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Monthly Archives: June 2007

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The Colorado Rockies

This just in: The Rockies don’t suck. In fact, the Rockies have won as many games in 2007 as the Yankees have (though Colorado has lost two more). No longer Todd Helton and a bunch of scrubs, the Rockies are a legitimate .500 team that has some youth and promise that could represent the beginning of a small turn around for a franchise that has never won more than 83 games in any single season in its entire 14-year history. Note I said small. The Rockies are not the Brewers, Diamondbacks, or even the Marlins. Their future isn’t quite that bright, but it’s still about as bright as it’s ever been if not more so.

Start with the pitching staff. Josh Fogg and Rodrigo Lopez are filler, even if Lopez is having an excellent though injury-shortened season, but Jeff Francis, Jason Hirsh, and Aaron Cook (of whom the 28-year-old Cook is the oldest) form a solid top three with third-year lefty Francis showing continued improvement as the defacto ace, Cook serving as the National League’s answer to Jake Westbrook, and 25-year-old Hirsh (the key prospect in the Jason Jennings trade) succeeding despite a scary fly ball rate. With additional thanks to Lopez, the Rocky starters have posted a 4.52 ERA this far, which is a minor miracle for a team playing in Coors Field. Mix in strong showings from closer Brian Fuentes and hard-throwing, side-arming sophomore set-up man Manuel Corpas and surprising performances from lefties Jeremy Affeldt (more walks than Ks, but zero homers) and Tom Martin, and the entire staff’s ERA+ is a dead-average 101, while the team’s road ERA is 3.85, which is the third-best in the NL behind the Mets and Padres.

On offense, the Rocks have a solid outfield and left side of the infield, with the oldest of those five men being 28-year-old right fielder Brad Hawpe. Matt Holliday is a legitimate All-Star (.318/.374/.546 career and .321/.372/.522 on the road this year). Hawpe is a lesser version of same (.281/.371/.483 career on the road). Center fielder Willy Taveras (who also came over in the Jennings deal) is a fantastic defender in that big park and has solid on-base numbers both at home (.373) and on the road (.358), though he could stand to be more selective about his stolen base attempts. In the infield, Garrett Atkins got off to an awful start, but has turned it on in June (.327/.441/.673), and 22-year-old future-star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has been playing gold glove defense while waiting for his bat to come around. Throw in solid contributions on both sides of the ball from reclamation project Kaz Matsui and a healthy Helton and, well, the Rockies don’t suck.

Josh Fogg kinda sucks, though, and he’ll take the mound tonight against the Yankees. One might not be surprised to find that Fogg’s only two wins came on the road and that his ERA at home is 2.77 runs higher than his road mark, though one might be surprised to find out that those two wins game against the Mets and Red Sox. What’s more, the Rockies have won Fogg’s last three starts and Fogg’s ERA over his last four starts (two home, two on the road) has been 3.91. Then again, opponents have hit .326/.375/.495 against him in those four starts, so, even when he does well, Josh Fogg sucks.

As for Mike Mussina, he was fantastic in his last two starts (13 2/3 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 11 K, 1.98 ERA), but I’m still not convinced, as the two teams Moose faced in those games, the White Sox and Diamondbacks, comprise half of the four worst offensive teams in baseball. The Yankees have visited Colorado during the regular season once before, in 2002. In those three games, the two teams scored a total of 70 runs. Coors Field isn’t quite the launching pad it was then thanks to the humidor (the 2002 park factor was 121 compared to 107 for 2006 and 2007), but I don’t think it’s out of the question to expect that kind of game again tonight.

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Dad, Reggie and Me


In his first installment of our series about the box set of the 1977 World Series, Jay Jaffe mentioned how much his father admired Reggie Jackson:

 

Reggie made a big impression on my father, himself a second-generation Dodger fan who had no truck with the pinstripes. Via him, Reggie gained larger-than-life status in my eyes. When we played catch, occasionally Dad would toss me one that would sting my hand or glance off my glove. If I complained, he’d shout, “Don’t hit ‘em so hard, Reggie!” In other words, don’t bellyache, and don’t expect your opponent to cut you any slack.
 

Longtime readers of Bronx Banter know that not only was Reggie my favorite player as a kid but he was one of the few Yankees my Dad also enjoyed too. Shortly before my father died earlier this year, I wrote a memoir piece about him and Reggie Jackson. I was thinking a lot about the old man two days ago on Father’s Day, and thought now would be a good time to share this story with you.

“Dad, Reggie, and Me” was originally published in Bombers Broadside 2007: An Annual Guide to New York Yankees Baseball (March, Maple Street Press). (c) 2007 Maple Street Press LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Dad, Reggie and Me

There is nothing like the first time. Nothing is as intense, as memorable as your first love, your first break-up or, in this case, your first hero. Mine was Reggie Jackson, who signed as a free agent with the Yankees 30 years ago. I was six years old during Jackson’s first year in pinstripes, a time when I was as interested in action heroes and comic books as I was in baseball. Reggie was more a superhero—a “superduperstar” as Time magazine once dubbed him—than a ball player. Bruce Jenner may have been on a box of Wheaties but Reggie had his own candy bar. (Catfish Hunter once said “I unwrapped it and it told me how good it was.”) Reggie arrived in New York at a time when I desperately needed a fantasy hero; his five volatile years in pinstripes coincided with the disintegration of my parents’ marriage.

