Ever since leaving the ballpark on Sunday afternoon, I've been racking my brain to come up with something to say about Andy Phillips racking up four RBIs and six total bases in his first start of the year and the first Yankee Stadium start of his career, but I've got nothing. I've said it all already. The man can hit. He should be a permanent part of the Yankees' 25-man roster and deserves the opportunity to establish himself in a platoon or even a starting role at first or second base. What happened Sunday was that the rest of the Yankee universe began to notice.
To his credit, Joe Torre may actually have been ahead of the curve. Torre was the man responsible for recalling Phillips when Ruben Sierra went down with a torn bicep, recognizing that Sierra's only contribution to the team was at the plate and that Phillips is, above all else (and all others), a hitter. Torre then reacted to the two dismal losses that began the current homestand by inserting Phillips into Sunday's starting lineup in place of left-handed fan favorite Tino Martinez despite the fact that the Rangers were starting a righty. Phillips then delivered with an RBI double in his first at bat and a three-run homer in his last. The home run earned him a curtain call from the Yankee Stadium crowd and, after the game, Joe Torre said, "he showed that we want to see him a little bit more." Tom Singer of MLB.com went as far as to call Torre "a devotee of Phillips." I hope he's right.
Incidentally, the story of Phillips' big "debut" (never mind that it was his tenth major league game extending back to last September and that, when pinch-hitting for Alex Rodriguez in a blowout at Fenway, he hit a home run on the first major league pitch thrown to him) is not unlike that of Bubba Crosby's almost exactly a year earlier. On April 11, 2004, Crosby made his first Yankee start in the twelfth major league game of his career after coming in as a late-inning replacement in two previous games that April. In that start, Bubba won over the Stadium crowd with a three-run home run that resulted in a curtain call. Crosby picked up three more starts that month, but went 1 for 12. He was demoted on May 2 when Kenny Lofton came off the DL and earned just two more starts over the remainder of the season (both in June, he went 1 for 8) despite appearing in a total of 55 games with the Yankees.
Bubba Crosby's story should serve as a cautionary tale for Phillips, but Andy's path to Yankee glory should be easier to traverse than Bubba's. To begin with, whereas Crosby projects merely as a passable major league hitter, Phillips has the potential to be a very productive one. Secondly, whereas Crosby was fighting for playing time with Bernie Williams, the one Yankee whose tenure meaningfully outdates Joe Torre's, Phillips needs only displace the disgraced shell of Jason Giambi and/or Tino Martinez, a player whom Joe Torre never seems to mind sitting (recall the 1996 World Series and Cecil Fielder) and whom Torre has said was brought back to the team to play just 3 or 4 times a week. Over at MLB.com, Mark Feinsand reports that Phillips could start two or three games a week, splitting time with Tino at first while Giambi becomes the full-time DH. From the clues I've been able to pick up on in what Torre has said thus far, while Sierra is on the DL, Phillips will at the very least be getting the first-base starts against lefties, the first coming this Wednesday (weather permitting) against the Angels and Jarrod Washburn.
Much to my delight, after attending both Bubba and Andy's big "debuts," I have tickets for Wednesday's game as well. Yesterday I was in my usual spot in the bleachers and was consumed with nervous energy when I learned that Andy Phillips was starting from the beradioed fan behind me. I was both thrilled that something I had long desired had finally come to fruition, but also nervous about how it would pan out. When Phillips scorched an RBI double to the gap in left in his first at-bat I was ecstatic. When he blasted a three-run homer well into the seats in left in his last at-bat I was completely overwhelmed. Reportedly Paul O'Neill spent much of the YES telecast describing how the insertion of a youngster such as Phillips (who, newly 28, is young only in relation to his teammates) could invigorate a veteran team such as the Yankees. If the team was only one quarter as fired up as I was yesterday, it's no wonder they scored eleven runs. When Bob Sheppard announced Phillips in the line-up, I was the loudest voice in the stadium--not a difficult task following the introduction of a largely unheralded (outside of cyberspace, at least) rookie--by the time Phillips reached the dugout following his eighth-inning home run trot, the entire Stadium was chanting his name. I was positively beaming.
Some other quick notes on Phillips:
The man pulls everything (his two outs on Sunday were a groundout to shortstop and a towering flyout to left, his other two at-bats this season resulted in a long flyout to the gap in left and a ball that died five feet up the third base line). This would suggest that pitchers could get him out by going away, but his two big hits on Sunday were balls up in the zone and out over the plate, even slightly outside. He pulled them both to left. It will be interesting to see if he's susceptible to being jammed inside, or if that simply feeds into his knack for creaming the ball to left field.
After Sunday's game, Joe Torre described Phillips as aggressive. Indeed, in fourteen major league plate appearances he has yet to draw a walk. However, he's not a free swinger and has a tremendous ability to make contact. He's struck out just once in those 14 at-bats, when he was caught looking on a full count after fouling off the first two strikes. He's swung and missed just once in his six at-bats this season. What's more, he's drawn his fair share of walks in the minors, posting a .388 on-base percentage in Columbus last year and a .366 OBP in his minor league career, both numbers 70 points higher than his corresponding batting averages.
Finally, for yucks, over his first 14 major league plate appearances, Phillips is hitting home runs more often (one homer every 7 PA) than Barry Bonds' did in his record breaking 2001 season (one homer every 9.1 PA).
In other news, don't get your hopes up about Colter Bean sticking on the roster. Not only is his return to Columbus in exchange for Chien-Ming Wang predetermined, Joe Torre has said Bean is here only to be used as an emergency long man and that he hopes he won't have to use him. Speaking of Wang, I incorrectly stated that he would take Jaret Wright's start on Friday in my "Tiger Balm" post. Instead, the Yankees will take advantage of the off day yesterday to start Randy Johnson on regular rest on Friday and will start Wang on Saturday, which means he'll get the privilege of making his major league debut against Roy Halladay.
As Alex reported, Jaret Wright is expected to miss four to six weeks. The good news is that all he did was tear some scar tissue in his shoulder. He will receive a cortisone shot once the swelling goes down and will then head to Tampa to being rehab. However, his DL stay could be longer. That four to six week estimate is a minimum and Brian Cashman has said the Yankees plan to be conservative about Wright's return (in the process they'll be tallying up days toward saving that potential $4 million in 2007).