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Monthly Archives: August 2006

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Autumn Calling

The Yankees defeated the Tigers handily yesterday behind Randy Johnson’s second strong outing in as many tries against Detroit. Johnson, whose ERA was just shy of six before he threw six scoreless innings in Detroit back on May 29, dominated for eight innings, holding the Tigers to two runs on three hits and no walks while striking out eight. Of course, two of those three hits were solo homers by Magglio Ordoñez and Omar Infante (!). Not that it mattered much. The Yankees touched up Jeremy Bonderman for four runs in just over five innings, and for the first time since his home run in Seattle a week ago, Alex Rodriguez was in the middle of the action.

After popping out in his first at-bat, Rodriguez came to the plate in the third with two outs and Bobby Abreu on second via a double. He took two balls, then delivered just his second hit since that Seattle home run 21 at-bats earlier, a two-out RBI single into left center to tie the Tigers, who had taken an early lead on Ordoñez’s solo homer. After Abreu singled home a pair of runs in the fourth, also with two outs, Rodriguez led off the fifth by doubling on a 3-1 count and then scored on a Bernie Williams single. Rodriguez again lead off an inning in his next at-bat, again getting ahead early, then blasting a 2-1 pitch off lefty reliever Jamie Walker for a solo home run to give the Yankees a 5-2 lead. Rodriguez finished the day 3 for 4 with two RBIs, two runs scored, seven total bases and one stolen base. Robbie Cano and Bernie Williams added another run after Alex’s homer via a double and a single respectively and the Yanks took a 6-2 lead into the ninth.

Entering the ninth inning having thrown 94 pitches, Johnson walked Craig Monroe on four more, then fell behind Marcus Thames, whose first major league hit was a homer of Johnson in the Bronx when Thames was a Yankee and Randy was a Diamondback. Johnson took the gimme strike, then Thames fouled off three pitches before taking the Unit deep yet again to bring the Tigers within two. That sent Johnson to the showers and brought in Mariano Rivera, who started out by giving up a ringing double to Ordoñez, but then set the next three men down in order to preserve the 6-4 win.

The Yankees finish the year with a 5-2 record against the team with the American League’s best record, both loses coming in games in which the Yankees held a ninth-inning lead, but were unable to use Rivera to nail down the win (the first loss came in Detroit after Mo strained his back putting on his spikes two days after pitching three innings to earn a win). Not too shabby. Unfortunately, there’s little chance of these two teams matching up in the ALDS.

As it stands, the Yankees are a pretty good bet to be the first-round host of the central division team that wins the Wild Card. The Tigers, even if they finish with the best record, can’t play a team in their own division in the ALDS, which would pass the Wild Card team on to the team with the second best record. Thus, the Yankees would play the Wild Card if they finished with either the first or second best record in the league. Only if they fell to third-best, or if the A’s rose to the top of the heap (they’re currently 5 1/2 games behind the Tigers and 2 1/2 behind the Yankees), or if the Tigers fell into the Wild Cart spot (their 4.5 game division lead is the smallest of the three in the AL) would we get a Yankees-Tigers ALDS match-up.

Got all that? Good, because there’s a glut of news to report:


Eight is Enough

At least it’ll just have to do, won’t it? The Yankees were set to swipe the second game last night but an enervated Scott Proctor walked two men and then hung a slider to Craig Monroe who belted a three-run dinger which propelled the Tigers a 5-3 win. The Bombers only managed to get three hits in the entire game. Down 2-0 in the sixth, Sal Fassano was hit by a pitch and he moved to third on a double to the left-center field gap by Melky Cabrera. Derek Jeter followed and doubled them both in. Then he stole third. Jason Giambi was intentionally walked and Alex Rodriguez–who had another rough go of it offensively, though he seems to have steadied himself in the field–tapped a slow grounder to third. Brandon Inge threw Rodriguez out but the go-ahead run scored and that’s how things stood until the ninth.

Having pitched earlier in the day, Mariano Rivera was unavailable, and Kyle Farnsworth’s creaky back prevented Torre from using him as well. Enter Proctor, who also appeared in the first game. Nefi Perez grounded out to start the ninth, but then Proctor walked Inge, and with two men out, he could not put Curtis Granderson–leading the majors in whiffs–away. With a full count, Granderson fouled off two fastballs before Proctor let another heater sail high-and-wide for ball four. Monroe crunched Proctor’s first pitch, a hanging breaking ball, for a homer and Todd Jones retired the Yankees in order in the ninth.

It’s hard to get too steamed about the loss, yet it was regrettable all the same, particularly considering how well Jaret Wright pitched.

“I’m not real happy with it,” Proctor said. “I’ve got to attack guys like I have all year. It’s embarrassing, the two walks. The home run, you’re not happy about, but you can’t walk guys. I’m better than that.”
(Anthony McCarron, N.Y. Daily News)

It is overcast and chilly in New York this morning. Though I’m sure we haven’t seen the very last of warm weather, it feels like October around here today. The Big Unit goes against Jeremy Bonderman in a matinee at the Stadium. Should be a good one.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees.

Nice n’ Easy Does It

The Yankees won the first game of today’s double header with ease, thanks to yet another stellar pitching performance by the Big Easy himself, Chien-Ming Wang. Wang didn’t allow a man past first base in his first seven innings, scattering just four baserunners. Carlos Guillen walked in the second and was thrown out stealing thanks to yet another perfect throw from Jorge Posada. Brandon Inge and Alexis Gomes singled in the third and sixth respectively, both on groundballs just beyond Alex Rodriguez’s reach at third (Alex also made a couple of nice stops, one to his left, one to his right). Finally, Sean Casey reached on an error in the fifth when a sinking throw from Derek Jeter skipped through Craig Wilson’s legs at first (Jeter got the error).

