Monthly archives: August 2004
Night of the Living Dead
Man, I had the worst dream last night. The Yankees suffered the most lopsided loss in team history, falling 22-0 at home to the Indians. (I can't believe they gave up the two-pernt conversion.) Hold up. That was no dream. It was a nightmare. Omar Vizquel had six hits, tying an American League record for hits in a nine-inning game. Esteban Loiaza finished the game for the Yanks. Not wanting to be left out of the festivities, he was torched in the ninth, serving up two, three-run bombs.
The Angels scored a bunch of runs late but it wasn't enough to beat the Red Sox who won their seventh consecutive game. Boston now trails the Yankees by three-and-a-half games, and they are creepin' closer.
A mortified Yankee team will look to rebound on Wednesday night against the ace of the Cleveland staff, C.C. Sabathia. Just what do the Yankees need to do to get a good performance out of one of their starting pitchers? Wait a minute, don't answer that. I'm going back to bed.
Puttin' Out the Fire (With Gasoline)
The Doctor is...Out
Javier Vazquez didn't make it through the second inning tonight in what was the shortest outing of his career. He was nothing short of awful. Jake Westbrook, on the other hand, looks sharp. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are out to an early lead in Boston. Need to vent? Unleash your fury below...
As Good as it Gets
It may seem like a long way to schlepp for a haircut. After all, I live in the Bronx now. But Efrain approaches his work with great care and respect for his craft. The barbers around my way are a good bunch of guys, but they cut hair like they are late for dinner. And not only do they rush, but their movements are coarse and violent. Their work is often sloppy. I've got a hard cut to screw up--a conservative fade (1 1/2 on the side and 2 on the top with a straight razor to clean up the lines). But I usually come home with small nicks from the razor with random little hairs sticking up from the top of my head.
Emily, who loves my hair short, will inspect their work and usually has some cherce words for their craftsmanship. "You should go back down there and have them get it right."
"Ahh, sweetie, it just doesn't work like that. It's fine, whatever."
I know I'm getting a second-rate cut but it's depressing trying to find a new shop. I always know that I've got Efrain, who I visited last Friday afternoon. (I'm not the only one who will travel a ways to see him either. He has regulars that come in from Long Island and Weschester as well.) A father and son--also Puerto Rican--own the shop and cut heads too. They will be silent for long periods of time and then suddenly come to life with tall tales of fighting and "How to be a man." They speak a mixture of Spanish and English, usually depending on who is in the shop. A heavy-set Spanish woman has a corner area where she cuts women's hair. A glass statuette of a dolphin sits on top of a can of hairspray next to her. I've rarely seen her with any clients. She spends most of her time rummaging through her bag or through the drawers of her table looking for make-up. You'd think her bag was a clown's prop. She's in there forever. Then she applies more lipstick, eye-shadow. She is comically vain. When she's left with nothing else to do, she will take a hot-iron and touch up her big, orange hair.
Efrain speaks with a heavy Spanish accent, but has a gentle voice and is unhurried in virtually all of his movements. It is always comforting to see him. He works in a predictable, almost robotic manner. Always the same routine. It's one that I've come to forget. I used to get impatient waiting for him to finish, but now, I appreciate the pace. His hands are soft. When he wipes away small hairs that have fallen in my face with a brush, he does it as if he touching somebody who is asleep, afraid to wake them.
He'll tell me stories that have no punchlines. He'll stop what he's doing at one point for the payoff. I sit there with a frozen smile on my face waiting for the kicker which never comes. So I keep smiling and offer a laugh which prompts him to laugh back, pleased that I've enjoyed his story.
When he's finished with the straight razor and everything is done, he'll take a pair of sissors and snip behind my ears or on the top of my head. As he was doing this last Friday he stopped and told me, "I'm sorry it takes so long, but you have to pay attention to the details. It's the small details that make the difference."
Ain't it the truth. The telling detail. It's hard to find people who take their craft seriously, but when you do find them, they are worth their weight in gold. Am I right? No matter what they do. If they drive a bus, or cut heads or write for a living. Pat Jordan is a throwback baseball writer. He is a journalist who writes "straight" stories in a style that pre-dates New Journalism or Gonzo writing, though he came of age in the era of Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson. His best pieces are long profiles, but he doesn't get to do much of them anymore. His most recent baseball piece for The New York Times Magazine wasn't longer than 2,000 words. He used to write 6,000 word articles regularly.
It's hard for a writer like Jordan to thrive in the today's magazine culture, which is a shame for someone who takes his craft seriously. He writes clearly, and has a keen eye for observation, not to mention human behavior. He respects the language and doesn't let cute language or gimmicks get in the way of the story. But even if he doesn't get the opportunity to pen longer pieces anymore, he is now offering a look at some of his best unpublished work. Jordan recently launched a website which posts a new story every month. They are no baseball pieces yet, but a sampling of all kinds of work: a piece about a healer, an expose on the porno industry. Jordan is charging up to four bucks per story. The shorter stories are only one or two dollars.
Anyhow, they are worth the money if you appreciate honest and unpretentious craftsmanship. Jordan writes like Efrain Torres cuts heads: with sensitivity and discipline. His work also suggests that he is doing exactly what he was meant to do on this earth. He cares about his craft which makes the visit well-worth the trip. Tell him I sent you.
So You Want to be a Baseball Writer?
Rey Ordonez, eat your heart out
If most baseball writers are, at heart, failed players, then at least I meet requirment number one. Here are a couple of telling snap shots of me from a junior varsity game back in the spring of 1986.
Notice the fine form:
The discipline and grace:
For the record, my team lost the game. I struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch to end it. The damn pitch was right down the middle too (a bp meatball if there ever was one). This was the one game my dad attended that year; fortunately he brought his camera. Unfortunately, a shot of my coach consoling me after I made the last out has been lost. It was my favorite memory of the game.
And a literary career was born!
Blue Jays 6, Yankees 3
I'm generally an upbeat person but when we're talking about sports I'm a pessimist--at least when it comes to rooting for my teams--always waiting for the the other shoe to drop. My girlfriend Emily has battled Crohn's Disease for years and at times I see how it clouds her view on life. But above all, she is a fighter. No matter how difficult things get for her, how dark things can get, she takes her lumps then comes out swinging. And when it comes to baseball, she is an optimist of the first order. It makes for a good partner (and sometimes a good foil). She never thinks the Yankees are out of a game. The ninth inning on Saturday was proof enough for her that anything can happen at any time.
As frustrated as I was to see yesterday's game slip away from the Yanks--a botched double play and a miscommunication between Derek Jeter and Enrique Wilson along with some poor pitches by Mussina and Paul "Lighter Fluid" Quantrill was enough to do the trick--let us look on the bright side: Mike Mussina pitched his best game since returning from his elbow injury and Alex Rodriguez went 4-4. Also, the Yankees went 5-2 on the week. Who knew that the Red Sox would forget how to lose? Boston won again yesterday, and now trail the Yanks by just four-and-a-half games (four in the loss column). They have won 12 of their last 13 games. However, now is the time for the Yankees to make up a few games as the Sox play their next nine games against the Angels, Rangers and A's.
Larry Mahnken, another noted Yankee optimist, isn't pressing the panic button yet either. In the latest edition of "Rivals in Exile," Mahnken writes:
Amen. Not like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop or anything. But no matter what shakes down over the next few weeks, it looks like the Yanks and Sox will play six more exciting games against each other before we reach the playoffs. Did you expect anything less?
Yankees 18, Blue Jays 6
Yankee fans got a little bit of everything on Saturday: thrills, spills and even some uncomfortable chills. Kevin Brown had little control in the early innings, he labored, and before you know it the Bombers were behind 4-0. Then the offense rallied against Ted Lilly—he of the nasty stuff but questionable disposition—to give New York the lead. Brown settled down and gave the Yankees some much-needed length, but Paul Quantrill was ineffective yet again, and before you knew it there was Mariano Rivera pitching in the eighth inning.
