Monthly archives: May 2007
I've Got You...Under My Skin
The Yanks won and the Sox lost last night. I know it's my birthday tomorrow but I didn't know it was a holiday (okay, it wasn't all good, see the latest on Phil Hughes). The Yanks scored early--Johnny Damon led off the game with a home run and later collected the 2,000 hit of his career--and late, and Alex Rodriguez was in the middle of a controversial play, what the Blue Jays later called "a bush league play."
According to the Times:
The Yankees were leading the Toronto Blue Jays by two runs in an eventual 10-5 victory when Jorge Posada lifted a lazy fly ball to third base with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. Third baseman Howie Clark camped under it, but he backed off just after Rodriguez ran slowly past him.
Jason Giambi followed with a single scoring two more runs and that was the game. It was a much-needed win for New York (Mariano Rivera got four outs to record the save), but after the game, Rodriguez, who made the front and back cover of the Daily News today for very different reasons, was the topic of conversation. Matt Stairs called it a "horsesh**t" play; the Blue Jays manager said it was not the way the Yankees play baseball.
It was a high school play, all-schoolyard, for sure. But the Jays are upset because they allowed such a thing to happen in the first place. Howie Clark, the third baseman, was playing in his first big league game of the year.
Mike Vaccarro hit the nail on the head in the Post this morning:
Put it this way: If Pete Rose did this, men would write poems about grittiness, paeans to aggressiveness. But with A-Rod, it rubs opponents the wrong way.
But as Leo Durocher once wrote:
If a man is sliding into second base and the ball goes into center field, what's the matter with falling on him accidentally so that he can't get up and go to third? If you get away with it, fine. If you don't, what have you lost? I don't call that cheating; I call that heads-up baseball. Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it.
Let's give Emma Span the final word this morning:
Personally, I get a kick out this stuff. Dirty plays that might get someone hurt are dangerous, and no fun to watch; but as far as I'm concerned, anything and everything goes when messing with your opponent's head. After McDonald and Clark and even Gibbons finished barking at him, A-Rod stood at third clearly trying to suppress a grin, and not quite succeeding. Ha! Matsui scored on the play, and The Yanks went on to win 10-5.
A Priest, A Rabbi, Andy Pettitte, and a Total Lack of Run Support Walk Into A Bar
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Andy Pettitte pitched an excellent game, but… yes, it happened again, as the Yankees’ Great Sucking Noise of 2007 continues. They lost 3-2. Tonight’s edition was especially painful, as Pettitte went into the 8th inning, and only one of the three runs charged to him was earned. Pettitte has been better than we had any right to expect, but with the Yankee offense showing no signs of rousing itself against Shaun Marcum – who pitched well, but come on now – the Yankees once again have nothing to show for it besides aesthetics.
Now, you hate to see it happen to your team, especially with the Yankees in their current state. But I’ve gotta say, I love watching anyone steal home. It’s rare, and it’s gutsy, and it’s something that you’d think would never work, and yet here it wasn’t even very close. I don’t know much about Aaron Hill, but he’s got my attention now; that was some sweet-ass base running.
But baseball is great even if the Yankees aren’t, and if you pay attention, something interesting is happening in every game, even a grotesquerie like tonight's. For example, in addition to the steal of home, we had Jason Giambi beating out an infield single (thanks to the shift of course), then stealing second base, then moving to third on a throwing error. This is not something we are likely to see again in our lifetimes. “Speed kills,” observed John Flaherty, wryly. The games can still be entertaining, though admittedly this season's been more Oresteia than Star Wars.
The Yanks are going to put a beatin' on someone one of these days. Why not tonight?
Yankee Panky #11: Prolonging the Inevitable
Is 50 games too small of a sample to determine whether the Yankees are done? With a deficit of 13 ½ games in the AL East and 7 ½ in the wild card, is it too soon for the Yankees to be operating in crisis mode? If no, what’s to be done, and is it the function of the media — yes, the bloggers count — to force the issue?
The facts are simple: the Yankees are winless since George Steinbrenner issued his “Big Hook” missive to the Associated Press. Everyone is on notice and on edge. Now more than ever, players are playing to save the jobs of Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, and they know it. It reeks of Old-School GMSIII. What were the odds that the veteran columnists pounced?
Nothing seems to be working. The highly publicized one-hour, closed-door meeting prior to Monday’s game had little effect, with the team limping to a 7-2 drubbing in which they trailed 7-0. In the past, these meetings have worked. On days when Torre has held meetings, the writers would ask players what the message was, and they typically wouldn’t say anything but, “Everyone in this clubhouse respects Joe Torre, and when he speaks, we listen.” Torre’s response in these cases was usually, “These guys are professionals. I shouldn’t have to do too much to motivate them. We’re a veteran ballclub and the guys in there know what we’re about. We just have to start playing better.” You could almost write the quotes beforehand.
Even two years ago, after a 10-game win streak lifted the Yankees from an 11-19 quagmire and they subsequently fell below .500, there wasn’t the sense of dread there is now. And the media didn’t foment the atmosphere. Fan reaction to Torre and Cashman was similar, but in the locker room, there was a clear sense that things would improve. But based on what I’m gathering from the literature and from my contacts still working on the beat, there is a lack of confidence and a sense of vulnerability in that clubhouse that hasn’t existed in a long time. Buster Olney alluded to this on ESPN Radio Monday morning.
(Random ESPN note: Can you be a credible news source when a reasonably objective conversation like that occurs days after a “Joe Must Go” article runs on ESPN.com? Can you have it both ways?)
The Daily News’s Bill Madden has seen this before. He has witnessed firsthand the last two Yankees “dynasty” teams, the lean years and the mediocrity in between. When he says the Yankees are done, it may not be preemptive. When Wally Matthews writes that a turnaround could be based on “blind faith,” he might be right. Steve Lombardi at WasWatching is already reciting the lyrics from Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" to signify the Yankees' demise. There is precedent for Yankee comebacks, but as Derek Jeter has said explaining the recent spate of playoff losses, “this is not the same team.”
Too many guys are hurt. Too many players are slumping simultaneously. Save for Jeter and Jorge Posada, the aggressiveness at the plate with runners in scoring position is nonexistent.
Change is imminent. The question is a matter of “who” and “when,” and not “if.” Will it happen for the sake of change, as Derek Jacques intimates? There is a divide on firing Torre. For every Ian O’Connor article calling for Torre to finish the season and end his tenure with dignity — great hire by the Bergen Record, by the way, stealing him from the Journal News to replace Adrian Wojnarowski — there is a NoMaas.org blog presenting the annoyed fan’s perspective that enough is enough. NoMaas pinned Sunday’s loss to the Angels on Torre, claiming his “neurotic mistrust of his starting pitchers” led to the defeat. Who knows? Maybe it did. Given the bullpen’s performance to date combined with Mussina’s struggles, I’d have tried to let Mussina get through the seventh, if for no other reason than to build confidence. But that’s neither here nor there.
The tabloids rightly played the second-guessing angle to the move, but didn’t go all the way with it. They didn’t ask the follow-up question to Torre’s reasoning behind Proctor being the stopper for that jam. “Proctor has more experience in that situation than Bruney,” Torre said. The beat writers were off on Sunday to get some rest before the road trip, if the backups aren’t familiar with Torre’s moves, the editors certainly are and they need to prep the writers so they can ask questions like: “Did you believe your options from the bullpen were limited in the seventh inning?”, or, “Why not use Rivera there and save Proctor for the ninth if you still had the lead?” It’s wishful thinking that the regulars would ask the question also. It’s frustrating because many of the writers have a high level of baseball acumen, but rarely do they demonstrate it.
Torre’s move gave fans agita and led to boos. Bruney has the highest K/9 ratio on the team and is the only pitcher to not allow a home run this season. Plus, Torre has put him in this situation before. The problem is since neither Bruney nor Proctor has a steady stream of success in such situations, Torre’s options were limited.
I remember three years ago during the June-July Red Sox-Yankees series at the Stadium, Felix Heredia was entered the game in the sixth or seventh inning to face David Ortiz with the bases loaded and the Yankees holding a slim lead. Suzyn Waldman and I were dumbfounded. I asked Suzyn, “Why not being in Rivera or Gordon? This thing could get ugly fast with Heredia.” Her response: “Nope. Joe doesn’t manage like that.” Heredia struck out Ortiz to make my point moot, but I asked Torre if he considered other options in that situation, and he said flatly: “No. If Heredia can’t get a left-handed hitter out in that situation, then he doesn’t belong in the Major Leagues.”
ESPN Radio in New York broadcast live and had cut-ins to the Thunder’s radio duo, who actually sounded like they cared about the game and wanted to inform fans about the goings-on on the field. They were excited yet understated, and projected a sense of the magnitude of such an event in that franchise’s history. On the Yankees mothership broadcast, John Sterling treated it as an also-ran story, because, “he’s not here.”
Another component to the Clemens story to discuss below: The Yankees have lost eight of their last 11 games and have lost eight games in the standings since the Clemens announcement. The locals are saying Clemens' energy is just what the Yankees need at this point. Do you agree? Or are the Yankees too far gone for him to make an impact?
THINGS TO WATCH THIS WEEK...
• Clemens in Boston (it hasn’t been ruled out).
• The Bostonians preparing the guillotine for the Yankees.
• Mets PR director Jay Horwitz stewing at the fact that the Mets are 15 games above .500 and in first place, and can’t buy a backpage.
Until next week ...
If Life is a Bowl of Cherries...
The Yankees held a closed-door meeting for close to an hour last night before they were shut-down by the Jays, 7-2. The Red Sox won again, and the Bombers are now tied for last place with the Devil Rays, thirteen-and-a-half out.
Roger Clemens pitched well in Scranton last night and appears headed for Fenway Park this weekend. Too little too late? Oh, how Sox fans must be licking their collective chops at a chance to bury the dead this weekend.
The Toronto Blue Jays
The 2007 Toronto Blue Jays just can't catch a break. Their starting third baseman and hottest hitter hit the DL in mid April. Three days before he came back, their starting catcher hit the DL. Their starting left fielder is out for several months due to back surgery. Their big money closer is out for the year due to Tommy John surgery. Forty percent of their starting rotation is on the DL right now, and that doesn't even take into account John Thomson, who hasn't thrown a pitch for them yet this year, or the three lesser relievers currently resiting on their disabled list.
If that weren't enough, Frank Thomas is struggling, Vernon Wells is scuffling, and rookie slugger Adam Lind lost the replacement left field job to 39-year-old beer leaguer Matt Stairs (albeit the wildly underrated and currently hot as hellfire beer leaguer Matt Stairs).
What's left is a team that that has five hitters who are actually hitting, two more who might reasonably be expected to, and an eighth on the DL. Beyond that it's Royce Clayton, Jason Phillips, John McDonald, and Sal Fasano. Lind, if he ever finds his groove, can only play at the expense of one of the guys who's already hitting, ditto Reed Johnson upon his eventual return.
On the mound, A. J. Burnett has been healthy and effective, but he's also been lonely. Roy Halladay should return soon from an apendectomy, but will have to shake off not just the surgery, but his last two starts in which he allowed 17 runs in 10 1/3 innings. None of the other starters deserve mention. In the bullpen, Jeremy Accardo has excelled in relief of the injured B.J. Ryan, as have lefties Scott Downs and Brian Tallet and converted reliever Casey Janssen behind him, but Jason Frasor blew his shot at the closer's job at the end of April by posting a 10.13 ERA in eight appearances, blowing two saves, and losing a third game.
There's some hope here. Accardo's solidified the closer spot. Thomas and Wells could heat up. Halladay and Gregg Zaun could come back soon and produce at their expected levels. But the Jays will still be stuck with an eight-man lineup, a two-man rotation, and a four-man bullpen. That's a recipe for a .500 team if I ever heard one.
As for tonight's starter, Dustin McGowan is a 25-year-old righty that the Jays once had high hopes for, though those have slowly faded since an injury-shortened 2004 season at double-A. The Yankees saw him four times last year, including once as a starter on the final day of the season, a game in which McGowan allowed eight baserunners and three stolen bases in 2 2/3 innings, but amazingly only one run.
The Yankees enter Toronto a half game behind the Jays, a full game behind the Orioles, and a whopping 12.5 games out of first place in the real world. Personally, I prefer the fantasy world of Pythagarus:
BOS 33-16 -
The Ship Be Sinkin
The first man Mike Mussina walked on Sunday afternoon was also the last batter he faced. With one man out in the seventh inning, Joe Torre relieved Mussina with the Yankees holding a 2-1 lead. Scott Proctor quickly gave up a double and then walked three consecutive men as more than 50,000 Yankee fans sat on their hands, helplessly. The Angels ended the inning leading 4-2 one just one hit. When Torre came to get Proctor after the third walk, the Yankee manager was showered with boos from the Stadium crowd, whose frustration had boiled over.
The Bombers staged a rally in the ninth against K-Rod and for the second straight day they came up just short. Rodriguez got Jeter to fly out to center field to end the game. Final: Angels 4, Yanks 3. A fine effort from Mussina spoiled. The Yankee offense was terrible. Jason Giambi is slumping so badly he's practically giving away at bats (he's 4-for his last-44). Oh, and John Lackey showed why he's a tough, big-game pitcher. He goes right after hitters and is as good as he is ugly.
Hey, and what do you know, the Red Sox won for a change. New York is now 12.5 back. Only fantastic memories of 1978 are keeping hope alive for Yankee fans now. However, this Yankee team is looking more like the 1979 vintage. They didn't give up yesterday, but it seems as if these guys are down 2-0 before the first pitch is thrown these days. Still some time left, but they've got to play .600+ ball for the rest of the season. Oy.
Gettin' Late Early
Chien-Ming Wang had a rough first inning. His pitches were up, his control was off and the Angels scored three runs. He was terrific over the next seven innings. The Angels didn't score again, but wouldn't ya know it, they already had more than enough to beat the Yanks, 3-1. Kelvim Escobar, and then the dynamic duo of Shields and Rodriguez were in fine form, the Yankee offense left 758 runners on base, and New York finished the day 11.5 behind Boston, who won again.
The Bombers staged a two-out rally in the ninth but Bobby Abreu struck out looking to end the game. The final pitch was not close to a strike, but the Yankees can't complain about a poor call spoiling the game, although they did anyway. According to Anthony McCarron in the News:
"The sad part about it is that you stand there at home plate and take strike three and it's in the other batter's box," Torre said of home plate umpire Jeff Nelson's call. "We'd like to at least be able to determine our own fate. There's no excuse for it and then (Nelson) has the nerve to argue back at Abreu."
