Monthly archives: July 2005
With a Little Bit O Luck
It looked good early on for the Yankees today; Randy Johnson was throwing the ball well again. And after five straight fastballs, Derek Jeter slapped a breaking ball from Chris Bootcheck into right field in the bottom of the first. I just had a feeling that the Yankees would have a good day. They wiykd hit the ball hard off of Bootcheck, but couldn't get a big, clutch hit off of him. Chone Figgins made a wonderful diving catch in the bottom of the second to rob Bernie Williams of an RBI extra-base hit, Hideki Matsui was also robbed of an RBI single in the fourth by Orlando Cabrera, and Garet Andreson made a nice running catch to snag a double from Alex Rodriguez (who scorched the ball) in the sixth.
Meanwhile, Johnson wasn't really as sharp as he had been against the Twins. He labored in the fourth inning, distracted by Cabrera who had singled and stolen his second base of the afternoon. Johnson fanned both Vlad Guerrero and Anderson but then walked Juan Rivera and fell behind Benji Molina 2-0. Molina fouled two pitches off, getting good hacks at both of them, before Johnson left a fastball over the plate. Molina deposited it over the left field wall for a three-run homer. Jose Molina led-off the fifth with a solo dinger of his own (flat slider) and the Yanks were behind the Angels yet again.
Hotter Than July
Jeez, anybody know anything about Chris Bootcheck, the Angels' starting pitcher today? The youngster is making his second career start and will face Randy Johnson on what promises to be a hot and hazy afternoon in the Bronx.
Hopefully, the Big Unit is still mad. We like him when he's angry.
Go get 'em boys.
How Sweet it is
If you were to ask me what could be finer than the Yankees beating Curt Schilling in the ninth inning I would say, "Not much." However, a close second would be the Yanks beating Francisco Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth, which is exactly what happened this afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Hot Dog.
Shawn Chacon pitched admirably in his Yankee debut allowing just one run over six but the middle relief imploded in the seventh. In a comedy of errors, Felix Rodriguez, Alan Embree and Flash Gordon only allowed two hits but four runs scored as a humble 3-1 Yankee lead quickly turned into a 5-3 deficit. When former Bomber Juan Rivera cranked a two-run dinger off of Gordon in the top of the eighth it looked like yet another discouraging affair against the Angels.
Lucky Number 13?
Shawn Chacon gets the nod this afternoon on the FOX Game of the Week, becoming the thirteenth different starting pitcher the Yankees have used this season. Yesterday, Chris Karhl gave his take on the Chacon deal over at Baseball Prospectus (which is free-of-charge through August 3rd):
I know that I've been given to making historical comparisons in this space of late, but I see Chacon as being a less durable Mike Torrez: a wee bit uncomfortably wild, but good enough to keep you in ballgames. So I definitely like the decision to pick him up, having a perhaps unhealthy regard for a guy who's been a relatively decent starter in Coors Field. His elbow problems haven't been an issue of late, and eternal optimist that I can be, maybe working with Billy Connors this winter will clean up his mechanics. Will his strikeout rates go up now that he's come down from the High Plains? I think they will, and add in that Chacon has been able to keep people's hit rates under one per inning pitching in Denver, and I'm downright enthusiastic...
Coming up Short
A couple of pitches in the second inning gave the Angels all the offense they would need tonight as they stifled the Bombers 4-1 at the stadium. Garet Anderson opened his stance and stroked a high, inside fastball to right for a two-run homer and then Benji Molina turned on another inside pitch for a solo dinger to left. Neither pitch was that bad at all. As Jim Kaat and Paul O'Neill commented on the YES broadcast it was as if both hitters had read Mussina's mind and were sitting inside--the pitch to Anderson was particularly tough. His quick, fluid swing belied just how difficult it was to hit a home run on that pitch.
Those three runs would do the trick. Mussina ended up pitching well over eight innings, but Ervin Santana, a lanky right-hander with a good breaking pitch and a zippy fastball, was better. The Yanks put two runners on with nobody out in the first and third innings only to come away with bubkus. They had two men on in the sixth but couldn't get a run in either. Tino Martinez did line a solo homer into the right-centerfield stands in the seventh, then Derek Jeter doubled to right with one out. However, Brenden Donnelly got Robinson Cano to line out sharply to first and Sheffield to pop out to first to end the inning. And dems the breaks, bro. (Sheffield hit another seed tonight, but this time it went right to Steve Finley for an easy out leading-off the sixth inning.)
The Angels added a run against Tanyon Sturtze in the eighth while the Yanks went quietly against Scot Shields and a far more subdued Francisco Rodriguez. I don't want to go so far as to say that the Yanks were listless tonight but they didn't have much punch either. You would never have known that the Angels were the team who played 18 innings last night. Right now, the Angels simply have the Yankees' number. New York fell another game behind Boston who beat the Twins at Fenway Park. The Yanks now trail the Red Sox by two-and-a-half games.
As the Yankee fight another uphill battle against the Angels in the Bronx, the Boston Globe is reporting that the Mets-Red Sox and Devil Rays are in seriously considering a blockbuster trade. Dig this:
Under the principal scenario discussed by the teams -- according to one of the clubs involved in the negotiations -- the Red Sox would receive infielder/outfielder Aubrey Huff from the Devil Rays and outfielder Mike Cameron from the Mets. The Mets would receive Ramirez from the Sox and closer Danys Baez from the Devil Rays. Tampa Bay would receive a number of prospects, possibly from both clubs. If the Sox have to deal a prospect, it could be Double-A pitcher Anibal Sanchez.
Lean back. It would be something if this one goes down. But hold the phone. According to ESPN's Jayson Stark, talks hit a roadblock this afternoon:
"I don't know if it's completely dead," said an official of one of the three teams. "But it's hit a roadblock unless someone has some other thoughts."
So, is this much ado about nuthin' or will the Sox trade Manny by Sunday?
Angels with Dirty Faces
The Angels were up all night playing extra innings with the Blue Jays. They are in the Bronx tonight to face Mike Mussina and the Bomb Squad. I wish I had a good feeling about Moose but I don't. Hopefully it's just something I ate and he'll Yanks be fine. Sure is wunnerful anytime they beat the stinkin' Angels.
It was slightly overcast today but really it's as nice as it is going to get in New York at this time of year. The humidity is low and there is a calm breeze in the Bronx.
Just thinking about who could be the star(s) tonight is fun: Sheff, Alex, Jeter, Godzilla, Robbie Cano, Posado, Giambo, Tino, heck, Tony Womack: which one of dese?
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
A Small, Good Thing
Although he's only played in New York for a season-and-a-half, Gary Sheffield has already left an lasting impression on Yankee fans. He's not only an incredibly clutch hitter but a viscerally exciting one--even his foul balls are electric. (In fact, for much of 2004, Sheffield's signature hits for the Yanks were line drives scorched into the left field stands.) Yesterday, in the first inning Sheffield glicked a low and inside pitch from Joe Mays into the left field stands that was hit so hard that it didn't have a chance to twist foul. Although I've seen great right-handed hitters like Jim Rice and Mike Piazza rope line drive home runs like that, Dave Winfield is the only Yankee I can recall who specialized in those kind of laser shots. Jim Kaat said later on that it was like watching Tiger Woods drive one off a tee, and he was right. I know Sheffield has hit more important home runs and even more majestic home runs too, but for my money, that shot yesterday was my favorite one he has hit in pinstripes. It was Mmm, Mmm Good. Put a patent on it because that there was the ultimate Sheffield dinger to me.
Aaron Small pitched impressively yesterday as the Bombers beat the Twins, 6-3. Small allowed three runs over seven innings. He struck out only one but didn't walk a batter. He was aggresive, throwing strikes and working quickly. After his first game last week, Cliff e-mailed me and commented that Small was a dead-ringer for Kaat. Yesterday, the YES broadcast put up a still photo of Kaat in the first inning and made the comparison in the first inning: it's all in the jaw. (Incidentally, Paul O'Neill continues to bust Michael Kay's chops. Early in the game he was ragging on Kay for being such a big star now. He asked Kay if he had his own clothing line yet. O'Neill went further and said it would probably be a line for oversized men. Kay was clearly offended and after O'Neill apologized an uncomfortable silence hung in the booth for the next two pitches.)
Ah, relief. The heat wave that has been killin' New Yorkers for the past week broke overnight. Today reminds me a lot of the kind of summer weather you find in Belgium--where my mother's family lives. It's mostly cloudy, though you can see some blue sky up there, and it is is cool and slightly breezy. It might rain or become sunny later, or both. Perfect day for tea time. The afternoon game in the Bronx today features Joe Mays v. Aaron Small. The Yankee offense is going to have to do its thing in order for the Bombers to win the series.