The truth is the Yankees never wanted Jackson in the first place. In 1976, they won the pennant with an effective left-handed DH in Oscar Gamble. But after they were swept in the World Series by the Reds, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was bent on adding a big name. The first free agent re-entry draft was held that fall and the Yankees drafted the negotiating rights for nine players. Reggie was their sixth choice. Steinbrenner and his general manager, Gabe Paul, coveted second baseman Bobby Grich; manager Billy Martin pined for outfielder Joe Rudi. Then, over the course of a few days in mid-November, seven of the nine players the Yankees were interested in signed elsewhere, and suddenly Steinbrenner had no choice but to court Reggie. Paul was against it, but Steinbrenner courted Reggie anyway, wining and dining the superstar around New York. In the end, Jackson couldn’t resist the Yankees anymore than Steinbrenner could keep himself from wooing the slugger. He turned down bigger offers from the Expos and the Padres and signed. “I didn’t come to New York to be a star,” he said. “I brought my star with me.”

I remember my father in those years sitting in his leather-bound chair, reading The New York Times, a glass of vodka constantly by his side. In 1976, we moved from Manhattan to Westchester and my father had a heart attack at the age of 39. He was unemployed for a year, horribly depressed. My mother got a job and chopped wood to keep our gratuitously spacious house warm. We moved to a nearby town, Yorktown Heights, in 1977 before my father began to work again.

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Catch You Later

Some Yankee fans think that Goose Gossage, Bernie Williams and even Mike Mussina should be in the Hall of Fame. Others will argue that Thurman Munson belongs in Cooperstown. I think that’s a stretch, but what about Jorge Posada? (I think you can make a case that next to Berra and Dickey, Posada is the third best catcher in Yankee history.) I haven’t ever really considered the possiblity until now thanks to Jay Jaffe. Check it out.

Chien-Ming Whiff

The Yankees recovered nicely after dropping the first game of the weekend series, taking a sloppy affair on Saturday afternoon, and then dominating the Mets on Sunday night to the tune of 8-2. Chien-Ming Wang was impressive for the third straight outing. He came within just one out of a complete game and struck out a career-high ten batters. Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada both hit home runs and the Yankees kept pace with the Red Sox who swept the hapless Giants at Fenway Park.

Jose Reyes was a terror on the bases against the Yankees–he stole five bases in the first two games before being gunned-down by Posada last night–but Derek Jeter had a terrific weekend as well. Take your pick as far as who the best shortstop in New York is, at least you’ve got an argument. They have different styles but both Jeter and Reyes look like they are having an awful lot of fun out there.

It Don’t Gotta Be Pretty

The Yankees won ugly yesterday afternoon, beating the Mets 11-8 in a game that saw almost constant scoring by both teams. The Mets scored in each of the first four frames, driving Tyler Clippard from the game in the fourth after taking a 5-4 lead on a one-out, two-run Ramon Castro homer and then putting two more men on base. Luis Vizcaino shut the door and the Yanks took back the lead for good in the bottom of the frame on a two-run Derek Jeter homer, but at 6-5 the game was far from over. Tom Glavine got bounced in the fifth and the Yankees scored two runs in each inning from the second through the sixth to build their lead to 10-5, but even that wasn’t all.

Kyle Farnsworth was up to his old tricks in the eighth, walking the leadoff man and number eight hitter, then watching him come around to score before striking out Carlos Beltran and David Wright to end the inning. The Yankees got that run back in the next half inning, but Mariano Rivera followed with his worst outing since April. Entering the game, Rivera hadn’t allowed a run in his last 10 1/3 innings and had allowed just six base runners and struck out 12 over that span. Yesterday, Mo was greeted by back-to-back singles by Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca, then, after a Shawn Green fly out, Ramon Castro singled to load the bases. Mo bore down and struck out Ruben Gotay on three pitches for the second out, but Carlos Gomez reached on yet another infield single (his fourth in two games) to plate Delgado and Jose Reyes singled off Rivera’s ankle to plate Lo Duca before Mo finally got Carlos Beltran to pop out to end the game.

The good news on Rivera is that there’s no conern over the ankle and he didn’t allow any extra base hits or walk anyone, and he was able to bear down and K Gotay (who had singled, homered, and walked twice in his previous four plate appearances), so odds are the outing was just a fluke, though the 33 pitches he threw likely eliminate him from tonight’s rubber game.

In other good news, Luis Vizcaino, who picked up the win yesterday, hasn’t allowed a run in his last five outings and has a 1.13 ERA over his last seven. He’s still walking a ton of batters, but he’s striking out even more, suppressing hits, and getting the job done. In other words, he’s gone from being a Kyle Farnsworth imitator to being a Brian Bruney imitator. Supposedly some coaching from Rivera has made the difference.

Finally, Clippard’s poor outing yesterday has opened the door for the return of Kei Igawa. In his last two starts, Clippard has a 14.14 ERA and a 2.43 WHIP. Igawa, meanwhile, has reworked his mechanics and posted the following line over his last three starts in triple-A Scranton:

20 IP, 15 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 21 K, 1.05 WHIP, 1.80 ERA

The Yankees won’t need a fifth starter again until Saturday, but all signs point to the return of Iggy. Clippard has already been demoted, with the Yankees bringing up Kevin Thompson to finally expand their bench back to four men. With Randy Johnson back on the DL, Vicaino pitching well, Igawa due to return, and Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez carrying the team, Brian Cashman could look a whole lot smarter a week from now than he did just a few short weeks ago.

As for tonight’s game, this should be a real treat. Not only is it the rubber game of the home half of the subway series, with the Yanks poised once again to hit their high-water mark of the season by going three games over .500 with a win, a win which would also earn them a split of the season series with the Mets, but the pitching match up is Chien-Ming Wang versus El Duque. Seriously now, could it get much more fun than that?

