"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: May 2004

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Dirty Four-Letter Word

Work

As Mark McClusky noted earlier this spring, writing about how difficult it is to play baseball is a tired cliche. Still, as trite as it may sound, baseball-as-hard-work is a metaphor that suits me to a tee. More to the point, I am inspired by how much hard work it takes to play the game. When Derek Jeter can struggle as mightily as he has this season, I know it’s not because of a lack of effort on his part. He’s just got to eat humble pie like the rest of us. Actually, I feel good knowing how much work he puts into improving his game because it helps me push myself.

Sound corny? Maybe it is, but it works for me. One of the reasons is because of my own relationship to work. It’s not that I’m a poor worker–far from it–but I’m often a resentful worker. My sense of entitlement and grandiosity have a nasty habit of getting in my way: I’m too smart, charming and talented to have to work so hard, man. Aren’t I above this? Instead of looking at work as the key to eventual success and happiness I look at it as a form of punishment, an affront to my greatness. Plus, I get so wrapped up in what I want the results to be that I am unable to appreciate the process.

I struggle with this daily. It hasn’t kept me from busting my tail at my 9-5, or spending most of my free time writing a book. Yet I’m often so pissed off about having to do the work, that I exhaust myself, and find that I don’t have the energy I need to get everything done.

Writing is a lot like playing baseball in that it is simply very difficult to do well. There is some inspiration involved of course, but I find that writing is mostly a process of rewriting and editing and rewriting again. There is nothing glamourous about it, though it is extremely rewarding. My grandfather was a writer. He worked for the Brooklyn Eagle in the 1920s and later as a publicist for the ADL. When I was a kid he wrote a book about the history of anti-semitism in American called “A Promise to Keep.”

Recently, my father shared his enduring memory of watching grandpa write. “I don’t remember him at the typewriter, but I do have a clear image of him reviewing what he had written, sitting at the dinning room table. He made corrections by hand, and…he struggled. None of it came easily. It was very difficult for him.”

My grandfather wrote in a clean, succint style out of the E.B. White school. I was thankful to my dad for sharing that story because I’ve found that writing the Curt Flood book has been extremely hard. I felt comforted in realizing that for most people, writing is tough stuff. It ain’t supposed to be easy. Duh.

All of this started floating around in my head last night after I watched Joe Torre’s manager report on the Yankee pre-game. He was speaking about Bernie Williams and Torre mentioned that unlike Jeter, Bernie was not an instinctive player. Anyone who has watched Williams over the course of time knows this, but Torre meant that because he doesn’t have a natural feel for the game, it is that much harder for him to break out of a slump. Torre mentioned just how hard playing baseball is for Williams, and quite frankly, that’s why I Bernie’s been one of my favorites. I know how hard it is for him. That’s what has made his career so rewarding to follow. He had to bust his ass, and seriously apply himself, to get succeed.

I’m not ready to give up on Bernie yet, but even if he is close to the end, I’ll always look back on his career and be amazed by what he has accomplished, not by what he hasn’t done. And knowing that it’s such a grind for him helps me take it easy on myself when I find myself struggling, and fighting the process too.

Yanks 8, Angels 7

Up All Night

Just who do the Yankees think they are: the Red Sox? The Bombers are making a habit of winning games in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion this season. Amen, brother. They played a wild game against the Angels on a muggy and wet spring night in New York. The weather was a harbinger of a hot New York summer (“Dog Day Afternoon” hot, “Do the Right Thing” hot), and the game was delayed twice by rain. Kevin Brown was far from stellar, and Mariano Rivera blew his first save of the year. However, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez had three hits each, and Gary Sheffield drove in the winning run in extra innings to give the Bombers the “w.” Oh yeah, some guy named Ruben Sierra came up big for New York again.

I caught Peter Gammons on Baseball Tonight during the second rain delay, and he was asked who was harder to hit against right now: Franciso Rodriguez or Mariano Rivera. He made the correct call and went with Rodriguez. So would you believe that they both pitched one inning last night, both gave up three hits (Rivera allowed two earned runs, Rodriguez one earned, one unearned), and both blew saves for the first time all year? Go figure.

I was supposed to go to the game with Jay Jaffe but I couldn’t make it on the count of having to work late. Man, I hope Jay stayed for the whole thing. (I’ll link his report once he’s got it up.) While you are waiting, peep Larry Mahnken’s excellent write-up, “An Affair to Remember.”

The Angels are a great-looking team despite the fact that some of their best players are on the DL. They look every bit as good, if not better than the Red Sox (minus the sick starting pitching). My man Vlad Guerrero stroked an RBI double on the first pitch he saw from Kevin Brown, and later poked a solo homer to right off him too. (Brown’s stuff was up in the zone early.) For several seasons I’ve felt that Vlad is the Bizarro version of Alex Rodriguez. He’s as violent and raw as Rodriguez is smooth and polished. Vlad looks like he’s off the farm, while Rodriguez looks like he’s just off the runway. Off the field, he’s a withdrawn and demure as Rodriguez is gregarious and photogenic. Guerrero has heavy eye-lids and a sweet smile, though he’s not conventionally good-looking like Rodriguez. Actually, Vlad looks more like a goat than a sex symbol. (What are those creatures from mythology that are half human and half goats? That’s Vladi.) They are a fascinating contrast in styles, but are arguably the two best players under 30 in the game. Guerrero is all legs and ass, and he swings at balls and strikes alike. According to Jack Curry:


“Since I was a little boy, I’ve been swinging at everything I see that comes near home plate,” said Guerrero, who was at Yankee Stadium with the Angels last night. “That’s one thing I’ve never changed.”

