"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: June 2006

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Boys with be Boys

I really enjoyed the second season of HBO’s “Entourage,” mostly because when it comes down to it, the show is about the ties that bind guys together. We may not be living in an age where athletes are especially revealing or candid with the media, but all we have to do is watch the games, particularly the action in the dugout, and we can get an idea of how men get along with one another. You can get a better impression of Derek Jeter’s personality by watching how he interacts with his teammates than you ever will from what he tells reporters. I was thinking about this last night after Mariano Rivera batted in the ninth inning. It reminded me of something Roger Angell once wrote (in his collection, “The Summer Game”):

“We (nonathletes) had never made it. We would never know the rich joke that doubled over three young pitchers in front of the dugout; we would never be part of that golden compnay on the field, which each of us, certainly for one moment of his life, had wanted more than anything else in the world to join.”

We may never be entirely “in” on the joke, but we can enjoy watching the players be the insiders. Since we as fans are all drawn together by baseball, we make up our own “in” crowd. And just as many of us will never get to know what it’s like for them on the inside, most players don’t know what it is like to be an obsessive fan. However, we are all drawn together by a mutually shared experience. And companionship–or just plain ol’ good comapany–is a beautiful thing.

Be Afraid

Very afraid.

The “P” is Still Free

“Mo’s in the game, man,” said Derek Jeter, when asked if he was worried. “Mo doesn’t give up many hard hit balls, let alone home runs. When Mo’s in the game you’re thinking it’s over, no matter who’s up.”
(Hartford Courant)

It feels like the Yankees have been playing catch-up ever since they blew a 9-2 lead last Saturday in Washington D.C. The Bombers fell behind early last night, but hung tough in a see-saw affair down in Philly, eventually pulling ahead against their old friend Arthur Rhodes. Mariano Rivera pitched two innings to nail down the save as the Yanks beat the Phils, 9-7.

Mike Mussina retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the first and then gave up a single to Bobby Abreu and a walk to Pat Burrell. Mussina was furious at the ball four call to Burrell and not only glared in at the home plate umpire but he started lecturing him too. The umpire took off his mask, which didn’t help matters. “No, it wasn’t low,” complained Mussina, who rarely displays as much irritation as he showed here. It was like a professor being incorrectly corrected by a student in front of the entire class, and Mussina’s feathers were clearly ruffled. His next pitch–the first to Ryan Howard–was absolutely crushed into the right field upper deck. It was almost comical. Ryan looks like the legendary New York rapper KRS-ONE, whose moniker used to be the “Blastmaster.” I think it’s appropriate to pass that nickname onto Howard, who would go on to homer in his next at bat against Mussina too.

The Yanks tied the game at three, thanks to RBI singles from Bernie Williams and Kevin Reese and a solo dinger from Jason Giambi. (Old man Bernabee went 5-5, two doubles and three singles…how about that?) Reese’s bloop single to left in the third inning was particularly enjoyable as he slapped at a pitch way out of the strike zone (with the pitcher on deck there was no way he was going to get a good pitch to hit, so he made the most out of a bad one). Howard put the Phils ahead with his two-run blast in the fourth. Jorge Posada popped a solo homer in the sixth and Alex Rodriguez tied the game with an RBI ground ball single in the seventh. That man Howard was at it again in the bottom of the inning as he drove in two more runs (giving him seven RBI on the night) on a triple off of a flat breaking ball from southpaw Mike Myers.

Arthur Rhodes pitched well against the Yanks on Monday night but would not record an out on Tuesday. Bernie Williams reached on an infield single, Miguel Cairo (in for Cano) walked and then Melky Cabrera slapped a single to right driving in a run and putting runners on the corners. It was an impressive at bat for Cabrera who had been 1 for his last 19 going into the inning. Cabrera fell behind in the count but fouled a few pitches off before going the other way with the pitch. Damon was next, and he lifted a fly ball to center field, enough to tied the game for sure. But Aaron Rowand was playing too shallow and the ball sailed over his head. It appeared as if Damon thought it was a routine fly out. He did not run hard out of the box but turned the jets on and when all was said and done wound up on third with a triple and two RBI. Damon scored on Derek Jeter’s single and the Yanks had a two-run lead.

