Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: July 2006


How Much More Can You Give Us Big Cash?
2006-07-31 19:16
by Cliff Corcoran

Sunday's acquisition of Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle for Matt Smith and three non-prospects filled the Yankees' two primary needs in one move for minimal cost. In fact, the move was such masterstroke that yesterday's follow-up trade of Shawn Chacon for the Pirates' Craig Wilson almost seemed like showing off.

To begin with, not only had Chacon been removed from the rotation after a disaster start in Cleveland on July 4, but with the acquisition of Lidle on Sunday, he had become a burden, a player occupying a spot on the 25-man roster who had no role to play and was unable to contribute to a winning effort when given an opportunity.

In exchange for this player, the Yankees obtained Wilson, a right handed first-baseman and outfielder with both patience and power at the plate who also has experience behind it. A career .268/.360/.486 hitter, Wilson is exactly the hitter I had hoped Andy Phillips would be at the plate given a proper opportunity. Unfortunately, Phillips hasn't quite lived up to expectations, hitting just .239/.272/.401 in 235 plate appearances. Enter Wilson, who is just four months Phillips' senior and has put up those numbers over 2,133 career major league plate appearances.

Yup, the Yankees have a new starting first baseman, or at least a player who can start every day and bounce between first, DH and the corner outfielders per the needs of the regulars in those other positions. If there's any down side to Wilson it's that he's a subpar defensive first baseman, but according to Baseball Prospectus's Rate stats, Andy Phillips has been just as bad this year despite what has looked to the naked eye like some excellent play around the first base bag. Of course, both are significantly better than Giambi (the exact numbers are a 93 Rate for Wilson and Phillips and an 83 Rate for Giambi). My theory on Phillips' figure is that he just might be the defensive equivalent of Derek Jeter at first base, a solid player who makes some spectacular-looking plays within a deceptively small range.

So, Wilson holds the line on defense and greatly increases the Yankees production on offense. Not a bad trick. The result is a line-up that could look like this upon the return of Robinson Cano:

L - Johnny Damon (CF)
R - Derek Jeter (SS)
L - Bobby Abreu (RF)
R - Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L - Jason Giambi (DH)
S - Jorge Posada (C)
R - Craig Wilson (1B)
L - Robinson Cano (2B)
S - Melky Cabrera (LF)

And that's without getting Matsui or Sheffield back.

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2006-07-31 13:34
by Alex Belth

The Yanks have sent Shawn Chacon to the Pirates for 1B/OF Craig Wilson. Good job, Cash. Very nice get. According to Peter Abraham, Aaron Guiel has been optioned, Corey Lidle will start Thursday and Bonzone will go to the pen. My guess is that Bubba Crosby will be next to go, as the Yankees like Andy Phillips' ability to play second and third.

Abreu Abreme
2006-07-31 00:48
by Cliff Corcoran

By now you've probably heard the news. After months of rumors, the Yankees finally traded for Bobby Abreu yesterday afternoon. Not only that, but they get to have their cake and eat it to as the deal also brought them back-of-the-rotation starter Cory Lidle, satisfying the team's need for both another big bat and a viable fifth starter. And all it cost them was a quartet of expendable minor leaguers. More on the identities of those four at the end of this post, but first let's take a look at the two players the Yankees have acquired.

Bob Kelly Abreu is exactly a month and a half older than Derek Jeter and arrives in New York with a career hitting line of .301/.412/.507. Here's a complete list of active players who have hit at least .300/.400/.500 on their careers (minimum 1200 plate appearances, or three full seasons) along with their current ages:

Barry Bonds (42)*
Frank Thomas (38)
Chipper Jones (34)
Manny Ramirez (34)
Todd Helton (32)**
Bobby Abreu (32)
Lance Berkman (30)
Albert Pujols (26)

*Bonds' career average just dipped to .299, but he deserves inclusion anyway
**Helton is more than six months older than Abreu

The Yankees have just acquired the third-youngest established .300/.400/.500 hitter in baseball.

That said, the key to appreciating Bobby Abreu's talent is understanding that, despite his company above, he is not a home run hitter. To wit, here are the career home run totals for the four youngest players on the above list (career plate appearances per home run in parentheses)

Helton – 282 (20.6 PA/HR)
Abreu – 198 (30.9)
Berkman – 208 (20.3)
Pujols – 234 (16.3)

Rather, Abreu's greatest strength is his ability to get on base. Only five players with a minimum of 1200 plate appearances reached base more often than Abreu over the last three seasons (2003-2005). Of those five (Bonds, Helton, Pujols, Berkman and J.D. Drew), only Albert Pujols currently has a higher on-base percentage than Abreu, who ranks fifth in the majors with a .427 mark. Notice that Jason Giambi's name didn't pop up anywhere in there? Bobby Abreu is a bigger on base threat than the man whose bones repel baseballs out of the strike zone.

Then there's what Abreu does once he's on base. Only eight men have stolen more bases over the last three years than Abreu, and Alfonso Soriano, Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, Johnny Damon and Tony Womack are not among them. Here are those eight and Abreu along with their stolen base totals and success rates:

Scott Podsednik – 172 (79%)
Juan Pierre – 167 (73%)
Carl Crawford – 160 (83%)
Chone Figgins – 109 (75%)
Ichiro Suzuki – 103 (79%)
Dave Roberts – 101 (78%)
Carlos Beltran – 100 (88%)
Rafael Furcal – 100 (85%)
Bobby Abreu – 93 (80%)

Get the picture? Despite his bulky appearance (Abreu reminds me of a left-handed version of Sammy Sosa or Jose Canseco when he's at the plate) and his 2005 Home Run Derby crown, Bobby Abreu is actually more of a lead-off type. He gets on base at a staggering rate and is a prolific and successful base stealer once there (he's 20 for 24 on the bases thus far this year, good for an 83 percent success rate). That he also happens to hit about 20 home runs every year is a compliment to those core abilities.

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Win Win
2006-07-30 12:08
by Alex Belth

The Yankees rebounded on Sunday and defeated the D-Rays 4-2, on the strength of a solid performance from Mike Mussina and key hits by Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter (Hmmm, solo dingers in the upper deck: them bitches come in handy). Damon jerked two solo bombs into the upper deck in right field, one in the fifth, another in the seventh; Jeter added a two-run double. But the biggest news on an unbearably hot Sunday in July involves Bobby Abreu. Abreu and starting pitcher Corey Lidle are coming to New York. ESPN reported the deal early in the game and the Yankees made it official with two out in the bottom of the ninth and Mariano Rivera on the mound. According to John Heyman, the Yankees will send minor leaguers C.J. Henry (the Yankees' number one pick in 2005, reliever Matt Smith, catcher Jesus Sanchez and right-hander Carlos Monasterios. The postgame show on YES reports that the Yanks will send a total of four minor leaguers to Philly, no names as of yet. Abreu is signed through 2007 and has an option for 2008, but the Yankees will not have to pick-up that option, a huge plus for New York.

I've long appreciated Abreu's wide variety of skills, and though he has underachieved for the better part of the last calendar yet, and has a reputation in some quarters as something less than a gamer, I will be excited to see him in pinstripes. This is the guy that BP's Rany Jazayerli pronounced as one the most underrated players in baseball at the begining of 2005. He's not going to be asked to be the team's best player. Perhaps he'll fit right in. He is a better defensive right fielder than anything the Yanks have got. Offensively, he is exceedingly patient and a high-percentage base stealer to boot. I don't have much of a gut feeling as to how he'll do in New York--I could see him going David Justice or Raul Mondesi--but I'm looking forward to finding out. I suppose this spells the end for either Aaron Guiel or Bubba Crosby. It will surely impact the Yankee future of Gary Sheffield.

Over at ESPN, Keith Law opines:

Bobby Abreu may or may not have lost his power -- I think it's overblown, as he's still on pace for 40-plus doubles and doesn't look like he's lost bat speed or raw strength -- but he's still one of the best offensive players in the game. He's about to post his eighth straight 100-walk season and has the fifth-best OBP in the game. The Yankees have been running a Bernie Williams/Aaron Guiel platoon out in left, and while Guiel has hit a few homers since he came to the Bronx, he's still a four-A player who has no place on a contending club's roster. Even if Abreu's home run total remains low, he's worth two extra wins to the Yankees if he takes at-bats away from Bernie and Guiel, and more if his home-run power comes back.

Cory Lidle is a finesse right-hander with excellent control who will probably struggle to be a league-average starter in the American League at this point, but he is an enormous improvement over Sidney Ponson, Kris Wilson and Aaron Small -- whom the Yanks have employed as fifth starters this year. Lidle's best pitch is a splitter, but his fastball is a tick below average so he has to have good command to be effective and keep the ball out of the seats. Since the guys he's replacing have been so bad, he's still a one-to-two-win upgrade for the balance of the season, making this one of the biggest impact deals any club will make this month.

As for the game, Mike Mussina threw a lot of pitches early on, running into jams in the third and fourth innings. A throwing error by Jorge Posada got Mussina in trouble in the third, but he struck out Julio Lugo and Carl Crawford to escape cleanly. After giving up a one-out single to Travis Lee in the fourth, Mussina walked Jorge Cantu before giving up an RBI single to Johnny Gomes. Russell Branyon flew out to deep center field and then Mussina got the hot-hitting Tomas Perez (who had four doubles on Saturday) to wave at an 0-2 knuckle curve in the dirt. Posada scrambled for the ball as Perez started back to the Devil Ray's dugout and Mussina walked off the mound. But the umpire called "foul tip." A bum call for sure, one that got worse when Perez lined Mussina's next offering into center field for a game-tying single.

That was the only real danger Mussina would face all afternoon as he retired ten of the next eleven hitters, striking out eight overall. Kyle Farnsworth struck out the side in the eighth and Mariano Rivera buzzed through the Rays in the ninth to lock down the Bombers' 61st win of the year. Mike Mussina earned his 13th win, and is 6-1 following a Yankee loss.

2006-07-30 07:16
by Alex Belth

There was not much that happened on the field on Saturday afternoon that the Yankees or their fans would like to remember. Although things started promisingly for the Bombers when Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi hit back-to-back solo home runs in the first inning, they quickly spun out of control as the Devil Rays pounded 'em but good, 19-6. Coupled with the Red Sox's come-from-behind win over the Angels, the Yanks now trail Boston by a game-and-a-half in the AL East. Randy Johnson had nothing, Shawn Chacon had less than nothing. In all, it was a groaner through and through.

I was at the game with a bunch of my oldest friends. We sat in Row T in the Upper Tier, safe from the sun, but not exactly safe from the dopes. In the fourth inning a crew eight kids (in their early-to-mid-twenties) arrived. They were having a bachelor party. All of them were lean, and tightly muscled. They were all dressed in clean, tight-fitting t-shirts or sports shirts. They all had clean haircuts, and some of them wore sunglasses and they had attitude to spare. These dudes are the sort that think "Entourage" is about them, but they were actually much closer to being like "Bring Up Gotti" (In fact, one of the kid's was a dead ringer for one of the Gotti boys). We guessed where they were from? Long Island, Jersey, Brooklyn, Staten Island? Long Island turned out to be the correct answer.

I had a brief misunderstanding with one of them--who couldn't have been more rude--when they first got there which set the tone for bad vibes. As fate would have it, we were sitting in an alcohol-free section. The kid who bought the tickets for the bachelor party did not realize this and you should have seen the look of disappointment on his face when he realized what he had done. Ah, sweet justice. The best moment came when the kid who looked like one of the Gotti's--same super-gelled spikey haircut and all--pulled out a small ziplock bag. His friend next to him had no idea what it was--a bag of cocaine? Hardly. The bag was filled with babywipes. So Gotti pulls out a baby wipe and carefully dabs his forehead right underneath the hairline, presumably to keep the grease from his hair running onto his face. "These bitches come in handy," he said, now sounding exactly like a scene from "Entourage."

The Gavones left in the sixth, sick of watching the beating the Yanks were taking, and sick of no beer.

We sat through the whole thing, of course. When we were outside of the stadium, we heard a teenage boy talking loudly to a friend: "That was the...worst game..I have ever seen!"

It wasn't that bad. But it makes today's game important. Go Mikey Moose.

In other, perhaps more pressing news, both the Daily News and the New York Post report that the Yankees are a bit closer to landing Bobby Abreu.

Hey Now.

My Favorite Redundancy
2006-07-28 20:27
by Cliff Corcoran

The complete game shutout. Last year, the Yankees got four of them, the first coming on May 7 when Mike Mussina shutout the A's on a sunny Saturday in the Bronx. That kicked off a ten-game winning streak that pushed the 11-19 Yankees over .500 for the first time since the fifth game of the season. The last of those ten wins was the Yankees' second complete game shutout, thrown by some guy named Carl Pavano in Seattle. Less than a month later, Moose tossed his second shutout, this one at home against the Pirates, kicking off a five-game winning streak that pushed the 30-32 Yankees back over .500 yet again. Finally, Aaron Small bookended things nicely by shutting out the A's in Oakland on a sunny Saturday afternoon in September.

Last night, the Yankees received their first complete game shutout of the year as Chien-Ming Wang made short work of the Devil Rays by limiting them to just four base runners, two on singles, two on walks. Wang needed just 104 pitches to shut out the Rays in a game that lasted two hours and 33 minutes primarily because the Yankees put 17 men on base and scored six runs. Wang was perfect through four innings, faced just 30 batters, and recorded 18 of his 27 outs on ground balls. The only man to get past first base was Julio Lugo, who reached on an infield single with two outs in the sixth, stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch only to be stranded when Rocco Baldelli flew out to center.

