Monthly archives: June 2004
I love Larry Mahnken's take on last night's game:
I couldn't have put it better myself.
Yanks 11, Sox 3
Sorry for the delayed post today, y'all. I'm home sick and I'm not the only one under the weather; my computer has been crashing all morning, so I've had a heck of a time getting these links done. Regardless, it was a good night for the Yanks on Tuesday, and a horrible one for Boston. The Red Sox sabatoged themselves last night with three errors and two more misplays which led to Yankee runs, as the Bombers creamed Boston 11-3. The most costly error came with two men out in the fourth. The Yankees already held a 4-2 lead, thanks in part to aggresive base-running, and despite the fact that Johnny Damon crushed two solo home runs off of Javier Vazquez. With Miguel Cairo on second, Derek Jeter hit a ground ball to Nomar Garciaparra. Cairo held up momentarily, and just as the ball passed him, he clapped his hands together, as he headed for third. Garciaparra, who made a throwing error in the first, bobbled the ball and Jeter reached first. Gary Sheffield, "The Punisher," followed and launched a 1-0 pitch over the left field fence.
The Yankees had a comfortable 7-2 lead and didn't look back. Tony Clark added a monster shot into the black seats in center field, and David "Cookie Monster" Ortiz hit a solo blast that was similar to Ruben Sierra's home run on Sunday night. Three solo home runs were all the Sox could muster off of Yankee pitching. Javier Vazquez has allowed 15 dingers this season; fortunately for the Yankees, 12 have been of the solo variety.
Vazquez wasn't dominant, but he was solid, striking out eight and walking none. It was a forgettable evening for Derek Lowe and the rest of the Red Sox who hope to rebound tonight behind Tim Wakefield. Red Sox fans could not have been pleased at the sight of Pedro Martinez standing on the top step of the Red Sox dugout, smiling and laughing with the fans, even posing for pictures. According to Jim Kaat on YES, Martinez stopped in on the Yankees' batting practice earlier in the day. He appeared in the empty stands and walked toward the field clapping like a Yankee fan as Derek Jeter took BP, chanting, "De-rek Je-ter." He came down to the field and shook hands with Jeter, Mattingly and Tony Clark among others. Somewhere, Bob Gibson is rolling his eyes.
The Red Sox defense is killing them right now. Yesterday, Peter Gammons spoke with Fatso and Fruit Loops on the FAN (excerpt via Steve Silva):
It's hard to know what to make of Boston. They are deep offensively and have good pitching. I can see them turning things around quickly. However, I wouldn't be entirely surprised if things got worse before they got better either.
Jason Giambi was a late scratch, but the struggling first baseman appears to have discovered why he's been so spent of late; he's suffering from an intestinal parasite. Giambi has been given antibiotics and will hopefully return over the weekend.
Finally, Vice President Dick Cheney was at the Stadium last night. (Insert Evil Empire crack here.) The VP was shown on the diamond vision screen during the seventh inning stretch and was booed. The image was quickly removed.
I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up
Dave Anderson has a column about Don Zimmer's new book. (A new one already?) Apparently, after Zimmer's infamous turf-dive in the playoffs last year, Boston pitcher Tim Wakefield saw Popeye having dinner, and offered him an olive branch in form of a bottle of wine. The following day, a humbled Zimmer, gurgled a public apology before being overwhelmed with emotion. According to Zimmer, Pedro Martinez offered to apologize too:
We all know how it played out from there:
Red Sox fans will be amused by the fact that George Steinbrenner has aimed his most pointed criticism at struggling first baseman Jason Giambi and not the Red Sox. Here is some of the old Knute Rockne, as told to the New York Times:
Be sure and peep the Red Sox sites listed on the right-hand column here, including of course, Bambino's Curse, Boston Dirt Dogs, The House that Dewey Built, Surviving Grady, The Joy of Sox, and The Soxaholix
The Yanks bombed the Mets twice yesterday at the Stadium, winning the first match-up of the season between the crosstown rivals. They remain five-and-a-half games in front of the Red Sox who defeated the Phillies in Boston on Sunday afternoon. In the first game in the Bronx, Jose Contreras performed well, striking out a career-high ten in six innings of work. (His wife and two children were in the house to watch him pitch.) He allowed two hits and walked four. Both of the Mets who had hits off of Contreras were thrown out stealing by John Flaherty. Contreras got into trouble in the fourth and fifth innings, but with a little help from his friends--the Yankees have many meetings on the mound when Contreras is in a jam--was able to escape without any damage being done.
In the fourth, Kenny Lofton made a glaring one-out error, dropping a ball that was hit directly at him, and then Mike Piazza drew a walk. But Contreras struck the next two men out to end the frame. In the next inning, Contreras walked the bases loaded. With two out, the count went full to Kaz Matsui, who fouled a ball off before flying out to left field to end the threat. Contreras was also aided by Brian Runge's liberal strike zone. The Mets hitters were not pleased, notably Jose Reyes who posed, hands on his hips, after being called out on strikes for the second time.
Derek Jeter and Gary Sheffield hit back-to-back solo dingers off of Steve Traschel in the first, and Jeter smacked another solo homer in his second at bat. But Traschel settled down and pitched reasonably well. However, the last two men he faced reached base and eventually scored when Godziller Matsui hit Mike Stanton's first pitch into the bleachers for a grand slam. Flash Gordon pitched the final two innings for the Yanks.
Jason Giambi was a late scratch due to illness. Giambi has been fighting a virus for several weeks and was taken to the hospital. He was suffering from dehydration and was treated with fluids. I thought we might hear whispers in the morning papers about Giambi not being a gamer--especially after being called out by Boss George for a fielding mistake on Saturday afternoon--but so far, I haven't heard anything to that effect.
Game Two started off well for the Yankees. Bernie Williams led-off against Matt Ginter and slapped a ball through the box. It was well struck but Ginter got a glove on it. The Mets pitcher couldn't handle it though, Williams reached first, and was awarded a base hit--a home-field call if there ever was one. Next, Ginter threw a purpose pitch at Jeter--3-4 in the first game--which nailed the Yankees' captain in the hand. Jeter was not pleased.
My adreneline was spiked as Gary Sheffield walked to the plate and I thought, "There isn't anyone I'd rather see in this spot than Sheff." Sheffield responded by lashing a single into left, a measure of revenge for the Yanks. Then Alex Rodriguez topped a 2-2 offering slowly down the third base line for a cheap infield hit scoring Jeter, a demoralizing moment for the Mets. Rodriguez's face was flush as he stood on first, but he'll take it. After Matsui whiffed on three pitches, Jorge Posada singled to left scoring another run and then Ruben Sierra launched a three-run bomb to right.
The Mets chipped away. Mike Cameron lined a solo home run, and Richard Hidalgo smoked two monster solo bombs--one to straight-away center, another deep into the Yankees bullpen. They were shots. (Not for nothing but Eric Valent launched one into the upper deck in right later too.) If the Mets were unhappy with the balls and strikes in Game One, it was the Yankees turn to be miffed in the second game. Gary Sheffield got himself tossed in the fourth inning riffing with home plate ump Bill Hohn; Mike Mussina was fuming all evening in his own quiet way too. The Mets actually closed the gap to 7-5 in the seventh. But the Bombers loaded the bases and Mike Stanton was called on again. This time, Ruben Sierra reached out and poked a good curve ball into left, scoring two more runs. One batter later, Miguel Cairo singled up the middle, the Yanks were ahead 11-5 and the game was out of reach.
It was a good day for the home team, a long one for the Mets. Both New York teams lost out on the Freddie Garcia sweepstakes. Garcia was traded to the Chicago White Sox last night. Looks like it's back to the drawing board for Brian Cashman.
The Red Sox will be in town for a three-game series this week. Anyone interested? Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken have a preview over at The Hardball Times.
Mets 9, Yanks 3
The Yankees had a chance to get to Senator Al Leiter in the first inning at Yankee Stadium yesterday and failed. With one out and the bases loaded, Leiter fell behind Jason Giambi 2-0, but came back to get the slugger looking on a full-count pitch. It felt like a big moment at the time, and it turned out to be one in the long-run. Jorge Posada followed and tapped out weakly to the mound. It was the begining of a long, listless day for the Bombers.
The Yankees provided rookie pitcher Brad Halsey with four first inning runs last week in Los Angeles. But they didn't give him a lead against the Mets, and the young control-specialist simply could not throw strikes. He walked five in all, and his three walks in the fourth inning helped sink the Yankees. So did a poor play by first baseman Jason Giambi. With runners on first and third, the Yankees looked to have Jose Reyes picked off of first base. But Giambi, whose greatest weakness is his throwing arm, faked to second and ate the ball. Perhaps he was afraid that he would throw the ball into left field. The infield came in and Kaz Matsui poked one into right scoring two more runs.
Although Gary Sheffield hit a game-tying homer early, the Yankees were blown out at home. Frankly, they played a terrible game and deserved to lose. Al Leiter and Brad Halsey were a study in contrasts. Leiter was effectively wild, a veteran who was utterly at ease going to a full count before he made his pitch; Halsey nervously danced around the strike zone, afraid to challenge hitters. Though Halsey appeared as calm as he did last week--Joe Torre's "paper boy" looks as if he could be Buck Showalter's son--but he didn't pitch with confidence. Leiter, with his full array of tics and quirks, vexed the Yankees, dictating the pace of the game. His fastball had some zip and his breaking ball was good too. But even more, he used his guile to throw the Yankee hitters off balance. In the second, with the count 2-2 to Ruben Sierra, Leiter began his motion, only to break it off mid-way through. "Let's do this over." An innocent enough mistake, or was it? After the count went full, Sierra struck out on a breaking ball and he glared at Senator Al as he made his way back to the dugout. Leiter was all-school yard for sure.
In all, it was an ugly day for the Yankees, and a bright one for the Mets. The Shea faithful made plenty of noise at the Stadium and had themselves a B-A-double L. For the Bombers, they can't forget this game soon enough. Especially with a grumpy Boss George in the house. Fortunately, the Red Sox were pounded by the Phillies too, so New York's lead remains at five. (Boston gained a half a game on Friday night when the Yankee game was rained out.)
It's a beautiful sunny Sunday in New York and they'll play two today. At one o'clock Jose Contreras will go against Traschel. This could be a decent game or it could be plodding, and drawn-out affair. Neither pitcher is known for being economical or brisk. (The Mets ran on Halsey and Sturtze yesterday; best believe they are licking their chops at the thought of getting on base vs. Contreras.) Then tonight, Matt Ginter will face Mike Mussina in the Sunday Night Game of the Week.
Hopefully, the Yanks put forth a more compelling effort today, or we're really going to hear it from George.
King of Chill
New York magazine features an excerpt from Buster Olney's forthcoming book about the Joe Torre Yankees ("The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty: The Game, The Team, and the Cost of Greatness") this week. The excerpt in question profiles Mariano Rivera. What makes Rivera so special? Olney writes:
Of course, Mo has good friend in the Big Guy upstairs:
Bill James thinks that Rivera is a dead-ringer for a young Henry Fonda; I think he looks like an illustration by comic book artist Frank Miller myself.
