Monthly archives: August 2006
The Yankees defeated the Tigers handily yesterday behind Randy Johnson's second strong outing in as many tries against Detroit. Johnson, whose ERA was just shy of six before he threw six scoreless innings in Detroit back on May 29, dominated for eight innings, holding the Tigers to two runs on three hits and no walks while striking out eight. Of course, two of those three hits were solo homers by Magglio Ordoñez and Omar Infante (!). Not that it mattered much. The Yankees touched up Jeremy Bonderman for four runs in just over five innings, and for the first time since his home run in Seattle a week ago, Alex Rodriguez was in the middle of the action.
After popping out in his first at-bat, Rodriguez came to the plate in the third with two outs and Bobby Abreu on second via a double. He took two balls, then delivered just his second hit since that Seattle home run 21 at-bats earlier, a two-out RBI single into left center to tie the Tigers, who had taken an early lead on Ordoñez's solo homer. After Abreu singled home a pair of runs in the fourth, also with two outs, Rodriguez led off the fifth by doubling on a 3-1 count and then scored on a Bernie Williams single. Rodriguez again lead off an inning in his next at-bat, again getting ahead early, then blasting a 2-1 pitch off lefty reliever Jamie Walker for a solo home run to give the Yankees a 5-2 lead. Rodriguez finished the day 3 for 4 with two RBIs, two runs scored, seven total bases and one stolen base. Robbie Cano and Bernie Williams added another run after Alex's homer via a double and a single respectively and the Yanks took a 6-2 lead into the ninth.
Entering the ninth inning having thrown 94 pitches, Johnson walked Craig Monroe on four more, then fell behind Marcus Thames, whose first major league hit was a homer of Johnson in the Bronx when Thames was a Yankee and Randy was a Diamondback. Johnson took the gimme strike, then Thames fouled off three pitches before taking the Unit deep yet again to bring the Tigers within two. That sent Johnson to the showers and brought in Mariano Rivera, who started out by giving up a ringing double to Ordoñez, but then set the next three men down in order to preserve the 6-4 win.
The Yankees finish the year with a 5-2 record against the team with the American League's best record, both loses coming in games in which the Yankees held a ninth-inning lead, but were unable to use Rivera to nail down the win (the first loss came in Detroit after Mo strained his back putting on his spikes two days after pitching three innings to earn a win). Not too shabby. Unfortunately, there's little chance of these two teams matching up in the ALDS.
As it stands, the Yankees are a pretty good bet to be the first-round host of the central division team that wins the Wild Card. The Tigers, even if they finish with the best record, can't play a team in their own division in the ALDS, which would pass the Wild Card team on to the team with the second best record. Thus, the Yankees would play the Wild Card if they finished with either the first or second best record in the league. Only if they fell to third-best, or if the A's rose to the top of the heap (they're currently 5 1/2 games behind the Tigers and 2 1/2 behind the Yankees), or if the Tigers fell into the Wild Cart spot (their 4.5 game division lead is the smallest of the three in the AL) would we get a Yankees-Tigers ALDS match-up.
Got all that? Good, because there's a glut of news to report:
Eight is Enough
At least it'll just have to do, won't it? The Yankees were set to swipe the second game last night but an enervated Scott Proctor walked two men and then hung a slider to Craig Monroe who belted a three-run dinger which propelled the Tigers a 5-3 win. The Bombers only managed to get three hits in the entire game. Down 2-0 in the sixth, Sal Fassano was hit by a pitch and he moved to third on a double to the left-center field gap by Melky Cabrera. Derek Jeter followed and doubled them both in. Then he stole third. Jason Giambi was intentionally walked and Alex Rodriguez--who had another rough go of it offensively, though he seems to have steadied himself in the field--tapped a slow grounder to third. Brandon Inge threw Rodriguez out but the go-ahead run scored and that's how things stood until the ninth.
Having pitched earlier in the day, Mariano Rivera was unavailable, and Kyle Farnsworth's creaky back prevented Torre from using him as well. Enter Proctor, who also appeared in the first game. Nefi Perez grounded out to start the ninth, but then Proctor walked Inge, and with two men out, he could not put Curtis Granderson--leading the majors in whiffs--away. With a full count, Granderson fouled off two fastballs before Proctor let another heater sail high-and-wide for ball four. Monroe crunched Proctor's first pitch, a hanging breaking ball, for a homer and Todd Jones retired the Yankees in order in the ninth.
It's hard to get too steamed about the loss, yet it was regrettable all the same, particularly considering how well Jaret Wright pitched.
"I'm not real happy with it," Proctor said. "I've got to attack guys like I have all year. It's embarrassing, the two walks. The home run, you're not happy about, but you can't walk guys. I'm better than that."
It is overcast and chilly in New York this morning. Though I'm sure we haven't seen the very last of warm weather, it feels like October around here today. The Big Unit goes against Jeremy Bonderman in a matinee at the Stadium. Should be a good one.
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
Nice n' Easy Does It
The Yankees won the first game of today's double header with ease, thanks to yet another stellar pitching performance by the Big Easy himself, Chien-Ming Wang. Wang didn't allow a man past first base in his first seven innings, scattering just four baserunners. Carlos Guillen walked in the second and was thrown out stealing thanks to yet another perfect throw from Jorge Posada. Brandon Inge and Alexis Gomes singled in the third and sixth respectively, both on groundballs just beyond Alex Rodriguez's reach at third (Alex also made a couple of nice stops, one to his left, one to his right). Finally, Sean Casey reached on an error in the fifth when a sinking throw from Derek Jeter skipped through Craig Wilson's legs at first (Jeter got the error).
With Wang dominating, the Yankees got all they needed in the bottom of the fifth when Wilson, making up for the play on Casey, drilled a 1-0 pitch from lefty Nate Robertson deep into the left field box seats to start the inning. Johnny Damon then drew a seven-pitch walk (the only one Robertson issued all day), Jeter singled him to third, and Jason Giambi plated him with a sac fly to make it 2-0.
And that's how it ended. On to start the eighth inning having already thrown 97 pitches, Wang got Casey to ground out on his first pitch, the 13th Tiger groundout of the day. He then walked Neifi! Perez on five pitches and nearly threw away a 0-1 pitch to Inge (nice backhand stop by Posada) before getting him to fly out to Damon. Curtis Granderson followed by getting the first fly ball hit of the game, a double that split Damon and Cabrera in the left field gap and pushed Neifi! to third. Joe Torre then called on Scott Proctor who got pinch-hitter Magglio Ordoñez to fly out on his first pitch to end the inning. Mariano Rivera worked around a two-out single by righty-hitting switch-hitter Carlos Guillen for a 14-pitch ninth and that was that.
The Yankees now have an 8 game lead in the AL East (nine in the loss column) and are just two games behind Detroit for the Major Leagues' best record. Wang, meanwhile, won his 16th game, tying him for the major league lead, and has been dominant in his last two outings despite now having thrown thirty more innings than his previous career high.
What's more, the Yankee bullpen remains rested for tonight's nightcap. After two days off thanks to last night's rain out, Scott Proctor has thrown one pitch and Mariano Rivera has thrown 14. No one else even warmed up during this afternoon's game. Mo won't be available, but Torre has everyone else ready to go for tonight's game, which pits Jaret Wright against Wilfredo Ledezma.
Wright has been terrible in his last two starts, but they were separated by eight days and two relief appearances. That is to say, the most recent could be excused due to rust, while the one prior to that was a scheduled disaster after three straight wins in which he allowed just one run per game. Not that I expect much from him tonight.
Ledezma, meanwhile, is a busted starting prospect who has finally put it together out of the bullpen at age 25. Ledezma has made just one other start this year, holding the powerful Indians offense scoreless on a pair of walks and six hits over 5 2/3 innings earlier in the month. In his most recent appearance, five days ago, he held the defending World Champion White Sox scoreless in four innings of relief, thus stealing the rotation spot of that day's starting pitcher, Zach Miner (1 1/3 IP, 6 R in that game). Ledezma also posted a 2.52 ERA in twelve starts with triple-A Toledo with a 2.87 K/BB ratio. Could be he's not a busted prospect, but merely a delayed one. Lord help the AL if the Tigers come up with yet another dominant young pitcher.
Incidentally, Ledezma is no URP (Unfamiliar Rookie Pitcher). The Yanks tagged him for seven runs in four innings in the Bronx last May. In that game, both Posada and Rodriguez took Ledezma deep, Rodriguez twice. Of course, Ledezma appears to have been a different pitcher last year, when he struggled both in the majors and at triple-A, than this year, when he's dominated both.
The Yankees were rained-out last night and will play a two games today--Chien-Ming Wang will start this afternoon, while Jaret Wright goes this evening (the Big Unit will start tomorrow). The Bombers gained a half-a-game on the Red Sox, who lost 2-1 in Oakland last night (now, Beckett starts to pitch well, right?). It was the fifth straight loss for Boston and the 11th in their last 13 games. Manny Ramirez and Willy Mo Pena returned to the east coast to undergo medical testing while David Ortiz will be carefully monitored at Mass General. I hope that Ortiz will pull through and be able to resume his career. The Yankees are thinking about him as well:
"It's never comforting to know a player has a physical problem, even if we are competing with them for the East," Joe Torre said. "Certainly I like the fact that he's not playing but I don't like the fact that he's not playing for that reason."
The Red Sox, however, may be looking toward next year already; according to the Boston Globe, they are reportedly listening to offers for Boomer Wells. Injuries and lousy pitching have simply devastated the Sox.
Matsui said he is generally pleased with how he's progressing. "In terms of being pain-free, that's something I definitely feel good about," he said before last night's Yankee game with Detroit was rained out. "I'm very satisfied.
Matsui will likely be relegated to DHing when he returns but it now seems as if we'll see the return of Godzilla before all is said and done this year.
Yesterday's off day signaled the approaching end of the toughest stretch of the Yankees' 2006 schedule. Their marathon of 18 games in 17 days is now history and just six home games against a pair of potential playoff opponents from the AL Central remain of a brutal 27-game stretch that began three weeks ago in Chicago.
That 18-game stretch was a success, but only because of the Yankees' five-game sweep of the Red Sox which inflated their lead in the AL East to the current 6.5 games. While that sweep was a singular accomplishment that can and should not be diminished, it was also the only of the five series over that stretch that the Yankees won, as they went 5-8 against the Angels, Orioles, and Mariners. Prior to that, they had dropped two out of three to the White Sox and even with the Boston series included, they're just one game over .500 since the White Sox series. In fact, one could argue that the Yankees' 6.5 game lead in the east has far more to do with the Red Sox collapse (Boston is 8-18 in August) than anything the Yankees have done, other than take advantage of that collapse head-to-head.
Now they have six games against the Tigers and Twins. The good news is that the Twins have a losing record on the road and, while the Tigers still have the best record in the major leagues, their star has faded to the point that the Yankees could tie them with a three-game sweep. The Tigers are currently suffering through a losing August, having gone 12-14 thus far this month including a 3-7 performance against Wild Card hopefuls Minnesota and Chicago. This past weekend they dropped two of three to a revitalized Indians club.
The Red Sox were blanked in Oakland last night and now trail the Yankees by seven games in the AL East. Meanwhile in the Big Apple, as the Yankees prepare for a difficult week, the back page of the tabloids read, "Crash Test Dummy." Ah, yes, the continuing saga of Carl Pavano. Oh, and there is still more on the struggling Alex Rodriguez, if you still have the stomach for that sort of thing. Cliff will have a preview of the Tigers series later in the day. It should be an exciting week.
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
Better Late than Never
Hey, yo. Our apologies for not getting a post up earlier. We may not be the Iron Horse, but we're steady enough. Every once in a while, life gets in the way. As you all know, with the Yankees on the west coast last week, Cliff held things down lovely. Meanwhile, I was up in Vermont at Emilys' folks' place for a long weekend and had little to no Internet access. Spotted to an early 8-0 lead, the Yanks had to fend off those unbelievably pesky Halos all the same. Final Score: Yanks 11, Angels 8. The two signature everyday players of the Joe Torre Era, Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter, led the way. Robbie Cano had a nice afternoon as well, and the slumping Alex Rodriguez got a hit as well (though he whiffed three more times). After the Sox fell to the Mariners again, New York's lead in the AL East is back to six-and-a-half games, exactly where it was when the Bombers left for the west coast a week ago. 2-4, just like BP's Joe Sheehan predicted.
Boston plays Oakland tonight while the Yanks return home for what promises to be two exciting match-ups this week in the BX: the Tigers followed by the Twinkies.
Meanwhile, can Carl Pavano be anymore snakebit than he's already been? I can't tell if he's legtimately brittle or if he's a chump. (Could be a little bit of both, no?) Maybe his latest injury won't prevent him from rejoining the team, but this has developed a life of its own, man. I mean, dag.
Yo, lemme tell you something. Vermont is dope. Mad beautiful and all. But it's good to be home. Missed you guys.
By Hook Or By Rook?
A pair of rookies face off in Anaheim this afternoon as the Yankees try to salvage the final game of their final west coast swing of the year and avoid being swept by those raggm fraggm Angels.
In his first major league start in Seattle earlier this week, 23-year-old Jeffrey Karstens, who looks like an uglier cross between Gilbert Godfried and Humphrey Bogart (or maybe the old Warner Bros. cartoon characature of Bogey), stayed in the strike zone (66 percent strikes, just two walks) and got 12 of his 15 outs in the air. He also surrendered a pair of home runs, including a moon shot by Richie Sexson. That fly ball tendency could spell disaster against the free-swinging Angels, who had nine extra base hits in yesterday's game.
Opposing Karstens will be 25-year-old lefty Joe Saunders, who has done well in five of his six starts this year including holding the Yankees to three runs on a six hits and a pair of walks over six innings when last these two teams met.
