In fact, the Yankees are in a perfect tie with the Tigers this afternoon, both one game behind the M's and a game and a half behind Cleveland. That's a four-team cluster that could be completely rearranged come Sunday evening as the M's visit Chicago, the Tigers host the A's, and the Yanks and Tribe to battle in Cleveland.
The Yankees and Indians last met in April, just nine games into the Tribe's snow-shortened season. The Yankees won the first two games of that series by a combined score of 19-5 behind Chase Wright's major league debut in the opener and what would prove to be Kei Igawa's best start of the season. The Yankees sent Darrell Rasner to the hill in the finale to complete their rookie troika, but Rasner was inexplicably pulled in the fifth and Luis Vizcaino coughed up four runs in the seventh. The Yanks entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 6-2 and facing Indians closer Joe Borowski. Borowski retired the first two batters, but Josh Phelps cracked a solo home run to keep the Yankees alive and bring them within three. Jorge Posada singled. Johnny Damon walked. Jeter singled Posada home. Abreu singled Damon home. And Alex Rodriguez hit a three-run homer to win the game 8-6.
Curiously the Indians were a better team then than they are now, while the Yankees were far worse. For the Yankees, the changes are obvious from the players they're putting on the field. Simply compare this weekend's starters--Phil Hughes, Mike Mussina, and Andy Pettitte--to the trio of Wright, Igawa, and Rasner that started the April series. For the Indians it's more about their level of play. After posting a .635 winning percentage in April and May combined, the Tribe has gone 32-31 (.508) since, including a 15-18 record over their last ten series.
One reason Cleveland has been scuffling has been a lack of offense. Over those last ten series they've averaged just 4.18 runs per game. Now they enter this weekend's series with DH Travis Hafner nursing a knee he injured sliding into second on Tuesday night. Hafner was removed from the following night's game, hasn't played since and likely won't play tonight. Then again, Hafner, who's hit just .234/.335/.388 since June 1, was already part of the problem. The Indians will likely replace him in the lineup with one of their platoon outfielders (see roster below) or by shifting Victor Martinez to DH and having Kelly Shoppach catch.
Less of a problem has been the Indians' pitching, particularly tonight's starter Fausto Carmona, who has turned in a quality start in 18 of 22 appearances and his last seven straight. Over those last seven starts, the groundballing Carmona has gone 5-2 with a 1.68 ERA and just one home run allowed. That's further evidence of how much the offense has been struggling as Carmona has lost his last two starts by scores of 3-1 and 1-0. Carmona also started that wild series finale in the Bronx back in April, holding the Yankees to two runs (one of them on a Jason Giambi solo homer) on a walk and six hits over six innings.
Phil Hughes was in triple-A back then, but he'll be on the mound in Cleveland tonight looking to build his stamina. After throwing 91 pitches in his final rehab start, Hughes threw 92 pitches in his last start against the Royals, but appeared to tire around 70. Jose Molina will catch Hughes as Jorge Posada has a stiff neck. Wilson Betemit gets the start at first base. Despite that April homer, Giambi is not in the lineup, rather Damon gets the start at DH.
Series Wrap: vs. Cupcakes
The second half of the Yankees' season breaks into three distinct parts. The first, completed on Thursday, was what I've been calling the "cupcake" portion of their schedule, 28 games against the weaker teams in the league including Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Baltimore, Chicago, and the roughly-.500 Blue Jays. The Yankees went 20-8 (.714) over that stretch to propel themselves into the playoff hunt. Tonight they begin the second leg of their second half, a stretch of 20 games in which 17 come against contending teams, and 14 come against Cleveland, Detroit, and Boston, the teams they are chasing in pursuit of a playoff spot.
With that in mind, here's a look at how the Yankees have performed against the cupcakes, and some thoughts about how that performance might translate against the contenders.
Offense: While the Yankees have risen to the challenge against the weaker teams in the American League, it still remains to be seen if they can continue their success against the contenders. One encouraging sign is that they didn't just defeat the cupcake teams, they destroyed them, averaging 7.64 runs per game over the last 28 games.
Robinson Cano .419/.479/.743, 18 XBH
Counting stats listed for Cano, Matsui, and Abreu are team bests over the last 28 games.
Andy Phillips .279/.309/.356
Johnny Damon hit .129/.333/.129 and was 1 for 2 on the bases through the first ten games after the break, then hit .371/.444/.532 and went 4 for 5 on the bases over the final 20. He played in nine of those first ten games, but only 15 of the last 20, and his hot-hitting began after his first game off of that stretch. Of course, that game was game one of the double header against Tampa Bay on July 21, so Damon didn't really get a day off as he played in the nightcap, but the obvious conclusion is that Damon is more productive when given regular rest, which is exactly how Joe Torre has been using him over the past three weeks.
One wonders if the presense of Wilson Betemit should prompt Torre to start giving Derek Jeter additional days off as well. Jeter hit .338/.377/.477 with four stolen bases in as many tries over the first 15 games of the cupcake schedule, but just .234/.345/.340 with one steal in two tries since then, picking up just three extra base hits in his last 60 plate appearances. Jeter played in all 28 cupcake games, starting 27 of them.
Alex Rodriguez hit .278/.412/.630 through and including the game in which he hit career home run number 499. He then endured an 0-for-19 slump (though he did walk six times, twice intentionally, and was once hit by a pitch). Since snapping that slump two games before hitting number 500, he's hit .348/.414/.522.
Rotation: Here's where I start to worry. The Yankees only received a quality start in half of the last 28 games. Of the four primary starters, Andy Pettitte was the only one not to have a disaster outing (more runs allowed than innings pitched). Indeed, per the stats below, Pettitte, not Chien-Ming Wang, has been the Yankee ace in the second half. Admittedly, Wang's fluky disaster outing against the Blue Jays on Wednesday soured his numbers considerably, but even before that game, Pettitte had a better ERA over six starts than Wang had over five (though Wang did lead Pettitte in WHIP).
Andy Pettite 6 GS, 4 QS, 3.29 ERA, 4-1, 8.69 K/9, 3.76 BB/9, HR, 1.49 WHIP
Phil Hughes and Matt DeSalvo both made one start, neither did particularly well.
The x-factor here, of course, is Phil Hughes. Based on his one start after coming back off the DL, Hughes simply needs to build up his endurance, as he appeared to tire very quickly. If Hughes can start giving the Yankees quality starts out of the fifth spot in the rotation (something that spot failed to do in five tries over the last 28 games), it would not only help the Yankees' chances of winning every fifth day, but would also reduce the bullpen's workload, increasing the Yankees' chances of winning on days the other four starters take the ball.
Bullpen: The Yankee bullpen posted a 3.74 ERA over the last 28 games, but if you factor in unearned runs that number jumps to 4.55, which means this pen has been allowing a run every other inning. That's a problem. The good news is that, as with Cairo and Igawa above, some of the worst offenders have been shown the door.
