Monthly archives: July 2008
Earl Weaver Special
On a hot, humid night in the Bronx last night, Andy Pettitte had a hard time staying cool and composed. Drenched in sweat and clearly off his game, Pettitte struggled with his command and the communication with his new catcher, Ivan Rodriguez--at one point Pettitte simply mouthed "four seam, four seam" before delivering a pitch. The big lefty managed to strand a pair of walks in the first inning and work around a pair of singles in the second, but in the third he gave up a pair of three-run homers to Torii Hunter and Juan Rivera that broke the game wide open.
The Yankees got a run in the fourth on a Bobby Abreu solo shot off Angels starter Jon Garland, and another in the fifth when Melky Cabrera tripled and scored on a subsequent hit by Johnny Damon, but the Angels got those back and more in the sixth. Pettitte gave up one more tally before getting the hook with one out in the sixth, but he left two runners on base for Chris Britton. Britton retired two of the first three men he faced, but the one he didn't get was Vlad Guerrero, who added yet another three-run jack to push the score to 10-2 and end any real hope of a Yankee comeback.
Britton gave up two more runs in the eighth, but saved the rest of the pen by finishing the game (3 2/3 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 1 K). Meanwhile, Xavier Nady, who is stinging the ball in blow-outs but still hitless as a Yankee when it matters, led off the seventh with a solo shot off Garland, then keyed a somewhat hopeless Yankee rally in the ninth with a lead-off single. The Yanks wound up scoring three runs off Darrens Oliver and O'Day in the ninth to make the 12-6 final look closer than the game actually was. Here's hoping that rally carries over into tomorrow's game.
In his Yankee debut, Ivan Rodriguez saw three Angels steal successfully against him and Pettitte and went 1 for 3 at the plate with a strikeout and a double play. Rodriguez's one hit was a hard shot that Chone Figgins knocked down at third, but couldn't gather in time to throw Rodriguez out. Pushed to third by a Cabrera single, Rodriguez made a deft baserunning play when Johnny Damon subsequently hit a comebacker that Darren Oliver juggled then threw wildly to second to force Melky. Rodriguez broke for home as soon as Oliver committed to his throw and made a nice outside slide around catcher Jeff Mathis, sticking his left hand in to touch home safely. The only problem is that home plate ump Ed Hickox completely blew the call, telling Rodriguez that he had missed the plate, and calling him out on a phantom 1-6-2 double play. Another bummer on a night full of them (I didn't even mention the slack defense of Robinson Cano and Bobby Abreu, which stood in stark contrast to the play of the Angels, particularly Figgins . . . oh, I guess I just did).
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2007 Record: 94-68 (.580)
2008 Record: 67-40 (.626)
Manager: Mike Scioscia
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Angel Stadium
Who's Replaced Whom:
Mark Teixeira replaces Casey Kotchman
1B - Mark Teixeira (S)
S - Gary Matthews Jr. (OF)
R - John Lackey
R - Francisco Rodriguez
15-day DL: R - Michael Napoli (C)
S - Chone Figgins (3B)
Manny Over Board
My first impression is that Boston did well for themselves. Bay is a very good hitter who is likely to be even better with the Red Sox. He might not be as great as Ramirez but he's a lot younger. He's also cheaper--a lot cheaper. I don't think the drop-off is that drastic to be honest. Looks like a solid move by a team in a tough spot.
Still, no Manny in Boston leaves an emptiness in the Yankee-Sox rivalry.
Movin and Shakin
Couple of new guns will be at Stadium tonight--the Angels have a new first baseman, the Yanks have a new catcher. Be interesting to see how that impacts the Halos Annual Bomber Beatdown. In the meantime, this afternoon is about the trade deadline.
So? Will Manny Ramirez still be a Red Sox come this evening?
Lob it in There
Props to the New York Times for the work they've been doing with the Bats blog. Last year, Bats was functional but uninspired. This season, however, they've not only been updating the blog frequently, but they've included some terrific posts, like this one on the history of the Eephus pitch. Absolutely monstrous post.
One of the funniest things I recall seeing in recent years came in the late summer of 2002. It was an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium, the Rangers were in town, and it was brutally hot.
El Duque had been tinkering with the old lob ball for a few games when he uncorked one to Alex Rodriguez in the first inning of an afternoon game. Rodriguez was caught off guard, and so was the ump: the pitch looked like a strike, but was called high. Rodriguez stepped out of the box, and smiled. Duque tried it again on the very next batter, Raffie Palmerio. The pitch was in the dirt and it skipped away from Jorge Posada.
The second time Rodriguez came up, Duque threw him another floater, again for a ball. Not willing to let well enough alone, Duque thought he would fool Rodriguez by trying it again in the same at-bat (chutzpah is not something Hernandez ever lacked). So he floated another one to the plate, arching his back in an exaggerated manner that gave away his intention. Rodriguez waited, then pounced, popping the ball over the left field fence.
Joe Torre shook his head and grumbled. It was the last Eephus of the day for Hernandez, who gave up a homer in the next at-bat to Palmerio (fastball). Those were the only two times Texas scored all day, Duque settled down and pitched wonderfully and the Yanks won the game.
Of course, who can forget Dave LaRoche, throwing a true Eephus to Gorman Thomas at the Stadium back in the Eighties?
Simon Bar Sinister
I've always enjoyed rooting against Pudge Rodriguez. He makes a good villain. It starts with the eyebrows, arched in a comically sinister fashion. Pudge is both good-looking and almost grotesque, he's like a Warner Bros. cartoon come to life--a bona fide Taz Devil. On the field, he's a "winner," a guy who helped the Marlins win a World Series and later, helped put the Tigers back on the map. He's a Hall of Fame catcher, not just a great fielding catcher in his day, but a legendary one. He's also a guy who likely took performance-enhancing drugs when he was with the Rangers. He's never been busted, but you have to figure he just turned out to be one of the lucky ones.
Still, he's an entertaining player to watch. He might not be as strong defensively as Jose Molina, but he's still a presence out there. Plus, he's charismatic. I don't think any of us would be surprised to see him collect some big hits in August and September.
So, I'm pleased to see him on the team, warts and all. And while I'm not sorry to see Kyle Farnsworth's time with the Yankees come to an end, I was moved by his show of emotion yesterday. I felt for the big lug, which is basically how GM Brian Cashman portrayed him--as a good guy. I've always been so frustrated by his performance that I never paid much attention to his personality. He wasn't effusive with the press so it was really hard to tell if he had one.
Now, he's gone. One big, bad guy out, another bad guy in.
I Love It When A Plan Comes Together
I have to hand it to Brian Cashman. For the past week, both before and after the Yankees' acquisition of Damaso Marte, I've been going on about how the Yankees didn't need another relief pitcher. It was a total waste of resources, so I argued, to trade for a reliever when the bullpen was already stacked, excelling, and backed up by major league ready reinforcements at triple-A. So what does Cashman do? He goes out and trades from that strength to fill the biggest hole on the ballclub by acquiring a legitimate starting catcher.
By now you've surely heard about the deal that has sent Kyle Farnsworth back to the Tigers for Ivan Rodriguez, but think of it this way: Daniel McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, and Jose Tabata for Xavier Nady and Ivan Rodriguez. Suddenly that deal with Pittsburgh looks a whole lot better, doesn't it?
Marte now replaces Farnsworth in the bullpen straight up, which has several benefits. First: no more Kyle Farnsworth. As well as Farnsworth had been pitching (2.84 ERA, 21 K in 19 IP since June 1 with a hidden no-hitter--9 IP, 0 H, 5 BB, 10 K--from June 27 to July 22), his home run rate on the season is still 2.23 HR/9, and he's always a meatball or two away from both disaster and a return to his unreliable ways of all but the last two months of his Yankee career. To that end, the Yankees are selling high, which is what they should be doing with an inconsistent veteran like Farnsworth. If Farnsworth leaves any legacy as a Yankee, it might be that he finally got hot at exactly the right time. Second, removing Farnsworth increases the chances of Joe Girardi using Marte properly--that is, as a full-fledged set-up man who pitches for a full inning or more--rather than creating more work for his other relievers by using Marte as a LOOGY. Finally, replacing Farnsworth with Marte increases the variety of the relief corps. Both Farnsworth and seventh-inning guy Jose Veras are right-handers who throw straight cheese and sharp sliders. Replacing Farnsworth with the lefty Marte gives opponents yet another type of pitcher to contend with in addition to Veras, changeup specialist Edwar Ramirez, curveballer David Robertson, Dan Giese and his softer fastball/slider mix, and whomever winds up taking Chad Moeller's spot on the roster tomorrow (then again, Brian Bruney is another straight cheese and sliders guy, but better to have two of those guys than three).
The final accounting on the Marte-Farnsworth substitution also works out pretty well. Their season numbers:
Farns: 3.65 ERA (113 ERA+), 44 IP, 43 K, 17 BB, 11 HR, 0 BS, 2 L
Of Course You Know, This Means War
Has Manny gone too far? The rumor mill is hot with talk about Ramirez tonight, and here is what Manny told ESPN earlier today:
"The Red Sox don't deserve a player like me," Ramirez said. "During my years here, I've seen how they [the Red Sox] have mistreated other great players when they didn't want them to try to turn the fans against them.
The Red Sox pride themselves on not being emotional when it comes to making roster moves. But Manny is really pushing the envelope, he's really putting them on the spot, baiting them, insulting them.
Think their relationship is beyond the point of no return? This is starting to get ugly. Ramirez is right about one thing, though--there are an awful lot of Red Sox star players (Fisk, Lynn, Tiant, Vaughn) whose time in Boston ended on a sour note. It's only fitting that it end badly for Manny in Boston too.
Alas, Poor Farnsworth!
I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite fastballs...
Joba Chamberlain pitched this afternoon against the Orioles' Dennis "Who?" Safarte today, and the Yankees won 13-3, snapping their losing streak at three games. Not that three games amounts to much of a "streak," really, but given the opponents and manner of the losses, it certainly felt like one. And sometime during the seventh inning, as you may have heard, the Yankees traded the intrepid Kyle Farnsworth for some dude named Pudge Rodriguez. Brian Cashman is a mad genius.
No, it's hard to criticize this trade... except that I'm absolutely indignant that the Yankees never ONCE had a real brawl, not one, during Farnsworth's entire tenure. This is a colossal waste I mean, that's pretty much the main reason to have Kyle Farnsworth on your team, as far as I'm concerned. A missed opportunity that will haunt the team for years.
It was a fine afternoon in the Bronx for the home team. We'll have the re-cap a bit later. But here's something to chew on...ESPN's Buster Olney reports that the Yankees have traded for Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez. Whoa. Lo-Hud says the Tigers get Kyle Farnsworth in exchange.
Right Man for the Job
C'mon, Meat. Keep your wits about you and John Blaze your way through the O's.
Time for a win.
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
Flip the Script
Dig Syreeta Wright's version of "She's Leaving Home." The lyrics really have a different emotional kick with a female vocal. Syreeta is Stevie Wonder's ex-wife; he produced the track.
Step to This
Even when he falters, Mariano Rivera's greatness remains untarnished. Rivera gave up a home run last night, but still reached another milestone.
I Rock Ruff and Stuff with my Aubrey Huff
After winning eight straight, the Yankees can't seem to get out of their own way. They lost again to the Orioles, this time 7-6. This one was a heartbreaker. Not because it was such a well-played game. But because the Yankees came back and had their chances to win but couldn't get over the hump. This game was a hump. And so was Aubrey Huff.
Darrell Rasner wasn't that bad. He gave up two runs through the first six innings. But Brian Roberts led off the seventh with a base hit and then Rasner plunked Adam Jones. Damaso Marte came in and Rasner was last seen cursing at himself in the dugout. Nick Markakis fought off a fastball for a cheap hit. Bases juiced.
Then Aubrey Huff wacked the first pitch deep to right, but it hooked foul. He swung through the next pitch, a fastball, then crushed the next pitch, another fastball that caught too much of the plate, into the gap in left center field, clearing the bases. Melvin Mora doubled Huff home off the first base bag to put the Yankees down 6-1.
Daniel Cabrera pitched well...again. But in the bottom of the seventh, he plunked Alex Rodriguez--who homered in his previous at-bat--and was thrown out of the game. (There was no further incident). Couple of batters later, Robinson Cano singled with the bases loaded and nobody out, scoring two and the Yanks were in business, down 6-3. But Wilson Betemit whiffed, then Melky Cabrera lined out to center (the ball almost took off on Jones, who did a late little leap to snag it), before Xavier Nady struck out looking at a nasty breaking ball to end the inning.
In the top of the ninth, the YES cameras showed a red lady bug on the right side of Mariano Rivera's hat as he warmed up. Then freakin Aubrey Huff blasted the first pitch he saw from Rivera deep into the upper deck. It went foul but it was closer to a homer than his shot against Marte. Two pitches later, Huff cranked another lousy fastball over the wall in right for a dinger. Got-to-be-kidding-meSomehow, Huff should be credited with more than just one homer, don't you think?
It prooved to be the difference.
George Sherrill, Baltimore's All Star lefty, gave up a single to Johnny Damon to start the bottom of the ninth. He got ahead of Jeter 0-2, but walked him. Bobby Abreu laced the first pitch he saw into left scoring Damon and putting runners at second and third with no out. Rodriguez got a good hack on a breaking pitch but hooked it foul and struck out on a fastball in his kitchen.
Giambi fell behind 0-2 and then lined a 1-2 pitch up the middle. It bounced off the mound, right past Sherrill, into left field. Two runs in, Yanks down by one. The "Yanks are showing some guts showing some grit," Michael Kay said on on TV.
Justin Christian replaced Giambi and stole second on the first pitch, a strike, to Cano. "See that, see Michael," Paul O'Neill said, as if he was showing Kay the goose bumps on his arm, "That just gives me a thrill." Then he talked about guts as Cano struck out on three pitches. Leaving it all up to Betemit. Ah, Betemit. Right-handed, no less. What happened?
Betemit struck out and so did the Yanks.
A tough loss. Sox fell too, almost got no-hit. But the Rays won.
Joba needs to stop the bleeding tomorrow afternoon.
Million Dollar Arm, Ten Cent Head
No, not Dalkowski, the patron saint of erratic flame throwers, but Daniel Cabrera, tonight's starting pitcher for the Orioles. Cabrera sneers and looks sinister--unlike Dalkowski. Drives me nuts when the Yanks are done in by the likes of this chucker. So time for Rasner to have a good outing, and time for the Yankee offense to make mince meat out of that big goon Cabrera.
Kick em in the grill, boys.
Let's go Yan-kees!
I'm friendly with Rob, the token booth clerk at 238th street on the 1 line. He's in his early fifties, but you'd never tell by looking at him--he looks at least ten years younger. Rob is a big Yankee fan and is a charming, gregarious man. He's been at 238 for three years and knows at least sixty percent of the customers that pass through the station. When I have the time, as I did last Friday afternoon, I stop and chat.
So there we were, talking about the Yankees. Rob was saying how impressed he's been with Mussina. I told him that I hoped Moose comes close to winning twenty games this year. Then I said, "I hope Alex hits forty homers too."
Just then, a squat, disheveled man walked into the station--which is three flights above ground level (the 1 train is elevated in the Bronx).
"Did you say you are going to hit forty homers" he said, slurring his words.
"No," I said, now smelling the stench coming off the guy, a mixture of dried sweat and alcohol, "I said I hope A Rod hits forty."
"Why not make it sixty?" He roared and slapped me on the shoulder, then staggered away. Rob tilted his head to the side and raised an eyebrow.
The man stood in front of the turnstiles for a few minutes. Rob and I continued our conversation, with one eye on Ned the Wino. Then we heard the sound of an approaching train. Several people, out of breath, came into the station and went through the turnstiles.
The drunk man looked ahead and said, "If only I was younger."
He took a step back from the turnstile as the train rushed into the station, put his right hand into the back of his jeans (he was not wearing underwear) and pulled out an unopened can of Fosters. With the beer in his right hand, he lifted his left leg, as if he was going to hop the turnstiles.
Rob did not raise his voice but said, "Uh...No-no."
The man remained frozen in the pose for a minute, as if he was a fat, washed- up wrestler about the climb into the ring. Then, defeated, he lowered his leg and placed the beer back in the crack of his ass. Then he turned around.
"I guess I'll be walking to Staten Island," he said as he wobbled past Rob and me out of the station.
"That's some long walk," said Rob.
Rob and I looked at each other and we both raised our eyebrows. Just then, a sleek young Spanish woman walked in and the foul smell was replaced by the warm scent of vanilla and feminity. Rob chatted with her, she batted her eyes, and I smiled, gazing at her narrow waist, amazed at how quickly the smell in the place changed. I was also amazed at the drunk. Why climb three flights of stairs if you aren't going to bust out and jump the turnstiles? I couldn't remember the last time I saw a benign, completely harmless wino like that.
Anyhow, made my day.
Yankee Stadium: A First and Last Look
Perfect grace consists not in exterior ornamentation of the substance, but in the simple fitness of its form.
All forms of great artistic expression are paradoxes at their core. Each work of art must have some sort of underlying unifying principle. To succeed, the elements of that artwork have to both connect with that underlying principle in order for the work to cohere, and at the same defy that principle in order for the work to surprise and delight. Jazz songs, for example, typically start off with a basic melody played straight, off of which the musicians will then improvise for the remainder of the song.
When I visit a new ballpark, I love to start out by finding a place where I can stand and absorb a panorama of the ballpark. What's this park about? What's the melody that holds this thing together? Often, this isn't something you intellectualize--you just get an overall feeling of the place. Once, I've got that sense, I like to go around and photograph all the little elements of the park that surprise and delight me.
Last Sunday, I made my first and only lifetime visit to Yankee Stadium. My usual modus operandi was thrown off from the start, as I was informed by Cliff Corcoran that if I want to see Monument Park, I should go straight there as soon as the gates open, or I won't get in to see it at all. So my first impression of Yankee Stadium was not a panorama, but a crowded throng of humanity being led by ushers with bullhorns up and down and around and through narrow, low-ceiling ramps and barricaded corridors in a 95-degree heat:
The Dirty Let Down
Last night Mike Mussina had nothing, David Robertson had less, and the Yankee offense apparently missed the plane home from Boston. After five and a half innings, the Yankees had put just three men on base against Jeremy Guthrie on a single (promptly erased by a Derek Jeter double play), a walk, and a hit-by-pitch. The Orioles, meanwhile, had scored 11 runs off Mussina and Robertson, the key hits being consecutive second-inning home runs by Kevin Millar and Ramon Hernandez and an RBI triple by Adam Jones in the fifth off Mussina and a grand slam by Jones off Robertson (the first home run Robertson has allowed in his 148 1/3 professional innings) in the sixth.
The Yankees finally mounted a threat with two outs in the sixth, loading the bases on another single, another walk, and another hit-by-pitch, but Guthrie struck out Jason Giambi to end the inning. Xavier Nady finally broke through with a solo homer in the seventh, his first Yankee hit and Guthrie's last pitch of the night. Johnny Damon added a three-run shot off reliever Lance Cormier later in the inning, but that was all the Yankees would get, while the O's would tag on two more in the eighth on a two-run jack by Aubrey Huff off Kyle Farnsworth. Final score: 13-4.
The big news of the night, however, was word that, after conferring with the team, Jorge Posada has decided to have his shoulder surgery. Both Posada and Brian Cashman indicated that the acquisition of Nady was what allowed them to finally make that decision, which is a not insignificant mark in that trade's favor. "As difficult as it is," Posada said in a statement, "I can focus on coming back 100 percent for next season instead of coming back at less than that now." Said Brian Cashman, "It's just the obvious way to go."
In other injury news, Hideki Matsui donned a new knee brace and took 20 swings off a tee followed by five swings against soft toss. He's hoping to be able to start a rehab assignment in a week or two. Phil Hughes and Carl Pavano (yes, I said it) were scheduled to pitch two innings a piece for the Gulf Coast League Yankees last night, but the game was rained out. They'll try again tonight with low-A Charleston. Also, Shelley Duncan is taking batting practice in Tampa, and Eric Milton is scheduled to throw batting practice.
In minor league news, Alan Horne came off the DL to pitch for Scranton last night and got lit up. Chris Britton and Brian Bruney both pitched in relief. Britton allowed two of the runners he inherited from Horne to score, but didn't allow any runs of his own over three innings while striking out five. Bruney threw one pitch, hit former Yankee farmhand Randy Ruiz in the back of the head, and got ejected. Also, Mark Melancon and Chase Wright have been promoted to triple-A, lefty reliever Wilkins Arias has been promoted to double-A, and Steven White's fall continues as he's been demoted to double-A Trenton.
Baltimore Orioles IV: Let Down Edition
Having had their eight-game winning streak snapped last night by a lop-sided loss to the Red Sox, the Yankees have to be careful not to suffer a let-down against the lowly Orioles tonight. Being back at the Stadium and having Mike Mussina on the mound should help with that. Moose has a 1.41 ERA over his last five starts and has struck out 31 against just three walks and no homers in that stretch. Then again, his one start against his former team this season was one of the worst of his career as he was unable to compensate for a first-inning error by Derek Jeter and wound up allowing seven runs and getting the hook before the O's made their third out.