One things' for sure, tomorrow's off day couldn't come soon enough, and whether the Yankees are up by ten or down by twenty, Mariano Rivera should finally see some action today, if for no other reason than he's the most rested man in an exhausted bullpen that finally collapsed in yesterday's ugly loss.
Speaking of exhausted, Jason Giambi, who left yesterday's game due to "body-wide cramps" and dehydration, and Melky Cabrera, who has played every game since late May (!), get the day off, and Robinson Cano gets a day at DH. Nick Green and Bernie Williams, the good one that hits lefties, play the field. Bernie starts in left field for just the fifth time this season. Alex Rodriguez is back in the clean-up spot and Craig Wilson starts at first base against the lefty. Just win this one, boys, and you can go home and rest.
Ray Milland Ain't Got Nothing on the Yanks, Sox
Man, oh man, do the Halos have the Yankees number or what? Every team has a nemesis, for Pete's sake. I shifted back-and-forth from resignation to frustration yesterday afternoon, as the Angels beat the Yankees again, this time 12-7, in a contentious game out in California. About the only redeeming thing that occured was that last night, Boston dropped their second straight game to the Mariners. The Yanks' lead in the AL East holds at five-and-a-half. However, the Red Sox now trail the Twins by five-and-a-half in the wildcard race (the White Sox are a game-and-a-half behind Minnie).
Actually, the Ray Milland Achievement Award goes to Alex Rodriguez who went 0-5 again yesterday, whiffing three more times, after having struck out four times on Friday night. He looks completely lost at the plate, as if he's mentally gotten himself out before he even steps into the batter's box. It has been nothing short of painful to watch. The same can be said for the entire game as well.
According to the Times:
"What can you do?" Torre said. "You don't remake Alex Rodriguez. With the history of what he's done, certainly there's not a need for that. Human beings play this game, and certain things you can't explain, other than to say he's human.
Ah nertz, no use moaning about it. Today is another day, and you've got to believe that this is the day the Yanks will come out and find a way to beat the Angels.
With A Lidle Luck They Can Pull Ervin
I know I used the first half of that headline the last time Cory Lidle pitched, but Lidle did go out and throw six scoreless innings against the Red Sox in the final game of the massacre that day, so forgive me for going back to the well as the Yankees look to even their series with the Angels at one game a piece.
Save for the one time he took the mound with a stomach virus, Lidle has tossed three quality starts in his four Yankee appearances, considering the fact that he was acquired to fill a spot in the rotation that hadn't received a quality start since May 6, the Yankees can't have asked for much more. The curious footnote to that is that that one poor outing, though it did come while he was sick, also came against the Angels.
Ervin Santana takes the hill for the Angels. He last faced the Yankees in his season debut back on April 8 and held a very different team to one run on two hits and a walk in 5 2/3 innings. Since then, the 23-year-old Santana has developed a Chien-Ming Wang like home/road split, which is troubling for both Santana and the Yankees. In Anaheim this year, Santana is 7-2 with a 2.83 ERA a 1.08 WHIP and a .218 batting average against. He's also been mighty stingy with the long ball, allowing just five home runs in 89 innings at home (that's 0.51 per nine innings). In fact, Santana's had just one poor outing at home all year, that coming against the White Sox back on April 30 when he lasted seven innings, walked one, and struck out four, but also allowed five runs on eight hits.
I'll make a bold prediction: there's no way the Yankees will be able to win today without a contribution from Mariano Rivera.
Need A Little Mo
Jaret Wright was awful last night, needing 91 pitches to get through just 3 2/3 innings and leaving at that point with runners on the corners and his team in a 3-0 hole. Ron Villone struck out Garret Anderson to end that threat, but worked himself into a bases-loaded jam in the fifth. Still, Villone managed to escape that inning having allowed just one run and the Yankees, with a two-spot in the fourth and sixth, climbed out of their early hole.
With the game knotted at 4-4 in bottom of the sixth, Joe Torre turned to Scott Proctor, who set down the heart of the Angel order on nine pitches. Craig Wilson, pinch-hitting for starter Aaron Guiel, creamed a one-out double off John Lackey in the top of the seventh, driving the Angel starter from the game. Scot Shields came on and walked Melky Cabrera on four pitches. Johnny Damon the pushed Wilson to third via a fielder's choice that retired Cabrera and stole second. With a 2-2 count on Derek Jeter, Shields threw a 50-foot pitch that bounced clean over catcher Jose Molina's head. Wilson broke for home as the ball ricocheted hard off the backstop back to Molina, who then flipped to Sheilds covering home, but Sheilds' tag was a hair late and a bit too high to get the sliding Wilson, giving the Yankees a 5-4 lead. Derek Jeter struck out on the next pitch to end the inning.
Unfortunately, the Angles came right back against Proctor, with Howie Kendrick leading off the seventh with a double, moving to third on an Adam Kennedy single and scoring on a pinch-hit sac fly off the bat of Orlando Cabrera.
With score tied again at 5-5, Shields, Kyle Farnsworth and Francisco Rodriguez exchanged scoreless frames, and, with lefty Garret Anderson leading off the ninth, Joe Torre brought in Mike Myers. Anderson had reached base against Myers just once in 18 previous attempts, striking out four times, but those stats aside, Torre made the wrong move.
On Tuesday the Yankees lost to the Mariners in the bottom of the ninth when Torre stuck with a winded Ron Villone instead of turning to Mariano Rivera in a sudden death situation. The logic then was that Rivera had been declared unavailable before the game because of the 30 pitches he had thrown two days before in Boston. I was skeptical then--as that outing had been preceded by a day off, an easy 14-pitch outing, and two more days off--but coming off the Boston sweep, there was no reason for Torre to make Rivera pitch if there was any concern about fatigue.
Last night, however, Rivera still hadn't pitched since that outing in Boston. That added up to four days off and just two appearances over the last nine games. Why then, did Torre go to Myers and not Rivera with the game on the line? Mo has dominated Anderson nearly as much as Myers, holding him to two hits and a walk in 14 confrontations. What's more, Anderson was 0 for 4 coming into that at-bat and was leading off an inning. Why not bring in Rivera there to face Anderson, the hot-hitting Juan Rivera and Howie Kendrick, who was 2 for 4 with that key double in his last trip?
There are only two possible answers to that question. 1) Something is wrong with Rivera that we don't know about, or 2) Jeff Weaver Syndrome.
Of course, Anderson doubled of Myers, just his second career hit off the LOOGY. So with the winning run in scoring position in the person of pinch-runner Reggie Willits, Joe Torre went back to his pen and called on . . . Octavio Dotel? Maybe something really is wrong with Rivera.
Juan Rivera hit Dotel's first pitch into left for a single, pushing Willits to third. Dotel's next four tosses intentionally walked Kendrick to load the bases and set up the force at home. Bases loaded, no outs, tie game, bottom of the ninth. To Dotel's credit, with the infield playing in on the lip of the grass to try to cut Willits down at home, he got Adam Kennedy to pop out to shortstop for the first out, setting up a possible inning-ending double play. He then got ahead of Mike Napoli 1-2 and threw what looked like strike three to the top outside corner of the zone only to have home plate ump Bill Welke call it ball two. Napoli then battled the count full and flew out to left, just deep enough to score Willits with the winning run.
Peter Abraham reports that the Yankees insist that nothing's wrong with Mariano Rivera. If that's the case, then there's definitely something wrong with Joe Torre.
The Yankees can break even on their current west coast swing and their season series against the Angels by taking two out of three in Anaheim this weekend. Not that it's going to be easy. All three pitching matchups favor the Halos and the Angels always play the Yankees hard with or without that up-front advantage.
Tonight the Yankees sent Jaret Wright to face John Lackey. In the finale of their series two weeks ago in the Bronx, the Yankees put 15 men on base against Lackey in seven innings, but managed just three runs before finally breaking through against Brendan Donnelly in the eighth. Two days before that, Wright held the Angels to one run on just two hits but four walks in his usual 5 1/3 innings. Wright hasn't started in eight days, but has pitched a pair of innings out of the pen in that span with mixed results. Lackey's turn has come up just once since that outing in New York, in that start he was roughed up by the Mariners for five runs on twelve hits in 4 2/3 innings despite an excellent 7:1 K/BB.
The Angles have only made two roster changes since we last saw them, swapping out righty reliever Chris Bootcheck for another in Greg Jones and replacing Curtis Pride, who landed on the disabled list, with switch-hitting rookie outfielder Reggie Willits. They have however shuffled their line-up somewhat, with Robb Quinlan finally getting the majority of the starts at first base, Howie Kendrick platooning at second base with Adam Kennedy, and Mike Napoli getting the bulk of the starts behind the plate.
For the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez returns to the line-up and third base, while Aaron Guiel gets his first career start at first. Guiel had never played first base in the majors before joining the Yankees, though he has appeared their three times already for the Bombers. The Guiel move is very encouraging, as it is the left-handed Guiel, not switch-hitter-in-name-only Bernie Williams, who should be platooning with the struggling Craig Wilson (.258/.290/.394 as a Yankee). Here's hoping Guiel is solid in the field and comes up with a big hit or two, rewarding Torre for his creativity.
With the score knotted at 1-1, Randy Johnson gave up three runs in the third inning of last night's game on a pair of doubles by Chris Snelling and Richie Sexson and a pair of singles by Willie Bloomquist and Jose Lopez. Bloomquist's single was a dribbler down the first base line that rolled to a stop just inside the foul line. Lopez's single scored Snelling, and Sexson's double scored Bloomquist and Lopez. The Mariners wouldn't score again, but they wouldn't need to.
Outside of that inning, Johnson was excellent, allowing just one run on three hits and two walks in his other seven innings. All totaled, Johnson pitched a complete game in a losing effort, needing just 109 pitches to go eight full, throwing 73 percent of those for strikes. The reason Johnson got the loss was not so much that one bad inning, but rather that the Yankee offense, without Alex Rodriguez for the second straight game due to a viral infection, couldn't get anything going against Seattle starter Jarrod Washburn, who struck out nine Yankees in 6 1/3 innings while holding limiting them to two runs, the later of which, Johnny Damon's career best 21st home run of the year, drove Washburn from the game in the seventh inning. To be fair, Washburn's defense deserves some credit as well, with Snelling and Ichiro Suzuki making some fine catches in the outfield, the best being Suzuki's Willie Mays-like, back-to-home snag of a 390-foot drive off the bat of Nick Green just before Damon's homer in the seventh.
Indeed, as evidenced by Bloomquist's infield single, the breaks (and I just happen to be listening to Kurtis Blow as I write this) just didn't go the Yankees' way last night. In the ninth inning, with closer J.J. Putz on the mound for the Mariners, Melky Cabrera led off with a hot shot that clanged of defensive replacement Ben Broussard's glove at first base, but Broussard recovered in time to shovel the ball to Putz for the first out. Joe Torre then sent Bernie Williams up to pinch-hit for Craig Wilson (1 for 2, BB, scored the Yankees' first run on a Jeter double in the third) and brought Alex Rodriguez out on deck to hit for Nick Green (0 for 2 thanks to Ichiro, K). After getting ahead 2-1, Bernie hit another hot shot back through the middle that looked like a sure single until it ricocheted off Putz's leg straight to Lopez at second base. With two outs, Rodriguez made his seventh career pinch-hitting appearance and struck out on a 2-2 fastball in on his hands to run his career pinch-hitting record to 0 for 7 with three strikeouts. Final score: 4-2 Mariners.
What the Heck is so Funny, Kiefer Slidepiece?
Man, if there is ever a random guy who is easy for me to root against, it's Jared Washburn. He's got a kind of casual, west coast cockiness that I just find completely irritating. I don't hate the guy or anything, but I do enjoy seeing that stupid grin get knocked off his mug.
Yanks need two-out-of-three, each time out, and things will be more than copasetic, right?
Jerrod? Jered? Jaret?
The Yankees face Jerrod Washburn tonight in their attempt to win the rubber game of their series in Seattle. The Red Sox face Jered Weaver tonight in the rubber game of their series with the Angels. Tomorrow, Jaret Wright takes the hill for the Yankees and the Yanks and Sox swap opponents. Amazingly, there's not a Jared among them.
Randy Johnson gets the ball for the Yankees tonight in what could be his last game in Seattle. Johnson was pretty miserable in his last start in Boston, walking six, striking out just three, and allowing five runs in seven innings. Of course, nobody noticed because Josh Beckett walked nine and the Yankees scored 14 runs. On the bright side, Johnson did only allow four hits in that game, three singles and a booming two-run Manny Ramirez homer.
No word yet on whether or not Alex Rodriguez, who missed yesterday's game with a throat infection, has rejoined the team. Joe Torre has said he hopes to give Ron Villone a second straight day off. Villone should get at least that much rest. With Brian Bruney in the pen in place of the disabled Mike Mussina, there's no reason, short of an extra-inning marathon, that Torre should find it difficult to keep his word.
Back On Track
The Yankees jumped out to an early 2-0 lead last night as a two-out first-inning rally was capped off by a Robinson Cano chopper up the middle that plated Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi. Chien-Ming Wang ran with it, limiting the Mariners to just three base runners through six innings. Meanwhile, the Yankees added to their lead with a five-run fourth inning that drove Seattle starter Felix Hernandez from the game after having allowed all seven runs on nine hits and four walks while throwing 82 pitches in just 3 2/3 inning.
Wang looked dominant while shutting Seattle out on 69 pitches over six innings and getting 14 of his first 18 outs by groundout or strikeout, but he showed some signs of fatigue in the seventh. After light-hitting Willie Bloomquist popped out to start the inning, Richie Sexson hit a hard hopper to Nick Green at third, who went 3 for 5 starting for Alex Rodriguez, who remained at the hotel with a throat infection on orders from his manager. Green made a spectacular backhanded grab of Sexson's hard shot, but fired wide and low to first base. Craig Wilson was unable to get his glove on Green's throw, which bound into the stands to put Sexson on second base with one out. Raul Ibañez then pushed Sexson over to third for the second out.
