Monthly archives: October 2003
by Bruce Markusen
Final Postseason Edition
October 31, 2003
This is the final edition of “Cooperstown Confidential” for the 2003 season. I’d like to thank all of the loyal readers, those who have taken the time to write and provide feedback, and especially those who have offered their kind support and encouragement. I’m not sure what the immediate future holds for “Cooperstown Confidential,” but hopefully I’ll be able to make periodic visits to this and other web sites during the winter. Any suggestions for improving the column are certainly welcome. Most importantly, thanks for reading.
[This article is being reprinted here at Bronx Banter with the permission of Bruce Markusen. For previous editions of "Cooperstown Confidential" head over to Baseball Primer. --AB]
YANKEES CIRCA 2004
Even before they lost the World Series in six games to the Florida Marlins, some writers had called for massive rebuilding to take place in the Bronx over the winter. Other observers, taking a different course, point out that the New York Yankees couldn’t be that flawed, since they came within two games of winning their fifth World Championship under Joe Torre. In truth, the reality of the situation lies somewhere in between. The Yankees don’t need to be rebuilt from top to bottom (even though George Steinbrenner probably has a differing opinion on that right now), but they can’t afford to stand pat either, principally because of their collective age and the retirement of Roger Clemens. Instead, the Yankees need to perform some significant tinkering, not only in terms of acquiring outside talent but also in rearranging some of the current parts so that they fit better along the defensive spectrum.
While there’s always the question of what should be done, that often doesn’t mesh with the changes that will be done. So with an eye toward the logical and the reasonable, here’s a plan of action—position by position—that the Yankee brass might take during a cold, hard winter:
Catcher: Jorge Posada is one of the few Yankees that can safely be called untouchable. In spite of a poor postseason (capped off by a failure to block and tag in Game Six), Posada just completed his best all-around season, reaching the 30-home run and 100-RBI marks for the first time while displaying better agility and a stronger throwing arm behind the plate. Posada’s presence means the Yankees will ignore the two hot catching commodities on the free agent market: Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and Javier Lopez. Now if Rodriguez were willing to switch positions and play second or third base, then that might become a different story, but the Marlins’ postseason MVP isn’t likely to make that switch after a hallmark season behind the plate.
Second Base: Only one thing seems certain at this troublesome position: the Yankees will have a different everyday second baseman in 2004. Let’s face it, Willie Randolph has already put in countless hours with Alfonso Soriano, but he’s made only small improvements at the position and doesn’t figure to get sufficiently better to avoid being a liability. Soriano simply doesn’t have the hands of a middle infielder, but his speed and athleticism make him an acceptable fit in the outfield. He has a strong arm, but it’s an infielder’s arm, and no one knows for sure how that will translate to the outfield, so we’ll have to wait and see whether he ends up in center or in right field. And then there’s always the option of a trade, which seems like a greater possibility with each passing day). The Royals have already expressed some interest in a Soriano-for-Carlos Beltran swap, but Beltran’s agent is Scott Boras, which is always an obstacle. The Yankees still love Soriano’s talent, but they’ve grown weary of his inability to make adjustments at the plate, his unwillingness to take pitches, and his continuing lapses of concentration in the field. Soriano will probably be traded away, with the Yankees acquiring another second baseman and/or an outfielder in return… So who ends up at second base? The trade market could feature Jose Vidro, but the Expos will want a lot in exchange (Soriano?). Roberto Alomar, Luis Castillo, and Fernando Vina are potential free agent options, but Alomar wants no part of Chapter Two in New York, Castillo prefers playing for a small market team, and Vina will be 35 years old next April (plus the Cardinals may pick up his $4.5 million option and then try to trade him.) Here’s where the Yankees could get creative, by moving one of their other infielders to second base. Keep reading.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter’s diminishing range used to be an acceptable problem, if only because the Yankees kept winning championships with him at shortstop. Well, now they haven’t won a title in three years, and Jeter’s range is only becoming more limited, in part because of injury and partly because of age. If the Yankees were smart, they’d make a full-bore run at Japanese free agent stud Kaz Matsui, make him their everyday shortstop, and move Jeter to second base, where his lack of range would become less of a liability. And for the first time ever, the Yankees are actually giving a sliver of thought to moving Jeter to another spot, be it second base, third base, or the outfield. In reality, though, the conservative Yankees probably won’t make such a daring move this winter, which means they won’t be able to sign Matsui, who wants to remain a shortstop (and he’s a good one). The end result? Status quo at shortstop for 2004.
Third Base: There’s been some talk that the Yankees might not tender a contract to Aaron Boone because of his offensive flailings and fielding yips in the Series, but they’re not willing to embarrass themselves by having nothing to show for the Brandon Claussen deal. Besides, Torre loves Boone’s makeup and attitude, and wants him back in the Bronx next year. So look for the Yankees to re-sign Boone, with an outside possibility of moving him to second base if they’re able to swing a deal for a better hitting third baseman. Another possibility is potential free agent Mike Lowell, but his defensive play at the corner has the Yankees concerned, especially with Jeter already overexposed on the left side of the infield.
Outfielders: Hideki Matsui will certainly be a part of the Yankee outfield picture in 2004; it’s just a question of whether he’ll play left field, center field, or right field. Matsui’s range and throwing arm make him best suited for left, but right now he’s a better center field option than Bernie Williams, whose postseason foibles in the field have convinced the Yankees to make him a DH and/or a left fielder. Matsui can also play right field, but his lack of arm strength and the availability of free agents Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Sheffield make that the least likely of the scenarios. Both Guerrero and Sheffield are high contact/high on-base percentage hitters (each had 400-plus OBPs, with fewer than 60 strikeouts), which is exactly the kind of hitter the Yankees need after their swing-and-miss postseason. Guerrero is the better of the two choices, if only because he’s only 27, making him seven years younger than Sheffield. Plenty of concerns have been raised about Guerrero’s introverted personality making him a bad fit for New York, but the Yankees have a manager like Torre and high character players like Jeter, Posada, and Williams who can help the shy Guerrero acclimate himself to life in the Bronx fishbowl. As for Sheffield, he wants to play in New York, Steinbrenner likes him, and there’s always the Dwight Gooden connection, but the addition of a soon-to-be 35-year-old outfielder to an already aging roster has to raise some red flags… So what will the Yankees do with their muddled outfield situation? Look for Matsui to remain in left, Williams to move to DH (with occasional duty in the outfield), Soriano or a trade piece to take over in center, and the multi-talented Guerrero to occupy right. One way or another, the Yankees will have a far different outfield in 2004.
Bench: John Flaherty did an acceptable job as Posada’s backup, but he’s a free agent who’s thought about retirement within the last year. The Yankees would love a better-hitting backup here, especially one who bats from the left side, but one option was removed when Greg Myers re-signed with Toronto. Another possibility, albeit from the right side, could be the Mets’ Vance Wilson, who might not be tendered a contract for 2004… Enrique Wilson experienced another poor season at the plate, making it questionable whether the Yankees will bring him back at a salary of $750,000. That’s a lot of money to pay for a player who hasn’t hit since his days in Cleveland, and who is nothing special in the field or on the bases. The Yankees just might cut bait with Wilson and replace him with the cheaper and more athletic Erick Almonte… In the outfield, Torre likes David Dellucci for his defensive play and versatility, along with his ability to bunt and steal bases. The Yankees will probably bring both Dellucci (contact) and Karim Garcia (power) back, giving them two different kinds of left-handed hitting options for the late innings. As for Ruben Sierra, Torre likes him now that he’s shown a willingness to embrace a backup role, but his inability to play the outfield acceptably will likely make him the odd man out… Once heralded as a top prospect, Juan Rivera now projects as no more than a backup, but could return as a sixth outfielder (if the Yankees carry that many). Otherwise, he’ll be traded, since he has nothing left to prove at the Triple-A level. He might become a throw-in to a package that features either Johnson or Soriano… And what about Bubba Trammell, you ask? That remains anybody’s guess. I have no idea really.
Starting Pitching: Forget about those reports that indicate otherwise; Roger Clemens is not coming back to pitch another season in the big leagues, so the Yankees will have to replace him with another durable right-hander. They have mixed feelings about Bartolo Colon because of his ever-expanding girth, but also have doubts about Kevin Millwood’s willingness to switch from the National League. (Millwood could be headed back to Atlanta, according to recent reports.) Then there’s always Montreal’s Javier Vasquez, whom the Yankees admire from afar, even if it might cost them Nick Johnson and another player… There’s been a lot of speculation about Andy Pettitte leaving as a free agent (how many times during the postseason did we have to hear FOX broadcasters say this might be his last start in Pinstripes?), but that’s not likely to happen. He loves playing in New York, the Yankees adore his consistency and character, and the Rangers (a logical destination) have already said they don’t have the cash to reel in the 21-game winner. There’s been recent talk that the Braves have interest in Pettitte, but after all is said and done, the reliable lefty will return to the Bronx, taking his rightful place as the No. 2 starter behind Mike Mussina… David “Jumbo” Wells, however, is highly unlikely to return. Not wanting to pick up his $6 million option, the Yankees will try to convince Wells to take a smaller contract, but the hefty lefty will probably opt for greener salaries elsewhere. If Wells had pitched well and picked up a win in Game Five, this whole scenario might have turned out much differently, but the Yankees have serious questions about his back—and his willingness to pitch through pain… So with Clemens and Wells gone, who steps into the rotation? Jose Contreras will become a fulltime starter, which is where he belongs. The Yankees are hoping that Jon Lieber can return from major arm surgery and become a decent starter at the back-end of the rotation. Jeff Weaver remains another option, but the Yankees will do everything they can to find a suitor, even if it means picking up the rest of the $15 million on his contract. If recent rumors that had Weaver going to St. Louis for J.D. Drew or to Anaheim for Darin Erstad are anything remotely close to the truth, then there might still be a market for the talented but high-strung right-hander.
Bullpen: Mariano Rivera is as untouchable as any Yankee, but general manager Brian Cashman will continue make efforts in upgrading the set-up relief corps, which remains an area of concern. From the right side, the Yankees are hopeful that Steve Karsay can return from elbow surgery, but they’re not banking on him regaining his prior effectiveness. They’d like to bring in LaTroy Hawkins as a free agent, with the idea of using him as Rivera’s set-up man and simultaneously grooming him to become Mo’s successor. Another possibility is Shigetoshi Hasegawa, who was unhittable for most of the season before struggling as Seattle’s closer; Hasegawa’s agent has already expressed an interest in coming to New York. The Yankees will also consider two right-handers from within, Jorge DePaula and the flamethrowing Scott Proctor, who came over as part of the Robin Ventura deal and posted 26 K’s and only three walks in 19 innings at Triple-A Columbus. The addition of both a live-armed youngster and a veteran free agent will probably result in the end of Jeff Nelson’s second tenure in New York. The Yankees have already decided to part ways with Antonio Osuna, who’s now a free agent after not being included on any of the postseason rosters… In terms of left-handed relief, the Yankees will have plenty of that commodity in 2004. Felix Heredia has already indicated he’ll exercise his contract option for next year and the Yankees are likely to do the same for Gabe White. And then there’s change-up specialist Chris Hammond, whose contract probably mandates a return to the Bronx in 2004 but who also represented the Yankees’ biggest mystery this past postseason. After pitching reasonably well during the regular season, the Yankees left Hammond off their Division Series and League Championship Series rosters and only activated him for the World Series because of a pitching crunch caused by Game Five of the LCS. Then, in the turning-point game of the Series, Joe Torre opted to use Jeff Weaver ahead of Hammond, even though the left-hander had been far more effective during the regular season. That’s never been fully explained and makes one wonder if Torre will be any more willing to use Hammond in 2004.
Coaching Staff: Only two Yankee coaches appear secure for next season: third base coach Willie Randolph and bullpen coach Rich Monteleone. Bench coach Don Zimmer has already announced his departure, hitting instructor Rick Down has been fired, and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre is expected to announce his retirement shortly. In addition, Lee Mazzilli will probably find himself elsewhere; he just interviewed for the Orioles’ managerial slot and, even if he doesn’t get the job, he’s still likely to be replaced as New York’s first base coach… Several names have been rumored to succeed Down as hitting coach, including former Yankees Chili Davis and Don Mattingly. (Davis, in particular, would be a great choice because of his ability to relate to today’s player and his sound hitting philosophies.) One non-Yankee who has no ties to the organization, Gary Gaetti, has also been mentioned, but the powers-that-be have to hope that Gaetti will preach more patience at the plate than he displayed during his long playing career… Luis Sojo will probably succeed Mazzilli as first base coach, in part because of his ability to relate to the team’s Latin American players. That’s an angle that’s been missing from the Yankee coaching staff since the firing of Jose Cardenal… As for the new bench coach, that might be the most intriguing story of all. Former Yankee Joe Girardi, who would like to manage eventually, is rumored to have interest in the bench coach position, which would give him valuable experience in running a game from the dugout. Yet, the odds-on favorite for the job appears to be former Red Sox manager Grady Little, who is still respected for his baseball knowledge if not for his in-game pitching decisions. Another possible landing place for Little is Columbus, where he might end up as manager of the Yankees’ top minor league affiliate.
Hall of Fame Handbook
In honor of the 2003 World Champion Marlins, let’s present the all-gone-fishin’ team, courtesy of the hardworking staff at the Hall of Fame:
Catcher: Fred “Whale” Walters
First Base: Lefty Herring
Second Base: Fred “Muscles” Vaughn
Shortstop: Bobby Sturgeon
Third Base: Marty “The Octopus” Marion (played two games at third base)
Outfield: Kevin Bass
Outfield: Jesse “The Crab” Burkett
Outfield: Tim Salmon
RHP: Jim “Catfish” Hunter
LHP: Steve Trout
Reliever: Marlin Stuart
Manager: Lipman Pike
Umpire: Bill “Catfish” Klem
Josh Brinkley (Died on October 16 in Wallace, North Carolina; age 30; car accident): The hitting coach for the independent Bangor Lumberjacks of the Northeast League, Brinkley was jogging near the side of a road when he was struck and killed by a passing car. Brinkley had joined Bangor this season after previously working for Lincoln in the Northern League. His minor league playing career included stops in Harrisburg (a Montreal Expos affiliate) and independent Little Falls, where he batted .327 during the 2000 season.
Joan Kroc (Died on October 12 in San Diego; age 75; brain cancer): Kroc became the owner of the San Diego Padres after the death of her husband, Ray, in 1984. (Mr. Kroc had purchased the Padres in 1974, thus preventing the team from moving to Washington.) Mrs. Kroc remained owner of the franchise until 1990, when she decided to sell the team in order to spend more time with her family. Noted for her philanthropic efforts, Kroc contributed time and money to a number of causes, including health care, cancer research, and the fight against AIDS.
Frank McCormack (Died on October 9 in Bakersfield, California; age 84): A onetime scout for the New York Yankees, McCormack also worked as a trainer in the minor leagues. In addition to his professional association with the game, he was a passionate fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers and a longtime member of the Society for American Baseball Research. McCormack wrote a regular trivia column for a Dodgers’ fan newsletter.
John Raymond Gora (Died on October 7 in Danville, Illinois; age 91; complications from a stroke): An award-winning photographer, Gora captured one of the most memorable pictures in baseball history—a still shot of Chicago White Sox outfielder Al Smith being showered with a cup of beer while trying to catch a home run ball in Game Two of the 1959 World Series. At the time a photographer for the Chicago Tribune, Gora had begun his career in 1927 as a copy boy for the Chicago Herald-News. He joined the staff of the Tribune in 1942, remaining there until his retirement in 1977.
Stephen Gates (Died on October 4 in Hillsborough, North Carolina; age 27): Gates was serving as the media relations director for the independent Northeast League at the time of his death. He was killed in a hit-and-run accident after stopping to fix a flat tire on the interstate near Hillsborough.
Cooperstown Confidential writer Bruce Markusen is the author of three books on baseball, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s (ISBN number 1-878282-23-9), which is available at www.amazon.com and at many major bookstores, including Borders Books. Markusen has also written The Orlando Cepeda Story and Roberto Clemente: The Great One. A fourth book, The Kid: The Life of Ted Williams, is scheduled for release in the spring of 2004.
The more I think about it, the more frightened I am about the prospect of the Red Sox getting Alex Rodriguez. Think about it: A Rod and the Sox are a perfect fit. The Sox would land a great player who actually loves to deal with the media. Think he would wilt when the Boston press turned on him? Well, considering the kind of negative publicity that A Rod has endured over the past three seasons, I seriously doubt it. Whether you think he's a phoney or not, Rodriguez is one smooth customer when it comes to media relations.
A Rod is also a better player than either Nomar or Manny. He'd be the greatest player the Sox have had since Babe Ruth. Then Boston would have the kind of marketable star who would not only match Derek Jeter in terms of exposure and popularity, but he'd most likely blow "Mr. Clutch" out of the water too. (Oh yeah, A Rod is also a much better player than DJ as well.) You'd better believe that Rodriguez would like to up the ante on his old pal, Jeteronomy as well.
How about 75 home runs? Think the friendly confines of Fenway Park appeal to Mr. Rodriguez? Here's another question: Do you think Boston is on A Rod's radar? Come on, now. Rodriguez would be able to escape Texas to a place where baseball matters more than life or death. He'd be smack dab in the middle of the most intense rivalry in the game, and of course, he'd still be the best player in the league.