With Wang dominating, the Yankees got all they needed in the bottom of the fifth when Wilson, making up for the play on Casey, drilled a 1-0 pitch from lefty Nate Robertson deep into the left field box seats to start the inning. Johnny Damon then drew a seven-pitch walk (the only one Robertson issued all day), Jeter singled him to third, and Jason Giambi plated him with a sac fly to make it 2-0.

And that’s how it ended. On to start the eighth inning having already thrown 97 pitches, Wang got Casey to ground out on his first pitch, the 13th Tiger groundout of the day. He then walked Neifi! Perez on five pitches and nearly threw away a 0-1 pitch to Inge (nice backhand stop by Posada) before getting him to fly out to Damon. Curtis Granderson followed by getting the first fly ball hit of the game, a double that split Damon and Cabrera in the left field gap and pushed Neifi! to third. Joe Torre then called on Scott Proctor who got pinch-hitter Magglio Ordoñez to fly out on his first pitch to end the inning. Mariano Rivera worked around a two-out single by righty-hitting switch-hitter Carlos Guillen for a 14-pitch ninth and that was that.

The Yankees now have an 8 game lead in the AL East (nine in the loss column) and are just two games behind Detroit for the Major Leagues’ best record. Wang, meanwhile, won his 16th game, tying him for the major league lead, and has been dominant in his last two outings despite now having thrown thirty more innings than his previous career high.

What’s more, the Yankee bullpen remains rested for tonight’s nightcap. After two days off thanks to last night’s rain out, Scott Proctor has thrown one pitch and Mariano Rivera has thrown 14. No one else even warmed up during this afternoon’s game. Mo won’t be available, but Torre has everyone else ready to go for tonight’s game, which pits Jaret Wright against Wilfredo Ledezma.

Wright has been terrible in his last two starts, but they were separated by eight days and two relief appearances. That is to say, the most recent could be excused due to rust, while the one prior to that was a scheduled disaster after three straight wins in which he allowed just one run per game. Not that I expect much from him tonight.

Ledezma, meanwhile, is a busted starting prospect who has finally put it together out of the bullpen at age 25. Ledezma has made just one other start this year, holding the powerful Indians offense scoreless on a pair of walks and six hits over 5 2/3 innings earlier in the month. In his most recent appearance, five days ago, he held the defending World Champion White Sox scoreless in four innings of relief, thus stealing the rotation spot of that day’s starting pitcher, Zach Miner (1 1/3 IP, 6 R in that game). Ledezma also posted a 2.52 ERA in twelve starts with triple-A Toledo with a 2.87 K/BB ratio. Could be he’s not a busted prospect, but merely a delayed one. Lord help the AL if the Tigers come up with yet another dominant young pitcher.

Incidentally, Ledezma is no URP (Unfamiliar Rookie Pitcher). The Yanks tagged him for seven runs in four innings in the Bronx last May. In that game, both Posada and Rodriguez took Ledezma deep, Rodriguez twice. Of course, Ledezma appears to have been a different pitcher last year, when he struggled both in the majors and at triple-A, than this year, when he’s dominated both.


The Yankees were rained-out last night and will play a two games today–Chien-Ming Wang will start this afternoon, while Jaret Wright goes this evening (the Big Unit will start tomorrow). The Bombers gained a half-a-game on the Red Sox, who lost 2-1 in Oakland last night (now, Beckett starts to pitch well, right?). It was the fifth straight loss for Boston and the 11th in their last 13 games. Manny Ramirez and Willy Mo Pena returned to the east coast to undergo medical testing while David Ortiz will be carefully monitored at Mass General. I hope that Ortiz will pull through and be able to resume his career. The Yankees are thinking about him as well:

“It’s never comforting to know a player has a physical problem, even if we are competing with them for the East,” Joe Torre said. “Certainly I like the fact that he’s not playing but I don’t like the fact that he’s not playing for that reason.”

…”He’s very important in that clubhouse,” said Mike Myers, who also came over from the Sox during the offseason. “You can’t ignore his numbers and all he does for the team. And within the clubhouse when I was there . . . he was one of the best personalities to have.”
(Roger Rubin, N.Y. Daily News)

The Red Sox, however, may be looking toward next year already; according to the Boston Globe, they are reportedly listening to offers for Boomer Wells. Injuries and lousy pitching have simply devastated the Sox.

Meanwhile, while the New York papers continue to harp on the Carl Pavano story, Hideki Matsui will take live batting practice today in the indoor batting cage at Yankee Stadium:

Matsui said he is generally pleased with how he’s progressing. “In terms of being pain-free, that’s something I definitely feel good about,” he said before last night’s Yankee game with Detroit was rained out. “I’m very satisfied.

“I’m still working on my mechanics and little things. That’s kind of where I’m at right now. I’m definitely still being conscious about the wrist when I swing. Eventually I’ll really move on to working on my mechanics thoroughly.”

Matsui said the actual mechanics of his swing aren’t that bad, but he needs to improve his timing.
(Michael Morrissey, N.Y. Post)

Matsui will likely be relegated to DHing when he returns but it now seems as if we’ll see the return of Godzilla before all is said and done this year.

Detroit Tigers

Yesterday’s off day signaled the approaching end of the toughest stretch of the Yankees’ 2006 schedule. Their marathon of 18 games in 17 days is now history and just six home games against a pair of potential playoff opponents from the AL Central remain of a brutal 27-game stretch that began three weeks ago in Chicago.

That 18-game stretch was a success, but only because of the Yankees’ five-game sweep of the Red Sox which inflated their lead in the AL East to the current 6.5 games. While that sweep was a singular accomplishment that can and should not be diminished, it was also the only of the five series over that stretch that the Yankees won, as they went 5-8 against the Angels, Orioles, and Mariners. Prior to that, they had dropped two out of three to the White Sox and even with the Boston series included, they’re just one game over .500 since the White Sox series. In fact, one could argue that the Yankees’ 6.5 game lead in the east has far more to do with the Red Sox collapse (Boston is 8-18 in August) than anything the Yankees have done, other than take advantage of that collapse head-to-head.

