Monthly archives: July 2007
It didn't take long for things to get out of hand for the White Sox last night. Mike Mussina set the Sox down in order on ten pitches in the top of the first thanks to a great running catch at the 385 ft. sign by Melky Cabrera and three called strikes on Jim Thome.
In the bottom of the first, Johnny Damon hit an 0-2 pitch to third base which spun away from Josh Fields, forcing him to reach for the ball and giving Damon time to reach with an infield single. On an 0-2 count to the next batter, Derek Jeter appeared to go around on a check swing, but was ruled not to have swung, robbing Contreras of a strikeout. In the previous inning, Thome had complained to home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi when strike two from Mussina appeared to be a bit high, then, after taking a pitch on the inside corner for a ball, was called out on another high pitch that he though was ball four. When Jeter's swing was declared checked by first-base ump Tom Hallion, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper and manager Ozzie Guillen started arguing from the dugout. Phil Cuzzi, who has a reputation for being an instigator, responded to the White Sox's taunts and, before anyone knew what was happening, Cuzzi tossed Guillen from the game.
Guillen came out onto the field to get his money's worth from Cuzzi, repeatedly, and colorfully imploring him to do his job at home plate rather than get in the middle of a disagreement between the White Sox bench and the first base ump, but it was all just bottle rockets before the real fireworks.
Given a stay of execution, Jeter singled up the middle and, two pitches later, Bobby Abreu crushed a home run into the upper deck in left. After Alex Rodriguez flied out to deep right, Hideki Matsui added solo shot into section 41 of the right field bleachers to make it 4-0 Yankees. Jorge Posada added a double before Contreras was able to get the last two outs on fly balls to left center.
Mike Mussina gave up a three-run home run to Juan Uribe in the top of the second to make the game momentarily close at 4-3 as Contreras set the Yankees down in order in the bottom of the second, striking out Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon along the way. Mussina returned serve with a nine-pitch, all-strikes top of the third, and the Yankees broke it open in the bottom half, driving Contreras from the game with a three-run homer by Robinson Cano. Knuckleballing relief pitcher Charlie Haeger was greeted by an error by Juan Uribe, who booted an Andy Phillips grounder, then recovered only to have the webbing tear out of Paul Konerko's glove allowing Phillips to reach base. That was followed by a two-run home run by Melky Cabrera that made it 9-3 Yanks after three.
From there things just got silly. Jorge Posada hit a two-run homer off Haeger in the fourth. Matsui added a two-run jack off Gavin Floyd in the sixth. With Floyd taking one for the team, Johnny Damon hit his first home run since June 26 in the seventh. Two batters later, defensive replacement Shelley Duncan followed with a solo shot of his own that set the final score at 16-3.
In addition to being Duncan's fourth home run in 21 major league at-bats, Duncan's tater was the Yankees' eighth of the game, tying the franchise record set on June 28, 1939 when Joe DiMaggio and Babe Dahlgren each hit two and Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, Tommy Henrich, and George Selkirk each hit one. Duncan was also the seventh Yankee to homer in the game, tying an American League record held by three other teams. The Yankees have now scored 54 runs in their last three games in Yankee Stadium. I don't know if that's any kind of record, but it sure sounds like one.
Alex Rodriguez, who entered the game with 499 career home runs, did not hit a home run. Nor did he get a hit. He did, however, hit a lot of warning-track bombs, one of which Jermaine Dye made a great catch on while running face-first into the wall in right. After his last at-bat, Rodriguez gave his bat to a very excited kid in a blue sleeveless shirt behind the Yankee dugout. That bat won't make it to the Hall of Fame, but the next one off the rack just might.
Hidden behind all those homers was a strong performance by the Yankee hurlers who allowed no runs beyond that Uribe homer. Together Mussina, Kyle Farnsworth (who was booed when announced in the seventh inning and responded by retiring the side on eight pitches, six strikes), Mike Myers, and Sean Henn allowed eight hits, walked none, struck out eight, and threw 84 of 122 pitches for strikes (69 percent). By comparison, Contreras allowed seven runs on eight hits and a walk in just 2 2/3 innings.
The Chicago White Sox
The Yankees are 4-3 against the White Sox thus far this season and most recently took three of four from the Chisox in Chicago in early June. This week's three-game series marks the Sox's only visit to the Bronx on the season. Since the Yanks were last in Chicago, the Sox have gone 22-27 (.449), which is a pretty close match for their overall winning percentage of .457. That's just what this team is. The Sox have won three of their last four series, losing to Boston, but beating the Indians, Tigers, and Blue Jays, still, they're a mere 8-7 over that stretch. One thing that has changed is that the Sox are finally scoring some runs, scoring 5.21 runs per game in July after scoring just 3.90 per game over the first three months of the season. Of course, they've started allowing runs too, giving up 6.11 per game in July after allowing 4.68 per game through the end of June.
And so it goes for the White Sox, who have tossed in the towel by flipping free-agent-to-be Tad Iguchi to Philadelphia where he'll fill the second base hole vacated by Chase Utley's broken hand. Twenty-four-year-old lefty Danny Richar, whom the Chisox picked up from the Diamondbacks in a swap of minor leaguers back in mid-June, and veteran backup Alex Cintron will look to fill that hole for the Pale Hose now. The Sox were unable to deal fellow pending free agent Jermaine Dye, however, or tonight's starter Jose Contreras.
No surprise about Contreras, who has been awful since the end of May. After posting a 3.71 ERA in his first nine starts, six of which were quality starts, Contreras has posted a 8.27 ERA and a 1-9 record over his last 11, only three of which have been quality starts. Limit it to his last eight starts and that ERA swells to 9.32, and 11.05 over his last five (all loses). Things have just taken a nose dive from there. Here's Contreras's line in his last two starts combined:
12 IP, 22 H, 19 R, 6 BB, 5 K, 3 HR
El Titan de Bronze has actuall pitched fairly well against his former team in two starts this year (14 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 11 K, O HR) despite losing both, but one assumes some correction will occur to that line tonight.
Mike Mussina's two starts against the White Sox have been more of a mixed bag, but in his last he locked horns with Contreras and hurled six innings, allowing just one run on four hits, no walks, and no homers. Chances are Moose, who will looking for his first quality start in three tries, won't be quite that sharp tonight, but it shouldn't take much to outpitch Contreras.
Note: I'll update this post with news of the roster changes resulting from the Betemit deal when I have them. Peter Abraham reports that Phil Hughes is in the Bronx and will pitch on Saturday, but he doesn't say that Hughes has been activated yet. The Yanks could just let Betemit replace Proctor and let Hughes replace Chris Basak on Saturday, but I'd imagine they'll farm out Basak for a stop-gap reliever before game time.
Update: No moves today. Proctor is gone, but Betemit isn't here yet and the Yanks will play a man short for tonight as a result.
Wilson Betemit for Scott Proctor
As we inch toward the 4:00 pm trading deadline, the Yankees have made what could turn out to be their only deadline deal by sending Scott Proctor back to the Dodgers for infielder Wilson Betemit. This trade impresses me in several ways:
First, this is not a win-now trade. Rather than giving up prospects for middle relievers of dubious value, the Yankees have traded a 30-year-old middle reliever of dubious value for a 25-year-old infielder in his third full major league season whose top PECOTA comp is Carlos Guillen. There's some question as to how the Yankees will utilize Betemit, but there's no doubt that they got the superior player in the deal.
Second is just how talented Betemit is. A switch-hitter who can play second, third, and short and even made an emergency appearance in right field for the Dodgers earlier this year, Betemit has a good bit of pop and improving plate discipline and probably deserves a starting job somewhere in the major leagues.
I'll take a closer look at Betemit in just a second, but before I do, the third thing that impresses me about this deal is that Brian Cashman essentially turned Robin Ventura (whom he dealt to the Dodgers for Proctor and Bubba Crosby at the 2003 deadline) into Betemit, getting Proctor's solid 2006 season out of the pen along the way. The Ventura deal infuriated me at the time. I was sure that Ventura would have been a valuable bat off the bench in the Yankees' postseason run, and I'm still convinced that he could have made the difference in the 2003 World Series, but it's hard to argue against it now. Ventura, then 35, played 151 games for the Dodgers over a season and a half, totaling 1.5 wins over replacement (per Baseball Prospectus's WARP) for L.A. before retiring. In parts of three seasons, Crosby accumulated 0.7 WARP and was sent on his way before he could do much harm (Adam Kennedy's "triple" in the 2005 ALDS was as much if not more Gary Sheffield's fault than Crosby's). Proctor, meanwhile, compiled 6.1 WARP for the Yankees over four seasons (4 of those wins coming last year) to give the Yankees a 5.3 win advantage in the Ventura trade alone. That the Yankees now have Betemit to show for all of that is just fantastic work on Cashman's part.
Wilson Betemit was signed as a right-hand-hitting shortstop out of the Dominican Republic by the Atlanta Braves in 1996. The deal was illegal as Betemit was just 14 at the time, but the Braves paid the penalty to keep Betemit, who learned to switch-hit and by the age of 19 was hitting .355/.394/.514 in double-A, which earned him a brief cup of coffee in the major leagues and a whole lotta hype. Betamit stalled out there, however, struggling with his weight, shifting to third base, and spending the next three years at triple-A, struggling in the first and showing only mild improvements in the next two before getting his second taste of the majors with brief call-ups in May and September of 2004 at the age of 22. Out of options in 2005, Betemit finally spent a full season in the bigs and even got to start at third base during Chipper Jones' annual stint on the disabled list. He hit a solid .305/.359/.435 that season and .281/.344/.497 the next year with Atlanta before being flipped to the Dodgers at the 2006 trading deadline for Danys Baez and Willy Aybar. Installed as the Dodgers' starting third baseman, Betemit kept up that pace with a little less patience but a bit more power through early September, but then slumped badly hitting .175/.264/.238 from September 5 through the end of the 2006 season. Betemit was even worse in April of this year, hitting .120/.299/.160 through May 1, but since then he's been raking to a .283/.392/.623 tune.
Overall, even with those two awful months mixed in, Betemit has seen his isolated power (ISP = SLG - AVG)) and plate discipline (ISD = OBP - AVG) numbers increase in each of the last two seasons from .130 ISP and .054 ISD in 2005, to .206 ISP and .083 ISD in 2006, to .243 ISP and .128 ISD thus far this year, both of which are just outstanding numbers.
Here's Dodger Thoughts' Jon Weisman on Betemit's Dodger career:
While no All-Star, Betemit, particularly against right-handed pitchers, was quite simply one of the Dodgers' best hitters. He was often mocked for his propensity to strike out [151 Ks in 604 PA in 2006 and 2007 combined], but those strikeouts distracted the critics from realizing his value.
As to why the Dodgers were willing to deal such a player, Weisman again:
"That fact remains that the Dodgers will stick with Garciaparra and Kent at third base and second base for the remainder of the season as long as they stay healthy, so that there was no starting role for Betemit. And with Andy LaRoche, Tony Abreu and Chin-Lung Hu in the minor leagues, the Dodgers are also covered for the future. At least one of these players has a higher ceiling than Betemit."
Still, Weisman agrees that Betemit is, "a more valuable player than Proctor," and that "trading for a middle reliever is almost by definition against good judgment, unless you're giving up a fringe minor-leaguer in the process." Adding only that, "the Dodgers were probably never going to warm up to Betemit--even though he hit 19 home runs in 330 at-bats as a Dodger."
So Betemit is a young, multi-talented hitter and infielder who's good enough to start, but what is he going to do on the Yankees?
That's a good question. For now I imagine he'll replace Chris Basak on the roster while Saturday's starter (who one assumes will be Phil Hughes) will eventually take Proctor's vacated position on the pitching staff, which had only been carrying four starters since Basak replaced Kei Igawa on Friday. ESPN's Buster Olney reported that the Yankees liked Betemit because "he could play first base for them this year," but failed to mention that Betemit's never played first base in the major leagues before while Andy Phillips has hit .304/.350/.420 since being recalled, .317/.360/.442 since taking over the starting job at first base, and is in the midst of an 11-game hitting streak. Besides which, Betemit and Phillips would not make a good platoon as both are better against righty pitching (Phillips repeating last year's odd reverse split, and the switch-hitting Betemit doing the bulk of his damage hitting lefty).
It's widely believed that Betemit was primarily obtained to be Alex Rodriguez insurance, as Betemit could become the Yankees' starting third baseman in 2008 should Rodriguez opt out of his contract and sign elsewhere. That's not a bad get for a redundant right-handed middle reliever who had a 1.51 WHIP on the season, has allowed four homers in his last six innings pitched, and against whom opposing hitters are hitting .298/.391/.482 since June 1. If nothing else, it gives the Yankees the best utility infielder they've had under Joe Torre by incredible leaps and bounds, even though it seems likely that Miguel Cairo will stick around to be a redundant drain on the roster (a.k.a. pinch-runner).
Should Rodriguez sign an extension to stay in New York, Betemit could be flipped over the winter for something a lot better than Scott Proctor or retained as the lone utility infielder leaving Cairo to find work elsewhere. Whatever becomes of him, Betemit is a great addition and a significant upgrade for the Yankees whether you're comparing him to the player he was traded for (Proctor), the player he replaces on the roster (Basak), or the player whose playing time he'll likely most effect (Cairo).
As for the bullpen, with 15 minutes to go until the deadline, the latest news is that Eric Gagne may be headed to Boston, while Joba Chamberlain and Edwar Ramirez could wind up getting the call to solidify the Yankee pen with Chris Britton still on the DL for Scranton, Brian Bruney likely getting demoted, and the fate of Kyle Farnsworth still to be determined.
Update: Sox got Gagne (for mL CF David Murphy and LHP Kason Gabbard), which gives them an insane endgame provided Gagne stays healthy.
Yankee Panky #18: A bunch of bull(pen)
If you believe what you’re reading, seeing on TV and hearing on radio, every team in contention is looking for middle relief help. And as far as the Yankees and their bullpen are concerned, the past couple of days have featured plenty of jibber jabber. Peter Abraham gave a clue into this on Sunday in a notes column that featured some surprising honesty from Joe Torre, a misleading headline, and a hitch in the second paragraph that spell check won’t catch but a decent copyeditor should.
While Pete Abes asserts that Scott Proctor’s removal from a primary set-up role is intended to restore confidence in the righty, Jayson Stark and George King write that Proctor is the most likely candidate to be dealt. This is due in part to the Cashman Manifesto of building from within. Joba Chamberlain’s move to the bullpen at Scranton, for all intents and purposes, is meant to accelerate his promotion to the Major Leagues. Yet Abraham wrote that the team had not formulated a plan to use Chamberlain as a reliever.
Which story is true? I wrote last week that it’s difficult to separate truth from rumor near the trade deadline. I would guess that Stark and King, two veteran writers that manned the Phillies beat for a long time, have it right. That’s not meant to discredit Abraham’s reporting. New information could have been presented between the time he filed his story and Stark and King filed theirs.
A QUEBECOIS IN PINSTRIPES?
But after what’s happened to the most recent bespectacled, brittle reliever to wear a Yankee uniform (see below), is Gagne worth the risk, especially at that price?
FARNS WORTH LESS AND LESS
It’s no secret the Yankees were, and probably still are, shopping Farnsworth. Torre is in a big-time Catch-22 here; there is no usage pattern he can devise for Farnsworth that will convince anyone that the reliever is a part of the Yankees’ plans for the stretch run and beyond. If Farnsworth pitches, say, four or five times per week over the next couple of weeks as opposed to the recent number of twice in a nine-day span, the assumption will be made that the Yankees are showcasing him. If another prolonged span of Kyle the Sedentary occurs, it’s reasonable to believe he might already be placed on waivers and the Yankees are just waiting for someone to claim him.
I’ll be honest: I don’t care if Farnsworth is traded. It could very well be addition by subtraction. If you put Farnsworth's numbers next to those of Scott Proctor, Brian Bruney, and until six weeks ago, Luis Vizcaino, the hard-throwing four-piece bridge to Rivera is basically the same pitcher in four different sizes, shapes and colors.
If Farnsworth is traded, I believe it’s because of the feud with Jorge Posada. Farnsworth is not the first Yankee pitcher to complain about Posada. The catcher can be prickly — I've witnessed it on numerous occasions. I was surprised to not see any mention of pitchers who previously had problems with Posada. There would be no need to go into extreme detail about the Randy Johnson saga which culminated in the signing of Kelly Stinnett (a move Joe Torre rationalized by saying he “had a little more stick” than John Flaherty), the punches Posada and El Duque exchanged several years ago, or even Mike Mussina’s comfort factor with Wil Nieves this season compared to Posada. David Cone preferred Joe Girardi to Posada, even after Posada won the everyday job in ’98. A brief sentence or two listing prominent Yankee pitchers that did not see eye to eye with Posada would have added another dimension to the story. Tyler Kepner added a historical component to his main story Monday, but not on the Farnsworth-Posada feud. Kepner likened Joba Chamberlain’s possible promotion to young relievers on recent World Series winners who were called up in July or August and had an impact on the pennant race.
Maybe it’s just me. I’m a history buff. As an editor, I always thought past events added value to a story when used properly. As a fan, I want to read a story or listen/watch a broadcast and connect it to a past event or events. If I can piece it together, the writers or broadcasters should be able to, from being around the team every day. The incidents I mentioned above could have been included in the writers' original drafts. (Maybe they were and were cut for word count restrictions.)
Do you agree? Do you think the past Posada feuds are relevant to the current one with Farnsworth?
* * *
“Impact” will be a buzzword today. It always is on Deadline Day. Like all of you, I’ll be scanning the wires for the latest. I’ll check back Wednesday with a best and worst of trade deadline coverage.
Talk to you soon.
Tuesday Tidbits: Act Like You Wanna
Nothing doing so far with the Yanks in the trade market. The deadline is today at 4 p.m, east coast time. The morning rumors have Eric Gagne as a longshot to come to the Bronx and the Proctor-for-Betemit a possibility once again--here is coverage in the Post, News, the Times, and Newsday. According to Buster Olney over at ESPN, the Yankees:
...Seem destined to make a move today. If they cannot trade Kyle Farnsworth for what they consider to be equal value, then they'll probably trade Scott Proctor to the Dodgers for Wilson Betemit. If they can find a deal for Farnsworth, then they'll keep Proctor. Either way, Joba Chamberlain is crucial to their thinking -- they hope the touted prospect can fill a role in middle relief.
Series Wrap: @ Baltimore
Offense: The inverse of the Royals series, the Yankee offense was comatose for the first 18 1/3 innings (including the completion of the suspended game), scoring just 3 runs over that span. Over the final ten innings they scored 15 runs. Overall a poor performance, but at least it ended well.
Melky Cabrera 6 for 11, 2 2B, 3B, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB, HBP, SB
Alex Rodriguez 0 for 9, 4 K, 5 BB
Neither Shelley Duncan nor Chris Basak got into a game on either offense or defense.
Rotation: Quality starts by Andy Pettitte and Chien-Ming Wang with Roger Clemens missing by one run (6 1/3 IP, 4 R). Clemens and Wang were both a bit off, however, as they combined to allow 24 base runners in 12 1/3 innings. Pettitte's was easily the best start of the weekend (7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 5 K).
Bullpen: This was by far the pen's worst performance of the second half thus far as it allowed 8 runs in 7 2/3 innings.
Ron Villone faced three batters over the course of two appearances and retired all three, striking out one. He did allow one inherited runner to score, but that was because he was brought into a bases-loaded, one-out situation created by Brian Bruney and the first batter he faced grounded out, plating a run in the process.
Brian Bruney gave up the two crucial eighth-inning runs by which the Yankee rally fell short on Saturday night. He faced five batters, allowed three singles, one reached on an error by Alex Rodriguez, and the only one he retired plated a run with a sac fly. Kyle Farnsworth walked the first man he faced, then allowed a two-run Brian Roberts home run and threw in a single for good measure in his only inning of the weekend. Scott Proctor gave up a Kevin Millar solo home run and a single in his only appearance of the weekend and needed Ron Villone to get the last out of his inning for him. Mike Myers faced four batters across two games. Two of them reached base, one of them scored on Luis Vizcaino's watch. For his part, Vizcaino allowed four runners and one run (not counting the inherited run of Myers') in an inning and a third. Mariano Rivera got one save and closed out the only win of the weekend, but allowed five hits and a run in 2 2/3 innings (though he did also strike out four). I honestly forgot Sean Henn was on the roster. He did not pitch.
Defense: The only error of the weekend was Alex Rodriguez's boot amid Brian Bruney's awful third of an inning (though Robinson Cano flubbed a ball that hit off Vizcaino's shoulder in the finale, but that was ruled a hit). Otherwise, the Yanks played some very strong defense, with Melky Cabrera's arm and Johnny Damon's catch in the finale standing out. Jose Molina threw out the only base runner who attempted to steal against him making him a perfect 2 for 2 as a Yankee.
