Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: August 2005


Believe the Hype
2005-08-31 23:34
by Cliff Corcoran

It was billed as "The Battle in Seattle," there were even fans at Safeco last night wearing t-shirts featuring the mug shots of the game's starting pitchers. It was the 19-year-old phenom, "King" Felix Hernandez, against the 41-year-old former Mariners' ace and sure-thing Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, and it lived up to the hype.

The rookie and the veteran exchanged hitless frames through two, with Hernandez throwing 97 mile per hour fastballs and sharp curves and Johnson locating both his slider and 95 heaters.

Hernandez began the third by striking out his opponent's personal catcher, John Flaherty, on a wicked curve that came in just below the waste on the outside corner and dropped into the dirt. King Felix then threw a fastball away to Robinson Cano and came back with a change-up over the plate. Hernandez is as good as advertised, but his change-up is the weakest of his three pitches. This one hung up in the zone and Cano deposited it in the right field seats, just beyond the reach of Ichiro Suzuki to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead (note the white t-shirt in the latter photo).

After Johnson pitched another hitless frame (aided by a fantastic play at third base by Alex Rodriguez in which he made a backhanded stab of a sharp bouncer up the line by Suzuki and pivoted on the foul line to make a Jeter-like jump throw to nail the speedy Ichiro by a half step), Gary Sheffield, back from his one-day suspension, led off the fourth by blasting a Hernandez heater over the wall in left to make it 2-0 Yanks.

As it turned out, that would be the end of the scoring in this game, but Johnson and Hernandez continued to deal, blowing away hitters with heat and confounding them with breaking pitches, pitching quickly, all the while backed up by some terrific defense (the Mariners turned three double plays and Alex Rodriguez literally filled an entire highlight reel with his play at third base).

Likely invigorated by being back in Seattle and overshadowed by a young punk less than half his age, Randy Johnson didn't allow a hit through five innings. Given the electricity of the game and the sharpness of his defense, it seemed Johnson had a very real chance of completing his third career no-hitter, but Yuniesky Betancourt lead off the sixth with a double over Matt Lawton's head in left. Betancourt then moved to third on a grounder to shortstop by Suzuki, but Johnson recovered to strikeout Jamal Strong (starting in center for the left-handed Jeremy Reed) and, after Tino Martinez dropped a foul pop up by Raul Ibanez, Alex Rodriguez turned in yet another fine play to strand Betancourt at third.

The Mariners got a man to third again in the seventh. After Johnson struckout Sexson to start the inning, Rodriguez made a wicked backhanded stab of a hot shot by Adrian Beltre, but despite having plenty of time to make his throw, drew Tino Martinez off the bag for what was generously ruled the second Mariner hit of the game. Beltre then moved to second on a Jose Lopez single and to third on a Mike Morse fly to center. Now at 111 pitches and still nursing a 2-0 lead, Johnson reared back and fired a series of mid-90s fastballs to Yorvit Torrealba: 94 high, 94 a tad lower called strike, 95 barely inside, 95 same spot for a called strike. After the second called strike, Torrealba and home plate ump Ron Kulpa took a moment to jaw at each other. Johnson then fired his 116th pitch of the game. Torreabla grounded it to Derek Jeter, who flipped to Robinson Cano at second, just barely forcing out Lopez to end the inning and Johnson's night.

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The Once and Future King
2005-08-31 13:57
by Alex Belth

"I don't think we're talking about poise here...I think we're talking about a 97-miles-per-hour fastball and a curveball from hell." Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire

Tonight gives an extremely compelling pitching match-up in Seattle. If you root for the M's I'm sure that there are precious few games you'd like to see your team win more than this one. Seattle's teenage dynamo "King" Felix Hernandez squares off against one of the league's best offenses, while thier erswhile ace Randy Johnson pitches for New York. I do not get the MLB TV package or Direct TV so I have not seen Hernandez pitch yet. Better still, I haven't even seen highlights of him, just still photographs. Hernandez has a round, open face, and apparently poise to spare along with incredible stuff. He's what they'd call "the Emmis" back in the old country.* All I know is what I've read, and that's plenty to keep me up to see what the fuss is about. Pitching against the Yankees is sure to bring 'em out to Safeco and have the boys at Baseball Tonight salivating.

For obvious reasons, nobody has followed Hernandez's rookie campaign as closely or as passionately as the good folks over at the U.S.S. Mariner (here is a selection of posts for you to peruse: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). There have also been King Felix pieces by Bill Simmons, David Schoenfield, and commentary from Bert Blyleven.

I expect this to be a close game and figure that Johnson will be sharp. Perhaps it will be a crisp pitcher's duel like the one Johnson had against Roy Halladay earlier this season. It is an exciting game for the M's but an even more important one for the Yankees.

All aboard.

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Not Again
2005-08-30 23:27
by Cliff Corcoran

Shawn Chacon pulled a Mussina last night, giving up eight runs combined in the second and third innings due to an alarming lack of control (three walks, a wild pitch, and twice hitting Seattle left fielder Mike Morse with a pitch in those two innings alone). Those eight runs would be all the Mariners would score, and all they would need, as 31-year-old rookie starter Jeff Harris, who entered the game with a 1.69 ERA, escaped a one-out bases loaded jam in the first and eventually settled down to hold the Yankees to three runs over 6 1/3 innings.

With Joe Torre having cashed in Aaron Small last night, the Yankee skipper was forced to stick with Chacon as he started the second by allowing a pair of singles, hitting a batter to load the bases, uncorking a run-scoring wild pitch, and walking a man to reload the bases, all before recording an out. The Mariners then scored another run on an RBI groundout by Yorvit Torrealba, and cashed in the rest on a three-run homer by Ichiro Suzuki to go up 5-0.

Suzuki's homer was his second in the first two games of the current series, marking just the second time in his major league career that he has gone deep in consecutive games, the first such occasion since last August, and the first time he has homered on consecutive days as a Mariner (though he did hit two jacks in a single game against Cleveland on July 30 as well as on two other occasions earlier in his Mariner career).

As the folks over at U.S.S. Mariner have noted, Suzuki has been hitting for more power this year, but sacrificing his average as a result. Ichiro!'s two homers against the Yankees over the past two nights have been his 14th and 15th of the season, breaking his major league career best of 13 set in 2003, which, not coincidentally, was also the year that he posted his lowest major league batting average (.312). Suzuki hit exactly eight home runs in his other three seasons with the Mariners, a number he's almost doubled in 2005. This year, Suzuki is also exceeding his typical and major league high isolated power numbers--.104 and .124 respectively, the latter also in 2003--with a .146 ISO (slugging minus average). Meanwhile, in the three at-bats in which he did not homer last night, Ichiro, whose game has always revolved hitting the ball on the ground and speeding to first, flied out and twice struck out, dropping his average to .299, which has in turn suppressed his slugging percentage to his typical .445 despite his increased isolated power.

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2005-08-30 17:20
by Alex Belth

Shawn Chacon goes for the Yanks tonight at beautiful Safeco Field in Seattle. He was effective if not especially sharp in his last outing. Should be interesting to see what kind of performance he has in store for the M's.

Go Yanks!

2005-08-30 10:21
by Alex Belth

Last night Seattle reliever Matt Thorton came in the game, threw sliders instead of fastballs, gave up the lead and then heard it from manager Mike Hargrove. There is a special baseball word for his performance and it's likely Hargrove mentioned it in their little chat. According to Bob Finnigan in The Seattle Times:

In a rare display of anger, Mike Hargrove stomped to the mound in the sixth inning and apparently gave reliever Matt Thornton a hard lesson in what he expected to see from a pitcher, with much vehemence and finger-jabbing.

...Thornton, who walked Bernie Williams after Giambi's game-turning strike, was frank in revealing what the skipper would not. "He wanted to make sure he knew I can compete, for me to pitch like he knows I can, like I know I can," said Thornton, who had given up crushing homers earlier in the year, but not lately.

Be sure and peep the U.S.S. Mariner, especially tomorrow night with Felix Hernandez on the mound, to see how the other half lives.

Swan Song
2005-08-30 09:59
by Alex Belth

Discussing the relative merits of Yankee pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre has been a juicy topic for several years now. Tyler Kepner has a piece on Mel Stott in today's Times. Worth taking a look at.

A Small Favor
2005-08-29 22:08
by Cliff Corcoran

Mike Mussina avoided his fifth inning struggles last night by getting himself pulled from the game in the fourth, but Aaron Small pitched four innings of one-hit ball in relief and Jason Giambi hit another pair of homers to give the Yankees a lead and, eventually, a win to open their series against the Mariners.

After the game, Mussina said that in the fifth inning of his last start and throughout this game he was having trouble throwing strikes and hinted that he's going through a dead-arm period. Indeed, Mussina had nothing last night, as was clear from his first two pitches to Ichiro Suzuki. The first was a ball. The second landed in the right-field seats for a lead-off home run. Moose then went full on Willie Bloomquist before getting him to ground out. Raul Ibanez followed by creaming a pitch to deep right center, but got himself thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple (Bernie to Cano to Rodriguez). Richie Sexson followed by scorching a ball into Cano's glove for the third out.

All Moose yielded in the second was a one-out Greg Dobbs double, making it his best inning of the night. In the third, a pair of singles by Miguel Ojeda and Ichiro! were followed by a Bloomquist sac bunt and four-pitch walks to Ibanez and Sexson, the latter forcing in the Mariners' second run. Moose then threw ball one to both of the next two batters but got Adrian Beltre to pop out on a fastball down the middle and Dobbs to fly out to deep left.

Then came the fourth, which Moose started with a five-pitch walk to Yuniesky Betancourt. Mussina then fell behind 3-0 on Jeremy Reed, who, after a called strike, caught Alex Rodriguez off guard with a bunt to third that Rodriguez was unable to pick out of the grass. Moose then walked Ojeda after getting ahead of him 1-2, the final pitch being a breaking ball that was nowhere near the strike zone. That was all Joe Torre had to see, as he wisely pulled Mussina before he could do any further damage.

Brought into an ugly bases-loaded, no-outs situation, Aaron Small induced a pair of double play balls to second from Suzuki and Bloomquist, but Ichiro was able to beat out the first and first base ump Tim Tschida blew the call on Bloomquist, so Small only got two outs to show for it as the Mariners increased their lead to 4-0. Small then walked Ibanez, but got Sexson to fly out for the final out of the inning.

As all of this was going on, the Yankees were scuffling against Ryan Franklin. The second was the only inning among the first four in which the Yankees got a runner on base, as Alex Rodriguez lead off with an infield single and was followed by a Giambi walk. They then promptly ran themselves into a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play with Bernie Williams swinging through a pitch and Alex Rodriguez getting thrown out by several feet at third on a failed hit and run.

After Small came in to clean-up Mussina's mess, however, things turned around. Jason Giambi led off the fifth with a mammoth homer off the restaurant in right field (just below the neon "Hit It Here" target). Then, after the Yankees ran into another double play via the hit and run (this time with Bernie on the bases and Lawton at the plate), Posada doubled, moved to third on a wild pitch, and was singled home by Cano to cut the Mariner lead in half.

In the sixth, after a first-pitch Matsui groundout, Sheffield and Rodriguez walked (the former on four pitches), driving Franklin from the game at 93 pitches. Mike Hargrove then called on lefty Matt Thornton, who went to 1-1 on Giambi before Jason crushed yet another home run, his fourth in the last two games, this one a three-run job that gave the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish.

Small cruised through the fifth, sixth and seventh, scattering a Greg Dobbs double and two more walks, and in the top of the eighth Alex Rodriguez and Matt Lawton added solo homers to cushion the Yankee lead. Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera finished it off with perfect eighth and ninth innings.

In my opinion, the story of the game was Aaron Small, who picked up the win and is now 5-0 with a 3.03 ERA as a Yankee, but the story of the past two games has clearly been Jason Giambi. Giambi now has four homers and eleven RBIs over his last two games after hitting just two taters and driving in just seven runs in the previous twenty-five games in August.

According to Giambi, the difference in the past two games has been a cortisone injection he got last week to relieve the pain from tendonitis in his left elbow, which makes more sense than pointing to the fact that the acquisition of Matt Lawton has pushed him back into the field (though I suspect the latter hasn't hurt his focus at the plate as the association between Giambi's success at the plate and playing time at first base is downright eerie).

Giambi's comeback this season continues to astound as he has set personal bests for homers in a single month (14 in July) and multi-homer games (now seven). The latter total accounts for more than 23 percent of his career multi-homer games (now 30), which is stunning considering the fact that Giambi had 281 career homers entering this season and was the best hitter in the American League, if not the majors, for several seasons around the turn of the millennium.

The Mariners
2005-08-29 13:58
by Cliff Corcoran

Ten days ago, I wrote that the Yankees were in good shape because they had more games left to play against the teams leading them in the AL East and Wild Card races than they were games behind those teams. At that time the Yanks were four games behind the Red Sox with six left to play against them and a game and a half behind the A's for the Wild Card with three left to play against them.

Since then the Yankees have gone 8-2 while the Red Sox have gone 5-4 and the A's 6-3. As a result, the Yankees have eliminated their Wild Card deficit and carved 2.5 games out of their AL East deficit and still have all nine games left to play against these two rivals.

Meanwhile, two other contenders have entered the Wild Card picture from different directions. Thanks in part to a weekend sweep at the hands of the Devil Rays, the Angels have gone 3-6 over this stretch, yielding the AL West lead to the A's and, in turn, the Wild Card lead to the Yankees, who lead the now second-place Angels by a half game. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians have been bouncing in and out of a Wild Card tie with the Yankees, matching them at 8-2 over the past ten days, and currently standing one game behind them, as they were on August 19.

For their part, the Yankees have been doing exactly what they've needed to, taking two of three from the slumping White Sox to finish the punishingly difficult portion of their schedule with a 24-16 (.600) record, then going 6-1 against the Blue Jays and Royals at home.