Very Serious (Like a Peak Frean)
The Mets get a break of sorts as they'll face a rookie and Jose Contreras. The Yanks are fortunate to miss Tom Glavine. Regardless of what goes down, be sure and check out the host of great Mets sites linked on the right-hand column, inlcuding The Eddie Kranepool Society, The Raindrops, Jeremy Heit's Blog, The Shea Hot Corner, Saber Mets, and of course, the fellas over at Yankees, Mets and the Rest.
Yankees 5, Orioles 2
The Yankees finished their nine-game road trip with a 5-4 record as they return to the Bronx tonight for a three-game series against the Mets. (It is supposed to rain today so we just may be looking at a double-header tomorrow.) Javier Vazquez gave up a two-run homer in the first and that was all the Orioles would get for the duration of the game. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter both hit two-run dingers of their own and Kenny Lofton had a nifty assist in the seventh inning which proved to be the defensive play of the game. (By the way, not for nothing, but Bernie Williams actually had an assist the night before...though throwing out old man Raffie isn't exactly something to write home about; that's probably why I neglected to mention it yesterday.)
Coupled with a Red Sox loss, the Yankees are now five-and-a-half games ahead of the Bostons. The Twins won in ten innings, aided in part by a critical error by Nomar Garciaparra. As Tony Massarotti notes, Boston is 25-25 in their last 50 games. The Yankees scored a moral victory of sorts against the Sox yesterday as well when Carlos Beltran was traded to the Astros and not to Boston (shows you how much I know). Houston moved Octavio Dotel to Oakland, which should help a lousy bullpen plenty.
O's 13, Yanks 2
Ah-ha, just what Red Sox Nation has been waiting for: the Orioles finally gave the Yankees a beating. Unfortunately for Sox fans, it came on a night when the home nine lost (4-2 to the Twins). Jon Lieber was pounded in Baltimore as the O's finally defeated the Bombers. According to the New York Times:
Futher, John Harper reports:
Down 7-2, the Yankees loaded the bases with nobody out in the sixth. But Jason Grimsley, the former Yankee and newest member of the Orioles, struck out Ruben Sierra, and Tony Clark, then got Miguel Cairo to ground out. That was as close as New York would get.
Gary Sheffield sat again and just may have to go on the DL. So for all of the talk about Freddie Garcia, if anything happens to Sheffield who would be surprised if the Yankees swoop down on Carlos Beltran after all?
Javier Vazquez will pitch against Sidney Ponson tonight. Here are some more articles on Jose Contreras for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing...
Welcome Back: Yanks 10, Orioles 4
Camden Yards was a sight for sore eyes indeed. The Baltimore Orioles walked 13 Yankee batters last night, and Alex Rodriguez hit two home runs as the Bronx Bombers cruised to victory. Derek Jeter added a three-run shot, and after a choppy first inning, Mike Mussina retired the last twelve men he faced. The game could have been more of a blow-out if the Yankees didn't waste several scoring opportunities in the middle innings. Brett Prinz walked the bases-loaded in the eighth inning forcing Tom Gordon to close the game out. Gary Sheffield sat out after receiving a cortisone shot in his left shoulder, where he is suffering from bursitis (he is day-to-day). In addition, it doesn't look as if Kevin Brown will pitch against the Sox next week; a throwing session has been bumped back to Friday and Brown will probably have one rehab start before he rejoins the big league club.
The Red Sox pounded the Twins behind strong performances from Curt Schilling and Nomar Garciaparra to remain four-and-a-half behind New York. However, the results of last night's games were a footnote to the breaking news that Jose Contreras' wife and two children had defected from Cuba. Contreras flew to Florida last night where he was reunited with his family. In the photographs I've seen, Contreras looked calm and peaceful with his tired and confused baby-girl in his arms. His wife Miriam has dark skin, a round face, and an inviting smile. His eldest daughter looked directly into the cameras. I can only imagine how surreal the events of the past two days must have been for them.
This is warming news, and I'm happy for Contreras and the women in his life. Whether or not this will change his performance on the field, who is to say? It makes for a nice fantasy, though I don't know how piece of mind and mental stability will speed-up Contreras' plodding delivery. Still, before we get ahead of ourselves, it's a nice story to soak in this morning.
Foist Tings Foist
The Mets come to Yankee Stadium for three games this weekend; they will be followed by the Boston Red Sox for three more next week. After that, the Bombers travel to Queens for finish interleague play for the season. It is sure to be hype-week here in New York. But the Yanks have three games in Baltimore before we get to the hysteria. Hopefully, they will concentrate on the task at hand, because though Baltimore's pitching is awful, they can certainly score some runs. Plus, after the losing to New York six times this year, you figure they'll be amped for this series. I haven't checked the papers yet, but I believe the Yanks will be throwing Mussina, Lieber and Vazquez against the O's. Oh, what a comforting feeling that is.
Is anyone actually excited about the so-called Subway Serious this year? I know I'm not. The Mets have never won a season series from the Yankees yet, and since they seem to be playing well against good teams in 2004, perhaps this is their year. I could see it happening. But you know me, I'm a superstitious sort. What's on your mind? Is everyone pumped about next week or what?
Right on, bro. But speaking of the Bombers, check out Larry Mahnken and Steve Bonner's posts on last night's game. Steve is a big Giambi fan. Unlike me, he hasn't wavered this season:
I still like Giambi but haven't enjoyed watching him as much this year. He is a great hitter and clearly enjoys hitting. If I concentrate on that, it's easier to appreciate his game. Like Mark McClusky mentioned in his post this morning there aren't too many hitters who could take Gagne deep like Giambi did last night.
Rashomon Monday: Dodgers 5, Yanks 4
The Yankees had their movie moment on Saturday when Brad Halsey, a fresh-faced kid straight outta central casting, won his big league debut against the Dodgers (Halsey actually looks like the kid in the movie that gets to act out every boy's fantasy by actually pitching for a big league team, only in the movies they usually pitch against the Yankees). On Sunday night, the Dodgers capped the weekend on a dramatic note as Eric Gagne faced the heart of the Yankees order with the game on the line. Gagne, who recorded his 81rst consecutive save, entered the game with two outs and a runner on in the eighth inning to square off against Alex Rodriguez. Gagne struck Rodriguez out swinging with a blazing fastball. Later, the Yankee third baseman told reporters:
Jason Giambi, who had three hits on the night, led off the ninth and lifted a 1-2 breaking ball over the right-center field fence drawing the Yankees closer, 5-4. Next, Gary Sheffield smacked a rocket directly at the Dodgers' third baseman Adrian Beltre, who easily recorded the out. Jorge Posada flew out to left on the first pitch he saw from Gagne and then Hideki Matsui worked the count full only to be called out looking to end the game. Never mind that the pitch was clearly outside; the Yankees have seen plenty of generous game-ending calls behind their stud closer too. (Mike Francesa, eat your heart out.) The Dodgers set an attendance record for a three-game series, drawing 165,240 fans. Business as usual for the Yankees on the road.
This was the kind of finish that everyone had hoped for; only Yankee fans could be disapointed with the results. In all, this was the best game of the weekend series. The Yankees hit the ball hard several times (Kenny Lofton) but didn't have much to show for it. Jose Contreras pitched well, despite giving up four runs in the second inning. (My man Shawn Green homered--his first hit of the series--and Dave Roberts had a two-out, two RBI bloop single to center.) Contreras didn't allow a walk, and pitched with confidence after the second.
Jose Lima was effective as well. He gave up back-to-back solo homers to Matsui and Miguel Cairo. In the seventh, Matsui struck again, and knocked a two-out, RBI triple off the center field wall. The Yanks trailed 4-3. But in the bottom of the inning, again with two out, Dave Roberts sliced a single to left. Matsui charged the ball, hoping to nail the speedster at second, but it slipped past him, and rolled all the way to wall. The race was on, and it wasn't even close. This must have been the most exciting play of the evening for Dodger fans as Roberts raced around the bases and scored easily. It turned out to be the crucial play of the game.
Dodger Stadium looked great yesterday. My only complaint was the bush "Yank-ees sucks" chants which didn't stop all weekend. (Believe that, a Yankee fan offended by rude and crude fan behavior.) Maybe Dodger fans were still smarting from how the Lakers went out in the N.B.A. finals. Regardless, they were incorrigible.
I am fascinated by late-afternoon starts because I love to watch how the evening sun casts shadows on the field. The sun sets behind third base in L.A., so the right-side of the fielders' faces were in the light and their shadows--which got longer and thinner as the game progessed--were cast toward right field. The right-handed hitters were back-lit for the first three innings. Above all, the stadium was replete with blue (Rob Neyer's worst dream come true). The colors were crisp and bold in the warm evening light, painting a vivid picture for those of us watching at home. It must have been a terrific game to attend. At the very least, you would have been spared having to listen to Tommy Lasorda and Reggie Jackson rehash the past on ESPN.
I wasn't too discouraged when it was over. First of all, the Red Sox lost earlier in the day to the Giants (Fronzie strikes again!): one-hit by Jason Schmidt. That took a lot of the pressure off the game for me. Plus, even though the Yanks came up short, you've got to like their chances in a close game like that. I'm almost certain that no self-respecting Dodger fan thought the Yankees were going to go away quietly. And nobody would have been suprised if the Yankees came back to swipe the win, no disrespect to Gagne the Great.
I'm also relatively certain that the Yankees were steamed that they didn't win the game too. That's fine by me. They had a chance to go 4-2 on this west coast swing, but had to settle for 3-3 instead. Hopefully, the plane ride back east was uncomfortable; the pitching in Baltimore come tomorrow should be a sight for sore eyes indeed. (Hey, at least they don't have to face the big, bad D-Rays, right?)
For more on the game, be sure and slip around the dial here at all-baseball.com where everyone has their own take on what went down.
Yanks 6, Dodgers 2
Later, Hideo Nomo popped a solo shot over the left field wall for the Dodgers second and final run of the afternoon. Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez contributed RBI singles for New York but the big blow was a bizarre three-run homer off the bat of Godziller Matsui. After Derek Jeter singled and was then thrown out trying to steal in the first, Nomo walked Rodriguez and Jason Giambi (14 pitch at-bat). Sheffield singled sharply up the middle to score Rodriguez and then Matsui stuck his bat out on an 0-2 breaking ball, and somehow managed to hook a dinger into the front row of the low right-field seats. Directly into some dude's glove. It was as if they guy had a magnet in his mitt. But as the Fox announcers noted, it was a weak, defensive swing. The dinger was probably front-page news back in Japan (Nomo struck Matsui out twice in a row after the homer).
The most amusing moment of the game for the New Yorkers was when Halsey dumped a single into left field for a single but proceeded to run straight through first base as if he had grounded out. This brought the Yankee bench to their feet. To a man, they were all cracking up.
The crowd was lively and the chants of "Yank-ees suck" were loud and steady throughout the afternoon (for a first-hand account of the game, head on over to Jon Weisman's Dodger Thoughts). Fewer beach balls made it onto the field Saturday than we saw Friday night, so perhaps the crowd was actually into the game.
