"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: July 2007

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Bombs Away

It didn’t take long for things to get out of hand for the White Sox last night. Mike Mussina set the Sox down in order on ten pitches in the top of the first thanks to a great running catch at the 385 ft. sign by Melky Cabrera and three called strikes on Jim Thome.

In the bottom of the first, Johnny Damon hit an 0-2 pitch to third base which spun away from Josh Fields, forcing him to reach for the ball and giving Damon time to reach with an infield single. On an 0-2 count to the next batter, Derek Jeter appeared to go around on a check swing, but was ruled not to have swung, robbing Contreras of a strikeout. In the previous inning, Thome had complained to home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi when strike two from Mussina appeared to be a bit high, then, after taking a pitch on the inside corner for a ball, was called out on another high pitch that he though was ball four. When Jeter’s swing was declared checked by first-base ump Tom Hallion, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper and manager Ozzie Guillen started arguing from the dugout. Phil Cuzzi, who has a reputation for being an instigator, responded to the White Sox’s taunts and, before anyone knew what was happening, Cuzzi tossed Guillen from the game.

Guillen came out onto the field to get his money’s worth from Cuzzi, repeatedly, and colorfully imploring him to do his job at home plate rather than get in the middle of a disagreement between the White Sox bench and the first base ump, but it was all just bottle rockets before the real fireworks.

Given a stay of execution, Jeter singled up the middle and, two pitches later, Bobby Abreu crushed a home run into the upper deck in left. After Alex Rodriguez flied out to deep right, Hideki Matsui added solo shot into section 41 of the right field bleachers to make it 4-0 Yankees. Jorge Posada added a double before Contreras was able to get the last two outs on fly balls to left center.

Mike Mussina gave up a three-run home run to Juan Uribe in the top of the second to make the game momentarily close at 4-3 as Contreras set the Yankees down in order in the bottom of the second, striking out Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon along the way. Mussina returned serve with a nine-pitch, all-strikes top of the third, and the Yankees broke it open in the bottom half, driving Contreras from the game with a three-run homer by Robinson Cano. Knuckleballing relief pitcher Charlie Haeger was greeted by an error by Juan Uribe, who booted an Andy Phillips grounder, then recovered only to have the webbing tear out of Paul Konerko’s glove allowing Phillips to reach base. That was followed by a two-run home run by Melky Cabrera that made it 9-3 Yanks after three.

From there things just got silly. Jorge Posada hit a two-run homer off Haeger in the fourth. Matsui added a two-run jack off Gavin Floyd in the sixth. With Floyd taking one for the team, Johnny Damon hit his first home run since June 26 in the seventh. Two batters later, defensive replacement Shelley Duncan followed with a solo shot of his own that set the final score at 16-3.

In addition to being Duncan’s fourth home run in 21 major league at-bats, Duncan’s tater was the Yankees’ eighth of the game, tying the franchise record set on June 28, 1939 when Joe DiMaggio and Babe Dahlgren each hit two and Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, Tommy Henrich, and George Selkirk each hit one. Duncan was also the seventh Yankee to homer in the game, tying an American League record held by three other teams. The Yankees have now scored 54 runs in their last three games in Yankee Stadium. I don’t know if that’s any kind of record, but it sure sounds like one.

Alex Rodriguez, who entered the game with 499 career home runs, did not hit a home run. Nor did he get a hit. He did, however, hit a lot of warning-track bombs, one of which Jermaine Dye made a great catch on while running face-first into the wall in right. After his last at-bat, Rodriguez gave his bat to a very excited kid in a blue sleeveless shirt behind the Yankee dugout. That bat won’t make it to the Hall of Fame, but the next one off the rack just might.

Hidden behind all those homers was a strong performance by the Yankee hurlers who allowed no runs beyond that Uribe homer. Together Mussina, Kyle Farnsworth (who was booed when announced in the seventh inning and responded by retiring the side on eight pitches, six strikes), Mike Myers, and Sean Henn allowed eight hits, walked none, struck out eight, and threw 84 of 122 pitches for strikes (69 percent). By comparison, Contreras allowed seven runs on eight hits and a walk in just 2 2/3 innings.

The Chicago White Sox

The Yankees are 4-3 against the White Sox thus far this season and most recently took three of four from the Chisox in Chicago in early June. This week’s three-game series marks the Sox’s only visit to the Bronx on the season. Since the Yanks were last in Chicago, the Sox have gone 22-27 (.449), which is a pretty close match for their overall winning percentage of .457. That’s just what this team is. The Sox have won three of their last four series, losing to Boston, but beating the Indians, Tigers, and Blue Jays, still, they’re a mere 8-7 over that stretch. One thing that has changed is that the Sox are finally scoring some runs, scoring 5.21 runs per game in July after scoring just 3.90 per game over the first three months of the season. Of course, they’ve started allowing runs too, giving up 6.11 per game in July after allowing 4.68 per game through the end of June.

