Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: July 2004


2004-07-30 08:33
by Alex Belth

The Yanks took one on the chin last night against the Orioles, losing 9-1. Jose Contreras was terrible and Sidney Ponson was dominant. Traditionally, the Yankees have owned Ponson, but the man was flat-out impressive in the Bronx on Thursday. He was dealing. He changed speeds wonderfully and his pitches had an awful lot of movement on 'em. (Derek Jeter is 4-31 since he was struck in the hand by a Victor Zambrano pitch last week.)

Ahh, what are you gunna do? This kind of loss is easier to stomach than the extra inning affair in Toronto the night before. The Yanks are seven-and-a-half games ahead of Boston who did not play (the Red Sox visit the Twins this weekend). With the trading deadline approaching there has been no movement on the Randy Johnson front. Most of the media believe he will not be going anywhere. (What, no prospects?)

In other news, Alex Rodriguez received a four-game suspension for his part in last Saturday's scuffle with the Red Sox. Tanyon Sturtze was hit with three games as were Trot Nixon and Gabe Kapler. Boston catcher Jason Varitek was also suspended for four games. Rodriguez plans to appeal his suspension.

Blue Jays 3, Yanks 2 (10 innings)
2004-07-29 08:19
by Alex Belth


The Yankees lost a disapointing game in Toronto last night. However, they won the series and didn't lose any ground to the Red Sox who were defeated by the Orioles in Baltimore. I call the loss disapointing because Jon Lieber was excellent, pitching into the eigth inning, just what the Bombers needed. With the Yankees up 2-0, Lieber allowed a run in the seventh and with two out in the eighth he was removed after walking Vernon Wells. Felix Heredia--insert curse words here--came in to face Carlos Delgado, and gave up a run-scoring double on a 2-2 pitch. It was yet another poor night for Heredia. Wells would hit a solo dinger to left with one out in the tenth inning off of Scott Proctor to give Toronto the win.

Again the Yankees (Lofton, Clark, Jeter) hit the ball hard but right at Toronto defenders. They also made two careless plays which proved to be costly. After Gary Sheffield launched a solo bomb into the fifth deck in the first (career homer #401), Alex Rodriguez singled. With two out, Hideki Matsui slapped a liner to left, but Rodriguez got an awful jump and was thrown out at third to end the inning. It was nothing short of an embarassing play. Then, in the seventh inning, when Delgado lined the double off of Heredia, Gary Sheffield threw the ball into second base and not to the cut-off man. They surely had a play at the plate, but it wasn't to be. (Sheffield and Matsui did collect assists though.) Derek Jeter hit the ball hard in his final at-bat, but had a poor offensive night. He has slumped for the past week.

Finally, the strangest play of the night came in the top of seventh. With two out and men on first and second, Enrique Wilson fouled a 3-1 pitch off of his own helmet. He knocked himself down, cracked the helmet, but came up laughing. Then he floated a single up the middle to give the Yankees their second, and last run of the game.

Lieber's fine outing was wasted, and because of Heredia's ineptitude, Paul Quantrill and Scott Proctor worked the game. The trading deadline is only a few days away and New York could use some pitching help. But all of their eggs are invested in the Randy Johnson basket. As it stands, the two teams are playing a game of chicken. (Cluck, cluck.) Some observers think that it is likely that Johnson will stay put. Regardless, the Yanks do not seem to be persuing any other options. It will be a relief when Saturday has come and gone. It will also be interesting to see what Kevin Brown has to offer tomorrow night when he is expected to start against the Orioles at the stadium.

Yanks 7, Blue Jays 4
2004-07-28 08:24
by Alex Belth

El Duque pitched two scoreless innings in Toronto last night before he left the game with tightness in his left hamstring. So much for giving the bullpen a breather. While the New York hit the ball hard off of Ted Lilly, they only mustered three hits off the erstwhile Yankee (including a solo home run by Alex Rodriguez on his 29th birthday). The Jays collected plenty of hits but could not manage to break the game open. Gary Sheffield threw Alex Rios out at the plate in the sixth with the Jays leading 2-1, and Toronto could not score in the seventh after starting the inning with runners on the corner and nobody out.

The Yanks finally caught up to the Jays in the eighth. Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter singled. Sheffield walked, and Alex Rodriguez hit a sacrific fly to right which tied the game. Jorge Posada followed with a three-run bomb to right field. In the ninth, Bernie Williams and Gary Sheffield hit solo homers. It was the 400th home run of Sheffield's career.

Tom Gordon allowed a couple of runs in the ninth, but the Yankees held on for the win. New York is eight games ahead of the Red Sox, who were rained out in Baltimore last night.

Yanks 6, Blue Jays 5 (10 innings)
2004-07-27 08:36
by Alex Belth

Jorge Posada hit a grand slam in the first inning last night in Toronto and the Yankees looked like could just cruise to a win. But they didn't score another run until Gary Sheffield's RBI single in the ninth inning. Javier Vazquez continued to look better, but he wasn't stellar and the Jays slowly crept their way back into contest. Vazquez couldn't get through seven innings, which forced the hardest-working men in showbiz, Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera to work again. Quantrill tweaked his right knee, but Tom Gordon got the game to Rivera in the ninth with the Yankees holding a 5-3 lead.

But Rivera allowed a two-out single that tied the game (3-1 fastball over the heart of the plate), blowing his second game in his last two chances. However, the Yankees added a run in the top of the tenth (Tony Clark's RBI double was almost run down in center field by Vernon Wells), and Rivera worked another inning (this time, 1-2-3) for the win.

The Yankees remain seven-and-a-half ahead of Boston who pounded the Orioles, 12-5. Jason Giambi is headed back to New York today for more medical testing.

El Duque pitches tonight against Ted Lilly. At some point the Yankees are going to need to spell Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera; they need the starting staff to give them some length. Is it too much to ask Hernandez--who pitched brilliantly against the Jays in New York last Thursday--to be that man? Perhaps. Kevin Brown could return this weekend, and of course, the $64,000 question around baseball for the next several days is: Where will Randy Johnson land when it is all said and done? The Yankees are in the running, but it remains to be seen if they can pull a deal off.

Red Sox 9, Yanks 6
2004-07-26 08:31
by Alex Belth

The Red Sox pounded Jose Contreras one more time...Surprised? While the Yankees didn't go easily (Timlin, Foulke), their pitching failed them once again as the Sox took two of three over the weekend. Saturday's histrionics aside, the Yankees can't be too upset about how the weekend panned-out considering who they were throwing against Boston (Kevin Millar was a one-man wrecking crew). After Friday's demoralizing loss, the Sox bounced back and won two games they had to have. The Yankees lead is seven-and-a-half games (eight in the loss column). John Harper reports in the Daily News:

The weekend was far from a disaster for the Yankees, however. Roughing up Sox ace Curt Schilling in the opener Friday night was surely more significant than anything that happened the last two days - including Alex Rodriguez's rumble with Jason Varitek.

The Sox can argue that beating Mariano Rivera with a walk-off home run on Saturday qualifies as their uplifting moment of the year, but beating Schilling ensured the Yankees of leaving town with a 7-1/2-game lead, in firm control of the AL East.

One thing is almost certain: Boss George has put a full-court-press on his general manager Brian Cashman to get a deal done this week. The Yankee pitching staff is in bad shape. So let the rumors fly. Newsday reports that the Los Angeles Dodgers are a darkhorse candidate to land Randy Johnson--who struck out 14 batters yesterday. It has been widely reported that the Yankees do not have enough good prospects to complete a trade. However, according to the New York Times, Bryan Lambe, an Arizona scout thinks the Yankees have some talent to offer:

"The ones that I more or less wrote up, yes, they would definitely help," Lambe said. "They wouldn't just help the Diamondbacks, they'd help every organization. But it's a matter of what they would be giving up. They'd be giving up, to a certain extent, the face of the Diamondbacks right now. I don't know what their thinking is."

..."They do have prospects, and they have fairly good prospects," Lambe said. "But do they have, for example, a David Wright or someone along those lines, a can't-miss prospect? No, because they haven't had a lot of first-round picks. But I'm not going to say I don't like their guys. I do like their guys."

..."There are a whole lot of guys who wind up being very productive, longtime big league players who weren't rated as great players coming up," Lambe said. "It's my job to scratch a little bit and see what I think will happen in the future."

Red Sox 11, Yankees 10
2004-07-25 00:42
by Alex Belth

Storm and Stress=Ugly Mess

The Red Sox won a messy affair against the Yankees on an overcast afternoon at Fenway Park. It was a dramatic win for Boston and a frustrating loss for the Yanks. The game was delayed for an hour and according to the Fox announcers on TV, the Yankee team was under the impression that the game wasn't going to be played at all. The players had changed and the buses were fired up to go when the team was informed that the game was in fact going to be played. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver first reported that it was Red Sox management that chose to play the game; later, they had heard that the decision to play came directly from the players.

Regardless, I'm certain the Red Sox are pleased that they played. The two teams finally brawled; both scored a boat-load of runs, and Mariano Rivera took his turn being humbled, blowing a two-run lead in the ninth inning. In a game that the Red Sox needed to win, they were resiliant. It was the kind of see-saw, turgid exchange that we are used to seeing from these two teams. It wasn't pretty, but it didn't lack for excitement. When the Yankees went ahead by five runs, my girlfriend Emily clapped on the couch and cheered. I told her not to get cocky; anything short of a ten-run cushion makes me nervous against Boston with four innings left to play.

The brawl was full of nasty feelings; fortunately nobody was seriously hurt (though Taynon Sturtze looked as if he just stepped out of "Star Trek II: Wrath of Kahn" when it was all said and done). With the Yankees ahead 3-0, Alex Rodriguez was plunked with two outs and nobody on in the top of third. Was he hit on purpose? Perhaps. Rodriguez had some words for Bronson Arroyo, Boston's starting pitcher, as he unwrapped his protective sleeve and made his way to first. First of all, Rodriguez isn't out-of-line barking at Arroyo, cause this kid is known to hit guys. Jason Varitek, walking in stride with A Rod, effectively told Rodriguez to piss off. Rodriguez quickly re-directed his fury at Varitek and before you know he was motioning toward the catcher saying, "You want to go? Come on."

Without discarding his mask, Varitek so was inclined (if not delighted) to accept the invitation. He mushed Rodriguez in the face and then reached under his crotch in the hopes of turning A Rod over. But Rodriguez held his ground and the two men were overcome by the crowd. At this point both teams were in a scrum. Rodriguez and Varitek fell on the ground. Schilling was out there. Lots of violent pushing and shoving; a few mad moments.

Resident Goonie Bird Taynon Sturtze, the Yankees starting pitcher, grabbed Gabe Kapler in a choke hold for no apparent reason, and the burly pitcher was tossed on his nut by Kapler, David Ortiz, and Trot Nixon. It was predictable that it was Sturze to act like a putz. He's lucky he didn't get more of a beat down.

Varitek and Rodriguez were both ejected. Varitek played his role as the chief Dirt Dog, and the Sox, brimming over with frustration, came out biting. For his part, Rodriguez, was aggresive himself, which should play well with his teammates. The Yankees have been hit often this season. Over the past several years they have been hit a lot by the Red Sox. The Red Sox are slumping; their two stud pitchers lost back-to-back heartbreakers against New York. Someone was bound to crack sooner or later. Red Sox fans feel good that their boy Varitek doesn't take any shit and Yankee fans feel good because Rodriguez isn't going to take any shit either. So nobody is going to pack shit, capice?

Sturtze wasn't thrown out, but he was done. Fat ass went back out there and gave up two runs in the bottom of the third and was through for the day. Boston skipper Terry Francona got himself tossed arguing a close play at second later on which added to the contentious spirit of the afternoon. The Sox took the lead, Yankees grabbed it back, then the Sox came back again. Where have we seen this before?

I left the apartment in the seventh inning. That was it. (I'm mature, see?) Ruben Sierra led off with a tremendous solo home run and then the Yanks loaded the bases on three consecutive Red Sox errors. Nobody out. But they could not score. It was at that point that I couldn't take it any longer. I just had a bad feeling the game was going to last forever, it wasn't going to end well and that it was basically an insufferable afternoon. The pitching was horrendous, the Yankee bullpen--with the notable exception of Scott Proctor--was awful, and the worst possible thing that could happen happened: Mariano gave up the game.

But I didn't watch it, OK. I was out taking a nice long walk. Trying to calm myself. It rained most of this week in New York and it has been humid on top of that. But today was overcast but unseasonably cool, without a trace of humidity. It is the kind of weather that can make me nostalgic for Belgium, where my mom's family lives. This is that kind of summer weather you catch over there, or in England. The breeze was chilling as I walked, refreshing. If they lost, I wasn't going to let it ruin the evening, which turned out to be chill (Scrabble--for for the first time ever--followed by Stanley Kubrick's first important movie, "The Killing).

When I arrived back at the apt, Em gave me the sorry details. How's this for the kicker? Our old pal Ramiro Mendoza pitched well and got the win for the Sox. Oy. It was an uncomfortable loss for the Yankees and Yankee fans and a galvanizing victory for Boston and Red Sox Nation. Still, I calmed myself down by remembering that the Yankees are eight-and-a-half games ahead and kept battling back all day long. It was a bigger game for Boston, though that doesn't entirely remove the sting if you are the Yankees.

What I like the most about rooting for this Yankee team however, is knowing that they will come out tomorrow playing very hard, wanting to win badly, as if it were a playoff game. I don't doubt the teams' intensity one bit. And that does wonders for the digestion. Today's loss smarts, but I still like the way the team played. The Yankees' biggest flaw--their pitching--was simply exposed. Jose Contreras and Derek Lowe, players who have confounded their respective teams, pitch on the ESPN Sunday Night Game of the Week. Expect lots of sound and fury.

