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Monthly Archives: August 2004

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Twins 8, Yanks 2

After losing thirteen straight regular season games to New York, the Twins pounded Javier Vazquez and the Yanks but good last night at the Metrodome. Vazquez was not impressive, while Minnesota’s starter Brad Radke was sharp. The Yankees looked sluggish and it won’t get any easier tonight with Johan Santana on the hill for the Twins. The Red Sox–who have played well lately–gained a game in the standings and are now nine back. According to Jack Curry in the New York Times:

What should have concerned the Yankees more than an overdue loss to a good team was an exasperating outing by Vazquez. Over six and two-thirds innings, he was bruised for six runs and nine hits, including two long homers, and he could not explain the patchy performance.

“I had nothing good on the ball,” Vazquez said. “I had nothing going for me.”

…After Vazquez’s spotty start, it is easy to understand why the questions about the Yankees’ fragile rotation will follow them into October. The Yankees are on a pace for 103 victories, but their starters do not leave them with an abundant supply of confidence.

Vazquez has pitched reasonably well this year, but he has been uneven. It will be on him come October to put the doubts to rest.

The most embarassing play of the game for the Yankees came after Torii Hunter singled home the Twins’ fourth run of the game in the fifth inning. As Vazquez walked back to the mound, Derek Jeter turned his back to first and strolled back to his position at short. At the same time, Enrique Wilson was standing off of second base adjusting his mitt. So Hunter took off and swiped second. The local papers blamed Vazquez for the lapse, but I think the mistake is on the middle infielders. Rarely do you see Jeter–who extended his hitting streak to 17 games–make a bone-headed play like that. It was summed up a forgettable night pefectly.

The Bombers put men on base in the seventh and eighth innings, but could not generate a rally. The most memorable play of the night for New York came when Godziller Matsui robbed Hunter of a homer in the eighth inning. Gary Sheffield, hit a dinger for New York, his 28th of the year.

It’s a Twins Thing

In the early 90s when I was in college, black kids used to rock t-shirts which read, “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand.” My twin sister Sam and I thought it would be funny if we got “It’s a twin thing, you wouldn’t understand” shirts. Somehow, we never got around to realizing our private joke. But I was reminded of it this morning as I rode the IRT to midtown Manhattan thinking about how many good sites are devoted to the Minnesota Twins. And I only know a few of ‘em. John Bonnes and Aaron Gleeman paved the way, then Seth Stohs stepped in last year with an excellent site. Now the witty Batgirl has become one of the more celebrated bloggers on the Internet. What’s up with all the talent covering the Twins?

I don’t know if there is answer to that question, but for the next couple of three days, be sure and head on over to these sites to get the Twins perspective on things. The Twinkies will be throwing their best arms against New York: Radke, Santana, Silva will face Vazquez, Mussina, Hernandez.

Keepin’ Pace

The Red Sox beat the Blue Jays in Boston last night and now trail the Yankees by ten games. The Bombers signed Shane Spencer to a minor league contract. I was never a big fan of Shaniac. While I understood his frustration over not developing into a starting player for Torre’s Yanks, I’ve always felt like he didn’t fully appreciate what he had to show for those frustrations: namely, three championship rings. His behavior this season has been telling. As an insurance policy for the outfield I suppose you could do worse. And perhaps some Yankee fans will be happy to see him back.

Look Who’s Cookin’?

Jay Jaffe reconsiders Gary Sheffield’s career over at The Futility Infielder in the first of a two-part profile. Excellent stuff as always from Jaffe:

Sheffield’s ferocious swing, tremendous plate discipline and physical toughness have positioned him as the fulcrum of a Yankee offense that for all its talent has been scrambling to live up to this season’s lofty expectations. Derek Jeter’s slump, Bernie Williams’ appendectomy, Jason Giambi’s illnesses and Alex Rodriguez’s subpar situational hitting have all dragged the Yankee lineup down ant one point or another, but it’s been Sheffield, hitting .295/.404/.532 wth 27 homers and a team-high 85 RBI, who’s picked them up.

…Watching him play on a daily basis has forced me to re-evaluate everything I know about Gary Sheffield. The bottom line is that the guy can play for my team any day, and despite the occasional off-the-cuff remark that has generated controversy, he’s been a model citizen since donning the pinstripes and a pleasure to follow.

For more good blogging on the Yanks, check out the latest from Cliff Corcoran, as well as an excellent defense of Jason Giambi by SG, who has been filling in for Larry Mahnken at the Replacement Level Yankees Blog.

I Like ‘Em

I know this might sound corny to say with the Yankees currently enjoying a comfortable lead, but I’ve got to say it anyhow: I really like the 2004 Bronx Bombers. I appreciate their professionalism, and enjoying watching them play, warts and all. Regardless of what shakes down later this season–whether they make it back to the fall classic or lose in the first round of the playoffs–I think this is my favorite Yankee team since the 1999-2000 versions.

They’ve got appealing new stars like Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown and Flash Gordon, as well as reliable role-players like Paul Quantrill, Miguel Cairo, Tony Clark, Jon Lieber, Ruben Sierra and John Olerud. I can find something to like about almost all of them (the only guys I’m not wild about are Enrique Wilson, and Felix Heredia). As far as I can tell they all fit in well in New York. I thought that Kenny Lofton could turn into another Raul Mondesi, but after some standard complaining to reporters early in the year, he’s been a model citizen.

I realize that the Yankees have their flaws: the pitching isn’t dominant, the middle-relief is suspect, the defense isn’t especially good, but really, I haven’t spent nearly as much time worrying about them as I did during the past two seasons. (The Yankees have problems that every other team would just love to have too, right?) I understand that there is no way to quantify terms like “character” and “chemistry,” and I don’t know how much they contribute to a team winning or losing games. My sense is that mainstream writers tend to overrate these qualities while many sabermetricians discount them too readily.