And so it goes for the White Sox, who have tossed in the towel by flipping free-agent-to-be Tad Iguchi to Philadelphia where he’ll fill the second base hole vacated by Chase Utley’s broken hand. Twenty-four-year-old lefty Danny Richar, whom the Chisox picked up from the Diamondbacks in a swap of minor leaguers back in mid-June, and veteran backup Alex Cintron will look to fill that hole for the Pale Hose now. The Sox were unable to deal fellow pending free agent Jermaine Dye, however, or tonight’s starter Jose Contreras.

No surprise about Contreras, who has been awful since the end of May. After posting a 3.71 ERA in his first nine starts, six of which were quality starts, Contreras has posted a 8.27 ERA and a 1-9 record over his last 11, only three of which have been quality starts. Limit it to his last eight starts and that ERA swells to 9.32, and 11.05 over his last five (all loses). Things have just taken a nose dive from there. Here’s Contreras’s line in his last two starts combined:

12 IP, 22 H, 19 R, 6 BB, 5 K, 3 HR

El Titan de Bronze has actuall pitched fairly well against his former team in two starts this year (14 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 11 K, O HR) despite losing both, but one assumes some correction will occur to that line tonight.

Mike Mussina’s two starts against the White Sox have been more of a mixed bag, but in his last he locked horns with Contreras and hurled six innings, allowing just one run on four hits, no walks, and no homers. Chances are Moose, who will looking for his first quality start in three tries, won’t be quite that sharp tonight, but it shouldn’t take much to outpitch Contreras.

Note: I’ll update this post with news of the roster changes resulting from the Betemit deal when I have them. Peter Abraham reports that Phil Hughes is in the Bronx and will pitch on Saturday, but he doesn’t say that Hughes has been activated yet. The Yanks could just let Betemit replace Proctor and let Hughes replace Chris Basak on Saturday, but I’d imagine they’ll farm out Basak for a stop-gap reliever before game time.

Update: No moves today. Proctor is gone, but Betemit isn’t here yet and the Yanks will play a man short for tonight as a result.


Wilson Betemit for Scott Proctor

As we inch toward the 4:00 pm trading deadline, the Yankees have made what could turn out to be their only deadline deal by sending Scott Proctor back to the Dodgers for infielder Wilson Betemit. This trade impresses me in several ways:

First, this is not a win-now trade. Rather than giving up prospects for middle relievers of dubious value, the Yankees have traded a 30-year-old middle reliever of dubious value for a 25-year-old infielder in his third full major league season whose top PECOTA comp is Carlos Guillen. There’s some question as to how the Yankees will utilize Betemit, but there’s no doubt that they got the superior player in the deal.

Second is just how talented Betemit is. A switch-hitter who can play second, third, and short and even made an emergency appearance in right field for the Dodgers earlier this year, Betemit has a good bit of pop and improving plate discipline and probably deserves a starting job somewhere in the major leagues.

I’ll take a closer look at Betemit in just a second, but before I do, the third thing that impresses me about this deal is that Brian Cashman essentially turned Robin Ventura (whom he dealt to the Dodgers for Proctor and Bubba Crosby at the 2003 deadline) into Betemit, getting Proctor’s solid 2006 season out of the pen along the way. The Ventura deal infuriated me at the time. I was sure that Ventura would have been a valuable bat off the bench in the Yankees’ postseason run, and I’m still convinced that he could have made the difference in the 2003 World Series, but it’s hard to argue against it now. Ventura, then 35, played 151 games for the Dodgers over a season and a half, totaling 1.5 wins over replacement (per Baseball Prospectus’s WARP) for L.A. before retiring. In parts of three seasons, Crosby accumulated 0.7 WARP and was sent on his way before he could do much harm (Adam Kennedy’s “triple” in the 2005 ALDS was as much if not more Gary Sheffield’s fault than Crosby’s). Proctor, meanwhile, compiled 6.1 WARP for the Yankees over four seasons (4 of those wins coming last year) to give the Yankees a 5.3 win advantage in the Ventura trade alone. That the Yankees now have Betemit to show for all of that is just fantastic work on Cashman’s part.

Wilson Betemit was signed as a right-hand-hitting shortstop out of the Dominican Republic by the Atlanta Braves in 1996. The deal was illegal as Betemit was just 14 at the time, but the Braves paid the penalty to keep Betemit, who learned to switch-hit and by the age of 19 was hitting .355/.394/.514 in double-A, which earned him a brief cup of coffee in the major leagues and a whole lotta hype. Betamit stalled out there, however, struggling with his weight, shifting to third base, and spending the next three years at triple-A, struggling in the first and showing only mild improvements in the next two before getting his second taste of the majors with brief call-ups in May and September of 2004 at the age of 22. Out of options in 2005, Betemit finally spent a full season in the bigs and even got to start at third base during Chipper Jones’ annual stint on the disabled list. He hit a solid .305/.359/.435 that season and .281/.344/.497 the next year with Atlanta before being flipped to the Dodgers at the 2006 trading deadline for Danys Baez and Willy Aybar. Installed as the Dodgers’ starting third baseman, Betemit kept up that pace with a little less patience but a bit more power through early September, but then slumped badly hitting .175/.264/.238 from September 5 through the end of the 2006 season. Betemit was even worse in April of this year, hitting .120/.299/.160 through May 1, but since then he’s been raking to a .283/.392/.623 tune.