Will this wake the Sox up? Will it wake the Yankees up? I don't know, I think everyone is plenty awake. The two teams don't play again until September when they go out it six more times. In the meanwhile, let's hope we see a better-played game tomorrow night. Both pitcher is capable of shutting the other team down for seven innings. Contreras has been good lately, but Boston murders the guy. It would be a break-through game for Contreras if he performs well. And Lowe would do wonders for his own battered esteem if he wins at home after Saturday's win. All of these things. We shall see. Rarely a dull moment, right?

Yanks 8, Red Sox 7
2004-07-24 11:11
by Alex Belth

Variations on a familiar theme. The Yankee lead now stands at nine-and-a-half games.

Yankees 1, Blue Jays 0
2004-07-23 08:59
by Alex Belth

El Duque and former Yankee Ted Lilly engaged in a pitching duel yesterday afternoon at the Stadium. Both were spectators when Ruben Sierra hit a two-out solo home run in the bottom of the ninth to give the Yanks a 1-0 win. (Mariano Rivera notched his first victory of the year.) Hernandez allowed four hits, a walk, and struck out ten in seven innings. (Yo, that's my man.) Dave Caldwell captured his performance well in the Times:

Squatting for seven innings on a stifling July afternoon does not have to be sheer torture. John Flaherty was asked to catch Yankees starter Orlando Hernández yesterday, and Flaherty hardly needed to move his mitt. Hernández was that precise, that beguiling.

The Toronto Blue Jays swung at Hernández's pitches as if they were trying to catch fish in a net.

...Using his usual combination of pitches - curveballs, changeups and sliders - Hernández allowed only four hits in seven innings.

But there was more. He was throwing hard.

"When you have to respect the fastball because he can throw it by you, it makes the other pitches all that much better," Flaherty said.

The Yankees go up to Boston eight-and-a-half games ahead of the Red Sox, who split a double-header against the Orioles yesterday. The pitching match-ups for the weekend decidedly favor the Sox. As far as I'm concerned, so long as the Bombers don't get swept, it'll be a decent weekend and I'll be able to digest. However, from Boston's pernt of view, they need to sweep New York, especially with Schlling going against Lieber tonight, and then the mighty Tanyon Sturtze pitching tomorrow, and Boston's own personal whipping boy Jose Contreras throwing Sunday night.
It is supposed to be rainy all weekend. Let's see if they can get all of the games in...

Although he's ready to go yesterday, it looks as if Joe Torre will sit Derek Jeter tonight. Figure he'll get some burn over the next few days though. Jason Giambi's cancer tests came back negative and he should play too.

Yankees 10, Blue Jays 3
2004-07-22 08:40
by Alex Belth

Javier Vazquez was not impressive last night, but the Yankee offense was, as the Bombers rolled over Toronto on a muggy evening in the Bronx. It was a blow-out but it didn't seem to come easily for the Yankee pitchers. On the YES broadcast, Jim Kaat explained how Vazquez's motion has become too long in recent outings. In the first few innings--when Vazquez threw an awful lot of pitches--it was clear that he was trying to shorten his stride. He didn't bend his back as much as he usually does. In fact, it looked so odd at first, I thought Vazquez was doing his best Tim Wakefield impression. But while Vazquez attempts to work himself out of this mid-season rut, Gary Sheffield continues to mash, hitting his 398th career dinger. He had company last night too. Every Yankee starter collected a hit; yo, even our boy Bernie Williams had a couple of hits, as well as two RBI.

Derek Jeter sat out with a broken bone in his right hand (he may miss today's game too, but it appears as if he'll be ready to play in Boston over the weekend), but looked to be enjoying himself in the dugout. He laughed at Alex Rodriguez in the top of fifth inning, when Rodriguez caught a high pop fly for the first out of the inning. Catching fly balls, especially ones behind him, does not come naturally to Rodriguez; in fact, it is one of the few acts that he isn't able to make look graceful on a baseball field. In the bottom of the fifth, Rodriguez beat out a slow dribbler for an infield single. He was the last Yankee regular to collect a hit. Again, Jeter was on the top step of the dugout laughing at his pal.

Jason Giambi did not play either. He left the Stadium in the middle of the afternoon to have more tests done on his ailing body. After the game, he spoke to reporters, and mentioned that he was being tested for cancer. According to the Daily News:

"I try not to focus on that because I got diagnosed earlier (as having a parasite)," he said. "They just wanted to go that route just to make sure. They don't - I'm not trying by any means to say I have anything like (cancer)...they just wanted to rule (that) out (and say) we're strictly dealing with what I got diagnosed with before and there's nothing else underlying."

Carlos Delgado was removed from the game in the middle of the seventh inning. Mercifully, Michael Kay wasn't working the game for YES, and Kaat and Singleton didn't mention Delgado's politics. I didn't hear much from the fans through my TV set. Cliff Corcoran was sitting in the bleachers; perhaps he had a different experience (expect a write up from Cliff later in the day).

The Yankees gained a game on Boston, who lost to the Orioles at Fenway Park. Pedro Martinez was tagged with the "L"; the Yankee lead stands at eight games.

Yankees 4, Devil Rays 2
2004-07-21 08:23
by Alex Belth

Since his family defected from Cuba Jose Contreras has pitched five times. With the exception of the disaster at Shea Stadium, he has pitched well, as he did again yesterday in Tampa Bay. The true test for Contreras will come Sunday night when he will face the Red Sox. If he pitches well in Boston, it will be hard not to give Contreras props. According to the New York Times:

The Yankees gave no thought to juggling the rotation so Contreras would not have to pitch against the Red Sox, a team that usually hammers him.

"A month ago, we would have made every effort to avoid that start," Stottlemyre said. "Every time we play them, it's not just another game. But it's just another start for him."

..."He's ready for it," Torre said. "If he's not ready now, I'm not sure he'll ever be."

Gary Sheffield had the big hit--a two-run homer to left field--which put the Bombers ahead for good. After Derek Jeter was struck in the hand by a pitch from Victor Zambrano (initial x-rays were negative, but Jeter eventually had the leave the game), Sheffield followed and nearly twisted himself into the ground swinging at the first pitch. Then he launched a long line drive foul before Zambrano left a fastball out over the plate. Pi-yah. Though he is still hurting is there anyone Yankee fans would rather see in a big spot this year than Sheffield?

Mariano Rivera recorded another save as the Yanks remain seven games ahead of the Red Sox who beat the Mariners in Seattle yesterday afternoon. Boston returns home for two games against the Orioles (Pedro pitches tonight) while the Yanks are in the Bronx tonight and tomorrow to square off against Carlos Delgado and the Blue Jays for the first time this season.

There is no progress to report on the Randy Johnson front. Arizona owner Jerry Colangelo is vacationing in Italy and won't return until next Tuesday. Nothing is expected to shake down until he returns to the states. But as Joel Sherman reports this morning--with a helpful hand from Will Carroll--even if the Yankees do land the Big Unit, it doesn't mean that they will necessarily win the World Serious.

p.s. Here is part two of the Athletics Nation interview with Michael Lewis.

Mind Candy
2004-07-20 14:12
by Alex Belth

As I uncomfortably wait to see just how long the Yankees' afternoon will be with Victor Zambrano going up against Jose Contreras, here are links to several articles that I've read over the past 24 hours:

Jay Jaffe and King Kaufman on Roger Clemens.

The Athletics Nation interview with Michael Lewis.

Brian Gunn's excellent account of clown-town last night in Chicago.

Aaron Gleeman's account of the recent SABR convention.

The latest edition of the Pinstriped Bible by Steven Goldman.

Pat Jordan on guess what, a pitcher who never made it.

More rumors and gossip from Peter Gammons.

Just Blunderful
2004-07-20 08:17
by Alex Belth

Alex Graman has good stuff according to Joe Torre, he just fights himself too much. He was too keyed up last night, didn't trust his stuff. You know the company line. The Yankee rookie didn't make it out of the first inning and placed New York in a 5-0 hole. The Yankee pitching problems aren't going away. While the Bombers eventually fought back to tie the game, an egregious error by Kenny Lofton (with some help from Godziller Matsui) in the sixth inning, led to two runs, as the Devil Rays prevailed, 9-7.

Tanyon Sturtze replaced Graman and pitched reasonably well for several innings. He left in the sixth, replaced by Felix Heredia. A run scored and with two out and men on second and third Juan Padilla relieved Heredia. Padilla did his job and got pinch-hitter Robert Fick to loft a fly ball to left-center field. Matsui drifted over poised to make the catch, and so did Kenny Lofton. The two didn't communicate properly, the ball fell in, two runs scored and Fick was awarded a double.

The Yankees were down by three runs instead of one, so Ruben Sierra's two-run, pinch-hit bomb in the eighth--complete with cha-cha steps and plenty of mustard--didn't save the day. The Rays added an insurance run in the ninth off of Paul Quantrill.

Jason Giambi walked twice and had a sacrifice fly, but still feels enervated. Bernie Williams was 0-5 and is now 2 for his last 37, a horrid stretch. According to Newsday:

"He looks just like he was earlier in the year when he didn't have that hitting zone going for him," Torre said before last night's loss to the Devil Rays. "His bat doesn't have that snap to it; it sort of weighs. It's not an aggressive swing. It's more body than hand."

Gary Sheffield too feels weak and may seek another cortisone shot for his gimpy shoulder. Derek Jeter is swinging the bat well though; he's pulled several inside fastballs over the past few games instead of inside-outing them to right field.

The only bit of good news for Yankee fans was that Boston lost to the Mariners in agonizing fashion last night in Seatttle. Keith Foulke blew the save and Brett Boone hit a grand slam in the 11th inning to give the M's the win. The Sox remain seven games behind New York.

More good news for the Yanks. Graman won't start in Fenway this weekend. Most likely, he'll be replaced by Tanyon Sturtze. Happy?

2004-07-19 13:33
by Alex Belth

My label-mate Will Carroll was one of the first Internet writers that I developed a relationship with after I started Bronx Banter in the fall of 2002. (Carroll contacted me in the spring of 2003 after I wrote a short piece about Roberto Alomar.) For a year-and-a-half, I’ve enjoyed many rambling conversations—via e-mail and over the phone--with Carroll, who writes about injuries for Baseball Prospectus. He’s a thoroughly engaging guy, passionate, self-deprecating and slightly out-of-his-bird. I had the chance to hang out with Will at the winter meetings in New Orleans last December and found him to be even more entertaining in person than he is in print. I have long thought that he’d been a fun guy to interview and with the publication of his first book, "Saving the Pitcher" we found the ideal opportunity to chat. So without further ado, here is our conversation. I hope you enjoy.

Bronx Banter: Hey, you’re a Will Jr. right?

Will Carroll: Second.

BB: You’re, Will Carroll Second. No one ever called you “junior?”

WC: Nope. No, my name is actually a legal mess, but there is no “Second” in my name, so I had to add it. Like when I was 18 so that I could get my student loans.

BB: Really?

WC: Yeah, it was just, one of those things.

BB: That’s random. Now, how did your father get into sports medicine?

WC: You know, he’s always been an athlete. When he was at the University of Illinois he wrestled and played football. He couldn’t figure out what he wanted to do in life, but he knew he wanted to be around sports.

BB: Did he grow up in an athletic family?

WC: No. My aunt. I can’t imagine her being athletic and she’s never talked about it. I know she was in the band, and stuff like that. So it was just one of those things. He got into it the way a lot of people do. He realized at one point, my athletic talent is only going to take me so far, but I still want to be around it. So he got into medicine. And then sports medicine. He just happened to be at the University of Indiana working on his Master’s Degree--this must be the early seventies--when there was an amazing confluence of people. There was a guy named Spike Dixon, who was the head of the training program there. And Dick Martin who was with the Twins forever. Guys like Jimmy Warfield who was with the Indians forever. A guy named David Craig, who is the only trainer the Indiana Pacers have ever had. They all were at school there. And those I just the ones I know personally. It was like the world’s center of sports medicine.

BB: So you grew up in Indiana.

WC: No, I grew up all over the place.

BB: How many different places did your dad work when you were growing up?

WC: He was at Northeastern University in Boston, he was with the Indianapolis Racers in the WHA, the team that debuted Wayne Gretzky. Where else was he back then? Private practice, all over the place. At some point, when I went to college, I had never lived in any place for more than a couple of years. I lived everywhere.

BB: Where is your mom from?

WC: Chicago.

BB: And she didn’t mind traveling all across the country like that?

WC: Nah, they got divorced when I was young.

BB: Did you stay with her?

WC: No, I went with my dad.

BB: Has your mom lived in one central place all this time?

WC: Yeah, she still lives here in Indianapolis.

BB: Is that why you live in Indianapolis?

WC: No, I moved here because of my grandmother.

BB: On your mom’s side?

WC: There is no mom’s side to my family. It’s really just her and my half-brother.

BB: Huh. So your grandmother is from your pop’s side?

WC: Yeah. She’s from here. When I left school I had a choice of jobs either here or in Vegas. And I said, “Oohh, Vegas. That’s pretty cool.” But I had seen “Leaving Las Vegas,” and I can’t say I wouldn’t end up like Nic Cage in that one. Or I could come here and help take care of my grandmother, who had always taken care of me. She lives on a farm. She’s 86 now. She wants to be real independent and she is. She’s sitting there on the front porch and I’m always calling up, worried, about what’s going on. I’m like, “What are you doing?” And she says, “Ah, I’m out there clearing the back porch. Burning trash. Running off skunks.” It’s always something. I’m like half an hour away from her, so I can get over there quick if she needs something. Go up there and make sure she’s got everything. You know, if something needs fixing…I can always call somebody up to come over and fix it. (Laughs)

BB: Did growing up around a father who was involved in sports encourage you to get into them yourself?

WC: You know I don’t honestly know how I got in; it was just always there. It wasn’t even an option I don’t think. It wasn’t like I was forced into it; it was just always there so you might as well do it. Some of my earliest memories are of me playing hockey.

BB: Did you play all kinds of sports growing up?

WC: Oh yeah. I stopped playing hockey just because we moved south. And places like Texas and Alabama, Louisville and Florida didn't have hockey down there. But hockey was my first love and I still love the sport. But you know I played baseball, I played football, I ran track. I was never any good at basketball because I’m short and I’m white.

