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Monthly Archives: August 2005

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Believe the Hype

It was billed as “The Battle in Seattle,” there were even fans at Safeco last night wearing t-shirts featuring the mug shots of the game’s starting pitchers. It was the 19-year-old phenom, “King” Felix Hernandez, against the 41-year-old former Mariners’ ace and sure-thing Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, and it lived up to the hype.

The rookie and the veteran exchanged hitless frames through two, with Hernandez throwing 97 mile per hour fastballs and sharp curves and Johnson locating both his slider and 95 heaters.

Hernandez began the third by striking out his opponent’s personal catcher, John Flaherty, on a wicked curve that came in just below the waste on the outside corner and dropped into the dirt. King Felix then threw a fastball away to Robinson Cano and came back with a change-up over the plate. Hernandez is as good as advertised, but his change-up is the weakest of his three pitches. This one hung up in the zone and Cano deposited it in the right field seats, just beyond the reach of Ichiro Suzuki to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead (note the white t-shirt in the latter photo).

After Johnson pitched another hitless frame (aided by a fantastic play at third base by Alex Rodriguez in which he made a backhanded stab of a sharp bouncer up the line by Suzuki and pivoted on the foul line to make a Jeter-like jump throw to nail the speedy Ichiro by a half step), Gary Sheffield, back from his one-day suspension, led off the fourth by blasting a Hernandez heater over the wall in left to make it 2-0 Yanks.

As it turned out, that would be the end of the scoring in this game, but Johnson and Hernandez continued to deal, blowing away hitters with heat and confounding them with breaking pitches, pitching quickly, all the while backed up by some terrific defense (the Mariners turned three double plays and Alex Rodriguez literally filled an entire highlight reel with his play at third base).

Likely invigorated by being back in Seattle and overshadowed by a young punk less than half his age, Randy Johnson didn’t allow a hit through five innings. Given the electricity of the game and the sharpness of his defense, it seemed Johnson had a very real chance of completing his third career no-hitter, but Yuniesky Betancourt lead off the sixth with a double over Matt Lawton’s head in left. Betancourt then moved to third on a grounder to shortstop by Suzuki, but Johnson recovered to strikeout Jamal Strong (starting in center for the left-handed Jeremy Reed) and, after Tino Martinez dropped a foul pop up by Raul Ibanez, Alex Rodriguez turned in yet another fine play to strand Betancourt at third.

The Mariners got a man to third again in the seventh. After Johnson struckout Sexson to start the inning, Rodriguez made a wicked backhanded stab of a hot shot by Adrian Beltre, but despite having plenty of time to make his throw, drew Tino Martinez off the bag for what was generously ruled the second Mariner hit of the game. Beltre then moved to second on a Jose Lopez single and to third on a Mike Morse fly to center. Now at 111 pitches and still nursing a 2-0 lead, Johnson reared back and fired a series of mid-90s fastballs to Yorvit Torrealba: 94 high, 94 a tad lower called strike, 95 barely inside, 95 same spot for a called strike. After the second called strike, Torrealba and home plate ump Ron Kulpa took a moment to jaw at each other. Johnson then fired his 116th pitch of the game. Torreabla grounded it to Derek Jeter, who flipped to Robinson Cano at second, just barely forcing out Lopez to end the inning and Johnson’s night.

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The Once and Future King

“I don’t think we’re talking about poise here…I think we’re talking about a 97-miles-per-hour fastball and a curveball from hell.” Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire

Tonight gives an extremely compelling pitching match-up in Seattle. If you root for the M’s I’m sure that there are precious few games you’d like to see your team win more than this one. Seattle’s teenage dynamo “King” Felix Hernandez squares off against one of the league’s best offenses, while thier erswhile ace Randy Johnson pitches for New York. I do not get the MLB TV package or Direct TV so I have not seen Hernandez pitch yet. Better still, I haven’t even seen highlights of him, just still photographs. Hernandez has a round, open face, and apparently poise to spare along with incredible stuff. He’s what they’d call “the Emmis” back in the old country.* All I know is what I’ve read, and that’s plenty to keep me up to see what the fuss is about. Pitching against the Yankees is sure to bring ‘em out to Safeco and have the boys at Baseball Tonight salivating.