Conclusion: A scuffling offense and a flammable bullpen make for a rough weekend, especially when the starters are only so-so. Fortunately the offense perked up at the end. But what about the pen? Word has it Joba Chamberlain has been moved to the bullpen down in triple-A. Meanwhile, the trading deadline is tomorrow. Stay tuned . . .
Back On Track?
The Yankees scored four runs early yesterday afternoon to overcome another less-than-crisp start from Chien-Ming Wang (6 IP, 9 H, 4 BB, 3 ER). They then scored six runs late to overcome more shoddy relief work from the bullpen (3 IP, 6 H, 3 R). Put it all together and the Yanks beat the Orioles 10-6 to salvage the final game of the weekend series and the glimmer of hope for their season.
The Yanks got all four of those early runs off Daniel Cabrera in the first two innings. They did this despite getting only one run out of a bases-loaded no-outs situation in the first and Derek Jeter being called out at the plate on an inning ending 3-4-2 double play off the bat of Alex Rodriguez in the second despite the fact that it appeared that catcher Paul Bako missed the tag.
Rodriguez, incidentally, is still hitless since he launched career homer number 499 in Kansas City. After last night's game, Rodriguez said he was being pitched very carefully and that instead of pressing to make things happen he had to learn to take his base and keep the line moving. Yesterday, after striking out and grounding into the afore mentioned double play in his first two at-bats (both with the bases loaded), he took his own advice and took three walks (one intentional) in his three remaining trips. That's further evidence of the increased maturity that Rodriguez has shown this season. In the 2005 Division Series against the Angels, Rodriguez was in a similar situation. The Angels gave him nothing to hit in that series, but he tried to force it and wound up going 2 for 15 with five Ks and just six walks in 21 plate appearances.
Cabrera largely settled down after the bad call on Jeter, while Wang coughed up those two runs in the bottom of the fourth, stranding two other runners on base thanks to a fantastic inning-ending catch by Johnny Damon heading back toward the wall in the gap in left field to snag a drive by Brian Roberts. Roberts got his revenge on Wang by driving in a run in the sixth to pull the O's within 4-3. The Yanks got that one back in the seventh off John Parrish, but the O's returned the volley in the bottom of the inning by plating Nick Markakis's leadoff double off Luis Vizcaino.
That made it 5-4 Yanks with Vizcaino burned and Kyle Farnsworth warming in the pen. Watching the game, I was convinced Farnsworth would blow that one-run lead in the eighth. Fortunately, the Yanks exploded for five runs against Paul Shuey and Dany Baez in the top of the inning, which cushioned the blow of the two-run Brian Roberts home run Farnsworth eventually surrendered in the bottom half. Mariano Rivera struck out the side around a pair of singles and a wild pitch in the ninth to wrap things up.
The Yankees are now back home for a much needed rest today followed by six games against the White Sox and Royals. They really need to go 5-1 in that stretch. It's a lot to ask, but times are tough in Yankeeland.
Too Little Too Late
Does that headline apply to last night's 7-5 Yankee loss to the Orioles in which the Yankees rallied for four runs in the ninth only to have Bobby Abreu strikeout to end the game while representing the tying run, or to the Yankees' season itself? You tell me.
The Yankees got exactly one man on base against Brian Burres in each of the first six innings last night. Twice that runner was erased by a double play. Twice he stole second base. Once he was thrown out stealing. In none of those six innings was he advanced by another batter, and none of those six runners came around to score. The Yanks finally broke through when Hideki Matsui led off the seventh with a solo home run. Jorge Posada followed that homer with a single, driving Burres from the game, but despite a subsequent walk, the Yankees were unable to do further damage against reliever John Parrish.
For his part, Roger Clemens had a rough first inning, allowing two runs on a walk and a pair of doubles and throwing 31 pitches. He pitched out of another jam in the second, but another 19 pitches put him at 50 after just two frames. Clemens set the O's down 1-2-3 in the third, but it was the only time he was able to do so all night. The O's scratched out a third run in the fifth on a lead-off walk to Brian Roberts, a sac bunt, a steal of third, and an RBI single.
Despite having thrown 110 pitches, Clemens came out for the seventh, but when Roberts delivered a one-out single on Rocket's 113th pitch, Joe Torre brought in Mike Myers to face Corey Patterson. Patterson singled to put runners on the corners, then stole second uncontested when the Yankee infield came in to cut off the run. Myers got Nick Markakis swinging for the second out and Torre called on set-up ace Luis Vizcaino, but Vizcaino walked Kevin Millar on five pitches to load the bases then gave up a bloop single to right by Miguel Tejada to plate two more runs, running the score to 5-1 O's.
In the eighth, Danys Baez got Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, and Alex Rodriguez on eight pitches and the O's tacked two more on against Brian Bruney and Ron Villone to make it 7-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
With a six-run lead, Dave Trembley turned to the bottom man in his pen, Cory Doyne. Doyne got ahead of Hideki Matsui 0-2, fell back to 2-2, then got Matsui to ground to second. Only the ball was a slow, bounding, three hopper close to the bag and Matsui was able to beat Brian Roberts' throw at first base by a half step. Then this happened:
Posada home run
With the score 7-4 Yankees, Trembley pulled Doyne and brought in lefty Jamie Walker to face Johnny Damon. With two men on base, I wondered about the wisdom of going for broke by pinch-hitting Shelley Duncan for Damon against the lefty Walker. The thought being that the righty slugger Ducan could run into a pitch and tie the game, while Damon, being a lefty, was more likely to roll over on one and hit into a rally-killing double play. The other side of that being that Damon had hit .355/.412/.516 over the previous seven games and, with no outs, Damon's on-base abilities were more likely to keep the line moving and bring the team's big hitters to the plate. Torre, smartly, elected to stay with Damon. What I didn't know at the time, but Torre did, was that Damon had hit into only one double play all season prior to that at-bat, but that DP had come in the third inning of this very game. Damon rewarded Torre's informed decision by grounding into his second double play of the 2007 season. Undeterred, Derek Jeter singled to plate Phillips, bringing Bobby Abreu to the plate as the tying run.
With Alex Rodriguez, still looking for his 500th career home run, lurking on-deck, Abreu took a slider on the outside corner for strike one as Jeter took second base on defensive indifference. Abreu then took another slider well outside for ball one, and a fastball that looked a bit outside for strike two. With catcher Ramon Hernandez bouncing around to prevent Jeter from relaying location from second base, Walker threw a slider in the dirt to make it 2-2. Abreu then fouled off a slider and a fastball (both of which were in the strike zone), and took another slider low and away to run the count full. Seven pitches into the at-bat, Walker had thrown five sliders and two fastballs, all had been belt-high or lower, all had been away, and all but the last fastball had been on the outside corner or outside the strike zone. Walker's last pitch started out headed for Abreu's ribs. Bobby had seen it often enough to recognize it: the slider again. This one was higher and a bit further over the plate than the others. Abreu paused to avoid swinging early at the 73-mile-per-hour pitch, then let loose.
Watching the replay, I still can't figure out how he missed it. The pitch was high in the zone. Al Leiter, broadcasting for YES, said it was too high for Abreu to reach, but it was letter-high at most and the replays show that he swung on the right plane. If anything it looks like he swung too early despite the extra pause. In either case, the pitch was likely ball four. Having come up empty, Abreu stared back at the ball in Hernandez's glove in shock, then let out a yell of frustration and realization before staggering back to the dugout in a daze behind Rodriguez, who was left on deck.
Will a similar scene be played out on a larger scale in September? With the Yankees having now dropped the weekend series to the Orioles, breaking serve for the first time in the second half (if you'll allow the cross-sports metaphor), let's do some calculations.
The Yankees are now 55-49. They are nine games behind Boston (who won last night) in the AL East, and five games behind Cleveland (who lost) in third place in the Wild Card race (thanks to Friday's completion of the suspended game, their games behind in the standings and games behind in the loss column are now in synch). Thus far in the second half, the Yankees have gone 13-6 (.684) (including that suspended game, which was not added to their record until it was completed on Friday) against their cupcake opponents. If the Yankees can arrest their current three-game losing streak to continue to play .684 ball against the cupcakes (O's, Chisox, D-Rays, KC, Jays), and go 12-11 against their tougher opponents (Tribe, Tigers, Halos, Bosox, M's) per my previous calculations, they'll finish the season with 91 wins. At their current winning percentage, Cleveland would finish the season with at least 93 wins. There's still hope for the Wild Card, but there's no room for error. The Yankees have to compensate for their current slump with a sweep against someone else, and they have to do better than 12-11 against the big boys (preferably beginning by winning their three-game series in Cleveland) if they want to make the postseason. The Red Sox, who are on pace for at least 99 wins, are likely out of reach. The Mariners (on pace for a max of 89 wins and having lost 7 of their last 9) are of little concern.
Chien-Ming Wang needs to be the stopper this afternoon, and the offense needs to build on its ninth-inning rally. If this team gets any deeper into its sudden funk, it's over, both the season and the franchise's 12-year streak of reaching the postseason.
The Yankees enter tonight's game in the same situation they were in a week ago. Having lost two straight, they have to sweep the weekend to stay on target. Last weekend they did just that by blowing the Devil Rays out of the water by winning three games by a combined score of 45-12. This weekend, the pitching matchups favor the Yankees, but the offense will have to snap out of their sudden funk to cash in on that advantage.
Robinson Cano broke the team's 0-for-27 slump with runners in scoring position with an RBI single in the sixth inning last night. Here's hoping they can build on that tonight against Brian Burres who has a 7.18 ERA over his last five starts. Roger Clemens, meanwhile, has allowed three runs in his last 13 innings over two starts.
The Yankee Rumor Mill
In less than 100 hours now, we’ll know whether the Yankees have made any substantial moves to beat the trading deadline. As well as the Bombers have played since the All-Star break, general manager Brian Cashman cannot afford to stand pat. The acquisition of backup catcher Jose Molina is a small step in the right direction, if only because it forced the incompetent Wil Nieves off the roster. Still, the bench and bullpen remain primary areas of concern, as does the back end of the starting rotation. At the same time, Cashman shouldn’t trade his two prized pitching prospects, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, not unless the Cardinals are suddenly offering Albert Pujols. (After all, he wasn’t good enough to play unless the All-Star Game went extra innings.) With all of that in mind, let’s consider some of the many rumored possibilities…
There’s been a lot of talk this week about a Mark Teixeira deal, but I don’t see him coming to the Yankees when all is said and done. I’d bet on the Braves instead, followed by the Orioles as a longshot. Embattled Rangers GM Jon Daniels needs a big return for Teixeira, especially considering how many of his recent deals have flatlined for Texas. Daniels will almost certainly insist on either Chamberlain or Hughes, both of whom are close to untouchable in Cashman’s mind. (Furthermore, both figure in the Yankees’ immediate future, Hughes as the No. 4 starter and Chamberlain as a possible set-up man for Mariano Rivera.) If Daniels is willing to consider a lesser package featuring Melky Cabrera, Tyler Clippard, and/or Ian Kennedy, the Yankees might bite. But then again, can the Yankees really afford to trade Cabrera given Johnny Damon’s fragile body and diminishing outfield range? And will Teixeira, who has only 13 home runs this season, ever show the kind of power that he showed in 2005, when he peaked with 43 home runs? Given these questions and obstacles, I just don’t see the Rangers and Yankees getting together on a major deal involving Big Tex…
The Yankees would be smarter to pursue a deal with the Devil Rays, who have two useful players that interest the Yankees. For the price it would cost to acquire Teixeira, the Yankees could probably land both Carlos Pena and Ty Wigginton. How about a package of Clippard, Scott Proctor, Ross Ohlendorf, and Chris Britton (currently on the minor league DL) for the pair of 29-year-old power hitters? The lefty-swinging Pena could then platoon with Andy Phillips at first base (and isn’t that a lot more appealing than waiting for Doug Mientkiewicz to return in September?), while Wigginton could serve as a platoon partner for Robinson Cano at second base and as a valuable bat off the bench. Wigginton’s ability to play second, first, third and the outfield make him especially attractive—and might be enough to bump Miguel Cairo from the 25-man roster…
Speaking of second baseman, the Yankees are once again showing interest in Houston’s Mark Loretta, just as they did during the off-season when he was a free agent. Like Wigginton, Loretta could platoon with Cano and could provide another option at first base. Unfortunately, Astros GM Tim Purpura is notoriously conservative and needs a federal proclamation to make any trades of substance…
What about the bullpen? Scott Linebrink has already been traded, leaving the Rangers’ Eric Gagne and the Royals’ Octavio Dotel as the biggest names available in a thin market of relief pitching. The Yankees have some interest in both pitchers, (more in Gagne than in Dotel, whom the Yankees already had in 2006), but probably not enough to outbid teams like the Indians, Tigers, Dodgers, and Mets. As for lesser names, David Weathers and Salomon Torres are both available, but neither seems like an ideal guy for the eighth inning. Rather than a trade, the Yankees are far more likely to pursue solutions from within their system, such as Joba Chamberlain or Chris Britton… Then there’s always the theory of addition by subtraction, which explains the rumors that have the enigmatic Kyle Farnsworth headed back to the Tigers for a C-level prospect…
The Yankees and White Sox have engaged in recent discussions, enough to merit the White Sox sending scouts to follow the New Yorkers on their current road trip. While Jose Contreras and Javier Vazquez are both available, the Yankees have little interest in re-visiting either of those options. Vazquez’ mechanics are too problematic and Contreras has lost too much off his fastball, so forget about either of those right-handers. Jon Garland, however, is another story. The Yankees so covet the 27-year-old ground ball specialist as a mid-season replacement for long-in-the-tooth Mike Mussina that they are considering the surrender of some of Cashman’s stockpile of pitching prospects. The White Sox would also have interest in center field prospect Brett Gardner, given the disaster area that position has been for Chicago since the departure of Aaron Rowand. With the potential additions of both Garland and Hughes, the Yankees could then jettison both Mussina and Igawa to the bullpen, where they would presumably replace some combination of Proctor, Farnsworth, Mike Myers, and/or Ron Villone…
One final note: some recent trade talk has centered on Johnny Damon, who is apparently being shopped around both leagues. I’m sure that the Yankees would love to trade Damon, but his contract is so prohibitive that it makes the chances of a fair exchange nearly impossible. If the Yankees are smart, they’ll work with Damon on a new conditioning program, switch him to left field fulltime in 2008, and hope that he can regain some of the power he showed in 2006.
On the Chin
"I'm just kind of fighting myself," said Pettitte, who allowed eight hits and three walks, while striking out five. "I'm constantly having to make adjustments out there instead of it just being together for seven straight innings. I got in a little bit of a rhythm the last few innings, and that's what's frustrating that I can struggle for a few innings and then it's fine, but yet the damage is done."
Scott Proctor may be sniffing around for the lighter fluid. He gave up a solo homer last night, the fourth dinger he's surrendered in his last five games. As Pete Abraham mentions, "He looks like a guy who is worried about being traded, which perhaps he should be."
But the story of the night was Baltimore's rookie starter Jeremy Guthrie and the O's pen. The Yankee offense was kept in check. Guthrie threw six strong innings, featuring a 95+sinker and a good breaking ball. Man, does he look like a keeper or what? In fact, there are a lot of things to be pleased about in Baltimore these days, according to the Washington Post.
The bad news for the Yanks? Boston, Cleveland and Seattle all won. Welp, today is another day. Let's hope the Yanks come slugging tonight.
Yanks Jump Start Their Weekend
The Yankees and Orioles kicked off their weekend series this evening with some unfinished business. On June 28th, the Yankees lead the O's 8-6 with two men out in the eighth inning when the game was suspended due to rain. RBI singles by Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter helped the Yankees rally from two down. It was raining like crazy as the Yanks came back and Baltimore third baseman Melvin Mora got himself thrown out of the game arguing with the umpires after the Yanks took the lead. The game should have been called sooner and you couldn't blame Mora for being upset.
It was raining this afternoon in Baltimore but cleared up and the game resumed a few minutes after seven. All the statistics will count as June stats. Here's the play-by-play:
The Yankees 8th Rob Bell on the mound for Baltimore. He falls behind Hideki Matsui 3-0. This time Godzilla doesn't swing at the 3-0 pitch, fastball strike. Then he grounds a sharp one-hopper to Kevin Millar at first and the side is retired.
Bottom of the 8th Mike Myers, who had entered the game in the seventh inning starts the eighth inning against Nick Markakis. The first pitch is a breaking ball low for a ball. Another breaking ball, this one is high and away, ball two. Fastball on the inside corner, called strike one. Fastball, outside, Markakis swings late and fouls a ball to the left side. Breaking ball, Markakis waits, is late again but fouls it back. Another breaking ball, low and away, Markakis grounds a soft ground ball to Jeter. One out.
Slider inside, ball one to Chris Gomez. Fastball, high and away, ball two. Fastball, low and away, 3-0. Again low and away, four pitch walk. Aubrey Huff comes to hit and Torre calls for Mariano.
Mariano vs. Huff. Cutter, up and in, ball one. It didn't cut so much as it swept. Another cutter. Huff swings late and grounds a chopper to Cano, who flips to Jeter, who throws on to first for an easy 4-6-3 double play. Nice and easy. Now that's what I'm talkin' about, Mo.
Top of the 9th
Alex. Fastball low, ball one. Fastball, down the pipe, ground ball to short. That was a pitch to hit. You know he's thinking about the home run. Well, so much for the Back-to-the-Future home run angle.
The first pitch to Jorge Posada is a fastball strike right over the plate. Slider, outside, 1-1. Another breaking ball, high and away, 2-1. Fastball grounded right at Brian Roberts at second. Easy out.
Bobby Abreu takes a questionable strike, low and away. Fastball, tailing away. Same pitch, same call. Same pitch again, low, 1-2. Another sinker, easy ground ball to second, side retired.
Bottom of the 9th
Miguel Tejada, who did not appear in the original June 28th game, leads off. Tonight gives his return from the DL. Mo's first pitch is a cutter on the outside corner. Tejada swings and misses, strike one. Cutter in the dirt, 1-1. Fastball, low, Tejada takes an enormous cut and misses the ball. Upstairs, the ball cuts, and Tejada swings wildly through the ball. One out.
Corey Patterson fouls the first pitch--a cutter--off of his foot. Another cutter, this one doesn't get in enough and Patterson lines the ball to right center. Abreu gets a bad jump, the ball gets in the gap and Patterson glides into second base with a double.
Ramon Hernandez is the pinch-hitter. Cutter, low and away, 1-0. Another cutter, low and away. Mo missed his target, 2-0. Posada was set-up inside. High and inside, ball three. Mo hasn't been close in this at-bat. Pitches are really moving. Fastball strike, 3-1. Cutter, up and over the plate, lined up the middle. RBI single. Oy. Now, it's 8-7 Yanks.
Jay Payton nubs the first pitch to Jeter who steps on the bag and quickly throws to first. But the throw is wide and Andy Phillips stretches to his right to catch it. His foot comes off the bag and Payton is safe. Jeter rushed his throw.
Brain Roberts takes a cutter for a strike. He was taking all the way. Posada is set-up inside. Mo taking a long time. I'm surprised Roberts hasn't stepped out. Cutter, inside, 1-1. Another cutter, flat, high and outside. Posada was set-up inside. Mo missed badly again. Cutter "drilled deep to right field," says Michael Kay. But he's just too quick and the ball is foul, 2-2. The crowd jumped at that one. Now they are cheering. Fastball away, Roberts lines the ball down the third base line. Payton reaches third, Roberts holds first. Nice hitting by Roberts. The ball was up at little but it was outside; Roberts just stayed back and went with it.
Homina, homina, homina. Brandon Fahey takes a ball, 1-0. The crowd is rowdy. Another cutter low, Fahey fouls it off, 1-1. He did Mo a favor swinging at that pitch. Another cutter--slow chopper hit up the middle. Cano ranges to his right, leans over and backhands the ball. Without breaking stride he steps on second base, beating Roberts for the final out of the game.
And that's that. Whew. Jeez, that was a bunch of excitement early in the evening. Mo gives up a run but the Yanks win. They now trail the Red Sox by seven games. The regularly scheduled game will begin in about twenty minutes. Y'all come back now, ya hear? In the meanwhile, check out this article I wrote about shortstops for SI.com.
The Baltimore Orioles
Sam Perlozzo was fired after the penultimate game of a nine-game losing streak in late June. Dave Trembley's first game as Orioles manager was the team's ninth-consecutive loss, but since then they've gone 18-12 (.600). Along the way, their runs scored have surpassed their runs allowed, putting them in the Pythagorean black with a 51-49 make believe record. More recently, the O's have won 9 of 12 and enter this weekend's 3 1/2 game series on a four-game winning streak, the first three games of which saw them allow a total of just one run to the A's and Devil Rays.