The Yanks kept pace with the Sox, who beat the Indians in Beantown last night. And oh yeah, Rocket Clemens won again and is now 7-0. Yeesh.

Here come the Angels

Even with some of their best players on the DL, the Anahiem Angels are still the hottest team in the American League. I don’t have a fancy TV package, so I haven’t seen them yet. But Vlad Guerrero is one of my favorite players in the game, and I have to admit that I’m curious to see what this team is all about. John Harper previews Anahiem in the Daily News this morning, and yesterday I asked my good pal, California native Rich Lederer, for a quick scouting report. Here is what he has to say about Mike Scioscia’s bunch:

Bronx Banter: How is this team different from the 2002 champs?

Rich Lederer: Can you say Vladimir Guerrero? Vladi is by far the biggest difference between the 2002 and 2004 versions of the Angels. Jose Guillen, who was named A.L. Player of the Week on Monday, is another significant upgrade. The Angel left fielder had to be taken off the field on a stretcher with a sprained right knee and ankle after sliding awkwardly into second base on Sunday and is questionable for the series.
This year’s team has Guerrero and Guillen as compared to Scott Spiezio and Brad Fullmer. All the other starters are the same. Spiezio and Fullmer are teeny in comparison to these boppers.
Bartolo Colon, the other major addition to this year’s ballclub, gives the Angels a legitimate number one. However, he is not scheduled to pitch against the Yankees this week.
Other than that, the Angels are pretty much the same team that won it all in 2002 and went 77-85 in 2004. Health or lack thereof was the biggest difference between those two clubs and is likely to be the key to this year’s fortunes as well.

BB: Just how good is K-Rod?
RL: Yankees fans won’t want to hear this but Francisco Rodriguez (0.00 ERA in 17 IP with 28 Ks and only 4 BB) is even better than the pitcher who blew down the Bronx Bombers in the 2002 ALDS. In a word, K-Rod is unhittable. Rodriguez has one of the nastiest sliders in baseball to go along with a mid-90s fastball. Think Mariano Rivera circa 1996. When K-Rod enters the game in the seventh or eighth inning, it’s good morning, good afternoon, and good night.

BB: How is this team winning when they are so hurt? (What kind of competition have they faced?)

RL:The Angels are the hottest team in baseball, if not the best. The Halos are 9-0 in May after sweeping the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Devil Rays–the teams with the worst records in 2003. Playing the Yankees on the road and at less than full strength may prove to be a whole ‘nother thing.
Anaheim has four key players currently on the disabled list and Guillen may be on the verge of making it five. Reliever Brendan Donnelly (1.82 career ERA, the lowest among all active pitchers with 100 or more IP) has been out all season with a fractured nose. All-Star outfielder Garret Anderson (upper back stiffness) hasn’t played since April 22. Designated hitter Tim Salmon went on DL on May 1 with an inflamed left knee. First baseman Darin Erstad joined the ward over the weekend with a strained right hamstring.

BB: Who and what exactly is a Chone Figgens?
RL: This Chone isn’t for dipping in coffee, but he can be dipped into the lineup at just about any position. Look for Figgins to start all three games in CF for the injured Anderson. He is a fun player to watch and is reminiscent of Mickey Rivers. Like Rivers, his game is all about speed. Figgins has five triples in 71 AB and is 9-for9 in SB attempts.

BB: Do you feel that the Angels are as good or better than the Sox and Yanks?
RL: The Angels are very good, but they are not as talented as the Red Sox and Yankees. They can beat you offensively with the long ball or by playing little ball. In addition, Anaheim has such a strong bullpen that if they can get six good innings out of their starter, they are a tough team to try and beat in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. Colon is a horse, but he would be no better than a #3 with Boston or just one of a deep four with New York.
BB: How are they better than New York? How are they worse?

RL: The matchups this series favors the Yankees in the first two games. Kelvim Escobar vs. Kevin Brown Tuesday night and Aaron Sele vs. Javier Vazquez on Wednesday. The Yankees own Escobar (32 hits and 14 walks in 18 1/3 innings last year) and all of baseball owns Aaron Sele. Well, maybe not own. That $8.7 million he’s earning per season is being paid for entirely by Arte Moreno although I think it would only be fair if the opposing teams chipped in, too. Vazquez has struck out 15 and walked only one vs. the current Angels players.
John Lackey, coming off a shutout and four quality starts in a row, gives the Angels their best shot at beating the Yanks on Thursday. New York will counter with Jon Lieber, who may be the Yankees version of Aaron Sele. Lieber, who has always been vulnerable against left-handed hitters, is fortunate that the Halos can only trot out Jeff DaVanon, Chone Figgins, Adam Kennedy, and Casey Kotchman. The latter–the organization’s #1 pick in the 2001 draft–will be facing his first major test in the big leagues this week in the Big Apple.
Look for A-Rod to have a big series as he has hit 9 HR in 78 AB vs. the scheduled Angels starters.
Here are my picks position by position (when healthy):
C - Posada, NYY: By a wide margin.

