"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: July 2004

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Creamolished

The Yanks took one on the chin last night against the Orioles, losing 9-1. Jose Contreras was terrible and Sidney Ponson was dominant. Traditionally, the Yankees have owned Ponson, but the man was flat-out impressive in the Bronx on Thursday. He was dealing. He changed speeds wonderfully and his pitches had an awful lot of movement on ‘em. (Derek Jeter is 4-31 since he was struck in the hand by a Victor Zambrano pitch last week.)

Ahh, what are you gunna do? This kind of loss is easier to stomach than the extra inning affair in Toronto the night before. The Yanks are seven-and-a-half games ahead of Boston who did not play (the Red Sox visit the Twins this weekend). With the trading deadline approaching there has been no movement on the Randy Johnson front. Most of the media believe he will not be going anywhere. (What, no prospects?)

In other news, Alex Rodriguez received a four-game suspension for his part in last Saturday’s scuffle with the Red Sox. Tanyon Sturtze was hit with three games as were Trot Nixon and Gabe Kapler. Boston catcher Jason Varitek was also suspended for four games. Rodriguez plans to appeal his suspension.

Blue Jays 3, Yanks 2 (10 innings)

Bummer

The Yankees lost a disapointing game in Toronto last night. However, they won the series and didn’t lose any ground to the Red Sox who were defeated by the Orioles in Baltimore. I call the loss disapointing because Jon Lieber was excellent, pitching into the eigth inning, just what the Bombers needed. With the Yankees up 2-0, Lieber allowed a run in the seventh and with two out in the eighth he was removed after walking Vernon Wells. Felix Heredia–insert curse words here–came in to face Carlos Delgado, and gave up a run-scoring double on a 2-2 pitch. It was yet another poor night for Heredia. Wells would hit a solo dinger to left with one out in the tenth inning off of Scott Proctor to give Toronto the win.

Again the Yankees (Lofton, Clark, Jeter) hit the ball hard but right at Toronto defenders. They also made two careless plays which proved to be costly. After Gary Sheffield launched a solo bomb into the fifth deck in the first (career homer #401), Alex Rodriguez singled. With two out, Hideki Matsui slapped a liner to left, but Rodriguez got an awful jump and was thrown out at third to end the inning. It was nothing short of an embarassing play. Then, in the seventh inning, when Delgado lined the double off of Heredia, Gary Sheffield threw the ball into second base and not to the cut-off man. They surely had a play at the plate, but it wasn’t to be. (Sheffield and Matsui did collect assists though.) Derek Jeter hit the ball hard in his final at-bat, but had a poor offensive night. He has slumped for the past week.

Finally, the strangest play of the night came in the top of seventh. With two out and men on first and second, Enrique Wilson fouled a 3-1 pitch off of his own helmet. He knocked himself down, cracked the helmet, but came up laughing. Then he floated a single up the middle to give the Yankees their second, and last run of the game.

Lieber’s fine outing was wasted, and because of Heredia’s ineptitude, Paul Quantrill and Scott Proctor worked the game. The trading deadline is only a few days away and New York could use some pitching help. But all of their eggs are invested in the Randy Johnson basket. As it stands, the two teams are playing a game of chicken. (Cluck, cluck.) Some observers think that it is likely that Johnson will stay put. Regardless, the Yanks do not seem to be persuing any other options. It will be a relief when Saturday has come and gone. It will also be interesting to see what Kevin Brown has to offer tomorrow night when he is expected to start against the Orioles at the stadium.

Yanks 7, Blue Jays 4

El Duque pitched two scoreless innings in Toronto last night before he left the game with tightness in his left hamstring. So much for giving the bullpen a breather. While the New York hit the ball hard off of Ted Lilly, they only mustered three hits off the erstwhile Yankee (including a solo home run by Alex Rodriguez on his 29th birthday). The Jays collected plenty of hits but could not manage to break the game open. Gary Sheffield threw Alex Rios out at the plate in the sixth with the Jays leading 2-1, and Toronto could not score in the seventh after starting the inning with runners on the corner and nobody out.

The Yanks finally caught up to the Jays in the eighth. Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter singled. Sheffield walked, and Alex Rodriguez hit a sacrific fly to right which tied the game. Jorge Posada followed with a three-run bomb to right field. In the ninth, Bernie Williams and Gary Sheffield hit solo homers. It was the 400th home run of Sheffield’s career.

