Monthly archives: September 2007
With Jorge Posada playing manager, the Yankees wrapped up their season with a 10-4 win over the Orioles, taking 2 of 3 in Baltimore and finishing the year with 94 wins and a wild card berth to the playoffs.
The game was a light-hearted affair, with Bobby Abreu getting his 100th RBI (he got two to finish at 101), Joba Chamberlain facing one batter (a groundout to end the seventh), and getting the starters out of the game before anyone got hurt being the primary concerns. All were accomplished in good order.
Sean Henn started and turned in three solid innings allowing just a Kevin Millar home run. Chase Wright followed with two frames and picked up the win. Ross Ohlendorf pitched the sixth and the seventh prior to Joba's appearance, giving up a run on two hits and a walk and striking out one. Chris Britton pitched a perfect eighth. Kyle Farnsworth allowed a two-out homer to J.R. House in the ninth in a four-batter inning. I'll take a solo homer with a seven run lead over a walk in the same situation any day. There was a moment of concern when Farnsworth knelt down after delivering a pitch having felt a twinge in his hip, but he turned out to be fine and finished the inning.
On offense, of the 12 Yankees who came to the plate, only Alberto Gonzalez failed to reach base. Wilson Betemit had a good day (2 for 5 with a double and 3 RBIs), which was important. Bronson Sardinha, who could make the postseason roster as a pinch-runner, singled and walked in two trips while playing third base in relief of Alex Rodriguez (Sardinha was drafted as a shortstop and was moved to third before finally settling in the outfield, where he has played all three positions, but most often right field). Rodriguez himself went 2 for 2 with a walk and an RBI to push his final line to .314-54-156. Doug Mientkiewicz went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk to keep his hot streak going. Jose Molina went 3 for 5.
The real action of the day, of course, took place in Queens, Philly, Milwaukee, and Denver.
Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon all had the night off, but that didn't stop the Yankees from out-sluggin the Orioles, 11-10. Andy Pettitte was clobbered--he allowed eight earned runs over five inning--but still got the win.
Kei Igawa gets the start today. The regular season began with Carl Pavano and is closing with Igawa (there's a joke in there somewhere).
Rodriguez is in the line-up today, gunning for homer #55 and RBI #156. I like the sound of a double-nickel, don't you? Posada will serve as manager, Mike Mussina will be the pitching coach.
I watched most of the game last night but count me as almost completely distracted by the happenings in the NL East. We've got more than enough time to talk about the Tribe in the coming days. Today gives dying time for the Phils or Mets, unless it doesn't and they are forced to play a playoff game tomorrow. Aw, man, imagine if it comes to that? On Friday, the Mets played scared and yesterday it looked as if the Phils were ascared. How will it all end? I'm just glad I don't have a direct emotional investment. I'd be ready to throw-up if I rooted for either team right about now.
It's absolutely gorgeous in New York today. Slightly overcast but still sunny, cool and crisp. A great day for playoff baseball. I still say the Mets win the division--the Phillies will find a way to lose, right?--but ya never know.
Let's Go Base-Ball!
The Streak Is Over, Long Live The Streak (a.k.a. Squeeze Bunts Win Games)
When playing out the string on the way to the playoffs, the last thing you want is to have a hapless team rally from a multi-run deficit against your closer to force extra innings, then go on to win. You want to coast in. Lose a low scoring game because you're resting your big bats. Lose a high scoring game because you gave a spot start to a rookie or a retread. Lose a blowout for both reasons, but you don't want to go extra innings, and you never want to see your closer melt down against a 90-loss team.
The game was never pretty last night. Neither starter pitched well and the Yankees, who had leads of 4-1 and 7-2, were clinging to a slim 7-6 lead after five, all of those runs being charged to Jon Leicester and Mike Mussina, respectively. The Yanks padded their lead to 9-6 against Victor Zambrano and Rob Bell while getting a scoreless inning of relief each from Ross Ohlendorf, Kyle Farnsworth, and Luis Vizcaino.
Then came the bottom of the ninth. With the crowd at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox had defeated the Twins 5-2 behind an outstanding outing by Daisuke Matsuzaka, watching on the scoreboard, Mariano Rivera took the mound with a three-run lead.
Look, the Yanks have clinched. The O's have given up. There's no point to breaking down a terrible team that I've already analyzed five times this season, and that the Yankees just played last week. The O's roster hasn't changed since last week. There's nothing to see here.
That said, the division is still in play. If the Yanks sweep and the Red Sox, who lost to the Twins last night, only win one of their remaining three against Minnesota, the Yanks will win the East via the tiebreaker of having won the season series against Boston. That said, neither team is going to fight for it. The Yanks are going to rest their regulars (though Melky's the only regular who will rest tonight), continue the bullpen tryouts, limit Andy Pettitte to 60 pitches tomorrow, and go with a spot-starter in the season finale on Sunday.
Tonight they'll let Mike Mussina throw his usual 100-or-so pitches. In three starts since returning to the rotation, Moose has gone 3-0 with a 1.37 ERA and has not allowed a home run. Two starts ago he faced the O's in the Bronx and turned in his best start of the year. Sure, he's faced Baltimore once and the depleted Toronto lineup twice, but the prospect of Mussina as the fourth playoff starter (or even the third if Clemens can't answer the bell) is not as scary as it was just a few weeks ago.
The O's send Jon Leicester, who has alternated good and bad starts since joining the rotation at the beginning of the month. The Yanks caught him two starts ago and rocked him for six runs in four innings. Tonight would be bad-start night for Leicester if he continues the pattern.
Series Wrap: @ Tampa Bay
Offense: Twenty-one runs in three games, and it might have been more if they hadn't clinched in the middle game allowing Joe Torre to rest Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, and Jorge Posada in the finale.
Johnny Damon 10 for 15, 2 2B, RBI, 4 R, 3 SB, 2 K
Melky Cabrera 0 for 8, RBI, BB, 3 K, GIDP
Bronson Sardinha and Alberto Gonzalez both picked up their first major league hits, both singles, in the finale, which also saw them make their first major league starts (in right field and short stop respectively). Sardinha's came in his first at-bat, but he went 0 for 2 the rest of the night and saw just eight pitches in his three trips. Gonzalez singled in his second at-bat and was plated by a Johnny Damon double. His last time up he walked and was promptly caught stealing.
Rotation: Even with Kei Igawa subbing for Roger Clemens and his hamstring, the three starters did great, allowing just three runs in 18 innings combined. Igawa pitched around five walks and a pair of singles for five scoreless frames. Chien-Ming Wang wasn't at his best, but he struck out six in six innings while allowing just two runs. Finally, Phil Hughes had his best start since out-dueling Fausto Carmona in Cleveland in early August, allowing just one run on the requisite Carlos Peña home run (one of Wang's two runs allowed was also a Peña homer) over seven strong, allowing just seven baserunners (Peña, three singles, two walks, and a hit-batsman). Of course, the Yankees are still hoping Roger Clemens can start the third game of the ALDS, so his absence from this series is of significant concern. Meanwhile, the only man here who is likely to start in the postseason is Wang, who was good, but not great.
Bullpen: Joe Torre's postseason auditions led directly to a loss in the opener. That's not a cause for concern, however, as the Yankees didn't need to win that game, and the whole point was to figure out who could be trusted in October. Here are the results:
Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain, of course. Mo picked up a ten-pitch save in the clincher. Joba pitched on back-to-back days for the first time in his life and turned in a pair of scoreless innings striking out three. That said, he got help from a ridiculous wall-crashing catch in center by Melky Cabrera in his first game, which he followed by giving up a single to rookie Justin Ruggiano and uncorking a wild pitch, and gave up a double to Raul Casanova in his second. True, that shot to center was off the bat of that man Carlos Peña, but ace relievers have to get everyone out. That said, Joba lowered his ERA to 0.38, so who am I kidding? Jose Veras pitched two shutout innings, working around a single and getting three ground ball outs to earn the save in the finale. Kyle Farnsworth, working from the windup, pitched a perfect eighth in the opener, striking out two and throwing ten of 13 pitches for strikes. Ron Villone got Peña to groundout to stop the bleeding in the sixth inning of the opener, then retired two of three batters in the seventh also on groundouts (the other walked). Chris Britton struck out Jonny Gomes to end that inning.
Edwar Ramirez and Brian Bruney each faced four men in the sixth inning of the oppener. Six of the eight scored. Staked to a 5-0 lead, Edwar walked the leadoff man, gave up a one-out double to plate that walk, then issued another walk. On came Bruney, who walked his first man to load the bases, struck out the next, then walked a run in and gave up a grand slam to 32-year-old minor league journeyman Jorge Velandia. It was Velandia's first major league home run. Jeff Karstens gave up a game-winning home run to the only batter he faced in the tenth inning of that game. Luis Vizcaino gave up a double and a home run to the first two batters he faced in the eighth inning of the middle game, then gave up two more singles before finally getting out of the inning.
Conclusion: Farnsworth, Villone, and Veras look to be on their way to the postseason. Edwar, whom Torre said had a spot on the postseason roster, may have pitched his way off of it. That makes Vizcaino's 11.57 ERA in September even more troubling. Torre's doing the right thing in resting his regulars (Melky sat last night as well) and getting more at-bats for Giambi, Duncan, and Betemit. The rotation is what it is. Moose will start tonight. Pettitte will go tomorrow, but with a limit of 50 to 60 pitches. If the Yankees' ALDS series opens on Wednesday, that would mean Pettitte would be on three days rest, but coming off a short outing, suggesting Wang as the Game One starter. If they wind up in the series that opens on Thursday, Pettitte would be on regular rest while Wang would have had seven days off. The biggest concerns heading into the post season, however, are Vizcaino and Clemens, and we're unlikely to learn much about them from the season-ending three-game set that opens tonight in Baltimore.
Shook Ones (Pt. II)
Scott Kazmir was good last night, but Phil Hughes was better. Joba Chamberlain pitched the eighth--including an emphatic strikout of BJ Upton--and Jose Veras earned the save as the Yankees won their 92nd game of the year, 3-1. It is looking more and more like the Yanks will face the Indians in the first round of the playoffs. You can throw the Yankees 6-0 record vs the Tribe out of the window--the Bombers only faced Fausto Carmona once this year, and didn't see C.C. at all. But heck, the American League playoff teams--"the fantastic four," as Brian Cashman called them the other night--are all tough. If the Yanks are to be champs, they've got to beat the best, 'nuff said.
Anyhow, I didn't watch much of the game at all. I watched the Mets instead. Man, can you believe what is happening out in Queens? I have to say that I don't derive a lot pleasure from watching a team fall apart like the Mets have over the past couple of days and weeks. I'm no fan of the Metropolitans, but I've got a lot of close friends who are. So while I don't root for them to win, dude, I just can't get into wanting them to lose like this. Think of the winter-long hangover they'd have to live with. Nah, that's too much to wish on anyone other than a Red Sox fan.
Still, it ain't over yet. So here's the question of the day, if you don't mind me shifting the conversation to the National League for a minute. Who will suck more (or less) this weekend: The Mets or the Phillies? The Mets are playing scared right now, though they said put up a brave front after the game, while the Phils are streaking. But these are the Phillies we're talking about. If history tells us anything, it will be Philadelphia who folds. So if I had to take a pick, I'd say the Mets recover and make the playoffs, despite how awful they've looked this week.
But I'm rooting for a tie and a one-game playoff on Monday.
Yankee Panky # 25: And Then There Were Two
Some quick hits as we prep for the home stretch and hope like hell the Yankees don’t have to deal with Vlad Guerrero, Chone Figgins, Garret Anderson, Howie Kendrick and Orlando Cabrera, at least not yet:
(It’d be 14 straight had it not been for the ’94 Strike, and Donnie Baseball would have a World Series ring following a five-game dispatch of the Expos. Tony Gwynn would have hit .400, too, but now I’m in Tangentville.)
For all the Yankee haters who relished at the thought of a regular-season failure, and Met fans who currently have no comeback for the line, “Well, at least we know we’re playing in October,” let’s reminisce, shall we? July 2007: 1050 ESPN Radio jock Don LaGreca’s sardonic soliloquy to fans on the last weekend of play before the All-Star break, where he said the Yankees would be interesting and would win games but it wouldn’t be enough. They had too many games to make up. Too many teams to hurdle. I’ll admit, the rant was pretty funny. Anyone else want to join me in submitting recipes for crow?
If any of you reading this happened to tune in to that particular segment of the Saturday show, what made LaGreca’s bit even funnier were the “Ta-dow, how you like me now?” calls from Met fans thinking their team had finally assumed the spotlight. Nope. This is still a Yankees town.
That fact is evident in the way the breadth of coverage the teams have shared lately (except in Newsday, where Mets stories have outnumbered Yankees stories due to a heavy Mets fan base on Long Island). The presentation has been mostly doom-and-gloom for the Queens franchise that borrowed elements from the three previously existing New York baseball teams so it’ll forever have an identity crisis. (It’s never good when the New York Times dedicates includes the Mets’ current nosedive in a special Metro Section bulletin featuring “Greatest New York Collapses.”) Yankees depictions have been mixed, depending on game results. I’ve found for the most part that the articles have reflected the mood of the players who made the news.
Here Comes Success, Over My Hill
I realized tonight: it’s a little strange that I have, literally, dozens of happy memories associated with watching a 60-something year old man weep openly on national television. That man, of course, is Joe Torre, and the occasion tonight was the Yankees’ 12-4 win and newly clinched playoff spot – in a year where, as you may have heard, they were at one point just a teensy bit back in the standings. You may hate Joe Torre’s managing style, you may think he should be fired at the end of the season, but it’s still hard to be unmoved by such a great example of a classic American type: the crusty, tough old outer-borough New Yorker with a sentimental streak a mile wide. Nobody in sports cries like Joe Torre.
A sopping wet Joba Chamberlain was asked by Kim Jones if he even feels nervous on the mound anymore: “I play it off pretty good, don’t I?” he asked with a grin. "With the playoffs coming we’ve got a chance to do some special things and THAT’S REALLY COLD,” he added, as Edwar Ramirez doused him in beer. (You’ve gotta love the part of the celebration where they run out of champagne and just switch to Bud). Later, a tag team of Ramirez, Cano and Chamberlain succeeded in completely and utterly distracting Abreu from his YES interview, leaving him laughing helplessly in the middle of a lost thought, as Ramirez gently toweled him off.
Howell They Do It?
The Yanks have only one more team left to eliminate in order to clinch the Wild Card. If the Yanks win, or the Tigers lose, they're in. Chien-Ming Wang takes the hill, looking for more support than he got last time out, when Roy Halliday shut down the Yanks, wasting a strong outing by Wang.
Shelley Duncan gets the call at DH as Matsui gets a rest. Duncan hits seventh, pushing Cano and Posada up. The rest is the usual.
It Ain't Over Til It's Over
Cliff and I both contributed chapters to the new BP book, It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over: The Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book. Tonight, I'll be up at Columbia U with some of the authors, including Steven Goldman, Jay Jaffe, Kevin Baker and Allen Barra. The chat starts at 7:00 at Alfred Lerner Hall (lower level), 2922 Broadway. If you are around the neighborhood, swing by, it'd be great to see you. In the meantime, dig this chapter from the book, written expertly by Goldman. I think you will really enjoy it.
How to Break Up the Yankees
BY STEVEN GOLDMAN
From the mid-1930s through the mid-1960s, baseball struggled with how to "break up the Yankees," at one point even adopting a rule forbidding teams from trading with the previous year's pennant winnerwhich was always the Yankees. The rule lasted but one winter, that of 1939 to 1940. New York didn't win in 1940, Detroit did. The rule hadn't been intended to harm the Tigers, so it was quickly rescinded.
The no-trade rule had little chance of hurting the Yankees anyway, because so much of their talent was homegrown. When Branch Rickey's farm system began transforming the way major league talent was developed, Yankees general manager Ed Barrow, something of a reactionary, had been resistant to the new methods. In 1932, team owner Jacob Ruppert overruled him, buying the Newark Bears of the International League and hiring independent minor league operator George Weiss to build a complete farm system. An injection of New York revenues turned Rickey's farm into a factory. Of the key players on the champion 1939 Yankees, none of the position players were acquired via trade, and just a handful of the pitchers were acquired this way.
The factory system fed the Yankees dynasty, which was only occasionally interrupted between 1936 and 1964. Not until 1965, with the advent of the amateur draft and with ownership's cutbacks in player development on the eve of selling out to CBS (the Yankees had never been generous with bonuses anyway), did the factory shut down. The Yankees stopped producing young players, and shortly thereafter, the team stopped winning.
Over the more than 40 years since, the Yankees have resisted getting back in the habit of producing youngsters. During its brief ownership, CBS didn't know how. George Steinbrenner, who bought the team from the Tiffany Network, didn't care to. For all Steinbrenner's financial largesse, the posture damaged the club almost from the first moment of the regime. The first test was offered by Otto Velez in 1974. The club failed it and, as a direct result, lost the division title to the Baltimore Orioles.
