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Yankee Panky # 24: Red Alert
2007-09-18 06:37
by Will Weiss
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Since the All-Star break, it was a given that for the Yankees to have any chance of making the playoffs, even as the Wild Card team, they would have to win 70 percent of their remaining games. Hopping into the Wayback Machine and pulling a 1978-caliber comeback to win the Division would entail sweeping the last two series with the Red Sox, or at the very least, taking five of six.

Mission accomplished on both fronts. The Yankees have put together five win streaks of at least five games to leapfrog seven teams and assume control of the Wild Card. A once-comfortable lead in that race dwindled to 2 ½ games over the weekend before the Cleveland Indians did the Yankees a favor Monday night. Thus, with 12 games left — all against division opponents with losing records — the odds of a 13th consecutive postseason appearance are in the Yankees' favor. Remarkably, a 10th straight AL East title is not impossible, especially with the Red Sox facing the Blue Jays, Devil Rays, A's and Twins, series where they could face Roy Halladay, Scott Kazmir, AL Cy Young candidate Dan Haren, and Johan Santana.

Following Monday's one-game swing, the possibility of the Yankees overtaking the Red Sox was the headline. As a corollary to that, ESPN.com's baseball page has an "If The Playoffs Started Today" table with the potential matchups. The Yankees would face the Indians. A division crown might mean a date with the Los Angeles Is Not in the O.C. Angels. As Yankee fans, if you had to flip a coin to pick the team's playoff opponent — "heads" for the Indians and "tails" for the Angels — wouldn't you snag a two-headed coin?

Regarding last weekend's head-to-head matchup, there were plenty of media notes on a fourth ALCS rematch between the Yankees and Red Sox, amid the playoff atmosphere that pervaded Fenway Park. With the Yankees winning two of the three games in dramatic fashion, those notes were justified.

What struck me about the Fenway series wasn't so much that the Yankees beat the Red Sox, but how they did it. Ace-level pitching has stifled the Yankees' offense all season; Josh Beckett proved that Saturday afternoon. But the Yankees bested three of the Sox' top arms, in Hideki Okajima, Jon Papelbon and Curt Schilling. Success against such elite pitchers bodes well for the postseason.

 

* * *

About six weeks back I commented on the lack of historical context in some beat writers' postgame wraps, and some TV commentary. This weekend offered a 180-degree turnaround.

For example, in Monday's NY Times, Tyler Kepner noted the similarity between Jeter's game-ending catch Sunday night to the putout that capped Game 5 of the 2003 ALCS. None of the other beat guys had that particular nugget in their game pieces. (I should point out that the Times gives Kepner more room to add such information — between 700 and 1200 words, depending on the situation. Papers like the Post, Daily News and Newsday max out at 600-700 words, sometimes less.)

On TV, John Flaherty and Ken Singleton proved to be prophetic with the following comment during the Red Sox' half of the seventh inning, roughly 15 minutes before the Yankees staged their 6-run rally:

FLAHERTY: "As poorly as the Yankees have played, they still have a chance here. This game is 7-2, but it could easily be 12-2. A five-run deficit in this ballpark is not that difficult to overcome."

SINGLETON: "No. Just get your swing going toward the wall, get a few guys on base and start the merry-go-round."

Considering the Red Sox rallied from a six-run deficit to blister the Devil Rays only two nights earlier — although they began their comeback in the middle innings did so against a bullpen whose ERA is approaching Tampa's area code — that may not seem like poignant analysis. But it was poignant because it was proved correct, and the tone wasn't meant to sound homerish. It was stated matter-of-factly from an ex-player's point of view. Flaherty would probably have said the same thing if the Yankees had the 7-2 lead.

Other highlights to the weekend series on TV:
• Michael Kay blasting Terry Francona's bullpen moves Friday night in the sixth and seventh innings, primarily the decision to remove the left-hander Felipe López in favor Okajima, another lefty. "You can tell how important Terry Francona feels this game is. He's the one managing like he's trailing the Division by 5 ½ games. He's the one managing like this is a must-win. It's a must-win for the Yankees."

• Historical context alert: Kay outlining Papelbon's vulnerability by referencing A-Rod's ninth-inning home run off the sophomore closer in April when Papelbon entered the game to protect what was a 7-4 Red Sox lead.

Things I would have liked to see during the weekend's telecasts:
• The elimination of the phrase "all-important loss column."

