"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: June 2006

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The Mets, Take Two

The Mets have the best record in the National League, 3.5 games better than the Cardinals, lead their division by 11 games over the Phillies, and are two games better than the crosstown Yankees. Of course the Metropolitans play in a weaker league and a far weaker division than the Bombers. Still, when these two teams faced off in Shea Stadium in late May, they played a trio of one-run games and the Mets took the series two games to one having outscored the Yankees by a single run. It was every bit as close as that sounds, with the first two games being decided in the victor’s final at-bat and the third ending with the tying run on base.

At the time, the Yankees were at their most banged up, with Jorge Posada and Kyle Farnsworth unable to participate thus reducing the available roster to 23 men. Since then both teams have jettisoned the dead weight from their rosters (though Robinson Cano’s injury has reinstated some to the Yankees’), the Yankees releasing Scott Erickson and designating Aaron Small for assignment, the Mets designating Jose Lima, trading Jeremi Gonzalez, Kaz Matsui and Jorge Julio, and, for good measure, releasing Bartolome Fortunato, the other pitcher obtained in the Kazmir trade who, like Victor Zambrano, had been placed on the 60-day DL following Tommy John surgery.

As a result, the Mets that the Yankees will face this weekend, despite their just-concluded sweep at the hands of the streaking Red Sox, are a better team than the one the Yankees saw in May. The Mets have the second best offense in the National League, led by old Yankee-killer Carlos Delgado, 23-year-old David Wright, who is one big postseason away from rivaling Derek Jeter as the city’s biggest sports star, Carlos Beltran, who is serving up crow to his doubters daily by having the best year of his career, and Jose Reyes, who’s finally drawing walks thus becoming a weapon rather than a liability in the lead-off spot. To that tremendous core, they’ve added Jose Valentin at second base, slugging .529 in place of Kaz Matsui’s .200/.235/.269 performance, pushing Xavier Nady’s .497 slugging all the way down to the seventh spot in the order.

The Mets also have the second stingiest pitching staff in the NL, trailing only the Petco-assisted Padres. Tom Glavine, experiencing a Mussina-like resurgence, and Pedro Martinez give them a pair of Hall-of-Fame aces in the front of their rotation, both of which the Yankees will be fortunate to miss this weekend. Meanwhile the Mets bullpen has been the best in baseball, posting a staggering 3.19 ERA with only frustrated starter Aaron Heilman currently sporting an ERA above 2.80. Yes, even Darren Oliver has pitched well this year, posting a 1.02 WHIP and a 2.45 ERA as the long man in the pen.

Incidentally, I find Heilman’s to be an interesting case. Originally ticketed to be the fifth starter, he was passed over for the job by Willie Randolph in favor of rookie Brian Bannister despite a 1.59 spring ERA. As the primary set-up man in the bullpen He posted a 1.42 ERA through May 22, during which span he was twice passed over for openings in the rotation when injuries to Bannister and Victor Zambrano lead to the desperation employment of Jeremi Gonzalez and Jose Lima because Randolph claimed that Heilman had become too valuable in his role to move out of the pen. The Mets finally came to their senses, releasing Lima on May 20, but instead of relenting and moving Heilman to the rotation, where he’d both be most valuable and most happy, they reached down to double-A to promote Alay Soler. Since then, Heilman has posted an 8.66 ERA.

Tonight the Yankees send Mike Mussina, who won a tense duel against Dontrelle Willis his last time out, to the mound to face old Yankee warhorse Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. El Duque, who last (and first) faced the Yankees as a member of the eventual World Champion White Sox last year was traded to Arizona this winter in a package for another ex-Yankee Javier Vazquez only to return to New York just days after the last meeting between these two teams in exchange for misbegotten Kris Benson trade booty Jorge Julio. Since then he’s made six starts for the Metropolitans, the best being a three-hit complete game against his ex-teammates in Phoenix and the worst being his last, when he was sent packing after surrendering six runs while getting just five outs in Toronto. Sounds about right from the fiery Cuban with the Milk Dud head. His starts are like a box of chocolates. Indeed, his style is much the same, hitters never know what they’re gonna get, how hard, or from what angle. With Moose working his Bugs Bunny change and Duque always a threat to lob in an eephus, tonight’s match-up should be a lot of fun to watch, no matter who comes out on top.

Meanwhile, for the first time since the ’80s, the Mets are threatening the Yankees’ grip on the back pages (remember, the Yanks were repeat Champions entering the 2000 World Series while the Mets were considered serial chokers). These three games could go along way toward reestablishing order should the Yankees prevail in a convincing manner. On the other hand, if the Mets take the series, clinching just their second season series victory over the Yankees in the now ten-year history of interleague play (the other coming in 2004), los nuevos Mets just might wind up painting the town orange and blue all over again.


The Man You Want to Love, but Love to Hate

I saw a big, bald-headed Spanish guy wearing a maroon throwback Mike Schmidt jersey (with a 1979 barnstorming tour in Japan on the sleeve) today on the 1 train. The guy looked to be in his mid-to-late thirties. I didn’t really catch him until we were about to both exit the train. He was with two other kids, both in their early twenties I’d guess, maybe younger. I caught the dude’s eye as we went through the turnstiles. I complimented on him on the jersey and one of the kids says to the dude, “That’s the second guy on that’s said something to you since we got on the train.”

I told them that I had Schmidt on the brain lately thinking about the kind of treatment Alex Rodriguez is getting from a lot of Yankee fans this year. But before I could finish getting the words Alex Rodriguez out of my mouth, one of the younger kids skipped ahead of me as we walked down the steps of the 231st street station and said definitively, “A Rod sucks.”