Indeed, pitching has been the reason for the O's recent success. The offense is still awful, though it should get a boost with the return of Miguel Tejada from the DL for tonight's action. Nick Markakis has been raking (.359/.435/.500 in July), but only has one homer on the month. Corey Patterson has hit his way into the two-spot in the order with a .337/.353/.530 line and team-leading four homers and eight steals in nine attempts in July, but other than a singles-driven surge from Chris Gomez, no one else could be described as "hot," and only Kevin Millar, who has moved up to the cleanup spot in Tejada's absence, and Brian Roberts have been acceptably productive. Rather it's been the work of staff ace Erik Bedard (7-2, 2.09 ERA since the end of April and 6-0 with a 1.89 since the departure of Perlozzo) and the $40-million bullpen that has put the O's on the winning track.
The Yankees are fortunate enough to miss Bedard this weekend, but tonight's starter, 28-year-old fourth-year rookie Jeremy Guthrie, has pitched in as well. Guthrie held the Yankees to two runs over 6 1/3 innings and struck out six when these teams last met. In his last two starts he's allowed just two runs in 13 innings. He did have something of a hiccup in between (a 6.11 over three starts, all Oriole losses), but that was his only rough patch since joining the rotation in early May. Guthrie has 13 quality starts in 15 tries this season and in one of the two "non-quality" starts he struck out seven and walked none while allowing just four hits in eight innings. In fact, that game was what is known as a "blown quality start" as Guthrie had held the Angels to three runs over seven innings, but having thrown just 88 pitches, was left in the game by Trembley only to surender a solo homer in the eighth to "blow" the quality start.
The good news is that the Yankees have a potential momentum buster with the completion of the teams' suspended game from June 28 preceding tonight's scheduled game. The game was stopped with the Yankees leading 8-6 with two outs in the eighth, Derek Jeter on second, and Hideki Matsui coming to the plate. That gives Matsui an immediate chance to break his RISP 0-fer. It also means the Yankees only need six outs to secure the win (though both Luis Vizcaino and Chien-Ming Wang, the latter of whom is on his throw day today, have already been used in the game; Mike Myers is the active pitcher). Of course, that win wouldn't break the Orioles' winning streak (though it could mess with Alex Rodriguez's 500th homer), and an Oriole comeback could be devastating to the Yanks, who I'm sure have had this one penciled in as a win for the last month.
Andy Pettitte, who seems to have righted his ship in the second half (2-0, 3.38 ERA, 19 K in 18 2/3 IP) will start the scheduled game for the Yanks. Meanwhile, Chris Basak has been recalled, replacing Kei Igawa who has been optioned back to Scranton (which suggests that the fifth starter will be skipped following Monday's off day and that Phil Hughes will take the turn when it next comes due). Meanwhile, could it be that Miguel Cairo could be heading to the Mets or Phillies, both of whom need a second baseman following the broken bones suffered by Jose Valentin and Chase Utley? That's baseless speculation on my part, but youneverknow.
Series Wrap: @ Royals
Offense: The Yanks scored 25 runs in the first three games of the series, but went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position in their 7-1 victory on Wednesday night (a game that was 3-1 after seven innings) and 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position while being shutout in the finale. I still can't give the offense a mixed review, but that's a bit worrisome.
Robinson Cano 6 for 14, 2B, 3 BB, 2 RBI, 4 R
Shelley Duncan 1 for 8, BB, R, 2 K
Rotation: Roger Clemens turned in the only quality start (7 IP, 2 R in the opener), but Chien-Ming Wang gave the Yankees six solid after growing cold on the bench while his offense sent nine men to the plate in each of the first two innings on Tuesday, and Mike Mussina protected a 2-1 lead for 5 2/3 innings on Wednesday. Kei Igawa, however, took a step backwards allowing five runs in 5 2/3 innings after allowing a combined five runs in ten innings over his two previous starts. Good signs for Igawa: no homers and just two walks.
Bullpen: Allowed just two runs in 10 2/3 innings, 12 baserunners. Both runs and five of those baserunners were surrendered by the last man out of the pen in the finale, meaning the Yankee pen had tossed 8 2/3 scoreless while allowing just seven baserunners prior to that.
Everyone but Sean Henn. Everyone pitched, and Mike Myers was the only other reliever to allow as many as two baserunners in a single inning. Luis Vizcaino was again the best, throwing two perfect innings and striking out three.
Sean Henn allowed those two runs on three hits and two walks in the last two innings of the finale. One of those walks was the first taken by Tony Peña Jr. in 244 plate appearances.
Defense: Just one error in four games. In his first appearance as a Yankee in the finale, Jose Molina threw out the only Royal to attempt a stolen base in the series (Emil Brown).
Conclusion: The Yankees remain on mission, but one worries that the offensive explosion will yield to a slump.
Just like that the Yankee offense turned back into a pumpkin last night as they were blanked by the Royals, 7-0. It's not that they didn't put runners on base--once again they did that very well. They simply could not get a big hit. Hideki Matsui failed twice with runners on. In the first inning he popped up a 3-0 pitch with runners on the corners and in the the fifth he grounded out, swinging at the first pitch, with the bases loaded.
Then there was Kei Igawa. More mediocrity. Igawa gives up hits when he's ahead in the count, and runs with two men out. He's an entirely frustrating pitcher to watch and with Phillip Hughes about set to return to the majors, it is likely that Igawa's days in the rotation are numbered. And if Joba Joba gets called up to pitch in the pen, the running man Igawa might find himself back in the land of Dunder Mifflin.
No soup for Alex Rodriguez either, who is sitting on career homer #499.
Hey, the Yanks were due for a stinker. They lose a game to the Red Sox who pounded the Indians in Cleveland. The Bombers now head to Baltimore to face the O's, who are coming off a three-game sweep of the Rays.
The Yankees have already won this four-game series against the Royals but man it sure would be nice if they win again tonight. Greed is good, cousin. The very iffy Kei Igawa goes for the Yanks, while Jorge De La Rosa is on the hill for K.C. As you may have already heard, Alex Rodriguez hit career dinger #499 against De La Rosa. Everyone in the park will likely know this fact by the time Rodriguez comes to hit and I'm sure they'll remind us a couple of several times on the YES broadcast too. I wouldn't count on A Rod getting too much to hit but who knows? The way he's been going this year, De La Rosa just better not make a mistake.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Yankee Panky #17: Reading the trades
The last week in July is arguably the most fun time of the baseball season from an editorial perspective, with the non-waiver trade deadline drawing ever closer. I also thought August was fun, when teams start unloading players onto the waiver wire and buyers eye the last piece or pieces to put together a run to the postseason.
The big questions every year were: Which teams are buying? Which teams are selling? Who’s available? What will the market bear? And where do the Yankees fit into all of it, because they’re always involved somehow.
The most difficult aspect of this, I found, was separating truth from rumor. At YES — the dot.com at least — we were at a slight disadvantage because we weren’t around the team every day, and while we had contacts both internally and within the league, we were under strict orders to not break news. We were not a news gathering organization, although we tried to report. This was the Catch-22. Come trade deadline time, I didn’t mind this so much, but selfishly, I wanted YESNetwork.com to be the go-to place for Yankees content, and I wanted us to be the first to get the story. If I noticed something in a blog or in a local paper or TV/Radio broadcast, I’d pitch a reaction story to one of our broadcasters or outside contributors for some analysis and perspective on the matter. We also had access to wire copy and could run with an AP story.
How is the 2007 trade deadline being handled? If the Yankees were closer to the Red Sox, or even in first place, I believe there would be more of a push from the papers and the talkies to stir activity. Right or wrong, it’s part of the fun of this time of year. This week and the days leading up to the Winter Meetings are the days you see information come from “sources close to the situation.” The only trade the Yankees have made thus far was acquiring Jose Molina from the Angels in exchange for minor league pitcher Jeff Kennard.
There was the annual convention of team brass to discuss the grand plan, which the papers all used as Notebook leads from Tuesday night’s game coverage. Brian Cashman has told reporters for months now that one trade is not the answer; it won’t be enough to help the team because the current players haven’t played to their capabilities. According to numerous reports, Cashman is intent on holding onto Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain and using them as the foundations of the Yankees’ future pitching staff. He will not sacrifice them to land Mark Teixeira; he took a similar stance 2 ½ years ago, refusing to include Robinson Cano and/or Chien-Ming Wang, his best trade chips, in any deal.
The hot rumor has been Ty Wigginton for Scott Proctor, and that story has taken a couple of twists. First the Rays were interested; the Yankees wanted to give them Kyle Farnsworth, but he was too expensive. Then the Rays said they didn’t want to trade within the division. Then they were interested again, but wanted Proctor because he fit the Rays’ budget.
Perhaps the best trade to be made is one made from within, as Joel Sherman suggests. But is Joe Torre ready to stop giving Kyle Farnsworth the benefit of the doubt?
There’s still talk of bringing in a first baseman not named Andy Phillips: Wigginton, Shea Hillenbrand, and Big Tex are the names being bandied about, but until something happens, it’s best to think a trade involving the Yankees is hearsay.
STERLING’S TARNISHED SILVER
But John Sterling the baseball announcer is not as formidable as John Sterling the entertainer. Mike and the Mad Dog razz Sterling for his melodramatic calls and his homerism, and in many cases, it’s justified. The 28 seconds of dead air that followed A-Rod bouncing into the 9th-inning double play in Game 4 against the Angels in ’05 is just one example of patented Sterling. It sounded as if he took off his headphones in disgust, walked out of the booth to collect himself, and then came back when he was ready. Had Suzyn Waldman not been camped near the clubhouse to prep for postgame coverage, one of two things would have happened: 1) Sterling would have stayed put; 2) If Sterling was frustrated enough to cut off his speech, Waldman likely would have picked up on it and rehashed the double play and transitioned the broadcast to the next at-bat.
Most recently, Sterling has fallen into the “I think” syndrome. It surfaced Monday night during the Kansas City broadcast, specifically Alex Gordon’s second at-bat, when was discussing how two of the Royals’ recent top draft picks — Gordon and Billy Butler — were in the lineup. It had potential to be a good note and a chance to educate Yankee fans about a player to watch for years to come. Except … in Sterling’s description of Gordon, he mentioned how the 23-year-old third baseman “was a star at Wichita State, I think.”
I’m sorry, but Sterling should have known Gordon played college ball at Nebraska and not Wichita State. He has the Royals’ media guide. He has game notes. He has access to the Internet. He has every means necessary to be more than adequately prepared for such a talking point during the broadcast, and he dropped an I think.
In April, during the Yankees’ first trip to Tampa Bay, when A-Rod was on his first home run binge and hit his 12th homer of the season, Sterling estimated how many home runs he needed to reach the 500 benchmark. The math was simple. He started 2007 with 464, and had 476 at the time of that home run. He needed 24 to get to 500. Sterling should have known the number — put it on an index card or something.
As a fan of the game and, at one time, an aspiring broadcaster — my dream job was to be a baseball PBP announcer, and I continue to study anyone I can. It upsets me when Sterling or anyone in such a position makes simple mistakes like the ones mentioned above, which give the audience the impression that he’s unprepared.
I did play-by-play for five different sports in college, including baseball, and was fortunate enough to do a couple of minor league games each of the past two years, and the most important thing you can portray to your listeners is a knowledge and understanding of the game itself and of the players represented on both teams. Sterling only does this in spurts. You might say I’m focusing on the mistakes, but to me, mistakes like this are inexcusable. Especially when you’re dealing with a team like the Yankees, whose fans are arguably the most passionate and knowledgeable in all of baseball.
John Sterling has a great voice. But in this town, I think we deserve more than just a voice, theatrics, stories and a few chuckles.
Until next week…
Taking Care Of Business
Your game recap this morning courtesy of Mike Mussina:
"Melky got into one early and gave us a lead, and I just did the best I could to hold them down until we could scratch out some more. We got to 3-1. I felt pretty good about it, and then we busted loose and scored four runs late so that kinda just put it away from there."
To flesh that out, Melky Cabrera hit a two-run homer of Gil Meche in the second. Mussina held the Royals scoreless through five thanks to a couple of extra ticks on his fastball and good command of his curve. The Royals bounced him with two outs in the sixth when Ross Gload doubled and Reggie Sanders singled him home to make it 2-1. Ron Villone got Alex Gordon to end that threat. The Yanks added a run in the top of the seventh. Mike Myers bailed out Scott Proctor in the bottom of that frame, and the Yanks exploded in the eighth with Alex Rodriguez hitting career homer number 499 off Gil Meche, a two-run shot to right. That bounced Meche in favor of Jimmy Gobble, who was greeted by a Matsui solo shot and then gave up a second run on a Cano single and an Andy Phillips double to put the final at 7-1.
So the Yanks win their fourth straight four-game series and, for the first time in that stretch, have a chance to sweep. Good signs: they've won Kei Igawa's last three starts, are on a six-game winning streak in which they've scored a minimum of seven runs in every game, and are 17-6 (.739) in July.
It's Not the Size of the Moose in the Fight . . .
The Yankees need to win just one of these final two games in Kansas City to stay on target by taking three of four from the Royals. Unfortunately, they'll have to do it with the weak back end of their rotation. Mike Mussina, who takes the ball tonight, is better than the disaster outing he had last time out in the series opener against Tampa Bay, but not by as much as he'd like to think. He has a 4.97 ERA on the season and a 4.71 ERA over his last five starts. He's very clearly the Yankees' number-four starter at this point, and his delicate diva act is getting old fast (and I say that as someone who finds his post-game churlishness hilarious and oddly endearing).
Before his last start, I reported that Mussina had a 3.40 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in 11 starts with Wil Nieves behind the plate and a 9.00 ERA and 1.89 WHIP in four starts with Jorge Posada behind the plate (one of them being his injury-shortened outing in Minneapolis in April). That night, Moose was caught by Posada and gave up six runs in 4 2/3 innings pushing his Posada ERA to 9.53 and WHIP to 1.94. Well, Nieves is gone and Posada will be behind the plate again tonight, so Moose had better crank up his way back machine and remember how he turned in Cy Young-worthy seasons pitching to Posada in 2001 (3.15 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) and 2003 (3.40 ERA, 1.08 WHIP). Or, better yet, remember that it was Posada's advice on his changeup that stimulated a last gasp of brilliance early last season (2.42 ERA, 0.95 WHIP through the end of May (he might want to thank Jorge for his current two-year, $23-million deal while he's at it).
Whatever it takes, it sure would be nice not to have to rely on Kei Igawa's high-wire act for that third win of the series. Further complicating the issue, however, is the fact that the Yankees will face the Royals best pitcher tonight, the maybe-not-so-overpaid-after-all Gil "Ga!" Meche. Meche has gone 7-6 with a 3.63 ERA (130 ERA+) for a team playing .434 baseball, and very much deserved his All-Star selection. Then again, Meche has been coming back to earth over the last two months, posting a 4.50 ERA in June and July and a 5.40 ERA in his last six starts (yet somehow going 3-0 over that same six-start stretch). Still, Meche held the major leagues' best offense to two runs on five hits and no walks over seven innings in his last outing, which took place in Detroit as the Royals romped to a 10-2 win over the Central Division leaders, and in his only outing against the Yankees last year held the Bombers to two runs on five hits and a walk in six innings while striking out six.
Things have been easy for the Yankees over the last five games. That will likely change tonight. Here's hoping they can reignite that fighting spirit they displayed in last week's Toronto series.
Is It Over Yet?
I don't mean to seem ungrateful, after all, the Yankees won 9-4, but did it have to take four hours?
The Yanks scored six runs off Scott Elarton before making their sixth out, driving Elarton from the game after 1 2/3 innings. Lefty reliever John Bale then walked the first three batters he faced (two of them on four pitches) to push across the one runner Elarton had left on base. That made it 7-0 after an inning and a half. When he got a chance to pitch, Chien-Ming Wang wasn't at his best, but he didn't need to be, and one can forgive him a lack of sharpness considering the amount of time he spent waiting for his team to stop hitting. Wang, who actually got more outs in the air than on the ground, gave up two in the second and two in the fifth and yielded to the bullpen after six innings and 98 pitches. By then the Yankees had tagged on two more runs to set the score at the eventual final. Derek Jeter had the big night going 4 for 6 with a double (though oddly he drove in no runs and scored only one), while Robinson Cano tied a career high with three walks.
In total, the Yankees put 23 men on base (13 hits, nine walks--six of them by Bale--and a hit batsman) and forced the Royals to throw 224 pitches (Elarton and Bale threw 109 pitches in a combined three innings). The only inning in which the Bombers were retired in order was the eighth (by Joel Peralta) which was the first time the Yankees had gone down in order since Al Reyes' 1-2-3 eighth inning in Saturday's nightcap, a streak of 24 innings with at least one base runner. Somewhere around the seventh inning I gave up and watched The Daily Show. The game was still in the eighth inning when I flipped back.
Updating Mike Carminati's statistics, the Yankees have now scored 56 runs in their last four games, which is the second-highest four-game total since 1950 when the Red Sox scored 1,027 runs in 154 games, one of just two 1,000-run seasons since 1936 (the other being the 1999 Indians, who scored 1,009 runs in 162 games). Those 1950 Sox scored 6.67 runs per game, the fourth-best average of all time (the 1931, '36, and '30 Yankees being the top three). The current Yanks have now scored 5.72 runs per game on the season, which remains second in the majors to the Tigers' 5.82.
More importantly, the Red Sox beat the Indians again, which is exactly what the Yankees want to see as they're gaining much faster in the Wild Card race, where they're now just 4.5 games back. If they can get within three by August 10, they'll be in position to take the lead by beating the Tribe head-to-head.
The Yankees have scored 47 runs in their last three games and 54 in their last four. Mike Carminati has the historical significance of that outburst covered. The only question remaining is how much they'll add to it tonight against Scott Elarton, who comes off the DL sporting a 9.17 ERA. Elarton is a famously homer prone pitcher who has given up 185 home runs in 169 career starts. This year he's given up a dozen dingers in just eight starts. Though he's been hurt most of the year (offseason shoulder surgery and most recently a sprained right foot), Elarton has not finished the sixth inning in any of his eight starts thus far, and has allowed fewer than four runs in only his first start of the year, which came against the hitless White Sox in mid-May.
By comparison, Chien-Ming Wang, who takes the mound for the Yankees tonight, has allowed just six home runs in 17 starts and none in his last four, over which he has posted a 2.03 ERA. An interesting side note, opposing basestealers are 0 for 3 against Wang in those four games, this after they started the season with five successful steals against him.
Johnny Damon will DH with Melky in center, Abreu back in right, and Shelley Duncan on the bench tonight.
In other news, Phil Hughes will make what could be his penultmate rehab start for triple-A Scranton tonight. He'll be joined in the dugout by fast-rising 2006 draftees Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, who were just promoted from Trenton (Tyler Clippard and Chase Wright have been demoted to double-A to make room).
Carry On Wayward Son
After their offensive outburst against the Devil Rays over the weekend, the Yankees suffered a disappointing letdown in Kansas City last night. Their bats went cold, and they plated just nine runs, on only 13 hits and four walks.
Damn Kansas, that song’s gonna be stuck in my head all day now. Carry on my waaaayward soooon, there’ll be peace when yooou are dooone, lay your weary heeead to reeest, don’t you cry nooo mooooooore…
The Kansas City Royals
This just in: the Kansas City Royals don't suck. At least they don't suck as much as they usually do. The Yankees' next three series are against the Royals, Orioles, and White Sox and the Royals just might be the most dangerous of those three teams as they are currently tied in the AL Central with Chicago and just one game behind Baltimore in the overall standings, but have been much hotter than either of late.
Since the end of interleague play, the Royals have gone 13-8 while taking series from the Angels (a three-game sweep), Mariners, Red Sox, and Tigers. They also lost two of three to the Indians by a combined three runs and their only loss to Detroit came in ten innings. Over those 21 games, they've outscored their opponents 124-81, which works out to a .701 winning percentage (or a 15-6 record). By comparison, the Blue Jays are 11-13, the Orioles are 12-10 (not counting their suspended game with the Yankees), the White Sox are 14-12, and the Devil Rays are 5-20 since the end of interleague play.
Why have the Royals been so good against the league's best teams? Their bullpen has a lot to do with it. Led by a finally healthy Octavio Dotel (3.34 ERA, 10 SV) and Rule-5 steal Joakim Soria (2.34, 10 SV while Dotel was hurt), and rounded out by the setup duo of veteran righty David Riske (2.42 ERA) and 25-year-old lefty Jimmy Gobble (2.67), the Royals' pen has the sixth-best ERA in the American League, and things are only getting better as Zack Greinke is thriving in his new middle-relief role with a 1.88 ERA since June 10.
