Monthly archives: September 2004
Yanks Swipe Two From Twinkies, Pedro Pounded
I climbed into a reclining chair at my dentist's office on 57th street in Manhattan yesterday just minutes before the first game of the Yankees-Twins double-header. Looking up, I noticed a TV. So while I was having a cavity-filled and my teeth cleaned I watched the first five innings of the game. Man, dentistry has come a long way. Getting a cavity filled doesn't involve the kind of messy drilling that I remember as a kid. But while the immediate events in my mouth weren't nearly as uncomfortable as I had anticipated, the Twins drilled Mike Mussina around for three first inning runs. And though Johan Santana was clearly not going to pitch a full-length game, three runs is an awful lot to spot the probable AL Cy Young.
But Derek Jeter lead off the bottom of the first with a double and he scored on a single by Gary Sheffield. Maybe Santana was human after all. Hardly. The Twins' southpaw allowed two base-runners in the second and then got out of trouble by striking his way out of the inning. Man, even when he was handling my team, there is something to be said about watching a dominant pitcher at work. The second time Jorge Posada was up, he swung through two high fastballs. So I figure that Posada has to be sitting on the change, or Santana's nasty slider, which dives down and in to righties. But instead, Santana threw two more fastballs. They were both out of the zone. He's got to come with the soft stuff, right? Nah, he blew Jorge away with a fastball on the outside corner. Man, you've just got to guess right and hope that he makes some mistakes in order to beat a guy like Santana right now.
Mussina wasn't elegant, issuing walks and allowing hits, but he didn't allow anymore runs to score. I watched the first five innings, and endured some kind of lecture from Maria, a portly, plantain-eating chaza, who cleaned my teeth, about the art of flossing. I smiled at her, half of my face still numb from the novacaine, when she handed me a complementary tooth brush. "You look just like Mike Gilbert," she tells me. I had never heard that one before. "Oh yeah, who is Mike Gilbert?" "He's a friend of my son's. He's a sheriff you know." Sheriff Mike Gilbert? Jeez, no, Maria, I did not know that.
Unable to eat anything solid, I headed to the best Jewish deli in my neighborhood for some matzo ball soup. The mexicans working behind the counter had the game on the radio. "What's the score?" I asked. "5-3...Yankees." Really? "Did they get the runs off Santana?" "No, the bullpen." Okay, the sky isn't falling for the Twins faithful. I got my soup, and walked into my apartment as the Yankees ended the game with a 6-4-3--nice pick Tony Clark--double play.
Emily and I watched Game Two together. Hideki Matsui hit a three-run dinger to the opposite field in the first inning, his second long ball of the day, and 30th on the season. Alex Rodriguez added a solo shot later on, and the Yanks held on for a 5-4 win. The story of the game for New York was Tanyon Sturtze's performance, one and two-thirds innings of scoreless ball. Perhaps they've found a cure for what ails Paul Quantrill. The game ended on a double play, and Mariano Rivera had his second save of the afternoon, his 53rd on the year.
The night ended on a high note for New York and a low one for the Red Sox, who were thumped by the Devil Rays. Pedro Martinez was roughed up again and has now lost four-consecutive games, the first time that has ever happened to him in his career. With Boston now four games behind the Yanks, New York needs just one more win, or a Red Sox loss to secure the division title for the seventh straight year.
It was a good day for the Yankees and their fans. But leave it to Selena Roberts, she of the Mike Lupica-No-Joy-In-Yankeeville-School-of-Thought, to rain on the parade. The kindest way for me to characterize Roberts, a columnist for the Times, is as a dilettante. Today, she writes that these Yankees are just no fun. They are dour professionals who have had all of the fun squeezed out of them by the high expectations that come with playing for George Steinbrenner. Haven't we heard this before? This isn't Paul O'Neill's Yankees anymore. Okay, we get it. Get over it. But noooo, Roberts wants to know why the Yanks can't be more like the Twins or the Red Sox. Believe that. I don't know, why can't the English learn to speak?
You'd think that there is nothing more that writers like Roberts would like than to see the Red Sox win. Or anybody else but the Yanks win. If the Yanks do manage to win the Serious, this line-of-thinking would have little merit. We already know what Roberts and Lupica and the like will say if the Yankees lose. Meanwhile, if the Yankees win one more game, it will be the first time in the organization's storied history that they'll have won 100 games, three years in a row. There are plenty of good stories on this team. Even if Steinbrenner and a decent portion of Yankee fans dismiss the season as a failure should they fail to reach and/or win the World Serious, that shouldn't prevent sportswriters from coming up with a new angle. But that would require some thought. Ah, I suppose it's easier to rip the team. Remember, this is coming from the New York Times. The home town paper. Oy veh.
Who is Gunna Carry the Weight?
The local papers are filled with articles about the Yankees' pitching woes. In the Times, Tyler Kepner reports:
Meanwhile, the Red Sox beat Tampa Bay last night and clinched a spot in the playoffs. They remain three games behind the Yankees in the loss column with six games to play.
Red Sox 11, Yanks 4
Until We Meet Again...
Curt Schilling dominated the Yankees yesterday while Kevin Brown didn't make it out of the first inning. According to Jack Curry:
After the game, Brown told the Times:
Esteban Loaiza replaced Brown and the Sox bombed him too. It was a fun afternoon for the Fenway faithful and a forgettable one for the Yankees. There was some minor mishegoss between Kenny Lofton and Doug Doug Mientkiewicz which eventually led to batters being thrown at and a couple of ejections. Without getting too involved in the particulars, Suzyan Waldman of the YES network called Lofton a "baby" on her post-game report. She ripped him but good actually.
At the begining of the season I was really down on Lofton being a Yankee, but I warmed up to him seeing him laugh and jive it up in the dugout this year. However, it's clear by Mariano Rivera's animated reaction to Lofton a couple of weeks ago, and even Waldman's brief tirade yesterday that Lofton isn't the most popular man in the Yankee clubhouse.
No matter. Along with the disgruntled utility infielder Enrique Wilson, Lofton will likely not be in pinstripes next year. Right now, the Yankees hold a three game advantage over Boston in the loss column with six games remaining in the regular season (seven for the Sox). The Bombers are still the favorites to win the division. They have today off, while the Sox face Tampa Bay. The Twins come to town for a three-game series starting tomorrow night.
So, it appears as if Mike Mussina, El Duque and Jon Lieber will start for New York in the playoffs. What then, to do with Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown? Does Vazquez pitch a game four? Can Brown be effective out of the bullpen? Should he get a start himself? Which one of these? Thoughts? What do you guys think?
Red Sox 12, Yanks 5
I watched Saturday night's game with Cliff Corcoran. In the eighth inning when Boston cranked out seven runs against the Yankees' weak bullpen corps, Cliff said, "The Yankees are playing this game like they are the Red Sox. I didn't have much hope of them winning tonight, but then they made it close, only to have a few things go wrong late"—Hideki Matsui allowing a wind-blown ball to fall in for a double, Derek Jeter botching a double play—"and then they get blown out in the end."
The Yankees had trouble against Tim Wakefield for a change, although they managed to score five runs. (The last one, which tied the game, came on a dubious grounds-rule double call which resulted in Terry Francona getting himself run from the game for arguing.) Javier Vazquez was not impressive, though after the game, both Vazquez and catcher Jorge Posada thought that he was better than he has been in a long while. More concerning for the Yankees than the loss, was the fact that Paul Quantrill was ineffective once again. Other than Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera, the Yankee bullpen is not strong at all.