Tom Gordon allowed a couple of runs in the ninth, but the Yankees held on for the win. New York is eight games ahead of the Red Sox, who were rained out in Baltimore last night.

Yanks 6, Blue Jays 5 (10 innings)

Jorge Posada hit a grand slam in the first inning last night in Toronto and the Yankees looked like could just cruise to a win. But they didn’t score another run until Gary Sheffield’s RBI single in the ninth inning. Javier Vazquez continued to look better, but he wasn’t stellar and the Jays slowly crept their way back into contest. Vazquez couldn’t get through seven innings, which forced the hardest-working men in showbiz, Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera to work again. Quantrill tweaked his right knee, but Tom Gordon got the game to Rivera in the ninth with the Yankees holding a 5-3 lead.

But Rivera allowed a two-out single that tied the game (3-1 fastball over the heart of the plate), blowing his second game in his last two chances. However, the Yankees added a run in the top of the tenth (Tony Clark’s RBI double was almost run down in center field by Vernon Wells), and Rivera worked another inning (this time, 1-2-3) for the win.

The Yankees remain seven-and-a-half ahead of Boston who pounded the Orioles, 12-5. Jason Giambi is headed back to New York today for more medical testing.

El Duque pitches tonight against Ted Lilly. At some point the Yankees are going to need to spell Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera; they need the starting staff to give them some length. Is it too much to ask Hernandez–who pitched brilliantly against the Jays in New York last Thursday–to be that man? Perhaps. Kevin Brown could return this weekend, and of course, the $64,000 question around baseball for the next several days is: Where will Randy Johnson land when it is all said and done? The Yankees are in the running, but it remains to be seen if they can pull a deal off.

Red Sox 9, Yanks 6

The Red Sox pounded Jose Contreras one more time…Surprised? While the Yankees didn’t go easily (Timlin, Foulke), their pitching failed them once again as the Sox took two of three over the weekend. Saturday’s histrionics aside, the Yankees can’t be too upset about how the weekend panned-out considering who they were throwing against Boston (Kevin Millar was a one-man wrecking crew). After Friday’s demoralizing loss, the Sox bounced back and won two games they had to have. The Yankees lead is seven-and-a-half games (eight in the loss column). John Harper reports in the Daily News:

The weekend was far from a disaster for the Yankees, however. Roughing up Sox ace Curt Schilling in the opener Friday night was surely more significant than anything that happened the last two days – including Alex Rodriguez’s rumble with Jason Varitek.

The Sox can argue that beating Mariano Rivera with a walk-off home run on Saturday qualifies as their uplifting moment of the year, but beating Schilling ensured the Yankees of leaving town with a 7-1/2-game lead, in firm control of the AL East.

One thing is almost certain: Boss George has put a full-court-press on his general manager Brian Cashman to get a deal done this week. The Yankee pitching staff is in bad shape. So let the rumors fly. Newsday reports that the Los Angeles Dodgers are a darkhorse candidate to land Randy Johnson–who struck out 14 batters yesterday. It has been widely reported that the Yankees do not have enough good prospects to complete a trade. However, according to the New York Times, Bryan Lambe, an Arizona scout thinks the Yankees have some talent to offer:

“The ones that I more or less wrote up, yes, they would definitely help,” Lambe said. “They wouldn’t just help the Diamondbacks, they’d help every organization. But it’s a matter of what they would be giving up. They’d be giving up, to a certain extent, the face of the Diamondbacks right now. I don’t know what their thinking is.”

…”They do have prospects, and they have fairly good prospects,” Lambe said. “But do they have, for example, a David Wright or someone along those lines, a can’t-miss prospect? No, because they haven’t had a lot of first-round picks. But I’m not going to say I don’t like their guys. I do like their guys.”

…”There are a whole lot of guys who wind up being very productive, longtime big league players who weren’t rated as great players coming up,” Lambe said. “It’s my job to scratch a little bit and see what I think will happen in the future.”