1B - Giambi, NYY: Over Erstad?

2B - Kennedy, ANA: Do the Yankees have a 2B?

SSJeter, NYY: Two misfits defensively but at least Jeter can hit.

3BRodriguez, NYY: You gotta go with A-Rod although Glaus nothing
to sneeze at.

LFGuillen, ANA: Higher ceiling than Matsui.

CFAnderson, ANA: No contest over Lofton or Williams at this point in their careers.

RF - Sheffield, NYY, and Guerrero, ANA (tie): Choose your weapon.

DH - Salmon, ANA: Father time has passed both Salmon and Williams by.
SPNYY: At least with respect to The Big Three.

Bullpen - NYY and ANA (toss up): Two of the best in all of baseball.
Overall: Slight edge to Yankees.

Kim Quat

B.Y. Kim was knocked around by the Indians at Fenway Park on Monday, and by the end of the night he was knocked out of Boston’s starting rotation. According to Bob Hohler in the Boston Globe:

No sooner did the Sox hit the clubhouse after Kim’s second straight abysmal start — this time the struggling Korean surrendered six runs (four earned) on five hits, three walks and a hit batsman before he departed to a cascade of boos — than Francona and general manager Theo Epstein huddled behind closed doors with Kim, pitching coach Dave Wallace, and senior pitching adviser Tony Cloninger.

The message was clear: Bronson Arroyo would replace Kim in the rotation, taking the next turn Saturday against the Blue Jays in Toronto.

What remains to be seen is whether Kim reports to the bullpen, Triple A Pawtucket, or the team’s training and rehabilitation center in Fort Myers, Fla. The Sox gave Kim the night to consider the options.

In other Sox news, Johnny Damon will apparently shave his beard off later this month as part of a charity event. Hope you are not superstitious. And while we’re talking Boston, be sure and check out Gordon Edes’ piece on Dennis Eckersley in today’s Globe.

Yanks 7, Mariners 6

Donovan Osborne did his best Jose Contreras impression on Sunday afternoon, and was hammered by the Mariners in front of the largest crowd in Safeco Field’s history. He allowed six runs and didn’t make it through the second. But the Yankee bullpen held Seattle in check for the rest of the game, allowing the Bronx Bombers to catch up.

Alex Rodriguez hit a solo home run in the fourth and Jason Giambi added a three-run job in the sixth. The Yanks tied the game on Derek Jeter’s two-run homer in the seventh and took the lead for good on Hideki Matsui’s sac fly in the eighth.

Giambi’s home run was especially impressive. Going into his third at-bat against Seattle starter Jamie Moyer, Giambi had whiffed twice. With the count 1-1, Giambi fouled a ball towards first and broke his bat. He got a new stick and then took an off-speed pitch, off the plate to even the count at two. Moyer placed the following pitch right on the outside corner, but Giambi didn’t bite, and neither did the home plate umpire: full count. Moyer left the 3-2 pitch up in the zone and Giambi took a terrific cut and fouled the ball directly behind the plate, a sign that he narrowly missed clobbering it. Ah, there was his chance, the announcers said. Then wouldn’t you know it, Giambi smacked the next pitch into the right field stands. You can fool some of the sluggers some of the time, but you can’t fool all of ‘em all of the time.

Jeter’s home run was a shot to dead center, and it sounded great off the bat. Oh, and Matsui’s sac fly came on a 3-0 pitch! The Yanks moved to within a game of Boston, who fell at home to the Royals yesterday. Today is an off-day, then the Yanks host the incredibly hot (and hurtin’) Angels at the stadium. It will be interesting to see how they fare against the team with the best record in the league.

Catch Me Now I’m Falling

We’re playing muscial chairs here at All-Baseball today. I’m trading spaces with Mark McClusky, who offers the following piece on one of my favorite Yankees, good ol’ Bernabee Williams. I have a short write-up over at Baysball on my favorite (non-Yankee) American League pitcher, Tim Hudson. (I’ll be back with a write-up of the Yankees’ come-from-behind, 7-6 win over the Mariners later in today.)

Enjoy. —Alex

End of the Road?

by Mark McClusky

The decline of a once great ballplayer is one of the hardest things in sports to watch, simply because itís possible for that player to hang on in an active role longer than in most sports. There are so few great players in the game that even as their skills deteriorate, theyíre still more valuable than the average player.

I come here today at Alexís kind invitation not to bury Bernie Williams, but to praise him. I havenít had a chance to watch him regularly since leaving New York City in 1999 to move out to the Bay Area, so what I get of Bernie are fleeting glimpses, either in matchups against the Oakland Aís, or in the postseason.