The one concern going into tonight’s game is the fact that the Mets, particularly rookie speedster Gomez, have been getting an unusual number of infield hits and have stolen ten bases in two games against Jorge Posada and the slow-to-the-plate Yankee pitchers. Wang has allowed just five steals all year, but his ground ball tendencies could make him susceptible to the turnaround in the Mets line-up with Gomez and Reyes legging out infield hits. As for El Duque, he allowed just two runs in his first 19 innings after coming off the DL in late May, but had a rough go in his last outing against the Dodgers, though he still hasn’t allowed a home run in his last 38 2/3 innings. Here’s hoping he breaks out the eephus against Rodriguez and Alex gives it a ride.

You Can’t Win If You Don’t Score

The Yankees didn’t score last night, and they didn’t win. They did manage to put eight runners on against Oliver Perez, getting a man as far as second base in each of the game’s first four innings, but Perez rallied to strike out Bobby Abreu, and Alex Rodriguez in the first, Melky Cabrera in the second, and Jorge Posada in the third. Meanwhile a big fly to center in the third that looked like a two-run home run off Alex Rodriguez’s bat fell short and into Carlos Beltran’s glove.

Indeed, the Mets played fantastic defense all night. The key play came in the bottom of the fourth. After Hideki Matsui took six straight pitches to draw a leadoff walk, Perez walked Robinson Cano on four more tosses. Josh Phelps, DHing in place of late-scratch Johnny Damon, then took ball one, but swung through ball two to even the count before working it full and flying out to right for the first out. Miguel Cairo followed by looking at strike one, then yanking Perez’s next pitch to the top of the Cannon sign in the left field corner. Rookie Carlos Gomez, who showed his lightening speed in the third inning by reaching on a bunt single, stealing second, then scoring the game’s first run on a Jose Reyes single, drifted back to the wall and made nice leaping catch a foot above the wall to take a would-be three-run home run away from Cairo. Gomez then fired a one-hop strike from the wall to second base to double off Matsui, who had inexplicably ranged almost all the way to third base.

That ended the Yankee threat in both that inning and for the game. Reyes hit the only curveball Roger Clemens threw all night for a solo home run in the top of the fifth and Perez set the next ten Yankees down in order before a one-out Derek Jeter double in the eighth ended his evening. Jeter was followed by a shot off Bobby Abreu’s bat that imitated Alex Rodriguez’s third-inning fly out almost exactly–a two-run homer off the bat that died in deep center and settled in to Carlos Beltran’s glove. That was the last gasp. 2-0 Mets.

As for Clemens, he pitched well again, striking out eight in 6 1/3 innings and, other than Reyes’s homer of his lone curveball, allowing only six singles, two of them on bunts, and walked one. This was my first look at the 44-year-old version of Clemens and I can’t say I was terribly impressed, but you can’t argue with the results (12 1/3 IP, 12 H, 3 BB, 15 K, 3.65 ERA). Clemens looks a little chunky and his fastball now tops out at 91 miles per hour. According to the YES broadcasters, however, Andy Pettitte says that’s as fast as it’s going to get and that he wasn’t throwing any harder in Houston, where he posted a 2.40 ERA over three seasons. Instead Clemens’s game is now location and the still nasty Mr. Splitee, which was indeed his outpitch again last night (just ask Carlos Delgado). Hey, with Wang and Pettitte cruising, Clemens only needs to be one of the top three guys, not the full-blown ace, and the sort of performances he’s turned in in his first two starts this season are everything the Yankees had hoped for, and he’s likely still tuning up.

Today, the Yankees throw a pitcher 22 1/2 years Clemens’ junior at the Mets. Tyler Clippard made his major league debut at Shea, holding the Mets to one run on three hits and three walks (one intentional) while striking out six in six innings and earning the win. Clippard hasn’t been quite that good since, but he’s shown flashes. Unfortunately, he’s coming off his worst major league outing (3 2/3 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 6 R), which came against the lowly Pirates. He’ll have to rebound from that this afternoon to keep the Yankees from thinking about spinning that fifth-spot revolving door again.

Clippard’s opposite number, 19 years his senior, is also coming off his worst outing of the year. Tom Galvine was lit up by the Tigers for nine runs on 11 hits and a pair of walks in 4 1/3 innings last weekend. Otherwise, he’s been remarkably consistent, turning in ten quality starts in his previous 13 games, only once failing to complete six innings and only twice allowing as many as four earned runs. Glavine’s job is not in danger.

In the big picture, the Yankees need a win today to avoid slipping back down to .500 and to have a chance to keep their four-series winning streak going.

New York Mets, pt. II

On the morning of Friday May 18, before the first subway series of the season, the New York Post‘s back page headline was “Flying & Dying” and was accompanied by an illustration that made it clear that it was the Mets who were flying and the Yankees who were dying. Entering this weekend’s rematch, that headline still applies, but the the script has been flipped. The Yankees enter the weekend with an active nine-game winning streak while the Mets come to the Bronx riding a five-game losing streak and having lost nine of their last ten. Most recently, the Mets were swept by the Dodgers in L.A. by a combined score of 18-5. The Mets still hold a two-game lead in the NL East because the Braves have been nearly as bad, and the Yankees are still 7.5 games back in the AL East because of the huge deficit they have to overcome, but the Yankees enter this series with a record just three games worst than the Mets. That means that, if the Yankees can sweep the weekend series (a highly unlikley scenario given that it would extend their winning streak to an improbable 12 games), the two New York teams would have identical 36-31 records come Monday morning.

