Monthly archives: April 2008
Cut The Crap
The first three Yankees to come to the plate last night reached base, but with the bases loaded and no outs, the Bombers only managed to plate two of those men. After sending seven men to the plate in that inning and making Jeremy Bonderman throw 27 pitches, they only got three more men on base all night against Bonderman and lefty reliever Clay Rapada, and none of those three reached second base.
Andy Pettitte held a slim 2-1 lead heading into the fifth, but just as he did in Cleveland, blew it on a home run in the fifth, this one a two-run shot by Marcus Thames. Placido Polanco, who is 6 for 10 on the series, led off the sixth with a solo shot off Pettitte, who yielded another run later that inning. Polanco hit another off Kyle Farnsworth in the eighth to set the final at 6-2.
That thoroughly dispiriting and spiritless performance by the Yankees was made all the more dreary by the news mid-game that Phil Hughes is being put on the disabled list due to a sore right oblique muscle. The story Hughes and the Yankees seem to have cobbled together is that Hughes tweaked the muscle in his rain-shortened start in Chicago, but didn't think it was severe enough to mention. After coming out of Tuesday's came, he told the trainers that he was having some discomfort there. The pain became worse overnight, and team doctor Stuart Hershon told Hughes and the team that Hughes would likely have to miss his next start, thus prompting the Yankees, who were already discussing what to do with their struggling youngster, to place Hughes on the DL.
Of course, Joe Girardi has made such a habit of lying to the press about team injuries and team decisions and so many injuries--from Morgan Ensberg's ankle to Wilson Betemit's conjuctivitis, to Joba Chamberlain's hamstrings, to this one--have either come out of nowhere or been unsubstantiated rumors, that it's become impossible to take the team at it's word, particularly when the DL gives them an easy short-term solution for Hughes struggles. Hughes said after the game that he hasn't had an MRI. So we're left wondering if we should be concerned about an injury-prone young pitcher with a troublesome oblique injury, something that conjures comparisons to the A's extremely talented and extremely fragile Rich Harden, or pleased that Hughes is going to get a minimum of two weeks to clear his mind and work on his mechanics and tertiary pitches in the hope of rebooting his season in mid-May while the rotation gets a temporary upgrade in the person of Darrell Rasner (who has gone 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and 4.5 K/BB ratio for Scranton thus far).
This all puts a very bad taste in my mouth, yes because of the team's poor play (3.17 runs scored per game and a 2-4 record over their last six games), yes because of the talent stacking up on the disabled list (Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Phil Hughes all hitting the DL within the span of four days), but above all because the new administration seems determined to leave the team's fans and the media who inform those fans in the dark.
Roll With It
Chris Stewart's Yankee debut didn't go s'good last night. He went 0-for-3 at the plate with a strikeout and was repeatedly crossed up by Phil Hughes, resulting in two passed balls. Fortunately, Chad Moeller cleared waivers and has been reinstated on the 25-man roster, forcing Stewart back to Scranton (and off the 40-man via a DFA, though the move hasn't been announced yet). Meanwhile, Chris Britton, who was optioned yesterday, was recalled today following Ross Ohlendorf's 3 1/3-inning outing last night (Alex Rodriguez hitting the DL allows the Yankees to skip the ten-day rule). Of course, Britton could be back on the Scranton shuttle after Ian Kennedy's start tomorrow, as Wilson Betemit is now eligible to come off the DL just in time to fill the hole at his natural position of third base. Chad Jennings reports that Betemit is scheduled to join the Scranton team for a rehab assignment tomorrow.
Andy Pettitte will look to ease the strain on the pen tonight. In his last start he lasted just five innings against the Indians, turning in his worst outing of the year. The Tigers righty-heavy lineup would seem to be a bad match for Pettitte. Indeed, Andy's been hell on lefties in the early going, but righties have been doing well against him. The thing is, that's unusual. On his career, Pettitte has almost no platoon split at all and when he does have one it tends to be a reverse split. Andy pitched a gem in his only outing against Detroit last year (8 IP, 5 H, 1 R). I'd expect some bounce back tonight.
Opposing Andy will be Jeremy Bonderman. Bonderman feels like he's been around forever at this point--as the first-round high school draft pick that steeled Billy Beane's resolve to draft college arms in the "Moneyball" draft, as a key player in the three-team Jeff Weaver/Ted Lilly/Carlos Peña trade, as a 19-game loser on the 113-loss 2003 Tigers team, and as a perennial breakout candidate who still hasn't made that leap--but he's still just 25. Bonderman improved steadily from 2003 to 2006, but last year he fell apart in conjunction with the Tigers' second-half slide that I mentioned in my series preview (first 18 starts: 10-1, 3.53; last ten starts: 1-8 8.23). A sore elbow was the culprit, but he was shut down in early September and expected to make a full recovery over the winter. In the early going, however, he's been maddeningly inconsistent, failing to turn in a single quality start in five outings and pitching inefficiently, with just 58 percent of his pitches going for strikes on the season. Bonderman struck out just ten men in his first four starts (22 2/3 innings) before striking out seven Rangers in 4 2/3 in his last start, but after walking 8 in his first 17 2/3 innings he's now walked 13 in his last 9 2/3. It doesn't bode well for Bonderman that the Yankees drew eight walks of his teammates last night. Also worth noting: while Bonderman has kept his ERA at a respectable 4.28, he has five unearned runs on his ledger already, giving him a 5.93 RA (run average).
Alberto Gonzalez starts in place of Morgan Ensberg at third base tonight. Melky "Got Homers" Cabrera moves up to the sixth spot, ahead of the struggling Robinson Cano, catcher Jose Molina, and Gonzalez.
Update: Stewart was optioned, but not designated for assignment. Rather, to make room for Moeller on the 40-man, Sean Henn, who had been pitching well on rehab assignment with Scranton, was DFAed. Chad Jennings has some reaction to the move.
Ten Essential Baseball Books
Last month I received an e-mail from Chris Illuminati, the content editor of Phillyburbs.com. He told me he was asking different people for one baseball book that they'd consider essential. I picked "No Cheering From the Press Box," Jerome Holtzman's wonderful collection of interviews with old time sports writers, but sent Chris a list of ten essential books just for the fun of it. Shortly after the story ran I thought it'd be fun to ask a group of seamheads--historians, biographers, columnists, beat writers, screenwriters, novelists--for a list of their ten essential baseball books. Not the ten best books or even the ten most essential books just ten essential ones.
I deliberately rigged the question because there are more than just ten essential books in any self-respecting baseball libray. But I was more interested in lists that would reveal the quirks and personal tastes of each individual rather than trying to assemble an authoratative or comprehensive poll.
The top vote getters are interesting--though not particularly surprising--and because the lists are so subjective there are no consensus selections. "Ball Four" and "The Glory of Their Times" and "The Bill James Historical Abstract" were the top picks, though some people distinctly went with the original Historical Abstract while others chose the new one. Bill James got more votes than any individual writer followed by Roger Angell (the most common difficulty for the contributors seemed to be which Angell compilation to go with).
I heard back from 55 people via e-mail and even trooped to the far reaches of the upper east side to visit Ray Robinson and get his list (I also had some partial responses and decided not to include them). A total of 168 different books were selected. Here are the results. Tomorrow, I'll post the individual ballots.
Table 1: Here are the top 15 (7 or more votes):
Cold Yanks Fall Flat
During the early innings of the game last night, I caught up with an old college buddy. As we chatted on the phone, I became aware that his three-year-old was making a racket in the background--the same irritating noise over and again. When I asked my friend if his kid was okay he said, "He's fine, he just wants attention."
I was reminded of the child's insistent noise-making in the eighth inning of the game. The Yankees were down 6-2, their offense listless again. On the YES broadcast, Michael Kay wondered if the team's brutal schedule--they have had just one day off in April--had something to do with their flat performance. It was brick cold at the Stadium and the fans who remained were the die-hards. As Kay and Al Leiter spoke, I became aware of a loud clanging, a stick knocking on a cowbell out in the bleachers most likely. The banging did not stop all inning as a small group of fans tried to rally the team into action and to keep themselves warm and awake. It felt like the old days, when the Stadium wasn't always packed and small groups of fans felt compelled to announce their presence with authority.
Denny Bautista, a string bean of a relief pitcher for the Tigers with a propensity for wildness was doing his best to help the Yankees out. He walked the bases full and then hit Derek Jeter to force in a run. Jim Leyland looked as if he was ready to strangulate Bautista. The skinny pitcher, who has enormous teeth, thick, full lips, and a weak chin, had completely unraveled. He looked like a schlimiel as he trudged off the mound, his shirt untucked, but like a cat who has just accidentally fallen off the kitchen counter, he tried to maintain a sense of arrogance, making him look even more foolish.
Bobby Abreu grounded out weakly to third to end the inning. The Bombers managed to plate another run in the ninth but then Todd Jones, aggresive and throwing strikes, got his three outs and that was the game. Robinson Cano, who homered--a line drive shot into the right field seats--in his first at bat, whiffed on three pitches to end the game (the last pitch was over his head), in an undisciplined at bat that has become all too common this year. The Yanks left 13 men on base and deserved to lose the game.
Final score. Tigers 6, Yanks 4.
2007 Record: 88-74 (.543)
Manager: Jim Leyland
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Comerica Park (101/101)
Who's Replacing Whom:
Miguel Cabrera replaces Sean Casey
1B - Miguel Cabrera (R)
UT - Brandon Inge (R)
R - Justin Verlander
R - Todd Jones
15-day DL: L - Dontrelle Willis, R - Joel Zumaya, R - Fernando Rodney, R - Vance Wilson (C)
Restricted List: R - Francisco Cruceta
L - Curtis Granderson (CF)
If You Build It (They Will Win)
Over at The Baseball Analysts, Rich Lederer has an insightful interview with Dan Levitt, author of Ed Barrow: The Bulldog Who Built the Yankees' First Dynasty. Here's a peak:
Rich: Your subtitle "The Bulldog Who Built the Yankees' First Dynasty" suggests that the Bronx Bombers have had multiple dynasties. How would you define these dynasties and what was Barrow's role in each of them?
Excellent stuff from Levitt and Lederer. I'm really looking forward to reading this book.
I always try to be understanding when listening to baseball announcers. It’s hard to talk intelligently and authoritatively about anything for four straight hours, let alone do that almost every day for six months. If I ever tried, the network would most likely owe the FCC millions in fines by the first half-hour mark, and by day three I'd be babbling about my dog and The Wire and snickering like a 12-year-old boy at White Sox coach Rusty Kuntz. It wouldn’t be pretty.
All of which is just a roundabout introduction to the real subject of my rant today: ads.
…as a new channel, it doesn't seem to have many advertisers just yet—half the commercials are for actual YES programs, and the other half consists of exactly five low-budget local ads, aired repeatedly. If this keeps up, I may have to eat at the Captain's Galley restaurant in West Haven—as the man in the ad says (in a very unfortunate pirate voice), it's time to "experience the legend for yourself!" I might drive there in my brand new car from Quality Hyundai, conveniently located on I-95 between Exits 52 and 53.
“Fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance.”
"Attention, men with thinning hair!"
“A Platinum ownership experience can only be achieved from the Lexus Platinum Dealer Network.”
And if I ever run into "salon expert Guiseppe Franco" on the street, I will not be held accountable for my actions.
Killing 'Em Softly
After five innings last night, the Yankees were trailing 2-0 and being no-hit by Aaron Laffey. They then exploded with the following rally:
Melky Cabrera broke up the no-no with an infield single on a Baltimore chop that hopped over third baseman Casey Blake's head to shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Derek Jeter followed with a squibber down the third base line that took a sharp left turn on Blake allowing Jeter to reach with another infield single. Bobby Abreu then singled to shallow left field to load the bases with no outs. Down 1-2 in the count, Alex Rodriguez was hit in the left thigh to plate the first Yankee run. Next, Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui both hit slow bouncing balls to first base, exchanging two outs for two runs. That inexplicably drove Laffey from the game at 78 pitches. Facing reliever Jensen Lewis, Morgan Ensberg hit a weak chop that nearly rolled to a stop even with the mound. Lewis got to the ball first, but was forced to eat it as Ensberg reached with another infield single, this one plating the fourth Yankee run.
Joked Ensberg after the game, "We've tried hitting the ball hard. Robby Cano knows it, too. Jason [Giambi has] hit the ball real hard, but that doesn't work. We need to start using the entire bat. We need to start dribbling balls and rolling balls over, which is exactly what we did."
The Yankees added a fifth run in the eighth off Lewis when Johnny Damon pinch-hit for the aching Rodriguez (more on that below), walked, and was plated by a well-struck double by Hideki Matsui. Not that they needed it. Jonathan Albaladejo, Kyle Farnsworth, Joba Chamberlain, and Mariano Rivera each tossed a scoreless inning to wrap up the win for starter Mike Mussina. Kyle, Joba, and Mo combined for three perfect frames, striking out one man each. Farnsworth, who threw eight of his 12 pitches for strikes, effectively worked a new cutter into his usual fastball/slider mix. Albaladejo had runners on the corners with two outs via a walk and a single, but struck out David Dellucci to escape his inning. Mussina was sharp again, though less efficient. He didn't allow an extra base hit in his five innings, but the two runs he allowed both came in the bottom of the fifth, which started with four straight singles. Moose did well to escape that inning with just two runs allowed, but Girardi was right to lift him once the Yankees got the lead in the top of the next frame.
As for Rodriguez, his right quad is the one that's been bothering him and the pitch from Laffey hit him in the left thigh, but coming out of the box on a groundball to second in the first inning, he aggravated the right thigh. Rodriguez slowed up after just four strides on that groundout and appeared to be limping when he scored in the sixth, prompting Giardi to pinch-hit for him in his next at-bat. After the game, Rodriguez said he was probably only running at 50 percent when he scored and that he probably came back too quickly from the initial injury. Rodriguez plans to shut himself down for a few days. Said Rodriguez after the game, "There's no way I could play tomorrow. . . . I had a quad injury like this in my senior year in high school and it lingered on for a couple months, so it's important to get it right. . . . I think Jeter took the right approach where he took a litte bit more time, and that's probably what I need, too. . . . Joe [Girardi] said [I'll sit] one day, and we'll take it from there, but if I had to guess, I would probably guess probably more than one day. . . . When I get back out there I want to be closer to 100 percent than I am now."
As for Jorge Posada, who was absent from the Yankee dugout for the first time since September 1, 1996, there was no word last night on his diagnosis/prognosis, though I'm hopeful that we'll hear something prior to tonight's opener against the Tigers.
Time To Split
It's cold and rainy in Cleveland with a chance of snow (!), but the Yanks aren't scheduled to return there this season, so they'll likely make every attempt to get the game in, much like they did on their final day in Chicago, when rain twice interrupted the game and ended Phil Hughes night after just two innings.
Mike Mussina will be the man contending with the elements tonight. Moose is coming off the gem he twirled against the Chisox when he had unusually good movement on his non-curve pitches. He and the Yankee hitters will be facing 23-year-old lefty groundballer Aaron Laffey. Laffey was reliably average in his nine starts for the Tribe as a rookie last year. He lasted five or more innings in all but one start (and four innings in the exception) and allowed no more than four runs in any of those five-plus-inning starts (he allowed five runs in the four-inning outing). Tonight will be his first time facing the Yankees.
Laffey is the third of five lefty starters the Yankees are facing in a six-day span. In the first two of those games, Joe Girardi has radically rearranged his lineup, leaving some of his best hitters on the bench, and received four runs of total offense as a result. Resting Bobby Abreu I understand, as Abreu's the one left-handed Yankee hitter who really struggles against his own kind. Using the opposing lefty as an excuse to rest the struggling Robinson Cano I also understand. Sitting Hideki Matsui for two straight days just because there's a lefty on the mound I do not understand.
Prior to sitting out the last two games, Matsui was riding a seven-game hitting streak during which he had hit .318/.516/.500. On his career, Matsui has hit a respectable .293/.359/.448 against lefties. He is 0 for 9 with a walk in his career against C.C. Sabathia, so I understand Giardi's reasoning for sitting Matsui yesterday, but if that was the plan, he should have started Hideki on Saturday. Tonight, Matsui's back in the lineup, but Johnny Damon is sitting out. Damon is hitting .433/.485/.800 over his last seven games with two homers and five doubles. On his career, Damon has hit .286/.349/.404 against lefties. Against lefties the last two days he's gone 5 for 9 with two of those doubles. I just don't understand resting the team's hottest hitter when the offense has sputtered for three straight days.
Shelley Duncan and Morgan Ensberg combined to reach base once in 12 plate appearances over the last two games. Duncan, who was the guy who got on base, sits tonight. Ensberg plays third as Girardi uses the DH to protect Alex Rodriguez's tender quad.
The worst-case scenario for the Yankees has always been injuries. The moves that the team needs to make around any DL move throw things off, certainly more than what we see in Boston. Posada seemed to come back from his "dead arm," but just a week later it's clear that the shoulder isn't going to hold up. What's not as clear is the path back. Remember that MRI that reportedly showed no structural damage? Now, not so much, because Posada has a torn rotator cuff, the same muscle (the subscapularis) that has Rich Harden on the shelf. Posada will head to Birmingham for an examination and consultation with Jim Andrews. After the announcement, Posada seemed very emotional, which could indicate that he knows this is a longer-term injury or could just be a reaction to being placed on the DL for the first time. A subscapular tear is a bad thing for a catcher, and it isn't something that one can come back from quickly, though surgery doesn't look like an option. I'm setting Posada's DXL at 30, but remember that he could come back as a DH more quickly than that. The problem is that's not what the Yankees need, and certainly not what they thought they were signing, though they had to understand the risks of signing an older catcher, even one as durable as Posada.
(Tell Me Why?) I Don't Like Mondays
It is a cold, rainy spring day in New York. The skies are dark and the Yankees and their fans are going to continue feeling anxious until their is more definitive word on the extent of Jorge Posada's injury. If he needs surgery, he could be lost from 4-6 months. According to Tyler Kepner in the Times:
Posada will return to New York with the Yankees after Monday's game, and he said he wanted to visit Dr. James Andrews, the orthopedic surgeon in Birmingham, Ala., who operated on his labrum in 2001.
Book it, Pluto
Terry Pluto, the veteran Cleveland newspaperman, is also the author of several entertaining books, including The Curse of Rocky Colavito and Loose Balls. His latest effort, Dealing, is covers the Indians from their Gashouse Gorilla days in the 90s through the Dolans, up to the current team. Over at the Plain-Dealer, five chapters of Pluto's book are excerpted. Check 'em out.
A Gem and Some Gloomy News
Oh, man, Sunday was fun if you enjoy a good, old-fashioned pitcher's duel. Both Chien-Ming Wang (5-0) and C.C. Sabathia (1-4) were dealing. Wang had tremendous stuff, mixing in a sharp, late-breaking slider and a split-finger fastball to go with his sinker. He gave up just four hits and two walks over seven innings, while striking out--dig this--nine batters. Sabathia was a load too, allowing just four hits and a walk over eight innings while striking out eight. The big fella made one mistake--a lovely-sounding solo home run to Melky Cabrera. That was all the scoring, as the Yanks won, 1-0. Joba Chamberlain pitched a perfect eighth, Mariano did the same in the ninth.
A nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Now, for the bad news. As first reported by Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, Jorge Posada is headed to the Disabled List for the first time in his fourteen-year career. According to Pete Abe:
The muscle tear in Posada's shoulder left him unable to throw today and he will be examined by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., later this week.
It doesn't come as a surprise that Posada got hurt this year. That's what happens to players--especially catchers--when they get older. We can only hope that the other durable Yankee veterans--Rivera, Rodriguez and Jeter--continue to buck the odds and remain healthy.
I'll say it again...what's up with Girardi and the Yankees being so cryptic about the injuries so far this year?
Gainin' on Ya
Let's hope our man Chien Ming is on his game today as the Yanks face C.C. Sabathia and try to salvage something positive out of another awful time at the Jake.
Time to get on the stick boys.
On the Low...
So what gives with the secrets?
Grumble, Grumble, Grumble
Well, my streak of fury-less baseball watching is over as the Yankees lost to the Indians 4-3 on Saturday afternoon. It started off poorly and got worse. Em and I listened to the first few innings on our way back from my mom's house, where we made traditional Belgian waffle cookies this afternoon. It was late in the day and I was crashing from all the sugar. Add John Sterling, a dash of S. Waldman, and well, it was not a good combination. Especially--or "ekspecially," as Paul O'Neill likes to say, with Ian Kennedy nowhere near the strike zone in the early going.