Red Sox 11, Yankees 10

Storm and Stress=Ugly Mess

The Red Sox won a messy affair against the Yankees on an overcast afternoon at Fenway Park. It was a dramatic win for Boston and a frustrating loss for the Yanks. The game was delayed for an hour and according to the Fox announcers on TV, the Yankee team was under the impression that the game wasn’t going to be played at all. The players had changed and the buses were fired up to go when the team was informed that the game was in fact going to be played. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver first reported that it was Red Sox management that chose to play the game; later, they had heard that the decision to play came directly from the players.

Regardless, I’m certain the Red Sox are pleased that they played. The two teams finally brawled; both scored a boat-load of runs, and Mariano Rivera took his turn being humbled, blowing a two-run lead in the ninth inning. In a game that the Red Sox needed to win, they were resiliant. It was the kind of see-saw, turgid exchange that we are used to seeing from these two teams. It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t lack for excitement. When the Yankees went ahead by five runs, my girlfriend Emily clapped on the couch and cheered. I told her not to get cocky; anything short of a ten-run cushion makes me nervous against Boston with four innings left to play.

The brawl was full of nasty feelings; fortunately nobody was seriously hurt (though Taynon Sturtze looked as if he just stepped out of “Star Trek II: Wrath of Kahn” when it was all said and done). With the Yankees ahead 3-0, Alex Rodriguez was plunked with two outs and nobody on in the top of third. Was he hit on purpose? Perhaps. Rodriguez had some words for Bronson Arroyo, Boston’s starting pitcher, as he unwrapped his protective sleeve and made his way to first. First of all, Rodriguez isn’t out-of-line barking at Arroyo, cause this kid is known to hit guys. Jason Varitek, walking in stride with A Rod, effectively told Rodriguez to piss off. Rodriguez quickly re-directed his fury at Varitek and before you know he was motioning toward the catcher saying, “You want to go? Come on.”

Without discarding his mask, Varitek so was inclined (if not delighted) to accept the invitation. He mushed Rodriguez in the face and then reached under his crotch in the hopes of turning A Rod over. But Rodriguez held his ground and the two men were overcome by the crowd. At this point both teams were in a scrum. Rodriguez and Varitek fell on the ground. Schilling was out there. Lots of violent pushing and shoving; a few mad moments.

Resident Goonie Bird Taynon Sturtze, the Yankees starting pitcher, grabbed Gabe Kapler in a choke hold for no apparent reason, and the burly pitcher was tossed on his nut by Kapler, David Ortiz, and Trot Nixon. It was predictable that it was Sturze to act like a putz. He’s lucky he didn’t get more of a beat down.

Varitek and Rodriguez were both ejected. Varitek played his role as the chief Dirt Dog, and the Sox, brimming over with frustration, came out biting. For his part, Rodriguez, was aggresive himself, which should play well with his teammates. The Yankees have been hit often this season. Over the past several years they have been hit a lot by the Red Sox. The Red Sox are slumping; their two stud pitchers lost back-to-back heartbreakers against New York. Someone was bound to crack sooner or later. Red Sox fans feel good that their boy Varitek doesn’t take any shit and Yankee fans feel good because Rodriguez isn’t going to take any shit either. So nobody is going to pack shit, capice?

Sturtze wasn’t thrown out, but he was done. Fat ass went back out there and gave up two runs in the bottom of the third and was through for the day. Boston skipper Terry Francona got himself tossed arguing a close play at second later on which added to the contentious spirit of the afternoon. The Sox took the lead, Yankees grabbed it back, then the Sox came back again. Where have we seen this before?

I left the apartment in the seventh inning. That was it. (I’m mature, see?) Ruben Sierra led off with a tremendous solo home run and then the Yanks loaded the bases on three consecutive Red Sox errors. Nobody out. But they could not score. It was at that point that I couldn’t take it any longer. I just had a bad feeling the game was going to last forever, it wasn’t going to end well and that it was basically an insufferable afternoon. The pitching was horrendous, the Yankee bullpen–with the notable exception of Scott Proctor–was awful, and the worst possible thing that could happen happened: Mariano gave up the game.

