"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: May 2007

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I’ve Got You…Under My Skin

The Yanks won and the Sox lost last night. I know it’s my birthday tomorrow but I didn’t know it was a holiday (okay, it wasn’t all good, see the latest on Phil Hughes). The Yanks scored early–Johnny Damon led off the game with a home run and later collected the 2,000 hit of his career–and late, and Alex Rodriguez was in the middle of a controversial play, what the Blue Jays later called “a bush league play.”

According to the Times:

The Yankees were leading the Toronto Blue Jays by two runs in an eventual 10-5 victory when Jorge Posada lifted a lazy fly ball to third base with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. Third baseman Howie Clark camped under it, but he backed off just after Rodriguez ran slowly past him.

Rodriguez said he shouted “Ha” as he passed Clark, who was fooled into thinking that the shortstop, John McDonald, had called for the ball. When Clark backed away, the ball dropped safely onto the turf for a run-scoring single.

Jason Giambi followed with a single scoring two more runs and that was the game. It was a much-needed win for New York (Mariano Rivera got four outs to record the save), but after the game, Rodriguez, who made the front and back cover of the Daily News today for very different reasons, was the topic of conversation. Matt Stairs called it a “horsesh**t” play; the Blue Jays manager said it was not the way the Yankees play baseball.

It was a high school play, all-schoolyard, for sure. But the Jays are upset because they allowed such a thing to happen in the first place. Howie Clark, the third baseman, was playing in his first big league game of the year.

Mike Vaccarro hit the nail on the head in the Post this morning:

Put it this way: If Pete Rose did this, men would write poems about grittiness, paeans to aggressiveness. But with A-Rod, it rubs opponents the wrong way.

Put it another way: the next time the Yankees face the Blue Jays, the next time A-Rod steps in against A.J. Burnett or Roy Halladay, he may want to wear two batting helmets.

But as Leo Durocher once wrote:

If a man is sliding into second base and the ball goes into center field, what’s the matter with falling on him accidentally so that he can’t get up and go to third? If you get away with it, fine. If you don’t, what have you lost? I don’t call that cheating; I call that heads-up baseball. Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it.

Let’s give Emma Span the final word this morning:

Personally, I get a kick out this stuff. Dirty plays that might get someone hurt are dangerous, and no fun to watch; but as far as I’m concerned, anything and everything goes when messing with your opponent’s head. After McDonald and Clark and even Gibbons finished barking at him, A-Rod stood at third clearly trying to suppress a grin, and not quite succeeding. Ha! Matsui scored on the play, and The Yanks went on to win 10-5.

…Look, I wish I could offer more lofty sentiments, but let’s be honest. At this point in the Yankees’ season, if getting an actual win requires A-Rod to screw thirteen transvestite prostitutes, on a pile of corked bats, in front of Babe Ruth’s plaque in Monument Park? Fine.

A Priest, A Rabbi, Andy Pettitte, and a Total Lack of Run Support Walk Into A Bar

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Andy Pettitte pitched an excellent game, but… yes, it happened again, as the Yankees’ Great Sucking Noise of 2007 continues. They lost 3-2. Tonight’s edition was especially painful, as Pettitte went into the 8th inning, and only one of the three runs charged to him was earned. Pettitte has been better than we had any right to expect, but with the Yankee offense showing no signs of rousing itself against Shaun Marcum – who pitched well, but come on now – the Yankees once again have nothing to show for it besides aesthetics.

The Yankees scraped out only five hits over the course of the night, including a Giambi home run in the seventh that briefly tied the game. In the bottom of the seventh, Aaron Hill singled, and moved to third on a groundout and A-Rod’s throwing error (not helped by Jason Phillips’ crash into Phelps at first, as he tried to make the catch). Hill then – and this is something we haven’t seen in a while – stole home. Pettiitte was taking him time, and Hill caught everyone unawares; by the time Posada yelled for the ball, and Pettitte saw the play, it was too late.

 

Now, you hate to see it happen to your team, especially with the Yankees in their current state. But I’ve gotta say, I love watching anyone steal home. It’s rare, and it’s gutsy, and it’s something that you’d think would never work, and yet here it wasn’t even very close. I don’t know much about Aaron Hill, but he’s got my attention now; that was some sweet-ass base running.

Anyway, the Yankees tied it again in the eighth, when Toronto gifted them with two errors, allowing Posada to single Jeter home. That would be all they got, and Toronto took over the lead in the bottom of the inning on a sac fly off of Scott Proctor. Robinson Cano, who seemed to be coming out of his epic slump for a time, looked awful at the plate, as did Bobby Abreu, again, some more. Damon and Giambi are visibly in pain.
The Yankees are now fourteen and half games out of first, and eight and a half out of the Wild Card. Here’s your obligatory “they could still come back” disclaimer: they could still come back. I think it’s time, though, to make peace with the likely outcome of the season at this point and, without necessarily abandoning all hope, settle in to watch the games for their own sake. Yankee fans may well have to relearn – or in some cases, just learn – how to watch games that have no ultimate October goal behind them. It’s been well over a decade, so this is going to take some adjusting; I have to say, I’ve changed quite a bit since the early 90’s, what with puberty and all.

But baseball is great even if the Yankees aren’t, and if you pay attention, something interesting is happening in every game, even a grotesquerie like tonight’s. For example, in addition to the steal of home, we had Jason Giambi beating out an infield single (thanks to the shift of course), then stealing second base, then moving to third on a throwing error. This is not something we are likely to see again in our lifetimes. “Speed kills,” observed John Flaherty, wryly. The games can still be entertaining, though admittedly this season’s been more Oresteia than Star Wars.

Over at Baseball Musings, David Pinto looks at the Yankees’ distribution of runs scored and allowed this season, concluding that in theory they ought to be above .500, and that many of their losses are due to simple bad luck. As he puts it, “the Yankees are having the team analogue of Mike Lowell’s 2005 season.” (Ugh. Don’t they have antibiotics for that?).

I basically agree, and yet you hate to say it: first of all, because we have this ingrained idea in American culture that “you make your own luck” — which is obviously only half true, and yet it’s still hard not to feel lazy or self-defeating when citing luck as an excuse. We always want to believe that something could have been done.