That strong performance by the pen means that the Royals can hold onto the leads handed to them by their surging offense, which scored 5.9 runs per game over that 21-game stretch. The leaders there have been veteran second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, who has hit .431/.453/.510 since coming off the DL on July 6, utility man Esteban German, who has hit .371/.443/.548 while starting 15 of those 21 games (initially in place of Grudzielanek at second, and since then spotting in at third base and pushing struggling überprospect Alex Gordon to first base), and rookie designated hitter Billy Butler, another top prospect, who has hit .373/.422/.590 since being recalled on June 20.
There's something amiss, however. It seems no one else has really hit much at all over those last 21 games, and, since Grudzielanek and German essentially split second base over that span, that means the offense has been riding on two hot bats, Butler's and the second baseman's. Catcher John Buck, who leads the team with 16 homers (more than twice the total of second-place Mike Sweeney), has slugged .524 over that stretch, but with only three taters and a .292 on-base percentage. Reggie Sanders has the next-best season line on the team, but injuries have limited him to 16 starts on the season. He was just reactivated from the DL a week ago and has made just three starts since then, going 2 for 10 in those games. First basemen Ryan Shealy and Mike Sweeney (surprise) are back on the DL. Ross Gload, who seemed redundant earlier in the season, has instead been merely punchless filling in for Shealy. Despite occasionally threatening to fulfill his promise, Alex Gordon has hit just .240/.301/.320 over those last 21 games. David DeJesus and Mark Teahen have been better than that, but not by enough. Tony Peña Jr. was never supposed to hit in the first place, and hasn't, but is still outperforming Emil Brown (.228/.288/.319 on the season).
Are the Royals all smoke and mirrors? Yeah, probably. Butler is the real deal, and German is a criminally neglected player who deserves to start somewhere (the Indians should be banging down the Royals' door for him), but Grudzielanek is obviously in way over his head, Gordon is really the only hitter likely to rise up to replace his production, and it just might be that Gordon isn't as ready for the Show as the Royals thought he was. The bullpen is likely to cool off at some point as well, which leaves this team in the hands of Butler, German, and Gil Meche. There's no doubt that the Royals are a better team than they were a year ago, but they're still a legitimate last-place team (despite the White Sox's best efforts). The only real danger is that they're having a lot of fun playing the spoiler right now, and there's nothing that says that's going to stop this week with the Yankees in town. There are still eight players on this Yankee team who remember the devastating sweep the team suffered in Kansas City in 2005.
Tonight, Roger Clemens looks to get the Yankee road trip off on the right foot against lefty Odalis Perez. Clemens has a 2.63 ERA over his last three starts despite taking the only loss in the Yankees' second-half-opening series in Tampa Bay. Perez, meanwhile, has a 7.47 ERA over his last three starts, but still managed to pick up a win against the Red Sox in his last outing (5 IP, 5 R) thanks to the four runs the Royals scored off Julian Tavarez in the fifth inning of that game. The big hits in that inning? Doubles by Grudzielanek and Butler. It sounds a bit extreme, but the key to this series may be making sure those two don't get anything to hit in big spots.
Series Wrap: vs. Devil Rays
Offense: Forty-nine runs in four games? I'd say that's pretty good.
Robinson Cano 11 for 16, 2B, HR, 6 RBI, 6 R, BB
Uh, Miguel Cairo (1 for 5, 2B, 3 R, BB, 3 K)?
Rotation: In four games, the Yanks got one start from their fifth starter and another from a minor league spot starter, so you knew it wouldn't be pretty going in, but no one expected that Mike Mussina would have the worst start of the weekend (4 2/3 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 3 BB, 5 K, 1 HR). Andy Pettitte turned in the only quality start in the finale, doing just that (6 IP, 3 R) while allowing 11 baserunners (8 H, 3 BB), but striking out eight for good measure. Not a good weekend for starting pitching.
Bullpen: The pen actually did worse than Mussina in the opener (8 R, 7 ER in 4 1/3 IP). In the remaining three games they allowed 3 runs in 11 1/3 innings while allowing 15 baserunners, which is almost exactly what they did in the Toronto series (11 2/3 IP, 2 R, 15 baserunners). Take out Friday night's disaster and that's a 1.96 RA (that is Run Average, with unearned runs included) over seven games and a 1.30 WHIP. That'll work.
Sure, Sean Henn was facing a demoralized Devil Rays squad that was already down 18-3, but he still tossed two scoreless innings in his first major league work in nearly a month and a half, striking out three. Luis Vizcaino picked up both wins in Saturday's double header on the basis of 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Mariano Rivera tossed a scoreless inning striking out two in his only work of the weekend in Saturday's day game. Shockingly, Kyle Farnsworth did the same.
After a 14-day layoff, Edwar Ramirez had a disaster outing on Friday night. He entered the game with the Yanks down 5-0, a man on second and two outs. He then walked two men on nine pitches to load the bases and gave up a grand slam to Dioner Navarro, a sub-.200 hitter who had one prior home run on the season. He then walked two more men on eight more pitches before Mike Myers was brought in to get the one out Ramirez proved incapable of recording. Brian Bruney gave up four runs on four hits and two walks while getting just three outs. Scott Proctor gave up two solo home runs in addition to two other hits in two innings, possibly scuttling the rumored Proctor-Wigginton swap in the process.
Defense: Three errors in four games (Matsui, Nieves, Cano), curiously two of them led to unearned runs charged to Mike Myers, the only runs Myers allowed on the weekend.
Conclusion: The Yanks beat the snot out of the worst team in their division, as they should have, but all that offense hid some less than encouraging pitching. Still, three series into the cupcake part of their schedule, the Yanks are 9-3. They're now alone in third place in the Wild Card race, 6.5 games behind Cleveland, but just six back in the loss column.
Well, that was a real nail-biter for about ten minutes there. Do you remember when, in previous recaps, I joked about how Andy Pettitte never seems to get any run support? Never mind. Playing Super Mario to the Devil Rays’ goombas, the Yankees won the last game of the series 21-4. Look at that box score… I mean, really look at it.
“I’ve never seen anything like these last two days,” Manager Joe Torre said. “Even in batting practice you don’t get hits every time you swing the bats. This was incredible.”
By the end of the game, Miguel Cairo was at short, Johnny Damon was inserted in right field, Andy Phillips played third and Duncan was at 1st. Sean Henn planted himself at the far outside edge of the batter's box and struck out, in his first Major League at-bat, as the Yankees had lost their DH. Posada was still behind the plate, however; new Yankee Jose Molina had only just arrived, and could be seen looking on with bemusement at the Yanks’ increasingly giddy dugout antics. He only narrowly avoided getting caught in the bouncing Cabrera-Cano sandwich that engulfed A-Rod after his home run.
--Fun Facts: Every Yankee starter was on base at least twice, scored at least one run, and had at least one RBI; the team has scored 38 runs in its last two games, on 45 hits. For perspective, the Yankees haven’t had two 20-hit games in a row since they were just proto-Yankees at the dawn of the 20th century, and haven’t scored this many runs in back-to-back games since the Great Depression.
--Several commenters have made less than totally flattering remarks about Shelley Duncan's appearance over the last few days (it's those deep-set eyes and the high forehead, I suppose), but I'm still trying to figure out who he reminds me of. In any case, he's got that old-school ballplayer look, doesn't he?
During the nightcap of yesterday's double header, the Yankees announced that they had traded minor league relief pitcher Jeff Kennard to the Angels for catcher Jose Molina. Molina will become the Yankees' new backup catcher as soon as he arrives in New York (or Kansas City if he doesn't make it today), at which point Wil Nieves will be designated for assignment.
First, let's dispense with Kennard. He's a right-handed relief pitcher who throws a mid-90s fastball with no movement and gets a bit wild from time to time. He turns 26 later this week and has yet to crack triple-A. This describes Scott Proctor in mid-2003 just before the Yankees acquired him in the Robin Ventura deal, except that Proctor had some experience as a starter and Kennard has made just one start as a professional. Besides, who needs two Scott Proctors? The Yankees used to have another Scott Proctor named Bret Prinz. Prior to the 2005 season, they traded Prinz, then 28 and with 95 major league games under his belt, to the Angels for Wil Nieves. Prinz has since pitched his way through the Rockies and White Sox organizations and is getting lit up for the triple-A Iowa Cubs in the Pacific Coast League. These guys are a dime a dozen, so there's no harm using one to try to upgrade a position that's sorely lacking at the big-league level. Kennard had been on the 40-man roster only because he'd been in the minors so long that the Yankees had to add him to keep him out of the Rule 5 draft. They did that because they thought they had made a breakthrough by dropping Kennard's arm slot. Kennard was pitching well for Trenton, but he was no Edwar Ramirez.
As for the catching situation, Wil Nieves went 2 for 3 with two doubles in last night's game. That makes him 4 for his last 10, all four hits being doubles. That recent surge pushed Nieves' season line to .164/.190/.230. It's obscene that the Yankees waited this long to make a move. Given that Nieves hit .259/.298/.346 in triple-A last year, there was nothing to wait around for. Anyone, even last year's failure Sal Fasano, would have been an improvement (in his brief time with Toronto this year, Fasano hit .178/.229/.311, which is a hair better than what he did for the Yankees last year). By acquiring the middle Molina, the Yankees have done better than Fasano: The Sequel, though not by a whole lot.
Molina is ultimately little more than Wil Nieves four years in the future (though without a big brother clearing the way for him, Nieves is unlikely to get the opportunity Molina has had). A career .245/.314/.319 hitter in the minor leagues, Molina first sniffed the majors with the Cubs in 1999 at the age of 24 (Nieves did the same at the same age with the Padres). After brief appearances with the Angels in 2001 and 2002 (though more extensive than the ones Nieves had with the Yankees over the last two years), Molina finally cracked the 100 at-bat mark in 2003 with a Nieves-like .184/.210/.219 line. The next year, however, Molina got all the way to 203 at-bats and looked like a major league backup catcher, hitting .261/.296/.374 (hey, that's what these guys hit). It's been downhill from there, however, as Molina's production has declined annually, bottoming out at .228/.246/.293 thus far this year.
Yes, Jose Molina, 32-year-old, righty-hitting backup catcher, is a terrible hitter (ML career .238/.276/.339), but even that dreadful career line would be better production than the Yankees have had from a backup catcher since 2004. Read it and weep:
2005: John Flaherty (.165/.206/.252)
The Yankees had no idea how good they had it with Kelly Stinnett.
Molina has one other advantage over Nieves: he can throw out baserunners. Nieves has thrown out only six of 27 baserunners this season (22%), and 10 of 43 on his career (23%). Molina has thrown out 28 percent of baserunners this season and a far more impressive 41 percent in his career. Over the last three seasons (2004 to 2006), Molina has thrown out 47 percent of the men trying to steal on him.
So the Yankees have made a very modest upgrade at their least important position (only Kevin Thompson, Chris Basak, and Shelley Duncan have had fewer plate appearances for the Yankees than Wil Nieves this season) for a minimal expense. They say nothing ventured, nothing gained. Both may be true in this case, but if Molina gets hot (last year he hit .377/.414/.642 from the beginning of July through mid-August), it'll be a great move. If he tanks like Fasano did last year, he'll replicate Nieves' production and provide better defense. In that way this is something of a win-win for the Yankees. If nothing else, the fact that Edwar Ramirez and Shelley Duncan have had recent callups and that Wil Nieves has been replaced (and not by triple-A duds Raul Chavez or Omir Santos) proves that Brian Cashman is paying attention. Every little bit helps, even if it's a very little bit. I just hope Mike Mussina can handle the disruption.
What a Difference a Day Makes
What better way to rebound from a dispiriting loss on Friday than to pummel that same opponent in a double-header sweep on Saturday? That's exactly what the Yankees did, rebounding from Friday night's 14-4 drubbing to win a pair by a combined 24-8 score yesterday.
The Yanks fell behind early in game one as Kei Igawa gave up solo homers in the first and second innings, but Igawa got out of a bases-loaded jam in the third when Delmon Young lined into a 4-3 double play, and Hideki Matsui tied things up with a rocket two-run homer into the right field seats in the fourth. Igawa again left the bases loaded in the fifth. Luis Vizcaino took over in the sixth, and in the bottom of that frame, the Yanks dropped a five-spot on reliever Jae Kuk Ryu. That rally almost didn't happen. Following a leadoff single by Bobby Abreu and a pitch that drilled Alex Rodriguez in the lower back (later prompting Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano to good-naturedly mock Rodriguez's dance of pain in the dugout), Ryu struck out Matsui and Jorge Posada. Fortunately, Cano delivered a tie-breaking two-out single that plated Abreu, then took second on the throw home, which allowed him to score on Andy Phillips' subsequent game-breaking two-RBI single. Shelley Duncan then drove the nail in the D-Rays coffin with his first major league home run, and the Yankees got more laughs out of Duncan's overly enthusiastic hi-fives (he almost beheaded Andy Phillips after crossing the plate, and nearly tore Kim Jones' shoulder out of the socket when she tried to join in the fun by asking for a hi-five during the post-game interview).
Scott Proctor gave one back in the eighth on a solo homer by backup catcher Raul Casanova (whose beard and batting scowl make him look more than a little like Ice Cube) to set the final score at 7-3 Yanks.
The Yankees would be doing more laughing in the nightcap as Tampa Bay spot-starter J.P. Howell appeared to be throwing batting practice. Johnny Damon set the tone. Akinori Iwamura hit Matt DeSalvo's first pitch deep into the corner in left where Damon, starting in left field in place of the DH Matsui, made a brilliant leaping catch, slamming in to the wall on his way down and then flexing at Melky Cabrera in celebration. After DeSalvo struck out the next two men, Damon drew a four-pitch walk from Howell, then stole second to jump start the Yankee offense. A single by Derek Jeter and doubles by Abreu and Alex Rodriguez make it 3-0 Yankees before Howell had recorded an out. The Rays countered with two, but the Yankees added one more in the second and three more in the third, with a double by Wil Nieves, of all people, being the big blow in the latter inning. That made it 7-2 Yankees, much as the first game had been, but this time the Rays rallied scoring two in the fifth to drive DeSalvo from the game and one in the sixth off reliever Brian Bruney. That was as close as they'd get, however, as the Bombers greeted former Yankee Jay Witasick with another five-run sixth inning, this one capped by Alex Rodriguez's 497th career home run (and 33rd of 2007). Brian Stokes got thet same sort of greeting in the seventh with Hideki Matsui's second homer of the day capping off another five-run inning that set the final score at 17-5.
Thus the Yankees keep the dream alive with the opportunity to win the series today as Andy Pettitte takes on James Shields, a match-up the Yankees won in Tampa to kick off the season's second half thanks in part to fourth-inning home runs by Jeter, Rodriguez, and Abreu off Shields.
As for yesterday's starters. Igawa again bent, but didn't break and struck out six men in five innings along the way, earning another start. DeSalvo de-salvaged (sorry) his standing a bit with a passable outing that saw him strike out more than he walked for the first time in a major league appearance. Nonetheless, he's headed back to Scranton and will be replaced by Sean Henn, who heads to the bullpen to take Edwar Ramirez's spot. Since he was last optioned down to triple-A in late-June, Henn has posted a 2.03 ERA in 13 1/3 innings, striking out 10 against just one walk. Luis Vizcaino, meanwhile, earned the win in both games yesterday. Vizcaino, who also picked up the win on Opening Day, is now 8-2 on the season. That four of those wins have come in the last week is a testament to Joe Torre's increasingly and surprisingly wily use of his most effective set-up man.
The Yanks not only got smoked by the Rays tonight, they used up six pitchers in the process. Moose was terrible and Edwar Ramirez wasn't much better and when it was all over, the Rays won 14-4. To make matters worse, the Sox rolled tonight, and just like that, the Yanks are eight games out again. With a killer double header tomorrow. Who is gunna pitch if things get dicey? Oh man, it could be a long weekend.
You may commiserate in the comments section below.
The Devil Rays
The Yankees have done exactly what they've needed to thus far in the second half, taking three of four from both the Devil Rays and Blue Jays. Along the way they won five games in a row prior to yesterday's loss, but the only one of those games that was decided by more than two runs (Wednesday's 6-1 win), saw the Yanks trailing 1-0 in the seventh. Perhaps these close games are helping the team maintain its focus and avoid any bad habits that might emerge in garbage time at-bats, but I'd think they could use the emotional respite that a nice blowout win could provide (certainly Luis Vizcaino and Mariano Rivera could use an extra day of rest having pitched in six and five of the last eight games respectively).
The pressure won't ease up until the Yankees either clinch a playoff spot or get eliminated, and it's right back on them tonight. Having taken three of four from the Devil Rays last weekend, they need to do the same this weekend, and with Matt DeSalvo and Kei Igawa getting the starts in a double header tomorrow that's sure also see Wil Nieves get a start behind the plate, there's extra pressure to win tonight behind Mike Mussina, who will be caught by Jorge Posada for the first time since he gave up seven runs in 6 2/3 innings to the Red Sox on May 22. (For the curious, Mussina has posted a 3.40 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in 11 starts with Nieves behind the plate and a 9.00 ERA and 1.89 WHIP in four starts with Posada behind the plate, one of them being his injury-shortened outing in Minneapolis in April).
As for the Devil Rays, after losing three of four to the Yankees, they took two of three at home from the scuffling Angels by a combined score of 15-8. The Rays have also made a trio of roster moves since the Yankees were in town. Most importantly, they've activated closer Al Reyes from the DL, farming out lefty Jon Switzer in the process. They also just tipped their roster from 11 to 13 pitchers in preparation for the four games they'll play over the next three days in the Bronx. Specifically, they optioned out infielder Jorge Cantu and designated outfielder Dustan Mohr for assignment while calling up righties Jae Kuk Ryu and Scott Dohmann. Word is the Rays will make yet another move to bring up J.P. Howell for a spot start in the second game of Saturday's double header, while Ryu could get the start in the day game if Jason Hammel is needed to eat innings for Edwin Jackson tonight.
They Yankees, have made a roster move of their own, calling up Shelley Duncan and optioning Kevin Thompson back to Scranton, while moving Doug Mientkiewicz to the 60-day DL to make room for Duncan on the 40-man roster. Duncan has been raking at Scranton, hitting .295/.380/.577 with 25 homers and 79 RBIs, but also 88 strikeouts. A big (6'5") outfielder/first baseman who's not particularly adept at either position, he's got the Adam Dunn skill set, but from the right-hand side of the plate. Duncan is no Dunn, however. He's 40 days older than Dunn, was a career .251/.334/.468 hitter prior to this year, and didn't crack triple-A until late last year on the verge of his 27th birthday. Duncan has 128 home runs in his minor league career. Dunn has 224 in his major league career. That Duncan went to college (University of Arizona), but Dunn didn't is not enough to explain even a fraction of that discrepancy. Still, it's worth a shot to see if Duncan can keep his bat hot (he's hitting .367 with four homers since the break) as the Yankee DH, which is where he'll start tonight (Johnny Damon will play center as Melky Cabrera's sitting due to the abdominal strain he suffered in yesterday's game).
Tonight's mound match-up of Mussina and Jackson is a rematch of Sunday's finale in Tampa, which the Yankees won 7-6 after some shoddy work by both bullpens. In that game, Jackson, who sports a season ERA of 7.14, held the Yankees scoreless for four frames before coughing up a four spot in the fifth. He finished after six innings having allowed just those four runs on six hits and two walks while striking out six. Mussina got the better of Jackson by allowing just three runs over six innings, but he also allowed five more hits and struck out none. Jackson has been a significantly better pitcher on the road this year, while Mussina has been a touch worse at home, so tonight is no given for the Yanks. They'll have to keep on fighting.
Card Corner--Chris Chambliss
With two episodes of The Bronx Is Burning in the books, I can safely say I’m a big fan of the ESPN miniseries. Though it has received mixed reviews, I think the adaptation of Jonathan Mahler’s book is exceedingly well done, full of both entertainment and educational value for someone like me who actually lived through 1977 in the greater metropolitan region of New York. (The interpretations of Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner by John Turturro and Oliver Platt, respectively, have been wonderful. And Leonard Armond Robinson has been appropriately hysterical as Mickey Rivers.) There are some smaller quibbles, such as the lack of a muscular frame or convincing home swing on the part of Daniel Sunjata as Reggie Jackson, but in a film like this, I’m less concerned with the on-field realism as I am the off-field by-play between Jackson and the other major characters.
As with any good historical film, The Bronx Is Burning has shed some light on otherwise little-known facts associated with that tumultous 1977 season. I’ve already learned two tidbits that I wasn’t previously aware of: that Bobby Grich claimed Steinbrenner "threatened" him during failed contract negotiations and that Steinbrenner dropped a hint to Billy Martin that he would pursue Frank Robinson if Martin failed as manager. Of course, The Boss would have needed to work out a deal with the Indians, who had F. Robby under contract as their manager at the time. I wonder if Steinbrenner would have tried to pull off a managerial trade, sending Martin to the Indians for Robinson, a bigger name but one who was less skilled in the area of game management.