• A random Tim McCarverism where he's forced to say Bernie Williams's name. Let's all say it together: Bernie WEE-yums.

• Any of the Yankees announcers calling Bobby Abreu by his real first name: Bob (gets me every time).

(I did not see Sunday night's game, so I missed the patented Miller/Morganisms that surely occurred. Like the combined age of the starting pitchers being one year less than the number of years between Red Sox championships. Please enter your favorites in the Comments section.)

Most interesting quote of the weekend, at least, to me:
"There's no managing left. My job is to sit there and be a fan and be nervous like anyone else."
— Joe Torre on his mood following his mound visit with Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning Sunday night

From the ESPN's Opinions Vary From Show to Show Files: 
• On SportsCenter Friday night, John Buccigross voiced over an AL Playoff Race graphic and effectively said the Sox, Yankees, Indians and Angels would be the four AL playoff teams. All that's left to determine is the seeding. … Sunday morning on "The Sports Reporters", Howard Bryant — a former beat writer for both the Yankees and Red Sox in the past six years — stated that the Yankees' postseason ticket isn't guaranteed yet.

From the Stephen A. Smith Bluster!@#$! Files:
"I don't care what A-Rod does in the regular season. I'm from New York. When you're representing this city, if you don't perform in the postseason, you don't matter." Smith added that A-Rod has never carried a team to the World Series and that he's not Derek Jeter. Truly revolutionary arguments.

I'd go on a Stephen A. rant, but despite his huffing and puffing, he's right, although adding Jeter to the comparison was unnecessary and tired. For the most part, I've echoed Smith's sentiments in this space throughout the season, albeit not as bluntly. Following Smith, Bryant coolly refuted him in a "yeah, but …" sort of tone, adding that the Yankees wouldn't be in position to claim a playoff spot without A-Rod's bat.

The merging of his regular season success and postseason disappearance over the last two years — lowlighted by three hits in the last nine postseason games and batting eighth in last year's swan song — will likely be the biggest storyline as the pennant chase begins.

 

Until next week …

Comments
2007-09-18 10:18:51
1.   rbj
Friday night I switched over at last from the ESPN B team to the NESN broadcast. Saturday and Sunday I wished I could have done that as well.

What does it say about the state of national baseball broadcasting when a Yankee fan prefers the Red Sox announcers to national ones -- whom one would presume to be more objective.

2007-09-18 10:20:26
2.   brockdc
Thanks for the analysis, Will.

Oh, and Stephen A. Smith is to sports commentary as the character of Archie Bunker is to social commentary.

2007-09-18 10:25:07
3.   brockdc
1 It pains me to say this, but the NESN announcers are excellent. Thoroughly professional, entertaining, informative, and actually somewhat even-handed. Though, their broadcasts have a few too many cut-aways to "Smitty from Middleboro attending his three-hundreth consecutive game at Fenway."
2007-09-18 10:26:34
4.   spufi2007
So, am I the only one that still thinks the incident where Rivera got hit by the ball smells fishy?

Let's see -- a meaningless Red Sox pitcher (Devern Hansack) beans Rivera in the hand -- not in the back, not on the arm. Possibly the place that could do the most damage. And this, to the most valuable player the Yankees have. More than anyone else (with only the possible exception of A-Rod), Rivera's loss would be the death knell for the Yankees. He is absolutely irreplaceable.

I'm surprised there isn't more of a stink over this. I really am. There's no doubt in my mind it was purposeful -- regardless of how low the wall is or how often balls fly into the bullpen. And, damnit, if it's really an issue where balls fly into the other bullpen, wouldn't you think this should be addressed by the Red Sox? Like, I don't know, fix the damn wall! Raise it! Whatever, people think it's OK for balls to go whizzing by into the other team's bullpen?!?

It's just too much of a coincidence he got hit in the hand. There's too much bad blood between these two teams for me to think this was innocent.

2007-09-18 10:28:49
5.   Andre
I would find it hard to believe the red sox beaned Rivera on purpose. Some other Yanks maybe, but I doubt Rivera. Besides, they, more than anyone else, have proven they can hit Rivera sometimes. Tell me you didn't sweat a little when Rivera faced Papi on Sunday night.
2007-09-18 10:35:38
6.   Alex Belth
I don't think that was done purposely at all, though it's hard not to take the bait if you are a suspicious sort...lol.

