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Monthly Archives: September 2006

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Coco B. Ware

If the Yankees won the Saturday’s night cap despite the performance of their starting pitcher, they were inversely swept in Sunday’s split-double header despite the fine performances of their starters. Jaret Wright and Mike Mussina combined to hold the Red Sox to four runs on eleven hits over twelve innings, walking four and striking out nine. The bulk of the hits and strikeouts were Mussina’s, the bulk of the walks were Wrights, the runs and innings they split evenly.

In both cases the Yankees came up short due to shoddy relief pitching and Joe Torre’s ultimately wise decision to play these games as if the division had already been clinched. Torre did not run out his full starting line up in any of the four games this weekend, resting Posada in Saturday’s day game, Damon, Matsui and Cano in Saturday’s nightcap, Abreu, Giambi, Jeter and Posada in yesterday’s opener, and Damon, Rodriguez, and Matsui in the finale. As a result, the Yankee offense scuffled despite facing the likes of Kyle Snyder and Kevin Jarvis.

In yesterday’s day game, Nick Green and Sal Fasano went a combined 0 for 6 with three strikeouts. Indeed, it was Green and Fasano who made the first two outs of the fourth inning after Hideki Matsui, Aaron Guiel and Chris Wilson had loaded the bases to start the inning. That, plus a Johnny Damon strikeout for the third out, killed that rally and ultimately cost the Yankees the game. It also helps explain how Kyle Snyder was able to hold the Yankees to two runs over five innings while striking out seven.

Game one was tied 2-2 after six, when Joe Torre turned to Ron Villone. Things started innocently enough. Eric Hinske flied out on Villone’s first pitch. Villone then walked Doug Mirabelli on five pitches, but rallied to strike out Alex Gonzales for the second out, keeping pinch-runner Coco Crisp at first base. With Mark Loretta at the plate, hitting for rookie David Murphy, Villone appeared to pick Crisp off first base. Crisp, fooled by Villone’s move, took two quick steps toward second and Craig Wilson received the throw at first. Crisp then froze and, as Wilson charged down the baseline toward him, Crisp danced around him to the outfield side of the baseline and jogged back to the bag untagged. Wilson and Joe Torre argued that Crisp should have been called out for running out of the baseline, but rookie first base umpire Mike Estabrook and veteran crew chief Jerry Crawford, who was umpiring second, ruled Crisp safe and the inning continued.



The Yanks and Sox each won a game yesterday as the Bombers magic number was reduced to four. If the Yanks sweep today’s so-called double header, they will clinch the AL East (Cliff will be in the house for the second game). Josh Beckett survived a second inning jam, while Chien-Ming Wang was not particularly sharp as Boston beat New York 5-2 in the afternoon game. And though Randy Johnson wasn’t brilliant either in the night game, the Yanks pulled out a 7-5 victory. (Johnson vs. Tavarez was some kind of fugly starting match-up, eh? Like Lee Van Cleef goes to Jurassic Park.) Derek Jeter had singles in each game, extending his hitting streak to 25.

I was at the matinee with my cousin and we sat in the rattle-your-jewlery seats, three rows behind home plate, where people are more interested in anything and everything but watching the game. Look, there’s Spike Lee. Oh my god, is that Adam Sandler and Kevin James? There is a sign that reads “No Cell Phones,” that is completely ignored. Oy. These seats are mostly populated by well-healed clowns dressed-down in fancy t-shirts and ripped jeans, sandals and designer baseball caps. Two rows in front of us sat the film producer Brian Grazer with his son, and a thin, blond man. The back of Grazer’s neck looked like a piece of old leather–years of tanning by the pool. His hair was spikey, and he wore a black iozid shirt. His son wore a Che Guevara t-shirt. Grazer spent much of time on his cell phone and he was gone by the seventh inning. Two women behind us, with lungs that’d put Ethel Merman to shame, carried on at length about bridal showers, driving directions and how overpaid ball players are. “I don’t even mind that they are so loud,” my cousin said, “but at least they could be interesting.”

The seats were spectacular (and they were free thanks to the generosity of another cousin), but the atmosphere was repulsive. I felt like I could use a shower when it was all said and done.

The highlight of the game for us came when Jim Kaat threw out the first pitch. Accompanied by his three grandchildren (two boys and a little girl), Kaat watched a video tribute and then tossed a ball to Mike Myers. His granddaughter, wearing a pink Yankee cap almost bigger than her entire body, ran off the field and slapped somebody five by the Yankee dugout. She threw her arms around her grandfather as he held her in his arms during the National Anthem and in that moment it was clear why Kaat is leaving the game. Some things are just more important than baseball.

Two mo’ today. Let’s go Yankees!

Boston Red Sox

On the morning of June 30, the Boston Red Sox had won their last twelve games and held a four-game lead in the American League East. A month later their lead in the East had shrunk to 1 1/2 games. From there they went into a free fall, winning just nine of their next 31 games. The Sox are now 11 1/2 games behind the first-place Yankees and could be eliminated this weekend should they fail to at least split the four games they’ll play in the Bronx.

So what happened? Simple really, their pitching completely imploded. No team gave up more runs in August than the Red Sox, who allowed a major league worst 5.97 runs per game as their opponents posted a .314 batting average against them.

