"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Baseball!

The Yankees played their first exhibition game of the spring yesterday afternoon, hosting the Phillies at Legends Field in Tampa. Last year, I was able to blog the game live during a slow day at work thanks to a free MLBtv broadcast. This year I wasn’t quite as lucky. Instead I present a running commentary on the YES Network’s 7:00pm Encore presentation of the game.

In New York it’s dark and cold, there’s a thin layer of slush on the ground and a frozen drizzle continues to fall. In Tampa, six hours earlier, it was absolutely perfect. Seventy-eight degrees, not a cloud in the sky. The green grass, golden dirt and blue sky at Legends Field are like something out of a movie.

Michael Kay and Ken Singleton host the pre-game portion of the broadcast from the field sporting black and white Izods. Kay welcomes us to the YES Network’s fifth season. That went fast. Nice that we no longer have to worry about whether or not our cable providers will carry the channel. Just the other day Jeter’s pending departure for the WBC had me thinking about 2003, when Jeter had his shoulder separated on opening day in Toronto. Cablevision had announced that they were carrying YES earlier that day and I had missed the news. As a result I didn’t see Jeter play until mid-May that season. The idea of seeing preseason baseball seemed ludicrous at the time.

Even during spring training the Yankees are a tough ticket. There’s a sold out crowd to see Shawn Chacon start against Ryan Franklin. It’s just as well, the list of new Yankees in a YES graphic (Damon, Cairo, Stinnett, Farnsworth, Myers, Villone, Dotel) isn’t exactly inspiring.

In a pre-season puff piece on Johnny Damon, Joe Torre makes sly reference to the Crosby-Sheffield collision that cost the Yankees game five of the ALDS, stating that having Damon in center will help Matsui and Sheffield because “they’ll have the same voice in their ear every day.” Torre goes on to state that he’s entering the spring with “seven legitimate starters for five spots”: Johnson, Mussina, Chacon, Wang, Pavano, Wright, and Small. Moving on to the bullpen, Torre says he looks at Farnsworth and Sturtze “as one guy,” meaning they’ll share the righty set-up role, and that he’ll use Villone for “longer” lefty assignments (with Myers as the “specialty” guy). The skipper’s spot ends with him saying that he has a fully loaded pitching staff, the only concern being his hurlers’ health.

The players are introduced during the commercial. The Yankees are wearing their home pinstripes top and bottom. The Phillies are wearing bright blue batting practice jerseys with grey pants, red shoes and red BP caps with a blue Phillies P.

Gene Michael throws out the first pitch to Jorge Posada.

Here are the line-ups:

Phillies:

Jimmy Rollins – SS
Shane Victorino – RF
Pat Burrell – DH
Chase Utley – 2B
Aaron Rowand – CF
Abraham O. Nunez – 3B
Alex “No S” Gonzalez – 1B
Josh Kroeger – LF
Carlos Ruiz – C

Ryan Franklin – P

Yankees:

Johnny Damon – CF
Derek Jeter – SS
Gary Sheffield – DH
Alex Rodriguez – 3B
Jason Giambi – 1B
Bernie Williams – RF
Jorge Posada – C
Robinson Cano – 2B
Kevin Reese – LF

Shawn Chacon – P

Sheff is DHing because of his Sunday back spasms, pushing Bernie to right, where he played in Wednesday’s intrasquad game. Reese is in left because Matsui is still nursing his left knee, which he claims is an old injury that acts up all the time during the season. Were this the regular season, he’d be playing. Bernie batting sixth either means Joe read my lineup post and decided he liked the idea of putting his lowest OBP sixth or my fears of Joe overestimating Bernie’s value to the line-up are legit. I’m going with the latter.

Top 1

Shawn Chacon warms up, his cap bill still flat, right above his eyebrows

Jimmy Rollins leads off. He finished the 2005 season with a 36-game hitting streak that set a record for shortstops and was the longest since Paul Molitor’s 39 game streak in 1987. The streak is still active, which is strange, as he could go hitless throughout spring training without interrupting it. On the other hand, what if he put together another streak during the spring? If you ask me, his streak should be frozen at 36, but it seems unfair no matter how you slice it. I know one thing, Rollins is on my fantasy team, but I’ll be rooting for an 0-fer at some point during the first 20 games of the season.