Which is funny when you look at the final score. But the Yankees brought out the whupping stick in the ninth inning and broke the game wide open. Tony Clark—my girlfriends favorite Yankee—hit three home runs. Gary Sheffield hit one two and so did Alex Rodriguez. And Ruben Sierra hit the 300th dinger of his career--a grand slam. Brown earned the win, the first recorded by a Yankee starter in the last 13 games. And Rivera came back out to pitch the ninth, which must have prompted some head-scratching for Yankee fans. I guess Rivera felt good and wanted to get the work in. I don't know, you tell me.
However, there was a nervous moment in the middle of the Yankees Gashouse Gorillas conga line routine when Sheffield turned his ankle sliding into third base. Sheffield was able to walk off the field and the x-rays were negative. He won't play today and the Yankees have an off-day on Monday. He should be able to return later in the week.
The Yankees didn't gain any ground on Boston who won again, this time behind a strong performance by Prince Pedro Martinez. The lead in the east remains five-and-a-half games. Meanwhile, Jason Giambi swung a bat again yesterday. In an expected move, Esteban Loaiza is being moved to the bullpen.
Sheff of the Future is Now
Jay Jaffe has some company in reconsidering Gary Sheffield. Jaffe has a wonderful three-part series on Sheffield's career cooking over at The Futility Infielder (the third installment will be posted when Jay returns from vacation). Now Bruce Markusen and Steven Goldman add their thoughts about Sheffield's admirable 2004 campaign. Markusen writes:
In the latest edition of The Pinstriped Bible, Goldman provides some great charts to show that Sheffield's season may end up being one of the 5 or 6 best ever had by a right-handed hitter for the Yankees:
And that's the truth. Thhhppt.
Yanks 8, Jays 7
In what was most likely his last chance as a starter for New York, Esteban Loaiza was awful once again but the Yankees scored enough runs to come away with a win. Phew. (Or is the P-U?) I know it is not nice to call a professional useless, but that is pretty much what Loaiza has been as a Yankee. Tom Gordon was forced into the game when the middle relief couldn't hold a four-run lead (he earned the save). The Yankees walked eleven times and Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, and Bernie Williams added homers. The Bombers remain five-and-a-half ahead of the Sox who won again (Boston has won ten or their last eleven already).
Jason Giambi took some swings off a tee yesterday in Florida. Perhaps there is a chance he will make it back this season after all. Giambi's saga continues...
Yankees 7, Blue Jays 4
I won't lie to you. When the Blue Jays had two men on with nobody out in the third inning, already up 4-0 lead, I started preparing myself for the Bombers to end the evening four-and-a-half games in front of Boston. Emily wasn't home yet so I let out a few cherce words, a couple of primal screams. After all, the Red Sox can't seem to lose these days, and it looked as if Jon Lieber wasn't going to make it through five innings. I wasn't the only Yankee fan groaning. Larry Mahnken was holding his own upstate New York:
But Jon Lieber rebounded, worked his way out of the further trouble in the third, and went on to retire 13 Blue Jays in a row. Meanwhile, the Yankees were without a hit through the first four innings. The Jays confident young pitcher David Bush, who throws a fastball, curve and a change up, was cruising. However, a throwing error by shortstop Chris Woodward to open the fifth initiated a rally. John Olerud and Miguel Cairo hit back-to-back singles to load the bases and then Kenny Lofton--who started in right field--slapped a single to left scoring the Yankees first run. Bernie Williams flied out, which scored Olerud and then Cairo came home on a bloop single to center by Jeter. It was a daring piece of base running by Cairo--who made two nifty defensive plays in the game--because had the ball been caught he would have been doubled off easily. Then Gary Sheffield walked to load the bases. So Alex Rodriguez had another golden opportunity to break out of his slump. Yanks down by a run, bases juiced, one out. But on the 2-0 pitch, Rodriguez grounded into a double play to end the inning.
And there was much angst in the borough of the Bronx. Rodriguez smiled in disbelief and gritted his teeth. The Yankees would eventually tie the game on another RBI single by Lofton--who had three hits on the night--but it didn't get much better for Rodriguez, who came up with a runner in scoring position in the seventh (a walk and a stolen base by Sheff). Rodriguez grounded out to short. Oy veh.
Lieber pitched into the eighth and was removed with one out and Carlos Delgado due up (Carlito launched a tremendous dinger off Lieber back in the first). The southpaw C.J. Nitkowski replaced him and retired Delgado on one pitch (ground out to Jeter). Next, he fell behind Eric Hinske 3-0 before throwing three consecutive strikes on the inside corner to get out of the inning. Hinske took the first two and swung threw the third. It was Nitkowski's best outing for New York to date.
Jason Fraser pitched the ninth for the Jays and walked Derek Jeter on a 3-2 pitch to start the inning. Then Sheffield smoked a double to left. Ken Singleton chuckled on the YES broadcast that Sheff hit the ball so hard he made the left fielder look like an infielder. "Three steps and it's by him." Second and third, nobody out and here comes Rodriguez. I figured the Jays would walk him to set up the double play. But considering how badly Rodriguez has struggled, they chose to pitch to him. "They're dissing him, that's a diss," I yelped to Emily. Rodriguez swung through a fastball and then fouled another heater off. Down 0-2, he was in a tight spot. But Fraser made a mistake and left another fastball up, over the inside part of the plate and Rodriguez smacked it into left for a base hit.
Both Jeter and Sheffield scored. Rodriguez threw his bat to the ground as he moved to first and peeked over at the Yankee dugout. He was so overcome that he held his fat ass to a single. There is little doubt that he should have been on second. As Matsui batted, Rodriguez started toward second several times, unsure of himself. The count went full, and Fraser balked Rodriguez to second. (Rodriguez should remember to keep Fraser on his Christmas list.) Godziller nailed the next pitch to center and Rodriguez scored putting the game out of reach.
As he entered the dugout, smiling and looking relieved, Rodriguez stumbled down the steps and almost wiped out. As you can imagine, this was a source of great amusement for his teammates. First, Willie Randolph busted his chops and soon enough, Derek Jeter was letting him have it too. Jeter sat on the bench flanked by Sheffield and Rodriguez. Jeter was doubled over in laughter. Rodriguez looked slightly pink and very much like a little kid. As great a player as he is, Rodriguez looks far more vulnerable than either Sheffield or Jeter do. He comes across as a classic younger brother. He may be a superior talent to Jeter, but there is something about him that suggests he needs validation and acceptance in a way that Jeter or Sheffield do not. Anyhow, watching the Yankees kid Rodriguez was a sight for sore eyes. There was a temporary halt to the angst in the Bronx, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Jeter lead the chop session.
Mariano Rivera continues to look strong and breezed through the Jays 1-2-3 in the ninth. The Yanks maintained their five-and-a-half game lead over the Red Sox who beat the Tigers in Boston last night.
Indians 4, Yanks 3
The Yankees lost a game they should have won last night. Coupled with a Red Sox victory, the Yankees' lead is down to five-and-a-half games. For the Indians, the win was a relief as it ended a nine game losing streak. The highlight of the evening was a squirrel which appeared in the third inning and liberally pranced around the field for the duration of the game. It was a frustrating loss for the New Yorkers who begin a four-game series in Toronto tonight.
El Duque pitched reasonably well, and the Bombers had a 3-2 lead when Flash Gordon took the hill in the eighth inning. But Gordon, working for the third consecutive night, didn't have any control and walked the first two batters. Both men would come around to score and that was the game. However, it's hard to get down on Gordon. If anyone or anything can be blamed for the loss it would be the Yankee offense, who once again hit the ball hard at times, but had little to show for it. Alex Rodriguez went 0-3 with runners in scoring position. According to George King in the New York Post:
Jon Lieber will try to give the bullpen a rest tonight. The bats need to make like the Bombers and make it easy for him.
Sheff of the Past
Jack Curry has a nice piece on Gary Sheffield's experience in the Little League World Serious today in the Times. Well worth a peak.
To Live and Die in L.A.
Jay Jaffe has the second part of his Gary Sheffield profile up at The Futility Infielder. This portion covers Sheffield's time in L.A. Terrific stuff. Be sure to check it out.
Yanks 5, Indians 4
Next to Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui has been the Yankees' most valuable offensive player this season. Godzilla offers a wonderful stylistic contrast to Sheffield's hyper-active batting stance. For the most part, Matsui is as still and calm as Sheffield is active. Matsui gently rocks back and forth, slightly lifting his front leg, as he waits for each pitch. His shoulders twitch as if he were a hippo reflexively shooing away the little birds that rest on its back. If not for these small movements you'd think Matsui was as dead as a Frankenstein monster.