Why? Look no further than this weekend’s probables. Josh Beckett has been an utter disappointment, mixing a 6.38 August ERA with his 33 home runs allowed in 184 innings (1.61 per 9 IP). Curt Schilling, who came out of the gate looking like the ace of old, posted a 5.22 ERA in August and has missed his last three starts due to a strained back. The Sox had hoped he’d return to pitch on Saturday afternoon, but instead they’ll have to give a fourth start to Julian Tavarez, who was moved out of the bullpen into the rotation in Schilling’s stead in part because he was so ineffective out of the pen that the team figured it couldn’t hurt to try it. The second game of Saturday’s double header will see Kyle Snyder take the mound for the Sox. Snyder has a 7.02 ERA as a starter this season, but the Sox rotation is so depleted that they keep running him back out there. Saturday’s nightcap will be his tenth start for Boston. Worse yet, Snyder isn’t their most desperate attempt to find a starter. Things have gotten so bad that the Red Sox are carrying 37-year-old Kevin Jarvis, he of the career 6.05 ERA. I mean, seriously, look at these numbers! Finally, Monday’s starter will be rookie Kason Gabbard. Who? Exactly.

It’s telling that Tavarez and Gabbard have actually improved the Boston rotation as they’ve replaced the since-released Jason Johnson (7.36 ERA in six starts for the Sox) and highly-touted rookie Jon Lester, who has alarmingly been diagnosed with lymphoma, but nonetheless posted a 7.66 ERA in five August starts before landing on the disabled list. With Tavarez and Gabbard in the rotation, the Sox have split their last dozen games. That counts as progress in Beantown these days.

How did things get so bad? Let’s take a look at the Red Sox opening day rotation:


Q&A: Johnny Damon


As the Red Sox prepare for another late-season, AL East showdown with the Yankees, Hub heartthrob and longtime Idiot Johnny Damon sat down with Bronx Banter correspondent Jacob Luft for an exclusive one-on-one interview.

BB: Johnny, It’s been about 10 months since you turned down the Yankees’ offer in free agency and decided to stay with the Red Sox. Any regrets?

JD: Absolutely not. What we have here and what we’ve built here the past couple of years, winning the World Series in 2004 and finally overtaking the Yankees in the East last year … it’s just too special. This group of guys, we’ve been through a lot together and management has done a great job of keeping this core together.

BB: How close did you come to donning the pinstripes?

JD: I mean, I thought about it. You have to. Business is business and their offer was pretty strong. Pedro went through the same thing when the Mets came calling last year, and Derek Lowe almost went to the Dodgers after ’04. But at the end of the day, John Henry and [Boston GM] Theo [Epstein] came to the same conclusion that, as with those guys, they knew I would be too difficult to replace and came through with the years and money I wanted.

BB: C’mon Johnny. We all know you couldn’t handle losing those locks of yours.

JD: [Laughs] Yeah, you got me. That was definitely a factor. But I’d like to think there’s a little Vanity Smurf in all of us.

BB: You mentioned Derek. With Curt Schilling and Pedro taking turns on the DL, how big have the contributions from Derek and Bronson Arroyo and rookie starter Jonathan Papelbon been in keeping the Red Sox in the hunt?

JD: They’ve been huge. What can you say about Arroyo? The guy would be an ace anywhere else, especially for any middling NL Central team. Plus he signed a team-friendly contract to stay here and be a part of this. Papelbon is the real deal. His arsenal makes him perfectly suited for the rotation. Cla Meredith is unorthodox but has done a fine job as the closer. And Derek, ever since we shored up our infield defense [the Orlando Cabrera-Nomar Garciaparra trade in 2004] he’s been lights out.

BB: That left side of your infield, with rookies Hanley Ramirez and Andy Marte. How tough is it to hit a ball past them?

JD: It’s like a brick wall over there with those two guys. I doubt the Red Sox have ever had a better defensive shortstop than Hanley. In fact, we’re planning on interrupting a game during our next homestand to honor him with a plaque saying, “Best Defensive Shortstop in Red Sox history.”

BB: Didn’t you do that already? Maybe I’m confusing that with “Best Fourth Outfielder/Pinch-Runner Dave Roberts Day.”

JD: Maybe so. I can’t really keep track with all the hype surrounding this team. I mean, every day there’s another book that comes out about us. Somebody out there must be buying all this junk or else they wouldn’t keep writing them.

BB: Who is the MVP, Manny Ramirez or Big Papi?

JD: Well A-Rod was in the mix there until recently when he went down with those heart palpitations. I hope he’s OK. Yankee fans need to give him a break. As for the MVP, it’s tough because Papi gets the big hits but he wouldn’t have the chance if Manny wasn’t protecting him. It’s totally a Mantle-Maris thing. I hope they split the award.

BB: In hindsight, how disastrous would it have been if the Red Sox had not backed off of the Josh Beckett trade talks? He ended up with the Yankees, where he has floundered against the tough AL lineups.