The Yanks gained a game on Boston who rallied against San Francisco but in the end were buried by a pinch-hit homer by Edgardo Alfonzo. Tonight gives a match-up of two very different kinds of clowns: the volatile and always animated Jose Lima vs. the sleepy and lumbering Jose Contreras. I can see this game going either way. The Dodgers offense doesn't look to be particularly patient so that could work in Contreras' favor. However, they have speed to burn, and if the can get guys on base, they will surely bother the Yankees' big Cuban. Contreras rattles easily, especially with speed on the bases. As for Lima, I reckon his plan is to hold the Yankees down for six innings and then turn things over to L.A.'s Big Three. Could be an ugly game tonight. Tune in tomorrow for the skinny.
And happy Father's Day to all you daddies out there. Enjoy.
Dodgers 6, Yankees 3
Hey, where is your sense of humor?
In their first game at Dodger Stadium since the 1981 World Serious, the Yankees picked up right where they left off, playing listless baseball and blowing a lead to the home team, losing 6-3. Jeff Weaver out-pitched Javier Vazquez, and the Dodgers bullpen cleaned the Bombers' clock in the final three innings. Although he scored a run, Alex Rodriguez failed to reach base safely, his streak of consecutive games on base ending at 53. The Yankees' lead is down to three-and-a-half as the Sox out-lasted the Giants in San Francisco.
It was a rare night of misery for Vazquez, who after the game told reporters that he had "nothing." He wasn't far off. Vazquez pitched defensively, with caution all evening. Jason Giambi made a key error which led to Los Angeles tying the game at three. Later, Vazquez made a throwing error of his own, and he threw three wild pitches to boot.
In all, it was a forgettable night for the visiting team. (I see Cliff Corcoran was up late after the game, restless, just like me.) The crowd happily cheered "Yank-ees suck" for most of the game and were sent home in good spirits. It was a frustrating game to watch, but the Yankees didn't deserve to win it the way they played. It was no fun hearing the "Yank-ees suck," chant, but then again, I hate hearing any crowd cheering that any team sucks (especially at Yankee Stadium). Why not, "Beat the Yanks," or even "Screw the Yanks?" That's honest and acceptable. But "Yank-ees suck" is just plain incorrect. You may hate them, but they don't suck.
Aw, I'm just sore. But you know who I was most upset with after last night? New York sports radio personality Mike Francesa, the Yankee-half of the Mike and the Mad Dog (re: Fatso and Fruit Loops) show. I caught the tail-end of their show yesterday afternoon and Francesa was licking his chops at the thought of Weaver pitching against his erstwhile team. He'll fold, he can't pitch in a pressure situation Francesa crowed. Further, he couldn't wait to see Gagne have to save a game against the big, bad Yankees. Francesa has chided Gagne all season long. Welp, Mike, you got what you wanted. Happy, round man?
Spitefully, I was happy to see the Dodgers stick it to smug Yankee fans like Francesa, who obviously haven't been paying too close attention to the Dodgers this year. Big, fat know-it-all gavone.
After winning the first two games of this road trip behind Contreras and Sturtze, the Yanks have now dropped two straight with Lieber and Vazquez on the mound. Hopefully, the bats show up later this afternoon for the rookie Halsey against wack-ass Hideo Nomo, otherwise it could be a long fuggin weekend for us Yankee fans.
Finally, the Yankees moved Mr. Porno star, Gabe White, cash and a player to be named later to the Reds for a minor league southpaw.
Diamondbacks 6, Yanks 1
Stifle Edit' willya, hah?
Knuckerballer Steve Sparks had his best outing in a long while and vexed the Yankee offense for seven innings, scattering three hits and allowing just one run. Jorge Posada missed a sign in the second inning and was promptly caught stealing, which killed a possible rally. Sparks got a lot of easy pop flys and weak ground balls. Steve Finely later robbed Posada of a sure double in the deep center and Danny Bautista tracked down two well-hit balls by Derek Jeter to aid Sparks. Bernie Williams lead-off the game with a single, Jon Lieber added a base hit and Alex Rodriguez crushed a knuckler that didn't knuckle deep into the left field stands for the Yankees' lone run (Rodriguez has now reached base in 53 straight games).
Jon Lieber pitched well. After allowing a run in the first--thanks if part to some poor defense by Jason Giambi, who was clumsy in the field all evening--Lieber worked efficiently and quickly. He escaped a jam in the fifth, thanks in part to an interference call on Arizona's lead off man, which prompted a Bob Brenly to come out and argue.
With the game tied at one, Lieber allowed a solo homer in the seventh and then a run scoring double in the eighth before he was removed. Felix Heredia walked the only batter he faced, and then Brett Prinz gave up a couple of run-scoring hits to put the game out of reach. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Enrique Wilson singled and Ruben Sierra pinch hit for Prinz. He checked his swing with two strikes before eventually flying out to end the game. Brenly, still smarting from the interference call I suppose, went batshit. Even when the Diamondbacks walked onto the field to congradulate each other, Brenly was fired up, going after the home plate ump. Hey Bob, y'all just won the game: Lighten up, Francis.
It was a frustrating evening for New York as they lost a game they had a good opportunity to win. The Yanks lead over Boston was reduced to four-and-a-half games after Derek Lowe and co. shut out the Rockies 11-0. (For an entertaining look at the state of the Sox, check out my man Edward Cossette's post today.) The Sox head to San Francisco for the weekend (Pedro vs. Barry Saturday afternoon), while the Yanks shuffle off to Los Angeles. (Willie Randolph still remembers that misbegotten '81 Serious too.) Former Yankee Jeff Weaver will face Javier Vazquez tonight; the rookie Brad Halsey makes his debut against Hideo Nomo tomorrow afternoon and Jose Contreras will pitch against Jose Lima on the Sunday Night Game of the Week.
For the Dodger perspective, be sure and keep up with Jon Weisman's coverage over at Dodger Thoughts. Jon will be at Dodger Stadium on Saturday and Sunday. Yesterday he gave a quick rundown on the state of the team:
That's funny. Without getting too cocky, I'd look at the Yankees losing two of three as a disapointment.
Yankees 9, Babybacks 4
Bernie Williams lead off the game last night with a home run, and the Yankees scored four runs in the first inning. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez--who has now reached base in 52 consecutive games--added homers as the Bombers provided Tanyon Sturtze with all the support he would need. Again, it wasn't necessarily easy or pretty for Sturtze, but the Yankees will take it. Posada, Sheffield, Matsui and Giambi all contributed offensively, and the Diamondbacks helped them out by kicking the ball around more than somewhat. Rodriguez also contributed with the leather. According to Tyler Kepner in the Times:
New York has now won four straight and are five-and-a half games in front of Boston who came up short in Colorado (Curt Schilling took the "L" in Trot Nixon's first game back with the Sox).
Scene of the Crime
We all know what happened the last time the Yankees played in Arizona. The last time the Bombers played in Los Angeles wasn't too much fun either. Murray Chass has a piece about Boss Steinbrenner's infamous elevator ride during the 1981 World Serious, which the Yankees lost in six games. I was ten years old that year, my parents were in the process of getting divorced, and I shed many tears after the Yankees blew a 2-0 lead to the Dodgers. Jay Jaffe, an avid L.A. fan in those years, probably remembers it differently, especially after the Dodgers fell to the Yanks in 1977 and '78 (which must have been especially painful).
Yanks 4, Diamondbacks 2
Cliff Corcoran stayed up and so did Steve Bonner. Peep their reports, forthwith. Bernie Williams (leading off again), Derek Jeter and Gary Sheffield all had three hits. Alex Rodriguez singled and walked and has now reached base in 51 straight games. The Bombers left a ton of men on base, but scored just enough to win. Contreras pitched well enough, while Flash Gordon and Mariano Rivera nailed down the win.
Kevin Brown was put on the DL but should be ready to pitch against the Mets in a few weeks.
Hey, and not for nothing, but what's up with the Times running a lengthy profile on Curt Schilling this morning? I can understand when Jack Curry was dispatched to cover the return of Nomar Garciaparra, and I can even understand why they would run a piece on Schilling, but why now? Maybe when the Yanks play the Sox again in a few weeks. Do New Yorkers really want to know about Schilling that badly? Or does it have something to do with the fact that the Times is a minority owner in the Red Sox? I don't get it.
Meeting of the Minds
Alex Ciepley soon joined us. Alex looks like a young Alec Guiness. He's got smiling eyes, and seems to be in a constant state of amusement. Jay Jaffe (Robin Ventura with black-rimmed glasses) found us in the park and the four of us had a good time chatting. It was a brilliantly sunny day; the park was gearing up for a concert that night, sound-check and all. Jay got a call from Steve Goldman and Chris Karhl who were tied up in traffic and running late.
As 6:00 rolled around, we headed over to the bookstore. The first speaker, a con artist named Dan Schlossberg, was hawking his recent book on the world champion Marlins. Cliff Corcoran, who showed up shortly after us, leaned over to me and said that Schlossberg was a dead-ringer for Bob Balaban. Not a bad call, though this zhlub had a rounder face. Schlossberg spoke rapidly and patrionizingly at his audience, not to us. With his shirt collar exposing a gold Jewish star, Schlossberg had the greaseball charm of one of the salesmen from "Tin Men" or "Glengary Glen Ross." There was a group of us who were squirming in our chairs, shooting clandestine looks, like we were kids in high school. Not one for a fight, I quickly tuned Schlossberg out. But Mike C, who was fidgeting and shifting in his seat like a kettle ready to boil over, could not. Mike is not the sort who suffers fools lightly, and soon enough, he was challenging Schlossberg.
That was good for some private laughs, but I couldn't take much more of this guy, so I excused myself and poked my head around the cook books until Kahrl and Goldman showed up. They arrived before long, both wearing black. For those who don't know, Kahrl--BP's most sardonic wit--is a woman who used to be a man (she's the sabermetric Dorothy Parker). She has a broad face like a man, but fine features like a woman. We were sitting across the room from the podium, where Chris' feminine features--thin, raised eyebrows and think lips--were accentuated. Did she look like a cross between Christopher Reeves and David Bowie? No, that wasn't quite it. She had the look of a Hollywood starlet from the 30s or 40s. Paulette Goddard came to mind.
Chris spoke in a low, husky voice which sounded male, but her body language and facial expressions were decidedly female. She rolled and flitted her eyes, like a teenager. Both Kahrl and Goldman wore black in honor of the late Doug Pappas. Karhl spoke first and eloquenly eulogized her friend. It was difficult for me to hear her at first. Her voice was muffed and she spoke softly into her chin. But her words were poignant and moving.