Maybe my lack of regular exposure to Bernie is one reason for the shock I felt watching him in the six games the Aís and Yankees finished up last week. Because, frankly, he didnít look like a major league hitter. Bill King, the long-time Aís announcer (and one of the true joys of being an Aís fan), described some of the swings that Williams took at the Stadium when the Aís were in town as the worst swings heíd ever seen a big leaguer take.

He was right. Itís clear that Bernie is, physically, a mess. Heís had reoccurring knee problems, and heís got chronic shoulder issues that limit his range of motion. What that means is that heís not driving the ball at all. Itís a mess, as you see his swing breakdown even as he takes it.

Thatís all led to this line, which Iím sure you Yankee fans donít need reminding of: .197/.297/.262. Goddamn, Bernie Williams OPS is .559. Thatís Neifi Perez territory, and a shame, because Williams has been an underappreciated offensive player for over a decade.

I moved to New York in 1994, at the same time that the Yankees were starting to shake off the memories of the 80s and early 90s, and becoming a team worth watching. I bought tickets at the Stadium, upper deck right behind the plate, and got to see a team come together. Jeter came up, Wetteland was there. Paul OíNeill. And Bernie, the quiet centerfielder who was also somehow the stabilizing factor on the team.

I really do think of the first part of the Yankees current run as Williams team, no matter how much hype has piled up around Jeter over the seasons. They werenít teams built with dozens of free agents, and George had receded to the background, for once. Instead, those teams, culminating in the 1998 juggernaut, just went out and played hard every day. They were a business-like, almost corporate team, and some people never loved them for that.

Nostalgia for the Bronx Zoo days always seemed misplaced to me. The Yankees, at that point, were strangely likable, even for die-hard Yankee-haters. They played the game hard, and played it well. Something that didnít get noticed as much at the time was the emphasis that the Yankees placed on getting on-base; playing Moneyball while Michael Lewis was still writing about business.

In my time reporting on baseball, I never got a chance to talk to Williams, much to my disappointment. I know this is moving into some dangerous territory, but there always seemed to be a straight-line you could draw between Bernie and the Yankee icon to end all icons, Joe DiMaggio. I did get a chance to meet DiMaggio before he died, and you couldnít help but be struck by his grace and almost regal carriage. Thereís more than a little than that in Bernie. “Classy” is overused, but in this case, it fits.

Which is why itís so hard for me to see him struggle. Iíve always like Williams, and more importantly, Iíve always respected him. Heís only 35, but it seems his days as an effective player are likely over. Heís earned the right to go out on his own terms; I just hope that the Yankees, recast in Bronx Zoo mode, will let that happen.

Yanks 6, M’s 0

The Mariners hit the ball hard against Mike Mussina in the first two innings last night but couldn’t score a run. Mussina pitched out of jams in both innings, then quickly settled down and pitched his finest game of the year. Moose went eight, and didn’t allow a run. For the first half of the game Seattle’s baby-faced starter, Gil Meche blanked the Yankees too. However, they chased him from the game in the seventh as Rodriguez-Giambi-Sheffield and Posada hit a string of consecutive doubles to put the Yanks on the board.

The following inning, Bernie Williams connected on a 3-2 pitch for a single to center. After Rodriguez whiffed, then Giambo homered to right. Sheffield scorched a double to right field and Jorgie doubled him home. Done and done. Paul Quantrill pitched a scoreless ninth, which is great because Flash Gordon and Mo Rivera will be rested plenty for Sunday.

Watching the game, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the fact that Rich Lederer and I chose to write a piece on Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter this spring. Williams has traditionally struggled early in the season, but now that he’s older, it’s easier to say, “Oh, maybe he’s just warshed up.” Still, he’s bristling at called strikes every night, and that’s not like him. On the other hand, Jeter has never slumped like this in his career. Who knows why it’s happening no–armchair shrinks start your engines—but I can’t recall a time when Jeter has experienced this kind of prolonged misery.

He was called on on strikes in his first at-bat. The pitch was on the outside corner and it looked good to me. The over-head angle replay showed that it was just off the plate, still it was close enough to swing at. Jeter had a conversation with the umpire before he walked back the the dugout, which he is doing more than ever these days.

The following inning, the YES cameras showed an exasperated Jeter talking with his hitting coach, Don Mattingly. Jeter was going over that third strike, and he shrugged his shoulders like there was no way he could win. But the biggest problem for Jeter isn’t that he’s getting killed with the outside fastball–although, that’s been an issue too–it’s that he can’t catch up with the fastball right over the plate. His bat is slow. In that first at-bat, Meche threw a fastball right by Jeter that was down the heart of the plate. It’s only natural that Jeter would question himself if he can’t catch up with that pitch. Then they kill him outside, and that’s what he fixates on.

During Jeter’s third at-bat, you could clearly hear some Seattle fans chanting, “Over-rated.”

Another thing that I’ve noticed lately is that Jason Giambi just doesn’t look like a happy guy. When he’s on the bench and he takes his hat off, he looks tense and alert, not quite comfortable in his own skin. His body language is stiff, and his choppy hair and big eyes make him look like an owl. It wouldn’t be so strange if Giambi wasn’t so different back in his Oakland days, where he was the B.M.O.C., the rock’n’roll leader of the pack. Just by looking at the dugout shots on TV, I don’t get a sense of which players Giambi is tight with. They don’t seem to dislike him, but he looks isolated. He hardly ever smiles. I don’t know, he’s not the same guy. Maybe it’s the hair. I wish he’d grow it out ala Donnie Baseball–anything to loosen him up a little.