Being able to laugh helps
Peter White, one of the authors at the USS Mariner was in town this week and got together with Alex Ciepley and me last night for eats. Ciepley had us over his place on the Upper West Side and made a delicious Thai meal. We caught bits and pieces of the Yankee game thoughout the evening. White is a good-natured guy, originally from Tulsa, and a classic Yankee-hater. But he wasn't hostile and it was fun watching the game with him, seeing the Yanks from his perspective. Interestingly, the two Yankees he not only tolerates but admires happen to be my two favorites: Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera. Of course, Alex Rodriguez is his least-favorite Yankee, a bonafide Judas if there ever was one. Peter likened him to Anakin Skywalker.
Given the company--Ciepley hates the Yankees too--it is fitting that the Bombers suffered an almost comic loss last night. Al Leiter was in fine, dramatic form--as if every inning, every batter, each pitch, was the last act of "Camille." (Or "Macbeth," or "The Iceman Cometh"...insert your favorite melodrama here.) At this point, Leiter looks more like an actor than he does a great athlete which makes him even more compelling. Like other great Yankee dramatists in recent years (Cone and El Duque come to mind), Leiter doesn't have much left in the tank in terms of pure stuff, but he's got career's worth of guile and expertise by his side. If he has to go to 3-2 on every hitter (which he often does), and load the bases before he gets an out (ditto), he'll do it. This kind of living-on-the-edge style of pitching can be infuriating to watch, but as uncomfortable as it is at times, I've always found it entertaining and admirable. It's hard for me not to appreciate the humanity in it. Leiter is probably smarter than he ever was, but there is a disconnect between his intelligence and his physical ability. Mistake pitches are not fouled off, they are crushed for home runs. Everything is so hard-earned. You become aware of just how hard it is to get major league hitter's out.
Anyhow, Leiter loaded the bases many times, and threw about 7,000 pitches by the fourth inning. He wasn't terrible and allowed one run over five innings (115 pitches). But the Twins scored six runs off the Yankee bullpen (Sturtze, Proctor, Graman) while Johan Santana pitched seven scoreless. The Yanks came close at moments, but not close enough. In the third, Alex Rodriguez narrowly missed hitting a three-run home run to left, flying out to the warning track instead; in the eighth, he would just get under another one and fly out to deep center.
The Yanks did manage to score three times in the eighth, then Bernie Williams hit what looked to be a game-tying three-run dinger to right field off Joe Nathan. I got out of my chair and yelled. But the ball hooked foul and for the third time in the game, I looked foolish. (I don't know what it was, but my home-run-call judgement was way off last night.) Williams, who, like Leiter is playing the final games of his career, struck out on the next pitch, a nasty splitter in the dirt.
Rodriguez capped a frustrating night by striking-out looking to end the game. Nathan threw two fastballs by him, wasted another up and away and then painted the outside corner with a heater, a perfect, unhittable pitch. Twins 6, Yanks 3. Happy Birthday indeed. Lots of humble pie to go around for the Bombers, who fell another game behind Boston who beat the Devil Rays yesterday.
Speaking of which, the final bit of comedy--or tragedy, depending on your viewpoint--is that the Yankees have signed Hideo Nomo. It says something about the state of affairs when the Yankees pick up a guy like Nomo who was cut by the last-place Devil Rays. Ciepley and White got a kick out of that. I could only laugh to keep from crying.
In the Soup
Brother is it ever hot in New York. It's like a swamp outside, absolutely horrible. Tonight gives old man Leiter vs. young gun Santana. Hope everyone enjoys it...from somewhere cool. I'm going to be out for a good portion of the game, so if anyone is around and can leave me their impressions I sure would appreciate it. Thanks.
Before Randy Johnson came out to pitch the six inning, the YES cameras spotted his glove with a big wad of chewed bubble gum on it resting on the ledge of the dugout. I don't know if he always does this, but it was notable because Johnson had a no-hitter through five. That gum looked nasty, but you don't want to mess with a man's routine, right? The Twins' ninth-place hitter Juan Castro broke up the no-no with a two-out single in the sixth--I called it--but Johson was absolutely dominating tonight. His slider was sharp (even the ones that were out of the zone had a bite that his breaking pitches simply did not have earlier in the year) and the Twinkies looked as if they didn't have a chance. Johnson pitched eight innings, throwing 97 pitches (71 went for strikes), and striking out 11. He allowed just two hits and didn't walk a batter.
While the Big Unit worked quickly, the normally efficient Brad Radke was in-and-out of trouble against the Yankees. Radke entered the game with just ten bases on balls on the season, and he walked Jason Giambi twice (to be fair, the second pass came with a runner on second and just one out...Radke was pitching around Giambi as much as Giambi earned the walk). Still, he left the game after six trailing just 2-0. But in the seventh, the Yanks loaded the bases against Jess Crain, before Hideki Matsui singled home two runs off J.C. Romero as the Bombers cruised, 4-0 (Flash Gordon pitched a one-two-three ninth). Alex Rodriguez, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Matsui each had two hits apiece for New York.
It was a big win for the Yanks what with Al Leiter and Johan Santana pitching tomorrow. Kevin Brown was scratched from his Thursday afternoon start (Aaron Small will likely take his place) and he may not be available for a while. Carl Pavano won't pitch Saturday either, so the Yanks really needed this game. (I think we can count on Cashman making a deal for another starter by the end of the weekend; according to the Post, the Yanks will sign Hideo Nomo after he clears waivers later today.) The Twins are not an impressive offensive team, but Johnson would have likely been rough for any squad to handle this evening as he turned in one of his best performances in pinstripes. Let's hope he stays grouchy.
It was brutally hot in New York today. It isn't exactly chilly this evening either. It behooves Randy Johnson and Brad Radke to work quickly. Through three-and-a-half, they've done just that. Johnson has six strike outs. Alex Rodriguez golfed his 28th dinger of the season to straight-away center to lead-off the second inning.
Heard any good rumors lately?
It doesn't appear as if the Yankees are going to make any splashy moves before the end of the trading deadline, but they are reportedly interested in pitching--both starting and relief--as well as a center fielder. The only name that really jumps out and moves me is Grady Sizemore, but that just doesn't seem realistic--at least not without losing Cano (which I think would be worthwhile). Here is the latest from the Times,the Daily News, Newsday, and the Newark Star-Leger.
The Yanks go into a three-game series against the Twins trailing the Red Sox by just one game in the AL East. Tonight offers a good pitching match-up in the Bronx: Radke v. Johnson. Be sure and check out how the other half lives by dropping in on Batgirl, John Bonnes, Seth Stohs, and of course, Aaron Gleeman.
A Regular Guy
I was browsing through Robert Whiting's enjoyable book about the current generation of Japanese baseball players, "The Samurai Way of Baseball" recently and thoroughly enjoyed the chapter on Hideki Matsui. Whiting details Matsui's career in Japan and explains why his conservative and humble manner is so appealing to Japanese fans. Matsui is described as a traditional but unpretentious guy.
Trailed constantly by a scrum of Japanese reporters eager to record any Matsui moment for the devoted and insatiable Japanese media machine, Matsui invariably wore a smile--unlike the prickly Ichiro. "I asked for this life," he would say. "Nobody forced it on me and I have a duty to the people who put me here." He refused to charge admission at the Hideki Matsui House of Baseball back home--a practice which stood in marked contrast to the Ichiro Museum in Nagoya, which a ticket costs $8. It just wouldn't be fair, he explained.
Duly Noted...(Shhh, Don't Tell Anyone)
In his latest column, Ken Rosenthal writes:
Is anyone noticing that the Yankees' Mariano Rivera is enjoying his best season as a closer? Rivera allowed two earned runs in his first two appearances, then only two in his next 36. His 0.89 ERA would represent a career best, and his 10.18 strikeouts per nine innings would be his highest rate since 1996, when he was John Wetteland's setup man...
You bet we've noticed it. I'm just too superstitious to want to write about it myself. My favorite Yankee next to Bernie Williams, Rivera is one of the few players whose numbers I get very precious about. I want him to do well so badly it almost hurts. Given the nature of his job, Rivera's ERA could ballon with just a few bad outings, but it is now down to 0.85. Since the first two outings agains the Red Sox, it is 0.44. He's done made us proud...again.
David Pinto wonders if the Yanks should try to trade Jason Giambi now that the slugger's value is as high as it has been in a long time.
Oh, Whatta Relief it is
With their ace relievers Scot Shields and Fransico Rodriguez unavailable for yesterday's game, the Yanks just had to find a way to take the final game of their long road trip. Having lost the first three to the Angels, Mike Mussina responded with an excellent performance. He was matched by Jarrod Washburn, who changed speeds well and allowed just one hit through six innings. Chone Figgins murdered the Yanks all weekend and got the Angels on the board quickly in the first inning (walk, stolen base, ground out, ground out=run scored). Figgins would follow with three more hits. Dag.