In honor of those 1977 Yankees, I thought it might be fitting to pay tribute to perhaps the quietest and least controversial member of that team: Chris Chambliss. Only three seasons earlier, Carroll Christopher Chambliss had joined the Yankees as the centerpiece to one of the most famous "massacres" in the history of the franchise. While Most Yankee fans fondly recall the "Boston Massacre," the memorable four-game sweep of the rival Red Sox in 1978 that helped the New Yorkers claim the pennant, fewer fans likely remember another "massacre"—the "Friday Night Massacre." It took place in 1974, when the Yankees traded away nearly half of their pitching staff in a stunning and controversial deal.
On Friday night, April 26, the Yankees edged the Texas Rangers, 4-3, to remain within a half-game of first place in the AL East. In the meantime, the Yankee braintrust put the finishing touches on a monster seven-player deal with the Cleveland Indians. The Pinstripers surrendered four pitchers—right-handers Fred Beene, Tom Buskey and Steve Kline, and left-hander Fritz Peterson—or 40 per cent of their 10-man staff. In exchange, the Yankees received pitchers Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw and a young first baseman named Chris Chambliss, pictured here in a 1973 Topps card—one of the last times that he would be seen in an Indians uniform.
The trade shocked both Yankee players and fans. "I can’t believe this trade," star outfielder Bobby Murcer told The Sporting News while expressing his belief that the front office had lost confidence in the team’s ability to win. "You don’t trade four pitchers," longtime ace Mel Stottlemyre informed Yankee beat writer Phil Pepe. "You just don’t." Stottlemyre’s batterymate, the often gruff Thurman Munson, offered an even more candid assessment. "They’ve got to be kidding," said a not-so-diplomatic Munson. Yankee fans seemed to agree with the assessment of the team’s veteran players. Hordes of Yankee followers flooded the team’s switchboard with calls of complaint. And when Chambliss, Tidrow, and Upshaw made their first appearances at Yankee Stadium, they received a barrage of boos from the rush-to-judgment contingent in the Bronx.
The media also joined in the criticism—and the questioning. Why did the Yankees give up so many pitchers in one trade, especially someone like Buskey, who had been named the team’s outstanding rookie during the spring? Why did they trade for a first baseman when they really needed a second baseman? (The 1974 version of the Pinstripers struggled to find a pivotman. They started the season with an aging Horace Clarke before making trades for mediocrities Sandy Alomar and Fernando Gonzalez.) What in the world was the front office thinking in making such an unbalanced deal? One Cleveland writer suggested the Indians should send the Yankees a thank-you note for their generous gift of a quartet of pitchers. "Make sure you thank them for me, too," declared ex-Yankee Fritz Peterson in an interview with Cleveland beat writer Russell Schneider.
The barbs didn’t faze Yankee president Gabe Paul, the architect of the blockbuster trade and the man who had created a "Cleveland Connection" with his onetime organization, bringing in former Indians like Sam McDowell, Graig Nettles, Duke Sims, and Walt "No-Neck" Williams over the last two years. Paul maintained that the deal conformed to his general philosophy on making trades. "The way to evaluate a deal is to sit down and look at your club before a deal, and then look at it after a deal," Paul explained to The Sporting News. "If the club looks better after the deal, go ahead and make it. I think we’re a better club with Chambliss…" Paul clearly held a high opinion of Chambliss, whom Yankee pitcher Ken Wright had praised only 10 days earlier by hinting that he would win a batting title. "I think we got an outstanding first baseman in Chambliss," Paul said proudly. "[He’s] a fellow who could be our first baseman for 10 years."
Chambliss didn’t last 10 seasons in Pinstripes, but that was about the only prediction from Paul that proved to be an exaggeration. After flailing away in his first Yankee go-round, hitting only .243 with a mere six home runs in 400 at-bats, Chambliss began to contribute in 1975, hitting .304 and playing an excellent first base. His lack of power (nine home runs) and plate patience (29 walks) remained a concern, but he improved his power output in 1976, accumulating 17 home runs and 96 RBIs and nearly duplicating it in 1977 with 17 home runs and 90 RBIs. All in all, Chambliss solidified the Yankees at first base, which had become a revolving door for one-dimensional players like Mike Hegan (good field, not much hit), Ron Blomberg (good hit, no field, and always injured), and Bill Sudakis (no field, occasional power).
Even if he did little else (and he did plenty), Chambliss forged himself a piece of pinstriped history in 1976, when the Yankees advanced to the postseason for the first time in 14 seasons. In the fifth and final game of a nip-and-tuck American League Championship Series against the Royals, Chambliss deposited a dramatic home run over the right-field wall, victimizing Kansas City relief ace Mark Littell and sealing a New York pennant for the first time since 1964. Providing a calming influence in a turbulent clubhouse, Chambliss then played a key role in helping the Yankees win the World Series in both 1977 and ’78. In the 1977 World Series against the Dodgers, Chambliss hit a solid .292 and slugged .500 in helping the Yankees bring some measure of satisfaction to the Bronx—along with the other troubled boroughs of New York City.
Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books on baseball and also writes the Cooperstown Confidential blog for MLB.com. He, his wife Sue, and their daughter Madeline live in Cooperstown, NY, a short drive from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Series Wrap: vs. Blue Jays
Offense: Blew hot and cold, scoring six runs in games one and three and a total of five runs in games two and four. In their defense, they faced Roy Halladay in game two.
Robinson Cano 6 for 16, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, BB
Johnny Damon 0 for 13, 4 BB, 3 K
Rotation: The worst of the four starts was, predictably, Kei Igawa's. While he looked pretty awful, the end result wasn't all that bad (5 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 7 K). Indeed, the Yankees won his game. The other three men turned in quality starts, with Pettitte and Clemens allowing just one run each and Pettitte and Wang both finishing seven innings. Overall, a solid performance against a lineup that contains some dangerous hitters.
Bullpen: Allowed just two runs in 11 2/3 innings, but 15 base runners, and both runs resulted in lead changes.
Luis Vizcaino pitched three scoreless innings, one hit, no walks. Mike Myers was brought in twice to face a lefty. He retired both to end Blue Jay rallies. The first time he left the bases loaded. The second time he made a great play on a comebacker to turn an inning-ending double play. In total he threw six pitches, four of them strikes, and got three big outs. Mariano Rivera picked up two more saves, one of them a five-out save. He did allow a triple to Troy Glaus in to lead off the ninth in game one, but stranded him on third by striking out the next two batters. Although Joe Torre got fed up when he walked the first batter in the eighth with a 4-1 lead in game three, Bruney retired four of the five batters he faced in the series.
Proctor and Farnsworth again. Proctor allowed eight base runners in 2 2/3 innings including a solo home run by Alex Rios that tied up Monday's game at 4-4. It was Proctor that loaded the bases for Myers in game three. Farnsworth came into a tied game on Tuesday, gave up a leadoff single, made a wild throw to first with the runner standing on the bag, then gave up a double to plate the go-ahead run.
Defense: Farnsworth's wild throw was the only Yankee error of the series, though their overall play was less spectacular than in the previous series in Tampa.
Conclusion: Torre seems to be sorting out the bullpen and the rotation seems to be getting on its feet in the second half. The offense is spreading things around (Andy Phillips had some big hits, Bobby Abreu drove in the only runs in the finale, and only Damon didn't come through in one way or another). Overall, the team is playing well, though the offense is still a bit underwhelming. An offensive outburst could give the team an emotional breather and allow Vizcaino and Rivera to get some real rest and Edwar Ramirez to get some work (though, regrettably, Ramirez will likely be farmed out on Saturday so that Matt DeSlavo can make a spot start in that day's double header, so I guess it would be too little too late for Edwar for now). Overall, they Yankees are getting the job done, having won their last four series. They've also pulled into third place in the Wild Card race, though they still have a long way to go to catch the Indians.
Can't Win 'Em All
With the Yankees having already taken the series by winning the first three games against the Blue Jays, this afternoon's finale lacked much punch. Indeed, the game itself was rather listless. Bobby Abreu doubled home a pair of runs against Dustin McGowan in the first inning. Chien-Ming Wang retired the first 11 men he faced before Vernon Wells doubled with two outs in the fourth. There was a brief downpour in the third. Otherwise, nothing much happened until the seventh when the Blue Jays broke through with three runs off Wang on a leadoff double by Matt Stairs, an infield single off Wang's shin (he was fine), a fly out that moved both runners up, an RBI groundout, RBI triple by Aaron Hill that shot past Melky Cabrera in the right field gap, and an RBI single by Gregg Zaun. The Yankees went down in order in the seventh and eighth against McGowan and reliever Casey Janssen. Alex Rodriguez lead off the bottom of the ninth with a flair single to right, but Hideki Matsui popped out, Melky grounded out, and Robinson Cano flied out to end the game. 3-2 Jays.
Other items of note: Wil Nieves caught the day game after night game, so Posada will catch Mussina tomorrow night. The two catchers will likely split Saturday's double header. Melky Cabrera appeared to tweak a stomach muscle while at bat in the middle innings, but stayed in the game and showed no further discomfort.
My wife has gotten used to listening to me rant and rave as we watch the Yankees each night. All of my shouting and cursing used to drive her up the wall--she just couldn't understand why I would let something I have no control over get me so upset. She probably still doesn't understand but she's come to accept my neurotic behavior. Last night, I was in good form, gloom and doom from the start. "Honey, I don't think the Rocket's got it tonight, he's going to get pounded." I screamed like Ed Harris in Glengarry Glen Ross when Alex Rodriguez hit into a double play to end the forth inning. You can imagine how bad it got by the time the bullpen--Proctor, Bruney, Villone--were issuing walks late in the game.
All this on a night the Yankees won. Imagine how infuriated I would have been if I rooted for the Jays? Toronto left runners on base in each inning but the second and the ninth. They left two on in the third, fifth, sixth and eighth and left the bases loaded in the seventh, and were 1-14 with runners in scoring position (they are 3-30 with runners in scoring position since Monday). This allowed the Yankees to come from behind and beat the Jays for the third straight day. Final score: Yanks 6, Jays 1. It was another rousing win the Yanks who have won six of seven since the break.
Roger Clemens allowed nine hits and a walk over six innings (Alex Rios had four hits, three against Clemens), but repeatedly worked his way out of trouble. Shawn Marcum threw twelve pitches to Johnny Damon to start the game, but was remarkably efficient after that. He wasn't necessarily dynamic, but he was extremely impressive, changing speeds, throwing strikes. He fell behind Rodriguez 3-0 with runners on the corners in the fourth inning and just one out. He then threw Rodriguez two beautiful change-ups, and got the double-play to get out of the inning.
Scott Proctor was an adventure in the seventh, hitting a batter, giving up a single and walking a man to load the bases. He did retire two men and Mike Myers came in to get the final out of a half-inning that took 25 minutes. The long stretch was just what the Yankees needed to drive Marcum from the game. Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu singled to start the bottom of the seventh and Rodriguez came to the plate with men on first and third. He drove a fastball over the head of left fielder Reed Johnson, good enough for a double and two RBI (Abreu got a great jump on the ball). That makes 92 Rib-Eye Steaks for Rodriguez on the season. Later in the inning, Andy Phillips singled home two more. Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano added RBI singles in the eighth.
Bruney and Villone each walked a man in the eighth, bringing the tying run to the plate. Mariano Rivera came in and he retired all five men he faced, lowering his season ERA to 3.18. The Red Sox lost to the Royals and the Yanks are seven back, six in the loss column. While I'm still cautiously optimistic about the Yankees chances of making the playoffs, they are now winning games that they had previously been losing.
So yo, happy 67th boithday, Joe Torre.
It's all about baby steps for the Bombers who go for the sweep this afternoon with Chien-Ming Wang on the hill.
Mr. Splitty for the Split
Having taken the first two games of their four game set against the Blue Jays, the Yankees need only split the remaining two to stay on target and win the series. With Roger Clemens and Chien-Ming Wang set to pitch, that's a pretty good spot for them to be in. Clemens, of course, had the one dud start in Tampa, but that came after two outstanding eight-inning gems, so one can expect some bounce back tonight. He'll face 25-year-old Shaun Marcum who is 4-1 with a 3.14 ERA since joining the Jays' rotation in mid-May. Marcum's one bugaboo is that he's a bit homer prone, having surrendered 12 dingers in his 12 starts.
In other news, down in Trenton earlier today, Phil Hughes struck out five in four innings while allowing one run on a pair of hits and a pair of walks. He'll make one more rehab start for Scranton on Monday and could rejoin major league club after that. The Yankees also think that Jason Giambi, who is working out in Tampa, could rejoin the team in early August, which, combined with Andy Phillips' solid play at first base, could fill the hole in the Yankee lineup, provided that Joe Torre recognizes that the hole is currently being created by Johnny Damon (.238/.339/.330 and .207/.312/.281 since June 1) not Melky Cabrera (.282/.335/.384 and .333/.382/.453 since June 1) or Phillips (.300/.354/.433 and .375/.419/.500 in July). Of course, if Torre realized that he might have stopped batting Damon leadoff by now seeing as even Robinson Cano has gotten on base more often than Damon since June 1 (Cano since June 1: .288/.333/.474).
Andy Pettitte and Roy Halladay both entered yesterday's game trying to get on track after a series of ugly outings. After the first inning, it looked like this just wasn't going to be their night. Pettitte threw 25 pitches in the top of the first, allowed a run on a single, a walk, and a Frank Thomas double, and was fortunate to strand runners on second and third. Halladay threw 28 pitches in the bottom of the first starting with a five-pitch walk to Johnny Damon, who moved to third on a pair of groundouts. With two outs, Alex Rodriguez drove Damon home with a single and the Yankees proceeded to load the bases only to strand all three men when Robinson Cano grounded out.
To recap, that's 53 pitches, seven base runners, and a 1-1 score after a single frame.
Pettitte threw another 23 pitches in the top of the second, but avoided giving up a run when Reed Johnson's two-out double near the line in left bound into the stands, forcing Royce Clayton, who had singled, to hold up at third. Pettitte then struck out Alex Rios to preserve the 1-1 tie.
Then everything changed. Halladay retired the Yankees in order in the second. Pettitte did the same to the Blue Jays in the third on just nine pitches, including a three-pitch strikeout of Thomas. Suddenly it was the top of the eighth and the scoreboard still read 1-1.
Halladay and Pettitte matched each other almost exactly:
Halladay - 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K, 112 pitches
With Pettitte staring down 120 pitches, however, Joe Torre needed to bring in someone else to pitch the eighth. Luis Vizcaino would have been the obvious choice based on recent performance, but he had pitched in each of the last two games and in four of the last five. Scott Proctor pitched two innings on Monday and has allowed eight base runners in his last 2 2/3 innings. Ron Villone's last outing was a blown save. Edwar Ramirez hadn't pitched since before the All-Star break and remains an unknown quantity. Mariano Rivera, having closed each of the last three games and four of the last five, was not a candidate to go two innings. Mike Myers is a specialty guy whom Torre is now refusing to use even for that purpose (more on that below). That left supposed "eighth-inning guy" Kyle Farnsworth and Brian Bruney, both of whom were fully rested. Torre chose the wrong guy.
I doubt there was a Yankee fan watching who didn't assume the Blue Jays would take the lead when they saw Farnsworth taking his warmups in the top of the eighth. Indeed, Frank Thomas led off with a single. Toronto manager John Gibbons pinch-ran with Howie Clark, and Aaron Hill doubled Clark home to give Toronto a 2-1 lead.
It was actually a bit more interesting than that. Farnsworth, who made a wild throw to first in the 11th inning of a 1-1 game against the Angels just before the All-Star Break, yanked a pickoff throw past Andy Phillips to send Clark to second base. The best part is that Clark was standing on first base when Farnsworth threw over; he hadn't even taken his lead yet. Curiously, Lyle Overbay then lined out directly to Phillips, who was playing back because he didn't have to hold on Clark, but it was all rendered meaningless by Hill's RBI double.
The Yankees staged another two-out rally in the eighth against lefty reliever Scott Downs. Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada both singled to put the tying run on second base with two outs, but Downs threw Robinson Cano six straight looping curve balls, and Robinson missed badly at the first two and the last to end the inning.
Having burned through Farnsworth, Joe Torre then called on Brian Bruney in the ninth. Bruney retired the heart of the Blue Jay order (Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, and Troy Glaus) in order on 11 pitches, seven of them strikes. Here's hoping Joe noticed.
Andy Phillips, who had the game-winning hit in each of the previous two games, lead off the bottom of the ninth with a single against Jays closer Jeremy Accardo. Torre then pinch-ran for Phillips with Miguel Cairo, and Cairo stole second on a 1-0 count to Melky Cabrera to put the tying run in scoring position. Melky then attempted to bunt Cairo to third (as he should have), but bunted foul for strike two (he had purposely swung through the pitch on which Cairo stole second). Melky then followed that failed bunt attempt with a single through the hole into right field. Larry Bowa sent Cairo home as Alex Rios fired to the plate. Cairo slid to the outside of the plate as Gregg Zaun lept for Rios's throw. As Zaun came down with the ball, he collided with Cairo, who was reaching in for the bag. Having received a hip-check to the head, Cairo was stopped cold and tagged out. Had Cairo headed directly for the plate, he would have been safe easily, but there was no way for him to anticipate that the play would unfold as it did.
Fortunately, Melky moved to second on the play, so, after all of that, the Yankees still had the tying run in scoring position with one out. With a 2-1 count on Johnny Damon, Cabrera stole third as Accardo appeared to have forgotten about him. Accardo then walked Damon and, as Cabrera and Damon danced of third and first respectively, Accardo came set, bent his back knee, and stepped off the rubber, balking home the tying run. Suddenly the Yankees had the winning run on second with one out, but Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu, who were a combined 0-for-10 in the game, both grounded out to push the game into extra innings.
Called in for emergency duty, Luis Vizcaino, despite missing a few miles per hour off his fastball, pitched around a one-out single to send the 2-2 tie to the bottom of the tenth. Casey Janssen, in for Accardo, opened the inning by plunking Alex Rodriguez on the elbow pad with a 0-1 pitch. Janssen then threw a 2-2 pitch to Hideki Matsui in the dirt and Rodriguez alertly moved to second as the ball squirted into fair territory and Zaun stumbled attempting to corral it. Earlier in that at-bat, Matsui missed a game-winning home run by mere feet, pulling a ball about three seats foul into the front row of the upper deck in left. Janssen rallied to strike out Matsui on a bad pitch up in the zone that was such a miss that it fooled Matsui completely. With first base open, the Gibbons then walked Jorge Posada to pitch to Robinson Cano, who had twice failed to deliver the hit that could have made the difference in the game, leaving five men on base in the process. This time, Cano laced Janssen's first pitch into the corner in deep left, plating Rodriguez and winning the game, 3-2 in ten innings.
It was a great win for the Yankees, and puts them in a great position as most had assumed that with Kei Igawa starting for the Yankees on Monday and Roy Halladay starting for the Blue Jays last night, the Yankees would lose at least one of those games. The game also comes with a lesson.
Just One Day Out Of Life
The Yankees have won 9 of their last 12 games and the last four games they've lost have been started by Scott Kazmir, John Lackey, Johan Santana, and Dan Haren. You really can't complain about that, though it is cause for concern heading into tonight's game against another big name pitcher, Toronto's Roy Halladay. Here's the good news: after a fantastic April (4-0, 2.28 ERA), Halladay's been something of a mess, posting a 6.35 ERA over his last eleven starts and a 6.85 ERA over his last four. The bad news is that it seems a significant part of that has been bad luck. Halladay has allowed 92 hits in his last 66 2/3 innings, which can be traced to his inflated .323 opponents average on balls in play. That cannot, however, be traced to the Toronto defense, which is fifth in the majors at turning balls in play into outs and puts a solid in field quartet behind the groundballing Halladay.
More bad news is that Andy Pettitte's recent history is actually worse than Halladay's. He's posted a 6.99 ERA over his last eight starts, a 9.00 mark in his last five, and a whopping 13.14 in his last three. More encouraging signs are that Pettitte fell just one out short of a quality start in Tampa last week, and handled the Blue Jays expertly in a hard-luck loss back in late May when he was undone by poor defense and run support and Aaron Hill's steal of home. Halladay last faced the Yankees in September of last year, leaving the game after 3 1/3 innings with a forearm strain.
Yankee Panky Week 17: Sticks and Stones, and Acidic Tones
By Will Weiss
At the Winter Meetings in 2003 in New Orleans, not long after news broke that Gary Sheffieldthen a free agentwould sign with the Yankees, I asked his former manager at the time, Bobby Cox, the kind of player he was, how he would fit in the Yankee clubhouse and most importantly, and how he would get along with Joe Torre.