Rivera pitched an easy eighth inning and even got a chance to hit in the top of the ninth. It was the first regular season at bat of his career (he is 0-3 in post-season play). Joe Torre huddled with him before Rivera grabbed a helmet–Jeter’s as it turns out. Torre was probably telling him not to swing. Rivera could barely hide a smile as he walked to the plate. Rivera took the first pitch for a strike and then took two mighty cuts before returning to the dugout. Jeter and Jorge had big smiles for Mo upon his return.

In the bottom of the ninth, Chase Utley blooped a one-out single to right. After Rivera struck out Abreu on a very hittable pitch–Abreu was immediately vexed because he knew Rivera had gotten away with one–pinch-hitter Dave Dellucci blooped a single to left, setting up a boffo confrontation with the Blastmaster. The Philly fans, who had been tame for much of the evening, came alive. But the fight was over before it really even begun. Rivera threw Howard a cutter, and the young slugger tapped it to second base for the final out of the game. The Blastmaster had a tremendous night, but in the end, it was Rivera and the Yanks who came away with the win.

Big Boid

From Ken Rosenthal’s latest:

Maybe Yankees left-hander Randy Johnson is coming around. He has produced quality starts in four of his last five outings, and teammates are noticing his willingness to make adjustments; Johnson is pitching to both sides of the plate and becoming less predictable in his patterns. Johnson says he is watching more video than at any point in his career, and working as hard at his mechanics as he ever has before.

Where Things Stand

Our pal Mike Plugh takes a look at the state of the Yankees.

There is more on Alex Rodriguez via No Maas, Was Watching, and the Lo-Hud.

Three Times Doh!

“We’re two games out, and we feel we should be up,” said Johnny Damon, who had an infield hit in five at-bats. “We’ve had a lot of games this year where we just came up a little short. We’ve got to do a better job with runners in scoring position.”
(Hartford Courant)

For the second consecutive game, the Yanks were involved in a pitcher’s duel. Again, they came up short, as Brett Meyers struck out 11 and the Phillies beat the Bombers, 4-2. For his part, Randy Johnson pitched very well in defeat. A one-out boo boo in the fourth by Robinson Cano (scored as a hit, but a play that should have been made), followed by a walk to Chase Utley set the stage for Pat Burrell’s line drive double to left. Aaron Rowand later added an RBI double and Kyle Farnsworth’s wild pitch with the bases loaded in the eighth (which just so happened to strike David Bell out) led to another run.

It was all Philadelphia would need. The Phillies were able to get out of big jams when they needed to, and were aided by two wonderful diving plays–one by Abraham Nunez, who robbed Randy Johnson of a game-tying single, and another by Jimmy Rollins, which helped preserve the lead in the seventh.

In all, it was a frustrating night for the Yankees, an even more frustrating time for Yankee fans, but as my writing partner Cliff pointed out, this was a well-played game. Unfortunately, the Bombers have lost 8 of their last 11 games. New York left 11 men on base but some credit must go to Philadelphia’s pitchers. Jason Giambi had three hits including a solo home run, and Alex Rodriguez had a double and two walks. Melky Cabrera is in the middle of a growing slump (he’s 1 for his last 18), and Joe Torre will most likely give the kid a rest. The Bombers have now lost three in a row.

No Relief

According to Tyler Kepner:

Octavio Dotel’s comeback was stalled Sunday when he felt discomfort behind his right elbow while playing catch. Dotel, who had reconstructive elbow surgery last June, was found to have tendinitis. He was pitching for Class AAA Columbus and had been aiming to join the Yankees this weekend. Instead, he will report to Class AA Trenton on Thursday to throw on flat ground. “Of course I worry about it,” Dotel said. “Tommy John surgery is not an easy surgery.” Dotel said the doctor who performed the operation, James Andrews, assured him tendinitis was normal and not a cause for alarm. … The Yankees released the veteran right-hander Scott Erickson.

Philadelphia Phillies

Despite all of the upheaval on their roster, the Yankees have been alarmingly consistent thus far this year, avoiding slumps, but also failing to go off on any dazzling winning streaks. The Yankees have lost more than two games in a row just twice this year (a fact they hope will remain true after tonight), with both losing streaks having maxed out at four games. On the flip side, they’ve won more than three in a row just three times, with two five-game winning streaks, one four-gamer and just one other of as many as three in a row.