The score didn't change until the seventh. With one out, Alex Rodriguez hit a hard ground ball down the third base line. Figgins not only snagged it--preventing a sure double--but he made an impressive throw to first that almost nipped the hustling Rodriguez. It was a closer play than I expected it to be. Hideki Matsui who was 0-2 on the afternoon (on three pitches), followed and plastered a home run to right center field. Washburn stayed in the game and the Yanks scored another run later in the inning when he failed to cover first base properly.
The Angels chased Mussina in the bottom of the seventh and had runners on first and second (Kennedy and Figgens) with just one man out. Tanyon Sturtze was in the game for New York and the Angels put on the hit-and-run with Daren Erstad at the plate. Erstad slapped a ground ball directly down the third base line. Alex Rodriguez, moving to the bag as the runners were moving, fielded the ball, stepped on the bag and side-armed the ball to first for the double play. It was a bit of good fortune the Yankees sorely needed.
Heaven Help Us
Six runs was not enough tonight. Derek Jeter went 4-4 with a home run, while Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi had dingers too, but Kevin Brown was awful as the Yanks dropped their third straight to the Angels. The final score was 8-6. What began as a promising road trip has now officially hit the skids. The Yanks are 5-5 since the break and they fell another game behind Boston who shutout the White Sox tonight in Chicago.
Al Leiter was hit hard last night in California as the Angels beat the Yanks, 6-3. The Red Sox lost as well, so the Bombers are still only a game-and-a-half back. I can't stand the Angels. Did you see the two Molina brothers celebrating like mad after they both truckulated their fat asses home against Leiter. Calm down, boys. The whole team gets really geared up to beat New York. Makes it tough to watch. Ugh. Hopefully, the boys can rally and win these last two.
It's in the Numbers
Meanwhile, I was hanging out with Jay Jaffe yesterday afternoon, and we were talking about how well Jason Giambi has been playing. Using David Pinto's terrific Day by Day database, we looked to see just how long he's been doing well for. While we were at it, we took a look at Tino Martinez's numbers over roughly the same time. The dates may seem arbitrary, but they were selected to best illustrate how much better an offensive player Giambi has been (of course, you could counter this by showing Giambi's numbers while Tino was on that hot streak, but that was more of a fluke than the norm).
From close to two months, from May 24 through July 22, Giambi has been a monster: .352/.497/.689. On the other hand, from May 20 through July 19 (the day before Tino's two home-run game), Martinez hit a most unflattering .122/.215/.183. Yikes.
Due to some technical difficulties (I'm breaking in a new laptop to increase my ability to post on the go, but it always seems you have to take one step backwards to get two steps forward when these new-fangled fire-boxes are concerned), I was unable to get a series preview post up yesterday, but that doesn't mean I didn't write one. Here's how what I wrote yesterday afternoon kicked off:
The Yankees enter this weekend's four-game series with the Angels having gone 5-2 on their current roadtrip and 8-3 to start the punishingly difficult portion of their schedule. Considering that fantastic level of play (for the month, the Yankees are winning at an even 75 percent clip: 12-4), it seems like sour grapes to complain about some of Joe Torre's bullpen decisions, as I (among countless others) did following Tuesday night's 2-1 loss to the Rangers. Still, having done so then, I feel I must follow up by pointing out that using both Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera with a four-run lead in last night's 8-4 win is exactly the sort of thing that lead to letting Wayne Franklin pitch against the heart of the Texas line-up in the eighth inning with a one-run lead the night before.
Well, last night, Joe Torre took my unpublished advice and turned to Scott Proctor in the seventh inning with a three run lead. Even better, he did so with the bottom of the order coming up, as per my assertion following Tuesday's loss that with weaker hitters due up a manager can get away with using his less dominant pitchers.
The Yankees hit four home runs last night (Matsui, Rodriguez and two more by Jason Giambi), and Randy Johnson pitched reasonalby well before leaving the game with an injury, but the bullpen blew a three-run lead as Vlad G's grand-slam sunk New York, 6-5. I wasn't up late enough to catch it. Sounds like it was a real heart-breaker.
According to Bob Klapisch, George Steinbrenner is interested in bringing the legendary Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone to the Bronx next season.
"We're back in order," Manager Joe Torre said. "We're dragging a little bit, but I thought we showed a lot of dogfight in us over the last three games. I'm very proud, but it's a little bit too early to pat ourselves on the back, because we have a lot of work to do."
Aaron Small has a big chin and from the profile looks like the protagonist from the recent animated movie, "The Incredibles." He's not fat at all, he's tall and well-built, but he's got some kind of jaw. Jason Giambi's high-school teammate had a decent outing for the Yankees last night, throwing a lot of off-speed pitches and working into the sixth inning. The offense gave him plenty of support as New York beat Texas, 9-4 to remain a half-game behind first place Boston. I liked the headline on the back page of today's Daily News: "Biggie Small."
The Rangers' starter, Joaquin Benoit started off well, striking out the first four batters he faced (he would get Alex Rodriguez on strikes three times in all, and the three-four-and-five batters in the line up would go hitless on the night). Benoit's stuff looked good early on as he combined a good change-up with a lively fastball. But he left an off-speed pitch over the plate to Jason Giambi in the second, and the Yankee DH lifted a high fly to center field. Gary Matthews Jr lined it up and narrowly missed robbing Giambi of a dinger. I didn't think it would make it over the fence, but it did and the Yanks were on the board. Before you knew it, Jorge Posada reached out and slapped another hanging off-speed pitch into the upper deck in right field.
Richard Hidalgo answered with a solo home run in the second, but the Yanks came back with two more homers in the fifth, a solo shot by Tino Martinez and a three-run job by Robinson Cano--both off Benoit's slow stuff. With the Yankees ahead 7-2 (Jason Giambi added another solo dinger), Small walked two men in the bottom of the sixth and was relieved by Tanyon Sturtze, who promplty left a high fastball over the plate. Hidalgo pounded it into right field. One run scored and men were on second and third. Next, Gary Matthews Jr. walked, putting the Yanks in a tight spot. Sturtze got Rod Barajas to pop out for the second out, but then fell behind 3-0 to the lead-off hitter Dave Dellucci. He did manage to get two strikes however, then Dellucci fouled off two more pitches before grounding out to Tino Martinez.
Sturtze recorded two outs in the seventh, but then allowed a single to Hank Blalock and a walk to Alfonso Soriano. Tom Gordon relieved him and got the Yanks out of the inning. A run would score in the eighth when a ball went through Martinez's legs at first, but Tino hit his second home run of the night in the top of the ninth, and that was that. (Both Martinez and Giambi's second homers came off lefties.) To cap it off, Rivera overwhelmed the heart of the Texas order in the ninth. Mark Teixeira led-off and swung at two cutters, up and in for strikes, then went down looking at a two-seamer on the outside corner. Blalock took an outside fastball for strike one, fouled off a cutter for strike two, laid off a high fastball, then swung through another high heater for strike three. Soriano took a cutter for a strike, leaned back at a fastball that came up and in, then split his his bat in two on a cutter, and grounded out weakly to second. It was vintage Rivera and the Yanks left Texas with another series win.
Let 'er Rip
With two less than stellar starting pitchers on the mound tonight, there is a good chance we'll see plenty of offensive fireworks down in Texas. The Bombers have five games left on their current road trip, and the way we figure it, they've got to come home with three more victories, no matter how they get 'em.
I don't have a gut feeling about tonight's game, but I do think Giambi and Rodriguez and Cano will be strong. Maybe Jeter will break out of his slump too.
Let's Go Yan-kees!
Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda . . . Didn't
There were just two run scoring plays in last night's 2-1 Yankee loss to the Rangers in Arlington, both coming in the eighth inning.
In the top half, Robinson Cano (now hitting .305 on the season) singled Bubba Crosby home for the lone Yankee run (Bubba, starting in center, walked on five pitches to start the inning and was bunted to second by a slumping Derek Jeter--2 for his last 19--Crosby also singled earlier in the game, going 1 for 3 on the night).
In the bottom half, Hank Blalock hit a two-out, two-run homer to right center off of lefty Wayne Franklin to provide the Rangers with the eventual margin of victory.
The latter provoked many questions as to just what exactly Wayne Franklin was doing pitching to the heart of the Rangers order in the eighth inning of a one-run game. I'll get to that in a moment, but first it's worth mentioning that the only inning in which the Yankee batters were retired in order was the first. Thirteen Yankees reached base, yet they only managed to plate one run against Texas starter Chan Ho Park (5.64 ERA) and were unable to break through against relievers Kameron Loe (4.77 ERA) and Francisco Cordero (4.02, five blown saves). The Yankees as a team left eight men on base, a number artificially lowered by the fact that they hit into three double plays and ran in to one unnecessary out on the bases.