As for the Yankees, they got on the board right away when a two-out Alex Rodriguez single plated a Johnny Damon lead-off double in the first. They added two more in the second. Andy Phillips led off with a single and was called safe at second when Julio Lugo bobbled and dropped the pivot on a double play ball off the bat of Melky Cabrera. Miguel Cairo then bunted both runners up and Derek Jeter drove them home with a single to right. Two more runs came in the fourth when Devil Rays' starter Tim Corcoran (no relation) followed a Derek Jeter one-out double by walking Giambi, Rodriguez and Posada, the last two on nine pitches. Posada's walk drove in the Yankees' fourth run and drove Corcoran from the game. Chad Harville then came in and, after getting Bernie Williams to fly out to shallow left, walked in the Yankees fifth run by giving Andy Phillips a free pass on five pitches. Two innings later, Bernie homered off Harville to put the final score at 6-0
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The Devil Rays
2006-07-28 13:30
by Cliff Corcoran

Although it didn't work out particularly well in Toronto, the Yankees have had some rather fortuitous timing since the All-Star break. First they faced a White Sox team that had a .648 winning percentage in the first half just as it hit its first serious skid of the year. The Yankees swept the Chisox at home to open the second half, and the Sox have since gone 2-7, pushing their skid to 3-12 dating back to their final series before the break.

Next the Yankees faced the Mariners at home without having to see Jamie Moyer or Felix Hernandez, taking two of three. They then traveled to Toronto on the even of the Shea Hillenbrand fiasco. The Jays took three of four that weekend, but have since lost three of four to put their post-Hillenbrand record at .500. Most recently, the Yankees stopped by Arlington, Texas to finish their season series with the Rangers with a three-game sweep. The last of those victories saw the Yankees score four runs in the eighth inning against Francisco Cordero, who just earlier today was sent to Milwaukee in the deal for Carlos Lee. Had that trade happened before the Yankees traveled to Texas, the sweep may not have.

Tonight the Yankees come back home to host a three-game weekend series against the Devil Rays. Good timing? Well, Scott Kazmir was supposed to start tomorrow, but has been skipped due to shoulder soreness. Alex's boy, Yankee-killer Jonny Gomes, has a shoulder injury of his own that will require surgery this offseason. Though he's tried to play through it, it isn't working. Gomes is hitting just .121/.181/.258 in July and has been dropped to the bottom third of the order. Finally, Aubrey Huff, the other Devil Ray who always seemed to hurt the Yankees (in part because, like Gomes, he's simply a good hitter), was dealt to Houston for a pair of minor leaguers two weeks ago.

Yeah, that's good timing. Not that the Devil Rays have been a big threat to the Yankees thus far this season (the Yanks lead the season series 6-2), but every little bit helps.

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The Waiting Game
2006-07-28 07:23
by Alex Belth

According to Buster Olney:

The Yankees want Bobby Abreu, and the Phillies keep calling the Yankees and asking for top prospects; the Yankees' executives will not trade pitcher Philip Hughes. If the Phillies' priority is to dump salary, it appears Philadelphia will have to lower its demands in order to give itself a chance to move Abreu's contract -- and even then, it wouldn't be a sure thing. Abreu must approve any deal.

Even if the Yanks don't make a splashy move, it's hard to imagine that they won't make at least one small deal. So, what do you think is gunna happen?

Way Out in Brooklyn
2006-07-28 06:11
by Alex Belth

Every time I approach my barber's shop on Smith Street in Brooklyn, I expect to be greeted by awful news. My barber is too old to work anymore, or worse, he's dead. I lived in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn from 1994 through 2000. One day I was looking for a barber shop, and I ran across Efrain. He came to Brooklyn from Puerto Rico in 1955. His father was a barber and his three older brothers were barbers too. He cut my hair with such care and patience that I have been a loyal customer ever since. It's worth the two-plus hour roundtrip commute to the Bronx. Efrain, a silver-haired man with kind eyes and soft, smooth hands, no longer owns his own shop—he had to give his up five years ago, a victim of Smith Street's rapid gentrification. He's past retirement age but still works six days a week.

Now Efrain has a chair up the block from his old place, in a barber shop run by Ray, a self-absorbed Puerto Rican man in his mid-fifties. Ray's shop is no longer cluttered mess it had been for years, as Ray's daughter and her boyfriend use the space one a week to give dancing lessons. Three chairs stand in the middle of the space, and both walls are covered with mirrors. Ray has a trim mustache and likes to pontificate authoritatively about boxing, salsa music and women. When he is not holding court, he is sullen and removed as he works. Rays' son Macho, a plump man in his early thirties with a thick scar on his left forearm, cuts heads too, his chair situated between Ray's and Efrain's.

It was overcast and muggy last Saturday morning when I arrived. Macho was walking out as I was walking in. I said my hellos and Efrain motioned to me, tilting his head forward and looking over his glasses, a pair of scissors in his raised right hand. Only three heads waiting in front of me, not bad for Saturday. I stuck my nose into my book. Old Salsa music played over the stereo. I didn't recognize the tunes, but they were familiar anyhow. This was the music I heard up and down Amsterdam Avenue when I was a kid: Ray Barretto, Willie Bobo, Willie Colon, and Mongo Santamaria. Not ten minutes later, I was pleased to discover Efrain calling me to his chair.

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Beneath the Surface
2006-07-27 12:13
by Alex Belth

Neil deMause has a column in the Villiage Voice about politics, the city of New York and the New York Yankees.

City documents newly uncovered by the Voice reveal that the New York Yankees billed city tax- payers hundreds of thousands of dollars for the salaries of team execs and high-powered consultants to lobby the city and state, thanks to the team's sweetheart lease deal engineered by the Giuliani administration.

"You've created this weird circular situation where the city is, effectively, paying with taxpayer money to have itself lobbied for potentially more taxpayer money," says Common Cause's Megan Quattlebaum, one of several government watchdogs who were dumbfounded when the Voice told them last week about the deal. "Taxpayers would not be pleased at all to hear that the city is subsidizing someone to come back and hold their hand out to lobby for more."

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Continue reading if you have the stomach for such things.

Spell Check: The School of Hard Knocks
2006-07-27 11:50
by Alex Belth

The Goon Show: Part II

When I was thirteen years old I met Mike Fox, my dad's old pal from his days in show business. Three years later, I visited Mike in London during a summer trip to my grandparent's home in Belgium. "Hope and Glory," John Boorman's autobiographical story about growing up in England during the Blitz had just been released. Mike was the camera operator on the film and was duly proud of his work on it. He took me to a cast and crew screening in London, one of the highlights of my vacation.

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Joe Knows
2006-07-27 07:05
by Alex Belth

Pete Abraham, the Yankee beat reporter for The Journal News, has an interesting, insider's take on Yankee skipper Joe Torre today over at The Baseball Analysts. I was going to put up an excerpt but I couldn't trim it down sufficiently...instead, just head on over to Rich and Bryan's terrific site and check it out for yourself.

Boom Bap
2006-07-27 05:29
by Alex Belth

"I feel like we robbed the bank tonight - twice," A-Rod said. "They may have played the better game but we won."
(N.Y. Daily News)

Alex Rodriguez led off the top of the eighth inning last night with his team trailing 4-2. Jaret Wright had allowed all four runs and didn't make it out of the sixth. Meanwhile, after scoring seven runs on just four hits on Tuesday night, the Yanks had collected nine hits in the first seven innings with just two runs to show for it (both runs scored on Andy Phillips' first inning single, his first of three hits). Francisco Cordero faced Rodriguez now, and kept throwing fastballs away. The count went full and Cordero went away again, but not far enough, and Rodriguez stroked a line drive over the center field fence onto the grass to bring the Yankees closer. A nice early birthday gift for Rodriguez (2-5) who turns 31 today.

Bernie Williams followed with a walk and then Phillips dunked a single into left. Melky Cabrera was asked to bunt the runners over. He stabbed weakly at the first pitch and fouled it off. According to manager Joe Torre after the game, the bunt sign was then taken off. But Cabrera missed it and he lunged again, to no avail. To make matters worse, he attempted to bunt again on the very next pitch. He fouled off a couple of pitches and worked the count even and then slapped a double into the left-center field gap (the outfield had been playing in). Suddenly, the Yanks were ahead by a run, and Larry Bowa was pumping his fist and shouting at Cabrera. Sal Fasano, who reluctantly had roughly 20 inches of hair cut off before the game, bunted Cabrera to third. And Melky came home on a wild pitch from Cabrera.

Everything appeared to be in order. But Kyle Farnsworth could not get loose, bothered by a stiff back. Torre absolutely wanted to stay away from using the over-worked Scott Proctor, so rookie TJ Beam started the eighth. But he could not put away the Rangers' lead off hitter, Gary Matthews, Jr, who drew a nine-pitch walk. Beam, a lanky right hander, then fell behind Ian Kinsler. Another base on balls was unacceptable so Beam's 3-1 offering was right over the plate. Kinsler drove the ball to right center field. It skipped over the fence for a ground rule double. Torre, furious, walked to mound and summoned Proctor, then returned to the bench and simmered.

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Wright Away
2006-07-26 14:03
by Alex Belth

Jaret Wright is on the hill tonight as the Yanks go for the sweep in Texas. Since you never know what you are going to get with Wright, it would behoove the Yankee offense to break open a can o whup ass against the Rangers' rookie southpaw, John Rheinecker.

Love to see a big night from Alex Rodriguez. Giambi too, provided that he's in the line-up. Giambi has slumped considerably in July with little to no fanfare. Hopefully, Damon will play and help get the ball a-rollin. And perhaps, a little bit of comic relief from Sal Fasano.

Let's Go Yan-Kees.

Pluggin' Away
2006-07-26 05:18
by Alex Belth

The Yankees only mustered four hits againt the Rangers on Tuesday night but still managed to come away with a 7-4 win. Wildness was the case for Texas, who allowed three runs in fourth inning on a five walks, a hit batter and a single. But it was Aaron Guiel's three-run dinger in the fifth that proved to be the decisive blow. Pete Abraham of The Journal News has dubbed Guiel "Ralph Malph." I've got a more random call (and it only works looking at him head-on when he's at bat): Sissy Spacek. It's the nose, mouth, the freckles. Work with me on this one.

Mike Mussina was far from brilliant but he was good enough to earn victory number 12 on the season. Scott Proctor--the subject of trade rumors--pitched well, as did Mariano Rivera, who earned the save (#24). Alex Rodriguez had a decent night (HBP, two walks, two runs scored). He whiffed in his last at bat after narrowly missing a home run, but looked just fine in the field. Actually, he looked great. Had that confident, concentrated look on his mug again. I'm guessing that being back in Texas has been helpful. According to Tyler Kepner in The New York Times:

The Yankees also seem to be loosening up. Even Alex Rodriguez, who has not made an error since Friday, playfully kissed teammate Andy Phillips on the back of the head when a scoreboard "Kiss Cam" focused on the Yankees' bench.

"It meant a lot," Phillips said, laughing. "I can tell my grandkids about that."

After his smooch, Rodriguez got up and walked to the other end of the dugout, raising his arms over his head and winking at the camera.

Johnny Damon sat out a second-straight night with a sore back. He is expected to be back in the line-up this evening.

In other news...

"I don't want him, you can have him, he's too fat for me," Alice Kramden sang to her husband once a long time ago. This was the first thing that popped into my head when I read in the Post that the Yankees have picked up back-up catcher Sal Fasano, previously of the Phillies. Bonzone and now Fasano. I believe that Kelly Stinnett has done a poor job in the role, but can Fasano be much better? Somewhere, someone (or a lot of someones) are chuckling about this one. What's Fasano worth without that mustache, which I'm sure he'll have to shave? Also, I remember calling Ron Hassey Ron Fatassy, back in the eighties. Anyone come up with a good one for Fasano yet? This is mine (with a nod to Dimelo): Ron Jeremy plus the late Vincent Schiavelli.

Lastly, Jack Curry reports that Phillip Hughes will not be pitching for the US Olympic team, now or anytime soon.

Eaton Moose
2006-07-25 14:18
by Cliff Corcoran

The Yanks go for a quick and easy series win tonight with their ace, Mike Mussina, taking the hill against former Padre Adam Eaton, who will be making his Rangers debut after spending four months on the DL due to a strained middle finger on his pitching hand. Eaton has made four minor league rehab starts, two in double-A and two in triple-A. He dominated in all four turns, allowing just one run at each level, but the Rangers kept him on a strict pitch limit which held him to a mere 12 1/3 innings pitched across those four starts. Part of me expects Eaton to get roughed up tonight, if not the first time through the order, then certainly the second time 'round as he gets past his minor league pitch limits. Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the Eaton.

No Sweat
2006-07-24 21:32
by Cliff Corcoran

Last week's heat wave has given way to some absolutely beautiful days here in the New York area. Not that it does the Yankees any good. Last night's game time temperature in Arlington was 94 degrees, but the Yankees were as cool as the other side of the pillow, answering a second inning solo homer by Mark Teixeira off Randy Johnson with four runs over the next three innings.

In the third, a pair of two-out triples by Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter tied the score. In the fourth, Alex Rodriguez and Bernie Williams scored on a two-out double by Miguel Cairo to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead. In the fifth, Alex Rodriguez received some cosmic justice when, with Melky on third and Jason Giambi on first and one out, Rodriguez hit a sharp grounder to third and Texas third baseman Mark DeRosa tried to nail Melky at home, but threw the ball in the dirt, allowing Cabrera to score.

The Rangers got that run back in the bottom of the inning when that man Teixeira drove home a Gary Matthews Jr. double with two outs only to get nailed by Cabrera when he tried to stretch his hit into a double and overslid the bag. Two pitches later, the Yanks returned the favor via an Aaron Guiel solo shot.

A pair of doubles by Jeter and Rodriguez added another run in the seventh, capping the scoring at 6-2 Yankees. Johnson, showing no ill effects from the 129 pitches he threw in his previous start, pitched six strong and Proctor, Farnsworth, and Rivera combined to hold the Rangers to three hits and no walks while striking out five over the final three innings.

Farnsworth has now struck out the side in his last two appearances and hasn't walked a man in his last 11 innings pitched, dating back to June 25 against the Marlins. His line over that stretch is 11 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 0 BB, 8 K. Proctor has also been pitching well of late. Since the All-Star break his line is 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 HR, 0 BB, 12 K.