I think Rodriguez is a great player of course. Got a piece on him over at SI.com today, just in time for the subway serious. I enjoy rooting for Rodriguez because his at-bats, particularly at home, really seem to matter. Just like they do for all of the superduper stars. Though he has not come through as often as Yankee fans would like he has had many great moments in his two-plus years with the team. As Ben Kabak points out today, Rodriguez particularly struggles when the Bombers are behind, so when Yankee fans are amped for a rally, that is when Rodriguez is faltering, magnifying his failures in the process.



Have you ever heard the term “passing?” Until recently, I had not. The way I heard it used, “passing” refers to a situation where you decide not to address something that might offend you. For instance, you are in a conversation with some people–at work let’s say–and somebody says something bigoted. It bothers you but you choose, for whatever reason, not to confront it. You change the subject or ignore it altogether. That’s called passing.

Most of us encounter these kinds of situations all the time. Two days ago at the ball game, I found myself unable to “pass.” I was watching the Yankee game with my cousin and two guys I played high school ball with–one of whom is a good friend. The two jocks started talking about women and baseball and the gist of the discussion was, “Let’s make fun of women because they don’t have a clue when it comes to sports.” I just knew where the conversation was going and it instantly made me uncomfortable, not only because my girlfriend is a devoted fan but because sitting in front of us was a woman who is more knowledgable about the game than most men could ever hope to be.

I caught myself and thought, “Aha, so this is a ‘passing’ sitation.” At first I didn’t know how I was going to respond. One instinct was to join them. I had an ideal story. Earlier in the day, my cousin Eric and I were playing stickball on 5th street between first and second avenues. We were pressed for time and only had about ten minutes left to play when a sexy young thing walked towards us. She had been watching us play for a few minutes when she approached me and said, “Can I play?” She was friendly and exceedingly cute. How do you say “no” to that? If I were single, I’d have turned into Charlie Lau and not only let her play with us but I’d teach her how to hit, anything, in the process. But not only am I not single, I don’t have wandering eyes like that and am not that tempted to flirt with hot young East Village women. So I told her that it was nice of her to ask but that we only had a few more minutes left and we wanted to finish our game. “But if you ever see us playing down here again, feel free to stop by and you can join us then.” I was as friendly as possible and it felt good not to compromise the moment Eric and I were sharing. She looked surprised–not quite comprehending how we could turn such an offer down–and quietly walked away.

Anyhow, I was pleased with how I handled the situation–tactfully but with conviction. Now, I could use this story as a way to join the “He Man Woman Hater’s Club” brewing behind me. Screw women, this is our sport, kind of a thing. I turned around to the guys and instead of directly confronting their chauvanism, or joining it, I started talking to them about Emily and how much of a baseball fan she’s become. I told them that sometimes Em will ask me what I think is a ridiculously stupid question but other times she’ll come up with something simple and logical that I just can’t answer. For instance, say the Yankees are at home and have a runner on first. If the opposing pitcher throws over to first more than once the crowd–any home crowd–will start to boo. One day Emily asked, “Why are they booing?” I stuttered and finally had to look at her and tell her I hadn’t the foggiest idea why. “Because…that’s just the way it is,” was the best I could come up with.

My friend Adam was amused by the story and told me I was so right. The conversation shifted and that was that. But it got me thinking about the different, often refreshing sensibilities women bring to a male-dominated world like baseball. Nancy Smith, the woman sitting in front of us, had an opportunity to meet several of the Yankees last summer and she told me that she had a pleasant ten minute conversation with Mariano Rivera. “He’s a very nice man,” she reported. What did they talk about? Where he lives when he’s up here, how much his kids love the winter and the snow. You know, regular stuff. Things that most guys would never think of talking about if they were to ever to meet a baseball player.

I’d be asking him all sorts of questions about baseball, about pitching. I’d never think to talk to him about such mundane things as the weather. The irony is Nancy probably put Rivera more at ease, and had a more intimate, natural conversation with him than I would have in the same situation. She might enjoy being around him as much as any male fan, but even if she was geeked about it, there was probably nothing urgent beneath the surface, no agenda. She didn’t “want” a piece of him, she just wanted to chat.

Nancy’s story reminded me of something Jane Gross, a former sports writer, once told Roger Angell (from the story “Sharing the Beat,” which can be found in Angell’s “Late Innings” collection):

“I think women reports have a lot of advantages [over male reporters], starting with the advantage of the players’ natural chivalry. We women are interested in different things from the men writers, so we ask different questions. When Bob McAdoo gets traded from the Knicks, my first thought is, How is his wife, Brenda, going to finish law school this year? And that may be what’s most on his mind.

Not better, not worse, just different. Sure, there are times when Emily asks a question that has my snotty-ass rolling my eyes. Other times, she’ll just floor me with her insights–whether simple or profound. I deliberately use my love of baseball as a way to relate to other men. But some of the greatest fans I know are women. And that’s a beautiful thing, bro.

Rock the Vote

The All-Star voting closes tonight at 11:59pm, so with the Yankees enjoying a day of rest after Alex Rodriguez’s big bang I thought I’d share my ballots.

American League


With no designated hitter spot on the ballot due to the fact that the game is taking place in an NL park, this spot is mighty crowded. In fact, with Jason Giambi now a full-time DH due to the long awaited arrival of Andy Phillips, Paul Konerko is the only full-time first baseman worth looking at here (though I do have to give a shout to Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox’ Andy Phillips).

Here are the key stats on Konerko, Giambi and the three top designated hitters, all of whom shift to first base in NL parks, along with the number of games they’ve played at first thus far this year (all stats prior to yesterday’s games).

