Monthly archives: June 2007
The Oakland A's
When the Yankees visited Oakland in April, the A's weren't scoring very much, but neither were their opponents. Although the Athletics' roster has been devastated by injuries, not much has really changed. The A's have the stingiest pitching staff in the AL despite injuries to the top three men in their bullpen and would-be ace Rich Harden, who has been regulated to relief since being activated last week.
Meanwhile, the offense got Mark Kotsay and Dan Johnson back only to lose Milton Bradley and Mike Piazza, the former's injury problems reaching the point that the A's decided to designate him for assignment rather than deal with them. Jason Kendall is having a historically awful season (39 OPS+), but is still holding on to the starting catching job. Kotsay and former Rookie of the Year Bobby Crosby have been awful (both hitting roughly .240/.290/.350), but Kotsay is still starting over rookie sensation Travis Buck. Eric Chavez is having his worst season since he was a 21-year-old rookie and his third disappointing season in a row, prompting our Toaster colleagues to doubt his commitment to his game. Mix in Shannon Stewart slugging .391 from a corner outfield position and Dan Johnson and Nick Swisher each slugging roughly .450 from first base and right field respectively and you've got a pretty tepid offense that's relying way too much on 28-year-old rookie cleanup hitter Jack Cust. Indeed, the A's have scored the second fewest runs per game in the AL thus far (though Ryan Armbrust points out that they've been better of late--not necessarily good, but better).
What's changed is that when the A's and Yankees last met, the two teams were utter opposites: the Yankees scored a ton of runs and gave up a ton of runs, while the A's did neither. The A's haven't changed, but the Yankees have solved their pitching woes only to see their offense stumble. On the just completed road trip, including the eight innings of last night's suspended game, the Yankees scored 3.22 runs per game and allowed 4.67. The latter number isn't a far cry from their overall season average (4.57), but the former belies their fourth-place major league rank in runs scored per game. In essence, then, the Yankees will have to try to outpitch the A's this weekend, which means they'll likely be helping yet another stumbling team (the A's are 3-9 in their last dozen games entering tonight) get back on stride.
Tonight Kei Igawa tries to outpitch Joe Kennedy. The good news is that Kennedy has walked more than he's struck out this year and has a 7.71 ERA over his last three starts. Igawa, meanwhile, will look to build on his four Steve Austin innings from San Francisco.
Don't Stop (Cut to Black)
Well, um, would you believe that rain spoiled and then perhaps saved the Yankees tonight? We don't know the outcome of Thursday night's game between the Yankees and the Orioles because it was suspended with two out in the top of the eighth and won't be continued until the Yankees are in town again, which is at the end of July. The game was delayed just after the O's took a two run lead in the seventh. Then, it was called for a second time immediately after Derek Jeter singled home two runs off Chris Ray in the eighth, giving the Yankees an 8-6 lead. Melvin Mora berated the umpires for not stopping the game sooner. According to the AP:
Before Jeter stepped to the plate, Mora pleaded with third base umpire Tim Tschida to stop the game.
So the Yankees end one of the worst road trips in recent memory with an incomplete (just for the night, not for the trip). They didn't actually win a game, but they at least they were leading when it ended.
Chien Ming Wang didn't have dominant stuff but he pitched efficiently for the first six innings. Alex Rodriguez made a fine, one-handed play on a bunt attempt by Melvin Mora early in the game. Several innings later, Brian Roberts robbed Derek Jeter of a hit by backhanding a ball hit up the middle and then turning and making a great throw as his body was falling away to left field.
The Yankees couldn't come up with a big hit, but they were driving in runs with outs and working deep counts on Daniel Cabrera, who was characteristically wild. Rodriguez had a chance to break the game open in the sixth. He came up with the bases loaded and one out and was sitting on a 3-1 count but grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.
Wang then quickly gave up a 4-2 lead as Baltimore scored four runs in bottom of the seventh. I couldn't believe the Yankes were going to blow another game. You have got to be kidding me. And it all came apart on Wang so suddenly. But I give the team credit for how they came back in the eighth. Jeter's two-out hit is something he's done so often over the course of his career, it's almost easy to take for granted. But even though it didn't secure a win tonight, I'm sure Jeter and the rest of the Yankees are appreciating it plenty.
This has turned out to be a strange season hasn't it?
The Yankees have scored in just one of 18 innings in Baltimore. Chein-Ming Wang faces off against Daniel Cabrera as the Yanks try to save face (too late), but Wang won't matter tonight (like Clemens didn't matter yesterday) if the Yanks can't make hay against Cabrera, who has turned in a quality start in just five of his last 14 appearances, has a 5.93 ERA over his last seven, and has allowed six home runs in his last three.
Misery Loves Company
Joe Torre's decision not to bring Mariano Rivera into Tuesday night's game was the straw that broke the camel's back for Jay Jaffe, who says the 2007 Yanks are toast:
...I'm officially now Beyond Caring. No more objects thrown at the TV, no more Tivoing their games so I can cling to a shred of hope. This season is done for the Yankees. Throw them on the pile of expensive toys that broke all too quickly. Go spend some time with your loved ones rather than tuning in for the daily rust and rot. You've got better things to do than to cheer on this trainwreck.
I like Joe Torre and have stuck up for him over the years despite his flaws, but I think Steven Goldman is on-point when he writes:
The Torre we're seeing this year increasingly looks like a refugee from a parallel universe, one in which the mediocre manager of the Mets, Braves, and Cardinals never gave way to the Hall of Famer of 19962001...From George Washington to Ronald Reagan, all great leaders decline as they age. This is no insult to Torre, but simply a fact of life. He has carved his place in history, and now he should be history. He knew what to do in 1996, but in an ironical twist, is now clueless in 2007. It's time for a change.
Cliff said it all. This is a Dead Team Walking. (Now, watch them go out and actually play well against the A's, Twins and Angels, just to tease us.)
Hey, speaking of Jay, check out the latest installment of our series about the 1977 World Series box set. At the very least it'll take your mind off the present-day Yanks.
Whole Lotta Nuthin'
Just one Yankee reached second base last night. That happened with one out in the ninth. Just three Yankees reached base against Erik Bedard, who struck out eight over seven innings thanks in large part to a tremendous 10-to-4 curveball. Of the three base runners he allowed, one came on a walk, and one came on an infield single. In total, six Yankees reached base and ten struck out. None scored. What Roger Clemens did, or how and when Joe Torre used his bullpen last night was completely irrelevant to the game's outcome.
That said, Clemens, who struck out no one for the first time since a two-inning outing in April of 1999, was big enough to take the blame after the loss. Thanks to a first-inning double play, Rocket faced the minimum the first time through the Baltimore order. He ran into some trouble in the third when Brian Roberts lead off with a single, then tortured Clemens by dancing off first, drawing four throws and two pitchouts across two at-bats, before finally stealing second with ease. Roberts moved to third on a ground out, but was stranded. Still, Clemens threw 24 pitches in the fourth and 21 in the fifth, an inning that ended with runners on second and third. Clemens's pitches were starting to stay up at the end of the fifth and the sixth began with Chris Gomez singling and Clemens walking Nick Markakis on four pitches. On the first pitch to Gomez, Clemens hit his right elbow on his left knee in his follow through, which brought the trainer to the mound. It proved to be of no consequence. Still, it was an occasion to get the bullpen warmed up that Joe Torre failed to make use of. After Markakis walked, Ron Guidry paid a visit to the mound, but the bullpen remained still. The third batter in that inning, Ramon Hernandez, singled to break the scoreless tie and put runners on first and second. Finally, Torre got his bullpen going, but it was too late. Three pitches later, Aubrey Huff hit a three-run home run just over the wall in left. Game over.
Adding insult to injury, Torre brought in Mariano Rivera to pitch the eighth inning down 4-0 after refusing to use Rivera with the score tied in the ninth inning of the previous night's loss. Mo pitched a 1-2-3 inning, of course.
Two other items of interest:
1) I'm sure the Angels' decision to designate Shea Hillenbrand for assignment will be a big topic of discussion today. Since being traded to San Francisco in July 21 of last year, Hillenbrand, who has a reputation for being difficult, has hit .251/.275/.374 in 431 at-bats. Andy Phillips hit .240/.281/.394 last year in a smaller sample, plays better defense, and is beloved by his teammates.
2) You have until midnight to vote for Jorge (25-times each)!
The Yankees are such a giving ballclub. The Giants had lost seven in a row entering last weekend's series with the Yankees. "Don't be glum, chums," said the benevolent Yanks, "have two of three from us, please." The Giants gladly accepted.
The Orioles had won three of five prior to last night, but had been in a freefall before that, going 2-14 with their big, mean owner firing their poor, defenseless manager. "Do not dispair, friends," said the compassionate Yankees, "if you're not ahead come your final at bat, we'll find a way to get you a walkoff win that will lift your spirits." The Orioles soon found that the Yankees were men of their word.
Tonight the Yankees look to continue their philanthropic tour of the gloomy gusses of baseball. Roger Clemens will make his fourth start of the season coming off an inefficient dud of an outing in Colorado (4 1/3 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 2 HR, 90 pitches) and a dispiriting relief outing in San Francisco (allowing an seventh-inning insurance run in what had been a 3-1 game).
There's reason for hope, however. Clemens has thus far posted a career-best strikeout rate (11.21 K/9) and near-best K/BB ratio (4.40), but has been undone by a staggering .370 opponents' batting average on balls in play. His distribution of singles and extra base hits has actually been very good (15 of his 20 hits allowed have been singles, that's 75 percent compared to roughly 72 percent for both Andy Pettitte and Chien-Ming Wang, the team's two best starters, who also happen to be groundballers). That means Clemens is not getting hit hard, he's just been unlucky. His luck should even out as his performance is buoyed further by the fact that he's still rounding into midseason form. The only real concern is that Roger has been remarkably inefficient, throwing a career-high 4.19 pitches per plate appearance, which means he's pitching like a man facing an endless string of Jason Giambis and Bobby Abreus, just without all those pesky walks. Something has to give here somewhere.
Complicating matters is Clemens' opponent tonight, 28-year-old lefty Erik Bedard. Bedard, the Oriole ace, hasn't allowed more than three runs in a game since April, has failed to go six full innings just once since April 23, and hasn't been knocked out before the fifth yet this year. In May and June combined, Bedard has a 2.32 ERA and has struck out 79 in 66 innings and has struck out seven or more men in eight of his last ten games. That strikeout rate, which he's extended over the full season, marks a significant improvement in Bedard's game. He's always been a solid strikeout pitcher, K-ing about 7.9 men per nine innings in each of the last three seasons, but his rate is a staggering 10.89 K/9 this year, while his walk rate continues to decrease. More bad news: Bedard beat the Yanks in April, holding them to three runs on five hits and no walks over seven innings. Last year he posted a 2.25 ERA against the Bombers, striking out 14 of them in 12 innings while allowing just nine hits. None of this is encouraging for a team that has scored three or fewer runs in five of it's last seven games.
Yankee Panky #15: The Song Remains The Same
If I was still working the editorial front on a full-time basis, an off-day like Monday would have been a great time to reflect on the recent 1-for-6 showing the Yankees posted in Denver and San Francisco and engage some of the broadcasters and freelance contributors to weigh the state of the team as the season draws closer to the non-waiver trade deadline. It also would have been a good time to put together a secondary package of how Derek Jeter has performed in games played on his birthday (he turned 33 yesterday).
I mention this because as I watched the Yankees return to Square One, I got to thinking about whether the overall coverage of the team was more complete, concise and analytical when it is middling or struggling as opposed to two weeks ago, when it steamrolled opponents and seemingly could do no wrong.
In other words, do the local and national media do a better job of being the eyes and ears of the fan in trying times?
The tabloid headlines are certainly funnier when the team is losing (I personally enjoyed the Post’s “ROCKIE III” marquee following Thursday afternoon’s sweep-inducing loss at Coors Field). I’ve found the tabloid headline humor to be a reflection of fan frustration. Despite how well the Rockies had been playing, did anyone believe the Yankees would get swept?
I usually found it easier to write about the team when it wasn’t playing well. Perhaps it’s just a function of my personality, but when the team is going well, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of writing in a fawning, admirable tone. That’s not good either.
The most noticeable bit about what’s being written and discussed now is that you could take stories from six weeks ago and find similar historical references (the Yankees haven’t been x many games below .500 this late in the season in Joe Torre’s 12 years as manager, for example), and similar quotes, especially from Torre in reference to Bob Abreu. “Lack of patience, pretty much on his heels,” is how he described Abreu’s current 4-for-28 slump following last night’s loss to the O’s. Figuring out what to write when the only stories are the same ones you’ve been writing all year are a beat writer’s greatest challenge. (Makes you wonder how the guys in Kansas City do it. They’re probably already looking ahead to Chiefs camp.)
In addition, paper space and air-time dedicated to off-field matters almost equals that of on-field events during hard times. Perhaps it was unfortunate timing that Jason Giambi acquiesced to Commissioner Selig’s demands to comply with the Mitchell investigation at the same time the Yankees were facing Baseball’s primary suspected steroid target, Barry Bonds, but the story could not be ignored.
Most of what I read or watched focused on Mitchell and MLB using Giambi to get to Bonds, but Harvey Araton of the New York Times openly questioned what Mitchell was trying to accomplish. In the form of an open letter without the greeting or closing (Araton uses this column form quite well), Araton opined that Mitchell should follow the same path he did when discussing the drug culture at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, and would be best served asking not only the players, but Commissioner Selig, similar questions.
Now’s the time to start eyeing the rumor mill. This portion of the season is where guys like Joel Sherman (Post), Bob Klapisch (Bergen Record), and Ken Davidoff (Newsday), make their money. Davidoff might be the best of the three in terms of newsgathering, but Sherman and Klapisch are excellent when it comes to player analysis.
Here’s to the Yankees hopefully putting some kind of a streak together to bring the deficit to single digits before our country's 231st birthday.
SMART MOVE OR DODGING THE ISSUE?
Something tells me, though, that Girardi would have been smart enough to answer the question without really answering the question if and when the subject arose.
Balls to the Wall
Must we really relive that experience? Come on. Go outside, feel the sun on your face, it’s summer. You don’t want to read about last night’s game, trust me. Call a loved one instead. Remember the times that were good. Find a puppy and cuddle it.
It was an odd start for Pettitte: he struggled badly with his control, walking five (with just two Ks), and in that sense he was fortunate to escape with only two runs allowed in seven innings. On the other hand, at least half the eight hits he allowed were lucky little bloops. The Orioles scratched out a run in the third on a broken-bat single, stolen base, walk, bunt, and groundout. And Pettitte was victimized by a bad misplay in the outfield in the fourth, when Bobby Abreu and Melky Cabrera looked at each other and let a ball hit by (of course) Kevin Millar fall between them; a run scored later in the inning. Pettitte vented a bit after the game – from the Times:
“I’m bitter because we’re not playing good baseball,” Pettitte said. “I feel like we’re a better team than we are, and we’re not getting it done. Not only me, but I hope there’s a whole lot of guys in this room that are frustrated and care a whole lot right now.”
