"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: May 2003

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GOOD NIGHT SWEET PRINCE

GOOD NIGHT SWEET PRINCE

More from Lee:

Baseball Prospectus’s Will Carroll has just informed me that David Cone has scheduled a press conference for this afternoon, to announce his retirement.

With John Franco being activated, I guess Cone thought this would be the right time to step away. I’m sure he’ll give a hell of a press conference later today—honest and heartfelt.

Roger Angell has another chapter to write. I just wonder if George will take Cone back this year, or if he’ll make him wait til’ next year.

SHEA HEY Lee Sinins

SHEA HEY

Lee Sinins thinks that the Red Sox made a great move dealing Mr. Hillenbrand for Mr. Kim. Here is his take:

This is an excellent trade for the Redsox.

After 2.94 ERA/18 RSAA and 2.04 ERA/23 RSAA seasons as a reliever, Kim’s off to a 3.56 ERA/9 RSAA start in his first 7 starts. He has a 3.26 career
ERA, compared to his league average of 4.37, and 52 RSAA in 243 games.

After starting his career with -20 RCAA/.682 OPS and 5 RCAA/.789 OPS seasons, Hillenbrand’s off to a .443 SLG, .335 OBA, .778 OPS, 0 RCAA start
in his first 49 games.

Despite fooling people into thinking he’s a good hitter due to his .293 AVG in 2002 and .303 in 2003, Hillenbrand is bad at getting on base. His OBA ranks among the top 10 worst figures in the AL since he’s come into the majors in 2001.

…Hillenbrand does represent an improvement over Matt Williams. After having a negative RCAA 5 times in the past 6 years, Williams is off to a .391 SLG, .323 OBA, .714 OPS, -8 RCAA start in his first 43 games. And while Hillenbrand is a fraud when it comes to being labeled as a good player, at least he’s a league average one–so long as he’s able to keep his AVG high (the moment that goes down, his value plummets). But, instead of trading an asset like Kim for someone like Hillenbrand, the Diamondbacks screwed up in figuring out how to revive their bad offense.

…Meanwhile, Kevin Youkilis ["the Greek God of Walks"], the Redsox probable 3B of the future, has a .460
OBA down in AA (and no, that’s not a typo).

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

When I’m not watching baseball—or reading about it, or talking about it, I spend most of my leisure time cooking food and buying records (that is, when I’m not chillin with my beautiful goilfriend, Emily). Even when I’m watching a game, I am likely to have my head in a Marcella Hazan cookbook, while listening to the latest release from Stones Throw records. I also am known to listen to the comedy stylings of George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Cos, Albert Brooks, or Steve Martin when I fall asleep at night.

On that random note, the great Jazz critic, Nat Hentoff had a piece on Lenny Bruce yesterday, and there is a fun article on Patti LaBelle in the Cooking section of the Times this week that is also worth reading—not to mention a review of fine Philly cuisine (how is that for diversity?).

Pass the hot sauce, baby.

Let’s hope the Yanks can have a little feast of their own in the Motor City over the weekend. I’m excited to see what Jose Contreras will give the Bombers tonight, though I’m not certain that he’ll be great, even against the lowly Tigers.

Oh yeah, and not for nuthing, but my favorite blog entry of the week comes from John Bonnes, who wrote a very touching article yesterday. Just goes to show you, the quality of writing that people like John, Ed Cossette, Christian Ruzich, Jon Wiesman, Jay Jaffe and countless others bring to their blogs goes well beyond the game of baseball.

NERDSVILLE Tom Boswell weighs

NERDSVILLE

Tom Boswell weighs in on Michael Lewis’ book “Moneyball.” Homeboy even snagged my “Revenge of the Nerds” line. Needless to say, he loves the book:

Pretty soon, thanks to “Moneyball,” the whole sport will catch up to the curve – the learning curve, that is. And it’s about time

Dr. Manhattan also wrote a terrific review of the book that is well worth reading.

The New York Times Book Review section last Sunday was devoted to the recent crop of baseball books. Check it out.

SHEA, WE HARDLY KNEW

SHEA, WE HARDLY KNEW YE

After months of speculation, the Red Sox finally traded third baseman Shea Hillenbrand, who simply did not fit into Boston’s high-on base percentage offensive philosophy. Hillenbrand goes to the Arizona Diamondbacks for the versatile pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim. While the move won’t inspire fear in Yankee fans, we shouldn’t be so quick to lick our chops; this is a solid move, as Kim is a proven closer, and a decent starting pitcher as well. He is also only 24 years old. Anytime you can move a decent starting player for a good pitcher, you do it, right?

According to Gordon Edes:

Epstein deserves credit for being able to get what he did in this deal. Rookie Freddy Sanchez, who has had an outstanding spring in Triple A, can spell Todd Walker at second, and Bill Mueller’s other-worldly slugging has earned him the right to play every day at third. David Ortiz and Kevin Millar will platoon at first, and if Jeremy Giambi doesn’t start hitting, the Sox will add another bat.

”I think the Sox did well,” the NL scout said. ”The team is in the place in the standings where they want to be, and if I’m in your place, I’d do the same thing.”

Ed Cossette likes the sound of Mr. Kim too.

BUSTA MOVE According to

BUSTA MOVE

According to Sridhar Pappu in latest edition of The New York Observer, Buster Olney will be leaving the Times to join ESPN:

In an interview with Off the Record on May 27, Mr. Olney said his new gig would include appearing on television as well as writing for the Web site and ESPN the Magazine.

“I had other chances to leave The Times, but this is an incredible opportunity,” Mr. Olney told Off the Record.

…According to sources, Mr. Olney, 39, was increasingly unhappy with how the department was being run from above. They said he’d been distraught over the treatment of former sports editor Neil Amdur, and over the management decision to spike two columns by Dave Anderson and Harvey Araton on the Augusta National controversy. (The Times covered the controversy vigorously and editorialized against Augusta’s policy on women.)

Asked how much internal Times politics played a role in his decision, Mr. Olney would only say: “I love the paper and had a great time at the paper. Neil was great to work for. [New sports editor] Tom Jolly is a great editor. I wouldn’t leave if this wasn’t a terrific opportunity.”

GERBIL TO BOSS: WHO

GERBIL TO BOSS: WHO YOU CALLIN A MOUSE?

Somebody was going to throw a fit eventually, and who better to go nutzo than Popeye Zimmer? Yankee bench coach, and manager Joe Torre’s right hand man, Don Zimmer blasted his old pal George Steinbrenner yesterday. According to the Post:

“I hate to read the paper for 21/2 days that Torre is on the hot seat, that Torre is this and Torre is that and then for [Steinbrenner] to say that this is Torre’s team and I have gotten him everything he wanted,” Zimmer said in the dugout.