Mariano Rivera 11 G, 0.00 ERA, 6 SV, 12.75 K/9, 0 BB, 0 HR, 0.58 WHIP
Brian Bruney 11 G, 7 1/3 IP, 7.36 ERA, 6.14 K/9, 6.15 BB/9, 0 HR, 1.77 WHIP
Farnsworth is still around, but at least he's being used in low leverage situations now, such as with his team down 11 runs as was the case on Wednesday when he threw just his seventh 1-2-3 inning of the season (in 48 tries). Karstens most recent failure came in the finale of the Toronto series, so I'm holding out hope that he'll be replaced on the roster in the very near future.
Conclusion: Great hitting, questionable pitching. That's not how you beat good teams. Beginning with the promotion of Shelley Duncan on July 21, the Yankees have upgraded their bench (replacing Kevin Thompson, Miguel Cario, Wil Nieves and Chris Basak with Duncan, Wilson Betemit, Jose Molina, and Jason Giambi), their rotation (with the return of Hughes), and their bullpen (mostly addition by subtraction thus far, though Joba Chamberlain looked extremely promising in his one appearance in Toronto). The latter two will have to result in significant improvement, however, if the Yankees want to stay in the playoff hunt over the next 20 games.
Series Wrap: @ Blue Jays
Offense: Six runs per game almost feels like a slump the way this team has been hitting, but it's still better than the season average of the best offense in the majors, which just happens to be the Yankee offense anyway.
Melky Cabrera 7 for 12, 2 2B, 2 3B, RBI, 4 R
Andy Phillips 2 for 12
Jose Molina went 0 for 1 after Joe Torre put the subs in yesterday's blowout finale.
Rotation: Just one quality start, though Andy Pettitte came close, getting the hook with two outs in the sixth in the opener. Roger Clemens was dominant, but also had a short outing lasting just six full (yes, he was ejected for throwing at Alex Rios, but he was at 90 pitches and knew what was going to happen). Chien-Ming Wang had the worst start of his major league career by far.
Bullpen: Despite turning over nearly half of the personnel, the Yankee pen still allowed ten runs in 11 2/3 innings. Lack of length on the part of the starters can be blamed to a certain degree, as can a pair of lopsided scores that allowed Torre to try out some of those untested arms. Still, that's unacceptable.
Believe it or not, Kyle Farnsworth, who pitched a perfect inning, striking out one and throwing nine of 12 pitches for strikes in the finale. Of course, he did that with his team behind by 11 runs. Mariano Rivera struck out the heart of the Jays order on 16 pitches (11 strikes) to nail down a one-run lead in the opener.
Jeff Karstens has pitched twice since being activated from the DL. Both times he was brought in after a disaster start and asked to escape a jam and eat innings. Both times he escaped the jam without further damage and ate up three innings, but he also allowed a total of eight runs in those 6 1/3 frames. Last night he allowed five runs (though only two earned) in three inning on three hits and three walks and had to be pulled with two outs in the sixth. He has a 10.12 ERA on the season. He needs to go. Jim Brower needs to go as well, though he hasn't been nearly as bad in his two opportunities thus far. Brower allowed a run on three hits and a walk over an inning and a third in this series, also allowing an inherited runner (1B, no outs) to score. I think that's the best that can be expected of him. Ron Villone picked up where Karstens left off in the sixth last night allowing two runs on four hits and two walks over 1 1/3 innings and needing 51 pitches to do so, though he did strike out three.
Conclusion: Heading into the tough part of the schedule, I'm still concerned about the pitching, but the offense is so strong that even against the league's best it may be enough to compensate. Still, while the bench is suddenly the best it's been since the days of Darryl, the pen continues to be a work in progress. I'll have more on the overall state of the team heading into Cleveland tomorrow morning in a "Series Wrap" of the entire now-completed cupcake portion of the schedule.
Serve you up like Stove Top Stuffin
"If these guys would have beat us again tonight easily, a lot of heads would have been hanging in the locker-room thinking, 'Do we have what it takes to beat these guys?"' said Matt Stairs of Fredericton, who scored three runs out of the leadoff spot. "It's a huge win."
Chien-Ming Wang vs. Roy Halladay was supposed to be a fine pitcher's duel. Instead it was a blowout, as Wang suffered the shortest and worst outing of his career, allowing eight runs (all earned) in 2.2 innings. "He just got his ass kicked," Joe Torre told reporters after the game. And so this contest was over for the Yankees before it really started. Yeah, they managed to hit three home runs off of Halladay (two by Robinson Cano), but that hardly put a dent into the Jays lead. Final: Blue Jays 15, Yanks 4.
"These games are easy to put away," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, whose team is 20-8 since the All-Star break, "because you can't point to any one thing and say this could have changed things."
The Jays finished the series with a measure of self-respect after getting waxed twice. Clearly, some bad blood has developed between these two teams. The number one chief rocker, Alex Rodriguez, did not play as his calf was still sore from getting drilled the night before. Josh Towers, the man who has won more than ten games in a season exactly once, and the owner of a 45-54 lifetime record had the chutzpah to talk trash about Yankee first base coach Tony Pena after Tuesday night's game. Jays third base coach Brian Butterfield, who used to work for the Yankees, was upset with a couple of slides from the same game. Lots of chest-puffing from a Toronto team that has several very good professional players but in total are, and have been, the epitome of mediocrity.
The Yanks and Jays play six more times against each other in September.
New York is back to six games out in the AL East as the Red Sox beat the Angels last night, but the Yanks are still just a half-a-game out of the wildcard as the Tigers and Indians continue to struggle.
Today gives a day of rest. The Yanks play three in Cleveland this weekend:
"Right now, we're probably as good a team as we've been all year," Torre said. "We'll see how good that is when we test ourselves against the better teams."
Amen to that. Hey, if the Yanks crap out against the likes of the Inidans, Tigers, Angels and Red Sox, well then, they don't deserve to play in October. Full speed ahead.
What better way to wrap up a fantastic stretch of the season than with a great pitching matchup. That's exactly what the Yankees will do tonight as they look to win their sixth straight by sending Chien-Ming Wang to the mound to face Toronto ace Roy Halladay. Halladay's had more than his usual share of struggles this season, but held the Yankees to just one run over seven innings when these teams last met in mid-July. He followed that by shuting out the Mariners and losing a complete game to the White Sox 2-0. His last start, which game at home against the Rangers, was less impressive, but did see him strike out nine in six innings. Altogether he's posted a 2.10 ERA over those last four starts while allowing just 25 hits and 8 walks in 30 innings while striking out 25. Wang, meanwhile, has a 2.76 ERA and a 6-1 record over his last seven starts, the one defeat being a 3-2 loss to Toronto.