Matsui came up with the winning hit for the Yankees last night when he slapped Bob Wickman's 1-0 pitch into left field for an RBI single. Derek Jeter led off the ninth in a 4-4 game with a walk. He then swiped second as Gary Sheffield struck out and wasted little time stealing third as well. Alex Rodriguez had three hits on the night and now had a beautiful opportunity to put the Yankees ahead with a fly ball to the outfield. But Rodriguez tapped a pitch low and away weakly to short for the second out of the inning. Rodriguez's frustration hitting with runners in scoring position continues. I'm certain that nobody is more aware of this than Rodriguez himself. Interestingly, Matsui hit virtually the same pitch--low and away--but drove it to the opposite field for a single.
Mariano Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his 43rd save of the year--oh those Deomocratic ground balls---while Tom Gordon got the win. The Indians have now dropped nine games in a row. Javier Vazquez allowed four runs with two out in the third inning, but he pitched a decent game. Along with the other Yankee pitchers Vazquez simply isn't striking men out this year, but he was able to keep them in the game, pitching seven innings. For the second-straight night, the Yankees appeared poised to blow the game open. Kenny Lofton was the hard-luck loser last night, striking the ball hard to the outfield three times with just a sacrifice fly to show for his efforts. (Coco Crisp made a terrific catch in left to rob him of a hit.) Lofton is one hit away from two thousand career hits. So close yet so far...
Regardless, a win is a win, and the Yankees stay six-and-a-half in front of the Red Sox who beat the Jays, 5-4.
Comeback on Hold?
According to Joe Torre, the chances of Jason Giambi returning this year appear to be getting worse. Torre told the Times:
This is a bummer, man.
And Now For Somethign Completely Different...
Truman Capote wrote a scathing profile on Marlon Brando for The New Yorker in 1957 called, "The Duke in his Domain." I read it years ago and was telling a friend about it yesterday. It was a memorable, finely observed piece. So I googled it and it turns out that The New Yorker has put it up on the Net, most likely in honor of Brando's recent passing. If you are a Brando fan, it is a must-read. I don't know how long it will be posted, so take a peak while it's up.
Yanks 6, Indians 4
This set the stage for yet another big home run by Gary Sheffield. With two men out in the ninth, Bob Wickman plunked Derek Jeter in the elbow. Jeter was hurt badly enough to leave the game (fortunately, the x-rays were negative and though he may not play tonight, he should be OK to go tomorrow). This put the Yankees in a tight spot as Kenny Lofton had led off the inning pinch-hitting for Miguel Cairo. With Jeter out, Gary Sheffield was going to get his second shot at third base this year. But before he changed positions, he yanked a slider into the left field stands to put the Yanks up 6-4.
Watching Sheffield up with the game on the line, I've come to expect him to not only come through with a hit, with a home run. The YES cameras actually missed the swing live as they had cut away to a shot of Joe Torre watching in the dugout. Sheffield had barely missed a similar pitch from Wickman early in the count, which he fouled back dislodging a portion of padding from the backstop. When the camera cut back to live action, we saw the ball fly over the left field fence. Surprised?
Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth and the Yankees gained a game on Boston who were shut out by Ted Lilly and the Blue Jays, 3-0. The Yankee lead stands at six-and-a-half games. Gary Sheffield played third but didn't get a ball hit to him.
Sound the Alarm?
Murray Chass reports in the Times that George Steinbrenner isn't flying off the handle over his teams' recent struggles:
However, George King notes that Boss Steinbrenner called his inner-circle to Tampa to meet. The group included GM Brian Cashman. Without knowing the particulars, we can all imagine what went on behind closed doors in Florida. And it most likely wasn't a kinder, gentler George.
Alex Rodriguez continues to struggle and Mike Lupica rips him today in the Daily News. Rodriguez had an infield single last night, and was robbed of a hit by Omar Vizquel and a missed call by the second base umpire. He hit the ball sharply in his last at-bat but grounded out to third. Keep plugging away Rodriguez, we are behind you. Meanwhile, Jason Giambi still has a sore groin and now has a cold. He hasn't continued working out yet.
Getting Better All the Time
I enjoyed Paul O'Neill's infrequent stints in the YES booth last season mostly because of how he busted Michael Kay's chops. But as much as I admired O'Neill as a player, I find him hard to take as an analyst, if you want to call him that. He'll usually preface commentary by saying, "You know, when you're out there in right field..." followed by the standard ex-jock spiel. Oy. On the other hand, I'm really impressed with how thorough and professional Joe Girardi has been for YES. He's got a good sense of humor and he's extremely well-prepared. Maybe his work-ethic as a catcher has carryied over to his career as a broadcaster. Girardi seems like he's a cut above of his peers. He'll talk about a Cleveland hitter and let you know how he's done over the last week or so, as if he's actually sat down and watched tape of the games. Go figure. I'd be happy to hear more of him moving forward.
Angels 4, Yanks 3
The Yanks ended a thoroughly lousy weekend in which they were swept by the Angels, by collecting just four hits all afternoon. Kevin Brown was tagged for a three-run home run by Bengie Molina and that was enough to sink the Bombers. Nothing has gone right for the Yankees over the past week: they've lost six of seven games and a full five games in the standings. They now lead Boston by just five-and-a-half games. Wonder how the Mount St. Steinbrenner Fury Index is going?
The only rally the Yankees had yesterday was partially thwarted by another inexplicable sacrifice bunt by Derek Jeter. Kenny Lofton led off the third inning with a single and scored on Bernie Williams' double to right. Man on first, no out, Yanks up 1-0. And you could see it coming. Even a guy wearing a Jeter jersey in front of me was shouting out, "Why?" Jeter bunted Williams to third, completing his 13th sacrifice of the season. There was a smattering of applause at the stadium, admiring the captain's "smart" play. Oy veh. Oh by the way: end of rally. Gary Sheffield doubled Williams home. Somewhere Earl Weaver was shaking his head. Kelvim Escobar pitched well and the Yanks wouldn't get another hit until Sheffield hit a solo dinger in the eighth.
While Jeter's lack of walks this year--he has just 26--has really hurt his numbers (.326 BBP), his newfound love for the sacrifice bunt just doesn't make any sense. The New York press has been slow to call Jeter on it--the Times didn't mention it at all today--but a loss like yesterday's is enough to start them asking questions. Joel Sherman opines:
The blame for the Yankees' slump does not rest on Jeter's sacrifice bunting of course. I know I'm picking on him. Alex Rodriguez isn't hitting a lick, and other than Sheffield, neither is anyone else in the line-up. Oh, and they haven't had a lights-out performance from any of the starting pitchers either. The team starts a three-game series in Cleveland tonight. The Indians have fallen out of the playoff race. One of these teams is due for a win. Let's hope it's the New Yorkers...
I was at the game yesterday. It was a beautiful day to be at the park. The place was packed. But we sat on our hands for most of the day. There was a seven-year old Mets fan sitting behind me who was taking great delight in the Yankees' misfortune. He didn't stop talking throughout the entire game and seriously, it took all of my maturity as an adult not to turn around and say something that would potentially scar the kid for a long time. I came close to losing it, and am thankful I managed to control myself. You all should have seen the look on my face though. A true comedy routine if you ever saw one. Anyhow, Emily had a great time. "I'm at the ball game," she kept saying. "I'm so happy to be at the game, and you can quote me and put it on your site."
I hope to be able to post more positive quotes like that as the week moves along.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox won twice and now trail the Yankees by just six and a half games. Boston has won five straight. While it is probably premature to panic, I can safely say that there are a lot of unhappy Yankee fans tonight. As you can tell, I'm not even a little bit happy. Sure, it's unlikely that the Yankees will play as poorly as they have for the past week for too long, but one never knows...And just because the Bombers have never squandered a big lead late in the season doesn't mean it's never going to happen. While some will say, "It's the Yanks, it'll never happen to them?" I say, "Why wouldn't it happen to them sooner or later?"