Tonight the Yankees start a four game series against the Mariners in Seattle, and it would behoove them to win at least three of these games as well, as things will be far more difficult over the twelve games that follow.

After the Yankees leave Seattle, they play those three games against the A's in Oakland. The following weekend they will play three games at home against the Red Sox. And on either side of that Red Sox series they will play a pair of three-game series against the Devil Rays. Remember, the Devil Rays just swept the Angels and are 9-4 against the Yankees this season. The D-Rays are also 27-15 since the All-Star break, a record a half-game better than the Yankees' 27-16 and a game and a half better than the Red Sox's 25-16 over the same period (the A's are 29-13 since the break).

All the more reason to take advantage of the Mariners (who, for comparison's sake, are 16-26 since the All-Star break, 9-15 in August and 3-7 over their last three series). Tonight, Mike Mussina looks to conquer his fifth-inning struggles against Ryan Franklin, who pitched somewhere between very well (quality start) and excellent (shutout) in four of his five July starts, but has given up 19 runs in 15 1/3 innings across three poor starts this month.

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Doin' Alright
2005-08-29 09:56
by Alex Belth

Derek Jeter's fielding improved last year, so much so that he was awarded the Gold Glove for American League shortstops. Now, he may not have been the best defensive shortstop in the league, but he had one of his best seasons with the leather. According to Steve Lombardi, Jeter's fielding has remained at the top of the league again this year:

Is he a terrible SS? No. A terrible SS would have been moved off SS by now. Tony Batista was moved. Chipper Jones was moved. Mike Lansing was moved. Mark Lewis was moved. Jose Offerman was moved. Wil Cordero was moved. Julio Franco was moved. In the big leagues, if you truly are a terrible SS, you will eventually be moved. Even a stupid team figures it out after a while. Jeter has not been moved, because he is not terrible with the glove at SS.

While Jeter's power numbers have dipped (he hit 23 homers and 44 doubles in 2004, and he has 14,and 21 respectively so far this year), Jeter has walked 60 times so far in 2005, up from 46 all of last year. He has six sacrifices this year, down from a ridiculously high 16 in 2004 (that spike was a direct result of Jeter's early season slump, and it was a habit he did not break out of all year, even after he starting hitting). Jeter scored his 100th run of the season yesterday and his line of .315/.393/.456 makes for another impressive year, don't you think?

2005-08-29 05:45
by Alex Belth

Jason Giambi led the Yankees to a 10-3 thrasing over the Royals on a muggy summer day in the Bronx. Giambi went 3-3 with a walk, hit two home runs and collected seven RBI. Al Leiter was, well, Al Lieter, and he pitched well enough to earn the win.

In all, it was a good home stand for the Bombers. The Red Sox and the Devil Rays (Cantu, Gomes and company) completed a three-game sweep of the Angels. The A's are now in first place in the AL West. The Yanks lead the wildcard by a half-a-game over the Angels and a complete game over the Indians. They trail Boston by a game-and-a-half. The Red Sox now have to deal with the streaking Devil Rays while the Yanks are off to the west coast this week. They've got four in Seattle, including a scintillating Wednesday night match-up featuring Randy Johnson and the young Felix Hernandez, which could be dubbed "The Once and Future King." Then on Friday, they are off to Oakland for three against the A's. Looks like Leiter, Mussina and Chacon will pitch in Oakland. It's another important week for the Bombers as we move to September. The Yanks then return to face Tampa Bay and then Boston. Crunch time.

Nickel and Dime Delight
2005-08-28 08:44
by Alex Belth

Jaret Wright did not have great command on Saturday afternoon yet the majority of the hits that he allowed were dinkers and dunkers. While the Yanks manufactored three runs early on, they were shut-down by Kansas City pitching for most of the afternoon. Down 7-3 with one out and Jason Giambi on first in the ninth, Jorge Posada tapped an easy grounder to the mound. But the pitcher Jeremy Affeldt botched what would have been a game-ending double play and then the Yankees countered with a string of seeing-eye hits of their own. Matt Lawton, pinch-hitter Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield and finally Alex Rodriguez all slapped hits just beyond Kansas City gloves as the Yankees scored five runs in the ninth for a thrilling 8-7 win. There was a lot of hugging and smiling in the Bronx on a late August afternoon as the Yankees pulled off one of the most memorable victories of their season. Combined with a Red Sox loss (the Tigers rallied after being down 6-0), the Yanks are now just a game-and-a-half behind Boston in the AL East.

It is far less beautiful in New York today. The sun is gone and it is overcast and humid. Al Leiter is on the hill as the Bombers go for the sweep.

Baby Bern
2005-08-27 05:42
by Alex Belth

If these are indeed the final days of Bernie Williams' career in New York at least he's got some games like last night's left in him. Williams, who has traditionally hit well in August, cranked a pair of two-run home runs to help lift the Bombers past Kansas City 5-1. He received two curtain calls and it was warming to see him being appreciated by the home town fans. Bernie is a favorite of ours here at Bronx Banter and I know that I am trying to savor every at-bat he has--good, bad or indifferent--because this may be it. Of course, it is especially sweet when he does something productive.

Alex Rodriguez added a solo blast into the black seats--his league-leading 38th on the season--and Randy Johnson pitched eight strong innings. It was a good win for the Yanks who kept pace with Indians and A's who won--as did the Sox.

Meanwhile, according to Bill Madden in The Daily News, the Yankees acquired outfielder Matt Lawton last night fromt the Cubs for a minor league pitcher:

Lawton, who hit .268 with 11 homers and 49 RBI in 120 games with Chicago and Pittsburgh this season, likely will be plugged into left field with Hideki Matsui moving to center on regular occasions as the Yankees address what has been a problem for them all season long. According to sources, the deal came down in the middle of last night's 5-1 Yankee win over the Royals, after it had been learned earlier in the day that Lawton had cleared waivers.

This sounds like a nice, modest pick-up. I've always liked Lawton personally, and he's an upgrade over Bubba Crosby and Tony Womack in the outfield. Welcome aboard, bro.

The Royals
2005-08-26 15:10
by Cliff Corcoran

Entering this weekend's series against the Kansas City Royals, the Yankees remain in a three-way tie with the A's and Indians for the Wild Card lead. They are also three games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East. Those three games are a haunting number as the last time the Yankees met Kansas City, the Royals swept the invading Yanks. That's the Royals, the team that currently owns the major leagues' worst record (their .331 winning percentage is fifty points worse than that of the second-worst Rockies) and, entering that series at the very end of May, sported an even worse .260 winning percentage.

In retrospect, that series came at exactly the right time for the Royals. Kansas City had just hired Buddy Bell as their manager and proceeded to win their first four games under their new skipper on their way to a 10-4 run. Meanwhile, the series came at exactly the wrong time for the Yankees. Their season-saving May had just been rudely interrupted by a pair of brutal home loses to the Red Sox (total score 24-3). The Kansas City sweep came in the middle of a six-game losing streak for the Yankees, five straight series loses, and a 1-9 team slump in which the Yankee offense scored 23 runs in 10 games (easy math: 2.3 runs per game). In that series in Kansas City, the Bombers were held to six runs by the Royals staff.

Things are a bit different now. The Yankees scored six runs in yesterday's game alone and 23 in the just-completed four-game series against the Blue Jays (more difficult math: a representative 5.75 runs per game against a season average of 5.40). They're also on a 10-4 streak of their own. Meanwhile, the Royals are just five games removed from a 19-game losing streak.

Ah, but what a five games they've been: 4-1 against two of the Yankees' primary postseason rivals the A's and Red Sox. As was the case in the initial meeting between these two teams, when the Royals win its usually in a low-scoring game. They broke their losing streak when tonight's starter, Mike Wood--then making just his third start of the year after a respectable stay in the bullpen--and the top four men in the Royal pen (Andy Sisco, Ambiorix Burgos, Jeremy Affeldt and "Mac the Ninth" MacDougal) out-dueled Barry Zito and Justin Duschsherer to deliver a 2-1 win. Last night's 7-4 victory in Curt Schilling's first start since April was the first time the Royals had scored more than five runs in their last ten games.

Opposing Wood tonight is the Big Enigma, Randy Johnson, who has just one quality start in his last four attempts, that coming in a game the Yankees lost anyway (4-3 to the Devil Rays last Tuesday). Randy Johnson's last start, in which he gave up six runs on four home runs in the third inning against the White Sox, spawned more speculation, aggravation, and rumination than I care to get into right now, but I did find a pair of articles particularly informative. The first is actually more than a month old: Jonah Keri's Baseball Prospectus Game of the Week column on a game Johnson pitched against the Indians the day after Old-Timer's Day. Keri's article is particularly enlightening regarding Johnson's pitch selection and approach to getting men out this year.

The other is from SG at the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog, who wrote about something I had noticed but forgotten about regarding the similarity between Randy Johnson's performances this season and in 2003, when he had mid-season knee surgery. Personally, I've been convinced for some time that Johnson's back has been the source of his trouble, robbing him of the velocity on his fastball and the break on his slider that he's needed to be his dominating self. To my mind, that this season so neatly matches 2003, when he also struggled with injury, lends some credence to that belief.

Here's hoping the Yanks can put enough good wood on Mike's pitches tonight to compensate, as they can ill-afford another loss to the Kansas City Royals.

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Taking Care of Business
2005-08-26 05:11
by Alex Belth

After a rewarding 6-2 victory against the Blue Jays yesterday afternoon in the Bronx, the Yankees gained a game on the Red Sox who lost last night in Kansas City (Curt Schilling was not effective in his return to the rotation). Cliff and I feel that the anything less than a sweep of the Royals this weekend is unacceptable yet K.C. is coming off two consecutive series wins against the A's and Sox which is nothing to sneeze at.

Randy Johnson is on the mound tonight. According to The Daily News:

"Still believe in my heart of hearts that the big guy is gonna be dynamite down the stretch, Joe Torre said. "It's just that I have a sense that he is very close right now."

..."He has had two bad innings in the last two starts and the one bad inning (in a no-decision at Tampa Bay) was just a three-run home run," Torre said. "The (fourth inning) in Chicago was a bad inning, that (in Tampa Bay) was not a bad inning, just a bad pitch. I am just feeling that he is much closer than he ever has been (since being here) of being back on the dominant side."

Wright pitches on Saturday, Leiter on Sunday making this an especially important start for the Big Unit. I will agree with Torre here and say that he'll be on his A-game this evening.

The Big O
2005-08-25 08:54
by Alex Belth

Our pal Steve Lombardi dubbed today's pitching match up "The Battle of the Vowels--Chacon v Chacin. Let us all hope that 'O' is the winner."

I wish I had an overwhelming feeling of confidence about this one but I don't. How long can Chacon keep pitching as well as he has? Can the Yankee offense beat-up on the impressive young Chacin again? These questions and more will be answered this afternoon on an absolutely gorgeous day for baseball in the Bronx.

Near Great?
2005-08-25 07:29
by Alex Belth

After retiring the side in the second inning last night Mike Mussina walked off the mound. Jorge Posada rolled the ball in front of home plate as catchers usually do. However, Mussina stopped in his tracks and went back to collect the ball. The ball was meaningful because he had just completed the 3,000th inning of his career. He had a small smile on his face and looked both sheepish and proud. I would like to think that Mussina has a shot at the Hall of Fame but without a 20-win season or a Cy Young under his belt, I just don't think the writers will ever vote him in. Recently I've been wondering how he stacks up with his contemporaries. I figure Maddux, Clemens, Johnson, Pedro, and probably Glavine are all locks for the Hall. Yesterday, I asked Jay Jaffe how Mussina compares with the next level of accomplished hurlers: John Smotlz, Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown and Boomer Wells. Jay not only looked into it but he devoted a post to it. Head on over to The Futility Infielder to see what he came up with.

Old Bones
2005-08-25 05:15
by Alex Belth

While Bernie Williams will have to scrap to keep his lifetime average over .300, Jorge Posada must contend with the growing perception that he is on the decline. Posada obviously prefers to look at his 2005 season simply as an off-year, but at 34, it is not unreasonable to be concerned. Anthony McCarron reports:

Two major-league scouts who have watched Posada regularly both say his bat speed seems to have dipped. "He used to be able to turn on anybody's fastball, but he has to cheat sometimes now," says one.

"I think he's somewhat diminished skill-wise, which is natural, because he's been catching so long," the scout adds. "He's still a good clutch performer. He was an elite guy for a long time. He's no longer elite, but he's above average. You could ask the 30 clubs in baseball and most would rather have Posada than the guy they do have. But it's no longer all of them.

That sounds about right. Though Posada, a converted infielder, got a late start as a catcher, all these years playing in October would seem to even things out. Not only that:

[Yankee manager, Joe] Torre and [Fox anaylst, Tim] McCarver both note that Posada has much more to deal with when it comes to handling a pitching staff. The Yankees have cranked through starting pitchers with incredible frequency over Posada's tenure - they have used 14 different starters this year alone - and he is charged with learning them all.

"It's doubled his workload, at least," McCarver says. "He's trying to get to know these guys quickly. That didn't happen 30 years ago. The decade that Jorge has had with the Yankees has been much harder, from a mental standpoint, than Bench with the Reds or (Carlton) Fisk with the Red Sox or White Sox."

You never know when a player will start to fall off, or if their decline will be sudden or a long, slow fade to black. Hopefully for the Yankees, Posada still has some gas left in the tank.

Joe of Little Faith
2005-08-24 20:43
by Cliff Corcoran

Prior to last night, Mike Mussina's last loss came on August 3 in Cleveland when, after pitching four scoreless innings, Mussina fell apart in the fifth, giving up six runs and getting pulled from the game.