I have to admit, the scene was right out of a David Lynch movie. There we were, a small, clannish group of baseball freaks listening to Kahrl talk about the finer points of advanced statistical analysis. Talk about off the beaten path. Especially after the comedy provided by our first speaker, it was a sight to see! Kahrl hinted at the recent changes in her life--once with regards to how Pappas had supported her from jump, and another time when answering a question about whether she would be interested in working for a major league team--but didn't talk about it directly. Personally, I was impressed that she had the courage to talk about it all. (After the signing was over, I was introduced to Chris briefly. Her features were more blunt up-close, and she was friendly and warm, a very cool lady.) But as she spoke, I scanned the room and wondered what the audience made of her. Of course, I have no way of knowing what they were thinking, but I didn't catch any funny or screw-faced looks. Frankly, I think they were too interested in what she was saying, not what she looked like. When a group of us huddled outside of the store later on, there was no tension at all, and Chris spoke to an audience that was hanging on her every word.
Goldman, far more at ease with public speaking, was as aimable and charming as ever. I actually missed hearing Steven speak at the Prospectus feed earlier this spring, and was grateful to see him in action on Saturday. I still haven't spent more than five minutes talking to Goldman, but am more impressed with him each time I see him.
I had to break out shortly after the signing was over to attend my cousin's birthday party. But it was great to talk with hardcore baseball fans like Darren (aka Repoz)--who told me stories about growing up with the Mike Burke Yankees, and Jon Daly, a Red Sox fan, who is a keen student of baseball history. Jay, Cliff, Chris, Alex and Steven all went out for eats and drinks and hours of more baseball talk. Next time, I hope to stick around longer. My only complaint is that there was Derek Jacques was nowhere to be found. Groucho once said that he wouldn't want to belong to any kind of club that would have someone like him for a member, but I'd happily sport my baseball nerd club card anywhere, anytime.
Two For the Road
I did cave in and ask Em to tape the game however. And when I got home late Saturday night, I watched the good parts. Gary Sheffield had the game-winning hit, and the Yankees made several good defensive plays which proved to be the difference. Jon Lieber gave up a ton of hits, but managed to work out of trouble all day long.
I headed out to the Stadium just before noon on Sunday afternoon. On the subway, I encountered a brood on their way down to the Puerto Rican day parade. I wished them a good time and was met with indifference. But I made eye-contact with a boy, wearing a tank-top with a Puerto Rican flag on it, and said "What's up?" We talked baseball until I had to transfer. The kid's name was Michael. He's ten years old and has been to three Yankee games in his life. I shared with him how much I love the Yanks, and showed him my scorebook. We had a great chat, no matter how unfriendly the rest of his family was.
As I was waiting on the 145th street platform to catch the D train, I spotted a pair of Japanese guys and couldn't resist approaching them. The guys were a few years older than me, and have followed Hideki Matsui since he was in high school. This was their first trip to Yankee stadium. Well, that was all I had to hear, and I proceeded to give them my 20-minute introduction to the stadium, the team, and everything New York. Both guys spoke English well, and I happily played host.
It was a warm day in the Bronx, but by the middle of the afternoon, it was mercifully overcast and breezy. Jay Jaffe and I watched the game together. Both David Wells and Javier Vazquez were both excellent. Wells pitched seven innings and left with a 2-0 lead. Actually, the Yankees were down to their last out before they made it a contest. Trevor Hoffman, the Padres' great closer, had retired the first two men in the bottom of the ninth. Then Godziller Matsui hit a bomb deep into the right-field bleachers. Kenny Lofton then pinch-hit for Tony Clark. I wasn't ready to get too excited yet. "He's got to hit a home run," is what I was thinking. And on a 2-1 pitch, he did just that; a line drive into the right field seats.
Good gosh, is this team charmed or what? The Padres came back and touched Brett Prinz (who pitched out of a jam on Saturday) and Felix Heredia for three runs in the top of the 12th. Have no fear though. The Yanks put together an assembly-line rally in the bottom of the frame and scored four runs to steal the victory. Fittingly, Boriqua Ruben Sierra had the game-winning RBI. Jay and I were exhausted and elated. Oh, and Alex Rodriguez has now reached base in 50 straight games.
For a look at the San Diego side of things, head on over to Duck Snorts for the skinny.
The Red Sox beat L.A. last night to remain three-and-a-half back. These were two crucial victories for the Yanks, as they head to Arizona and Los Angeles this week with a patchwork pitching staff. Tanyon Sturtze and Jose Contreras will pitch in Arizona and a mystery pitcher will get a turn in L.A. In addition, Mariano Rivera was unavailable yesterday due to tightness in his back. He expects to be fine on Tuesday night.
Padres 10, Yanks 2
The Yanks can't come from behind to win all the time. Trailing by three runs, they loaded the bases with no out in the bottom of the sixth and came away with just one run. The Pads blew the game apart late, capped by a three-run bomb off the bat of Phil Nevins. Thank you, Gabe White.
It was the first game I had to walk away from all season. Mostly it was a result of my having had a long, irritating week. I poured all of my frustrations into the game, and it wasn't long after Mussina left that I sunk into a deep funk. (Hey, just because I'm a Yankee fan, and am sperled silly, doesn't mean I'm don't get nuts like every other red-blooded baseball fan.) Emily, who has an easier time digesting the Yankees' failures, was busy sorting my jar of loose change into packets to bring to the bank. After the sixth, I took myself a nice long walk; I needed to cool off and relax. I got home in time to see Nevins blast and discover that the Dodgers weren't worth half a shit in Boston last night, losing a close one, 2-1 (Cookie strikes again).
But it is an absolutely gorgeous day this afternoon. Mussina may or may not have to miss a start, but his injury doesn't appear to be dire. According to the Times:
The results on Kevin Brown's came back, and he too may not have to miss more than a start or two:
Brown is more of concern than Mussina. But let's be real. We know that sooner or later, there will be another starting pitcher with the team, and possibly another bullpen arm too (and I don't just mean El Duque and Karsay from Queens).
Jon Lieber pitches this afternoon, a 4:00 pm start. Considering the fact that there isn't a cloud in the sky, the late afternoon light will be acute and brilliant later on. Wait til the shadows start to creep toward the middle of the game. It should be a good one. But I'm going to miss it. I'm out of the crib all day and was planning on recording it, but decided it wouldn't be the worst thing for me to miss a game entirely. I can catch the highlights late tonight. A little detox never hurt anyone. Plus, I'm going to meet up with Cliff Corcoran, Jay Jaffe, Alex Ciepley, and Mike C to catch Chris Karhl and Steve Goldman at their BP/PB feed at the Coliseum this evening anyhow. I'm sure there will be a bunch of other cool nerds there--I hope my man Derek Jacques shows up--so I'm a be plenty deep in baseball regardless.
Yo, I hope everyone is having a good weekend. Go Yanks.
Another One Bites the Dust
Obviously, this is discouraging news for the Yankees. I'm feeling tense, I can only imagine how Brian Cashman is doing.
Oy fuggin veh.
Yankees 10, Rockies 4
Jose Contreras allowed three home runs yesterday but pitched decidedly better than he has in his last two outings. After giving up two runs in the third and two more in the fourth, Contreras was ready to unravel once again. But, as the New York Times reports, Contreras got a boost from his third baseman:
Contreras pitched well through the seventh, retiring the last eleven batters he faced. The Yankees eventually blew the game open when John Flaherty hit a grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning (Jorge Posada's back-up ended the day with five RBI). Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez each had two hits and two RBI (Rodriguez has now reached base safely in 47 straight games). But the standout of the afternoon was Bernie Williams who went 3-3 with two walks. The third hit, a single, was the 2000th of Williams' career.
Larry Mahnken takes a close look at Bernie's chances to make the Hall of Fame today and concludes:
For those of you who have something to add to the conversation, head over to Larry's Replacement Level Yankees Weblog and let him know what you think.
There are conflicting reports about the status of Kevin Brown this morning. The Times is more optimistic than either the News or the Post. According to Tyler Kepner:
What Did You Expect?
Jack Curry has a he said/she said piece in the Times today pitting Yankee GM Brian Cashman vs. the Yankees' erstwhile sousepaw Boomer Wells. There will likely be more to follow in the tabloids over the weekend as Wells is due to pitch on Sunday afternoon in the Bronx. Jay Jaffe and I will be at the game. Earlier in the week, Jay wrote me and said that he wouldn't mind seeing Boomer beat both the Sox and the Yanks on this road trip. While I sure wanted to see Wells beat Boston, I hope the Yankees knock him around but good on Sunday. I enjoyed watching Wells pitch when he was with New York. The guy threw strikes and didn't mince around on the mound. But the man is an incorrigible bore off the field. I grew tired of his act and wasn't especially sorry to see him go. Sure, the Yanks could probably use him right about now. Considering how the Yankee rotation is set up you can hardly blame Wells for bolting either. (That he has absolutely no couth is another issue.) I'm sure he'll get a nice reception from the Stadium crowd. Hell, I'll cheer for him when he comes out to the mound in the first inning. He deserves it. But that's where it'll end for me.
Curt Schilling and the Red Sox beat up on the Padres last night as the Sox remain three-and-a-half behind the Yankees. Nomar had 2 RBI and Manny hit a homer. The Sox host the L.A. Dodgers over the weekend.
Yankees 7, Rockies 5
Two nights ago I caught a portion of "Baseball Tonight" and John Kruk actually had some reasonable things to say about Yankee fans. He said that we should appreciate how lucky we are to be able to watch star players like Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Derek Jeter each and every day. For once, it was hard to disagree with him. I was thinking about just how fortunate I do feel every night as I sit down to watch this team as Kevin Brown quickly recorded the first two outs in the first inning last night. With the count 2-0 to Todd Helton my reverie was rudely interrupted by a terse, vicious chant of "Rockies suck, Rockies suck."
Where did that come from? Some poor schnook must have had the misfortune to wear a Rockies cap, or perhaps he or she said something wise to provoke such a quick, angry response. Regardless, a group of fans were on the attack. By the time the count was even at 2-2 they were yelling, "Ass-hole, ass-hole." Unfortunately, it isn't enough for some Yankee fans to appreciate the good thing we've got going. They've got to be smug and ugly too. Ah, well.
Brown let several pitches up in the zone in the second inning, Gary Sheffield was charged with a throwing error (although his toss to Alex Rodriguez could have been handled), and somebody missed a pick-off sign at second base, as the Rockies scored four runs. Worse, Taynon Sturtze--slacked-jawed with something resembling fear in his eyes--replaced Brown in the third inning.
Brown was diagnosed with a strain in his lower back. The extent of his injury is uncertain but this cannot come as a surprise to Yankee fans. It's never been if Brown will be hurt this season, it's when. Evidentally, the time is now. This may hasten the Yankees search for another starting pitcher, but all considering, it's preferable to have Brown break down now rather than in September and October. Still, losing Brown at a time when Jose Contreras has been awful, Jon Lieber has been up and down and the bullpen has been taxed, is enough to make some Yankee fans a bit, shall we say, irrational. Who cares if the Yanks have the best record in baseball, time to panic! (Headlines to follow.)
Sturtze got himself into immediate trouble, loading the bases and walking a run in. I cursed him out and after a double play got him out of the inning, he yelled at himself too, and slapped the side of his head with his mitt. Sturtze calmed down after that and didn't allow another run over four innings of work. The Yankees chipped away at the lead, as has become their custom. With runners and first and second and nobody out in the Yankee third, Colorado's starting pitcher Joe Kennedy made a throwing error which opened the door for the Bombers, who scored four runs, including a laser, two-run rope by Gary Sheffield which knocked off the left field foul pole.