As frustrating as the ending was--and I came close to throwing and breaking something---the fact of the matter is the Yankees simply did not hit. No excuses, they did not hit. And the Angels did what they do best: beat the Yankees.
The Angels were in town to beat the Yankees about the face and neck once again. The Yanks should just say, "Thank you sir, may I have another?" when they play these dudes. Jared Weaver wasn't great, but it didn't matter because the Yankee pitchers were far worse. So the Angels did what they normally do against New York--they smacked the ball around the field, ran around the bases, and flashed some leather (Orlando Cabrera robbed Alex Rodriguez of a hit and an RBI and first basemen Casey Kotchman was nothing short of outstanding). 10-6 was the final, but it wasn't even that close. The Bombers fell another game behind Boston who beat the Rangers last night.
As for today's game, no better time than the present for the Yanks to turn their luck around against the Angels. I've got faith. Bombers will roll today.
Heaven Help Us: Let's Go Yan-Kees.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Just when the Yankees look like they might be putting things together, in come Hell's Angels, the one team that's confounded the Joe Torre-era Yankees consistently from year-to-year and is responsible for two of the team's three ALDS series losses.
The Angels were 6-4 against the Yanks last year, though the Bombers outscored the Halos 55 to 50, while the Yanks haven't won a season series from the Orange County set since 2003, when they were clearly out for revenge for the 2002 ALDS. Though some of the faces have changed, the Angels team that arrives in the Bronx tonight is the same as ever: good pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen, and average hitting, with the latter being comprised largely of high-contact, high-batting-average hitters with weak on-base skills and modest power, but a lot of speed on the bases. Notable exceptions to this rule:
Vlad Guerrero: High contact and average, yes, but he also leads the team in walks and slugs with the best in the league. It also appears that his base stealing has finally come to a stop as he's 1 for 2 on the paths thus far this year. Of course, Guerrero's so good and so unique in his approach, that he'd be an outlier in any lineup.
Mike Napoli: The Angels are hesitant to commit to him, probably because he's a low-average slugger who walks a lot and strikes out even more. There are a lot of major league teams that would happy with that from their catcher.
Gary Matthews Jr.: High average, low OBP, modest slugging, speed, yes, yes, yes, yes, but Gary strikes out a lot. Setting runner-up Napoli aside, Matthews has 11 more Ks than third-place finisher Erick Aybar (who was brutal at the plate and on the bases while filling in for the injured Howie Kendrick).
Shea Hillenbrand: Can't run and isn't hitting for average either this year. He does have a very impressive two walks in 147 plate appearances, however.
Chone Figgins: Figgins is the prototypical Angels player, versatile, pesky, but he missed April with a pair of broken fingers on his right hand and has hit like a player coming back from a hand injury thus far in may (.133/.198/.187). It's a bummer to see a burner like Figgins lacking fuel, but I'm sure the Yankees won't mind his disappearing act this weekend. Nor will my wife, who pronounces his first name phonetically and his last name "Friggins."
The Yanks get their second look at young Jered Weaver tonight. Weaver beat them in Anaheim last August, striking out eight in six innings and allowing just one run on three hits, actually one run on one hit, a solo homer by . . . Craig Wilson? Well that's not going to help tonight. The only positive for the Yanks from that August game was that Weaver walked three and needed 104 pitches to get through those six innings, not that getting to the Angels' bullpen has ever done an offense any good, at least not while Mike Scioscia's been the Halos manager.
Clay Aiken's evil twin, Tyler Clippard, makes his Yankee Stadium debut tonight. He was nails against the Mets last weekend, posing a line that was just two strikeouts shy of matching Weaver's line against the Yanks last August. Clippard was the first of the five Yankee starters to make their major league debuts this season that didn't look like he was going to plotz in the first inning. After the game, Clippard said he wasn't as nervous as he expected he'd be, and I believe him. Here's hoping things don't change now that Clippard's in the Clipper's house. Me, I can't wait to see Clipp stomping around on the mound and shooting smoke out of his already famously prominent ears as he mows down the Halos with those nasty curves and disappearing changeups. (Incidentally, Rook, Don Sutton has a solution to that ear problem.)
Fungoes Supplement: Underachieving Underachievers
My most recent "Wild Card" post over on SI.com's Fungoes blog compiled an all-star starting line-up of underachieving stars from the early going this season, but those players just scratched the surface. If you're wondering where your favorite 225-pound weakling is, check out my runners-up below the fold . . .
Observations From Cooperstown--Trading Giambi
The rumors have hit full throttle. Jason Giambi, the latest center of the storm, has been dangled in trade talks with the Angels, with names like Chone Figgins and Jose Molina bandied about in a return package. On the surface, a trade of Giambi to the Angels makes some sense. The Angels, who need hitting if they are to remain atop the American League West, have the depth of talent at both the major league and Triple-A levels to satisfy the Yankees’ desire to get younger and more flexible.
Well, not so fast. While I love a good trade rumor as much as anyone, this is simply not the time to trade Giambi. For all of his flaws as a fielder and baserunner, and his tendencies to fall prone to lengthy slumps, Giambi remains a productive hitter. He can be a home run/walk machine, the kind of guy who can keep rallies going with a base on balls or cap off a rally with a gargantuan tater. And with Bobby Abreu looking soft and passionless in most of his at-bats and Doug Mientkiewicz reaching base less than 30 per cent of the time, the Yankees simply need Giambi’s bat right now. Unless they can acquire a capable power hitter in a deal for Giambi—and that’s not likely to happen with the Angels—the Yankees simply cannot afford to carry another unproductive batter in their lineup. Furthermore, there are few productive first basemen available from other teams in trades, unless the 33-year-old Todd Helton strikes your fancy.
Here’s the bottom line. A package of Figgins and Molina is simply not enough to part with Giambi. Figgins' on-base percentage has been in steady decline, while Molina is an OK backup who's already 32 and not a potential replacement for Jorge Posada. At one time, I might have been inclined to make a deal if someone like Kendry Morales were included, but not anymore. The luster has faded from Morales, who is struggling in the minor leagues and unable to crack even a weak lineup like that of the Angels. Adding Shea Hillenbrand to the mix doesn’t really help the Yankees either; he doesn’t hit well enough to play first base or DH everyday and seems better suited to filling a super-utility role at a number of positions, a role that he has previously balked at.
If not the Angels, who else might be in a position to bid for Giambi? First, let’s rule out all of the National League teams. A consensus of scouts places Giambi at the bottom of the pile when it comes to defending first base. His statuesque range and popgun throwing arm make him a huge liability for NL teams. Plus there are all those games where Giambi finds himself unable to play first base because of a back or leg ailment. Without the DH option, except for a handful of inter-league games, NL teams would be taking on an albatross in The Giambino.
So let’s explore the American League. The Orioles could use a big bat, but they’ve already got Aubrey Huff, Jay Gibbons and Kevin Millar clogging up the DH and first base slots. And unless the Yankees were willing to take Huff or Gibbons, there doesn’t seem to be a fit here. In addition, Peter Angelos has been burned by so many high priced free agents in the past that I have to wonder whether he would be willing to foot the bill for much of the $40 million that is due Giambi over the balance of his Yankee contract.
The Red Sox (as if the Yankees would even trade with them), White Sox, Indians, Tigers, A’s, Rangers, and Blue Jays currently have productive DHs, or at least DHs with strong reputations (like Frank Thomas). The Devil Rays have a large depth of talent from which to draw for their DH position. So cross all of those teams off the Giambi list. The Royals, Twins, and Mariners don’t have the financial willingness to take on Giambi’s contract, so let’s forget about them, as well.
So that leaves us with, well, absolutely no one. Other than the Angels, there simply doesn’t appear to be a team that has a strong need, desire, or financial capability to take on Giambi’s services.
Developments over the last week have only depressed Giambi’s trade value. His recent comments amounted to an admission of steroid use, which has him in scalding water with Major League Baseball. The rumors of a failed amphetamine test, while disputed, don’t help the situation, especially when Giambi refused to deny that he had tested positive.
Beyond all of that, here’s the most important reason to keep Giambi. The Yankees need him to make the playoffs. He remains their most powerful left-handed hitter, their best threat to reach 35 or more home runs. As poorly as the Yankees have played through the quarter pole, they still have enough time left on the summer calendar to make a run at the Red Sox or catch the Tigers/Indians for the wild card. Without Giambi, the Yankees don’t have enough offense to overcome their other deficiencies. With him, they just might.
Keep in mind that we’ll need to check back on this issue in another month. If the Yankees continue to look like a sluggish and aging team—and more importantly, have drawn no closer in either the division or wild card races—then it might be time to raise the white flag on 2007. By then, the steroid talk might have died down, Giambi could be on a hot streak, the Angels might increase their offers, or someone else might have lost a DH to injury. Under the right circumstances, that would be the right time to trade Giambi.
Just don't do it now.
Dig 'Um Smack
By Jon Kay, Guest Columnist
Bronx Banter Barbecue
In my travels to the South, it has been relatively easy to find excellent barbecue. Sonny Bryans in Dallas and Rendezvous in Memphis are standouts. Until recent times, barbecue dining choices in New York City left one longing for another road trip down south. The last few years have brought excellent additions to the NYC barbecue scene. Here are a few of my favorites; feel free to add in yours.
R.U.B. (Righteous Urban Barbecue)
208 West 23rd (7th & 8th)
No reservations accepted.
This is by far, my favorite barbecue spot and I recommend you give it a try. RUB has a combination of down home atmosphere (paper plates and plastic cups), great service and excellent food. An order of St. Louis ribs, slaw and a couple of sides will send your taste buds to heaven. RUB cooks limited quantities of ribs each day so get there on the early side. When they run out, that's all until the following day. For the adventurous, try the deep fried oreos for dessert.
Dinner for 2, $60.
Danny Meyer adds a touch of class to the BBQ scene at Blue Smoke. By barbecue dining standards the décor is upscale. Food and service are excellent. The menu is more varied here, with gourmet items you would not find at most barbecue restaurants. A Fried Oyster Po'Boy on Homemade Brioche Bun with Caper-Tarragon Tartar Sauce is just one example. I stick with the traditional ribs and side orders which they prepare as well as anyone. The bar is a great spot to watch a ballgame while you are washing down some ribs with a beverage of choice.
Downstairs, you will find a club called Jazz Standard which offers a limited menu of barbecue treats.
Dinner for 2, $80.
Brother Jimmy's BBQ Express Grand Central Terminal, lower level food court.
Grab a smoked brisket sandwich to go and you will be the envy of everyone in your section. Orders are cleverly placed in clear plastic bags to insure easy passage thru Stadium security.
Lunch for 2, $25
Ribs on the Run 2225 Central Park Ave, Yonkers NY
Take out only.
A decent takeout spot in the heart of Yonkers' Central Avenue culinary wasteland. Ribs on the Run's claim to fame is they cater post game meals for the Yankees. You might run into ROTR's
Shake Shack Madison Square Park, 23rd and Madison.
Danny Meyer strikes again with an outdoor burger stand in Madison Square Park. The burgers are cooked to order and are a cut above what you would get from fast food. You get to enjoy your grub in an adjacent outdoor seating area or just find a park bench. The lines tend to get long but the handy ShackCam gives you a heads up on what to expect.
Lunch for 2, $25.
5th Annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party June 9th-10th, Madison Square Park, 23rd and Madison.
Pitmasters and rib eaters converge in Madison Square Park for this annual BBQ-Fest. Local representatives include Blue Smoke, Dinosaur, Hill Country and Rack and Soul. Ten out-of-town pitmasters round out the field. The long lines for food can be avoided with the advance purchase of a Bubba FastPass. Live music adds to the festivities; this year's headliner is James Blood Ulmer.
Bubba Fastpass, $100.
By the time Alex Rodriguez came to bat in the first inning the Yankees had a 3-0 lead. Curt Schilling did not throw at Rodriguez, nor did any other Boston pitcher. Schilling had troubles of his own--as did his fielders--as the Yankees added single runs in the second, third and fourth. Andy Pettitte pitched a terrific game, and was helped out by two key double plays (including one very slick play by Robinson Cano). Godzilla Matsui and Mr. Minky both homered as the Bombers won, 8-3.
Over at his blog, 38 Pitches, Schilling called his performance "a craptastic finish to what could have been a nice series. I never gave us a chance to even get into this game."
Kyle Farnsworth upset the good mood temporarily with a characteristically shaky performance in the eighth inning, but Mariano Rivera struck out the side looking in the ninth, with home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor providing the theatrics. Bucknor's exaggerated strike-three call certainly did not make it any easier for the Red Sox. Lugo, who was called out on an absolutely nasty cutter that hit the inside corner on the plate, got in Bucknor's face. The YES announcers were cracking up--Paul O'Neill mentioned how angry hitters get when they feel like the umpire is putting too much mustard on a call. For Yankee fans, it was a much-needed moment of levity. A fine way to end the evening.
Couple of things:
It's official: Carl Pavano will undergo Tommy John surgery, effectively ending his misbegotten term in pinstripes.
It seems alarmist to say that a game in late May qualifies as a "must-win," but man, the Yankees really do need this game tonight. Curt Schilling, one of the outstanding big-game pitchers of his generation, is on the hill tonight for Boston. Andy Pettitte goes for New York. Should be interesting to see if Schilling plunks Alex Rodriguez after the Yankee third baseman's take-out elbow last night. Man, I sure hope the Yanks and Sox don't get into a brawl. That is the last thing this charged rivalry needs, especially with the possibility of Clemens returning to the big leagues next weekend in Boston.
But first things first: Let's Go Yan-Kees.
Julian Tavarez Puts His Best Pimp Foot Forward
I was generously offered an unexpected ticket to the game tonight, and was at the Stadium, along with a very quiet sell-out crowd, for the Yankees’ truly disappointing 7-3 loss to Boston. Even the obligatory upper-deck fights seemed half-hearted. Mike Mussina had absolutely nothing in the first inning, and the Yanks were lucky to get out of it with only 3 runs scoring (all on a Manny Ramirez home run). But with the way this team’s played much of the season, three runs seemed like an insurmountable hurdle… and, well, it was. Per the New York Times,
“I can’t keep pitching like this,” said Mussina, who has a 6.52 earned run average. “It’s depressing, frustrating and disappointing, and not what we need right now. I can’t stand it.”