So far so good, just one hard-hit ball, two outs, and a runner on third due largely to an error. Then again, Ibañez's grounder came on a 2-0 count and Jose Lopez followed with a hard single up the middle off Robinson Cano's glove on another 2-0 count to score Sexson. Ben Broussard then took ball one and singled into center to push Lopez to second and Yuniesky Betancourt followed with yet another single to center, plating Lopez. Wang finally got pinch-hitter Kenji Johjima to ground out to end the inning, but it was clear that, despite his having thrown just 90 pitches, Wang's night was over.
The Yanks added a pair of runs in the top of the eighth, the key hits being doubles by Abreu and Cano, and Mike Myers and Octavio Dotel mopped up, pitching scoreless the eighth and ninth innings respectively. Dotel didn't look completely comfortable early in the ninth, stretching his arms and walking around the mound while issuing a six-pitch walk to Ibañez, but seemed to loosen up after that, getting his fastball up to 95 miles per hour and striking out the last two batters he faced, both swinging, to wrap up the 9-2 Yankee win.
In other news, the Yankees have put Mike Mussina on the 15-day disabled list due to the groin injury he aggravated on Sunday night. Jeffrey Karstens was already scheduled to take Mussina's turn against the Angels on Sunday, but the DL move will now force the Yankees to use Karstens (or another minor leaguer) on September 2 against the Twins as well. Brian Bruney, who has struck out six, but also walked four in his 2 2/3 scoreless Yankee innings, takes Moose's spot on the roster. Sidney Ponson, who was designated for assignment with along with Bruney after Friday's double header, cleared waivers and has been released. Can I say I told you so now?
The average age of the four starting pitchers in the first two games of the current series in Seattle is 23 3/4. It's not often that you see a stat like that when the Yankees are involved. Don't worry. Randy Johnson will compensate tomorrow. Today, however, we Yankee fans can continue to freak out about Chien-Ming Wang's climbing innings total.
For those who have missed my previous kvetching, Wang set a career high with 157 innings pitched last year between the minors, majors and postseason. Entering tonight's game, he's thrown 172 1/3 innings and hasn't been sharp in any of his last three starts. His combined line in those outings is: 16 1/3 IP, 27 H, 12 R, 3 HR, 8 BB, 6 K, 2.14 WHIP, 6.61 ERA. Most alarming of all, despite opening the Boston series with a victory in his last start, he recorded just six of his 18 outs in that game via groundballs, the only time in his major league career (43 starts, two relief appearances) that he has recorded fewer groundouts than flyouts.
Opposing Wang will be deflowered phenom Felix Hernandez. The Yankees got a good look at Hernandez last year when he locked horns in a stirring pitchers duel with his predecessor Randy Johnson. Hernandez lost that battle 2-0 on solo home runs by Robinson Cano and Gary Sheffield, but made a strong showing in 12 starts as a 19-year-old rookie for the M's, posting a 1.00 WHIP and a 2.67 ERA while striking out 8.22 per nine innings. This year, King Felix has actually increased his strike-out rate, but has seen more dramatic increases in his walk, hit and homer rates, the end result of which is a decidedly average 4.50 ERA. Of course, 4.50 is plenty respectable from a 20-year-old with ace potential, but it's not going to make anyone forget Doc Gooden. Incidentally, Hernandez, who is at 148 innings pitched thus far this year, threw 149 1/3 innings in 2004 and increased his work load to 172 1/3 last year. That's a normal innings increase for a young pitcher and further evidence that even if Chien-Ming Wang hasn't hit his innings ceiling yet, he's dangerously close.
You Can't Win (Or Lose) 'Em All
As expected, the Yankees and Mariners snapped their respective winning and losing streaks last night, the Yanks failing for the fifth time this season to win their sixth straight. To be fair, they played the M's hard despite having every reason to come out flat in the first game of their west coast swing after their marathon series in Boston.
Rookie Jeffrey Karstens pitched well considering the fact that he was making his major league debut, but exhibited an alarming fly ball tendency that staked the Mariners to a 2-0 lead in the first when Adrian Beltre followed a one-out walk to Chris Snelling with the first of his two home runs on the night. The Yanks got that back plus one in the top of the third when, with two outs, Johnny Damon doubled, Derek Jeter walked and Bobby Abreu took Mariner rookie Cha Seung Baek out to left center for his second Yankee home run, but Richie Sexson tied the score with bomb to the upper deck in left of Karstens in the bottom of the inning.
With the game tied 3-3 the Yankees appeared to take control. Karstens retired the next ten batters he faced and with a man on in the sixth, Alex Rodriguez crushed a 1-2 pitch from lefty reliever Eric O'Flaherty to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead. Rodriguez's shot was a monster, arching straight into one of the upper deck exits in left just beyond where Sexson's shot landed.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Karstens surrendered a single to Jose Lopez, his first baserunner since Sexson's homer, then fell behind lefty Ben Broussard 2-0, the second ball being a wild pitch that sent Lopez to second base. With that, Joe Torre hooked the rookie, who threw 66 percent of 92 pitches for strikes, and brought in Mike Myers only to have Mike Hargrove counter with Broussard's former Cleveland platoon-mate, Eduardo Perez.
Stuck with a LOOGY against a lefty-killer, Torre had Myers issue two intentional balls to complete the walk, then pulled him for Jaret Wright, working out of the pen on this throw day. It was a managerial blunder by Torre, who should have realized that Hargrove would counter his move. Given his desire to rest his pen, Torre should have either stuck with Karstens or had the rookie issue the IBB and gone straight to Wright, thus avoiding wasting Myers.
Wright escaped the inning with one pitch to Yuniesky Betancourt, but ran into trouble in the seventh. With one out in the seventh, Ichiro Suzuki singled, Chris Snelling doubled, and Adrian Beltre worked a five-pitch walk from Wright. Richie Sexson then hit a grounder to short, but a hard slide form Adrian Beltre swept Nick Green's legs out from under him as he tried to make the pivot, preventing the double play. Suzuki scored on the play to pull the M's within one, and, having burned Myers, Joe Torre was forced to turn to Ron Villone to face lefty Raul Ibañez. The overworked Villone's first three pitches were out of the zone and, after a gimme 3-0 strike, Ibañez singled Snelling home to tie the game. Villone then fell behind Lopez 2-0, but got the Mariner second baseman to fly out to end the inning.
The Yankees looked to get one of those runs back in the top of the eight when Bernie Williams greeted Rafael Soriano by drawing a four-pitch walk, but Melky Cabrera failed to force Soriano to throw a strike, instead bunting a 1-0 pitch right back to the mound for a fielder's choice. After pinch-hitter Robinson Cano similarly flied out on a 2-0 count, Soriano, after finally throwing a pair of strikes to Johnny Damon, picked Cabrera off first to end the inning.
The Yankees had blown an even better opportunity in the previous inning when, with one out and the bases loaded, Jorge Posada swung at the first pitch he saw and grounded into an inning-ending double play. Again in the ninth, the Yankees had men on first and second for Alex Rodriguez, but eventual winner Julio Mateo struck out the Yankee third baseman on four pitches to end the inning. Adrian Beltre then lead off the bottom of the ninth by shooting a chest-high pitch from Ron Villone just over the right field wall to give the Mariners a 6-5 win.
Down in Anaheim, the Sox also lost a one-run game, so the Yankees 6.5 game lead holds. No harm, no foul, even if this was a game the Yankees should have won.
It goes without saying that the Yankees are in prime position to suffer something of a lull after their spectacular five game sweep of the Red Sox. After the season's most invigorating, but also most exhausting series, the Yankees had to travel out to the west coast, where jet lag and the lack of a travel day are sure to have some effect. What's more, not only are the Yankees coming off a season-defining sweep of the Sox at Fenway, a series which in and of itself tied their longest winning streak of the season (they've now won five in a row five times, but have yet to make it six on any of those occasions), but the Mariners are coming off a season-long eleven-game losing streak, all at the hands of their three division rivals. One would think something's got to give.
To make things even more interesting, tonight's pitching match-up features two rookie righthanders. One, the Yankees Jeffrey Karstens, who will be making his major league debut, and the other, Korean-born Cha Seung Baek, who will be pitching in the majors for the first time since a cup of coffee in 2004.
Baek was roughed up in all but one of his five major league starts in 2004 and had a terrible year with triple-A Tacoma last year, due largely to his allowing 147 hits in 113 2/3 innings and 1.5 home runs per nine innings. All those runners (a 1.61 WHIP despite decent control) and long balls lead to a 6.41 ERA. In 24 starts for Tacoma this year, the 26-year-old Baek fixed both problems, allowing just 133 hits in 147 innings (1.16 WHIP) and cutting his homer rate by a third. The result has been a 3.00 ERA and a 12-4 record. Safeco Park should help further depress that homer rate, while the URP factor (Unfamiliar Rookie Pitcher) could stymie a worn-out Yankee offense that scored 49 runs in Boston.
As for Karstens, at just 23 he's encouragingly ahead of schedule, having sped through the Yankee minor league system after being drafted out of Texas Tech University. Not that Karstens is a top level prospect by any stretch of the imagination. As he's moved up the ladder, his hit and homer rates and ERAs have steadily increased. That said, his strike out rate and K/BB ratio have also steadily improved. Last year, Karstens struck out nearly 8 men per nine innings while walking 2.24, good for a 3.5 K/BB, an impressive mark for a 22-year-old at double-A. He started this year in Columbus but struggled mightily, but dominated on his return to Trenton (6-0, 2.31 ERA, 74 IP, 54 H, 4 HR, 14 BB, 67 K). That earned him a return trip to triple-A in mid-July. His first two starts back in Columbus were average, but then he ran of a string of four one-run outings compiling this aggregate line: 27 IP, 20 H, 4 R (3 ER), 1 HR, 5 BB, 19 K, 0.93 WHIP, 1.00 ERA, 4-0.
While it might be true that the Yankees are rushing Karstens into his first major league start, doing so on the basis of just four admittedly excellent triple-A starts, it's also true that Karstens is only starting tonight because of the rotation shuffling brought on by Mike Mussina's tweaked groin (Jaret Wright, who pitched in relief on Saturday, is taking Moose's turn on Friday, Karstens is taking Wright's turn tonight), and that the team is much better off seeing what it has in Karstens then wasting a roster spot on the likes of Sidney Ponson. Oh, and for those concerned about his young arm this late in the season, Karstens threw 169 innings last year and is at a mere 146 thus far in 2006.
Slaughterhouse Five (Let the Good Times Roll)
You just don't expect these kinds of things to happen. Yes, even if you are a Yankee fan, spoiled by winning and success, you don't necessarily plan for your wildest dreams to come true. But that is what happened late Monday afternoon as the Bombers' B-Squad, featuring a starting line-up which included the likes of Nick Green at short, Bernie Williams in center, and Sal Fasano behind the mask, edged by a flat Red Sox team, 2-1. It was the only briskly played game of the turgid, five-game sweep, which will go down as the sequel to the famous 1978 Boston Massacre. David Wells pitched well for Boston but his teammates were lifeless with the bats and were shut-down by Corey Lidle, Octavio Dotel, Mike Myers, Scott Proctor and Kyle Farnsworth. With a runner on second, Alex Rodriguez made two fine defensive plays in the fifth inning; a wild-pitch Keith Foulke (or a passed ball by Javey Lopez--but does it really matter?) in the eighth inning allowed the go-ahead run to score.
The Yankees have to be downright giddy about the win, which puts them six-and-a-half games in front of the Sox. New York beat Boston every which way over the weekend--blowing them out on Friday and then again against Beckett and company on Saturday, before coming-from-behind against Schilling and Paplebon Sundaya night, then finally finally winning a low-scoring affair yesterday. It may not exactly have been a massacre--other than Lidle, the Yankees' starting pitching was not sharp, while their bullpen was taxed considerably--but it was a thorough beat down.
Right on time like the IRT, Joe Sheehan has fine analysis of the series over at Baseball Prospectus. To Sheehan, it comes down to this:
The Red Sox used seven pitchers over the weekend who they'd planned to have reasonably significant roles for the 2006 team: Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, David Wells, Jonathan Papelbon, Keith Foulke, Mike Timlin and Julian Tavarez. Those pitchers threw 28 2/3 innings, allowed 20 runs, all earned (6.28 ERA), struck out 23 men, walked 16 and allowed just two home runs. It's not a good series by any means, but when you consider how much of that is Beckett's man-with-blindfold act Saturday (nine walks in 5 2/3 innings), it's passable.
Add that to the fact that the Yankees are a ridiculously patient and opportunistic offensive team, and there's your story.
I've written a lot about how Yankee fans have adopted a sense of entitlement when it comes to winning over the past decade. Of course, it is a sentiment that has been reinforced by the team's owner for a generation now, so it's only natural for the fans to pick it up too. (It fits so well with our instant gratification culture.) The most distubring part of this attitude is that often prevented fans from appreciating just how difficult it is to win, no matter what kind of wild competetive advantages the Yankees have. One of the most memorable qualities of the 1996-01 Yanks was that from Joe Torre on down to the players, this was a team that understood and appreciated how just hard it is to play the game well, and just how difficult it is to win. How hard it was to stay healthy, and play well enough to create your own luck, your own good fortune. To miss out on that basic fact is to miss what made that team truly great. (Do you think Joe Torre appreciates how hard his team played this weekend? He was virtually reduced to tears by the end of it, bless his heart.)
But while I always felt grateful for all of the winning during the late nineties, I too found myself caught up in the greediness of "win or else." When Derek Jeter made that improbable flip to Jorge Posada in Game Three of the ALDS in 2001, I didn't allow myself to really enjoy the moment. It won't mean dick if they don't come back and win the game, if they don't come back and win the series, I said, arms-folded, reduced to the ultimate kind of baseball snobbery. Yo, I sat there, rattled, okay, but not able to truly savor those two crazy World Series wins that year because what would they mean if the Yanks didn't win it all? (To this day, I have a hard time watching them when they are on TV.) When your team has won three straight titles, all you can live for is four-in-a-row. What else is there?