Now they have six games against the Tigers and Twins. The good news is that the Twins have a losing record on the road and, while the Tigers still have the best record in the major leagues, their star has faded to the point that the Yankees could tie them with a three-game sweep. The Tigers are currently suffering through a losing August, having gone 12-14 thus far this month including a 3-7 performance against Wild Card hopefuls Minnesota and Chicago. This past weekend they dropped two of three to a revitalized Indians club.


Seven Up

The Red Sox were blanked in Oakland last night and now trail the Yankees by seven games in the AL East. Meanwhile in the Big Apple, as the Yankees prepare for a difficult week, the back page of the tabloids read, “Crash Test Dummy.” Ah, yes, the continuing saga of Carl Pavano. Oh, and there is still more on the struggling Alex Rodriguez, if you still have the stomach for that sort of thing. Cliff will have a preview of the Tigers series later in the day. It should be an exciting week.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees.

Better Late than Never

Hey, yo. Our apologies for not getting a post up earlier. We may not be the Iron Horse, but we’re steady enough. Every once in a while, life gets in the way. As you all know, with the Yankees on the west coast last week, Cliff held things down lovely. Meanwhile, I was up in Vermont at Emilys’ folks’ place for a long weekend and had little to no Internet access. Spotted to an early 8-0 lead, the Yanks had to fend off those unbelievably pesky Halos all the same. Final Score: Yanks 11, Angels 8. The two signature everyday players of the Joe Torre Era, Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter, led the way. Robbie Cano had a nice afternoon as well, and the slumping Alex Rodriguez got a hit as well (though he whiffed three more times). After the Sox fell to the Mariners again, New York’s lead in the AL East is back to six-and-a-half games, exactly where it was when the Bombers left for the west coast a week ago. 2-4, just like BP’s Joe Sheehan predicted.

Boston plays Oakland tonight while the Yanks return home for what promises to be two exciting match-ups this week in the BX: the Tigers followed by the Twinkies.

Meanwhile, can Carl Pavano be anymore snakebit than he’s already been? I can’t tell if he’s legtimately brittle or if he’s a chump. (Could be a little bit of both, no?) Maybe his latest injury won’t prevent him from rejoining the team, but this has developed a life of its own, man. I mean, dag.

Yo, lemme tell you something. Vermont is dope. Mad beautiful and all. But it’s good to be home. Missed you guys.

By Hook Or By Rook?

A pair of rookies face off in Anaheim this afternoon as the Yankees try to salvage the final game of their final west coast swing of the year and avoid being swept by those raggm fraggm Angels.

In his first major league start in Seattle earlier this week, 23-year-old Jeffrey Karstens, who looks like an uglier cross between Gilbert Godfried and Humphrey Bogart (or maybe the old Warner Bros. cartoon characature of Bogey), stayed in the strike zone (66 percent strikes, just two walks) and got 12 of his 15 outs in the air. He also surrendered a pair of home runs, including a moon shot by Richie Sexson. That fly ball tendency could spell disaster against the free-swinging Angels, who had nine extra base hits in yesterday’s game.

Opposing Karstens will be 25-year-old lefty Joe Saunders, who has done well in five of his six starts this year including holding the Yankees to three runs on a six hits and a pair of walks over six innings when last these two teams met.

One things’ for sure, tomorrow’s off day couldn’t come soon enough, and whether the Yankees are up by ten or down by twenty, Mariano Rivera should finally see some action today, if for no other reason than he’s the most rested man in an exhausted bullpen that finally collapsed in yesterday’s ugly loss.

Speaking of exhausted, Jason Giambi, who left yesterday’s game due to “body-wide cramps” and dehydration, and Melky Cabrera, who has played every game since late May (!), get the day off, and Robinson Cano gets a day at DH. Nick Green and Bernie Williams, the good one that hits lefties, play the field. Bernie starts in left field for just the fifth time this season. Alex Rodriguez is back in the clean-up spot and Craig Wilson starts at first base against the lefty. Just win this one, boys, and you can go home and rest.

Ray Milland Ain’t Got Nothing on the Yanks, Sox

Man, oh man, do the Halos have the Yankees number or what? Every team has a nemesis, for Pete’s sake. I shifted back-and-forth from resignation to frustration yesterday afternoon, as the Angels beat the Yankees again, this time 12-7, in a contentious game out in California. About the only redeeming thing that occured was that last night, Boston dropped their second straight game to the Mariners. The Yanks’ lead in the AL East holds at five-and-a-half. However, the Red Sox now trail the Twins by five-and-a-half in the wildcard race (the White Sox are a game-and-a-half behind Minnie).

Actually, the Ray Milland Achievement Award goes to Alex Rodriguez who went 0-5 again yesterday, whiffing three more times, after having struck out four times on Friday night. He looks completely lost at the plate, as if he’s mentally gotten himself out before he even steps into the batter’s box. It has been nothing short of painful to watch. The same can be said for the entire game as well.

According to the Times:

“What can you do?” Torre said. “You don’t remake Alex Rodriguez. With the history of what he’s done, certainly there’s not a need for that. Human beings play this game, and certain things you can’t explain, other than to say he’s human.

“It’s just changing the furniture around. It may give him a little feel of, ‘Let’s start something here,’ because that’s what we need. We need him not only in the lineup. We need him to produce.”

Torre said he did not know where Rodriguez would hit Sunday, although he doubted he would give him the day off. Still, Rodriguez’s frustration has become obvious — he flung his bat after a strikeout on a check swing in the sixth — and his struggles have made an impact.

“They’re hurting him and they’re hurting us,” Torre said. “But we know what’s there and we know he needs to break out, just basically for his own confidence. And if he gets that back, we benefit from it.”

Ah nertz, no use moaning about it. Today is another day, and you’ve got to believe that this is the day the Yanks will come out and find a way to beat the Angels.

