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Monthly Archives: May 2007

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Yankee Clippard

Saturday saw more misery for the Yanks, who lost starting pitcher Darrell Rasner in the first inning with a broken finger (he’ll be gone for three months), and then the game, 10-7. Robinson Cano had a couple of hits, including a home run, but his three errors overshadowed his offensive contributions.

Fortunately, the Yanks salvaged the Sunday Night game as rookie Tyler Clippard pitched a fine game, and held his own with the stick to boot, as the Yanks won, 6-2. Not a bad way to start your big league career, eh?

Couple of few notes:

Jason Giambi’s candor might just land him in more trouble than his current 1-26 slump.

I know we’ve been over this time and again here for the past three, four seasons, but man, is the Yankees bench weak or what? How many teams in the majors have a less effective bench? Oh, for the days of D. Strawberry.

On a positive note, how much fun has it been to see how well Jorge Posda and Derek Jeter are performing? It’s especially exciting to see Posada mashing like he is. Jeter? Eh, we’re used to this kind of consistency.

In Sunday’s News, Bill Madden notes:

Maybe if it wasn’t for the fact it’s been obscured by the overall mess of this Yankee season so far, there would be more of an appreciation for the quiet, Joe DiMaggio-like hitting job Derek Jeter has been doing game after game. With his seventh-inning RBI single yesterday, Jeter has now hit safely in 37 of 39 games in which he’s had an official plate appearance. While there’s no way he could ever keep up such a pace (which would mean he’d hit safely in 153 games barring injury), if he did manage to maintain this hit-per-game consistency which began about a year ago, Jeter would be in position to equal or break a unique record he shares with four others. According to the Elias Bureau, the record for most games hitting safely in a season is 135, set orginally by Rogers Hornsby in 1922 and later equalled by Chuck Klein in 1930, Wade Boggs in 1985, Jeter in 1999 and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.

But there’s a lot more to what Jeter is doing that already separates him from those four and puts him in a place right below DiMaggio in the modern age of baseball. When, on May 4, Jeter had his 20-game hitting streak for this season snapped, he had previously hit safely in 59 of 61 games dating back to last August. Excluding DiMaggio (who hit safely in his next 17 games after having his record 56-game streak snapped in 1941), the last player to have only two hitless games within a streak of 56 or more was Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty, who hit safely in 61 of 63 games in 1899. This research was compiled by Trent McCotter in the most recent Society of American Baseball Research journal. In other words, without any fanfare, Jeter has already accomplished something not done by anyone other than Joe D in this century.

After yesterday, Jeter’s streak was 73 of 76 games. According to McCotter, there have been 12 such streaks of more than 56 in which players have had only three hitless games, the most recent being Johnny Damon, who hit in 57 of 60 games from June 10-Aug. 20, 2005. But, again, Jeter’s surpasses the previous longest – George Sisler’s 67 of 70 in 1917.

Mr. Steady and the Bombers have their work cut out for them this week as they return to the Bronx to play the Red Sox and then the Angels. Just ask David Ortiz:

We’re playing well. We’re doing our thing right now,” David Ortiz said. “They need to figure out what they’re going to do to beat us. We don’t have to worry about it.

“I’ve been here for five years and we don’t need to worry about nobody right now. Everybody needs to worry about us.”
(N.Y. Daily News)

Giambi will be back in the line-up tonight. Abreu looked better on Saturday and Sunday, so maybe he’s starting to come out of it. Alex Rodriguez is struggling badly though. Aren’t they lucky? They get to face Knucksie jr, Tim Wakefield.

New York’s Finest

The Mets pitch better and field better than the Yankees. That was evident last night in the first meeting of the year between the two teams as the Mets edged the Yanks, 3-2 in a brisk game at Shea Stadium. Oliver Perez, whose cocky disposition on the mound didn’t make things easier for Yankee fans, pitched very well. Andy Pettitte turned in another fine performance with nothing to show for it. The Sox were rained out and the Yanks now trail Boston by ten games. This is the first time a Joe Torre Yankee team has been ten games out of first. It’s getting late early.

Darrell Rasner hopes to stop the bleeding today when he faces future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine. A win, a win, my Kingdom for a win.

The New York Mets

Today’s back cover of the New York Post: “Flyin & Dying”

That I don’t have to tell you which New York team is which is about all you need to know about this series, in which the Yankees catch the Mets top three starters and return serve with Andy Pettitte, Darrell Rasner, and maybe Chien-Ming Wang on short rest, maybe Chase Wright, maybe a luck fan . . .

Note the roster below. The Mets have been hit hard by injuries, but they still have the best record in the NL and the second best record in baseball. It’s a bad day in the Bronx when the top two records in MLB belong to Boston and that team from Queens. If the Mets don’t make the World Series this year, Willie Randolph will have ‘splainin’ to do.


Card Corner–The Boomer


George Scott 1975 Topps Company (No. 360)

When an inquiring reporter asked George "Boomer" Scott to identify the material used to make the distinctive necklace he wore on the playing field, the hulking first baseman responded dryly: "Second basemen’s teeth." It is still one of the best answers a ballplayer has ever given to a beat writer or newspaper columnist. In reality, the unusual necklace (which was in evidence on his 1975 Topps card) was made up of shells, wooded beads and possibly ivory tusks of some sort, but the reality doesn’t come close to matching the color of Scott’s sinister imagination. Whatever the composition of the necklace, the jewelry made the feared slugger that much more intimidating when he strolled to the plate.

Scott had other interesting accessories to his sense of baseball fashion. Unlike most fielders, he wore a helmet while playing first base. Scott began wearing the helmet in the field because of some idiotic fans on the road, who had decided to throw hardened objects his way. Given their unruly behavior toward the usually amiable Scott, Boomer might have been tempted to construct another necklace—this one consisting of fans’ teeth. But Scott was never that way; he usually treated the fans better than they did him.