One Down, One To Go
The Indians beat the Mariners 4-3 in 12 innings last night, eliminating Seattle from the playoffs. That was as close as the Yankees would get to a clincher, however, as the Tigers stomped the Twins 8-0 and the Yanks lost another extra inning contest.
Kei Igawa pitched as well as could have been reasonably expected, holding the Devil Rays scoreless over five innings. It wasn't pretty, Igawa walked five and had to get out of a second-and-third one-out jam in the first (he did so by striking out B.J. Upton and Delmon Young, Kei's only two Ks of the night), and two-out bases loaded jam in the third, but he only allowed two hits, both singles.
The Yanks got on the board right away against Jason Hammel with a Johnny Damon single, stolen base, and a Derek Jeter double. Alex Rodriguez then padded the lead with a grand slam in the third, which pushed him past 150 RBIs on the season. Edwar Ramirez and Brian Bruney gave it all back plus one in the sixth, however, as Ramirez walked Upton, gave up an RBI double to Dioner Navarro, then walked Jonny Gomes. Bruney then entered with one out, walked Greg Norton to load the bases, and struck out Josh Wilson on three pitches. With two out and the bags packed with the tying runs, Bruney walked Akinori Iwamura on five pitches to push the second Tampa run across, then gave up a batting practice grand slam to that man I warned you all about, 32-year-old minor league lifer Jorge Velandia. Velandia, who is on his seventh cup of coffee, had never hit a home run in the major leagues before.
Ron Villone and Chris Britton held things down from there as the Yankees plated a leadoff double by Jorge Posada in the eighth to tie the game at 6-6. Then Joe Torre started a parade of scary relievers. Kyle Farnsworth, working from the windup for the second straight appearance, aced the eighth. Jose Veras, showing a nifty curve, pitched around a walk in the ninth. Jeff Karstens . . . not so much. Karstens first two pitches to tenth-inning leadoff hitter Dioner Navarro were balls. The third was a meatball. Home run to right. Rays win 7-6.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
The Yankees dropped two of three to the Devil Rays at the beginning of the month, but the Rays had won six of seven coming into that series and went on to win five of their next seven after leaving the Bronx. In other words, the Rays were hot. Entering this penultimate series of the season, the Rays have won just three of their last twelve. They're also playing without Carl Crawford, who hasn't played in two weeks due to some muscle strains in his legs, and James Sheilds, who would have started tomorrow, but won't because he's reached his innings limit for the season (he's thrown 215 innings this year after throwing 185 2/3 innings between triple-A and the majors as a rookie last year). Both are breaks for the Yanks as Shields had emerged as a strong number two in the Tampa rotation and, in an otherwise disappointing season, Crawford has hit .380/.436/.500 against the Yankees this year.
The Rays are also without second baseman Brendan Harris (shoulder), which is news less because of his absence than because of the player who has replaced him, 32-year-old minor league lifer Jorge Velandia, who is with his fifth organization in as many years. Velandia is a career .247/.304/.356 hitter in the minors and last sniffed the majors with the Mets in 2003, but he returned with a rage last week and went 10 for 18 with four doubles and four walks over his first six games as the Rays' starting second baseman. He's 1 for 8 with four Ks over his last two games, however, so perhaps the Yankees be fortunate enough to see the real Jorge Velandia at the plate over the next three days.
They better hope so, as Kei Igawa is starting tonight in place of Roger Clemens, who has been scratched once again due to his tweaky left hamstring. Clemens will not appear in this series, but the Yankees are still expecting him to
Igawa made seven starts since his last demotion to triple-A Columbus, posting the following line:
43 2/3 IP, 45 H, 20 ER, 8 BB, 44 K, 1.21 WHIP, 4.12 ERA, 3-2
Four of those seven starts were quality starts, including his final three. Igawa's only faced one batter since August 31. That came on Saturday and the batter, Toronto's Hector Luna, hit an RBI single.
Opposing Igawa will be Jason Hammel. Hammel was supposed emerge in the rotation along with Shields, but stumbled badly in his last four starts last year, starting with a stinker against the Yanks at the Stadium. He then failed to make the Rays out of camp, arrive in mid-June to post a 6.11 ERA out of the bullpen, then increased that to 7.44 over his first eight starts (the first of which saw him allow two runs in four innings in the Bronx). However, Hammel has posted a 2.35 ERA over his last four starts, allowing just one home run and striking out 17 against just four walks in 23 innings. That streak also started in the Bronx--Hammel threw five innings of one-run ball striking out seven and walking none the last time these two teams met--and has continued with games against the Blue Jays, Mariners, and Angels.
Hammel will face the same lineup the Yanks ran out there yesterday, though Damon will play in the field and Matsui will DH.
Series Wrap: v. Blue Jays
Offense: The Yanks scored an average of six runs per game over four games against a team that has allowed 4.3 runs per game on the season, so that's good. In an unusual twist, however, all four games were decided more by the Yankee offense than by the team's pitching. That credits the bats with two wins, but also two loses. The Yanks won the middle two games of the series by scoring 19 runs and simply out-hitting the failures of the bullpen, but they lost the opener by failing to take advantage of five scoreless innings by the pen, and lost the finale by simply failing to hit Jesse Litsch.
Alex Rodriguez 7 for 17, 2 2B, 5 RBI, 4 R, 4 BB, 2 K, CS
Jason Giambi 1 for 10, RBI, IBB, 4 K
Shelley Duncan appeared as a defensive replacement in the opener, but did not come to bat. Bronson Sardinha scored the tying run in the ninth inning of the second game as a pinch runner. Alberto Gonzalez did not appear in the series.
Rotation: A good showing by 4/5 of the Yankee rotation, especially considering that Hughes and Pettitte, especially, were given short notice (though full rest) prior to their starts as a result of the injuries to Ian Kennedy (who, it seems, will be shut down for the season) and Roger Clemens (who, as of this writing, is still scheduled to pitch tonight in Tampa). Chien-Ming Wang was the best, matching Roy Halladay for six innings in the opener before finally coughing up two runs (one unearned) in the seventh. Mike Mussina was second best, allowing three runs in his only bad inning out of seven on Sunday. Andy Pettitte recovered from a rough second inning and an unearned run in the third to eek out a quality start in the finale (6 IP, 3 ER). Phil Hughes fell an inning short on Saturday due to inefficiency (5 IP, 99 pitches), but otherwise pitched fairly well (3 R, only one walk, no homers, 69 percent strikes).
Bullpen: The Yankee pen had to work 17 innings in this four game series, which is the sort of workload (nearly 4 1/3 innings per game) that killed the pen back in April. The good news is that the Yankees have a 16-man thanks to expanded rosters, so even with that high work load, four Yankee relievers didn't pitch at all (Matt DeSalvo, Ty Clippard, Chase Wright, and Sean Henn). Those who did had a wide variety of results, but altogether allowed 13 runs and 25 base runners in those 17 frames, a dismal collective performance.
Quickly now, who led the 1987 Yankees in home runs? Don Mattingly, the team’s best hitter? No. Was it Hall of Famer Dave Winfield? Sorry, that’s incorrect. How about future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson? That’s wrong, too. Maybe Jack "The Ripper" Clark? Nope, that’s the wrong year; Clark was a Yankee in 1988, before evolving into Lance McCullers, Jimmy Jones, and Stanley Jefferson.
The correct answer, for those who haven’t noticed the baseball card image just yet, is Mike Pagliarulo. Or "Pags," as he was called, despite the silent "G" in his name. That’s the same Pagliarulo who was no better than the fourth best position player on the ’87 Yankees, or perhaps only the fifth best, if we put him behind the perennially underrated Willie Randolph. In what amounted to a career year, the 27-year-old Pagliarulo belted 32 home runs that season, as he did his best Graig Nettles impression during a failed run at the American League East title that saw the Yankees finish a respectable fourth—with 89 wins—in a stacked division.
Pagliarulo also slugged a career-high in 1987 (.479), and reached his best single-season mark in RBI’s with 87 RBIs. He never came close to those numbers again, but in a way, that shouldn’t matter at all. Here’s a guy who wasn’t supposed to have a major league career at all. Dubbed a non-prospect early in his professional career, Pagliarulo was never expected to make an assault at a major league roster spot. Fortunately for him, and all of the other young third basemen in the organization at the time, the Yankees traded Graig Nettles to the Padres in the spring of 1984, opening up third base for veterans Toby Harrah and Roy Smalley. That was the plan, but the 35-year-old Harrah had already seen his best days, while Smalley struggled in making the conversion from shortstop to third base, fielding the hot corner at a horrid .905 clip. There was then a failed experiment with Dale Berra, who was saddled with drug problems and the high expectations created by his last name. With no one else in the pipeline, the Yankees turned to Pagliarulo only by default in 1984 and ’85.
Almost from the day he arrived in the majors, I heard that Pagliarulo couldn’t play. Oh, he had some power from the left side, but that was about his only discernibly good habit. He would never hit consistently enough to keep himself in the lineup, didn’t have much range at third base, and had absolutely no footspeed. In other words, he appeared to be a placeholder—someone who would fill a spot on the left side of the infield until a better prospect came along in a few years. That prophecy appeared mostly accurate when Pags made a lackluster pinstriped debut in 1984, batting an inconsequential .239 with merely seven home runs in just over 200 at-bats. Forget about Graig Nettles, this guy looked more like a left-handed version of Celerino Sanchez.
Pagliarulo might have gone completely by the wayside in 1985, and back to Triple-A Columbus, but instead he went to work. Adopting a philosophy that seemed to be borrowed from the relentless Don Mattingly, Pagliarulo registered excruciatingly long hours in the batting cage, refining his swing, sharpening his timing, and improving his ability to recognize pitches. Pags also made efforts to upgrade his fielding, through the sheer repetition of handling hundreds of pre-game ground balls. (If anything, Pagliarulo worked too hard, sometimes exhausting himself by the time that September rolled around.) Not satisfied with merely taking up space in The Baseball Encyclopedia, a determined Pagliarulo became hell-bent on having an impact as a major leaguer. He also became my favorite Yankee, at a time when most fans preferred following the cult of Mattingly, or Winfield, or Henderson, or even Randolph.
Emerging as the Yankees’ third baseman against right-handed pitching, the pull-hitting Pagliarulo clubbed 19 home runs in 380 at-bats during the 1985 season. The following year, he played almost every day, against right-handers and left-handers, compiling 28 home runs and a .464 slugging percentage. Heck, this guy was no Celerino Sanchez, or Rich McKinney, or Jerry Kenney. He had evolved into a slightly poor man’s version of Nettles, and on a team with stars like Henderson and Mattingly, that was plenty good enough.
Pagliarulo’s status as an overachiever, coupled with a rare toughness, made him a winner in the Markusen household. The antithesis of soft players like the Giants’ Chris Brown, Pagliarulo displayed the kind of grit that was beginning to fade on the major league scene during the 1980s. After being hit in the face by a pitch during the 1986 season, Pags missed only one game, then immediately returned to the lineup. Showing no signs of fear, Pagliarulo proceeded to hit home runs in three consecutive games. Forget about Nettles, this was Clint Eastwood in pinstripes.
I also liked Pagliarulo because of his willingness to speak out against what he considered to be wrong—specifically a member of the Hollywood elite. While I generally like to write about politics as much I like to opine about brain surgery, it fits the storyline here. Back in the mid-1980s, as the Yankees prepared to play a game at the Stadium, Pagliarulo noticed that actress Jane Fonda was on the premises. When asked about Fonda, one of the most reprehensible figures in American pop culture (and a highly overrated actress, to boot), Pagliarulo made no effort at hiding his contempt. Citing Fonda’s anti-American stance during the Vietnam War, Pagliarulo delivered his uppercut swing (verbally, of course) at "Hanoi Jane." I loved it.
The Yankees finished second to the Blue Jays in yesterday's makeup game, which doubled as their regular season home finale. Thus, the half game in the AL East standings was rounded up, and the Red Sox hold a two-game lead with just six games left. The good news is that the Tigers came in second to the Twins, so the Yanks clinched a tie for the Wild Card, and can clinch outright with a win over the Devil Rays or a Tiger loss tonight.
As for the game it self, A.J. Burnett was supposed to start for the Jays, but had to head home for personal reasons. Instead, the Yankees faced Jessie Litsch, who beat the Sox his last time out. Yesterday, Litsch seemed to do one of two things, get groundballs right at his fielders, or give up doubles. Unfortunately for the Yankees, he did a lot more of the former. Of the 30 Yankees Litsch faced over 7 2/3 innings, eighteen hit a grounder right at an infielder and four doubled.
The first double was hit by Doug Mientkiewicz with one out (a ground out, of course) in the third. He moved to third when Curtis Thigpen booted a grounder by Melky Cabrera (the only Blue Jay error of the day), held when Johnny Damon hit a week grounder down the first base line, and was stranded by a rare fly out hit by Derek Jeter. The second double was hit by Hideki Matsui with two out (both ground outs, of course) in the fourth. Jorge Posada jutted his right knee into a pitch to reach base, then Robinson Cano grounded out to end the inning. Derek Jeter hit the third double leading off the sixth, moved to third on an Abreu grounder, and scored on a grounder by Alex Rodriguez for what would be the only Yankee run of the day. The last double was hit by Bobby Abreu with two outs (both ground outs, of course) in the eighth. It finally drove Litsch from the game after just 99 pitches, but Casey Janssen got the final out to strand Abreu, then picked up the save in the ninth.
Andy Pettitte, meanwhile, had a rough second inning, allowing three runs on a walk and three hits, including doubles by Thigpen and John McDonald. The Jays added a run in the third when Alex Rios doubled with one out, moved to third on a fly out to right, and scored when Derek Jeter booted the third out. Andy faced the minimum over the next three innings, but, with Litsch cruising, the damage was done. Final score 4-1 Jays.
The Yankees wrap up their series with the Blue Jays this afternoon with a makeup of the game that was rained out on April 25. The way the Yanks were playing back then, the rain out worked in their favor, as they're far more likely to win this afternoon than they were when facing a full-strength Blue Jays lineup amid a seven-game losing streak in late April.
The stakes is high this afternoon as the Red Sox are idle. The result of this game will erase that half game in the AL East standings for permanent either to the Yankees' benefit (an even one game back) or to their detriment (a solid two games back with just six left to play). Fortunately, the Yanks have their second-half ace Andy Pettitte on the hill coming off a strong outing (7 2/3 IP, 1 R) against the admittedly half-assing Orioles. Andy has handled the Jays well this year, posting a 2.25 ERA over 20 innings in three starts while striking out 17 and not allowing a home run. The bad news is that the Jays counter with A.J. Burnett, who stuck it to the Yankees in Toronto two weeks ago (8 IP, 1 R, 8 K), the lone run coming on a Johnny Damon homer. Burnett twirled a gem against the Red Sox as well in his last start, but as a result has thrown 244 pitches over those last two outings. Still, since coming off the DL in mid-August, Burnett has gone 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP, and 57 Ks in 59 2/3 innings.
Damon is the DH this afternoon, with Matsui in left, Posada back behind the plate, and Mientkiewicz at first base.
Oh, and if the Yanks win and the Tigers lose in Minnesota tonight (Nate Robertson v. Carlos Silva), the Yankees will clinch their 13th consecutive playoff appearance.
A Rule Meant to be Broken
The Yankees won another close one against the Jays on Sunday afternoon, 7-5. Mike Mussina was impressive again, Jose Molina had three RBI, and Joe Torre broke the so-called "Joba Rules," as Chamberlain earned his first big league save.
It was a beautific afternoon at Yankee Stadiuma and the late afternoon shadows swept across home plate at a quarter to four. I love the way the light in September is different, deeper more mellowed, than the bright harsh light of March and April. Long, elegant shadows trailed the pitchers early in the game and it all looked great on the HDTV. (I tell you sports on HDTV is absolutely the greatest thing since sliced bread.)
In a playoff preview, Torre went to Chamberlain with two men on and two out in the eighth inning. You got to love Torre picking this spot to try the kid out because, rules be damned, you know that Joba is going to get the call in a couple of weeks. Torre isn't the kind of guy who is going to pass on a sure-thing like Chamberlain in the playoffs. After all, Joba is the best young pitcher the Yankees have had since Mariano Rivera.
After yesterday's marathon victory, Mariano Rivera told Pete Abraham, "That would have been a very bad game to lose, but it's a great game to win." Amen to that, especially with Dustin McGowan going today and A.J. Burnett pitching tomorrow. McGowan, coming off a strong start against the Red Sox, has been terrific in the second-half. However, with the Yankees' magic number down to three, even I'm not going to sweat too much today. The important thing is for everyone to remain healthy. It'll be nice to give Jeter, Rodriguez and Posada some rest later this week.
Damon and Melky will man the outfield today, while Godzilla is the DH. Posada and Giambi have the day-off, and so does Shel Dunkinuts. Mike Mussina is on the hill for the Yanks. It is a ridiculously beautiful day in New York. There is a pre-game ceremony honoring the Scooter this afternoon.