The Mets have been hit hard by injuries thus far this year, with their starting second baseman, three corner outfielders, two of their starting pitchers, and a key releiver spending time on the DL, but two of those injuries (to Pedro Martinez and Duaner Sanchez) were carried over from last year, and Shawn Green, Jose Valentin, and Orlando Hernandez have all returned to action in the past few weeks. Still, the Mets are down to plans C and D in left field while Moises Alou’s quad strain shows no sign of improvement. Meanwhile, Carlos Delgado has finally found his power stroke (seven homers in his last 16 games after hitting just three in his previous 44), but home runs are about the only way he’s getting on base (three walks and just nine other hits over the same span). Still, one has to assume the Mets are just slumping and the Yankees should be wary of the cross-town rivalry awakening this sleeping giant.

Tonight, Roger Clemens makes his second start of the year against Oliver Perez. Perez looks like he’s finding his lost 2004 form under pitching coach Rick “The Jacket” Peterson, though his last outing against the Tigers looked more like the pitcher the Pirates were eager to unload in last year’s Roberto Hernandez-Xavier Nady deal than the young ace that had baseball buzzing three years ago. Still, Perez is just 25 years old and has been murder on his fellow southpaws this year, allowing just one home run to a lefty batter. The good news is that the lefty in question was Hideki Matsui, who cracked a two-run job off Perez in the opener of the last series between these two teams at Shea. The bad news is that two-run dinger was the only score the Yanks were able to muster against Perez in that game as they handed Andy Pettitte another hard-luck 3-2 loss.

As for Clemens, he last faced the Mets in April of 2005. Clemens dominated in that game, allowing just a walk and two singles in seven innings while striking out nine. Then again, the Mets lineup that day featured Kaz Matsui, Eric Valent, Victor Diaz, Doug Mientkiewicz, very different versions of Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran (in his first year as a Met), and an over-the-hill Mike Piazza who was off to a very slow start.

Rooting incentive for tonight’s game: the Yankees are currently two games over .500 and have not been three games over .500 at any point this season. With a win, they’ll hit their high-water mark.

Fun fact for tonight’s game: Julio Franco will start at first base and bat eighth with Carlos Delgado as the DH. The first major league line-up Roger Clemens ever faced featured Julio Franco at shortstop and batting sixth. That was exactly 23 years and one month ago today. In that game, Franco singled, grounded out twice, and stole a base against Clemens. Fun fact footnote: The Indians stole six bases against Clemens in his major league debut.

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It’s, Like, Better Than Losing

Supposedly the Diamondbacks are a pretty good team this year, but I’ve mostly watched them get pummeled by either the Red Sox, Mets, or Yankees, so – while acknowledging the small sample size – I can’t say I’m overly impressed. At least they ditched the purple and teal uniforms. The Yankees beat them 7-1 today behind a very strong eight-inning, four-hit performance from Andy Pettitte. By the way, why doesn’t Pettitte have a better nickname? We’ve got Moose, Rocket, Worm-Killer, the Yankee Clippard, and…. Andy. You guys need to get to work on this.

Anyway, the Yankees’ offense was actually a bit frustrating today – seven runs is nothing to complain about, but they left a bushel of runners stranded in between their 12 hits and 6 walks. Every Yankee besides Cano and Cairo had a hit, with the bulk of the RBIs coming from Alex Rodriguez (surprise) and Hideki Matsui, each 3-4 on the day.

The Diamondbacks also made three errors, but that doesn’t even begin to describe the unfathomable abyss that was their defense; they really should have made at least three or four additional plays. Some of this can probably be blamed on starting pitcher Doug Davis, who, apparently determined to resuscitate Steve “Human Rain Delay” Trachsel’s tarnished reputation, was taking his sweet, sweet time before every single pitch, throw to first, and cup-adjustment, while his infielders lolled around with glazed eyes knitting elaborate holiday sweaters. His sluggishness was so frustrating that Michael Kay and John Flaherty, dying up in the booth, got peeved enough to start attacking his personal appearance — though I don’t think they can have been totally aware of all the connotations of the phrase “landing strip.” Davis threw 105 leisurely pitches in his five innings, of which 57 were strikes, and was lucky to escape with just four runs allowed. It was a bad day all around for the Snakes: they also had to watch the eminently likeable Orlando Hudson limp off the field with an apparent (hopefully minor) leg injury.

So it was only half of a pretty game, but Andy Pettitte is a pleasure to watch this season – Arizona’s only run scored on a groundout – and so is a ninth straight win. Pettitte probably could have finished the game, but, get this, Scott Proctor needed to get some work in. No, really. No – really. Who are these people and what have they done with the Yankees?

The Subway Series this weekend may actually live up to the hype; neither team can afford to lose right now. Actually, the Mets technically could – they’re still in first after all – but after losing five in a row and nine of their last ten, they need to stop the bleeding. They’re a much better team than this, and way past due for a breakout game.

Ah, an important Subway Series featuring Roger Clemens! I feel young again.

Boom Bap

On an unseasonably cool June evning in the Bronx, the stage was set for Mike Mussina to have a productive night. Home plate umpire Tim Welke was calling strikes–though he still managed to irk the Yankees’ starting pitcher–and the opposing team was hacking. Mussina came through, pitching into the eighth inning, striking out a season-high seven batters. Although his fastball didn’t break 90 mph, Mussina painted the corners, had good control and a sharp breaking ball.

“His stuff seemed real similar to what I’ve seen in the past,” said Eric Byrnes, who was 1 for 4. “People talk about how his stuff’s declined, but obviously it didn’t look like that tonight. He comes right at you and throws strikes. He made us get ourselves out, and we continued to do that all night.”
(N.Y. Times)

“It’s all about keeping us off balance, and that’s exactly what he did,” [Chad] Tracy said. “He took something off his fastball at times, put something on his fastball, in and out, up and down. He did his job.”
(Arizona Republic)

Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Godziller Matsui all homered as the Yankees cruised to a 7-2 win, their eighth straight victory. Combined with a Red Sox loss, the Yanks now trail Boston by 8.5 games.