Kevin Brown will start on Sunday afternoon for the first time since he punched a clubhouse wall. He goes against Curt Schilling. Although a win would be sweet, it's more important for the Yankees that Brown has a decent outing. It's reasonable to assume that Schilling will be on his game. I'm interested to see how this one pans out.
Yankees 6, Red Sox 4
De Ja Vu All Over Again, Daddy-O
The Yankees and Red Sox played characteristically tense game at Fenway Park last night, one that was filled with home runs, lead-changes, clutch hits, a couple of blown calls, and some excellent fielding (Matsui, Rodriguez, Mueller, Nixon and especially Caberera). The Red Sox hit three home runs (Ramirez and Nixon off of Mussina, Damon off of Gordon) and Pedro Martinez had a one-run lead going into the eighth inning. But the lead didn't last long as Hideki Matsui hit a solo shot into Boston's bullpen to tie the game (Godziller, who has mashed against Boston this year, was the star of the game for the Bombers). Martinez remained in the game and allowed a soft double to Bernie Williams on a 3-2 pitch that hugged just inside the right-field line. Ruben Sierra, 0-3 with two strikeouts to that point, drove Bernie home but hitting a very tough pitch into center.
The Yankees would score an insurance run and though Mariano Rivera walked Trot Nixon to start the ninth, he was bailed out when Jason Varitek grounded into a 1-6-3 double play. Orlando Cabrera reached second on a bloop double to right and Bill Mueller grounded out sharply to Rivera to end the game. Mariano was not especially sharp, but his deft fielding ability helped him earn his 51rst save of the year, a career high. Flash Gordon pitched the seventh and eighth innings and allowed the solo homer to Damon, but pitched brilliantly otherwise.
The win puts the Yankees five-and-a-half games ahead of Boston. It was another discouraging loss for Martinez against New York, arguably more painful than last weekend's torching in the Bronx. Boston manager Terry Francona was booed when he finally removed Martinez from the game, shades of Grady Little indeed (sportswriters, start your laptops). The Red Sox have all but conceded the division title to New York and now are looking to the playoffs. They know that the wildcard team has won the World Serious for the past two years and they are keeping their eyes on the prize.
But perhaps the strangest post-game development were the comments made by Martinez:
Calling the Yankees his dadies? Is this some kind of reverse psychology? I don't think so, but it sure is a tabloid's wet dream. While I love it when the Yankees beat Pedro Martinez, I take no pleasure in hearing him sound so shaken. What's so satisfying when the Yankees pull out a win against him is that he's such a fierce, defiant, incorrigible competitor. To hear him sound so defeated just doesn't seem right.
Comedy is Not Pretty
I've got an article on ten rap records that are worth revisiting over at The New Partisan. Check it out if you like that sort of thing.
Also, I've been thinking about coming up with a list of the best comedy records of all-time. I listened to comedy records often when I was growing up, my favorite artists being George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Woody Allen and later on, Richard Pryor, Albert Brooks and Lenny Bruce. I liked stuff by Nichols and May, Bob Newhart, Monty Python, The Goon Show, Peter Sellers, Derek and Clive, Robin Williams, Franklyn Ajaye, Steven Wright, Lily Tomlin, Bob and Doug McKenzie and Rodney Dangerfield too. I know I'm missing some other good ones, but that's what I can come up with off-the-top of my head.
If I had to come up with a list of the best records I know of it would look something like this (in no particular order):
Bill Cosby: "Wonderfulness," "Revenge" and "To Russell, My Brother Whom I Slept With."
Richard Pryor: "That Nigger's Crazy," "Is it Something I Said?" and "Wanted: Live in Concert."
George Carlin: "AM/FM," "Class Clown" and "Occupation: Foole." These three records were compiled into a two-disk set. I highly recommend them.
Steve Martin: "Let's Get Small," and "Wild and Crazy Guy."
Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner: "The 2000 Year Old Man" and "The 2013 Year Old Man."
Lenny Bruce: His first four albums which are collected on cd on "The Lenny Bruce Originals Vol 1 and 2" and the uncut "Carneige Hall Concert."
Eddie Murphy: The first one, self-titled, and "Comedian."
Close Enough For You?
Joel Sherman has an article about the Yankee-Sox rivalry today. He notes that since the start of the 2003 season--and including last year's playoffs--the Yanks and Sox are 21-21 against each other. In order to catch the Yankees and win the AL East, Boston needs to sweep New York this weekend. Regardless, the bottom line is which team lasts longer in the post-season, right?
What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Everson talks about the perception that many of Rodriguez's dingers come in garbage time:
Nice observations by Everson.
Once Again (Ladies and Gentleman)
It's easy to see why young ballplayers lack patience. They hit a snag, start to struggle and they can lose their confidence. In yesterday's game at the stadium, many of the Devil Rays players looked as if they had a bus to catch. They made careless errors and had horrible at-bats. It's as if they want the season to end last week. On the other hand, veteran players know how to weather difficult times, mentally and emotionally.
Take Bernie Williams, for example. Williams is clearly in the twilight of his career. He doesn't hit for average anymore and doesn't have much power either. But he scored his 100th run of the season yesterday because he still has enough patience to work walks and get on base. Not bad for an old man on his way out, huh? Of course, it helps to play with an impressive offensive team. Look at Mike Piazza. His numbers would look respectable too if he were on a good team.
Anyhow, I know that I appreciate Bernie's accomplishment. I also stand duly impressed with Greg Maddux winning his 15th game yesterday. He's now won at least 15 games in 17 straight years. At the begining of the year, I did a rountable preview for the Yankees season and one of the questions was weather or not Mike Mussina would finally win twenty games this season. One thing many of the writers said was that he'd win 15 falling out of bed. Which got me to thinking just how difficult it is to win 15 games on a year-in, year-out basis. Or course, you have to stay healthy, be lucky, and have a good offense, but still, it's not so easy as Mussina has found out in 2004. Maddux is the man.
The Yankees clinced a playoff spot for the 10th consecutive season yesterday with their 7-3 win over the Rays at the stadium. It was a soporific, late-afternoon affair. Again, Tampa looked as if it would have rather been somewhere else. The Red Sox rallied, but fell short against the Orioles last night. The Yanks head to Boston leading the east by four-and-a-half games.
We'll Be Back...
El Duque finally took an "L" and the Sox beat those pesky O's in extra innings. Boston is now three-and-a-half back. The Yanks are gearing up to play an afternoon game against the Devil Rays shortly. I'll be back in the regular swing of things soon enough. In the meantime, guys like Cliff Corcoran, Steve Bonner and Larry Mahnken--all linked in the Yankee section to the right--have been holding down the fort. Oh, and Jay Jaffe has posted the third installment of his fantastic Gary Sheffield series. Don't miss it.
Yanks 5, Blue Jays 2
I arrived back in the Bronx last night around the seventh inning and saw the Bombers defeat Toronto. I also caught the updates and highlights of Boston's dramatic win against the Orioles. When all was said and done, the Yanks are still four-and-a-half games up.
Esteban Loiaza earned his first victory since he was traded to New York, which also happens to be the 100th win of his career. Roy Halladay, making his first start in a long while, seemingly gave up a home run to Alex Rodriguez in the first. But Vernon Wells timed his leap beautifully and robbed Rodriguez of his 36th dinger of the year. Gary Sheffield, who missed Monday's game after receiving two cortisone shots in his ailing left shoulder, followed and planted one in the left field upper deck, safely out of Gabe Gross's reach. Jason Giambi later hit a two-run homer to left-center, his first hit since returning from the DL.
