"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: June 2005

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Fool For Your Lovin’ Nomo

The Yankees’ Tag-Team Champions, Randy “Big Unit” Johnson and John “Flash” Flaherty, look to go 3-0 tonight against Hideo “The Tornado” Nomo and Toby “Or Not Toby” Hall. With Hall and Casey “Playing” Fossum having won the night before only because the umpires failed to disqualify Fossum for hitting Kevin “Mr. Nasty” Brown in the back with a folding chair, forcing the Yankees to replace him with Sean “Just Say” Henn, this is sure to be a grudge match on par with the British Bulldogs taking their revenge on the Dream Team after Greg “The Hammer” Valentine stole their mascot Mathilda.

Close Don’t Count

Rookie Sean Henn walked seven batters in less than five innings of work last night. By the time he was relieved by Paul Quantrill, the Devil Rays had a 3-0 lead. A bloop single made it 4-0, and Tampa Bay added another run in the following inning. All of which seemed more than enough for Casey Fossum who cruised through the Yankee lineup for the first six innings (the first hit for the Bombers–a double by Hideki Matsui–didn’t come until the fifth). Alex Rodriguez doubled to lead off the seventh, narrowly missing a home run (run dummy!), then Matsui walked. But the Yanks couldn’t do anything else as Posada flew out to left, Giambi whiffed, and Williams grounded out to third.

In the eighth, however, Cano singled, chasing Fossum from the game. Lance Carter replaced him and promptly allowed a single to Jeter. After retiring Womack–who got an earful from the boo birds–Sheffield chopped a base hit to left scoring Cano. Rodriguez went fishing after a breaking ball and popped out to second, but then Matsui hooked a change up over the right field fence and the Yankees were suddenly down by just one run.

That was as close as they would get. Posada walked and Giambi whiffed again (he still can’t catch up with those good heaters). Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth, uncharacteristically walking two men. But the Bombers went down in order against Danys Baez in the bottom of the ninth, as the Devil Rays pulled out a 5-4 win.

“We’ve got to come out and play with our hair on fire, and I don’t think we did that today,” said Alex Rodriguez…”Today we were a little lazy.”

…”Just a disappointing performance by us tonight. We have to do better than that.”
(N.Y.Times)

Tonight gives Johnson vs. Nomo. Bank on the Yankees doing better.

The Return of the Devil Rays

Going into last week’s series against Pittsburgh, the Yankees’ record was 1/2 game worse than the Pirates’. Now, three days after sweeping the Pirates’, the Yankees are 4 1/2 games ahead of Pittsburgh.

Going into this weekend’s series against the Cubs, the Yankees record was 1 1/2 games worse than the Chicago’s. Now, after sweeping them in three games, the Yankees are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cubs.

Tonight, going into a four game series against Tampa Bay, the Yankees have won six in a row, are 8-2 in their last ten games, are just five games out of first place and a whopping 13 1/2 games ahead of the Devil Rays, with whom they were once tied for last in the AL East. But that’s nothing compared to the discrepancy between the Yankees’ home record and the Devil Rays’ road record:

Yanks Home: 22-13 (.629)
Rays Road: 5-28 (.152)

Wow! That’s a 16-game difference over a sample of 35 games (33 for the Rays). One has to assume the Rays will find a way to win one of the next four games, but given those home and away records, it would be a major upset for them to do any better than that. Of course, that’s how we all felt when the Yankees headed to Kansas City three weeks ago. Let’s not forget that the Devil Rays have a 4-2 record against the Yankees on the season. This is how that happened:

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Monday Morning Yentas

For great baseball gossip, there are no two guys better than Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal. Today, Rosenthal writes that the Mets might not move centerfielder Mike Cameron after all, while Gammons checks in on the Yanks:

The Yankees are trying to get Oakland’s Mark Kotsay, who can be a free agent at the end of the year. But whether or not Brian Cashman will give up the prospects needed to get one of the game’s premier center fielders, like right-hander Philip Hughes and perhaps third baseman Eric Duncan, remains to be seen. Cashman has talked to a number of general managers, but isn’t offering to break up the team as some have suggested. Getting Kotsay would completely change their outfield defense and give them a solid leadoff hitter as they try to move Tony Womack.