Let's hope fer good things all around and Let's Go Yan-Kees!
The Melkman Always Rings Twice
I arrived at Yankee Stadium at 9:30 on Saturday morning and left shortly after 4. The Yankees were trailing the Blue Jays 3-2 at the time. I took a gypsy cab back to my apartment, took a shower, and hung out with Emily for about a half-an-hour. I saw the Yankees score four runs in the bottom of the sixth, highlighted by Alex Rodriguez's two-run, bases loaded double. Then I saw them give it back in the top of the seventh as the Jays hit pay dirt with a flurry of bloop hits. Kyle Farnsworth was looming. I was Audi 5000.
I was off to a cocktail party that kicked off the Jose Feliciano/Bernie Williams concert at the Utopia Loews Paradise Theater on the Grand Concourse. In truth, I was going to see Ray Negron and the short play he was putting on to start the show. Negron is a special advisor to George Steinbrenner who wrote a children's book last year, "The Boy of Steel." He recruited Cathy Moriarty, Jose Guzman, Michael Kay, Scott Clark and Darryl Strawberry to appear in the show. Ray has been a bat boy, Reggie Jackson's gopher, an actor, an agent--he's just about done everything, and he's hustled a career for himself in the game. He takes sick kids on his own personal Stadium tour, he translates for the young Spanish ballplayers with little Enlgish, like Melky Cabrera. Ray seems to know everybody and he's always on the move.
Roger Clemens was supposed to start this afternoon in place of Ian Kennedy but was a late scratch. Nothing serious, according to Joe Torre. Clemens was on the field at a quarter to ten this morning watching his eldest son perform running drills in right field under the guidance of a trainer.
About an hour later, Harlan Chamberlain made his way from the bullpen to the Yankee dugout. His red scooter moved slowly across the warning track and then down the left field line. Chamberlain stopped to shake hands with some fans. As he approached the Yankee dugout, he shook more hands. "Harlan, we love your son." He is clearly enjoying every moment of his first trip to New York.
John Turturro is also at the park. After his daily pre-game conversation with reporters, Torre chatted with the actor, several photographers snapping pictures several feet away. Torre also spent a few minutes talking to Harlan.
It's 12:40 now and it's raining. The tarp is on the field, but rain wasn't in the forecast so I don't imagine the game will be delayed long.
Much Ado About Nothing
Sometimes one wonders if it is not necessarily better to have rallied and lost than to have ever rallied at all.
The matchup between Roy Halladay and Chien-Ming Wang lived up to it's billing last night as the two pitchers entered the seventh inning locked in a 0-0 tie. The Yankees managed to put five men on base over the first six innings, but Johnny Damon's infield single to start the game was erased by a rare caught stealing by Gregg Zaun, rendering Derek Jeter's subsequent double harmless, and Jeter, who was pushed to third by a Bobby Abreu groundout, was stranded when Alex Rodriguez flew out to deep center. Hideki Matsui reached on an error to start the second, but was quickly erased by a double play off the bat of Posada. In the fifth, Posada singled and moved to third on a Robinson Cano double, but, with one out, Doug Mientkiewicz hit a foul pop over the tarp in short right field. Posada, thinking Blue Jay first baseman Matt Stairs was going to make the catch, tagged up and broke for home on the play, only to be gunned out by second baseman Aaron Hill, who reached over Stairs to make the catch. Posada was out by at least ten feet.
Wang only allowed four runners over those first six frames. Hill led off the second with a double into the left field corner and went to third when Damon bobbled the carom, but Wang got Russ Adams to pop out behind the plate, Zaun to ground out to third, freezing Hill, and Adam Lind to ground out to first to strand Hill. His other three runners all reached first with one out, moved to second on groundouts, and were promptly stranded.
The Blue Jays finally broke the tie in the seventh when Hill and Adams lead off with a pair of singles and Hill, who moved to third on Adams base knock, scored on a groundout by Zaun. Lind then singled to right and Adams, who had moved to second on Zaun's grounder, was sent home. Bobby Abreu fired a one-hop strike to Jorge Posada that easily beat Adams, but Posada didn't glove it cleanly and, when the dust cleared, the ball was on the ground behind Jorge and Adams was safe with the second Blue Jay run. Wang got a double play from ninth-place hitter Rey Olmedo to end the inning, but that would end his night after one hundred pitches (67 strikes, 14 of his 21 outs coming on the ground and four others by strikeout).
The Jays added a pair of insurance runs in the eighth against Edwar Ramirez when Ramirez hit Reed Johnson with his second pitch to start the frame, then, after getting Stairs to groundout, gave up a two-run homer to Alex Rios. Ramirez has now allowed six homers in 18 2/3 major league innings, an alarming rate of 2.9 HR/9IP. He has also hit three batters and uncorked three wild pitches. Over his last four appearances, Ramirez has allowed four runs and eight baserunners in 2 1/3 innings.
Halladay, meanwhile, just kept on cruising, pitching around an Alex Rodriguez single in the seventh and entering the ninth inning having thrown just 90 pitches, 68 of them (an astonishing 76 percent) for strikes. Johnny Damon led of the ninth with a double to left. After Jeter grounded out to short, holding Damon at second, Abreu singled Damon to third. Rodriguez followed with another single to erase the shutout and push Abreu to second. With Hideki Matsui coming up as the tying run and lefty Scott Downs warm in the bullpen, Toronto manager John Gibbons came to the mound to talk things over with his ace, but returned to the dugout without making a change. It was the right call, as Halladay got both Matsui and Jorge Posada to ground to second.
But wait! Aaron Hill's throw to defensive replacement Lyle Overbay on what should have been the game-ending groundout by Posada bounced in the dirt and, as Overbay juggled the scoop, Posada crossed the bag safe, allowing Abreu to score and Rodriguez to move to third. With the score now 4-2 and Halladay at 110 pitches, Gibbons called on Downs to face Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi (who had hit for Mientkiewicz in the eighth only to strike out looking on three pitches from Halladay). With Bronson Sardinha running for Posada representing the tying run, Robinson Cano pushed a broken bat grounder past Hill for an RBI single that sent Sardinha to third. Giambi then flared a single to left to bring Sardinha home and tie the game at 4-4 as Halladay sat staring from the dugout with a look that recalled Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.
Unfortunately, that was the last run the Yankees would manage. Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain (who struck out four in two innings with his father in attendence), and Luis Vizcaino got the game into the 14th inning, but the Yankees were unable to break through. They came closest against rookie Brian Wolfe in the 13th when Jeter led off with a single, but Bobby Abreu replaced him on the bases via a fielder's choice, and Alex Rodriguez missed his pitch, hitting a mile-high pop-up to short. Lefty Joe Kennedy then came in to face Matsui and walked him, but with Posada out of the game and no third catcher on the roster due to the 40-man roster spaces doled out to Juan Miranda and Andrew Brackman, Jose Molina was forced to hit and struck out on three pitches. Brian Bruney came on in the 14th (Kyle Farnsworth was unavailable with a tight shoulder) and struck out the side, but he gave up a solo homer to Gregg Zaun in the middle of it and Kennedy and Jason Frasor sealed the 5-4 win in the bottom of the inning, striking out pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit to end the game, which was only two minutes longer than last Friday's nine-inning affair in Boston.
In Tampa, Josh Beckett out-dueled Scott Kazmir and the Rays' bullpen coughed up a wad of insurance runs, so the Yanks are 2.5 out in the East once again. The Tigers staged a mid-game comeback to beat the Royals, and the Mets survived a long rain delay, some late-inning runs by the Marlins, and a minor injury to Carlos Beltran to keep pace with the Phillies, who also won.
Today, Phil Hughes moves up in the rotation, due to Ian Kennedy's tight back (he says he feels fine) and Roger Clemens tweaky hamstring, to face Shawn Marcum. Because the Yankees were in a six-man rotation and had an off-day on Thursday both Hughes and Mike Mussina, who moves up to tomorrow's game, will be on regular rest. Hughes has a 2.55 ERA over his last three starts, including a solid six innings against the Blue Jays in Toronto (3 H, 2 R/1 ER), but his walks are up and his strikeouts are down, and he's still getting too many of his outs in the air. Marcum, meanwhile, has a 7.94 ERA over his last six starts, including allowing eight runs in 4 1/3 innings while facing Hughes in Toronto last week. Marcum has given up seven homers in those last six starts, including shots by Posada and Giambi, both of whom are in the lineup again today. Damon is the odd man out. Meanwhile, Jose Veras and Ron Villone also worked out of the pen last night (both were perfect). Farnsworth is still unavailable. Joba's out per the rules, and I'm sure Torre would prefer to stay away from Vizcaino, who threw 24 pitches in his one inning. Ross Ohlendorf was warming behind Bruney in the 14th last night. He may see some action this afternoon.
Toronto Blue Jays
While panic sets in across town and to the northeast, the Yankees come off a restful, mid-homestand off-day looking to extend a four game winning streak with their ace on the mound looking for win number 19.
The bad news is that their opponent is the very same Blue Jays team that just swept the Red Sox, and that Toronto will send its four top starters to the mound in this series, beginning with ace Roy Halladay tonight. Halladay has failed to complete the seventh inning just once in his last dozen starts (going six full in the one exception), posting a 2.82 ERA with five complete games, one of them a shutout of the then-hot Mariners, and a 1.15 WHIP over that stretch. He's faced the Yankees twice during that run, holding them to one run in seven innings in the Bronx in mid-July and allowing just seven base runners in seven innings while striking out eight in a match-up against Wang in early August (though Halliday did give up four runs in that game on a pair of home runs by Robinson Cano and another by Hideki Matsui).
That August 8 game saw Chien-Ming Wang struggle through 2 2/3 innings in what was easily the worst start of his career. There's been an alarming symetry to Wang's starts since then as his earned run totals in his seven stars since look like this: 5, 3, 1, 0, 1, 3, 5, bringing him back to the rematch with Halladay tonight. Here's hoping he breaks the pattern.
As for the Blue Jays, they've finally shut down Vernon Wells in anticipation of his shoulder surgery. Wells had gone 0 for 17 in the Jays' recent series against the Red Sox and Yankees, so that's hardly a loss to the Jays. They also managed to sweep Boston without the help of Troy Glaus, who was shut down prior to Yankees series in Toronto and has since been placed on the 60-day DL with a season ending foot injury, or Lyle Overbay, who's been limited to pinch-hit and defensive-replacement duty over the past week in anticipation of his having four pins removed from his hand when the team travels to Baltimore on Tuesday.
Matt Stairs has become the regular first baseman in Overbay's stead, but he was just 1 for 10 with a pair of walks and three Ks against Boston. Russ Adams, who has filled in for Glaus, was more troublesome, going 3 for 8 with a double and that back-breaking grand slam off Jonathan Papelbon on Wednesday night. Adams had seven RBIs altogether in the Boston series and was 4 for 10 with a double and three walks against the Yankees when they were in Toronto last week. Alex Rios is the only Blue Jay other than Wells to play center field this year. That means the Jays will replace Wells in the lineup with a corner outfielder. With Stairs already in at first base, that means the Jays will have Reed Johnson and Adam Lind in the corners, which fully exhausts the supply of outfielders on their roster, though recent addition Joe Inglett, who was claimed off waivers from the Indians to take Glaus's place on the roster, and Hector Luna, who preceeded Inglett in making the move from Cleveland to Toronto, are both legitimate utility men who can play both infield and outfield if needed.
As for Johnson and Lind, Johnson only drew one start in each series against Boston and New York, going 0 for 8 with no walks and three Ks in those games, but he went 7 for 15 while starting all three games against the Orioles in between. Adam Lind went 1 for 7 with a pair of Ks in two starts against Boston and 0 for 2 as a pinch-hitter against the Yanks, but did walk and homer in the finale against the O's.
As you might suspect by now, the Blue Jays beat the Red Sox with pitching, holding Boston to just five runs over three games. Dustin McGowan, who will face Roger Clemens on Sunday, set the pace with a complete game on Monday in which he allowed one run on five hits and no walks while striking out nine. A.J. Burnett, who will rematch with Phil Hughes in Monday's makeup game, followed by striking out 11 and falling one-out shy of another complete game in a contest decided by an Eric Gagne blown save in the eighth (lefty Scott Downs struck out Jacoby Ellsbury to earn an easy one-out save). In the finale, fifth-starter Jesse Litsch limited the Sox to just two hits, one of them a J.D. Drew solo homer for the only Boston run, over 6 2/3 innings, then got 2 2/3 innings of one-hit/no-walk relief from his bullpen with closer Jeremy Accardo striking out three of the four men he faced (Mike Lowell, Drew, and Jason Varitek) to earn the save.
To that end, this series is a great test run for the playoffs as the Yankees will have to hit great pitching and out-pitch great pitching to come away with a win. The Red Sox, meanwhile, face their nemesis Scott Kasmir in Tampa. Kazmir, who has more starts again Boston than any other team in his young career, has a 2.62 ERA with 109 Ks, just 76 hits, and six hit batsmen in 96 1/3 career innings against the Red Sox. Most recently, Kazmir held the Sox scoreless for seven innings while striking out ten and allowing just seven baserunners in a 1-0 Devil Ray win on September 10. The Sox counter with Josh Beckett, who's looking to become the majors' first 20-game winner this year.
Just for good measure, the Mets send Pedro Martinez to the hill in Miami, while Cy Young contenders Jake Peavy, Fausto Carmona, and Johan Santana also toe the rubber, though the last does so without any postseason implications. Should be an interesting night of baseball.
Update: Per Peter Abraham, Ian Kennedy's been scratched from his start on Saturday with a tight upper back. That moves everyone in the rotation up a day starting with Clemens. No word on whether or not the Yanks will try to have Kennedy start in the final week, or if they'll just shut him down for the season. If this were Hughes, I'd think the latter would be the no-brainer decision, but Kennedy has been pitching better than Hughes recently and could be valuable as a long man out of the pen in the postseason. Balancing the current year's run for an unlikely championship against the long-term health of the young franchise arms will likely continue to be a major story throughout the postseason and all of 2008.
Couple of Three Things...
Over at BP, Joe Sheehan thinks the Red Sox are being smart in giving some of their starting players a breather:
It would behoove Joe Torre to start doing this as well. The Yankees are up five games in the loss column on the Tigers, with a magic number of seven for the wild card. If form holds through the weekend and the Yankees' magic number reaches three or so, Torre needs to worry less about seeding and more about making sure his aging team is ready to go on October 2. Alex Rodriguez has missed two games all year, and none since August 8. Robinson Cano hasn't missed a game since May 6. Jorge Posada has played his usual 130-odd games behind the plate; a couple of extra days off next week couldn't hurt. I can't quantify the effects of rest on a player's performance, but I can say that the cost of doing sopossibly ending up as the wild card versus winning the divisionis essentially zero.
At ESPN, Buster Olney thinks that Alex Rodriguez could find a good home with the L.A. Dodgers:
Rodriguez might be a perfect addition at the perfect time for the Dodgers. He would give them the power they need, in home run production and in marketing; they could build their business plan around his pursuit of Barry Bonds' home run record.
Finally, in the Times, Goose Gossage says he likes Joba. That's not a shocker. Neither is this:
"I really don't see how they can think about making him a starter after what we've seen," Gossage said in a telephone interview. "You can find starters I know they have other young kids but how are you going to find another character like him? How are you going to replace him? Before he came up, those setup guys were killing them."
Goose, we love ya, but um, got to disagree with on this one. However, this quote is more like it:
"I saw him throw those two pitchers over Kevin Youkilis's head when they played Boston," he said. "I loved it. The same thing used to happen with me when I tried to get it inside. When I missed, my body would get out front, my arm would lag and the ball would fly.
Back when I played...
Series Wrap: v. Orioles (Postseason Roster Edition)
Offense: They scored enough to win against Brian Burres, a lefty who has given them trouble all year, and put up 20 runs in the other two games. I'd say that's a job well done.
Robinson Cano 6 for 11, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 3 R, HBP
Alex Rodriguez 1 for 11, SacFly, BB, 4 K
Wilson Betemit singled, Jose Molina flew out, and Bronson Sardinha struck out each in their only at-bats, all of which come in the eighth inning on Tuesday night. Alberto Gonazalez also appeared as a defensive replacement in that game, but did not come to bat.
Rotation: Outstanding, with only Phil Hughes falling short of a quality start, doing so by being pulled with one out in the sixth in the opener. Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte combined to allow just one run in 14 2/3 innings.
Bullpen: The bullpen turned in something of a quality start of its own, compiling this line: 6 2/3 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 7 K. That's a strong outing by a starter, but the pen needs to do better than a 4.04 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP against a team that's laying down on the job, which is essentially what the the Orioles are doing.