But I didn’t watch it, OK. I was out taking a nice long walk. Trying to calm myself. It rained most of this week in New York and it has been humid on top of that. But today was overcast but unseasonably cool, without a trace of humidity. It is the kind of weather that can make me nostalgic for Belgium, where my mom’s family lives. This is that kind of summer weather you catch over there, or in England. The breeze was chilling as I walked, refreshing. If they lost, I wasn’t going to let it ruin the evening, which turned out to be chill (Scrabble–for for the first time ever–followed by Stanley Kubrick’s first important movie, “The Killing).

When I arrived back at the apt, Em gave me the sorry details. How’s this for the kicker? Our old pal Ramiro Mendoza pitched well and got the win for the Sox. Oy. It was an uncomfortable loss for the Yankees and Yankee fans and a galvanizing victory for Boston and Red Sox Nation. Still, I calmed myself down by remembering that the Yankees are eight-and-a-half games ahead and kept battling back all day long. It was a bigger game for Boston, though that doesn’t entirely remove the sting if you are the Yankees.

What I like the most about rooting for this Yankee team however, is knowing that they will come out tomorrow playing very hard, wanting to win badly, as if it were a playoff game. I don’t doubt the teams’ intensity one bit. And that does wonders for the digestion. Today’s loss smarts, but I still like the way the team played. The Yankees’ biggest flaw–their pitching–was simply exposed. Jose Contreras and Derek Lowe, players who have confounded their respective teams, pitch on the ESPN Sunday Night Game of the Week. Expect lots of sound and fury.

Will this wake the Sox up? Will it wake the Yankees up? I don’t know, I think everyone is plenty awake. The two teams don’t play again until September when they go out it six more times. In the meanwhile, let’s hope we see a better-played game tomorrow night. Both pitcher is capable of shutting the other team down for seven innings. Contreras has been good lately, but Boston murders the guy. It would be a break-through game for Contreras if he performs well. And Lowe would do wonders for his own battered esteem if he wins at home after Saturday’s win. All of these things. We shall see. Rarely a dull moment, right?

Yanks 8, Red Sox 7

Variations on a familiar theme. The Yankee lead now stands at nine-and-a-half games.

Yankees 1, Blue Jays 0

El Duque and former Yankee Ted Lilly engaged in a pitching duel yesterday afternoon at the Stadium. Both were spectators when Ruben Sierra hit a two-out solo home run in the bottom of the ninth to give the Yanks a 1-0 win. (Mariano Rivera notched his first victory of the year.) Hernandez allowed four hits, a walk, and struck out ten in seven innings. (Yo, that’s my man.) Dave Caldwell captured his performance well in the Times:

Squatting for seven innings on a stifling July afternoon does not have to be sheer torture. John Flaherty was asked to catch Yankees starter Orlando Hern

Yankees 10, Blue Jays 3

Javier Vazquez was not impressive last night, but the Yankee offense was, as the Bombers rolled over Toronto on a muggy evening in the Bronx. It was a blow-out but it didn’t seem to come easily for the Yankee pitchers. On the YES broadcast, Jim Kaat explained how Vazquez’s motion has become too long in recent outings. In the first few innings–when Vazquez threw an awful lot of pitches–it was clear that he was trying to shorten his stride. He didn’t bend his back as much as he usually does. In fact, it looked so odd at first, I thought Vazquez was doing his best Tim Wakefield impression. But while Vazquez attempts to work himself out of this mid-season rut, Gary Sheffield continues to mash, hitting his 398th career dinger. He had company last night too. Every Yankee starter collected a hit; yo, even our boy Bernie Williams had a couple of hits, as well as two RBI.

Derek Jeter sat out with a broken bone in his right hand (he may miss today’s game too, but it appears as if he’ll be ready to play in Boston over the weekend), but looked to be enjoying himself in the dugout. He laughed at Alex Rodriguez in the top of fifth inning, when Rodriguez caught a high pop fly for the first out of the inning. Catching fly balls, especially ones behind him, does not come naturally to Rodriguez; in fact, it is one of the few acts that he isn’t able to make look graceful on a baseball field. In the bottom of the fifth, Rodriguez beat out a slow dribbler for an infield single. He was the last Yankee regular to collect a hit. Again, Jeter was on the top step of the dugout laughing at his pal.