Rollins lifts the first pitch just shy of the warning track in right. Bernie, looking a tad plump, makes the catch.

Shane Victorino, starting in place of Bobby Abreu, who has already departed for the World Baseball Classic, hits a bouncer in the second base hole. Cano stabs it, making a nice running play, throwing a strike to Giambi while his momentum carries him toward foul territory.

Pat Burrell is DHing because of a foot injury. Ahead 1-2 in the count, Chacon misses just high and away with nice movement. Burrell then lifts a curve into deep left. Reese makes the catch.

Bottom 1

I think Kay just said that the Yankees have sold out every spring training game in Legends Field’s ten-year history. Wow.

In his first Yankee at-bat, Johnny Damon laces Ryan Franklin’s second pitch, which hung up in the zone, hard into the right field corner for stand-up double.

And right on schedule, there’s Michael Kay’s first mention of how great it is that, with Damon on base, Jeter’s strength is hitting to the opposite field. On cue, Jeter grounds just to the right of 2B for a productive out. Note, if you have Jeter on your fantasy team, sell high. (I’m overreacting, of course, as my lineup post showed, Jeter had his best seasons doing this sort of thing behind Chuck Knoblauch).

With Damon on third, Sheffield breaks his bat on 1-1 pitch, lamely fouling the ball back. He then hits a weak foul pop to third. This is why the WBC will suck. If Gary Sheffield isn’t endangering his third base coach, the players aren’t ready.

That bring Alex Rodriguez to the plate for a two-out RBI opportunity. He fouls a 90 mile per hour fastball down and over the plate straight back. Takes a pair of balls inside, then hits a weak grounder toward second, stranding Damon. So, how productive was Jeter’s out exactly?

By the way, YES needs to warm up as well. In a graphic about Rodriguez’s MVP seasons, they list him as having scored 181 runs in 2003.

Top 2

Holy crap are they overselling Johnny Damon on this broadcast! Michael Kay will have Damon on the next CenterStage. What a get! How’d he swing it?!

Utley pops up to Damon, who’s fighting sun (always wicked in these minor league parks during the Florida spring). And look! The scroll says Damon will be on CenterStage! It’s been almost a minute since they last told us that. I almost forgot!

Apparently Johnny Damon is an all-star autograph signer, that or Michael Kay can’t think of anything else nice to say about him. Incidentally, while Damon looks kind of swollen, this Utley kid is a looker, a handsome fella with a curly mop of hair. In New York or Boston this fella’d be a megastar.

Hey look, it’s Aaron Rowand, carefully shaped goatee intact. He was in the last live baseball game I watched back in October (I think it was Chicago against . . . Houston? Could that have been it?) His big swing is intact too as he flies out to Damon. YES shows a highlight reel of Rowand playing some spectacular centerfield in Yankee Stadium last year. In an alternate universe Andy Phillips is Ryan Howard and Jason Giambi is a White Sock right now. Not that Rowand is all that, but the guy can sure play some center field.

Abraham O. Nunez is at the plate. I seem to recall Tony LaRussa saying that Nunez was a star in the making last season. Nunez will be 30 in two weeks and has a career 67 OPS+. That LaRussa, he’s a genius.

Nunez pulls a grounder through the second base hole sharper than Victorino’s in the first inning, so it gets through for a single.

Alex Gonzalez is next, the two some-initials-required futility infieldering imports back-to-back. This at-bat is so stimulating YES starts running footage of new Yankee third base coach Larry Bowa playing with the 1980 Phillies. Bowa has a skeezy pirate moustache in one of the clips, the kind that doesn’t quite meet in the middle and tapers to points at the corners of his mouth. Oddly, he also sort of looks like Gallagher.

Gonzalez works the count 2-2, fouling off pitches, then draws a walk. Go figure.

Continuing the tour around the Yankee coaching staff, there’s a shot of Ron Guidry watching Chacon intently. It’s going to be weird seeing Gator in the dugout all year (on cue, YES shows Mel Stottlemyre, a special instructor this spring, leaning on the dugout rail as if he’s settling in for the season). Incidentally, the moustache situation with Guidry and Mattingly in the dugout (Tony Pena as well, come to think of it) will be awesome. Bowa should grow his Gallagher stash back!