“What did Torre know about [Hideki] Matsui or [Jose] Contreras? I know Torre was probably instrumental in getting Todd Zeile here and he will be a good player. But now that we fail, it’s Joe Torre’s team. I think that’s unfair.

“I don’t care who knows it. We are struggling, and it’s Joe Torre’s team. For seven years it was [Tampa's] team. I would think we were all in this together, but you know that’s not the way it is. He is the boss, but I ain’t in prison.

“I never understood the split. I thought we were all fighting for the same thing. He is a big man but I was asked a question and I ain’t going to duck it. I get tired of hearing it. I get fed up with the talk about the manager. He won four World Series in seven years. To me, that’s a joke. But [Steinbrenner] calls the shots. We are struggling for two weeks and all of a sudden it’s Joe Torre’s team. For seven years it was their team.”

…”We all know who the boss is, the world knows who the boss is. But what does that mean? That somebody can’t say something,” Zimmer said. “You are supposed to clam up like a mouse because he is rapping everybody?”

…”If he wants to talk to me I have been here [in the clubhouse]. If he wants to talk about that, we will talk about that,” Zimmer said. “I respect him as the boss but does that mean we have to back off?”

…”He put the heat on the hitting coach, but this guy is here every day at noon and works his [butt] off,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know if he is a great hitting coach or not but he ain’t going to cheat anybody.”

Bill Madden, who collaborated on Zimmer’s autobiography, reports that the rift between Popeye and Boss George has been brewing since early this year:

“I don’t know what happened,” Zimmer told me recently. “I’ve been friends with the man for 25 years. We live in the same town, I’ve worked for him three times. We’ve been on trips together and we’ve been at the track together hundreds of times. Then, all of a sudden, I see him at the track last winter and he walks right past me, refusing to speak to me.”

Then when Zimmer got to spring training, he was informed he was not going to be issued a car as was the standard for all the coaches. A day later, that order was rescinded, but Zimmer had gotten the message and told Yankee officials what they could do with the car. Being equally stubborn, neither Zimmer nor Steinbrenner saw fit to seek the other out and mend their friendship, making it inevitable that it would come to this.

Ah, just another day of modern maturity in the Bronx. Still, since Torre isn’t about to go after the Boss in such a blunt tirade, it proves that Zim does more for the Yanks than sit on his ass and whisper in the managers’ ear. After all, what does he have to lose? He’s too old to care. Madden concludes:

In the past, when Steinbrenner has sought to get at his manager by firing one of his coaches, the deed was done without much protest, and everyone moved on until Steinbrenner got the manager as well. I can’t say with certainty that Torre would walk if Zimmer were fired, but I do know the loyalty and, yes, love that exists between these two men, and that’s not something anyone should ever take lightly.

NAIL-BITER IN THE BX

NAIL-BITER IN THE BX

Mike Mussina pitched brilliantly for the Yankees for eight innings last night, and entered the ninth with a 5-1 lead. Mussina was economical, and masterly, and while his counterpart Derek Lowe wasn’t terrible, the Yankees got to him early, and it appeared as if the Yanks would cruise to their second straight victory over Boston. Mussina came out to pitch the ninth, promptly walked Jason Varitek, and gave up a single to Johnny Damon. Enter Mariano Rivera and pass the Malox. These are the same Red Sox who have made a habit of late-inning comebacks, and they lived up to their reputation. Before you know it, the game was tied, and if not for a broken play—which resulted in Alfonso Soriano throwing out Shea Hillenbrand at home, the Sox would have snagged the lead. Instead the score was now tied at five.

I had a bad feeling after Nomar slapped a single right under Derek Jeter’s glove—how did he miss that? It is still May, and this is the time of year when the Red Sox win these kinds of games. I paced around my apartment, and thought of that somewhere Ed Cossette was sharing my pain: the same, but different.

With one out in the bottom the ninth, HI-deki Matsui laced a double to left field off of Brandon Lyon, and he advanced to third on a throwing error by Manny Ramirez. The Sox the intentionally walked Soriano and Jason Giambi to load the bases for Jorgie Posada. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had a flashback to last July when Posada faced Ugie Urbina in the same situation.

I was sure he would hit into a double play. (Oh, ye of little faith.) The 2-2 pitch from Lyon was called a ball, and the Red Sox were understandably steamed about the call after the game:

”It’s on tape,” [Sox manager, Grady] Little said, ”just like a countryful of people saw it on ESPN.”

It sure looked close enough to be a strike to me. Of course, Posada walked on the next pitch and the Yankees escaped with a 6-5 win. How could I not think back on what Allen Barra said a few days ago:

I would not be surprised to see the Yankees beat them two out of three, or even sweep the Sox. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, I’m saying it wouldn’t surprise me. The Red Sox are the only team right now, who are capable of turning themselves into a worse team than the Yankees.

WATCH OUT NOW I

WATCH OUT NOW

I thought I’d share some of the letters I’ve received from readers regarding the Allen Barra interview.

Here is what Bronx Banter correspondent Chris DeRosa had to say:

That Allan Barra interview was rich. I do think he’s caught something about Jeter. I don’t see the joy in him this season. I’m not talking about anything that’s gonna change Ws to Ls, but it saddens me, and I blame George.
For all the defensive woes of last season, we ranked 8th in defensive efficiency. This year, we rank 13th, ahead of only Texas. Nevertheless, in the second half, we’re gonna have two big bats back, Matsui adjusted, and a lot of shitty teams on the schedule. So I ain’t getting too bummed out about this horrible month.

Tom Fratamico, a Red Sox fan, has his own team to worry about:

Good point today on the Yankees schedule. They have already had their home and away series with Seattle and Oakland. These games do not come up for the Sox until August and will probably make or break their postseason chances. My head says this is a good thing. Theo and company have the time and resources to get reinforcements. My heart and history tells me to get ready for another summer flop. Yankee fans should be more optimistic than the Sox fans. We haven’t played the best teams out West, no pen, Pedro is hurt, defense is awful, Lowe’s ERA is around 5 and have won too many one-run games with the bats.

One of my first readers, Harley, a Yankee fan living in California, agreed:

…When is the last time the Yankees DIDN’T trail the Red Sox this time of year? And why should we care if they do? …The Jeter Backlash isn’t new or unexpected, but for the life of me, I’ll never understand the Move Him To Third idea given his power numbers, and for all his defensive faults — I’m guessing they begin and end with Range — he manages, time and time again, to be the player in the middle of the Big Play. (Fun Research Project: Compare Nomar
and Jeter’s fielding numbers in recent Yankee/Red Sox games, or just go back and look at the last time they met in the post season).