While the helmet and the necklace were always evident during the games, Scott exhibited another wardrobe preference as part of his pre-game workouts. During his second stint with the Red Sox, Scott used to wear a rubberized suit in a futile attempt to lose some of the excess weight that always seemed to accumulate toward his midsection. (The tight-fitting polyester uniforms that came into use in the 1970s didn’t accentuate Boomer’s figure either.) As former Sox manager Don Zimmer pointed out in his first book with Bill Madden, Scott might have sweated off a few pounds during each early evening workout, but he seemed to have gained all the weight back by the time the first pitch rolled around.

Scott’s weight, fashion sense, and jovial sense of humor overshadowed his ample abilities as a hitter. A key member of the 1967 "Impossible Dream," Scott remained a mostly productive player with the Red Sox through 1971 before being traded to the Brewers in a seven-player blockbuster deal that also involved Cecil Cooper and Tommy Harper. As a member of the Brewers, Scott twice reached the 100-RBI milestone and shared an American League home run title in 1975 before returning to Boston via another trade during the winter of 1976.

Slowed by injuries, Scott began to decline in 1978, was released twice the following summer (by both the Red Sox and the Royals), and actually finished up his career with the Yankees toward the tail end of 1979. I distinctly remember Scott’s appearance in Yankee pinstripes as one of the few positive memories of an otherwise dismal and tragic season; The Boomer batted .318 and slugged .500 in 44 late-season at-bats. Scott played so well that final month that I thought the Yankees would bring him back for 1980, but he became a victim of an off-season of rebuilding, which included the signing of another right-handed hitting first baseman-DH, Bob "The Bull" Watson.

Convinced that he could still hit, Scott resumed his career in the Mexican League while awaiting a major league call that never came. After his playing days, he became a manager, first in the Mexican League and then most notably with an independent league team called the Massachusetts Mad Dog. Filled with free spirits and wild personalities, the team reflected Scott’s loose and freewheeling managerial style. In 1996, the Mad Dogs won the North Atlantic League championship under Scott’s scattershot direction.

Scott is fully retired from baseball today and battling some health problems caused by his continuing weight gain, which now has him well over the 300-pound plateau. According to an upcoming biography on Scott, the former slugger is determined to lose some of the excess weight and improve his physical conditioning. If he achieves those goals, a return to managing or coaching remains a possibility.

And that would be quite appropriate for a sport that needs all the colorful characters it can find.

Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books, including The Team That Changed Baseball, and the writer of Cooperstown Confidential at MLB.com. He will also be broadcasting Monday’s Hall of Fame Game between the Orioles and Blue Jays, joining former Yankee Billy Sample in the booth, for MLB Radio (MLB.com).


The Yankee offense couldn’t do much against some very good White Sox pitching yesterday in a 4-1 Chicago victory. The Bombers are 9 1/2 games behind the Red Sox who swept a double-header from the Tigers in Boston. Now, the slumping Yankees head into their first meeting with the Mets with a record of 18-21, by far the worst record they’ve had going into the subway serious since Interleague play began eleven years ago. The Yankees as underdogs? Go figure.

It is supposed to rain today and tomorrow. Anyone got anything encouraging to say? Hey, let’s just hope the Yanks find a way to win two-of-three, right?

C’mon Rodney

Matt DeSalvo has pitched well twice since joining the big league team, in spite of the fact that he isn’t getting batters to swing and miss. Boy, the Yanks sure could use a nice, fat win today before the Subway Serious kicks off tomorrow night at Shea. Color me skeptical, considering how the Bombers have been playing, but heck, pessimissm be damned, Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

Mr. Splitty

Well, phew. That was not a little bit of baseball.

This afternoon’s game was a flat, dispiriting 5-3 loss — the Yankees scraped out a few runs, but Mike Mussina gave them right back. He wasn’t terrible, but missed over the plate too many times, giving up eight hits (including two homers) and five earned runs in just over five innings. Afterwards he said he had “no go-to pitch,” and blamed his poor outing on the extra rest caused by the off-day and rain out; man, when that guy says he likes to stick to a regular routine, he is not joking. I spent the sixth inning imagining him counting out a specific number of grains of rice to eat at every meal. Vizcaino, Myers, and Bruney followed in order and held down the fort, but meanwhile, the Yankee bats continued their painful death rattles — although, to be fair, the White Sox’s John ”Pun-Proof” Danks pitched very well. I’d call him an URP, but in fact, he’s quite heralded. After the game, Joe Torre accurately described him as “conveniently wild.”

Bright spots included a single and a home run for the vengeful spirit of Tony Womack, which is currently inhabiting the body of Bobby Abreu, and an excellent leaping over-the-wall catch by Melky Cabrera (who also doubled), saving a two-run Paul Konerko homer. At the moment, by the way, Konerko is hitting .190. In fact, not a single healthy White Sox regular is hitting over .260. It could still be worse, people. Seriously, how many times today did Michael Kay say of a player stepping into the box, “… and he is REALLY struggling”? Between both teams, over the course of the two games, my best estimate is 34.

The night game, once again pushed back because of rain, was far more enjoyable – an 8-1 win that began as something of a pitcher’s duel between Chien-Ming Wang, back in top form, and Jose Contreras. The former Yank gave up four runs, only two of which were earned, but Wang was better. He allowed six singles and one run in his seven innings, throwing just 91 pitches — and twice he got out of two-on, no-out jams without allowing a run or, as far as I could tell, breaking a sweat. The Yankees have been cautious with him the last two years, and obviously his long-term health needs to come first, but I hope he’s cleared to start Sunday on three day’s rest. I don’t want to see what the Mets can do to Chase Wright.

