Monthly archives: May 2006
What Time's The Gravy Boat
Two out of two Bronx Banter bloggers agree, by winning the first two games, the Yankees have accomplished what they needed to do in their four-games in Detroit. That they did it in the first two games gives them an opportunity to come out ahead with another victory tonight or tomorrow, a win that would counter that unexpected loss to the Royals on Friday night. With rookie Justin Verlander set to start tomorrow, the Yanks would appear to have their best shot at a series win tonight behind Mike Mussina.
Moose's May ERA has been nearly a run higher than his April mark, but remains an impressive 3.21 (he's at 2.72 on the season). He's also been pitching in a bit of hard luck of late, failing to earn a decision in his last three starts because of a lack of offensive support (he left the first game tied 2-2, the second trailing 2-0) and bullpen support (the pen lost that first game and blew a lead and lost the game in his last start against Kansas City). I wouldn't be surprised to see Moose's ND streak reach four games tonight with Gary Sheffield and Johnny Damon expected to sit out once again (with Sheffield staring down another DL stay), and the bulk of the bullpen having pitched last night (the exceptions being Darrell Rasner, who it turns out was just called up today and was not available last night--which explains why Torre didn't go to him in extra innings in a tie game on the road--Ron Villone, who went two innings on Monday, and Mike Myers, who's a non-factor against the Tigers who have just one lefty bat, lead-off man Curtis Granderson, on their roster).
Opposing the Moose will be bespectacled lefty Nate Robertson. Robertson's preferred throwing hand is likely good news for Andy Phillips, T-Long haters, and Bernie Williams. But his performance thus far in May (a 2.32 ERA in five starts to go with a 3.02 season mark) is less encouraging, as is the fact that, if Damon is unable to play the field, Long will have to start against him anyway. If so, just remember that the Yankees have done what they came here to do. Another win in Detroit would be gravy.
How Do You Spell Relief?
Before the NBA playoffs in 1983, 76ers power forward, and future Hall of Famer, Moses Malone was asked for a prediction. "Fo, fo, fo," he replied succinctly, meaning that his team would win each series in four straight (the Sixers did win the title that year, going 12-1 in the process). The NBA playoffs have been truly exciting this spring, but for the injured-torn New York Yankees, the answer to their problems came in a familiar package last night: Mo, Mo, Mo. Mariano Rivera worked three innings for the first time in a regular season game since 1996. He threw just 25 pitches and was brilliant as the Yankees beat the Tigers in extra innings, 11-6. It seemed like the Tigers were going to find a way to pull the game out--coming back from 6-1, but Jason Giambi's solo home run off of Todd Jones broke the tie and then his teammates added four more for good measure. Combined with another Toronto win over Boston, the Yanks find themselves tied for first place this morning.
It was the Good, Bad and the Ugly last night in the Motor City. Let's address the bad first. Neither Johnny Damon or Gary Sheffield were in the line-up last night. Damon is playing with a broken bone in his foot and will need to rest every so often. Sheffield's wrist has not gotten better. In fact, it may have become significantly worse and the slugger may return to the DL. According to Sam Borden in the Daily News:
Sheffield admitted that he has suffered a new injury to his already-ailing wrist and believes he could be facing another long layoff.
See Spot Start
It's the battle of the spot starters in Detroit tonight with Aaron Small taking his second turn in place of Shawn Chacon, and Roman Colon making his first start of the year in place of the recently disabled Mike Maroth. Curiously, both assumed their rotation spots in relief of disaster starts by the pitchers they've replaced, eating up innings while their teams staged unlikely comebacks that ended with ninth-inning victories (though the Tigers' comeback was against the Royals, so perhaps "unlikely" isn't entirely appropriate).
On their careers both Small and Colon, who is nearly eight years Small's junior, have been marginal types who haven't managed to stick as starters or relievers. Colon came to the Tigers at the trading deadline last year as one of the two pitchers received from the Braves in exchange for Kyle Farnsworth.
In his previous start against the Mets at Shea, Small faced one more than the minimum through his first three innings, then collapsed in the fourth, escaping the hook only because of an inning-ending double play only to get pulled after retiring just one of the first three batters in the fifth.
Small's next turn will come on Sunday, after which he may well be returned to the bullpen, if not the minors (enduring Scott Erickson while his ERA hovers around 4.00 is one thing, enduring Aaron Small while his is around 8.50 is another thing entirely). Shawn Chacon is scheduled to throw off a mound today and could return to the rotation after one more mound session and a rehab start. Assuming all goes well with both, that second mound session will likely synch up with Small's throw day and the rehab start with his Sunday turn. That would have Chacon back in the rotation to kick off the Oakland series a week from Friday.
In the meantime, with Jorge Posada having made a triumphant return to the line-up yesterday, going 2 for 4 and feeling less pain thanks the removal of one of the straps on his left shin guard, the Yankees have returned third catcher Koyie Hill to Columbus in exchange for Darrell Rasner. Rasner, you may remember, was plucked off waivers from the Nationals this spring. Since then he's been the Clippers' best starter, posting this line in nine starts:
52 2/3 IP, 53 H, 3 HR, 11 BB, 42 K, 1.22 WHIP, 2.56 ERA, 4-0
Unfortunately, the Yankees don't intend to have Rasner take over Small's next two starts. Instead, he'll rot in the bullpen behind Erickson.
Rasner was chosen because Matt Smith, who was demoted in favor of Hill on Friday, two days after being recalled, has to spend ten days in the minors before he can be called up again. But one wonders why they chose Rasner, who has been a pure starter in Columbus, over Ramiro Mendoza, who has pitched out of both the Clippers' bullpen and rotation and been absolutely lights out overall. The only explanation I can think of is that they didn't want to have to clear room on the 40-man roster for Mendoza, though moving Matsui to the 60-day DL is all it would have taken. Perhaps the Yankees have decided to convert Mendoza to full-time starting, either as added insurance, or to protect his surgically repaired rotator cuff from being Sturtzed up by Torre.
Speaking of which, Torre has finally figured out that he can use Ron Villone, who pitched two perfect innings yesterday, to lighten Scott Proctor's load. This revelation gives the Yankees skipper a five-man end-game that includes the one-two punch of Farnsworth and Rivera set up by any combination of the lefty-righty duo Proctor and Villone and lefty specialist Myers. That's scads better than the "Farns and Sturtze are interchangeable one-inning pitchers setting up Mo" concept that Torre broke camp with. While Villone is pitching as far over his head as Proctor was in April, he at least has some track record of major league success and a history of starting that should allow him to endure the extra work. For those not keeping track, Proctor's current pace would result in 107 innings over the full year, a staggering total even by Torre's standards. The last Yankee to throw over 100 innings in pure relief was Mariano Rivera in 1996. Coincidentally, Mo threw 107 2/3 innings that year.
At any rate, expect to see several if not all of these guys tonight. Rasner might even work his way into the game if Small gets an early hook. Perhaps he could swipe Small's job the same way Small swiped Chacon's (minus the injury, of course).
Funny what pitching in Comerica Park can do for a pitcher's disposition. Randy Johnson had some of the old juice in him yesterday--he brushed back at least two Tiger hitters, as the Yanks won the first of a four game series, 4-0. It was the third straight win for New York (who beat the Royals 15-4 on Saturday, and 6-5 on Sunday). Fly balls that have been going over the wall recently against Johnson found their way into the gloves of his outfielders. According to Tyler Kepner:
"It's one game," Johnson said. "My career wasn't over after a few bad ones. It doesn't mean anything because I threw a good one. It just means I'm back on track to where I should be. That's all."
It's a start. It will be interesting to see how Johnson fares against the Orioles at Camden Yards this weekend.
After dropping the opener to the Royals at home, the Yankees beat up on the majors' worst team on Saturday (a 15-4 victory) and during the first two innings of Sunday's game. They then went down in order (save a Johnny Damon single erased by a caught stealing) over the final seven innings of the series, squeezing out a 6-5 win in the finale.
Today they're in Detroit for a Memorial Day afternoon special to open a four game series with the best team in the majors. The Tigers have a strong offense, which some of us saw coming, but have been winning with dominating pitching, which few if any of us did. This afternoon's contest features the two disappointments of the two rotations, Randy Johnson, about whom more need not be said, and Jeremy Bonderman, who was the Tiger hurler ticketed for a breakout and, through an odd twist, the only one who hasn't experienced one.
That's all I've got for you right now. It's a gorgeous day and Becky and I are going for a picnic. Enjoy!
In the Soup
It hasn't been hot or humid in New York this spring. Until yesterday, that is. The sun is peaking out this morning but it is muggy as can be and there is a chance we'll see thunderstorms this afternoon. The game doesn't start until 4:00 but even if there is a delay, I've got every reason to believe they'll get this one in.
I'll be there in Bob Uecker territory, the right field nose bleeds with Emily, my cousin Jonah and his wife Jenn. Emily is sooooo excited--it's her first game of the year (she's rocking her Giambi shirt). Jonah's first game ever was at Yankee Stadium but he hasn't been back since (he's a Mets fan), so it's as if he's never been. This is Jenn's first time as well, so I'm excited to play host a little something.
You have to figure the Yanks'll bounce back today after a silly loss last night. "I have faith," says Emily.
"That's all you got for a quote," I ask?
"Yeah," she says.
"Man, you are getting to be just as bland as the players, Lady."
"I wish Bubba was playing."
"You won't get your Bubba, but you'll get a Melky and you'll like it."
"Mmm, I like Melky."
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Mike Mussina, perhaps the best pitcher in the AL in this young season, against the Kansas City Royals, a historically bad ballclub on a thirteen-game losing streak. Sure thing right? Not if you believe in the Reverse Lock, a match-up that's such a gimme it's guaranteed to go the other way.
Indeed, the Royals broke their streak by beating the Yankees 7-6 last night in an odd game that was delayed for two hours in the middle of the ninth inning due to a sudden downpour.
To be fair, the Royals didn't actually beat Mussina. They did score three runs against him in the second inning, but when Mussina left the game, after throwing 98 pitches and turning in his eleventh quality start in as many turns, the Yankees were winning 4-3.
With Mussina on the verge of 100 pitches after six innings, Joe Torre decided to go to his bullpen, apparently planning to give Scott Proctor, Kyle Farnsworth and Mariano Rivera an inning a piece. With the bottom third of the Royals order coming up, it wasn't the worst decision Torre could have made. Unfortunately, it backfired immediately. Tony Graffanino lead off the seventh with a single, was bunted to second by Angel Berroa and singled home by Paul Bako, tying the game. That was the end of Scott Proctor's night.
After Mike Myers got the last two outs of the seventh, Kyle Farnsworth came in to keep the game knotted at four in the eighth. Things started well when he caught Reggie Sanders, who had homered off Mussina in the third, looking, but righty-killer Matt Stairs laced Farnsworth's very next pitch into right for a single. After Robinson Cano made a nice running catch on a foul pop up by Emil Brown for the second out, Farnsworth walked Graffanino on four pitches to put men on first and second with two outs. That brought up Angel Berroa, who had sacrificed in his last at-bat. On a 1-0 count, Farnsworth hung a slider and Angel Berroa launched it over the left field wall for a three-run home run.
The Yankees got one back in the bottom of the inning when Jason Giambi singled, Alex Rodriguez doubled and, after Jimmy Gobble got Robinson Cano to pop out on one pitch, Bernie Williams plated Giambi with a groundout off Joel Peralta, but Melky Cabrera grounded out to strand Rodriguez at third.
Then the rains came. Ron Villone pitched around a Reggie Sanders walk in a downpour in the top of the ninth and, with standing water all over the field, the umpires signaled for the tarp. Two hours later, the skies had cleared, tarp came off and the Yankees, in front of barely a thousand remaining hardcore fans, took their last licks against Joe Nelson.
With Kelly Stinnett scheduled to lead off, Torre sent up Terrence Long, who inexplicably singled against the young righthander. After Damon flew out, Derek Jeter drew a walk and Gary Sheffield laced a single to center that skipped by Esteban German, who had pinch-hit for Shane Costa in the seventh. Long came around to score, Jeter went to third and Jason Giambi came to the plate with one out, men on the corners, and needing just a sac fly to tie the game. What more devastating way for the Royals streak to be extended than by a ninth-inning rally following a two-hour delay in which the Royals had held a ninth-inning lead. But it was not to be. Giambi grounded into the shift and slipped on the wet dirt coming out of the batters box, resulting in a 4-6-3 double play (though Giambi, who runs like he's standing in quicksand on dry ground, would have been out anyway).
Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals have lost their last thirteen games. In April they had a streak of eleven straight losses. They've won just ten games all year. All totaled, they have a 10-35 record. That's a .222 winning percentage. While the Royals aren't quite that bad, even their Pythagorean winning percentage, a comparatively robust .261, would rank as the sixth worst since 1901, the twenty-first sub-.300 winning percentage in those 106 seasons, and just the fourth since 1945.*
Amazingly, the Royals, who are scoring an average of 3.78 runs per game, do not have the most inept offense in baseball. That distinction is held by the Cubs, who may soon add Tony Womack to the mix. Of course, the Cubs should also get Derrek Lee back in about a month, which should vault them past the Royals. The Royals, meanwhile, are playing without Mike Sweeney and David DeJesus, but the former is frequently disabled anyway and the latter has been sufficiently replaced by Shane Costa. No, what's really dragging the Royals down is their pitching. The Royals are allowing 6.36 runs per game, which is to say that their pitching is so bad that it makes every team they face look like the pre-injury Yankees. Indeed, the Royals are on pace to allow 1030 runs this year, which would make them the first team since the 1999 Rockies and the first sea-level team since the 1996 Tigers, who lost 109 games while playing their home games in hitter-friendly Tiger Stadium, to allow more than a thousand runs in a single season.
Tonight the Royals will start Scott Elarton, the only Royals pitcher who has thrown enough innings to qualify for the ERA title thus far this season. Elarton has walked more men than he's struck out this year and has yet to register a win, in part due to receiving just 3.3 runs of support per game (he does have four quality starts in ten tries).
The Yankee line-up he faces will be without Jorge Posada, who had an MRI yesterday that revealed a torn hamstring tendon. Posada has not been put on the DL, yet, but the Yankees are expected to call up either Wil Nieves or Koyie Hill to back-up Kelly Stinnett, which likely means Matt Smith will be on his way back to Columbus. I hope he didn't bother unpacking. Neither Nieves nor Hill has hit a lick in Columbus this year. Alarmingly, Nieves, who has slugged just .289 thus far (yes, that's actually his slugging percentage in triple-A), is clearly the better choice. Get well soon, Jorge!
With Posada out of commission, Stinnett will be catching Mike Mussina for the second time this season. Their last pairing was this past Saturday, when Mussina held the Mets to two earned runs on five hits, including a pair of homers by Carlos Delgado and Cliff Floyd, and no walks while striking out seven, Mussina's tenth quality start in ten tries on the year.