Rodriguez’s home run hit off the facing of the upper deck in left field. “You never had to look twice,” said Joe Torre. “He killed that ball.” Rodriguez now has 25 dingers–a number he didn’t reach until the middle of August last year–and 66 RBI. Mmm, Mmm Good.

Your Mostly Arbitrary Guide to The AL All-Star Ballot

It’s that time of year again. The season is more than a third over, the parks are crowded with sunbathers, the days are long, Roger Clemens is back in his firmament, and the smell of garbage has begun to drown out the smell of urine over on 7th Ave. Yes, it’s time to begin complaining about the All-Star game.

 

Every year intelligent fans lament the fact that fame and market size and RBIs often seem to go farther than meaningful stats or real talent when the All-Stars are elected, and that being sent to the game is not a genuine mark of excellence so much as a popularity contest. Well, yes. In fact it’s the very definition of a popularity contest. And how many legitimate electoral processes do you know of where you’re allowed to vote 15 times per email address?

There’s nothing to do but embrace the randomness: the All-Star game is best appreciated as a frivolous entertainment, not a meaningful measure of excellence. And in fact, because some people really will vote 45 times in this thing, and I’m assuming that most of you have more pressing draws on your time, your vote doesn’t count all that much anyway. So I say forget average, OBP, SLG, and HRs, to say nothing of VORP, WARP, and RATE. Logic has no place in this vote; attempts to impose it will only leave you frustrated and distraught. On that note, I present my personal 2007 AL All-Star ballot:

 

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Even S(t)even

After an hour rain delay, the Yankees got the game they expected in last night’s matchup of premier groundballers Chien-Ming Wang and Brandon Webb. Actually, Wang didn’t have his best worm-killing stuff last night (nine grounders, ten fly outs, and his first start of the season without a double play), but after pitching out of a jam in the first he kept the Diamondbacks at bay, limiting them to a Chad Tracy solo homer in the fourth, five singles, and a hit-by-pitch over seven innings and 95 pitches. Brandon Webb countered in kind with seven strong of his own (including 12 groundouts and two DPs against four fly outs and four Ks). The key difference was that the homer Webb allowed came at the tail end of his first inning jam.

Johnny Damon led off the game with a grounder to second base that drew a rare throwing error from Orlando Hudson. Joe Torre then put on the hit-and-run and, as shortstop Stephen Drew went to cover second, Derek Jeter singled through Drew’s vacated position to put runners on the corners. The red-hot Bobby Abreu followed with a three run jack into the old Yankee bullpen.

That was all the Yanks would need. They added a fourth run off Webb in the seventh on a walk to Matsui, a Robby Cano double, and an unusual 4-3-6 double-play turned by Hudson on a Melky Cabrera grounder with the infield drawn in. Kyle Farnsworth made things interesting in the eighth, giving up a leadoff double to Drew and then walking Tracy with two outs after battling through a nine-pitch at-bat, but got out of the inning by getting Tony Clark to fly out to right. Mariano Rivera shut the door with 13 pitches (nine strikes) for a perfect ninth inning and his eighth save.

With the win the Yanks have extended their winning streak to seven games and reached .500 for the first time since May 9. With a win tonight, they can go over .500 for the first time since April 20, when they were 8-7.

Meanwhile, Doug Mientkiewicz had surgery on the broken bone in his wrist yesterday that involved a pin being put in the bone. He’s expected to be out until August, which means the Yankees will have to either have to learn to love Josh Phelps or make a deadline deal for a first baseman. Miguel Cairo won’t hit .348 as a first baseman all season and even now he has just one walk and one extra-base hit while playing the position. Then again, all of that was true when Minky was healthy as well.

The Arizona Diamondbacks

The Arizona Diamonbacks are one of the most interesting franchises in baseball right now. The most obvious reason is that they’ve won more games than any other team in the NL thus far this season and the oldest player in their starting line-up is 31-year-old Eric Byrnes. In fact, Byrnes and old man Tony Clark (now 35) are the only two Arizona position players over 30. Meanwhile, four of the D’backs’ regulars were rookies last year and three of the men on their bench are rookies this year. Things are only slightly different on their piching staff as the oldest man in their pen is 28-year-old failed prospect Juan Cruz and their rotation is led by 28-year-old defending NL Cy Young award winner Brandon Webb and 24-year-old rookie Micah Owings.

Thus far it’s been that pitching staff that’s put them on top as the D’backs are tied with the Mets as the second stingiest staff in the NL (fourth in the majors), allowing just four runs per game. The average Arizona starter has lasted 6 1/3 innings per start and posted a 3.51 ERA. Of the seven men to start for the D’backs this year, only rookie Edgar Gonzalez had an ERA over Owings’ 3.76 in the role. Gonzalez has since been bumped to the bullpen (by Owings) where he is the only man with an ERA above closer Jose Valverde’s 3.33.

Things are less encouraging on offense, but Byrnes, who looked like a right-handed platoon player who was on his way out of baseball two years ago when he jumped from Oakland, to Colorado to Baltimore over the course of a single season, has been mashing (.319/.379/.518) and doing the bulk of his damage against righty pitchers (.332/.384/.508). Orlando Hudson, the second oldest Arizona starter, was worth keeping in the lineup for his glove while in Toronto, but since joining the D’backs has come into his own at the plate to the point that he’s legitimately the second best second baseman in baseball (behind Chase Utley and ahead of Robinson Cano). In his best season as a Blue Jay, Hudson hit .270/.341/.438. In his career as a Diamondback he’s hitting .288/.360/.456.