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Texas Rangers
2006-07-24 12:22
by Cliff Corcoran

Like every other team in the AL West, the Rangers are a straight-up .500 ballclub. That's why there are just four games separating first and last place in that division. For their part, the Rangers have by far the best run differential of the bunch and stand just a half game behind the first-place A's.

The three-game series set to start tonight will finish their season set with the Yankees. Back in May, the Yankees swept a three-game set in Texas, then split a four-game set with the Rangers in the Bronx thank in large part to one of the wildest games the Yankees have played in recent memory. That adds up to a 5-2 advantage in the season series for the New Yorkers. Now, if the Rangers are a truely .500 team, they'll catch fire and sweep the Yanks here to even the season series, then punt their ensuing three-game set against the Royals, leading to much rending of garments among the Bronx Banter readership.

For the more enlightened members of that group, win or lose a highlight of this series should be that we're getting our first look at rookie Ian Kinsler (.304/.370/.492) who, along with Jose Lopez and the still MIA Robinson Cano, gives the AL an exciting crop of young second basemen.

Tonight Randy Johnson takes on Kevin Millwood. Both veterans have been headed in the right direction of late after rough starts to their seasons, though both also suffered a pre-All-Star break hicup. As is becoming a tradition in my pregame posts for Johnson's starts, here's Randy's combined line in his last three starts: 22 2/3 IP, 18 H, 10 R, 8 ER, 3 HR, 1 BB, 22 K.

Continue reading...

Oy Veh
2006-07-24 05:19
by Alex Belth

Boom, Bap, Thwap: Flat Yanks Tank, Spanked (and happy to be leaving Canada). Sunday's Final: 13-5. Meanwhile, two reports suggest that it is unlikey that Bobby Abreu will be a Yankee this time next week.

2006-07-23 05:45
by Alex Belth

Three game losing streak? Hold a pre-game team meeting. While Alex Rodriguez's slump continues, the Yankees scrapped and rallied to defeat the Blue Jays 5-4 on Saturday evening in front of more than 50,000 at the Rogers Centre, gaining a game back on the Red Sox who lost earlier in the day (the Yanks trail by two-and-a-half). Jorge Posada, the Bronx version of "Captain Red Ass," tripled (?!?) after objecting to a high offering by Ted Lilly which came close to his noggin, Bernie Williams hit a two-run homer, Jason Giambi had a clutch pinch-hit (he walked in his second at bat and was pinch run for by Jaret Wright!), and Derek Jeter drew a walk with the bases loaded, scoring what would be the game-winning run. For the second straight start Chien-Ming Wang was far from electric, but he was good enough while the Yankee bullpen was dynamite: Scott Proctor struck out the side in the seventh, ditto for Kyle Farnsworth in the eighth, and Mariano Rivera--who is way too cool for strikeouts by now--sent the Jays down, 1-2-3 in the ninth on two ground balls to Jeter and a pop fly to Rodriguez at third.

Rodriguez, who was taking ground balls five hours before the game began with coaches Larry Bowa and Don Mattingly, was the DH and only played the field in the ninth inning. Rodriguez struck out four times for the first time since 1995. Even more troubling was that Rodriguez swung through or fouled off at least four fat pitches in his last two at bats. It wasn't so much a case of the pitcher beating him as it was him beating himself. Rodriguez's troubles have gotten worse over the past week. What I find fascinating is that the cause of his fielding woes is his arm--something that has long been his strength defensively. I mean, his arm is that last thing I've ever worried about. (Perhaps the Yankees' next stop--in Texas to play the Rangers--will bring some comfort to Rodriguez.)

It's painful for everyone involved--from the fans to Rodriguez himself of course--watching the Yankees' superduper star struggle so mightly. The situation is intensified by the fact that the Yankee offense desperately needs his power. My girlfriend never cared much for Rodriguez until he became the target of the fans' ire. This morning, she released the following statement:

"There's no question that he will rebound from this slump. I'm patient until he does. And I wish everyone would just shut-up and leave him alone and give him the room to breath and continuing helping the Yankees win as he always has. Which is what the fans want...right?!"

For what it is worth, I have every bit of confidence that Rodriguez will be just fine. According to Tyler Kepner in The New York Times:

In the clubhouse Saturday, after cuddling with his 20-month-old daughter, Natasha, Rodriguez was asked if he felt pressure mounting on the field. Appearances aside, he insisted he did not.

"Not at all," Rodriguez said. "You wish you could be hitting .340 with 35 home runs — and Big Papi has, what, 95 R.B.I.?," he added, referring to Ortiz, who leads the majors with 92. "But, guys, this is a human being. You guys screw up sometimes. I'm sure sometimes when you guys write, you misspell a word. That's life, we're human beings.

"I wish we were perfect. But I feel very comfortable and very confident."

And Reggie Jackson tells Mike Lupica:

"I hear people say (A-Rod) might not be tough enough for this," Jackson said. "He's more than tough enough. You don't do what he's done in this game without being tough enough. I see it on his face every night. I see that he knows what every player knows, whether they're as great as he is or not: What a hard, humbling game this really is. You know why he'll play through this? Because he has to. He'll do what he's always done, and show up every day and go to work with a toolbox that has more in it than anybody else playing. More than (Albert) Pujols, more than anybody else you want to talk about.

"I signed the biggest contract once, and I knew when I did what I was taking on. And you better believe I knew that it was one more thing that I was going to have to carry up the hill with me. Alex is going up that same hill now. And it's like I just said: He'll make it because he has to, because we've got more than 60 home runs and 200 RBI on the bench (Matsui, Sheffield) and because he's as great as he is and because he just has to.

"It's like I told Jeter that time when he was 0-for-32: Figure it out because you ain't going anywhere. There ain't no place to hide. You never get hurt. You're not sitting down. You're gonna be there every day and you're Derek Jeter. Same way with Alex. He's Alex Rodriguez.

..."I wish they didn't boo him," he said. "I wish they didn't boo me. But I always respect the fans and love them and in the end, they aren't really a part of this, even if you know they want to love him. This isn't about whether you think the boos are justified or unjustified. It isn't about the media. This is about him. The guy has all that talent.

"You take on a lot of things when you take the money and come here and tough times are part of it. He'll get through this and he'll be better for it."

The Yanks will need Rodriguez's pop today, what with Bonzone on the hill for the Yanks. Here's hoping the Yanks can out-pound the Jays and come away with a split.

Can't Win for Losing
2006-07-22 06:56
by Alex Belth

Alex Rodriguez collected the 2,000th hit of his career last night. It also happened to be a home run--a laser into the left field seats, making Rodriguez the youngest man in history to hit 450 dingers. The shot--a three-run job--also put the Yankees back in the game. However, it was the only offense the Bombers would muster all night as they fell to the Jays, 7-3. It was New York's third straight loss. They now trail Boston by three-and-a-half. A.J. Burnett was showing off his nasty stuff last night, while Jaret Wright was ineffective. Rodriguez also committed another throwing error (after losing a pop foul in the glare of the roof earlier in the same at bat), which unfortunately marred his historic accomplishment. So it goes right now for Rodriguez.

Where's Aaron Burr When You Need Him?
2006-07-21 13:21
by Cliff Corcoran

Last night's match-up of Mike Mussina and Roy Halladay was the sort of pitching confrontation people circle on their calendars weeks ahead of time, but while it did turn out to be a low-scoring, one-run game, it was ultimately a disappointment for more reasons than the ultimate result.

For one thing, the best pitching duels are the ones that reach the last three innings in a tie or with a one-run lead with neither team having scored more than three runs (a rule I just made up). But last night the Yankees broke a scoreless tie in the third when Miguel Cairo singled, stole second and scored on a Johnny Damon double, then added single runs in the fourth (Alex Rodriguez double, Posada single, Bernie RBI groundout) and fifth (Melky infield single followed by a Toronto error on a stolen base attempt that sent Melky to third and a Cairo sac fly that plated him). With a three-run lead after four and a half innings and Mussina cruising (just two Blue Jay base runners, both on singles, one that didn't leave the infield, and six strikeouts through five), the suspense had gone out of the game. This appeared to be the Yankees' night.

Then Aaron Hill led off the sixth with a double. He was moved to third on a groundout by John McDonald as the Blue Jay order turned over to face Mussina for a third time. With Reed Johnson up, Joe Torre played his infield back, willing to trade Hill's run for an out, but Johnson hit a hard grounder right at Alex Rodriguez at third, giving him an easy play at home with Hill going on contact. Rodriguez fielded the ball cleanly, but his side-arm throw home tailed to the left of Jorge Posada who, once again frozen by the prospect of a charging base runner, failed to make a full effort to catch the ball. Hill was safe because of Rodriguez's bad throw and Johnson went to second because of Posada's failure to glove the ball, though only Rodriguez received an error on the play.

That play opened the doors for the Jays, who promptly plated Johnson when Frank Catalanotto dumped a single into shallow right. Vernon Wells followed with a soft single to left and both Catalanotto and Wells scored on a rocket double down the third base line by Troy Glaus that gave Toronto a 4-3 lead.

From there Mussina settled down, retiring the next (and last) five batters he faced. Meanwhile, Roy Halladay was doing the same. When Derek Jeter lined out to second for the second out of the eighth inning, Halladay had retired the last six men he had faced, but despite his having thrown just 93 pitches his manager didn't want him to face Jason Giambi with a mere one-run lead. Four outs away from victory, John Gibbons replaced Halladay with dominating lefty closer B.J. Ryan.

Giambi took Ryan's first four pitches to run the count even at 2-2, then poked an outside pitch through the shortstop hole vacated by the shift for a two-out single. Joe Torre sent in Bubba Crosby to run for his lumbering DH, and Ryan pitched around Alex Rodriguez, issuing a five-pitch walk to the Yankee third baseman, who never took his bat off his shoulder. Ryan's next pitch bore in on the righty-hitting Jorge Posada, snapping his bat off at the handle, but Posada was able to get enough of it to loop it into left for a game-tying single. Having blown the lead, Ryan struck out Bernie Williams on three pitches to end the inning with the go-ahead run on second.

With the game tied, Torre turned to Scott Proctor in the ninth despite the fact that Mike Mussina had thrown just 92 pitches through seven and had retired the last five men he had faced. Fortunately, Proctor was able to pitch around a two-out Wells single in the eighth and, after a Ryan similarly stranded a one-out walk to Melky Cabrera, worked a perfect ninth. Seemingly discovering a miracle cure for Jeff Weaver Syndrome, Torre next turned to his own dominating closer, Mariano Rivera. Rivera set the Jays down in order in the tenth. The eleventh was another story.

After the Yanks went down in order to Justin Speier and Brian Tallet in the tenth and eleventh, Frank Catalanotto lead off the eleventh with a 0-2 single off Rivera, but was then gunned down by Posada as he tried to steal second. With one out, Rivera's first pitch to Vernon Wells was a ball inside, but the second hung over the plate and Wells crushed it over the wall in left for a game-winning home run, the first off Rivera since Bill Mueller took Rivera deep almost two years ago exactly in the game best remembered for Rodriguez's fight with Jason Varitek. Thus, in a game that looked like a must-see pitchers' duel, neither starter factored in the decision, and two of the best closers in the majors gave up the lead. Yuck.

Oh, and if you think I'm disappointed because my team just happened to lose, check out my take when the Yankees lost a pitchers duel to Halladay and the Jays that actually lived up to the hype.

Tonight the Yankees get their first look at A.J. Burnett in a Blue Jay uniform. Burnett, one of the more misguided signings of the offseason, has already had two stints on the disabled list due to torn scar tissue in his surgically repaired right elbow (Burnett had Tommy John surgery in 2003). Between those two stints he made two undistinguished starts (10 IP, 12 H, 7 R, 4 HR, 2 BB, 10 K). Since being activated in late June he's made five more with results varying from shutting out the Nationals to giving up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings to the Phillies (or, perhaps worse, six runs in six innings to the Royals). The similarly injury-prone Jaret Wright, who followed up his career-best 10 strikeout game against the Devil Rays by striking out just one White Sox in an otherwise solid outing, takes the hill for the Yanks. If this game ends without either pitcher wincing and walking off the mound while holding their right arm like a dead puppy I'll be impressed. That said, wouldn't it be fun if this turned out to be the pitchers' duel last night wasn't?

Toronto Blue Jays
2006-07-20 14:09
by Cliff Corcoran

In November 2001, the Toronto Blue Jays hired Oakland A's director of player personnel J.P. Riccardi to be their new general manager, hoping that some of Billy Beane's sabermetric pixie dust could revive the declining franchise. The Blue Jays, the first team ever to draw 4 million fans back in 1991, and back-to-back World Champions in 1992 and 1993, had seen their attendance decline steadily in the wake of the strike, with fewer than 2 million fans coming to SkyDome in 2001. Their on field success was in similar decline, with their best post-strike season placing them 26 games behind the 114-win Yankees in 1998, and their record declining in each of the following three seasons.

Riccardi's first year saw the Jays decline by another two games, but their attendance saw a small but meaningful improvement. In 2003, Riccardi's second season, the Jays improved by eight games, winning just two fewer games than in 1998. Things seemed to be going according to plan, with young stars Vernon Wells, Roy Halladay, Eric Hinske, Orlando Hudson, and Josh Phelps leading the charge. But just as quickly the bottom dropped out. Injuries and disappointing seasons shaved 19 wins off the Jays' record in 2004 in a season when many, myself included, expected them to finally disrupt the New York and Boston hegemony at the top of the division. Instead, they broke Tampa Bay's hold on last place.

The Jays bounced back just as quickly last year, improving by 13 games despite finishing eight games below their 88-74 Pythagorean Record (an exact match of their real life 1998 finish). Emboldened by that improvement, signs of weakness from the Yanks and Sox (who tied for the AL East lead and were both eliminated in the ALDS), and an increase in cash flow in the wake of their buying out the lease on the rechristened Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays approved a total of $210 million in payroll increases over the 2006-2008 seasons. With the extra cash, Riccardi went out and signed fellow initialites A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan to absurd contracts and traded for high profile cornermen Troy Glaus (who also makes a pretty penny) and Lyle Overbay.