He takes on Jeremy Guthrie, who has been far and away the O's best starter this year. Guthrie has alternated starts of four or more runs allowed and starts of two or fewer runs allowed since June 7, but hasn't allowed more than five runs in a game since March. If the pattern holds, he'll allow four or more tonight, but we saw how well that worked with Jon Lester last night.
The Orioles lost their last series in the Bronx 2-1, but are 4-2 against the Yankees in Baltimore. The Yanks haven't seen the Orioles since late May, but the team hasn't changed much. They've rotated through a number of replacement-level shortstops, most recently settling on Juan Castro, but the rest of the lineup remains the same. The O's do have a nine-man bullpen right now (along with a three-man bench and a four-man rotation following the recent demotion of Radhames Liz), but they've made no notable additions to their relief corps.
The top of the O's lineup is solid with Brian Roberts now being followed by Adam Jones (a singles-heavy .305/.344/.416 since late May, but already starting to make the Erik Bedard trade look good for Baltimore), Nick Markakis, and a rejuvenated Aubrey Huff (.293/.354/.533 with 20 homers on the season). In fact, the O's have six players in double-digits in home runs (Huff, Luke Scott with 18, Markakis and fifth-place hitter Melvin Mora with 15, Yankee Killer Kevin Millar with 14, and catcher Ramon Hernandez with 11). Of course, Mora and Hernandez have done very little beyond hit home runs, but Scott and Millar add some extra pop and patience in the six and seven holes. Huff's the real threat, though. Always something of a second-half hitter, he's hit .348/.400/.626 since June 1 and something very close to that since the second half began. Expect to see Joe Girardi deploy Damaso Marte against him as Huff loses more than 200 points of OPS when a lefty is on the mound. I just hope Girardi has the good sense to use Marte for more than just that one hitter.
No surprises in the lineup tonight with a righty on the mound and Xavier Nady having settled in as the left-fielder and seventh-place hitter, nor on the transaction wire.
Richard Ben, Ted and Alex
In the introduction to his short book, "What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?" (based on an Esquire magazine profile written more than twenty years ago), Richard Ben Cramer writes:
Reputation dies hard in the baseball nation, and in the larger industry of American iconography. Even at the close of the century, forty years after he'd left the field, there still attached to Ted a lingering whiff of bile from the days when he spat toward booing Fenway fans. And there were heartbroken hundreds who'd freshen that scent with their stories: how hew as rude to them when they tried ti interrupt him for an autography or a grip-and-grin photo. (The thousands who got their signatures or snapshots found that unremarkable.)
Reading this, it struck me that it's no surprise that Cramer's next biography is about Alex Rodriguez. What do you expect to get from this forthcoming biography on Rodriguez? Even better, what do you hope to find in the book?
Congrats, You Theiving, Soulless Bastard
Well, yesterday was Hall of Fame Induction Day, and as a Brooklyn resident I’d just like to take the opportunity, on this touching and historic occasion, to say:
...Okay, look, it's possible I'm overreacting just slightly. I know all about the revisionist history that paints Robert Moses as the real villain of the Dodgers' story, and I'm sure there's at least a few shreds of truth to that. So I hope no L.A. Dodgers fans will take any offense. After all, it’s not your fault that your team was built on a pile of pilfered bones, blood, and tears. Enjoy Casey Blake!
A Good Look at Nady and Marte
Check out this very cool piece by Alex Eisenberg over at Baseball-Intellect.
Yankee Panky # 59: The Goose, The Win Streak, and Sunday Night Baseball
A bunch of random thoughts as the Yankees begin another week with some ground to make up, There’s not much to add to Goose Gossage’s Hall of Fame entry. The stories SI Writer Emeritus William Nack tells on ESPN.com say everything.
• I try my best to be cognizant of the back-page treatment of the two New York baseball teams during the season, imagining how I would set the news agenda if I was heading any of the local editorial units. I found it odd this week that while the Yankees were racking up victories and gaining ground on the Rays and Sox, the Mets dominated the headlines. The Yankees’ win streak did not go unnoticed, but by normal standards, it flew under the radar and was fairly ho-hum. Certainly, the beat writers and columnists covered the necessary details, including the notes and quotes on the six-player deal with the Pirates (Cliff Corcoran’s analysis in this space was spot-on), but from a broader headline-grabbing standpoint, this week was all about the Mets. In my opinion, that helped the Yankees.
Speaking of under the radar, this sentence from Kat O’Brien’s Sunday Notebook nearly slipped my eyes:
“Kei Igawa was outrighted from the 40-man roster after clearing waivers Friday.”
After Carl Pavano, is it safe to say that Kei Igawa is the most fiscally irresponsible signing in Yankees’ history?
What Cliff Said
As expected, the Red Sox got the merry-go-round cranked up early against Sidney Ponson last night, scoring three in the first and bouncing the Yankee starter after four innings having scored in each of them. After the game Ponson admirably admitted that he "pitched like crap."
It was 7-0 Bosox heading into the top of the fifth when the Yankees finally got something going against Jon Lester, who had pitched 13 straight scoreless innings against them to that point. Melky Cabrera, Jose Molina, and Johnny Damon all singled to start the inning. With the bases loaded Derek Jeter, who hit into a rally-killing double play with men on first and second and none out in the third, hit a dribbler up the third base line that stayed fair allowing everyone to move up safely. Bobby Abreu followed by drawing an RBI walk. That brought Alex Rodriguez to the plate with none out, the bases loaded, and a chance to get the Yankees back in a game they were now trailing 7-2. On an 1-0 pitch, Lester came inside to Rodriguez and Alex ripped a line drive right at Mike Lowell at third base for the first out, holding the runners. Xavier Nady, who has started his Yankee career by going 0 for 7 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch, followed by getting under a 2-0 pitch up in the zone and flying out to center (while the ball wasn't deep, Johnny Damon likely could have tagged up and scored, only he didn't). Robinson Cano also started off 2-0, but swung through ball three high and tapped back to Lester to strand all three runners.
And that was that. The Red Sox pitchers faced the minimum the rest of the way, as the one Yankee baserunner (a leadoff single by Rodriguez in the eighth off reliever Manny Delcarmen) was erased when Xavier Nady ground into a double play. Meanwhile, Dan Giese, who helpfully pitched the final four innings, allowed two more runs in the sixth to push the final score to 9-2.
So the Yankees eight-game winning streak is a thing of the past, but we all saw this loss coming. The Yankees did what they had to do in Boston, which was win the series. They're now two games behind the Red Sox for the Wild Card and three behind the Rays in the East. Their task now is to avoid a let-down against the Orioles tonight. Hopefully coming back home to the Bronx and having Mike Mussina on the mound will help with that.
Dare To Dream
Here's what I wrote about tonight's pitching matchup in my series preview on Friday:
ESPN's Sunday night game pits Sidney Ponson against Jon Lester. Lester is one of the great stories of this season, having rebounded from non-Hodgkins lymphoma to not only throw a no-hitter, but have a great season overall. Lester has a 3.20 ERA on the season, a 2.93 ERA at home, and needed just 105 pitches to shutout the Yankees on five hits and two walks while striking out eight in his only start against the Bombers this season. That said, he's been inconsistent of late. Lester's no-hitter came in the middle of a run of 11 starts from the end of April to late June in which the lefty posted a 2.13 ERA. Since then, however, he's alternated dominant starts (including his shutout of the Yankees) with non-quality outings. If the pattern holds, he's due for a stinker, but his dominance of the Yankees in their last meeting and overall success this season is the better indicator of what he's likely to do Sunday night.
Everything's gone according to plan thus far. The Yankees got a dominant outing from Joba Chamberlain on Friday night and a quality start from Andy Pettitte buoyed by ten runs of support yesterday to take the first two games and thus the series, but with them having done that, pushing their second-half record to a perfect 9-0 and closing their deficit to the Red Sox in the Wild Card race to just one game . . . doesn't it seem possible that they just mind find away to win tonight despite all of what I said above?
Here's another question: If on Opening Day I told you that, on the final weekend in July, Yankees would be on the verge of a three-game sweep at Fenway that would tie them with the Red Sox in the standings, and that the lineup they were running out in an attempt to win that game featured Xavier Nady, Richie Sexson, Jose Molina, and Sidney Ponson in place of Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, and either Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, or Ian Kennedy, (or anyone else, really), what would your reaction have been? Elation? Disgust? Confusion? Frustration? Shock? Concern?
The game's being threatened by rain, but if it's the storm that passed through New Jersey this afternoon, it won't last too long. Given the ESPN start time and the team's involved, any kind of delay at the start should push the end of the game well past midnight.
Congrats, Big Fella.
One Of Our Own
I don't drink so I don't go to bars. But I like the idea of the local bar, where you can go watch the game and yes, where everybody knows your name. In many ways, blogs like Bronx Banter are on-line bars, community meeting spots, where a host of like-minded people can get together to follow, in this case, the Yankees. We get all kinds here, and I know that I often learn more from the comments section than I would from reading a newspaper. Sure, every so often the conversation will digress, but more often than not, I'd say Banter commenters are funny, enlightening and a good group to hang with.
I mention this because it was one year ago exactly when one of our regulars, the irrepressible, and often infuriating, Jim Dean passed away. Jim literally died in the middle of a Yankee game, sitting on the couch, with his laptop open to Bronx Banter. He was with us when he went, something that I take as a great honor.
Chyll Will, another longtime regular, had a terrific post on Jim the other day, which I'm taking the liberty of posting in full:
Jim Dean was a friend of mine, and I say that knowing that I never met him in person and that the only contact we've ever had was through Banter. There was something about his abrasiveness, his bellicosity and sarcasm that added interesting colors to his research and commenting. If there was anyone who created a picture of himself and everything he said through his words, he was certainly one.
Amen. Jim Dean is still with us in spirit. Wonder what he thinks of the Nady deal?
It Really Ties the Room Together
Em and I went to the ABC outlet in the South Bronx today to get a carpet. Em has been wanting to get a new rug for more than a minute. So off we went. Should have been a twenty-minute ride but it turned into an hour plus Bruckner Avenue, Robert Moses-Thanks-For-Nothing Organized Konfusion nightmare--bumber to bumber traffic jams, wrong turns, lunatic drivers, getting cockamamie directions on the cell phone, and a rash left turn that almost lead to an accident, followed by shock, anguish, tears. One thing was for sure. We weren't leaving ABC without a carpet.
While we all work to process the Xavier Nady trade (my analysis of the deal as initially reported here, my thoughts on the reconfigured deal in several comments starting here), the Yankees have a game to win. Joba did his part last night, time for Andy and the offense to step up this afternoon.
As for the reinforcements from Pittsburgh, I expect they won't arrive until tomorrow at the earliest as everyone needs to take physicals to make the trade official, but with the bullpen largely rested, the Yankees won't miss Marte (not that they really need him in the first place), and it's probably best to let Nady take his first Yankee at-bats against the lefty Lester tomorrow rather than against Tim Wakefield's knuckleball this afternoon.
According to Pete Abe, Dan McCutchen and Jeff Karstens, not Phil Coke and George Kontos, are going to the Pirates in the Nady-Marte deal.
Manny Being Manny: That's All I Can Stand I Can't Stands No More Edition
Manny being Manny is cute until it's not. It's charming and refreshing when Boston's future Hall of Fame left fielder is putting up Hall of Fame number. Doesn't matter that he's a pain in the ass for the Red Sox to deal with. When he's hitting, high-fiving a fan, taking a leak inside the Green Monster, Manny is being colorful, fun. Ramirez has angered management, his teammates and even the fans at different points during his stay in Boston by not running out ground balls, coming up lame with dubious injuries, and acting like a spoiled child. He has also been the anchor--or co-anchor along with Ortiz--of their two World Championship teams. And when he's doing his thing, he's just a flake, irrepressible, lovable.
Ramirez has pushed the Sox to the brink in the past--they once placed him on waivers--but now, as Dan Shaughnessy suggests in the Boston Globe, the Sox may have finally had it with Manny being Manny:
Ramírez sealed his fate with the club yesterday afternoon. After longtime enabler Terry Francona filled out a lineup card with Manny batting fourth, the Sox made an announcement that Manny could not play in the biggest game of the season. Seems there were problems with his right knee. Manny was a late scratch.
Could this really be the end of Manny in Boston? Cue: organ cliff hanger music.
One thing for is for sure, this is one soap opera that has nothing to do with the Yankees. I figure Manny will return this weekend and get some big hits. Then again, he might not. I won't be surprised either way. Which is what Manny Being Manny is all about. Anything goes.
No Laughing Matter
I remember dancing a lot during my senior prom. As it was getting late, and everyone was either too tired or too drunk to continue, the band, dropped their pants, revealing Batman boxer shorts and started playing the theme to the old "Batman" TV show. My dorky friends and I were the only ones left dancing. We stayed up all night and then went to see the first matinee showing of Tim Burton's Batman movie in the morning, its opening day. The movie, and Jack Nicholson's performance in particular, was enough to satisfy us--it wasn't a complete bomb--but it was still lacking. It didn't fully deliver on the promise of the comic book, it wasn't harsh enough, sinister enough, scary enough.
Well, the movie I wished for back then has now been made and it has been made well. The latest version is not only the ultimate Batman movie--pushing the violence and nihilism to the edge--it aims to be the ultimate comic book movie. The only thing is, I don't know if it's what I really want to see anymore. Leaving the new Batman movie, which is operatic, sweeping in its ambitions and length (at two-and-a-half hours, it is longer than any super hero movie should reasonably be, and yet it moves briskly), I was satisfied that a true Batman movie had finally been made. But I also felt a little bit dirty about it.
GREEDO: You can tell that to Joba. He may only take your ship.
There were a lot of questions heading into tonight's Sox-Yanks game, literally the 2,000th time these teams have faced each other. Could Joba hold his own against Josh Beckett in a hostile environment? Could the Yankees continue their recent timely hitting? Would the real Kyle Farnsworth reemerge at the worst possible time? Would the Yankees make a big trade ahead of the deadline? Is there any way in hell the new X-Files movie will possibly be any good?
Proof that Brian Cashman reads this blog:
Thursday I posted a rant that, among other things, said the Yankees shouldn't waste their resources by trading for a relief pitcher and that they should stay away from Xavier Nady.
Friday, the Yankees traded four minor leaguers to the Pirates for lefty relief pitcher Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady.
Here's the wacky part: I don't hate the trade.
The thing is, the Yankees didn't really give up anyone they couldn't afford to lose. The four minor leaguers headed to Pittsburgh are pitchers Ross Ohlendorf, Phil Coke, and George Kontos, and outfielder Jose Tabata.
The names that jump out on that list are Ohlendorf's and Tabata's, so let's dispose of the other two first. Coke is a lefty starter who has dominated in double-A over the last three months. That sounds like a lot to give up, but he just turned 26 and this is his first year above A-ball. What's more, despite his success in the offense-suppressing environment in Trenton, there's simply no room for him in Scranton, where the rotation consists of Ian Kennedy, Daniel McCutchen, Alfredo Aceves, Jeff Karstens and . . . well, Kei Igawa, but only because Alan Horne, Jeff Marquez, and Phil Hughes (who Brian Cashman recently said would be optioned after being officially activated from his current rehab assignment) are on the DL. George Kontos is three years younger than Coke, but he's right-handed, hadn't pitched as well in Trenton, and is similarly blocked by the organizational gridlock forming around the Scranton rotation. Besides, as young as the 23-year-old Kontos is, Hughes and Joba Chamberlain are younger, and Kennedy and Marquez are less than a year older, meaning the Yankees already have four right-handed starters his age ahead of him in the organization.
Boston Red Sox IV: Deal Or No Deal Edition
The Yankees' current six-game winning streak has been extremely fruitful. By sweeping the A's and Twins, the Yanks have surged into second place in the Wild Card race and enter this weekend's three-game series against the Red Sox just three games behind both the Sox and the Rays in the AL East. Another sweep would put them in a tie with Boston for second place in the east and the Wild Card lead. A 2-1 series loss, however, would put them four games behind Boston, as many as five games behind the Rays (who play the Royals this weekend), and could even drop them back behind the Twins (who play the Indians). It's thus imperative that the Yankees at the very least take two of three this weekend. The question is: can they do it?
Let's look at the pitching match-ups first. The Yankees have two of their best starters going in the first two games. Joba Chamberlain, who starts tonight, has a 2.41 ERA over his last seven starts, including a quality start against the Red Sox at the Stadium three weeks ago. Andy Pettitte has a 2.18 ERA over his last eight starts, but the one real dud in that stretch came at home against the Sox (4 2/3 IP, 6 R). Both have been better on the road than at home, but neither has pitched at Fenway this season.
Opposing Joba tonight will be Josh Beckett, who is one of the few Red Sox pitchers who has pitched worse at home than on the road. Beckett has a 4.82 ERA at Fenway this year and gave up five runs in five innings to the Twins in his last home start two turns ago. At the same time, he's already turned in three quality starts against the Yanks this year, including one at Fenway in April, though he has allowed the maximum three runs in each of those starts for a 3.92 ERA against the Bombers.
Tim Wakefield, who faces Pettitte tomorrow afternoon on FOX, has a 3.04 ERA at Fenway and a 2.43 ERA over his last ten starts, including a quality start at the Stadium that left Chamberlain with yet another no-decision.
The finale, which will be ESPN's Sunday night game, pits Sidney Ponson against Jon Lester. Lester is one of the great stories of this season, having rebounded from non-Hodgkins lymphoma to not only throw a no-hitter, but have a great season overall. Lester has a 3.20 ERA on the season, a 2.93 ERA at home, and needed just 105 pitches to shutout the Yankees on five hits and two walks while striking out eight in his only start against the Bombers this season. That said, he's been inconsistent of late. Lester's no-hitter came in the middle of a run of 11 starts from the end of April to late June in which the lefty posted a 2.13 ERA. Since then, however, he's alternated dominant starts (including his shutout of the Yankees) with non-quality outings. If the pattern holds, he's due for a stinker, but his dominance of the Yankees in their last meeting and overall success this season is the better indicator of what he's likely to do Sunday night.
That means Ponson has his work cut out for him. Before his last start, I wrote that Ponson's surprisingly successful season has been the result of a sharp increase in his groundball rate. The problem is that Fenway Park has a notoriously hard infield, which can cause trouble for groundball pitchers (Chien-Ming Wang's career ERA at Fenway is 5.11, and in his complete-game two-hitter there this April, he got more outs in the air than on the ground). Ponson hasn't faced the Red Sox this year, but historically, the Sox's lineup own him (David Ortiz: .444/.563/.722; Manny Ramirez: .404/.481/.511; Jason Varitek: .317/.364/.561; Kevin Youkilis: 4 for 9 with a double; J.D. Drew: 3 for 7 with a double; Dustin Pedroia: 3 for 3), the only exception being Mike Lowell, who is 0 for 7 with a walk against Ponson. Lester would have to implode completely for the Yankees to overcome what's likely to happen to Ponson on Sunday night.
That means the Yankees hopes for a series win lie in the first two games, both of which have the potential to be tightly-contested pitchers' duels. The Yankees scored 25 runs in their three-game sweep of the Twins and are averaging 6.3 runs per game since the All-Star break, but the Twins helped out with some sloppy and absent-minded play in the field, and the Bomber bats struggled to solve Sean Gallagher and Justin Duchscherer in the A's series, as the Yankees won both games by just one run thanks in large part to strong pitching performances from Chamberlain, Pettitte, and the bullpen. That pattern may have to repeat itself in order for the Yankees to win these first two games.
The good news is that the Red Sox aren't scoring. While the Yankees scored 25 runs in the Twins series alone, the Red Sox have scored just 22 runs since the All-Star break, an average of 3.67 per game. They opened the second half by getting swept in Anaheim with Beckett and Wakefield receiving two and three runs of support, respectively. They then swept the Mariners in Seattle, but averaged just 3.67 runs per game during regulation in that series, requiring extra innings to pull out the finale.
The bad news is that the Sox just activated David Ortiz off the disabled list, which could give their offense the jump-start it needs. Manny Ramirez, despite the affront of his flopping-fish routine in Anahiem, has hit .471/.609/.765 since the break, giving Ortiz the protection he'll need to get back in the groove. Still, one wonders what lingering effects, if any, will Ortiz's wrist injury have on his swing. The Yankees haven't really had to sweat Ortiz yet this year. He's was on the DL during their most recent series against the Red Sox, and when they faced him in April, he was slumping horribly. Ortiz went 1-for-17 against the Yankees in April, his only time on base coming via a single. At the end of that stretch, he was hitting .111/.222/.159 on the season. Starting the next day and leading up to his injury, however, he was back to his old tricks, hitting .313/.408/.626.
So the question is, will Ortiz come off the DL as hot as he was when he went on it, or will he have to fight through a repeat of those April doldrums in order to get back in the swing? The discouraging news is that Ortiz hit .313/.450/.875 with three home runs in his recent five-game rehab assignment. Less discouraging is the fact that nearly all of that, including all three home runs, came in Double-A.
