Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: April 2007


Homer, Triple, Homer, Triple, Homer
2007-04-29 19:12
by Cliff Corcoran

Chien-Ming Wang is able to survive his alarmingly low strikeout rate by keeping his walks down and by inducing ground balls, the latter of which not only turn into outs with great frequency, but also rarely go for extra bases. Yesterday, Wang illustrated that formula for success by failing to execute it. Though none of Wang's three walks came around to score, he did give up four runs in six innings because of the three extra-base hits he allowed. In the first, he gave up a solo home run to David Ortiz with two outs. In the third he gave up a leadoff triple to Coco Crisp that scored on a subsequent groundout by Alex Cora, and in the fifth, after hitting Crisp in the toe with one of his sinkers, he gave up another home run to Cora, the Red Sox's surprise star of the game.

The Yankees countered the first two runs on an equally surprising three-run homer by Doug Mientkiewicz in the third, but Scott Proctor and Sean Henn combined to allow three more Boston runs (a Cora triple off Proctor in the seventh that was plated on a sac fly and a two-run Manny Ramirez homer off Henn in the eighth) before the Yankees were able to add their fourth tally on a Derek Jeter solo shot in the bottom of the eighth.

As it turns out, Wang was pitching with a broken nail on his pitching hand from the third inning on, thus the three walks, one hit batter, wild pitch (all of which came after the third inning), and unusual number of extra base knocks (Wang, who allowed just 12 homers all of last year hadn't allowed two homers in a single game since June 28, 2005). The nail on Wang's right index finger cracked in half perpendicular to his finger. According to Peter Abraham, Wang has reportedly fixed similar problems with glue in the past and says he will make his next start.

Despite not being on his game, Wang could have done worse. He gave the Yankees six innings and got 13 of his 18 outs on the ground (plus one K), but the nail effected his control, causing him to leave too many balls up in the zone. In addition to the two homers, both booming shots, and Crisp's triple, Wang got two of his outs in the sixth on booming fly balls. Those shots, combined with a walk and wild pitch in that sixth frame, motivated Joe Torre to remove him after just 84 pitches.

At the plate, Alex Rodriguez went 2 for 4, including a one-out single in the sixth with the Yankees down 4-3 and Derek Jeter on base representing the tying run, but did not add to his homer or RBI totals. He thus finishes April tied with Albert Pujols for the most home runs ever in the month of April and second to Juan Gonzalez for the most RBIs ever in April. His final April line:

.355/.415/.882, 23 G, 27 R, 7 2B, 14 HR, 34 RBI, 23 K, 2 SB, 0 CS

Bobby Abreu broke an 0-for-19 slump with a single in the eighth inning.

On the injury front, Jeff Karstens was placed on the 15-day DL with a fractured right fibula, he's expected to miss six-to-eight weeks. Colter Bean was recalled from Scranton to fill Karstens' spot. Bean, who was a high school and college teammate of Josh Hancock's, will likely return to the minors when Mike Mussina comes off the DL on Thursday. Johnny Damon will see a doctor about his aching back during today's off day. Pavano threw 45 pitches in the bullpen, 20 of them from the top of the mound. He'll throw again mid-week, but will remain on the DL for at least three weeks (which I read as "indefinitely").

Final note from the Abraham post linked above: "The Yankees used five pitchers for the 10th straight game. That is the longest such streak in at least 50 years according to the Elias Sports Bureau." The Karstens/Igawa game seems like a bit of a technicality there, but still, that about sums it up. One of these days, Joe Torre has to let his starter throw 110 pitches and let a single reliever finish the game regardless of the score. It's every bit as important to break that streak as it was to snap the losing streak that ended on Saturday.

Gut Check
2007-04-29 06:26
by Alex Belth

Julio Lugo lined Jeff Kartsen's first pitch off the pitchers' right leg yesterday bringing to mind the lyric, If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all. "You can't print was going through my head and coming out of my mouth at the time that happened," Yankee GM Brian Cashman said after the game (he also added, "0-7 feels like 0-14 in New York"). Kartsens threw five more pitches before giving up a single to Kevin Youkilis and was removed from the game. Turns out the kid has a fractured fibula.

So with no out and two runners on in the first, Kei Igawa entered to face David Ortiz. Not a promising site for the Yankees. But Igawa got Cookie Monster to hit into a double play and pitched into the seventh inning without allowing a run. Brian Bruney, Kyle Karnsworth and Mariano Rivera held the Sox to just one run the rest of the way as the Yanks pulled out tense, hard-earned 3-1 win. Bruney was excellent, Farnsworth not so much. He struck out Manny Ramirez looking, throwing nothing but sliders for strikes. Manny didn't even take the bat off his shoulder. When is the last time you saw that? Coco Crisp was called out on strikes to end the eighth inning. He angrily threw his bat and helmet to the ground and was promptly tossed. Though home plate ump Bruce Froemming called wide strikes equally for both teams, it was hard to blame Crisp for being vexed. He didn't have a chance to do anything with those "strikes."

Jason Varitek got his third hit off of Mariano Rivera this season to start the ninth. But Rivera was helped out by a slick bare-handed play by Alex Rodriguez and held on for the save. After the game, Cliff e-mailed me, "Was that the tensest 9th inning you can remember in a long time or is it me?" He added that the win was "Huge in like 900 ways."

Jorge Posada's two-run homer proved to be the difference. If the Yanks can pull out a win today, it will be a huge relief for New York. If they lose, we're back to fret-con-one.

Oy and Veh
2007-04-28 07:16
by Alex Belth

The Yankee offense did a decent job against D. Matsuzaka for the second time in a week, but Boston's bullpen was excellent and New York's pitching was absolute horses*** as the Red Sox rolled 11-4. Andy Pettitte was lousy and, adding insult to injury, Mariano Rivera was even worse. That makes it seven losses in a row for the Yanks. I guess it can get worse.

I know Steinbrenner isn't what he once was, but if this keeps up, would anyone really be suprised if heads roll?

The Red Sox: The Rematch
2007-04-27 13:18
by Cliff Corcoran

I know I said last week that I'd do a full breakdown in previewing this series, but frankly, I'm winded. While no one expected the Yankees to win more than on game in Boston last weekend, their being swept in a series that was actually more evenly matched than most anticipated was a bitter pill and their three loses this past week that have pushed their overall slide to six games has even the most optimistic Yankee fans shaking their heads.

The Yankees are languishing in last place with the third worst record in the AL and the fifth-worst in baseball, yet their Pythagorean winning percentage is .562. There are two reasons for that. The first is that the Yankee offense, despite being shut out for the first time all season last night, is still the most productive in baseball, scoring six runs per game. The second is that the Yankee bullpen, which looked like a major strength entering the season, has blown seven saves. Losing close and winning big, that's how a team underperforms it's Pythagorean, and that's exactly what the Yankees have been doing. Only two of the Yankees' 12 loses have been by more than two runs. Think about that. Eight times they've been a bloop and a blast away from tying or winning a game in their final at bat, but eventually lost (two of those close losses were walk-off jobs in Oakland) including five of their current six-game losing streak. On the flip side, three of their eight wins have come in their final at-bat (the two game winners by Alex Rodriguez and Giambi's tie-breaker in extras in Oakland).

That's exhausting baseball, and exhaustion is exactly the problem. The rotation was supposed to shape up before it shredded the bullpen. That didn't happen. The offense is the best in the league but the best isn't good enough to overcome the team's pitching woes. Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte give the Yankees a powerful 1-2 punch atop the rotation, and both will face the Sox this weekend, but the Yankees have lost four of the five games those two have started because of the strain placed on the bullpen by the rest of the rotation. The pen appeared to get a reprieve with Wednesday night's rain out, but having already soured on Japanese import Kei Igawa, who's been pulled from the rotation, the team asked 20-year-old rookie phenom Phil Hughes to make his major league debut last night and thus needed another 4 2/3 innings from the bullpen. With the pen already exhausted, however, there was no one Joe Torre could turn to as a long man for mop up duty short of Igawa himself, so those 4 2/3 innings saw him burn through four of his seven relievers.

As a result the only fully rested relief arms for tonight's game are Luis Vizcaino, Kyle Farnsworth and Mariano Rivera, who have been the team's worst performers in the early going. Vizcaino was the pitcher most abused in the early going, but there's reason for optimism with Farnsworth and Rivera. Rivera, of course, is Mariano Rivera, and pitched a scoreless inning on Monday, working around a hit to strike out two. Farnsworth, meanwhile, has turned in a scoreless frame in each of his last four outings, allowing just two hits and a walk over that span while striking out three (though three Ks in 4 IP is still a bit low for him).

In other good news, Wang looked like he was in midseason form in his debut on Tuesday, picking up the loss only because of the failures of the bullpen, and Hideki Matsui has also hit the ground running since being activated from the disabled list on Monday going 2 for 7 with a homer and five walks (.583 OBP). It may not seem like it, but the Yankees are a strong team than they were a week ago heading into Boston.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, were merely .500 on the week, dropping a pair at home to the Blue Jays by a combined score of 17-6, but beating the Orioles twice in Baltimore by a combined score of 11-3. The good news is that the Yankees will be facing the guys who pitched against Toronto (Tim Wakefield and Julian Tavarez), and not the ones who faced Baltimore (Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett).

Tonight, they get their second crack at Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Yanks touched Matsuzaka up for six runs in seven innings on Sunday, one of them coming on a Derek Jeter homer over the Green Monster. On the other hand, Matsuzaka struck out seven Yankees and walked just one. Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte excelled against the Sox a week ago tonight, holding them to two runs over 6 1/3 innings, but Andy's peripherals were less impressive than Matsuzaka's. I'm anticipating a pitchers' duel tonight, which should simply add to the exhaustion factor for those of us watching the game, but could be a benefit to the Yankee bullpen.

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Welcome To The Big Leagues, Phil Hughes . . .
2007-04-27 08:22
by Cliff Corcoran

. . . you're not in Trenton anymore.

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Deep Sixed
2007-04-27 05:26
by Alex Belth

You can see why people are so high on Phil Hughes. He has a nice fastball--imagine that, a Yankee starter with the ability to throw a fastball past a hitter?!--a good curve and is unafraid to throw a change-up too (at one point early in the game he threw three straight change-ups). He fell behind too many hitters, and Alex Rios and Vernon Wells hit the ball hard off him in the first inning (Frank Thomas also connected for an RBI single; Hughes made a good pitch against him, fastball on the outside corner, but The Big Hurt showed why he's a Hall of Fame hitter by slapping it into right). Hughes was just adequate last night, giving up four runs in less than five innings, but he's certainly more promising than the likes of Kei Igawa, the Bombers' new mop-up man in the bullpen.

"I certainly wasn't disappointed," Torre said. "I didn't think he was out of his league, by any stretch of the imagination."

..."The big thing I saw was even when he was down, he kept coming," catcher Jorge Posada said. "That's the sign of a good pitcher. I was really happy."
(Tyler Kepner, N.Y. Times)

Unfortunately for the Yanks, Toronto's answer to Nuke Laloosh, A.J. Burnett, was in fine form, pitching seven shut-out innings. The Bombers managed only four hits all night and lost their sixth straight game. Final score: Jays 6, Yanks 0.

How could Yankee fans be anything but glum watching the game last night? Oy and veh. The most exciting moment offensively came when Alex Rodriguez hit a ball to the warning track in dead center. It sounded great but came up just short. I did notice late in the game, both Johnny Damon and Alex Rodriguez smiling, so it doesn't appear as if the players are too tight yet. After the game, however, Damon told reporters:

"There's going to be panic soon, if the winning doesn't start," Johnny Damon said, although he quickly backtracked after realizing how that honesty came across. "We're not panicking, but we need to get on track soon. It doesn't matter who we get back on track with, we just need to start winning games sometime."
(Peter Botte, N.Y. Daily News)

I think the Yanks will turn it around shortly. Surely, it can't get much worse, can it? I'm more frustrated than panicked. It is dark and rainy in New York this morning with thundershowers in the forecast for much of the day. It is also supposed to rain tomorrow. I wonder how many games the Yanks and Sox will get in?

Making the Leap
2007-04-26 12:24
by Cliff Corcoran

Last July, Steven Goldman and I headed down to Trenton to see 20-year-old Phil Hughes start against the Akron Aeros. The above and below are two of a series of photos I snapped during that game. Hughes dominated the Aeros that night, striking out eight in four innings, but a long rain delay ended his evening there. With Hughes due to make his major league debut tonight after just three triple-A starts, I thought these photos would explain what my words might fail to sufficiently communicate. That is, quite simply, that regardless of a players skill level, it's still a long way from double-A to the major leagues.

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Break It Down
2007-04-26 10:13
by Alex Belth

Ballard's piece on Bobby V isn't the only reason to check out SI this week. Tom Verducci deconstructs Alex Rodriguez's hitting. Verducci gets the skinny from the Yankees hitting coach, Kevin Long, who "identified three major flaw" with Rodriguez's 2006 swing:

• Rodriguez would sometimes drag his back foot forward rather than leave it in place as he began his swing, which decreased his leverage.

• He would let his hands drift too far from his body during the swing, making it longer and "looser."

• His front leg kick, a trigger mechanism, had become grossly exaggerated. Rodriguez would sometimes lift his left knee as high as his waist, then step toward the pitcher with that leg -- a maneuver that would cause him to bring his front foot down late and violently, which created a tightness and imbalance in his swing.

"His leg kick was getting to a point where it wasn't getting down on time," Long says. "Your front foot has to land when the ball is about halfway to the plate. His was coming down much later than that. When that happens, you have to catch up a lot. You rush, and your body tends to drift [toward the pitcher]."

Long drastically cut the height of Rodriguez's leg kick and virtually eliminated the stride, instructing him to simply move his left foot up and down, not toward the pitcher. Now Rodriguez's left foot lands much softer and earlier, which gets him into a loaded, better-balanced position to hit. The changes also eliminated his drift and allowed him to keep his hands in tighter to his body, improving his core rotation. Think of a spinning figure skater: The closer the hands are to the body and the more stable the axis, the faster the skater spins. For Rodriguez, a faster, tighter spin has created better bat speed and power.

Rodriguez grooved his rebuilt swing through the winter to hit balls on a line into the back of the cage's net, an approach that de-emphasized lift and the temptation to pull the ball. Whereas Rodriguez actually fretted last season about how many home runs he hit in batting practice, Long has encouraged Rodriguez to maintain his line-drive approach in batting practice this year. Indeed, A-Rod did not hit one batting practice home run on Friday at cozy Fenway Park.

Over at The Baseball Analysts, Jeff Albert has a great take on Rodriguez's April, complete with images. Albert concludes:

While I am not so sure A-Rod will top 120 HR this season, I don't feel that this is simply a hot streak. What we are seeing is a great player making great adjustments and setting himself up for a great year.

Our good pal Jay Jaffe also tackles Rodriguez's hot start over at BP and The New York Sun.

Meanwhile, Jon Heyman has the latest on The Boss and the boys at River Ave. Blues tell us everything we need to know about Phillip Hughes (but were afraid to ask).

Bubby Magic
2007-04-26 10:01
by Alex Belth

In the late 70s my father had a brief stint as a production manager for SNL. I remember him going to the Mets spring training camp (where they filmed the "Baseball been berry, berry good to me," sketch). When he returned, I peppered him with questions about who his favorite players were and was disappointed when he answered, "Bobby Valentine." Who? Bobby Valentine was a scrub. But years later, I understood perfectly well why Valentine appealed to my father. Bobby V is smart, articulate, charming, and just a tad egotistical (plus, he's generally convinced that he's Right about most things). Valentine has made it and he's done it His way, my dad's kind of guy. Even when I find him abrasive, I never really dislike Valentine, probably because he reminds me of my old man. And I just find him very amusing.

There is an entertaining (and lengthy) piece on Bobby V this week in SI by Chris Ballard. Check it out.

Hughes Debuts Tonight
2007-04-26 05:17
by Alex Belth

Andy Pettitte was scheduled to pitch last night, but after the game was warshed-out, he's being pushed to Friday, when Boston comes to town for a weekend series. Which means Phillip Hughes will start tonight as previously planned. After Chase Wright's poor outing at Fenway last weekend, the Yankees are intent on keeping the pressure off Hughes, who'll be plenty anxious anyhow, as he makes his big league debut (Cliff will be at the game tonight and hopefully will have some flicks for us to check out in the a.m.).

"I don't know how he's going to handle it," catcher Jorge Posada said. "We all hope he is going to handle it well. He's very smart. He understands what's going on. The last two spring trainings he carried himself real well so we're looking forward to it."

..."I feel like I've really come a long way in just a few starts," Hughes said, "especially that last start that I had went real well."

That last start was against Syracuse, Toronto's triple-A team. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said they'll learn what they can from the Chiefs but they expect Hughes to pitch well.

"He's thought very highly of," Gibbons said. "Arguably, they say the best pitcher in the minor leagues. So we know he'll be bringing it pretty good."
Jay Cohen, Toronto Sun,

A.J. Burnett, who can be awfully tough to handle when he's on will start for the Jays.

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The Toronto Blue Jays
2007-04-25 12:18
by Cliff Corcoran

I wrote a little something about the Blue Jays over on Fungoes while filling in on Alex's AL East beat while he was off getting nuptualized. The crux of what I had to say was that the simultaneous injuries to B. J. Ryan and Troy Glaus are going to make it awfully hard for the Jays to compete because of the resulting thinness of their bullpen and lack of offense. Since that post went live on Monday, the Jays swept a quick two-game series in Boston by a combined score of 17-6 while the Yankees got swept by the same Devil Rays that I claimed Toronto and Baltimore had "fattened up" upon.


The injuries just keep on coming for the Jays, however. The lastest to hit the DL is catcher and on-base machine Gregg Zaun, who was hit on the throwing hand last night by a foul off the bat of ex-teammate Eric Hinske. In a fantastic bit of irony, Zaun is being replaced on the Jays' 25-man roster by ex-Yank Sal Fasano, who arrives accompanied by this gem from one-time Billy Beane disciple and current Jays GM J. P. Riccardi: "The nice thing is we've got Fasano to come up. Between him and [Jason] Phillips, we've got a veteran presence."

Things are the same all over.

Tonight the Yankees send April pitching MVP Andy Pettitte (three quality starts plus two scoreless relief innings) to the hill against Josh Towers. The 30-year-old Towers had a solid season in 2005, but pitched his way off the Jays last year only to win the fifth starters spot out of camp this spring when free agent John Thomson hit the DL. Towers dominated the Tigers two starts ago, but has been roughed up by the Royals and Orioles in his other two outings.

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Get Your Phil of Hughes Puns
2007-04-25 09:26
by Emma Span

[Note: I wrote this post Tuesday afternoon. Since then I've heard a rumor that the Yankees played the Devil Rays, but I am dismissing it as mere hearsay. I suggest you do the same.]

Spring is a time of hope and renewal. And allergies, but never mind. It’s a gorgeous day, and I refuse to ruin it by dwelling on the state of the Yankees’ pitching over the course of the last few days. Er, weeks. Moving on! I’m not here, as they say, to talk about the past.
Let’s talk about the immediate future instead: an obscure, unheralded minor leaguer flying under everybody’s radar by the name of Phil Hughes. Hey, you know you weren’t going to talk about anything else today anyway.