JD: Well that trade would have cost us Hanley, who looks like he might be the next Barry Larkin. I’ll be shocked if Derek Jeter ever wins a Gold Glove again. Besides, have you heard of this kid Anibal Sanchez? He’ll be in the rotation next year for sure. Beckett is a nice talent and maybe he’ll turn into the ace the Yankees thought they were getting when they traded Wang and Cano for him, but he’s still got some learning to do, and we’ve handled him pretty well so far.

BB: So has Vernon Wells.

JD: Yeah, Vernon told me the other day he’s going to buy Beckett a Rolex for Christmas to thank him for all the gopher balls he’s thrown him.

BB: What do you want for Christmas?

JD: Another ring. We got one two years ago but last year we fell to the White Sox in seven games in the ALCS. We have a veteran group here that has been together a long time and knows how to win. It’s a good thing the front office never carried out those elaborate plans for overhauling the ballclub. Sometimes, it’s just better to stick with what works and not to outsmart yourself.

BB: Thanks for your time, Johnny. Just for the record, I think you would have enjoyed being a Yankee. I know the fans here in the Bronx would have loved it. Instead we’re stuck with Coco Crisp.

JD: [Laughs] I’m not touching that one.

Jacob Luft is the baseball editor for SI.com and, as you can tell, an aspiring fiction writer.

Six of One…

Man, I didn’t think they were even going to play last night. Neither, apparently, did Joe Torre, who scratched Chien-Ming Wang, and kept Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu out of the starting line-up and off the slick outfield surface. It rained all day long in New York, but the waterworks stopped shortly before five o’clock. Jeff Kartsens got the nod instead and wasn’t especially sharp, giving up two long balls to Rocco Baldelli in the early going. The rain started up again by the end of the fourth inning, and the Rays held a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the fifth, three precious outs from an official game.

But the Yanks rallied to tie the score, propelled by RBI hits from Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. Two innings later, Cano broke the tie with a two out single to left and Alex Rodriguez added a two run base hit through the right side of infield. Darrell Rasner pitched the final four innings, and did a wonderful job getting ahead of hitters. He allowed just one hit and stuck out five. Oh, and Godziller Matsui homered for the first time since May. Final score: Yanks 7, Rays 4.

With the win the Yankees’ magic number is now six (Boston beat the O’s in Baltimore last night). About the only drag for the Yanks was when Jorge Posada was plunked in the elbow during the seventh inning. Posada was removed from the game. While it does not appear to be serious, he will be checked-out today to make sure that everything is copasetic. Ol’ Snuffleupagus Fasano could see a lot of burn this weekend. Speaking of which, click here to buy one of those dope Sal’s Pals t-shirts.

Finally, Gary Sheffield continues to get closer…scary, ain’t it?

So Long, Old Friend

There is some sad news to report on this rainy afternoon in New York. Jim Kaat is retiring. Tonight and tomorrow will be his final two broadcasts for the Yankees. While I had heard that Kaat might call it quits at the end of the year, all of sudden, he’s going to be gone. I don’t exactly know why he’s leaving before the end of the season. I can only speculate that Kaat didn’t want to call attention to himself as everyone around him was gearing up for the playoffs. Regardless, Kaat deserves a long, loud ovation from Yankee fans near and far for the steady and insightful work he’s provided over the years.

Man, I’m not ready to see him go and I’ve been feeling upset about it all morning long. I haven’t always agreed with Kaat’s analysis, but I have never had anything but the utmost respect for his professionalism, his eloquence and his willingness to speak his mind. He is a terrific storyteller, has an easy-going sense of humor, and has been a wonderfully measured prescence in the Yankee Universe. I remember my uncle spotting him in a bank on the Upper West Side during his stint with the Yanks at the end of his playing career, and I’ve always thought of him as a guy who appreciated New York City, and come to think of him as one of our (adopted) own. Richard Sandomir has a piece on Kitty today in the Times. The YES Network will have a tribute to Kaat up on their website later this afternoon, or perhaps this evening.

Kitty, you haven’t even left yet and I’m missing you already. But here is wishing Kaat the best of times with his grandchildren and on the golf course down in Florida.

Wham, Bam (Ho-Hum)

I can’t recall the last time I was at the Stadium when things were as relaxed as they were last night. The announced paid attendance was over 52,000, but there were far less who actually turned out to watch the Bombers plow past the hapless D-Rays, 8-4. Truth be told, it wasn’t a particularly exciting game. The pace was American League East Sluggish as the starting pitching for both sides was mediocre. However, there were some highlights: Derek Jeter’s first inning single, which extended his hitting streak to 22 straight; Robinson Cano’s five RBI, and Alex Rodriguez’s drive that landed half-way up the black seats in dead center. Rodriguez had three hits on the night, and helped keep a first inning rally moving by taking out shortstop Ben Zobrist with a hard, but clean slide. Jason Giambi had two hits and though Godzilla Matsui went hitless, he just got under a pitch in his first at bat and lined out hard to left later in the game.

The Yankees’ magic number was reduced to seven as the Red Sox were blanked in Baltimore last night, 4-0.

Bernie Williams celebrated his 38th birthday from the bench. At one point between innings, the P.A. blared the Beatles tune, “Birthday,” and Bernie waved to the crowd. Joel Sherman spoke with Bernabee, who remains a class act:

Williams admits having to battle the dissatisfaction of devolving from star to spectator. “I’d rather be frustrated about not playing, then accept it and then not be ready when playing time comes,” Williams said. “The frustration tells me I’m ready and I’ll be ready when they need me.”