It's up to Joba to get Ortiz off on the wrong foot and the Yankees on the right foot tonight in what will be the biggest start of his admittedly very young career as a major league starting pitcher, and up to the Yankee bats to reward him for doing so by getting to Josh Beckett early. (Seriously, can we get this kid another win already?)
As for the Yankees chances of taking the series, the Red Sox have a 13-2 record in series at Fenway this year (including a 2-1 series win over the Yankees in April) and a staggering .766 winning percentage in home games. They've scored just 4.34 runs per game on the road, but 5.83 R/G at home, while the Yankees have scored just 4.33 runs per game on the road. That alone tilts the odds against the New York nine, but I think Chamberlain and Pettitte can get the job done. The only question is if the offense has built enough confidence and momentum to finish the job. I sure hope so.
I'm going to see what all the fuss is about this afternoon.
Observations From Cooperstown--Hall of Fame Weekend
Even after living here for a dozen years, it still amazes me that for three days each summer our small, sleepy town of 2,200 fulltime residents becomes the focal point of the baseball cosmos. Once again, Hall of Fame Weekend has arrived in Cooperstown, New York.
If all goes according to plan, the Hall of Fame will set a record this weekend when 54 living Hall of Famers gather in Cooperstown for the annual induction extravaganza. That number would narrowly eclipse last year’s mark of 53 Hall of Famers. Originally, the Hall was expecting 52 to attend, but Cal Ripken, Jr. and Ernie Banks made last-minute decisions to travel to Cooperstown. (By the way, there is actually a player in the local New York-Penn League named Ernie Banks!) The group of returnees also includes Tony Gwynn, who joined Ripken in forming that memorable Hall of Fame Class of 2007. A note of caution about the list of Hall of Famers: While the Hall likes to boast about the number of returning greats coming to town, there is little opportunity for most fans to enjoy quality "face time" with any of them, unless they plan on buying tickets to one of the many paid autograph sessions. Then again, you never know which former ballplayer you might run into during a late-night stop at The Pit, The Pratt, or The Bold Dragoon.
Of the Hall of Famers who are scheduled to arrive, there are seven former Yankees on the docket. They include Yogi Berra, Wade Boggs, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry (who’s never remembered for his half-season in pinstripes) and Dave Winfield, who arrived in town on Tuesday night, sooner than anybody else. That list, of course, does not include this year’s inductee, Goose Gossage, who headlines a Class of 2008 that also features Dick Williams (who almost became a Yankee, if not for interference run by Charles O. Finley).
Smiling Jack down at Dunder Mifflin pitched a very nice game last night. Chad Jennings, who has been doing a terrific job all season long, has the particulars. And Ben K over at River Ave Blues gives his take as well.
A Giant Returns
I've Got A Bad Feeling About This
Just received via email:
Dear Yankees Ticket Licensee,
I'm expecting a rude introduction as the Yankees Guide me out of the room. Anyone have a reason to think different?
Ray of Light
Ray Negron's second book for children, The Greatest Story Never Told, was released a few days ago. It's an ideal gift if you've got a young Yankee fan in your life, especially one that has an interest in the history of the game.
It Was Twenty-Five Years Ago Today
Jeez, twenty-five years ago? Dag, I'm feeling old, man.
Come Around, Idiot, Come Around
I remember my father once asking me, "Do you know what the most difficult job on a baseball field is?" I went through all of the positions and he shook his head "no" at all of my suggestions. "The umpires, sweetie, have the toughest job." I always thought that was funny coming from the old man, who had more than a slight problem with authority.
I think that one of the hardest gigs in baseball must be that of the third base coach. After all, nobody ever riffs about a first base coach or the bullpen coach. The bench coach never gets called out. But third base coaches are open game. Steve Goldman had a nice little piece about these brave souls a few days ago at BP. Check it out.
Coming Around the Bend
At New York Magazine, Will Leitch adds his two cents about the ailing Jorge Posada.
You think this is bad? Wait until it happens to the team's other nineties icons. Rivera is defying time with another peerless season, but Derek Jeter is in the seventh year of the ten-year contract that makes him the second-highest paid player in baseball (behind A-Rod, of course.) But forget the oft-debated (but still plainly obvious) defensive liability; the "Face of Baseball" is having the worst offensive season of his career. (As much as Posada has struggled, he has still hit better than Jeter by almost any metric.) As long as the Yankees are still making the playoffs, Jeter might be able to slide by unnoticed, but if they fall short...well, are you ready for chants of "Bench Jeter"?
It's hard to imagine Jeter aging gracefully isn't it? And jeez, if Rodriguez starts to break-down, like Chipper Jones has for instance, it will get downright fugly.
What Cliff Said
Let Me Clear My Throat
With the trade deadline looming and a lot of silly rumors floating around, I have a few things to say:
1) The Yankees don't need a relief pitcher, left-handed or otherwise. Brian Bruney should return from his rehab assignment soon to force LaTroy Hawkins off the roster, and if he's not as good as he was in April, there's more in triple-A where he came from. The Yankees trading for a relief pitcher would be like heating a house in the desert, a total waste of resources.
2) Getting Jarod Washburn in a salary dump would be a coup. Washburn has a 2.65 ERA in his last eight starts and has strong career numbers at Yankee Stadium (2.82 ERA), Fenway Park (3.60 ERA), and the Trop (1.89 ERA, which is impressive no matter how bad the Rays have been during his career). More recent versions of this rumor have the Yankees forcing Kei Igawa on the Mariners and the M's countering with Jose Vidro. A great as it would be to be rid of Igawa, Vidro's not worth it. His hitting rates this season are nearly an exact match for Jose Molina's, except Vidro has had a hundred more at-bats. He's as done as a player can be.
3) The Yankees biggest need is another bat. They're a pitching-rich organization, and Cellophane Rasner and Groundhog Ponson can hold their own as fourth and fifth starters until the reinforcements are ready (which could include a healthy Chien-Ming Wang and Phil Hughes). Next year's rotation will be filled by Wang, Chamberlain, the free-agent market (possibly including one-year deals for Mussina and/or Pettitte), and emergent prospects (Hughes, Kennedy, McCutchen, Aceves). Rather, the Yankees' big holes this offseason will be right field and at first base, only one of which is likely to be filled by free agency. More urgently, even with Abreu and Giambi still in place, the bottom of the order is Betemit/Sexson, Cabrera, Molina, which just won't do. The price on Matt Holliday, who nearly won the NL MVP award last year, is likely too high, but Jason Bay, who had an off-year in 2007 due to knee problems and didn't even make the All-Star team this year (though he should have) could be more reasonably priced and could even be the better player (Bay is Holliday's second most similar player on Baseball-Reference, followed by Hideki Matsui who also makes Bay's list, and is easily the better hitter on the road). Buying high on Xavier Nady, however, seems like a bad move. Nady is 29 and a career .281/.336/.455 hitter in the National League. That's not nothing, but it's not much more than league-average, and his career line in inter-league play is .224/.290/.388. Stay away.
4) Jorge Posada should get over himself and have his surgery now. Yes, the Yankees' biggest need is a bat, even if it's one that can only DH, but it seems doubtful that Posada will be able to hit for power without the surgery. Even more than that, the Yankees need Posada to be healthy, productive, and behind the plate five days a week starting on Opening Day 2009, so that they don't find themselves in this position again next year. Any further delay on Jorge's part is robbing Peter to pay Paul, and Peter's gonna be pissed when he finds out about it. Let Hideki Matsui be the guy playing Hamlet over his MRIs and get Posada under the knife pronto.
Glad I could get all that off my chest.
Movin' On Up
The Yankees opened the second-half of the 2008 season by sweeping the Oakland A's, passing them in the Wild Card standings as a result. With their 5-1 win over the Twins this afternoon, they've swept Minnesota and passed them in the Wild Card standings as well.
Today's game was scoreless through four and a half innings and none of the five baserunners to that point got past first base. Robinson Cano became the first man to reach second in the bottom of the fifth when he and Melky Cabrera both singled with one out. Jose Molina then hit into what looked like an inning-ending double play ball to third base, but second baseman Alexi Casilla thought there already were two outs in the inning and, rather than making the pivot to double up the sluggish Molina, took Brendan Harris's throw while running across the bag and started to head into the dugout. Casilla realized his mistake when Twins starter Glen Perkins started cursing him out through clenched teeth, but it was too late; The Yankees had an extra out and they made the most of it when Justin Christian, starting against the lefty Perkins, shot a low and inside pitch down the third base line for a two-run double into the left-field coerner that plated Molina all the way from first base.
That was all Mike Mussina needed as he turned in his best start of the season by pitching eight shutout innings while striking out seven and allowing just six baserunners (all on hits). The Yankees added a three-spot against Perkins in the sixth and LaTroy Hawkins coughed one up while attempting to wrap things up in the ninth ("forcing" Joe Girardi to call in Mariano Rivera for the final out).
The Yanks have scored 6.3 runs per game since the break while allowing just two runs per game. They are now a game ahead of the Twins, four ahead of the A's, and are headed to Boston for a three-game series trailing the Red Sox for the Wild Card lead by just three games (with the division-leading Rays just another half game ahead of them).
Robbie Cano v. Joe Cuba
Let's Hope They Can Get This One In
Thunderstorms are in the forecast...could be a long, damp one for the Yanks and Twins.
Couple of Three Random Things
According to Ken Rosenthal, Jarrod Washburn isn't likely to land in the Bronx.
Over at the Times, Harvey Araton has a blog post on former Yankee announcer, Tony Kubek, who talks about why he walked away from broadcasting in 1994:
"I had two years remaining on my contract with MSG at the time," Kubek said. "But it struck me that day that I just didn't want to be in or around baseball anymore. I remember that I called Bob Gutkowski, who was my boss, and I told him that I wasn't going to finish the contract. He said, `Wait a minute, that's pretty good money you're going to walk away from,' but I had made up my mind and that was it.
Kind of hard to imagine never having watched Jeter isn't it? Good stuff from Araton.
Jeez, tough loss for the Mets last night, huh?
They Got Five On It
Yanks roll over Twins 8-2, win fifth straight.
Rays lose. New York just three-and-a-half games out of first place.
Darrell Rasner pitched well on Tuesday night at the Stadium and Bobby Abreu got the big hit, a two-run homer in the sixth that put the Yanks ahead for good. It was close early but the Bombers scored three in the sixth and four in the seventh to put it away. Contributions from many but man, is Robinson Cano ever back or what? The dude is in a flat-groove right now. Speaking of which, let's all feel good:
Gotta love the grooves...
Can the Yanks Make it Five Straight?
Time To Make the Donuts
Joba Chamberlain popped up in a few Dunkin Donuts around town today. It'd be fun to run into that kid on the street, don't you think?
For all of the things that have gone wrong this season, Mr. Joba sure ain't one of 'em.
The Big Hurt
It's free week over at Baseball Prospectus, where Will Carroll weighs in on Jorge Posada's predicament:
Posada does not have a full-thickness tear (or rupture,) but according to sources there was significant damage in at least two of the four muscles, though there will be another set of images taken on Tuesday to gauge whether playing for the past few weeks has aggravated the issue. Most of the damage was focused in the subscapularis and was described as "moderate," a diagnosis that was agreed on by Andrews, David Altchek, and Yankees team physician Stuart Hershon. Posada is scheduled to see Dr. Altchek again after this imaging to make a determination about surgery. All indications are that that's what will be necessary, but there's still some question about whether he'll have it now and be ready for next season, or wait until after the season and put part of 2009 in jeopardy.
Most of the Yankee fans I've heard from agree: time to go under the knife, Jorge.
Great But Not Forgotten
Can a great player be underrated? Perhaps. They can at least be under-appreciated. Such is the case with this guy, Frank Robinson:
As well as this guy, Stan the Man Musial.
Joe Pos has a great post on Musial this week. Check it out.
Jerome Holtzman passed away yesterday. He was 81 and had been ill for some time. Holtzman is best-known as the Hall of Fame's first "official" historian and for his involvement with the "save" rule, but his lasting literary achievement is the oral history "No Cheering in the Press Box." (If you don't got it, get it.) Here is John Schulian, remembering his old colleague:
Rest in Peace, Mr. Holtzman.
There's no crying in baseball, and rather than sit around and mope about having likely lost Jorge Posada for the year, the Yankees went out and put a whuppin' on the Twins, winning the game in this series that they seemed least likely to win on paper, 12-4.
Sidney Ponson wasn't great, but got more groundballs (9) than flyballs (6) and held the Twins to three runs over 5 2/3 innings thanks to a sixth-inning assist from Edwar Ramirez. That left room for the offense to do it's thing. Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez got things going with two outs in the bottom of the first with a single and a bomb into the Yankee bullpen. Ponson promptly gave those two runs back, but in the bottom of the second the Yankees blew things open with a barrage of singles and some help from some sloppy Twins defense.
The rally got started with one out when Twins shortstop Brendan Harris made an unnecessary dive to stop a Melky Cabrera grounder to the left of second base and then couldn't get a handle on the ball to make the throw, allowing Cabrera to reach (headfirst, to the aggravation of many) with an infield single. Legitimate singles by Jose Molina and Brett Gardner then loaded the bases. Johnny Damon followed by hitting a potential double-play ball to second, but Alexi Casilla, perhaps thinking the ball was a bit to slow to turn two, threw home, short-hopping catcher Joe Mauer, and allowing all the runners to advance safely. A single by Derek Jeter plated another run, and Bobby Abreu beat the relay on another possible double play to make it 5-2 Yankees. Alex Rodriguez then singled off the glove of third baseman Brian Buscher to push it to 6-2 and drive Twins starter Nick Blackburn (unfairly, in my opinion) from the game.
After reliever Boof Bonser struck out Jason Giambi to end the rally and Sidney Ponson retired the Twins in order, Robinson Cano led off the bottom of the third by wrapping a towering home run around the right field foul pole and well into the upper deck to make it 7-2. Melky Cabrera then reached on his second infield single in as many at-bats (this one off Bonser's ankle) and was later plated by a Johnny Damon flare into no-man's land in shallow left that hopped into the stands for a ground-rule double.
Things were quite for a while after that. The Twins picked up their third run in the fifth when Jason Kubel followed what looked like a rally-killing double play with an RBI single. The Yanks then went back to work in the sixth against reliever Craig Breslow. Derek Jeter led off with an opposite-field home run into the front rows of section 37 of the right-field bleachers. Bobby Abreu then singled, moved to second on a balk that initially looked like a successful pickoff, then moved to third and scored on a pair of wild pitches. The latter moved Alex Rodriguez, who had walked on the first, to second where he was able to score on a Cano single. The Yanks made it an even dozen in the eighth and the Twins picked up a run against LaTroy Hawkins (who could lose his bullpen spot to Brian Bruney by the end of the week) in the ninth.
With Posada back on the DL, Jose Molina went 3 for 4 with a run scored. In his first game off the DL, Johnny Damon went 1 for 4 with that flared RBI double and a run scored. Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera stayed hot, going a combined 4 for 10 (though neither of Melky's two hits left the infield, while Cano's homer nearly left the earth's gravitational pull). Jeter, Abreu, and Rodriguez went a combined 6 for 12 with a pair of homers and 6 RBIs. Even Brett Gardner got a hit (1 for 4). Only Jason Giambi failed to pick up a safety, though he did walk. Giambi is 2 for 7 since the break, but has six walks in that span for a .615 on-base percentage.
The Yankees are now just a game behind the Twins for second place in the Wild Card chase, and stand a decent chance of sweeping their way into Boston this weekend. Not bad considering how the evening began.
Minnesota Twins Redux: Wild Card Chase Edition
Having opened the second-half by sweeping the A's, the Yankees are now just three games out in the Wild Card picture, but they're still in third place. The next team on the ladder is the one coming to town for the next three nights: the Minnesota Twins. The Twins just took two of three from the Rangers, but with the Yankees' sweep, that closed the gap between the two teams to two games. With another sweep, the Yankees could take second place in the Wild Card chase, and the next team on ladder, the slumping Boston Red Sox (they were just swept by the Angels), are the next on the schedule.
The problem is that, having burned their top three pitchers against the A's, the Yanks are left with Sidney Ponson (tonight) and Darrell Rasner (tomorrow) starting two of three games against Minnesota. Also, despite sweeping the A's, the Yankees only scored four runs during regulation during the last two games. Meanwhile, the Twins' rotation is deeper, and their worst starter, Livan Hernandez, won't pitch in this series. Still, taking two of three would bring the Yankees within one game of the Twins, and with Mussina pitching on Wednesday and Minnesota's Tuesday night starter, Kevin Slowey, having allowed 11 runs in 9 2/3 innings over his last two starts, a series win is well within reach.
Tonight, the Yankees send Ponson against Nick Blackburn. Blackburn pitched 4 1/3 innings of one-run ball against the Yankees on June 1--when the Yanks and Twins were in the midst of splitting a four-game set at the Metrodome--but was forced to leave the game when a comebacker off Bobby Abreu's bat broke his nose. Blackburn struggled in his next start (which he did make), but has a 3.05 ERA since then with five quality starts in six tries, and a 1.74 ERA over his last three starts, in which he's walked just three and allowed just one home run.
Amazingly, Ponson has allowed just one run total in two of his three Yankee starts, shutting out the Mets for six innings on June 27, and holding the first-place Rays to one run over six frames in his last start before the All-Star break. Ponson's 3.96 ERA on the season is something of a shocker, but there's something real behind it. Much like LaTroy Hawkins did in Colorado last year, Ponson's been getting the job done with an unprecedented (for him) groundball rate. Ponson had never had a GB/FB rate over 2.00 before this year, but his 2008 mark thus far is 2.42 (by comparison, Chien-Ming Wang's career GB/FB rate is 2.78). Ponson's one dud start as a Yankee saw him allow eight fly balls against five grounders, but in his two quality Yankee starts, he's induced 23 grounders to just 6 fly balls. It will take a great deal more of those starts for me to have any sort of faith in Ponson, but at least there's some legitimate and repeatable reason for the success he's had this season. That means it's not a fluke; he might have actually figured something out with his sinker. . . and now that I've said that, he'll stink up the joint tonight.
All of the above is further complicated by the news this afternoon that Jorge Posada's shoulder has forced him back to the DL and could require season-ending surgery (as opposed to the offseason surgery that was expected). Posada only played in two of the games against the A's, only caught one (in which he was removed for defensive replacement Jose Molina when the A's started running on him late in that game), and only had one hit (a single), but he got on base four times in nine trips.
Johnny Damon returns from the DL to take Posada's roster spot tonight, but he's starting out slow by DHing. Jason Giambi plays first. Betemit and Sexson will wait for the key moment to pinch hit for catcher Molina or left fielder Brett Gardner. Surprisingly, given Posada's inability to catch with any frequency of late, the team could actually be improved by swapping Posada for Damon, assuming Damon's able to return to the outfield in short order. With Damon in the lineup in place of Gardner and the Sexson/Betemit platoon in place of Posada, the Yankees could upgrade from Posada's production to Damon's, Gardner's to Sexson/Betemit's, and Molina's to Molina/Moeller's while hoping Cano can stay hot and gaining depth on the bench by dropping down to two catchers, giving them power (the inactive member of the Sexson/Betemit platoon), and speed and defense (Gardner and Christian for now, who can run for the catchers or sub into the outfield corners late in close games the Yankees are leading) in reserve. Swapping out one of the speedsters for Alberto Gonzalez in order to increase position flexibility would only make the bench deeper.
How's that for shining up a turd?
According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times, Jorge Posada could be out for the year.
More Murcer Thoughts
Yankee Panky #58: Anyone for Seconds?
Since 2002, the Yankees have the best winning percentage in baseball after the All-Star break, at .638 (240-136, including their 3-0 mark so far in 2008). Maybe it’s because with each passing year, the team gets a little older, and it takes four months to loosen up. Or perhaps by mid-July, the collective group remembers how to shrug off the media distractions (see Rodriguez, Alex), and win ballgames.
Contrary to last year, when the Yankees were 43-43 at the break, the Yankees began post-All-Star play this season five games above .500, with fewer teams to leapfrog in the Wild-Card race. But this year, there seems to be more riding on the last two and a half months of the season from a performance standpoint, with it being the final year of the current incarnation of Yankee Stadium, a 13-year playoff streak to maintain and a new manager trying to place his imprint on the franchise. At least, that’s my interpretation based on the media coverage of the team. Fewer pundits are writing the Yankees off, whereas last year at this time, broadcasters were giddy at the thought of a Yankee-less October.
There is consistency on one level: broadcast teams habitually repeat the same meaningless banter on a game-by-game basis, and espouse the theory that this Yankee team is like the playoff and championship teams that came before it. It’s gone on for years, and it's wrong. These exchanges add nothing to the broadcast, and they insult the intelligence of the fans who eat, sleep and breathe the team and know better.
Some myths need to be dispelled, and the broadcasters hold the key. I say this because the writers — when not shadowing Star, Globe or the Enquirer for the latest dish on A-Rod and the Queen of Kaballah — are growing savvier in using the Internet(s) as a viable research tool for their stories. More beat members and columnists are scouring cyberspace to create angles and complement their articles with the numerous stat categories at their disposal. How difficult is it to take 10-15 minutes to provide a series of stat lines that could enhance the game and make the broadcasters sound smarter? Who cares if the numbers outline certain deficiencies? Numbers don’t lie, and they reflect the big picture.