Besides, if we all just acknowledge that luck plays an enormous role… we’ll hardly have anything fun left to argue about. So screw that: I say this entire season is obviously Miguel Cairo’s fault, and if you all can’t see that, you’re goddamn blind.

It’s Inevitable…

The Yanks are going to put a beatin’ on someone one of these days. Why not tonight?

Yankee Panky #11: Prolonging the Inevitable

Is 50 games too small of a sample to determine whether the Yankees are done? With a deficit of 13 ½ games in the AL East and 7 ½ in the wild card, is it too soon for the Yankees to be operating in crisis mode? If no, what’s to be done, and is it the function of the media — yes, the bloggers count — to force the issue?

The facts are simple: the Yankees are winless since George Steinbrenner issued his “Big Hook” missive to the Associated Press. Everyone is on notice and on edge. Now more than ever, players are playing to save the jobs of Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, and they know it. It reeks of Old-School GMSIII. What were the odds that the veteran columnists pounced?

Nothing seems to be working. The highly publicized one-hour, closed-door meeting prior to Monday’s game had little effect, with the team limping to a 7-2 drubbing in which they trailed 7-0. In the past, these meetings have worked. On days when Torre has held meetings, the writers would ask players what the message was, and they typically wouldn’t say anything but, “Everyone in this clubhouse respects Joe Torre, and when he speaks, we listen.” Torre’s response in these cases was usually, “These guys are professionals. I shouldn’t have to do too much to motivate them. We’re a veteran ballclub and the guys in there know what we’re about. We just have to start playing better.” You could almost write the quotes beforehand.

Even two years ago, after a 10-game win streak lifted the Yankees from an 11-19 quagmire and they subsequently fell below .500, there wasn’t the sense of dread there is now. And the media didn’t foment the atmosphere. Fan reaction to Torre and Cashman was similar, but in the locker room, there was a clear sense that things would improve. But based on what I’m gathering from the literature and from my contacts still working on the beat, there is a lack of confidence and a sense of vulnerability in that clubhouse that hasn’t existed in a long time. Buster Olney alluded to this on ESPN Radio Monday morning.

(Random ESPN note: Can you be a credible news source when a reasonably objective conversation like that occurs days after a “Joe Must Go” article runs on ESPN.com? Can you have it both ways?)

The Daily News’s Bill Madden has seen this before. He has witnessed firsthand the last two Yankees “dynasty” teams, the lean years and the mediocrity in between. When he says the Yankees are done, it may not be preemptive. When Wally Matthews writes that a turnaround could be based on “blind faith,” he might be right. Steve Lombardi at WasWatching is already reciting the lyrics from Pink Floyd’s "Comfortably Numb" to signify the Yankees’ demise. There is precedent for Yankee comebacks, but as Derek Jeter has said explaining the recent spate of playoff losses, “this is not the same team.”

Too many guys are hurt. Too many players are slumping simultaneously. Save for Jeter and Jorge Posada, the aggressiveness at the plate with runners in scoring position is nonexistent.

Change is imminent. The question is a matter of “who” and “when,” and not “if.” Will it happen for the sake of change, as Derek Jacques intimates? There is a divide on firing Torre. For every Ian O’Connor article calling for Torre to finish the season and end his tenure with dignity — great hire by the Bergen Record, by the way, stealing him from the Journal News to replace Adrian Wojnarowski — there is a NoMaas.org blog presenting the annoyed fan’s perspective that enough is enough. NoMaas pinned Sunday’s loss to the Angels on Torre, claiming his “neurotic mistrust of his starting pitchers” led to the defeat. Who knows? Maybe it did. Given the bullpen’s performance to date combined with Mussina’s struggles, I’d have tried to let Mussina get through the seventh, if for no other reason than to build confidence. But that’s neither here nor there.

The tabloids rightly played the second-guessing angle to the move, but didn’t go all the way with it. They didn’t ask the follow-up question to Torre’s reasoning behind Proctor being the stopper for that jam. “Proctor has more experience in that situation than Bruney,” Torre said. The beat writers were off on Sunday to get some rest before the road trip, if the backups aren’t familiar with Torre’s moves, the editors certainly are and they need to prep the writers so they can ask questions like: “Did you believe your options from the bullpen were limited in the seventh inning?”, or, “Why not use Rivera there and save Proctor for the ninth if you still had the lead?” It’s wishful thinking that the regulars would ask the question also. It’s frustrating because many of the writers have a high level of baseball acumen, but rarely do they demonstrate it.

Torre’s move gave fans agita and led to boos. Bruney has the highest K/9 ratio on the team and is the only pitcher to not allow a home run this season. Plus, Torre has put him in this situation before. The problem is since neither Bruney nor Proctor has a steady stream of success in such situations, Torre’s options were limited.

I remember three years ago during the June-July Red Sox-Yankees series at the Stadium, Felix Heredia was entered the game in the sixth or seventh inning to face David Ortiz with the bases loaded and the Yankees holding a slim lead. Suzyn Waldman and I were dumbfounded. I asked Suzyn, “Why not being in Rivera or Gordon? This thing could get ugly fast with Heredia.” Her response: “Nope. Joe doesn’t manage like that.” Heredia struck out Ortiz to make my point moot, but I asked Torre if he considered other options in that situation, and he said flatly: “No. If Heredia can’t get a left-handed hitter out in that situation, then he doesn’t belong in the Major Leagues.”

ROGER REDUX
The Roger Clemens watch is now at T-Minus one week, according to the Star-Ledger’s Lisa Kennelly. I was actually impressed with the dual coverage of his Trenton appearance last Wednesday. Steven Goldman provided multiple blogs for YESNetwork.com, Yankees.com and the locals had representatives there as well. It was treated as a bigger story than the actual game taking place in the Bronx.

ESPN Radio in New York broadcast live and had cut-ins to the Thunder’s radio duo, who actually sounded like they cared about the game and wanted to inform fans about the goings-on on the field. They were excited yet understated, and projected a sense of the magnitude of such an event in that franchise’s history. On the Yankees mothership broadcast, John Sterling treated it as an also-ran story, because, “he’s not here.”

Another component to the Clemens story to discuss below: The Yankees have lost eight of their last 11 games and have lost eight games in the standings since the Clemens announcement. The locals are saying Clemens’ energy is just what the Yankees need at this point. Do you agree? Or are the Yankees too far gone for him to make an impact?