El Duque and Ted Lilly square off tonight. If I'm not mistaken, it'll be the fourth time they've matched up this year. Should be a good one.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
Hope everyone has a great weekend.
Red Sox 3, Yankees 2
Down 2-1 in the ninth inning, the Red Sox scored two runs off Mariano Rivera to beat the Yanks, 3-2. It was an exciting game. Early on, Manny Ramirez hit a home run which was over-ruled and called a foul. There were two rain delays. Later, Ramirez robbed Miguel Cairo of a homer, making a sensational catch. Cairo, unaware that he was out, circled the bases as if the homer was good. It was a great catch. Manny looked back at Arroyo and pointed both fingers at him. Cairo looked on in disbelief. It was hard not to smile over that one. Good gosh.
Perhaps the Yankees are feeling the pressure. The carefree Sox come in and swipe a game from Rivera and the Yanks and now trail New York by two-and-a-half games. It was a terrific win for Boston and a disheartening loss for the Yanks. The pressure is on Jon Lieber tomorrow what with Pedro looming on Sunday.
Friday Night in the Bronx
Is everyone amped for the Yankee-Sox serious this weekend? I know Red Sox Nation sure is. The players on both sides are. The local papers are replete with hype today. New York Times columnist William Rhoden is bored of the same ol-Yankees win storyline. So he's openly pulling for the Sox. Gimme a break, brother. So sorry you're bored. What paper do you work for again? Ahhh, it's not even worth getting worked up about.
El Duque will pitch tonight so long as the weather holds up. He hasn't lost yet. Will the Sox have his number? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? I'm heading up to Vermont tomorrow to visit Emily's folks for a few days, so I'll be smack dab in the heart of the Nation for this one. In order to overtake the Bombers I'd say that Boston needs to win 5-6 over the next two weekends. While these games should be characteristically tense and dramatic, I won't be overly excited should the Yankees win 4-6, just relieved. After all, this is just a warm-up for the playoffs. (If the Yanks sweep Boston but lose to them in the playoffs, think anyone will remember these games? Stay in the moment, dude, stay in the moment.) Then again, every Yankee-Sox series is played as if the fate of the modern world were at stake.
To quote Chuck D, "Don't believe the hype, it's a sequel." Enjoy the mishegoss. May the best team win.
Yankees 3, Royals 0
"Javey was really good. He was throwing a lot of balls and they weren't swinging at them. Cecil Turtle [Tony Clark] hit a home run onto the grass by the water and it stayed there for the rest of the game. Giambi struck out a lot."
"Did we win?"
"I don't know. I got distracted cleaning my closet."
"You don't know who won?!?!?"
"Jeter had a good game."
Right. We've been monitoring Jeter's decline in on-base percentage for the past few months--Steven Goldman provides the numbers in his latest "Pinstriped Bible"; at the same time, Jeter has hit for more power than he has since his superstar 1999 campaign. Tyler Kepner notes in the Times:
It's been an interesting season for the Yankee captain. Oh, and just to follow up on a comment I made yesterday about how much Jeter enjoys himself, the headline for the Times piece today reads, "Jeter Is Having Fun When the Games Mean the Most." Amen.
Boston won last night to remain four back (three in the loss column). The hype machine has already begun for the weekend series in New York. This rivalry feels more like the WWF than baseball at times. So there will be some inflammatory quotes on both sides over the next week and a half, and the fans will be plenty worked up. But the biggest story of the weekend could very well be the weather. Who knows how many games they'll get in?
Well, no matter what happens, at least we all know it won't be dull.
Shut Em Down
The Yankees got their first look at Zach Greinke tonight, and man, he was impressive. Greinke is a good-looking kid with blond hair. He looks more like a surfer or a skate board kid than a pitcher. (Actually, he reminds me a bit of a young Mark Langston.) A right-hander with a simple, direct motion, the ball comes out of Greinke's hand easily. He is composed and cool on the mound, keeping his fastball down in the strike zone for the most part; the kid has an effective change up and a very nasty slow breaking ball. In the first inning, Greinke threw Jeter a full-count fastball and Jeter lined out sharply to short. Rodriguez followed and he saw the breaking ball on a full count, got way ahead of it, and popped out to left. The YES cameras showed Jeter in the dugout laughing at his pal. Say what you will about Jeter, but I don't know that I've ever seen a player of his caliber enjoy himself as much, or laugh and smile as much as he does.
Greinke and Mike Mussina engaged in a pitcher's duel through the first five innings. They were both in control; Mussina was more efficient (he threw 97 pitches on the night). With two men out in the top of the fifth, Bernie Williams—who turned 36 yesterday—drew a walk on a full-count pitch. I believe it was a fastball, inside at the knees. Though it was called a ball, it looked like a strike from where I was sitting. Greinke and his catcher thought it was strike three as well and they started toward the dugout. Howver, Greinke walked too far, prompting the home plate umpire Doug Eddings to walk to the mound and remind him that although he's mad talented, he is still just twenty years old. The Royals manager Tony Pena sprinted out to the mound to monitor the conversation, which was brief.
Perhaps the incident was enough to throw Greinke off his game just a bit. He hung a curve ball to John Olerud who slapped it into right for a single. Miguel Cairo followed and worked a walk to load the bases. Then Jeter lofted a single to shallow right. It barely fell in for a hit, Williams and Olerud scored, and Cairo was thrown out on a close play at the plate.
Greinke pitched a one-two-three sixth and he was done. Those two runs would be all that Mike Mussina needed, though they scored two more in the eigth thanks to an RBI double by Alex Rodriguez and an RBI single by The Punisher, Gary Sheffield. In short, Mussina was brilliant. He was spotting his fastball—which had some hop to it—and his knuckle-curve equally well. Mussina ended up pitching eight innings, striking out a season-high eleven batters. Flash Gordon retired
Jason Giambi was in the line-up and it was hard to get a feel for how he looked, though he didn't seem anxious. He got ahead of the count in the first and hit a breaking ball to the warning track, just missing a dinger. Greinke struck him out the next time up on a lollypop curve. In his third at-bat, Giambi lined out to center on the first pitch, and he walked in his final at-bat in the ninth.
The Bombers gained a game on Boston who fell to Tampa Bay at Fenway Park tonight. Scott Kazmir out-pitched Prince P. The Yankee lead stands at four; three games in the loss column.
That Time of Year Again
You want a reason to be excited about tonight's game? Jason Giambi will be the starting DH for the Bombers. It'll be great to see him back. I'm not going to be able to post at my regular time tomorrow, but I should have something up by the middle of the day. Hopefully, with good news to report.
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
High and Low
The Good Book
The latest edition of Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Bible is out this afternoon. Needless to say, it is required reading for any serious Yankee fan.
Do You Remember?
Jim Gerard, a frequent reader of Bronx Banter is writing a book about the Yankees. He's dedicating one chapter to Yankee lowlights--Dark Days for Yankee fans. If you've got any cherce memories, Jim would appreciate an e-mail. (The first thing that comes to mind was when Bobby Meacham hit a homer and then ran past the runner ahead of him on base and was called out...I can't recall the year, but at some pernt during the mid eighties.) In particular, Jim is looking for Yankee fans to write in and discuss what they feel were the worst, most painful losses in franchise history, and why. For me the most painful loss was the 1981 World Series simply because the Yankees played so well in Game One and Game Two, and so thoroughly lousy in Games Three, Four and Five out in Los Angeles. Also, if anybody has any remembrances of what it was like to be a Yankee fan during the dark CBS days of the mid-60s through the early 70s, they can pass those along, too. You can reach Jim at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
For those of you who are interested, Buster Olney and Alan Schwarz will be at the Yogi Berra Museum in the near future to talk about their new books. On Saturday, September 18th between 1-2 p.m., Buster will be there to discuss "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty." Alan Schwarz will be talking about "The Numbers Game" on Saturday, October 16th between 1-2 p.m.