With men on first and second, Chacon gets ahead of triple-A left fielder Josh Kroeger 1-2. He then bounces a pitch at Kroeger’s feet. It bounces to the backstop and both runners advance. Kroeger top’s Chacon’s 34th and final pitch of the game to Cano for the final out of the second inning. Chacon threw 18 balls and just 16 strikes. Yuck.

Bottom 2

Giambi leads off the bottom of the second and YES puts up a quote in which Jason points out the gap between his hitting stats while playing first as opposed to DH. Giambi has been quite vocal about his 1B/DH splits this spring. Could he be a Bronx Banter lurker?

Giambi hits one on the screws past Utley at second. That was a beautiful swing.

Wait! YES just showed Mattingly. He’s ditched the stash again! No, Donnie! You’re screwing up the coaching ‘stash! Grow that thing back!

Bernie’s at-bat. He does look chunkier in the body, but thinner in the face. Did he bulk up? He loops a single behind second to put runners on the corners. Torre hit and run with Giambi and Bernie. It turned out better than the one Bernie missed in the ALDS, but that’s a scary play. Still, it worked this time. Man on third with less than two outs for the second time in two innings.

Posada’s .262-19-71 triple crown stats look bad in the context of his career, but solid for a catcher when isolated. Kay and Singleton are spending a lot of time talk about Jorge’s age in this at-bat. A graphic shows that he’s second only to Jason Kendall in total games by a catcher since 2000 (Mike Matheny is third). Jorge fouls off a 2-1 pitch as Kay and Kenny move on to say that Posada will be catching Randy Johnson this season. Posada then lifts one to the warning track in center field. Both runners tag and advance. 1-0 Yankees. (Bernie tagging there can be credited to Tony Pena, who likely sent him when he saw that Victorino was drifting back on the ball, which carried very well).

Robinson Cano’s up with Bernie on second and one out. Cano looks bigger too. A clean grounder up the middle on a nice easy swing pushes the score to 2-0. Looking at Cano at standing at first, he’s definitely bigger.

Kevin Reese is a short, stocky guy (he’s listed at 5’11″, I’m dubious). He looks an awful lot like Brian Giles, actually. Reese pops up to the catcher on a 1-0 count another hit and run. Singleton speculates that Torre is just testing the signs to make sure his players know them (given Bernie’s ALDS gaffe that seems plausible). Kay adds that the coaching staff is focusing on “the little things” which should mean more hit and running this season. Say it ain’t so.

Damon follows with a nice flat swing, making perfect contact on a single into right. The pitch was up and Damon just waited on his and yanked it into right. First and second, two outs.

Jeter misses badly on a change low and away then strikes out looking. Kay points out that Jeter will turn 32 this year and he’s still never had a major league season which hasn’t ended with a trip to the playoffs. The Yankees even made the postseason after his cup of coffee in 1995. Incredible. Even David Justice started his career with a pair of losing teams.

Top 3

YES is promoting a show called “Yankees Batting Practice Today.” It’s unclear from the commercial exactly what this is. It appears to be literally televised batting practice, with on-field player interviews and commentary. Sounds thrilling. In reality, it’s just another half-hour of pregame with a rather uninspired hook.

Sean Henn, wearing #58, takes over in the third. A big fella, Henn comes to the plate from way up in the upper left corner of the screen. He gets ahead of triple-A catcher Carlos Ruiz 0-2. Ruiz then yanks a double in the left field gap, splitting Damon and Reese.

Referencing criticism of the WBC, Kay says that baseball “frowns upon that” then corrects himself saying “frowns down upon it.” Kay would be a better announcer if he didn’t try so hard. He had it right the first time.

Henn strikes out Rollins on a slider down and in, inspiring Singleton so speculate about Guidry’s influence on Henn. Subtle, but high praise.

Victorino hits a worm burner to second. Cano makes a diving stop, then throws low to Giambi behind first. Giambi makes nice scoop and does a little olé bit. That’s the second nice play Cano has made in three innings, though Giambi’s scoop was nicer.

Pat Burrell yanks a low and away changeup from Henn over the left field wall. It wasn’t a terrible pitch, but they don’t call him “Pat the Bat” for nothing. Ruiz scores on the homer, tie game, 2-2. Utley strikes out looking.