Prior to last night, the Yankees' last loss came this past Sunday in Chicago when, after cruising through the first three innings, Randy Johnson fell apart in the fourth, giving up six runs, which would be all the White Sox would score and also all they would need.

Last night, Mike Mussina combined those two outings by cruising through the first four innings before falling apart in the fifth, giving up eight runs and getting pulled from the game. A ninth run charged to Mussina would score with reliever Felix Rodriguez on the mound. Those nine runs would be all the Blue Jays would score and also all they would need.

What I had hoped would be a dispiriting loss for the slumping Blue Jays turned out to be a dispiriting loss for the Yanks. Mussina's collapse was particularly upsetting as the game had all the makings of a thrilling pitchers' duel through the first four innings, with both Mussina and Toronto starter Dave Bush seemingly at the top of their game, the latter backed up by some spectacular defense.

Adding insult to injury, after the Yankees failed to drive a run across in the fifth and sixth, Joe Torre put his subs in, taking Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Jorge Posada out in favor of Felix Escalona, Bubba Crosby and John Flaherty respectively. The logic, I suppose, was to give these crucial players a breather in anticipation of today's day game. But considering the success the Yankees had had against the Toronto bullpen the previous two nights (8 runs in 3 2/3 innings) and the fact that the Yankees are indeed the second best offense in baseball, I find it unforgivable for Torre not to have allowed his team a chance to come back at full strength.

As it turns out, the move immediately came back to bite the Yankee skipper as in the bottom of the seventh Robinson Cano and Tony Womack lead off with singles off Jason Frasor and were driven in by a Hideki Matsui double. Matsui was hitting in the two-hole yesterday, so had Torre left his starters in, he would have had two in and Sheffield and Rodriguez due up with a man in scoring position. Instead he had Bubba Crosby and Felix Escalona. To his credit, Crosby singled, but Escalona struck out, as did Jason Giambi, ending the inning.

In the bottom of the eighth, Tino Martinez lead off with a single but was promptly doubled up by John Flaherty.

Finally, against Vinnie Chulk in the bottom of the ninth, Jeter and Crosby singled to bring the clean-up spot to the plate with two outs. Again, it was Escalona, not Rodriguez who was due up. Torre went to the last man on his bench and pinch-hit Bernie Williams. Bernie worked the count full then crushed a ball into the upper deck in right for a three-run homer to close the gap to 9-5 only to have Giambi make the final out. Too little too late.

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Jays' Blues
2005-08-24 14:00
by Cliff Corcoran

With Oakland slumping (dropping eight of the last nine), the Yankees (on a 9-3 run) and Indians (winners of six straight) have moved a game ahead of the A's in the Wild Card chase.

Meanwhile, last night's game-winning single by Felix Escalona handed the Blue Jays their fifth straight loss. On Monday, Toronto manager John Gibbons got ejected whiile arguing a play at the plate. Last night, he stormed into the tunnel leading the visitor's clubhouse before Escalona even made it to first base (or so it seemed).

Judging by their manager's behavior, this Blue Jay team appears to be thisclose to a full-fledged slide, which would be good news for the Yankees, who face them eight more times this season including tonight.

Then again, Gibbons could simply be reacting to the fact that over the past two nights his starters have posted this combined line:

13 IP, 12 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 0 HR

But has team has lost because his bullpen has done this:

3 2/3 IP, 9 H, 8 ER, 5 BB, 4 K, 1 HR

Tonight, Gibbons hands the ball to Dave Bush, who failed to make it out of the third inning in his last start against Detroit, then two days later was brought in to finish off a game the Jays were trailing 15-5 and gave up another pair of runs in less than three innings of work. Tonight he faces the Yankees' anchor, Mike Mussina, who looks like he just might be gearing up for another excellent stretch run. This is one of those "go for the jugular" games. This is the team the Yankees play most over the remainder of the season and a win tonight could break them.

Tension Tamer
2005-08-24 04:49
by Alex Belth

"It was a good game all the way around, and I don't ever want to play it again." Joe Torre

My girlfriend Emily loves baseball. She enjoys listening to the first couple of innings on the radio as she drives home from work. Then she settles in with me to catch the rest of it when he gets home. Em appreciates the Yankees win or lose and tolerates my pouting, shouting and other assorted pessimistic behavior as the game unfolds. Quite frankly, she still doesn't understand why I let myelf get so upset when things don't go well, and perhaps she never will. But most of the time now she lets me act the fool without much commentary. A typical scene goes like this: A Yankee hitter has two strikes on him. I predict a strikeout before the pitch reaches the plate, sometimes standing up and walking out of the room as I'm speaking. Emily always thinks the Yankees will do okay in the end. She also believes that it's plain bad karma to articulate negative thoughts like I do. But she's got a kind heart, bless her. Whenever something good does go down, as it did last night, she doesn't gloat or rub it in. It's gotten to the point where she doesn't even say anything. I just glare at her out of the corner of my eye and she gives me a look that says "I told you so, you big dope."

Before the Yankees pulled out a 5-4 victory in the bottom of the ninth last night, I was in fine form, gloom-and-doom all the way. As Joe Torre said about the current wildcard chase, "It's good for baseball, it's bad for my stomach." Last night, the Yankees seemingly wasted a good outing from Al Leiter (they can't expect him to pitch much better), saw Taynon Sturtze and Mariano Rivera come up lame in relief, Derek Jeter muff a difficult but makable play in the ninth, Alex Rodriguez fail with runners in scoring position in the eighth, Gary Sheffield go hitless on the night, and yet they still pulled out the win. Hideki Matsui came through with a clutch home run in the ninth and Felix Escalona had the game-winning knock later in the inning.

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Chutes and Leiters
2005-08-23 09:02
by Cliff Corcoran

The Yankees enter tonight's game in a three-way tie for the AL Wild Card lead with the slumping A's and surging Indians. For their part, the Yankees have won three of their last four having allowed just one run in those three wins combined.

Enter Al Leiter. This will be Leiter's eighth start since joining the Yankees. Al has failed to make it out of the sixth in any of his last five starts and has walked a whopping 27 men against 25 strikeouts in his 35 1/3 Yankee innings.

The good news is that the Yankee pen is very well rested at this point. Mariano Rivera and Tom Gordon haven't pitched since Friday, and both were working on two day's rest then. Tanyon Sturtze's eight-pitch inning yesterday was his first since last Wednesday. Felix Rodriguez's perfect inning on Sunday was his first since August 14, two Sundays ago. Aaron Small has pitched just one inning since the Saturday before that, and that came last Wednesday. Scott Proctor's perfect ninth yesterday was his first since last Tuesday, the same is true of Alan Embree's two pitches to Aaron Hill yesterday (the second of which was laced for a double).

On the hill for the Jays is Josh Towers, whom the Yankees beat in Toronto on August 7.

The Wright Stuff
2005-08-22 19:42
by Cliff Corcoran

That headline is corny as hell, but it's much deserved. Jaret Wright's second start since returning from a shoulder injury was even better the first as he needed just 99 pitches to hurl seven shutout innings against the Blue Jays, holding them to four hits and, after a trio of free passes in a shaky first inning, no walks through his final six frames.

Not that his evening was without excitement. Wright kicked things off by walking the game's first two batters, but then settled down to strike out Vernon Wells on three pitches, get Shea Hillenbrand to pop out to second, and get ahead of Corey Koskie 0-2. Unable to put Koskie away, Wright then walked him on seven pitches to load the bases, but got out of the inning when Gregg Zaun to flied out to the warning track in left on a 1-2 count.

After a pair of 1-2-3 innings that included three strikeouts, Wright gave up a lead-off double to Hillenbrand in the fourth. Hillenbrand moved to third on a Koskie groundout, and Joe Torre brought his infield in to try to preserve what was then a 1-0 Yankee lead. On a 1-2 count, Gregg Zaun hit a bouncer to Robinson Cano at second, which Cano caught on his heels and fired home to try to catch the charging Hillenbrand. As we've seen many times before this season, Jorge Posada has finally learned to block the plate, and he did so again on this occasion, keeping Hillenbrand away from the dish long enough to apply the tag and preserve the Yankee lead.

The Jays threatened again in the fifth when one-out singles by Orlando Hudson and Russ Adams put runners on the corners, but Wright got Frank Catalanotto to ground in a double play to again keep the score 1-0.

Wright then retired the next five Blue Jays he faced but, nursing a still-slim 2-0 lead in the seventh, gave up a two-out single to Erik Hinske. Wright then battled Orlando Hudson, falling behind 1-0, then getting two strikes (one looking, one swinging), only to fall behind 3-2, the third ball being a wild pitch that moved Hinske to second. On his final pitch of the night, Wright muscled up and blew Hudson away to end the inning, after which Wright left the mound with a furious fist pump and a primal scream with which he seemed to be releasing the frustrations that had built up over more than three months of injury rehab.

With Toronto starter Scott Downs out of the game, the Yankees responded to Wright's performance with a four spot in the bottom of the seventh and added another run in the eighth to top off a convincing 7-0 win and give bullpen aces Rivera and Gordon another much-needed night off.

The first two Yankee runs in the seventh scored when Hideki picked up Alex Rodriguez (who had struck out on three pitches with the bases loaded and none out) by singling home Tony Womack and Bernie Williams, who had reached on a single and a walk respectively. There was a close play at the plate on Bernie, who slid in feet first. Gregg Zaun failed to block the plate as well as Posada (!), and tagged Bernie's folded up right leg after as his extended left leg touched the dish. The ump got it right, and the replays were pretty clear, but Toronto manager John Gibbons got his money worth and an early shower with a classic, bill-to-bill argument with his doppleganger, home plate ump Marvin Hudson as the Jays dropped their fourth straight game.

By The Way

  • Derek Jeter sat out the game with a sore thumb. In his place, Felix Escalona went 1 for 3 with an RBI and a hit-by-pitch. Jeter is expected to be back in the line-up tonight.
  • Jason Giambi broke an 0-for-21 slump by going 2 for 3 with a resounding RBI single in the seventh.
  • The final Yankee run scored when an Alex Rodriguez double off the top of the left field wall cashed in a lead-off double by . . . Tony Womack!? Leading off the game in Jeter's absence, Womack picked up his ninth extra base hit of the year in 341 plate appearances, raising his slugging percentage to .273.
  • Bubba Crosby, who incidentally has no extra base hits in the majors this season, has not started a game since July 28, and has just four plate appearances since that start, fewer than Escalona, who has appeared in just two games since being called up on August 8.
Winning Ways
2005-08-22 16:01
by Cliff Corcoran

Forgive me if I refuse to join the pity party that commenced after the Yankee offense failed to compensate for Randy Johnson's atrocious fourth inning yesterday, but with the Yankees having already taken the first two games of the series from the AL-leading White Sox, I can forgive them the failure to sweep. Of course, that might also have something to do with the fact that I didn't suffer through yesterday's game as I refuse to watch Jose Contreras pitch.

Still, rather than dwelling on what the Yankees did (or didn't do) yesterday, I'm more inclined to look back at what they've done over their previous forty games. Why forty? Because that is the exact extent of what I had previously dubbed (via Steven Goldman), the "punishingly difficult" portion of the Yankees' schedule.

So how'd the Bombers do against the best the league has to offer? Pretty darn well. The Yankees went 24-16 over the last forty games against the Red Sox, Angels, White Sox, Indians, Twins, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Devil Rays. That's a .600 winning percentage against six of the seven AL clubs above .500 (including all three division leaders), the fallen AL West challengers (Rangers), and the home nine's 2005 bugaboo (D-Rays).

Over that stretch, the only teams against whom the Yankees posted a losing record were the AL West leading Angels (3-4) and those pesky D-Rays (1-2). One could argue that they got fat on the collapsing Rangers (6-1), who now have the fourth worst record in the league, but emerging from that stretch of schedule with a .600 winning percentage, especially considering the fact that their starting rotation was in ruins for the bulk of that period, remains a remarkable accomplishment.

Looking to the next forty games (as that is all that remains of the regular season), there are just three .500 teams left on the Yankees schedule, the Red Sox and A's, the two teams the Yankees are chasing in the playoff hunt, and tonight's opponent, the Toronto Blue Jays.

Hanging in just five games off the A's Wild Card pace, the Blue Jays remain the most overlooked team in the American League, and the Yankees face them more times than any other team over the remainder of the 2005 season. Starting with this week's three-game series in the Bronx, the Blue Jays and Yankees play ten times over the remainder of the season, meaning these two teams will be playing each other over a full fourth of the remaining schedule.

Thus far, the Yankees are 5-3 against the Blue Jays, going 4-1 in Toronto, including a 2-1 series win a little over two weeks ago. The Blue Jays did take two of three from the Bombers in the Bronx to finish April, but they did so behind the pitching of Roy Halladay (in a fantastic first game) and against the pitching of Mike Stanton (in an awful third game), two pitchers who are unlikely to appear in the remaining ten games between these teams (Halladay having encountered numerous complications on his way back from a broken leg suffered just prior to the All-Star break).

Absent Halladay, I just don't think the Blue Jays have the pitching to beat the Yankees consistently (reliever Pete Walker got the win in the other two Blue Jays victories against the Yankees this year, both games in which the Jays scored 8 runs to outdistance the 5 and 6 spots put up by the Yankee bats). Indeed, looking at the men the Blue Jays have lined up for this series (Scott Downs, Josh Towers, Dave Bush, and Mr. Gustavo), I think the Yankees fate is in the hands of their pitching. If they can keep the Jays from dropping an eight spot on the board, I think they've got an excellent chance to make some major hay against the Jays.