I’ve been in the minority, I think, in that I wasn’t opposed to leaving Hughes in AAA Dunder-Mifflin a while longer; I thought it made sense to go carefully with him, and build up his innings, arm, and confidence -- that was the Yanks’ original plan, and I can only assume they had their reasons for it. After all, it’s still only April, the guy can’t even drink legally (which certainly must have made it tough to watch these last few games), and he didn’t look quite ready for the bigs in spring training – though, for what it’s worth, Alex Rodriguez didn’t look quite ready to shatter every existing offensive record for the month of April, either. Regardless, when I heard Hughes was starting Thursday, it took me all of three seconds to decide to buy a ticket.

Normally when I go to the Stadium I sit in the bleachers, or the far reaches of the upper deck (don’t get me started on Yankee Stadium ticket prices). This time, though, I figured if I was going to be there, I might as well spring for a semi-decent seat. I imagine I’ll tell my children one day that I watched Phil Hughes’ very first major league start. I also imagine I’ll be telling them this by way of explaining why we don’t have the money to buy new shoes or turn the heat up, but what the hell.

I am a little worried. Expectations are stratospheric. I believe Hughes is the real deal, but many highly touted prospects never do make it in the majors, for reasons no one completely understands (although obviously one, two, or even twenty sub-par starts won’t mean that’s the case here). Expecting a guy in his first ever trip to the big leagues to not only pitch well, but also go deep, against a tough Toronto lineup, is asking a lot.

That said, I’m not particularly worried about his lack of AAA experience; it doesn’t seem to matter much, as demonstrated most recently by the performance this season of Mets reliever Joe Smith, who was in college less than a year ago and has yet to allow a run in 11 appearances. I also don’t see how making a few starts up here while the rotation scrapes itself off the DL would hurt his long-term health -- my understanding is that it’s his season-long workload that's the (potential) issue. Plus there's the fact that the longer they wait to bring him up, the more the pressure will build. Maybe it’s best, after all, to get that first major-league start out of the way while it's still early, before each game feels so freighted with importance, in a non-nationally televised contest with the Blue Jays (who, no matter how good they are in a given year, somehow just never manage to come across as legitimate rivals. Why is that? Give me your best cheap Canadian jokes).

So I’m psyched, but let’s try to stay realistic. It would be nice if Hughes could feed the whole stadium with just 20 kosher hot dogs and heal Carl Pavano with a laying-on of hands . . . but I’ll settle for six full innings.

Bonus Discussion Point: Let’s see if we can call the eventual Daily News/NY Post next-day headlines: Phil it Up? Hughes Your Daddy? The Post on Tuesday went with “Hughes Da Man For Rotation,” which strikes me as a bit of a stretch, while the Daily News disappointingly used merely “Panic!” instead of my dark horse pick, “Panic! At The Disco.”

The Say The Road Ain't No Place To Start A Family
2007-04-24 22:23
by Cliff Corcoran

Chien-Ming Wang was his old self in his 2007 debut last night. Pitching into the seventh inning, Wang worked quickly, efficiently (81 pitches over 6 1/3 innings), and effectively, getting 12 groundouts to just four fly outs, striking out three and walking no one. His one rough inning had as much to do with bad bounces as bad pitches.

Carl Crawford led of the fourth with a single and a stolen base. Ty Wigginton then hit a chopper in front of the plate that bounced so high that even the plodding Wigginton had time to beat it out (though replays showed he was likely out at first). Crawford, who scampered to third on Wigginton's chopper, scored on a groundout which also moved Wigginton to second. Carlos Peña then hit a clean single to left. Hideki Matsui's throw beat Wigginton home by several steps, but again bounced off that hard surface in front of the plate and bounded over Jorge Posada's glove to make it 2-1 Rays (the first Yankee run came on a tape-measure homer by Matsui leading off the second).

The Yankees took the lead in the top of the seventh after Matsui reached on a Scott Kazmir throwing error on an easy comebacker with one out. Jorge Posada doubled Matsui home and, after a Robinson Cano groundout, Josh Phelps came through with a huge two-out RBI single to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead.

Wang started the seventh by striking out Jonny Gomes, but then game up a single to Dioner Navarro and a double to B. J. Upton that put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position with one out. The pitches to Navarro and Upton were high in the zone and that was all Joe Torre needed to see to take Wang out of the game with the top of the Rays' order coming up.

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2007-04-24 12:09
by Cliff Corcoran

The Yankees have the fourth-worst starters' ERA in baseball (only the Rangers, Mariners and these Devil Rays have been worse, which gives you some idea how rough those teams have had it thus far). The Yankee starters are averaging just 4.87 innings per game, and opponents are smacking them around at a .301 clip. After 18 games, the Yankee have received just five quality starts, three of them from Andy Pettitte, one from the indefinitely disabled Carl Pavano, and the last from Kei Igawa, who was quite a bit short of quality last night.

There's nothing this team needs more right now than a high-quality starting pitcher. Maybe something in a 19-game winner and Cy Young runner-up, ideally with a high pitch efficiency, possibly a pitch-to-contact groundballer of some type. Got anything like that? You do? Do you think he'd be available to pitch in Tampa tonight? You say he's already there? Sweet! Just wait until the guys hear about this, they'll be stoked!

Additional reason to be stoked (no, it has nothing to do with Brian Stokes . . . yet): The Devil Rays have placed Akinori Iwamura on the DL with an oblique strain and recalled Jorge Cantu, who failed to make the team out of camp and is hitting just .267/.317/.360 in triple-A. I don't know how Joe Maddon plans to alter his lineup, but moving Ty Wigginton to third base, putting Carlos Peña at first, and moving B. J. Upton up in the order would make the most sense to me. Whatever he does, this is good news for the Yankees, as Iwamura has reached base nine times in 14 trips against the Yanks, scoring seven times. It's a bummer for baseball fans in general, however, as Iwamura's been one of the better stories of the young season.

I doubt the Yankees are shedding any tears. They're too busy being stoked.

Yankee Panky #6: Yankees, Red Sox, and Halberstam
2007-04-24 09:06
by Will Weiss

I had intended to follow up on last week’s poll with observations and details of the weekend’s coverage of the Yanks-Sox series, but the sudden death of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, historian, and author David Halberstam has rendered that idea moot. There will be plenty of opportunities to discuss Alex Rodriguez’s ridiculous video-game pace, the continuing wussification of Carl Pavano (Pavano told ESPN’s Rick Sutcliffe Monday that he was unsure if he’d pitch again this season – Pavano and the Yankees, despite there being a transcript of the interview, are denying the report and planning a throwing session Wednesday), the pantsing Yankee pitchers have received in the early going, and whether or not Dice-K is overrated.

Halberstam was killed in a car accident near Menlo Park, California, following a speech at UC Berkeley. He was 73.

In a strange, cosmic way, Halberstam’s death coming one day after the Yankees and Red Sox played their initial series of the season makes sense. He was a native New Yorker who grew up with Joe DiMaggio’s Yankees. He later became a Bostonian, graduating from Harvard and later residing in Nantucket as well as owning an apartment in New York City.

Furthermore, of the seven sports-specific books Halberstam completed – he published 20 non-fiction works in his career and was working on a book about the 1958 NFL Championship Game at the time of his death – the Yankees or the Red Sox were prominently featured in three. Summer of ’49, to me, is the definitive work about one of the most thrilling pennant races of all-time. The Teammates, which details Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, and Johnny Pesky’s trip to Florida to visit Ted Williams before his death, has much of the same biographical information as Summer of ’49, yet through the four Red Sox all-time greats, gives that pennant race a different sense of closure. Halberstam highlights the end of the Yankees’ dynasty some 40 years before Buster Olney in October 1964, chronicling that year’s seven-game World Series and the rise of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Many writers come to mind when thinking of the Yankees, the Red Sox, and their respective cities: Dick Young, Ring Lardner, Jimmy Cannon, Dave Anderson, Phil Pepe, Maury Allen, Bill Madden, Murray Chass, Mike Lupica (he was awesome once, and still can be when he wants to show he still has game), Leigh Montville, Peter Gammons, Bob Ryan, Dan Shaughnessy, Gordon Edes, and more recently, Tom Verducci, Sean McAdam, John Harper, and Joel Sherman. Halberstam, although he never covered baseball as a newspaper reporter, deserves mention among those names. His work didn’t become part of the vernacular or a convenient way to describe 86 years of ineptitude, but it is lasting, and will continue to last because of the historic figures he highlighted, and the way he portrayed them.

I got to meet Halberstam twice: the first time was eight years ago when I interned at the defunct ESPN show “Up Close”; the second was a year and a half ago when he appeared on “CenterStage.” He was tall, quiet, very much the stern, intellectual, professorial type. Yet, for someone so reserved and measured in his speech and gait, he had an energy that belied his demeanor. I spent maybe a total of two minutes with him over the course of those meetings, but I came away with one thought both times: He’s a man that commands respect when he walks into a room.

I didn’t intend to participate in the eulogy, although I unintentionally have in this space. This is a place of intelligent discourse, so why not pay homage to an intelligent man and a giant in the writing field? Halberstam, along with Dick Schaap, made it acceptable for newsies to be sportswriters. They had different styles, but were similarly effective and entertaining in their storytelling. They educated their readers.

With both of them gone now, there's a great void.

Back to baseball next week, at which time A-Rod’s season totals will probably be in the range of a .400 average, 20 home runs, 50 RBIs, .475 OBP, and 1.500 OPS . . .

2007-04-23 18:25
by Cliff Corcoran

I have to admit, I missed the first six innings of last night's game. Since getting a digital video recorder last August, I've watched very few games live, and I simply forgot to set the thing to record yesterday's game. By the time I tuned in, the Devil Rays were up 7-6. Boy am I glad I forgot to set the DVR.

What I missed was Kei Igawa and Casey Fossum trying to out-awful each other. Fossum started the bidding with Alex Rodriguez's 13th homer of the year, a solo shot to lead off the second. Igawa countered with a three-run shot by Rocco Baldelli in the bottom of the inning that made it 4-1 Rays (two walks and a single preceded the dinger). Fossum gave one of those runs back in the third (a Josh Phelps double plated by a Melky bunt and Jeter sac fly), one in the fourth (singles by Rodriguez and Giambi, sac fly by Matsui), and one in the fifth on a Robinson Cano solo homer.

Igawa gave up another run in the bottom of the fifth on a single by Delmon Young and a double by Akinori Iwamura, then got the hook after 97 pitches. Colter Bean came on and struck out Elijah Dukes, but let Iwamura score on a Josh Paul single before getting out of the inning.

Fossom followed Igawa out of the game in the top of the sixth after allowing another run on a double by Abreu and singles by Rodriguez and Giambi, then plunking Robinson Cano with two outs to load the bases. Gary Glover came on and walked Josh Phelps to force in a run before getting the final out.

That's how it got to be 7-6 Devil Rays.

Brian Bruney and Luis Vizcaino combined to yield three more runs in the seventh, both yielding a walk and a double before Vizcaino recorded the first out of the inning, the big shot being B. J. Upton's bases-clearing double off Vizcaino. After appearing in eight of the Yankees' first 12 games and allowing just six base runners in those 8 1/3 innings, Vizcaino's been terrible in three of his last four outings. Those splits are symptomatic of the way in which the rotation's failures have wreaked havoc on the entire bullpen, which entered the season as one of the best in baseball.

Down four runs, the Yankees rallied in the eighth. After Juan Salas walked Giambi and Matsui, Brian Stokes came in and got Posada to foul out, but Robinson Cano singled to load the bases for Josh Phelps, who had doubled and walked in three trips. Except that Joe Torre sent Johnny Damon up to pinch-hit for Phelps against the right-handed Stokes. Sending Damon up wasn't a bad move, but sending him up for Phelps rather than saving him to hit for the next batter, Melky Cabrera, was. Damon battled Stokes, but fouled out and Cabrera struck out on four pitches to leave the bases loaded.

Against Al Reyes in the ninth, Bobby Abreu drew a one-out walk and Alex Rodriguez delivered yet another home run to pull the Yanks within two, but Jason Giambi struck out and Hideki Matsui popped out to mercifully end the game.

The 10-6 loss to the Rays drops the Yankees to just a half game out of last place in the East. The Yanks have now lost four straight because their pitching staff has allowed an average of 7.75 runs per game over that span. This feels like rock bottom. Here's hoping it is.

Chien-Ming Wang makes his first start of the season tonight. It's not soon enough.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2007-04-23 13:26
by Cliff Corcoran

The Devil Rays roster remains the same as it was on Opening Day, but the way Joe Maddon is using it has changed. To begin with, he's switched Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford in the order, leading off Baldelli and putting Crawford in the three-spot. He's also been working his four-man bench into the starting lineup with regularity, alternating Brendan Harris at shortstop with the struggling Ben Zobrist, starting Josh Paul behind the plate in two of the last four games in place of the scuffling Dioner Navarro, and setting up a rotation at DH that has allowed him to keep Baldelli and Ty Wigginton in the lineup on a daily basis while also working Elijah Dukes and Carlos Peña in at center field and first base respectively. Maddon will also use Wigginton at second base on occasion to give B. J. Upton a day off or at DH, and has also started Harris at third to give Akinori Iwamura a breather. As a result Jonny Gomes is last on the team in plate appearances, which is good news for the Yankees, though I must admit, I, like Alex, enjoy watching Gomes play.

Thus far Upton has been a world beater at the plate, but has committed five errors at second base. Iwamura has been the quiet surprise I anticipated. Peña has just six hits, but three of them are home runs. Paul is hitting for high average and getting on base, but has no extra-base knocks. Duke and Baldelli have both been struggling, and the team as a whole has been thrown out on 47 percent of its stolen base attempts.

The pitching, meanwhile, has been abysmal outside of the dominant performance of ex-Yankee and current closer Al Reyes. James Shields has been the team's best starter thus far, but has also allowed six homers in four starts. Tonight's starter, Casey Fossum, is the only other Ray with as many as two quality starts in the early going and, in fact, has piched very well after an opening week drubbing at the hands of the Blue Jays. In his last two starts against the Twins in Minnesota and the Orioles at home, Fossum has assembled this line:

14 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 1 HR, 1 BB, 6 K, 0.86 WHIP, 3.21 ERA, 1-0

The good news, of course, is that the Cherry Hill native will have to face a Yankee lineup that's back at full strength. Hideki Matsui returns to left field tonight and is reportedly all the way back from the hamstring injury that place him on the DL during the frigid opening homestand. Joe Torre has said that Jorge Posada will be back in the lineup tonight. Jorge could return as the DH, pushing Jason Giambi into the field, but if he's able to catch, the lefty Fossum will draw Josh Phelps at first base for a line-up that looks like it did on Opening Day

L - Johnny Damon (CF)
R - Derek Jeter (SS)
L - Bobby Abreu (RF)
R - Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L - Jason Giambi (DH)
L - Hideki Matsui (LF)
S - Jorge Posada (C)
L - Robinson Cano (2B)
R - Josh Phelps (1B)


Kei Igawa takes the mound for the Yanks. He's improved across the board in each of his last two starts (IP, K, ground ball rate up; H, R, HR, BB, fly ball rate, pitch total down). Here's hoping that trend continues tonight.

By the way, Alex Rodriguez hasn't gone more than two consecutive games without a home run this season. He homered twice on Friday night, but was kept in the park over the last two games in Boston. He has four career dingers off Fossum in 34 at-bats.

Update: Chase Wright was optioned back to double-A to make room for Matsui. That means Kevin Thompson's still around, which suggests that Johnny Damon and his achy back may get the night off against the lefty Fossum on the Tampa turf (even if it's fancy new turf). I would expect Darrell Rasner to be recalled to make Friday's start against Matsuzaka at the Stadium.

Upupdate: Posada catches, Damon sits. Melky starts in center and leads off. Harris, Dukes and Paul start in the field for the Rays. Baldelli is the DH.

Upupandawaydate: Scratch Rasner. Phil Hughes makes his Yankee debut on Thursday against the Blue Jays. Karstens moves to Friday against Matsuzaka. More on Hughes after the game.

Observations From Cooperstown: Tracking Paul Blair
2007-04-23 09:37
by Bruce Markusen

A recent YES Network article by sportswriter Phil Pepe, who ranked the greatest Yankees defensively at each position over the past half-century, has spurred an offshoot question resulting in some interesting internet debate. Who is the best defensive center fielder of the last 40 years? For me, there can only be one answer, and it’s been the same answer since he retired in 1980—Paul L D Blair. During the 1970s, this man was to catching fly balls what Alex Rodriguez is now to hitting two-out, game-ending home runs at Yankee Stadium.

Now before any San Francisco Giants fans call for the paddy wagon to be sent to Cooperstown, please remember that the question encompasses only the last 40 years. If we expand the question to 50 years (as Pepe did), then I would unquestionably vote for Willie Mays. But I limited the scan to 40 years because that approximates my life span, allowing me to select players based on what I have seen rather than merely relying on statistics. By the late sixties and early seventies, Mays had declined sufficiently to allow center fielders like Blair, Tommie Agee (he of the two great catches in the ’69 World Series), Ken Berry (the Gold Glover, not the actor), Curt Flood (his glove was nearly as pioneering as his labor efforts), and Cesar Geronimo (who had a booming right fielder’s arm) to creep into the argument.

Originally signed by the New York Mets in 1961, Paul Blair began his professional career as a middle infielder. He was incredibly nimble and quick, with enough arm to play shortstop in the minor leagues, but some scouts considered him too small to handle the wear and tear of the middle infield. After their inaugural major league season, the Mets left him unprotected in the 1962 first-year draft. The Orioles swooped in, eventually making the prudent decision to switch him from shortstop to the outfield.

Blair was a bit past his prime by the time he joined the Yankees in 1977 (still very good, though a step slower), but during his Baltimore Orioles heyday he established himself as the absolute standard bearer among center fielders. He played incredibly shallow, allowing him to catch almost any kind of short bloop, yet rarely let a ball get over his head for extra bases. He also had a good throwing arm, strong enough to play right field, which he often did as Reggie Jackson’s caddy in the late 1970s. With his shallow and proper positioning, his flawless jumps, and his oceanic like range, Blair simply had no weakness defensively. I can’t think of a center fielder who was better from the late sixties on, and that includes not only the older group of center fielders mentioned above, but more recent players like Garry Maddox, Gary Pettis, and Devon White, and the contemporary class of Andruw Jones and Jim Edmonds.