Kevin Brown goes against Kelvim Escobar tomorrow before the Yanks head off to Cleveland. Here's hoping that no matter the result, the Yanks show up and play a more compelling brand of baseball.
Yanks 13, Twins 10
The Yankee offense was in good form last night even if the bullpen was not. The Yanks won a wildly entertaining game by the skin of their teeth, something Yankee fans have grown accustom to this season. The New Yorkers broke the game open with five runs in the fifth and by the seventh inning stretch led 9-3. Minnesota's center fielder Torii Hunter collided with the outfield wall trying to rob Jorge Posada of a double to start the fifth and had to leave the game on a cart. It was a scary moment, one that had me rattled watching at home. Generally, I hate any team the Yankees are playing, no matter what I think of them objectively. But even in the heat of competition, it's difficult to dislike Hunter. As he lay on the ground I was really concerned that he seriously injured himself. Fortunately, he seems to be OK.
But Twins starter Carlos Silva was rattled and Gary Sheffield capped the scoring off when he launched a tits-high fastball into the left field seats for a three-run dinger. Alex Rodriguez would add a two-run shot in his return and the Yanks were cruising. But El Duque couldn't get out of the seventh and for the second-consecutive game reliever Paul Quantrill gave up three straight hits. The Twins scored five in the seventh and then resident Yankee-killer Shannon Stewart (four hits) smacked a two-out triple off of Flash Gordon in the eighth to put Minnesota ahead 10-9.
However, the Yankees were not done. After Derek Jeter grounded out to start the ninth off of Joe Nathan, Gary Sheffield tied the game with his second dinger of the night (and 30th of the season). It wasn't a terrible pitch; fastball low and away. Sheffield yanked it to the seats in left. (Which made me wonder: How many home runs has Sheffield hit to either center or right field this year? Off the top of my head, I can recall only one that he hit to right, in the second game of the season back in Japan.) Nathan has been brilliant this year but the Yanks got to him. Alex Rodriguez followed with a single--his third hit of the game--and promptly swiped second base. He scored on Hideki Matsui's RBI single to right. The Bombers added two more runs thanks to a pinch-hit by Ruben Sierra.
Mariano Rivera put heads to bed in the bottom of the ninth, throwing ten pitches and striking out the side. As the team went through the post-game, high-figh conga-line, Rivera was uncharacteristically animated. With Sheffield and Rivera leading the way, Yankee fans could sleep comfortably knowing they would not be swept. However, the Twins have their attention. The Bombers made like Fellini and gained a half-a-game on the idle Boston Red Sox.
According to reports in all of the local papers this morning, it is unlikely that the Yankees will trade Esteban Loiaza to the Rangers.
The Stick That Stirs the Drink
The following is a chapter Olney devotes to Stick Michael and Buck Showalter, two men who were largely responsible for the Yankees' return to glory. Enjoy!
From "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty"
by Buster Olney
Michael was introduced at a press conference on Aug. 20, 1990, and a reporter asked whether Michael would have taken the job if Steinbrenner had not been forced out of the game. Michael smiled. "That's not a fair question," he said. "I wasn't offered that." Twelve years later, Michael again declined to answer the same question. But friends inside and outside the organization thought the answer in both instances would have been no.
He paid attention to the evolution of the whole organization, and was aware of development at every level. When a young minor league pitcher injured his arm and required surgery, Showalter penned a letter, encouraging the player - Mariano Rivera - and assuring him he had a bright future in baseball, with the Yankees. There were team meetings before every series to review the scouting reports of the opponents, and while some players increasingly grew weary of Showalter’s micromanaging, they understood that the Yankees would never lose a game because their manager wasn't prepared.
You can pick up "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty" at book stores everywhere. Or go to Amazon and order your copy today.
Twins 7, Yanks 2
Yo, tell me something I don't know. The Twins whipped the Yankees for the second straight night at the Metrodome. Both games have been anything but competitive. Johan Santana was efficient and devastating. He had a two-hit shut-out going into the eighth inning when allowed three hits before being pulled. The Yanks managed to score a couple of runs but it was too little too late. Mike Mussina and Taynon Sturtze gave up seven runs between them. By the middle of the game, the Minnesota crowd let the New Yorkers have it, chanting "Yankees Suck." Not for nothing, but I'm not impressed. I understand them wanting to vent after losing so often to New York over the past few years, but couldn't they have come up with something better than "Yankees suck?"
In his first start in a month-and-a-half, Mussina was understandably rusty. He didn't have much control and the Twins took full advantage. (Anyone know Shannon Stewart's lifetime numbers against the Yanks? Man, he always seems to kill 'em.) In all, it was a sour night for Yankee fans as the Red Sox gained another game in the standings. Boston trails the Yankees by eight games. As Jack Curry notes in the Times today:
It was nice to get a look at Joe Nathan, Minnesota's ace closer. He looked strong, though several Yankees hit the ball right on the screws (Williams, Matsui, Sierra). In fairness to Nathan, perhaps he wasn't at his best working with a five-run lead. Alex Rodriguez returns to the Yankee line-up tonight and not a moment too soon. The Bombers look to El Duque to save their bacon once again.
Gary Sheffield spoke with Dr. Frank Jobe yesterday and apparently will not need surgery when the season is over. He has a separated left shoulder. Again, according to Jack Curry:
George King reports in the Post today that the Yankees could be close to trading recently acquired pitcher Esteban Loaiza to the Texas Rangers for a couple of minor leaguers.
Twins 8, Yanks 2
After losing thirteen straight regular season games to New York, the Twins pounded Javier Vazquez and the Yanks but good last night at the Metrodome. Vazquez was not impressive, while Minnesota's starter Brad Radke was sharp. The Yankees looked sluggish and it won't get any easier tonight with Johan Santana on the hill for the Twins. The Red Sox--who have played well lately--gained a game in the standings and are now nine back. According to Jack Curry in the New York Times:
Vazquez has pitched reasonably well this year, but he has been uneven. It will be on him come October to put the doubts to rest.
The most embarassing play of the game for the Yankees came after Torii Hunter singled home the Twins' fourth run of the game in the fifth inning. As Vazquez walked back to the mound, Derek Jeter turned his back to first and strolled back to his position at short. At the same time, Enrique Wilson was standing off of second base adjusting his mitt. So Hunter took off and swiped second. The local papers blamed Vazquez for the lapse, but I think the mistake is on the middle infielders. Rarely do you see Jeter--who extended his hitting streak to 17 games--make a bone-headed play like that. It was summed up a forgettable night pefectly.
The Bombers put men on base in the seventh and eighth innings, but could not generate a rally. The most memorable play of the night for New York came when Godziller Matsui robbed Hunter of a homer in the eighth inning. Gary Sheffield, hit a dinger for New York, his 28th of the year.
It's a Twins Thing
I don't know if there is answer to that question, but for the next couple of three days, be sure and head on over to these sites to get the Twins perspective on things. The Twinkies will be throwing their best arms against New York: Radke, Santana, Silva will face Vazquez, Mussina, Hernandez.
The Red Sox beat the Blue Jays in Boston last night and now trail the Yankees by ten games. The Bombers signed Shane Spencer to a minor league contract. I was never a big fan of Shaniac. While I understood his frustration over not developing into a starting player for Torre's Yanks, I've always felt like he didn't fully appreciate what he had to show for those frustrations: namely, three championship rings. His behavior this season has been telling. As an insurance policy for the outfield I suppose you could do worse. And perhaps some Yankee fans will be happy to see him back.
Look Who's Cookin'?
Jay Jaffe reconsiders Gary Sheffield's career over at The Futility Infielder in the first of a two-part profile. Excellent stuff as always from Jaffe:
For more good blogging on the Yanks, check out the latest from Cliff Corcoran, as well as an excellent defense of Jason Giambi by SG, who has been filling in for Larry Mahnken at the Replacement Level Yankees Blog.
I Like 'Em
They've got appealing new stars like Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown and Flash Gordon, as well as reliable role-players like Paul Quantrill, Miguel Cairo, Tony Clark, Jon Lieber, Ruben Sierra and John Olerud. I can find something to like about almost all of them (the only guys I'm not wild about are Enrique Wilson, and Felix Heredia). As far as I can tell they all fit in well in New York. I thought that Kenny Lofton could turn into another Raul Mondesi, but after some standard complaining to reporters early in the year, he's been a model citizen.