Alex Rodriguez will sit tonight while nursing the calf that was hit by a Josh Towers pitch last night. Wilson Betemit starts at third base, while Jason Giambi gets the start at DH. Enjoy tonight, tomorrow the Yanks arrive in Cleveland, and things get serious.
Come out Fresh (like a Grand Opening)
Some mid-afternoon links fo yo face...
Allen Barra on Yankees hitting coach, Kevin Long:
The little things that Mr. Long helped Mr. Rodriguez with have restored A-Rod's reputation as the game's greatest slugger. A firm believer in using technology to study hitters, Mr. Long pored over DVDs of Mr. Rodriguez after his prolonged slump last season (during one stretch he struck out 12 times in 17 at bats) and noticed that A-Rod's famous leg kick was too high. "Not only too high, but he was starting it a split-second too late. His knee was at his waist, and there was a 95 mph fastball coming at him. It was tough for Alex to get his leg down and turn his hips in time to hit an inside fastball -- and the result was that's what a lot of pitchers were attacking him with. It was basically a question of getting him into a better position faster. If you have to worry about getting your knee down before you hit the ball, you're giving yourself too much to do. In this instance, it was a case of subtracting in order to gain."
The resume is there for Chamberlain to step in and succeed at the big league level. The only question is whether or not Joe Torre will let him. In July, the team called up Edwar Ramirez, who struck out all three Minnesota Twins he faced in his pro debut, pitched one more time three days later, and then all but rotted on the bench for two weeks. Torre's record of success cannot be denied, but he is a creature of habit, a manager who decides on a system and a role for a player and then sticks with it, even to the detriment of his own team at times. The Yankees have been waiting for a reliever all year to step up and take care of those three-to-five mid-game outs that lets them hand another lead to Mariano Rivera. Joba Chamberlain might be that guy, if they just give him a fair chance.
Christina Kahrl on the Yankees' latest moves:
The release of Cairo, like the decision to pick up Betemit, demonstrates that Brian Cashman's best tool in fixing this team is take away the toys Joe Torre likes to play with, and replace them with better toys. This isn't about the manager's comfort zone, it's about winning the division, and the longer any vestige of that sort of haphazard, downright slack management style remains in play, the more the front office should be asking itself how long it can indulge this behavior.
Finally, here is Joel Sherman on the future of Cooter Farmadooke (via Steve Lombardi),Sweeny Murti on The Boss, Mark Feinsand on last night's near brawl, Ben Kabak on Alex Rodriguez's hamstring, Tim Marchman on why Baseball-Reference is the greatest thing since sliced bread, Ken Burns and our old, dear friend, Brian Gunn, on Barry Bonds breaking the all-time home run record, and, finally, just cause...a budget-ass recording of a classic Biz Markie/Redman freestyle circa 1990, which includes a great diss of the New York Knicks.
Yankee Panky # 19: History, present and future converge
It’s difficult to remember a more historic stretch of days in baseball, with Bonds’ 755th home run, A-Rod’s 500th blast, and Tom Glavine’s 300th victory all taking place within 36 hours of one another. The closest time frame I can come up with is June 11th and 13th, 2003, when the Yankees were protagonists on banner nights. On the first night, the Yankees, who hadn’t been no-hit since Baltimore’s Hoyt Wilhelm stifled them in 1958, were no-hit by a record six Houston Astros pitchers (a game that featured a record-tying four-strikeout inning from future Yankee Octavio Dotel). Two nights later, Roger Clemens eclipsed the 4,000-strikeout mark and won his 300th game versus the St. Louis Cardinals.
(I’m not big on mementos, but I covered three of Clemens’ four shots at 300, including the winner. I still have my scorecard. It’s the only card I ever kept in five seasons reporting on Yankee games for YESnetwork.com. )
As soon as A-Rod hit 499 on July 25th, was there any doubt that he would be the story every game thereafter until he finally hit the 500th? And was there any doubt that despite what he told Kim Jones after hitting No. 499, that 500 was only creeping into his mind “a little bit,” he would later admit what was obvious to everyone watching, that he was trying to hit the home run in every subsequent at-bat? The tabloids were brutal up to the point that he hit the home run (see Deadspin for a hilarious take on the home run, including a sweet David Bowie/Flight of the Conchords tie-in). Then, as is usually the case, the angles shifted from the significance of the home run — not just from a historical standpoint but in the context of the game, it gave Phil Hughes an early 3-0 cushion — to all the ancillary stuff that in a way demeans the achievement. Stories of who should get the ball, A-Rod or the Rutgers student who grabbed it were everywhere. In the Post’s case, where Cynthia Rodriguez was when he hit it (I know I’ve written a lot about the off-field A-Rod stuff, but even if I was editor of the Post, I wouldn’t care where A-Rod’s wife or alleged mistresses were when he hit the home run.)
The juxtaposition of A-Rod and Bonds will grow even more now that the man who used to look like Morris Day is baseball’s all-time home run leader. The prevailing thought is that A-Rod will be the record holder when all is said and done; Bill Simmons referred to it in his ESPN Mag column, as did the Associated Press in its recap of 756. The Post’s George Willis asks the question that I would ask: Sure, A-Rod’s got the talent to do it, but does he want to play 10 more years? Within the Willis column are some sharp quotes from Joe Torre bashing media coverage of “the third baseman.”
The other component to the A-Rod 500-homer story — and it’s a reasonable hypothesis — regards the skeptics’ view that the outpouring of support during A-Rod’s chase for 500 and the “MVP” chants filling the Stadium have an ulterior motive, to coax A-Rod to staying in New York. Newsday.com’s Jim Baumbach provides some insight on this topic. The man himself said, “It’s two different things.”
My feeling is this: if the Yankees reach the playoffs and A-Rod maintains his regular-season level of production, the Yankees will pony up the cash to re-sign him and still have some left over for Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. If the brain trust were willing to spend $25 million and change to earn the rights to talk to Kei Igawa — oops — a $30 million per year extension over four years is not out of the realm of possibility.
Bob Klapisch asked Hughes about this, and the 21-year-old said: "I hope people don't think I'm going to throw a no-hitter every time, because obviously that's not going to happen."
Judging from some of the calls into WFAN and 1050 on Saturday and Sunday, there was that sense. Nothing like judging a guy after three major league starts.
* Even if you’ve seen George Steinbrenner in recent years or heard his quotes and thought, “You know something, George got old,” the Franz Lidz Conde Nast Portfolio story of GMS III is disturbing on many levels. The content of the story itself did not bother me. It generally reflects what the public may be thinking of Mr. Steinbrenner at his advanced age of 77; he’s not the volatile public figure he once was. But he is still a commanding presence and deserves better treatment, as Wally Matthews notes. To use Steinbrenner’s 84-year-old friend as bait to tap into a story that really isn’t a story — if Mr. Steinbrenner is in failing health, the Yankees have remained quiet — is antithetical to journalistic ethics. Maybe there are no journalistic ethics anymore.