For obvious reasons, nobody has followed Hernandez’s rookie campaign as closely or as passionately as the good folks over at the U.S.S. Mariner (here is a selection of posts for you to peruse: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). There have also been King Felix pieces by Bill Simmons, David Schoenfield, and commentary from Bert Blyleven.

I expect this to be a close game and figure that Johnson will be sharp. Perhaps it will be a crisp pitcher’s duel like the one Johnson had against Roy Halladay earlier this season. It is an exciting game for the M’s but an even more important one for the Yankees.

All aboard.

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Not Again

Shawn Chacon pulled a Mussina last night, giving up eight runs combined in the second and third innings due to an alarming lack of control (three walks, a wild pitch, and twice hitting Seattle left fielder Mike Morse with a pitch in those two innings alone). Those eight runs would be all the Mariners would score, and all they would need, as 31-year-old rookie starter Jeff Harris, who entered the game with a 1.69 ERA, escaped a one-out bases loaded jam in the first and eventually settled down to hold the Yankees to three runs over 6 1/3 innings.

With Joe Torre having cashed in Aaron Small last night, the Yankee skipper was forced to stick with Chacon as he started the second by allowing a pair of singles, hitting a batter to load the bases, uncorking a run-scoring wild pitch, and walking a man to reload the bases, all before recording an out. The Mariners then scored another run on an RBI groundout by Yorvit Torrealba, and cashed in the rest on a three-run homer by Ichiro Suzuki to go up 5-0.

Suzuki’s homer was his second in the first two games of the current series, marking just the second time in his major league career that he has gone deep in consecutive games, the first such occasion since last August, and the first time he has homered on consecutive days as a Mariner (though he did hit two jacks in a single game against Cleveland on July 30 as well as on two other occasions earlier in his Mariner career).

As the folks over at U.S.S. Mariner have noted, Suzuki has been hitting for more power this year, but sacrificing his average as a result. Ichiro!’s two homers against the Yankees over the past two nights have been his 14th and 15th of the season, breaking his major league career best of 13 set in 2003, which, not coincidentally, was also the year that he posted his lowest major league batting average (.312). Suzuki hit exactly eight home runs in his other three seasons with the Mariners, a number he’s almost doubled in 2005. This year, Suzuki is also exceeding his typical and major league high isolated power numbers–.104 and .124 respectively, the latter also in 2003–with a .146 ISO (slugging minus average). Meanwhile, in the three at-bats in which he did not homer last night, Ichiro, whose game has always revolved hitting the ball on the ground and speeding to first, flied out and twice struck out, dropping his average to .299, which has in turn suppressed his slugging percentage to his typical .445 despite his increased isolated power.

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Cha-Ching?

Shawn Chacon goes for the Yanks tonight at beautiful Safeco Field in Seattle. He was effective if not especially sharp in his last outing. Should be interesting to see what kind of performance he has in store for the M’s.

Go Yanks!

Horse…feathers

Last night Seattle reliever Matt Thorton came in the game, threw sliders instead of fastballs, gave up the lead and then heard it from manager Mike Hargrove. There is a special baseball word for his performance and it’s likely Hargrove mentioned it in their little chat. According to Bob Finnigan in The Seattle Times:

In a rare display of anger, Mike Hargrove stomped to the mound in the sixth inning and apparently gave reliever Matt Thornton a hard lesson in what he expected to see from a pitcher, with much vehemence and finger-jabbing.

…Thornton, who walked Bernie Williams after Giambi’s game-turning strike, was frank in revealing what the skipper would not. “He wanted to make sure he knew I can compete, for me to pitch like he knows I can, like I know I can,” said Thornton, who had given up crushing homers earlier in the year, but not lately.

Be sure and peep the U.S.S. Mariner, especially tomorrow night with Felix Hernandez on the mound, to see how the other half lives.

Swan Song

Discussing the relative merits of Yankee pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre has been a juicy topic for several years now. Tyler Kepner has a piece on Mel Stott in today’s Times. Worth taking a look at.