Paul Konerko .315 .388 .576 .319 49 19 60 28.6 96 70
Jason Giambi .262 .423 .609 .339 48 22 61 30.1 82 44
David Ortiz .267 .380 .548 .309 52 22 68 24.0 100 5
Jim Thome .284 .414 .608 .335 60 24 63 34.5 100 2
Travis Hafner .312 .450 .625 .363 60 21 62 46.0 73 4

Travis Hafner’s career line is .296/.399/.568. Last year he hit .305/.408/.595 with 42 doubles, 33 homers, 108 RBIs and a .345 EQA and finished fifth in the MVP voting. The year before he hit .311/.410/.583 with 41 doubles, 28 homers, 109 RBIs and a .335 EQA. Travis Hafner has never been selected to an All-Star team, even as a reserve. This has to end this year. David Ortiz is the vote leader, but he’s the least worthy of the five candidates above. What’s more, Hafner is David Ortiz. He’s a hulking, late-blooming lefty 1B-turned-DH who was tossed aside by his previous team. The primary differences between the two are that Ortiz has had the media exposure and postseason opportunities Hafner hasn’t and Hafner is a year younger than Ortiz and is thus Ortiz, in a rather startling parallel, has made Hafner’s improvements in production a year ahead of his Cleveland counterpart. At any rate, given the defensive shortcomings of his rivals and the relative insignificance of first base defense, Travis Hafner is my pick hands down.


How You Like Me Now?

“Alex has gone from town to town, and there’s been just resentment all over the league for him because of how much money he makes,” Manager Joe Torre said before the game. “And nobody ever feels that anybody’s worth this money. Like, you know, he went in there and held somebody hostage to get the money. Somebody made a choice to give it to him. And it’s just something that he has to live with.”
(N.Y. Times)

Yesterday started off so badly and well, just look how it ended. My girlfriend Emily would have some new-age Wayne Dyer words of wisdom for me, that’s for sure. I take that malarky with a grain of salf, but often, the essence of what a guy like Dyer is saying makes a good deal of sense, the power of intentions and all that.

I had to fight up all the positive vibes I had in me when I awoke at 5:30 in the morning to the pattering sounds of raindrops against our bedroom air conditioner. The weatherman has called for rain and thunderstorms for much of the last week. When they got Monday and Tuesday’s games in without a hitch, I figured Wednesday was the day that it’ll all fall apart. I had taken a vacation day to go to the Stadium with a high school friend and his wife. My pal had an extra seat so I invited my cousin Eric along. But early in the morning it was pouring outside my window in the Bronx and the skies were dark. I sulked like a little boy.


Game On

It’s as close to sunny in downtown Manhattan as I’ve seen it in what feels like at least a week, so the Yanks and Braves should be taking the field in about a half an hour. Alex, in a blatant attempt to make our Wednesday workdays feel even longer, is at the game, which pits young Chien-Ming Wang against veteran John Smoltz, a pitching match-up I’d love to see. Alas, I’ll be watching it on Gameday with the rest of you working stiffs. Those in front of a TV or even a radio please help with details and descriptions.

Melky Cabrera, coming off a 3 for 4 day that saw him drive in both of the Yankees runs, one via his second career homer, is back up in the two spot. Bernie’s in right batting sixth, followed by Phillips, Cairo and, in the day game after night game, Stinnett.

Snake Eyes

Jaret Wright and Horacio Ramirez are pretty evenly matched, but go figure that their pairing would result in a pitchers duel. That’s exactly what happened last night, with the Braves clinging to a 1-0 lead after six frames, that run scoring in the second when Jeff Francoeur singled home Andrew Jones’ lead-off double.

Jaret Wright completed the sixth inning for the first time since June 2, equalling his longest outing of the year, allowing just three other hits, all singles, and two walks while striking out four. Ramirez, meanwhile, had held the Yankees scoreless on four hits and a walk through the end of the sixth despite striking out just one.

With Wright at 90 pitches and three lefties due up in the seventh, Joe Torre brought in Ron Villone, who promptly doubled the Braves lead by surrendering a lead-off home run to Adam LaRoche on his first pitch of the night. Villone then got the next three men to ground out and the Yankees finally broke through against Ramirez, getting LaRoche’s run back in bottom of the seventh on singles by Jorge Posada and Melky Cabrera.

Cabrera’s RBI single was proceeded by groundouts by Bernie Williams and Andy Phillips, which pushed Posada to second and third respectively. The contrast between Phillips’ and Cabrera’s at-bats was a telling look at the frustrating nature of baseball that so tortured Paul O’Neill during his 17 year career. The first pitch to Phillips was a fastball inside that Andy laced past Chipper Jones at third, but just foul. Phillips then swung through a slider inside to fall behind 0-2. He then fouled a fastball straight back to stay alive. Ramirez then tried to get him to chase a breaking pitch low and away, but Andy laid of that one and two more up and away out of the zone to run the count full. Ramirez finally came back inside where Phillips could really rip one and after fouling off Ramirez’s seventh pitch, Phillips laced another shot between Jones and the third base bag only to have Jones backhand the ball and fire to first for the out. Phillips’ at-bat was the hardest any Yankee had made Ramirez work all night, but despite getting the pitch he wanted and hitting it well, Phillips had nothing to show for it. Cabrera then came up and hacked at the first pitch he saw, a slider that looked headed for his front shin, producing a weak looping grounder that headed straight for Jones, only the ball took an odd last hop and Chipper booted it, conspiring with favorable official scoring to give Cabrera an RBI base hit. Such is baseball.