Here is Brian McMahon’s take on the Yankee offense. Dig his take on what should be done with Jetes:

The way I see it, all their starting hitters are doing as well as you could possibly expect, with the exception of Mondesi–who’s doing far better than we could have hoped, Giambi–who’s been fighting an eye infection, and Hideki, who may become the Yanks’ second expensive flop with that name.
The main enemy of the Yankee offense thus far has been injuries. In addition to Giambi’s pinkeye or whatever, 6 weeks each from Jeter, Bernie and Nick the Stick would be tough for any offense. Sucks . . . but you can’t blame anybody for that. If they were all healthy, they might score 1000 runs this year. But they’re not, and they won’t.

…Allen raises a great point about Soriano in the batting order. For God’s sake, why is he leadoff? I’ve been saying all year Bernie and Sori should swap places–it’s pretty obvious that Bernie’s better at getting on base and Sori’s got more power. Here’s my ideal batting order, with their 2003 OBPs and HRs (assuming no injuries):
Bernie Williams .397 / 7
Nick Johnson .455 / 5
Jason Giambi .345 / 9
Alfonso Soriano .376 / 15
Jorge Posada .366 / 12
Raul Mondesi .379 / 9
Robin Ventura .382 / 8
Hideki Matsui .308 / 3
Derek Jeter .343 / 2
Of course, the quality of this arrangement depends somewhat on Giambi’s BA coming around (thereby raising his OBP).
Yes, you heard right. DJ last. That means, of course, that it’ll never happen, but he’s just not a top-of-the-lineup guy anymore (on this team anyway), and I’d rather not have the complete sinkhole that is Hideki Matsui batting in front of Bernie.
Torre is a great manager in a lot of ways, but he’s never been an innovative one, and I think he’s too married to the idea that middle infielders are leadoff guys and outfielders are cleanup hitters. This is one team where it should be the opposite.

Thanks for all the e-mails, guys. They sure help keep the banter lively. Since I’m certainly no expert, it’s great to read and share of all your opinions. Whether I agree with them or not, I can safely say, I’m learning more each day.

Thanks.

JUST WHAT THE OWNER

JUST WHAT THE OWNER ORDERED

Jay Jaffe, The Futility Infielder, invited me to the game last night, and we had a great time as the Yankees beat the Red Sox 11-3. Jay and I were at the last game the Yanks had won at the home—a few weeks back against Aaron Sele and the World Champs. Hey, there is nothing like a streak, even if it is a figment of our grandiosity.

The Yankees got a solid performance from Andy Pettitte, who survived a couple of long foul balls in the middle innings (Shea Hillenbrand, Big Manny), and pitched 7 2/3 innings of effective ball against the Red Sox. The Yankee bats also came alive, led by Robin Zeile and Todd Ventura. Derek Jeter lead off the game with a home run, and Jason Giambi added three hits. What was encouraging about Giambi’s performance is that he drove two doubles to left field.

George was in the house and he continued to talk. He’s in full military-football mode now, as the Yankee brass will meet over the next two days to address the state of the team. Who will be fired? The easy mark is hitting coach Rick Down, who has been canned by George before. Who will be traded? Who will be shook up? (George wants his boy Contreras to replace Jeff Weaver in the rotation.) Joe Torre is taking it all in stride:

“But I’m never a good loser,” Torre said. “I never have been. I don’t yell at my wife, because all she’d do is yell back. I’m still lousy at it, after all these years. But at the same time, I feel a responsibility not to go overboard. Because if I lose it and start making wholesale changes, that sends the wrong message to the only people I’m concerned about – the people out there in that clubhouse.”

Two days ago, Joe Torre said that somebody was eventually going to take a beating at the hands of his slumbering offense. Welcome to the Major Leagues, Matt White. Making his big league debut, White entered the game in the 8th and allowed six runs on four hits in 2/3rds of an inning.

Nomar Garciaparra’s hitting streak was halted at 26 games.

There were some great duels between Sox and Yankee fans in the upper deck during the game. “Let’s Go Red Sox,” “1918.” As we were leaving I heard one Sox fan offer, “Who’s in first place?” I told Jay, “Who ain’t won shit?” I usually bristle at the nasty chants, but when you are at the game, they somehow seem more playful than mean-spirited (still, I get can’t with chanting that anybody sucks).

Oh, not for nothing but Godzilla Matsui gets points for selecting “Get Back,” and “Day Tripper” as he theme music.

I want to thank all the readers who sent in e-mails regarding my “two-guys-in-a-bar” bitch session with Allen Barra. A lot of readers felt that we went overboard in bashing the Yanks. You mean we sounded rash, and panicked? Say it ain’t so. New Yorkers acting a tad histrionic? Get outta here. I don’t think the Yankees were as good as they showed early, or as bad as they’ve played recently. They haven’t faced Baltimore yet, and their schedule gets easier in the second half of the season so they should be alright. But the doubts will continue until the Yankees make the playoffs and play well in the post-season. That’s just the nature of the beast.

I try to be as even-handed as possible living in a manic city, following a self-important team, which is covered by a carnivorous press. If I succumb to the Sturm und Drang of the Yankees, well then I guess I’m no different from your average New York Yankee fan. And there is nothing more I’d ever want to be.

BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: ALLEN

BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: ALLEN BARRA

WHA HAPPEN TO THE YANKS?

Allen Barra, the wonderful baseball writer/book-reviewer/social critic, recently joined the sports department over at The New York Times. Over the Holiday weekend, Barra wrote stellar columns about Roger Clemens and the 300 win club. I had a chance to speak with Mr. Barra on Sunday afternoon. Here is our exchange regarding the state of the Yankees.

Bombs away.

Bronx Banter: Are you planning to be at the Stadium on Monday for the Clemens game?

Allen Barra: I may be. I may have to finish a piece. I would love to be out there for it. I will staunchly maintain, as I said in my book–which I used as background information for the piece I wrote today—that Clemens is the greatest starting pitcher in baseball history. Or certainly one of the top three or four. There is no reason for not considering him in that group. If he had pitched from 1910 through 1925, he would have won 400 games. He would have been Walter Johnson. Or better than Walter Johnson.

BB: Well maybe the Yankees can score a couple of runs for him, God forbid.

Barra: I don’t know. This is a bad team. Of course, they are injury-riddled and I can’t understand that.

BB: You mean why they are getting hit with the bad breaks?