Kennedy crusied after that, but Derek Jeter finally got to him in the seventh. Jeter fouled off four two-strike pitches in a ten-pitch at bat and smacked a two-run homer into the right field bleachers. Bernie Williams followed with a solo shot that landed just over the right field fence. The smile on Bernie's face as he crossed the plate was sweet and wide. I don't recall seeing him look so happy all season. But, the weather is getting hot--it was uncomfortably humid last night--just how Bernie likes it.
Once again, Flash Gordon pitched the eighth and Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth to seal the victory for New York. The Yanks increased their lead over Boston to three-and-a-half games after the Sox were pounded by the Padres in a rain-delayed affair at Fenway Park. Nomar Garciaparra made his season debut for the Sox, going 1-2 (a single through the left side and a hard line out to left field).
Different day, same score. The Yankees won a pitcher's duel at the Stadium last night as Javier Vazquez won his seventh game of the year. For the second-straight game, Jason Giambi had the game-winning RBI, a two-run single. Tom Gordon replaced Vazquez in the eighth, and Mariano Rivera recorded the save in the ninth (the game ended when Jorge Posada threw out pinch-runner Denny Hocking). It was crisp, efficient game that was played in just under two-and-a-half hours. Thomas George has a nice write-up in the Times, while Brian Lewis' coverage in the Post is marked by sloppiness. In the opening paragraph, Lewis notes that starting pitching has not been one of the Yankees' strengths this season:
Later, he adds:
Perhaps Lewis meant to say "the enigmatic" Vazquez, but it's hard to figure what's so mysterious about Vazquez. He hasn't been so inconsistent either. He's got the best ERA on the staff while he's received the lowest run support.
Bill Madden catches up with Gary Sheffield, while Jay Greenberg has a puff piece on my man Bernie Williams.
Elsewhere, the old Pedro Martinez was on display at Fenway Park last night as he two-hit the Padres for eight innings. Keith Foulke pitched the ninth and the Sox won, 1-0. There is rarely a dull moment with Martinez. Hey, at least he keeps Sox fans on their toes, huh? Out west, Roger Clemens won his ninth game of the year as the Astros blanked the Mariners, 1-zip.
I can't call it
In his Under the Knife column yesterday, Will Carroll had this to say about former Yankee hurler Andy Pettitte:
It made me think: when is it safe to applaud the Yankees for choosing to go with Vazquez over Pettitte? I liked the cherce from jump, but the local media slammed the Yankees for letting Pettitte, a proven winner, walk. Late in the day, I read the latest from Peter Gammons:
If Pettitte can't get healthy and Vazquez continues to pitch well in New York, it'll be interesting to see if and when Cashman and company receive some kudos for making a smart, tough move.
It looks as if Gary Sheffield will be in the line-up tonight as the Rockies (?!?!) come to town (while Derek Jeter will be a game-time decision). According to Yankee advisor, Reggie Jax:
Sheffield was named the AL player of the week. Considering that he was battling a stomach virus by the weekend, that's nothing to sneeze at. Oh, and not for nothing, but do you think his thumb has healed yet?
The Yanks selected two pitchers and a catcher in the first round of the draft yesterday.
Yanks 2, Rangers 1
In Sunday's Daily News, columnist John Harper asked, "When's the last time a Yankee pitcher threw a [Juan] Dominguez-type gem?"* Mike Mussina had an answer for Harper and the Rangers on Sunday afternoon as he tossed his most impressive game of the year, shutting out Texas through eight innings (he would allow one run), striking out ten and walking nobody. Mariano Rivera relieved Mussina in the ninth and got the save. It was another unseasonably cool and overcast day in New York; Mussina's kind of weather. Buck Showalter wasn't crazy about how balls and strikes were called but Joel Sherman and Bill Madden report that this is just the kind of start that the Yankees needed. Ryan Drese was almost as good for Texas, pitching a complete game. The difference was solo home runs by Bernie Williams, who went 3-4 batting lead-off for the first time since April 16, 1996--and Jason Giambi. Gary Sheffield, still ill, was sent home and did not play. Derek Jeter was out too, and may not play until Wednesday. Inter-league play begins tomorrow as the Colorado Rockie (?!?!) come to town.
The Yanks remain two-and-a-half games up on the Red Sox, who defeated the Royals yesterday in Kansas City.
*Dominguez shut the Yanks down on Saturday afternoon. In yesterday's post I incorrectly stated that it was the first start of Dominguez's career. He started three games for Texas last season and one earlier this year. Thanks to Repoz for setting me straight.
Rangers 8, Yanks 1
Can't Win 'Em All
It was a tough day for Jon Lieber as the Yanks and Texas pounded them on a cool and overcast day in the Bronx. Forgettable is another word. Emily and I were in the house, and it was great to be out at the game together. There was another big crowd at the Stadium in spite of the threatening weather—it never did rain—and nobody seemed too upset that the Yanks took one on the chin. I think I was more glum than anyone else I saw. There were plenty of kids around, and even in the ninth inning they were making much noise. (The most memorable moment came early in the game when I heard the high-pitched encouragement of a little boy sitting several rows above us, "Come on Bernie, you can do it!")
Jon Lieber was hit but hard. Mark Teixeira launched a bomb into the upper deck in right, and Brad Fullmer, the Rangers' muscle-bound DH, had himself a birthday-worthy afternoon (just not mine), going 3-4 and scoring 4 runs. The Rangers got nine excellent innings from Juan Dominguez, who was making his first major league start. I couldn't tell what he was throwing from our seats, but he seemed to have a slider, or some kind of breaking pitch, that was working very well off of his fastball.
Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada both went 0-4 and looked bad in the process. However, Godziller Matsui also went ofer, but hit the ball hard in three of his four at bats. Ruben Sierra's solo homer into the right field bleachers accounted for the Yankees' lone run. Alex Rodriguez continued his streak on reaching base with a base on balls and a single, and Gary Sheffield—dhing again—had two hits. Down 6-1 with two men on in the sixth, Sheffield absolutely scorched a line drive to left. Only trouble was that he hit it so hard, it didn't have time to drop in for a hit and Eric Young made a nifty sliding grab. Sheff did beat out an infield single in the ninth; down seven runs, it was good to see that he was still hustling.
The game was marked by the passing of Ronald Reagan. When Hank Blalock lead off the fourth inning, a fat guy a few rows down from us, made the announcement. There was a moment of silence during the seventh inning stretch. When Bob Shepard informed the crowd of his passing, there was a collective gasp in the crowd. I was nine years old when Reagan was elected president and I spent my adolescence as a classic Reagan-hater. I used to dream about the day he'd pass away. But I didn't feel much of anything upon hearing the news yesterday. I suspect it's because he seems as if he's been dead for several years now. Regardless, this isn't the appropriate forum for political ranting, so I'll leave it at that.
The Red Sox, who lost on Friday night, won with Curt Schilling on the hill on Saturday night in Kansas City and now trail the Yanks by two-and-a-half games.
Seems Like Old Times
As I've mentioned several times in this space before, when I worked for Joel and Ethan Coen from the fall of 1996 through the fall of '97, the only Yankee that Ethan liked to any degree was Kenny Rogers. Why Rogers? Well, as you can imagine the Yankees aren't exactly the kind of team for the Coen sensibility and Rogers stuck out like a sore thumb on the Cinderella team in '96. Unlike David Cone or El Duque, Rogers (like Denny Neagle) never fit the Yankee mold. A control specialist, Rogers drove Joe Torre and Yankee fans nuts that summer and never performed up to expectations in New York.
With a wide-jaw and square frame, Rogers looked like Joe Everybody, or Joe Anybody pitching for the Yanks. (Walter Mitty, this is your life.) Rogers resembles a slightly dumpier, plainer version of a Lifetime Network character actor. He's been a good pitcher over the course of his career—and is off to a fine start this season—but in New York, Kenny Rogers was considered a loser. A lovable loser to some, but a loser all the same. That's why Ethan Coen liked him. He is naturally drawn to losers, and Rogers is like a character out of one of the Coen brothers movies; self-satisfied, obstinate and hapless. (Kevin Brown could be a character in a Coen brothers movie too, but he's not a lovable or a loser. He's not calm and agreeable like Kenny; he's too furious. He may not be a loser, but he thinks he's a loser.)
Old lanternjaw Rogers looked sharp over the first couple of innings at the Stadium last night, working the corners, moving in and out, throwing nothing but slop. Going into the game, Rogers was 0-7 in his last 10 starts in the Bronx. But hey, Aaron Sele—another Yankee punching bag—pitched well here earlier in the season, so who is to say that it wasn't Kenny's turn?
In the first inning, the Stadium crowd gave Alfonso Soriano a rousing ovation when he came to bat. As he dug into the batter's box, 'Lil Sori tipped his helmet, and then promptly grounded out to Alex Rodriguez at third. (Rodriguez made a nifty play as the ball took a bad, late hop.)
With two men on in the third Soriano came to bat again and he sliced a fly ball over the right field fence for a three-run home run. The crowd cheered. And I don't mean politely, they gave it up for the kid. Michael Kay, the play-by-play man for the YES network said, "I"m shocked." How often do you hear Yankee fans cheering a three-run homer for an opposing team? It was a special moment, and Soriano's feet must have barely touched the ground. I wonder is how his new teammates felt. (The lovefest was over then and there; the next time Soriano came to bat, the crowd cheerfully booed.) Mark Teixeria added a solo shot later in the frame and Kenny Rogers had himself a four-run lead.
But it wouldn't last long. Derek Jeter beat out a ground ball in the third for an infield single. (He was removed from the game at the end of the inning after experiencing tightness in his groin; he's likely to miss the rest of the weekend series but is expected to play next week.) Bernie Williams followed with a two-run home run to left field and the score was cut in half.
Rogers got into further trouble, allowing a single and walking two to load the bases. But Tony Clark grounded out weakly to the mound to end the inning. However, in the fourth, Rogers left a fastball up and over the plate to Enrique Wilson who pounced on it for a solo shot to left. He came back and retired Miguel Cairo (in for Jeter) and Williams before Alex Rodriguez hit a moon shot deep to left which tied the game. Rogers tried to go up and in on Rodriguez, but the Yankee third baseman used his bat speed and incredible strength to muscle the ball for a homer. Two pitches later, Rogers went down-and-away and Gary Sheffield went fishing, smacking a loud homer to left. Back-to-back jacks and everything was starting to feel rosey in Yankee land.
In the bottom of the fifth, Hideki Matsui lead off with a homer that landed half-way up the right-centerfield bleachers, another shot. Buck Showalter sprinted from the dugout and pointed toward his bullpen with his left hand. It was an almost comic gesture. Showalter looked furious at himself that he had allowed Rogers to pitch to another batter.
But Texas was not finished and they tied the game in the sixth on a walk, a double, a passed ball and an infield single. Texas reliever Jay Howell retired the first five Yankees he faced, but Gary Sheffield—who was suffering from a stomach virus—connected for his second home run of the game in the bottom of the sixth, and the Yanks were ahead for good.