* Joba Chamberlain. The Star-Ledger’s Dan Graziano, an erstwhile Yankees beat writer turned national baseball columnist for the paper, had what I thought was the best story on Chamberlain and how his call-up could affect Joe Torre’s tenure and legacy as Yankees manager. Interesting stuff.
Oh, and we need to put a moratorium on Joba and “hut” references. Now.
* Met fans are a trip. There’s an overwhelming sense of doom not unlike what Red Sox fans used to harbor. In addition, there’s a certain faction that has a rather peculiar obsession with the Yankees. Part 1 of this story: Riding the train home tonight, I overheard one commuter — a Met fan — saying how this series with the Braves was “the season.” It’s not, but getting smoked in the first game of the series doesn’t do much to validate that the Mets are the better team. Part 2: If I was hosting a radio talk show, and a Met fan asked about the chances of the Mets and Yankees facing each other in the World Series, I’d hang up on the person. Seriously. Would a Subway Series rematch be awesome? Absolutely. But I get the sense that Yankee fans do not care who the opponent is, provided the Pinstripers get that far. Met fans have been asking the question since May. It’s time to stop. If the Mets reach the World Series and play the Red Sox, Tigers, Indians or Angels, and defeat those teams, is their championship invalid because they didn’t beat the Yankees? Of course not. I know plenty of Met fans who loathe the Yankees and don’t follow them at all. The people calling into the various radio programs could learn something from that group.
* Roster moves. Finally, some dead weight is gone. DFAing Mike Myers and Miguel Cairo and sending down Brian Bruney, a surprise because Torre loves him, were the correct moves at this time. I'm curious to see what happens during the remainder of the waiver period. Keeping Melky Cabrera as the everyday centerfielder is a step in the right direction also. Keep the momentum going. Jason Giambi's $20-million price tag this year doesn't guarantee him a spot in the everyday lineup.
NETWORK FOR SALE, SORT OF
Two and a half years ago, Leo Hindery stepped down as YES Network’s CEO and shortly thereafter, Tracy Dolgin, who made a name for himself in marketing at FOX Sports, took over. In November of 2004, several people across many departments were let go as corporate restructuring began. In nearly three years at the helm, Dolgin has done what a good business man does: assesses the landscape of the company, brings in his own people, moves the company forward and increases revenue. There was a general feeling among some of my colleagues — and I’ll confess, me — that the goal was for Dolgin to do exactly what he’s done, take the profit margin to the YES board and then Goldman would likely sell its stake in the company. It was a matter of when, not if.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to the Network. I do hope that in the event of a sale and potential restructuring, that the efforts of my friends and colleagues who helped YES get to the point where its value is so high are recognized and they can further their careers there.
Until next week …
Don't Mess With Texas
First of all, the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 9-2 last night. With that they won the series, giving them wins in nine of their last ten series. Prior to that, the Yankees had won just ten of their first 26 series. The Yankees were 38-41 (.481) prior to these last ten series, and are 25-9 (.735) since. With one game left in the cupcake portion of their schedule, the Yankees have gone 20-7 (.740). They are now 63-50 (.558) on the season and a half-game behind in the Wild Card race behind the Tigers (who also won last night). Revisiting my post-All-Star-break math, if the Yankees go 12-11 against the contenders left on their schedule (Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, Seattle, and the Angels), and win all of their remaining series against the cupcakes (Orioles, Devil Rays, Royals, and Blue Jays), they'll finish the season 92-70. Based on their current winning percentage, the Tigers are on pace to win 91.2 games. If the Yankees can do better than 12-11 against the good teams (especially in their whopping eight games against those Tigers), the Wild Card should be theirs.
Second of all, Roger Clemens was aces last night, allowing just two hits through six innings while striking out six and walking just one. Oh, he also hit a batter.
You see, Jesse Litsch threw at Alex Rodriguez in Monday's game as likely retaliation for the Rod Said "Ha!" incident. The only problem is that Litsch missed. Last night's starter Josh Towers is known for his excellent control, so he didn't miss when throwing at Rodriguez's knees last night after allowing an RBI triple to Bobby Abreu which broke the scoreless tie in the third. Rodriguez didn't take kindly to Towers reopening what he had figured was finished business after Litsch's pitch on Monday and informed Towers of such. Just to be sure they were clear on the matter both teams came out onto the field to make sure they understood. With that cleared up, Rodriguez took first base and everyone else took their seats, but apparently Towers had one more point to make and Rodriguez summoned the teams back out to the field to make sure things were properly resolved. The umpires, apparently displeased by the length of these deliberations, warned both benches that they would not be allowed back on the field to debate the subject any further and thus when Clemens drilled Alex Rios in the back with his second pitch of the seventh inning, they asked him to leave the field. Having thrown 90 pitches and with his team up 7-0, Clemens was happy to oblige, thanking home plate umpire Angel Hernandez effusely on his way toward the Yankee dugout.
Incidentally, those other six runs scored thanks to a two-RBI double by Jorge Posada that immediately followed the initial discussions, a Melky Cabrera triple that was plated in the fourth, and three more runs that scored in the sixth. That sixth inning started with Shelley Duncan singling to drive Towers from the game. Cabrera, who had doubled and tripled in two trips to that point and would add another double later, attempted to bunt Duncan over to second, but Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun pounced on the ball and fired to second where, just as John McDonald was about to receive the ball, Duncan barreled in with a flying drop kick slide that not only knocked the ball into shallow right, but knocked the glove off McDonald's hand and McDonald on his keister. The best part about Duncan's slide, other than the fact that all hands were safe and the Yankees rallied to score three runs in the inning, was that it was perfectly legal. McDonald was on the bag, as was the slide. No one felt the need to converse about it.
Jim Brower replaced Clemens in the seventh and proved that he's still not a major league-quality pitcher (he's the "2" in the game's 9-2 final). Joba Chamberlain did quite the opposite in getting the final six outs.
Chamberlain, who walked just 2.75 men per nine innings in the minors, walked two and allowed a single, but didn't allow a run and struck out two. The walks were the result of nerves and, as both Torre and Chamberlain said after the game, his flying open a bit early on his fastball. That's unlikely to persist. What will persist is his mid-90s velocity on that fastball and the nasty break on his curve and slider, the latter of which nearly corkscrews down and away from right-handed batters. All I really needed to know about Chamberlain, however, I learned from the way he handled his very first batter in the major leagues.