Last year, the Yankees needed a tie breaker to win the division in part because they went 11-14 against the Royals and Devil Rays, a record that was much uglier before they swept their final three games against each team. This year the Bombers have gone 7-1 against those two clubs. The Yankees have done well to split the 14 games they've played since Hideki Matsui's injury, but with Gary Sheffield back in the line-up (and despite Jorge Posada's absence), they need to pad their win total against the historically awful Royals this weekend.
*The Terrible Twenty:
.235 - 1916 Philadelphia Athletics
Don't Moose with a Streak (Don't you know nuthin?)
Mike Mussina gets the start tonight against the Royals, losers of 13 straight. (Is it just me, or does anyone else get nervous that a team is due to win a couple after losing so much, even a team as woeful as Kansas City?) Will this be the year Mussina finally wins 20 games? Ehhhh, could be. Ed Price tackles the subject today in the Star-Ledger:
"Moose likes to live in the shadows somewhere," manager Joe Torre said. "He doesn't like all that attention. He's proud of what he does, but he doesn't need someone to tell him that."
Mussina says he's not overly concerned about winning 20. There is too much season left for him to get ahead of himself. He has to be pleased with how he's pitch so far, though. Moose adds:
"Being older and a little smarter and all that stuff, when you've had years that you're struggling, you pay attention to why you struggle and what bad habits I had. You try to make sure you don't have that when you get to the next year."
Without crunching any numbers, I'd rank Mussina with the likes of Curt Schilling and John Smoltz as borderline Hall of Fame candidates. Smoltz has been a terrific playoff pitcher and of course was also an elite closer for a few years; Schilling has the 300 K and 20 win seasons and two World Serious rings. I wonder which of the three will last the longest. My guess is that right now, Schilling and Smoltz are more likely to make it to Cooperstown, but one never knows...does one?
I can safely say that Mussina's got the Bronx Banter crew behind him 110%.
What Up, Duke?
As I mentioned yesterday in the comments section, I'm excited to see El Duque return to New York. In a way, it's actually a relief to me that he's on the Mets. This way I can enjoy watching him perform without being too emotionally invested in the outcome. I like Buster Olney's take on the deal:
The best possible situation you can have with Orlando Hernandez at this stage in his career, a high-ranking American League executive said last night, is when you don't have to count on him.
By the way, I know I've mentioned this before, but if you are interested in Duque, do yourself a favor and pick up "The Duke of Havana," by Steve Fainaru and Ray Sanchez. It's not necessarily a great baseball book--it actually reads more like a Graham Greene novel than anything else--but it is an absorbing account of Cuban baseball and El Duque's life and career.
Jim Baumbach has an article in Newsday today about Yankee prospect Eric Duncan, who is currently rehabbing a lower back strain in Tampa:
Team officials are contemplating sending Duncan, who has struggled at Triple-A Columbus, to Double-A Trenton, a demotion they would be likely to say is necessary because of the sudden influx of major-league journeymen at Columbus.
Meanwhile, Melky Cabrera has shown some promise at the big league level this season. Tyler Kepner has a good piece in the Times about Melky and his big brother/mentor, Robbie Cano:
"Both of them are very similar in the fact that they're having fun," [Manager Joe] Torre said. "I don't think they understand the pressure most people understand here. They're just out there playing baseball."
Last week at the Stadium, Cabrera made a fine running catch near the right field wall. After he threw the ball to the infield he made a funny face--in the direction of Cano--that said, "Wow, can't believe I got that one without killing myself." With Sheffield back, Cabrera will return to left field where he'll continue his unsentimental education learning to adjust to the position.
Ham Strung Out
Jorge Posada has a torn hamstring tendon in his left knee. It is still uncertain if Posada will be placed on the disabled list. The Yankees' catcher will be re-evaluated in a few days. GM Brian Cashman told the New York Times:
"The M.R.I. had to show something. As it was explained to me, there are several tendons that connect to the knee. This one is an unusual injury, but on the good side, it's a tendon that you don't need to function."
In the Daily News, Anthony McCaron continues:
Posada had an MRI yesterday and also was examined by Yanks team physician Dr. Stuart Hershon. Cashman was worried because the Yanks' trainer, Gene Monahan, couldn't even speculate on how badly Posada was hurt.
This one is worth holding our collective breath over. Nothing to do but hope for the best, but shoot, this goes down just when Posada was clicking offensively too. Dag.
Hope (is the thing with a Chest Protector)
Steve Lombardi links to a good piece about John Flaherty discussing Randy Johnson's performance last night. The Yanks acquired back-up infielder Nick Green, while on a more worrisome note, Jorge Posada will have a magnetic resonance imaging exam today to determine if there is anything seriously wrong with his hamstring. We can only hold our breath and hope that Posada is OK though I wouldn't be surprised to see a whole lot of Kelly Stinnett this weekend.
Our pal in Japan, Mike Plugh shared an interesting bit about Godzilla Matsui with me recently that I've been meaning to pass along. It has to do with a small reference Bill Madden made about Matsui last week:
The pregame topics of conversation - Hideki Matsui's return to the Stadium to address the small army of Japanese media and once again apologize for breaking his wrist; Torre's depleted lineup - had become distant memories.
Mike sent Madden a letter because he believes that the American media has it twisted and thinks that Matsui was apologizing for all the wrong reasons. Anyhow, here is what Plugh wrote to Madden:
Hello Mr. Madden.
Good stuff, Mike. Thanks for the enlightenment.
Great Gas Face
The Cookie Monster, David Ortiz gets the Gas Face! This picture is a classic.
Waiting to Exhale
There was not a dramatic turn-around for Randy Johnson on Wednesday night at Fenway Park. He pitched inconsistently and poor enough to allow five runs in five innings, but he did strike out eight (matching his season high) while only walking two. As fate would have it, Johnson pitched just well enough for him to earn the victory in the Yankees' 8-6 win. Fortunately for New York, Boston's starter Matt Clement had more than his fair share of problems-mostly throwing strikes. Batting in the lead-off spot in place of Johnny Damonwho Joe Torre felt sorely needed a rest--Melky Cabrera drove in four runs and was the offensive hero of the game. Cabrera also made a fine running catch to rob Mike Lowell of a hit to end the seventh (it wouldn't be Lowell's only lost hit of the night). The Yanks survived three extra base hits from Manny Ramirez, including two home runs, and Kyle Farnsworth struck out David Ortiz with the bases loaded to end the eighth, the dramatic highlight of the game. After getting served by Curt Schilling on Monday night, the Yanks wind up winning the series and they leave town just a half-a-game behind the Sox.
The Sox got to Johnson early. Kevin Youkilis, who Cliff recently called a right-handed version of Nick Johnson, singled and reached third on Mark Loretta's line drive off the Green Monster. Loretta was thrown out at second and then Ortiz whiffed--one of four K's on the night for Cookie Monster. But Ramirez belted a home run over everything in left and just like that Johnson was in a hole. (For what it is worth, Ramirez put his head down and ran after both of his dingers on Wednesday.) The Yanks put up four in the second thanks in large part to Clement's wildnesshe walked two batters, hit another, got smacked in the leg by an infield single by Bernie Williams and surrendered a key, two-run single to Cabrera.
The lead didn't last long. After striking out the first two men in the bottom of the second, Alex Gonzalez singled and then stole second. Johnson got ahead of Youkilis 0-2 but could not put him away. It's become customary to see Youkilislike Jason Giambiextend virtually every at-bat to a full-count situation. Johnson's payoff pitch was a flat slider and Youkilis crushed it for a game-tying homer.
A Right Bird
Two odd-looking birds pitching tonight in Boston, eh? Randy Johnson and Matt Clement are gangly and all angles. Neither is going to win a beauty contest anytime soon. Johnson, as we all know, has been getting his ass kicked around for more than a minute now. It will be interesting to see if he has figured out any of his problems. He did pitch well against the Red Sox last season but he's been a different pitcher entirely of late, and it's likely that it'll take him a while longer to get his groove back. Still, I just hope he improves tonight. I don't expect him to turn the clock back to his days with the Diamondbacks.
That said, it would be a tremendous boost for the Bombers if they leave Boston with a series win. The Yanks host the hapless Royals this weekend before four tough games against the surprising Tigers next week. I have a hunch that I'll be cursing a blue streak tonight, but nevermind the fatalism, let's hope the boys on both sides give us a good game.
The Wright Stuff
Don't look now, but Jaret Wright is turning into a legitimate number five starter. In four starts in May including last night's victory over the Red Sox, Wright has posted the following line:
22 1/3 IP, 18 H, 7 R, 2 HR, 7 BB, 13 K, 2-1, 1.12 WHIP, 2.82 ERA
Last night, Wright held the Red Sox scoreless through five innings before leaving with a tweaked groin. Wright initially injured himself while trying to dodge a line drive by Kevin Youkilis leading off the first inning. The ball wound up sticking in Wright's ribs for the first out. In the fifth, an attempt to dodge another comebacker by Youkilis, which Wright also turned into an out, exacerbated the injury, ending his night after the inning.
Given Wright's predilection for being hit with flying objects in the later part of last season and the fact that the injury prone hurler has managed to stay healthy while the rest of the Yankee roster has crumbled around him, it seemed only a matter of time before Wright would get his. Fortunately, the Yankees don't expect Wright to miss his next start, though one wonders if they'll rethink their plans to skip Aaron Small's turn this weekend, instead using Small on regular rest to give Wright an extra day off before his next start.
Gotta do this fast . . .
Tim Wakefield vs. Jaret Wright tonight. Gary Sheffield returns to the line-up, but Giambi will sit to avoid exacerbating his slump by facing Wake's flutterball. Just as well, he can't hit that thing anyway, though Sheff can and tomorrow the Yanks should field their best line-up since Matsui broke his arm exactly two weeks earlier. Expect Cairo at first tonight based on his small sample success against Wake and despite his three Ks against him last time. Damon will likely DH again, hopefully Sheffield will push TLong out of the line-up, by bouncing Melky to left. Not a great outlook for the Yanks, but seeing Sheff in action should cushion the blow somewhat.
BoSox Beat Up Bombers
That team is decimated. They've lost some very significant people," said [Curt] Schilling, who improved to 7-2. "We have to take advantage of that.
That is exactly what Schilling and the Red Sox did last night as Boston drilled the Yanks, 9-5. Schilling's 199th career win puts his team two-and-a-half games ahead of New York in the American League East (Toronto is three back). Other than a third inning rally which produced a run, Schilling dominated the Yankees, aided by double play balls in the fifth and the seventh. Schilling's splitter was in fine form--he got ahead of hitters and then put them away.
Chien-Ming Wang wasn't as sharp and he paid for it. With one out and two men on in the bottom of the third, Wang fell behind David Ortiz 3-0. It looked as if he was pitching around the Yankee Killer, but then Wang laid in a cookie to the Monster who promptly smacked it into left under the glove of a diving Terrence Long for a two-run double (not for nothing but Long looks like Claudell Washington and Oscar Gamble's long-lost love child). Manny Ramirez followed and quickly fell behind 0-2 before Wang made another mistake--a meatball served up on a platter. Ramirez probably couldn't believe his luck, and didn't waste any time walloping the pitch into the center field bleachers.
"He looked like he tried to do something with Manny, something up, which is not his neighborhood," Torre said. "It's Manny's neighborhood, but not his neighborhood, and he killed that ball."
Wang settle down for the next few innings but was chased from the game in the seventh, and allowed seven runs in all. By the time the Yankees rallied for four runs in the ninth, the Sox already had a comfortable lead, as they cruised to a victory in the first of three at Fenway Park. Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez popped homers off Keith Foulke late, and whatta ya hear whatta ya say, Bernie Williams (the unbooable man) had another couple of hits. The Yankees are eager for Gary Sheffield to return to the line up tonight--he'll have some kind of welcome back having to deal with Tim Wakefield's floater.
Keep Yourself Alive
Curt Schilling's season thus far has been defined by his 133-pitch outing against the Indians on April 25. Prior to that outing, Schilling was 4-0 with a 1.61 ERA, allowing 17 hits and four walks and two homers while striking out 23 in 28 innings. The Indians worked him over in that April 25 game, scoring five runs on nine hits and two walks and forcing him to throw 133 pitches in just 6 2/3 innings. Since then he's 2-2 with a 6.46 ERA, allowing 31 hits, three walks and seven homers while striking out 21 in 23 2/3 innings. The good news for Sox fans is that Schillings walk and strikeout rates remain excellent. The bad news is that six of those seven homers came in his last two starts, the first of which was a 7-3 loss to the Yankees.
Chien-Ming Wang's season also took a turn around April 25, though his was for the better. Before that date, Wang had a 5.48 ERA and had surrendered 30 hits and seven walks in 23 innings. Since then he's gone 3-0 with a 2.65 ERA by holding the opposition to 25 hits in 34 innings. Wang's only non-quality start during that span was a five-inning outing against the Red Sox in Boston, the Yankees' only game in Fenway this year prior to tonight. Wang allowed three runs on six hits and four walks in the first five innings of that game, but appeared to have settled down by the end of the fifth. Despite the fact that Wang had thrown just 77 pitches to that point, Joe Torre decided to replace him with the newly activated Aaron Small, leading to yet another game lost to poor bullpen management.
Unlike Schilling, Wang has yet to throw 100 pitches in a game this year and needed just 166 tosses to get through sixteen innings over his last two starts. Here's hoping these trends continue tonight as the Yankees head to Fenway for a three game series against the Red Sox, who, save for a bullpen move that will allow them to activate David Riske prior to tonights game, look just like they did two weeks ago in the Bronx.
Our Long National Nightmare
Just when it seemed the Yankees injury woes couldn't get any more woeful, things went from bad (a DL stay for Gary Sheffield) to worse (losing Hideki Matsui for the bulk of the season) to epidemic (season-ending surgery for Sturtze and Pavano and a DL trip for Bubba Crosby) to the point at which the players started searching for hidden cameras in the trainer's room, sure that Ashton Kutcher is behind all of this.
As the Yankees headed across town to meet the Mets last Friday, it was revealed that a comebacker off Shawn Chacon's left shin in the same game against Boston in which Matsui broke his radius was responsible for Chacon's subsequent poor performance and would cause him to miss his scheduled start in the subway series finale. In the first game at Shea, Jorge Posada was pulled in the second inning due to back spasms and did not play for the remainder of the series, not even coming to bat on Sunday for Kelly Stinnett with the bases loaded and two out in the top of the seventh with the Yankees trailing by two. Friday's game ended with Kyle Farnsworth also complaining of back problems. He did not pitch for the remainder of the series. And just to add insult to injury, Bernie Williams pulled a muscle in his behind (the second backside injury on this team this year) and was forced to skip Saturday's game save for a pinch-hit appearance in which he was hit with the only pitch he saw and then promptly forced out at second on the next play.