One last observation. Regular readers here are familiar with the fact that I’m no Kenny Lofton fan, but I have to say the guy smiles and jokes around more than any other Yankee. He’s playful, and his teammates seem to enjoy him. At least that’s what I get from what they show on TV. Maybe I could learn to like him after all.

Oh, one last, last thing: be sure and check out Kevin Kernan’s piece today on Dioner Navarro, the kid who is generally considered the best prospect in the Yankees system.

Curt Schilling was a beast for Boston yesterday hurling a complete game five-hitter, as the Sox rolled over KC, 9-1. (Pokey Reese had an inside-the-park-homer.) But the most appealing game of the day has to be Texas out-lasting the Tigers, 16-15 in 10 innings. Our boy Sori went 6-6 with 4 RBI. Deep in the heart of Texas!

Cooperstown Confidential

By Bruce Markusen

Regular Season Edition
May 6, 2004

Friday Night Massacre

Most Yankee fans fondly recall the “Boston Massacre,” that memorable four-game sweep of the rival Red Sox in September of 1978, which helped New York overcome a 14-game deficit in winning the American League East. Fewer fans likely remember another Massacre

Mariners 6, Yanks 2

Awww, Nertz

Brett Boone was out of the line-up for Seattle on Friday, but Edgar Martinez

A’s 7, Yanks 4

Eight is Enough

Javier Vasquez had his worst outing as a Yankee and after a rough start, the young Rich Harden handled the Yankees to earn his first win of the year, as the A’s avoided being swept at home. The A’s bullpen didn’t blow the lead, and Mark McClusky can digest again. He isn’t alone either. Even Yankee fans like the new and improved Steve Bonner weren’t too upset over the loss.

Kenny Lofton returned to the line-up and played well for the Yankees last night. Jason Giambi missed the game with a quesy stomach, and his back-up Travis Lee will be out for the rest of the year after he has surgery on his shoulder next week. Hand it to the Post for getting the scoop on one of the secrets to Jorge Posada’s success.

Elsewhere, after a tough first inning in Cleveland, Pedro Martinez was his usual stingy self, as the Sox beat up on the Indians. Boston finds themselves in sole possession of first place going into the weekend.

Finally, future Hall of Famer Michael Piazza hit a game-winning dinger in extra innings as the Mets swept the Giants. (Hey, you gotta believe, baby.) Barry Bonds played, and didn’t get a hit. But that hasn’t prevented him from expressing himself.

Yanks 4, A’s 3

When you’re hot, you’re hot…

When I got home from Shea last night my girlfriend was wrapped up on the couch watching the Yankee game. My sister loaned Em a stuffed animal of Marsupilami, a popular comic book character in France, a couple of years ago, and Marsu has been on the living room couch since the Yankees started their winning streak last week. I thought I’d mention to Em before we retired that the Yanks hadn’t lost since Marsu has been on the couch, but you know what they say about messing with a streak. (Oops.)

I saw Gary Sheffield hit a line-drive homer off of Barry Zito–he swung so hard that he nearly knocked himself off of his feet on the follow-through–and also watched the Yankees leave a lot of runner on base. The A’s were leading 2-1 when I went to bed.

I used to agonize over not watching the Yankees’ west coast games, but now, I actually enjoy the surprise of waking up in the morning and waiting until I get to the newsstand to see what happened. As you can imagine, I’ve had two excellent mornings this week. (For a re-cap of the game from a New York-perpective, head on over to Clifford’s Big Red Blog.) The Yankees did leave a lot of men on base last night, but they are a team on a roll, and they overcame their mistakes–as well as Oakland’s–and came-from-behind again, scoring two in the ninth and winning, 4-3. Jason Giambi hit a solo homer off of Zito to tie the game at two, and Alex Rodriguez added a solo shot off of Arthur Rhodes in the top of the ninth to tie the game at three. Tony Clark’s double later in the inning proved to be the game-winner.

It was another sickening loss for Oakland. Mariano Rivera allowed back-to-back singles to start the ninth, but retired the next three batters for the save. Derek Jeter sat out with a stomach virus, and Jose Contreras was demoted to the minor leagues. Ruben Sierra sat with a sore leg (though he did pinch-hit) and Kenny Lofton is still riding the pine. Other than that, everything is coming up roses and daffodil’s for the Bronx Bombers.

The Red Sox remain tied for first with New York as they beat the Indians last night. Cookie Monster hit two bombs, as Boston halted its five-game losing streak. Pedro Martinez will pitch tonight.

In other news, Rocket Clemens keeps on rolling along on his Magical History Tour, and MLB sinks to a new low.