Jason Giambi did not play either. He left the Stadium in the middle of the afternoon to have more tests done on his ailing body. After the game, he spoke to reporters, and mentioned that he was being tested for cancer. According to the Daily News:

“I try not to focus on that because I got diagnosed earlier (as having a parasite),” he said. “They just wanted to go that route just to make sure. They don’t – I’m not trying by any means to say I have anything like (cancer)…they just wanted to rule (that) out (and say) we’re strictly dealing with what I got diagnosed with before and there’s nothing else underlying.”

Carlos Delgado was removed from the game in the middle of the seventh inning. Mercifully, Michael Kay wasn’t working the game for YES, and Kaat and Singleton didn’t mention Delgado’s politics. I didn’t hear much from the fans through my TV set. Cliff Corcoran was sitting in the bleachers; perhaps he had a different experience (expect a write up from Cliff later in the day).

The Yankees gained a game on Boston, who lost to the Orioles at Fenway Park. Pedro Martinez was tagged with the “L”; the Yankee lead stands at eight games.

Yankees 4, Devil Rays 2

Since his family defected from Cuba Jose Contreras has pitched five times. With the exception of the disaster at Shea Stadium, he has pitched well, as he did again yesterday in Tampa Bay. The true test for Contreras will come Sunday night when he will face the Red Sox. If he pitches well in Boston, it will be hard not to give Contreras props. According to the New York Times:

The Yankees gave no thought to juggling the rotation so Contreras would not have to pitch against the Red Sox, a team that usually hammers him.

“A month ago, we would have made every effort to avoid that start,” Stottlemyre said. “Every time we play them, it’s not just another game. But it’s just another start for him.”

…”He’s ready for it,” Torre said. “If he’s not ready now, I’m not sure he’ll ever be.”

Gary Sheffield had the big hit–a two-run homer to left field–which put the Bombers ahead for good. After Derek Jeter was struck in the hand by a pitch from Victor Zambrano (initial x-rays were negative, but Jeter eventually had the leave the game), Sheffield followed and nearly twisted himself into the ground swinging at the first pitch. Then he launched a long line drive foul before Zambrano left a fastball out over the plate. Pi-yah. Though he is still hurting is there anyone Yankee fans would rather see in a big spot this year than Sheffield?

Mariano Rivera recorded another save as the Yanks remain seven games ahead of the Red Sox who beat the Mariners in Seattle yesterday afternoon. Boston returns home for two games against the Orioles (Pedro pitches tonight) while the Yanks are in the Bronx tonight and tomorrow to square off against Carlos Delgado and the Blue Jays for the first time this season.

There is no progress to report on the Randy Johnson front. Arizona owner Jerry Colangelo is vacationing in Italy and won’t return until next Tuesday. Nothing is expected to shake down until he returns to the states. But as Joel Sherman reports this morning–with a helpful hand from Will Carroll–even if the Yankees do land the Big Unit, it doesn’t mean that they will necessarily win the World Serious.

p.s. Here is part two of the Athletics Nation interview with Michael Lewis.

Mind Candy

As I uncomfortably wait to see just how long the Yankees’ afternoon will be with Victor Zambrano going up against Jose Contreras, here are links to several articles that I’ve read over the past 24 hours:

Jay Jaffe and King Kaufman on Roger Clemens.

The Athletics Nation interview with Michael Lewis.

Brian Gunn’s excellent account of clown-town last night in Chicago.

Aaron Gleeman’s account of the recent SABR convention.

The latest edition of the Pinstriped Bible by Steven Goldman.

Pat Jordan on guess what, a pitcher who never made it.

More rumors and gossip from Peter Gammons.

Just Blunderful

Alex Graman has good stuff according to Joe Torre, he just fights himself too much. He was too keyed up last night, didn’t trust his stuff. You know the company line. The Yankee rookie didn’t make it out of the first inning and placed New York in a 5-0 hole. The Yankee pitching problems aren’t going away. While the Bombers eventually fought back to tie the game, an egregious error by Kenny Lofton (with some help from Godziller Matsui) in the sixth inning, led to two runs, as the Devil Rays prevailed, 9-7.

Tanyon Sturtze replaced Graman and pitched reasonably well for several innings. He left in the sixth, replaced by Felix Heredia. A run scored and with two out and men on second and third Juan Padilla relieved Heredia. Padilla did his job and got pinch-hitter Robert Fick to loft a fly ball to left-center field. Matsui drifted over poised to make the catch, and so did Kenny Lofton. The two didn’t communicate properly, the ball fell in, two runs scored and Fick was awarded a double.