BB: Did you get interested in sports medicine at all as a kid? Was it impressed on you that this was the family business?

WC: No. It was never anything like that. But…I don’t remember what your dad did. I don’t know if you ever went to the office with him or anything like that. But if your dad is an accountant, you might have gone to the office with him.

BB: My dad was in the TV and movies business.

WC: That’s right. So okay, perfect. You know how this goes. You’re just always around it. It just becomes part of the language. When I decided I had to go back to college and figure out what the heck I wanted to do with life, all I knew was sports medicine. So in trying to figure out a major I thought, sports medicine why not? I can pass these classes without even blinking.

BB: Wait, let me backtrack. Where did you go to high school?

WC: I went to three high schools. I started off in Texas, god-awful west Texas. Freshman and most of my sophomore year and then back for my junior year. I came to Indiana for four months so I could wrestle here. Texas wrestling is kind of a joke. So I came up here, lived with my mom for a few months and then went back.

BB: How did you do?

WC: Made the semi-states. I wasn’t as good as I thought as I was, but I was pretty good. Then in my senior year I wound up in Birmingham, Alabama playing baseball for a small, evangelical Christian school.

BB: Were you a pitcher?

WC: Catcher. I pitched but I was a much better catcher at that point. Graduated there in a class of 23. Went from a school in Texas that had a graduating class of 1,800 to 23.

BB: What was Alabama like for you?

WC: Interesting. I was a mess as a teenager. I was a flat-out mess. I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I had no direction in life. I got into too much trouble. I drank too much. I smoked too much. Your typical screwed-up teenager.

BB: Did you leave high school looking for a college where you could play baseball?

WC: I did, but I was under-sized. They were like, “Your too small to be a catcher, you’ve got to find another position. Except you don’t hit for enough power to be an outfielder and you don’t throw well enough to be an infielder. So why don’t you go to a small college and we think you’re going to grow..." I was 5’5 when I graduated high school. And I was sixteen. They wanted me to have a way to catch up. Some schools said take a year off, go travel, but I didn’t want to do that.

BB: Why where you so young when you graduated?

WC: I had skipped a year in school. Not because I was smart, [but] because I hated France. We went to France for a year when I was in third grade. I didn’t want to go. So instead of going to French schools or learning French or making use of any of the culture, I just had a tutor. And I didn’t have any friends so I just took my classes all the time. Well by the time we went home at Christmas, I was done with the third grade. They didn’t know what to do. They said, “Well he can’t have six months off, let him skip to fourth grade.”

BB: What college did you eventually go to?

WC: One of the places I ended up going was a small school in West Virginia called Bethany where Ken Brett consulted.

BB: And had you ever been seriously hurt before going to college?

WC: Well, no, but I had to stop playing football because I was getting concussions all the time.

BB: This was before your growth spurt, when you were 5’5?

WC: I weighed a buck twenty, buck thirty. I had wrestled at 106. I wasn’t a good football player. I wasn’t fast enough I wasn’t tall enough. I didn’t like the whole idea of me being crushed. You can get away with it in junior high cause when they hit ya, it’s not that big of a deal. But in high school, here are these guys that are 300 pounds, and they’re killing you. This is in Texas. And football is the end-all, be-all in west Texas. Halfway through my sophomore year I realized that I don’t like being hit. What can I do about this? So I decided to learn how to kick. But it didn’t work out. Plus, when I came back from my stint wrestling in Indiana, we had a pretty good kicker. So I ended up being the holder. I liked it much better. I never got hit once. Didn’t have to practice, it was great.

BB: Was baseball big in Texas too?

WC: Not as big as it is around Dallas or Houston. It’s a smaller community. But there was a minor league team out there, the Midland Angels. Now they’re the Midland Rockhounds.

BB: If you’re moving around all the time growing up, what major league team did you root for?

WC: I started rooting for the Cubs in ’83 because of cable.

BB: Because of WGN.

WC: Yeah.

BB: That’s funny, because we got WGN in the eighties in New York too. From I’d say 82 through 87 I saw a lot of games because they’d always be playing in the afternoon when we came home from school.

WC: That’s exactly right.

BB: Did you play ball during your first year of college, at Bethany?

WC: No, I ended up leaving school after a semester. Mostly girl problems. It was a bad scene. I was too young to be at college and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. There was nothing good going on in my life and I had no direction. I had no mentor to tell me, “You need to this or you need to do that.” I was just kind of flailing.

BB: Where was your dad in all of this?

WC: We just didn’t get along at that time.

BB: What? Classic son-father strudel?

WC: Yeah. So I took four months off and then a buddy says, “Let’s join the army.”

BB: When was this?

WC: 1986. So he says, “Let’s join the army,” and I say, “That’s a good idea.” So we take the physical to join the army reserves and it turns out that I have flat feet. So I couldn’t join the army. I’m like, "Crap, what am I going to do now?" I ended up talking to a guy, and he told that that I could join the Navy. I’m like, “OK.” So I did. I was in the Navy for five years.

BB: And you obviously continued to travel and move around.

WC: Yup. You name it; I’ve been there. Any place that sucked. Join the Navy, see the world. Yeah, well three-quarters of it is water. I was out of West Virginia, and we went to places like Ireland, Scotland, Israel and then the Gulf.

BB: Did you continue to follow the Cubs while you were in the service?

WC: Not as much, but it never really went away. I remember the Cubs in ’89, and that got me back into it. I followed it in the USA Today.

BB: Did you miss your family?

WC: The Navy was my family. I had a best friend in the Navy at the time. I thought that was going to be the rest of my life.

BB: Did it give you the focus and structure that you had been looking for?

WC: No, it ruled out things more than anything else. "I don’t want to be one of these people." Hey, the Navy was a very good experience for me, but there are a lot of stupid people in the Navy. Sometimes it’s easy to get into the Navy for all the wrong reasons. For some people the Navy is a big step up, and that’s fine. It’s a great place for them. But there are a lot of people in there who are like, “I want to go to college. I don’t want to be a cook for the rest of my life, or an electrician.” So I didn’t know yet what I wanted to be but I had a better idea of what I didn’t want to be. I was like John Cusak [in “Say Anything”], “I don’t want to buy anything, I don’t want to sell anything…”

BB: Did you serve in the Gulf War?

WC: Yeah.

BB: How scared were you when you found out that you were going?

WC: Very. We didn’t know what was going on. Nobody told us what was going on. We were just there and doing our jobs. I was there in August of 1990 until February of 1991. I took apart bombs.

BB: What did you think, “Let me do the most dangerous thing I can possibly think of?”

WC: Essentially, yes. It’s like, "How can I put myself in the most harms way?" It was one of those suicide-by-ordeal kind of things. I wasn’t going to actually kill myself but I was going to put myself in the position where I was going to have that chance a lot. I was thinking, “If it happens, OK. If not, then I’ll come through this experience, this whole ordeal with some mystical knowledge." And you never get that. I don’t feel too comfortable talking about it. People died over there that I was with. You know people read this kind of stuff all different ways. I don’t want the brother of somebody that I was there with to read this and say, “Oh, what a jerk.” I mean, I don’t think we happened to have any heroes...I ran into the sister of a guy I had served with and she had this whole complex of, “Why did you survive and not my brother.” And I’ve never really been able to get away from that. And this is year’s ago, about two years after I got back.

BB: How did you stay whole mentally?

WC: I don’t know. It's just one of those things were you get going and start thinking about, “What do I do next.” I could go back to the Navy but I couldn’t do the things I did before.

BB: Where did you go when you left the Navy?

WC: I was 21...I ended up going to the University of South Alabama. You can take classes when you are out at sea and for whatever reason, the University of South Alabama had the contract with the Navy. So they would professors on board ships. So I figured, hey, I’ll go there. I just showed up. Never been to the campus, didn’t know anything about the school. Went to school there for a year and then went to Texas A&M. Decided that I wanted to play baseball again. South Alabama had a really good team. Jon Leiber was there when I was there. Luis Gonzalez is another alumni. I wasn’t in any position to play baseball at that point. But when I went to A&M I got in good with the coach and got to be the last guy at the end of the bench. I was healthy enough to play in my junior year. Played three games and tore my shoulder up. Tore my rotator cuff, labrum was in there but it was secondary. Had it rebuilt. Took a year off.

BB: Who rebuilt it?

WC: Frank Jobe.

BB: Was that a connection you made through your father?

WC: Most of the guys my dad knew weren’t in baseball. The guy everyone would know is Jim Andrews. Joe Randolph and Terry Trammell, those are guys I’ve known since I was four years old. I knew of a lot of the other ones. They’d go to conferences when I was growing up and I’d meet them there. You know, my dad and I didn’t get along for a while, but it was never like estrangement. He was at Texas A&M while I was there. That was the reason I got to play ball. They didn’t have to throw a scholarship at me.

BB: And your dad was the trainer.

WC: Right.

BB: So you’re out for a year. Did you rehab with your dad?

WC: Mostly. They told me that I’d never be able to pitch again. So I learned how to throw a knuckle ball.

BB: When in doubt, right…"I ain’t quittin’ dammit!"

WC: No doubt, that’s really what it was. Do you remember when Joe Neikro was going around with the women’s baseball team, the Silver Bullets? They were barnstorming. I stalked him for three games. I mean literally. There could have been restraining orders involved. And all I wanted to know was how he threw his knuckle ball. And finally on the third night I say, “Show it to me,” and he turns around, shows me the grip, throws it at me, I catch it. It stings my hand and that’s how it started. I just needed to know the grip. I came back in my senior year throwing it. I was the late-inning mop up guy. If we’re up by ten in the last inning, I can throw. Down by ten runs, I get to throw. I pitched in like 20 games.

BB: And that’s your career.

WC: Yup. I had an internship at a money management firm during school. Basically, I was supposed to take their mail and pick up their express mail packages. But it was air-conditioned and that’s a big thing in Texas during the summer. During that time, I started talking to them, and got interested in the business. And they wouldn’t just brush me off; they’d actually answer my questions. I worked there for two years while I was still in school and when I was done I had a few job offers. I went to work for a firm here in Indianapolis called Jefferson Financial. They ended up getting bought out three weeks after I started. But I stayed on; a year later I was running the office. And if you were a broker in the late nineties and didn’t make money then you don’t deserve to make money. I had a couple of jobs after that, and then I was going to take a year off to write a book, in 2002. A novel about a guy like Steve Dalkowski.

BB: Were you into computers and the Internet early on?

WC: Yeah I remember having a copy of Mosaic. I was always geeky. In 96 I got into a fantasy league with Kevin Goldstein who does the Prospect Report for Baseball America. Great guy. In that league, we had guys like Matt Olkin, Jim Callis from Baseball America, Jim Hensler, guys like that. It was a really interesting league. People knew I had this sports medicine background and so they would starting asking me questions like, "When is so-and-so going to be back?" to help them in the fantasy league. Or, "How bad is this?" So I’d answer them. In 2002 I read something about injuries that was technically wrong and I realized that there was never any good injury information. I said, "I can do this better.' I put together an e-mail and sent it to three people. My friend Rob Miller, Jim Callis and Lee Sinins, who was already doing Around the Majors. I sent it out as a test case for these three people. And Callis told some people and Lee told some people and by the end of the week I had ten people I was sending it to. Lee put it on his list and John Hunt of the USA Today put it in his column. By the end of two weeks, I had about a hundred people. I had no idea. About two weeks after that, Gammons mentions me. And the funny thing is that he mentions me wrong. He’s on the Kornheiser show and he says that he’s been reading Under the Then I get this flood of people. Even though I don’t have a website at this point. So now I’ve got like 500 people. This is in May of 2002. Then Fox says, “Hey we’d like to run your column once a week.” So, I say, “Okaaay.” We worked that out. By June, Neyer had made me the link of the week and by the end of the season I’m on the radio…it was insane. I had about 3,500 people by the end of the season. I thought maybe 100 people would be interested in it. In October, I got an instant message from Gary Huckaby who asked if I would be interested in writing for the Prospectus book. Of course, my answer was yes, and it went from there. Later, I would meet Joe Sheehan at the winter meetings in Nashville.

BB: And the two of you hit it off?

WC: Yeah. What’s kind of funny is that Joe and I kind of look alike.

BB: I could see that. You could be cousins.

WC: We tend to have different worldviews. He tends to be a little bit negative; I tend to be a little bit insane. We just clicked. At first, it was a hero-worship thing for me because he was literally my favorite baseball writer.

BB: You talked about how between the ages of say 17 and 22 you felt directionless, when all of your experiences during that time informed what you do now. What makes it interesting to me is that you are being true to what you know and yet you’ve accomplished something that very few people have been able to do on the Net and that’s create your own niche.

WC: The two big jobs that I held after leaving school were in risk-management and then as a consultant to an insurance company. The second job was for a disability company and we tried to reduce their reserves. What we figured out is that if they could spend money and get people back to work quicker, they wouldn’t have to put so much money in reserve. Just being able to deal with the number crunching of the insurance industry helped me do what I do now. It all came together. I don’t want to make this more than it actually is, but it was like there was some grand purpose to everything. It wasn’t all completely random. If I had initially planned to become a baseball writer I would have screwed it up somehow. I mean I’m not that good a writer; I just have this interesting little niche.

BB: How did this lead you to write a book about pitching?

WC: I think I was just the right person at the right time. I got people thinking about injuries. Again, not trying to make more of it than there actually is, I can see more people taking injuries into consideration. Rany Jazayerli has recently talked about how he’s taking injuries into account in prospect rankings. I’m even starting to hear the injury angle creep in with some mainstream journalists.

BB: Now that you have a platform, what is this book about?

WC: It’s basically taking all the best research out there, and there is a lot out there… The work that Tom House has done for twenty years, the work that Mike Marshall has for more than twenty years. Guys like Glenn Fleisig at the American Sports Medicine Institute. The problem was that the information was scattered. Marshall’s’ work is available on the web. Tom House has done probably ten books and videos. Glenn Fleisig’s stuff can be found in technical journals. I’m just glad that they never found out a way to get it out there in a mainstream form.

