"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Tale of Two Pitchers

Previewing the subway series on Friday I wrote “Kris Benson seems to be rounding into shape after being disabled with a strained pectoral muscle early in the year.” No doubt, Benson held the Yankees scoreless through six innings yesterday, allowing just three hits (Matsui, erased by an E-Rod double play, Posada double, E-Rod single) and not a runner past first in his first four innings of work.

However, he did walk two (walking Cano intentionally to pitch to Randy Johnson with two out and Posada on second doesn’t count) and hit Derek Jeter in the elbow. According to the radio broadcast (I only caught parts of this game live, and less than that on television), Jeter was in a great deal of pain, and left the game after being forced out at second. X-rays were negative and both he and Gary Sheffield, who was a late scratch in favor of Bernie Williams due to a sore left hand that he actually in jured two weeks ago on a check swing, are day-to-day. Both could start today’s rubber game against Pedro Martinez.

Neither of those injuries are as troubling as the inconsistent performances of Randy Johnson thus far this season. Johnson did strike out some men this time, five in 6 2/3 innings, but he also gave up hits. Lots of them. Three singles in the first (no runs thanks to a fielder’s choice and a caught stealing). Three in the second (one run). Three in the third (including an RBI double by David Wright). That’s nine hits in this first three innings. Johnson settled some after that allowing just one more hit (erased by a double play) in his next three innings. But then lost his grip in the seventh.

At this point in the afternoon, Becky and I were in the car running errands, listening to the Mets radio broadcast on WFAN (a welcome respite from Suzyn and Sterling). Leading off the seventh was lefty Met reliever Dae-Sung Koo, who had relieved Benson with E-Rod on first and none out in the seventh only to have Rodriguez get caught straying off the bag by Piazza (2-6-3). Koo then struckout Tino and Jorge and was apparently getting this at-bat to deal with Cano and RJ in the next half.

That Koo was getting a chance to bat greatly entertained the Met broadcasters, Gary Cohen and Howie Rose. It seems Koo, who was a veteran of Japanese baseball before signing with the Mets, had his first major league plate appearance on Monday against Cincinnati and stood in the general vicinity of the Mets on-deck circle with the bat glued to his shoulder as he took five pitches from rookie Todd Coffey.

Now, Koo was standing in against Randy Johnson. Batting lefty, no less. Remarked one of the Metscasters, “this oughta be cute!” Indeed, Koo took Johnson’s first two pitches (one ball, one strike). But on the next pitch he finally took his first major league swing and blasted Johnson’s pitch deep in the gap in right center for a lead off double. Cohen and Rose exploded in a combination of shock, disbelief and laughter.

If that wasn’t enough, Jose Reyes the attempted to bunt Koo to third base. His sacrifice was successful, but upon reaching third Koo noticed that the play had pulled Jorge Posada away from the plate and that no one else was covering it, so he dashed home. Caught off guard, Posada took a throw from Tino and dove at Koo, who made a great head-first slide to the outside of the plate to score the Mets third run of the day. The replay showed that Posada tagged Koo on the neck well before he reached the plate, but Johnson should have been covering the plate, regardless of the accuracy of Chuck Meriwether’s call.

Johnson then went full on Miguel Cairo only to give up what remains the only home run of this series. After striking out Cliff Floyd, Johnson’s day was done.

As I said before, Johnson’s inconsistency has been troubling. It’s not that he’s not being effective. He held the Red Sox to one run in six innings on opening day. Then, after three home-plagued starts (the shortest being six innings and only one of which saddled him with a loss), he allowed just one run in eight innings, two runs in a full nine innings, and three runs in eight innings in his next three starts. Those three starts, which helped build a streak of five straight games in which he struck out a minimum of seven men, gave me a great deal of confidence in the fact that the real Randy Johnson was starting to emerge.

