"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Lookin’ Good

In the three games since their embarrassing Keyston Kops routine on Friday night in St. Louis, the Yankees have played some of their crispest baseball of the year. Accordingly, they’ve gone 2-1 in those games, twice shutting out their opponent, holding a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning of the one loss, and outscoring their foes 17-5 in the three games combined. Going back to the final game of their Series in Milwaukee, the Yankees are 3-2 in their last five games, a small, but significant sample in that it represents their first winning stretch since late May.

Last night’s victory behind Mike Mussina’s second shutout of the year (his most since 2002) moved the Yankees 1/2 game ahead of the Pirates and within one game of .500, a mark they’ve not equaled in a week and a half. The Yankees also moved into a third-place tie with the Blue Jays in the AL East, 3.5 games behind the Red Sox and 6.5 games behind the first-place Orioles.

Tonight they send Kevin Brown to the mound to face lefty Mark Redman, whom the Yankees handled easily when they last met in Game 2 of the 2003 World Series. In thirteen starts for the Pirates this year, Redman has failed to deliver a quality start (minimum 6 IP, maximum 3 ER) just once, that coming against the Cardinals four starts ago. The reason for Redman’s strong performance has been a combination of a career-high ground-ball rate (2.04 ground balls for every fly ball, twice his usual rate) and the Pirates’ NL-best Defensive Efficiency. Thus the key for the Yankees tonight will be to try to hit the ball in the air, particularly to center field, where Rob Mackowiak and Tike Redman represent the Achilles heal of the Pirates’ defense.

Mark Redman’s consistency also puts the pressure on Brown, who has a superior strike-out rate, a similar ground ball rate, but the second worst defense in baseball (pity Cincinnati) behind him. As a result, hitters are hitting exactly .100 points higher against Brown than they are against Redman. That may not all be due to their respective defenders, but I’d guess that a great deal of it is.

On a more encouraging note, the Yankees did the right thing when disabling Rey Sanchez yesterday in that they called up, not Felix Escalona, but Andy Phillips. With the Yankees facing two left handers in three of their next four games (Redman tonight, Oliver Perez tomorrow, and Glendon Rusch on Saturday), Tino Martinez cold as ice, and Jason Giambi pulling his OBP-only routine (his double off the 408 sign in center last night was just his second extra-base since May 18, and only his fourth since April 20), one hopes that Andy Phillips will get multiple starts at first base in the coming days, thus getting a second chance to establish himself in the Yankee line-up.

That trio of lefty starters might also lead to some bench time for Tony Womack, who, in addition to being useless to begin with, has started hitting everything in the air, which is death for a slap-hitting speedster of his ilk. Allow me to repeat one of my favorite anecdotes from Whitey Herzog’s You’re Missing a Great Game concerning Herzog’s advice to a young Willie Wilson, who was swinging for the fences as a rookie for Kansas City in the mid-’70s:

I still don’t understand what in the hell told him he had home-run pop in his bat . . . the fly balls he hit just gave the outfielders a long way to run before the catch . . . He might get his 12 homers, but the rest of the time he was going to make himself and out, kill our rallies, and put the Kansas City fans in a coma.

What Willie did have, though, was speed . . .With the wheels he had, if Willie’d just learn to . . . beat the ball into the ground, and take off running, he’d be on base more often than Babe Ruth ate hot dogs.

A few walks wouldn’t hurt either. According to baseball’s free agency rules, today is the first day that teams can trade their first-year free agents (such as Womack) without their permission. Here’s hoping those lefties will get Womack out of the line-up, and Cashman’s new freedom to trade him will get Womack out of pinstripes for good.

In more lefty news, Steven Goldman tells me that, despite correctly leaving the righty-batting middle infielder Escalona in Columbus, the Yankees are indeed looking to sit Robinson Cano against lefties. It will be interesting to see if this results in a second base start for Phillips or Russ Johnson (something I’d approve of, as it could decrease the likelihood of either being demoted any time soon). Meanwhile, I’ll be fantasizing of an every-day line-up that looks like this:


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1 Dan M   ~  Jun 15, 2005 3:05 pm

1.  I read somewhere that Escalona was hurt, so it wasn't so much that the Yanks did the right thing, but that they were prevented from doing the wrong thing. Any one else see this?

2 Rosbif22   ~  Jun 15, 2005 3:29 pm

2.  Yeah, I heard that too...although I can't think of where. Presumably the radio, 'cause I haven't seen it in writing yet.
If I remember correctly, he pulled a hamstring, although I may be wrong.

3 Dan M   ~  Jun 15, 2005 4:04 pm

3.  Look out kids, Ruben Ruben in left tonight (Matsui remains at DH). At least Bernie's in the 2-hole.

4 rbj   ~  Jun 15, 2005 5:51 pm

4.  And Brown is out of the game (I hate balancing my checkbook while the Yankees are losing). I don't wish him to be permanently injured, I only want him off the team.

5 Simone   ~  Jun 15, 2005 6:32 pm

5.  This is the same Gary Sheffield who was unhappy with his contract at the beginning of the season and pushed George to get some of the interest now, right? Brown is injured. Sturtze is back to being ineffective. How can these pitchers give up runs to these horrible Brewer hitters. This really pisses me off. The Yankees HAVE to win this game.

6 Simone   ~  Jun 15, 2005 7:01 pm

6.  Mariano Rivera is the only reliable reliever that the Yankees have and sometimes I can't remember what he looks like because he hardly gets used. On a positive note, this horrible season will help save Mo's arm and extend his career.