As for the youngsters, Conor Jackson is from the Mark Grace school of first-basemen: high average, high on-base, but not the sort of power expected from the position. Catchers Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero aren’t hitting enough to make Yankee fans regret the fact that neither was included in the Randy Johnson Deal. Right fielder Carlos Quentin started the season on the DL, then went 4 for 8 with three doubles and a walk in his first two games of the year, but has hit just .200/.289/.345 since. Shortstop Stephen Drew raked as a rookie in the second half last year, but has struggled over an equal number of games this year.

Then there’s center fielder Chris Young. Young is considered one of the top prospects in the game and was the ultimate prize from the original Randy Johnson deal (he came to Arizona from the White Sox in the Javy Vazquez-El Duque deal). Like fellow prospects Drew and Quentin, Young got off to an awful start, but he’s hit .315/.330/.528 since May 7 and was even hotter than that before a groin injury slowed him at the end of the month.

Of course the two Randy Johnson deals, along with the now-ancient 2001 World Series, provide ample opportunity for rivalry here, but the most compelling angle to tonight’s game is the pitching matchup of Webb and Chien-Ming Wang, last year’s NL Cy Young winner and AL Cy Young runner up and two of the most extreme and most successfull groundball pitchers in the business. Oh yeah, and if the Yankees win they reach .500 for the first time since May 9, when they improved to 16-16 by beating Robinson Tejeda and the Texas Rangers.

Here’s to wondering if either team will play a seven-man infield at some point tonight.

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Yankee Panky #13: Press Off

Amid a six-game win streak and everything being hunky dory in Yankeeland, save for the cynics who decry Roger Clemens’ debut as not being a worthy test of his readiness, I wanted to take a detour to discuss a mediacentric issue.

Monday’s New York Times featured an article from sports business reporter Richard Sandomir on the relocation of the press box at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago from the second level, about 20 or so feet right behind home plate to two tiers higher and between home plate and the first base line. The article, which features reactions from reporters, fans, and Reinsdorf himself, got me thinking about the perception that professional teams pamper the media with their accommodations.

This perception is false. My experience is that most teams, especially in the major markets, tolerate the media, as opposed to helping them do their jobs. It’s not an adversarial relationship, but it’s not exactly a symbiotic one, either.

Aside from unparalleled access to players and organization types, beat writers, columnists, TV and radio casters receive numerous perks. Some of these perks include free parking, season passes affording an entree into the clubhouses, dugouts, and the field. Card-carrying members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are awarded access to any Major League press box because of their affiliation. Non-BBWAA members aren’t so lucky. While at YES, my dot.com colleagues and I had the same access as BBWAA members with our media passes, and our seat was on the second level of the YES TV booth right above home plate. These concessions made up for the fact that we paid for parking — we were considered part of the TV crew and parked with the YES production folks in Lot 10, on 158th St. and River Ave.

The YES booth wasn’t our permanent seat at the Stadium, though. On non-YES/Channel 9 — and until 2005, Channel 2 — games, we were booted from the booth and had to either finagle a seat in the main press area, which is in the Loge section, stretching from the Yankees’ on-deck circle to about first base, or we sat in the makeshift YES studio in the basement. The only benefit to the basement spot was being able to walk about 15 yards to the clubhouse to get quotes. We could work in the nearby press workroom, but couldn’t file, as we didn’t have a phone line from which to access the Internet and file (the Stadium alleviated this problem last year by going wireless). In all honesty, we could have covered the FOX or ESPN games from home, written stories and grabbed our quotes from the postgame show. (We never did that.)

The situation is worse in the playoffs, where seats are at a premium. No baseball stadium or hockey or basketball arena that I know of has a press box large enough to accommodate the number of media present to report on these games. As a result, tens of writers are strewn across the outfield seats or in blocked off areas of the arena, seated among fans. This arrangement is problematic, because a writer could potentially miss a big play on the walk to the media workroom or auxiliary press area near the locker room/clubhouse, which could take 15 to 20 minutes if you happen upon a mob of people.

Getting bumped happens in other stadiums, and quite frequently. Fenway Park has a four-tiered press box, but doesn’t have nearly enough seats to hold the throng of local, national and Japanese writers on hand to cover a Yankees-Red Sox series. Unless you’re in one of the first two rows, you can’t really see the game (the view is over the visitors’ dugout, between home and third). The glare off the glass from the fluorescent lights makes picking up nuances of the game impossible.

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Groundball Toosday

Entertaining pitching match-up tonight: Wang vs. Webb. If both pitchers are on, there is a chance the game could be a quicky. Cliff will have more on all things Diamondbacks later today.

There’s nothing of much interest in the local papers this morning. Oh, there are some This Could Be Another ’78 articles, but it is probably best to avoid them. Alan Schwarz does have a good piece on Pat Venditte, an ambidextrous pitcher the Yankees just drafted; Steven Goldman has some cherce words for the Yankee fans who bashed Alex Rodriguez last year; Ben Kabak has the latest on the new Yankee Stadium; and over at BP, Marc Normandin takes a look at Robinson Cano:

One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed about Cano this year is that he has lost his power to the opposite field almost entirely. He lacks an extra-base hit going the other way at Yankee Stadium, according to MLB.com hit charts, whereas in 2006 he hit bunches of doubles and singles down the lines and to the warning track. This is one for the readers, since I don’t get to see Cano all that often, and we don’t have enough Enhanced Gameday info to make a definitive statement: are pitchers going inside on Cano more often than in years past, taking away the opposite field and contributing to the increase in his strikeout rate? He is popping up less often, but the increase in strikeouts coupled with the lack of power to the opposite field, a once successful weapon of Cano at the plate, makes me think pitchers are keeping balls inside on him. I’d like to hear from readers on this matter; his strikeout rate has dropped 2% from when I first looked at this a little over a week ago, which makes me think he could be adjusting in bits as the season goes on, but any information you provide would be appreciated.