Bottom 3

Ryan Madson (whom I only recently learned is not Ryan “Madison”) is in for the Phils. Madson is a very tall, lanky righty (listed as 6’6″, 195 lbs.). His legs taper to the ankle like stilts and he has an awkard upright motion. He starts his season by retiring Sheffield.

Rodriguez grounds to second on a curve low and away.

Giambi strikes out swinging at a 92-mile-per-hour fastball on the outside corner, losing his bat in the process. He appears to have hurt his hand on the knob as the bat slipped out of his hand, but not seriously.

Another new YES show: “Yogi and a Movie.” This appears to just be a movie (in this case The Joe Lewis Story). Not sure how the Yogi fits in.

Top 4

Aaron Rowand hits shallow fly to right. Bernie catches it below the waist on a run. Nice play. Could be that Bernie still has something to offer defensively if given less ground cover.

Henn makes nice play on bouncing comebacker.

Singleton compares the Phillies situation with Jim Thome and Ryan Howard to the early ’60s Giants’ situation with Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey. It’s not really a good match, as both Cepeda and McCovey were young and healthy, and remained teammates for seven seasons (though it did cost McCovey playing time in four of those seasons).

Henn fields another comebacker, but his throw tails into foul territory forcing Giambi to make another nice play, which he does. Henn finishes his two innings with 28 pitches, 22 of which were strikes.

Bottom 4

The first promotion of the year will be a free Yankee calendar for all fans when the Orioles visit the Bronx on April 22 and 23. The latter is a Sunday so I’ll get one, at which point I’ll complain that they always put the stars up front and the marginal guys in the later months. I can’t figure this out. By the time you get to Miguel Cairo and Ron Villone it’s December and they’ve signed with the Padres or something. Why do they do that?

Bernie hits a flare to foul territory in very shallow left for the first out of the fourth. Can anyone remember the last time Bernie hit a line drive?

YES quotes Brian Cashman giving Jorge Posada the credit he so infrequently receives, but very much deserves. Jorge then creams one right at Rowan in deep center. That’s two hard hit balls to deep center field in two at-bats for Jorge. Nice.

Cano, who really is bigger, cracks a fly to left to end the inning and YES jumps ahead to the bottom of the sixth (skipping Aaron Small’s two scoreless innings, I later realize).

Bottom 6

Apparently Andy Phillips came in as a defensive replacement for Giambi in the top of the sixth. Here he leads off the inning against Gavin Floyd, who also worked the fifth. Phillips takes a wild swing at a first pitch fastball high and away, and the ball sails over the right field wall just inside the foul pole for a solo homer. Imagine if he had actually gotten a hold of it. 3-2 Yankees.

Kevin Thompson (who I did not realize was black), yanks a single to left and burns up the first base line. He then takes off for second on the first pitch to Stinnett, but is called out when back-up catcher Sal Fasano’s throw tails into him. The replay the reveals that Jimmy Rollins, who came across the bag to make the play, never actually tagged Thompson, explaining why Thompson jumped up in the air and punched his fist in protest when coming out of his slide. Incidentally, Thompson is a total dirt dog. He’s a small, speedy guy who wears his socks high. If he were white and had a goofy name he’d have this team made over Bubba Crosby.

Meanwhile, a shot of Fasano, who was in Yankee camp two years ago, shows that he’s grown a wicked Thurman Munson fu-machu and has all sorts of curly hair coming out of the back of his helmet. He looks terrible, but I like it.

Stinnett gets plunked. Cano grounds into an inning-ending double play on the first pitch. The DP is started by second baseman Joe Thurston, the former hot prospect whom the Yankees picked up from the Dodgers mid-season last year. I also did not realize that Thurston is black. Such are the revelations of spring training.

Top 7

Mike Myers starts the seventh inning against righty Chris Coste (pronounced: coast). Coste flares one to right. Thompson runs it down heading straight toward the foul line despite tripping a bit when he started to move. Lefty Josh Kroeger then singles in the second base gap past a diving Miguel Cairo. Righty Fasano yanks a single to left that drops just in front of Kevin Reese. Righty Danny Sandoval, now in at shortstop (Rollins went 0 for 3), creams an out directly at Reese in deep left. Righty Chris Roberson follows with a hard single up the middle. Melky Cabrera, now in center, charges but his throw is cut off by Myers. Tie game, 3-3. Next up is switch-hitter Shawn Garrett, who goes deep in the count, then laces a two-run double off the base of the wall in left. True to form, these triple-A righty batters are jerking Myers’ stuff hard to left.

