"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: May 2006

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Keep Yourself Alive

Curt Schilling’s season thus far has been defined by his 133-pitch outing against the Indians on April 25. Prior to that outing, Schilling was 4-0 with a 1.61 ERA, allowing 17 hits and four walks and two homers while striking out 23 in 28 innings. The Indians worked him over in that April 25 game, scoring five runs on nine hits and two walks and forcing him to throw 133 pitches in just 6 2/3 innings. Since then he’s 2-2 with a 6.46 ERA, allowing 31 hits, three walks and seven homers while striking out 21 in 23 2/3 innings. The good news for Sox fans is that Schillings walk and strikeout rates remain excellent. The bad news is that six of those seven homers came in his last two starts, the first of which was a 7-3 loss to the Yankees.

Chien-Ming Wang’s season also took a turn around April 25, though his was for the better. Before that date, Wang had a 5.48 ERA and had surrendered 30 hits and seven walks in 23 innings. Since then he’s gone 3-0 with a 2.65 ERA by holding the opposition to 25 hits in 34 innings. Wang’s only non-quality start during that span was a five-inning outing against the Red Sox in Boston, the Yankees’ only game in Fenway this year prior to tonight. Wang allowed three runs on six hits and four walks in the first five innings of that game, but appeared to have settled down by the end of the fifth. Despite the fact that Wang had thrown just 77 pitches to that point, Joe Torre decided to replace him with the newly activated Aaron Small, leading to yet another game lost to poor bullpen management.

Unlike Schilling, Wang has yet to throw 100 pitches in a game this year and needed just 166 tosses to get through sixteen innings over his last two starts. Here’s hoping these trends continue tonight as the Yankees head to Fenway for a three game series against the Red Sox, who, save for a bullpen move that will allow them to activate David Riske prior to tonights game, look just like they did two weeks ago in the Bronx.

Our Long National Nightmare

Just when it seemed the Yankees injury woes couldn’t get any more woeful, things went from bad (a DL stay for Gary Sheffield) to worse (losing Hideki Matsui for the bulk of the season) to epidemic (season-ending surgery for Sturtze and Pavano and a DL trip for Bubba Crosby) to the point at which the players started searching for hidden cameras in the trainer’s room, sure that Ashton Kutcher is behind all of this.

As the Yankees headed across town to meet the Mets last Friday, it was revealed that a comebacker off Shawn Chacon’s left shin in the same game against Boston in which Matsui broke his radius was responsible for Chacon’s subsequent poor performance and would cause him to miss his scheduled start in the subway series finale. In the first game at Shea, Jorge Posada was pulled in the second inning due to back spasms and did not play for the remainder of the series, not even coming to bat on Sunday for Kelly Stinnett with the bases loaded and two out in the top of the seventh with the Yankees trailing by two. Friday’s game ended with Kyle Farnsworth also complaining of back problems. He did not pitch for the remainder of the series. And just to add insult to injury, Bernie Williams pulled a muscle in his behind (the second backside injury on this team this year) and was forced to skip Saturday’s game save for a pinch-hit appearance in which he was hit with the only pitch he saw and then promptly forced out at second on the next play.

Meanwhile, the Columbus shuttle has been in full effect, dropping off new arrivals such as Melky Cabrera, Kevin Reese, Scott Erickson, Mitch Jones, and Colter Bean. Yes, the answer to the question “how many guys have to go down before they’ll finally give Colter Bean a shot” appears to be eight (or four pitchers: Sturtze, Pavano, Chacon, and Farnsworth). Bean was called up Saturday because the injuries to Chacon and Farnsworth and the resulting move of Small into the rotation had limited the Yankees to a five-man bullpen, with Scott Erickson (a.k.a. The Thing That Wouldn’t Die) and the overworked Scott Proctor being two of the five, and two of the remaining three being left-handed. Bean replaced Mitch Jones, who had replaced Bubba Crosby the day before and saw no action in his one day in the major leagues. That transaction reduced the Yankees to a four man bench under NL rules at Shea. The bench was then further reduced to three men–Miguel Cairo, Andy Phillips and Kevin Reese–by Posada’s inability to play.

That bench situation has been rectified, but only technically. Shawn Chacon was placed on the DL this morning as the hematoma on his left shin is healing, but slowly. To fill his spot and flesh out the bench to four men under AL rules (here’s hoping Phillips gets the call at DH) the Yanks have promoted outfielder Terrence Long. The only encouraging thing about Long’s promotion is that the Yankees didn’t feel the need to promote a catcher, which suggests that Jorge Posada’s back is not a major concern. Indeed, Posada will supposedly be “available” for tonight’s series opener in Boston, though that doesn’t mean Stinnett be starting his third straight game.