THINGS TO WATCH THIS WEEK…
• More gasoline being poured on the “Cashman/Torre job status” fire.

• Clemens in Boston (it hasn’t been ruled out).

• The Bostonians preparing the guillotine for the Yankees.

• Mets PR director Jay Horwitz stewing at the fact that the Mets are 15 games above .500 and in first place, and can’t buy a backpage.

Until next week …

If Life is a Bowl of Cherries…

The Yankees held a closed-door meeting for close to an hour last night before they were shut-down by the Jays, 7-2. The Red Sox won again, and the Bombers are now tied for last place with the Devil Rays, thirteen-and-a-half out.

Roger Clemens pitched well in Scranton last night and appears headed for Fenway Park this weekend. Too little too late? Oh, how Sox fans must be licking their collective chops at a chance to bury the dead this weekend.

The Toronto Blue Jays

The 2007 Toronto Blue Jays just can’t catch a break. Their starting third baseman and hottest hitter hit the DL in mid April. Three days before he came back, their starting catcher hit the DL. Their starting left fielder is out for several months due to back surgery. Their big money closer is out for the year due to Tommy John surgery. Forty percent of their starting rotation is on the DL right now, and that doesn’t even take into account John Thomson, who hasn’t thrown a pitch for them yet this year, or the three lesser relievers currently resiting on their disabled list.

If that weren’t enough, Frank Thomas is struggling, Vernon Wells is scuffling, and rookie slugger Adam Lind lost the replacement left field job to 39-year-old beer leaguer Matt Stairs (albeit the wildly underrated and currently hot as hellfire beer leaguer Matt Stairs).

What’s left is a team that that has five hitters who are actually hitting, two more who might reasonably be expected to, and an eighth on the DL. Beyond that it’s Royce Clayton, Jason Phillips, John McDonald, and Sal Fasano. Lind, if he ever finds his groove, can only play at the expense of one of the guys who’s already hitting, ditto Reed Johnson upon his eventual return.

On the mound, A. J. Burnett has been healthy and effective, but he’s also been lonely. Roy Halladay should return soon from an apendectomy, but will have to shake off not just the surgery, but his last two starts in which he allowed 17 runs in 10 1/3 innings. None of the other starters deserve mention. In the bullpen, Jeremy Accardo has excelled in relief of the injured B.J. Ryan, as have lefties Scott Downs and Brian Tallet and converted reliever Casey Janssen behind him, but Jason Frasor blew his shot at the closer’s job at the end of April by posting a 10.13 ERA in eight appearances, blowing two saves, and losing a third game.

There’s some hope here. Accardo’s solidified the closer spot. Thomas and Wells could heat up. Halladay and Gregg Zaun could come back soon and produce at their expected levels. But the Jays will still be stuck with an eight-man lineup, a two-man rotation, and a four-man bullpen. That’s a recipe for a .500 team if I ever heard one.

As for tonight’s starter, Dustin McGowan is a 25-year-old righty that the Jays once had high hopes for, though those have slowly faded since an injury-shortened 2004 season at double-A. The Yankees saw him four times last year, including once as a starter on the final day of the season, a game in which McGowan allowed eight baserunners and three stolen bases in 2 2/3 innings, but amazingly only one run.

The Yankees enter Toronto a half game behind the Jays, a full game behind the Orioles, and a whopping 12.5 games out of first place in the real world. Personally, I prefer the fantasy world of Pythagarus:

BOS 33-16 -
NYY 26-22 6.5
TOR 24-25 9
BAL 24-26 9.5
TBD 18-30 14.5

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The Ship Be Sinkin

The first man Mike Mussina walked on Sunday afternoon was also the last batter he faced. With one man out in the seventh inning, Joe Torre relieved Mussina with the Yankees holding a 2-1 lead. Scott Proctor quickly gave up a double and then walked three consecutive men as more than 50,000 Yankee fans sat on their hands, helplessly. The Angels ended the inning leading 4-2 one just one hit. When Torre came to get Proctor after the third walk, the Yankee manager was showered with boos from the Stadium crowd, whose frustration had boiled over.

The Bombers staged a rally in the ninth against K-Rod and for the second straight day they came up just short. Rodriguez got Jeter to fly out to center field to end the game. Final: Angels 4, Yanks 3. A fine effort from Mussina spoiled. The Yankee offense was terrible. Jason Giambi is slumping so badly he’s practically giving away at bats (he’s 4-for his last-44). Oh, and John Lackey showed why he’s a tough, big-game pitcher. He goes right after hitters and is as good as he is ugly.

Hey, and what do you know, the Red Sox won for a change. New York is now 12.5 back. Only fantastic memories of 1978 are keeping hope alive for Yankee fans now. However, this Yankee team is looking more like the 1979 vintage. They didn’t give up yesterday, but it seems as if these guys are down 2-0 before the first pitch is thrown these days. Still some time left, but they’ve got to play .600+ ball for the rest of the season. Oy.

Gettin’ Late Early

Chien-Ming Wang had a rough first inning. His pitches were up, his control was off and the Angels scored three runs. He was terrific over the next seven innings. The Angels didn’t score again, but wouldn’t ya know it, they already had more than enough to beat the Yanks, 3-1. Kelvim Escobar, and then the dynamic duo of Shields and Rodriguez were in fine form, the Yankee offense left 758 runners on base, and New York finished the day 11.5 behind Boston, who won again.

The Bombers staged a two-out rally in the ninth but Bobby Abreu struck out looking to end the game. The final pitch was not close to a strike, but the Yankees can’t complain about a poor call spoiling the game, although they did anyway. According to Anthony McCarron in the News:

“The sad part about it is that you stand there at home plate and take strike three and it’s in the other batter’s box,” Torre said of home plate umpire Jeff Nelson’s call. “We’d like to at least be able to determine our own fate. There’s no excuse for it and then (Nelson) has the nerve to argue back at Abreu.”

…”I’m not saying (Nelson) cost us the game,” Torre said. “The next pitch, he may have popped up. I’m saying I’d like to have that 27th out. That’s why the game is what it is. I just don’t think it was there for us because he never had a chance to swing at the pitch.

“And I’m not saying we don’t swing at pitches over our heads or in the dirt, okay? I’m not one to go harp on umpires, that’s part of the game, but this just got me because it was the end of the ballgame with two men on base and at least you want to give your hitter a chance to swing at a pitch.”