With A Lidle Luck They Can Pull Ervin

I know I used the first half of that headline the last time Cory Lidle pitched, but Lidle did go out and throw six scoreless innings against the Red Sox in the final game of the massacre that day, so forgive me for going back to the well as the Yankees look to even their series with the Angels at one game a piece.

Save for the one time he took the mound with a stomach virus, Lidle has tossed three quality starts in his four Yankee appearances, considering the fact that he was acquired to fill a spot in the rotation that hadn’t received a quality start since May 6, the Yankees can’t have asked for much more. The curious footnote to that is that that one poor outing, though it did come while he was sick, also came against the Angels.

Ervin Santana takes the hill for the Angels. He last faced the Yankees in his season debut back on April 8 and held a very different team to one run on two hits and a walk in 5 2/3 innings. Since then, the 23-year-old Santana has developed a Chien-Ming Wang like home/road split, which is troubling for both Santana and the Yankees. In Anaheim this year, Santana is 7-2 with a 2.83 ERA a 1.08 WHIP and a .218 batting average against. He’s also been mighty stingy with the long ball, allowing just five home runs in 89 innings at home (that’s 0.51 per nine innings). In fact, Santana’s had just one poor outing at home all year, that coming against the White Sox back on April 30 when he lasted seven innings, walked one, and struck out four, but also allowed five runs on eight hits.

I’ll make a bold prediction: there’s no way the Yankees will be able to win today without a contribution from Mariano Rivera.

Need A Little Mo

Jaret Wright was awful last night, needing 91 pitches to get through just 3 2/3 innings and leaving at that point with runners on the corners and his team in a 3-0 hole. Ron Villone struck out Garret Anderson to end that threat, but worked himself into a bases-loaded jam in the fifth. Still, Villone managed to escape that inning having allowed just one run and the Yankees, with a two-spot in the fourth and sixth, climbed out of their early hole.

With the game knotted at 4-4 in bottom of the sixth, Joe Torre turned to Scott Proctor, who set down the heart of the Angel order on nine pitches. Craig Wilson, pinch-hitting for starter Aaron Guiel, creamed a one-out double off John Lackey in the top of the seventh, driving the Angel starter from the game. Scot Shields came on and walked Melky Cabrera on four pitches. Johnny Damon the pushed Wilson to third via a fielder’s choice that retired Cabrera and stole second. With a 2-2 count on Derek Jeter, Shields threw a 50-foot pitch that bounced clean over catcher Jose Molina’s head. Wilson broke for home as the ball ricocheted hard off the backstop back to Molina, who then flipped to Sheilds covering home, but Sheilds’ tag was a hair late and a bit too high to get the sliding Wilson, giving the Yankees a 5-4 lead. Derek Jeter struck out on the next pitch to end the inning.

Unfortunately, the Angles came right back against Proctor, with Howie Kendrick leading off the seventh with a double, moving to third on an Adam Kennedy single and scoring on a pinch-hit sac fly off the bat of Orlando Cabrera.

With score tied again at 5-5, Shields, Kyle Farnsworth and Francisco Rodriguez exchanged scoreless frames, and, with lefty Garret Anderson leading off the ninth, Joe Torre brought in Mike Myers. Anderson had reached base against Myers just once in 18 previous attempts, striking out four times, but those stats aside, Torre made the wrong move.

On Tuesday the Yankees lost to the Mariners in the bottom of the ninth when Torre stuck with a winded Ron Villone instead of turning to Mariano Rivera in a sudden death situation. The logic then was that Rivera had been declared unavailable before the game because of the 30 pitches he had thrown two days before in Boston. I was skeptical then–as that outing had been preceded by a day off, an easy 14-pitch outing, and two more days off–but coming off the Boston sweep, there was no reason for Torre to make Rivera pitch if there was any concern about fatigue.

Last night, however, Rivera still hadn’t pitched since that outing in Boston. That added up to four days off and just two appearances over the last nine games. Why then, did Torre go to Myers and not Rivera with the game on the line? Mo has dominated Anderson nearly as much as Myers, holding him to two hits and a walk in 14 confrontations. What’s more, Anderson was 0 for 4 coming into that at-bat and was leading off an inning. Why not bring in Rivera there to face Anderson, the hot-hitting Juan Rivera and Howie Kendrick, who was 2 for 4 with that key double in his last trip?

There are only two possible answers to that question. 1) Something is wrong with Rivera that we don’t know about, or 2) Jeff Weaver Syndrome.

Of course, Anderson doubled of Myers, just his second career hit off the LOOGY. So with the winning run in scoring position in the person of pinch-runner Reggie Willits, Joe Torre went back to his pen and called on . . . Octavio Dotel? Maybe something really is wrong with Rivera.

Juan Rivera hit Dotel’s first pitch into left for a single, pushing Willits to third. Dotel’s next four tosses intentionally walked Kendrick to load the bases and set up the force at home. Bases loaded, no outs, tie game, bottom of the ninth. To Dotel’s credit, with the infield playing in on the lip of the grass to try to cut Willits down at home, he got Adam Kennedy to pop out to shortstop for the first out, setting up a possible inning-ending double play. He then got ahead of Mike Napoli 1-2 and threw what looked like strike three to the top outside corner of the zone only to have home plate ump Bill Welke call it ball two. Napoli then battled the count full and flew out to left, just deep enough to score Willits with the winning run.

Peter Abraham reports that the Yankees insist that nothing’s wrong with Mariano Rivera. If that’s the case, then there’s definitely something wrong with Joe Torre.

Hells Angels

The Yankees can break even on their current west coast swing and their season series against the Angels by taking two out of three in Anaheim this weekend. Not that it’s going to be easy. All three pitching matchups favor the Halos and the Angels always play the Yankees hard with or without that up-front advantage.