Rey Olmedo is hardly what you'd call a major league hitter, but he was the first man Chamberlain faced in a major league game. With the switch-hitting Olmedo batting lefty, Chamberlain's first major league pitch was a 96-mile-per-hour sinking fastball that just missed the outside corner. His next pitch was the same but lower and a bit further outside, 2-0. He then poured a 95-mile-per-hour fastball right down the middle at the knees for a strike and again just barely missed outside with a 96-mile-per-hour belt-high fastball. So here he is behind 3-1 on his first major league hitter. Chamberlain takes the throw back from Posada, looks in and shakes Posada off once. Then twice. Then a third time. Finally, he calls Posada out to the mound. With his glove over his mouth, he meets his catcher at the base of the mound and starts telling Jorge what he wants to do as Posada's still jogging toward him. Jorge responds briefly. Chamberlain nods, pats Posada on the chest protector, returns to the rubber and fires a 95-mile-per-hour sinking fastball that catches the outside corner for strike two, then breaks off a wicked 12-to-6 curve (or was it a splitter?) that starts out at the letters, dives to the knees as Olmedo swings over it, and finishes in the dirt. Straight nasty. Welcome to the big leagues, Joba. Get comfortable.
It's official. Joba Chamberlain and Jason Giambi are on the 25-man roster. To make room for Giambi the Yankees have done what I never though they'd do: designate Miguel Cairo for assignment. It was an obvious decision. With Wilson Betemit on hand, Cairo was worse than redundant, he was obsolete. Now he's gone and Shelley Duncan's good right-handed at-bats remain. Maybe Duncan's baseball bloodlines were enough to outweigh Cairo's veteran experience. Whatever the reason, the Yankees have maximized their bench, resulting in a nearly unassailable group of hitters that looks like this:
Lefties: Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi
(Jose Molina would be the "nearly" part.)
As for the bullpen, well . . . rather than option Jeff Karstens to make room for Chamberlian, as was rumored, the Yankees sent down Brian Bruney. I'm not going to rush to Bruney's defense (he had 30 walks against just 32 Ks in 42 2/3 innings on the season and an 8.68 ERA since July 1), but any pen that includes Karstens, Jim Brower, and Kyle Farnsworth is far from fixed.
Giambi isn't in the lineup tonight against Josh Towers, but Shelley Duncan is. He'll DH while Damon plays left and Matsui gets a day off. The Yanks got to Towers good when they last faced him in mid-July (curiously, Matsui hit one of three Yankee home runs off Towers in that game). More recently, Towers has allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings in each of his last two games. Roger Clemens, meanwhile, is coming off one of the worst starts of his Hall of Fame career. Clemens held the Jays to one run over six innings when he last faced them, also in mid-July. Here's hoping we see more of that tonight, along with Chamberlain's major league debut, idealy to protect a lead in the eighth. If the Yankees win tonight, they'll take the series from the Jays and thus have accomplished their mission for the cupcake part of their scedule.
Gone but not Forgotten
I caught some of the old Yankee game on YES last night. I almost fell off my chair when I saw Brad Gulden. I had completely forgotten that name. It got me to thinking: Who are some of your favorite scrubby Yankees? Chicken Stanley was a good one in the '70s. I loved Dan Pasqua in the '80s, Pags too. Bobby Meacham, of course, though I badly for him more than I actually liked him. Who else? Mickey Klutts, Brian Fisher, Lee Gutterman, Hensley Meulens, Paul Linblad, and the legendary Osacar Azocar. Just pulling names out of the air, though I really did like Pasqua and Pags. Whatta you got?
The Yanks snapped the Blue Jays' eight-home-game winning streak yesterday afternoon with a nifty come-from-behind win on Simcoe Day in Toronto.
The Bombers got on the board first by cashing in a leadoff triple by Melky Cabrera in the third, but the Blue Jays answered with two in the bottom of the inning, both plated by a booming Frank Thomas double to left field. The Jays added a run in the fifth by bringing home a leadoff double by John McDonald to make it 3-1, but that merely set the stage for the Yankee comeback.
Bobby Abreu got things started in the top of the sixth by drawing a full-count walk. Alex Rodriguez, who Jays starter Jessie Litsch threw behind in the first inning, likely retaliation for the Rod Said "Ha!" incident, followed with a single to drive Litsch from the game. Hideki Matsui greeted lefty reliever Scott Downs with a single of his own that plated Abreu and, after Jorge Posada struck out, Robinson Cano put the Yankees out front with an double that scored Rodriguez and Matsui. Cano then moved to third on an Andy Phillips groundout and scored when his buddy Melky singled him home to make it 5-3 Yanks.
Andy Pettitte got into a bit of trouble in the bottom of the sixth, getting the hook with two out and two on following a four-pitch walk to McDonald. Fresh up from triple-A, Jim Brower was fortunate enough to have the scalding line drive Reed Johnson hit off him go directly to Rodriguez at third to end the inning. Brower then gave up a single to Alex Rios to start the seventh at which point Joe Torre went straight to Luis Vizcaino who finished the inning without further damage, but pressed into getting five outs gave up a solo home run to Aaron Hill in the eighth to allow the Blue Jays within one. With two outs in the eight, Vizcaino walked Lyle Overbay on a full count, then hit pinch-hitter Matt Stairs in the leg with a slider that slipped, but Joe Torre, having used Mariano Rivera for four outs on Sunday, refused to even warm Rivera up in the eighth and, with Brian Bruney and Ron Villone feverishly warming up in the pen, Vizcaino got Johnson to ground out to end the threat. Rivera then slammed the door in the ninth, striking out the heart of the Toronto order (Rios, Vernon Wells, and Thomas) and regularly hitting 96 on the YES Network's radar gun.
The 5-4 win slips the Yankees past the idle Mariners in the Wild Card race. The Bombers now stand alone in second place, a mere half game behind the slumping Tigers (though they still trail both Detroit and Seattle by a game in the loss column).
As for Jim Brower, he was the man called up to replace Mike Myers who was designated for assignment after Sunday's game. Brower, however, is a generic 34-year-old journeyman righty reliever on his eleventh organization (he was released by the Pirates in late April after just six triple-A appearances). Sure, he was having a fantastic season in Scranton (1.65 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 2.96 GB/FB, 40 K and 11 BB in 43 2/3 IP), but he's not a solution. He's much closer to being an older, right-handed Wayne Franklin. That Edwar Ramirez is back to his old tricks with Scranton (9 2/3 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 15 K since being sent down in late July), and Chris Britton has just come off the DL (he's pitched twice since being activated and allowed a run in two innings) makes the decision to promote Brower even more regrettable. The Yankees simply don't have enough room for error to allow Brower to prove as useful as the last Brower to wear pinstripes.
Fortunately, the solution just may be on his way. Peter Abraham reports that Joba Chamberlain has been sent to Toronto and will likely be activated for today's game. Word is that Jeff Karstens will be demoted to make room for him. That supports what Joe Torre said prior to yesterdays game about no longer trying to force lefty-on-lefty matchups now that Myers is gone. Karstens continued presence would have suggested that Torre intended to rely on him as a long man while using Villone as a matchup lefty, but without Karstens, Villone remains the long man, and Chamberlain and Vizcaino become the final pieces of this team's long awaited Big Three without a lefty in the picture to muck things up. I like it. Now if they'd only swap out Brower and Farnsworth for Ramirez and Britton (and dump Miguel Cairo when activating Jason Giambi, who is due to arrive in Toronto today as well).