We got home in time to watch the majority of the game with more friends, Buck and McCarver, who made sure to keep us updated on the baseball game inbetween talking about the NFL draft. To be hoenst, it was a frustrating day for both sides, a game that moved in fits-and-starts, with failed rallies, hard-hit balls turned into outs, lucky double plays, failed bunt attempts (that means you, Melky), and a horrid missed call at second base. The Yankees had no business winning the game and yet they had their chances. They had 12 hits. Alex Rodriguez had a spirited 11-pitch at bat with runners on in the seventh, and just missed three pitches in the sequence, fouling them off, before going down on strikes. Later, with the game tied in the top of the ninth, Mariano Rivera warming in the bullpen, and runners on the corners, Derek Jeter hit into a double play. Here's the play-by-play ugliness.
Ross Olendorf took the loss when he allowed a bases loaded single to Victor Martinez. But the Yankee pitchers were behind in the count all day long--Kennedy regrouped in his final two innings, but didn't give the team any length and was subpar once again; LaTroy Hawkins threw six straight balls before throwing a strike, walked the lead-off man in the sixth and seventh, while Kyle Farnsworth walked the first man in the eighth.
Ah, I'm sore just thinking about it. And I'm not the only one who is irritated. Hopefully, the boys will show up tomorrow.
FOX missed the marquee pitching matchup of the Cleveland/New York series by one day. Chien-Ming Wang and C.C. Sabathia rematch Game One of last year's ALDS tomorrow, but today 25-year-old Jeremy Sowers makes his season debut against 23-year-old Ian Kennedy and his 9.64 ERA. This is Kennedy's first start since pissing off Joe Girardi by nibbling against the Orioles and walking five men in 2 2/3 innings. Kennedy had pitched well in his two outings prior to that, throwing a quality start at the Rays before getting hit in the hip by a comebacker and pitching well in relief on a rain-soaked night night in Kansas City, retiring nine of his last ten batters after allowing two of the first four to score. He says he's gotten the message, so look for Kennedy to attack the zone today.
Like Kennedy, Sowers was college hurler who was drafted in the first-round and moved quickly through the minors. Kennedy was drafted 21st overall out of USC in 2006 and made his major league debut in September 2007. Sowers was taken sixth overall out of Vanderbilt in 2004 and made his major league debut in June 2006. Sowers was strong in his rookie season with the Indians, but stumbled as a sophomore last year, pitching his way off the team by mid-June. The issue seemed to be a decline in his ability to induce groundballs, which combined with the steep reduction in his strikeout rate upon reaching the majors essentially eliminated his ability to get hitters out with any consistency. That said, in his one major league start since then, Sowers shut out the Mariners for five innings. Sowers last faced the Yankees last April and got lit up for six runs in 2 2/3 innings, though he also pitched a gem against them in his second major league game in early June 2006.
Sowers is the first of three consecutive lefty starters the Yankees will face to conclude this series. They've faced just two previous lefty starters this season, beating John Bale in Kansas City and losing to Brian Burres in Baltimore. In both games, Joe Girardi sat both Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi. In their places, he played Hideki Matsui in right field and worked Morgan Ensberg into the lineup. He also used the non-catching version of Jorge Posada in those games, at DH against Bale and first base against Burres. With Posada back behind the plate, Girardi will need another righty bat if he wants to continue to rest Abreu and Giambi against lefties.
Enter Shelley Duncan, who has been recalled and will start in right field today (no word yet on who's being optioned to make room for him). Giambi, coming off his two-homer game last night, stays in the lineup, but lefties Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano do not. Alberto Gonzalez starts at second base for the second time in his major league career. Morgan Ensberg plays third while Alex Rodriguez takes Matsui's usual spot as the DH. Given Giaradi's tendencies thus far, I'd expect to see a different combination against lefty C.C. Sabathia tomorrow. Oh, and unrelated to the pitcher on the mound, Jose Molina will catch in today's late-day game after last night's night game.
Home Run Derby
Eight of the ten runs scored in last night's game in Cleveland were driven in by home runs. The two that weren't were scored by the Indians and amounted to the difference in their 6-4 victory over the Yankees. The first of those runs came in the bottom of the first after Cleveland leadoff hitter Grady Sizemore reached base on a tough error by Jason Giambi (a hard high hopper to his right kicked off the heal of his glove) and was replaced by Jamey Carroll via a fielder's choice. Carroll stole second ahead of a high throw that appeared to slip out of Jorge Posada's hand, moved to third on a groundout, and was plated by a well-placed two-out single by Jhonny Peralta. The second of those runs came against reliever Billy Traber in the sixth. Traber retired the first two men he faced, both of them righties, but walked lefty-hitting Sizemore. Sizemore then stole second on Traber's slow, elongated delivery and was plated by a single by the right-handed Carroll.
In between, Giambi compensated for his error with a pair of towering homers off Cleveland starter Paul Byrd to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead. Andy Pettitte then coughed up that lead in the fifth when a pair of two-out singles were plated by a Peralta homer that gave the Indians a lead they'd never relinquish. Five pitches later, Franklin Gutierrez added a solo homer of his own. Both Cleveland dingers came on 3-1 counts.
The Indians stole three bases in three tries with Posada behind the plate, but two of them came against Traber's slow delivery (despite working from the stretch, Traber brings his arm way back and pauses before delivering the pitch). Posada didn't even bother making a throw on either of those steals as the runners had ridiculous jumps on Traber. Carroll's steal against Pettitte also came off a great jump, and Posada's throw appeared to slip out of his hand. So, we still don't have a good sense of how well Posada is throwing.
On the upside, Jonathan Albaladejo followed Traber with two scoreless, hitless innings, and Giambi is now second in the AL in homers despite the fact that he's still hitting just .186. That average combined with his .347 OBP and .492 SLG make Giambi's April a great comp for the final season of Three True Outcome Hero Rob Deer's career:
Deer 1996: .180/.359/.480, 64 PA, 4 HR, 14 BB, 30 K, 2 singles
The key difference in the above two lines is the strikeouts, which is a good reason to be optimistic about Giambi rounding out his offensive game as the season progresses.
In other news, Brian Bruney's potentially season-ending foot injury was part of a tragicomic week of bad luck that saw his uncle suffer a heart attack and his truck get wrecked when the 18-wheeler that was moving it to New York got in an accident.
Finally, Morgan Ensberg has a guest post up over on Phil Hughes' blog, for what it's worth.
2007 Record: 96-66 (.593)
Manager: Eric Wedge
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Jacobs Field (103/102)
Who's Replacing Whom:
1B - Ryan Garko (R)
R - Jason Michaels (OF)
L - C.C. Sabathia
R - Rafael Betancourt
15-day DL: R - Jake Westbrook, R - Joe Borowski, L - Shin-Soo Choo (OF)
L - Grady Sizemore (CF)
I taped an appearance on Yankee Fan Club Radio before last night's game. Hop on over to hear my takes on Hank Steinbrenner, Joba Chamberlain, Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Joe Girardi, and Jason Giambi among others. I come in around the 17:45 mark and flap my gums for about 25 minutes or so.
Observations From Cooperstown--Nettles and Game Three
Perhaps the slow pace of contemporary baseball, with the endless parade of late-inning pitching changes, is starting to wear on me. Or maybe I’m just hopelessly nostalgic for the game the way it was played 35 years ago. Or maybe I’m just getting old.
Earlier this week, the Yankees enjoyed their first scheduled off day of the new season, giving the YES Network a chance to broadcast one of its patented Yankee Classics. This week's selection was Game Three of the 1978 World Series, a game that the Yankees unequivocally needed to win after dropping the first two games of the Series to the dreaded Dodgers. At the same time of the Yankee Classic broadcast, the Mets played a live game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Under most circumstances, I end up watching the live game, no matter the teams involved, instead of a game for which I already know the outcome.
On this occasion, I flip-flopped between the two games, spending the majority of the time fixated on the ’78 Classic. I’ve seen highlights of this game countless times, eliminating any kind of suspense, but I just found the baseball more riveting. Featuring a greater sense of purpose and working with two skilled catchers in Thurman Munson and Jerry Grote, starting pitchers Ron Guidry and Don Sutton did little dawdling between pitches. In the meantime, the hitters didn’t seem to be posing for the cameras (not even in a World Series setting), the baserunning was far better and far more alert than what we see in the contemporary game, and the defensive play seemed crisper. Of course, that last characteristic could directly be traced to the fielding heroics of one Yankee third baseman.
With Ron Guidry less than sharp in Game Three—he would walk seven Dodgers on the night—the Yankees’ performance hinged on the acrobatic defensive play of Graig Nettles. Playing third base like no Yankee since then (sorry, Scott Brosius, Charlie Hayes, and Mike Pagliarulo), Nettles speared several hard-hit grounders and line drives, turning what should have been an array of singles and doubles into a series of outs. Without Nettles’ full-scale imitation of Brooks Robinson, the Yankees would have trailed by three or four runs early, Guidry would have given way to an inferior reliever, and the Yankees would have fallen into a 3-0 well that would have been almost certainly insurmountable.
None of that would have been avoided if the Yankees had done something that was rumored four winters earlier. According to a story that appeared in the New York Daily News on December 7, 1974, the Yankees had given serious consideration to a trade that would have sent Nettles to the Cincinnati Reds for Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez. According to the article, penned by longtime baseball writer Phil Pepe, the Reds wanted Nettles and another player for Perez, who had hit 19 points higher and slugged six more home runs than Nettles during the 1974 season.
What was the reasoning behind the proposed trade? Dissatisfied with the lack of power production from Chris Chambliss (only six home runs in 400 at-bats) and the frequent injuries to Ron Blomberg, the Yankees sought a first baseman with the durability and power of Perez. They also wanted to balance a lineup in which only one right-handed hitter (Munson) reached double figures in home runs (with a mere 13).
From the Reds’ perspective, they hoped that the acquisition of Nettles and the departure of Perez would enable them to move Dan Driessen, an awkward third baseman, to a more comfortable position at first base. Such a trade would have also helped the Reds balance their lineup, which had only one left-handed power bat in Little Joe Morgan.
In making this deal, the Yankees would have filled their need for a power-hitting first baseman, but would have created a gaping hole on the other side of the infield. Who exactly could they have turned to in finding a third base replacement for Nettles? In looking at the 1974 roster, the choices amounted to a rogue’s gallery rather than a hall of fame. First off, there was veteran Bill Sudakis, a useful and versatile switch-hitter who could play third, first, or catch. A David Soul lookalike, Sudakis would have been better suited playing an undercover cop on "Starsky and Hutch" than handling hot corner grounders on an everyday basis. Then there was Fernando Gonzalez, a journeyman with about as much pop as Alberto Gonzalez. A final option could be found in Otto Velez, who happened to be the Yankees’ best prospect among position players. A strong right-handed hitter with considerable power, Velez was a third baseman in name more than in reality. Principally an outfielder and first baseman, Velez appeared in 16 games at third base for the Yankees in 1974, but had neither the range nor the hands for the position on a fulltime basis.
Sudakis, Gonzalez, and Velez. It would have been difficult to assemble a starting third baseman from that collection. In all likelihood, the Yankees would have needed to make a trade to fill the vacancy. With Brooks Robinson untouchable in Baltimore, that left Buddy Bell and Aurelio Rodriguez as the best defensive third basemen in the American League. But both were young players who would have carried high price tags in the trade market. The White Sox could have offered Beltin’ Bill Melton, but his career had already been curbed badly by back problems. The Red Sox could have dangled Rico Petrocelli, but he was showing signs of being an old 31. A veteran standout like Oakland’s Sal Bando was available, mostly because of Charlie Finley’s dislike for him, but Finley had a habit of asking for Thurman Munson or Bobby Murcer every time he talked trade with the Yankees. And that was simply not going to happen.
The Yankees might have had better luck in trading with the National League, where several teams were shopping available third basemen, including Bill "Mad Dog" Madlock (Cubs), Richie Hebner (Pirates), and Darrell Evans (Braves). In retrospect, Hebner would have been a disaster with the Yankees; "The Gravedigger" hated playing in New York, as evidenced by a later stint with the Mets. Madlock was a fine hitter, but below average defensively at third and with a temperament that might have run him afoul of New York’s media contingent. Of all the possibilities, Evans would have been the best replication of Nettles. Underrated defensively, Evans would not have matched Nettles’ range, but had similarly excellent hands and a strong arm. His 40-home run power potential and ability to draw walks actually would have made him an offensive upgrade over Nettles.
What would the Yankees have needed to acquire Evans? Thirty four years later, it’s really guesswork, but let’s consider that the Braves did trade Evans in 1976, principally for an inferior player in Willie Montanez. The Braves never really seemed to appreciate Evans for his true value, so perhaps the Yankees could have pulled off a swindle of Chambliss and a pitching prospect for Evans, who continues to be a favorite (and legitimately so) among Sabermetric historians.
Of course, all of that is merely speculation after the fact. The trade involving Nettles and the Reds never happened—and that turned out to be a good thing for both the "Big Red Machine" and the Bronx Zoo Yankees. Despite continual floggings from the Sabermetric community for being an undeserving Hall of Fame, Perez served the Reds well as their patented No. 5 hitter behind Johnny Bench, a capable everyday first baseman, and "keep-‘em-loose" clubhouse leader. As for the Yankees, it’s doubtful they would have visited three consecutive World Series without Nettles’ Gold Glove defense and abundant left-handed power, the latter characteristic making him an ideal sixth and seventh-place hitter behind the likes of Munson and Reggie Jackson.
One thing is for darn sure. No living third baseman in 1978—not an aging Brooks Robinson, not even Darrell Evans—would have been able to save Game Three the way that Graig Nettles did.
Bruce Markusen writes Cooperstown Confidential for MLB.com.
Did you guys ever pick up the tremendous book of old timey Japanese baseball cards, Sayonara: The Art of the Japanese Baseball Card? It's one of my favorite baseball books, just an absolute little treasure. I was browsing through it last night and ran across this card---remind you of anyone we know?
Not only is the book a little honey, but at a list price of $18.95 it is an absolute steal.
Hey, Cool Breeze
I'm as plugged-in as the next guy but I still enjoy reading the box scores first thing each morning in the newspaper. If I didn't have a 40 minute train ride maybe I wouldn't get the papers at all, who knows? I love to scan around for the names that mean something to me--did Maddux pitch last night? How did Hanley Ramirez do? While today's boxscores are souped-up compared to how the ones from our youth, they aren't that much different and I like the continuity.
Today is dress-down Friday. I rode to work this morning, caught up with how the game turned out last night (Joba got his first career loss in a soggy 7-6 affair; Farnsworth, Bruney are hurting), and jammed out to a host of tunes, wearing my oversized I-am-a-dork headphones. When I got to my desk at work, I decided I should probably tuck my shirt into my pants, only to find that my fly was wide open. Dag, Joe Cool the Jadrool. And nobody with the decency to say anything!
Oh well. Yo, check this out--it's so utterly badass it makes my teeth hurt.
Must See ABs
The Yankees aren't nearly as fun to watch when Alex Rodriguez isn't playing. Least for me they're not. His at bats are Must See TV. I don't know if the same can be said for anyone else in the lineup. Not that I don't enjoy watching the other guys hit, but if I didn't like the Yankees, would I really stop and watch Bobby Abreu or Jason Giambi or Hideki Matsui? Which got me to thinking: What are the Must See AB's for you? The guys you'll stop and watch even if you aren't a fan of the team they play for? Dudes that immediately jump to mind include: Miguel Cabrera, Sheff, Manny, Ortiz, Vlad, David Wright, Ichiro, Pujols, Chipper, Junior and Hanley Ramirez.
Rodriguez is scheduled to rejoin the team in Chicago tonight, but is not expected to play, as the Yanks go for the sweep. Kid Hughes time. And here's a quick scouting report Cliff sent me:
On the mound for the Sox will be 25-year-old righty Gavin Floyd. Floyd, a member of the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars, was the Phillies' forth overall pick in the 2001 draft and zipped up to the majors in just his third professional season, but struggled in both triple-A and the majors in 2005 and 2006. He was then flipped to the Sox in the Freddy Garcia deal along with lefty Gio Gonzalez, who has since been sent to the A's in the Nick Swisher trade. Floyd again struggled in the majors last year, but slipped into the rotation at the end of August in place of rookie John Danks and turned in five quality starts in six tries (though his teammates scored just two runs per game for him, resulting in a 0-3 record and a 1-5 team performance in those six starts). With Jon Garland now an Angel, that performance helped Floyd win the fifth-starters spot out of camp this spring, and he is off to a strong start, with three quality starts in three tries, a 1.40 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and, thanks to 5 2/3 runs per game of support, a 2-0 record thus far.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
The Great One
Ten years ago, when the Yankees put together that dream season, I constantly reminded myself to stay in the moment, to appreciate what was happening because it wasn't likely to happen again. I tried my best to appreciate what was happening during the entire '96-01 run. Today, I love watching Jeter, Rodriguez and Posada, I loved Bernie and miss him, and I loved Joe Torre too, though I haven't missed him at all this year. With Bernie and Torre, it was time. But Mariano is extra-special, isn't he? Things really won't be the same when he's gone. Close games will be a different, more mortal experience.
Rivera isn't perfect. But he's still doing it and doing it and doing it well. The fact that his cutter is still nasty after all these seasons is incredible. And aesthetically, Rivera's motion is as fluid and smooth and beautiful as any pitcher that comes to mind. Last night, it took him 17 pitches to get five outs. He did it with that expressionless calm that we've come to rely on. I'm sure he'll get roughed up this year, even get hurt, but watching him yesterday just reminded me to stop and soak in the moment, to be thankful for his continued brilliance. It won't last forever. But the memories he's provided us certainly will.
Mike Mussina and Javy Vazquez were both sharp last night. The Yanks squeezed out a run early with a soft two-out rally in the second that was started by two-out walks to Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi and extended by infield singles by Morgan Ensberg, who lined a shot off Vazquez's chest, and Melky Cabrera. Melky's hit plated the run before Vazquez struck out Johnny Damon to leave the bases loaded. There weren't any terribly hard-hit balls in the game until the fifth, when a two-out double by Jorge Posada plated Damon and Hideki Matsui, both of whom had singled, to make it 3-0 Yanks.
Entering the bottom of the fifth, Mussina had allowed just two singles and a walk, and only one of those two singles left the infield. With one out in that inning, Joe Crede blasted a solo homer to left, but the Yanks broke the game open with three runs in the top of the sixth to chase Vazquez, and Mussina came back with a 1-2-3 sixth of his own.
Moose allowed another solo homer (this to Carlos Quentin) with two outs in the seventh. With his starter up to 99 pitches and Crede due up again, Joe Girardi popped out of the dugout. When he got to the mound, he turned to Posada and asked, "What's he got?" Posada meant to say "there's nothing wrong with him," but it came out "he's got nothing." With that, Girardi began to lift his arm to call for a reliever, but Posada, realizing his mistake, quickly stopped his manager and explained what he meant to say. Girardi appeared puzzled, but accepted Posada's explanation and returned to the dugout without making a change. Mussina then got Crede out on two pitches to end the inning and his evening. (The incident reminded me of this game.)
Mussina was flat-out excellent in his seven innings and was working quickly and efficiently and in an easy rhythm with Posada (who had a great night overall, going 4 for 5 with three doubles). Said Moose after the game:
I didn't throw hardly any curveballs. Lotta sinkers, lotta cutters, good changeup. I think I had real good movement today. Seems like I jammed a lot of guys. They were diving out over the plate, and the ball ran back in on them a little bit, so I think the movement was my biggest asset today. I usually don't go out there planning not to throw curveballs. The curveball's a pretty big part of my game. Just today, right from the beginning, it seemed like I could throw two-seamers and get some run out of it, get some sink out of it, and I got a ton of groundballs, so I just kept on throwing them. [Jorge and I] were just trying to figure out what worked and we found something pretty early, so we just kept doing it. It wasn't really rocket science, we just kept doing what was working.
Those early grounders became fly balls in the latter innings (thus the two homers), but by then the game was in hand. As for that good changeup, the YES gun clocked a few of Mussina's pitches at 63 miles per hour. Now pitching, Bugs Bunny . . .
Girardi did bring in LaTroy Hawkins to start the eighth, but after a walk and a single, he turned to Billy Traber to face Jim Thome with one out and a four-run lead. For the second night in a row, Traber failed to retire Thome (he walked him in a completely unnecessary matchup on Tuesday night), giving up an RBI single that made the score 6-3. With Paul Konerko due up as the tying run and Joba Chamberlain having worked an inning and two-thirds the night before, Girardi went straight to Mariano Rivera for a five-out save.
Said Joe after the game, "The game was on the line. That was when we had to shut the door and close the game. . . . that was when we needed him."