The Yankees were down by three runs instead of one, so Ruben Sierra’s two-run, pinch-hit bomb in the eighth–complete with cha-cha steps and plenty of mustard–didn’t save the day. The Rays added an insurance run in the ninth off of Paul Quantrill.

Jason Giambi walked twice and had a sacrifice fly, but still feels enervated. Bernie Williams was 0-5 and is now 2 for his last 37, a horrid stretch. According to Newsday:

“He looks just like he was earlier in the year when he didn’t have that hitting zone going for him,” Torre said before last night’s loss to the Devil Rays. “His bat doesn’t have that snap to it; it sort of weighs. It’s not an aggressive swing. It’s more body than hand.”

Gary Sheffield too feels weak and may seek another cortisone shot for his gimpy shoulder. Derek Jeter is swinging the bat well though; he’s pulled several inside fastballs over the past few games instead of inside-outing them to right field.

The only bit of good news for Yankee fans was that Boston lost to the Mariners in agonizing fashion last night in Seatttle. Keith Foulke blew the save and Brett Boone hit a grand slam in the 11th inning to give the M’s the win. The Sox remain seven games behind New York.

More good news for the Yanks. Graman won’t start in Fenway this weekend. Most likely, he’ll be replaced by Tanyon Sturtze. Happy?

BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: WILL CARROLL

My label-mate Will Carroll was one of the first Internet writers that I developed a relationship with after I started Bronx Banter in the fall of 2002. (Carroll contacted me in the spring of 2003 after I wrote a short piece about Roberto Alomar.) For a year-and-a-half, Iíve enjoyed many rambling conversations

High Def, Mos Def

During the 2001 and 2002 seasons, I wondered how much longer Mariano Rivera was going to last as an elite closer. He was still very good of course, though not dominant. Perhaps Rivera’s time was about up; after all, even the greatest relievers only have about a half-dozen peak seasons. But then Rivera rebounded with a terrific 2003 season, and has been even better in 2004. Over the weekend I was perusing through “The Sound of Two Hands Clapping,” a collection of essays by the brilliant critic Kenneth Tynan, when I ran across a passage that fits Rivera to a tee (from an unpublished 1970 interview for Playboy):

Anyone who is a performer, who, that is, communicates his whole personality with the minimum of visible strain and the maimum of precision, entirely fascinates me. Even if I don’t agree with his ideas. And this applies to bullfighters, conversationalists, ski-jumpers, footballers, cricketers, actors, playwrights, all those who communicate the essence of their gifts with the greatest conciseness. Those are the people I worship. I don’t think any public performer in Europe has given me greater pleasure in my life than Antonio Ordonez, the bullfighter. I’ve been more moved by him than by any actor–except Olivier–because he displays extreme relaxation and precision in the face of considerable danger, and has the genius to make out of that danger something quite effortless and quite perfect. I’d put him very, very high on my list of heroes. Who else? Gerard Philipe, Lennon and McCartney, Peter Ustinov, Bix Beiderbecke, Ethel Merman–all people doing their thing, if you like, but not just doing it: doing it with a total awareness of the audience and an instinctive sense of shape and form, and bringing it off without visible effort. What I once called ‘high definition performance’.

Tigers 4, Yanks 2

Nate Robertson out-pitched Jon Lieber on Joe Torre’s 64th birthday as the Tigers earned a split of the weekend series against the Yankees. They also won the season series from New York, 4-3. Lieber wasn’t terrible, but the Yankee offense just couldn’t help him out. Ruben Sierra launched a two-run homer, but the Yanks hit into three double plays. Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada had the day off, and Gary Sheffield uncharacterisitcally whiffed three times. The Yanks lead over Boston stands at seven after Curt Schilling and the Sox defeated the Angels.

The Yankees have an odd week. They play two games in Tampa Bay, and then are back in the Bronx in the middle of the week for two games against the Blue Jays. This will be the first time the Yanks see Toronto all season. But before they get a chance to really know each other, the Bombers are off to Boston for a three-game weekend series. While the Yanks won’t face Pedro Martinez, the Sox certainly won’t face either Kevin Brown or Mike Mussina, and if my figuring is correct, they won’t see Javier Vazquez either.