“I’m a I’m a I’m a I’m a flirt
Alex here. In case you missed the back-cover of the News (which features a photograph of Jason Giambi with the headline, "Flunked!"), according to T.J. Quinn, Jason Giambi failed a test for greenies at some point over the past year. Looks like things are about to get rough all over for the Yankee slugger.
Three, the Magic Number?
Yanks look to gain another game on the Sox tonight as Moose gets the start vs. Julian Tavarez. C'mon fellas, whatta ya say? Three-in-a-row would be lovely.
Yankee Panky #10: Stripe Poker
I’ve received some flak for not accompanying the weekly items with enough links. I’m not going to apologize for this, because sometimes I believe adding the links is warranted, whereas other times I don’t. However, I understand the frustration of certain readers who want the direct access to an article I’m referencing. Moving forward, I will try to add as many as I can within my posts, within reason. There can come a point where posting too many links detracts from the objective of the column, and I’ll be honest here, I have an ego and I don’t want you to click away from here if you’re reading my words.
Please note that the number of links will fluctuate on a week-to-week basis.
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Now that that brief venting session is over, I’ll say this: you can tell it’s going to be a strange day in coverage when the Late City Final editions of the Post and the Daily News carry the same backpage headline: “THE YANKEE CLIPPARD.” If the rookie starts being called “T-Clip,” or “Ty Ballgame,” we’re in trouble.
All joking aside, the Mets took two of three from the Yankees in Round 1 of The Series Torre and Randolph Hate to Acknowledge Is on the Schedule. And if we learned anything from the weekend — other than Mike Myers shouldn’t be the first arm out of the pen, nor should he be allowed to pitch to righties — it’s that New York is still the Yankees’ town, at least in terms of media favoritism.
An example of this is that none of the major papers sent a secondary writer to Boston to interview Braves players about facing the Mets. Their rivalry is arguably the National League’s best and has been since 1999. Those columns were written from New York as a means of rationalizing the Mets’ loss Sunday night, and editors had a day to play with as the team traveled to Atlanta. But with a crucial Yankees-Red Sox series necessitating immediate attention and David Ortiz capping his dissertation on the 180-degree flip between the rivals this season by saying, “It ain't the same right now, homey,” editors’ priorities were simple. If faced with a similar decision, I too would have sent people to Boston on a Yanks-Sox preview assignment. Yankees-Red Sox will supersede Mets-Braves 99% of the time.
Regarding the Yankees’ lone victory in the series, I was disappointed at the lack of originality displayed in the presentation. (Last week, I recall a comment in this space saying “Once again, we must rely on blogs and nontraditional media for the best coverage.” That’s true to an extent.) The angles were obvious, and the outlets followed through accordingly, but almost to the point where if you looked closely, you’d swear some of the writers were copying off each other. Mike “Post to Post” Puma (formerly of the Connecticut Post, now with the NY Post), and Roger Rubin of the Daily News ended their Boston-based previews with Big Papi’s tabloid-friendly “homey” quote.
I was most disappointed that more writers didn’t attempt to look at Clippard’s start from alternate perspectives. Watching Clippard, I couldn’t help but think of Brandon Claussen, who starred in his MLB debut in the Subway at Series at Shea in 2003. Joel Sherman astutely recognized the parallel when analyzing the effect Clippard’s success may have on the rotation. Sherman added observations from Ron Villone, who spent the first six weeks of the season with Clippard in Scranton.
Bringing forth parallels is not something the papers do too often anymore, and it’s a shame. I always tried to put the current game — regardless of its significance — into a broader historical context. I made the same suggestions when discussing angles with my writers on-site for YES. Placing such info within a simple game story or column not only demonstrates consideration for the intelligent fan, it shows that the writer or editor knows the team. It’s a credibility enhancer. Roger Rubin did a good job of this also, in his assessment of the Red Sox’ 30-13 start.
To get the broader analysis, you need to dig beyond the Big 8 – Daily News, Post, Newsday, the Times, Journal News, Star-Ledger, Bergen Record, and the Hartford Courant — for columns like Steve Goldman’s piece in the New York Sun, comparing this year’s Yankee squad to the 1982 team that finished 79-83. If you don’t go there, you’ll have to hit the message boards, Baseball Prospectus, or one of the numerous blogs.
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Goofy/attention-getting notes from the weekend’s broadcasts:
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Overall, some of the biggest stories in Major League Baseball merged in pinstripes. The Yankees’ tailspin into a double-digit deficit to the Boston Red Sox had SportsCenter recalling the largest separation between the two teams prior to the All-Star break (this note, of course, had the Yankees trailing, because ESPN is just a larger outlet for Red Sox lovers, right?), and again furthered the “Fire Torre and/or Cashman” speculation. Interleague play had the likes of the Yankees and Braves crying foul that they are forced to play a third of their respective schedules against the Mets and Red Sox, respectively. (MLB has done the equivalent of covering its ears and singing “La la la la la la” when such complaints are reported.).
But the more significant story was an off-field item that could affect the Yankees more than another pitcher landing on the operating table. Jason Giambi’s comment/apology/confession/admission (you can play “Mad Libs” on this one to pick the appropriate word) to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale for his use of performance enhancing drugs, and the league’s ignorance of the problem.
This is a story, like Giambi’s mullet, that will not go away any time soon. Newsday’s Jim Baumbach questioned the timing of the story, while Wally Matthews and the crew at No Maas praised Giambi’s honesty, damn the consequences he’ll face from MLB. Fans, for the most part, are supporting Giambi as long as he’s hitting. The Yankee organization? That’s still to be determined.
The Daily News was the first to report the team investigating the possibility of voiding the remainder of Giambi’s contract. The Post and others corroborated the story and quickly published short items of their own. Depending on how quickly MLB reacts with disciplinary action, the Giambi story will live as a supplement to the forthcoming items on Roger Clemens, Phil Hughes, Kei Igawa, and whatever the team is planning to announce regarding Carl Pavano.
Reader challenge: Put on your editorial hat. How would you cover the Giambi story as it relates to the rest of the team’s troubles? Is it a separate issue?
Until next week …
In recent years Roger Clemens has said that he gets more satisfaction from the games he has to plod through without his best stuff than from the games he dominates. Chien-Ming Wang was far from sharp last night. He fell behind batters constantly, lots of 2-0 counts, lots of three balls counts. The Red Sox have hit Wang well in the past so he threw more sliders and off-speed pitches than normal.
"There were some good changeups, good sliders and two-seamers with movement," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "That's just the (evolution) of a good young pitcher. I don't necessarily think it's a different strategy. It's a maturing pitcher."
The results weren't especially pretty, but in the end, they were effective. Wang allowed two runs over six-and-a-third, the bullpen didn't allow a run the rest of the way, as the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 6-2.
Johnny Damon showed some life in his legs, swiping a couple of bases, Alex Rodriguez homered for the third consecutive game, and Jason Giambi planted a Tim Wakefield knuckleball way up in the upper deck, a whiffle ball home run come to life. Robinson Cano had a big, two-run triple, and also made a nifty back-hand pick in the eighth inning with the bases loaded. Julio Lugo hit a Scott Proctor pitch squarely with two men out. Cano fielded it cleany and flipped it to Jeter at second for the force and the Red Sox rally was squarshed.
Just a couple of few notes:
Ben Kabak has the latest on a Metro North train station at Yankee Stadium.
The Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have lost five games in May. Five. That's it. Five games.
On May 1, they turned a 4-2 ninth-inning lead into a 5-4 ten-inning loss when Jonathan Papelbon blew his first save of the year against the A's. They lost a 2-1 contest to Johan Santana and the Twins on the fifth (a game started by Julian Tavarez, incidentally). Tavarez lost again to the Orioles in his next start by a 6-3 final. Justin Verlander and the Tigers beat Tim Wakefield 7-2 on the fifteenth. Most recently, the Braves and John Smoltz took advantage of a spot start by rookie Devern Hansack to dropped a 14-0 beating on Boston.
That 2-1 loss to Santana and the Twins remains Boston's only road loss of the month.
The Red Sox have won 14 games in May. They have the best record in baseball, the biggest division lead in baseball (10.5 games over the O's and Yankees), their Pythagorean record matches their overall record, they're winning at home, on the road, against lefties, righties, against the AL, against the NL, against the East, Central, and West, in one-run games, and in blowouts. They have the third-best pitching staff in baseball (behind the pitchers park-assisted Padres and A's) and the third best offense in baseball (now tied with the Yankees behind the Indians and surging Tigers). Quite simply, they are the best team in baseball, and they're for real.
Thus far the Red Sox's only significant injury concern has been a reoccurrence of Josh Beckett's blister problems that has landed him on the 15-day DL. That might slow the Sox down in the near future (Hansack's loss on Saturday came in place of Beckett), but it won't stop them. Lefty Kason Gabbard, who posted a 3.51 ERA in 25 2/3 innings for the Sox last year, started yesterday and handed Tim Hudson just his second loss of the year. He could return to the roster when Beckett's spot comes due again. Then again, thanks to a scheduled off-day, Beckett will be eligible to return himself when the Red Sox next need a fifth starter, which means the primary impact of his injury could be simply Hansack's one loss and a couple of extra starts by Julian Tavarez, who otherwise would have been the starter getting skipped.
Incidentally, Gabbard started yesterday because the Sox are going for the jugular in the Bronx. Gabbard's spot start (he's already back in triple-A) allowed the Sox to start Tim Wakefield tonight against Chien-Ming Wang in a fantastic matchup of specialty pitchers, each of whom lost their previous outing against tonight's opponent in April.
The good news for the Yankees is that they have their Big Three starters going in this series (Wang, Mussina, Pettitte), and that Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez showed some signs of life in the final two games at Shea. Abreu collected three hits, including a double, and three walks in those two games and made some hard outs in last night's contest, while Rodriguez picked up three hits and a walk of his own, two of those hits being home runs.
Oh, and Robinson Cano takes a five-game hitting streak into tonight's game. This is only Cano's second full season, but his trend thus far seems to be slow starts. He's a .249/.272/.360 hitter in May in his young career (he's hitting a very similar .241/.278/.342 overall this year), but those numbers jump to .350/.383/.541 in June (which is just ten days away). Here's hoping the trend holds.
The bad news is Mariano Rivera's continued struggles. Mo worked the ninth last night and gave up a home run to Damian Easley, the third home run he's allowed this year, two of them coming off the bats of Easley and Marco Scutaro. Mo hasn't allowed more than three home runs in a season since 2001 and hasn't allowed more than five in a season since he was a 25-year-old starting pitcher in 1995. Mo has allowed 11 earned runs this year. He hasn't allowed 20 since 2001 and hasn't allowed more than 25 since 1995. I'll be honest. For the first time in a decade, I can't say I'm comfortable with the idea of handing Mo a one-run lead in the ninth inning, and that's far more disconcerting than the 10.5 game deficit the Yankees take into this series.
Saturday saw more misery for the Yanks, who lost starting pitcher Darrell Rasner in the first inning with a broken finger (he'll be gone for three months), and then the game, 10-7. Robinson Cano had a couple of hits, including a home run, but his three errors overshadowed his offensive contributions.
Fortunately, the Yanks salvaged the Sunday Night game as rookie Tyler Clippard pitched a fine game, and held his own with the stick to boot, as the Yanks won, 6-2. Not a bad way to start your big league career, eh?
Couple of few notes:
I know we've been over this time and again here for the past three, four seasons, but man, is the Yankees bench weak or what? How many teams in the majors have a less effective bench? Oh, for the days of D. Strawberry.
On a positive note, how much fun has it been to see how well Jorge Posda and Derek Jeter are performing? It's especially exciting to see Posada mashing like he is. Jeter? Eh, we're used to this kind of consistency.
In Sunday's News, Bill Madden notes:
Maybe if it wasn't for the fact it's been obscured by the overall mess of this Yankee season so far, there would be more of an appreciation for the quiet, Joe DiMaggio-like hitting job Derek Jeter has been doing game after game. With his seventh-inning RBI single yesterday, Jeter has now hit safely in 37 of 39 games in which he's had an official plate appearance. While there's no way he could ever keep up such a pace (which would mean he'd hit safely in 153 games barring injury), if he did manage to maintain this hit-per-game consistency which began about a year ago, Jeter would be in position to equal or break a unique record he shares with four others. According to the Elias Bureau, the record for most games hitting safely in a season is 135, set orginally by Rogers Hornsby in 1922 and later equalled by Chuck Klein in 1930, Wade Boggs in 1985, Jeter in 1999 and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.
Mr. Steady and the Bombers have their work cut out for them this week as they return to the Bronx to play the Red Sox and then the Angels. Just ask David Ortiz:
We're playing well. We're doing our thing right now," David Ortiz said. "They need to figure out what they're going to do to beat us. We don't have to worry about it.
Giambi will be back in the line-up tonight. Abreu looked better on Saturday and Sunday, so maybe he's starting to come out of it. Alex Rodriguez is struggling badly though. Aren't they lucky? They get to face Knucksie jr, Tim Wakefield.
New York's Finest
The Mets pitch better and field better than the Yankees. That was evident last night in the first meeting of the year between the two teams as the Mets edged the Yanks, 3-2 in a brisk game at Shea Stadium. Oliver Perez, whose cocky disposition on the mound didn't make things easier for Yankee fans, pitched very well. Andy Pettitte turned in another fine performance with nothing to show for it. The Sox were rained out and the Yanks now trail Boston by ten games. This is the first time a Joe Torre Yankee team has been ten games out of first. It's getting late early.
Darrell Rasner hopes to stop the bleeding today when he faces future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine. A win, a win, my Kingdom for a win.
The New York Mets
Today's back cover of the New York Post: "Flyin & Dying"
That I don't have to tell you which New York team is which is about all you need to know about this series, in which the Yankees catch the Mets top three starters and return serve with Andy Pettitte, Darrell Rasner, and maybe Chien-Ming Wang on short rest, maybe Chase Wright, maybe a luck fan . . .
Note the roster below. The Mets have been hit hard by injuries, but they still have the best record in the NL and the second best record in baseball. It's a bad day in the Bronx when the top two records in MLB belong to Boston and that team from Queens. If the Mets don't make the World Series this year, Willie Randolph will have 'splainin' to do.
