"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: August 2006

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The Morning After

With the exception of a dominant starting pitching performance, the last four games have given Yankee fans everything they could have hoped for coming into the five-game showdown with the Red Sox that concludes this afternoon. So what’s left for the finale? After the last four games, I wouldn’t rule anything out, though I’d like to rule out a Red Sox victory.

Cory Lidle, who was activated from the bereavement list yesterday with T.J. Beam returning to Columbus, makes his fourth Yankee start. David Wells takes the hill for the Sox. Wells has spent most of the season on the disabled list with a right knee injury. In fact, he made just two starts prior to his most recent activation at the end of July. Since then he’s taken four turns, the first of which was rough, but the last three of which have been solid. In fact, the 43-year-old Wells looks to be more or less up to his old tricks, surrendering a ton of hits but very few walks and emerging with a 2-1 record and a 2.75 ERA over those three starts.

Joe Torre is sending out a day-game-after-a-extra-inning-night-game/house money line-up against the big lefty, with last night’s heroes Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada, as well as series MVP Johnny Damon, getting the day off, Derek Jeter taking a turn at DH, and Nick Green, Bernie Williams and Sal Fasano in the line-up and in the field. Bernie is a career .211/.256/.355 hitter against Wells and Green and Fasano are a combined 2 for 20 career against Boomer. Melky Cabrera, whose lead-off double against Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth last night was as big as any of the other hits in the game, will lead off.

The Red Sox counter with their usual starting nine, but with Eric Hinske replacing Kevin Youkilis at first base. The Sox, who demoted Jermain Van Buren after his poor performance on Saturday in favor of former Rockies hurler Javier Lopez, have also made yet another move in their bullpen, sending down last night’s loser Craig Hansen and promoting former Texas Ranger Bryan Corey. It is the fourth time in as many days that they’ve shuffled relievers.

Every Which Way (But Lose)

In what was perhaps the most important game of the year for the Red Sox, the Yankees found a way to win, coming-from-behind against Curt Schilling, and then beating Boston 8-5, in 10 innings. It should come as no surprise that the game last well over four hours. Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada led the way with the sticks (oh, and Bobby Abreu had two more hits and another walk, too), while Scott Proctor and Mariano Rivera performed well enough out of the pen. The Yankees have won the first four games of this five-game set with the Red Sox, and now lead the AL East by five-and-a-half games. There is still another game to play, the Yankees have not secured a playoff spot yet, nor have the Red Sox been illiminated from contention. That said, you’d be hard-pressed not to be thrilled and delighted if you are a Yankee fan this morning.

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I Call You Killer Cause You Slay Me

I got on the Metro North train yesterday and went upstate to visit my uncle Donny in New Paltz. We had a relaxing evening, made a delicious dinner and shared terrific, easy-going conversation. Sometimes, it is so revitalizing to be out of the city even for a short time, to feel a slower pace, admire all of the green grass and tall trees, and take in all the space. The night was made even sweeter of course by the results of yesterday’s game at Fenway Park, believe that.

I’m interested to see what kind of killer-instinct this Yankee team has. So far, I’m not convinced. Again, 2004 is still too fresh for me to feel too confident about anything with this much time left in the season. But if the Yankees can manage to win one of these last two games, tonight is the game you gotta want. Beating Schilling would extra hard on Boston. Josh Beckett had his biggest start of the year on Saturday and was horrendous. You have to figure that Schilling will rise to the occasion. He ain’t going to suck to the tune of nine runs and 47 walks. The game is on National TV, the Sox season is hanging in the balance. This is the kind of game that Schilling has lived for and thrived in during his whole career. Three runs over six innings, a quality start, is not going to be enough for Mike Mussina tonight. Mussina is due for a gem of a start. I figure he’s got to give the Yanks two runs over seven, eight innings, in order to beat Schilling.

Both Moose and Schilling are boderline Hall of Famers. I say Schilling gets there but I’m not so sure about Moose, steady as he’s been. Hopefully, they are both on the top of their games. Just about the only thing Sox fans and Yankee fans might agree on tonight is a modest desire for these guys to play the game in something less than four hours.