Luis Vizcaino struck out two in 1 1/3 scoreless innings in the opener, allowing only a single. One of those Ks came when he replaced Edwar Ramirez with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning of that game. Jose Veras struck out one in a perfect inning on Tuesday night. Ron Villone also pitched a perfect inning in that game. Joba Chamberlian struck out the only man he faced on four pitches in the finale.
I'm being hard on Mo, but despite his not allowing a run and getting the saves in the opener and the finale, he did allow an inherited runner to score in the opener, and allowed four men to reach base in his 1 1/3 innings in the series. That means half the men Mo faced reached base. Over his last three outings, all converted saves totaling just 2 1/3 innings, opposing batters have hit .300/.533/.600 against him with three doubles and four walks. Over his previous 65 innings this season, Rivera had allowed just six doubles and walked only eight men. Those three outings have all come since Mo was hit in the right pinky by an errant Eric Gagne toss in the Boston bullpen on Sunday night, so he has an excuse. Joe Torre may also want to use that excuse to give Rivera, who has worked four of the last six games, a few nights off this weekend. Of course, Mo could have had Monday off had Kyle Farnsworth not stunk up the joint in the ninth inning of the opener, walking the leadoff man with a five-run lead, then throwing a wild pitch and giving up a pair of singles to plate one run and force Torre's hand with two outs in the inning. Earlier in that game, Edwar Ramirez got a huge strike out in relief of Hughes with two out and the bases loaded and the Yanks clinging to a three-run lead, but then passed the same situation on to Luis Vizcaino in the next inning (albeit with two more runs on the board for the Yanks).
Conclusion: The O's have rolled over once again, and the Yanks swept them, as they should have.
Sign of the Times
I was at the Stadium last night and have to admit, I already feel a sense of melancholy being there, knowing we've only got one more season left in the House that Ruth Built. One of the most striking moments of the night came before the game when Jose Feliciano sung the National Anthem. That caught me completely by surprise.
Feliciano caused a considerable stir when he sung the Anthem before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series. His rendition was condemned as nothing short of unpatriotic (Mickey Lolich, the Tigers starter that day, who, like most pitchers is a creature of habit, blamed the length of Feliciano's version for his shaky first inning). Last night, Feliciano sung the same version that was so controversial almost forty years ago, only this time there was no percieved outrage. In fact, as he came to the finish, the crowd began to roar--a heartfelt, patriotic ovation.
My how times have changed.
Knocking On The Door
Andy Pettitte came up big last night, holding the Orioles to one sixth-inning run in 7 2/3 innings on his way to his 200th career victory. It wasn't easy, however, as Brian Burres was nearly as good, striking out seven in 7 1/3 innings while limiting the Yankees to two runs on five hits and three walks.
The first Yankee run scored in the third inning on a Hideki Matsui solo homer into the old Yankee bullpen, his second tater of the series. The second scored in the fifth when Doug Mientkiewicz led off with a single and came around on a Derek Jeter single, a Bobby Abreu groundout, and a wild pitch that Burres threw on a fly to the backstop with Alex Rodriguez at the plate. The O's got their tally in the top of the sixth when Brian Roberts drew a one-out walk, stole second and third, and was plated by a Melvin Mora single.
In the eighth, Joba Chamberlain made his first mid-inning relief appearance, coming in with two out and none on to strike out Melvin Mora on four pitches, two of them nasty sliders. Mariano Rivera pushed things to the limit in the ninth. Nick Markakis doubled on a flare to no-man's land down the line in right. Then, after Kevin Millar flied out, Mo pitched carefully to Aubrey Huff and Ramon Hernandez, walking both of them to load the bases before finally retiring rookie pinch hitter Scott Moore to deliver the 2-1 win.
While Mo was making things interesting in the ninth, the news came across the out-of-town scoreboard that the Blue Jays completed a sweep of the Red Sox with a 6-1 win, the big blow being a Russ Adams grand slam off Jon Papelbon in the eighth that padded their own 2-1 lead. As a result, the Yankees are now just 1.5 games behind in the East, and only one game back in the loss column, while the Red Sox have slipped a half game behind the Indians and Angels for the best record in the American League. The only bad news there is that the Yankees have to play the Blue Jays next.
In other news, Melky Cabrera went 1 for 3 with a single and a walk, making him 2 for 6 over the last two games. Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 with a pair of strikeouts, but did cream one ball to the wall in left, where Brandon Fahey (in for Jay Payton who got tossed after tossing his helmet after a third strike call) made a great running catch. Rodriguez also made a great play by charging and bare-handing an infield dink by Brian Roberts in the eighth to keep the tying run off base. That play was assisted by an impressive stretch by Doug Mientkiewicz, who made three such plays on the night in addition to scoring the winning run. The first of those plays came on a double play, the first of three the Yankees would turn behind Pettitte on the night. Shelley Duncan made his first start since September 5, drawing a walk and striking out in three trips as the DH while Johnny Damon got the night off. Finally, Jason Giambi had an MRI on his right foot, which was hit by a Daniel Cabrera slider in Monday's game. The test came back negative and Giambi is expected to return to the lineup once the soreness from the bruise subsides.
Coming Into Focus
The Indians completed their sweep of the Tigers this afternoon, giving the Yankees a five game lead (six in the loss column) in the Wild Card race with eleven left to play. Meanwhile, the win gave the Indians a half-game lead on the Angels for the second seed in the American League.
As for the division, even if the Yankees go 8-3 over the rest of the season (which essentially means they have to take three of four from the Blue Jays best pitchers and sweep one other series, though a win tonight would count for that sweep), the Red Sox will have to go 5-5 for the Yankees to take the division via the tiebreaker of their head-to-head record. That's not impossible, but it is unlikely.
Curiously, this is all beginning to feel like a replay of 2005 when the Yankees rallied from a poor start of the season behind an MVP season from Alex Rodriguez to take the division from the Red Sox via a tiebreak in the final two days of the season. That year, the Yanks, Sox, and Angels all finished with 95-67 records, while the Indians, who were ahead of both for the Wild Card with six games left, finished just out of it at 93-69. Of course, all of that late-season drama was for naught as both the Yanks and Sox got bounced in the ALDS and the White Sox went on to sweep their way to a World Championship.
Tonight Andy Pettitte looks to bounce back from his rough outing in the opener of the Boston series and hand the Yanks a sweep of the Orioles. As great as Andy has been in the second half, he has a 5.94 ERA over his last three starts and has allowed 27 hits in those 16 2/3 innings, nine of them going for extra bases. The Yankees need Pettitte to pitch the way he did in August (6-0, 2.36 ERA) in order to have a chance in the ALDS, no matter how the matchups shake out. Andy will make one more regular season start after tonight, after which he'll be in line for Game One of the Division Series. He needs to use these starts to sort things out.
Opposing Pettitte is Brian Burres, who has split time between the rotation and bullpen for the Orioles this year. Burres has been far more effective as a starter, the role he filled in the minors each of the last two years. He's also handled the Yankees well this year, limiting them to a run on four hits and three walks while striking out eight in 7 1/3 innings between one start (6 IP) and one relief appearance. In Burres' last start, his first since August 4, he held the Blue Jays scoreless over seven frames.
Chew on This
Derek Jeter passed Bernie Williams on the all-time Yankee hit-list two nights ago. I've been thinking a lot about Bernie recently. What is he doing? (He's actually playing at a benefit concert this Saturday night) Does he watch the games? That kind of thing. Some of my questions were answered in this piece by Wayne Coffey in last Sunday's Daily News.
Alex Rodriguez was supposed to get a day off a month ago when the Yankees were in California. It's understandable why he hasn't, though it now seems time to give him a breather. He's had bad at-bats for the past few games. Last night, in particular, looked ripped out of the 2005-06 playoff handbook--missing fat pitches, chasing poor ones. Let's hope Torre rests him soon. Moreover, it'd be nice to see Posada get some time off as well.
Speaking of Jorge, I was e-mailing with Joe Sheehan last night and he posed the question: Has Posada ever had a great post-season? Not a fine isolated series--he was good last year against the Tigers--but a real strong couple of series?
Finally, here are a couple of things to check out: Joel Sherman's post about filling-in for S. Waldman on the radio last week; Jonah Keri on 100 players you love to hate, and John Heylar on Dr. James Andrews.
Mike Mussina didn't just pitch well last night, he turned in his best start of the season, holding the Orioles scoreless over seven innings while striking out six. After walking Brian Roberts to start the game, Mussina allowed just three singles, one of which didn't leave the infield, and didn't allow a man to reach second base until there were two outs in the seventh. Along the way, Mussina got nine of his outs on the ground, two of them on a double play he turned himself. Indeed, in addition to his great pitching, Moose put on a clinic in the field, making three assists (one a screaming liner at his face that he knocked down for an easy 1-3 putout) and two putouts. The one infield single he allowed came when he ranged far off the third base side of the mound to glove a grounder by Tejada and attempted something of a Jeter jump throw while falling toward the foul line. That came in the seventh inning in which the two other batters grounded back to the mound and the fourth struck out. Put simply, it was an outstanding night for Mussina, who had great movement on his fastball, which dove back over the plate after coming in on the lefties, solid velocity around 90 miles per hour, and a sharp 70-mile-per-hour curve. Moose will make one more start this season in the finale of the Yankees' series in Tampa Bay. It will likely take two great starts from Ian Kennedy and a complete collapse from Mussina his next time out for Moose's performance last night not to have earned him a spot in the postseason rotation.
While Moose was cruising, the Yankees were moleicesting Jon Leicester, dropping a six-spot on the Baltimore starter in the fourth inning with Doug Mientkiewicz delivering the big blow in the form of a three-run homer to the upper deck in left. The Yanks plated a leadoff walk by Posada in the sixth, then lept all over Cleveland castoff Fernando Cabrera in the seventh, scoring five more times against him and Rob Bell to put the final score at 12-0. Jose Veras and Ron Villone swept up, with a Alberto Gonzalez error leading to the only base runner, one quickly erased by a double play.
The Orioles seem to heal all the Yankees' wounds last night. Not only did Mussina have his best game of the year, but Hideki Matsui went 2 for 5 with a double and three RBIs, and even Melky Cabrera came up with a two-RBI single in the five-run seventh, which snapped his 0-for-16 skid. Melky also had a sac fly for three RBIs on the night. Elsewhere, Mientkiewicz drove in four, and both Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano went 3 for 4 with a double, while Shelley Duncan struck out in his first plate appearance since September 5 and Bronson Sardinha did the same in his second major league at-bat.
Oh, and the Red Sox and Tigers both lost, so the Yanks are 2.5 games back (two in the loss column) in the East (which is nice, but with just ten games left, likely meaningless), and have a 4.5-game lead (five in the loss column) in the Wild Card (which, with just ten games left, all but guarantees them a playoff spot), while the Indians will remain tied with the Angels for the second seed in the AL should the Angels hold on to their 2-0 lead against the Devil Rays.
Moosecapades II: The Revenge
The Yanks can get an easy series win tonight of Mike Mussina can pick up where he left off in Toronto. Moose returned to the rotation with 5 2/3 shutout innings last Wednesday. Of course he walked three, struck out only one, and got a great deal of help from his defense, but considering how quickly things went all kablooey on him and the resulting jolt to his confidence, it's not impossible that a few innings of good fortune could turn things around just as quickly by confirming his belief that he does in fact still know how to pitch.
Opposing Moose will be Jon Leicester, a 28-year-old righty who had a solid rookie season in the Cubs bullpen in 2004, but pitched his way off the team the following April, struggled in the triple-A rotation, was flipped to the Rangers that winter, lost the 2006 season to a knee injury, joined the Orioles as a minor league free agent, suffered a shoulder injury in May, and has been fighting his way back through the Orioles' minor league system since returning to action in July. Leicester, who posted a 2.29 ERA in 74 2/3 innings across three minor league levels this year (most of them coming in triple-A), will be making his third start for the O's. He beat the Red Sox and Angels in his first two, but for vastly different reasons. Against the Sox he gave up four runs in five innings, but his offense scored eight off Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2 2/3 and went on to a 11-5 win. Against the Angels, however, he turned in an outing that was nearly identical to Mussina's outing in Toronto.
Doug Mienkiewicz, who is 3 for 4 with a pair of walks over the last two games, gets his third straight start today, with Jason Giambi being the odd man out (Matsui plays left, Damon DH).
Yankee Panky # 24: Red Alert
Since the All-Star break, it was a given that for the Yankees to have any chance of making the playoffs, even as the Wild Card team, they would have to win 70 percent of their remaining games. Hopping into the Wayback Machine and pulling a 1978-caliber comeback to win the Division would entail sweeping the last two series with the Red Sox, or at the very least, taking five of six.
Mission accomplished on both fronts. The Yankees have put together five win streaks of at least five games to leapfrog seven teams and assume control of the Wild Card. A once-comfortable lead in that race dwindled to 2 ½ games over the weekend before the Cleveland Indians did the Yankees a favor Monday night. Thus, with 12 games left — all against division opponents with losing records — the odds of a 13th consecutive postseason appearance are in the Yankees' favor. Remarkably, a 10th straight AL East title is not impossible, especially with the Red Sox facing the Blue Jays, Devil Rays, A's and Twins, series where they could face Roy Halladay, Scott Kazmir, AL Cy Young candidate Dan Haren, and Johan Santana.
Following Monday's one-game swing, the possibility of the Yankees overtaking the Red Sox was the headline. As a corollary to that, ESPN.com's baseball page has an "If The Playoffs Started Today" table with the potential matchups. The Yankees would face the Indians. A division crown might mean a date with the Los Angeles Is Not in the O.C. Angels. As Yankee fans, if you had to flip a coin to pick the team's playoff opponent — "heads" for the Indians and "tails" for the Angels — wouldn't you snag a two-headed coin?
Regarding last weekend's head-to-head matchup, there were plenty of media notes on a fourth ALCS rematch between the Yankees and Red Sox, amid the playoff atmosphere that pervaded Fenway Park. With the Yankees winning two of the three games in dramatic fashion, those notes were justified.
What struck me about the Fenway series wasn't so much that the Yankees beat the Red Sox, but how they did it. Ace-level pitching has stifled the Yankees' offense all season; Josh Beckett proved that Saturday afternoon. But the Yankees bested three of the Sox' top arms, in Hideki Okajima, Jon Papelbon and Curt Schilling. Success against such elite pitchers bodes well for the postseason.
* * *
About six weeks back I commented on the lack of historical context in some beat writers' postgame wraps, and some TV commentary. This weekend offered a 180-degree turnaround.
For example, in Monday's NY Times, Tyler Kepner noted the similarity between Jeter's game-ending catch Sunday night to the putout that capped Game 5 of the 2003 ALCS. None of the other beat guys had that particular nugget in their game pieces. (I should point out that the Times gives Kepner more room to add such information — between 700 and 1200 words, depending on the situation. Papers like the Post, Daily News and Newsday max out at 600-700 words, sometimes less.)
On TV, John Flaherty and Ken Singleton proved to be prophetic with the following comment during the Red Sox' half of the seventh inning, roughly 15 minutes before the Yankees staged their 6-run rally:
FLAHERTY: "As poorly as the Yankees have played, they still have a chance here. This game is 7-2, but it could easily be 12-2. A five-run deficit in this ballpark is not that difficult to overcome."
SINGLETON: "No. Just get your swing going toward the wall, get a few guys on base and start the merry-go-round."
Considering the Red Sox rallied from a six-run deficit to blister the Devil Rays only two nights earlier — although they began their comeback in the middle innings did so against a bullpen whose ERA is approaching Tampa's area code — that may not seem like poignant analysis. But it was poignant because it was proved correct, and the tone wasn't meant to sound homerish. It was stated matter-of-factly from an ex-player's point of view. Flaherty would probably have said the same thing if the Yankees had the 7-2 lead.
Other highlights to the weekend series on TV:
• Historical context alert: Kay outlining Papelbon's vulnerability by referencing A-Rod's ninth-inning home run off the sophomore closer in April when Papelbon entered the game to protect what was a 7-4 Red Sox lead.
Things I would have liked to see during the weekend's telecasts:
• A random Tim McCarverism where he's forced to say Bernie Williams's name. Let's all say it together: Bernie WEE-yums.
• Any of the Yankees announcers calling Bobby Abreu by his real first name: Bob (gets me every time).
(I did not see Sunday night's game, so I missed the patented Miller/Morganisms that surely occurred. Like the combined age of the starting pitchers being one year less than the number of years between Red Sox championships. Please enter your favorites in the Comments section.)
Most interesting quote of the weekend, at least, to me:
From the ESPN's Opinions Vary From Show to Show Files:
From the Stephen A. Smith Bluster!@#$! Files:
I'd go on a Stephen A. rant, but despite his huffing and puffing, he's right, although adding Jeter to the comparison was unnecessary and tired. For the most part, I've echoed Smith's sentiments in this space throughout the season, albeit not as bluntly. Following Smith, Bryant coolly refuted him in a "yeah, but …" sort of tone, adding that the Yankees wouldn't be in position to claim a playoff spot without A-Rod's bat.