Tonight the Yankees sent Jaret Wright to face John Lackey. In the finale of their series two weeks ago in the Bronx, the Yankees put 15 men on base against Lackey in seven innings, but managed just three runs before finally breaking through against Brendan Donnelly in the eighth. Two days before that, Wright held the Angels to one run on just two hits but four walks in his usual 5 1/3 innings. Wright hasn’t started in eight days, but has pitched a pair of innings out of the pen in that span with mixed results. Lackey’s turn has come up just once since that outing in New York, in that start he was roughed up by the Mariners for five runs on twelve hits in 4 2/3 innings despite an excellent 7:1 K/BB.

The Angles have only made two roster changes since we last saw them, swapping out righty reliever Chris Bootcheck for another in Greg Jones and replacing Curtis Pride, who landed on the disabled list, with switch-hitting rookie outfielder Reggie Willits. They have however shuffled their line-up somewhat, with Robb Quinlan finally getting the majority of the starts at first base, Howie Kendrick platooning at second base with Adam Kennedy, and Mike Napoli getting the bulk of the starts behind the plate.

For the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez returns to the line-up and third base, while Aaron Guiel gets his first career start at first. Guiel had never played first base in the majors before joining the Yankees, though he has appeared their three times already for the Bombers. The Guiel move is very encouraging, as it is the left-handed Guiel, not switch-hitter-in-name-only Bernie Williams, who should be platooning with the struggling Craig Wilson (.258/.290/.394 as a Yankee). Here’s hoping Guiel is solid in the field and comes up with a big hit or two, rewarding Torre for his creativity.


With the score knotted at 1-1, Randy Johnson gave up three runs in the third inning of last night’s game on a pair of doubles by Chris Snelling and Richie Sexson and a pair of singles by Willie Bloomquist and Jose Lopez. Bloomquist’s single was a dribbler down the first base line that rolled to a stop just inside the foul line. Lopez’s single scored Snelling, and Sexson’s double scored Bloomquist and Lopez. The Mariners wouldn’t score again, but they wouldn’t need to.

Outside of that inning, Johnson was excellent, allowing just one run on three hits and two walks in his other seven innings. All totaled, Johnson pitched a complete game in a losing effort, needing just 109 pitches to go eight full, throwing 73 percent of those for strikes. The reason Johnson got the loss was not so much that one bad inning, but rather that the Yankee offense, without Alex Rodriguez for the second straight game due to a viral infection, couldn’t get anything going against Seattle starter Jarrod Washburn, who struck out nine Yankees in 6 1/3 innings while holding limiting them to two runs, the later of which, Johnny Damon’s career best 21st home run of the year, drove Washburn from the game in the seventh inning. To be fair, Washburn’s defense deserves some credit as well, with Snelling and Ichiro Suzuki making some fine catches in the outfield, the best being Suzuki’s Willie Mays-like, back-to-home snag of a 390-foot drive off the bat of Nick Green just before Damon’s homer in the seventh.

Indeed, as evidenced by Bloomquist’s infield single, the breaks (and I just happen to be listening to Kurtis Blow as I write this) just didn’t go the Yankees’ way last night. In the ninth inning, with closer J.J. Putz on the mound for the Mariners, Melky Cabrera led off with a hot shot that clanged of defensive replacement Ben Broussard’s glove at first base, but Broussard recovered in time to shovel the ball to Putz for the first out. Joe Torre then sent Bernie Williams up to pinch-hit for Craig Wilson (1 for 2, BB, scored the Yankees’ first run on a Jeter double in the third) and brought Alex Rodriguez out on deck to hit for Nick Green (0 for 2 thanks to Ichiro, K). After getting ahead 2-1, Bernie hit another hot shot back through the middle that looked like a sure single until it ricocheted off Putz’s leg straight to Lopez at second base. With two outs, Rodriguez made his seventh career pinch-hitting appearance and struck out on a 2-2 fastball in on his hands to run his career pinch-hitting record to 0 for 7 with three strikeouts. Final score: 4-2 Mariners.

What the Heck is so Funny, Kiefer Slidepiece?

Man, if there is ever a random guy who is easy for me to root against, it’s Jared Washburn. He’s got a kind of casual, west coast cockiness that I just find completely irritating. I don’t hate the guy or anything, but I do enjoy seeing that stupid grin get knocked off his mug.

Yanks need two-out-of-three, each time out, and things will be more than copasetic, right?

Jerrod? Jered? Jaret?

The Yankees face Jerrod Washburn tonight in their attempt to win the rubber game of their series in Seattle. The Red Sox face Jered Weaver tonight in the rubber game of their series with the Angels. Tomorrow, Jaret Wright takes the hill for the Yankees and the Yanks and Sox swap opponents. Amazingly, there’s not a Jared among them.

Randy Johnson gets the ball for the Yankees tonight in what could be his last game in Seattle. Johnson was pretty miserable in his last start in Boston, walking six, striking out just three, and allowing five runs in seven innings. Of course, nobody noticed because Josh Beckett walked nine and the Yankees scored 14 runs. On the bright side, Johnson did only allow four hits in that game, three singles and a booming two-run Manny Ramirez homer.

No word yet on whether or not Alex Rodriguez, who missed yesterday’s game with a throat infection, has rejoined the team. Joe Torre has said he hopes to give Ron Villone a second straight day off. Villone should get at least that much rest. With Brian Bruney in the pen in place of the disabled Mike Mussina, there’s no reason, short of an extra-inning marathon, that Torre should find it difficult to keep his word.

Back On Track

The Yankees jumped out to an early 2-0 lead last night as a two-out first-inning rally was capped off by a Robinson Cano chopper up the middle that plated Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi. Chien-Ming Wang ran with it, limiting the Mariners to just three base runners through six innings. Meanwhile, the Yankees added to their lead with a five-run fourth inning that drove Seattle starter Felix Hernandez from the game after having allowed all seven runs on nine hits and four walks while throwing 82 pitches in just 3 2/3 inning.