Tonight, Scott Downs will be opposed by Jaret Wright, making his second start since being activated off the DL. Wright is pitching on six days of rest thanks to Thursday's off-day and the fact that Joe Torre elected to pitch Randy Johnson on normal rest yesterday, swapping him with Wright in the rotation. One hopes that decision, which went largely unnoticed, wasn't in response to Wright experiencing discomfort following his excellent start against the D-Rays a week ago. Much as I was rooting against him when Chein-Ming Wang (who continues to make progress, by the way, recently moving up to throwing batting practice in Tampa) was cruising, a healthy and effective Jaret Wright could be the difference in the Yankees' season at this point. We'll know more after tonight.

The Big Fizzle
2005-08-22 05:18
by Alex Belth

"How do you explain that?" Johnson said, clearly exasperated. "That's the one thing I'm going to walk away from this game not understanding."
(N.Y.Daily News)

When Randy Johnson pitches a complete game like he did yesterday, chances are the news is good for Yankee fans. Johnson looked good early on against the White Sox. Then came the fourth inning. Johnson allowed consecutive home runs to Iguchi (fastball away, hit over the right field fence), Rowland (fastball at the shoulders hacked over the right centerfield wall), and Konerko (flat slider, low and over the plate, deposited deep into the left field bleachers). After two more hits, back up catcher Chris Widger woodchopped another fastball ball up between the shoulders and eyes for a three-run dinger:

"He makes that pitch, and 99 out of 100 times, there's no way I even put that ball in play," Widger said. "That just happened to be the one where I did. I hit it solid, but it was a two-strike swing, and I didn't know it was going. Shoot, after I hit it, I was just happy that I made contact and put it in the outfield, to be honest with you.

"I'm not that good, especially. Even the good hitters aren't going to hit that pitch very often. He put it right where he wanted to at 94 miles an hour. Somehow, the barrel of my bat hit it. I'm not going to question why it happened. I'm just happy that it did."

Six runs before you could blink. Rowand and Widger took defensive swings, but they were both strong enough to muscle the ball over the fence. It was the first time in Johnson's career that he allowed back-to-back-to-back homers, and the first time in his career that he'd ever allowed four in one inning. He's given up 29 on the year, one shy of his season record.

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Put up yer Dukes
2005-08-21 07:05
by Alex Belth

For true drama, it would have been fitting if Al Leiter pitched against El Duque Hernandez yesterday. Now that would be an endurance test. Instead, Hernandez was done-in by a few mistakes, and was also thoroughly out-pitched by Shawn Chacon as the Yankees handed the White Sox their seventh consecutive loss. Final score: New York 5, Chicago 0. The Bombers gained a game in both the AL East and wildcard standings as both Boston and Oakland were defeated.

After retiring the side in the first, El Duque started the second by throwing a pitch behind Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez wiggled as if suddenly being attacked by a bee; his response was almost comic. Rodriguez has handled El Duque in the past, so this was the Cuban righthander's not-so-subtle message to beware. El Duque was immediately warned by the home plate umpire Larry Vanover.

"I didn't think it was an accident. He has too good of command. There was a purpose for it and I'm not sure what it was," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "But I thought Larry Vanover did the right thing."

Rodriguez got under a fly ball and flew out to centerfield. Hideki Matsui was the next batter and he took a 2-2 fastball on the outside corner for a ball. El Duque walked off the mound and went directly to Vanor for a discussion--Vanor's strike zone was incredibly stingy--not something you see every day. (Heck, even Jason Giambi of all people, would argue balls-and-strikes before the game was through.) At the end of the inning, three-up/three-down, the two spoke again and everything looked to be okay between them. But when Duque returned to the dugout he smashed his mitt down on the top rail.

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2005-08-20 06:20
by Alex Belth

Mike Mussina out-dueled Jon Garland in Chicago last night as the Yankees beat the White Sox, 3-1. The Yanks did not gain any ground as both Oakland and Boston won, and the White Sox lost their sixth in a row. Moose threw 115 pitches over seven innings and had his good stuff working last night: crisp fastball mixed with sharp breaking pitches. Garland threw 120 pitches over seven, but never dominated. If the Yanks did not score much, they at least put together stubborn at bats, making Garland work for his outs. Chicago is excellent in the field, no wonder their pitchers have done so well this year--Joe Crede made a couple of nifty plays at third last night.

Bernie Williams had two hits and an RBI batting in the two-hole, while Robinson Cano collected a couple of hits himself from the ninth slot. Gary Sheffield had an RBI single as well. Flash Gordon worked around a one-out hit in the eighth, and Mariano Rivera pitched a one-two-three ninth to earn save number 33.

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The View From Here
2005-08-19 12:41
by Cliff Corcoran

Thanks to a well-timed and largely media-free vacation on the Maine coast, I missed the latest Yankee stumble against the sub-.400 Devil Rays. Not having witnessed the infuriating manner in which the Bronx Bumblers blew the final two games of that series earlier this week, I sense that I might have a slightly different perspective when sizing up the remaining six weeks of the Yankees' season than those embittered by watching those games unfold.

What I see when I look at the standings is that the Yankees are four games behind the Red Sox in the AL East with six games left to play against Boston and one and a half games behind the A's in the Wild Card race with three games left to play against Oakland. That means the Yankees' destiny is in their own hands. If they are able to match just one of these two clubs win-for-win over the remainder of the season and sweep their head-to-head confrontations, the Yankees will make the playoffs for the eleventh consecutive season.

Not that I expect that to happen.

But then again, why not? Aside from those nine games against the teams they're chasing, the Yankees have just three remaining games against the other two AL teams with better records than their own, those being the three games they will play against the AL best White Sox in Chicago this weekend.

Otherwise, the Yanks have three home games against the league-worst Royals, three games at the West's worst Mariners (against whom the Bombers are 5-1 on the season, including a 2-1 series win in Safeco in May), and a whopping 22 games against the three teams below them in the AL East standings.

The A's, meanwhile, have those three games against the Yankees, four in Fenway against the Red Sox, and seven against the division-leading Angels. The Red Sox have those six games against the Yanks and four against the A's, and six more against the Angels, who whupped them 13-4 last night to open a four-game series in Anahiem.

For those keeping track, that's 11 remaining games against what I'll, for lack of a better term, call "playoff caliber" teams for both the A's and Yanks, and 14 for the Red Sox. Overall, I think it's fair to say that the Yankees have the easiest remaining schedule as, while the A's, Yanks and Bosox will all do battle with each other, the A's and Hosers each have a pair of series remaining with the Angels (who as of this moment are my pick to win the AL pennant) while the Yankees get a second chance at the slumping White Sox.

Yes, the White Sox still have the best record in the American League and a convincing 10.5 game lead in the Central, but that was almost entirely the result of a smoking first half that saw the Chisox peak at 57-26 (.687) before being swept by the A's in their final series before the All-Star break. Since then, the Pale Hosers have gone 16-18 (.471), dropping their overall winning percentage 60 points to .627. Best of all for the Yankees, the bulk of that losing has come in August, a month in which the AL's "best" team has gone 6-9. Most of that is due to an active five-game losing streak that started immediately after the Southsiders squeaked out a 2-1 series win against the Yanks over the course of three one-run games early last week.

Since that series, each team has made just one roster move. The Yankees have dumped bullpen flotsam Wayne Franklin in favor of an apparently healthy (knock knock) Jaret Wright, who turned in what was easily his best Yankee outing in his first start off the DL this past Monday and will start against a hopefully less determined Jose Contreras on Sunday. The White Sox, meanwhile, have had to disable lead-off man Scott Podsednik, giving his roster spot to 23-year-old rookie outfielder Brian Anderson and his spot in left field and the batting order to < a href="">Timo! Perez.

The Yankees move clearly makes them better, while the White Sox move clearly makes them worse (Timo! actually started two of the three games in last weeks' series due to a Carl Everett injury, but not as the White Sox's lead-off hitter, and good as Timo is in the field, Podsednik is better). As the last meeting between these two teams resulted in a net score of 6-5 White Sox, it's not irrational to think that these simple changes just might have tipped the balance in the Yankees' favor.

Tonight the Yanks send staff anchor Mike Mussina against the major-leagues' second winningest pitcher, Jon Garland. Coming off a pair of stomach-punch loses against the Devil Rays, with the FOX jinx lurking over tomorrow's El Duque/Chacon match-up, and the two teams the Yankees are chasing starting their respective aces tonight (Harden and Clement), the Yankees really need to pull out a win tonight to keep morale high and the hitters loose.

Let's Get Together
2005-08-19 05:23
by Alex Belth

The Yankees are in Chicago this weekend for a three-game series against the White Sox, a team that has slumped recently. Mike Mussina faces Jon Garland in Game tonight. The Bombers trail Boston by four games after the Sox were pounded by the Angels last night in California. Not for nothing, but after going 0-9 over the last two games, I'd like to see Alex Rodriguez carry the team this weekend.

There are a few articles about Joe Torre's future as the manager of the Yankees in the New York papers today (Chass, Lupica). If the commentors on this site are any indication, Torre has faced more criticism this season than he has in almost any other year in New York. There is clearly a segment of Yankee fans out there that would be happy to see Torre go. Brian Cashman's contract expires this fall and he may not be back either. Personally, I think Torre will return next year, but in George Steinbrenner's universe, of couse nothing's shocking (I'd also like to see Cashman return as well). In spite of his flaws as a tactition, I would like to see Torre come back in 2006. Call me sentimental, but I'm not ready for the Torre Era to end just yet.

Ol' Reliable

Allen Barra's former partner in crime over at the Village Voice, Allen St. John, has an interesting look at the dominant relievers in the game today in The Wall Street Journal. Mariano Rivera is at the top of the list, but not the tippy-top. That spot is reserved for...Justin Spieir. St. John checks the statistics.

2005-08-18 05:14
by Alex Belth

"This was ugly. We just gave too much away and we didn't get the job done. It's one thing having a team beat you. It's another thing to help them beat you. That's what this one was tonight." Joe Torre

It was a game the Yankees needed to win. With a 5-2 lead in the sixth, it appeared that they would win. But poor relief pitching combined with lousy fielding and hitting allowed the Devil Rays to come-from-behind and beat the Bombers, 7-6. This game goes to the top of the list of painful losses for the Yanks who failed to gain ground on either the Red Sox or A's. This one was like bony finger in the Yankees' gut.

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Masterpiece Theater
2005-08-17 15:18
by Alex Belth

Al Leiter brings drama to each one of his starts--of which there are now precious few remaining. And not only do we get treated to great theater for free, but Leiter often works so deliberately that it's as if you are sitting through a PBS pledge drive anyhow.

The Sox and A's both lost this afternoon. This is a game the Yanks have to win, 'nuff said. Let's get the Led out gentlemen.

Go Al!

What a Difference a Night Makes
2005-08-17 05:25
by Alex Belth

When the Yankees loaded the bases in the second inning they already had a 3-0 lead. They had four consecutive hits in the inning, there was nobody out, and Cano, Sheffield and Rodriguez were due up. I thought to myself that this could be the game right here. One hit and Randy Johnson will have all the runs he needs. The Yanks weren't hitting Doug Waechter especially hard but Sweet Lou had the bullpen up and working just in case things got out of hand. Cano, who had walked on four pitches in the first, grounded sharply to Eduardo Perez. The portly son of Hall of Fame firstbaseman Tony Perez, Eduardo made an off-balance throw home for the first out. It wasn't a graceful-looking play but it was effective. Waechter then struck out Sheffield and got Rodriguez to ground out to short.

The Yankees would not score again and eventually lost the game in extra innings. Perez, who hit two home runs off of Johnson in New York back on April 19, hit another dinger off Johnson, a two-run shot in the sixth. Then, with one out in the ninth, he tied the game with a solo dinger off of Mariano Rivera, who blew his fourth game of the season. The ball barely cleared the left field fence. A fan wearing a Yankee jersey caught the ball. I could not tell from the replay if he reached into fair territory but it seemed like the ball was only going to hit off the top of the wall. Rivera watched the play unfold and after the ball was ruled a home run, a flash of tension gripped his face. It almost looked like a spasm. His face coiled up with anger and it looked like he was going to say something. Instead he spit. It happened so quickly it was easy to miss. Rivera, who then motioned with his hands that the fan perhaps interfered with the ball, rarely shows emotion but that was a fitting expression. So mad that all he could do was spit.

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Mr. Big Stuff
2005-08-16 15:23
by Alex Belth

Well...who do you think you are?

Big start for the Big Unit tonight.

As Advertised
2005-08-16 10:15
by Alex Belth

The winner of the American League MVP will be determined over the next six weeks. This is nothing new, of course. Nobody in the league is having a dominant season and since the voters usually select a player on a contending team, there is still much to be be decided. There are three guys from up in Boston with a shot (Ortiz--.303/.400/.584, Manny--.287/.385/.595, Damon--.334/.382/.474), and a couple of guys on the Yanks with a chance too (Rodriguez--.320/.421/.611, Rivera). Tejada (.316/.364/.556) and Guerrero (.327/.389/.596) can't be discouted, especially Vlad. It's remarkable that Guerrero has only played in 100 games this year but still has more homers than Tejada, who has played in 118 (26-22), as well as more RBI (88-77). However, if Alex Rodriguez finishes the season well, and/or the Yanks make the playoffs, he could be the front-runner. The only significant flaw in his game this year has been his defense, and even that has been much-improved of late. Joel Sherman noted in the Post today:

Early in the season, Rodriguez looked worse at third base than he did in his first year at the hot corner. But something clicked about two months into the season, and Rodriguez has played at a Gold Glove level since. He has not committed an error since June 22.

As Jay Jaffe put it to me in a recent e-mail, "As for A-Rod, we're getting the one in the catalog now." I know he's not going to stay hot forever, but I sure do enjoy watching him shine. There is nothing quite like watching great players, and Rodriguez certainly is a great player.