Overall, even with those two awful months mixed in, Betemit has seen his isolated power (ISP = SLG – AVG)) and plate discipline (ISD = OBP – AVG) numbers increase in each of the last two seasons from .130 ISP and .054 ISD in 2005, to .206 ISP and .083 ISD in 2006, to .243 ISP and .128 ISD thus far this year, both of which are just outstanding numbers.

Here’s Dodger Thoughts’ Jon Weisman on Betemit‘s Dodger career:

While no All-Star, Betemit, particularly against right-handed pitchers, was quite simply one of the Dodgers’ best hitters. He was often mocked for his propensity to strike out [151 Ks in 604 PA in 2006 and 2007 combined], but those strikeouts distracted the critics from realizing his value.

However many times he made an out, it was more rare than any Dodger infielder except Jeff Kent and James Loney. His slugging percentage was also higher than any Dodger infielder except those two. Much has been made of Nomar Garciaparra’s July hot streak, yet few noticed that Betemit was even hotter, with a .500 on-base percentage and .667 slugging percentage [actually .677].

Betemit lost fans because simply because of the type of outs he made, not because of the quantity. He was a book judged by its cover. And that always makes me sad.

As to why the Dodgers were willing to deal such a player, Weisman again:

“That fact remains that the Dodgers will stick with Garciaparra and Kent at third base and second base for the remainder of the season as long as they stay healthy, so that there was no starting role for Betemit. And with Andy LaRoche, Tony Abreu and Chin-Lung Hu in the minor leagues, the Dodgers are also covered for the future. At least one of these players has a higher ceiling than Betemit.”

Still, Weisman agrees that Betemit is, “a more valuable player than Proctor,” and that “trading for a middle reliever is almost by definition against good judgment, unless you’re giving up a fringe minor-leaguer in the process.” Adding only that, “the Dodgers were probably never going to warm up to Betemit–even though he hit 19 home runs in 330 at-bats as a Dodger.”

So Betemit is a young, multi-talented hitter and infielder who’s good enough to start, but what is he going to do on the Yankees?

That’s a good question. For now I imagine he’ll replace Chris Basak on the roster while Saturday’s starter (who one assumes will be Phil Hughes) will eventually take Proctor’s vacated position on the pitching staff, which had only been carrying four starters since Basak replaced Kei Igawa on Friday. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Yankees liked Betemit because “he could play first base for them this year,” but failed to mention that Betemit’s never played first base in the major leagues before while Andy Phillips has hit .304/.350/.420 since being recalled, .317/.360/.442 since taking over the starting job at first base, and is in the midst of an 11-game hitting streak. Besides which, Betemit and Phillips would not make a good platoon as both are better against righty pitching (Phillips repeating last year’s odd reverse split, and the switch-hitting Betemit doing the bulk of his damage hitting lefty).

It’s widely believed that Betemit was primarily obtained to be Alex Rodriguez insurance, as Betemit could become the Yankees’ starting third baseman in 2008 should Rodriguez opt out of his contract and sign elsewhere. That’s not a bad get for a redundant right-handed middle reliever who had a 1.51 WHIP on the season, has allowed four homers in his last six innings pitched, and against whom opposing hitters are hitting .298/.391/.482 since June 1. If nothing else, it gives the Yankees the best utility infielder they’ve had under Joe Torre by incredible leaps and bounds, even though it seems likely that Miguel Cairo will stick around to be a redundant drain on the roster (a.k.a. pinch-runner).

Should Rodriguez sign an extension to stay in New York, Betemit could be flipped over the winter for something a lot better than Scott Proctor or retained as the lone utility infielder leaving Cairo to find work elsewhere. Whatever becomes of him, Betemit is a great addition and a significant upgrade for the Yankees whether you’re comparing him to the player he was traded for (Proctor), the player he replaces on the roster (Basak), or the player whose playing time he’ll likely most effect (Cairo).

As for the bullpen, with 15 minutes to go until the deadline, the latest news is that Eric Gagne may be headed to Boston, while Joba Chamberlain and Edwar Ramirez could wind up getting the call to solidify the Yankee pen with Chris Britton still on the DL for Scranton, Brian Bruney likely getting demoted, and the fate of Kyle Farnsworth still to be determined.

Update: Sox got Gagne (for mL CF David Murphy and LHP Kason Gabbard), which gives them an insane endgame provided Gagne stays healthy.