As frustrating as the ending was–and I came close to throwing and breaking something—the fact of the matter is the Yankees simply did not hit. No excuses, they did not hit. And the Angels did what they do best: beat the Yankees.

Hell’s Angels

The Angels were in town to beat the Yankees about the face and neck once again. The Yanks should just say, “Thank you sir, may I have another?” when they play these dudes. Jared Weaver wasn’t great, but it didn’t matter because the Yankee pitchers were far worse. So the Angels did what they normally do against New York–they smacked the ball around the field, ran around the bases, and flashed some leather (Orlando Cabrera robbed Alex Rodriguez of a hit and an RBI and first basemen Casey Kotchman was nothing short of outstanding). 10-6 was the final, but it wasn’t even that close. The Bombers fell another game behind Boston who beat the Rangers last night.

Johnny Damon looked terrible in center field and left the game early with cramps in his calves. Damon is not in the line-up this afternoon.

Meanwhile for the first time in a long time, The Boss speaks, un-cut.

As for today’s game, no better time than the present for the Yanks to turn their luck around against the Angels. I’ve got faith. Bombers will roll today.

Heaven Help Us: Let’s Go Yan-Kees.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Just when the Yankees look like they might be putting things together, in come Hell’s Angels, the one team that’s confounded the Joe Torre-era Yankees consistently from year-to-year and is responsible for two of the team’s three ALDS series losses.

The Angels were 6-4 against the Yanks last year, though the Bombers outscored the Halos 55 to 50, while the Yanks haven’t won a season series from the Orange County set since 2003, when they were clearly out for revenge for the 2002 ALDS. Though some of the faces have changed, the Angels team that arrives in the Bronx tonight is the same as ever: good pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen, and average hitting, with the latter being comprised largely of high-contact, high-batting-average hitters with weak on-base skills and modest power, but a lot of speed on the bases. Notable exceptions to this rule:

Vlad Guerrero: High contact and average, yes, but he also leads the team in walks and slugs with the best in the league. It also appears that his base stealing has finally come to a stop as he’s 1 for 2 on the paths thus far this year. Of course, Guerrero’s so good and so unique in his approach, that he’d be an outlier in any lineup.

Mike Napoli: The Angels are hesitant to commit to him, probably because he’s a low-average slugger who walks a lot and strikes out even more. There are a lot of major league teams that would happy with that from their catcher.

Gary Matthews Jr.: High average, low OBP, modest slugging, speed, yes, yes, yes, yes, but Gary strikes out a lot. Setting runner-up Napoli aside, Matthews has 11 more Ks than third-place finisher Erick Aybar (who was brutal at the plate and on the bases while filling in for the injured Howie Kendrick).

Shea Hillenbrand: Can’t run and isn’t hitting for average either this year. He does have a very impressive two walks in 147 plate appearances, however.

Chone Figgins: Figgins is the prototypical Angels player, versatile, pesky, but he missed April with a pair of broken fingers on his right hand and has hit like a player coming back from a hand injury thus far in may (.133/.198/.187). It’s a bummer to see a burner like Figgins lacking fuel, but I’m sure the Yankees won’t mind his disappearing act this weekend. Nor will my wife, who pronounces his first name phonetically and his last name “Friggins.”

The Yanks get their second look at young Jered Weaver tonight. Weaver beat them in Anaheim last August, striking out eight in six innings and allowing just one run on three hits, actually one run on one hit, a solo homer by . . . Craig Wilson? Well that’s not going to help tonight. The only positive for the Yanks from that August game was that Weaver walked three and needed 104 pitches to get through those six innings, not that getting to the Angels’ bullpen has ever done an offense any good, at least not while Mike Scioscia’s been the Halos manager.

Clay Aiken’s evil twin, Tyler Clippard, makes his Yankee Stadium debut tonight. He was nails against the Mets last weekend, posing a line that was just two strikeouts shy of matching Weaver’s line against the Yanks last August. Clippard was the first of the five Yankee starters to make their major league debuts this season that didn’t look like he was going to plotz in the first inning. After the game, Clippard said he wasn’t as nervous as he expected he’d be, and I believe him. Here’s hoping things don’t change now that Clippard’s in the Clipper’s house. Me, I can’t wait to see Clipp stomping around on the mound and shooting smoke out of his already famously prominent ears as he mows down the Halos with those nasty curves and disappearing changeups. (Incidentally, Rook, Don Sutton has a solution to that ear problem.)

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Fungoes Supplement: Underachieving Underachievers

My most recent “Wild Card” post over on SI.com’s Fungoes blog compiled an all-star starting line-up of underachieving stars from the early going this season, but those players just scratched the surface. If you’re wondering where your favorite 225-pound weakling is, check out my runners-up below the fold . . .

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Observations From Cooperstown–Trading Giambi

The rumors have hit full throttle. Jason Giambi, the latest center of the storm, has been dangled in trade talks with the Angels, with names like Chone Figgins and Jose Molina bandied about in a return package. On the surface, a trade of Giambi to the Angels makes some sense. The Angels, who need hitting if they are to remain atop the American League West, have the depth of talent at both the major league and Triple-A levels to satisfy the Yankees’ desire to get younger and more flexible.

Well, not so fast. While I love a good trade rumor as much as anyone, this is simply not the time to trade Giambi. For all of his flaws as a fielder and baserunner, and his tendencies to fall prone to lengthy slumps, Giambi remains a productive hitter. He can be a home run/walk machine, the kind of guy who can keep rallies going with a base on balls or cap off a rally with a gargantuan tater. And with Bobby Abreu looking soft and passionless in most of his at-bats and Doug Mientkiewicz reaching base less than 30 per cent of the time, the Yankees simply need Giambi’s bat right now. Unless they can acquire a capable power hitter in a deal for Giambi—and that’s not likely to happen with the Angels—the Yankees simply cannot afford to carry another unproductive batter in their lineup. Furthermore, there are few productive first basemen available from other teams in trades, unless the 33-year-old Todd Helton strikes your fancy.