The Yankees’ only two runs came in the sixth when Miguel “You Can’t Even Mention My Name Online Without Unleashing a Flood of Expletives and Vitriol” Cairo singled and Johnny Damon homered, tying the game. Damon had seen a chiropractor on the off day, and claimed that the guy "discovered immediately that four ribs on the right side were out of place". I'm not a doctor or anything... but does that sound right? How do your ribs get "out of place"? Oh well, if it works it works, psychosomatic or not.
It was a great play - except that he could have thrown to second for another out, and would’ve had Patterson, who was running, by a mile and a half. Proctor seemed to just be too shaken up by his belly flop off the mound, and I suppose you can't really blame him for that. But after walking it off (pun unintended, but unavoidable), he stayed in the game, threw four straight balls to Nick Markakis, and then pulled a Kenny Rogers '99 NLCS Special, taking seven pitches to walk Ramon Hernandez and force in the game-winning run.
The Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles entered June in second place in the AL East with a .500 record. They then proceeded to go 2-14 to drop into last place, with the added indignity of being swept at home by the Nationals along the way. A week ago, eight games into the nine-game losing streak that concluded that 16-game slide, the O's fired manager Sam Perlozzo. Perlozzo's three seasons as Orioles manager perfectly illustrate how poorly run the team has been in its recent history.
The Orioles limped to a .438 winning percentage in the fourth and final year of Mike Hargrove's skippership in 2003. Lee Mazzilli took over the team in 2004 and led it to a .481 winning percentage, it's best mark since Hargrove's first season in 2000 and good enough for a third-place finish, the first time the O's had finished outside of fourth since they'd last won the division in 1997. Of course, that third place finish had more to do with the collapse of the Blue Jays than anything else, but still, the improvement was obvious.
In 2005, Mazzilli took largely the same O's team to the top of the standings in the early going. Mazzilli's O's were in first place as late as June 23, when, suddenly, the bottom fell out. The Orioles went 9-28 from the final week of June through the beginning of August, falling all the way down to their customary fourth, and dropping from 14 games over .500 to five games under. On August 3, following an eight-game losing streak that capped a 1-14 skid, the O's fired Mazzilli and replaced him with Sam Perlozzo.
When the O's canned Mazzilli, the team had a .477 record. Having finished at .481 the year before, it seemed clear that the O's were merely a .500 team that had played over its head in the first half of 2005 and had just experienced a rather cruel course correction. With Perlozzo at the helm, the O's immediately halted their skid with a pair of wins, and proceeded to go 9-4 to climb back to .500, but that was as much as the new manager could get out of his charges. Baltimore went 14-28 the rest of the way and the players appeared to visibly quit on their new skipper, who posted a .418 winning percentage in his portion of the season. Mix in the Rafael Palmeiro drug scandal and the team was an ebarassment on field and off.
It's an overused quote, but they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I'd counter that that's actually the definition of incompetence, which describes the O's to a tee. Baltimore retained Perlozzo in 2006, perhaps because they knew the manager would be able to lure his old buddy Leo Mazzone away from Atlanta to become the new Oriole pitching coach. Perlozzo got Mazzone, but it didn't matter. The 2006 O's settled in fourth place for good on April 29, the players once again sulked through the season, and the team finished with a .432 winning percentage.
So the O's brought back Perlozzo again for 2007 only to finally fire him in late June with his sulking ballclub sporting a .420 winning percentage. In Perlozzo's defense, the O's didn't do much to improve the team on the field during his time as manager. The team's best players (Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora, Eric Bedard, Chris Ray) were already in place in 2005. The best addition the team has made since then has been catcher Ramon Hernandez, who has missed time with a pair of leg injuries this year. Rookies Nick Markakis and Adam Loewen arrived in 2006, but Loewen is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his pitching elbow. Meanwhile, the team's imports have included include Kevin Millar, Aubrey Huff, Jay Payton, Corey Patterson, the $50 million-dollar bullpen of Danys Baez (currently on the DL), Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker, and Scott Williamson, and Steve Trachsel, who is only on the team because the trade of John Maine for Kris Benson blew up in the Orioles' faces. Those players do not a winning baseball team make. Meanwhile, Mazzone has been unable to fix failed prospect Daniel Cabrera, and, with Perlozzo gone, Mazzone may decide to split himself. It's no wonder Joe Girardi declined the Orioles job offer.
Speaking of trading for injured pitchers, the Orioles have the Jaret Wright trade to thank for one of the few bright spots in their 2007 season, tonight's starter Jeremy Guthrie. After drafting him out of Stanford with the 21st-overall pick in 2002, the Indians tried to fast-track Guthrie to the majors, but instead stunted his progress. After being thrust into triple-A after just nine pro starts in 2003, Guthrie finally experienced success in his fourth attempt at the level last year, but that didn't translate to the majors, where he posted a 6.98 ERA mostly in relief. The O's plucked the former top prospect of waivers this January and stuck him in the pen as a long reliever after he aced spring training. That didn't go so well (7.84 ERA), but the injuries to Loewen and Wright--the latter of whom has pitched in as many games for the O's as Chris Britton has for the Yanks this season: three--forced Guthrie into the rotation in the beginning of May where he's pitched like an ace, posting a 1.63 ERA, a 0.74 WHIP, going nine-for-nine in quality starts, and averaging 7 1/3 innings per game. Of course, on the Orioles that's been good for three wins and six no-decisions as the team has managed to lose five of his starts including one he left in the ninth inning having surrendered just one unearned run (the final score of that game: 6-5 Red Sox). Another testiment to the wisdom of Joe Girardi.
Opposing Guthrie tonight is Andy Pettitte, who knows a thing or two about pitching in bad luck. Pettitte made news after his last start when he admitted that he "quit pitching" after Matt Holliday drove his changeup 442 feet into the left field stands (really over the left field stands) to turn a 1-0 Yankee lead into a 2-1 Rocky advantage in the sixth inning. What Andy really meant was that he abandoned his game plan after that pitch, and the results showed it. Holliday's homer came with two outs and the Yankees only got out of the sixth because Todd Helton was thrown out trying to score on a single. Six of the eight batters Pettitte faced after Holliday hit safely including a Helton double and a Kaz Matsui triple that finally ended his night with the Yankees trialing 5-1. One imagines that both that performance, his post-game admission, and the Yankees 1-5 record on their current road trip will have him pitching with an increased intensity tonight. For that reason, I'm expecting a pitchers duel between Guthrie, facing a Yankee offense which seems to go whichever direction Bobby Abreu goes, which right now is down, and Pettitte facing the Orioles' offense which is the fourth worst in the AL and features just one batter, Brian Roberts, who is meaninfully more productive than league average.
Incidentally, Pettitte did not start against the Orioles when they came to the Stadium in early April, but did throw a scoreless relief inning against them in the series finale. Guthrie, meanwhile, has faced the Yankees just once, doing so the second major league game of his career, which just happened to be the Indians 22-0 win at the Stadium on August 31, 2004. Guthrie threw the final two innings of that historic blowout.
Dead Team Walking
The Yankees lost the finale of their weekend series in San Francisco before they even took the field. Following a brutal extra-inning loss on Saturday, Joe Torre posted a lineup without Jorge Posada or Bobby Abreu, with Miguel Cairo playing first and batting second, and Kevin Thompson, Wil Nieves, and Mike Mussina comprising the final third of the order. Meanwhile the Yankee bench featured Andy Phillips and Chris Basak, two men who had combined for seven major league plate appearances this season, all of them Phillips', and Johnny Damon, who has added a broken dental crown to all of the other aches and pains keeping him out of the lineup. This with the team's fourth-best starter on the mound in the person of Mike Mussina, most of the bullpen used up in that extra-inning loss, and starting shortstop Derek Jeter nursing a strained hip flexor that forced him to leave Saturday's game early.
To his credit, Mussina kept things close, but the Yankee offense just couldn't be found. Giants' starter Noah Lowry held the Yankees to one hit through five innings (though he did walk four) as the Giants took a 3-0 lead on Moose. Mussina and his personal catcher Nieves, meanwhile, were giving up stolen bases left and right (a total of five including steals by 40-somethings Barry Bonds and Omar Vizquel and first baseman Ryan Klesko), and Moose was done after having thrown 104 pitches in just five frames.
Chris Basak made his first major league plate appearance leading off the sixth for Mussina and lined out hard to Barry Bonds in left. Basak ran hard out of the box with his head down and somehow arrived at second base under the impression that he'd stroked a double into the corner. Basak stood proudly on the bag removing his batting gloves until Larry Bowa was able to signal to him to head back to the dugout.
Following Basak in the sixth, Melky walked, Cairo singled him to third, and Derek Jeter (whose hip appears to be fine) worked back from 0-2 to draw a full-count walk and load the bases for Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez fouled off Lowry's first offering, took strike two and ball one, then fouled off seven straight pitches in what would prove to be an 11-pitch at-bat only to hit a double-play grounder to short that he fortunately beat out to allow the first Yankee run to score. That exhausting at-bat drove Lowry from the game, but did little to benefit the Yankees as reliever Jonathan Sanchez got Hideki Matsui to ground out to end the threat.
Brian Bruney needed help from Luis Vizcaino to get through a scoreless sixth, so Joe Torre turned to Roger Clemens in the seventh. Torre is to be commended for his willingness to use his starters out of the pen on their throw days this year, having used Andy Pettitte for a pair of scoreless relief innings earlier in the season. Clemens didn't fair quite as well in what was just the second relief appearance of his 24-year-career, the last coming midway through his rookie season in 1984 (giving Clemens the longest gap between relief outings in major league history, shattering Steve Carlton's 16-year record). Clemens rallied from a 3-1 count to strike out leadoff man Ray Durham, but, in a dud of a legendary showdown, walked Barry Bonds on five pitches (though ball three looked like a strike to everyone including Bonds). Clemens then gave up a single to Ryan Klesko and a sac fly before getting Pedro Feliz to fly out to end the inning.
With Clemens having surrendered the Yankees' lone run back to the Giants, and the defanged top of the Yankee order having gone down in order in the top of the eighth, things got embarrassing in the bottom of the eighth inning. Kyle Farnsworth came on and got backup catcher Guillermo Rodriguez to fly out on his first pitch, but after Luis Figueroa singled, Derek Jeter booted a double play ball off the bat of Randy Winn and retired no one. Omar Vizquel then singled up the middle and Melky booted the ball allowing Figueroa to score and Winn to go to third. Ray Durham then hit a high fly to Cabrera in deep center that Melky lost in the sun for a two-run double. In Melky's defense, Winn did the same thing on an Alex Rodriguez fly in the ninth that lead to a meaningless second Yankee run. Still, that three-run San Francisco eighth just felt right in a game in which the Yankees played like the walking dead.
And so the Yanks return to the east coast having gone 1-5 in the interleague portion of their road trip to slip back below .500. One wonders how long we have to wait for Brian Cashman to pull a Kenny Williams. Not that Cash has to go make a splashy trade, but the fact that the Yankees played without the DH for six games with Damon and Basak on their bench was an act of extreme negligence and stupidity on the part of the Yankee decision makers. Getting a healthy body in for Damon (who, in his defense, delivered a pinch-hit single in the seventh, stole second and went to third on the catcher's throwing error--of course, he then failed to score from third on a groundout to first and didn't go out to play the field), swapping out Basak for a player who could add some punch to the 1B/DH situation (donde esta Josh Phelps? Or even Shelley Duncan), and replacing Wil Nieves with anyone or anything (come back Sal Fasano, all is forgiventhat Josh Phelps and Ryan Doumit are now teammates is not) are all moves that need to happen now. Damon has made just one start in the past week and only started four of the six games prior to that. His hit yesterday was also his first since the previous Sunday. Basak has appeared in three games since being called up twenty days ago, in two of them he was a defensive sub who never came to bat and in the third he was a pinch-hitter who never played the field. Nieves, meanwhile, has been on the roster all season, that's nearly three months, and is hitting .111 with a .149 on-base percentage and no extra base hits.
Even if satisfactory replacements are found for those three, the Yankees will need to add an extra bat sometime this summer. With Giambi out indefinitely, Damon consistently hurt and struggling to produce or even play, and the first base situation not only lacking entering the season, but with both halves of the unsatisfactory opening day platoon now either gone (Phelps) or out with a long term injury (Mientkiewicz), the Yankees have no one to play at first base or DH. No one. Melky Cabrera is thriving in center field (hitting .313/.358/.470 since May 30), but the Miguel Cairo joyride is over (he's 3 for his last 15), and the team doesn't have the time to wait around to see if Andy Phillips can finally deliver on his triple-A promise at the age of 30. That said, the Yankees would be better off missing the playoffs than sending the wrong pitching prospect to Texas for Mark Teixeira or, worse, sending the same hurler elsewhere for a lesser player. As things stand now, however, the Yankees aren't going to do better until they get better.
Rodriguez, Great; Yanks, Not so Much
The Yankees nine game road trip against the Rockies, Giants and Orioles is not going well at all, as the Bombers have lost four of the first five games. Yesterday was most painful as Chien-Ming Wang and the Yankee pen could not hold a 4-1 lead. Alex Rodriguez, who has eight hits the first two games in San Francisco (and has reached base 10 times in 12 times up), absolutely blasted a shot to center field in the ninth inning to tie the game. But the Yankees could not nail down a victory. In the eleventh, relief pitcher Steve Kline worked around a double to Rodriguez, and got out of a bases loaded, one out jam, by striking out Hideki Matsui and then getting Robinson Cano to ground out. A bloop single against Scott Proctor in the thirteenth did the Bombers in, as the Giants won, 6-5.
Derek Jeter left the game early with a strained left hip flexor and is day-to-day.
Kei Igawa looked like Steve Austin for four innings last night ("we can fix him, we have the technology"), but turned into Steve Blass in the fifth. Igawa held the Giants scoreless on two hits through four while walking just one and striking out five, including Barry Bonds on three pitches in the fourth. Kevin Frandsen then lead off the fifth by hitting a good pitch for a double, and Omar Vizquel hit a chopper to drive him in. Igawa got the next two batters to fly out, but Randy Winn doubled to push Vizquel to third and Igawa lost the strike zone pitching out of the stretch. Given the opportunity to strand Barry Bonds in the on-deck circle, Igawa walked Ray Durham to load the bases, then threw six pitches a good three feet from Jorge Posada's target (two of which Bonds fouled off) to walk Bonds and force in the second San Francisco run. Bengie Molina followed by cracking a screamer to the wall in left, but Hideki Matsui got on his horse and made a game-saving leaping catch, crashing into the wall with the final out.
The good news is the Yankees had a five-run lead heading into that inning and got one of those two runs back in the sixth. With two outs, Melky Cabrera, batting lefty against reliever Randy Messenger, fouled a pitch off his right shin. For a moment it looked like Cabrera might have broken something as he hopped around the plate then sat down as Gene Monahan checked him out. Melky stayed in the game, however, and cracked the next pitch past Dave Roberts in center for a stand-up triple. Once on third, he bent back over to rub his aching shin only to get a ribbing from Larry Bowa. The YES camera's caught Melky angrily pushing the wise-cracking Bowa away as Bowa erupted in laughter. A nice moment that was followed by a nicer one as Jeter singled Cabrera home to make it 6-2.