Toronto Blue Jays
By sweeping the Royals over the weekend, the Yankees have compensated for their series loss in Baltimore the previous weekend going 4-2 in those two series combined (not counting the suspended game win in Baltimore). They're thus back on task having gone 18-7 (.720) since the All-Star break. Today they're in Toronto for a three game series that will complete the cupcake portion of their schedule.
The Yanks took three of four from the Blue Jays at the Stadium in mid-July. Since then the Yanks have gone 12-5 and the Blue Jays have gone 10-5, the latter putting together an eight-game winning streak at their home park in Toronto. Of course, the Jays are still just one game over .500, but just as they were in mid-July, Toronto remains the best team the Yankees have had to face during this easy part of their schedule.
The Jays' roster looks much the same as it did when these teams last met, with the notable exceptoin of the Toronto bench, which has seen as much turnover as the Yankee bench that has since added Jose Molina, Shelley Duncan, and Wilson Betemit. For their part, the Blue Jays released backup catcher Jason Phillips, replacing him with minor leaguer Curtis Thigpen, and designated infielders Royce Clayton and Howie "Ha!" Clark for assignment, replacing them with Hector Luna, who was claimed off waivers from the Indians, and switch-hitter Ray Olmedo.
The Yankees are making some moves of their own, having designated Mike Myers for assignment after yesterday's game and flying Jason Giambi to Toronto to join the team. No word yet on who will replace Myers in the pen or when exactly Giambi will be activated or at whose expense.
Today, the Yanks and Jays play an afternoon game on Simcoe Day with Andy Pettitte taking on former Devil Rays' bat boy Jesse Litsch. Litsch held the Rays scoreless through 6 2/3 in his last outing and has a 1.71 ERA over his last five starts. When he faced the Yankees six starts ago, however, he didn't make it out of the first inning, giving up five runs on four hits beginning with a leadoff home run by Johnny Damon, and two walks while retiring just two of the eight men he faced.
Series Wrap: vs. Royals
Offense: Thirty-one runs in three games. The onslaught continues . . .
Bobby Abreu 9 for 14, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 6 R, 2 BB, SB
Johnny Damon 2 for 10, 2B, RBI, 2 R, BB, 3 K
Miguel Cairo went 0 for 1 as a defensive replacement on Saturday.
Rotation: Quality starts from Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina bookended a rough outing by Phil Hughes.
Bullpen: Allowed seven runs in 9 1/3 innings on nine hits and four walks.
Mariano Rivera retired all seven batters he faced, picking up the save in the finale. Luis Vizcaino allowed a single and a walk in 1 2/3 innings striking out the side in the eighth on Saturday.
Kyle Farnsworth pitched one inning and allowed one run on a single and a walk. Ron Villone gave up a run on three hits in the ninth inning on Saturday. Brian Bruney struck out the side in a perfect inning on Saturday, but couldn't finish the seventh inning in the finale giving up a walk and a single with two outs. Mike Myers can on in relief of Bruney and allowed both runs to score. Myers faced three batters earlier in the series, striking out two and allowing one double. The Yankees have since designated Myers for assignment.
Jeff Karstens did not pitch after throwing 39 pitches in the finale of the White Sox series.
The Bombers whipped the Royals, 8-5 on Sunday afternoon, completing a three-game sweep. Godzilla became the first Japanese player to hit 100 home runs in the majors, and Mike Mussina pitched well again. The Tigers and Indians lost and the Yanks are now just a half-a-game out of the wildcard. Good times.
Here's a question: What are the chanes that Bobby Abreu comes back next year? Unless he falls into another slump, his numbers will look awfully decent when all is said and done, no?
Also, the Yanks designated Mike Myers for assignment. Coming soon: Joba and Giambi.
Where to start?
Here's what happened yesterday:
1) Phil Hughes made his third major league start for the Yankees after more than three months on the disabled list.
I'll take the second part first. After Johnny Damon grounded out leading off the first inning, Derek Jeter singled, and Bobby Abreu walked on four pitches to bring Alex Rodriguez to the plate with one out and two on. Kyle Davies' first pitch was an 89-mile-per-hour fastball right down the middle and Alex jerked it down the left field line, a high looping hook shot that managed to stay fair, landing in the left field stands toward the back of the main boxes behind the Canon sign where it was caught by a still-anonymous Rutgers student. Rodriguez, unsure if the ball would go foul, stood at the plate, bat in hand. As the ball approached the stands he began to trot, still watching, toward first. Speeding up, he thrust both fists in the air when the ball landed, gave first base coach Tony Peña a high-ten, and proceeded to jubilantly round the bases "like a goofball," as he would say after the game. Rodriguez was greeted behind home plate by the entire Yankee bench, which congratulated him with high-fives and hugs. Once settled in the dugout, Rodriguez wore an ecstatic grin of exhilaration and relief and was seen repeatedly saying "I'm glad it's over" to buddies Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon. Me too, Alex, me too.
Coming into last night's game, the Yankees had scored seven or more runs in their last six home games. Make it seven, as the Yanks beat the Royals 7-1 behind seven strong innings from Chien-Ming Wang.
Robinson Cano got the Yankees on the board with a solo homer off Royals starter Odalis Perez with two outs in the second inning. The Royals tied things up in the top of the third on a trio of two-out singles by David DeJesus, Mark Grudzielanek, and budding Yankee killer Ross Gload, but that was all they'd get against Wang. The Yanks, meanwhile, added two in the fourth against Perez, three in the sixth against Perez and reliever Ryan Braun, and that magical seventh run in the eighth thanks to a throwing error by Tony Peña Jr. Mike Myers, Luis Vizcaino, and Mariano Rivera sealed the deal. Textbook.
Along the way, Alex Rodriguez doubled, walked and drove in a run with a sac fly, but did not go long, hitting deep fly outs for his two outs. Melky Cabrera, meanwhile, went 3 for 5 with a pair of doubles, one of which was a screaming liner that hit off Braun's leg and caromed into the stands behind the Yankee dugout for a bizarre infield ground rule double.
Today, Phil Hughes makes his long-awaited return from the disabled list to take on Kyle Davies in the latter's first start as a Royal. Davies, who came over from the Braves in exchange for Octavio Dotel, had a 7.26 ERA in his last nine starts for the Braves. Hughes, meanwhile, did this during his minor league rehab: 21 2/3 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 8 BB, 25 K, 0.83 WHIP, 0.42 ERA. That after no-hitting the Rangers for 6 1/3 innings in his second major league start.