Barra: Why in the world did they wait to take Bernie Williams out of the line up? It was so obvious that Bernie Williams was hurting. Why would you not take Bernie out and get that knee fixed? Now, it’s going to cost them dearly. That was just a terrible, terrible decision by the team. How many double plays do you have to hit into? Their two most consistent hitters were Bernie and Nick Johnson, and now, they’re out. I don’t understand Mussina’s lapses. Nor do I understand what is wrong with Andy Pettitte.

BB: Maybe he lost the Lord somewhere along the way.

Barra: Jason Giambi, we know had an eye infection. I don’t know. Does he still have it? Jason Giambi was the American League’s best hitter for three years, arguably for four years. All of sudden, you don’t want him up there with a runner on third base? Cause he can’t lift the ball out of the infield? I don’t know what the problem is. I don’t know what has happened to this team mentally. This is the same malaise that gripped the Yankees with something like thirty games left last year. They played shitty ball against shitty teams, and they were just terrible. And going into the playoffs, I had no confidence whatsoever that they were going to be able to win. Even if Clemens pitches a good game, you figure he’s going to be down 2-1 in the seventh inning. All of a sudden, in the past year and a half, Derek Jeter can’t hit for any power. Soriano

BB: The freak.

Barra: Yeah, but he’s beginning to be a like a super version of Juan Samuel.

BB: Or Dave Kingman.

Barra: He’s more talented. Especially when you talk about his power and speed, but he can’t backhand a ground ball? He can’t make contact in key situations. Plus, this is just a team that is way out of whack. The guy who ought to be batting third, fourth or fifth, is batting first. Your lead off hitter is leading the team in runs batted in, doesn’t that tell you something a little screwy there? [Torre's ears must have been burning, because Soriano hit third on Sunday and Monday.]

BB: Could it be that this is the end of their run? Is this just the natural cycle of things catching up to them?

Barra: I don’t know. I do know that it is really puzzling that there hasn’t been one guy who has stepped forward on that team and taken charge. They are rudderless, and they don’t seem to have any direction. They don’t have any take-charge guy. The closest thing to that is Roger Clemens. And he can go only once every six days.

BB: You don’t see Jeter as that guy?

Barra: Have you seen Jeter out in the field? Do you see any sparks coming out of him? I’ve got to say that this is one of the worst defensive infields I’ve ever seen. Ventura can still catch balls hit at him, but he can’t move to either side. It’s just a terrible defensive infield. The whole thing was summarized by that game they played—who was it against? Texas. Batting in the last of the 8th, with the bases loaded and one out.

BB: The Yanks left a zillion guys on base in that game.

Barra: I think they left 8 runners on base in extra innings, but all they had to do is get one home in the eighth, and they got Mariano Rivera pitching [the 9th]. A hit would have scored two runs. Soriano is up there with a 3-1 count. Show some discipline, you know. If it’s ball four, the go ahead run scores, and you go to the ninth inning with at least a one-run lead. So he swings at two curveballs out of the strike zone, trying to pull them both. Jeter comes up. You take a pitch in that situation, don’t you? To get the run home; try to work the count. Hacks at the first pitch, and hits a routine grounder to second base. So here is Soriano and Jeter playing like rookies in a key situation. And sure enough, they found a way to lose the game. And they don’t only lose it; they lose it by several runs.

BB: Those were the games they used to win regularly.

Barra: I’m just appalled at the lack of team discipline. Posada

BB: He’s a mental case.

Barra: I know that catchers are scarce, and that power-hitting catchers are scare, but god, this guy just goes into the tank sometimes. When he’s not hitting a home run, he’s doesn’t make any contribution to the team at all. And then there is his defense. Matsui makes that wonderful relay to Jeter against the Angels, and Jeter turns around and relays the ball home. And where is Posada? He didn’t know it was coming; he was on the wrong side of the plate. He’s in back of the plate. It’s little things like that. Everything they’ve done like this has come back to bite them in the ass.

BB: Is this something you think they can turn around?

Barra: No I don’t. There is something about this team that is just paralyzed. I mean it’s entirely possible that when they get all their players back in there, through sheer, overwhelming talent, they could win again. Sure. What could happen is that everybody could just revert to form. But I don’t understand why there isn’t one player on that team playing up to form. Mariano Rivera and Roger Clemens are the closest ones.

BB: Mondesi has played well.

Barra: The way they’ve been the last couple of weeks, the other team scores early in the game, and the game is over. Mussina can’t be a stopper, Wells can’t be a stopper. Weaver, I don’t what’s his problem. He’s not pitching anywhere near the level he pitched with Detroit. Matsui? I’m not going to complain about him. He’s dedicated, and he’s trying. They ask him to play center field, he does it. I’d like to see some more of that on the team, even if they guy isn’t hitting what they expected. Especially if he keeps hitting to the opposite field, I don’t care if he hits home runs.

BB: He could be more like a poor man’s Wade Boggs.

Barra: And you know, Jeter is not a good short stop. When are the fans going to realize this? When is the team going to realize it? Don’t go looking for an expensive, aging third baseman. Move Derek Jeter to his natural position. We hear all this fuss about moving Piazza [from behind the plate to first base], why don’t we hear that Jeter ought to playing third base, or second. He doesn’t have the range of a shortstop. He’s a terrible defensive shortstop. And Soriano is a terrible defensive second baseman. You’ve got two black holes up the middle, just sucking up runs.

BB: Meanwhile the Red Sox will be down five runs in the eighth and they come back and win the game.

Barra: Well, the Yankees used to be like that. I don’t know. I don’t understand how everybody tanks at the same time. But that’s what is happening. The Yankees have also gotten some terrible calls. On the relay home—the play I was talking about with Posada—the umpire didn’t judge his call on whether or not the guy was out—it looked like he was—he judged it on whether Posada was were he should have been. Mondesi hits a home run in extra innings and it bounces off the fucking foul pole—

BB: And nobody in the Yankees dugout said Dick.

Barra: Nobody on the Yankees jumps up and protests? It’s about time for Joe Torre or someone, to show a little old fashioned This team needs, god forbid—I’m sorry to say this—but they really could used Billy Martin right now. I know he’d burn himself out there after two years, but still I want to see somebody starting hitting somebody at second base.

BB: Posada tried to do that the other night, and got kicked out of the game.

Barra: I know. They could use a little more of that. They could also use somebody trying to work the count a little more. That’s the reason they were hitting so well in the first place. I’m so tired of these guys going up a just hacking. Or the other extreme of taking. How many times have you seen somebody go down with runners on base on a called third strike?

BB: Matsui takes a lot of strikes.