…”I’m having a lot of fun, man,” Williams said. “I am more mature at accepting administrative decisions. It’s not that I lack fire or don’t feel frustration at times. But I can accept it and not be subversive about it.”

Meanwhile, for the latest on Mariano Rivera, check out Jack Curry’s column this morning in the Times.

And for a glimpse of the future, peep Jim Baumbach’s piece on the Yankees’ top pitching prospect, Phillip Hughes.

Sweet Love Hangover?

Last night the Yankees returned home from the road, dropped a nine-spot on the D-Rays in the bottom of the first that featured 6 RBIs from deadline pick-up and emerging fan favorite Bobby Abreu, got 6 1/3 scoreless innings from recently activated rotation vet Mike Mussina, and saw Hideki Matsui return from four months on the DL to a tremendous ovation followed by a four-for-four performance in which he reached base in all five trips to the plate. That’s a tough act to follow, especially with Cory Lidle, who has been exactly what the Yankees needed in the fifth spot in the rotation, even if that does mean he’s been pitching like a fifth starter.

Lidle’s last four starts have alternated twelve scoreless innings with a pair of disaster outings in which he gave up a combined 11 runs in 5 1/3 innings, inflating his Yankee ERA to 4.81. His opponent tonight will be 24-year-old rookie Jason Hammel. Hammel, a tall slender righty, has made five career big league starts, two back in April and three in a row leading up to tonight. His last, which came at home against the Twins, was the best: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 4 K. Hammel has progressed steadily through the Devil Rays organization and has solid hit, walk and strikeout rates in the minors, so there’s reason to believe tonight will be the first of many times the Yankees face him over the next several years as he projects as a mid-rotation mainstay for the Rays.

Monster Jam

The Yankees blew out the Devil Rays in the first inning last night, driving Tampa starter Tim Corcoran from the game before he had recorded the inning’s second out, then touching up his replacement Brian Stokes for a four-spot. The first time through the Yankee order, only Jason Giambi, who made his first start in four games at first base, made an out, flying to left. The rest of the inning went like this: single, steal, walk, homer, walk, steal, fly out, double, single, single, pitching change, single, K, walk, double, K. Two of the three extra base hits came off the bat of Bobby Abreu, who came to the plate with five men on base during the inning and drove all of them home along with himself on a three-run homer in his first at-bat and a bases-loaded double in his second trip. All totaled, the Yankees sent 13 men to the plate, ten of whom reached base, nine of whom scored.

From there, the story of the game became Hideki Matsui, who picked up an RBI single on a bloop to center in his first at-bat since May 10, then proceeded to pick up three more singles and a walk, while scoring two runs, finally leaving for a pinch runner in the eighth having yet to make an out. Matsui looked great at the plate, keeping his weight back and powering through the ball, hitting mid-90s fastballs with authority and hooking a foul home run into the upper deck in right.

While the offense was feasting–they’d score three more in the third while Bobby Abreu came just a few feet short of a grand slam, flying out with the bases loaded to end the fourth–Mike Mussina kept the Devil Rays fasting, setting down the first ten Rays in order and leaving after 6 1/3 scoreless innings having allowed just five hits. Moose threw 70 percent of 87 pitches for strikes, striking out five and walking no one.

T.J Beam kept Tampa off the bases in relief of Mussina in the seventh and eighth while Torre turned to his bench, resulting in an eighth-inning defensive alignment that included only Melky Cabrera from the starting line-up.

The only blight on the game as far as the Yankees are concerned was Octavio Dotel’s performance in the ninth. In to get the final three outs with a 12-0 lead, Dotel had nothing, surrendering four runs on a walk to pinch-hitter Shawn Riggins in just his second major league plate appearance, singles by rookies Dioner Navarro and Ben Zobrist, and doubles by Ty Wigginton and Jorge Cantu. Final score: Yankees 12, Devil Rays 4.

On the YES broadcast, Jim Kaat speculated that Dotel, who had thrown just 5 1/3 innings over eight appearances prior to last night, is in the typical dead-arm period that most pitchers experience during spring training. Given that Dotel went through a sequence in that inning in which he threw five straight pitches into the dirt in the left-handed batters box, I’d have to agree. Certainly one hopes that’s what’s going on with Dotel, as it provides hope that Dotel still might come around before Joe Torre has to decide his playoff roster. Whatever the cause, Dotel has really struggled with his control since being activated, and has now walked seven men in his 6 1/3 innings, one more than he’s struck out.

In other news, Gary Sheffield did indeed take live batting practice before the game, taking 32 swings. He’s also continuing to work out at first base, and he and Torre are now saying that Sheff could be activated during this homestand.