Damn straight, skip. Girardi did the same thing with Chamberlain in the seventh inning on Tuesday night when the Sox, trailing by three, loaded the bases with one out. I applaud his willingness to use his big bullpen guns as stoppers (though I was less convinced of the need to leave Chamberlain in to pitch the eighth on Tuesday with the lead expanded to 9-4). Girardi has called on Rivera in the eighth twice this year and used Chamberlain in the seventh three times and has won all five of those games. The extra outs have thus far totaled up to just three extra innings combined for the two pitchers, which would pace out to about 22 innings over the course of the season.
Oh, and since I'm crunching numbers, if you take Manny Ramirez's hits and RBIs out of Mike Mussina's season totals, his ERA drops to 3.04 with a 1.06 WHIP.
Home Run, Javy?
Having taken the opener of their three-game set at Phone Field, the Yanks hope to clinch just their third series win of the season (in eight tries) tonight. Taking the hill for New York will be Mikey Moose, who will be happy not to have to face Manny Ramirez. Moose faced a far weaker White Sox offense at the Cell twice last year, one good, one bad. The third time he faced the Chisox, back in the Bronx, he pretty much split the difference with a solid quality start.
The Sox have moved ex-Yank Javy Vazquez up a day to keep him on normal rest after Monday's off-day. He has faced his old team twice since being traded to Arizona for Randy Johnson. In 2006 he survived six walks and a Jason Giambi homer by striking out eight and holding the Yanks to two runs (both scored on that dinger) over five innings in a slim 5-4 Chicago win. Last year, he struck out seven Yanks in six innings, walked just three, and kept the ball in the park, but gave up four runs and took the loss as his punchless offense conjured up just one run against Chien-Ming Wang, who pitched a complete game. Thus far this season, he's picked up where he left off with his comeback 2007 season, striking out 27 in 25 1/3 innings against just 6 walks and holding his competition homerless.
Joe Girardi has posted the same lineup he ran out there yesterday, which marks the first time all season that he's repeated a lineup exactly. That means Posada's back behind the plate, and Morgan Ensberg's still at third base in place of Alex Rodriguez, who is conveniently resting his sore quad while basking in the arrival of his second daughter. The Sox attempted no steals against Posada last night, in part because they just don't steal. They have three stolen bases in five tries on the season, both marks dead last in the majors. All three successful steals are by Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera singled twice last night with no one on base ahead of him, but did not attempt a steal.
Do Your Thing, Kid
It goes without saying that respect is something that you have to earn in life, but it is especially true in a barber shop. It comes slowly, with time. It can't be forced, can't be bought. I have been getting my haircut in Ray's shop on Smith street in Brooklyn for close to ten years now. That's where my barber, Efrain, found a chair to cut heads after he lost his store, futher down Smith closer to Atlantic Avenue, when the neighbhorhood started to gentrify in the late '90s. I'm not really close with Ray or his son Macho, a rolly guy in his early thirties, who cuts heads next to his father. They don't like baseball. They like boxing.
It was a warm spring afternoon at the barber shop when I walked in a few days ago. Both Ray and Macho greetly me with affection. I went to the back, where Efrain was standing over a man, a straight razor in his right hand and his left palm cupped full of shaving cream.
I put down my napsack and went back to the front of the shop to sit and wait my turn. Three other guys, all regulars, all friends with Macho, were there. I started talking to Ray about a book I had just read, Mark Kram's Ghosts of Manilla. Soon, he was holding court, telling stories about Ali. A thick, muscular kid who was sitting across from me, told me that he had tons of old boxing matches on videotape, including the Thrilla in Manilla. When I described Kramm's impressions of the fight, he goes, "Yo, dude, I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it." The light poured through the front window of the shop, onto his forearms where I could see the goosebumps.
Black Cat Bone
Chien-Ming Wang teetered on the brink of disaster throughout his six innings against the White Sox last night, but somehow allowed only three runs, so in the end -- after the Yankee offense poked its head out and didn’t see its shadow -- New York won 9-5. The Yanks are now one game over .500, and at with his fourth W of the season, Wang is the fastest major league pitcher to 50 wins since Doc Gooden. (Obligatory disclaimer: wins are an extremely unreliable and inaccurate stat, etc. Still, that's impressive).
Starting for the White Sox was old frenemy Jose Contreras, another in the long line of big-money free agent busts in New York who’ve gone on to success elsewhere. (He gets a pass, though, since his family was trapped in Cuba most of the time he was with the Yankees. You can see how that might be a tad bit distracting. What’s your excuse, Vazquez?). Contreras pitched a solid game, allowing just one first inning run, when Johnny Damon scored on a Matsui ground out, and one inning later a solo home run from the hollow husk of Jason Giambi. Then he settled in and, like many an April pitcher before him, stifled the Yankees’ offense.
Wang, meanwhile, struggled from the start, throwing almost 50 pitches in the first two innings alone as the White Sox put three quick runs up. (He wasn't helped by an error on Morgan Ensberg, who was subbing in for Alex Rodriguez at third base. A-Rod, of course, was on paternity leave in Florida, with his wife and newborn daughter.... or, as the Daily News would have it, "welcoming a bouncing bambina into [his] pinstriped world"). After that Wang was somwhat more efficient, but also lucky: the White Sox had a plethora of very hard hit line drives and fly balls land just within reach of the Yankee outfielders. And by the end, Chicago had stranded 13 runners.
The Yankees finally got a little momentum going, and loaded the bases in the 7th – single, walk, infield single – which brought Derek Jeter to the plate with one out. He struck out, and perhaps as a result, looked like the happiest man in Chicago one batter later, when Bobby Abreu whacked Octavio Dotel's 2-0 pitch just over the left field wall for a go-ahead grand slam.
In the bottom of the inning, perhaps concerned that things might get dull for the viewers at home, Billy Traber and Brian Bruney worked together to load the bases, which brought in Joba Chamberlain. Joba looked good under the circumstances -- well, aside from walking in a run -- and in the YES booth, David Cone kept gushing about his “moxie,” an excellent word that people just don’t use enough anymore. (Side note: I think Cone’s doing a good job on the whole... but you can just tell he’s dying to curse up a storm, and to tell several dozen potentially libelous stories. I'd love to hear him really cut loose, though I expect the FCC and certain former teammates would not.)
After a three-run homer from Johnny Damon in the eighth – cancel the obit, I think he’s fogging up the mirror! – and another solid inning from Chamberlain, Kyle Farnsworth brought his own special brand of excitement to the ninth inning. But one quick home run, walk, fielder's choice and wild pitch later, the Yankees nailed down the win.
I'm not sure it's even worth bringing up, but in the eighth inning, a black cat ran out of the stands, across the field, and straight into the Yankees dugout. I've decided to simply ignore this, not being the superstious type. (Though once, in college, I was walking across a courtyard at night, when not one but two black cats ran directly in front of me, one after the other… then proceeded to have loud sex in the bushes next to my dorm. I admit, that did give me pause.)
Chicago White Sox
Chicago White Sox
2007 Record: 72-90 (.444)
Manager: Ozzie Guillen
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): U.S. Cellular Field (104/105)
Who's Replacing Whom:
Orlando Cabrera replaces Tadahito Iguchi and Danny Richar (DL)
1B - Paul Konerko (R)
R - Alexei Ramirez (UT)
R - Javier Vazquez
R - Bobby Jenks
15-day DL: L - Danny Richar (IF)
S - Nick Swisher (CF)
Spring has Sprung
Mother's Day is coming up and most of you are probably like me in that you haven't given it a moment's thought. Well, dig, this, I got something good for you. My wife Emily always thinks ahead when it comes to holidays. She's got Christmas and Chanuka all sewn-up by the Fourth of July. But not only is she well-prepared, she's an artiste as well. Em takes beautiful pictures and then makes beautiful notecards.
She also sells the cards. Talk about a great gift idea for Mom's Day! And if you are already set for Mother's Day, that's cool, cause these cards are great for any occasion.
They are sure to give you a smile and they are a great way to spread a little Joy. And you can never have too much of that.
Check it out:
[Disclaimer: Actual prints are richer in color than they appear on screen.]
Wrong is Right
Yankee gm, Brian Cashman:
"He is not going (to the rotation)," Cashman said of Chamberlain, the premier set-up man in baseball. "We are all on the same page. We talked about this during the winter and spring training and we are working toward that because that is the (eventual plan). Right now the time and place is to help in the pen. We are all on the same page.
"It's all of our intention to try to get (Chamberlain) back into the rotation by the end of the year," Steinbrenner told The News. "I've addressed it many times, as did Joe (Girardi) and (GM Brian) Cashman. I'm just saying it would be nice to have him there right now. He's going to be great anywhere we have him but, my preference is as a starter and that's everybody else's preference, too.
I'm no expert but it seems like it would be tough to switch Joba this season. I just don't see the Yanks being able to afford losing Chamberlain for six-to-eight weeks as he builds himself back into a starter in the minors. I am eager to see him start too, but am also fine with him sticking out this year as Mariano's set-up man.
What do you guys think?
So You Wanna Be Startin' Something?
Hank Dog is on the scene. He wants Joba Chamberlain to start.
From the New York Times:
"I want him as a starter and so does everyone else, including him, and that is what we are working toward and we need him there now," Steinbrenner said Sunday by telephone. "There is no question about it, you don't have a guy with a 100-mile-per-hour fastball and keep him as a setup guy. You just don't do that. You have to be an idiot to do that."
A few weeks ago, Joe Posnanski ran a fun comparison at his site: Roberto Clemente vs. Al Kaline. I was talking to Jay Jaffe about it and Jay hit the nail on the head when he said, "Clemente the Icon dwarfs Clemente the player." With that in mind, and since the Yanks have the night off, please consider checking out the Clemente American Experience on PBS this evening. I hope it's a good one.
Think About It (Just a Little Patience)
When Pat Jordan told me that he still uses a typewriter to write his stories instead of a computer I wasn't surprised. He's so old school, why would he change? His wife calls him a trogliodyte, kicking a screaming into the 19th century. A few years later, I visited Pat at his home in Florida and looked through hundreds of manuscripts and drafts. I saw his tools of ignorance: an old Hermes 10 typewriter (he buys old machines on ebay for the parts), yellow second sheets (discontinued), stubby corrective pencils, a glue-pot, a pair of sissors, and even a bottle of yellow white out (also discontinued). Having come from a fine arts background, I could immediately relate to the tactile nature of Pat's writing process.
And in fact, if I've learned anything from Pat, it is how important thinking is to good writing. Jordan is a deliberate and meticulous writer. When he has a magazine assingment, he first researches the subject, reading as many articles as his researcher can find, then composes his own questions before he conducts interviews and takes notes. Then he transcribes those interviews, orgainzes them with his notes and then he begins to make outlines. If afforded the time, he'll review the notes, the transcribed interviews and his outlines, and revised outlines, over and over before he starts writing. He might not stick to his outlines, might alter them as he goes, but he always has them as a safety net, a way to organize and structure his thinking. When he finally does begin to write, he goes sentence-by-sentence. If he writes two pages a day--a productive day for him--when he starts again in the morning, he'll review what he wrote, revise anything that needs fixing, and then proceed.
The tools Pat uses to write are antiquated but they are an essential part of his thinking and his writing. When I worked in post-production, I was fortunate enough to be on jobs with Ken Burns, Woody Allen, and the Coen Brothers, who all still cut on film when I was with them (mid-90s). The physical nature of the medium forced the editor and director to make hard, clear descisions. For instance, if you made a cut on Tuesday, it would take a lot of time and man-power to fix it by Thursday. And even after Joel and Ethan had previewed a reel on their KEM flatbed, it would take five, six minutes to rewind the reel to the head, during which time they would sit and contemplate what they had just watched. I learned to value this down-time, how productive it was for them to be able to think things through.
All three filmmakers cut on computers now. Last winter I spoke with Paul Barnes, Burns' longtime editor, and asked if he'd ever go back to cutting on film. "Not in a million years," he said. But he doesn't need to. He got his chops the old fashioned way, so the new technology is simply a dream. However, for a younger generation, who didn't grown up cutting on film, there can, at times, be too many choices, so many options that the creative process is overwhelmed by possibilites.
It was pouring rain late Sunday morning down in Baltimore. It was so bad, Michael Kay later said on the YES broadcast, the Yankee players were sure that the game would be called. But they played ball after all and while the rain delayed the game in the late innings, the Yankees came away with a sorely needed win, beating the O's, 7-1. Our boys are now 10-10.
The Yanks do not have an ace. Earlier this week, Howard Megdal, writing in the New York Observer, said that Josh Beckett, who is a true ace, is the difference between the Yanks and Sox. The Yanks didn't have anyone that could match Curt Schilling for more than a minute before that. But I was confident that Andy Pettitte would go out and throw a good game today because he's got a history of being reliable when the team needs to stop a losing skid. And just like an ace, that is exactly what he did. The Orioles didn't have their first base runner until Jay Payton's two-out infield dribbler in the fifth. Pettitte pitched seven shut-out innings, allowing four hits, striking out five and walking none. It gave me a peaceful, easy feeling to watch (speaking of which, Adam Jones is a pleasure to watch man centerfield for the Orioles).
Chad Moeller and Johnny Damon had a couple of hits, and so did Derek Jeter, including a three run double in the ninth inning that put the game away. Robinson Cano picked up a single and hit the ball hard in two other times with nothing to show for it. Jason Giambi wasn't as fortunate, as he hit into a inning-ending double play with the bases juiced and went hitless dropping his average to .109. Alex Rodriguez picked up an RBI double but left the game early with a sore quad.
It wasn't a dramatic-looking injury and hopefully it is not severe. Just a pull as Rodriguez ran up the line to first base. But dag, it's hard not to hold your breath with Rodriguez. The guy has enjoyed such good fortune as far as his health his concerned so far in his career. Who knows how long a guy's body will hold out before it starts breaking down? Could happen at any time really. Look at Junior, of course, but also, look at Chipper Jones. Dick Allen had monster years at 30 and 31 and was done by the time he was 35.
He could miss a few games.
In the meantime, the Yanks have a much needed day off before the road trip continues.
You can't win if you don't score. Last night the Yankees got ten men on base, but couldn't push any of them across against the underwhelming duo of lefty Brian Burres and righty Jim Johnson. The Yanks have scored just two runs in two games in Baltimore, but the story last night was the failure of rookie starter Ian Kennedy to get out of the third inning.
Kennedy got into trouble right away, but was rescued from his first-inning jam when Melky Cabrera ranged deep into the left field gap to snag a deep drive for the third out with the bases loaded. (Likely encouraged by that catch Melky later misplayed two long drives which ricocheted off the wall and back over his head.) A nifty pickoff play at second base allowed Kennedy to escape a second inning jam with just one run allowed. In the third, he wasn't so lucky.
After striking out Nick Markakis, Kennedy hung a slider to Kevin Millar, who deposited it in the left field seats to make the score 2-0. Kennedy then walked the next two men, his fourth and fifth walks of the game. That drew his manager out of the dugout, not for a pitching change, but for a stern lecture about the need to throw strikes. Kennedy's first pitch to the next batter was a ball, but he proceeded to strike him out on three more pitches. He then fell behind the next hitter 3-0 before surrendering a two-run double. With that, Joe Girardi had seen enough.
"It's hard to pitch the way he's pitching. You have to attack the zone. Five walks in 17 hitters? You can't pitch that way. You have to attack the zone and throw strikes. . . . You make all hitters better when you're behind them. You just can't pitch that way. To me, it looks like he's not aggressive enough."
"You have to find out what people are made of, and he has to make adjustments. He's gotta fight his way out of it. I'm planning on him being out there his next start. He's just missing. He understands. It's a minor adjustment that he has to make for us, and he'll do it."
"I never lose patience. This game is hard. It was hard for me. It's hard for all players. I'm never going to lose patience."
Kim Jones: "Joe, you say you don't lose patience, but it is obvious this is testing you."
When asked about both Burres and the Orioles he mentioned specifically the things they did that his team isn't right now, though he didn't make the comparison explicit: "They're playing good fundamental baseball. They're throwing strikes. They're getting hits with runners in scoring position. They're not making errors [Robinson Cano made the game's only error last night]. They're not walking people."
During the YES broadcast, Michael Kay, who has been covering the Yankees since 1987, spanning the terms of 8 Yankee managers, said the only Yankee manager he's seen take losing as hard as Girardi was Billy Martin.
On the up side, Ross Ohlendorf saved the bullpen once again with three-plus innings of scoreless relief (though he was charged with two runs when Billy Traber plated both of his bequeathed baserunners in the seventh setting the final at 6-0 Orioles). Joba Chamberlain returned from Nebraska with good news about his father's continuing recovery from what he described as "some respiratory stuff" and shook off the rust by striking out two in a scoreless inning. Jose Molina also returned to action. He went 0-for-3 and failed to catch the only man who attempted to steal against him, but if Molina can catch and Posada, who played first base, is almost ready, the Yanks should be able to farm out Chad Moeller and bring back Shelley Duncan, who has hit .342/.468/.816 with four homers in ten games since being optioned down to Scranton. Of course, the Yankee roster hijinx will continue with the Rodriguez family still expecting a new arrival and Kyle Farnsworth facing a suspension for throwing behind Manny Ramirez, but with an off day finally arriving on Monday and the weather heating up, things are starting to return to normal.
Good and Gettin' Better
Exactly one year ago, Emily and I got married together in the Bahamas. After the ceremony, right when I had her on the five yard line, Alex Rodriguez hit a game-winning grand slam at Yankee Stadium. Today, another gorgeous spring affair in New York, we are headed off to a hotel in Manhattan to celebrate our first anniversary, so we'll miss the game, though I'm certain there will be plenty of scoring. I know it's too much to ask Rodriguez to perform those kind of heroics again, but a good, old-fashioned "W" would do just fine.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
No, I Don't Like it Like That
Curses! Foiled again. Phil Hughes had it going on for a minute there and then by the middle of the game it all fell apart for him and the Yanks--hits, errors (I'm looking at you, Mr. Rodriguez), walks and more hits, and the O's busted this one open like a split melon rotting in the sun. They scored seven runs in the seventh, and ruined a perfectly tolerable game. Still, I watched the entire thing. It was long, it was ugly, it was Baltimore, but fortunately, it was just one game. O's 8, Yanks 2. Today is a new day.
2007 Record: 69-93 (.426)
Manager: Dave Trembley
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Oriole Park at Camden Yards (101/102)
Who's Replacing Whom:
Luis Hernandez inherits Miguel Tejada's playing time
1B - Kevin Millar (R)
R - Jay Payton (OF)
R - Jeremy Guthrie
L - George Sherrill
15-day DL: R - Chris Ray, R- Danys Baez, R - Fernando Cabrera, L - Troy Patton, R - Jim Hoey, R - Rocky Cherry, L - Freddie Bynum (UT)
S - Brian Roberts (2B)
Observations From Cooperstown--The Birth of the DH
What do Don Baylor, Ron Blomberg, Jack Clark, Chili Davis, Jim Ray Hart, Glenallen Hill, Cliff Johnson, Kevin Maas, Ken Phelps, and Danny Tartabull have in common? Aside from being retired major league sluggers, they all spent significant parts of their tenures as Yankees playing the role of the DH. In many ways, it’s easy to forget about them, since some of them passed through the Bronx quickly and quietly, while others were well past their prime by the time they joined the Yankees. Besides, how many designated hitters become beloved figures? If you’re asked to name your favorite Yankee catcher of all time, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada are names that might come immediately to mind. But who’s your favorite Yankee DH? That one is a little tougher to answer.
It seems that with each year we hear more and more disdain for the DH. Some fans don’t like it, because it destroys the symmetry of a game where every player is supposed to bat and play the field. Purists hate it, since it runs contrary to the idea of "nine men on a side." And plenty of owners and general managers don’t like it, because the DH invariably ends up making one of the largest salaries on the team.
It’s now been 30 years since the designated hitter rule first came into play in the American League, but the idea for a DH has origins that date back nearly 80 years. In 1929, a man named John Heydler proposed that pitchers, who carried reputations as weaker hitters, should not be allowed to bat. Although he actually never used the term "designated hitter," Heydler suggested that a "10th man" be allowed to hit in place of the pitcher. Ironically, Heydler was the president of the National League, which historically has maintained staunch opposition to the DH, and remains the only professional league in North America not to employ the rule.
Heydler’s suggestion failed to gain acceptance during his lifetime, and the issue of the DH fell into the background. In the 1960s, at a time when pitchers were beginning to dominate the game, Kansas City A’s owner Charlie Finley pushed hard for the adoption of a designated hitter, a rule that he felt would increase the amount of "action" in the game by aiding each team’s offensive production.
At first, the other major league owners resisted Finley, whom they considered a brash and unsophisticated maverick. By January of 1973, a sufficient number of major league owners had come to see the potential benefits of the DH. The American League, which had seen its attendance decline in recent years, saw a particular need for the fan interest that the DH might spur. On January 11, the owners agreed to allow the American League to use the DH on an "experimental" three-year basis.