Wang looked dominant while shutting Seattle out on 69 pitches over six innings and getting 14 of his first 18 outs by groundout or strikeout, but he showed some signs of fatigue in the seventh. After light-hitting Willie Bloomquist popped out to start the inning, Richie Sexson hit a hard hopper to Nick Green at third, who went 3 for 5 starting for Alex Rodriguez, who remained at the hotel with a throat infection on orders from his manager. Green made a spectacular backhanded grab of Sexson’s hard shot, but fired wide and low to first base. Craig Wilson was unable to get his glove on Green’s throw, which bound into the stands to put Sexson on second base with one out. Raul Ibañez then pushed Sexson over to third for the second out.

So far so good, just one hard-hit ball, two outs, and a runner on third due largely to an error. Then again, Ibañez’s grounder came on a 2-0 count and Jose Lopez followed with a hard single up the middle off Robinson Cano’s glove on another 2-0 count to score Sexson. Ben Broussard then took ball one and singled into center to push Lopez to second and Yuniesky Betancourt followed with yet another single to center, plating Lopez. Wang finally got pinch-hitter Kenji Johjima to ground out to end the inning, but it was clear that, despite his having thrown just 90 pitches, Wang’s night was over.

The Yanks added a pair of runs in the top of the eighth, the key hits being doubles by Abreu and Cano, and Mike Myers and Octavio Dotel mopped up, pitching scoreless the eighth and ninth innings respectively. Dotel didn’t look completely comfortable early in the ninth, stretching his arms and walking around the mound while issuing a six-pitch walk to Ibañez, but seemed to loosen up after that, getting his fastball up to 95 miles per hour and striking out the last two batters he faced, both swinging, to wrap up the 9-2 Yankee win.

In other news, the Yankees have put Mike Mussina on the 15-day disabled list due to the groin injury he aggravated on Sunday night. Jeffrey Karstens was already scheduled to take Mussina’s turn against the Angels on Sunday, but the DL move will now force the Yankees to use Karstens (or another minor leaguer) on September 2 against the Twins as well. Brian Bruney, who has struck out six, but also walked four in his 2 2/3 scoreless Yankee innings, takes Moose’s spot on the roster. Sidney Ponson, who was designated for assignment with along with Bruney after Friday’s double header, cleared waivers and has been released. Can I say I told you so now?

Kids Today

The average age of the four starting pitchers in the first two games of the current series in Seattle is 23 3/4. It’s not often that you see a stat like that when the Yankees are involved. Don’t worry. Randy Johnson will compensate tomorrow. Today, however, we Yankee fans can continue to freak out about Chien-Ming Wang’s climbing innings total.

For those who have missed my previous kvetching, Wang set a career high with 157 innings pitched last year between the minors, majors and postseason. Entering tonight’s game, he’s thrown 172 1/3 innings and hasn’t been sharp in any of his last three starts. His combined line in those outings is: 16 1/3 IP, 27 H, 12 R, 3 HR, 8 BB, 6 K, 2.14 WHIP, 6.61 ERA. Most alarming of all, despite opening the Boston series with a victory in his last start, he recorded just six of his 18 outs in that game via groundballs, the only time in his major league career (43 starts, two relief appearances) that he has recorded fewer groundouts than flyouts.

Opposing Wang will be deflowered phenom Felix Hernandez. The Yankees got a good look at Hernandez last year when he locked horns in a stirring pitchers duel with his predecessor Randy Johnson. Hernandez lost that battle 2-0 on solo home runs by Robinson Cano and Gary Sheffield, but made a strong showing in 12 starts as a 19-year-old rookie for the M’s, posting a 1.00 WHIP and a 2.67 ERA while striking out 8.22 per nine innings. This year, King Felix has actually increased his strike-out rate, but has seen more dramatic increases in his walk, hit and homer rates, the end result of which is a decidedly average 4.50 ERA. Of course, 4.50 is plenty respectable from a 20-year-old with ace potential, but it’s not going to make anyone forget Doc Gooden. Incidentally, Hernandez, who is at 148 innings pitched thus far this year, threw 149 1/3 innings in 2004 and increased his work load to 172 1/3 last year. That’s a normal innings increase for a young pitcher and further evidence that even if Chien-Ming Wang hasn’t hit his innings ceiling yet, he’s dangerously close.

You Can’t Win (Or Lose) ‘Em All

As expected, the Yankees and Mariners snapped their respective winning and losing streaks last night, the Yanks failing for the fifth time this season to win their sixth straight. To be fair, they played the M’s hard despite having every reason to come out flat in the first game of their west coast swing after their marathon series in Boston.

Rookie Jeffrey Karstens pitched well considering the fact that he was making his major league debut, but exhibited an alarming fly ball tendency that staked the Mariners to a 2-0 lead in the first when Adrian Beltre followed a one-out walk to Chris Snelling with the first of his two home runs on the night. The Yanks got that back plus one in the top of the third when, with two outs, Johnny Damon doubled, Derek Jeter walked and Bobby Abreu took Mariner rookie Cha Seung Baek out to left center for his second Yankee home run, but Richie Sexson tied the score with bomb to the upper deck in left of Karstens in the bottom of the inning.

With the game tied 3-3 the Yankees appeared to take control. Karstens retired the next ten batters he faced and with a man on in the sixth, Alex Rodriguez crushed a 1-2 pitch from lefty reliever Eric O’Flaherty to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead. Rodriguez’s shot was a monster, arching straight into one of the upper deck exits in left just beyond where Sexson’s shot landed.

With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Karstens surrendered a single to Jose Lopez, his first baserunner since Sexson’s homer, then fell behind lefty Ben Broussard 2-0, the second ball being a wild pitch that sent Lopez to second base. With that, Joe Torre hooked the rookie, who threw 66 percent of 92 pitches for strikes, and brought in Mike Myers only to have Mike Hargrove counter with Broussard’s former Cleveland platoon-mate, Eduardo Perez.