Paul Quantrill worked out of a jam in the seventh, which ended when Enrique Wilson made a sterling play on a Brad Fullmer ground ball that was headed up the middle. (Wilson made like Jeter and strained his groin too and will not play again this weekend either.) Quantrill pitched well in the eighth and Mariano Rivera pitched a one-two-three ninth. It was the fourth straight game that Rivera has appeared in (this was only the second time in his career that he's pitched in four consecutive games).
In all, it was as entertaining a game as the Yanks have played all season. Good defense and six home runs. The injury to Jeter, and to a lesser extent, Wilson, was unfortunate, but it doesn't appear as if either of them will miss too much time. The Yanks have now won ten out of their last eleven games. Ruben Sierra started in right field last night and until the top of the eighth, caught seven fly balls while none were hit toward Bernie or Godzilla.
Can you relate?
I can't believe I am in a relationship with a woman who actually likes baseball. And I don't mean that she simply tolerates it, Emily enjoys it. She's curious, she asks questions, she's grown attached to some of the players. But she's never been drawn to a player like she currently is to Tony Clark. She likes the fact that he's big and slow, and likes his big eyes. Earlier in the week I told her that he wouldn't be starting when Giambi returns and further that he's lucky to be a Yankee at all this year. If Travis Lee didn't get hurt, he would have been history. "Don't say such things," Emily says. When I informed her that this is likely to be the only year that Clark is on the team, she was even more upset. It's getting so that she can't enjoy watching him because she's too concerned with the fact that he'll be leaving at the end of the year.
Clark hasn't been hitting this week, and with each out, Emily seems to get more upset. When Clark came to bat with the bases loaded in the third inning, Emily slide off the couch and got on her knees. "Come on, let's pray." I chose not to join her, but thoroughly enjoyed watching her become one of us. This was the first time Emily had shown such emotion over the outcome of a play. When he tapped out to Rogers, she slammed her hand on the coffee table and shrugged her shoulders. I rubbed her back empathetically.
She's begining to learn. We are off to the Stadium today. I turned 33 this past week and this is my birthday present to myself. With Jason Giambi due to return to the line up tomorrow, it's fitting that Emily will get a chance to see Tony Clark's last start for a couple of games.
By Bruce Markusen
June 3, 2004
Regular Season Edition
From Pirate Parody to Lumber Company Revival
Daryle Ward is this generation’s Willie Stargell. Jack Wilson is a combination of Gene Alley and Tim Foli, but with a better bat. Rob Mackowiak is Richie Hebner. Craig Wilson is the new Bob Robertson. And Jason Kendall is Manny Sanguillen, only with more talent.
Some of these statements are blatant exaggerations, while others are only slightly legitimate comparisons. The Pirates of 2004 are a far cry from Pittsburgh’s World Championship teams of 1971 and 1979, but for the first time in a long while, the Bucs are giving the city of Pittsburgh some real hope in the form of young, talented players who have futures in the game, unlike the Kevin Youngs and Raul Mondesis of the world.
To some extent, the comparisons of current-day players to Pirate stars of years gone by have some legitimacy, even if only through the images that the players create. Daryle Ward, like Willie Stargell, started his career as an outfielder before settling into a newfound role as the Pirates’ everyday first baseman. Like Starg, Ward is big, left-handed, and powerful, with the same kind of intimidating frame that “Pops” featured during his latter years, when he also doubled as the team’s father figure. Ward will obviously never develop into the Hall of Fame player that Stargell became in the 1970s, but he was once a top-notch prospect who was considered the “next, great left-handed power hitter” for the Astros, something they’d been searching for since John Mayberry’s early days as a prospect. At 28, Ward is still young enough to have Mike Easler’s kind of career, and there’s nothing wrong with a team possessing that kind of building block in trying to assemble a championship contender.
At shortstop, Jack Wilson’s defensive play reminds more than a few Pirate historians of the days of Tim Foli and Gene Alley. Wilson is actually a better shortstop than Foli and might be a better defender than Alley in every way except for the ability to turn double plays. If Wilson can avoid the kind of back problems that derailed Alley’s career and maintain a batting average of .280 or better (no one really expects him to hit .350 all season long), the Pirates might actually have a finer all-around shortstop than Alley—maybe their best since the salad days of Dick Groat.
Like Richie Hebner, Hacking Rob Mackowiak is a defensive liability at third base, but has the same kind of aggressive, left-handed swing that could keep him around for more than a few years as an infield cornerman and outfielder—the kind of supplemental piece that every playoff team needs. The Pirates are still searching for the Jose Pagan counterpart to platoon with Mackowiak, but that’s a lesser concern at a time when there are so few left-handed starting pitchers of any quality.
Of all the principals mentioned in this comparison, the Pirates’ most intriguing player might be Craig Wilson, a deserving favorite in the Sabermetric community who has finally been given a chance to play regularly after several seasons of platooning and super-utilityman status. Although the long-haired Wilson plays a different position (right field and left field) than the close-cropped Bob Robertson (who was primarily a first baseman), there are some similarities. Both have—or in the case of Robertson, had—enormous right-handed power, to the potential tune of 30 home runs a season, while supplying their managers with the flexibility to fill in at other spots in the order. It doesn’t seem like a stretch that Wilson will one day (and perhaps this year) better Robertson’s career high of 27 home runs, while also drawing more walks and giving Lloyd McClendon the added bonus of a third catcher (something that Robertson couldn’t do for Danny Murtaugh or Bill Virdon). The “Blonde Bomber” needs only to avoid the kind of injuries, especially back problems, that sidetracked Robertson, preventing him from becoming the next Ralph Kiner and forcing his departure from Pittsburgh well before the glory year of 1979.
Unlike the other players mentioned, Jason Kendall doesn’t merit being called a developing youngster anymore, but he won’t turn 30 until later this month and has the kind of athletic ability that could give him the longevity of a Craig Biggio. Kendall’s defensive game falls short of Manny Sanguillen in his prime, especially in terms of arm strength, but he sprays singles and doubles with the same proficiency. Plus, his superior power and athleticism could help him make the positional transfer that Sanguillen was unable to do in 1973, when the Pirates asked him to play right field in the aftermath of the death of Roberto Clemente
The images of the 1970s certainly exist with the current crop of Bucs, but that’s not to say that these Pirates are on the verge of World Championship status. They don’t have a corner outfielder of the vintage of Roberto Clemente or Dave Parker (few teams do), at least not until J.J Davis breaks through or Jason Bay lives up to the level of hype he received in San Diego. There’s no one to patrol center field who matches the hitting of Al Oliver or the speed and defense of Omar Moreno. The Pirates also don’t have a second baseman who ranks with Dave Cash, Rennie Stennett, or Phil Garner, though they’re still hoping that Bobby “The King” Hill will become better than league average. Most importantly, the Pittsburgh pitching staff is lacking the types of right-handed hammers that highlighted both the start and finish of the 1970s. Kip Wells might become the next Steve Blass, but there’s no one to fill the Dock Ellis or Bert Blyleven roles, and even less talent to occupy the bottom-of-the-rotation spots. (On the plus side, they may have the new John Candelaria in dynamic left-hander Oliver Perez, who was part of the haul for Brian Giles late last summer.) And no one is confusing the current-day Jose Mesa with palmballing Dave Giusti or submarining Kent Tekulve in their respective primes.
So what does all of this mean? The Pirates, currently toying with the .500 mark, are not going to make the playoffs this season, not in the tough environs of the National League Central. They’re not going to win a World Championship next season, either. Yet, they have a chance, albeit a remote one, of maintaining a .500 record through the remainder of the season. More importantly, they have given Pirate fans a reason other than the wonderful atmosphere of PNC Park to attend games on a regular basis. And that’s a start.
Center Field Circus
Four straight wins have helped soothe some wounds, but observers of the Mets are still scratching their scorecards in disbelief over the lineup that Art Howe used in the finale of a recent series against the Marlins. Wanting to give both Mike Cameron and Cliff Floyd the day off on a hot afternoon in Miami, Howe rather inexplicably placed Shane Spencer in center field, surrounding him with rookie Eric Valent in left and veteran Karim Garcia in right. A capable corner outfielder, Spencer had never before played a major league game in center field, not even in a reserve role; not surprisingly, he made a critical error on a fly ball to left-center field, leading to three unearned runs against Steve Trachsel and contributing directly to an avoidable loss for the Mets. While Howe doesn’t really have a true backup center fielder on his 25-man roster (unless you consider the option of Super Joe McEwing), it would have made far more sense to use Garcia in that role for Sunday’s game. Garcia, who’s a better outfielder than Spencer and features a much stronger arm, has some familiarity with center field, having played a combined 21 games there for the Diamondbacks, Indians, and Yankees. While there’s no guarantee that Garcia would have made that third-inning catch against the Marlins, his experience in center fielder might have given him the necessary level of take-charge aggressiveness that was clearly lacking on the part of Spencer… Howe’s decision to rest two of his starting outfielders on the same day also raises some questions. The two players did collide in the previous game, with Cameron suffering a bruised shoulder. Still, Cameron remained in the game, leading me to believe that he could have played on Sunday. And while it’s true that Cameron’s been buried in an awful hitting slump, it might have been better to wait a game and rest him on a day that the Mets weren’t using a contact pitcher like Steve Trachsel. The decision to sit the brittle Floyd might have been a bit more defensible, since he suffered a bruised quadriceps in the collision and has been the kind of fragile player whose injuries only seem to mount when he is asked to play hurt… The Mets’ recent defensive lapses are a continuation of a season-long theme. They have committed more errors than any other National League team, which was not what general manager Jim Duquette had in mind after the wintertime acquisitions of Cameron and Kaz Matsui. Beyond the physical errors that show in the scorebook, the Mets have serious defensive limitations wherever Mike Piazza plays; at third base, where Ty Wigginton’s lack of range and Todd Zeile’s age continue the call for prospect David Wright; and at second base, where the glove work and range of Jose Reyes remain sorely missed.
Every once in awhile the photographer gets it wrong. That’s what happened with this card (No. 120) featuring pitcher Steve Busby—or whom the photographer thought was Steve Busby—as part of Topps’ eye-catching, multi-colored border set in 1975. In actuality, the pictured player is journeyman catcher Fran Healy, now known as the voice of the New York Mets on their cable television broadcasts. In examining cards from baseball’s past, some of these errors in identification are quite understandable, but this one falls into a more mystifying category. Healy and Busby really didn’t look alike; other than the fact that they are both white, their facial features were completely different circa 1975. Their impact on the field in 1974 was also quite distinct. Healy batted .252 with nine home runs as Kansas City’s relatively light-hitting starting catcher, usually batting in the bottom third of the order. In the meantime, the hard-throwing Busby put together one of the best seasons of his short-lived career, winning a career-high 22 games with a solid 3.39 ERA as the Royals’ ace. The peak of Busby’s season came on June 14, when he no-hit the Milwaukee Brewers and came within a mere walk to George Scott of twirling a perfect game. With his second no-hitter of the last 14 months in the books, Busby seemed destined for Hall of Fame greatness. Unfortunately, he hurt his arm within two years, never won more than six games in a season after 1975, and found himself out of baseball by the end of 1980. Who would have thought that some 20 years later, Healy’s presence as a longtime broadcaster would have made him more of a household name than Busby, who’s become forgotten by the baseball world? Perhaps Busby’s 1975 Topps card was a harbinger of things to come.