BB: Did you see your job then as primarily being a facilitator?

WC: Exactly. What’s out there? What do we know? Things that are out there like Rany and Keith Woolner’s PAP. How do I tell a high school coach about PAP?

BB: Is the book more directed to coaches and parents?

WC: What I tried to keep in mind was that I wanted to be for as many people as possible. Really where I think we can save arms is at the college and high school level. In the pro’s it’s a million dollar question. You know, "If I can keep Greg Miller healthy, then maybe I have a ten million dollar pitcher on my hands." Keeping Mark Prior healthy is very important to the Cubs. Maybe they don’t know how to do it but they really don’t have any excuse for that. At the high school level and even at the college level, they don’t have the same resources. So maybe this book helps them. The other thing, using Greg Miller as an example: the Dodgers didn’t hurt his arm. I don’t know how much he was used in high school. Maybe he was one of those kids who played on three travel teams. There are a ton of reasons…Maybe he just has bad genetics and his arm was never going to hold up. But what happened? Let’s try to determine that. There is some kid out there today who is the next Prior, the next Greg Miller. If I can help get one of those kids to the major leagues, I may never know it, but then it was worth ever bit of effort writing the book.

BB: If the book is an instructional tool, what does it have to offer the average baseball fan like me?

WC: I think it offers a different way of looking at pitching. It adds a little bit to your understanding of pitching, especially if you know something about injuries. The book tries to explain the pitching process: why do pitchers get injured, why do half of all pitchers end up on the DL? Mechanically, it’s very complex, and we don’t understand the process so well because we haven’t explored it. It’s just in the last five to ten years that we’ve seen an explosion of technology that has allowed us to look at it. Things like high-speed cameras. The whole prehab program. Why is this just getting out there when the term was actually trademarked in 1984. It’s a matter of getting this stuff out there, and I think this is the right time to do that. We’re progressing past the point of pitch counts. It’s amazing how all of this new work is starting to take hold and I was in the right position to collect a lot of stuff that is out there and put it together.

BB: You mentioned earlier that you don’t consider yourself a good writer. Given that, how do you feel about it now that it’s finished?

WC: I feel really good. My editor made me look like a really good writer. I’m not an original thinker like Joe Sheehan or Tom Verducci, who can pop something out every day and make it interesting. I’m not a guy who can just write and make people want to read it. It’s the quality of my information more than the presentation that makes me worthwhile. I can talk. I have the radio show. But I’m like the opposite of Jim Rome: the less of me, the better the show.

"Saving the Pitcher" is out in stores now. Head on over to Amazon and pick up a copy.

High Def, Mos Def
2004-07-19 08:36
by Alex Belth

During the 2001 and 2002 seasons, I wondered how much longer Mariano Rivera was going to last as an elite closer. He was still very good of course, though not dominant. Perhaps Rivera's time was about up; after all, even the greatest relievers only have about a half-dozen peak seasons. But then Rivera rebounded with a terrific 2003 season, and has been even better in 2004. Over the weekend I was perusing through "The Sound of Two Hands Clapping," a collection of essays by the brilliant critic Kenneth Tynan, when I ran across a passage that fits Rivera to a tee (from an unpublished 1970 interview for Playboy):

Anyone who is a performer, who, that is, communicates his whole personality with the minimum of visible strain and the maimum of precision, entirely fascinates me. Even if I don't agree with his ideas. And this applies to bullfighters, conversationalists, ski-jumpers, footballers, cricketers, actors, playwrights, all those who communicate the essence of their gifts with the greatest conciseness. Those are the people I worship. I don't think any public performer in Europe has given me greater pleasure in my life than Antonio Ordonez, the bullfighter. I've been more moved by him than by any actor--except Olivier--because he displays extreme relaxation and precision in the face of considerable danger, and has the genius to make out of that danger something quite effortless and quite perfect. I'd put him very, very high on my list of heroes. Who else? Gerard Philipe, Lennon and McCartney, Peter Ustinov, Bix Beiderbecke, Ethel Merman--all people doing their thing, if you like, but not just doing it: doing it with a total awareness of the audience and an instinctive sense of shape and form, and bringing it off without visible effort. What I once called 'high definition performance'.

Tigers 4, Yanks 2

Nate Robertson out-pitched Jon Lieber on Joe Torre's 64th birthday as the Tigers earned a split of the weekend series against the Yankees. They also won the season series from New York, 4-3. Lieber wasn't terrible, but the Yankee offense just couldn't help him out. Ruben Sierra launched a two-run homer, but the Yanks hit into three double plays. Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada had the day off, and Gary Sheffield uncharacterisitcally whiffed three times. The Yanks lead over Boston stands at seven after Curt Schilling and the Sox defeated the Angels.

The Yankees have an odd week. They play two games in Tampa Bay, and then are back in the Bronx in the middle of the week for two games against the Blue Jays. This will be the first time the Yanks see Toronto all season. But before they get a chance to really know each other, the Bombers are off to Boston for a three-game weekend series. While the Yanks won't face Pedro Martinez, the Sox certainly won't face either Kevin Brown or Mike Mussina, and if my figuring is correct, they won't see Javier Vazquez either.

Heard any good pitching rumors lately? Mr. Gammons? Anyone?

Yankees 5, Tigers 3
2004-07-18 09:13
by Alex Belth

The Yankees and Tigers finally played a close game last night, with the Bombers holding on for the win, 5-3. El Duque got his second victory in two starts although he was far from stellar. Gary Sheffield was the offensive hero--and later, tabloid provocateur--collecting three hits, including a two-run homer and an RBI single. Ruben Sierra was the DH in place of the slumping Bernie Williams and hit a solo home run. Kenny Lofton and Derek Jeter added two hits each, and Alex Rodriguez had three hits. Jason Giambi was 0-5 and continues to struggle offensively, but made the defensive play of the game robbing Eric Munson of a game-breaking double with a sensational catch. Paul Quantrill was hit hard, but Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera were absolutely dominant. The Yankees gained a game in the standings after the Angels beat up on the Red Sox last night, 8-3. Their lead in the AL East stands at eight games.

High and Low
2004-07-17 10:27
by Alex Belth

What a Difference a Day Makes

"In my mind I would characterize this as the best start he's ever had," Joe Torre on Jose Contreras' performance Thursday night.

"I had no clue what I was doing up there," Javier Vazquez on his performance Friday night.

The Yankees started the second half of the season by winning one in impressive fashion and then getting dominated in the following game. Jose Contreras hurled his finest game as a Yankee on Thursday night against the Tigers, pitching into the ninth inning for the first time in his Yankee career. He walked the lead-off man in the first, allowed a run in the second, and was his usual plodding self. Contreras allowed a triple to start the fourth but pitched out of trouble without the run scoring, and was on his way to retiring fifteen consecutive Tigers. For their part, the Yankees mustered just five hits all night. However, they were all solo home runs--Matsui, Jeter, Lofton, and two by Rodriguez--which gave the Yankees all the runs they would need in a 5-1 victory.

I caught the last half of the game and thoroughly enjoyed it. What a pipe dream of a game. There was no tension, just the Yankees in cruise control. Some may find this kind of game dull, but not me. It's just the kind of victory that I love. Mariano Rivera came on in the ninth and K'd Pudge and Young and then got a ground out to end the game.

I watched entire game on Friday night and the shoe was squarely on Fate's other foot. Mike Mussina was placed on the DL yesterday due to soreness in his pitching elbow, a day after Kevin Brown was knocked around in his first rehab assingment since being disabled himself. This news became more distressing later in the evening when Javier Vazquez suffered his worst outing of the season. (Just how badly do you think George Steinbrenner wants Randy Johnson now? These must be long days for one B. Cashman.) The Yankees were one-hit by southpaw Mike Maroth as the Tigers bombed New York 8-1.

The Tigers have mauled the Yanks in three of the five meetings between the two teams this season. With El Duque and Jon Lieber lined up today and tomorrow, let's hope one of these two soft-tossing veterans can help stop the bleeding. The Yanks remain seven games ahead of Boston, who have dropped one (Lowe) and won one (Pedro) against Anahiem. (F'schizzle Ortizzle.)

2004-07-15 08:31
by Alex Belth

Alan Schwarz (Baseball America, ESPN, the New York Times) is one of the most prolific and respected baseball journalists working today. After more than a dozen years in the industry Schwarz has written his first book, The Numbers Game: Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination with Statistics. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Alan several weeks ago in midtown Manhattan to talk about the book. The following conversation took place on a warm June evening in Bryant Park, directly behind the main branch of the New York Public Library on 42nd street.

Bronx Banter: First things first, when did you start becoming a baseball fan?

Alan Schwarz: I came to being a baseball fan extraordinarily late. I was born in July of 1968. When Thurman Munson died in 1979 I didn't know who he was. That makes a lot of people gasp of course. I lived in London as a kid. When I was eight, nine and ten years old and returned in the summer of '79. I was never a baseball fan before that. It was must have been late August of '79--I bought my first pack of Topps baseball cards. They made me want to watch the games. Friends I made after returning from London were fans, so they showed me their baseball card collections and we watched games together and played catch. Next thing you know I was playing Little League and a baseball fan was born. But I was eleven, which was pretty late. What that has afforded me frankly is it means that I'm not overly nostalgic about the '77-'78 Yankees, which is a good thing, Bronx Banter's audience notwithstanding. Also, I'm really a child of the free agent era. So I do not resent the fact that players have rights -- I don't resent the fact that they even go on strike. I understand that's built into the game, it's built into the industry and work stoppages will happen every five or six years, and we'll get over it and move on. It's just the way it is.

BB: Are your parents American?

AS: Oh yeah, it's just that my father traveled. He was assigned to London for three years and we said what the heck. We're from New York, from Westchester County.

BB: As a kid were you more into playing baseball or studying it and getting into the numbers?

AS: Playing—I should say attempting to play—convinced me that perhaps I'd enjoy it more if I just stuck to the numbers. I was not any good. I tried. I tried so hard. But I was terrible. And I think like a lot of people who end up doing what I do, writing about baseball in any manner, I wanted to be involved in any way I could--and that wasn't going to be on the field. But I didn't plan on being a sports writer, or a baseball writer. Ever. I was a math guy in high school; I went to college at the University of Pennsylvania. I was a math major there. I had every intention of becoming a math teacher. The University of Pennsylvania newspaper is considered if not the best then one of the best three or four college newspapers in the country, and it seemed like a great kind of fraternity to join. It seemed like fun and some of my friends were already on it, so I joined it, did it, and eventually thought maybe I'd like to do this for a living.

BB: You were the sports guy. Did you do any other kind of writing for the paper?

AS: Just the sports stuff. Several of my friends were on the sports staff. Jon Wilner, who now covers Stanford sports for the San Jose Mercury News, was my editor.

BB: So there wasn't a writing background in your family?

AS: No. Not in the slightest. Everyone in my family is a teacher, which is why I walk around with this horrible residual guilt over my chosen profession. I went from the most selfless profession in the world, teaching, to possibly the most hedonistic, sports writing.

BB: Were your parents mathematicians?

AS: Nope. My father was in the business world, on Wall Street. So he had a facility with numbers. My whole family went to Harvard so I come from an educated family, and Scarsdale, New York is very scholastic-oriented. Come to think of it, my grandfather was fascinated by mathematics and Pythagorean triples. And it flowed from there. My dad taught me square roots when I was four. And I loved it. I just loved numbers.

BB: So did you play Strat-O-matic as a kid?

AS: Yup. I bought the 1981 set and it's still somewhere in my father's house. It had the 1980 statistics. I always remember having George Brett going up against Mike Schmidt, Dennis Leonard trying to get out Garry Maddox, when you played the 1980 World Series again. Nothing could ever compete with the Astros-Phillies championship series, though. I left that alone--that was too good the first time around for some kid to mess with.

BB: During your teenage years when you first got into baseball, did that include reading baseball literature?

AS: No, I was a terrible reader. I probably didn't read a book voluntarily until I was about twenty-three years old. I'm not exactly proud of that. I've since read hundreds. I just turned a corner. But I have terrible eyesight and it's difficult for me to focus on the print. So I found it difficult to read. I didn't have a reading problem per se, but it was just that numbers came a lot more naturally so I concentrated on that.

BB: So you didn't read the Bill James Abstracts when they came out during the eighties?

AS: Maybe I shouldn’t say that I didn't read any books. Yes, a friend of mine named Mark Sternman, who is now a foreign policy advisor for John Kerry, told me about this great book. It was the spring of 1983, and it was the new Bill James Abstract. It was the second one that had been published nationally by Ballantine and I was hooked, absolutely hooked. Because it merged my two favorite things: math and baseball. It was an epiphany for me, just as it was for so many other people.

BB: You've been a baseball writer for what, almost a dozen years now?

AS: Well, I graduated college in 1990. I was hired by Baseball America in 1991.

BB: How long have you had the idea to do a book?