Hmmm.

Bombers Get the Bounces

“The Yankees are the best team we’ve seen all season…I don’t know why they’re a couple games over .500.” Dusty Baker
(N.Y.Times)

Well, we’ve got ourselves an answer, Mr. Ciepley. The Cubs suck more…for now, at least. The Yanks beat Chicago 6-3 yesterday, sweeping the weekend series. It was New York’s sixth consecutive win. (In a losing cause, Derek Lee went 6-12 in the three games.) Tyler Kepner has a good write up of the game in the New York Times this morning. The Devil Rays are in town for a four-game set starting tonight and then the Mets come in over the weekend, after which, we can finally put inter-league play to rest for the season.

My Mellow, My Man

I’ve written on numerous occasions over the past few seasons about what will happen to the Yanks After George. The $64,000 question is not “What will happen to the Bronx Bombers when Torre is gone?” but “What will happen when George is gone?” For anyone under 35 (I just turned 34), we simply don’t know what a Yankee Universe is like without George. We’re accustomed to his ways, for better or for worse. And though we’ve heard in the media that behind closed doors Steinbrenner is still as incorrigible as ever, publicly, he’s a far cry from the Bronx Zoo Boss of the 1970s and ’80s.

What? He called Hideki Irabu a slob in 1999, he traded for Mondesi a few years later, busted Don Zimmer’s chops to no end, and took turns giving Derek Jeter and Joe Torre some grief too. This is all mild stuff coming out of Steinbrenner.

Yet when the Yanks struggle, there is great anticipation about “What George will do next?” I think the guy is a far cry from what he once was, and I’m guilty of expecting an explosion every now and again. You’d think this would be the year he’d let loose. Fire the pitching coach or the general manager: something, already.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear that there will be no fireworks. Not in the same way we used to see. I was thinking about this last week, when I noticed that Tom Verducci hit on how George has changed in his recent mailbag column. In talking about Brian Cashman, Verducci wrote:

He works for a very different Steinbrenner than the stereotype people keep writing about (he’s extremely sensitive now and hasn’t fired anybody in years).

Picking up on this theme, Mike Lupica has an outstanding piece on Steinbrenner today in the Daily News. I grew up reading Lupica, and though I’ve never admired him as a stylist, I respect the fact that he’s been covered Steinbrenner and the Yankees for close to thirty years. When he’s good, Lupica still can hit the nail right on the head. He doesn’t often write long articles anymore, but this one is choice:

Anybody who watched his recent interview on YES with Michael Kay or watched this staged media event the other day, has to know that the Boss Steinbrenner that is still written about and discussed on television and the radio does not exist. He can still blow his top. He can still make a headline. But he is as real now as the young Mike Tyson is real.

…The truth is, Steinbrenner says hardly anything of interest anymore.

The Boss that the media and the Yankees still want, the Reggie-Billy-Bronx Zoo boss, no longer exists.

Lupica speculates who might take control once George steps down, and how it will impact the organization. He doesn’t think it looks promising, and I have to agree. There has been a lot to dislike about Steinbrenner over the years, but he also has tried to put a winning team on the field, no matter the cost. Some Yankee fans might grow to really miss him once he’s gone. (Last year, Allen Barra wrote an appreciation of Steinbrenner for the Village Voice, and suggested that we should be thankful for what Boss George has given us now…six world championships and ten World Series appearances in just over thirty years.) Lupica believes that those days are close to being over. Then, in his own, inimitable way, he calls it like it is:

It is obvious by now that love Steinbrenner or hate him, there will never be another owner, in any city in any sport, like him.

That’s the fact, Jack.

Ain’t It Just Grand?