A Small Favor

Mike Mussina avoided his fifth inning struggles last night by getting himself pulled from the game in the fourth, but Aaron Small pitched four innings of one-hit ball in relief and Jason Giambi hit another pair of homers to give the Yankees a lead and, eventually, a win to open their series against the Mariners.

After the game, Mussina said that in the fifth inning of his last start and throughout this game he was having trouble throwing strikes and hinted that he’s going through a dead-arm period. Indeed, Mussina had nothing last night, as was clear from his first two pitches to Ichiro Suzuki. The first was a ball. The second landed in the right-field seats for a lead-off home run. Moose then went full on Willie Bloomquist before getting him to ground out. Raul Ibanez followed by creaming a pitch to deep right center, but got himself thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple (Bernie to Cano to Rodriguez). Richie Sexson followed by scorching a ball into Cano’s glove for the third out.

All Moose yielded in the second was a one-out Greg Dobbs double, making it his best inning of the night. In the third, a pair of singles by Miguel Ojeda and Ichiro! were followed by a Bloomquist sac bunt and four-pitch walks to Ibanez and Sexson, the latter forcing in the Mariners’ second run. Moose then threw ball one to both of the next two batters but got Adrian Beltre to pop out on a fastball down the middle and Dobbs to fly out to deep left.

Then came the fourth, which Moose started with a five-pitch walk to Yuniesky Betancourt. Mussina then fell behind 3-0 on Jeremy Reed, who, after a called strike, caught Alex Rodriguez off guard with a bunt to third that Rodriguez was unable to pick out of the grass. Moose then walked Ojeda after getting ahead of him 1-2, the final pitch being a breaking ball that was nowhere near the strike zone. That was all Joe Torre had to see, as he wisely pulled Mussina before he could do any further damage.

Brought into an ugly bases-loaded, no-outs situation, Aaron Small induced a pair of double play balls to second from Suzuki and Bloomquist, but Ichiro was able to beat out the first and first base ump Tim Tschida blew the call on Bloomquist, so Small only got two outs to show for it as the Mariners increased their lead to 4-0. Small then walked Ibanez, but got Sexson to fly out for the final out of the inning.

As all of this was going on, the Yankees were scuffling against Ryan Franklin. The second was the only inning among the first four in which the Yankees got a runner on base, as Alex Rodriguez lead off with an infield single and was followed by a Giambi walk. They then promptly ran themselves into a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play with Bernie Williams swinging through a pitch and Alex Rodriguez getting thrown out by several feet at third on a failed hit and run.

After Small came in to clean-up Mussina’s mess, however, things turned around. Jason Giambi led off the fifth with a mammoth homer off the restaurant in right field (just below the neon “Hit It Here” target). Then, after the Yankees ran into another double play via the hit and run (this time with Bernie on the bases and Lawton at the plate), Posada doubled, moved to third on a wild pitch, and was singled home by Cano to cut the Mariner lead in half.

In the sixth, after a first-pitch Matsui groundout, Sheffield and Rodriguez walked (the former on four pitches), driving Franklin from the game at 93 pitches. Mike Hargrove then called on lefty Matt Thornton, who went to 1-1 on Giambi before Jason crushed yet another home run, his fourth in the last two games, this one a three-run job that gave the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish.

Small cruised through the fifth, sixth and seventh, scattering a Greg Dobbs double and two more walks, and in the top of the eighth Alex Rodriguez and Matt Lawton added solo homers to cushion the Yankee lead. Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera finished it off with perfect eighth and ninth innings.

In my opinion, the story of the game was Aaron Small, who picked up the win and is now 5-0 with a 3.03 ERA as a Yankee, but the story of the past two games has clearly been Jason Giambi. Giambi now has four homers and eleven RBIs over his last two games after hitting just two taters and driving in just seven runs in the previous twenty-five games in August.

According to Giambi, the difference in the past two games has been a cortisone injection he got last week to relieve the pain from tendonitis in his left elbow, which makes more sense than pointing to the fact that the acquisition of Matt Lawton has pushed him back into the field (though I suspect the latter hasn’t hurt his focus at the plate as the association between Giambi’s success at the plate and playing time at first base is downright eerie).