Then in his previous start against the hapless A’s he gave up more hits than innings pitched for the first time since April 9 and struck out no one, marking the longest outing of his career without a strikeout (six innings). Yesterday against the Mets he gave up 12 hits in 6 2/3, nine of them in the first three innings. He did throw 70 percent strikes, walking no one, but that merely confirms what Suzyn Waldman was saying (ad infinitum, of course) on the radio about Johnson throwing flat pitches down the middle. Indeed, Posada added after the game:

It seems like his location is not there. He’s up in the zone, his slider doesn’t have any tilt. It’s from the same level. . . . When I call a pitch inside, it’s in the middle of the plate. When I call a pitch away, it’s on the plate most of the time.

Said Torre, echoing his in-game comments to Buck ‘n’ McCarver on FOX:

It looked like he was struggling with a release point. Some of the breaking balls were just flat instead of going down.

Johnson, in full grump, opted to blame the off-days in the early-season schedule:

There hasn’t been much consistency in my performance. It’s tough going out there once every six days. I haven’t been able to get in a rhythm. I’m working on that.


The bottom line is for a pitcher to go out there and keep his team in the game. I’ve done that pretty much with the exception of two or three games. When I give up a couple of runs and we win, that’s what I’m supposed to do. Today, I gave up more runs than we got. I didn’t get the job done.

In all fairness, he’s right. Johnson had allowed more than three earned runs in just three games prior to yesterday (those three early season games against the Orioles, Red Sox and Devil Rays, the latter two of which saw him give up a combined five home runs), and with the exception his 2-0 complete game loss to Roy Halladay, he’s won those other four starts.

Yesterday, Johnson gave up four runs in 6 2/3. That’s not great, but its not a disaster. What went most wrong was that the Yankee offense was only able to muster one run, that coming on a Womack infield single, a Bernie groundout and an E-Rod RBI single in the top of the ninth, after Buddy Groom, who last pitched exactly one week ago and faced five righties out of seven batters, gave up three more runs in the bottom of the eighth. Final Score: an ugly 7-1 Mets, as the Yanks slip back into fourth place.

Today Pedro Martinez and Carl Pavano take to the hill to decide this series in a game laced with intriguing (and surely overhyped) subplots. Pedro faces his “daddies” with an NY on his cap. Pavano faces the man for whom he was traded as a young can’t-miss prospect. The Yankees big free agent fish faces the Mets big-splash signings, Pedro (who the Boss reportedly wanted this offseason) on the mound and Beltran (who shoulda been in navy pinstripes) at the plate. You know George will be watching intently. I’ll unfortunately have to catch it on tape (yes, tape, you wanna buy me a TiVo suscription?), but Alex will be living and dying with each pitch and will have a full report afterwards.

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1 Simone   ~  May 22, 2005 6:26 am

1.  Umm, so what is the prevailing theory about RJ's problems? Is his groin still bothering him? Is he aging and taking a long time to round into form? Is he struggling as he adjusts to the AL?

I hope Pavano replicates his last stellar outing. The Yankees can really use this win and it is always good to stick it to Pedro.

2 jayd   ~  May 22, 2005 7:59 am

2.  Tim McCarver was faulting ARod for not covering. I saw him covering third like he was supposed to and agree with you that Johnson should have been there. Who cares, though. An ugly, ugly game that seemed to need a timely hit to turn it around and get us back on track. Benson never looked that good to me, too many line drives that wound up in unsuspecting Mets' gloves, if you ask me, to qualify as a solid win on their part. Meanwhile Boston will lose 2 out of 3 to the Braves. We need this one today. Bring on the stallion. Let's send the perky mare to showers early.

3 jayd   ~  May 22, 2005 8:13 am

3.  And for those of you who missed it...McCarver said you would need a "derrick" to keep Jeter out of the lineup...a brilliant wordplay on Jeter's first name which is "Derek", heh-heh...

Is it just me who feels slimed and betrayed by his clicker -- unable to change channels fast enough to avoid hearing such crap. These clowns were celebrating their 10th anniversary, if I heard right.

Why is that so reprehensible while "If This Is Wang I Don't Want To Be Wright" is so damned clever in a groaning kind of way? I guess having the Yankees lose made it even more painful...