Meanwhile, the Columbus shuttle has been in full effect, dropping off new arrivals such as Melky Cabrera, Kevin Reese, Scott Erickson, Mitch Jones, and Colter Bean. Yes, the answer to the question "how many guys have to go down before they'll finally give Colter Bean a shot" appears to be eight (or four pitchers: Sturtze, Pavano, Chacon, and Farnsworth). Bean was called up Saturday because the injuries to Chacon and Farnsworth and the resulting move of Small into the rotation had limited the Yankees to a five-man bullpen, with Scott Erickson (a.k.a. The Thing That Wouldn't Die) and the overworked Scott Proctor being two of the five, and two of the remaining three being left-handed. Bean replaced Mitch Jones, who had replaced Bubba Crosby the day before and saw no action in his one day in the major leagues. That transaction reduced the Yankees to a four man bench under NL rules at Shea. The bench was then further reduced to three men--Miguel Cairo, Andy Phillips and Kevin Reese--by Posada's inability to play.
That bench situation has been rectified, but only technically. Shawn Chacon was placed on the DL this morning as the hematoma on his left shin is healing, but slowly. To fill his spot and flesh out the bench to four men under AL rules (here's hoping Phillips gets the call at DH) the Yanks have promoted outfielder Terrence Long. The only encouraging thing about Long's promotion is that the Yankees didn't feel the need to promote a catcher, which suggests that Jorge Posada's back is not a major concern. Indeed, Posada will supposedly be "available" for tonight's series opener in Boston, though that doesn't mean Stinnett be starting his third straight game.
As for Long himself, he's an abysmal baseball player. He basically has the same skill set as the Ghost of Bernie Williams (can't hit, can't run, can't field, is increasingly unlikely to draw a walk), except that Long is eight years younger and lacks the borderline Hall of Fame credentials to keep his career afloat. Last year, as the starting left fielder of the major leagues' worst team, the Kansas City Royals, Long hit a Bernie-like .279/.321/.378. The Royals declined to offer him a contract for this year and he landed with the Reds triple-A farm team in Louisville where he hit just .229/.260/.292 in April, earning his release. The Yankees, desperate for triple-A outfielders with Cabrera and Reese in the majors and Kevin Thompson down with a hamstring injury, signed Long a week ago today. He's since hit .353/.421/.588 in 17 at-bats with Columbus, numbers which include two walks and two extra base hits and thus define small-sample fluke.
The good news is that Terrence shouldn't be here for long.
I've got to be brief this morning. The Mets beat the Yankees 4-3 on a blustery Sunday night in Queens. The Bombers had plenty of hits and walks but they simply could not get anything done with men on base. Tom Glavine was not great but he was good enough. He made big pitches when he had to (see Jeter's double play in the sixth).
Alex Rodriguez came to bat with the bases loaded twice and came away with nothing but his lingering reputation for pressing in tough spots. To be fair, he crushed a line drive in the first situation, but with the tying run at third and the bases juiced with just one out in the eighth, Rodriguez tapped into a 6-4-3 double play. Try sleeping on that. I know it took me awhile to stop muttering to myself and hey, I like rooting for Rodriguez. I can only imagine what else was being said about him after that.
Long balls from Carlos Delgado and David Wright proved to be all the offense the Mets would need. The Yankees' pitching was as good as can be expected under the circumstances. Billy Wagner made it interesting in the ninth, once again, but recorded the save all the same.
The Bombers face Schilling tonight up at Fenway. But hey, there is hope on the way. What? You say that Scott Erickson doesn't fill you with that Barton Fink feeling? How about Terrance Long, Richard Hidalgo or Mr. E. Durazo?
It's been a strange day with the weather here in New York--sunny, rainy, then sunny again. There is a chill in the air, a steady breeze too. Sunday Night Baseball features future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine bringing the soft stuff to the Yankees tonight. Journey man pitcher Aaron Small hopes to similarly vex the Mets by keeping them off balance, utalizing his good change-up.
I wouldn't be suprised if the Mets blew the Yanks out, but if the Bombers can get to Glavine, if he's not especially sharp, then we'll have us a ball game. Wonder which team is going to decide to catch the ball tonight?
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
You Gotta Believe
"I didn't think Pedro would come out, the way he was throwing and with his pitch count pretty low," [Mike] Mussina said. "It was pretty easy for him. And I was surprised when Wagner came back with a four-run lead, and he just pitched last night.
Over the years, the Yankees' key to success against Pedro Martinez is to make him throw a lot of pitches, and hope their pitcher can keep the score close. The idea, in theory, is to chase Pedro from the game by the seventh inning--either by scoring off him or just plain tiring him out--to get into the bullpen. The Yankees had to be careful what they wished for yesterday though, as the Mets' bullpen has been one of the strongest in the big leagues so far this season. Add that to the fact that because of injuries Miguel Cairo was the Yankees' starting left fielder yesterday. But strange things do tend to happen when Martinez pitches against the Bombers. And though he didn't figure in the final decision, you have to wonder if was days like these that once prompted him to call the Yankees his daddy.
Stand and Deliver
Last winter, the Yankees got Randy Johnson to be their stud, big-game pitcher and the Mets signed Pedro Martinez to be their star attraction. At this stage, Martinez has lived up to the billing. Every time he takes the mound it is an event, in large part because of his natural showbiz charm. I think Johnson will eventually pitch much better than he has, but the fact is he couldn't hold a 4-0 first inning lead last night.
Pedro hasn't been dominant in his last couple of outings but you have to figure he'd hold a four run lead against this Yankee line up in a National League park. Bernie and Farnsworth are unavailable today. Kevin Reese is getting the start. Believe that. How fired up is Pedro? On National TV. He'll bring the drama, baby.
Mussina has been the Yankees' best pitcher this year by far. He's far less emotional than Pedro but he's a tremendous pitcher on a hot streak. With Aaron Small--whose golden goose has likely turned back into a pumpkin already--going tomorrow night against Glavine, today is key for the Bombers. They've had more than reasonable success against Martinez over the years. But you gotta like the Mets bullpen right now. Tough game. Just got to hope they keep it together with the leather and that Moose can give them 7-8 innings. They'll get some runs.
The Wrong Stuff
Randy Johnson had another bad outing for the Yankees on Friday night. Staked to a 4-0 first inning lead, Johnson would go on to blow leads of 4-3, 5-3 and 6-5, in the Mets' 7-6 win at Shea Stadium. Carlos Beltran and Xavier Nady took the Big Unit deep, Kaz Matsui had a big RBI single and the Mets' hitters consistently worked the count, fouling off pitches, all night. In the end, t was a fine night for the Shea Faithful. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:
"It's a very humbling game," said Johnson, whose earned run average rose to 5.62. "I'm humbled; I always have been. But I'm not going to quit. I'm not a quitter. I've come back from a lot of things. I know my teammates need me, and I need them. I'll continue to battle."
Mariano Rivera took the loss in the ninth when David Wright crushed a two-out single to the base of the center field wall. With Paul LoDuca on second, the Yankees chose to walk Carlos Delgado to get to Wright. I had had a nagging feeling for innings, wondering how the Bombers would find a way to lose the game and this move cinched it. I know Delgado is a beast, but Wright is no slouch and wouldn't you always rather see Rivera pitch to a lefty?
It was a tough loss but a relatively entertaining game. After a flurry of runs early on, the Mets bullpen out-pitched the Yanks' pen for the win. Aaron Heilman had his change-up working as he threw three scoreless, while Billy Wagner fanned the side--including Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez--in the ninth.
The Mets also flashed some nice leather, while the Yankees' fielding continues to falter--another error by Rodriguez, a botched run-down by Robinson Cano. Offensively, Derek Jeter had a good night and Cano hit the ball hard three times, though he only had one hit to show for it.
Nertz to the final score, the bad news for the Yanks came when Jorge Posada left the game with tightness in his back after the first inning. Initially, the announcers speculated that it was his relationship with Johnson that drove him from the game--talk about a headline!--but the injury appears to be legit. Bernie Williams strained his ass legging out a double and Kyle Farnsworth would leave the game with a back problem after pitching a 1-2-3 eighth.
The Mets overall record is one game better than their counterparts in the Bronx. But right now, the Yankees are wondering when the pain will stop. They'll need length and luck today as aces are high with Mussina and Pedro on the mound.
Meet the Mets
Despite their recent rash of injuries, things have been going fairly well for the Yankees since they opened the season by dropping four of their first five games on a West Coast swing. Since returning to the Bronx for their home opener, the Yanks have lost just two of eleven series (their lone game in Fenway not counting as a series) and have only lost back-to back games twice. The problem is that they did this against the Royals, Orioles, Devil Rays, Twins (who were one of those series losses), Rangers, and a crippled A's team. True, the did take three of five from the Blue Jays, who currently trail them by just a half game in the standings, but they also dropped three of four to the Red Sox, who lead them by the same distance.
Starting tonight, the Yankees will play six games against their two closest rivals, who also happen to be two of the three teams in baseball (the Blue Jays being the third) with the most similar records to the Bombers. Following that, they'll alternate series against patsies (Royals, O's) and the first place Tigers and Red Sox (yes, again). In total, 14 of the Yankees next 20 games will come against teams that currently sport better records than the Yanks'.
This isn't the best time for this sort of thing. Hideki Matsui's out until August at the very earliest. Gary Sheffield is nursing a mysteriously slow-healing wrist injury. Carl Pavano's return has been dashed. Octavio Dotel isn't here yet. Shawn Chacon's shin will indeed force him to yield Sunday's start to Aaron Small. And now Bubba Crosby has hit the DL with a hamstring injury, yielding his roster spot to Mitch Jones.
Jones has a strong throwing arm and a ton of pop in his bat, but will make Melky Cabrera look like Willie Mays in the outfield and Andy Phillips look like Rod Carew at the plate. Jones struck out 174 times in 128 games with Columbus last year and had 41 Ks in 39 games before being called up. Jones is a career .247 hitter in the minors, and was hitting .239 in Columbus this year. Yes, players such as Adam Dunn can be tremendously valuable despite high K-rates and low averages due to exaggerated power and patience, but Jones is unlikely to pull off such a feat making his major league debut at age 28. Unlike Andy Phillips, who's major league debut would have come much earlier if not for an injury and the Yankees' refusal to reward his triple-A performance appropriately, Jones has never appeared to be a major league-ready player, and to my mind, still doesn't. Not that Jones will see much action. As a righty OF/1B, he'll slot in behind Andy Phillips on the depth chart. That's a frightening place to be.
The good news is that Jason Giambi's tweaked neck didn't cause him to miss more than one game. He returned to DH duty two days ago and played in the field yesterday, collecting two walks and a double in seven trips to the plate. He'll be the starting first baseman throughout the weekend's DH-less series at Shea Stadium. The Yankee outfield will be Melky Cabrera, Johnny Damon (who's nursing a foot injury that has been alternately described as bone chips and a stress fracture), and Bernie Williams. Jones, Phillips and Kevin Reese will be limited to pinch-hitting duty, though I must say, I'd rather have the righty Phillips and the lefty Reese pinch-hitting than Miguel Cairo and Bubba Crosby. Kevin Thompson, meanwhile, remains in Columbus as the Yankees want him to continue to start down there rather than ride pine in the majors.
As for this weekend's opponent. The Mets season has thus far has been an exaggerated mirror image of the Yankees'. They built up what was briefly the majors best record against awful teams (7-1 against the Nats and Fish to start the season), and built upon it by splitting against middle-rung opponents (5-4 vs. Atlanta, splits with the Brewers and Padres, a 2-1 series win against the Giants) and adding a 3-1 stretch against the Pirates and Nationals.
The worm has turned, however, as the Mets have gone 3-6 against the Phillies, Brewers and Cardinals over the last nine games as injuries have reduced their rotation to employing the likes of tonight's starter Jeremi Gonzalez and, yes, Jose Lima. Injuries have bit both teams hard. While the Yankees are losing outfielders on what feels like a daily basis, the Mets have a small Tommy John epidemic on their hands as three of their pitchers, ex-Yankee Juan Padilla, and both pitchers from the Scott Kazmir trade, Victor Zambrano and Bartolomo Fortunato, have had the surgery in the last two months.
Indeed, just as the Yankees are paying the price for their failure to sign a strong fourth outfielder, the Mets are paying dearly for Omar Minaya's string of dreadful starting pitching transactions. Beyond the Kazmir trade--which has Bagwell-Anderson, Ryan-Fregosi, Brock-Broglio written all over it--Minaya flipped Jay Seo for Duaner Sanchez and Steve Schmoll this past offseason and dealt Kris Benson for the abysmal Jorge Julio and also injured John Maine. True both Sanchez and Julio have pitched reasonably well thus far this year (Sanchez has a pretty ERA but unimpressive peripherals, Julio has an ugly ERA but, much to my surprise, better peripherals), but apparently neither inspires enough confidence in Willie Randolph to convince him to move Aaron Heilman, who has been nails as a setup man, into the rotation. The Mets handling of Heilman is yet another item on an increasingly long list of mistakes Minaya and Randolph have made with their rotation. The end result is that they've managed to turn Scott Kazmir into Jose Lima. Good work, guys.
Randy Johnson faces Jeremi Gonzalez tonight. That used to be a mismatch. Until Johnson proves otherwise, it looks a lot like a shootout right now.
I'll Murdalize Ya...
Vicente Padilla and the Texas bullpen out-pitched Jaret Wright and the Yankee pen, as the Rangers toppled the increasingly banged-up Bombers 6-2 on an overcast afternoon in the Bronx. Both starting pitchers were excellent, but some poor fielding and lousy relief did the home team in. After starting the season impressively in the field, the Yanks have been kicking the ball around more than somewhat of late.
The funniest moment in the game came in the seventh inning. The Rangers had taken a 4-0 lead in the top half of the inning and Padilla had runners on second and third with two men out when Jorge Posada pinch-hit. Padilla looks like a bad-guy extra in a Roger Corman biker movie, and it was hilarious to see how Posada tried to mess with his head. With the count 1-1, Padilla threw a late breaking slider over the outside part of the plate. It was called a strike though it looked way outside. The next pitch, a high fastball, looked like strike three but was called a ball. Okay, fine. They were even. Then Posada stepped out. Padilla had been taking a long time between pitches all afternoon, so now he and Posada are locked in a duel of stubborness.
Posada, who is more stubborn than a mule, asked the umpire for a new ball. Padilla contempuously rolled the ball back towards the plate, almost directly at Posada. He then missed for ball three. Next, without holding his hand out, Posada called time after another long stare-down with Padilla. He was granted time, but not before Padilla went into his wind up and delivered a breaking ball that looked to be a strike on the outside corner. No matter, the pitch didn't count. Next pitch? Check swing, ball four and Posada had his walk.
Showalter sprung out of the dugout and offered his characteristically comic, terse signal to the pen. Padilla was furious on the mound, red-faced, smoke coming out of his ears, like some poor schnook that Bugs Bunny had just worked over. He left the mound with the lead, but when Johnny Damon dumped a two-run single into left, you could see Padilla in the dugout with some kind of scowl on his mug.
That was as close as the Yanks would get, but it just cracked me up how Posada drove this guy from the game in a fit of frustration. Padilla pitched a really nice game too.