Dis Muss Be De Place
In a game that saw Alfonso Soriano Cadillac a double into a single--then hit a homer in his next at bat--and Derek Jeter stretch a single into a double, the Yankees out-bombed the Rangers last night in Arlington, 11-10. It wasn't pretty: Kevin Brown was knocked around, Bernie Williams made a critical two-run error, and Ruben Sierra injured his hamstring crossing first base in the eighth after his two-run single scored the game-winning run. Tanyon Sturtze and Mariano Rivera provided the relief the Bombers needed to hold off Texas. Jorge Posada hit a three-run dinger and blocked the plate nicely to nail Hank Blalock in the first. The Yanks have pitching problems, and defensive issues in center field, but after the Red Sox lost to the Devil Rays, they are alone in first place this morning.
The Yanks announced yesterday that [Chien-Ming]Wang has an inflammation and a strain of the right shoulder. The 25-year-old will take part in an exercise program for two weeks and then begin a throwing program in the hopes that the rehab work will allow him to return to the Bombers near the beginning of September.
Lots of stuff to talk about today, but right now the Yankees are thriving in spite of their many flaws.
The Rangers (after a lot of rambling)
Well, the second half of the season sure has been an exciting for the Yankees thus far, no? Before returning to action on Thursday with a four-game series against the rival first-place Red Sox, who lead them by 2 1/2 games in the standings, the Yankees learned that their best starter, who was scheduled to start on Friday, had been placed on the DL and could be done for the year. They then found out that Carl Pavano, who was expected to start Sunday, was still two weeks away from coming off the disabled list. Suddenly, the Yankees had Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny starting half of this crucial series in Boston, making the first and third games of the series, stared by Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson, must-wins of the first order.
So what happened? Mike Mussina gave up four runs in the first inning on Thursday, but the Yankees came back to win on a ninth-inning home run by Alex Rodriguez against Curt Schilling in the latter's first relief appearance since being actived from the DL himself. The Yanks then got creamolished on Friday, losing to the Sox by a score of 17-1 for the second time this season. Unshaken, the Yankees then overcame a shaky outing by Randy Johnson by beating up on Boston ace Matt Clement to win Saturday's game, accomplishing their revised goal for the weekend. With the Yankees still scurrying on Saturday to find a spot starter for Sunday, most fans on both sides assumed a split. Then Brian Cashman pulled of a coup.
On Thursday, Al Leiter, a big-name free agent who signed a one-year, $8 million contract this offseason, had been designated for assignment by the Marlins after a poor first-half performance. On Saturday, he was acquired by the Yankees along with $2.4 million to help pay his contract in exchange for a player to be named later. On Sunday, Leiter dominated the Red Sox for six-plus innings, allowing just one man past second base (and just two past first) while striking out eight, giving the Yankees a shocking series win and vaulting them over the Orioles into second place, just 1/2 game behind the reeling Red Sox, and putting them in a tie with the Twins for the lead in the AL Wild Card race.
Eight games into the punishingly difficult portion of the Yankees' mid-summer schedule, the Bombers are 6-2 (one of the two being a game they probably should have won). The Yankees are now 10-3 in July against the Tigers, Orioles, Indians and Red Sox.
Tonight they get Kevin Brown back, restoring their rotation, which had been down to two men as late as Saturday night, to four strong. They'll still need a spot starter for Wednesday's game (Aaron Small gets the call, more on him in a bit), but that fifth spot in the rotation will fall on Monday's off-day the next time around. That means that Carl Pavano should be ready to come off the DL when the Yankees next need a fifth starter on July 30 against the Angels at home.
It seemed that during the Yankees' struggles during the first half every other week they would pull out one come-from behind victory against the sub-.500 A's or the last place Devil Rays and everyone would say "maybe this is the win that turns it all around." Then the Yankees would go out the next day and lose to the very same opponent. Wise voices at the time would say that a single win against a clearly inferior opponent couldn't possibly be the turning point of a disappointing season. That would require a gutsy effort resulting in multiple victories against a team the Yankees weren't supposed to beat. Something like going into Boston for a four game series with two starting pitchers and taking 3 out of 4, pinning the loses on Curt Schilling, Matt Clement and Tim Wakefield. Things couldn't have looked worse for the Yankees Thursday afternoon. Now, on Monday afternoon, the Yankees are at their high water mark of the season.
"You have what should be a comfortable lead, but you know that it is not going to wind up that way, for some strange reason," Joe Torre said. "This place, this team, they never stop.
It was close to a perfect return for Al Leiter last night in Boston as the Yankees beat the Red Sox 5-3, and won the weekend series. Senator Al, wearing number 19 in honor of former teammate Dave Righetti, pitched into the seventh inning, striking out eight, allowing just one run, and walking only three. Leiter was able to throw strikes and he was also able to get the Red Sox to swing at balls that weren't strikes. Tim Wakefield surrendered five hits to the Yankees, but they all went for extra bases, two doubles and three home runs. Jorge Posada and Gary Sheffield hit two-run dingers, and Alex Rodriguez added a solo shot in the eighth.
The surprisingly brisk game slowed down for some predictable drama in the bottom half of the ninth. Tom Gordon started the inning with New York up 5-1. After getting ahead of Manny Ramirez, Gordon hung a breaking ball that Manny promptly deposited over the Green Monster. Kevin Millar walked and in came Rivera. The first two pitches to Trot Nixon were in the strike zone. The first, a fastball, was taken for a strike; the second, a cutter which was fouled off, was right down Broadway. But then Nixon tapped a grounder to second. Robinson Cano fielded the ball cleanly but could not grip the ball properly and wound up throwing it into left field.
Instead of two men out and nobody on, there was nobody out with men on the corners. Jason Varitek pinch-hit for Mirabelli and lined a single past a diving Tino Martinez, scoring Millar to make the score 5-3. Bill Mueller blooped a single to shallow center (making him 5-11 lifetime versus Rivera) and the bases were loaded. Still nobody out. Joe Torre and the entire infield came to the mound. Rivera told them everything was going to be okay. But he fell behind the ninth-place hitter Alex Cora 2-0, and Fenway started to rock. Talk about a tight spot. But Rivera worked the count even and then Cora hit a ground ball on one hop to Rodriguez at third, who, in turn, fired a bullet home to Posada, who then fired to first to complete the double play. The replays showed that Cora was safe, but it was an excellent play by Rodriguez and Posada. (It was the second close play at first of the game--Jason Giambi had been called out earlier in the game.) Two men out, but the tying run was still on second base. Johnny Damon, who had a poor night against Leiter, but nevertheless extended his hitting streak to 29 games (the team record, held by Dom DiMaggio, is 34), was up. Rivera got him to ground out to Cano, and just like that, the game was over.
"Coming into the second half, these are the guys we wanted," said Gary Sheffield, who tomahawked a two-run homer in the third off Tim Wakefield (complete-game five-hitter) for a 4-0 Yankee lead. "We got 'em, and we played well when we needed to."
It was a big win for the Yankees, who move on to Texas and then Anahiem this week without a day of rest. It's hard to know how many more performances like this Leiter has in him, but if the Yanks can manage to get another half-dozen or so, they would be ecstatic. Perhaps Leiter could eventually come out of the bullpen as a left-handed specialist. Who knows? But one thing is for sure, his return could not have been finer.
A Bullet Point History of Al Leiter
As you may know, the deal in which the Yankees acquired Leiter has the Yankees sending a player to be named later to Florida in exchange for Leiter and $2.4 million. Exactly how that $2.4 million is being applied to Leiter's contract, however, is a bit confusing.
Hello, I Must Be Going
During a rousing 7-4 victory at Fenway this afternoon, the Yankees acquired Al Leiter from the Florida Marlins. Leiter looks as if he might just end his career where it started. I have gone back-and-forth in my appreciation of Leiter over the years, but I generally enjoy watching him pitch. He knows what he's doing, is animated on the mound, and is a real pro.
The Yankees are desperate for starting pitching. In Leiter they get the kind of cagey veteran they had in El Duque or even David Cone before him. Part of what makes watching him enjoyable--and alternatively agonizing--is knowing that his margain for error is so thin. He might keep the Yanks in the game, but he'll throw 126 pitches over five innings doing it. The tank is almost empty for Leiter, so what does he--or the Yankees--have to lose? He may be shot, who knows? But I'd gladly take my chances with him over Tim Redding. Look, if the Yankees are going to be successful in the second-half of the season, they'll need a little of that old bullcrap Pinstriped magic to help them along. It would be a Made-for-YES story if Leiter came in and won a half-a-dozen games.
I'm looking forward to watching him pitch tomorrow night. Welcome back, Al.