As for Long himself, he’s an abysmal baseball player. He basically has the same skill set as the Ghost of Bernie Williams (can’t hit, can’t run, can’t field, is increasingly unlikely to draw a walk), except that Long is eight years younger and lacks the borderline Hall of Fame credentials to keep his career afloat. Last year, as the starting left fielder of the major leagues’ worst team, the Kansas City Royals, Long hit a Bernie-like .279/.321/.378. The Royals declined to offer him a contract for this year and he landed with the Reds triple-A farm team in Louisville where he hit just .229/.260/.292 in April, earning his release. The Yankees, desperate for triple-A outfielders with Cabrera and Reese in the majors and Kevin Thompson down with a hamstring injury, signed Long a week ago today. He’s since hit .353/.421/.588 in 17 at-bats with Columbus, numbers which include two walks and two extra base hits and thus define small-sample fluke.

The good news is that Terrence shouldn’t be here for long.

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Left Wonderin…

I’ve got to be brief this morning. The Mets beat the Yankees 4-3 on a blustery Sunday night in Queens. The Bombers had plenty of hits and walks but they simply could not get anything done with men on base. Tom Glavine was not great but he was good enough. He made big pitches when he had to (see Jeter’s double play in the sixth).

Alex Rodriguez came to bat with the bases loaded twice and came away with nothing but his lingering reputation for pressing in tough spots. To be fair, he crushed a line drive in the first situation, but with the tying run at third and the bases juiced with just one out in the eighth, Rodriguez tapped into a 6-4-3 double play. Try sleeping on that. I know it took me awhile to stop muttering to myself and hey, I like rooting for Rodriguez. I can only imagine what else was being said about him after that.

Long balls from Carlos Delgado and David Wright proved to be all the offense the Mets would need. The Yankees’ pitching was as good as can be expected under the circumstances. Billy Wagner made it interesting in the ninth, once again, but recorded the save all the same.

The Bombers face Schilling tonight up at Fenway. But hey, there is hope on the way. What? You say that Scott Erickson doesn’t fill you with that Barton Fink feeling? How about Terrance Long, Richard Hidalgo or Mr. E. Durazo?

Rubber Neckin’

It’s been a strange day with the weather here in New York–sunny, rainy, then sunny again. There is a chill in the air, a steady breeze too. Sunday Night Baseball features future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine bringing the soft stuff to the Yankees tonight. Journey man pitcher Aaron Small hopes to similarly vex the Mets by keeping them off balance, utalizing his good change-up.

I wouldn’t be suprised if the Mets blew the Yanks out, but if the Bombers can get to Glavine, if he’s not especially sharp, then we’ll have us a ball game. Wonder which team is going to decide to catch the ball tonight?

Let’s Go Yan-Kees.

You Gotta Believe

“I didn’t think Pedro would come out, the way he was throwing and with his pitch count pretty low,” [Mike] Mussina said. “It was pretty easy for him. And I was surprised when Wagner came back with a four-run lead, and he just pitched last night.

“But, of course, you don’t expect a closer of his caliber to pitch like that. Strange things happen.”
(N.Y. Times)

Over the years, the Yankees’ key to success against Pedro Martinez is to make him throw a lot of pitches, and hope their pitcher can keep the score close. The idea, in theory, is to chase Pedro from the game by the seventh inning–either by scoring off him or just plain tiring him out–to get into the bullpen. The Yankees had to be careful what they wished for yesterday though, as the Mets’ bullpen has been one of the strongest in the big leagues so far this season. Add that to the fact that because of injuries Miguel Cairo was the Yankees’ starting left fielder yesterday. But strange things do tend to happen when Martinez pitches against the Bombers. And though he didn’t figure in the final decision, you have to wonder if was days like these that once prompted him to call the Yankees his daddy.

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Stand and Deliver

Last winter, the Yankees got Randy Johnson to be their stud, big-game pitcher and the Mets signed Pedro Martinez to be their star attraction. At this stage, Martinez has lived up to the billing. Every time he takes the mound it is an event, in large part because of his natural showbiz charm. I think Johnson will eventually pitch much better than he has, but the fact is he couldn’t hold a 4-0 first inning lead last night.

Pedro hasn’t been dominant in his last couple of outings but you have to figure he’d hold a four run lead against this Yankee line up in a National League park. Bernie and Farnsworth are unavailable today. Kevin Reese is getting the start. Believe that. How fired up is Pedro? On National TV. He’ll bring the drama, baby.

Mussina has been the Yankees’ best pitcher this year by far. He’s far less emotional than Pedro but he’s a tremendous pitcher on a hot streak. With Aaron Small–whose golden goose has likely turned back into a pumpkin already–going tomorrow night against Glavine, today is key for the Bombers. They’ve had more than reasonable success against Martinez over the years. But you gotta like the Mets bullpen right now. Tough game. Just got to hope they keep it together with the leather and that Moose can give them 7-8 innings. They’ll get some runs.

The Wrong Stuff

Randy Johnson had another bad outing for the Yankees on Friday night. Staked to a 4-0 first inning lead, Johnson would go on to blow leads of 4-3, 5-3 and 6-5, in the Mets’ 7-6 win at Shea Stadium. Carlos Beltran and Xavier Nady took the Big Unit deep, Kaz Matsui had a big RBI single and the Mets’ hitters consistently worked the count, fouling off pitches, all night. In the end, t was a fine night for the Shea Faithful. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:

“It’s a very humbling game,” said Johnson, whose earned run average rose to 5.62. “I’m humbled; I always have been. But I’m not going to quit. I’m not a quitter. I’ve come back from a lot of things. I know my teammates need me, and I need them. I’ll continue to battle.”