Takin' It Easy
Tuesday night's epic triple-comeback classic lasted three hours and 49 minutes and saw six Yankee pitchers throw a total of 165 pitches. Last night, Chien-Ming Wang and Mariano Rivera set the Rangers down with a mere 95 tosses in a mere two hours and 34 minutes. If not for a two bad pitches by Chien-Ming Wang in the eighth and a trio of errors by the right side of the Yankee infield earlier in the game, the 4-3 win would have been about as tidy a game as one could ask for after Tuesday night's glorious mess.
The Yanks took an early lead in the bottom of the first when Derek Jeter reached on an infield single, was pushed to second by an eight-pitch walk to DH Jason Giambi, moved to third on an Alex Rodriguez fly out to right and was plated by Tuesday night's hero, Jorge Posada.
Working with alarming efficiency, Wang managed to get into and out of a third inning jam on nine pitches (single, single, line-out, double play), but ran into trouble in the fourth when Robinson Cano botched a play at second base for the first of his two errors on the night. After Mark Teixeira grounded out to Cano to start the inning, Phil Nevin drew a five-pitch walk. Hank Blalock then hit a sharp grounder to Alex Rodriguez's left that the Yankee third baseman managed to stab and shovel to second to force out Nevin. Cano, thinking of turning another inning-ending double play, took the throw coming across the bag, but dropped the ball while making the transfer to his throwing hand. Not only that, but in his haste to turn the DP, came too far across the bag to get the neighborhood call, a situation likely exacerbated by his flubbing the transfer. Nevin was called safe and Kevin Mench followed with an RBI single on the next pitch before Wang struck out Brad Wilkerson on three more throws.
Cano literally booted another ball in the top of the fifth, but another DP grounder erased his baserunner and Wang pounced on a Gary Matthews Jr. bunt to get out of the inning on just seven pitches. The Yanks then sprung into action with two outs in the fifth when another eight-pitch Giambi at-bat ended in a flared double to left center. Alex Rodriguez followed with his second infield single of the game, this one ticking off the end of Hank Blalock's glove in the shortstop hole (the first was a Baltimore chop Alex beat out). That brought up Posada, who again delivered an RBI single. Cano and Bernie Williams followed with RBI singles past Mark DeRosa into right before Andy Phillips threw his bat at a 2-2 pitch to ground into an inning-ending fielder's choice.
Wang continued to cruise from there, needing eight pitches in the sixth--with Cano narrowly avoiding another error on the first out (as in the fifth, he didn't stay down on a grounder right to him), before turning yet another inning-ending double play--and eight more in the seventh, thanks to a terrific spin play by Jeter ranging behind second. Incidentally, Andy Phillips, who committed the first error of the game in the first, made difficult picks at first on both the sixth-inning double play and Jeter's spin-throw in the seventh.
In the eighth, Wang got DeRosa to ground out on his second pitch, but then gave up a double to Gerald Laird and a two-run homer to Matthews on his next two offerings to bring the Rangers within a run. He then needed just seven more pitches to get Michael Young and Teixeira to ground out to end the inning, ending his night having thrown 68 percent of a mere 81 pitches for strikes across eight innings of work. Mariano Rivera, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to wrap things up.
Night of the Living Dead?
Had last night's historic comeback come in the penultimate game of a playoff series, tonight's affair would be a foregone conclusion. It seems everytime a team is on its way to winning a series only to be interrupted by a dramatic comeback that forces a double-elimination game, the team that was mere innings from a series win is unable to recover and staggers, zombie-like to defeat. Some quick examples: The Cubs in the 2003 NLCS, the Giants in the 2001 World Series, the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series, on a larger scale the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS and the Angels in the 1986 ALCS (two notable exceptions being the Diamondbacks and Reds in the 2001 and 1975 World Series respectively).
That sort of thing is far less likely to occur in the third game of a four-game series in May, but if ever there was a loss that could put a team off its game the following day, it was the one the Rangers suffered last night. Looking to prevent such an occurence will be Kameron Loe, whom the Yankees handled capably in Texas, touching him up for five runs on five hits and three walks in five innings, four of those runs coming on a pair of homers by Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi. No word yet as to whether or not Giambi will be back in the line-up tonight, so in lieu of that useful information I'll just mention that Loe looks like he could be Scott Brosius's son, though he's only 15 years younger than the one-time World Series MVP.
Loe will be opposed by Chien-Ming Wang, who handled the Rangers capably in Texas, limiting them to three runs on seven hits and no walks over six innings. In his one start since then, Wang twirled an eight-inning, three-hit gem against the A's B-squad. Wang is on a streak of four-straight solid starts in which he's posted the following line:
26 IP, 19 H, 8 R, 0 HR, 9 BB, 5 K, 1.08 WHIP, 2.77 ERA, 2-0
The issue, of course, is that nasty 5:9 K/BB. In 49 innings this season, Wang has struck out 18 (3.31 K/9) and walked 16 (2.94 BB/9). Before Wang's first start of the season I wrote about the importance of Wang increasing his strikeout rate:
In his rookie season, Wang struck out just 3.64 men per nine innings, a severe drop from his career minor league rate of 7.06 K/9. In 74 1/3 career triple-A innings between 2004 and 2005, Wang struck out 6.78 men per nine and in 15 1/3 innings this spring he struck out 5.87 men per nine innings. Given that history, it seems fair to expect Wang to increase his strikeout rate to something in the mid-fives this year. As dominating as Chien-Ming can be in terms of keeping his opponents from getting the ball in the air, he'll need to help himself more often this year if he expects to improve on his freshman campaign.
That hasn't happened and indeed, Wang hasn't improved on his 2005 performance. He has managed to repeat it almost exactly, however. For the time being, that will do.
Hip-Hip, Jorge! (Rock the Bells)
I was there. Yo, I was watching the whole thing next to Steve Lombardi who invited me along on the count of he had an extra ticket. Steve has a season ticket package that he shares with a group of co-workers in the lodge section. He's been to hundreds of games at the Stadium and it's safe to say that last night's will rank amongst the most memorable. Back in 1998, I bailed out on going to a game against the Orioles which saw the lead change numerous times and ended with Jorge Posada hitting his second homer of night. "I can't believe you didn't come," one of my friends said, rubbing it in. But I was able to see that game from home and never felt badly about not being there in person. There would be other nights, I thought. Then, I was at the game where Jason Giambi hit the grand slam in the rain in 2002 but I was sick and left in the fifth inning. When I saw the papers the next morning, my heart sunk briefly when I realized I had missed something special. Now, I'm not going to say I called the comeback last night exactly, but after Shawn Chacon was down 2-0, I turned to Steve and said, "I can see the Yanks getting down 4, 5-0 and coming back."
It was a happily noisy night at the Stadium yet for the first forty-five minutes the loudest sounds came from the Rangers' bats. It seemed like they hit everything hard against Chacon. At least everything they hit was loud. But even when the Yanks were down 9-0, the fans still seemed cheery enough. After Johnny Damon--who is playing with a chipped bone in his right foot--singled to start the bottom of the third, the crowd roared when Derek Jeter lined a double over Gary Matthews' head in center field. Jeter made a huge turn past second and was actually caught between the bag and third. But Michael Young was still way off the bag after making the cut-off throw in the outfield. The cut-off throw had gone to the pitcher John Koronka instead, who looked at Jeter. Both men froze for an instant, then Jeter raced back to second as Koronka ran towards him. Young sprinted to the bag as well. Koronka threw to Young who arrived at the bag just after Jeter. The crowd erupted again. This kind of see-saw play and corresponding reaction from the fans characterized the game.
Just when the Yankee offense appeared to have hit a low point, scoring a mere dozen runs in its last five games, with Matsui and Sheffield on the DL and Damon and Giambi slumping, things have gotten worse. Giambi, who left yesterday's game after tweaking his neck while making a nice diving play, will get the day off tonight, resulting in a line-up that looks like this:
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Yeouch! That just may be the weekest line-up the Yankees will field all season prior to the eastern division and wild card being decided. If it's not, this team is in a whole hill of trouble.
Complicating things further, having just praised Andy Phillips defense at first over the weekend and having lost a game on a dropped ball by Miguel Cairo last week, Joe Torre has opted to put Cairo back in the field with Phillips mired at DH. Maybe having Cairo as your DH is embarassing, but the Yankees lost to the A's on Sunday while Oakland had Antonio Perez, who was 0 for 2006 entering that game, at DH. That's not to say that sort of thing is to be emulated, but if there's no one else available (Ken Macha was dealing with a similar laundry list of aches and pains), a manager should at least try to field his best possible defense.
Speaking of which Bubba is riding pine because the Yanks will be facing the left-handed John Koronka, which also means we get the old-school version of Bernie Williams tonight, making the above line-up a tad less pathetic. Koronka has indeed been absolute murder on lefties thus far this year (they're hitting .154/.244/.231 against him), and solid overall (4-1, 3.65 ERA, 5.08 K/9, 2.44 BB/9, 0.81 HR/9). The Yankees avoided him in Texas last week.
Shawn Chacon goes for the Yanks following a brief, walk-addled start against the Red Sox last week (5 BB, 1 K in 4 2/3 IP). Save for his ugly walk rate, Chacon's numbers are very similar to Koronka's (4-1, 3.68, 5.89 K/9, 4.66 BB/9, 0.74 HR/9).
Fresh Dipped Gear
Okay, so the dopest jersey I've seen so far this spring? Last Saturday I'm walking through Union Square and I see a skinny Spanish kid rocking one of those classy home Tiger uniforms. He had number 7 "Rodriguez" on the back. Sweet. Those Tiger home whites are beautiful in the same way that the Giants home jerseys are--or the Red Sox, Dodgers or Yankees for that matter.
The Yankees got another solid performance from Mike Mussina yesterday, who pitched seven innings and allowed just two runs. But Kevin Millwood was also very good and by the time Mussina left the game, and the rain started pouring down on Kyle Farnsworth, the Rangers rallied for two runs in the eighth and held on for a 4-2 win. Farnsworth made a few poor pitches and though Texas did not hit him hard, they capitalized on his mistakes. Gary Matthews, jr and Bubba Crosby made sensational catches while Derek Jeter committed another error.
The major concern for the Yanks, however are injuries. Jason Giambi, a slugger the team can ill-afford to lose, left the game in the eighth inning due to a sore neck (injured earlier in the game). His status is day-to-day. Losing Giambi's offense right now would be tough. As Steven Goldman recently noted:
With Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui out, the Yankees now have three players who can be described as power hitters Jason Giambi, Alex Rodríguez, and Jorge Posada and the last isn't in the class of the first two. While Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, and Robinson Canó are all productive hitters in their own way, and Melky Cabrera may yet be a productive hitter, the lineup now lacks explosiveness.
State of the Nation
There's not much to say about the Texas Rangers that I didn't say a week or so ago. Despite getting swept at home by the Bombers, they remain in first place in the AL West (thanks to the Yanks' just completed 2-1 series win over the second-place A's), and they've made just one roster move, demoting spot-starter Robinson Tejeda in favor of righty reliever Scott Feldman last Monday.
Due to consecutive rainouts in Boston, the Rangers have played just four games since hosting the Yanks, dropping two of three to the visiting Twins before taking the rain-shortened opener in Fenway behind five scoreless innings by Kameron Loe. Adding in a scheduled off day this past Thursday and the Rangers have played just six innings in the last four days.
So, with nothing doing on the other side of the leger, I thought I'd take this opportunity to take a better look at the home town team, as they could use some lookin' at given the events of the past week.
The Kind of Club I Would Like to Have Somebody like Me as a Member
No matter how far up you sit in Yankee Stadium, you always have the feeling that you are right on top of the action. On Saturday afternoon, I sat in row W (second to last row) with a great bunch of baseball fans--Mike Carminati, Chris DeRosa, loyal Bronx Banter readers Mike and Murray Markowitz, and their pal Alex. Mike Markowitz took a couple of flicks and in turn, I'd like to share 'em with you.
Check out the top left-hand corner and you can see the Grand Concourse.
Our Field of Dreams
The Gang (from right to left): That's me, Mike C, Chris DeRosa, Murray and Alex.
The M&M Boys. Talk about taste. And dig the hat Murray's rocking--it's fabulously hideous. His wife made him buy it when they were vacationing in Holland.
Yup, these are the kind of Yankee fans I'm proud to have as friends. And yo, I'd rock a Bobby Meachum shirt, or at least a Pasqua or Pags joint any day of the week.
I Haven't Got Time for the Rain
Although it was overcast for most of the weekend--with more rain due throughout the week, we've been able to steer clear of the wet weather that cancelled two of the three games in Boston (and shortened another). Saturday turned out to be sunny and breezy, as the Yankees edged the A's 4-3, on the strength of home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. Taynon Sturtze appeared and was awful and is now on the disabled list. (Hey, at least he's been replaced by Scott Erickson!) Kyle Farnsworth wasn't brilliant, but he was better, and he worked around a critical error by Jeter to save the game by a run.
Randy Johnson's pitching woes are still here. While he showed signs of improvement on a pink and gray Mother's Day in the Bronx, Freddie Sez it is clear that Johnson is in the process of working through a career crisis of sorts. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, a dominating force like Johnson just doesn't transform into Frank Tanana overnight. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:
"A lot of it is probably mechanical," [pitching coach, Ron] Guidry said, before pointing to his head. "Some of it is probably still up here."
Unfortunately for the Yankees, Oakland's starter, Danny Haren, was terrific, throwing a complete game. Final score: A's 6, Yanks 1. The Yanks start the week tied with the Red Sox in first place with the well-rested Rangers team coming into town for a four-game series.
Just What The Doctor Ordered
I don't believe there is such a thing as a must-win game in May, but if ever the Yankees needed to post a W, it was last night. Earlier in the day, Hideki Matsui underwent successful surgery to repair was we now know is a fractured radius (the larger forearm bone on the thumb side of the arm). Matsui had two pins inserted and is expected to miss a minimum of three months, which would mean mid-August at the earliest. The Yankees are operating under the mindset that getting Matsui back this season would be a bonus, rather than a sure thing. With Gary Sheffield still on the DL, the Yankees played Melky Cabrera and Bernie Williams at the corners last night, with Bernie batting fifth and Andy Phillips at first base and batting eighth against the left-handed Barry Zito.
With the A's similarly, if not more banged up, Zito and Chien-Ming Wang took a scoreless game into the sixth. The only runner to reach third through the first five and a half innings was Phillips, who yanked a one-out single past Bobby Crosby in the fifth, was bunted to second by Cabrera, and pushed to third by walks to Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter. He was stranded when Jason Giambi hit a ball 390 feet to dead center that settled into the glove of Mark Kotsay for the final out of the inning.
Alex Rodriguez broke the tie in the bottom of the sixth with a home run into the Yankee bullpen, his second tie-breaking home run in the last three games. With former Yankee Randy Keisler, who had just replaced Matt Roney on the A's roster before the game, in for Zito in the eighth, Bernie Williams doubled the Yankee lead with his second homer of the year, both of which have come off lefty pitching.