Talkin' Baseball
2005-08-16 10:05
by Alex Belth

Just a heads up for those of you living here in the tri-state area...Stephen Borelli, author of "How About That! The Life of Mel Allen," will be appearing at the mid-Manhattan Library this Thursday. The Library is located at 455 5th avenue, which is on the southeast corner of 40th street and 5th avenue (across from the Main Branch of the public library, you know, the big one with the lions out front). Borelli will be there at 6:30, discussing his book and sharing some Mel Allen audio. If you are around, check it out.

Catwalk Cruisin'
2005-08-16 04:46
by Alex Belth

With two men on and just one out, the tying run came to the plate against Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning last night (Rivera had allowed a bloop double and then hit a batter). At the same time in Detroit, the Tigers were staging a ninth inning comeback against the Red Sox closer Curt Schilling. However, Rivera steadied himself, retired the next two hitters and sealed a 5-2 win for the Yankees. With the Sox and A's losing, the Yanks now trail Boston by three-and-a-half games in the AL East, and Oakland by just a game-and-a-half for the wildcard.

Jaret Wright had his longest outing as a Yankee, pitching into the seventh inning. He was aggresive and threw strikes. The Devil Rays hit the ball sharply several times off of Wright, but for the most part, they went directly at Yankee fielders (Alex Rodriguez made an especially nifty pick on a Jorge Cantu ground ball in the bottom of the fourth). Wright gave up two runs on four hits, a walk and a couple of strikeouts. Even better, he only threw 79 pitches and was still throwing in the early-to-mid nineties in the sixth inning.

Alex Rodriguez, the Bombers' candidate for the American League MVP, led the offense cracking another memorable home run. This one--a solo shot--hit one of the catwalks. Rodriguez knew it was gone off the bat and went into a home run trot. The TV cameras showed centerfielder Joey Gathright going back on the ball as if he had a chance to make a play. Then he just stopped and kept looking up. The ball never came down. Suddenly, Rodriguez was hustling into third. But just as he slid, the umpires signaled that the ball was indeed a home run. Oh man, Jeter is going to bust his chops for this one, I thought.

Continue reading...

The Devil Rays
2005-08-15 04:35
by Cliff Corcoran

One of the drawbacks to being a Yankee fan is having to watch the home nine play the Devil Rays nineteen times a year. This year things have been especially bad as the D-Rays have not only been their usual last-place selves, but have been beating up on the Yankees, holding a 7-3 advantage in the season series thus far. Here's a quick summary of those first ten games:

The Yankees and Devil Rays split a two-game series in the Bronx back in late April. In the first game, the Yankees abused Rob Bell to win 19-8 behind a Jaret Wright who did everything he could to lose. Less than a month later, Bell was put on the DL for "personal and psychological issues." He has since been activated and sent to the minors. Wright, meanwhile will make just his sixth start of the year tonight after more than three months on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.

The next night Hideo Nomo stifled the Yankee bats, while Randy Johnson gave up a pair of homers to Eduardo Perez as the Rays won 6-2. Johnson has since missed his most recent start with inflammation in his lumbar spine and is questionable for tomorrow. Nomo, meanwhile was released by the D-Rays and is currently attempting a comeback in the Yankees' system.

Two weeks later in Tampa, the Yankees hit what appeared to be their nadir. In the first game, Andy Phillips struck out five times in a 6-2 win over Scott Kazmir and has been blacklisted by Joe Torre ever since. Following the game, Brian Cashman dropped the bombshell that Tony Womack would move to left field, pushing Hideki Matsui into center field, giving the second base job to rookie Robinson Cano, and benching Bernie Williams for the forseable future.

With their new line-up in place, the Yankees proceeded to drop the next three games to the Rays by a combined score of 28-14. In the third game of the series, the Yankees skipped Randy Johnson in the rotation due to concerns over a sore groin. In his place, they started a rookie straight out of double-A Trenton named Sean Henn. Henn was rocked for six runs (five earned) on seven hits and a pair of walks in just 2 1/3 innings. After the game, Henn confessed that his knees were shaking on the mound. He was then sent down to triple-A Columbus.

When the Rays and Yankees met again in the Bronx in late June, it was Henn, back up to fill in for Kevin Brown, who took the mound. Henn faired "better" in his second big-league start, but walked seven men in just 4 2/3 innings, throwing just 47 percent of a staggering 98 pitches for strikes. Against Henn and since-jettisoned reliever Paul Quantrill, the Rays got out to a 5-0 lead behind a stellar outing by Casey Fossum, which was just enough to hold off a four-run rally by the Yankees against the since-demoted Lance Carter in the eighth.

The next night brought another Johnson-Nomo confrontation, with Nomo again coming out on top thanks to Johnson turning in one of his worst starts in recent memory (seven runs on eight hits--three of them homers by Damon Hollins, Kevin Cash and Jonny Gomes--in just three innings). This time, however, the Yankee eighth-inning rally tallied thirteen runs, the second time this year that the Yankees had scored thirteen runs in a single inning against Tampa, and the Bombers emerged with a 20-11 victory.

The next night a 3-2 Yankee lead was erased by a three-run Nick Green home run off Carl Pavano in the seventh, giving the Rays a 5-3 win. In the capper, the Rays got six runs off Chien-Ming Wang to take a 6-4 lead behind Mark Hendrickson, then added a three spot against Tom Gordon in the ninth for good measure to win 9-4.

That most recent series in the Bronx was particularly disheartening as the discrepancy between the Yankees' home record and the Devil Rays' road record entering the series was striking:

Yanks Home: 22-13 (.629)
Rays Road: 5-28 (.152)

Entering the current three-game series in Tampa, the home and away records of the two combatants tells a very different story. As of this past Friday:

Rays Home: 28-28
Yanks Road: 26-29


Continue reading...

Yankees v. Rangers Game 4
2005-08-14 08:38
by Cliff Corcoran

We'll be back in action tomorrow. In the meantime, here's another open thread for ya.

In the Boom Boom Room
2005-08-14 05:55
by Alex Belth

I've been a little out of it for the past few days. As a gentle summer rain cools Vermont off this morning, I'm catching up on the latest dish in the papers. Here's some Sunday tidbits I've come across:

From the Times:

[Bernie] Williams's day started with a flat tire on his drive to the ballpark, an anecdote Manager Joe Torre shared. "It was perfect, but that's Bernie," he said. "That's the way we categorize everything that involves him: that's Bernie. Bernie being Bernie."

..."I know I've got a lot to catch up for the year, as far as numbers are concerned," said Williams, who has nine homers and a .245 batting average. "But hopefully they'll see a value in me being on the team, more valuable than individual numbers. They'll see that in a given situation, I can help the team win in that fashion."

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Sweatin' to the Oldies
2005-08-13 13:41
by Alex Belth

On a swealtering day in the Bronx, Mariano Rivera blew a two-run lead to the Texas Rangers in the ninth inning, raising his ERA to 1.33. It is the first time he's blown a save since he faced Boston at the start the season. Thankfully, our old pal Bernie Williams saved the day, cracking a two-run dinger in the bottom of the 11th to give the Bombers a 7-5 win. No soup for Mussina (who pitched a good game), and no soup for Mo, but lots of soup for everyone else, as the Yanks have taken three-in-a-row from Texas. They'll go for the series sweep tomorrow afternoon.

Five Game Tally: Yankees 20, Opponents 19
2005-08-12 22:00
by Cliff Corcoran

With their 6-5 victory over the Rangers last night, the Yankees have now participated in five straight one-run games, going 3-2 in that stretch. The Yankees are 7-5 in one-run games since the All-Star break and 16-12 (.571) in one-run contests on the season, a pretty solid record. Still it sure would be nice if they'd win a laugher every now and again.

Last night the problem was Al Leiter, who threw 125 pitches (only 54 percent strikes) through just five innings, allowing three earned runs on seven hits and three walks. Derek Jeter was part of the problem as well as, with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the second, Jeter bobbled a Michael Young grounder, then threw wide of Robinson Cano at second, picking up a pair of errors and allowing a pair of runs to score in the process. Fortunately, Jeter was also part of the solution, hitting the first pitch from reliver C.J. Wilson, who replaced an even less effective Chris Young, for what proved to be the game-winning home run in the bottom of the fourth. In a complete reversal of Thursday night's game, the Yankee bullpen sparkled as Felix Rodriguez, Wayne Franklin, Tanyon Sturtze (picking up the save) and, in a creative bit of managing by Joe Torre, Shawn Chacon on his throw day, combined to allow just three baserunners across four scoreless innings to nail down the win.

The Rangers are calling up Juan Dominguez to start today's game against Mike Mussina. Dominguez will be making his first major league start of the year. No word yet on how they'll make room for the 25-year-old righty on the roster.

The Rangers
2005-08-12 12:32
by Cliff Corcoran

Pardon Our Crumbs

Some of you may have noticed the service problems we experienced on Wednesday and Thursday. We apologize for that, but hope that you understand that Baseball Toaster and its support software Fairpole have been created from scratch and there are still a few kinks to work out. The good news is that part of the reason for the mid-week down time was that our Creator, Ken Arneson was working on a way to get this site to load faster and work more efficiently, which is good news for everybody, but especially those of you with slower connections.

Unfortunately, now that we're back up and running smoothly, Bronx Banter is going to have to go into quasi-hibernation over the weekend as both Alex and I are going to have some difficulty getting on-line for a variety of reasons. The first casualty of this was a game-wrap for last night's 9-8 win over the Rangers, a game which combined a sparkling performance from emergency starter Scott Proctor (three hits and no walks in five innings, three strikeouts and 71 percent of just 76 pitches for strikes), a collapse by the key members of the Yankee bullpen (Alan Embree, Felix Rodriguez, Tanyon Sturtze and Tom Gordon, who combined to allow five runs on six hits and four walks in just 2 2/3 innings, the big blow being a three-run homer by Michael Young of Sturtze in the fifth), a game-winning home run by Derek Jeter, and yet another dominant outing by Mariano river, picking up a four-out save the day after pitching two-innings against the White Sox.

Prior to last night's Yankee victory, the Yankees and Rangers were tied 3-3 in their season series, each team having taken two of three in the other's ballpark. That the road team won the previous two series between these teams is a bit fluky, as both teams are significantly better at home. Having dropped series to the Indians and White Sox already this month, the Yankees have to hope that probability wins out in the current set as, with one victory already in the bag, it would behoove them to take two of the remaining three.

As for the Rangers themselves, I couldn't believe my eyes when I assembled the Texas roster prior to yesterday's game, but Michael Kay confirmed it during the YES broadcast: the Rangers are carrying thirteen pitchers, limiting themselves to a three-man bench. Earlier in the year I was dismayed by the number of American League teams that were carrying twelve pitchers and a four-man bench (nearly all of them), but this is just stunning.

Worst of all, it's not as if the Rangers have a Chone Figgins or Ryan Freel on their bench. They have a 39-year-old catcher who hasn't posted an on-base percentage above .310 since 2000 or a slugging percentage above .410 since 1999, a rookie futility infielder, and Passaic's own Mark DeRosa,, a career .266/.318/.371 hitter. Meanwhile, among their thirteen pitchers are the ghosts of James Baldwin and Steve Karsay. Yes, the Rangers have a formidable every-day line-up, but I find it hard to believe that their minor league system is so barren that it couldn't provide the big club with a single hitter that would be a more valuable part of this team than James Baldwin, who is with his seventh team of the last five years.

Tonight Al Leiter will attempt to justify Joe Torre's decision to send Aaron Small to the bullpen, while the 6'10" Dallas native Chris Young takes the hill for the Rangers.

Continue reading...

Fixing A Hole (Or Four)
2005-08-11 09:27
by Cliff Corcoran

The Yankees suffered another heartbreaking loss yesterday afternoon, dropping the rubber game of their series against the major league leading Chicago White Sox by a score of 2-1 in ten innings. The decisive blow came against Mariano Rivera in the top of the tenth. Following a strikeout of John Flaherty's predecessor, Chris Widger, Juan Uribe fouled off four Rivera pitches, taking two others for balls in the process, then lifted Mo's seventh pitch to deep center field where the ball evaded Bernie Williams for a one-out triple.

Lead-off man Scott Podsednik, who lead off the series with a bunt base hit against Mike Mussina, then took strike one, fouled off a bunt on an apparent safety squeeze attempt, and grounded to Robinson Cano at second. Cano fired home, but, according to reader Johnny C:

Uribe got a great jump off third and when Cano made a decent throw home to Posada, he was barely safe. You could say that the throw was a little to the first base side, or that Posada didn't straddle the plate the way Scioscia would have, but it's a moot point. Good play on Uribe's part.

Credit Ozzie Guillen's small-ball tactics for this win, as the first White Sox run came when a Carl Everett double cashed in a bunt base-hit by Pablo Ozuna in the third. That and Uribe's mad dash for home were all the White Sox would need as Freddy Garcia cruised through eight innings, allowing just one unearned run on six hits and a walk.

The lone Yankee run came right away in the first inning. Derek Jeter lead off with a infield single to shortstop and moved to second on a throwing error by Uribe. He then moved to third on a Cano groundout and scored on a single by Gary Sheffield.

And that was it. The Yankees were held scoreless by Garcia and relievers Neal Cotts and Dustin Hermanson for the remaining nine innings, putting just seven more men on base via two walks and five hits, all singles. The only time the Yankees even mounted a legitimate threat was in the fourth when Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui lead off with consecutive singles and moved to second and third on a Giambi groundout only to be stranded by a Bernie Williams strikeout and a John Flaherty pop up.

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2005-08-10 09:07
by Alex Belth

After two low-scoring games, I wonder if we are in for more of an offensive affair this afternoon. Aaron Small goes for the Yanks and geez, do you think it's asking too much for another solid outing? Even if it is, what cherce do the Yanks have? Well, to pound Freddie Garcia for one. The Bombers hit the ball hard on Tuesday with nothing much to show for it. They'll need the bats to do the talking this afternoon if they hope to win the series. Thunderstorms are in the forecast.