The Phillies’ season has followed a very different course. They started the season losing six of seven, then from the end of April to mid-May won 13 of 14, beginning that run with a nine-game winning streak. That was immediately followed by a five-game losing streak and coming into Sunday’s game against the Devil Rays, the Phillies had lost eight of nine. That last spell included a six-game losing streak that was snapped with an 8-5 win yesterday.

The Phillies’ big problem is starting pitching. Randy Wolf hasn’t thrown a pitch all year, Jon Lieber is currently on the DL, lefty phenom Cole Hamels has also spent time on the DL, while the current version of the rotation includes reliever Ryan Madson and rookie Scott Mathieson, who was in the Florida State league last year. The only Phillie starters to take all of their turns thus far this year have been Brett Myers and Cory Lidle. The result is a rotation that has been the second worst in baseball, just barely allowing fewer runs per start than that of the neighboring Baltimore Orioles.

Good thing then that the Philadelphia bullpen has been so strong. The Phillies’ 3.25 Bullpen ERA has been the best in baseball thus far this year, with ex-Yankee Tom Gordon leading the way with 18 saves, a 1.61 ERA and 17 hits, 8 walks and 37 strikeouts in 28 innings. Behind Gordon the Phillies have a strong pair of veteran LOOGies in Rheal Cormier and old Yankee whipping boy Arthur Rhodes. The problem is that this pen is built to win now (Rhodes is 36, Gordon is 38 and Cormier is 39), but the Phillies have a losing record and are 9.5 games behind the NL-best Mets. Good thing there’s not much competition for the NL Wild Card (the Phils trail the unlikely Reds by three).

Curiously, given the extreme divergence in performance between their starters and relievers, the Phillies are a terrible defensive team (third worst defensive efficiency in the majors) playing in an extreme hitters park. The primary offenders on defense are Utley and Howard on the right side of the infield (Bell and Rollins have been excellent on the left) and, to a lesser degree Burrell and, believe it or not, Aaron Rowand in the outfield. I’m not sure what’s going on with Rowand, save for having seen about eleventy zillion replays of that catch against the Mets during which he broke his face on the chain link fence in center, but it is interesting to note that Rowand’s Rate stats haven’t been as strong as one would expect over the past three seasons, with the former World Champion rating as simply average in both 2003 and 2004.

Today the Phils send their best starter, Brett Myers, against Randy Johnson, who rebounded from a tremendously discouraging start against the A’s to enjoy one of his best starts of the year last time out only to get tossed for throwing at old nemesis Eduardo Perez with one out in the seventh inning. Myers, meanwhile, had turned in ten-straight quality starts before getting mugged in his last two starts by the Mets and Nationals, resulting in a combined line of 5 2/3 IP, 16 H, 12 R (11 ER), 1 HR, 2 BB, 5 K.

The Phils typically have four fantastic hitters in a row in their line-up in Utley, Abreu, Burrell and Howard. Fortunately for Johnson and the Yankees, three of them are lefties. The right-handed Burrell, however, will bear some watching tonight.


Tugging at the Heart Strings

By the way, I know I’m a day late with this, but No Maas linked to a moving Newsday article about Andy Phillips and his wife’s struggles with cancer that is well worth taking a look at.

Drop a Gem on ’em

“It was great when we didn’t see Rivera out there in the ninth,” [Washington’s second baseman, Jose] Vidro said. “It was like, ‘Oh, man, we got a pretty good chance now.'”
(Washington Post)

Chien-Ming Wang was everything the Yankees hoped he’d be on Sunday afternoon. He gave them length–pitching into the ninth inning–was efficient as well as effective. Beautiful, right? The Yankees led 2-1 and the ‘Nats were down to their final two outs. Alex Rodriguez (2-2 with two walks) crushed an RBI double to left in the eighth to put New York ahead. But Mariano Rivera was unavailable. With Ron Villone and Scott Proctor warming in the bullpen, pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson rolled a ground ball through the right side for a base hit. And then Wang made a mistake. Perhaps it was a sign of fatigue, but he hung a sinker–his 107th pitch of the game–to the powerful Ryan Zimmerman who promptly smacked the ball over the left field fence. Nats 3, Yanks 2.