Was Anyone Surprised By This?
Concluding my recap of Thursday night's thrilling 8-3 Yankee victory over Curt Schilling and the Red Sox, I wrote:
the Yankees have been in this position before. Their last series against the Red Sox opened with a hard-fought victory to cap a 16-2 streak, only to be followed by a pair of dominating Red Sox victories and a 1-9 slide that saw the Yankees get swept by the AL-worst Royals. The current outlook, with the 46-41 Rangers replacing Kansas City, doesn't appear much brighter. But with the way this team is playing right now, it seems like anything is possible.
I stuck that last line on there because I couldn't bring myself to end the recap of one of the team's biggest wins of the year on such a downer. I should have known better.
After that hard-fought victory back in late May, the Yankees came out the next day and got shelled by the Red Sox 17-1, the most lop-sided Red Sox victory over the Yankees ever. Last night, they repeated the feat, losing to the Sox again by the score of 17-1.
Curiously, the first 17-1 loss was the beginning of the end for Paul Quantrill as a Yankee as he posted the following line in relief of Carl Pavano: 2 2/3 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 3 HR, 1 BB, 2 K. Last night, the two pitchers aquired from the Padres for Quantrill, Darrell May and starter Tim Redding, combined to post this line:
3 2/3 IP, 10 H, 12 R, 1 HR, 7 BB, 2 K
Those two were replaced by Jason Anderson who actually set down the first four men he faced (Renteria, Ortiz, Ramirez and Nixon, no less), only to load the bases with no outs in the sixth. Anderson then struck out Mark Bellhorn and got Johnny Damon to fly out to shallow left, holding the runners, only to walk Renteria on four pitches to force in the thirteenth run. Joe Torre then brought in Buddy Groom to face David Ortiz.
Do I have to tell you what happened next? After a called strike, Ortiz crushed a grand slam into the Yankee dugout to cap the Red Sox night. Groom and Proctor spaced out two more Red Sox hits through the two remaining frames.
The worst moment of the game came in the second inning. Tim Redding, who completely lost the strike zone soon after striking out Ortiz and Ramirez in the first, loaded the bases on two walks and a Renteria single to start the inning. With the score still a reasonable 3-0, Joe Torre then called on the left-handed Darrell May (taking him out of the running for an upcoming start). May got David Ortiz to hit a weak grounder to third that scored one run, then got ahead of Manny Ramirez 0-2 only to load the count and surrender an RBI double that made the game 5-0. That brought Trot Nixon to the plate with one out and Ramirez on second and Ortiz on third.
May's first pitch to Nixon was a called first strike. His second was looped out to center. The ball had a diving action on it and Melky Cabrera charged in and attempted to make an awkward diving catch only to miss the ball completely as it knuckled away from his glove and rolled all the way to the wall in dead center. With Sheffield nowhere to be seen, Cabrera chased the ball all the way to the wall as Nixon, who was inexplicably loafing out of the box, rounded the bases and scored standing up for what was ruled and inside-the-park home run. Cabrera had barely gotten the ball back to Derek Jeter, who had come out almost to where Cabrera made his ill-advised dive, when Nixon crossed home. That made it 8-0 in the second inning and the route was on.
Today the Yankees play another must-win game, as they have their other starter on the mound. A win behind Randy Johnson today would earn them a split and a chance to pull out a fluke victory to take the series behind Ole Saint Nick (possible true identity: Al Leiter via a PTBNL) tomorrow. Boston ace Matt Clement takes the hill for the Bosox.
In other news, Kevin Brown had a solid bullpen session yesterday and could be Monday's starter if he still feels good today. Brown's activation could coincide with the return of Felix Rodriguez, who pitched two scoreless innings with Trenton yesterday and is scheduled to make one more rehab appearance with the Thunder (possibly on Sunday) before being activated. Further down the line, old pal Ramiro Mendoza has started throwing batting practice as he attempts to come back from the rotater cuff surgery he had back in January.
Duck and Cover
Rochester, New York's own Tim Redding makes his Yankee debut tonight, taking the hill against ex-Yank David Wells. Here's what I wrote about the 27-year-old righty when the Yankees picked him up in the Paul Quantrill trade that is suddenly the source of half of their active rotation:
Redding has been absolutely terrible this year (9.10 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, .328 BAA) and was on the Padres 15-day DL with shoulder problems at the time of the trade. At the same time, those shoulder problems could explain away the terrible line. Here are some interesting snippets from his ESPN.com scouting report:During an impressive rise through the minors, he was expected to one day be one of the [Astros'] best pitchers, with a two- and four-seam fastball, hard-breaking curve and slider. . . . Astros officials still believe he has great stuff and can be a strong No. 4 or 5 pitcher.
Redding actually had one strong outing for the Padres this year. Starting against the Rockies in Petco Park (not exactly the Red Sox in Fenway) back on May 3, Redding posted this line: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 BB, 5 K, 71 percent of 95 pitches for strikes. In his final outing as a Padre (just his second since being activated from the DL), Redding came on in relief against the Dodgers in LA and pitched 1 2/3 hitless innings allowing just one baserunner via a walk and striking out two. So there's some lightning in this bottle, though the fact that I felt that his relief appearance in LA was worth mentioning should tell you something about how likely it is we'll see a flash tonight.
On the day that the team made public an injury that, if serious, could mean the end of their playoff hopes, the Yankees played a must-win games against their hated rivals, fell behind 4-0 in the first inning, but battled back to tie twice before Red Sox Nation's most hated Yankee hit a go-ahead shot to dead center off everyone else's most hated Red Sock in the ninth and the legendary Yankee closer who has famously struggled against Boston struck out the top three men in the Boston order to nail down the win.
You can't make this stuff up.
After Robinson Cano ran into an out in the top of the first trying to stretch a bloop double spectacularly misplayed by Manny Ramirez into a triple, the Red Sox took full advantage of a clearly rusty Mike Mussina in the bottom of the inning. Following singles by Johnny Damon and David Ortiz that produced the game's first run and a walk by Manny Ramirez, Mussina fell behind Yankee killer Trot Nixon 2-0 before evening the count only to wind up in a full count with one out (via a Renteria sac bunt that advanced Damon) and two on. Mussina's next pitch stayed up in the zone and Nixon crushed it into the Red Sox's bullpen for a three-run homer. Mussina then walked Kevin Millar on four pitches. Having only recorded one out (on a sacrifice, no less) Mussina was already down 4-0 with another man on. He then managed to pitch around another walk (his third of the inning, due in part to the fact that home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt was calling pitches over the black on left side of the plate balls through the early part of the game) to escape without any further damage. It took Mussina 34 pitches to get through the inning.
Fortunately, the Yankees got right back in the game in the top of the second with a pair of Pesky Pole home runs by Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams. Giambi's shot landed in the front row just beyond the right field pole. Boston right fielder Trot Nixon lept into the crowd with an apparent bead on the ball, but a fan caught it just in front of Nixon's glove.
Mussina settled down in bottom of the second by striking out Damon and erasing a Renteria single via a surprising 3-4-3 double play turned by Jason Giambi and the Yankees drew closer yet in the top of the third. Robinson Cano lead off with a single and was driven home when Gary Sheffield pounded a Bronson Arroyo pitch off the wall in dead center. The ball hit well above Johnny Damon's leap and rolled to Nixon in right. Had, Sheffield been sprinting out of the gate, he could have had a triple. Instead, he would up with an RBI double and was stranded at second by a Rodriguez strike out and fly outs by Matsui and Posada. It was a mistake Sheffield would not make twice.
The Red Sox
note: the above-fold portion of this post has been revised since it was initially posted
With the Yankees having won nine of their last twelve games and having scored an average of nearly nine runs in their last six games, I was champing at the bit during the three-day All-Star break, enthusiastically anticipating this weekend's four-game showdown with the rival Red Sox.
Then I heard the news that Chien-Ming Wang, whom I recently dubbed the Yankees ace, was placed on the 15-day DL with inflamation in his pitching shoulder, the same shoulder he had operated on four years ago, causing him to miss the entire 2001 season. That surgery was to repair a torn labrum and was performed by Dr. James Andrews. Wang will be examined by Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama on Monday morning for a second opinion. Yankee team doctor Stuart Hershon has already made a diagnosis that the Yankees are not releasing until after Wang sees Andrews, though according to the comments to Alex's last post, Ruben Sierra (?!) has said that Wang could be out for the season. I'm going wait until I hear something from a more official source, but if that's the case, the Yankees should start planning for 2006, because Wang's won't be the only season ended by this injury.
The Yankees have actually known about this injury since Monday. Wang pitched what appeared to be an uneventful bullpen session on Sunday, but woke up with pain in his shoulder on Monday morning, at which point Hershon examined him and made his undisclosed diagnosis.