Still, despite their splashy offseason, I really didn't expect much from the Blue Jays this year. Thus far, I've been wrong as the Jays have been hanging tight in the AL East and Wild Card races and on pace for their first 90-win season since their last World Championship season. But the cracks are beginning to show.

Continue reading...

Murphy's Law
2006-07-20 05:20
by Alex Belth

Or some sort of something that has to do with karma. A day after the Yankees recieved a generous call they were the victims of a poor one as they fell to the Mariners at the Stadium, 3-2 The bad call came at the tail end of a nice piece of base running from Alex Rodriguez. Shame, as they wasted a fine outing from the Big Unit.

On a lighter note, check out this amusing (if foul-mouthed) critique of the Yankees' radio team. Is Brooklyn in the house?

2006-07-19 08:39
by Cliff Corcoran

With a big four-game set against the third-place Blue Jays on deck, the Yankees have picked a good time to get hot. This afternoon they go for their second straight sweep in an attempt to avoid their first second half loss.

The man for the job is former Mariner Randy Johnson, who pitched one of his best games as a Yankee last year against his former team and their future ace, Felix Hernandez. That game was a thrilling pitchers' duel in which Johnson held the M's hitless through five innings and the Yankees emerged with a 2-0 victory. That was an emotional game for the big man, as it was the first time he had pitched in Seattle in six years and he was facing a phenom who many believe will challenge Randy's position as the greatest Mariner hurler of all time.

The stakes are far lower today, with the Yanks playing a house money game at home against Gil Meche little more than 12 hours after one of their most improbable wins of the year, but Johnson seems to be back on track, turning in quality starts in five of his last six outings. Here's hoping that trend continues today.

Kelly Stinnett gets his second straight start due to Jorge Posada playing the late innings of last night's game. Melky moves up to the two-spot. Alex Rodriguez returns to third base. Guiel starts in right and bats seventh behind Phillips followed by that man Nick Green (5 for 12 with two doubles, a homer, three walks and a stolen base as a Yankee) at second base. Randy's old nemesis Eduardo Perez starts at DH for the M's.

One Day a Real Rain is Gunna Come...
2006-07-19 05:12
by Alex Belth

As I walked to the subway last night I saw a middle-aged man wearing a Yankee cap and a navy blue t-shirt that read: "Got Melky?" I complimented him on his shirt. Dude was the first person I thought about early this morning when Melky Cabrera's solo home run won the game for the Yankees in extra innings, 5-4.

Sidney Ponson wasn't terrible but Joel Piniero was better. (Both bullpens were strong.) The Yanks trailed 4-2 in the ninth when it began to rain. After the heat we've suffered through in New York for the last few days, the rain was welcome. And just as the Yanks started to rally, the rain started to fall. The crowd--as if speaking for all of New York--started to cheer, both for the team and for the rain. Andy Phillips doubled. Thunder clap. The fans roar. Winds swirling like mad. Aaron Guiel, pinch hiting, singled to right scoring Phillips. Lighting. More cheers.

And then, a gift. The Yanks lucked out when Jorge Posada was called safe legging out a ground ball. He was clearly out. Instead of two outs and a man on third, it was one out, men on the corners. Johnny Damon followed and slapped the first pitch into center for a sacrifice fly, tying the game.

Alex Rodriguez did not start but entered the game late as a pinch-hitter (Nick Green played third and collected three hits). In the seventh, Rodriguez popped up to the shortstop. Before the ball landed, the boo birds began to howl. Now, Rodriguez was up in the ninth with two outs and a runner on first. The rain poured down, a real summer thundershower. The crowd cheered Rodriguez. But with the count 3-1, the umps called for the tarp. Derek Jeter was due up next. As the players filed into the dugout, Jeter had a look of mock disgust on his face (though the Yankees were lucky the umps let them play as long as they did). Seconds later, he was smiling, that broad, easy smile of his that we only see on the field or in the dugout but never when addressing the press.

Rodriguez would have to close to two hours to think about things before he got back in the batter's box. When play resumed, he swung at a slider and then was caught looking by a fastball on the outside part of the plate. The boo birds had mercy--or most of them had gone home already. Perhaps the rain temporarily refreshed them. Two innings later, Cabrera ended it. What a joyous way to end the game as well as the heat wave. As Cabrera approached the plate, he tossed his helmet into the air with both hands--a move that has become customary these days. Johnny Damon caught the helmet and happily spiked it into the ground behind home plate.

The energy in the stadium in the ninth inning will go down as one of the most memorable moments of the year for me. And how about Johnny Damon playing first and Andy Phillips playing second base? The Yanks steal a win and remain a half-game behind Boston. Not a bad way for Joe Torre to celebrate his 66th birthday.

What Fresh Hell Is This?
2006-07-18 14:13
by Cliff Corcoran

Temperatures reaching 100 degrees, a threat of thunderstorms, Alex Rodriguez (toe) and Jorge Posada (four straight starts) out of the line-up, and Sidney Ponson on the mound for the Yankees? My hat is off to the fans who chose to sit through that in person tonight.

For what it's worth, things have been quite heavenly for the Yankees recently. They've won eight of their last nine, easily their best stretch of the year, they're tied in the loss column with the Red Sox, just 2.5 games behind Chicago in the Wild Card chase, and, with a winning percentage two points better than the Mets', have a better record than every team in the National League. In fact, only two teams have lost fewer games than the Yankees thus far this season and the Yankees have a 6-1 record against those two clubs (the Chisox and Tigers).

Keep reading that paragraph as Sir Sidney gets a right pounding at the hands of an exceedingly average Mariners' line-up tonight. It will help. As might the fact that The Big Ponson Toad is going up against Joel Pineiro, who's been down-right Ponson-like of late.

We'll Take It
2006-07-18 05:19
by Alex Belth

Chien-Ming Wang was not at his best on Monday night but he was still good enough to earn his 10th win of the season. The Yankees committed four error--three by Alex Rodriguez--but Wang worked out of trouble several times as the Bombers beat the Mariners, 4-2 It was a miserable night for Rodriguez who was pulled from the game after the seventh inning. Rodriguez fouled a ball off his left toe in the fifth inning. According to Tyler Kepner:

"You never want to come out of a game," said Rodriguez, who iced the toe near the end of the game. "But it was swelling up pretty bad in my last at-bat."

..."That's baseball," Rodriguez said. "The day before, I had a brilliant day defensively. Tonight, I stunk. The good news is we won, and move on."

Rodriguez, who now has 16 errors this season, will have x-rays taken on the foot this morning.

Johnny Damon had three hits and Jason Giambi hit a solo dinger into the upper deck in right. Mariano Rivera gave up a double and a single to start the ninth, and then faced our old pal, Ironhead Edurardo Perez. 2-5 lifetime against Mo, Perez took two huge hacks at cutters that were over the plate. They were mistakes, but all Perez could do was foul them off and feel confident that he was seeing the ball well and getting in some good cuts. Rivera struck him out looking on an inside fastball. It was off-the-plate but Rivera got the call the way great players often do. Ichiro popped out to short and then Rivera struck out Willie Bloomquest to end the game. Like Wang, Rivera was not at his best, but he was good enough.

The Yanks still trail the Red Sox by a half-a-game.

Less than two weeks to go before the trading deadline and the talk around the Yankees is an outfielder: Bobby Abreu, Reggie Sanders, Kevin Mench, even Shawn Green.

The Seattle Mariners
2006-07-17 10:38
by Cliff Corcoran

The Mariners are a hard team to figure. They started the season on the expected course, going 22-32 over the first third of the season. They then won 20 of their next 28, briefly poking their heads above .500, only to have lost eight of their last ten. And so they sit two games under .500, but just four games out of first place in the AL West and with a winning Pythagorean record, but also in last place in an ugly division lead by the A's, who have the inverse record of the M's and are the only team in the West with a losing Pythagorean record. Got all that?

What it all adds up to is that the M's are a nearly perfect .500 ball club. They're in the middle of the pack in terms of hitting and pitching. Their lineup is well-balanced with a full supply of average players lead by the pesky, but not overwhelming offensive tallents of Ichiro Suzuki. After Ichiro, Raul Ibañez is their biggest threat. On the mound, 20-year-old uberprospect Felix Hernandez has struggled in his first full season, making the 43-year-old junkballer Jamie Moyer the team's ERA leader once again. In fact, the only dominant performances the team has received this season have come from the bullpen, with 29-year-old J.J. Putz and former prospect Rafael Soriano making Eddie Guardado expendable.

Really the Mariners are just dull. Ho hum. Here's hoping the Yanks don't suffer a let-down after this weekend's unexpected sweep of the World Champs.

Continue reading...

One Word...
2006-07-17 05:42
by Alex Belth

Sweep. Or how about, Hot. Yesterday was the first of what is supposed to be three near-100 degree days here in the Big Apple. It wasn't humid, man, it was just flat-out hot. Clear blue sky, even a gentle breeze. I was out in the late afternoon and it felt like high noon--I can't remember the last time I felt the sun like that. Cliff was out in the bleachers for the game, and whether or not he had the Ban De Soleil for the San Tropez tan, I wouldn't be shocked to learn that he left a lighter shade of George Hamilton.

What he saw was an exciting game. The Yankee bullpen worked out of jams in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings as the Bombers beat the White Sox, 6-4 to complete a three-game sweep of the defending World Champs in the Bronx. New York is just a half-a-game behind Boston in the AL East. Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, and Aaron Guiel contributed fine defensive plays; Rodriguez and Derek Jeter also homered. But it was Mariano Rivera's two innings of scoreless--if tension-filled--work that will be most remembered. The save was the 400th of Rivera's great career.

According to Jack Curry in the New York Times:

When Guillén was asked to define the significance of Rivera's 400 saves, he responded in Ozzie-esque fashion by saying, "One word: Hall of Fame."

Right. What he said.

Moose Call
2006-07-15 09:16
by Alex Belth

I've got my usual Fox Saturday heebee jeebies. Not like I do when the Bombers play the Red Sox or the Mets, but still...

It's hot and muggy and overcast in the Bronx. In spite of my superstitions, I feel good about the offense today (A Rod, Jeter, Jorge).

Let's Go Yan-Kees!

All Good Things...
2006-07-15 07:19
by Alex Belth

"That's one of those unfair losses—he pitches to one guy in the eighth and he ends up scoring," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "But you knew it had to end, sooner or later."
(Chicago Tribune)

Jose Contreras allowed a lead-off single to Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the eighth inning last night. It would be his last batter of the game, which was still tied 3-3 at the time. Minutes later, the TV cameras showed Contreras leaning over the rail of the visitor's dugougt, chatting with his teammates. He was loose and confident, smiling easily. This was not the Jose Contreras that we saw in New York, this was a World Champ who had not lost a decision since the middle of last August.

The Bombers would score three runs in the inning but the Sox didn't blink. Chicago collected three straight singles in the ninth off of Mariano Rivera. One scored on a ground out, then another on a fly out (a terrific catch against the right field wall in foul territory by Bubba Crosy). AJ Pierzynski pinch-hit with the tying run on third and put together a whale of an at-bat against Mariano Rivera, taking some good hacks and fouling off some decent pitches before popping up to right to end the game (he got under that last pitch, perhaps the most hittable one he saw). The Yanks pulled it out, but you could tell that the White Sox expected to win the game, just as they expect to win every game. They are not overly cocky--though you can say what you want about their showboat of a manager--they simply act like defending World Champs.

Contreras wasn't vintage but he was good enough. Miguel Cairo led off the fifth inning with a triple. The game was tied at two. But Contreras came back and struck out Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter--nasty forkballs and well-placed fastballs. Jason Giambi was walked intentionally and Rodriguez was plunked in the elbow to load the bases. But Jorge Posada was eaten up by a forkball and he hit what looked like a scewball to short for the final out.

You can see why the Yankees want to make a move to get another hitter, but give Contreras credit--he's tough. Damon would have a key hit in the eighth, ditto for Melky. And Aaron Guiel hooked a flat forkball into right for a homer too.

Melky Movin?
2006-07-14 20:11
by Alex Belth

Over at, Mark Feinsand reports:

General manager Brian Cashman has made it clear that pitching prospect Philip Hughes is as close to untouchable as any player in the Yankees' farm system.
Melky Cabrera on the other hand, may not be.

According to a Major League executive, the Yankees and Pirates have discussed a deal that would send the young outfielder to Pittsburgh in exchange for outfielder Jeromy Burnitz and first baseman/outfielder Craig Wilson.

Steve Lombardi doesn't like it.

Way to Go, Big Guy
2006-07-14 19:55
by Alex Belth

A nice, solid outing for the Big Unit tonight, as the Yankees beat the defending World Champs, 6-5 (more on the game to come).

Here is what Joe Torre said about Johnson in Friday's paper (from Steve Serby in the Post):

"He's about as relaxed as I've seen him since he's been here," Torre said yesterday at his Safe At Home Foundation charity golf tournament at Trump National Golf Course in Briarcliff Manor. "I don't think anybody really prepares themselves for what you have to deal with here. Especially guys that have been around, and they're on their way to Cooperstown . . . 'All right, I'll just do what I do.'

"They don't realize the questions they have to answer that they never had to answer in Phoenix or Seattle or wherever. And not taking anything away from those cities, but the enormity of the media here . . . I'd say over the last six years, that there's no insignificant piece of news. Some throwaway stuff that may happen there, I think it takes time for these guys to understand that this is something they have to deal with, and I know last year, he was . . . I hate to use the word overwhelmed, because I know he won't agree with me. But I think he was dealing with more than he ever thought he needed to."

I asked Torre whether he has had to lower his expectations for The Big Unit (10-7, 5.13) over the second half.

"No, I really haven't," Torre said. "What I've seen in his swagger here, the anger that you see - when I say anger, determination, I guess, when he gets his feathers ruffled a little bit . . . guys foul some pitches off, it's fun to see that. All of a sudden, OK, and all of a sudden, boom! There's that 96. I don't need 98 miles an hour. I'd say over the last half dozen starts, if we see that, we're gonna be all right as far as his contribution."