Thanks in part to some outstanding defense by Robinson Cano and Andy Phillips and a whopping four double plays, Wang had not allowed a runner past first in the first eight innings of the game, holding the A's scoreless on three hits and a walk and needing just 85 pitches to do it. Still, Joe Torre decided to have Mariano Rivera, who has the flu and had pitched in each of the previous two games and with a four-run lead on Wednesday, close out the game. Three batters into the ninth inning, Rivera had men on first and third with one out, but the Yankees' fifth double play of the game, a 3-6-3 DP started by Phillips, shut the door, giving the Yanks a much needed 2-0 win.
Today the Yanks send fifth-starter Jaret Wright to the mound to face former Big Red Blog paper . . . er, posterboy Brad Halsey. Wright will be making just his third start of the season, his last coming a week and a half ago in Tampa Bay. Wright has allowed just two runs in his last ten innings pitched and allowed just three hits over six innings to the Devil Rays. That said, there's nothing to indicate that he has anything other than luck to thank for that run.
Carl Pavano left his rehab start in Trenton last night after throwing just 63 pitches due to tightness in his right bicep, but pitched well, getting through six innings on those 63 tosses, holding the opposition to one run on three hits and no walks while striking out six. Still, Pavano was supposed to throw 90 pitches. He's scheduled to make his next rehab start on schedule, but one imagines the speed of Pavano's rehab will be in some way affected by the performance of Wright this afternoon.
As for Halsey, he'll be making his third start of the year after having spent most of 2005 in the Diamondbacks' rotation. The Admiral had a 1.42 ERA as the second lefty in the A's bullpen prior to being forced into the rotation by the injury to his former Yankee teammate Esteban Loaiza. In his two starts since then, he's looked a lot like he did in pinstripes, lasting into the sixth inning both times, but not cracking the seventh in either, and holding the opposition to three runs on both occasions.
Curiously, the lefty Halsey, who I once thought might have been the answer to the Yankees LOOGY problems and who was murder on lefties in his first two big-league season, has something of a reverse split thus far this year. Still, Torre is sticking with Phillips at first and Bernie (who is hitting .364/.400/.576 against lefties this year) batting fifth. Kelly Stinnett gets the day game after night game start behind the plate, batting eighth behind Phillips and ahead of the left fielder, Melky Cabrera. For the A's, Eric Chavez and Jason Kendall are back in the line-up, though Chavez will be DHing with Scutaro staying at third.
The A's are the perfect team for the Yankees to be playing right now. As Ken Arneson wrote earlier today:
Players are dropping like flies, and if you can somehow manage to stand on two feet at all, you're in the lineup. Kendall is tossed out, Eric Chavez has a bacterial infection, Frank Thomas pulled a quad, Justin Duchscherer has a bad elbow, Joe Kennedy has an muscle strain in his arm, and none of those guys are among the three A's players currently on the DL.
There are actually four A's on the DL, though I can understand why Ken might have ignored ex-Yankee Jay Witasick. The other three are Rich Harden--who is quickly earning a reputation as the Mark Prior of the AL, and that ain't a good thing--the similarly injury-prone Milton Bradley, and former Yankee Esteban Loaiza. And Ken didn't even mention the fact that closer Huston Street missed a week and a half in late April with a strained right pectoral muscle and currently sports a 6.30 ERA.
As a result, the A's have Kirk Saarloos and a third ex-Yank, Brad Halsey in their rotation, and--due to Chavez's illness, Thomas's injury and Kendall's suspension--will be limited tonight to a two-man bench of Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Brown and a line-up that looks something like this:
L Mark Kotsay (CF)
Kendall will return to action tomorrow, though whether or not the Yankees will see Chavez or Thomas this weekend is unknown.
Nonetheless, it's not hard to figure out why A's are underperforming the expectations that I and many others had for them entering the season, though the fact that they're at .500 and just a half-game out of first despite all of these interruptions in playing time bodes well for their ability to turn on the jets after returning to health.
Indeed, the Yankees are facing the A's at exactly the right time. Not only are the A's a team that's even more beat up than the Yankees are, but they're a team that at full strength could very well be the best in the league. Sometimes timing is everything.
Never mind last night's loss to the Red Sox. The Yankees have far more pressing issues that a one-game deficit in the standings on May 12. What the Yankees need right now is an outfield as Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui are both on the DL with injuries to their left wrists and Johnny Damon is literally banged up, his achy left shoulder and sprained right foot having been aggravated by another collision with the outfield wall last night.
Damon will continue to play through his pains, but a few days at DH would be advisable as the last thing the Yankees can afford right now is to have either of Damon's ouchies turn into a chronic injury that might effect his offense or availability. That means a Yankee outfield of Melky Cabrera, Bubba Crosby and Bernie Williams might become a common sight over the next couple of series. Gulp. One thing's for sure, with Matsui and Sheff on the DL and Kevin Reese having been called up to take Matsui's spot on the roster, those three along with Damon will see the bulk of the playing time in the outfield and at DH.
I'm tempted to say that the time has come for Torre to make Andy Phillips his primary DH, sitting him only to give Damon an occasional break from the field. Certainly a line-up with Phillips at DH, Damon in center, Melky in one corner and a Bernie/Bubba righty/lefty platoon in the other inspires more confidence than what we're more likely to see, which is Bernie at DH and an outfield of Bubba, Damon and Melky from left to right. But I think I've finally given up hoping that Phillips will get his shot. That said, the Yankees will face lefty starters tonight and tomorrow, so there's a ray of hope.
Barring Joe seeing the light on Andy, here's what the Yankee line-up will look like for the next week or two:
L - Johnny Damon (CF/DH)
You can kiss 1,000 runs goodbye.
These Are the Breaks
Last night I got together with Cliff, Jay Jaffe, Mark Lamster and SI.com's Jacob Luft for a bite to eat. We caught the game--or at least portions of it--and obviously, it was a devastating night for the home team. Both Cliff and I got home way too late to be able to write a thorough recap of the nights events, which is too bad because it was an absorbing game. The Yanks lost 5-3, with Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter contributing key defensive errors, but the critical moment of the game came early when Hideki Matsui fractured his left hand trying to make a shoestring catch.
Anyone who saw the replay knows how bad the injury instantly looked. It might not have been Joe Theisman/Jason Kendall horrific, but it was painful to watch (oddly enough, it was a night for highlight reel injuries--we must have seen the replay of Philadelphia's Aaron Rowand crashing into the centerfield fence 58 times). Matsui's consecutive game streak--which dates back to his days playing Japan--is over (1,768 straight). Godzilla is scheduled to have surgery today and after the game Yankee GM Brian Cashman commented that it is possible that Matsui could be lost for the year. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:
"It's going to be a long time," General Manager Brian Cashman said. "Whether we get him back before the season's over, we won't know for a while."
With Gary Sheffield still out, the $64,000 question for the Yankes is who will replace Matsui? The lines are open. What do you think?
Bubba Crosby and Johnny Damon both made outstanding catches at the wall, and it looked as if the Sox were not going to be able to get a break (they stranded 15 on base for the game). Their luck would change however as they took advantage of New York's fielding mistakes and good pitching from Tim Wakefield, Mike Timlin and Jonathan Papelbon for the win. The Yankees' fortunes continued to go south. Both Jeter and Williams reached second base in the late innings, making up for their errors, and both were stranded when their teammates could not drive them home. Mariano Rivera allowed a run in the ninth. He was livid with himself when he left a fastball over the plate which Kevin Youkilis drove into center for an RBI single. To make matters worse, Damon hurt his shoulder and right foot when he robbed Doug Mirabelli of extra bases.
In the end, it was a painful night in the Bronx. And losing to the Sox was the least of it.
Well sorta. Tonight's rubber game will determine the winner of the current-three game series between the Yanks and Red Sox, and will give the winner a one-game lead in the AL East, but if the Yankees win the two teams will be tied overall this season and will even up their head-to-head record since 2002 at 92-92.
The last two nights were opposites in just about every way. Tuesday night was characterized by sloppy play and awful pitching, at least by the home team. Last night was a crisply played and well-pitched game, eight of the ten runs coming on homers, one bad pitch at a time rather than the persistent inability to get hitters out.
Tonight could go either way, though a repeat of last night seems more likely. After a rough start, a pair of ugly relief appearances, and despite a skipped start due to a rainout last week, Shawn Chacon appears to have found his way back to his late 2005 form. In his last three starts he's done this:
19 2/3 IP, 13 H, 3 R, 0 HR, 9 BB, 12 K, .216 BABIP, 1.12 WHIP, 1.37 ERA, 3-0
The only ugly number there is his walk total and there's been some recent discussion that Chacon's walks, which have always been high, are actually part of his pitching strategy. He pitches around dangerous hitters and gets the next man out. That he's walked more than four men per nine innings but managed to keep his WHIP down supports that theory, which of course requires Shawn to work more of his BABIP magic.
Those three starts have brought Chacon's season ERA down to 3.94 and pushed his record to 4-1. Indeed, add Chacon to Mussina, the bullpen, and the quest for 1000 runs on the list of reasons why the Yankees are in first place right now despite the complete disintegration of Randy Johnson's delivery.
Tim Wakefield, meanwhile, has had some hard luck thus far this season, posting a Chacon-like 3.97 ERA and making quality starts in five of his seven turns, but getting just 3.71 runs worth of support per start, resulting in a 2-4 record. Take out his last two starts and that run support drops to just 2.00 runs per game. In his penultimate start, Wake beat the Yanks by holding them to three runs on four hits and three walks over seven innings while Joe Torre's Jeff Weaver Syndrome handed the Sox the win.
Two of those three hits and two of the three Yankee RBIs in that game came off the bat of Robinson Cano, who is now 5 for 15 in his brief career off the knuckleballer with two doubles, a homer and four RBIs. The only other Yankee hitter with a career OPS above .800 in more than ten at-bats against Wakefield is Gary Sheffield, who is on the 15-day DL. Yes, those 15 at-bats are a ridiculously small sample size, but after years of watching Robbie's veteran teammates wave at Wake's knuckler like they're swinging at houseflies with a rolled up magazine, it's striking how confident and locked in Cano seems against Timmy's tumbler.
Alchemy in the Boogie Down
Bronx Banter Interview: Joel Sherman
This is a tidy year for baseball anniversaries here in New York: Thirty years ago, the Yanks returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1964; twenty years ago, the Mets enjoyed the best season in their organization's history and won the World Serious, and ten years ago, of course, Joe Torre managed the Yankees to their first Serious victory since 1978. So it is entirely fitting that Joel Sherman's first book, "The Birth of a Dynasty"--an insider's account of the 1996 Yankee team--has just been released. Sherman has been a columnist for the New York Post since '96 and his book is a must-read for both casual and die-hard Yankee fans. I consumed the book in a few days and was excited about how much I learned (I never heard of a six-tool player before, but Ruben Rivera apparently fit the profile).
Sherman took some time out this week to discuss "The Birth of a Dynasty." Hope you enjoy our chat.
Bronx Banter: You are a veteran baseball writer--first as a beat reporter, then as a columnist. Both of those jobs require different skills, but in both positions you are still working on a deadline and have only a limited amount of space to get your point across. This is your first book. What challenges did you encounter with the new medium? What was the most difficult transition for you, and what did you learn about yourself as a writer?
Joel Sherman: This is an excellent question. My whole temperament is built to be a newspaperman. I am almost a New York stereotype. I like to work quickly and move on to the next thing. The column feeds that. At the New York Post, you work on three deadlines a day. So you are constantly working all day on the days you write and then, boom, you are done. It is in the paper for various editions and you are on to the next day. When you write a book, there is no instant gratification or negative reaction, at all. It is a long-term process and my Brooklyn mindset had a tough time with that. As for what I learned during the process was more something that was re-established in my own mind, which is how much I love to report. The 1996 Yankees were an extremely well covered team and interviewing folks to try to find new information and new avenues to tell these stories really energized me.
BB: Did you enjoy the process?
JS: Mostly no. It was a difficult time for me to take on this process. My wife and I had our first children, our twins Jake and Nick, and trying to research/write as an extra job during first a pregnancy and then the early months of the lives of my children was straining. Also, a relationship with a publishing house is like a brief, shot-gun marriage. You are forced to deal with people for a very short, intense period that you probably would not associate with at other times.
BB: How long did it take to write?
JS: The research and writing took about 18 months, but there was no continuity to it because of the pregnancy. I went long stretches of doing nothing.
BB: It sounds like it was a humbling experience for you, going from the immediate gratification of newspaper writing, to the grind of a longer project. The scope is so much larger as you mentioned. Also, book writing is often a collaborative situation, which means you don't have as much control as you have been used to. How important were the contributions of your editor--or colleagues who looked at different versions of the manuscript--in terms of helping you compose a dramatic arc for a book as compared with a column?
JS: The publishing house provided very little guidance. But I am blessed with great, talented friends. Mike Vaccaro, a columnist at the Post, was terrific at encouragement. When he was interested or intrigued by a topic, I knew it was a topic to pursue. I wanted to have moments all over the book where even people who follow the team religiously would go, "wow, I didn't know that." Mike was fantastic at helping me with that. Lou Rabito, an editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I went to school at NYU. Among Lou's many skills is that he is the best line editor I have ever worked with and he is brutally honest. So he not only cleaned up the copy, but he told me frankly when items did or didn't work. His touch is on nearly every page of the book. Also, Ken Rosenthal, now of Fox Sports, worked at the Baltimore Sun in 1996 as a columnist. He was in fact, a great columnist. The Orioles were the Yankees' foil in 1996 and I had Ken read passages about the Orioles just to make sure I was getting them right. He was invaluable, as well. I think the key thing all three did was give me confidence. With no instant gratification, I needed people along the way to tell me, you are going right or you are going wrong. They did that.
Boo! We Love You!
After belting a two-run homer into the upper deck in his first at bat, David Ortiz tapped a single through the right side of the infield with two outs in the top of the third. Had the infield been positioned normally, it would have been an easy out, but Ortiz, who has been slumping of late, generally finds a way when playing at the Stadium (he went 4-4 on the night, yet he only hit the ball hard twice..."just" two times, oy). When Ortiz reached first he shared a smile with Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi, who also sees an extreme shift employed when he bats (Giambi would crank a two-run homer of his own in the bottom of the inning). The scene was notable only because it demonstrates that, with a few exceptions, the players on the Yankees and Red Sox are not engaged in the same kind of rivalry that you see and hear in the stands. Yes, I'm sure the players feed off the intensity of the fans, and the hype in the papers, but this isn't 1977 and for the most part, you don't get the feeling that the participants hate one another too tough.
The rivalry has become more about the fans than anything else, and often it brings out the worst in us. The electricity in the crowd--at either Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park--is palpable and that brings an acute tension to almost every pitch, every at bat. I think this is great as you just don't see the same kind of excitement elsewhere around the majors for a regular season in game. But the downside is that the crowd entertains itself with lewd chants that have nothing to do with the action on the field. The so-called class acts in the Bronx last night spent a good portion of the game riffing how much the Red Sox suck. C'mon now. I just find it pathetic.