Finally, Philip Hughes, Tyler Clippard and J. Brent Cox, the three double-A pitchers who many hope will form the core of the Yankee pitching staff of the future along with Chien-Ming Wang, were in uniform in the Bronx for last night’s game. The three will not be added to the active roster (only Hughes is on the Yankees’ 40-man), but the Yankees wanted to give them all a taste of the big leagues as Hughes and Cox especially could find themselves a part of the big league roster next year.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

For several seasons now, the buzz around the Tampa Bay Devil Rays has been their crop of young talent that has been bubbling just below the major league surface. One can trace it all the way back to 2002 when 20-year-old Carl Crawford made his major league debut and 25-year-old Aubrey Huff hit .313/.364/.520 with 23 homers. The next year, Huff hit 34 dingers and drove in 107 runs, Crawford played his first full season, stealing 55 bases, and 21-year-old Rocco Baldelli finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Meanwhile, the 2002 draft brought Jonny Gomes, who made his debut the next year, B.J. Upton, Elijah Dukes and Jason Hammel, and 2003 added Dmitri Young’s little brother Delmon. Upton made his major league debut in 2004 and at that year’s trading deadline the Devil Rays swiped 20-year-old lefty phenom Scott Kazmir from the Mets for Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato.

Still, the Devil Rays’ bright future seemed perpetually over the horizon. That is until this year’s trading deadline. On July 12 they traded the now 29-year-old Huff, whose production had been in steady decline since his break-out 2003 season, to the Astros, getting pitcher Mitch Talbot and 25-year-old shortstop Ben Zobrist in return, clearing room for the relocated shortstop Upton at third base in the process. At the deadline, just after their last series with the Yankees, they traded 30-year-old shortstop Julio Lugo to the Dodgers, clearing space for Zobrist. In late August, they sent three-true-outcomes hero Russell Branyan to the Padres, clearing room for Delmon Young in right field. They also recalled failed 25-year-old fireballing starter Seth McClung and made him the team’s closer, while recalling starters Hammel and J.P Howell, acquired earlier in the year from the Royals for no-hit speedster Joey Gathright, and installed them in the rotation beside fellow rookie Jamie Shields.

At long last, the Tampa Bay youth movement has begun in earnest. Should Elijah Dukes win the first base job out of camp next year, something the Devil Rays cleared room for by releasing Travis Lee on Sunday, the D-Rays could have a 2007 opening day line-up whose oldest member is 26-year-old DH Jonny Gomes. Dig (with ages and 2006 stats):

1B – Elijah Dukes, 22, AAA: .293/.401/.488
2B – Jorge Cantu, 25, MLB: .247/.293/.408
SS – Ben Zobrist, 25, AAA: .323/.428/.456
3B – B.J. Upton, 22, AAA: .269/.374/.394
C – Dioner Navarro, 23, MLB: .257/.340/.367
RF – Delmon Young, 21, AAA: .316/.341/.474
CF – Rocco Baldelli, 25, MLB: .308/.344/.509
LF – Carl Crawford, 25, MLB: .305/.349/.479
DH – Jonny Gomes, 26, MLB: .216/.325/.431

SP – Scott Kazmir, 23, MLB: 3.24, 10-8, 144 2/3 IP, 132 H, 52 BB, 163 K

Gomes, who is on the DL due to season-ending shoulder surgery, is a good bet to revert back to his 2005 form (.282/.372/.534) in 2007, which leaves just Cantu, who slugged .497 in his first full season last year, and Upton, who hit .303/.392/.490 at triple-A Durham last year, who will need to shape up at the plate, assuming, of course, that Young, Dukes and Zobrist will continue to hit in the majors.


Cruise Control

“I can’t expect to win a postseason game giving up five runs,” Johnson said. “I got away with one tonight and I’m very grateful.”
(Sam Borden, N.Y. Daily News)

Indeed, Johnson was far from terrific last night, allowing five runs in six innings, but the Yankees bailed him out with six runs in the top of the seventh and Johnson earned the win (the 280th of his fine career), matching his win/loss total from 2005 at 17-10. The final score: Yanks 9, O’s 6. The critical play came when Fernando Tatis, a third baseman playing left field, misplayed Robinson Cano’s fly ball, allowing three runs to score. The Yanks did not look back.

Derek Jeter had two more hits, extending his hitting streak to 21 straight, and is now batting .346. Jeter characteristically remained mum about his chances to win the MVP award, refusing to react to David Ortiz’s recent kvetchfest. Alex Rodriguez returned from a nagging stomach virus and collected three hits of his own, including a home run. Rodriguez ended the night with 101 runs scored for the year, and has scored more than 100 runs in 11 consecutive seasons (oh, and he’s now driven in 100 plus runs ten times in his career). As Emily said when Rodriguez was rounding the bases in the ninth inning, “Rock on, Pukearella.”

The final word in the milestone dept: Joe Torre passed Miller Huggins on the all-time win list for Yankee managers last night. Only Casey and the great Joe McCarthy have won more games for the Bombers. Not bad for a boy from Brooklyn, eh?

The Yanks’ return home tonight with their magic number down to ten. The Devil Rays are in for three, with the Red Sox following this weekend for a four-game set. I’m sure we’ll hear more from the likes of Pete Abraham as the day moves on, but it’s likely that Hideki Matsui will be in the line-up tonight.

Welcome back Godzilla!