Bonds cracked his 749th career homer off Scot Proctor in the eighth and Alex Rodriguez singled home a Derek Jeter triple in the ninth to put the final score at 7-3 Yanks.
This afternoon Mikey Moose looks to give the Yanks a quick series win against Noah Lowry on FOX.
The San Francisco Giants
From 1997 to 2004, the San Francisco Giants finished first or second in the NL West eight years in a row, thrice winning the division and once making the World Series as the Wild Card team. In 2005, Barry Bonds' knee gave out on him, limiting him to 14 September games. Since then, the Giants have been a sub-.500 also ran. Always an old team, the Giants of the last three years have been downright ancient. When Barry Bonds joined the Giants in 1993 at the age of 28, the average Giants hitter was also 28 years old. Since then, the Giants hitters have steadily aged with Bonds. Last year, the average San Francisco hitter was 33.5 years old. This year they've shaved a few moths off that average age by doing things such as replacing the 41-year-old Steve Finley and the 39-year-old Moises Alou with 35-year-olds Dave Roberts and Rich Aurilia.
The creaky Giants ran off eight-straight wins in late April to slip into a first-place tie in the West, but the geezers ran out of gas there. They've been 18-33 since, are 5-14 in June, and have lost seven in a row coming into this weekend's series against the Yankees. During that slide they've scored an average of 3.14 runs per game and allowed an average of 6.43. Overall, the Gians have one of the four worst offenses in baseball, ahead of only the Pirates, Nationals, and White Sox. Omar Vizquel looks to finally be finished at 40, those 35-year-olds have been nearly as bad (though Roberts can still run, stealing 11 of 12, and Aurilia's on the DL, yielding first base to a resurgent 36-year-old Ryan Klesko). Worst of all, Barry Bonds, who's up to his old tricks, is being protected in the lineup by Bengie Molina. Seriously. No surprise then that Bonds already has 70 walks, 26 of them intentional.
I should say, Bonds was up to his old tricks. This particular geezer's been a bit winded himself, hitting just three homers in his last 36 games, batting .240 and slugging just .385 over that span. For those not keeping track, he's seven homers shy of Hank Aaron's career record. At that pace, he'll barely make it this season.
Things are a bit brighter on the pitching side of the ledger as long as you don't look too closely. Twenty-two-year-old Matt Cain, who starts tonight, leads the team in ERA and is fifth in the NL in least hits allowed per nine innings. He's also second in the league in most walks allowed and is getting a little help from a low BABIP (.257). Matt Morris has rediscovered his 20-game winning form in his second season in San Francisco, or seems to have until you notice that his strike out rate is continuing it's now six-year decline and his K/BB ratio is a dismal 1.55. Barry Zito is proving all his doubters right by echoing Morris's strikeout rate issues. Similar afflictions have struck Noah Lowry, who lost 2 2/3 K/9 last year and has gained more than a walk per nine innings this year. Top prospect Tim Lincecum is another issue altogether, as the existence of major league game film on the rookie and some wildness issues appear to have torpedoed what had been a sensational start to his career. The Yankees won't see him this weekend, which is unfortunate both because he's been ineffective and because his delivery is an exciting thing to watch.
In the bullpen, the Giants cut bait on Armando Benitez, sending him to Florida for Randy Messenger and installing another strikeout-challenged starter, Brad Hennessey, as the closer. Set-up men Vinnie Chulk, who came over in the Shea Hillenbrand trade last year, and Kevin Correia, another converted starter, have been solid, but the pen's trio of lefties have been less reliable. Veteran Steve Kline, for example, has struck out just five men in 19 innings thus far.
What is it about Corporation Ballpark that suppresses strikeouts anyway? The Giants hitters don't really strikeout that much either. Only two NL teams have fewer batter strikeouts and only four have fewer pitcher strikeouts. That's bad news for Kei Igawa, who will be making his return to the rotation tonight. Ks are a big part of Kei's game, as he struck out 21 in his last 20 innings after sorting out his mechanics in Scranton. The good news for the lefty Igawa is that the Giants have only two righties in their everyday lineup and of their three switch hitters, Ray Durham and Randy Winn are much weaker from the right side and Vizquel isn't hitting under any circumstances. Once again, here's Igawa's line over his last three starts in Scranton:
20 IP, 15 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 21 K, 1.05 WHIP, 1.80 ERA
Let's hope that translates back to the majors. If Igawa can keep the fifth spot in the rotation warm for Phil Hughes, the Yankees will not only have a better shot of climbing into the Wild Card race, but they'll be able to be more cautious with Hughes coming off his severe ankle sprain, which is crucial to protecting his arm from a cascade injury caused by his adjusting his mechanics to protect his ankle.
Observations From Cooperstown--The First Base Rumor Mill
It almost makes you pine for the days of Danny Cater. That’s how badly the Yankees’ first base position has degraded during the first half of the 2007 season. Planned poorly from the beginning, ever since Brian Cashman signed Doug Mientkiewicz during a dark winter day, first base remains a quagmire that is now dragging down the efficiency of what was supposed to be a powerhouse offense.
When the Yankees decided to take a fielding-first approach to first base, the strategy was somewhat defensible given the rest of the lineup. After all, how many times have we heard that the Yankees have the best lineup, one through eight, in all of major league baseball? Well, that’s partly the problem. The Yankees no longer have such a lineup. With Jason Giambi on the disabled list and Johnny Damon saddled with a slew of performance-altering injuries, the Yankee lineup is no longer as vaunted as it once was. The Yankees are now carrying three offensive weak spots—the underachieving Melky Cabrera in center field, the depreciated Damon at DH, and whoever happens to be playing first base on a given day.
There isn’t much the Yankees can do about Cabrera or Damon, unless they’re willing to place the latter on the disabled list in the hopes that his body can recover some its vim and vigor. First base is a different story, however. The Yankees should have used the injury to Mientkiewicz as a positive, replacing him with a competent bat in Josh Phelps or Shelly Duncan. Instead, they designated Phelps for assignment, left Duncan buried at Triple-A, and have now decided to collect utility infielders and masquerade them as first basemen. Miguel Cairo and Andy Phillips hit like middle infielders, not corner infielders who are supposed to provide power and punch. The Yankees have also badly fooled themselves as to the defensive value of both players. They act as if Cairo and Phillips are borderline Gold Glovers, and that’s a case of overrating them severely. Prior to the recent stretch in which he replaced Mientkiewicz, Cairo has always looked tentative at first base, a position where he lacks experience. Phillips, for all of his supposed defensive charm, made eight errors as a part-time player last year. That’s a testament to his shaky hands. He’s no Don Mattingly, or J.T. Snow, which he would have to be to make up for his chronic inability to handle a major league breaking ball. (Frankly, the fondness for Phillips is confounding. At 30 years of age, he’s actually three years older than Shelly Duncan, who has been the best hitter at Scranton/Wilkes Barre with an OPS of .946 but is somehow a non-prospect compared to Phillips.)
Plain and simple, the Yankees need to find a real first baseman, someone who can hit with a modicum of power while playing the position appreciably better than Giambi. Brian Cashman needs to act quickly before the recent offensive slump results in the Yankees losing all of the ground they picked up during their recent nine-game winning streak.
There are several candidates on the trade front, ranging from a star in his late twenties to a journeyman in his early thirties. I’ve chosen not to include Todd Helton, who has given mixed signals as to his interest in playing for the Yankees, a major factor given his no-trade clause. My guess is that Helton doesn’t like New York; if that’s the case, forget about him.
: The stud. He’s the headline name on the trade rumor front, an All-Star caliber player who is only 27 years of age. He will also cost the most in a trade, which is probably the main reason the Yankees should look elsewhere. Now forget any talk of the Yankees trading Phil Hughes for Teixeira; they wouldn’t give up Hughes straight-up for Tex, much less as part of a larger package for the Rangers’ first baseman. Still, the Yankees would have to surrender a parcel of at least three players, with any package probably including Melky Cabrera. A package of Cabrera and two pitching prospects—let’s say Ross Ohlendorf and Chase Wright—might be enough to entice the Rangers. But can the Yankees even give up Cabrera at this point? With Damon ailing and no one at Triple-A capable of playing center field every day, the Yankees may have to hold on to the player known as "Leche."
: The second choice. While not the refined all-around player that Teixeira is, Dunn brings plenty of home runs and walks to the table, making him a younger and cheaper version of Jason Giambi. Cincinnati’s general dissatisfaction with Dunn, specifically his failure to reduce his strikeout rates, makes him available at a potentially reasonable price of two pitchers. The Reds badly need bullpen help, which likely translates into Chris Britton becoming part of any package for Dunn. (Britton continues to waste away at Scranton/Wilkes Barre, despite having enough talent to close for teams like the Reds, Phillies, and Pirates.) A package of Britton and either Ohlendorf or Tyler Clippard might interest the Reds, at least enough to keep the teams talking. A note of caution on Dunn: the "Big Donkey" will look awfully bad at times because of his strikeouts and dismal defensive play, which could make him a target of boo-birds at the Stadium, especially if he struggles early. He’s also not known as a particularly hard worker, which could make somewhat undesirable in a clubhouse that prides itself on work ethic and businesslike attitude.
: The bargain basement. The 31-year-old Hillenbrand can be had more cheaply than any of the available trade alternatives. In fact, if the Yankees just wait, they can probably sign Hillenbrand as a free agent, after he’s been given his unconditional release. The Angels can’t wait to part ways with Hillenbrand; they’d give him away for a low-level minor leaguer or cash, if that much. While Hillenbrand has struggled in Southern California, he’ll likely hit better in the second half, and is a far better major league hitter than either Cairo or Phillips. He would also give the team some depth, capable of filling in for Alex Rodriguez at third, the outfield corners, or in a pinch, as an emergency catcher. There’s plenty of down side, too. He’s not a good defensive first baseman, has selfish tendencies, and possesses an over-inflated opinion of his worth as a ballplayer. If Hillenbrand could ever accept being a backup, he’d be one of the best bench players in the league. Unfortunately, he regards himself as an All-Star. He somehow did make it to two All-Star games, but didn’t deserve either selection.
: The best choice. An above-average defender, Pena has the kind of left-handed power that would partly compensate for the loss of Giambi. At 29 years of age, he’s a Jim Spencer/Oscar Gamble type player who could platoon with either Phillips or Cairo, thereby reducing their at-bats and making them available to spell at other positions. While no one expects Pena to keep up his current home run pace—he’s at 17 through 58 games—he has always shown good power against right-handed pitching. Just as importantly, the Devil Rays appear to be reasonable in trade demands for Pena. According to a source, the Rays would take left-hander Sean Henn for Pena straight-up. (Man, do the Devil Rays need pitching.) If that’s true, the Yankees should make the deal in a Manhattan minute.
Of course, the Yankees could have had Pena for free last year, when he was actually part of the organization, playing for Triple-A Columbus. For some reason, the Yankees didn’t envision Pena as an upgrade over either Phillips or Cairo and never promoted him, which is an indictment of the organization’s ability to evaluate talent from time to time. Sometimes, you wonder just what Cashman and Joe Torre are thinking when it comes to deciding who should play Triple-A and who should play in New York.
Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley's Swingin' A's and The Team That Changed Baseball: The 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates. He also contributes frequently to MLB.com.
Back to the Drawing Board
For a third straight day, the Yankees did not hit in Colorado as they lost 4-3 to the Rockies. They didn't run much better either and Roger Clemens left a few too many pitches up in the strike zone. The Yankees are back to .500 and trail the Red Sox by 10.5 games.
"The good feeling has gone away, there's no question," Manager Joe Torre said. "The reality of what kind of team we are and what it takes to win, you certainly have to recapture that."
The rollercoaster continues. Speaking of which, Jason Giambi is now officially set to speak to the Mitchell investigation.
Patience Is A Virtue
Through the first 16 games of June, the Yankees went 13-3, scored 6.94 runs per game and drew 4.31 walks per game. In the last two games against the Rockies, the Yankees have gone 0-2, scored exactly one run in each game, and drawn exactly two walks per game. Against the two Colorado starters, Josh Fogg and Jeff Francis, the Yankees drew a total of two walks in 14 innings. Of the four walks the Yankees have drawn in the last two games, three of them were by Alex Rodriguez, and one of those was an intentional unintentional pass (that came with two outs and a man on second in the sixth inning of a still-scoreless game and was the only free pass Jeff Francis issued in seven innings). It seems that the Yankees approach at the plate appears to be largely to blame for their power outage in this series.
This afternoon, the Yankees face Rodrigo Lopez. Lopez has had decent control in his career (2.82 BB/9IP), but that number jumps to 3.42 BB/9 in his career against the Yankees. Lopez also has a career 6.02 ERA against the Yanks and has given up 30 homers in just 121 innings against the Bombers, more than double his total against any other team, Boston included. Familiarity should help the Yanks this afternoon. Hopefully it will also give them the confidence to take a few more pitches. That said, Lopez is having a solid season in Colorado, perhaps buoyed by having finally escaped Baltimore. He spent nearly all of May on the DL, but has turned in three quality starts in four tries since.
On the flip side, Roger Clemens is two-for-two in quality starts in his second tour of duty in pinstripes. Based on the last two games, however, he may need to contribute even more than that to prevent a sweep. Clemens last faced the Rockies one week shy of two years ago and held the Rocks to a Preston Wilson solo home run, two walks and a trio of harmless singles over seven innings while striking out seven. His bullpen then gave up five runs in the eighth to blow the game.
Also, I Want Kaz Matsui Drug Tested Immediately
Normally, two losses in a row to a solid team like the Rockies (!) wouldn’t be anything to get too worked up over, but I think Yankee fans are still suffering from a certain amount of post-traumatic stress dating back to the first two months of this season - like a onetime gunshot victim, ducking every time a nearby truck backfires. Well, or possibly the team just stinks again and is doomed… but humor me here.
Of course, another wildly entertaining thing the Yankees might consider is scoring more than one run per game...
The Yanks look to bounce back in Colorado tonight. They'll need to be on point against the Rockies best pitcher, especially seeing as how the Red Sox are beating up on the Braves in Atlanta. As we wait for the first pitch, check out our man Cliff talking about the state of the team in a podcast interview by Joe Aiello, which also features Padres news from Geoff Young, one of the best, and probably the longest-running baseball blogger on the net.
Then kicked back, relax and get ready to root like hell for our boys.
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
Yankee Panky #14: Your way or the Subway
This blog is for the peeps.
I'm leaving it up to you to present your take on the highs and lows of the weekend’s coverage of the Subway Series, and give me your preferred broadcast tandems. I enjoy hearing people’s reasons for liking or disliking a certain commentator, host, TV reporter or writer. I know I said I wouldn’t do this in the beginning of the season, but I will add my preferences, as diplomatically as possible.
My preference: ESPN, despite the multitude of Morganisms. I’ve listened to hundreds of broadcasts from Kay, Cohen and Miller — all of whom transitionned from radio to television. But to me, Miller is the only one who when he does TV, lets the pictures tell the story of what’s happening on the field. Perhaps this is because he has more experience doing the radio/TV shuffle. Kay (6th season as TV only) and Cohen (2nd) are improving, though.
My preference: Matt Yallof is a capable host and he does well with Lee Mazzilli the times I've seen them on together. But overall, I haven’t seen enough of SNY’s postgames to make an informed judgment. YES’s show is more fine-tuned, from what I’ve seen of the two stations’ programs.