Well, it finally happened. After 155 career plate appearances with the bases loaded, Derek Jeter hit his first Major League grand slam this afternoon as the Yanks bombed Chicago, 8-1 at the stadium. Emily and I were listening to the game in the car and I called the homer. It’s not like this is the first time I–or any number of Yankee fans, for that matter–have called Jeter’s first grand slam, but it was the first time I was right. The way I figured it, Alex Ciepley was still at the game. I know he was going to leave early so that he could get home in time to get ready for his party tonight, but it was the bottom of the sixth and the game was still close (Yanks 3, Cubs 1). Alex can’t sand Jeter, so I figured it would make perfect sense that Jeter would do something memorable. (For good measure, Jeter added a solo shot in the eighth.)

The crowd went wild and I’m sure the entire scene drove Ciepley out of the Bronx with the quickness. Chien-Ming Wang pitched a beautifully efficient game and the Yanks won their fifth straight.

Wham, Bam, the Monster Jam

Well, so far, the Yankees suck less. Or the Cubs suck more. However you want to put it. I was at the game last night with Alex Ciepley and my brother Ben. We sat in the front row of the upper deck, about twenty seats to the right of the right field foul pole. I had never been anywhere near that spot before so it the view was interesting. The sun was in our face for the first couple of innings, and after that, we saw some striking cloud formations in the distance. It was supposed to rain, but it never did. It was cool and breezy, really a perfect spring night at the ballpark.

There were lots of Cub fans at the Stadium and they made lots of noise during the middle innings. They didn’t antagonize the home crowd, they were just happy to cheer and get loud for their guys. We saw only a few fights, including what looked like something nasty about ten rows behind home plate in the seventh inning, but otherwise, everyone seemed to be on their best behavior. There was a couple sitting behind us who came all the way from Illinois. The woman went to high school with Joe Girardi, even typed his senior thesis. Girardi’s parents actually introduced the couple, who left, without saying goodbye in the eighth inning.

That’s when Ciepley told me that it’s a myth that folks from the midwest are friendly. He said mostly they are anti-social and weird.

There was a pretty funny heckler sitting to our left. The kind of guy who shouted random insults at the Yankees at random times. He loved giving Sheffield the business for no apparent reason. He told us, with great delight, about how when he sat downstairs, they used to give Mondesi all sorts of abuse. (Speaking of Sheff, my brother noted that he looks like he’s dogging it some lately. His name is popping up in phatom rumors. What gives? Anyone noticed anything off about him? And why would the Yanks want to trade him of all people?)

Carlos Zambrano wasn’t on his A-game, though Carl Pavano did everything he could to let him off the hook. (Zambrano is a gorilla. He reminds me of a combination of Rich Garces and Juaquin Andujar. You can see he’s often dominant.) Eventually, Hideki Matsui came through with two huge hits off of Chicago’s bullpen, as the Yankees came-from-behind to take the first game of the series, 9-6. Derek Lee had his usual two hits. Bernie Williams added two of his own, and Alex Rodriguez had three.

Ciepley will be at the game again the afternoon (then he’s got a birthday bash tonight downtown with some of his pals). As for me, Emily and I are headed up to the country to do some strawberry pickin. Who knows, maybe we’ll–I’ll–get ambitious and make some jaw when it is all said and done. Anyhow, should prove to be a fruity day, no matter how you slice it.

Go Yanks!

The Cubs

Things are really looking up in Yankee land. The team is back over .500 for the first time in almost two weeks. They now have third place in the AL East to themselves, having picked up a half-game on the Blue Jays who were idle last night. They’re 5-2 in their last seven games. And, most importantly, this latest winning streak can be directly tied to the improvements made by several of the team’s key players.

In the rotation, Randy Johnson has been downright nasty in his last two starts (18 IP, 9 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 0 BB, 18 K), Mike Mussina’s last outing was his second shutout of the year, even tonight’s starter, Carl “Meat” Pavano, has been solid in his last two outings (12 IP, 11 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 3 BB, 5 K). And, while Tanyon Sturtze has suddenly given up homers in each of the last three innings he’s pitched, adding almost a run and a half to his season ERA (though those are the only three homers he’s allowed all year), Mariano Rivera is as lights out as he’s ever been. Don’t look now, but Mo’s rate stats look like this: 1.09 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 10.58 K/9. The K-rate is Mo’s highest since 1996, while the ERA is more than a half run better than his career high.