Regardless of adjustment, I’m of the mind that Cano is a .290/.320/.475 type hitter as he currently stands. He may develop further and improve his game–he’s still just 24 years old–but as previously stated, it will be improvements from his 2005 line, and not the anomaly of 2006.

Even GQ fashion plate Jose Reyes walks more than Robbie. I’ve never been sold on Cano becoming a great player. Actually, I’ve got no sense of what kind of player he’ll be in three or four years. What do you all think?

Yo Ho Ho

It wasn’t pretty, but the Yankees succeeded in sweeping the Pirates at home for the second time in three years, running their regular-season record against Pittsburgh to 6-0, which just happens to match the Bombers’ record over their last six games.

The Yanks looked like they were going to cruise to victory after forcing Shawn Chacon to throw 39 pitches in a three-run bottom of the first that lasted 20 minutes, but Tyler Clippard had his worst major league outing, coughing up two of those three runs in the top of the second then, after the Yanks got those two back in the third, a four spot in the fourth to give the Pirates a 6-5 lead. Clippard’s day ended with two outs in the fourth after he surrendered a two-run double to Jose Bautista on his 90th pitch of the game. Fortunately, Chacon followed in kind, exiting with one out in the bottom of the fourth after surrendering back to back singles to Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu, the later on Chacon’s 96th pitch. Jonah Sharpless, sporting a 12.27 ERA, replaced Chacon, fell behind Alex Rodriguez 2-0, the surrendered a three-run bomb that made it 8-6 Yanks. The laugher, at long last, was on.

In relief of Clippard, Sean Henn, Luis Vizcaino, Scott Proctor, and Mike Myers combined to pitch 5 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and three walks. Proctor and Henn, who earned the win in his first appearance since being recalled (Chris Britton was sent down to make room for Clemens on Saturday),did the bulk of the work with two innings a piece. Meanwhile, the Yanks added five more runs to their lead with a two-spot in the sixth on another Alex Rodriguez homer (off the freshly-promoted Musami Kuwata) and a three-spot in the seventh kicked off, believe it or not, by Miguel Cairo and Wil Nieves. The scoring was capped off by a two-run double by Bobby Abreu, who had tripled in the first and went 4 for 4 with a walk, four runs scored, and three RBIs on the day. Final score: 13-6 Yankees.

After winning just five of their first 18 series, the Yankees have now won their last three in a row. Their current six-game winning streak and 9-2 surge are their best of the season. They are now tied with the Twins for fourth in the Wild Card race, 5.5 games behind the Tigers, surprising Mariners, and injury plagued A’s. One thing they are not however, is a .500 team, though that could change if they can take their winning streak to a lucky seven with a win against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday.

Boost

Roger Clemens gave the Yankees pretty much what anyone could have expected from him yesterday: six innings, three runs, couple of walks and seven strikeouts. His fastball is not up to snuff yet and he worked too many deep counts, but his split-fingered fastball was excellent and he looked just fine fielding his position. The Yankee offense did the rest, with a generous hand from some Bad News Bears fielding by the Pirates; Melkawitz made a fine catch in center field and the Yanks cruised, 9-3.

That makes it five straight for the Bombers who go for the sweep this afternoon against our old pal, Shawn Chacon. It is great that the Yanks have won another series but it will be a real buzz-kill if they don’t sweep the Pirates. So on that note…

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

Never Mind the Hoopla, Just Win Baby

In case you hadn’t heard, Roger Clemens is pitching for the Yankees today. I’m not convinced that he’s going to stay healthy this summer. My hunch is that he’ll post a record close to .500–maybe 8-6, maybe 7-9–with an ERA under 4.50. Regardless, the Yankees look to extend their season best winning streak this afternoon on a hazy day in the Bronx.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

Three Days Later…Go See the Doctor

I went to the movies last night with my cousins instead of watching the game. We had a bite to eat after we saw Knocked Up, a surprisingly good movie, and I called Em at home to get a score. The game was tied, 4-4. By the time I reached the Bronx, I ran into some fans coming home from the game and got the highlights of the Yankees’ rousing, extra-inning, come-from-behind, 5-4 win. That makes it four straight for the Bombers with Roger Clemens on the hill this afternoon–a muggy, overcast day in New York.

* * * * *

The great film director John Huston once said that great screen acting is more a matter of quality than talent. What he meant was that the camera just takes to some people, who have a quality on film that they wouldn’t necessarily have on the stage. Sometimes the same can be said about directors. Judd Apatow, the writer and director of Knocked Up, does not have a real visual style, but he’s got true affection for his characters, and that is a winning quality that will take him far. (Jonathan Demme had more of a funky style in his early movies, but some of the same feeling.)

Apatow, who prodcued The Ben Stiller Show in the early nineties and later was a writer for The Larry Sanders Show, was the creative force behind the short-lived cult TV show, Freaks and Geeks. What impressed me most about Freaks and Geeks was how much the filmmakers genuinely liked the characters they created. The show wasn’t just flip, or ironic and clever; there was some emotional truthfulness to it as well.

I didn’t think Apatow was able to bring the same feeling to his first movie, The 40-Year Old Virgin, a broad, often disappointing comedy. (The funny thing about it though is that while I didn’t like the movie too much the first time I saw it, I later found myself unable to turn away from it when it was on cable–it grew on me.) But he does manage to bring a real warmth to his second movie, Knocked Up. It’s as if his all of his talents have finally jelled. The movie is all of a piece and it is very appealing.

