"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

If At First You Don’t Succeed . . .

Figures I’d predict a slugfest and the Yanks would lose a pitchers duel. Figures as well that the guy I said sucked would hold the Yanks to one run on four hits over seven innings and strike out Alex Rodriguez with junk low and away twice, skipping off the mound after one of them. Figures as well that Mike Mussina, who I said was cooked a few weeks ago, would hold up his end of things by limiting the Rockies to three runs over six innings. Yeah, he got fed up with Lance Barksdale’s umpiring in his final inning and served up a homer to eighth-place hitter Yorvit Torrealba on an 85-mile-per-hour “fastball,” but he was also keeping the Rocks off balance with a change-up in the high 60s.

So the Yanks dropped the Colorado opener 3-1 in a game that felt a lot like their 2-0 loss to the Mets in the last series opener. What’s far more compelling about yesterday’s action was the Yankees’ developing first base situation.

Before the game, the Yankees called up Andy Phillips, a move that was overdue seeing as they’ve been carrying both Chris Basak and Miguel Cairo on the roster and starting Cairo at first while avoiding Basak like the plague. Phillips, who has been playing second base at Scranton and crushing International League pitching as is his way (.301/.382/.494, 11 HR), gives them a superior defensive first base option who actually represents something of a threat at the plate. After all, Cairo has hit .342/.350/.421 as the Yankee first baseman, which is great, but it’s all singles and won’t last. Last year, in similar playing time, Cairo hit .239/.280/.320 and Phillips hit .240/.281/.394. Cairo might be a smidge better than that. Phillips, who was already a smidge better than Cairo, is definitely a lot better than that.

There’s one catch. Rather than demoting Basak, the Yankees designated Josh Phelps for assignment. Sure, Phelps and Phillips are a tad redundant, but facing six games without the designated hitter, having Phelps, who’s a career .294 pinch-hitter, rather than Basak, who’s still never come to the plate in the major leagues, seems like a no-brainer. Seems. Instead the Yankees will have to offer Rule 5 pick Phelps back to Baltimore, where current YES broadcaster and prospective Oriole manager Joe Girardi could very well be the man deciding Phelps’ fate.

Meanwhile, both Jorge Posada and Johnny Damon saw action at first base last night, Posada starting there to allow Wil Nieves to catch Mussina. Jorge made one nice play leaping for a high throw from Derek Jeter and coming down on the bag in time to make the out. Otherwise, neither was challenged, and neither had to play a ball off the bat. Most likely Phillips will start against the lefty Jeff Francis tonight, with Damon starting against righty Rodrigo Lopez on Thursday. Chris Basak will continue to do little more than cheer on his teammates.

For anyone looking for a comparison between Phillips and Phelps, I think I covered that plenty in spring training.

For yucks, here’s an update on a few other first-base candidates I mentioned this winter:

Craig Wilson Was awful as the right-handed half of the Braves first-base platoon (.172/.304/.259), earning his release. He has since caught on with the White Sox triple-A team and has struggled just as much there (.180/.275/.262).

Carlos Peña Made the Devil Rays as a non-roster invitee and became the starting first baseman when an April injury to Akinori Iwamura allowed the Rays to move Ty Wigginton off first. Since then, he’s gone absolutely nuts and is currently fourth in the AL with 16 homers, hitting .314/.404/.669.

Hee-Seop Choi Failed to beat out Peña in Rays camp and has since returned to South Korea where he’s playing for the last-place Kia Tigers in the Korea Baseball Organization.

Ryan Klesko Splitting first base with Rich Aurilia in San Francisco (where the Yankees will be on Friday), Klesko is hitting .299/.389/.460 despite missing all but six games last year due to shoulder surgery.

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