The merging of his regular season success and postseason disappearance over the last two years — lowlighted by three hits in the last nine postseason games and batting eighth in last year's swan song — will likely be the biggest storyline as the pennant chase begins.
Until next week …
A Long and Winding Win
First, the good news. The Yankees beat the Orioles, 8-5 last night at The Stadium while the Tigers and Red Sox both lost. The Bombers are three-and-a-half games ahead of the Tigers in the wildcard standings (four in the loss column), and just three-and-a-half behind the Sox in the AL East. All the makings of a good night.
We shouldn't complain. It's just that sitting through another interminable Yankees-Orioles game almost takes the fun out of baseball. Last night's game lasted 3 hours and 54 minutes. Oy and veh.
The Baltimore Orioles
The Yankees have gone 14-5 in their 19 series since the All-Star break. Of those five loses, one came in Anaheim, one came in Detroit, one came at home against the Devil Rays (something of a let-down series after the Yanks had swept the Red Sox), and two came against the Orioles. The first of those series came while the O's were running off an 8-2 stretch to start Dave Trembley's managerial career. The second came after the O's had taken two of three from the Red Sox via a pair of walk-off wins. Since the last time these two teams met, however, the O's have been a staggeringly awful 8-21 (.276). Curiously the slump began immediately after it was announced on August 21 that Trembley would return as the O's manager next season, with the Birds promptly embarking on a nine-game losing streak after the announcement.
You can put your conspiracy theories away, however, as the O's, despite their history of closing up shop early, have an excuse this time: injuries. Cy Young candidate Erik Bedard won the day day of Trembley's extension, but tanked his next start after which he revealed he'd been pitching through an oblique strain, which has since shut him down for the season. Two weeks later, Jeremy Guthrie left a game with the same injury and hasn't pitched since. A week after that Danys Baez tore something in his elbow which ended his season. In the meantime rookie Garrett Olson, who was attempting to replace Bedard, strained his forearm (he hasn't even thrown on the side since then), and Radhames Liz, who was competing with Olson for a rotation spot, got roughed up so badly that he was banished to the bullpen despite the injuries to the others. On offense, center fielder Corey Patterson, who was hitting .313/.333/.458 in the second half, has been out since September 5 with a sprained ankle, and Melvin Mora was benched for four games with a tight back.
It's no wonder the O's have packed it up, shipping Steve Trachsel to the Cubs and taking flyers on repeated castoffs Victor Zambrano and Fernando Cabrera, who are trying to make good in the rotation and in the rotating closer spot respectively.
Still, the O's seem to be figuring some things out, having won three of their last four by shutting out the Angels on Thursday and taking two of three from the Blue Jays over the weekend. Tonight the O's send the erratic Daniel Cabrera to the mound in the Bronx. Cabrera's coming off a stinker against the Angels (4 1/3 IP, 10 R). That was preceeded by an outing in which he was ejected after instigating a fight with the Red Sox after giving up three runs in 3 2/3 innings. Before that he turned in two nearly identical quality starts (6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 4 BB, 7 and 8 K) against the Sox and Rangers. Before that another stinker (5 IP, 6 R), and before that 6 2/3 shutout innings against . . . the Yankees (who walked six times but managed just two hits). Go figure this guy, anyway.
The Yanks counter with Phil Hughes, who's had two good starts in a row, battling back from an ugly first two innings in his last outing in Toronto, and posting this combined line in those two starts: 12 IP, 8 H, 4 R (3 ER), 1 HR, 5 BB, 7 K. He's still not the Phil Hughes who dominated the Indians and nearly no-hit the Rangers, but he seems to be figuring things out. Here's hoping he continues that trend tonight.
Series Wrap: @ Boston
Offense: Much like the last series against Boston, the Yankees scored just 4.33 runs per game (it was 4.67 in the previous series), but the Sox only allow 4.04 runs per game, so that's above average. The offense disappeared in the middle game against 19-game winner Josh Beckett, but came from behind to deliver wins in the other two games.
Derek Jeter 5 for 14, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R
Melky Cabrera 0 for 10, 2 BB, R, GIDP, 3 K
Jose Molina, Alberto Gonzalez, and Bronson Sardinha were each 0 for 1, though Molina executed a sac bunt, and Sardinha scored a run as a pinch runner but also hit into a double play in his only major league at-bat thus far. Wilson Betemit appeared as a defensive replacement, but did not come to the plate.
Rotation: Go figure baseball sometimes. Chein-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte, the two aces of the Yankee staff, posted this combined line in the first two games of this series:
9 2/3 IP, 18 H, 10 R (9 ER), 0 HR, 5 BB, 8 K, 2.38 WHIP, 8.38 ERA
Meanwhile the other four men starters combined to do this in their most recent turns:
24 2/3 IP, 11 H, 4 R (2 ER), 0 HR, 13 BB, 13 K, 0.97 WHIP, 0.72 ERA
In other words, Clemens good, Wang and Pettitte bad. That said, the good showings from the rest of the rotation are a very good sign. The big question is if Clemens and Mussina especially can do it again the next time around.
Bullpen: Awful. The pen allowed nine runs and 20 baserunners in 10 1/3 innings. Torre's mismanagement of his enlarged relief corps in the middle game didn't help, nor did the Joba rules, Luis Vizcaino's sore elbow and back, or Kyle Farnsworth's stiff neck. With the exception of Vizcaino, Villone and Henn, you can take my designations below with a grain of salt.
Vizcaino pitched a perfect eighth, needing just ten pitches, seven strikes, to retire the side while striking out one in the opener. I have to lower my standards after that. Edwar Ramirez struck out two of the three men he faced in the middle game, but he walked the middle batter and was inexplicably pulled after sixteen pitches. Joba Chamberlian gave up a double and a solo homer, but no other base runners while striking out three in two innings and stranding that leadoff double by Hinske. Ross Ohlendorf came into a bases-loaded situation and walked in a run. He then gave up a solo home run in the next frame, but those were his only two base runners and he struck out the other four men he faced.
Mariano Rivera walked two, hit a third, and gave up an RBI double while protecting a two-run lead in the finale. On the series he allowed five baserunners in his two innings, though he did convert both saves and struck out two. Ron Villone walked the only man he faced. Sean Henn faced four batters and retired none of them, giving up a pair of singles and walking two while allowing three of his four inherited runners to score. Jose Veras was perfect in his first inning of relief, but gave up a pair of singles in his second frame, necessitating an intentional walk to Ortiz, plating a run, and prompting Torre to call on Henn in a vain attempt to get the third out. Brian Bruney struck out Bobby Kielty with the bases loaded to stop the bleeding after Henn and Veras on Friday night, then worked a perfect seventh, earning the line-up card from Torre after the game. He then gave it all back the next day by giving up an RBI double and a walk before picking up a strikeout and prompting Torre's second call for Henn.
Farnsworth did not pitch, nor did Chris Britton.
Conclusion: Saturday's game was a disaster on all fronts, while Friday's game was a stirring comeback, but both were sloppy. Sunday's game felt like a postseason win with plenty of gutty performances to go around and all of Torre's decisions paying off. The only thing that was really consistent in this series, however, was the shakiness of the bullpen. Heck, even Joba gave up an earned run. Still, the Yanks have nothing but cupcakes left on the schedule, are no longer distracted by hopes of winning the division, and merely have to keep pace with the Tigers who are three games behind in the loss column. That should give Torre an opportunity to sort out the pen and rotation. Here's hoping it also gives Melky and Matsui time to solve their problems at the plate. If not, I just might find myself in favor of starting Mientkiewicz at first in the postseason with one of those two taking a seat each day.
It was a crisp, autumnal New England night in the major leagues' oldest ballpark last night as two old warhorses, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, took the mound against one another for the first time since Game Seven of the 2001 World Series. Nearly six years have gone by since then, and both pitchers have lost nearly as many miles per hour off their famous fastballs, but they turned back the clock last night for a stirring pitchers' duel that recalled not only that famous finale in Phoenix, but also, albeit to a lesser degree, Clemens' legendary duel with Pedro Martinez on Sunday night baseball the year before.
Clemens, who hadn't pitched in nearly two weeks and left his last start after struggling through four innings due to elbow pain, was a bit tentative in the first inning. Clemens started the game with three straight balls to rookie Jacoby Ellsbury. On 3-1, Ellsbury lifted a soft fly to left that Johnny Damon lost in the lights to put the Red Sox's leadoff man on base. After Dustin Pedroia flew out to right, Ellsbury stole second on the first pitch to David Ortiz, setting up what might have been an intentional unintentional walk by Clemens. Mike Lowell then stroked a single to left to plate Ellsbury. Clemens retired the next two men on four pitches, but it took a spectacular play by Doug Mientkiewicz that saw him first dive toward the foul line to glove a hard hopper off the bat of Jason Varitek, then dive to beat Varitek to the bag to get Clemens out of the inning. The Rocket settled down from there. Hitting 93 on the ESPN gun and showing good movement on his slider, Clemens didn't allow another hit until Lowell again followed a walk to Ortiz with a single in the sixth. Along the way Clemens struck out Ortiz, Lowell, J.D. Drew, and Varitek in order amid a streak of retiring eleven straight batters in a row.
Meanwhile, Schilling allowed just two singles through the first four innings before Robinson Cano led of the fifth by taking an 88-mile-per hour fastball up and away and depositing it in the Monster Seats in left for a game-tying homer (shades of Alfonso Soriano's tie-breaking shot in 2001).
Clemens escaped his jam in the sixth when Johnny Damon made up for his first-inning error with a sliding catch on a sinking liner by Varitek to end the inning. Though Clemens had only allowed two hits and one unearned run to that point and thrown only 87 pitches through six, Joe Torre--who made all the right moves all night, including giving Mientkiewicz his first start since coming off the DL--decided to take no chances and go straight to Joba Chamberlain in the seventh. Chamberlain gave up a leadoff double to Eric Hinske, who was promptly bunted to third by Coco Crisp, but recovered to strike out Julio Lugo on four pitches and get Ellsbury to ground into another excellent play by Mientkiewicz to maintain the tie.
Schilling entered the eighth inning having allowed just one run on three hits and thrown just 69 pitches through the first seven. He then struck out Melky Cabrera to start the eighth (Melky, incidentally, is 1 for his last 27 with eight Ks and no RBIs). Doug Mientkiewicz followed with his second single of the night at which point Torre again went for the jugular. Despite the fact that Jorge Posada started at DH and the Yankees have inexplicably not called up a third catcher, Torre sent Jason Giambi to the plate to hit for Jose Molina. On a 2-2 pitch, Schilling sawed Giambi's bat off at the handle with a 93-mile-per-hour cut fastball up and in, but the ball trickled foul. Giambi then cracked the next pitch, a breaking pitch on the outside corner, off the top of the Green Monster, missing a two-run homer by a couple of feet, for a double that pushed Mientkiewicz to third. With Bronson Sardinha running for Giambi, Schilling sawed off Damon as well, getting a weak ground ball that Dustin Pedroia fielded in on the grass for the second out. Mientkiewicz held on the play, likely due to the confusion of bat shards flying through the infield. That brought Derek Jeter to the plate with the go-ahead run on third and two outs.
Jeter missed badly on a breaking pitch low and away to start the at-bat, then took a pair of fastballs away, the first of them clocking in at 95-miles-per-hour, to get ahead 2-1. Jason Varitek then went to the mound to talk things over with his pitcher. As Jeter stood waiting at the plate with holding his bat on his shoulder with his right hand, he began to smirk. Schilling's next pitch was a splitter low and away, which Jeter fouled off with a check swing. That brought Varitek back out to the mound. Schilling came back with another 95-mile-per-hour heater up in the zone which Jeter flared foul just two rows deep where the seats angle toward fair territory down the first-base line. As Varitek took a third trip to the mound, the smirk returned to Jeter's face. Schilling's next pitch was another fastball, but one that was ten miles per hour slower and belt-high on the inside corner. Jeter turned on it and creamed it to the last row of the Monster Seats for a game-breaking three-run home run that drove Schilling from the game.
With Posada catching, Chamberlain gave up his first major league earned run in the bottom of the eighth when Mike Lowell took a letter-high 98-mile-per-hour fastball over the Monster, but Joba struck out two of the other three batters he faced, both on his seldom used curve ball, and got David Ortiz to fly out to left. That gave Mariano Rivera a two-run lead to protect in the ninth.
Mo had an off night, however, and started the ninth by walking Varitek on seven pitches. A pair of ground balls moved Varitek to third, but also put the Yankees one out away from the win. Then Julio Lugo crushed a head-high heater into the gap in left for an RBI double. Mo's next pitch hit Ellsbury in the left kneecap. Pedroia then battled back from an 0-2 hole to work a nine-pitch walk and bring David Ortiz to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth and a chance to win the game with a well-placed single, or tie it with a walk.
Joe Torre went to the mound to meet with Rivera and his infielders. Then Rivera went back to work. The best place to pitch Ortiz is in on his hands and that's exactly where Posada set up for the first pitch. Rivera's offering, however, drifted toward the outer part of the plate and Ortiz fouled the 95-mile-per-hour fastball back for strike one. Rivera then hit Posada's target with another fastball low and away for ball one. Jorge Posada then set up under Ortiz's hands again, but Rivera floated a letters-high fastball over the plate for ball two. As a smirk came across Joe Torre's face in the dugout, Posada set up under Ortiz's hands again and Rivera threw a fastball right on the inside corner that Ortiz grounded just foul outside of first base where it was gloved by Mientkiewicz, who was playing on the line. Finally, on the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Rivera hit Posada's target with a cutter up and in on Ortiz's hands that Papi muscled to shallow center. Derek Jeter, who was playing at normal depth, unlike the last time Rivera faced a bases loaded situation in the bottom of the ninth of a game started by Clemens and Schilling, hauled it in for the final out to seal the 4-3 win.
And so the Yankees take the series and five of six from the Red Sox over the last three weeks and maintain their 2.5-game lead (three in the loss column) over the Tigers, who swept the Twins over the weekend. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Jim Thome hit a walk-off tater to beat the Angels and join the 500-home run club, thus preserving the tie between the Indians and Halos for the second seed in the American League. Cleveland and Detroit now face of four three games at the Jake starting tonight. Yankee fans should be pulling hard for Cleveland to pull of an unlikely sweep in that series. As for the Yanks, only a bakers' dozen against the cupcakes stands between them and a thirteenth-straight playoff berth.
A Positively Final Appearance
Roger Clemens bids farewell to Fenway, for realsies this time, doing so in style by taking on Curt Schilling in a rubber game on national TV. The Sox's win yesterday might have iced the division for all intents and purposes, but the Yanks still have a series to win, and Clemens still has to prove that his elbow hasn't finally gone kablooey on him.
Can't Buy A Thrill
"It's hard times befallen/The sole survivors"
Josh Beckett wears number 19 on his back and now he's got a matching figure on his ledger as he dropped a gem on the Yankees to earn his major league-leading 19th win of the season. Beckett held the Yankees to three hits and just six base runners while striking out seven in seven innings, the one blemish on his line being a solo homer to dead center by Derek Jeter in the first inning. That would be the only run the Yanks would score all evening as Mike Timlin and Bryan Corey swept up the final two innings.
Chien-Ming Wang, meanwhile, was off his game. Wild up in the zone, Wang gave up singles to three of the first four batters he faced to allow the Red Sox to tie the game in the first. In the third he walked the bases loaded with two outs as David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, and J.D. Drew took 16 straight pitches (only four were strikes), but Jason Varitek swung at the first pitch and popped out to preserve the tie. Wang worked a 1-2-3 fifth, but all three outs came on fly balls to center (he'd have more fly ball outs than ground ball outs on the night). Wang got Dustin Pedroia to ground out to start the fifth, but after getting ahead 0-2 on Kevin Youkilis, he lost one up and in which caught Youkilis in the back wrist. The Jewish God of Squawks immediately flew in to his usual cursing and complaining routine and left the game with what was ultimately diagnosed as a bruise. Fleet-footed rookie Jacoby Ellsbury was put in to run and eventually came around to score on singles by Ortiz and Drew, giving the Sox a one-run lead after five.
Things got worse in the sixth. Erik Hinske, who had started in left and moved to first after Youkilis left the game, led off the sixth with a double. Coco Crisp followed with a single to center that pushed Hinske to third. After a Julio Lugo fly out, Crisp took second uncontested. Pedroia then grounded to Robinson Cano who was pulled in to try to cut off the run. He did just that. Despite Jorge Posada gesturing for him to go to first, Cano whipped a throw home which Posada caught as he fell to his knees and got positively flattened by Hinske. Hinske hit Posada high across the chest with a forearm, knocking Jorge's mask and helmet clean off, but Posada held the ball for the second out of the inning. It was all for naught, however, as Crisp took third on the play, Pedroia stole second uncontested, and Ellsbury and Ortiz singled them both home, with Ellsbury scoring from first on Ortiz's single as Jorge Posada, despite perfectly blocking the plate, forgot to actually make the tag. That made it 5-1 and drove Wang from the game.