Felix Escalona is in at shortstop. With Escalona and Cabrera in the game, the Yankees won’t see Jeter or Damon in action until the US gets knocked out of the WBC. Weird. Expect Bernie, who will be playing for Puerto Rico, back sooner. I wonder if Andy Phillips crushing pitches in front of Torre while Bernie’s elsewhere could give him a leg up on the DH job. Probably not. More likely without Bernie around to show he’s got nothing, Torre will continue to see the ’99 version when he looks at the Ghost.

Myers gets the lefty Thurston to pop out to end the inning. 5-3 Phillies.

Bottom 7

Julio Santana takes the hill for the Phils in the bottom of the seventh. Reese hits a 0-1 chopper that dies in no-man’s land between first and the mound. Coste tries to flip it to Santana with his glove, but the ball is behind the pitcher and Reese is safe on a head-first slide. Chris Prieto, who is much fairer than I expected, pinch-runs for Reese.

Melky’s at the plate and looks taller than I remember. After going 2-2, Cabrera lifts a ball to center for a fly out. That was solid contact, better than he looked in his six game stint in the majors last year.

Felix Escalona comes to bat. Clouds have rolled in. The shine is off the apple.

Escalona hits a comebacker. Santana fields, turns, and throws to second where Thurston is covering, but Sandoval cuts off the throw, deflecting it into center. Prieto goes to third, Escalona reaches on the error.

Eric Duncan’s up. His batting stance reminds me of Stan Musial. He’s fairly straight up and down, but his upper back hunched and hands are in close. Duncan yanks the first pitch to first for an inning ending DP and is clearly upset with himself.

After seven innings the only position players from the Yankees’ 40-man roster I haven’t seen are Hideki Matsui (out due to his knee), Wil Nieves and, curiously, Bubba Crosby.

Top 8

J. Brent Cox takes the mound in the eighth. Singleton is immediately impressed by his sinker. Cox is a snotty looking blonde kid with his cap tiled toward his glove hand side. He points his toe on his leg kick and has nice momentum toward the plate.

At this stage of the game it seems as if every Phillie I the game has a number that ends in 7. I think this one is Matt Kata (#27). Singleton is impressed by Cox, saying he has a lot of movement on his fastball, a solid breaking ball, and one hell of a sinker.

Cox goes full on Kata, before finally getting him to pop out behind third, bringing up Bobby Scales, who’s in at third base, and the first hitter graphic I’ve seen in a while.

Cox hides the ball well, keeping his pitching hand curled behind his back until the last minute. He gets another pop up to the same spot. Escalona almost misses this one as it swirls back toward center. I just realized that Escalona will be the Yankees’ shortstop until the WBC is over. Sigh.

Cox has been keeping his pitches down, but hangs one up in the zone to Coste, who blasts it deep over the left field wall. 6-3 Philadelphia.

Michael Bourn, whose number starts with a 7, hits a week bouncer back to the mound for the final out. Man, having a guy named Cox on the team is going to result in a lot of immature giggling round these parts. Kay is already purposely overusing J. Brent’s last name.

After seven and a half the only non-pitchers from the Phillies’ 40-man roster I haven’t seen are Ryan Howard (out with a fever and a foot injury), David Bell, Mike Lieberthal, Tomas Perez, and Abreu. Perez and Abreu are already on their way to join the Venezuelan WBC team.

Bottom 8

Geoff Geary is on for the Phils, while another Venezuelan, Marcos Vechionacci, comes to the plate for the Yankees. Vechionacci’s number is 92, the highest number in camp for the Yanks. He works a 3-1 count, then grounds out.

Andy Phillips follows by taking a big curve for a strike, then another curve low and outside. The next pitch is a fastball and he meets it perfectly, lining it up the middle for a single. Kay says Phillips will be the back-up first baseman, not once discussing the designated hitter position. Sigh.