But if the 2001 post season taught us anything it is that you can't always have everything you want, but, as the song goes, you can get what you need. The city--yes, even non-baseball fans followed the Yankees in the months following 9.11--needed a distraction, some theatrics and entertainment and the Yanks delivered just that. They gave the city everything it could have asked for save another victory parade down the canyon of heroes. Though it ended badly for the Yanks, the 2001 team will likely be remembered as fondly as any of the championship editions. We were reminded that baseball is just entertainment--and at times we desperately need that entertainment--and pales in comparison with the larger troubles of the world. The 2001 World Series also made for a kind of beautiful baseball justice. In the end, the Yankees, with all the karma and mystique and all that, were simply out-Yankee'd.
All of which I bring up because over the past several seasons, I've tried to appreciate things moment-by-moment, game-by-game, even more. I don't want to say that any given season is been horrible simply because the Yanks don't win a title. That's just too limiting, the easy way out. This five-game sweep does not guarentee a playoff spot for the Yanks, it does not necessarily spell curtains for the Sox. It doesn't look good for Boston, but stranger things have happened and there is plenty of time left. It might not portend to anything at all, and for the moment, that's just fine. It doesn't have to be anything more than it is--a rare, perfectly-contained success. Forget about Boston's misfortunes, think about what the Bombers have done. Still no Matsui or Sheff and for the time being, they aren't being missed. The Yankees really proved something to themselves, and I'm sure the rest of the leagaue is taking notice. This is the best that Yankee fans have felt about themselves vis a vis the rivalry with the Sox since Boston's historic playoff run in 2004. Lots more to come, but for today, there is a lot to be thankful for. Don't let it give you a swell head, but don't discount it entirely and let it pass you by, either.
And that's word, to Big Bird.
The Morning After
With the exception of a dominant starting pitching performance, the last four games have given Yankee fans everything they could have hoped for coming into the five-game showdown with the Red Sox that concludes this afternoon. So what's left for the finale? After the last four games, I wouldn't rule anything out, though I'd like to rule out a Red Sox victory.
Cory Lidle, who was activated from the bereavement list yesterday with T.J. Beam returning to Columbus, makes his fourth Yankee start. David Wells takes the hill for the Sox. Wells has spent most of the season on the disabled list with a right knee injury. In fact, he made just two starts prior to his most recent activation at the end of July. Since then he's taken four turns, the first of which was rough, but the last three of which have been solid. In fact, the 43-year-old Wells looks to be more or less up to his old tricks, surrendering a ton of hits but very few walks and emerging with a 2-1 record and a 2.75 ERA over those three starts.
Joe Torre is sending out a day-game-after-a-extra-inning-night-game/house money line-up against the big lefty, with last night's heroes Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada, as well as series MVP Johnny Damon, getting the day off, Derek Jeter taking a turn at DH, and Nick Green, Bernie Williams and Sal Fasano in the line-up and in the field. Bernie is a career .211/.256/.355 hitter against Wells and Green and Fasano are a combined 2 for 20 career against Boomer. Melky Cabrera, whose lead-off double against Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth last night was as big as any of the other hits in the game, will lead off.
The Red Sox counter with their usual starting nine, but with Eric Hinske replacing Kevin Youkilis at first base. The Sox, who demoted Jermain Van Buren after his poor performance on Saturday in favor of former Rockies hurler Javier Lopez, have also made yet another move in their bullpen, sending down last night's loser Craig Hansen and promoting former Texas Ranger Bryan Corey. It is the fourth time in as many days that they've shuffled relievers.
Every Which Way (But Lose)
In what was perhaps the most important game of the year for the Red Sox, the Yankees found a way to win, coming-from-behind against Curt Schilling, and then Jonathan Paplebon, and beating Boston 8-5, in 10 innings. It should come as no surprise that the game last well over four hours. Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada led the way with the sticks (oh, and Bobby Abreu had two more hits and another walk, too), while Scott Proctor and Mariano Rivera performed well enough out of the pen. The Yankees have won the first four games of this five-game set with the Red Sox, and now lead the AL East by five-and-a-half games. There is still another game to play, the Yankees have not secured a playoff spot yet, nor have the Red Sox been illiminated from contention. That said, you'd be hard-pressed not to be thrilled and delighted if you are a Yankee fan this morning.
I Call You Killer Cause You Slay Me
I got on the Metro North train yesterday and went upstate to visit my uncle Donny in New Paltz. We had a relaxing evening, made a delicious dinner and shared terrific, easy-going conversation. Sometimes, it is so revitalizing to be out of the city even for a short time, to feel a slower pace, admire all of the green grass and tall trees, and take in all the space. The night was made even sweeter of course by the results of yesterday's game at Fenway Park, believe that.
I'm interested to see what kind of killer-instinct this Yankee team has. So far, I'm not convinced. Again, 2004 is still too fresh for me to feel too confident about anything with this much time left in the season. But if the Yankees can manage to win one of these last two games, tonight is the game you gotta want. Beating Schilling would extra hard on Boston. Josh Beckett had his biggest start of the year on Saturday and was horrendous. You have to figure that Schilling will rise to the occasion. He ain't going to suck to the tune of nine runs and 47 walks. The game is on National TV, the Sox season is hanging in the balance. This is the kind of game that Schilling has lived for and thrived in during his whole career. Three runs over six innings, a quality start, is not going to be enough for Mike Mussina tonight. Mussina is due for a gem of a start. I figure he's got to give the Yanks two runs over seven, eight innings, in order to beat Schilling.
Both Moose and Schilling are boderline Hall of Famers. I say Schilling gets there but I'm not so sure about Moose, steady as he's been. Hopefully, they are both on the top of their games. Just about the only thing Sox fans and Yankee fans might agree on tonight is a modest desire for these guys to play the game in something less than four hours.
Friday's doubleheader was outsized in almost every way. The distance between the first pitch of game one and the final play of game two was nearly twelve hours, while the combined length of the two games was 8 hours and 41 minutes, with the nightcap setting a record as the longest nine-inning game in major league history. Combined the two teams scored 41 runs on 60 hits, 24 walks and five errors while 17 pitchers (including two appearances each from Mike Myers and Scott Proctor) threw 756 pitches.
The two games were so taxing that they prompted four roster moves, with the Red Sox designating Game 1 starting pitcher Jason Johnson for assignment in order to activate reliever Keith Foulke for Game 2, then designating for assignment Rudy Seanez--who, with his team already down 8-3, threw 43 pitches in the ninth inning of Game 1, allowing four runs on four walks, a pair of singles, and a ball lost in the sun by right fielder Eric Hinske--and calling up reliever Jermaine Van Buren for yesterday's Game 3.
The Yankees, meanwhile, designated for assignment Game 2 starter Sidney Ponson--who inflated his Yankee ERA to 10.47 by allowing seven runs, six earned, on nine hits in a mere three innings of work--and Brian Bruney--a last-minute pre-series addition to the bullpen who ate up 1 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 2, but threw 56 pitches in the process, rendering himself unavailable for Game 3 at the very least--and bringing up rookie Jeffrey Karstens, who had been considered as an alternate Game 2 starter, and wrongfully exiled lefty-hitting outfielder Aaron Guiel.
With their rosters somewhat replenished and just one game on the card, the Yanks and Sox hoped things could return to normal on Saturday afternoon. You know what they say about the best laid plans?
After pounding the Red Sox in the opener (a game in which the Sox went 0-16 with runners in scoring position), the Yanks out-slugged Boston in turned out to be the longest nine-inning game in baseball history, 14-11. While it is too early to tell how Friday's sweep will play-out this weekend--the Sox, after all, can still win the series--the day could not have turned out any better for New York. Oh sure, Sidney Ponson could have sucked less than he did, but his performance will remain largely a footnote, in light of the nights put together by Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, Brian Bruney and Scott Proctor.
Johnny Damon picked-up where he left off in the first game and continued to give Red Sox Nation something to gripe about. But it was Derek Jeter's critical three-run double in the seventh that proved to be the biggest at bat of the game. Jeter was 0-4 when he came to the plate with the bases loaded, two men out and the Yankees trailing by 10-8. Earlier in the game, a foul ball off Jeter's bat injured a fan--the fan would be OK, and Jeter fanned to end the at bat. Now, Mike Timlin fell behind Jeter 1-0 and you could hear a pin drop in Fenway. The silence, the tension, was palpable. And this with the Sox leading by two runs. It was like what Yankee fans would feel if Manny or Ortiz came up in the spot, having gone 0-4 to that point, only more so.
The crowd did not come to life until there were two strikes on Jeter. Bt the Yankee captain worked the count full, fouling off three pitches in the process. Jeter lined the eighth pitch of the at bat into the right field corner, clearing the bases. After Abreu was walked intentionally, Rodriguez doubled sharply past Mike Lowell. The Yanks had a 14-10 lead when all was said and done.
Kyle Farnsworth got beaned with a line drive and had to leave the game, but Proctor prevented any further trouble. Hey, when Mariano Rivera gives up a home run to Ortiz in the bottom of the ninth, and it is essentially meaningless, you know it's been a good night for the Yankees. When Alex Rodriguez makes another routine error in the ninth--in Boston no less--and it is essentially meaningless, it's really been a special night.
New York fans will likely not get too far ahead of themselves--the memories of 2004 still being fresh--but if the Yanks can win one, let alone two of the next three games, the weekend will be considered a success. Biggest game of the year for Josh Beckett. I say he actually shows up today. The question is, what'll the Yanks get from The Big Unit?
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
The Yankees got the job done in Game 1, blowing out the Red Sox 12-4 behind big days from Johnny Damon (3 for 6, 3B, HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, and a huge sliding catch), Bobby Abreu (4 for 5, 2B, BB, R, SB), and Alex Rodriguez (2 for 5, 2B, BB, 2 RBI, 2 R, and a game-saving catch). That means that the pressure is on the Red Sox in the nightcap to take advantage of Sidney Ponson and his 8.78 ERA as a Yankee, lest they fall 3.5 games back in the East with just three games left in this series.
Meanwhile, the Yankees will be satisfied with a split, but did a good job of heating up their bats for 22-year-old rookie Jon Lester. The left-handed Lester had an impressive start to his major league career, posting a 2.38 ERA over his first eight starts despite an ugly walk rate of 5.76 BB/9, but the league seems to be catching up to him. Although his walk rate has drastically improved, Lester has a 6.91 ERA in his last five starts, due in large part to his having surrendered 41 hits in 27 1/3 innings against such offensive powerhouses as the Royals, Mariners, Angels and Orioles.
Overall, Lester has averaged less than 5 2/3 innings per start, which means if Ponson can keep it close (I know, but if), the Yankees will get a crack at the inferior Boston bullpen. Speaking of which, here's how the first game affected the two pens:
Yankees: Mike Myers retired David Ortiz on five pitches and should be available to do it again in the night cap if needed. Scott Proctor threw a reasonable 15 pitches over 1 2/3 innings. He should be avoided in the night game, but could be used if absolutely necessary and will certainly be available tomorrow. T.J. Beam threw 26 pitches in the ninth. Everyone else, including Mo, Farnsworth, Villone, Dotel and Brian Bruney, is fully rested.
Boston: Manny Delcarmen, Kyle Snyder, and Rudy Seanez are all unavailable for tonight having thrown 28, 39 and a whopping 47 pitches respectively. Rumor has it the Red Sox might activate Keith Foulke for the nightcap to compensate. Though speculation was that Jason Johnson would be designated for assignment to make room for Foulke, I wonder if the Sox might prefer to DFA Seanez, who has been awful this year and struggled to get outs in today's game, walking four and allowing four runs in an inning and a third. As it stands, the Sox have Papelbon, Timlin, Tavarez and Hansen fully rested.
Before I get into the specifics of Game 1, the guys over at NoMaas posted a very quick list of the starters' ERA+ figures that shows how evenly matched the starters are for this series. Cleaning it up a bit, it looks like this:
Game 1: Wang (118) v Johnson (65)
That chart shows what we already sort of knew, which is that the final three games are very evenly matched, while today's double-header is evenly mismatched. Given the inequity in today's pitching match-ups, Game 1 becomes unusually important for the Yankees. Because they'll be at a tremendous disadvantage in the nightcap (both because of the pitching matchup, but also because Sal Fasano will likely grab the second-game-of-a-doubleheader/night-game-before-a-day-game-start), they need to win this afternoon's contest. Of course, if they do that, then the same pressure will be applied to the Red Sox in the nightcap, but in either case, if one team gets swept today, it will need to sweep the next three days to pull out a series win.
The Yankees faced Jason Johnson in the Bronx back in mid-June when he was with the Cleveland Indians, touching him up for six runs on ten hits, including a pair of homers by Johnny Damon and Andy Phillips, in 5 2/3 innings. That was Johnson's penultimate start for Cleveland before being placed on waivers and claimed by the Red Sox. Since joining Boston, Johnson has turned in just one quality start in five tries, that coming against the post-trading deadline Devil Rays. Most recently those cheery O's tagged him for seven runs in 5 1/2 innings. All totaled, Johnson has posted a 7.20 ERA, a 1.80 WHIP, and an 0-3 record while donning the crimson hose.
As for Chien-Ming Wang, as he's passed his career high innings pitched total he's also hit something of a rough patch. Wang threw a career high 157 innings last year between the minors, majors and his lone postseason start. In his third and fourth most recent starts, both Yankee wins, Wang threw 17 scoreless innings allowing just six hits, but by the end of that stretch he had totaled 156 innings pitched on the season. In his two starts since then, both Yankee loses, he's posted this line: 10 1/3 IP, 20 H, 9 R, 2 HR, 4 BB, 4 K. That's a 7.84 ERA and a 2.32 WHIP. He's now at 166 1/3 innings pitched, a new career high.