But nobody heard boos last night like Alex Rodriguez did after his second at bat. Rodriguez struck out looking (on three pitches) in the first inning, and then popped out weakly to first base the next time up. The boos showered down on the reigning AL MVP. As Mike Lupica notes in a refreshingly sharp column today, "Sometimes the place isn't nearly as cool as we make it out to be, or want it to be."
There's not much that needs to be said about tonight's game that can't be summed up by this chart:
Schilling and Mussina have just one non-quality start between them this year in 14 tries, that being Schilling's fifth start of the year in which the Indians touched him up for five runs on nine hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings despite striking out eight times in that span. The Indians, incidentally, currently lead the majors in runs per game, edging the Yankees by less than six one-thousandths of a run.
Baseball Prospectus's Jim Baker provides a brief history of the three prior head-to-head matchups between these two borderline Hall of Famers, both of whom are improving their chances of enshrinement weekly. He also reminds us that both were both minor leaguers with the Orioles in 1990, Mussina cracking triple-A for the first time that year and Schilling splitting time between starting in triple-A (prior to Mussina's mid-season promotion) and relieving in the majors in his second of three stops before finding a home with the Phillies.
I wonder if Glenn Davis will be watching tonight.
Steve Lombardi has an revealing post on Alex Rodriguez vs. the Red Sox, and David Pinto has an equally good one on Randy Johnson. Check 'em out.
Take The Over (And Be Glad It Is)
Here's what I wrote in anticipation of last night's game:
Given their performances over the past few weeks, tonight's match-up of fireballers Randy Johnson and Josh Beckett could be the wildest game of them all. In his last three starts, Beckett has posted this combined line:
The Yanks and Red Sox combined for 17 runs last night. What I didn't expect was that the Red Sox scored 14 of them, posting a pair of touchdowns to the Yankees lone field goal.
Red Sox, vol. II: For Real This Time (Updated)
Last week's two-game series in Fenway Park was disappointing as scheduled and became even more so after the second game was rained out. The three-game series that kicks off tonight in the Bronx, however, should make up for it and then some, thanks in large part to some fantastic pitching match-ups. Both teams are skipping a starter due to yesterday's off day (Wright for the Yankees, Clement for the Red Sox), and the Red Sox fifth starter/place holder Lenny DiNardo started on Sunday, leaving us with the three best starters on each team for this week's series, the highlight of which, at least on paper, should be tomorrow's pairing of rejuvenated aces Curt Schilling (5-1, 3.02 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 45 K, 7 BB, 6 quality starts in 7 games) and Mike Mussina (5-1, 2.35 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 42 K, 8 BB, quality starts in all 7 games).
Coming into the season one would have thought that Thursday's matchup of soft-tossers Shawn Chacon and Tim Wakefield would be the most likely of these three games to be a high-scoring shootout, but given their performances over the past few weeks, tonight's match-up of fireballers Randy Johnson and Josh Beckett could be the wildest game of them all. In his last three starts, Beckett has posted this combined line:
16 IP, 16 H, 18 R, 17 ER, 6 HR, 10 BB, 11 K, 9.56 ERA
Meanwhile, in three of his last four starts, Johnson has done this:
15 IP, 22 H, 18 R, 18 ER, 2 HR, 8 BB, 8 K, 10.80 ERA
That's ugly enough in and of itself, but consider that, despite all of those crooked numbers, the two have combined to go 2-2 in those six games thanks to their offenses, which have scored 15 runs for Beckett and a whopping 32 for Johnson in those three games. That would seem to place the over-under on total runs scored tonight somewhere around 15.
Incidentally, the Yanks and Sox are still tied for first in the AL East, with the Yanks still ahead by percentage points and a game in the loss column due to having played two fewer games. Both teams have won five of their last six. The Sox have won their last four, the Yanks their last five and seven of their last eight.
Tip Toe Through the Tulips
Anything interesting going on this week for the Yanks? Ah, yes, baseball's version of the WWF returns to the Bronx. In-Your-Face Action! No, it's not Madden 2006, it's the most over-hyped rivalry in professional sports. But even with the customary hoopla, there are three fun pitching match-ups to be had in Boston's first trip to the Stadium this year, starting tonight with Randy Johnson vs. Josh Beckett. Cliff will be round a bit later with a thorough series preview. On a softer note, erstwhile Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez is featured on the front page of the New York Times this morning as a gardner of all things. When he was with Boston, I feared and loathed Martinez. He was an easy villian. But I have to say, in spite of his faults, I can't continue to hate the guy--I'm a sucker for his charm, his sense of humor and his sense of theater. This article accentuates the sensitive side of Pedro.
One Plus One=Five (or 1,000)
While Cliff and I were busy with our lives this weekend, the Yanks took two more from Texas (6-1 on Saturday, 8-5 on Sunday) to extend their winning streak to five games. Hideki Matsui and Alex Rodriguez had strong weekends, while it appears as if Gary Sheffield is headed for the DL. Yesterday's win was the 1000th of Torre's Yankee career. But it didn't come without some tense moments from the usual suspects. Tyler Kepner reports in the Times:
The Yankees' bullpen has not blown a lead for a starter this season, but Tanyon Sturtze did not help Sunday. He is struggling at a crucial time, because the Yankees may need to find room in their bullpen if Octavio Dotel returns in a few weeks.
Sturtze, Torre: wringing necks. Does any of this sound familiar to any of our readers?
Take It Easy
The Yankees hope to clinch the first of their two series in Texas this year with a far less eventful game tonight than last night's. The pitching matchup will see Shawn Chacon take on the lone holdover in the Rangers' rotation, Kameron Loe (though Loe pitched primarily in relief last year, he did do it in a Texas uniform). Chacon's last start got washed out by rain in Boston. As a result he'll take the mound tonight on eight day's rest. Here's what I wrote in anticipation of Tuesday night's game in Boston:
After a couple of rough outings and an ugly stint in the bullpen, Chacon has come around in his last two starts working his low BABIP magic to hold the Orioles and Devil Rays to a combined .190 BABIP over 13 1/3 innings that saw just two runs cross the plate. That sort of thing won't continue, of course, and the Red Sox, even with their diminished offense, are exactly the sort of team in exactly the sort of park in which such a stat is likely to correct itself.The same could be said of the Rangers and their ballpark, though the Texas hitters are in general a less patient sort, which gives Chacon a little more leeway.
Loe, meanwhile, has alternated good and bad starts over his first five turns. His last start saw him hold the A's to three runs over six innings. If the pattern holds, the Yanks will do some damange tonight.
IRS: Inverted Reliever Syndrome
Perhaps the hardest part of any manager's job is managing his bullpen. Some relievers need to pitch regularly to stay sharp. Others need proper rest to avoid fatigue and injury. And there's often a very fine line between one and the other. But in a pen such as the Yankees' that has a clear hierarchy of talent, there is one overriding principle. There are high-leverage relievers (Rivera, Farnsworth, Myers against lefties) and low-leverage relievers (Sturtze, Proctor, Villone, Small). The high-leverage guys need to pitch in high-leverage situations (leads of three runs or less, tie games at home or on the road, and, depending on the relative strengths of your offense and the opposing pitching staff, trailing by one or two). The low-leverage guys, meanwhile, are there to eat low-leverage innings, allowing the manager to save the high-leverage guys for when they're most needed.
Of course, it's impossible to stick to this formula exactly. Going deep into extra innings will require the use of a low-leverage pitcher in a high-leverage situation, as might playing many tight games in a row. Conversely, participating in a number of blowouts in a row might force a manager to use one of his high-leverage guys in a low-leverage situation just to keep him fresh. Last night was not one of those situations.
Mike Mussina entered the eighth inning with an 8-1 lead having held the Rangers to a run on three hits over seven innings, striking out five, walking none, and needing just 85 pitches, 72 percent of which were strikes, to do it. After Kevin Mench lined Moose's first pitch of the eight into center for a lead-off single, Joe Torre popped out of the dugout and signaled for Aaron Small.
Fair enough. Sure, Mussina was cruising and a first-pitch single with a seven-run lead hardly amounted to a sign of struggle, but Small had pitched just once since coming off the disabled list on Monday and here was an extreme low-leverage situation in which to get him a couple of innings of work, both for his own good, and so Torre and his staff could have a better idea what Small has to offer now that his surprising 10-0 run is a thing of the past.
Brad Wilkerson hit a sharp grounder through the second base hole into center on Small's second pitch to put runners on the corners. Rod Barajas then a punched a 1-1 pitch past Derek Jeter to score Mench and push Wilkerson to third. Mark DeRosa followed by grounding into a fielder's choice to score Wilkerson, and Gary Matthews followed that by singling under the dive of a drawn-in Alex Rodriguez to put runners on first and second for the Rangers who still trailed by five runs.
That brought Torre back out to the mound, but he didn't call for Sturtze, Villone or Proctor. No, he went straight to Kyle Farnsworth. The very same Kyle Farnsworth who sat and watched as the Yankees lost a tie game on the road in Oakland in the season's second game. The same Kyle Farnsworth who didn't get into the next night's game until after Jaret Wright had allowed the A's to break another tie in the eighth inning. The very same Kyle Farnsworth who got the night off in Boston on Monday while Small and Tanyon Sturtze allowed the arch rival Red Sox to break another eighth-inning tie. True, Farnsworth was rested, having not pitched on Thursday, but he was not in need of work, having gone an inning and a third in a high-leverage win on Wednesday.
What happened next was not Joe Torre's fault, but it exacerbated the damage done by going to his high-leverage pitchers in a low-leverage situation.
Let's Play Two
"If the guys behind me would have come in and it would have been smooth, nobody would have thought anything of it," [Mike] Mussina said. "You've got to believe those guys can come in and pitch, and they can. Today was the day when it was tough to get through that one inning." (New York Times)
Yeah, and if Woody had gone straight to the police, none of this would have ever happened...
The Yanks and Rangers played two games on Friday night in Arlington. The first saw Mike Mussina continue his stellar early-season pitching, while the offense patiently beat the bejesus out of the Rangers' pitching. Alex Rodriguez, dropped to fifth in the order, had two hits, a walk and three RBI--nothing like being back in Texas. The first game ended when Moose allowed a single to open the bottom of the eighth and was relieved by Aaron Small. Certainly Mussina could have continued to pitch, but with a huge lead, it didn't seem odd that he was pulled.
Then the second game began. The one where the Rangers rallied for six runs against the Bombers' bullpen in the same eighth inning. Aaron Small, then Kyle Farnsworth and Mariano Rivera were slapped around as the home team pulled to within 8-7. With a runner on first and one out in the ninth, Michael Young hit a hard ground ball to the hole between shortstop and third base. Derek Jeter moved to his right and made a nifty, mid-play adjustment, stabbing at the ball which had taken a late, high hop. There would be no chance to get Young at first; Jeter's only play was to second. As his body carried him out to left, Jeter spun and fired to second to nab Gary Matthews, Jr by a half a step. It was a fine play and most likely helped save the game for Rivera, who then retired the Rangers' slumping Mark Teixeira on a well-struck line drive to right to end it. (Rivera's location was off all night and he was hit relatively hard.)
In a Sports Illustrated poll released earlier this week, Jeter was voted by his fellow-players as the most overrated player in the game. I haven't mentioned it earlier because this doesn't really tell us anything we don't already know. Jeter makes a lot of money, and has had the good fortune to be the star player on a string of championship teams in New York. He is as over-exposed as a player can get. You could say he's overrated, but I think if you asked players who the most respected player in the game is, Jeter would find his way to the top of the list too, so you've got to take these things with a grain of salt.
I don't need to argue Jeter's case--his numbers speak for themselves: the man is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. One thing that I think is interesting is that in the same issue of SI, there is a piece on the Rangers' Michael Young, talking about what a stand-up guy he is, what an overachiever he's been. One of his teammates said that if Young played in New York he'd be bigger than Jeter. Now, I don't know about that, but Young is very much like Jeter--a hard-working gamer.
There is a little blurb in the Young article about the three great shortstops in the American League right now--Miguel Tejada, Michael Young and Derek Jeter. Ten years ago, Jeter was the weakest link in the Rodriguez-Nomar-Trio of great young shortstops. Nomar fell off that list due to injuries a few seasons back, and Rodriguez has shifted positions. But Jeter still remains. I'm not saying he's better than Tejada or Young, but he's right up there with them, and if either of those two players are still amongst the best in six, seven years, that'll be something too, wouldn't it?
If the Yankees caught the Devil Rays at exactly the right time over the past week and a half, getting off to a 3-1 start in the season series against their nemesis of a year ago while Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo, and Jorge Cantu languished on the DL, the opposite is true about the six games they'll play against the Texas Rangers over the next two weeks. As of this afternoon, the Rangers had a half-game lead on the Yankees for the second-best record in the American League, they're sixth in the AL in runs scored, but just five runs behind the second place Yankees (the Indians lead by a bunch), and fifth in the AL in ERA with a 4.21.
It's that team ERA that is the big news here. The Rangers pitching has been awful for years, and the primary reason their crop of young hitters has been unable to take the team into the playoffs. In 2001 and 2003 the Rangers were dead last in the AL in team ERA and they were in the bottom three in 2002. In 2004 they lept into the top half of the league on the strength of a fluke season by their bullpen, which posted the third best pen ERA in the majors, but their starters still struggled, posting a 5.16 mark, leaving few leads to be protected. Last year, their pen crashed back to earth and the Rangers once again finished among the worst three teams in the majors in team ERA.
This year, the Rangers rotation features just one pitcher who was with the team last year, and he, 24-year-old Kameron Loe, pitched primarily in relief in 2005. Loe's 4.15 ERA stands as the worst of the five men currently in the Texas rotation. While big trade acquisition Adam Eaton languishes on the 60-day DL following surgery on the middle finger in his pitching hand (he's due back in August), Loe, late-March acquisition John Koronka (25) and veteran free agents and former Phillies Vincente Padilla and Kevin Millwood have combined to record 14 quality starts in 24 tries. Meanwhile, Robinson Tejeda, who is younger than Loe (having just turned 24), and a more recent Phillie than Padilla, and more recent acquisition than Koronka, held the Devil Rays to three hits over five innings in his first start of the year on Tuesday. Other spot starters and new acquisitions Rick Bauer and John Rheinecker have also turned in solid, if abbreviated starts, with only famiar face R.A. Dickey, since dropped from the 40-man roster, stinking up the joint.
Things have been only slightly less encouraging in the bullpen, where Francisco Cordero has lost the closer job he's held for the past several seasons, but Akinori Otsuka, who came over in the Eaton trade, has picked up the slack, posting a 1.98 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in 13 2/3 innings. No one else has been quite that dominant, but only another member of last year's staff, lefty C.J. Wilson, has been truly bad.