I realize that the Yankees have their flaws: the pitching isn't dominant, the middle-relief is suspect, the defense isn't especially good, but really, I haven't spent nearly as much time worrying about them as I did during the past two seasons. (The Yankees have problems that every other team would just love to have too, right?) I understand that there is no way to quantify terms like "character" and "chemistry," and I don't know how much they contribute to a team winning or losing games. My sense is that mainstream writers tend to overrate these qualities while many sabermetricians discount them too readily.
However, the Yankees seem to have a lot of character this season. And you do have to be a certain kind of player to thrive in New York (or Boston or even Philly). There is so much pressure to win the World Series in the Bronx that I can see how it would overwhelm some players. Perhaps guys like Jeff Weaver and Rondell White weren't the ideal fit for this team. The 96-01 Yankees were populated by type-A personalities. I believe that guys like Sheffield, Gordon and Brown have embraced playing for the Yanks. They buy into the Jeter-Mariano-Torre concept. One thing that many of the Yankees' new players have in common is that they are competitive dudes. (When was the last time you saw Sheffield, Matsui, Jeter, or Rodriguez loaf it down to first?)
While there are some Yankee fans who will call the season a failure if they don't win it all, I don't get the sense of "joylessness" that Mike Lupica carped about last season. Maybe that exists for the working press when you cover the team. I know that it can infest your mentality just rooting for them. But it doesn't have to.
I take the win-at-all-costs-or-else!-attititude as a given being a Yankee fan. It used it bother me, but now I don't fight it anylonger. It's the way it is, and quite frankly, it has always been that way since I've followed the team (with a few years off in the late 80s and early 90s). If the Yankees have a curse to call their own it is the curse of their own grand expectations. The owner may consider the season a failure should they not win a title and that is his right. Derek Jeter may echo those sentiments and that's fine. I like having an owner who wants to win--it would be nice if he had some grace, but screw it, you can't have everything--and I also like hearing that kind of talk from the teams' star player.
But for me, the win-or-bust mentality can only go so far. I've adopted it to a certain extent because it is the teams' reality, but will the season be lost or a disaster for me if they don't win it all? Hardly. My biggest wish for the Yankees--or any team I root for--is for them to be a tough out. As long as they go down fighting, or get beaten fair-and-square, I'm fine with that. When they beat themselves--1981 World Serious, 1995 playoffs--that is is tough to stomach. I don't know if the Yankees ability to come-from-behind this year will run-out before October of if will continue to define them throughout the playoffs. I just know that they've been enormously entertaining so far and I wanted to let you know how much I've appreciated watching and writing about them all summer.
I know it is early for this kind of talk, but who would your MVP (s) be for the 2004 Yanks? I'd say that Rivera and Gordon have been the best pitchers, and Sheffield and Matsui have been the best everyday players.
Sweepless in Seattle
The Yankees won two-out-of-three against the Mariners this weekend while Boston lost two-of-three at home against the White Sox. The Yankee lead in the east stands at ten-and-a-half games; Boston is in a three-way tie for first in the wildcard standings. Though there were big crowds at Safeco, it was as quiet as I remember it being up there in a long time. Until the seventh inning on Sunday there wasn't too much for them to get worked up about. I watched all three games and thoroughly enjoyed how little tension existed for the New Yorkers. For some fans, watching the Yankees beat-up on a last-place team while they are ten-and-a-half up themselves must be like watching paint dry. Not me. I know there will be plenty of tension down the road; heck, this week may present some exciting games against the Twins and Angels. Things can get tense quickly. Just ask Minnie.
Jon Lieber pitched well in a Yankee blowout on Friday (grand slam by Ruben Sierra, three-run dinger by Bernie), and the bullpen was sharp in Saturday's 6-4 win (go-ahead RBI courtesy of John Olerud, thank you very much). And though Kevin Brown was solid on Sunday afternoon, the bullpen was not, as the Bombers coughed up a 3-1 lead and lost 7-3.
It was the last time New York will face Edgar Martinez. As sweet as it is to watch Martinez swing, I can't say I'll miss him after what he's done to the Yankees through the years. Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui all had good offense weekends. Alex Rodriguez missed Friday's game with the flu. Then Rodriguez dropped the appeal to his four-game suspension on Saturday. Rodriguez will miss the first two games against the Twins this week. However, Javier Vazquez is scheduled to start tomorrow, followed by Mike Mussina on Wednesday.
Yankees 5, Rangers 1
It's one thing to watch a scrub like Taynon Sturtze skate by the skin of his teeth, and another thing altogether to watch a real pro like Orlando Hernandez work. (El Duque may throw some horseshit pitches, but Sturtze is horseshit: no offense.) A rejuvinated Hernandez continues to throw well, mixing pitches, changing speeds, cursing at himself, pumping himself up, and wouldn't you know, smiling and enjoying himself too.
Hernandez is striking out batters at a good clip. He avoids specific hitters and challenges others. He is also surviving by living dangerously. He threw a 50 mph lob ball to Alfonso Soriano (who already had two hits) in the fifth inning: Sori was all over it and lined it back to Hernandez, who knocked it down and threw to first to record the out. Sori hit it back to Duque like they were playing catch. Hernandez smiled, knowing he got away with one. Hernandez slightly tips his lob ball by slowing his motion down just before he throws it. It seems more like a lob than an eephus, but now we're talking about semantics. Same difference. (Hey, anyone know of any other active pitcher who is throwing an eephus pitch?) Duque then walked Dave Dellucci--he walked three times--before striking out Michael Young to end the inning.
Hernandez was working with a lead. He labored at first, but settled down quickly. Miguel Cairo hit a grand slam in the second inning which would be enough offense for the Bombers. Good thing as the Yankees continue to strand runners on base, unable to come up with some key hits. Kenny Lofton gave the Bombers a scare in the fourth inning when he fouled a ball into the Yankee dugout. The ball smacked off of Joe Torre's head. I missed the play but looked up and saw Torre on the ground with several guys around him. He was fine and when Lofton returned to the dugout after grounding out, Torre rubbed Lofton's head and let him know that he was OK.
In the sixth, Hank Blalock lead off the inning and narrowly missed a home run, sending Gary Sheffield to the warning track in right field. El Duque grinned like a Cheshire cat and then got Mark Teixeria to fly out to deep center. It was a three-up, three down inning.
Known as a mercurial sort, Hernandez's body language has appeared far lighter, his mood steadily upbeat since he's returned to the Yankees. I suppose winning will do that to you, huh? Jack Curry reports in the Times [the following clip appeared in the print version of the paper today but not in the on-line edition]:
If El Duque has been a surprising success, then Flash Gordon and Mariano Rivera have been excactly what we expected. Gordon worked a perfect eighth inning last night and literally blew the Rangers away, striking out all three men he faced. It didn't seem fair. Rich Lederer agrees, and sent me the following e-mail this morning:
Gordon's erstwhile team defeated the Devil Rays yesterday at Fenway Park. Pedro Martinez threw a complete-game shut-out. The Sox are nine-and-a-half games behind the Yankees. Finally, here is a follow-up on Derek Jeter's run-in with Angel Hernandez on Wednesday night, via the Post.
Yankees 4, Rangers 2
The first guy I roomed with in college was and is a piece of work. Hank Mayo Flynn III streaked across campus during our first week of school. These days he works as the public address announcer for your very own Staten Island Yankees. Hendree grew up in North Carolina but moved to Long Island when he was in high school. For that reason, he became a defacto Jets fan. I remember one Sunday afternoon in the early 90s, Hank and I sat down to watch the Jets with our pal Lomain and after something bad quickly happened to our boys, Flynn announced, "Well, it's gunna be another long, stupid season for the Jets."
I liked the simplicity of that statement, and ever since I've used it as a mantra watching the Jets. (The statement fits the Knicks to a tee as well.) I don't get worked up one way or another with the Jets any longer. I just remind myself that they are destined to have long, stupid seasons, and everything is OK. Mostly, I laugh a lot.