The key Yankee offense came on a two-run Matsui double in the third, an Abreu RBI single in the seventh, and a Jeter triple. Abreu’s single followed three consecutive strikeouts, and I’m not at all sure his bat is coming back just yet, but that hit felt like the turning point of the game, and out of gratitude I will not refer to him as Womackian in this half of the recap.

Kyle Farnsworth got through the 8th allowing without allowing a run, but still cannot be recommended viewing for elderly or infirm Yankee fans with a history of heart trouble (flyout, walk, potential double saved by sweet A-Rod play, walk, line out, exhale).
As an aside, the White Sox used reliever Boone Logan in their half of the eighth, and sweet Jesus does that man work slowly. Excruciatingly leisurely relief pitchers are one of my biggest pet peeves. Boone Logan is now on my enemies list.

Anyway, the Yankee offense seemed to really get its groove back in the ninth. If this actually proves to be a turning point, please address your candy and flowers to reliever John Sisco, c/o Ozzie Guillen. Sisco allowed two walks and four hits, including homers for Melky “MELKY!” Cabrera and still-scorching pinch-hitter Jorge Posada, who at this rate, if he’s lucky, will get an entire game off sometime in August. I really think Melky is back, guys. Which is awesome, because when he plays well he jumps and darts around the Yankee dugout like everyone’s favorite little brother on a sugar high, and it is adorable. To wrap things up, Mariano Rivera, looking much more like himself, took care of business in the bottom of the inning.

Meanwhile, I see on SportsCenter — though I can only find it tentatively confirmed elsewhere at the moment — that Yankee partner and former Steinbrenner heir-apparent Steve Swindal will be bought out for roughly $5 million.

And finally, today I was reminded of one of the most amusing things in all of baseball: namely, that Roger Clemens refers to his split-fingered fastball as “Mr. Splitty.” I know we already knew this, but it’s been a while, so please take a minute out of your busy day to appreciate how absolutely hilarious that is. Thank you.

Baby The Rain Must Fall*

Tuesday night’s Yankees-White Sox game was postponed twice and ultimately rained out, which means they’re playing two today. I’ve been conditioned by the first six weeks of the 2007 season to say "this will give the bullpen some much-needed rest," but for once that’s not the case here; the pen, such as it is, is relatively fresh, and now the Yankees will need to call up a starter to face the Mets on Sunday. Perhaps Chase Wright will get the chance to break his historic consecutive home run record! On the plus side, I suppose Jason Giambi’s foot and roughly 75% of Johnny Damon’s body parts might benefit from the days off.

Per LoHud, Mike Mussina will go against John Danks at 2 P.M. — there’s a pun in there somewhere, but I can’t quite find it — followed by Chien-Ming Wang against Jose Contreras at 8. You’ve gotta think that second match-up favors the Yankees, but nothing would surprise me: by now we should all be used to the Ghost of Ineffective Yankee Pitchers Past coming back to haunt the team.


*Disclaimer: despite the presence of Steve McQueen, not actually a very good movie.


Torre Don’t Play That

If there are two things Joe Torre can’t stands from his young relief pitchers it’s walks and embarrassing blowouts. I can’t say I blame him, but I do worry about the severity of his aversion.

Colter Bean’s last outing before he was shipped back out to Scranton saw him pour gas on Kei Igawa’s fire at home against the Mariners on May 4. Bean entered the game in the fifth inning with two men on and no outs and simply could not throw a strike. He walked the first two batters he faced on eight pitches, forcing in a run. At that point the Yankees still held an 8-7 lead, but rather than recognize that the kid just didn’t have it that night, Joe Torre left Bean out there to give up an RBI single and a two-RBI double. Bean threw a total of four of his 17 pitches for strikes and left with the Yankees trailing 10-8. Luis Vizcaino would allow both of Bean’s remaining runners to score along with two more of his own to push the score to 14-8 in a game the Yankees eventually lost 15-11. The next day Bean was optioned back to Scranton in favor of Darrell Rasner, who was needed in the rotation. Obviously there’s no defense for Bean’s performance in that game, and someone had to go to make room for Rasner, but Torre has a habit of allowing one bad outing like that count for more than it should with young players. Those four batters could easily have buried Bean the way Andy Phillips four strikeouts buried him in early 2005, erasing all the good he’d done in spring training and in his three other scoreless regular season innings (and of course his stellar seven-year minor league career).

Yesterday, Sean Henn followed Bean down to Scranton. After beating out Ron Villone for the second lefty job in the pen, Henn had been fantastic in his first seven outings on the year, allowing just nine base runners and one earned run in 10 2/3 innings. Included in that total was one lonely walk. In his next eight games, Henn had walked nine in 6 2/3 innings and compiled a 7.50 ERA. The final straw came last week at home against Texas. The Yankees and Rangers were tied 1-1 after four innings, but Chien-Ming Wang gave up three in the fifth and combined with Vizcaino (there’s that man again) to put up another three-spot in the seventh. Suddenly the Yankees were down 7-1 in a game that had been close. Vizcaino gave up another run in the eighth and Henn was called in with two on and one out to face lefty Brad Wilkerson. Wilkerson singled, Mark Teixeira doubled, and a walk and a Victor Diaz homer later the Yankees were down 14-2. Henn hadn’t pitched since then and got his tickets to triple-A yesterday when the out-clause on Villone’s contract came due.