In the seventh, Edwar Ramirez, who had struck out Mike Lowell to end the sixth, walked J.D. Drew, then struck out Jason Varitek, then was inexplicably pulled so that Ron Villone, who hadn't faced a major league batter since August 21, could pitch to the lefty Hinske. Villone, of course, walked Hinske on five pitches. Torre then called in Brian Bruney, who earned the lineup card the night before with a crucial scoreless inning that set up the big comeback. On this night, however, he gave up a ground rule double down the right field line to Coco Crisp that scored Drew, and walked Lugo on four pitches before striking out Pedroia. Torre then tried another lefty matchup with Sean Henn, whose only major league appearance since being recalled saw him fail to get an out on Friday night, against Ellsbury and Ortiz. Henn gave up a two-RBI single to Ellsbury to officially put the game out of reach at 9-1, then walked Ortiz to load the bases for good measure. That allowed Torre to go to Ross Ohlendorf, who walked Mike Lowell to force in a run on four pitches, but then proceeded to strike out four of the next five batters he faced (though he did also allow a solo homer to Hinske in the eighth).
Somewhat fittingly, Bronson Sardinha made his major league debut as a defensive replacement in the eighth, then, in his first major league plate appearance, swung at the first pitch and ground into a game-ending double play in the ninth. Final score 10-1 Sox, who erased any lingering doubts about their winning the division with the victory.
Elsewhere in the Cy Young race, Johan Santana gave up four runs in the first inning to the Tigers, who currently hold a 4-2 lead in Minnesota in the bottom of the fifth.
"No we got nothing in common/No we can't talk at all"
The contrasting styles of the two American League wins leaders, groundballer Chien-Ming Wang and fireballer Josh Beckett, face off this afternoon in Fenway, with both pitchers looking for his nineteenth win, and the Yankees likely still flying high off their improbable win last night. That word improbable has been popping up a lot between these two teams recently, all in the Yankees favor. Things also went in the Yankees' favor the last time each of these two pitchers took the mound against today's oppenent. Beckett gave up a career-high 13 hits (including a solo homer by Alex Rodriguez) and allowed four runs in an otherwise solid outing, losing to tomorrow's starter Roger Clemens. The next day, Wang no-hit the Sox for 6 1/3 innings, allowing just one hit (to Mike Lowell) over seven scoreless to pick up his sweet sixteenth. Wang is 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA over his last five starts.
Many have positioned this game as a battle for the American League Cy Young. C.C. Sabathia and even Johan Santana may have something to say about that, but considering the inappropriate emphasis the voters place on wins, this game could indeed be crucial to their decision making.
It's been a rainy day in Boston thus far, but the late FOX start time should allow the weather to blow over, while the clouds could prevent the shadows from interfering as they often do in late afternoon contests. Here's hoping the Yanks can make tonight a wonderful thing.
Friday Night Lights
Here's more about last night: Edes, Cafardo, and Malloy in The Boston Globe; Bradford, Massarotti, and Buckley in The Boston Herald; Sherman and Vaccaro in The New York Post; Lupica and Harper in the News, and from the blogosphere, here's Beth from Cursed to First, and the wrap-up from Yanksfan v Soxsfan.
Beckett and Wang later this afternoon...
Stink Pretty, Sleep Well
"We lucked out. That eighth inning was incredible," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "The only thing predictable in this ballpark is the unpredictable."
Turgid and tedious, that's what it was, suddenly capped by a burst of joy, a shot of espresso. Hot dog. The Yankees played a sloppy game tonight but scored six runs in the eighth inning to beat the Red Sox in dramatic fashion, 8-7 at Fenway Park. The game lasted 4 hours and 43 minutes, just two minutes shy of the longest 9 inning game in history--a mark set last year by the Yanks and Sox. Andy Pettitte struggled, the offense left a ton of runners on base through the first six innings, Jason Giambi was a butcher at first base (botching three plays, the last one leading to two runs), and Melky Cabrera inexplicably slid into first base again, costing himself an infield hit in the process. And yet, down 7-2, the Bombers came back against Boston's two best relievers, Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Paplebon. Jason Giambi started the comeback with a solo homer, Robinson Cano followed with one of his own, and Bobby Abreu delivered the key hit, a two-run double off the top of the center field wall. Alex Rodriguez drove in the game-winning run--a solid single to left against Paplebon--and Mariano Rivera earned the save in what has to qualify as one of the biggest wins of the season for the Yanks.
It wasn't pretty--in fact, it was downright ugly--but it was sweet. Yanks will have to play a much cleaner game tomorrow against Josh Beckett, who is sure to be fired-up. The Sox have handled Chien-Ming Wang in the past, so the fielding must be sharp. My biggest concern this weekend was the Red Sox sweeping. It'd be great if the Yanks can win at least one of the next two. Here's hoping the Twins offer some help against the Tigers.
But for the moment--stay in the moment, kid, stay in the moment--things feel pretty good.
The Boston Red Sox
When the Red Sox came to the Bronx for a three-game series two and a half weeks ago I wrote that "the Yankees still only have one route to the postseason, and that's the Wild Card." The Yankees were eight games behind Boston coming into that series. After sweeping the Sox, they were five behind. In the two weeks since, the Yankees have actually lost a game in the standings another improbable sweep would still leave them 2.5 games behind with just 14 games remaining in the season. Boston will have just 12 games left after this weekend, none of them against a team that enters today's action with a winning record. Baseball Prospectus's Postseason Odds give the Yankees a 2 percent chance of winning the division (but an 87 percent chance of winning the Wild Card). As hard as it might be to remember, this weekend's series in Boston is far more about holding off the Tigers (who are a solid 3.5 games back in the Wild Card race, but have won seven of their last nine), than it is about catching the Red Sox.
If that dilutes the rooting a bit, here's something else to root for: the Cleveland Indians. The Indians currently trail the Angels by one game in the overall AL standings. If the the Indians can pass the Angels, then the Tribe, not the Halos, would be the team the Wild Card winning Yankees would face in the ALDS. That's a far more favorable matchup for the Bombers given that they went 3-6 against the Angels this year, but swept the Tribe in their six giames against Cleveland. The bad news is that the Angels, who are the better team to begin with, have the easier schedule remaining with only a four-game set against the finally free-falling Mariners of much concern, while Cleveland has three against the M's and three against those surging Tigers.
Back to Boston, this series features the same three pitchers for each team as the last series in New York, only with Roger Clemens and Chien-Ming Wang switching places in the final two games. Tonight we get a rematch of Andy Pettitte and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka, who leads the AL in pitcher abuse points, has been a mess recently, going 1-4 with a 9.57 ERA in his last five starts, including his last outing against the Yankees in which allowed five runs in 6 1/3 innings thanks in part to his putting four players on base for free (three walks and a hit batsman).
Pettitte, meanwhile, is the Stopper (since the All-Star break: 9-2, 3.14 ERA, 9 of 12 quality starts falling just one out short in two others). He countered Matsuzaka with a gem in which he allowed only the leadoff batters to reach base and held the Sox to three runs over seven innings, striking out six. With last night's loss, he's even got a potential losing streak to stop.
More good news for Pettitte: Manny Ramirez, who hit one of two homers off Pettitte in that last matchup between these two teams, is still out with the strained oblique that took him out of that game. His replacement, rookie prospect Jacoby Ellsbury (hitting .400/.419/.750 on the month), missed Wednesday night's game with a injury to his wright wrist. Bobby Kielty gets the start in left tonight hitting from his stronger right side against the lefty Pettitte. As for the Yanks, their lineup looks like it did the first two days in Toronto, with Matsui getting the start in the field over DH Johnny Damon.
Series Wrap: @ Toronto
Offense: After dropping eight runs on Shawn Marcum in the first five innings of the opener, the Yankees scored just six more runs in the final 22 frames of the series.
Jorge Posada 3 for 7, 2B, HR, RBI, 4 R, 2 BB
Melky Cabrera 1 for 13, 2B, 3 K, GIDP
Doug Mientkiewicz went 0 for 2 as a defensive replacement in all three games. Alberto Gonzalez appeared as a defensive replacement in the opener, but didn't come to bat.
Ouchies: Shelley Duncan's MRI revealed a bone bruise on his pelvis and a small inguinal hernia. He has rejoined the team, is taking anti-inflammatories, and is listed as day-to-day.
Rotation: Outstanding. Rookies Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, and Mike Mussina, making his first start in more than two weeks, combined to allow just three runs (two earned) in 18 2/3 innings while allowing just 9 hits. Mussina didn't allow a run in his return to the rotation, falling one out short of a quality start despite throwing only 87 pitches. Kennedy was the star of the series, however, holding the Blue Jays to one hit over seven innings and needing just 93 pitches to do it.
Bullpen: Sure, Chris Britton lost the finale by giving up hits to the only two batters he faced, but that was the only earned run the pen allowed in the series, posting this line:
7 1/3 IP, 6 H, 2 R (1 ER), 2 BB, 11 K
In the finale, Luis Vizcaino returned from arm and back pain to pitch a dominant 1-2-3 inning, striking out two and throwing just nine pitches, seven strikes. Ross Ohlendorf pitched a perfect in his major league debut in the opener. Edwar Ramirez allowed three base runners in 2 1/3 scoreless innings, but struck out five. Mariano Rivera pitched around a single for a four-out save in the middle game.
Joba Chamberlain allowed his first major league run, but still has a career ERA of 0.00 after 16 innings because the run scored on a throwing error by Alex Rodriguez with two outs. Russ Adams, who scored the run, led off the eighth with a double of Chamberlain, just the second extra base hit Joba's allowed in the majors. The first was also a double by a young AL East infielder: Boston's Dustin Pedroia.
Conclusion: With a little more offense they would have had an easy sweep, all credit due to the pitching, which allowed just three extra base hits all series, one double in each game.
"I think that might be the best pitching staff in the league," [Johnny] Damon said. "Detroit hasn't been healthy all year I know and you have to look at Anaheim and Boston.
The Yankees lost a well-pitched game 2-1 against the Blue Jays last night. Ian Kennedy was terrific, giving up just a run off one hit over seven innings, and A.J. Burnett was McNasty allowing a single run over eight innings. But Battleship Chris Britton gave up two consecutive hits in the bottom of the ninth and that was that.
Kennedy made one mistake in the first inning. With a runner on, he grooved an 0-2 fastball right over the heart of the plate to Frank Thomas. The Jays' DH pounded a long line drive to deep center field. Melky Cabrera looked as if he was going to catch it, but missed the ball at the wall, allowing the first run of the game to score. It wasn't a can of corn but it was a ball Cabrera should have caught. Kennedy then retired the next 15 batters, as he mixed his fastball, breaking ball and change-up wonderfully.
Burnett, in a complete contrast of styles, was simply overpowering. His breaking ball was hard and sharp and it often skipped in the dirt. But that didn't matter much as Yankee hitters waved at it anyway. Wilson Betemit whiffed three times on breaking pitches. Johnny Damon caught a change-up from Burnett and planted it into the seats for a solo home run in the sixth. By the time Alex Rodriguez came to hit three batters later, there were two runners on. Rodriguez couldn't hold up on the first pitch, a hard slider, but he laid-off the next two pitches, also breaking balls. Then, Burnett spotted a fastball right down the pipe, and to cap it off, he threw the same pitch again. Rodriguez, guessing breaking ball, took both pitches (he'd strike out again in the ninth, after just missing a slider).
The Yankees left two runners stranded in the sixth and in the ninth and when Britton entered the game, well, it didn't look good. Britton was pitching because Kyle Farnsworth was unavailable due to a sore neck. And so the Yanks lost a squeaker, ending their seven-game winning streak. It wouldn't seem like such a tough loss if the Bombers hadn't put themselves in such a pickle early in the season.
Ah, no use crying. Tonight gives Boston. Here comes the pain.
Lightning McQueen and the Quest for More Meat
I love to root against A.J. Burnett. There's just something about the looks of him that turn me off. It's the body language, the same thing that I don't like about Farnsworth--though Burnett is a far superior pitcher. He's the guy with the million dollar arm, ten cent head, the guy with great stuff who is only a great pitcher sometimes. He is able to get by with his natural gifts because he's been blessed.
Burnett will dominate a game for six innings and then not be able to finish. Or he'll go on a run for half a season where he's overpowering from start-to-start, and then he gets hurt or fades somehow. And always with the great stuff. But there's always something. And you don't know what that something is only that it is there. He's elite talent but not an elite pitcher, not with a career record of 67-65 over 9 seasons. Burnett has never won more than 12 games in a season. I know you can be unlucky and injured but you can't be that unlucky and injured.
Anyone seen those Jabba The Hutt t-shirts? They are pretty cool. If you enter the code: jobabronxblock, you can save $2.50 per tee. Get 'em while they're hot.
Talkin' All That Jazz
Our pal Allen Barra talks to Mets announcer Ron Darling about Jazz in this week's Voice. Darling knows Lee Morgan from Ahmad Jamal. Who knew? And not for nothing, but I think that Darling is a superior color man.
Okay, here's something to chew over. Yesterday, another BB friend, Pete Abraham, wrote a post about Jorge Posada. Pete thinks Posada is a "probable" Hall of Famer. I'm not so sure about that--as much as I'd like to see it happen, of course. Yeah, I believe that Posada is the third-best catcher in Yankee history (behind Yogi and Bill Dickey), but I think he needs to have another two or three very good seasons in order to be worthy of the Hall of Fame. Just off the top of my head, I wouldn't rank Posada ahead of Ted Simmons, would you? Discuss.
It is brisk and chilly in New York this morning. As I walked to the subway I couldn't help but think of playoff baseball. It's not cold enough for a frost, so we'll probably get local tomatoes and corn for one more week (the last, delicious reminders of the summer), but the leaves are starting to turn here and there, and the kids are back in school. The Yankees are not a lock for the post-season yet but they are getting there...
When Melky Cabrera reached second base with two out in the ninth inning, he slapped his hands together, nostrils flaired. Perhaps he was amped because his ground ball double play helped squash a Yankee rally in the fourth inning. As it was, his double was only the team's fourth hit of the night (A fifth hit--a single to center by the next batter, Johnny Damon--was nullified by an extremely poor call by the second base umpire, Jim Wolf). The Yankees, however, had the lead and won the game, 4-1. An 8th inning error by Alex Rodriguez put an end to Joba Chamberlain's scoreless inning streak, but Mariano Rivera got the last four outs of the game, and that was that. The Tigers (Mags) and Red Sox (Ortiz) and Mariners also won, so there was no change in the playoff standings as far as the Bombers are concerned (the Tigers did gain a game on the Indians who lost).
Hideki Matsui has been slumping but in the first inning he drove a fastball on the outside corner to deep left for an RBI. The YES broadcast showed side-by-side replays of Matsui's RBI single with an at-bat from the previous game where he was pulling off the ball, his head jerking up in the air toward first base. Last night, he kept his rear and his head steady and drove the pitch. (Matsui also walked twice later in the game.) Rodriguez--who reached base on a check-swing walk (he got a favorable call on that one)--then scored on a wild pitch by Dustin McGowan. Robinson Cano added a two-run single in the fourth which was all the runs the Yanks would need.
As I detailed in my catchup post yesterday afternoon, the Yankees are giving Mike Mussina a chance to prove that he's still got something left to offer tonight primarily because having Moose start tonight pushes Andy Pettitte back for the Red Sox series and sets up Phil Hughes as a possible alternate to Roger Clemens on Sunday. It also gives them a low-risk look at Moose before they have to make any hard decisions about Clemens' elbow or taking rookies in to the postseason. With all of that in mind, this should be an interesting game. Mussina, if you need reminding, has been dreadful over his last four appearances, putting up this line:
13 1/3 IP, 32 H, 22 R (21 ER), 1 HR, 5 BB, 4 K, 2.79 WHIP, 14.18 ERA, 0-3
Moose's 3 2/3 innings in relief of Roger Clemens a week ago Monday was his second longest outing in that stretch and far and away his best, despite the seven hits and two runs he allowed. The low walk and homer rates in the line above are somewhat encouraging, but that dreadful WHIP comprised almost entirely of hits is all you need to see to know how much trouble he's had getting hitters out. That, more than anything else, has been his problem, though it is worth noting that 12 of those 32 hits have been doubles, so it's not as though they're all dinks that can be blamed on bad luck and the defense.
Moose, of course, is still thinking about his four starts previous to those in which he did this:
25 1/3 IP, 29 H, 8 R, 2 HR, 2 BB, 19 K, 1.22 WHIP, 2.84 ERA, 4-0
Opposing Mussina is Dustin McGowan. McGowan is 2-0 against the Yanks this season having held them to two runs on nine hits and four walks in 14 innings across two starts. Inclusive of that last start against the Yanks in mid-July, McGowan has a 2.62 ERA with a 1.03 WHIP and a 7.47 K/9 over his last ten starts.