"Joe's gonna love him. He never gave me a problem," was Cox's response.
While Sheff was in uniform for the Yankeesfor the first two years at leasthe was arguably the most important hitter in the lineup. He provided protection for Derek Jeter in the three slot and for Alex Rodriguez or Jason Giambi if he batted fifth, got on base and drove in runs. His right-handed bat gave Torre the option to alternate lefty-righty from one through nine, which he loved. And he had a competitive, angry edge from an everyday player not seen since Paul O'Neill's retirement. He played hurt and he played hard. His teammates respected him.
That reputation, at least among his former Yankee teammates, is likely gone.
Well, whadda ya know?
The Yankees won the kind of game last night that they've been losing all year. Kei Igawa was doo doo, getting killed by the long ball (after being ahead in the counts, no less). But he escaped trouble in both the first and second inning, a turn of events that would prove costly for Toronto. Scott Proctor later gave up a game-tying homer, still the Yanks prevailed, thanks to a two-out, two-run single in the seventh by Andy Phillips.
"It's a lot of joy to see what he's doing, especially with what he's been through," said Jorge Posada, who singled to start the two-out, tie-breaking rally against Josh Towers. "He's come out here and getting a chance to play, and he's doing everything we ask for. It's a lot of fun to see."
Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez all homered as the Yanks beat the Blue Jays, 6-4. Mariano Rivera gave up a lead-off triple to Troy Glaus in the top of the ninth--Glaus narrowly missed hitting his third dinger of the night--but then struck out The Big Hurt swinging, Lyle Overbay looking, and got Aaron Hill to ground out to third to end it.
It was Mo's third save in as many games. The Bombers have won four of the first five games since the break. It's nice to see them playing better but I'm not letting myself get too excited yet. Let's see how they fare tonight against Doc Halladay.
The Toronto Blue Jays
The Yankees did what they needed to do by taking three of four from the Devil Rays over the weekend. They'll now need to do the same against the Blue Jays at home this week. The Jays are the toughest opponent the Yankees will face until they head to Cleveland on August 10 and they'll face them seven times prior to that date, adding a three-game set in Toronto to wrap up the cupcake portion of their schedule in the first week of August.
The Blue Jays, who have gotten Roy Halladay, Greg Zaun and Reed Johnson back from the DL since the Yankees last saw them in late May, have played well of late. They opened the second half by splitting a four-game set in Boston and concluded the first half by taking four of six from the Indians and A's. That said, the Jays are the definition of a .500 team (a game below in reality, a game above according to Pythagoras), while the Yankees are desperately trying to prove that they're more than that. In that way, this could prove to be a huge series for the Bombers.
The Blue Jays hold a 3-1 advantage in the season series entering tonight having beaten Phil Hughes in his major league debut in a rain-shortened one-game series in the Bronx in April and taken two of three in the "Rod Said 'Ha!'" series in late May. Of course, the Yankees' starting pitchers in those four games were Hughes in his debut, Matt DeSalvo, Andy Pettitte, and Tyler Clippard, so the Blue Jays have yet to really face the Yankees' best.
Not that they will tonight either. Kei Igawa takes the mound in his fourth start since returning from the minors. In his first three he's posted a 6.19 ERA while walking nine and allowing three home runs in 16 innings (all three dingers coming in the middle start against the A's). The Yanks will have to outhit whatever Igawa gives them tonight and will look to do so against Josh Towers. Towers' last start (on July 8) was far and away his best of the season as he held the Indians scoreless on three hits and no walks over eight innings. He was nearly as good against the Tigers back on April 15, but otherwise has been more of a five-inning, four-run starter. He won't walk very many, but he'll give up his share of hits and homers. The Yankees have only faced Towers in relief this year, plating a run against him in 2 2/3 innings in their only win over the Jays on the season.
Man, guess who is playing for the Long Island Ducks of the Independent League these days? Welp, the roster includes Jose Offerman, Ed Yarnall, John Halama, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carl Everett and Pete Rose Jr.
Series Wrap: @ Devil Rays
With the Yankees needing to win every series for the next month (and, really, beyond), I though I'd start a new feature here that takes a look at the individual performances of each just-completed series. It goes a little something like this:
Offense The Yankees scored an average of six runs per game against the Devil Rays, which sounds impressive when you consider the fact that the Tigers lead the majors by scoring 5.94 runs per game on the season. However, the Rays allowed an average of 6.17 runs per game over the first half of the season, which means the Yankees' performance was actually close to average. I say close, because the Rays tend to give up a lot more runs on the road, so the Yankees were actually above average for a visitor at Tropicana Field, but it still wasn't as impressive a showing as it might appear at first glance.
Bobby Abreu: 6 for 16, 2 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI
Robinson Cano: 2 for 12, IBB, RBI
Rotation Two of the four starters turned in bare-minimum quality starts, Chien-Ming Wang doing so while striking out six and walking none, and Mike Mussina doing so by gutting out six innings with bad stuff. Andy Pettitte missed a quality start by one out, leaving with two on and two out in the sixth. Roger Clemens had the only truly poor outing of the series, though it wasn't a total disaster (5 1/3 IP, 5 R). Overall a poor showing by the rotation against a team batting Brendan Harris third.
Bullpen Allowed five runs in 12 innings, but only blew a lead once, that coming in the finale when Ron Villone entered a 4-3 game and gave up a two-run home run.
Mariano Rivera collected two saves and closed a third game with a four-run lead. Altogether, he allowed a pair of singles and struck out four in three innings. Luis Vizcaino was perfect for 2 2/3 innings, striking out three and closing the door for Pettitte in the opener. Brian Bruney finished the sixth for Clemens on Friday, retiring his two batters on nine pitches, six of them strikes.
Kyle Farnsworth pitched three times, allowing two runs on a home run and a pair of doubles. In his three innings, he allowed six base runners and struck out one. Mike Myers and Scott Proctor teamed up to allow a run in their only work of the weekend on Friday. Myers faced two batters, striking out Akinori Iwamura, then allowing a double to Carl Crawford. Crawford is a career .333/.368/.722 hitter against Myers in 19 plate appearances. Proctor came on and, in the process of getting the last two outs, allowed Crawford to steal third, walked two, and gave up a single that plated Crawford. Ron Villone pitched a perfect inning striking out two on Saturday, but undid that good work by blowing a one-run lead on Sunday by surrendering a two-run homer. This after another base runner had been erased on a double play. Vizcaino had to finish his inning as well. Carlos Peña was the terror who hit both home runs against the Yankee pen. Edwar Ramirez was not used.
Defense The Yankees played fantastic defense all weekend. Their only error was Jorge Posada's catcher's interference in ninth-inning on Sunday. Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, and Andy Phillips, who made a game-saving play in the finale, earn special mention for their play in the field.
Conclusion The offense needs to build some momentum. The pitching staff needs to shape up. Joe Torre needs to switch Farnsworth and Vizcaino on his bullpen depth chart and give Edwar Ramirez a fair shake.
Just as they did on Saturday night, the Yankees fell behind 3-0 early yesterday as Mike Mussina showed his usual long-rest rust and spent as much time arguing with home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor as he did actually getting hitters out during the first three innings. Moose locked it down, however, and the Yankees rallied against Edwin Jackson in the fifth to take the lead, hitting for the cycle with a Robinson Cano single, an Andy Phillips triple that was badly misplayed by B.J. Upton in center (payback for Upton robbing him of a 400-foot extra-base hit on Saturday), a Wil Nieves double (his first extra-base hit of the year), and a two-run Derek Jeter home run.
Mussina fought his way through six innings with the help of some great defense, starting with his own, as he snagged a comebacker from the first batter he faced. Later in the first inning, with Carl Crawford on second and Brendan Harris on first, Carlos Peña singled to center to plate Crawford, but Melky Cabrera threw behind Harris to catch him rounding second base too far for the second out. The third inning came to a scoreless close when Hideki Matsui threw out B.J. Upton trying to score from second on a single to left thanks in part to Upton's sore quadriceps and a great swipe tag by Wil Nieves. In the fourth, Carl Crawford ground to Andy Phillips deep at first, and Phillips beat Crawford in a footrace to the bag, colliding dramatically with the Tampa center fielder (thankfully, neither player was injured). The fifth ended on a 4-6-3 double play, and Melky again gunned out a runner at second base in the sixth as he caught Ty Wigginton trying to stretch a single.
Ron Villone came on in the seventh and promptly coughed up the lead by surrendering a two-run homer to Peña, but the Yankees quickly fought back in the eighth. Alex Rodriguez led off with a double to drive reliever Brian Stokes from the game. Hideki Matsui greeted Casey Fossum with a single that put runners on the corners. After Melky struck out, Robinson Cano plated Rodriguez with a sac fly on which Matsui alertly took second. Gary Glover then came on to face Phillips, who singled home Matsui to regain the lead and took second on the throw home. After pinch-hitter Jorge Posada was intentionally walked and Johnny Damon was unintentionally walked, Derek Jeter ground to third baseman Akinori Iwamura, but Iwamura couldn't find the handle on the ball and all hands were safe, with Phillips scoring what proved to be a crucial insurance run.
I say crucial because Kyle Farnsworth opened the eighth by giving up a ground-rule double to Upton that missed being a home run by all of three feet. Wigginton then singled Upton home to pull the Rays within one. Rays manager Joe Maddon then pinch-ran for Wigginton with Josh Wilson with Dioner Navarro at the plate and one out. Navarro hit a hot shot to the left of Phillips at first, which Phillips snared on a full dive, then clamored to one knee and doubled Wilson off second for what would prove to be not only an inning-ending play, but a game-saving one.
Mariano Rivera wrapped things up with a heart attack ninth that started with a single by Iwamura, followed by catcher's interference as Posada came out of his crouch to try to throw out Iwamura stealing second and tipped Carl Crawford's bat with his glove in mid-swing. That put runners on first and second with no outs in a game the Yankees lead by just one run, but Brendan Harris ground into a 5-5-3 double play and Carlos Peña, who had driven in three of the six Devil Ray runs to that point, popped out to give the Yankees a 7-6 victory.
So, while it wasn't a dominating performance, the Yankees did what they needed to do in taking three of four from the Devil Rays. They'll have to play better ball to do the same against Toronto this week, however. Meanwhile, Andy Phillips, who is hitting .302/.362/.453 this season, is the story of the day. Pete Abraham kicks things off.
Getting It Done
Chien-Ming Wang allowed three runs in the first inning last night, but quickly adjusted, mixing in more sliders and changeups to hold the Devil Rays to a lone single over the next four innings. Meanwhile, the Yankees chipped away with a run in the third, a Hideki Matsui solo homer in the fourth, and a two-run homer by Bobby Abreu in the fifth to take a 4-3 lead. Wang got into trouble again in the sixth, loading the bases with two outs, but struck out Jonny Gomes to end the inning and his evening. The Yanks tagged on an insurance run in the seventh thanks to some aggressive base running by Johnny Damon, who went from first to third on a single to left and scored on a groundout. That run was crucial, as, after Ron Villone pitched a perfect seventh, Kyle Farnsworth gave up a solo home run to Carlos Pena in the eighth, an inning he escaped only when Jorge Posada gunned out B. J. Upton stealing second. The Yanks got that run back in the top of the ninth, however, again thanks to Damon's legs as Johnny walked, stole second, and scored on a Bobby Abreu double. Incidentally, speed made the first Yankee run happen as well, as, with the bases loaded and one out in the third, Bobby Abreu (there's that man again) hit into what looked like a sure inning-ending double play, but burned up the first-base line to beat the pivot throw as Andy Phillips scored from third. Mariano Rivera shut the door in the ninth, nailing down the 6-4 win and picking up his 425th career save, which moved him past John Franco into third place on the all-time saves list. The other big numbers on the night were Abreu's five RBIs and Chien-Ming Wang's six strikeouts against no walks in six innings.
Today the Yanks look to wrap up the series by taking three of four, which is exactly what they need to do against teams such as the Devil Rays. The bad news is that Mike Mussina will be working on a whole bunch of rest. The good news is that he only has to be better than 23-year-old Edwin Jackson, who is 1-9 with a 7.23 ERA and a 1.89 WHIP on the season and also hasn't started since July 4, when he gave up 7 runs in five innings against the Red Sox.
The Rocket got kicked around in Tampa Bay on Friday, the 13th as the Yankees lost, 6-4. The Bombers made Scott Kazmir work but had little to show for it (The Devil Rays flashed the leather all night along too). Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui hit back-to-back dingers late, but it wasn't enough. Phillip Hughes had another successful rehab start--Pete Abraham has the latest (Pete also has a nice little Chien-Ming Wang anecdote).
Yanks and Rays play again tonight. Stay cool peoples, it's another scorcher today...
Move Over Little Dog, 'Cuz The Big Dog's Movin' In
The Devil Rays send their young left-handed proto-stud to the mound tonight against the Yankees' old right-handed hoss. It's a pretty keen matchup that we'll look back on if Scott Kazmir ever puts it together. Thus far injuries and walks have kept him from building on the potential he showed in 2005 at the tender age of 21. Last year, Kazmir was significantly better than in '05, but was limited to 24 starts due to reoccurring shoulder problems that ended his season in late August. This year, he's taken all of his turns, but his rate stats are down across the board. His .347 opponents' average on balls in play, which is pure bad luck, isn't helping, but his homer rate is up, his strikeout rate is down, and, most disappointingly, his 4.65 BB/9 has undone all of the progress he had made in that department last year. A significant side effect of that is that he's not going deep into games because of swollen pitch counts. All of which is good news for the Yankees, as is the fact that Roger Clemens has dominated in his last two outings (2 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks in 16 innings), and the fact that the Yankee offense seems to be clicking, following Bobby Abreu's lead as it has all season.
The Yanks started the second half right with a 7-3 victory over the Devil Rays in Tampa Bay. Stop the presses, they are a .500 team again. I didn't catch but the last two innings though on the count of I met up with a group of old New York Giant fans up the block (Cait Murphy came and spoke about her new book, Crazy '08, which looks excellent). But I was thrilled to learn that the Bombers caught James Shields on an off-night. Andy Pettitte wasn't great, but he was good enough as Bobby Abreu led the offense. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Abreu hit back-to-back-to-back dingers in the fourth inning. Sweet.
Jeff Karstens had a re-hab start. Be nice to see him back in the bigs, huh?
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: It's Now or Never Edition
Entering the second half of the season, the Yankees' record stands at 42-43, a game below .500. With 77 games left to play, they are tied with Toronto in second place in the AL East, 10 games behind Boston, and tied for fifth in the Wild Card race, 8.5 games behind the Indians (who were recently passed in the Central standings by the defending AL Champion Tigers).
Things look bad, and indeed they are, but 54 of those remaining 77 games will come against teams that currently have equal or worse records than the Yankees themselves. If the Yankees can simply break even in their 23 games against contending teams (say a 12-11 record in their remaining series against the Red Sox, Tigers, Indians, Angels, and Mariners), the fate of their season lies in their ability to take advantage of the cupcake portion of their second half schedule. If they win two of every three games (in other words, just win their series) against those weaker teams, the Yankees will finish the season 90-72. That might not be enough to make the playoffs as the Wild Card-leading Indians are on a 96-win pace, but if they can mix in a few sweeps and a few 3-out-of-4 series wins, they'll be right in the thick of it.
That said, it has to start tonight. It's now or never. Any sort of stumble against Tampa, Toronto, Kansas City, Baltimore, or the White Sox will put the final nail in the coffin currently containing the Yankees' season. Exactly half of those 54 games come in 27-game stretch that begins tonight in Tampa Bay. The only time the Yankees have to leave the eastern time zone during that 27-game stretch is for a four-game series in Kansas City in two weeks. If they can't play something in the neighborhood of .700 baseball over those 27 games, that last flickering ember of hope for this season will be extinguished.
The good news is that the Yankees ended the first half of the season on a positive note, taking five of seven from the Twins and Angels, a pair of winning teams ahead of them in the standings. What's more, Phil Hughes is on the comeback trail (he'll make a rehab start with double-A Trenton on Friday and, if that goes well, another on Wednesday). Hughes could replace Kei Igawa as the fifth starter by the end of the month, which would give him a couple major league starts before the Yankees hit the tough part of their second-half schedule in mid-August. At this point just about everything has to go right for the Yankees to even sniff the playoffs, but the opportunity exists for that to happen.
Pastime Passings--June 2007
Two colorful characters from two different eras departed us during the month of June. Their deaths, along with those of two former major league pitchers who died earlier this spring, highlight this edition of Pastime Passings.
(Died on June 23 in Phoenix, Arizona; age 38; cause of death currently unknown): One of the game’s most colorful characters of the 1990s, Beck used an overpowering split-fingered fastball and an aggressive approach to pitching in becoming one of the decade’s most effective closers. Originally drafted by the Oakland A’s, Beck was traded to the A’s Bay Area rivals, the San Francisco Giants. In 1991, Beck made his major league debut with the Giants, soon establishing himself as the team’s relief ace. From 1991 to 1997, the hefty right-hander saved 199 games for San Francisco, helping the Giants to a 103-win season in 1993 and a National League West title in 1997. Beck later pitched for the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and San Diego Padres. A hard thrower early in his career, Beck added to his air of intimidation by growing his hair long and sporting a Fu Manchu mustache. Later on, Beck made up for a loss of velocity by perfecting his splitter and his control, aggressively pounding the strike zone with fastballs. Nicknamed "Shooter" because of his gunslinging appearance and his love of cowboy boots and country music, the chain-smoking Beck was extremely popular with both fans and teammates. During a 2003 comeback with the Iowa Cubs, the blue-collar Beck lived in his Winnebago, located just outside of the stadium’s outfield fence. Fans regularly visited Beck, who responded by signing autographs and drinking beers with his newfound friends. Beck successfully returned to the major leagues with the Padres in 2004, but encountered problems with substance abuse that led him to take a leave of absence. After struggling with the Padres as a set-up reliever, the team released him in August of that season.
After his playing days, Beck dabbled in the film industry. He took an acting role in the film, Work Week, which is scheduled for release later this year.
(Died on June 4 in Atlanta, Georgia; age 70): Regarded as one of the finest defensive third basemen of all-time, Boyer emerged as a critical part of a New York Yankees dynasty that won five consecutive American League pennants in the 1960s. Boyer started his career with the Kansas City Athletics, but was routed to the Yankees as the player to be named later in the massive 11-player deal that also sent pitchers Art Ditmar and Bobby Shantz to New York. Boyer’s tenure with the Yankees included two World Championship teams in 1961 and ’62. Boyer also helped the Yankees advance to the World Series in ’63 and ’64. In the latter series, Boyer and his older brother Ken, an All-Star third baseman with the St. Louis Cardinals, each hit home runs in Game Seven. Boyer remained with the Yankees until the winter of 1966, when they traded him to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder-third baseman Bill Robinson and pitcher Chi-Chi Olivo. A right-handed batter who hit 162 home runs during his career, Boyer played with the Braves until 1971, when he clashed with Atlanta management and then left to finish out his professional career in Japan.
COMMENTARY: Summers in Cooperstown won’t be quite as colorful as they’ve been. That was one of the first reactions I had when I heard the sad news that Clete Boyer had died at the age of 70 from the effects of a massive stroke. In recent years, the hard-living Boyer had spent his summers in Cooperstown, signing autographs at baseball shops on Main Street or running his Hamburger Hall of Fame restaurant while spinning stories from his days as a player and coach. Boyer became a favorite in particular because of his connection to the Yankees—the team with the strongest following in upstate New York—and because of his down-home but forthright personality.
Boyer spent his first summer in Cooperstown living in the same building as me, in an apartment just above Mickey’s Place. I often ran into him while coming or going to work. Even if I was running late, Boyer’s yarns usually kept me planted for at least a few moments. Clete liked to talk about his brother Ken, an underrated player whom he felt deserved a place in the Hall of Fame. Always willing to defer to Ken’s superiority as a ballplayer, Clete talked about his older brother with pride and admiration; there was never any jealousy. I picked up the sense that Clete really missed Ken, who lost a battle with cancer at a young age in the early 1980s.
While Clete didn’t like to boast about himself as a player, he did show some pride in his work as a coach and spring training instructor. Boyer often cited his efforts with Wade Boggs, who had been criticized for his defensive play in Boston. After Boggs joined the Yankees, Boyer convinced him to assume a lower defensive stance, as a way of improving his lateral quickness on ground balls. Boyer’s hours of work with Boggs in spring training paid off, resulting in the lone Gold Glove of his Hall of Fame career.