Again, Henn’s performance was indefensible and he and Bean both had options that men such as Vizcaino don’t. One can’t really get on Torre or Cashman for farming out these struggling young pitchers (well, Henn was struggling, Bean was squeezed out by a more important need), but I do worry about their willingness, or lack thereof, to recall them should Bean and Henn perform well in the minors and veterans such as Vizcaino continue, or in the case of Villone (who had a 1.90 ERA with 21 hits and 27 Ks in 23 2/3 innings for Scraton) start, to struggle.

As for Vizcaino, his game log splits look a lot like Henn’s but worse:

Games 1-8: 1.08 ERA, 8 1/3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 2 K, 0 HR
Games 9-19: 13.30 ERA, 9 2/3 IP, 16 H, 15 R, 10 BB, 8 K, 2 HR

The only thing that doesn’t make sense is the strikeout rate, which was bad when he was good and good now that he’s bad.

Incidentally, Kyle Farnsworth had one bad outing in the second week of the season in Minnesota (1 out, 4 Runs), but since then he’s posted a 3.00 ERA in 12 games, allowing 14 base runners in 12 innings and striking out seven. Not great, but good enough for middle relief. If you limit it to his last 11 outings, that ERA drops to 2.45 with 12 base runners in 11 innings, all 7 Ks, and just one homer.

The Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are two games better than the Yankees according to the teams’ actual records (Yanks 17-19, Chisox 18-16), but if you look at their runs scored and allowed, the Yankees are three games better than the White Sox (Yanks 20-16, Chisox 16-18).

The Yankees are 8-5 in the month of May and have only allowed their opponents to score more than three runs in two of those 13 contests. They of course lost both of those games (15-11 to the Mariners in Kei Igawa’s last wild ride, and 14-2 to the Rangers when things got away from Chien-Ming Wang and the bullpen this past Thursday), but despite the perceived struggles of their offense, they’ve only lost three of those 13 games because of a lack of runs. The Yankees have scored 5.15 runs per game in May, which is down from their overall average of 5.56, but would still place them fourth in the American League. Meanwhile, they’ve only allowed 3.85 runs per game on the month, which would also be the fourth best in the league. It also just happens to be the exact number of runs the White Sox have scored per game over the entire season, barely outpacing the Royals’ league-worst offense. The White Sox have been even worse than that in May, scoring just 3.27 runs per game.

Anyone looking for an explanation for that futility need not look much further than the line-up posted below. Darin Erstad leading off? Pablo Ozuna as the designated hitter? Who the heck is Ryan Sweeney anyway? (Answer: he’s a 22-year-old rookie outfielder who was hitting .256/.341/.397 for triple-A Charlotte before Jim Thome’s back injury necessitated his promotion at the end of April). Even the familiar names in that lineup aren’t hitting. Juan Uribe has been the White Sox’s most productive hitter thus far and he’s hitting a merely league average .255/.321/.447. Jermaine Dye? Nada. Paul Konerko? Zippo. Crede, Iguchi, Pierzynski? Bubkis, Didly and Squat. Over the past week, the team as a whole has hit .208/.269/.302. That they’ve managed to go 6-5 on the month thus far is a testament to their pitching and nothing else. Heck, Mark Buehrle had to go to the extreme of throwing a no-hitter to get his first win, but he did it.

As a unit, the White Sox’s rotation has been outstanding (3.78 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 6.24 IP/GS), though other than Buehrle’s no-no, no individual performances really stand out, while the offense has held that bunch to a 10-12 record. The bullpen has been less consistent, though closer Bobby Jenks continues to silence all of his doubters and new addition David Aardsma, who took Hank Aaron’s spot at the top of the record books before Barry Bonds got a chance to, has been flat-out dominant as a set-up man.

Tonight the Yankees face John Danks, who is the newest and, thus far, weakest link in the Sox’s rotation. Danks was just part of the package the White Sox received from Texas for Brandon McCarthy and has thus far outpitched McCarthy, which he’s expected to do for the remainder of his career. Danks, a hard-throwing 22-year-old lefty with a nasty curve, has made an unexpectedly quick adjustment to the majors. It’s a testament to the White Sox rotation that I was able to call Danks the weakest link. The White Sox are just 2-4 in his starts, but they’ve also scored a grand total of five runs in those four loses, all of which have been pinned on Danks. His last start was his best (6 2/3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 4 K @ Min), and while he hasn’t really dominated as of yet, he hasn’t been blown out either (his worst outing: 4 2/3 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 4 K @ Det).

Opposing Danks will be Mike Mussina, who has looked sharp since coming off the DL, allowing just seven hits and a walk in eleven innings. Moose threw just 64 pitches in his first start back and 85 in his last. Here’s hoping the Yankees can stretch him out into the high-90s or beyond tonight against the struggling Pale Hose.


Yankee Panky #9: In-Clemens Weather with Roger

For the 348 games Roger Clemens has won in his Major League career, he just can’t win.

The New York newspaper editing intelligentsia must have salivated when Clemens declared that reporters and commentators needed to get their facts straight when referring to the special services clause in his contract. The salivation must have turned to full-on drool when his former manager in Houston, Phil Garner, told ESPN Radio that Clemens’ absence did, in fact, become a problem with guys in the clubhouse — that when it would have been more appropriate for him to be in team workouts or sit in the dugout talking shop and rooting for his teammates, that he would be playing in charity golf tournaments.

The latter brought the local editors together to engage columnists in the latest game of “Soapbox Soundoff.” Granted, this is a columnist’s function, to provide opinions and occasionally drop a holier-than-thou missive in 700 words. As fans and consumers, we accept that. But I maintain that in this instance, the local print media waited a day too long to get preachy and play the “Yankee Way” card.

Last week I wrote that “if the reality (of Clemens’ arrangement) didn’t match the perception, why make a big deal of it three years later?” (Correction: I stated that it was a story for three years, but I was wrong. Last year was the only year of his three seasons in Houston that he joined the team midseason.)