AS: The idea for this project started about three years ago. Harvard Magazine asked me to profile a professor in their statistics department named Carl Morris. It's possible that your readers have since heard of him because he dabbled in baseball statistics. He had a lot of fun with baseball statistics and had lots of little ideas, and even big ideas about baseball statistics. So they thought it would be a fun profile. I went up and met professor Morris, up in Harvard Square. And I'm in a bagel shop, just talking with him about his ideas. And he told me about a method of looking at the game that I had never heard of. It's called the base-out matrix, where you look to see how many runs are scored in each of the twenty-four possible situations. There are three different out possibilities, zero, one or two outs. And then there are eight different configurations of bases empty, man on first, man on second, man on third, etc. So there are twenty-four different states. And if say, and this is off the top of my head, .57 runs are scored with a man on first and one out, and an average of .68 runs are scored with a man on second and two out, well then you know that the person who got a guy from first to second while making an out--say getting the ground ball and moving him over from the right side, or whatever it may have been--added on average .11 runs. It's just a way of looking at the Markovian states of the game. And I was like, "Wow, that's cool. I've never really looked at it that way." And professor Morris went out of his way to tell me that this was not his idea. This had been done for the first time by a man named George Lindsey in the 1950s. I had no idea anyone cared about this stuff back then. I had always thought that sabermetrics had begun pretty much with Bill James and computers. George Lindsey? Who is this George Lindsey guy? Well, I went and tried to read about this Lindsey person and his name wasn't anywhere. You couldn't find anything on George Lindsey. The more I talked with professor Morris, he gave me more names--Earnshaw Cook was one--the more I realized I didn't know anything about the history of baseball statistics--before Bill James, I knew nothing. Given that I'm supposed to be a well-informed baseball guy, I wanted to read a book about this. There wasn’t any. So I had to write it. I wrote it because it didn't exist. And was happy to find that there was as much great material and history as I hoped there would be. It was absolutely amazing how deep and rich the history of people's obsession with statistics is. It's been a part of the game since Alexander Cartwright. It was very reassuring to know that the mania I share with so many has been descended from a long line of others. Lindsey wanted to know how often a guy scores from second base on a single, so you know what he did? He scored 1,700 games over ten years to figure it out. That's insane. It's wonderful, it's inspiring, it's disturbing, it's enlightening--and it's worthy of a book.

BB: So after you learn about Lindsey from professor Morris, are you thinking about writing an article? Or are you already thinking, "I've got a book here."

AS: Oh, I didn't know it was a book until I bumped into enough great stuff…I still remember sitting on my couch--I was on sabbatical from Baseball America because I was completely burned out and needed to defrag my brain. And I remember at that time learning that the making of the Baseball Encyclopedia in the late 1960s, how it was the first conventional book in the United States that was ever type-set entirely by computer. I thought to myself, "There has got to be a good story there." And as it turned out, the guy most behind [the Baseball Encyclopedia] lived about ten blocks from me in Manhattan, David Neft. So I met him. After that, I found some articles about Earnshaw Cook, who was kind of a wacko, but an interesting wacko. Great stuff there. Henry Chadwick, of course, I had heard of. Bill James's story had not yet been told -- Michael Lewis ultimately did tell a lot of that story in his book, but at the time no one knew a lot of that history. I wanted to know, How did Stats Inc. start? As it turns out, it didn't begin as the data company that we now know -- it began as a hardware company, and a company that sold software to teams to allow them to keep their own statistics. When I learned about how Eric Walker, this NPR radio guy from the Bay Area, was the unknown father of modern on-base revolution--not Billy Beane, not Sandy Alderson, it was this NPR dude--I realized that somebody has to tell this tale. I wish it hadn't been me.

BB: Why is that?

AS: I wish I could have just read the book. That would have been a hell of a lot easier. But it didn't exist. You write it because it should be written.

BB: Had you ever had a desire to write a book?

AS: No. That's not to say that I actively didn't want to do it, it's just that I had no specific itch to. I was doing just fine as it was. But it just made sense. People always ask you, "Are you going to write a book?" And I always had the same answer: "If I have a good enough idea, I guess I will. Otherwise, I don't want to add to the cascade of mediocrity that's already out there."

BB: How did you go about getting it published?

AS: A couple of people I respect immensely--Rick Wolff at Warner Books, David Kaplan at Newsweek--told me to write a sample chapter, write a proposal, and see what happens. And I was lucky enough that David, my editor at Newsweek, is a client of Esther Newburg, probably the most prestigious literary agent in New York. He introduced me to her and she wanted to represent me— turns out she is a big fan of baseball statistics, too. You can never underestimate the amount of people that enjoy this stuff. It's crazy, but people love it. Esther was one of the very early Rotisserie League players--the original, Okrent-Fleder-Waggoner Rotisserie League. She wanted to be a part of my project. That's what I'm finding - as I predicted: people are rallying around the subject. I'm just a caretaker of it. This is one of the rare cases where being the messenger is good. You get killed for it a lot, but here, I'm getting the opposite. People all over are thanking me for writing the book, which was long overdue.

BB: I think one of the strengths of the book is that the prose is straight-forward and to the point, and you pretty much get out of the way and let the story tell itself.

AS: That was my goal.

BB: Are you trying to reach a wider audience than just baseball fans with this book?

AS: I was trying to write something that doesn't scare away the wider audience. If you look at the book cover, you might think, "Oh, it's a stat book." But it's not -- in the way that Dava Sobel's "Longitude" isn't about compasses or Simon Winchester's "The Professor and the Madman" is just about a dictionary. It's about people. It's about obsession and what drives people to answer longstanding, befuddling questions--that intellectual quest. And so if you look at my book, there are very few charts or formulas. They're used as illustrations occasionally, but there are very few. Sometimes they're just there to kind of mock the person who came up with it, like Branch Rickey's ridiculous formula. But the book is not about statistics--it's a book about people obsessed with them. So far reviewers have recognized that. They've seen that, hey, if you like baseball, if you're an intelligent baseball fan, you're going to love this book. It should appeal to the kids who used to memorize statistics off the back of Topps baseball cards, to the guy who played Strat-O-Matic or All-Star baseball, and haven't thought about it in 30 years. Or the people who loved leafing through the Baseball Encyclopedia. That's who this is for. I think it will appeal to anyone who keeps an open mind.

BB: In telling the stories of so many people, what did you find that connected them all?

AS: I think they are generally people who wished they could have played. I've heard it said that we are a nation of failed baseball players. People want to be involved--they want to feel a connection to the game. Generally, baseball can appeal to anyone: rich, poor, smart, not-so-smart. And that's wonderful. It does particularly appeal to people of a certain intellect, because of the numbers, because of the math. Because of the science.

BB: Because it's so quantifiable?

AS: Yeah. Because it begets equations, and mathematical relationships and numbers all over the place, that you just don't get in other sports. So you get people who are attracted to that. The people who are going to read the biography of Isaac Newton are going enjoy baseball in a way that they are not going to join basketball.

BB: Isn't that what Lindsey said about Hockey, which was his first love?

AS: George Lindsey was a Canadian Military officer who did some very early work in baseball statistics in the fifties. He wished he could have done it on hockey; he didn't want to do it on baseball. But hockey doesn't allow for the quantification that baseball does. The action is so fluid, you don't have definable states, like man on first and third with one out. Too much is happening at all times for an easy-to-assess snapshot.

BB: Did you have an idea of how to pace the book? You cover a lot of people and are economical in how divide your time. Was this something you were conscious of?

AS: I don't know how to say this without it sounding incredibly self-aggrandizing, but I'll try. People say that writers are "creative." "Oh, you are so creative," they tell me. I don't think I'm creative in the slightest. My job, as I look at it, is like that of a sculptor. A sculptor doesn't "create" anything. He chips away and removes all the stuff that shouldn't be there, to release what was always in that big block of marble. It was always there. But he or she saw it and made sure it emerged. That was my job--to see what mattered, and what worked and what fit together, and take away everything else. So in many ways I didn't determine the material. It was decided before I ever showed up. It was my job to see it, and then let it come to life.

BB: Do you feel that you had to cut a lot of stuff out?

AS: Oh sure. Goodness, there was all sorts of stuff that I couldn't put in there, little side stories explaining someone's idea. For example, Ted Oliver was this guy from the West Coast in the early forties who came up with the idea of rating pitchers not by win/loss or by ERA, but by looking at how their won-lost record differed from that of the team. You know, if Red Ruffing was 20-15 in the late thirties for the Yankees for instance, which is I think a .571 winning percentage, and his team had a .590 winning percentage, then why are we extolling Red Ruffing for being a twenty-game winner? It had something to do with his team. This was a very prescient approach. People didn't do this back then. And this Ted Oliver guy, whoever he was, wrote a book all about this idea, proposing a whole new way to rank pitchers. We all take this for granted now. And you know what? I think Ted Oliver got two sentences in my book. Because in the context of where I was in the story, there just wasn't enough time to go on that type of a tangent. I didn't ever want to spend more time on any given subject than was absolutely necessary. As Apollo Creed said to Rocky, "Stick and move, stick and move." And that's what I hope people feel me doing in the book.

BB: When during your research did you realize that you really had a narrative with this subject?.

AS: I don't know. It was just there. I didn't do it. I don't say that to be unnecessarily self-effacing. As I said before, I think my job is to recognize what was there and allow people see it.

BB: Are there any characters that you are particularly fond of?

AS: Yeah. F.C. Lane, who was the editor and main writer of Baseball Magazine from about 1908 to about 1930. This guy did sabermetric-type stuff that would blow people away today. Absolutely amazing to be done in an era where there was no data to be found. There was no Internet, there were no statistics published in his local papers barely. Nothing, nothing like we got used to in the fifties and sixties even. And he would write article after article saying things like, "Look, batting average is a joke. We need to find out a better system." And month after month, he would talk about new ways to refine that system, new ways to figure out, "How much is a double worth?" This guy kept track of hundreds of games. He assigned his staff to do this, to keep specialized scorebooks so that they could figure out how much a double is worth, and all sorts of other things. This is fifteen years before slugging percentage became an official statistic. They weren't just doing total bases divided by at-bats--they were trying to figure out, using actual innings, how often after you hit a double do you score, etc. Crude perhaps in the era of data, but my goodness, the stuff he did. In the last five years there have been so many articles written about how batting average is meaningless, and that a new day is dawning. This guy was doing it a hundred freakin' years ago. You read his articles doing that, and it absolutely blows you away. It's so cool. I have literally hundreds of pages of this guy's work. And anyone who wants to see it can come to my apartment. It will blow you away.

BB: You mentioned how one thing that connects a lot of the guys who were interested in numbers is that most of them had wanted to be players at one point. That is so reinforced today: It's the sabermetricians versus the Old Guard of baseball jocks.

AS: It has become an insider-outsider thing. Baseball was always very resistant to letting outsiders in. What we're seeing now is the acknowledgement that outsiders have something to offer--not a magic formula, of course, but something of value. This is in very large part attributable, I believe, to Sandy Alderson. Sandy Alderson was originally contracted by the A's as outside counsel in 1981 as a Bay Area lawyer. He ultimately was hired by the club and then became general manager in 1982. He was simply too smart for anyone to say, "You don't belong here." He won three pennants from 1988 through 1990. He drafted well. He utilized new approaches to the game: on-base percentage, the power of the walk, the importance of home runs. The fact that Dave Kingman wasn't nearly as good as people thought because he made so many outs. That Rickey Henderson is one of the greatest players of his time. He ran his club in a way that earned and commanded respect. His disciples started spreading across the major leagues--whether it was Walt Jocketty getting hired Colorado first and then St. Louis, Dave Stewart, Billy Beane, J.P. Ricciardi, Ron Schueler. Sandy's approach to the game spread through other people, "carriers," if you will. There had been outsiders before and there would have been outsiders after, but I think Sandy was the first one to earn the type of respect where people didn't care if he had never played the game before--he was just too smart. Ever since then it's been okay. Maybe not preferred, but okay.

BB: There is a real polarization between the old school and the new way of thinking. This was a central theme in Michael Lewis's book, "Moneyball."

AS: Michael's approach was to cast the situation as a holy war. It made for extraordinarily good reading. But rarely is any situation as black and white as the press is liable or tempted to cast it. Now, some people resent the encroachment of outsiders who believe in statistics. But frankly, as reluctant as so-called old-timers have generally been to accept the new statistics-respecting folks, many of those new statistics-respecting folks have been disgustingly contemptuous of the old time people. Each side is as responsible as the other for the polarization that does exist. If everyone would just relax and take the time to realize that each side has value, to varying degrees and in various contexts, then we'd all be better off. This isn't, "The world is flat, the world is round." In this case it really is somewhere in between.

BB: Do you think that the extreme attitudes are a result of the fact that you are dealing with very competitive people who are threatened by each other?

AS: You remember the line in "Risky Business?" When Guido the Killer Pimp takes Tom Cruise aside and says, "Joel, don't ever fuck with another man's livelihood." I think you are right--some people feel endangered. But that's the nature of any scientific advance. The people who feel they're about to be replaced try to protect their turf. Ultimately it's the value of the new idea that proves whether it will prevail. All the other stuff is really just noise.

BB: Do you feel that in five or ten years there will be more teams run in the mold of the A's, Jays and Red Sox?

AS: Well, it depends. Frankly, answering the question as everyone thinks I will only further the misunderstanding that already exists. Because it's hard for me to know what you mean by "the Boston Red Sox" and "the Toronto Blue Jays" and "the Oakland A's." Because your impression of what happens inside those rooms has been shaped . . . you haven't been in the rooms. I know more than you do just because it's my job to--I know these guys and I've asked the questions and I have the relationships and have learned more first-hand, but you know what? I haven't been in the rooms either. Gloria Steinem had a wonderful quote: "Being a writer keeps me from believing everything I read." One thing I cover in the book is that I think a lot of people will be surprised by how evenly run the Red Sox organization is. Yeah, they get a lot of attention because Theo Epstein respects statistics, and they have Bill James. But I think Bill James has a much lower impact on how the Red Sox run their club than people think. I'm pretty sure he'd agree with me. They respect statistics, but they also respect conventional scouting. You talk to Theo Epstein about Bill Lajoie and he'll go on for hours about how much he loves the guy and respects him and values his opinion. What's special about the Red Sox is that everybody respects both sides. That is what's interesting about them. I don't know to what degree the Blue Jays or the A's have done that. The Red Sox have a heck of a lot more leeway than those two ball clubs, particularly Oakland. They have more money. So they have more room to roam ideologically. But still Theo will tell you, and it's a very good metaphor which is his not mine, that only through looking through both lenses--conventional, tools-based scouting and statistics-based scouting--can you really get everything into focus. I think he's absolutely right.

BB: We are so inundated with numbers these days. One aspect of your book that I appreciated was how the Elias annuals in the 1980s helped create this sense of random statistics that didn't necessarily mean anything, though Bill James was often the target of those who criticized statistics.