Andy Pettitte pitched a terrific game on Sunday out-dueling Justin Duchscherer at the Stadium as the Yanks completed a three-game sweep with a 2-1 win.
Duchscherer is an interesting-looking guy. He has a gaunt, narrow face with pointy features--he could be a spy in a WWII movie. He is a likable pitcher because he thows junk but has excellent control--he's thinking out there. He was under-the-weather on Sunday but still went seven innings allowing both runs--one on a sac fly by Alex Rodriguez, the other on a solo homer to Jason Giambi. But he wasn't as good as Pettitte who was a horse, going eight, allowing a run on four hit and no walks. Pettitte also tied his season-high with nine strikeouts.
The game moved along briskly, a welcome change on a scorching hot day. It took just under two-and-a-half hours to complete. Robinson Cano continued to hit the ball hard. But it ended on a strange note.
With Mariano Rivera on the mound and one out in the ninth, Ryan Sweeney on first, Bobby Crosby lofted a fly ball to right field. Bobby Abreu camped under the ball, and at the last moment held up his hands, like Count Dracula meeting the morning light. The ball landed in Abreu's glove and then popped out. He picked it up and launched the ball over second base where Ryan Sweeney was a sure out. Fortunately for the Yanks, Rodriguez snagged Abreu's wild throw and flipped the ball to Derek Jeter who side-stepped his way to the bag just as Sweeney arrived. The Yankees got the call and the second out.
Rajai Davis replaced Crosby as a pinch-runner and was thrown out trying to steal second to end the game. Jose Molina was hit with the bases loaded to win Saturday's game and he throws out a runner to end Sunday's game.
That's twice as nice.
Plug Me In
Answer: A sweep would be nice. Tough to do, but still, nice.
A Win is a Win is a Win
Hey, they don't need to be pretty to count, right? The Yankees left 7436 men in scoring position on Saturday while their pitching staff whiffed 632 A's. A long, frustrating day in the heat at Yankee Stadium. And it all came down to Jose Molina batting with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 12th inning.
Molina entered the game as a defensive replacement for Jorge Posada who allowed two stolen bases in the ninth (Rivera was at much at fault for the swipes but Posada's arm has nevertheless become a liability). Lenny DiNardo, Oakland's side-arming lefty almost hit Molina with the second pitch of the at bat. A few pitches later, another slider got away from him inside, Molina froze, then carefully leaned his right knee into the ball, which grazed him, allowing the winning run to score.
“José did a good job of letting the ball hit his leg,” [manager, Joe] Girardi said.
"I was never so happy to see someone get hit," Derek Jeter told reporters after the game.
As one of the Banterites mentioned, it was a "fitting end to a maddening day." A day, incidentally, where David Cone, the YES analyst, invented a new word--"Variates." As in "He does a good good of variating his pitches." A pitcher doesn't vary his pitches, he "variates" them. I guess Coney is really becoming an analyst after all!
Mariano Rivera gave up a run in the ninth and Huston Street blew the save in the bottom of the inning. Robinson Cano had a terrific day, collecting four hits. He's hitting the ball squarely now, a good sign for sure. And the much-maligned Wilson Betemit got the game-tying hit against Street, lofting a single to left on an 0-2 pitch. Joba Chamberlain had another solid start too. Man, has it ever been fun watching this kid--first as a reliever, now as a starter, or what?
Gunna be another warm one today. Dude, it's roasting right now.
Pass the Peas
Having started things off right with their first-half ace last night, the Yankees give the ball to the man they hope will be their second-half ace this afternoon, Joba Chamberlain. As a full-fledgedstarter, Joba has a 2.57 ERA in 35 innings with 38 strikeouts and just 32 hits (only five of which have gone for extra bases as opponents are slugging .302 against him). His 4.11 BB/9 remains a small concern, but he didn't walk anyone in his last start, which saw him strike out nine in 6 2/3 innings (108 pitches). The Yankees are 4-2 in Joba's six full-length starts, but Joba is only 1-1, both the result of the fact that Chamberlain has received more than two runs of support just twice in those six outings.
Perhaps concerned about wasting a Justin Duchscherer start by pitching him against Chamberlain, the A's have moved their remaining ace to tomorrow's game and will instead start Sean Gallagher, the pitcher obtained from the Cubs in the Rich Harden deal. Like Joba, Gallagher is a 22-year-old righty who's built like a brick shithouse (both are 6'2" and roughly 230 pounds). Unlike Joba, Gallagher doesn't have overwhelming stuff. Still, there are a lot of things to like about Gallagher. He dominated the Angels in his first AL start (7 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 7 K). In 11 major league starts dating back to May 11 of this year, he has a 4.23 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP, solid numbers for a 22-year-old rookie starter. Even more impressive, he has allowed just five home runs in those 11 starts and none in his four starts at Wrigley Field. Opponents are hitting just .235/.314/.385 against him and he doesn't show much in the way of a platoon split. Perhaps most importantly, Gallagher hasn't had any real disaster starts. His shortest outing after his first start has been 4 2/3 innings, and he's never allowed more than five runs in a game.
Jorge Posada is back behind the plate, clearing room for Jason Giambi at DH and Wilson Betemit, who appears to be Richie Sexson's platoon parter, at first base. The A's, meanwhile, have made a few roster moves that have made my series preview out of date. Bobby Crosby was activated before yesterday's game. He returns to shortstop with Donnie Murphy riding pine and Gregorio Petit getting optioned to Sacramento. Today, first baseman Daric Barton was place on the DL with a strained neck and Wes Bankston was recalled to play first. Finally, it is lefty Lenny DiNardo who will wind up taking Joe Blanton's spot in the rotation, making fellow southpaw Dallas Braden, who gave up Alex Rodriguez's home run yesterday, the replacement for Chad Gaudin in the bullpen.
Get On The Good Foot
Everything the Yankees needed to go right in their first game of the second half of the season did. Mike Mussina pitched six innings of one-run ball, the bullpen pitched three innings of perfect relief, and the offense got in gear, dropping a seven-spot on the A's. As a result, the Yankees pulled even with Oakland in the AL Wild Card picture and gained a game on the Red Sox (thanks to the Angels who beat up on Clay Buchholz; not cooperating: the Rays, who beat A.J. Burnett 2-1).
Mussina scattered nine hits, walked none, struck out six, and threw 69 percent of just 93 pitches for strikes. David Robertson struck out the side on twelve pitches (all but one strikes) in the seventh. Edwar Ramirez threw nine of 11 pitches for strikes while striking out two in a perfect eighth. Even LaTroy Hawkins was dominant, getting two groundouts on his first four pitches, then striking out pinch-hitter Matt Murton to end the game.
As for the offense, new addition Richie Sexson got the Yankees on the board in his first pinstriped at-bat by plating Bobby Abreu from second with a single up the middle off A's lefty starter Greg Smith. Sexson struck out with two on and one out in his second at-bat in the third, but Robinson Cano picked him up with a game-breaking three-run homer. The Yanks then tacked on two more in the fourth on a Derek Jeter walk, a Bobby Abreu RBI double, and an RBI single from Alex Rodriguez, all of which came with two outs. A sixth-inning Alex Rodriguez homer off Dallas Braden pushed the final score to 7-1 Yanks.
Sexson's final tally was 1 for 3 with a walk, an RBI, a strikeout, and a double play. Abreu, Cano, and Melky Cabrera combined to go 6 for 13, each contributing a single and an extra-base hit. Alex Rodriguez went 3 for 4 with two RBIs, two runs scored (as well as a loud out at the plate on a reckless, first-inning-ending send by Bobby Meacham), a home run, and a stolen base. Derek Jeter and designated hitter Jorge Posada combined to walk five times in nine trips. Jose Molina and Brett Gardner combined to go 0 for 8, each with a strikeout (at least they were hitting eighth and ninth). Molina and Gardner (and that pesky Rays win) may have been the only things that didn't go right for the Yankees last night.
Oakland Athletics Redux: Harden My Heart Edition
As the second-half begins, the surprising A's are a game ahead of the Yankees in the Wild Card race and, like the Yankees, are six games behind in their division. Oakland's success to this point has been almost entirely due to its pitching and defense, the latter of which boasts the best defensive efficiency in baseball. True, the A's get a big boost in run prevention from their home park, but only the Braves have allowed fewer runs per game on the road, which isn't the best news for the Yankee offense, which really needs to hit the ground running in the second half.
Continuing to rebuild despite their unexpected run, the A's have, in the last ten days, traded three of their top six pitchers by innings pitched. Joe Blanton, who was dealt to the Phillies yesterday for a trio of minor leaguers, is no big loss. His 4.96 ERA was the worst on the staff and the worst in the A's rotation by nearly a run and a half. Twenty-four-year-old lefty Dallas Braden, who had a rough rookie season last year but has continued to pitch well at triple-A, should be able to replace Blanton in the rotation with little difficulty.
Less clear-cut was the earlier deal that sent fragile ace Rich Harden and swing man Chad Gaudin to the Cubs. I understand why the A's traded Harden. Though immensely talented, Harden has been unable to stay healthy. After an injury-shortened 2005 campaign, he made just 13 starts in the 2006 and 2007 seasons combined and missed more than a month at the beginning of this season with a shoulder strain. After returning from the DL, however, he dominated over 11 starts (2.59 ERA, 77 K in 66 IP), and Billy Beane cashed him in while he was still healthy. I get that. After losing all of that time to injury, Harden is now 26 and starting to get expensive (the long-term deal he signed before the 2005 season pays him $4.5 million this year and has a $7 million option for 2009). I get that. What I don't get is the fact that Beane also included Chad Gaudin in the deal and only got back two aging prospects and one young low-risk/low-reward pitcher.
That's not to make Gaudin out to be something he's not. He's a short, 25-year-old righthander with a league-average career ERA, who fell something short of that in his only full season as a starter last year. Gaudin's also in his arbitration years. Still, given his innings-eater/swing-man role, he's unlikely to get terribly expensive (he settled for $1.775 million this past winter). Thus, Gaudin was an established and affordable major league arm that could have served as a safety net for younger starting options such as Braden or Gio Gonzalez (part of the Nick Swisher swag) as the A's continue to try to establish their next generation of starters.
The pitcher obtained from the Cubs, 22-year-old righty Sean Gallagher, who will pitch Sunday, replaces Harden in the rotation, but he was merely average in ten starts for the Cubs, and despite his youth, isn't projected to get much better than that (though he did ace his A's debut: 7 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 7 K). In making that swap, Beane was trading fragile brilliance for ordinary dependability.
Still, it could well pay off for him. Harden could go Mark Prior on the Cubs and their pitcher-hating manager, Lou Piniella, in which case Beane will have upgraded from Gaudin to Gallagher and gotten a couple of useful pieces for his trouble. And Matt Murton and Eric Patterson are useful pieces. Unused in Chicago, Murton has gone straight into the A's lineup as their left fielder. Once the Red Sox prospect who accompanied Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs in that famous three-way deadline deal in 2004, Murton is now 26, but still a high-on-base righty slugger, and the A's are likely hoping he'll become another Jack Cust if given proper exposure. Fact is, Murton could be better than Cust, as he's younger, hits for a better average, and doesn't strike out nearly as much.
Patterson, meanwhile, receives high marks for his well-rounded offensive game, but his cumulative offensive value is such that his ultimate position will have a great deal of impact on his overall worth. A poor defensive second baseman, Patterson could wind up in the outfield like his older brother Corey, but the A's have him at the keystone in triple-A, and likely envision him as a replacement for pending free agent Mark Ellis. A career .303/.366/.475 hitter in the minors who will steal 20-plus bags a year at a decent clip, Patterson's obvious comp is Ray Durham, himself a former Athletic. Patterson's no kid--a college product, he's 25--but he doesn't have many major league miles, so he should be a cheap alternative to Ellis this winter and for several years to come.
Still, if Harden leads the Cubs to their first World Series in 63 years and goes on to pick up a Cy Young or two, all of which are very likely if he can only stay healthy, Beane's return is going to look awfully light.
As it pertains to this series, the Yankees benefit from not running right into Harden out of the break, but also would have been better off facing Blanton tonight. Facing Gallagher on Sunday splits the difference to a certain degree. In place of Blanton, the Yanks face rookie Greg Smith tonight, himself rebuilding booty from the Dan Haren trade (Beane has now traded 60 percent of his 2007 rotation). A 24-year-old lefty, Smith has an ERA nearly a run higher on the road, but that road mark is a still-strong 3.86. Smith gets by on his curve and changeup, but is far from dominating. Over his last six starts, he's posted a 2.78 ERA, but has walked more than he's struck out.
Expect newest Yankee Richie Sexson to get a start against the lefty Smith with Jose Molina continuing to serve as personal catcher for Mike Mussina. That will leave Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada to duke it out over DH duties. The Yankees have never faced smith before and Giambi has faired better against lefties than switch-hitting Posada, but Smith smokes lefties (.205/.250/.265 on the season), so maybe the pitcher's splits trump the hitters' here.
Observations From Cooperstown--Remembering Murcer
Now I know how fans who idolized Mickey Mantle felt on the summer day of August 13, 1995, when "The Mick" succumbed after a graceful and courageous battle with liver cancer. I experienced those feelings last Saturday afternoon, when I clicked onto MLB.com and saw that Bobby Murcer had passed away.
Murcer’s death didn’t come as a complete shock. After hearing him on a Yankee broadcast earlier this season, I came away feeling discouraged. He didn’t sound right; his voice was weak and distant, and he lacked his usual positive bundle of energy. I came away from that broadcast feeling that he might not announce another Yankee game. Then came reports that Murcer’s health was sagging, that he wasn’t doing as well as he appeared to be last summer. But even with all of those warning signs, I wasn’t completely prepared. I thought we’d see him attend at least one more Old-Timers’ Game, maybe even make a studio appearance on the YES Network during the postseason (another case of wishful thinking, but on a far less important scale). So then, when I heard the news of Murcer’s death, I still took a hit to the stomach. No matter how much we try to prepare or assume, it’s just unavoidable.
Why did I like Murcer so much? After all, he didn’t play for either of the world championship teams in 1977 or ’78, and he failed to live up to the expectations—however unfair—of being the next Mantle. Well, neither of those realities mattered to me. In my mind, Murcer was plenty good; he was a little 180-pound guy who showed surprising power from the left side of the plate, ran faster than most white guys were supposed to run, and played a very good center field. He also seemed to be an easy-going, down-home, pleasant and kind gentleman, and all of that added up to him being one of my favorite ballplayers.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Murcer’s service to his country provided another exemplary characteristic to his persona. He sacrificed two of his prime developmental years to the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. As much as we talk about ballplayers who served in World War II and the Korean War, we tend to ignore Vietnam and the players who were drafted, like Murcer, Ed Figueroa, and Carlos May. Employed as a radio operator (the same work done by fellow big leaguer Bill Campbell), Murcer missed out completely on the 1967 and ’68 seasons. Although he was terrified at first, Murcer learned about discipline and responsibility during his military tenure. Emerging stronger and more self-reliant, Murcer became a better ballplayer after he returned to baseball.
At times when being a Yankee fan produced mostly dark moments, Murcer provided some necessary lighting. In the early 1970s, the Yankees found themselves weighed down in a muddle of mediocrity. They had middle infielders who couldn’t hit, a parade of feeble third basemen (at least until Graig Nettles arrived in 1973), no real right fielder, and a troublesome back end of the starting rotation. There was too much Horace "Hoss" Clarke, Jerry Kenney, and Mike Kekich, and no more Mantle, Elston Howard, and Whitey Ford. Yet, the Yankees were still worth watching. They had Munson. They had Roy White and Mel Stottlemyre, and Sparky Lyle, beginning in ‘72. And they had Murcer.
6,000 Words on 25 Men: An Epic Review of the First-Half of the Yankees' 2008 Season
The Yankees open the second half of the 2008 baseball season with a 50-45 (.526) record. They are in third place in the AL East, six games behind the division-leading Red Sox and 5.5 games behind the second-play Rays. In the Wild Card picture, they rank fourth behind the Rays, Twins (3 games), and A's (1 game), and just a half game ahead of the Texas Rangers.
A year ago, they were in a nearly identical position. Ninety-six games into the 2007 season, the Yankees had a 50-46 (.521) record, were in second place in the East, 7.5 games behind the Red Sox, and were in fourth place in the Wild Card race, 6.5 games behind the Indians, four games behind the Mariners, and a half game behind the Twins.
From that point, the 2007 Yankees went 44-22 (.667) to come within two games of the eventual World Champion Red Sox in the East and take the Wild Card by six games over the Mariners, who went 37-28 (.569) over the same span.
The Yankees weren't supposed to find themselves in this sort of spot again, and will have a much more difficult time digging themselves out of it this year due to potentially season-ending injuries to Chien-Ming Wang and Hideki Matsui and the continued lineup shuffling required by Jorge Posada's sore shoulder. Here's a look at what went right and wrong in the first half of this season for the Yankees, and what we might expect to see from them in the second half.
A Regular Riot
Fo Real or Fo Fake?
Here's the rumor. Would be something if it were true. But I'll go with fugazi.
Update: Would you believe, Richie Sexson?
Oy and veh. Better 'n a Betemit I suppose.
From Johnny's last show, Ladies and Gents...The Great Flydini.
Bad Hop = Bad Break for Klap
We all know about pitchers who can write: Pat Jordan, Jim Brosnan, Jim Bouton. But there are also a handful of writers who can pitch too. Historian Glenn Stout used to pitch in an over 30 league. Kevin Kerrane pitched semi-pro ball too. And veteran New York sports writer Bob Klapisch has been pitching since he was in college (he used to pitch against Ron Darling when he was at Columbia and Darling was at Yale). For the past couple of years I've been meaning to go watch Klap pitch in a game, thinking it would make for an interesting story.
Unfortunately, Klap's playing career came to an abrupt end last week when he was struck in the right eye by a ground ball. In a recent e-mail, Klap explained what happened:
I was pitching Thursday night in Parsippany NJ for the Morris Mariners, one of the two semi-pro teams I play for. (Hackensack Troasts is the other). Batter hit a hard comebacker which took a wicked bounce over my glove. It was one of those old-fashioned configurations, with a bowling alley-like strip of dirt connected the pitching mound to home plate. So the ball was traveling on dirt, not grass, and must've hit a rock. It flew up towards my face, like a stone skipping on a lake. Caught me flush in the right eye.
Man, talk about a bad break. What a humbling way for the universe to tell you it's time to stop playing ball. Klap does seem to be taking it exceedingly well, however. And he's one tough cookie.
Still, it must be a scary spot for him to be in. So here's sending best wishes to Klap. Let's hope that his surgeries are a success. Hang in there, Klap, you're the man.
Can I Kick it? Yes, you can!
Jack's Got Your Back
Last night I was on the uptown platform at 103rd street. I had just missed a train. There was a tall, dark lady cop on the platform. I said hello as I passed her. Then, I started making small talk, about staying up late for the All-Star game. I asked if she ever worked up at the Stadium and she said that she did and that it was a fun beat.
"Unless, they are playing the Red Sox. Too much alcohol. Then we have to take people out."
She didn't mean escort them out, she meant take them out. By any means necessary. She looked up the platform as we spoke and said there are usually around thirty arrests when the Sox are in town.
I held out my hand and introduced myself.
"My name is Jack," she said and pointed to her badge. It read, "Jack." Not Jackie, not Jacklyn. Jack.
Jack went on to tell me that when she works the Stadium she is stationed where the visiting players' wives sit. She said the wives tell her how much safer it is at the Stadium than in other parks around the league. Go figure that, right?
"They told me that teams generally have to bring their own security with them at other places. Not here. Not since Steinbrenner adopted a zero-tolerance policy."
Jack then told me, with considerable pride, about how quickly two fans were bounced on two nights earlier during the home run derby. It was when Josh Hamilton hit one into the black seats and two kids chased after it. I was watching on TV and recall seeing a cop put his hands around one of the kids' neck.
Jack shook her head and smiled.
She said that the cops working inside the Stadium are not on the job, they are paid privately "by Steinbrenner."
Hey, I'd feel pretty safe if Jack had my back. Man, it sure ain't like the old days no more.
I know I'm late to the party on this, but man, what a drag about our ailing Godzilla. Could be that the Matsui is gone for the year. Steven Goldman takes a look in today's New York Sun.
A Handshake to Last a Lifetime
I was able to watch a good portion of yesterday's parade up sixth avenue from my office building. Players sat in the back of sparkling Chevy trucks which proceeded slowly from Bryant Park to 57th street. When Hank Aaron's truck stopped in front of my building, I saw a little old lady with a big white hat approach him. She walked right by the police, up to the truck like she came down to the parade to do just one thing. She went right up and shook Aaron's hand. It was brief. Then she walked back to the sidewalk where a small boy was waiting for her.
As she moved away from Aaron, she clenched her fists and shook them over and over again. It was as she was saying, "Yes. I shook the man's hand." I don't know if she had been waiting for years to make that contact but the moment clearly made her day, if not her whole year.