Fast forward a week. The majority of the “Clemens’ absence demeans Yankees’ integrity” columns were released Tuesday. Why wait a day? Why not throw in the biting commentary into the context of the “Roger is back, and here’s what it means” stories released on Monday? The editors and writers knew that a major condition of Clemens signing with the Yankees for the remainder of this season was the team’s willingness to bend where they stood steadfast for the past two years.

These same editors and writers know that the “Yankee Way” was compromised when they traded for Kevin Brown in December 2003. Brown had clearance to fly to and from his home Macon, Ga., when he was not pitching in order to spend time with his family. An even more notable exception to the “Yankee Way” than the Knucklebuster was Thurman Munson. I’m dating myself here, so I’ll elicit the help of you guys in the comments, but because of Munson’s elevated status on the team and the way the writers respected him, I can’t see too many — if any — columnists or editors criticizing Munson for getting his pilot’s license and flying to and from Canton, Ohio, to see his family. In conversations I’ve had with writers and broadcasters who knew him, they admired him for what he did.

The most interesting column on the topic, in my opinion, came last Thursday from the Post’s George Willis, who opined that Clemens’ big-money, half-season contracts and carte blanche treatment will start a trend for fortysomething MLB veterans. Willis provided a different perspective. He didn’t try to explain what separates the Yankees from everyone else, or express dismay that the organization sold itself out. Willis also had a great hook: the ubiquitous Reggie Jackson told Willis he was jealous of Clemens’ arrangement. This, to me, was the best part of the column. Jackson later noted that as a hitter, you have a chance to be in the lineup everyday; thus, it’s more important to be with the team every day than if you’re a starting pitcher (did Barry Bonds form his opinion of pitchers from talking to Reggie?), but it’s obvious he fancied himself talented enough and powerful enough to have commanded such an arrangement.

Reading and rereading the Jackson quotes, I couldn’t help thinking that he still harbors enmity toward Munson and was taking a shot at him. His comments in the Sport Magazine article 30 years ago are as famous as any ever spoken by a Yankee. Their effect still divides members of that championship team. (Quick aside: Four years ago at Old Timers’ Day, a small group of reporters, including myself, gathered around Sparky Lyle to get his take on the Yankees retiring Jackson’s No. 44. Disgusted at the inquiry, Lyle took a drag from his cigarette, huffed the smoke out through his nose and said, “I’m not saying anything about that, because I don’t have anything nice to say.”) Furthermore, Jackson told reporters last October he didn’t see a similarity between Cory Lidle’s death and Thurman Munson’s. The circumstances surrounding their crashes were different, but the parallel is an easy one to draw.

Thankfully, the coverage shifted from the "no ‘I’ in team" soapbox to the daily chronicle of his workouts in Lexington, Ky., staying there to watch his son Koby play a minor league game, then on to Tampa for workouts leading up to his first preparatory start in the minors.

And as the team headed west, with the papers sending only their beat guys, Clemens became a note item and the Yankees’ offensive anemia came to the fore.

* * * * *

Speaking of notebook items, thumbing through Monday’s missives, all the dailies led with the offensive struggles, with A-Rod, of course, being the poster boy. I couldn’t help but notice the subtle differences in what each paper chose for “sidebar” and “notebook” stories.

Notebook lead: Games taking Torre’s mind off his brother’s fight for life following a kidney transplant.
Other notes: Clemens to throw in Tampa Tuesday leading to Friday start.

Notebook lead: Torre’s mind on brother Frank
Other notes: Clemens’ schedule; Rotation for Mets, Boston series

Full sidebar on Bob Abreu’s prolonged slump

Notebook lead: Clemens’ schedule
Other notes: Jason Giambi back despite foot injury; Jeter, Posada streaks

Notebook lead: Clemens schedule
Other notes: Giambi ailing; Torre’s return to New York; Torre considered sitting Damon and Abreu; Villone to be called up?; Jeter commits first error in 23 games

Notes on Clemens, travel musings, in Peter Abraham’s blog (link is on right rail).

Notebook lead: Clemens
Other items: Proctor accepts suspension (from Sunday)

Notebook lead: Jeter, A-Rod errors
Other items: Abreu slump; Jeter, Posada hit streaks DeSalvo gives scorecard from Saturday’s win to his brother

It’s fascinating to me how similar stories spanning so many outlets can have such different information due to the difference of one or two words. For example, regarding the Clemens story, Newsday stated Tuesday’s throw day would put him on track for a Friday start, while the Times and the Post also presented the situation as an “if/then” item. The Daily News definitively claimed “Clemens will start Friday,” and if he comes through that OK and starts games at the graduated levels of the minors, he’ll be in line to start June 2 at Boston. In addition, there was conflicting information regarding the Giambi injury. Newsday reported the injury as plantar fasciitis, whereas the Daily News and the Post said it was a bone spur. Which one is it? They’re two different injuries.

The lesson: no matter how good the reporter is (and Kat O’Brien, George King and Mark Feinsand are all good), their stories can’t automatically be accepted as true.


When they hit, they don’t pitch, when they pitch, they don’t hit (nevermind the fielding). The Yankees lost a heartbreaker, 2-1 yesterday. The Bombers had two men on with one out in the seventh, but came up empty when Minky hit into a double play. Alex Rodriguez came to the plate with two men on in the eighth and was blown away. Then in the ninth, JJ Putz struck out the side, despite giving up a one-out double to Hideki Matsui.

Johnny Damon told the Times:

“We need to start closing the gap real soon,” Damon said. “I think the next month is really important. We get Rocket back in about three weeks. When we get him back, we need to be within five. We can’t keep losing ground.