To replace Wang, Tim Redding has joined Darrell May in the Yankee rotation, which is still only four men "deep." The Yankees still hope to have Carl Pavano and Kevin Brown back soon (both of whom are already eligible to be activated), but according to Cashman, Pavano is still about two weeks away. Brown meanwhile is scheduled to pitch a bullpen session tomorrow and could start in Texas or Anaheim next week. Still, it seems likely that the Yanks will need a spot starter in addition to Redding and May, the latter of whom has not been officially announced as the starter for either Sunday or Monday.
ESPN has Tanyon Sturtze listed among their probables for the Red Sox series (though they are clearly incorrect as they also have Wang listed, but not Randy Johnson). If Sturtze is indeed Torre's choice (and a quick look at the Clippers' stats doesn't result in a preferable option), I would hope the Yankees would be able to activate Felix Rodriguez to take his spot in the pen (though, there's no guarantee that he'd do any better than Jason Anderson, whose hasn't had an opportunity to prove himself, and whose spot Rodriguez will likely take).
However you shake it, the Yankee rotation is in shambles just when their offense appears ready to carry them to another pennant. In order to make hay against the Sox this weekend, they may have to score an average of 15 runs per game.
Speaking of whom . . .
Who do the Yankees play this weekend again?
How About That!
A slow day in baseball makes for an ideal time to catch up on some current Yankee literature. So, for your reading pleasure, please enjoy the following cherce selection from Stephen Borelli's biography of legendary Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen, "How About That! The Life of Mel Allen." It's a blast, with or without the Ballantine.
Chapter 9: Yankee Doodle Dandy
When Horace Stoneham needed a new lead Giants broadcaster for the 1949 baseball season, he asked Mel for recommendations. "Russ Hodges," Mel said. Mel didn't want to lose his faithful partner, but he thought Hodges deserved a shot at a No. 1 job. Stoneham and Liggett & Myers tobacco scooped up Hodges, who, along with Mel and Barber, serenaded the city of New York with a trio of Southern baseball voices.
The Yankees conducted a national search for Hodges's replacement, sending out 300 letters to potential candidates. One of them reached Curt Gowdy, a kid announcer for station KOMA in Oklahoma City. Mel listened to a record of Gowdy's voice, which rolled over the airwaves steadily and harmonically, much like the wind whipped through Gowdy's home state of Wyoming. Allen and Gowdy met in person at the Yankees' Fifth Avenue offices in December 1948. "Curt," Mel said over lunch at Al Schacht's, "I'd like to have you with me and I'm pretty sure it will work out that way."
Later that day, general manager George Weiss offered Gowdy the job of assisting Mel with Yankees baseball and All-America Conference football. About as quickly as he accepted the position, Gowdy realized how far he was from Oklahoma. As KOMA's top announcer for University of Oklahoma football and Texas League baseball, he had broadcast alone. He wasn't used to bantering back and forth on the air, something Mel liked to do with Hodges. When Gowdy first started working games with Mel, he uncomfortably shook and nodded his head in response to his partner's questions. "Nobody can see you," Mel said.
When Gowdy read commercials for Ballantine beer and White Owl cigars, the Yankees' joint principal sponsors from 1947 through 1955, he sounded stiff and awkward. Meanwhile, Mel was as crisp as that first sip of Ballantine after hard day at the office: "Well, while the fans are out here takin' that stretch, it's a mighty good time for you to take a quick trip to the refrigerator for a bottle of Ballantine beer. If you're listening at your favorite tavern, don't just say, 'One up,' but be sure to ask the man for Ballantine. Enjoy the two B's, baseball and Ballantine. As you linger over that sparkling glass of Ballantine beer, as you feel it trickling down your throat, you'll say, 'Ah, man, this is the life.' Baseball and Ballantine beer. And while we're on this pleasant subject, folks, I'd like to remind you that it's a smart idea to keep plenty of Ballantine on ice at home at all times, to serve at mealtimes, to enjoy during leisure hours, so at your dealer's be sure to look for the three rings. Ask him for Ballantine beer."
Mel described a Yankees home run as a "Ballantine blast" or a "White Owl wallop." He could even work both sponsors into one call: "Folks, that ball was foul by no more than a bottle of Bal-...No, that ball was foul by the ash on a White Owl cigar!"
Between innings, Mel moved swiftly from game to commercial without changing his tone of voice: "Boy, that sure was closea tough decision for the umpire. But you don't have a tough decision when it comes to White Owl cigars."
All-Star Rosters: NL
Late last week I attempted to assemble a superior 32-man All-Star Roster for the American League given the fans' elected starting line-up and the requirement that every team be represented. With the All-Star game almost upon us, here's my take on the National League:
First the starting line-up selected by the fans:
C - Mike Piazza
Then the starters I voted for not included above:
C - Paul LoDuca
Then the two players I had the most difficulty eliminating to make my original picks:
3B - Morgan Ensberg
Next we'll fill in players from the teams not yet represented:
Nationals: 1B - Nick Johnson
Now, in addition to all of that, we need a starting DH as, unlike the American League, the fans were not able to vote for a National League Designated Hitter because there is no such thing. Albert Pujols is second in the NL in EQA and VORP but didn't make it through any of the above methods. He's our starting DH, one of our four third basemen or nine outfielders can be his back-up, giving us a minimum of two men at every offensive position except for second base. I'll take Chase Utley there.
The Yankees finsihed the first half in style, taking three-of-four from an impressive, and likable Indians team. Though Randy Johnson was far from imposing yesterday, he pitched well enough to guide the Yanks to a 9-4 win. The Yankee offense was led once again by Jason Giambi (who hit a long home run--probably right over Cliff Corcoran's head in the right field bleachers), and Hideki Matsui. Gary Sheffield added a three-run shot in the bottom of the eighth to put the game away, and Mariano Rivera pitched two scoreless innings--retiring all six men that he faced--to earn the save. The Yanks trail the first place Red Sox by two-and-a-half games, and second place Baltimore by just a half game. After the All-Star festivities this week, the Bombers play four up in Fenway, so we know the second half will start with a bang.
Donde Esta Mariano?
It was a beautiful day for baseball yesterday as fifty former Yankee players (including seven current Yankee coaches and two YES broadcasters) suited up for the team's 59th Old-Timers Day. As usual, Don Mattingly and the Hall of Fame quartet of Reggie Jackson, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto got the biggest response from the crowd, which on this day was 54,000 strong.
As the Old-Timers' game itself got underway, however, some charcoal-gray clouds rolled in, forcing the Bomber alumni off the field as a down-poor began after a mere an inning and a half. What little action there was saw deep hits by Oscar Gamble, Kevin Maas and Venezuelan League Batting Champ Luis Sojo boost the "scrub team" Pinstripers to a 4-0 lead against a Yankee pitching rotation of Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage and Mel Stottlemyre. Pinstriper Stan Bahnsen retired Mickey Rivers, Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly in order in the bottom of the first, stranding Reggie Jackson in the on-deck circle. When the rain forced the players off the field after the top of the second, Reggie took a few pantomime swings in right field and threw his palms to the sky in exasperation.
The rain blew over in time for the regular game to start on time and the real Yankees got out to an early 2-0 lead on Cleveland starter Scott Elarton on back-to-back solo homers by Gary Sheffield (taking a "half-day off" at DH) and Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the first. Rodriguez's tater was an opposite field job that just cleared the right field wall, while Sheffield's was an absolute moon shot that cleared the visiting bullpen in left field.
The Indians then proceeded to score seven unanswered runs against spot starter Darrell May. Jose Hernandez and Jhonny Peralta countered Sheffield and Rodriguez in the top of the second with back-to-back homers of their own, Hernandez's a two-run job following a Casey Blake single. Hernandez, who started at first against the lefty May in place of the left-handed Ben Broussard, then drove Blake home again with another dinger in the third. Cleveland then rallied for two more in the fifth, with Travis Hafner--who was 0 for 5 with three walks in the first two games of the series--delivering an RBI double to drive May from the game. Hafner then scored on a single off reliever Scott Proctor that gave Jose Hernandez five RBIs on the day.
The Yankees finally got one back in the bottom of the fifth when Robinson Cano cashed in a lead-off Ruben Sierra double with a two-out RBI single to run the score to 7-3. The Yanks and Tribe then exchanged 1-2-3 innings and, after both teams stranded men in the seventh, many Yankee fans, including my companion for the day, Jay Jaffe, headed for the exits.
Wrinkles in the Sun
I think it's great that Dan Pasqua is going to be at old Timer's Day this afternoon. And equally great to think that Cliff and Jay Jaffe are there in the Big House to see it all live. So, here's the obvious question: who is your favorite Yankee old timer? And, which guy would you most like to see who wasn't invited this year.