THE RSN DOT.COMS
My preference: With all due respect to John and Suzyn, this isn’t even close. Shuttling back and forth between the two stations, the differences in preparation, chemistry and knowledge of the game are clear. I’m not saying I wouldn’t listen to John and Suzyn, but given a choice in a Mets-Yankees game, I’d rather listen to Tom and Howie. … The only parallel I can draw regarding this one goes to hockey. I’m an Islander fan, but when the rivalry with the Rangers was in its heyday, as much as I loved the Isles’ combination of Jiggs McDonald and Eddie Westfall on SportsChannel, I preferred to watch the MSG cast with Sam Rosen and John Davidson.
My preference: Honestly, I have none. I subscribe to the Times (I’ll admit, it’s mainly for the crossword and PLAY Magazine), but I read the others online.
THE BLOGGERS/NON-TRADITIONAL ANALYSTS
My preference: There are so many blogs it’s tough to keep up with. My regular stops — in no particular order of favoritism — are here, Steven Goldman, The Weblog That Derek Built, Was Watching, Replacement Level and Futility Infielder, and 38Pitches (Hey, why not? At least he writes it himself.).
Who among everyone listed topped your lists for the weekend? What was the best game bit or feature you read for the Series? What was the best note or story told on a broadcast? I believe there’s a reason we watch, listen and read beyond the game itself. Am I alone in that sentiment?
Until next week …
If At First You Don't Succeed . . .
Figures I'd predict a slugfest and the Yanks would lose a pitchers duel. Figures as well that the guy I said sucked would hold the Yanks to one run on four hits over seven innings and strike out Alex Rodriguez with junk low and away twice, skipping off the mound after one of them. Figures as well that Mike Mussina, who I said was cooked a few weeks ago, would hold up his end of things by limiting the Rockies to three runs over six innings. Yeah, he got fed up with Lance Barksdale's umpiring in his final inning and served up a homer to eighth-place hitter Yorvit Torrealba on an 85-mile-per-hour "fastball," but he was also keeping the Rocks off balance with a change-up in the high 60s.
So the Yanks dropped the Colorado opener 3-1 in a game that felt a lot like their 2-0 loss to the Mets in the last series opener. What's far more compelling about yesterday's action was the Yankees' developing first base situation.
Before the game, the Yankees called up Andy Phillips, a move that was overdue seeing as they've been carrying both Chris Basak and Miguel Cairo on the roster and starting Cairo at first while avoiding Basak like the plague. Phillips, who has been playing second base at Scranton and crushing International League pitching as is his way (.301/.382/.494, 11 HR), gives them a superior defensive first base option who actually represents something of a threat at the plate. After all, Cairo has hit .342/.350/.421 as the Yankee first baseman, which is great, but it's all singles and won't last. Last year, in similar playing time, Cairo hit .239/.280/.320 and Phillips hit .240/.281/.394. Cairo might be a smidge better than that. Phillips, who was already a smidge better than Cairo, is definitely a lot better than that.
There's one catch. Rather than demoting Basak, the Yankees designated Josh Phelps for assignment. Sure, Phelps and Phillips are a tad redundant, but facing six games without the designated hitter, having Phelps, who's a career .294 pinch-hitter, rather than Basak, who's still never come to the plate in the major leagues, seems like a no-brainer. Seems. Instead the Yankees will have to offer Rule 5 pick Phelps back to Baltimore, where current YES broadcaster and prospective Oriole manager Joe Girardi could very well be the man deciding Phelps' fate.
Meanwhile, both Jorge Posada and Johnny Damon saw action at first base last night, Posada starting there to allow Wil Nieves to catch Mussina. Jorge made one nice play leaping for a high throw from Derek Jeter and coming down on the bag in time to make the out. Otherwise, neither was challenged, and neither had to play a ball off the bat. Most likely Phillips will start against the lefty Jeff Francis tonight, with Damon starting against righty Rodrigo Lopez on Thursday. Chris Basak will continue to do little more than cheer on his teammates.
For anyone looking for a comparison between Phillips and Phelps, I think I covered that plenty in spring training.
The Colorado Rockies
This just in: The Rockies don't suck. In fact, the Rockies have won as many games in 2007 as the Yankees have (though Colorado has lost two more). No longer Todd Helton and a bunch of scrubs, the Rockies are a legitimate .500 team that has some youth and promise that could represent the beginning of a small turn around for a franchise that has never won more than 83 games in any single season in its entire 14-year history. Note I said small. The Rockies are not the Brewers, Diamondbacks, or even the Marlins. Their future isn't quite that bright, but it's still about as bright as it's ever been if not more so.
Start with the pitching staff. Josh Fogg and Rodrigo Lopez are filler, even if Lopez is having an excellent though injury-shortened season, but Jeff Francis, Jason Hirsh, and Aaron Cook (of whom the 28-year-old Cook is the oldest) form a solid top three with third-year lefty Francis showing continued improvement as the defacto ace, Cook serving as the National League's answer to Jake Westbrook, and 25-year-old Hirsh (the key prospect in the Jason Jennings trade) succeeding despite a scary fly ball rate. With additional thanks to Lopez, the Rocky starters have posted a 4.52 ERA this far, which is a minor miracle for a team playing in Coors Field. Mix in strong showings from closer Brian Fuentes and hard-throwing, side-arming sophomore set-up man Manuel Corpas and surprising performances from lefties Jeremy Affeldt (more walks than Ks, but zero homers) and Tom Martin, and the entire staff's ERA+ is a dead-average 101, while the team's road ERA is 3.85, which is the third-best in the NL behind the Mets and Padres.
On offense, the Rocks have a solid outfield and left side of the infield, with the oldest of those five men being 28-year-old right fielder Brad Hawpe. Matt Holliday is a legitimate All-Star (.318/.374/.546 career and .321/.372/.522 on the road this year). Hawpe is a lesser version of same (.281/.371/.483 career on the road). Center fielder Willy Taveras (who also came over in the Jennings deal) is a fantastic defender in that big park and has solid on-base numbers both at home (.373) and on the road (.358), though he could stand to be more selective about his stolen base attempts. In the infield, Garrett Atkins got off to an awful start, but has turned it on in June (.327/.441/.673), and 22-year-old future-star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has been playing gold glove defense while waiting for his bat to come around. Throw in solid contributions on both sides of the ball from reclamation project Kaz Matsui and a healthy Helton and, well, the Rockies don't suck.
Josh Fogg kinda sucks, though, and he'll take the mound tonight against the Yankees. One might not be surprised to find that Fogg's only two wins came on the road and that his ERA at home is 2.77 runs higher than his road mark, though one might be surprised to find out that those two wins game against the Mets and Red Sox. What's more, the Rockies have won Fogg's last three starts and Fogg's ERA over his last four starts (two home, two on the road) has been 3.91. Then again, opponents have hit .326/.375/.495 against him in those four starts, so, even when he does well, Josh Fogg sucks.
As for Mike Mussina, he was fantastic in his last two starts (13 2/3 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 11 K, 1.98 ERA), but I'm still not convinced, as the two teams Moose faced in those games, the White Sox and Diamondbacks, comprise half of the four worst offensive teams in baseball. The Yankees have visited Colorado during the regular season once before, in 2002. In those three games, the two teams scored a total of 70 runs. Coors Field isn't quite the launching pad it was then thanks to the humidor (the 2002 park factor was 121 compared to 107 for 2006 and 2007), but I don't think it's out of the question to expect that kind of game again tonight.
Dad, Reggie and Me
In his first installment of our series about the box set of the 1977 World Series, Jay Jaffe mentioned how much his father admired Reggie Jackson:
Reggie made a big impression on my father, himself a second-generation Dodger fan who had no truck with the pinstripes. Via him, Reggie gained larger-than-life status in my eyes. When we played catch, occasionally Dad would toss me one that would sting my hand or glance off my glove. If I complained, he'd shout, "Don't hit 'em so hard, Reggie!" In other words, don't bellyache, and don't expect your opponent to cut you any slack.Longtime readers of Bronx Banter know that not only was Reggie my favorite player as a kid but he was one of the few Yankees my Dad also enjoyed too. Shortly before my father died earlier this year, I wrote a memoir piece about him and Reggie Jackson. I was thinking a lot about the old man two days ago on Father's Day, and thought now would be a good time to share this story with you.
"Dad, Reggie, and Me" was originally published in Bombers Broadside 2007: An Annual Guide to New York Yankees Baseball (March, Maple Street Press). (c) 2007 Maple Street Press LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Dad, Reggie and Me
There is nothing like the first time. Nothing is as intense, as memorable as your first love, your first break-up or, in this case, your first hero. Mine was Reggie Jackson, who signed as a free agent with the Yankees 30 years ago. I was six years old during Jackson's first year in pinstripes, a time when I was as interested in action heroes and comic books as I was in baseball. Reggie was more a superheroa "superduperstar" as Time magazine once dubbed himthan a ball player. Bruce Jenner may have been on a box of Wheaties but Reggie had his own candy bar. (Catfish Hunter once said "I unwrapped it and it told me how good it was.") Reggie arrived in New York at a time when I desperately needed a fantasy hero; his five volatile years in pinstripes coincided with the disintegration of my parents' marriage.
The truth is the Yankees never wanted Jackson in the first place. In 1976, they won the pennant with an effective left-handed DH in Oscar Gamble. But after they were swept in the World Series by the Reds, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was bent on adding a big name. The first free agent re-entry draft was held that fall and the Yankees drafted the negotiating rights for nine players. Reggie was their sixth choice. Steinbrenner and his general manager, Gabe Paul, coveted second baseman Bobby Grich; manager Billy Martin pined for outfielder Joe Rudi. Then, over the course of a few days in mid-November, seven of the nine players the Yankees were interested in signed elsewhere, and suddenly Steinbrenner had no choice but to court Reggie. Paul was against it, but Steinbrenner courted Reggie anyway, wining and dining the superstar around New York. In the end, Jackson couldn't resist the Yankees anymore than Steinbrenner could keep himself from wooing the slugger. He turned down bigger offers from the Expos and the Padres and signed. "I didn't come to New York to be a star," he said. "I brought my star with me."
I remember my father in those years sitting in his leather-bound chair, reading The New York Times, a glass of vodka constantly by his side. In 1976, we moved from Manhattan to Westchester and my father had a heart attack at the age of 39. He was unemployed for a year, horribly depressed. My mother got a job and chopped wood to keep our gratuitously spacious house warm. We moved to a nearby town, Yorktown Heights, in 1977 before my father began to work again.
Catch You Later
Some Yankee fans think that Goose Gossage, Bernie Williams and even Mike Mussina should be in the Hall of Fame. Others will argue that Thurman Munson belongs in Cooperstown. I think that's a stretch, but what about Jorge Posada? (I think you can make a case that next to Berra and Dickey, Posada is the third best catcher in Yankee history.) I haven't ever really considered the possiblity until now thanks to Jay Jaffe. Check it out.
The Yankees recovered nicely after dropping the first game of the weekend series, taking a sloppy affair on Saturday afternoon, and then dominating the Mets on Sunday night to the tune of 8-2. Chien-Ming Wang was impressive for the third straight outing. He came within just one out of a complete game and struck out a career-high ten batters. Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada both hit home runs and the Yankees kept pace with the Red Sox who swept the hapless Giants at Fenway Park.
Jose Reyes was a terror on the bases against the Yankees--he stole five bases in the first two games before being gunned-down by Posada last night--but Derek Jeter had a terrific weekend as well. Take your pick as far as who the best shortstop in New York is, at least you've got an argument. They have different styles but both Jeter and Reyes look like they are having an awful lot of fun out there.
It Don't Gotta Be Pretty
The Yankees won ugly yesterday afternoon, beating the Mets 11-8 in a game that saw almost constant scoring by both teams. The Mets scored in each of the first four frames, driving Tyler Clippard from the game in the fourth after taking a 5-4 lead on a one-out, two-run Ramon Castro homer and then putting two more men on base. Luis Vizcaino shut the door and the Yanks took back the lead for good in the bottom of the frame on a two-run Derek Jeter homer, but at 6-5 the game was far from over. Tom Glavine got bounced in the fifth and the Yankees scored two runs in each inning from the second through the sixth to build their lead to 10-5, but even that wasn't all.
Kyle Farnsworth was up to his old tricks in the eighth, walking the leadoff man and number eight hitter, then watching him come around to score before striking out Carlos Beltran and David Wright to end the inning. The Yankees got that run back in the next half inning, but Mariano Rivera followed with his worst outing since April. Entering the game, Rivera hadn't allowed a run in his last 10 1/3 innings and had allowed just six base runners and struck out 12 over that span. Yesterday, Mo was greeted by back-to-back singles by Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca, then, after a Shawn Green fly out, Ramon Castro singled to load the bases. Mo bore down and struck out Ruben Gotay on three pitches for the second out, but Carlos Gomez reached on yet another infield single (his fourth in two games) to plate Delgado and Jose Reyes singled off Rivera's ankle to plate Lo Duca before Mo finally got Carlos Beltran to pop out to end the game.
The good news on Rivera is that there's no conern over the ankle and he didn't allow any extra base hits or walk anyone, and he was able to bear down and K Gotay (who had singled, homered, and walked twice in his previous four plate appearances), so odds are the outing was just a fluke, though the 33 pitches he threw likely eliminate him from tonight's rubber game.
In other good news, Luis Vizcaino, who picked up the win yesterday, hasn't allowed a run in his last five outings and has a 1.13 ERA over his last seven. He's still walking a ton of batters, but he's striking out even more, suppressing hits, and getting the job done. In other words, he's gone from being a Kyle Farnsworth imitator to being a Brian Bruney imitator. Supposedly some coaching from Rivera has made the difference.
Finally, Clippard's poor outing yesterday has opened the door for the return of Kei Igawa. In his last two starts, Clippard has a 14.14 ERA and a 2.43 WHIP. Igawa, meanwhile, has reworked his mechanics and posted the following line over his last three starts in triple-A Scranton:
20 IP, 15 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 21 K, 1.05 WHIP, 1.80 ERA
The Yankees won't need a fifth starter again until Saturday, but all signs point to the return of Iggy. Clippard has already been demoted, with the Yankees bringing up Kevin Thompson to finally expand their bench back to four men. With Randy Johnson back on the DL, Vicaino pitching well, Igawa due to return, and Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez carrying the team, Brian Cashman could look a whole lot smarter a week from now than he did just a few short weeks ago.
As for tonight's game, this should be a real treat. Not only is it the rubber game of the home half of the subway series, with the Yanks poised once again to hit their high-water mark of the season by going three games over .500 with a win, a win which would also earn them a split of the season series with the Mets, but the pitching match up is Chien-Ming Wang versus El Duque. Seriously now, could it get much more fun than that?
The one concern going into tonight's game is the fact that the Mets, particularly rookie speedster Gomez, have been getting an unusual number of infield hits and have stolen ten bases in two games against Jorge Posada and the slow-to-the-plate Yankee pitchers. Wang has allowed just five steals all year, but his ground ball tendencies could make him susceptible to the turnaround in the Mets line-up with Gomez and Reyes legging out infield hits. As for El Duque, he allowed just two runs in his first 19 innings after coming off the DL in late May, but had a rough go in his last outing against the Dodgers, though he still hasn't allowed a home run in his last 38 2/3 innings. Here's hoping he breaks out the eephus against Rodriguez and Alex gives it a ride.