“Granted, if the Red Sox keep playing the way they are, nobody’s going to catch them. They’re playing at about a .750 clip. That’s pretty good, and they’ve been able to stay healthy. I think if we were a little healthier, we probably could be within three or four. But we haven’t swung the bats consistently enough or pitched consistently enough to merit that right now.”

Bobby Abreu drew his first walk in 61 at bats yesterday but is mired in a 2-22 skid, and is experiencing what is far and away, the worst slump of his career. According to the Daily News:

Joe Torre believes that the Yankees’ 17-19 record has made it more difficult for Abreu to find a groove, as he is trying to right himself and spark his team at the same time.

“It’s the pride factor and the responsibility factor; his biggest problem right now in his mind is letting people down,” Torre said. “I think he’d have an easier time snapping out of this thing if we had been winning a lot more.”

The Yankees have the day off today and then play three in the Windy City before heading to Shea to play the Mets this weekend. Joe Torre, however, has returned to New York to be with his ailing brother, Frank.


The Yankee bats were shut out on Friday night but came back well enough on Saturday. D. Rasner and M. DeSalvo both pitched very well. Hey, the Yankees need to find the 2007 versions of Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon. For the time being, Rasner and DeSalvo are pitching well (though I have to admit, without knowing much about DeSalvo he doesn’t look like he’s got much stuff).

The Old Guard, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada are carrying the load offensively, as Alex Rodriguez has tapered off and Bobby Abreu and Robinson Cano continued to struggle and Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi battle to stay healthy.

Yanks look to take the weekend series this afternoon.

Seattle Mariners, Pt. II

I hate to be phoning this one in, but c’mon, these teams finished a four-game tilt on Monday, there’s not much that needs to be said. Since then the Yankees took two of three from Texas and the Mariners dropped two of three to the Tigers. Neither team’s made a roster move since then (though the M’s farmed out Julio Mateo for Sean Green in the middle of last weekend’s series following a possible abuse incident involving the former), and tonght’s game is a rematch of Sunday’s contest, which the Yankees won 5-0 behind Darrell Rasner’s job-winning 5 2/3-inning, 3-hit, no-run performance.

Odds are this series won’t be nearly as eventful as last weekend’s, which saw the return of Roger Clemens, Chien-Ming Wang’s near perfect game, a near brawl, Matt DeSalvo’s major league debut, and that dreadful, game-changing blown call in the series finale. One does wonder if there’s any lingering bad blood from last Sunday’s incidents, and if that will in any way be exacerbated with Josh Phelps likely starting against the lefty Jarrod Washburn again, or by a Scott Proctor relief appearance (Proctor has a suspension coming for throwing behind Yuniesky Betancourt, but it’s still on appeal). Of course, Joe Torre, who already served his one-game suspension, could quell the conflict somewhat by starting the hot-hitting Doug Mientkiewicz over Phelps, but he can’t avoid Proctor for the full extent of a three-game series, nor should he.

Observations From Cooperstown–The Yankee Rumor Mill


Although Roger Clemens has been signed and sealed, and is soon to be delivered, don’t expect the Yankees to stand pat and remain satisfied with their current roster configuration. Brian Cashman has a history of making mid-season deals, dating back to the frenzy of moves he made during the latter half of 2000 (when he acquired David Justice, Glenallen Hill, Jose Canseco, and Jose Vizcaino) and continuing in more recent seasons with mid-year pickups like Esteban Loiaza, David Dellucci, Matt Lawton, Bobby Abreu, and Craig Wilson. Some of the moves have worked, while others have bombed, but Cashman does deserve credit for trying to address at least some of the team’s needs each July and August.

Cashman is embracing a similar strategy this year, especially with the Yankees trying to make up a six-game gap in the American League East. Prior to the signing of Clemens, Cashman had engaged at least three teams in trade talks for starting pitching. He had revisited some old trade talk with the Phillies, with the teams considering a swap of Jon Lieber for Kyle Farnsworth. In addition, Cashman had fielded calls from the Giants, who showed interest in Melky Cabrera and appeared willing to give up left-hander Noah Lowry. Cashman had also inquired about right-hander Paul Byrd, a member of the Indians’ rotation.

With Clemens in tow, the urgency to make any of these deals has lessened, but has not completely died on the vine. After all, the Yankees may still need starting pitching. The age of Clemens and Mike Mussina, coupled with the disappointing start to Kei Igawa’s major league career, puts the Yankees just one or two potholes away from another pitching emergency. If everyone stays healthy and Phil Hughes can return in six weeks, the rotation will be just fine. If not, Joe Torre will have to do more juggling. That is why Lieber remains a viable option. He pitched well in his one season in the Bronx, shows no fear of the big stage, and possesses an ability to economize pitches that makes him a certified innings-eater. At one point, the Yankees would have bristled at the notion of giving up the electric-armed Farnsworth for a journeyman like Lieber, but the thoughts of the front office and coaching staff have changed. Frustrated with the high-strung Farnsworth’s faulty mechanics and his inability to pitch on successive days, the consensus in Yankeeland now concedes he’ll never prosper in pinstripes. Brian Bruney has the stuff to replace Farnsworth in pitching the eighth inning, and a back-end starter like Darrell Rasner or Matt DeSalvo could take over Bruney’s role in the middle innings.

A Cabrera-for-Lowry deal is less likely, if only because the Yankees already have such little depth on their bench. They are also concerned by Johnny Damon’s nagging leg and back injuries, which make him unavailable from time to time. Still, the Yankees could take a chance on replacing Cabrera with Kevin Thompson, Kevin Reese, or the intriguing Bronson Sardinha. (Or how’s this for a radical idea? The Yanks could bring back Rickey Henderson, who wants to continue playing at the age of 48.) A trade of Cabrera might be worth fulfilling the goal of adding some young left-handed pitching to the rotation. With Igawa banished to Billy Connors’ pitching camp, there are few young lefties in the system besides Chase Wright that can be counted upon to contribute to the rotation in the next year or two.