Stuck with a LOOGY against a lefty-killer, Torre had Myers issue two intentional balls to complete the walk, then pulled him for Jaret Wright, working out of the pen on this throw day. It was a managerial blunder by Torre, who should have realized that Hargrove would counter his move. Given his desire to rest his pen, Torre should have either stuck with Karstens or had the rookie issue the IBB and gone straight to Wright, thus avoiding wasting Myers.

Wright escaped the inning with one pitch to Yuniesky Betancourt, but ran into trouble in the seventh. With one out in the seventh, Ichiro Suzuki singled, Chris Snelling doubled, and Adrian Beltre worked a five-pitch walk from Wright. Richie Sexson then hit a grounder to short, but a hard slide form Adrian Beltre swept Nick Green’s legs out from under him as he tried to make the pivot, preventing the double play. Suzuki scored on the play to pull the M’s within one, and, having burned Myers, Joe Torre was forced to turn to Ron Villone to face lefty Raul Ibañez. The overworked Villone’s first three pitches were out of the zone and, after a gimme 3-0 strike, Ibañez singled Snelling home to tie the game. Villone then fell behind Lopez 2-0, but got the Mariner second baseman to fly out to end the inning.

The Yankees looked to get one of those runs back in the top of the eight when Bernie Williams greeted Rafael Soriano by drawing a four-pitch walk, but Melky Cabrera failed to force Soriano to throw a strike, instead bunting a 1-0 pitch right back to the mound for a fielder’s choice. After pinch-hitter Robinson Cano similarly flied out on a 2-0 count, Soriano, after finally throwing a pair of strikes to Johnny Damon, picked Cabrera off first to end the inning.

The Yankees had blown an even better opportunity in the previous inning when, with one out and the bases loaded, Jorge Posada swung at the first pitch he saw and grounded into an inning-ending double play. Again in the ninth, the Yankees had men on first and second for Alex Rodriguez, but eventual winner Julio Mateo struck out the Yankee third baseman on four pitches to end the inning. Adrian Beltre then lead off the bottom of the ninth by shooting a chest-high pitch from Ron Villone just over the right field wall to give the Mariners a 6-5 win.

Down in Anaheim, the Sox also lost a one-run game, so the Yankees 6.5 game lead holds. No harm, no foul, even if this was a game the Yankees should have won.

Seattle Mariners

It goes without saying that the Yankees are in prime position to suffer something of a lull after their spectacular five game sweep of the Red Sox. After the season’s most invigorating, but also most exhausting series, the Yankees had to travel out to the west coast, where jet lag and the lack of a travel day are sure to have some effect. What’s more, not only are the Yankees coming off a season-defining sweep of the Sox at Fenway, a series which in and of itself tied their longest winning streak of the season (they’ve now won five in a row five times, but have yet to make it six on any of those occasions), but the Mariners are coming off a season-long eleven-game losing streak, all at the hands of their three division rivals. One would think something’s got to give.

To make things even more interesting, tonight’s pitching match-up features two rookie righthanders. One, the Yankees Jeffrey Karstens, who will be making his major league debut, and the other, Korean-born Cha Seung Baek, who will be pitching in the majors for the first time since a cup of coffee in 2004.

Baek was roughed up in all but one of his five major league starts in 2004 and had a terrible year with triple-A Tacoma last year, due largely to his allowing 147 hits in 113 2/3 innings and 1.5 home runs per nine innings. All those runners (a 1.61 WHIP despite decent control) and long balls lead to a 6.41 ERA. In 24 starts for Tacoma this year, the 26-year-old Baek fixed both problems, allowing just 133 hits in 147 innings (1.16 WHIP) and cutting his homer rate by a third. The result has been a 3.00 ERA and a 12-4 record. Safeco Park should help further depress that homer rate, while the URP factor (Unfamiliar Rookie Pitcher) could stymie a worn-out Yankee offense that scored 49 runs in Boston.

As for Karstens, at just 23 he’s encouragingly ahead of schedule, having sped through the Yankee minor league system after being drafted out of Texas Tech University. Not that Karstens is a top level prospect by any stretch of the imagination. As he’s moved up the ladder, his hit and homer rates and ERAs have steadily increased. That said, his strike out rate and K/BB ratio have also steadily improved. Last year, Karstens struck out nearly 8 men per nine innings while walking 2.24, good for a 3.5 K/BB, an impressive mark for a 22-year-old at double-A. He started this year in Columbus but struggled mightily, but dominated on his return to Trenton (6-0, 2.31 ERA, 74 IP, 54 H, 4 HR, 14 BB, 67 K). That earned him a return trip to triple-A in mid-July. His first two starts back in Columbus were average, but then he ran of a string of four one-run outings compiling this aggregate line: 27 IP, 20 H, 4 R (3 ER), 1 HR, 5 BB, 19 K, 0.93 WHIP, 1.00 ERA, 4-0.

While it might be true that the Yankees are rushing Karstens into his first major league start, doing so on the basis of just four admittedly excellent triple-A starts, it’s also true that Karstens is only starting tonight because of the rotation shuffling brought on by Mike Mussina’s tweaked groin (Jaret Wright, who pitched in relief on Saturday, is taking Moose’s turn on Friday, Karstens is taking Wright’s turn tonight), and that the team is much better off seeing what it has in Karstens then wasting a roster spot on the likes of Sidney Ponson. Oh, and for those concerned about his young arm this late in the season, Karstens threw 169 innings last year and is at a mere 146 thus far in 2006.