This from the SF Gate:

"Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox: It's no surprise that Japanese reliever Hideki Okajima has hit the wall; that's to be expected for any workhorse pitcher in his first big-league season. And it's hardly a shock that Eric Gagne always seems to be a pitch or two away from the disabled list. Papelbon is Boston's bullpen stud, and the Yankees believe they own him right now. Back in June, Alex Rodriguez's dramatic home run beat Papelbon at Fenway. Friday night, in a move of inexplicable desperation by manager Terry Francona (the Sox had a 51/2-game lead), Papelbon was asked to get six outs - and couldn't get out of the eighth, having been tagged by Derek Jeter's RBI single, Bobby Abreu's two-run double and A-Rod's game-clinching single.

Those things can happen. The troublesome part came later, when Papelbon dodged reporters after the game (for closers, an unacceptable act), then admitting Saturday that he 'wasn't in the game as well as I have been. Mentally, I wasn't completely there.' For a kid this talented, maybe it's merely a glitch. The Yanks - and any American League team taking notice - would like to believe otherwise."

I didn't see that quote from Paplebon but I was unimpressed to the extreme that he let Youk and Lowell have to answer for him on Friday night. Want to know how to get the NY or Boston media on you? Pull a couple of more stunts like that. Then watch them dogpile on you when you start to struggle. Paps is young but not young enough not to know the deal in Boston. I don't know if he's done this before and am willing to give him a pass for now, but...

2007-09-18 10:36:42
7.   Yankee Fan In Boston
4 the "bad blood" and "couldn't be coincidence" arguments were used to blow the chamberlain/youkilis at bat way out of proportion.

we'll never know if either was intentional.

2007-09-18 11:00:47
8.   Rob Middletown CT
As much as I am pro-Yankees and therefore generally anti-Sox, I can't believe the Red Sox would have someone deliberately attempt to injury Mariano Rivera. That's utterly beyond the pale.

I too noticed that Papelbon bugged out after the blown save/loss. He's gonna have to learn to deal with such things.

2007-09-18 11:01:05
9.   Yankee Fan in Chicago
6 Re the article: was he really being asked to get 6 outs though? Did Tito say that? I assumed, especially given that Paps is never asked to get more than 3, that Tito was doing what we'd all like Torre to do: use the closer/best reliever in the high leverage situation, even if that's now in the 9th.
2007-09-18 11:08:01
10.   Chyll Will
5 ,6 ,7 It reminds me of junior high, when the guys would pull pranks on the lonely kid while all the girls were around, and acted nonchalant while the kid jumped around in pain or whatever. This goes back to what I referred to in a previous thread; forcing rivalries for he sake of ratings only creats unneccesary enmity among players who would otherwise not give a crap except for winning the division or playing in the postseason. Stuff like that is gravy for the local rags, but juvenile to casual fans.

That's not to say either one was done on purpose, but you see how maddening it can be when it's focused on in the current medium. Do I give a crap about Boston? No, but I despise people who casually spoil for a fight and pretend to be innocent and shocked when something happens, no matter where they come from.

2007-09-18 11:13:58
11.   williamnyy23
I just want to go on record saying the "if you don't perform in the post season you are nothing" argument is absurd. This season should have been a reminder that getting to the post season is very difficult, so one's contribution toward that end is very, very valuable.
2007-09-18 11:14:03
12.   Yankee Fan In Boston
completely off topic, but check out this youtube clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3zO0ZxDS4c

watch the bat.

(please accept my apologies, and be warned that this contains mets content.)

2007-09-18 11:15:18
13.   Mattpat11
6 I think you'd have to be a real conspiracy nut to think it was on purpose
2007-09-18 11:16:59
14.   Yankee Fan In Boston
11 a wonderful point, and perhaps we've been spoiled over the past dozen blissful years.
2007-09-18 11:22:41
15.   Sliced Bread
This just in from ESPN...

Kyle Farnsworth reportedly believed the accidental, clearly unintentional Boston bullpen beaning of Mariano Rivera was intentional, and he wasted no time seeking revenge!

Sources tell ESPN, Yankees pitcher Kyle Farnsworth immediately launched a 104 mph fastball toward future Hall-Of-Famer Jonathan Papelbon, who was stretching, and scowling disdainfully at the Yankees from the adjacent bullpen.