To make matters worse, even before he got to his previous innings limit, he'd struggled on the road. Just one of those last two starts came on the road, yet his road ERA is 5.16, due in large part to a .321 opponents' batting average, which leads to a 1.60 WHIP. He's also allowed as many home runs on the road as at home despite having thrown only two-thirds as many innings away from the Bronx. This is all rather unsettling heading into something of a must-win game.
Wang has faced Boston three times this season. The first came at Fenway, where he allowed three runs on six hits and four walks in five innings. Many, including myself, argued at the time that Wang should have pitched longer in that game as he had settled down in the later innings, was victimized by several weak bloopers, and was at just 77 pitches when Joe Torre removed him from a 3-3 tie for the just-activated Aaron Small, who would go on to lose the game. The Sox then roughed Wang up but good in his next start against them at Yankee Stadium, scoring seven runs on nine hits, including a Manny Ramirez home run, in six innings. Wang got his revenge just two weeks later, however. Again pitching at home, Wang scattered eight hits while holding the Red Sox to just one run over seven innings at which point Kyle Farnsworth and Mariano Rivera shut the door on a 2-1 Yankee win. That last start and Johnson's incompetence are about the only reason's for optimism this afternoon. Here's hoping the Yankees give us a few more.
Boston Red Sox: The Showdown
If the regular season ended today, just one team from the American League East would make the playoffs. Indeed, with the Central Division emerging as the strongest division in baseball this year, it seems increasingly unlikely that the Wild Card will come out of the East. As a result, the closest thing we're likely to see to a playoff series between the Red Sox and Yankees this year is the five-game series in Boston that kicks off with the first game of today's double-header at 1:05.
With that in mind, I thought this would be a good occasion to drag out that old standby, the position-by-position comparison. You'll see that I do this a bit differently than most, preferring to compare the offense by position in the batting order rather than defensive position in order to avoid absurdities such as comparing Derek Jeter with Alex Gonzalez and Manny Ramirez with Melky Cabrera. That said, I'll fudge the line-ups slightly to produce closer comps. Also, I should point out that the statistics below, save for those of recently promoted Yankee relievers Octavio Dotel and Brian Bruney, are from Wednesday night. Right, on with it . . .
Leading off, the center fielders:
Both of these guys can be expected to perform better than the above numbers in this weekend's series. Damon has hit .309/.366/.505 on the road this year and is a career .309/.376/.462 hitter in Fenway Park. Crisp, meanwhile, is just hot, having hit .330/.358/.473 since July 23. No matter how you slice it, however, Damon has clearly been the better hitter both this year and over his career.
Next up, a pair of All-Star middle infielders:
No contest. Jeter is a Hall of Famer having his best season since he was robbed of an MVP the award in 1999.
We'll fudge a bit with the third place in the order by compare the teams' beefy, lefty slugging, clutch-hitting, creatively facial-haired, first basemen-turned-designated hitters, despite the fact that the Yankee version actually hits fourth or fifth:
Ortiz has far more impressive counting numbers than Giambi due to his having 75 more plate appearances, a by-product of several minor injuries suffered by Giambi and Jason's having played more first base and thus losing late-game at-bats to defensive replacements. Assume both will have equal playing time this weekend and, as their EQA's show, this is basically a draw. I'll give the edge to Ortiz as, while he's actually hit better on the road than at home this year, Giambi's home-road splits are even stronger in the other direction and he's historically his below his career averages at Fenway.
Next up two of the best hitters and most highly paid and therefore heavily criticized players in the history of the game:
The Orioles clobbered the Yankees, 12-2 on Thursday afternoon. The beating was highlighted by a miscommunication between Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, where Rodriguez let a routine pop up pop-out of his glove. The O's took advantage of the error with a two run homer and that's the way it went today for the Yanks, who now limp into Boston just a game-and-a-half ahead of Boston, two in the loss column. The Bombers have lost six of their last ten. It's going to be nuts at Fenway Park this weekend but unless one team wins 4 out of 5 or sweeps, the effect of the series on the race will be a wash. Yanks need to split tomorrow, though.. I wonder if Rodriguez can respond with a big weekend or if he'll melt in the Fenway Park pressure cooker. Manny, Cookie, Jeter, Cano, Paplebon, Mo. Lots to be excited about.
Out Of The Way
Before the Yankees can bear down and focus on this weekend's five-game showdown in Boston, they need to get the last game of their current series with the Orioles out of the way. Fortunately, it's a day game, which will give them the evening to travel north. Of course, the first game of tomorrow's doubleheader is at 1:05 as well, and the Red Sox not only don't have to travel, but don't have to play today either. But you take what you can get.
Speaking of which, Jaret Wright takes the mound this afternoon. He's been excellent in his three August starts, which include a 6-inning, 1-run outing against these same Orioles. Overall his August line is: 3-0, 1.65 ERA, 16 1/3 IP, 12 H, 3 R, 0 HR, 9 BB, 10 K, 1.29 WHIP. I know I said it before his last start, but I have to repeat it, Wright hasn't allowed a home run since June 16 and has surrendered just four taters in 102 innings on the season.
As was the case when Wright last started against the Orioles, his mound opponent will be Rodrigo Lopez. Lopez gave up five runs in seven innings in that last meeting, suffering the loss despite an excellent 7:1 K/BB ratio. In his one start since then he lasted just 4 2/3 innings against the Red Sox, allowing three runs on seven hits, with a still-solid 5:2 K/BB ratio. An even more encouraging statistic is Lopez's 7.22 road ERA this season.
Here's hoping the Yanks can pull out a win this afternoon to take their fourth series of the season from the O's and head into this weekend's showdown with a 2.5 lead in the East.
Yanks lost a close one, 3-2 to the O's last night in the Bronx. I missed most of the game but got home in time for the last three innings. The Yanks had their chance. They even got a lucky call in the ninth. The Stadium was packed and the place was electric in the late innings. In the eighth, Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez singled to open the inning. After Baltimore's closer Chris Ray whiffed Robinson Cano, Bernie Williams--who passed Don Mattingly for second place with the most doubles in team history earlier in the game--lined sharply into a double play. Bad luck and a tough loss. Coupled with a Boston victory, the Bombers' lead in the East is down to two games.
Regardless, it was a wonderful moment for Williams when he passed Mattingly. Bernie had lined a double against the left field wall. He ran hard out of the box and didn't let up until he was close to second. When he reached the bag, he turned his head quickly towards the right field line, in that inimitable, deadpan manner of his, where you don't know exactly what he's doing, if he is just random or if he's doing something on purpose, exposing a private joke. The crowd gave him a sustain round of applause. Eventually, Bernie tipped his cap. The best part of it all was seeing the pride that Williams displayed. He just looked genuinely humbled and grateful for the moment and the accomplishment. It reminded me that Bernie is one of my very favorite Yankees ever because the game hasn't ever come naturally or easily to him. I'm probably as proud of Bernie's career--a borderline Hall of Fame career, when all will be said and done--as I am of any Yankee I've ever rooted for. Even though Williams' good vibes would be stifled by his hard-luck at bat in the eighth, Williams standing on second, acknowledging to himself, his fellow players, and the fans, what a good job he's done all these years, was special.
Octavio Dotel made his Yankee debut and the Yankee bullpen was sharp once again. Melky Cabrera collected his 11th outfield assist of the season and had a good game as well. And there is encouraging news about the injured Gary Sheffield.
Nothing to do but let it slide, come back and pound the O's the rubber match this afternoon. And that's word to Big Bird.
With A Lidle Luck
If you ask me, the Yankees still haven't seen the real Cory Lidle. In his first start he pitched a mid-week day game during a heat wave with field temperatures reaching 120 degrees. Lidle held the Blue Jays to just one run in that start, but was understandably pulled after the sixth inning despite having thrown just 80 pitches. In his last start, he pitched with a stomach virus and struggled through four innings, leaving after throwing 79 pitches and allowing three Angel runs. Still, despite those complications, Lidle sports a tidy 3.60 ERA as a Yankee having allowed just eight hits and struck out eight in his ten innings for the team.
Tonight, he should be healthy and the temperature should be in the low 80s and falling. If there is any complication it shouldn't affect Lidle directly, but rather the offense. Twenty-two-year-old Canadian lefty Adam Loewen, who one-hit the Yanks over 6 1/3 innings less than two weeks ago, takes the hill for the Orioles tonight. Of course, the likelihood of Loewen repeating his one-hit performance is very small, especially in light of the pounding he received in Fenway in his last turn (2 1/2 IP, 6 R, 76 pitches). Here's hoping things swing the Yankees way.
Incidentally, it appears that Octavio Dotel has been activated (with, I assume, Jose Veras being sent down to make room). Here's Dotel's aggregate line from his circuitous rehab appearances, which were spread across five leagues, from the New York-Penn League all the way up to the International League:
12 G, 12 1/3 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 BB, 19 K
The big four in the Yankee bullpen have been great of late, but with 14 games in the next 13 days, it sure won't hurt to add those kind of numbers to their mix.
Hello, I Must Be Going
The Yankees broke ground on their new Stadium this morning on a bright, sunny day in the Bronx. Politicians, The Boss, Yogi, and Billy Crystal were just some of those in attendence. In an unrelated piece of sad news, veteran New York character actor Bruno Kirby lost his fight against leukemia yesterday. Kirby, who played the young Clemenza in "The Godfather II," and was featured in "This Is Spinal Tap," and "Modern Romance," as well as other notable flicks, was just 57. His raspy New York voice will be missed.
What Did Yogi Say?
Oh yeah, "it ain't over 'til it's over."
No doubt, as late as the middle of the sixth inning last night's game looked like a replay of Mike Mussina's last start against the Orioles, when the Yankees mustered just one hit against O's starter Adam Loewen while Moose allowed just three runs and was saddled with a hard-luck loss.
Indeed, the score was 3-0 O's after five and a half last night with the Yanks having managed just three singles and a walk through five and O's starter Erik Bedard having set down eleven Yanks in a row between the first and fifth innings. The Orioles, meanwhile, scored their first run on a one-out solo homer by Kevin Millar in the fifth then got two more in the sixth due in part to yet another Alex Rodriguez error.
Brian Roberts led off the sixth with a double and moved to third when Melvin Mora followed with a single. Miguel Tejada then flied out to right, but Roberts hold at third out of respect for Bobby Abreu's arm. Alas, Roberts would score anyway as Jay Gibbons followed with a single on an 0-2 pitch. Jeff Conine then hit Mussina's next offering right at Rodriguez at third, but as Alex charged the ball he got caught on an in-between hop and rather than turning an inning-ending double play he booted the ball and fired wide and late to first as Mora scored with the third Oriole run. Fortunately, Mike Mussina kept it together and picked up his third baseman by retiring the next two batters to strand Gibbons and Conine.
Fortunately, Bedard proved no more durable than Mussina on this night as, after the Yanks made a bit of noise in the fifth when Jorge Posada reached on an slow dribbler to third and Craig Wilson followed him with just the third Yankee single of the night, they finally broke through in the sixth. Jeter lead-off the inning with an infield single and was pushed to third when a pair of seven-pitch walks to Abreu and the mustachioed Jason Giambi loaded the bases for Rodriguez, who promptly redeemed himself with an RBI single.
I have to admit. I'm sick and tired of the Orioles. It's not that they give the Yankees a hard time. The Yankees haven't lost a season series to the O's since 1997, when the O's were the last non-Yankee team to win the AL East. This year, the Yanks are 6-3 against Baltimore, taking 2 of 3 in each of their three series, including a weekend set at Camden Yards just over a week ago. So it's not that the O's are troublesome. They're just oppressively uninteresting.
By this point in the season, Miguel Tejada is typically phoning it in (something we saw in that last series in Baltimore), and without Tejada giving a full effort, who is there on this club that you're excited to see play? The only guy I can muster much enthusiasm for is closer Chris Ray, but I don't want to see him pitch because it generally means the Yanks are about to drop a game to a team that shouldn't beat them. The three game series that starts tonight will be even worse because it's already being overshadowed by this weekend's five-game death match in Fenway Park. Still, you have to take it one day at a time and tonight, it's those flat lining Orioles (who just got swept by the Red Sox) yet again.
The O's look about the same as they did two weekends ago. They've activated Kris Benson and recalled Daniel Cabrera from triple-A, but the Yankees won't see either in this series. Those two have bumped Bruce Chen and Russ Ortiz back into the bullpen and knocked Winston Abreu and Julio Manon off the roster. Thrilling, ain't it?
Tonight Mike Mussina takes on Erik Bedard. Moose has had trouble pitching around defensive errors and questionable umpiring of late as he's reverted to his 2004 and 2005 form, in which well pitched games would often be ruined by one bad inning in which he just couldn't stop the bleeding. He was the hard-luck loser in the one loss in that last series in Baltimore, allowing three runs in five inefficient innings while Adam Loewen and company one-hit the Yanks. Bedard did not pitch in that series, but has been excellent since late June after a rough start to his season. Starting with eight dominant innings against the Marlins on June 21 (2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 12 K), he's posted this line:
9 GS, 6-2, 1.73 ERA, 62 1/3 IP, 42 H, 3 HR, 15 BB, 63 K, 0.91 WHIP, 7 QS
The good news for the Yankees is that his two non-quality starts, and only two loses, over that stretch have been his last two. Then again, both were near-misses: 5 1/3 innings, two runs against the Mariners at home, and four runs in seven innings against the Blue Jays in Toronto. Still, the 27-year-old Bedard is another pitcher, like Chien-Ming Wang and Justin Verlander, who is entering uncharted innings territory. After losing most of his 2003 season to Tommy John surgery he threw 142 1/3 innings between the minors and majors in 2004 and 148 2/3 innings in 2005, both setting career highs. This year he's already thrown 142 2/3 innings. The good news for Bedard and the Orioles is that they can baby him through the rest of the season and won't lose anything by shutting him down early. The Yankees and Wang don't have that luxury.