Johnson said he believed his pitches were still good enough to win. He blamed his problems on poor location and selection.

“Obviously I’m not throwing 97 or 98 miles an hour, but I’m throwing 94 or 95, and my slider’s at 85 to 87,” Johnson said. “So I’ve got the pitches. Location and pitch selection are the things that are inconsistent. The stuff is there. People will say what they want, but I’m convinced the stuff is there. It’s just not getting the job done right now.”

Mariano Rivera took the loss in the ninth when David Wright crushed a two-out single to the base of the center field wall. With Paul LoDuca on second, the Yankees chose to walk Carlos Delgado to get to Wright. I had had a nagging feeling for innings, wondering how the Bombers would find a way to lose the game and this move cinched it. I know Delgado is a beast, but Wright is no slouch and wouldn’t you always rather see Rivera pitch to a lefty?

It was a tough loss but a relatively entertaining game. After a flurry of runs early on, the Mets bullpen out-pitched the Yanks’ pen for the win. Aaron Heilman had his change-up working as he threw three scoreless, while Billy Wagner fanned the side–including Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez–in the ninth.

The Mets also flashed some nice leather, while the Yankees’ fielding continues to falter–another error by Rodriguez, a botched run-down by Robinson Cano. Offensively, Derek Jeter had a good night and Cano hit the ball hard three times, though he only had one hit to show for it.

Nertz to the final score, the bad news for the Yanks came when Jorge Posada left the game with tightness in his back after the first inning. Initially, the announcers speculated that it was his relationship with Johnson that drove him from the game–talk about a headline!–but the injury appears to be legit. Bernie Williams strained his ass legging out a double and Kyle Farnsworth would leave the game with a back problem after pitching a 1-2-3 eighth.

The Mets overall record is one game better than their counterparts in the Bronx. But right now, the Yankees are wondering when the pain will stop. They’ll need length and luck today as aces are high with Mussina and Pedro on the mound.

Meet the Mets

Despite their recent rash of injuries, things have been going fairly well for the Yankees since they opened the season by dropping four of their first five games on a West Coast swing. Since returning to the Bronx for their home opener, the Yanks have lost just two of eleven series (their lone game in Fenway not counting as a series) and have only lost back-to back games twice. The problem is that they did this against the Royals, Orioles, Devil Rays, Twins (who were one of those series losses), Rangers, and a crippled A’s team. True, the did take three of five from the Blue Jays, who currently trail them by just a half game in the standings, but they also dropped three of four to the Red Sox, who lead them by the same distance.

Starting tonight, the Yankees will play six games against their two closest rivals, who also happen to be two of the three teams in baseball (the Blue Jays being the third) with the most similar records to the Bombers. Following that, they’ll alternate series against patsies (Royals, O’s) and the first place Tigers and Red Sox (yes, again). In total, 14 of the Yankees next 20 games will come against teams that currently sport better records than the Yanks’.

This isn’t the best time for this sort of thing. Hideki Matsui’s out until August at the very earliest. Gary Sheffield is nursing a mysteriously slow-healing wrist injury. Carl Pavano’s return has been dashed. Octavio Dotel isn’t here yet. Shawn Chacon’s shin will indeed force him to yield Sunday’s start to Aaron Small. And now Bubba Crosby has hit the DL with a hamstring injury, yielding his roster spot to Mitch Jones.

Jones has a strong throwing arm and a ton of pop in his bat, but will make Melky Cabrera look like Willie Mays in the outfield and Andy Phillips look like Rod Carew at the plate. Jones struck out 174 times in 128 games with Columbus last year and had 41 Ks in 39 games before being called up. Jones is a career .247 hitter in the minors, and was hitting .239 in Columbus this year. Yes, players such as Adam Dunn can be tremendously valuable despite high K-rates and low averages due to exaggerated power and patience, but Jones is unlikely to pull off such a feat making his major league debut at age 28. Unlike Andy Phillips, who’s major league debut would have come much earlier if not for an injury and the Yankees’ refusal to reward his triple-A performance appropriately, Jones has never appeared to be a major league-ready player, and to my mind, still doesn’t. Not that Jones will see much action. As a righty OF/1B, he’ll slot in behind Andy Phillips on the depth chart. That’s a frightening place to be.

The good news is that Jason Giambi’s tweaked neck didn’t cause him to miss more than one game. He returned to DH duty two days ago and played in the field yesterday, collecting two walks and a double in seven trips to the plate. He’ll be the starting first baseman throughout the weekend’s DH-less series at Shea Stadium. The Yankee outfield will be Melky Cabrera, Johnny Damon (who’s nursing a foot injury that has been alternately described as bone chips and a stress fracture), and Bernie Williams. Jones, Phillips and Kevin Reese will be limited to pinch-hitting duty, though I must say, I’d rather have the righty Phillips and the lefty Reese pinch-hitting than Miguel Cairo and Bubba Crosby. Kevin Thompson, meanwhile, remains in Columbus as the Yankees want him to continue to start down there rather than ride pine in the majors.