Bombs away. Let's Go Yan-Kees.

Close Don't Count
2005-08-10 04:57
by Alex Belth

When Bernie Williams pinch-hit in the ninth inning last night, I held my breath and hoped that the Yankee veteran would come through. There were two outs and men on the corners with the Yanks down a run. Williams lashed the first pitch he saw from Dustin Hermanson. By my count it must have been the fifth or sixth ball a Yankee batter had hit on the screws during the game. Unfortunately, like the other hard hit balls--with one exception--it went directly to a White Sox fielder. Bernie's liner was caught by the first baseman Paul Konerko, the game was suddenly over, and Chicago had won, 2-1.

"You can hit the ball but you can't steer it," said Yankee announcer Jim Kaat. It was just one of those nights, one where the Yanks couldn't buy a break. Both Jose Contreras and Shawn Chacon pitched exceedingly well. Contreras was filthy, mixing his pitches, working efficiently. When he is on, he can be overpowering. (El Duque may be the better pitcher, but Contreras has much nastier stuff.) Chacon worked in-and-out of trouble, but turned in another admirable performance. For a low-scoring affair, the game wasn't exactly crisp, but it was exciting. Tony Womack and Hideki Matsui made nice catches for the Yanks, Derek Jeter turned a difficult double play in the first, and Aaron Rowand continues to suck up everything hit to the gap in right-center and left-center field.

For the most part it was a clean loss for New York. The rub was Joe Torre's decision to let Alan Embree start the ninth inning. After Embree got the Yankees out of trouble in the eighth, he gave up a long solo home run to Konerko on a 3-2 pitch to start the ninth. Alex Rodriguez's dinger in the bottom of the inning made it close but not close enough. The Yankees lost a game in the AL East standings as Boston beat Texas in extra innings. They remain three-and-a-half behind Oakland in the wildcard, who were pounded by the Vlad and company last night.

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Quesy Feeling
2005-08-09 05:53
by Alex Belth

While Mariano Rivera is giving Yankee fans a peaceful, easy feeling each time he steps on the mound these days, I have to admit that I'm nervous. Not about Rivera, but about the possibility of another star player testing positive for steroids. I'm sure fans all over the country are feeling the same way. It seems inevitable that more guys are going to fall. Which Yankee will it be, I was wondering last night? Man, don't let it be Rivera or Jeter or Bernie or Rodriguez. Please. It's hard to say anything would surprise me, but really, if Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter were found using steroids it would shock me.

As exciting as this season as been, it's hard not to feel that these are dark, paranoid times for baseball. Cynicism is at an all-time high. The commissioner's office has virtually sacrificed the integrity of the season witholding the Palmeiro test results for so long. Who knows what other players have tested positive yet are still allowed to continue playing? In the comments section yesterday, I wondered why nobody in the media has publicly suspected Roger Clemens of using performance-enhancing drugs. Today, Monte Poole wonders the exact same thing. I'm not saying that Clemens has done anything--how would I know?---I just think it is curious that he hasn't gotten the same third degree that other bulky veterans have received.

Maybe it's just me. But while I've got one eye on my team and my favorite players, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So Fresh, So Clean
2005-08-08 19:00
by Cliff Corcoran

The Yankees have won a number of 4-3 and 4-2 games this season (eight to be exact), but only once have they come away victorious from a game in which both teams scored fewer than three runs. They did it for a second time last night, despite Mike Mussina working inefficiently and hitting another fifth-inning pot hole.

Thing started unusually with Scott Podsednik reaching on a bunt single to lead off the game only to be thrown out stealing on the first pitch to Tadahito Iguchi. Derek Jeter then launched El Duque's second pitch in the bottom of the first to the gap in left only to have Aaron Rowand break directly to where the ball was hit and make a full extension catch on a dead run before flopping onto the warning track. Three pitches later, Rowand caught a Robinson Cano drive on the run on the warning track in the right center gap. Hernandez then walked Sheffield on six pitches and Alex Rodriguez hit one where Rowand couldn't get to it, half-way back in the left field box seats. 2-0 Yankees.

In the top of the second, a pair of White Sox singles back over the mound put runners on first and second with no outs. Mussina then struck out Jermaine Dye and Rowand gave the Yankees their two outs back by grounding into a double play.

The Yankees added to their lead in the bottom of the second. Tino Martinez reached on a one-out seeing eye single past Iguchi. Tony Womack, who has started the last two games because Bernie Williams is nursing a sore shoulder, followed with an opposite field slap double, just his second extra base hit since May 13 and his first double since April 26 (Womack has seven extra base hits on the season, four of them came in April). Tino moved to third on Womack's double and scored on a groundout by Jeter for the third Yankee run. That would be all the Yankees would get. It would also be all they would need.

Mussina pitched a 1-2-3 third and got three pop-ups around a one-out Pierzynski single in the fourth. Then came the fifth. Jermaine Dye lead off with a clean single in the hole into left. Rowand followed with a double to the left field gap that both Matsui and Womack misplayed. As Dye came home with the first Chicago run, the relay throw veered toward the White Sox dugout. Rowand them moved to third on a Crede groundout to Cano and scored on a Uribe sac fly to Matsui. After having completely imploded in the fifth inning of his last start, Mussina gave up two-thirds of the Yankee lead in the fifth inning of this one, while laboring his way to 91 pitches, finally striking out Podsednik with a full count to end the inning.

Mussina then retired the first two men in the sixth before giving up a bloop single to Konerko and a ground-rule double to Timo Perez, who, testifying to the poor quality of the Chicago bench, started at designated hitter with Jurassic Carl Everett still nursing a groin injury. Mussina then battled Jermaine Dye over eight pitches, getting ahead with strike one, then 1-2, before Dye worked the count full, fouling off a pair of pitches in the process. Finally, Mussina's 123rd pitch of the night came in over the middle of the plate, just above the knee, and broke inside and down as Dye swung over it for strike three, ending the White Sox threat and Mussina's night.

After that, the Yankees' Big Three did their job in style. Sturtze needed eight pitches (seven strikes) to work a 1-2-3 seventh. Gordon needed just eight more tosses to work a perfect eighth. Finally, Mariano Rivera threw seven strikes, not allowing a ball past the infield and blowing away Rowand with a high heater to nail down the 3-2 win, converting his career-best 30th consecutive save opportunity.

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The White Sox
2005-08-08 16:07
by Cliff Corcoran

Chicago White Sox

2005 Record: 72-38 (.655)
2005 Pythagorean Record: 66-44 (.600)

Manager: Ozzie Guillen
General Manager: Kenny Williams

Ballpark (2004 park factors): U.S. Cellular Field

Who's replaced whom?

Scott Podsednik replaced Carlos Lee
Jermaine Dye replaced John Valentin
Tadahito Iguchi replaced Willie Harris (minors)
Carl Everett replaced Magglio Ordonez
A.J. Pierzynski replaced Ben Davis (minors) and Miguel Olivo
Geoff Blum replaced Ross Gload (minors)
Orlando Hernandez replaced Scott Schoeneweis
Dustin Hermanson replaced Billy Koch and a chunk of Jon Adkins
Luis Vizcaino replaced Mike Jackson
Bobby Jenks replaced Shingo Takatsu (released)

Current Roster:

1B – Paul Konerko
2B – Tadahito Iguchi
SS – Juan Uribe
3B – Joe Crede
C – A.J. Pierzynski
RF – Jermaine Dye
CF – Aaron Rowand
LF – Scott Podsednik
DH – Carl Everett


S – Geoff Blum (IF)
L – Timo Perez (OF)
R – Pablo Ozuna (IF)
R – Chris Widger (C)


L – Mark Buehrle
R – Jon Garland
R – Orlando Hernandez
R – Jose Contreras
R – Freddy Garcia


R – Dustin Hermanson
L – Neal Cotts
R – Cliff Politte
L – Damaso Marte
R – Luis Vizcaino
R – Bobby Jenks
R – Jon Adkins

DL: R – Frank Thomas (DH)

Typical Line-up

L – Scott Podsednik (LF)
R – Tadahito Iguchi (2B)
S – Carl Everett (DH)
R – Paul Konerko (1B)
L – A.J. Pierzynski (C)
R – Jermaine Dye (RF)
R – Aaron Rowand (CF)
R – Joe Crede (3B)
R – Juan Uribe (SS)

Continue reading...

Extra, Extra
2005-08-08 06:02
by Alex Belth

Well, here it is. Stephen Rodrick's profile on Gary Sheffield for New York Magazine. Truthfully, there is little here that will come of any great surprise: Sheffield has a chip on his shoulder, can be difficult with the press, and has an innate ability to speak his mind and say "controversial" things. You don't say.

"I just don't enjoy the game the way you want me to," says Sheffield. By "you" he means reporters, for sure, but also many fans. "People say about me, 'He's moody,' but I don't see them in the same mood every day. Some days I feel like talking, some days I don't. Some days I don't feel like looking at you. I'm tired of looking at you. And I'm sure you're tired of looking at me. They're trying to catch me in a moment where I'm vulnerable. They're trying to do damage. I don't do damage to no one."

Maybe sometimes to himself, but that's nothing a two-run home run won't cure.

The Glass is Half Something (I can't call it)
2005-08-08 04:57
by Alex Belth

Okay, first the bad news. Randy Johnson's stiff back may force him to miss his start this week. According to Tyler Kepner in The New York Times:

"It's real tight, so it's hard to move around," he said after receiving extensive pregame treatment. "Just the normal aches and pains, but today there's the back spasm, so there's a little bit more discomfort."

Though his back has been a persistent issue this season, it has not caused him to miss a start. That could change this week.

"Let's put it this way: If he feels the way he does today, he can't pitch," Manager Joe Torre said. "He's been dealing with this issue and other issues. There are a lot of things he has to attend to before he pitches every fifth day. He's uncomfortable today. Is it going to affect his next start? We need a day or two to know that."

Meanwhile, Carl Pavano was scratched from his scheduled return on Tuesday. Instead, Pavano will visit Dr. James Andrews and there is talk that his season is over.

Continue reading...

Bow Down to a Player That's Greater Than You
2005-08-08 04:54
by Alex Belth
Big comes up Small
2005-08-07 07:46
by Alex Belth

Randy Johnson allowed six runs in four innings and did not return for the fifth as the Yankees lost 8-5 in Toronto. As a result, the Bombers lose another game in the wildcard standings as the A's won again, but kept pace with the Sox who fell to the Twins for the second straight day.

Tyler Kepner wonders how much of Johnson's ineffectiveness has to do with his back. While we don't know for sure what the status of Johnson's health is, his performance has been uneven all year:

"There've been some games where I've gotten roughed up where I felt like, 'O.K., I made a pitch here, I made a pitch there,' " Johnson said. "Today, I didn't make a pitch all day. I wasn't effective, for whatever reason. Obviously, if I knew, I would have corrected it. But I threw every pitch that I had."

If Johnson and Mussina are not able to lead the pitching staff--like our old friends, with the help of one Roy Oswalt, are doing down in Houston--then it is likely that the Yankees will miss the playoffs this year. It's not terribly complicated: the Yankees desperately need greatness from their top two starters.

We could be in for a long one this afternoon as Curtain Call Al Leiter performs in a matinee. Let's hope it's not "Long Day's Journey Into Night." Stay away from the O'Neill, Al, and you can skip the Arthur Miller while you are at it. Keep it snappy and light like "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Or some cornball Neil Simon affair.

Break a leg, boys.

Small to Big
2005-08-06 11:48
by Alex Belth

Michael Kay and Ken Singleton were discussing Gary Sheffield's latest comments as Sheffield came to bat in the first inning. No sooner had Kay reported that Sheffield told reporters before the game that his words were taken out of context, the Yankees' right fielder lined a two-run homer to left. Hey babe, say what you want, just keeping mashing. As far as what he told the press, Sheffield is at his usual upfront (and confounding) best:

"That's the life of being me," Sheffield said at Rogers Center on Friday. "It's tough for me to do interviews. When people have pens, they have motives. It was supposed to be a positive interview."

...Of all the two people you pick, you pick probably the two guys I trust most in all of baseball," Sheffield said. "Not just on this team, but in all of baseball. Dearest friends, closest friends, personal relationships. That ain't even worth commenting on or defending."

...Of Jeter, he said Friday: "Jeter's our captain - he's not the leader, he's the captain. So that's a different ballgame. Every team I've been on, everybody leads in different ways. So it's not no shot at one particular person. There's a lot of leaders in baseball. That's what it was about."

Neither Jeter or Rodriguez seemed to be upset about Sheffield's comments. Nothing to see here, let's move along.

After Friday night's tidy 6-2 win in Toronto, Randy Johnson goes to the hill for the Yanks this afternoon. The Bombers gained a game in the AL East standings.

Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon have given the Yankees five good starts. Johnson and Mussina need to be lights out.

The Blue Jays
2005-08-05 14:21
by Cliff Corcoran

Toronto Blue Jays

2005 Record: 55-52 (.514)
2005 Pythagorean Record: 61-46 (.574)

Manager: John Gibbons
General Manager: J.P. Ricciardi

Ballpark (2004 park factors): Rogers Centre (106/105)

Who's replaced whom?