Chivalry Ain't Dead
Last night I was riding the 7th avenue IRT uptown. A few stops before I was going to get off a woman came on the train and stood in front of me. Without thinking, I asked her if she would like to sit and gave up my seat for her. The woman sitting next to her looked at me incredulously. "Are you from New York?" she asked. "Born and raised," I said. "Wow." People always seem suprised to discover that there are nice people in the world. I'm not saying I'm a saint. I don't always give up my seat for a woman, or an older person, but I do it more often than not. According to an article in the Times today, I'm not alone.
Funny thing is when I got back to the Bronx later in the evening, I jumped on the bus to get home. As I approached the back, which was crowded, I saw a heavy-set bald dude sitting in a seat, with his gym bag in the seat next to him. This kind of casual arrogance annoys me to no end. I said excuse me to him and motioned that I wanted to sit. He made a comment under his breath, but I chose ignore it. He was sitting in a bulldog position, still trying to take up both seats, just looking for a fight. I wasn't interested, but when I walked off the bus, I looked back and him, smiled and shook my head. As I walked away I caught his eye again and smiled.
So early this morning I'm walking to the subway and I've got my earphones on when who should slide next to me but Boris, the killer bald dude. It took me a second to register who he was, and he waited for it to dawn on me. Satisfied that I did remember him, he goes, "What were you smiling at last night?" Now, I'm half-asleep, and not prepared for a confrontation. So I say, "I was smiling because I thought you made a remark." He goes, "I did. I said there were other seats you could have sat in." "Yo man, the bus was crowded, what do you want from me? It was a misunderstanding." And with that he let it drop. I think he was happy enough to sneak up on me and catch me off-guard. Dude was a total bully. Big, thick, tough guy.
And me being a nice guy, I spent the rest of the morning upset at myself for not being present enough to tell the guy off. Not to get in a fight, but to simply say, "It's a public bus." And just walk away. To stand up for myself instead of blurting out that it was a misunderstanding. I hope to be more prepared for the next time. Man, sometimes I'm just too damn sensitive. Even for a New Yorker. Ahh, what are you gunna do?
The Trouble With Javey
I checked in with the baseball journalist Pat Jordan yesterday. Pat lives in Florida with his wife and their dogs. I wondered how they’ve been holding up under all the brutal weather. Pat replied, “Susie and I and the dogs drank a our way through Frances and are going to drink our way through Ivan. The shutters have been up for two weeks now and it's like living in a cage. Still, a small price to pay for Paradise.” Jordan is a huge fan of Miami football and is still riding high since the Caines beat Florida State last weekend. I can hardly relate since I’m not a college football guy. Instead, I pressed him for his take on what’s wrong with Javier Vazquez. As usual, Pat, a former pitching prospect for Braves, pulled no punches.
BB: Three starts ago Jim Kaat spoke about balance on the broadcast. He said one simple exercise for a pitcher is for him to look at himself in the mirror and balance himself on his back leg for as long as possible. YES then showed a replay of Vazquez who looked like he was leaning about a foot forward off the mound. Are these kind of mechanical problems a result of anything mental? For instance, is Vazquez trying too hard and therefore rushing himself?
BB: Also, I've noticed that Vazquez just can't put guys away. It seems that he gets hurt--especially with the long ball--when he's ahead on the count, 0-2, 1-2. Is that a case of him trying to make a perfect pitch or what?
BB: How much influence does Mel Stottlemyre have on his pitching staff? As much of a Yankee icon as Stottlemyre is, he’s been criticized for not getting the most out of his pitchers.
The Yankees were smoked by the Royals in Kansas City last night by the tune of 17-8. The offense hit the ball hard but could not capitalize early on. Then the Royals--a bunch of hackers who were swinging from their heels starting in the first inning--scored ten runs in the fifth against Brad Halsey, Taynon Sturtze (wild pitch, balk, walk, dinger) and Brett Prinz. If that wasn't bad enough, Paul Quantrill and Felix Heredia--pitchers the Yankees will actually need come October--were rocked two innings later for five runs. Who were those imposters wearing Yankee uniforms last night?
This one felt worse than the 22-0 loss to the Indians. The Yankees weren't just flat, they were pathetic. I'm sure I'm overreacting, but it was a disconcerting game to watch. And for some reason I sat through the whole thing, which makes me either incredibly loyal, amazingly stupid, or positively masochistic. The Yankees are now three games up on the Red Sox--who were idle--but just two ahead in the loss column.
Yankees 9, Orioles 7
While the Yankees and Orioles have specialized in drawn-out, turgid games against each other over the past decade, yesterday was a whopper. It was a challenge to watch for sure. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:
What a relief it was when the Bombers managed to win the game. Gary Sheffield broke a 7-7 tie with a solo dinger in the ninth inning, and Hideki Matsui followed with a homer of his own. Sheffield continues to be the centerpiece of the Yankee offense. Even his outs are exciting; his sacrifice liner to left in the seventh was absolutely scorched. Alex Rodriguez had a good game too, and is taking the ball to right field more often. A good sign.
The Yankees gained a game on Boston who were shut-out in Seattle yesterday, 2-0. New York's lead stands at three-and-a-half games (three in the loss column). Boston is off tonight while the Yankees are in Kansas City. As far as I can tell, the Yankees will be throwing El Duque, Jon Lieber and...Brad Halsey? against Boston next weekend in New York. That should be enough to get Red Sox Nation's mouth watering.
Both Kevin Kernan and John Harper warn that if the Yankees continue to play as poorly as they did yesterday, they won't last long in October. Hey, no foolin fellas. I'm not counting the Yankees out by any stretch--who knows what will happen?--but I think it's been obvious for a while now that this team could be headed for an early exit this year. Let me ask you though what's worse: If this Yankee team loses in the first round, or if a team like the Cardinals get bounced early? At least with the Yankees, nobody will be shocked if this isn't their year. On the other hand, if the Yankees do win a round, or make it to the World Serious, it'll be a welcome development. Imagine, the team with the best record in the league, as an underdog. Ummm, works for me.
One and One
The Yanks lost a slug-fest on Friday night (and a game in the standings as Boston creamed Seattle), but recovered behind El Duque yesterday afternoon to beat the Orioles, 5-2. The Sox whipped the Mariners again; New York's lead remains two-and-a-half games. Steve Bonner is loving the September tension. So, for that matter is Derek Jeter. In a Newsday article which detailed two team-meetings the Yankees recently held, the Yankee captain said:
This is supposed to be fun? Right. I keep forgetting. Thanks for the reality check, Jetes. Javier Vazquez got rocked for the second time in his past three outings on Friday night, but to be honest, he's been a generally lousy pitcher since the all-star break. I wish I understood more about the mechanics of pitching to explain what is going wrong.
Vazquez told the New York Times:
Mel Stottlemyre added:
Here are some interesting observations from that were left in the "comments" section of this blog:
What do you guys think? Anyone have anything else to offer about why Vazquez has struggled so over the past few months? In addition, do you think that Stottlemyre is costing the team victories with the way he handles the pitching staff?