No Mercy

Friday’s doubleheader was outsized in almost every way. The distance between the first pitch of game one and the final play of game two was nearly twelve hours, while the combined length of the two games was 8 hours and 41 minutes, with the nightcap setting a record as the longest nine-inning game in major league history. Combined the two teams scored 41 runs on 60 hits, 24 walks and five errors while 17 pitchers (including two appearances each from Mike Myers and Scott Proctor) threw 756 pitches.

The two games were so taxing that they prompted four roster moves, with the Red Sox designating Game 1 starting pitcher Jason Johnson for assignment in order to activate reliever Keith Foulke for Game 2, then designating for assignment Rudy Seanez–who, with his team already down 8-3, threw 43 pitches in the ninth inning of Game 1, allowing four runs on four walks, a pair of singles, and a ball lost in the sun by right fielder Eric Hinske–and calling up reliever Jermaine Van Buren for yesterday’s Game 3.

The Yankees, meanwhile, designated for assignment Game 2 starter Sidney Ponson–who inflated his Yankee ERA to 10.47 by allowing seven runs, six earned, on nine hits in a mere three innings of work–and Brian Bruney–a last-minute pre-series addition to the bullpen who ate up 1 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 2, but threw 56 pitches in the process, rendering himself unavailable for Game 3 at the very least–and bringing up rookie Jeffrey Karstens, who had been considered as an alternate Game 2 starter, and wrongfully exiled lefty-hitting outfielder Aaron Guiel.

With their rosters somewhat replenished and just one game on the card, the Yanks and Sox hoped things could return to normal on Saturday afternoon. You know what they say about the best laid plans?

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Two Much

Two games don’t exactly make for a massacre, but it’s a start….

After pounding the Red Sox in the opener (a game in which the Sox went 0-16 with runners in scoring position), the Yanks out-slugged Boston in turned out to be the longest nine-inning game in baseball history, 14-11. While it is too early to tell how Friday’s sweep will play-out this weekend–the Sox, after all, can still win the series–the day could not have turned out any better for New York. Oh sure, Sidney Ponson could have sucked less than he did, but his performance will remain largely a footnote, in light of the nights put together by Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, Brian Bruney and Scott Proctor.

Johnny Damon picked-up where he left off in the first game and continued to give Red Sox Nation something to gripe about. But it was Derek Jeter’s critical three-run double in the seventh that proved to be the biggest at bat of the game. Jeter was 0-4 when he came to the plate with the bases loaded, two men out and the Yankees trailing by 10-8. Earlier in the game, a foul ball off Jeter’s bat injured a fan–the fan would be OK, and Jeter fanned to end the at bat. Now, Mike Timlin fell behind Jeter 1-0 and you could hear a pin drop in Fenway. The silence, the tension, was palpable. And this with the Sox leading by two runs. It was like what Yankee fans would feel if Manny or Ortiz came up in the spot, having gone 0-4 to that point, only more so.

The crowd did not come to life until there were two strikes on Jeter. Bt the Yankee captain worked the count full, fouling off three pitches in the process. Jeter lined the eighth pitch of the at bat into the right field corner, clearing the bases. After Abreu was walked intentionally, Rodriguez doubled sharply past Mike Lowell. The Yanks had a 14-10 lead when all was said and done.

Kyle Farnsworth got beaned with a line drive and had to leave the game, but Proctor prevented any further trouble. Hey, when Mariano Rivera gives up a home run to Ortiz in the bottom of the ninth, and it is essentially meaningless, you know it’s been a good night for the Yankees. When Alex Rodriguez makes another routine error in the ninth–in Boston no less–and it is essentially meaningless, it’s really been a special night.

New York fans will likely not get too far ahead of themselves–the memories of 2004 still being fresh–but if the Yanks can win one, let alone two of the next three games, the weekend will be considered a success. Biggest game of the year for Josh Beckett. I say he actually shows up today. The question is, what’ll the Yanks get from The Big Unit?

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

Game 2

The Yankees got the job done in Game 1, blowing out the Red Sox 12-4 behind big days from Johnny Damon (3 for 6, 3B, HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, and a huge sliding catch), Bobby Abreu (4 for 5, 2B, BB, R, SB), and Alex Rodriguez (2 for 5, 2B, BB, 2 RBI, 2 R, and a game-saving catch). That means that the pressure is on the Red Sox in the nightcap to take advantage of Sidney Ponson and his 8.78 ERA as a Yankee, lest they fall 3.5 games back in the East with just three games left in this series.