Combine Mussina and McGowan and tonight's game is one of those that you have to chalk up as a loss going in, setting up an exciting rubber-game duel between A.J. Burnett and rookie Ian Kennedy tomorrow night.
The lineup is unchanged tonight save for Matsui and Damon switching positions. So Moose gets Matsui and Giambi in the field. Off to a great start . . .
By Hook Or By Rook
Phil Hughes looked awful in the first two innings of last night's 9-2 win in Toronto. He was missing Jorge Posada's target by several feet and needed some big plays in the field to escape some serious damage early on. With the bases loaded and two-outs in the first, Aaron Hill laced a grounder up the middle but Hughes managed to swat it down and get the out at first to escape the jam unscathed. With men on first and second and none out in the second, Hughes benefited from an unusual 8-5 fielder's choice courtesy of Melky Cabrera's arm on a flare to center that forced the runners to hold up, and a spectacular diving catch by Johnny Damon on a ball laced into the left field gap. Those plays prevented the Jays from advancing and delivered Hughes two crucial outs. A subsequent single by Russ Adams and a two-base error by Cabrera throwing behind the runner at second (his throw skipped past the bag and rolled into the Yankee dugout) plated both runners, but Hughes got Alex Rios to ground out and shut the door from there, allowing only one base runner on an error by Alex Rodriguez (a bobble) over his final four innings to turn in his second straight six-inning, two-run quality start. Hughes still wasn't all the great even in those later innings, however. He was still frequently missing Posada's target. He only struck out one man all night, that being Vernon Wells leading off the first, and of those last 12 outs, only three of them came on the ground.
It was enough, however, as the Yanks touched up Shawn Marcum for eight runs in 4 1/3 innings, the big shot being an opposite field grand slam by Jason Giambi in the fifth, his first homer in 35 plate appearances. Edwar Ramirez pitched around a pair of singles for a pair of scoreless innings in relief of Hughes, striking out five of the eight men he faced. Ross Ohlendorf then made his major league debut with a 1-2-3 inning that started with a strikeout of Lyle Overbay and concluded with a pair of grounders to fellow member of the Randy Johnson package Alberto Gonzalez. Ohlendorf, who did not pitch well in the minors this year prompting a move into the bullpen, threw 11 pitches, seven of them strikes, and hit 95 on the radar gun with excellent control and great movement on his fastball. For those who might have missed it, that means the Yanks held the Blue Jays to two runs (one earned) on five hits (four of them singles) by using nothing but rookie pitchers. The performances from Ramirez and Ohlendorf are particularly encouraging given the fact that Luis Vizcaino has added a stiff lower back to the shoulder problem that has shut him down over the past week.
Elsewhere, Shelley Duncan was sent back to New York after complaining of abdominal pain that could prove to be a hernia, and the Tigers split a double-header with the Rangers, giving the Yankees an even four-game lead in the Wild Card and a five-game lead in the loss column.
Finally, an update on Roger Clemens courtesy of Pete Abe who reports that Clemens "said he is ready to face Boston on Sunday. He threw for about 15 minutes at 80 percent today and will get after it a little more on Thursday. He had two cortisone shots in his elbow last Wednesday in Houston. He also revealed that there was some ligament damage."
Toronto Blue Jays
The Yankees have played the Blue Jays six times since the All-Star break and won five of those contests. Their one loss came in Toronto in the last of those six games when Chien-Ming Wang had the worst start of his career. Since then, the Yankee have survived the tough part of their second half schedule and embarked on a current 9-3 pace which has launched them into a comfortable lead in the Wild Card race (now four games with the Tigers loss earlier today). The Blue Jays, meanwhile, have continued to be the .500 baseball team they've been all year, going 15-15 since the Yanks last left Canada. They come into tonight off a seven-game road trip on which they dropped series to the AL-best Red Sox and AL-worst Devil Rays as well as a make-up game against the Tigers last night.
One variable in this series is Troy Glaus, not because of the recent steroid allegations, but because he left yesterday's game after feeling something pop in his left foot. Glaus has had foot problems all year and has been battling plantar fasciitis, the same injury that put Jason Giambi on the shelf for more than two months (perhaps not coincidentally after a four game series on the turf in Toronto). Glaus has been tearing things up recently, hitting .372/.517/.721 since August 25. If he's hindered or unable to play at all (remember Toronto's DH slot is filled by the immovable Frank Thomas, though Glaus's bat has been much hotter of late), it will be a big break for the Yanks.
As for the Yanks, Derek Jeter is indeed in the starting lineup against Shaun Marcum tonight, as are all of the other usual suspects, with Giambi at first base, Damon in left, and Matsui at DH (though all three are struggling so much that I had hoped to see Wilson Betemit get the starts at first base against the all-righty Toronto rotation).
Marcum has gone 11-3 with a 3.45 ERA since entering the Toronto rotation in mid-May. Among his 22 starts this year are two quality outings against the Yanks in which he's posted this combined line: 12 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 5 BB, 7 K, but has only a loss and a no-decision to show for it (the Jays did win that first game). Marcum posted a 2.02 ERA in his first ten starts and has a 4.76 ERA in his last twelve, but his peripherals don't show a considerable change in effectiveness. If anything, he was a bit hit-lucky in those first ten outings, something which has ceased in the last 12, but his WHIP in those last dozen outings remains a solid 1.29, and, for what it's worth, his record has been 8-3 over those last 12 starts.
Opposing Marcum will be Phil Hughes who came up huge in the finale against the Mariners last week to pull out of a string of three poor outings. The key to that start for Hughes was a surge in his ground ball rate. Here's hoping that trend continues tonight as he faces the Blue Jays for the first time since his major league debut back in April, when he got the Blue Jays' bad hitter out, but got stung by their good hitters. The Jays are the first major league team to get a second look at Hughes.
Series Wrap: Catching Up
Some of you may have noticed that I've been away for the last ten days. I was in California for the wedding of two very close friends followed by an early first anniversary trip of my own. Since I've not been around to wrap up the last three series (the let-down against the Devil Rays, the crucial win against the Mariners, and the back-to-business sweep of the Royals), I thought I'd combine all three into a series wrap post here both to make up for those missing posts and to help me get back in the swing of things prior to the resumption of play tonight in Toronto. And so . .
Offense: The Yankees scored just 13 runs in the first four games while I was away, and averaged just four runs against the dreadful Devil Ray pitching staff, starting with Andy Sonnanstine having, by his own admission, the game of his life. They then flipped the switch and scored 42 runs over the last five games, putting up double-digit totals in three of the five.
Alex Rodriguez .515/.579/1.273, 2B, 8 HR, 16 RBI, 10 R, 3 BB, 2 HBP, 2 SB, CS
Hideki Matsui .074/.242/.074, 5 BB, 4 K, CS, 0 RBI, 3 R
Andy Phillips broke his wrist in the finale against the D-Rays and is out for the season (he's been placed on the 60-day disabled list). He went 2 for 3 with a pair of walks in that series before the injury and his final line on the season is .292/.338/.373. Jason Giambi has started four games at first since then to Wilson Betemit's two. Doug Mientkiewicz was activated from the 60-day DL when rosters expanded, but has only appeared as an in-game replacement, going 1 for 3 with a single, a strikeout and a sac bunt in five games. Derek Jeter left Saturday's game with a knee problem that's been described as irritation of the patella tendon in his right knee. He did not play on Sunday, with Betemit getting the start at short, but is expected to return to the lineup tonight. As per the stats above, Alex Rodriguez's mild sprained ankle looks to be about as big of a problem as the hamstring injury he suffered earlier in the year. He's hit seven home runs in the last five games, homering in each of those five contests.
Alberto Gonzalez, who hit .266/.319/.379 between double- and triple-A this season, with the bulk of his playing time coming in Scranton, but the bulk of his hitting having been done in Trenton (though he did hit ten triples in for Scranton), has seen some playing time as a defensive replacement. He made his major league debut on Sept. 1 with an inning at shortstop against the Devil Rays. He ground out as a pinch-hitter for Alex Rodriguez to end a seven-run seventh inning against the Mariners in his first major league at-bat on Sept. 4. He's still looking for his first major league hit and is 0 for 4 across five games. Bronson Sardinha was just called up on Sunday and is also making his first appearance on a major league roster.
Just What We Need...
...For MLB to pattern itself after the NBA. This could take some time...
Howard Bryant is now writing for ESPN. He tackles the Mitchell Investigation in his latest piece.
Over at the NY Times' blog, Tyler Kepner has a nice post about Harlan Chamberlain.
Can the Yankees win the East? Larry Mahnken takes a look.
Will Alex Rodriguez leave the Yankees? Tim Marchman thinks that is a possibility:
Some mysteries are no mystery at all. Take the ongoing speculation over whether or not Alex Rodriguez will be a Yankee next year. This is not, in fact, a mysterious issue. It was clear in January that he would opt out of his current contract, it became clearer when he had mounted one of the great displays of hitting the game has ever seen in April, and it is clearer still today, as he readies himself for a drive toward his 60th home run. Thus, absent a massive loss of face for the Yankees brass, he will almost certainly be playing for another team next year.
Thanks to Baseball Think Factory for some of the links...
Can't Stop, Won't Stop
So Roy Halladay was pitching a brilliant game last night, but fell apart in the 9th as the Blue Jays lost to the Tigers, 5-4. Go freakin' figure. Got to be one of the best moments of the season for Detroit. Magglio Ordonez had four hits including the game-winner. Man, he's had some kind of season, hasn't he?
The Tigers, who play a double-header against the Texas Rangers today, now trail the Yankees by just three-and-a-half games. The Red Sox lead is down to five games, as they lost a close one to the Devil Rays last night, 1-0.
The Blue Jays won't make the post-season but they can play the role of spoilers, starting tonight against the Yankees. Here's hoping our boys continue to play well this week; here's hoping they win this series in Toronto. 'Nuff said.
Hideki Matsui is in a slump yet the Kansas City pitching staff decided time and again to pitch to Alex Rodriguez this weekend. Rodriguez ripped home run #52 off Zach Greinke in the first inning yesterday. He singled in the fifth and scored on Jorge Posada's double. Yes, the Yankees' two best players, Rodriguez and Posada, were at it again yesterday. Chien-Ming Wang didn't feel great, but toughed-out seven innings, Robinson Cano made a nifty defensive play, and Mariano Rivera earned the save as the Yanks beat the Royals, 6-3. The Bombers gained a game on the Tigers, who finally lost to the Mariners, and now lead both teams by four-games in the wildcard standings.
When he reaches first base, Alex Rodriguez holds his right hand just over his heart as he rotates his left shoulder. He's been doing this for about a month now, presumably stretching-out a jammed shoulder. I was going to mention this routine the other night. It's not that Rodriguez is faking being injured, just that is he can't help but call attention to himself. It's the insecurity of the A-student who needs to be reminded how smart he is.
In his second at-bat last night, Rodriguez planted a fastball over the center field wall for his 50th homer of the season. As he was rounding the bases, the entire Yankee bullpen stood and began immitating Rodrgiuez, rotating their shoulders. Some of his teammates were doing the same when Rodriguez reached the dugout. Smiles all around. After the game Rodriguez showed good humor about being ribbed. "I've never seen a team make more fun of one guy than this team," Rodriguez said, smiling. "That was pretty funny."
Comes with the territory, big boy. Rodriguez hit a second home run--and narrowly missed hitting a third--as Andy Pettitte pitched a good game and the Yankees cruised to an 11-5 win over the Royals. The Bombers have won the series. A win today would be a great way to cap the weekend.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Saturday Night Special?
Another tough pitching match-up for the Yanks tonight. Here's hoping they win the series here and now. It's all about Andy and the bats.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Song for My Father
"I'll never forget this day, Sept. 7, 2007," said Harlan Chamberlain. "I can't put my thoughts into words."
Maybe the reason I don't love baseball movies is because I've never fallen for male weepies like Field of Dreams or Bang the Drum Slowly. It's not that I don't get mushy in certain movies, it's just that baseball movies don't do it for me. My father, on the other hand, loved them and I could see myself, if not loving them myself as I get older, then at least appreciating what my old man saw in them and enjoying that.
My dad, who died earlier this year, was a great blubberer. Episdoes of Law and Order could get him going. He was just a natural crier, and it was easily one of his most endearing qualities. You gotta love a softy, especially old hard guys like my dad.
I couldn't help but think of the old man last night as Harlan Chamberlain watched his son Joba pitch in the big leagues for the first time. "I think he's more excited than I am," Joba said before the game. "I think he's more excited than I've ever been in my entire life."
Harlan bares a passing resemblance to my father--in the thickness of his face, in his glasses, mustache, and the couple of pens tucked into the breast pocket of his black dress shirt. My dad was a real Yankee-hater but he would have been touched by the scene captured by the YES cameras.
When Joba entered a 3-2 game in the bottom of the seventh, Harlan sat in his motorized wheelchair surrounded by family and friends. Harlan's mouth turned downward and tears began to run down the side of his face. Then his chin and bottom lip began to tremble. He couldn't stop it and it didn't look as if he wanted to. Various relatives reached in to rub his shoulder. A young girl threw her arms around his thick neck his face completely moist now.
The long fly ball that ended the seventh put a scare into everyone, and Harlan's reaction was priceless: His eyes bugged out as the rest of his face froze--no breathing. When the catch was made, Halan's mouth, still turned downward, opened and he let out a yell, as he pumped his fist. Everyone around him patted him and cheered as Harlan shook his head with relief. Finally, he rolled his eyes and sighed as if to say..."Whew." Really nice moment.
Joba pitched two scoreless innings. He wasn't great but he didn't give up a run. Then Mariano Rivera dominated the Royals in the ninth giving the Yankees a clutch, 3-2 win. Actually, it was a lucky win as much as anything else because the Yankees went 0-367 with runners on base. Check it out, it was ugly. But you can't argue about aesthetics or luck when you are in a pennant race:
"We went to the bank a lot to win that game," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We had so many guys on base. We used Farns, used Joba, used Mo. We spent a lot to get that win. It was an enormous win for us."
True. A couple of guys who can't play much better are Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, the two best everyday players on the team. Rodriguez drilled a solo homer in his first at-bat, his 49th of the year. Posada followed with a solo blast of his own two batters later. On the Rodriguez dinger, I thought there would be too much top-spin on the ball and that it would hit off the left field wall for a double. But it hit the top of the wall and skipped over for a homer. Rodriguez now has the record for dingers by a third baseman in a season (or he's at least tied the mark if you want to include Harmon Killebrew's 1969 season). He also had two singles. Bobby Abreu doubled home the winning run. The Yanks are three games ahead of the Tigers in the wildcard standings, four up on the Mariners.
Our pal Pete Abe says Harlan Chamberlain "is a piece of work":
He said he was prepared for Billy Butler's ball to go over the wall because he knows Joba is going to give up a run eventually. "Matter of time," he said.
Harlan is scheduled to travel to Yankee Stadium for the first time in his life in two weeks.
The Kansas City Royales (with cheese)
I felt as sure that the Yankees would win the last two games of the Seattle series, and they did just that, but with the memory of last weekend's weak-ass showing against the Devil Rays still fresh, I'm on the fence about whether I think the Yankees will win this series against the Royals. It's the start of a nine-game road trip, the Blue Jays and Red Sox looming. I'm actually feeling that they are going to lose two-of-three, and I'm not trying to be dramatic, either.
I don't know much about the Royals but I do know that they've been competitive. They are throwing three pretty good pitchers at the Yanks this weekend, I know that much. It's just that I'm not convinced the Yankees can bring their A-game to a so-so team on a regular basis.
Show us you are a playoff team. You know what I'm saying? C'mon already. I know we're impatient, I know we're demanding. Just win already and we'll leave you alone.
With Cliff still away on vacay, I was fortunate enough to get acclaimed sports writer Joe Posnanski--whose wonderful blog, The Soul of Baseball, quickly became a must-read this season--to share his thoughts on the Royals with us. Enjoy.
The KC Royals
Ian Kennedy is on the mound tonight, making his second-career start. Gil Meche, winless in his last eight starts, goes for the Royals. Yanks have their work cut out as Meche is due for a turn in luck, but they are still supposed to win these games, yes?
Would be great to see Rodriguez hit his 50th in KC.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Card Corner--Ken Holtzman
Hey, it’s Neidermeyer!
I have to confess I didn’t come up with this original thought; a baseball card dealer who was appraising my collection made the observation that this memorable Topps card (No. 670) made Ken Holtzman look like the sadistic character in Animal House, the 1978 cult film classic. The "real" Doug Niedermeyer, the evil ROTC leader, was played by talented character actor Mark Metcalf, who achieved lesser fame as "The Maestro" on two Seinfeld episodes and also played the father in the introduction to the video for Twisted Sister’s "We’re Not Going To Take It."