Plus, he'd be able to ride shotgun as Boston's marquee player when the Sox finally topple the Yankees (I should say "if", but count me amongst those who believe the Sox will have their day before long). It's almost too good to be true. (The thought of Curt Schilling or Billy Wagner in Beantown ain't making me too happy either.) An' that's why I am ascared. But hey, I'm a jittery sort. I scare easily.
Meanwhile, two more Cuban ballplayers recently defected and plan to play professional baseball in the States. Maels Rodriguez is a 24-year old pitcher, and Yobal Dueñas is a 31-year old second basemen. Keep your eyes on this developing story...
HERE'S MUD IN YER EYE
THANKS, BUT NO THANKS
George Steinbrenner will not fall for the Rope-a-Dope ploy the Red Sox set up for him when they placed Manny Ramirez on irrevocable waivers. The Yankees, along with the Mets, will pass on Manny's services. The rest of baseball isn't chomping at the bit either. According to The Boston Globe:
John Harper and Joel Sherman think that George is doing the right thing too. Kevin Kernan floats a rumor that I feared from the start: Boston plans to move both Manny and Nomar and trade for Alex Rodriguez. It makes sense to me. I don't know whether there is any truth to it, of course. But I always imagine the worst case scenerio and run with it.
CAN'T STOP, WON'T STOP
Meanwhile, Bryan Smith has his own ideas about what the Yankees should do for 2004 over at Wait 'Til Next Year. Bryan likes the idea of keeping Felix Heredia. I am fine with that, but the reliever I truly covet, is Shigetoshi Hasegawa. For starters, I would just love to hear Bob Shepard announce his name at the Stadium.
BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: PAT JORDAN
Pat Jordan is from the Old School. He is not politically correct. He drinks booze and calls women broads, and frankly, doesn't care if you like it or not. He also writes in a clean, succinct style that is clearly old fashioned (God bless him). That may explain why you mainly see his work in The New York Times Magazine. Jordan was a bonus baby in the Braves organization in the late 1950’s. He was a promising young pitcher but never made it even close to the Majors. He later became a journalist, and a decade after his playing career ended, Jordan released “A False Spring,” a memoir about his baseball life (and death). “A False Spring” went on to become a minor classic. Less than ten years ago, Jordan wrote a follow-up memoir, “A Nice Tuesday,” in which he continued to examine what went wrong with his career as a jock. Jordan has also written several other sports books, as well as a thriller series, that according to the author, “isn’t so thrilling, but there is lots of sex and violence.”
I had the opportunity to speak with Jordan late this summer. He is a blunt but funny guy, a real straight shooter. Some of our conversation may seem dated, but I doubt that will be a problem for the reader. The Hot Stove is here, and this is a long one, so dig in and enjoy.
Bronx Banter: You are most famous for your first baseball memoir “A False Spring.” But I actually prefer the second one, “A Nice Tuesday.”
Pat Jordan: So do I. Nobody else does. I thought “A Nice Tuesday” was much better, but that’s the way it goes.
BB: I felt that the second book actually made the first one richer, deeper.
PJ: The other thing with the first book is that I assumed a persona. You know what I mean? And some of it doesn’t ring true to me today because it was a persona that I was working on. Whereas with “A Nice Tuesday” I didn’t have any persona. To me, it was much more natural. In other words, I wasn’t trying to create a character, it was just me. In “A False Spring” I created myself as much harder-edged than I really was. I wasn’t stupid enough to go up to two girls and say, “Oh, who are the cunts?” I wasn’t that dumb. It was too stylized as far as I was concerned. Whereas with “A Nice Tuesday” I didn’t have any motives other than just getting it all down.
BB: There was self-consciousness about the writing in “A False Spring” that didn’t exist in “A Nice Tuesday.”
BB: You were in your early 30s when you wrote “A False Spring,” and the book is about you trying to figure out what happened to you in your early 20s. It felt as if you still didn’t really know what had happened yet.
BB: “A Nice Tuesday” has the advantage of perspective. Also, you only hinted at your family story in the first book, and that is fleshed out much more in the second one.
PJ: I skipped over it in “A False Spring.” I think it’s only in the first chapter. The second book was really a memoir that had very little to do with baseball. You know, we had reviews that complained because it wasn’t “A False Spring.” One review out in San Diego by an ex-ballplayer complained there wasn’t enough baseball, and there was all this bullshit about dogs.
BB: I liked the stuff about your dogs.
PJ: Well even if you don’t like dogs, it was part of the whole thing. I was trying to use Bubba, for example, as a stand-in for me.
BB: He was the dog who got so unruly that you had to get rid of him. But you sympathized with him because he was just being his natural self.
PJ: Exactly. I was trying to say that at least I could change my personality a little bit as a human being, but poor Bubba was trapped into his. The difference between the two books is that “A False Spring” was plotted, and it was mechanical. In other words, I was going to touch every base: what it was like to be in Yankee Stadium, what it was like to be in spring training. “A Nice Tuesday” wasn’t plotted. I never planned on writing about dogs when I started the book. The original book was to be about pitching at 56. And then I started this stuff, and I called up my editor and said, “Do you mind if I put in this drag racing stuff?” He said, “No, go ahead.” I said, “What about this dog stuff? The dog’s keep popping up.” So what I learned with “A Nice Tuesday” is be less disciplined and more open to mystery, and to let things come that intruded themselves whenever they wanted to.
BB: Was “A False Spring” your first full-length book?
PJ: No, the first book I wrote was called “The Black Coach.” It was a book about a black football coach who took over a white high school football team in North Carolina in 1971, I think it was. 1972. That was really the first book I had ever written.
BB: Was it a novel?
PJ: Oh, no. It was a non-fiction book. It’s a good book. It’s pure reporting. On e-bay, they want a fortune for it. I’ve seen it go for $175-$200 for the book. All of my books are like leaves of grass. If you are lucky enough to have an unsigned copy, you are in great shape. I tell my friends who want it signed, no, keep the unsigned copy, it’s worth more.
BB: Did you write “Suitors of Spring” next?
PJ: Yeah, that was the second book. It was a collection of Sports Illustrated pieces. Then “A False Spring” was the third one. I had a three-book contract with this publisher, Dodd Mead, and “A False Spring” was the one that they really wanted. They wouldn’t give me enough to write it, so I said, “Do a collection of my Sports Illustrated pieces.” This way I’d get paid twice. That way I was able to write “A False Spring.” Which didn’t do well. It didn’t sell many books. None of my books have sold anything. I’m sort of like a cult failure. You know the guy from New Orleans who wrote “Confederacy of Dunces?” He was a cult success. I’m a cult failure.
BB: Hey, at least you’re alive to see your own failure.
PJ: Yeah, they either drink themselves to death or kill themselves. I can’t afford to, I’ve got too many bills. I have to keep working. Every time I think, “Oh, I can shoot myself,” I’m like, “But who is going to take care of the dogs and Susan? Who is going to pay the mortgage?” I can’t afford it.
BB: Susan, your second wife, is Meg Ryan’s mom.
PJ: That’s right.
BB: I really liked your observations about Meg Ryan’s acting. About how she plays it safe.
PJ: Oh yeah, she plays it safe. And at first I was putting her down. But when it came time for me to pitch again, I realized the kind of fears she must have to branch off into something different. Actually, my wife is doing a fit, because Meg Ryan is doing a movie called “In the Cut” which she has naked sex scenes in. I said, “Maybe she’ll blame that on you Susan, she blames everything else on you.” I’m dying to find out what kind of body she has. I said, “I’ve only had your body, maybe hers is better.” But I understand her completely. It’s like when you get that sliver of success, you are terrified that you might lose it. So you never do anything different. One of the problems with what I’ve done over the years is that I’ve never done the same thing. I didn’t do what George Plimpton did and write the same book five times. I have a novel out right now, and nobody has any idea that it’s me. It’s called, “AKA Sheila Weinstein.” It’s the second novel in a trilogy and there is no sports in it. But it keeps me interested.
BB: How long did you write for Sports Illustrated?
PJ: Seven or eight years. 1970-’78, something like that. Then I did books for a couple of years, then I worked for GQ for a couple of years. I write mostly for The New York Times [magazine] right now. I write for everybody, you name it. I had a piece in Playboy last month. I do whoever pays.
BB: The piece you did on Clemens a couple of years ago really changed my perception of the guy.
PJ: Roger? What did you think of him before you read it?
BB: Well, I’m a Yankee fan.
PJ: I’m a Yankee fan.
BB: Yeah, well, then you should know how I feel. I rooted against him for all those years. I hated Clemens. I just thought he was a big prick from Texas, by way of Boston and how much worse can you get than that for a Yankee fan? But I felt that you painted him as this big, goofy narcissist.
PJ: Yeah, he’s a total narcissist, but he’s also…he’s not bright. It’s sort of like being with an overgrown child. He’s a hyperactive child, all the time. I’m a believer that the reason he works out so hard is to burn off energy. Cause he’s like the kid that you have to keep chocolate away from, you know? You know when you have the kid, he can’t concentrate on anything and the doctor says, “Don’t let him eat chocolate?” That’s Roger Clemens. He’s not…he’s not a bad guy, he’s just arrested development, I guess. You think you are with an arrogant fourteen year-old kid when you’re with him. You’re not with a grown up.
BB: Have you been around Torre’s Yankee teams in the past five or six years?
PJ: Yeah. Oh, yeah I’ve been around them a lot. I did a piece on Torre for the Times, Bernie Williams, and Roger Clemens. I like the Yankee teams of the Paul O’Neill era. I’m not crazy about last year’s team or this year’s team. They’ve got all these guys with numbers. But when they had Paul O’Neill and Brosius and Knoblauch---guys that didn’t have any numbers, they won four World Series. Because those guys didn’t know how to lose. I mean, the greatest at-bat that I’ve ever seen, was against the Braves when John Rocker was pitching to Paul O’Neill.
BB: When Paulie O fisted the single through the right side.
PJ: Right. And he fouled off like twelve pitches. And here’s a left-handed pitcher, throwing to a left-handed hitter, and the pitcher is throwing 97 miles an hour---with that sweeping slider---and this guy stayed in there for like twelve or fourteen pitches, and hit a ground ball single, that either tied the game or put the Yankees ahead.
BB: I think it put them ahead.
PJ: I thought that was the greatest at-bat I’ve seen in baseball. Because there was no way Paul O’Neill should have gotten wood on the ball. That was what those Yankees were. These new Yankees…I like the Japanese guy. He’s a good ballplayer.
BB: Matsui fits right into the professional Yankee mold very well.
PJ: I like him.
BB: What about Giambi?
PJ: I don’t know if he’s got it. I mean, he’s a home run hitter, but I’m not sure. Matsui reminds me a little bit of O’Neill. Soriano, I don’t know. Jeter, I like, I like Williams.
BB: What were your impressions of Bernie after you did an article on him?
PJ: I like Bernie. Sensitive guy. I think he passes for being more sensitive than he truly is as a baseball player. With ballplayers, a little sensitivity goes a long way. I like Bernie a lot. I think he’s more spacey than sensitive. He passes as a sensitive guy, but really, he’s a space cadet.
BB: Part of it is that he looks sensitive, like Tim Duncan looks sensitive.
PJ: Yeah, with the glasses and he’s soft spoken.
BB: Bernie is a great player but he doesn’t seem like a natural on the baseball field. Jeter is a natural. Bernie came out with his first album this summer, and sometimes he strikes me as a musician who happens to play baseball for a living. He plays ball extremely well, but it’s not his true calling.
PJ: Bernie is the kind of guy where everybody will always be talking about his secondary thing. The kind of guy that no matter what he does, you say, “Yeah, but you should hear him play the guitar.” Or you should hear him do this, or do that. I think that’s what his curse is. That he does everything in such a way that he always gets credit for the secondary, or even third thing that he does. If he was a guitar player you’d say, “Yeah, but you should have seen him play baseball.”
BB: Bernie looks sensitive, just like Benetiz looks fierce.
PJ: With the gold chains. Somebody should rip that gold chain off of Weaver’s neck.
BB: What’s the deal with him anyway?
PJ: Weaver is a fucking wimp.
BB: Is that it?
PJ: It’s gotta be, because Weaver has good stuff. The other thing is, I’d raise his arm level about 45% and have him thrown 3/4 overhand, instead of that side arm shit that he throws. If he got his arm up, and was throwing 93, 94 miles an hour—he’s got a nice, loose delivery---the same fastball that goes left and right with him, would start going down. Once you raise his arm up, get him on top of the ball, that fastball would sink, instead of just left, right. I think that would make a world of difference with him as a pitcher. But, you know…who am I? I’m only a fucking writer.
BB: Is it difficult for a guy to make those adjustments once he’s in the majors for four, or five years?
PJ: Listen, nobody’s going to fuck with Roger Clemens if he’s winning 300 games. But where is Weaver going? He’s with the best club in baseball. I mean, every game he pitches, five innings, five runs, eight hits. If he doesn’t lose the game, he gets taken out and gets no decision. He’s got much better stuff than that.
BB: He looks difficult to talk with. Is it that he just doesn’t want to listen to what Stottlemyre has to tell him?
PJ: I think he’s scared. I don’t think he’s got a lot of balls. He looks scared. He doesn’t look like a guy who has got confidence. Like…I’m not a great Clemens fan, I don’t think Clemens is a gamer. I think Wells is. I like Wells a lot.
BB: What about Mussina?
PJ: I’m not crazy about him either. I’m not crazy about the Yankees starting staff. I’m not crazy about Pettitte, I’m not crazy about Mussina, I’m not crazy about Clemens. I wouldn’t put my money on any of them. I wouldn’t put my money on them like I’d put my money on Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling.
BB: What about Tim Hudson?
PJ: I haven’t seen him enough.
BB: You like Schilling?
PJ: I don’t like him personally, I think he’s an asshole, but I think he’s a strong pitcher. Oh, he’s an ego [driven] media hound, and bullshit artist. But Randy Johnson, I like as a person and he’s a great pitcher.
BB: What don’t you like about Mussina? Is it that he’s too smart for his own good, too cerebral?
PJ: His fastball is straight as a string. I’ve never seen such a straight fastball. He’s got good stuff, but I don’t know. I don’t know what it is. Same thing with Pettitte. He’ll have streaks where he’s unhittable and then he’ll have streaks where he can’t get anybody out. To tell you the truth, if I had to rely on anybody, I’d say that Wells is the best pitcher the Yankees got.
BB: What about Mo Rivera?
PJ: I like him. The guy throws, what is basically a 94 mph slider. His cutter. It’s not a breaking ball in the strike sense of the word; he doesn’t turn his wrist over and all that. But he throws a 94 mph breaking ball. And he’s got great control.
BB: And he’s not like Smoltz, who has three, four, or five different pitches.
PJ: I thought John Smoltz had the best stuff probably in the history of baseball. He’s got a 96-98 mph fastball; he’s got the slider that’s 92. Got a curveball that’s 88. He’s got great control. Some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen. I saw him, first week of spring training, in Palm Springs when the Braves were here, and he was warming up in the bullpen. And the guy was unbelievable. I mean the ball was exploding after one week. And Chipper Jones walks by and makes some comment like, “Still working on your stuff, huh?” But he’s also an awfully weak guy.
PJ: He’s not a strong guy.
BB: Maddux too?
PJ: I don’t know. Can’t win any big ones. I don’t like guys who don’t rely on great stuff. In playoff games, they never seem to do well. You never see those soft-tossers have great playoff runs. They have great years, but in the real crunch, you never see them have great series’. Whereas a power pitcher, even if they are off, they have that power. I would never trust one of those soft-tossers in a big series. I would go with my arms.
BB: Unless his name was Whitey Ford, right?
PJ: No?! Whitey Ford had stuff. You know what the Pittsburgh Pirates said about him when they beat them in the  World Series? They asked Bill Mazerowski what Whitey Ford was, and he said he was Warren Spahn with stuff. Warren Spahn was not a bad pitcher. Whitey Ford, he wasn’t Moyer. He wasn’t even Maddux. No. Whitey Ford? He was my hero. You can’t say anything bad about Whitey.
BB: I love the story from “A False Spring” that involved Joe Torre in spring training.
PJ: You mean when he basically helped ruin my career?
BB: That's the one.
PJ: He didn’t mean it. Let me see how to put it…Joe had a lot of clout in spring training because of his brother Frank. I didn’t. Everybody was looking at him to be a big leaguer. Now, he didn’t get any more money than I did. It wasn’t like he was more talented or more of a prospect. Probably less of a prospect because he didn’t have a good arm or anything.
BB: He was a heavy kid?