Meanwhile, the Yankees will be satisfied with a split, but did a good job of heating up their bats for 22-year-old rookie Jon Lester. The left-handed Lester had an impressive start to his major league career, posting a 2.38 ERA over his first eight starts despite an ugly walk rate of 5.76 BB/9, but the league seems to be catching up to him. Although his walk rate has drastically improved, Lester has a 6.91 ERA in his last five starts, due in large part to his having surrendered 41 hits in 27 1/3 innings against such offensive powerhouses as the Royals, Mariners, Angels and Orioles.

Overall, Lester has averaged less than 5 2/3 innings per start, which means if Ponson can keep it close (I know, but if), the Yankees will get a crack at the inferior Boston bullpen. Speaking of which, here’s how the first game affected the two pens:

Yankees: Mike Myers retired David Ortiz on five pitches and should be available to do it again in the night cap if needed. Scott Proctor threw a reasonable 15 pitches over 1 2/3 innings. He should be avoided in the night game, but could be used if absolutely necessary and will certainly be available tomorrow. T.J. Beam threw 26 pitches in the ninth. Everyone else, including Mo, Farnsworth, Villone, Dotel and Brian Bruney, is fully rested.

Boston: Manny Delcarmen, Kyle Snyder, and Rudy Seanez are all unavailable for tonight having thrown 28, 39 and a whopping 47 pitches respectively. Rumor has it the Red Sox might activate Keith Foulke for the nightcap to compensate. Though speculation was that Jason Johnson would be designated for assignment to make room for Foulke, I wonder if the Sox might prefer to DFA Seanez, who has been awful this year and struggled to get outs in today’s game, walking four and allowing four runs in an inning and a third. As it stands, the Sox have Papelbon, Timlin, Tavarez and Hansen fully rested.

Game 1

Before I get into the specifics of Game 1, the guys over at NoMaas posted a very quick list of the starters’ ERA+ figures that shows how evenly matched the starters are for this series. Cleaning it up a bit, it looks like this:

Game 1: Wang (118) v Johnson (65)
Game 2: Ponson (51) v Lester (115)
Game 3: Johnson (92) v Beckett (93)
Game 4: Mussina (128) v Schilling (122)
Game 5: Lidle (98*) v Wells (77)
*ERA+ with Phillies only

That chart shows what we already sort of knew, which is that the final three games are very evenly matched, while today’s double-header is evenly mismatched. Given the inequity in today’s pitching match-ups, Game 1 becomes unusually important for the Yankees. Because they’ll be at a tremendous disadvantage in the nightcap (both because of the pitching matchup, but also because Sal Fasano will likely grab the second-game-of-a-doubleheader/night-game-before-a-day-game-start), they need to win this afternoon’s contest. Of course, if they do that, then the same pressure will be applied to the Red Sox in the nightcap, but in either case, if one team gets swept today, it will need to sweep the next three days to pull out a series win.

The Yankees faced Jason Johnson in the Bronx back in mid-June when he was with the Cleveland Indians, touching him up for six runs on ten hits, including a pair of homers by Johnny Damon and Andy Phillips, in 5 2/3 innings. That was Johnson’s penultimate start for Cleveland before being placed on waivers and claimed by the Red Sox. Since joining Boston, Johnson has turned in just one quality start in five tries, that coming against the post-trading deadline Devil Rays. Most recently those cheery O’s tagged him for seven runs in 5 1/2 innings. All totaled, Johnson has posted a 7.20 ERA, a 1.80 WHIP, and an 0-3 record while donning the crimson hose.

As for Chien-Ming Wang, as he’s passed his career high innings pitched total he’s also hit something of a rough patch. Wang threw a career high 157 innings last year between the minors, majors and his lone postseason start. In his third and fourth most recent starts, both Yankee wins, Wang threw 17 scoreless innings allowing just six hits, but by the end of that stretch he had totaled 156 innings pitched on the season. In his two starts since then, both Yankee loses, he’s posted this line: 10 1/3 IP, 20 H, 9 R, 2 HR, 4 BB, 4 K. That’s a 7.84 ERA and a 2.32 WHIP. He’s now at 166 1/3 innings pitched, a new career high.