On offense, the big news is that Jason Giambi is starting to catch up with those 90-plus mile per hour fastballs. As a result, a full thirty percent of his extra base hits on the year have come in the last three games. Similarly, Hideki Matsui, who has a hit in all but three games this month, has hit a full third of his homers in the last three games. Matsui’s sudden power stroke is a direct result of the mild ankle sprain he suffered while playing right field in St. Louis. Unable to put too much weight on his right (front) ankle, Matsui is keeping his weight back and driving the ball. As a result, half of his extra base hits in June have come while DHing due to the sprain. (Hitting Coach Don Mattingly has reportedly threatened to whack Matsui in the ankle with a bat if he reverts to lunging at the ball once his ankle heals).

With everything going their way, the Yankees now get their biggest challenge since the Red Sox sent them packing on the Road Trip From Hell (no disrespect to the Twins there, but the Yankees weren’t in challenge-facing mood when they hit Minnesota–by the way speaking of that road trip, the Kansas City Royals are now 11-4 under new manager Buddy Bell and just completed a three-game sweep of the Dodgers last night).

Where was I? Oh yes:

Chicago Cubs

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Aced

The Big Unit made short work of the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight at the Stadium as the Yankees cruised to a 6-1 win through the raindrops in the Bronx. Johnson allowed five hits, including a solo home run by Michael Restovich, but the Pirates were never really in the game. Johnson began the game by striking out the first two batters on six pitches. He ended the game by mowing down Daryl Ward for his eleventh K of the night. The Big Unit’s slider has far more bite to it than it did earlier in the year–Jose Castillo swung through one that actually hit him on the right thigh in third inning. Johnson was in a foul, competitive mood all evening, growling over pitches that weren’t called strikes, cursing at himself when the Pirates hit the ball hard. He was dominant: 86 of the 110 pitches he threw were strikes.

His counterpart Oliver Perez wasn’t nearly as sharp. I’ve read about Perez’s involved delivery, and he seems to have body parts moving every which way. (His motion is almost as complicated and intricate as his facial hair.) During the early innings he was too hyper, bouncing off the mound after several pitches as if he had a hot foot. Perez is dynamic and he’s clearly got very good stuff, but his location was off, and the Yankees scored all six runs in the first four innings. Hideki Matsui cranked a two-run bomb halfway up the right-center field bleachers in the first, Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano had RBI hits in the second, and Gary Sheffield had an excuse-me, bases loaded double in the fourth. That was all the Yankees would need, as Johnson polished off the Pirates in two hours and nineteen minutes.

Done and done.

Aces

Jason Giambi’s game-winning home run in the bottom of the tenth last night not only clinched the Yankees’ first series win since they swept Detroit at home back on May 24-26, but gives us all the opportunity to enjoy tonight’s stellar pitching match-up without having to worry about the Yanks dropping their sixth straight series.

Instead, we’ll get Randy Johnson vs. Oliver Perez in all their glory with the Yankees now 4-2 over their last six games (that’s .667 baseball, people!) and Johnson coming off his strongest start of the year. The one negative result of that last start, his first with John Flaherty behind the plate, is that Johnson now wants to use Flaherty as his personal catcher, something Joe Torre doesn’t mind, but Flaherty himself admirably finds problematic:

“I guess it works for some guys, like when Greg Maddux had Charlie O’Brien and then Eddie Perez. I’m not really a believer in it. First and foremost, we’ve got an All-Star guy here [Posada] who’s always a threat to hit the ball out of the yard and does a great job. Besides, when [Johnson's] on, it doesn’t really matter who’s behind the plate.”

Indeed, Posada was 2 for 4 last night with a solo homer to start the scoring and a key RBI double in the ninth to force extra innings. But then, like Flaherty says (though with a different meaning), when Johnson’s on, it doesn’t really matter who’s behind the plate. And if his inconsistency thus far this season has you worried, perhaps you’ll find some consolation in this observation from Steve Lombardi at Was Watching:

In 2004, Randy Johnson had a Game Score of 76+ ten times. And, on five other times, he was above 72. So, last season, Unit was over 72 in 43% of his starts.