PJ: Oh, he was fat. He was a fat kid. We were on the same team in spring training and I was pitching batting practice. A nothing thing. It was for Boise, Idaho, which was the Braves’ pitching team. Which meant, when you went to Boise, you won 18 games automatically because they sent all their best hitters there. It was where they sent their pitchers who they wanted to get confidence because the guys would score twelve runs a game, and every game was 15-6. They’d have earned run averages of 4.85. So you wanted to go to Boise because they had the horses. So I was with Boise. This was in the Northwest league. Torre was the catcher. And I had one of those spring training sore arms, which was not anything serious. It was like a weak arm. I was throwing batting practice and I couldn’t put anything on the ball. And the hitters were complaining. You know, they were ripping everything foul. I wasn’t soft tossing; I just couldn’t put anything on the ball. Joe kept firing the ball back at me, telling me to put something on the ball. And at one point, he walked like ten feet in front of the plate and fired the ball back at me. So he’s cheating now. He’s right on top of me. So I took the ball and turned around and threw it right at the back of his head, as he was walking back. Hit him on the mask. The mask flew off, and he came at me. And we start grappling there, tugging. It wasn’t much. We got separated. The next morning I got sent down to Davenport, the D class club. And I was told by one of the ballplayers---he had heard the managers talking--- and the manager from Boise said, “I won’t have that red ass Ginnea on my team.” My question was why was I the red ass Guinea and not Torre? We’re both Italian. I should have opened my mouth and said I had a sore arm but I didn’t. So I went to Davenport, which was the worst club in the Braves organization and I pitched well and went 6-12. This was the winter instructional league in the fall of ’61. It was all forgotten, and I had a good year that year.
BB: You’ve obviously been in touch with Torre since.
PJ: Oh yeah. If I see him he says “Hi Pat.” Torre and Phil Neikro I see every once in a while. Neikro’s a good man.
BB: Is Torre as genuine as he appears?
PJ: Yah. Joe did the same thing I did: he remade himself. He was an arrogant kid. And I really think he’s a good guy. I think Joe is a good guy.
BB: Did he change his personality during his playing days or is this something you’ve seen happen since he’s been a manager?
PJ: Ah, I don’t know. I didn’t know him much as a ballplayer, all those years in St. Louis. But as a manager: he’s a good guy. I believe that from the little I’ve met him, you know? I could be wrong, but he’s always been all right with me.
BB: Are you surprised that he’s lasted in Boss George’s world so long?
PJ: He’s that kind of guy. He’s deflected it. He doesn’t deflect it too much—look at what happened to Mondesi. Instead of squawking to the press about Mondesi, like most managers would do---he must have called somebody up and said, “I want this fucking guy out of here.” And a week later, he was gone. Benetiz, the same thing. Joe is smart enough not to do it in public. Probably makes a private phone call to somebody, “I can’t work with this guy.” Bernie Williams once told me…When Albert Belle was a free agent and almost came to New York [and Bernie almost became a Red Sox]. I said to Bernie, “Can you live with him in the clubhouse?” He said, “Oh yeah, yeah, we’ll make him adjust. And if he doesn’t,” he said, “he’ll be gone.” That was Bernie’s attitude: either fit in, or get out.
BB: Did you see the story on Barry Bonds toward the end of the year? It was about how he spent the summer caring for his father. He felt that he was finally able to gain his father’s approval before Bobby passed away. I thought it was a very moving piece.
PJ: Five years ago I wanted to do a story on Barry Bonds and his father, who was coaching there at the time. And Barry wasn’t even talking to his father then. Bonds’ people said that he wouldn’t do a story including his father. So, to be honest with you, it smacks of a deathbed confession kind of thing. OK, the father is dying, and I got his approval and blah, blah, blah. But when his father was healthy and was a coach for the Giants, the word out was that they didn’t get along. The New York Times wanted me to do a story on Barry and his father, and he wouldn’t do it. That’s what I know about Barry Bonds.
BB: Your father didn’t teach you how to play ball.
PJ: I had a unique situation where my brother was more of an influence on me than my father. My father was a professional gambler, and had much more weighty things on his mind. Plus, he was never an athlete. He was an Italian immigrant kid. He shot pool. That was about the only thing he ever did, sports-wise. He showed me a clipping once, that was from when he was in grammar school. He was the high scorer of a team that won 8-7 in a grammar school basketball game. And he scored four points. That was his name, Jordan. He was an athletic guy in that he was a good swimmer, good pool player. Oh, he was a good pool player. Real mechanic when it came to shooting pool. Great card dealer. He could do all kinds of tricks with cards. But he was never around. He used to go out on the road a lot to gamble. So he left the growing up to my brother, who was fourteen years older than me. So when I was five he was about twenty. When I was five, we moved from the inner city in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Fairfield, which were the suburbs. That’s the first time I ever saw a baseball diamond. Down the street from our house, there was a field and that’s where the kids hung out. I met a friend of mine Doug and he went on to be a coach with the Yankees for Billy Martin. Doug was my catcher; we were teammates and stuff like that. He was the first kid I ever met there, and the first thing we ever did was have a catch. That’s all I knew about baseball then. But in those days—we’re talking 1950—baseball was IT. I mean nobody played football. And basketball, that was just recreational. But baseball was it, so we’d all meet at the park and play. My father was never around but it was a good place for him to dump me off. Just so I could amuse myself. When I started to be fairly good, around the age of eight, I made the Little League’s Major League team, which was unheard of. Because eight year olds didn’t make the twelve year old team. So I made it, and that was a big thing in town. You know, the first eight year-old to ever be on the twelve year old club. In those days they didn’t have junior teams either. You either made the Major League club or you didn’t play. Now they’ve got an age group for everybody, no matter how bad you are. So my brother started to take over then because, as I wrote in “A Nice Tuesday,” when the coach called out the first position, “Pitcher,” I just raised my hand because I was so excited. I didn’t know what the hell a pitcher was. When I told my brother that I had signed up to be a pitcher, he started taking over. He taught me what he knew. So he had a big impact on my life. You know what it was like? My father was like the consigliore; he always had words of wisdom for me that were terrific. But the hands-on coaching came from my brother?
BB: Did you ever play baseball more for your brother’s approval than for your own satisfaction?
PJ: Well, I had them simultaneously. I loved pitching. Pitching is what I was made for. I loved it and I was really good at it. And the fact that I got approval from my family for the first time helped; up ‘til then I was just a pain-in-the-ass that my mother and father wanted to drop off at the park. Their favorite thing was when I went up to my room to draw, or when I went to the movies on the Saturday afternoon matinee. Or when I went up to the park all day and played ball and stayed out of their hair. I was a late child. My mother was like 36. They took care of me. But they didn’t really have a hell of a lot of interest. I started to become a Little League star at the age of ten. And I started to get some recognition and approval from them. I pitched for my brother’s approval because I always admired his judgment, but he was always close to me before I could play ball. He was my favorite when I was five years old and wasn’t a pitcher. He was my idol.
BB: Your relationship wasn’t predicated on your success as an athlete.
PJ: No. My brother was my idol for as long as I can remember. The fact that I started to do something that pleased him, helped. It added to the relationship. But it wasn’t the only thing. After all these years, we still talk. He calls me up the other day because his dog was sick. And he considers me the Dog Guru. He’s pushing eighty now, but he calls me up and I’m still the kid. But he relies on my judgment when it comes to the dogs. We have a much closer relationship than we ever did. But it’s funny, because when I was playing ball I used to go to his Law office every day. We’d go out to lunch and talk about my workouts, my pitching. The next game I was going to pitch, you know? And when I came back from baseball and I went back to his office for lunch again, one day he said to me, “You know I can’t do this everyday. I’ve got a business to run.” There was really nothing else to talk about. My baseball was over. I think my baseball career was more important to my brother in our relationship than it was to me.
BB: What was he getting out of it?
PJ: Oh, a transferential living through my success. My success was always predicated on what he taught me. In other words, it was never just my success; it was that he taught me to be a pitcher. Naturally when I went away [to the minors], he wasn’t there and everything fell apart, it was further proof that without him, I couldn’t cut it. Which is a convoluted thing. It’s true, but not for the reason you’d think. I was so dependent on him, that I had trouble existing away from him. But my pitching was fine. Mentally I got messed up without him as a security blanket.
BB: Behind every successful player is a driven parent, or coaching figure, right? You’ve met so many ballplayers. How many of them do you think are trying to live out their parent’s dreams, or their older brother’s fantasies?
PJ: As far a Bonds goes, I don’t know. I’ve heard that Bobby was tough to get along with as a player. But that wasn’t uncommon for black guys in that era. If they stuck up for themselves they were ‘Hard to get along with,’ know what I mean?
BB: Like Dick Allen.
PJ: Who is a terrific guy. I met him once. He’s the only guy who agreed to do a story with me and I said, “No, I don’t want to bother you.” This is when he was caught smoking pot. He used to smoke pot and I went to talk to him. He had read some of my pieces and I said, “You want to do a story?” And he said, “Oh, man. They’re trying to bury me,” he said. “But I respect your work. All right, if you want to do it.” But I just looked down and said, “Aww, forget it. Forget it, Dick. This is one story; I don’t want to bother you. Just don’t tell anybody I cancelled out. Tell ‘em you didn’t do it.” This was when I was with Sports Illustrated. It’s the only story I’ve ever got that when I got to see the subject I said, “No, I don’t want to do it.” I felt he was too tortured. And I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon. I don’t know about Bonds. My friend Doug didn’t have a dad to play catch with. I didn’t do it for the approval. I did it for the ego. MY approval. I love my brother, and I loved my father, but I didn’t do it for them. I know this to be true with most ballplayers. To be a good ballplayer you have to do an egomaniac. I knew a kid who lived down the street from me whose father would take him to the park every day and hit him grounders and the kid couldn’t do jack shit. And he tried to do it for his father and only made the Little League as a scrub. By the time he was in high school, he quit. There was a kid who was doing it for his father. But he had no talent. Guys who make it, don’t make it cause they are doing it for their father. I really believe that. I would think that if you scratch most great ballplayers like Clemens—another egomaniac. He told me a couple of years ago about his ailing mother, “I just hope she lives long enough to see me win my 300th game.” I was dumbfounded. Oh, you just want your mother to stick around so she can see you win your 300th game? Jesus Christ. But that’s the kind of attitude it takes. And I’m sure he wasn’t winning ball games for his mother.
CALL TO ARMS
SOX DANGLE MANNY
The Boston Red Sox have placed Manny Ramirez on irrevocable waivers, hoping that there is a team out there that will scoop up their star slugger. However, it is unlikely that there will be suitor for Ramirez, who is due $104 million over the next five years. According to the New York Times:
Even if Ramirez isn't picked up by midnight Friday, the Red Sox have sent a message here. They don't want Manny, and I'm assuming that they will eat a chunk of his contract in order to move him before next season. Rob Neyer opines:
Never a dull moment, huh?
I have a stack of books that I'd like to get to this winter—including Kevin Kerrane's landmark work on scouting, "Dollar Sign on the Muscle," Mike Sowell's book about Carl Mays and Ray Chapman, "The Pitch That Killed," as well as Leo the Lip's famous autobiography, "Nice Guys Finish Last," which was written with Ed Linn—but my work on the Curt Flood biography for Young Adults will likely occupy most of my spare reading time.
That won't stop me from re-reading the collected writings of Tom Boswell, and Roger Angell, which has become an annual event (their books are the perfect companion for a long subway ride). Here is a an excerpt from "La Vida," a piece Angell wrote in 1987 ("Season Ticket"). It popped out at me now that baseball is done for the year, and I thought I'd share it with you:
When I'm not dwelling on whether Bernie Williams will hit .300 and score 100 runs next year, I allow myself to get caught up in the details. I miss the private little smirks that Derek Jeter flashes during the course of a game. Or watching Luis Sojo wrap his arm around one of the players and whisper something in his ear. Or trying to figure out all the finger-snaps and handshakes that go on after a home run. Or how the late afternoon light splashes across a ballfield in the spring and then later on, in the fall. Or coming home at night to find Emily already watching the Yanks. I miss baseball. And that makes perfect sense to me.
MISERY LOVES COMPANY
CHANGE IS GOOD
Harper goes on to delineate the moves he would consider making if he ran the Bombers.
YOU GOTTA BEWEAVE
Weaver is young, likes it here and wants to stay. I don't know whether he will ever pitch well in New York, or if the Yankees are willing to give him another chance, but it seems like he's got enough 'stuff' to be able to pitch well somewhere. I like how Weaver hasn't completely caved in on himself either, despite being a favorite target of the fans and the media.
The Daily News ran a piece on Weaver's wanting to remain a Yankee yesterday. The headline ran: "Weaver's Pitiful Pitch." So much of objectivity. And this is a guy who wants to do the right thing:
Will the Yankees be willing to give this string bean another shot? I would say it's a 50/50 chance at best. But as a number five starter? I would like to see it happen.
LIFE IN HELL
AROUND THE BASES
AND ON AND ON AND ON
There is still plenty of great baseball writing out there, man. Here is a sampling of some of the more interesting articles I've run across this morning:
1. David Pinto links Ira Berkow's sympathetic piece on Joe Torre from Tuesday's Times.
2. Aaron Gleeman is back with another installment of "Rating Derek Jeter," a juicy topic that is sure to keep the traffic flowing.
4. Rich Lederer offers an interesting look at Josh Beckett and Roger Clemens.
5. Steve Goldman gives his take on the World Serious and the Yankees' 2003 season over at The Pinstriped Bible.
Derek Zumsteg of Baseball Prospectus is another excellent journalist who can be labled as a Yankee-hater. He had a piece on Prospectus yesterday about the run-of-the-mill Yankee fan (subscription is required). I like what he wrote about Jason Giambi:
Derek, I'm less baffled than simply vexed. This is the way it works around here---produce and you are a saint, fail and you are a bum. Oh, brother.
The season really feels over this morning. Not because Down was canned, but because the baseball articles in the papers are dwindling rapidily. We were spoiled in New York once again with a long post-season run. The papers were filled with all sorts of Yankee news on Sunday and Monday and yesterday as well. But today, vacations start, and the dearth of baseball news begins. Anybody ready for the Knicks? (Insert agonizing screams here.)
Still, I think we'll find something to talk about. Somehow, someway.
NAKED IN NEW YORK
In the final analysis, here is Neyer's take:
Before Yankee fans get too steamed here, just remember that Rob roots for the Royals.
STAND BY YOUR MAN
I have no way of knowing whether or not any of this is true or not. I wouldn't be especially shocked if it were true either. But the little kid in me is sticking by my boy. I know the alarmists--or realists---have a point: Giambi is now a gimpy DH with many years remaining on a bloated contract. His decline could start sharply. He will most likely not return to the form he displayed in Oakland. But I will have faith until further notice, and I'm expecting Giambi to be a great hitter again next season.
YOU WON'T HAVE GRADY LITTLE TO KICK AROUND ANYMORE
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the management of the Boston Red Sox have decided not to bring Grady Little back to manage the team in 2004. Little took a beating in the Boston Press after the Red Sox lost Game 7 of the ALCS and he knew last week that it was all but over for him in New England. There was a shrill cry for his head in Red Sox Nation too.
Is this the right move? Has management under-appreciated Little's contributions? Regardless of whether or not you hold Little accountable for Boston's Game 7 loss, he had two terrific seasons in Beantown. The 2003 team showed the kind of resolve and determination that kept Yankee fans up at night all season long. But as Gordon Edes notes in The Boston Globe, Game 7 isn't the only reason Little won't return:
The Sox are looking for the ideal manager to fit their sabermetric-run organization, and that's fair enough. Edward Cossette for one, trusts in Theo (Edward hits the nail on the head when he talks about the animosity that exists between the media and The Bill James Gang). Maybe the Sox won't skip a beat. Hell, they might even improve---though how much better can you do than 95 wins? But imagine the pressure the incoming skipper will feel. If he falls short of making the World Serious, the season will be deemed a failure. If not in the eyes of management--and the more sympathetic and patient fans like Cossette, and Ben Jacobs---than at least to the general public and the press. Jeez, who do the Sox think they are: The Yankees?
ZIM TO BOSS: "THAT'S ALL I CAN STANDS, I CAN'T STANDS NO MORE."
True to his word---and we know a man is only as good as his word---ol' Popeye Zimmer quit the Yankees immediately following their Game 6 loss. Zimmer and George Steinbrenner--old track buddies--have been in a spat all season. According to Popeye's ghost writer,
Zimmer's hairy spaz in Game Three of the ALCS is what King Leyritz called Popeye's "Woody Hayes" moment. I think that probably led to him finally walking away as much as all the garbage with George. But George made this an especially uncomfortable season for Zimmer, Stottlemyre, Rick Down and the rest of the Yankee coaches. Stott was measured in his response:
Zimmer is a one proud, stubborn man.
Stottlemyre has been hurt by George's antics too:
So while Rick Down waits for the axe to drop, Zimmer walks. Nuts to you George. Make no mistake, this was a premeditated act of spite on Zim's part: I'm going to show George up and go out like Yogi, on my own terms. Say what you want about Yogi, but Zimmer is in the running for Least Mature Man of the Millenium. He actually makes George look like the sane, rational one even though there's really not much difference between George and Zim in terms of emotional development at all: they are a both high-maintenance babies. The Daily News reports:
But Zimmer wasn't satisfied with simply stepping away. He not's that big of a guy. Fighting below the belt, Zimmer's vowed never to return to Yankee Stadium again as long as George Steinbrenner owns the team. According to the Post:
Oy veh. As Kevin Kernan opines, this is like watching "Grumpy Old Men." The Reality TV show. Zim should just get over himself, because he's an adult like everybody else. But he doesn't get over himself--he's all schtick like Tommy Lasorda. You have to take him as he is and either love the lunkhead or disgard him as an ignorant old putz and be done with it.
Zim probably figures the best way he can get back at George is by out-living him. Then he can go back to the Stadium like Yogi. Now that would really piss George off, huh Zim?