To make matters worse, even before he got to his previous innings limit, he’d struggled on the road. Just one of those last two starts came on the road, yet his road ERA is 5.16, due in large part to a .321 opponents’ batting average, which leads to a 1.60 WHIP. He’s also allowed as many home runs on the road as at home despite having thrown only two-thirds as many innings away from the Bronx. This is all rather unsettling heading into something of a must-win game.

Wang has faced Boston three times this season. The first came at Fenway, where he allowed three runs on six hits and four walks in five innings. Many, including myself, argued at the time that Wang should have pitched longer in that game as he had settled down in the later innings, was victimized by several weak bloopers, and was at just 77 pitches when Joe Torre removed him from a 3-3 tie for the just-activated Aaron Small, who would go on to lose the game. The Sox then roughed Wang up but good in his next start against them at Yankee Stadium, scoring seven runs on nine hits, including a Manny Ramirez home run, in six innings. Wang got his revenge just two weeks later, however. Again pitching at home, Wang scattered eight hits while holding the Red Sox to just one run over seven innings at which point Kyle Farnsworth and Mariano Rivera shut the door on a 2-1 Yankee win. That last start and Johnson’s incompetence are about the only reason’s for optimism this afternoon. Here’s hoping the Yankees give us a few more.

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Boston Red Sox: The Showdown

If the regular season ended today, just one team from the American League East would make the playoffs. Indeed, with the Central Division emerging as the strongest division in baseball this year, it seems increasingly unlikely that the Wild Card will come out of the East. As a result, the closest thing we’re likely to see to a playoff series between the Red Sox and Yankees this year is the five-game series in Boston that kicks off with the first game of today’s double-header at 1:05.

With that in mind, I thought this would be a good occasion to drag out that old standby, the position-by-position comparison. You’ll see that I do this a bit differently than most, preferring to compare the offense by position in the batting order rather than defensive position in order to avoid absurdities such as comparing Derek Jeter with Alex Gonzalez and Manny Ramirez with Melky Cabrera. That said, I’ll fudge the line-ups slightly to produce closer comps. Also, I should point out that the statistics below, save for those of recently promoted Yankee relievers Octavio Dotel and Brian Bruney, are from Wednesday night. Right, on with it . . .

Leading off, the center fielders:

Name Pos AVG/OBP/SLG EQA SB (%) Notes
Johnny Damon CF .287/.364/.474 .291 21 (75%)
Coco Crisp CF .276/.327/.389 .255 16 (80%) missed a month and a half at the beginning of the season with a broken left index finger

Both of these guys can be expected to perform better than the above numbers in this weekend’s series. Damon has hit .309/.366/.505 on the road this year and is a career .309/.376/.462 hitter in Fenway Park. Crisp, meanwhile, is just hot, having hit .330/.358/.473 since July 23. No matter how you slice it, however, Damon has clearly been the better hitter both this year and over his career.

Next up, a pair of All-Star middle infielders:

Name Pos AVG/OBP/SLG EQA SB (%)
Derek Jeter SS .341/.419/.476 .318 26 (90%)
Mark Loretta 2B .303/.359/.382 .263 3 (75%)

No contest. Jeter is a Hall of Famer having his best season since he was robbed of an MVP the award in 1999.

We’ll fudge a bit with the third place in the order by compare the teams’ beefy, lefty slugging, clutch-hitting, creatively facial-haired, first basemen-turned-designated hitters, despite the fact that the Yankee version actually hits fourth or fifth:

Name Pos AVG/OBP/SLG EQA
Jason Giambi DH .255/.409/.593 .333
David Ortiz DH .287/.399/.624 .333

Ortiz has far more impressive counting numbers than Giambi due to his having 75 more plate appearances, a by-product of several minor injuries suffered by Giambi and Jason’s having played more first base and thus losing late-game at-bats to defensive replacements. Assume both will have equal playing time this weekend and, as their EQA’s show, this is basically a draw. I’ll give the edge to Ortiz as, while he’s actually hit better on the road than at home this year, Giambi’s home-road splits are even stronger in the other direction and he’s historically his below his career averages at Fenway.