4 Alex Belth   ~  May 22, 2005 9:05 am

4.  Cliff, that was a great post. You hit the nail on the head. The $64,000 Question is: What's wrong with the Big Unit? Yeah, he's contending, because he's a great pitcher, but something is definately not completely right. I don't know if it's because of an injury, but that's not an absurd conclusion to reach, right? Posada's quotes are really good. He's not soft-selling it. It is what it is: Johnson is off.

Dude, I love that you love giving Rodriguez the business. We all have our whipping boys, and I like that Rodriguez is in your dog house. One thing that was fun about your post was that it was told from the perspective of someone who had followed the game on the radio.

Rodriguez hit into a double play early in the game, was it the second inning? Dude, he freaking tagged that ball. It was a low-liner that bit Benson in the glove. One of those plays where you just say happy birthday to the fielder. "Hey ma, look what I found." Benson had a wry little grin afterwards as the threw the ball around the infield. It was lucky as hell; he was just thankful that it didn't hit him.

Truthfully, that was one of the hardest hit balls by a Yank all day. As an aside, No Sheff, is no fun at all. Yeah, I guess he broke some capilaries his his left hand last week holding up on a check swing. Suprised it doesn't happen more often, really.

Rodriguez's real boner yesterday was getting picked off of first late. It wasn't so much that Piazza made a stellar defensive play to nab him, Rodriguez just got assed-out, not knowing whether to steal or not. It was stupid and he knew it. He got hung up. He started for second and then skipped and paused, and boom, the ball hadn't bounced past Piazza, and he was a dead duck.

The guy who made the nice defenseive play was Minky over at first base. He got down and blocked first base like a catcher. You know he must love to give it to his old high school teammate. The throw was accurate, and Rodriguez wasn't able to wrangling himself back in time.

You can also lay some responsibilty on Rodriguez for Koo's steal of home. Yeah, Johnson should have been there, but in that case, Rodriguez had no place to be but home too either. Not a good 7th inning for A Rod.
It served them right when the ump blew the call.

And bro, Derek Jeter is having a bang-up series so far, huh? Jeez, a guy like David Wright just makes Jeter look old. He's not the youngest, hottest stud in town now. He's the veteran. The Mets have Beltran and Wright. I like Wright. He seems genuine. I read Klapisch say he's one of the most sincere, good guys he's ever covered in New York. Just hopes he doesn't sour as he ages. He's got that Super Joe Ewing amiability, but he can really play. He's death driving the ball to the right-center field gap.

And Reyes killing us? Dag, that s* is hard to take. Beltran, I can take. Piazza, Cliff Floyd, no problem. But Kaz Matsui and Jose Reyes? Nah, dude. That's just tough to stomach. Long afternoon. Just as well to have heard it on the radio.

Oh, and I like the Mets radio team. They are really excellent. Their call on the Koo play sounds priceless.

Pedro today. Well, at least it won't be boring. The stadium should be electric. Let's hope Meat brings his A-game and we have something to cheer about.

5 Simone   ~  May 22, 2005 9:25 am

5.  ESPNews is reporting that our old veteran captain is out of today's game so is the young stud Carlos Beltran.

As for Wright, Klapisch is just happy to have new meat to chew on and spit out.

6 Simone   ~  May 22, 2005 9:33 am

6.  BBTN just said that our old catcher is out as well. Jorge has an unspecified injury. Ugh. I hope our guys get healthy soon.

7 JohnnyC   ~  May 22, 2005 9:48 am

7.  Simone, I agree with you on Klap. I used to like his columns but he's become another grumpy, second-guesser with multiple axes to grind. As for the Subway Series, Pt. 1, I knew that it would be a litmus test not only for the team but Torre and his staff. Instead of playing two troubled teams in decline, they face a Mets team that, while not a world-beater, is motivated to make a statement against them. Two things about yesterday's game bother me, neither of them RJ's admittedly puzzling early season so far: a) lack of preparation not only in terms of an approach to Kris Benson (a real $8 million pitcher, my friends)but inexcusable gaffes by coaches...Sojo not sending ARod with the pitcher on deck and, of course, Stottlemyre continuing to underestimate "light-hitting" infielders like Reyes and Matsui and b)lack of intensity. A)is typical now of the Yankees (how ironic when you think that preparation and advanced scouting was the foundation for 1996-2000)but only Torre's shrink can explain b). I only hope that Joe can start showing us why he's worth $7 million a year...soon. Today's rubber game might be a good start.