And with that, the Nationals took weekend series in front of the largest baseball crowd RFK has ever seen. Wang walked off the field and threw his glove. It was as emotional as I’ve ever seen him. As he sat on the bench, Joe Torre and then Ron Guidry both tried to console him. Wang pitched a fine game, and was everything he needed to be, minus one pitch. You can’t fault him for that. In my mind the goat of the weekend was Shawn Chacon, who pitched miserably with a seven-run lead on Saturday.

Ah, but there is no use crying over spilt milk. What’s done is done. The Yanks head to Philadelphia for three against the Phillies starting tonight. Wang’s performance could be a success in the long run. There should be plenty of offense in the coming series and the Bombers may need all the help they can get from their pen, who got a much-needed day of rest on Father’s Day.

Africa Hot

Okay, so it isn’t exactly that hot. I mean, it will get hotter this summer, but I want to save the “Hotter than July” headline for a later date. So today gives a Neil Simon reference (and believe me, that’s not something you are likely to see often around these parts). It am mighty steamy here in the Bronx this morning, and I can only imgaine what it is like down in Washington D.C.

It’s gunna be a schvitz-a-thon for sure.

Chien-Ming Wang takes the hill for New York today and the Yanks are praying he can go at least seven innings if not more. Farnsworth won’t be available out of the pen today, and I doubt that we’ll see Rivera either. Slim pickings as far as healthy, rested relievers go. So it’ll be up to Wang and the offense to lead the Bombers today. How about another good day from Rodriguez and Damon? And Cano…wait, it seems like he has a good day every day. No matter who does well, so long as the Yanks can pull out a victory, we’ll take it.

Let’s go Yan-Kees.


Dad’s Day

Without further ado, let me wish a happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. I hope you feel proud. I’m not a father but I recognize that it is one of the most demanding (and ultimately rewarding) jobs you could ever have. Keep up the good work, men. There aren’t a lot of great fathers or male role models out there, especially for young boys, so keep up the good work, fellas.

Pat Jordan, a writer who has never been anything less than brutally honest, particularly when writing about himself, has a piece about his old man in the New York Times magazine today. Be sure and check it out. Perhaps it will make you appreciate the relationship you have with your pop even more.

Small Change

The Yankees designated journeyman pitcher Aaron Small for assignment just prior to Saturday’s game. “This is the hardest demotion I’ve ever had to face,” said Small, who had an improbable, storybook, 10-0 season in 2005. But Small’s chariot has unsentimentally turned back into a pumpkin this year. By all accounts, Small is a swell, likable guy. Here’s wishing him success no matter where he winds up. The bottom line is, no matter what happens from here, nobody can take away what Small did last season. Yankee fans will always appreciate him for his efforts.


“As bad as you can get,” manager Joe Torre said.
(Associated Press)

I brooded and pouted throughout most of Friday night’s game. It was the first time since last season that I felt sure the Yanks would lose in an ugly, frustrating manner. Well, they pulled it out and waited for Saturday afternoon to make Yankee fans ill. Thanks to a wonderful offensive afternoon from Johnny Damon who had four hits, including two doubles and a grand slam, the Yanks led 9-2 after four-and-a-half innings. Alex Rodriguez added two hits–a solid line drive single to center and then a monstrous two-run homer to straight away center–but nine runs would not be enough. Tbe Nats rallied to win 11-9.

Mariano Rivera was eventually saddled with the loss but a lion’s share of the blame for this one falls on the shoulders of a highly ineffective Shawn Chacon. When he walked Alfonso Soriano on four pitches to start the bottom of the fifth, man, I just started to think the worst. For my money, this was the worst loss of the year. Fortunately, they play another one in less than 24 hours, cause for all of the good things that happened offensively for the Yanks today, this one ended fugly ugly. A regrettable, unfortunate loss if there ever was one.

Still, the Yanks have a chance to win the series on Sunday. The bats are alive, now they really need some length from a starting pitcher. Paging Mr. Wang. Whatta ya hear, whatta ya say, bro?