Heard any good pitching rumors lately? Mr. Gammons? Anyone?

Yankees 5, Tigers 3

The Yankees and Tigers finally played a close game last night, with the Bombers holding on for the win, 5-3. El Duque got his second victory in two starts although he was far from stellar. Gary Sheffield was the offensive hero–and later, tabloid provocateur–collecting three hits, including a two-run homer and an RBI single. Ruben Sierra was the DH in place of the slumping Bernie Williams and hit a solo home run. Kenny Lofton and Derek Jeter added two hits each, and Alex Rodriguez had three hits. Jason Giambi was 0-5 and continues to struggle offensively, but made the defensive play of the game robbing Eric Munson of a game-breaking double with a sensational catch. Paul Quantrill was hit hard, but Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera were absolutely dominant. The Yankees gained a game in the standings after the Angels beat up on the Red Sox last night, 8-3. Their lead in the AL East stands at eight games.

High and Low

What a Difference a Day Makes

“In my mind I would characterize this as the best start he’s ever had,” Joe Torre on Jose Contreras’ performance Thursday night.

“I had no clue what I was doing up there,” Javier Vazquez on his performance Friday night.

The Yankees started the second half of the season by winning one in impressive fashion and then getting dominated in the following game. Jose Contreras hurled his finest game as a Yankee on Thursday night against the Tigers, pitching into the ninth inning for the first time in his Yankee career. He walked the lead-off man in the first, allowed a run in the second, and was his usual plodding self. Contreras allowed a triple to start the fourth but pitched out of trouble without the run scoring, and was on his way to retiring fifteen consecutive Tigers. For their part, the Yankees mustered just five hits all night. However, they were all solo home runs–Matsui, Jeter, Lofton, and two by Rodriguez–which gave the Yankees all the runs they would need in a 5-1 victory.

I caught the last half of the game and thoroughly enjoyed it. What a pipe dream of a game. There was no tension, just the Yankees in cruise control. Some may find this kind of game dull, but not me. It’s just the kind of victory that I love. Mariano Rivera came on in the ninth and K’d Pudge and Young and then got a ground out to end the game.

I watched entire game on Friday night and the shoe was squarely on Fate’s other foot. Mike Mussina was placed on the DL yesterday due to soreness in his pitching elbow, a day after Kevin Brown was knocked around in his first rehab assingment since being disabled himself. This news became more distressing later in the evening when Javier Vazquez suffered his worst outing of the season. (Just how badly do you think George Steinbrenner wants Randy Johnson now? These must be long days for one B. Cashman.) The Yankees were one-hit by southpaw Mike Maroth as the Tigers bombed New York 8-1.

The Tigers have mauled the Yanks in three of the five meetings between the two teams this season. With El Duque and Jon Lieber lined up today and tomorrow, let’s hope one of these two soft-tossing veterans can help stop the bleeding. The Yanks remain seven games ahead of Boston, who have dropped one (Lowe) and won one (Pedro) against Anahiem. (F’schizzle Ortizzle.)

BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: ALAN SCHWARZ

Alan Schwarz (Baseball America, ESPN, the New York Times) is one of the most prolific and respected baseball journalists working today. After more than a dozen years in the industry Schwarz has written his first book, The Numbers Game: Baseballís Lifelong Fascination with Statistics. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Alan several weeks ago in midtown Manhattan to talk about the book. The following conversation took place on a warm June evening in Bryant Park, directly behind the main branch of the New York Public Library on 42nd street.

Bronx Banter: First things first, when did you start becoming a baseball fan?

Alan Schwarz: I came to being a baseball fan extraordinarily late. I was born in July of 1968. When Thurman Munson died in 1979 I didn’t know who he was. That makes a lot of people gasp of course. I lived in London as a kid. When I was eight, nine and ten years old and returned in the summer of ’79. I was never a baseball fan before that. It was must have been late August of ’79–I bought my first pack of Topps baseball cards. They made me want to watch the games. Friends I made after returning from London were fans, so they showed me their baseball card collections and we watched games together and played catch. Next thing you know I was playing Little League and a baseball fan was born. But I was eleven, which was pretty late. What that has afforded me frankly is it means that I’m not overly nostalgic about the ’77-’78 Yankees, which is a good thing, Bronx Banter’s audience notwithstanding. Also, I’m really a child of the free agent era. So I do not resent the fact that players have rights — I don’t resent the fact that they even go on strike. I understand that’s built into the game, it’s built into the industry and work stoppages will happen every five or six years, and we’ll get over it and move on. It’s just the way it is.