Doug Pappas (Died on May 20 in Big Bend National Park, Texas; age 42; heat prostration): A controversial but popular writer known for his knowledge of the business side of baseball, Pappas died while hiking in a national park, reportedly passing away from the effects of heat stroke. A longtime lawyer, Pappas gained much of his notoriety for his adversarial relationship with baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, whom he often criticized at his own web site—where he featured a daily weblog—and in published articles about the game’s economics. Pappas also served the Society for American Baseball Research as its pro bono legal counsel while working as the chairman of the organization’s “Business of Baseball” Committee. (He also wrote the committee’s “Around The Horn” newsletter.) In addition to his interests in baseball’s economic side, Pappas’ research expertise included the unrelated area of baseball ejections. Compiling a comprehensive list of ejections, Pappas won the USA Today Baseball Weekly Award for best presentation at the 2000 SABR Convention, as he delivered an in-depth study of the subject.
At the time of his death, Pappas was employed as an attorney at the New York City firm, Mintz and Gold, where he practiced law in the areas of civil and commercial litigation.
Buster Narum (Died on May 17 in Clearwater, Florida; age 63): A veteran of five seasons in the major leagues, Narum pitched for the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Senators, and Chicago White Sox in the 1960s. the right-hander compiled a lifetime record of 14-27 with an ERA of 4.45 and was perhaps best known for being traded from the Orioles to the Senators in a straight-up deal for Lou Piniella. Narum also hit three home runs in 118 major league at-bats.
Moe Burtschy (Died on May 2 in Delhi Township, Ohio; age 82; heart failure): A tall right-hander who pitched in the 1950s, Burtschy played for both the Philadelphia and Kansas City A’s after a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II. During the war, Burtschy served aboard the famed USS Ticonderoga. Making his debut for Philadelphia in 1950, Burtschy went on to post 10 wins and four saves in 90 major league appearances. He remained with the A’s’ organization until June of 1956, when he was traded to the New York Yankees for Eddie Robinson and Lou Skizas. After his playing days, Burtschy went to work as a freight salesman in the trucking industry.
And Another Thing
A doubleheader of Special Edition Sandlot Stories (the Hall of Fame’s author series) will take place in Cooperstown this Saturday, June 5. At 1:30 p.m., visiting author David J. Kahn discusses his new book, Baseball Crosswords, which offers an array of puzzles for differing levels of fans. After the Bullpen Theater presentation, Kahn will be available to sign and personalize copies of his book. Another veteran author and Hall of Fame favorite, Alan Levy, will discuss his book, Rube Waddell: The Zany, Brilliant Life of a Strikeout Artist, which delves into the colorful life of the Hall of Fame left-hander. After the presentation, which begins at 3:30 p.m in the Bullpen Theater, Levy will sign copies of his book.
Cooperstown Confidential author Bruce Markusen is host of the Hall of Fame Hour, which airs each Thursday at 12 noon Eastern time on MLB.com Radio. He is also the author of three books on baseball, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, Roberto Clemente: The Great One, and The Orlando Cepeda Story. A fourth book, Ted Williams: A Biography (Greenwood Press), is scheduled for release in the fall of 2004. Markusen is also available for lectures and presentations on baseball and baseball history. For more information, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Yanks 5, Orioles 2
"I don't come to the ballpark every day to compete. I come to win." Lee Mazzilli
Both the Yankees and the Orioles received good efforts from their starting pitchers yesterday. Gary Sheffield came up with the big hit--a two-out, 2 RBI double off B.J. Ryan in the seventh--as the Yanks swept the Birds for the second time in two weeks. Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams were given the day off (though Bernie appeared in the ninth as a fielder--don't laugh), and Ruben Sierra started in right in place of Sheffield, who DH'd.
Although Flash Gordon and Mariano Rivera pitched once again, Javier Vazquez threw seven strong innings to give the rest of the bullpen a blow (trouble is, it's Gordon and Rivera that are in need of a day or two off). Vazquez found himself in one tight spot all afternoon. Melvin Mora, Miggy Tejada, and Senior Palmeiro singled to start the fourth, loading the bases. After getting ahead of Javey Lopez, Vazquez plunked the Orioles' DH forcing home a run. Vazquez cursed himself on the mound, and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre came out to settle him down. According to the Daily News:
Vazquez got B.J. Surhoff to pop out, he struck out Luis Matos on a nasty change up, and Larry Bigbie grounded out sharply to Jeter to end the inning:
The Orioles didn't get another hit all afternoon. Alex Rodriguez had two hits, including a double and has now reached base in 41 straight games. Sheff had two hits too; Hideki Matsui followed Sheff's game-breaking hit with an RBI single of his own.
While the Yankees continue to solve Jose Contreras' fragile noggin, the Times reports that the Mariners could be interested in the soporific Cuban:
Work it, Cash, work it.
Pedro Martinez leads the AL in strike outs and has had some sterling outings this season, but he's also been pounded at times too. Pedro's main man at the Globe, Dan Shaughnessy weighs in on what the trouble could be. (Could it be the hair?)
The Sox are now two-and-a-half games behind New York. Boston will be in K.C. this weekend while the Rangers visit the Bronx. Ethan Coen's favorite pitcher, the Gambler Kenny Rogers (who is having a fine season) will face Kevin Brown tonight.
Building a Better Bomb Squad
Derek Jeter laid down a sac bunt in the first inning against the O's today. The Bombers scored one run (on an RBI single by Alex Rodriguez); Javey Lopez hit a solo shot in the second. That's all I caught during my lunch hour. Feel free to chime in with thoughts or comments on the game for those of you lucky enough to be at home watching.
Do You Believe?
The facts are the following: Jose Contreras didn't make it out of the first inning last night. He threw 44 pitches, walked three, allowed three hits and a wild pitch. Derek Jeter made an error on the first play of the game (and another with two outs in the top of the ninth) and Enrique Wilson added a throwing error later in the frame. The Yankee offense was held to three hits all night. So? The Yankees managed to win the game before 50,000 fans anyhow, which according to Joel Sherman says more about the state of the Orioles than it does about the Yankees.
Still, after falling behind 5-0 in the first, what a nice win for the Yanks (and a discouraging loss for the Birds). Watching the Yanks toy with teams like Tampa Bay and Baltimore may be like watching paint dry for some, but hey, these are the games they are expected to win. If they were blowing them, we'd be hearing plenty about how this team just can't get it done. For some reason, they always seem to play tedious, drawn-out affairs against Baltimore. The first four innings last night were no expection.
Gary Sheffield connected for a three-run homer in the bottom of the first and Derek Jeter added a solo shot in the fifth. Taynon Sturtze and Brett Prinz--?!!?!--saved the Yankees bacon, while Flash Gordon and Mariano Rivera closed the door in the eighth and ninth.
The Orioles have not defeated the Yanks yet this season, and Lee Maz must be wondering what he's got to do to get a "w" against the Bombers. It doesn't get easier today as the Yanks send Javey Vazquez to the hill in an afternoon game.
The Yanks picked up a game on the Red Sox who were ripped by the Angels last night. Senior Superfreak Vlad Guerrero had four hits (including two dingers) and nine RBI. Pedro Martinez (4.40 ERA) was rocked though he didn't get tagged with the loss. One piece of good news for the Sox is that Nomar Garciaparra is expected to return shortly. Panic in the Nation? It'll take more than this to rattle Ed Cossette, bro.
Kenny Lofton told the local media that one of the reasons he has experienced hamstring problems this year is due to a lack of regular playing time. According to the New York Times:
Sooner or later, you've got to think that Lofton will be traded with the Yanks eating a good portion of his contract. According to Newsday, the Yanks are a longshot to land Carlos Beltran. Meanwhile, Hideki Matsui's left shoulder was heavily iced last night. No word yet as to what the problem is.
Too Close For Comfort
Going into the ninth inning with a five-run lead and Tom Gordon on the hill, there was plenty of reason for Yankee fans to feel confident last night. After all, Paul Quantrill had his best outing in weeks and the Yankee offense carried Mike Mussina again. But Gordon only recorded one out, while allowing two hits and a walk. Mariano Rivera was brought in and retired Melvin Mora on one pitch for the second out. But even before Mo came in I had a feeling that the Yankees were going to blow the game. Migeul Tejada singled scoring two runs and then Rivera walked Raffie Palmeiro to load the bases again. He fell behind Javey Lopez, who stroked a single to left scoring two more runs. A cushy 8-3 was now down to 8-7. But Rivera got B.J. Surhoff to fly out to left to end the game and disaster was averted. (Man, am I glad when my gut-feeling is wrong.) After the game, Rivera told the New York Times:
After a 45 minute rain delay, Mike Mussina labored through the first inning, allowing two runs and throwing 36 pitches. However, he settled down nicely after that, though he was still far from his A game:
Sidney Ponson continues to show that he's more chump than champ, unable to hold a lead. (He's the east coast's answer to Kelvim Escobar.) Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada hit homers. But Derek Jeter was the offensive star of the night for the Yanks, with four hits, including two solo dingers. Alex Rodriguez had a walk and a single and has now reached base safely in 39 consecutive games (a career high).
As Jason Giambi looks to rejoin the Yanks over the weekend, Kenny Lofton was placed on the DL due to a gimpy left hamstring.
Meanwhile, the Angels held on to beat the Red Sox last night in Anahiem. The Yanks are now a game ahead of Boston in the AL East.
So far, so good
Memorial Day is the first pit-stop of the baseball season, where we can check in and have some sense of storylines that will illuminate the season. The Yankees go into June tied with the Red Sox for first place. The Devil Rays beat the Yanks 7-6 on Sunday afternoon. The Yanks were down 6-0 going into the eighth. The Bombers end their longest road trip of the year, 8-4. The Sox and Yanks are tied for the best record in the game. I think that the best is yet to come for the Yankees, and of course the Red Sox will improve when Trot Nixon and Nomar return. Either team could also make a significant trade this summer too. The Yanks started off slowly, but have played very well since bottoming out against the Red Sox in Fenway Park. The greatest concern with the Yanks is keeping the team healthy, but that's the greatest concern with every team, isn't it? If they stay healthy, they will be rough on the opposition.
I've enjoyed watching the team a lot. I prefer them to the 2002 or 2003 editions. I loved Soriano and Nick Johnson, but I like Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield better. I like Kevin Brown better than Roger Clemens and I love Javier Vazquez. Not only that, but I like seeing Willie Randolph next to Joe Torre instead of Popeye Zimmer. And it's great to see Roy White, uncle Luis, and Don Mattingly on the coaching staff too.
Here are some my loose impressions of the team so far...