And then there were Clete’s targets. For better or worse, he was honest about those he didn’t like in baseball, particularly Buck Showalter. Boyer worked on Showalter’s staff in the early 1990s, only to be fired by the manager under nebulous circumstances. Considering Showalter disloyal and manipulative, Clete resented Buck—and never hesitated to let anyone know about it. Another target was Casey Stengel, who managed Boyer with the Yankees. During a memorable appearance by Clete at a Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) meeting in Cooperstown, Boyer recalled how Stengel once pinch-hit for him in the first inning of a World Series game. Boyer said most of the Yankees couldn’t stand Stengel, but their dislike of the manager didn’t prevent them from winning.
Still, Clete had a sense of humor about things. At that same SABR meeting, Clete comically took note of the surroundings. The meeting, held annually in Cooperstown, took place in a funeral home just off of Main Street. As Clete’s eyes rolled, most of us laughed from our seats in the casket room.
Often dressed in a blue Yankee sweatsuit, Boyer liked to wear leg weights and brag about the condition of his calves. "Look at these calves," Boyer would say calmly but proudly. Those calves served him well during the 1960s, when Boyer established a reputation as one of the two best defensive third basemen in the American League. While most historians consider Brooks Robinson the best defender of his era—and perhaps the most skilled of all-time—Boyer had his supporters who claimed he was just as good. A converted shortstop, Boyer had terrific range at third base, perhaps even better than Brooks. He definitely had the better arm—no one was better at throwing from his knees—a cannonshot that likely would have played well in the outfield. Robinson probably had better hands, along with a cat-like quickness that we saw on full display in the 1970 World Series. Boyer never enjoyed a Series quite like that, which at least partially explains why his reputation for general fielding excellence has usually ranked behind that of Robinson.
I really can’t say whether Boyer was better than Robinson. I saw Brooks many times throughout the 1970s, but never did see Boyer play. Although I missed out on that part of his career, I’d like to think I made up for it, at least a little bit, by hearing what Clete had to say.
(Died on May 17 in Mt. Shasta, California; age 87; heart attack): A left-handed pitcher who played for eight teams, Wight was perhaps best known for signing Hall of Famer Joe Morgan as a scout for the Houston Colt .45s and Astros. During his playing career, Wight known for having one of the game’s best pickoff moves; in one game against the New York Yankees, he picked Mickey Mantle off twice. After his retirement, Wight became a longtime scout, first for the Astros and then for 32 years with the Atlanta Braves.
(Died on April 6 in Seattle, Washington; age 87): One of only seven major leaguers to hail from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, Bahr pitched in 46 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates during the 1946 and ’47 seasons. A veteran of World War II, Bahr split his time between starting and relieving after his military service. The right-handed swingman posted a record of 11-11 with an ERA of 3.37 for the Bucs.
Yankee Panky #16: Halfway There
Depending on your perspective, the All-Star break is a perfect time for the Yankees to regroup and heal, or, based on the offensive eruption that took place last Sunday, the three-day midseason hiatus is a momentum breaker.
More than anything, what the break does is offer a chance to reflect on the first half. In the Yankees’ case, most fans would prefer to look forward than ruminate on inconsistent starting pitching, bullpen performances akin to Rick Vaughn’s tryout fresh from the California Penal League, and hitting results from the left-handed chunk of the lineup that made you think they’d be better off turning around and batting righty.
On the field, it was literally 45 games of three steps back, two steps forward for the Yankees. Last Friday while subbing for Michael Kay on 1050 here in New York, Don LaGreca hit the nail on the head when he discussed how 53 to 55 wins over the last 77 games may not be enough to lift the Yankees into the playoffs, but few are ready to start preparing the team’s eulogy.
As for the coverage in general, the first 85 games featured an ebb and neap between stirring the pot and projecting the panic button. And with that in mind, here are my orders of distinction for the first-half Yankees Media Coverage.
STORY OF THE FIRST HALF
The second: Roger Clemens’ signing and all the fun that brought, from the hoopla of his 7th-inning stretch introduction to his contract, to whether or not he’d only be with the team every fifth day. With the exception of one outing, he’s pitched well enough to win all his starts. And in typical Clemens fashion, he’s gone 8 innings in each of his last two starts as a sort of middle finger to those who said he’d only be a 6-inning pitcher. (Maybe Andy Pettitte said to him: “Roger, get it straight to Mo. Your chances are better that way. Get into the 8th inning as often as you can.” Sorry. My imagination got the best of me there.)
But looking at the numbers, he’s not even a 6-inning pitcher. The consecutive long starts bumped his average to 5 2/3 innings per start. And the 2.9 runs per game he’s been supported with has to leave him with flashbacks of 2006 as an Astro.
THE DEAD HORSE AWARD
WHY WASN’T THIS COVERED UNTIL NOW?
WHY HASN’T MORE BEEN MADE OF THIS?
THE STORY THAT COULD HAVE BEEN A STORY BUT WASN’T...
And maybe, just maybe, Torre will save his job and guide the Yankees to the playoffs by not using any of his right-handed relievers except for Mariano Rivera, and reserve Mike Myers for special occasions and make Kei Igawa a reliever when Phil Hughes returns (more on this below). Wait, now I sound like Joel Sherman.
I’m really intrigued by Bruce Markusen’s hypothesis, posted in this space yesterday:
“On a more realistic front, I wonder why we don’t hear more talk about O’Neill becoming a manager. (After all, there have been whispers about O’Neill becoming the Reds bench coach in 2008.) Fiery and intelligent, O’Neill was often mentioned as a future managerial candidate at the tail end of his playing career. I know that O’Neill is concerned about spending large chunks of time away from his young children, but perhaps he’ll take a page out of Don Mattingly’s book and begin to pursue a coaching career once his children get older. O’Neill could become a curious cross between Billy Martin and Lou Piniella, and wouldn’t that be an interesting kind of manager for Yankee fans to follow after the sedate tenure of Joe Torre?”
THE “GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT” AWARD
I thought this story was interesting not only for all the Godfather parallels, but because when it comes to stories on the inner workings of the team, particularly Steinbrenner issues, Madden has a history of being accurate. I found his premise credible. Similarly, I know how George King hustles for information, and his rebuttal was just as strong.
THE “THIS WILL ONLY BE A STORY FOR ANOTHER FEW WEEKS” AWARD
THE STORY TO WATCH IN THE SECOND HALF
THE STORY TO WATCH IN THE SECOND HALF: PART 2
I’ll save a fuller list of favorites, best and worsts, and strange occurrences throughout the media landscape as they pertain to Yankees coverage, in my season-ending recap.
Until next week …
Hotter N July
Dude, it is hot in New York. Dog Day Afternoon/Do The Right Thing Hot. Hey, anyone stay up and watch The Bronx is Burning? The Home Run Derby put me to sleep. I did wake up to catch a few minutes of the mini-series and thought it was a mess. But I only saw a few minutes. Was it any good?
Meanwhile, links: Pete Abraham on Phillip Hughes; Jack Curry on Alex Rodriguez; SG on the Bombers' offense at the break; John Helyar on George Steinbrenner, and, finally, Steven Goldman caught up with Dr. Bobby Brown and Rick Cerrone last weekend at Old Timer's Day. Check it out. The bit with Cerrone is especially good.
Observations From Cooperstown--Old-Timers Day
I’ll never get tired of Old-Timers Day. In fact, as I work my way into my early forties, I only appreciate this wondrous day more and more. It boggles the mind that the Yankees are the last team to hold the fort on Old-Timers Day—of the 30 clubs, they’re the only team that bothers to stage this event any more—but that’s a subject for another day. Rather than focus on what other teams are losing out on—hey, it’s their loss, not the loss of Yankee fans—let’s take a look at some of the more memorable moments from the latest gathering of legends at Yankee Stadium.
*I was amazed at the loudness of the ovation for Scott Brosius, who was one of several former Yankees participating in his first Old-Timers Day at the Stadium. Although mostly a journeyman player during his big league career, Brosius enjoyed a career year in pinstripes in 1998 and then hit that nail-in-the-coffin home run against Trevor Hoffman in the World Series. Those accomplishments, coupled with the relative recentness of Brosius’ time in New York, have made him one of the most popular of the ex-Yankees. (Imagine if Brosius had played for the Yankees in the 1980s; he likely wouldn’t even be invited to Old-Timers Day.) I guess Brosius’ cult status shouldn’t come as that surprising given how many fans lament for the hard-nosed players of the recent dynasty. The three names that fans always mention are Paul "The Warrior" O’Neill, Tino Martinez, and—of course, Scott Brosius.
*Other than Brosius, several former Yankees made their inaugural appearances at Old-Timers Day. O’Neill, the recipient of some loud chanting at the Stadium on Saturday, was the most prominent. Even into his sixth year of retirement, he looks to be in the same kind of playing shape today and rifled a line drive single into right-enter field. (Former Yankee GM Gene Michael says O’Neill retired way too early, giving up three our four more potentially productive seasons.) Given the struggles of the every-passive Bobby Abreu, maybe the Yankees should give O’Neill an audition. Well, let’s not get that desperate… On a more realistic front, I wonder why we don’t hear more talk about O’Neill becoming a manager. (After all, there have been whispers about O’Neill becoming the Reds bench coach in 2008.) Fiery and intelligent, O’Neill was often mentioned as a future managerial candidate at the tail end of his playing career. I know that O’Neill is concerned about spending large chunks of time away from his young children, but perhaps he’ll take a page out of Don Mattingly’s book and begin to pursue a coaching career once his children get older. O’Neill could become a curious cross between Billy Martin and Lou Piniella, and wouldn’t that be an interesting kind of manager for Yankee fans to follow after the sedate tenure of Joe Torre?
*A couple of Yankees from the lean years also made their Old-Timers debuts. Ken Griffey, Sr. and Jesse Barfield reappeared in Yankee pinstripes for the first time in years. I have to admit that I never much cared for the senior Griffey as a Yankee; he was a chronic complainer who showed a reluctance to try to steal bases and who bristled when the team tried to move him to first base. On one occasion, Griffey failed to show up for a game (a cardinal sin for a professional athlete), only contacting the team at a very late hour to provide a reason for his absence. I find his return to the Stadium curious; could it be an omen that Griffey, Jr. is on his way to the Bronx? As for Barfield, I have a much softer spot for the former right fielder. Though he played for some of the worst Yankee teams in the early 1990s, Barfield always played hard, displayed one of the greatest arms in recent right field history, and gave the Yankees some decent production before giving way to Danny Tartabull. Barfield also carried himself like a classy gentleman, which is one reason why I root for his son, Indians second baseman Josh Barfield.
*As the Yankees always do, the organization remembered former players who have passed away within the last 12 months. The list of names read by Bob Sheppard included Cory Lidle, Hank Bauer, and Clete Boyer, along with onetime Yankees Steve Barber, Lew Burdette, Johnny Callison, Pat Dobson, Pete Mikkelsen, and Joe Niekro, and former Yankee pitching coach Art Fowler. I knew Boyer fairly well from recent summers, in which he lived in Cooperstown and often signed autographs up and down Main Street. I also remember Barber, Callison, Dobson and Niekro from my early days growing up with baseball, yet another sign that I’m treading toward middle age.
*The theme of this year’s Old-Timers Day centered on the 30th anniversary of the 1977 World Championship team. That’s a summer that I remember vividly. I was 12 years old, still in grade school, and savoring what would be the first Yankee World Championship of my lifetime. Sixteen members of that team attended Saturday’s reunion. Also, in a nice touch, close relatives of four deceased members of that club (captain Thurman Munson, Hall of Fame right-hander Jim "Catfish" Hunter, coach Elston Howard, and manager Billy Martin) were introduced to the crowd. That left roughly ten prominent players from the ’77 squad who did not show for a variety of reasons. Several of the ’77 Yankees are managers at either the major league level (Lou Piniella and Willie Randolph), in the minor leagues (Sparky Lyle), or in the new Israel Baseball League (Ken Holtzman), thereby making them unavailable for Saturday’s ceremonies. With those exceptions, that left Roy White, Carlos May, Fred "Chicken" Stanley, Fran Healy, Don Gullett, and Dick "Dirt" Tidrow as no-shows. Stanley and Tidrow both work as executives with other clubs, so perhaps that created a conflict. Healy has disassociated himself from the Yankees since working for them as a radio broadcaster in the early 1980s. As for White, May, and Gullett, I’m not sure of the reasons behind their absences. White was fired by the Yankees after his last coaching stint, so perhaps that was a factor, while the whereabouts of Gullett and May remain unknown to me.
*Perhaps the most surprising attendee among the ’77 Yankees was Mickey Klutts, a onetime highly regarded prospect who flopped in the major leagues. Klutts (man, we had fun with that name back in the seventies) appeared in all of five games in 1977, coming to bat 15 times, but was still included in the ‘77 contingent. (Klutts actually had fewer at-bats than 1977 late arrival Dave Kingman, who has about as much association with the Yankees today as Ken Phelps.) It makes you wonder if Dave Bergman, Gene Locklear, and Marty Perez received invites to the reunion.
*The No 1 highlight of this year’s Old-Timers gathering may have been the appearance of Bobby Murcer. Given some of the grave reports surrounding Murcer’s battle with cancer this past winter, I wondered whether we’d see Murcer on Old-Timers Saturday. Not only did Murcer appear, but also he wore a uniform, sported a microphone for the YES Network, played in the actual game, and delivered a hard-hit line drive that was caught in right field. Though his uniform looked a bit baggy because of his recent weight loss, Murcer moved well for someone battling the effects of brain cancer. His hair has also started to grow back after recent chemotherapy treatments. And just as importantly, Murcer has lost none of the self-deprecating humor that makes him one of the most beloved of all the retired Yankees. Simply put, Bobby Murcer is one of the best justifications for having something like Old-Timers Day in the first place.
Let’s just hope the Yankees remain the last holdouts among major league teams and never do away with this gathering of nostalgia and remembrance known as Old-Timers Day.
Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez each hit three-run homers on Sunday as the Yanks bounced back from a tough loss on Saturday by pounding the Angels 12-0. Chien-Ming Wang earned his 9th win of the season while Rodriguez added 4 RBI, giving him 86, with 30 homers and 79 runs scored. Yup, he leads the majors in all three categories. His home run yesterday moved Rodriguez passed Lou Gehrig on the all-time list. The Bombers finish the first half of the season one game under .500.
Bunch of links for you. Dig:
Tim Marchman doesn't think the Yanks will have a fire sale this summer; Tyler Kepner takes a look at some of the Yankees' pitching prospects; Richard Sandomir reviews The Bronx is Burning; Reggie Jackson is none too thrilled about ESPN's mini-series; Joe Posnanski weighs in on Derek Jeter's fielding, and SG examines how the pitching staff did in the first half of the season.
The Yankees and Angels played and ugly, sloppy game on Friday night that saw two runs score on errors, another called back when Robinson Cano missed the bag rounding third, and several other poor plays (such as missed cutoff men and third outs made at third base) on both sides of the ball and both sides of the field.
The pitching was pretty crappy as well. Bartolo Colon, who was bounced with two on and none out in the third, allowed seven runs (including both bequeathed runners, who scored on Darren Oliver's watch). Andy Pettitte made it into the sixth, but left with none out and a man on and was charged with eight runs on the night, including that bequeathed runner, who scored with Edwar Ramirez on the mound.
Ramirez allowed an additional run of his own in the sixth to run the score to 9-9. The Yanks broke that tie in the seventh when Johnny Damon drew a leadoff walk from Chris Bootcheck, stole second, moved to third on a Melky Cabrera single, and scored when Gary Matthews bobbled Melky's hit in center. Alex Rodriguez then laced a line-drive homer to the seats in left that put the Yankees up 12-9. Remarkably, Ramirez, Scott Proctor and Ron Villone managed to shut the door at that point, while the Yankees plated two more in the eighth against Dustin Moseley to put the final score at 14-9. Ramirez earned his first major league win despite retiring just two of the seven batters he faced against their will (one of them sacrificed).
Yesterday, following a joyous Old Timer's Game that saw Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius lace hard singles in their first Old Timer's action, and Bobby Murcer make a triumphant return to the field with a hard line out, the Yankees played a game that was very much the opposite of Friday night's circus, but was also decided by sloppy play and poor decisions. Coming off his dominant two-hit performance against the Twins, Roger Clemens held the Angels to one run on five hits and a walk over eight efficient innings (98 pitches). Angels' ace John Lackey matched Clemens almost exactly (one run on five hits and a hit batsman over eight innings), but upped the ante by striking out eleven Yankees (including Melky Cabrera four times) and throwing 72 percent of his 107 pitches for strikes.
The Yankees got their one run in the bottom of the second on doubles by Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu. The Angels got theirs in the top of the third on a leadoff double by Garret Anderson and a pair of productive groundouts. With the game still tied 1-1 in the ninth, both managers turned to their bullpens, doing so exactly as they should. Mike Scioscia got three scoreless innings from his set-up ace Scot Shields, then turned to his closer in a still-tied game on the road. Joe Torre worked his bullpen backwards as he should have, starting with a pair of shutout innings from Mariano Rivera, then a scoreless frame from Kyle Farnsworth, then turning to the fully rested Luis Vizcaino rather than Scott Proctor, who had thrown 21 pitches on Friday.
Vizcaino pitched around a two-out single in the twelfth, volleying back to Francisco Rodriguez, who stranded Hideki Matsui at second base following a one-out walk and a surprising stolen base by striking out Jorge Posada and getting Bobby Abreu to ground out. In for his second inning of work, Vizcaino gave up a leadoff double to Howie Kendrick, who had been making highlight reel plays at second base all day long (mostly on balls hit by Miguel Cairo). Jose Molina then attempted to bunt Kendrick over to third, but fouled off the first attempt, then missed the second, taking off the play. After ball one and a trio of fouls, Molina grounded to the left of Miguel Cairo, who was again starting at first base in place of the stiff-necked Andy Phillips. Cairo fell to his left and smothered the ball, but bobbled it as he came to his feet, then, perhaps forgetting that a Molina was running, made a desperation throw that sailed behind Vizcaino who was covering the bag. Cairo's throw sent Molina to second and allowed Kendrick to score the tie-breaking run. Cairo was charged with two errors on the play, giving him four at first base in two games (on Friday night he made a nearly identical play throwing behind Pettitte covering first and allowing a run to score, he also flubbed a ball in the tenth inning of yesterday's game) and pushing the Yankees' total to five on the day (Kyle Farnsworth threw wild to first base in the 11th, and Hideki Matsui booted a single in the fourth to putt the batter on second). Vizcaino retired the next three men in order, but the damage had been done.
The Yankees staged a rally in the bottom of the 13th. Cairo, attempting to atone for his errors, singled with one out, stole second, then moved to third on a ball that Rodriguez threw clean over Molina's head to the backstop. Suddenly the Yankees were a productive out away from re-tying the game.
In the third inning of Friday night's mess, with one out, the Yankees up 6-3, and runners on the corners, Joe Torre called for a suicide squeeze, which was perfectly executed by Miguel Cairo with Jorge Posada charging from third base. Now, with Cairo on third and Johnny Damon at the plate, Damon stood tall as Francisco Rodriguez threw three more balls, resulting in the same set up (runners on the corners, one out) in a sudden-death situation (extra-innings, down by one). Unlike the meaningless squeeze on Friday, a squeeze bunt here would have tied a game that otherwise could have been lost on a single double-play grounder. The man at the plate was Melky Cabrera, who already had five successful sacrifice bunts on the season. In addition to the squeeze, having Damon, who had stolen two bases on Friday night, steal second on Rodriguez (who had already allowed a steal to Hideki Matsui of all people) would have eliminated the double play and could have resulted in either a delayed double steal or a throwing error that would have gotten Cairo home without any help from the batter.
I probably don't need to tell you what happened, or rather, what didn't. No steal. No bunt. Melky struck out for the fifth time in the game, and Derek Jeter, who had hit into an inning-ending double play in the eleventh, grounded into a fielder's choice to give the Angels a 2-1 win in 13 innings.
I've lost track of the number of times Joe Torre has failed to employ the squeeze bunt when a successful one would either tie or win a game, but I can approximate that number by saying it's every time. According to Baseball Prospectus 2007, Joe Torre did not call for a single squeeze from 2004 to 2006 and he sure as hell didn't call for one in the 11th inning of Game 4 of the 2003 World Series. In a lineup that includes Damon, Cabrera, Jeter, Abreu, Cano, and Cairo, all of whom will lay one down from time to time, be they bunting for a hit or, in the case of Cabrera, Cairo, and, stupidly, Jeter, sacrificing, the squeeze bunt should come in to play regularly in sudden-death situations. Instead it never does, and the Yankees are 6-14 in one-run games.
Today they try to win the rubber game behind Chien-Ming Wang who threw seven scoreless innings against the Twins in his last outing. The Angels counter with Ervin Santana, who has a 6.88 ERA over his last three starts, though he did strike out 11 Rangers in his last outing.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Only one team in baseball has won more games than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, that being the Boston Red Sox. This is not the happiest of seasons to be a Yankee fan, to say the least. The Angels swept the Yankees in Anaheim back at the end of May winning one high-scoring affair and two close, low-scoring games.