It must be a strange sensation to be a ball player, knowing that your accomplishments mean so much to so many people. I wonder how many of these kinds of encounters an athltete remembers? They must all blur together after awhile. One thing for sure though, that lady will never forget touching Hank Aaron, even it was just for a moment.
The opening ceremonies were but a distant memory by the time the All Star game merifully ended close to 2:00 a.m. but the sight of George Steinbrenner being carted around the field will be the image I remember most. There was the Boss, with his trademark navy blue blazer and aviator sunglasses, sitting next to his daughter, his son Hal right behind him, bawling like a baby, overcome with emotion. The Fox cameras tastefully kept their distance until Steinbrenner's cart reached the pitcher's mound. There, his daughter handed him a plain manilla envelope. The Boss took out four baseballs and gave one each to Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Goose Gossage and Reggie Jackson. Ford leaned over and kissed George on the cheek, so did Yogi. Paying their respects to The Godfather. Steinbrenner was then quickly ushered off the field, perhaps for the final time.
It's funny how things turn out. For as long as I can remember, Steinbrenner has lorded over his team as The Boss, commanding the back and sometimes even the front pages of the local newspapers, hiring-and-firing managers and general managers at an alarming rate, throwing buckets of money at free agents, harassing his employees, berating his players, building championship teams and then tearing them down. He was boorish, obnoxious, paranoid, driven, obsessed. He was also generous, charitable, and unfailingly patriotic. Steinbrenner was a lot of things, and most of all, he was vital, a force.
In 1989, when I was a senior in high school, I honestly believed that the Yankees would never been a winning organization again until Steinbrenner was gone. I was wrong of course, and the Yankees' run in the nineties was more spectactular and satisfying than the one in the late seventies. Steinbrenner deserves credit for that, even if the team was carefully re-built while he was serving his second suspension from the game, and even if Joe Torre gets most of the ink for the teams' great run.
Again, it's interesting to see how things turn out. Instead of a dramatic departure, Steinbrenner has slowly faded, like the air fizzling out of a birthday ballon that is three weeks old. It is humbling. And his many critics have laid off of him as his health has declined. Mike Lupica, one of his biggest foes, has written nothing but glowing things about Steinbrenner for the past few years. And so even an orge gets a moment of grace.
I enjoyed the pre-game introductions. Thought it was typically crass of Willie Mays to ignore Josh Hamilton when the young center fielder took his place next to the Say Hey Kid. Also, is New York the only place in the world where you can get away with following-up Hank Aaron with Reggie Jackson or what? And yo, you had to love them saving Yogi, the best, for last.
Stadium to Baseball: Don't Go
The fourth and final All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium started out as something of a dud, but it sure did get interesting before the AL came away its eleventh-straight win after 15 innings and nearly five hours of baseball.
Scoreless after four innings, the early part of the game was notable only for its lack of offense. Derek Jeter singled and stole second in his first at-bat, but was stranded there, ground into a double play in his second trip, and ground out again to kill a fifth-inning rally in his final at-bat. Alex Rodriguez fouled out and struck out in his two at-bats. The AL had five runners in the first four frames, but one was erased by Jeter's double play, and Milton Bradley was picked off first base after reaching on a Hanley Ramirez throwing error in the fourth. The NL had just three baserunners in the first four frames. Of those three, Albert Pujols was nailed by a laser throw from Ichiro Suzuki while trying to stretch a single into the right field corner into a double. That play was the highlight of the early part of the game, though everyone had a good laugh when Carlos Zambrano's first pitch to Manny Ramirez in the bottom of the fourth was a curveball that broke over and behind Ramirez's head.
The NL finally broke the dam when Matt Holliday led off the fifth with an opposite-field solo homer off Ervin Santana that was also the first extra-base hit of the game. The senior circuit added another run against Justin Duchscherer the following inning when Hanely Ramirez and Chase Utley singled to put runners on the corners with no outs, and Lance Berkman plated Ramirez with a sac fly to center.
The game was still 2-0 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when J.D. Drew tied things up with a two-run homer that plated Justin Morneau (who had doubled to lead off the inning), making Drew the first Boston player to get a genuine cheer from a Yankee Stadium crowd in my memory.
The All-Star Game: 2008
The NL has the better lineup and the roster that better represents the best of their league, but they haven't won one of these things since 1996, when the AL was shutout by a nonet of pitchers that included Mark Wohlers, Steve Trachsel, and Phillies closer Ricky Bottalico, and they won't get last licks tonight.
The NL has had some turnover in its roster since it was first announced. In addition to Corey Hart, who was added via the Final Vote, David Wright, who finished second in that voting, replaces the injured Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Marmol replaces his bullpen-mate Kerry Wood, who developed blister on his right index finger last weekend. What's more, today there have been reports that the Giants sophomore sensation Tim Lincecum, my pick to start for the NL squad, fell ill with the flu yesterday and may not even make it to the Stadium. The only roster issue for the ALers was the injured David Ortiz being replaced by Final Vote winner Evan Longoria.
Here are the lineups:
RF - Ichiro Suzuki (L)
P - Cliff Lee (L)
SS - Hanely Ramirez (R)
P - Ben Sheets (R)
In lieu of FOX's Zelaskoed pre-game coverage, check our man Alex's write up on the Stadium over at SI.com, and let's all hope this won't be the last night they break the bunting out at the old yard.
The All-Star Game: 1977
The last All-Star Game to take place at Yankee Stadium was played on July 19, 1977, five days after the blackout that devastated parts of the city. It was the second season of the renovated Stadium, which had already seen Chris Chambliss hit his ALCS-winning home run against the Royals and the Reds sweep the Yankees in the World Series the previous October. At the break, the Yankees were in third place in a tight race in the AL East, 2.5 games behind the Red Sox and three games behind the Orioles, both of whom would finish the season 2.5 games behind the repeating AL champions.
The Yankees had five representatives at the All-Star Game that year, not counting AL manager Billy Martin and his coaching staff. Reggie Jackson, in his first year with the team, started in right field and was booed loudly by the home crown upon being announced by Bob Sheppard before the game. Willie Randolph, in his second season as a Yankee, made his first All-Star start at second base. Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, and Sparky Lyle all made the team as reserves.
While the six members of the 1976 World Champion Reds on the NL roster (Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, George Foster, and Dave Concepcion in the starting lineup, Pete Rose and Ken Griffy on the bench) were booed loudly by the Yankee Stadium crowd, the loudest ovation during the pre-game introductions went to another Red, Tom Seaver, who had been traded to Cincinnati by the Mets just a month earlier. Watching the game now, it's also striking to see future Yankee stars Dave Winfield and Goose Gossage, both playing for the NL squad, met with near silence by the Stadium fans, and to see Billy Martin cheerfully greet his first base coach, White Sox manager Bob Lemon, who would replace him as Yankee manager the following season.
Orioles ace Jim Palmer started for the AL squad. Having thrown 638 innings over the previous two seasons, Palmer had thrown 187 2/3 innings in the first half of 1977 and was clearly fatigued. Joe Morgan, who had started the scoring in the 1976 World Series with a first-inning home run off Doyle Alexander, led off and put Palmer's sixth pitch into the right field box seats. As Reggie Jackson ran out of room to chase Morgan's leadoff homer, he pressed his face against the right field wall and rolled around as if to say "here we go again." The NL had won the previous five All-Star Games and 18 of the previous 20. They would win this one and the next five as well before Fred Lynn's grand slam off Atlee Hammaker finally broke their dominance in 1983.
The reason why baseball movies will never get it right is because no amount of clever CGI can ever replicate what we saw from Josh Hamilton, a real life Roy Hobbs, last night at the Stadium. I still feel buzzed.
"C" is for "Crazy"
"If I was managing the team, I would close," [Jonathan] Papelbon said. "I'm not managing the team, so it don't matter."
Well, Jonathan Paplebon is an athlete. And I'd rather have a guy who is dumb and good than smart and crappy. So this wasn't an especially bright thing to say. He isn't paid to be bright.
Glorified Batting Practice
ESPN will broadcast the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium at 8pm tonight. It will be the first and last Home Run Derby in the Stadium's history as the Derby only dates back to 1985 and Yankee Stadium last hosted the All-Star Game in 1977.
The balls for the Derby tend to be a bit juiced, so it's quite possible that there will be balls hit to previously unreached portions of the park tonight. If you follow the link above, you'll find a video that shows where the furthest-hit balls in this decade's Derbies would have landed in Yankee Stadium. A several of them would have landed safely in the left field bleachers, a section that's only been reached once during a game, and one would have hit off the wall behind those bleachers.
Unfortunately, none of the seven hitters responsible for the blasts in that video will be participating tonight. In fact, if you look at the top home run totals over the 2004 to 2007 seasons, Lance Berkman is the only member of the top 10 who will be taking his hacks tonight, and the next participant on the list is Justin Morneau all the way down at 27th.
Joe Pos takes a look. Peep, don't sleep.
Da Belle of Da Balls
As we watch A-Rod's tabloid excoriation across our tabloid media this weekHe's having an affair with Madonna! No, it's only spiritual! He dates strippers and bodybuilders! He's a bad dad!it's worth considering that the breakup that has landed A-Rod in his predicament isn't necessarily the one with his wife, Cynthia; it's the one he had with Scott Boras last October.
You can say that again.
Pretty Damn Good
After playing briefly for the Yankees in 1965 and '66, Murcer was one of the very few major leaguers drafted into the military during the Vietnam War. Inducted into the army during spring training in 1967, he missed all of that season and the next while serving as a radio operator. Murcer worried that his career was over, but would later tell author Philip Bashe, "What I thought was going to be a horrible experience was really a positive thing for me in the long run. I learned responsibility and, obviously, a little bit of discipline. When I got out I was ready to proceed with my baseball career on a much more mature level."
"If we want to make the playoffs, we have to be better," said Pettitte, who took the loss Sunday. "We stink right now for the most part. As a team, we've kind of stunk it up here lately, so we need to play better."
The Blue Jays scored four runs off Andy Pettitte in the second inning yesterday, which was more than enough for Yankee-killer A.J. Burnett. The Yanks got a man as far as second just twice through the first eight innings and didn't break through until Jason Giambi's opposite-field solo homer off a tiring Burnett in the ninth inning. Jorge Posada followed Giambi with a single to bounce Burnett, but facing closer B.J. Ryan, Robinson Cano bounced into a double play to give Toronto a 4-1 victory in the game and a 2-1 victory in the series.
The Jays got their breakout inning going when Bobby Abreu completely misjudged a would-by fly out to right into a double. Abreu then spent the rest of the game making up for his blunder, but to no avail. Abreu led off the top of the fourth with a double, but the middle of the Yankee order couldn't even get him to third base. With men on the corners in the bottom of the fourth inning, Marco Scutaro, whose three-run homer capped the Jay's four-run second inning, lifted a foul ball to shallow right field. Abreu made an impressive ranging catch, whirled, and fired a strike to Posada to nail Scott Rolen attempting to score for an inning-saving double play. In his next at-bat, Abreu reached on an infield single and got to second on an Alex Rodriguez single, but was again stranded at the keystone.
Abreu was the only Yankee to reach second base all day other than Giambi on his ninth-inning home run. Peter Abraham reports that all but seven of the Yankees 32 plate appearances against Burnett were over within three pitches, four of them being three-pitch strike outs. Scutaro was the third opposing in the last week who failed to get down a bunt and then homered in the same at-bat.
The Yankees enter the break having scored 3.67 runs per game in their last 15 contests and 2.15 runs per game in 13 of those 15 games. They are six games behind the first-place Red Sox in the AL East and 5.5 games behind the second-place Tampa Bay Rays. They're in fourth place in the Wild Card race behind the Rays, Twins (3 GB), and A's (1 GB), the last of whom they will face in their first series after the break.
Meanwhile, the Futures Game was played back at the Stadium. For all of the promotion the All-Star Game and associated events have received in the past week or so, the Futures Game seemed to go completely unmentioned. The Tino Martinez-managed World team beat the U.S. squad 3-0. Yankee catching prospect Jesus Montero contributed a single in two at-bats.
Bounce Into The Break
With the Yankees offense scuffling, Joe Girardi finally made a meaningful tweak to his lineup yesterday, dropping struggling rookie leadoff man Brett Gardner to ninth in the order and moving everyone else up a spot. That meant Derek Jeter, who has hit a Jeter-esque .311/.385/.444 since June 1, leading off, Bobby Abreu batting second, Alex Rodriguez batting third, etcetera. His team responded by scoring nine-runs in the first four innings of the game, kick started by Jeter's leadoff home run on the second pitch of the game. Tucked away at the bottom of the order, Gardner reached base four times in four trips, with a pair of singles, a pair of walks, a pair of runs scored, and three RBIs.
It worked so well, he's doing it again today, though with Jorge Posada catching, Jason Giambi playing first base, and Wilson Betemit slipping into the eighth spot in place of yesterday's catcher, Chad Moeller.
That lineup will look to give the Yankees a series victory heading into the All-Star break with a win against A.J. Burnett in today's rubber game. Burnett is something of a Yankee killer. He beat them back on April 2, his only start against the Bombers this season, and is the only Blue Jay pitcher other than Roy Halladay to have defeated the Yankees this year. In fact, the only time the Yankees have beaten Burnett since he joined the Blue Jays came in September 2006.
The good news is that Burnett enters today's game with a 6.91 ERA in last seven starts, has allowed 15 runs (13 earned) in his last two starts, and is pitching on three-day's rest for just the third time in his career. He'll face Andy Pettitte, who has a 1.82 ERA in last six starts (5-1) and is coming off eight shutout innings against Rays in which he looked absolutely dominant, allowing just four hits, three of them singles, and walking none.
Once (More) Around the Ballpark
Good Night, Old Pal
The Yankees 9-4 win over the Blue Jays this afternoon, which featured Derek Jeter's 200th career home run as well as Alex Rodriguez's 537th career bomb (moving him past Mickey Mantle on the all-time list), was overshadowed by the news that Bobby Murcer has passed away.
Murcer was a solid star player for the Yankees during the late 60s and early 70s--good but never truly great--and later, a friendly voice in the broadcast booth. Murcer knocked a game-winning, pinch-hit homer over the right center field wall against the Orioles in September of 1981. I was at that game with my dad and my brother. I'll never forget watching two drunk guys sitting down the row from us in the upper deck, chanting "Bob-by, Bob-by!" and then all hell breaking loose when Murcer hit the dinger.
George Carlin, now Bobby Murcer. It certainly hits a lot closer to home when you grew up watching and then listening to a guy. Sixty-two is too young, man. At least he's not in pain anymore. Let's hope he's at peace. I know it's the natural order of things and all, but, good goosh, we've been talking an awful lot about death lately.
Time for a win.
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
Yes, the Yankee offense has been less than inspired of late, but there ain't much that even the best hitting teams can do when they face a buzz saw like Doc Halladay. The Blue Jays' ace delivered a vintage performance on Friday night, throwing a complete-game, two-hit, shutout against the Yanks. Jays 5, Yanks zip. Joba Chamberlain pitched well, giving up three runs in 6.2 innings, striking out nine without a walk. Just one of those nights.
Toronto Blue Jays III: Gimme A Break Edition
When Dustin McGowan hit the DL, the Yankees thought they were going to get through their final series of the first half without having to face any of the Blue Jays' best pitchers, but now the Jays have Roy Halladay going tonight and A.J. Burnett going on Sunday. That's not going to help the Yankees break out of their offensive funk. The Yankees have gone 4-2 against Toronto thus far this season, but their two losses came against Halladay and Burnett and saw the Yankees score a total of 5 runs.
The good news is that the Yanks have Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte opposing those two. Pettitte, who faces Burnett on Sunday, has a 1.82 ERA and a 5-1 record over his last six starts, which includes his stinker against the Red Sox. Since pushing his pitch counts into the 80s with his start against the Astros, Chamberlain, who starts against Halladay tonight, has a 2.22 ERA with 29 Ks in 28 1/3 innings over five starts. The Yankees are 4-1 in those games, though Joba has gotten the decision just once due to the offense's struggles.
Chamberlain's only weakness since becoming a starter has been the base on balls, as he has a 5.08 BB/9 over those five starts and has thus only made it past the sixth inning once. That trend started with his first major league start, which came against the Blue Jays at the Stadium and saw the Toronto hitters exploit his pitch limit by taking an inordinate number of pitches. It will be interesting to see if the Jays' approach differs tonight now that Joba's no longer on an artificially-low pitch count.
As for Halladay, he's 1-1 with a 3.46 ERA in two starts against the Yankees this season. He was out-dueled by Chien-Ming Wang on the rain-delayed Opening
Jorge Posada is finally back behind the plate, as Jason Giambi returns to the lineup as the DH in the American League park, Wilson Betemit slips into Jose Molina's spot in the lineup at first base, and Brett Gardner returns to the leadoff spot and left field.
If the Yanks can pull out two of three this weekend, it should give the team a boost heading into the break, even if they have to do it with pitching rather than hitting. The Jays have the third-worst offense in the AL and just lost Vernon Wells to the DL with a hamstring strain, so the opportunity is there, but the pressure is on Joba and Andy get it done.
Card Corner--Cliff Johnson
As I've watched the Yankees throughout the first half of 2008, I've come to the conclusion that they could use someone like Cliff Johnson. Of course, Cliff is 60 years old now, and probably not in condition to bend his knees behind the plate or swing a bat in anger. In actuality, I'm referring to the Cliff Johnson of roughly 30 years ago, when he gave the Yankees the kind of right-handed hitting and bench strength that this year's Yankees so badly require.
For much of the 1970s, the Yankees tried to acquire some extra right-handed hitting. In 1973, they purchased Jim Ray Hart, who lasted only a calendar year as a platoon DH before it became obvious that he was washed up, in part because of his problems with drinking. After the season, the Bombers acquired switch-hitting Bill "Suds" Sudakis from the Texas Rangers. Sudakis succeeded in one thingmaking headlines when he brawled with Sweet Lou Piniella during a road trip in Milwaukee. In the spring of 1974, the Yankees acquired Walt "No Neck" Williams as part of a larger deal with the White Sox. Williams made a splash, but mostly because of his unusual head-and-shoulders appearance. Later that season, the Yankees made a last-minute deal for Alex Johnson, followed by a December transaction that brought in Bob Oliver from Baltimore. Both players had once been highly productive; both players failed to last a full season at Shea Stadium.
In the spring of 1976, the Yankees gave Tommy Davis, one of my favorites, a look-see. He never made it into a game, released on the eve of Opening Day. Then came another favorite, Cesar Tovar, who was also one of Yankee manager Billy Martin's preferred pets. Tovar could play anywhere, but unfortunately couldn't hit anythingat least not any more. After the season, the Yankees appeared to have hit the jackpot with the perennially underrated Jimmy Wynn. But "The Toy Cannon" had little fodder remaining; he batted .143 in 77 at-bats and received the boot.
Still searching for a right-handed role-playing bat in 1977, the Yankees then pulled the trigger on a deal just before the June 15th deadline. General manager Gabe Paul sent three extraneous minor leaguersfirst baseman Dave Bergman, infielder Mike Fischlin, and lefty Randy Niemannto the Houston Astros. In exchange, the Yankees received what they desperately needed on two different countsa right-handed bat and a backup catcher. Cliff Johnson had finally come to town.
Coming to bat 142 times for the '77 Yankees, Johnson provided exactly what Martin and Gabe Paul wanted. Heathcliff batted .296 with 12 home runs; more significantly, he slugged .606 and compiled a .405 on-base percentage. When the opponent threw a left-hander at the Yankees, Martin rightly found a place for Johnson in the lineup. Granted, Johnson wasn't much of a catcherat six-four and 240 pounds, he was clumsy and owned hands of stonebut he could play the position in short doses. He could also fill in at first base and the outfield corners (though he never did play in left or right field during his Yankee days). Most critically, Johnson could hitswinging the bat better than any backup catcher the Yankees had featured since the salad days of Johnny Blanchard.
Johnson became an important part of the Yankees' second-half surge that summer. He also devoured the Kansas City Royals' pitching staff in the ALCS. In 16 at-bats, Johnson delivered six hits, swatted one home run, and slugged .733, helping the Yankees clinched the American League pennant in a wild five-game series. As far as June 15th trade deadline deals were concerned, Johnson had become one of the best mid-season acquisitions in Yankee history.
The 1977 season turned out to be the peak of Johnson's career in pinstripes. In 1978, the bottom fell out of his game. Losing his stroke in his continuing role as a spare part, Johnson batted .184 with only six home runs in 174 at-bats. He became a nonentity in the postseason, going hitless in three at-bats against the Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers. The following spring, Johnson became a liability in the clubhouse. In late April, he took offense at some playful ribbing from Goose Gossage and gave the Yankees' relief ace a slap of his hand. That led to a full-scale wrestling matchand a tumble into the bathroom toilet stalls. Johnson escaped unharmed, but the Goose endured a torn ligament in his pitching thumb. He would miss the next three months of the 1979 season, which turned into a lost journey for the Yankees.
With that one incident, Johnson signed his Yankee death notice. Within two months, he was goneshipped off to the Cleveland Indians in a bad deadline deal for a mediocre left-hander named Don Hood. (Hood was better than Billy Traber, though. Hood could have helped the 2008 Yankees, too.) Johnson would eventually resuscitate his career as a power-hitting DH and occasional catcher, and would later become a highly effective pinch-hitter for the Toronto Blue Jays, but his days as a Yankee had come to an ungracious end.