Tomorrow night at 7 p.m., I'm going to be part of a three-man panel, including Will Leitch and Matt Cerrone, discussing Baseball and Blogging at the 92nd Street Y. Actually, the program--moderated by Allen Barra--will be held on the West Side, in the Steinhardt Building, which is at 35 West 67th street. The admission is $12 if you pick up the tickets ahead of time, $15 at the door. For anyone who is in town and interested, we'd love to see you.
"We need to clean up some of the stuff that we do," [Yankee manager, Joe] Torre said. "We've played better than this. And tonight we started to get into it at the end of the game, and I thought we played with a little more confidence. But I think we've been a little hesitant over the last few days."
The Yankees beat the Angels 7-2 on Monday night, led by their slumping stars, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter. The Bombers pounded out 16 hits in all. The two most maligned Yankees, Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez, contributed as well, and the victory, combined with a Red Sox loss, puts New York two games ahead of Boston in the AL East (three ahead in the loss column).
After Jason Giambi ran through a stop-sign and was thrown out at the plate in the second inning, Jeter launched a two-run homer to dead center in the third. The score remained the same until the top of the seventh inning. Randy Johnson, who recorded the 4,500th strike out of his career in the fourth when he K'd Tim Salmon, was pitching well for the second-straight game. He allowed a one-out double to Jose Molina and then with two outs, the ever-pesky Chone Figgins slapped a slider that was low and out of the strike zone into center for an RBI single. Not a bad pitch by Johnson, who then left a fastball over the plate (it too was out-of-the-strike zone) to Howie Kendrick. The Angels' impressive young second baseman lofted a fly ball to deep right center. It hit off the wall, missing a home run by a few feet, good for an RBI double and the game was tied. Orlando Cabrera followed and hit a ground ball to Robinson Cano's backhand. The Yankee second basemen almost tripped over his feet on the lip of the outfield grass, but maintained his balanced and made the throw to first for the third out.
For Heaven's Sake
According to Joel Sherman in today's Post:
After a 5-3 loss that diminished the Yanks' AL East lead to one game over Boston and diminished Rodriguez even further in the eyes of the fan base, A-Rod vowed the best of his 2006 season is coming.
If Rodriguez has been hurt, it would behoove him not to be coy about it. In spite of another poor weekend with the leather, he looked good offensively until Sunday.
Tonight gives a match-up of two of the fugliest pitchers around: The Big Unit and John Lackey. Unfortunately, for the Yanks, Lackey is the ace of the Angels' staff, while it is hard to know what to expect from Johnson on any given outing. But after a poor week, now is as good a time as any for the Yanks to get on the good foot and start playing up to their capabilities again.
Heaven and Hell
In the dugout before Sunday's game, Kim Jones, the beat reporter for the YES network, asked Yankee manager Joe Torre if Jared Weaver made him of think of Weaver's older brother and former-Yankee, Jeff Weaver. "It's hard not to," said Torre. "He's got the same look, the same willowy body. He looks like a clone [of his brother]." Torre said that he had not seen the young Weaver pitchexcept for a few highlights on TVbut admitted, "He seems like the real thing."
Weaver was the real thing on Sunday afternoon, mixing a nasty curve ball with a strong fastball. The Yankees made him work but Weaver showed resolve and poise. He was not afraid to pitch inside and even when he was behind in the count, he didn't lose his cool. The only mistake he made in six innings of work was when he dipped-down and tried to sneak a fastball past Craig Wilson in the fifth. He had previously made Wilson look foolish with a breaking pitch away, and the drop-down was the kind of cutesy move that his brother has specialized in. Otherwise, there wasn't any resemblance to Jeff, other than physically.
Like his brother, Jered is long and lean. But his motion is slightly different. Jered twists his back, with his number facing the batter, in a manner than is reminiscent of Hideo Nomo. He made Alex Rodriguezwho had another less than stellar day in the fieldlook bad in three at bats. For his part, Chien-Ming Wang was flat for the second-straight outing, giving up six hits and three runs in the first inning alone.
The Angels bullpen was its usual stellar self and they set the Yankees down like lambs until Rodriguez blasted his 25th dinger of the year with two men out in the bottom of the ninth. Jason Giambi followed with a solo shot of his own, just to the right of the 399 ft sign in left center, but that was it as the Angels bounced the Bombers, 5-3 in front of a sellout crowd in the Big House.
Man, that was a heck of a way to sperl a wonderful day in New York, particularly with Boston, Minnie and Chicago all leading their games as the Yankee game ended. The Yanks will likely be just a game ahead of Boston in a few hours (and here I thought, just listening to the noise coming out of Boston this past week, that the Red Sox were dead). But then again, the Yankees are accustomed to hellish games against the Halos. And tomorrow night they get to face L.A.'s ace, John Lackey.
My Blue Heaven
It is another absolutely gorgeous day here in New York as Chien-Ming Wang squares off against rookie sensation Jered Weaver this afternoon in the Bronx. Tyler Kepner has a profile on Wang this morning in the Times, while Rich Lederer has Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About J. Weaver (but were afraid to ask*). While it appears increasingly unlikely that Hideki Matsui or Gary Sheffield will return this season, today promises to give us an exciting pitching match-up. Both Cliff and I will be there.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Heaven Is A Place On Earth
After a couple of ugly losses, the Yankees breezed to victory this afternoon on an impossibly beautiful Saturday in the Bronx. Jaret Wright was up to his usual tricks in the first, walking the speedy Chone Figgins on five pitches to start the game and the dangerous Vlad Guerrero on four pitches after a pair of foul outs by Maicer Izturis and Orlando Carbrera. The hot-hitting Juan Rivera then singled to right to plate Figgins, but Guerrero failed to respect Bobby Abreu's arm and was nailed trying to go first to third when Abreu fired a one-hop strike to Alex Rodriguez to end the inning (it was the first of two crucial baserunning gaffes by the Impaler, who was later picked off second by Jorge Posada to kill an Angel rally in the sixth). That play just might have been the key to the ball game, as Wright settled down from there, facing the minimum over the next three innings and pitching around a pair of walks in the fifth.
Meanwhile, the Yankees got all the runs they needed in the second inning on a pair of home runs by Robinson Cano, a three-run shot, and Johnny Damon, a two-out, two-run job. Cano's homer was an absolute blast, landing half way up in section 41 of the right field bleachers. I had been concerned about Cano's loss of power during the first half of the season. His slugging percentage was below .400 as late as June 4 at which point just 14 of his 63 hits had gone for extra bases. Since then, however, he's smacked another 14 pitches for extra bases over a span of just 35 hits and in his first five games since being activated from the DL six of his nine hits have gone for extra bags, including this afternoon's dinger, his second in four games which accounts for a full third of his 2006 home run total. As for Damon, his shot just cleared the right field wall and slipped into the old Yankee bullpen. It was Damon's 16th homer of the year, putting him on pace for 23 on the season. His current career high is 20. Ten of those 16 homers have come at Yankee Stadium, all of them going to the short porch in right.
The Angels picked up a run off Scott Proctor in the seventh when rookie Howie Kendrick doubled into the gap in left, Adam Kennedy singled him to third, and Jose Molina scored him with a sac fly to right that knuckled on Abreu, preventing him from setting his feet for a strong throw to the plate. But that was all they'd get. Farnsworth and Rivera followed Proctor with a pair of perfect innings, both requiring just ten pitches eight of which were strikes, and the Yankees evened the series with a 5-2 win.
The series will now be decided by a pair of fantastic pitching match-ups, emerging Yankee ace (at least at home) Chien-Ming Wang against rookie sensation Jered Weaver tomorrow afternoon, and all-or-nothing future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson against John Lackey, who at age 27 is suddenly the veteran ace of this exciting young Angels rotation, Monday night. If this weather holds up, and it should, we're in for a real treat.
Heaven Can Wait
The Yankees continued their week of self-destructive play on Friday night as they fell to the Angels, 7-4. L.A.'s rookie southpaw, Joe Saunders pitched very well, mixing fastballs, changeups, and breaking pitches with poise and confidence. No rookie jitters for him, and why should there be? He plays for the Angels, who seemingly have no fear of the Bronx or the Bombers. (The Yanks are now 48-50 in the regular season against the Halos since 1996, never mind the playoffs.)
Still, the Yankees had their chances and, as DeNiro told Stallone in "Copland:" "You blewwwwwwwwwww it." Battling a stomach bug, Corey Lidle didn't have much and threw so many pitches that he was gone after four innings, having allowed three runs. Sidney Ponson's adventures with the leather put two men on in the fifth and then Orlando Cabrera grounded a double past Alex Rodriguez--the ball took a tough hop to Rodriguez's back hand but it looked as if the Yankee third baseman should have at least knocked it down. Two runs scored, 5-1, and once again the Angels were handling the Yanks. More than 54,000 were sitting on their hands.
The Bombers mounted a threat in the sixth. Derek Jeter reached on an infield hit and then Bobby Abreu lined a two-strike pitch into right for a single. Saunders got ahead of Rodriguez too but then left a pitch over the heart of the plate. Rodriguez lined it to center and it appeared as if it would drop in for another hit. But Chone Figgins raced in and made a lovely catch, robbing Rodriguez of a sure RBI and the Yankees of a big inning.
"He's unbelievable," Rodriguez said. "He's always making some type of heroic play against us."
Jason Giambi--whose dirty-blong mustache continues to fill out--followed and hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. O.K., the double play was a drag but what can you do if the other team makes a great play?
The next inning was far more troubling. Craig Wilson reached on an error and Melky Cabrera walked, putting runners on first and second with nobody out. Sal Fasano's foul ball dropped safely between the catcher and first baseman near the Yankee dugout and then Sal lined a double to right center. Ah-ha, just the kind of break the Yanks had been looking for. Nobody out, runner on second and the score was now 6-3. Nick Green, who started in place of Robinson Cano, looked at three pitches from the new pitcher, Scot Shields, and offered to bunt at two of them. "Vas dis?!" cried many a Yankee fan watching along. When Green finally got the bunt down, it wasn't down at all, it was popped up. Shields sprung off the mound and caught the ball. Yet Fasano was practically at third, the dope, and he was doubled off second with ease. End of rally, and end of game, so to speak.
Each team would add another run--Vlad and Alex both hit solo dingers--and Fransico Rodriguez got the last four outs (including three strikeouts) to secure the win for the Angels. It was the third time in four days that the Yankees have lost with less than their A-game. The Red Sox--prematurely given for dead by too many members of Red Sox Nation this week--finally won and now trail New York by just two games. It's a long way from over, folks. The Yanks picked a heck of a time to start playing this sloppily. Time for them to get their heads out of their asses today. With Jaret Wright on the hill today, all I can say is Heaven Help Us (and that famous temper of ours).
Go git 'em, boys.
Like the rest of their division, the Angels are average. They're in the middle of the pack in hitting and pitching, barely over .500, yet just 3.5 games behind the first place A's, but also just 2.5 games ahead of the last-place M's. Ho hum.
If there's anything compelling about this Angels team, which is enduring Vlad Guerrero's least productive season since he was a 21-year-old rookie with the Expos in 1997, it's the glimpses into their future this season has brought. Jered Weaver, Howie Kendrick, Kendry Moralis, Mike Napoli and tonight's starter Joe Saunders have all made their major league debuts this season, though with varying success.
As for Saunders, he's made three starts since being called up to replaced the injured Bartolo Colon in the rotation, each of them nearly identical to the next. Here's his average line: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 HR, 3 BB, 5 K. He did something like that against Cleveland, Oakland and Texas in his first three starts, winning each. Tonight, however, will be his first major league road start. It will be interesting to see how the 25-year-old lefty from Falls Church, Virgina responds to his first appearance in Yankee Stadium.
Cory Lidle, meanwhile, will be making just his second start as a Yankee, both coming in home pinstripes. In his last, eight days ago, he held the Blue Jays to one run on a solo homer by rookie Ryan Roberts, allowing just three other hits, walking two and striking out five in six innings on a brutally hot afternoon (the box score temperature was 97 degrees and you know it was well into triple digits on the field). With the weather having cooled nicely (beautifully, in fact, current temp is 77 with a soft breeze), the hope is that Lidle can go deeper tonight. After all, it only took him 80 pitches to get through those six innings last week.
On the night that the Red Sox were swept by the major league worst Royals, the Yankees failed to take advantage, dropping the rubber game of their series in Chicago due not to the strengths of their opponent, but to their own ineptitude.
Things started promisingly after a 90-minute rain delay with Johnny Damon doubling off Javier Vazquez, Derek Jeter reaching on an infield single and Bobby Abreu moving both runners up via a fly out to the weak-armed Scott Podsednick in deep left. But Alex Rodriguez struck out and Jorge Posada followed a Jason Giambi walk by lining out on the first pitch he saw, leaving the bases loaded. The Yanks stranded a Robinson Cano leadoff double in the top of the second, then melted down in the bottom of the inning.
Mike Mussina started things off by clipping Jermaine Dye in the hand with a 2-2 pitch, then surrendered a single to A.J. Pierzynski that moved Dye to second. Joe Crede then hit a grounder to Alex Rodriguez that looked like a possible double play ball only Rodriguez threw the ball wide of second and into right field, plating Dye and putting runners on the corners. Alex Cintron then singled home Pierzynski and, when the ball skipped under Melky Cabrera's glove on the wet outfield grass, Crede scored and Cintron motored into second. Mussina then struck out Brian Anderson for the first out, but allowed another RBI single to Podsednick to run the score to 4-0 before getting the final two outs of the inning.
The Yanks got two back in the top of the third on an Abreu walk and a two-run Giambi homer, but that was all the action until the sixth. In the meantime, the Yankees stranded seven more runners--a two-out Cano double in the third (Wilson K), three men in the fourth (Giambi K), a two-out Wilson single in the fifth (Melky foul out), and two more in the sixth (a shallow Rodriguez fly and another Giambi K).