Yankee Panky #18: A bunch of bull(pen)

If you believe what you’re reading, seeing on TV and hearing on radio, every team in contention is looking for middle relief help. And as far as the Yankees and their bullpen are concerned, the past couple of days have featured plenty of jibber jabber. Peter Abraham gave a clue into this on Sunday in a notes column that featured some surprising honesty from Joe Torre, a misleading headline, and a hitch in the second paragraph that spell check won’t catch but a decent copyeditor should.

While Pete Abes asserts that Scott Proctor’s removal from a primary set-up role is intended to restore confidence in the righty, Jayson Stark and George King write that Proctor is the most likely candidate to be dealt. This is due in part to the Cashman Manifesto of building from within. Joba Chamberlain’s move to the bullpen at Scranton, for all intents and purposes, is meant to accelerate his promotion to the Major Leagues. Yet Abraham wrote that the team had not formulated a plan to use Chamberlain as a reliever.

Which story is true? I wrote last week that it’s difficult to separate truth from rumor near the trade deadline. I would guess that Stark and King, two veteran writers that manned the Phillies beat for a long time, have it right. That’s not meant to discredit Abraham’s reporting. New information could have been presented between the time he filed his story and Stark and King filed theirs.

The Yankees are reportedly among four suitors for Eric Gagne, who has eclipsed 30 appearances for the first time since 2004 and made it known that if he’s traded, he wants to go where he can be a closer and not a set-up man. Kat O’Brien reports that Gagne has a no-trade clause, but he cannot block a trade to the Mets or Yankees, two teams where he would be a set-up man. The Red Sox, who also have a solid closer, are also reportedly interested in the Nordique.

But after what’s happened to the most recent bespectacled, brittle reliever to wear a Yankee uniform (see below), is Gagne worth the risk, especially at that price?

From the looks of things, Kyle Farnsworth is approaching persona non grata status. Monday’s stories, specifically in the Post and Newsday regarding Farnsworth’s fall from favor and incompatibility with Jorge Posada stole some layout space from a big day by Johnny Damon (it sounds more entertaining when you picture the Matt Damon marionette from "Team America: World Police" saying Johnny Damon’s name).

It’s no secret the Yankees were, and probably still are, shopping Farnsworth. Torre is in a big-time Catch-22 here; there is no usage pattern he can devise for Farnsworth that will convince anyone that the reliever is a part of the Yankees’ plans for the stretch run and beyond. If Farnsworth pitches, say, four or five times per week over the next couple of weeks as opposed to the recent number of twice in a nine-day span, the assumption will be made that the Yankees are showcasing him. If another prolonged span of Kyle the Sedentary occurs, it’s reasonable to believe he might already be placed on waivers and the Yankees are just waiting for someone to claim him.

I’ll be honest: I don’t care if Farnsworth is traded. It could very well be addition by subtraction. If you put Farnsworth’s numbers next to those of Scott Proctor, Brian Bruney, and until six weeks ago, Luis Vizcaino, the hard-throwing four-piece bridge to Rivera is basically the same pitcher in four different sizes, shapes and colors.

If Farnsworth is traded, I believe it’s because of the feud with Jorge Posada. Farnsworth is not the first Yankee pitcher to complain about Posada. The catcher can be prickly — I’ve witnessed it on numerous occasions. I was surprised to not see any mention of pitchers who previously had problems with Posada. There would be no need to go into extreme detail about the Randy Johnson saga which culminated in the signing of Kelly Stinnett (a move Joe Torre rationalized by saying he “had a little more stick” than John Flaherty), the punches Posada and El Duque exchanged several years ago, or even Mike Mussina’s comfort factor with Wil Nieves this season compared to Posada. David Cone preferred Joe Girardi to Posada, even after Posada won the everyday job in ’98. A brief sentence or two listing prominent Yankee pitchers that did not see eye to eye with Posada would have added another dimension to the story. Tyler Kepner added a historical component to his main story Monday,  but not on the Farnsworth-Posada feud. Kepner likened Joba Chamberlain’s possible promotion to young relievers on recent World Series winners who were called up in July or August and had an impact on the pennant race.

Maybe it’s just me. I’m a history buff. As an editor, I always thought past events added value to a story when used properly. As a fan, I want to read a story or listen/watch a broadcast and connect it to a past event or events. If I can piece it together, the writers or broadcasters should be able to, from being around the team every day. The incidents I mentioned above could have been included in the writers’ original drafts. (Maybe they were and were cut for word count restrictions.)

Do you agree? Do you think the past Posada feuds are relevant to the current one with Farnsworth?

* * *

“Impact” will be a buzzword today. It always is on Deadline Day. Like all of you, I’ll be scanning the wires for the latest. I’ll check back Wednesday with a best and worst of trade deadline coverage.

Talk to you soon.

