"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: September 2005

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The Giambian Bargain

Needing just one win to clinch a tie for the American League East, the Yankees went to Fenway Park last night and lost a game they could have won. The decisive play came with the bases full of Red Sox in the sixth inning, one man out, the score 3-1 in favor of Boston, and an 0-2 count on Jason Varitek. Varitek hit a weak grounder to Jason Giambi at first, who charged the ball and fired to Jorge Posada to force David Ortiz at home. But Giambi failed to set himself before making the throw, despite the fact that the lumbering Ortiz was the runner at third. His throw tailed down and to the foul side of home, bouncing short of Posada, who was unable to handle the hop. Ortiz scored safely and the Yankees failed to get an out. John Olerud, who started at first base, then flew out to Bernie Williams in center–the only one of the twenty outs Yankee starter Chein-Ming Wang recorded that came via a fly ball to the outfield. Olerud’s fly scored Manny Ramirez from third, pushing the score to 5-1. Had Giambi’s throw been on target, Olerud’s fly would have been the final out of the inning and the score would have held at 3-1, allowing Derek Jeter’s two-run homer in the seventh inning to tie the game. Instead, the Yankees lost 5-3.

That’s not to say that Giambi’s error was the only missed opportunity of the night.

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The Yankees and The Red Sox

updated 7:10 pm EST

Here we go, folks. This is not a test, this is the real deal. Three games at Fenway Park to determine the outcome of the American Leage East race for 2005. The Yankees lead the Red Sox by one game and can win the division with just two more wins. One Yankee victory would clinch a tie, meaning that, at worst, the Yankees would get to play one final all-or-nothing home game to decide the division. In essence, the Yankees simply need to split the next four (potential) games against the Red Sox to win the division. The Red Sox, meanwhile, need to win two of three just to have a chance to play for the division crown at Yankee Stadium on Monday, and would have to sweep to clinch in their home park.

Meanwhile, the series between the AL Central Champion White Sox and the Cleveland Indians, who are currently tied with the Red Sox one game behind the Yankees, will determine if the losers of the New York-Boston series win the Wild Card or start emptying their lockers. Hank Waddles over at Only Baseball Matters has posted a handy chart outlining the 23 possible outcomes, which, at their most stomach-churning include a pair of one-game playoffs, one on Monday for the AL East crown and one on Tuesday between the Indians and Monday’s loser for the Wild Card. Eighteen of those 23 possible outcomes have the Yankees in the playoffs (as opposed to 14 each for the Red Sox and Indians), which would give the Yankees the edge if everything else were equal. Of course, as Waddle concludes, the problem is, “we’re not flipping coins.”

Of course, with the Yankees and Red Sox, it often seems as though we are. The two teams are 34-34 in head-to-head match-ups over the past three seasons, and each has won a seven game ALCS at the expense of the other to push their overall records to 38-38. Thus far this season, the Yankees have a 9-7 advantage over the Sox in head-to-head match-ups, including a 5-2 record against the Sox since the All-Star break and a 4-3 record at Fenway Park (this despite the Red Sox having won a full two thirds of their home games on the season while the Yankees have played mere .526 ball on the road). The Yankees are also the hotter team, having gone 14-3 since Randy Johnson beat Tim Wakefield 1-0 in the final game of the two teams’ last match-up. The Sox, meanwhile, are 10-8 over that span (both teams are 5-2 over their last seven, but the Yanks are 2-1 while the Sox are 1-2 in their last three).

Ultimately, what matters is the quality of the teams on the field this weekend, not over the past six months. So let’s take a closer look at the two rosters and tonight’s starting pitchers.

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The Holy Trinity: 1904

As the Yankees head to Fenway for the final three games of the season with a mere one-game lead over the Red Sox in the AL East, it’s worth noting that this is just the third time in the 103-year history of the team that they’ve concluded a regular season by playing their Boston rivals head-to-head for a chance at the postseason. As we are about to watch the fourth such finish unfold before us over the next three days, I thought it would be fun to revisit those three seasons, one per day, as we anticipate what this year’s will bring. The hope is that the juxtaposition between these recaps and the games at Fenway will do far more than a lot of hype and mythmaking could to underscore the significance of this weekend’s series. I’ll start today with 1904.