Mike Mussina, who settled down nicely after the second inning, got the first two outs in the bottom of the sixth on six pitches, at which point he had retired nine of the last ten batters he'd faced and 13 of 16 since Podsednick's RBI single in the second. He then got ahead of the weak-hitting Brian Anderson 1-2 only to have Anderson foul off two pitches and take a borderline strike that home plate ump Bill Miller called ball two. Moose had taken several steps to the dugout when he heard the call and, forced back onto the mound, served up a two-out double on his next pitch. That man Podsednick then singled home Anderson with a crucial insurance run.
You see, in the top of the seventh, after reliever Brandon McCarthy struck out Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano, Craig Wilson doubled and Melky Cabrera deposited McCarthy's very next pitch in the right field seats for his third home run in the last four games and the first no-doubter of his young major league career. With that the Yankees pulled within one, but despite a strong relief performance by Scott Proctor and a two-out rally in the top of the ninth against Sox closer Bobby Jenks, they were unable to make up that last run, losing 5-4.
Still, the Yanks finish the season with a 4-2 record against the defending World Champs and current Wild Card leaders, while the Red Sox remain three games out in the AL East and are now two games out in third place in the Wild Card race. Ain't so bad. Plus the Yanks are coming home for a seven-game home stand that starts tonight against the Angels. More on them this afternoon.
My Moose Take
The good news is that, with the Red Sox having lost their first two games to the Royals, the Yankees could lose tonight and still finish the three-game stretch in which they played the defending World Champs while their rivals played the worst time in baseball without having lost a game in the standings.
The bad news is this trend I just noticed in Mike Mussina's game log:
First 12 GS: 7-1, 2.42 ERA, 7.71 K/9, 1.43 BB/9, 7.16 H/9, 0.96 WHIP, 0.99 HR/9, 12 QS, 6.81 IP/GS
*would likely have been seven, but he was forced out of his June 30 game after allowing no hits over four innings because of a long rain delay
The more than two extra runs per game (!) seem to be the result of his increased number of baserunners. Moose has been getting hit harder and more often, and that might be the result of a slight loss of command that has also inflated his walk rate (though note that his K rate has also increased). More runners mean more pitches and more pitches and more runs mean fewer innings and a bigger strain on the bullpen.
Now compare that bottom set of numbers to what Moose did over the 2004 and 2005 seasons:
57 GS: 25-17, 4.50 ERA, 7.16 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, 9.85 H/9, 1.35 WHIP, 1.18 HR/9, 28 QS, 6.04 IP/GS
So much for Moose having discovered the secret to late-career success. Not that he's a bad pitcher, but he is a league average one, though with a great K/BB rate and the ability to go on a dominant run like he did in Septemer 2004 or the first two months of this season. Still, the Yankees would be wise to bear this in mind when making a decision about his 2007 option this fall. Given the other options, it's likely worth overpaying Moose for a year to keep his reliability in the rotation, but he'll be 39 in November 2007. I wouldn't give him a multi-year deal at this point.
Call Him Up, Coach
Johnny Damon's most recent ouchie, a tender right groin, doesn't appear to be of major concern to the Yankees, but his removal from last night's game exposed a major flaw in the Yankees current roster construction. With Bernie Williams DHing for Jason Giambi, who was hit hard in the right arm with a pitch in Tuesday's game, Joe Torre chose to move Bobby Abreu into center, Craig Wilson into right, and insert Andy Phillips at first base in Damon's spot. Never mind that Melky Cabrera played center field in the minors earlier this year and that Abreu had played just 1/3 of an inning in center since 2002 when he made 18 of his 20 major league appearances there. After Bernie's at-bat in the top of the eighth, Torre moved Abreu back to right and gave up the DH to move Bernie and his 72 Rate (!) into center and put the pitcher in Wilson's spot in the order.
That cinched it. If Joe is that dead set on not returning Melky Cabrera to the scene of his defensive crimes of a year ago (which will have to change sooner rather than later), the Yankees need to bring Aaron Guiel back up from Columbus. Guiel played 24 games in center field for the Royals last year and made two appearances for them there earlier this season. He posted a 95 rate in those 24 games in 2005 and is dead average for his career in the middle pasture. What's more, he's the lefty bat this team desperately needs off the bench. Bernie Williams is 0 for 11 as a pinch-hitter this season and is still hitting just .250/.284/.380 against righties. Guiel, meanwhile, is 1 for 5 as a pinch-hitter (impossibly small samples, I know, but zero hits are hard to argue for), and is hitting .242/.356/.532 against righties.
As for Andy Phillips (brace yourselves, folks, I'm finally fessing up), he has become redundant in the wake of the Craig Wilson acquisition. As I said at the time of the trade, "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 . . . is just four months Phillips' senior and has put up those numbers over 2,133 career major league plate appearances." Both players give the team added defensive flexibility (Andy at second and third, Wilson in the outfield corners and behind the plate), but Torre seems more willing to move Wilson around. What's more, Andy has had just five at-bats since the acquisition of Wilson, three of them coming last night when Guiel would have been a better option. I may have been Andy Phillips' biggest fan for the past couple of years, but he no longer fits on this roster. The Yankees need to replace him with Aaron Guiel, and they need to do it now.
There are many impartial observers who consider Shea Stadium to be the worst park in the major leagues, but for a lot of New Yorkers, there is something endearing about the dumpiness of the place. It may feel like a municipal recreation center, but there is opennessnot only to the structure of the place, but to the atmosphere toothat you won't find at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. It is loose. From the Olay "Jose, Jose, Jose" chants for Jose Reyes, to the organist playing the opening riff from the Violent Femmes classic, "Blister in the Sun," to the post-"Take Me Out to the Ballgame" segue right into "Tarantella," Shea offers a completely different, but equally genuine, slice of New York. I was in Queens last night with my brother, my pal Alan, and Jay Jaffe, for Game Two of Mike Piazza's homecoming. Head on over to Baseball Prospectus (reg. req) where I've got a piece on what went down.
It Don't Mean a Thing...
For everyone who is positively sick of analyzing Alex Rodriguez's head, Jeff Albert has a terrifc and informative analysis of Rodriguez's swing over at The Baseball Analysts. This one is a home run.
Homina, Homina, Homina
I missed the entire game last night as I was fortunate enough to be out at Shea to witness Mike Piazza's big two-dinger performance against the Mets. Wow, what a nail-biter in Chi-town, though, as the Yanks held-on to beat the White Sox, 7-6. Randy Johnson pitched well, Kyle Farnsworth did not, and Mariano Rivera bounced back to earn the save. Johnny Damon was pulled from the game with what is being called a tweak of in his groin, while Bobby Abreu led the offense, hitting his first home run as a Yankee. The Bombers added another game to their lead in the AL East as Jonathan Paplebon improbably blew a one-run lead to the Royals in the bottom of the ninth. New York's lead is now three games.
Randy Johnson has not struck out a batter in either of his last two starts. Go figure that. Dude is third on the all-time strikeout list and yet he just hasn't been able to get hitters to swing and miss of late. Johnson has practically become a hold-your-breath-and-pray pitcher, a far cry from his former self. It would be huge for the Bombers if he can come through with a strong performance tonight. But I figure that we could be in for some real offensive fireworks. The White Sox and Yankees have played some tense games this year. No reason to believe tonight will be any different.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Yes, Yes, Again
I realize that the last thing regular Bronx Banter readers probably need is another Alex Rodriguez article, but there are two that I wanted to share with you. The first, by Eric Neel, is up on ESPN today. Neel explores what I've been talking about all year--how Rodriguez's vulnerabilites actually make him approachable. Rodriguez, Neel writes:
...Comes off as this odd blend of superstar talent and confidence, packaged with common-guy uncertainty and instability. He's someone we have to think about. What makes him tick? How's he holding up? Is being in the fishbowl getting to him? Someone we have to engage on a kind of basic human level.
Bruce Weber, writing in the New York Times several weeks ago, echoes this line of thinking:
The sports talk shows relentlessly parsed Rodriguez's personality. What the heck is wrong with the guy? It must be in his mind, right? One television analyst (baseball analyst, that is), said Rodriguez was already a lost cause in New York, that it would be better both for him and the Yankees if he were traded to another city, where his delicate psyche could repair itself in an atmosphere unpoisoned by the home fans' disappointment. The former mayor of New York Rudolph W. Giuliani was moved to give an interview, counseling New Yorkers not to boo A-Rod because, he said, positive reinforcement is clearly what the man needs, and besides, it's in the best interest of the Yankees.
We like our failures to be obvious--that is why it is easy to root for underdogs like Sal Fasano and Bubba Crosby. But when the guy who seemingly has everything--talent, money, good-looks, is also terribly vulnerable, it is a turn-off. Moreover, it brings out a viciousness in people that is almost palpable. What's up with that?
Kicked in the Gut
The Yanks lost an extra-inning heartbreaker in Chicago last night 6-5, and had nobody but themselves to blame. Too many squandered scoring opportunities. Mo blows the save. The only silver lining is the Boston also lost. But that didn't really make me feel much better. Tonight's game can't come soon enough, though you'll forgive me if I'm not exactly bursting with confidence in the Big Unit right about now. More enthusiasm, less pessimissm to come...
The White Sox
As Alex pointed out yesterday, tonight the Yankees begin a stretch in which they play 21 games in 20 days, 15 of which will come against teams that currently have winning records. Following an off day on August 28, the Yankees will play six more games against contenders, which adds up to 21 of 27 games over the next 27 days against teams with winning records.
At the core of that stretch is a five-game series in Boston that kicks off with a Friday double header, but the second most important of the eight series in this period, at least according to today's standings, is the one that begins tonight in Chicago. Entering tonight's game, the Yankees are two games better (three in the loss column) than the White Sox, who are tied with the Red Sox in the AL Wild Card lead. Since the All-Star break, the White Sox have gone 8-14 while the Yankees have gone 16-6, each pace being set when the Yankees swept the Sox in the Bronx to start the second half.
Since then, the Yankees have made three huge additions to their roster in Bobby Abreu, Craig Wilson and Cory Lidle. Although Lidle will not appear in this series, the Yankees will make yet another improvement to their roster today as they activate Robinson Cano, who will reclaim his starting second base job as Miguel Cairo takes his spot on the DL with a hamstring injury of his own.
The White Sox, meanwhile, made just two minor deals at the deadline resulting in their swapping out former Yankee backstop Chris Widger for the 40-year-old Sandy Alomar Jr. and demoting 26-year-old righty Sean Tracey for former Royals closer Mike "Mac the Ninth" MacDougal (so much for the nickname). Otherwise, their roster remains the same as it was in mid-July.
So far, so good for the Yanks. Tonight things kick off with Chien-Ming Wang taking on Freddy Garcia. Wang hasn't allowed a run in his last 18 innings pitched (6 H, 5 BB, 4 K, 208 pitches). Garcia, meanwhile, hasn't won a game since June, though he pitched well enough to win against the Rangers on July 22, leaving a 1-1 tie after seven innings only to watch closer Bobby Jenks cough up two runs in the ninth.
With Cano back in the line-up following an off day, we should see an order that looks something like this:
L - Damon (CF)
Man that's purdy. Oh, and Cano went 7 for 15 with two doubles and three walks (!) in his four minor league rehab games.
The Calm Before the Storm
As the Yanks prepare to take on the defending World Champs tonight in Chicago--the start of a tough three-week stretch--the local papers cover two of the Bomber's newest players: Bobby Abreu and Craig Wilson. In addition, there are two stories on tonight's starter Chien-Ming Wang: one in the Bergan Record, the other by our pal Pete Abraham in The Journal News. Don Amore reports that Hideki Matsui will be re-examined by doctor's this Friday. And there is a good story on Yankee pitching prospect Phillip Hughes over at MLB.com.
Finally, tonight gives the return of second baseman Robinson Cano, who has been sidelined since June 25th with a hamstring pull. Welcome back, Robby, we missed ya.
Here We Go
The Yankees bounced-back from Saturday's loss and beat the Orioles 6-1 on the strength of Jaret Wright's performance and four solo home runs (Jeter, Johnny, Melky, and G'Bombee). Bobby Abreu went 3-4 with two stolen bases and the Yanks' now lead Boston by two games in the American League East. It is a good way to enter perhaps the toughest challenge of the year: twenty-one games in twenty days. This stretch includes three games against the White Sox, seven against the Angels, and five v. the Red Sox. New York's next off-day falls on August 28th, and then they play three against the Tigers followed by three v. the Twins.
The September schedule is far more favorable. The rest of the league must to put the Bombers down during the next three weeks, because if our guys make it through the rain (so to speak) in good shape, they will be tough, tough, tough.
I was away for the weekend. Here's some links for your face:
The New York Times has a profile of the Twin's terrific young pitcher, Francisco Liriano today. My latest piece for SI is about pitching phenoms. Liriano and Justin Verlander each missed their last starts, which brings me to my biggest concern for the next two months: Will Chien-Ming Wang hold together? Last year, he threw 116 innings; he's already up to 156 this season. Is this something to get crazy about, or am I just looking to be neurotic?
According to Joel Sherman in Sunday's New York Post, the Yankees are seriously considering picking-up Gary Sheffield's $13 million option only to trade him.
Bobby Abreu credits Yankee hitting coach Don Mattingly for his early success with the Yanks. One thing that I have noticed about Abreu, however, is that he's exceedingly tentative going back on fly balls in right field. He may have a strong arm but he doesn't look comfortable at all with the leather.
Here's a good piece of news: Robinson Cano will be activated tomorrow and rejoin the team. Miguel Cairo will be placed on the DL, after pulling a hamstring over the weekend. I don't figure we'll see him again until September. Meanwhile, we just might catch of glimpse of the $40 million man, Carl Pavano, on the field before 2006 is all said and done.