Giambi’s comeback this season continues to astound as he has set personal bests for homers in a single month (14 in July) and multi-homer games (now seven). The latter total accounts for more than 23 percent of his career multi-homer games (now 30), which is stunning considering the fact that Giambi had 281 career homers entering this season and was the best hitter in the American League, if not the majors, for several seasons around the turn of the millennium.

The Mariners

Ten days ago, I wrote that the Yankees were in good shape because they had more games left to play against the teams leading them in the AL East and Wild Card races than they were games behind those teams. At that time the Yanks were four games behind the Red Sox with six left to play against them and a game and a half behind the A’s for the Wild Card with three left to play against them.

Since then the Yankees have gone 8-2 while the Red Sox have gone 5-4 and the A’s 6-3. As a result, the Yankees have eliminated their Wild Card deficit and carved 2.5 games out of their AL East deficit and still have all nine games left to play against these two rivals.

Meanwhile, two other contenders have entered the Wild Card picture from different directions. Thanks in part to a weekend sweep at the hands of the Devil Rays, the Angels have gone 3-6 over this stretch, yielding the AL West lead to the A’s and, in turn, the Wild Card lead to the Yankees, who lead the now second-place Angels by a half game. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians have been bouncing in and out of a Wild Card tie with the Yankees, matching them at 8-2 over the past ten days, and currently standing one game behind them, as they were on August 19.

For their part, the Yankees have been doing exactly what they’ve needed to, taking two of three from the slumping White Sox to finish the punishingly difficult portion of their schedule with a 24-16 (.600) record, then going 6-1 against the Blue Jays and Royals at home.

Tonight the Yankees start a four game series against the Mariners in Seattle, and it would behoove them to win at least three of these games as well, as things will be far more difficult over the twelve games that follow.

After the Yankees leave Seattle, they play those three games against the A’s in Oakland. The following weekend they will play three games at home against the Red Sox. And on either side of that Red Sox series they will play a pair of three-game series against the Devil Rays. Remember, the Devil Rays just swept the Angels and are 9-4 against the Yankees this season. The D-Rays are also 27-15 since the All-Star break, a record a half-game better than the Yankees’ 27-16 and a game and a half better than the Red Sox’s 25-16 over the same period (the A’s are 29-13 since the break).

All the more reason to take advantage of the Mariners (who, for comparison’s sake, are 16-26 since the All-Star break, 9-15 in August and 3-7 over their last three series). Tonight, Mike Mussina looks to conquer his fifth-inning struggles against Ryan Franklin, who pitched somewhere between very well (quality start) and excellent (shutout) in four of his five July starts, but has given up 19 runs in 15 1/3 innings across three poor starts this month.

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Doin’ Alright

Derek Jeter’s fielding improved last year, so much so that he was awarded the Gold Glove for American League shortstops. Now, he may not have been the best defensive shortstop in the league, but he had one of his best seasons with the leather. According to Steve Lombardi, Jeter’s fielding has remained at the top of the league again this year:

Is he a terrible SS? No. A terrible SS would have been moved off SS by now. Tony Batista was moved. Chipper Jones was moved. Mike Lansing was moved. Mark Lewis was moved. Jose Offerman was moved. Wil Cordero was moved. Julio Franco was moved. In the big leagues, if you truly are a terrible SS, you will eventually be moved. Even a stupid team figures it out after a while. Jeter has not been moved, because he is not terrible with the glove at SS.

While Jeter’s power numbers have dipped (he hit 23 homers and 44 doubles in 2004, and he has 14,and 21 respectively so far this year), Jeter has walked 60 times so far in 2005, up from 46 all of last year. He has six sacrifices this year, down from a ridiculously high 16 in 2004 (that spike was a direct result of Jeter’s early season slump, and it was a habit he did not break out of all year, even after he starting hitting). Jeter scored his 100th run of the season yesterday and his line of .315/.393/.456 makes for another impressive year, don’t you think?

Bombino

Jason Giambi led the Yankees to a 10-3 thrasing over the Royals on a muggy summer day in the Bronx. Giambi went 3-3 with a walk, hit two home runs and collected seven RBI. Al Leiter was, well, Al Lieter, and he pitched well enough to earn the win.