As much joy as Blair brought to those who appreciated the artistry of brilliant defensive play, he brings other desirable qualities to those who enjoy the game’s history. Blair loves to talk—he wasn’t called "Motormouth" for reasons of irony—and has plenty of opinions on baseball past and present. Last year, Blair visited Cooperstown, ably entertaining fans who had gathered in the Hall of Fame’s Bullpen Theater to hear some Hot Stove League banter. Although he played for the Yankees for only four seasons, Blair could write several chapters and multiple verses about his experiences with the Bronx Zoo. The topic of Reggie Jackson, the man whom he often replaced in the late innings, provided a good starting point to the conversation. "The only trouble that Reggie had," Blair informed the Cooperstown crowd, "was before and after games. Not during the games." (Well, with the exception of one infamous Saturday afternoon in Boston during the 1977 season. On that play, Blair defended Billy Martin’s decision to pull Reggie from the game in mid-inning. "You don’t hustle, you don’t play. Billy would have done it with other players.) As Reggie stirred the pot, Blair tried to keep the contents under the lid. "I really became the ambassador and tried to keep peace. If I hadn’t been there, Reggie would have been in fights every day." With other strong personalities like Thurman Munson and Mickey Rivers ready to butt heads with Jackson, well-liked peacemakers like Blair and Fran Healy served an important role as clubhouse coolers.

Temperamental players like Jackson weren’t the only ones who kept Blair on guard; there was a certain manager who had mood swings that would have made a psychiatrist twitch. And while Blair liked the idea of playing for Billy Martin after asking to be traded away from Baltimore, he recognized that his new manager in New York had a full share of quirks. "Billy held grudges," Blair said without hesitation. "If you were in his doghouse, you might as well forget it." Fortunately, Blair managed to remain on Martin’s good side, in large part because of his upbeat personality and willingness to play the unheralded role of outfield caddy.

While Martin and Jackson had a dark side, Blair had nothing but praise for Yankee captain Thurman Munson, whom he likened to one of his most respected teammates in Baltimore. "You have to put Munson in the category of a Frank Robinson," said Blair, recalling his onetime outfield mate with the Orioles. "Thurman was fiery, a leader. Thurman was also a special talent." And much like Blair, Munson was one of those players who could not be fully appreciated unless he was seen on a day-to-day basis, with fans bearing full witness to his extraordinary catching skills and deft baserunning prowess.

In listening to Blair talk so passionately about most subjects, especially fielding and baserunning, I’m saddened that he isn’t working for some major league team in a meaningful capacity. Simply put, someone should hire Blair as an outfield/baserunning coach. He knows a great deal about both subjects and is a good communicator (again justifying the nickname of Motormouth). But Blair himself knows why he isn’t working for a major league team. He’s all too willing to challenge players who don’t play the game properly, confronting them face-to-face, and he doesn’t think that will fly with most organizations. It’s shameful that there is no longer a place in baseball for such honesty—brutal honesty—that is intended to instruct players and reduce the frequency of future mistakes.

Not surprisingly, the outspoken Blair is not a big fan of the way that the outfield is played today. On the one hand, he says that Andruw Jones reminds him of the way he used to play, but also feels that Jones makes far too many fundamental mistakes. If Blair were to work with the Braves, the expletives would fly throughout the outfield at Turner Field.

On a larger scale, Blair thinks that most contemporary outfielders play way too deep (not just center fielders), not only preventing them from making the short catch but also hurting their chances at throwing out runners at the plate. And if you’re like me, and you had the privilege of watching Blair play the outfield the way that he did, you might agree that he’s absolutely right.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
2007-04-22 20:52
by Cliff Corcoran

I must say, I think the Yankees acquitted themselves rather well this weekend. Facing the Red Sox three best starters, the offense scored at least five runs in each game and, save for the eighth inning on Friday and Scott Proctor's outing last night, the bullpen shut the Red Sox out over 9 1/3 innings. Unfortunately, that eighth inning on Friday and Proctor's outing last night led directly to two of three loses in a weekend sweep that will loom large as the AL East race heats up toward the latter part of the season.

The Yankees got out to an early 2-0 lead on Daisuke Matsuzaka in the top of the first on a two-out Jason Giambi double and added a third run in the third when Giambi singled home Johnny Damon, again with two outs. Chase Wright, meanwhile, stranded two runners in each of his first two frames, then started the third by getting Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz to fly out. Then Manny Ramirez homered. Then J. D. Drew homered. Then Mike Lowell homered. Then Jason Varitek homered.

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The Matsuzaka Effect
2007-04-22 16:43
by Cliff Corcoran

Daisuke Matsuzaka's line over his first three starts:

20 IP, 17 H, 6 R, 1 HR, 5 BB, 24 K, 1.10 WHIP, 2.70 ERA, 1-2

The combined line of the opposing starting pitchers in Matsuzaka's first three starts:

22 2/3 IP, 15 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 3 BB, 16 K, 0.79 WHIP, 0.79 ERA, 2-1

At first it seemed as though this trend was the result of Matsuzaka starting against two of the best young pitchers in the league, but last time out his opponent was Mr. Gustavo Chacin, who bosts a 5.32 ERA on the season inclusive of the game in which he outdueled Matsuzaka. Tonight, Matsuzaka starts against Chase Wright, who will be making just his second major league start and just his fourth career start above A-ball. Here's hoping the Matsuzaka effect is for real.

At Least They Have Their Health . . . Sorta
2007-04-21 23:45
by Cliff Corcoran

With Jeff Karstens making his first start of the season (and just the seventh of his major league career) after a stay on the disabled list due to elbow soreness, Hideki Matsui on the DL, Jorge Posada out with a bruised thumb, and Johnny Damon out with back and hamstring soreness, the Yankees were effectively playing yesterday's game with one hand tied behind their back, thus their eventual 7-5 loss was hardly a shock. Rather, the Yankees did well to score five runs against Josh Beckett, who came into the game having allowed just one run in each of his first three starts of the year. The bullpen contributed 3 2/3 scoreless innings--the highlight being Sean Henn's three-pitch strikeout of David Ortiz. And Damon, pinch-hitting for a still-hitless Wil Neives, Melky Cabrera, Derek Jeter, and Bobby Abreu each had good at-bats against a gas-throwing Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth. Cabrera worked a one-out, four-pitch walk to give Jeter and Abreu a chance to tie game. Unfortunately, Jeter took the most hitable pitch of his six-pitch at-bat for a called strike, and Abreu flied out to the warning track in center to end the game, leaving Mr. Clutch, Alex Rodriguez (2 for 4 with a double and an RBI single) stranded in the on-deck circle.

This gives me a good occasion to update the Yankees' laundry list of injuries and resultant roster and lineup changes:

  • Chris Britton was optioned to Scranton to make room for Karstens, meaning Colter Bean remains on the roster, though he did not appear again yesterday. Kevin Thompson, who doubled and made a nice catch against the Monster in left yesterday, will likely go down when Hideki Matsui is activated tomorrow. Bean will then likely be optioned when Chien-Ming Wang is activated for the start on Tuesday, which Wang was cleared to make after throwing 55 pitches in the bullpen in Tampa yesterday.
  • As per the above, Damon did not start yesterday due to general back pain, which he says he first felt while playing on the turf in Minnesota, but had subsided during the recent homestand only to be aggravated on a catch he made in Friday night's game. According to Damon, he's been having problems with his legs all season, and the back pain and leg pain are often related for him. Damon did pinch-hit in the ninth yesterday, working Papelbon for seven pitches before ultimately grounding out, and is expected to start tonight. However, one wonders if, with Hideki Matsui coming off the DL tomorrow, the Yankees might keep Melky in the lineup in Damon's place for the two games they play on turf in Tampa.
  • Also per the above, Jorge Posada came out of Friday night's game after his left thumb was bruised by an Andy Pettitte pitch and did not play yesterday, though it turns out he was available if needed. He won't start tonight either, but will again be available as a pinch-hitter. His thumb is swollen, but x-rays were negative and it bothers him less to hit than to catch. Josh Phelps warmed up Scott Proctor and Luis Vizcaino in the bullpen on Friday night in order to serve as an emergency catcher if needed. Wil Nieves, meanwhile, failed to execute a sac bunt in yesterday's game, but reached on a Mike Lowell throwing error then came around to score. It was the first and still only time in Nieves's Yankee career that one of his plate appearances didn't result in an out.
  • Mike Mussina threw 30 pitches in the bullpen in Tampa yesterday and will throw again on Tuesday, hoping to reach 50 pitches. The Yankees hope he'll be ready to make a rehab start on Friday and, if all goes well, he could rejoin the rotation when the Yankees travel to Texas, likely starting the final game of that series on May 3. Bobby Murcer is expected to join the team in Texas as well.
  • An MRI on Carl Pavano's elbow revealed a mild strain on Thursday. He threw off flat ground yesterday and reported continued tightness in the elbow, but is expected to throw again on Monday. He's still traveling with the team.
  • Humberto Sanchez had Tommy John surgery on Wednesday. He is the third Yankee minor leaguer to undergo elbow ligament surgery since the end of last season, the others being Mark Melancon, who had Tommy John over the winter, and J. Brent Cox, who had a less severe ligament repair at the end of Spring Training. This could ultimately be good news for Sanchez, who's had elbow problems most of his professional career. The hope now is that those problems will be a thing of the past once he's fully recovered from this surgery. There's no guarantee of that, of course, and he'll likely spend all of 2008 building back his arm strength, but the Yankees have enough minor league pitching to be patient with his recovery.

Mo Problems
2007-04-20 21:48
by Cliff Corcoran

Everything went according to plan for the Yankees through the first seven innings of last night's series opener in Fenway. Andy Pettitte turned in a quality start, holding the Red Sox to two runs on a Jason Varitek homer over 6 1/3 innings, then passed the baton to Scott Proctor, who retired his two batters on six pitches (five of which were strikes). Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez hit not one, but two more home runs, both off Curt Schilling, a solo shot into the Monster Seats in the fourth and a three-run shot that sent Coco Crisp tumbling into the Boston bullpen in the fifth. Those two shots were bookended by two other runs, the latter a Rodriguez double in the top of the eighth that was plated by a Jason Giambi single. That gave the Yankees a 6-2 lead entering the bottom of the eighth inning.

With David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez leading off the eighth, the Yankees' four-run lead looked safe. Even if both mashers managed to come around to score, the Yanks still had two runs to work with. Joe Torre brought in Mike Myers to face Ortiz, who promptly doubled. He then turned to Luis Vizcaino to face Ramirez, who worked a full-count walk. J. D. Drew, who was 3-for-3 with a trio of singles against Pettitte, grounded to second for the first out, moving Ortiz and Ramirez to second and third. Mike Lowell followed Drew with a single into left field that plated Ortiz, put runners on the corners, and brought the tying run to the plate in the person of Jason Varitek. With that, Torre turned to Mariano Rivera.

In spring training, Joe Torre said that he was going to use Rivera exclusively as a one-inning pitcher this year, but with all of the Yankee wins coming either in their last at-bat (Jason Giambi's extra-inning homer in Oakland and Alex Rodriguez's two walk-offs at home), or in blowouts (Opening Day's 9-5 score being by far the closest of the other five Yankee wins which they've won by an average of 6.6 runs), Rivera hasn't had much opportunity to pitch. Indeed, he hadn't thrown a pitch in five days, dating back to his blown save in Oakland last Sunday. Thus, Torre had no qualms against using Rivera for five outs in order to guarantee a win in the only game that favored the Yankees entering their weekend showdown with the rival Red Sox.

In Oakland, Rivera struggled with his command. Pitches that were supposed to be down in the zone floated up and over the plate. Last night his first five pitches to Varitek were right at Wil Nieves's glove, the first four at the bottom of the strike zone. Varitek fouled off the last three, however, and the sixth floated up and over the plate. Varitek deposited it into right center for an RBI single to pull the Sox within two. That brought up Coco Crisp. Rivera again threw a pitch right to Nieves's glove on the lower inside corner and Crisp hit it all of three feet. In the air that is. Crisp beat the ball into the ground, but past Doug Mientkiewicz's dive at first and down into the right field corner for a bases-clearing triple that tied the game. Two pitches later, Rivera missed high again to Alex Cora who hit a flare over the drawn-in infield to plate Crisp with the go-ahead run.

Rivera has now blown his only two save opportunities this season, taking the loss in each of his last two outings. Conversely, each of the last two Yankee loses were games in which they handed Mariano Rivera a multi-run lead. Is this cause for concern over the baseball mortality of the Yankees' 37-year-old closer?

Probably not. In 2005, Rivera blew his first two saves of the year in consecutive games at home against the Red Sox. Last year, Rivera blew his second save opportunity of the season and three outings later came into a tie game at home in the tenth inning and gave up two runs to take the loss. Following the latter on April 26, Rivera was 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA. He'd lose just three more games all year and finish with a 1.80 ERA. In 2005 he finished with a staggering 1.38 ERA. Rivera's throwing hard, as evidenced by his virtuoso performance on Opening Day, and, despite the pitch that got away from him and sailed over Julio Lugo's head before he struck Lugo out to end the eighth, his location was improved last night save for three or four of his 14 pitches (11 of those 14 pitches were strikes, though his recent location problems have had more to do with throwing strikes that are a little to good than with missing the zone). Rivera was lights out in spring training and allowed just one hit and one walk in his first four innings of the reuglar season while striking out four. He'll be fine.

So will Jorge Posada, who left the game with a bruised thumb on his glove hand. His x-rays were negative, but he'll likely miss the rest of the series with Wil Nieves catching the rookies Karstens and Wright, and Josh Phelps serving as the emergency backup catcher. After subbing in for Posada last night, Nieves has now come to the plate 19 times as a Yankee and made 19 outs. He has no official sacrifices and, though he did get to run the bases last night after hitting into a fielder's choice, has not scored a run.

As much as last night's loss hurt, a win in either of the next two games would be just as painful to the Red Sox. They really have no excuse not to sweep this series now.

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The Boston Red Sox
2007-04-20 13:24
by Cliff Corcoran

The Red Sox may have faltered last year, but I think their offseason upgrades at shortstop, right field and in the rotation have put them back in a dead heat with the Yankees. I’ll save my breakdown for next week’s series in the Bronx, however, because, with Hideki Matsui and three starting pitchers due to be activated from the disabled list between now and then, this simply isn’t the same Yankee team. As a result, all of the pressure is on the Red Sox this weekend. They can’t afford not to take at least two of three from the dilapidated Yanks in their home park, especially when they’ve got their top three starters lined up against the likes of Jeff Karstens, who will come off the DL tomorrow to make just his seventh career major league start, and Chase Wright, who will take his second big league turn on Sunday.

The Yankees, meanwhile, will be content to win just one, though there’s still some pressure in that the most favorable pitching match up for them is tonight’s marquee battle between Curt Schilling and Andy Pettitte and a sweep would be disastrous regardless of the shape of the Yankee roster. These teams are too evenly matched for either to shrug off surrendering three games in the standings, no matter how early it is.

The good news for the Yankees is that the Red Sox, with the exceptions of J. D. Drew and David Ortiz (of course), aren’t really hitting. Jason Varitek looks as done as he did last year if not more so. Coco Crisp, who was expected to bounce back following a season hampered by a hand injury, has yet to rebound. Rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia is third on the team in walks, but has contributed almost nothing else. Manny Ramirez is off to a brutally slow start, finally hitting his first homer of the year yesterday. Kevin Youkilis has been only a hair better than Manny. Mike Lowell isn’t getting on base, and Julio Lugo isn’t showing any power.

Rather the Sox have been getting it all done on pitching. Schilling, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Wakefield have all been excellent the first three times through the rotation, and Julian Tavarez (a placeholder for the progressing Jon Lester) had a good outing against the Blue Jays yesterday. The bullpen has been more problematic, but Jonathan Papelbon, Brendan Donnelly, and unheralded Japanese lefty Hideki Okajima have allowed just one run between them (a homer off Okajima) in 16 innings, striking out 22 against just four hits.

For his part, Schilling recovered from a shaky Opening Day outing in Kansas City to post the following combined line in his last two starts against the Rangers and Angels:

15 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 BB, 10 K, 2-0, 0.60 ERA

Fortunately, Andy Pettitte’s been almost as good over his last two outings against the Twins and A’s:

13 IP, 10 H, 1 ER, 0 HR, 2 BB, 7 K, 1-1, 0.69 ERA

Andy’s also a lefty facing a lineup in which the only two hot hitters are the only two lefties. In fact, the Red Sox have been sitting the fragile Drew against lefties in favor of Wily Mo Peña, as if Trot Nixon never left.

As for the Yankees, a week and a half ago I wrote: “The Yankee starters finished their first trip through the rotation with a 9.97 ERA. That was no more likely to hold up than the bullpen’s current 1.07 ERA or the offense’s 6.83 runs per game.”

Indeed, the Yankee starters ERA has dropped by more than half to 4.52, the pen ERA has more than doubled to 2.69, and the offense has scored . . . well 6.5 runs per game, actually. That’s a 1053-run pace with Matsui on the shelf for most of it, Melky not hitting in his place and Doug Mientkiewicz starting the majority of the games at first base. In other words, Alex Rodriguez will cool off (he won’t hit 116 home runs this year, you heard it here first), but the Yankees have the opportunity to compensate with a healthy Matsui and an upgrade at first, which could be as simple as giving the job to Josh Phelps. Wow.

What this weekend’s series comes down to is a match-up between the major league’s most potent offense and the major league’s stingiest pitching staff (2.57 R/G). In an identical number of games, the Yankee offense has scored 55 more runs than the Red Sox’s pitchers have allowed, that’s 253 percent as many runs (or, inversely, just 40 percent as many allowed by the Sox). The Yankees faced a similar situation heading into Oakland last week and played three games decided in the victor’s final at-bat. Here’s hoping this series is similarly exciting.


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Sympathy for the Devil
2007-04-20 08:24
by Emma Span

Since I wrote about Carl Pavano last week, he . . . well, you know. (Whatever. Anybody can win with more than one legitimate major league starter on their roster! Where’s the fun in that?). I wasn't home that day and didn’t get to join in the discussion in the comments, but there was some good, thoughtful debate going on, and I wanted to follow up. First of all, several people pointed out, and I agree, that in sports too much is made of machismo and “playing through pain”. Not to say that moments like Kirk Gibson’s legendary World Series homer aren’t admirable,* or even inspirationalbut there’s no shame in prioritizing your long-term health over a baseball game, either.

But several people raised another interesting point: if you really believed that, for example, Carl Pavano is a gutless liar (and to be clear, I’m not saying he isjust using it as a hypothetical), can you turn around and root for him this year? [Insert obligatory joke about how he probably won’t pitch again til 2008 anyway. Pause for laughter]. It’s hardly a new issue, just part of a broader question: how do we decide who to root for? Is it anybody on our team, no matter who they are or what they’ve doneup to, as someone jokingly put it, Charles Mansonor is there a line? If there is, where does it fall for you?

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2007-04-20 07:57
by Alex Belth

Greetings from the Bahamas, my peoples.

So Em and I got hitched yesterday and it all went swimmingly. We are staying at a resort by the water and were all set-up to have our ceremony, just the two of us, on a pier over-looking the ocean. 1:30 p.m. was our launch time. Em went off to get her hair and make-up done just after 11:00 while I stayed in our room and finished ironing my shirt and getting myself prepped. And yo, wouldn't you know it, but by 11:30 the skies opened-up and it started to rain like mad. And it didn't stop.