Get Away Day

After dropping the opening game of their current series in Baltimore, the Yankees have won the last two despite being without Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Mariano Rivera, and having to push Mike Mussina back in the rotation. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they’re playing one of just four mathematically eliminated teams in baseball, but it sure is a nice boost to put up a few W’s with inferior line-ups while the big guns get healthy for the postseason. Tonight Randy Johnson and Kris Benson square off as the Yanks go for the series win and the O’s try (or at least we’ll asume they’ll try) for a series split. Benson’s been solid in his last two turns: 15 IP, 14 H, 4 R, 2 HR, 5 BB, 9 K. RJ’s been downright dominant. Throw out a two-run ninth-inning homer by Craig Monroe in his penultimate start and his combined line for his last two outings is 15 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 BB, 16 K. Purdy.

Some Bright News on a Somber Occasion

It is a bit chillier in Manhattan than it was five years ago to the day. Otherwise, it is a brilliantly sunny day, eerily reminiscent of that fateful morning that altered the city and the country forever. I rode the IRT to work this morning and there was the usual commotion, but there were also some hints of somberness too–a business woman in a black suit, a strapping Jewish kid with a black yarmulke, a gray-haired liberal with a black t-shirt that read, “What Really Happened?” Today is certainly a day to remember those who lost their lives in-and-around 9.11 as well as an opportunity to appreciate the good things we’ve got in our lives.

I sure have plenty to appreciate, that’s for sure. On Saturday, Emily and I took a ride up to Westchester to spend the afternoon with my mom and my step-father. While Em and Tom busied themselves with a project in the back yard, mom and I made a batch of madeleines, the shell-shaped cookies made famous by Proust in “Remberance of Things Past.” They are wonderful tea-time cookies, and must be eaten almost immediately. Even an hour or two after they’ve come out of the oven, they begin to change in nature, going from a light, sponge cake to a heavier, greasier cookie. It’s not even that they are my favorites, I just like the idea of them–the immediacy of it all. And you just can’t have them without a strong cup of tea for dunking.

Here they are fresh out of the oven. That’s my ma, adding some confectionate sugar, the final touch (dig, her beloved Tintin swatch).

And here is the final product, along with a simple plum tart and a strong cup of Earl Grey tea.

A small, good thing, if there ever was one.

A heppy ket.


Biding Time

The Yankees struggled against Adam Loewen again yesterday afternoon. Fortunately the Orioles had even more trouble with Chien-Ming Wang, who allowed just one seventh-inning run in 7 1/3 innings on his way to his major-league leading 17th win.

For their part, the Yanks got two off Loewen in the fifth when Kevin Thompson drew a one-out walk, Nick Green singled, Johnny Damon singled Thompson home, and Melky Cabrera plated Green with a sac fly. Loewen was pulled after throwing 113 pitches over seven innings and the Yanks picked up an insurance run against displaced starter Rodrigo Lopez when Damon lead off with a double, Melky Cabrera bunted him over, and Derek Jeter singled him home.

That third run proved to be the difference as, with Mariano Rivera still on the shelf, Joe Torre turned to Kyle Farnsworth to protect a two-run lead in the ninth. Farnsworth did so by striking out Jay Gibbons, giving up a solo home run to Kevin Millar on a jock-high first-pitch fastball down the middle, then getting the final two outs on six pitches. Yanks win, 3-2.

The absence of Rivera highlights the far more significant story for the Yankees right now, which is the need for the team to get healthy. There’s no real time table for Rivera’s return from a muscle strain in his right forearm, though he plans to throw on flat ground today, just as he did on Friday, and Joe Torre claims he’s improving. Jason Giambi received yet another cortisone shot in his left wrist yesterday and won’t play until the Yankees return to the Bronx on Tuesday. Mike Mussina, who would be on regular rest today, has also been pushed back to Tuesday due to right shoulder soreness, this following his first start after being activated from the DL due to a groin pull. Alex Rodriguez, meanwhile, has come down with a stomach flu for the second time in Baltimore this season, and everyone else just needs some rest.

The good news is that the Yankees’ lead in the East continues to grow as the Red Sox managed to lose a 12-inning game to the Royals by a score of 10-4 last night, dropping to ten games back. The Yankees win over the O’s, meanwhile, officially eliminated Baltimore from the division race. Oh, and Matsui went 1 for 3 with a double and a pair of walks in the Thunder’s 4-3 loss to Portland.

Today the Yanks send Jaret Wright to the mound in Mussina’s place while the O’s counter with September call-up Hayden Penn. Wright hasn’t pitched at all since hurling 6 1/3 strong innings against the Tigers on August 30th. The 21-year-old Penn, meanwhile, was excellent in triple-A this year, but didn’t make it out of the first inning against Oakland a week ago in his only major league appearance this year. Last year he came up straight from double-A to make eight starts for the O’s, four of them during interleague, only to walk more than he struck out and post a 6.34 ERA.


The Yanks got smoked down in Baltimore to the tune of 9-4, but didn’t lose any ground in the standings as the Red Sox continued to find new ways to lose last night in Boston. Gilbert Bogie was the one bright spot for the Bombers. Miguel Tejada made a marvelous catch in left field. Otherwise, it was a snoozer. Today gives a late afternoon game, 4:30 start. I kind of dig late afternoon games, particularly because of the way the light moves over the field. It presents a different beauty for fans–and different challenges for the players, subtle as they may be. Especially now that it’s getting to be the autumn, the light is unlike it would have been in April or May. I love it. Maybe you can watch the game eating the last of the good local tomatoes or corn. Should be a relaxing day for a game. The sticks are going to break out. What can I say, but let’s go Yanks, man.