At this time, Major League Baseball investigators have not determined precisely where Farnsworth's "purpose pitch" landed (ESPN has confirmed and celebrated the fact that Papelbon was not hit - high five!) but Boston police now suspect it may have been the "rogue baseball" which mysteriously crashed through a window, striking an M.I.T. sophomore in her dorm room Sunday night.

More on this developing story of unmitigated, unprovoked New York Yankee brutality tonight on Sports Center. We now return to "Jacoby Ellsbury & Friends" already in progress...

2007-09-18 11:31:44
16.   Marcus
4 You honestly think Devern Hansack has the ability to throw a pitch blindly over a ~7 foot wall to directly and intentionally hit an area of about the size of an grapefruit? He probably had no idea where it even went, and just kept on warming up.
2007-09-18 11:40:41
17.   fgasparini
Exactly. If Devern Hansack has that kind of control, the Yankees had better resign themselves to second place for years for reasons having nothing to do with Mo's hand.
2007-09-18 11:56:24
18.   pistolpete
8 Makes me appreciate Mo even more when I see things like that.

We all know Mo knows how to handle the high-pressure situations and succeed, but the best part about Rivera is his outlook on the failures. We'll NEVER find another Mo. Makes me sad when I think about his eventual departure from the game.

2007-09-18 11:56:36
19.   Sliced Bread
I don't think it was intentional, but if you think a pitcher couldn't blindly peg Rivera from the adjacent bullpen, if he wanted to, you've never been in a snowball fight.
2007-09-18 12:07:33
20.   monkeypants
4 Not only is it crazy to think that this was an intentional act, most of this post is just, well, wrong or illogical.

1. I love Mo as much as the next Yankees fan, but to suggest that he has been the most valuable Yankee, especially this year, is kooky. A-Rod and Posada have been far more valuable, and so has Jeter for most of the year (except his recent slump). One might even make the case the Wang, as a starter, has been more valuable than Mo, especially given how often Rivera has been used in low leverage situations.

2. While the Sox probably should do something about the wall separating the BP, the fact that they haven't so far can be explained quite simply: no one has been seriously hurt yet. This sad reasoning is all to common in sports, especially baseball, which are notoriously slow to enforce safety measures until after a highly publicized injury or accident.

3. Yes, the ball did not strike Mo in the back or arm, but it also managed only to hit him in the pinky. If that was intentional, it was pretty bad aim--why not the palm, or the elbow, or the head for that matter?

No, take off the tinfoil hat and put down the kool aid.

2007-09-18 12:13:42
21.   Bama Yankee
I don't think even our old buddy Reader11722 could buy into the Mo-hit-on-purpose conspiracy. And while I don't believe it either, I wonder what would have happened if an errant A-Rod warm-up toss between innings would have somehow found its way to Beckett's pitching hand as he sat in the Boston dugout? Would the Red Sox Nation be so quick to dismiss it as an accident or would they say that it was another A-Rod "bush league" play?

A-Rod was accused of a dirty play when he used his elbow against little Dusty, but Hinske can use his elbow to give Posada a tracheotomy and it's a clean play.

Joba twice buzzes the tower of the "Greek god of whines" and he gets tossed and suspended, while Beckett can intentionally drill Giambi as retaliation with only a warning issued.

Maybe there is something to this conspiracy, where is Oliver Stone (or even Reader11722) when you need him. We better act now before Amazon bans the book "Yankees Deceived"... ;-)

2007-09-18 12:21:32
22.   Sliced Bread
21 Now you've done it, Bama.

Belichick is watching you, and there will be consequences for your blasphemy.

Save yourself, Bama! Say you were only kidding!

2007-09-18 12:23:02
23.   yankz
21 Reader 11722 = Rob Gee!
2007-09-18 12:36:16
24.   Bama Yankee
22 How's this:

Coach Belichick was set up... Yeah, that's it, that's the ticket... he was set up just like OJ (both times) and Mike Vick... Belichick ain't even got one of them VHS machines, he still uses BetaMax, how could he even watch those tapes...

2007-09-18 12:37:34
25.   Bama Yankee
23 ROFL, I never even considered that... but you just might be on to something.
2007-09-18 12:41:16
26.   yankz
Let's hope A-rod heats up again, and fast.

Since hitting his last HR on 9/9, A-rod is hitting .200/.323/.200 (.523 OPS) over the last 7 games with 10 K in 25 AB. That's right - zero XBH. If he doesn't snap out of it soon, no doubt the media will start with the "He was a monster during the regular season, but choked in the last furlong" nonsense.