But before I do, in addition to those head-to-head match-ups there have been just four other seasons in that 103-year period in which the two teams have finished within four games of one another (the maximum distance possible this year). It’s interesting to note, however, that three of those seven seasons have occurred since the American League was split into three divisions in 1994. Including this year, that accounts for a full third of the three-division era. In light of that, it is amazing that the schedule makers haven’t pitted the two teams against each other in the final series of a season since 1996, when the Yankees finished seven games ahead of the defending AL East Champion Red Sox.

Equally amazing, this is the first time since it was adopted in 2001 that the unbalanced schedule has resulted in season-ending Yankee-Red Sox matchup. In 1999 and 2000, when the Yankees finished 4 and 2.5 games ahead of the Red Sox respectively, the final regular season games between the two clubs were on September 11 and 12, almost three weeks before the season’s conclusion. All of which is even more stunning when you remember that the Yankees and Red Sox have finished first and second in the AL East respectively for the last seven straight seasons. Major League Baseball switched schedule makers prior to this season for the first time since 1981. Now, entering the season’s final weekend, four of the six teams that have niether clinched nor been eliminated from the postseason are playing each other, including the first scheduled season-ending series between the Yankees and Red Sox to mean something since 1949. Kudos to baseball and the Sports Scheduling Group for correcting an obvious flaw in the system.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls: Dyin’ Time’s Here

Jason Giambi crushed a three-run home run in the first inning and the Yankees built an early lead on their way to an 8-4 victory last night in Baltimore. Aaron Small worked out of a jam in the third inning and pitched another credible game as he upped his record to an improbable 10-0. Hideki Matsui added a two-run homer, and a fine catch (the kind he normally doesn’t make), Gary Sheffield had an RBI, and Alex Rodriguez had two hits, two stolen bases, and two runs scored. There were some unsure moments courtsey of the bullpen, but that is nothing new. When Joe Torre came out to the mound in the eighth inning to replace Taynon Sturtze he looked as like he was on the verge on a heart attack. Sensing his anxiety, Derek Jeter rubbed his shoulder to let him know that everything would be alright.

The Yanks beat the Orioles three times in the last four days and seven-of-eight times since last week. They remain one game ahead of the Red Sox who defeated the Blue Jays 5-4 last night thanks to some familiar heroics from David Ortiz, who tied the game with a solo home run and then drove in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth with a single. Ortiz has repeatedly come up big for Boston this year, but this game just might have saved their season. The Indians also won, while the White Sox clinched the AL Central. The Red Sox and the Tribe are tied for the lead in the wildcard race.

The Yankee and Red Sox begin the final series of the regular season tonight in Boston. It is downright cold this morning in New York and the weather this weekend promises to be fitting for October baseball. Amazingly, these two proud teams continue to live up to the hype of their rivalry, though at this point, much of the sensational media coverage has become not just depressing but offensive. The backpage of The Daily News reads, “Out For Blood,” the banner on the backpage of the Post, “Brawl for it All,” while the front page of El Diario goes, “Duelo A Muerte.” And that’s just in New York. It’s as if they want something vicious and violent to go down. Bloodlust, like comedy, is not pretty.

Regardless, the tension will be exquisite for Yankee and Red Sox fans alike. Here’s hoping that nothing too ill happens in the stands, that no player makes a critical error to decide a game, and that ultimately, the best team wins. Last night seemed like the most important game of the year for the Yankees. Now, we can say the same thing about tonight’s game. The Bombers need to win two-of-three, the Sox need the sweep, and both hope that the White Sox rough up the Indians.

Homina, homina, hominaDoh!

Big Time

As dramatic as this weekend’s showdown in Boston will invariably be, I have the feeling that tonight could be the most pivotal game of the year for the Yankees. To be honest, part of me feels that it’d make perfect sense for the Red Sox to win–could they possibly drop three straight to the Jays?–and the Yanks to lose, and have ‘em both duke it out in the best-of-three. Speaking of the Yanks and Sox, Cliff is just one of a handful of Boston and New York-based bloggers who will be interviewed tonight at Open Source radio between 7-8 pm est. Click here and here if you are interested in streaming it live.