Here’s the bottom line. A package of Figgins and Molina is simply not enough to part with Giambi. Figgins’ on-base percentage has been in steady decline, while Molina is an OK backup who’s already 32 and not a potential replacement for Jorge Posada. At one time, I might have been inclined to make a deal if someone like Kendry Morales were included, but not anymore. The luster has faded from Morales, who is struggling in the minor leagues and unable to crack even a weak lineup like that of the Angels. Adding Shea Hillenbrand to the mix doesn’t really help the Yankees either; he doesn’t hit well enough to play first base or DH everyday and seems better suited to filling a super-utility role at a number of positions, a role that he has previously balked at.

If not the Angels, who else might be in a position to bid for Giambi? First, let’s rule out all of the National League teams. A consensus of scouts places Giambi at the bottom of the pile when it comes to defending first base. His statuesque range and popgun throwing arm make him a huge liability for NL teams. Plus there are all those games where Giambi finds himself unable to play first base because of a back or leg ailment. Without the DH option, except for a handful of inter-league games, NL teams would be taking on an albatross in The Giambino.

So let’s explore the American League. The Orioles could use a big bat, but they’ve already got Aubrey Huff, Jay Gibbons and Kevin Millar clogging up the DH and first base slots. And unless the Yankees were willing to take Huff or Gibbons, there doesn’t seem to be a fit here. In addition, Peter Angelos has been burned by so many high priced free agents in the past that I have to wonder whether he would be willing to foot the bill for much of the $40 million that is due Giambi over the balance of his Yankee contract.

The Red Sox (as if the Yankees would even trade with them), White Sox, Indians, Tigers, A’s, Rangers, and Blue Jays currently have productive DHs, or at least DHs with strong reputations (like Frank Thomas). The Devil Rays have a large depth of talent from which to draw for their DH position. So cross all of those teams off the Giambi list. The Royals, Twins, and Mariners don’t have the financial willingness to take on Giambi’s contract, so let’s forget about them, as well.

So that leaves us with, well, absolutely no one. Other than the Angels, there simply doesn’t appear to be a team that has a strong need, desire, or financial capability to take on Giambi’s services.

Developments over the last week have only depressed Giambi’s trade value. His recent comments amounted to an admission of steroid use, which has him in scalding water with Major League Baseball. The rumors of a failed amphetamine test, while disputed, don’t help the situation, especially when Giambi refused to deny that he had tested positive.

Beyond all of that, here’s the most important reason to keep Giambi. The Yankees need him to make the playoffs. He remains their most powerful left-handed hitter, their best threat to reach 35 or more home runs. As poorly as the Yankees have played through the quarter pole, they still have enough time left on the summer calendar to make a run at the Red Sox or catch the Tigers/Indians for the wild card. Without Giambi, the Yankees don’t have enough offense to overcome their other deficiencies. With him, they just might.

Keep in mind that we’ll need to check back on this issue in another month. If the Yankees continue to look like a sluggish and aging team—and more importantly, have drawn no closer in either the division or wild card races—then it might be time to raise the white flag on 2007. By then, the steroid talk might have died down, Giambi could be on a hot streak, the Angels might increase their offers, or someone else might have lost a DH to injury. Under the right circumstances, that would be the right time to trade Giambi.

Just don’t do it now.

Dig ‘Um Smack

By Jon Kay, Guest Columnist

Bronx Banter Barbecue

In my travels to the South, it has been relatively easy to find excellent barbecue. Sonny Bryans in Dallas and Rendezvous in Memphis are standouts. Until recent times, barbecue dining choices in New York City left one longing for another road trip down south. The last few years have brought excellent additions to the NYC barbecue scene. Here are a few of my favorites; feel free to add in yours.

R.U.B. (Righteous Urban Barbecue)

208 West 23rd (7th & 8th)

No reservations accepted.

This is by far, my favorite barbecue spot and I recommend you give it a try. RUB has a combination of down home atmosphere (paper plates and plastic cups), great service and excellent food. An order of St. Louis ribs, slaw and a couple of sides will send your taste buds to heaven. RUB cooks limited quantities of ribs each day so get there on the early side. When they run out, that’s all until the following day. For the adventurous, try the deep fried oreos for dessert.

Dinner for 2, $60.

Blue Smoke
116 East 27th (Park & Lex)
Reservations suggested

Danny Meyer
adds a touch of class to the BBQ scene at Blue Smoke. By barbecue dining standards the décor is upscale. Food and service are excellent. The menu is more varied here, with gourmet items you would not find at most barbecue restaurants. A Fried Oyster Po’Boy on Homemade Brioche Bun with Caper-Tarragon Tartar Sauce is just one example. I stick with the traditional ribs and side orders which they prepare as well as anyone. The bar is a great spot to watch a ballgame while you are washing down some ribs with a beverage of choice.

Downstairs, you will find a club called Jazz Standard which offers a limited menu of barbecue treats.

Dinner for 2, $80.

Brother Jimmy’s BBQ Express
Grand Central Terminal, lower level food court.

Grab a smoked brisket sandwich to go and you will be the envy of everyone in your section. Orders are cleverly placed in clear plastic bags to insure easy passage thru Stadium security.

Lunch for 2, $25

Ribs on the Run
2225 Central Park Ave, Yonkers NY

Take out only.

A decent takeout spot in the heart of Yonkers’ Central Avenue culinary wasteland. Ribs on the Run’s claim to fame is they cater post game meals for the Yankees. You might run into ROTR’s
owner at a pre game Stadium tailgate party.

Shake Shack
Madison Square Park, 23rd and Madison.

Danny Meyer strikes again with an outdoor burger stand in Madison Square Park. The burgers are cooked to order and are a cut above what you would get from fast food. You get to enjoy your grub in an adjacent outdoor seating area or just find a park bench. The lines tend to get long but the handy ShackCam gives you a heads up on what to expect.

Lunch for 2, $25.

5th Annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party
June 9th-10th, Madison Square Park, 23rd and Madison.

Pitmasters and rib eaters converge in Madison Square Park for this annual BBQ-Fest. Local representatives include Blue Smoke, Dinosaur, Hill Country and Rack and Soul. Ten out-of-town pitmasters round out the field. The long lines for food can be avoided with the advance purchase of a Bubba FastPass. Live music adds to the festivities; this year’s headliner is James Blood Ulmer.

Bubba Fastpass, $100.