Card Corner--The Boomer
George Scott 1975 Topps Company (No. 360)
When an inquiring reporter asked George "Boomer" Scott to identify the material used to make the distinctive necklace he wore on the playing field, the hulking first baseman responded dryly: "Second basemen’s teeth." It is still one of the best answers a ballplayer has ever given to a beat writer or newspaper columnist. In reality, the unusual necklace (which was in evidence on his 1975 Topps card) was made up of shells, wooded beads and possibly ivory tusks of some sort, but the reality doesn’t come close to matching the color of Scott’s sinister imagination. Whatever the composition of the necklace, the jewelry made the feared slugger that much more intimidating when he strolled to the plate.
Scott had other interesting accessories to his sense of baseball fashion. Unlike most fielders, he wore a helmet while playing first base. Scott began wearing the helmet in the field because of some idiotic fans on the road, who had decided to throw hardened objects his way. Given their unruly behavior toward the usually amiable Scott, Boomer might have been tempted to construct another necklace—this one consisting of fans’ teeth. But Scott was never that way; he usually treated the fans better than they did him.
While the helmet and the necklace were always evident during the games, Scott exhibited another wardrobe preference as part of his pre-game workouts. During his second stint with the Red Sox, Scott used to wear a rubberized suit in a futile attempt to lose some of the excess weight that always seemed to accumulate toward his midsection. (The tight-fitting polyester uniforms that came into use in the 1970s didn’t accentuate Boomer’s figure either.) As former Sox manager Don Zimmer pointed out in his first book with Bill Madden, Scott might have sweated off a few pounds during each early evening workout, but he seemed to have gained all the weight back by the time the first pitch rolled around.
Scott’s weight, fashion sense, and jovial sense of humor overshadowed his ample abilities as a hitter. A key member of the 1967 "Impossible Dream," Scott remained a mostly productive player with the Red Sox through 1971 before being traded to the Brewers in a seven-player blockbuster deal that also involved Cecil Cooper and Tommy Harper. As a member of the Brewers, Scott twice reached the 100-RBI milestone and shared an American League home run title in 1975 before returning to Boston via another trade during the winter of 1976.
Slowed by injuries, Scott began to decline in 1978, was released twice the following summer (by both the Red Sox and the Royals), and actually finished up his career with the Yankees toward the tail end of 1979. I distinctly remember Scott’s appearance in Yankee pinstripes as one of the few positive memories of an otherwise dismal and tragic season; The Boomer batted .318 and slugged .500 in 44 late-season at-bats. Scott played so well that final month that I thought the Yankees would bring him back for 1980, but he became a victim of an off-season of rebuilding, which included the signing of another right-handed hitting first baseman-DH, Bob "The Bull" Watson.
Convinced that he could still hit, Scott resumed his career in the Mexican League while awaiting a major league call that never came. After his playing days, he became a manager, first in the Mexican League and then most notably with an independent league team called the Massachusetts Mad Dog. Filled with free spirits and wild personalities, the team reflected Scott’s loose and freewheeling managerial style. In 1996, the Mad Dogs won the North Atlantic League championship under Scott’s scattershot direction.
Scott is fully retired from baseball today and battling some health problems caused by his continuing weight gain, which now has him well over the 300-pound plateau. According to an upcoming biography on Scott, the former slugger is determined to lose some of the excess weight and improve his physical conditioning. If he achieves those goals, a return to managing or coaching remains a possibility.
And that would be quite appropriate for a sport that needs all the colorful characters it can find.
Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books, including The Team That Changed Baseball, and the writer of Cooperstown Confidential at MLB.com. He will also be broadcasting Monday’s Hall of Fame Game between the Orioles and Blue Jays, joining former Yankee Billy Sample in the booth, for MLB Radio (MLB.com).
Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books, including The Team That Changed Baseball, and the writer of Cooperstown Confidential at MLB.com. He will also be broadcasting Monday’s Hall of Fame Game between the Orioles and Blue Jays, joining former Yankee Billy Sample in the booth, for MLB Radio (MLB.com).
The Yankee offense couldn't do much against some very good White Sox pitching yesterday in a 4-1 Chicago victory. The Bombers are 9 1/2 games behind the Red Sox who swept a double-header from the Tigers in Boston. Now, the slumping Yankees head into their first meeting with the Mets with a record of 18-21, by far the worst record they've had going into the subway serious since Interleague play began eleven years ago. The Yankees as underdogs? Go figure.
It is supposed to rain today and tomorrow. Anyone got anything encouraging to say? Hey, let's just hope the Yanks find a way to win two-of-three, right?
Matt DeSalvo has pitched well twice since joining the big league team, in spite of the fact that he isn't getting batters to swing and miss. Boy, the Yanks sure could use a nice, fat win today before the Subway Serious kicks off tomorrow night at Shea. Color me skeptical, considering how the Bombers have been playing, but heck, pessimissm be damned, Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Well, phew. That was not a little bit of baseball.
Anyway, the Yankee offense seemed to really get its groove back in the ninth. If this actually proves to be a turning point, please address your candy and flowers to reliever John Sisco, c/o Ozzie Guillen. Sisco allowed two walks and four hits, including homers for Melky “MELKY!” Cabrera and still-scorching pinch-hitter Jorge Posada, who at this rate, if he’s lucky, will get an entire game off sometime in August. I really think Melky is back, guys. Which is awesome, because when he plays well he jumps and darts around the Yankee dugout like everyone's favorite little brother on a sugar high, and it is adorable. To wrap things up, Mariano Rivera, looking much more like himself, took care of business in the bottom of the inning.
Baby The Rain Must Fall*
Tuesday night's Yankees-White Sox game was postponed twice and ultimately rained out, which means they're playing two today. I've been conditioned by the first six weeks of the 2007 season to say "this will give the bullpen some much-needed rest," but for once that's not the case here; the pen, such as it is, is relatively fresh, and now the Yankees will need to call up a starter to face the Mets on Sunday. Perhaps Chase Wright will get the chance to break his historic consecutive home run record! On the plus side, I suppose Jason Giambi's foot and roughly 75% of Johnny Damon's body parts might benefit from the days off.
Per LoHud, Mike Mussina will go against John Danks at 2 P.M. -- there's a pun in there somewhere, but I can't quite find it -- followed by Chien-Ming Wang against Jose Contreras at 8. You've gotta think that second match-up favors the Yankees, but nothing would surprise me: by now we should all be used to the Ghost of Ineffective Yankee Pitchers Past coming back to haunt the team.
*Disclaimer: despite the presence of Steve McQueen, not actually a very good movie.
Torre Don't Play That
If there are two things Joe Torre can't stands from his young relief pitchers it's walks and embarrassing blowouts. I can't say I blame him, but I do worry about the severity of his aversion.
Colter Bean's last outing before he was shipped back out to Scranton saw him pour gas on Kei Igawa's fire at home against the Mariners on May 4. Bean entered the game in the fifth inning with two men on and no outs and simply could not throw a strike. He walked the first two batters he faced on eight pitches, forcing in a run. At that point the Yankees still held an 8-7 lead, but rather than recognize that the kid just didn't have it that night, Joe Torre left Bean out there to give up an RBI single and a two-RBI double. Bean threw a total of four of his 17 pitches for strikes and left with the Yankees trailing 10-8. Luis Vizcaino would allow both of Bean's remaining runners to score along with two more of his own to push the score to 14-8 in a game the Yankees eventually lost 15-11. The next day Bean was optioned back to Scranton in favor of Darrell Rasner, who was needed in the rotation. Obviously there's no defense for Bean's performance in that game, and someone had to go to make room for Rasner, but Torre has a habit of allowing one bad outing like that count for more than it should with young players. Those four batters could easily have buried Bean the way Andy Phillips four strikeouts buried him in early 2005, erasing all the good he'd done in spring training and in his three other scoreless regular season innings (and of course his stellar seven-year minor league career).
Yesterday, Sean Henn followed Bean down to Scranton. After beating out Ron Villone for the second lefty job in the pen, Henn had been fantastic in his first seven outings on the year, allowing just nine base runners and one earned run in 10 2/3 innings. Included in that total was one lonely walk. In his next eight games, Henn had walked nine in 6 2/3 innings and compiled a 7.50 ERA. The final straw came last week at home against Texas. The Yankees and Rangers were tied 1-1 after four innings, but Chien-Ming Wang gave up three in the fifth and combined with Vizcaino (there's that man again) to put up another three-spot in the seventh. Suddenly the Yankees were down 7-1 in a game that had been close. Vizcaino gave up another run in the eighth and Henn was called in with two on and one out to face lefty Brad Wilkerson. Wilkerson singled, Mark Teixeira doubled, and a walk and a Victor Diaz homer later the Yankees were down 14-2. Henn hadn't pitched since then and got his tickets to triple-A yesterday when the out-clause on Villone's contract came due.
Again, Henn's performance was indefensible and he and Bean both had options that men such as Vizcaino don't. One can't really get on Torre or Cashman for farming out these struggling young pitchers (well, Henn was struggling, Bean was squeezed out by a more important need), but I do worry about their willingness, or lack thereof, to recall them should Bean and Henn perform well in the minors and veterans such as Vizcaino continue, or in the case of Villone (who had a 1.90 ERA with 21 hits and 27 Ks in 23 2/3 innings for Scraton) start, to struggle.
As for Vizcaino, his game log splits look a lot like Henn's but worse:
Games 1-8: 1.08 ERA, 8 1/3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 2 K, 0 HR
The only thing that doesn't make sense is the strikeout rate, which was bad when he was good and good now that he's bad.
Incidentally, Kyle Farnsworth had one bad outing in the second week of the season in Minnesota (1 out, 4 Runs), but since then he's posted a 3.00 ERA in 12 games, allowing 14 base runners in 12 innings and striking out seven. Not great, but good enough for middle relief. If you limit it to his last 11 outings, that ERA drops to 2.45 with 12 base runners in 11 innings, all 7 Ks, and just one homer.
The Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are two games better than the Yankees according to the teams' actual records (Yanks 17-19, Chisox 18-16), but if you look at their runs scored and allowed, the Yankees are three games better than the White Sox (Yanks 20-16, Chisox 16-18).
The Yankees are 8-5 in the month of May and have only allowed their opponents to score more than three runs in two of those 13 contests. They of course lost both of those games (15-11 to the Mariners in Kei Igawa's last wild ride, and 14-2 to the Rangers when things got away from Chien-Ming Wang and the bullpen this past Thursday), but despite the perceived struggles of their offense, they've only lost three of those 13 games because of a lack of runs. The Yankees have scored 5.15 runs per game in May, which is down from their overall average of 5.56, but would still place them fourth in the American League. Meanwhile, they've only allowed 3.85 runs per game on the month, which would also be the fourth best in the league. It also just happens to be the exact number of runs the White Sox have scored per game over the entire season, barely outpacing the Royals' league-worst offense. The White Sox have been even worse than that in May, scoring just 3.27 runs per game.
Anyone looking for an explanation for that futility need not look much further than the line-up posted below. Darin Erstad leading off? Pablo Ozuna as the designated hitter? Who the heck is Ryan Sweeney anyway? (Answer: he's a 22-year-old rookie outfielder who was hitting .256/.341/.397 for triple-A Charlotte before Jim Thome's back injury necessitated his promotion at the end of April). Even the familiar names in that lineup aren't hitting. Juan Uribe has been the White Sox's most productive hitter thus far and he's hitting a merely league average .255/.321/.447. Jermaine Dye? Nada. Paul Konerko? Zippo. Crede, Iguchi, Pierzynski? Bubkis, Didly and Squat. Over the past week, the team as a whole has hit .208/.269/.302. That they've managed to go 6-5 on the month thus far is a testament to their pitching and nothing else. Heck, Mark Buehrle had to go to the extreme of throwing a no-hitter to get his first win, but he did it.
As a unit, the White Sox's rotation has been outstanding (3.78 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 6.24 IP/GS), though other than Buehrle's no-no, no individual performances really stand out, while the offense has held that bunch to a 10-12 record. The bullpen has been less consistent, though closer Bobby Jenks continues to silence all of his doubters and new addition David Aardsma, who took Hank Aaron's spot at the top of the record books before Barry Bonds got a chance to, has been flat-out dominant as a set-up man.
Tonight the Yankees face John Danks, who is the newest and, thus far, weakest link in the Sox's rotation. Danks was just part of the package the White Sox received from Texas for Brandon McCarthy and has thus far outpitched McCarthy, which he's expected to do for the remainder of his career. Danks, a hard-throwing 22-year-old lefty with a nasty curve, has made an unexpectedly quick adjustment to the majors. It's a testament to the White Sox rotation that I was able to call Danks the weakest link. The White Sox are just 2-4 in his starts, but they've also scored a grand total of five runs in those four loses, all of which have been pinned on Danks. His last start was his best (6 2/3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 4 K @ Min), and while he hasn't really dominated as of yet, he hasn't been blown out either (his worst outing: 4 2/3 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 4 K @ Det).
Opposing Danks will be Mike Mussina, who has looked sharp since coming off the DL, allowing just seven hits and a walk in eleven innings. Moose threw just 64 pitches in his first start back and 85 in his last. Here's hoping the Yankees can stretch him out into the high-90s or beyond tonight against the struggling Pale Hose.
Yankee Panky #9: In-Clemens Weather with Roger
For the 348 games Roger Clemens has won in his Major League career, he just can’t win.
The New York newspaper editing intelligentsia must have salivated when Clemens declared that reporters and commentators needed to get their facts straight when referring to the special services clause in his contract. The salivation must have turned to full-on drool when his former manager in Houston, Phil Garner, told ESPN Radio that Clemens’ absence did, in fact, become a problem with guys in the clubhouse — that when it would have been more appropriate for him to be in team workouts or sit in the dugout talking shop and rooting for his teammates, that he would be playing in charity golf tournaments.
The latter brought the local editors together to engage columnists in the latest game of “Soapbox Soundoff.” Granted, this is a columnist’s function, to provide opinions and occasionally drop a holier-than-thou missive in 700 words. As fans and consumers, we accept that. But I maintain that in this instance, the local print media waited a day too long to get preachy and play the “Yankee Way” card.
Last week I wrote that “if the reality (of Clemens' arrangement) didn’t match the perception, why make a big deal of it three years later?” (Correction: I stated that it was a story for three years, but I was wrong. Last year was the only year of his three seasons in Houston that he joined the team midseason.)
Fast forward a week. The majority of the “Clemens’ absence demeans Yankees’ integrity” columns were released Tuesday. Why wait a day? Why not throw in the biting commentary into the context of the “Roger is back, and here’s what it means” stories released on Monday? The editors and writers knew that a major condition of Clemens signing with the Yankees for the remainder of this season was the team’s willingness to bend where they stood steadfast for the past two years.