Now, here’s an interesting thing: In 2004, eleven of those fifteen 72+ games came after June 28th. Perhaps it is true that Unit needs the warm weather to start heating up?

For those of you scoring at home, today is June 16.

On the other side of the ball, Oliver Perez is also coming off his best start of the year in which he dominated the Devil Rays for seven innings with this line: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 HR, 1 BB, 10 K, 94 pitches, 67 percent strikes. Perez had been scuffling, turning in just one quality start in his first nine tries, but his last two starts have both been excellent (the other against Atlanta: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 HR, 3 BB, 7 K). And in case the fact that two excellent power lefties facing each other wasn’t exciting enough, check out these selections from the ESPN scouting report for Perez:

Perez can often be dominating with his power arsenal. He can throw his fastball as high as 97 MPH, though it is usually sits in the 90-94 MPH range. Perez has two kinds of sliders, one with a sharp late break against righthanded hitters and another that sweeps and eats up lefties. . . . Perez is fragile looking with thin legs but has good stamina and keeps his stuff deep into games.

Remind you of anyone?

One final note: the Yankees have sent down Andy Phillips in favor of Bubba Crosby, whom I was certain would never again be seen in Yankee pinstripes. Though some may hope that this is a sign of an imminent Tony Womack trade, it’s more likely an indication of the condition of Hideki Matsui’s ankle, as Joe Torre continues to refuse to predict when Matsui might return to the field.

Bang, Zoom

It had all the makings of another frustrating game for the Yankees. They couldn’t come up with a timely hit and the Pirates kept tacking on runs. Not only that, but when the Yankees did hit the ball hard it tended to be directly at a Pittsburgh defender. The Pirates boast a slick defensive infield, and they strutted their stuff all evening long. But with a little bit of luck (in the form of a missed call that would have ended the game in the ninth, as well as a ball that hit Russ Johnson in the tenth), the Yankees finally earned a come-from-behind victory, as Jason Giambi’s moonshot off of Jose Mesa sent Yankee fans to bed with a smile on their face. The final was 7-5, and the Bombers didn’t lose ground to the Orioles and the Red Sox, who both won as well.

Giambi couldn’t catch up to southpaw Mike Gonzalez’s gas in the eighth inning, but Mesa couldn’t sneak the heater past him in the tenth. I called Cliff a few minutes after the game ended and he said something to the effect that Jose Mesa is good for what ails ya. Amen to that, brother. The Yanks pounded out fifteen hits in all. Kevin Brown had to leave the game due to back spasms, and Tanyon Sturtze was roughed up again, but Mariano Rivera dominated the Pirates for two innings, lowering his season earned run average to 1.09 in the process. After a one-two-three ninth, Rivera clapped his hands and encouraged his team in the dugout.

With Gary Sheffield on first and two out, Alex Rodriguez came to the plate. The Yanks trailed by one run. Rodriguez missed a room service fastball with the count 1-1, and I thought that might be the game right there. Man, was it ever a fat pitch. As much as I think the notion of Rodriguez as a choker is nuts, I admit that in a tight situation I don’t have the same confidence in him that I do with, say Sheffield. Nevertheless, Rodriguez was patient, and eventually muscled a good fastball that was bearing in on his hands into center for a single. Jorge Posada followed and laced a line drive into right, which tied the game.

After Tino Martinez walked to lead off the bottom of the tenth, Russ Johnson came into the game as a pinch-runner. Increasingly disgruntled left fielder Tony Womack, who replaced Ruben Sierra in left an inning earlier, was set to sacrifice him to second. After several pitches the Pirates called a pitch-out. Johnson was running. Hung up, he retreated to first. But the throw hit him and he made it back safely. At that point I turned to Emily and said, “There is just too much going right for them tonight to lose this one.” Fortunately, I was right, and I couldn’t be happier for Giambi, who absolutely crushed the ball into the upper deck, momentarily turning the jeers to cheers. After he was mobbed at home plate, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez all took the time to not only hug Giambi, but give him some words of encouragment too. Good for the Big Lug. And kudos to the whole team.