As for this weekend’s opponent. The Mets season has thus far has been an exaggerated mirror image of the Yankees’. They built up what was briefly the majors best record against awful teams (7-1 against the Nats and Fish to start the season), and built upon it by splitting against middle-rung opponents (5-4 vs. Atlanta, splits with the Brewers and Padres, a 2-1 series win against the Giants) and adding a 3-1 stretch against the Pirates and Nationals.

The worm has turned, however, as the Mets have gone 3-6 against the Phillies, Brewers and Cardinals over the last nine games as injuries have reduced their rotation to employing the likes of tonight’s starter Jeremi Gonzalez and, yes, Jose Lima. Injuries have bit both teams hard. While the Yankees are losing outfielders on what feels like a daily basis, the Mets have a small Tommy John epidemic on their hands as three of their pitchers, ex-Yankee Juan Padilla, and both pitchers from the Scott Kazmir trade, Victor Zambrano and Bartolomo Fortunato, have had the surgery in the last two months.

Indeed, just as the Yankees are paying the price for their failure to sign a strong fourth outfielder, the Mets are paying dearly for Omar Minaya’s string of dreadful starting pitching transactions. Beyond the Kazmir trade–which has Bagwell-Anderson, Ryan-Fregosi, Brock-Broglio written all over it–Minaya flipped Jay Seo for Duaner Sanchez and Steve Schmoll this past offseason and dealt Kris Benson for the abysmal Jorge Julio and also injured John Maine. True both Sanchez and Julio have pitched reasonably well thus far this year (Sanchez has a pretty ERA but unimpressive peripherals, Julio has an ugly ERA but, much to my surprise, better peripherals), but apparently neither inspires enough confidence in Willie Randolph to convince him to move Aaron Heilman, who has been nails as a setup man, into the rotation. The Mets handling of Heilman is yet another item on an increasingly long list of mistakes Minaya and Randolph have made with their rotation. The end result is that they’ve managed to turn Scott Kazmir into Jose Lima. Good work, guys.

Randy Johnson faces Jeremi Gonzalez tonight. That used to be a mismatch. Until Johnson proves otherwise, it looks a lot like a shootout right now.

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I’ll Murdalize Ya…

Vicente Padilla and the Texas bullpen out-pitched Jaret Wright and the Yankee pen, as the Rangers toppled the increasingly banged-up Bombers 6-2 on an overcast afternoon in the Bronx. Both starting pitchers were excellent, but some poor fielding and lousy relief did the home team in. After starting the season impressively in the field, the Yanks have been kicking the ball around more than somewhat of late.

The funniest moment in the game came in the seventh inning. The Rangers had taken a 4-0 lead in the top half of the inning and Padilla had runners on second and third with two men out when Jorge Posada pinch-hit. Padilla looks like a bad-guy extra in a Roger Corman biker movie, and it was hilarious to see how Posada tried to mess with his head. With the count 1-1, Padilla threw a late breaking slider over the outside part of the plate. It was called a strike though it looked way outside. The next pitch, a high fastball, looked like strike three but was called a ball. Okay, fine. They were even. Then Posada stepped out. Padilla had been taking a long time between pitches all afternoon, so now he and Posada are locked in a duel of stubborness.

Posada, who is more stubborn than a mule, asked the umpire for a new ball. Padilla contempuously rolled the ball back towards the plate, almost directly at Posada. He then missed for ball three. Next, without holding his hand out, Posada called time after another long stare-down with Padilla. He was granted time, but not before Padilla went into his wind up and delivered a breaking ball that looked to be a strike on the outside corner. No matter, the pitch didn’t count. Next pitch? Check swing, ball four and Posada had his walk.

Showalter sprung out of the dugout and offered his characteristically comic, terse signal to the pen. Padilla was furious on the mound, red-faced, smoke coming out of his ears, like some poor schnook that Bugs Bunny had just worked over. He left the mound with the lead, but when Johnny Damon dumped a two-run single into left, you could see Padilla in the dugout with some kind of scowl on his mug.

That was as close as the Yanks would get, but it just cracked me up how Posada drove this guy from the game in a fit of frustration. Padilla pitched a really nice game too.

Takin’ It Easy

Tuesday night’s epic triple-comeback classic lasted three hours and 49 minutes and saw six Yankee pitchers throw a total of 165 pitches. Last night, Chien-Ming Wang and Mariano Rivera set the Rangers down with a mere 95 tosses in a mere two hours and 34 minutes. If not for a two bad pitches by Chien-Ming Wang in the eighth and a trio of errors by the right side of the Yankee infield earlier in the game, the 4-3 win would have been about as tidy a game as one could ask for after Tuesday night’s glorious mess.

The Yanks took an early lead in the bottom of the first when Derek Jeter reached on an infield single, was pushed to second by an eight-pitch walk to DH Jason Giambi, moved to third on an Alex Rodriguez fly out to right and was plated by Tuesday night’s hero, Jorge Posada.