Next up two of the best hitters and most highly paid and therefore heavily criticized players in the history of the game:

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Bombed

The Orioles clobbered the Yankees, 12-2 on Thursday afternoon. The beating was highlighted by a miscommunication between Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, where Rodriguez let a routine pop up pop-out of his glove. The O’s took advantage of the error with a two run homer and that’s the way it went today for the Yanks, who now limp into Boston just a game-and-a-half ahead of Boston, two in the loss column. The Bombers have lost six of their last ten. It’s going to be nuts at Fenway Park this weekend but unless one team wins 4 out of 5 or sweeps, the effect of the series on the race will be a wash. Yanks need to split tomorrow, though.. I wonder if Rodriguez can respond with a big weekend or if he’ll melt in the Fenway Park pressure cooker. Manny, Cookie, Jeter, Cano, Paplebon, Mo. Lots to be excited about.

Go Baseball.

Out Of The Way

Before the Yankees can bear down and focus on this weekend’s five-game showdown in Boston, they need to get the last game of their current series with the Orioles out of the way. Fortunately, it’s a day game, which will give them the evening to travel north. Of course, the first game of tomorrow’s doubleheader is at 1:05 as well, and the Red Sox not only don’t have to travel, but don’t have to play today either. But you take what you can get.

Speaking of which, Jaret Wright takes the mound this afternoon. He’s been excellent in his three August starts, which include a 6-inning, 1-run outing against these same Orioles. Overall his August line is: 3-0, 1.65 ERA, 16 1/3 IP, 12 H, 3 R, 0 HR, 9 BB, 10 K, 1.29 WHIP. I know I said it before his last start, but I have to repeat it, Wright hasn’t allowed a home run since June 16 and has surrendered just four taters in 102 innings on the season.

As was the case when Wright last started against the Orioles, his mound opponent will be Rodrigo Lopez. Lopez gave up five runs in seven innings in that last meeting, suffering the loss despite an excellent 7:1 K/BB ratio. In his one start since then he lasted just 4 2/3 innings against the Red Sox, allowing three runs on seven hits, with a still-solid 5:2 K/BB ratio. An even more encouraging statistic is Lopez’s 7.22 road ERA this season.

Here’s hoping the Yanks can pull out a win this afternoon to take their fourth series of the season from the O’s and head into this weekend’s showdown with a 2.5 lead in the East.

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Two Bad

Yanks lost a close one, 3-2 to the O’s last night in the Bronx. I missed most of the game but got home in time for the last three innings. The Yanks had their chance. They even got a lucky call in the ninth. The Stadium was packed and the place was electric in the late innings. In the eighth, Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez singled to open the inning. After Baltimore’s closer Chris Ray whiffed Robinson Cano, Bernie Williams–who passed Don Mattingly for second place with the most doubles in team history earlier in the game–lined sharply into a double play. Bad luck and a tough loss. Coupled with a Boston victory, the Bombers’ lead in the East is down to two games.

Regardless, it was a wonderful moment for Williams when he passed Mattingly. Bernie had lined a double against the left field wall. He ran hard out of the box and didn’t let up until he was close to second. When he reached the bag, he turned his head quickly towards the right field line, in that inimitable, deadpan manner of his, where you don’t know exactly what he’s doing, if he is just random or if he’s doing something on purpose, exposing a private joke. The crowd gave him a sustain round of applause. Eventually, Bernie tipped his cap. The best part of it all was seeing the pride that Williams displayed. He just looked genuinely humbled and grateful for the moment and the accomplishment. It reminded me that Bernie is one of my very favorite Yankees ever because the game hasn’t ever come naturally or easily to him. I’m probably as proud of Bernie’s career–a borderline Hall of Fame career, when all will be said and done–as I am of any Yankee I’ve ever rooted for. Even though Williams’ good vibes would be stifled by his hard-luck at bat in the eighth, Williams standing on second, acknowledging to himself, his fellow players, and the fans, what a good job he’s done all these years, was special.

Octavio Dotel made his Yankee debut and the Yankee bullpen was sharp once again. Melky Cabrera collected his 11th outfield assist of the season and had a good game as well. And there is encouraging news about the injured Gary Sheffield.

Nothing to do but let it slide, come back and pound the O’s the rubber match this afternoon. And that’s word to Big Bird.

With A Lidle Luck

If you ask me, the Yankees still haven’t seen the real Cory Lidle. In his first start he pitched a mid-week day game during a heat wave with field temperatures reaching 120 degrees. Lidle held the Blue Jays to just one run in that start, but was understandably pulled after the sixth inning despite having thrown just 80 pitches. In his last start, he pitched with a stomach virus and struggled through four innings, leaving after throwing 79 pitches and allowing three Angel runs. Still, despite those complications, Lidle sports a tidy 3.60 ERA as a Yankee having allowed just eight hits and struck out eight in his ten innings for the team.