7 Nick from Washington Heights   ~  Jun 15, 2005 7:15 pm

7.  so, I just heard the Posada tying hit on the radio. Good stuff but who's to blame for A-Rod being thrown out at the plate?

8 vockins   ~  Jun 15, 2005 7:37 pm

8.  Wow.

If there's a negative to this, it's that Giambi will probably be playing first for the rest of the year.

9 Nick from Washington Heights   ~  Jun 15, 2005 7:37 pm

9.  Sterling called this the best Yankee win of the year so far. I have to agree. But who would have thought it would come against the Pirates.

10 Simone   ~  Jun 15, 2005 7:40 pm

10.  Unfuckingbelieveable! Giambi came through. I'm so happy. If they had lost the game, I would have finally have to give up on the season. Take that losers for booing him. Ha.

11 Mike Z   ~  Jun 15, 2005 7:44 pm

11.  That was undoubtedly the victory of the year for the Yankees. It was really a "True Yankee" win - probably the first this year. If they turn this thing around, everyone will be pointing to today's game as the turning point.

12 Paul in Boston   ~  Jun 15, 2005 7:53 pm

12.  Posada and Giambi: totally clutch.

Some luck for once: 1) Sheffield called safe in the 9th; 2) the ball hitting Johnson in the back after the pitch out

A quietly strong game for A-rod also, extending the 9th with a 2 out single.

Can a game be a turning points for a season? Let's hope.

13 Murray   ~  Jun 15, 2005 7:55 pm

13.  Hey, Cliff? Giambi's homer came on a 94mph fastball. It was straight as an arrow, but Giambi actually caught up with major league heat.

Unfortunately, at the moment, this means nothing. Every article in the news tomorrow (and, heck, every word out of John Sterling's mouth, I suspect) will attribute premature significance to this homer. I hope it means something, but it's far too early to assume that it means something.

14 Jen   ~  Jun 15, 2005 8:01 pm

14.  I like the fact that right before Giambi hit it out Murcer made the comment that teams will keep throwing fastballs inside until he can catch up to it. And, well, he finally caught up to one. It's wishful thinking, but let's hope it's not an anomaly.

As for the booing, I can't say I fault people. Sometimes we boo to motivate.

15 Simone   ~  Jun 15, 2005 8:07 pm

15.  Alex was also very clutch getting that single against Mesa. Jorge was as well. Can you believe that Womack actually bunted correctly? It must be a fluke.

I think that Jason catching up with that fast ball is a good sign, even if it was straight. If his bat speed is coming back, he should start to hit regularly. Though of course, a hitter actually hitting is not important according to the some people, but I think it will help the Yankees more than Giambi just walking or going for the HBP.

Wow, I'm so hyped up over this win. It will take me forever to unwind and get to sleep.

16 brockdc   ~  Jun 15, 2005 9:04 pm

16.  Great stuff. But I don't know what surprised me more: Giambi's upper-tier walk-off dong or Womack's successful bunt.

This was a HUGE win, if for nothing else than to keep up with the Joneses, both of whom won tonight. Also, we've already clinched a series victory (so what if it's only the Pirates) with Unit Mulholland throwing tomorrow night.

That Pirates infield-D is pretty sweet.

17 jedi   ~  Jun 16, 2005 6:01 am

17.  I was fortunate to be at the game last night. I usually watch the games on YES every night but yesterday made me realize alot of things different about this team that you dont usually see on tv that we should all get excited about:

1. AROD is in a hitting zone. Watch out this guy has just started warming up. It seems like when he wants to get a timely hit, He will get it. He has that demeanor at the plate. No one can stop him.

2. Seeing Cano play in person is really amazing for a rookie. The kid is so lax on the field, but is ready for every play and makes every play seem routine. The kid has an aura like a veteran. I like that. My buddy at the game was telling me he heard an interview on Mike and the Mad Dog with AROD and how AROD was saying that Cano is one of the cockiest players he every met. Not in a bad way but in a good way. He gets up to bat thinking he can get a homerun off each pitcher. You gotta like that.

3. The formula is true. Giambi needs to play 1st base to hit productively. When he was playing first last night, he seemed to be more into the game, more relaxed and not zoned out like when he DH's. I don't mind Giambi playing first if his bat comes alive. We already have the worse defense in the league, I dont think improving our first base defensive position is going to change our standings overnight. You usually dont hear a post wrap up segment say, "The yankees need to ride a "hot glove" in order to get a streak going."

4. First one out of the yankee dugout when giambi hit that homer... Jeter you say?! Surprisingly, no...it was AROD. Told you the guy is in a zone. He wants to win...badly...he seems like a different person from a week's past.

5. And finally, my last comment. Not on the yankees but on the pirates. If you guys think the pirates are a crappy team, you got to see how these guys play in person. They have a solid team defensively and offensively. They just need better couching and a veteran manager to turn those stats around. They have the most underrated SS in the league in Jack Wilson. A underlooked 2 year rookie in Jason Bay and we have yet to see a filthy Oliver Perez tonight. I think calling them anything below fundamentally sound and "brewers hitters" is a little premature. I would agree that a lot of things went the Yankees way these past two days...but there is one thing I do not agree with...that the pirates are not a legit team. These guys can flat out play. And they wil back up that claim with there #1 weapon on the mound tonite. I hope the yanks bring the same intensity to one of the nastiest pitchers in the game today.

18 rsmith51   ~  Jun 16, 2005 6:56 am

18.  jedi,

I tend to agree about playing Giambi in the field more. When Wang is pitching have Tino play first. My wife and I saw a game in Milwaukee(not the win) and she commented that Cano appeared to be very confident. I like this no-Womack lineup.

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