Working with alarming efficiency, Wang managed to get into and out of a third inning jam on nine pitches (single, single, line-out, double play), but ran into trouble in the fourth when Robinson Cano botched a play at second base for the first of his two errors on the night. After Mark Teixeira grounded out to Cano to start the inning, Phil Nevin drew a five-pitch walk. Hank Blalock then hit a sharp grounder to Alex Rodriguez’s left that the Yankee third baseman managed to stab and shovel to second to force out Nevin. Cano, thinking of turning another inning-ending double play, took the throw coming across the bag, but dropped the ball while making the transfer to his throwing hand. Not only that, but in his haste to turn the DP, came too far across the bag to get the neighborhood call, a situation likely exacerbated by his flubbing the transfer. Nevin was called safe and Kevin Mench followed with an RBI single on the next pitch before Wang struck out Brad Wilkerson on three more throws.

Cano literally booted another ball in the top of the fifth, but another DP grounder erased his baserunner and Wang pounced on a Gary Matthews Jr. bunt to get out of the inning on just seven pitches. The Yanks then sprung into action with two outs in the fifth when another eight-pitch Giambi at-bat ended in a flared double to left center. Alex Rodriguez followed with his second infield single of the game, this one ticking off the end of Hank Blalock’s glove in the shortstop hole (the first was a Baltimore chop Alex beat out). That brought up Posada, who again delivered an RBI single. Cano and Bernie Williams followed with RBI singles past Mark DeRosa into right before Andy Phillips threw his bat at a 2-2 pitch to ground into an inning-ending fielder’s choice.

Wang continued to cruise from there, needing eight pitches in the sixth–with Cano narrowly avoiding another error on the first out (as in the fifth, he didn’t stay down on a grounder right to him), before turning yet another inning-ending double play–and eight more in the seventh, thanks to a terrific spin play by Jeter ranging behind second. Incidentally, Andy Phillips, who committed the first error of the game in the first, made difficult picks at first on both the sixth-inning double play and Jeter’s spin-throw in the seventh.

In the eighth, Wang got DeRosa to ground out on his second pitch, but then gave up a double to Gerald Laird and a two-run homer to Matthews on his next two offerings to bring the Rangers within a run. He then needed just seven more pitches to get Michael Young and Teixeira to ground out to end the inning, ending his night having thrown 68 percent of a mere 81 pitches for strikes across eight innings of work. Mariano Rivera, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to wrap things up.

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Night of the Living Dead?

Had last night’s historic comeback come in the penultimate game of a playoff series, tonight’s affair would be a foregone conclusion. It seems everytime a team is on its way to winning a series only to be interrupted by a dramatic comeback that forces a double-elimination game, the team that was mere innings from a series win is unable to recover and staggers, zombie-like to defeat. Some quick examples: The Cubs in the 2003 NLCS, the Giants in the 2001 World Series, the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series, on a larger scale the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS and the Angels in the 1986 ALCS (two notable exceptions being the Diamondbacks and Reds in the 2001 and 1975 World Series respectively).

That sort of thing is far less likely to occur in the third game of a four-game series in May, but if ever there was a loss that could put a team off its game the following day, it was the one the Rangers suffered last night. Looking to prevent such an occurence will be Kameron Loe, whom the Yankees handled capably in Texas, touching him up for five runs on five hits and three walks in five innings, four of those runs coming on a pair of homers by Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi. No word yet as to whether or not Giambi will be back in the line-up tonight, so in lieu of that useful information I’ll just mention that Loe looks like he could be Scott Brosius’s son, though he’s only 15 years younger than the one-time World Series MVP.

Loe will be opposed by Chien-Ming Wang, who handled the Rangers capably in Texas, limiting them to three runs on seven hits and no walks over six innings. In his one start since then, Wang twirled an eight-inning, three-hit gem against the A’s B-squad. Wang is on a streak of four-straight solid starts in which he’s posted the following line:

26 IP, 19 H, 8 R, 0 HR, 9 BB, 5 K, 1.08 WHIP, 2.77 ERA, 2-0

The issue, of course, is that nasty 5:9 K/BB. In 49 innings this season, Wang has struck out 18 (3.31 K/9) and walked 16 (2.94 BB/9). Before Wang’s first start of the season I wrote about the importance of Wang increasing his strikeout rate:

In his rookie season, Wang struck out just 3.64 men per nine innings, a severe drop from his career minor league rate of 7.06 K/9. In 74 1/3 career triple-A innings between 2004 and 2005, Wang struck out 6.78 men per nine and in 15 1/3 innings this spring he struck out 5.87 men per nine innings. Given that history, it seems fair to expect Wang to increase his strikeout rate to something in the mid-fives this year. As dominating as Chien-Ming can be in terms of keeping his opponents from getting the ball in the air, he’ll need to help himself more often this year if he expects to improve on his freshman campaign.

That hasn’t happened and indeed, Wang hasn’t improved on his 2005 performance. He has managed to repeat it almost exactly, however. For the time being, that will do.