You Can't Win If You Don't Score
The Yankees didn't score last night, and they didn't win. They did manage to put eight runners on against Oliver Perez, getting a man as far as second base in each of the game's first four innings, but Perez rallied to strike out Bobby Abreu, and Alex Rodriguez in the first, Melky Cabrera in the second, and Jorge Posada in the third. Meanwhile a big fly to center in the third that looked like a two-run home run off Alex Rodriguez's bat fell short and into Carlos Beltran's glove.
Indeed, the Mets played fantastic defense all night. The key play came in the bottom of the fourth. After Hideki Matsui took six straight pitches to draw a leadoff walk, Perez walked Robinson Cano on four more tosses. Josh Phelps, DHing in place of late-scratch Johnny Damon, then took ball one, but swung through ball two to even the count before working it full and flying out to right for the first out. Miguel Cairo followed by looking at strike one, then yanking Perez's next pitch to the top of the Cannon sign in the left field corner. Rookie Carlos Gomez, who showed his lightening speed in the third inning by reaching on a bunt single, stealing second, then scoring the game's first run on a Jose Reyes single, drifted back to the wall and made nice leaping catch a foot above the wall to take a would-be three-run home run away from Cairo. Gomez then fired a one-hop strike from the wall to second base to double off Matsui, who had inexplicably ranged almost all the way to third base.
That ended the Yankee threat in both that inning and for the game. Reyes hit the only curveball Roger Clemens threw all night for a solo home run in the top of the fifth and Perez set the next ten Yankees down in order before a one-out Derek Jeter double in the eighth ended his evening. Jeter was followed by a shot off Bobby Abreu's bat that imitated Alex Rodriguez's third-inning fly out almost exactly--a two-run homer off the bat that died in deep center and settled in to Carlos Beltran's glove. That was the last gasp. 2-0 Mets.
As for Clemens, he pitched well again, striking out eight in 6 1/3 innings and, other than Reyes's homer of his lone curveball, allowing only six singles, two of them on bunts, and walked one. This was my first look at the 44-year-old version of Clemens and I can't say I was terribly impressed, but you can't argue with the results (12 1/3 IP, 12 H, 3 BB, 15 K, 3.65 ERA). Clemens looks a little chunky and his fastball now tops out at 91 miles per hour. According to the YES broadcasters, however, Andy Pettitte says that's as fast as it's going to get and that he wasn't throwing any harder in Houston, where he posted a 2.40 ERA over three seasons. Instead Clemens's game is now location and the still nasty Mr. Splitee, which was indeed his outpitch again last night (just ask Carlos Delgado). Hey, with Wang and Pettitte cruising, Clemens only needs to be one of the top three guys, not the full-blown ace, and the sort of performances he's turned in in his first two starts this season are everything the Yankees had hoped for, and he's likely still tuning up.
Today, the Yankees throw a pitcher 22 1/2 years Clemens' junior at the Mets. Tyler Clippard made his major league debut at Shea, holding the Mets to one run on three hits and three walks (one intentional) while striking out six in six innings and earning the win. Clippard hasn't been quite that good since, but he's shown flashes. Unfortunately, he's coming off his worst major league outing (3 2/3 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 6 R), which came against the lowly Pirates. He'll have to rebound from that this afternoon to keep the Yankees from thinking about spinning that fifth-spot revolving door again.
Clippard's opposite number, 19 years his senior, is also coming off his worst outing of the year. Tom Galvine was lit up by the Tigers for nine runs on 11 hits and a pair of walks in 4 1/3 innings last weekend. Otherwise, he's been remarkably consistent, turning in ten quality starts in his previous 13 games, only once failing to complete six innings and only twice allowing as many as four earned runs. Glavine's job is not in danger.
In the big picture, the Yankees need a win today to avoid slipping back down to .500 and to have a chance to keep their four-series winning streak going.
New York Mets, pt. II
On the morning of Friday May 18, before the first subway series of the season, the New York Post's back page headline was "Flying & Dying" and was accompanied by an illustration that made it clear that it was the Mets who were flying and the Yankees who were dying. Entering this weekend's rematch, that headline still applies, but the the script has been flipped. The Yankees enter the weekend with an active nine-game winning streak while the Mets come to the Bronx riding a five-game losing streak and having lost nine of their last ten. Most recently, the Mets were swept by the Dodgers in L.A. by a combined score of 18-5. The Mets still hold a two-game lead in the NL East because the Braves have been nearly as bad, and the Yankees are still 7.5 games back in the AL East because of the huge deficit they have to overcome, but the Yankees enter this series with a record just three games worst than the Mets. That means that, if the Yankees can sweep the weekend series (a highly unlikley scenario given that it would extend their winning streak to an improbable 12 games), the two New York teams would have identical 36-31 records come Monday morning.
The Mets have been hit hard by injuries thus far this year, with their starting second baseman, three corner outfielders, two of their starting pitchers, and a key releiver spending time on the DL, but two of those injuries (to Pedro Martinez and Duaner Sanchez) were carried over from last year, and Shawn Green, Jose Valentin, and Orlando Hernandez have all returned to action in the past few weeks. Still, the Mets are down to plans C and D in left field while Moises Alou's quad strain shows no sign of improvement. Meanwhile, Carlos Delgado has finally found his power stroke (seven homers in his last 16 games after hitting just three in his previous 44), but home runs are about the only way he's getting on base (three walks and just nine other hits over the same span). Still, one has to assume the Mets are just slumping and the Yankees should be wary of the cross-town rivalry awakening this sleeping giant.
Tonight, Roger Clemens makes his second start of the year against Oliver Perez. Perez looks like he's finding his lost 2004 form under pitching coach Rick "The Jacket" Peterson, though his last outing against the Tigers looked more like the pitcher the Pirates were eager to unload in last year's Roberto Hernandez-Xavier Nady deal than the young ace that had baseball buzzing three years ago. Still, Perez is just 25 years old and has been murder on his fellow southpaws this year, allowing just one home run to a lefty batter. The good news is that the lefty in question was Hideki Matsui, who cracked a two-run job off Perez in the opener of the last series between these two teams at Shea. The bad news is that two-run dinger was the only score the Yanks were able to muster against Perez in that game as they handed Andy Pettitte another hard-luck 3-2 loss.
As for Clemens, he last faced the Mets in April of 2005. Clemens dominated in that game, allowing just a walk and two singles in seven innings while striking out nine. Then again, the Mets lineup that day featured Kaz Matsui, Eric Valent, Victor Diaz, Doug Mientkiewicz, very different versions of Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran (in his first year as a Met), and an over-the-hill Mike Piazza who was off to a very slow start.
Rooting incentive for tonight's game: the Yankees are currently two games over .500 and have not been three games over .500 at any point this season. With a win, they'll hit their high-water mark.
Fun fact for tonight's game: Julio Franco will start at first base and bat eighth with Carlos Delgado as the DH. The first major league line-up Roger Clemens ever faced featured Julio Franco at shortstop and batting sixth. That was exactly 23 years and one month ago today. In that game, Franco singled, grounded out twice, and stole a base against Clemens. Fun fact footnote: The Indians stole six bases against Clemens in his major league debut.
It's, Like, Better Than Losing
Supposedly the Diamondbacks are a pretty good team this year, but I've mostly watched them get pummeled by either the Red Sox, Mets, or Yankees, so - while acknowledging the small sample size - I can’t say I'm overly impressed. At least they ditched the purple and teal uniforms. The Yankees beat them 7-1 today behind a very strong eight-inning, four-hit performance from Andy Pettitte. By the way, why doesn’t Pettitte have a better nickname? We've got Moose, Rocket, Worm-Killer, the Yankee Clippard, and…. Andy. You guys need to get to work on this.
The Subway Series this weekend may actually live up to the hype; neither team can afford to lose right now. Actually, the Mets technically could – they’re still in first after all – but after losing five in a row and nine of their last ten, they need to stop the bleeding. They’re a much better team than this, and way past due for a breakout game.
On an unseasonably cool June evning in the Bronx, the stage was set for Mike Mussina to have a productive night. Home plate umpire Tim Welke was calling strikes--though he still managed to irk the Yankees' starting pitcher--and the opposing team was hacking. Mussina came through, pitching into the eighth inning, striking out a season-high seven batters. Although his fastball didn't break 90 mph, Mussina painted the corners, had good control and a sharp breaking ball.
"His stuff seemed real similar to what I've seen in the past," said Eric Byrnes, who was 1 for 4. "People talk about how his stuff's declined, but obviously it didn't look like that tonight. He comes right at you and throws strikes. He made us get ourselves out, and we continued to do that all night."
Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Godziller Matsui all homered as the Yankees cruised to a 7-2 win, their eighth straight victory. Combined with a Red Sox loss, the Yanks now trail Boston by 8.5 games.
Rodriguez's home run hit off the facing of the upper deck in left field. "You never had to look twice," said Joe Torre. "He killed that ball." Rodriguez now has 25 dingers--a number he didn't reach until the middle of August last year--and 66 RBI. Mmm, Mmm Good.
Your Mostly Arbitrary Guide to The AL All-Star Ballot
It’s that time of year again. The season is more than a third over, the parks are crowded with sunbathers, the days are long, Roger Clemens is back in his firmament, and the smell of garbage has begun to drown out the smell of urine over on 7th Ave. Yes, it’s time to begin complaining about the All-Star game.
Every year intelligent fans lament the fact that fame and market size and RBIs often seem to go farther than meaningful stats or real talent when the All-Stars are elected, and that being sent to the game is not a genuine mark of excellence so much as a popularity contest. Well, yes. In fact it’s the very definition of a popularity contest. And how many legitimate electoral processes do you know of where you’re allowed to vote 15 times per email address?
After an hour rain delay, the Yankees got the game they expected in last night's matchup of premier groundballers Chien-Ming Wang and Brandon Webb. Actually, Wang didn't have his best worm-killing stuff last night (nine grounders, ten fly outs, and his first start of the season without a double play), but after pitching out of a jam in the first he kept the Diamondbacks at bay, limiting them to a Chad Tracy solo homer in the fourth, five singles, and a hit-by-pitch over seven innings and 95 pitches. Brandon Webb countered in kind with seven strong of his own (including 12 groundouts and two DPs against four fly outs and four Ks). The key difference was that the homer Webb allowed came at the tail end of his first inning jam.
Johnny Damon led off the game with a grounder to second base that drew a rare throwing error from Orlando Hudson. Joe Torre then put on the hit-and-run and, as shortstop Stephen Drew went to cover second, Derek Jeter singled through Drew's vacated position to put runners on the corners. The red-hot Bobby Abreu followed with a three run jack into the old Yankee bullpen.
That was all the Yanks would need. They added a fourth run off Webb in the seventh on a walk to Matsui, a Robby Cano double, and an unusual 4-3-6 double-play turned by Hudson on a Melky Cabrera grounder with the infield drawn in. Kyle Farnsworth made things interesting in the eighth, giving up a leadoff double to Drew and then walking Tracy with two outs after battling through a nine-pitch at-bat, but got out of the inning by getting Tony Clark to fly out to right. Mariano Rivera shut the door with 13 pitches (nine strikes) for a perfect ninth inning and his eighth save.
With the win the Yanks have extended their winning streak to seven games and reached .500 for the first time since May 9. With a win tonight, they can go over .500 for the first time since April 20, when they were 8-7.
Meanwhile, Doug Mientkiewicz had surgery on the broken bone in his wrist yesterday that involved a pin being put in the bone. He's expected to be out until August, which means the Yankees will have to either have to learn to love Josh Phelps or make a deadline deal for a first baseman. Miguel Cairo won't hit .348 as a first baseman all season and even now he has just one walk and one extra-base hit while playing the position. Then again, all of that was true when Minky was healthy as well.
The Arizona Diamondbacks
The Arizona Diamonbacks are one of the most interesting franchises in baseball right now. The most obvious reason is that they've won more games than any other team in the NL thus far this season and the oldest player in their starting line-up is 31-year-old Eric Byrnes. In fact, Byrnes and old man Tony Clark (now 35) are the only two Arizona position players over 30. Meanwhile, four of the D'backs' regulars were rookies last year and three of the men on their bench are rookies this year. Things are only slightly different on their piching staff as the oldest man in their pen is 28-year-old failed prospect Juan Cruz and their rotation is led by 28-year-old defending NL Cy Young award winner Brandon Webb and 24-year-old rookie Micah Owings.
Thus far it's been that pitching staff that's put them on top as the D'backs are tied with the Mets as the second stingiest staff in the NL (fourth in the majors), allowing just four runs per game. The average Arizona starter has lasted 6 1/3 innings per start and posted a 3.51 ERA. Of the seven men to start for the D'backs this year, only rookie Edgar Gonzalez had an ERA over Owings' 3.76 in the role. Gonzalez has since been bumped to the bullpen (by Owings) where he is the only man with an ERA above closer Jose Valverde's 3.33.
Things are less encouraging on offense, but Byrnes, who looked like a right-handed platoon player who was on his way out of baseball two years ago when he jumped from Oakland, to Colorado to Baltimore over the course of a single season, has been mashing (.319/.379/.518) and doing the bulk of his damage against righty pitchers (.332/.384/.508). Orlando Hudson, the second oldest Arizona starter, was worth keeping in the lineup for his glove while in Toronto, but since joining the D'backs has come into his own at the plate to the point that he's legitimately the second best second baseman in baseball (behind Chase Utley and ahead of Robinson Cano). In his best season as a Blue Jay, Hudson hit .270/.341/.438. In his career as a Diamondback he's hitting .288/.360/.456.
As for the youngsters, Conor Jackson is from the Mark Grace school of first-basemen: high average, high on-base, but not the sort of power expected from the position. Catchers Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero aren't hitting enough to make Yankee fans regret the fact that neither was included in the Randy Johnson Deal. Right fielder Carlos Quentin started the season on the DL, then went 4 for 8 with three doubles and a walk in his first two games of the year, but has hit just .200/.289/.345 since. Shortstop Stephen Drew raked as a rookie in the second half last year, but has struggled over an equal number of games this year.
Then there's center fielder Chris Young. Young is considered one of the top prospects in the game and was the ultimate prize from the original Randy Johnson deal (he came to Arizona from the White Sox in the Javy Vazquez-El Duque deal). Like fellow prospects Drew and Quentin, Young got off to an awful start, but he's hit .315/.330/.528 since May 7 and was even hotter than that before a groin injury slowed him at the end of the month.
Of course the two Randy Johnson deals, along with the now-ancient 2001 World Series, provide ample opportunity for rivalry here, but the most compelling angle to tonight's game is the pitching matchup of Webb and Chien-Ming Wang, last year's NL Cy Young winner and AL Cy Young runner up and two of the most extreme and most successfull groundball pitchers in the business. Oh yeah, and if the Yankees win they reach .500 for the first time since May 9, when they improved to 16-16 by beating Robinson Tejeda and the Texas Rangers.