BB: Are your parents American?

AS: Oh yeah, it’s just that my father traveled. He was assigned to London for three years and we said what the heck. We’re from New York, from Westchester County.

BB: As a kid were you more into playing baseball or studying it and getting into the numbers?

AS: Playing

Beat Down

The American League beat the snot out of Roger Clemens in the first inning last night and cruised to a 9-4 win, securing home-field advantage in the World Serious this year. Manny Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano hit homers off of Clemens. Later, Clemens returned to the field to be presented soemthing or other by Bud Selig. The Rocket, accompanied by his wife and four sons, looked mortified.

Meanwhile, the Randy Johnson rumors are heating up. How about a three-way that would send Nomar to the Cubs, prospects to Arizona and Johnson to Boston? What about the Mets and the Yankees? (The Bombers, lacking the sufficient minor league talent would need to include a third team for sure.) The Hot Stove is alive and well and it’s hotter than July. The Johnson hub-bub is expected to go down to the wire. The trading deadline is July 31st.

Big Unit Movin?

Randy Johnson told reporters yesterday that he would consider being traded. Who knows where Johnson will land should be leave Arizona. Ah, let the New York-Boston hysteria continue.

If he lands in New York, expect to see a lot of wailing in the press. (Never mind talk radio.) Mike Lupica is sure to lead the charge, but Murray Chass already isn’t nuts about the idea:

The Diamondbacks’ fans deserve something. With their team in last place, they have little to root for. Leave them with the expectation that every fifth day they can look forward to an exquisitely pitched game, maybe even a no-hitter, certainly one with a bunch of strikeouts.

The fans, after all, made it possible for Johnson to play in Phoenix, turning out in large enough numbers to help finance the lucrative contracts Johnson has signed with the Diamondbacks.

As for the Yankees and their needs, if they can’t win with a $183 million payroll, shame on them. If they guessed wrong on some of their pitchers, if Jos

BREAK

Yankees 10, Devil Rays 3

El Duque returned to the fold yesterday and was up to his usual tricks. He threw two kinds of curveballs, a slider, a change, as well as an eephus pitch (thrown twice) to go with his fastball. There has been some vague talk about the Yankees acquiring junkball specialist Jamie Moyer before the trading deadline, but with Hernandez on the squad, why bother? Stepping in for Mike Mussina, Duque was decent yesterday, allowing two runs off of five hits, and three walks in five innings of work (he also struck out five). While he isn’t the answer to the pitching problems in the Bronx, physically, he looked great. Cool as ever, the Yankees’ answer to Yul Brenner. It seemed like he was just pitching for the Yankees last week. Not much has changed.

Duque got some help from his defense early on. Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Cairo made a nice play in the third, and later on, Jorge Posada gunned down Carl Crawford for the second time in the series. Posada added a long solo home run into the Yankees’ bullpen and an RBI single before he left with a sprained ankle (x-rays were negative). The game was close for a minute but the Yankees lumber was simply too much for the Rays. Six straight hits scored five runs in the third, and Godziller Matsui and Gary Sheffield added solo shots of their own. My girl’s favorite Yankee Tony Clark hit two dingers as the Yankees rolled.

Sheffield’s homer was memorable. Batting in the bottom of the eighth inning, Sheff was knocked to the ground on a 1-2 pitch from Danys Baez. Sheffield has so much torque in his body when he strides that he looked like a horse getting shot in an old western movie, going down. As he twisted back, his front leg collapsed under him making the brush-back look more serious than it actually was. Baez continued to challenge Sheffield who fouled off several fastballs. Then Baez left one out over the plate and Sheffield promptly deposited it over the left center field wall. Sheff admired his shot for a minute and then trotted around the bases.

The Rangers beat the Red Sox yesterday, so Boston ends the first half seven games behind New York. The Yankees go into the break with the best record in baseball.

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