AS: It's okay that you used the word, but I would not use the word "random." Every number Elias printed was a fact. They were undeniable, correct facts. The problem, and I don't mean to pick on them at all, was that the books that they printed didn't not foster a sense of understanding about the game that Bill's did. Just because George Brett hit .382 in July of 1986, did that mean he was a good July hitter? Turns out it's pretty much trivia. A lot of the splits that they did didn't necessarily tell you anything about a guy's ability - they told you about what he did, but not about what he might do. They didn't make it clear enough--they put these statistics in the hands of people who didn't know how to use them. Bill taught you how to look at the game. Elias didn't do that. That's okay -- I'm not sure they intended to. I think they did try in various ways, and did succeed in various ways. Their books were not just meaningless tomes of numbers. But Bill did a far better job of arming people with an understanding of what the numbers might mean, rather than their mere existence.

BB: Toward the end of the book you talk about women becoming more interested in numbers.

AS: Too late to help my college social life.

BB: Do you think we'll see a lot more women involved in the future?

AS: Absolutely.

BB: Are these women necessarily baseball fans?

AS: Well, it's hard to be into this stuff if you are not a fan. But because you are a fan doesn't mean you can do this stuff. People ask me all the time, "Would you want to work for a club?" Not at all. I couldn't do this stuff. Just because you write a biography of Einstein doesn't mean you can build an atom bomb. What you need is someone who is very smart, very adept with numbers, very adept at translating concepts into numbers, of getting along with jocks, getting along with very head-strong, hard-working, smart folks. Frankly, it doesn't matter what your gender is. It really doesn't. Women are unquestionably the next frontier in terms of baseball front offices.

Beat Down
2004-07-14 08:31
by Alex Belth

The American League beat the snot out of Roger Clemens in the first inning last night and cruised to a 9-4 win, securing home-field advantage in the World Serious this year. Manny Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano hit homers off of Clemens. Later, Clemens returned to the field to be presented soemthing or other by Bud Selig. The Rocket, accompanied by his wife and four sons, looked mortified.

Meanwhile, the Randy Johnson rumors are heating up. How about a three-way that would send Nomar to the Cubs, prospects to Arizona and Johnson to Boston? What about the Mets and the Yankees? (The Bombers, lacking the sufficient minor league talent would need to include a third team for sure.) The Hot Stove is alive and well and it's hotter than July. The Johnson hub-bub is expected to go down to the wire. The trading deadline is July 31st.

Big Unit Movin?
2004-07-13 08:46
by Alex Belth

Randy Johnson told reporters yesterday that he would consider being traded. Who knows where Johnson will land should be leave Arizona. Ah, let the New York-Boston hysteria continue.

If he lands in New York, expect to see a lot of wailing in the press. (Never mind talk radio.) Mike Lupica is sure to lead the charge, but Murray Chass already isn't nuts about the idea:

The Diamondbacks' fans deserve something. With their team in last place, they have little to root for. Leave them with the expectation that every fifth day they can look forward to an exquisitely pitched game, maybe even a no-hitter, certainly one with a bunch of strikeouts.

The fans, after all, made it possible for Johnson to play in Phoenix, turning out in large enough numbers to help finance the lucrative contracts Johnson has signed with the Diamondbacks.

As for the Yankees and their needs, if they can't win with a $183 million payroll, shame on them. If they guessed wrong on some of their pitchers, if José Contreras isn't the consistent winner they expected him to be, if Kevin Brown is living up to his recent reputation for being injury-prone, let them live with their mistakes. Other teams have to do it, and it's time the Yankees found out how others live.

For more on the Big Unit, head on over to The Futility Infielder. Jay Jaffe provides a telling excerpt from a profile that Pat Jordan wrote on Johnson several years ago.

2004-07-12 08:48
by Alex Belth

Yankees 10, Devil Rays 3

El Duque returned to the fold yesterday and was up to his usual tricks. He threw two kinds of curveballs, a slider, a change, as well as an eephus pitch (thrown twice) to go with his fastball. There has been some vague talk about the Yankees acquiring junkball specialist Jamie Moyer before the trading deadline, but with Hernandez on the squad, why bother? Stepping in for Mike Mussina, Duque was decent yesterday, allowing two runs off of five hits, and three walks in five innings of work (he also struck out five). While he isn't the answer to the pitching problems in the Bronx, physically, he looked great. Cool as ever, the Yankees' answer to Yul Brenner. It seemed like he was just pitching for the Yankees last week. Not much has changed.

Duque got some help from his defense early on. Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Cairo made a nice play in the third, and later on, Jorge Posada gunned down Carl Crawford for the second time in the series. Posada added a long solo home run into the Yankees' bullpen and an RBI single before he left with a sprained ankle (x-rays were negative). The game was close for a minute but the Yankees lumber was simply too much for the Rays. Six straight hits scored five runs in the third, and Godziller Matsui and Gary Sheffield added solo shots of their own. My girl's favorite Yankee Tony Clark hit two dingers as the Yankees rolled.

Sheffield's homer was memorable. Batting in the bottom of the eighth inning, Sheff was knocked to the ground on a 1-2 pitch from Danys Baez. Sheffield has so much torque in his body when he strides that he looked like a horse getting shot in an old western movie, going down. As he twisted back, his front leg collapsed under him making the brush-back look more serious than it actually was. Baez continued to challenge Sheffield who fouled off several fastballs. Then Baez left one out over the plate and Sheffield promptly deposited it over the left center field wall. Sheff admired his shot for a minute and then trotted around the bases.

The Rangers beat the Red Sox yesterday, so Boston ends the first half seven games behind New York. The Yankees go into the break with the best record in baseball.

Yankees 6, Devil Rays 3
2004-07-11 09:21
by Alex Belth

Welcome Back

It was Old Timer's Day at Yankee Stadium yesterday, which is equal parts fun, nostalgic, sanctimonious and pathetic. Luis Sojo ended the game with a home run to left field off of Ron Guidry. Sojo styled his way around the bases like Reggie Jackson and everyone had a good laugh.

The Yankees were down 2-0 in the regular game when the slumping Alex Rodriguez tied the score with a monstrous blast that landed in the left field upper deck. Good grrruh, it a man-sized homer and Rodriguez knew it immediately. It must give a hitter the kind of feeling that Popeye felt when a spinach-fix hit him in the biceps. Good Lord. When Rodriguez got to home plate he let out an "Oh yeah!" rebel yell as he high-fived Jason Giambi.

The old Cardinals teams of the sixties were famous for keeping each other in line. If a rookie had a terrific day and started talking with his chest puffed out to reporters or teammates after the game, Bob Gibson or Dick Groat or Curt Flood would sharply remind them to keep it in perspective. What's the old saying? Don't get too high when you win or too low when you lose, right?

In his own way, Derek Jeter did something similar to Rodriguez yesterday. Just making sure A Rod's head didn't start to swell. Shortly after he hit the blast, Jeter strutted along the Yankee dugout mocking Rodriguez's celebration at home plate. He finished his comedy routine by sitting next to a smiling Rodriguez. This is a role that Tim Raines once played for the Yankees. How many guys could get away with busting Rodriguez's chops like that? (Rodriguez grounded into a double play and struck out in his last two at bats.)

The score remained tied at two until the seventh when, you guessed it, Derek Jeter broke the game open with a two-out double which scored three runs. (Jeter would advance to third and then score on an error.) Although Tom Gordon gave up a run in the eighth, Mariano Rivera worked a scoreless ninth for the Yankees' third straight win. Jon Lieber pitched effectively again, scattering hits, throwing strikes and working out of trouble. The Bombers lead over Boston holds steady at six games after the Red Sox won their fifth straight yesterday.

Mike Mussina was scheduled to start this afternoon, but has been scratched due to a sore elbow. This makes way for the return of one of my favorite all-time Yankee pitchers, El Duque. Orlando Hernandez has been rehabbing with the Columbus Clippers of late. I have no idea if he'll have anything today, but it sure will be fun to see the Yankees' International Man of Mystery back in the pinstripes.

Yanks 5, Devil Rays 4
2004-07-10 11:29
by Alex Belth

I spent yesterday afternoon into the evening in some far off place called Bergenfield, New Jersey, chilling with my old friend Steinski listening to records. In truth, Bergenfield is just about ten minutes away from the George Washington Bridge. Stein moved out there just about a year ago. He took me to a pond near his place that was littered with duck dung and, well, ducks. The place could have been called Shoe Polish Pond as the water was as black as the night.

Now, I was chased by a white swan one time when I was a kid, so I've never really been down with the duck posse. But Steven wasn't ascared and we walked right through a school of them to a park bench. Some of the real schnorrer's in the group came pretty close to us looking for food, looking at us all sideways, jerking their dopey necks around. That made me type skittish, but I held it together.

When Stien's wife came home they took me to a barbeque joint in Hackensack called Cubby's. The outside of the place looks similar to a Sizzler's, and Cubby apparently is a cartoon pig who loves his barbeque. I had a b-bque chicken sammich and let me tell you, it was outstanding. Nothing like pigging out in Hackensack.

Afterwards, Stein was kind enough to drive me back home to the Bronx. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I walked into the apartment and the Yankees were leading Tampa Bay 4-3 in the seventh inning. Emily informed me that it had been a good game. That Javey had another tough outing, walking the bases loaded, and committing a balk, something she had never seen before. But Quantrill saved the day, got out of the bases loaded jam and the Yanks had the lead.

I caught the last two-and-a-half innings. Just in time to see Sweet Lou throw a tantrum and get himself run from the game. He didn't kick or throw or bite, but he was plenty pissed, which is always good for a laugh. Tom Gordon was great in the eighth and the Yanks tacked on a run in the bottom of the inning. However, Mariano Rivera had a rare off-night, and his pitches were up. He allowed a lead-off double to Julio Lugo who would eventually score on Tino Martinez's pinch-hit, RBI single. With the score now 5-4, Rivera loaded the bases. Two outs, and Rocco B at the plate. Rivera goes to a full count before getting Rocco to pop up to Tony Clark in foul territory to end the game.

Whhheeeww. The Yankees remain six ahead of Boston who shut-out Texas at Fenway Park last night. Today gives Old-Timer's Day in the Bronx. The geezers play at 2:00 and the regular game starts at 4:00. Em and I are headed down to Chinatown to eat and shop. She's running full-steam ahead with operation Feng Shui, so we need to get chimes and colored paper and a whole host of nonsense. I'm easy, so I'm just playing the old "Yes, dear," card, and everything is rosey. Hey, whatever floats your boat, right? A small trade-off for a woman who watches baseball with me (not to mention by herself).

Yankees 7, Devil Rays 1
2004-07-09 08:54
by Alex Belth

Good thing I'm not a betting man, huh? Well, I should have known. How does Jose Contreras follow an awful performance? With a good one, of course. While nobody in his or her right mind will believe that the soporific Cuban has finally worked out the kinks in his game, or that he's the answer to the Yankees' pitching problems, Contreras had his forkball and fastball working for him last night, and encountered only one difficult inning, in the fourth. But he came back brilliantly in the fifth and sixth. He left with two men on and two out in the seventh, thanks in part to an error by Alex Rodriguez. Paul Quantrill got the Bombers out of the inning, and Mariano Rivera got a five-out save.

On the other side, Victor Zambrano was his usual wild self. Zambrano stands with his legs wide apart when he's in the set position; he looks like a wishbone ready to be snapped. The guy struggles with his control, but his pitches are incredibly nasty, and they move a lot. He walked the bases loaded in the first, and the Yankees scored a run on Jason Giambi's sac fly to left. Derek Jeter drove in the next two runs, and Hideki Matsui drove in two more when he hit a grounds rule double with the bases loaded. Gary Sheffield yanked a slider into the left field seats in the ninth for the final two runs of the game.

In all, it was a good night for the Yankees, who remain six games ahead of Boston, who beat Oakland in extra innings at Fenway Park. After a rough time against New York and Atlanta, give the Sox credit for sweeping the A's at home.

2004-07-08 09:20
by Alex Belth

The Yankees lead over Boston was reduced to six games last night. What are the odds that it'll be five after tonight? Jose Contreras goes against Yankee-killer Victor Zambrano while Curt Schilling will face Rich Harden. Hmmm. Glad I'm not a betting man. (How amped is Lou Piniella to come into New York with his surging Devil Rays?) However, the Yankees have Vazquez, Lieber and Mussina lined up for the weekend. Hopefully, they can help stop the bleeding as the Yankees have lost their last two series.

After another awful performance by Yankee pitching yesterday, Newsday is reporting that both Brad Halsey and Brett Prinz will be shipped off to Columbus today. The duo will apparently be replaced by two right-handers, Juan Padilla and Sam Marsonek.

I've been way too upset about how the Yankees have played over the past week. I called Cub fan Alex Ciepley to complain yesterday and he essentially laughed in my face. But the Yankees have dropped five of six I moaned. "Well, the Cubs have lost for 92 years..." That shut me up right quick. What did I expect? A Yankee fan calling a Cub fan for sympathy. Doh. Cliff Corcoran, a level-headed Yankee observer, calmed me down when he e-mailed me after the game:

I'm actually pretty pleased that the [Yankees] scored those five runs in the seventh and made a game out of it. I'm also a tough-love guy. I figure they could use a run like this (and it's just five of six) to emphasize that Sturtze and company are not a champion caliber staff. It's good for them to lose a few. With the break coming up to wipe the slate clean, it couldn't come at a better time.

Of course, trade rumors are flying about. Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald writes how the Red Sox are in the thick of the so-called Randy Johnson sweepstakes, while Boston's GM Theo Epstein denied any such doings in the Boston Globe. Meanwhile, Joel Sherman wonders if Roger Clemens could find his way back to the Bronx before all is said and done. Actually, Sherman make a strong case for southpaw reliever Eddie Guardado, a move I've been dreaming about for a few months now.

Finally, Hideki Matsui is the seventh Yankee to make the All-Star team. While Matsui is having a fine season, it would have been nice to see a non-Yankee fill out the AL roster, like future Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas for one.

Tattoo Youse
2004-07-07 14:55
by Alex Belth

The Yankes are getting whipped by the Tigers at the Stadium this afternoon. Mt. Saint George is just about ready to erupt. The Yankees' pitching has been nothing short of horrendous of late. Fury at eleven.