Finally, better late than never, here is Christina Kahrl's take on the Craig Wilson deal:
I really like the idea of getting Wilson--and getting him at this price, instead of waiting to let Chacon leave as a free agent--and thereby adding a right-handed power bat who can take over at first base and let Jason Giambi DH. Wilson helps balance out getting Bobby Abreu and eventually both Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano back. When that happens, we're back to the days where not even getting down to the Yankees' nine-hole hitter makes life any easier on a pitcher. I've already said I think the Yankees can win the division now, and this only makes that look even more likely.
Her pal, Steven Goldman thinks this is one of the most successful deadline periods in Yankee history.
Lot's to gab about. The floor is open...
Like Randy Johnson the night before, Mike Mussina wasn't sharp yesterday afternoon, but still managed to keep his team in the game, limiting the Orioles to three runs in his five innings of work. Not that it mattered much. Rookie Adam Loewen, backed by some great defense by Brandon Fahey and Miguel Tejada, allowed just one hit, a first-inning single by Bobby Abreu, while striking out eight in 6 1/3 innings, and relievers Todd Williams and LaTroy Hawkins set the last eight Yanks down in order. It was the first time the Yankees had been limited to one-hit since July 16, 2004 when Mike Maroth pitched a complete-game one-hit shutout against the Yankees in Comerica Park. In that case the one hit was a Gary Sheffield double and the Yankees managed just three other base runners on an error and a pair of walks, one of which was erased by a double play. Yesterday the Yanks did a tad better, drawing five walks off Loewen such that each of the top six men in the order reached base exactly once (though, again, one was erased by a twin killing).
As surprising as that performance was given how well the team has been playing of late, winning nine of their previous ten and their first four games following the trading deadline, it was the fourth time this season the team failed to win its sixth consecutive game. Ron Villone, pitching in his fourth game in the last five days, gave up a pair of runs in the sixth to run the final score to 5-0, just the second time this season that the Yankees have been shutout.
The only worthwhile thing that came out of yesterday's game was that Jose Veras finally made his major league debut, pitching two hitless innings in which he allowed just one base runner, a lead-off walk to Jay Gibbons in the eighth that was erased by a double play. That said, Veras had some control issues, failing to record a single K despite his impressive minor league rates and throwing just 46 percent of his pitches for strikes.
Today the Yankees look to avoid what would be a humiliating series loss to the Orioles by sending Jaret Wright to the mound to face Rodrigo Lopez. Wright is coming off throwing a season-high 103 pitches in his last outing, but also has a fairly impressive line over his last two starts: 10 1/3 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 0 HR, 2 BB, 8 K. Despite being a fly ball pitcher, Wright has allowed just four home runs all season, that's one every 22 2/3 innings, a lower home run rate than Chien-Ming Wang's.
As for Lopez, he's been even better over his last two starts: 13 1/3 IP, 15 H, 2 R, 0 HR, 1 BB, 10 K. Of course one of those games came against the Royals, but in his last outing, against the Mariners, Lopez pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings and needed just 82 pitches to do it. Of course, the Yankees handled Lopez well back in early June (four runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 on their way to an 11-4 win), two starts after he had a very similar outing against Seattle.
Every Which Way But Lose
Last night's game looked like it would be a cakewalk for the Yankees in the early going. Johnny Damon homered on the game's second pitch from Bruce Chen and, after Randy Johnson pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the first, the Yankees added two more runs in the second when Miguel Cairo doubled home Chris Wilson and Melky Cabrera before Chen had recorded the inning's first out.
Cairo would move to third on a Damon fly out. But when Jeter grounded to third baseman Melvin Mora, Cairo got caught in a run down for the second out. Jeter moved to second on the play, then stole third, and Bobby Abreu followed with a four-pitch walk, but Alex Rodriguez, who had been one of two runners stranded in the first when Jorge Posada struck out, grounded out to end the inning, stranding a pair of his own. The Yankees would strand two more in the top of the third when second-inning hero Cairo struck out looking, and the Orioles would take advantage starting in the bottom of the inning.
The big news from Baltimore is that the Orioles have just sent 35-year-old catcher-turned-DH Javy Lopez and cash to the Red Sox for a player to be named later. That's obviously bigger news in Boston (though Lopez is hitting just .265/.314/.412, most of that coming in May), but it will certainly have an effect on this weekend's series in Camden Yards as Lopez had done particularly well against the Yankees in the teams' two prior meetings, going 9 for 25 with a pair of home runs.
Still, even with Lopez the Orioles had managed just two wins in six tries against the Yankees in April and June. With the way the two teams are playing right now and the way their starters have lined up over the weekend, the Yankees really should be going for a sweep here. The O's are 9-11 since the All-Star break and two for their last six. The Yankees, are 14-5 since the break and have won eight of their last nine. Tonight the Yankees have a chance to tie their longest winning streak of the year at five games (they've done it three times already, but never reached six). They'll send Randy Johnson to the mound to get it done.
In his last turn at home against Tampa Bay, Johnson had absolutley nothing, snapping a streak of four quality starts with a dreadful, strike-out free 3 1/3 innings in which he allowed nine runs on six hits and three walks. During his warm up session in the bullpen before that game Johnson was seen taking long pauses with his hands on his knees between pitches, but after the game he refused to discuss the matter.
Johnson's opponent tonight will be Bruce Chen, who, despite his 7.07 ERA and an 0-6 record, but has been thrust back into the rotation by Kris Benson's elbow tendonitis. In his first start back in the rotation, he faced the White Sox and allowed four runs on seven hits and no walks while striking out four in 5 1/3 innings. The Yankees last faced Chen in April, driving him from the game after four innings on their way to a 7-1 win.
All in the Family
Check out this clever, and entertaining Yankee family-tree that our pal Ben Kabak devised over at "Off the Facade." While you are surfin' around, be sure and peep what our Toastermate Mike Carminati has on Bobby Abreu. Great job, guys.
Don't Sweat It
A thermometer on the field at Yankee Stadium read 120 degrees. Imagine how it felt to be a Blue Jay pitcher, with the Yankee offense grinding-out at-bat after at-bat? The Bombers put eight runs up on the board, led by Jason Giambi's four RBI (dinger, double) and completed a one-sided, three-game sweep by beating Toronto 8-1. The Bombers are a game ahead of the Red Sox, who were finally unable to come back in the bottom of the ninth against the Tribe (though they made it close, as both Ortiz and Manny hit long fly ball outs).
Corey Lidle pitched reasonably well and was rewarded with treats after the game. In other Yankee news, Robinson Cano went 2-5 in minor league game last night, while Hideki Matsui's progress hit a minor snag.
Chris, take a look, please don't embarrass yourself.
The new-look Yankees look mighty good having taken their first two-games from fading playoff rival Toronto by a combined score of 12-3. But it's important to note that the reason they won those games was less the 12 runs on offense than the mere three runs allowed by their pitchers, and that the one pitcher acquired at the deadline has yet to make his Yankee debut. The new Yankee hurler will instead debut today in a get-away matinee on what is already a brutally hot day in the Bronx.
It's Not the Heat...
Sal Fasano will catch Corey Lidle's Yankee debut this afternoon on what promises to be another scorcher in New York. Fasano tells Roger Rubin in The Daily News:
"I've caught in this kind of heat before and you know what to expect," Fasano said. "You could lose five or six pounds of water during the game and you know that when it's over you'll be completely exhausted.
Hang in there, Sal, and everybody else behind the mask today.
The first time I remember seeing my father cry was twenty-seven years ago this morning, the day after Thurman Munson died in a plane crash. The New York Times arrived and I was with my old man on the porch of our house as he scanned the headlines and began to sob. It was a sticky summer morning and I was confused. My father was a die-hard Yankee-hater. Yet there he was, crying, almost reflexively. I asked him why he was so upset. After all, he didn't even like the Yankees. He explained to me that when a person dies it is sad even if they did play for the Yankees. It was a real loss of innocence moment for me. Something was bigger than the game, bigger even than my father's distaste for the Yankees--which I thought knew no bounds. I'll never forget the image of my father--a strong man, far too distracted with his life to care about baseball much anymore--breaking down in front of me.
Later that night, we watched the pre-game ceremonies on TV. The Yankees were playing the Orioles. I recall seeing Ken Singleton, lined-up with his teammates along the third base line, bowing his head. Reggie Jackson, Munson's great rival, stood at his position in right field, crying. The yellow-tinted lights of the Yankee scoreboard displayed a photograph of Munson.
These memories flashed into my head last night just as the game was starting. I had forgotten that yesterday was the anniversary of Munson's untimely death until Bob Sheppard called for a moment of silence.
I sat in the five-dollar seats with my friend Johnny Red Sox. They were in the lower tier but the reason they were five-dollar seats is probably because nobody knew where they were sitting. We must have shifted seats a good half-a-dozen times. And so did everyone else. It was comic. Regardless of our own personal discomfort, the Yankees performed well in front of more than 54,000 sweaty New Yorkers, beating the Blue Jays 7-2. Chien-Ming Wang was brilliant, throwing eight shutout innings, good for his fifth straight win. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and the new guys, Craig Wilson and Bobby Abreu all had strong offensive games.
Jeter collected two more hits including a homer and is now batting .355. Hey Now. It is still early, but Jeter has a chance to make a run at the AL MVP, along with David Ortiz and Joe Mauer. Rodriguez had three hits--and was robbed of a fourth on a gorgeous catch by Vernon Wells in the eighth--and two RBI. He led off the sixth with a rope to left field and tried to stretch it into a double. But Rodriguez was a dead duck and slid well short of the base. Toronto's second baseman Aaron Hill recieved the throw from left field and then turned his body, placing his glove next to the bag, expecting Rodrgiuez to slide right into it. But Rodriguez was far enough away from the play to employ some quick thinking. He deftly pulled his left hand back, extended his right arm to the base and rolled over on his right side in the process. Safe.
"We were all laughing because we were all saying, 'No! No! No!' on his way to second base," Derek Jeter said.
It turned out to be a pivotal play in the game. Jorge Posada followed with 13th dinger of the year and the Yanks went on to score six in the inning--capped by Rodriguez's two-run single. Bobby Abreu had a single and a double and Craig Wilson added two singles himself. Derek Jeter made a wonderful over-the-shoulder catch, robbing Frankie Catalanotto of a base hit, but it was Wang who was truly Mr. Cool for the Bombers, making short work of the Blue Jays' line-up. Troy Glaus' tee-shot, line-drive homer into the black seats off of Ron Villone in the ninth (two pitches after he'd be brushed back) was the lone offensive highlight for the Jays, who are now seven-and-a-half games out of first in the East, and seven-and-a-half games out of the AL Wildcard. The Red Sox remained tied for first as they came-from-behind for the second consecutive night against the Indians.
There is a reason why some of the great New York movies--"Dog Day Afternoon," "Taxi Driver," "Do the Right Thing," are set smack in the middle of summer, when tensions run high, and patience runs thin. This is a great time of year for both drama and comedy.
I've seen plenty of both during the last week as a bondafide Heat Wave has hit the city. It's dumb hot out there. Against my better judgement, I'm headed up to the Great Sweat Box in the Bronx tonight to see Chien-Ming Wang pitch against erstwhile Yankee, Ted Lilly. Figure the ball will be jumping. Will Wang be able to keep his sinker down in this kind of heat? Will the Jays offense flounder for a second straight night against New York? Will Bobby Abreu get his first hit as a Yankee? Will I lose 5 pounds sitting in the upper deck watching it all unfold?
These and other questions will be answered shortly...
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Bobby Abreu drew a key, nine-pitch walk in his second at bat as a Yankee last night. It loaded the bases, and after A.J. Burnett came back to strike out Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams sent three runners home with a double to the gap in left center field (Alex Rodriguez had doubled home the first New York run earlier in the inning). The Yanks had a 4-1 lead, would add another run, and go on to defeat the Blue Jays, 5-1. Coupled with a Red Sox loss, the Yanks are now tied for first in the AL East.
Abrue was hitless in three other at bats, but was recieved warmly in the Bronx, hustling out a ground ball in his first at bat, and making a routine play closer than should have been. Jaret Wright threw a season-high 103 pitches, which got him through five innings. Ron Villone, Scott Proctor and Kyle Farnsworth pitched well in relief.
Gary Sheffield, expected to go mental with the addition of Abreu, had nothing but good things to say to reporters yesterday. According to Brian Lewis in The New York Post:
"A championship is on the way and that's what I'm looking forward to. I'm hurt; I can't help this club. They've got to do what they got to do to help this club. I'm all for it," Sheffield said. "If this helps I'm all for it.
It's not quite on par with Reggie's "magnitude of me," line, but it's pretty good. And though Sheffield's mood has been known to turn suddenly and without warning, the Yankees (and their fans) must be breathing a sigh of relief to see him handling the Abreu deal in such good spirits.
The Blue Jays
Bobby Abreu and Chris Wilson make their Yankee debuts tonight as the Yanks begin a three-game series at home against the third-place Blue Jays. Since taking two of three from the Yankees in Toronto a little over a week ago, the Jays have gone 2-5 on a West Coast swing against the Mariners and A's, dropping their post-Hillenbrand record to 4-6. The Blue Jays did not make a deadline deal, but they did get Alexis Rios back in the line-up this past Friday only to go 1-2 against the A's over the weekend.
As far as the starting pitchers go, tonight's game is a rematch of the opening game of that last series, which the Blue Jays won 7-3 behind a strong performance by A.J. Burnett (7 1/3 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 1 BB, 6 K), while beating up on Jaret Wright (2 2/3 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 2 K). Burnett followed that outing by getting rocked by the M's for six runs (five earned) on ten hits over four innings in his next turn. Wright, meanwhile, gve up four runs (three earned) on five hits and a walk in Texas in his last outing.
Myself, I can't wait to see the new Yankees decked out in their home pinstripes, regardless of the outcome, this is a banner night for Yankee fans.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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