The Old Man...Is Down the Road
Before yesterday's game, Pete Abe posted the following tidbit:
Manny Being Manny is an insane 52 of 110 (.473) against the Yankees since the start of the 2006 season with 12 homers and 35 RBI in 32 games. He has 53 homers and 153 RBI against the Yankees in his career.
You don't say. Last night, Mussina didn't feel "right" from the get go. According to the Daily News:
"I didn't feel very good in the pen," Mussina said of his pregame warmups. "I didn't warm up very well. I got to the mound and the first guy (Jacoby Ellsbury) I got him 1-and-2, I think, and then I hit him. I squared him up and it's 1-2. I mean, at that point I was still trying to figure out what was going to happen but as soon I did that I immediately knew it was going to be a real hard effort."
Manny Ramirez popped two dingers off Mussina and Josh Beckett pitched eight innings as the Sox beat the Yanks, 7-5. New York scored two runs in the ninth against Jonathan Paplebon but still came up well short. The biggest excitement of the evening came when Kyle Farnsworth threw a pitch behind Manny's back. Both teams were immediately warned and nothing more came of it, at least for the time being.
This, from Anthony McCarron:
"Well, you know, we hit one of their best players (Wednesday) night and I guess they wanted to send a message," Ramirez said, referring to Alex Rodriguez getting one in the back. "They need to back up their players and they did."
Right now, between Manny and the Yanks, there is no competition.
Today was the first great warm spring day of the year. It was downright hot in the sun. Dude, there was a lot of giggling out there if you know what I saying. It was just great. Beautiful night for baseball. Best of the season so far. Let's hope we get good Moose and not stewed Moose. And hope that Beckett isn't killin' it like he's wont ta do. Irregardless, as they say in the Bronx, let's hope they can get this in at a running time something this side of Shoah.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
The Crowd Sounds Happy: Book Excerpt
From "The Crowd Sounds Happy" (due out May 6th)
By Nicholas Dawidoff
I acquired a clock radio of my own. It was a Realistic Chronomatic 9 model, low-built and squared-off at the corners like a shoe box, with a faux-oak plastic cabinet, chrome and clear-plastic control dials, and rounded hour and minute hands that in the dark were backlit a dim lunar orange. These features had aspirations toward sleekness, but only a few months of ownership made clear that my radio was drab in the way the design ideas dominating mainstream consumer electronics in the mid-1970s were all drab. It was a look that was somehow between looks, one in which everything resembled everything else and nothing so much as the dashboard on the clumsy, rowboat-like LTD station wagons Ford was then producing. But if I stared at my Chronomatic 9 long enough, in the right mood it could seem, if not beautiful, almost handsome. My attachment to what came out of the clock radio quickly grew so intense I wanted an appearance to match.
What I was listening to in my room were Boston Red Sox baseball games. I hadn't been able to get the Boston games on my old transistor, and to discover now that reception was possible on the Chronomatic 9 was joy. By game time I would have spread my homework along my bed, distributing the books and papers lengthwise, so that when I positioned myself on the floor, knees to the rug, chest pressed against the edge of the mattress, head bent over my books, to Sally and my mother passing behind me, it must have looked as though I was supplicating myself to physics and Lord Jim. The radio was to my left, on the night table, and, as I worked, the team broadcaster, Ned Martin, said, "Welcome to Fenway Park in Boston," and right then a part of me zoomed down the I-91 highway entrance ramp and lifted out of New Haven. Martin and his commentating partner would discuss the game to come, building the anticipation until Martin cried, "Here come the Red Sox!" As he introduced the players position by position"Jim Rice left field, Fred Lynn center field"it was like having the cast of characters read aloud to you from the beginning of a Russian novel. All quieted as the crowd rose to listen while an organist played the National Anthem, and I stood too, put my hand to my heart, and with no flag in the room to gaze upon, instead stared fixedly at a red, white, and blue book spine on my shelf for the duration of the song. My mother began to come in and watch me standing there in still, patriotic tribute. At first I wished she would just leave me alone, but over time I began to like her observance of my observance, and when the door didn't open, I'd reach toward the radio and raise the volume to let her know she was missing the Anthem.
Early in the game, sometimes the reception would be erratic, clogged with static, and I'd have to jiggle the tuning knob, making such minute adjustments my hand trembled. It often helped if I stood near the radio in a certain position, invariably contorted, with one arm akimbo, another limb up in the air, a palm hovering inches over the speaker, trying to maintain position, barely breathing, as the sputtering details came out of the Chronomatic 9. Then the evening progressed, and the connection grew pure. Some nights when the Red Sox weren't playing, around the fifth inning, I could even begin to pick up broadcasts from Philadelphia or Baltimore or Pittsburgh. That had the appeal of combining the pleasures of baseball with the exploring of distant, unknown places. Between the Red Sox and me it was about something more.
The Sun Rises in the East
Albert Chen visited Taiwan in the off-season and now presents this interesting profile of Chien-Ming Wang in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated:
Other than for the rare public appearance, trips to the gym are pretty much the only times that he leaves his apartment in Tainan, his off-season home. Some 7,800 miles from New York City, in his native country -- where his famously stoic face gazes from billboards, ATMs, credit cards, cellphones, bags of potato chips, milk cartons; where the people call him, simply, Taiwan zhiguang (the pride and glory of Taiwan) -- Chien-Ming Wang is everywhere and nowhere, a hero and a prisoner. For an intensely private, excruciatingly shy 28-year-old, being a national icon is a heavy burden. "It's crazy," he says in his slow and soft voice. "I think, This is strange. I'm just one man."
Wang had little control last night in his worst outing of the young season. Still, don't play yourself, Chen's piece is worth checking out.
Is It Over Yet?
Chien-Ming Wang had his first bad start of the year last night, and Clay Buchholz had the first bad start of his major league career. Ross Ohlendorf and Julian Tavarez didn't help out much in relief. LaTroy Hawkins (wearing number 22), Billy Traber (who got David Ortiz to pop up on one pitch), and Brian Bruney managed to lock things down for the home team starting in the sixth. As for the visitors, after a couple of decent innings from David Aardsma, Mike Timlin opened the spigot again in the eighth. The result was a nine-inning game that lasted four hours and eight minutes and saw 42 men reach base and 341 pitches thrown. After all of that, the Yankees emerged with a 15-9 win that put them two games over .500 for the first time on the season and evened their season series with the Sox.
As Kevin Youkilis popped out to shallow left to end the top of the eighth, I rolled over on my remote, accidentally hitting the pause button on my DVR and freezing a long shot of Hideki Matsui in the large, empty pasture staring up at the darkness, waiting for a ball that wouldn't come down. That pretty much sums up my feelings on last night's game. I'll take the win. I just wish I didn't have to watch it.
Red Sox Redux: Redux Edition
Unlike the Rays, the Red Sox haven't changed a lick since the Yanks last saw them. Of course that was just two days ago in Boston. Both the Yanks and Sox swept two-game series on the road to start the week (the Sox doing so in Cleveland while the Yanks were in Tampa). The two rivals reconvene in the Bronx tonight with a rematch of the last series opener that saw Chien-Ming Wang outpitch and outlast Clay Buchholz as the Yanks won 4-1 behind Wang's two-hitter.
The Yankee offense has averaged 5.17 runs over it's last six games, but averaged just four per game in Boston. The last time through the rotation they allowed 4.6 runs per game. The Red Sox averaged 4.3 runs per game against the Yanks over the weekend and allowed 3.8 runs per game the last time through their rotation.
Joe Girardi posts his 16th unique lineup in 16 games tonight with Chad Moeller still catching and Jorge Posada back at DH at the expense of Johnny Damon, who yields left field to Hideki Matsui. Melky Cabrera leads off. Posada hits sixth between lefties Matsui and Jason Giambi.
Sheets of Sound
I am reading and thoroughly enjoying Nicholas Dawidoff's new memoir "The Crowd Sounds Happy: A Story of Love, Madness and Baseball" (due out on May 6th). It is the first thing I've ever read by Dawidoff though I'm well familiar with his name. One of the first gifts my wife ever gave me was a book that Dawidoff edited--Baseball: A Literary Anthology, a fine collection. I've also long heard good things about his celebrated Moe Berg biography. Dawidoff, who began his career writing for Sports Illustrated (here is a brief sampler--pieces on Andy MacPhail, Sandy Amoros and Berg), has written several other books, including a memoir about his grandfather, a Harvard professor.
His new book is ostensibly about growing up as a Red Sox fan, but it's not really a baseball book at all. It is about Dawidoff's childhood, growing up in New Haven with his mother, a school teacher, and his sister. And it is about his father, who was mentally ill. There is so much in the book that resonates with me. Dawidoff, who is about eight years older than me, had a beloved aunt who lived in Croton, a New York suburb, the town my mother moved to when she and my father split up. I went to junior high and high school in Croton and my brother, sister and I would visit our father in Manhattan on the weekends. Pop lived on the Upper West Side. My grandparents' apartment was on 81st street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, not far from where Dawidoff's father lived (I actually took a handful of guitar lessons when I was in high school from Peter Tork who lived on the same block as Dawidoff's pop). While my old man was not mentally ill, his alcoholism made him unpredictable, and at times, terrifying.
I can see myself in Dawidoff, a bright, careful, somewhat effete kid who constantly played sports, who was devoted to his team and who worked very hard at fitting in. His was a house without a TV, so Dawidoff was raised on Ned Martin and Red Sox radio. The descriptions of what the team and players meant to him, the order and companionship they gave him in a fatherless upbringing are wonderful. The book is permeated by sadness and yet it is hopeful too.
Dawidoff writes honestly and with empathy and is a true craftsman. For instance, check out this description of going to visit his father's office in midtown:
If we were in New York on weekdays, my father might take us to the office. How transporting it was to be in the middle of everything in the center of Manhattan, moving alongside the early crowds going to work with my father. From the sidewalk outside my father's building I saw the men in business suits surging uphill from Forty second Street, many of them carrying a folded-over newspaper and a briefcase as they went ducking into Chock full o'Nuts, emerging a minute or two later with a steaming paper cut in hand. They were all in a hurry. There was a delicatessen across the street, and at lunchtime through the window I could see them rushing in, yelling out their sandwich orders, and rushing out. It seemed to me that in these rhythms of the masculine professional day, I was watching how my father lived without me around.
I love the clear and exacting image of the "rank bouquet" smell of New York in the summer, how he goes back-and-forth between long sentences and shorter ones. Dig this, from an on-line interview with Dawidoff:
I think the thing is, that part of the fun of writing books is experimenting with language. Although I don't think anyone would call me a pyrotechnic writer. I try and put a lot in each sentence and spend a lot of time with each sentence. I want each sentence to sound like me. My grandfather's hatred of cliches is definitely my hatred of cliches. I really like to play with language. I really like to see what language can do, and I like to be precise. I really want words to be active and be somehow the spirit of language to represent the spirit of the subject. That's not in any way unique to me, but it's something I think a lot about and I sweat a lot over. Each sentence I write, it seems to me I write more slowly. This is not because I am trying to be more complex. I see more and more potential for language. Maybe as you husband and compress all the potential into whatever you are going to make it just takes longer.
Any fan of good writing will appreciate this book. You don't have to love baseball or even the Red Sox to admire it. But for Sox fans of a certain age it will be especially poignant.
Catchers? We Don't Need No Stinking Catchers!
So remember when, last week, I wondered about Jorge Posada and the importance of game calling? “Kyle Farnsworth is probably going to do some Farnsworthing no matter how meticulously you've planned your pitch sequence,” I wrote, “and Mariano Rivera could probably strike batters out if he threw to a lump of clay.”
Mariano Rivera got the save with his usual panache, but with Joba Chamberlain still home with his father, Kyle Farnsworth pitched the 8th inning. And you might want to sit down for this: he set the Rays down 1-2-3. In a two-run game. Frankly, I’m paralyzed. Do I make a joke about the apocalypse and Revelations? Quote the old Ghostbusters “cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria!” line? Or should I reveal my suspicion that Farns has been replaced by a remarkably lifelike android/mutant/alien pod creature, which - even if it helps the team - probably ought to be stopped? I don’t know. I was not prepared for this contingency!
*All together now: "What smart, logical part?"
I haven't mentioned it yet, but I can't let the seventh anniversary of Jay Jaffe's seminal baseball blog Futility Infielder pass without comment. Jay was the first person connected with the blog world that I ever met in person. It was right around this time, the spring of 2003. We had lunch at Christine's, a polish diner on Second avenue just south of 14th street that I frequented often as teenager with my friend Mary Lou, who lived right around the block.
Jay and I have remained friends ever since. We generally go to a couple of games at the Stadium every year, and we watch a handful more together at our respective cribs (Brooklyn, Bronx). Jay is one of the all-time baseball conversationalists. I always come away from our conversations knowing more, curiosities satisfied, others stimulated. And we never fail to have laughs. A spontaneous schtick that we did watching Paul LoDuca late last season has forever altered my ability to take LoDuca seriously ever again. I can't not laugh at Paulie when I see him, read about him or hear his name.
And more than just that, respect due, cause Jay is strictly OB: Original Blogga. He's one of a small group of guys, which include Geoff Young, whose Ducksnorts started in 1997, that is still around. And even if he doesn't blog as frequently as he has in the past, Jay's writing--particularly the work he does at Baseball Prospectus--is better and more prolific than ever. He's polished when talking in front of audiences at bookstores, he knows his s*** when talking on the radio. He's a pro.
Anyhow, I'm happy to call him a pal, and I'm really impressed with how he's developed and honed his work over the years. And I wanted to say as much.
Now, come on you guys, let's git 'em!
Yankee Panky #48: Mellow Drama
DISCLAIMER: Yankee Panky will be on vacation for the next two weeks, as the author will be sightseeing in Italy. Maybe a comparison to how the Italian media cover soccer to how our fine professionals cover baseball would be a good column. You can provide your thoughts below.
* * * * *
Nothing injects excitement, drama and absurdity into the New York media like a Yankees-Red Sox series in April. Last weekend's series in Boston seemed to have snuck up on people — except we ever-observant schedule-hawking fans — whereas in years past the buildup was suffocating.
To me, the tipoff for this was the "Curse" story at the construction site of the New Yankee Stadium, where a worker who happened to be a Red Sox fan buried a David Ortiz jersey in the cement. It's light-hearted and it's funny. Yankees COO has said they'll investigate the worker and potentially prosecute. On what charge? Vandalism? Does that apply?
With all the opportunities to go "Daily Show" or "The Soup" on this particular topic, I was surprised and disappointed that no Jimmy Hoffa jokes were printed anywhere, not even on Deadspin. Maybe it's me, but I thought that was an easy one. Everyone swung and missed.
To the series coverage … There were the obvious angles of Joe Girardi's first Yanks-Sox series as a manager, and the comparisons of the rivalry now to when he was embroiled in it as a player. Thankfully, the papers sounded the "Dead Horse Alert" on those stories early. The most striking articles were the commentaries on Girardi's decision-making and overall demeanor with the media. It was presented as his first major test: How would he react to the intense scrutiny and second-guessing from the Fourth Estate? Newsday's Ken Davidoff had an innovative take, intertwining Girardi's Sunday pre-game powwow, in which he chronicled his media colleague's interrogation of the Yankee manager, with a pining for the past. Davidoff opined that this arena was where Torre shined. Davidoff noted that Torre would have deflected the questions with humor, whereas Girardi visibly became agitated answering the same questions. An interesting read, to be sure. No Maas took a more pointed approach, superimposing a puffy white cloud in Torre's likeness over Girardi's right shoulder.
More than any series in recent memory, I noticed a heavy amount of overlap in the coverage. Mainstreamers on the print and TV side, and the non card-carrying observers in cyberspace peppered us with different takes on the same stories. It demonstrates how difficult it is to provide information that you can't get anywhere else. The key is presentation.
• Kim Jones' quick-burst postgame interviews rarely unearth any information, but in the event they do, it restores faith that the right questions can elicit genuine answers. Following a 4-for-5 effort which included his 521st career home run, Kim Jones asked Alex Rodriguez about any specific adjustments he made during a pre-game batting session with hitting coach Kevin Long. A-Rod openly mentioned shortening his stroke and swinging with less effort; that he was getting ahead of himself and swinging too hard in Boston. It was refreshing to hear something other than "stay back," "stay inside the ball," or "let the pitch dictate the swing."
• I wonder if the Yankees-Red Sox game was earlier and had a more exciting finish — the Yankees coming back to win, perhaps — if that story would have trumped Tiger Woods' second-place finish at The Masters.
Eight Is Enough
Three of the first six Yankees to come to the plate against Andy Sonnanstine last night hit solo home runs, including one on the second pitch of the game by Johnny Damon (Alex Rodriguez and Morgan Ensberg, who got his second start of the year at first base, hit the other two). When the Yankees bounced Sonnanstine ("Sonny" per the inscription on his glove) in the midst of a four-run fourth inning, it seemed the Bombers would cruise to an easy victory.
Making just his second actual start of the season, Ian Kennedy held the Rays to two runs over six innings (7 H, 2 BB, 4 K) and came back out to start the seventh, but the first batter he faced in that frame, Jason Bartlett, lined a comebacker off Kennedy's right hip. Kennedy emerged with just a bruise, but was in obvious pain, so with Bartlett on first and the three lefties at the top of the Rays' order due up, Girardi called on Billy Traber. Traber got Akinori Iwamura to fly out for the first out of the inning, but gave up a two-run homer to Carl Crawford on a 0-1 pitch to make it 7-4 Yankees. Traber then hit Carlos Peña on the hand and was pulled in favor of Brian Bruney, who promptly gave up another two-run homer, this one to B.J. Upton, to make it 7-6, and then Even Longoria's first major league tater to tie the score.
Facing Al Reyes in the top of the eighth, Girardi pinch-hit for Alberto Gonzalez, who had started at second base in place of the struggling Robinson Cano, with Robinson Cano and was rewarded when Cano hit a taser . . . er, laser out to right field to give the Yankees an 8-7 lead.
Brian Bruney, who had gotten the final two outs of the seventh after giving up the two homers that tied the game, got the first two outs of the eight, but the second was a long fly ball to left and, with those lefties at the top of the order coming back up, Girardi brought in Mariano Rivera for a four-out save, which is exactly what Mo delivered, along with an 8-7 Yankee win.
A few game notes: Derek Jeter went 2 for 5 and, though he didn't run all-out, didn't appear limited by his quadraceps. Gonzalez and Hideki Matsui were the only Yankees without hits, though Gonzalez drew a walk. Alex Rodriguez went 4 for 5 with his 521st career homer. Morgan Ensberg went 2 for 5 in his spot start and is hitting .385 as a Yankee despite his infrequent use thus far. The Yankees' eight runs and 15 hits were both season highs.
Finally, while Cano's homer was obviously the key hit in the game, my favorite might have been Chad Moeller's first Yankee hit. With one out and Melky Cabrera on first base in the fourth, Girardi put on the hit-and-run. The Rays guessed correctly and pitched out, but Moeller reached out and slapped the pitch past Iwamura (who was heading over to cover the bag for the expected throw) picking up a single and moving Cabrera to third base. Both men ultimately scored on a double by Johnny Damon amid the Yankees four-run rally in that inning.
Rays Redux: Woe Is We Edition
The Yankees wrapped up four-game split with the Rays just a week ago, but the Rays have undergone a lot of changes since then, most of them injury-related. Matt Garza didn't pitch in the Bronx and wasn't scheduled to pitch in the brief two-game set against the Yankees that opens at the Trop tonight, but it's still worth noting that the team's big off-season addition hit the DL with a nerve issue in his pitching elbow and is expected to miss at least four weeks (home-grown pitching prospect Jeff Niemann pitched well in his place last night as the Rays beat the O's 6-2). In addition to Garza and catcher Dioner Navarro, who hit the DL in the Bronx after slipping and cutting his hand in visitor's dugout, the Rays have also had to place DH Cliff Floyd and third-baseman Willy Aybar on the DL. Floyd, who is one of the most fragile players in the game, has a tear of the medial meniscus in his right knee. Aybar strained his left hamstring.
There's irony in the latter injury as losing Aybar to the DL has forced the Rays to promote top prospect Evan Longoria and install him at third-base, where he's likely to remain well into the next decade. Longoria should have opened the season in the majors, but, best I can tell, the Rays were hoping to delay the start of his arbitration clock. The Rays could have continued with that plan by installing Eric Hinske at third--Hinske did start two games at third in place of Aybar before the latter was officially placed on the DL--but it seems the Rays are quickly tiring of seeing Hinske in the field. Hinske started in right field in three of the Rays first six games, including two at Yankee Stadium, but hasn't played the outfield in any of the team's six games since. Instead, with Floyd on the DL and Longoria at third, it appears the Rays have adopted platoons in right and at DH with lefty Nathan Haynes and righty Justin Ruggiano splitting right field and the lefty Hinske taking Floyd's place in the DH platoon with righty Jonny Gomes.