Long and stupid are words that come to mind when Taynon Sturtze pitches for the Yankees, and I repeated Hank's mantra last night in the bottom of the first inning, determined to find some humor in the mess Sturtze had worked himself into. (Sturtze is just the kind of lunkhead that Henry would appreciate.) After giving up three hits, the game was tied (Derek Jeter hit a solo homer in the top of the inning). Sturtze walked Mark Teixeria to load the bases and then plunked Gary Matthews Jr to force home a run.
Brian Jordan followed with a low line drive to right field. Gary Sheffield waited on it for a moment, caught the ball on his side, and then fired a strike to the plate to cut down Hank Blalock for a double play. It turned out to be a key play in the game. In the second, Regilio did his best Sturtze impression walking the first three men he faced. John Olerud tied the game on a force and Migel Cairo's sac fly put New York ahead for good. (Bernie Williams later added a sacrifice fly of his own.) It was a sloppy game with both teams making mistakes on the bases. In addition, the Yankees left a ton of men on base, unable to get any key hits.
Sturtze managed to work through the fifth and then the Yankees' rested bullpen trio of Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera shut Texas down for the win. As the Yankees went through the post-game high-fives and fist-bumps, Derek Jeter barked at first base umpire Angel Hernandez. Jeter was correctly called out by Hernandez late in the game on a close play at first. I couldn't exactly tell what happened when the game was over but it looked like Hernandez shot Jeter the evil eye as he was running off the field. Jeter is generally competitive but he usually doesn't get that heated with an ump. Herandez will work behind the plate tonight. The Red Sox creamed the Devil Rays and remain nine-and-a-half behind New York.
It is clear to anyone watching the Yankees these days that Gary Sheffield is playing with a lot of pain. He can't lift his left arm over his head and he practically catches fly balls down by his waist. How bad has it gotten for Sheff? Bad enough for him to consider retiring. According to the Daily News:
Meanwhile, Jason Giambi is in Tampa rehabbing. Yesterday, a clean-scrubbed Giambi spoke to the media. Characteristically, he said little; however, he looked much better and hopefully, he'll rejoin the team soon. It would make for a great story if he can contribute down-the-stretch, especially in light of Sheffield's injury. Can't wait to see you back in the line-up, ya big lug you.
I made a variation of an Amatriciana, a staple pasta dish and one of my favorites. Okay, it was a bastardized version of the very simple dish. I used tortellini instead of bucatini or spaghetti. And I threw in some cracked green olives and beef stock and fresh basil too for kicks. While I was cooking I listened to the Bob Murphy tribute from Shea Stadium that took place before the game. Hearing a montage of some classic Murphy calls brought a smile to my face; without thinking much about it, I will miss him more than I ever thought I would. Then the good people at Shea chose the most ham-handed cheeseball song to accompany a video tribute. It was like a parody right out of "The Simpsons," and was especially amusing on the radio.
After I ate, I was browsing through my cousin's bookshelf. I found two books by Anthony Bourdain, "A Cook's Tour," and "Kitchen Confidential." I had read "KC" a few years back. It is an entertaining and corse memoir of Bourdain's life as a chef in the restaurant business. I thought it was funny, over-bearing and depressing. If you ever want to convince someone that the restaurant business is hell, just give them a copy of "Kitchen Confidential."
Anyhow, the reason I bring it up is because I poked around "A Cook's Tour" and found a baseball-related tidbit in the introduction. And it all comes back to baseball right? Bourdain describes a small, dilapidated village in West Cambodia:
"Yeah, I gotta rash man." Irabu used to remind me of a cross between Jackie Gleason and a Japanese Elvis impersonator. But a Cambodian hooker isn't half-bad either. I wonder if her name was Boo Boo?
Rangers 7, Yanks 1
It was evident from the first batter Kevin Brown faced last night, that the tall right-hander was off his game. Alfonso Soriano fouled off several pitches and eventually walked on a 3-2 pitch. Standing on the mound looking in for the sign, legs apart, right hand dangling by his side, Brown's body looks gnarled and mangled. He looks like an abstract sculpture, or perhaps a strong German Expressionist drawing. With each pitch, he puts forth so much energy you wouldn't be surprised if it was the last one he ever threw. I can't help but occasionally make sound effects, great grunts and gutteral yells, as Brown releases the ball.
Brown was deliberate and had little command as the Rangers rolled to an easy win in Arlington. On the other hand, Ryan Drese pitched well. The Yankees hit the ball on the screws several times, with nothing to show for it. In the first inning, Gary Sheffield smoked a ball foul that missed being a double by a few feet. Drese came back with a nasty off-speed pitch and Sheffield really opened his left shoulder as he waved at it. This has been the pitch that exposes Sheffield's weak shoulder and the Yankee slugger doubled-over in pain. Drese followed with another change up--this one further outside--and Sheff swung and missed. (In his second at bat, Sheffield line out hard to Hank Blalock at third.) Ouch. Both Sheffield and Brown looked ennervated and bruised. Must be the dog days of summer. The Yanks managed a couple of cheap hits, but couldn't get a rally going.
The Red Sox beat up on the Devil Rays in Boston and gained a game on New York. They now trail by nine-and-a-half games. Taynon Sturtze will start tonight, replacing Javier Vazquez who has a case of pink-eye.
Cool, Calm, Collected
Joe Torre took George Steinbrenner's public critique on Kenny Lofton's defense in stride. According to Jack Curry in the New York Times:
Torre is like a cop out of an old New Yorker cartoon who has seen it all. He arrives on the scene and calmly clears the crowd, "OK, show's over, nothing to see here. Show's over. Let's move along."
Blue Jays 5, Yanks 4
George must be feeling lonely. After all, he hasn't made an ass out of himself lately. His win-at-all-costs-or-else! attitude is pervasive and has been adopted by a large portion of Yankee fans. While the attitude to win admirable, when it morphs into a sense of entitlement it is tired. I find it boorish and obnoxious when Steinbrenner second-guesses his manager in public. I know that I get wrapped up in the need for the Yankees to win every game at times. I'm guilty, bro, no doubt about it. That is why I try to appreciate each game for what it is, instead of simply waiting around for October for the "important" games. I need to remind myself to stay grounded and enjoy each at-bat, each pitch, and each game. Fortunately, there are members of the Yankee organization who haven't buckled under George's pressure:
Bernie Williams told Harvey Araton in the Times:
And here is bit from the Brian Cashman piece in New York magazine:
Spoiled rotten. Like a junkie in need of a fix. OK, one loss is acceptable. But they had better win tonight against Buck Showalter and company or else George is going to get the Mcsweats, the Mcshakes, and then he's really going to get started.
Three Times Dope
Just what the doctor ordered. Man, did the Yankees ever have a fine weekend. After Kevin Brown's brilliant, eight-inning performance against the A's last Thursday, Javier Vazquez, Orlando Hernandez and Jon Lieber all pitched eight innings themselves. The result? Three Yankee wins, and some much-needed rest for New York's bullpen. Mike Mussina will make a rehab start shortly and if he can return to form, the Yankees pitching suddenly doesn't look so uncertain. If Brown, Mussina and Vazquez are healthy, the Yankees should be alright. Anything Duque, Loaiza and Lieber can give them is cream and sugar.
Vazquez allowed a three-run homer to Carlos Delgado in the first inning on Friday night, but Godziller Matsui tied the game in the bottom of the first with a three-run bomb of his own. The Yanks scored another run in the inning and Vazquez never looked back, throwing as well as he has in months. Matsui added another homer and had 6 RBI on the evening.
Duque was in vintage form on Saturday, mixing his pitches well, including a couple of sloooooow curve balls, clocked in the low 50s. Bernie Williams had a couple of doubles as the Yanks crusied 6-0. Bernie ended things early on Sunday with a grand slam in the first. I've given up the dream that Bernie might make the Hall of Fame one day; instead, I'm taking great pleasure in each and every positive thing he does as he climbs the ladder on various all-time club records. John Olerud played well on Friday and Sunday (Tony Clark got the start on Saturday against Ted Lilly), and Gary Sheffield continues to mash, adding a tremendous shot on Sunday afternoon that bounced off the facade of the upper deck in left field. After the game, the last place Blue Jays canned their skipper Carlos Tosca.