Tigers 9, Yanks 1
2004-07-07 09:01
by Alex Belth


Everything started so well for Mike Mussina. Working on three days rest, Mussina was sharp through the first four innings last night, striking out five of the first six batters he faced. After brushing back Bobby Higgenson with a fastball, Mussina caught him looking on a beautiful curve ball. But in his second at bat, Higgenson crushed an 0-2 delivery for a two-run homer, and that was the begining of the end of Mussina and the Yanks. That Higgenson flipped his bat and hot-dogged it around the bases didn't help my digestion any. Jason Johnson, who pitched a terrific game, allowed the Yanks to score a run before the Tigers put up five in the sixth.

There wasn't much to remember from this one. The Yankees put some good swings on the ball but didn't have much to show for it. Also, Bernie Williams badly misplayed a ball during the Tigers sixth inning. And Taynon Sturtze plunked Pudge Rodriguez in the ninth. Rodriguez left the game and Ugie Urbina returned the favor by throwing behind Gary Sheffield in the bottom half of the inning. Sturtze was not run from the game like Esteban Yan had been the previous night. Both teams were warned after Urbina threw at Sheffield.

The Yankees lead over the Red Sox is down to seven games. Thank you very much, Mr. Zito. There were many writers in the New York and Boston media who believed the Yankees won the AL East last week. I'm not one of them. Not only do I think the Red Sox are alive and well in the wild-card race, I don't think it's beyond them to win the East either. (Ed Cossette however, remains cautious...)

For more Yankee news, check out the latest work from Dan McCourt, Derek Jacques, Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran, and Rich Lederer.

Yanks 10, Tigers 3
2004-07-06 08:52
by Alex Belth

Ahhh, just what the Yankees needed: an easy, blow-out win. On a stifling hot night in the Bronx, the Yankees jumped all over the Tigers early and Jon Lieber had a good outing as they cruised 10-3. Over 52,000 saw Alex Rodriguez hit a three-run homer in the second inning. After Gary Sheffield hit a solo shot later on, Rodriguez was knocked down by Estaben Yan's first pitch. The ball sailed over Rodriguez's head and Yan was tossed from the contest. The Yankees did not retaliate. Bernie Williams and Ruben Sierra added solo homers of their own; Jason Giambi had two hits. The Yankees are now eight games ahead of Boston, who was idle last night.

Mets 6, Yankees 5
2004-07-05 11:13
by Alex Belth

How Sweep It Ain't: Happy Birthday George!

"They probably wanted it more than we did," said Yankees reliever Tom Gordon, who allowed the game winner. "They played harder. We played good baseball. Don't get me wrong; we played hard. But they didn't quit. They absolutely did not quit, and they played winning baseball. That's a good ball club over there."

"You don't enjoy it when you lose," Torre said. "But I was proud, as I'm sure Artie was, with how hard the players played. That's all you can ask. The results aren't always going to be what you want them to be. We've been spoiled, because we've won a lot of those games where we've come back and come from behind. They bent a lot but they didn't break. You really have to give them credit." (N.Y. Times)

The Yankees needed a solid effort from Javier Vazquez yesterday and didn't even come close to getting it. While Vazquez wasn't as awful as Jose Contreras had been on Saturday, he was far from impressive as the Mets took it to the Yankees once again. Horrific pitching, and cockamamie base-running did the Yankees in on Sunday as the Mets swept the Yankees for the first time since Inter-league play began in 1997. In addition, the Metropolitans beat the Yankees in the season series for the first time as well.

Vazquez struggled with his control from the begining. He looked gassed, his body lanugage tense, and he ostensibly had nothing. It was painful to watch. But I was impressed that he hung in there and didn't spit the bit completely. Felix Heredia was useless and Flash Gordon looked fatigued as well. I don't think the Yankees will miss Richard Hidalgo much, huh?

The Yankees didn't lie down. The offense chipped away. Bernie Williams went 4 for 5, but made a crucial mistake on the bases, limiting a Yankee rally. Jorge Posada later pulled his own numb-nuts move (that the Yankees filed a protest on the Posada play speaks to their level of frustration more than anything else). Williams' solo home run off Jay Seo was the highlight of the day for the Yankees. Seo left a pitch up and over plate which Williams smacked high and deep to right. As soon as he hit it, Williams dropped his head and shoulders comically. It wasn't a David Ortiz, let-me-admire-this, hot dog move. It was a "Oh, man, did I ever kill that," reaction. At the same instant, Seo swiped at the air with his right arm, "Drat!" Head bowed, Williams paused for a moment and then went into a home run trot.

Alex Rodriguez continues to struggle offensively. He is not performing well with men on base at all. But the Yankees offense wasn't the problem this weekend, it was pitching, pitching, and more pitching. 11 runs, 10 runs, 6 runs: 'nuff said. The only silver-lining for New York was that Derek Lowe and the Red Sox were torched in Atlanta. For the Yankees to get swept and only lose a game in the standings is a lucky break if I've ever seen one. Of course, it doesn't get any easier this week, with the improved Tigers in town for three, and then the D-Rays here for four to finish out the first half. The Yankees dragged their way through the weekend; they need to stay sharp this week before they can exhale and get a break during the All-Star festivities.

Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez will be starters in the All-Star game; Gary Sheffield, Flash Gordon and Mariano Rivera were elected as reserves.

Mets 10, Yanks 9
2004-07-03 19:36
by Alex Belth

I'm ashamed to admit that a two-game losing streak to the Mets is enough to get my blood boiling. But there it is: today's loss had me rampaging like a four-year-old. The Yankees and Mets played an exciting game with the Mets coming out on top by a single run. Tony Clark had four hits, including two homers. Jason Giambi had a pinch-hit double. But I'm more fixated on what went wrong. Jose Contreras was nothing short of putrid (I have no idea why Torre had him out there to start the sixth inning), and Alex Rodriguez was a bust offensively. I don't even want to re-live Posada's at-bat against John Franco in the eighth. It wasn't an exciting game, it was garbage. And Schilling is pitching tonight for the Sox. Bah-fuggin-humbug.

Anyhow, while I cope with my anger management issues, it was a terrific win for the Metroplitans. Luckily, Javier Vazquez is going for the Bombers tomorrow, who will try to avoid being swept, and losing a season series to the Mets for the first time since Inter-league play began in 1997. However, erstwhile Yankee, Shane Spencer is thinking big:

"To sweep 'em would be pretty sweet."

You said it superstar. But hey, no matter how immature and furious I am, at least I can take comfort knowing that George Steinbrenner is even more immature and more furious than me. And that's the truth: tttthhhppppt.

Mets 11, Yanks 3
2004-07-03 10:31
by Alex Belth

"The Bambino's kicking our ass right now, but we're going to get that ass back,'' David Ortiz, "The Cookie Monster." (Boston Herald)

The Yankees came into Shea Stadium last night as not-ready-for-prime-time-players after their draining three-game series vs. the Red Sox. Derek Jeter was in the starting line-up though. He had a bandage on his chin and a nice shiner under his right eye and was greeted by a mix of boos and a standing ovation during his first trip to the plate. Jeter's right eye was blinking steadily all night, but it didn't keep him from playing. With one out in the first, he made a nice back-hand stab and with some help from Tony Clark, threw out the speedster Kaz Matsui. That was as good as it would get for the visiting Bombers. Mike Piazza followed with a ground ball that took a funny hop and skipped past Alex Rodriguez for a single. Then Hideki Matsui dropped a long fly ball by Cliff Floyd for an error; Bernie Williams followed by taking a poor route to a fly ball by Richard Hidalgo and the Mets quickly led 2-0.

With two out in the second, Miguel Cairo apparently robbed Jose Reyes of a hit to end the inning, but Reyes was called safe, the ump blew the call and Kaz Matsui followed with a three-run shot, his first of two homers on the night. That was the kind of night it was going to be. But while the Yankees were half-asleep, give credit to the Mets, who were in good form.

Steve Trachsel had a nasty splitter going and he continues to be an excellent pitcher at Shea Stadium. Richard Hidalgo added another dinger off of Mike Mussina--who is no doubt pleased that he won't have to face Hidalgo again this season.

Just like last Friday, the Mets opened with a bang vs. the Yankees. Fortunately for the Bombers, the Red Sox lost another heartbreaker in extra innings; this time, 6-3 in Atlanta. The Bombers remain eight-and-a-half ahead of Boston. Curt Schilling goes for the Sox this afternoon.

Dan Shaughnessy thinks it is time for the Sox to trade Nomar Garciaparra:

In every way, the Nomar Problem has reached a critical mass. The Red Sox know they can't sign him at the end of the season. He's already turned down boatloads of money ($60 million over four years before the 2003 season), and is admittedly (and rightfully) wounded by the offseason attempt to replace him with Alex Rodriguez. Garciaparra says he wants to stay here, but virtually no one believes him and his demeanor suggests he'd rather stick needles in his eyes than sign on for another tour of duty at Fenway.

... This is hardly a groundbreaking idea, but for the first time, management can make a Nomar deal that might improve the ball club and won't be universally deplored by the Nation. A whopping 70 percent of 6,893 reponses to a survey Thursday said Nomar should be traded. Stunning. And that was before Garciaparra took the night off in the most important game of the season.

One has to wonder why it always ends like this for Boston's star baseball players. Go back through time. Mo Vaughn. Roger Clemens. Mike Greenwell. Jim Rice. Bob Stanley. Wade Boggs. Bruce Hurst. Carlton Fisk. Fred Lynn. Rick Burleson. All home-grown stars who left the franchise spitting nails at the front office. Nomar Garciaparra played harder and was more popular than any of them. Ted Williams compared Nomar with Joe DiMaggio. Now this. Everybody's favorite Red Sox appears to have become a wildly unhappy ballplayer, struggling to return from an injury, resentful of the front office, and determined to walk at the end of the season.

Over at the Herald, Tony Massarotti thinks Garciaparra should stay:

Thursday in New York? Garciaparra deserves the benefit of the doubt, just as Pedro Martinez deserved it last summer, when it was suggested in some places that Martinez might have been ducking the Oakland A's when he was, in fact, suffering from an infamous case of pharyngitis. Martinez took such assertions personally, just as Garciaparra is taking them now, eight years into a Red Sox career during which Garciaparra has routinely played with a familiar bounce.

...Earlier this week, amid escalating rumors that Garciaparra might be on the trade market, Red Sox officials privately denied they have any such interest. The Red Sox are better with a healthy and focused Garciaparra than they are without him, and the trick now is to get him healthy and focused. When those things have happened, after all, Garciaparra has demonstrated a unique and uncanny ability to play the game of baseball.

As Jack Nicholson asked himself in Prizzi's Honor: "Do I ice her, do I marry her? Which one of dese?"

Meanwhile, Jack Curry gives props to the Bronx Bombers:

There are endless reasons for hating the Yankees. They have won more World Series titles than any team. They have a $180 million payroll that is at least double that of all but a few clubs. They have a principal owner in Steinbrenner who can be a bully and who often thinks others are plotting against him. To so many teams and fans, the Yankees really are the Evil Empire.

But for today and maybe a lot longer, it could be difficult for even the most ardent Red Sox or Mets fans to hate the Yankees. Anyone who saw Jeter risk a serious injury for a catch that could have maybe been the difference between the Yankees being a whopping eight and a half or a still comfortable six and a half games ahead of Boston had to appreciate the brilliance, had to acknowledge the desire to see their favorite player care that much.

"That's who he is," Rodriguez said. "He sets the tone for the team. You see something like that, you say, 'O.K., we have to win now.' ''

Jose Contreras will face Matt Ginter this afternoon in Flushing.

Christmas in July
2004-07-02 19:25
by Alex Belth

"We played a great game, and we take more from this game than we lose. I bet we'll capitalize on the things we did tonight." — Pedro Martinez (Boston Globe)

As expected, there was some very good coverage of last night's Yankee-Red Sox game. Steven Goldman does a beautiful job of it for YES, while Joe Sheehan delivers his take from the west coast for Baseball Prospectus (subscription required). Far from a sentamentalist, Goldman gives Jeter his props:

Derek Jeter gets a lot of grief for his defensive shortcomings, but as has been written here many times before, those shortcomings, real or perceived, don't count for much. He's a terrific ballplayer with great instincts and an unquestionable sense of professionalism. He's still not the best shortstop on the team, but he is the best man.

"I've never seen a guy of his caliber go all-out like that," Sheffield said. "It just proves to you what these games mean, how important they are. And it took our captain to show us once again.

Sheehan correctly notes that while Jeter's catch is getting most of the press today, Alex Rodriguez's double play was equally as impressive plus an even more difficult play to pull off to boot. But, he continues:

We're dealing in gradations of excellence here, which is really what last night was all about. Keith Foulke wiggles out of a jam? OK, here's Mariano Rivera escaping a tougher one. Pokey Reese makes a highlight-reel catch? Here comes Rodriguez, and then Jeter, pushing him to the cutting-room floor. Manny Ramirez comes up with another huge hit with his team up against the wall? Nice, but the Yankees get down to their last strike, more stars on the bench than in the lineup, and get back-to-back hits from the waiver-bait segment of the roster.

Sheehan's boyhood pal, Derek Jacques was at the game and was was our man in the field Cliff Corcoran. (Ex-Yankee, Chuck Knoblauch, looking rounder in the face, was there too, with a skinny-looking blonde by his side.) Cliff is still recovering, but will have his say shortly. Dee reports:

Red Sox fans were all over the stadium, like an invading army or a colony of intestinal parasites, depending on your point of view. They've been bolder than usual over the past two years -- Yankee Stadium security has improved to the point that the Beantowners don't have to make out a will before wearing their colors in the Bronx.

...Things got pretty quiet when Derek Jeter crashed headlong into the seats. Even the jerk behind me who cheered when Mike Timlin hit Jeter with a pitch in the 10th wanted no part of this.