These same editors and writers know that the “Yankee Way” was compromised when they traded for Kevin Brown in December 2003. Brown had clearance to fly to and from his home Macon, Ga., when he was not pitching in order to spend time with his family. An even more notable exception to the “Yankee Way” than the Knucklebuster was Thurman Munson. I’m dating myself here, so I’ll elicit the help of you guys in the comments, but because of Munson's elevated status on the team and the way the writers respected him, I can’t see too many — if any — columnists or editors criticizing Munson for getting his pilot’s license and flying to and from Canton, Ohio, to see his family. In conversations I've had with writers and broadcasters who knew him, they admired him for what he did.
The most interesting column on the topic, in my opinion, came last Thursday from the Post’s George Willis, who opined that Clemens’ big-money, half-season contracts and carte blanche treatment will start a trend for fortysomething MLB veterans. Willis provided a different perspective. He didn’t try to explain what separates the Yankees from everyone else, or express dismay that the organization sold itself out. Willis also had a great hook: the ubiquitous Reggie Jackson told Willis he was jealous of Clemens’ arrangement. This, to me, was the best part of the column. Jackson later noted that as a hitter, you have a chance to be in the lineup everyday; thus, it’s more important to be with the team every day than if you’re a starting pitcher (did Barry Bonds form his opinion of pitchers from talking to Reggie?), but it’s obvious he fancied himself talented enough and powerful enough to have commanded such an arrangement.
Reading and rereading the Jackson quotes, I couldn’t help thinking that he still harbors enmity toward Munson and was taking a shot at him. His comments in the Sport Magazine article 30 years ago are as famous as any ever spoken by a Yankee. Their effect still divides members of that championship team. (Quick aside: Four years ago at Old Timers’ Day, a small group of reporters, including myself, gathered around Sparky Lyle to get his take on the Yankees retiring Jackson’s No. 44. Disgusted at the inquiry, Lyle took a drag from his cigarette, huffed the smoke out through his nose and said, “I’m not saying anything about that, because I don’t have anything nice to say.”) Furthermore, Jackson told reporters last October he didn’t see a similarity between Cory Lidle’s death and Thurman Munson’s. The circumstances surrounding their crashes were different, but the parallel is an easy one to draw.
Thankfully, the coverage shifted from the "no 'I' in team" soapbox to the daily chronicle of his workouts in Lexington, Ky., staying there to watch his son Koby play a minor league game, then on to Tampa for workouts leading up to his first preparatory start in the minors.
And as the team headed west, with the papers sending only their beat guys, Clemens became a note item and the Yankees’ offensive anemia came to the fore.
* * * * *
Speaking of notebook items, thumbing through Monday’s missives, all the dailies led with the offensive struggles, with A-Rod, of course, being the poster boy. I couldn’t help but notice the subtle differences in what each paper chose for “sidebar” and “notebook” stories.
NEW YORK TIMES
Notebook lead: Clemens’ schedule
It’s fascinating to me how similar stories spanning so many outlets can have such different information due to the difference of one or two words. For example, regarding the Clemens story, Newsday stated Tuesday’s throw day would put him on track for a Friday start, while the Times and the Post also presented the situation as an “if/then” item. The Daily News definitively claimed “Clemens will start Friday,” and if he comes through that OK and starts games at the graduated levels of the minors, he’ll be in line to start June 2 at Boston. In addition, there was conflicting information regarding the Giambi injury. Newsday reported the injury as plantar fasciitis, whereas the Daily News and the Post said it was a bone spur. Which one is it? They’re two different injuries.
The lesson: no matter how good the reporter is (and Kat O’Brien, George King and Mark Feinsand are all good), their stories can’t automatically be accepted as true.
When they hit, they don't pitch, when they pitch, they don't hit (nevermind the fielding). The Yankees lost a heartbreaker, 2-1 yesterday. The Bombers had two men on with one out in the seventh, but came up empty when Minky hit into a double play. Alex Rodriguez came to the plate with two men on in the eighth and was blown away. Then in the ninth, JJ Putz struck out the side, despite giving up a one-out double to Hideki Matsui.
Johnny Damon told the Times:
"We need to start closing the gap real soon," Damon said. "I think the next month is really important. We get Rocket back in about three weeks. When we get him back, we need to be within five. We can't keep losing ground.
Bobby Abreu drew his first walk in 61 at bats yesterday but is mired in a 2-22 skid, and is experiencing what is far and away, the worst slump of his career. According to the Daily News:
Joe Torre believes that the Yankees' 17-19 record has made it more difficult for Abreu to find a groove, as he is trying to right himself and spark his team at the same time.
The Yankees have the day off today and then play three in the Windy City before heading to Shea to play the Mets this weekend. Joe Torre, however, has returned to New York to be with his ailing brother, Frank.
The Yankee bats were shut out on Friday night but came back well enough on Saturday. D. Rasner and M. DeSalvo both pitched very well. Hey, the Yankees need to find the 2007 versions of Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon. For the time being, Rasner and DeSalvo are pitching well (though I have to admit, without knowing much about DeSalvo he doesn't look like he's got much stuff).
The Old Guard, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada are carrying the load offensively, as Alex Rodriguez has tapered off and Bobby Abreu and Robinson Cano continued to struggle and Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi battle to stay healthy.
Yanks look to take the weekend series this afternoon.
Seattle Mariners, Pt. II
I hate to be phoning this one in, but c'mon, these teams finished a four-game tilt on Monday, there's not much that needs to be said. Since then the Yankees took two of three from Texas and the Mariners dropped two of three to the Tigers. Neither team's made a roster move since then (though the M's farmed out Julio Mateo for Sean Green in the middle of last weekend's series following a possible abuse incident involving the former), and tonght's game is a rematch of Sunday's contest, which the Yankees won 5-0 behind Darrell Rasner's job-winning 5 2/3-inning, 3-hit, no-run performance.
Odds are this series won't be nearly as eventful as last weekend's, which saw the return of Roger Clemens, Chien-Ming Wang's near perfect game, a near brawl, Matt DeSalvo's major league debut, and that dreadful, game-changing blown call in the series finale. One does wonder if there's any lingering bad blood from last Sunday's incidents, and if that will in any way be exacerbated with Josh Phelps likely starting against the lefty Jarrod Washburn again, or by a Scott Proctor relief appearance (Proctor has a suspension coming for throwing behind Yuniesky Betancourt, but it's still on appeal). Of course, Joe Torre, who already served his one-game suspension, could quell the conflict somewhat by starting the hot-hitting Doug Mientkiewicz over Phelps, but he can't avoid Proctor for the full extent of a three-game series, nor should he.
Observations From Cooperstown--The Yankee Rumor Mill
Cashman is embracing a similar strategy this year, especially with the Yankees trying to make up a six-game gap in the American League East. Prior to the signing of Clemens, Cashman had engaged at least three teams in trade talks for starting pitching. He had revisited some old trade talk with the Phillies, with the teams considering a swap of Jon Lieber for Kyle Farnsworth. In addition, Cashman had fielded calls from the Giants, who showed interest in Melky Cabrera and appeared willing to give up left-hander Noah Lowry. Cashman had also inquired about right-hander Paul Byrd, a member of the Indians’ rotation.
With Clemens in tow, the urgency to make any of these deals has lessened, but has not completely died on the vine. After all, the Yankees may still need starting pitching. The age of Clemens and Mike Mussina, coupled with the disappointing start to Kei Igawa’s major league career, puts the Yankees just one or two potholes away from another pitching emergency. If everyone stays healthy and Phil Hughes can return in six weeks, the rotation will be just fine. If not, Joe Torre will have to do more juggling. That is why Lieber remains a viable option. He pitched well in his one season in the Bronx, shows no fear of the big stage, and possesses an ability to economize pitches that makes him a certified innings-eater. At one point, the Yankees would have bristled at the notion of giving up the electric-armed Farnsworth for a journeyman like Lieber, but the thoughts of the front office and coaching staff have changed. Frustrated with the high-strung Farnsworth’s faulty mechanics and his inability to pitch on successive days, the consensus in Yankeeland now concedes he’ll never prosper in pinstripes. Brian Bruney has the stuff to replace Farnsworth in pitching the eighth inning, and a back-end starter like Darrell Rasner or Matt DeSalvo could take over Bruney’s role in the middle innings.
A Cabrera-for-Lowry deal is less likely, if only because the Yankees already have such little depth on their bench. They are also concerned by Johnny Damon’s nagging leg and back injuries, which make him unavailable from time to time. Still, the Yankees could take a chance on replacing Cabrera with Kevin Thompson, Kevin Reese, or the intriguing Bronson Sardinha. (Or how’s this for a radical idea? The Yanks could bring back Rickey Henderson, who wants to continue playing at the age of 48.) A trade of Cabrera might be worth fulfilling the goal of adding some young left-handed pitching to the rotation. With Igawa banished to Billy Connors’ pitching camp, there are few young lefties in the system besides Chase Wright that can be counted upon to contribute to the rotation in the next year or two.
While starting pitching remains the top priority, the Yankees have also contemplated changes elsewhere. Doug Mientkiewicz’ awful April almost resulted in his release, but his three-run home run against the Red Sox saved his job, triggering a resurgent May, which has included a series of spectacular defensive plays at first base. So for now, Minky remains the first baseman, backed up by the underused Josh Phelps. As long as the Yankees continue to score runs, Minky should be safe, but another prolonged slump—either for him or the team—will once again have his detractors calling for a change.
A more immediate change could take place behind the plate, where backup Wil Nieves has been horrifically bad. For an organization that had a pretty strong tradition of backup catchers from the 1970s through the 1990s—with capable reserves like Johnny Ellis, Rick Dempsey, Cliff Johnson, Ron Hassey, and Joe Girardi—the backup catching situation has deteriorated badly in the new millennium. Chris Turner, Alberto Castillo, and Kelly Stinnett were poor enough, but Nieves looks like the worst catcher the Yankees have had in 40 years. He can’t hit (one hit in 34 Yankee at-bats and even that was erased when he tried to stretch a single into a double), and isn’t particularly good defensively. Simply put, Nieves does not deserve a spot on a major league roster. As a result, the Yankees can be expected to pick up talks with the Phillies about Rod Barajas, who has been a free agent disappointment in Philadelphia. Barajas can’t be traded without his permission until June 15, but the Yankees may pounce on a deal shortly thereafter. Another option would be Pittsburgh’s useful Ryan Doumit, who swings the bat well and can play both first base and the outfield. Don’t be surprised to hear rumors linking Doumit with Melky Cabrera; the Pirates are unhappy with their outfield situation as it pertains to center and right field. Then again, Pirates GM Dave Littlefield seems to have a phobia about making trades.
Finally, the Yankees’ overworked bullpen will need to be addressed. An in-house option involves veteran left-hander Ron Villone, who has been dominating the International League, but has to be recalled by May 15 or else be granted free agency. The potential return of Villone won’t excite many Yankee fans, but it speaks volumes about the state of Joe Torre’s relief staff.
So while we all wait for Clemens to officially begin his second stint in New York, let’s keep in mind some of these other possibilities. Given the ground that they need to make up in the standings, the Yankees are not done making moves—not by a long shot.
"It's easy to say, oh yeah, we'll dismiss that, let's go get them tomorrow," [Yankee reliever, Sean] Henn said. "But it's a 5 1/2-hour flight to Seattle. It's probably going to seem a lot longer than that."
Meanwhile, in a sad development, Frank Torre is back in intensive care:
"He's not doing too well," Joe Torre said. "The kidney was functioning, but it takes a hit when you have to have all those antibiotics. He was sort of in and out (yesterday) morning when I talked to him. But on aspects of the game (Wednesday) night, he had no problems, which was good."
Our thoughts and best wishes go out to the Torre family.
Everything's Comin' Up Roses
The Yankees wrap up their season series with the Rangers this afternoon on another gorgeous day in the Bronx. The Yanks have taken the first five games and Chien-Ming Wang will be on the mound in his first start since his near-perfect game looking to give the Yankees a six-game sweep. The Rangers, meanwhile, send out Brandon McCarthy, who's been a disaster in three of his last five starts, allowing at least five runs while getting knocked out before the fourth inning.
Things have turned around dramatically for the Yanks in the past week. Wil Nieves finally got his first Yankee hit last night after three years of trying (bringing his career OPS+ up to -6). Andy Pettitte got his second win of the season on Tuesday after seeing the bullpen blow three others in his previous four starts. Doug Mientkiewicz has raised his batting average 94 points over the last ten games, batting .407/.433/.741 over that span.
Of course the big news is the performance of the starting rotation, which finally has its intended Big Three of Wang, Pettitte, and Mussina active at the same time. Removing only the stink bomb laid last Friday by the since-demoted Kei Igawa, here's how that Big Three plus rookies Phil Hughes, Darrell Rasner, and Matt DeSalvo have performed over their past eight games:
51 IP, 27 H, 8 R, 2 HR, 14 BB, 28 K, 1.41 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 6-0
The only games over that stretch in which the starter did not earn the win (again excepting Igawa's stinker) were the win Luis Vizcaino vultured from Pettitte in Texas and that ugly 3-2 loss to the Mariners on Monday night after DeSalvo's gem. The best stat of all from this run: 6 1/3 innings pitched per start.
Incidentally, here's the bullpen over those eight games:
21 IP, 18 H, 6 R, 3 HR, 6 BB, 13 K, 2.57 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 1-1
Of course, they've blown as many saves as they've converted (including one of each type in that Pettitte/Vizcaino game in Texas), but then one of those blown saves came on that blown stolen base call on Monday. If Bloomquist is called out, there's a good chance that Rivera records the save with Beltre standing in the on-deck circle. More encouraging than that, however, is the fact that, with the Yankees on an 8-3 run with the returns of Clemens and Hughes on the horizon, one needn't cling to those kind of what-ifs.
Brawls to the Wall
Before Roger Clemens arrived at the Stadium on Sunday, blotting out all unrelated baseball thought for roughly 48 hours, I was thinking about brawls. The benches cleared when Scott Proctor threw behind Yuniesky Betancourt (really not a guy you can enjoy picking on, once you’ve heard his story), but it never got farther than a bit of shouting and some profoundly manly milling around.
*You really, really need to click on the link under the photo here and watch the “Guillen’s HBP starts scrum” clip. I have linked to it before, and it’s about five minutes long, but absolutely worth it. Those Tigers announcers are classic (“There’s big Farnsworth now, and -- WHOOOOA!... Well, you knew when big boy got there, it was gonna get ON!”. “That is one guy you do not want to mess with. Period”).