WORLD SERIOUS GAME 6: MARLINS 2, YANKEES 0
Josh Beckett pitched a complete game shutout and the Marlins beat the Yankees 2-0 before an energetic crowd at Yankee Stadium to become World Champs. Andy Pettitte pitched a good game as well, but the Bombers made several mistakes in the field which again, proved costly. As good as Beckett was---and there is no two ways about it, he was brilliant---the Yankees inability to hit in the clutch sealed their fate.
The game was scoreless in the fifth when the Marlins connected with back-to-back, two-out singles. Pettitte then struggled to put away Luis Castillo; with two strikes Castillo eventually slapped an outside breaking ball to right for a base hit. Karim Garcia fielded the ball and made a strong throw home, but Jorge Posada was out of position, and Alex Gonzalez made a nifty play to avoid the tag and Florida had a 1-0 lead. (The throw was slightly up the line, but if Posada had been behind the plate, he would have had a great chance to record the out.) Pettitte intentionally walked Pudge Rodriguez and then came back to whiff Miguel Cabrera with the bases loaded to get out of the inning.
The Stadium crowd was as loud as I can remember it being in the bottom of the third inning when the Yankees had runners on first and second with just one out. (Until late in the game, the crowd did its best to pump the team up.) Bernie Williams worked Beckett deep into the count, but then hit into a double play to end the frame. Derek Jeter struck out with a runner on second base to end the fifth, and then made an error to start the sixth on a ground ball off the bat of Jeff Conine. (Jeter was 0-4 proving that even "Mr. Clutch" himself---if you believe in such a thing---is human.)
Pettitte then walked Mike Lowell and Derrek Lee came on to sacrifice the runners over. He bunted the ball directly to Pettitte who inexplicably went to second base to get the first out. Soriano could not complete the double play. Apparently Posada was yelling for him to go to third, but Pettitte didn't hear him. With runners on the corner, and just one out, Juan Encarnacion's soft fly ball to right was deep enough to score the Marlins second run.
That was all they would need, as Josh Beckett stymied the Yankee hitters with an array of change ups, sharp breaking balls, and blazing fastballs.
As dejected as I felt after the game, I wasn't furious. (Larry Mahnken got it right when he writes that he feels frustration more than anything else.) It didn't sting watching the Marlins celebrate as it had when the Yanks lost to Arizona a few years back, or even when the Angels beat them last year. The Yankees simply didn't play well enough win, even though they could have won each game they lost in this Serious. If you've followed them all year, there was nothing shocking about the way in which they lost. Yup, poor fielding and poor hitting overwhelmed their good pitching. But as David Pinto notes, it wasn't exactly like the Marlins were great offensively either:
What hurts is that the Yankees were so close to another title. Who knows when they'll ever get so close again? But hell, the Cubs haven't been back to Serious since 1945, so all considering it could be far worse. I feel more resigned and wistful than enraged or bitter. Had the Yankees played better and then lost, that would have been something different. But they didn't deserve to win, so what can you do but shrug your shoulders, and appreciate what the Marlins have accomplished? Joe Sheehan opines:
Still, this was another great year for the Yankees, in spite of all the mishigoss that enveloped them. And it was a sweet ride for us fans as well. When the pain of losing the Serious slips away over the next few days, or the next week, we will have some wonderful memories of the 2003 season, most significantly beating the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS.
For now, there is some emptiness, and that's OK. There are sure to be changes, both good and bad this off season. Quite frankly, I think I'm less upset that the Yankees lost than I am about the fact that baseball has finally ended and there won't be another game today. It is unseasonably warm and muggy in New York: feels like there should be another game to play.
UNDER THE KNIFE
Maybe Giambi's not such a coward after all. He'll be in the line up tonight as the D.H.
When the Yankees were in Miami this week, it was difficult for pitcher Jose Contreras not to dwell on missing his family. Johnette Howard had a nice piece on the pitcher's lonliness in Newsday a few days ago:
I can't imagine what that must be like, but it sure helps to put the winning and losing of baseball games into some perspective.
Andy Pettitte wasn't sharp in Game 6 of the ALCS, and he got hammered in Arizona in Game 6 of the 2001 Serious (I like to remember that day as "The Day Andy Lost the Lord"). Can he reverse that trend tonight? If the Yankees' season is to continue, he had better.
BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
Seth Stohs has an interesting article that evaluates which players are the best value in the majors. Take a look.
WORLD SERIOUS GAME FIVE: MARLINS 6, YANKEES 4
It all started so well. Derek Jeter led off the game with a single to right, and then Enrique Wilson--starting in place of the slumping, not to mention wistful Alfonso Soriano--sacrificed him to second. Brad Penny botched Wilson's bunt, Derrek Lee threw the ball away and the Yankees had runners on the corners with nobody out. Bernie Williams' sacrifice fly scored Jeter, and the Yanks were up 1-0. But Brad Penny worked out of the inning without any further damage.
In the bottom of the first, David Wells got three ground balls--Derek Jeter and Nick Johnson made a nifty play to retire Luis Castillo--and three quick outs. But that would be all for Boomer. His creaky back could not hold up and as the Yankees were hitting in the top of the second, Jose Contreras was warming up. Some way to end his Yankee career. Oy veh.
At that point, every Yankee fan must have been hold their breath. Contreras, who had thrown two innings of relief the night before, retired the first two hitters he faced. But he then walked two, and gave up an RBI double to the number 8 hitter, and a 2 RBI single to the pitcher. The pitcher. Let the cursing begin. Both pitches were tits-high fastballs. After Penny's single I thought I was going to damage something in my apartment for the first time in a long while.
A couple of innings later Contreras left another fastball up in the zone to Juan Pierre and the Marlins increased their lead to 4-1. Chris Hammonds would replace the soporific Cuban, and two unearned runs scored on his watch, no thanks to a throwing error by Enrique Wilson (on a rundown of all things). Mike Lowell's bloop single to center scored two as Florida padded its lead to 6-1. Mistakes cost the Yankees once again.
Brad Penny was bullish, pounding the Yankees with the gas, and mixing in a decent breaking pitch. He allowed a run in the seventh, but got out of a major jam when Bernie Williams flew out to right with the bases loaded to end the inning. Once again, the Yankees simply did not hit with runners in scoring position. According to one major league player who attended the game:
Larry Mahnken adds:
Dontrelle Willis pitched the eighth, setting the stage for Josh Beckett to pitch Game 6 on three days rest in New York on Saturday night (although David Pinto doesn't think that would be the best idea). In the ninth, Jason Giambi pinch-hit for the pitcher. Giambi was a late-scratch due to his aching-knee--Nick Johnson went 2-4 in his place---but he came through with a solo home run off of Braden Looper. Derek Jeter, who had three hits on the night, followed with a single and then Enrique Wilson's double down the right field line closed the gap to 6-4.
Ugie Urbina was now pitching, and Bernie Williams flew out to the warning track in right. As the ball was in the air, I thought for a second that the game was tied. Williams knocked it but good, deep to right, but in Pro Player Stadium it was nothing but a long out. Ooohhh. Hideki Matsui ended the game with a smash that Derrek Lee deftly picked. The long first baseman then beat Godzilla to the bag for the final out.
In all, it was a deflating and humbling night for the Bronx Bombers. With their backs against the wall, Andy Pettitte needs to come through with another huge outing if the Yanks are to force a Game 7. Of course, the Marlins are now one win away from a title.
Some New York writers--John Harper, Mike Lupica, and Joel Sherman--are questioning the character of Jason Giambi this morning. If he were a true Yankee, they say, he would have played through the pain last night, regardless if he would have been a defensive liability. For the kind of money he makes, he had to play last night. For that kind of money, he needs to be Paul O'Neill and then some. He should not make reporters wait for 45 minutes to come out of the trainer's room to speak with them. Call me a Giambi apologist---and I am--but I think this is terribly unfair. The guy has played hurt all year, and now he's a bum? If he plays last night and makes a couple of errors, how sympathetic would the press be then?
Ah, there is nothing like kicking somebody when they are down. But the Yankees are not out, and hopefully, they will still provide us with some thrills. Sure, the Yankees were expected to beat the Marlins, and yeah, they might even be the better team. But the Yankees have been correctly criticized for some glaring flaws all season long, and it is those weakness' that have hurt them in the World Serious.
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Many of the posts that I write here at Bronx Banter are comprised of other writers' material. I love to not only link articles, but to 'sample' relevant excerpts too. Sometimes I get over-zealous, as I believe I did yesterday with Joe Sheehan's analysis of Aaron Boone's Game 4 performance. I just wanted to apologize to Joe if he thinks I went too far. I felt a little funny when I posted the bit, but in my defense, I would only make sure an error because I thought the material was insightful, and because without a subscription to Baseball Prospectus, many readers would have missed it. But again, I was out of line, and I am sorry.
Here is what Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus has to say about Aaron Boone:
The truth hurts.
WHO YOU CALLIN' CLUTCH?
Rob Neyer's latest addresses several issues from last night's game, almost all of them thought-provoking and relevant. Here is a sampling:
Derek Jeter is often regarded as the Yankees new "Mr. October," their most "clutch" performer. But Neyer notes that Bernie Williams is practically his equal in this regard, and that the true Captain Clutch is Mariano Rivera.
Even-handed analysts like Neyer and Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus actually study baseball in an empirical fashion, while also appreciating the stories, drama and emotions that the game has to offer. They simply don't let a good story obscure the facts. Not only that, but they also have terrific bullshit detectors, and don't suffer fools lightly. Since the mainstream media coverage of baseball tends to get thick and deep, writers like Neyer and Sheehan are never at a loss for something interesting to write about. That they usually do it with clarity and precision--not to mention humor--makes their contributions essential and lasting.
CURTAIN CALL FOR CLEMENS
While getting on Jeff Weaver---or Joe Torre for letting Jeff Weaver pitch--may be in the front of every frustrated Yankee fan's mind today, the poor play of Aaron Boone and Alfonso Soriano can't be far behind. In his latest column--which features a nice tribute to Orlando Cepeda--Bruce Markusen defends Boone (not to mention Grady Little). The column was written prior to last night's game, so his thoughts are dated, but Markusen's work is always worth checking out.
David Pinto isn't so forgiving of Boone's careless approach to hitting. However, watching Boone fail miserably in extra innings last night has given Pinto a better appreciation of Godzilla Matsui's talents:
I have to agree with Pinto. I think Boone's at bat was far more upsetting than the dinger Weaver allowed. Today, Aaron Boone and Alfonso Soriano's names are mud. But there is always tonight...
WORLD SERIOUS GAME FOUR: MARLINS 4, YANKEES 3
BEWEAVE IT OR NOT
In the final start of his Hall of Fame career, Roger Clemens allowed three runs in the first inning last night, and Florida made it hold up until the ninth, when Ugie Urbina coughed up a 3-1 lead to send the game into extra innings. Ruben Sierra had the key knock, smashing a two-out, two run triple which scored Bernie Williams (who continues to sizzle at the plate with four hits) and Dave Dellucci.
Aaron "All-or-Nothing" Boone had a golden opportunity to put the Yankees ahead in the 11th with the bases loaded, one out and the infield drawn in. But in one of the worst at bats in what is a continuing series of awful at bats, Aaron Boone--swinging for the fences like his name was Alfonso Soriano--whiffed. John Flaherty then popped out to third to end the threat.
The drama climaxed in the 12th when the slumping Alex Gonzalez roped a line drive just over the low fence in the left field corner for a walk-off homer. Jeff Weaver, working his second inning, after not having pitched since the regular season, allowed the tater. (How many Yankee fans were shouting, "I told you so?") Where was Gabe White, or Chris Hammond or a guy named Rivera? The Marlins won 4-3, and now, the Serious is tied at two games apiece. This was a game that Florida had to win, and just when it looked as if they were going to waste a brilliant performance from Carl Pavano, they fought back and earned the victory.
Inspite of a noble comeback--Sierra's at bat was particularly memorable--the Yankees once again wasted scoring chances, and paid for it.
This was a thrilling game, but one that must have left Yankee fans muttering to themselves as they tossed and turned and tried to fall asleep. Peter Gammons notes:
If the Yankees lose the World Serious, they will look at this game as the one that got away. Larry Mahnken opines:
Mariano Rivera never made into the game, and the Yankees were left wondering "What if?" Tonight, Boomer Wells goes against Brad Penny, and the Yankees must win.
WHO SHOT J.R.?
Then of course, throwback gear became all the rage, and now you can find one of those ridiculous Astros jerseys for about $300. OK, first of all, I would never spend $150 on any piece of gear let alone three bills, but that is besides the point. The fact is, kids who rock throwback jerseys are trying to be cooler than cool at all costs. That's fine too.
Usually the jerseys have no names on the back, but if an Astros jersey does have one, it would be that of Nolan Ryan. I don't mean to take anything away from Ryan, but if you really wanted to be down, really wanted to be hip, wouldn't you want a J.R. Richard joint?
That's what I asked an unsuspecting kid who happened to be wearing an Astros jersey a few months ago. I caught him standing on Broadway and 231rst street on my way to the subway and I just had to open my mouth. Needless to say he didn't know who J.R. was. Fair enough, the kid wasn't even born when J.R. collapsed on the mound, his career ended prematurely by a stroke. I explained to the kid who J.R. was, how imposing and nasty he was, and the little dude looked at me like I was out of my bird.
Which may be true, but still, I know what is cool, and I'm not crazy enough to shell out hundreds of dollars for a retro Astros jersey. Especially if I don't see J.R. Richard's name on the back. Now this kid had an excuse, but what about all the rap stars who are old enough to know better?
Come back to me now.
SWEET AND SOUR
I received the following story from a co-worker this morning. I don't know who wrote the piece but whether you root for the Red Sox or the Yankees, you may find it amusing:
Speaking of the Sox, Peter King, who writes about football for Sports Illustrated gave his take on Game 7 of the ALCS in a column earlier this week:
King adds a nice personal touch too:
From the Yankee perspective, Jay Jaffe's girlfriend Andrea Hardt, aka Pinky Yankadero, was at Game 7 and offers her memories of what will likely be the greatest game she'll ever attend. And Steve Bonner, one of David Pinto's loyal readers was at the game as well. I love his take:
EVERY MOOSE HAS HIS DAY
Tom Boswell has a fine appreciation of Mike Mussina--not to mention Josh Beckett--in The Washington Post today. Boswell covered Moose when he was a young pitcher coming up wtih the Orioles, and probably understands the acerbic right-hander as well as anyone:
I understand why New Yorkers are quick to criticize Mussina. They are looking for results, not the process. But I think that Mussina is a great pitcher, and in fact, I probably find him more appealing because he's had some rotten luck over the course of his career. It makes for a better story that way, to recognize a vunerability. But then again, look at what he has accomplished, and it is nothing to sneeze at. I know that I feel good about the Yankees chances of winning each time he takes the mound, and what more could you ask from a pitcher?
WORLD SERIOUS GAME THREE: YANKEES 6, MARLINS 1
The pitching duel between Mike Mussina and Josh Beckett lived up to its advanced billing last night as the Yankees beat Florida 6-1 to take a 2-1 series lead. The game was much closer than the score suggests, but the Yankees were able to break it open late. Beckett was nothing short of dominant to start the game, blowing the Yankees away with a John-Blaze four-seam fastball, and a knee-buckling curve ball. He retired the first ten batters he faced. Mussina, Mr. Hard Luck himself, started the game behind the eight-ball once again when Juan Pierre led off with a bloop double that was misplayed by Bernie Williams. Nothing new there. Miguel Cabrera then collected his first hit of the Serious, slapping an inside fastball through the right side for an RBI single.
But that didn’t deter Mussina who collected himself and settled down. According to Peter Gammons:
Beckett gave up his first hit in the fourth inning when Derek Jeter lined a double to left field (Beckett allowed three hits on the night, all to the Yankee captain). Jason Giambi then drew a base on balls on a full count curve ball that just missed up in the zone. But Beckett got ahead of Matsui and was poised to work out of the inning (Matsui looked at two fastballs that were right over the heart of the plate) when he plunked Godzilla on the right foot with a wild breaking ball to load the bases. Jorge Posada followed with an at-bat that would make Paul O’Neill proud. Posada fouled off three fastballs in the high 90s, and took the 3-2 pitch low for a ball to work a walk. Jeter scored and the game was tied. The Marlins bench went nuts as two pitches to Posada, including the full-count pitch, were awfully close to being strikes.
The score remained tied with two outs in the bottom of the fifth when the game was called due to rain. It had been pouring for a good twenty minutes, and suddenly a pitching gem was in peril of being washed away.
The Marlins had their chances in the sixth and seventh but Mussina was able to pitch out of trouble. His ability as a fielder saved him in the sixth when he stabbed Derrek Lee’s grounder and proceeded to catch Pudge Rodriguez in a run down between third and home.
The game was still tied in the eighth when Jeter knocked his second double of the game off of Beckett. This one went to right field. That chased the Marlins starter and Dontrelle Willis came on in relief. Giambi walked and Jeter tagged and went to third when Bernie Williams flew out to Pierre in center. As my friend Kevin noted, this could have been the play of the game. With two out and runners on the corners, Hideki Matsui slapped a 1-0 pitch the opposite way for a single scoring Jeter. That would prove to be the winning run. Could he have scored from second? Probably. Still, is there any surprise that Jeter was at the heart of the action?