Villone came back out to start the eighth, but was again greeted by a hit, this time an Edgar Renteria single. After Chipper Jones lined out to left, Joe Torre brought in rookie T.J. Beam to face Andruw Jones. It was an impressive move on Torre’s part, trusting a rookie to face one of the league’s top hitters late in a one-run game (though I wonder if he would have done it up by one run rather than down by one run). The tall, lanky Beam rewarded Torre’s faith by striking out Jones on a sequence of hard, mid-90s heaters for the second out. Unfortunately, Beam forgot about Renteria on first and while Beam worked to the next batter, Brian McCann, Renteria practically waltzed over to second. Behind McCann 2-1, Beam intentionally walked the lefty to face righty Jeff Francoeur. Beam got ahead of the free-swinging Francoeur 1-2 only to have Francoeur pick the 1-2 pitch practically out of the dirt and loop it into shallow center for another RBI single. Mike Myers came in to get the lefty LaRoche for the final out.

Again down two runs, the Yankees failed to do anything with a lead-off single by Derek Jeter in the bottom of the eighth when Jason Giambi was unable to beat out a squibber down the third base line, Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging on a slider down and in from Ramirez and Jorge Posada launched a pitch to deep left that settled into the glove of Ryan Langerhans for the third out.

Still, Joe Torre didn’t back off, going to Kyle Farnsworth in the ninth. Unfortunately, Farnsworth’s recent struggles continued. Pinch-hitter Marcus Giles lead off with a single and moved to second on a wild pitch. With one out, Wilson Betemit singled to left and third base coach Fredi Gonzalez sent Giles home. From deep in left field, Melky Cabrera fired a strike to Jorge Posada that had Giles beat easily, but Posada, likely anticipating Giles’ arrival, flinched, booting the ball and allowing Giles to score. Betemit moved to second on the play. Farnsworth then struck out Renteria on a full count, but his second pitch to Chipper Jones skipped past Posada for a passed ball that moved Betemit to third. That prompted a mound visit from Ron Guidry. As Farnsworth and Posada waited for Gator to arrive, Farnsworth turned his back on Posada and walked off the back of the mound. When Guidry arrived, Farnsworth returned to the mound and Posada stormed off toward home plate. After Guidry returned to the dugout, Jones doubled Betemit home and Joe Torre replaced Farnsworth with Matt Smith. Smith intentionally walked Andruw Jones, unintentionally walked Brian McCann, and struck out Francoeur to end the inning.

Down 5-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Melky Cabrera hit his second career home run with two outs, but that was all the Yankees could muster against newly appointed closer Jorge Sosa to fall 5-2 after beating the Braves by the same score the night before.

For what it’s worth, Cabrera’s homer was his first from the left side of the plate and was a convincing short-porch shot on a pitch down and in. Cabrera finished the night having gone three for four, driving in both of the Yankees’ runs and scoring one of them. Cabrera and Jorge Posada combined for five of the Yankees’ nine hits. On Monday night, Jason Giambi drove in all five of the Yankees’ runs, scoring two of them and he and Andy Phillips combined for five of the Yankees’ nine hits. For those inclined to read something into that, those similarities are fun, but meaningless.

This afternoon, the Yankees get their third exciting pitching match-up in four days with a hot Chien-Ming Wang taking on John Smoltz in the series’ rubber game. Weather permitting, of course.


After Moose v. D-Train on Sunday afternoon and Johnson vs. Hudson last night, Jaret Wright vs. Horacio Ramirez is going to be a heck of a let-down tonight. You all know about Wright. He has exceeded some very low expectations by simply being able to take the ball every five days and upped the ante by actually keeping the Yankees in the game in most of his starts, but his limitations, particularly when it comes to innings pitched and strikeouts, are glaring. Ramirez, meanwhile, is young and left handed, but otherwise unexceptional. He does a pretty good number on lefties and gets more than his share of ground balls, which is fortunate for the Braves as Ramirez’s peripherals are as unimpressive as Wright’s. The upside is that with Miguel Cairo forced into the line-up by Robinson Cano’s hamstring (Cano’s just been placed on the DL with Nick Green being recalled to back-up Miggy . . . gulp), Bernie still the go-to choice in right field, and Andy Phillips on another hot streak, an unimpressive lefty is just what the doctor ordered for the Yankees’ offense.

Lo Hud, Big Unit

Randy Johnson struck out a season-high nine batters and did not allow a run over seven innings. Not so long ago, Yankee fans wondered if the real Big Unit would ever return. Well, he may never be the 38-year old version again, but clearly, he isn’t completely cooked either. The Atlanta Braves’ hitters didn’t help themselves much–jeez, what a bunch of hackers–but there is no denying that Johnson is pitching effectively once more. Jason Giambi hit a two-run homer in the first and a three-run dinger in the second and that was all the Yankees would need as they cruised to a 5-2 victory in the Bronx.

Tim Hudson was wild early and Giambi hit what looked like split finger fastballs for his home runs. Some friend. The Bombers’ offense didn’t do much else on Derek Jeter’s 32nd birthday (also Mike Myers’ 37th), but they’ll take the win. Scott Proctor allowed a two-run bomb to Chipper Jones in the ninth after pitching a scoreless eighth. That was the lowest part of the night for the Yankees, aside from Alex Rodriguez’s 12th error of the season which matches his 2005 season total. I was never sold on Rodriguez being a Gold Glover last year–though he was a fine defensive player–and he has regressed this season. He’s got a strong, true arm, but his lateral movement appears sluggish. I wonder what’s up with that? Anyhow, Mariano Rivera came in for the final two outs. He walked a batter and struck two men out looking, and that, as they say, was that.

It is not certain that Robinson Cano will be placed on the DL but my guess is that he likely won’t get much burn until after the All-Star break. Meanwhile, Octavio Dotel pitched yesterday. According to reports, he’s likely a month away from joining the big league club. Lastly, Aaron Small cleared waivers and has returned to Columbus.