I turned on the Weather Channel, and kept going out onto our terrace to look at the sky. Gray and raining, the palm trees rustling in the wind. Man, I was bugging thinking about Emily bugging (and she, in turn, was bugging about me bugging about her bugging). We came all the way down here to Paradise and it's freakin' raining, you've got to be kidding me. But then I thought of my cousin Eric who would have embraced the rain, the sense that Mother Nature was doing her thing, and it was all good, and that calmed me some. Then I thought, "Hey, I'm totally happy, I look great, and I'm marrying the love of my life, screw the weather."

The rain tapered off some by a quarter to one when Em called. She sounded calm. I asked if we were going to change the location to inside and she said "No, not yet." I went off to meet the minister, A. Dewitt Hutcherson, a tall-strapping man who looked vaguely like Michael Irvin. We were going to be the 9,796th wedding he'd performed in his career.

The rain had stopped and the humidity hit with the quickness. As we walked to the pier, believe it or not, the sun came out. Ten minutes later, my bride joined us, and it was completely sunny. The ceremony was short and sweet and lovely. We took pictures for a long while against the brilliant blue-green backdrop of the ocean and we were very happy.

Then, after eating the cake and drinking some champagne, we finally got back to our room. Em went to the bathroom to fix herself up and I quickly checked the ESPN ticker for the score of the game (incorrigible, I know, but come on, I had to distract myself for a minute). Yanks were down 6-2. Oh, well, I thought. No big deal.

We then consumated our love for each other while the Bombers roared back in the ninth. When we checked the scores later and saw that the Yanks had won, we couldn't believe what we were seeing. They didn't have any details, but when caught the highlights on Sportscenter, and...holy my god! Talk about Kismet. That was the icing on the gravy to what was already an amazing day. All those two-out, bottom of the ninth hits? Man, I was nervous just watching the clips. And our boy Alex Rodriguez hitting another huge home run? Dag, man, what a wonderful thing.

I realize that the Boston series is a thing onto itself (hopefully, the Yanks can take one out of three), but no matter what transpires this weekend, Em and I will always have the memory of A Rod coming through on the most meaningful day of our lives. It's a small thing, but a beautiful thing.

Hope everyone is doing well. I'll get atcha when I return next week.

Holy Expletive!
2007-04-19 16:10
by Emma Span

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why you do not leave a baseball game early. You’ll have to bear with me through this recap, though, because I find myself unable to remember much about the first half of the game, and it’s tough to type with your jaw on the floor.

First of all, congratulations again to Alex and Emily, who got married during the early innings of today’s 8-6 Yankee win. I’m sure they didn’t need this win to make the day memorable, but you still have to appreciate Alex Rodriguez's thoughtful wedding gift.

The Yankees looked a bit listless throughout much of the game, unable to get much going against the awesomely named Fausto Carmona, who pitched much better than anyone coming in with an ERA over 12 has any right to. They eked out a run in the 3rd, when Abreu singled Damon home, and another in the 6th, on a Giambi homer, but that was it for the offense.

Meanwhile, Darrell Rasner was impressive through three innings, but ran into trouble soon after, when Dave Dellucci homered, and a quick single, a four-pitch walk, and a hit batsman loaded the bases with one out. Joe Torre, normally so impassive in the dugout, looked like gerbils were gnawing at his intestines. Rasner came up with a pop up (Blake) and a strikeout (Peralta) to wriggle free, but was apparently on a short leash thereafter; Torre lifted him when he allowed a single in the fifth, though it was still 1-1.

After leaving the bases loaded yet again in the sixth, thanks to stellar work from Brian Bruney, the Indians finally got their big blow in the seventh, off of the usually reliable Luis Vizcaino. A walk, a double, an RBI groundout, an intentional walk to Pronk, and a big three-run homer by catcher Victor Martinez made the score 5-2. Vizcaino recovered, but the Yanks went quietly in their next two innings, and a tough error on A-Rod allowed a runner to score on Sean Henn in ninth, leaving the Yanks staring at a four-run deficit.

Cleveland closer Joe Borowski came in to begin the ninth, and Robinson Cano promptly popped out, followed by a weak Melky Cabrera grounder. Now, I don’t think I’m unduly pessimistic when it comes to baseball, but I absolutely thought this game was over. Josh Phelps homered, and I still thought it was over. With two strikes, Jorge Posada singlednearly decapitating Borowski in the processand I figured, hey, good to see them going down fighting. But then Posada took second on defensive indifference, Johnny Damonagain with two strikesworked a ballsy walk, and Derek Jeter came up as the tying run. At this point, though I am not proud to admit it, I sat down on the floor and began talking to my dog.

This is the kind of situational hitting Jeter has always excelled at, and he knocked a 1-0 pitch into left field, plating Posada. The score was 6-4, and the game’s momentum had completely shifted. Bobby Abreu, again with two strikes, did much the same thing, and Damon came home to make it 6-5. That brought up, of course and to no one’s surprise, Alex Rodriguez. “They have to walk him,” I said to my dog, and, in fact, Borowski’s first pitch made a desperate attempt to escape; it got by Martinez, allowing the runners to move up. That turned out not to matter, though, because the next pitch was up over the plate. What happened next was exactly what every single fan watching the game had been simultaneously, vividly imagining.

Rodriguez knew it was gone the second he hit itstraight to centerand he couldn’t seem to believe it himself, grinning and very nearly skipping all the way around the bases. Paul O’Neill, in the booth, just started laughing. The Yankee dugout gleefully rushed out to meet him. That’s A-Rod’s 10th home run of the year, in 14 games, but I personally ran out of superlatives for his hitting last night, so you're on your own there.

With this sweep of the Indianswho are playing below their potential for the third straight yearthe Yanks head into Boston one game out of first here in the early going. Ninth inning, Fenway Park, Papelbon versus A-Rod? Should be fun.

Gitcher Broom for the Bride and Groom
2007-04-19 08:28
by Cliff Corcoran

The last time the Yankees started three rookies in a row prior to September call-ups was August 2-4, 1991 when the Yankees sent Scott Kamieniecki, Jeff Johnson, and Wade Taylor to the hill against the Tigers in Detroit. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, Yankee hitting coach Don Mattingly was the first baseman. A's manager Bob Geren caught Taylor's game. Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens started two of those games. A rookie named Bernie Williams started all three in center field. Melky Cabrera was eagerly anticipating his seventh birthday. Bud Selig was simply the owner of the AL East's Milwaukee Brewers. Kurt Cobain wasn't famous yet, and the president was a guy named George Bush who, with the help of Dick Cheney, led us into a war in Iraq.

The Yankees lost all three of those games, allowing a minimum of seven runs in each. My how things have changed.

Today the Yankees throw Darrell Rasner, their third rookie starting pitcher in as many games, again Fausto Carmona. Carmona got lit up pretty good in his only previous start, that coming at home against the White Sox almost a week ago. Rasner, on the other hand, didn't allow an earned run or walk a batter on his way to a no-decision in the Yankees extra-inning win in Oakland this past Saturday.

Meanwhile, up in Toronto, the Red Sox are throwing Julian Tavarez against Roy Halliday. If the Yanks can pull out a sweep behind Darrell Rasner this afternoon, they stand a good chance of entering this weekend's series in Boston in a dead heat with the Sox.

More importantly, somewhere on a beach in Bermuda right around the time of the first pitch, our man Alex and his lovely bride Emily are going to become husband and wife. Please join me in wishing them a long, full lifetime of happiness, health, and prosperity together. Mazel tov!

Easy Peasy, Pt. II
2007-04-18 19:43
by Cliff Corcoran

One night after beating the Indians 10-3 on a cold, rainy, sparsely attended night at the Stadium, the Yankees beat the Indians 9-2 on a cold, rainy, sparsely attended night at the Stadium.

The Yankees jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first when a leadoff walk to Johnny Damon came around to score on a Derek Jeter double and a Bobby Abreu sac fly. Kei Igawa, meanwhile, looked sharp early, getting ahead of hitters and allowing only a Travis Hafner single in the first two frames.

Most of the scoring occurred in the third inning. Igawa started off the third by ringing up Josh Barfield for his third strikeout of the game, but Kelly Shoppach followed with a double to right and Igawa's 0-2 pitch to Grady Sizemore slipped out of his hand and plunked Sizemore in the tuchus. Igawa got ahead of Jason Michaels as well, but Michaels singled to plate Shoppach on the 0-2 pitch. Again, Igawa got ahead of Travis Hafner 0-2, but his next pitch was in the dirt and rolled away from Jorge Posada, sending Michaels to second. Hafner then tapped a slow three-hopper to the shortstop hole for an infield single that plated Sizemore. Igawa then started Ryan Gargo off with a ball, just the second time in his first 13 batters that his first pitch was out of the strike zone. On his next pitch, Garko hit a check swing flare over the mound. In reaching for it, Igawa sent his glove flipping into the air. Robinson Cano charged and scooped the ball after two quick hops, flipping it to Jeter in one motion to start a 4-6-3, inning-ending double play.

Trailing 2-1, the Yankees let loose on Jeremy Sowers in the bottom of the third. Jeter kicked things off with his second double in as many at-bats. Abreu singled Jeter home to tie the game. Alex Rodriguez ground into a fielder's choice to replace Abreu at first. Jason Giambi doubled Rodriguez home to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead. Posada singled Giambi to third. Cano singled Giambi home. Josh Phelps singled Posada home. Melky Cabrera flied out for the second out, and Johnny Damon finished the job by singling Cano home and knocking Sowers out of the game.

Igawa gave up just a walk and Travis Hafner's third single over his remaining three innings, again starting eight of the ten hitters he faced with strikes and erasing Hafner's single with a double play. All totaled, he threw 67 percent of just 92 pitches for strikes and struck out five in six innings while allowing just seven base runners on five hits (four singles, three by Hafner, one that weakly tapped infield single), a walk, and a hit-by-pitch.

Scott Proctor, Sean Henn, and Chris Britton added three more hitless innings to finish the job, each recording one strike out, with Proctor and Britton each issuing a walk.

Oh, and those last three Yankee runs? Yeah, another two-run Alex Rodriguez jack and a solo shot by Jason Giambi, back to back off different pitchers in the sixth no less. In case you're wondering, Rodriguez is on pace for 112 home runs, 287 RBIs, 199 runs scored, 62 doubles, and 237 hits. He's slugging .981 (no, that's not his OPS).

To sum up, in these first two games against the Indians, the Yankees have outscored Cleveland 19-5, two Yankee rookies have picked up their first major league wins, and the bullpen has contributed seven hitless, scoreless innings while issuing just two walks.

Is it still raining? I hadn't noticed.

Little Lefty Lupe Lou
2007-04-18 12:36
by Cliff Corcoran

Kei Igawa makes his third Yankee start tonight hoping to get the Yankees a series win over the Indians. Igawa's last start in Oakland looked a heckuva lot like Chase Wright's outing last night:

Igawa 4/13: 5 1/3 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 2 BB, 3 K, 95 pitches

Wright 4/18: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 3 BB, 3 K, 104 pitches

Is that a compliment to Wright, a fresh-faced rookie out of double-A? An insult to Igawa, a seasoned Japanese veteran whose line above actually represents a significant improvement over his MLB debut a week earlier? A little of each? Curiously Igawa and Wright are both lefties whose best pitch is a changeup. Does that mean the Indians will benefit from seeing similar pitchers two nights in a row or that Igawa should have similar success against the Cleveland lineup because of his similar stuff, with hope for improvement because his Opening Day jitters are now two starts behind him?

So many questions.

Then there's Cleveland starter Jeremy Sowers, a 23-year-old lefty in his first full season in the majors. Taken out of Vanderbilt with the sixth overall pick in the 2004 draft, Sowers shot all the way to triple-A in his first professional season in 2005 and joined the major league rotation in late June of last year, finishing the season with a 7-4 record and a 3.57 ERA in 14 starts, two of which were shutouts. In Sowers' second major league outing, he faced the Yankees at Jacobs Field and held them to two runs over seven innings, those two runs coming on a first-inning Jason Giambi homer. Sowers is a finesse pitcher who fits the description of "crafty lefty" to a T and conjures up comparisons to Jamie Moyer and Tom Glavine, but his rate stats are troubling. In sixteen major league starts between last year and this, Sowers has struck out just 3.46 men per nine innings (Moyer and Glavine's career K/9 rates are both about 5.35). Seeing as he lacks the extreme groundball tendencies with which Chien-Ming Wang has survived a similarly miniscule strikeout rate, it would seem Sowers is going to have to figure out a way to miss more bats in order to keep winning. Indeed, his .257 opponents' batting average on balls in play last year is bound to snap back to league average (around .300), taking his ERA with it. Still, he's excelled in his two starts thus far this year, holding the White Sox to just one hit (but two runs on five walks) over six innings in his first start and the Angels to one run over seven innings in his last. Just because a correction seems inevitable doesn't mean it will happen tonight.

Doomsday Scenario
2007-04-18 08:31
by Cliff Corcoran

by Allen Barra

Alex Belth has asked me to fill in again this week with the explanation that he's getting married. He's used this excuse on four previous occasions, so all I can say is that this time I'd better see a ring on his finger when I bump into him.

I warned Alex that I didn't have anything good to say about the 2007 Yankees, and I'm warning you now in case you want to go read something else. My bad feelings about this year's team go beyond the recent rash of injuries, but I may as well deal with those before moving on.

Matsui's hamstring, I think, is a fluke, and he'll be back strong. I'm fed up with Mussina and especially Pavano. Mussina has increasingly become a frequent breakdown pitcher, one whose usefulness to the Yankees is very nearly at an end. Even when he's not hurting, he's wasting so much time trying to make that perfect pitch that he's usually teetering by about the fifth inning and threatening to be a burden on the bullpen. Pavano is simply a disaster, one of the highest priced in Yankee history. I think he's poised, when he comes off the DL, to replace Jaret Wright as the team's number one bullpen drainer. What, oh what, are the Yankees going to do when Andy Pettitte hurts himself? (And he will, you know it, before the season is over, probably before the first half of the season is over.)

Looking around the rest of the lineup, I don't see much to cheer about. Towards the end of last season, Jason Giambi, who really ought to know better, made an ass of himself by contributing all kinds of needless verbiage to articles written about Alex Rodriguez. My favorite comment, and I'm quoting from memory was, We really don't know who A-Rod is. We'll find out in the next couple of weeks. Well, when do we find out who the real Jason Giambi is? Actually, I guess we already have. He is now a practically useless ballplayer. He performs like 42-year-old man. He can no longer field and can't hit to the opposite field, which takes 40 or more points off his batting average. As for his base running ability, any time the Yankees get three hits without scoring a run, Giambi is usually involved.

Giambi is such a bad fielder the Yankees have had to compensate by giving a roster spot to Doug Mientkiewicz. There is no bigger mystery to me than how a team with the biggest payroll in baseball continually gets stuck with players like Mientkiewicz. I don't know that he's all that good a fielder, but even if he was the second coming of Don Mattingly or Keith Hernandez he would still be a huge liability. He is one of the worst hitters I've ever seen, the first man I can honestly say would lose a home run derby to Sal Fasano. How is it that the Yankees cannot find at least a player of average ability to put into the lineup at this key hitting position?

I can't say a great deal that is complimentary about the stars, either. A-Rod's hot start is probably for real, but I'm not yet convinced that his third base woes are over. Jeter's fielding problems are, I fear, for real and may be linked to his rumored back trouble. (Note his relative lack of power so far.) Yankee fans are reduced to saying "Wait till Chien-Ming Wang comes back," but if I was Wang and looking at the prospect of having opposing batters hit ground balls to this infield, I think I'd stay on the DL.

It's possible that if the Yankees go on a tear then the ugly disaster of the last road game in Oakland—the worst pitching I have ever seen from Mariano Rivera—will be erased. But with this rotation—and if you put a gun to my head right now, I couldn't tell you the starters the Yankees plan on using for the next five games—I don't see how any consistency is possible.

I guess this all sounds a bit doomsdayish, but the truth is I can't lose. If I'm right, I'll just remind all of you that you heard it here first. If I'm wrong, I'll be as happy as the rest of you.

Allen Barra is currently writing a biography of Yogi Berra.

Easy Peasy
2007-04-17 18:03
by Cliff Corcoran

Got four starters on the DL? No problem, call up a kid with just two starts above A-ball, knock the opposing starter out in the second inning, and coast to an easy win. The Yankees made it look just that easy last night.

Rookie Chase Wright made his major league debut with a Sean Henn-model glove on his right hand, a steady rain falling on his head, and no where near the reported 38,438 fans in the stands on a cold Tuesday night in the Bronx. Wright went full on his first batter, Cleveland's Grady Sizemore, and just missed outside for ball four. He then walked Jason Michaels on five pitches to put two men on for Travis Hafner. That drew an early mound visit from his new pitching coach, Ron Guidry. After an enthusiastic pep talk from Guidry, Wright got Hafner and Victor Martinez to ground out (plating a run in the process) and Ryan Garko to line out directly to Derek Jeter.

The Yankee offense then took some of the pressure off the rookie by plating a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame on a Damon walk, Jeter single, Alex Rodriguez RBI single, Giambi walk to load the bases, and a Jorge Posada sac fly to dead center that just missed being a game-breaking grand slam.

Wright again put the first two men of the inning on base in the second via a single and a walk, but again retired the next three in order, this time without yielding a run. Then the Yankees broke the game open for real.

After Melky Cabrera grounded out, Doug Mientkiewicz cracked a solo homer (no, really!) to the short porch in left. Johnny Damon doubled, moved to third on a Jeter groundout, and scored on a Bobby Abreu single. That brought Alex Rodriguez to the plate. Can you say two-run homer to the retired numbers? I knew that you could. That made it 6-1, but the Yankees weren't done. Jason Giambi followed with a single and Jorge Posada, having just missed that salami in the previous frame, cracked a two-run jack of his own, his 200th career home run. That made it 8-1 Yanks and bounced Jake Westbrook from the game with two out in the second.

Continue reading...

The Chase Is On
2007-04-17 10:56
by Cliff Corcoran

Due to the rash of injuries that have placed Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano on the disabled list alongside Chien-Ming Wang and Jeffrey Karstens, the Yankees were forced to dip into their minor league system for a starter for tonight's (and likely Sunday's) game. The three pitchers whose turns fell on the right day were Tyler Clippard and Steven Jackson in triple-A and Chase Wright in double-A. Of the three, Wright was both the only one already on the 40-man roster and the pitcher who'd had the most success in his two starts thus far this season. Clippard's had two middling outings for Scranton. Jackson has faired a tad better, but neither has lasted more than five innings in either outing. Wright, meanwhile, has dominated in a pair of seven-inning outings and will make his major league debut tonight in the Bronx against the Indians.

Here's what I wrote about Wright back in February:

L - Chase Wright (24)

A third-round draft pick in 2000, Wright has spent six years in the Yankees system without cracking double-A. He's made large strides over the last three seasons however. Check these trends:

2006Florida StateA+1.887.147.523.23

Wright claims the difference has simply been an uptick in confidence. I suppose it could be that after bottoming out in 2004 he figured he couldn't do any worse if he just challenged hitters. If so, it worked. Wright's best pitch is a changeup that works off his low-90s fastball, and he's working on developing his curve. He's still a work in progress, but it's certainly encouraging to see such rapid progress by a lefty starter. Indeed, he's come far enough that the Yankees had to add him to the 40-man to protect him from the Rule 5 draft last fall.