Aaron Small gets the nod over Jaret Wright in Baltimore this evening. Small is 9-0 and I’ve been waiting for his arm to turn back into a pumpkin for over a month now. But even when he’s been roughed-up, the Yanks have managed to get him off the hook. Does he have another good outing in him? Can the Bombers put up enough runs to pull him through? Erik Bedard, the talented young lefty goes for the O’s and he could be as tough as Cabrera was last night. Baltimore also has a strong enough offense to mush bad pitching. I dunno, folks. I can’t call it. I just hope Small keeps ‘em in it and that the bats don’t get completely shut down. Me, I’m just gunna sit back, say my prayers, and watch it all unfold. Oh yeah, and try to remember to breath while I’m at it.

One Up, Four Left

Shawn Chacon pitched a marvelous game last night for the Yankees. He received support from his infield defense, particularly Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez, and stellar relief from Flash Gordon and Mariano Rivera as the Bombers eeked out a 2-1 victory in Baltimore. The Devil Rays beat the Tribe 1-0 (in a game that featured some fine defense of its own–thanks, Johnny Gomes?!?), and Ted Lily mastered the Red Sox as the Jays won at Fenway 7-2. New York is now one game ahead of Boston in the American League East. The Sox and the Indians are tied in the wildcard standings.

Chacon allowed one run–a solo homer off a 2-0 meatball to Javey Lopez–the only run he’s allowed in his last 23.2 innings. The Orioles only managed to get four hits off of the right-hander, all by Lopez (who missed another home run by a few feet and settled for a double instead) and Chris Gomez. Though he walked three, Chacon only threw 91 pitches, and once again, kept batters off balance all night, inducing plenty of soft grounders and harmless pop flys.

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This is it

So it’ll be Shawn Chacon, the guy with the sweet smile and baggy pants, squaring off against Daniel Cabrera, the dude with the scowl and the red ass tonight at Camden Yards. As Cliff mentioned to me in an e-mail this afternoon, Chacon would start a one-game playoff if it comes to that, but this may be his final start of the season. He could also wind up as the Game One starter in the ALDS if the Yanks pull this thing out without a one-game playoff. Meanwhile, the Yankee offense has to remain patient against Cabrera, who has a live arm and can be a tough customer.

Only five games left. Every ball and strike, every foul ball, every everything counts, as we sit back helplessly and watch it all unfold.

Keep the faith and let’s go Yanks!

Moving On

While Curt Schilling finds himself embroiled in some bad clubhouse vibes (paging Mr. Ramirez), Alan Schwarz has a front-page article on Mike Piazza and Bernie Williams in today’s New York Times. Piazza, in particular, seems to have accepted where he is at in his career:

“I compare it to a new car,” Piazza said recently at Shea Stadium. “When you get a new car, the power windows go up quick – it’s quicker and you get more response. And then when it gets older, little things start to break. Things fall off. Our bodies are machines. You have to be pragmatic. You have to be realistic.”

…”I’m not O.K. with not producing,” Piazza said, “but you do have to go: ‘Wait a minute, let’s be real here. You are who you are. Embrace it. Maybe what I lack in pure motor response of what I had 10 years ago, I feel like I bring a lot of other different things.’ It is what it is. It’s not a bad thing. Everyone knows it, everyone times you, scouts know. It’s not a big mystery.”

…”I’m very much at peace with who I am and where I am,” he said. “I’ve caught a lot of games. Physically, it has taken a toll on me, but I still feel I can be somewhat productive. I’m actually looking forward to being a role player.”

I like the idea of Bernie Williams replacing Ruben Sierra next year as a pinch-hitter, part-time DH, spot outfielder. Perhaps Piazza would be equally as effective in that role too.

Every Game Counts, Except These

It took four hours and sixteen minutes and 398 pitches, but last night’s 17-9 Yankee loss to the Baltimore Orioles finally came to an end just before 11:30 p.m. EST last night. And in the end, it meant nothing. Yes, despite the fact that the Yankees are in a three way tie for the AL East and the Wild Card with just five games left to play in the season, last night’s loss meant nothing. That’s because the Red Sox, Indians, and White Sox all lost last night as well.