Back on the other side of the ball, the few Rangers hitters who didn't get off to hot starts have heated up in past weeks including Brad Wilkerson, the key player in the Alfonso Soriano deal, and Kevin Mench, who--as the Yankee broadcasters are sure to tell you far too many times over the next three days--discovered his shoes were a size to small and has been hitting the cover off the ball ever since he fixed his footwear. Most notably, Mench fell one game shy of Don Mattingly's shared record for most consecutive games with a homer (the record is eight, shared with Griffey Jr. and Dale Long, Mench hit homers in seven straight).
The good news is that the Yankees have Mike Mussina on the mound tonight and Gary Sheffield back in the lineup to get things off on the right, properly outfitted foot. Moose's opponent will be Vincente Padilla, a borderline All-Star for the Phillies in 2002 who posted similar numbers in 2003 before a pair of disappointing and injury-shortened seasons in 2004 and 2006. Still just 28, Padilla looks to be reestablishing himself as a solid mid-rotation starter, having failed to record an out in the sixth inning just once in six starts, and lasting through five in that exception. Padilla had one dominant outing against the Mariners two turns ago (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 BB, 7 K), which was immediatley preceeded by that stinker in Oakland (5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 4 HR). His other four starts have fallen in between those two extremes, though curiously he hasn't given up any other home runs in those four other starts.
Last week, Emily and I were watching the game and she says, "Isn't Al Leiter there tonight?" Indeed he was. It was just that, without anything pressing to say, Leiter had actually been silent for several minutes. Go figure that. Generally, new announcers are so geeked-up, they go the other way--they never shut up. They don't actually say anything, but that doesn't stop their mouth from running. Of course, this happens to some veteran announcers as well. Earlier this season, Michael Kay and Bobby Murcer were calling a game, and for the life of me, bless 'ol Bobby, but I don't think either came up for air all afternoon. It was exhausting, because it was as if they were talking just to talk.
Al Leiter's sense of reserve is appealing--he's learning the ropes and being cautious and respectful in the process. His insights into pitching have been outstanding. He's still not completely sure of himself, but is obviously being encouraged to be more forceful in selling his thoughts. (Richard Sandomir has a good piece on the man-behind-the-scenes at YES, John Filippelli today in the Times.) Last night, he talked at length about how Randy Johnson is still making the transition from menacing flame-thwrower to crafty veteran. He discussed why this would be more difficult for a guy like Johnson, who used to be able to overwhelm hitters with his stuff, than for guys like Maddux or Glavine. Leiter even snapped at Kay at one point, and then made sure to soothe any hard feelings moments later.
It has been a pleasure following Leiter's progress thus far. That he's willing to keep his trap shut, listen, and learn already sets him apart. Good job by the YES in landing him.
The Yankees beat the Devil Rays 10-5 last night, but the game was closer than the final score indicates. There were five lead changes and the Bombers didn't break the game open 'til late. Here are a few things that caught my eye:
Randy Johnson, who had another uneven game, smirking to himself and then laughing as he came off the field in the second inning. The guy is so private you don't normally see him smile. I wonder what struck his funny bone.
In the fifth, Robinson Cano lined a double to right field (Cano would also line out hard to the outfield twice) and Bernie Williams followed with an RBI single, also to right. It's funny, we've been busting on Bernie for his lack of pop. His single missed being a home run by a few feet--it was a line drive that just didn't get up enough, but it was hit too hard for him to get to second. I was laughing, thinking, "Even when he strokes one, it's still a single."
The Yankees went ahead for good in the top of the seventh. The most encouraging part of the inning was that the Bombers rallied after recording two quick outs. Gary Sheffield started it off with a pinch-hit single to right (he would later line out to right field too). This was Sheff's first appearence since colliding with Shea Hillenbrand last weekend and it was a pleasure to see him again.
Alex Rodriguez went 0-4 but had the go-ahead RBI (he was plunked on the first pitch of his at bat with the bases loaded). How's that for clutch? Har-har-hardy-har-har.
Jason Giambi had "driven in" the tying run one batter earlier when he walked with the bases loaded. It was another impressive at bat for Giambi who was down in the count 0-2. He took two very alluring change ups with the count 2-2, and then 3-2, showing tremendous restraint.
The strangest moments of the game came in the top of the eighth inning. After Jorge Posada walked to start the inning, Dan Miceli entered the game for Tampa Bay and promptly booted a little tapper hit by Cano. Then, Bernie Williams stepped in and sqaured to bunt. He took the first pitch right-down-the-pipe for a strike. It looked like an ideal pitch to bunt, but then again, what does Bernie know from bunting? Well, he laid down a nice sarifice on the next offering and almost beat the throw to first. The YES announcers said that Bernie had one sacrifice bunt last year, one in 2004, but prior to that his last sacrifice came in 1996. That's three in eleven seasons.
The Rays chose to intentionally walk Sheffield, and the first pitch came a little high to the catcher, Toby Hall. Then Miceli stuttered off the mound and chucked one way over Hall's head. Talk about a pysch job. Posada, who is not one of the team's best base runners, screamed for a balk then didn't get a great jump, so he did not try to score. The ball actually bounced off the fence behind home plate and right back to Hall, so Posada would have likely been out had he tried to come home. Larry Bowa, and then Joe Torre, joined Posada in arguing about the missed balk. The umps didn't change their mind, but they clearly blew the call. Actually, they were probably as caught off guard as eveyone else was, but it was as obvious a balk as you are likely to ever see. So of course, Miceli completes the intentional pass, then serves up a grand slam to Johnny Damon. He then fell behind Jeter 2-0, was taken out of the game and later placed on the DL with a sore shoulder and hurt feelings.
I usually don't play armchair manager at home, but I was thinking about a lot of our readers who enjoy that sort of thing, watching Torre manage the bullpen last night. It seemed as if Torre was over-managing taking out Scott Proctor (heck, even taking out Sturtze), but for one night, all of the moves worked out.
Even with Johnson not pitching especially well, I had all the confidence in the world that the Yanks would come back and win that game. It was great to see the two-out rally. These are games good teams need to win. The Rays were without some of their best hitters and man, thier bullpen is just plain lousy. In the end, it was a satisfying, though slightly odd night. Hey, we'll take it, right?
Get Away Day
With Joe Torre having finally figured out that he needs to go to his big guns in tie games on the road, the Yankees are set up for a quick two-game sweep of the Devil Rays with Randy Johnson taking on Doug Waechter tonight. The only question is which Unit will show up tonight, the one that has done this in two games against the Blue Jays:
8 1/3 IP, 15 H, 13 R, 2 HR, 6 BB, 4 K
Or the one that has done this in four starts against everyone else:
28 IP, 19 H, 6 R, 2 HR, 1 BB, 21 K
I know one thing for sure. He's happy that Eduardo Perez has moved to the central division.
For his part, Waechter has made just four starts thus far, failing to make it through four innings in two of them. Does anyone still remember when a 22-year-old Waechter shut out the last good Mariners team in his first major league start in 2003, pitched five solid innings to beat the Yankees in Tampa two starts later, and then lost a tough 2-1 game in the Bronx in his next turn? He seemed like the next big thing back then, the Tampa rotation's answer to Aubrey Huff, who had what remains his best season that year. Waechter's still just 25, but that exciting start seems like a lifetime ago. I still root for him to make good, but it seems increasingly unlikely. Here's hoping if he ever does break through he won't start tonight.
Hey, I forgot to mention it earlier, but just how digusting was the last pitch of the game last night? Joey Gathwright, a slap hitter was batting against Mariano Rivera, and he kept fouling pitches off. Rivera threw cutter after cutter. Then at 2-2, he tried to go away with a fastball. It was up and away and Gathwright took it for a ball before fouling off a few more pitches. I thought Rivera might try going away again, but no. He throws a cutter on the inside corner at the knees--the best pitch of the sequence. Gathwright didn't offer at it--he didn't have a chance. Wow.
In his latest mailbag column, Tom Verducci was asked about Carl Pavano:
Remember, teams such as the Tigers, Mariners and Red Sox also wanted Pavano badly, even indicating that they would have paid more than the $39.95 million over four years that New York did. There is no way to be delicate about this: The Yankees have come to question Pavano's toughness. Now, injuries are always sensitive subjects, because only the player knows for sure about the severity. But this is two years running where Pavano seems to be doing nothing but playing catch in Tampa. Could all of those teams have been wrong about measuring his character? So far, and until he takes regular turns in the Yankees' rotation, yes.
Though he's only be out for a handful of games, how much do you guys miss watching Sheffield?
Lastly, fellow Yankee bloggers, Pete Abraham and Mike Plugh note how even when he does something well, Alex Rodriguez gets precious little love. Is it ridiculous to say that Rodriguez is to Winfield what Jeter is to Mattingly?
No two Yankee hitters have struggled as much of late as Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui. Rodriguez struck out in the fourth inning last night, swining through a hittable slider that Casey Fossum left over the plate; with the Yanks trailing 2-0 in the sixth, he tapped into an inning-ending double play. Normally, Rodriguez is so fluid that it almost seems as if the game is easy for him. However, in the middle of a rough stretch, everything looks difficult for him, from recognizing pitches, to being able to put a good swing on the ball. On the other hand, Matsui had a single but was robbed of two hits. While Rodriguez looked out-of-whack, Matsui's at bats were encouraging. He was simply running into hard luck, just off. Yet the Bombers eventually tied the game--and received some fine pitching from starter Jared Wright and relievers Ron Villone and Kyle Farnsworth (my boy Farnsworth, was particularly sharp).
The game went into extra innings and Johnny Damon doubled to start the tenth. Derek Jeter followed with a walk, and Jason Giambi's ground out advanced the runners. Rodriguez had another chance and got ahead in the count, 2-0. He fouled off a slider bearing in on his hands and on TV, he appeared uncomfortable, though Joe Torre had given him a bit of encouragement just before he went to bat. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:
While Rodriguez waited to hit, Torre tried to get his attention. The bench coach Lee Mazzilli whistled him over from the on-deck circle, and Torre gave him a message.
Rodriguez stroked the next pitch into center field for an RBI single. Matsui followed with a ground ball single that snuck through the infield, driving in another run. A-ha. Nice and easy. No 500 foot dingers, just two singles. It was enough, as Mariano Rivera closed the door and the Yanks came away with a tidy 4-2 victory in Tampa Bay.
So Fresh and so Clean
Flipping around the tube last night, I caught portions of the Met game, which was mostly played through a steady rain out at Shea. I was surprised to see how many fans stuck it out, getting soaked in the process. Many simply seemed oblivious to the conditions. Man, you've got to be a devoted--or slightly crazed--fan to sit and get rained on for that long, as far as I'm concerned. I don't have that kind of tolerance. The Mets have an exciting team who has performed well early on, and it's cool to see the fans have responded to them. Met fans deserve to have a great guy like Carlos Delgado on their team. Great win last night.
Following last night's rain out and in anticipation of the start of the Yankees' two-game series in Tampa, here's a quick status report on the team:
Update: A monster headache wiped out my afternoon and, having just come to, I just realized that I forgot to rest the D-Rays roster for you all. There's not much different. The only actual roster move they've made since putting Jorge Cantu on the DL and calling up Greg Norton during last week's Yankee series was trading non-roster minor league reliever Carlos Hines to the Giants for righty set-up man Tyler Walker and designating Scott Dunn for assignment to make room for Walker. They have, however, shuffled their line-up, moving the surprising Ty Wigginton to second in Cantu's absence and giving Sean Burroughs the third base job for the time being (bouncing Russell Braynan from right field, to third base to the bench). They've also moved Joey Gathright from ninth to lead off and promoted Toby Hall, resulting in something that looks like this:
L - Joey Gathright (L)
Fugazi or 'Fo Real?
Yankee fans love to talk about which players are "real Yankees," and which players are not. Joe Girardi was murdered here in New York when he replaced the popular Mike Stanley in 1996. Tino Martinez took over for local legend Don Mattingly the same year and felt the heat as well. Now, both Girardi and Martinez are considered "true Yankees." Jason Giambi, of course followed Martinez, and because of the size of his contract as well as his involvement with performance-enhancing drugs, learned how difficult it can be to be embraced by Yankee fans. But after a fine performance in 2005, and a terrific start this season, how long before Giambi is considered a bonafide Yankee? Last year at this time, it looked that would never happen, but now? It's closer than you think. He's a productive hitter, Don Mattingly's boy, and a likable lug. I think if he has another good year, he'll win over the remaining doubters.
A Coach's Notes
Steven Goldman has some cherce material in the latest edition of his Pinstriped Bible over at YES: Larry Bowa talking about Derek Jeter's fielding:
Where Jeter can improve:
Terrific stuff from Bowa. Thanks, Steve.
As impressive as Boston's new young closer Jonathan Papelbon has been, and as easy as it is to dislike--though impossible not to admire--Curt Schilling, I'm prepared to regard Josh Beckett as Red Sox enemy number one by the end of the year. He's good enough to fear and arrogant enough to loathe. John Harper has a piece on Beckett in the Daily News today which indicates just how volatile the pitcher can be:
Beckett is ultra-cocky, and seems to consider himself something of a guardian of the game's unwritten rules regarding conduct on the ballfield. Four times over the last two years he has publicly criticized players for what he considered showing him up, and in two of those incidents he nearly ignited brawls.
I wonder what he'll say to his teammate Manny Ramirez, who can be timed getting around the bases with a calendar after one of his majestic home runs. Harper concludes:
Last night a former teammate of Beckett's, a player who is a member of neither the Red Sox nor Yankees, predicted trouble ahead.
Last night's rain-out will be made up as part of a twi-night double header in mid-August. Instead of a tense four game series at Fenway Park, it will kick off what is now scheduled to be a five game series. Now, that's serious.
Not for nothing, but I watched a good portion of the Mets game last night with some friends on the count of the Yanks-Sox were warshed out. Did anyone see 'lil Soriano's home run? Oh my Lord, he absolutely hammered it--deep into the left field seats. Jeez, what a blast.
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Wash Out? Yup
Update: Indeed, tonight's game has been rained out. It will be made up on Friday August 18 at 1:05 as part of a day/night double header that will open what will now be a five-game series in Fenway.
If the rain allows, the Yankees will get a chance to counter the Red Sox victory in the first game of their season series and depart Boston where they came in, tied for first with the Sox.
If the rain allows, the Yanks will send Shawn Chacon to the hill to get the job done. After a couple of rough outings and an ugly stint in the bullpen, Chacon has come around in his last two starts working his low BABIP magic to hold the Orioles and Devil Rays to a combined .190 BABIP over 13 1/3 innings that saw just two runs cross the plate. That sort of thing won't continue, of course, and the Red Sox, even with their diminished offense, are exactly the sort of team in exactly the sort of park in which such a stat is likely to correct itself. Indeed, Chacon was lit up by the Sox in his one start against
Chacon's mound opponent, Josh Beckett, meanwhile, has been heading in the other direction. After three strong starts to start the season, Beckett has gone from bad to worse in his last two outings against the Blue Jays and Indians, failing to make it out of the fourth inning in his last outing against the Tribe. As a result the two pitchers have very similar season stats: both are 3-1 with an ERA very close to 4.50, K/9 close to 5.90, and K/BB close to 1.70 (startlingly, Chacon's K/9 and K/BB are both better than Beckett's thus far), while Beckett's .272 BABIP is actually more likely to regress than Chacon's overal .303. Hmmm. Could be an interesting night. If the rain allows.