The upside for the Yankees this weekend, beyond Old Timer's Day, is that they miss two of the Halos' top three starters (Weaver and Escobar) and that they're coming into the series on a relative high having done what they needed to do against the Twins, taking the three games not started by Johan Santana to finish their season series with Minnesota with a 5-2 record. Meanwhile, the Angels come in on something of a slide having dropped six of nine to the pitiful Royals, Orioles, and Rangers, the first of those having swept them in Angel Stadium.
Adding to the good news, tonight the Yankees get a crack at a favorite wipping boy in Bartolo Colon (career 5.32 ERA against New York). Colon is ripe for the picking having struggled with injuries all year and having posted a 7.91 ERA over his last seven starts, allowing eleven home runs along the way. Alex Rodriguez, who is a career .440/.460/1.133 hitter against Colon with a whopping eight home runs in 45 at-bats, will return to the lineup at third base looking to use that matchup to break out of a small 0 for 15 slump. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, and Robinson Cano all have OPSs over 1.000 against Colon, and Johnny Damon (starting in left field tonight with Matsui at DH) falls just short of that mark.
On the flip side, the Angels' hitters have pretty good numbers against Andy Pettitte as well, but only Garret Anderson and Gary Matthews Jr. have more than ten at-bats against him and only two others have ever faced him. Andy's looking to rebound from his disaster outing his last time out.
La Leche League
The Yankees had a nice, only intermittently terrifying 7-6 win over the Twins this afternoon. The good news: they flashed some long-overdue power, and though A-Rod (0 for his last 19) sat this one out, his MRI came back normal. The bad news: Kei Igawa.
Those first-inning hits were pretty weak, so you could try to chalk them up to bad luck if you were so inclined... except that later in the game he would go on to enjoy much better luck, and pitch even worse. During the in-game comments, someone asked what kind of pitches Igawa was throwing, and the truth is I could barely tell. You’d probably need to get a forensics team in there to be sure: “Well, based on this partial thumbprint, it appears this was meant to be a curveball… but it’s difficult to be sure, as the ball has suffered severe blunt trauma.”
...Anyway! In that second inning, Robinson Cano homered, his fifth of the year; Andy Phillips and Miguel “Mig-Rod” Cairo hit back to back doubles to tie the game; Damon walked; and Melky Cabrera followed with a solid three-run shot to center, giving the Yanks a 5-2 lead. Melky’s been on fire recently, and his stats are beginning to come around to respectable levels, though after his molasses-slow start he still has a ways to go. Asked about Cabrera after the game, longtime friend, fellow home run-hitter, and carpooler Robinson Cano said, “we’re going to be making some jokes in the car.”
* “What’s the pitcher’s name?” “What’s on second!” Sorry, had to get that out.
...by a thread...
The Yanks played well enough to lose on the 4th of July. When Johan Santana is the opposing pitcher, you know it is going to be a tough day, regardless. But the Yanks let the game get away from them late and fell to the Twins, 6-2. Still, the Bombers have a chance to win the series with a victory this afternoon and I've got a hunch that Kei Igawa will pitch well. Alex Rodriguez, who is 0-for-his-last-19, is not in the starting line-up.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Even if he never throws a pitch again, Mariano Rivera will retain the legacy of being the greatest closer, or relief ace, in Yankee history. Rich "Goose" Gossage, likely to be enshrined in Cooperstown in 2008, would probably come in second on the lists of most fans and media members. Yet, somehow forgotten in the argument of great Yankee relievers is a pitcher who was a contemporary of Gossage in the 1970s and early 1980s. Albert "Sparky" Lyle (pictured here in his 1979 Topps card, his final as a Yankee) might not have been Mariano Rivera, but from 1972 to 1977, he was pretty much lock-down untouchable in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings of many Yankee victories. He was also one of the most colorful characters to ever wear Yankee pinstripes.
As a youngster, Lyle earned the nickname "Sparky" from his father, who took note of his seemingly unending level of energy. His left arm had plenty of life, too, and drew interest from the Baltimore Orioles, who signed him to his first professional contract in 1964. When the Orioles left him unprotected, the Red Sox drafted him after the season and converted him to relief. It was the perfect place for the inexhaustible youngster, who could better channel his energies pitching frequently out of the bullpen rather than once every fourth day as a starter.
In 1965, Lyle did something he would come to regret. He faked an injury and spent 15 needless days on the disabled list. Fortunately, he also met Ted Williams that spring. The Red Sox’ legend encouraged Lyle to learn how to throw a slider, a pitch that had always given the "Splendid Splinter" some difficulty. The slider would become Lyle’s trademark on the mound.
Although Lyle enjoyed some success with the Red Sox, his career began to fully blossom with the famed 1972 trade that sent him to the archrival New York Yankees for first baseman Danny Cater and a player to be named later (the immortal Mario Guerrero). It was 35 years ago that the Yankees pulled off that heist; it remains one of the primary reasons the Yankees and Red Sox no longer do business on the trade front.
During his Yankee years, Lyle also emerged as one of the game’s leading pranksters. Lyle compiled an impressive list of practical jokes for his resume, including the following highlights:
*During one of the team’s charter flights, Lyle quietly approached Yankee broadcaster Phil Rizzuto, who was not only sleeping but was known for being particularly squeamish when it came to anything like lightning, snakes, or figures from the world of horror. When Rizzuto woke a few minutes later, he was greeted by the angry countenance of "The Wolfman." Donning the mask of the famed Universal Studios monster, Lyle had succeeded in giving the nervous Rizzuto one of his most frightening mid-air moments.
*In one of his most memorable stunts, Lyle once procured the waterbed that belonged to teammate and fellow left-hander Mike Kekich (also a notable flake: see wifeswapping). Lyle then hung it from the scoreboard at Milwaukee’s County Stadium, displaying it during a game for fans—and his Yankee teammates, including Kekich—to appreciate as it dangled in the wind.
*Lyle arranged to have a casket delivered to the team clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. As manager Bill Virdon prepared to address his players in a team meeting, the casket creaked open. Emerging from inside the casket was Lyle, who slowly sat upright and then delivered his best Bela Lugosi imitation while cryptically mouthing the words, "How do you pitch to Brooks Robinson?"
*Of all the Lyle pranks, his trademark stunt became his "treatment" of birthday cakes that arrived at Yankee Stadium. When a player celebrated a birthday during the season, the Yankees typically arranged to have a large birthday cake delivered to the clubhouse. As soon as Lyle got wind of the cake’s impending arrival, he prepared to take action. Waiting in the clubhouse until the cake was placed on a table, Lyle then pulled down his pants (including his underwear), jumped up in the air, and proceeded to sit on top of the cake! With another cake effectively buried, yet another Yankee teammate was frustrated in his effort to celebrate his birthday. (Former Yankee outfielder Ron Swoboda once exacted the ultimate revenge on Lyle, doing something unmentionable to one of his birthday cakes.)
In spite of his continued ruination of birthday cakes, Lyle remained a popular player in the Yankee clubhouse. While several personalities on the Yankees clashed with each other, Lyle remained outside of the fray. Later in his career, he joined the Texas Rangers, where he fit in well in a clubhouse that featured an array of offbeat characters, including Oscar "The Big O" Gamble, Jim "Emu" Kern, and the ultimate hot dog, Willie Montanez.
Equipped with his own humorous perspective, Lyle became a natural candidate to collaborate on a book about the Yankees’ tumultuous seasons of 1977 and ’78. Lyle’s The Bronx Zoo became one of the best-selling sports books of the decade. In 1990, Lyle moved into the realm of fiction, collaborating on a novel that featured the intriguing title, The Year I Owned the Yankees.
Given his bent toward practical jokes and the lighter side of sports, it might come as surprising that Lyle has become a successful manager in the minor leagues. As the skipper of the independent Somerset Patriots, Lyle has led the team to three Atlantic League titles—in 2001, 2003, and 2005. If he continues to follow that pattern, Lyle will add a fourth league title to his resume in 2007.
Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story. Bruce, his wife Sue, and their daughter Madeline reside in Cooperstown, NY, a stone’s throw from the Hall of Fame.
Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.
Bruce, his wife Sue, and their daughter Madeline reside in Cooperstown, NY, a stone’s throw from the Hall of Fame.
Who are these guys and what have they done with the 2007 New York Yankees?
The Yankees jumped out to an early 1-0 lead last night when Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera singled and Damon scored on a groundout. Chein-Ming Wang made that hold up by limiting the Twins to a double through the first three innings. In the fourth he ran into some trouble, walking the first three men and giving up a single to Justin Morneau, but he escaped with the lead because the first walk was erased when Jorge Posada caught Jason Bartlett stealing, and Torii Hunter followed Morneau's bases-loading single by grounding into a double play. Wang got another DP following a leadoff single in the fifth. By then his lead had swelled to 3-0 thanks to a two-run Robinson Cano home run in the previous frame. Wang pitched out of trouble again in the sixth and then the Yankees went to town dropping a five-spot on Carlos Silva and Juan Rincon in the bottom of the inning.
The onslaught started when Jorge Posada hit a single to center that bounced past Torii Hunter allowing Posada to head to third as the Yankee dugout erupted in laughter as the sight of their 35-year-old catcher running out a would-be triple. Posada actually had two triples last year, but had gone three years without one before that (and remains without one this year as the hit was scored a single and a two-base error). Posada scored on a wild pitch, but the bases didn't remain empty for long as Hideki Matsui doubled and Bobby Abreu, in the midst of another three-hit night, singled him home. Andy Phillips then flew out to the warning track in left driving Silva from the game. Abreu greeted Rincon by stealing second. Rincon reacted by hitting Cano in the foot. Johnny Damon moved the runners over with a groundout, and Melky Cabrera drove them home with a single, moving to second on the throw home, which Cano avoided by sliding outside of home plate and sticking his left hand in between Joe Mauer's leg and tag. Derek Jeter then singled home Melky to complete the scoring.
Wang, Scott Proctor, and rookie Edwar Ramirez each pitched a scoreless frame to wrap things up, Ramirez dazzling by striking out the heart of the Twins' order on 14 pitches in his major league debut. Ramirez is exactly as advertised. His uniform hangs on his skinny frame, but he throws 90-mile-per-hour fastballs mixed with sliders then puts hitters away with a changeup in the high-70s that just falls off a table when it reaches the plate. Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, and Lew Ford (hitting for Torii Hunter who was ejected in the eight for jawing at home plate umpire Ron Kulpa from the dugout) each went down swinging, missing Ramirez's change by a good foot each.
Some other items of note: Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 and came out of the game after popping up to end the Yankees' sixth-inning rally, but didn't seem to be favoring his sore hamstring. He's expected to DH tomorrow, and remains one of just two players to start every game this season (Ichiro Suzuki being the other).
Johnny Damon has a hit in six of his last seven games (including the suspended finale in Baltimore), but he's only hitting .267/.333/.400 over that span and did not play in the only game the Yankees won against Oakland over the weekend. Melky Cabrera, meanwhile, is hitting .320/.378/.469 since taking over in center field on June 1. In 1994, a 25-year-old Bernie Williams hit .289/.384/.453 in his fourth major league season, which made that the best year of his career to that point. At age 22, Melky Cabrera may just have arrived as the Yankee center fielder of the future.
In these first two games against the Twins, Derek Jeter is 5 for 10 from the three-hole. Robinson Cano, who was 2 for 22 coming into the series, is 3 for 6 with a homer and a walk while batting ninth. Hideki Matsui has figured out that he's trying to pull the ball too much. Matsui, who had a single and a double in his last 23 at-bats coming into last night's game, had a single and a double in last night's game alone. Finally, Bobby Abreu, who was 4 for 41 coming in to this series, got a pep talk from Roger Clemens prior to Monday night's game (Clemens told him he was the hitter he had feared most when facing the Phillies the last few years, and that he needed to go back to being that guy) and has gone 6 for 7 with a walk and a monster home run in the first two games against the Twins.
It's my belief that Abreu is the key to the Yankees' season. The offense seems to go in which ever direction he goes. Indeed, during last night's game, YES posted a stat showing that Abreu has hit roughly .350 in Yankee wins and roughly .150 in Yankee loses. As the Yankees saw down the stretch last year, when Bobby Abreu's on his game, he's a difference maker. Alex Rodriguez may be having a monster season, but with Jason Giambi out possibly for the season, and Damon making me wonder how Kevin Thompson or Shelley Duncan might do as the everyday DH, Abreu needs to be the Bobby Abreu Clemens remembers.
Here's hoping facing Johan Santana this afternoon doesn't undo all of that good stuff.
The Yankees continue their quest to gain ground on the Twins tonight as Chien-Ming Wang faces off against Carlos Silva. Last year this would have been a mismatch, but Silva has rebounded from his disastrous 2006 season to be roughly league average. The most noticeable change in his game is that he's posting his highest walk rate as a starter (remember, this is the guy who walked just nine men in 188 1/3 innings in 2005). It could be that, after a season of serving up meatballs (246 hits and 38 homers in 180 1/3 innings in 2006), Silva has figured out that there's a limit to pitching to contact.
Chien Ming-Wang, who is just a year Silva's junior, has been exploring similar things this year, using his slider to increasing his strike-out rate by more than a K per nine innings, though that's been countered by a corresponding reduction in his ground ball rate. Curiously, with Silva walking more men and Wang striking out more men, the two have very similar peripherals (Silva has exactly one more walk, strikeout and home run allowed, albeit in 8 2/3 more innings). Wang's still the better pitcher, of course, and holds a comfortable advantage in hit rate, ERA, and WHIP. In fact, Wang has failed to complete the sixth inning just once in his 12 starts this year and has allowed more than four runs just once, while Silva has done each four times. Since May 16, Wang has posted a 2.64 ERA in eight starts, going 6-1 with one no decision while allowing just two home runs in 58 innings.
Of course, the big story tonight will be how Alex Rodriguez feels the day after straining his hamstring in a collision with Justin Morneau at first base. If Alex Rodriguez misses a significant chunk of time due to the injury, the Yankees can chip away all they want, but all they'll have to show for it is a pile of rubble. One thing's for sure, Miguel Cairo will be starting at third base tonight.
By the way, for those who stay up late enough, I'll be making an appearance on Steve Thompson's show on WCCO radio in Minneapolis tonight at midnight to talk Yankees. You can listen live on their website.
Nice Win, Bad Break
Roger Clemens pitched a strong, efficient game against the Twins on Monday night, good enough for win #350 in his storied career, as the Yanks rolled 5-1. Clemens needed only 97 pitches to complete eight innings. He was helped out by an aggresive Twins offense; normally, Clemens uses up close to 100 pitches to get through five or six innings. But his splitter was working and the Twins were duly impressed.
It was a much-needed win the Yanks, but then again, aren't all their wins much-needed these days? Bobby Abreu absolutely plastered a ball high into the upper deck in right field and had three hits all told.
However, it wasn't a free-and-easy night as Alex Rodriguez came up lame with a strained hamstring after colliding with Justin Morneau at first base. He was able to walk off the field on his own. Still, the thought of Rodriguez missing a significant chunk of time is disheartening to say the least. He'll be checked out by a doctor today. Hopefully, he'll just miss a few games. Even if they have to shut him down until after the break, so be it, so long as he's not gone for a month or more. Pete Abraham is cautiously optimistic at best.
The Minnesota Twins
The 1995 season was shortened to 144 games because of the previous year's strike. After 73 games, one game past the season's half-way point, the Yankees were seven games under .500 (33-40), in fourth place in the AL East 7.5 games behind the division-leading Red Sox and ten games out of the Wild Card behind eight other teams.
At the end of this week's four-game series against the Twins the Yankees will have played 82 games, one game more than half of the season. They are currently four games under .500 (37-41), in third place in the AL East 11 games behind the division-leading Red Sox and nine games out of the Wild Card behind five other teams.
In 1995 the Yankees won the Wild Card after signing Darryl Strawberry in late-June, swapping Danny Tartabull out for Ruben Sierra, and acquiring David Cone for a trio of minor leaguers at the trading deadline. Sierra represented only a modest improvement over Tartabull, but Strawberry, who joined the major league team in early August, represented a significant improvement over Luis Polonia, whom the Yankees promptly dumped on the Braves. Meanwhile Cone and Scott Kamieniecki completed a rotation that had been only three deep since Jimmy Key and Melido Perez went down to injury in May and June respectively.
Still, it took a nearly miraculous 25-6 stretch run combined with a similarly staggering collapse by the AL West-leading Angels (who lost 28 of 37 before rallying to force a one-game playoff with Seattle) and an otherwise weak league (just one other non-division winner finished with a winning record) for the Yankees to sneak into the postseason in 1995. This year will not be 1995 all over again. There's only one spot to fill in the rotation and the Yankees won't fill it with the defending Cy Young Award winner. There are no superstar reclamation projects toiling in the independent leagues (the closest the Yankees could come would be Clemens, who is already here). Meanwhile, the teams they're trying to chase are not only good, but should get better.
Take the Twins, for example. Everyone and their mother knew that Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz would be replaced in the rotation two of the organization's four strong triple-A starters by now and indeed they have. Meanwhile, Johan Santana is a notoriously dominant second-half pitcher. Meanwhile, last year's batting champ, Joe Mauer, is back after missing most of May due to injury and hitting .267/.380/.517 since June 16, and there's still room for improvement at third base, designated hitter, and in Ron Gardenhire's lineup construction.
The improvements in the rotation are the most dangerous however, as the Big Three in the Minnesota bullpen, Joe Nathan, Sideshow Pat Neshek, and Matt Guerrier, have been flat out dominant, combining for a 1.82 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and a 0.93 WHIP in 123 1/3 innings. That means opponents have six innings get a lead, which is a tougher trick without Ponson and Ortiz to kick around.
Tonight the Yankees try to get ahead against Boof Bonser, who hasn't turned in a quality start in his last five tries, posting a 6.91 ERA over that span as opposing batters have hit .328/.362/.529 against him. The Yanks gave Boof his worst going over of the season back on April 10 when they plated seven runs off him, knocking him out in the fifth. Ah, remember that series? The Yankees had opened with a disappointing 2-3 showing on their opening home stand, but we all blamed it on the cold and were convinced we were right when they beat the Twins 18-3 in their first two games indoors in Minnesota behind strong outings by Andy Pettitte and . . . Carl Pavano? Seems like a lifetime ago now.
Rocket Clemens takes the hill for the Yanks looking to rebound from the 7.15 ERA he's posted in his last three outings (two starts, one relief inning). The Yankees, who trail the Twins by four games in the Wild Card hunt, could really use a sweep this week, as unlikely as that may be. If nothing else they need to win the three games not started by Johan Santana, who was a 16-year-old free agent signee by the Houston Astros in 1995. Times have changed folks.
The Yankees scored two runs off Joe Kennedy in the first inning of Friday night's game against the A's. Mike Mussina made that hold up for seven innings and, after Kyle Farnsworth let two men on in the eighth, Mariano Rivera came on to get the last four outs to secure a 2-1 win.
On Sunday, the Yankees were still looking for their third run of the series as they had been one-hit by Chad Gaudin and Rich Harden on Saturday in a 7-0 loss. Kei Igawa pitched well in Saturday's game with the significant exception of the three home runs he allowed in 6 1/3 innings. One of those dingers was hit by Jason Kendall, who had previously hit a total of two home runs in his two and a half seasons with the A's. Scott Proctor gave up hits to three of the four men he faced in relief of Igawa and, with Mike Myers' help, all three men came around to score. After the game, Proctor, still reeling from walking in the winning run in Baltimore, burned his glove and spikes in front of the dugout.
The Yankees finally broke through to score five runs in Sunday's finale, but it didn't do them much good as Andy Pettitte got lit up for eight runs before a single Yankee crossed the plate. Pettitte, who said after the game that, despite a good warmup, he had absolutely no command and that his pitches were just centering themselves over the plate, got the hook with two outs in the A's seven-run second inning. Ron Villone pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings as the Yankees rallied to make it 8-5, but Mike Myers and Luis Vizcaino allowed a trio of insurance runs (Myers' again being an inherited runner, this time charged to Brian Bruney) to put the game out of reach at the eventual final of 11-5. Proctor, breaking in his new equipment, finished things off by retiring the four batters he faced on nine pitches (six strikes).
And so the Yankees' slide continues as they fall to 2-9 over their last four series, all of which they lost. They're now four games under .500, which is where they were on June 7, and a whopping nine games out in the Wild Card race behind five other teams including the departing A's. Suddenly the AL East, where they're in third place, 11 games behind Boston, seems more winnable. Tomorrow they begin a four-game series against the Twins, who are another of those five teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race (and one with a nearly identical record to the A's). They pretty much need to sweep that one. Johan Santana pitches on Wednesday. (Do you see where I'm going with this?)
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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