Atlanta Braves

Say what you want about Leo Mazzone’s ineffectiveness as the Baltimore Orioles’ pitching coach thus far this season, but the Braves, who won their division 14 straight times (not counting the strike year of 1995) with Mazzone rockin’ in their dugout, are about to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990 when Mazzone was hired mid-season to be the Braves’ pitching coach. And the reason the Braves are languishing in dead last place below the mismanaged Nationals and post-fire sale Marlins? Yup. It’s the pitching.

The only NL teams to have allowed more runs per game than the Braves are the Brewers and Pirates, while the Atlanta bullpen’s 5.06 ERA is essentially tied with the Reds’ (5.07) for the worst in the NL and second worst in baseball (the Royals’ pen is on a whole other level of suck). What’s most dispiriting about the Braves’ pitching is that there’s not a large range of performances there. Other than failed closer Chris Reitsma’s 9.11 ERA (now on the DL), and swing-man Lance Cormier’s 6.23 on one end and new closer Ken Ray’s 2.80 on the other, everyone on the current roster falls between Chad Paronto’s 3.80 and Jorge Sosa’s 5.18. Yes, John Smotlz and Tim Hudson fall toward the low end of that spectrum, but neither has been the stopper this team needs. Absent that kind of ace, the Braves have been on a dramatic downward spiral all month. After pulling out of a losing April to finish May three games over .500, the Braves have gone a staggering 4-19 in June, low-lighted by a ten-game losing streak that was snapped by the Devil Rays on Friday. Indeed, before that weekend series in Tampa the Braves were 2-18 in June.

It’s the end of an era in Atlanta. John Smoltz, the only man other than manager Bobby Cox and Mazzone to have participated in all fourteen playoff appearances, is a free agent after this season and has said he would accept a trade. Andruw Jones, who has been with the team since he was a teenager in 1996, Cox and GM John Schuerholz are all signed through 2007 only. Could be Chipper Jones, signed through 2008 with a 2009 option that will likely vest itself, will be the last man standing. I for one welcome the release of the Braves’ grip on the NL East division, but with the end finally here, the fact that this team only won one Championship and failed to reach the World Series in their last six postseasons leaves even me with an empty feeling.

That said, here’s hoping the Yankees party like it’s 1999 and sweep the Bravos over the next three games. Robinson Cano is not in the line-up tonight due to the left hamstring injury he suffered yesterday while running out a double, though early reports are that he will not have to go on the DL. Instead, Joe Torre gives Miguel Cairo the start at second, but sullies his lineup by batting Miggy second once again. Jason Giambi, who missed the first game of yesterday’s double-header with a bad back played last night and is back in there tonight. Bubba Crosby gets the start in right as Tim Hudson and Randy Johnson give the Yankees their second marquee pitching matchup in as many days.


Not Bad

Courtesy of Rich Lederer (via Lee Sinins I suspect), dig this:

W    SO
1  Cy Young          511   2802
2  Walter Johnson       417   3509
3  Christy Mathewson      373   2502
4  Warren Spahn        363   2583
T5  Roger Clemens        341   4506
T5  Tim Keefe          341   2521
7  Steve Carlton        329   4136
T8  Nolan Ryan         324   5714
T8  Don Sutton         324   3574
10  Greg Maddux         325   3101
11  Phil Niekro         318   3342
12  Gaylord Perry        314   3534
13  Tom Seaver         311   3640
14  Bert Blyleven        287   3701
15  Ferguson Jenkins      284   3192
16  Randy Johnson        271   4448
17  Bob Feller         266   2581
18  Bob Gibson         251   3117
19  Frank Tanana        240   2773
20  Mike Mussina        233   2500

Blyleven and Tanana are the only retired fellas on the list who are not in the Hall of Fame.

Boring Ballplayers Sure Beat Bobby “Boogie Down” Bo

Bobby Blue Bland? Bob Klapisch recalls his infamous clubhouse incident with Bobby Bonilla over at The Baseball Analysts. An excellent read, Klap illustrates why modern athletes often prefer to be cautious and boring. Sure beats having to deal with a goon like Bonilla.

Waiting For You, Bro

Tyler Kepner profiles the Yankees’ best pitching prospect Phillip Hughes today in the New York Times. Don’t miss this one.


After playing in front of more than 53,000 in the afternoon, the Yankees and Marlins performed in front of less than 7,000 last night. Now that’s a kind of crowd the young Marlins are familiar with. It almost seemed as if the Yankees themselves forgot there was a second game yesterday as they fell to the Marlins, 5-0. The Bombers are the last team in the majors to get shut out this season. Jason Giambi made two errors which led to three runs, nobody could get anything going offensively, and to make matters worse, Robinson Cano came up lame with a hamstring problem in his left leg. Early reports do not tell us how serious the injury is, but it was the most remarkable event of the game for the Yanks. Cano has been exceptionally durable so far this year and it would be a tough loss if he is lost for an extended period of time.

Anibal Sanchez, the former Red Sox who went to Florida in the Josh Beckett deal this past winter, made the most of his major league debut for the Marlins and successfully kept the Yankee hitters off-balance. (The Bombers scored two runs over both games.) With runners on second and third and one out in the sixth, Bernie Williams ripped a line drive to the right side of the infield. It was snagged by the first baseman and was the last batter Sanchez would face. It was also the closest the Bombers would come to staging any kind of rally. It was a dream come true for Sanchez, who was called-up just for this one start.

Sunday Best Comes First

Mike Mussina was just this much better than his counterpart Dontrelle Willis on a rainy Sunday afternoon in the Bronx, as the Yanks beat the Florida Marlins 2-1. Moose notched the 2,500th strike out of his career and pitched a nice game–he was particularly crisp early. Johnny Damon drove in both New York runs, Kyle Farnsworth got the blood a-boiling in the eighth, and Mariano Rivera earned the save in the ninth. Cliff was out there in the bleachers. If we’re lucky and he’s not too beat when he gets home, we’ll get his take on what was a well-played game.