Especially since tonight’s match-up could be special.

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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:

Jeter
Bernie
Sheffield
Rodriguez
Posada
Matsui
Phillips
Giambi/Tino
Cano

Bop

“Sure we’re concerned,” [George] Steinbrenner said. “Until we’re in first place, we’re concerned. But we’re doing all right.”
(Star- Ledger)

On an unbearably hot night in the Bronx, Mike Mussina tossed a complete-game shutout and the Yankees crushed the Pittsburgh Pirates, 9-0:

“We came out and scored, kept putting pressure on them and we played good defense,” Mussina said. “It was just a night I was glad to be pitching. I got some breaks, got some runs scored for us.”
(ESPN)

With Boss George in the house, it was the kind of laugher that the Yankees sorely need. It won’t mean much if they can’t string together a series of wins, but hey, you gotta start somewhere.

Considering how poorly they’ve played, it’s notable that nobody has publicly gone nutzo, from George on down. Lots of meetings, yeah, but no tirades yet. This team might be a lot of things, but the Bronx Zoo they ain’t. (Hey, the New Age Bronx Zoo is alive and well in the City of Angels.) While neither Bernie Williams and Tony Womack aren’t thrilled about how their seasons are going, neither has pitched a fit. Steven Goldman, president of the T. Womack Fan Club observed recently:

If I were him, I wouldn’t be disgruntled, I’d be embarrassed. The New York Times reports that Mr. Torre is thinking of trying Womack in center field. Unless this is a clever ruse to increase Womack’s trade value, it is, charitably, insane. There is nowhere on the playing field that you can hide a Womack, and he won’t help the defense any.

I figure Womack will be traded before the summer is out.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press and New York Times report that the Yanks will announce their plans for a new stadium later today.

The Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates

2004 Record: 72-89 (.447)
2004 Pythagorean Record: 74-87 (.460)

Manager: Lloyd McClendon
General Manager: Dave Littlefield

Ballpark (2004 park factors): PNC Park (96/96)

Who’s replacing whom?

Matt Lawton replaces Jason Kendall
Humberto Cota takes playing time from Daryle Ward (or Craig Wilson due to injury)
Freddy Sanchez inherits Abraham O. Nunez’s playing time
Michael Restovich inherits Randall Simon’s playing time
Dave Ross inherits Chris Stynes playing time
Ryan Doumit inherits Ty Wigginton’s playing time
Mark Redman replaces Kris Benson and Sean Burnett
Dave Williams and Ryan Vogelsong switch roles
Rick White replaces Mark Corey, Brian Boehringer and other random relievers

Current Roster:

1B – Daryle Ward
2B – Jose Castillo
SS – Jack Wilson
3B – Rob Mackowiak
C – Humberto Cota
RF – Matt Lawton
CF – Tike Redman
LF – Jason Bay

Bench:

R – Freddy Sanchez (IF)
S – Bobby Hill (IF)
R – Dave Ross (C)
L – Michael Restovich (OF)
S – Ryan Doumit (C/OF)

Rotation:

R – Kip Wells
L – Mark Redman
L – Oliver Perez
R – Josh Fogg
L – Dave Williams

Bullpen:

R – Jose Mesa
L – Mike Gonazalez
R – Salomon Torres
R – Rick White
R – Brian Meadows
L – John Grabow
R – Ryan Vogelsong

DL:

R – Craig A. Wilson (OF/1B)
L – Sean Burnett (60-day)
R – John Van Benschoten (60-day)

Typical Line-up

L – Matt Lawton (RF)
L – Tike Redman (CF)
R – Jason Bay (LF)
L – Rob Mackowiak (3B)
L – Daryle Ward (1B)
R – Jose Castillo (2B)
R – Humberto Cota (C)
R – Jack Wilson (SS)

Entering a three game series with the Yankees tonight, the Pirates have a .492 actual and .519 Pythagorean winning percentage, both of which are better than the Yankees’ marks (.484 and .505 respectively). The Pirates are currently three games ahead of the Brewers in third place in the NL Central (the Yankees are still languishing a game behind the Blue Jays in fourth in the AL East).