Damned Yankees: Bernie Goes to Washington

On a warmy, muggy evening in the nation’s capital, the Yankees appeared poised to lose the opening game of a three-game series against the Nationals. The Bombers would leave thirteen men on base on the night, as Alex Rodriguez struggled again–striking out with two men on in the seventh and then again with the bases loaded in the eighth. But the Yanks were saved by good ol’ Bernie Williams. Williams had a sorry arm as a center fielder and now has an almost embarrasingly poor one as a right fielder–the Nationals scored their fourth and fifth runs by testing it. But Williams collected four hits, including a double and a solo home run in the top of the ninth which gave the Yanks the lead for good. Williams traditionally heats up when the weather gets warm and he’s now got his average up to a respectable .286.

Mariano Rivera was forced into the game in the eighth inning after Kyle Farnsworth left the game with back spasms (early word has Farnsworth missing the rest of the series in Washington). Rivera retired all five men he faced to earn the save. It was a long, frustrating game to watch, but hey, a win is a win and the Bombers will take it. Final score: Yanks 7, Nats 5, before the largest baseball crowd RFK has seen since baseball re-opened for business in DC last year. Some old friends, Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano hit well for the ‘Nats in the loss.


The Washington Nationals

The last time the Yankees played a ballgame in Washington, D.C. was September 30, 1971. Jim Acker gave up two runs in the bottom of the eighth to cap a comeback by the Senators, who had trailed 5-1 after five in their final game in Washington. With the Yankees trailing 7-5 in the top of the ninth, Felipe Alou and Bobby Murcer grounded out only to have the Senators’ fans pour onto the field forcing the game to be forfeited to New York, giving the Yankees a winning record of 82-80. The next year the Senators would play in Texas as the Rangers, swapping divisions with the Milwaukee Brewers. Both the Brewers and Rangers would finish in last place.

Thirty five years later the Yanks are back in DC and back in first place (a game up on both the Red Sox and Blue Jays), but the Washington club, wearing red caps that match those of the 1971 Senators, is still awful.

The Nationals don’t do anything particularly well, and their two best players are a pair of former Yankee prospects, Alfonso Soriano, who is just two behind the injured Albert Pujols for the major league lead in home runs with 23, and Nick Johnson, who in his peak age-27 season has yet to miss a game due to injury for the first time in his career. Nick the Stick is hitting a robust .309/.436/.554 and has walked nine times more than he’s struck out.

The Nationals actually have a fairly dangerous top five in their order, with Soriano inexplicably leading off and followed by Jose Vidro (hitting .309 with a .365 OBP, but virtually without any power), Johnson, 21-year-old phenom Ryan Zimmerman (on pace for 44 doubles, 22 homers and 100 RBIs), and the combative and injury-prone (read: undesirable) Jose Guillen. Guillen has an unimpressive stat line, but has gone 5 for 13 with two doubles, a homer and three walks since being activated following a stay on the DL due to a hamstring injury.

Of course, things drop off a cliff after the five spot. The last three men in the Washington line-up are lead by Royce Clayton’s .259/.315/.339. They’re so bad that when Livan Hernandez pitches he’s the best of the last four hitters in the Nats’ lineup. The Nats’ bench, meanwhile, is filled with multi-position players, but other than Daryle Ward, whose likely just enjoying a small-sample surge, none of them can really hit.

Then again, the Nats play in one of the most extreme pitchers parks in the majors, which is why their weaker hitters look so darn awful, and why their unexceptional pitching staff appears to be loaded with solid individual performances. The top three in their pen, closer Chad Cordero and righty set-up men Jon Rauch and Gary Majewski have done the job, as have rookie starters Shawn Hill and Michael O’Connor and rookie ROOGY Saul Rivera. What’s more, Ramon Ortiz, who was dreadful pitching his home games in the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark last year, has been on a solid streak of late that has included three games at RFK but also three on the road, while former Yankee farmhand and Expos DL mainstay Tony Armas Jr. has been both active and effective and is still just 28 years old. Last year’s ace John Patterson is due to come off the DL soon and the Nats response just might be to deal innings eater Livan Hernandez. He may be their best bottom of the order hitter, but he’s their worst starter.