8 Simone   ~  May 22, 2005 11:07 am

8.  Third inning: Pavano has to be more consistent. Hopefully, he done giving up runs for this game. I think if A-Rod relaxed he would be doing better in the field or maybe that exorcism that I previously suggested would do the trick.

9 singledd   ~  May 22, 2005 11:19 am

9.  Jetes, Sheff and Posada are all out with injuries. Is this the day to rest Tino? Not much of a team on the field for Pavano today.
Anybody know the status of our 3 injuries?

10 Voxter   ~  May 22, 2005 12:41 pm

10.  "Is it just me who feels slimed and betrayed by his clicker -- unable to change channels fast enough to avoid hearing such crap."

This reminds my of a policy my old man has developed: Every time some moronic color guy uses the word "obviously", he changes the channel on principle. His theory is that something is obvious, the guy being paid thousands of dollars to talk about this game shouldn't be mentioning it -- and if it's not obvious, then he shouldn't say it is.

11 Simone   ~  May 22, 2005 1:12 pm

11.  Theee Yankeeees win!!! Nice quality outing from hottie Pavano. The bullpen came up big along some nice situational hitting. Wright helps the Yankees out with an error of his own which is bound to piss off Klapisch as he has to scrap his "the Yankees are old and decrepit as the new young Mets reclaim NY" column. Pedro gets the no decision which will pisses him off. Bet he hits one of our guys next time that the Yankees face him.

12 bobtaco   ~  May 22, 2005 1:51 pm

12.  "I'll unfortunately have to catch it on tape (yes, tape, you wanna buy me a TiVo suscription?"

Hey Cliff, the Tivo is one of the most indispensible appliances in existence. Combine it with DirecTV, and the MLB Extra Innings package and you are all set!

Right now they are offering new subscribers a $50 rebate on a $99 Tivo. Therefore you can get one for less than fifty bucks, and the Tivo subscription charge with DirecTV is only $4.99/month rather than the stand alone $12.95/month.

Get rid of that old analog tape, you'll never go back!

Here's the url of the offer:

13 rbj   ~  May 22, 2005 3:26 pm

13.  A triple for Bernie! Sweet.

14 markp   ~  May 22, 2005 3:31 pm

14.  let's see-5 hits in 9 AB with a 2B, a run and two RBIs in three games. Sounds like a pretty good weekend to me. That comes down to a 1380 OPS. Will he get one positive word here? I doubt it.

15 JeremyM   ~  May 22, 2005 4:57 pm

15.  He made an error today, so none of that counts.

16 Nick from Washington Heights   ~  May 22, 2005 7:47 pm

16.  Yeah, A-Rod's stats suck this year.

17 Fred Vincy   ~  May 22, 2005 7:52 pm

17.  Double the Unit's 9 starts for '05 and you get a dead ringer for his 2003:

2003: 18G, 6-8, 114 IP, 125 H, 16 HR, 27 BB, 125 K, 4.26

2005x2: 18G, 8-6, 128 IP, 120 H, 16 HR, 24 BB, 110 K, 3.94

Injury recurrence, regression toward the mean, or random noise?

18 brockdc   ~  May 23, 2005 4:15 pm

18.  So, does Buddy Groom not play for the Yankees anymore? Perfect LOOGY situation, and Torre brings in...Stanton? I realize it worked out - only after the scorching line drive to CF.

A-Rod has been making all the tough plays at 3rd but fails to make some of the routine ones. This leads me to believe that his struggles are purely mental and not at all mechanical. Shocker.

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