I wish it had turned out different for Johnson. I've always liked journeyman ballplayers who aren't stars, but are still useful playersjust like Johnson was. I remember how Phil Rizzuto used to playfully refer to him as "Heathcliff." That wasn't his real first name (it's Clifford), just a clever-sounding nickname. Others called him "Topcat," for reasons that remain a mystery to me to this day. Not surprisingly, Gossage described Johnson as a "lazy and worthless piece of crap" in his 2000 autobiography, ripping into Johnson for his tendency toward "moping around," around the bullpen, where he allegedly refused to warm up pitchers from time to time. I read those descriptions with some sadness, mostly because they didn't jell with the image I had of Johnson as a mammoth man who spoke softly but carried a big batliterally.
Come back, Cliff Johnson. We could use someone like you in 2008.
Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLBlogs at MLB.com.
McClout or Take Two and Call Me When They're Scoring
In a post-script to my wrap-up of Wednesday afternoon's walk-off win against the Tampa Bay Rays, I expressed concern about the Yankees' continued lack of offense, even through their recent four-game winning streak:
While the Yankees have won four games in a row, they have only averaged 3.5 runs scored over those four games and 3.63 runs per game over their last 11 contests. Setting aside their 18-run outburst against the Rangers a week ago, they've averaged 2.4 runs per game in ten of their last 11 games. Take out their two game-winning runs in extra innings, and they've scored just 2.2 runs per game during regulation in those ten games.
All of those numbers have gone down as a result of another weak showing last night, this one against Paul Maholm and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Bucs got on the board first when ninth-place hitter Jack Wilson led of the third inning by doubling off Mike Mussina and was later plated by a Freddy Sanchez single. Mussina would later single himself with two outs in the fifth inning and be moved to second by a Derek Jeter single before being stranded by a Bobby Abreu strikeout. Moose's four-year-old son told him he'd hit better if he cuffed his pants high, and Mussina obliged on both accounts, but as always seems to be the case, the inning after the pitcher ran the bases, he gave up another run, though this one was hardly his fault.
In the bottom of the fifth, Wilson again led off with a hit. Nate McLouth then hit a double-play ball to second, but Derek Jeter's relay throw tailed down and up the line, tipping off first baseman Jorge Posada's outstretched glove to allow McLouth to reach safely. Posada was playing first in order to get his bat in the lineup against a lefty in a National League park (he went 1 for 4) while also allowing Mussina to pitch to his personal catcher, Jose Molina (Mussina allowed two runs in six innings). Posada didn't make the most impressive stretch for the ball, which a more experienced infielder likely would have come up with. Still, a better throw from Jeter, who was in no way threatened by the charging baserunner, would have avoided that problem. Two pitches later, McLouth stole second and moved to third when Jose Molina's throw skipped into center field. On the next pitch, Freddy Sanchez lifted a sac fly to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead.
The Yankees, meanwhile, had nothing going against Maholm. Derek Jeter led off the game with a single and the Yankees had men on the corners with two outs in the first, but Robinson Cano struck out on four pitches. Bobby Abreu walked and stole second with two outs in the third, but Alex Rodriguez flew out to strand him. Mussina and Jeter singled with two outs in the fifth, but Abreu struck out on three pitches.
That was it until the Yankees finally broke through, again with two outs, in the seventh. Justin Christian and pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit singled. Derek Jeter took a 2-2 pitch off the left foot to load the bases, and Wednesday's hero Bobby Abreu tied the game with a single to right that plated Christian and Betemit. Alex Rodriguez ground out to end the inning, but the two-out rally seemed to signal a shift in the game.
Jose Veras shifted it back with just six pitches. Again Jack Wilson led off the inning by reaching base, this time walking on five pitches (though ball four looked like strike two). Nate McLouth followed by bunting a ball foul and then, like Carlos Peña the day before, crushing a home run to right field on a pitch in on his hands.
Christian drew a full-count walk against Pirates closer Damaso Marte in the ninth to bring Jason Giambi to the plate representing the tying run, but Giambi flew out at the end of a strong seven-pitch battle and Derek Jeter grounded out weakly to end the game and give the Pirates both a 4-2 win and a 2-1 series victory.
Tonight, the Yankees face Roy Halladay. Here's hoping Joba Chamberlain has no-hit stuff. He may need it.
Pittsburgh Pirates 1.1: Kiss and Makeup Edition
Pity the poor Pirates. A year ago it appeared that the Bucs were building a strong young rotation with Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell on top and Zach Duke and Paul Maholm in the middle. They then overhauled their management both in the front office and on the field in the hope of building around that quartet of young starters. This season, their offense has surged to become the fourth-best attack in the NL thanks to a career year from Xavier Nady (.321/.379/.537), breakout seasons from 27-year-old catcher Ryan Doumit (.318/.362/.568) and 26-year-old All-Star center fielder Nate McLouth (.286/.361/.540), and Jason Bay's rebound from a 2007 season hampered by leg injuries. More recently, first baseman Adam LaRoche, a second-half performer to rival Robinson Cano, has joined in, hitting .365/.455/.662 since mid-June.
The problem is that their good young rotation has gone belly-up. Gorzellany lost his ability to throw strikes (6.26 BB/9 vs. 5.34 K/9) and has been sent back to the minors for reeducation sporting a 6.57 ERA, and Snell has been only mildly better (5.84 ERA, 5.34 BB/9, 6.55 K/9). That has more than erased the improvements made by Duke and tonight's starter Maholm, and undermined the strong showing of both the offense and the back of the bullpen (which itself has been hurt by the recent injury to closer Matt Capps). Altogether, the Pirates pitching staff has the worst ERA in baseball.
Worse yet, of those breakout performers on offense, all but Bay stand a good chance to regress to their past level of performance as McLouth is the youngest of the quartet at 26. Just look at Freddy Sanchez, who won the batting title at age 28 in 2005 and is hitting .226/.253/.307 thus far this year. Oh, and Bay will be a free agent after the 2009 season.
So despite the new administration's willingness to think outside of the box (witness rookie manager John Russell using Doug Mientkiewicz as a four-corners utility man and becoming the third NL Central manager to bat his pitcher eighth), any hope for a meaningful improvement in Pittsburgh has once again receded into the future.
Tonight's game makes up for one rained out exactly two weeks ago after the Yanks and Bucs split the first two games of a three-game set and, neatly, rematches the two pitchers who started the game that was rained out with the Yankees leading 3-1 in the third inning. Having had that outing erased from his ledger, Paul Maholm has posted a 2.57 ERA in his last four starts and a 2.74 mark over his last seven, and hasn't taken a loss since May 20. Mike Mussina is coming off his six crucial shutout innings against the Red Sox and has a 2.70 ERA in his last six starts with 30 Ks against just six walks and three homers in that span.
Jose Molina, who starts his sixth straight game behind the plate, continues his personal catching duties for Mike Mussina. Righty-hitting Justin Christian starts in left field over lefty Brett Gardner against the lefty Maholm. Christian bats eighth with the entire order shifting up a spot and Derek Jeter leading off. With no DH, Jorge Posada starts at first base with Jason Giambi looming as a late-game pinch-hitting option.
For what it's worth, the Yankees outscored the Pirates 15-12 in the first two games of this broken three-game series, with the Pirates scoring all of their runs in Game One.
Allen Barra pens the Voice cover story this week on New York's two new baseball Stadiums.
Mariano Rivera in Four Musical Words
Mariano Rivera: 42.3 innings, 4 walks, 50 strikeouts, 1.06 ERA.
It's Good. It's Good.
On "Support The 'Stache" day at Yankee Stadium, Jason Giambi got the Yankees on the board in the bottom of the first with a two-out single that plated Derek Jeter from second base. Sidney Ponson then miraculously made that run hold up for five innings by stranding six baserunners (including three in the third inning) and erasing two others via a first-inning double-play and a caught stealing by Jose Molina, which ended the fifth.
Carlos Peña led of the sixth inning by trying to bunt his way on base, but his attempt rolled foul. Three pitches later, he launched a Ponson pitch into the bleachers in right center to tie the game at 1-1.
And so it remained, through a pair of perfect innings by Jose Veras and Kyle Farnsworth. In the seventh, Melky Cabrera led off with a single and was bunted to second by Jose Molina, but J.P. Howell relieved Edwin Jackson and struck out Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter to strand Cabrera. Mariano Rivera worked around a one-out walk in the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth, DH Jorge Posada led off with a walk and was pinch-run for by Justin Christian, who was then bunted to second by Robinson Cano. After Grant Balfour came on in relief of Howell, Christian stole third base, but Howell struck out Melky and got Molina to pop out to force extra innings.
Mo was perfect in the top of the tenth, and with one out in the bottom of the inning, Jeter worked an eight-pitch walk against Balfour. Bobby Abreu then fouled off four straight fastballs from Balfour, took a slider low for a ball, and then laced another slider into the gap in right center for a game-winning double, his first walk-off hit as a Yankee.
The Yankees thus swept the first-place Rays in their short two-game series and improved to 7-5 against Tampa Bay on the season. The Yanks played loosely and confidently in this series, as evidenced by their embracing Mustache Day (Joe Girardi conducted his entire post-game interview looking like this), and by class clowns Cano and Cabrera dumping a cooler of ice water over Abreu's head as Kim Jones was preparing to conduct an on-field interview with him after the game.
With the sweep, the Yankees have pulled up to 6.5 games behind the Rays in the AL East. The Yanks are also just a game behind the Twins and a half game behind the A's in the Wild Card race, though they still trail the Red Sox, who beat the Twins at Fenway today, by 4.5 games.
Respect the 'Stache
I have a friend at work who has been goading me to grow a mustache for a few years now but my wife won't have any of it. I've never had a mustache, only a dirty upper-lip when I'm too lazy to shave for a few days. In fact, I knew an Italian kid in the seventh grade who had to shave more then than I do today. My father (pictured above in the late '80s with his old friend Wally Hill), on the other hand, always wore a mustache. It was as much a part of him as his nose. There are only a few occasions I can remember when he didn't have a 'stache, and he looked odd, not himself, without it.
Jason Giambi looks great with a mustache. (So awful, it's great, as Scott Rolen said.) The greasier and scrubbier Giambi looks, the better, as far as I'm concerned. (From Page 2, here is David Puner's look at the great Yankee 'staches of all-time.) Of course, Giambo's mustache has caught on and become a real hit. This afternoon, the Yankees are giving away fake black mustaches to the first 20,000 fans that pass through the turnstiles.
The Bombers are going to need more than an amusing promotional gimmick to survive another start from Sir Sidney Ponson. It would be great for the Yanks to take another game from the first-place Rays, but I'm sorry if I'm not brimming with confidence in New York's starting pitcher.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Looks Like I Must Be in the Front Row
Check out this cool bit of technology from SI.com.
Where Have You Gone, Bernie Williams?
I think it is high time for the Yankees and Bernie Williams to patch-up whatever hard feelings may exist between them. The Yankees should honor one of the great modern Yankees in the House of Ruth Built before the end of the season, don't you think?
With subscriber rates and advertising dwindling, newspaper profits are getting squeezed due to the decreasing revenues in a high fixed-cost business. It remains to be seen whether these companies can turn things around fast enough to remain viable longer term. In the meantime, look for more consolidation, layoffs, and plant closures to reduce capital expenditures and costs. Shareholders may face possible dividend cuts if cash flow weakens to the point where it no longer can support the current payouts. I wouldn't rule out bankruptcies or unwanted takeovers from opportunistic suitors, who most likely would finance the majority of such acquisitions with debt. Servicing high-cost bank debt and junk bonds would make it that much more difficult for the old media to survive without major changes to their business models.
An ideal companion piece can be found in the recent issue of the Columbia Jouralism Review, where Robert Weintraub writes about the decline of the big-city sports columnist:
The idea that the sports columnist may no longer be a crucial part of the nation's best newspapers is something to be lamented. The gifted sports columnist often delivered the best writing in the entire paper (and often commanded the highest salary, as fans bought papers to read his take on the local action). Freed from the Journalism 101 tropes, the sports column was home to more emotional and livelier prose than that in, say, the local political columns. At his or her best, a [Tony] Kornheiser or a [Jackie] MacMullan weaved artistry and insights into 750 words. That blend of beauty and concision is a dying art. By contrast, there is ESPN.com's popular Bill Simmons, who is knowledgeable and funny, but reading his sprawling pieces can consume an entire lunch hour. The Internet's boundless newshole is a boon to information delivery, but less so to crisp, disciplined writing.
I wonder if we'll ever see a fresh, young, must-read columnist, someone who knows their sports and knows how to write, in a major newspaper again.
Movin' Through Kazmir
My impression is that for much of this year and last, Andy Pettitte has pitched pretty well without particularly great stuff – he has decent control, usually, and he knows what he’s doing out there, and so I remember writing a lot of sentences that began something like, “Pettitte wasn’t sharp tonight, but…”
Tampa Bay Rays IV
Most likely this is simply another period of transition as the 24-year-old Garza works to establish himself alongside lefty Scott Kazmir (also 24) and righty James Shields (26) to give the Rays the best trio of starters their brief existence, prospects from Longoria and Brignac to 2007 top pick and potential ace David Price continue to fight their way toward the majors, and established starters such as Upton and catcher Dioner Navarro attempt to mature on the job. The rate at which each of those things happen will determine the rate of the Rays' improvement. Heck, by the All-Star break, this team could have Longoria and any of a handful of pitching prospects in place, Garza, Upton and company could be thriving, and the Rays could be well on their way to that 88-win projection, but given their bad luck and self-defeating maneuvers such as the demotion of Longoria, I just don't see it happening.
Uhm . . . oops.
To be fair a lot of those "things" that I said needed to happen for the Rays to become a winning team have happened. Longoria was called up and installed at third base just a week after I wrote the above and has since emerged as the second-best third baseman in the American League behind Alex Rodriguez by hitting .283/.354/.535 while playing fantastic defense. Longoria, who has hit .331/.397/.653 since June 1, is probably the most deserving of the Final Vote candidates for the final spot on the AL All-Star roster. Dioner Navarro, who is hitting .317/.371/.436, is already on the All-Star roster and has been the second best catcher in the league in the first half. B.J. Upton has lost a lot of the power he showed last year, but has made up for it with an tremendous improvement in his approach at the plate as evidenced by the drop in his K/BB ratio from 2.37 in 2007 to 1.21 and his .391 on-base percentage against a .277 average. Garza overcame some early-season elbow trouble and has posted a 3.02 ERA in his last 14 starts. Reid Brignac and pitching prospect Mitch Talbot have had tastes of the major leagues already this year.
Everything has gone according to the Rays' plan in the first half. They have the best defensive efficiency in baseball. That has lifted their pitching from last in the league to third, with both Garza and lefty ace Scott Kazmir, who starts against Andy Pettitte tonight, benefiting greatly on balls in play with BABIPs in the low .260s. Former Dodgers prospect Edwin Jackson, still just 24 year old, has gotten a lift as well with a .281 BABIP and a league-average major league ERA which is more than a run better than his career mark. Rounded out by Andy Sonnanstine, who has a 3.15 ERA in his last seven starts, the Rays have a solid five-man rotation of which the 26-year-old James Shields is the oldest member. More good pitching out of the bullpen and a surprisingly strong offense led by the rookie Longoria, a career year from four-corner utility man Eric Hinske (.264/.349/.524), and the robust on-base percentages of Upton and Navarro, have put the Rays in a position from which they could post a .446 winning percentage the rest of the way and still fulfill PECOTA's bold 88-win projection.
Odds are they'll do better than that. Despite all of the above going their way, the Rays have still suffered from repeated injuries to closer Troy Percival and DH Cliff Floyd. Garza and Kazmir have both lost time to injury as well, and Rocco Baldelli hasn't played above A-ball all year. What's more, shortstop Jason Bartlett, who came over in the deal for Garza, was supposed to be the anchor of their improved defense, but has been a disappointment in the field and an embarrassment at the plate (.204/.268/.358, only slightly better than Jose Molina). Bartlett is on the DL with a knee sprain right now, opening the door to an improvement at his position as prospect Reid Brignac battles Ben Zobrist for playing time at shortstop. In addition to the upgrade at Bartlett's spot, the Rays should be able to expect more pop from Upton and more than the league-average production they've received from Carl Crawford in the first half.
Good health and those slight improvements on offense could offset some of the expected regressions elsewhere. With 74 games left to play, if the Rays merely played that the level the Yankees have in the first half (.528 winning percentage entering tonight's game) they would win 94 games, a total that could put them in the postseason, as it did for the Yankees a year ago.
Given all of that, the Yankees have done well to split their first ten games against the Rays this season. However, four of those five wins came in April. In their last meeting in mid-May, the Rays took three of four from the Bombers at the Trop. Coming into this week's brief two-game set in the Bronx, the Rays are red-hot having won 11 of their last 13 including a three-game sweep of the Red Sox.
The good news is that Kazmir has cooled off after a stretch of six starts in May, including one against the Yankees, in which he allowed four runs in 41 innings. Since then, Kazmir has posted a 4.67 ERA and turned in just one quality start in five tries, that coming back on June 11. Kazmir still isn't giving up very many hits, but the ones he is giving up are traveling, as he's allowed a .471 slugging percentage over those five starts with nearly half of his hits allowed going for extra bases. He's also getting wild again, walking 5 men per nine innings over those last five starts. Over the same stretch, Andy Pettitte was dominant for four starts (4-0, 1.00 ERA) before his ugly outing against the Red Sox on Thursday.
Despite yesterday's off-day, Jose Molina will make his third-straight start behind the plate tonight with Jason Giambi getting a day off against the lefty Kazmir. Jorge Posada will DH with Wilson Betemit at first base. Those two are hitting fifth and sixth in the order ahead of Robinson Cano despite the fact that Cano is hitting .396/.400/.625 over his last dozen games (note the complete lack of walks, those extra OBP points are from a HBP).
Kool Like Clyde
How do you spell C-O-O-L?
How about this bit of tastiness for your ears? Ideal for keeping it low and slow on another hot day in the Big Apple.
Now We All Grown Up and Old
Scott Kazmir and the Rays are ready to rumble in the Bronx. According to Bart O'Connell in the Tampa Trib:
"It's going to be different. I think the fans are going to be a little more on us, compared to the past," Kazmir said. "It might be kind of mixed a little bit, because we've been beating the Red Sox and they like that, but coming into their park, I don't think they're going to be too happy to see us and we're ahead of them. There's going to be a lot of tension in there."
In the New York Post, Brian Costello has this from Cliff Floyd:
"It used to be going to play the Yankees was a big deal. It's not a big deal. We're just going to play baseball. We put ourselves in a position where there's no pressure."
Also, from the Tampa Trib:
"Sometimes you could beat them on mistakes, and they don't make mistakes any more," [Jason] Giambi said.
Could be a fun two-game series. Sure is a hot one out there...
I used to litter causually, without giving it much thought. I'd think nothing of stuffing a newspaper between my legs, under my seat on the train when I was finished with it. Or I'd toss a gum wrapper on the ground.
Then one day about ten years ago, I was walking down the street with my friend Joey La P and I tossed something on the ground without thinking. Joey got all over me. "How about a little respect, bro?" He didn't humiliate me, but didn't let it slide either. Since that day, I've been aware about littering (not that I didn't know it was a lousy thing to do before that). So much so that now I'm like one of those reformed smokers, vigilant, judgemental. I give people the evil eye when I see them blatantly throw their crap on the floor, although I am careful exactly who I stare at and for how long.
But I've become a righteous prig. What can you do? Mostly, if I'm really bothered, I just walk over and pick up whatever has just been dumped and, without saying a word, or even looking at the offender, place it in a garbage can myself. If I'm with a friend, I give them the ol' Joey La P treatment. "Yo, how about a little respect?"
I Don't Pander
Stuffin' the Ballot
Fans have a few days to select the final player for the AL and NL All Star squads. Our own Jason Giambi is on the AL ballot and is a fine cherce, although I don't know that I'd vote for him over Jermaine Dye or that kid playing third for the Rays.
All-Stars Then And Now
Last week, as the voting drew to a close, I posted my preferred All-Star rosters for this year's mid-summer classic at Yankee Stadium. Yesterday, the actual rosters were announced. My preferences are hardly the final word on the subject, but I thought that by comparing the two we might be able to glean some insight into the current selection process.
A few months ago I invited myself to Ray Robinson's apartment, ostensibly to get his list of ten essential baseball books, but really so I could lay eyes on his library of sports books. Robinson, an author (Iron Horse) and longtime magazine editor, grew up on the Upper West Side, near Columbia. When he was a kid, Robinson got a delivery job at a local liquor store, and he found himself making stops over at Babe Ruth's apartment at 110 Riverside Drive. He'd say, 'Thanks keed,'" Ray told me. "He called everybody 'keeed,' because he couldn't remember anyone's name. And he would invariably honor me with a couple of dollar bills."