I was supposed to be there myself but my plans fell through. Instead, I spent most of the day in the kitchen. I made a couple of different tomato sauces (garlic, olive oil, parsley, crushed red pepper, zucchinni and tomatoes with fresh thyme, and the other one, onion, butter, olive oil, eggplant, pancetta, crushed red pepper, tomatoes and fresh basil) for my brother who is on the DL and needed some kitchen help, a ratatouille with roasted potatoes for Em’s weekly grub (she does the laundry), and then the project: a dozen jars of jam from fresh strawberries that Em and I got upstate yesterday. The best strawberries are only around for a couple of weeks each June and we got some good beauts. My Ma used to make jams when I was growing up. I haven’t done it much myself but it’s not hard and man, oh, man, how I love good jam. Em helped out with the canning–she’s a cracker jack with that kind of thing–and so while I know that the game featured several sparkling defensive plays, I caught most of them as replays, running in from the kitchen.

The second game of this Day-Night doubleheader kicks off at 8:00 pm. However, due TV restrictions, the game will not be televised in many parts of the country. (Man, I wish I had a clever Gil Scott Heron line.) Apparently, it will be televised in New York (thanks for the knowledge Mr. Kabak). The Red Sox were rained out today while the Blue Jays lost to the Mets. It’d be gravy if the Yanks can win another one, but I wouldn’t count on it. Not with Chacon on the hill. These Marlins are scrappy. But one never knows does one?

Let’s Go Yan-kees!

Moist Def

The Marlins kicked the ball around like they were Chico’s Bail Bonds in the first inning last night (actually it was two players who accounted for three–should have been four–errors), but escaped only down 3-0. They tied the game swiftly and hung around for the rest of the evening. It was a very warm in New York and it rained steadily during the middle innings. Chien-Ming Wong pitched well, though he wasn’t nearly as impressive as he was in his previous two outings. Kyle Farnsworth did what he does best–give Yankee fans indigestion–as the Marlins crept closer in the eighth. But Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth as the Yanks held on for a 6-5 victory. Alex Rodriguez, Andy Phillips and Jorge Posada each had three hits, and Jorge had three RBI as well. The Yanks remain two behind the streaking Red Sox who won again last night. The Blue Jays, however, fall to four games out of first, after their loss to the Mets in Toronto.

Today is hot and it is very dark outside. Looks like Old Timer’s Day could be a warsh out. The regular game is scheduled to start in the late afternoon, but it could be pushed back to this evening, cause man, it sure feels like the skies are going to open up and drench New York City. Hopefully, they get it in. Enjoy!

The Florida Marlins, Mach III

One of the big stories this offseason was the Marlins’ second fire sale in the past decade, but buried beneath the outrage was the fact that the Marlins actually made a large number of smart baseball decisions in purging their roster of aging, overvalued players while stocking their system with prospects. Now, in last June, the team everyone had written off over the winter is in third place in the NL East, three games ahead of the perennial division champion Braves, and sports a Pythagorean record just a hair shy of .500.

That’s impressive enough, but what’s been even more impressive is how this team has gelled. Don’t look now, but the Marlins have gone 20-7 since May 22 including a 10-game winning streak that was halted on Wednesday and climaxed with a three-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays last weekend. The secret to that recent success has been pitching. The Marlins have held their opponents to less than three runs in 13 of those 20 wins and allowed more than three runs in just three of those 20 victories, a 5-4 win over the Cubs, a 6-5 win over the Braves, and last night’s 8-5 victory over the Orioles.

So who are these guys? Here’s a quick look at the Marlins’ rotation along with their ages and 2006 salaries:

Dontrelle Willis, 24, $4.35 million

You know D-Train, he was the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year and just missed out last year’s Cy Young. ‘Nuff said.

Josh Johnson, 22, ML minimum ($327,000)
Replacing: Josh Beckett, 26, $4.325 million

Drafted by the Marlins in 2002, Johnson was solid in double-A last year and finished the season with four appearances for the Fish. This year, without the benefit of a stint in triple-A, he’s posted a 2.01 ERA while striking out 7.93 men per nine innings in nine starts. Josh Beckett, meanwhile, has a 5.09 ERA and just 7.41 K/9 for more than ten times Johnson’s salary in Boston, while trading Beckett netted the Fish their starting shortstop, top pitching prospect Anibal Sanchez, and two other minor league arms, one of whom, Jose Garcia, has joined Sanchez in double-A and just may be pitching his way past his more highly touted teammate.

Ricky Nolasco, 23, ML min.
Replacing: Al Leiter (retired) and 23-year-old Jason Vargas, the latter of whom is starting for the Marlins’ triple-A club with good peripherals, but an ugly ERA.

Nolasco came over from the Cubs in the Juan Pierre deal along with Sergio Mitre and Renyel Pinto. The 25-year-old Mitre was in the rotation until he hit the 60-day DL with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. The 23-year-old Pinto did not allow a run in four big league innings earlier in the year and is pitching very well save for a high walk rate in triple-A Albuquerque. Nolasco turned in a strong season in double-A last year and has posted a 3.15 ERA in 60 innings for the Fish thus far this season with a solid 6.45 K/9. Pierre, meanwhile, is hitting .242/.290/.306 for the Cubs, fulfilling my prediction of a Womackian future for the 28-year-old who is pocketing $5.75 million of the Cubs greenbacks for his services.