Hip-Hip, Jorge! (Rock the Bells)

I was there. Yo, I was watching the whole thing next to Steve Lombardi who invited me along on the count of he had an extra ticket. Steve has a season ticket package that he shares with a group of co-workers in the lodge section. He’s been to hundreds of games at the Stadium and it’s safe to say that last night’s will rank amongst the most memorable. Back in 1998, I bailed out on going to a game against the Orioles which saw the lead change numerous times and ended with Jorge Posada hitting his second homer of night. “I can’t believe you didn’t come,” one of my friends said, rubbing it in. But I was able to see that game from home and never felt badly about not being there in person. There would be other nights, I thought. Then, I was at the game where Jason Giambi hit the grand slam in the rain in 2002 but I was sick and left in the fifth inning. When I saw the papers the next morning, my heart sunk briefly when I realized I had missed something special. Now, I’m not going to say I called the comeback last night exactly, but after Shawn Chacon was down 2-0, I turned to Steve and said, “I can see the Yanks getting down 4, 5-0 and coming back.”

It was a happily noisy night at the Stadium yet for the first forty-five minutes the loudest sounds came from the Rangers’ bats. It seemed like they hit everything hard against Chacon. At least everything they hit was loud. But even when the Yanks were down 9-0, the fans still seemed cheery enough. After Johnny Damon–who is playing with a chipped bone in his right foot–singled to start the bottom of the third, the crowd roared when Derek Jeter lined a double over Gary Matthews’ head in center field. Jeter made a huge turn past second and was actually caught between the bag and third. But Michael Young was still way off the bag after making the cut-off throw in the outfield. The cut-off throw had gone to the pitcher John Koronka instead, who looked at Jeter. Both men froze for an instant, then Jeter raced back to second as Koronka ran towards him. Young sprinted to the bag as well. Koronka threw to Young who arrived at the bag just after Jeter. The crowd erupted again. This kind of see-saw play and corresponding reaction from the fans characterized the game.

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Power Outage

Just when the Yankee offense appeared to have hit a low point, scoring a mere dozen runs in its last five games, with Matsui and Sheffield on the DL and Damon and Giambi slumping, things have gotten worse. Giambi, who left yesterday’s game after tweaking his neck while making a nice diving play, will get the day off tonight, resulting in a line-up that looks like this:

L – Johnny Damon (CF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
S – Bernie Williams (RF)
R – Andy Phillips (DH)
R – Miguel Cairo (1B)
S – Melky Cabrera (LF)

Yeouch! That just may be the weekest line-up the Yankees will field all season prior to the eastern division and wild card being decided. If it’s not, this team is in a whole hill of trouble.

Complicating things further, having just praised Andy Phillips defense at first over the weekend and having lost a game on a dropped ball by Miguel Cairo last week, Joe Torre has opted to put Cairo back in the field with Phillips mired at DH. Maybe having Cairo as your DH is embarassing, but the Yankees lost to the A’s on Sunday while Oakland had Antonio Perez, who was 0 for 2006 entering that game, at DH. That’s not to say that sort of thing is to be emulated, but if there’s no one else available (Ken Macha was dealing with a similar laundry list of aches and pains), a manager should at least try to field his best possible defense.

Speaking of which Bubba is riding pine because the Yanks will be facing the left-handed John Koronka, which also means we get the old-school version of Bernie Williams tonight, making the above line-up a tad less pathetic. Koronka has indeed been absolute murder on lefties thus far this year (they’re hitting .154/.244/.231 against him), and solid overall (4-1, 3.65 ERA, 5.08 K/9, 2.44 BB/9, 0.81 HR/9). The Yankees avoided him in Texas last week.

Shawn Chacon goes for the Yanks following a brief, walk-addled start against the Red Sox last week (5 BB, 1 K in 4 2/3 IP). Save for his ugly walk rate, Chacon’s numbers are very similar to Koronka’s (4-1, 3.68, 5.89 K/9, 4.66 BB/9, 0.74 HR/9).

Fresh Dipped Gear

Okay, so the dopest jersey I’ve seen so far this spring? Last Saturday I’m walking through Union Square and I see a skinny Spanish kid rocking one of those classy home Tiger uniforms. He had number 7 “Rodriguez” on the back. Sweet. Those Tiger home whites are beautiful in the same way that the Giants home jerseys are–or the Red Sox, Dodgers or Yankees for that matter.

Achy-Breaky Hearts

The Yankees got another solid performance from Mike Mussina yesterday, who pitched seven innings and allowed just two runs. But Kevin Millwood was also very good and by the time Mussina left the game, and the rain started pouring down on Kyle Farnsworth, the Rangers rallied for two runs in the eighth and held on for a 4-2 win. Farnsworth made a few poor pitches and though Texas did not hit him hard, they capitalized on his mistakes. Gary Matthews, jr and Bubba Crosby made sensational catches while Derek Jeter committed another error.