Ray and his wife, Phyliss were wonderful with me. We chatted in the living room of their comfortable New York apartment for about an hour and Ray shared his selections of favorite baseball books with me. I poked my nose through his collection and as I was about to leave, Ray said, "Oh, would you like to see my scrapbooks?"
"Sure, I would."
Ray picked-up a bright orange plastic bag from the bottom of the bookshelf, the kind you'd get from the local Chinese take out. He pulled out two weathered books, practically falling apart, one dated 1932, the other, 1933. They were filled with pictures of players from every team in baseball. Ray cut-out images mostly from The New York Sun, The Saturday Evening Post, assorted baseball magazines as well as baseball cards. Then, along with some friends, he'd scout the hotel lobbies where the out-of-town teams stayed, to get autographs.
The books are lovingly, obsessively assembled, filled with small notations. Ray expressed some embarrassment when I complemented him on how wonderful, how personal the books are. He dismissed his sketch of the Babe as being awful, but I liked it and his wife did too.
Ray asked if he should sell the books--after all, he's got a couple of Lefty Groves in there, a Honus Wagner, Dizzy Dean. Phyliss said that she didn't think that was a good idea. I quickly agreed.
"You can't sell these," I said. "They belong in a museum or for your grandkids."
As I looked carefully through the two books, Ray kept wondering if he should sell them. I said, "No way," but when I left I felt foolish. Who am I to say that he shouldn't sell them? There is probably some serious money in those two books. Still, they feel too personal to part with. They are not kept under a glass case, they are in a plastic bag on the shelf, a secret baseball treasure on the Upper East Side.
Dolla, Dolla Bill, Y'All*
I realize that Manny Ramirez is in a slump. Still, it was a strange sight watching him look at three pitches against Mariano Rivera last night, before returning to the dugout. After the game, Rivera told reporters, "I was kind of surprised, definitely, that he never took the bat off his shoulder," Rivera said. "I don't know what he was thinking. That's Manny."
The Constant Gardner
Seven batters were hit in Saturday's game and yet there was no beef between the Yankees and Red Sox. My, how times have changed. But things got lively on Sunday night--Kevin Youkilis slid hard into home, brushing against Joba Chamberlain's leg in the fifth inning, and Chamberlain threw a pitch behind The Greek God of Walks in the sixth before walking him on a 3-2 pitch. Joba vs Youk would be some Beffy Battle Royale but it'll have to wait for another day. The loudest fight of the night came when Joe Girardi got himself run for arguing balls and strikes with home plate ump, Laz Diaz. But the Yanks had the biggest fight in them, as they rallied and won in extra innings, 5-4.
Chamberlain pitched well in the early going, working quickly and efficiently through the first four innings. But he allowed the first three runners to reach base in the fifth, with Youkilis scoring on a wild pitch. Chamberlain regrouped, struck out the next two batters and then shook Jose Molina off before throwing a 3-2 pitch to Jacoby Ellsbury. Molina went out to talk to Chamberlain who proceeded to walk Ellsbury on a check swing. Chamberlain threw a slider; apparently, Molina wanted a fastball. Dustin Pedroia was next and he fisted an inside fastball into right field for a two-run single. Chamberlain gave up three runs on four hits, he walked four and struck out five in six innings.
Alex Rodriguez, front page tabloid fodder all weekend, launched a knuckle ball into the left field seats to lead off the second inning, his 18th homer of the year and 536th of his career, tying him with Mickey Mantle on the all-time list. It would be the last hit the Yankees would collect until the sixth. Derek Jeter singled home a run before that inning was out, then helped give one right back in the top of the seventh as a throwing error led to a run.
Step Right Up
We've got a nice pitching match-up for the Sunday Night finale of this four-game series, as Joba Chamberlain goes against the old knuckler, Tim Wakefield. Never know what you are going to get from Wake, but we've seen him hand it to the Yanks on more than one occasion. Chamberlain is coming off a poor start against the Rangers where he was wild and threw a ton of pitches and was gone after four innings. Tonight is his biggest start yet. A huge game for the Yankees to keep pace--yes, the Rays won again this afternoon.
The All Star rosters were announced this afternoon and neither Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi made the team. I'm sure that'll give Joe Morgan something to talk about tonight.
Let's hope the bats are boomin' so it ain't too painful and
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
On Any Given Sunday...
...Something great can happen and that's why we watch sports.
Today at Wimbledon, something great did happen. Rafael Nadal, the Red Sox to Roger Federer's Yankees, defeated the five-time defending champ in what could possibly be the greatest finals match of all time, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7. John MacEnroe sure thought it was. Nadal and Federer both showed great courage and determination, and the level of play was brilliant, the shot-making suburb, the drama palpable.
It reminded me of something Carlton Fisk once told Tom Boswell about being on deck with Yaz up in the ninth at the end of the playoff game of '78 between the Yanks and Sox:
I was in the on-deck circle, just like I was when Yaz flew out to end the '75 Series. You know, they should have stopped the game right then and said, 'Okay, that's it. The season is over. You're both world champions. We can't decide between you, and neither of you should have to lose.'
Nadal and Federer elevated the game today. Remarkable.
Here's a quick look at Mike Mussina's greatest efforts against the Red Sox.
And of course, the biggest relief outing of Moose's career came against Boston.
The Yankees and Red Sox combined to put 23 men on base yesterday afternoon, but just three of them came around to score as the Yankees pulled out a slim 2-1 victory.
The Sox set the tone in the top of the first inning. With one out, Dustin Pedroia lined a ball down the left field line that kicked out to left fielder Brett Gardner. Pedroia attempted to stretch the hit into a double, but was nailed at second base by a perfect throw from Gardner. Two pitches later, J.D. Drew doubled, but with Pedroia already in the dugout, Boston had nothing to show for their back-to-back hits. Yankee starter Mike Mussina then moved Drew to third on a wild pitch and lost control of a 3-2 changeup which slipped behind Manny Ramirez and hit him in the rump to put runners on the corners, but rallied to strike out Mike Lowell to strand both runners.
The Yankees took an early lead against Boston's rookie starter Justin Masterson in the bottom of the second on a four-pitch walk to Jason Giambi and two-out singles by Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, but Jose Molina grounded out to strand two more runners. An inning later, they loaded the bases with one out when Derek Jeter singled, Bobby Abreu walked, and Alex Rodriguez was hit on the right thigh by a pitch, but Giambi struck out and Wilson Betemit grounded out to strand all three.
That third inning featured two key defensive plays by the Red Sox's infield. With Brett Gardner leading off the inning, third baseman Mike Lowell was playing several steps in on the grass to protect against the bunt. When Gardner instead hit a would-be double down the third base line, Lowell made a great diving stop to his right to retire the rookie. Betemit's inning-ending groundout was also hit hard and required second baseman Dustin Pedroia to range far to his left and make a spinning catch and throw to kill the Yankee rally.
Hit batsmen, sharp defensive plays, and runners left on base would continue to be the order of the day.
Master and Servant
We all knew the Yankees weren't going to sweep their current four-game series against the Red Sox to pull into a second-place tie in the AL East, but the possibility was there. Now, having dropped the first two games, the Yankees have to sweep the final two in order to avoid losing ground to Boston as a result of this series.
Looking to snap the Yanks out of their malaise in today's nationally-televised afternoon tilt will be Mike Mussina. The bad news is that two of Mussina's three worst starts this season came against the Red Sox in April. Here's Moose's line from those two starts against Boston: 8 2/3 IP, 15 H, 9 R, 3 HR, 0 BB, 2 K, 9.35 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 0-2. Manny Ramirez did the bulk of the damage against Mussina in those games, going 4-for-5 with a double and three home runs, driving in six of the nine runs Mussina allowed and scoring a seventh. It would thus seem a natural to have Mussina pitch around Ramirez today, but the man hitting behind Ramirez is Mike Lowell, who has a .579/.600/1.158 career line against Mussina. Ironically, Lowell was on the DL when Mussina faced the Red Sox in April, but in 2007, Lowell went 4-for-5 with a walk, a double, and two home runs against Mussina, and in 2006, he went 5-for-10 with a double and a homer against Moose.
So there will be no pitching around Manny today. Instead the Mussina will have to focus on keeping runners off base ahead of Ramirez and Lowell. Third-place hitter J.D. Drew is just 1 for 11 with no walks in his career against Mussina, but Boston's top-two hitters, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, have a combined .555 OBP against Mussina (Moose has never walked either one, but he's plunked Ellsbury twice and the two are a combined 8-for-16 against him).
Opposing Mussina will be 23-year-old rookie Justin Masterson. Masterson, who is just the fourth major leaguer to have been born in Kingston, Jamaica (Devon White and ex-Yankee Chili Davis are two of the other three) is a big dude (6-foot-6, 250 lbs.). He's also a sinkerballer in search of an effective second pitch. Masterson made two strong spot starts for the Red Sox in the season's first two months, but since being installed in the rotation at the beginning of June in place of the then-injured Daisuke Matsuzaka, has been merely average, posting a 4.54 ERA, walking 4.79 men per nine innings, and allowing seven home runs in six starts. I keep waiting for the Red Sox to swap him back out for Clay Buchholz, who is younger, better, and allowed just two runs in six June starts for triple-A Pawtucket (4-1, 0.88 ERA).
With Johnny Damon out due to the shoulder contusion he suffered in yesterday's game, Brett Gardner will lead off and play left field today. Wilson Betemit gets the start at first base with Jason Giambi at DH. That means Jorge Posada rides pine as Mike Mussina pitches to his personal catcher in Jose Molina.
Let me get this straight: Molina caught yesterday's game (with Posada DHing). Tomorrow's game is a night game. Monday is an off-day. Yet, Girardi can't find a way to get Posada into the lineup against the Red Sox today with Johnny Damon hurt and his team desperate to pull out a series split? I think I'd like to have my own team meeting with the Yankee skipper. I realize the Yankees are babying Posada's throwing shoulder out of necessity, but Girardi needs to prioritize. Molina has hit .191/.234/.243 since injuring his hamstring against the Red Sox in mid-April. He's killing this team. Posada has hit .263/.380/.421 since coming off the DL at the beginning of June. The Yankees need that OBP in the lineup. Meanwhile, in the last month, Chad Moeller has entered just one game before the eighth inning and had just five plate appearances (in which he's doubled and been hit by a pitch). Even if Posada's shoulder is so tender that he really can't catch today, it's long since time to give Moeller a chance to contribute again, Mussina's preference be damned.
Update: Per Pete Abe, Posada's "a little under the weather." That excuses that, but not the continued preference of Molina over Moeller.
Card Corner--Nate Colbert
Admit it, you like those yellow and brown uniforms the San Diego Padres wore during the 1972 and ’73 seasons. There’s just something especially captivating about those yellow jerseys and pants. So colorful, so bright and cheery. Oh, who am I kidding? As much as I loved baseball in the seventies, those uniforms may have been the worst creation in on-field fashion this side of the Houston Astros’ rainbow uniforms and the short pants worn by the Chicago White Sox for three games in 1976.
In spite of having to wear those hideous polyester monstrosities, Nate Colbert is doing his best to maintain a happy face while posing for his 1973 Topps card. As the former Padres slugger pointed out to me during his recent visit to Cooperstown, those duds were major league uniforms, far superior to anything that he would have endured wearing in the Pacific Coast League. "Well, the brown didn’t bother me," says Colbert. "The yellow ones, which were called ‘Mission Gold’—I don't know where they got that name from—when I first put them on, I felt really embarrassed. But I looked at it like this is the major leagues; this is the uniform I was required to wear. I took a lot of ribbing, especially from the Reds and Pirates players. Even my mother used to tease me. She said I looked like a caution light that was stuck. You know, it was a big league uniform. I’d rather have that than one with the Hawaii Rainbows on it, that being the Triple-A team for the Padres [at the time]."
In many ways, that’s just Nate being Nate. Just as he appears on his Topps card—smiling, positive, and upbeat—Nate tends to looks at the bright side of things. If Colbert had chosen a different path, he could have worn the more dignified pinstriped uniforms of the Yankees. As an amateur ballplayer in 1964, Colbert was offered a lucrative contract by the Yankees. They promised to double any offers given to him by any of the other 19 major league teams, but Colbert had his heart set in another direction.
If the Yankees had signed Colbert, they presumably would have brought him to the majors by the late 1960s. That would have been good timing for the struggling franchise, considering the instability the Yankees had at first base. Given Mickey Mantle’s impending retirement and Joe Pepitone’s imminent departure, the Yankees endured a period of mediocrity at the position. Patchwork players like Danny Cater, Johnny Ellis, and Mike Hegan, and the oft-injured Ron Blomberg could have given way to Colbert, who put up big slugging numbers from 1970 to 1972. Colbert also would have supplied some much-needed right-handed power, balancing a lineup that had Bobby Murcer (and later Graig Nettles) from the left side of the plate.
It was not to be. Colbert briefly considered the Yankees’ offer, but opted to sign with his hometown St. Louis Cardinals. That fulfilled a dream for Colbert, who wanted to play for the same team as his idol, Stan Musial. Unfortunately, the Cardinals had such depth at first base and in the outfield that Colbert faced major roadblocks. After the 1965 season, the Redbirds left Colbert unprotected in the Rule Five draft.
The Astros jumped in and picked Colbert, bringing him to the major leagues in 1966. As it turned out, Colbert would cross paths with the Yankees one more time. Prior to the start of the season, the Astros hosted the Yankees in an exhibition game at the Astrodome, giving Colbert his first glimpse at a Yankee legend. "Mickey Mantle was taking batting practice," says Colbert, recalling his boyish enthusiasm that day. "I said to my teammates, ‘Oh my gosh! Hey guys, that's Mickey Mantle.’ The other guys on the team just said calmly, ‘I know.’ "
Colbert made his major league debut in 1966. Two years later, he met his most colorful teammate ever, Doug Rader. "When we were with the Astros, he and one of the guys, another player on the team, went down to the pet store. That's when it was legal to own alligators. And they bought three alligators, baby alligators. They waited until we were all in the shower, and they let them loose in the shower, down in Cocoa, Florida. We were trying to climb the walls, these little baby alligators all around us."
You Lose, Cause I Got the Ill Street Blues:
Yankee Panky #57: Independence Daze
On yet another Fourth of July weekend with the Yankees facing the Red Sox, both teams are looking up at the Tampa Bay Rays, who may be end up being the craziest worst-to-first story in the Expansion Era. After today's discouraging loss the Yankees are nine games behind the Rays. Thursday night's 7-0 debacle featured the following elements that rightly incurred the wrath of manager Joe Girardi:
• It marked the 28th time this season that the Yankees scored two runs or less.
• It was the third start Andy Pettitte made against a divisional opponent where he went five innings or less, gave up at least five runs and eight hits.
• LaTroy Hawkins tanked another mop-up appearance in what may or may not have been a showcase for a trade or release. One thing is sure is that his body language on the mound indicates that he does not want to be a Yankee, and a palpable sarcastic, "Oh, great, Hawkins," feeling permeates the stadium when he enters the game.
• It gave us the following sequence, buried near the bottom of GAK III's writeup in the New York Post:
"It looked like we didn't have a chance. After we got down it seemed like there was nothing there. We are not playing up to expectations and that's not good. The Steinbrenners spent $200 million on us and we haven't shown what we are made of." — Johnny Damon
The scary thing is that maybe this is what the Yankees are — a 45-41 collection of expensive parts incapable of an extended hot streak due to an inconsistent hitting and a rotation that stunningly includes Sidney Ponson.
"We have to get better. That's the bottom line. Everyone has to get better and it starts with me. I'll take responsibility for where we're at. It's my job and we have to get better." — Joe Girardi
* * *
I can't even comprehend the A-Rod-Madonna / Cynthia Rodriguez-Lenny Kravitz love rhombus. The coverage is only going to intensify; it will only become a distraction if the Yankees continue to languish in mediocrity.
* * *
To the main focus of today's column: My top 5 Fourth of July (or close to the actual day) Yankee Stadium moments. I wanted to limit it to games that I've seen and/or have occurred in my lifetime. Obviously, the most powerful moment is Lou Gehrig's speech in 1939. That may have been the most memorable moment in the Stadium's history.
The point of lists, though, is to spawn comment, and perhaps fuel argument. I'm curious to see your responses and editions to this list:
1. 1983: Dave Righetti's no-hitter against the Red Sox. The day was a lot like today: muggy, overcast, threat of rain, sun mixed in. I asked Bobby Murcer about this game, and the story he told me involved Phil Rizzuto leaving the broadcast booth in the seventh inning to beat the traffic over the George Washington Bridge, and listening to the events unfold on the radio, with Frank Messer's call.
2. 2004: It was July 1, but the game will forever be known as the "Jeter Dives Into the Stands Game." For me, it ranks as the greatest regular season baseball game I've ever seen. It had everything – Brad Halsey standing tall against Pedro Martinez, lead changes, great defense by both teams, and Joe Torre exhausting his roster to the point that he lost the DH. The unlikely hero: John Flaherty. For me, the most memorable moments, aside from Manny Ramirez's two home runs, Jeter's dive, and Flaherty's hit, were A-Rod's play in the ninth inning that had everyone in the ballpark thinking they'd seen a triple play, and Nomar Garciaparra's conspicuous absence.
3. 2003: The Red Sox pounded the Yankees, 10-3. This game was memorable to me, though because in my opinion, it put David Ortiz on the map as a dangrous hitter. He hit two mammoth home runs on the Fourth, one off David Wells and another off Jason Anderson that would have been out in any MLB stadium. He hit two more home runs in the following game — a 10-2 Red Sox rout — beginning his reputation as a Yankee killer.
4. 1989: It was the 50th Anniversary of Lou Gehrig Day. The promotional giveaway was a 32-ounce plastic cup with a diagram of the stadium featuring some of the Stadium's greatest moments. The Yankees faced the Tigers and won, 1-0. My greatest memories were watching Don Mattingly go 3-for-4, Luis Polonia getting picked off of first base in the first inning, and Jesse Barfield throwing a runner out from the right field corner.
5. 1998: A 4-3 victory over the Orioles that was the fifth victory in a 10-game run that spanned the All-Star break. There was bad blood from earlier in the season (the bench-clearing brawl that saw Darryl Strawberry pummel Armando Benitez following his plunking of Tino Martinez). Chad Curtis's base hit in the sixth inning put the Yankees on top, and El Duque, making just the sixth start of his career, shut the O's down.
Honorable mention: 2002: This game is memorable to me, not for anything that happened on the field — Raul Mondesi hit his first home run as a Yankee as part of a 7-1 victory that capped a three-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians — but for a goofy family bonding episode. I was editing that day's game for YES Network.com, and during a break in the postgame while waiting for my writer to file, I was playing with my nephew — he was five months old at the time. In a moment while I held him over my head, he gave me a look as if to say, "Gotcha, Uncle Will," and he spit up onto my face. I closed my eyes and mouth just in time.
Next week: Yankee Panky is on vacation, trying not to get seduced by the Kaballah workings of a pop icon.
Boogie Down, Beat Down
The Red Sox stepped all over the Yankees again today, 6-4. This one featured a rain delay to sustain the misery for Yankee fans. Alex Rodriguez got to Josh Beckett in the first, lashing a two-run double into the left field corner, but grounded out as the go-ahead run with the bases loaded in the seventh. He didn't have much help around him either as the Yanks only got six hits.
They couldn't hold a 3-0 lead. Kevin Youkilis tied it in the third when he hit a long fly ball to left field. Johnny Damon tracked the ball and jumped up to catch it as he reached the wall. The ball popped out of his glove and momentarily rested on top of wall. Then, like one of those miracle putts that find a way to fall (Caddyshack), the ball dropped off the wall and landed next to Damon on the ground. The tying run scored and Youkilis was on third with a triple. Damon left the game. Two innings later, Mike Lowell cranked a three-run jack, enough to do the Yankees in. Even an umpire's gift in the ninth didn't help much.
I think the Yankees are upset, I think they are mad, just like the Sox were upset and mad after being swept by Tampa. It's just that the Sox are a better overall team than the Yankees. Ten years ago, the Yankees always seemed to take advantage of other teams' mistakes. Now, the Yankees are the other team. And the Sox are the defending World Champs. Boston has been a brilliant reaction to the most recent Yankee Dynasty--they built a sleeker, more efficient version of the Yankees.
My cousins came over this afternoon. We made these killer ribs in the oven from a Cook's Illustrated recipe--Lapsang Souchong black tea is used for smoke. They brought over a black-eyed peas salad and I made a cous cous salad. It was all simply delicious. So at least the food, and the company, was good.
An American Original
The Yanks were thoroughly out-played last night. Today, they get Josh Beckett. Could be a long weekend.
Regardless, here is something to kick off the game in style.
Have a safe and Happy holiday, everyone and Let's Go Yan-Kees!.