Joe Torre:Tie Games On The Road::Superman:_______
a) Speeding Bullets
Last night was a cold, wind-whipped night in Boston that would end bitter for Yankee fans for reasons other than the cold. Tim Wakefield started things off by setting the Yankees down in order in the top of the first, thanks in part to that wind which kept a Jason Giambi bomb from reaching the centerfield corner of the Red Sox bullpen, just as it would stop several shots off the Red Sox's bats short of the Green Monster throughout the game. That same wind would later cause Derek Jeter to do something he rarely does, look absolutely foolish on a pop up in the seventh inning, though the botched play wouldn't hurt the Yankees.
Chien-Ming Wang followed in the bottom of the first by walking Kevin Youkilis on four pitches. Youkilis then moved to second on a Mark Loretta groundout and was singled home by David Ortiz, who served a low outside pitch through the shortstop hole vacated by the shift. Wang then walked Manny Ramirez and Trot Nixon to load the bases for Mike Lowell, but got Lowell to ground into a fielder's choice in which Miguel Cairo, starting at first base because of a solid history against Wakefield, threw home to force out Ortiz. With the bases still loaded and two outs, Wily Mo Pena got ahead of Wang 3-1 and drove a ball to shallow right but Bubba Crosby, starting for the injured Gary Sheffield, made what for the next six innings would look like a game-saving catch to end the inning.
Wang worked a quick, clean 1-2-3 second, but got into trouble again in the third when a one-out walk to Ortiz was followed by a Manny Ramirez single. Trot Nixon followed Ramirez with a hot shot just to the right of second base, but Robinson Cano made a running stab on the ball and flipped it over his shoulder to Derek Jeter, who turned a double play to end the inning. It was the start of a terrific night for Cano, who went 2 for 3 against Wakefield and made another great play up the middle in the seventh to stab a Mark Loretta line-drive (which essentially evened out with Jeter's botched pop up later that inning).
Having dodged that bullet, the Yankees fired one of their own, following a Derek Jeter lead-off walk in the fourth with walks by Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez. A Matsui groundout tied the game and, after a second groundout by Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano singled up the middle to plate the two walks and give the Yankees a 3-1 lead.
Wang followed that with a seven-pitch 1-2-3 fourth, but once again got into trouble when the top of the order came back around in the fifth. The trouble started when ninth-place hitter Alex Cora beat out a well-placed bunt to the third base side. Youkilis followed with a single to push Cora to second, but an attempted sacrifice by Loretta backfired when Wang forced Cora at third. David Ortiz followed with another single to left, loading the bases. Manny Ramirez followed with a broken bat single that looped just over Miguel Cairo's leap to plate Youkilis, and a Nixon groundout tied the game.
All of those small nicks in the fifth required just 14 pitches, leaving Wang at 77 at the end of five, but Joe Torre decided to start the sixth with Aaron Small, who had just been activated from the DL earlier in the day. Small, a pitcher who had yet to throw a major league pitch this season and was quite obviously performing over his head during his stint with the club last year, was a dubious choice at best, but made Torre look smart by pitching a scoreless sixth and getting Pena to fly out with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh to maintain the tie.
Then it all went wrong. After the Yankees failed to do any damage against Mike Timlin in the top of the eighth, Joe Torre once again fell victim to Jeff Weaver Syndrome. Tell me if this sounds familiar:
We've seen this before, most famously in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series. On the road in a tie game, when the time comes to use Rivera, Torre thinks to himself, "I have no idea how long this is going to go. I'm not going to burn Mo here. I'm going to save him to get those last three outs once we get a lead. In the meantime, I'll use my long man because he can pitch all night while we wait for the offense to score." Usually that long man only gets an inning or two of work in because, with no room for error in a game that will end the second the home team scores, that's exactly what happens. The home team scores off the sixth best man in the pen and the game ends without Rivera throwing a pitch. We saw it with Jeff Weaver in the 2003 Series and we saw it again last night.
The situation was a tad different last night in that Small, quite literally the last man in the pen by virtue of his being activated that afternoon, was already in the game and the eighth inning was not yet a sudden death situation, but results were the same. Torre stuck with Small to start the eighth rather than turning to Rivera or Kyle Farnsworth. Small started okay by getting even newer arrival Doug Mirabelli to ground out to start the inning, but followed that by walking Alex Cora on four pitches. Cora was Small's third walk in six batters, but perhaps consumed by his desire to avoid making a pitching change prior to bringing in Mike Myers to pitch to third-place hitter David Ortiz, Torre left Small in to pitch to lead-off man Kevin Youkilis. Small's first pitch hit Youkilis in the elbow, pushing the go-ahead run to second and forcing Torre to make a change.
So who did he bring in? Not Rivera. Not even Farnsworth. No, he brought in Tanyon Sturtze, who has the worst ERA of any man in his pen. Sturtze gave up a bouncing-ball single to Mark Loretta that went right through his legs to plate the go-ahead run. Torre then went to Myers as planned, only to have Myers fall behind Ortiz 2-0 and 3-1 before running the count full. Hoping to avoid walking his only batter, Myers then left a fastball over the plate, which Big Papi launched into the Red Sox bullpen for a three-run home run which landed poetically in the glove of Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, who was warming for the ninth. Papelbon, who has yet to give up a run this year, set the Yankees down in order in the ninth, and that was that. 7-3 Red Sox.
I can't blame Torre for using Myers the way he did, and I credit him for Small's unexpectedly strong performance (though things did get rocky for him in his second inning of work and he did wind up with the loss) as well as with starting Crosby over Bernie in right and Cairo over Giambi at first, as both saved key runs with their defense, but once Torre got to the eighth inning with the game still tied, there was no excuse for not going to his big guns. True, both Farnsworth and Rivera had thrown more than an inning on Sunday, but neither pitched in either of the two games before that, and Rivera needed just 12 pitches to get through his 1 1/3 innings on Sunday. Once that go-ahead run got into scoring position it officially became Rivera time. Because Torre failed to recognize that, his team lost a full game in the standings, a full game that will count just as much on October 1 as it does this morning.
Boston Red Sox
Since the 2002 season, the Yankees and Red Sox have played a whopping 90 times (postseason included) and have split those 90 games right down the middle, 45-45, with each team winning a seven-game ALCS. That's scary, especially when one considers the fact that there are just five Red Sox left from the 2002 team (Manny, Tek, Trot, tonight's starter Tim Wakefield, and his newly reaquired personal catcher Doug Mirabelli) and just six Yankees (the fab four of Jeter, Jorge, Bernie and Mo, Mussina and Giambi). Despite all that turnover these two teams remain deadlocked, which suggests that it's not just the men on the field who are of equal ability, but the men who run the team as well. Indeed, 2002 was John Henry's first full season as Red Sox owner and, after his team went 9-10 against the Yankees that year, he hired Bill James, Theo Epstein et al. the following winter.
Red Sox fans might argue that Epstein and company are smarter than their Yankee counterparts but their intellectual advantage is negated by the fact that the Yankees spend more money, but I don't buy it. John Henry is wealthier than George Steinbrenner. If he wanted to outspend George, he could. His decision not to is part of how he runs his business, just as hiring Epstein and James was. Yankee fans might counter by saying that Brian Cashman's hands were tied by George and the Tampa contingent until this past winter, and that going forward, the Yankees just might have the advantage. That doesn't quite work either. Equally disruptive office politics pushed Epstein out for part of this past winter, and he didn't join the team until November 2002.
Anyone looking for a reason that this rivalry has climbed to a, pardon the phrase, fever pitch over the past four seasons need look no further than the fact that this tie simply refuses to be broken. It's fitting, then, that the Yankees and Red Sox enter this quickie two-game series in Fenway tied for first place (the Yankees lead by percentage points and one game in the loss-column due to having played two fewer games) and very easily could emerge in the same position.
I, for one, find it exhausting, and not always in a good way. That said, I think the high rate of turnover has helped. I doubt there would have been 22 James Bond films if Dr. No was the baddie in every one of them. Variety is the spice of life and the Red Sox have did a lot to spice up this rivalry over the winter, turning over a full half of their roster. Out go old warhorses Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Bronson Arroyo and a couple of current Yankees (Johnny Damon and Mike Myers). Ended are failed experiments Edgar Renteria, Wade Miller and Matt Mantei. Gone are roster-fillers Tony Graffanino, Gabe Kapler, John Olerud, Chad Bradford, John Halama and Jeremi Gonzalez. In come ex-Marlins Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Alex Gonzalez. Given are expanded rolls to Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, and Lenny DiNardo. Filling things out are Coco Crisp (currently on the DL in favor of Willie Harris), Wily Mo Pena, J.T. Snow, Dustin Mohr, El Loco Julian Tavarez, Rudy Seanez and David Riske (also on the DL in favor of rookie Manny Delcarmen) and you've got a whole new ballclub, and that doesn't even count the rejuvinated Curt Schilling or the at least healthy again Keith Foulke.
Exactly what the result of all of this turnover will be for the Red Sox is hard to say at the moment. Their offense is scuffling (ninth in the AL in runs scored, 17th in the majors), but Crisp has been on the DL with a broken finger for most of the season and Manny got off to a slow start. That said, Varitek and Loretta have yet to hit and there's reason to believe they might not come around.
The pitching, meanwhile, has been no better (in fact it also ranks about mid-pack both in the league and the majors). In the bullpen, Papelbon has been nearly perfect as the closer (he has yet to give up a run), but Foulke and Timlin have been just good enough (Timlin's excellent ERA masks poor peripherals) and the imports have all been disappointing thus far. In the rotation, Matt Clement and DiNardo (filling in for the injured David Wells) have been terrible. Josh Beckett, has been no better than average. If not for the strong return of Schilling, this team would be in a very bad way on the hill.
Which brings us to tonight's starter, Tim Wakefield. Take out an ugly first start against the Rangers in Texas and Wakefield has a 2.20 ERA over his past four starts. The only problem has been that the Red Sox have scored a total of two runs in the last three. As the dean of the Red Sox, Wakefield has quite a bit of history with several of the Yankee hitters and has been successful against just about all of them, Matsui (who's in one of his annual lunging-at-the-ball slumps) and Giambi especially. Wakefield went 1-4 against the Yanks last year, but still held them to a .184 average. With Sheffield likely out of the line-up due to swelling in his wrist after his collision with Shea Hillenbrand on Saturday, the Yanks might be hard pressed to get much going against Wake tonight.
Chien-Ming Wang, meanwhile, will be making just his second career start against the Red Sox, having lost a well-pitched game to start the season's final series last year when his defense and then his control abandoned him. One wonders if Wang's control problems in that game were related to the problems pitching from the stretch that he demonstrated against the Orioles in his penultimate start. The Yankees have been working on that since and Wang looked in control in his last start, echoing his pre-Orioles outing by allowing just two runs in seven innings. Could be Chien-Ming is rounding into shape this season. Let's just hope the hard Fenway infield doesn't give his opponents the extra bounces they need to win.
To Boo or Not to Boo?
Steve Silva, who runs the provocative "Boston Dirt Dogs" site, is calling for Red Sox fans to cheer for Johnny Damon tonight at Fenway Park. There are a lot of yahoos at Fenway Park (just as you'll find, oh maybe, perhaps one or twelve hundred knuckleheads in the Bronx). At the same time, there are also a lot of appreciative, knowledgeable fans up there too (after all, Boston fans have given Joe DiMaggio and Joe Torre ovations in the past). I expect Damon to hear some cheers to being with and figure he'll be booed soundly after that.
Sunny Sunday Delight
A fine pitcher's duel, and crisp 4-1 victory for the Yankees yesterday at the Stadium was marred only by some inept umpiring from the man behind the mask, Andy Dowdy. Dowdy is a minor league ump who has been called on to work big league games as an alternate since 2002. On Sunday, before a packed house in the Bronx, he looked overmatched. Dowdy's strike zone was all over the place by the fifth inning, and his shoddy work provoked each manager to get tossed--both arguing balls and strikes.
Mike Mussina believed he got jobbed on three pitches during the top of the frame--which ended with him striking Shea Hillenbrand out on a full-count pitch with the bases loaded. Mussina got Hillenbrand to chase a change-up that was up in the zone. As Hillenbrand slammed his bat to the ground in frustration, Mussina barked at Dowdy. By the time the game came back from commerical, Joe Torre was gone. According to the Daily News:
"I came (into his office) between (half) innings and watched the pitches that were in question (on TV). And I just went out there and expressed my disapproval," Torre said. "I just told him from the top step of the dugout, or I asked him about one particular pitch and he thought it was high, and I didn't think it was high."
Andy Phillips knocked a solo home run to right field in the bottom of the inning, tying the game at 1. Gustavo Chacin had been pitching well, but he too was effected by Dowdy's strike zone, and with two outs, the bases were loaded for the struggling Alex Rodriguez. The 2-2 pitch, was down and in and looked like strike three. The next pitch was almost in the same spot, but no strike three. Instead, Rodriguez drew a bases loaded walk, putting the Bombers ahead for good. Chacin, notable for being a young pitcher with poise, yelled out loud as he walked back to the dugout. Cue Toronto skipper John Gibbons: He puts in his two cents and get tossed.
Kyle Farnsworth replaced Mussina in the seventh and was impressive. He left a fastball down to Alex Rios who stroked a single to left. Rios then stole second but was called out. The Yankees have been on the wrong side of a slew of calls so far this season, but they got one back there--Rios was clearly safe. After falling behind Frank Catalanotto, Farnsworth blew two fastballs--right over the plate--past the Yankee killer. Catalanotto didn't stand a chance. Farnsworth came back with two nasty sliders to whiff Vernon Wells.
Jason Giambi, the Yankees' best offensive player for the first month of the season, smacked a two-run home run (on a full-count pitch from Pete Walker) off the facade in right field to pad the lead. Farnsworth caught Troy Glaus looking on strikes to start the eighth and then got Shea Hillenbrand to pop out after giving up a one-out double to left by Lyle Overbay (Farnsworth was hitting 100 mph on the radar gun, according to YES, he just left a fastball down in the zone to Overbay). Mariano Rivera came on and retired the last four Toronto hitters on a weak pop out and three ground balls.
It was a rewarding victory, and a particularly good way to head up to Boston. Right. In case you hadn't heard, the Yankees and Red Sox are meeting for the first time this year for one of those strange little two-games series. There will be plenty of hoopla over Johnny Damon's return to Fenway, but Yankee fans are more probably more preoccupied with the health of Gary Sheffield. Josh Beckett goes for the Sox tomorrow night and perhaps the Yanks will get to see Boston's icy young closer, Paplebon too. Should be tense and nervous and excitable, as it normally is when these two teams meet.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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