"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Dead Team Walking

The Yankees lost the finale of their weekend series in San Francisco before they even took the field. Following a brutal extra-inning loss on Saturday, Joe Torre posted a lineup without Jorge Posada or Bobby Abreu, with Miguel Cairo playing first and batting second, and Kevin Thompson, Wil Nieves, and Mike Mussina comprising the final third of the order. Meanwhile the Yankee bench featured Andy Phillips and Chris Basak, two men who had combined for seven major league plate appearances this season, all of them Phillips’, and Johnny Damon, who has added a broken dental crown to all of the other aches and pains keeping him out of the lineup. This with the team’s fourth-best starter on the mound in the person of Mike Mussina, most of the bullpen used up in that extra-inning loss, and starting shortstop Derek Jeter nursing a strained hip flexor that forced him to leave Saturday’s game early.

To his credit, Mussina kept things close, but the Yankee offense just couldn’t be found. Giants’ starter Noah Lowry held the Yankees to one hit through five innings (though he did walk four) as the Giants took a 3-0 lead on Moose. Mussina and his personal catcher Nieves, meanwhile, were giving up stolen bases left and right (a total of five including steals by 40-somethings Barry Bonds and Omar Vizquel and first baseman Ryan Klesko), and Moose was done after having thrown 104 pitches in just five frames.

Chris Basak made his first major league plate appearance leading off the sixth for Mussina and lined out hard to Barry Bonds in left. Basak ran hard out of the box with his head down and somehow arrived at second base under the impression that he’d stroked a double into the corner. Basak stood proudly on the bag removing his batting gloves until Larry Bowa was able to signal to him to head back to the dugout.

Following Basak in the sixth, Melky walked, Cairo singled him to third, and Derek Jeter (whose hip appears to be fine) worked back from 0-2 to draw a full-count walk and load the bases for Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez fouled off Lowry’s first offering, took strike two and ball one, then fouled off seven straight pitches in what would prove to be an 11-pitch at-bat only to hit a double-play grounder to short that he fortunately beat out to allow the first Yankee run to score. That exhausting at-bat drove Lowry from the game, but did little to benefit the Yankees as reliever Jonathan Sanchez got Hideki Matsui to ground out to end the threat.

Brian Bruney needed help from Luis Vizcaino to get through a scoreless sixth, so Joe Torre turned to Roger Clemens in the seventh. Torre is to be commended for his willingness to use his starters out of the pen on their throw days this year, having used Andy Pettitte for a pair of scoreless relief innings earlier in the season. Clemens didn’t fair quite as well in what was just the second relief appearance of his 24-year-career, the last coming midway through his rookie season in 1984 (giving Clemens the longest gap between relief outings in major league history, shattering Steve Carlton’s 16-year record). Clemens rallied from a 3-1 count to strike out leadoff man Ray Durham, but, in a dud of a legendary showdown, walked Barry Bonds on five pitches (though ball three looked like a strike to everyone including Bonds). Clemens then gave up a single to Ryan Klesko and a sac fly before getting Pedro Feliz to fly out to end the inning.

With Clemens having surrendered the Yankees’ lone run back to the Giants, and the defanged top of the Yankee order having gone down in order in the top of the eighth, things got embarrassing in the bottom of the eighth inning. Kyle Farnsworth came on and got backup catcher Guillermo Rodriguez to fly out on his first pitch, but after Luis Figueroa singled, Derek Jeter booted a double play ball off the bat of Randy Winn and retired no one. Omar Vizquel then singled up the middle and Melky booted the ball allowing Figueroa to score and Winn to go to third. Ray Durham then hit a high fly to Cabrera in deep center that Melky lost in the sun for a two-run double. In Melky’s defense, Winn did the same thing on an Alex Rodriguez fly in the ninth that lead to a meaningless second Yankee run. Still, that three-run San Francisco eighth just felt right in a game in which the Yankees played like the walking dead.

And so the Yanks return to the east coast having gone 1-5 in the interleague portion of their road trip to slip back below .500. One wonders how long we have to wait for Brian Cashman to pull a Kenny Williams. Not that Cash has to go make a splashy trade, but the fact that the Yankees played without the DH for six games with Damon and Basak on their bench was an act of extreme negligence and stupidity on the part of the Yankee decision makers. Getting a healthy body in for Damon (who, in his defense, delivered a pinch-hit single in the seventh, stole second and went to third on the catcher’s throwing error–of course, he then failed to score from third on a groundout to first and didn’t go out to play the field), swapping out Basak for a player who could add some punch to the 1B/DH situation (donde esta Josh Phelps? Or even Shelley Duncan), and replacing Wil Nieves with anyone or anything (come back Sal Fasano, all is forgiven—that Josh Phelps and Ryan Doumit are now teammates is not) are all moves that need to happen now. Damon has made just one start in the past week and only started four of the six games prior to that. His hit yesterday was also his first since the previous Sunday. Basak has appeared in three games since being called up twenty days ago, in two of them he was a defensive sub who never came to bat and in the third he was a pinch-hitter who never played the field. Nieves, meanwhile, has been on the roster all season, that’s nearly three months, and is hitting .111 with a .149 on-base percentage and no extra base hits.

Even if satisfactory replacements are found for those three, the Yankees will need to add an extra bat sometime this summer. With Giambi out indefinitely, Damon consistently hurt and struggling to produce or even play, and the first base situation not only lacking entering the season, but with both halves of the unsatisfactory opening day platoon now either gone (Phelps) or out with a long term injury (Mientkiewicz), the Yankees have no one to play at first base or DH. No one. Melky Cabrera is thriving in center field (hitting .313/.358/.470 since May 30), but the Miguel Cairo joyride is over (he’s 3 for his last 15), and the team doesn’t have the time to wait around to see if Andy Phillips can finally deliver on his triple-A promise at the age of 30. That said, the Yankees would be better off missing the playoffs than sending the wrong pitching prospect to Texas for Mark Teixeira or, worse, sending the same hurler elsewhere for a lesser player. As things stand now, however, the Yankees aren’t going to do better until they get better.

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