Barra: At least he’s got an excuse. He’s learning the pitchers. What’s everybody else’s excuse? This team cannot win without Jason Giambi hitting a ton. And I don’t understand what’s happening, do you?

BB: Not really. I keep looking for signs for him to snap out of it. The guy looks like he’s starting to put some good at bats together over the past couple of games and then yesterday (Saturday) in the ninth inning, against the Jays closer, he gets a first pitch fastball, dead over the plate and Giambi swings right through it. When he’s on, he murdalizes that pitch. I hear people bitch about, ‘Why doesn’t he just lay one down the third base line?’ [Giambi tried to do that in the ninth on Sunday afternoon] But I don’t think that is the answer.

Barra: Ted Williams wouldn’t do that either. If Giambi was hitting .290, with about 15 home runs, would we be complaining? You might say, ‘Jeez, he should hit one to the opposite field every now and then.’ But that’s not what is happening. A weak pop-up to left field with a runner on third base? With no outs? That’s where you need Giambi to get on base and bring the tying runner to the plate.

BB: The fans have been sitting on their hands waiting for something to cheer about, and with the Sox coming into the Stadium tomorrow it doesn’t get any easier.

Barra: On the other hand, the Sox may be the only team the Yankees can beat.

BB: Why? Just because—

Barra: Because they are the Red Sox. I would not be surprised to see the Yankees beat them two out of three, or even sweep the Sox. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, I’m saying it wouldn’t surprise me. The Red Sox are the only team right now, who are capable of turning themselves into a worse team than the Yankees.

RIGHT ON TIME I

RIGHT ON TIME

I shot an e-mail to Rob Neyer before the game yesterday, expressing my concern about the Yanks. Here is his reply:

What’s interesting about this game is that EVERYBODY is focusing on 300, which is understandable but a little silly, considering that Clemens IS going to win 300. It’s just a question of when.

What is in doubt is another division title for the Yankees. And if the Yanks lose today, they’re 2 1/2 games back.

Jeez Rob, don’t you know that George is making promises again?

Unlike the his team, George Steinbrenner didn’t go down without a fight after yesterday’s loss at the Stadium. It wasn’t a full-on explosion, but the fuse has been lit. According to Murray Chass in The New York Times:

One club official and one baseball official have said in the past few days that Steinbrenner is “worse than ever.” People in and out of the organization made similar observations last year, which apparently means worse has turned to worst. “He’s off the wall,” the club official said before the game.

Steinbrenner did speak with reporters after the game. Joel Sherman reports in the Post:

“We are still going to win this,” Steinbrenner told The Post when asked about the Yankees falling behind Boston. “I’m confident. Don’t bet against us. I believe our manager, Joe Torre, will get these things right. Mark down this date and remember I told you this. We are going to win. I believe in this team.”

…”I’m not happy with them,” Steinbrenner said. “We have to get straightened out. I think Joe will get us straightened out. It better happen.”

When asked if there was an “or what” to that, Steinbrenner replied, “We’ll have to wait and see.” However, when asked directly if Torre should feel in peril from that statement, The Boss responded, “I will not criticize him at all. He knows what has to be done. But he also has been given everything he has asked for. What he has wanted, we have provided.”

Make no mistake about it, George is putting all the pressure on Torre. If the Yanks fail this year, George will feel justified in hammering Uncle Joe. But don’t be surprised if Rick Down or Mel Stottlemyre go first.

According to The Daily News:

When asked if Jeff Weaver should be out of the rotation and Contreras in, Steinbrenner lowered his voice to almost a whisper and made a suggestion certain to raise Torre’s eyebrows.

“Yes I do. Right now,” he said, nodding. “Because I think that Weaver has gone to too much of a thrower right now. He was great in the bullpen for us before. Contreras is not that type of a pitcher. He’s a starting pitcher. All of a sudden you put him (Contreras) in there (the bullpen) – he showed me he can still throw the ball 95, 96. I kinda like (Contreras), but I’m not going to be the one to say it.”

Godzilla Matsui got the business too:

“All I know,” Steinbrenner said, “is that this is not the guy we signed in terms of power. This falls to my hitting coach figuring out a way to straighten this guy out.”

…Of the slumbering Yankee bats, Steinbrenner said, “I’d like to see more timely hitting. Giambi’s a mystery to me right now. We’ll have to see what happens there, but don’t bet against us. Don’t bet against this team,” The Boss added, jabbing a finger into a reporter’s chest for emphasis.

While the Boss was blustering, Joe Torre was as calm as usual. I caught his post-game press conference on ESPN, and Torre talked about how nobody was going to feel sorry for the Yankees. He said that the only thing that will snap his team out of this slump is for them to continue to show up and work hard. THere are no magic cures. He said that somebody is going to take a beating some day, suggesting his offense will finally wake up and revert to form. But Torre sounded as if he was trying to convince himself. He wasn’t defeated, or exasperated, he just seemed at a loss. Derek Jeter commented that this Yankee team hasn’t won anything yet:

“It was a perfect atmosphere and we didn’t show up,” Jeter said. “That’s the bottom line.”

…”Maybe that’s too strong, but we didn’t get him enough runs,” he said. “We didn’t show up with the results. The effort was there, just not the results.”

…”It’s happening a lot lately,” Jeter said of the losing. “Anyone who says it doesn’t happen to us a lot, this is a new team. That’s the bottom line.

“Everyone wants to compare years past to this year, but it’s not the same team as years ago. … We have different players.”

Where have you gone, Luis Sojo?

GETTING LATE EARLY… The

GETTING LATE EARLY…

The Red Sox mauled Rocket Clemens and he just left after five and two-thirds, down 5-3. Antonio Osuna comes in and before you know it, the score is 8-3. Clemens threw more than 125 pitches, and was ahead of a lot of batters, but the Sox, like the Angels last fall, spoiled a lot of good pitches, and demonstrated why they are scoring more than five runs per game. They had dinky hits, and then had some solid hits too.

Down 5-1, the Yanks put a couple of runs on the board to close it to 5-3. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, Raul Mondesi was up with one out. He hit into a double play.

In the sixth, Johnny Damon poked a two-out knock through the left side. Jeter put himself out of position by bluffing towards second—with two men out, why I don’t know—and Damon’s ground ball became an RBI single. Nomar Garciaparra later bounced a single up the middle, right in between Jeter and Soriano. Sori knocked it down, after Jeter waved at it, and held the ball as Matsui ran in from center and yelled for him to throw home. Too late. Another runner scored.

I could practically hear George steaming from my place over on the west side of the Bronx. How would you like to be Brian Cashman right about now?