So things are looking slightly up for the Nationals. They have real owners at long last and plans for a new ballpark. Jim Bowden has hired Davey Johnson as a special advisor to save him from himself. Johnson and Zimmerman are a fantastic pair of corner infielders in their 20s, they’ve got a crop of young pitchers who are contributing to the big club, and to top it all off, Alfonso Soriano is taking walks. Yes, the 30-year-old converted second baseman who entered this season with a career rate of one base on balls per 22.23 plate appearances has been taking ball four once every 12.62 trips this year.

Tonight the Yanks send Jaret “Five Innings Are Just About” Wright to the mound to face 25-year-old righty Shawn Hill. The Canadian Hill made his major league debut with the Expos in 2004, pitched terribly and then missed all of 2005 following Tommy John surgery. Back in action this year, he excelled in eight starts for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators, made one triple-A start and was then called up to replace Zach Day in the rotation. He’s since made three starts for the Nationals, all of which have been quality, but two of which have resulted in hard-luck losses. In the two he’s made at home, Hill has allowed just one run on seven hits over 14 innings.


Shattered Dreams

I don’t have much to say about yesterday’s 8-4 loss to the Indians. Moose had his first truly bad start of the year, with the Indians six-through-eight hitters doing the bulk of the damage. The offense tried to come back thanks to homers by Alex Rodriguez and Bernie Williams, but Aaron Small and Ron Villone put the game further out of reach and Rodriguez struck out with men on the corners in his next trip to add fuel to a very nasty fire.

The most compelling things about the game for me were Melky Cabrera’s first career home run–Melky was batting righty and appeared to get under a pitch up in the zone which just cleared the left field wall around where he made “the catch” (check the highlights, it could be a while before he hits another)–and Matt Smith’s appearance in the seventh inning in which lefties Travis Hafner and Ben Broussard both battled him for identical eight-pitch walks (swinging strike, foul strike two, ball one, foul, ball, ball, ball) prompting a two-out mound visit by Ron Guidry, after which Smith got Ronnie Belliard to fly out on two pitches to strand both runners.

In other news, it’s almost two weeks old now, but I only recently stumbled across this article by Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan on the Yankees’ infamous 1991 number-one draft pick Brien Taylor. While it borders on rubbernecking at times, I found the article compelling and somewhat timely given the recent draft and the influx of homegrown players on the Yankee roster (ten of 25, not counting Crosby and Proctor, who came over from the Dodgers as minor leaguers).

The Yankees will visit two more of their home grown stars this weekend in Washington, but I’ll have more on the Nats, Nick and Sori later today. For now, I’ll share this on the Nationals’ recently fired bullpen coach John Wetteland, courtesy of The Griddle. Apparently the 1996 World Series MVP was having a bit too much fun with his charges out in the pen (who include former Yanks Mike Stanton and, until a recent DL stint, Felix Rodriguez) and former MLB discipline czar and current Nationals manager Frank Robinson didn’t appreciate that.

Gitcher Brooms

Despite being arguably the American League’s best pitcher thus far this season, Mike Mussina has pitched in a lot of hard luck. If you don’t believe me, consider the fact that he and Randy Johnson have the same number of wins despite the fact that Moose’s ERA is more than two and a half runs better than Unit’s. Indeed, in his last start he lasted seven innings, allowed just six baserunners and struck out seven, but earned a loss as four of those six men scored and the Yankee bats could only muster up two runs in his defense. The Indians have scored just one run over the last two nights, and with Moose facing off against Cliff Lee (5.12 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) the sweep would appear to be in order, but for some reason my confidence is low. Then again, this team hasn’t given me any reason to doubt them thus far.

With Derek Jeter having played the field the last two days and Bubba Crosby having homered to lead off the Clippers’ contest last night, Bubba has been activated and Nick Green (I swear he really was on the roster for the past week) has been designated for assignment. Having Bubba’s legs and glove around for the Yankees upcoming six games under NL rules should be handy. I can envision a reoccurring late-game strategy that has Bubba running for Giambi, then moving into right field while Andy takes over at first and hits in the right fielder’s spot, or better yet, hits in the pitchers spot and a new reliever hits in the right fielder’s spot. Throw in Kevin Thompson as a righty foil to Bubba’s leftyness (though I’d prefer to see Kevin get a few starts, that would make Bernie the righty bat off the bench, which would be fine) and the Yankees have a pretty solid bench for their second interleague stint of the year.