Baltimore Orioles

There are 24 games left in the Yankees’ 2006 season, all of them against AL East opponents. Tonight they play the first of seven remaining games against the Orioles. They also have seven left against the Devil Rays, six against Toronto, and a four-game home set against the second-place Red Sox.

Entering tonight’s action the Yankees have a nine game lead in the division and their magic number to clinch is 15. The Orioles, meawhile, would be eliminated from the division race with a single Yankee win this weekend and could be eliminated from the playoffs altogether before the Yankees leave Baltimore.

Hideki Matsui is 1 for 6 in his first two rehab games with the Trenton Thunder, but the Thunder’s playoff series is knotted at 1-1, so he should have plenty of opportunities to get the kinks worked out. In last night’s game he walked in his first trip, coming around to score, then grounded out to second and popped out twice to the left side of the infield.

In other news, Kevin Thompson has been activated, having recovered from the staph infection that developed after he fouled a ball off his shin. There’s a Carl Pavano dig in there somewhere.

Cory Lidle starts tonight against Erik Bedard. Lidle has pitched six shutout innings in two of his last three starts. If you ask me, the 27-year-old Bedard is quickly becoming overrated, though he did hold the Yankees to one run over six innings the last time these two teams met.

The Yanks are running out the usual suspects, with Craig Wilson getting the first base start against the lefty Bedard, and the lefty Cano hitting behind Jorge Posada.

Seven more games against the Orioles. Have they banned greenies for bloggers as well?


Boids…Dirty, Disgusting, Filthy, Lice-Ridden Boids (so Sayeth the Concierge)

The Yanks are in Baltimore for a four-game series this weekend and well, it’s just hard to get juiced about this one, isn’t it? Four-hour games, a boring Orioles team, makes for precious little to say this morning. However, here are some links from around the ‘Net which may be of some interest:

Yankee GM, Brian Cashman talks to Roger Rubin about what we can expect from Hideki Matsui.

Don Amore examines the Yankees starting pitching.

Ed Price tackles the Yankees bullpen, while Jim Baumbach wonders how Kyle Farnsworth will do come October, Peter Abraham covers Brian Bruney, and George King updates Mariano Rivera’s situation.

Earlier this week, Joe Sheehan chimed-in on Alex Rodriguez’s season over at Baseball Prospectus:

Hey, is Alex Rodriguez still a choking scrub unfit to occupy the same infield as Derek Jeter? It’s kind of hard to keep up. I just happened to look today and saw that Rodriguez is 17th in the AL in EqA, 15th in RARP and 17th in VORP among position players. He leads AL third basemen in VORP and will likely hold that ranking until the end of the year. Defense could push Mark Teahen and/or Joe Crede ahead of Rodriguez in overall value, so you can figure he’s one of the two of three best third basemen in the league.
All of this in the worst year of his career.

The level of attention paid to Rodriguez’s slump went beyond all bounds of sanity. Yes, he was probably pressing, but there hasn’t been a player in history who had as much made of an 0-for-22 slump. I can guarantee you that the guy who bats two spots ahead of him in the lineup has never been subjected to the kind of small-minded, gleeful, jealous treatment that Alex Rodriguez endured in August.

Would that he never is, because it was shameful. I can hold this gig for a million years and I will never embarrass myself the way the press did over this issue. It’s the difference between writing about performance and writing about people, and it’s why I can stand behind every critical thing about a baseball player that I’ve ever put down on paper or onto your monitor, because I was never attacking their character or their person, but rather their work product. I have been wrong, but I have always stuck to the performance.

I have to admit that I underestimated the kind of impact that Johnny Damon would have on the Yankees this year. But as the season draws to a conclusion, and Derek Jeter is the thick of the MVP mix, I’ve come to believe that Damon has been almost as important for the Bombers, both in the locker room and on the field. Jeter smiles plenty during the games–he’s always enjoyed himself playing the game–but Damon is downright goofy. His smile is infectious, and along with the broad, carefree grins we see nightly from Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera (and across town from Jose Reyes), I don’t recall the last time a Yankee team seemed this loose, while being completely focused at the same time. As Pete Abraham recently noted, “I’m not sure there are 10 people in the world who enjoy life more than Damon.”

And yet, even if Damon is a flake, he’s also a gamer too. He’s played hurt all year, and you know that his teammates must appreciate that. Earlier this season I was in the Yankee locker room for a Sunday matinee against the Royals. It was get-away day, which means that the players arrive wearing suits. Damon was in the clubhouse early, before most of his teammates had arrived, wearing a stylish tan suit. Before he undressed, I saw him kneeling down in the the corner of the room, picking through a case of cds. After a few minutes, he stood up and groaned in pain–his foot has been killing him all year. He winced and hobbled for a minute as he balanced himself. Nobody was around, none of the reporters were paying attention to him at that moment, and there was no sense that he trying to attract attention to himself. It was just a small moment, but one that indicated that this was one tough dude.