The major concern for the Yanks, however are injuries. Jason Giambi, a slugger the team can ill-afford to lose, left the game in the eighth inning due to a sore neck (injured earlier in the game). His status is day-to-day. Losing Giambi’s offense right now would be tough. As Steven Goldman recently noted:

With Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui out, the Yankees now have three players who can be described as power hitters — Jason Giambi, Alex Rodríguez, and Jorge Posada — and the last isn’t in the class of the first two. While Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, and Robinson Canó are all productive hitters in their own way, and Melky Cabrera may yet be a productive hitter, the lineup now lacks explosiveness.

Another bat is going to have to be added. Sadly, the focus is going to have to be on taking at-bats from Bernie Williams. However you slice it, whether by lines of .245/.282/.333, or a .220 EqA, Williams is not capable of doing the jobs he has been asked to do. Should the race with the Red Sox stay close, than the lack of production from this one player can make a fatal difference. This is doubly true now that injuries have depleted the offense.

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State of the Nation

There’s not much to say about the Texas Rangers that I didn’t say a week or so ago. Despite getting swept at home by the Bombers, they remain in first place in the AL West (thanks to the Yanks’ just completed 2-1 series win over the second-place A’s), and they’ve made just one roster move, demoting spot-starter Robinson Tejeda in favor of righty reliever Scott Feldman last Monday.

Due to consecutive rainouts in Boston, the Rangers have played just four games since hosting the Yanks, dropping two of three to the visiting Twins before taking the rain-shortened opener in Fenway behind five scoreless innings by Kameron Loe. Adding in a scheduled off day this past Thursday and the Rangers have played just six innings in the last four days.

So, with nothing doing on the other side of the leger, I thought I’d take this opportunity to take a better look at the home town team, as they could use some lookin’ at given the events of the past week.

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The Kind of Club I Would Like to Have Somebody like Me as a Member

No matter how far up you sit in Yankee Stadium, you always have the feeling that you are right on top of the action. On Saturday afternoon, I sat in row W (second to last row) with a great bunch of baseball fans–Mike Carminati, Chris DeRosa, loyal Bronx Banter readers Mike and Murray Markowitz, and their pal Alex. Mike Markowitz took a couple of flicks and in turn, I’d like to share ‘em with you.

Check out the top left-hand corner and you can see the Grand Concourse.

Our Field of Dreams

The Gang (from right to left): That’s me, Mike C, Chris DeRosa, Murray and Alex.

The M&M Boys. Talk about taste. And dig the hat Murray’s rocking–it’s fabulously hideous. His wife made him buy it when they were vacationing in Holland.

Yup, these are the kind of Yankee fans I’m proud to have as friends. And yo, I’d rock a Bobby Meachum shirt, or at least a Pasqua or Pags joint any day of the week.

I Haven’t Got Time for the Rain

Although it was overcast for most of the weekend–with more rain due throughout the week, we’ve been able to steer clear of the wet weather that cancelled two of the three games in Boston (and shortened another). Saturday turned out to be sunny and breezy, as the Yankees edged the A’s 4-3, on the strength of home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. Taynon Sturtze appeared and was awful and is now on the disabled list. (Hey, at least he’s been replaced by Scott Erickson!) Kyle Farnsworth wasn’t brilliant, but he was better, and he worked around a critical error by Jeter to save the game by a run.

Randy Johnson’s pitching woes are still here. While he showed signs of improvement on a pink and gray Mother’s Day in the Bronx, Freddie Sez it is clear that Johnson is in the process of working through a career crisis of sorts. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, a dominating force like Johnson just doesn’t transform into Frank Tanana overnight. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:

“A lot of it is probably mechanical,” [pitching coach, Ron] Guidry said, before pointing to his head. “Some of it is probably still up here.”

…”It’s absolutely frustrating to not be pitching the way I’m accustomed to pitching,” said Johnson, who has 268 career victories. “But I’ve been through a lot in my career, and that’s why I appreciate everything I’ve done in my career.

“If everything were easy, it would be easy. Right now is frustrating because I’m not pitching the way I’d like to or even close, and I realize that. Nobody has to tell me that.”

Unfortunately for the Yankees, Oakland’s starter, Danny Haren, was terrific, throwing a complete game. Final score: A’s 6, Yanks 1. The Yanks start the week tied with the Red Sox in first place with the well-rested Rangers team coming into town for a four-game series.

Just What The Doctor Ordered

I don’t believe there is such a thing as a must-win game in May, but if ever the Yankees needed to post a W, it was last night. Earlier in the day, Hideki Matsui underwent successful surgery to repair was we now know is a fractured radius (the larger forearm bone on the thumb side of the arm). Matsui had two pins inserted and is expected to miss a minimum of three months, which would mean mid-August at the earliest. The Yankees are operating under the mindset that getting Matsui back this season would be a bonus, rather than a sure thing. With Gary Sheffield still on the DL, the Yankees played Melky Cabrera and Bernie Williams at the corners last night, with Bernie batting fifth and Andy Phillips at first base and batting eighth against the left-handed Barry Zito.

With the A’s similarly, if not more banged up, Zito and Chien-Ming Wang took a scoreless game into the sixth. The only runner to reach third through the first five and a half innings was Phillips, who yanked a one-out single past Bobby Crosby in the fifth, was bunted to second by Cabrera, and pushed to third by walks to Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter. He was stranded when Jason Giambi hit a ball 390 feet to dead center that settled into the glove of Mark Kotsay for the final out of the inning.