After Thursday night's 7-2 Yankee win I wrote:
If the Yankees and Red Sox both win tonight, the Yankees will move into second place in the East and will tie the Indians for second in the Wild Card race, leapfrogging the nose-diving O's (3-11 in their last 14 games with last night's win) in both cases.
And that is exactly what happened. The Yankees rolled to a tidy 5-4 victory over the Inidians behind yet another quality start from their ace, Chien Ming-Wang. Wang didn't have his best stuff, though some of that--such as a solo home run by Grady Sizemore on the very first pitch of the game--could be blamed on the soggy conditions as it had rained all day and was actually coming down pretty hard when the game was started some twenty minutes after the scheduled first pitch.
The weather soon cleared up, as did the Yankees' fortunes, with Melky Cabrera going 2 for 3 and scoring his first big league run amidst a four-run ralley in the bottom of the third. Jason Giambi capped that rally with yet another key hit, this one a two-out RBI single. Unfortunately, Giambi slipped on the wet dirt coming out of the box on that single, straining his left hip flexor. He was later replaced by Tino Martinez, but is not expected to miss more than one game, if that many.
If there was anything surprising about last night's game it was the important role played by Wayne Franklin. When Aaron Boone, a pesky 4 for 4 on the night, hit Wang's 110th pitch into center field for a two-out single in the seventh, Joe Torre called on the left-handed Franklin to pitch to lefty Grady Sizemore (he of the lead-off homer against Wang). That wasn't terribly shocking (though I would have expected Buddy Groom to be his first choice lefty in a two-run game). What was shocking was that, after Franklin got Sizemore to fly out to end the seventh, Torre left him in to pitch the eighth.
Now, Tom Gordon was unavailable due to the shoulder injury that knocked him out of Thursday night's game (his MRI was negative, the diagnosis is mild tendonitis, he's day-to-day), but Tanyon Sturtze was both available and warming up. The logic for sticking with Franklin was likely the fact that lefty Travis Hafner was due up second, but Torre could have used Groom to face Hafner had Sturtze allowed lead-off batter Coco Crisp to reach base. Perhaps looking to give Sturtze another day of rest coming off his Monday spot start in which he pushed himself to exhaustion, Torre stuck with Franklin, who pitched a perfect eighth, striking out Hafner and Victor Martinez to get the ball to Mariano for the ninth.
Oddly, it was Rivera who nearly blew the game. After striking out Ben Broussard to start the ninth, Mo gave up a double to Ronnie Belliard and a single to Jhonny Peralta (Belliard held at third knowing he could score on an out and perhaps respecting Carbrera's arm in center). Casey Blake then hit for lefty Jody Gerut and lifted a sac fly to left, driving home Belliard, the first run Rivera's allowed since May 6 (a span of 23 innings). After catching Blake's fly, Hideki Matsui threw to second to hold Peralta at first. As it turns out, that saved the game as Boone followed with his fourth hit to push Peralta to third before Mo got Sizemore to ground out to Tino to end the game.
It will be interesting to see if Franklin's perfect inning and a third will inspire Joe Torre to use him in more important spots over the next two games. I had previously argued that today's starter, Darrell May, would be a better option in Franklin's role as the second lefty and long man in the pen. Assuming one of them will be sent back to Columbus after the break when Brown and Pavano are (hopefully) activated, they could both be pitching for a job over these last two games prior to the break.
That's about the best I can do for a subplot to today's Old-Timers' Day match-up between May and Scott Elarton. I'll be at the game with the Futility Infielder's Jay Jaffe, mourning the absence of Dave Winfield while telling tales of the halcyon days of Steve Sax, Kevin Maas, Steve Balboni, Mike Pagliarulo and Dan Pasqua (all of whom will be in uniform).
Wash & Dry?
The rain has finally stopped out here in New Jersey and it appears the Yankees and Indians will indeed play ball tonight. The pitching match-up is a compelling duel of 26-year-old lefty Cliff Lee (3.68, 9-3) and the Yankees 25-year-old ace Chien-Ming Wang (who leads the Yankee starters with a 3.87 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP). Meanwhile, despite the presence of the lefty Lee on the mound, Joe Torre has returned to what appears to be his now regular line-up:
I can hardly believe my eyes. Go Yankees!
A two-run Alex Rodriguez homer in the first inning of last night's gave the Yankees an early lead they would never relinquish as they rolled to a 7-2 victory behind a solid outing from Mike Mussina (7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 HR, 3 BB, 5 K), running their current winning streak to five games.
The one homer Mussina gave up came off the bat of Jhonny Peralta in the top of the second, but Jason Giambi got the run right back on Kevin Millwood's second pitch of the bottom of the inning with a solo shot of his own. Actually, Giambi's shot would have hit off the top of the wall in right, but Cleveland right fielder Casey Blake managed to catch it, only to have it pop out of his glove and over the wall for a home run.
Amazingly, both Giambi's deflected home run in the second and Rodriguez's opposite field shot in the first were touched by the same fan in the right field stands. A sturdy fellow in his late 30s/early 40s with black gelled hair and a blue-gray t-shirt bobbled Rodriguez's shot eventually knocking it back onto the field, then had Giambi's ball scoot right through his hands altogether. He didn't wind up with either ball.
The Yankees fifth run also came on a bizarre play. Following a Cano infield single, a Sheffield fly out and a Rodriguez walk, Hideki Matusi singled to score Cano for the fourth run and put runners at the corners. Then, with a 1-0 count on Giambi, Millwood caught his front spike on the mound while attempting to pitch from the stretch. Rolling his ankle slightly, Millwood had to kick his foot toward first to avoid injury, eliminating the momentum of his delivery completely. However, with a runner on third, Millwood didn't want to stop his motion and get called for a balk, so he sort of flipped the ball home with a flick of his wrist. Unfortunately for the Indians, the throw went wide of Victor Martinez behind the plate and both runners advanced anyway.
Giambi then singled home Matsui from second to make it 6-2 Yankees (the Indians scored their second run on a pair of singles and a groundout in the fifth). Derek Jeter added a solo homer leading off the seventh against Fernando Cabrera to cap the scoring.
As Steven Goldman pointed out in a recent Pinstriped Blog entry, tonight the Yankees begin, in Steve's words, a "punishingly difficult" stretch of schedule that extends through late August. Between now and August 21 the Yankees will face the following:
Melk is Chillin'
According to Steve Lombardi, Melky Cabrera is being called up to the Bronx and will start tonight against the Indians. Here is what Bryan Smith had to say about Cabrera yesterday over at The Baseball Analysts:
Normally, when one of my favorite prospects receives word of a promotion, I'm ecstatic. But instead the recent Yankees decision to move Melky Cabrera to AAA leaves me confused and worried. This was not someone that dominated AA by any stretch of the imagination, hitting just .267/.310/.413 with the Trenton Thunder. Granted this was a player hitting just .214 on April 26, I don't believe Melky was showing AAA-caliber play. But, it appears this may be a situation of him proving me wrong and the Yankees right. Since being moved up to Columbus eight games ago, Cabrera is 11/32 with four walks and five extra-base hits, three of them via the home run. The Yankees plan with their young outfielder is anyone's guess at this point, but with a player as talented as Melky, New York is proving that it's hard to look wrong.
Melky, meet Coco; Coco, Melky.
All-Star Rosters: AL
A week ago I took a look that the American and National League All-Star ballots, posting my picks for the 17 starting slots. This past Sunday the 62 players selected by the fans (17 starting position players), players (33 hitters and pitchers), and team managers Terry Francona and Tony LaRussa (12 hitters and pitchers) were announced. Today the winners of the Final Man fan vote were revealed to complete the rosters.
With the rosters set, I thought it would be fun to go back and try to assemble the 32-man rosters the "old" way (prior to the inclusion of the player and final man votes) as a way to figure out exactly whose invitation got sent to the wrong address. My only limitations here are the fan vote, the requirement that every team be represented, and the 32-man roster size.
"The only thing that separates me and the best pitcher - whoever that may be considered in the game right now - is that he's been consistent all year long and I haven't been," said Johnson (8-6), who allowed two runs on seven hits and struck out eight. "That's the frustrating thing ... is you don't know what you're going to get. That's never been the case."
It is still hard to figure what the second half will bring for the Bombers. Will they be good enough to hang around and get our hopes up, only to falter in the end, or are they going to make a push and actually make the playoffs?
Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Daze
It was a stunningly gorgeous day in New York yesterday. Today, some of the humidity has returned, and the breeze has been muted. The sky looks milky and hazy. Randy Johnson will pitch on three-days rest this afternoon at the Stadium. Let's hope the Bombers can build on yesterday's win.