Aaron Hill has replaced John McDonald (Tigers)
Scott Downs has replaced Roy Halladay (DL)
Dustin McGowan has replaced Ted Lilly (DL)
Brandon League has replaced Matt Whiteside (minors)

Current Roster:

1B – Eric Hinske
2B – Orlando Hudson
SS – Russ Adams
3B – Corey Koskie
C – Gregg Zaun
RF – Alexis Rios
CF – Vernon Wells
LF – Frank Catalanotto
DH - Shea Hillenbrand


R - Reed Johnson (OF)
R - Aaron Hill (IF)
R - Frank Menechino (IF)
R - Ken Huckaby (C)


L - Gustavo Chacin
L - Scott Downs
R - Josh Towers
R - David Bush
R - Dustin McGowan


R - Miguel Batista
R - Justin Speier
L - Scott Schoeneweis
R - Jason Frasor
R - Vinnie Chulk
R - Pete Walker
R - Brandon League


R - Roy Halladay
L - Ted Lilly

Typical Line-up

L - Russ Adams (SS)
L - Frank Catalanotto (LF)
R - Vernon Wells (CF)
R - Shea Hillenbrand (DH)
L - Corey Koskie (3B)
S - Gregg Zaun (C)
L - Eric Hinske (1B)
R - Alexis Rios (RF)
S - Orlando Hudson (2B)

Continue reading...

Hihowaya, Pleasedtomeetyuhs
2005-08-05 04:58
by Alex Belth

With the 231st street station closed for repairs this summer, the fastest way for me to get to my apartment is by getting off on 238th street and walking. About seven blocks from the station is a mountain of a steps. There are eight levels, each comprised of sixteen steps. After you make it past the first four flights, there is a rest area where you can catch your breath or puke your guts out, whichever comes first. Since the station at 231 has been closed for a few months now, I no longer suck wind by the time I get to the top of the stairs. Still, at the end of the day--particularly in these dog days of summer--the schlepp isn't exactly something to look forward to.

As I approached the stairs last night, I took my head out of my book and saw an old man in shorts ahead of me. Carrying two plastic shopping bags, he was walking oddly, almost hopping, as if he wanted to jog but just didn't have it in him to move any faster than he was already going. I caught up to him at the bottom of the steps and said hello. "Two-at-a-time," he announced in a thick Bronx accent. Well, if he was up for it, so was I. We started chatting--I told he reminded me of Art Carney. The conservation kind of died so I asked if he was a baseball fan. He said he was.

"Yankee fan?"

Nope. I figured it was a stretch that he'd be a Dodger fan so far north, so I said, "Giants?"

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2005-08-04 21:31
by Cliff Corcoran

The batboy that the Cleveland Indians provide to visiting ballclubs at Jacobs field is a portly, Asian, Ohio State student who keeps the cleanest dugout in the major leagues. According to the YES broadcasters, the Yankees have absolutely fallen in love with this bulbous batboy who actually sweeps the visiting dugout when the team is in the field. Their fondness for the kid was on display in the bottom of the sixth inning last night when, as he swept his way past Randy Johnson, the Big Unit stood up and took over for him, sweeping sunflower seed shells and such into a neat pile, then going to grab a dust pan.

Johnson didn't actually pitch last night, but thanks in part to the old reverse jinx, he was the only player on either side of last night's contest with a broom in his hand as the Yankees fended off the Cleveland sweep with a surprising ninth-inning rally, winning the final game of the series 4-3 (curiously the same score my softball team--which almost never triumphs--won by on Wednesday night, also overcoming a 3-2 deficit in our last at-bat).

As the final score might indicate, the game was something of a pitcher's duel, at least through the first six innings. Kevin Millwood was fantastic, needing just 94 pitches, 76 percent of them strikes, to get through eight innings (8 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 8 K). Shawn Chacon was less efficient, needing 104 pitches (a hair under 60 percent of them strikes) to get through six plus a batter.

Still, perhaps due to my low expectations, I was impressed by Chacon's performance. Despite working deep into counts, Chacon--who wears his uniform baggy and his hat slightly to the side with the brim almost flat in the style of the younger generation of African-American ballplayers such as the Marlins' Dontrelle Willis and Juan Pierre, the Indians' C.C. Sabathia and Coco Crisp, and the Mets' Mike Cameron--was working close to the strike zone and making hitters miss with a very effective curve ball. The extra-wide (but consistent) strike zone of home plate umpire Bob Davison surely helped, as Chacon walked just two men while striking out four (three of them looking at pitches on or off the corners) but, although it was technically earned, the only run that scored on his watch was entirely the fault of his defense.

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2005-08-04 14:14
by Cliff Corcoran

With starting pitchers Al Leiter and Mike Mussina having handed over the first two games of the Yankees' series at the Jake, is there anyone out there who has confidence that Shawn Chacon won't do the same tonight?

Remember, Chacon is 0-15 with a 6.89 ERA for his career after July 31. adds the fact that Chacon has "a 2-20 record since the 2003 All-Star break," and "will still be seeking only his third win since June 23, 2003."

Kevin Millwood, meanwhile, boasts a 3.18 ERA and has turned in quality starts in his last four outings and in six of his last seven outings. Another scary thought for the Yankees, the Indians may finally activate Travis Hafner tonight (incidentally, it was Ramon Vazquez whom the Indians called up to fill the 25th spot on their roster).

The Red Sox and A's have already won today (with Matt Clement and Barry Zito both earning their eleventh wins, the former thanks to an eight-run fourth inning turned in by the Boston offense) and the Yankees enter tonight's game just a half game up on the Indians in the Wild Card hunt.

Break out those voodoo dolls, the Yanks are gonna need 'em tonight.

Center Stage II
2005-08-04 05:14
by Alex Belth

Book Excerpt

Chapter 17 from "Juicing the Game."

By Howard Bryant

(Part Two. For Part One click here.)

At the beginning of the 2000 season, Barry Bonds was in a place familiar to most thirty-five-year-old athletes. It looked as if his body was beginning to crumble. The 1999 season had been particularly rough on him. He reported to spring training and immediately began suffering from back spasms. Before the first month of the season was over, Bonds was in a cast, scheduled to miss two and a half months rehabilitating from elbow surgery. He suffered through his worst season in San Francisco. His power numbers were good, 34 home runs and a .617 slugging percentage, yet he hit just .262 and saw his on-base percentage dip below .400 for the first time since the eighties. More than any other statistic, Barry Bonds not being on the field was the most telling. He had played in a mere 102 games, his lowest since 1989, when he was in his fourth season, still batting lead-off for Pittsburgh, and had yet to become the feared Barry Bonds. He had been durable throughout his career, playing in 888 of 908 possible games as a member of the Giants before undergoing knee and wrist surgery in 1999. In six seasons with the Giants, Bonds had never been on the disabled list, and yet was shelved twice in 1999. Bonds rebounded in 2000 to play in 143 games and hit a career-high 49 home runs.

During those two seasons, there was something about Bonds that was remarkably different. He was gigantic. During the first day of spring training in 1999, Charlie Hayes walked by Bonds and did a double take. Hayes strolled past a group of reporters and said, "Did you see my man? He was huge." Bonds said he feared what age would do to his body, and began a weight-training program to stay fit. For a player who was always muscular but never massive, the Bonds transformation was consistent with the era. Mark McGwire in 1999 dwarfed his Oakland self. In Chicago, the Sammy Sosa who was lean and strong and could run and had an arm like Clemente had disappeared, replaced by a thick, blocky slugger. He looked like a different person.

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The Pits
2005-08-04 04:43
by Alex Belth

The Yankees were leading 4-0 last night when Derek Jeter walked to lead-off the top of the fifth. Mike Mussina was crusing (he struck out six through four innings of work) and the offense was looking alive (back-to-back doubles by Matsui and Giambi followed by a two-run dinger by Posada). Then something happened and the course of the game changed for the worse.

Inexplicably, Robinson Cano was called on to bunt Jeter to second. On the YES broadcast, Michael Kay questioned such a move while the Yankees held a decent lead. Cano took two strikes right over the plate, making half-hearted attempts to actually connect with the ball, which is to say that he squared to bunt but then tentatively pulled his bat back. He compounded the problem when did lay a bunt down on the next pitch. It rolled foul and he was retired on strikes. Third base coach Luis Sojo threw his arms up and turned his back to the plate, and when Cano reached the dugout he went straight to principal Joe Torre's office. All I could think about was when Reggie Jackson tried to show Billy Martin by bunting with two strikes, but I doubt whether this was an intentionally defiant act on Cano's part. It was just the wrong time for a rookie mistake.

The Yankees did not score a run in the inning and then Mussina simply lost it (he walked four). While he wasn't getting the calls he would have liked from the home plate umpire Rob Drake, Mussina's pitches--fastballs, change-ups and breaking balls alike--all missed their spots, hanging up over the plate instead. The Indians pounced and scored six runs in the bottom of the fifth, chasing Mussina from the game. Everything had been looking up for the Yanks. Suddenly, they were sunk, and they went listlessly in the second-half of the game. Cleveland picked up the win (and the series), 7-4. After the game, Mussina told The New York Times:

"I tried everything I had, and I thought I had good stuff," Mussina said. "I just couldn't get it right. For 10 hitters, I couldn't get it right. When you have a 4-0 lead and things are going well for the club and that stuff happens, it's frustrating, disappointing. It's been a long time since something got away from me like that."

Joe Torre added:

"It looked like he had knockout stuff...Then it got ugly. It got away from him; it got away from us."

It was as discouraging a loss as the Yanks have had in a while. There were many long faces in the Yankee dugout, none more grave than Joe Torre's--heck, I wasn't feeling too chipper at home either. They didn't lose any ground in the wildcard race as the A's finally lost, but the Bombers did lose another game to the Red Sox who won their seventh straight last night in Boston.

Oy and veh.

Moose Call
2005-08-03 13:50
by Alex Belth

Mike Mussina has another important start tonight in Cleveland, but who am I kidding? Every start for him is going to be important down the stretch here. Let's hope the Yanks go batty and bounce back from yesterday's loss. With the A's and the Sox streaking, it behooves the Bombers to win four of their next five. That's a whole lot of B's, baby. Am I right or am I right?

Let's Go Yan-Kees.

Center Stage
2005-08-03 08:46
by Alex Belth

Book Excerpt

It wasn't easy to select an excerpt from Howard Bryant's new book "Juicing the Game," because so many of them are excellent. But I think that one of the most insightful and powerful sections focuses on Barry Bonds, the greatest player and most controversial figure of his era. So for your summertime reading pleasure, please enjoy Chapter 17 from "Juicing the Game."

By Howard Bryant

(Part One of Two)

The problem was Barry Bonds. The BALCO testimonies combined with the commotion and compromise that led to a strengthened drug policy, one baseball executive thought, provided baseball with a special opportunity. The sport could start fresh and begin a new era of enforceable drug testing while allowing the suspicion and doubt that plagued the previous decade to slowly recede into history. Bonds, however, would not allow baseball such a clean break from the steroid era.

The problem was that he was too good. To the discomfort of some baseball officials, Bonds would soar so high above anyone who ever played the game that no one would ever be allowed to forget this difficult decade, for he was no longer one of many great players, but arguably the best ever. Bonds already owned the single-season home run record and was set to break Hank Aaron's career record in 2005 or 2006. In addition, between 2001 and 2004 he hit for four of the top twelve slugging percentages of all time, breaking Babe Ruth's eighty-one-year-old record in 2001, and, over the same four seasons, recorded four of the top eleven on-base percentages of all-time, breaking Ted Williams's single season record in 2002 and then demolishing his own record by becoming the first man to reach base more than 60 percent of the time over a full season in 2004.

The result was a bitter irony to that spoke to the odd and unprecedented state of baseball: Instead of celebrating the greatest player the sport had ever produced, numerous baseball officials entered 2005 lamenting the notion that they were being handcuffed by him. Bonds stood as the symbol of the tainted era, of its bitter contradictions and great consequences. Jason Giambi's was a more open scandal, but Bonds was more emblematic of the larger complexities. If baseball suffered from the conflict of reaping the benefits of high attendance and unprecedented mass appeal while its players individually fought the taint of illegitimacy, then Bonds' continued ascension, first past his peers and then past every iconic standard in the game's history, served as an eternal reminder of all the sport did not do to protect its integrity when it had the opportunity. By shattering Mays, eclipsing Ruth, outdistancing Aaron, and putting the single-season home run record even further out of reach, Bonds and the era in which he played would always be present.

Thus, the enormous specter of Barry Bonds loomed, not because of his guilt or his innocence, but precisely because of the impossible question of how much of his phenomenal achievement (and by extension the feats of his peers) was real, how much was due to his use of anabolic substances, and how no one, for or against, friend or foe, could ever discuss the greatest player of his generation or the greatest records in the sport without in turn discussing the drugs that contributed to them. Not only would the decade from 1994 to 2004 be forever associated with steroids, but so, too, would the record books. There would be no escape, either for Barry Bonds or the sport that made him famous.

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Close But No Cigar
2005-08-02 19:37
by Cliff Corcoran

Despite droping the opening game of their series in Cleveland 6-5, the Yankees should feel good about the way they played last night. Everyone but Al Leiter that is.

Leiter was up to his usual tricks, but to a disastrous degree. He threw 21 pitches in the first inning, allowing a run on a Jhonny Peralta double that wedged in between the warning track and the padding of the left field wall and a Victor Martinez RBI single. He then threw 34 pitches in the second, walking Aaron Boone with one out, then walking ninth-place hitter Jason Dubois (who, along with first baseman Jose Hernandez, got the start with the left-handed Leiter on the mound). That brought up lead-off man Grady Sizemore who singled Boone home to make it 2-0 Indians.

The Yankees got one back when Cleveland starter Scott Elarton floated a 2-0 breaking ball to Tino Martinez to start the third and Tino deposited it in the right field stands.

Then came the bottom of the third. Having thrown 55 pitches through the first two innings, Leiter started the third with three balls to lead-off hitter Jhonny Peralta, then proceeded to walk the bases loaded, finishing the job with a four-pitch walk to Hernandez. He then got ahead of Ronnie Belliard (who's a dead ringer for a younger, smaller Manny Ramirez, by the way) 0-2 only because Belliard fouled off three balls before taking a fourth. Leiter's fifth pitch to Belliard was high and over the inside part of the plate and Belliard tatooedit into left for a a bases-clearing double to make it 5-1 Indians and drive Leiter from the game.