The Big Unit struck Jim Thome out three times tonight. Johnson was pumped up after the last one. RJ did not figure in the decision but he pitched well. Turned out to be a nail-biter in the ninth. Fortunately, the Bombers found a way to pull it out. They inch closer to the Red Sox, who got creamed by the A's up in Boston.

The World Champion Chicago White Sox
2006-07-14 12:33
by Cliff Corcoran

The second half of the Yankees' 2006 season kicks off with a bang tonight as the Yankees take on the defending World Champion Chicago White Sox at the Stadium. The White Sox are one of two American League teams the Yankees have yet to face this year (the other, the Mariners, comes to town on Monday), and one of two teams that stands between them and a playoff spot. The White Sox lead the Yankees by six games in the Wild Card race. That's a much tougher row to hoe than the 2.5 game deficit the Yankees face in the AL East, but the Yanks and Chisox are actually far better matched than you might expect.

Although the reputations of their two pitching staffs differ significantly, both have been equally effective thus far this season, with the White Sox allowing 4.715 runs per game and the Yankees allowing 4.721 runs per game, putting the two teams in a virtual tie for the fourth-best run prevention in the American League. The same thing is true on defense. Despite their disparate reputations, the Yankees actually have a slightly higher defensive efficiency than the defending World Champs, with the two teams ranking third and fourth respectively in the American League.

Where these two teams differ is offense. Thanks to the acquisition of Jim Thome (.298/.414/.651, 30 HR, 77 RBI), a career year from Jermaine Dye (.318/.397/.646, 25 HR, 68 RBI), and a breakout season from 28-year-old Joe Crede (.294/.331/.512, 16 HR, 57 RBI), A.J. Pierzynski's rediscovery of his 2003 form (.320/.365/.440), the usual contribution from the suddenly consistent Paul Konerko (.313/.384/.449, 21 HR, 67 RBI), and more of the same from Tadahito Iguchi (.287/.346/.429), the White Sox have the major league's best offense, and one that's powered by getting on base and hitting for extra bases.

That's not to say that the Sox don't have a couple of stiffs. Juan Uribe has 11 homers, but a Womackian .264 on-base percentage and has been losing occasional starts against righty pitching to Alex Cintron, who has just two bombs, but 56 more points of OBP. Rookie Brian Anderson, meanwhile, has more than replaced Aaron Rowand's defense in center, posting a staggering 122 Rate, but is cruising down the interstate at .192/.280/.324, forcing his manager to sacrifice his glove for the bat of lefty-hitting utility man Rob Mackowiak (.309/.396/.407) against certain right handers.

The contrast between the Sox and the Yankees lends a great deal of support to the idea that what the Yankees most need is a big bat for right field. (A quick aside, today's New York Post back page featured a big photo of Bobby Abreu along with a headline suggesting that the Mets and Yankees were both trying to deal for the Phillies' right fielder. First of all, the Mets aren't going to get a right fielder from a division rival when what they need most of all is starting pitching. Second, it reminded me of a similar Post back page from 2000 featuring Sammy Sosa. Sosa didn't wind up going anywhere, and the Yankees made a brilliant and unexpected deal for David Justice. Seeing that Abreu headline, I began wondering who might be a similar high-profile, yet off-the-rumor-radar acquisition for the Yankees this year. It would have to be a veteran with a big contract looking to jump off a sinking ship for one last chance at a title. Preferably someone who'd been there before, maybe even had a ring of their own. The names that I came up with were Moises Alou and Luis Gonzalez. Remember, you heard it here first).

That said, any team willing to take a gander on Sidney Ponson is clearly in need of pitching. The Yankees are still fourth in the majors in runs scored, but with their sudden loss of faith in Shawn Chacon (which hasn't been entirely undeserved, but still feels premature), they're essentially without a fifth starter. Aaron Small's glass slipper has shattered, Darrell Rasner might not return to action this year, Matt DeSalvo and Jeffrey Karstens crashed and burned in Columbus and were demoted to double-A, Ramiro Mendoza has been awful of late, Sean Henn spent most of the first half on the DL, Steven White is still finding himself in triple-A, and the Yankees' fourth starter is Jaret Wright, who still hasn't pitched out of the sixth inning (though after he struck out ten and walked none in his last start while allowing just four hits and throwing just 91 pitches and still got the hook after six, I became even more convinced that the Yankees have imposed that ceiling in an attempt to keep Wright healthy).

Think about this for a second: wouldn't Jason Schmidt help this team more than Bobby Abreu?

At any rate, this weekend's series with the World Champs is a big one. The Yankees need to make a dent in the Sox's Wild Card lead and prove that they can hang with these big boys the way they did with the AL-best Tigers at the end of May. Tonight they'll take their first stab at the Sox by taking on the undefeated Jose Contreras. Easily the Sox's ace this year, Contreras has actually not been as consistent as his 9-0 record might lead you to believe. He's the only Sox starter to have missed a turn, having spent 15 days on the DL with sciatica (the Sox as a whole have been alarmingly consistent, their opening day roster differing from today's by just one man, reliever David Riske, and their current record falling just two games shy of their record at the same point a year ago). After being activated in late May, Contreras recorded three no-decisions, dodging the loss in a 12-8 defeat at the hands of the Indians who touched up El Titan de Bronze for six runs in five innings. In his last three starts in June, he gave up 15 runs in 17 2/3 innings and three of his last five starts have also been no decisions despite his receiving an average of eight runs of support over that span.

The Yankees will counter with Randy Johnson. Johnson was acquired prior to the 2005 season to be the difference maker and in a way, he has been. The Yankees won their division last year because of a late-season run that was lead by Johnson's stellar performance down the stretch in which he won each of his final eight starts, posting a 1.93 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP and allowing just two home runs over 51 1/3 innings pitched. They then lost the ALDS in large part because Johnson spit the bit in Game 3. With the Yankees easily within striking distance of the playoffs coming out of the All-Star Break, it's very likely that Johnson, who was maddeningly inconsistent during the first half, will make the difference yet again down the stretch.

The Yankees can guess at what they'll get out of the other three permanent members of their rotation in the second half. Mussina will likely regress slightly from his strong first half, but will continue to turn in quality starts. Wright will continue to give the Yankees a solid five or six innings each time out with an occasional stinker, and Wang will continue to mature into an efficient and occasionally dominant innings eater. But Johnson's a mystery. He was excellent in four of his last five starts during the first half (take off the eighth inning of his final start against the Indians when he was trying to save the bullpen with a nine-run lead and his line in those four outings was 27 1/3 IP, 15 H, 5 R, 1 HR, 2 BB, 27 K), but the exception was a miserable loss to the Mets in which he allowed eight earned runs (though he did strike out seven in six innings pitched). It could be that this is what Johnson is now, inconsistent, but if one side of Randy Johnson's split personality takes over, he will take the team with him to glory or destruction. Tonight we'll get our first indication of which direction he's headed.

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This Just In . . .
2006-07-13 21:47
by Cliff Corcoran
Ain't Nothing like the Real Thing, Baby
2006-07-13 20:13
by Alex Belth

Last night, Cliff and I met up after work for a bite to eat. On my way over to his office--"the ugly building with the rounded corners," as Cliff calls it, or the building with the garish Frank Stella sculptures in the lobby, as I remember it--I see some girls getting ready for a softball game. On the east side of Hudson street between LeRoy and Clarkson streets is James J Walker Park, which has a fenced-in turf softball field. Beyond right-center field--and moving due east--are a series of handball courts, and behind that is the Carmine Street pool (which was where Martin Scorsese shot the pool sequence in "Raging Bull," when DeNiro meets Cathy Moriarty). The Hudson River is not far off, and a gentle breeze helps cut through the summer haze.

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I Said, "Half-Full"
2006-07-13 05:57
by Alex Belth

Here's the New York Times' second half-preview for our Bronx Bombers. And, following-up on something that Cliff mentioned in the comments section earlier this week, a human interest piece by Anthony McCarron about Johnny Damon overcoming his stuttering problem.

Tintin et Moi
2006-07-12 09:38
by Alex Belth

Last night PBS ran a documentary on Herge, the legendary creator of the Tintin comics. He was a classic Belgian character--proper, tasteful, disciplined, droll and very Catholic. As a kid, the Tintin comics had an enormous impact on me. Though they were translated into English, Tintin never caught on in the States like he did elsewhere around the world. Herge is national treasure in Belgium; he's very much their Walt Disney.

My mother is from Belgium, and we visited her family periodically when I was growing up. I vividly recall visiting my grandparents home--an old, stone farm house that was roughly thirty minutes outside of Brussels, and even closer to Waterloo--and reading all of the comics I could find. And there were plenty to have.

My grandparents home had amazingly steep staircases. I would stay in the attic room when I visited. It wasn't a small room, but it was cozy, as the walls were slanted in a triangular shape. A drafting table was next to the staircase. A twin bed lay in the middle of the room, above it a moon window. A small sink was tucked into the corner, a large, old radio nearby, where I'd pick up a BBC station and listen to soap operas and crickett matches--anything to hear English! Lined on the floor next to the bed was a series of comic books (or dessins animés as they are called in French): fifty, sixty of them. They belonged to my mother and her siblings, leftover from their childhoods in the Belgian Congo. (The room was closed off from the other side of the attic space by a wall with a door--on the other side were crates and crates from my family's days in Africa.) Jackpot.

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Business As Usual
2006-07-12 05:39
by Alex Belth

Rangers shortstop Michael Young remembers last year's All-Star Game in Detroit, when he was sitting in the dugout with Rivera next to him. A moment later, Gary Sheffield came up to Young.

"Sheff goes, 'That's a legend right there sitting next to you,'" Young said, "and Gary Sheffield is a potential Hall of Famer (yet) he's the one who singles out Mo. Those are the kinds of things that stick out in your mind. ... (Rivera) might be the most respected player in the league."
(Daily News, 7/11/06)

Mariano Rivera: A Name You Can Trust.

I didn't see much of the game, but I did see my boy Vlad's dinger. Is there anyone else in the big leagues who could hit a pitch that high and hard for a homer? Maybe Piazza in his prime. Regardless, it was a classic Vlad shot. Also saw Mo in the ninth, putting heads to bed, as is his wont.

Briefly, Jon Heman examines the Bombers' need for a starting pitcher, while Bill Madden talks about the Yankees' possible interest in Phillies rightfielder Bobby Abreu:

In the Yankees' only discussions with Gillick, the Phillies GM asked about top pitching prospect Philip Hughes, whom the Yankees will not include in any deal. But as the deadline draws closer and Gillick is unable to unload Burrell, the thinking is he'll come down on Abreu's price to at least get rid of his contract. In many ways, the lefthanded-hitting Abreu would be a perfect fit for the Yankees in that they could put him right into Gary Sheffield's salary slot for next year.

The Yankees have also gotten a strong recommendation on Abreu from his former manager Larry Bowa, who believes the 32-year-old right fielder would thrive in a situation where he doesn't have to be the top gun.

I've heard that fans in Philly think Abreu is a chump. I know the sabermetric crowd fawns over him. He's expensive, but without seeing him on a regular basis, there is a lot to admire about his game. If the Yanks get Abreu, it's curtains for Sheff. If Gillick steps off his asking price (Hughes), this is the kind of splashy move that might be hard for the Yanks to resist--George would be satisfied aquiring a big name, while Cashman and Stick get their kind of player (good defense, speed, high on-base percentage).

My NL All-Star Roster
2006-07-11 10:03
by Cliff Corcoran

Unfortunately, I don't have enough time today to do this right, but I had so much fun putting together my AL roster last night, I couldn't resist trying to do a rapid-fire NL roster. Here goes . . .

Starters voted in by fans:

1B - Albert Pujols
2B - Chase Utley
SS - Jose Reyes
3B - David Wright
C - Paul Lo Duca
RF - Jason Bay
CF - Carlos Beltran
OF - Alfonso Soriano

Okay, first thing's first. Reyes has opted out due to being spiked on the hand. The replacement chosen was Edgar Renteria. I'm down with that. Throw in Miguel Cabrera beind Wright at third and we have a rep from every NL East team as well as a member of the home-town and NL-worst Pirates.

Moving up in the standings we need a Cub. Michael Barrett was in the mix for catcher, so let's take him. Lance Berkman is tenth in the majors in VORP, so he's our Astro. Chris Capuano is the Milwaukee VORP leader, our Brewers rep and first pitcher. Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks pulls the same trick. The Giants similarly give us Jason Schmidt. I voted for Matt Holliday to start over Soriano in the outfield, so I'll take him as my Colorado rep. Bronson Arroyo is far and away the Reds' VORP leader. I'm suspicious of his success, but his .282 BIPA seems legit, so he joins the pitching staff. Brad Penny and Nomahhh have equal claims to the Dodgers spot. Since I have two first basemen already, I'll hold off on this one to see whose name pops up first when I go by position. The Padres give us Chris Young, which is fun for me because he's a guy I had pegged for a big season this winter.

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My AL All-Star Roster
2006-07-10 23:26
by Cliff Corcoran

As I did last year, I thought it would be fun to try to assemble my own versions of the two 32-man All-Star team rosters. The only rules here are that the fan vote counts, but the player vote doesn't, and that each team must be represented. Unfortunately, I got a bit carried away and only had time for the AL roster, still, this should answer your questions about why some seemingly worthy Yankees aren't in Pittsburgh tonight.