Tuesday Tidbits: Act Like You Wanna

Nothing doing so far with the Yanks in the trade market. The deadline is today at 4 p.m, east coast time. The morning rumors have Eric Gagne as a longshot to come to the Bronx and the Proctor-for-Betemit a possibility once again–here is coverage in the Post, News, the Times, and Newsday. According to Buster Olney over at ESPN, the Yankees:

…Seem destined to make a move today. If they cannot trade Kyle Farnsworth for what they consider to be equal value, then they’ll probably trade Scott Proctor to the Dodgers for Wilson Betemit. If they can find a deal for Farnsworth, then they’ll keep Proctor. Either way, Joba Chamberlain is crucial to their thinking — they hope the touted prospect can fill a role in middle relief.

They are sitting in the pole position, so to speak, on Gagne — they have prospects to offer, and he cannot stop them from acquiring him. But the Yankees have stood their ground against the Rangers’ trade demands, so far (which includes the team’s top prospects).

The Red Sox are still looking to add Jermaine Dye. They are also in on Gagne, reports the Boston Herald.


Series Wrap: @ Baltimore

Offense: The inverse of the Royals series, the Yankee offense was comatose for the first 18 1/3 innings (including the completion of the suspended game), scoring just 3 runs over that span. Over the final ten innings they scored 15 runs. Overall a poor performance, but at least it ended well.


Melky Cabrera 6 for 11, 2 2B, 3B, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB, HBP, SB
Robinson Cano 5 for 13, 3 2B, 2 RBI, R


Alex Rodriguez 0 for 9, 4 K, 5 BB
Miguel Cairo and Jose Molina combined 0 for 3

Neither Shelley Duncan nor Chris Basak got into a game on either offense or defense.

Rotation: Quality starts by Andy Pettitte and Chien-Ming Wang with Roger Clemens missing by one run (6 1/3 IP, 4 R). Clemens and Wang were both a bit off, however, as they combined to allow 24 base runners in 12 1/3 innings. Pettitte’s was easily the best start of the weekend (7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 5 K).

Bullpen: This was by far the pen’s worst performance of the second half thus far as it allowed 8 runs in 7 2/3 innings.

The Good:

Ron Villone faced three batters over the course of two appearances and retired all three, striking out one. He did allow one inherited runner to score, but that was because he was brought into a bases-loaded, one-out situation created by Brian Bruney and the first batter he faced grounded out, plating a run in the process.

The Bad:

Brian Bruney gave up the two crucial eighth-inning runs by which the Yankee rally fell short on Saturday night. He faced five batters, allowed three singles, one reached on an error by Alex Rodriguez, and the only one he retired plated a run with a sac fly. Kyle Farnsworth walked the first man he faced, then allowed a two-run Brian Roberts home run and threw in a single for good measure in his only inning of the weekend. Scott Proctor gave up a Kevin Millar solo home run and a single in his only appearance of the weekend and needed Ron Villone to get the last out of his inning for him. Mike Myers faced four batters across two games. Two of them reached base, one of them scored on Luis Vizcaino’s watch. For his part, Vizcaino allowed four runners and one run (not counting the inherited run of Myers’) in an inning and a third. Mariano Rivera got one save and closed out the only win of the weekend, but allowed five hits and a run in 2 2/3 innings (though he did also strike out four). I honestly forgot Sean Henn was on the roster. He did not pitch.

Defense: The only error of the weekend was Alex Rodriguez’s boot amid Brian Bruney’s awful third of an inning (though Robinson Cano flubbed a ball that hit off Vizcaino’s shoulder in the finale, but that was ruled a hit). Otherwise, the Yanks played some very strong defense, with Melky Cabrera’s arm and Johnny Damon’s catch in the finale standing out. Jose Molina threw out the only base runner who attempted to steal against him making him a perfect 2 for 2 as a Yankee.

Conclusion: A scuffling offense and a flammable bullpen make for a rough weekend, especially when the starters are only so-so. Fortunately the offense perked up at the end. But what about the pen? Word has it Joba Chamberlain has been moved to the bullpen down in triple-A. Meanwhile, the trading deadline is tomorrow. Stay tuned . . .

Back On Track?

The Yankees scored four runs early yesterday afternoon to overcome another less-than-crisp start from Chien-Ming Wang (6 IP, 9 H, 4 BB, 3 ER). They then scored six runs late to overcome more shoddy relief work from the bullpen (3 IP, 6 H, 3 R). Put it all together and the Yanks beat the Orioles 10-6 to salvage the final game of the weekend series and the glimmer of hope for their season.

The Yanks got all four of those early runs off Daniel Cabrera in the first two innings. They did this despite getting only one run out of a bases-loaded no-outs situation in the first and Derek Jeter being called out at the plate on an inning ending 3-4-2 double play off the bat of Alex Rodriguez in the second despite the fact that it appeared that catcher Paul Bako missed the tag.