The end result is improved team defense, but a decrease in offense. There's no comparison between Longoria and Aybar long-term, but Aybar was swinging the bat well in the early going, hitting .292/.370/.500 before hitting the DL. Longoria, who is 2 for 6 with a pair of walks after two major league games, could match those numbers, but as a 22-year-old rookie, he'd be hard pressed to surpass them. Hinske and Gomes are also swinging well, but squeezing them into one spot to make room for the punchless Haynes is sure to have a negative effect on the offense. What's more, after a hot start, catcher Shawn Riggans isn't hitting a lick. Still, the Rays have played .500 ball since leaving the Bronx and have scored 5.17 runs per game against the Mariners and Orioles while allowing just 3.83 runs per game.
Shortly after Shaq Fu was traded to Phoenix a few months ago, the Suns were playing a nationally televised game against the Spurs. At one point, Shaq was lying on the ground and Tim Duncan offered him a hand. Shaq ignored him. Hey, just like the olden days, I thought. Which brought to mind a story that Jeff Pearlman wrote for SI on the changing nature of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry back in 2002:
Like many notable encounters, this one was accidentala simple, unexpected meeting of...well, rear ends. Really, it was perfect. How many times over the years had they crossed paths and thought of growling, Kiss my ass? And here they were, Dwight Evans and Willie Randolph, posterior to posterior on one of their old battlegrounds, Yankee Stadium.
Thinking of You
What A Drag
The Yankees dropped their second straight series last night, losing the rubber game in Boston by a score of 8-5. The game took a ridiculous three hours and 55 minutes to play and saw 336 pitches thrown. The majority of those pitches, 193 to be exact, came out of the hands of Red Sox hurlers, including 116 in five innings from Daisuke Matsuzaka, who walked six and allowed four runs in his five frames. Unfortunately, the Yankees were only able to scratch out one more run against the underside of the Boston bullpen (on Jason Giambi's second solo homer off Mike Timlin of the series). That wasn't enough to overcome the hole dug by Phil Hughes and Ross Ohlendorf.
Hughes, who had looked so sharp in his first start of the year, was even less effective, and less efficient, than he had been in Kansas City. It took Hughes 39 pitches to get out of the first inning. He started things off with a seven-pitch walk to Jacoby Ellsbury. On the 0-1 pitch to Dustin Pedroia, the Yankees pitched out. For the third time on the road trip, the Yankees correctly identified when an opposing baserunner was stealing, but for the third time they failed to get the runner as Jose Molina's throw sailed into center field and Ellsbury went to third. Hughes rallied to strike out Pedroia, who was completely bewildered by a wicked curve up and in (Pedroia flinched twice as the pitch dropped into the strike zone), but that K took another seven pitches. Hughes then walked J.D. Drew on an ironically efficient four tosses before Manny Ramirez ended another seven-pitch at-bat with an RBI single that sent Drew to third. In that at-bat, Hughes got ahead 0-1 and 1-2 with his fastball, then threw a pair of heaters up and in, had yet another low and inside fouled off, then finally came with a curve, which Ramirez served to center. Kevin Youkilis was disposed of with just two pitches, but his sac fly placed Drew. Hughes then got ahead of Sean Casey 0-2 only to even the count and give up a 375-foot ground-rule double to right that pushed Ramirez to third. Hughes then again got ahead 0-2 on Jason Varitek, but with Casey on second, Hughes and Molina developed some communication issues. The second strike of that at-bat caught Molina off guard and was dropped at the plate. After a fastball that just missed the outside corner and a pair of fouls, Hughes crossed up Molina again, throwing a curve when Molina was expecting a fastball. Molina popped out of his crouch to catch what he though was a high fastball only to have the ball dive and get by him allowing Ramirez to score. After Molina's third trip to the mound of the at-bat, Hughes got Varitek looking on a fierce curve on the outside corner to end the inning, but the Red Sox were already up 3-0 and Hughes was half-way in the bag.
Hughes appeared to settle down in the second, surviving a bunt single and stolen base by Coco Crisp (both calls that could have gone either way) by getting a groundout, a pop-up, and a strikeout (Pedroia again, this time swinging at a fastball just below the knees and slamming his bat down in frustration). Hughes needed just 11 pitches to get through those four batters, but it all went wrong again in the third.
Drew led off with another walk, this one on five pitches (though ball four looked like strike two). Manny Ramirez followed by working the count full and lining a fastball off Alex Rodriguez's glove for another single. Youkilis and Casey then followed by singling hard on fastballs down and in to plate Drew and Ramirez, driving the score to 5-1 and Hughes from the game.
All totalled, Hughes threw 65 pitches in two-plus innings and just 54 percent of those offerings were strikes. Hughes struck out three men, but allowed nine others to reach and five to score on his watch. Ohlendorf then allowed both of the baserunners he inherited from Hughes to score, pushing Hughes' tally to seven runs (one unearned due to the passed ball). From what I saw, Hughes only threw three pitches that weren't fastballs or curveballs, all of which were taken for balls. The lack of an effective third pitch as well as a general lack of command seemed to be the problem. Hughes had a huge break on his curve, and he wasn't wild, but he wasn't hitting his spots, often just missing the strike zone or having a strike called a ball because Molina had to reach for it. Unable to put the ball where he wanted it, he was getting deep into counts and getting hit.
I'd shrug it off if it was just one start, but it's been two straight now (aggregate line: 5 IP, 12 H, 10 R (9 ER), 7 BB, 5 K). Only 2 of those twelve hits went for extra bases (both doubles) and Hughes is getting his strikeouts, but giving up 19 baserunners in 5 innings almost exactly how Mike Mussina got himself yanked from the rotation last August. Suddenly Hughes's next start becomes pivotal. If he struggles again, the Yankees may have a decision to make.
The upside to the game was that despite being down 7-1 after three, the Yankees got the tying run to the plate several times and on base once while Ohlendorf, LaTroy Hawkins, and Kyle Farnsworth ate up the remainder of the game while allowing just one run of their own. Also, Alberto Gonzalez went 1 for 2 with a single and a walk and made a nice over-the-shoulder catch in shallow left in the third, and Jose Molina went 2 for 4 with yet another double. The Yankees five runs were their third-best total of the season.
The immediate downside is that Molina strained a hamstring, forcing an odd late-game maneuver in which Joe Girardi pinch-ran for Molina with Wilson Betemit following the catcher's eight-inning single while simultaneously pinch-hitting Melky Cabrera (who got the day off with Jorge Posada--1 for 4--again DHing) for Gonzalez. Melky singled, but the Yankees didn't score, and Posada had to catch the ninth, pushing Farnsworth into the lineup (though his spot never came around and Morgan Ensberg was still around to pinch-hit). Posada clearly had instructions not to throw during his inning behind the plate as both Crisp and Pedroia stole off him uncontested, with Crisp scoring to set the final score.
Per Pete Abe, with Posada still unable to catch because of his shoulder and Molina unable to play because of his hammy, the Yanks will have to call up Chad Moeller. It remains to be seen if Molina's bad enough to require a DL stay. The good news is that Derek Jeter is expected to return to the lineup tonight, which could mean the Yankees could farm out Gonzalez to make room for Moeller and have Molina take Jeter's place as the unusable player with a short-term injury on the bench. Did I really just call that good news?
My first job out of college was as a runner on the Ken Burns "Baseball" series. I stuck around until the job was over. My final task was to empty the research office, which was stuck in the old Technicolor Building on 44th street and drive all the stuff they wanted to keep up to Walpole, N.H. My brother, who I was able to get on as a second hand, and I helped throw away tons of books, magazines, photographs that I'd now think twice about getting rid of. I kept some stuff for myself, of course, and gave a lot away to my friends.
I have a friend from high school who has kept the four boxes of books that I gave him in the spring of 1994. He told me that I could have them back a few years ago, but he lives in Long Island and I've never found the time to truculate my fat ass out there to get them. Then his wife said that if the books aren't out of the house by the end of the month they are going to the library. So I went out there today and took home five boxes of books.
I waited until I got home before I look inside. When I did, I found a bunch of of junk, but good copies of "Birth of a Dynasty," "Steinbrenner's Yankees," and "Baseball Anecdotes," plus a terrific little green paperback copy of "The Chrysanthemum and the Bat" by Robert Whiting, and a first edition hardcover of "The Diamond Appraised," uncracked, with Craig W Wright's business card tucked in the center crease. Best of all, there is a beat up copy of "The Reggie Jackson Scrapbook," my favorite baseball book growing up. I remember my friend having this book long after I had lost my own edition. It was one of two things I coveted at my friend's house. The other was an unopened can of Coke from Israel.
I was secretly hoping that the Reggie book would be in one of the boxes. And damn if it was at the bottom of the last pile of books. But when I got there I let out a cry. I startled Em, but couldn't help myself. It felt like my whole body was breaking out into a smile.
Mr. Hughes tonight.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Well, that sucked. Tough 4-3 loss for the Yanks. A long rain delay helped prolong the agony for the Yankees but the crucial moment in the game was when manager Joe Girardi let Mike Mussina pitch to Manny Ramirez in the sixth. This is Manny we're talking about.
Jonathan Papelbon finished the Yankees off.
Both teams are now 6-6. Phil Hughes goes against Dice K tonight. Are you ready for some Joe Morgan!
Buck Buck Goose
I was in 10th grade when the Mets and Red Sox played in the 1986 World Serious. It was the first and last time that I ever rooted for the Sox. They were the American League team, I figured, but the real reason I pulled for them--even after they beat my second-favorite team, Reggie Jackson's California Angels--was because I knew more Met fans than Sox fans, had more of a daily battle cooking with them than any Sox fans.
I had always liked Bill Buckner. We had WGN and so I watched a lot of Cubs games after school during my middle school years. Buckner was a grinder, much like my hero, Don Mattingly. In the mid-80s, Tom Boswell wrote a piece on Mattingly and mused that "He's Wade Boggs with power. Eddie Murray with hustle. George Brett but younger and in a home run park with Rickey Henderson on base and Dave Winfield on deck."
None of these parallels charm Mattingly much. "I appreciate it...but it doesn't help me on the field. So let it go. I'd compare myself more to Bill Buckner. He's consistent, hard-nosed, good in the clutch. I love the way he plays. If it's biting it takes, then it's biting; if it's scratching, then scratch...I'll take a ground ball off the chest, get my uniform dirty."
Of course, Bucker isn't best remembered for being a very good player, he's remembered in a single image--that of a feeble old man letting a slow ground ball dribble through his legs. It is an unfair way to remember the man but sometimes that's what happens in sports. Awful moments coexist along with the wonderful ones. Bad things can happen to anyone. But I sure don't know anyone who ever blamed Buckner for them losing that game.
Still, when Billy Bucks threw out the first pitch on Opening Day in Fenway earlier this week, my initial reaction was, That's nice. Followed shortly by a more cynical one, Jeez, took 'em long enough--funny how they reached out to him now that they are a winning club. But I was off on my thinking. Red Sox fans have in fact given Buckner love for a long time. He received a standing ovation on Opening Day in 1987, and another one in 1990 when he had another brief stint with the tam. Check out this piece The Hub Hails its Hobbling Hero, by Peter Gammons from the SI Vault (November 10, 1986).
As much as I like to moan about Sox fans, they can be pretty great. Remember the ovation they gave Joe Torre back in '99?
Okay, enough love. I can't let one beautifully pitched ballgame--and I won't be surprised if Wang's performance last night turns out to be the finest of the season for a Yankee starting pitcher--get me all mushy. Especially with Mussina v. Beckett on tap this afternoon. I don't know about you, but I can't stand Yankee-Sox games that are broadcast on Saturday afternoon on Fox. I think the Yanks have an okay record against Boston on Fox Saturdays but it feels as if they don't. These are the blowout games, the ones that last four hours.
Who knows, maybe we'll be in for a surprise? Stranger things have happened...but I wouldn't count on it.
Ace In The Hole
Well, I guess Chien-Ming Wang has solved Fenway Park. Wang shrugged off his career 6.17 ERA at the Fens last night and dominated the Red Sox for nine innings. Wang only struck out three men and gave up more than his share of fly balls and line-drive outs, but he needed just 93 pitches to complete the game and held the Sox to just three baserunners on the night.
Wang set the first ten Boston hitters down in order, striking out David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez along the way. With one out in the fourth, Dustin Pedroia hit a hard grounder to Alex Rodriguez's right. The Yankee third baseman hit the dirt to backhand the ball, scrambled to his feet, and fired high to first base as Pedroia reached with what was initially ruled an infield hit. On the very next pitch, Wang got Ortiz to ground into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double-play. In between innings, Pedroia's hit was changed to an E5.
With two outs in the fifth, J.D. Drew hit a fly ball to the front of the Boston bullpen in right field. Bobby Abreu had the ball measured. He drifted back, found the five-foot-three wall with his bare hand, and lept to make the catch. Unfortunately, he got a bit too close to the wall and, as he jumped, his back caught the top of the wall and stopped his momentum. Drew's fly ball tipped off the end of Abreu's glove and fell into the bullpen for a home run that knotted the game at 1-1. Wang wouldn't allow another hit until Coco Crisp's bunt single with two outs in the ninth.
Clay Buchholz was good, but he was no match for Wang. The two pitchers combined to face one man over the minimum through four innings (a Hideki Matsui single in the second), but Buchholz started the fifth by walking Matsui and Jorge Posada. (Posada was again serving as the designated hitter. Johnny Damon took a night off while Matsui played in Fenway's small left field.) After Buchholz rallied to strike out Jason Giambi, Jose Molina struck a first-pitch double into the left field gap that plated Matsui and gave the Yankees a slim 1-0 lead. Buchholz escaped further damage when Alberto Gonzalez, who followed Molina with a walk, strayed too far off of first base and was doubled up on a Melky Cabrera line-drive to Sean Casey. The Yankees threatened again in with two outs in the sixth when Alex Rodriguez singled and Hideki Matsui doubled him to third, but Posada ground out to end the threat.
With his young starter up to 98 pitches and no margin for error given Wang's performance, Boston manager Terry Francona went to his pen in the seventh, calling on Mike Timlin, who had just been activated from the disabled list before the game. Timlin's first batter was Giambi. Giambi got out to a 3-1 advantage, looked at strike two, then sent the payoff pitch 379 feet to dead center for a skin-of-his-teeth homer into the nook to the right of the Green Monster. That gave Wang all the runs he'd need, but another Molina double, a Gonzalez sac bunt, and a Cabrera sac fly added another before Hideki Okajima managed to get the Sox out of the inning. The Yanks then added one more for good measure against should-be Pittsburgh Pirate David Aardsma in the top of the ninth when Gonzalez led off with a double, was bunted to third by Cabrera, and scored on a two-out infield single beaten out by Abreu.
The Yankees are now 6-5 on the season. Wang has three of those six wins. Wang also has a 1.23 ERA, a 0.73 WHIP, and is averaging 7 1/3 innings per start. In other Fun With Small Samples news, four members of the bullpen (Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Brian Bruney, and Billy Traber) have yet to give up a run in a combined 18 1/3 innings. As a team, the Yankees are only allowing 3.55 runs per game and have allowed two runs or fewer in six of their 11 games. None of that will persist through the whole season, but it's nice to see. Similarly, Jose Molina, who was 2 for 4 with a pair of doubles last night, is hitting .346 and slugging .577 while filling in for the sore-armed Posada. Six of his nine hits have been doubles, which ties him for the American League lead in two-baggers. Alberto Gonzalez is hitting .375/.444/.625 after three games of filling in for Derek Jeter, boasting a pair of doubles of his own. Again, that won't keep up, but with both Jeter and Posada hoping to return to action by Monday, when the Yanks will be in the climate-controlled Tropicana Dome, it won't have to.
As for Wang, new pitching coach Dave Eiland has him working inside to batters (Wang struck out Ortiz in the first with a series of inside pitches), working both sides of the plate, and mixing in his slider, changeup, and split-finger. Eiland was also able to make an in-game correction with Wang last night following the inning in which Wang gave up Drew's homer and three other loud fly outs. Sez Eiland, "It was just his hand position behind the ball. He was kind of getting on the side of it and it was staying flat. He just repositioned his hand and threw down through the baseball and got his sinker working again and got back on track."
With that sort of guidance, one wonders if Wang might actually be taking his game to another level in his age-28 season. It makes Eiland's career 5.23 ERA as a Yankee seem totally worth it, don't it?
Boston Red Sox
Boston Red Sox
2007 Record: 96-66 (.593)
Manager: Terry Francona
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Fenway Park (106/105)
Who's Replacing Whom:
Jacoby Ellsbury replaces Coco Crisp in center field (sometimes)
1B - Sean Casey (L)
S - Coco Crisp (OF)
R - Josh Beckett
R - Jon Papelbon
15-day DL: R - Mike Lowell (3B), R - Mike Timlin
R - Dustin Pedroia (2B)
Card Corner--Rawly Eastwick
Other than Kent Tekulve, I can’t think of anyone who looked less like a ballplayer than Rawly Eastwick. At six feet, three inches and 175 pounds, Eastwick bested Tekulve by a few pounds, but he still looked more like the 98-pound weakling than the second coming of Jack LaLanne. Eastwick’s face didn’t give him any additional toughness either. The antithesis of Clint Eastwood, Eastwick had the kind of baby face that would have made Barbara Stanwyck jealous.
And then there’s the name. Rawly Eastwick, short for Rawlins Jackson Eastwick III, which makes me think of English royalty, or might even conjure up memories of that clever 1987 film, The Witches of Eastwick. It sure as heck doesn’t sound like the kind of name that we should be seeing on the front of a 1978 baseball card.
In this case, Eastwick provides a good example of the variations in Yankee cards that were issued that spring and summer. The Eastwick card depicted here is the only one ever issued that shows him wearing the colors of the Yankees. It’s not part of Topps’ official 1978 set; that card shows him sporting the airbrushed colors of the Cardinals, for whom he had finished out the 1977 season after a mid-year trade from Cincinnati. (The Reds, having given up hope of re-signing Eastwick, traded him for the likes of Doug Capilla.) No, this card is part of a special Yankees set, fully authorized by the Pinstripers, but sponsored by a third party—Burger King.
With the full cooperation and permission of Topps, the Yankees and Burger King used the same basic card design—both front and back—that the venerable card company featured in its 1978 set, but the photograph on the front of the card posed a problem. Rather than airbrush Yankee colors over the airbrush of Cardinals colors, the Yankees snapped a new photo of Eastwick, by now wearing an authentic Yankees uniform, and provided it to the card designers for transferal onto the Topps design.
In most cases, the 1978 Yankee cards used the same photo as the regular Topps set, but variations were produced for Eastwick and Rich "Goose" Gossage. Gossage’s Topps card shows Yankee colors airbrushed onto a Pirate uniform while the Yankee/BK card features a new photo with "The Goose" wearing an authentic Yankee uniform. As with Gossage, the Yankees and Burger King decided that a fresh photo would be a better place to start.
Unlike Gossage, Eastwick wasn’t the most integral member of the 1978 World Champion New York Yankees. He made only eight appearances for New York that season before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for flaky backup outfielder Jay "Moon Man" Johnstone. (Chapter and verse could be written about the Moon Man, but that will have to wait for a later date.) Eastwick’s early-season presence in pinstripes, however, did provide one of the first controversies of that tumultuous summer. With Eastwick, Gossage, and Sparky Lyle all on the ’78 roster to start the season, Billy Martin had an overload of ace relievers. Martin picked Gossage to close most of the time (sticking with him despite an early season slump), employed Lyle in a late-inning set-up role, and predictably had little use for Eastwick.
The Yankees got a solid effort from Andy Pettitte, the usual from Joba and Mo and some pop from 'lil Melky as they avoided being swept in Kansas City and now head into Boston with a 5-5 record (the Sox are 5-5 as well). Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada added back-to-back solo dingers in the ninth against Hideo Nomo (Rodriguez passed Mickey Mantle on the all-time RBI list, and with 521 home runs, is just one shy of Ted Williams. Rodriguez is just 32 years-old). Final Score: Yanks 6, Royals 1.
Chamberlain replaced Pettitte with one out in the seventh. He got out of inning unscathed but allowed two singles in the eighth (the Yankee lead was just 4-1 at the time). Jose Guillen, the potential tying run, struck out to end the inning. The last two pitches he saw were, in a word, unfair. First, he waved at a nasty, biting slider, and then Joba blew a fastball by him. It was right over the plate and came in at 99 mph according to the YES radar. Joba trudged off the mound. No arm swinging, no yelling. Just very tough.