Last week, when the Yankees began a three-game series in Milwaukee, the Brewers had a .464 winning percentage, but a .549 Pythagorean winning percentage. The Brewers then proceeded to take the first two games of that series before losing the third 12-3. Since then Milwaukee has lost four more, for a five-game losing streak that’s dropped them to a .444 actual and .509 Pythagorean winning percentage. The Pirates, meanwhile, are 7-4 in June, having won their last four series (against the Devil Rays, Orioles, Braves and Marlins), this on top of a winning record in May (15-13).

So much for Milwaukee and Pittsburgh providing the Yankees with an opportunity to pad their record. More on how the Pirates have been winning (tonight’s starter, Kip Wells, has been a big part of it) later.

Shake It Up

Some quick notes as the Yankees recover from the 3-9 beating they took on their just-completed romp through the heartland:

Rey Sanchez has two bulging disks in his neck and may land on the DL prior to the Pirates series. Should that happen, the Yanks are expected to call up Felix Escalona, following the logic that Sanchez is a back-up infielder and thus should be replaced by one. This is, of course, nonsense. Tony Womack should be sent to the bench, where he can back-up Cano at second. Alex Rodriguez can back-up Jeter at short, and Russ Johnson can back-up Rodriguez at third. There is no need for an extra infielder on this team.

By that logic, it would seem there’s no need for Sanchez on this team, which is something I’ve been saying since spring training. Upon closer examination, however, Sanchez could be useful as a spot-starter at second against lefties (Cano vs L: 3/29, 1 HR, 1 BB–.122 GPA; Sanchez vs L since 2002: .285/.328/.369–.240). That is unless you believe this season is a lost cause and the Yankees would be better off exposing Cano to lefties now in the hopes that he can learn to hit them, making him a more complete player for next year and beyond. With the Yanks two games under .500 less than a month from the All-Star Game but just six back in the AL East in mid-June, I change my mind about this several times a day.

As for Escalona’s ability at the plate, his .308/.371/.431 (.275 GPA) as the Clippers’ starting shortstop last year was head and shoulders above anything he’d done outside of A-ball. This year, at age 26, he’s hitting .279/.364/.413 (.267), a solid-follow up to his break-out 2004 campaign. But solid at triple-A is not reason enough to put a guy on the major league roster. Crushing at triple-A is. For that, we turn to Andy Phillips, who is hitting .340/.389/.670 (.343) with Columbus on the heels of a .318/.388/.569 (.317) performance with the Clippers in 2004. I know Andy fell into a rut when he was here previously, but with Tino 3 for his last 35 with a double and just three walks (.088/.158/.114) and a roster spot opening up, I think it’s time for Phillips to get his second shot to nab the starting job at first base. Besides which, Phillips, like Russ Johnson, can play several infield positions and is serviceable as a back-up outfielder. This team is better with those two men in the Bronx and Andy Phillips could make this team better in the future as well.

Speaking of Tony Womack (I did mention him back there somewhere), according to The New York Times Joe Torre is thinking about moving him into center field, which would allow Hideki Matsui to stay put in left, where he’s a much better defender than he is in center. Meanwhile, Womack (who of course shouldn’t be starting at all, but we’ll get to that shortly) has the potential to improve on Matsui’s defense center thanks to his speed (something I had suggested when initial move of Womack to the outfield was made in early May). There are also rumblings that Womack is rumbling about playing the outfield, telling the press (when asked) that he still considers himself a second baseman. There are also rumblings that there are rumblings that could result in a more significant roster moves than Escalona-for-Sanchez-due-to-injury. Sez Brian Cashman, “I’ve got a lot of things going on behind the scenes.” This after he was seen talking with Womack twice on Sunday.

Could Womack, whose $2 million salary and stellar reputation combined with complete lack of production makes him a top trade candidate, be on the move? We can only hope. In the mean time, Womack could be seen in centerfield during the upcoming home stand, even as soon as tomorrow’s game against the Pirates.