To that I'll add his spring training and double-A lines from this year:

Spring Training2.846.397.104.2612 2/3

Those 14 innings at double-A are divided evenly between two equally excellent starts in which Wright has posted a fantastic 2.29 groundball-to-flyball rate. Accordingly, Wright hasn't allowed a home run in any of his 26 2/3 innings thus far this year and allowed just one round-tripper in 119 2/3 innings last year.

After I wrote the above, I received a note from Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus's minor league guru. Kevin said that one thing he felt I got wrong was my estimation of Wright's velocity (which I got from assimilating various on-line scouting reports). According to Goldstein, Wright's fastball tops out in the high 80s, adding something to the effect that if Wright did throw in the low 90s, he'd be a world-beater. Judging by his recent results this season and last, I tend to wonder if Wright's recent improvement has had as much to do with an uptick in velocity as with an increase in confidence. I'll certainly be keeping an eye on the YES radar gun tonight. If it turns out that he is indeed working in the low-90s . . . look out world.

Continue reading...

The Cleveland Indians
2007-04-16 10:09
by Cliff Corcoran

The Cleveland Indians are a hard team to figure out. Two years ago they looked like an up-and-coming powerhouse in the Central. Built around stone cold masher Travis Hafner, the up-the-middle excellence of Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Grady Sizemore, and emerging ace C.C. Sabathia, they won 93 games in 2005, just missing both the Wild Card and AL Central titles due to a collapse in the season's final week. Last year, they collapsed altogether, winning just 78 games and finishing a distant fourth behind the Twins, Tigers, and White Sox in an increasingly competitive Central division. One seemingly obvious cause of this fall was the loss of Jhonny Peralta's production (he hit just .257/.323/.385 last year, down from .292/.366/.520 in 2005), but closer inspection shows that the Indians collapse was largely illusory.

In large part due to an abysmal showing by their bullpen, the Indians underperformed their Pythagorean record by a staggering 11 games in 2006. In fact, looking at their runs scored and allowed totals, the team the 2006 Cleveland Indians most resembled was the 2006 New York Yankees. The Indians were second to only the Yankees in all of baseball in runs scored per game last year (this despite Peralta's poor showing), and also finished right behind the Yankees in runs allowed per game (seventh in the AL to the Yanks' sixth). In fact, the Yankees and Indians had identical team ERAs in 2006 with the Indians holding a slight advantage in ERA+ due to playing in a less severe pitchers park.

One thing that tripped Cleveland up last year, in addition to their shaky bullpen, was poor defensive play. The Tribe was 25th in the majors in both defensive efficiency and fielding percentage. This year that trend has continued. Though the Yankees are dead last in the majors in fielding percentage thanks to their major league worst 14 errors (nearly half of which are Derek Jeter's), their defensive efficiency--the rate at which they turn all balls in play into outs--is actually the fourth best in baseball, just as it was a year ago. Cleveland, however, is 27th in fielding percentage (having made nine errors in nine games) and 21st in defensive efficiency. That means their pitching staff has to work that much harder to keep runs off the board.

Amazingly, it's been able to do that thus far. The Indians staff ERA is the third best in the American League, while the ERA of their rebuilt bullpen is second best in the AL to that of the Yankees' pen. The offense, however, is in a bit of a slump, though their scheduling problems may have played a part in that.

The big story of the Indians season thus far is that the entirety of their home opening series against the Mariners was snowed out and that their subsequent series against the Angels was moved indoors to Milwaukee's Miller Park because of the ongoing winter weather. The Indians scored 7 2/3 runs per game while taking two of three from the White Sox in Chicago to start the season. They then sat idle for four days as their games against the Mariners were snowed out, rescheduled as double headers, then snowed out again. They finally resumed play with three games in Milwaukee, then returned home for a series against the White Sox and have scored just 3 2/3 runs per game over those last six games.

Of course, it may not be fair to judge the Indians on their performance thus far this season. While the team has gone 6-3, winning all three series, six of their nine games have come against the White Sox. Their eventual home opener at Jacobs Field was played in front of just 16,789 people (as opposed to the usual 42,400 or so), and their catcher and cleanup hitter Victor Martinez has played only three games, suffering a quadriceps injury in the last game of their opening series in Chicago. That is to say, the Cleveland Indians are a hard team to figure out largely because there's not a lot to go on.

Still, the bullpen looks suspect as the new faces are Joe Borowski, Roberto Hernandez, and Aaron Fultz. C.C. Sabathia (who's still just 26 years old) is a true ace and Jake Westbrook is a strong mid-rotation starter and every bit as extreme a groundball pitcher as Chien-Ming Wang, but Jeremy Sowers' strike out rate is alarmingly low for a flyball pitcher and neither Paul Byrd nor extreme flyballer Cliff Lee or his replacement Fausto Carmona inspire much enthusiasm. On offense, Peralta, who had corrective vision surgery in the offseason and supposedly has put behind him some personal problems that contributed to his poor 2006 season, looks to be rebounding, Martinez should return to action this week, possibly even tonight, and the decision to platoon the outfield corners smells of small market brilliance. On the flip side, that platoon means Casey Blake still has a job, and everyone's still waiting for Andy Marte to hit. As they were two years ago, the Tribe was a trendy pick to win the Central this year. I'm not entirely sold. They're a good team, but not a great one. If they win, I suspect it will have as much to do with the decline of their competition as with their own success.

Continue reading...

Yankee Panky #5: Yankees vs. Red Sox -- The Media
2007-04-16 08:00
by Will Weiss

The non-coverage of Derek Jeter’s six errors through the first two weeks of the season is a subject I’d love to get into. However, I want to wait on the Jeter issue to see if it
actually does become a story beyond the statistics table. Will any writers or broadcasters call him out and question his defensive ability? (I’ll be surprised if Steven Goldman doesn’t mention the Jeter situation in the Pinstriped Bible tomorrow).

So, with the first round of Yankees-Red Sox games taking place this weekend, I figured this would be a good time to bring the banter fully to you the readers and get an informal poll of which team has the better mainstream and blog coverage.

Yankees: YES
Red Sox: NESN

YES play-by-play: Michael Kay
NESN play-by-play: Don Orsillo

YES analysts: Ken Singleton, Joe Girardi, Al Leiter, John Flaherty, Paul O’Neill, Dave Justice
NESN analysts: Jerry Remy, Jim Rice, Dennis Eckersley, Dave McCarty

YES field reporter: Kim Jones
NESN field reporter: Tina Cervasio (who used to voice the show “Running” on YES, and auditioned for the field reporter job that eventually went to Jones)

YES studio host: Bob Lorenz, Nancy Newman (backup), Chris Shearn (Batting Practice)
NESN studio host: Tom Caron, Hazel Mae (rewind), Kathryn Tappen (weekends)


Red Sox:

Red Sox:

Yankees: WCBS 880-AM
Red Sox: WEEI 850-AM

Yankees radio team: John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman
Red Sox radio team: Joe Castiglione, Dave O’Brien, Glenn Geffner
--> Geffner is the the team’s former media relations/PR head

Yankees: NY Daily News, NY Post, New York Times, Newsday, Journal News, Newark Star-Ledger, Bergen Record, Hartford Courant, New Haven Register
--> Alternates – Times Herald-Record, Staten Island Advance, New York Sun, Village Voice, AM New York

Red Sox: Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Providence Journal, Hartford Courant, New Haven Register, Connecticut Post, Portland Press Herald, Concord Monitor, Nashua Telegraph, Manchester Union-Leader, Springfield Union-News, Worcester Telegram, Quincy Patriot-Ledger, Woonsocket Call

See sidebar

During each regular season Yankees-Red Sox series, the beat writers and columnists for the two teams play a game against each other at the ballpark. The writers get very stoked for this. They talk about it for weeks and discuss their exploits prior to that particular night's real game between the Yanks and Sox. The New York crew has a secret weapon: Bob Klapisch, who pitched at Columbia University.

* * *

Which group of media serves its audience best? Which group of writers and/or broadcasters provides the most comprehensive, intelligent, and provocative coverage? I’ll join in the discussion when I can throughout the week. We can discuss it in more detail next week, when the aftermath of the three-game set at Fenway has dissipated somewhat.

Bad Day
2007-04-15 20:54
by Cliff Corcoran

Sunday didn't start or end well for the Yankees, though they did have a seven-inning oasis in the middle of it all.

The day started with the announcement that both Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano had been placed on the disabled list, leaving the starting rotation in shambles behind Andy Pettitte. Pettitte then took the mound and four of the first five A's he faced reach base, the first on Derek Jeter's sixth error of the year. With just one out in the bottom of the first, the A's had a 2-0 lead and two men on. The Yankee bullpen, which had marched each of it's seven members out to the mound the night before, began to collectively weep.

Pettitte then rallied to strike out Bobby Crosby and get Todd Walker to ground out to short. From there things started to look up. Pettitte settled down, pitching around a pair of singles in the second, stranding a two-out triple by Eric Chavez in the third, and setting down 13 of the next 14 men he faced after Chavez. Oakland starter Rich Harden was even better, but the injury-prone righty left the game due to shoulder stiffness in the seventh, opening the door for a three-run Yankee rally. The Yanks added another run in the eighth, handing a 4-2 lead to Mariano Rivera in the ninth, Mo's first save opportunity of the season.

Mo got Chavez to ground out on an 0-1 pitch, then, after failing to get a called strike three call on Bobby Crosby, got the Oakland shortstop to fly out to right for the second out of the inning. Mo's next pitch bore down and in on Todd Walker, but Walker was able to flare it out to left for a two-out single. Walker then moved to second on defensive indifference as Jason Kendall swung through a high fastball to run his count to 1-1.

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2007-04-15 08:42
by Alex Belth

Jason Giambi's bat has been ice cold, and he was 0-5 last night when he hit a solo home run in the top of the 13th inning last night to help boost the Yankees to a 4-3 win over the A's. Alex Rodriguez hit his seventh homer of the year, Jorge Posada had a huge pinch-hit double, and Robinson Cano banged out three hits.There was more sloppy fielding for the Yanks--four errors in all, two more by Derek Jeter--but the bullpen was outstanding. Starter Darrell Rasner allowed three runs in the first and then settled down. He was relieved in sixth and the Yankee bullpen, seven pitchers in all, allowed zero runs on just two hits. At this rate, it's a good thing that the Bombers have some off-days, because the pen sure is getting its work in.

I watched most of the last two games in Oakland, stayed up as long as I could before my eyes just couldn't stay open any longer. Dude, I'm a lightweight. Not that I've got anything on my mind. I'm only getting hitched.

Em and I are leaving tomorrow for the Bahamas, where we'll be spending the next week enjoying our Marrymoon. We're actually getting married on the beach, just the two of us, no family, no friends ("No Roger, No Re-Run, No Rent"), just a minister, a photographer and us, this coming Thursday afternoon at 1:30. The Yankees and Indians should be in the second inning, weather-provided, so raise a cup to us at some pernt during the game. I won't be rushing to check the score--which is why we're getting married in the spring and not the fall--but will check in on the Banter periodically.

Cliff and company will be holding it down around these parts, as the Yanks host the Tribe and then take on the Red Sox for the first time this year. You're in good hands, as the old commerical used to go.

Hey, how about a nice send off from the Yankees today as Andy Pettitte goes against Oakland's ace, Rich Harden.

Who's Managing This Club, Mr. Whipple?
2007-04-13 17:23
by Cliff Corcoran

The A's and Yankees played a thrilling eleven-inning game last night, but let's skip straight to the action in the eighth inning, as it was in the top of the eighth that the worm turned for the Bronx Bombers.

With the game tied 4-4, Oakland manager Bob Geren called on his ace set-up man Justin Duchscherer to face the heart of the Yankee order. Alex Rodriguez singled on Duchscherer's first pitch. Jason Giambi followed by yanking a double into the corner in right field, pushing Rodriguez to third. Joe Torre sent in Kevin Thompson to pinch-run for designated hitter Giambi at second base with Jorge Posada coming to the plate. Posada worked a 2-1 count then hit a blistering liner directly at first baseman Todd Walker for the first out. Geren then elected to have Duchscherer intentionally walk Robinson Cano to load the bases, thus allowing Duchscherer to Doug Mientkiewicz with a force at every base.

At this point Mientkiewicz was 0 for his last 18 with just one walk over that span. In his three previous at-bats in this game he had struck out and hit into two double plays, the first a line-drive to left that doubled up Posada at first, the second a conventional 4-6-3 that plated a run, but otherwise killed a bases-loaded, no-out rally in the sixth.

Now, if you're Joe Torre, or even Yankee bench coach Don Mattingly, what do you do in this situation.

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The Oakland Athletics
2007-04-13 08:04
by Cliff Corcoran

The A's, at least in the early going in 2007, are a pretty easy team to figure out. They don't give up very many runs, but they don't score very many either. Only two American League teams (the Red Sox and Angels) have allowed fewer runs per game thus far this season than the A's' 3.4, but only two major league teams (the Nationals and Giants) have plated fewer runs per game thus far than the A's' 2.8. The A's are also dead last in the majors in home runs, having hit just two through ten games. Obviously a line-up with Eric Chavez, Mike Piazza, Nick Swisher, and Milton Bradley is going to pick up the homer production at some point, but that's a crippling lack of production. The A's are 4-6 thus far this season. Two of those four wins had final scores of 2-1, and one of them required a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth against the White Sox's closer, Bobby Jenks (a favor the A's bullpen aces returned the next night).

In a near perfect inversion of the Yankees' season thus far, the only thing that's really been working for the A's in the young season has been their starting rotation, which has been the stingiest in the American League and is bested only by the Mets and Braves in the NL. Despite losing Barry Zito to free agency and Esteban Loaiza to the DL, the A's rotation has posted a 1.98 ERA after two full turns. The best of their bunch, as expected, has been the Healthy Rich Harden, whom the Yankees will face on Sunday. Harden has struck out 13 and allowed just 12 base runners in 13 innings, but is curiously not the staff leader in ERA despite his 1.38 mark. No, that man is tonight's starter, Dan Haren, who's 0.69 ERA is in stark contrast to his 0-2 record. Such are the A's.

As for the Yankees, they'll get to see what Kei Igawa can do in a moderate climate (temperatures in Oakland are in the mid-60s as I write this, though they'll likely drop in to the 50s by tonight). Igawa was flat out awful in his first major league start (the most encouraging sign was that he walked "only" three men in five innings), but nerves and the weather likely played a part in that, and the steady improvement he showed during spring training gives reason for optimism, as do the dormant Oakland bats.

What it all comes down to tonight, then, is the stingy Oakland starting pitching against the explosive Yankee offense, and the explosive Yankee starting pitching against the stingy Oakland offense. Which will give most?

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Card Corner--George
2007-04-13 05:14
by Bruce Markusen

George Medich—Topps Company—1978 (No. 583)

The word "heroes" has taken on additional and perhaps even more bewildering meaning because of the popularity of a first-season television show featuring that very name. For a much longer time, the word "heroes" has been attached to figures from the sports world, often with results no less confusing or ambiguous.

For the most part, baseball players are not heroes. (They shouldn’t be role models either, but they nonetheless are, given the widespread influence they have on the younger set.) The truly heroic figures in American society are the underpaid teachers, the studious doctors, the honest police officers, and the selfless members of the military. Yet, in some cases, baseball players can truly double as heroes. In 1978, a handsome veteran pitcher named George Medich earned that distinction.

Coming up as a rookie with the New York Yankees in 1972, Medich went on to post a solid career as a starting pitcher. Medich’s career began encouragingly with the Yankees, but his years in Pinstripes coincided with the team’s final few failures before the eventual pennant glory of 1976. (Still, Medich did contribute to that level of success indirectly, as the principal trade bait sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a second baseman named Willie Randolph.) A solid No. 3 starter, Medich went on to win 124 games for the Yankees, Pirates, Texas Rangers, Oakland A’s, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets, and Milwaukee Brewers. As if the travels and demands of a typically lengthy major league season didn’t sap enough of his time, Medich taxed himself further by attending medical school, eventually earning his degree from the University of Pittsburgh. While all of his Topps cards list him as George Medich, his procession through the rigors of medical school prompted most baseball people to refer to him as Doc Medich.

Although the travails of the long baseball season forced Medich to subvert some of his healing passions, he did put his medical training to good use under the most dire of circumstances. During a 1976 game between the Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies, Medich made his way into the stands at Veterans Stadium to perform CPR on a 74-year-old man who had suffered a heart attack. While awaiting the arrival of an ambulance, Medich performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Medich’s efforts notwithstanding, the elderly man died later in the day.

Two years later, Medich’s heroic ventures paid off far more tangibly. On July 17, 1978, another man suffered a heart attack during a game at Memorial Stadium between Medich’s Rangers and the hometown Baltimore Orioles. Medich once again rushed into the stands and performed CPR on the 61-year-old victim. An emergency medical services team soon arrived and rushed the man to a local hospital, where he received further treatment. This man recovered from the heart attack, surviving to live several more years. He likely would not have enjoyed those "extra" years if not for the quick and effective reactions of a right-hander/doctor named George "Doc" Medich.

After his pitching days, Medich became a successful orthopedic surgeon. He eventually opened up an orthopedic clinic in Beaver, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, his story did not end up happily ever after, at least not in the way that we expect it will with Hayden Panettiere. In a shocking post-baseball development, the onetime medical hero eventually ran intro trouble with the law. In 2001, the 53-year-old Medich was found guilty of illegally possessing painkillers and sentenced to nine years probation. Pleading guilty to 12 counts of possession of a controlled substance, Medich had written a dozen false prescriptions in the names of his patients so that he could obtain painkillers for himself. Explaining that Medich had struggled with drug addiction for years, his lawyer called his crime a "cry for help."

Sadly, even our truly legitimate sports heroes have their blemishes.


Bruce Markusen is the author of the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley's Swingin' A's and the writer of's Cooperstown Confidential, found at Bruce, his wife Sue, and their daughter Madeline reside in Cooperstown, NY, a stone's throw from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Yankee Panky #4: Unlucky 7
2007-04-12 08:56
by Alex Belth

By Will Weiss
Bronx Banter Correspondent

We're at the point in time where the media's day-to-day coverage includes unnecessary game stories, the occasional feature, the building up of a player who's succeeding, thereby setting up the inevitable fall, and of course, injury updates. On YES, every game will be treated as if it's Game 7. On radio, John Sterling will tell stories and occasionally mention what's going on in front of him as it pertains to the broadcast. Standard-issue stuff that tells us the season has started. And judging from posts on this site and others, ESPN's Red Sox love/anti-Yankee tilt is in midseason form.

I wanted nothing to do with that this week. The Mets dominated the back pages while the Yankees' performance – save for A-Rod's game-winning grand slam on Saturday – relegated them to "other team" status.

I was struck by a different story. Three friends, my wife and my mother sent me an article about a New Jersey math professor named Bruce Bukiet, who developed a formula projecting winners and losers in the major leagues, based on teams' starting lineups. Not surprisingly, the computer spit out a 110-win season and a 10th consecutive AL East title for the Yankees. The formula is essentially a means to help gamblers, and the article says as much. It even points to Bukiet's "detailed projections" on a corresponding gambling site.