In the end, the evening was a complete wash for the American League save for the Angels clinching the West with a 4-3 win over the A’s. All that happened was that one more game came off the schedule. Thus, despite the Yankees failure to emerge with a victory last night, their Drive For Five is down to four. With four wins the Yankees will win the American League East.

For those gluttons for punishment, the bloody details of last night’s games follow the jump.

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The Drive For Five

The Red Sox won Game One of their double-header today 3-1. It was a swift, low-scoring affair that took just 2 hours and 23 minutes to play and was dominated by pitching, particularly the pitching of Tim Wakefield (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K), who didn’t allow a hit through the first four innings. All three Red Sox runs were driven in by Boston’s Big Boys, two by David Ortiz (1 for 4, 2B, 2Ks) and one by Manny Ramirez (1 for 2, IBB, HBP, throwing error). Meanwhile, the Blue Jays wasted the solid pitching of Dave Bush and Dustin McGowan by stranding runners in scoring position in the eighth and ninth against Jon Papelbon and Mike Timlin.

And with that, the Red Sox and Yankees are again tied atop the AL East. Of course. You didn’t actually think the Yankees would get any breathing room, did you? Still, for those in a state of panic over what awaits the Yankees in the coming week, consider this: The Yankees only need to win five games to make the postseason. That’s it. Just five.

Of course, there are only six games left in the season, but if the Yankees win five of them, there is no way the Red Sox can beat them. Of course, part of the reason for that is that a minimum of two of those wins will have to come against the Sox this weekend (if the Yanks sweep the O’s they’ll enter that series no worse than tied and can win the division by taking two of three in Boston, if they drop just one game to the O’s, they can still win the division by sweeping the Sox as they’ll be no worse than a game out come Friday morning). Yes, that sounds daunting when you spell out how those five wins would have to be acquired, but when you think about it as just five wins, five of six for a team that has won 13 of their last 15, it doesn’t sound so bad.

Tonight the Yankees look to drop that quasi-magic number (their actual magic number is seven, but any Yankee win against the Sox would take two off of that as it represents any combination of Yankee wins and Red Sox loses that totals seven) to four by sending Mike Mussina back to the hill against Bruce Chen. Last Thursday, Mussina came off the unofficial disabled list to pitch six efficient innings allowing just one unearned run on four hits and no walks while striking out six men. It was the ideal outing for Moose coming off the elbow inflammation that shut him down for more than three weeks. He threw just 76 pitches, 76 percent of which were strikes, mixing in his full repertoire, getting his fastball up to 91 and a nice break on his knucklecurve.

Chen, meanwhile, cruised through the first four innings, retiring twelve straight men after a Derek Jeter lead-off single and a Bernie Castro error started the first. Jorge Posada then led off the fifth with a solo homer and capped a four-run Yankee rally in the sixth with a three-run dinger that drove Chen from the game. Still, it’s worth remembering that, prior to that start, Chen had turned in eight quality start in his nine outings since returning to the Oriole rotation after a brief tune-up in the bullpen in late July, and had posted a 1.84 ERA with a 0.92 WHIP in those nine starts combined.

Mussina reported no discomfort following his bullpen session on Saturday. Obviously, the Yankees hope he will be able to build on last week’s start, stretching out his pitch count in anticipation of Sunday’s season finale against Curt Schilling and the Red Sox. Having Mussina back at full strength would be a tremendous boon to the Yankees playoff hopes. On his career, Mussina has a 2.90 ERA in September, his best mark in any single month save his 0.95 ERA in five regular season October starts (Sunday is October 2). Separating out the past three seasons (2002-2004) that September ERA improves to 2.50. Moose also has a career 3.16 ERA in the postseason, nearly a half-run better than his career ERA during the regular season. This is his time of year, and it’s great to see him back in action. Here’s hoping I still feel that way after the last out of tonight’s game.