Starters elected by the fans:

1B – David Ortiz
2B – Mark Loretta
SS – Derek Jeter
3B – Alex Rodriguez
C – Ivan Rodriguez
RF – Ichiro Suzuki
CF – Vladimir Guerrero
LF – Manny Ramirez

First thing's first. Ramirez has begged out of the game, clearing the way for Vernon Wells, who is both a proper center fielder and worthy of starting, so that's all candy and berries. So reset the outfield:

RF – Ichiro Suzuki
CF – Vernon Wells
LF – Vladimir Guerrero

DL – Manny Ramirez

Next up, let's get our reps from the worst teams in there to avoid any Mark Redman-style eyesores. From the Royals I'm going with David DeJesus (.310/.404/.477), who both leads the team in VORP and is really the only member of their team with any kind of future. From the Devil Rays I'll go with Scott Kazmir (3.27, 10-6, 9.73 K/9), again the team leader in VORP and a young player with a bright future (far brighter than DeJesus's to say the least). Moving up in the standings we need an Oriole. That team is basically Miguel Tejada (.315/.362/.510, 17 HR, 62 RBI) and change and again Tejada is the team leader in VORP (by a lot). Easy choice there. Next are the Indians. Travis Hafner (.322/.461/.650, 25 HR, 74 RBI) leads the major leagues in VORP and was shafted last year, so he's an easy choice.

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2006-07-10 09:46
by Alex Belth

Right around the time that Jason Giambi launched his grand slam Sunday afternoon, I was on the IRT headed downtown. At 225th street, a tall, scraggly-looking man in shorts entered the subway accompanied by a seeing-eye dog. The man sat directly across from me. The car was almost bare. A Latin couple sat to my right and a young girl--no more than 9 or 10--sat to my left. Next to her was what appeared to be her older brother. The dog--a golden retriever--wore a leather harness and had a red bandana hanging from its neck.

In no time, the owner asked if I wanted to pet his pooch. Somewhere in the back of my head I couldn't remember ever interacting with a blind person's dog, but since I love retrievers I didn't hesitate. Before long, the dog was in love, and true to its nature, it couldn't get enough of me. He pressed his head against my legs and slobbered on my lap. Later, as he faced his owner, he leaned into me hard (I love how dogs lean into you as a way of being friendly). The girl next to me looked cautious.

"She's afraid of dogs," the blind man said. I started to wonder if he had only partial vision. His eyes were clear, but what do I know? I figure he had heard the girl speaking to her brother.

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Half Full
2006-07-10 08:00
by Alex Belth

The Yanks blew a 5-0 lead on Sunday afternoon and lost to the Devil Rays, 6-5. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez had poor at bats with the game tied in the seventh (Jeter fouled out attempting to bunt and Rodriguez whiffed with the go-ahead run on second). The inning concluded in dramatic fashion when Rocco Baldelli made a fantastic throw to the plate on Bernie Williams' single, nailing Melky Cabrera in the process. It was just a great play, man. Badelli later made an acrobatic catch, robbing Derek Jeter of a triple in the ninth inning. The Yanks wasted a grand slam from Jason Giambi but didn't lose any ground in the east as the White Sox finally beat the Red Sox (took 'em 19 innings, but they got the "w").

Yanks go into the break as just one of five teams in the majors with 50 or more wins. Four of those teams happen to be in the American League. If the Bombers were in the NL, they'd have the second best record in the league (three behind the Mets); in the AL, they'd miss the playoffs if the season ended today. Although I don't think anyone would be shocked if the Yankees missed the post-season this year, it's hard to down on the team right now. They have hung in there despite all of the injuries. Who knows? Maybe they go out in the second half and catch fire. Then again, they could win 95 games and find themselves playing golf in October.

It'll be fun to see how it all pans out, eh?

Streaking To A Stop
2006-07-09 08:54
by Cliff Corcoran

Thanks to Chien-Ming Wang's dominant outing last night, and the strong defense that enabled it, the Yankees ran their streak of scoreless innings pitched to 18 before the Devil Rays were finally able to break through with a single run in the ninth. It was too little too late as the Yankees capitalized on a Rocco Baldelli error for a run in the sixth, then drove Scott Kazmir from the game in the seventh when Johnny Damon, who scored that first run as a pinch-runner for Jason Giambi, tripled in Melky and Jeter to make it 3-0. Damon's triple was just the fourth extra base hit by a lefty off Kazmir all year. The Yanks got two more in the eighth off reliever Edwin Jackson and that was all she wrote, 5-1 Yanks.

Today the Yankees have a chance to both sweep the Devil Rays, who took three of four from the Red Sox in the series prior to this one, and extend their current winning streak to five games, tying their two longest winning streaks of the year. Not a bad way to enter the All-Star break, though one almost wishes they didn't have to take four days off the way they're playing right now.

The man trying to stop them will be Casey Fossum, who held the Yanks to two runs over 6 1/3 back on May 3, but wound up losing that game 4-2. More recently, Fossum's been pulling a Jaret Wright routine, lasting no more than six innings with ugly peripherals, but managing to minimize the damage, allowing two runs or less in four of his last five starts. Most recently, the ex-Sock held his former team to one run over five while striking out eight.

Kris Wilson will take the ball for the Yankees and will be backed up by a very well rested bullpen, with perhaps only Kyle Farnsworth, who pitched in each of the last two games, unavailable.

2006-07-09 08:53
by Alex Belth

The Yankees beat the Devil Rays 5-1 on Saturday night in Tampa Bay. It was a crisp, satisfying win for New York who kept pace with the Red Sox who defeated the defending World Champs for the second straight day. Chien-Ming Wang was brilliant--efficient, unspectacular, and just what the doctor ordered. Wang's sinker impressed the Devil Rays more than somewhat.

"No one's got as much sink as him that can come back with 95 miles an hour," said the Devil Rays' Jonny Gomes, who was 0 for 3. "And he's still young. He's still going to get better."
(Kepner, New York Times)

Kevin Thompson and Melky Cabrera had good games--Melky made a terrific catch to boot; Jorge Posada had a wonderful night, driving in the game's first run and throwing out two runners (his peg of Carl Crawford in the first inning was an absolutely perfect throw), and Johnny Damon had a crucial, game-breaking at-bat against the impressive Scott Kazmir (Damon went from a quick 0-2 hole, to working the count full before lining a two-run triple to right).

With the victory, Joe Torre ties Casey Stengal for 10th place on the all-time wins list for managers with 1,926. Not bad for a bum, eh?

Bombers go for the sweep today. Casey Fossum--he of the Fossum Floater--goes against Shawn Chacon's replacement in the Yankee rotation, Kris Wilson. After two pitcher's duels, you'd have to expect that the bats will run the show today. I always feel like Fossum is going to do well against the Yanks. Here's hoping that I'm wrong.

Happy Sunday everyone.

2006-07-08 07:42
by Cliff Corcoran

The Yankees won 1-0 for the second time this season last night behind a season-best performance by Jaret Wright (6 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 10 K--Wright's first 10K outing since September 1998), but the big news of late has been the series of roster moves the team has made over the last several days. With another move expected today, the Yanks have added a pair of outfielders, demoted a pair of relievers, and bounced one of their starters to the bullpen.

After an outstanding first-half in Columbus (2.84 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 4.87 K/BB in 14 starts), 29-year-old Kris Wilson was promoted on Wednesday, ultimately at the expense of 27-year-old Matt Smith. Smith has yet to allow a run in the major leagues, hurling 12 scoreless frames across three stints with the big club this year. Wilson pitched two perfect innings against Cleveland on Wednesday and was immediately given Shawn Chacon's spot in the rotation.

Chacon had struggled mightily since being activated from the disabled list, posting a 10.34 ERA, 2.10 WHIP and walking almost twice as many as he'd struck out in four starts. Chacon's first start off the DL wasn't pretty, but it wasn't a disaster (5 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 2 HR, 3 BB, 2 K). Unfortunately, his next start was. Staked to a 9-2 lead after four innings against the lowly Washington Nationals in his next turn, Chacon was only able to get one more out, surrendering four runs in the fifth and getting the hook after having needed 100 pitches to get through 4 1/3 innings (incidentally, he was replaced by Matt Smith, who allowed both inherited runners to score before getting an inning-ending double play). Thanks to the contributions of T.J. Beam, Everyday Scott Proctor and, to everyone's surprise, Mariano Rivera, the Yankees wound up losing that game 11-9 and Chacon officially took up residence in Joe Torre's doghouse.

Skipped the next time through the rotation, Chacon turned in a Jaret-Wright-like effort (not the insult it sounds like) against the Marlins (5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 0 K), then was skipped again only to get beaten about the head and neck by the Indians in his next turn, surrendering seven runs on three homers, three walks and three other hits in just an inning and a third. The Yankees went on to lose that game 19-1 thanks once again to Beam and Everyday Scotty Proctor, with Mike Myers lending a hand as well.

The way I see it, the removal of Chacon from the rotation is a classic case of Joe Torre prematurely losing trust in a pitcher in response to an embarrassing loss (or in this case, two, both of which were as much the bullpen's doing as Chacon's). Chacon began the season with a pair of rough starts and two more unpleasant relief appearances, but then ran off a string of four starts in which he allowed exactly one run in each, lasting a minimum of 6 1/3 innings in the first three. In the fourth he was removed with two outs in the fifth inning after being hit in the leg by a Mark Lortetta comebacker that eventually resulted in his DL stay. Even with those poor early season outings included, Chacon's ERA following the comebacker game was 3.68.

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Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2006-07-07 12:05
by Cliff Corcoran

Last year, the Devil Rays hit the All-Star break at 28-61 (.315), then went 39-34 (.534) in the second half thanks in large part to the mid-season promotion of Jonny Gomes and a fantastic second half from Scott Kazmir. This year, the Rays will reach the break with a record at least ten games better than a year ago and are once again set up for a strong second half.

The Yankees last faced the Devil Rays in early May when nearly half of the D-Rays starting line-up was on the DL. The day after the Rays left New York, they activated shortstop Julio Lugo and third baseman Aubrey Huff. Huff struggled through May, but turned it on in June, hitting .359/.400/.543, bringing to mind the extra 100 points of OPS he added after the break last year, aiding the Ray's strong second half showing. Lugo has followed a similar course this year (.349/.439/.604 in June after a dreadful May), though he was actually less productive in the second half last year.

A month later, the Rays added to Huff and Lugo by activating second baseman Jorge Cantu and center fielder Rocco Baldelli. Bringing Cantu back into the fold has allowed the Rays to finally bench Travis Lee (.201/.286/.296 this year) by moving Ty Wigginton, who previously started at third for Huff before moving to second for Cantu, to first base. Baldelli, meanwhile, has come back from a year and a half on the DL due to an ACL tear and Tommy John surgery and lit into American League pitching, hitting .330/.387/.567 (though his center field defense has been atrocious, if error-free).

Of course, none of those four players could be expected to keep up that level of production, and there's a strong chance that Huff and Lugo, both of whom are in their walk years, could be traded. But a large part of the Rays' improvement has simply been benching or other wise disposing of the players those four have replaced: Lee, Thomas Perez (.172/.200/.250), new Kansas City Royal Joey Gathright (.201/.305/.240), and the since released Sean Burroughs and Nick Green.

What's more, activating those four aren't the only improvements the Rays have made over the past two months. They've finally ended the Damon Hollins' experiment in right field, replacing his all-or-nothing approach with the superior all-or-nothing approach of Russell Branyan (both have 10 homers, Hollins in 208 at-bats, Branyan in 114). More significantly, they finally cut bait on Toby Hall (.262/.298/.382 career and the Rays' starting catcher since 2002), swapping him to the Dodgers for former Yankee prospect Dioner Navarro (5 for 14 with a double and three walks since switching team and .283/.367/.382 overall in his young major league career). In addition to already being a better hitter than Hall, Navarro is also eight and a half years younger.

The Navarro deal also saw the Rays swap out Mark Hendrickson (sweet mercy) for ex-Met Jae Weong Seo, which gives the Rays a starting pitcher with a higher ceiling who is also three years younger. The Seo-Hendrickson exchange is one of three changes the Rays have made to their rotation since we've last seen them, having also farmed out 25-year-old failed prospects Doug Waechter and Seth McClung for 24-year-old Jamie Shields and 28-year-old Tim Corcoran. The significance here isn't the additions of Shields and Corcoran (no relation) so much as, once again, the removal of the players they've replaced, a pair of pitchers who couldn't get their ERAs below 6.60.

Tonight the Rays send Seo to the mound to face Jaret Wright. Wright was lit up by the Mets in his last start, getting the hook after just 1 2/3 innings, just the second time all season he failed to make it through five full innings, the other being his first start all the way back on April 15. Seo, who had been demoted to the bullpen with the Dodgers, has made two appearances since coming over from L.A., the first a pair of scoreless relief innings in Florida, the second a Jaret-Wright-like five-inning outing against the Nationals.

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Shape of Things to Come
2006-07-07 10:11
by Alex Belth

Bob Klapisch takes a look at Mike Pelfry and Phillip Hughes, two young pitchers with seemingly promising futures, today in the Bergan Record. Considering how Met and Yankee prospects tend to be over-hyped, the $64,000 question is: Will they be fo' real or fugazi? The Metropolitans get their first taste of Pelfry this weekend while Yankee fans will have to wait until 2007 until they see Hughes in the BX.

Free and Easy
2006-07-07 05:42
by Alex Belth

Randy Johnson was in fine form last night. For the first two innings of the game, the sun was still shinning brightly over the third base side of the ballpark. It cast beautiful, long shadows for the pitchers as well as anyone on the right side of the infield. Johnson's shadow looked like a blade of grass and it carried almost half-way to first base. It was an odd but memorable sight. The same can be said for Johnson, period. The Big Unit simply cruised through the first six innings--it was vintage stuff--before hitting the wall in the seventh. He continued to falter in the eighth but by then the Yanks had a big lead. Final score: Bombers 10, Indians 4. After the game, Johnson was candid with reporters. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:

"Going deep in the game — I'm not going to be able to do that anymore," Johnson said. "I kept them at bay for a while, and then all of a sudden my slider wasn't as effective, and neither was my location. It's just part of getting old. We all know that I'm really old."

..."You look at Maddux and you look at Clemens, those guys and myself, we're all in our early 40's," Johnson said. "We're not going to go seven, eight, nine innings anymore. There's going to be games where we do, and tonight I was trying to pick up the bullpen. But you can only do the smoke-and-mirrors thing so long out there against good-hitting teams."