You can hear “Lets Go Red Sox” chants loud and clear on TV. Think there is any drinking going on at the Stadium right about now?

It’s ugly and it’s gunna get f-ugly before it’s all over.

(Too bad the Yankees don’t have some red-ass clown ignorant enough to start a brawl.)

FLIP FLOP Roger Clemens

FLIP FLOP

Roger Clemens just retired the first three batters in the top of the first, and I’m going to do an about face in my approach to the game. Now, I think the Bombers will win today. If any team can help the Yankees when they are down, it’s the Red Sox, who are facing more emotional strudel and evil demons than the Yankees are. What’s a lousy little losing streak compared with Clemens gunning for 300 and 80 years of history?

So now I think the Yankees will pull one out. I’m flip flopping like a madman here in the Bronx. I’ll probably change my mind two or three more times during the course of the game. I’ve got more nervous energy than I know what to do with. Watching Wakefield float his knuckler passed the over-anxious Yankee hitters should calm me down, right?

LOST WEEKEND The Yanks

LOST WEEKEND

The Yanks made like Ray Milland this past weekend and got bombed—swept by the Toronto Blue Jays. Spanked, really. This after the Texas Rangers swept them last weekend in the Bronx. The Bombers have now lost 11 of their last 12 at home, and now trail the first place Red Sox by a game and half. They Jays aren’t an arrogant team, but they were smiling broadly by the end of Sunday.

Who stunk up the place? Who didn’t (Okay, Contreras and Hitchcock were good in relief)? This isn’t just a couple of guys under-achieving, it’s team-wide malaise. The pitching has been weak (Andy Pettitte, Jeff Weaver), the defense stinks (Soriano, Derek Jeter), and the offense is completely M.I.A. (the Yankees have not scored more than 1 run in an inning for 49 straight innings). The Yanks haven’t played this badly since the end of the 2000 season, and you wonder what has to happen to light a fire under their ass.

Joe Torre talked with the team on Saturday, but what these guys need is Paulie O to take batting practice on a water cooler (Zim would work just fine as a fill-in).

It was rainy and cold in New York over the weekend and about the only baseball fans in town who felt halfway decent are Mets fans. Hey, we aren’t the only one’s that suck. Hey, misery loves company.

For their part, Yankee fans have not been dealing with their team’s struggles well. They’ve become so pampered and so spoiled, they don’t know how to handle losing again. Many fans I spoke with are so pissed at the Yanks, they aren’t even watching them. Now, that the Bombers are struggling a bit, some of their faithful fans are treating them like step-children.

I’m not so discouraged by the losing—I realize what goes up must come down, and that eventually the Yankees will go through a period of losing again—but it’s how they are losing. For years if they Yanks were down 3, 4, or even 5 runs in the late innings, you always felt they had a chance of winning. And even if they didn’t win, they’d make it close, put up a fight.

For the past few weeks, when the Yanks are down 5-2 in the 7th, stick a fork in em. They are done.

You know who charges back when they are down late? The Red Sox.

It’s almost 1:00 on Memorial Day, and I was hopeful that today’s game would be called on the count of rain. After asking the fans to sit on their hands through the rain all weekend, you’d think George would give us all a break and play the game tomorrow. Don’t make the fans sit in this slop, man.

But they are holding out. The game has now put pushed back to a 3:00 start. George will be in the house; Clemens has invited everybody under the sun to the Stadium, it’s a national TV game, it’s 300. They are going to try to get the game in. But I think it’s going to back fire on the Yanks. I don’t care if it is the Red Sox—the only team with bad enough Karma to kick the Yankees back to life. They are pushing it. George wants the glory of the big win. It’s a set up.

I bet Rocket pitches good enough to lose—let’s say 7 innings, giving up 2 or 3 runs, and the Yankee O snoozes again, and the Yanks lose.

That’ll give George a chance to make his money, and get good and humiliated enough to finally blow his stack. I mean, that’s what is coming, right? A classic George shit fit. Mt. Saint Steinbrenner is going to erupt any minute now, right? I don’t know if he’ll just pop off, diss his players, his manager, and issue a lot of threats, or if Rick Down or Mel Stott get fired, or what.

I think the Yankees can recover—the season is not over by a long stretch—but the fat man is about ready to sing.

Duck and cover, folks. This season may be just getting started.

Bronx Banter Interview: Ethan Coen

The Fan Who Wasn’t There

I worked for Joel and Ethan Coen from the late summer of 1996 through the fall of 1997. I had been working as an apprentice film editor in New York when I went to work for them, first as their personal assistant and later as an editing room assistant on their movie, The Big Lebowski.  We were in Manhattan, at their office for the first six weeks; in November we went out to Los Angeles, where Lebowski was shot on location. After the film was in the can, Joel and Ethan returned to New York to cut the film.

In October of 1996, when the Yankees won their first title since 1978, we were still in New York, so the Coen brothers are tied up in my baseball memories. Joel had no interest in the game at all, but Ethan seemed vaguely aware of what was happening. His wife Tricia, who was the co-editor of Lebowski, as well as the script supervisor, was the sports nut. We stood on line outside of the Yankee clubhouse on 5th avenue to try and get World Serious tickets to no avail.

Ethan Coen’s favorite player on the Yankees was Kenny Rogers. “The Gambler” was like some half-wit out of one of their movies: well meaning, but hapless. The worse Rogers performed for the Yankees, the more shit he got from the fans and the media, the more Ethan liked him. We used to call him “Kenny Everyman” cause Kenny kinda looked like he could be just about anybody. A schmuck.

Nowadays, Tricia is in a fantasy league and Ethan likes to play the guitar. (He yodels too; in fact, one of the best parts of hanging out with Eth and Trish was that they turned me onto Jimmie Rogers, Hank Williams, Webb Pierce and George Jones.) I’ve spoken with Trish several times recently about her league, and she’s taken to it like a bee to honey. Ethan and Joel were been busy mixing the sound to their latest movie this spring, a big-budget studio comedy—a romantic comedy—fittingly titled Intolerable Cruelty. (George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones star, and the film will be released in October.)

I finally caught up with Ethan on the phone last week. But first, Tricia and talked some baseball. She was indignant that Torre had been starting Jason Giambi at the DH when he hits better when he plays in the field. Ethan was picking a guitar in the background, noodling around.

“It’s bullshit, man. He’s messing up my fantasy league team,” Tricia told me.