Alex Rodriguez broke the tie in the bottom of the sixth with a home run into the Yankee bullpen, his second tie-breaking home run in the last three games. With former Yankee Randy Keisler, who had just replaced Matt Roney on the A’s roster before the game, in for Zito in the eighth, Bernie Williams doubled the Yankee lead with his second homer of the year, both of which have come off lefty pitching.

Thanks in part to some outstanding defense by Robinson Cano and Andy Phillips and a whopping four double plays, Wang had not allowed a runner past first in the first eight innings of the game, holding the A’s scoreless on three hits and a walk and needing just 85 pitches to do it. Still, Joe Torre decided to have Mariano Rivera, who has the flu and had pitched in each of the previous two games and with a four-run lead on Wednesday, close out the game. Three batters into the ninth inning, Rivera had men on first and third with one out, but the Yankees’ fifth double play of the game, a 3-6-3 DP started by Phillips, shut the door, giving the Yanks a much needed 2-0 win.

Today the Yanks send fifth-starter Jaret Wright to the mound to face former Big Red Blog paper . . . er, posterboy Brad Halsey. Wright will be making just his third start of the season, his last coming a week and a half ago in Tampa Bay. Wright has allowed just two runs in his last ten innings pitched and allowed just three hits over six innings to the Devil Rays. That said, there’s nothing to indicate that he has anything other than luck to thank for that run.

Carl Pavano left his rehab start in Trenton last night after throwing just 63 pitches due to tightness in his right bicep, but pitched well, getting through six innings on those 63 tosses, holding the opposition to one run on three hits and no walks while striking out six. Still, Pavano was supposed to throw 90 pitches. He’s scheduled to make his next rehab start on schedule, but one imagines the speed of Pavano’s rehab will be in some way affected by the performance of Wright this afternoon.

As for Halsey, he’ll be making his third start of the year after having spent most of 2005 in the Diamondbacks’ rotation. The Admiral had a 1.42 ERA as the second lefty in the A’s bullpen prior to being forced into the rotation by the injury to his former Yankee teammate Esteban Loaiza. In his two starts since then, he’s looked a lot like he did in pinstripes, lasting into the sixth inning both times, but not cracking the seventh in either, and holding the opposition to three runs on both occasions.

Curiously, the lefty Halsey, who I once thought might have been the answer to the Yankees LOOGY problems and who was murder on lefties in his first two big-league season, has something of a reverse split thus far this year. Still, Torre is sticking with Phillips at first and Bernie (who is hitting .364/.400/.576 against lefties this year) batting fifth. Kelly Stinnett gets the day game after night game start behind the plate, batting eighth behind Phillips and ahead of the left fielder, Melky Cabrera. For the A’s, Eric Chavez and Jason Kendall are back in the line-up, though Chavez will be DHing with Scutaro staying at third.

Oakland m*A*S*h

The A’s are the perfect team for the Yankees to be playing right now. As Ken Arneson wrote earlier today:

Players are dropping like flies, and if you can somehow manage to stand on two feet at all, you’re in the lineup. Kendall is tossed out, Eric Chavez has a bacterial infection, Frank Thomas pulled a quad, Justin Duchscherer has a bad elbow, Joe Kennedy has an muscle strain in his arm, and none of those guys are among the three A’s players currently on the DL.

There are actually four A’s on the DL, though I can understand why Ken might have ignored ex-Yankee Jay Witasick. The other three are Rich Harden–who is quickly earning a reputation as the Mark Prior of the AL, and that ain’t a good thing–the similarly injury-prone Milton Bradley, and former Yankee Esteban Loaiza. And Ken didn’t even mention the fact that closer Huston Street missed a week and a half in late April with a strained right pectoral muscle and currently sports a 6.30 ERA.

As a result, the A’s have Kirk Saarloos and a third ex-Yank, Brad Halsey in their rotation, and–due to Chavez’s illness, Thomas’s injury and Kendall’s suspension–will be limited tonight to a two-man bench of Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Brown and a line-up that looks something like this:

L – Mark Kotsay (CF)
S – Nick Swisher (LF)
R – Bobby Crosby (SS)
L – Dan Johnson (1B)
R – Jay Payton (RF)
S – Bobby Kielty (DH)
S – Adam Melhuse (C)
R – Mark Ellis (2B)
R – Antonio Perez (3B)

Kendall will return to action tomorrow, though whether or not the Yankees will see Chavez or Thomas this weekend is unknown.

Nonetheless, it’s not hard to figure out why A’s are underperforming the expectations that I and many others had for them entering the season, though the fact that they’re at .500 and just a half-game out of first despite all of these interruptions in playing time bodes well for their ability to turn on the jets after returning to health.

Indeed, the Yankees are facing the A’s at exactly the right time. Not only are the A’s a team that’s even more beat up than the Yankees are, but they’re a team that at full strength could very well be the best in the league. Sometimes timing is everything.

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