Here's to wondering if either team will play a seven-man infield at some point tonight.
Yankee Panky #13: Press Off
Amid a six-game win streak and everything being hunky dory in Yankeeland, save for the cynics who decry Roger Clemens’ debut as not being a worthy test of his readiness, I wanted to take a detour to discuss a mediacentric issue.
Monday’s New York Times featured an article from sports business reporter Richard Sandomir on the relocation of the press box at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago from the second level, about 20 or so feet right behind home plate to two tiers higher and between home plate and the first base line. The article, which features reactions from reporters, fans, and Reinsdorf himself, got me thinking about the perception that professional teams pamper the media with their accommodations.
This perception is false. My experience is that most teams, especially in the major markets, tolerate the media, as opposed to helping them do their jobs. It's not an adversarial relationship, but it's not exactly a symbiotic one, either.
Aside from unparalleled access to players and organization types, beat writers, columnists, TV and radio casters receive numerous perks. Some of these perks include free parking, season passes affording an entree into the clubhouses, dugouts, and the field. Card-carrying members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are awarded access to any Major League press box because of their affiliation. Non-BBWAA members aren’t so lucky. While at YES, my dot.com colleagues and I had the same access as BBWAA members with our media passes, and our seat was on the second level of the YES TV booth right above home plate. These concessions made up for the fact that we paid for parking — we were considered part of the TV crew and parked with the YES production folks in Lot 10, on 158th St. and River Ave.
The YES booth wasn’t our permanent seat at the Stadium, though. On non-YES/Channel 9 — and until 2005, Channel 2 — games, we were booted from the booth and had to either finagle a seat in the main press area, which is in the Loge section, stretching from the Yankees’ on-deck circle to about first base, or we sat in the makeshift YES studio in the basement. The only benefit to the basement spot was being able to walk about 15 yards to the clubhouse to get quotes. We could work in the nearby press workroom, but couldn’t file, as we didn’t have a phone line from which to access the Internet and file (the Stadium alleviated this problem last year by going wireless). In all honesty, we could have covered the FOX or ESPN games from home, written stories and grabbed our quotes from the postgame show. (We never did that.)
The situation is worse in the playoffs, where seats are at a premium. No baseball stadium or hockey or basketball arena that I know of has a press box large enough to accommodate the number of media present to report on these games. As a result, tens of writers are strewn across the outfield seats or in blocked off areas of the arena, seated among fans. This arrangement is problematic, because a writer could potentially miss a big play on the walk to the media workroom or auxiliary press area near the locker room/clubhouse, which could take 15 to 20 minutes if you happen upon a mob of people.
Getting bumped happens in other stadiums, and quite frequently. Fenway Park has a four-tiered press box, but doesn’t have nearly enough seats to hold the throng of local, national and Japanese writers on hand to cover a Yankees-Red Sox series. Unless you’re in one of the first two rows, you can’t really see the game (the view is over the visitors’ dugout, between home and third). The glare off the glass from the fluorescent lights makes picking up nuances of the game impossible.
Entertaining pitching match-up tonight: Wang vs. Webb. If both pitchers are on, there is a chance the game could be a quicky. Cliff will have more on all things Diamondbacks later today.
There's nothing of much interest in the local papers this morning. Oh, there are some This Could Be Another '78 articles, but it is probably best to avoid them. Alan Schwarz does have a good piece on Pat Venditte, an ambidextrous pitcher the Yankees just drafted; Steven Goldman has some cherce words for the Yankee fans who bashed Alex Rodriguez last year; Ben Kabak has the latest on the new Yankee Stadium; and over at BP, Marc Normandin takes a look at Robinson Cano:
One of the more interesting things I've noticed about Cano this year is that he has lost his power to the opposite field almost entirely. He lacks an extra-base hit going the other way at Yankee Stadium, according to MLB.com hit charts, whereas in 2006 he hit bunches of doubles and singles down the lines and to the warning track. This is one for the readers, since I don't get to see Cano all that often, and we don't have enough Enhanced Gameday info to make a definitive statement: are pitchers going inside on Cano more often than in years past, taking away the opposite field and contributing to the increase in his strikeout rate? He is popping up less often, but the increase in strikeouts coupled with the lack of power to the opposite field, a once successful weapon of Cano at the plate, makes me think pitchers are keeping balls inside on him. I'd like to hear from readers on this matter; his strikeout rate has dropped 2% from when I first looked at this a little over a week ago, which makes me think he could be adjusting in bits as the season goes on, but any information you provide would be appreciated.
Even GQ fashion plate Jose Reyes walks more than Robbie. I've never been sold on Cano becoming a great player. Actually, I've got no sense of what kind of player he'll be in three or four years. What do you all think?
Yo Ho Ho
It wasn't pretty, but the Yankees succeeded in sweeping the Pirates at home for the second time in three years, running their regular-season record against Pittsburgh to 6-0, which just happens to match the Bombers' record over their last six games.
The Yanks looked like they were going to cruise to victory after forcing Shawn Chacon to throw 39 pitches in a three-run bottom of the first that lasted 20 minutes, but Tyler Clippard had his worst major league outing, coughing up two of those three runs in the top of the second then, after the Yanks got those two back in the third, a four spot in the fourth to give the Pirates a 6-5 lead. Clippard's day ended with two outs in the fourth after he surrendered a two-run double to Jose Bautista on his 90th pitch of the game. Fortunately, Chacon followed in kind, exiting with one out in the bottom of the fourth after surrendering back to back singles to Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu, the later on Chacon's 96th pitch. Jonah Sharpless, sporting a 12.27 ERA, replaced Chacon, fell behind Alex Rodriguez 2-0, the surrendered a three-run bomb that made it 8-6 Yanks. The laugher, at long last, was on.
In relief of Clippard, Sean Henn, Luis Vizcaino, Scott Proctor, and Mike Myers combined to pitch 5 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and three walks. Proctor and Henn, who earned the win in his first appearance since being recalled (Chris Britton was sent down to make room for Clemens on Saturday),did the bulk of the work with two innings a piece. Meanwhile, the Yanks added five more runs to their lead with a two-spot in the sixth on another Alex Rodriguez homer (off the freshly-promoted Musami Kuwata) and a three-spot in the seventh kicked off, believe it or not, by Miguel Cairo and Wil Nieves. The scoring was capped off by a two-run double by Bobby Abreu, who had tripled in the first and went 4 for 4 with a walk, four runs scored, and three RBIs on the day. Final score: 13-6 Yankees.
After winning just five of their first 18 series, the Yankees have now won their last three in a row. Their current six-game winning streak and 9-2 surge are their best of the season. They are now tied with the Twins for fourth in the Wild Card race, 5.5 games behind the Tigers, surprising Mariners, and injury plagued A's. One thing they are not however, is a .500 team, though that could change if they can take their winning streak to a lucky seven with a win against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday.
Roger Clemens gave the Yankees pretty much what anyone could have expected from him yesterday: six innings, three runs, couple of walks and seven strikeouts. His fastball is not up to snuff yet and he worked too many deep counts, but his split-fingered fastball was excellent and he looked just fine fielding his position. The Yankee offense did the rest, with a generous hand from some Bad News Bears fielding by the Pirates; Melkawitz made a fine catch in center field and the Yanks cruised, 9-3.
That makes it five straight for the Bombers who go for the sweep this afternoon against our old pal, Shawn Chacon. It is great that the Yanks have won another series but it will be a real buzz-kill if they don't sweep the Pirates. So on that note...
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Never Mind the Hoopla, Just Win Baby
In case you hadn't heard, Roger Clemens is pitching for the Yankees today. I'm not convinced that he's going to stay healthy this summer. My hunch is that he'll post a record close to .500--maybe 8-6, maybe 7-9--with an ERA under 4.50. Regardless, the Yankees look to extend their season best winning streak this afternoon on a hazy day in the Bronx.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Three Days Later...Go See the Doctor
I went to the movies last night with my cousins instead of watching the game. We had a bite to eat after we saw Knocked Up, a surprisingly good movie, and I called Em at home to get a score. The game was tied, 4-4. By the time I reached the Bronx, I ran into some fans coming home from the game and got the highlights of the Yankees' rousing, extra-inning, come-from-behind, 5-4 win. That makes it four straight for the Bombers with Roger Clemens on the hill this afternoon--a muggy, overcast day in New York.
* * * * *
The great film director John Huston once said that great screen acting is more a matter of quality than talent. What he meant was that the camera just takes to some people, who have a quality on film that they wouldn't necessarily have on the stage. Sometimes the same can be said about directors. Judd Apatow, the writer and director of Knocked Up, does not have a real visual style, but he's got true affection for his characters, and that is a winning quality that will take him far. (Jonathan Demme had more of a funky style in his early movies, but some of the same feeling.)
Apatow, who prodcued The Ben Stiller Show in the early nineties and later was a writer for The Larry Sanders Show, was the creative force behind the short-lived cult TV show, Freaks and Geeks. What impressed me most about Freaks and Geeks was how much the filmmakers genuinely liked the characters they created. The show wasn't just flip, or ironic and clever; there was some emotional truthfulness to it as well.
I didn't think Apatow was able to bring the same feeling to his first movie, The 40-Year Old Virgin, a broad, often disappointing comedy. (The funny thing about it though is that while I didn't like the movie too much the first time I saw it, I later found myself unable to turn away from it when it was on cable--it grew on me.) But he does manage to bring a real warmth to his second movie, Knocked Up. It's as if his all of his talents have finally jelled. The movie is all of a piece and it is very appealing.
Apatow doesn't judge his characters, and though the story is relatively formulaic, he resits some easy cliches. For instance, there is a scene with the leading ladies' mother, and you can just see this mother turning into a cartoon heavy, but she doesn't factor into the narrative at all. Then there is a great scene where Paul Rudd and his wife have an fight in a driveway. What makes it so compelling is that you can see where each character is coming from and why they are not understanding each other--in that sense it reminded me of the fight that Daniel Stern and Ellen Barkin have about records in Diner.
Knocked Up penetrates the surface of the light comedy genere, but it is not perfect. Not all of the jokes work--though most of them do--and there are a host of things that you can pick at as far as credibility goes; the New York Times critic, A.O. Scott called it "improbably persuasive." But it is an exceedingly likable movie, and I wasn't bothered by what it wasn't--it exceeded my expectations throughout. If anything, I found myself picking out the flaws only because of a desire to want something that is very good be truly great.
I laughed a lot, and so did the rest of the audience (I was smiling before the title credits when I heard the opening bars to "Shimmy Shimmy Ya"). In fact, there were three or four times when the crowd was laughing so much that I missed hearing dialogue. The acting was very good--the two kids in the movie, Apatow's real-life daughers, have small parts but are terrific, and completely unaffected. Who knew that Seth Rogan would be able to carry off a leading role? And give Apatow credit for understanding women and writing good female roles.
I missed out on the reviews for this one when it came out, but apparently it has gotten good notices. I like what Scott wrote in the Times:
It may be a bit, um, premature to say so, but Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up" strikes me as an instant classic, a comedy that captures the sexual confusion and moral ambivalence of our moment without straining, pandering or preaching. Like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," Mr. Apatow's earlier film, it attaches dirty humor to a basically upright premise. While this movie's barrage of gynecology-inspired jokes would have driven the prudes at the old Hays Office mad, its story, about a young man trying to do what used to be the very definition of the Right Thing, might equally have brought a smile of approval to the lips of the starchiest old-Hollywood censor.
I think it is worth forking over ten bucks to see. It sure made me feel good.
The Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a terrible franchise and a terrible baseball team. Their list of attributes in 2007 is as follows:
Jason Bay, LF (.310/.378/.531, 11 HR, 45 RBI)
The Yankees won't see Snell, can pitch around Bay in big spots, and can make Capps and Marte irrelevant if they can do enough damage early against Paul Maholm and old pal Shawn Chacon over the next two days. The only trouble is Gorzelanny, who starts tonight against Andy "Hard Luck" Pettitte. Pettitte knows the Pirates well having spend the last three years in the NL Central. Last year, he beat them in a pair of late-season quality starts. In 2005, Andy posted a 2.08 ERA in four starts against the Bucs. In 2004, he faced them in back-to-back starts early in the year and allowed just one run in 11 innings (that on a Jack Wilson home run during the hottest month of Wilson's career). Both of tonight's starters have nine quality starts in 12 tries on the season.
The Yankees and Pirates have met in interleague play just once before, that coming in 2005 when the Yankees swept the Pirates in the Bronx. If the Yanks can pull out a win tonight, they'll have put together their first four-game winning streak of the season and will stand an excellent chance of repeating that feat, thereby extending that streak to six games.
The following is the first part of a series that Jay Jaffe and I are writing about a terrific new box set of the 1977 World Series. Jay kicked things off earlier in the week, as we address the first disk, Game 5 of the ALCS between the Yankees and the Royals. Here is my response:
Dude, one of the main reasons why I loved football so much as an early teenager is because that was also the time I first really started getting into movies, and NFL Films had an enormous impact on me. The way they visually presented the game, the melding of movies and sport, defined the sport for me. It had a reverence for the sport and mocking sense of humor too. We didn't have to just read about Jim Brown or Gayle Sayers, we could see. But we can't see Sandy Koufax or Willie Mays in the same way because Major League Baseball has never had anything close to NFL Films. Part of this is understandable because baseball has such a long season with so many games. You'd go broke if you filmed all of it waiting for a great moment to go down. I understand why it hasn't happened, but that doesn't mean that it couldn't of have, to some extent. The other part is that baseball has simply never been blessed with a creative partner like the Sabols.
And that's a real shame because you'd think baseball games from the '70s at least should still be around somewhere. I want to see the 1977 NLCS and I want to see the 1980 NLCS. That's why I'm lovin' this box set series that A&E is putting out. At first, I thought they were just putting out old MLB Films half-hour/hour-long wrap-up shows. They do have those, but on top of that, they are also have team setsthe Yankee Dynasty Years set, 96-01, a Cubs set, a big Red Sox set from 2004, the Cards from last year. But the best thing they've got are box sets of entire seriesthey've got the complete World Series from 1975, 1979, 1986, 1987, and now, of course, '77.
One of the classic comic book images--stolen from the movies, of course--is the close-up of a character's eyes as they watch some unspeakable act of horror. I thought of that last night in the seventh inning when Rob Mackowiak crushed a Scott Proctor fastball to the deepest part of the ball park. Proctor remained in a crouch, peered back over his left shoulder, with only the whites of his eyes showing. Like most Yankee fans, his heart must have been racing, bracing for the worst.
Proctor, who relieved Mike Myers, after the lefty relieved Mike Mussina, who was brilliant, stubbornly fed Mackowiak fastball after fastball. On the YES broadcast, Joe Girardi warned that Mackowiak had been putting good swings on fastballs all night, and sure enough he put a charge into this one. The intense winds--foreshadowing a storm that never came, at least not while the game was still being played--played with the flight of the ball, but Melky Cabrera hauled it in about a stride-and-a-half away from the center field wall.
That was the second out of the inning. Proctor got a ground out to end the inning, and the Yankees escaped with the score tied 1-1. Which was good news for Joe Torre, who pulled Mussina after only 79 pitches. I know many Yankee fans must have been pulling their hair out when Torre yanked his starter; Mussina wasn't thrilled about the move either. Acccording to the New York Times:
"Why am I upset?" Mussina said after the game. "Because I threw 80 pitches and I think I could have thrown 110. It was the first mess I had. I just felt like I could have kept going."