I tried to reason with her but she wasn’t having it, so she passed the phone to her husband, who momentarily stopped playing his axe. Ethan can be a man of few words. It’s not that he doesn’t like talking; it’s just that sometimes he’d rather not be bothered (especially when he’s dicking around on the guitar). Although both Joel and Ethan are definitely Jewish, and definitely New Yorkers, they are definitely not Jewish New Yorkers. There are a lot of meaningful silences; a lot of pregnant pauses that I assume has something to do with growing up in the middle of the country.

Here is an excerpt of our conversation:

Eth: Al?

BB: Eth.

Eth: How are ya?

BB: I’m good. Nu?

Eth: I’m good. You know, I don’t have any thoughts on baseball, though. I quit following it.

(Starts playing the guitar again.)

BB: You quit?

Eth: Ya.

BB: Completely?

Eth: Ya.

(Guitar playing stops.)

BB: Wow. That’s no good. Where did it all go wrong? I mean didn’t you play as a kid?

Eth: No.

(More guitar.)

BB: Did you want to play as a kid?

Eth: I went to games as a kid.

BB: Zolio Versalles.

Eth: Yeah, Zolio. You know. Harmon Killebrew. Rod Carew was with the Twins then. Tony Oliva.

BB: Oliva was good.

Eth: Yeah.

BB: Did you like baseball movies as a kid?

Eth: No.

BB: Do you like them now?

Eth: No.

BB: Has there ever been a good baseball movie?

(Long pause.)

Eth: No.

BB: Really?

Eth: Is there? I don’t think so.

BB: Bad News Bears?

Eth: Bad News Bears: Excellent picture! Yeah, yeah. You’re right. But just that one.

(More guitar.)

BB: Most of them bite. Field of Dreams was painful. The Natural was wack.

Eth: Yeah.

BB: You guys would make a good baseball movie.

Eth: I don’t think so. No, you know, Bad News Bears: you’re right. It’s a really good movie.

BB: Well, that was a great interview man.

Eth: You know what you can put down? You can say that I quit being a baseball fan when the Yankees traded Mickey Rivers.

BB: What the hell kind of thing is that to say? What about your boy, Kenny Rogers?

Eth: Is he still playing?

BB: Yeah, he’s still playing. He plays on your hometown godamn team for crying out loud. He’s on the Twins.

Eth: Shit. (Laughs) “Kenny Everyman.”

BB: Mr. Square Jaw himself. Kenny Everyman is as good as he ever was, and he’s even funnier now cause he’s older, and more mulish than ever.

Eth: Yeah, I should see the Twins the days that he pitches.

BB: The best thing that guy ever did on the Yankees was when they had the World Series parade, and after stinking up the joint all year long, he was up on top of the float hooping and hollering louder than anyone.

Eth: Yeah, he was waving a flag. Pleased as punch. with pride. (Laughs) That’s really funny. That’s good.

BB: Mick the Quick, huh?

Eth: Yeah, I quit being a fan when the Yankees traded him.

Well, there you have it: Ethan Coen is not a baseball fan. But that doesn’t prevent him from making good movies, or giving one hell of an interview.

Hope everyone has a great Memorial Day Holiday.

P.S. Joel and Ethan left for Los Angeles last week to begin their next show–a remake of the old Alec Guiness comedy The Lady Killers. It’ll star Tom Hanks, and according to Joel, “you know, well, a whole lot of other people.”

I CAN’T CALL IT

I CAN’T CALL IT

Ed Cossette’s piece yesterday about Curt Gowdy reminds you why good announcers are hard to find:

Gosh, even at 83 years old he ran circles last night around [Chris] Berman. Well, I take that back. It’s not necessarily that he came across as more knowledgeable of the game, just more natural, easy, more reflective of what it feels like (or the way I want it to feel like) watching a game. This is the total opposite of listening to guys like Berman who don’t really sound like they are enjoying the game so much as enjoying hearing themselves talk. I always feel like Berman is in a constant mental brain cramp trying to come up with the perfect expression or great turn of phrase. He gives me the sense that the game exists merely as a stage for his performance. And I shouldn’t single out Berman, as this is the feeling I get from most the “modern” broadcasters, though Berman is the best example.

While Berman et al make me feel anxious and uptight, Gowdy puts me into a deep trance. My very breaths become the ebb and flow of the game.

Aaron Gleeman added an excellent critique of ESPN’s Baseball Tonight crew, espcially his comments regarding Karl Ravech:

Now, all of a sudden, Karl Ravech (the main host) thinks he should be the one dispensing opinions, instead of just hosting the damn show. Karl Ravech!

The other night, when [Doug] Mientkiewicz hurt his ankle, Karl Ravech started talking about how the injury was going to “seriously hurt the Twins because they don’t have any depth.” I wanted to punch him through my TV set. The Twins don’t have any depth?! I don’t think it is hyperbole to suggest that the Minnesota Twins have more hitting depth than any team in baseball right now.

…Please, just host the show Karl! If we wanted to hear all of your brilliant comments and opinions, why would ESPN bother with journalists like Gammons and Stark or ex-players like Reynolds and Dibble? Why not just make it “Baseball Tonight with Karl Ravech,” since I’m sure everyone is dying to hear what some talking head that is really good at reading a teleprompter thinks.

What both writers point out so convincingly is how many modern announcers (or in-studio hosts) feel as if they are more important than the stories they are covering. I have the same beef with Michael Kay over at the YES network. He thinks he has something to do with the Yankees success, and he forces the issue, trying to make every moment melodramatic and important. The results are as campy as they are infuriating.

This is about the cult of personality. Announcers aren’t content letting the action unfold, they want to manufacture the action. Worse, they want to be the action.
Kay came up through the ranks as a beat writer, so he has a knack for stirring the pot. Primarily through his work as John ‘Silver Throat’ Sterling’s straight man on the radio during the Yankees great run, Kay is now a minor celebrity himself. He now calls the games on TV, has his own radio show on ESPN, and his own version of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” on the YES network. Like Ravech, his opinion of himself is completely out of whack.

Fortunately for us, Ken Singleton and Jim Kaat (and especially Paul O’Neill) love to rib Kay. As Kaat said the other day when Kay had the day off, “You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.”

WWJD? Carlos Delgado, and

WWJD?

Carlos Delgado, and Vernon Wells led the League’s best offense past Andy Pettitte and the Yankees last night at the Stadium, 8-3. To be honest, they spanked the Yanks, but good. Pettitte has now lost four games in a row—the first time that has happened in his career, prompting me to ask rhetorically: “Hey Andy, what would Jesus do, big fella?”

After learning that they will be without Bernie Williams for a while, it was a somber and soggy night in Yankeeville. Jorge Posada was hit by a pitch twice, the second time in the right foot. He was removed from the game, but appears to be okay.