Credit ESPN’s resident Yankee-basher Jim Caple for giving Jeter props:
Mariano Rivera blew the Marlins away in the eighth---needing all of six pitches to do it, and then the Bombers added some insurance in the ninth. First, “All-or-nothing” Aaron Boone lofted a solo homer over the left field wall off of Chad Fox, and Bernie Williams put the icing on the gravy with a long, 3-run dinger to straight away center off of Braden Looper. Bernie’s shot gave him more post season homers and RBI than any player in history. Considering how many playoff games Williams has played it is a dubious distinction indeed, but no matter, he’s in a groove and the Yankees are two wins away from another title.
Roger Clemens will likely pitch the final game of his career tonight against Carl Pavano. This is a huge game for the Marlins because with a win, the Yankees would take a commanding 3-1 lead. It should be a good one.
I THINK WE'RE GOING TO NEED BACK UP
I read a great post on David Pinto's Baseball Musings today and wanted to create a link to it, but then I couldn't get back onto the site all afternoon. I received an e-mail from David this evening reporting that he's having operating difficulties, but have no fear because Mr. Pinto has a back up plan. For all of you Baseball Musings fans, head over to the alternate site here and enjoy tonight's game (Josh Beckett just blew away the Yankees in the first inning and his stuff looks nothing short of electric).
JUST WARMIN' UP
I haven't been one for making predictions, but once again, I feel very good about the Yankees chances with Mussina tonight.
In other news, Jason Giambi is in the headlines after he was subpoenaed to testify before "a San Francisco grand jury that's investigating Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, a company which prescribes nutritional supplements and is now fighting charges that it also may be dabbling in tetrahydrohestrinone, a designer steriod." Giambi appeared unfazed by the news. I don't know much about the case, so I will reserve comment. Hopefully, Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus, will enlighten us in the coming weeks.
Bill Simmons, another columnist from ESPN (who also happens to be an avid Red Sox fan), weighs in on Game 7, with humor and disgust (not that he's bitter or nothing):
What was it like in Boston last Friday? Ever heard of Dante's Inferno?
Speaking of bitterness, the Boston police are apparently going to press charges against Jeff Nelson and Karim Garcia for their part in the Game 3 bullpen fight. Think they'd go ahead with this if the Sox had actually won? I think you know the answer.
NO WIN SITUATION
And what about the Yankees? Is there any reason to root for them? Neyer has one:
Problems, problems: what to do?
SO LONG SORI?
I don't think the idea of moving Soriano is a poor one. He is an exciting but streaky offensive player, and a poor defensive one. Maybe he would fare better in the outfield than he has at second base, and maybe he wouldn't. I certainly buy into the theory of moving a player too early rather than too late. Regardless of how he's struggled in the post season, Soriano is still young and has a lot of pop in his bat. The idea of Beltran landing in New York seems remote, but it sure would solve some long-term problems.
DAMNED YANKEES (AND THEIR FANS)
Tom Boswell has a thoughtful piece today on Hideki Matsui and why he represents everything that is both good and bad about the Yankees:
What I find upsetting about Yankee fans is the fact that they think the Yankees are actually entitled to win the championship every year. This is the culture that Steinbrenner promotes, I know, but for any self-respecting baseball fan to adopt it, is purely ridiculous. It's arrogance--"breath-taking arrogance," as my father likes to say---in its finest form.
The sad part about it is that these fans are missing the point. They don't "get" what Joe Torre and his players like Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera seem to grasp so convincingly: Winning is hard. What they've been able to accomplish since 1996 is incredibly rare and amazingly difficult. I get the sense that Joe Torre appreciates every post season game he manages with the Yankees. You'd think his humility would rub off on more Yankee fans.
At work today, I spoke with a guy who was upset that the Bombers lost Game One only because it will ruin their chances to sweep the Marlins. Oy veh. Sure the Yankees appear to be a better team than Florida, but again, so did the Giants and even the Cubs and look where that got them.
I don't know whether the Yankees will win the Serious or not, but I'm not shallow enough to suggest that just because they show up, the Marlins will stick their heads in the sand and give up.
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Oh, I have to apologize to my pal Peter Schilling for taking so long to provide a link, but for extensive, and articulate World Serious coverage, be sure and check out the guys over at Mudville Magazine. You'll be pleased you made the trip.
He was not a happy camper and I asked him where this loss ranks in Sox history (John is in his mid-'30s, old enough to remember '78 and certainly old enough to recall '86).
"This is the worst one ever."
Worse that '86? How could that be? The Sox were one out--one strike--away from a championship that year.
"Yeah, but they still had another game to play. There was still a chance. This was worse. This was Game 7, and this was the Yankees."
Ben Jacobs was too young to remember '86, so the 2003 team popped his cherry so to speak:
Edward Cossette is moving on as well:
Will management bring Little back? Dan Shaughnessy reports today that:
The Red Sox have a host of decisions to make this winter. After next season is over, Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe will all be free agents. Boston faces some painfully difficult choices, but fortunately they have a bright, and fearless young GM in Theo Epstein. Their ownership is progressive and has plenty of money. It could be worse.
It may be a harsh winter for Red Sox Nation, but come spring, their hope will spring eternal yet again.
SAME AS HE EVER WAS?
WORLD SERIOUS GAME TWO: YANKEES 6, MARLINS 1
Andy Pettitte pitched another huge game for the Yankees last night, and was an Aaron Boone error away from hurling a complete-game shut out. He would have to settle for a 6-1 victory---Jose Contreras relieved Pettitte for the final out---as the Yankees tied the Serious at a game apiece.
The Yankees have lost the first game of each playoff round this season, and for the third time, Pettitte has won Game Two (It was the 11th straight win Pettitte has earned after a Yankee loss). Pettitte threw a lot of pitches in the first inning against the Marlins last night, but ended the frame by striking out Ivan Rodriguez looking; Luis Castillo, who got a late jump off of first, was thrown out at second to complete the double play.
After that, Pettitte settled down. His cutter was nasty, and the Marlins hitters didn't stand much of a chance. Florida put the lead-off runner on base for five innings in a row (the 4th through the 8th) but couldn't capitalize. Pettitte was helped by a bit of good fortune as well:
The Yankees got on the board early when Godziller Matsui bashed a 3-0 pitch from Mark Redman over the center field fence in the first inning for a three-run homer. According to Mike Lupica in the Daily News:
Nick Johnson--who had three hits on the night---bunted for a single in the second and Juan Rivera drove him in with a double. Redman didn't last much longer, and Alfonso Soriano---who has slumped terribly in the postseason---added a two-run blast off Rick Helling to give the Bombers all the offense they would need.
Soriano has been showered with boos of late, and his home run came just in the nick of time. Unfortunately for Nick Johnson, he broke out of his slump just in time to find a seat on the bench in Florida. Jason Giambi, who has not played in the field since the playoffs began, will play first when the Serious moves south, and Johnson will come off the bench. It would be hard to bench Giambi, no matter how ineffective he's been, but I wonder if his glove will cost the Yankees. If it does in Game 3, and he doesn't hit either, I wouldn't be surprised to see Johnson back out there again.
The Marlins got the split they were looking for in New York, and return home with their cocky, young ace going in Game 3. Mike Mussina will face off against Mr. Beckett, and the Florida crowd---which is sure to be populated with Yankee fans---promises to be more enthusiastic than the Stadium crowd has been through two games. Maybe then, Mike Vaccaro, and the rest of the country will wake up and enjoy a riveting Serious.
WORLD SERIOUS GAME ONE: MARLINS 3, YANKEES 2
The Yankees ran into familiar problems in Game One of the World Serious tonight--namely, the inability to hit with runners in scoring position, and field the ball properly--as they fell to the Marlins, before an unusually subdued crowd at the Stadium, 3-2. Brad Penny was decent, but far from imposing. However, the Yankees were unable to take advantage and it cost them. Meanwhile, Boomer Wells was effective, but not brilliant, but the Marlins were able to get just enough for the win. Nick Johnson, Jason Giambi and Alfonso Soriano all had long nights offensively for the Yankees.
Florida manufactured a run in the first inning (sac fly by Pudge Rodriguez), and Derek Jeter singled home a run in the third to tie the game. But with runners on first and third and two men out, Rodriguez picked Nick Johnson off of third base on a timing play to end the frame.
In the fifth, David Wells walked Jeff Conine to start the inning and then allowed a single to Juan Encarnacion. After the runners were sacrificed to second and third, Juan Pierre shot a single past Derek Jeter into left. Hideki Matsui fielded the ball cleanly and made an accurate throw toward home. But third baseman Aaron Boone, inexplicably cut the ball off and chose to throw to first. Whether or not Matsui's throw was strong enough to get the runner at the plate, it certainly was on target, and Encarnacion was still half way up the third base line. Boone could have cut the throw and gone home in time to get the runner. But he didn't and the second---and winning---run scored.
Bernie Williams connected for a solo home run off of Brad Penny in the sixth to close the gap to 3-2, but then Dontrelle Willis, the Marlins' side-arming southpaw, came in and shut the Yankees down. The Yankees did reach Willis for consecutive singles in the eighth (Williams' second hit of the night, Matsui's third), but Ugie Urbina struck Jorge Posada out to end the inning. Urbina kept Posada off balance by throwing him change-ups and he was helped by a generous strike call by the home plate ump on an inside fastball as well.
In the ninth, Urbina walked Jason Giambi---who struggled once again, missing fastballs he usually crunches during the course of the game--to start the frame. Dave Dellucci came in to run for Giambi, and Aaron Boone failed to get the sacrifice bunt down. With the count 1-1, Dellucci was running and Boone popped to right for the first out. Ruben Sierra pinch hit for Juan Rivera--who had replaced Karim Garcia earlier in the game---and drew a full count walk. Alfonso Soriano followed and managed to work the count full only to look at a called third strike for the second out. Next, Urbina fell behind Nick Johnson 2-0 but got him to pop out to center field to end the game.
It was a critical win for the visiting Marlins, and a frustrating loss for the Yankees. If the Yankees think they can survive on late inning theatrics alone, they are in for a rude awakening. Florida nickel and dimed a win tonight while the Yankees went 1-12 with runners in scoring position. The Bombers had their chances but could not capitalize on them and now they quickly trail 1-0.
The Yankees lost the first game of against the Twins and the Red Sox too, so there is no reason to panic. But tonight's loss was discouraging because it seemed so preventable.
VERY SERIOUS (LIKE A PEAK FREEN)
The World Serious begins tonight in the Bronx. Boomer Wells starts for the Yankees, and Brad Penny goes for the Marlins. It is distinctly colder tonight than it was for Game 6 or Game 7 of the ALCS, but that shouldn't bother either pitcher, who both look like they work in the meat packing district. (Where's the beef, baby?) Quite frankly, I still can't believe that the Yankees are playing. Somehow I will manage to come around sometime around 8:15 tonight.
Buster Olney delineates ten crucial match ups over at ESPN, and Rich Lederer of Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT has an indepth preview of the Serious that is well worth perusing. The Young Lions, Aaron Gleeman and Larry Mahnken offers their thoughts as well, and are on point as usual.
The Yankees-Marlins are the last two teams that MLB or the people at Fox wanted to see in the Serious. Hopefully, the two teams will provide a fitting conclusion to what has been one of the great postseasons in recent memory.
Oh, and for any of you Yankee fans out there who want to contribute any posts about the Serious or the Bombers in general, head over to the new blog, New-York-Yankees and type to your heart's content.
OH, WHAT A NIGHT
By the time I left work yesterday afternoon, my stomach was cramping, and I felt faint. How was I going to make it through another agonizing Yankee-Red Sox game? I immediately felt better as I walked through midtown. There is nothing as theraputic as walking the city streets. It helps you feel like part of the fabric of the town. All those people, all those different stories. How big were my problems? Compared with some of the nutjobs out there, minor to say the least.
I met up with an old friend of mine and we had a nice chat. I told him how stressed I was over the game, and how I couldn't think about anything else. So he asked me if I actually enjoy watching games anymore. Hey, I think I'm much better than I've ever been, but the truth was, "No." I haven't enjoying it much at all. I'm doing what any red blooded fan does: I'm suffering.
"Damn, that's a real shame," he tells me. "What a bummer that you would put so much passion and energy into something that you don't even enjoy."
That hit me between the eyes. He's right. What the hell am I doing to myself? This is Yankees-Red Sox, Game 7. I need to derive pleasure from this event regardless of the outcome, otherwise what's the point? (Sometimes all you need is a good friend to help you cope, and in case of emergency, my man Steven is as good as they come.)
When we finished having coffee, I headed back over to the west side. It was just past seven, and I knew it would take me roughly an hour to get back uptown, just in time for the first inning. It was dark already, and it was briskbut not cold in New York. There there was bumper-to-bumper traffic on 42nd street. I was between 5th and 6th avenues, and I made my way down the north side of the street, when I heard the sound of a familiar piece of music blaring from somewhere.
I removed my headphones to find out where it was coming from. It was an opera. I don't know much about opera, but I knew this music, from commercials or the movies, I don't know. I looked to my left, at the traffic as it crawled along, and found the culprit: a burly-looking Hells Angel type, straight out of central casting, was riding a motorcyle which had a side car. He was John Belushi back from the dead, and my man was blasting Pavoratti singing from the opera "Turandot." Dude had thick googles and was chomping on a cigar to boot.
Talk about style. Talk about a New York moment. It was perfect.
That put me in a great frame of mind to watch Game 7. When the Yankees fell behind 2-0 on Trot Nixon's homer, and then 3-0 on Enrique Wilson's error, I just laughed it off. Emily was home, and I was determined to go down enjoying this one, even if the Yankees took a beating. When the score reached 4-0 I was on the phone with my cousin talking about what a great year it had been for the Yanks and how impressive Boston had been. I pulled out my phone book and prepared to make phone calls to Ed Cossette, Scott Adams and my pal Johnny Red Sox after the last out was made.
Needless to say, Emily's faith never waivered. I spent most of the night happily chiding the Yankee hitters. "Way to go Soriano, make him earn it." (I specialize in what Jay Jaffe calls, "The Power of Negative Reinforcement.") Of course, the Bombers slowly crawled back in the game. I didn't allow myself to get too excited until Posada's bloop double tied the game in the eighth. But then I was ready to go, pacing and praying, and clapping loudly. Emily's faith took some dips here and there as the pressure eventually got to her as well.
She was exhausted by the time the game reached extra innings and she was actually warshing up in the bathroom when Boone ended it in the 11th. I started yelling like a madman, throwing things around. She came racing out and I picked her up and twirled her around. Quite frankly, I can't remember what else happened. I know I was screaming. The phone rang, and I kept screaming; I got call-waiting and didn't stop yelling even for an instant.
Then the post-game barrage began, so I shut up. It took a couple of hours to finall calm down and I finally fell asleep at around 2:30. I can safely say that last night was one of the greatest baseball nights of my life. I'm glad I got to watch it with my girl, who has been my steady, baseball pal all year long.
The Red Sox were amazing, but came up just short. I have the feeling that if both teams played today, the Sox would win, and then it would be the Yankees turn again tomorrow. I wasn't upset for Boston, but I did feel for some of the Red Sox fans that I've met this year--guys like Ben Jacobs and of course, Edward Cossette.
I think Pedro Martinez did a lot of make up for his loss of composure in Game 3. He pitched admirably, and then faced the media like a stand-up guy after the game. I'm curious to see how the Boston players react to both Martinez and Manny in the following weeks. This should be another active off-season for the Red Sox, and I don't think anyone is safe. But I do believe that Boston will continue to improve, and be be a force in the American League for years to come.
But for one more night, and one more year, the Yankees were that much better.
ALCS GAME 7: YANKEES 6, RED SOX 5
3. Joel Sherman in the Post.
5. Jim Caple at ESPN.
8. Edward Cossette at Bambino's Curse.
9. Aaron Gleeman over his page.
10. And Tom Boswell in The Washington Post.
Everyone agrees: Boston manager Grady Little cost his team a trip to the World Serious. Boswell writes:
Enjoy the recaps Yankee fans. I'll be back later when I can collect myself.
NEED TO VENT?
I'd wish everyone--Sox fans and Yankee fans alike--to enjoy the game tonight, but I fear "joy" won't be part of the equation. Unless your team happens to win of course. Then I think "joy" would be an understatement for what you'll feel. Either way, it's going to be the start of a long, cold winter for the losing side. Feel free to leave your thoughts, rantings, and ravings in the comments section below during the remainder of the day and throughout the game.
See you in the a.m. with the A.L. winner.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Yesterday morning, something unexpected happened: a neighbor's tree fell on Samuel Plummer's car. It smashed the car and did considerable damage to Sam and Vera's roof as well. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Last night, something very expected happened: the Cubs lost Game Seven of the NLCS, 9-6. I received an e-mail from Sam this morning:
Congrats to the Marlins for sure. But I also want to express my sympathies for Cubs fans everywhere (Ruz, and Will this means you), especially Steve Bartman, the poor zhlub who is the most wanted man in Chicago this morning. I sincerely hope that nobody does anything crazy, and that the man doesn't get hurt. Believe me, he must feel terrible enough as it is.
ALCS GAME SIX: RED SOX 9, YANKEES 6
Winds were swirling wildly in the Bronx, as fly balls became adventures for the outfielders. John Burkett was good for three innings and then the Yankees chased him with four runs in the fourth. That put them one up on the Sox who had scored four off of "the bad Andy" Pettitte in the third. Jason Giambi hit a solo homer off Burkett in the first, but was awful for the rest of the afternoon, failing to produce three seperate times with runners on, and striking out three times as well.