Meanwhile, despite being hit on the elbow by Jason Johnson’s pitch last night, Jorge is back in the day game after the night game, with Joe Torre posting the same line-up as last night (no start for Kevin today). Hey, it worked last night!

‘Lil Big Man

Jack Curry has a fun piece on our boy, ‘Lil Soriano, who is swinging some kind of big stick for the Nationals this year. Soriano and Nick Johnson will face the Yanks this weekend in Washington.

High and Inside

Randy Johnson pitched an excellent game last night at the Stadium against the Indians as the Bombers moved into first place in the AL East with a 6-1 victory. But the game will be remembered for Johnson getting tossed for throwing the ball at Eduardo Perez in the seventh inning. You remember Perez, the guy who beat Johnson about the face and neck last year when he was with the Devil Rays. It was the old eye-for-an-eye as Johnson was “protecting” his teammate Jorge Posada, who had been plunked the inning before. No matter what you think of such machismo, the move can only win Johnson favor in the Yankee clubhouse. You could also argue that Johnson getting thrown out when he was pitching so well–and against as good a line up as Cleveland’s–was foolish. Regardless, the Yankee bullpen did a fine job and the “What were you thinking?” headline will have to wait for another day.

The rumpus began when Jorge Posada was hit in the right elbow by a Jason Johnson pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Yankees had a 3-1 lead at the time (thanks to RBI’s by Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano and a solo dinger by Johnny Damon). Posada started to walk away from home plate but as he moved towards first he started riffing at Johnson. It didn’t seem that Johnson was intentionally trying to hit Posada, but Yankee hitters have been getting drilled a bunch lately, and it was the veteran catcher–who has always had a good dose of the red ass in him–who finally freaked. Posada was in enough pain that he couldn’t grip a bat and was removed before the game concluded. Both benches were issued a warning. Whether or not the incident bothered Johnson, he would not make it through the inning. Robinson Cano to hit into a double play–the only time Cano was retired (he had three more hits and swung the bat with authority all evening). But then Williams doubled to the opposite field before Andy Phillips smacked a two-run dinger to extend the lead to 6-1.

The Big Unit recorded one out in the seventh before throwing way inside to Perez. The pitch did not hit him but it was considered intentional. Perez was heated and the teams meakly emptied out of their dugouts but there was no brawl. As Johnson walked off the field the crowd gave him an ovation. Joe Torre was automatically ejected as well. Johnson appeared more comfortable than usual last night, throwing strikes early in the count and staying ahead of the hitters. He struck out six and didn’t issue a walk. I thought the Big Unit missed his location at least four times in the first inning but he only allowed one hit. After that, Johnson settled into a good groove. Again, no small feat against the potent Cleveland line up.

Andy Phillips made the first play of the game when he stabbed a Grady Sizemore ground ball and then raced to first, beating the speedster for the out. Phillips came up limping ever so slightly as he may have jammed his foot sliding into the bag. But that was nothing compared with the aches and pains that Phillips will be feeling after he recorded the final out of the game. Victor Martinez lofted a foul ball to the right side and Phillips gave up his body–his airness!–diving into the stands. It was a scary-looking play at first. Not as reckless as Jeter’s famous dive into the stands against the Red Sox, but along those lines. Yes, it was terrific that Phillips made the catch, but he fell hard, banged his chin against a seat and tweaked his back a little something. With the Yanks playing their next two series in National League parks, they cannot afford to lose Phillips (particularly with Giambi–who returned last night and hit a double–still banged up).

It was one of those nights where even the potentially damaging plays worked out for New York. It also reflects just how poorly things are going for the Tribe right now. Today gives Mikey Moose in an afternoon matinee. Joe Torre said that Posada will not be playing today. It is muggy in New York and we are supposed to see showers. But even if the game is delayed some, I think they should get it in.

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