In all, it was a good home stand for the Bombers. The Red Sox and the Devil Rays (Cantu, Gomes and company) completed a three-game sweep of the Angels. The A’s are now in first place in the AL West. The Yanks lead the wildcard by a half-a-game over the Angels and a complete game over the Indians. They trail Boston by a game-and-a-half. The Red Sox now have to deal with the streaking Devil Rays while the Yanks are off to the west coast this week. They’ve got four in Seattle, including a scintillating Wednesday night match-up featuring Randy Johnson and the young Felix Hernandez, which could be dubbed “The Once and Future King.” Then on Friday, they are off to Oakland for three against the A’s. Looks like Leiter, Mussina and Chacon will pitch in Oakland. It’s another important week for the Bombers as we move to September. The Yanks then return to face Tampa Bay and then Boston. Crunch time.

Nickel and Dime Delight

Jaret Wright did not have great command on Saturday afternoon yet the majority of the hits that he allowed were dinkers and dunkers. While the Yanks manufactored three runs early on, they were shut-down by Kansas City pitching for most of the afternoon. Down 7-3 with one out and Jason Giambi on first in the ninth, Jorge Posada tapped an easy grounder to the mound. But the pitcher Jeremy Affeldt botched what would have been a game-ending double play and then the Yankees countered with a string of seeing-eye hits of their own. Matt Lawton, pinch-hitter Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield and finally Alex Rodriguez all slapped hits just beyond Kansas City gloves as the Yankees scored five runs in the ninth for a thrilling 8-7 win. There was a lot of hugging and smiling in the Bronx on a late August afternoon as the Yankees pulled off one of the most memorable victories of their season. Combined with a Red Sox loss (the Tigers rallied after being down 6-0), the Yanks are now just a game-and-a-half behind Boston in the AL East.

It is far less beautiful in New York today. The sun is gone and it is overcast and humid. Al Leiter is on the hill as the Bombers go for the sweep.

Baby Bern

If these are indeed the final days of Bernie Williams’ career in New York at least he’s got some games like last night’s left in him. Williams, who has traditionally hit well in August, cranked a pair of two-run home runs to help lift the Bombers past Kansas City 5-1. He received two curtain calls and it was warming to see him being appreciated by the home town fans. Bernie is a favorite of ours here at Bronx Banter and I know that I am trying to savor every at-bat he has–good, bad or indifferent–because this may be it. Of course, it is especially sweet when he does something productive.

Alex Rodriguez added a solo blast into the black seats–his league-leading 38th on the season–and Randy Johnson pitched eight strong innings. It was a good win for the Yanks who kept pace with Indians and A’s who won–as did the Sox.

Meanwhile, according to Bill Madden in The Daily News, the Yankees acquired outfielder Matt Lawton last night fromt the Cubs for a minor league pitcher:

Lawton, who hit .268 with 11 homers and 49 RBI in 120 games with Chicago and Pittsburgh this season, likely will be plugged into left field with Hideki Matsui moving to center on regular occasions as the Yankees address what has been a problem for them all season long. According to sources, the deal came down in the middle of last night’s 5-1 Yankee win over the Royals, after it had been learned earlier in the day that Lawton had cleared waivers.

This sounds like a nice, modest pick-up. I’ve always liked Lawton personally, and he’s an upgrade over Bubba Crosby and Tony Womack in the outfield. Welcome aboard, bro.

The Royals

Entering this weekend’s series against the Kansas City Royals, the Yankees remain in a three-way tie with the A’s and Indians for the Wild Card lead. They are also three games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East. Those three games are a haunting number as the last time the Yankees met Kansas City, the Royals swept the invading Yanks. That’s the Royals, the team that currently owns the major leagues’ worst record (their .331 winning percentage is fifty points worse than that of the second-worst Rockies) and, entering that series at the very end of May, sported an even worse .260 winning percentage.

In retrospect, that series came at exactly the right time for the Royals. Kansas City had just hired Buddy Bell as their manager and proceeded to win their first four games under their new skipper on their way to a 10-4 run. Meanwhile, the series came at exactly the wrong time for the Yankees. Their season-saving May had just been rudely interrupted by a pair of brutal home loses to the Red Sox (total score 24-3). The Kansas City sweep came in the middle of a six-game losing streak for the Yankees, five straight series loses, and a 1-9 team slump in which the Yankee offense scored 23 runs in 10 games (easy math: 2.3 runs per game). In that series in Kansas City, the Bombers were held to six runs by the Royals staff.