The Kansas City Royals, redux
It was only a week ago that the Yankees took three of four from the Royals in Kansas City, so there's not much to add here. Since then, the Royals swept the Rangers in K.C. by a combined score of 22-6 with Rutgers grad David DeJesus leading the attack. They then scored just nine runs while dropping two of three to the Twins in Minnesota where the fourth game of their series was cancelled out of respect for those killed in the recent bridge collapse. The Royals lone win of that series took ten innings and all three games were decided by two runs.
The Royals made one significant deadline deal, flipping Octavio Dotel to Atlanta for starter Kyle Davies, who will pitch tomorrow. Davies is a curious return for Dotel seeing as he's been consistently terrible in the major leagues and hadn't pitched since failing to get an out in his start against the Reds on July 16. Still, he won't be 24 until next month and Royals' GM Dayton Moore came from the Braves system, so perhaps he has reason to value Davies so highly. That or he's judging the pitcher on what he did in the low minors three years ago.
At any rate, Dotel's departure reinstates Joakim Soria as the closer. Davies and Leo Nuñez replace the released Scott Elarton and disabled Jorge De La Rosa (elbow) in the rotation (the Yanks will miss Nuñez in this series), and Joey Gathright replaces the once again disabled Reggie Sanders (hamstring) on the bench.
For those who have forgotten, the Yankees took the first three games last week's series in K.C. by a combined 25-7 score, but the third game was just 3-1 after seven innings and saw the Yankees go hitless with runners in scoring position even after dropping an additional four-spot on tiring starter Gil Meche and reliever Jimmy Gobble. The Yanks were then shutout by De La Rosa, Zack Greinke, and Soria in the finale as Kei Igawa and Sean Henn combined to allow seven runs.
Card Corner--Mick The Quick
We’re halfway through the ESPN miniseries The Bronx Is Burning, an engaging look at the circus-like 1977 Yankees amidst the backdrop of a decaying New York City. As visiting author Charlie Vascellaro told me over the weekend here in Cooperstown, "The series is over the top, but those 1977 Yankees were over the top, too. It’s just wonderfully entertaining."
Aside from George Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson, the man who provided much of the comic relief for the ‘77 Yankees was the team’s center fielder, the free-swinging Mickey Rivers. Rivers was known by several nicknames, including "Mick the Quick," "The Chancellor," and his own creation, "Gozzlehead." Those nicknames referred to Rivers’ footspeed, his questionable intelligence, and his lack of physical beauty, respectively.
The legend of Mickey Rivers began during his college days at Miami-Dade Community College. During his days at Miami-Dade, Rivers popularized the custom of addressing everyone as "Gozzlehead." It was a habit that Rivers had acquired while growing up in the Miami area. Although no direct translation exists for the word, Gozzlehead usually referred to someone who was physically unattractive. Rivers also came up with alternative words to Gozzlehead, such as "Warplehead" and "Mailboxhead."
While at Miami-Dade, Rivers emerged as one of the stars of the baseball team, but suddenly went AWOL just moments before the start of one particular game. His teammates and coaches later discovered his where he had gone. Rivers had fallen asleep under a nearby tree, in full uniform no less, making him an updated version of Casey Stengel. That was classic Rivers—and a sign of things to come.
Rivers eventually brought his unusual habits and greetings to the major leagues. Drafted and signed by the Atlanta Braves’ organization in 1969, Rivers never did make it to the Braves, sparing the likes of Hank Aaron and Phil Niekro from having to deal with a most unusual teammate. In September of 1969, the Braves traded him to the California Angels, for whom he made his big league debut in 1971. Arriving in Southern California, Rivers brought with him an unusual style of walking toward home plate. Stooped over like an old man, Rivers hobbled from the on-deck circle toward the batter’s box, his feet appearing to be in extreme pain with each step. Rivers’ staggering walk toward the plate belied his true footspeed; in the early 1970s, some observers considered Mick the Quick the fastest runner in the game. It wasn’t until Willie Wilson made his debut for the Kansas City Royals that Rivers would have to relinquish the crown as baseball’s fastest man.
After the 1975 season, the Angels traded Rivers to the Yankees. The timing could not have been better for Rivers, what with the Yankees about to win three consecutive American League pennants. Rivers fit smoothly into a volatile Yankee environment that came to be known as the "Bronx Zoo." Though not as controversial as some of his teammates, Rivers sure had his fair share of moments. He liked to bet on horses at the racetrack. As depicted in The Bronx Is Burning, he often tried to borrow money from more financially stable teammates, including Reggie Jackson and Bucky Dent. During the 1978 season, the Yankees actually removed the telephone from the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium in order to prevent Rivers from calling in his bets to the track. Still, Rivers managed to lose large sums of money on the horses.
Sometimes the financial defeats at the horse track left Rivers so upset that he failed to hustle on the field. At other times, he simply felt too depressed to play. Word of Rivers’ depression would circulate the clubhouse until it eventually reached the office of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. "The Boss" would then slip some money into a white envelope and have it delivered to Rivers, whose depression would give way to a renewed enthusiasm in playing that day. Those "white envelopes" became an infamous part of Yankee lore in the 1970s.
Such payments, which actually represented advances in his salary, usually maintained Rivers’ presence in the lineup. An exception almost took place in the fifth and final game of the 1977 American League Championship Series against the Royals. Prior to the game, Rivers remained in the trainer’s room, refusing to play after Yankee general manager Gabe Paul had turned down his latest request for a salary advance. Rivers would have missed the game, if not for some last minute negotiating by backup catcher Fran Healy. (Healy was just about Jackson’s only friend on the 1977 Yankees, a role for which he should have received double his normal salary.) Ever the peacemaker, Healy convinced Rivers to play. That was a good thing, since Rivers ended up delivering the game-winning run with a crucial single in the ninth inning.
When Rivers wasn’t sulking about his sinking financial situation, he was offering his own unique perspective on life with the Yankees. He particularly liked to agitate Jackson, who had the largest ego of any player on the team. When Jackson bragged about having an IQ of 160, Rivers couldn’t resist taking a jab. "Out of what? A thousand? You can’t even spell IQ." Rivers’ remark thrilled teammates and became a memorable moment in the legend and lore of the Bronx Zoo.
Rivers’ tenure in the Bronx produced other classic quotations. One of his most famous occurred when he tried to explain the dynamics of the Yankees, who featured a controversial owner in Steinbrenner and a contentious manager in Billy Martin. "Me and George and Billy," Rivers said, "we’re two of a kind."
Ultimately, Rivers’ lapses in hustle and his frequent lateness resulted in his being traded. Even after his Yankee days, Rivers remained an entertainingly colorful character, becoming a popular member of a free-spirited group of Texas Rangers. An avid participant in card games, Rivers served as the unofficial "dealer" in the Rangers’ clubhouse. He also liked to challenge his teammates to impromptu 40-yard dashes. Even in his thirties, the fleet Rivers won most of those races.