However, the Yankees seem to have a lot of character this season. And you do have to be a certain kind of player to thrive in New York (or Boston or even Philly). There is so much pressure to win the World Series in the Bronx that I can see how it would overwhelm some players. Perhaps guys like Jeff Weaver and Rondell White weren’t the ideal fit for this team. The 96-01 Yankees were populated by type-A personalities. I believe that guys like Sheffield, Gordon and Brown have embraced playing for the Yanks. They buy into the Jeter-Mariano-Torre concept. One thing that many of the Yankees’ new players have in common is that they are competitive dudes. (When was the last time you saw Sheffield, Matsui, Jeter, or Rodriguez loaf it down to first?)

While there are some Yankee fans who will call the season a failure if they don’t win it all, I don’t get the sense of “joylessness” that Mike Lupica carped about last season. Maybe that exists for the working press when you cover the team. I know that it can infest your mentality just rooting for them. But it doesn’t have to.

I take the win-at-all-costs-or-else!-attititude as a given being a Yankee fan. It used it bother me, but now I don’t fight it anylonger. It’s the way it is, and quite frankly, it has always been that way since I’ve followed the team (with a few years off in the late 80s and early 90s). If the Yankees have a curse to call their own it is the curse of their own grand expectations. The owner may consider the season a failure should they not win a title and that is his right. Derek Jeter may echo those sentiments and that’s fine. I like having an owner who wants to win–it would be nice if he had some grace, but screw it, you can’t have everything–and I also like hearing that kind of talk from the teams’ star player.

But for me, the win-or-bust mentality can only go so far. I’ve adopted it to a certain extent because it is the teams’ reality, but will the season be lost or a disaster for me if they don’t win it all? Hardly. My biggest wish for the Yankees–or any team I root for–is for them to be a tough out. As long as they go down fighting, or get beaten fair-and-square, I’m fine with that. When they beat themselves–1981 World Serious, 1995 playoffs–that is is tough to stomach. I don’t know if the Yankees ability to come-from-behind this year will run-out before October of if will continue to define them throughout the playoffs. I just know that they’ve been enormously entertaining so far and I wanted to let you know how much I’ve appreciated watching and writing about them all summer.

I know it is early for this kind of talk, but who would your MVP (s) be for the 2004 Yanks? I’d say that Rivera and Gordon have been the best pitchers, and Sheffield and Matsui have been the best everyday players.

Sweepless in Seattle

The Yankees won two-out-of-three against the Mariners this weekend while Boston lost two-of-three at home against the White Sox. The Yankee lead in the east stands at ten-and-a-half games; Boston is in a three-way tie for first in the wildcard standings. Though there were big crowds at Safeco, it was as quiet as I remember it being up there in a long time. Until the seventh inning on Sunday there wasn’t too much for them to get worked up about. I watched all three games and thoroughly enjoyed how little tension existed for the New Yorkers. For some fans, watching the Yankees beat-up on a last-place team while they are ten-and-a-half up themselves must be like watching paint dry. Not me. I know there will be plenty of tension down the road; heck, this week may present some exciting games against the Twins and Angels. Things can get tense quickly. Just ask Minnie.

Jon Lieber pitched well in a Yankee blowout on Friday (grand slam by Ruben Sierra, three-run dinger by Bernie), and the bullpen was sharp in Saturday’s 6-4 win (go-ahead RBI courtesy of John Olerud, thank you very much). And though Kevin Brown was solid on Sunday afternoon, the bullpen was not, as the Bombers coughed up a 3-1 lead and lost 7-3.

It was the last time New York will face Edgar Martinez. As sweet as it is to watch Martinez swing, I can’t say I’ll miss him after what he’s done to the Yankees through the years. Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui all had good offense weekends. Alex Rodriguez missed Friday’s game with the flu. Then Rodriguez dropped the appeal to his four-game suspension on Saturday. Rodriguez will miss the first two games against the Twins this week. However, Javier Vazquez is scheduled to start tomorrow, followed by Mike Mussina on Wednesday.

Yankees 5, Rangers 1

It’s one thing to watch a scrub like Taynon Sturtze skate by the skin of his teeth, and another thing altogether to watch a real pro like Orlando Hernandez work. (El Duque may throw some horseshit pitches, but Sturtze is horseshit: no offense.) A rejuvinated Hernandez continues to throw well, mixing pitches, changing speeds, cursing at himself, pumping himself up, and wouldn’t you know, smiling and enjoying himself too.

Hernandez is striking out batters at a good clip. He avoids specific hitters and challenges others. He is also surviving by living dangerously. He threw a 50 mph lob ball to Alfonso Soriano (who already had two hits) in the fifth inning: Sori was all over it and lined it back to Hernandez, who knocked it down and threw to first to record the out. Sori hit it back to Duque like they were playing catch. Hernandez smiled, knowing he got away with one. Hernandez slightly tips his lob ball by slowing his motion down just before he throws it. It seems more like a lob than an eephus, but now we’re talking about semantics. Same difference. (Hey, anyone know of any other active pitcher who is throwing an eephus pitch?) Duque then walked Dave Dellucci–he walked three times–before striking out Michael Young to end the inning.

Hernandez was working with a lead. He labored at first, but settled down quickly. Miguel Cairo hit a grand slam in the second inning which would be enough offense for the Bombers. Good thing as the Yankees continue to strand runners on base, unable to come up with some key hits. Kenny Lofton gave the Bombers a scare in the fourth inning when he fouled a ball into the Yankee dugout. The ball smacked off of Joe Torre’s head. I missed the play but looked up and saw Torre on the ground with several guys around him. He was fine and when Lofton returned to the dugout after grounding out, Torre rubbed Lofton’s head and let him know that he was OK.

In the sixth, Hank Blalock lead off the inning and narrowly missed a home run, sending Gary Sheffield to the warning track in right field. El Duque grinned like a Cheshire cat and then got Mark Teixeria to fly out to deep center. It was a three-up, three down inning.

Known as a mercurial sort, Hernandez’s body language has appeared far lighter, his mood steadily upbeat since he’s returned to the Yankees. I suppose winning will do that to you, huh? Jack Curry reports in the Times [the following clip appeared in the print version of the paper today but not in the on-line edition]:

Hernandez was having more fun than anyone else…Hernandez has seemed more comfortable and more affable in his second stint with the Yankees. ALways obsessive about tinkering with his pitching, Hernandez has even been tinkering in the clubhouse. He has routinely dropped to one knee in front of his locker and taken a sock with other socks sutffed inside it and used that as the ball while mimicking his motion.

Hernandez has done this drill even as reporters have stood within five feet of him. He softly exhales as he finishes each imaginary pitch by bending so much that his head is near his knee and his hand almost touches the carpet. It is one more reason he is so distinctive on a team crammed with high-profile stars.

If El Duque has been a surprising success, then Flash Gordon and Mariano Rivera have been excactly what we expected. Gordon worked a perfect eighth inning last night and literally blew the Rangers away, striking out all three men he faced. It didn’t seem fair. Rich Lederer agrees, and sent me the following e-mail this morning:

It’s time to give Tom Gordon some love…Yankee fans know that Gordon has been part of a highly successful bullpen triumvirate. Most are probably aware that Flash is leading the league in “holds” with 28. However, what they may not know is that Flash is having a historical season in terms of his WHIP ratio (walks plus hits divided by innings). WHIP can also be expressed in terms of baserunners divided by 9 IP.

Season, 1900-2004

Baserunners/9 IP              Year   BR/9 IP
1    Dennis Eckersley         1990     5.52
2    Eric Gagne               2003     6.56
3    Tom Gordon               2004     7.11
3    Billy Wagner             1999     7.11
5    Pedro Martinez           2000     7.22
6    Walter Johnson           1913     7.26
7    Addie Joss               1908     7.31
8    Christy Mathewson        1909     7.45
9    Greg Maddux              1995     7.47
10   Ed Walsh                 1910     7.47

* Minimum: 65 IP
(Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia)
Three of the best relief pitchers ever and four of the top ten starting pitchers of all time. I’m not suggesting Gordon is a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher, but it is worth noting that all of the pitchers on the above list who are eligible for the HOF have been enshrined in Cooperstown.

Gordon’s erstwhile team defeated the Devil Rays yesterday at Fenway Park. Pedro Martinez threw a complete-game shut-out. The Sox are nine-and-a-half games behind the Yankees. Finally, here is a follow-up on Derek Jeter’s run-in with Angel Hernandez on Wednesday night, via the Post.

Yankees 4, Rangers 2

“I swing and miss and sometimes I don’t feel anything. Then I check the swing and I feel like somebody just shot me.” Gary Sheffield (N.Y. Post)

The first guy I roomed with in college was and is a piece of work. Hank Mayo Flynn III streaked across campus during our first week of school. These days he works as the public address announcer for your very own Staten Island Yankees. Hendree grew up in North Carolina but moved to Long Island when he was in high school. For that reason, he became a defacto Jets fan. I remember one Sunday afternoon in the early 90s, Hank and I sat down to watch the Jets with our pal Lomain and after something bad quickly happened to our boys, Flynn announced, “Well, it’s gunna be another long, stupid season for the Jets.”

I liked the simplicity of that statement, and ever since I’ve used it as a mantra watching the Jets. (The statement fits the Knicks to a tee as well.) I don’t get worked up one way or another with the Jets any longer. I just remind myself that they are destined to have long, stupid seasons, and everything is OK. Mostly, I laugh a lot.

Long and stupid are words that come to mind when Taynon Sturtze pitches for the Yankees, and I repeated Hank’s mantra last night in the bottom of the first inning, determined to find some humor in the mess Sturtze had worked himself into. (Sturtze is just the kind of lunkhead that Henry would appreciate.) After giving up three hits, the game was tied (Derek Jeter hit a solo homer in the top of the inning). Sturtze walked Mark Teixeria to load the bases and then plunked Gary Matthews Jr to force home a run.

Brian Jordan followed with a low line drive to right field. Gary Sheffield waited on it for a moment, caught the ball on his side, and then fired a strike to the plate to cut down Hank Blalock for a double play. It turned out to be a key play in the game. In the second, Regilio did his best Sturtze impression walking the first three men he faced. John Olerud tied the game on a force and Migel Cairo’s sac fly put New York ahead for good. (Bernie Williams later added a sacrifice fly of his own.) It was a sloppy game with both teams making mistakes on the bases. In addition, the Yankees left a ton of men on base, unable to get any key hits.

Sturtze managed to work through the fifth and then the Yankees’ rested bullpen trio of Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera shut Texas down for the win. As the Yankees went through the post-game high-fives and fist-bumps, Derek Jeter barked at first base umpire Angel Hernandez. Jeter was correctly called out by Hernandez late in the game on a close play at first. I couldn’t exactly tell what happened when the game was over but it looked like Hernandez shot Jeter the evil eye as he was running off the field. Jeter is generally competitive but he usually doesn’t get that heated with an ump. Herandez will work behind the plate tonight. The Red Sox creamed the Devil Rays and remain nine-and-a-half behind New York.

Bruised

It is clear to anyone watching the Yankees these days that Gary Sheffield is playing with a lot of pain. He can’t lift his left arm over his head and he practically catches fly balls down by his waist. How bad has it gotten for Sheff? Bad enough for him to consider retiring. According to the Daily News:

“I’m not ruling anything out,” Sheffield said. But then he added, “I may feel differently tomorrow.”

…Meanwhile, Sheffield is battling the mental part of his injury. Generally, he does not strike out much, but entering last night, he whiffed six times in his last 12 at-bats and admitted that swinging and missing, the point when he feels the most pain, is on his mind. Last night he did not strike out; he walked three times instead.

“You tell yourself when you go up there, you know what you’re dealing with,” Sheffield said. “I go up there trying not to get two strikes on me and I wind up with three strikes. That’s what happens when you play mind games with yourself. Usually, I don’t think about that when I hit.

“Now I feel like I’m a defensive hitter. … There are a lot of emotions that go with playing how I’m playing.”

Meanwhile, Jason Giambi is in Tampa rehabbing. Yesterday, a clean-scrubbed Giambi spoke to the media. Characteristically, he said little; however, he looked much better and hopefully, he’ll rejoin the team soon. It would make for a great story if he can contribute down-the-stretch, especially in light of Sheffield’s injury. Can’t wait to see you back in the line-up, ya big lug you.

What’s Cooking?

One of the best parts of kitty-sitting for my cousins while they vacation on Cape Cod is using their state-of-the-art kitchen. In New York space matters, so having the luxury of a long, wide chopping block is my idea of a great time. I love to cook, even for myself. Last night I was too tired to deal, but with a six-burner gas stove staring me in the face it was hard to resist. (Having plenty of good ingredients at my disposal doesn’t hurt either.) So I cooked myself dinner.

I made a variation of an Amatriciana, a staple pasta dish and one of my favorites. Okay, it was a bastardized version of the very simple dish. I used tortellini instead of bucatini or spaghetti. And I threw in some cracked green olives and beef stock and fresh basil too for kicks. While I was cooking I listened to the Bob Murphy tribute from Shea Stadium that took place before the game. Hearing a montage of some classic Murphy calls brought a smile to my face; without thinking much about it, I will miss him more than I ever thought I would. Then the good people at Shea chose the most ham-handed cheeseball song to accompany a video tribute. It was like a parody right out of “The Simpsons,” and was especially amusing on the radio.

After I ate, I was browsing through my cousin’s bookshelf. I found two books by Anthony Bourdain, “A Cook’s Tour,” and “Kitchen Confidential.” I had read “KC” a few years back. It is an entertaining and corse memoir of Bourdain’s life as a chef in the restaurant business. I thought it was funny, over-bearing and depressing. If you ever want to convince someone that the restaurant business is hell, just give them a copy of “Kitchen Confidential.”

Anyhow, the reason I bring it up is because I poked around “A Cook’s Tour” and found a baseball-related tidbit in the introduction. And it all comes back to baseball right? Bourdain describes a small, dilapidated village in West Cambodia:

There are no smiles in this town, just glares of naked hostility. The clothing of choice is the moldering remnants of military-issue fatigues. There is a ‘karaoke’ booth in the lobby, next to the standard pictogram of an AK-47 with a red line through it (NO AUTOMATIC WEAPONS IN THE LOBBY). ‘Karaoke’ means, presumably, that the bison-sized women lounging around by the front desk with their kids are available for purposes of sexual diversion. The best-looking one is a dead ringer for Hideki Irabu. (We traded that lox to Toronto, didn’t we? Or was it Montreal?) My Khmer translator, who has hardly opened his mouth since we entered Khmer Rouge territory, says that the last time he stayed here, during the last coup, he got a terrible skin rash. He intends, he says, to sleep standing up. Now he tells me…

“Yeah, I gotta rash man.” Irabu used to remind me of a cross between Jackie Gleason and a Japanese Elvis impersonator. But a Cambodian hooker isn’t half-bad either. I wonder if her name was Boo Boo?

Rangers 7, Yanks 1

It was evident from the first batter Kevin Brown faced last night, that the tall right-hander was off his game. Alfonso Soriano fouled off several pitches and eventually walked on a 3-2 pitch. Standing on the mound looking in for the sign, legs apart, right hand dangling by his side, Brown’s body looks gnarled and mangled. He looks like an abstract sculpture, or perhaps a strong German Expressionist drawing. With each pitch, he puts forth so much energy you wouldn’t be surprised if it was the last one he ever threw. I can’t help but occasionally make sound effects, great grunts and gutteral yells, as Brown releases the ball.

Brown was deliberate and had little command as the Rangers rolled to an easy win in Arlington. On the other hand, Ryan Drese pitched well. The Yankees hit the ball on the screws several times, with nothing to show for it. In the first inning, Gary Sheffield smoked a ball foul that missed being a double by a few feet. Drese came back with a nasty off-speed pitch and Sheffield really opened his left shoulder as he waved at it. This has been the pitch that exposes Sheffield’s weak shoulder and the Yankee slugger doubled-over in pain. Drese followed with another change up–this one further outside–and Sheff swung and missed. (In his second at bat, Sheffield line out hard to Hank Blalock at third.) Ouch. Both Sheffield and Brown looked ennervated and bruised. Must be the dog days of summer. The Yanks managed a couple of cheap hits, but couldn’t get a rally going.

The Red Sox beat up on the Devil Rays in Boston and gained a game on New York. They now trail by nine-and-a-half games. Taynon Sturtze will start tonight, replacing Javier Vazquez who has a case of pink-eye.

Cool, Calm, Collected

Joe Torre took George Steinbrenner’s public critique on Kenny Lofton’s defense in stride. According to Jack Curry in the New York Times:

“We know because of the fact that he’s George, he’s going to say things,” Torre said. “I said when I signed this contract it wasn’t going to bother me. It’s different in my brain now where I stand here.”

…”Last year I thought maybe the eight years was enough,” Torre said. “Maybe we were tired of each other. I thought it was geared toward having me just work my contract out and that would be the end of it. After this spring, the contract changed my whole perspective.”

…Torre teased Lofton about being the focus of Steinbrenner’s wrath.

“We talked in spring training that this is the owner and the Boss will be the Boss,” Torre said. “It goes away. The Boss doesn’t go away. It goes away.”

Torre is like a cop out of an old New Yorker cartoon who has seen it all. He arrives on the scene and calmly clears the crowd, “OK, show’s over, nothing to see here. Show’s over. Let’s move along.”

Blue Jays 5, Yanks 4

Esteban Loaiza was unimpressive in his second outing for the Yankees. The offense rallied on the strength of two, two-run home runs (Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui), but fell just short. However, the Yankees didn’t lose any ground in the standings as Curt Schilling and the Red Sox fell to the Devil Rays in Boston last night. The Bombers start a three-game series against the Rangers in Texas tonight. The Rangers have lost four-straight.
Kenny Lofton started in right field and contributed an error prompting George Steinbrenner to mouth off to reporters that he doesn’t want to see his boy Lofton playing right field. Sound the alarm, the Yankees lost a game. Heads must roll. Jeez, and Joe Torre was having it so easy this year. Not to say that Steinbrenner’s minor outburst is anything to worry about. Most likely, Torre will just roll his eyes and move on. But who knows? Perhaps he’ll jab back.

George must be feeling lonely. After all, he hasn’t made an ass out of himself lately. His win-at-all-costs-or-else! attitude is pervasive and has been adopted by a large portion of Yankee fans. While the attitude to win admirable, when it morphs into a sense of entitlement it is tired. I find it boorish and obnoxious when Steinbrenner second-guesses his manager in public. I know that I get wrapped up in the need for the Yankees to win every game at times. I’m guilty, bro, no doubt about it. That is why I try to appreciate each game for what it is, instead of simply waiting around for October for the “important” games. I need to remind myself to stay grounded and enjoy each at-bat, each pitch, and each game. Fortunately, there are members of the Yankee organization who haven’t buckled under George’s pressure:

Bernie Williams told Harvey Araton in the Times:

“You know, everyone wants us to win the World Series, but I don’t think the season is only about October,” Bernie Williams said. “For the fans, it’s about summer, about watching their favorite team. It’s about kids being out of school, about spending a day or a great night, seeing a great game.”

Williams paused for several seconds, thinking, and added, “It’s about seeing how it all turns out.”

And here is bit from the Brian Cashman piece in New York magazine:

To Steinbrenner, anything short of a championship is a tragedy. But Cashman tries not to buy into the suffocating joylessness. “I didn’t learn any lessons from the way we lost to the Marlins,” he says.

Three Times Dope

Just what the doctor ordered. Man, did the Yankees ever have a fine weekend. After Kevin Brown’s brilliant, eight-inning performance against the A’s last Thursday, Javier Vazquez, Orlando Hernandez and Jon Lieber all pitched eight innings themselves. The result? Three Yankee wins, and some much-needed rest for New York’s bullpen. Mike Mussina will make a rehab start shortly and if he can return to form, the Yankees pitching suddenly doesn’t look so uncertain. If Brown, Mussina and Vazquez are healthy, the Yankees should be alright. Anything Duque, Loaiza and Lieber can give them is cream and sugar.

Vazquez allowed a three-run homer to Carlos Delgado in the first inning on Friday night, but Godziller Matsui tied the game in the bottom of the first with a three-run bomb of his own. The Yanks scored another run in the inning and Vazquez never looked back, throwing as well as he has in months. Matsui added another homer and had 6 RBI on the evening.

Duque was in vintage form on Saturday, mixing his pitches well, including a couple of sloooooow curve balls, clocked in the low 50s. Bernie Williams had a couple of doubles as the Yanks crusied 6-0. Bernie ended things early on Sunday with a grand slam in the first. I’ve given up the dream that Bernie might make the Hall of Fame one day; instead, I’m taking great pleasure in each and every positive thing he does as he climbs the ladder on various all-time club records. John Olerud played well on Friday and Sunday (Tony Clark got the start on Saturday against Ted Lilly), and Gary Sheffield continues to mash, adding a tremendous shot on Sunday afternoon that bounced off the facade of the upper deck in left field. After the game, the last place Blue Jays canned their skipper Carlos Tosca.

Boston lost Friday night but won on Saturday (Prince P) and Sunday (Bomb Squad) and are a season-high ten-and-a-half back. Jorge Posada sat the weekend out with a sore right thumb. The Yankees go for the series sweep with a rare Monday afternoon game today. They travel to Texas for three with the Rangers before heading up to Seattle to meet the M’s over the weekend.

Links

Chris Smith has a long piece on Brian Cashman in this week’s New York magazine. Worth checking out. Oh, and since it is Monday, that means that the latest edition of Rivals in Exile is ready to roll. As always, a must-read for Yankee and Red Sox fans.

Finally, be sure and see what Dr. Manhattan makes of the American League two-thirds of the way through the season over at Blissful Knowledge.

Yanks 5, A’s 1

Call it Sleep

What a nice turn of the weather we’re enjoying in New York. It had been hot and muggy for well over a week, and it was supposed to rain all day yesterday. But by the time the Yanks and A’s took the field in the early afternoon, it was clear and sunny, a virtually perfect August day. Kevin Brown dominated Oakland and the Yankees increased their division lead to nine-and-a-half games over the idle Boston Red Sox. If Brown manages to stay healthy he should be an exceedingly effective pitcher for the Bombers down the stretch.

Derek Jeter and Ruben Sierra had RBI doubles. John Olerud celebrated his 36th birthday going 3-3 (he was also hit by a pitch). Last night, my mind was wandering as I tried to fall asleep. Forget the air conditioner, a chilly breeze from my bedroom window had Em and I under the covers. It struck me that more than anything, Olerud strongly resembles one of the pensive, stoic figures from an Edward Hopper painting.

Hopper was the first painter I ever considered a favorite. My uncle Fred gave me the cataolog of Hopper’s 1981 retrospective at the Whitney for my tenth birthday, and his pictures had a major impact on me. More than anything, I respond to Hopper’s strong sense of composition, and his sensitivity to space and light. While I enjoy his landscapes–and especially his cityscapes–I cherish his interior pictures most of all. Often, a Hopper painting will feature an expressionless figure inside an apartment looking out of a window or a door.

When I was young, I was fascinated by the lonliness and isolation of these figures. They never smiled. (There is only one picture–a water color of his wife Jo–that I know of which features a person smiling.) What were they thinking? More importantly, what were they looking at? It didn’t really matter. All that matterd was that they seemed to be searching for something. They yearned for something. Or maybe they were just sleepy or bored. Curiously, if you ever get a chance to see any of Hopper’s work in person, you’ll notice that his figures look clumsily rendered, stiff, and awkward. Walk about 15 paces away from the canvas however and they click into perfect focus. (You’ll also notice just how much green he uses.)

As a side note, one thing that makes Hopper a brilliant painter is that he implies what his figures are looking at, without showing us. Talk about the mark of a great storyteller. Matisse and Bonnet were famous for their interior/exterior pictures, and Hopper continued this tradition. Typically, the interior space will command the canvas, with the exterior–seen through an open doorway or an open window–only taking up a tiny portion of physical space. However, Hopper will imply the greater exterior space, by adding a window ledge, an apartment building across the way, etc. The effect should effect the viewer subconsciously, but it directly relates to what the central figure(s) are looking at. Because the interior rooms are often bare, the sense of space, of openess is commanding.

When I matured, the people in Hopper’s pictures became less important than the formalism of the composition. (For instance, I almost totally ignore the figures on the right side of the canvas of Hopper’s famous “Nighthawks”, preferring instead to explore the empty store front across the street that fills up the left side.) Often, the people ceased to matter to me at all. One of Hopper’s last great paintings, “Sun in an Empty Room” (1963, 29×40) is a picture of an empty, sun-lit room. (Reproductions don’t do the picture justice.) On the far right side of the frame is a window. You can see dark green trees through the window which suggest the time of year; inside the room, the sun hits the interior walls in two places. The wall closer to the window features a bright, white light, while the wall further away has a wamer, more mellowed light. Is it early morning or late in the afternoon? It is a picture of amazing simplicity, and for me it suggests a kind of ideal serenity. Hopper, a man of few words, was once asked to describe the picture. “It’s about me,” he replied.

Personally, I think he felt liberated by not having to include people. But when you do see one of the lonely people in his paintings, not quite knowing what they are thinking or experiencing, imagine of the newest member of the Yankees, John Olerud. I don’t think of him as being depressed or even grim, simply private, internal, resolute. I think he would fit in just fine.

Yankees 8, A’s 6

“He’s as tough as nails. It doesn’t surprise you everytime he does something like that. He’s been incredible, and what he’s had to deal with all year — uncomfortable, hurt, whatever you want to call it — the players just love having him around.”

Joe Torre on Gary Sheffield (N.Y. Post)

The Yankees won another game in dramatic fashion last night at the Stadium. It was a rousing win for New York and a painful loss for Oakland. It isn’t getting dull for me yet, how ’bout you? I was frustrated watching the A’s beat the Yanks around for most of the game. I commiserated with Emily about the pitching staff, and cursed at Esteban Loaiza, Bernie Willaims and Kenny Lofton. As much as I try to keep perspective, when the Yankees play good teams like the A’s and Angels, I get all worked up. The Yankees spoil you. Is it wrong for a fan to want your team to win every game? Last week I received the following e-mail from Brain Gunn:

With the Cards doing so well, I’m finally beginning to understand what it’s like to be a Yankees fan. I mean, you always hear people say shit like, “Why do you care if the Yankees win again? Haven’t they won enough?” But that’s sorta like saying, “You’ve read so many great books, haven’t you had enough?” or “You’ve heard so many great songs, why would you want to hear another one?” When you’re in the presence of excellent things it makes you insatiable for more. Actually that’s not quite right — it’s not like you’re gluttonous or anything; it’s more like you glimpse a certain ideal of perfection and you want to see it again.

Gary Sheffield tied the game with a two-run dinger off of Oakland’s new closer Octavio Dotel in the bottom of the ninth, and Alex Rodriguez ended it with a two-run homer of his own two innings later. Mariano Rivera pitched two innings and got the win. Mo threw 51 pitches and wasn’t especially sharp, but he was good enough.

The late-inning comeback helped take Esteban Loaiza off the hook. In his first game as a Yankee, Loaiza did not pitch well. He walked too many batters, made a poor fielding play, and gave up two home runs, including a three-run bomb to Eric Byrnes. Byrnes looks like the youngest kid from the movie “Parenthood” all grown up. His nickname is “Captain America” and he’s been one of the hottest hitters in the game of late. In the past two games, he’s murdered pitches off of the plate. (Note to the league: time to start busting this guy inside.) Loaiza has an easy delivery and like Jon Lieber, works quickly. His motion makes him look like a pitcher from the 1970s, like Mike Torrez.

Rich Harden throws extremely hard, but he wasn’t that impressive either. Hideki Matsui was all over him, hitting three vicious line drives–one went for a double, then a fly-out, then a home run. With men on second (Matsui) and third (Posada) and nobody out in the second inning, Bernie Williams came to the plate. Williams was 1 for his last 17 at that point. A weak ground-ball–Bernie’s recent specialty–would do just fine. So what does he do but pop the first pitch up to short? (Bernie had a bloop single later on, and battled against Ricardo Rincon late in the game, before striking out.) Fortunately for the Yanks, John Olerud followed and in his first at-bat for New York, slapped a single through the right side for a 2 RBI single (Olerud singled in his next at-bat and ended the night 2-5).

It was great seeing Olerud in a Yankee uniform. I’ve always appreciated his quiet intensity. Watching him on the bench, he has a thousand-yard stare that makes me wonder where his mind is. But he doesn’t seem to be a flake like Bernie Williams. He’s just slightly removed. Maybe having a near-death experience will do that to you. Regardless, he’s reminds me of a benign Travis Bickle. My girlfriend thinks he looks like a stork. All-Baseball.com’s Mariners man, Peter White likens him to a hawk at the plate, “Silently watching everything, patient for just the right meaty morsel.” Further, White explained to me in an e-mail:

I’d have to disagree with [Steven] Goldman’s take that because the Mariners dumped Olerud that there’s reasons to be suspicious of his skills.

I daresay it’s akin to thumbing through a stack of vinyls at a garage sale and finding “Rubber Soul” for a quarter from some poor soul who’s never heard of the Beatles. Sure, there’s some scratches; it’s not a flawless disc. But for crying out loud, it’s “Rubber Soul” for a quarter!

The Yankees gained a game on Boston who fell to the Devil Rays, 5-4. New York’s lead is now nine games.

Get Well Soon

Following up on something I noted yesterday, the Daily News has an article about how some of Jason Giambi’s former teammates have reacted to Giambi’s illness.

What Gives?

Derek Jeter is often praised for his baseball smarts, and rightly so. However, he has developed a distressing habit of laying down sacrifice bunts in the first inning this year. I don’t know why Joe Torre allows him to get away with it. Jim Kaat praises his intelligence on YES, while Michael Kay bites his tounge. I’m sure in his mind Jeter believes he’s being a team-player, but early in the game, with the kind of line up the Yankees have, it isn’t just a poor play, it is a dumb play. In his first eight full seasons Jeter compiled 34 sacrifices. His career high came in 1997 when he had eight; he had eleven from 2001 through 2003. So far this year, Jeter has eleven sacrifices. I believe this habit began during Jeter’s early-season slump. If I have one criticism of Jeter this year, this is it. Anyone else notice this?

Torched

The Yankees jumped out to a 3-0 then a 4-1 lead against Oakland’s aceMark Mulder last night at the stadium. Jon Lieber got lucky in the first two innings; though the A’s hit the ball hard, he got two double plays to save his bacon. But his luck ran out as the A’s pounded Lieber, Tanyone Sturtze and “the Run Fairy” Felix Heredia to the count of 13-4. The Yankees ran into some bad luck of their own in the fourth inning. With the score tied at 4, Bobby Crosby made a beautiful diving grab, robbing Tony Clark of a hit. He then doubled Ruben Sierra off of first base. With two out and two men on, Jermaine Dye celebrated his birthday early by making an improbable catch at the right field wall, denying Jeter of at least a double and two RBI. Drat.

That said, the A’s were swinging the bats so well, it may not have mattered if the Yankees scored a few more runs. For New York, Jorge Posada hit a three-run homer in the first and Gary Sheffield later hit a line-drive solo homer which brought back memories of Dave Winfield. The Yankees lead over Boston was reduced to eight games after Curt Schilling and the Sox defeated the Devil Rays, 5-2.

John Olerud joined the Yankees yesterday and is expected to start tonight. Joe Torre said he left a message for Jason Giambi yesterday. My feeling is that Torre hopes he can get Giambi back for the playoffs, but nothing is certain. One thing is for sure, there hasn’t been much sympathy offered to the Yankees’ ailing slugger, either from the press of from the fans. If Derek Jeter had a tumor it would be covered as a national crisis. You’d think we’d see some kind of puff pieces on Giambi now that his erstwhile team is in town, but I haven’t noticed anything yet. I am as guilty as the next guy for glossing-over his condition too. Both Steve Bonner and Steve Goldman have been far more sensitive. Though I haven’t mentioned it, I do hope he starts to feel better soon.

Finally, it’s really getting to me watching Bernie Williams atrophy before our eyes. Lately he looks old and his bat has been extremely slow. I hope he has a hot streak left in him, but right now, he doesn’t look long for the baseball world, does he? (He is signed through 2006, though the Yankees have an option to buy him out after next season…again, can you say Carlos Beltran?)

The Voice of Beer

My friend Alan, a Met fan, used to like to say that Bob Murphy’s voice sounded like what beer would sound like if it had a voice. Schlitz beer. Or Reingold, right? I always enjoyed tuning in to the Met game on the radio to listen to Murphy’s call: “Eeeeee strug ‘im out.” My condolences to Met fans everywhere, who have lost a team legend.

All the News That’s Fit to Link

I’m sure some of you have already poured through most of the trade-deadline coverage. For those who haven’t, here is a series of links that may be of some interest:

Bob Ryan, Peter Gammons, Gordon Edes, Tom Verducci and Bill Simmons on the Nomar Garciaparra trade. In addition, check out what Curt Schilling has to say to the Boston Dirt Dogs in an exlusive interview and what Ed Cossette and Red Sox Nation make of losing a Boston icon.

The fellas over at The Hardball Times are on the case too. Rivals in Exile, Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken weigh in on the Yankee and Sox deals; Studes commiserates about the Mets (thanks, Avkash) and Aaron Gleeman covers all of the major moves, soup to nuts.

Oh, and Murray Chass and Tim Marchman tackle the Mets too.

The Yanks start a three-game series vs. the A’s tonight in the Bronx. Mark Mulder goes against Jon Lieber. Mulder hasn’t fared well in two outings vs. the Yanks this season; think he won’t bounce back with a strong performance? Tomorrow, Esteban Loaiza makes his Yankee debut against the hard-throwing Rich Harden. Finally, Barry Zito will face Kevin Brown on Thursday afternoon in the series finale.

Smart Guys

Initially I thought that the Red Sox did a decent job of getting some talent in return for Nomar Garciaparra. But after reading some of the fine analysis around the Net–including a roundtable of All-Baseball’s best and brightest–it seems as if Boston acted out of desperation more than anything else. I love reading transaction analysis, especially because it doesn’t hold much interest for me as a writer. However, I am an avid fan of the guys who are “doing it, doing it, and doing it well.”

Joe Sheehan–one of the best reasons to subscribe to Baseball Prospectus–offered a characteristically sound take on the Garciaparra trade:

I do believe the Red Sox will be better defensively, but that’s a side point. I don’t think the Sox are a better team today than they were Friday, and it’s not close. I think they made this trade not because it makes them better, but because they didn’t have it in them to stand up to Garciaparra, who by most accounts had been a jackass since the Alex Rodriguez trade fell through. I rarely

Yankees 9, Orioles 7

The Yankees offense broke-out the whupping stick on Sunday afternoon and pounded out nine runs against the Orioles (Alex Rodriguez homered for the third consecutive game). However, the bullpen couldn’t hold a six-run lead and wouldn’t you know it, but before all was said and done, there was Mariano Rivera on the mound, closing out the game. While this continues a disturbing trend, you would think that Rivera, Tom Gordon and even Paul Quantrill will eventually get a breather down the stretch as the Yankees are comfortably ahead of the Red Sox. Boston lost a close one against the Twins yesterday and now trail New York by nine-and-a-half games.

Esteban Loaiza arrived at the Stadium yesterday and by the time he put his uniform on his goatee was gone. We shall see if he can give the Yankees more than Jose Contreras did; Steve Bonner, for one, remains skeptical. John Olerud will be a Yankee and evidentally, he’ll be the starting first baseman, pushing Tony Clark back to a reserve role. Characteristically, Clark is taking the “demotion” in stride. According to the Daily News:

“Any time you can add a guy like Olerud to your lineup, it can’t help but be a positive. He’s solid on the field, off the field. Offensively and defensively, he’s as good as they get,” Clark said. “It’s about winning ballgames. It’s about being the last team standing. You can check your egos and your personal dreams at the door short of winning the World Series.”

In other Yankee news, today is the 25th anniversary of Thurman Munson’s death. I was eight-years old at the time and recall seeing the news on the front page of the New York Times. I also remember that it was the first time that I ever saw my father cry. That was puzzling to me because my old man was and is an avid Yankee-hater. I asked him, genuinely confused, why he was upset and he explained to me that it is sad when people die even if they are Yankees. Hey, who knew?

The Bombers have the day off today. They will host the surging Oakland A’s starting Tuesday night.

Here Today…

Em and I are house-sitting in Manhattan this weekend, so I’ve been unable to post until now. It’s Sunday around noon and it is humid and raining in New York. Kevin Brown returned to the starting rotation on Friday night and pitched very well. Yesterday, Javier Vazquez continued to struggle, but the bullpen was solid on both Friday and Saturday as the Yankees beat the Orioles 2-1, and 6-4 repsectively. Alex Rodriguez had two fine games though the rest of the offense has been uneven. The Red Sox won on Friday but lost yesterday; they now trail New York by eight-and-a-half games in the AL East.

But the games were overshadowed by the trading deadline. As expected Randy Johnson remained in Arizona. He did not get traded to the Yankees. Baseball fans everywhere can rejoice: the big, bad Bombers failed to get their man. However, the Yankees made a deal just under the wire, moving Jose Contreras and cash to the White Sox for Esteban Loaiza. They are also close to signing John Olerud to platoon with Tony Clark at first base. Jason Giambi was diagnosed with a benign tumor on Friday and was placed on the 15-day dl. The location of the tumor was not made public.

The Red Sox made a sweeping move, trading Nomar Garciaparra and ending the day with Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz and Dave Roberts.

Em and I were down in Chinatown with some friends on Saturday afternoon, so we missed the game. I needed to clear my head from the steady clock-watching I’d been doing for the past two weeks anyhow. Shortly after five o’clock we got on a subway and saw several guys decked out in Yankee attire. I figured they had just returned from the game.

“Did we win?” I asked one kid.

“Yeah, 6-4.”

“Who got the runs?”

“A Rod and Sheffield homered. Jeter hit a triple.”

A kid wearing a Red Sox jersey chimed in, “It was a bloop triple.”

“We didn’t get Johnson did we?”

“No, they traded Contreras for Loaiza.”

What? I repeated the names back to him and to nobody in particular a few times just so the news would sink in. An older woman sitting across the car sighed, “Good. The guy turned into mush every time a runner got on base.” I looked down in front of me and a young Latina girl, all of four, stood next to her father. She was wearing a purple dress and was caught up in the energy in the car. She must have been curious as to what everyone was talking about. I winked at her and she covered her eyes and turned her head into her father’s lap. But in a moment or two, after I continued talking baseball, she and I looked at each other and shared a big smile.

The Yankee fans then told me that Nomar had been traded to the Cubs. A couple of kids in Red Sox jerseys hadn’t heard the news yet. Wow. I felt like consoling them. I’m sad about Nomar leaving Boston. I have always liked the idea of him playing his entire career with the Red Sox. But that clearly wasn’t going to happen. And what better place for him than Chicago with the Cubs? That is nice. (Mr. Maddux is going for win number 300 today; Mazel!) I’ve got to think that Boston did well here. Caberera can hit and he’s a good fielder, and Mientkiewicz is an excellent glove too. Hey, at least they didn’t get Matt Clement, right?

Dan Shaughnessy thinks it was high time for Nomar to go:

This is a strange story. No one ever played harder, or gave more, to the Boston Red Sox and the citizens of Red Sox Nation than Nomar Garciaparra. He was probably the most popular Sox player since Ted Williams, and rightfully so; no player was more worthy of your applause. But at the same time, no player polluted the clubhouse more than Nomar, and in the end, he was the ultimate non-team guy.

He had to go. He was more miserable than any athlete I have ever seen.

… He can say whatever he wants in front of the camera and he can flash that insincere smile, but make no mistake: He hates Boston and he hates the Red Sox and you should be glad that he’s gone. If you are a Red Sox fan, he is not your friend.

The Yankee deal feels like somewhat of a warsh. They rid themselves of an expensive headache in Contreras. It’s funny, but as poor as he’s been, I never hated the guy. There was something gentle about him that I found sympathetic. Loaiza had a career year last year, but he has returned to earth this season. It’s hard to imagine he will be that much of an improvement over Contreras. But his contract is up at the end of the season, and I’m sure that is one of the reasons he was attractive to New York.

I love the idea of Olerud signing simply because he has long been one of my favorite players. Between the two of them, Olerud and Tony Clark are very tall and very slow. But they are both plus fielders and Olerud still has plate discipline even if he can’t hit for power any longer. I love that Olerud and Bernie are on the same team; they’ve always reminded me of each other.

I’m relieved that the deadline has come and gone. No more pie-in-the-sky fantasies of Randy Johnson. Oh well. Can’t blame a guy for dreaming big. Now, Yankee fans can get back to the business of wringing our collective hands together worrying about pitching, pitching, pitching. (Poor little Yankee Nation.) At least things will continue to be interesting for the next couple of months. I, for one, plan to thoroughly enjoy the rest of the season, no matter what shakes down.

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