Making and ASS Out Of U And ME

Eleven days have passed since I last played the assumption game to try to predict how the Yankees, Red Sox and Indians would be stacked up heading into the season’s final weekend. Thus far, the Red Sox and Indians have performed exactly as expected (though the Red Sox have done so by sweeping the Orioles and losing two of three to the Devil Rays where I expected them to take two of three from both), while the Yankees, in sweeping Baltimore last week at home, have exceeded my assumptions by one game. As a result, rather than trailing the Sox and Tribe by a game, the Yankees have pulled even with them (pending the result of Game One of today’s doubleheader in Boston, that is).

With just three games left before the division showdowns in Boston and Cleveland, let’s look at this another way. Let’s assume the Red Sox win this afternoon and that the Yanks, Red Sox, White Sox, and Tribe all win two of their remaining three games prior to this weekend. That will keep the standings where they are and send the Bosox, Indians and Yankees into the final three games with identical records, two games behind the White Sox. If that were to happen, here are the possible outcomes this weekend:

Assuming the Yanks and Sox split their series two games to one, the winner winning the AL East:

If Cleveland sweeps Chicago, the Indians win the Central, the White Sox win the Wild Card and the NY/Bos loser goes home.

If Cleveland wins two of three, the White Sox win the Central, the Indians win the Wild Card and the NY/Bos loser goes home.

If Chicago wins two of three, the White Sox win the Central, and the Indians and NY/Bos loser play a one-game playoff on Monday for the Wild Card.

If Chicago sweeps Cleveland, the White Sox win the Central, the NY/Bos loser wins the Wild Card and the Indians winner go home.

If the NY/Bos series results in a sweep here’s what changes:

If Chicago wins two of three, the White Sox win the Central, the Indians win the Wild Card and the NY/Bos loser goes home.

If Chicago sweeps Cleveland, the White Sox win the Central, and the Indians and NY/Bos loser play a one-game playoff on Monday for the Wild Card.

It seems unlikely that the standings will remain unchanged through Friday morning, but it’s fun to speculate. This can also serve as a game thread for anyone watching or otherwise keeping track of the day game in Boston.

Declaration Of Intent

Much like they did against in Tampa two weeks ago, the Yankees arrived in Baltimore last night and delivered a statement: they’re not fooling around this time. On a night when the Indians (due to the schedule) and the Red Sox (due to the rain) were idle, the Yankees beat up on the Orioles in Camden Yards, winning 11-3 in a game that wasn’t even that close.

Unlike the Devil Rays’ game, this one wasn’t a blowout from the start. In fact, the game almost didn’t start at all. Delayed an hour and a half by rain, the game finally got underway in a mild drizzle just after 8:30. The Yankees leapt into action, with Derek Jeter singling on Rodrigo Lopez’s second pitch, followed by an Alex Rodriguez walk, and, as the rain picked up, a Jason Giambi fly out to center that moved Jeter to third. Gary Sheffield then fouled off a pitch only to have his at-bat interrupted by a twenty-minute rain delay.

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June Showers Bring . . .

The Yankees and Orioles were originally scheduled to play the game being made up tonight at Camden Yards on Wednesday June 29. Instead, the game was washed away by rain, which seemed very similar to what was happening to the Yankees’ season at the time. The night before, Joe Torre had brought Mike Stanton in to pitch the bottom of the tenth inning against the top of the Orioles’ order despite not yet having used Mariano Rivera in the game (Rivera had thrown just two innings over the previous week). Brian Roberts crushed Stanton’s first pitch into the left field stands to give the Orioles a 4-3 win and drop the Yankees’ June record to 12-14.

During the two days of inactivity that followed (the first due to the rain-out, the second a travel day as the team headed to Detroit to start a weekend series against the Tigers), the Yankees designated relievers Mike Stanton and Paul Quantrill for assignment. When they returned to action on Friday night in Detroit, the Tigers and their 22-year-old ace Jeremy Bonderman handed the Yankees and their 41-year-old putative ace Randy Johnson a 10-2 loss that dropped the New Yorkers’ overall record to 39-39. After stumbling out of the gate with an 11-19 (.367) record, the Yankees appeared to have righted their ship in May with a ten-game winning streak, but by the time Tino Martinez grounded out to Bonderman to complete that July 1 loss in Detroit, most of the optimism that streak had brought had dissipated.