In a related story, Hideki Matsui celebrated his 31st birthday yesterday with a clutch hit and a sprained ankle (he slipped while making a play in right field, where he was starting in place of the resting Gary Sheffield). That puts both his consecutive games streak and Tony Womack’s centerfield debut in jeopardy, as there have been no further rumblings about Bernie Williams playing left field. That suggests that Womack moving to center and being shopped could mean that the Yankees are indeed in the market for a real-life centerfielder (oh pleasepleasepleaseplease).

As for Matsui’s prognosis, despite leaning on Gene Monahan when coming off the field yesterday, wasn’t limping noticeably once back in the dugout, and will likely keep his streak intact, even if it comes via a DH start or a pinch-hitting appearance.

And thus concludes another post that would have been largely unnecessary had the Yankees ponied up for Carlos Beltran.

Limping Home

The Yanks and Cards played a reasonably crisp game yesterday. St. Louis came up with the big hits against the Yankee bullpen, good enough for a 5-3 victory. The Bombers went 3-9 on the road trip, and have lost 11 of 14. Remarkably, they are still only six games behind the first place Orioles.

The team has the day off today. Next, Pittsburgh is in town for three, followed by a fun match-up with the Cubs this weekend. Anyone got anything interesting to say about any of this? Right now, I’ve got nuthin for ya man.

Which One of Dese?

Man, I’ve got no strong feelings about today’s game, in terms of what the outcome will be. Part of me thinks that Matt Morris will do very well and that the better team will win. But the other half of me just has to believe that the Yanks can take it. Come on fellas, let’s get the led out, willya, huh?

Now, That’s Mo Like It

With Bob Gibson in the house, Randy Johnson pitched angry yesterday, and turned in his finest performance as a Yankee. The Big Unit threw seven shutout innings, and while Flash Gordon worked into trouble in the eighth, Mariano Rivera saved his bacon, striking out pinch-hitter Larry Walker looking on a 3-2 pitch to end the frame. Rivera got Albert Pujols to pop out in foul ground to Tino Martinez, and then struck out the next two batters in the ninth to nail down the Yankees’ 5-0 win.

Alex Rodrgiguez drove in the first and last runs of the game, while Derek Jeter had a big two-out, two RBI single. Godziller Matsui followed and double Jeter home, as the Yanks rebounded from their horrid Friday night performance.

Here’s some quotes from around Yankee Land.

According to the St. Louis Post- Dispatch:

Catcher John Flaherty said: “This is the guy that we thought we were getting (from the Arizona Diamondbacks). When you get ripped by your manager like we did, the best guy to have on the mound is a dominating lefthander.”

… “It was different from what I remember,” center fielder So Taguchi said. “Usually it’s fastball, fastball, slider. Today it was slider, slider, fastball, changeup. He had his command … very tough.”

The Boss has given Joe Torre the dreaded “vote of confidence.” Yikes:

“I am upset,” Steinbrenner said through his spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, but added, “I have confidence in (Torre). He is safe. He has said he can turn this around. Let’s see if he can do it.”
(N.Y. Daily News)

Finally, here’s Filip Bondy on Bernie Williams:

“If I’m consistent about one thing, it’s that I stink at the beginning of each and every season,” Williams told a writer, explaining that it is nearly impossible now for him to find any rhythm. “Then I always make it happen. It’s frustrating when you’re not given that opportunity. I still get to wear the uniform, and that gives me great pride. But they always stress loyalty to the team during contract talks, and then that only goes so far when it’s the other way.”

Huge game for New York this afternoon. If they can pull out a win, they will return home with some dignity. If not, after this disheartening stretch, it will be a long trip back East.

Duck and Cover

Having taken the final game in Milwaukee, the Yankees have already exceeded my expectations for the second half of this road trip. Having bollocksed away yesterday’s game, they’re right on target for my expectations of this weekend. Today they get to tangle with Mark Mulder and the alleged Game of the Week curse. Randy Johnson will have his work cut out for him to say the least. One things for certain, we’re not likely to see Jason Giambi starting at first base today.

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