Tonight, he should be healthy and the temperature should be in the low 80s and falling. If there is any complication it shouldn’t affect Lidle directly, but rather the offense. Twenty-two-year-old Canadian lefty Adam Loewen, who one-hit the Yanks over 6 1/3 innings less than two weeks ago, takes the hill for the Orioles tonight. Of course, the likelihood of Loewen repeating his one-hit performance is very small, especially in light of the pounding he received in Fenway in his last turn (2 1/2 IP, 6 R, 76 pitches). Here’s hoping things swing the Yankees way.

Incidentally, it appears that Octavio Dotel has been activated (with, I assume, Jose Veras being sent down to make room). Here’s Dotel’s aggregate line from his circuitous rehab appearances, which were spread across five leagues, from the New York-Penn League all the way up to the International League:

12 G, 12 1/3 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 BB, 19 K

The big four in the Yankee bullpen have been great of late, but with 14 games in the next 13 days, it sure won’t hurt to add those kind of numbers to their mix.

Hello, I Must Be Going

The Yankees broke ground on their new Stadium this morning on a bright, sunny day in the Bronx. Politicians, The Boss, Yogi, and Billy Crystal were just some of those in attendence. In an unrelated piece of sad news, veteran New York character actor Bruno Kirby lost his fight against leukemia yesterday. Kirby, who played the young Clemenza in “The Godfather II,” and was featured in “This Is Spinal Tap,” and “Modern Romance,” as well as other notable flicks, was just 57. His raspy New York voice will be missed.

What Did Yogi Say?

Oh yeah, “it ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

No doubt, as late as the middle of the sixth inning last night’s game looked like a replay of Mike Mussina’s last start against the Orioles, when the Yankees mustered just one hit against O’s starter Adam Loewen while Moose allowed just three runs and was saddled with a hard-luck loss.

Indeed, the score was 3-0 O’s after five and a half last night with the Yanks having managed just three singles and a walk through five and O’s starter Erik Bedard having set down eleven Yanks in a row between the first and fifth innings. The Orioles, meanwhile, scored their first run on a one-out solo homer by Kevin Millar in the fifth then got two more in the sixth due in part to yet another Alex Rodriguez error.

Brian Roberts led off the sixth with a double and moved to third when Melvin Mora followed with a single. Miguel Tejada then flied out to right, but Roberts hold at third out of respect for Bobby Abreu’s arm. Alas, Roberts would score anyway as Jay Gibbons followed with a single on an 0-2 pitch. Jeff Conine then hit Mussina’s next offering right at Rodriguez at third, but as Alex charged the ball he got caught on an in-between hop and rather than turning an inning-ending double play he booted the ball and fired wide and late to first as Mora scored with the third Oriole run. Fortunately, Mike Mussina kept it together and picked up his third baseman by retiring the next two batters to strand Gibbons and Conine.

Fortunately, Bedard proved no more durable than Mussina on this night as, after the Yanks made a bit of noise in the fifth when Jorge Posada reached on an slow dribbler to third and Craig Wilson followed him with just the third Yankee single of the night, they finally broke through in the sixth. Jeter lead-off the inning with an infield single and was pushed to third when a pair of seven-pitch walks to Abreu and the mustachioed Jason Giambi loaded the bases for Rodriguez, who promptly redeemed himself with an RBI single.

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Baltimore Orioles

I have to admit. I’m sick and tired of the Orioles. It’s not that they give the Yankees a hard time. The Yankees haven’t lost a season series to the O’s since 1997, when the O’s were the last non-Yankee team to win the AL East. This year, the Yanks are 6-3 against Baltimore, taking 2 of 3 in each of their three series, including a weekend set at Camden Yards just over a week ago. So it’s not that the O’s are troublesome. They’re just oppressively uninteresting.

By this point in the season, Miguel Tejada is typically phoning it in (something we saw in that last series in Baltimore), and without Tejada giving a full effort, who is there on this club that you’re excited to see play? The only guy I can muster much enthusiasm for is closer Chris Ray, but I don’t want to see him pitch because it generally means the Yanks are about to drop a game to a team that shouldn’t beat them. The three game series that starts tonight will be even worse because it’s already being overshadowed by this weekend’s five-game death match in Fenway Park. Still, you have to take it one day at a time and tonight, it’s those flat lining Orioles (who just got swept by the Red Sox) yet again.