2007-09-18 12:49:28
27.   KJC
17 "If Devern Hansack has that kind of control..."
I saw Hansack pitch in Pawtucket earlier this year. He does not have that kind of control...

(And FWIW, the Lopez pitcher on the Sox is Javier, not Felipe.)

2007-09-18 12:52:18
28.   spufi2007
20 If last night is not an indication of how valuable he is, then you're not paying attention. With the cast of thousands available in the pen last night and only needing one out, we all knew that Mo was the only one we could count on. When he retires, we'll all see how long we've taken Mo for granted. Wang is a #2/#3 quality starter who gets tremendous offensive support -- to say he's been more valuable than Mo is nuts.

I know the theory is crazy, but the Red Sox are so thoroughly capable of this that it makes me wonder.

2007-09-18 12:53:32
29.   spufi2007
26 I'm fine with A-Rod slumping right now. If he goes on 3-week hot and cold streaks, then he'll be due to crush everyone in the postseason, right?
2007-09-18 13:12:26
30.   Chyll Will
27 And he never, ever dated Janet Jackson.
2007-09-18 13:17:01
31.   standuptriple
21 With Bill James and a couple lasers I wouldn't put it past them.
2007-09-18 13:18:07
32.   Sliced Bread
Joe sticks with Dougie D. Giambi sits.

From Pete Abe:

Damon DH
Jeter SS
Abreu RF
Rodriguez 3B
Matsui LF
Posada C
Cano 2B
Mientkiewicz 1B
Cabrera CF

2007-09-18 13:36:03
33.   Bob B
15 Thanks for that one, as one who (tongue firmly in cheek) talked trash about retaliating against the Red Sox for hitting Mo, I found this hysterical. Farns to the rescue. Of course they should have added that Okajima was wielding a bat at the time and clocked the pitch an estimated 500 feet.
2007-09-18 13:52:15
34.   Chyll Will
33 We could have avoided the whole thing by sending over that guy from Who-ville from the last thread...
2007-09-18 13:54:18
35.   rsmith51
Anybody else concerned that Doug Out is going to hurt the Yanks this post season? I liked him coming in as a defensive replacement. Giambi still has some pop in his bat. The team played terrible with Minky at the start of the year and turned it on around the time that he went on the DL. It makes sense with Wang on the mound, but with Moose. The more offense, the better.
2007-09-18 13:58:26
36.   Chyll Will
35 I beg to differ; I'm already offended that Scrabble is starting. We don't need anymore of that... this lineup has a somewhat empty feeling when you look at it on screen like this...
2007-09-18 14:16:18
37.   RIYank
Chien-Ming Wang's splits this year:

Home: .649 OPS, 2.85 ERA
Away: .742 OPS, 5.45 ERA

So, assuming we are the Wild Card team, do you slide him to third in the rotation?

2007-09-18 14:29:08
38.   Shaun P
37 Damn skippy. No way Wang starts on the road. Pettitte is definitely pitching Game 2 (that's his playoff-formula defined role), which means Mr. R. Clemens pitches Game 1. I think once the playoff spot it clinched, we'll see Torre set it up that way. I hope.

BTW, I like your use of assuming.

35 36 If Matsui was DH'ing, and Damon (the far superior defender) was in LF, I think its A-OK. Scary fly ball Moose needs all the help he can get. But why the other way around?

In any case, Damon and Matsui both need rest from time to time, but playing Giambi in the field too much is probably bad too, so I can't complain too much about Stinky being out there.

2007-09-18 14:29:57
39.   Shaun P
Way off topic . . . I've read tons about Casey Stengel's appearance before Congress. But I never heard a piece of it until today:

http://www.history.com/media.do?action=clip&id=v3t7

2007-09-18 15:41:16
40.   monkeypants
28 Last night, when he gave up a double that allowed an inherited run to score? OK, seriously, he is a very valuable closer, the best of all time. And this season he is simply not worth as much as A-Rod or Posada. Wang has given 180+ innings of 122 ERA+ pitching. Mo has produced 66 INN at 145 ERA+. Mo has been more effective for the very few innings he has thrown (perhaps more "important" innings), but it is not unreasonable to argue that the best starter on a team, throwing three times as many innings, is more valuable than the best reliever.

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