So it all comes down to Game 7: Ultimate Yankees-Sox. Pedro vs. Clemens. This is what everybody wants, right? Well, we've got it. The Yankees took the season series from Boston, ten to nine and now they are all tied at three. Believe it. It makes sense that if the Sox are finally to shrug the Bombers off their backs it comes down to a winner-take-all game, and vice versa.
My girlfriend Emily thinks that Pedro will get beat tonight because he put such bad karma out into the universe in Game Three. I wish I could share her feelings. But I think that Martinez pitches better when he's got a chip on his shoulder and with Yankee Stadium giving him the business tonight, I fear he'll use it to his advantage, no matter how much he's got left in the tank.
It is considerably colder in New York today than it was yesterday. The wind is still whipping around. This could very well be the final start of Roger Clemens' career. It could be the biggest win of the year for the Yankees, or one of the biggest wins in Boston history for the Red Sox.
I'll be hiding behind the couch with two hands over my eyes.
The Marlins stunning come-from-behind victory against the Cubbies at Wrigley last night will go down as one of the most memorable collapses in baseball history. If the Cubs—who blew a 3-0 lead with five outs left in the game, and eventually lost, 8-3—win tonight with Kerry Wood on the mound, Game 6 will be an ironic side note (much like the Zimmer incident, to a lesser extent, would be for the Yankees). But if they lose, this will simply be the latest chapter in the painful and sorrowful history of the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs fan that I've known the longest is my best friend's father. Sam Plummer, now in his late '60s, is straight-outta-the-Midwest even though he's lived in an around New York City for well over thirty years. He's the first person I knew who had that distinctively wry midwestern sensibility, and he was also the first grown up Cubs fan I ever knew.
Sam actually took his daughter Liz —my great pal—and me to our first Yankee game ever. It was in summer of 1978. (Reggie had the day off, what a shame.) But we didn't let it ruin our day, and Liz and I spent most of our time eating. At seven years old, the food was far more exciting than the game being played down below.
Sam is a classic Yankee-hater, but he won't necessarily bust your chops about it. He's no Red Sox fan. Hey, he married an Italian goil from Brooklyn who can imitate Gil MacDougald's batting stance and tell you all you need to know about Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, and Bobby Richardson. He can't be all bad, right? One thing I've always appreciated about Sam is that his dislike for the Yankees has never seemed personal. It's a fact of life. If you don't agree: Degust bus. He never put me down for being a Yankee fan.
As a kid I used to wonder, "Why is he so doubtful and distrustful? Why does he make it seem like it's impossible to win?" Then he would tell me about his history rooting for a team that never won. Not only that, they so rarely came close to winning, it wasn't even worth getting yourself worked up and sweaty when they did come close. What can you do with close other than suffer?
Fans at Wrigley were joyous for much of the game last night in Chicago, the fools. It was hard to deny them their pleasure either—you could see lots of older people, little, old ladies in baseball caps, as well as clusters of shirtless teenagers with painted chests—enjoying themselves like it was New Year's Eve times ten. Mark Prior, who has been the dominant pitcher of this post season, was rolling again. The game was getting late, and a 3-0 lead felt more than comfortable.
But I knew who didn't trust that lead, and those odds: Samuel Plummer. I know he wasn't surprised that the Cubs not only blew the lead, but also managed to get blown out in the process. The fan who prevented Alou from making the second out in the eighth inning plays the fall guy, but the truth is that the Cubs made plenty of mistakes. They cost themselves the game, not the poor schnook who is the living the Jackie Smith nightmare as "the sickest man in America."
I like how Seth Speaks put it:
I'm sure that Sam Plummer expects the Cubs to lose tonight. Not that he's rooting for it to happen, but his history and his reality says that it's the natural order of the universe that the Cubs will lose. Kerry Wood? Please. He's pitching just makes it worse when they lose, haven't you been paying attention?
I don't know if the Cubs will lose tonight, but I do know that the Marlins have displayed some kind of resolve. (It's that kind of resolve that the Red Sox need today if they want to extend their season too.) It's hard to not like the Cubs chances with Kerry Wood on the mound, but I suppose that all depends if you see the glass as being half full or half empty.
The traditionalist in me is pulling for the Cubs, but I admire the spirit of the Marlins as well. They are an energetic and likable team, and just about everybody is rooting against them. The networks and newspapers, the casual and serious fans all want the Cubs in the Serious. Florida is in a no-win situation in terms of public perception because even if they do win tonight, this will likely be remembered as the Cubs losing, not the Marlins winning. (If Florida wins the World Serious—as improbable as it seems—I don't think they'll care how history remembers them.)
But most of all I'm rooting for the Cubs to win just so it makes Sam Plummer's day. Even his week. It would be a nice surprise for him. Although knowing Sam, he won't get too damned excitable because they'd still have to win four more games in the Serious to make it anything worth talking about, let alone remembering.
* * * *
Meanwhile, the Red Sox have to win today to set up "Ultimate Yankees-Red Sox." It would be fitting if the Sox were able to pull another one out of their collective arse. The pitching match-up clearly favors the Yankees, and Boston is going to have to pull some magic out of a hat to shut the Yankees down. (Hopefully, the Yankee offense displays a little patience.)
It would also be fitting for the Yankees to end this hear and now. But if you are talking about the ultimate one-game, winner-take-all, how can you do much better than Pedro vs. the Rocket, Game Seven in Yankee Stadium?
I know it would be the perfect way for the Sox to beat the Yankees, and vice versa, especially after the events of Game 3.
Let's hope it doesn't come to that. But I won't be surprised if it does.
ALCS GAME FIVE: YANKEES 4, RED SOX 2
Boomer Wells gave the Yankees seven innings of one-run ball, while New York's bats were able to squeeze just enough out of Derek Lowe to give the Bombers a 3-2 Serious lead. Mariano Rivera pitched two innings again for the save. This time the Sox were able to touch him for a run, but it wasn't enough, and the Yankees held on for a 4-2 win.
The Yankees have a chance to advance to the World Serious with a victory today at the Stadium. Andy Pettitte will face John-"working-on-the-knuckleball"-Burkett, and everybody else on the Boston staff late this afternoon in the Bronx. Again, I've said this all season: the Sox have been terrific at coming back after a tough loss. I don't see why today should be any different, despite the lop-sided pitching match-up:
Wells kept the Red Sox hitters off balance all day long. He came up with crucial outs in the 3rd and 5th innings. In the 3rd, he struck out Nomar Garciaparra with two men on base, and in the 5th, he induced Manny Ramirez---who accounted for the first Boston run with a solo homer---to ground out weakly to third.
Wells was also helped by the much-maligned up-the-middle-defense. Alfonso Soriano made a nifty pick and shuffle pass to Jeter in the fifth, and Jeter himself made a nice stab to his left in the seventh (and was saved by an alert play by first baseman Nick Johnson), as well as an over-the-shoulder catch to end the game.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
Yesterday, Edward Cossette wrote an insightful post about his disenchantment with baseball after Saturday's game.
David Pinto responded to Cossette's post, and made a good point:
I think Pinto only addresses part of what is upsetting Cossette. He is right on about the Red Sox losing some of their underdog appeal, but I think what Edward is talking about goes deeper than storylines and morals. What he's talking about is our ability to lose our mental health to these games, contests which we have no control over.
I know that I am guilty of this all the time. It has become a constant struggle for me. A few weeks ago, one of my oldest friends in the world asked me after a Yankee loss: "Why do you take it so hard? Why do you let it effect your life so much?"
The answer is that I allow my narcissism, my own sense of grandiosity, to get in the way of my enjoyment of the game. Meaning that if the Yankees win, I feel good, validated, or like a winner, and if they lose, I feel like a loser. The world is black-and-white, and I'm either a somebody or a nobody. As if I have anything to do with how they do. I know this is a simplification, but it's something that is very real for me.
For instance, how many times do fans believe that if they wear their lucky hat, or sit in a certain position on the couch, it will actually effect the outcome of a game? All the time. Superstitions are the birthright of every sports fan---we all know how superstitious the players are, right? All we want to do is identify with them. But even though our little routines are innocent enough, that doesn't mask the fact that they dellude us into thinking we can actually have an impact on a game. Perhaps it's just a way for us to feel closer to the action, but it also skews our sense of reality too.
It's this personalization which is unhealthy, and I think that is at the core of what bothers Edward so much. Sure, it doesn't help that his team displayed qualities that he rejected, but I think his dependency on the team's fate to feel good about himself is what is wearing him down.
I'm projecting, of course. What I should say is that I'm allowing my dependency on the Yankees' fate to wear me down. It's been like this every since I can remember. I can state honestly that I've been distracted at work for weeks and have lost plenty of sleep, obsessing about the games. And the funny part is that I feel like I cope much better now than I ever did before.
You know what makes this mishigoss easier to take? Being able to write about baseball every day. It's the best therapy a fan could ask for as far as I'm concerned (and I know I'm not alone here judging by the boom of baseball blogs that have sprung up over the past two seasons). Edward will bounce back--his enthusiasm and optimism and love for the game won't allow him to slink away---but I empathize with his need for distance, relief and clarity. Even in the eye of this Yankee-Red Sox storm.
ALCS GAME FOUR: RED SOX 3, YANKEES 2
Oooh, baby. Well, what did you expect? The Sox to go down easily? Not likely. Mike Mussina was considerably sharper than he was in Game One, but Tim Wakefield was even better as the Sox edged the Bombers, 3-2. Tom Boswell noted in his column today that:
Both teams squandered scoring opportunities, which resulted in a frustrating night for both Boston and New York fans. Jason Giambi couldn't come through with runners in scoring position again. He lined out hard into a double play in the first inning, and that proved to be a sign of things to come. Nomar Garciaparra continues his post season slump as well.
Trot Nixon and Todd Walker and Ruben Sierra hit solo homers, and the winning run scored when Jason Varitek beat out a double play. The pivot was botched by Alfonso Soriano. Another fielding mistake cost the Yankees and now the Serious is tied.
Game Five comes late this afternoon in the harsh Fenway Park shadows with Boomer Wells going against Derek Lowe. Wells, who has been a big-game pitcher for the Yanks, has historically faired poorly in Boston, while Derek Lowe enjoys a comfortable home field advantage.
ALL THE NEWS...
TAKING OUT THE TRASH
The Yankee-Red Sox game was put off last night, but that didn't stop team executives, as well as the mayors of both New York and Boston from sounding like a bunch of clowns. Randy Levine, George Steinbrenner's highest ranking zhlub, continued to rant, and the Boston ownership defied a MLB order not to talk about Saturday's Game.
Oh, brother. Tom Boswell thinks that the people at the top of both organizations need to check themselves.
Mike Lupica weighs in on the mess today in the Daily News:
Which brings us to ol' Popeye Zimmer, who made a brief appearance at the podium late in the afternoon. With Joe Torre by his side, Zimmer fought to control himself as he spoke. When the waterworks started to creep too close to the surface, Zimmer excused himself and walked away:
Zimmer later told Bill Madden:
Red Sox owner John Henry appreciated Zimmer's words and added:
Pedro Martinez, however didn't see a need to apologize:
Boston players admired Zimmer's gesture:
Martinez was fined $50,000, Ramirez $25,000, Karim Garcia $10,000, and Zimmer $5,000 for their parts in Saturday's hysteria. Boston players are being careful not to criticize Martinez but should the Sox lose this Serious, we may hear them sing a different tune. Dan Shaughnessy doesn't need to wait, and he lowers the boom on the petulant Martinez in today's Boston Globe:
Tim Wakefield will replace John Burkett tonight, and Mike Mussina will get the nod for the Yankees. Boomer Wells will go tomorrow afternoon against Derek Lowe.
ALCS GAME THREE: YANKS 4, RED SOX 3
The Yankees pulled out a huge win yesterday in Boston, but Game Three of the ALCS is likely to be remembered for the eruption of machismo and mishegoss more than the bofo pitching duel between two of the greatest pitchers of all time. After the Sox jumped on the Rocket in the first inning (Manny Ramirez had a two run single), Pedro Martinez was not able to hold the lead. He allowed an RBI single to Karim Garcia and then a solo homer to Derek Jeter. In the fourth inning, the Yankees added another run, via a grounds rule double by Hideki Matsui, which put runners on second and third with nobody out.
Garcia came to bat and Martinez buzzed one behind the left-handed hitter, nicking him on the left shoulder blade. With that, Martinez lit the fuse for what would unravel to be an unsavory afternoon. Did Pedro hit Garcia on purpose? There is no doubt in my mind. With nobody out, an open base, and a right-handed hitter on deck, it made sense. Martinez has impeccable control; even if he did lose control of a pitch, it is difficult to believe that he would go behind the hitter’s head.
The jawing began. Both benches were warned which brought Joe Torre out to riff, because that supposedly took the inside pitch away from his man, Clemens. Alfonso Soriano then hit into a double play, which scored another run. Garcia took out second baseman Todd Walker with a late slide, and then had some words for Walker and well as Martinez as he trotted off the field.
Pedro screamed back and then Jorge Posada, the Yankees catcher, got into it with Martinez as well. Don Zimmer was hollering too. This was when Pedro started pointing at his head, yelling at the Yankees bench. Did he mean to say, “I’m going to hit you in the head next time,” or “Use your head?” No matter, clearly Martinez was not using his head.
Manny Ramirez led off the bottom of the fourth, and with two strikes, Roger Clemens threw a pitch high in the zone, but over the plate. (ESPN later showed a pitch-by-pitch replay of the at-bat and Harold Reynolds noticed that Manny was bailing out on each pitch, waiting to get buzzed.) Ramirez lost his composure and started walking toward the mound, screaming at Clemens. The home plate umpire attempted to restrain Ramirez, who shoved him off. The benches cleared with much of the usual talking, and then Don Zimmer took it upon himself to charge Pedro Martinez.
As the 72-year old bench coach approached Martinez, he raised his left arm, as if he were going to throw a punch. It never got that far. Martinez, bracing himself, caught Zimmer by the head, with two hands, as if a basketball had been passed to him. He then tossed Zimmer to the ground, like he was making a behind the back bounce pass, and Zimmer fell flat on his face.
It was an absurd moment that would have been amusing if it weren’t so scary. My girlfriend Emily was horrified, and she could barely calm down for the rest of the game (she happens to adore Zim). Truthfully, I could barely believe what was happening.
As far as assigning blame, Zimmer was nuts to charge Martinez, but then again, Zimmer is nuts. I don't mean to take him off the hook, we all know he's a crazy old man. Martinez acted in self-defense, but could he have found a more tactful way to avoid Popeye’s bum rush? That’s debatable, but I think so. As Tom Boswell noted, Zimmer charged Pedro at exactly 1 mph. No matter, it was a no-win situation for Martinez. Self-defense or not, Martinez looked like a fool, which was fitting seeing how he started the melee in the first place.
Will Carroll was more pointed in his reaction:
Order was restored, Ramirez waved at the next pitch thrown by Clemens, and there wasn’t another incident until the ninth inning when a member of the Red Sox grounds crew got into a fight in the Yankees bullpen with reliever Jeff Nelson and outfielder Karim Garcia (there’s that man again). Garcia had to leave the game with a bloodied hand, and after the game accusations were flying back and forth as to who exactly started the fight.
Oh yeah, the Yankees held on for the win as the Home Nine lost their poise.
There were several ironies that jumped out at me regarding the festivities:
1. After Martinez hit Garcia, he didn’t allow a base runner for the rest of the afternoon. He found his control all right, as well as his fastball--—Martinez had relied on his curveball in the early going.
2. When Martinez spiked Zimmer’s bald head into the turf, he did what many a Red Sox fan has wanted to do to Popeye for the last 25 years. Only when it finally happened, I doubt Sox fans could have felt much satisfaction.
3. And finally, it was Roger Clemens, not Martinez who kept his cool in the biggest game of the year. Martinez calmed down only after he instigated all the trouble to begin with.
In all, it was an ugly day for baseball, a memorable day for the rivalry, and a great victory for the Yankees. Nobody was tossed from the game, although Zimmer, Ramirez and Martinez all could have been kicked out (if this were a regular season game, they undoubtedly would have been run from the game and hit with suspensions). It’s hard to know what happened in the bullpen, but Jeff Nelson is no saint, that’s for sure. But for an employee of Fenway Park to get himself in that kind of situation doesn’t exactly speak highly of the Boston organization either.
With emotions running high, it will be interesting to see how the Yanks and Sox respond tonight. My gut tells me that in spite of having a mediocre starting pitcher in John Burkett, the Sox bats will come alive and even the Serious against David Wells, who doesn’t have a great history against Boston. I still feel that this is the pivotal game for New York, because if they win tonight, they are in good shape to move on.
One thing that I’m curious about is how the rest of the country feels about the Serious now. My guess is that the Red Sox have now made it hard to pull for them. Tom Boswell noted in The Washington Post:
Peter Gammons adds his take as well:
The Yankees may be The Evil Empire, but two of the Sox greatest players—Martinez and Ramirez—came across as punks yesterday. I don't know how the majority of Sox fans feel, but Ed Cossette is taking this one to heart:
Ed Kubosiak echoed Cossette's sentiment:
Again, the Sox have been resourceful all year. They are not out of this yet. But they aren't the appealing underdogs they were a few weeks ago, not even in the eyes of their own fans.