Rodriguez, incidentally, is still hitless since he launched career homer number 499 in Kansas City. After last night’s game, Rodriguez said he was being pitched very carefully and that instead of pressing to make things happen he had to learn to take his base and keep the line moving. Yesterday, after striking out and grounding into the afore mentioned double play in his first two at-bats (both with the bases loaded), he took his own advice and took three walks (one intentional) in his three remaining trips. That’s further evidence of the increased maturity that Rodriguez has shown this season. In the 2005 Division Series against the Angels, Rodriguez was in a similar situation. The Angels gave him nothing to hit in that series, but he tried to force it and wound up going 2 for 15 with five Ks and just six walks in 21 plate appearances.

Cabrera largely settled down after the bad call on Jeter, while Wang coughed up those two runs in the bottom of the fourth, stranding two other runners on base thanks to a fantastic inning-ending catch by Johnny Damon heading back toward the wall in the gap in left field to snag a drive by Brian Roberts. Roberts got his revenge on Wang by driving in a run in the sixth to pull the O’s within 4-3. The Yanks got that one back in the seventh off John Parrish, but the O’s returned the volley in the bottom of the inning by plating Nick Markakis’s leadoff double off Luis Vizcaino.

That made it 5-4 Yanks with Vizcaino burned and Kyle Farnsworth warming in the pen. Watching the game, I was convinced Farnsworth would blow that one-run lead in the eighth. Fortunately, the Yanks exploded for five runs against Paul Shuey and Dany Baez in the top of the inning, which cushioned the blow of the two-run Brian Roberts home run Farnsworth eventually surrendered in the bottom half. Mariano Rivera struck out the side around a pair of singles and a wild pitch in the ninth to wrap things up.

The Yankees are now back home for a much needed rest today followed by six games against the White Sox and Royals. They really need to go 5-1 in that stretch. It’s a lot to ask, but times are tough in Yankeeland.

Too Little Too Late

Does that headline apply to last night’s 7-5 Yankee loss to the Orioles in which the Yankees rallied for four runs in the ninth only to have Bobby Abreu strikeout to end the game while representing the tying run, or to the Yankees’ season itself? You tell me.

The Yankees got exactly one man on base against Brian Burres in each of the first six innings last night. Twice that runner was erased by a double play. Twice he stole second base. Once he was thrown out stealing. In none of those six innings was he advanced by another batter, and none of those six runners came around to score. The Yanks finally broke through when Hideki Matsui led off the seventh with a solo home run. Jorge Posada followed that homer with a single, driving Burres from the game, but despite a subsequent walk, the Yankees were unable to do further damage against reliever John Parrish.

For his part, Roger Clemens had a rough first inning, allowing two runs on a walk and a pair of doubles and throwing 31 pitches. He pitched out of another jam in the second, but another 19 pitches put him at 50 after just two frames. Clemens set the O’s down 1-2-3 in the third, but it was the only time he was able to do so all night. The O’s scratched out a third run in the fifth on a lead-off walk to Brian Roberts, a sac bunt, a steal of third, and an RBI single.

Despite having thrown 110 pitches, Clemens came out for the seventh, but when Roberts delivered a one-out single on Rocket’s 113th pitch, Joe Torre brought in Mike Myers to face Corey Patterson. Patterson singled to put runners on the corners, then stole second uncontested when the Yankee infield came in to cut off the run. Myers got Nick Markakis swinging for the second out and Torre called on set-up ace Luis Vizcaino, but Vizcaino walked Kevin Millar on five pitches to load the bases then gave up a bloop single to right by Miguel Tejada to plate two more runs, running the score to 5-1 O’s.

In the eighth, Danys Baez got Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, and Alex Rodriguez on eight pitches and the O’s tacked two more on against Brian Bruney and Ron Villone to make it 7-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth.

With a six-run lead, Dave Trembley turned to the bottom man in his pen, Cory Doyne. Doyne got ahead of Hideki Matsui 0-2, fell back to 2-2, then got Matsui to ground to second. Only the ball was a slow, bounding, three hopper close to the bag and Matsui was able to beat Brian Roberts’ throw at first base by a half step. Then this happened:

Posada home run
Cano double
Phillips single
Cabrera single, Cano scores

With the score 7-4 Yankees, Trembley pulled Doyne and brought in lefty Jamie Walker to face Johnny Damon. With two men on base, I wondered about the wisdom of going for broke by pinch-hitting Shelley Duncan for Damon against the lefty Walker. The thought being that the righty slugger Ducan could run into a pitch and tie the game, while Damon, being a lefty, was more likely to roll over on one and hit into a rally-killing double play. The other side of that being that Damon had hit .355/.412/.516 over the previous seven games and, with no outs, Damon’s on-base abilities were more likely to keep the line moving and bring the team’s big hitters to the plate. Torre, smartly, elected to stay with Damon. What I didn’t know at the time, but Torre did, was that Damon had hit into only one double play all season prior to that at-bat, but that DP had come in the third inning of this very game. Damon rewarded Torre’s informed decision by grounding into his second double play of the 2007 season. Undeterred, Derek Jeter singled to plate Phillips, bringing Bobby Abreu to the plate as the tying run.