What had been a fast-moving pitcher's duel between Moose and Jose Contreras, suddenly turned into a laborious bullpen affair. Bobby Abreu, who has been looking very impressive of late, had a big, two-run double in the eighth, and Alex Rodriguez hit a grand slam in the ninth, as the Yankees broke the game open and won it by the final score of 10-3.
It was a milestone win for Joe Torre, the 2,000th of his career. When the game was over and the Yankees were slapping each other five, Torre finally reached Mariano Rivera--who entered the game with one out in the eighth on the count of Cooter Farmadooke stinkin' up the jernt. Rivera placed the game ball in Torre's hand and Torre cupped Mo's cheek with his palm and gave him a quick pinch on the cheeck--Love, straight out of Brooklyn.
It was a very good win for the Yankees who return home to play the Pirates and then the tough young Diamondbacks. Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada were given the night off, but both found their way into the game anyway. Jeter led off the eighth with a pinch-hit walk and came around to score the go-ahead run. Wouldn't ya know?
Curt Schilling went out and pitched a money game for the Red Sox today, ending Boston's modest losing streak at four. The Red Sox narrowly won, 1-0 and Schilling had a no-hitter through 8.2 innings. The Yankees need a big money game from Mike Mussina tonight to build on their very modest two-game winning streak. No excuses boys, this is one you have to win if you want us to start taking you seriously again.
Let's Go Yan-kees!
The Yanks cruised to a 5-1 win last night behind a dominating complete game by Chien-Ming Wang. Wang needed just 104 pitches and faced just 33 batters, allowing five hits, all of them singles, and a walk while striking out four and getting 16 of the remaining 23 outs on the ground. Two of those 16 groundouts came on a double play. Wang has induced at least one double play and picked up the decision in each of his nine starts this season.
The only Chicago run scored in the third inning on a single, a wild pitch, and a pair of groundouts. The only time the Sox had more than one man reach base in an inning was in the sixth when Jerry Owens got on via an infield single and stole second. Tad Iguchi then hit a hard single to shallow center and third-base coach Razor Shines sent Owens home where he ran right into the second out thanks to a strong throw by Melky Cabrera.
As for the Yanks, they got four of their runs in the third despite the fact that both Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada ran into outs at second base. In Rodriguez's case, he hit what looked like a grand slam to left field, but the ball hit off the bottom of the wall for what should have been a two-RBI double, only Rodriguez had merely jogged to first. In Posada's case, he tagged up at first on a Hideki Matsui sac fly to center and was thrown out when Owens' throw home was cut off. Both Rodriguez and Posada appeared to be safe on the replays, however, but, using the NFL standard, neither was clear enough to overturn the call on the field.
Wang's complete game was the Yankees' first of the year, and the first complete game victory by a Yankee starter since Wang himself shut out the Devil Rays last July. The only other complete game of Wang's career was the game in Washington last year that he lost on a walk-off home run by Ryan Zimmerman. Wang has pitched a minimum of eight full innings on ten other occasions.
With that victory the Yankees are just one game behind the White Sox in the Wild Card standings and can pull even with them with a victory tonight.
One Down, Two To Go
The Yanks and Chisox will finish off this four game series with a pair of matchups of current and former Yankee pitchers. Tonight is by far the better of the two with current Yankee ace Chien-Ming Wang facing off against erstwhile Yankee ace Javy Vazquez in an attempt to move the Yanks a game closer to the Sox in the AL standings. Wang's new high-strikeout approach was nowhere to be seen in his last outing against the Red Sox (5 2/3 IP, 1 K), but he came away with the win anyway. Vazquez, meanwhile, is coming off eight shutout innings against the Blue Jays. Vazquez has failed to pitch six full innings just once this season, but has only four quality starts in ten tries. Still, it's been a solid season on the whole for Javy, who has settled into a career as a mid-rotation innings eater, a surprising development from a pitcher who looked like he'd either be an ace or be injured when the Yankees got him from Montreal.
Both pitchers enter the game with .500 records. Vazquez is 3-3 and the Sox are 2-2 in his four no-decisions. Wang is 4-4 having picked up the decision in all eight of his starts. Vazquez last faced the Yankees last August, striking out eight, walking six, and leaving after five innings having allowed thrown 111 pitches. The Yanks lost that game, but would be well advised to try to run up Javy's pitch count again tonight.
The Yankees waltzed to an easy 7-3 victory in Chicago last night after breaking a 1-1 tie with a four-run sixth inning, but it should have been even easier than it was. With the Yanks up 5-1, Joe Torre replaced starting pitcher Tyler Clippard in the bottom of the sixth despite the fact that the rookie had held the White Sox to just one run over five innings and thrown just 89 pitches.
A quick summary of Clippard's outing: Stranded two singles in the first. Stranded two walks in the second. One-two-three third inning including strikeouts of Tad Iguchi and Jim Thome. Allowed a run on a pair of singles in the fourth, due in part to the fact that no one covered third base allowing Jermaine Dye to go from first to third on a ground out to short. Gave up a two-out single in the fifth, then pitched around Thome, eventually walking him, before getting the third out.
Why Clippard couldn't go one more inning with a four run lead is beyond me. Instead, Torre burned through four members of his nine-man bullpen, using Scott Proctor for two innings, and watching Kyle Farnsworth and Brian Bruney cough up runs, the latter forcing Mariano Rivera into action (though the way things have gone this year, getting Mo work at any point is probably a good thing--indeed, Rivera picked up his sixth save by throwing eight of ten pitches for strikes).
This is a small point as it pertains to last night's game, but is more significant when one considers the larger ramifications, be it the reduced availability of those pitchers for the remainder of the series, or games such as Clippard's start against the Angels. In that game, Torre removed his rookie starter after four innings and 77 pitches with the Yankees trailing 3-2 only to watch Matt DeSalvo, Luis Vizcaino, and Ron Villone cough up seven runs in the next two innings to put the game out of reach. Torre had a similarly quick hook with Darrell Rasner. After his first start, Rasner didn't allow more than three runs in any of his other five starts (well, four, we'll remove his injury-shortened outing against the Mets), yet also never threw more than 81 pitches in any of them. This while the Yankee bullpen was sucking air due to the starters' inability to go deep into games.
I'd be curious to know if the Yankees had either of these young starters on hard pitch limits, but failing that, Torre's quick hook with his effective young starters is both troubling and annoying as hell.
Still, good win last night.
One and Done
The Yanks need to sweep their way through the remainder of this week's series in Chicago if they're going to close the Wild Card gap on the punchless White Sox, who managed to punch their card six times last night.
As part of that effort, Tyler Clippard will make his fourth major league start tonight. After dominating the Mets in his debut and being pulled early after four poor, but not awful innings in his follow-up, Clippard lost the plate in his last start in Toronto, walking five and allowing a pair of home runs in five innings pitched. On the other hand, other than those two homers, which plated three runs, Clippard allowed just two other hits, both singles, and no other runs.
Taking the hill for the Chisox will be Mark Buehrle, who has been silencing the doubters who saw his poor 2006 season as a sign of his finally being found out rather than as the fluke it increasingly appears to have been. Buehrle's last start was also in Toronto, an eight-inning complete game loss in which he allowed just two hits, walked none, and struck out six. The only problem was that both hits were solo homers and the White Sox were shut out by Roy Halladay and company. Buehrle did not face the Yankees when they were last in Chicago, but was cuffed around by them in their one meeting in 2006 (3 IP, 8 R). Buehrle did not face the Yankees at all in 2005 and was also cuffed around by the Bombers in 2004 (2 IP, 8 R) but just ten days prior to that he held them to two unearned runs on three hits in eight innings.
Matt DeSalvo, who failed to make it out of the second inning last night after he allowed more base unners than outs through 1 1/3, was optioned back to Scranton. According to the SWB Yankee Blog, spring training superstar Chris Basak has been called up to take his (and ultimately Doug Mientkiewicz's) place. Basak, who can play all around the infield, was hitting .265/.321/.423 in triple-A and will be making his first appearance on a 25-man big league roster. He gets the call over Andy Phillips, who is hitting .312/.381/.485 and has moved back to second base. The Yankees will likely move someone to the 60-day DL to make room for Basak on the 40-man roster.
In addition, Kevin Thompson was optioned back to Scranton in favor of Sean Henn. So, really, Basak replaces Thompson, giving the Yankees two no-hit infielders who will never play and no reserve outfielder. That makes about as much sense as Chad Jennings donning a baseball mitt on his blog's header. With just Basak, Cairo, and Nieves in reserve, the Yankees are in essense playing without a bench as all three are replacement-level or, in Nieves' case, below. Then again, they do have a nine-man bullpen.
For his part, Henn had started three of his four games in triple-A and posted a 4.26 ERA, a 1.11 whip and struck out 11 in 12 2/3 innings. His best outing was his most recent: 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K. Henn would likely be optioned back down to make room for Roger Clemens's return on Saturday. Then again, if Henn doesn't pitch in relief during the week, and Clemens' groin remains fatigued, Henn could turn out to be the starter on Saturday.
Yankee Panky #12: Media Frenzy
From analysis of the Yankees’ consistently inconsistent play and the effect of Roger Clemens’ “fatigued groin” on the pitching staff, to the latest chapter in the life and times of Alex Rodriguez, this past week featured an explosion of Yankee news that won’t be forgotten any time soon.
Looking at everything that occurred, I decided it would be fruitless — and potentially a disservice to you, the readers and feedback generators — to isolate just one of these issues. So, I’m taking on as many as possible, as succinctly as I can.
Two of the three losses were just ugly. The New York Post reported that corpses who emerged to watch the games at some of the sports bars in the New York area exclaimed, “Damn, we’ve got more life than that.” The seventh inning of Saturday’s loss at Fenway could be ranked with some of the worst in recent team annals. It was like the Yankees were reenacting Phase 1 of the Sports Movie formula – they were the ragtag bunch of guys bungling their way around the diamond. The only problem is, with a payroll exceeding $200 million and expectations loftier than that, there’s nothing loveable about a team putting forth that kind of effort.
STORIES OF THE WEEK
Let’s address these one at a time. First, A-Rod. Where to begin? Since when are photos of a professional athlete carousing with exotic dancers and gossipy stories of alleged adultery by said professional athlete a big deal? The idea of athletes acting on a morally higher plain because they should be role models is a fallacy — or is it phallusy? It’s not news. We as fans have made it clear that we care more about his popping up with the tying run on third and one out in the top of the 7th at Fenway than we do about his popping up at the Brass Rail or the Hustler Club at the top of the morning.
But even for A-Rod, the insanity reached new heights. Bill Madden smartly questioned A-Rod’s reasons for allowing himself to be seen, and wondered why the Yankees would want to burden themselves with all the agita and b.s. that would likely come with signing him to an extension. The New York Sun's Tim Marchman turned around and killed Madden for sounding like he was above gossip, which was an interesting rebuttal. People I talked to following his Little League move in Wednesday’s victory passed it off as no big deal, but my gut reaction was, “What a bush-league play. What is he, 12?” That the New York Times joined the party in highlighting Rodriguez’s questionable base-running indiscretions, should tell you something. Sports business columnist Richard Sandomir compared A-Rod’s actions to those of Lindsay Lohan, sans rehab.
Blue Jays shortstop John McDonald saying that A-Rod’s move was a reason he’ll never be a “real Yankee” brought that sentiment back after an eight-month hiatus. Steve Goldman has denounced the “real Yankee” argument, writing on umpteen occasions in the Pinstriped Bible and the Pinstriped Blog that once a player joins the big club and puts on the uniform, he’s a “real Yankee.” As much as I respect my former YES colleague, I’m inclined to disagree with him on this point. There’s a behavioral line that denotes “real Yankees” and everyone else. Would Mattingly have shouted behind Howie Clark to prevent him from catching the pop-up? Would Jeter? Would O’Neill, Posada, Murcer or Munson? No. There’s a difference between hard-nosed baseball and being a jackass.
I was disappointed that Bob Lorenz didn’t do a better job of setting up Ken Singleton and John Flaherty for a similar comment. It was clear to me that neither broadcaster said what he felt in that brief moment of Wednesday’s postgame. To their credit, however, they didn’t defend A-Rod.
In the New York Sun, Goldman suggests it’s time for the Yankees to decide whether to keep A-Rod to win now, or turning his bargaining-chip status into a potential goldmine of prospects.
To me, the most embarrassing element of “A-Rod 24/7” from a media standpoint was the result of Anthony McCarron’s story on Joe Torre rethinking A-Rod’s “Ha” call in Toronto. The headline “Torre Tells A-Rod: SHUT UP!” was not only misleading, it was inaccurate, hurtful and a discredit to a good writer in McCarron. McCarron was the News’s Yankee beat writer for several years before Sam Borden took over in 2005, and Mark Feinsand this year. The headline writer and night editor could have easily recognized or remembered that fact and kept it in mind before OKing the headline. A manager not as media savvy as Torre might have blamed McCarron and threatened never to talk to him again in a professional setting. Torre was going to boycott the media altogether on Saturday because of the flap, but he faced the horde and blasted the News’s irresponsible journalistic act. (And yes, even though the Daily News is a tabloid, there’s still journalistic integrity involved.)
I’ve been on both sides of this, having worked more than 1,000 games over the four major sports both in my 6 ½ years working editorial. It’s embarrassing to be responsible for your organization getting called out by anyone, let alone a consistent source. I’ve written misleading headlines on the homepage and rewrote misleading headlines in my colleague’s pieces when editing them. My colleagues have erred in the same manner. More often than not, it’s a misinterpretation of the content, rather than a deliberate attempt to be hurtful. In this case, the Daily News, in trying to steal some thunder from the Post breaking the Stray-Rod A-Dultery, gave the impression of an intentional twisting of Torre’s quotes and got carried away in providing a salacious headline to sell papers.
Regarding the process, beat writers do not title their stories; a paper’s headline writers do. The backpage headline is usually decided by the lead night editor. At YES, we did things differently. We titled our own stories, whether we were reporting on-site or providing feature content. We also had to be extra careful, due to the ever-present possibility that someone in the organization would see what was posted, for fear of reprimand by the Yankees.
Real quick hits on the other items on the “Stories of the Week” list:
Waiting for Roger. Until next week …
Pastime Passings--Spring of 2007
Two car accidents devastated the baseball world during the latter days of April. And then we lost a little known but colorful figure from the early 1970s in May. Here are tributes to those baseball men who lost their lives over the past two months, along with a few additional passings from the month of March.
(Died on May 13 in Saluda, North Carolina; age 63; Lou Gehrig’s disease): A colorful character and a longtime minor leaguer, Hodge played one season in the major leagues. Appearing in 85 games as a utility infielder for the Cleveland Indians in 1971, Hodge hit .205 with one home run. After his playing days, Hodge became a minor league coach. He last worked in baseball in 2001, serving as a coach for Pawtucket, the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
COMMENTARY: Limited in physical talents, Hodge struggled to build a niche in the major leagues. A native of small town North Carolina, Hodge played only one season, collecting 83 at-bats for the dismal 1971 Indians. On a team with little appeal, Hodge stood out as a rare baseball personality. He sounded so much like actor Jim Nabors, who played "Gomer Pyle" on the old Andy Griffith Show, that friends and acquaintances called him Gomer. After collecting four hits in his first four at-bats, three of them as a pinch-hitter, Hodge declared in his best Nabors voice: "Golly, fellas, I’m hitting 4.000!" And he didn’t mean it kiddingly.