The O’s look about the same as they did two weekends ago. They’ve activated Kris Benson and recalled Daniel Cabrera from triple-A, but the Yankees won’t see either in this series. Those two have bumped Bruce Chen and Russ Ortiz back into the bullpen and knocked Winston Abreu and Julio Manon off the roster. Thrilling, ain’t it?

Tonight Mike Mussina takes on Erik Bedard. Moose has had trouble pitching around defensive errors and questionable umpiring of late as he’s reverted to his 2004 and 2005 form, in which well pitched games would often be ruined by one bad inning in which he just couldn’t stop the bleeding. He was the hard-luck loser in the one loss in that last series in Baltimore, allowing three runs in five inefficient innings while Adam Loewen and company one-hit the Yanks. Bedard did not pitch in that series, but has been excellent since late June after a rough start to his season. Starting with eight dominant innings against the Marlins on June 21 (2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 12 K), he’s posted this line:

9 GS, 6-2, 1.73 ERA, 62 1/3 IP, 42 H, 3 HR, 15 BB, 63 K, 0.91 WHIP, 7 QS

The good news for the Yankees is that his two non-quality starts, and only two loses, over that stretch have been his last two. Then again, both were near-misses: 5 1/3 innings, two runs against the Mariners at home, and four runs in seven innings against the Blue Jays in Toronto. Still, the 27-year-old Bedard is another pitcher, like Chien-Ming Wang and Justin Verlander, who is entering uncharted innings territory. After losing most of his 2003 season to Tommy John surgery he threw 142 1/3 innings between the minors and majors in 2004 and 148 2/3 innings in 2005, both setting career highs. This year he’s already thrown 142 2/3 innings. The good news for Bedard and the Orioles is that they can baby him through the rest of the season and won’t lose anything by shutting him down early. The Yankees and Wang don’t have that luxury.

Ball Talk

Tomorrow night at 7 p.m., I’m going to be part of a three-man panel, including Will Leitch and Matt Cerrone, discussing Baseball and Blogging at the 92nd Street Y. Actually, the program–moderated by Allen Barra–will be held on the West Side, in the Steinhardt Building, which is at 35 West 67th street. The admission is $12 if you pick up the tickets ahead of time, $15 at the door. For anyone who is in town and interested, we’d love to see you.

Heaven Sent

“We need to clean up some of the stuff that we do,” [Yankee manager, Joe] Torre said. “We’ve played better than this. And tonight we started to get into it at the end of the game, and I thought we played with a little more confidence. But I think we’ve been a little hesitant over the last few days.”
(Michael Morrissey, N.Y. Post)

“They have a great offense and you’re not going to go through a game without getting into a situation or two,” [Angels' starter, John] Lackey said. “I was able to minimize the damage and give us a chance to win. If you want to be a playoff team you have to figure out how to win games like that.”
(Doug Padilla, L.A. Daily News)

The Yankees beat the Angels 7-2 on Monday night, led by their slumping stars, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter. The Bombers pounded out 16 hits in all. The two most maligned Yankees, Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez, contributed as well, and the victory, combined with a Red Sox loss, puts New York two games ahead of Boston in the AL East (three ahead in the loss column).

After Jason Giambi ran through a stop-sign and was thrown out at the plate in the second inning, Jeter launched a two-run homer to dead center in the third. The score remained the same until the top of the seventh inning. Randy Johnson, who recorded the 4,500th strike out of his career in the fourth when he K’d Tim Salmon, was pitching well for the second-straight game. He allowed a one-out double to Jose Molina and then with two outs, the ever-pesky Chone Figgins slapped a slider that was low and out of the strike zone into center for an RBI single. Not a bad pitch by Johnson, who then left a fastball over the plate (it too was out-of-the-strike zone) to Howie Kendrick. The Angels’ impressive young second baseman lofted a fly ball to deep right center. It hit off the wall, missing a home run by a few feet, good for an RBI double and the game was tied. Orlando Cabrera followed and hit a ground ball to Robinson Cano’s backhand. The Yankee second basemen almost tripped over his feet on the lip of the outfield grass, but maintained his balanced and made the throw to first for the third out.