Enough of Dis Love Makin, Whatta Ya Say We Hit?
I was on the Upper West Side last night and walked through my father's old neighborhood. It's funny how quiet Broadway can get in spots in the high 80s and 90s. It almost feels desolate at times. But when the traffic has ceased temporarily, there is a stillness that falls over the streets, that is welcoming. You can still hear a hum of noise, and then a stray siren in the distance or a horn from the upper floors of a nearby apartment building.
I thought I heard a familiar tune as I crossed 96th street but wasn't aware of it until I got to the next block and saw a man in a beret and an overcoat playing a flute. Just outside of what used to be the Wiz. And now--I didn't notice--I still don' think anything is in that spot, making it even more isolated. There was a Beatles songbook on a music stand in front of him. The flute case was open at his feet (red velvet) and he was playing "And I Love Her," almost painfully slowly; the mournful sound of his instrument echoed throughout the vicinity. I could still hear him playing, faintly, fading, several blocks away.
I stopped in at Sal and Carmine's on 101rst street for a couple of slices. Sal and Carmine's is my childhood pizza jernt--though they used to be in another spot---and I still go back when I can. Sal and Carmine are both old, wrinkled and cranky, but they warm up to you if they know you a little bit. The pizza is too salty but I love it. I prefer my slices lukewarm when I'm on the go. I finished one of them when I got the 103rd street subway station and then started to dog the second one as I waited on the platform for an uptown train. I was thinking of you guys. Dag, I better house this slice, I can't get on a train with food after my rant this morning. The slices didn't give off any smell becaue they were cold, but that made the dough doughier and harder to chew. When the train came, I was down to the crust, but my jaw was killing me (only one other thing I can think of can make your jaw ache like that--think Shelley Duvall and Woody in Annie Hall).
Yo, Royals fans must be pleased, huh? And why not? Their team has handled the slow, old guys from New York for two consecutive days and they are going for the sweep tonight. Andy Pettitte is sure to hear it but good from them. He'll need to get used to it, of course but I doubt he'll be bothered by it.
I know I sound like a broken record, but I feel good about the bats tonight. Something's gotta give.
The Bats blog over at the Times is really heating up. There are more posts these days and most of them are either informative or entertaining. Witness Jack Curry running into Vanilla Ice up in Boston recently. Hey, toys are people too you know.
Blogging: It Ain't Just for Kids Anymore
Joe: You grew up a Yankees fan. What year is your favorite Yankees team?
Man, I miss Bernie. I really do. You can also check out O'Connor's web site here.
What to Do?
In Posada's injury there have been disturbing implications that Girardi could reside among the group of blinkered skippers. Posada's shoulder strain, which apparently will not force him to the disabled list, was said to interfere with his throwing, not his hitting. The possibility existed, then, that even if the injury prevented him from getting behind the plate for an extended period of time, he would still be able to swing the bat as the designated hitter.
What do you think?
When I was at the Stadium last week with Jay Jaffe two kids, must have been about six or seven-years old, sat nearby. They were dressed in Yankee gear, down to the batting gloves. I wondered what they would actually remember of Derek Jeter or Mike Mussina when they get older. It is possible to watch so many more games on TV today, I wonder if kids of this generation will have more than fleeting impressions of the stars of their childhood.
Probably not. I don't know how many times I actually ever saw Willie Stargell or Joe Morgan or Yaz actually play. But to this day, I can imitate their batting stance. It's like being able to do an imitation of Ed Sullivan or Richard Nixon--it doesn't necessarily have to be good or even competent to be recognizable. In a simple motion of twirling the bat around and shaking your ass you can instantly become Pops Stargell. It is something that you will be able to do until the day you die.
After work last night I walked from midtown through Central Park and east to the Frozen Ropes hitting cage located on York Avenue and 90th street, a place my father would have called "the ass-end of the planet." On the way, I passed an apartment building on 89th street between 1rst and 2nd avenues where, one summer in the early 80s, my father subletted an apartment for the summer, the year the USFL folded and I became addicted to Sports Center (Remember the days when Bill "Doran" Doran, Jose "Can You See?" Cruz and Chris Berman's other quips were something that you actually looked forward to hearing?).
Soon, I was standing over a tee with a ball on it in a mesh cage with a bat in my hands, imitating Don Mattingly's stance and using one of Mattingly's bats. Joe Janish, a public relation's man for Mattingly's line of "V-Grip" bats, met me at the hitting cage to demonstrate the product. Janish explained that when Mattingly played, he would shave the sides of his bad near the handle so a "V" shape was formed. This helped him keep his knuckles lined up on the bat and prevented him from holding the bat in the palms of his hands, which robbed him of his power and he met the ball. Later, when Mattingly saw his boys struggle with keeping their knuckles lined up properly he had the idea of designing his own line of bats.
Crusing for a Bruisin'
Everything is cool. The Yankees aren't scoring any runs and I haven't had a tantrum...yet. I watched the end of yesterday's game and saw Alex Rodriguez strike out for the fourth time. He was caught looking in his first three at bats against B. Banny, and fell behind the count quickly his fourth time up. Then he fouled off a few pitches and laid off another couple of sliders just off the plate. I had a great feeling that he was going to hit the ball hard. That something good was about to happen. I generally don't feel that way about him, which says more about me as a nervous fan of my hometown team, than it does about Rodriguez. But he eventually chased a ball out of the zone and went down swinging.
Someone is going to pay and soon. With our heroes Jeter and Posada* hurting, it's up to the rest of the boys to get the lead out. That's easier said than done, particularly with Mr. Grienke on the hill for the Royals tonight. Here's hoping Ian Kennedy comes through with a nice effort.
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
Mmm, Mmm Foul
We should come up with a list of our favorite pet peeves. As a New Yorker, I am driven to distraction by people who block the subway doors, who have conversations smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk, who walk down the street in threes side-by-side-by-side, who don't know the golden rule that if you stay the right (walking down the stairs, a corridor, the block) you are right. One of my biggest peeves is sitting near someone on public transportation who is eating hot food. If it's an untoasted bagel or a buttered roll, I can deal. But if it smells, I squirm. In the morning, it's not surprising to see someone dogging a heart attack special (ham/bacon, egg and cheese on a roll) or a Cuban sandwich.
Just imagine how uptight I get.
One of the most amusing things about pet peeves is the inclination to think that your friends, family and other like-minded, sane people will share them. One day, I called up my great pal Lizzie Bottoms to rail about food on the train, assuming she'd feel the same way.
I go, "Dude, what's your reaction when you smell food on the subway?"
"I get hungry."
I stopped cold. Jeez, I hadn't thought of that. Makes sense though. Then again Lizzie gets knuts when she sees people smooching and grabbing ass in public (PDA, public display of affection) where that generally doesn't bug me at all.
Anyhow, I was on the subway this morning. We were still way uptown and the car wasn't packed yet. An older gentleman sat two seats away from me. He was the kind of guy who looked like he was wearing a toupee even though, on closer inspection, it looked like his real hair.
He broke out a roll. I waited to see if a smell was going to soon follow, indicating that it was something warm. But it wasn't. Just an plain buttered roll. Soon, a high school kid got on the train and sat between us. The older man asked the kid if he was taking math in school. The kid mumbled a response which evidentally gave the older guy--who, it soon became clear, was not only touched in the head but a math teacher himself--permission to give a uninterrupted lecture on trig, Isaac Newton and all sorts of stuff about math I never wanted to know.
The poor kid didn't have it in him to tell the guy to shut up, so the old man went on...and on. I put down my book, unable to concentrate. The guy didn't have any interest in making a connection with the kid, just on hearing the sound of his own voice. I wanted to say something to him and then thought, ah, don't be such a hard ass, he's harmless. Still, I was dumbfounded.
Finally, the old man got up and left. I asked the kid if he knew him and he said no. Then I started in about how incredible it is that some people can just go on like that. The kid tuned me out just as he had ignored the old man.
The subway was now downtown. We were stopped at a station and the doors opened and closed several times before the conductor got on the p.a. and said, "Hey, the kid in the back of the train that's messing around, if you get killed, I get three days off, which is fine by me, so keep it up."
Watch the closing doors.
The Future is Now
I caught bits and pieces of the home opener at Shea yesterday and was struck by the backdrop of the new park that is sitting just behind the outfield. Last season, the construction looked like something out of Waterworld, but now the facade of Citi Field looks almost complete. It was a surreal but arresting image, one that has me curious to get out to Shea and see it up close.
Neil deMause, a freelance writer and contributor to Baseball Prospectus, has been following the construction of the two new stadiums in New York. I haven't been paying close attention to the dollars and cents of it all, but here are three pieces by deMause that detail what's what (one, two and three). deMause is unabashedly critical of the financing of both parks, which again brings to mind Robert Lipsyte's SI story about the rennovation of the old Yankee Stadium, "A Diamond in the Ashes" (April, 1976):
Myles Jackson, a lineman on Michigan's 1951 Rose Bowl team, was not born in the Bronx, as Abrams and Garelik and I were, but he lives there now, a block from Yankee Stadium. Four years ago, rebuilding himself after a business failure, he found an inexpensive apartment in the neighborhood, which is basically commercial and industrial. The Bronx Terminal Market is nearby, and the Bronx County Courthouse stands on the highest hill.
Yankee Pride costs a pretty penny. And it ain't so cheap out in Queens neither.
It rained all morning in Kansas City yesterday, and though the precipitation stopped in time for the Royals' home opener against the Yankees, the weather remained cold, dank, and dreary. The two teams played accordingly, putting 30 men on base, but scoring just seven of them in a slow, sloppy contest which the Royals won by the surprisingly tidy score of 5-2.
Brian Bannister failed to execute his gameplan early on, throwing first-pitch strikes to just three of the first 11 men he faced. Phil Hughes didn't fair much better, getting strike one on just four of his first dozen batters. Neither pitcher was sharp, and the weather was at least partially to blame, as Hughes seemed to spend as much time blowing into his pitching hand as he did actually pitching, but home plate umpire Mark Wegner's strike zone wasn't helping. Wegner's performance behind the plate was one of the worst I can remember. There was absolutely no consistency to his zone not only from at-bat to at-bat, but within single at-bats. Both benches were riding him, both pitchers were frustrated, and batters on both sides couldn't figure out what to swing at or what to take. In part due to Wegner's embarrassing performance, there were ten walks and 19 strikeouts in the game, eight of the latter on called third strikes.
Things were bad all over. At the end of three innings, the game was tied 2-2 with both starters having walked four men. Brian Bannister had thrown 71 pitches and allowed eight baserunners. Hughes had thrown 79 pitches and allowed nine baserunners. Things tilted in the Royals' favor when Bannister pitched around a Johnny Damon single in the top of the fourth and Phil Hughes came out and gave up a pair of singles to start the bottom of the inning. Those two at-bats pushed Hughes' pitch count to 87 and, thanks to the baserunning of Joey Gathright (more on that below), gave the Royals a 3-2 lead. With a man on first and no outs, Joe Girardi went to his bullpen, hoping for a groundball double play from Ross Ohlendorf.
Ohlendorf delivered exactly that, then struck out Jose Guillen to end the inning, but after Bannister pitched the first 1-2-3 frame of the game in the top of the fifth, Ollie coughed up a pair of runs in the bottom of that inning to set the final score.
The Yankees got three more baserunners against lefty reliever Ron Mahay, but never staged a credible threat in the late innings as their last nine batters were retired in order by Mahay, former Yankee farmhand Ramon Ramirez, and the end-game combo of Leo Nuñez and Joakim Soria, thus wasting scoreless innings of relief by Ohlendorf (who saved the Yankee pen by going three full), Billy Traber, and LaTroy Hawkins (who again put two men on only to work out of his own jam).
Adding insult to injury, the Yankees played poorly in the field. Bobby Abreu made the only error of the game in the second inning when he tried to backhand a single on the run only to have the ball clank off the heal of his glove and the runner go to second, but there were several other misplays by the Bombers. Johnny Damon uncorked and errant rainbow throw from the outfield on an RBI single in the fifth that allowed the batter to go to second. Wilson Betemit, who otherwise acquitted himself well at shortstop, twice misplayed throws from Jorge Posada at the keystone, once having the throw clank off his glove and another time attempting, unsuccessfully, to take the throw while straddling the bag, narrowly avoiding a knee injury in the resulting collision with the baserunner. Most distressingly, the Yankees thrice correctly identified when the Royals were going to attempt a steal, twice pitching out and once throwing to first behind the runner, but failed to catch the runner in any of those three instances. In the last, Jason Giambi failed to get a good grip on the ball and never even made a throw to second.
Those issues with opposing basestealers were the most disturbing part of the game. Clearly aware that Jorge Posada had been struggling with a sore throwing shoulder, new Royals' skipper Trey Hillman decided to run on the Yankee catcher at every opportunity. The Royals' first batter, Joey Gathright, led off the bottom of the first with a single, then stole second. In the second, Hillman again found himself with a runner on first and no one ahead of him and had Tony Peña Jr. steal second. In the fourth, Gathright again led off with a single and stole both second and third in the next at-bat.
Posada singled in three at-bats, but his inability to control the Royals' running game forced Girardi to replace him after six innings. Jose Molina's record was promptly tainted by Ross Gload stealing on the pickoff botched by Giambi, but Molina announced his presence on the next pitch by throwing Gload out at third.
So here's where things go from bad to worse. Adding injury to insult, Posada was scheduled for an MRI on his shoulder after the game. He says he feels no pain in the shoulder, but that his arm feels "dead," a feeling he's had before, but one that's previously gone away with four or five days of rest. Posada rested three days last week and had Monday off, but obviously his shoulder is no better.
The thing is, with Derek Jeter also out of commission, Posada's injury leaves the team with a two-man bench and Morgan Ensberg, who last donned the tools of ignorance as a schoolboy, as their backup catcher. Either man could be back in action by the end of the weekend, making a DL stay excessive in either case, but the Yankees may be forced to make some other sort of roster move in the meantime just to avoid being caught shorthanded. For example, farming out Ohlendorf in the wake of his three-inning, 36-pitch outing in order to make room for triple-A catcher Chad Moeller or an extra infielder might make sense. Ohlendorf would have to spend 10 days in the minors, but the Yanks could juggle the roster by replacing Moeller with Jonathan Albaladejo when Posada's ready to catch again, then decide what do with Ohlendorf when he becomes eligible to be recalled (certainly Ollie's ability to come in and get a groundball DP like he did yesterday is of considerable value, as is his 6:0 K/BB rate in seven innings thus far this season). Of course, Posada's MRI could show that he'll need to miss more time, making a DL stay and Moeller's recall an easier decision, but we likely won't know more about that until closer to game time. Stay tuned . . .
If there's good news to be had here it's in Molina's performance thus far. Molina has picked up a hit in each of his four starts in place of the injured Posada, two of them doubles, and has thrown out four of the five men who have attempted to steal on him (not counting yesterday's botched pickoff). If he can stay hot both at the plate and behind it, the Yankees won't miss Posada too much provided he doesn't miss any more than the 15-day minimum, preferably much less. That's a lot of wishful thinking, but Molina has looked good in the early going.
Kansas City Royals
Kansas City Royals
2007 Record: 69-93 (.426)
Manager: Trey Hillman
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Kauffman Stadium (103/104)
Who's Replacing Whom:
Jose Guillen replaces Emil Brown and Shane Costa (minors)
1B - Ross Gload (L)
R - Esteban German (IF)
R - Gil Meche
R - Joakim Soria
15-day DL: R - Luke Hudson
*DeJesus sprained his ankle on Opening Day and hasn't played since.
L - Joey Gathright (CF)
Your Own Personal Catcher
Here's a question for you guys, and something I've been wondering about for a while now: Is Jorge Posada good at calling games?
The Yankees cruised to an easy 6-1 win last night to split their four-game series against the Rays and leave town with a winning 4-3 record. Mike Mussina was sharp, allowing just three baserunners, two hits, and a lone run in six efficient innings of work. He had his best curveball working and was able to throw it at a variety of speeds between 70 and 80 miles per hour while correspondingly varying the severity of the break from a slow 12-to-6 yakker to a quicker pitch that broke in the zone. He also had a good changeup. Moose only recorded three strikeouts on the night, but got 11 of his other 15 outs on the ground, which was largely the product of having his best curve. Fittingly, the one run Mussina gave up came on a hanging curve to Jonny Gomes. Gomes put a lumberjack swing on the pitch, his bat and body tilted at 45 degree angles to the ground, and drove it into the seats in left field.
That was the only run the Rays would get all night as Brian Bruney and Kyle Farnsworth pitched perfect seventh and eighth innings, respectively, combining to throw 19 of 24 pitches for strikes. LaTroy Hawkins came on in the ninth and struggled with his control, his confidence, and a contingent of jackass fans who began chanting "Paul O'Neill" after Hawk's first pitch of the inning was a ball, but despite throwing just half of his 22 pitches for strikes, Hawkins managed to strand his two baserunners by striking out Gomes to end the game.
The Yankee offense, meanwhile, had it's most productive game of the year thus far with season-highs in runs (6) and hits (11). Bobby Abreu got things started in the first with a two-run homer to the right-field corner, the third Yankee home run of the homestand to that spot, none of which likely traveled more than 320 feet. After making Mussina sweat out his six innings, the Yanks then added on in the bottom of the sixth when Abreu, who had singled in his second at-bat, tripled off the wall in right center, Alex Rodriguez singled him home, and Hideki Matsui doubled Rodriguez home to make it 4-1 Yanks. Mid-game replacement Morgan Ensberg picked up his first Yankee hit with one out in the seventh bringing Abreu to the plate with a chance for the cycle. Abreu, true to form, drew a six-pitch walk. After Alex Rodriguez was called out on strikes at the end of a seven-pitch at-bat of his own, Matsui singled home Ensberg and Robinson Cano, who was hitless in the game to that point, singled Abreu home to set the final score.
That five run-lead allowed Joe Girardi to bring in Farnsworth and Hawkins without being second guessed, though I was still troubled that for the second game in a row Girardi did not appear to consider using Billy Traber against the all-lefty top of the Rays' order. That aside, while it was rough watching Hawkins in the ninth, the scoreless frame and game-ending K should serve him well, just as Farnsworth's easy eighth should him. Good on Girardi for getting those guys in there for some confidence-boosting low-leverage work.
The one wrinkle on the night was that Derek Jeter left the game after two innings with what an MRI revealed to be a strained left quadriceps. Jeter hit into a fielder's choice in the first and scored on Abreu's homer, but you could see as he ran to first that his legs weren't right, and he was stretching out the quad while standing on the bag.
Sez Jeter, "I felt something so I didn't want to be stupid. . . . You can't hide not running. If you can't do that, you can't [play]. I tried, but I felt something, so I thought it would be best to come out." When asked how long Jeter was expected to be on the shelf, Joe Girardi said, "it's gonna be a little bit," but said that the team did not expect him to hit the DL. Jeter will not play in this afternoon's opener in Kansas City. As he was last night, Wilson Betemit will be the shortstop while Jeter's out.
The Yankees will close out their season-opening homestand tonight by trying to salvage a series split against the Rays and thus a winning mark on the homestand. The buzz around the team this first week of games has concerned the poor performance of the offense, which has scored just 2.83 runs per game, the fifth-work mark in baseball at this absurdly early stage. Me, I'm more interested in the excellent performance of the pitching staff.
All three of the Yankees' wins have been close, low-scoring games, the type of games a team has to be able to win in order to advance in October. The Bombers have scored no more than three runs in any of their wins thus far. Last year, they were 5-35 in games in which they scored three runs or fewer and their third win of that kind didn't come until after the All-Star break. This year they're out to a 3-2 start in such games in the season's first week. Call me crazy, but I see that as a positive.
It could be that runs have just been down all over in the cold, windy Bronx this week, but for those worried about the offense, consider what the pitching staff has done. Removing the performances of Ian Kennedy and LaTroy Hawkins, who allowed 13 of the 28 runs given up by the Yankees thus far in Friday's ugly series-opening loss, the remainder of the staff has compiled this line:
2.17 ERA, 49 2/3 IP, 40 H, 15 R, 12 ER, 4 HR, 10 BB, 42 K, 7.61 K/9, 1.81 BB/9, 1.23 WHIP
Of course, that doesn't include the three inherited runners that were allowed to score in Friday's game by Jonathan Albaladejo (1) and Kyle Farnsworth (2), but were charged to Kennedy and Hawkins, respectively. Still, even if you add those three runs in above, the non-IPK/Hawk staff still has a strong 2.72 ERA.
This is all slightly meaningless, of course, given the small sample (only Chien-Ming Wang has pitched more than six innings thus far), but it's certainly encouraging.