Things are a bit different now. The Yankees scored six runs in yesterday’s game alone and 23 in the just-completed four-game series against the Blue Jays (more difficult math: a representative 5.75 runs per game against a season average of 5.40). They’re also on a 10-4 streak of their own. Meanwhile, the Royals are just five games removed from a 19-game losing streak.

Ah, but what a five games they’ve been: 4-1 against two of the Yankees’ primary postseason rivals the A’s and Red Sox. As was the case in the initial meeting between these two teams, when the Royals win its usually in a low-scoring game. They broke their losing streak when tonight’s starter, Mike Wood–then making just his third start of the year after a respectable stay in the bullpen–and the top four men in the Royal pen (Andy Sisco, Ambiorix Burgos, Jeremy Affeldt and “Mac the Ninth” MacDougal) out-dueled Barry Zito and Justin Duschsherer to deliver a 2-1 win. Last night’s 7-4 victory in Curt Schilling’s first start since April was the first time the Royals had scored more than five runs in their last ten games.

Opposing Wood tonight is the Big Enigma, Randy Johnson, who has just one quality start in his last four attempts, that coming in a game the Yankees lost anyway (4-3 to the Devil Rays last Tuesday). Randy Johnson’s last start, in which he gave up six runs on four home runs in the third inning against the White Sox, spawned more speculation, aggravation, and rumination than I care to get into right now, but I did find a pair of articles particularly informative. The first is actually more than a month old: Jonah Keri’s Baseball Prospectus Game of the Week column on a game Johnson pitched against the Indians the day after Old-Timer’s Day. Keri’s article is particularly enlightening regarding Johnson’s pitch selection and approach to getting men out this year.

The other is from SG at the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog, who wrote about something I had noticed but forgotten about regarding the similarity between Randy Johnson’s performances this season and in 2003, when he had mid-season knee surgery. Personally, I’ve been convinced for some time that Johnson’s back has been the source of his trouble, robbing him of the velocity on his fastball and the break on his slider that he’s needed to be his dominating self. To my mind, that this season so neatly matches 2003, when he also struggled with injury, lends some credence to that belief.

Here’s hoping the Yanks can put enough good wood on Mike’s pitches tonight to compensate, as they can ill-afford another loss to the Kansas City Royals.

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Taking Care of Business

After a rewarding 6-2 victory against the Blue Jays yesterday afternoon in the Bronx, the Yankees gained a game on the Red Sox who lost last night in Kansas City (Curt Schilling was not effective in his return to the rotation). Cliff and I feel that the anything less than a sweep of the Royals this weekend is unacceptable yet K.C. is coming off two consecutive series wins against the A’s and Sox which is nothing to sneeze at.

Randy Johnson is on the mound tonight. According to The Daily News:

“Still believe in my heart of hearts that the big guy is gonna be dynamite down the stretch, Joe Torre said. “It’s just that I have a sense that he is very close right now.”

…”He has had two bad innings in the last two starts and the one bad inning (in a no-decision at Tampa Bay) was just a three-run home run,” Torre said. “The (fourth inning) in Chicago was a bad inning, that (in Tampa Bay) was not a bad inning, just a bad pitch. I am just feeling that he is much closer than he ever has been (since being here) of being back on the dominant side.”

Wright pitches on Saturday, Leiter on Sunday making this an especially important start for the Big Unit. I will agree with Torre here and say that he’ll be on his A-game this evening.

The Big O

Our pal Steve Lombardi dubbed today’s pitching match up “The Battle of the Vowels–Chacon v Chacin. Let us all hope that ‘O’ is the winner.”

I wish I had an overwhelming feeling of confidence about this one but I don’t. How long can Chacon keep pitching as well as he has? Can the Yankee offense beat-up on the impressive young Chacin again? These questions and more will be answered this afternoon on an absolutely gorgeous day for baseball in the Bronx.

Near Great?