I enjoyed this paragraph near the top of the piece:

"So far, Bukiet is on track. The Yankees won their season opener against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Monday."

(My editorial reflex would have eliminated that graph, considering that the next section details the formula. Plus, basing a 110-win season on a comeback win over the Devil Rays is as convincing as projecting Daisuke Matsuzaka will win the AL Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award and Triple Crown because he stifled the Royals in his Major League debut. Oh, wait...)

Sentences like that occur in many places, and as a reader and a fan, it's a bit off-putting. When I read lines like that, I begin questioning the writer's credibility. How do you, as fans and readers, react to that? Does it bother you? Do you let it go? How about if you hear announcers trip over themselves or say something off-base on the air? What do you do then?

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Statistical Correction
2007-04-11 21:03
by Cliff Corcoran

Okay, so that wasn't exactly a "slugfest." I was right about the Yankees having to rely on their bullpen, but for the wrong reasons. Ramon Oritiz hurled a gem at the Bombers, limiting them to one run on three hits and a walk over eight innings. That one run came in the fourth when Johnny Damon led off with a single, was pushed to second when Derek Jeter worked the only walk Ortiz issued all night, moved to third on a fly to right by Bobby Abreu, and was plated by an Alex Rodriguez sac fly.

Mike Mussina looked better than he had in his first outing, but pulled up lame in the third inning with what proved to be a balky left hamstring and removed himself from the game (more on Moose's injury below). Mussina allowed a pair of singles before coming out of the game with a 2-1 count on Luis Castillo. Pressed into emergency duty, Sean Henn got Castillo to pop out on his first pitch, then escaped the inning thanks to a fabulous play by Derek Jeter. With Luis Rodriguez running from second on the pitch, Nick Punto hit a flair to shallow left. Jeter made a great over-the-shoulder, wide-receiver-style catch, then, in one continuous motion, spun and fired a strike to Robinson Cano at second to double up Rodriguez.

Henn turned in two more scoreless frames, but gave up a ringing double to Nick Punto to lead off the sixth. After Joe Mauer bunted Punto to third, Joe Torre went to Scott Proctor to face the right-handed Michael Cuddyer only to have Proctor give up a game-tying single on his second pitch. Proctor did manage to retire Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter to strand Cuddyer, and Luis Vizcaino contributed a perfect seventh inning with the help of a fantastic diving stop by Doug Mientkiewicz at first, but what was shaping up as a white-knuckle ballgame fell apart when Kyle Farnsworth took the mound in the eighth.

Farnsworth had nothing, walking Luis Castillo on four pitches to start the eighth. On Farnsworth's fifth toss, a called strike to Nick Punto, Castillo stole second. Punto bunted Farnsworth's next pitch foul and waved over top of a slider in the dirt for the first out, but Joe Mauer singled Castillo home three pitches later, taking second on Melky Cabrera's throw home. Farnsworth's first pitch to Michael Cuddyer was several feet away from Jorge Posada's target, shooting between Cuddyer and Posada's glove straight to the backstop to move Mauer to third. Cuddyer then singled Mauer home to run the score to 3-1. Justin Morneau cracked Farnsworth's next pitch to deep right for a double, driving Cuddyer home with the fourth run, and Torii Hunter repeated the feat, knocking an 1-0 Farnsworth offering off the baggy for another RBI double. It was only then that Joe Torre relieved Farnsworth of his duties, bringing in Mike Myers to get the final two outs.

Down a seemingly insurmountable four runs against the man who, all due respect to Mariano Rivera, is likely the best closer in baseball, the Yankees did manage to mount a rally against Joe Nathan. Derek Jeter lead off the ninth with a single and, after Bobby Abreu hit a screaming liner at Castillo for the first out, Alex Rodriguez hit a booming ground rule double into the gap in left to put runners on second and third. That brought Jason Giambi to the plate with first base open and a chance to bring the tying run to the plate in the person of Jorge Posada, but Giambi hacked at Nathan's first pitch, popping out to third. No longer in a position to tie the game, Posada took four pitches to run the count to 2-2, only to pop out to short to give the Twins a 5-1 win.

Consider this game a bit of stat correction for the Yankees' unusually low bullpen ERA and unusually high number of runs scored per game. Heck, even Mussina's two scoreless innings helped shed a few tenths of a run off the starters' ERA. If there's one lesson baseball teaches us, it's that everything comes back to the center in time.

As for Mussina, he said that he felt his hamstring grab during the first batter of the third inning and, when it grabbed at him again later that inning, he decided to get out of there before he wound up with a long-term injury. On his last pitch of the game, you could see Mussina's front leg stiffen up. Rather than ending up in his usual fielder's stance, Moose hopped off to the third base side of the mound, at which point he shook his head in disappointment and gestured for Joe Torre and Gene Monhahan to come out and get him. Said Mussina after the game, "It was more than a cramp, but it's not bad. I don't limp, and I can still touch my toes." The Yankees are hoping they won't have to place Mussina on the disabled list, but it looks like Darrell Rasner will take Mussina's next turn on Tuesday against the Indians at the Stadium. The Yanks won't need a fifth starter until Sunday April 22 in Boston, so look for Mussina to make his return to the rotation during that weekend series at Fenway if he's able to avoid the DL.

As for the other two pitchers the Yankees do have on the disabled list, both Jeff Karstens and Chien-Ming Wang threw bullpens down in Tampa earlier this week. Karstens is scheduled to throw three innings in a rehab game on Saturday. If that start goes well, he could be available to bump Rasner or fill in for Mussina at the end of next week. Wang, meanwhile, will need two rehab starts before being activated. Since the date of his first start has yet to be announced, it seems Wang will not be able to return any earlier than the team's final homestand of the month, one turn through the rotation later than Karstens assuming both stay on pace.

Bombs Away
2007-04-11 12:42
by Cliff Corcoran

There was reason to believe that Carl Pavano and Andy Pettitte would do what they did over the past two games, dropping the Yankee starters' collective ERA more than three runs from 9.97 to 6.75 over the course of 13 stellar innings, but, I have to say, I'm a lot less enthusiastic about what we might see from Mike Mussina tonight. Unlike Pavano or Pettitte, Moose wasn't hurt all that much by his defense in his first outing. Instead he was just plain roughed up, allowing eight hits, four of them doubles, walking three, and hitting a batter in a mere four innings. Moose allowed the Orioles to score in three of those four innings and in the lone exception he had runners on first and second and used up 21 pitches (and would have used more had Corey Patterson not laid down a successful sac bunt on the first pitch he saw). I suppose one could point to Moose's four strikeouts in those four innings and respectable 62 percent strike rate as positive signs, but after seeing the way he struggled through spring training, I'm not convinced.

On the other side of the ledger, the Twins are throwing Ramon Ortiz to the wolves. Ortiz is a better pitcher than Sidney Ponson, but that's not saying much. It's comical to recall that Ortiz was dubbed "Little Pedro" when he emerged with the Angels last century. Ortiz aged three years in one winter as a result of the post-9/11 crack down on documentation. That year he surrendered 40 home runs. The next he posted a 5.20 ERA. In 2004, he lost his rotation spot. Jumping to the National League in 2005, Ortiz spent the next two seasons in two wildly disparate pitching environments in Cincinnati and Washington and was lit up in both (his home and away splits confirming that his ability to suck was uneffected by his home environment). Giving up 31 homers in 33 games while playing your home games in RFK Stadium is a nifty trick and one that doesn't bode well for a pitcher facing the hottest offense in baseball (7.29 R/G) and the team tied for third in the majors in home runs.

Of course, Ortiz handled the Orioles in his last start (7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 0 HR), but I'm more interested in what the Yankees did to him when they met in the nation's capitol last July, knocking him around for seven runs in 4 1/3 innings on eleven hits including homers by Jorge Posada and, you guessed it, Alex Rodriguez. That was the game in which Shawn Chacon, Matt Smith, T.J. Beam, Scott Proctor, and, shockingly, Mariano Rivera combined to blow a 9-2 lead. I don't expect tonight will be quite as ugly, but I think we're in store for another slugfest nonetheless. Fortunately, the Yankees have already taken the series (their first series win of the year), winning the first two games by a combined score of 18-3. They also have an off-day tomorrow, which means it could be all-in from their rebuilt bullpen, which posts the second-best bullpen ERA in the majors (1.27).

It's a Start...
2007-04-11 09:15
by Emma Span

You could see the seeds of this story being planted back in the first weeks of spring training, and now, nearly two months later, Carl Pavano’s comeback is proceeding apace. In a nice bit of timing, his start on Monday -- which was genuinely good, but looked brilliant thanks to the Yankee rotation’s abysmal opening week -- fell immediately after Easter Sunday; I think you could probably find a workable metaphor in either the Resurrection or, if you prefer, the giant mythical bunny rabbit with candy.

The truth regarding Pavano’s last few seasons is elusive, and what’s more, it keeps changing. The better Pavano pitches now, the more he was a victim of bad luck; the higher his ERA this season, the more he was shamefully sitting around collecting a fat paycheck, unwilling to fight to return to the mound.

There’s nothing new about this: in sports, talent and achievement tend to morph into character. That's why Ted Williams is known as a beloved icon instead of a total dick, and Joe DiMaggio is regarded as a symbol of class and lost elegance instead of an emotionally troubled loner. I'm not saying there’s anything wrong with this – we enjoy watching great players perform, and what they’re like off the field isn’t necessarily important. We’re not looking to Carl Pavano for life lessons, we’re looking to him for quality starts. But in any case, it's probably not a good idea to make moral judgments based on WHIP.

We may never know exactly what happened with Pavano. Clearly he’s been legitimately injured, but equally clearly, his own teammates thought that he could be doing more to return; I don't know if they were right, but I can’t recall ever seeing the Yankees disparage a teammate the way they publicly and on the record called out Pavano over the last year, taping the tabloids’ “Crash Test Dummy” headlines to his locker and dismissively joking about his wrecked Porsche. The result was brutal press coverage like this Bergen Record column, which called Pavano a gutless, lying weasel, more or less in those words. At this point you almost have to hope he was avoiding the mound last season – because if he tried his hardest and was simply too hurt to pitch, he’s been treated awfully unfairly.

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And Like That -- Boof! -- He's Gone
2007-04-11 00:28
by Emma Span

Hey gang, I'll be subbing in as your recapper today. Andy Pettitte followed Carl Pavano's lead (!) last night and gave the Yankees their second quality start of the season, while the offense, true to Cliff's game preview, hurt Twins starter Boof "Boof" Bonser with the long ball: Yankees 10, Twins 1.

The game was actually decided in the first inning, when Derek Jeter singled to right and, after Bobby Abreu flied out, Alex Rodriguez stepped in. I'll let Alex Belth, via stoked in-game email, take it from here:

"Boof started A-Rod with a slider (as he did in his second at bat too) and didn't challenge him with the fastball until the count was full. I was at home saying, "Dude, you're not going to try and get that sh** past A Rod, are you?" Sure enough, he came right into A Rod's kitchen. Yo, A Rod just murdalized that ball. Goddamn, that was awesome."

Yes it was. There's actually some difference of opinion as to what kind of pitch it was that A-Rod destroyed; Tyler Kepner agrees it was a fastball, but John Flaherty called it a slider, and Mike Mussina (per Kim Jones) claimed it was a changeup -- after overhearing A-Rod tell reporters that he himself didn't know. What I can tell you with certainty is that it ended up deep in the left field stands. Rodriguez now has six home runs on the season and a 1.107 slugging percentage; this homer, his 470th, tied him with Manny Ramirez, who is three years older. What's changed since last year? His stance? His strategy? His mental health? I say it's the socks.

Those runs were all Pettitte needed, though he eventually got a lot more. He looked sharp throughout, cruising through six shutout innings, changing speeds and using both sides of the plate. He allowed singles to Punto and Mauer to lead off the fourth, but swiftly worked out of it with a double play on Cuddyer and a groundout from Mourneau... and that was about as tense as things got. If there's anything to quibble about, it's that he could have been more economical, since by the end of the sixth he'd already thrown 96 pitches (60 for strikes); but credit the Twins hitters with some patience there, as well as a knack for irritating two-strike fouls.

The Yankee offense, meanwhile, continued on its path to world domination. Melky Cabrera got his groove back, starting with a single up the middle that plated Cano in the second, and finishing the night 3-for-4 with a nifty running, jumping, twisting catch on a Cuddyer line drive in the eighth. In the fifth, Mientkiewicz and Melky were aboard for a booming Johnny Damon home run, his first of the year. Bonser only made a few significant mistakes, but he paid for all of them, and was removed for a string of Twins relievers of varying efficacy.

Later in the fifth, by the way, Rodriguez was intentionally walked for the first time this season; get used to that.

My favorite Twins reliever by far is "Sideshow Pat" Neshek (nickname via awesome Twins blogger Bat Girl), who has a truly odd, jerky, flailing sidearm delivery; at one point his elbows nearly hit each other behind his back, though I can't explain how they get there. Think of a stork being violently tickled, but with much better control. Baseball Think Factory has the visuals and the breakdown.

In the Yankee seventh Torre turned to Scott Proctor, who, with the variety of reliable (knocking on wood) arms in the pen this year, needs a new nickname – Semiweekly Scott? You guys can come up with something, I'm sure. Proctor didn't have it, though, walking Morneau and Hunter to lead off the inning, despite being staked to a then-six-run lead. He did manage two fly-ball outs, but after a broken-bat Jason Kubel single gave the Twins their first and only run, Torre called for Vizcaino.

Finally, Mariano Rivera came in to mop up in the ninth. You know, I realize the guy needed to get some work in, but it seems a little unfair to crush a team 10-1 and then trot out Rivera to top it off, doesn't it? Mo dispatched Morneau and Tyner with a combined three pitches, then used unfortunate pinch-hitter Luis Rodriguez as a guinea pig for his new changeup -- which missed badly, high -- before popping him up. So the change isn't quite ready for prime time yet. Alex Rodriguez, though, definitely was.

Boof Bam Boomer
2007-04-10 10:54
by Cliff Corcoran

The Yankee starters finished their first trip through the rotation with a 9.97 ERA. That was no more likely to hold up than are the bullpen's current 1.07 ERA or the offense's 6.83 runs per game. Indeed, Carl Pavano began the correction of that starters' ERA last night with seven innings of two-run baseball, dropping the figure nearly two runs to 8.16. Expect Andy Pettitte to continue that trend tonight.

Pettitte's first outing was the best of those first five Yankee starts (an admittedly low standard), and only came to an end after four innings because he was on a strict pitch limit necessitated by the back problems that interrupted his spring training schedule. Looking back over the game log, Andy got a double play to end the third and set the Devil Rays down in order in the fourth only to run into his pitch limit. Prior to that, he was undone by three walks, a wild pitch, a passed ball, an error, a stolen base, and three singles, one of which didn't leave the infield. A lot of that is his own fault, and he was similarly rescued by that double play and his own great sliding tag of B.J. Upton at home, but it's significant that he didn't get cuffed around like Mussina (four doubles), Igawa, or Rasner (two homers and a double each). The only extra base hit Pettitte allowed was a two-out Jonny Gomes double in the first, which he stranded by getting Ty Wigginton to fly out on the very next pitch, and that fly out was the only one of the game as Pettitte (as evidenced by the double play, infield single, and error) did an excellent job of keeping the ball on the ground.

So, while Pettitte's first start wasn't good by any stretch, there were a lot of positive indicators. Since then, he tossed a scoreless inning of relief on his throw day and, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, gotten in out of the cold. I like his chances to turn in a solid outing tonight.

In fact, tonight's game has the potential to be something of a pitcher's duel, as the Twins will counter Pettitte with 25-year-old sophomore Boof Bonser. Despite making 18 major league starts last year, Bonser has never faced the Yankees during the regular season. He did, however, face them this spring. In that game, Bonser allowed a pair of solo homers to Bobby Abreu and Josh Phelps, but held the Yankees to just two other hits over six innings while striking out seven. He had a similar outing in his first regular season start against the Orioles last week, striking out six in six innings while allowing just two runs on three hits, one of them a solo homer by Melvin Mora.

The most compelling thing about Bonser, however--other than the fact that he's officially changed his name to Boof (his birth name was John)--is that his mannerisms on the mound make him a dead ringer for a young, right-handed David Wells. A sloppy, heavy-set fellow with a brown goatee, a baggy jersey, and a big overhand delivery, Boof recalls the Boomer of 1997 and 1998, the ace of the 1998 Yankees and author of a perfect game against none other than the Minnesota Twins. Bonser and Wells are opposites when it comes to pitching style, however. In addition to throwing with the opposite hands, Wells pitches to contact, with historically low walk rates and correspondingly high hit rates, while Bonser tends to miss bats both in and out of the strike zone, suppressing hits along the way. Bonser does give up his share of homers, however, and it will be up to the Yankees tonight to make sure they have a few men on base when that inevitable long ball leaves the park.

In other news, the Twins disabled two players yesterday, placing Jeff Cirillo and Rondell White (surprise) on the 15-day DL and recalling infielder Alexi Casilla and outfielder Josh "Broccoli" Rabe from triple-A (see Aaron Gleeman for more). Unfortunately, Rabe's name is pronounced "RAY-bee," so his nickname only works in print.

Served to Order
2007-04-10 05:11
by Alex Belth

Carl Pavano gave the Yankees exactly what they were looking for last night: a solid performance from a starting pitcher. The Yanks beat up on the Twins, 8-2. Pavano gave up just two runs over seven innings. He got ten ground ball outs and pitched aggresively (he pitched to contact as they like to say). Even in the seventh inning, when Joe Mauer and Torii Hunter roped line drives against him, Pavano kept his composure, and challenged hitters. He got out of the inning having given up just one run.

"When he was on the Marlins, he was pretty aggressive on the mound," said Abreu, who faced Pavano when both played in the National League East. "That's the way I saw him back in the day. Today was a pretty good start to going back."
(Tyler Kepner, N.Y. Times)

It helped that the Yankee offense jumped all over Sir Sidney Ponson early. Bobby Abreu had four RBI an a homer, and later, Alex Rodriguez hit an absolute rocket over the right field fence that was still going up when it crashed into the seats. It was Rodriguez's fifth home run in six games. (When he's going the opposite way, you know he's locked-in.) Jorge Posada added two RBI of his own, Johnny Damon had a couple of hits, and Derek Jeter had three (Melky Cabrera is one of the few regulars who are struggling offensively). Even better, the Yankee defense finally had a good night. Jeter made two nifty plays--going up-the-middle to snag a base hit away from Mike Redmond in the third, and charging a high-bouncer from Luis Castillo in the sixth.

But Pavano was the story. After he was taken out of the game, he sat next to Andy Pettitte in the dugout. I always felt that Pavano could be related to Pettitte. Maybe they could be cousins. Both are big guys, with big legs and big rumps, and somewhat narrow shoulders (at least it looks that way when they pitch). They both have dark, good looks. Andy's got the Roman nose, Pavano's got that classic chin. You could make pretty good busts out of those mugs. Anyhow, the announcers mentioned that the two have become pals. That should be fun to watch as the season unfolds.