At the same time, one could argue that the concerns about the offense are legitimate. Look at who's hitting and who's struggling. Melky Cabrera, a young player primed for a breakout, is leading the team with a .364/.417/.636 line despite missing two games due to suspension. Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui are both making strong contributions. Bobby Abreu is doing fine. Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, Johnny Damon, and Robinson Cano, however, are full-on struggling, going a combined 10 for 71 (.140) thus far. You can be confident that Cano will get hot, though given his history it might take until after the All-Star break, but both Giambi and Posada are in their late-30s and have already missed games due to aches and pains (Posada's throwing shoulder, Giambi's groin). Neither is in tonight's lineup. Damon, meanwhile, is a very old 34 and struggled mightily for the first half of last season with a variety of aches and pains of his own. As meaningless as the above pitching stats are, however, these first-week hitting slumps are even more so.
Tonight the Yankees face Jason Hammel, who is only in the Rays rotation because Scott Kazmir is on the DL once again with an elbow strain. Hammel hasn't pitched since spring training. He had a 6.23 ERA in the spring, has a 6.70 mark in the majors, and a career 6.41 ERA against the Yankees. That is to say, he's reliably terrible, and is the first pitcher who meets that description that the Yankees will have faced this year (Edwin Jackson isn't much better in terms of results, but has the raw stuff Hammel lacks). All but one of Hammel's confrontations with the Yankees (three of four starts and both relief appearances, the latter totaling just one inning) occurred last year. In the best of them, an early September start at the Stadium, he held the Yanks to one run on five hits, walked none, and struck out seven, but he only lasted five innings as he needed 97 pitches to get that far. It's likely that Joe Maddon was thinking of Hammel yesterday when he used J.P. Howell to eat up three innings, thus saving the rest of his pen for tonight.
Hammel's mound opponent is Mike Mussina, whose 5 2/3-inning/four-run outing in his first start is about all that can be expected of him at this stage of his career. Certainly, Girardi will need more than just Joba and Mo tonight, fortunately they were the only relievers he used yesterday. It could be that we'll have our first high-scoring game of the year tonight. Or maybe the crisp Bronx night will keep the bats of both teams frozen for one more game before the Bombers head out to play 18 of their next 20 games on the road.
Yankee Panky #47: Tell Us Something We Don't Know
The first week of the baseball season presented a range of stories that provide no information out of the ordinary. Below are one man's observations of what can be taken from the general coverage:
• In this, the last year of the current incarnation of Yankee Stadium, we should be nostalgic at every turn, and re-live every great moment in the Stadium's history. Every living Yankee, past and present, will be asked how he feels about the new stadium, and what he will remember most about the old one.
• Joe Girardi has a tough task in front of him as new manager.
• With so much uncertainty on the Yankees' roster, with the greatest mix of youth and veterans since 1995, the odds of them missing the playoffs altogether are about the same as winning the World Series.
• Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens aren't great friends anymore.
• Based on the season previews of all the major local and national outlets, while the Yankees are still a focal point of many discussions, the Mets are not to be taken lightly. And did you know Johan Santana pitches for them now? This is a big deal, supposedly, because he was not a Met last year, they choked in September, and the fragile Pedro Martinez is in the last year of his contract. Everywhere you look, if there's a Met poster or picture, Santana's face is on it.
AROUND THE HORN
• I don't mean to sound like our good friend Phil Mushnick, but I don't understand why on Opening Day, there is a predisposition to make such a big deal out of firsts. Of course everything that occurs is the first whatever of the year. Do we need to be beaten over the head with it? They won the game, and that was important. YES did a good job of highlighting the fact that the Yankees have set a new MLB record with 11 straight wins in home openers.
• Speaking of home-opening victories, you'd never know unless you watched the game or went online for a summary immediately thereafter that they did win. Why? Because Wednesday morning, the back pages glowered over Alex Rodriguez's salary, specifically the report that he makes more than the entire Florida Marlins team. I thought A-Rod handled himself well in what must have been a tricky subject to have to comment on.
• Is it me, or during YES's Yankees Post Game Show, when there's a wide two-shot of Bob Lorenz and David Cone, if you look quickly it's very difficult to tell them apart. They have the same hairline. It's uncanny.
• Bronx Banter gets a mention in Kat O'Brien's story on Yankee fans' blog sites. Don't know if our fearless leaders Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran were solicited for a quote, but it would have been nice to see something there as a differentiator between NoMaas, RiverAveBlues, WasWatching and Replacement Level. We're a pretty tight fraternity and we all read each other. Maybe I'm biased, but I think and Alex and Cliff would have had plenty to add.
BACKPAGE WATCH: Yankees and Mets even with leads after one week. We'll see how long that lasts.
Until next week …
I Yam What I Yam
Yo, I'm a total nerd. I don't mind if people call me a nerd because I was never really a dorkasorous dweeb when I was growing up, so I can embrace the label without any personal scars. (The folks that tend to bristle at that label really were nerds and were ostrasized because of it back in their high school days.) One nerdy thing I love doing is hiding out in the microfilm room of the New York Public Library on 42nd street, scrolling through old magazines. On that note, I was geeked to find that I made the NY Public Library's most recent newsletter.
Oh, and I just had to give a shout out to one of our most loyal readers (and commentors): Happy Birthday to our man Chyll Will.
Here Comes the Pain (Dumb Nice)
Show of hands, how many of you out there were excited to see Joba Chamberlain enter the game with two runners on and nobody out in the seventh inning? Joba struck Willy Aybar out on three pitches, including a fastball that hit 101 mph on the scoreboard radar gun. According to Sean Brennan in the Daily News:
Did Chamberlain think his triple-digit fastball got into Aybar's head?
Leave the smarts to Joe G, son, everything else will fall into place.
The Yankees did not hit much on Sunday rounding off a lackluster first week for the offense. However, Joe Girardi was back in the dugout to watch Chien Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera combine to shut the Rays down and out, 2-0. Hideki Matsui's two-run homer was the only scoring in the game (batting behind Alex Rodriguez, Godzilla had three hits in all). James Shields pitched well for Tampa, featuring a diving change up that struck Bobby Abreu out three times. Wang was in fine form as well--his pitches were moving, he had good control, and his slider was particularly effective. It wasn't a great game--a sloppy fielding play by Robinson Cano (who later redeemed himself with a nifty double play), a botched suicide squeeze by the Rays--but it was played in just under three hours, good thing for the fans who braved the chilly and windy conditions. The Yanks are now 3-3 on the season, and look to salvage a split of this four-game series tomorrow.
Sundays with Murray
I can never remember a time in my childhood when my family didn't get the New York Times on Sunday morning. One time, when I was about nine and my dad was still living with us he sent me on my bike to get the paper. I had a heavy-framed, second-hand dirt bike that Kevin O'Conner was kind enough to dump on me for $25. I peddled over a mile to the local grocery store and then struggled to balance the bulky paper on the handle bars of the bike as I wobbled back home. I was so pleased with myself when I made it back that I brought the paper straight into my parents' bedroom. My father was sleeping on his back. I carefully placed the paper on his swollen belly like Indiana Jones replacing a gold headstone in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I thought it would be the best way he could ever get the paper--just wake up and have it there waiting for him. He jolted up and yelled at me to get the damn paper off of him.
I always had to wait until dad was finished with a section--the sports section, in most cases--before I had a chance to read it. Or if I read a section before him, I had to make sure that I returned it to the state it was in when I found it. During those final years when my father lived with us not only did I read the stat leaders on Sunday (the one that was available just once a week) but I cut out the full-page movie ads in the Arts and Leisure section. I still remember the print ads for Altered States, The Competition, Fame, The Shinning, Times Square, Popeye, All Night Long, So Fine. I learned how to become sharp at finding the "Nina's" in Hirsfield's masterful drawings.
The oldest name I know in print is Murray Chass. The Yankees, Times and Chass. I never knew exactly how to pronounce his name but I always remember seeing it. My dad pronounced it CHHHUH'ass, with a thick Semetic, CHHUH. I always said Chase in my head even though I knew it was wrong.
I have a great deal of admiration for all that Chass has accomplished during the course of his career. He's one of the outstanding newspapermen of the free agency era, specializing in covering the business side of the sport. I haven't enjoyed his column for several years now but I still have a certain amount of affection for him because he's the baseball writer I associate with the Times of my childhood. Hey, Ray Negron told me that Chass was the best ball playing sportswriter of his day. Said that Chass really ripped it up in the annual sportswriter's game back in the seventies. I know that Chass has become a favorite whipping boy on-line these days, and why not? he's an easy target who is forever adding fuel to the fire. But I sometimes cringe when I see the abuse he takes. It's his own fault but it doesn't mean it's fun to watch.
Chass doesn't like blogs, though he doesn't seem to know much about them. He has simply dismissed the genre outright. That's fine, but I think he sounds foolish. Jon Weisman wrote a terrific post about Chass, the mainstream press and the blogosphere this past week:
My roots are in sports journalism. I had my first story published in the Los Angeles Times in 1986, covered my first major league baseball game in 1987 and was full-time in the profession by the end of 1989, nearly 13 years before I began blogging. I value how hard it is to be a sportswriter, and I emphasized to Steiner today how that many bloggers rely upon the work of mainstream sportswriters to launch their posts. For that matter, I understand job insecurity. I was the hot new prodigy on staff in '89 - by '92, there was a hotter, newer prodigy, and I was on my way to being marginalized at the ripe old age of 24.
It is overcast and flat-out cold today in New York. What to cook? A stew, a soup, shepherd's pie, a lasagna, a risotto? Mmmm. While I ponder what to make, let me repeat that I think the Yankees will score a bunch of runs this afternoon. Chien-Ming Wang, the Yankees' stopper, is on the hill.
Let's Go Yan-Kees.
They said it was gunna rain but it never did. Instead the sun was out and it was a lovely, crisp spring day. Still a little chilly but the buds are on the trees. Some trees are already in bloom. So Emily and I had lunch at a cute Belgian spot in Manhattan and then walked over to one of her favorite places--the Container Store. Once we got there, I kept telling her, "You can't stop us, you can only hope to contain us." Then, I'd crack up. She rolled her eyes. Em calls me her Jack Tripper (Three's Company is one of those shows that was one of her friends, that kept her great company when she was a kid). Then I waited for her to set me up with a straight line so that I could say, "That's what she said," my other favorite cornball expression of the moment. That's a line I can't say enough. It always cracks me up. Em puts up with me and groans more often then she laughs.
Emily isn't exactly straight-laced but she is formal and dignified in public places. She is mortified if I talk too loudly, nevermind if I pull the old' knock-the-merchandise-off-the-shelf-for-laffs bit. Her eyes start to bulge and she speaks in short bursts trying to whisper, "Alex, No, what are you doing, don't--Hey, I'm serious." Today, I went to a shelf stacked with tiny little white ring boxes and started knocking them over. I picked them up and when I went to put them back I knocked more over on purpose. I had her going for a couple of rounds of that.
I like tooling around town with my wife, we have a lot of laughs. She's a country girl at heart who doesn't have the nature for city-living. The crowds, the traffic, the fast pace. It's not her. But when we are out together she can relax because I make her feel safe. I know where we are going and I am always watching out over her. I make sure to walk on her outside, so that I'm closest to the street. I keep an eye out on the subway car as she closes her eyes and rests her head on my shoulder. It makes me feel good to have her back and create that sense of security for her. Nice to feel like the man and to know your woman wants you to be the man.
After the Container Store, we were standing in the sun on 6th Avenue waiting for the light to turn. A Good Humor Truck was parked a few feet away, a hot dog stand next to it on the curb. A gray-haired woman wearing a black overcoat held a chocolate dipped cone in her hand. I made a yummy sound as we waited for the light. She walked towards us; the light changed, and we crossed the street with her. "Boy, do you look happy," I said. She smiled, a look of simple but deep happiness on her face. "Well, it's my first of the year."
You've got to love the seasons. Speaking of which, the flu season is still hanging over the Yanks who lost again to the Rays today, this time, 6-3. Joe Girardi missed another game, Andy Pettitte wasn't great ("I just didn't have anything today, man"), Jason Giambi hurt himself, and oh yeah, the offense came up short again. A waste of a perfectly beautiful day. I'm not sorry we missed it. Anthony McCaron and Pete Abraham kept entertaining tabs on the game.
Tomorrow, the bats will bring the rukus.
Diggin in the Crates (Rain, Rain Stay Away)
One of the most exciting events of the spring has been the recent launching of the SI Vault. Talk about an embarassment of riches. Dag. To my dismay, the site does not offer anything close to a complete author index, making finding stuff a frustrating experience at best. I can only hope that this is a temporary problem, because it would be a real shame for something as rich and varied as the SI archives to be needlessly difficult to navigate.
Still, here are a couple of gems for you as we wait for today's game. No telling if the rain will mess with things this afternoon. It's warm and foggy this morning and the sun is even shinning here and there in the Bronx. I'm gunna throw up this game thread now cause I won't be around for the start of the game. If they get it in, Andy Pettitte will make his first start of the year. If there is a delay, grab another bowl of soup, and consider the following bag o treats from the SI vault.
Come Down Selector:
A Diamond in the Ashes: Robert Lipsyte's highly critical take on the rennovated Yankee Stadium (April, 1976).
The Play that Beat the Bums: Ron Fimrite's look back at the Mickey Owens game and the 1941 season (October, 1997).
Mickey Mantle: Richard Hoffer's piece on the legacy of the last great player on the last great team (August, 1995).
A Real Rap Session: Peter Gammons talks hitting with Ted Williams, Don Mattingly and Wade Boggs from the Baseball Preivew issue (April, 1986).
Yogi: Roy Blount's takeout piece on the Yankee legend (April, 1984).
No Place in the Shade: Mark Kram considered this portrait of Cool Papa Bell to be his finest work for SI (August, 1973). And while we're on Kram, check out A Wink at a Homely Girl, his wonderful piece about his hometown Baltimore that appeared on the eve of the '66 World Serious (October, 1966).
Laughing on the Outside: John Schulian's fine appreciation of the great Josh Gibson (June, 2000).
And finally, He Does it By the Numbers: Dan Okren't landmark essay, you know, the one that "discovered" Bill James (March, 1981).
There, that should keep you busy for more than a minute.
Under the Weather (You Be Illin')
The rain held out on Friday night but Joe Girardi missed the fourth game of the season anyhow with the flu. On the YES broadcast, Michael Kay reported that Girardi was at the Stadium, suffering in his office. Then Ian Kennedy went out and pitched something like the way his manager must be feeling. It sure wasn't pretty. Kennedy had no grasp of the strike zone, threw seventy pitches, and allowed six runs off four hits and four walks in two-and-one-thirds innings.
His counterpart, Andy Sonnanstine, retired six of the first seven batters he faced before running into trouble in the third--everything he threw was up--when the Yankees bashed six hits, kicked off by a cheap-o right field homer by Godzilla, and followed by three shots off the outfield wall (Molina, Jeter, Giambi). When Alex Rodriguez scored from first base on Giambi's double, he had a wide, guileless grin on his face as he crossed the plate. It was a small, isolated moment, one that made Rodriguez look like a little boy. (It was easy to take pleasure in his enjoyment, something that is not always the case with Rodriguez.)
The Bombers scored four runs in the rally and then Sonnanstine went back to the junkyard, pitching six innings in all and retiring the last ten batters he faced. The Yanks got some handy work from the pen in the young law firm of Albaladejo, Ohlendorf and Traber, keeping the game close, at 6-4. Then LaTroy Hawkins was beat about the neck and face by Cliff Floyd and his pals. Pass the Robitussin, son. The crowd booed Hawkins and chanted "Paul O'Neill," chiding the poor guy for having the nerve to wear O'Neill's former number (Hawkins, who according to Pete Abraham, is an all-around swell guy in the locker room, is wearing 21 as a tribute to Roberto Clemente). When Hawkins was mercifully removed, Cooter Farnswacker replaced him and quickly served up a three-run moon shot to Carlos Pena.
Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay Rays
2007 Record: 66-96 (.407)
Manager: Joe Maddon
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Tropicana Field (98/100)
Who's Replacing Whom:
Jason Bartlett replaces Brendan Harris
1B - Carlos Peña (L)
R - Jonny Gomes (OF)
R - James Shields
R - Troy Percival
15-day DL: L - Scott Kazmir, L - Kurt Birkins, R - Chad Orvella, S - Ben Zobrist (IF)
L - Akinori Iwamura (2B)
Saying Good-Bye to the Old Stadium
The last Opening Day game at Yankee Stadium has already been treated with several heaping measures of media coverage. We can expect that level of coverage to be ramped up even higher—applied full throttle both locally and nationally—to the final regular season game scheduled for the Stadium later this year.
In contrast, the final game at the old Yankee Stadium was treated with relatively little fanfare. Only 32,238 fans showed up for the 1973 finale; barring a tornado, there will be a full house for the final game of 2008, scheduled for September 21 against the Orioles. Of course, there were several factors at play back in 1973. ESPN, Fox Sports, and the World Wide Web had not yet come into existence. (I’m not sure if Alex Belth, Cliff Corcoran, Emma Span or Will Weiss had even been born yet!) The Yankees were mired in the middle of their mediocrity phase, nine seasons removed from their last postseason appearance and still three years away from their first American League East title—and the start of a late 1970s mini-dynasty. And then there is the "reconstructionist" belief that the old Stadium and the new one are really one in the same, that the current incarnation was simply a renovation and nothing more. I don’t really buy the latter argument, not when you consider how drastically the renovation changed the look of the old Stadium, taking away the majestic old façade and those awful view-blocking pillars. (The pillars were necessary, though, in keeping the old Stadium from toppling to the Bronx floor.) The Stadium that we have enjoyed for the last 35 years, while still beautiful to these eyes, looks far different than the one that was originally created at the outset of the Babe Ruth Era in 1923.
Frankly, the final game in the old Yankee Stadium deserved a better sendoff. Although 35 years late in its delivery, here is a tribute to the final game at the original House That Ruth Built.
On the afternoon of Sunday, September 30, 1973, the Yankees and Tigers closed out their respective seasons with one final soiree before the massive two and a half year reconstruction of Yankee Stadium would take place. Although well out of contention for the American League East, the Yankees did have something to play for that afternoon. They needed a win to finish the season at .500, which would have given Ralph Houk’s final season in pinstripes some respectability.
Tinkle Tinkle Death Star
I have always been nervous about peeing at a urinal in a crowded public restroom. It is a leftover anxiety from childhood that I can trace directly back to my experiences at the men's rooms in Yankee Stadium. Not that I can recall any one traumatic incident, but the overall mood of the place--loud, profane, rushed, pressurized--still makes me uneasy, the place filled with cigarette smoke and the smell of urine and beer. So I wait for a stall just like I did when I was a boy.
Last night, I went to my historic first game of the final year of Yankee Stadium. It is the earliest in the season I've ever been to a game. Some cherce seats landed in my lap the day before, and so here I was, in the "rattle your jewelry" section down on the field level, standing in a narrow, grey stall, trying to concentrate on peeing as I listened to a young boy crying hysterically in the stall next to me as his father, impatient and frustrated, tried to get him to stop. The walls felt as if they were closing in on me like the trash compactor scene in Star Wars, and it occurred to me that one of the benefits of the new stadium will be more spacious restrooms.
Yesterday after work, I went down to the lower east side, between the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, to meet an old friend for a bite to eat. The neighborhood is populated mostly by Asians, Jews (this is the land of the Jewish settlements), Dominicans, and, increasingly now, hipsters. Hipsters with money. Which is where my old friend fits in (as fate would have it, his apartment building is just two blocks away from where my pal's grandparents first lived when they came to this country).
As I waited for my man in front of a playground on the corner of Essex and Strauss, I watched young Asian and hipster moms with their kids. I'm always intrigued by watching women with little boys. Sometimes, you will see women--mothers or nannies--curb little boys' enthusiasm, their aggressiveness on the playground. But that wasn't the case here.
One beautiful, but hard-looking young Asian mother pushed her son on a swing and occasionally looked at me warily. Another tall Scandinavian woman chased her son around a tree, and then led him to one of those jungle gyms that have stairs and a plank bridge and slides. She led the way and then waited for him to climb up the stairs. She stood several feet away as if to challenge him, but in a sweet, reassuring way. He then passed her and went down the slide. She followed, her long legs awkwardly bent like a stork attempting to sit in the kitchen sink.
I turned back to the street and saw a group of four boys, maybe all of 13 cruise down the street. The kid in the front, wearing all black, stood up on his bike, and cocked his head to the side with a cell phone pressed to his ear. He coasted through the traffic sign and his gang followed behind him. Just then, two Asian girls, maybe all of 10, walked past me. One of them clopped back and forth in that seasoned way of city kids, who look much older than they really are. This little girl, with absolutely no hips at all, actually had a switch, even though she had nothing to switch around. Man, these city girls are tough.