Holtzman’s 1972 Topps card, which was his first with the A’s, featured Oakland’s airbrushed green and gold colors over the cap and jersey of the Chicago Cubs. During the winter, the Cubs had traded the left-hander to the Bay, but Topps apparently did not have any updated photographs of Holtzman wearing an A’s uniform at the time of the card’s release. For Holtzman, the offseason trade turned out to the best of all possible career moves. The Cubs’ decision to trade him for outfielder Rick Monday freed Holtzman from the clutches of Chicago’s anti-Semitic manager, Leo Durocher; placed him in the pitcher-friendly environs of the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum; and allowed him to join a team on the verge of winning three consecutive World Championships. Holtzman certainly played a large role in Oakland’s championship run; as the No. 3 starter behind Jim "Catfish" Hunter and Vida Blue, Holtzman won a combined 59 games during his first three seasons in the Bay Area.
Of all the factors affecting Holtzman in Chicago, his relationship with Durocher seemed like the most detrimental. Though a serviceable pitcher with the Cubs, Holtzman sometimes struggled under the brutal management style of Durocher, whose antiquated way of dealing with players undermined the thoughtful left-hander’s performance. According to at least one writer, Durocher repeatedly made anti-Semitic slurs toward Holtzman, even calling him a "kike." Such bigotry didn’t completely end for Holtzman after his trade from Chicago; Billy Martin reportedly expressed anti-Semitic views toward Holtzman when both toiled for the Yankees in 1976 and ’77.
Holtzman thrived pitching for Dick Williams and Alvin Dark during his Oakland says, but he and Martin did not mesh well in New York. While the actual existence and level of Martin’s anti-Semitism remains debatable, there is no debate over the fact that the manager buried the veteran left-hander. After the Yankees acquired Holtzman from the Orioles as part of a ten-man blockbuster in the middle of the 1976 season, he struggled in pinstripes to the tune of a 4.14 ERA, the highest since his Chicago days. Martin lost confidence in Holtzman quickly. In 1977, Martin called on Holtzman only 18 times, and only seven times as a starter. Martin refused to use him down the stretch in critical games. Despite being only 31 years old and only two seasons removed from status as an elite American League left-hander, Martin had about as much confidence in Holtzman as he did in Ken Clay. Or about as much as Yankee fans today have in Kyle Farnsworth.
Now it may not have been Martin working alone. According to some Yankee observers, George Steinbrenner was just as upset by Holtzman’s spotty performance in New York. Disappointed in his 1976 mid-season acquisition, Steinbrenner wanted to trade Holtzman, but there was the little matter of a "no-trade" clause. Holtzman refused to waive the no-trade, drawing the further wrath of The Boss. That decision, coupled with Holtzman’s status as the Yankees’ player rep, may have sent Steinbrenner to the stove. According to some, Steinbrenner ordered Martin to keep Holtzman chained to the bullpen. In contrast to requests to bat Reggie Jackson clean up, Martin was only too willing to acquiesce to Steinbrenner on the matter of burying Holtzman.
Essentially, Martin and Steinbrenner treated Holtzman as "worthless and weak," to borrow Neidermeyer’s favorite catch phrase in addressing his pathetic Animal House recruits. Unfortunately, Holtzman never recovered from the mistreatment. In June of 1978, the Yankees traded him to the Cubs for Ron Davis (now that was a good deal), but the left-hander didn’t come close to resembling his former Chicago self. By the end of the 1979 season, Holtzman was out of baseball, done at the age of 33.
Of course, it’s certainly possible that Holtzman’s early pitching demise resulted from a heavy workload. From 1968 to 1976, Holtzman pitched at least 215 innings per season, with the exception of one. And some of his innings pitched totals were astounding: 266, 287, and 297. I’m not doubting those numbers were a factor in his career decline, but I have to believe that Martin’s handling of Holtzman played a role, too. That kind of emotional damage—whether it’s inflicted by Niedermeyer or the bigots of the world—can be just as destructive as pitch counts and workloads in bringing a career to a premature halt.
Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com and has authored eight books on baseball, including the upcoming release, Out of Left Field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
...And there Once was a Man Named Ruth...Funny Name for a Man, Ruth*
Where does Alex Rodriguez's season rank amongst the greatest single seasons ever by a Yankee hitter? Well, according to OPS+, if the season ended today, he'd rank #25. Rodriguez currently sports an OPS+ of 183 (he had an OPS+ of 167 in his last MVP season, 2005). If he drops to 180, he'll be in 30th place. Nothing but a bunch of guys name Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle and DiMaggio ahead of him on the list. But check out Bobby Murcer's 1971 season, and Paulio O's strike-shortened 1994 season, making to top 30.
Field of Dreams Moment
Joba Chamberlian's father, Harlan, will be travelling from his home in Lincoln, Nebraska to Kansas City this weekend to see his son. According to the New York Post:
Harlan always believed in his son but even he is surprised by Joba's meteoric rise in the Yankee bullpen. "It's more astonishing than anything," he said. "It's beyond my wildest imagination. And as a father, I just want to reach out to my son and touch him.
Harlan has lived with polio since he was nine-years old.
Yankee Panky 23: The Wild Cards
A short piece today to stir the pot.
Before I get into the media coverage, a couple of quick observations:
Prior to the Yankees’ “tough stretch,” which featured series against the Indians, Angels, Tigers, Red Sox and Mariners, the Yankees had whittled their AL East deficit to four games and were still looking up in the wild-card race. Reporters, talkies and announcers alike noted that the three-week interlude would likely determine the Yankees’ fate, and for all intents and purposes, it has.
The inconsistency of the Yankees’ play for the past three weeks, which has directly led to their fluctuating playoff position, has made for interesting reading and analysis. When the going was good, the distance between the Yankees and the Red Sox and the longshot possibility of a 10th straight division title was mentioned in nearly every game story that followed a victory. Then the team tanked in
In much of today’s newspaper coverage, the Red Sox barely garnered a mention, which is interesting. It’s as if the possibility of a comeback has been dismissed and a more realistic approach to the Yankees’ standing is being taken.
I don’t know about you, but I find this refreshing.
Until next week …
Bow Down to a Player That's Greater than You
I guess the ankle is okay. Soup to nuts, Alex Rodriguez is your American League MVP. His performance Wednesday night is the kind that voters remember at the end of the season. In a big game against his old team, Rodriguez delivered the biggest hits. He ain't no choke artist this year.
The Yankees were down 2-1 when Rodriguez led-off the seventh inning with a long home run against Jarrod Washburn. When he came to the plate again later in the inning it was thirty minutes later and the lead was up to 7-2. Now he hit another home run, a two-run line drive into the left field seats. That makes 48 homers, 134 RBI, and 127 runs scored.
The Mariners used six pitchers, the Yankees scored eight runs and the half-inning last just under forty minutes. Good ol' American League baseball.
A solo shot by Jose Molina in the bottom of the inning brought the Yanks to within one and Hughes worked out of trouble in the fourth. With a runner on third and one out, he got a strikeout and a ground ball. Then he worked a perfect fifth and sixth (with some help from Duncan who threw out Ibanez trying to stretch a single into a double to lead off the sixth).
The Mariners were hurt even more by luck. A botched play at second, allowing Molina to reach safely, and later, a routine ground ball that reached the outfield because second baseman Jose Lopez was out of position moving towards second on a hit-and-run play. Ichiro was robbed by two bad calls on the bases--one at second (phantom tag by Jeter), the other at first. The M's were upset with home plate umpire Larry Vanover's strike zone all night (with good reason, he was all over the place). Rick White got himself thrown out by Vanover he was so frustrated.
Joba Chamberlain pitched a one-two-three seventh and earned his first career victory. A necessary win for New York. An awful loss for Seattle. The Yankees now travel to Kansas City with a three-game lead over the Mariners. Most of all, it was another great night from Mr. Big Stuff (the team's second best player Jorge Posada drew a key pinch-hit walk in the seventh), the best player in the league.
Straight Up and Down, Troop, Don't Even Play Yourself
Last night won't mean much if the Yanks don't win again tonight. They need to win this game and they need to win this series. Being three games up on Seattle is a whole lot better than just a one-game lead. Then again the Mariners need to win this game badly too. I expect their best effort and Washburn has been tough on the Yankees in the past. But I also expect Hughes to throw a good game and I expect the Yankees to win. Could be wrong, of course. They could come out flat. Who knows what we'll see. But they should win, right? Alex Rodriguez is in the starting line-up, he'll DH. Jorge sits, so does Abreu. Betemit plays third, G'bombee plays first, and Shelley SlamDuncanstein is in right.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Couple of Few Things
Here's some Yankee notes for you...
The Rocket will have a cortisone shot today. According to Buster Olney:
Roger Clemens won't make a decision about whether to retire, after 24 seasons, and we've seen him change his mind in the past. But what friends and associates are saying is that they believe this will be the final year for The Rocket, because at age 45, the grind of pitching is wearing on him differently, and his numbers reflect this: The batting average against him, of .271, is the highest since his first season, in 1984; the slugging percentage of .411 against him is the worst of his career, and his strikeout-per-nine innings ratio of 6.19 is the worst of his career.
I missed this a few days ago, but Jack Curry wrote a good story in the Times about Alex Rodriguez's half brother, Victor.
Speaking of Rodriguez, x-rays were taken after the game last night on his right ankle. They came back negative. He might sit out tonight. But even if he's not seriously hurt, I fear that his swing will be thrown out-of-whack. I hope I'm wrong, of course. Hope it's just me being nervous.
That was some bomb he hit last night, huh?
Yo, I'm itching for Rodriguez to hit 50 dingers. I want him to set the single-season HR mark for third basemen and I just want to see a Yankee to hit 50. Right now, Rodriguez has an OPS+ of 179, which would place him in the top half-dozen great seasons ever by a third baseman.
Rodriguez has already scored 125 runs, his best mark as a Yankee (his career high is 141 in 1996). He has 28 doubles, one shy of his Yankee-best 29. The 46 dingers are just two shy of all-time record for third basemen, a mark Rodriguez already shares with Mike Schmidt and Adrian Beltre. Rodriguez has 131 RBI, his high in New York, and just nine shy of his career best (142 in 2002). Oh, and he's also swiped 22 bases while getting caught just twice.
Jorge Posada has had a dream season, same for Magglio Ordonez, but right now, the AL MVP is Rodriguez's to lose.
It was close for awhile. A Dave Winfield-like line drive home run by Jorge Posada and a Dave Kingman-like dinger by Alex Rodriguez--both solo shots--combined with fine pitching from Chien-Ming Wang to keep the Yankees ahead of the Mariners. Lots of ground balls, plenty of handy double plays from Wang tonight. Then, the Bombers blew the doors down and when the smoke cleared it was Yankees 12, Mariners 3. 20 hits for the home team. A typical Yankee win. Close game then the fireworks. The best image of the night was the look on Jeter's face as Rodriguez returned to the dugout after his upper deck homer. Jeter squinted as if to say, "Are you kidding me?"
The Tigers lost a close one to the White Sox, so the Yanks are two ahead of the M's, three-and-a-half ahead of the Tigers. A Nice Tuesday.
The Jury is Out
...on these New York Yankees. Look, I don't care what the pitching match-up is tonight, it's on each and every one of the Yankees to show-up and put forth a winning effort. If the Yanks don't make the playoffs, they've got nobody to blame but themselves.
Get it in gear, fellas, we'll be rooting you on.
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
Of Mice and Moose
Mike Mussina via Pete Abe:
Head on right? That's a nice way of putting it.
Alex Rodriguez drove in the first run of the game yesterday. It was the bottom of the first inning, and the Yanks jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Rodriguez's 130th RBI of the season. Rodriguez has now tied his 2005 RBI mark and is three dingers away from tying the record he shares (with Mike Schmidt and Adrian Beltre) for most homers in a season by a third baseman. The reason I mention all of this is because it was the only highlight of another misbegotten afternoon for this confounding Yankee team. Everything went downhill from there--double plays in the second and third inning spelled doom for the home team--as the Mariners finally ended their losing streak, beating up on the Yankees, 7-1. Roger Clemens didn't have much and underwent an MRI on his elbow after the game. Uh-oh. Mike Mussina was better than he's been (he was certainly throwing harder and with more confidence), but he wasn't great either, allowing seven hits in just over three innings of work.
If Clemens can't pitch, Mussina will likely take his turn.
Tonight, the Yankees need to wake up and play a good game.
I spent almost the entire day yesterday travelling from Vermont back down to the Bronx via Amtrak. The less said about the trip home the better. The same could be said for the Yankees unsightly performance this weekend against the Devil Rays. I got home last night and called a friend who was livid with the Yankees. Not only that but he simply does not believe they have any heart, any business being considered a post-season threat. "They have no killer instinct, they think they can just show up and be good enough. After beating the Sox they get ripped twice by mediocre pitchers on the Devil Rays? What is that?" I didn't have an answer. "Joe Torre," he continued, "has to be the worst manager in the game when it comes to pitching moves." He proceeded to describe yesterday's events, when Pettitte stayed in the game too long (why didn't Joba Chamberlain start the seventh?), and by the time Torre made a move it was "four batters too late." This reminded me of the comparison Met players used to make between Yogi Berra and Gil Hodges. In the third inning, the thinking went, Hodges was thinking about what to do in the sixth inning. In the sixth inning, Yogi was thinking about what he should have done in the third.
My friend believes that since 2001, Joe Torre's teams have been seriously lacking, and a lot of it can be traced back to the skipper. "Just look at their combined playoff record after they were tied or had a lead in the playoffs." I said, "Yeah, but look at the Mariners. They've lost nine straight. And look at the Tigers." He wasn't having it. Whether the Yankees make the playoffs or not, he doesn't think they'll make it out of the first round. So I bet him a dinner that when the Yankees make the playoffs they'll win the first round.
Call it a sucker's bet or blind faith, but what the heck?
Cliff is away on vacation, so there won't be a Mariners Preview as per usual. I'm not even going to try and replicate what Cliff does so well. What I do know is that Seattle has lost nine in a row but they also have their ace, Felix Hernandez, going today. That isn't a good sign for the Yanks, who'll counter with Rocket Clemens. Something's got to give. Will we see the same uninspired effort that we saw this past weekend, or something closer to what we saw last week against the Red Sox? If the Yankees have any killer instinct in them, they'll win two of three here, even sweep. But if they lose this series--and I don't think anyone would be surprised either way--the book will still be open on this team. Are they pretenders or contenders?
That is the $64,000 question.
It is absolutely gorgeous in New York today, cool and overcast.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
The Only Living Boy In New York
There were about 53,000 people at the Stadium today, and as far as I can tell they are the only 53,000 left in New York this weekend. Last night I went to a Smith Street bar with a few friends that’s normally packed to the gills on a Saturday night, and we had it pretty much to ourselves; there were no cabs around either, so we walked home over the pungent Gowanus Canal and didn't encounter a soul. And there are parking spaces! Not that I have a car, but I appreciate it in a sort of abstract way. It’s like spotting a flock of rare exotic birds. I've read about these things in books, and I've been trying to walk very slowly and quietly down my street so as not to frighten them away.
On a Sunny Afternoon
We all know how well Andy Pettitte performs after a Yankee loss. Here's hoping homeslice can hack it after a Yankee win. With an important series against a reeling Seattle team starting tomorrow (with Felix Hernandez on the hill), this am be a big 'un to win.
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
Ask Not What Ian Kennedy Can Do You For You...
Alternate title: Ich Bein Ein Yankee
Oh, Hey, and Another Thing, Meat. You Don't Know S***, All Right?
Just when you think you know something, you get knocked on your ass and realize that you don't no jack. So much for being the favorites. So much for the odds. The Yanks, coming off three big wins against the Red Sox, were served by the lowly Devil Rays on Friday night in the Bronx by the score of 9-1. Fortunately for New York, the Blue Jays also narrowly edged the Mariners, so the Yanks are still leading the wildcard. And up in Boston, the Orioles lousy bullpen somehow prevailed against a hard-charging Red Sox offense. Both the Red Sox and Mariners had the winning runs on base in the ninth, both hit into game-ending double plays.
Our beloved Bronx Bombers mustered just two hits (a double by Derek Jeter, an RBI single by Alex Rodriguez in the fourth inning) as Phillip Hughes delivered another disappointing performance. After the game, Hughes told The New York Times:
"It was a little bit of everything tonight," Hughes said. "I had a lot of bad counts, some bad breaks and gave up some home runs. It's something that I need to fight through. Even when you have a bad start you hope to keep your team in the game. Tonight, I couldn't do that."
Joe Torre told the Daily News:
"He shouldn't be missing the zone like he's been missing, so I think he was either trying to make too good a pitch or he needs to command his fastball a little bit better," Joe Torre said. "It got to the point where he was getting behind in the count and he had to throw predictable pitches in predictable counts. That's the pitcher's dread, when you're out there and you really lose the ability to do what you want."
After the game, Rays stater, Andy Sonnanstine--who pitched a wonderful game--told the Tampa Bay Trib:
Honestly, that's probably the best start of my life," said Sonnanstine, whose parents were in town from Ohio to watch him pitch. "It's something I'll never forget."
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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