Leiter's final line was a hideous 2 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 2 K, 5 BB with just 53 percent of his 78 pitches going for strikes. After the game, Leiter talked about his lack of confidence in his fastball (though not in those words, saying instead "I don't have an overpowering fastball" then apparently tring to convince himself that that was okay) and his refusal to "give in" to the hitter, the plate and the umpire. Throughout his conversation with YES's Kim Jones, Leiter seemed to be trying to convince himself that he still had something left to offer, but appeared unable to do so.

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The Indians
2005-08-02 05:10
by Cliff Corcoran

I heard you missed me, I'm baaaaack. I brought my pencil. Hey, gimme something to write on, man.

For those who didn't notice, I've been away for the last ten days. I visited some friends down Fairfax Station, Virginia, took in a painfully boring 14-inning game between the Astros and Nationals at RFK, spent a day at the museums in DC, then spent six days on the island of Chincoteague. There Becky and I saw the annual pony swim and auction, relaxed on the beach, toured wetlands on Assateague Island by foot, car, bicycle and boat, rocked the mini golf, air hockey and go-karts, ate our yearly allowance of sea food, and gorged on the world-class ice cream at Muller's. Then, on the way back up we made a stop in Philadelphia to meet the day-old daughter of one of our closest friends. All together not a bad ten days, save Becky's frightening sunburn and the misery of driving through Delaware the long way.

While I was away I paid only marginal attention to the fates of the home nine through my friends' internet connection, the ESPN ticker, and the surprisingly strong signal of WCBS 880 AM. From such casual observation, it seemed the Yanks were holding their own while filling their basket with every burned-out, cast-off hurler they could find on the MLB scrap heap.

Having since brought myself up-to-date via the box scores, transaction wire, and this blog (props to Alex for picking up my slack and reminding me why I so loved Bronx Banter when I was just a reader), it seems I had it about right. In the ten days I was away, the Yanks went 5-3, and in their last three series against the Twins and Angels (twice) they went 5-5. Not bad when facing such elite competition. They finished July with a 17-9 record (just their second winning month of the season and a half-game better than their 17-10 May), are 10-7 since the All-Star break and have thus far gone 13-8 through the first half of the punishingly difficult portion of their schedule. Entering tonight's game they are comfortably in second place in both the AL East (2.5 games behind the Red Sox and 3.5 games ahead of the Blue Jays, whom they'll face in Toronto this weekend), and the Wild Card race (2 games behind the still surging A's and 2.5 games ahead of tonight's opponent, the Cleveland Indians).

As for their recent spate of transactions, signing Hideo Nomo to a minor league deal was something of a no-brainer. Nomo, who turns 37 at the end of the month, may indeed be finished as a major league starter, but with four starters on the DL, three more having failed miserably in spot starts, and Aaron Small now a regular part of the rotation, the Yankees could use an insurance policy such as Nomo, who has six quality start on the season, one of which beat Randy Johnson at the Stadium back in April.

I didn't know about the Shaw Chacon trade until I found myself listening to Chacon's first Yankee start on the radio while on my way to pick up some lunch following a mosquito-plagued bike ride through the wetlands. Frightened that the Yankees might have given up something valuable to get him, I picked up a copy of the New York Times at the local gas station (one of two on the island from what I could tell) but the story on Chacon's arrival mentioned only that he was acquired for two minor league pitchers, failing to print their names. It wasn't until Sunday night that I learned that those pitchers were Ramon Ramirez and Edwardo Sierra.

Back in spring training I had listed Ramirez just below Chien-Ming Wang on the Yankees' organizational depth chart based largely on his K/BB ratios and the fact that he had cracked the Clippers roster in each of the last two seasons. The Yankees were clearly less impressed (perhaps due to the shoulder tendonitis that interrupted his 2004 campaign, or perhaps due to his unimpressive showing in two spring training appearances), sending him back to double-A Trenton where he pitched reasonably well only to struggle again with the Clippers.

As for Sierra, originally acquired from Oakland in the Chris Hammond trade, he was once thought to be a potential successor to Mariano Rivera due to a blazing fastball and corresponding strike-out rates, but his wildness, which was once a minor concern, got out of control at single-A Tampa last year where he walked 8.32 men per nine innings. That, combined with the acquisition of James Cox in this year's amateur draft (supposedly an only slighly lesser version of Hudson Street and his understudy at the University of Texas) made Sierra plenty expendable. Both men are 23 years old and have been assigned to the Rockies double-A club in Tulsa where they've thus far been knocked around.

As for Chacon himself, obviously his start on Saturday was encouraging, but I still don't expect much out of him. While with the Rockies this year, Chacon walked more men than he struck out outside of Coors field. Over the previous four seasons he has posted a 5.21 road ERA and walked 5.03 men per nine innings outside of Denver. For those who think he could get bumped into the bullpen when/if Pavano and company return (Pavano is now expected to start on Monday, I'm no longer holding my breath), Chacon was a disaster as the Rockies closer in 2004, walking as many as he struck out, blowing nine opportunities, and posting a 7.11 ERA (6.19 on the road). Best of all, the reason Chacon was sent to the bullpen to begin with is that his stamina over the course of the season makes Paul LoDuca look like Lance Armstrong. He's 0-15 with a 6.89 ERA for his career after July 31. I'm willing to withold judgement for a few starts, but I would be surprised to see Chacon, who is still in his arbitration years, still with the team in 2006.

Finally, it was obvious that the Yankees would pick up Alan Embree if the Red Sox were unable to trade him during the ten-day DFA period and thus were forced to release him. Indeed they did, as well they should have. Though I have to question the wisdom of subsequently dumping Buddy Groom (who was designated for assignment then traded to the Diamondbacks for a player to be named or cash, which is about as close to a bag of balls as you're gonna get), a move which creates a roster spot not for Embree, but for for Wayne Franklin.

To me the Groom deal was a lesser version of the decision to trade Robin Ventura after the deadline acquisition of Aaron Boone in 2003, but with less justification. In 2003, the Yankees had both Ventura and Todd Zeile on the roster when the acquired Boone for Brandon Claussen. It seemed obvious that Zeile (a righty like Boone and a lesser player than the left-handed Ventura in every way) should have been the player dumped to make room for Boone. I still believe that Ventura could have made a key difference as a pinch-hitter in the postseason that year, while Zeile was released just 17 days later, ultimately to make room for Juan Rivera to platoon with Karim Garcia in right.

The difference then was that Ventura actually had some trade value as evidenced by the fact that two years later, both players acquired in that trade, Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor, are on the Yankees 25-man roster. Groom clearly had no trade value, which makes it all the more perplexing as to why he was sent packing. The only clues we have as to why the Yankees would prefer the mystery meat of Franklin and Alex Graman to Groom are Buddy's parting shots at Joe Torre, which echo many of my comments over the years about Joe Torre's tenuous trust in his relievers, resulting in the division of his bullpen into "his guys" and the rest, the latter of whom pitch about once a week when the Yankees are winning, if they're lucky.

As for Embree's value, he claims that his early season struggles were the result of a mechanical flaw that he's since corrected, though it's difficult to find much proof of that in his numbers which steadily worsened over the first three months of the season and didn't show a marked improvement in July. Still, if that's indeed the case, he could be an essential part of the Yankee bullpen as he was for the Red Sox in 2003, 2004 and the second half of 2002. Even better, the Red Sox are paying all but $100,000 of his $3 million contract, which will only make it sweeter if he helps to neutralize David Ortiz and Trot Nixon down the stretch. If not, well, had the Yankees not dumped Groom, there would have been no risk involved. Not that Buddy Groom was any great shakes, looking at their season stats, the only real difference between Groom and Embree thus far this season is Embree's inflated ERA, which could be the result of the pitchers who have followed him into games allowing his runners to score. And, of course, Embree's seen a lot more action (21 more appearances to be exact).

That just about brings us up to date (I'll save my comments on Aaron Small, the centerfield situation, and Joe Torre's use of Andy Phillips for when they're more obviously relevant). So, with the Yankees and I both having enjoyed yesterday's off-day, we swing back into action tonight with a three-game series in Cleveland against:

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2005-08-02 04:51
by Alex Belth

Slow news day, huh?

After two tense, come-from-behind wins, there isn't much in the way of Yankee news this morning as the team prepares to start August in Cleveland (before heading for Toronto this weekend). Hideo Nomo was fuhideous in a Triple A start last night, and Shawn Chacon is happy to be away from Coors Field. No suprises there.

I read something the other day that said that Carl Pavano has been a disappointment on-and-off the field this year. I'm vaguely aware of talk that he hasn't been communicative with the coaching staff, but Steve Lombardi has a link to a story that appeared in Newsday which suggests Pavano would rather be somewhere else than New Detroit. Hmm. Now how often do you hear that?

Yesterday, Will Carroll--who did a first-rate job on the Palmeiro story--had this health report on the Yankees:

The Yankees were left with nothing at the break, smartly grabbing what was available (Shawn Chacon and various waiver detritus) before the deadline. The waiver wire figures to produce few trade options in August, so help, if it's coming, will have to come from within. Carl Pavano is close and now Jaret Wright is showing positive progress. Wright made his first rehab start at high-A Tampa, going 65 pitches in 2 1/3 innings. Normally, that's not positive. Wright's control, never good, is still on the DL. He's facing at least three more rehab starts and will have to find that control before he'll be able to think about coming back to the Bronx. We'll know more after his next start, but at this stage, he's not likely to help the club in August.

Hey, anyone notice how well Andy Pettitte and Brad Halsey have been pitching lately? I'm not trying to be a smart-ass, I was in favor of letting Pettitte walk and moving Halsey in the Johnson trade. I'm just saying, man, they've been hot. (As has Emily's boy Tony Clark.) Good for them.

The Bottom Line

One thing that was reinforced by the recent Manny Ramirez hoopla is that all anyone really cares about is the bottom line: production. It's not about how you play the game, or playing the game the right way, or setting a good example for kids, it is about what you produce while you are on the field. Some people might not like the way a player like Ramirez approaches the game, but so long as Manny is Manny most fans will put up with Manny being Manny. If you are a great player--and I don't think Ramirez is a great player, he's a great hitter and just like Ted Williams, that is enough--you can essentially get away with anything you want--within reason, of course. The moment Ramirez's production begins to fade I assume people will turn on him as quickly as fans turned on Sammy Sosa in Chicago. For now, he remains the Gangster of Love and the best right-handed hitter in the American League.

And Another Thing

I only caught a portion of Peter Gammons' Hall of Fame speech on Sunday, but ESPN has a complete transcript if you are interested. Also, Stephen Borelli, author of "How About That! The Life of Mel Allen," had a nice piece on Jerry Coleman for the USA Today over the weekend too. Oh, and in case you missed it, Jonathan Mahler had an interesting feature on Omar Minaya and the Mets in The New York Times magazine the other day. It's well-worth checking out (as is--and forgive me from digressing from baseball for a second--a terrific article by Roger Rubin about the Emmett Till case).

That is all.

Know the Ledge
2005-08-01 04:44
by Alex Belth

Howard Bryant became a sports writer so that he could write a book about racism and Boston sports, specifically as it pertained to the Red Sox. "Shut Out" featured fine reporting but the writing was surprisingly repetitive and weak in spots. However, it remains an extremely useful book in spite of its flaws because the subject is so rich. I always felt as if Bryant did not have a strong editor to help make his narrative shine. That is not the case with Bryant's second effort, "Juicing the Game," a story that is much larger in scope but one that is also told with great precision and focus. Bryant's reporting continues to be top-notch (and this book certainly could not have been written if Bryant was not established inside the game), but it is his writing that has grown by leaps and bounds. If "Juicing the Game" is not a truly great book--and it might just be--it certainly is an exceedingly good one. It is the story of the Bud Selig Era and will go down as the logical successor and ideal companion to John Helyar's "Lords of the Realm."

I wasn't exactly sure what the book was about when I first heard about it. I assumed it was an expose about steroids, a subject that doesn't exactly captivate me. But "Juicing the Game" is really an insider's history of the professional game since Fay Vincent was commissioner. It features a huge cast of characters and explores how and why the current Offensive Age, the Steroids Era came to be. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the book is that Bryant does not attempt to simplify a complicated situation. The bottom line may not be complex (mo money, mo problems), but Bryant doesn't lay the blame on one thing in particular-—instead, the entire game is complicit:

To Glenn Stout, the crumbling of the 1998 monument resembled nothing less than a classic morality tale. It wasn't just the players, and it wasn't just drug use, Stout thought, but the entire baseball institution that was under indictment. Baseball needed to recover from the strike, and found itself seduced by a culture of uncontrolled accumulation. Every segment of the game was culpable. It was the players who used whatever substances were available to maximize their achievements, and in turn their earnings, at the expense of their credibility. It was the fans who did not care that the game was being made less legitimate as long as they were treated to a more exciting product. It was the press and the broadcast media that chose to reap the added profits and increased exposure that came during the boom time instead of employing the stamina and scrutiny required to confront a spiraling baseball culture. Finally, Stout thought, it was the owners that profited from drug use and ran from the responsibility until there was nowhere else to go.

And this:

Tony Gwynn did not believe baseball was in crisis, but thought the decade of offense had to some degree been engineered by design. The strike had forced the game's hand, Gwynn believed. Piece by piece, from the gradual institution of a tighter strike zone, to the manipulation of the baseball, to the construction of home run-friendly parks, and ultimately to allowing player's growth in size to go unchecked and largely unquestioned, baseball had manipulated its product toward greater offensive production. It was a stunning consideration.

"Take into account us trying to regain and recapture the American public's imagination and the hitter's realizing that if he got bigger and stronger he could hit the ball out the other way," Tony Gwynn said. "And it all manifested itself into a product people liked. And now it's too late to go back. It's too late and you can't go back."

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