SATURDAY AT THE FIGHTS: PUMP, PUMP, PUMP, PUMP ME UP
The Yankees and Red Sox added another juicy chapter to their long rivalry Saturday in a game where emotions and theatrics overshadowed a fine---and final?---performance at Fenway for Roger Clemens, not to mention another masterly outing from Mariano Rivera. The Yanks won 4-3, and have a golden opportunity to take charge of the serious on Sunday night when David Wells faces off against John Burkett. The Red Sox, who have made a speciality of rebounding from tough defeats all season long, need to bounce back once again.
Here are David Pinto's posts on the game. I've finally calmed down myself---I can't recall being so fired up during a game---, the medication has kicked in, and I will write a full game summary tomorrow afternoon. It might as well be Christmas in October for the newspapers in Boston and New York, huh? I can't wait to read all the cheese piled on this game tomorrow, because this one is going down as one of the all-time classics between Boston and New York.
What did you think about it? Still breathing?
NOT GOOD ENOUGH?
I'll tell you what, come Game 6 on Monday, I'm going to be damn happy to have Mussina going for the Bombers once again.
CRUEL TO BE KIND
My former employers, Joel and Ethan Coen, have a new movie out today. The New York papers gave "Intolerable Cruelty," a screwball comedy featuring George Clooney and Cathering Zeta-Jones, glowing notices. I've seen the ads for the movies, and it hasn't really looked too great from what I can tell. They sure aren't billing it as a Coen Brother film, just like Woody Allen's latest wasn't marketed as a Woody Allen movie. But looks can be deceiving, as Times film critic Elvis Mitchell confirmed in his review:
The last time the boys tried to make a commerical film---"The Hudsucker Proxy"---it bombed. Ethan used to say that maybe 1,000 people actually paid to see it in the theater. So what did they do next? They were going to make "The Big Lebowski"---the movie I eventually worked on--but John Goodman was unavailable at the time. So they went ahead and made a low-budget crime caper about sad sack criminals in North Dakata.
I remember one of their old friends telling me that he emplored the guys not to make "Fargo." "You guys just had a major flop and now you are going to make a movie that exactly twelve people are going to want to see." Of course, "Fargo" turned out to be a fluke smash, and since then, I think Joel and Ethan make whatever movie they can get financed (they usually have at least a half a dozen scripts which they've penned, to choose from).
I hope the new one is good. The boys are currently in L.A. filming a remake of the Alec Guiness comedy "The Ladykillers," which stars Tom Hanks.
ALCS GAME TWO: YANKEES 6, RED SOX 2
Andy Pettitte was all over the place to start Game Two of the American League Championship Serious. He left fastballs and breaking pitches up in the zone and the Red Sox smacked six hits off of the Yankee lefty in the first two innings. But Boston only managed to score one run, and before you knew it, Pettitte had calmed himself down.
Nick Johnson was 1 for his last 33 when he smashed a two-run homer off Derek Lowe in the bottom of the second. The Yankees would go on to squander several opportunities themselves, but Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui added RBI singles, and in the seventh inning, Jorge Posada had a 2 run double that put the game away.
Jose Contreras got four outs and looked sharp for the second straight night. Mariano Rivera allowed a harmless two-out single to pinch-hitter Todd Walker, and is looking better than he has all season. Early in the year, Mariano was tapping his left foot several times before he delivered a pitch. It reminded me of a cat stepping on a ledge and tentatively trying to keep its balance. ESPN ran a segment on this a couple of days ago, and said that Rivera had been having problems with his left foot. He isn't tapping any longer---the foot must be fine---and his pitches appear to have even more zip than ever. (It's funny, but for all the alarmist talk about Rivera this season, the Yankees great closer posted the lowest ERA of his career.)
There was some minor drama late, as Contreras straightened David Ortiz up with a Nuke LaLooshe fastball in the eighth. Bronson Arroyo returned the sentiment when he plunked 'Lil Sori in the back in the bottom of the inning.
Unable to contain themselves, the Yankee Stadium crowd chanted "We want Pedro," at the end of the game. Be careful what you wish for: the Yanks are going to get him. (Surely, Red Sox fans remember Game Three of the 1999 ALCS: it was the one raucous highlight of that series for them.) Martinez, the ultimate villain, was smiling in the dugout. (Cue cliffhanger music.) Pedro is an archtype---the baddy who ties the girl to the train track. He will pitch the pivotal Game Three against another archtype bad guy---Rocket Clemens, the 400 lb gorilla.
Game Three is essential for Boston; Game Four (Hello, John Burkett) is crucial for the Yanks. Should be a thrilling weekend.
ALCS GAME ONE: RED SOX 5, YANKS 2
The Red Sox did everything better than the Yanks last night and took Game One of the ALCS, 5-2. It was unseasonably warm in the Bronx, and the moon was just about full. Tim Wakefield was excellent limiting the Yankees to two hits, and a couple of runs, and the Boston bullpen mopped up from there. On the other hand, Mike Mussina was not sharp, and he paid for it. After Moose walked two batters in the second inning, I had a feeling it was going to be a rough night. He was constantly behind in the count and had thrown 39 pitches through the second.
Manny Ramirez reached first to lead off the fourth. He hit a tapper to the right side, which deflected of Mussina's glove for a single; it is a play that Moose normally makes. After falling behind David Ortiz---who had been 0-20 lifetime against Mussina---Moose served up a fastball on the fat part of the plate, and Boston's Dominican Cookie Monster crushed it into the upper deck.
Todd Walker hit a dinger off the foul poul in the following inning, and the Sox led, 3-0. Initially called foul, the umpires reversed the call, and made the correct decision. A fan tried to catch the ball, missed it, and the ball hit the pole anyway. Bernie Williams made a fine running catch moving toward death valley on the very next play, robbing Bill Mueller of an extra base hit, but Manny popped a homer just over the right field fence to put Boston ahead, 4-0. (Ramirez, Washington Heights' adopted son, collected two more hits, all four going to right field.)
Derek Jeter's poor range was on display as singles by Doug Mirabelli and Kevin Millar inexplicably scooted under his glove (Millar's scored a run). Jeter was almost clipped by an eagle in the pre-game ceremonies, and the night didn't get any better from there. The Yankee bullpen was decent. Jose Contreras struck out the side in the ninth inning, an encouraging sign for sure.
In all, it was the Red Sox night. The Yankees were shut down by Wakefield, and when they did sting the ball, it was directly at a Boston fielder. The Yanks mounted a rally in the seventh. After consectutive walks chased the knuckleballer from the game, Jorge Posada---who had two of the Bombers three hits---lined a double into center. Jason Giambi, the lead runner, scored easily, but Gabe Kapler---Johnny Damon's replacement in center---cut the ball off nicely and prevented Bernie Williams from scoring as well. (Williams would come home on Hideki Matsui's sac fly, but that was all the soup the Yanks were going to get.)
Damon was on the bench for Boston, but he looked ginger and more than a bit spacey. He is expected to play this weekend, and for one night at least, was not missed.
As frustrating as the game was to watch as a Yankees fan, I was encouraged by the optimism displayed by the Yankee fans at the Stadium during the late innings. Unfazed by trailing, or even losing the game, Yankee fans weren't panicking.
There is still a long way to go, as Dan Shaughnessy, one of Boston's most cynical columnist notes this morning. Andy Pettitte gets the ball in another huge game tonight. But if Derek Lowe manages to out-pitch Andy, the Yankees will be in the unenviable position of having to face Prince Pedro down 0-2, with the next three games coming in Boston.
Many baseball writers were hot for the Sox as the post season started, but most of them actually picked the Yanks in this serious. Considering how these playoffs have played out so far, nothing is a sure bet now.
"I'll tell you one thing, if you want to give me $50 million more, I'll promise you we won't blow the 2-0 lead."
Now that the dust is starting to settle over yet another unfortunate playoff performance by the Oakland A's, general manager Billy Beane is taking some heat. Sports Illustrated's chief baseball writer, Tom Verducci opines:
Rob Neyer adds:
All of the New York and Boston papers have extensive previews of the Yankee-Red Sox serious today. Predictions, puff pieces: all you can eat. Ugh. Quite frankly, they are too many articles to link, and none of them will tell you anything you don't already know. If you are interested, I suggest you head over to Baseball Newsstand and check out the hype for yourself.
(For Red Sox fans who want to add a little more fuel to their hatred of the Yankees, peep Allen Barra's latest piece for Slate.)
The senior member of the Red Sox, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield faces Mike Mussina tonight at the Stadium. Like most everybody who follows the Yanks and Sox, I can't wait. The anticipation is driving me mad.
Jack Curry had a good article on the Yankees' Captain Clutch, Derek Jeter yesterday in The Times. Jeter may not be as great as Nomar Garciaparra or Alex Rodriguez, but he is one of the best big game performers of his generation:
Once again, I am reminded of a bit that Tom Boswell once wrote:
My brother has always said that the reason Jeter is a great player has more to do with good parenting than anything else. He may not be the best talent, but he is mentally well-adjusted. Jeter's personality is perfected tuned to what he's doing; he's confident without being brash, secure without being flashy. He is a true leader.
THE FAT MAN FILES
I was thumbing through one of Tom Boswell's collections last night ("Why Time Begins on Opening Day") after the Sox-A's game, and came across a piece about that featured some telling thoughts on George Steinbrenner. The article, "Trader Jack, Whitey the Rat," was written 20 years ago, but much of what Boswell wrote, still applies today:
But Boswell also appreciated Steinbrenner's significance as the first owner to embrace free agency:
George's luck ran out in the '80s, especially toward the end of the decade, and of course it hit rock bottom in the early '90s when he was kicked out of the game for the second time in his career. But much of what Boswell wrote in 1983 still holds true, dont' you think?
He doesn't mention what a sore winner, and a lousy loser George is. But if the Sox take a couple of games from the Yanks, we'll see and hear ol' George in fine form. And if the Yanks manage to get past Boston, George is likely to respond as if he had just watched the last act of "Camillie."
The Oakland A's trailed the Red Sox by one run in the bottom of the ninth last night. The first two batters reached base on walks, and then the A's sacrificed---?!?!---the runners over. Jermaine Dye was then pinch-hit for---?!?!?!---and the last three hitters were unable to put the ball in play, drawing a walk and two strike outs. The Red Sox bullpen, which has been much maligned all season, came through when they needed to.
The never-say-die Red Sox completed a dramatic comeback to advance to the ALCS, and will face the Yankees tomorrow night in the Bronx. Pedro Martinez got the win, and Derek Lowe saved the day, recording the last two outs in the ninth. Barry Zito surrendered a three-run blast to Manny Ramirez--who would have made Alfonso Soriano proud hot dogging it around the bases--and that proved to be the difference.
The ninth inning surely took years off the lives of Red Sox fans. The Fox network kept cutting back to a live feed at a Boston bar, and by the middle of the inning, the place was suddenly still, waiting for something to go wrong. Fox also showed Red Sox fans in the crowd in Oakland, and cross-cut between shots of the Sox and A's benches. Seeing virtually everyone in the park reduced to a nervous wreck was a memorable sight, for sure. Oh, the tension.
But this year's Red Sox have nine lives, and plenty of chutzpah to go with it. The A's opened the door for them, and they slipped through it, and got what they've wanted all year: a shot at the Yankees to get to the World Serious.
This may be as good as it gets for baseball, and for one of its great rivalries---at least as far as the Sox are concerned---but it's not going to do wonders for my mental health. And shit, I'm a relatively well-adjusted guy; think what it's going to do for the rest of the fanatics in Boston and New York.
Starting today, the fireworks will start. The Yankees' paper lion owner, G.M. Puff'n'stuff, has already issued his battle hymm, and I'm sure the higher ups in the Boston organization will start to tweak him, and the ever-sensitive Yankee fans shortly. When Johnny Damon wakes up from the terrible collision he suffered last night, I'm sure he'll start running his mouth too. Todd Walker, Pedro Martinez and Kevin Millar: we're ready for your close ups.
It is likely that Tim Wakefield will get the ball in Game One for Boston. He'll face Mike Mussina. I would expect that Derek Lowe would go in Game Two against Andy Pettitte. Then, Pedro vs. Rocket in Boston on Saturday, followed by Boomer vs. Burkett or Suppan on Sunday.
The pitching match-ups clearly favor New York. If the Yankees starters do their jobs, the Bombers should advance. But Boston's offense is a powder keg waiting to be lit. It is unlikely that they will go out like the impatient Twins, and therefore, one of the Yankees' major weakness'---their middle relief---will have to perform. The Sox pen performed admirably against Oakland, while the Yankees' pen rested. Who will play a significant role: Jeff Nelson, or Jose Contreras?
On the other hand, the Yankees offense is starting to catch fire too, and they will put more pressure on Boston's bullpen. Both teams have shakey defense, and both teams know each other inside and out. I expect for us to be in for a week and a half of gut-wrenching games, sleepless nights, and emergency trips to the shrink.
Tim Hudson had to leave yesterday's game after one inning of work. The reason? Hudson strained his left oblique muscle. According to the
Believe it or not...
BOSOX CATCH A BREAK FOR ONCE
I wonder how many fortunate breaks the Red Sox have enjoyed in their storied history? We sure know about the ones that have gone against them. But if Pedro Martinez can lead the Sox to victory tonight, the shoddy umpiring in Game 3 will stand as one of the best presents Sox fans have ever had. (Aside: if there was campus rioting in Boston after just one victory, will the town go down in flames if they ever win it all?) Mike C has written an extensive piece on the obstruction rule, and it's his opinion that the A's were robbed, regardless of their own stupidity. Mike's analysis is thorough and in depth, as it always is.
Take a peek, don't sleep.
SURF N TURF
Check out the following blogs for the latest playoff news:
BOOM TOWN BATS: YANKS ADVANCE
David Wells didn't want yesterday to be his last start as a Yankee, and his offense made it easy for him. The Yankees busted out in the fourth inning at the Metrodome, scoring six runs, chasing Johan Santana from the game, and effectively ending the Twins season. Nick Johnson ended an 0-27 slump with a clutch, two-out double; Giambi, Bernie---who had a nice offensive series--and Matsui also had doubles, and Alfonso Soriano added a 2 run single.
That was all Boomer would need, and he pitched into the eighth, allowing just one run. Derek Jeter, who was robbed of a home run by Shannon Stewart in the sixth inning, put the cherry on top of the victory, with a solo homer off of Easy Eddie G in the ninth.
This was far and away, the least dramatic and exciting game of the weekend, and that was just fine as far as I'm concerned. (I was able to digest and fall asleep peacefully last night.) The Yankees wash the sour taste of last year's playoff defeat out of their mouths, and come home, a confident bunch, to play for the pennant.
In the late game, Kerry Wood dominated the Braves once again, and the Cubbies won their first playoff serious in 95 years. Chicago will play the Marlins for the pennant. Now, who would have guessed? Fantastic. Congrats to Sam Plummer, Will Carroll, Ruz, and all the Cub fans out there. Enjoy it.
JOY IN MUDVILLE
The A's blew another golden opportunity to polish off the Red Sox yesterday, but Boston's bats did the job against Oakland's bullpen, scoring two runs in the eighth inning and forcing a Game 5 tonight in the Bay Area. It was the eighth time in four years that Oakland has failed to clinch a playoff series.
The A's had the bases loaded in both the first and second innings against John Burkett and came away with one run. They eventually caught up to him and held a 4-2 lead in the middle innings. But the Sox fought back. Todd Walker hit another homer, and David Ortiz came through with the game winning hit--his first of the series. Manny Ramirez, who spent more time predicting home runs than hitting them, scored the go-ahead run.
It was a gorgeous day in Boston. The clouds were out early, but the sun was brilliant late in the game, creating an array of memorable pictures. At one point, every shot of the field looked like it was composed by Orson Welles. When the Sox were still behind in the eighth, I noticed smiling faces in the first couple of rows behind the plate. Later, during Manny or Ortiz's at bat---I can't remember which---half of the fans behind home plate were standing, cheering, while the other half remained seated.
It illustrated the split in Red Sox Nation: the cautious, suspertitious half, and the wild, cowboy-up half. Many Sox fans must have been waiting for the bottom to drop out, but it never happened. Oakland was too busy living out its own version of The Curse. Regardless of what happens now, Fenway Park enjoyed a great day.
I won't lie. The A's performance made me sick. There is nothing I enjoy more than watching the Sox lose in Boston, yet at the same time, I'm not surprised by what transpired. Not so much from Oakland's pernt of view, but from Boston's. This Sox team has refused to be buried all season. The bigger the hole they've been in, the stronger they come back. Make no mistake, Oakland's ineptitude has allowed Boston back into the serious, but Boston took advantage of the opportunity, and here they are, on the verge of moving on. It doesn't matter if they are winning ugly; like Al Davis said, "Just win, baby."
Tonight gives Game 5 in Oakland. Pedro Martinez, the man Sox fans want most in a one-game-take-all scenerio, will face last year's Cy Young winner, Barry Zito. Zito will pitch on three days rest for the first time in his career; Martinez goes on four days rest. The Sox have the momentum, they are rolling, and I fully expect them to win tonight, and then roll back east to face the Bombers on Wednesday.
Having said that, I'll be pulling for Zito and the A's.
For more on Saturday's wild game, check out Joe Sheehan's free column over at Baseball Prospectus. Sheehan is one of the best baseball commentators going, so check it out.