One pitcher he isn't hurting is Orlando Hernandez. El Duque allowed one run over seven innings yesterday, improving his record to 8-0 (the Yankees are 11-1 in games he's started). He was in one tight spot all day. With two out in the third, the Orioles loaded the bases for Miguel Tejada. Duque fell behind Miggy 2-1, but then got him to foul off an inside fastball, and then wave at an off-speed pitch to end the inning.
The Yankee offense was impressive on Friday night and they played well enough to beat Sidney Ponson yesterday. The game ended with a minor incident between the Orioles third base coach, Tom Treblehorn and Yankee catcher Jorge Posada. Evidentally, Posada thought that Treblehorn was trying to steal signs.
Like many New Yorkers—scratch that, Americans—I had a heavy-heart yesterday on the third anniversary of the attacks of September 11th. Emily and I watched a portion of the memorial ceremony yesterday morning and we both teared up pretty good. We decided to get out of the house and go on an adventure. So we took the IRT to midtown and then connected to the Queens-bound 7 train and went to Jackson Heights, which is probably the biggest Indian neighborhood in the city. We had lunch at the Jackson Diner; Em bought some bootlegged "Bollywood" cd soundtracks for her sister and we went shopping in the markets. Man, the produce was so inexpensive and interesting. We saw vegetables that we'd never seen before. One thing I picked up are called "long beans." Essentially they are string beans, but about two-feet long. They come in a bunch and look like a Rasta's thin-braids. As I sat in front of them wondering if I should buy them, two little old Italian ladies were picking some out for themselves. I asked them what the beans were all about and one lady tells me they're great, you just cut em down and "put them in the sauce with some maccaroni." Perfect. Learning how to use Indian vegies from an Italian. I love this city.
Hip Hop Quotable
For anyone who is interested, I've posted a list of my 20 favorite rap records of all time over at Will Carroll's site. I also put up a list of the greatest rap singles from 1986-1994 too. Let me know what you think.
Double Yer Pleasure
The Yanks and D-Rays finally got their double-header in and the Bombers spanked them in both games (9-1, 10-5). The Yanks have now won five straight. The first game was memorable because the stadium was virtually empty. I think there were more people there on Monday afternoon when the game was delayed. I truly wish I could have been there. This might sound retarded, but I think I'd almost rather have gone to yesterday's game than a sell-out vs. the Sox. Talk about a unique experience. Sit anywhere you want. Move around at your leisure. And of course getting to watch Mike Mussina pitch his best game in a long time is nothing to sneeze at either.
I missed the second game entirely. I went down to "Boytown," (Chelsea) to see my friend Shannon's new show of experimental films. There is a strip of galleries on 20th street between 10th and 11th avenues, and apparently last night was a grand fall opening of sorts. People were in the street, milling in-and-out of the different spots. I haven't been around the pretty people or the art scene in a minute. Can't say that I've missed either. Regardless, the show was great, the cheese was stinky, and the people were generally full of shit. You can imagine how happy I was when I got back to the Bronx and learned about the second game. Not only that but the Red Sox lost in Seattle and the Yankee lead stands at three-and-a-half games.
It's starting to feel like "Groundhog's Day" for the Bombers and Devil Rays, who plan to play two today after being warshed out on Wednesday. (Guess what? The Bombers and MLB are still riffin'.) Mike Mussina and Brad Halsey are scheduled to start today. The first game will kick off shortly after 3 p.m. It is supposed to rain more this afternoon...my guess is that they'll get at least one of the games in.
Meanwhile, the Yankee lead is down to two games after the Sox completed a three-game sweep of the A's in Oakland last night. Boston was 8-1 against the Angels, Rangers and A's. They are just mopping the floor with the best the league has to offer: yeah, you get props over here.
Best Web Site Ever
I'm a big subway nerd. I love riding them, and reading about them, learning the history, the whole bit. The Transit Museum in Brooklyn is a must for any train lover but I came across this website yesterday and it's got me buggin out. Here is a shot of the 240th street yard that is within walking distance from where I live; and another of the 207th street yard just a short train ride away. You can read about the history of each train line--the IRT, BMT, and the IND. There are shots of abandoned subway stations, like the 91rst street station on the 7th avenue line, which is one of the great underground bomb pits in town. Best of all, there is an entire gallery of subway maps. I've been wishing that the MTA would put out a coffee table book of subway maps for years, but for now, this will do. What, you want the 1967 joint? What about 1974, or 78? Want to see what tokens looked like years ago? Yo, let me chill, I'm spazin' out. But if you dig the NYC subway system, you need to peruse this terrific site.
Here's Mud in Yer Eye (Why Can't We Be Friends?)
In the latest edition of "Rivals in Exile," both Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken get testy with each other while making some astute observations about the nature of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry. I've noticed this season that the "comments" section here at Bronx Banter really gets fired up whenever the Yanks and Sox are playing--sometimes even before or after they play. Such was the case on Monday. I get a lot out of reading the comments because it's an opportunity to interact directly with readers as well as a chance to learn more about baseball. I'm pleased that there is a group of regular Red Sox fans who frequent the site; I love getting both sides of the rivalry. My only complaint is when the conversation lowers itself to trash-talking and base insults. Believe me, I know how heated things get when it comes to this rivalry. That's part of what makes it so intense and passionate. But I'd like to ask those of you who like to add your two-cents--Yankee and Sox fans alike--to make a concerted effort to keep the conversation honest, intelligent, as well as humorous and effusive. If you feel the need to sound-off like a clown, please do it somewhere else. It's boring, man. Plus, it kills the spirit of the dialogue, which is shame, because reading the comments is something I look forward to each day.
OK, end of lecture. I'd appreciate it if we can respectful of each other, especially if we disagree. Thanks.
Yanks 11, Rays 2
Yo, I'm sorry I wasn't able to post anything this morning, but it took me more than three hours to get to work. It's raining in New York and the subways are all screwy; I ended up walking the last 50 blocks to work. Don't ask. Anyhow, the Yanks beat the snot out of Tampa last night, and the Red Sox handled Oakland. The song remains the same. Gary Sheffield continues to hit the ball as if it did something wrong to his family; Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Godziller Matsui all had big nights. Jon Lieber pitched a fine game. The Yankees are still upset about how Monday's double-header was handled by MLB. The double-header will be played today, weather permitting. Esteban Loaiza and Brad Halsey will go for New York.
The three of us met up at Jared's place, which is on 174th street and the Grand Concourse. This is the heart of the Boogie Down Bronx, and the view from Jared's sixth floor balcony may be the most dizzingly active sight I've ever seen from a New York apartment. The broad-lanes of the dilapidated Concourse sit just to the left, underneath which runs the Cross Bronx Expressway. Then over the Concourse, in the not so far distance, you can see the elevated 4 train. Standing on the balcony, I felt almost quesy, unsure of my footing. There was so much to look at, and even more to hear.
We ate lunch and made our way to the stadium, arriving shortly after 2:00 p.m. Of course, we soon learned that the Devil Rays were still stuck in Florida. Bummer. It was a gorgeous day, and there was a decent crowd of fans milling about, mostly suburbanites dressed in shorts and Yankee jerseys. We were about to bag the whole thing, but Jared convinced Abbey--who had gotten the tickets through her job--that we should at least go inside and check the ball park out.
We enetered the stadium on the field level out in right, and proceeded to walk toward home plate. This was cool as we past entire sections that I've never sat even remotely close to. We couldn't stop too long though before stadium security humorlessly barked at us to keep moving. Passing one disgruntled guard dressed in a yellow shit, he announced to nobody in particular, "Welcome to Shea Stadium: enjoy the delay." We made several stops along the way, plopping down in empty seats, taking in the sights and sounds; looking up and around at the vast stadium and thoroughly enjoying ourselves in that great New York City pastime: people watching.