Boston lost Friday night but won on Saturday (Prince P) and Sunday (Bomb Squad) and are a season-high ten-and-a-half back. Jorge Posada sat the weekend out with a sore right thumb. The Yankees go for the series sweep with a rare Monday afternoon game today. They travel to Texas for three with the Rangers before heading up to Seattle to meet the M's over the weekend.
Chris Smith has a long piece on Brian Cashman in this week's New York magazine. Worth checking out. Oh, and since it is Monday, that means that the latest edition of Rivals in Exile is ready to roll. As always, a must-read for Yankee and Red Sox fans.
Finally, be sure and see what Dr. Manhattan makes of the American League two-thirds of the way through the season over at Blissful Knowledge.
Yanks 5, A's 1
Call it Sleep
What a nice turn of the weather we're enjoying in New York. It had been hot and muggy for well over a week, and it was supposed to rain all day yesterday. But by the time the Yanks and A's took the field in the early afternoon, it was clear and sunny, a virtually perfect August day. Kevin Brown dominated Oakland and the Yankees increased their division lead to nine-and-a-half games over the idle Boston Red Sox. If Brown manages to stay healthy he should be an exceedingly effective pitcher for the Bombers down the stretch.
Derek Jeter and Ruben Sierra had RBI doubles. John Olerud celebrated his 36th birthday going 3-3 (he was also hit by a pitch). Last night, my mind was wandering as I tried to fall asleep. Forget the air conditioner, a chilly breeze from my bedroom window had Em and I under the covers. It struck me that more than anything, Olerud strongly resembles one of the pensive, stoic figures from an Edward Hopper painting.
Hopper was the first painter I ever considered a favorite. My uncle Fred gave me the cataolog of Hopper's 1981 retrospective at the Whitney for my tenth birthday, and his pictures had a major impact on me. More than anything, I respond to Hopper's strong sense of composition, and his sensitivity to space and light. While I enjoy his landscapes--and especially his cityscapes--I cherish his interior pictures most of all. Often, a Hopper painting will feature an expressionless figure inside an apartment looking out of a window or a door.
When I was young, I was fascinated by the lonliness and isolation of these figures. They never smiled. (There is only one picture--a water color of his wife Jo--that I know of which features a person smiling.) What were they thinking? More importantly, what were they looking at? It didn't really matter. All that matterd was that they seemed to be searching for something. They yearned for something. Or maybe they were just sleepy or bored. Curiously, if you ever get a chance to see any of Hopper's work in person, you'll notice that his figures look clumsily rendered, stiff, and awkward. Walk about 15 paces away from the canvas however and they click into perfect focus. (You'll also notice just how much green he uses.)
As a side note, one thing that makes Hopper a brilliant painter is that he implies what his figures are looking at, without showing us. Talk about the mark of a great storyteller. Matisse and Bonnet were famous for their interior/exterior pictures, and Hopper continued this tradition. Typically, the interior space will command the canvas, with the exterior--seen through an open doorway or an open window--only taking up a tiny portion of physical space. However, Hopper will imply the greater exterior space, by adding a window ledge, an apartment building across the way, etc. The effect should effect the viewer subconsciously, but it directly relates to what the central figure(s) are looking at. Because the interior rooms are often bare, the sense of space, of openess is commanding.
When I matured, the people in Hopper's pictures became less important than the formalism of the composition. (For instance, I almost totally ignore the figures on the right side of the canvas of Hopper's famous "Nighthawks", preferring instead to explore the empty store front across the street that fills up the left side.) Often, the people ceased to matter to me at all. One of Hopper's last great paintings, "Sun in an Empty Room" (1963, 29x40) is a picture of an empty, sun-lit room. (Reproductions don't do the picture justice.) On the far right side of the frame is a window. You can see dark green trees through the window which suggest the time of year; inside the room, the sun hits the interior walls in two places. The wall closer to the window features a bright, white light, while the wall further away has a wamer, more mellowed light. Is it early morning or late in the afternoon? It is a picture of amazing simplicity, and for me it suggests a kind of ideal serenity. Hopper, a man of few words, was once asked to describe the picture. "It's about me," he replied.
Personally, I think he felt liberated by not having to include people. But when you do see one of the lonely people in his paintings, not quite knowing what they are thinking or experiencing, imagine of the newest member of the Yankees, John Olerud. I don't think of him as being depressed or even grim, simply private, internal, resolute. I think he would fit in just fine.
Yankees 8, A's 6
The Yankees won another game in dramatic fashion last night at the Stadium. It was a rousing win for New York and a painful loss for Oakland. It isn't getting dull for me yet, how 'bout you? I was frustrated watching the A's beat the Yanks around for most of the game. I commiserated with Emily about the pitching staff, and cursed at Esteban Loaiza, Bernie Willaims and Kenny Lofton. As much as I try to keep perspective, when the Yankees play good teams like the A's and Angels, I get all worked up. The Yankees spoil you. Is it wrong for a fan to want your team to win every game? Last week I received the following e-mail from Brain Gunn:
Gary Sheffield tied the game with a two-run dinger off of Oakland's new closer Octavio Dotel in the bottom of the ninth, and Alex Rodriguez ended it with a two-run homer of his own two innings later. Mariano Rivera pitched two innings and got the win. Mo threw 51 pitches and wasn't especially sharp, but he was good enough.
The late-inning comeback helped take Esteban Loaiza off the hook. In his first game as a Yankee, Loaiza did not pitch well. He walked too many batters, made a poor fielding play, and gave up two home runs, including a three-run bomb to Eric Byrnes. Byrnes looks like the youngest kid from the movie "Parenthood" all grown up. His nickname is "Captain America" and he's been one of the hottest hitters in the game of late. In the past two games, he's murdered pitches off of the plate. (Note to the league: time to start busting this guy inside.) Loaiza has an easy delivery and like Jon Lieber, works quickly. His motion makes him look like a pitcher from the 1970s, like Mike Torrez.
Rich Harden throws extremely hard, but he wasn't that impressive either. Hideki Matsui was all over him, hitting three vicious line drives--one went for a double, then a fly-out, then a home run. With men on second (Matsui) and third (Posada) and nobody out in the second inning, Bernie Williams came to the plate. Williams was 1 for his last 17 at that point. A weak ground-ball--Bernie's recent specialty--would do just fine. So what does he do but pop the first pitch up to short? (Bernie had a bloop single later on, and battled against Ricardo Rincon late in the game, before striking out.) Fortunately for the Yanks, John Olerud followed and in his first at-bat for New York, slapped a single through the right side for a 2 RBI single (Olerud singled in his next at-bat and ended the night 2-5).
It was great seeing Olerud in a Yankee uniform. I've always appreciated his quiet intensity. Watching him on the bench, he has a thousand-yard stare that makes me wonder where his mind is. But he doesn't seem to be a flake like Bernie Williams. He's just slightly removed. Maybe having a near-death experience will do that to you. Regardless, he's reminds me of a benign Travis Bickle. My girlfriend thinks he looks like a stork. All-Baseball.com's Mariners man, Peter White likens him to a hawk at the plate, "Silently watching everything, patient for just the right meaty morsel." Further, White explained to me in an e-mail:
The Yankees gained a game on Boston who fell to the Devil Rays, 5-4. New York's lead is now nine games.
Get Well Soon
Following up on something I noted yesterday, the Daily News has an article about how some of Jason Giambi's former teammates have reacted to Giambi's illness.
Derek Jeter is often praised for his baseball smarts, and rightly so. However, he has developed a distressing habit of laying down sacrifice bunts in the first inning this year. I don't know why Joe Torre allows him to get away with it. Jim Kaat praises his intelligence on YES, while Michael Kay bites his tounge. I'm sure in his mind Jeter believes he's being a team-player, but early in the game, with the kind of line up the Yankees have, it isn't just a poor play, it is a dumb play. In his first eight full seasons Jeter compiled 34 sacrifices. His career high came in 1997 when he had eight; he had eleven from 2001 through 2003. So far this year, Jeter has eleven sacrifices. I believe this habit began during Jeter's early-season slump. If I have one criticism of Jeter this year, this is it. Anyone else notice this?