Wish You Were There
I often felt like I was being jipped when I was a kid. Whatever I had, it never seemed to be enough. Didn't have enough presents, stuff, didn't get enough attention, not unless I was acting the fool. It's part of the territory when you are a twin, I suppose. So I often was envious of the "things" that my friends had--a t-shirt, or a pair of sneakers, a book or a guitar. I remember my friend Matt Cantor being at Yankee Stadium twenty-five years ago when Rags threw his no-hitter against the Red Sox. Normally, it would have been just the kind of thing that had me green with envy. I don't recall much about that day--I'm sure I watched the game, but I don't have a clear memory of it. What I do remember is feeling happy that Matt got to see it in person. At that point, Yankee pleasures came in small doses, and this was surely an unexpected surprise--the great Wade Boggs stuck out to end the game no less. I was not jealous that I wasn't the one at the game, I was just excited that someone I knew was there. Hey, if it wasn't me, might as well have been Matt, who a die-hard Yankee fan. Twenty-five years ago. Jeez. Think I'll go change my diaper now and put in my teeth.
Born on the Fourth of July
Couple of nifty birthday's today, including Satchmo's even though he was born on Aug 4th:
How about our very own Boss George Von Steingrabber:
It's easy not to think about the Boss these days. He isn't brought up much. His sons are running the family business now. But he turns 78 today and has always been very proud of being a Patriot, a Yankee Doodle Dandy. Here's wishing the old guy a happy birthday. Yeah, he just might be one of these after all:
Lester The Molester
Jon Lester walked the first two Yankees he faced last night and, after a Bobby Abreu fielders choice, the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out and the heart of the order up in the first inning. Lester then struck out Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi to strand both runners. Lester didn't walk another batter in the game and allowed just a pair of singles over the next six innings. By the time the Yankees picked up their third hit, they were trailing 7-0 in the eighth.
A two-out ground-rule double by Melky Cabrera in the eighth gave the Yankees just their second runner in scoring position of the night. Cabrera was stranded on second when Johnny Damon struck out. Derek Jeter, who made a costly error in the first inning, singled to start the ninth, but was promptly erased by a double play off Abreu's bat. One pitch later, Rodriguez flew out to give Lester a five-hit shutout. Lester needed just 105 pitches to complete the game, 71 percent of which were strikes.
Immediately after the game, Joe Girardi held a 30-minute closed-door team meeting. Johnny Damon and Andy Pettitte, who described his performance as "terrible," called the loss "embarassing." Girardi wouldn't divulge any of the details of his meeting, but was clearly fed up in his post-game press conference.
As for Pettitte, he was Bad Andy last night. More from the man himself: "I couldn't throw anything where I wanted to. Couldn't throw my fastball to either side of the plate. Couldn't throw my offspeed stuff for strikes. It was just an absolute horrible game."
It wasn't quite that bad. Pettitte only walked three men, and only one of those three scored. He was also hurt by his defense in the first inning when, with one out and two on, he got Manny Ramirez to hit a double play ball that would have ended the inning without a run scoring, only to have Derek Jeter's pivot throw sail toward the Yankee dugout, plating one runner and putting Ramirez in position to score on Mike Lowell's subsequent single. The two-RBI double that doubled the Sox's lead in the second inning was a well-placed flare over first base by Jacoby Ellsbury. Still, there's no real way to shine up six runs (five earned) in 4 2/3 innings. LaTroy Hawkins added another run in his lone inning of work to make the final 7-0 Red Sox.
If there were any positives to come out of last night's game for the Yankees they rested in a quartet of individual performances. Dan Giese retired all seven Sox he faced in relief of Pettitte, striking out three of them, including J.D. Drew and Manny Ramirez to end his stint. David Robertson pitched a 1-2-3 ninth and didn't allow a ball out of the infield. Robinson Cano continued his recent resurgence with a 2-for-3 night, his two singles representing 40 percent of the Yankees' hits off Lester. Cano is hitting .393 since being omitted from the starting lineup against the Astros on June 14. Finally, Melky Cabrera, who entered the game on an 0-for-18 skid, also went 2 for 3 against Lester. Both of Melky's hits were hard shots pulled down the left field line. One hit the retaining wall before it turns parallel to the foul line and kicked right to left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury who held Cabrera to a single. The second skipped over the parallel portion of the wall for a ground-rule double. Melky got the day off on Wednesday. Here's hoping that brief respite starts him off on a kick similar to that of his comrade Cano.
The Yankees come off this embarrassing loss and have to face Josh Beckett in a Fourth of July day game. Didn't take long for this series to sour, did it?
Boston Red Sox III: Looking Up Edition
If there's an odd feeling to this weekend's four-game set between the Yankees and Red Sox in the Bronx, it's because the last time these two teams met this late in the season without either one of them holding first place in the AL East was September 1997, when the Orioles won the division, the Yankees won the Wild Card, and the Red Sox finished 20 games out in fourth place. Entering tonight's game, the second place Red Sox are 3.5 games behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Rays, with the Yankees another four games behind the Sox in third place.
The Yankees could pull into a second-pace tie with the Sox by sweeping this weekend's series, but we all know that's not going to happen. Instead the Yankees will hope to take three of the four games, which would pull them within two games of the Sox in the standings. The Sox have lost their last five games to the Astros and Rays, but four of those were one-run losses and the last was decided by a 3-1 score. Still, there's a vulnerability there, much of which has to do with the Red Sox road performance this year.
In a season that has thus far seen abnormally poor performances by road teams in general, the Red Sox have been a primary offender, dominating opponents at Fenway with a .756 winning percentage, but struggling mightily outside of Boston, with a .413 winning percentage elsewhere. Their current 1-5 road trip and 0-6 record when visiting the Rays have a lot to do with that, but so does a pitching staff that has allowed 1.87 runs per game more on the road than at home.
Just looking at the four starters the Yankees are scheduled to face this weekend, Jon Lester, who goes tonight, has an ERA more than a two runs higher on the road than at home. Rookie Justin Masterson, who will face Mike Mussina on FOX on Saturday, adds nearly a run and a third to his ERA on the road, and Tim Wakefield, who will start against Joba Chamberlain in Sunday night's capper, has an ERA more than 70 points higher on the road. In the bullpen, three of Jon Papelbon's four blown saves this season and 10 of the 13 runs he's allowed have come on the road, and Craig Hansen's road ERA is nearly two and a half times his mark at Fenway.
Those losses are tempered somewhat by the fact that Josh Beckett, who starts tomorrow night, and releivers David Aardsma, Hideki Okajima, and Javier Lopez (ignore the ERA, look at his peripherals) have actually been better on the road than at home, but with the offense similarly shedding more than a run off it's home average when wearing road grays, winning on the road has proven a struggle for the Red Sox this year.
The Sox have been to the Bronx once already this season, splitting a two-game set in mid-April. The Sox scored 16 runs in those two games, half of which came against Chien-Ming Wang in the game the Yankees won. The Boston win was largely due to a strong outing by road warrior Josh Beckett and Mike Mussina's inability to retire Manny Ramirez (two at-bats, two homers, three runs).
The recipe for a series win would thus appear to be winning the three games not started by Beckett and having Mike Mussina pitch around Ramirez on Saturday. The trouble with the latter idea is that the man behind Ramirez, Mike Lowell, has a .579/.600/1.158 line in 20 career plate appearances against Mussina, which dwarfs Ramirez's .280/.333/.630 career line in 108 PA against Mussina. Still, the key seems to be to beat Lester tonight with Andy Pettitte on the hill, win the Chamberlain/Wakefield matchup on Sunday, and hope to pull out one of the remaining two.
That doesn't sound so tough. Pettitte has bee fantastic in his last four starts, posting this line: 4-0, 27 IP, 19 H, 2 HR, 7 BB, 23 K, 1.00 ERA, 0.96 WHIP. Lester gave up six runs in five innings against the Astros in his last start and hasn't faced the Yankees since his rookie season of 2006, when he was lit up for seven runs in 3 2/3 innings. Then again, Lester will be fresh as he threw just 76 pitches in Houston and had a 1.63 ERA in his four starts prior to that (three of them came in Fenway, but the best came against the slugging Phillies on the road).
Melky Cabrera returns to center field tonight. Brett Gardner is on the bench and could be a very valuable late-inning weapon in a close game. Wilson Betemit stays at first base against the lefty Lester with Jason Giambi at DH.
June Farm Report
The big news out of Scranton is that Shelley Duncan's season might be over due to a separated shoulder suffered after making the spectacular warning-track catch pictured here. Not that it matters any more, but Shelley hit a miserable .160/.328/.280 in June.
In other 40-man roster news, Ian Kennedy, who was activated from the DL and optioned to single-A Tampa last week, dominated for five innings in his lone Tampa start and is scheduled to start for Scranton tonight. First baseman Juan Miranda finally stayed healthy in June and hit .356/.371/.475 on the month, but if you look closely that's almost all batting average. Miranda hit no homers and drew just two walks in June.
I still can't figure out why the Yankees called up Justin Christian when Hideki Matsui went on the DL. Supposedly they picked the righty-hitting Christian over the lefty-hitting Brett Gardner because the team was scheduled to face several left-handed starting pitchers, but as Pete Abe pointed out to me on Monday, Gardner hit .318/.404/.518 against lefties in Scranton this year against Christian's .286/.315/.531. Yes, Christian was having a monster June (.412/.448/.588), but Gardner was having the better overall season (.293 GPA to Christian's .281) and, at age 24, still has the sort of prospect potential that the 28-year-old Christian lacks. At least Christian's stay was brief. Christian could have some use as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement, but there's no good reason to start him in the major leagues. That said, Christian was the only SWB Yankee to make the International League All-Star team.
Elsewhere in the Scranton outfield, Brigham Young product Matt Carson, who started the year in Trenton and just turned 27 on Tuesday, hit .351/.400/.568 in June.
On the mound, Alan Horne was unimpressive in June and is back on the DL with a tired arm, but Jeff Karstens had a great month (1.88 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 22 K, 4 BB, 1 HR in 24 IP) and another strong start last night. Of course, Karstens still has that scary fly-ball rate. He should compare notes with Jeff Marquez who finally got straightened out in June, posting a 2.92 GB/FB ratio, a 1.89 ERA, and a 0.95 WHIP. Then again, Marquez walked seven in 19 innings against just three strikeouts. Dan McCutchen was inconsistent in his first full month in triple-A, but posted a 3.38 K/BB, which is a good sign that he'll settle down. Alfredo Aceves was promoted from Trenton, but landed on the DL with a groin injury before making his triple-A debut.
Veteran reliever Scott Strickland made just 13 appearances during the first two months of the season, but made 13 more in June and allowed just one run in 17 1/3 innings with a 0.69 WHIP and 18 Ks. Scott Patterson was solid after returning from his brief stint in the majors, but is now on the DL with pneumonia. J.B. Cox spent most of June on the DL with a sore shoulder, but is back in action now. Steven White has been dreadful since moving to the bullpen and finally and deservedly lost his place on the 40-man roster when the Yankees cleared room for Christian. Billy Traber's recent major league stint was utterly unmotivated by his minor league performance.
The Greatest Corn Beef on Rye NYC Movie Ever
I love almost everything about this movie. It's such a ton of fun. One of the subway hostages in the movie was played by a woman whose daughter was my babysiter when I was mad young. Also, years later, when I worked in the movie business, I got to know the wife of the sound guy. She is a wonderful New Yorker, with stories for days and the accent and attitude to match. She grew up in Little Italy, and her husband recorded wild sound for most of the movie's audio. In the final scene, when the subway screeches into a downtown station, the sound effects came from sliding the shower rings in their bathroom.
A&E recently released a six-dvd set The Boston Red Sox: The Greatest Games of Fenway Park. The most interesting selection is September 30, 1967, the second-to-last day of one of the most thrilling pennant races of em all. Yaz hit his 44th dinger of the year in this one. The broadcast is dated, but in a fascinating way--there are zero graphics and no instant replays, making it something out of the stone age. The announcers call the game like they were on the radio (funny, because today, radio broadcaster's have the benefit of the televised replays). I couldn't hear any Stadium noise, sound effects or even music from the organ. Of course, most of the players look smaller (a rookie Reggie Smith was lean and mean), but the big guys--Killebrew, Kaat (who started the game)--look strapping, no matter the era. Funny thing about the game, Sparky Lyle warmed up briefly in the bullpen during the early innings. I also learned that Jose Tartabull, Danny's father, was on the Sox that year, and he was the guy who pinch-ran for Tony C after the young star was beaned in the face on August 18th.
The set is worth picking up for this game alone. One thing that struck me while watching, however, was how dull the game was as a televised sport. Although the space on a ball field is flattened-out to an extent that is nothing short of dismaying these days with the use of the center field zoom lens, all the bells and whistles today make for a more satisfying experience, particularly on an HD set. It's no wonder that football surged ahead of baseball in the nation's imagination during the late sixties. The game was built for TV. I assume that replays and even some graphics were used during post-season baseball in '67 and I'm certain that the NFL was using replay by this time. Funny, but when you watch the next game in the set, Game Six of the 1975 World Serious, it's as if you've entered the Modern Age.
Moriffic (Most of the Time)
Pete Abe had an interesting bit yesterday about Mariano Rivera's numbers in save situations and non-save situations.
Last night, I got a note from my pal Rich Lederer...
"I noticed where Mo lost his third game of the year despite putting together an ERA less than 1.00. How unusual is that combination? Well, here is a list of all the pitchers who have lost more than one game while posting an ERA under 1.00."
LOSSES YEAR L ERA 1 Tim Keefe 1880 6 0.86 2 Ferdie Schupp 1916 3 0.90 T3 Chris Hammond 2002 2 0.95 T3 Jonathan Papelbon 2006 2 0.92 T3 Dennis Eckersley 1990 2 0.61
The 'Stache Rides Again
So you know how we were all wondering where the Yankees’ offense was? Well… this is so embarrassing… it turns out it was just buried in my sofa cushions this whole time! I found it yesterday afternoon, when I was looking for my keys.
Be Not Fooled!
Since stomping the Mets 9-0 in the second game of last Friday's doubleheader, the Yankees have scored just seven runs in four games. Tonight they look to break the slump and avoid a sweep against Rangers rookie Luis Mendoza.
Mendoza hasn't allowed a run since April, but he also hasn't made a major league start since April, when he posted a 9.31 ERA in three starts, all of them Ranger losses. Mendoza spent most of May on the DL due to inflammation in his pitching shoulder and has made three scoreless appearances out of the Texas bullpen since being recalled from his rehab assignment in mid-June. The 24-year-old Mendoza has made six starts in his brief major league career and never seen the sixth inning in any of them. He's also never faced the Yankees.
Opposing Mendoza is former Ranger Sidney Ponson. The Yankees signed Ponson on the day I left for my recent vacation and I was still away when they called him up to pitch against the Mets, so I didn't have an opportunity to register my disgust at the return of the player who very nearly made my list of my least favorite Yankees of the past 25 years based on his 16 1/3 innings as a Yankee in 2006.
Ponson had three quality starts in ten tries as a Ranger earlier this season, with all but two of his starts for Texas coming in May. When the Rangers released him for bad behavior that reportedly included making a scene at a hotel bar and fighting with manager Ron Washington, Ponson had a 105 ERA+, which marked the first time he'd been anything close to league average or above since 2003.
Ponson pitched six scoreless innings against the Mets in his Yankee debut this season, and could have another solid outing if facing the team that released him increases his focus tonight, but he is not a long-term solution. He is a stop-gap as the team waits for a variety of young pitchers to overcome injury, setbacks, and inexperience. That said, I'd rather have Dan Giese in the roation right now. Giese has had just two poor starts in 12 tries between triple-A and the majors this year. I'd also rather give Jeff Karstens, who is finally healthy and pitching well for Scranton (1.88 ERA in June, 3.67 K/BB on the season), or Jeff Marquez, who has rediscovered his ability to get ground balls and posted a 1.89 ERA in June for Scranton, or fast-moving Dan McCutchen (3.88 K/BB in Scranton) a shot to prove themselves in the rotation rather than have to endure watching the Fat Ponson Toad work his black magic. It pains me that we're back in this spot two years later. Three-fifths of the Opening Day rotation may have hit the DL, but that's still no excuse for employing Sidney Ponson.
Word of warning: in his last stint as a Yankee, Ponson pitched the Yankees to a win in his first start, allowing four runs in 6 2/3 innings. He was then lit up in his next outing (six runs in 2 1/3 innings) as he went on to post a 13.97 in his final four games of the season. The Yankees released him after those five appearances and he spent the rest of the season out of work. I repeat: Sidney Ponson is bad.
Melky Cabrera gets the night off tonight, so Brett Gardner will make his debut as the Yankee center fielder. He's batting ninth. Jason Giambi will DH with Wilson Betemit, who is likely to be a permanent fixture in the lineup in Hideki Matsui's absence unless Gardner starts getting on base and forces Johnny Damon to DH, at first base.
More Dumb Fun
The news of Jules Tygiel's passing has left me feeling blue. Here's something silly to bring a smile to your face.
Diggin in the Crates Vol 2
I always wanted an older sybling as a kid. That wss the best way to learn about cool music, or so it seemed to me. My parents had a decent-sized record collection but my father did not like Rock n Roll. He was always too grown for that. My mom did, however, she didn't buy many albums, so the hardest-rockin records we owned were Simon and Garfunkel, Judy Collins and A Hard Day's Night (and the only reason we had that was because Dad was friends with one of the actors in the movie). Most of the vinyl in our house was comprised of original cast recordings--My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, The King and I, West Side Story, A Chorus Line. My twin sister became an avid fan of the Musical Theater, while I...did not.
There were a handful of comedy records however (Tom Leherer, Peter Sellers, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner), none more enticing than this one, Bill Cosby's third album, released in 1965. First of all, there is cover, with a young Cosby, the most amiable-looking of guys. Two, the title fascinated me. I mean, when you are seven-years old there aren't many deeper philosophical questions than the simple ones--"Yeah, why is there air anyway?" (One of the other Cosby records we had, I Started Out as a Child, struck me as being very deep too.)
Above all, there was Cosby's material, instantly accessible and appealing. The man simply sounded funny. He made my father laugh and that was a big deal. At a time when my father was often sullen, his moods increasingly dark due to too much drink, listening to him laugh was a thrill. It was exciting to see him happy, if only for a moment. My father laughed from the gut--it was an almost violent reaction. He laughed loudly and his face would turn red. I remember being both charged-up by the force of his laughter and also frightened. Mostly, I recall sharing something with him. Being connected by laughter. If he thought Cosby was funny, it was okay for me to laugh as well. To this day, when I listen to this record, I can tell you where my dad laughed.
Here is one routine from the album. Enjoy.
As Bob Timmermann reported earlier today on The Griddle, historian Jules Tygiel died yesterday. The cause was cancer. He was only 59. I got to know Tygiel a little bit over the past five years--he was helpful when I was researching a book about Curt Flood. Later, he continued to be generous and forthcoming with whatever questions I lobbed his way. I am so sad to hear of his passing.
His most enduring work, Baseball's Great Experiment, is seminal, academic in its approach, thorough, rich, exacting and an amazing reference book. It belongs on the short list of great baseball histories.
My All-Star Rosters
Voting for the All-Star Game ends at midnight tonight. Throwing out the reality of selection process, here are the 32-man American and National League rosters as I'd pick 'em:
1B - Kevin Youkilis, BOS
I really wanted to give Jason Giambi the nod at first, base, but Youkilis holds a slight lead in VORP and is the far superior defender, so I just couldn't do it. I also wanted to put Carlos Quentin in left field, as it would have given me an outfield with all three starters playing their regular positions, but with Drew leading Quentin in VORP and all three rate stats, I just couldn't give Quentin the nod over a guy with a career 130 OPS+ based on three impressive months. Halladay gets the pitching nod over Cliff Lee because Lee strikes me as a fluke.
1B - Jason Giambi, NYY
You might have noticed Derek Jeter is not on this team. He doesn't deserve it. Really, there's not a single AL shortstop who does deserve to play in this game. If I could get away with starting Guillen over Michael Young, I'd do it, but Guillen hasn't played shorstop all year. Nonetheless, he's my backup shortstop here, getting the nod due his value as a utility man and because I needed a Detroit Tiger on my squad and Guillen + Johnny Damon > Jeter + Magglio Ordoñez. Either Jhonny Peralta (the hitting pick) or Orlando Cabrera (the defense pick) would get the nod over Jeter if I was forced to pick a true shortstop as my backup. Posada is here despite his DL stint as there's no other deserving catcher in the league. Practically, you'd like to have a third catcher, but I just couldn't bear to put another AL backstop on my roster.
From the Game Thread:
Millwood's looking like Scott Feldman tonight...
...And the Yankee offense is looking like Marty Feldman.
Rangers 3, Yanks 2. Mariano takes the loss. This one hurts like a Molina cross-up to the cubes.
Joe G's got some 'splainin to do. Yankee fans, please stay away from sharp objects.
Tell Me Something Good
Our Man Joba is on the hill tonight. This is the first really good hitting club he's faced since becoming a starter. Let's hope the Yankees' maddeningly uneven offense puts it together against Kevin Millwood and tells us something good.
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
Know When to Walk Away...
Here is a nice vignette from Mark Winegardner's book about the legendary scout Tony Lucadello, "Prophet of the Sandlots." (For more on Lucadello, check out Gare Joyce's terrific e-ticket piece.) The following took place at a Michigan-Michigan State game on a chilly spring day in 1988.
SI.com caught up with Gillette's new pitch-man, Derek Jeter.
And Now For Something Completely...(Don't Call Me Stupid)
I love Dumb Fun.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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