And more from Sam Borden in The Daily News:

"It went from (three) hits to seven and one run to four - who would be happy with that?" he said. "That's just me. I could be content with that and say I pitched great, but the one thing I haven't lost is my competitiveness."

Again, Indians kicked the ball around more than somewhat. Miguel Cairo and Derek Jeter each had three hits; Jason Giambi hit a two-run dinger, and newcomer Aaron "Ralph Malph" Guiel--who was as earnest and genuine as any overachiever you've ever on the YES pre-game show--scored three runs.

Yanks head down to Tampa to play the surging D-Rays. Shawn Chacon will not get the start on Sunday--Kris Wilson will instead. The Post has a rumor that the Yanks are considering sending Chacon to Seattle in exchange for starting pitcher Joel Pineiro.

Left on the Cutting Room Floor

Johnny Damon used to puff the Budda Bless and Alex Rodriguez performs a mitzvah.

Make Like a Banana and Split
2006-07-06 12:54
by Cliff Corcoran

The Yankees look to split Cleveland with a split tonight following the match-up of lefties Randy Johnson and Cliff Lee. The Yankees took Lee deep three times at the Stadium in mid-June (Melky's first career tater plus dingers by Alex and Bernie), but all three were solo shots as Lee allowed just two other hits and one walk over 6 2/3 to pick up an 8-4 win. Johnson did even better against the Tribe the night before, holding them to one run on four hits and no free passes before getting tossed for coming inside to since-departed Unit-killer Eduardo Perez in the top of the seventh. After looking sharp in that outing and the two that followed it, Johnson got roughed up in his last start against the Mets, though it's worth noting that even in that ugly eight-run outing he only allowed one dinger and struck out seven in six innings. Lee, meanwhile, has been solid of late, posting a 3.09 ERA in June and winning his last five decisions, thanks in part to an average of 8 2/3 runs worth of support across his last six starts.

With Robinson Cano on the DL and Johnny Damon out tonight due to an abdominal strain, the Yankees would seem to be a better offensive team against lefties right now given these numbers against the wrong-handed:

Jeter: .378/.471/.568
Rodriguez: .288/.461/.727
Bernie: .329/.375/.494
Cairo: .324/.390/.459

But while facing a lefty makes two of the team's best hitters better and their two biggest liabilities productive, it has the opposite effect on the rest of the line-up. Andy Phillips has surprisingly struggled against lefties this year, Jorge has a .407 OBP against them, but curiously loses his power when batting righthanded, Melky has also been a weaker hitter from the right side, the Yankees don't have non-left-handed replacement for Damon (paging Kevin Thompson!), and their lone remaining lefty, Jason Giambi, is, of course, a lesser hitter against his own kind (though in Giambi's case "lesser" means a .371 OBP and .500 SLG).

In-Sain in the Head Game
2006-07-06 06:10
by Alex Belth

From time to time here at Bronx Banter, we talk about what kind of impact coaches have on a team, particularly the pitching and hitting coaches. I got to thinking about what a pitching coach brings to a team after running across a nice, long quote from the legendary pitching coach Johnny Sain in a 1973 Sports Illustrated article by Pat Jordan ("A Jouster with Windmills"):

"To become a pitching coach you have to start all over again. You have to get outside of yourself. You might have done things a certain way when you pitched but that doesn't mean it will be natural to someone else. For example, I threw a lot of sliders and off-speed pitches because I wasn't very fast. But that's me. I could also pitch with only two days' rest (he once pitched nine complete games in 29 days) whereas most pitchers need three and four, although I think they shouldn't. And I never believed much in running pitchers to keep them in shape. I've always felt a lot of pitching coaches made a living out of running pitchers so they wouldn't have to spend that same time teaching them how to pitch, something they were unsure of. It would be better to have those pitchers throw on the sidelines every day, than run. Things like this I learned on my own. I picked up everything by observation, which is the best teacher. Nothing came easy to me. I had to think things over and over more than guys with natural ability did. Maybe this has made it easier for me to get my ideas across to pitchers. It isn't that I'm so smart, because I know I'm not very smart at all. I don't know any answers. I don't give pitchers answers. I try to stimulate their thinking, to present alternatives and let them choose. I remind them every day of things they already know but tend to forget. I repeat things a lot, partly for them but also for my own thinking, to make sure what I'm saying makes senes...I don't make anyone like Johnny Sain. I want them to do what's natural for them. I adjust to their style, both as pitchers and people. I find some common ground outside of baseball that'll make it easier for us to communicate in general. I used to talk flying with Denny McClain all the time. Once you can communicate with a pitcher it's easier to make him listen to you about pitching. You know him better, too. You know when to lay off him, when to minimize his tensions, and also when to inspire him. That's why you've got to know him. Pitching coaches don't change pitchers, we just stimulate their thinking. We teach their subconscious mind so that when they get on the mound and a situation arises it triggers an automatic physcial reaction that they might even be aware of."

"Pitching coaches don't change pitchers, we just stimuate their thinking." I'd be curious to know how Ron Guidry feels about his first year as the Yankees' pitching coach, and how his pitchers feel about him.

2006-07-06 05:38
by Alex Belth

Joe Torre held a mid-season meeting prior to last night's game and then enjoyed watching his team beat-up on the Indians, 11-3. Aaron Boone committed three errors for Cleveland, two in the Yankees' pivotal eight-run fourth inning. Melky Cabrera led the charge with the first grand slam of his career. Mike Mussina performed well enough--his breaking ball was particularly sharp in the early going--though his right groin continues to bother him. Mussina pitched just six innings and hopes that the All-Star break will help him heal properly. Same goes for Johnny Damon, who had to leave the game in the third inning with a sore lower abdominal muscle. According to Torre, Damon first felt that something was not right during batting practice, and after a few innings, he was removed from the game. They should know more about the seriousness of the injury today, but it's not a stretch to think that Damon will be rested this weekend in Tampa Bay.

The Bombers gained a game on Boston, who lost again to the Devil Rays.

The Yanks acquired Aaron Guiel, a left-handed hitting outfielder, on the cheap yesterday. While Boss George is behind his GM, Brian Cashman all the way, the Yanks have not geeked and pulled the trigger on any significant deals yet. Cashman tells Mike Lupica:

"Right now we're not a playoff team. We're just a playoff-contending team."

..."We've had the black cloud so far, no question," Cashman said. "But that black cloud isn't going to be over Yankee Stadium the whole season. Eventually it's going to move somewhere else."

..."We're trying to fix this, but we're trying to fix it right," Cashman said. "We've taken some big-time hits this season, and our team has responded with heart and character. This isn't last season, when we had a lot of healthy guys underperforming and we were nine games out. This team is different. And I want to do my part to help them out, and honor the effort I've seen from them so far. I just don't want to make a mistake."

And here's more from the Times:

"If you want to do something this early, you have to overpay," Cashman said Wednesday. "I'm not looking to overpay. The only thing I'm looking to do is improve our club at fair value.

"So far, I have passed. We have a short-term goal of improving the team now, and a long-term goal of keeping the future intact. It's a tightrope you walk every day. I'm very comfortable with the decision-making process and the fight that this club has shown."

To be continued, for sure...

Splitting the Difference
2006-07-05 12:30
by Cliff Corcoran

The Yankees got whooped last night, but while the Indians 19-1 victory was both impressive and disheartening, it was by no means historic. In fact, the Indians gave the Yankees and even worse beating less than two years ago, on the Bombers home turf no less. That game, the 22-0 score of which was historic, came just two games after the Yankees had scored nine runs in the ninth inning against the Blue Jays in Toronto. Last night's pasting came just two games after the Yankees erased 4-0 second inning deficit with a 16-run outburst against the Mets. In both cases, the two outbursts cancel each other out.

If there's anything to be learned here at all it's that the pitchers involved (Javy Vazquez, Tanyon Sturtze, C.J. Nitkowski and Esteban Loaiza in 2004; Shawn Chacon, T.J. Beam, Mike Myers and Scott Proctor last night--Ron Villone and Kyle Farnsworth, the only pitchers in either game to emerge unscathed, allowed just two baserunners, both against Villone, in 3 2/3 innings last night and thus escape criticism here) should be treated with suspicion from here on out. Of course, Myers entered the game with a two-month scoreless streak (covering just 9 2/3 IP given his LOOGY role), so one could argue his rough outing was merely a bit of statistical correction. Still, Vazquez and Loaiza went on to play key roles in the disaster that was Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, Nitkowski had just 7 2/3 innings left in his career, and Sturtze spent most of the next season plus sabotaging the Yankee bullpen from within.

The good news is that after being stymied by rookie Jeremy Sowers--the odd rookie who may actually be as good as he looked against the URPing Bombers--on Monday and embarrassed last night, the Yankees still have a chance to split their series at the Jake with two of their best pitchers lined up for the final two games. Tonight the man on the mound will be Mike Mussina, who pitched four no-hit innings in his last start only to have his no-no stopped short by a rain delay. Moose has allowed just one run on five hits in his last 11 innings while striking out ten. What's more, he should be well rested after throwing just 53 pitches in that rain-shortened start. The only concern with Moose is the tight groin he experienced in that start, though all reports indicate that the injury is no longer bothering him. On the hill for the Tribe will be Paul Byrd, who held the Yankees to one run over seven innings three weeks ago in the Bronx only to lose 1-0 to Chien-Ming Wang and the Yankee bullpen (in that case Myers, Farnsworth and Rivera).

Continue reading...

Yanks Fizzle, fer Schizzle
2006-07-05 05:28
by Alex Belth

The Yanks took last night off and enjoyed the finest fireworks Cleveland had to offer. 19-1 was the final. Gasp. Happy birthday, George.

Chacon and Wright have been brutal this year, but Joe Torre pines for another bat. At the midway point of the season, the Yanks are hanging-in, tied with the Blue Jays for second place in the AL East, four games behind the Red Sox. Let's hope they can finish this week on a high note.

Bombs Away
2006-07-04 14:36
by Alex Belth

Former Yankee farmhand Jake Westbrook vs. Shawn Chacon tonight in George Steinbrenner's home town. Course it's George's birthday today. The pitching match-up doesn't favor the Yanks. Let's hope Chacon muscles-up and has a good outing, while the bats bomb away.

I want fireworks, baby.

Let's Go Yan-Kees.

The Goon Show, Part First
2006-07-04 11:33
by Alex Belth

There is something I've been meaning to share with you for a long time. When I was thirteen years old my parents had already been separated for a couple of years. My twin sister, younger brother and I lived with my mom during the week in a one-bedroom apartment in Croton, a suburb about an hour north of Manhattan. On the weekends, we visited my father in New York City. It was the fall of 1984. I was heavily into David Bowie and the Talking Heads, comic books and baseball and girls, not always in that order. "Ghostbusters" had come out that summer. My mom took a week-long vacation to visit her family in Belgium—my Ma is Belgian but she was actually raised in Zaire, in the Congo. That meant our father was going to come and stay with us in our mom's apartment.

Continue reading...

They're Only Sleeping
2006-07-04 07:31
by Alex Belth

After a rousing 16-run outburst against the Mets on Sunday night, the Yankee offense was ineffective again on Monday in Cleveland. Jason Giambi hooked a 3-2 breaking ball into the right field seats in the first inning against southpaw Jeremy Sowers for a two-run dinger and that was all the scoring the Yanks would do as they fell to the Tribe, 5-2. Generally speaking, if you haven't heard of the pitcher before, chances are they've got a good shot at beating the Yanks. Chien-Ming Wang wasn't his usual sharp self, but he wasn't awful either. This was a night where he needed the bats to help him a little something and it just didn't happen.

The third inning turned out to be pivotal. With one out, Johnny Damon doubled. Derek Jeter followed with a sharp single to center. The ball was hit so hard that Damon didn't have a chance to score. Jeter promptly swiped second but Giambi went down on strikes. The Indians intentionally walked Alex Rodriguez and then Sowers struck out Bernie Williams to get out of trouble. It was a nice bit of pitching and Sowers showed that he has some poise. The Indians singled three straight times in the bottom of the inning, scoring a run in the process. But it was Victor Martinez's double to left that hurt the most. Melky Cabrera looked overwhelmed attempting to field the ball--first he took a bad route to it, then misplayed the ball off the wall and lastly missed the cut-off man allowing the slow-footed Travis Hafner to score all the way from first base. Instead of keeping the go-ahead run from scoring--the Yanks trailed 3-2.

Things got worse for Cabrera who was robbed of base hits not once but twice by Aaron Boone. Really some fine work by Boone. Todd Hollandsworth made a couple of nice grabs in left field as well and his two-run homer sealed the win for Cleveland. The Bombers had a chance in the ninth. They got the tying run to the plate. With two men on and two out, Kevin Reese pinch-hit for Nick Green and faced Bob Wickman who fell behind 2-0. The next pitch, tailing away from the lefty was inexplicably called a strike. I am not lying to you when I say that it was possibly the worst strike call I can ever remember seeing. It wasn't like it was close but Reese didn't get the call. It was as if the home plate ump was on the take. It was an awful call. 2-1 is a lot different from 3-0, no? Reese grounded out to end the game and it is not like the Yanks can blame the loss on a bad call, but yo, in a critical spot it sure didn't help matters any.

Yanks are still struggling offensively. Fortunately for the New Yorkers, the Red Sox ran into a buzzsaw named Kazmir as Boston's lead remains four games.

Cleveland Indians
2006-07-03 13:13
by Cliff Corcoran

Preseason playoff favorites, the Indians are now, one game shy of the season's half-way point, 18 games out of first place in the AL Central, 15.5 games behind in the Wild Card race, and three games below .500. While simply matching their Pythagorean record would improve their record, and thus the above standings, by six games, the Indians, an organization overflowing with young talent, has decided to take a longer view of their future.