With a Little Bit O Luck
I had a really good feeling at the start of the game. Watching the Yankee hitters walk to the plate, they looked like they were fresh out of a video game. Recall how incredulous I was earlier in the season when junk-ballin' Bruce Chen shut them down. Well, I was not expecting a repeat performance. Derek Jeter led off and tomahawked pitch out-of-the-zone into left for a single. Then dancing around first, he distracted Chen plenty, who proceeded to walk Robinson Cano on five pitches. Cano was very calm, which I found impressive. Then Chen laid an egg, or a what you'd call a room service fastball (?) to Gary Sheffield. Sheff almost jumped out of his uniform, he was so excited, waiting just enough, and with a long, phat, juicy swing, slammed a three run dinger into the left field bleachers.
Alex Rodriguez was next and he hit a wicked line drive down the third base line. Melvin Mora bent his right knee and stuck his left arm across his body. Miraculously, it caught the ball in the webbing of the glove. But the speed was so great, that it could well have knocked Mora's mitt clean off. Instead, he twirled around, propelled by his left leg, like a dradle, and threw Rodriguez out easily. The play happened in the blink of an eye, and was some kind of Major League moment. Rodriguez can't seem to buy a hit (a problem that would continue in his next at bat when Jay Gibbons robbed him of an extra-base hit). But Hideki Mastui launched a breaking ball off the facade in right field, and Jason Gaimbi did the same in the next inning. It was a short day for Chen.
Pick 'Em (and Sic 'Em)
Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui are two of the finalists for the last slot on the American League All Star team. According to the Daily News:
Asked if he were disappointed that he wasn't already on the team, Jeter said, "Every year, there are people on other teams who are pretty deserving. I've been on when others have deserved it. It makes you appreciate the opportunities you do have to go."
It is an absolutely gorgeous morning here in New York. It might be a bit overcast, but the sun will be out, the humidity is low and there is a nice breeze. Yanks host the O's at 1:00. Tanyon Sturtze gets the emergency start versus Bruce Chen, who has had the Yankees' number early this year. (Randy Johnson, pitching on three days rest will go tomorrow.) Enough. Time for some fireworks! I'm ready for the Bomber bats to smack Chen around this afternoon.
Here's hoping the Bombers make George's 75th birthday and happy one. And by the way, Happy Birthday Mr. Steinbrenner.
Let's Go Yan-kees.
Zip, zip, zip
Chien-Ming Wang and Nate Robertson both pitched brisk, efficient games today. Wang, starting in place of Carl Pavano, lasted seven innings, while Robertson went the distance; both were helped out by some key double plays. The difference was an RBI single by Gary Sheffield in the fourth inning. The Yankees won 1-0, taking the weekend series and gaining a game on the Red Sox, who lost to the Jays (the Orioles lost too).
Mariano Rivera allowed a double to Ivan Rodriguez to start the ninth, but retired the next three men to earn his 18th save of the year. Rivera's earned run average is now down to 0.85. Rivera is one of three Yankees who are going to the All-Star Game. Alex Rodriguez will be the starting third baseman while Gary Sheffield made it as a reserve outfielder. Notably, Derek Jeter did not make the team. Fans do have the opportunity to vote in one more player from each league, so perhaps Jeter (or Godzilla Matsui) will make it after all.
Saturday Night's Alright
The Yankees had six hits through the first four innings last night, but just one run to show for it. Mike Mussina was handling the Tigers well, but in the bottom of the inning, the Tigers struck for four runs, including a three-run shot by Dimitri Young (off a breaking ball).
However, the Yanks managed to slowly come back. In the sixth, with two men out (and Alex Rodriguez, the lead runner having reached on a strikeout/passed ball), Bernie Williams ripped a single to right, scoring two runs and the Yanks were back in it. They tied it in the following inning when Derek Jeter scored on a tomahawk double to left by Gary Sheffield. Both teams had rallys that fizzled in the eighth (Tom Gordon pitched the seventh and eighth for New York). Then the Yanks met their old nemesis Troy Percival, just a grizzly-looking as ever, in the ninth. He might still look mean, but Perival is not nearly as imposing as he was years ago with the Angels.
With one out, Alex Rodriguez slapped a high fastball into right. Magglio Ordonez had to go pretty far to his right to field it, so Rodriguez took a gamble and headed for second, sliding in safely for a double. Hideki Matsui weakly popped out and then Jorge Posada was walked intentionally so that the Tigers could face the pinch-hitter, Tony Womack. Actually, my reaction was that Womack was going to do something good. Percival promptly blazed two fastballs past him, but he couldn't put him away, as Womack lined a single over the second baseman's head. Rodriguez scored and the Yanks had the lead. Bernie Williams then stroked a three-run homer deep into the right field bleachers. It was a no-doubt-about-it shot, which got my fat ass off of the couch, yelling and whooping. Final score: Yanks 8, Tigers 4.
It's always nice to see Percival get tagged, but it is even sweeter to see ol' man Bernie come through. He had four hits in all for the game. Good for him. We've got to cherish these last couple of great Bernie moments while we can, right? Mo went through the Tigers without incident, one-two-three in the ninth, as the Yanks keep pace with the Red Sox and Orioles, who both won as well.
The saga of Paul Quantrill and Mike Stanton continues today as is has been reported that the Yankees have actually convinced the Padres to offer up a pair of warm bodies and cash for the DFAed Quantrill. The two players acquired, former Royals lefty Darrell May and former Astros righty Tim Redding, are not much to write home about, but it's always nice to get something in return for a player you were planning to release anyway.
Both pitchers will report to Columbus, but it seems to me that May would be a much better choice than Wayne Franklin to fill the roll of second lefty/long man/spot starter with the big club. May, who just turned 33, is almost two years older than Franklin and just as susceptible to the long ball (1.65 HR/9 in nearly 600 major league innings prior to this year to Franklin's 1.61), but he has far better control (2.86 BB/9 through 2004 to Franklin's 4.58), a league average career ERA (5.04, 97 ERA+ to Franklin's 5.47/80) and superior splits.
Franklin has pitched well at Columbus this year (4.13 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 10.74 K/9, 3.03 BB/9, 0.83 HR/9, 3.54 K/BB), but when he was called up it was reported (forgive me, I can't find where I read it) that he had held right handers to a very low batting average. As his opponents were hitting .242 against him overall, that would mean that lefty's are getting to him pretty well. In his major league career, Franklin has a proper split, but not a very strong one:
vs. L: .261/.329/.468 (.265 GPA)
May's career splits are not available, but here are his splits since 2002, when he returned to the majors after four years pitching in Japan (two as Hideki Matsui's teammate with the Yomiuri Giants):
vs. L: .263/.300/.447 (.247)
May has a bigger split and lower GPAs against both lefties and righties. What's more there's this split from his time with the Padres thus far this year:
As Starter: 6.94, 1.69 WHIP, .318 BAA
In addition, while May has indeed been terrible as a starter this year, he did have a strong outing against the Twins less than two weeks ago in which he allowed just one run (a Matt LeCroy homer) in six innings while striking out four and allowing just two other baserunners (both on singles).
So, while the Yankees would still be better off giving that final bullpen slot to a younger player such as Alex Graman or Colter Bean, they've already given themselves the opportunity to improve upon their current roster with the acquisition of May (which is a pretty damning statement now that I think about).
Desperate Measures II
note: this post was to be posted before game time, but was held up due to a black out resulting from a sudden thunderstorm.
Normally at the start of a new series I post the roster of the team the Yankees are about to face, but after the last couple of days, I thought it might be helpful to post the Yankees current roster.
New York Yankees
2005 Record: 39-38 (.506)
Manager: Joe Torre
Ballpark (2004 park factors): Yankee Stadium (96/97)
1B Jason Giambi
S Bernie Williams (OF)
L Randy Johnson
R Mariano Rivera
R Kevin Brown
As for who's replaced whom, by demoting Kevin Reese in favor of righty Jason Anderson on Wednesday, then designating Paul Quantrill and Mike Stanton for assignment yesterday in favor of Bubba Crosby and lefty Wayne Franklin, you get this:
Bubba Crosby replaces Kevin Reese
Just a couple of tidbits as the Yankees get set for a weekend series with the Tigers in the Motor City:
1. Gary Sheffield received a two-game suspension for losing his cool last Sunday night against the Mets:
"I think the decision by Bob Watson was absolutely wrong," Yankees president Randy Levine said. "The entire incident was precipitated by what we know today to be a completely incorrect call and an overreaction by the umpire in ejecting Sheff from the game prematurely."
Sheffield will appeal the suspension.
5. Big shout out to our pal Steven Goldman and his wife Stephanie on the birth of their second child, a baby boy named Clemens (named after Samuel, not Roger).
Hope everyone has a great holiday weekend. Cliff and I will be in and around the tri-state area watcing the Yanks, so fall through if you like, we'll be here.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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