Since then, however, the Yankees have gone 52-25 (.675), and now, with exactly one week left in the regular season, find themselves tied with the Boston Red Sox for first in the American League East with the opportunity to tie the idle Indians for the Wild Card lead with a win tonight. It’s been an absolutely stunning turn around, and now, with just seven games left in the season, it’s time for the payoff.

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Seven Up

“You have to be confident; if you’re not confident, you might as well go home. It was really nice of the fans,” captain Derek Jeter said pointedly, “but it won’t be Bernie’s last game here.”
(N.Y. Daily News)

The Yankees and Red Sox each have seven games remaining and appear to be on a collision course for the final three, which they’ll play against each other this coming weekend in Boston. Yesterday, the Sox completed their three-game sweep of the Orioles, while the Yankees rallied to beat the Blue Jays, 8-4. On an afternoon when Bernie Williams–possibly playing for the last time as a Yankee in the Bronx–received several ovations, Robinson Cano and Gary Sheffield provided the fireworks, as C.W. Wang had another credible outing.

Boston and New York are tied for first place–the Sox play four against the Jays this week while the Yanks play four against the Orioles. I doubt whether either team will be able to build more than a two-game cushion going into Friday night (and maybe that’s a stretch). If their rivalry has taught us anything over the past three seasons it is that things will go to the last moment, the games will be theatrical and almost unbearably tense. What both of ‘em have to hope for is that the Devil Rays will give the Indians trouble (the Tribe, one-half-game ahead of both Boston and New York in the wildcard race, has the day off), and that the White Sox will pounce on Cleveland over the weekend.

Otherwise, it is simple: one week of baseball will determine whether New York or Boston moves on. If it does in fact come down to the last three, one fan base gets its dream scenerio while the other faces its worst nightmare. What could be better for Red Sox fans than to illiminate the Yankees at Fenway Park? And what could be worse than losing to them? And vice versa.

Oy and veh, peoples. Pass the pepto.

Giving It Back

While the Yanks remain in first place, the one-game lead they had on the Red Sox disappeared yesterday as Jaret Wright and B.J. Ryan each suffered a meltdown that would be directly responsible for handing their teams a loss. Wright’s was almost tragicomic.

In his previous start, also against the Blue Jays, Wright was forced to leave the game with one out in the third when a broken bat lacerated his pitching elbow. Less than three weeks before that, he had a start shortened when a comebacker ricocheted off his collarbone. This after spending more than three months on the disabled list with a reoccurrence of the shoulder problems that have plagued him throughout his career. Yesterday, Wright was again hit by a comebacker, this time in the chest. This time, however, the projectile did not prompt his removal from the game, though in retrospect, it might have benefited the Yankees if it had.

Wright surrendered singles to the first four batters he faced yesterday, putting him down 1-0 with the bases loaded and no one out by the time he had thrown a dozen pitches. Two pitches later, Erik Hinske hit what looked to be a sac fly toward the foul line in left field, which would have made the game 2-0 with one out and men on first and second. But Hideki Matsui, perhaps bewildered by the mid-afternoon sun, closed his glove before he had the ball, effectively swatting it toward foul territory, allowing two runs to score and putting runners at second and third, still with no outs. Two pitches later, Gregg Zaun hit a shot off Wright’s chest for a 1-3 groundout. Wright then surrendered a sac fly to Reed Johnson that made it 4-0 and struck out Gabe Gross to get out of the inning.

The Yankees got right back in it in the bottom of the first when Derek Jeter was hit in the back foot with a Scott Downs curve ball and Alex Rodriguez cashed both the Captain and himself in with a two-run dinger into the Yankee bullpen (tying Joe DiMaggio’s record of 46 home runs for a right-handed Yankee batter in the process). Unfortunately, Wright couldn’t get it together, allowing two more singles to start the second then walking Frank Catalanotto to load the bases. That was enough for Joe Torre, who replaced Wright with displaced starter Aaron Small. Brought into an unfair bases-loaded, no-outs situation, Small got Vernon Wells to foul out to Giambi at first, and got a hard ground ball to second base from Shea Hillenbrand. Unfortunately, Hillenbrand’s grounder was a little too hard and Robinson Cano, rather than getting his body in front of it, tried to scoop it to turn two and wound up having the ball ricochet off the inside of his elbow and into right field, scoring two runs and placing runners at the corners. Erik Hinske followed with a sac fly to make it 7-0 and Small struck out Zaun to end the inning.