The press absolutely love him. Damon might be the best daily talker the team has had since David Cone. In all, he’s been the perfect tonic for the traditionally tight-assed Yankees. Aditi Kinkhabwala has a piece on Damon today over at SI.com.

No Sweat

Randy Johnson threw six no-hit innings in Kansas City last night as the Yankees clobbered the Royals 8-3. The Red Sox were blown-out at home–and had some salt poured onto their wounds down in Florida to boot–as New York’s lead is back to nine games. Johnson (16-10) absolutely cruised, getting ahead of batters, and then putting them away. He threw only 81 pitches in seven full innings of work, walking two and striking out eight. To be sure, the Big Unit was aided by home plate umpire Charlie Reliford’s more than generous strike zone and an impatient KC lineup. But hey, the Yanks’ll take it.

David DeJesus broke up the no-no with a lead off triple in the seventh, but he was promptly picked-off of third by Jorge Posada. Down 5-0 at the time, I was surprised how DeJesus–who robbed Robinson Cano of a hit and also threw the Yankees’ second baseman out at the plate earlier in the game–could make such a careless play. Good as he is, I suppose this is why the Royals are in last place.

Posada powered the Yanks with two, three-run home runs. In the sixth, Jason Giambi–who had hit the ball hard in his previous at bat–doubled to the gap in right center. Alex Rodriguez followed with a walk and then Posada crushed a dinger to right. In the eighth, Andy Phillips–who had replaced Giambi in the seventh–doubled and Rodriguez walked again. This time, Posada hit one out to dead center, good for his 19th tater of the season (he also has 79 RBIs).

About the only drag for the Yanks was the performance by Kyle Farnsworth, who gave up a couple of runs in the ninth. Fortunately, the Bombers are winning without Mariano Rivera, who isn’t expected to begin throwing a ball around again until tomorrow at the earliest. According to Sam Borden in the News:

“We’ve been winning some games without him but no one is delusional enough to think we can do that in the future,” [manager, Joe] Torre said. “He could go out and pitch right now. What we’re trying to do is alleviate the discomfort. He’s very important to us. The ability to get it all the way well is our priority.”

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ future DH, Godzilla Matsui went 1-3 in his first rehab game since busting his wrist. In all, it was a fine night to be a Yankee fan wouldn’t you say?


Will the Yankees pull out what should be a gimme series win tonight, or will the make like the Twins and White Sox before them and drop the three-game set to the Kansas City Spoils? Randy Johnson goes against Runevlys Hernandez to decide. Randy was excellent in his last start at home against Detroit, though his line is distorted by a two-run homer he gave up in the ninth inning with a 6-2 lead. Runelvys, meanwhile, is another one of those all-over-the-map Royals pitchers. Once considered a bright light in a youth-driven Royals rotation (check one of my earliest posts on the BRB), he is now a 28 year old disappointment with weight problems. But then he has won three of his last four and posted this line against the Blue Jays and White Sox in his last two starts: 15 IP, 12 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 BB, 7 K. Let’s see, the Yankees mind-blowing offense got shut out last night and the execrable Hernandez has allowed just one run in his last 15 innings? That dam’s gotta break tonight, no?

Fortunate Son

Ray Negron knows that he is blessed. In the spring of 1973, when Negron was 16, none other than George Steinbrenner, the Boss himself, caught the teenager tagging an “NY” logo on the outside of Yankee Stadium. Instead of pressing charges, the Boss gave Negron a job as a batboy. Negron has been around the game ever since. He was drafted in the second round by the Pirates in 1975 but couldn’t hit enough to play pro ball so he returned to the Yankees where Billy Martin and Steinbrenner kept him busy. When Reggie Jackson arrived in ’77, Negron became the superduperstar’s personal assistant away from the park. “Reggie used to say that if he was the King of New York, then I was the Prince of the City,” says Negron.

Negron was the one person who was close with Reggie, Billy and George during the most volatile days of the Bronx Zoo, making him a unique figure in Yankee history. After Jackson left New York, Negron tried his hand at acting, and later became a player agent, working first in Japan and then back in the States. He was the only minority GM in the short-lived Senior League in the late eighties. But he’s perhaps most recognizable as an advisor to both Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden, the man who helped broker deals to bring the erstwhile Metropolitans to the Bronx in the mid-nineties. Negron’s biological father was a physically abusive alcoholic, and his two younger brothers are addicts as well. Subsequently, he has specialized in drug counseling. Negron worked for John Hart in Cleveland and then Texas as a player liason–he was especially close with Roberto Alomar and Juan Gonzalez–before returning to the Yankees last year.

Negron appreciates how much his chance meeting with the Boss has helped shape his life. He is committed to sharing his success story, speaking often at local schools and hospitals. Last week, Negron released the first in a series of children’s books he plans to write on topics like racism and drug abuse. The first title, The Boy of Steel, is a story about a young cancer patient who enjoys a magical experience at Yankee Stadium. Featuring large color illustrations, it is an ideal gift for any kid who loves the Yankees. Keep it in mind on your holiday shopping list this year. It’s for a good cause, as all the profits will be distributed to various charities.

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