Exhale

By the time Alex Rodriguez came to bat in the first inning the Yankees had a 3-0 lead. Curt Schilling did not throw at Rodriguez, nor did any other Boston pitcher. Schilling had troubles of his own–as did his fielders–as the Yankees added single runs in the second, third and fourth. Andy Pettitte pitched a terrific game, and was helped out by two key double plays (including one very slick play by Robinson Cano). Godzilla Matsui and Mr. Minky both homered as the Bombers won, 8-3.

Over at his blog, 38 Pitches, Schilling called his performance “a craptastic finish to what could have been a nice series. I never gave us a chance to even get into this game.”

Kyle Farnsworth upset the good mood temporarily with a characteristically shaky performance in the eighth inning, but Mariano Rivera struck out the side looking in the ninth, with home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor providing the theatrics. Bucknor’s exaggerated strike-three call certainly did not make it any easier for the Red Sox. Lugo, who was called out on an absolutely nasty cutter that hit the inside corner on the plate, got in Bucknor’s face. The YES announcers were cracking up–Paul O’Neill mentioned how angry hitters get when they feel like the umpire is putting too much mustard on a call. For Yankee fans, it was a much-needed moment of levity. A fine way to end the evening.

Couple of things:

Derek Jeter had three hits last night, including a triple. He tied and then passed Joe DiMaggio on the all-time Yankee hit list.

Jason Giambi, who went 0-4 last night and is mired in a hitting slump, met with MLB officials yesterday, then was tight-lipped about what went on when confronted about the meeting later by reporters.

It’s official: Carl Pavano will undergo Tommy John surgery, effectively ending his misbegotten term in pinstripes.

Roger Clemens labored through a minor league start last night in Trenton. There is no word yet if he’ll pitch once more in the minors or if his next start will be in the big leagues.

Critical Condition

It seems alarmist to say that a game in late May qualifies as a “must-win,” but man, the Yankees really do need this game tonight. Curt Schilling, one of the outstanding big-game pitchers of his generation, is on the hill tonight for Boston. Andy Pettitte goes for New York. Should be interesting to see if Schilling plunks Alex Rodriguez after the Yankee third baseman’s take-out elbow last night. Man, I sure hope the Yanks and Sox don’t get into a brawl. That is the last thing this charged rivalry needs, especially with the possibility of Clemens returning to the big leagues next weekend in Boston.

But first things first: Let’s Go Yan-Kees.

Julian Tavarez Puts His Best Pimp Foot Forward

I was generously offered an unexpected ticket to the game tonight, and was at the Stadium, along with a very quiet sell-out crowd, for the Yankees’ truly disappointing 7-3 loss to Boston. Even the obligatory upper-deck fights seemed half-hearted. Mike Mussina had absolutely nothing in the first inning, and the Yanks were lucky to get out of it with only 3 runs scoring (all on a Manny Ramirez home run). But with the way this team’s played much of the season, three runs seemed like an insurmountable hurdle… and, well, it was. Per the New York Times,

“I can’t keep pitching like this,” said Mussina, who has a 6.52 earned run average. “It’s depressing, frustrating and disappointing, and not what we need right now. I can’t stand it.”

Ouch. Mussina actually settled down and pitched much better, aside from a Mike Lowell solo homer to left, but unraveled again in the seventh, and two more runs scored. A third was charged to Moose when Mike Myers was unable to retire David Ortiz. Jose Vizcaino and Ron Villone then stunned everyone present by allowing no further damage, but although the Yankees put up a fight against the atypically wild Okajima – loading the bases — they just couldn’t get the big or even medium-sized hit. Their only runs came on a wild pitch and two fielder’s choices. (I couldn’t see it from my vantage point at the time, but that last run, in the eighth, only scored because Alex Rodriguez threw an elbow while sliding into second, giving Posada just enough time to beat the double play throw as Jeter scored.)

I cannot begin to understand the hold Julian Tavarez has over the Yankees this year. He gave up only three hits, and few well-hit balls of any kind, though his ERA against all other teams is well over five. Does anybody have a plausible explanation for this? I’ve got nothing. And if the Yankees end up missing out on the playoffs by two games, I’m going to be irate.

Random note: one of Derek Jeter’s at-bat songs is now “I’m a Flirt” by R. Kelly (no idea if this was the original or the remix, sorry). I know Captain Intangibles is hitting like crazy, but I just can’t let this one go without mockery. Sample lyrics:

“I’m a I’m a I’m a I’m a flirt
Soon as I see her walk up in the club I’m a flirt
Winkin eyes at me when I roll up on dem dubs I’m a flirt
Sometimes when I’m wit my chick on the low I’m a flirt
And when she’s wit her man lookin at me damn right I’m a flirt
So homie dont bring your girl to me to meet cause I’m a flirt
And baby dont bring your girlfriend to eat cause I’m a flirt
(It better be real tight you know what I’m talkin bout)
Please believe it unless your game is tight and you trust herrrrr
(You bring your girl around me you better put your best pimp foot foward)
Then don’t bring her round me cause I’m a flirt.”

Um. Yeah, Derek, we know, we read all about it in Page Six. Jeez. So, boys, you’ve been warned, but no worries — I imagine you fellas always put your best pimp foot forward.

Anyway, my fascination with at-bat songs is always inversely correlated to the quality of the game. This was a night to focus on the music. Let’s hope tomorrow I forget all about the fact that Jose Vizcaino enters to “Limelight,” by Rush.

Update
Alex here. In case you missed the back-cover of the News (which features a photograph of Jason Giambi with the headline, “Flunked!”), according to T.J. Quinn, Jason Giambi failed a test for greenies at some point over the past year. Looks like things are about to get rough all over for the Yankee slugger.

Three, the Magic Number?

Yanks look to gain another game on the Sox tonight as Moose gets the start vs. Julian Tavarez. C’mon fellas, whatta ya say? Three-in-a-row would be lovely.

Yankee Panky #10: Stripe Poker

I’ve received some flak for not accompanying the weekly items with enough links. I’m not going to apologize for this, because sometimes I believe adding the links is warranted, whereas other times I don’t. However, I understand the frustration of certain readers who want the direct access to an article I’m referencing. Moving forward, I will try to add as many as I can within my posts, within reason. There can come a point where posting too many links detracts from the objective of the column, and I’ll be honest here, I have an ego and I don’t want you to click away from here if you’re reading my words.

Please note that the number of links will fluctuate on a week-to-week basis.