With Alex Rodriguez, still looking for his 500th career home run, lurking on-deck, Abreu took a slider on the outside corner for strike one as Jeter took second base on defensive indifference. Abreu then took another slider well outside for ball one, and a fastball that looked a bit outside for strike two. With catcher Ramon Hernandez bouncing around to prevent Jeter from relaying location from second base, Walker threw a slider in the dirt to make it 2-2. Abreu then fouled off a slider and a fastball (both of which were in the strike zone), and took another slider low and away to run the count full. Seven pitches into the at-bat, Walker had thrown five sliders and two fastballs, all had been belt-high or lower, all had been away, and all but the last fastball had been on the outside corner or outside the strike zone. Walker’s last pitch started out headed for Abreu’s ribs. Bobby had seen it often enough to recognize it: the slider again. This one was higher and a bit further over the plate than the others. Abreu paused to avoid swinging early at the 73-mile-per-hour pitch, then let loose.

Watching the replay, I still can’t figure out how he missed it. The pitch was high in the zone. Al Leiter, broadcasting for YES, said it was too high for Abreu to reach, but it was letter-high at most and the replays show that he swung on the right plane. If anything it looks like he swung too early despite the extra pause. In either case, the pitch was likely ball four. Having come up empty, Abreu stared back at the ball in Hernandez’s glove in shock, then let out a yell of frustration and realization before staggering back to the dugout in a daze behind Rodriguez, who was left on deck.

Will a similar scene be played out on a larger scale in September? With the Yankees having now dropped the weekend series to the Orioles, breaking serve for the first time in the second half (if you’ll allow the cross-sports metaphor), let’s do some calculations.

The Yankees are now 55-49. They are nine games behind Boston (who won last night) in the AL East, and five games behind Cleveland (who lost) in third place in the Wild Card race (thanks to Friday’s completion of the suspended game, their games behind in the standings and games behind in the loss column are now in synch). Thus far in the second half, the Yankees have gone 13-6 (.684) (including that suspended game, which was not added to their record until it was completed on Friday) against their cupcake opponents. If the Yankees can arrest their current three-game losing streak to continue to play .684 ball against the cupcakes (O’s, Chisox, D-Rays, KC, Jays), and go 12-11 against their tougher opponents (Tribe, Tigers, Halos, Bosox, M’s) per my previous calculations, they’ll finish the season with 91 wins. At their current winning percentage, Cleveland would finish the season with at least 93 wins. There’s still hope for the Wild Card, but there’s no room for error. The Yankees have to compensate for their current slump with a sweep against someone else, and they have to do better than 12-11 against the big boys (preferably beginning by winning their three-game series in Cleveland) if they want to make the postseason. The Red Sox, who are on pace for at least 99 wins, are likely out of reach. The Mariners (on pace for a max of 89 wins and having lost 7 of their last 9) are of little concern.

Chien-Ming Wang needs to be the stopper this afternoon, and the offense needs to build on its ninth-inning rally. If this team gets any deeper into its sudden funk, it’s over, both the season and the franchise’s 12-year streak of reaching the postseason.

Bearing Down

The Yankees enter tonight’s game in the same situation they were in a week ago. Having lost two straight, they have to sweep the weekend to stay on target. Last weekend they did just that by blowing the Devil Rays out of the water by winning three games by a combined score of 45-12. This weekend, the pitching matchups favor the Yankees, but the offense will have to snap out of their sudden funk to cash in on that advantage.

Robinson Cano broke the team’s 0-for-27 slump with runners in scoring position with an RBI single in the sixth inning last night. Here’s hoping they can build on that tonight against Brian Burres who has a 7.18 ERA over his last five starts. Roger Clemens, meanwhile, has allowed three runs in his last 13 innings over two starts.

The Yankee Rumor Mill

In less than 100 hours now, we’ll know whether the Yankees have made any substantial moves to beat the trading deadline. As well as the Bombers have played since the All-Star break, general manager Brian Cashman cannot afford to stand pat. The acquisition of backup catcher Jose Molina is a small step in the right direction, if only because it forced the incompetent Wil Nieves off the roster. Still, the bench and bullpen remain primary areas of concern, as does the back end of the starting rotation. At the same time, Cashman shouldn’t trade his two prized pitching prospects, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, not unless the Cardinals are suddenly offering Albert Pujols. (After all, he wasn’t good enough to play unless the All-Star Game went extra innings.) With all of that in mind, let’s consider some of the many rumored possibilities…