The result is that starter Jason Johnson, signed to a one-year deal this past winter but dragging the team down with a 5.96 ERA was released and top pitching prospect Jeremy Sowers was called up to fill his spot. Veteran first baseman Eduardo Perez, signed to platoon with Ben Broussard--and excellent strategy that resulted in a .303/.343/.636 line from Perez and, with Perez taking all of the at-bats against lefties, the 29-year-old Broussard's best season--was flipped to Seattle for 20-year-old middle-infield prospect Asdrubal Cabrera, making room for perennial minor league masher and righty-hitting first baseman Ryan Garko on the Cleveland roster. Meanwhile, with both corner outfielders on the DL, the Tribe has called up Franklin Gutierrez, one of their top outfield prospects, and have been starting him in right field. The Indians have also returned veteran backup catcher Tim Laker to the minors in exchange for Kelly Shoppach, the 26-year-old catching prospect obtained from the Red Sox in the Coco Crisp deal. Shoppach has been receiving his fair share of starts behind the plate, while the Indians have been working star catcher Victor Martinez into their first-base picture in order to keep his bat in the line-up on "off" days.

These moves are at the most a couple of weeks old (Gutierrez for Casey Blake in right) and in some cases (Garko for Perez) happened just a couple days ago, so there's little to say as of yet about how these players are panning out, though the Yankees will get a good look at one of the more compelling little Indians tonight when they face Sowers in what will be just his second major league start.

Sowers was drafted by the Indians out of Vanderbilt University in June 2004 and made his professional debut in 2005 working his way all the way from the single-A Caroline League to the triple-A International League in his first pro season. After a rough spring training with the big club this March, Sowers returned to triple-A, where he had made just one start the year before, and went 9-1 with a 1.39 ERA in 15 starts despite an unimpressive K:BB ratio of 1.86 that was due largely to a low strikeout rate. His major league debut came at home a week before Sunday against the Reds.

In that game, Sowers pitched well in four of his five innings, but was undone by a fourth inning in which a lead-off walk was plated by a Ken Griffey Jr. homer and an infield single also came around to score on a home run by Adam Dunn. The end result was an ugly 7.20 ERA and a 4-2 Indians' loss, but one can hardly blame a rookie for giving up taters to Griffey and Dunn. Meanwhile, the walk was the only one he surrendered while throwing 61 percent of his pitches for strikes, striking out three Reds in his five innings of work.

The Yankees jumped all over Alay Soler on Sunday, but they could easily come down with a case of the URPs against the 23-year-old Sowers, who is a very highly touted prospect who gets by on guile, changing speeds and breaking pitches rather than heat and sheer physical ability.

Looking to keep pace with Sowers will be Chien-Ming Wang, who turned in a gem his last time out against the Braves, needing just 91 pitches through eight innings, while holding the Braves to two runs over that span. Wang has steadily improved as the season has worn on, posting a 4.80 ERA in April, a 4.28 ERA in May, a 3.19 overall ERA in June and a 2.39 ERA in his last five starts, each of which saw him pitch a minimum of seven innings.

Continue reading...

New York Doll
2006-07-03 11:16
by Alex Belth

I caught some of "Melinda and Melinda," a mediocre but not entirely unwatchable Woody Allen movie this morning. It came out a few years back. Will Ferrell is in it and isn't especially effective because she's just doing the Woody-Stand-In schtick. Since Woody won't write wise-ass variations of his own comic persona virtually every actor who has ever played a protagonist in a Woody Allen movie ends up doing their immitation of Woody. Heck Mia Farrow was doing Woody towards the end of their run together. But anyhow, I got in the Woody frame of mind watching the movie.

Then, as I was going through some old papers, I found a xerox copy of something that my cousin Sammy wrote to her father in the late '80s when she was an art history major at Brown. Sammy has always loved the Wood Man. She was the first person I ever watched "Annie Hall" with I think, and Sam used to watch "Purple Rose of Cairo" anytime she was sad and needed to cry. In many ways she's right out of one of his movies--incredibly beautiful, very smart, and really funny. You know, Amanda Peet could be one of her friends. A goy physically but very New York even though she grew up in Boston. She loves being married into my father's family because they're Jewish, or as Sam likes to describe herself, Jew-"ish."

My uncle Fred is a painter and he's from the old school, meaning he's got zero tolerance for the pretentions of art criticism. He went to Cooper Union in the mid-fifties and hung around the Cedar Bar when deKooing and Kline and abstract expressionaist painters were the bomb. And there was his daughter, knee-deep in eggheads up at Brown. So she sent the following to her old man and he had it tacked up in his studio for years. It amused me so much that I must have copied it at some point. I found it up at my mom's house last year. Funny the things you keep.

At the top of the page in captial letters:


Matisse: "to theatricalize the finish. To finish with unfinish--a pictorial symbol"
"the unneatness, that freshness that refuses to go unfresh"
"a certain one-ness"
"a tickled dimensionality"

Braque: "oscillating in its stress of adhesion of units on the surface of the painting"

Van Gogh: "certain motific elements"

Monet: "wonderful rumble of pictorial information to flat projectively plastic"

Picasso: "a repeating planometric chant"

Leger: "residual echo of modernity and its imaging embedded in its dissident views"

What I wouldn't give for a large sock o' horse manure.

Fireworks Before the 4th
2006-07-03 07:26
by Alex Belth

Jaret Wright had virtually nothing on Sunday night and left before the end of the second inning, having already allowed four runs to score. Not wanting to be out-sucked, Alay Soler was torched for eight runs in the third inning as the Bombers got their Bomb back and unloaded on the Mets, 16-7. Ron Villone was effective in an emergency relief call and earned the win. And whatta ya hear, whatta ya say, Alex Rodriguez was the big man hitting a grand slam and a three-run dinger, but for the Mets fan sitting next to me in the upper deck last night, the game will go down as "the Nick Green" game. Green, making his first start at second base for the Yankees led off the third inning with a walk. He would come up again later in the inning and my pal leaned over and asked, "When is the last time a .077 hitter walked twice in one inning?" We'll never know the answer because Green plasted a two-run homer to left center. My friend, though undoubtedly discouraged, couldn't help but laugh. The next time Green came to the plate his average was up to .100.

It was just one of those nights. Mets catcher Paul LoDuca took exception to the way Alex Rodriguez reacted after hitting his grand slam and jawed at him some after Rodriguez crossed the plate. Lighten up, Francis. I think LoDuca was just sticking up for his pitcher, and that is fine. He was upset but I don't think Rodriguez was trying to show the Mets up and his celebration was nothing that you don't see all the time these days. LoDuca has got a good dose of the red ass in him anyhow, which is what you like to see in your catcher. But whatever hard feelings he had, they weren't too serious as the Mets didn't even brush Rodriguez off the plate in the next two at bats--a single and another homer. (LoDuca is one of six Mets to make the All-Star team, while four Yankees--Rodriguez, Jeter, Cano and Mariano made it.) For Rodriguez is was a huge game and he was showered with cheers, standing o's, the whole sh-bang.

The game was delayed about an hour due to some light rain and the first four innings moved slowly despite the excitement. The place was definitely juiced but this was going to be a typical American League sluggfest. It felt like it was going to be a long night's journey into day and sure enough I didn't arrive back at my crib until just after 2:00. Still, after the Bombers scored their 16th run in the fifth inning, there was not much tension left. The crowd gradually thinned-out and the last part of the game moved briskly. For Yankee fans it was the kind of anti-climax to thoroughly enjoy.

Fit To Be Tied
2006-07-02 12:00
by Cliff Corcoran

The Yankees need to win tonight's finale to win the current series and salvage a split of their season set with the Mets. In their way stands 26-year-old Cuban defector Alay Soler. The plump righthander started the year in A-ball where he dominated in six starts, earning an early May promotion to double-A Binghamton. There he was similarly convincing in three more turns, posting an aggregate minor league line of 49 2/3 IP, 29 H, 8 R, 0 HR, 12 BB, 55 K in nine starts.

By that point, the Mets had seen more than enough of Jose Lima and punted him, calling up Soler straight from double-A. Soler has since been infinitely less impressive in his seven major league starts. Much like his fellow countryman, Friday night's starter Orlando Hernandez, Solar's best start came in Arizona when he pitched a two-hit shutout. Still, Soler walked three and struck out just two in that game. In that sense, the start before that in which he struck out seven Dodgers in seven innings, walking just one and allowing just one run on a solo homer was more convincing. Most recently, Soler got roughed up by the Red Sox in Fenway for eight runs on ten hits and a pair of walks in just 4 1/3 innings.

The Yankees counter with Jaret Wright, whose last two starts have produced this line: 11 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 0 HR, 6 BB, 10 K. Most encouraging there is the increased strikeout rate as Jaret had struck out just 24 in his previous 53 2/3 innings of work. Wright lasted six full in his last outing and the Yankee pen is both rested and coming off a collection of solid outings as detailed at the end of my last post. Let's just hope the Yankees don't come down with the URPs (Unfamiliar Rookie Pitcheritis).

Rancid Jobbin'
2006-07-01 23:05
by Cliff Corcoran

As was readily apparent when the Mets put men on second and third before Randy Johnson had even thrown five pitches, yesterday, the 16th anniversary of Andy Hawkins' 4-0 no-hit loss, just wasn't the Yankees' day. David Wright doubled those two runners home to give the Mets an early 2-0 lead. The Yankees would tie it up in the third after Alex Rodriguez delivered a bases-loaded single for the first run, but the tying run scored on a double play off the bat of Jorge Posada and Andy Phillips flied out to strand Jason Giambi at third with the go-ahead run.

Johnson, who had looked so good in his last three games (20 1/3 IP, 13 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 22 K), gave the lead right back and then some, following the Yankees' aborted rally with a four-pitch walk to Wright. A Julio Franco single and a walk to Chris Woodward of all people loaded the bases and a first-pitch single to left by Ramon Castro plated Wright and Franco as Melky Cabrera's throw tailed slightly up the first base line. After Johnson battled Eli Marrero for his second strikeout of the inning (Randy needed 13 pitches total for the two Ks), Jose Reyes delivered the third single of the inning into left field to plate Woodward as Cabrera's throw sailed far over the head of Jorge Posada and all the way to the backstop allowing Castro and Reyes to move to second and third. Paul Lo Duca then followed with yet another single to left as both Castro and Reyes scored. That made it 7-2 Mets and a Marrero homer off Johnson in the sixth pushed it to 8-2. The eight runs off Johnson were the most he's allowed in a single start since 2003.

Meanwhile the Yankees were busy killing every rally they mustered against Mets starter Steve Trachsel. In the bottom of the first, yet another misguided hit-and-run attempt turned a no-outs, first-and-second situation for Jason Giambi into a two-outs, man on second situation for Rodriguez when Giambi took a 3-2 pitch low and away for strike three and, with no one standing in the right-handed batters box, Johnny Damon was thrown out by ten feet on his way to third. Rodriguez walked, but Posada flied out to end the inning. As I already mentioned, Posada's double play cut short the game-tying third-inning rally. In the seventh it was Jeter who hit into a double play with men on first and second and no outs. Giambi followed by grounding out to strand the Miguel Cairo at third.

The Yankees finally got one back in the eighth when Rodriguez, who went 2 for 3 with 2 RBIs and a walk, led off the inning with a solo homer off the disgruntled Aaron Heilman, but that was all they'd get. 8-3 Mets.

Rookies T.J. Beam and Matt Smith mopped up admirably, Smith having now thrown ten scoreless innings to start his major league career. With that, every member of the Yankee bullpen save LOOGY Mike Myers, who has yet to appear in this series, has thrown a minimum of one scoreless inning in the past two days for a collective line of 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K. Myers, meanwhile, hasn't allowed a run since surrendering a three-run home run to David Ortiz on May 1 and currently sports a 0.68 ERA.

Finally, I've just noticed that T.J. Beam's full name is Theodore Lester Beam. Better hope he never plays on a team with David Jonathan "J.D." Drew. These men are rebels. Together they could destroy our fragile initialing system altogether.

That is all.

Berry, Berry Hot
2006-07-01 07:59
by Alex Belth

It is going to be a scorcher out there today. Dude, with Steve Trachsel on the mound and McCarver and Buck on the mic, this could be a long one for everone invovled. One of the keys for the Yanks is keeping Reyes off base as they did last night. He reaches against Randy and things could get sticky. Alex Rodriguez went 0-4 last night. He just missed getting good wood on two pitches (in his second at bat, resulting in a fly ball to left, and in his final time up, resulting in a pop out in foul ground to the catcher) and heard the boo birds by the end of the night. Maybe he breaks out a can of whup ass today. In this kind of heat you've got to think this one will be a barn-burner. Like that crazy Matt Franco game years ago.

Hopefully, the Bombers can take another won and secure a series victory. Stay cool, y'hear.

Let's Go Yan-Kees.

Pitching In
2006-07-01 07:23
by Alex Belth

Mike Mussina felt a minor strain his right groin in the first inning last night but it didn't effect his performance on the mound. Mussina was particularly sharp and through four innings did not allow a hit. But an expected thunderstorm delayed the game for just over an hour and it was enough time to knock Mussina out of the game. He later told the New York Times:

"It's tough; those four innings went really well," Mussina said. "But after all these years, I know it's a lot safer to do it the way we did it, and a lot smarter to do it the way we did it.

"Trying to get one win versus maybe costing yourself a long period of time, it's not worth it. With what we're trying to accomplish, it could really be detrimental. We have enough injury problems as it is."

Mussina plans to make his next start. El Duque returned after the showers and pitched admirably, just as I hoped and expected, changing speeds beautifully. His ten-pitch strike out of Johnny Damon in the fifth was terrific (got him looking on an inside fastball at the knees). Jason Giambi hit a towering solo home run in the first and Andy Phillips singled Williams home immediately after the rain delay. It was all the runs the Yankees would need. Ron Villone pitched two scoreless innings. Even more encouraging for the Yankees was the efficient relief work from Scott Procter, Kyle Farnsworth and Mariano Rivera. All told, the Mets reached base on a walk, an error and a lone single by Endy Chavez (who was picked off of first by Villone). The Yankees won 2-0, and gained a game on Boston who lost to the Marlins.