I SCHLEPPED MY ASS ALL THE WAY TO FLUSHING TO WATCH BARRY BONDS AND ALL I GOT TO SEE WAS MIKE PIAZZA MAKE HISTORY

Alex Ciepley and I were in the Mets ticket office at 6:15 last night picking up our tickets (courtesey of Josh O) when we learned that Barry Bonds would not be in the line up. Without thinking I exclaimed, “Son-of-a…Bitch.” An elegant-looking security guard took exception with my vocal critisism. “Hey, that’s not very nice.” I surprised myself a little by the comment, but it was an honest gut-reaction. “Aw come on,” I protested. “He’s the reason we came all the way out here.” He repeated, “That’s not very nice.”

I got more sympathy from the gentleman who took our ticket at the gate. The guy was a dead-ringer for the barber character Arsino Hall played in “Coming to America.” I expressed my disapointment that Bonds wasn’t playing and he said, “Goddamn, you’d think you could find a way to play, even if he does have a little cold. Especially with all these people coming to see him.” My pernt exactly. “Hey,” I told him, “at least you get to be here tomorrow night.”

Anyhow, by the time Mike Piazza came to bat in the first inning, I said to Jay Jaffe, “Well, even if we won’t see Bonds maybe we’ll be able to see Piazza make history.” Less than a minute later, Yazzie homered to right centerfield to become the all-time ding-dong leader for catchers. There was less than 20,000 people at the park, but they stood up and gave Piazaa a rousing ovation. When it was over, Josh said to us, “That’s the loudest it’s going to get all season.”

We had expected it to rain, and with the score tied at the end of the fifth, it came down in buckets. Having no investment in who won this replacement-level affair, and with a long trip home to the Bronx ahead of me, I decided it was time to split. The game would resume by 10:00 and Shane Spencer homered to boost the Mets to an 8-2 victory.

As disapointing as it was not to see Bonds, I feel fortunate to have seen Piazza get his record.

Deja Tue: Yanks 10, A’s 8

Jose Contreras got his tits lit but good last night, and didn’t make it out of the third inning. But that shouldn’t come as a great surprise. However, the full moon must have been in effect anyway, as Ruben Sierra once again had the key hit in a Yankee comeback against Oakland (like last Tuesday, the knock came off of Ricardo Rincon). Shoot, how often does Mark Mulder have two bad starts in a row? I don’t know, but the Yankees sure will take it. How about Donovan Osborne getting the win again, as he did last Tuesday in the Bronx? Yeesh, that was a game worth staying up for, huh?

The Bombers pounded out 17 hits against A’s pitching. Alex Rodriguez became the youngest player in history to reach 350 career dingers, had three hits and four RBI in his best offensive game as a Yankee. As good a win as this was for New York, is was a terrible loss for the A’s. Head on over to Athletic’s Nation for plenty of hard feelings:

I don’t want to go overboard and say that this is a fatal blow to the A’s season because we’re still so early in the season, but maybe a new catcher behind the dish and a new pitching coach have been too big an adjustment for the Big Three to make. When do we see Zito, Hudson and Mulder give up, in order of their starts…six earned runs in six innings (Zito), six earned runs in seven innings and eight runs overall (Hudson) and then seven earned runs in six and a third (Mulder tonight)?

…Watching those pitchers get shelled the last three times out is like watching Superman get kicked in the privates with a kryptonite-tipped steel toe. You know that there isn’t any better way to inflict damage on the psyche of an A’s fan than to shell the Big Three.

The Red Sox lost their fifth straight and are now tied with the Yankees for first place in the east.

Finally, looking for a good quote? Then check out Tom Verducci’s recent interview with George Steinbrenner.

How High the Moon

My apartment is between 236th and 238th street in the Bronx. What happened to 237th street, I’ll never know, but that’s how it goes sometimes in the boroughs. Em and I live on the top floor (7th) of one of those aparment houses that was built in the sixites. The main attraction of our place is the terrific eastern view that looks down onto Broadway, and up onto the Kingsbridge hill. We get a natural horizon, with lots of buildings and roads in the middle. Every morning, we are greeted by the sunrise. It is serene and quiet up here, but we can see the constant motion of the city–the Major Deegan Expressway, the subway, the Metro North, almost a dozen side streets, as well as helicopters and airplanes and other assorted winged creatures overhead. It is reassuring to know that even when we are tired and peaceful, the city is still moving.

Tonight, we were treated to the full moon, a huge yellow ball. I turned off all of the lights and smooched my girl for a while, and then we watched some of Steve Trashcan pitch for the Mets. It’s cool outside, but man, what a gorgeous spring night to be out at the ballpark. Barry Bonds is out of the line up tonight with a cold. I’ve got plans to be at Shea tomorrow with Jay Jaffe and Alex Ciepley. It is supposed to rain all day, but hopefully, the game will get in, and Barry Bonds will be feeling better. Imagine schlepping all the way out to Flushing to see Bonds and he’s not playing? Considering the fact that I’ve never seen him play live before, it’s a chance that’s worth taking.

I’ve got to be up mad early for work in the a.m., so my old ass won’t be staying up for the Yankee game. I assume they’ll have a full moon in Oakland too. Wonder if anything strange will happen. Maybe Mulder flirts with a no-hitter, or perhaps Gary Sheffield hits a couple of homers. And who knows just how a full moon could effect our boy Contreras. Two good starts in a row, against the same team? Ya think?

