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.
“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.