Scott Olsen, 22, ML min.
Replacing: A.J. Burnett, 29, $55 million/5 yrs

The left-handed Olsen, like Johnson, is a home grown product who pitched well for the double-A Carolina Mudcats in 2005. A strikeout machine in the minors, the 22-year-old Olsen has struck out 7.79 men per nine innings with the Fish in twelve starts this year and held hitters to less than a hit per inning, but has struggled some with his control, resulting in a 4.70 ERA. Burnett, meanwhile, has made just three starts for the Jays thus far this year due to repeated problems with his surgically repaired pitching elbow. In those three starts, Burnett has a Beckett-like 5.06 ERA thanks in part to his surrendering four home runs in 16 innings.

Brian Moehler, 34, $1.5 million

Moehler, tonight’s starter, was retained as a budget rate, league-average insurance policy. He’s not held up his end of the bargain, posting a 6.29 ERA while allowing 97 hits in 73 innings.

From that alone this fire sale thing doesn’t look too shabby, does it?

The trend continues around the diamond. The best player the Marlins traded this offseason was 34-year-old Carlos Delgado, who is still owed $52 million over four years, only $7 million of which the Fish picked up in the deal. In that trade they acquired not only pitching prospect Yusmeiro Petit, but 25-year-old first baseman Mike Jacobs, who tore the cover off the ball in 100 at-bats for the Mets last year (.310/.375/.710) and is representing this year with a .269/.357/.486 line and ten homers as the Marlins’ first baseman.

They dumped an overrated and overpaid ($10 million over two years) 30-year-old Luis Castillo on the Twins for a pair of minor league arms and handed the second base job to 26-year-old minor league free agent Dan Uggla, who had lit-up the Southern League with the Diamondback’s double-A franchise in 2005. Uggla has the early lead in the NL Rookie of the Year race, hitting .313/.366/.532 with 13 homers while playing a Gold Glove-level second base.

At shortstop the Beckett deal netted them 22-year-old Sox prospect Hanley Ramirez, who caused a sensation over the first two months of the season before a recent slump that is strangely in synch with his team’s winning streak torpedoed his numbers. Ramirez was hitting .340/.417/.484 with 16 stolen bases in 19 attempts on May 23, but has hit just .139/.187/.257 since then. Still, that deal not only netted them those three aforementioned pitching prospects in addition to Ramirez, but it allowed them to unload 32-year-old Mike Lowell’s contract ($25.5 million over three years left), thus opening third base for their 23-year-old future Hall of Famer, Miguel Cabrera. The Marlins wisely recognized the fact that it would be easier to find viable corner outfielders than a third baseman that can hit like Frank Robinson or Albert Pujols (Cabrera’s top two PECOTA comps).

In Cabrera’s place in right field the Fish have installed 22-year-old home-grown prospect Jeremy Hermida, who is hitting a solid, if somewhat powerless .286/.385/.429. The good news is that at 22, Hermida has time to develop his power stroke. In the opposite pasture, the Marlins finally found a home for 27-year-old former catching prospect Josh Willingham, who has hit.268/.352/.470 and will be activated from the disabled list for this weekend’s series.

With those six stacked at the top of the line-up, of whom only Cabrera at the insane low price of $472,000 is earning more than the league minimum, the Marlins have installed 27-year-old veteran Miguel Olivo behind the plate for the modest sum of $700,000 and have been able to give 25-year-old Reggie Abercrombie an extended look in center. Of the six rookie Marlins in the everyday lineup, only Abercrombie has failed to rise to the occasion, but given the success of the others, they’re able to remain patient with the man they, perhaps erroneously, still hope is their center fielder of the future.

So maybe the bench is a bit thin (Helms has pop, Amezaga can play anywhere, Borchard and Ross once had promise and are still in their 20s, Treanor is a holdover) and the bullpen is a bit of a hodgepodge (veterans Borowski and Herges, 2005 A-ballers Martinez and Tankersley, holdover Messenger, rookie Logan, and the truly off-the-radar Fulchino), but you have to commend a team that’s able to purge $60 million in active payroll and tens of millions more owed in subsequent seasons, get 3 ½ years younger as a team and actually improve its long-term outlook in the process. Willis and Cabrera are young enough that they will peak along with the new crop of players, rather than ahead of them. It may have looked ugly this offseason, but with the Braves having finally tumbled off their perch and the Mets relying on a crop of old fogies (Pedro, Glavine, Trachsel, El Duque, Wagner, Valentin, ex-Marlin Cliff Floyd and 2005 Marlins Delgado and Paul Lo Duca), these Fish just might surprise a lot of people in a few years. If so, one might have to wonder if the Marlins have stumbled upon a new method of small-market management in which a Championship is followed by a fire sale which leads directly to another Championship within the decade, repeat. Remember, Burnett and Derrek Lee were picked up in the post-1997 purge, as was Preston Wilson who was flipped for Pierre, and Ed Yarnall who was flipped for Lowell, while Josh Beckett was drafted second overall in 1999 after the Marlins finished 1998 with the worst record in baseball (the expansion Devil Rays got the number one pick). Also, don’t forget that the Marlins won two Championships in their first eleven years of existence, while no other expansion team has ever won more than two titles (Mets, Blue Jays) and seven expansion clubs of equal or older vintage are still looking for that first ring. Kinda makes you think, don’t it?


My 25 Least Favorite Yankees of the Last 20 Years

Inspired by Catfish Stew, here’s a list of my least favorite Yankees from the last twenty years:

25. Tim Stoddard Stoddard was 6’7″, 250 pounds and looked like Wally Walrus from the Woody Woodpecker cartoons. What’s not to like about that? Well, Wally was the bad guy in those cartoons and Tim posted a 6.38 ERA out of the Yankee pen in 1988 earning his release that August. Worse yet, Stoddard was all the Yankees managed to get in return for Ed Whitson, who would surely make this list if I extended it back further. Just a series of unpleasant memories there.