Anyhow, if any night owls are up watching the game tonight, feel free to start a thread in the comments section below and leave your observations and impressions. I sure would appreciate it.

And now for something…

Oh, and on a totally unrelated note, if anyone ever gets a chance to see an exhibition of Lucian Freud’s paintings, I suggest that you not let it pass you by. Freud’s portraits are fascinating, difficult, and memorable. You’ve never quite seen flesh painted the same way before. He’s first-class and there is a good article on him in the Times today.

High and Low

Roger Angell embraced the Yankees’ early-season struggles as a welcome surprise. In the latest Talk of the Town (peace to TFD for the link), Angell notes:

This was miserable or delightful, depending on where your loyalties lay, but most of all it was weird. It was glorious…The Yankeesí losing streak suspended all this, for a while at least, and what was refreshing about it was that the Yankees were suddenly so bad, at the plate and afield, that they seemed removed from the games, spooked or laid low not by the opposing pitcher or sluggers but by some cosmic change of terms. They were playing in a cartoon or on an asteroid landscape.

Of course, the Yankees 8-4 come-from-behind-win against the A’s last Tuesday changed the team’s fortunes (at least for the moment). They’ve won six straight, and for Angell, it’s back to business as usual, in which “Confirmation replaces expectation at these levels of sport, and fun feels prearranged.” However discouraged, Angell does a nifty job of describing how the Yankees got their groove back:

The double, by pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra, curved sharply toward foul ground in deep left field but then changed its mind and hit the line instead

Yanks 4, Royals 2

Sweep Dreams

What could be finer than the Yankees sweeping a series at home? Oh, the Red Sox getting swept in a three-game series against the Texas Rangers? Sure, that’s a start. Mike Mussina struggled early again yesterday, but a 4-6-3 double play saved his bacon in the third, he gained his composure–retiring the last eleven men he faced–and only allowed two runs in seven innings of work. Down 2-0 in the third, Hideki Matsui doubled and advanced to third on Ruben Sierra’s flyout. Then he tagged and scored on a shallow pop fly to left.

Jason Giambi (2-4) nailed a solo homer into the right field upper deck to tie the game in the fourth. The game remained tied in the seventh, when Jorge Posada led off with a double. Matsui followed and singled to right. Posada was waved home by Luis Sojo and scored. Juan Gone’s throw missed the cut-off man and Matsui alertly moved to second. Godziller moved to third on wild pitch and scored on a sac fly by Ruben Sierra.

Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera finished the Royals off and the Yanks have now won six straight. For the last couple of years friend Greg G has been saying that Rivera needs to hit more batters, just to keep them honest. Well, after giving up a single to start the ninth, Rivera did just that, plunking Joe Randa, and putting the tying run on base. Next, he blew away Matt Stairs and Desi Relaford, then got a ground out to end the game.

Joe Torre, who missed Saturday’s game to attend his daughter’s communion, notched the 800th win of his Yankee career.

Yankees 12, Royals 4

Back in Business

Jon Lieber pitched seven solid innings against the Royals in his Yankee debut on a warm Saturday afternoon in the Bronx. The Yankee offense provided him with plenty of cushion for his first win in almost two years (it was the fifth consecutive win for New York). Derek Jeter had three hits, and Alex Rodriguez added two, as did Jason Giambi, who also walked twice and was hit by a pitch. Rodriguez has a twelve-game hitting streak working. Hideki Matsui homered, scored three times and collected three RBI, but it was Ruben Sierra who was the slugging star of the day, hitting a three-run homer in the third and a grand salami in the eighth.

Two night ago my girlfriend scolded me for regularly cursing Sierra out. It’s not so much that she likes Sierra–which, incidentally she does–but she hates to hear me dog any of the Yankees. She thinks it’s negative karma. I tried to convince her that Ruben, Ruben is all warshed up as a player, and she said “Well, what about the hit he got the other night to win the game?” Doesn’t matter, he’s still garbage, I reasoned.

Well, I’m sure Emily is pleased that her boy had such a good day, and so are most Yankee fans I figure. The only people who should be upset are Royals fans who have to stomach getting killed not just by Rodriguez, Giambi and Sheffield, but old man Sierra as well.

I didn’t get a chance to watch the game, so if anyone has any impressions–particularly of Lieber–that they’d like to share, I sure would appreciate hearing from you.

Strictly Business

Oh, I almost forgot to mention ol’ Rocket Clemens, who won his major league-leading fifth game of the season last night. His ERA this year is 1.95. Here is the quote of the night:

“It’s amazing how a man his age still throws 94 or 95 [mph],” said Cincinnati’s Jacob Cruz, who struck out three times against the 41-year-old Clemens. “I’m upset that he didn’t retire. We all are.”

Bet the Astros would beg to differ.

Yanks 5, Royals 2

Spring is easily my favorite season of the year in New York City. (Fall is second.) The way the weather is right now, chilly in the morning, chilly at night, and lovely during the day–is choice. I love it. All of the trees now have buds, and some are almost in full bloom. Women are wearing skirts and dresses again. Hello? Yams galore. Oh baby, how about those NYC legs? Hey now. Talk to me, talk to me.