Apatow doesn’t judge his characters, and though the story is relatively formulaic, he resits some easy cliches. For instance, there is a scene with the leading ladies’ mother, and you can just see this mother turning into a cartoon heavy, but she doesn’t factor into the narrative at all. Then there is a great scene where Paul Rudd and his wife have an fight in a driveway. What makes it so compelling is that you can see where each character is coming from and why they are not understanding each other–in that sense it reminded me of the fight that Daniel Stern and Ellen Barkin have about records in Diner.

Knocked Up penetrates the surface of the light comedy genere, but it is not perfect. Not all of the jokes work–though most of them do–and there are a host of things that you can pick at as far as credibility goes; the New York Times critic, A.O. Scott called it “improbably persuasive.” But it is an exceedingly likable movie, and I wasn’t bothered by what it wasn’t–it exceeded my expectations throughout. If anything, I found myself picking out the flaws only because of a desire to want something that is very good be truly great.

I laughed a lot, and so did the rest of the audience (I was smiling before the title credits when I heard the opening bars to “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”). In fact, there were three or four times when the crowd was laughing so much that I missed hearing dialogue. The acting was very good–the two kids in the movie, Apatow’s real-life daughers, have small parts but are terrific, and completely unaffected. Who knew that Seth Rogan would be able to carry off a leading role? And give Apatow credit for understanding women and writing good female roles.

I missed out on the reviews for this one when it came out, but apparently it has gotten good notices. I like what Scott wrote in the Times:

It may be a bit, um, premature to say so, but Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up” strikes me as an instant classic, a comedy that captures the sexual confusion and moral ambivalence of our moment without straining, pandering or preaching. Like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” Mr. Apatow’s earlier film, it attaches dirty humor to a basically upright premise. While this movie’s barrage of gynecology-inspired jokes would have driven the prudes at the old Hays Office mad, its story, about a young man trying to do what used to be the very definition of the Right Thing, might equally have brought a smile of approval to the lips of the starchiest old-Hollywood censor.

The wonder of “Knocked Up” is that it never scolds or sneers. It is sharp but not mean, sweet but not soft, and for all its rowdy obscenity it rarely feels coarse or crude. What it does feel is honest: about love, about sex, and above all about the built-in discrepancies between what men and women expect from each other and what they are likely to get. Starting, as he did in “Virgin,” from a default position of anti-romantic cynicism, Mr. Apatow finds an unlikely route back into romance, a road that passes through failure and humiliation on its meandering way toward comic bliss.

I think it is worth forking over ten bucks to see. It sure made me feel good.

The Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates are a terrible franchise and a terrible baseball team. Their list of attributes in 2007 is as follows:

Jason Bay, LF (.310/.378/.531, 11 HR, 45 RBI)
Ian Snell, RHP (2.91 ERA, 71 K, 10 quality starts)
Tom Gorzelanny, LHP (2.53 ERA, 9 quality starts)
Matt Capps RHP (2.70 ERA, 33 G, 4.00 K/BB)
Damaso Marte LOOGY (1.37 ERA, .125/.222/.125 vs. lefties, 0 XBH)

The Yankees won’t see Snell, can pitch around Bay in big spots, and can make Capps and Marte irrelevant if they can do enough damage early against Paul Maholm and old pal Shawn Chacon over the next two days. The only trouble is Gorzelanny, who starts tonight against Andy “Hard Luck” Pettitte. Pettitte knows the Pirates well having spend the last three years in the NL Central. Last year, he beat them in a pair of late-season quality starts. In 2005, Andy posted a 2.08 ERA in four starts against the Bucs. In 2004, he faced them in back-to-back starts early in the year and allowed just one run in 11 innings (that on a Jack Wilson home run during the hottest month of Wilson’s career). Both of tonight’s starters have nine quality starts in 12 tries on the season.

The Yankees and Pirates have met in interleague play just once before, that coming in 2005 when the Yankees swept the Pirates in the Bronx. If the Yanks can pull out a win tonight, they’ll have put together their first four-game winning streak of the season and will stand an excellent chance of repeating that feat, thereby extending that streak to six games.

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Very Serious

The following is the first part of a series that Jay Jaffe and I are writing about a terrific new box set of the 1977 World Series. Jay kicked things off earlier in the week, as we address the first disk, Game 5 of the ALCS between the Yankees and the Royals. Here is my response:

Yo Jay,

Dude, one of the main reasons why I loved football so much as an early teenager is because that was also the time I first really started getting into movies, and NFL Films had an enormous impact on me. The way they visually presented the game, the melding of movies and sport, defined the sport for me. It had a reverence for the sport and mocking sense of humor too. We didn’t have to just read about Jim Brown or Gayle Sayers, we could see. But we can’t see Sandy Koufax or Willie Mays in the same way because Major League Baseball has never had anything close to NFL Films. Part of this is understandable because baseball has such a long season with so many games. You’d go broke if you filmed all of it waiting for a great moment to go down. I understand why it hasn’t happened, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t of have, to some extent. The other part is that baseball has simply never been blessed with a creative partner like the Sabols.

And that’s a real shame because you’d think baseball games from the ’70s at least should still be around somewhere. I want to see the 1977 NLCS and I want to see the 1980 NLCS. That’s why I’m lovin’ this box set series that A&E is putting out. At first, I thought they were just putting out old MLB Films half-hour/hour-long wrap-up shows. They do have those, but on top of that, they are also have team sets—the Yankee Dynasty Years set, 96-01, a Cubs set, a big Red Sox set from 2004, the Cards from last year. But the best thing they’ve got are box sets of entire series—they’ve got the complete World Series from 1975, 1979, 1986, 1987, and now, of course, ’77.

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