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For Heaven’s Sake

According to Joel Sherman in today’s Post:

After a 5-3 loss that diminished the Yanks’ AL East lead to one game over Boston and diminished Rodriguez even further in the eyes of the fan base, A-Rod vowed the best of his 2006 season is coming.

For the first time, he revealed that during the first four months he was coping with injuries that, perhaps, should have sent him to the DL, but that he could not go due to the DL devastation already ensnaring the Yanks. He would not disclose what the injuries were. However, he said, that the problems caused both terrible throwing mechanics and a change in his swing that led him to constantly get beat with even tepid fastballs. He admits that on defense he still needs to regain his aggression, but that his swing is back and “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

He added, “This is the best I have felt all year” and explained that, because of that, it feels as if he “just finished spring training” and is ready to tackle the season.

Now, this being Alex Rodriguez, such statements will be dissected. Is this reality? An excuse? Both? With Rodriguez there are never easy answers. But for the purposes of this exercise, let’s take him at his words and, therefore, say a season within a season begins now and see if Rodriguez is a man of these words: “I think it is going to be a good ending.”

If Rodriguez has been hurt, it would behoove him not to be coy about it. In spite of another poor weekend with the leather, he looked good offensively until Sunday.

Tonight gives a match-up of two of the fugliest pitchers around: The Big Unit and John Lackey. Unfortunately, for the Yanks, Lackey is the ace of the Angels’ staff, while it is hard to know what to expect from Johnson on any given outing. But after a poor week, now is as good a time as any for the Yanks to get on the good foot and start playing up to their capabilities again.

Heaven and Hell

In the dugout before Sunday’s game, Kim Jones, the beat reporter for the YES network, asked Yankee manager Joe Torre if Jared Weaver made him of think of Weaver’s older brother and former-Yankee, Jeff Weaver. “It’s hard not to,” said Torre. “He’s got the same look, the same willowy body. He looks like a clone [of his brother].” Torre said that he had not seen the young Weaver pitch—except for a few highlights on TV—but admitted, “He seems like the real thing.”

Weaver was the real thing on Sunday afternoon, mixing a nasty curve ball with a strong fastball. The Yankees made him work but Weaver showed resolve and poise. He was not afraid to pitch inside and even when he was behind in the count, he didn’t lose his cool. The only mistake he made in six innings of work was when he dipped-down and tried to sneak a fastball past Craig Wilson in the fifth. He had previously made Wilson look foolish with a breaking pitch away, and the drop-down was the kind of cutesy move that his brother has specialized in. Otherwise, there wasn’t any resemblance to Jeff, other than physically.

Like his brother, Jered is long and lean. But his motion is slightly different. Jered twists his back, with his number facing the batter, in a manner than is reminiscent of Hideo Nomo. He made Alex Rodriguez—who had another less than stellar day in the field—look bad in three at bats. For his part, Chien-Ming Wang was flat for the second-straight outing, giving up six hits and three runs in the first inning alone.

The Angels bullpen was its usual stellar self and they set the Yankees down like lambs until Rodriguez blasted his 25th dinger of the year with two men out in the bottom of the ninth. Jason Giambi followed with a solo shot of his own, just to the right of the 399 ft sign in left center, but that was it as the Angels bounced the Bombers, 5-3 in front of a sellout crowd in the Big House.

Man, that was a heck of a way to sperl a wonderful day in New York, particularly with Boston, Minnie and Chicago all leading their games as the Yankee game ended. The Yanks will likely be just a game ahead of Boston in a few hours (and here I thought, just listening to the noise coming out of Boston this past week, that the Red Sox were dead). But then again, the Yankees are accustomed to hellish games against the Halos. And tomorrow night they get to face L.A.’s ace, John Lackey.

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My Blue Heaven

It is another absolutely gorgeous day here in New York as Chien-Ming Wang squares off against rookie sensation Jered Weaver this afternoon in the Bronx. Tyler Kepner has a profile on Wang this morning in the Times, while Rich Lederer has Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About J. Weaver (but were afraid to ask*). While it appears increasingly unlikely that Hideki Matsui or Gary Sheffield will return this season, today promises to give us an exciting pitching match-up. Both Cliff and I will be there.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

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