I went out to dinner with a friend from high school who just bought a two bedroom apartment on 115th street just off Broadway. Which means that it’s essentially on the Columbia University campus. We went out for Indian and then took a walk on the campus. Dave’s father went to graduate school for business at Columbia during the late 1960s. His pop went on to become a successful and financially comfortable executive who retired early, golden parachute and all. His parents now live in Florida year-round.

Not so long ago, they visited Dave in New York and took a stroll on the Columbia campus. It was the first time Dave’s dad had set foot on Columbia since he left grad school in 1968. He told his son that he would have to step over protesting bodies in order to get to class. Which just goes to show, no matter how much attention the hippies got, twenty years later, there were a whole lot of guys who retired early with golden parachute deals too, man.

The weather was great and riding the train home, even waiting for the bus, was pleasent simply because it felt so good to be out. As the subway moved above ground through the northern Manhattan streets, I thought about how much I love living in New York City, how proud I am to call it home.

When I got home Carlos Beltran had just hit a one-out single off Mariano Rivera. It was the ninth inning and the Yanks were ahead 5-2. As I hugged Emily and we said our hellos, Rivera walked Mike Sweeney and Mel Stottlemyre came out for a talk. Mo then blew away Matt Stairs swinging and got Ken Harvey to wave at a pitch two feet over his head to end the game. Fourth in the a row for the Bombers and there was more smiles to be had. (Royals manager Tony Pena even got into it flapping his arms like a chicken after the Royals intentionally walked Alex Rodriguez and then Gary Sheffield in the fifth inning.)

As I learned in the highlights, the game was all about Javier Vasquez, who is the most impressive pitcher on the Yankees staff so far this season.

According to the Daily News and the New York Times:

“I saw it early on,” Torre said. “He’s very comfortable with himself. He has a lot of confidence. You recognize that when he gives up a home run like that and then buckles down. He’s very professional. He seems to be mature beyond his years.”

“The thing I’m most impressed with is how he bounces back after a bad pitch or a bad hitter,” said Joe Torre, the Yankees’ manager.

“He throws a lot of strikes. He gets ahead in the count and keeps hitters in a defense mode. He throws a very lively fastball, plus he has a slider and a changeup that he is confident to throw at anytime. For a kid 27 years old, that’s pretty amazing. He came here knowing how he wanted to pitch, and he wasn’t going to change that.”

Mike Scioscia once told George Will that a pitcher has his best stuff working only 60-70 percent of the time. The rest of the times they have to concentrate on the craft of pitching more than they can on having dynamite stuff.

“It’s never easy, but I felt good,” Vazquez said. “The guys put five runs on the board and that helped. I’m a fastball pitcher and it was there for me today. I didn’t think my stuff was so great, but I mixed the pitches up pretty good.”

The win was important because it gave the Yankees a winning record for a month in which they played poorly. In fact, they have now had a winning record in the month of April for 13 consecutive seasons. Considering how they must have felt after getting their asses handed to them by the Red Sox, it is something to feel good about. I sure know that I feel good about it.

The Yankees are like the great rap duo EPMD: no matter how you slice it, it all comes down to Business. I have to admit, I’m not a business-minded person at all. At least not naturally. But growing up following the Yankees, I’ve grown to appreciate their Business-like approach to the game. I do admire the fact that Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter work so hard to maintain a high level of performance. Some people find it boring and I can understand that. I find it comforting.

I always slapped hands, or high-fives when the Yankees, or any team I rooted for, won a game. But starting in 1998, my brother and I just gave each other a firm, hearty hand shake. Maybe a pat on the back. We got so used to watching the team win, and shake each other’s hands at the end of the game, we just thought it was the most natural thing to do as well. Any other kind of celebrating–unless the game was appropriately dramatic–seemed exessive, in bad taste.

On Wednesday night, when the Yankees beat the A’s all of the guys I was with who were Yankee fans shook each other’s hands. Job well done guys, nice doing business with you.

Going out of Business?

Speaking of business, that’s just what Pedro Martinez seems to be giving the Boston Red Sox. According to the Globe, Pedro will test the open market at the end of the season:

“I will consider any team as of now,” he said. “The Dodgers don’t have the same people that were there when I was mistreated. I’m open to anybody, just as I am open to anybody in the future.”

…”I’ll play for anybody, but I’m not going to say I’m going to try to play for the Yankees before I give Boston the opportunity to sign me,” he said. “Boston has probably the same chances the Yankees will have.”

Check out some of the fine voices from Red Sox Nation linked to the right for the fan reaction.

Certainly Out of Business

Sometimes you have to wonder how the Mets do business at all. It can’t just be about bad luck. Jose Reyes had a setback in rehab and will be shut down for more than a minute. How long before he returns is anyone’s guess. Lee Jenkins reports in the Times:

“He feels like maybe he came back too soon,” [Reyes' agent, Peter] Greenberg said. “He’s dejected, frustrated, very upset. He’s kicking himself.”

So are the Mets, who have been treating Reyes for almost two months with no real results. Reyes will undergo a treatment program in Port St. Lucie that includes weight lifting, aerobics and exercises in a pool

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