* * *

Now that that brief venting session is over, I’ll say this: you can tell it’s going to be a strange day in coverage when the Late City Final editions of the Post and the Daily News carry the same backpage headline: “THE YANKEE CLIPPARD.” If the rookie starts being called “T-Clip,” or “Ty Ballgame,” we’re in trouble.

 All joking aside, the Mets took two of three from the Yankees in Round 1 of The Series Torre and Randolph Hate to Acknowledge Is on the Schedule. And if we learned anything from the weekend — other than Mike Myers shouldn’t be the first arm out of the pen, nor should he be allowed to pitch to righties — it’s that New York is still the Yankees’ town, at least in terms of media favoritism.

An example of this is that none of the major papers sent a secondary writer to Boston to interview Braves players about facing the Mets. Their rivalry is arguably the National League’s best and has been since 1999. Those columns were written from New York as a means of rationalizing the Mets’ loss Sunday night, and editors had a day to play with as the team traveled to Atlanta. But with a crucial Yankees-Red Sox series necessitating immediate attention and David Ortiz capping his dissertation on the 180-degree flip between the rivals this season by saying, “It ain’t the same right now, homey,” editors’ priorities were simple. If faced with a similar decision, I too would have sent people to Boston on a Yanks-Sox preview assignment. Yankees-Red Sox will supersede Mets-Braves 99% of the time.

Regarding the Yankees’ lone victory in the series, I was disappointed at the lack of originality displayed in the presentation. (Last week, I recall a comment in this space saying “Once again, we must rely on blogs and nontraditional media for the best coverage.” That’s true to an extent.) The angles were obvious, and the outlets followed through accordingly, but almost to the point where if you looked closely, you’d swear some of the writers were copying off each other. Mike “Post to Post” Puma (formerly of the Connecticut Post, now with the NY Post), and Roger Rubin of the Daily News ended their Boston-based previews with Big Papi’s tabloid-friendly “homey” quote.

The similarities extended to the descriptions of the young Yankees starter. Newsday’s Johnette Howard referred to Clippard as “jug-eared”, while Filip Bondy called him “teacup-eared.”

I was most disappointed that more writers didn’t attempt to look at Clippard’s start from alternate perspectives. Watching Clippard, I couldn’t help but think of Brandon Claussen, who starred in his MLB debut in the Subway at Series at Shea in 2003. Joel Sherman astutely recognized the parallel when analyzing the effect Clippard’s success may have on the rotation. Sherman added observations from Ron Villone, who spent the first six weeks of the season with Clippard in Scranton.

Bringing forth parallels is not something the papers do too often anymore, and it’s a shame. I always tried to put the current game — regardless of its significance — into a broader historical context. I made the same suggestions when discussing angles with my writers on-site for YES. Placing such info within a simple game story or column not only demonstrates consideration for the intelligent fan, it shows that the writer or editor knows the team. It’s a credibility enhancer. Roger Rubin did a good job of this also, in his assessment of the Red Sox’ 30-13 start.

To get the broader analysis, you need to dig beyond the Big 8 – Daily News, Post, Newsday, the Times, Journal News, Star-Ledger, Bergen Record, and the Hartford Courant — for columns like Steve Goldman’s piece in the New York Sun, comparing this year’s Yankee squad to the 1982 team that finished 79-83. If you don’t go there, you’ll have to hit the message boards, Baseball Prospectus, or one of the numerous blogs.

* * *

Goofy/attention-getting notes from the weekend’s broadcasts:

  • Saturday, during the 6th or 7th inning, FOX’s Ken Rosenthal, who I respect a great deal, botched an analogy, and his explorers. When discussing the Yankees’ myriad troubles, he equated it to “Vasco da Gama looking for the fountain of youth.” As a history buff, this made me cringe. Firstly, Ponce de Leon, according to the legend, was searching for the fountain of youth while on his colonizing voyages to Florida in the early 1500s. These trips by De Leon, a Spaniard, were a good 15 years after da Gama, the Portuguese sailor who went the other way, becoming the first person to sail around Africa to the East Indies, with the goal of expanding Portugal’s colonialism and developing the spice trade. The fact that no one on the FOX broadcast team called him on the fact error concerned me. (This happens all too frequently on local broadcasts. Perhaps that’ll be a column later this season.) Would it have made him look even worse had that happened? Could a producer at least have gotten in his ear and said, “Uh, Ken, it was Ponce De Leon, not Vasco da Gama. You might want to correct yourself. Joe? Tim? Want to help him out?” The Jeopardy watcher in me has nervous tics just thinking about it.
  • During the Sunday ESPN airing, Joe Morgan’s analysis of Clippard falling off to either side of the mound was, for lack of a better word, interesting. “He falls off to the third-base side, and then to first. But it doesn’t depend on the pitch.” When breaking down the replay, “See? Here’s what I mean, on one pitch, he falls to first, and then to third.” Consecutive slo-mo replays showed him finishing his delivery toward first base. And we never found out the reason for the quirk in Clippard’s delivery. Three minutes of broadcast time we didn’t get back. The bizarre thing wasn’t the commentary itself; it was that the guys at firejoemorgan.com let him off the hook.
  • While Peter Gammons dismissed Kyle Farnsworth’s opposition to the “Clemens Clause,” calling him an “insignificant member of the team,” Morgan agreed that while Farnsworth speaking doesn’t have the same effect as a Jeter, Rivera, Posada or Damon, he does have the right to speak his mind. Morgan was correct.

* * *

Overall, some of the biggest stories in Major League Baseball merged in pinstripes. The Yankees’ tailspin into a double-digit deficit to the Boston Red Sox had SportsCenter recalling the largest separation between the two teams prior to the All-Star break (this note, of course, had the Yankees trailing, because ESPN is just a larger outlet for Red Sox lovers, right?), and again furthered the “Fire Torre and/or Cashman” speculation. Interleague play had the likes of the Yankees and Braves crying foul that they are forced to play a third of their respective schedules against the Mets and Red Sox, respectively. (MLB has done the equivalent of covering its ears and singing “La la la la la la” when such complaints are reported.).

But the more significant story was an off-field item that could affect the Yankees more than another pitcher landing on the operating table. Jason Giambi’s comment/apology/confession/admission (you can play “Mad Libs” on this one to pick the appropriate word) to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale for his use of performance enhancing drugs, and the league’s ignorance of the problem.