Also, as a bonus, this clip features Jose Lima.
Well, so much for my hunches. With the exception of one inning, Mike Mussina handled the Rangers last night for six frames, while Derek Jeter, batting in the three hole, led the offense with two hits and three RBI as the Yanks beat the Rangers, 6-2. Bobby Abreu had a resounding double to the left center field gap in the first, and Robinson Cano had an RBI ground out later in the inning, but both continue to struggle. The Yankee bullpen did not allow a run, and would you believe, the Bombers have reached the .500 mark, with a record of 16-16.
The highlight of the evening came when back-up catcher Will Nieves notched his first base hit of the season. Nieves hit the ball hard his first time up--a rocket ground ball to third; in the sixth, he lined a ball down the left field line and was so excited that he tried to stretch it into a double. He was thrown out easily and there were smiles all around in the Yankee dugout. Nobody seemed to enjoy it more than Derek Jeter, who looks as if he loves to bust chops.
"It's like one of those things in Little League, where you just keep running until you get tagged out," Jeter joked.
It was easy for the Yanks to laugh last night. The Bombers go for the sweep this afternoon with C.M. Wang on the mound. It's overcast and humid in New York with thundershowers on the way. But hopefully, they'll get the game in without a hitch.
Twice as Nice?
It's been a lovely, warm spring day in New York. Mike Mussina makes his second start since returning from injury tonight against Texas. He pitched well last week against the Rangers; let's hope they haven't figured him out (though my Spidey Sense says that the Rangers offense will do just fine). Jason Giambi is out with a bad foot and Jorge Posada has the night off, what with a day game tomorrow. Bobby Abreu is hitting second. No better time than the present for Robby Cano to keep working his way back into a groove, eh?
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Bing Bam Boom
The Yanks rolled over the Rangers last night, 8-2. Alex Rodriguez hit his first homer in a couple of weeks, Robinson Cano and Johnny Damon and Mr. Minky had some nice at bats, and it was a peaceful, easy night in the Bronx for the Bombers.
Meanwhile, Anthony McCarron has a good piece on Mariano Rivera in the Daily News this morning.
"It's easy when everything goes fine," Rivera said. "You show your true character when you struggle like this. I don't know what people are thinking about me, but I know I feel the same way as I did last year and the year before. I feel real good, the velocity is there. It's nothing I have lost, it just happens. If you are a closer, you're going to blow saves and get saves. There's no in between.
Yo go Mo, we're behind you every step of the way.
The Texas Rangers Redux
The Yankees have won just three series thus far this year. One of them came in Minnesota and featured a strong outing from Carl Pavano. The other two were sweeps of the Indians at home and the Rangers on the road, the latter wrapping up in Texas just five days ago.
The penultimate game of that Texas series, game one of last Thursday's double header, saw Mike Wood start in place of a gimpy Kevin Millwood against Andy Pettitte. Wood and Pettitte matched each other through six innings, but two unearned runs put the Yankees on top in the end. Millwood has since landed on the disabled list (replaced by righty reliever Wes Littleton on the 25-man roster), thus tonight brings about a rematch of Wood and Pettitte on the Yankees' home turf. The odds would favor a less favorable return from Wood, which could help the Yankees remove the bad taste left in their mouths by last night's game. Then again, while the Yankees were sister-kissing the Mariners, the Rangers bounced back nicely from the Yankees' visit to Arlington by sweeping the Blue Jays by a combined score of 21-7.
Incidentally, the Yankees will follow this rematch with the Rangers by flying to Seattle to rematch with the Mariners. The schedule doesn't get this exciting again until late July when they face the Devil Rays, Royals and Orioles in three consecutive series. Wheee!
Yankee Panky # 8: Rocketing Through The Media
Roger Clemens is a Yankee again, and for those like myself who predicted he’d sign elsewhere, it took a day to fully digest the crow. (Despite the rumors, it doesn’t taste like chicken. Ketchup helps the taste, but not much. They're scavengers, you know.)
As a writer, I’m glad this happened, because it saved me from another rant on Carl Pavano being the worst signing in Yankees history. As a former YES employee, I have a hunch Clemens’ 300th victory and his near no-hitter from 2003 will find their way into the “Yankees Classics” lineup again within the next three to five days.
Back from the tangent ... The Post was the first outlet to publish the story, doing so online at roughly 3 p.m. Sunday. We know this because George King and Mike Puma told us so in their initial story.
To be sure, the hints were there starting in November with the re-signing of Andy Pettitte, but there was not a sense that a Clemens-Yankees sequel was a sure thing until Sunday afternoon when the Rocket ignited two hours of Yankee Stadium pomp and presidential-level media attention with his announcement during the 7th inning stretch.
You know the numbers — one year, $28 million, prorated salary starting from the day he makes his first start in pinstripes. So now the projections and questions have begun. How will he affect the rotation? Is this really a "distress signing," as some suggest? How many games will he win? Can he or will he be as dominant as he was in the National League over the past three seasons? Will his body hold up? And perhaps the most intriguing question: should his name surface in the Mitchell Investigation, how will he and the Yankees handle the reports? (The New York Times was the only major outlet to note the steroid suspicion in all its Monday stories.)
I want to focus on how this information was presented to us as fans and consumers, because there was plenty to absorb and interpret. YES extended the postgame show to nearly 90 minutes, airing Clemens’ press conference uninterrupted, and smartly played the subtle card, letting the story tell itself. The press conference reminded me of the night of his 300th victory. The auxiliary press room was packed, an emotional Clemens sat on the dais with company on either side of him and held court for nearly a half hour. There was a palpable sense of history.
Sunday’s return presser had a number of stories: 1) There was the revelation that when Cashman was in Texas trying to sync up with the Hendricks Brothers, Randy Hendricks was in Boston pitching Clemens to the Red Sox. 2) The admission from Hendricks that the Yankees won the derby due to their immediate need coinciding with Clemens ramping up his workouts. That they ponied up the most cash had nothing to do with it, apparently. Clemens reiterated that stance Monday, telling the Associated Press, “If you think it's about money, you're greatly mistaken. I'm not going to put my body through the paces I put my body through to earn a few more dollars.” (B.S. or no? Neither thesis does much to shed Clemens’ mercenary reputation.) 3) The number of times Cashman, Clemens, and Hendricks said, “this man to my left,” or “this man to my right” (you could create a nice drinking game from that if you recorded the presser). 4) Reading between the lines, Cashman alerting the public to Hal and Hank Steinbrenner’s presence in the courting process provides a huge hint as to who will assume the brunt of operations duties upon Steve Swindal’s official dismissal. 5) Clemens taking umbrage to the media snipes at the carte blanche element of his “personal service” clause, urging the broadcasters (read: ESPN), to “get their facts right” before commenting on that part of his contract, because it hurts his family. I applaud his stance, but if the reality didn’t match the perception, why make a big deal of it three years later? It was just as big of a story in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Why not clear things up then and note any modifications that took place in the margins of the current deal?
All of it makes for fun times in the Bronx now. At least there’s something else to talk about besides hamstring injuries, scapegoat trainers, anything pertaining to Carl Pavano, and bullpen woes.
More from the local papers…
From the radio waves …
From the blogosphere…
Clips from Houston …
Clips from Boston …
The breadth and depth of analysis of the Clemens story over the past day and a half has been enough to cause information overload. Credit Roger Clemens for being such a polarizing figure, but also the people who tracked and presented the story, and offered provocative angles from which to view it.
Breaks of the Game
Matt DeSalvo's fine big league debut was spoiled as the Mariners rallied late to beat the Yankees, 3-2. Seattle earned a split of the four-game series. The Yankees must be kicking themselves for not winning the series--they practically gave away a game on Friday night, and then lost a tight-one on Monday.
DeSalvo went seven innings and allowed just three hits. With a 2-1 lead, Kyle Farnsworth retired the first two men in the eighth before giving up an infield single to Jose Vidro. Willie Bloomquist pinch-ran for Vidro and immediately took off for second. He was tagged out by several feet but called safe by umpire Gerry Davis (after the game, Davis admitted that he blew the call. "I didn't miss the call," he said, "I kicked the sh** out of it.") Nobody on the Yankees argued. Then Bloomquist came around to score on Kenji Johjima's bloop single to right.
"I'll take it," Bloomquist said. "On the play itself, I thought it was actually pretty close. But when I got a chance to see the replay ... well, he called me safe, so I was safe. It's a good thing there's no instant replay in baseball."
In the ninth inning, Mariano Rivera struck out Richie Sexon on three pitches and got Jose Guillen to ground out to short before serving up a solo home run to Adrian Beltre. The pitch was up and over the plate--similar to the third strike that Sexon swung through--and Beltre hit a line drive that kept carrying. It didn't seem as if it was going to go out of the park; I thought for sure it'd be a double. But it kept going. The replays showed Rivera watching the ball and then saying, "Nooooo'h my Gad!"
The Yankees could not score in the bottom of the inning despite putting the tying run on base. In all, it was a frustrating end to what was a promising night for DeSalvo. Nertz.
A Fresh Start
Matt DeSalvo makes his big league debut on a crisp spring evening in the Bronx as the Bombers look to take the series from Seattle. Miguel Batista gets the nod for the M's. As usual, Pete Abe has the starting line-ups, plus the news the Kei Igawa has been demoted to the Land of Dunder-Mifflin.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Hey, anything new going on? I was at the game yesterday and went to the bathroom during the seventh inning stretch and suddenly everyone was acting all nutty. What gives?
The Yankees played a quick yet contentious game against the Mariners yesterday, winning 5-0. Josh Phelps plowed over Seattle catcher Kenji Johjima--it looked like a needlessly aggresive play, and was later plunked at which points both teams were issued a warning. Then, with two out in the top of the seventh, Scott Proctor threw a pitch behind Yuniesky Betancourt, which caused tempers to flare, and bullpens to empty. It was much ado about nuthin but a fitting prelude to what happened next during the sevent inning stretch when Roger Clemens appeared with a microphone in the owner's box. "Well, they came and got me out of Texas, and I can tell you it's a privilege to be back," said Clemens. "I'll be talking to y'all soon!" Then a message on the scoreboard announced that Clemens was once again a Yankee. By the end of a long day of talking to the media, where it was disclosed that Clemens will earn a prorated contract worth $28 million, there was Clemens out in the Yankee bullpen, surrounded by Yankee coaches, pitching.
While it wasn't exactly Old Timer's Day in 1978--when Billy Martin, who had been fired five days earlier, was dramatically announced as the manager for 1980--it was certainly an unusual way to announce the return of Clemens. Then again, maybe it wasn't so strange considering the team and the circumstances. Regardless, the return of Clemens upstaged a fine performance by Darrell Rasner and the Yankees who are now just one game under .500. Somehow, I didn't hear many fans complaining.
Chien-Ming Wang retired the first 22 Mariners he faced yesterday afternoon before losing his perfect game, no-hitter, and shutout all on a single swing when Ben Broussard poked a homer just over the wall in the gap in right field.
Jeff Weaver, meanwhile, had his first solid start of the season allowing just one run through five innings before melting down in the sixth. Bobby Abreu led off the bottom of the sixth with a bunt single (yes, he finally got one), Alex Rodriguez followed with a ground ball up the middle, Jason Giambi walked, and Weaver nailed Hideki Matsui in the thigh to force Abreu home (Matsui was fine and played the rest of the game, making a key running catch on a warning-track shot by Ichiro Suzuki to keep the perfect game going in the top of the seventh). Jorge Posada followed Matsui with a single off the end of the bat to plate the third Yankee run. After Robinson Cano struck out and Doug Mientkiewicz (who was 2 for 4 and briefly got his average above the Mendoza line) hit into a fielder's choice that forced Giambi at home, Weaver walked Melky Cabrera to plate another run and Derek Jeter finally delivered the knockout blow by doubling in two more to make it 6-0 Yankees. They'd add another run in each of the following two innings to make the final score 8-1.
As for Wang, the scary thing was he didn't really look that dominant. He went to four three-ball counts and gave up four fly ball outs through the first five innings. The Yankee Stadium crowd really came alive after Wang got two strikes on Jose Lopez with two outs in the sixth. Lopez worked the count full, fouling off a couple of pitches, but then grounded out to Alex Rodriguez, who had made a nice backhanded stop on a hard hit ball down the line by Lopez to end the third. With two out in the seventh, Wang fell behind Raul Ibanez 3-0, but poured in two perfect strikes low in the zone to run the count full, then, after a foul, struck him out on a sinker in the dirt. The pitch that Broussard hit out of the park was supposed to be another of those sinkers at the knees, but stayed up thigh-high and right over the plate. It was the only bad pitch Wang would make all day. He gave up a single to Jose Gillen after the home run, but erased it by getting a double play in the only opportunity he had for one in this game. All totaled, Wang threw 103 pitches (63 percent strikes), struck out four, and got 14 of his remaining 20 outs on the ground. Brian Bruney pitched a perfect ninth.
The Yankees have now won four of their last five and five of their last seven. In the first game of that smaller stretch, Phil Hughes took a no-hitter into the seventh. He and two relievers limited the Rangers to just 29 batters. Yesterday afternoon, Wang and Bruney combined to face just 28 Seattle Mariners. The Yankees have scored 19 runs in the first two games of this series and have finally won starts by Wang, Andy Pettitte, and Mike Mussina in the same turn through the rotation.
Last night was ugly, but the Yankees have still won four of their last six games and have Chien-Ming Wang, the only baseball player to make Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People list this year, starting for them today against the Jeff Weaver and his 18.26 ERA.
The Yankees suffered their most humilating loss of the season last night against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium, 15-11. The offense scored five runs in the first, eleven runs total, and still lost by four. The trioka of Kei Igawa, Colter Bean and Luis Vizcaino were beyond bad, they were horsesh** awful. Bean and Vizcaino looked as if they were scared to pitch. Watching Vizcaino, who took for-ev-er between each pitch, was being like part of some horrible ring from Dante's Inferno. It wasn't even much fun for the Mariners. According to The Seattle Times:
"It's like somebody sticking bamboo shoots under your fingernails," Hargrove said. "It wasn't even fun when we were ahead 15-8."
With two rookie pitchers set to go in this series, Igawa could not get an out in the fifth inning. Absolutely unacceptable. But so it goes for the bonfire that is the Yankee pitching staff. Remember in the mid-90s when teams like the Indians and Mariners used to score a trillion runs but couldn't get anyone out? That's what the 2007 Yankees have become.