Without the errors by Matsui and Cano (the first of which was far more egregious than the latter) the game would have been tied 2-2. Had Zaun’s comebacker driven Wright from the game, prompting Torre to bring in Small with one out in the first, the game likely would have stood at 4-2 after an inning and a half. Instead, it was 7-2 and, despite a tremendous performance from Small, who pitched 5 2/3 more scoreless innings, allowing just four singles, striking out three and walking none, the Yankee offense just couldn’t make up the difference.

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Death To Flying Things

Jason Giambi returns to the line-up today as Jaret Wright and Scott Downs face off at the Stadium. The MVP bats second, Giambi three, Cano down to seventh with Bernie and Bubba rounding it out as the Yanks look to make it six straight.

So, any guesses as to what flying object will strike Jaret Wright today?

Five Alive

Mariano Rivera got loose in the Yankee bullpen during the top of the ninth inning tonight but that is as close as he came to contributing to the team’s 5-0 win over the Blue Jays. Shawn Chacon pitched eight brilliant innings (allowing just three hits and walk to go with three strikeouts) and the very flammable Scott Proctor worked a scoreless ninth (around two bases runners). It was the Bombers fifth consecutive victory and their 10th in their last 11 games. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano hit back-to-back dingers in the first inning, as the team scored four times off of Ted Lily giving Chacon all the support that he would need. Thankfully, it wasn’t a one-run game, and in the process the bullpen got some much-needed rest. Chacon was nothing short of terrific.

The Yanks remain a game ahead of the Red Sox who came back from an early 3-1 deficit (thanks in large part to a careless throwing error by Miguel Tejada) to bury the hapless Orioles, 6-3. Jose Contreras, who has been fantastic recently, pitched a complete-game as the White Sox beat the Twins, 3-1, while the Indians out-lasted the Royals, 7-6. Everything’s the same cause tonight, everbody won.

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Blue Streak

Man, can you believe it’s been a whole four days since the Yankees have played the Blue Jays? Feels like . . . Oh, right.

The Jays roster remains the same as it was last weekend when the Yanks took two of three in Toronto, though there’s a chance that Orlando Hudson could return to action this weekend after sitting since September 7 due to an ankle injury. Considering the fact that all three of last weekend’s contests were decided by a single run, and that the Jays are coming off a split with the Mariners in which they outscored their opponent by a single run over the course of four games, the Jays could use any advantage that might tip the balance in their favor. Still, one hopes that the upgrade from struggling rookie Aaron Hill to a less mobile Hudson wouldn’t be enough to overcome the disadvantage the Jays face as a .459 road team coming in to face a team playing .654 ball at home that has handled them nicely thus far this season (Yanks own the series 10-5).

While the Yanks play three at home against the Jays followed by four on the road against the O’s, the second-place Red Sox (now trailing by a nice, round full game) do the exact opposite (three in Baltimore, then four at home against Toronto), so one would hope that neither of these teams is ready to roll over completely. Still, it sure would be nice to see the Yanks clean house on their final home stand of the year.

One item already in their favor is that Joe Torre has decided to go with Chien-Ming Wang on Sunday (as well he should) moving Aaron Small to the bullpen, which can use all the help it can get. With that, I’ve been able to project the pitching match-ups for the remainder of the season on the side bar.

Tonight, the Yanks send Shawn Chacon to the mound. Chacon has owned the Jays in two starts since joining the Yanks (total line: 15 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 0 HR, 5 BB, 7 K), and turned in a gem in Toronto last Saturday. The next day, Ted Lilly, who starts against Chacon tonight, turned in his first quality start since Bastille Day, handing the Yankees their only loss since September 10, but was lit-up by the Bombers in two starts at the beginning of the season. One hopes the Jays aren’t overly familiar with Chacon at this point and that he can continue his dominance of the remaining Canadian team. Meanwhile, here’s hoping the O’s take the never-say die spirit that gave us all fits over the past three days and perhaps some individual anger and stick it to the Sox.