While starting pitching remains the top priority, the Yankees have also contemplated changes elsewhere. Doug Mientkiewicz’ awful April almost resulted in his release, but his three-run home run against the Red Sox saved his job, triggering a resurgent May, which has included a series of spectacular defensive plays at first base. So for now, Minky remains the first baseman, backed up by the underused Josh Phelps. As long as the Yankees continue to score runs, Minky should be safe, but another prolonged slump—either for him or the team—will once again have his detractors calling for a change.

A more immediate change could take place behind the plate, where backup Wil Nieves has been horrifically bad. For an organization that had a pretty strong tradition of backup catchers from the 1970s through the 1990s—with capable reserves like Johnny Ellis, Rick Dempsey, Cliff Johnson, Ron Hassey, and Joe Girardi—the backup catching situation has deteriorated badly in the new millennium. Chris Turner, Alberto Castillo, and Kelly Stinnett were poor enough, but Nieves looks like the worst catcher the Yankees have had in 40 years. He can’t hit (one hit in 34 Yankee at-bats and even that was erased when he tried to stretch a single into a double), and isn’t particularly good defensively. Simply put, Nieves does not deserve a spot on a major league roster. As a result, the Yankees can be expected to pick up talks with the Phillies about Rod Barajas, who has been a free agent disappointment in Philadelphia. Barajas can’t be traded without his permission until June 15, but the Yankees may pounce on a deal shortly thereafter. Another option would be Pittsburgh’s useful Ryan Doumit, who swings the bat well and can play both first base and the outfield. Don’t be surprised to hear rumors linking Doumit with Melky Cabrera; the Pirates are unhappy with their outfield situation as it pertains to center and right field. Then again, Pirates GM Dave Littlefield seems to have a phobia about making trades.

Finally, the Yankees’ overworked bullpen will need to be addressed. An in-house option involves veteran left-hander Ron Villone, who has been dominating the International League, but has to be recalled by May 15 or else be granted free agency. The potential return of Villone won’t excite many Yankee fans, but it speaks volumes about the state of Joe Torre’s relief staff.

So while we all wait for Clemens to officially begin his second stint in New York, let’s keep in mind some of these other possibilities. Given the ground that they need to make up in the standings, the Yankees are not done making moves—not by a long shot.

Moving On

“It’s easy to say, oh yeah, we’ll dismiss that, let’s go get them tomorrow,” [Yankee reliever, Sean] Henn said. “But it’s a 5 1/2-hour flight to Seattle. It’s probably going to seem a lot longer than that.”
(N.Y. Post)

The Yanks got their bell rung yesterday afternoon to the tune of 14-2 at the Stadium. The less said about this one, the better.

Over at the Times, Joe Lapointe has an update on the new Yankee Stadium, while Manny Fernandez writes about Latin food at the current park.

Meanwhile, in a sad development, Frank Torre is back in intensive care:

“He’s not doing too well,” Joe Torre said. “The kidney was functioning, but it takes a hit when you have to have all those antibiotics. He was sort of in and out (yesterday) morning when I talked to him. But on aspects of the game (Wednesday) night, he had no problems, which was good.”
(N.Y. Daily News)

“He’s been on borrowed time for a lot of years,” Torre said yesterday, in the quiet of a virtually empty office. “When you’re a 75-year-old man, and you’re in the hospital, nothing’s ever a lay-up.”
(Vaccaro, N.Y. Post)

Our thoughts and best wishes go out to the Torre family.

Everything’s Comin’ Up Roses

The Yankees wrap up their season series with the Rangers this afternoon on another gorgeous day in the Bronx. The Yanks have taken the first five games and Chien-Ming Wang will be on the mound in his first start since his near-perfect game looking to give the Yankees a six-game sweep. The Rangers, meanwhile, send out Brandon McCarthy, who’s been a disaster in three of his last five starts, allowing at least five runs while getting knocked out before the fourth inning.

Things have turned around dramatically for the Yanks in the past week. Wil Nieves finally got his first Yankee hit last night after three years of trying (bringing his career OPS+ up to -6). Andy Pettitte got his second win of the season on Tuesday after seeing the bullpen blow three others in his previous four starts. Doug Mientkiewicz has raised his batting average 94 points over the last ten games, batting .407/.433/.741 over that span.

Of course the big news is the performance of the starting rotation, which finally has its intended Big Three of Wang, Pettitte, and Mussina active at the same time. Removing only the stink bomb laid last Friday by the since-demoted Kei Igawa, here’s how that Big Three plus rookies Phil Hughes, Darrell Rasner, and Matt DeSalvo have performed over their past eight games:

51 IP, 27 H, 8 R, 2 HR, 14 BB, 28 K, 1.41 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 6-0

The only games over that stretch in which the starter did not earn the win (again excepting Igawa’s stinker) were the win Luis Vizcaino vultured from Pettitte in Texas and that ugly 3-2 loss to the Mariners on Monday night after DeSalvo’s gem. The best stat of all from this run: 6 1/3 innings pitched per start.

Incidentally, here’s the bullpen over those eight games:

21 IP, 18 H, 6 R, 3 HR, 6 BB, 13 K, 2.57 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 1-1

Of course, they’ve blown as many saves as they’ve converted (including one of each type in that Pettitte/Vizcaino game in Texas), but then one of those blown saves came on that blown stolen base call on Monday. If Bloomquist is called out, there’s a good chance that Rivera records the save with Beltre standing in the on-deck circle. More encouraging than that, however, is the fact that, with the Yankees on an 8-3 run with the returns of Clemens and Hughes on the horizon, one needn’t cling to those kind of what-ifs.