After retiring the side in the second inning last night Mike Mussina walked off the mound. Jorge Posada rolled the ball in front of home plate as catchers usually do. However, Mussina stopped in his tracks and went back to collect the ball. The ball was meaningful because he had just completed the 3,000th inning of his career. He had a small smile on his face and looked both sheepish and proud. I would like to think that Mussina has a shot at the Hall of Fame but without a 20-win season or a Cy Young under his belt, I just don’t think the writers will ever vote him in. Recently I’ve been wondering how he stacks up with his contemporaries. I figure Maddux, Clemens, Johnson, Pedro, and probably Glavine are all locks for the Hall. Yesterday, I asked Jay Jaffe how Mussina compares with the next level of accomplished hurlers: John Smotlz, Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown and Boomer Wells. Jay not only looked into it but he devoted a post to it. Head on over to The Futility Infielder to see what he came up with.

Old Bones

While Bernie Williams will have to scrap to keep his lifetime average over .300, Jorge Posada must contend with the growing perception that he is on the decline. Posada obviously prefers to look at his 2005 season simply as an off-year, but at 34, it is not unreasonable to be concerned. Anthony McCarron reports:

Two major-league scouts who have watched Posada regularly both say his bat speed seems to have dipped. “He used to be able to turn on anybody’s fastball, but he has to cheat sometimes now,” says one.

“I think he’s somewhat diminished skill-wise, which is natural, because he’s been catching so long,” the scout adds. “He’s still a good clutch performer. He was an elite guy for a long time. He’s no longer elite, but he’s above average. You could ask the 30 clubs in baseball and most would rather have Posada than the guy they do have. But it’s no longer all of them.

That sounds about right. Though Posada, a converted infielder, got a late start as a catcher, all these years playing in October would seem to even things out. Not only that:

[Yankee manager, Joe] Torre and [Fox anaylst, Tim] McCarver both note that Posada has much more to deal with when it comes to handling a pitching staff. The Yankees have cranked through starting pitchers with incredible frequency over Posada’s tenure – they have used 14 different starters this year alone – and he is charged with learning them all.

“It’s doubled his workload, at least,” McCarver says. “He’s trying to get to know these guys quickly. That didn’t happen 30 years ago. The decade that Jorge has had with the Yankees has been much harder, from a mental standpoint, than Bench with the Reds or (Carlton) Fisk with the Red Sox or White Sox.”

You never know when a player will start to fall off, or if their decline will be sudden or a long, slow fade to black. Hopefully for the Yankees, Posada still has some gas left in the tank.

Joe of Little Faith

Prior to last night, Mike Mussina’s last loss came on August 3 in Cleveland when, after pitching four scoreless innings, Mussina fell apart in the fifth, giving up six runs and getting pulled from the game.

Prior to last night, the Yankees’ last loss came this past Sunday in Chicago when, after cruising through the first three innings, Randy Johnson fell apart in the fourth, giving up six runs, which would be all the White Sox would score and also all they would need.

Last night, Mike Mussina combined those two outings by cruising through the first four innings before falling apart in the fifth, giving up eight runs and getting pulled from the game. A ninth run charged to Mussina would score with reliever Felix Rodriguez on the mound. Those nine runs would be all the Blue Jays would score and also all they would need.

What I had hoped would be a dispiriting loss for the slumping Blue Jays turned out to be a dispiriting loss for the Yanks. Mussina’s collapse was particularly upsetting as the game had all the makings of a thrilling pitchers’ duel through the first four innings, with both Mussina and Toronto starter Dave Bush seemingly at the top of their game, the latter backed up by some spectacular defense.

Adding insult to injury, after the Yankees failed to drive a run across in the fifth and sixth, Joe Torre put his subs in, taking Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Jorge Posada out in favor of Felix Escalona, Bubba Crosby and John Flaherty respectively. The logic, I suppose, was to give these crucial players a breather in anticipation of today’s day game. But considering the success the Yankees had had against the Toronto bullpen the previous two nights (8 runs in 3 2/3 innings) and the fact that the Yankees are indeed the second best offense in baseball, I find it unforgivable for Torre not to have allowed his team a chance to come back at full strength.