Any Which Way But Lose

Well, I guess we Yankee fans just need to reside ourselves to the fact that each and every game from here on out is going to be dramatic in one way or another. The Bombers seem incapable of playing anything but a one-run contest these days–last night was their sixth in the last seven games as they beat the Orioles 7-6 on a cool and breezy night in the Bronx. But right now the bottom line, more than ever, is the the bottom line: winning. And no matter how uncomfortable or ugly it might be to watch, the Yanks have been winning, not losing and that makes all the difference in the world doesn’t it?

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Round Up

I covered the significance of tonight’s game in yesterday’s pre-game post, but there are two corrections that need to be made to what I said yesterday.

The first is that, while the Yankees will indeed erase the half-game in the standings between themselves and the Red Sox for better or worse tonight, they will not do so with regard to the Indians until Monday as Cleveland opens a four-game series in Kansas City tonight, but will be off on Monday. Of course, the Yankees hope that half game with Cleveland is a moot point as, with a half-game lead in the AL East entering tonight’s game, their focus is entirely on winning the division, as well it should be as they still trail the Indians by a half game and the White Sox by three.

The other correction is that Joe Torre appears to have backed off his six-man rotation idea. Last night the YES announcers reported that Aaron Small would be the odd man out, but on today’s Mike & the Mad Dog show on WFAN, Torre claimed not to have made up his mind yet, though the choice does appear to be between Small and Chien-Ming Wang, one of whom will start thus Sunday against the Blue Jays and, barring a disaster outing in that game, will return to the hill in Game One of the season-ending showdown with the Red Sox.

Assuming that Torre goes with Wang, who I think is not only the no-brainer choice between the two, but the Yankees second best starter at the moment (behind only Randy Johnson), this is how the rotation would project over the remainder of the year.

Thu 9/22 v Bal: Mussina
Fri 9/23 v Tor: Chacon
Sat 9/24 v Tor: Wright
Sun 9/25 v Tor: Wang
Mon 9/26 @ Bal: Johnson
Tue 9/27 @ Bal: Mussina
Wed 9/28 @ Bal: Chacon
Thu 9/29 @ Bal: Wright
Fri 9/30 @ Bos: Wang v. Wells
Sat 10/1 @ Bos: Johnson v. Schilling
Sun 10/2 @ Bos: Mussina v. Wakefield

Of course, having Small and Leiter in the bullpen gives Torre the option of using either one in place of Wright (should he struggle this Saturday) or Mussina (should he tank tonight and/or Tuesday), or of using either or both in tandem with the starter listed above to complete a must-win game (as if there are any that aren’t at this point). After all, if the season does wind up coming down to that final game on October 2nd, the starting assignment is merely a formality. Any sign of struggle and the hook comes out and everybody, perhaps even the previous day’s starter, will be available to pitch.

In other news, Jason Giambi will sit tonight due to the sore back that drove him from yesterday’s game in the middle innings. Tino Martinez, who walked and doubled in two plate appearances in relief of Giambi last night, will start at first base. Bernie’s back in center after last night’s day off. Matt Lawton, who went 2 for 3 last night with a two-run dinger that accounted for all of the Yankees runs last night, will start in right in place of Bubba Crosby (also 2 for 3 last night) against the left-handed Bruce Chen.

Speaking of Chen, he was bounced to the bullpen after a few rough outings in July, but quickly returned to the rotation and has turned in eight quality start in his nine outings since doing so, the one exception being an start against Cleveland in which he allowed just one earned run in five innings. Since returning to the rotation he’s posted a 1.84 ERA with a 0.92 WHIP.

Mike Mussina, meanwhile, will likely be on a short leash with Al Leiter ready to come in as a second-leg starter if need be. So that’s your match-up, Chen against Mike Mussina on 23 days rest for a guaranteed half-game swing in the AL East race. Gulp. Here’s hoping the first-place Yankees, the hottest team in baseball right now (yes, they’re even a game better than the Indians over the last ten games), finds a way to pull this out and go a full-game up on the reeling Red Sox.

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