Eventually, we settled ourselves in about 30 rows behind home plate, under the netting. It felt very much like being in a cocoon. A boy and his father sat a few rows in front of us. The kid couldn't have been older than four. He was wearing a Yankee cap and jersey and he was swinging a miniature bat. His father took his picture; the boy proudly posed with his bat. He caught my eye and continued to preen, swinging and showing-off for his father. But though he continued to engage his father, the old man was no longer interested. The boy's big, earnest eyes kept darting over to us. His dad ignored him, deep in thought.
Just after 3:00, the voice of Yankee Stadium, Bob Shepard, made the announcement that there would be no double-header. The crowd--maybe 5,000 people?--groaned, "Aawwwww." Then Shepard added that, "Hot dogs and Coke will be available..."--great dramatic pause--"without...charge." "Yeah!" That got the crowd buzzing. Literally. You've never heard such a thing. The three of us fell out laughing. Fast Food Nation, this is your life! Nothing like free food to shake people out of their seats.
Soon after, Jared, Abbey and I made our way around to left field--the Sheffield seats--and then up to one of the hot dog stands. Abbey wanted her free dog and Coke. The lines were already long and they weren't moving. Apparently, nobody had given the good people working the consessions the heads up about free dogs, so everyone had to wait as a new batch warmed on the grill. A father in a Mickey Mantle jersey was ahead of us in line, carrying on a conversation with some very peeved guys just behind us. The dudes were upset about having to wait around all day for a game to be played. The father's kid looks up at his old man and says, "So, we'll just come back tonight, right dad?"
"No, we're not coming back tonight." The father looked up and winked at the peeved fan with great satisfaction, as if they were both members of a secret club. "It's a school night." Yup, the summer is finally over. Dude could barely conceal his delight.
Well, we stood on line for about ten minutes before some of those in line started getting restless. "Hey, I thought this was supposed to be free. How long we gotta wait?" Before you know it, a full-scale Jerry Springer-style shouting match broke out on the other side of the room between two heavy-set customers and about 18 black women working the consessions. The customers looked to be a married couple from the suburbs--shorts, Yankee jerseys. We couldn't pick up what was being said but things were heated. One of the workers through a batch of napkins at the customers. The women sounded like a wolf had just invaded a hen house. They were making some racket. Abbey decided that she didn't really want a hot dog after all. Leave it to New Yorkers to start a fight over free food. Beautious.
I ended up taking Jared and Abbey up to my neighborhood and got them a good pastrami sammich at a local deli. We didn't go back to the stadium. The only thing I regret is that we didn't stick around to watch batting practice. That would have been a treat. But I didn't want to schlepp back down to the stadium in the evening. After all, it is a school night.
Yankees 7, Devil Rays 4
Worth the Wait
I was at the stadium yesterday but left long before the first pitch was thrown. (I hope to have a write-up on the pre-game festivities later today.) There was no double-header, which had the Yankee brass crying foul. (Another fine job by Bud and company.) There was a game however, which started just after 7:00 p.m. Alex Rodriguez batted in the two-hole and had two doubles, one with the bases-loaded. Rodriguez collected three RBI; it was his first hit with the bases-juiced in eleven tries this season. The ace of the 2004 staff, El Duque, pitched another solid game. Both he and Mel Stottlemyre were run from the game for arguing balls and strikes after the seventh inning. Paul Quantrill pitched the final two innings, and allowed a two-run home run. The Bombers remain two-and-a-half ahead of Boston who beat the A's out on the coast last night.
Yankees 4, Orioles 3
Javey Vazquez's stuff looked much improved in the first inning yesterday. The fastball was moving, the breaking ball had some bite. But he was timid when pitching to the Orioles better hitters. With two-men on and two-out, Raffie P. came to bat. I said, "Home run," and Raffie complied. Then I yelled. Loudly. Though Vazquez put the Yankees in a 3-0 hole, he recovered and pitched well through seven innings, not allowing another run to score. Meanwhile, the Yankees hit Bruce Chen hard in the first inning but only had one run to show for it. They ultimately tied the game at three but couldn't get much of anything cooking offensively. (That's wrong. Derek Jeter, batting lead off, had a very nice game.) Alex Rodriguez is still pressing, waving at pitches out of the strike zone. He whiffed twice and heard the boo boids; he was also robbed of a double by Jay Gibbons in right.
The Yankees ended up winning the game by the skin of their teeth when Jorge Posada walked on a full-count with the bases-loaded in the bottom of the ninth. The game was a nail-biter for Yankee fans. Who would have thought three weeks ago that the Bombers would be playing a must-win game against the Orioles at this stage of the game? They had some good fortune; Vazquez bare-handed a sure-fire single and turned it into a double play, with some help from poor Baltimore base-running, and perhaps a missed call at second base; Mariano Rivera had runners on first and third with nobody out in the top of the ninth and didn't allow a run. (And Lee Maz made some head-scratching moves late in the game to boot.) All of which helped the Yankees stay two-and-a-half up on the Sox who survived a late rally by Texas yesterday and won the weekend series, two games to one.
I am Sorry
Kevin Brown was at the Stadium yesterday after he had surgery on his left hand. He apologized to his teammates. That's a start. According to the Daily News:
The real shame of it is that Brown pitched well on Friday. As a matter of fact, the Yankee starting pitching has been fine over the past five games.
We Don't Want to Work
This is my favorite weekend of the year to be in New York City. Why? Because the town is absolutely dead. I remember working with a girl who was originally from Miami a few years ago, and she'd get nuts when the city was like this. Maybe it's something about being a native New Yorker, but there is a stillness and a sense of calm in Manhattan that is priceless. And the space. Lots of elbow room for all. I guess the beauty part is knowing that come Tuesday morning, everyone will be back from vacation; by Wednesday, kids will be back to school. The buzz will be back. All of which makes savoring these last precious moments of summer tranquility all the more special. Go to the farm market, grab some corn, make a fresh tomato, basil salad...it'll all be over soon.
The weather was cool and overcast in New York yesterday. The fall is in the air. It's hazy but sunny this morning, though still chilly. I'm headed over to the stadium for at least one of the two games they'll play against Tampa Bay today. It's an old-fashioned single admission double-header. Go figure, and go Yanks. Hope everyone has enjoyed their holiday weekend. And that's the triple truth...Ruth.
Orioles 7, Yankees Zilch
Why don't we start with the good news? First of all, Em and I took a drive to the country yesterday afternoon, so we missed the game. That's for starters. Second, the Red Sox finally lost a game. (What? Is the moon blue or something?) Lastly, Mike Mussina pitched well. Now for the cruddy news: Mariano Rivera gave up four runs---ouch, that smarts, okay, mercy, mercy---and Sidney Ponson pitched a two-hit, complete-game shutout. As the say in my 'hood: "Oy." Kevin Brown will have surgery this afternoon at Columbia Pres. He'll be out for at least three weeks.
Biggest Dick Ever
Brown later apologized to his teammates and to the organization. According to Jack Curry:
I liked the idea of Kevin Brown essentially replacing Roger Clemens at the start of the year. I knew he'd spend some time on the DL, but I liked his surly, Sal Maglie demeanor, and his intensity. I thought he was a gamer. But I can't believe that he's put his teammates in this kind of situation. Roger Clemens would never do something so thoughtless. I'd venture a guess and say that Jeff Weaver wouldn't either. You know what this tells me about Kevin Brown? Consciously or not, he doesn't want to pitch anymore. He just quit on the team. He's not a gamer, he's a clown. He's going to have to live with the consequences of his actions, because it's likely to follow him well past his playing days. There is a chance that he can come back this season. For his sake--as well as the Yankees--he'd better hope so.