Shhhhh, the Baby is Sleeping
"We can't make it a habit of falling behind and trying to score four or five runs off other team's closers," Jeter said. "But just because we lost doesn't mean there was a letdown."
So much for momentum. The Yankees were listless on Monday night in Chicago. Matt DeSalvo, who is not ready for prime time, didn't make it out of the second inning--fielding mistakes by Alex Rodriguez, and especially, Josh Phelps--helped his early exist. Chicago's Jon Garland was not sharp in the early innings but the Yankees didn't do much about it. Garland settled down and his pitches got tougher as the game went on. Ron Villone gave up a two-run dinger to Jim Thome, and Chris Britton--who pitched well--served up a solo shot to Paul Konerko. By the time the Yankees staged a rally in the ninth inning, it was too late, and they lost, 6-4.
It was a game that had me grumbling to myself all evening. One step forward, one step back, that's the way the Yankees roll this year. About the only good news came late, as the A's beat the Red Sox in extra innings.
Hey, at least Tyler Clippard is on the hill tonight...more grumbling. Derek Jeter is banged-up and slumping a bit, Johnny Damon is 4-for-his-last-29, and Joe Torre would like to give Rodriguez a breather. Bobby Abreu, however, is starting to improve offensively and Robinson Cano is stinging the ball again.
Finally, on a sad note, ex-Yankee Clete Boyer died yesterday. Boyer was one of the great defensive third basemen of them all. He was overshadowed by Brooks Robinson, but for those who played with him, he was nothing short of great.
The Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are one of the seven teams that stand between the Yankees and the Wild Card, but the Yankees can pull even with them by winning three of four at the Stadium this week, and can pass them completely with a highly improbable four-game sweep.
The big news for the Sox is the return of Jim Thome, though Thome has yet to find his stroke after two weeks back in the line-up. In fact, three of Thome's eight hits and five of his nine RBIs since returning came in a single game in which the Sox beat up Colby Lewis for 3 1/3 innings then were held to one hit by Lenny DiNardo the rest of the way. Rather, the White Sox's two best hitters over the last week have been reserve infielder Alex Cintron (5 for 13, 2B, no walks), and fill-in left fielder Rob Mackowiak (5 for 22 with no walks, but two homers). Indeed, Chicago's struggles to score continue. Over that last week, the Sox have scored just three runs per game (including exactly three runs in each of their last three games in Toronto), with their only win coming behind eight shutout innings by Javy Vazquez, who will pitch on Wednesday. As the Toaster's resident Pale Hose fan, Scott Long, reports, during that week, the Sox went 61 straight at-bats without reaching base against a relief pitcher. Of course the Sox took two of three from the Yankees in Chicago three weeks ago.
John Garland starts for the Chisox tonight coming off an ugly outing in which he surrendered six runs to the Twins on five hits and five walks in six innings. That followed another ugly outing in which he gave up four runs on ten hits to the A's. Before that, however, he had turned in five-straight quality starts, going a minimum of seven innings in each, the last of which was saw him allow ten Yankees to reach base, but only one to score.
The Yankees will counter with Matt DeSalvo, who starts in place of Roger Clemens and his "fatigued groin." [insert Alex Rodriguez joke here] DeSalvo was sent down prior to the Red Sox series but was able to be recalled without spending the requisite ten days in the minors because he replaces the disabled Doug Mientkiewicz. The Yankees will thus play with a 24-man roster tonight and add a position player (Andy Phillips?) tomorrow. As for DeSalvo, did you realize he's made four big league starts already? Tossing out his one disaster relief outing, DeSalvo has a very respectable 4.15 ERA as a major league starter, but he's not been nearly that good. He has walked 13 and struck out just six and has a 1.57 WHIP. Opposing hitters are batting .263/.379/.475 against him, and that's with a far-below league-average batting average on balls in play of .264.
Gulp. Get well soon, Rocket.
Update: Check out my guest spot on NBC.com's Fantasy Fix in which I discuss Abreu, Cano, Rodriguez, Giambi, Phelps, Damon, and Mike Mussina, if for no other reason than to see my frighteningly swarthy headshot learing at Tiffany Simons (no, that's not a wig, they cropped my hair funny, and, yes, I had just shaved a half-hour before that photo).
Winning series has become the Yankee mantra of late, but coming into Fenway this weekend they'd won just one of their last six. That lone series win came against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium two weeks ago when the Yanks bookended a loss with a pair of wins. This weekend they pulled the same trick, though it was touch-and-go for a while there in game three.
On Friday night, the Yanks beat the Sox 9-5 in a game that was 9-3 after 3 1/2 innings as the Yankees knocked Tim Wakefield out in the top of the fourth. That game was notable for the fact that five batters were hit by pitches, all seemingly unintentionally, though things got tense when Scott Proctor fired a fastball at Kevin Youkilis's chin in the ninth inning and was promptly tossed out of the game. Joe Torre had been ejected earlier in the game for correctly arguing that Bobby Abreu was safe on a caught stealing at third base, a play that happened right in front of the Yankee dugout.
Saturday afternoon, the Yankees overcame a 3-2 Boston lead with a four-run sixth inning that drove Curt Schilling from the game, but Mike Mussina promptly gave up the lead on solo homers by Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek in the bottom of the inning. After Derek Jeter hit a go-ahead homer off Joel Pineiro in the top of the seventh, things went very, very badly. Before the game it was announced that Proctor would not be suspended for throwing at Youkilis the night before, but the Yankees might have preferred that he was. Entering in the seventh, Proctor gave up a double to David Ortiz. He was then ordered to intentionally walk Manny Ramirez, but followed that by unintentionally walking Kevin Youkilis on four pitches to load the bases. Mike Lowell then hit a double-play ball to short, but Robinson Cano made a poor throw to the bag forcing Derek Jeter to reach for the throw and spin before making the relay to first. Jeter's throw bounced in the dirt and, as Doug Mientkiewicz turned toward the foul line to field it, Minky was struck in the back of the head by Lowell's left thigh as Lowell came through the bag. Lowell would have been safe anyway, but the blow gave Mientkiewicz a concussion and as he lay still face down in the dirt, the balled rolled away and both Ortiz and Ramirez scored to give the Red Sox a lead. As Lowell had moved to second on the play, Joe Torre ordered Proctor to walk Jason Varitek. Wily Mo Peña followed by ripping a ball to short that hit Derek Jeter's glove, but trickled through his legs for a bases-loading error. Coco Crisp followed with an RBI single. Brian Bruney then came on and gave up a sac fly to Julio Lugo and an RBI double to Dustin Pedroia before Mike Myers came on to retire Ortiz and end the inning. The Sox added one more off Luis Vizcaino in the eighth to make the final score 11-6.
As for Mientkiewicz, he was diagnosed with whiplash in addition to the concussion, but it seems he also broke the scaphoid bone in his wrist on the play and will be out six to eight weeks because of that. He was placed on the 15-day DL yesterday though no move was made to fill his roster spot. Meanwhile, Roger Clemens was scratched from his scheduled start tonight due to a balky groin. He hopes to take his next scheduled turn on Saturday against the Pirates, but Matt DeSalvo will be recalled to start tonight. Apparently the injury to Mientkiewicz is what will allow the Yankees to recall DeSalvo after just three days in the minors and why they played with a 24-man roster last night.
Speaking of last night, Andy Pettitte and Josh Beckett locked horns in a pitchers duel for four innings, with the Yankees scoring the only run when a second-inning Jorge Posada double was plated by singles by Hideki Matsui and Josh Phelps. Then Beckett ran into trouble in the fifth, as the Yanks loaded the bases on two singles and a walk to bring Alex Rodriguez to the plate with two outs. Rodriguez chopped a 0-1 pitch to Mike Lowell at third, which Lowell barehanded and bounced in the dirt and off Kevin Youkilis's knee at first base allowing Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter to score, and Bobby Abreu to move to third. Jorge Posada followed by yanking an RBI single into right to make it 4-0 Yanks.
The Red Sox got right back in the bottom of the inning as Varitek, Peña, and Crisp singled to load the bases. Andy Pettitte reared back and struck out Julio Lugo for the first out, but his strike three pitch triggered back spasms and a Dustin Pedroia double and a David Ortiz single later, the game was tied and Pettitte was hitting the showers. Actually, Ortiz's single was played into a triple (technically a single and a two-base error) by Bobby Abreu as the ball dove at his feet as he was charging it, then hopped over his right shoulder. Luis Vizcano came on to intentionally walk Manny Ramirez, but let Ortiz score the go-ahead run on a sac fly and gave up an ultimately harmless Mike Lowell double before finally ending the inning.
The Red Sox nearly added to their lead against Vizcaino in the sixth when Julio Lugo drew a two-out walk from Vizcaino and Dustin Pedroia double to left, but, despite having David Ortiz on deck, the Sox sent Lugo home. Jorge Posada had to leap to catch the relay throw from Derek Jeter, but when he landed his foot blocked Lugo's from touching the plate and he quickly made the tag for the third out.
The Yankees threatened in the seventh when Josh Beckett walked Johnny Damon to lead off his final inning and Bobby Abreu singled off reliever Javier Lopez to put runners at the corners, but Brendan Donnelly got Alex Rodriguez to pop out and Jorge Posada's well-hit drive to center off Hideki Okajima settled into Coco Crisp's glove.
Okajima was less fortunate in the eighth when Hideki Matsui led off with a single and Robinson Cano absolutely tattooed a ball off the triangle in dead center for a game-tying triple. Unfortunately, the Yankees were unable to get Cano home with the go-ahead run as Josh Phelps struck out, and Cabrera and Damon grounded out.
In the bottom of the inning, Brian Bruney walked Coco Crisp with two outs and Julio Lugo reached on a bounding single in the shortstop hole that lept over the outstretched gloves of both Rodriguez and Jeter. Dustin Pedroia then cracked what looked like yet another double into the right field gap, but Bobby Abreu caught it on a dead run heading for the Boston bullpen to end the inning.
With the game still tied, Ortiz, Ramirez, and Youkilis looming in the bottom of the ninth, and Jonathan Papelbon stomping around on the mound, Derek Jeter grounded out and Bobby Abreu struck out to bring Alex Rodriguez to the plate with two out and none on. Rodriguez swung through a 93-mile-per-hour heater on the inside corner for strike one, fouled off another for strike two, then put a perfect swing on a pitch on the outside corner and sent it sailing into the Boston bullpen for a tie-breaking homer.
That set up what was just Mariano Rivera's second save opportunity in the last month. Mo battled Ortiz for ten pitches, including six straight fouls, throwing pitch after pitch right to Jorge Posada's glove. The tenth pitch just missed however. Jorge called for the ball right under Ortiz's hands and Rivera missed out over the plate and Ortiz crushed it. By then, however, the game was being played in a driving rainstorm and the rain, the wind, and the topspin on the ball conspired to drop Ortiz's drive into Bobby Abreu's glove for the first out. Rivera then struck out Ramirez and, after accidentally hitting Youkilis in the forearm on a check swing, struck out Mile Lowell on a check swing to give the Yankees a 6-5 win in the game and a 3-2 series win.
The Boston Red . . . ah, what's the point
Look, folks, I had to be a Debbie Downer here, but the Yankees string of AL East titles is going to come to an end this year. Even if the Yanks sweep the Red Sox in Fenway this weekend, they'll still be 10.5 games out in June with just 6 games left against the first-place Sox. And what are the odds that the Yanks are going to sweep the Sox after loosing four of five to the Angels and Blue Jays?
No, my friends, it is time to focus on the Wild Card race, where the Yankees trail the Tigers by seven games with eight head-to-head matchups remaining.
That doesn't mean that this weekend's series doesn't matter. Every win counts. Its just that beating the Red Sox no longer means any more, and actually means a hair less, than beating one of the other seven teams ahead of them in the wild card hunt (which, incidentally, includes the Blue Jays).
Not much has changed since these two teams met in the Bronx at the beginning of last week. Not even the pitching matchups. The Red Sox wound up losing eight games in May, two of them to the Yankees and one more since. Josh Beckett returned to the rotation on Tuesday with a stellar outing against the hard-hitting Indians, and Manny Delcarmen is back in the minors. For the Yankees, Kevin Thompson replaces the disabled Jason Giambi on the roster and the plan for the immediate future is to have Johnny Damon be the everyday DH and Melky Cabrera be the everyday center fielder. Meanwhile Matt DeSalvo was farmed out in favor of Chris Britton, who has been dominating the International League. Britton or another reliever will have to be removed from the roster on Monday to make way for the return of Roger Clemens.
Tim Wakefield vs. the Yankees in two starts this season: 0-2, 7.84 ERA, 10 1/3 IP, 14 H, 9 R, 3 HR, 11 BB, 5 K
Chien-Ming Wang vs. the Red Sox in two starts this season: 1-1, 4.38 ERA, 12 1/3 IP, 13 H, 6 R, 2 HR, 6 BB, 6 K
When these two last faced off a week ago Monday in the Bronx, Wang surprised everyone by utilizing his secondary pitches, particularly his slider, to strike out five Red Sox in 6 1/3 innings. In his last start against the contact-hitting Angels, Wang struck out six in eight innings to give him 11 Ks in his last 14 1/3 innings, or 6.91 K/9 over his last two starts. Despite the change in approach, his extreme ground-ball rate was largely unaffected as he got 24 ground balls in those two games against 11 flies (the fly ball total is typical for him, while the missing grounders all turned in to less risky strikeouts). Wang struck out 7.06 men per nine innings over his minor league career. Brandon Webb rode an extreme ground-ball rate and a 6.82 K/9 to the NL Cy Young award last year. If Wang's new strikeout rate holds, he may have just made the leap.
We Interrupt this thread...
...to say, wow, LeBron James is the MAN. Dude scored 48 points in the Cavs' double overtime win last night against the Pistons. The Cavs now hold a 3-2 series lead. More than that, James, still just 22, scored the final 25 points for his team, on a wide variety of shots--dunks (oh, do the Pistons miss Big Ben now, or what?), and impossible three-pointers. The game reminded me of that classic Isiah Thomas performance against the Lakers. Dag, it was stunning. I really hope the Cavs find a way to close it out and reach the Finals. That would be dope.
Okay, just couldn't help myself. Now back to baseball.
The Yanks will be without Jason Giambi for at least a minute, but possibly for the entire season. According to George King in the Post:
Giambi was diagnosed with a partially torn plantar fascia tendon on the bottom of the left foot, was immediately put in a walking boot and will be placed on the disabled list before tonight's game. While he will be re-evaluated in three weeks by Dr. William Hamilton, who examined Giambi yesterday in New York, it's usually a three-to-six-month process according to medical sources. Surgery is an option, but not one that is routinely used to release the tendon. Mark McGwire required surgery to fix the same problem.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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