This is a story, like Giambi’s mullet, that will not go away any time soon. Newsday’s Jim Baumbach questioned the timing of the story, while Wally Matthews and the crew at No Maas praised Giambi’s honesty, damn the consequences he’ll face from MLB. Fans, for the most part, are supporting Giambi as long as he’s hitting. The Yankee organization? That’s still to be determined.

The Daily News was the first to report the team investigating the possibility of voiding the remainder of Giambi’s contract. The Post and others corroborated the story and quickly published short items of their own. Depending on how quickly MLB reacts with disciplinary action, the Giambi story will live as a supplement to the forthcoming items on Roger Clemens, Phil Hughes, Kei Igawa, and whatever the team is planning to announce regarding Carl Pavano.

Reader challenge: Put on your editorial hat. How would you cover the Giambi story as it relates to the rest of the team’s troubles? Is it a separate issue?

Until next week …

Baby Steps

In recent years Roger Clemens has said that he gets more satisfaction from the games he has to plod through without his best stuff than from the games he dominates. Chien-Ming Wang was far from sharp last night. He fell behind batters constantly, lots of 2-0 counts, lots of three balls counts. The Red Sox have hit Wang well in the past so he threw more sliders and off-speed pitches than normal.

“There were some good changeups, good sliders and two-seamers with movement,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “That’s just the (evolution) of a good young pitcher. I don’t necessarily think it’s a different strategy. It’s a maturing pitcher.”
(N.Y. Daily News)

The results weren’t especially pretty, but in the end, they were effective. Wang allowed two runs over six-and-a-third, the bullpen didn’t allow a run the rest of the way, as the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 6-2.

Johnny Damon showed some life in his legs, swiping a couple of bases, Alex Rodriguez homered for the third consecutive game, and Jason Giambi planted a Tim Wakefield knuckleball way up in the upper deck, a whiffle ball home run come to life. Robinson Cano had a big, two-run triple, and also made a nifty back-hand pick in the eighth inning with the bases loaded. Julio Lugo hit a Scott Proctor pitch squarely with two men out. Cano fielded it cleany and flipped it to Jeter at second for the force and the Red Sox rally was squarshed.

Just a couple of few notes:

Jack Curry weighs in on Jason Giambi’s latest controversy, while George King writes that the Angels may be interested in the Yankee slugger.

Over at Was Watching, Steve Lombardi has a link to a Bob Klapisch article where Jorge Posada talks about the losing mentality that has overcome the Yankees this season.

Ben Kabak has the latest on a Metro North train station at Yankee Stadium.

The Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have lost five games in May. Five. That’s it. Five games.

On May 1, they turned a 4-2 ninth-inning lead into a 5-4 ten-inning loss when Jonathan Papelbon blew his first save of the year against the A’s. They lost a 2-1 contest to Johan Santana and the Twins on the fifth (a game started by Julian Tavarez, incidentally). Tavarez lost again to the Orioles in his next start by a 6-3 final. Justin Verlander and the Tigers beat Tim Wakefield 7-2 on the fifteenth. Most recently, the Braves and John Smoltz took advantage of a spot start by rookie Devern Hansack to dropped a 14-0 beating on Boston.

That 2-1 loss to Santana and the Twins remains Boston’s only road loss of the month.

The Red Sox have won 14 games in May. They have the best record in baseball, the biggest division lead in baseball (10.5 games over the O’s and Yankees), their Pythagorean record matches their overall record, they’re winning at home, on the road, against lefties, righties, against the AL, against the NL, against the East, Central, and West, in one-run games, and in blowouts. They have the third-best pitching staff in baseball (behind the pitchers park-assisted Padres and A’s) and the third best offense in baseball (now tied with the Yankees behind the Indians and surging Tigers). Quite simply, they are the best team in baseball, and they’re for real.

Thus far the Red Sox’s only significant injury concern has been a reoccurrence of Josh Beckett’s blister problems that has landed him on the 15-day DL. That might slow the Sox down in the near future (Hansack’s loss on Saturday came in place of Beckett), but it won’t stop them. Lefty Kason Gabbard, who posted a 3.51 ERA in 25 2/3 innings for the Sox last year, started yesterday and handed Tim Hudson just his second loss of the year. He could return to the roster when Beckett’s spot comes due again. Then again, thanks to a scheduled off-day, Beckett will be eligible to return himself when the Red Sox next need a fifth starter, which means the primary impact of his injury could be simply Hansack’s one loss and a couple of extra starts by Julian Tavarez, who otherwise would have been the starter getting skipped.

Incidentally, Gabbard started yesterday because the Sox are going for the jugular in the Bronx. Gabbard’s spot start (he’s already back in triple-A) allowed the Sox to start Tim Wakefield tonight against Chien-Ming Wang in a fantastic matchup of specialty pitchers, each of whom lost their previous outing against tonight’s opponent in April.

The good news for the Yankees is that they have their Big Three starters going in this series (Wang, Mussina, Pettitte), and that Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez showed some signs of life in the final two games at Shea. Abreu collected three hits, including a double, and three walks in those two games and made some hard outs in last night’s contest, while Rodriguez picked up three hits and a walk of his own, two of those hits being home runs.

Oh, and Robinson Cano takes a five-game hitting streak into tonight’s game. This is only Cano’s second full season, but his trend thus far seems to be slow starts. He’s a .249/.272/.360 hitter in May in his young career (he’s hitting a very similar .241/.278/.342 overall this year), but those numbers jump to .350/.383/.541 in June (which is just ten days away). Here’s hoping the trend holds.

The bad news is Mariano Rivera’s continued struggles. Mo worked the ninth last night and gave up a home run to Damian Easley, the third home run he’s allowed this year, two of them coming off the bats of Easley and Marco Scutaro. Mo hasn’t allowed more than three home runs in a season since 2001 and hasn’t allowed more than five in a season since he was a 25-year-old starting pitcher in 1995. Mo has allowed 11 earned runs this year. He hasn’t allowed 20 since 2001 and hasn’t allowed more than 25 since 1995. I’ll be honest. For the first time in a decade, I can’t say I’m comfortable with the idea of handing Mo a one-run lead in the ninth inning, and that’s far more disconcerting than the 10.5 game deficit the Yankees take into this series.

(more…)

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