Orlando Hernandez, Mike Mussina, Javier Vazquez, Jon Lieber: They must be dancing in the streets up in New England.
Can't You Hear Me Knocking?
Pedro Martinez continued to pitch brilliantly tonight as Boston won their tenth straight game. Meanwhile, Derek Jeter hit a solo home run off of Rodrigo Lopez in the bottom of the first; that was the only run the Yankees would score. They managed to load the bases after Jeter's dinger, but Jorge Posada grounded sharply into a double play to end the inning. And that was as close to a threat as the offense would mount all evening. Simply put, Lopez was outstanding. He pitched into eighth and left the game with a runner on second and one out.
Erstwhile Yankee Jason Grimsley replaced him. Emily, the self-appointed "Big O"--Big Optimist--around these parts was uncharacteristically terse. "OK, enough of this shit already, let's fucking go. I'm tired, I'm cranky, and I've had enough of these guys not being able to hit tonight. Let's go." I could hardly believe my ears. Grimsley faced Jeter and Sheffield and retired them on two pitches. Rodriguez, Matsui and Posada all went down swinging in the ninth. Kevin Brown pitched reasonably well, John Olerud made two nifty defensive plays at first, but Lopez was the star of the game.
It's down to two. Mussina vs. Ponson tomorrow afternoon.
Yankees 9, Indians 1
Karsay struck out the next two men, and his fastball and curve ball looked good.
Heaven Help Us
The Bombers remain three-and-a-half up on the Red Sox, who completed a three-game sweep of the Angels in Boston last night. The Sox are the hottest team in the majors right now, and while the culture in Boston might be changing, it's certain that a good portion of Red Sox Nation is viewing their team's recent success with a healthy degree of skepticism. "They are just pumping us up to let us down once again," is what I imagine some of them are secretly thinking. You can hardly blame them, especially the older fans. What I think is sad is the Yankee-obsessed mentality expressed by a Sox fan in the Times today:
That's weak. Maybe it would suffice as a consolation prize, but come on now, winning it all is what it should be all about. You know what Yankee fans would think if they beat the Bombers but lost again in the World Series? The same thing they think about the Sox right now. On the other hand, I believe that there is another faction of Sox fans who buy into this team simply because they are a very good squad, curses and history be damned. They have a ownership and management team that they can get behind, players who are easy for them to pull for, and a legitimate shot at the title. You know what these fans hope for: the Sox to muder the Yankees and then win the World Serious. Full speed ahead.
The Daily News has an exclusive story today concerning the location of Jason Giambi's benign tumor. According to T.J. Quinn and Bill Madden, it is located in his pituitary gland:
No doubt, there will be more to come on this one...
Yankees 5, Indians 3
I Come to the Party in a B-Boy Stance
George Steinbrenner didn't rip his team in the papers, but he was at the Stadium again last night doing his best Knute Rockne routine. Before the game, he issued the following statement:
Steinbrenner hawked his team from his private box as they conducted batting practice. He was in his finest big-game football form: playing a clip from the movie "Rudy," as well as blasting "When the Going Gets Tough," by Billy Ocean over the sound system. No matter the title, imagine anyone getting pumped up by a Billy Ocean tune? That's a good one. (Why not, "Tuff Enuff," by the Fabulous T-Birds?) Joel Sherman hit the nail on the head:
The Yankees responded behind another money performance from Orlando Hernandez. El Duque allowed a run in the first and then proceeded to shut down the Indians over the next six innings. Tom Gordon gave up two, two-out runs in the eighth which made things tense, but the Bombers added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning and Mariano Rivera recorded the save in the ninth. Jorge Posada hit a two-run bomb, and John Olerud and Miguel Cairo added solo shots. The Yankees remain three-and-a-half up on the Red Sox who beat up the Angels last night in Boston. But as Harvey Araton notes in the Times today, the Yankees are now seven games up on Anahiem. With the wildcard system in place, the bottom line is to make the playoffs, period. This is not to say that the Yankees won't still win the division, but they have a safety net should Boston surge ahead of them.
I missed most of the game on the count of I was in Manhattan having dinner with the founder of All-baseball.com, Christian Ruzich, his wife Darryl and the co-host of The Cub Reporter, Alex Ciepley. But when I got home, I was able to catch the ninth inning and the highlights. I also taped the game just so I could get a better look at one of laugh-out-loud best plays of the season.
Coco Crisp led off the third inning and taped a ground ball up the first base line. Crisp is a fast runner, but Duque got off the mound quickly, fielded the ball and beat Crisp to the first base line by a stride. Crisp put the breaks on about three feet before he reached Hernandez. He threw his arms up and faked left. Duque reached for him first with his bare hand and then swiped at him with his glove. Jack Curry reports:
Before he went into the pose, Crisp gave up, turned around and walked away. Then--and I'm not kidding--Duque folded his arms in the classic b-boy stance, legs still apart. Oooooh! He kept his arms tucked under his armpits and stood straight up. The crowd was delighted. It was a fitting posture considering that Yankee Stadium is in the heart of where hip hop was born. More than any tired cliche that George Steinbrenner can offer, Duque's move was the kind of chuzpah the Bombers needed. It could be looked at as cocky, but frankly, the Yankees needed a shot of arrogance. Nobody seemed to take offense. There were smiles in the Yankee dugout, and even Coco Crisp was grinning. The YES announcers were laughing, and so I was. That El Duque is some piece of work. Once again, he saved the Yankees' bacon and of course, he did it with style.
Bronx Banter Interview: Buster Olney
An Insider's Look at the Yankee Dynasty
Buster Olney's new book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty" is the first major look at the Joe Torre years in the Bronx. I recently had the chance to catch up with Buster. The following is our lengthy chat. Strap yourself in and enjoy.
Bronx Banter: What are the origins of this book?
BB: Was this still while you were on the beat?
BB: Did you ever think in the middle of those years that well, this team is eventually going to be written about, why don’t I just do it?
BB: One of my first reactions to the book was, "What if they Yankees win it all in 2004? Does that mean the dynasty is still over?" But after thinking about it for a while, and seeing some of your comments in the ESPN chat last week, I realized we’re just talking about semantics. Your book is about that specific group of players. But what if they had won it all in 2002 with a new group of players? Would that have changed how you would have written the book?
BB: Winning is the great pacifier.
BB: When did you start writing the book?
BB: From the get-go did you have the concept for the structure of the book, where you essentially tell the story through the prism of Game 7?
BB: Because it’s not chronological.
BB: Had Jane Leavy’s book on Koufax come out at that point, because I know she did something similar with Koufax’s perfect game.
BB: Who is your book for? Who is the audience?
BB: How did you organize your research materials into a narrative? Did you look through old articles for observations as well as the interviews you conducted specifically for the book? How many old games did you watch?
BB: This was your first book. Even though you were familiar with the subject, what obstacles did you come up against writing it?
BB: How long was the original manuscript?
BB: Was it a blow to the ego?
BB: You mean, “Did I get this all wrong?”
BB: Plus, you are talking about a great pitcher with a singular gift. The cutter is what has defined Rivera.
BB: Was there anything that you lost in the final draft that you miss not having there?