That said, the A's were swinging the bats so well, it may not have mattered if the Yankees scored a few more runs. For New York, Jorge Posada hit a three-run homer in the first and Gary Sheffield later hit a line-drive solo homer which brought back memories of Dave Winfield. The Yankees lead over Boston was reduced to eight games after Curt Schilling and the Sox defeated the Devil Rays, 5-2.
John Olerud joined the Yankees yesterday and is expected to start tonight. Joe Torre said he left a message for Jason Giambi yesterday. My feeling is that Torre hopes he can get Giambi back for the playoffs, but nothing is certain. One thing is for sure, there hasn't been much sympathy offered to the Yankees' ailing slugger, either from the press of from the fans. If Derek Jeter had a tumor it would be covered as a national crisis. You'd think we'd see some kind of puff pieces on Giambi now that his erstwhile team is in town, but I haven't noticed anything yet. I am as guilty as the next guy for glossing-over his condition too. Both Steve Bonner and Steve Goldman have been far more sensitive. Though I haven't mentioned it, I do hope he starts to feel better soon.
Finally, it's really getting to me watching Bernie Williams atrophy before our eyes. Lately he looks old and his bat has been extremely slow. I hope he has a hot streak left in him, but right now, he doesn't look long for the baseball world, does he? (He is signed through 2006, though the Yankees have an option to buy him out after next season...again, can you say Carlos Beltran?)
The Voice of Beer
My friend Alan, a Met fan, used to like to say that Bob Murphy's voice sounded like what beer would sound like if it had a voice. Schlitz beer. Or Reingold, right? I always enjoyed tuning in to the Met game on the radio to listen to Murphy's call: "Eeeeee strug 'im out." My condolences to Met fans everywhere, who have lost a team legend.
All the News That's Fit to Link
Bob Ryan, Peter Gammons, Gordon Edes, Tom Verducci and Bill Simmons on the Nomar Garciaparra trade. In addition, check out what Curt Schilling has to say to the Boston Dirt Dogs in an exlusive interview and what Ed Cossette and Red Sox Nation make of losing a Boston icon.
The fellas over at The Hardball Times are on the case too. Rivals in Exile, Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken weigh in on the Yankee and Sox deals; Studes commiserates about the Mets (thanks, Avkash) and Aaron Gleeman covers all of the major moves, soup to nuts.
Oh, and Murray Chass and Tim Marchman tackle the Mets too.
The Yanks start a three-game series vs. the A's tonight in the Bronx. Mark Mulder goes against Jon Lieber. Mulder hasn't fared well in two outings vs. the Yanks this season; think he won't bounce back with a strong performance? Tomorrow, Esteban Loaiza makes his Yankee debut against the hard-throwing Rich Harden. Finally, Barry Zito will face Kevin Brown on Thursday afternoon in the series finale.
Joe Sheehan--one of the best reasons to subscribe to Baseball Prospectus--offered a characteristically sound take on the Garciaparra trade:
Like Sheehan, Steven Goldman thinks the Yankees made a sound decision to rid themselves of Jose Contreras. When I spoke with Will Carroll last night and asked him what he made of the deal he asked me, "Do you like Carlos Beltran?" Meaning, with the money the Yankees will save not having to pay Contreras, they can go get themselves another star this winter. Goldman also likes the Olerud pick-up:
The Yanks are nine games ahead of the Red Sox, who beat the Devil Rays last night in Tampa Bay.
Yankees 9, Orioles 7
Esteban Loaiza arrived at the Stadium yesterday and by the time he put his uniform on his goatee was gone. We shall see if he can give the Yankees more than Jose Contreras did; Steve Bonner, for one, remains skeptical. John Olerud will be a Yankee and evidentally, he'll be the starting first baseman, pushing Tony Clark back to a reserve role. Characteristically, Clark is taking the "demotion" in stride. According to the Daily News:
In other Yankee news, today is the 25th anniversary of Thurman Munson's death. I was eight-years old at the time and recall seeing the news on the front page of the New York Times. I also remember that it was the first time that I ever saw my father cry. That was puzzling to me because my old man was and is an avid Yankee-hater. I asked him, genuinely confused, why he was upset and he explained to me that it is sad when people die even if they are Yankees. Hey, who knew?
The Bombers have the day off today. They will host the surging Oakland A's starting Tuesday night.
Em and I are house-sitting in Manhattan this weekend, so I've been unable to post until now. It's Sunday around noon and it is humid and raining in New York. Kevin Brown returned to the starting rotation on Friday night and pitched very well. Yesterday, Javier Vazquez continued to struggle, but the bullpen was solid on both Friday and Saturday as the Yankees beat the Orioles 2-1, and 6-4 repsectively. Alex Rodriguez had two fine games though the rest of the offense has been uneven. The Red Sox won on Friday but lost yesterday; they now trail New York by eight-and-a-half games in the AL East.
But the games were overshadowed by the trading deadline. As expected Randy Johnson remained in Arizona. He did not get traded to the Yankees. Baseball fans everywhere can rejoice: the big, bad Bombers failed to get their man. However, the Yankees made a deal just under the wire, moving Jose Contreras and cash to the White Sox for Esteban Loaiza. They are also close to signing John Olerud to platoon with Tony Clark at first base. Jason Giambi was diagnosed with a benign tumor on Friday and was placed on the 15-day dl. The location of the tumor was not made public.
The Red Sox made a sweeping move, trading Nomar Garciaparra and ending the day with Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz and Dave Roberts.
Em and I were down in Chinatown with some friends on Saturday afternoon, so we missed the game. I needed to clear my head from the steady clock-watching I'd been doing for the past two weeks anyhow. Shortly after five o'clock we got on a subway and saw several guys decked out in Yankee attire. I figured they had just returned from the game.
"Did we win?" I asked one kid.
"Who got the runs?"
"A Rod and Sheffield homered. Jeter hit a triple."
A kid wearing a Red Sox jersey chimed in, "It was a bloop triple."
"We didn't get Johnson did we?"
"No, they traded Contreras for Loaiza."
What? I repeated the names back to him and to nobody in particular a few times just so the news would sink in. An older woman sitting across the car sighed, "Good. The guy turned into mush every time a runner got on base." I looked down in front of me and a young Latina girl, all of four, stood next to her father. She was wearing a purple dress and was caught up in the energy in the car. She must have been curious as to what everyone was talking about. I winked at her and she covered her eyes and turned her head into her father's lap. But in a moment or two, after I continued talking baseball, she and I looked at each other and shared a big smile.
The Yankee fans then told me that Nomar had been traded to the Cubs. A couple of kids in Red Sox jerseys hadn't heard the news yet. Wow. I felt like consoling them. I'm sad about Nomar leaving Boston. I have always liked the idea of him playing his entire career with the Red Sox. But that clearly wasn't going to happen. And what better place for him than Chicago with the Cubs? That is nice. (Mr. Maddux is going for win number 300 today; Mazel!) I've got to think that Boston did well here. Caberera can hit and he's a good fielder, and Mientkiewicz is an excellent glove too. Hey, at least they didn't get Matt Clement, right?
Dan Shaughnessy thinks it was high time for Nomar to go:
The Yankee deal feels like somewhat of a warsh. They rid themselves of an expensive headache in Contreras. It's funny, but as poor as he's been, I never hated the guy. There was something gentle about him that I found sympathetic. Loaiza had a career year last year, but he has returned to earth this season. It's hard to imagine he will be that much of an improvement over Contreras. But his contract is up at the end of the season, and I'm sure that is one of the reasons he was attractive to New York.
I love the idea of Olerud signing simply because he has long been one of my favorite players. Between the two of them, Olerud and Tony Clark are very tall and very slow. But they are both plus fielders and Olerud still has plate discipline even if he can't hit for power any longer. I love that Olerud and Bernie are on the same team; they've always reminded me of each other.
I'm relieved that the deadline has come and gone. No more pie-in-the-sky fantasies of Randy Johnson. Oh well. Can't blame a guy for dreaming big. Now, Yankee fans can get back to the business of wringing our collective hands together worrying about pitching, pitching, pitching. (Poor little Yankee Nation.) At least things will continue to be interesting for the next couple of months. I, for one, plan to thoroughly enjoy the rest of the season, no matter what shakes down.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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