Behind the Plate:
We are seeing Jorge Posada (.295/.440/.591) at his best. Posada hit for more power in April but reached base more often in May and for the second straight season, has been the most consistent bat in Joe Torre’s line up. It’s not likely that Posada will play at a higher level than he’s been playing right now. If he does, it’s nothing but gravy for Yankee fans. When Posada called out his teammates after the Angels ambushed the Bombers in the 2002 playoffs, I thought Posada was really putting the pressure on himself to be like one of the old Yankees. To that point, Posada was known more for having the red ass than for being a team leader like Mike Stanton or Cone. But he put his money where his mouth was last year and it turns out he is one of those old time Yankees. As Jay Jaffe observed in his profile on Posada earlier this season, the Yankee catcher was wholly deserving of MVP consideration last year. So far this season, he’s picked up right where he left off. I don’t know how much longer Posada will play at this level, but enjoy it while it lasts: this is his prime.
I’ve long been one of Jason Giambi’s biggest supporters. I desperately wanted George to sign him after they lost the World Serious against Arizona, and was grateful when they did. Giambi got what he wanted, so everything should be peachy, right? Giambi’s had two good seasons, in spite of being hurt last year. He’s off to a good start this year (.270/.406/.540), but he’s not so much fun to watch.
His body language is rigid and tense. You see him on the bench and he looks coiled, uptight. The only time he appears relaxed is when he's talking with Mattingly, but I don’t get a sense of comfort with his teammates. This is especially disappointing because Giambi was such a team leader with the A’s. I don’t know what you can chalk it up to. Playing in New York? I can’t call it. But he’s not the same player. He doesn’t look like he’s enjoying himself much. Still, I want to like him, and I miss watching him hit.
Tony Clark (.260/.376/.494 in 77 at bats) is my girlfriend Emily’s favorite player this year. (splits) She is drawn to slow, patient guys. When we first stared watching games together in 2002, Giambi was her boy. Then came Posada—“cause nobody pays attention to him”—and then Matsui, cause she saw him on Regis and he seemed like a nice guy. This year, she’s taken a shine to Ruben Sierra, probably just because I spent so much time cursing him out early in the year. But nobody beats Tony Clark, who she calls “Cecil”, after the turtle in the Bugs Bunny “Tortoise vs. the Hair” Warner Brothers cartoons. She calls him Cecil because of his big eye-lids, and she likes him because he comes across as a stand-up guy in interviews, and of course, because he’s big and slow.
During the championship years, the resident cruddy-platoon position was left field. This year we’ve got second base and center field (no offense). I prefer Miguel Cairo (.271/.323/.407 in 59 at bats: splits) to Enrique Wilson (.223/.258/.357 in 112 at bats: splits). I don’t know that he’s that much better of a player, but I like to watch him more. Cairo looks like a combination of Oliver Stone and Derek Jeter jammed together. Emily calls him “Mr. Magoo.” He plays a professional second base and can hit for a little power. Wilson is funny, but not funny enough to make him lovable. He seems to be a popular teammate with the Yanks, but he’s not a fan favorite. Maybe that’s because he’s just not very good (though he has already tied his high for homers in a season). He’s not even very cute—like Super Joe McEwing—or very zhlubby—like Luis Sojo. Wilson’s got a helicopter swing that’s all ass though. I call him Weeble Wooble cause he reminds me of one of those little toys that rolled around but never flipped over that we had back in the 70s. Wilson leans about as far back as any hitter in the league. But no matter how far he leans, he never falls over.
Derek Jeter (.220/.277/.336) is off to the worst offensive start of his career. Looking at his numbers is still jarring.
That can’t be right. This guy is the automatic 200 hit, running scoring catalyst to the Yankee offense, isn’t he? But there it is, Jeter has been awful, a shadow of his former self. The primary reason for the spike in Jeter’s May numbers is because he got hot at the end of the month in Texas, Baltimore and Tampa Bay. So what’s up with Jeter? Is it A Rod? Is he getting old? It’s gotta be A Rod, right? A few weeks ago, Joe Torre said that Jeter was simply saving his sophomore slump for his ninth year. Maybe this is just his off-year. Hey, he's entitled. And that’s not to say that he can’t play well for the rest of the season and hit .275-.285 for the year and still score 100 plus runs.
One of the most interesting aspects of Derek Jeter’s season is that he’s playing some of the best defense of his career. Considering that Jeter’s defense has been the topic of debate for the past few years, it’s worth mentioning. I recently spoke with my friend Rich Lederer about it, and he pointed out that:
After a slow start, Alex Rodriguez (.295/.385/.539, splits) has been everything the Yankees expected him to be:
And he’s not even really hot yet. But Rodriguez has reached base in what? 37 consecutive games. He has played admirably at third base too. He’s also shown some speed, leading the team in steals with nine in ten attempts. He’s got a great arm and that has gotten him by as he learns his new position. But what can I say? It’s hard to take your eyes off the guy. He’s technically sound without being mechanical; his swing is fluid. He’s a competitor. What’s not to love?
Godziller Matsui (.320/.431/.531, splits) is a better player in 2004 than he was in 2003. He’s more patient and he’s hitting the ball in the air more, hence for more power (Walk to whiff: 33/33). He also leads the team in 41 runs scored.
Matsui is an appealing Yankee in the mold of the Roy White, Willie Randolph professional but low-key Yankees. The rub is that he just so happens to be the most famous player in Japan, but he blends into the background here in New York. He’s not a spectacular player in anyway, but he is durable and reliable. Sometimes he looks refreshingly awkward. But he also hits relatively well against lefties, makes most of the plays in left, always hitting the cuff-man man and plays a fundamentally-sound game.
When healthy, Kenny Lofton (.278/.369/.431 in 72 at bats, splits) has been effective. I’m a long-time Lofton-hater, so it’s taken some time for me to get used to rooting for him. But I think I’m there. Lofton often looks to be in high spirits in the dugout. His teammates seem to like him and if he’s OK with them, well I guess he can be OK by me. I still don’t think much of him as an outfielder but he is an improvement over Bernie.
I think Bernie (.238/.333/.375) is going to have an excellent season before its all said and done. I'm guilty of going with my heart on this one, but I think Bernie has another good summer or two left in his bat. He started off slowly like he usually does and he started to improve in May. I think he’ll be a hot bat in July or August, and have one of those five week streaks where he carries the team.
Gary Sheffield (.282/.384/.415) had a constipated start to his Yankee career.
Sheff wasn’t as bad off as Jeter or Williams, but he wasn’t hitting for power at all. However he did lead the team in hitting with runners in scoring position. Sheff started to hit during the second half of the Yankees' recent road trip (the whole team was hitting). I feel as if it is just a matter of time before he hits for power again. In the meantime, he hits the ball harder than any Yankee since Winfield. That, in and of itself, was been great in terms of entertainment-value alone. He’s got a strong arm and makes some tough plays in right. Also makes his share of blunders. He doesn’t have as steal, but has been caught stealing four times. He’s become one of my favorite hitters. It just looks like he wants to punish the ball, and it feels like he’s going to do just that in each at bat. He’s got a vicious swing that is lighting quick, but doesn’t strike out much (22 whiff, 29 walks).
What with all the beef on the Yankee roster, there are many different guys who get the chance to DH. Bernie, Giambi, Posada. But Ruben Sierra (.310/.349/.530 in 100 at bats, splits) has been the surprise bat off the bench this spring, so let’s go with him as the DH.
Sierra stand far off the plate from both the left and right side. It never looks to me that he’ll be able to get a hit. But he’s been a great boost and helped turn the Yankees around after they were swept by Boston.
Mike Mussina got off to a terrible start. He kvetched about the Japan trip and was effected by a truncated spring training. He’s looked better in May, but far from his best yet.
Kevin Brown has generally been his nasty, old self so far. Just axe the D-Rays. He’s 4-0 against them. Brown has had a few poor starts, but overall has been imposing. I like him in the role of the hard-ass old ace better than I liked Clemens. Brown is more tortured. It looks like it’s miserable to hit against him. Everything is hard and in on the hands. He’ll also let a pitch fly every now and then, which is important because Mussina, Vazquez and Lieber are control pitchers who don’t back hitters off the plate at all.
Javier Vazquez is my favorite Yankee pitcher since El Duque came to the team in the summer of 1998. I love his delivery, love his intelligence, and I love his competitiveness. He’s a pleasure to watch. The Yankees haven’t scored a lot of runs for him but that’s likely to change. He’s had a few bad outings, but even when he’s getting killed, he still competes and makes smart pitches. He does give up the long ball---several times off breaking pitches when he’s ahead on the count. I’m grateful that the Yankees have him. Would I rather have Vazquez than Andy Pettitte? You betcha.
Jon Lieber is an appealing sinker ball pitcher. He’s a good old boy with a sense of humor. He throws a lot of strikes and a lot of ground balls. Works briskly and is efficient. Gets rocked on occasion, but is more stable, if less promising, than Jeff Weaver.
Finally, Jose Contreras is the resident high-priced head case. He’s become the Cuban Hideki Irabu without the public backlash. I go back and forth between feeling sad for Contreras to being confused by him to wanting to strangle him. He’s got dynamite stuff, but no poise. Get a runner on first and he starts to get nuts. What gives? Nowhere to go but up for Contreras.
The bullpen isn't well-rounded but they are strong at the back end. How important is Steve Karsay's return now? Paul Quantrill (4.40 ERA in 30.2 innings) looks like Beetle Bailey to me. He’s a durable sinkerballer who started off well but has run into trouble of late. I like him well enough though. He does have a gimpy knee that was aggravated in April, but he could simply be suffering from a dead arm or an old fasioned case of suckitous. Flash Gordon (1.57 ERA in 28.2 innings) has been great. Couple of bumps in the road here and there, but generally top-notch. Rivera says that he’s the best set-up man he’s had since 1997 and he’s probably right. Cub fans and Sox fans assured me that I’d enjoy having Flash on the team and they were right too. He’s short and athletic and can throw cheese (to go along with an above-average curve ball). Gordon looks like a little attack dog, small but fierce. He even gets away with having a pencil-thin mustache. How cool is that?
Our man Mo Rivera (0.96 ERA in 28 innings) continues to use a two-seam fastball more. He introduced the pitch last year, and likes to balance the cutter against it. Rivera may not be the best relief pitcher in the game but he still holds is own and is among the elite. He's just padding his resume now. He's one of my all-time favorites of course. I don't write about it much, but he's the special one. The one who I hold my breath for the most, the one who I want to be great more than anyone else.
In all, the Yankees have been entertaining to watch. They are an old team, with a weak bench, but I like their personality. There is a lot of Grade A Beef on the Yanks. That's always good for some laughs, to have a bunch of thick-necked mashers to root for. The new stars fit the business-minded Yankee persona well too. Who knows if they will stay healthy? A string of bad injuries and the Yanks could miss the playoffs. Then again, they could cruise through the regular season like the 2003 Braves only to lose in the playoffs. Or they could make it back to the World Serious again. I think that they are the best team in the AL, along with Boston and Anahiem. They might not be the best of the three, but they'll be a tough out. Hopefully, the best is yet to come.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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