I listened to Slick Rick on my i-pod and stood in the fading sunlight. Old Asian women passed me, carrying transparent blue grocery bags filled with produce. I wonder what they'll be cooking tonight. Behind them, a hipster with a takeout bag in one hand and a Whole Foods bag in the other, wearing over-sized sunglasses looked typically ridiculous.
Then a little girl, maybe 7 or 8, walked by. She looked up at me. She had a good shiner on her right eye. Her face was round and quizzical as she looked right in my eyes. She was wearing a purple jacket, red skirt, white tights with little cartoon characters on them, and bright red shoes. Like most kids, she looked like she was almost going to tip over from the weight of her backpack. She was holding hands with an older, squat man in a green coat. Just as she looked at me, "Mona Lisa" played on my i-pod and I heard:
If you see me walking down the street
I looked on the ground and saw a little strip of white paper. A fortune cookie. I picked it up and it read, "Be tactful; overlook not your own opportunity."
Tonight, Phil Hughes, gets his first start of the season, the first chance to take advantage of the opportunity the Yankees have given him. Jay Jaffe and I will brave the cold and be at the park.
Let's Go Yan-kees!
Jays Press On
With a fake nail on the index finger of his pitching hand, A.J. Burnett was able to throw his knuckle-curve for strikes and dominated the Yankees for six innings last night. Mike Mussina had a decent curve himself, but not the yakker he displayed in some of his spring training outings. The result was a typical post-2003 Mike Mussina start: 5 2/3 IP, 4 R, 2 K. Though Mussina kept it close, it was obvious from the very start which way the game was going to go.
Moose gave up a hard-luck unearned run in the first. Scrappy David Eckstein led off the game with a sinking liner to the right side that Giambi knocked down, but didn't glove cleanly. When Giambi came up with the ball, he looked to flip to Mussina for the out, but Mussina, who had broken for the bag on contact, eased up when Giambi came to his feet expecting the big lug to take it himself. With no other option, Giambi did just that and his foot hit the bag at the exact instant that Eckstein's foot did. There is no official rule that the tie goes to the runner, but that's what happened. Giambi was charged with an error on the play, I assume for either his brief bobble or his apparent hesitation over what to do with the ball once he had it, but if Mussina covers, Eckstein's out. Giambi made another nice play later in the game, diving up the line with his foot on the bag to snag a Derek Jeter throw in the dirt for an out, and made a valiant but fruitless (and thankfully harmless) dive into the camera pit in pursuit of a foul pop. Back in the first inning, Eckstein was move to second by a well-placed ground-ball single by Shannon Stewart and plated by a flare over Robinson Cano's head by Alex Rios, though he would have been out had Jose Molina fielded Bobby Abreu's throw cleanly. In Molina's defense, he threw out both attempting Toronto base steelers in the game.
The Jays made it 3-0 in the third on a two-out walk to Rios and a two-run Vernon Wells homer to left on a hanging slider that Mussina said was his worst slider of the game. They then added on in the sixth, despite Johnny Damon snagging a would-be wall-scraping homer by Rios to start the inning. Wells followed that out with a single and was pushed to second when a Mussina changeup (Mussina called it a "lazy curve") appeared to nick the bill of Frank Thomas's helmet. Mussina then got Lyle Overbay to fly out for the second out and got ahead of Aaron Hill 0-2, but Hill singled Wells home on a fat 84-mile-per-hour fastball up in the zone, bringing Joe Girardi out of the dugout to make the first mid-inning pitching change of his Yankee career. LaTroy Hawkins got the third on out a fly ball with a single pitch to Marco Scutaro, proving that Girardi is a managerial genius. Unfortunately, the Jays added another run against Hawkins in the seventh when Rod Barajas hit a ground-ball double down the right field line, moved to third on an Eckstein grounder, and scored on a single by Rios.
Burnett, meanwhile, allowed just four singles through six innings and didn't walk a man nor allow a Yankee past first base until the seventh, when Bobby Abreu led off with a walk and Alex Rodriguez followed with a two-run bomb to dead center. That shot drove Burnett from the game, but Toronto relievers Brian Tallet (two perfect innings, 4 Ks) and Jeremy Accardo were no more generous. The Yanks made thingS interesting against Accardo in the bottom of the ninth when Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu led off with singles to put men on first and second and bring the tying run to the plate, but Alex Rodriguez struck out at the end of a tense six-pitch at-bat, Jason Giambi hit a 390-foot fly out to the 399-foot sign in center, and Robinson Cano flied out to left on the first pitch he saw to give the Jays a 5-2 win.
Tonight Mike Mussina will begin his 18th major league season and his eighth as a New York Yankee. Regardless of how he performs this year, it will likely be his last as a Yankee, as he is in the second year of the two-year contract he signed following the 2006 season. At age 39, if he struggles the way he did last year, it could prove to be his last year in the majors as well.
In the winter following the Yankees' last World Series win, the two big free agents were Manny Ramirez and Mike Mussina. The 2000 season saw David Cone post a 6.91 ERA in his final year as a Yankee and Denny Neagle post a 5.81 mark after coming to the Bronx from Cincinnati in a mid-July deal. With a rotation just three-men deep and no apparent reinforcements on the way from the then-barren farm system, the Yankees made the correct choice by signing the 32-year-old Mussina to a six-year deal worth $88.5 million. The 28-year-old Ramirez, a Washington Heights native who longed to play in the Bronx, instead landed with the rival Red Sox for $168 million over eight years. In those eight years, both men have helped their teams to a pair of World Series appearances, but Mussina's Yankees lost both times (despite going 2-1 in the three games Mussina pitched in those two Series), while Ramirez's Red Sox won both times, with Ramirez claiming the MVP trophy in the team's curse-breaking victory in 2004.
Mussina pitched well enough to earn the Cy Young award in his first year as a Yankee, but the award instead went to his rotation-mate Roger Clemens, who won 16 straight games to arrive at a 20-1 record on September 19 thanks to a handful of convenient no-decisions while Mussina went 17-11 with more than a run and a half less offensive support per game. In his first postseason with the Yankees, Mussina pitched well in three of his four starts, most memorably in the "Jeter flip" game in Oakland with the Yankees facing elimination in the ALDS. Mussina also struck out ten Diamondbacks in eight innings of two-run ball in Game 5 of that year's World Series, but his performance was overshadowed by the fans' chanting of Paul O'Neill's name, Scott Brosius's game-tying ninth-inning home run, and the Yankees' eventual twelfth-inning victory.
In his first three seasons with the Yankees, Mussina posted a 3.52 ERA and struck out 8.07 men per nine innings against just 1.78 walks, he averaged nearly 220 innings a year, more than 6 2/3 innings per start, and more than 17 wins a year despite never reaching the magic total of 20. Since then, however, he's been a different pitcher.
Since out-dueling Josh Beckett in Game 3 of the 2003 World Series, Mussina has posted a regular season ERA of 4.36, struck out a more pedestrian 6.97 men per nine innings (against a still-stellar 2.04 walks), and averaged just 173 1/3 innings per year and less than six innings per start. Take away his strong performance in April and May of 2006, when he briefly managed to compensate for his decreasing velocity with a Bugs Bunny changeup that would occasionally dip below 70 miles per hour, and things look even worse. Prior to 2004, Mussina had never posted an ERA below league average and only come close to average on two occasions. In the past four years, he's only been above average once, and that was largely due to those two strong months in 2006.
Last year, Mussina struggled through his worst major league season. After getting rocked in his season debut in the bitter cold of the Bronx, he pulled a hamstring in the second inning of his next start and missed three weeks. After returning, he was more of the same, posting a 4.25 ERA, averaging six innings per start exactly, and striking out just 5.22 men per nine innings. Then, facing the Tigers at home on August 16, the bottom fell out. Mussina gave up seven runs in five innings in that start, then 13 more in 4 2/3 innings between his next two starts combined while striking out just three men total in the three outings. Things were so ugly that Joe Torre, in the heat of his final pennant race as the Yankee skipper, was all but forced to pull Mussina from the rotation in favor of rookie and first-year professional Ian Kennedy.
Kennedy pitched well, giving Mussina a two-week rest during which his only game action was a poor relief outing in an early September loss. The break seemed to do Moose some good. When Roger Clemens' elbow discomfort forced Mussina back into the rotation, Moose returned with three strong starts, winning all three with a 1.37 ERA and lasting a full seven frames in the latter two, but he closed the regular season with another five-inning stinker. Faced with starting Mussina in Game 4 of the ALDS while facing elimination, Torre opted to give the ball to Chien-Ming Wang on three-days' rest, a decision I supported. Wang was awful and Mussina came in to relieve in the second, but Moose allowed a pair of inherited runners to score, then coughed up two more runs of his own. That was enough to make the difference in the Yankees' eventual 6-4 loss.
At his peak, Mussina threw in the low-90s with a devastating knuckle-curveball. This spring, he had several starts in which he had command of a monstrous curve, but his velocity was topping out in the mid-80s. Even with two rookies in the rotation, Mike Mussina is no better than the Yankees' fifth starter. He starts the second game of the season tonight because of seniority and Andy Pettitte's balky back. With Moose unlikely to make it out of the sixth, both Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera having pitched last night, and the Yankees in the second of 20 straight games to open the year, we should get our first informative look at Joe Girardi's bullpen moves tonight.
Facing Mussina is A.J. Burnett, who dominated the Yankees in his two starts against them last year, allowing just one run (a Johnny Damon solo homer) in 15 innings while striking out 13 and allowing just seven other hits. Burnett has a similar repertoire to Mussina (fastball, knuckle-curve, change), but has at least ten more miles per hour on his heater, which is no small difference. In contrast to Mussina's success with his curve this spring, the oft-injured Burnett had an awful spring (7.36 ERA, just 8 Ks against 9 walks in 18 1/3 innings), which stemmed from a November incident in which Burnett slammed his pitching hand in a car door, breaking the nail on his index finger. With the nail still healing, Burnett was unable to throw his knuckle-curve until the end of spring training. That forced him to spend more time on his changeup, which could be to his benefit as the season progresses, but clearly wasn't doing him much good in Florida. The key to tonight's game will thus be each starter's effectiveness with his curve, which means we could know pretty early on what kind of game to expect.
Okay, so if you could go back in time and attend any event at Yankee Stadium what would it be? The Louis-Schmelling rematch? Reggie's three-dinger game? Chambliss's pennant-winning homer game? Which one of these?
Oh, and speaking of randomness, let me just say this: If I could go back in time and visit any place in New York City, I'd go to the old Penn Station and the Polo Grounds.
Finally, if I could re-cast movie history, I'd have Sean Penn play Ty Cobb, not Tommy Lee Jones. And while we're on Ron Shelton, I'd also have cast Gene Hackman play the lead role in Blaze, not Paul Newman. But more than anything I wish Art Carney had gotten the chance to reprise his stage role of Felix Unger in the movie version of The Odd Couple. Jack Lemmon was good in the movie, but man, Art Carney was in a league of his own.
Joe Girardi got his first win as the manager of the Yankees last night as the Yanks beat the Toronto Blue Jays by a score of 3-2 in front of a packed house in a beauty of a game in the final opener in the history of the original Yankee Stadium. Though it rained most of the day and again after the game, the weather for the rescheduled opener was gorgeous throughout, which was in part a tribute to the contest's swift pace.
As I'd hoped, starters Chien-Ming Wang and Roy Halladay were both on their game and produced a riveting duel through the first seven innings. The two starting pitchers got 28 of the game's first 41 outs on the ground, five more by strikeout, and one by caught stealing (Derek Jeter, who got a bad jump on Halladay and catcher Gregg Zaun). Wang got three more outs in the infield, two in the second via a humpback line drive to second baseman Robinson Cano, who doubled Alex Rios off first, and a rocket line drive by Marcos Scutaro in the seventh that Jason Giambi, playing in on the grass to guard against the bunt, snagged with a leap. That's 37 of 41 outs in the infield between the two pitchers. Of those remaining four outs, two came on tremendous fourth-inning catches by Yankee center fielder Melky Cabrera. The first was a drive to the 385-foot sign in the right-centerfield gap by Lyle Overbay that Cabrera caught moments before turning and slamming back-first into the wall. Two pitches later, Aaron Hill hit a sinking liner to the left-centerfield gap that Cabrera caught on a lunge, topping forward and sliding on his chest after making the catch.
As the stellar defensive play behind Wang indicates, Halladay was the sharper of the two pitchers, but also the less fortunate. The Yankees got out to an early lead in the bottom of the first on a two-out Bobby Abreu single and a double by Alex Rodriguez that scored Abreu from first, but the Jays tied it up right away in the top of the second on a pair of singles by Frank Thomas and Lyle Overbay (the latter of which was a hard grounder hit to Alex Rodriguez's right that ticked off the third baseman's glove as he dove) and a fielder's choice by Scutaro. The two aces each faced just one more than the minimum over the next four and a half innings until the Jays took the lead in the top of the fifth when Scutaro drew a lead-off walk, stole second (his second steal of the game), moved to third on a single by Zaun, and scored on a slow Shannon Stewart groundout to third.
Melky Cabrera led off the bottom of the sixth against Halladay with a ten-pitch at-bat that saw him battle back from 1-2 to a full count, fouling off four pitches along the way. On the tenth pitch, Cabrera lifted a pop fly down the right field line that just cleared the wall behind the "3" in the 314-foot sign for a game-tying home run. In the top of the seventh, Wang gave up a lead-off double to Hill, but Giambi's snag of Scutaro's line-drive held the runner. Hill then moved to third on the second out, a grounder of course, and Wang got David Eckstein to ground out to strand Hill.
The Yankees mounted their own threat in the bottom of the seventh following a flair single by Rodriguez over Hill's head at second base. That lead-off hit was followed by a walk to Giambi. Cano then hit a chopper that Eckstein fielded in front of second base. Eckstein's momentum carried him past the bag forcing him to attempt to make a tag on Giambi, but Giambi froze in the baseline and ducked Eckstein's tag, forcing the Toronto shortstop to fire to first base in the hope of turning a 6-3-4 double play, but Giambi beat the return throw from Overbay, sliding headfirst and safely into second. A replay shows that Hill could have fielded the ball on the bag and turned an easy DP had Eckstein not cut it off, but as much credit for the eventual result of the play is due to Giambi's savvy baserunning as to Eckstein's aggression. Giambi, incidentally, had a fine game despite going 0 for 3. In addition to that baserunning maneuver and his leaping catch of Scutaro's liner, Giambi made several nice scoops at first base and cut down a lead-runner at second in the second by ranging to his right for a hopper and making a nice shovel pass to Derek Jeter on the bag as his momentum carried him toward the keystone.
With Rodriguez on third and Giambi on second with one out, the Jays walked Jorge Posada to load the bases for Hideki Matsui, setting up the double play for groundballer Halladay against Groundzilla. Matsui, who went 0 for 3 with three groundouts in the game, hit a skipping grounder just to the right of second base, but the ball hit the heal of Hill's glove on his attempt at a back-handed stop, and the Jays were only able to get Posada at second as Rodriguez scored with the go-ahead and ultimately winning run.
With Wang having maxed out at 92 pitches in the seventh (Girardi made the only mound visit of the game with two outs and Hill on third in the seventh, likely to tell Wang to empty the tank), Girardi followed the formula by calling on Joba Chamberlain in the eighth and Mariano Rivera in the ninth. Chamberlain wasn't particularly sharp, but he still worked around a walk and struck out two for a scoreless frame. Curiously, he used his curveball more than his slider. He used the hook to get a 1-1 strike call against Alex Rios, but Rios successfully checked his swing on the slider twice, including on ball four of his ten-pitch walk. Joba's slider was irresistible to hitters last year, so either the pitch wasn't working last night, or the league is catching up. That will bear watching. Chamberlain got Wells looking on bit of a hanging curve that dropped into the top of the zone as Rios stole second, then made quick work of Thomas, blowing a high fastball by him for a three-pitch strikeout. Rivera needed just 12 pitches to pick up the save, striking out Overbay, getting Hill to lift an easy fly to center, and inducing a mild groundout from Scutaro to end the game. Rivera then collected the ball from Giambi and presented it to Girardi, who was clearly overjoyed by the entire experience. He couldn't have asked for a better game.
My wife and I trekked out to Yankee Stadium yesterday, shelled out about $25 a piece on train and subway fare, then and sunk another $25 or so into some eats at the ballpark as we sat in the cold, misting rain for two and a half hours waiting for a ball game that was never played. Back in New Jersey this afternoon, the rain seems to have finally ceased and the sun is starting to filter through the still-overcast sky, but I'm not going back to the Bronx tonight. My wife is working late and, frankly, I'm too worn out and pissed off from our journey yesterday to bother, even though they should actually play the final Opening Day game in Yankee Stadium history at 7:05 tonight.
If you told me that, with tickets in hand, I'd pass up the opportunity to go to this game, I'd tell you you're crazy, but I'll only jump through so many hoops. As our president once said, "Fool me once, shame on . . . shame on you. Fool me . . . you can't get fooled again." No, I got to sit in the old Stadium yesterday and contemplate the finality of this season for the old yard. I got to see the bunting lining the face of the stands. I got to see the old familiar faces in the right field bleachers and chow down on the best Italian sausage in the Stadium, and I'll be back there on Sunday to see Chien-Ming Wang match up against a star pitcher from a division rival, so I don't need to endure the cold, the wind, and the remaining wet, and I don't need to endure the crowds or the four-hour round trip on public transit necessitated by the parking crunch created by the construction of the new Stadium.
I will, however, happily and eagerly tune in the high-definition broadcast on YES from the warm and convenient comfort of my living room. I've also happily passed on my tickets to a good friend (and reader), so as to not rob anyone of the opportunity to see the game in person.
The Yanks will do tonight what they intended to do yesterday, complete with ceremonies and fanfare, and though my bitterness over the team's mishandling of yesterday's game keeps telling me it will lack some of the excitement we all expected yesterday because of the delay, the fact that it will be played at night under the lights, and the fact that the stands are unlikely to be full due to others who were similarly either unable or unwilling to alter their Tuesday schedules, deep down I doubt it will be diminished much at all.
Most of all, the game still promises a stellar pitching match-up, with ace Roy Halladay taking the mound for the Blue Jays and groundballer extraordinaire Chien-Ming Wang starting for the Yankees. Given the fact that the ground has been softened by two days of rain, if both men are on their game, their outfielders may need to find new ways to occupy themselves in the pastures this evening. I, for one, would love something along the lines of this two-hour and eight-minute gem from three Aprils ago, provided it concludes with the opposite result.
While we're still waiting for the first pitch, here are a few items worth mentioning from the past few days:
Wick Wick Wack
Unlike many of my colleagues I did not grow up reading the Bill James Abstracts. I wasn't interested in numbers (I was given a copy of The Hidden Game of Baseball for my birthday when I was ten or eleven and didn't open the book until I was over thirty). I didn't read Bill James until about eight years ago when I inherited my cousin's collection of the Abstracts. I still wasn't especially interested in numbers (though is arguments were appealing), but I found James to be a wonderful critic and lucid writer (hey, I used to read Ruth Reichl's restaurant reviews all the time even though I never intended to go to any of the places she wrote about, I just liked reading her). In fact, the first post ever here at Bronx Banter was about the Red Sox hiring of James.
Which brings me to the 60 Minutes segment on James that was aired this past Sunday. Anyone catch it? I thought it was superficial at best. The worst part about it was that it divided baseball people into two groups--stat heads and the people who go by their "gut," by what their eyes tell them. In other words, the same, tired, old song. You would figure that 60 Minutes would be above this uninspired kind of journalism, even though they are a populist program. Billy Beane was mentioned as the man who brought sabermetrics to organized baseball. Nevermind Sandy Alderson, or Branch Rickey. Forget about Allan Roth. I guess it didn't fit their narrow profile, which didn't shed much light on the Red Sox or James.
Joe Posnanski has a good blog entry about the 60 Minutes piece over at his blog:
There were numerous silly moments, my favorite being when Morley Safer whose first piece for 60 Minutes was, I believe, on Napoleon made his statement about how Bill said there's no such thing as a clutch hitter, and Red Sox Manager Terry Francona replied, "I've heard him say that (ed. note: very doubtful) but then I'd want him to be introduced to David Ortiz."
Veteran scribe Peter Golenbock is writing a book on George Steinbrenner. Peter asked if I'd be kind enough to post the following request. Here goes:
Dear Yankee fans, I am researching a book on the life and times of George Steinbrenner. If any of you have any interesting stories about him, as fans, employees, or recipients of his generosity, I would love to hear them. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your address and telephone number.
Yanks, Jays take two tonight...
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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