...There were no cheers of “Boston Sucks” no “1918!” Everybody just filed out of the stadium, some shocked, some awed, some genuinely feeling bad for the Red Sox fans. The only thing everyone could agree on was that they’d seen an amazing game.

Over at ESPN, Bill Simmons, an avid Red Sox fan, comments on one of the game's most compelling storylines:

Looking at the big picture, yesterday was the final chapter of "The Tale of Three Great Shortstops," the three guys who were supposed to battle for supremacy through the end of the decade. So much for that angle. There was Jeter recklessly crashing into the stands, the ultimate competitor, a franchise player in the truest sense of the word. There was A-Rod greeting Cairo at home plate at the end of the game, a multi-kajillionaire just happy be involved in baseball's version of the Cold War ... even if it meant giving up on his dream of becoming the greatest shortstop ever.

And there was Nomar, the fading superstar who helped the team blow two games in Yankee Stadium, then showed little interest in even watching the third one. He's been declining steadily for three seasons now -- his body breaking down, his defense slipping, his lack of plate discipline a bigger problem than ever. He always seemed to enjoy himself on the field, almost like a little kid, but even that's a distant memory. Maybe his spirit was shattered by the rumored deal to Chicago last winter. Only he knows the answer to that one. For his sake, I hope he's getting traded this week. After last night's display, there's no going back.

Simmons is right. In the late '90s when we wondered how the future would treat the Big Three, who would have thought it would come to this? Each player figured dramatically in last night's game. Jeter was valiant, Rodriguez, brilliant, and Garciaparra was impotent. This morning, BDD posted a rumor that would have Nomar packing his bags for Los Angeles. A three-team deal including Toronto would bring Odalis Perez and Carlos Delgado to Beantown. While nothing has happend yet, it's likely that Theo Epstein will make a bold move soon (he was at work acquiring two pitchers in two different deals this afternoon). There is still a lot of season to play and the Sox aren't done yet. But Garciaparra certainly looked like a short-timer last night.

All of which leaves me feeling incredibly sad. Sad that Garciaparra is so unhappy, sad that a franchise player like Nomar is likely to leave Boston disgruntled and bruised like Lynn and Fisk and Clemens and Vaughn. I'm especially sad for Red Sox fans. I don't know how most of them feel about what has transpired with Garciaparra, but Ed Cossette's resignation said a lot this morning:

I feel badly for Nomar and would rather he be happy somewhere else than unhappy with Boston.

I can only imagine how I would feel if Bernie Williams found himself in such a spot with the Yankees. Like Mo Vaughn before him, Garciaparra was a Red Sox that I respected and admired more than I ever hated. I like the idea of him being a Red Sox. I like the idea of him being pitted against Jeter as positional rivals. Ideally, I'd like it if he played his entire career in Boston. I take no pleasure in watching him go out like this, if these are indeed his final days in Boston.

Welcome home, Jay. We missed ya. And you missed us.

Yanks 5, Red Sox 4
2004-07-02 09:40
by Alex Belth

Oh, My

"If you lose, it's an ugly game, and if you win, it's the best game ever," said Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who homered and doubled. "You've just got to find a way of winning." (N.Y. Times)

Sleep must not have come easily for either Yankee or Red Sox fans last night. As I lay in bed, still feverish, my adreneline throbbing, I stopped worrying about how tired I would be for work this morning, and concentrated on just how fortunate Yankee fans have been for the past ten years. The state of exhaustion and joy, which borders of nausia, is not an unfamilar sensation. The Yankees had just won another thrilling game in dramatic fashion. That is came at the expense of the Red Sox made it even sweeter. This won't last forever, this kind of success. I try to appreciate every ennervating, wonderful moment of it.

Emily thought I was a crazy man. She didn't know what was going to get broken first--a piece of furniture or my hand. My face was red for most of the second half of the game, and I was cursing up a blue streak. "I thought you said this game didn't matter since we already won the series," she asked innocently. "You don't understaaaaaand," I replied. "This is the Red Sox. Everything is different. Aaargh."

It was one of those games that was hard to piece back together; so many memorable moments stand out. I am not lucid enough to write a logical summary. Here are some of the images that made up this one...Gary Sheffield stepping out of the batter's box twice in his first at bat vs Pedro Martinez, then Martinez promptly drilling him in the shoulder. Sheffield walked to first, glared at Pedro and said, "Not me." Tony Clark hitting a two-run homer off Martinez, and then Jorge Posada, long Martinez's whipping boy, smashing a solo shot into the upper deck in right field. David Ortiz blooping a double just beyond the reach of Hideki Matsui, followed by Manny Ramirez's homer off of Brad Halsey. The Yankee rookie pitching more than admirably. Kenny Lofton's error in center field. Pokey Reese making a sensational basket catch before tumbling into the stands along the third base side; Alex Rodriguez making a great diving play on a liner hit by Reese in the fifth. Later, Rodriguez snaring a liner off the bat of the Greek God of Walks. Sheffield almost blowing a routine fly ball in right field.

Then the drama...Ruben Sierra's terrible pinch-hit at bat with the bases loaded. Later, Sierra allowing a fly ball to drop in front of him for a single. Jason Giambi striking out weakly. Alex Rodriguez's brilliant double play, robbing Kevin Millar of a double and nailing Gabe Kapler at the plate, with the bases loaded an nobody out vs. Mariano Rivera. "Triple play, a triple play," I yelled, echoing Michael Kay on the YES network. No, calm down, chill, it's a double play, dude.

Derek Jeter's courageous catch, taking a hit away from Trot Nixon, sacrificing his body, and adding to his legend in the process. Gary Sheffield getting hit for a second time, then later playing third base. Manny's blast--Pie-yah!--off of Tanyon Sturtze. Nomar Garciaparra--who did not play--sitting alone, sullen, apart from his teammates. How did that make Red Sox fans feel? Then Ruben Sierra's single, Miguel Cairo's double (on a 1-2 pitch), and finally, John Flaherty's game-winning single.

Gary Sheffield told the New York Times:

"The message is clear," Sheffield said. "We're not laying down for no one. We're trying to take it all. We're trying to send a message to everyone we play. Everyone was jacked up for this series. We wanted to sweep, and we did."

Still, Joe Torre was upset when Gary Sheffield was plunked for the second time, and Curt Leskanic wasn't tossed. Earlier, both teams had been warned. According to Newsday:

"The situation is a runner on third base in an extra-inning game," Torre said. "I'm not going to tell Terry [Francona] how to manage, for sure. That's certainly his business. But you hit Sheffield with the first pitch and then walk the next guy. That makes it a little suspicious, especially when the next hitter is an inexperienced kid named Bubba Crosby."

..."I don't understand why you would want to pitch to our hottest hitter with the winning run at third base," Torre said. "That doesn't make sense to me. It's a travesty. An absolute travesty."

Regardless, the Yankees swept Boston and are now eight-and-a-half games in first place. Both teams played their guts out last night. It was a crushing loss for the Sox and another elating one for the Yankees.

Cliff Corcoran was at the Stadium. He should have an incredible post up later in the day. For a coherent and articulate account of the game, head over to The Hardball Times and read Larry Mahken's excellent write up. Expect another stellar report from Joe Sheehan later today at Baseball Prospectus.

What's Next?
2004-07-01 13:51
by Alex Belth

Cruising around the Net during my lunch hour, I'm getting a mixed-vibe out of Red Sox Nation. The usually up-beat Edward Cossette just isn't feelin' this year's version of the Home Towne Team, no matter how much positive visualization he employs. Others, like my pal Sully, think there is still plenty of time for the Sox to turn things around. Sully reminds us how far back the '78 Yankees were before they came to life. Sure, they were the defending world champs, but this Boston team is still mad talented. OK, it's not likely that the Yankees will blow a huge lead. Why? Cause it hasn't happened before. But for skeptics like me--and Larry Mahnken--that isn't a good enough answer. After all, it has to happen some time. Why not now? (The glass is half what?)

One thing seems sure: Theo Epstein is on the spot to make something happen. Rumors have it that Nomar Garciaparra will be moved. Previously, this would have been unfathomable, but right now, it makes sense, especially if Garciaparra is firm about not returning to Boston next year. Epstein has performed admirably thus far as GM of the Sox. It will be interesting to see what he can cook up. Obviously, Red Sox fans fear that Randy Johnson could wind up in pinstripes. I'll counter that by worrying that he could join his pal Schilling in Boston. However, Peter Gammons is saying that Anahiem is a more likely scenerio for the Big Unit if he moves at all.

Meanwhile in New York, there is a growing perception that Jason Giambi isn't a gamer. OK, those who have thought that Giambi was soft have thought so for more than a minute now, but in light of Gary Sheffield playing through obvious pain, Giambi looks bad being disabled with a bizarre stomach condition. This isn't fair, but Sheffield plays baseball like a linebacker, just the kind of spirit that the football maven George Steinbrenner covets. Meanwhile, Giambi is becoming a fallen star in New York. fair or unfair. Was Sheffield calling his teammate out last night when he told reporters, ""They're paying me a lot of money to play and not sit and watch." I don't know. But I'm holding out hope that Giambi can get healthy and start enjoying the game once again. I know I'm rooting for him. If he continues to falter, he could become George's whipping boy and a target of the boo boids in da BX; worse, he could become the second-coming of Mo Vaughn. Or he could be the best hitter in the line up. Which one of these?...

Yanks 4, Red Sox 2
2004-07-01 09:09
by Alex Belth

Bring the Pain

"I'm just going out there and grinding it out. I just want the guy who plays next to me to know that I'm accountable." Gary Sheffield

We are prone to hyperbole in New York and Boston when it comes to our baseball teams, but I don't think it's a stretch to call last night's game an agonizing affair for Red Sox Nation. Boston received a brilliant performance from Tim Wakefield, but the offense was unable to hit with men on base, and the Sox were ultimately undone by poor fielding for the second-consecutive night. The Yankees swiped this game, one of the most satisfying victories of the year according to this observer. The Yankees now lead Boston by seven-and-a-half games.

Jon Lieber left several pitches up in the zone early in the game and the Sox pounced all over him. The first three Red Sox hitters reached base. With a 1-0 lead, two men on and nobody out, the Red Sox could not score another run in the first. The first two men of the second reached as well, but again Boston could not score. Lieber was aided by two key double plays and then he settled down and pitched well. Wakefield dominated the Yankees, scattering a few harmless singles. Bother pitchers worked quickly, and the game breezed along.

David Ortiz connnected for a solo homer--a blast--and Lieber allowed two men to reach in the seventh before he was yanked. Brett Prinz came on to get one batter, and he walked him. The bases were loaded with nobody out. Enter Felix Heredia. This was not a welcome sight for Yankee fans, especially with the top of the order due up for the Red Sox. Johnny Damon hit a ground ball to Tony Clark, who came home for the force, one out. Then Mark Bellhorn lofted a fly ball to left field for the second out. It was not deep enough to score Mirabelli from third. Finally, David Ortiz was called out on strikes. It was a close call, but Heredia earned his pinstripes for the year by getting out of the jam:

"This was Heredia's game," Manager Joe Torre said. (N.Y.Times)

The Stadium, which had been subdued for a night-and-a-half, was now rocking. Wakefield plunked Gary Sheffield to start the bottom of the seventh. With one out, he walked Godziller Matsui, the last batter he would face. Scott Williamson replaced him and struck out Bernie Williams. Then Jorge Posada walked to load the bases. Williamson came up lame and was replaced by the hard-throwing Mike Timlin. Tony Clark hit a bullet on one-hop to Ortiz at first and the ball scooted through Ortiz's glove into the outfield. Two runs scored and the game was tied.

Ortiz examined his glove much like a tennis player inspects his racket after making an error. The glove was not broken, but it the pocket was so loose that the ball simply scooted through it. Unbelievable. A freak play if there ever was one.

Gordon worked a perfect eighth, striking out two, including Manny Ramirez to start the inning (another close call that went the Yankees way). Kenny Lofton led-off the bottom of the frame with a ground ball to Nomar Garciaparra's right. Garciaparra rounded the ball and hurried his throw. Ortiz could not pick it and suddenly the go-ahead run was on second base. It was scored as a single and an error but it could have just been a straight error. Regardless, Jeter sacrificed Lofton to third and then Gary Sheffield had one of the most memorable at bats of the year.

Timlin pounded fastballs inside and Sheffield fouled off eight pitches. On two occasions, Mirabelli stood up, looking for the high cheese; Sheffield swung, fouling the pitches straight back up in the air foul. He also got ahead of two pitches and pounded shots foul into the upperdeck; he also hit a rocket line drive into the third base seats as well. According to the New York Times:

Luis Sojo, the third-base coach who stands well behind the coaching box when Sheffield hits, told Lofton to be careful while leading off third.

"I'm scared I'm going to get my head knocked off," Lofton said. "One went over my head, one went in front of me. Sojo said, 'Watch yourself.' I said, 'What do you think I'm doing?' "

On the tenth pitch of the at bat, Mirabelli pointed outside, but Timlin shook him off. At home I couldn't believe that Timlin wanted to challenge him inside again. Maybe it was a macho thing. Sheffield later told reporters:

"I'm just glad [Timlin] threw me strikes. If he had thrown them in the dirt, he probably would have made me look bad. He made good pitches. He kept pounding me inside with the sinker. After about the third pitch, I could see the ball coming out of his hand pretty well. I just wanted a ball I could get through the infield at that point." (Boston Globe)

And that's just what he did, slapping the pitch past a diving Mark Bellhorn down the third-base line for a double. The Stadium erupted and the Sox were all but cooked. Alan Embree replaced Timlin and gave up a run-scoring single to Matsui.

Mariano Rivera blew the bottom part of Boston's order away in the ninth, striking-out the side. I don't recall the last time he did that. Again, it was a tremendous win for the Yanks, and a painful loss for the Red Sox. Some pundits suggest that the AL East race is over, but I think it's too early for that kind of thinking. Boston is in a slump, and will eventually awaken. They hope that Pedro Martinez can stop the bleeding tonight when he pitches against a rookie.