On a positive note, Roger Clemens appears to be okay, and weather providing, he should start against the Sox on Monday.

Both Jason Giambi and Godzilla Matsui looked better at the plate last night. They each had two hits, and drove the ball well. The Yankees are going to rely on these guys more heavily now that Sweet Pea is gone.

Not for nothing, but I’m happy to see Carlos Delgado playing so well. He’s always been such an appealing player, and though his numbers dipped a bit over the past two seasons, he’s remained one of the scariest hitters in the league.

BUM BERNIE BUM You

BUM BERNIE BUM

You can add Bernie Williams to the list of the Yankees walking wounded. After struggling mightily for the past few weeks with a balky knee, Williams had an MRI yesterday that revealed that he has torn cartilage in his left knee. Surgery is likely, and it would put the Yankees center fielder on the DL for 4-6 weeks.

Ouch.

“It was just not letting me play the way I want to play,” Williams said. “That’s the most important thing. I’m trying to make a contribution to the team, and I wasn’t. I was hurting them – not hitting and not playing the way I’m capable. That doesn’t do anybody any good.”

I spoke with Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus last night and he said that Williams’ injury is not unlike the one suffered by Randy Johnson. He said that Bernie should return, good as new after the All-Star break.

Juan Rivera will be called up from Columbus and most likely platoon in left field with Bubba Trammell as Godzilla Matsui moves into center.

BEST IN THE BUSINESS

Buster Olney has a nice appreciation of the best closer in baseball in today’s New York Times. And no, his name isn’t Mariano Rivera. It’s John Smoltz. Atlanta’s erstwhile starter admits that he doesn’t want to be a closer for the rest of his career. Smoltz has been compared with Dennis Eckersley, who will most likely make the Hall of Fame in the next few years for his body of work as both a terrific starting pitching as well as a dominating closer, but Smoltz doesn’t see himself walking in Eck’s footsteps:

”It’s a totally different situation, although I’m honored to be mentioned with him,” Smoltz said. ”There’s no doubt that what he did as a closer, he set a pretty high bar. But I don’t think it’s the same circumstances. I don’t think it’s the same trend.

”I don’t want this to come out the wrong way, but from what everyone told me was that, basically, he was relegated to that role. He was struggling as a starter, and in that role, he flat-out flourished. I don’t think I was forced into this role. I felt like I had a lot more to give as a starter, but it is what it is.”

While Smoltz would eventually like to return to the starting rotation, what makes him stand-out from his peers is that he doesn’t simply rely on one pitch:

Smoltz has three extraordinary pitches: a fastball that was clocked at 99 miles an hour in San Diego last weekend, a slider that dives away from right-handed batters and a splitter that veers under the swings of left-handed batters, at a staggering 90 to 92 m.p.h.

…”I can’t really think of another closer who can throw three pitches and make you look stupid,” said Austin Kearns, the Cincinnati outfielder ranked among the league leaders in runs batted in.

Olney notes that Smoltz, like Rivera is an exceptional athlete. Both of them look beautiful shagging fly balls. I wonder how many years Smoltzie would have to put in as a great closer for him to be considered for the Hall. Perhaps Eck’s fate will determine how we consider Smoltz’s place in history. Or, maybe Smoltz will write his own ticket, if he goes back and has some success as a starting pitcher again, after being a stud closer.

Mmmm.

ONE DOWN, ONE TO

ONE DOWN, ONE TO GO

Roger Clemens muscled his way through six innings against the Red Sox last night and earned his 299th career victory. Tim Wakefield offered a nice counter-point as he fluttered knuckleballs passed the Yanks, while Clemens—who didn’t have his best stuff—pounded the Sox with the hard stuff. Jason Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra hit first inning dingers, and the score was tied at 2, with two outs in the sixth, when Clemens was hit in the hand with a line drive off the bat of Bill Mueller. Rocket stayed in the game and went right at Doug Mirabelli.

According to the Times:

With an 89-mile-an-hour splitter, Clemens struck out Doug Mirabelli to end the inning. He spun his arm around and pumped his fist twice. He returned to the dugout hollering. “You’ve got to hit me in the head to get me out,” Posada heard him say.

“He was fired up, trying to get us fired up,” Posada said. “Someone hit him, and he was still standing.”

Clemens was done for the night, but he didn’t go queitly. There was a heated exchange in the Yankee clubhouse after the sixth inning.

Gordon Edes reports:

”I saw him fighting Joe and Mel,” Cashman said. ”He said, `You are not taking me out.’ I said to myself, `I’m getting out of this room right now.’ This was Mel and Joe’s decision.

”Roger was saying, `Don’t even think about it.’ He’s a guy, you’ve got to drag him out of a situation.”

Raul Mondesi drove in Jorge Posada in the top of the seventh, and Robin Ventura added an RBI two-bagger in the 8th. (Ventura also made a nifty play to rob Manny Ramierz of a double in the 8th.) Chris Hammond worked the seventh and Antonio Osuna got the first two men out in the eigth before walking Trot Nixon. Mariano Rivera came on and immediately picked off Damian Jackson, who was pinch-running for Nixon, to end the inning.

Shea Hillenbrand led off the ninth with a fly ball to center field. Bernie Williams, who along with Hideki Matsui is in the midst of a terrible hitting slump, waved off Raul Mondesi with his glove hand and then dropped the ball. It was his first error of the season and Hillenbrand was on second base.

This was about the time that I started pounding my stickball bat into my couch and cursing wildly. (I’m sure Ed Cossette did the same when Jackson was picked off first.)

One out later, Hideki Matsui made a fantastic shoe string catch in left to rob pinch hitter, Jeremy Giambi of a double, the Yankees went on to the victory, and Rocket Clemens had his big win in Boston.

The Yanks remain in first place, now one game up on the Sox. They return home to the Bronx for a four-game set against the increasingly tough Toronto Blue Jays.

CRITICAL BEATDOWN

While Joe Torre offered words of encouragement for Jose Contreras after the Cuban got knocked around on Tuesday night in Boston, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre wasn’t as charitable. Jeff Weaver got an earful too:

Torre and Stottlemyre were both critical of the starter, Jeff Weaver, who has a 6.90 earned run average in his last five starts and was shelled on Tuesday. Weaver acknowledged that he was having major mechanical problems, but Stottlemyre said the issue was deeper. “We also have to change his thinking a little bit, whether he wants to be a power guy or a low-ball pitcher, which we think he’s suited for,” Stottlemyre said. “I think he’s a little bit in between. When he pitches high, he’s just another pitcher, another guy who frustrates himself making mistakes.”

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver