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Monthly Archives: April 2005

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Soggy Bottom Boys

A fine day for Chien-Ming Wang’s major league debut, eh? It’s been raining steadily in New York all morning. I wonder if they’ll just call this one and play two tomorrow instead.

Classic

I don’t care that the Yankees lost last night’s game 2-0, or that the loss established just their second three-game streak of any kind this year (both losing streaks, the other a four-gamer two weeks ago). Last night’s game was a classic. Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay both pitched complete games, baffling the opposing hitters with high heat and wicked sliders (in Johnson’s case) and sharp curves and changing speeds (in Halladay’s).

Both starters also benefited from excellent defense. Bernie Williams made a key running grab at the wall in the right field gap in the first inning. Johnson himself stabbed a pair of comebackers with his back to the plate, one with his glove and one barehanded, and Tino Martinez made a series of less flashy but equally excellent plays at first, from the throw that nailed Alexis Rios at second on a pick-off play, to the pop-up he caught while running over the pitchers mound, to a series of scoops and tags at first to convert questionable throws into easy outs. For the Blue Jays it was their middle infielders who were putting on the show, particularly Orlando Hudson’s Jeter-style stretch to his right jump and throw move and John McDonald’s tremendous leap to stab a line drive well over his head, which was followed by a stylish roll.

The difference in the game was a seventh-inning slider from Johnson to Eric Hinske that didn’t slide far enough and landed in the right field seats for a two-run home run (Gregg Zaun preceded Hinske with a walk), just the 22nd home run hit by a lefty off Johnson in his 18 seasons in the majors.

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Aces

Good pitching match up in the Bronx tonight as Randy Johnson goes against Doc Halladay. Whatta ya think? Will we see two good starts in a row from the Big Unit? The Yankees offense, dormant for the past two games, have their work cut out for them against Halladay, that’s for sure.

Go get ‘em, boys.

The Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays

2004 Record: 67-94 (.415)
2004 Pythagorean Record: 71-90 (.441)

Manager: John Gibbons
General Manager: J.P. Ricciardi

Ballpark (2004 park factors):

Who’s replacing whom?

Corey Koskie replaces Carlos Delgado
Shea Hillenbrand replaces Josh Phelps, Gabe Gross (minors) and Dave Berg
Russ Adams inherits playing time from Chris Gomez and Chris Woodward
John McDonald replaces Howie Clark
Ken Huckaby replaces Kevin Cash
Gustavo Chacin inherits Justin Miller’s starts and takes Miguel Batista’s place in the rotation as Batista becomes the full-time closer
David Bush inherits Pat Hentgen’s starts
Scott Schoeneweis replaces Kerry Lightenberg
Pete Walker replaces Terry Adams
Matt Whiteside and staff replace last year’s assortment of expendable relievers

Current Roster:

1B – Eric Hinske
2B – Orlando Hudson
SS – Russ Adams
3B – Corey Koskie
C – Gregg Zaun
RF – Alexis Rios
CF – Vernon Wells
LF – Frank Catalanotto
DH – Shea Hillenbrand

Bench:

R – Reed Johnson (OF)
R – Frank Menechino (IF)
R – John McDonald (IF)
R – Ken Huckaby (C)

Rotation:

R – Roy Halladay
R – David Bush
L – Ted Lilly
L – Gustavo Chacin
R – Josh Towers

Bullpen:

R – Miguel Batista
R – Justin Speier
L – Scott Schoeneweis
R – Jason Frasor
R – Vinnie Chulk
R – Pete Walker
R – Matt Whiteside

Typical Line-up

L – Frank Catalanotto (LF)
S – Olrando Hudson (2B)
R – Vernon Wells (CF)
L – Corey Koskie (3B)
R – Shea Hillenbrand (DH)
L – Eric Hinske (1B)
R – Alexis Rios (RF)
S – Gregg Zaun (C)
L – Russ Adams (SS)

The Blue Jays enter this weekend’s three game series with the Yankees one game above .500, a record their run differential (+3) supports, but one they are unlikely to maintain. After starting the season a blazing 6-2, the Jays are 6-9 in their last 15 games. Prior to their just-concluded three-game sweep of the Devil Rays, they were on a 3-9 run that included a five-game losing streak wich started when the Yanekes traveled to the newly renamed Rogers Centre last week.

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April Fools

Prior to last night’s game against the Angels, Kevin Brown threw his normal bullpen warm-up, then took a seat in the pen for a few minutes and did it all over again. The idea was to allow Brown to work out his first inning struggles in the pen rather than the game mound. It worked.

Despite a groundball single through to right by Chone Figgins and a four-pitch walk to Vladimir Guerrero, Brown pitched a scoreless first inning. He then pitched around a one-out double by Dallas McPherson to record a scoreless second. Brown did give up two runs in the third (due in large part to Chone Figgins’ baserunning) and one in the fourth, but then settled down to retire the last eleven batters he faced.

Altogether it was not just Brown’s best outing of the year, but the sort of performance most Yankee fans would happily take from Brown every fifth day:

7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 0 HR, 1 BB, 5 K, 63 percent strikes

The problem was that the Yankee offense essentially repeated it’s performance from the night before and the Yanks lost 3-1.

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What Has Brown Done For You (Lately?)

Well? Think ol’ Brownie can make it out of the second inning without giving up five runs?

Ray’s First Game

Jay Jaffe was at Tuesday night’s game, screaming his head off as Alex Rodriguez smacked three dingers and drove in 10 of the Yankees 12 runs in their 12-4 win over Bartolo Colon and the Angels. Me? I was there last night, when the Yanks managed just one lousy run off of Jarrod Washburn (the elusive solo homer that would have made Rodriguez’s Tuesday night performance the greatest in American League history).

It wasn’t all for nothing, however. Last night I and two of my colleagues brought my 67-year-old boss, a man who has lived in New York City for nearly 40 years, to his first game at Yankee Stadium.

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Ker-Splat

When Derek Jeter was thrown out at home in the first inning last night, trying to score from first on a double, I had a bad feeling about how the game was going to unfold for the Yanks. Garret Anderson made a great throw, and Jeter came up limping after colliding with Jose Molina. Sure, it was only the first inning, but sometimes, you just get a feeling. (Luis Sojo’s aggresiveness has backfired twice in the past week.) Jared Washburn had the Yankee hitters off-balance all evening, and benefitted from three double plays. Dag. Meanwhile, Mike Mussina continues to struggle. He made several mistakes–to Vlad, Anderson and Finely, and paid the price as the Angels beat the Bombers, 5-1. Jeter, Sheffield and Rodriguez were the only Yankees to swing the bat well in defeat.

Wang, Bean, Unit, Meat & Moose

Hidden behing the excitement of Alex Rodriguez’s 10-RBI night and the Yankees 12-4 victory over the Angels last night was another strong seven innings from Carl “Meat” Pavano. Tossing out his two starts against the Orioles–the first in which he was beaned with a comebacker and the second in which he imploded in the sixth after five strong innings–Pavano has posted a 2.53 ERA in three starts, averaging seven innings in each and allowing a total of just three walks and one home run. His K/BB ratio in those three starts is 4:1 and his K/BB ratio over the season, his two Oriole starts included, is better than 3:1.

Meanwhile, Randy Johnson, in five starts as a Yankee, has a 0.96 WHIP, a .211 opponent’s batting average, 8.91 K/9, 1.57 BB/9 and 5 2/3 times as may strikeouts as walks. Amazingly, all of those season stats are worse than his final numbers from 2004. In his last three starts he has a staggering 8:1 K/BB ratio. He’s just getting up to speed.

With Meat and the Big Unit forming an impressive top two in the Yankee rotation, it sure would be nice to get something Mussina-like out of Moose tonight against the Angels. That may be wishful thinking–a vintage Mussina performance is increasingly looking about as likely as a vintage Bernie Williams performance–but if he can at the very least replicate what Pavano’s dishing out (one hit per inning, excellent control, going deep into games), the Yankee rotation could really begin to take shape. Replacing Jaret Wright with Tiger Wang could also be a big part of that as a strong performance from Wang could force Wright and Brown to battle for the fifth spot.

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Bruised

According to the Associated Press, Curt Schilling, who recently exchanged some cherce words with Lou Piniella, is joining David Wells on the 15-day disabled list.

Oh What a Night

The first home run was satisfying, a waist high fastball punished over the fence in left center field. It was a poor pitch and Rodriguez teed off on the sucker. You could hear it through the TV; it just sounded great. And the Bombers had an early 3-0 lead. The second shot was impressive because the pitch looked inside and Rodriguez was able to just turn on it; this one went into the vistor’s bullpen. Really quick hands there, and it gave Pavano back the two runs he gave away via the walk in the top of the inning.

I got really anxious during Rodriguez’s third at bat. It was clear that Colon was just about done. How could you not be aware that Rodriguez had a chance to have a special night? Colon fell behind 2-0 and then Rodriguez took a huge cut on a fastball and got that Gary Sheffield/Fat Joe “Lean Back” on his follow-through. Another ball and then Colon reared back and gunned a fastball up around Rodriguez’s shoulders. It’s the toughest pitch for Rodriguez–and most righties, for that matter, to lay off; you can’t hit it, but it’s tough to resist. Swing and a miss, full count. Nuts, I thought. That was ball four. Then Rodriguez got a good swing on a fastball and fouled it off before he crushed the next pitch over the wall in straight-away center. Third dinger (and according to Jay Jaffe, who was at the game and later called in, during the commerical break Rodriguez took a second curtain call).

Hot Dog. Rich Lederer, 3,000 miles away, was listening to the game on the radio. He called me from his car phone and I gave him the recap. Rodriguez’s next at bat was impressive too, when he lined an 0-2 pitch into center field for an RBI single. Again, he took a page out of Sheff’s book, and didn’t try to do too much with the pitch, down 0-2. In his final at bat, Rodriguez roped a line drive to center. It was caught, but he hit it well. With one monster night, Rodriguez is now tied for the league lead in home runs and RBI (and oh, he’s second in the league in runs scored).

Terrific night for Rodriguez and the Yanks, as they roll over the Angels, 12-4. Andy Phillips started at first again, barely missed hitting a homer off a flat slider in his first time up, then later tanked a double into the deepest part of the ball park. And Colter Bean, he off the wide arse, and the frisbee sidearm breaking ball, pitched the final two innings.

Ka Boom

If anyone believed that Alex Rodriguez was still looking for his defining game as a Yankee, I think we’ve found it.

This is a lot of fun.

The Angels

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

2004 Record: 92-70 (.568)
2004 Pythagorean Record: 91-71 (.562)

Manager: Mike Scioscia
General Manager: Bill Stoneman

Ballpark (2004 park factors): Angel Stadium (99/99)

Who’s replacing whom?

Steve Finley replaces Jose Guillen
Orlando Cabrera replaces David Eckstein
Dallas McPherson replaces Troy Glaus
Juan Rivera replaces Tim Salmon (injured)
Lou Merloni replaces Casey Kotchman (minors)
Maicer Izturis replaces Shane Halter and Alfredo Amezaga
Paul Byrd replaces Aaron Sele
Esteban Yan replaces Troy Percival
Jake Woods replaces Ramon Ortiz

Current Roster:

1B – Darin Erstad
2B – Chone Figgins
SS – Orlando Cabrera
3B – Dallas McPherson
C – Jose Molina
RF – Vladimir Guerrero
CF – Steve Finley
LF – Garret Anderson
DH – Jeff DaVanon

Bench:

R – Juan Rivera (OF)
S – Maicer Izturis (IF)
R – Robb Quinlan (IF)
R – Lou Merloni (IF)
R – Josh Paul (C)

Rotation:

R – Kelvim Escobar
R – Bartolo Colon
L – Jarrod Washburn
R – John Lackey
R – Paul Byrd

Bullpen:

R – Francisco Rodriguez
R – Brendan Donnelly
R – Scot Shields
R – Kevin Gregg
R – Esteban Yan
L – Jake Woods

DL:

R – Tim Salmon (OF) (60-day)
L – Adam Kennedy (2B)
R – Bengie Molina (C)
R – Matt Hensley
R – Bret Prinz

Typical Line-up

L – Darin Erstad (1B)
S – Jeff DaVanon (DH)
R – Vladimir Guerrero (RF)
L – Garret Anderson (LF)
L – Steve Finley (CF)
R – Orlando Cabrera (SS)
L – Dallas McPherson (3B)
R – Jose Molina (C)
S – Chone Figgins (2B)

A curious observation about current trends in roster construction: as I continue to rail against the Yankees carrying too many pitchers (though I must admit, I haven’t figured out whom they should get rid of), the Angels are the first team the Yankees will play this year that is not carrying twelve pitchers. Every team in the AL East as well as the departing Rangers are carting around 12 hurlers and a four-man bench.

Anyway, Vlad is as Vlad does, but other than a solid performance from Orlando Cabrera and a hot streak from Bengie Molina before he landed on the DL with a quadricep injury, no one is hitting. Things are looking much better on the other side of the ball, however, where Kelvim Escobar returned from the DL (sprained elbow) with six scoreless innings on Sunday and the bullpen has posted a 2.30 ERA. Bartolo Colon, who goes tonight against Carl Pavano, has earned his ace tag thus far with a 2.60 ERA, dominating in his last two starts. It seems likely that Meat will have to keep those Halo bats silent to keep the Yankees in the game tonight, while the Bombers would be well advised to get on the board early.

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Same Time, Next Year

Tyler Kepner notes today that the Yankees in the same position they were last year: 8-11 with the Angels coming into town. General manager Brian Cashman tells Kepner:

“For some reason, it feels worse this year. But it keeps it in perspective to know that we got off to the exact same start and won 101 games. We’re in one of those we’re-never-as-bad-as-we-look-right-now schemes. It doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. But we’ll address them.”

Kepner goes on to profile Chien Ming Wang. According to a minor league scout:

“Wang is an average major league prospect with a ceiling, a good sinker-slider guy who throws strikes. I think Phillips could start on a second-division club. But the tough thing with the Yankees is there’s such a small window of opportunity for a guy to prove himself.”

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Speechless

Ever since leaving the ballpark on Sunday afternoon, I’ve been racking my brain to come up with something to say about Andy Phillips racking up four RBIs and six total bases in his first start of the year and the first Yankee Stadium start of his career, but I’ve got nothing. I’ve said it all already. The man can hit. He should be a permanent part of the Yankees’ 25-man roster and deserves the opportunity to establish himself in a platoon or even a starting role at first or second base. What happened Sunday was that the rest of the Yankee universe began to notice.

To his credit, Joe Torre may actually have been ahead of the curve. Torre was the man responsible for recalling Phillips when Ruben Sierra went down with a torn bicep, recognizing that Sierra’s only contribution to the team was at the plate and that Phillips is, above all else (and all others), a hitter. Torre then reacted to the two dismal losses that began the current homestand by inserting Phillips into Sunday’s starting lineup in place of left-handed fan favorite Tino Martinez despite the fact that the Rangers were starting a righty. Phillips then delivered with an RBI double in his first at bat and a three-run homer in his last. The home run earned him a curtain call from the Yankee Stadium crowd and, after the game, Joe Torre said, “he showed that we want to see him a little bit more.” Tom Singer of MLB.com went as far as to call Torre “a devotee of Phillips.” I hope he’s right.

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Now That’s More Like It

Randy Johnson was not overpowering yesterday, but he delivered his best performance in pinstripes as the Yanks bombed the Rangers and cruised to a tension-free 11-1 victory. Johnson’s fastball still isn’t blazing in the mid-to-high nineties, but he was still effective. The Rangers were impressed. Tyler Kepner reports in the Times:

“He was a lot different than what I’ve seen in the past and what I’ve experienced with him,” said Rangers catcher Rod Barajas, who caught Johnson with the Arizona Diamondbacks and went 0 for 3 yesterday.

“It’s not what we expected. We expected Randy Johnson to be throwing inside – hard four-seamers and sliders. He kept us off-balance. He hit both sides of the plate, and that’s not how you really know Randy Johnson. He was sinking the ball away and getting some weak ground balls. He did a great job of making adjustments.”

Third baseman Mark DeRosa added:

“It was like seeing a totally new guy out there,” DeRosa said. “He was throwing sinkers away and sliders away, where last year he would just be coming right in at 96, 98. But he still dominated.”

Derek Jeter (three hits including a solo homer) and rookie Andy Phillips (double, three-run dinger) led the offense. Jeter was one of several Yankees who spoke in a brief, players-only meeting before the game. Jeter would not comment about what was said, but Bill Madden hit the nail on the head:

The circumstances demanded a meeting, but as Lou Piniella was fond of pointing out during his tenure in Seattle as manager of the Mariners: “If you’re going to call a team meeting, it’s always best to make sure it’s the day before the Big Unit is pitching.”

Done and done.

Meanwhile, as expected, Jaret Wright will miss some time, four-to-six weeks to be exact. Chien Ming Wang will be called up later this week and start in Wright’s place.

Tiger Balm

This is getting ridiculous. I think we all expected Kevin Brown and Jaret Wright to take their lumps against the Rangers’ young power bats, but to have the Yankee offense manage just five runs over two games against rookie Chris Young and notorious free agent disaster Chan Ho Park is difficult to take. Actually (and even worse), just two of those five runs came against the two Texas starters, the other three coming against the Ranger bullpen.

On Friday night the Yankees failed to score despite getting their leadoff hitter on base in the first, second, and sixth innings. In the fifth, Luis Sojo again windmilled Tony Womack home with two outs only to watch him get thrown out by several strides. In the eighth, the Yanks couldn’t get a runner home from second with one out. Save for a Hideki Matsui double in the fourth (which drove home Gary Sheffield who reached on a leadoff walk), the offense wasn’t able to break through until the ninth inning, when three pinch hitters–Rey Sanchez, Andy Phillips!, and Jorge Posada (John Flaherty got the start with Brown on the mound)–combined to produce two one-out runs (Sanchez singled, Phillips reached on an error after chopping the ball in front of the plate, and Jorge doubled them home). But by then it was too late, as Kevin Brown repeated the formula of his first start by allowing four runs in the first and another in the third before he and the bullpen (Stanton and Quantrill on this night) shut the Rangers down the rest of the way.

Yesterday, the Yankees again got the leadoff hitter on in the first inning (Derek Jeter’s on-base percentage is .471 and he’s on pace to walk a career high 144 times), but failed to bring him home. In five different innings the Yankees didn’t get a man on base until after the second out, scoring that man only once (in the third, a Bernie two-out double followed by a Sheffield RBI single). Alex Rodriguez reached third with two outs in the sixth, but was stranded when Posada struck out to end the inning.

Again, the Yankees finally broke through with pinch-hitters after the game was essentially out of hand. Down 10-1 in the eighth (six runs off Jaret Wright, two each off Steve Karsay and Felix Rodriguez), Torre began pulling his starters. Bubba Crosby singled for Sheffield, Matsui walked, Rodriguez moved them over via a groundout and Giambi got Crosby home via another. Almanzar then walked Posada and Buck Showalter brought in lefty Ron Mahay to pitch to Tino Martinez, prompting Torre to give Andy Phillips his second pinch-hit at-bat in as many games. With runners on the corners, Phillips blasted Mahay’s first pitch into the gap in left, but Kevin Mench was able to chase it down, nabbing the ball in the top of the webbing of his glove as he charged toward the warning track. The Yanks stranded another two-out baserunner in the ninth.

Of course the big story was the pitching.

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All is Not Wright

Anyone got anything good to say?

Friday Night: Texas 5, Yanks 3.

Saturday Afternoon: Texas 10, Yanks 2.

Chuck and Duck

Friday night pits Chris Young (1-1, 7.62 ERA) vs. Kevin “Don’t Bring Me” Brown (0-1, 9.00) at the stadium. Could be a wild one. Then again, watch it be a pitcher’s duel…what are the odds? Hmmm.

The Rangers

Texas Rangers

2004 Record: 89-73 (.549)
2004 Pythagorean Record: 87-75 (.537)

Manager: Buck Showalter
General Manager: John Hart

Ballpark (2004 park factors): Ameriquest Field (111/109)

Who’s replacing whom?

Richard Hidalgo replaces Eric Young and Brian Jordan
Greg Colbrunn replaces Brad Fullmer
Mark DeRosa replaces Herb Perry
Sandy Alomar Jr. replaces Geral Laird (minors)
Chris Young inherits the starts of Joaquin Benoit and R.A. Dickey (DL/bullpen)
Pedro Astacio replaces John Wasdin and various failed experiements
Matt Riley replaces Jay Powell and Jeff Nelson

Current Roster:

1B – Mark Teixeira
2B – Alfonso Soriano
SS – Michael Young
3B – Hank Blalock
C – Rod Barajas
RF – Richard Hidalgo
CF – Laynce Nix
LF – Kevin Mench
DH – David Dellucci

Bench:

S – Gary Matthews Jr. (OF)
R – Mark DeRosa (IF)
R – Sandy Alomar Jr. (C)
R – Chad Allen (OF)

Rotation:

R – Ryan Drese
L – Kenny Rogers
R – Chris Young
R – Chan Ho Park
R – Pedro Astacio

Bullpen:

R – Francisco Cordero
R – Carlos Almanzar
L – Brian Shouse
L – Ron Mahay
R – Doug Brocail
L – Matt Riley
R – Nick Regilio

DL:

R – Greg Colbrunn (1B)
R – Frank Francisco
R – Erasmo Ramirez
R – Joaquin Benoit
R – R.A. Dickey
R – Ryan Bukvich

Typical Line-up

R – Alfonso Soriano (2B)
L – Hank Blalock (3B)
R – Michael Young (SS)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
L – David Dellucci (DH)
R – Richard Hidalgo (RF)
R – Kevin Mench (LF)
L – Laynce Nix (CF)
R – Rod Barajas (C)

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