In the spring of 1983, the Rangers released the aging Rivers, which proved to be an unpopular decision with many of his teammates. "He made bad days livable," said Buddy Bell, the Rangers’ starting third baseman. Mick the Quick also made those 1977 Yankees a bit more loveable at a time when people like Jackson, Steinbrenner, and Martin were awfully hard to like.
Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books, including The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pirates. He also writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com. Bruce lives in Cooperstown, NY, with his wife Sue and their daughter Madeline.
Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books, including The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pirates. He also writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com. Bruce lives in Cooperstown, NY, with his wife Sue and their daughter Madeline.
Series Wrap: vs. White Sox
Offense: Let's see, 16 runs and a franchise-record eight homers in the first game, then overcoming an 8-0 deficit in a single inning in the finale. That alone would be plenty, but they scored eight runs and smacked another five homers on Wednesday to average 11 runs and five homers per game for the series. Sick. Sicker? The Yankees have scored seven or more runs in their last six home games.
Jorge Posada 8 for 15, 2 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 6 R
Alex Rodriguez 2 for 14, RBI, R, SB, K
Miguel Cairo appeared twice as a defensive replacement, but did not come to bat. Jose Molina went 0 for 1 in relief of Posada in the finale.
Rotation: Excellent starts by Mike Mussina (6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 6 K) and Andy Pettitte (7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 6 K), and a complete and utter disaster by Roger Clemens in the finale (1 2/3 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 0 K). See my Fungoes piece on Clemens over at SI.com.
Bullpen: Same story as the rotation. First two games: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K. Finale: 7 1/3 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 7 K, 3 HR.
Ron Villone allowed just a single and a walk while striking out three over two innings in the finale. Sean Henn struck out two in a perfect inning to finish that game and also pitched around a single for a scoreless six-pitch inning in the opener. Brian Bruney struck out one in a scoreless inning on Wednesday throwing nine of his 13 pitches for strikes. Luis Vizcaino pitched around a double for a scoreless inning of his own in that game.
Kyle Farnsworth responded to the boos from his home crowd with a perfect eight-pitch inning on Tuesday night, but gave up a two-run home run to Jermaine Dye on Thursday afternoon. Jeff Karstens first major league pitch since his leg was broken by a comebacker came with two out and the bases loaded in the historic second inning of yesterday's game. He got out of that jam without doing further damage and his offense staged an improbable rally to tie the game at 8-8, but he couldn't hold things there allowing three runs on five hits (including a two-run homer by Dye) over the next three innings. It's tough to be too hard on Karstens who was put in a tough spot in his first game since coming off the DL, but with Proctor gone, Farnsworth needs company in "The Bad" section.
Conclusion: Even a merely poor outing from Clemens could have led to a sweep. Fortunately, Phil Hughes is returning on Saturday to further strengthen the starting five. Overall an excellent performance. The offense continues to spread things around, Derek Jeter got some rest in the finale, Alex Rodriguez looks to be coming around, making good contact and finally getting a pair of hits in the finale, and Shelley Duncan and Wilson Betemit just might conspire to force Miguel Cairo off the roster when Jason Giambi rejoins the team next week after all (though I won't hold my breath).
Worst Kept Secret
We all know that George Steinbrenner isn't the man he used to be. For several years now, the press has hinted at this fact as Steinbrenner has receeded from the public eye. He rarely speaks directly to the media. There have been whispers that the Boss is sick, that he's got dementia, but nobody has come right out and said as much, which is more than a little curious considering just how public a figure Steinbrenner has been. But now Franz Lidz, formerly of Sports Illustrated, drops the bomb.
Here is the story. Discuss.
Eight Runs Out
So, is anybody else yearning for a nice, crisp, old-fashioned pitchers’ duel?
Matsui singled, Posada doubled, Cano singled, and new Yankee Wilson Betemit introduced himself with a nice big three-run home run, which earned him a curtain call. Scott who? That got the Yanks halfway there, and a long string of singles (plus a Posada ground-rule double) took them all the way back. This was only the second time in Major League history, apparently, that both teams have scored eight runs in a single inning... and as YES put it, the first time ever in all of Major League history that two teams accomplished this in the second inning. “We’re a part of history,” said Al Leiter, in the booth. “… A really small part.”
It was a tough loss, particularly given that Cleveland won, and so the Yankees are once again three games back in the Wild Card race. But on a basic humanitarian level, it may have been for the best: if the White Sox had lost, I would have feared for both the mental and physical health of Ozzie Guillen.
What Makes the Hottentots so Hot? (Sweep Dreams)
Yo, it is absolutely scorching out there today. It's Do the Right Thing hot; Dog Day Afternoon hot. The old man, Rocket Clemens goes against Jon Garland this afternoon as the Yanks look for the sweep. It's beautiful that the Bombers have already won the series, but that ain't enough, right? More, more, more.
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
Oh, by the way: Yankees Win
You wouldn't have known that if you read the back cover of the Post this morning, which features a photograph of Alex Rodriguez sitting in the dugout. The headline? "May-Rod." Yeah, I'm a dummy if I expect anything but shamelessness from a rag that traffics in human misery. Maybe it is the heat--and it is hotter'n'July in New York right now--but I'm just disgusted.
Vic Ziegel suggests his paper, The Daily News, isn't much better:
Alex Rodriguez is the best player in the game. Okay, that was easy. There is no other candidate. When he makes it to the Hall of Fame, they will add a penthouse for him.
I realize I'm adding to the sideshow by evening mentioning it (guilty), so let's move on. The Yanks beat the White Sox about the face and neck last night by the tune of 8-1. Here is the real story: New York is now just two games behind Cleveland in the wildcard standings. Andy Pettitte labored early in the game but "grinded it out" and got plenty of run support: Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, and everybody's All-American, Shelley Duncan, all homered.
It was another tough night for White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who saw his pitcher Charlie Haeger tossed in the eighth inning for hitting Cano with a knuckle ball:
"The only thing I wish is Major League Baseball looks at this kind of stuff and sees what's really going on out there," Guillen said. "The umpire has the right to call anything, but you have to have a little bit of common sense about baseball to do that. I've never seen anyone try and get a point across with a knuckleball.
Good ol' Ozzie. Always good for a quote. Finally, here is something that is sure to generate some conversation. According to Fortune magazine, the YES Network is for sale. That was quick, huh?
Do it Again
Big Andy Pettitte is on the hill tonight as the Yanks look to win the series against the White Sox. No soup for Alex Rodriguez last night. Of course, I'd love to see him hit that dinger--and, wouldn't you know it, so would Michael Kay, who was amping himself up for his big call something ridiculous last night--but I'll settle for a couple of hits in the meanwhile. Rodriguez had swung the bat well last night, a good sign. According to Pete Abe, Jorge Posada thinks Alex'll hit a couple tonight after being shutout of the homerthon yesterday.
Milestones aside, the "w" is the thing.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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