Of course, the Yanks did manage to bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning. But with the bases juiced, Seattle's closer J.J. Putz got Johnny Damon to pop out and Derek Jeter to ground out to end the game. Damon tweaked his calf on his last swing and Jeter's ground out officially put an end to his hitting streak.
The Seattle Mariners
The Mariners are a tough team to figure. To begin with, they're the only team in the major leagues with a winning record that has been outscored by its opponents. They're also run extremely hot and cold over the past three weeks, first losing six straight to the Twins and Angels, then taking seven of eight from the Rangers, A's, Royals, and White Sox. The M's also had five of their first twenty games postponed by snow or rain, though they've already made one of those up, falling to the Red Sox in Boston last night on Manny Ramirez's game-winning shot off Chris Reitsma in the eighth.
Thus far, the only thing that's really working for them on offense is catcher Kenji Johnjima (.305/.349/.508). That's not much of a surprise given that their big offseason acquisitions were Joses Vidro and Guillen. More surprising: Richie Sexson is really struggling (.150/.253/.375) and after finishing fifth in the AL in stolen bases last year, the M's are dead last in the majors having gone just 6 for 10 on the bases thus far in 2007. On the other side of the ball, Felix Hernandez looked to be breaking out only to go down with a scary elbow injury. He's expected back next week, but M's fans will likely continue to hold their breath over the health of King Felix for a while longer. Behind Hernandez's scary elbow has been more scary pitching in the form of starters Miguel Bautista (6.30 ERA), Horacio Ramirez (6.64) and old buddy Jeff Weaver (0-4, 18.26 in four starts). If not for the unlikely performance of Jarrod Washburn (2.88 ERA, 0.99 WHIP) and the solid showing by their bullpen (3.35 ERA) the M's would be in a much worse way, which, frankly, I assume they will be before to long.
Tonight, the Yanks draw South Korean-born Cha Seung Baek, who's holding King Felix's spot in the rotation. Baek has started against the two worst teams in the American League and produced one solid start, that coming against the Royals at Safeco. The Yankees last tussled with Baek in Jeff Karstens' major league debut last August. Baek and Karstens matched one another roughly pitch-for-pitch in that contest, with Bobby Abreu homering of Baek and the Yankees pulling ahead against the Mariner bullpen only to see Jaret Wright and Ron Villone blow the game in the final two frames. Tonight, Baek's mound opponent will be Kei Igawa, who salvaged his spot in the Yankee rotation with a fantastic emergency appearance last Saturday after Karstens had his leg broken by a comebacker on the first pitch of the game. Afterwards, Joe Torre speculated that Igawa might have been well served by the lack of warning, which prevented him from overthinking his outing, or building up nerves. It will be interesting to see how he does tonight, having had the last week to think about tonight's start.
Incidentally, Igawa still leads the Yankees in wins, though he's now tied with Luis Vizcaino, who vultured Andy Pettitte's second win in game one yesterday. His five outings can be split into two awful ones:
9 1/3 IP, 16 H, 14 R, 4 HR, 6 BB, 5 K (13.50 ERA, 2.36 WHIP)
And three solid ones:
17 1/3 IP, 10 H, 5 R (4 ER), 1 HR, 7 BB, 14 K (2.08 ERA, 0.98 WHIP)
If the Yankees can find a way to keep Igawa on his game, they could have one of the best fourth starters in baseball.
For the most part, it's tough for me to dislike Manny Ramirez too much. He's too much of a flake for that. True, I find his constant homer-gazing obnoxious, particularly when he's not hitting well, but that's just Manny being Manny, right? The reason I mention Ramirez is because in case you guys missed it, make sure and check out Ben McGrath's profile of Ramirez in The New Yorker. It's a couple of weeks old but worth checking out.
Manny being Manny is an annoying phrase but I use it as much as the next dude. My question is, where did that tag start? It wasn't with Ramirez. I found an article that Pat Jordan wrote about the Yankees in 1987 and he refered to "Rickey being Rickey." Sounds ideally suited to Henderson. Wonder if that is where it all began...
Also, riding on Jon Weisman's call, check out Bill Plaschke's nice piece on one of the L.A. Dodgers' former clubhouse guys.
Twice as Nice
The Yanks capped-off a nice day with a 5-2 win last night, as they swept a doubleheader in Texas. Mike Mussina looked sharp for five innings, good enough to earn his first win of the season. According to Tyler Kepner in the Times:
"I was hoping five innings is what I would be able to do," said Mussina, who threw 49 strikes and only 15 balls. "I was hoping I wouldn't have any really long innings, 25 pitches or so. I had better command than I expected, and I might have had a little better velocity than I expected the first time back."
Kyle Farnsworth and Mariano Rivera pitched again, and while neither was as crisp as they had been in the afternoon, both managed to work around the rough spots. The Yanks have now won three straight. Godzilla and Alex Rodriguez each had a couple of hits, Derek Jeter had three, and Doug Mientkiewicz hit a two-run dinger.
In the Tell-Me-Something-I-Don't-Know Department, rumor has it that Carl Pavano will need Tommy John surgery, which would fittingly keep him on the sidelines for the duration of his misbegotten contract with the Yankees.
The Yanks won a close one in the opener, 4-3. Pettitte wasn't great but was certainly dogged. Giambi hit a bullet solo homer, though he made a bad running mistake late in the game. Farnsworth ended the eighth with a nasty slider; Mo was his old self in ninth. One thing that jumped out at me watching the post-game. They showed a slow-mo replay of the Yankee congrats-line at the end of the game. They followed Rivera along, dutifully giving dabs to each teammate, Jeter went by, some other guys, and then A Rod walked by and was very amped. He slapped Mo's hands with authority. Mo got really amped up about it, it was cool to see. A Rod getting Mo juiced.
A very nice win for the Yanks. Now, the bats need to give Moose a whole lotta love in the night-cap. It's poured since the end of Game One and jeez, the last thing Moose's fincky ass needs is a wet field to come back to, but what can you do about it? Here's to the Yanks getting the led out.
The single-admission doubleheader is a rarity in baseball these days, but thanks to last night's rain-out, and the fact that this is the Yankees' only trip to Texas this year, the Rangers will be hosting one today. Of course, they've split the game times, starting the first at 3:35 (2:25 local time in Arlington) and keeping the original start date for the nightcap at 8:05 (7:05 local) regardless of how early the opener ends.
In Game One, Andy Pettitte resumes his quest for win number two, but now faces Kevin Millwood rather than Robinson Tejeda (good news for Andy as Tejeda's been much better than Millwood in the early going). Tejeda will then start the nightcap against Mike Mussina, who will swap places on the roster/DL with Phil Hughes.
Mussina has been out exactly three weeks with what was originally considered a very minor hamstring tweak that might not even require a DL stay. It's amazing to think about how thing have changed while Moose has been away. When he took the mound in Minnesota for his second start of the year, the Yankees were 4-3. They then lost that game after he pulled up lame and went on to surrender a pair of walk-off wins to the A's in Oakland, but recovered to sweep the Indians at home to run their record to 8-6.
Then it all fell apart. With Mussina, Carl Pavano, Chien-Ming Wang, and Hideki Matsui on the disabled list, the Yankees rolled into Boston with Jeff Karstens and Chase Wright making two of their three starts and lost a trio of heartbreakers, the first of which saw Mariano Rivera blow his second consecutive save opportunity. Slinking into Tampa, Kei Igawa melted down and lost his rotation spot, ruining Matsui's return, and the bullpen was unable to convert Chien-Ming Wang's first start into a win, handing the Yankee ace the loss by allowing his bequeathed runners to score. Losses to the Blue Jays (in Phil Hughes major league debut) and Red Sox (an unexpected Andy Pettitte meltdown) followed, pushing the losing streak to seven before Igawa unexpectedly salvaged a game in which a comebacker on the very first pitch broke Karstens leg. Inclusive of that game the Yankees have won two of their last three, but their most recent win was tainted by the loss of Hughes to a serious hamstring injury . . . in the seventh inning of a no-hitter no less.
Oh the drama!
Meanwhile, Pavano, who hit the DL the same day as Mussina, has cut his most recent bullpen session short and hopped a plane to Alabama to see Tommy John specialist Dr. James Andrews. Meat's back on the indefinite DL, and Hughes is likely out until the All-Star Break, so the Yankees hopes of a turnaround are largely on the shoulders of the two men who will be pitching today.
But no pressure.
Update: Chris Britton takes Hughes's roster spot for the first game and will be optioned in favor of Mussina before game two. Mike Wood starts in place of Millwood in game one, giving the Yankees an even more favorable matchup (Mike Wood, Millwood, Millwood, Mike Wood, let's call the whole thing off).
Bernie Carbo--Card Corner
Bernie Carbo—Topps Company—1980 (No. 266)
Pictured here in his last Topps trading card, Bernie Carbo epitomizes the caricature of the 1970s flake. With his unusually permed hair and his slightly dazed look, Carbo appears to be preoccupied with thoughts that have nothing to do with baseball. (And I’m not sure what Carbo did to the pictured bat, which appears to have been slathered in mud from bottom to barrel!)
Like many fans of the game, I usually perceived Bernie Carbo as I viewed this card—with amusement. Recently though, Carbo offered some sobering revelations about his life during a lecture in Worcester, Massachusetts. Not surprisingly, the roots of at least some of his bizarre behavior could be found in a habit that is something other than amusing, specifically a steady drinking problem that evolved into full-blown alcoholism by the time that Carbo reached his 19th birthday.
For those not familiar with the life and times of Bernie Carbo, he compiled a long list of "eccentricities" during a baseball career that spanned the decade of the 1970s:
*After an early-career trade that sent him from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Boston Red Sox, Carbo received a stuffed gorilla from former Cardinals teammate Scipio Spinks. Carbo’s new friend earned the name "Mighty Joe Young," in honor to the legendary film character from 1930s cinema. When on road trips, Carbo did not like to travel alone; therefore, he usually took his "companion" with him. In order to ensure that his pet "gorilla" would remain by his side, Carbo often paid for an extra ticket. For Carbo, it was well worth the expense.
*Shortly after joining the Red Sox, Carbo gave $20 to an older gentleman who was in the Boston clubhouse and asked him to fetch a cheeseburger and fries. Carbo thought the older man was a clubhouse attendant. He didn’t realize that he was actually Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey. Ah yes, that’s the way to make the boss feel important.
*Playing on June 26, 1975 in a game against the rival Yankees, Carbo made a daring catch at the right-field wall at Fenway Park, robbing Chris Chambliss of a home run. Carbo crashed into the wall, somehow escaping injury but managing to lose the chaw of tobacco he had in his mouth. Carbo then asked umpires for time, so that he could search the outfield for the missing chaw. After holding up the game for nearly ten minutes, Carbo finally found the tobacco lying on the warning track. He picked up the filthy chaw and put it directly back into his mouth, most likely to the disgust of the fans watching from the right-field stands.
*Carbo was one of the few major leaguers who harbored interest in becoming a professional hairdresser. (Please don’t think that I harbor any ill feelings toward the profession of hairdressing; it just seems a bit unusual for a major league ballplayer.) Following the end of his baseball career, Carbo went to cosmetology school and operated a hair salon for eight years. During his playing days, Bernie coifed his hair in a permanent, which was certainly not out of the ordinary for 1970s culture but was fairly uncommon for ballplayers of that decade.
At the time, many of Carbo’s habits were considered quaint—some still are—but some of his on-field mental lapses were likely influenced by his addiction to alcohol and drugs. Carbo managed to keep his drug problems quiet for much of his career, but talked openly about them after his retirement from the game. "I was a drug addict and alcoholic for 28 years," Carbo first told The Sporting News in 2001. "I started drinking when I was about 16 or 17, started on marijuana when I was 21, did cocaine when I was 22 or 23, and got into crystal meth, Dexedrines, Benzedrines, Darvons, codeine. There wasn’t much I didn’t do."
In 1989, Carbo’s problems escalated. His mother committed suicide. A few months later, his father passed away. Carbo himself then went through a divorce. He contemplated suicide. "I did not want to live in this world," Carbo admitted.
Fortunately, two of Carbo’s former teammates with the Boston Red Sox learned of his plight. Ferguson Jenkins and Bill Lee, both of whom had experienced their full share of personal problems, placed calls to Carbo. They convinced him to address his drug problems by entering rehabilitation. During his time in rehab, Carbo learned about Christianity. Embracing the values of the religion, Carbo became a Christian minister while also performing as a motivational speaker.
Though his ascent from depression and drugs has been laudable, Carbo’s travails have not ended. In addition to losing his mother through suicide, Carbo watched his three daughters land in prison because of their involvement with selling drugs. One of the daughters remains behind bars, which explains why Carbo is attempting to adopt three of his grandchildren, all under the age of ten. Carbo’s efforts to gain custody of the children has stirred debate on some internet baseball sites, with some dissenters claiming that his past involvement with drugs and alcohol should preclude the adoption.
I have no idea whether Carbo should be allowed to adopt those children. I simply don’t know him that well. But I have to admit I’m rooting for him. He was a good role player, an underrated hitter with power who sometimes walked more than he struck out. He was a likeable and fun personality who brought life to clubhouses in Cincinnati, St. Louis, Boston, and a few other ports of call in the 1970s. He has also overcome serious drug and alcohol addiction—at least for the moment—and has come back from the verge of suicide to do some meaningful work as a counselor and social worker.
I hope that Carbo can make that final step and complete the transition from caricature of the 1970s to reliable grandfather in the new millennium.
Babies on Spikes
Last fall, fans and media were calling for Joe Torre's head. The Yankees had been eliminated from the ALDS in four games and the season long tension surrounding Alex Rodriguez, which had been rekindled by a back-biting Sports Illustrated article by Tom Verducci for which Torre had been a primary source, had culminated with Torre batting Rodriguez eighth in the elimination game. In response, Brian Cashman fired media relations director Rick Cerrone (well, technically he non-renewed him).
This spring, fans and media have been calling for Joe Torre's head. The Yankees are languishing in last place after a dreadful April performance marked by a near complete collapse of the pitching staff. That collapse was touched off by poor performance by the starters, which lead to an increased strain on the bullpen, and has been perpetuated by a series of injuries to the rotation. Most curiously, three Yankee starting pitchers and Hideki Matsui have hit the disabled list with hamstring strains, the most recent being überprospect Phil Hughes, who went down in the midst of throwing a no-hitter. In response, Brian Cahsman has fired director of performance enhancement Marty Miller.