Mel at Yogi

Speaking of classic Yankee pitchers, Mel Stottlemyre will be at the Yogi Berra Museum tonight between 6-8 promoting his new book, Pride and Pinstripes. If you are out in Jers, roll on through and check it out.

The Minnesota Twins
2007-04-09 13:01
by Cliff Corcoran

The Yankees play just seven games against the central-division Twins this year, and it's rather advantageous that they're getting three of them out of the way now. That may seem an odd statement given that the Yankees are 2-3 and have yet to get a quality start (or anything even close) from their starting rotation, while the Twins are 4-1 and have allowed just 2.4 runs per game, but a quick look at the pitching probables for this series shows that the Twins are repeating their mistakes from a year ago.

Last year, the Twins broke camp with Tony Batista at third base, Juan Castro at shortstop, and Kyle Lohse and Carlos Silva in the starting rotation. It wasn't until mid-May that the team began to figure out that they had to do better, eventually ridding themselves of Batista, Castro, and Lohse, and benching underperforming right fielder Lew Ford. While their solutions in right field (Michael Cuddyer) and the left side of the infield (Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett) are still in place (though Punto is unlikely to be a long-term fix at the hot corner), the Twins have taken a step backwards in the rotation. Silva continues to hold a spot and, in place of the retired Brad Radke, the injured Francisco Liriano, and 2006 solution Matt Garza, who had an excellent spring, they've turned to proven patsies Ramon Ortiz and, believe it or not, Sidney Ponson.

Admittedly, Garza got roughed up pretty good last year, but that came late in the year as he was inching toward his career mark for innings in a single season (he ultimately threw 185 2/3 over four levels, just surpassing his total from the previous season split between Fresno State, rookie ball, and low-A). One could argue that Garza's on the Phil Hughes plan, but there are three key differences. Garza, a first-round draft pick out of Fresno State in 2005, is nearly three years older than Hughes. Hughes is on a 180-inning limit this year, but Garza has already passed that in each of the last two seasons. Finally, Hughes had never pitched above double-A coming into 2007, while Garza threw 50 major league innings at the end of last season. Also unlike Hughes, Garza sailed through spring training with a 1.50 ERA. Garza's a top prospect who's ready to join the major league rotation. So who do the Twins block him with? Sidney Ponson, a man who was relased by three teams in a 12-month span from September 1, 2005 to September 1, 2006 and this spring had a WHIP of 1.56 and struck out just 6 men in 16 innings. They must have been really blown away by Sir Sidney's 3.94 ERA.

That or they plan to skip the fifth spot in their rotation as often as possible and wanted Garza to get regular work in the minors. Fortunately for the Yankees, one of the times the defending AL Central Champs need their fifth starter is tonight. Meanwhile, Johan Santana, who's officially the greatest pitcher on the planet, pitched last night. So, you see, it's rather advantageous that the Yanks are getting three of their games against the Twins out of the way now, because the Twinks will surely haved wise up by the time they come to the Bronx around Independence Day, and it's unlikely that the Yanks will miss Santana again in that four-game set. It will also benefit the Yankees to come in from the cold to the climate-controlled Metrodome. In both cases (and I never thought I'd say this about the Hubert H. Homerdome, but given the weather in the Bronx of late . . .) the Yankees should enjoy it while you can.

Carl Pavano takes his second turn tonight. He actually looked pretty good through his first four innings on Opening Day, allowing just one unearned run following Derek Jeter's throwing error. In fact, if you convert that error to an out and erase the remainder of that second inning in which Pavano allowed a walk and an RBI single before getting the final out, Meat's line through four innings would have been 4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 K. Even as played, his four-inning line was a very respectable 4 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K. The fact of the matter is he flat ran out of gas in the fifth, which is not unusual considering how long it's been since he's pitched regularly. That fatigue is yet another reason to trade Pavano in late May, assuming he pitches well enough to fetch a good return and the rest of the rotation shapes up, of course. Between his injury risk and lack of stamina, the chances of Pavano continuing to pitch well all year (if he gets there at all) are very slim. His chances of outlasting his opponent tonight are much better. Sidney Ponson is bad.

Continue reading...

Ice Cold
2007-04-08 17:21
by Cliff Corcoran

It was freaking cold in the Bronx on Sunday. The box score says it was 41 degrees, but it was overcast with a 20-mile-per-hour wind and snow flurries filled Yankee Stadium off and on throughout the game. Undeterred, Becky and I had the perfect plan.

A hearty meal at the Court Deli:

And lots and lots of layers:

To be perfectly honest, our plan worked about as well as the Yankees', which was based around getting a solid outing from Darrell Rasner. Rasner looked sharp in the first, and the Yankees jumped out to a 3-0 lead when Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter singled, Bobby Abreu plated Melky with a sac fly and Alex Rodriguez launched his first pitch to the Armitron sign in right field to give him two home runs and six RBIs on his last two swings.

Already freezing, Becky turned to me and said, "So that's it, right? They won and we can go home?" If only.

Continue reading...

2007-04-08 06:37
by Cliff Corcoran

Is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher. Fortunately, Darrell Rasner has a very real chance to turn in the best start by a Yankee thus far this season. Of course, everything's relative.

After four games:

Yankee offense: 7.25 R/G

Yankee bullpen: 1.44 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 18 2/3 IP

Yankee rotation: 9.87 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, 17 1/3 IP

Eric Bedard was lit up by the Twins in his first start (6 ER, 10 H, 4 2/3 IP). Here's hoping the Yankee offense, which will get Damon back today, but has lost Matsui to a hamstring injury until Friday at the earliest and will likely be without Jorge Posada, who hasn't had a day off yet this season and played a day game after a night game yesterday, can keep on keeping on.

One Man Wrecking Crew: Rodriguez has First and Last Word
2007-04-07 15:28
by Alex Belth

It was another sluggish day for the Yankees' starting pitching and their fielding. Hideki Matsui left the game with a tight hamstring (early reports indicate that he'll be okay). Kei Igawa became the first Yankee starter this season to make it through the fifth inning. Unfortunately, he didn't make it to the sixth, allowing seven runs, all of them earned, off of eight hits and three walks. A forgettable debut, indeed.

Alex Rodriguez's two-run dinger in the first got the Yankees on the board; he doubled in the fourth and scored on Jorge Posada's RBI single (one of those line drives to right at the Stadium that narrowly missed being a homer), then walked and scored on Jason Giambi's three-run bomb in the eighth. But would any of that matter to the uncompromisingly tough New York fans if Rodriguez failed in the ninth? Trailing by just one run, Rodriguez came to the plate with two men out and the bases juiced. He took a ball from Chris Ray and then swung through two fastballs.

Emily and I always hold our breath when Rodriguez comes up late in the game in big spots. I don't know if there is any Yankee player since Reggie that I root for in exactly the same way. I feel like I'm a kid again as far as he's concerned. My heart pumps faster when he's up, and I'm almost physically pained when he fails. I guess I respond to Rodriguez's neediness. As with Reggie, I feel like he really needs me.

I sat on the floor and prayed with Emily. "Just get a single, bro, nice and easy." Instead, Rodriguez launched Ray's 1-2 pitch into the black seats in center field for a grand slam home run. Sweet Georgia Brown. Final Score: Yanks 10, O's 7. I jumped up and down and yelled and hugged Emily, who will officially be my wife in less than two weeks. Rodriguez had a huge smile on his face as he circled the bases. His teammates mobbed him and when they all returned to the dugout, Derek Jeter pushed Rodriguez back-up the steps for a curtain call.

According to our pal, Pete:

Alex Rodriguez is one of three players in history with three walk-off slams. The others are Vern Stephens of the old St. Louis Browns and Cy Williams of Philadelphia. Nobody has done it since 1950.

There was more general lousiness from the Yanks today, but Rodriguez was the star, from soup-to-nuts (Em says tomorrow's headlines should be directed at Rodriguez's detractors: "F*** All of You," or "Shut Your Pie-Hole"). And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

Looking For Signs of Life
2007-04-07 07:35
by Alex Belth

It is an overcast, brisk spring day in New York. The sun is trying to peak out. Kei Igawa is on the hill for the Yanks this afternoon. Time for the bats to bomb away.

(Gruesome, Isn't it?)
2007-04-07 06:17
by Alex Belth

For the second consecutive night, the Yankees looked old, flat, and old. Mike Mussina allowed six runs off eight hits and three walks over four innings as the Bombers fell to the Orioles, 6-4. The game lasted three hours and fifteen minutes, brief considering this was New York vs. Baltimore, but it seemed longer. The Yanks seemed out-of-it mentally. In the fourth inning, Melvin Mora stole second and neither Robinson Cano or Derek Jeter, who limped for most of the game after fouling a ball off his right foot in his first at-bat, covered the bag. When was the last time you remember Jeter making a mental mistake like that? The Yankee shortstop was removed in the ninth inning. Again, something you don't normally see.

Sean Henn pitched well in relief, but the Yankees sorely need a strong outing from a starter:

"Every team in the league counts on its rotation, but we count on our rotation a lot," said Mussina, who gave up six runs in four innings. "It's going to make or break our season, and we didn't do very well the first handful of starts here. It's disappointing. We've got to improve."
(Kepner, N.Y. Times)

Mussina nibbled all night and couldn't hit his spots. In light of that, I'm not overwhelmed with confidence in Kei Igawa this afternoon. This might be one of those days were the bats have to carry the team.

Meanwhile, in Dunder Mifflin Land, Phillip Hughes pitched well in his Triple A debut.

The Baltimore Orioles
2007-04-06 14:19
by Cliff Corcoran

I'll be honest, the Orioles bore me to tears. Now nursing a nine-year run of losing records, the Orioles continue to rearrange the furniture, but without a meaningful youth movement, they'll forever be the AL East's fourth-place team (until the Devil Rays get enough pitching to pass them, that is). Nick Markakis might be the real deal in right field, but there's no one behind him in the high minors and now that Melvin Mora's fallen back to earth he's less of a production addition than a production replacement. Erik Bedard, whom the Yankees will face on Sunday, is actually about a week older than Johan Santana. Chris Ray is nice and all, but he's a band-aid on a severed limb. That just leaves the ongoing mystery that is Daniel Cabrera--who acquitted himself well over his last ten starts last year and his first outing of 2007, but still hasn't shown the dominant form that's long been predicted for him--and tonight's starter Adam Loewen. As a rookie in 2006, Loewen faced the Yankees more than any other team, excelling in those four starts (2.62 ERA, 23 K in 24 IP), and Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein likes him more than either Cabrera or Ray. Tonight marks his first start of 2007, and it will be interesting to see what he can do against the Yankees' lefty-heavy lineup after so much exposure to same last year.

As for the O's as a group, the were swept by the Twins in their opening series by a combined score of 17-8, with half of those runs coming off Johan Santana himself, and are punting the catcher position while trying to decide what to do about Ramon Hernandez's strained oblique muscle. The Hernandez situation brings to mind the Yankees' deliberations over Johnny Damon's sexy calves, but with inferior stand-ins. Actually, Peter Abraham reports that Damon's feeling better and could play tomorrow. Hernandez, however, is likely DL-bound.

The Orioles are ripe for the picking, but the Yankees have to help themselves first. After making six errors in their first two games, three of them coming from the Captain, who's never looked worse in the field, their ability to pick anything in doubt.

Continue reading...

2007-04-06 10:01
by Cliff Corcoran

Sports has started a new baseball blog on their site called Fungoes, which will rotate through seven writers and all six divisions over the course of each week of the 2007 baseball season. Among those seven writers are our founder Alex Belth, who will cover the AL East, fellow Toaster Jon Weiseman, who will cover the NL West, and myself as the seventh man tackling a random baseball topic of my choosing every Friday under the "Wild Card" header.

Alex's posts will appear every Monday. Check out his first post from this past Monday, in which Alex muses about Opening Day from an AL East perspective. My first post is up today and takes a look at the historical significance of the Arizona Diamondback's new uniforms (with apologies to Paul Lukas). Mr. Weisman's first effort, meanwhile, focused on the underrated Colorado Rockies (with apologies to Mark T.R. Donohue, I'm sure).

I hope you'll all join us over there in addition to your regularly scheduled programming here on Baseball Toaster. And don't be shy about dropping some comments over at SI, either.

Observations From Cooperstown
2007-04-06 06:26
by Alex Belth

By Bruce Markusen

Two Games In The Books

At this writing, the Yankees have played a grand total of two games, which makes it difficult to detect any meaningful trends and patterns. Still, every game provides us with at least one storyline. As is usually the case in Yankeeland, there is no shortage of plots and themes as we evaluate the first series of the season.

*Sometimes Opening Day makes you feel very good about a pre-season prediction. I picked the Yankees to win the American League East, in large part because of their bullpen, which has far superior depth to the pen in Beantown. So what did the Yankee relievers do on Opening Day after Carl Pavano dropped the ball in the fifth inning? The five-man tag team of Brian Bruney, Sean Henn, Luis Vizcaino, Kyle Farnsworth, and Mariano Rivera combined for four and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief. That sort of pattern could become a trend in 2007. Given the depth at Joe Torre's disposal, this might be the Yankees' best bullpen since the dynasty days of Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton.

(And just when I had finished patting my back after the opener, the Yankee bullpen allowed three runs in game two, including the game-winning run in the top of the eighth. Ah, so much for predictions.)

The improvement of Farnsworth could be the key to just how good the bullpen can be. Farnsworth has dipped into his pre-2006 arsenal and brought back a sinking fastball that provides a nice contrast to his rising 98 mile-per-hour four-seamer. If Farnsworth is willing to throw the sinker—and more importantly, is able to throw strikes with his sinker—he could be the eighth-inning force the Yankees thought they had acquired in 2006.

*For the first time since the first half of 1996, the Yankees appear to have enough versatility in their lineup to play "small ball"—or "Billy Ball," in homage to a former Yankee skipper who had some fun with the A's in the early eighties. The Yankees stole three bases and laid down two sacrifice bunts in the opener, giving them an extra dimension to a lineup that is already packed with power. With Alex Rodriguez having lost 12 pounds over the winter, he could resume being a significant basestealing threat. The Yankees now have four regulars capable of stealing 20 or more bases—the others are Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, and Bobby Abreu—which should erase the team's image as being slow and plodding. When's the last time the Yankee lineup could boast that many basestealers? You might have to go back to the failed speed experiment of 1982, when the Yankees brought in Dave Collins and Ken Griffey and tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to become the "Go-Go" Bombers.

*The Yankees' defensive play has been atrocious through the first two games. I don't care what their zone rating or range factor might be; six errors, a passed ball, and a near passed ball in 18 innings is horrifically bad. I'm willing to excuse some of the poor play because of the cold, but certainly not all of it. Derek Jeter has made several poor throws and has displayed less range than usual to his left, Josh Phelps looked like he'd been taking lessons from Jason Giambi with his Opening Day throw to second base, and even supposed glove wizard Doug Mientkiewicz has made an error. (By the way, if Mientkiewicz doesn't play an absolutely brilliant first base this month, I want him out of the lineup by May 1.) What can the Yankees do about their defensive woes? Well, they're going to have to live with Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on the left side of the infield, but they need to get Melky Cabrera as many innings as possible in the outfield. He is their best outfielder, both in terms of range and throwing arm—and it's not even close.

*The nicest development of the first week involved an off-the-field concern, specifically someone who hasn't played for the Yankees in more than two decades. The much-loved Bobby Murcer returned to Yankee Stadium for Opening Day, spending a couple of innings in the YES Network broadcast booth, after a winter filled with cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy treatments. I have to admit it was a bit odd to see the cancer-stricken Murcer sporting a bald look—he's always had a full shock of hair, even in recent years—but he sounded very good during his stint in the booth. His voice came across as strong, as did his usual sense of humor. Murcer says he hopes to completely fulfill his broadcast schedule this year. I think it's safe to say that every Yankee fan has the same wish for 2007.

Bruce Markusen is the author of A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley's Swingin' A's and the writer of Cooperstown Confidential, a blog at Bruce, his wife Sue, and daughter Madeline reside in Cooperstown, NY.

Out Cold
2007-04-06 04:49
by Alex Belth

The fans who stuck around for the entire game last night are bonafide die-hards, man, cause it was brick cold in the Bronx. Unfortunately, they didn't go home happy as the Yankees lost an ugly game to the Devil Rays, 7-6. Andy Pettitte was far from sharp and the bullpen wasn't much better. The Yankees made three errors, including two by Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada had perhaps one of the worst defensive games of his career. Still, they had two men on with just one out in the bottom of the eighth. Jeter tapped a ground ball back to the pitcher, who inexplicably tried for the force at third. The throw was late, and bases were loaded. But Bobby Abreu was jammed, and grounded out to the pitcher before Alex Rodriguez missed a fat pitch and popped out to end the inning. Rodriguez threw his bat down in frustration, the cheers turned to boos, and the tabloids had their cover story.

All of this with wild snow flurries falling at different points throughout the game. In the seventh, the snow looked like a swarm of locusts, or, as YES announcer Michael Kay noted, a snowglobe turned upside down. Elijah Dukes, looking thuggish in a black mask--which many of the Devil Rays wore to keep warm--hit a line drive home run to left field which brought back memories of Winfield and Rice. Josh Paul was as good behind the plate for the Rays as Posada was terrible for the Yanks.

It's too soon to get upset, right? That may be true, but my blood was angried-up well enough during the last few innings as the Yanks let one slip away. Can't teach an old dog new tricks, eh?

Andy Given Thursday
2007-04-05 15:45
by Cliff Corcoran

There were snow flurries in Manhattan as I left work this evening. It's April 5, the baseball season is well under way, the sun is shining, and here comes a cool cluster of snow crystals, curling down on the brisk breeze to perch on my proboscis.

Much as "sun flurries" (if such a thing truly exists and I wasn't just dreaming) strike me as a siren-like omen of an impending natural apocalypse, it's appropriate weather for tonight's ballgame. A half a score and one more years ago, Andy Pettitte took the hill for the Yankees home opener amid a flock of snow flurries and beat the Kansas City Royals, setting the Yankees on their way to their first World Championship in 18 years and launching the most recent Yankee dynasty. Tonight, thanks to the rain-out yesterday (and I think we can all thank Gore and the Easter Bunny that it was rain and not snow that poured fourth from the heavens), Andy Pettitte will make the first start of his second stint as a Yankee tonight amid the flakes (that is, unless Johnny Damon's calf strain keeps him out of the lineup).

But seriously, folks, it's about freaking time. It seems like it's been a week since the Yankees beat the D-Rays on Opening Day. I've had an empty seat at my table for Elijah Dukes for far too long.

Jae Seo starts for the Devil Rays, wondering where went his Weong. It remains to be seen what the Rays will reap from Seo, who seemed to hold so much promise when he signed with the Dodgers last year only to end the season as Mark Hendrickson's replacement in Tampa. Those of you parsing that last clause for a pun can scratch those plans as there ain't one.