Next up is Kevin Thompson, who hits a grounder to the shortstop side of second, a taylor-made double play ball that Sandoval bobbles, managing only to force Phillips at second. Considering how much Sandoval juggled the ball, Thompson didn’t beat the throw by as much as I would have expected. Not sure he’s as fast as he thinks he is.

Kelly Stinnett couldn’t look more like a back-up C. It’s just not possible. A passed ball through Fasano’s wickets moves Thompson to second. Stinnett worksthe count to 2-2 then loops one right into Sandoval’s glove. Sandoval can’t drop this one, though he appears to try.

I think YES has made their logo smarter and leaner. If so, somewhere there’s a designer thrilled that anyone noticed.

Top 9

Lefty Matt Smith is on to pitch the top of the ninth. He keeps his body fairly quiet and straight up and down during his delivery, but there’s a lot of arm movement. That left wing really whips around. He strikes out Thurman Fasano on what Singleton decides is a “hard slurve” (looks light a slider up in the zone to me).

Kay tells us that the Yankees regular season rotation will start with Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina in games one and two in Oakland. Surprise!

Sandoval tries to make up for his fielding by swinging at a shoulder-high 1-0 pitch, then hits a hard grounder to Vechionacci at third.

I realize I don’t know him, but I don’t like Lee Mazzilli. Seeing him sitting next to Joe Torre, chaw in cheek, shades on, full ‘tude cookin’, just pisses me off. I was so glad when the O’s took him away. Thrilled when Joe Girardi became the Yankee bench coach. I don’t know if it’s because of my one interaction with Maz, when I caught a fungoe he accidentally hit into the stands back in 2000 when he was hitting ricochets into the left field corner for Spencer and Ledee before a Yankee-Met game at the Stadium. He hit it right at me and I made an easy catch right in front of my stomach, then held the ball up to him and shouted a thank you. Maz just glowered at me and went back to work. That’s nothing really, but his foul mood put me off, I suppose. Really, though, I think it’s that I don’t think much of him as a baseball mind. Funny, because I liked Maz before he came to the Yanks.

Kay and Singleton say what I’m thinking. Despite an 89-mile-per-hour fastball, the ball seems to really zip out of Matt Smith’s left hand. Ahead 1-2 on Roberson, Smith strikes him out to end the ninth and runs determinedly off the field. I like the cut of this kid’s jib.

I want to dislike this “get your game on” commercial with the fan in the snow outside of Yankee Stadium more than I do. I think I’m won over by the reference to sharpening pencils for your scorecard. Can’t wait.

Bottom 9

Miguel Cairo’s hairline is a scary thing. This Oliver Stone-lookin’, bizarro Jeter monkeytrucker. I did root hard for him in ’04 and was rewarded well. I think I’m going to find it hard to root against him this year, at least until his futility becomes glaring. Pop up to left. A good start.

Kay relates a story about Maz zinging him. Kay sez to Torre, “C’mon, Joe, give me something that will make me look like a genius.” Maz sez to Kay, “He’s not a miracle worker.” Too easy. Okay, I ease up a tad, but only a tad.

Chris Prieto, in addition to being fairer than I expected, is smaller than I expected. At-bat, he looks like a mini Shane Spencer from the left side, but chokes up on the bat. He loops a base hit in front of Roberson in right at which point the YES announcers trade boners. Talking about how Prieto will be proud of having that hit in the box score tomorrow, Singleton calls Prieto a young player. He’ll be 34 in August. Kay then corrects Singleton, saying that Prieto will actually have two base hits in the box score, crediting him for Kevin Reese’s bleeder, failing to realize that Preito pinch ran for Reese after the hit.

Melky Cabrera’s open stance reminds me ever so slightly of Tony Batista, who is in camp with the Twins after a year in Japan.

Cabrera bounces out to second, Prieto is able to advance to second to avoid the DP.

Escalona gives Sandoval another test at short with a first-pitch grounder. Sandoval makes a pronounced scoop before throwing Felix out to end the game.

Michael Kay really thinks “see ya” is a hip catch phrase, doesn’t he? Is there a single living human who enjoys him saying that? Despite the fact that I’ve heard it in conjunction with hundreds of Yankee home runs over the years, I don’t even have a Pavlovian appreciation for it. I did not miss Michael Kay this winter.

Phillies win 6-3. Mike Myers takes the loss. Here’s the box score.

Baseball’s back.

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