As it turns out, the move immediately came back to bite the Yankee skipper as in the bottom of the seventh Robinson Cano and Tony Womack lead off with singles off Jason Frasor and were driven in by a Hideki Matsui double. Matsui was hitting in the two-hole yesterday, so had Torre left his starters in, he would have had two in and Sheffield and Rodriguez due up with a man in scoring position. Instead he had Bubba Crosby and Felix Escalona. To his credit, Crosby singled, but Escalona struck out, as did Jason Giambi, ending the inning.

In the bottom of the eighth, Tino Martinez lead off with a single but was promptly doubled up by John Flaherty.

Finally, against Vinnie Chulk in the bottom of the ninth, Jeter and Crosby singled to bring the clean-up spot to the plate with two outs. Again, it was Escalona, not Rodriguez who was due up. Torre went to the last man on his bench and pinch-hit Bernie Williams. Bernie worked the count full then crushed a ball into the upper deck in right for a three-run homer to close the gap to 9-5 only to have Giambi make the final out. Too little too late.

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Jays’ Blues

With Oakland slumping (dropping eight of the last nine), the Yankees (on a 9-3 run) and Indians (winners of six straight) have moved a game ahead of the A’s in the Wild Card chase.

Meanwhile, last night’s game-winning single by Felix Escalona handed the Blue Jays their fifth straight loss. On Monday, Toronto manager John Gibbons got ejected whiile arguing a play at the plate. Last night, he stormed into the tunnel leading the visitor’s clubhouse before Escalona even made it to first base (or so it seemed).

Judging by their manager’s behavior, this Blue Jay team appears to be thisclose to a full-fledged slide, which would be good news for the Yankees, who face them eight more times this season including tonight.

Then again, Gibbons could simply be reacting to the fact that over the past two nights his starters have posted this combined line:

13 IP, 12 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 0 HR

But has team has lost because his bullpen has done this:

3 2/3 IP, 9 H, 8 ER, 5 BB, 4 K, 1 HR

Tonight, Gibbons hands the ball to Dave Bush, who failed to make it out of the third inning in his last start against Detroit, then two days later was brought in to finish off a game the Jays were trailing 15-5 and gave up another pair of runs in less than three innings of work. Tonight he faces the Yankees’ anchor, Mike Mussina, who looks like he just might be gearing up for another excellent stretch run. This is one of those “go for the jugular” games. This is the team the Yankees play most over the remainder of the season and a win tonight could break them.

Tension Tamer

“It was a good game all the way around, and I don’t ever want to play it again.” Joe Torre

My girlfriend Emily loves baseball. She enjoys listening to the first couple of innings on the radio as she drives home from work. Then she settles in with me to catch the rest of it when he gets home. Em appreciates the Yankees win or lose and tolerates my pouting, shouting and other assorted pessimistic behavior as the game unfolds. Quite frankly, she still doesn’t understand why I let myelf get so upset when things don’t go well, and perhaps she never will. But most of the time now she lets me act the fool without much commentary. A typical scene goes like this: A Yankee hitter has two strikes on him. I predict a strikeout before the pitch reaches the plate, sometimes standing up and walking out of the room as I’m speaking. Emily always thinks the Yankees will do okay in the end. She also believes that it’s plain bad karma to articulate negative thoughts like I do. But she’s got a kind heart, bless her. Whenever something good does go down, as it did last night, she doesn’t gloat or rub it in. It’s gotten to the point where she doesn’t even say anything. I just glare at her out of the corner of my eye and she gives me a look that says “I told you so, you big dope.”

Before the Yankees pulled out a 5-4 victory in the bottom of the ninth last night, I was in fine form, gloom-and-doom all the way. As Joe Torre said about the current wildcard chase, “It’s good for baseball, it’s bad for my stomach.” Last night, the Yankees seemingly wasted a good outing from Al Leiter (they can’t expect him to pitch much better), saw Taynon Sturtze and Mariano Rivera come up lame in relief, Derek Jeter muff a difficult but makable play in the ninth, Alex Rodriguez fail with runners in scoring position in the eighth, Gary Sheffield go hitless on the night, and yet they still pulled out the win. Hideki Matsui came through with a clutch home run in the ninth and Felix Escalona had the game-winning knock later in the inning.

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