As for Andy, in case you forgot, he's sixth on the Yankees' all-time list in games started, fifth all-time in strikeouts, and ninth all-time in wins as a Yankee. If he wins 15 games this year he'll tie his former pitching coach, Mel Sottlemyre, for sixth on the all-time Yankee win list. None of those rankings will have any real effect on how he'll perform tonight (other than the fact that they betray the mileage on his arm), but they'll have a great deal of effect on how he's received, and I don't mean by Jorge Posada.

The Great Subway Race
2007-04-05 09:45
by Alex Belth

By Jon Kay

"The next stop is 161st Steet, Yankee Stadium."

It won't be long before many of us get to hear those sweet, automated words as the 4 train rumbles to The House that Ruth Built.

There is a longstanding link between professional baseball in New York City and its transit system. Ballparks past and present have all been built next to subway lines.

April 14th, 1906 was the date of Yankee opening day in Hilltop Park on 168th street and Broadway. A sellout crowd of 15,000 watched the Yankees defeat the Boston Americans 2-1 in 12 innings.

This date was also opening day for the 168th street subway station which is now served by the 1 train. The New York Times estimated 10,000 fans passed through the brand new station on their way to the ballpark. The subway crowd was too much for the station's elevators which took riders from the platform, 125 feet underground, to the surface. Hundreds of fans had to make their way up to the street on foot via the stairs.

These hearty fans were rewarded with a pitchers' duel between Happy Jack Chesbro for the Yankees and Cy Young for Boston. An unearned run in the 12th sealed the win for New York. Set up men, loogys and closers were not required as each starter pitched a complete game.

The Times reported the bleacher creatures gave Young a good pre-game razzing and Chesbro's spitball was in peak form. It is safe to say the post-game walk down to the subway was a much more enjoyable one than the pre-game hike up 12 flights.

When the Yankees moved to the Polo Grounds in 1913, the 9th Avenue El became the train of choice for Yankee fans. The 9th Avenue line was one of the city's original train lines dating back to 1867. In 1880, the line was extended to 155th street, the future site of the Polo Grounds. In 1918, the 9th Avenue line was connected to the Woodlawn line in the Bronx via an existing railroad bridge operated by the Putnam branch of the New York Central. This extension was the precursor for what would become the Polo Grounds Shuttle and passed near the future site of Yankee Stadium.

The most popular song in baseball history, Take Me Out to the Ballgame was inspired by a ride on the 9th Avenue El. In 1908, Jack Norworth was riding the el past the Polo Grounds. He saw a sign, "Baseball Today – Polo Grounds", which prompted him to write the famous lyrics. It may have been the most productive ride in mass transit history.

In 1921, Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert had to look no further than the 4 train when scouting potential locations for a new ballpark. It was The House that Ruth Built but it was the IRT that decided where The House would be.

Over the years, Yankee fans have been well served by the 4 train as well as the B and D IND lines which were added in 1933. These three trains are given proper respect at every Yankee home game via the great subway race. I usually root for the 4 train, but being a Bronx native, I have to confess to occasionally rooting for the Bx1 bus.

The new Yankee Stadium, currently under construction, is already steeped in transit lore.

The new Stadium will sit along the route of the old Polo Grounds shuttle. In 1940, the 9th Avenue El was shut down. Construction of the underground IND line had made the 9th Avenue El obsolete. Shuttle service was maintained between the Polo Grounds on 155th street and the 4 train stop on 167th street. After the Giants left town in 1958, the shuttle was closed for good.

If you walk to River Ave and 162nd street, you can still see a small piece of the shuttle's structure. My good buddy, and Bronx historian, Dave Levy pointed out the remnant of the shuttle to me a few years back. It was a Bronx boy's version of an archeological dig.

Parking facilities for the new Stadium are being built on the site of Macomb's Dam Park. Anyone who presently takes the ferry to the Stadium sails by the former location of Robert Macomb's dam. Back in 1813, Macomb was allowed to build a dam in the Harlem River and collect tolls. The dam caused flooding uptown and shippers refused to pay the toll. In 1838, a judge deemed it a public nuisance and ordered it removed. In spite of all of this, a park and a bridge were named after him.

I was pleased to hear the new Yankee Stadium would make transit history with a Metro North station. This is a great idea which should have been done 30 years ago. Unfortunately, recent news about the station is not good. We can only hope that Metro North will be included in the subway race for many years to come.

Jon grew up in the Bronx and is a lifelong Yankee fan. He can often be spotted on the 4 train on his way to upper reserved seats at the Stadium.

Quick Notes
2007-04-04 23:26
by Cliff Corcoran

While there's no make-up date scheduled for yesterday's game just yet, there were a few drips of news yesterday. Well, three to be exact. Johnny Damon, who left Monday's game with cramps in his calves now appears to have something closer to a strain, which puts his availability in doubt for the time being. Melky Cabrera was going to start in center field in yesterday's game until it got rained out. Ron Villone, who was officially released at the end of spring training, signed a minor league deal with the Yankees yesterday and will report to triple-A Scranton. He can opt out of the deal if he's not on the 25-man roster by May 1. Finally, Chein-Ming Wang's rehab continues to move swiftly. He's been throwing in the bullpen and might throw a simulated game this weekend.

Down on the Farm
2007-04-04 09:53
by Alex Belth

By Bryan Smith

Read Alex Belth long enough, and you start to pick up the guy's biases. I'm not talking his love for rap, Ken Burns or Central Park, but the Yankees that command most of his ink: Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. Notice the trend.

I'm not bashing my friend Alex here, as I think any team diehard (myself included) does the same thing. As baseball fans, or really, as sports fans, we are drawn to the players we can only imagine in one uniform. Bernie, Rivera, Derek Jeter, these guys are Yankees. Being homegrown is to be one step closer to being a fan favorite. As loved as Paul O'Neil was, he was half a Red. As dominant as Roger Clemens was, he had shoved it for years with the Beaneaters.

If the Major League Baseball draft was different, and trading up in the draft allowed, Derek Jeter would not be New York's captain. Heck, he probably wouldn't be their shortstop. Because if trading were allowed, George Steinbrenner would have moved up in the 1993 draft after reading his staff's reports on a young stud in Miami. Despite taking Jeter the previous year, the Yankees would have bought the top pick from Seattle and drafted Alex Rodriguez.

After suffering through 1994 with Mike Gallego, the Yankees would have never signed Tony Fernandez. Rather, they would have opened 1995 with A-Rod at short, and New York would have fallen in love with him over the next 464 home runs. Jeter would be one helluva leadoff hitter, still loved in New York, but always second fiddle to the Bronx shortstop.

That's what is funny to be about baseball: although we don't realize it, fan allegiances to players are as determined by player development as they are effort and media friendliness.

Alex has asked me to write about the Yankees farm system once a month this season because I think he senses a new era with this organization. Starved to end this World Series drought, the Yankees are returning to what defined their '90s dynasty: scouting. The Yankees demanded their farm system provide them with a foundation – and it did in spades, with all the aforementioned homegrown talents – and then leaned on Brian Cashman (and Steinbrenner's wallet) to decorate the interior.

Continue reading...

Go Away, Come Back Tomorrow
2007-04-04 09:35
by Alex Belth

It's cold and it is raining in New York. Instead of making thousands of fans--not to mention the players--suffer through the conditions, today's game has been postponed.

Pastime Passings
2007-04-04 05:14
by Alex Belth

By Bruce Markusen

The baseball world absorbed several significant losses during the month of March. A former commissioner, an All-Star catcher, a World Series stalwart, and two baseball lifers have all passed away in recent weeks. Here are tributes to their lives in the game.

Ed Bailey (Died on March 23 in Knoxville, Tennessee; age 75; throat cancer):

A five-time All-Star, the left-handed hitting Bailey was regarded as one of the National League's premier catchers of the late 1950s and early 1960s. His prime seasons came with the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants, before he bounced to Milwaukee in 1964, came back to San Francisco in 1965, and then finished out his career with the Chicago Cubs and California Angels in '65 and '66. Bailey enjoyed his finest season in 1956, when he hit .300 with a career-high 28 home runs for the Reds. Over the course of a 14-year career, Bailey hit 155 home runs and collected 540 RBIs. He participated in one World Series, hitting a home run for the Giants during their 1963 Series loss to the New York Yankees.

Bowie Kuhn (Died on March 15 in Jacksonville, Florida; age 80; complications from pneumonia):

The second longest tenured commissioner in major league history behind Hall of Famer Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Kuhn served in baseball's highest office from 1969 to 1984. His tenure coincided with one of the most tumultuous eras in the history of the major leagues. During Kuhn's watch, player salaries escalated through arbitration and free agency as the Players Association assumed a far more powerful voice within the game's infrastructure. Kuhn frequently battled union chief Marvin Miller, both at the negotiating table and through the press, with Miller gaining major strides for the players through both collective bargaining and the decisions of independent arbitrators. Known for his law-and-order approach to running the game, Kuhn frequently attempted to discipline players and owners. He attempted to censure Jim Bouton's Ball Four, suspended Denny McLain for his ties to gambling and organized crime, disallowed the player sales of Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, and Joe Rudi by Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley, and suspended three members of the Kansas City Royals (Willie Mays Aikens, Jerry Martin, and Willie Wilson) after they were arrested for buying cocaine.

COMMENTARY: After first learning of the death of Bowie Kuhn, I read and heard several accounts that described the former commissioner as a pompous stuffed shirt who often seemed stiff and uncomfortable. Well, that was never my experience with Kuhn. I talked to him several times during my years at the Hall of Fame, including an interview that I conducted in front of an appreciative crowd in the Hall's Bullpen Theater. The former commissioner struck me as thoughtful and well spoken, even charming at times. He took an interest in my work at the Hall of Fame, which is not always the case with guest speakers who come to Cooperstown. I once gave him a ride from the Otesaga Hotel to the Hall of Fame; he was gracious and open during our conversation, and grateful for having saved him from a long walk.
After talking to Kuhn for awhile, it became obvious that he was both a fan of the game and a believer in old-school values. Those are two characteristics that rank highly with me. He was also knowledgeable about the Negro Leagues, having attended games at old Griffith Stadium in Washington. He had a real interest in preserving baseball history, which motivated him to donate his collection of papers from his days in baseball's front office. He wasn't just a suit who held the office of commissioner while waiting for something better to come around. This was a man who had a genuine love for the game, and took pride in trying to defend some of its values.

Still, as a commissioner, Kuhn was far from perfect. He made his share of mistakes, which the media of the seventies and eighties usually portrayed in earnest. His legacy was mixed, with some obvious failures, some more subtle successes, and a nearly endless supply of controversy and conflict. But I think it's safe to say that he was a very important and significant commissioner, a man who presided over the game at a time when it faced major upheaval because of labor issues, drug problems, expansion, the growth of television, and the presence of strong personalities in both ownership and the union. Rather than skirt these issues, he usually faced them, sometimes for good and other times for bad. In writing a complete history of baseball, I think that an author would have to devote at least one chapter to the reign of Bowie Kuhn.

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Yankee Panky Takes on Opening Day...Sort Of
2007-04-03 09:46
by Alex Belth

By Will Weiss
Bronx Banter Correspondent

Since watching the Yankees is no longer my job, I, like many of you, resorted to DVRing the game and watching a three-hour telecast in 12 minutes. However, I did watch all the Geico caveman commercials. They kill me. (Non sequitur alert: I read where ABC is planning a pilot based on the Geico Cavemen. Can cavemen hurdle sharks?)

Back to the point of this bonus entry…What do we make of the Opening Day coverage? As of this writing, the papers hadn't updated their Web sites to reflect postgame coverage, save for the AP recaps, and Opening Day blogs from Newsday and the Star-Ledger.

My commentary here is a brief scan of the highlights and lowlights of the Opening Day TV, and cyberspace.

TV * YES' telecast started well enough, until the question "How do you follow the Yankees from Iraq" was asked to some soldiers in attendance. As for the Cory Lidle factor, it would have been easy to overplay the emotions of the first-pitch ceremony, with Lidle's wife, Melanie, and son Christopher, throwing out the first pitch. The subtle route was the way to go. The look on Jason Giambi's face conveyed everything.

* I don't have the broadcaster lineup taped above my desk anymore, but I'd guess the trio of Kay, Singleton and Girardi will be a common and formidable one throughout the season. Bobby Murcer's third-inning appearance was a welcome sight. And he sounds as healthy as ever.

* Expect more gems from Joe Girardi like this postgame nugget: "Pavano needs to make adjustments the third time through the order, because the Devil Ray hitters adjusted to him."

* New feature: Text messaging for the player of the game.

* Oops: YES misspelled Carl Crawford's last name as he strode to the plate for his at-bat in the top of the seventh. It's Opening Day for everyone. The Yankees got away with three errors, right?

* I'd have more on ESPN, but I couldn't stay up for the 1 a.m. Baseball Tonight. Florida's win dominated Sportscenter for the last hour.

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Bleacher Banter
2007-04-03 05:31
by Alex Belth

By Emma Span

It's a long subway ride from my apartment in Brooklyn to Yankee Stadium, but I usually enjoy the trip uptown. By the time you pass Grand Central, the train is packed, and almost everyone is wearing Yankee gear and talking baseball. I remember being on the 4 train a few years ago, when a young businessman casually turned to his friend and asked, "So, how many innings do you think Kevin Brown will go tonight?" At which point literally half the subway car turned around – young and old, black and white and hispanic, Christian and Jew -- and offered opinions ranging from one to four. Yesterday, I sat next to two college-age girls who rode through most of Manhattan lamenting the fact that Carl Pavano, who should be so hot, has sucked too much to crush on. (But, they agreed, it's going to be okay: Andy Pettitte is back).

In that same vein, while the view could be better, you absolutely cannot beat the Yankee Stadium bleachers for color commentary. They're a testament to the diversity of this city's residents – and, also, to their remarkable and ceaseless innovation in the field of smuggling booze past stringent security. The bleacher experience is only as good as your neighbors, though, so I lucked out yesterday when, deep in the left field side, I found myself sitting in front of Statler and Waldorf.

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Scenes from Opening Day
2007-04-02 20:16
by Cliff Corcoran
Opening Day Game Recap
2007-04-02 20:15
by Cliff Corcoran

The 2007 season couldn't have gotten off to a worse start for Alex Rodriguez. With Carl Crawford on third and two outs in the top of the first, Ty Wigginton hit a foul pop up to the left side. Battling a grey sky and some swirling winds, Rodriguez had to loop around Crawford and come nearly two thirds of the way toward home plate to catch the ball. Meanwhile, Jorge Posada and Carl Pavano stood in place despite the fact that Rodriguez, though in hot pursuit, was not calling for the ball (after the game, Joe Torre said it was the catcher's ball to catch). Rodriguez, for all of the misconceptions about his performance, is indeed awful at catching pop ups. While broadcasting the west coast tilt between the Angels and Rangers on ESPN, Orel Hershiser, who was the Rangers' pitching coach while Rodriguez was in Texas, said pop ups are kryptonite to Rodriguez's Superman. At the last second, the ball swirled back behind Rodriguez, who at that point had clearly overrun it and could only make a pathetic backwards stab at it as it fell untouched on the opening day logo painted outside the third base foul line. Rodriguez's momentum carried him past Posada, who gave him an encouraging pat on the backside, and Pavano retired Wigginton two pitches later on a comebacker, but Rodriguez was nonetheless charged with an error.

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Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2007-04-02 09:20
by Cliff Corcoran

The Arizona Diamonbacks and Milwaukee Brewers, two teams that had losing records in 2006, are considered contenders entering the 2007 season. There's reason to believe that the Colorado Rockies, who finished 2006 with the exact same record as the Diamondbacks, could surprise some people as well. Over in the American League, the two teams that lost 100 or more games last year, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Kansas City Royals, are two of the teams that intrigue me most entering the 2007 season. Not because I think they'll contend like that NL trio, none of which lost 90 games last year, not even because I think they'll be particularly good, but because I think they'll be better, and better for rather compelling reasons.

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Yankee Panky #2: The Last Writes of Spring (Training)
2007-04-02 05:45
by Alex Belth

By Will Weiss
Bronx Banter Correspondent

"Rupert Murdoch should cut me a check for all the papers I've helped him sell."
-- Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestley, in The Devil Wears Prada

Sure, the above quote can be applied to Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, or Brangelina. But since the lead-in to the only display of humanness Meryl Streep shows in the film refers to "another divorce splashed across Page Six," let's figure that someone named Steinbrenner was muttering something similar this past week.

The marriage of Steve Swindal and Jennifer (Steinbrenner) Swindal is over, and as a result, Swindal is out as a general partner of the Yankees. The ascent of the top son-in-law is no more. It has ceased to be. Let the race for the New Boss begin.

Just about every angle of this story was examined: reporters and columnists from all the local papers raised the question Swindal's replacement. Every beat reporter I read rightly mentioned the effect of Swindal's ouster on Brian Cashman and Joe Torre – it was Swindal who twice convinced Joe Torre to come back, and helped negotiate Cashman's return and increased the GM's decision-making power. In his solid Thursday report, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times intuited that Steinbrenner's other son-in-law, Felix Lopez, could jump to the forefront. Daily News columnist Bill Madden carried this further in his Friday column, writing that Lopez has become more of a fixture on the operations side "to the dismay of the other three siblings." The Times' Richard Sandomir wondered which of Steinbrenner's two sons, Hal or Hank, would take over should the Patriarch look in their direction. Sandomir's colleague Harvey Araton called for a shift in philosophy and wondered why neither of Steinbrenner's daughters would be considered to run the team instead of the sons. In addition, Swindal's DUI arrest and questions of what would become of his shares of the team as a result of the divorce were smartly asked; and notes and quotes from Swindal's other business associates at Excelsior Racing regarding his group's bid to buy the thoroughbred franchise completed the coverage.

The Swindal situation provided fodder for the talkies, of course. To be expected, there was a hint of melodrama in their reactions and in their projections regarding the future of the Yankees' front-office hierarchy. Overall, the mainstreamers did pretty well in keeping things on the level and not going overboard with the tabloid potential of the story.

Reading so many versions of the same story – particularly one like this – is fascinating. Not only is it fun to see the range of sources the writers interview from a competitive standpoint, from a straight writing perspective, it was amazing to see how many different ways the question, "Who will benefit from nepotism as it relates to the Yankees, and when will a decision be made," was presented.

Per your requests from last week, I turn to the blogosphere for info and insight the mainstream didn't provide. Derek Jacques, the esteemed proprietor of The Weblog That Derek Built, put it best:

"As someone who was until recently in the marital strife industry, I'm sensitive toward what Steve Swindal and Jennifer Steinbrenner must be going through. The end of a marriage is a real human tragedy, also something truly private and really not the business of anyone outside of the couple and perhaps their immediate family, friends, and business partners.

"But as a Yankee fan, I just gotta look at Swindal and say 'You jerk! We were counting on you! You had it all in the palm of your hand and you blew it, just completely and totally blew it!'"

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On The Radio
2007-04-01 20:21
by Cliff Corcoran

I made another appearance on Yankee Fan Club Radio last night. At the 20:23 mark here you can hear me weigh in on Josh Phelps, Carl Pavano, the bullpen, Steve Swindal, Alex Rodriguez's opt-out clause, and make some very off-the-cuff predictions (or rather dodge doing so). My segment lasts roughly twenty minutes.