24. Xavier Hernandez The Yankees began to turn things around in 1993 with the additions of Paul O’Neill, Jimmy Key and Wade Boggs. Going into 1994, Hernandez was supposed to be part of the solution as a young (28) rubber armed reliever who had just turned in two excellent seasons for the Astros. Plus his name started with an X. How cool is that? Turns out his arm wasn’t really made of rubber after all and those 207 2/3 innings over two seasons in Houston resulted in a 5.85 ERA in his lone season for the Yanks, which was itself cut short by injury in late July. I suppose I should have blamed Houston manager Art Howe, but I was less enlightened then. Speaking of which, it didn’t help that the Yanks dealt no-hit fan favorite Andy Stankiewicz (“Stanky the Yankee”) to get Xavier.

23. Rich Dotson One of many Stump Merrill-era hurlers on this list (a term I use for those lean late-’80s, early ’90s years regardless of whom the manager was, Dotson, for instance, never actually pitched for Merrill). The Yankees sent fan favorite Danny Pasqua to the White Sox in the deal to acquire Dotson. In his only full year with the Yanks, Dotson posted a 5.00 ERA (79 ERA+ in those days) and things got so bad the following season he was released in June . . . only to resign with the White Sox! It was a trick! We wuz robbed! Dotson, of course, pitched better for the Chisox over the remainder of the 1989 season than he ever had for the Yankees, but at least he had the decency to burn out after that. Oh, it bears mentioning that Dotson wore his hat high on his head so it boxed up in front. Some players can pull that off. Dotson couldn’t.

22. Terry Mulholland Believe it or not, the Yankees were just Mulholland’s third team, though he was already in his early thirties back in 1994. Mulholland’s offenses are similar to Hernandez’s. Thought to be part of the solution in 1994, he was so very much part of the problem, struggling to stay in the rotation and posting a 6.49 ERA, which remains his worst single season ERA more than a decade later.

21. Randy Keisler With his jug-handle ears and bulging eyes, Keisler looked ready to crap himself on the mound and when he pitched like crap he had the nerve to bitch about being sent back to Columbus. Normally I’d sympathize with a young player’s gripes about getting a fair shot with Steinbrenner’s Yankees, but a) keep your mouth shut rook and make your statements on the field and b) Keisler, who made his major league debut at age 24, was such a hot prospect the Yanks just flat released him after he missed the 2003 season due to injury.

20. Carl Pavano I was ready to like Pavano despite the ridiculous contract the Yankees gave him, but once what was supposed to be a minimum DL stay last June turned into a full calendar year of inaction amid rumors of the Yankees questioning Pavano’s fortitude, he’d hung himself with the rope I was prepared to give him. He’d rank higher, but there’s still time for Meat to redeem himself.



Jaret Wright was not able to pitch deep into last night’s ball game, but he threw up zeros for the five innings he did pitch. He also put some good wood on the ball and drove in the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly to deep left field. Ron Villone, Scott Proctor, Kyle Farnsworth and finally Mariano Rivera each pitched scoreless innings as the Yanks beat the Phillies 5-0. Miguel Cairo, Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano led the offense. Bobby Abreu whiffed three times for the Phils and Wright struck out Ryan Howard twice as well. Cole Hamels allowed two runs over seven innings and was impressive for Philadelphia (he mastered Jason Giambi all night). The victory gave the Yanks a 3-3 record on the road trip. The Bombers return home to face the Marlins (Old Timer’s Day is this Saturday), Braves and Mets in the final home stand before the All-Star break.

Young King Cole

Thanks to ol’ buddy Arthur Rhodes, all that stands between the Yankees and a series win in Philadelphia and a split of their southern dip in the NL is Cole Hamels. A tall, slender lefty, the 22-year-old Hamels is the posterboy of pitching prospect hype, having gone 11-3 with a 1.54 ERA, 208 strikeouts and just 88 hits in 152 innings over his first three professional seasons. Of course, all but the final 19 innings in that stretch occurred in A-ball. And then there’s the fact that he only made four starts in 2004 due to issues with his pitching elbow.

Hamels started this season back in the Florida State League, but was so dominant he was jumped straight to triple-A, where after three even more impressive outings he was promoted to big league rotation. After holding the Reds scoreless across five innings while striking out seven in his first turn, Hamels looked rather human against the Brewers in his next start, allowing four runs on five hits and four walks in six and a third while striking out five. He then landed on the 15-day DL with a strained left shoulder. Hamels only missed the minimum and has made three starts since returning to action. The good news for the Phillies is that the control issues that have plagued him on occasion throughout his career and over his first two starts (9 BB in 11 1/3 IP) seem to have gone away (5 BB in 14 1/3 IP in June), but his overall results have not responded in kind. Hamels beat the Diamondbacks in his first start off the DL, but lasted just 5 2/3 innings and struck out just two. In his next start he struck out eight, but lasted just five innings and yielded four runs on six hits while taking a loss against the Nationals. In his last turn he was summarily beaten about the head and neck by the Devil Rays, who touched him up for his first two big league homers allowed and a total of six runs (five earned) on seven hits against just three Ks in 3 2/3 IP.

Is Hamels hurt? Was he rushed? Is he just a tad overrated to begin with?

It’s unlikely that we’ll find the answer to any of those questions tonight as he goes up against Jaret Wright, who’s five-inning limit should at least be properly motivated tonight when he’s pulled for a pinch-hitter. After a consistent streak in May in which Wright allowed no more than three runs in no less than five innings for six straight starts, Wright has allowed a total of nine runs across his last ten innings. Given his ugly peripherals, it seems reality has caught up to the Yankees’ fifth starter. I wouldn’t expect to see that trend reverse in the hitters’ haven that is Citizen’s Bank Park. Let’s just hope he keeps enough men off base that he can pitch around “Blastmaster” Ryan Howard. I’ll be covering my eyes during those at-bats.

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