In both cases, Cashman gave the blood-thirsty hordes a head on a spike without disrupting the core of the team, a surgical strike, if you will, as opposed to a massacre. As for the hordes, blood has been spilled. Move along.
As for tonight's game. Andy Pettitte looks to avoid the mysterious fifth-inning collapse he suffered against the Red Sox on Friday and pick up his long-delayed second win of the season. In his way stands 25-year-old Robinson Tejeda, who has been far and away the Rangers' best starter in the early going.
Incidentally, for those who missed it, the Rangers made a couple of roster moves before yesterday's game, placing Frank Catalanotto on the disabled list and calling up ex-Met Victor Diaz (who was promptly inserted into the clean-up spot and victimized by a monstrous Phil Hughes curve in his first major league at-bat in twelve months), and exchanging righty reliever Scott Feldman for counterpart Mike Wood.
It's just been that kind of year for the New York Yankees.
The Bombers bust out with ten runs against the Rangers last night, driving Kameron Loe from the game in the fifth. Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano had the big days, both picking up a pair of doubles (the Yanks had six on the night), Jorge going 3 for 4 with a walk, 2 RBIs and 3 runs scored, Cano going 4 for 5 with 3 RBIs and 2 runs scored. Every Yankee starter reached base at least once. That includes the slumping Bobby Abreu (1 for 6), who moved to the leadoff spot in place of Johnny Damon, who got an extra day off following four chiropractic sessons and says he's feeling great, and Doug Mientkiewicz (1 for 5, RBI).
While all that was going on, Phil Hughes was carving up the Texas Rangers' lineup in just his second major league start. Hughes walked Kenny Lofton to start the game after getting ahead of him 0-2, but erased him on a double play off the bat of Michael Young and struck out Mark Teixeira. In the second, he walked Hank Blalock only to erase him on a double play as well, this one off the bat of the hot-hitting Ian Kinsler. Hughes didn't allow a ball out of the infield until Blalock's fly out for the second out of the fifth, and faced the minimum until he walked Kinsler following Blalock's fly out. Along the way he simply dominated. He started the second by striking out Victor Diaz (just called up from triple-A to take the place of the just-DLed Frank Catalanotto) on a wicked curve ball that literally dropped from Diaz's nose to his toes (it's the first pitch shown in this ESPN highlight clip). He then started the third by pumping three fastballs past Brad Wilkerson. Hughes had been 0-2 on the two hitters he walked in the first two innings and when he got Wilkerson 0-2 he shook off Posada to get the fastball, sending Wilkerson back to the bench on three pitches. His fastball was clocked at 91-92 miles per hour by the YES gun, but had explosive late movement. That heater, the wicked curve, and his change combined to give Hughes six strikeouts through 6 1/3 efficient innings (83 pitches, 64 percent strikes).
Put simply, Hughes had no-hit stuff last night. Indeed, he didn't allow a hit through those 6 1/3 innings. Then, with one out in the seventh and two strikes on Teixeira, Hughes reached back to break off an extra wicked curve ball, overextending as he followed through on the delivery, and felt his left hamstring pop.
That was it for Hughes no-hit bid. Hughes was removed from the game at that point and said after the game that there was no way he could have throw another pitch. He'll remain with the team for the rest of this short three-game road trip and likely get an MRI when they return to New York, but a trip to the disabled list is a certainty. The ESPN highlight linked above says Hughes will be out four to six weeks, though I'm not sure where they got that information. Peter Abraham thinks it will be a couple of months. Obviously, the Yankees won't be able to wager a guess themselves until Hughes gets his MRI.
The loss of Hughes is a blow to the rotation considering the fact that he was already delivering on his promise in just his second major league start, but in a twisted way this injury could be a good thing in the long run. Certainly the Yankees are lucky that it was Hughes' hamstring and not anything in his right arm that went pop, and having him spend most of the next two months on the DL could go a long way toward protecting that right arm. Brian Cashman had said before the game that Hughes was in the major league rotation to stay; that his development would continue at the major league level. That's a frightening change of plans regarding a 20-year-old pitcher who could be the most important asset this franchise has. Now, Hughes' hamstring will force the Yankees to bring him back along more slowly, and will limit his aggregate innings pitched to a reasonable total rather than the 200-plus he could have thrown if left in the rotation for the remainder of the season.
I'm not saying I'm glad that Hughes is injured. Certainly you don't want to see a young player hurt, and hamstrings have a habit of reoccurring, so you certainly don't want to see that pattern develop in any player, particularly one as important as Hughes. I do think, however, that the injury will protect Hughes from the team's desperation to overuse him this season, and I look forward to seeing more performances like last night's once he returns to the rotation, which hopefully will happen by the All-Star break at the absolute latest.
In the meantime, with Mike Mussina coming back on Thursday and Kei Igawa installed back in the rotation after his tremendous emergency performance on Saturday, the Yankees can turn to Darrell Rasner or, as Abraham suggests, Matt DeSalvo to fill the fifth spot in the rotation while Hughes (and Carl Pavano, of course) is on the shelf (of course, DeSalvo isn't on the 40-man roster right now).
As for the no-hitter, Mike Myers finished the seventh without incident, but blew the no-hitter and the shutout in the eighth. Still, thanks to another double play, the Rangers sent just 29 batters to the plate on the night, falling to the Yankees by the final score of 10-1. Luis Vizcaino finished the game in the ninth, marking just the third time all season that the Yankees completed a game with just three pitchers (the other two times both coming in their first road series in Minnesota in games started by Andy Pettite and, yes, Carl Pavano).
Really, everything that needed to go right for the Yankees last night did, with one glaring exception.
The Texas Rangers
First thing's first. Joe Torre is not going to get fired, in part because George Steinbrenner is in no condition to fire him. If Joe's going to be fired, Brian Cashman will have to do it, and that's not going to happen. Cashman would have to go before Joe, and that's a far more significant move now that Cashman's finally executing his own vision for this team, which as poorly as this season has begun, has reaped benefits in the sense that the pitching reinforcements are finally coming in the form of young minor league talent rather than washed up veterans of the Sidney Ponson and Scott Erickson variety. Hell, Cotler Bean is on the 25-man roster. Colter Bean! If that's not the indication of a significant change in attitude, I don't know what is.
Further to that, Phil Hughes makes his second big league start tonight in Texas. In his first start, Hughes looked appropriately nervous in the first inning and understandably winded in the fifth, but put together three solid innings in between in which he allowed just a single and a walk while striking out three. Hughes peripherals for his entire 4 1/3 inning debut were excellent (5 K, 1 BB, the majority of his outs coming on the ground, and just one of his seven hits allowed going for extra bases). On the flip side, Hughes didn't look very good against the experienced major league hitters in the Toronto lineup (Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas, and Lyle Overbay were a combined 6 for 9 with a walk, a double, and no strikeouts against Hughes with two of their three outs coming in the air).
Obviously it will be interesting to see what Hughes can do now that he's dealt with those debut jitters. That said, I still think he should be swapped out for Darrell Rasner regardless of his performance tonight, if only to keep his innings pitched limited for another month or so, at which point he can be safely loosed up on the American League for the remainder of the year.
On the mound for the Rangers will be Scott Brosius look alike and snake lover Kameron Loe. The Rangers' fifth starter, Loe started the year in the bullpen, posting a 5.40 ERA after five appearances. He's since earned his 1-1 record in two starts, throwing 5 1/3 innings of shutout ball at the weak-hitting A's in the first and getting lit up over the same span by the heavy-hitting Indians in the last.
As for the rest of the Texas squad, sophomore second baseman Ian Kinsler has been tearing the cover off the ball, and reclamation project Sammy Sosa has been depositing mistakes in the seats like a late-career Jose Canseco, but the rest of the team is scuffling, including stars Mark Teixeira (always a slow starter) and Michael Young (a miserable .215/.236/.346). Out in the bullpen, closer Akinori Otsuka has been dominant, and lefties C. J. Wilson and Ron Mahay have been solid, but their cast of supporting right-handers has been a mess, as has most of the starting rotation, particularly high-profile off-season trade target Brandon McCarthy. Still, they've won a higher percentage of their games than the Yankees, but then that's true of every AL team other than the Royals. May Day, indeed.
Yankee Panky # 7: The Medium is the Message?
By now, you’ve heard everything remotely possible breaking down the speculation of Joe Torre’s firing and George Steinbrenner’s statement, which added some slack to the leash on Torre and GM Brian Cashman.
The Yankees finished April losing eight of nine – including five of six to the Red Sox – a 9-14 overall record, a walking wounded list that an NFL team would envy, and numerous questions regarding the cause of their demise. The Yankees led in all five of those games. In four of the eight losses, the Yankees held leads in the seventh inning or later. They could easily be 15-8, 16-7 or 17-6; they’d still have the same flaws but because the victories would far outnumber the defeats, we wouldn’t be discussing the current state of affairs.
As we know, “losing is not acceptable.”
Torre is a convenient scapegoat. He is certainly part of the problem, but he’s not the sole reason for the poor start. He’s correct in that Torre didn’t re-sign a fragile Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, or bid way too much for Kei Igawa, who should probably be a situational reliever in the Hideki Okajima mold. Torre hasn’t gone 1-for his last 20 like Bob Abreu. He isn’t whining about cramps in his forearm or calling throwing 20 of 45 pitches off a mound “progress.” He didn’t catch too much of the plate with a pitch to Marco Scutaro in Oakland or to Coco Crisp at Fenway. He isn’t the LOOGY (lefty one-out guy) who is throwing up loogies.
Don Zimmer told the New York Post that Cashman is the problem, and that the Torre criticism is unjust. Because he served as Torre’s consiglieri for eight seasons, his words can be taken seriously on one level. Don’t discount Zimmer’s bitterness toward the Yankee organization, however. When Zimmer and Steinbrenner had their tiff during the 2003 season – YES was prohibited from showing Zimmer on camera during games, he was forbidden from appearing on any network programs, and he declined several interview requests for the dot.com – Torre was affected. He’s never outwardly said it, but do remember the frequent camera shots where it appeared Torre was sleeping during games? You don’t see them too much anymore. From 1996-2003, Torre managed the egos and media -- he still does -- but he lost a great tactician in Zimmer. It’s not a stretch to conclude that the results would be better if Torre still had his right-hand man. Torre is on his fourth bench coach in as many seasons, and while all were capable despite never having comparable experience, none was as good as Zimmer. It’s not a coincidence that Zimmer’s absence and three straight years of “Fire Joe” talk have paralleled each other.
Three years ago, the Yankee rotation’s mediocre performance was the foundation for 61 comeback victories. What happened over the past weekend is similar to two years ago, when the Yankees started the season 11-19 -- including losing six of seven to the Red Sox -- brought up Chien-Ming Wang in late April and Robinson Cano in early May in Tampa. The team went through growing pains before rattling off 10 straight wins on a West Coast trip (Cano batted close to .400 on that trip after starting is Major League career 0-for-22), and eking out the Division in Boston on the season’s final weekend. Injuries befell the team early last season as well. There were no revelations like Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon going 17-3 as in 2005, but the team bore down and got through its funk.
The Daily News’ Bob Raissman pointed out that Sterling and Waldman are blaming the media for “looking for stories” over the course of April; that seasons aren’t decided in the first month. Tell that to the 1988 Baltimore Orioles or any Tampa Bay Devil Rays team prior to this season.
Steinbrenner is not forcing hair-trigger moves like the Raul Mondesi trade of 2002 following the inexplicable placement of Enrique Wilson in right field against the Mets (correction: I mistakenly wrote Red Sox). But while he’s only speaking to the media through his publicist, Howard Rubinstein, and to a lesser degree team president Randy Levine and COO Lonn Trost, for as long as he’s alive, he is omnipresent in that front office.
The culture he has created, where pressure to win is so intense that any letdown is considered failure, is a double-edged sword. Are the media creating the state of emergency when Brian Cashman tells Anthony McCarron of the Daily News that he’s “never felt secure” in his job? Are they formulating fiction when Torre likens this aspect of the job to “dancing with the heat”?
When Jerome from Manhattan calls Steve Sommers’ show and says, “They won’t come out of this. Torre and Cashman need to be fired,” is that a media creation or an extension of the spoiled Yankee culture?
Starting last Friday, when the Torre/Cashman smoke billowed, the coverage on all accounts – from broadcast – except Sterling and Waldman on WCBS – the papers and the blogosphere has deftly mixed hard-news reporting, analysis, speculation, projection, and the columnists like Joel Sherman have offered provocative and practical solutions. Scribes like Bill Madden have pointed out the unfairness of bringing in Don Mattingly at this point and questioned other possibilities like Larry Bowa.
Mike and the Mad Dog – more Russo than Francesa – claim that Torre has continued to return and put himself in the line of fire for the financial gain. I don’t know Torre beyond my reporter/manager dealings with him, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that was true. Prior success is also a motivating factor. He basked in the glory of four championships and was arguably the most popular manager the city has seen. Wouldn’t you want to go out on a high note and recapture that high?
“(Torre) will be the manager when the Yankees play Texas, but I think he’s one or two more bad series away from being fired,” Buster Olney told Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic on ESPN Radio Monday morning.
Olney acknowledged George Steinbrenner’s desire to scapegoat Torre in previous years, noting – as did the NY Post’s George King on Monday– that Cashman talked him out of firing Torre. Two years ago, following Mel Stottlemyre’s resignation, the prevailing thought was that Torre would be gone. Cashman and Steve Swindal talked him into coming back.
Joe Girardi told Michael Kay Monday afternoon that the team still doesn’t have an identity. He said to see where things are on June 1. By then, Roger Clemens may be here, the Yankees could be in first place and for another year, we’ll be talking about the greatest managerial job Torre and Cashman have done.
The thing to remember while processing the “manager/GM job watch” story is this: the media haven’t created the environment, they are a product of it.
Everything is Everything
George Steinbrenner released a statement yesterday:
"The season is still very young, but up to now the results are clearly not acceptable to me or to Yankee fans. However, Brian Cashman our general manager, Joe Torre our manager and our players all believe that they will turn this around quickly. I believe in them. I am here to support them in any way to help them accomplish this turnaround. It is time to put excuses and talk away. It is time to see if people are ready to step up and accept their responsibilities. It is time for all of them to show me and the fans what they are made of. Let's get going. Let's go out and win and bring a world championship back to New York. That's what I want."
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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