Brawls to the Wall

Before Roger Clemens arrived at the Stadium on Sunday, blotting out all unrelated baseball thought for roughly 48 hours, I was thinking about brawls. The benches cleared when Scott Proctor threw behind Yuniesky Betancourt (really not a guy you can enjoy picking on, once you’ve heard his story), but it never got farther than a bit of shouting and some profoundly manly milling around.

Unless I’m forgetting something, the Yankees haven’t had a real punches-thrown kind of brawl since 2004 against the Red Sox (the infamous Varitek/A-Rod imbroglio), and even that one was fairly tame… or maybe it’s just that it will always live in the shadow of 2003’s immortal Pedro vs. Zimmer title bout. Has it really been three years? Someone needs to create a reliable database for this kind of vitally important information (paging David Pinto!).

I should say up front that I am a total hypocrite when it comes to baseball brawls. I went to Quaker meeting as a kid and generally consider myself nonviolent; I’ve never hit anyone, except for that one time in fifth grade (and Fat Matt the Rat had it coming). I actually have a hard time enjoying football or boxing because I find them too consistently brutal. But I do enjoy a good baseball brawl, and I’m certainly not alone in that. This instinct probably doesn’t say anything good about humanity’s instinctive preferences in entertainment. I suspect it’s a vague, domesticated version of the quality that made ancient Romans turn to a pal and say, “Hey amicus, what say we go down to CitiColosseum, have a few cold ones, and watch a couple of guys fight to the death! I hear it’s Luggage Tag Day.”

This is where we insert the obvious disclaimer that you never want to see anyone get seriously hurt – that stops being fun in a hurry. But that’s a rarity in even the roughest diamond fights these days, which are at least 85% shoving, grabbing, valiantly holding someone back, indignantly allowing yourself to be held back, wrestling, cursing, or walking aimlessly around trying to look busy. (Unless you’re Kyle Farnsworth. Then you personally constitute* the other 15%. Now that I think about it, Farnsy’s presence on the Yankees may actually be enough of a deterrent, by itself, to explain the lack of brawls in the last few years).

That said, I have to say I don’t buy the argument that teams need to incite brawls, retaliate in bean ball wars, or get violently angry in order to “get fired up” and play well. In the wake of April’s Red Sox catastrophes, I heard all over the place that the Yankee pitchers needed to throw at more Red Sox – “I mean, I’m not saying you have to hurt someone, but if you pitch inside and you hit them, so be it” was how this was usually couched – but it seems to me that the absolute last thing you need, when your pitching is flopping around on the ground like a dying fish, is to put David Ortiz on base for Manny Ramirez, or Manny on for J.D. Drew. There was no particular reason to think that any of the Red Sox had thrown at the Yankees; the situation might be different if the teams actually had any reason to dislike each other personally, but those days are gone. Personally, I think sports writers and announcers and talk radio guys only spout this stuff because they can’t get away with saying “hey, a brawl right now would sure make this game vastly more entertaining, wouldn’t it?” You could hear it on the YES network Sunday; Michael Kay was getting an alarmingly Joaquin-Phoenix-in-Gladiator kind of edge to his voice.

What do you think: does fighting ever actually help a team, or is it just sordid entertainment for the rest of us? Or maybe both? What’s the best or worst brawl you can remember, and how come the Yankees haven’t had one in three years? How much do you want to see Kyle Farnsworth break out his moves against, say, Barry Bonds? Do you do feel bad for wanting to see it that much?


*You really, really need to click on the link under the photo here and watch the “Guillen’s HBP starts scrum” clip. I have linked to it before, and it’s about five minutes long, but absolutely worth it. Those Tigers announcers are classic (“There’s big Farnsworth now, and — WHOOOOA!… Well, you knew when big boy got there, it was gonna get ON!”. “That is one guy you do not want to mess with. Period”).

Also, as a bonus, this clip features Jose Lima.

Very Nice

Well, so much for my hunches. With the exception of one inning, Mike Mussina handled the Rangers last night for six frames, while Derek Jeter, batting in the three hole, led the offense with two hits and three RBI as the Yanks beat the Rangers, 6-2. Bobby Abreu had a resounding double to the left center field gap in the first, and Robinson Cano had an RBI ground out later in the inning, but both continue to struggle. The Yankee bullpen did not allow a run, and would you believe, the Bombers have reached the .500 mark, with a record of 16-16.

The highlight of the evening came when back-up catcher Will Nieves notched his first base hit of the season. Nieves hit the ball hard his first time up–a rocket ground ball to third; in the sixth, he lined a ball down the left field line and was so excited that he tried to stretch it into a double. He was thrown out easily and there were smiles all around in the Yankee dugout. Nobody seemed to enjoy it more than Derek Jeter, who looks as if he loves to bust chops.

“It’s like one of those things in Little League, where you just keep running until you get tagged out,” Jeter joked.
(N.Y. Post)

It was easy for the Yanks to laugh last night. The Bombers go for the sweep this afternoon with C.M. Wang on the mound. It’s overcast and humid in New York with thundershowers on the way. But hopefully, they’ll get the game in without a hitch.

Twice as Nice?

It’s been a lovely, warm spring day in New York. Mike Mussina makes his second start since returning from injury tonight against Texas. He pitched well last week against the Rangers; let’s hope they haven’t figured him out (though my Spidey Sense says that the Rangers offense will do just fine). Jason Giambi is out with a bad foot and Jorge Posada has the night off, what with a day game tomorrow. Bobby Abreu is hitting second. No better time than the present for Robby Cano to keep working his way back into a groove, eh?

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

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