MO BASEBALL, MO BETTER
It's just about 11:30 on Saturday night, and I've been watching baseball since 1:00 this afternoon. I can't remember a better day for the game in recent memory. It started yesterday evening when I returned home to catch the second half of the Marlins-Giants game. Pudge Rodriguez had one of those kind of superstar performances that will stay with him---and us---for a long time. He was virtually everywhere, making things happen, all day long: hitting an early home run, throwing a runner out a third, crashing into the second baseman to break up a double play, and eventually smacking the game-winning hit into right field.
Florida upset the Giants, and Jose Cruz Jr. opened the door for heartbreak. Later on, Mark Prior and Greg Maddux lived up to advanced billing. Prior was masterful, pitching a complete game two-hitter, and Maddux was very good, allowing 2 runs, but only for six innings. The Cubs won, 3-1.
The Marlins and Giants played another spirted game today, while the Yankess took on the Twins. I missed most of the National League affair, but saw the crucial highlights, and then the finale. And what a dramatic ending it was! Pudge Rodriguez> was involved again, as he held onto a throw from Jeff Conine to tag JT Snow out to end the game. The Giants season ended with a plate at the plate: believe it. Snow, the tying run, crashed into Rodriguez, but it was in vain. Earlier, Rodriguez had scored a run by knocking the ball out of the San Francisco catcher's glove, and now with the game on the line, Pudge held onto the ball, and was immediately tackled by his own pitcher Ugie Urbina as the Marlins upset San Francisco.
It is a dark day for the Giants and their fans. After losing the World Serious last year, this one now has to smart all the more.
Meanwhile, Roger Clemens made what could be the final start of his career in America's heartland this afternoon and he made the most of it, allowing one run over seven innings. (And no matter what happens to the Yankees in the coming days, Boss George assures us that Joe Torre will return in 2004. Heard that one before?...) Hideki Matsui hit a two-run dinger early in the game, and Bernie Williams added an RBI single later on.
That was all the Yankees would need. Mariano Rivera came on in the eighth inning for the second straight game, and for the second straight game he retired all six batters that he faced, bringing Yankee fans back to the glory years of the late 1990s. Mariano has faced twelve Twin batters in two games and retired them all in order. Mmmm.
Final: Yankees 3, Twins 1.
The Twins got good pitching from their bullpen again, and the Yankee bats were unable to get rolling, but this game was all about Rocket and Rivera, who overpowered the Twins offense. The Bombers will send Boomer Wells to the mound tomorrow afternoon against Johan Santana.
Next up, the Cubs and Braves faced off again in Chicago. It was a brilliant, sunny day, and Chipper Jones blasted two homers for the Braves, who held on for a 6-4 win. Not for nothing, but I called Chipper's second homer. And as nuts as this sounds, I was rooting for the Braves to win. It's not that I dislike the Cubs. If they win, I'd be more than pleased, but there is something in me that is pulling for Atlanta. No matter how good they are in the regular season, people tend to dismiss them. More to to point, if Atlanta forced a Game 5, the Yankees would play on Sunday at 4 pm and not 7:30. I wanted to watch the Bombers at 4, so I got my wish.
John Smoltz, who looked hurt in the ninth inning, gutted out the save, getting Sammy Sosa to fly out deep to center to end the game. It was a classic match up of star power. If Sammy had hit the ball six feet further, the game would have been tied. When it left the bat, I got goosebumps for a flash. Just like I did when Mike Piazza made the last out of the 2000 World Serious. It looked good off the bat. The crowd surged and then exhauled.
What did they really expect? They are Cubs fans, after all. Did they think their boys were going to make it easy on them?
Eric Bryne was thrown out at home on an infield hit after colliding with Boston's catcher, Jason Varitek. Bryne never touched the plate. The ball got away from Varitek, but Bryne shoved the catcher when he started after the ball, and then Bryne started to hobble off the field, unware that he hadn't touched home. Varitek retrieved the ball, and tagged the unsuspecting Bryne for the out. Eric Chavez was the on deck hitter, and he should have been coaching Bryne to go back and touch the base, but he fell asleep at the wheel. It was an inexcusable error on Chavez's part.
This huge error was outdone moments later when Miguel Tejada rounded third and headed for home on a Nomar Garciaparra error. The tying run had already scored when Tejada ran into the third baseman. (Jason Varitek had been awarded home earlier in the game, scoring Boston's only run, on an obstruction call on Chavez, and Tejada.) The ump at third signaled interference by raising his hand, and Tejada slowed down. The throw from left field was ten feet up the line, but since Miggy had stopped running, the Sox tagged him and he was called out.
There will be much debate about whether the umps made the right call--there was a lengthy meeting with the entire crew following the play---but the bottom line is, Tejada was not awarded home plate and the A's had squandered their second run of the innning. One could argue that Tejada had to sell the call, and that is why he stopped. You could also say that he assumed he would get to go home because that's what had happened to Varitek earlier in the game. However, he chose to give up on the play. If he continued to run hard and finish the play, he would have scored, and the arguement would have effectively been moot.
All I could think about was when Jason Giambi scolded Tejada in Game 5 of the 2001 playoffs. (Derek Jeter would never make a mistake this this.) Both bullpens then did fantastitic relief jobs until Rich Harden gave up a two-out, pinch hit, walk off bomb to Trot Nixon in the bottom of the 11th.
It was fitting that Nixon got the game winner. He's Mr. Red Sox as far as I'm concerned, and I'm glad he got to be the hero. But Boston did everything they could to not win the game. Their monstrous offense was impotent tonight against Ted Lily, who pitched a stellar game. Several members of the Sox actually taped Lily's names on the back of their jackets, and stood at the top step of the Boston dugout, promting the fans to heckle Oakland's young southpaw.
What a class bunch of guys. Kevin Millar, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, the heart of the Red Sox offense, failed to cowboy up for the Home Nine, but fortunately for them, Oakland had other things than winning on their minds. If the A's go on to lose this series, it's going to get even colder than it already feels by the Bay.
They come back and play the early game tomorrow. Pedro will pitch in Game Five Monday, if it gets that far. Old man Burkett goes against Tim Hudson, who will pitch on three days rest, at 1:00 Sunday.
If tomorrow is anything like today, we're in for a treat.
Tonight's pitching match up pits Greg Maddux against Mark Prior, and it has been receiving heaps of hype. And why not? Maddux is a Hall of Famer, and Prior is just about the best young pitcher since Tom Seaver. I've been asking heads around the office today who they think will be stronger, and to a man, they've all said Prior. Maddux's reputation as a seven inning pitcher figures heavily in this line of thinking, but dag, can't the man get any respect at all?
I agree that it's easier to put your stock in a power pitcher than a soft-tosser when it comes to the post season. Still, I would love to see Maddux pitch a great game, win or lose. I also hope it does turn out to be a classic duel, but quite frankly, all the hype makes my skeptical.
Either way, all eyes will be on Wrigley Field tonight. For all the latest---at least from the Cubbies pernt of view, be sure and check in on Ruz's Cub Reporter blog.
The Yanks play tomorrow afternoon at one. I'll most likely be back with a post late tomorrow or sometime on Sunday.
Enjoy the Serious'.
OVER PAY TO STAY?
Funny, but Pettitte had a lot of pressure to prove himself this year, and he did just that by winning 20 games and having a great second half. He pitched a great game last night. If there are a handful of teams fighting for his services in the off season what are the chances that the Yankees will over pay to keep in him pinstripes?
HANKIES FOR THE HIT MAN
Derek Zumsteg of Baseball Prospectus wrote a touching---and fitting---tribute to Edgar Martinez a few days ago. If you missed it, I suggest that you give it a look, as it illustrates what a terrific player Edgar has been---even if you are prone to frown on the DH:
Every organization should be so lucky to have a trooper, and a champ like Edgar star on its team for the better part of 20 years.
THE NON HALF-STEPPER
Both pieces are winning as always.
IT'S GETTING HOT IN HERE
Gardenhire has a point, but it also makes me wonder if Joe Torre will find something to bitch about in the Dome? Not that it is any kind of advantage for the home nine or anything.
DENT IN THE MYTH
Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the Yankees-Sox one-game playoff game. It is famously known as the "Bucky Dent" game, but it was much more than that, at least as far as the Yankees are concerned. Lou Pinella made two plays that were just as important to the Bomber's victory, and oh, by the way, Reggie Jackson's 8th inning solo bomb to straight-away center turned out to be the difference.
Blaming Dent is like blaming Buckner. It sounds great but doesn't tell the whole story.
IT'S GETTING LATE EARLY
Still, the Sox are going to have to 'Cowboy Up' with the quickness in order to get back in this serious. Just ask the rifleman, Kevin Millar:
Trot Nixon isn't ready to pack it in just yet either:
The Fens will be rocking tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if they go home to the all-too familiar silence of a New England winter, or if they send their team back to Oakland in wild style. Stranger things have happened.
GAME TWO: YANKS 4, TWINS 1
About a month before September 11th, 2001, a new spanish restaurant opened on Broadway between 231rst and 232nd streets. It is one of at least a dozen joints in the city called Malecon, which I believe is a beach town in the Dominican. This particular Malecon was a cleaner and smarter version of the rice and beans place directly across the street---naturally the food wasn't as good.
But no matter, it became my new stop for chicken, plantains and rice. Run by two brothers who love the Yankees---or J'ankees as it were---we spent a lot of time during that emotional 2001 post season talking baseball. But the day after the Diamondbacks tripped up the Bombers in Game 7, Javier, the good looking brother--well dressed, and heavily cologned---was devastated.
Of course, I had been up half the night myself, but come the next day, I tried to put a positive spin on it all. And I put all my hopes in one basket: the Yanks needed to go out and sign Jason Giambi. I pleaded with Javier to relax because the Bombers were going to get this slugger and we would be OK.
But he didn't want to hear it. He didn't want to feel better. So I left him alone. During the following weeks, when I came through to get some grub, I kept up the Giambi talk. Pretty soon, everytime I walked through the door, Javier and the boys working the counter greeted me as Giambi.
Except it sounded more like, "G'om-Bee." Then of course, Giambi signed with New York, and the nickname stuck. As time passed, the pronounciation became more exaggerated, more sing-songy. Each time I stepped foot into the Malecon, about eight guys greeted me with a chorus of "Gee-oh'mm-beee." I felt like Norm from "Cheers." I called each one of them "G'om-bee" in return to make all things equal. It reached the point where they didn't remember what my real name is and vice versa. We were all "G'om-bee."
I've pulled for Mr. Giambi hard, ever since he came to New York. In fact, I wrote him an eight-page, welcome-to-New York letter during his first spring training. It was the first fan letter I've ever written to a ballplayer. I can't fully explain why I felt the need to connect with the big lug, but perhaps after losing key figures like O'Neill, Martinez and Brosius, I wanted to believe the Yanks would be in good hands.
I'm proud of the way Giambi has played through injuries this season, and hope that the whispers of his decline are premature. But as one AL scout told Ken Rosenthal this week:
It was downright painful to watch Giambi fishing for pitches way out of the strike zone in Game One, and when he whiffed last night in the fifth inning, on another fastball that was clearly a ball, I felt awful for him. While I freely curse out other Yankees, I'm protective of Giambi.
Giambi had another shot to redeem himself in the pivotal 7th inning. The Yanks had taken a 2-1 lead, on Alfonso Soriano's RBI single. Brad Radke, who was brilliant for six innings, started the seventh by plunking Nick Johnson, and was replaced by LaTroy Hawkins, one of Game One's stars.
There may be some second-guessing about Radke being yanked, but he may have started to tire in the sixth. After getting two quick outs, Radke walked Matsui. He had been ahead 0-2, but lost him. Then Aaron Boone fell behind 1-2 but fouled off several pitches (five, maybe six?). Boone missed a juicy change-up, a mistake that was high in the zone, and eventually struck out.
So Hawkins came on in the seventh, and Juan Rivera sacrificed Johnson to second, Sori slapped a 3-1 fastball past Christian Guzman to break the tie. Derek Jeter then chopped a ball to Hawkins, who rushed his throw to first; the ball got away, and suddenly runners were on second and third with just one out.
Giambi had been booed when he struck out in the fifth, and Hawkins threw two fastballs, low and right over the plate past him (Giambi fouled one of them off). I was pacing and cursing at this point, telling my girlfriend Emily, "That's it, those are his pitches. He missed them. He's done." She scoffed at me and told me to settle down and have some faith.
And then Hawkins, who was so effective with a high heater the other day, threw him the same pitch---fastball, low in the zone--again, instead of climbing the ladder. This time Giambi didn't miss, as he drove a single through the middle, scoring two insurance runs.
Ohhhhh, bacon. I jumped and screamed, and there was little Emily, pointing at herself with both of his thumbs as if to say, 'It was my blessings that made this Hallmark moment possible.'
Whatever it was, it helped the Yanks even the series with a 4-1 win. Andy Pettitte pitched seven innings, allowing four hits, and striking out ten. His only mistake was a giving up a monstrous solo shot to Torii Hunter. He was unscathed by some more sloppy defense in the fifth---via the usual suspects, Soriano and Mr. Jeter---and made big pitches all night long. It was a clutch performance, one that helped erase the taste of his last two post season outings.
Jeter could be seen in the Yankee dugout late in the game trying to stretch out his weak shoulder. There were a couple of plays were he extended it during the game---on a diving stop up the middle, and on a head first slide into third. Was something wrong? Was it just the cold? Suddenly, I had visions of Will Carroll saying, "I told you so," dance around in my head. Just two days ago, Carroll wrote:
We Yankee fans will just have to hope for the best...
Mariano Rivera pitched two innings, something I felt uneasy about initially. But Mo retired all six batters he faced, which just goes to show how much I know. In the cold New York night, the Twins didn't stand a chance against him.
The Yankees--and their fans---can breath a bit easier this morning as the team heads to the heartland for the weekend. I know Gee-oom-bee, and his fans, slept well last night.
GAME TWO TONIGHT...
Joe Torre spoke with the team briefly before practice, and the Yankees sound as if they are loose and confident; expect some line up changes in Game Two.Andy Pettitte takes the ball tonight and makes another huge start for New York.
I know this is a bit belated, but there are some great blog writers who are covering this serious: Jay Jaffe, John Bonnes, Larry Manhken, Aaron Gleeman and Irina Paley. Oh, and my man Cliff has a thing or three to say as well.
SLEEPLESS IN SOX NATION
Game One between the Red Sox and the A's lasted well over four hours, and when it was all over---at approximately a 2:45 am est---Red Sox fans were not going to fall asleep easily. Pedro Martinez threw 130 pitches and left with a one-run lead, and Boston was one out away of putting the game away in the ninth, but Eubiel Durazo smacked a game-tying single off of Alan Embree to force extra innings.
Derek Lowe, Boston's Game Three starter, pitched two innings. In the bottom of the 12th, with the bases loaded and two out, Oakland catcher Ramon Hernandez pulled the rug out from everyone by laying down a bunt. The squeeze was on, and Eric Chavez---who may have saved the game in the top of the 12th when he robbed Gabe Kapler of a double---raced home from third with the winning run. Oakland takes Game One in dramatic fashion, 5-4.
It was a familiar theme for Boston: the bullpen failed. According to The Boston Globe:
Martinez and Oakland starter Tim Hudson were far from brilliant, but they pitched admirably all the same. Todd Walker backed up his boasting in a rather royal way, slamming two home runs.
While this can be seen as another devastating loss for the Red Sox, Boston has rebounded from tough losses all season long. They won't have to wait long to bounce back, as Game Two will be played later this afternoon. But after Martinez threw so many pitches, I wonder how effective he will be if he started Game Four on three days rest. Derek Lowe also pitched last night, but I don't think that will effect his Game Three start terribly.
GAME ONE: TWINS 3, YANKS 1
Bernie Williams played a single into a triple, and tripped over first base, reducing a sure double into a single. Jack Curry lectured Bernie in the Times this morning:
But this should not come as a great shock to Yankee fans. Dig what Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus wrote in his playoff injury report yesterday:
Alfonso Soriano was no better, and he doesn't have any excuses. Jason Giambi was clearly pressing, swinging at several pitches out of the strike zone. Combined, Giambi, Nick Johnson and Jorge Posada were 0-12. Derek Jeter was his usual self, collecting two hits and a walk. But it wasn't enough.
The Twins deserve some credit too. Johan Santana was good before he had to leave with a tight hamstring; LaTroy Hawkins was nasty, and they survived a rough 9th inning from their closer too. Shannon Stewart made the catch of the game, robbing Godzilla of a double, but probably saving the Yankees from a lot of embarassement.
Directly behind Stewart, in the first row of the left field seats, was a shmuck fan, leaning onto the field with his glove, ready to catch a ball that was in play---the photo is splashed all over the papers today. If Stewart doesn't come up with the ball, this dumb ass probably does. But he wasn't sly like J. Maier. It wasn't a night game, it was the middle of the afternoon. No way he would have gotten away with it. Can you imagine what the reaction would have been if this putz cost the Yankees an out?
I followed the game at work, periodically checking into a conference room to sneak a peak. It was a tense, exhausting way to follow a disappointing performance. The worst part was hearing all the Mets fans heckle and gloat, which brought my emotional maturity back to its sixth grade heights.
Game Two is now a must-win for the Yankees. Maybe it's good that they got a swift kick in the ass. I think Pettitte will pitch a good game and then the Yanks can go to Minnie in a better frame of mind.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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