Slaughterhouse Five (Let the Good Times Roll)

You just don’t expect these kinds of things to happen. Yes, even if you are a Yankee fan, spoiled by winning and success, you don’t necessarily plan for your wildest dreams to come true. But that is what happened late Monday afternoon as the Bombers’ B-Squad, featuring a starting line-up which included the likes of Nick Green at short, Bernie Williams in center, and Sal Fasano behind the mask, edged by a flat Red Sox team, 2-1. It was the only briskly played game of the turgid, five-game sweep, which will go down as the sequel to the famous 1978 Boston Massacre. David Wells pitched well for Boston but his teammates were lifeless with the bats and were shut-down by Corey Lidle, Octavio Dotel, Mike Myers, Scott Proctor and Kyle Farnsworth. With a runner on second, Alex Rodriguez made two fine defensive plays in the fifth inning; a wild-pitch Keith Foulke (or a passed ball by Javey Lopez–but does it really matter?) in the eighth inning allowed the go-ahead run to score.

The Yankees have to be downright giddy about the win, which puts them six-and-a-half games in front of the Sox. New York beat Boston every which way over the weekend–blowing them out on Friday and then again against Beckett and company on Saturday, before coming-from-behind against Schilling and Paplebon Sundaya night, then finally finally winning a low-scoring affair yesterday. It may not exactly have been a massacre–other than Lidle, the Yankees’ starting pitching was not sharp, while their bullpen was taxed considerably–but it was a thorough beat down.

Right on time like the IRT, Joe Sheehan has fine analysis of the series over at Baseball Prospectus. To Sheehan, it comes down to this:

The Red Sox used seven pitchers over the weekend who they’d planned to have reasonably significant roles for the 2006 team: Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, David Wells, Jonathan Papelbon, Keith Foulke, Mike Timlin and Julian Tavarez. Those pitchers threw 28 2/3 innings, allowed 20 runs, all earned (6.28 ERA), struck out 23 men, walked 16 and allowed just two home runs. It’s not a good series by any means, but when you consider how much of that is Beckett’s man-with-blindfold act Saturday (nine walks in 5 2/3 innings), it’s passable.

The Red Sox also used seven other pitchers, including both starters last Friday. Those pitchers threw 17 1/3 innings, allowed 29 runs, 28 earned (14.54 ERA), walked 15, struck out 17 and allowed five homers.

Let me boil that down for you: The Red Sox are the 2005 Yankees, but without Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small. At the time they were acquired, there was basically no difference between Chacon and Jason Johnson, between Small and Kyle Snyder. The Yankees hit the lottery last year, and the Sox didn’t this year. Where the Yankees got 160 or so innings of above-average pitching from two guys who were useless before that and useless after, the Red Sox got…well, you can read the numbers.

Add that to the fact that the Yankees are a ridiculously patient and opportunistic offensive team, and there’s your story.

I’ve written a lot about how Yankee fans have adopted a sense of entitlement when it comes to winning over the past decade. Of course, it is a sentiment that has been reinforced by the team’s owner for a generation now, so it’s only natural for the fans to pick it up too. (It fits so well with our instant gratification culture.) The most distubring part of this attitude is that often prevented fans from appreciating just how difficult it is to win, no matter what kind of wild competetive advantages the Yankees have. One of the most memorable qualities of the 1996-01 Yanks was that from Joe Torre on down to the players, this was a team that understood and appreciated how just hard it is to play the game well, and just how difficult it is to win. How hard it was to stay healthy, and play well enough to create your own luck, your own good fortune. To miss out on that basic fact is to miss what made that team truly great. (Do you think Joe Torre appreciates how hard his team played this weekend? He was virtually reduced to tears by the end of it, bless his heart.)

But while I always felt grateful for all of the winning during the late nineties, I too found myself caught up in the greediness of “win or else.” When Derek Jeter made that improbable flip to Jorge Posada in Game Three of the ALDS in 2001, I didn’t allow myself to really enjoy the moment. It won’t mean dick if they don’t come back and win the game, if they don’t come back and win the series, I said, arms-folded, reduced to the ultimate kind of baseball snobbery. Yo, I sat there, rattled, okay, but not able to truly savor those two crazy World Series wins that year because what would they mean if the Yanks didn’t win it all? (To this day, I have a hard time watching them when they are on TV.) When your team has won three straight titles, all you can live for is four-in-a-row. What else is there?

But if the 2001 post season taught us anything it is that you can’t always have everything you want, but, as the song goes, you can get what you need. The city–yes, even non-baseball fans followed the Yankees in the months following 9.11–needed a distraction, some theatrics and entertainment and the Yanks delivered just that. They gave the city everything it could have asked for save another victory parade down the canyon of heroes. Though it ended badly for the Yanks, the 2001 team will likely be remembered as fondly as any of the championship editions. We were reminded that baseball is just entertainment–and at times we desperately need that entertainment–and pales in comparison with the larger troubles of the world. The 2001 World Series also made for a kind of beautiful baseball justice. In the end, the Yankees, with all the karma and mystique and all that, were simply out-Yankee’d.

All of which I bring up because over the past several seasons, I’ve tried to appreciate things moment-by-moment, game-by-game, even more. I don’t want to say that any given season is been horrible simply because the Yanks don’t win a title. That’s just too limiting, the easy way out. This five-game sweep does not guarentee a playoff spot for the Yanks, it does not necessarily spell curtains for the Sox. It doesn’t look good for Boston, but stranger things have happened and there is plenty of time left. It might not portend to anything at all, and for the moment, that’s just fine. It doesn’t have to be anything more than it is–a rare, perfectly-contained success. Forget about Boston’s misfortunes, think about what the Bombers have done. Still no Matsui or Sheff and for the time being, they aren’t being missed. The Yankees really proved something to themselves, and I’m sure the rest of the leagaue is taking notice. This is the best that Yankee fans have felt about themselves vis a vis the rivalry with the Sox since Boston’s historic playoff run in 2004. Lots more to come, but for today, there is a lot to be thankful for. Don’t let it give you a swell head, but don’t discount it entirely and let it pass you by, either.

And that’s word, to Big Bird.

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