BB: The 2001 season is unforgettable because of the larger social context of the moment, and I know that the 1999 Yankees endured a lot of personal issues, which affected the team. Now looking back, is there any one year that you covered the team which sticks out?
BB: Was that appreciably different in other years with that same group of guys?
BB: What made that year different?
BB: You mentioned in the book that Jared Wright and Jerry Hairston were two of the guys who the Yankees had beef with during the 96-01 era. Was there anyone else of note? I ask because I recall a game in May of 1999 (May 11th to be exact) when Troy Percival nailed Jeter in the hand in the process of striking out the side in a 9-7 Angels win. Jeter was not pleased. O'Neill followed and fouled off a bunch of pitches before being called out on strikes. He was furious and the water cooler took a beating. Bernie struck out looking to end the game. I just remember seeing David Cone, his face beet-red, standing on the top step of the dugout. (He was the starting pitcher for the next game.) Did the Yankees really dislike Percival on a personal level?
BB: 1998 was the one year during the run where they simply dominated the league. Record-wise that just wasn’t the case in 96 or 99 and especially 2000 and 2001.
BB: David Justice had a bad year. Knoblauch struggled obviously. Tino…
BB: Plus, he would fill in a need and he seemingly fit their profile well.
BB: After all, who was the last big-time slugging free agent the Yanks had signed before Giambi?
BB: Or even Jack Clark. But really, you have to go back to Dave Winfield.
BB: That was the season that the Mariners made like the 98 Yankees. When you saw the Mariners that year did you get a sense that they had what the Yankees had in 98?
BB: What was it like in the clubhouse during those 2001 playoffs? Once the Yankees got past the A’s did you get the sense that they felt they were playing with house money?
BB: I know you are not a psychologist but did you think that they players knew just how important it was for many New Yorkers—discounting Met fans, of course—that they win in 2001?
BB: Did you get the impression that players handled the emotions differently? Were some able to channel it into their performance while others—and I’m thinking of a guy like Bernie Williams—may have just been more philosophical like, “Hey, these are only games. In light of what’s happened it doesn’t really matter much who wins or loses.”
BB: I know there was an incident where Jeter got on Bernie during the Series.
BB: Was that something that was completely out of character for Williams?
BB: And he was sheepish about it when you spoke to him about it after the game.
BB: Do you know if Bernie and Jeter were able to get past the Game 6 incident?
BB: Does Bernie command a certain level of respect in that clubhouse given the fact that he’s the senior member of the team or is he so introspective that people just don’t look at him in that kind of way?
BB: What kind of sense of humor does he have?
BB: What was Tino Martinez’s stature like?
BB: How did he differ from O’Neill?
BB: Was it a fraternal thing for Martinez?
BB: You mentioned that there was some beef between Posada and Martinez at one point.
BB: Torre stepped into an ideal situation with a group of players who policed themselves.
BB: What was Boggs like in the clubhouse?
BB: He was part of the Showalter transition years. What about Cecil Fielder?
BB: How big was the presence of Rock Raines and especially guys like Cone and Strawberry, seasoned veterans who had experienced their fair share of highs and lows over the course of their careers, on their teammates?
BB: Is that kind of attitude abnormal on the teams you’ve covered?
BB: Covering baseball from the inside like you have, how would you quantify chemistry? Because you can look back at the Swinging A’s of the 1970s or the Bronx Zoo Yankees as teams with notoriously "bad chemistry" who were successful on the field.
BB: How do you explain the 77-78 Yankees then?
BB: You talked about how well the Yankee teams you covered picked each other up, and protected each other. How much influence then did Torre have on them? How much of a connection did they have with him?
BB: How much of that quality do you think Torre picked up working in the TV business?
BB: How much influence, in terms of in-game strategy, did Don Zimmer have? Do you think you could have called him a co-manager with Torre during any of the years they spent together?
BB: It is easy to speculate that the man who replaces Joe Torre will be in a virtually no-win situation. But what about the man who replaces Brian Cashman? What has Cash brought to the team that will be hard to duplicate? And do you think he will be missed when he's gone?
BB: Do you view the Yankees failure to win the championship in 2002 and 2003 as a failure on their part or it is simply just the rest of the league catching up to them? After all, how much longer can a team be expected to keep winning it all?
BB: Will they make up for it this winter by signing Carlos Beltran?
BB: What about the move they made when they traded Ted Lilly for Jeff Weaver and tried to stay young at that position?
BB: Do you think they will just have to suck it up and say, “We might have to take a step back for a year or two, but it will help us in the long run?”
BB: Yeah, the reality with George is that he may not be around for the long-term. Why would he build for the future is he isn’t going to be around to enjoy it?
BB: How is that different from the way George has traditionally operated?
BB: So are you suggesting that the Yankees inability to win a World Series over the last two years is not a question of chemistry over talent, but it’s George getting in the way of everything once again?
BB: Do you think Weaver was a situation where Cashman thought, “OK, we can plug anyone into this team and they’ll work out?” Or is it just a mistake in retrospect because he didn’t perform to expectations in New York?
BB: And Weaver just happened to be one that just didn’t work out.
BB: And the first?
BB: Do you feel that the organization looks at the Giambi signing now as a mistake?
BB: He had two productive years in New York. He’s been murdered by injuries. Have you ever seen a guy fall so far so quickly?
BB: Do you think that Alex Rodriguez will react in a similar fashion to the pressure of playing for the Yankees?
BB: Rodriguez made a throwing error when the Angels were in New York recently and he pounded the water cooler after the inning. He’s got a different disposition than Paul O’Neill, but of all the Yankees this year, he is the most demonstrative, he chews himself out in a way that reminds me of O’Neill.
BB: What’s your feeling about Hideki Matsui’s ability to handle the pressure of New York?
BB: Derek Jeter has been sacrifice bunting an inordinate amount of times this year, and most of them have come early in the game. Do you think it makes sense for him to do that in the situations he’s doing it in with guys like Sheffield, Rodriguez and Matsui behind him?
BB: Jeter started doing this during his early-season slump. Do you think he’s resorted to the early-inning sacrifice because of a lack of confidence in his offensive game?
BB: Which would all fall under the category of the statistic you introduced this year called a “Productive Out.”
BB: How did you develop the stat?
BB: Was it something that you talked to other people about?
BB: Do you feel like the stat is a work in progress? It is something you want to keep tabs on and refine as time goes on?
BB: I read a study by Larry Mahnken which was presented after your initial article came out that found that the 2002-03 Yankees actually had a higher POP than the Yankees had in 1998, 99 and 2000. Do you feel that there is a correlation between having a high POP and winning ball games in a short post-season series?
BB: I came late to Bill James. I didn’t read any of the Abstracts until a few years ago. Did you read James in the eighties?
BB: You know one of the things that surprised me a little bit in “Moneyball” was that Michael Lewis never mentioned the Yankees’ attention to on-base percentage. Even though they are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the A’s financially, I always thought it would have made sense to note it anyhow.
BB: And Branch Rickey obviously believed in it when he built those Dodger teams in the fifties.
BB: So do you think the reason Rodriguez hasn’t performed well with Runners in Scoring Position this year is because he’s scared?
BB: Do you think it’s a flexible thing? Meaning that a player can press one year and be fine the next?
BB: I know that you are not around the team on a daily basis, but from what you have been able to see, and from what you have heard, has the environment around the Yankee locker room changed for the better this season?
BB: Lastly, do you ever think we'll see a run like the 96-01 Yanks enjoyed again any time soon? Looking back, what were the most remarkable aspects of their success?
The Morning After
Let it Be...
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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