There’s been a lot of talk this week about a Mark Teixeira deal, but I don’t see him coming to the Yankees when all is said and done. I’d bet on the Braves instead, followed by the Orioles as a longshot. Embattled Rangers GM Jon Daniels needs a big return for Teixeira, especially considering how many of his recent deals have flatlined for Texas. Daniels will almost certainly insist on either Chamberlain or Hughes, both of whom are close to untouchable in Cashman’s mind. (Furthermore, both figure in the Yankees’ immediate future, Hughes as the No. 4 starter and Chamberlain as a possible set-up man for Mariano Rivera.) If Daniels is willing to consider a lesser package featuring Melky Cabrera, Tyler Clippard, and/or Ian Kennedy, the Yankees might bite. But then again, can the Yankees really afford to trade Cabrera given Johnny Damon’s fragile body and diminishing outfield range? And will Teixeira, who has only 13 home runs this season, ever show the kind of power that he showed in 2005, when he peaked with 43 home runs? Given these questions and obstacles, I just don’t see the Rangers and Yankees getting together on a major deal involving Big Tex…

The Yankees would be smarter to pursue a deal with the Devil Rays, who have two useful players that interest the Yankees. For the price it would cost to acquire Teixeira, the Yankees could probably land both Carlos Pena and Ty Wigginton. How about a package of Clippard, Scott Proctor, Ross Ohlendorf, and Chris Britton (currently on the minor league DL) for the pair of 29-year-old power hitters? The lefty-swinging Pena could then platoon with Andy Phillips at first base (and isn’t that a lot more appealing than waiting for Doug Mientkiewicz to return in September?), while Wigginton could serve as a platoon partner for Robinson Cano at second base and as a valuable bat off the bench. Wigginton’s ability to play second, first, third and the outfield make him especially attractive—and might be enough to bump Miguel Cairo from the 25-man roster…

Speaking of second baseman, the Yankees are once again showing interest in Houston’s Mark Loretta, just as they did during the off-season when he was a free agent. Like Wigginton, Loretta could platoon with Cano and could provide another option at first base. Unfortunately, Astros GM Tim Purpura is notoriously conservative and needs a federal proclamation to make any trades of substance…

What about the bullpen? Scott Linebrink has already been traded, leaving the Rangers’ Eric Gagne and the Royals’ Octavio Dotel as the biggest names available in a thin market of relief pitching. The Yankees have some interest in both pitchers, (more in Gagne than in Dotel, whom the Yankees already had in 2006), but probably not enough to outbid teams like the Indians, Tigers, Dodgers, and Mets. As for lesser names, David Weathers and Salomon Torres are both available, but neither seems like an ideal guy for the eighth inning. Rather than a trade, the Yankees are far more likely to pursue solutions from within their system, such as Joba Chamberlain or Chris Britton… Then there’s always the theory of addition by subtraction, which explains the rumors that have the enigmatic Kyle Farnsworth headed back to the Tigers for a C-level prospect…

The Yankees and White Sox have engaged in recent discussions, enough to merit the White Sox sending scouts to follow the New Yorkers on their current road trip. While Jose Contreras and Javier Vazquez are both available, the Yankees have little interest in re-visiting either of those options. Vazquez’ mechanics are too problematic and Contreras has lost too much off his fastball, so forget about either of those right-handers. Jon Garland, however, is another story. The Yankees so covet the 27-year-old ground ball specialist as a mid-season replacement for long-in-the-tooth Mike Mussina that they are considering the surrender of some of Cashman’s stockpile of pitching prospects. The White Sox would also have interest in center field prospect Brett Gardner, given the disaster area that position has been for Chicago since the departure of Aaron Rowand. With the potential additions of both Garland and Hughes, the Yankees could then jettison both Mussina and Igawa to the bullpen, where they would presumably replace some combination of Proctor, Farnsworth, Mike Myers, and/or Ron Villone…

One final note: some recent trade talk has centered on Johnny Damon, who is apparently being shopped around both leagues. I’m sure that the Yankees would love to trade Damon, but his contract is so prohibitive that it makes the chances of a fair exchange nearly impossible. If the Yankees are smart, they’ll work with Damon on a new conditioning program, switch him to left field fulltime in 2008, and hope that he can regain some of the power he showed in 2006.

On the Chin

Andy Pettitte pitched another credible game in defeat as a three-run inning was too much for the Yankees to overcome as they fell 4-2 to the Orioles.

“I’m just kind of fighting myself,” said Pettitte, who allowed eight hits and three walks, while striking out five. “I’m constantly having to make adjustments out there instead of it just being together for seven straight innings. I got in a little bit of a rhythm the last few innings, and that’s what’s frustrating — that I can struggle for a few innings and then it’s fine, but yet the damage is done.”
Kepner, N.Y. Times)

Scott Proctor may be sniffing around for the lighter fluid. He gave up a solo homer last night, the fourth dinger he’s surrendered in his last five games. As Pete Abraham mentions, “He looks like a guy who is worried about being traded, which perhaps he should be.”

But the story of the night was Baltimore’s rookie starter Jeremy Guthrie and the O’s pen. The Yankee offense was kept in check. Guthrie threw six strong innings, featuring a 95+sinker and a good breaking ball. Man, does he look like a keeper or what? In fact, there are a lot of things to be pleased about in Baltimore these days, according to the Washington Post.

The bad news for the Yanks? Boston, Cleveland and Seattle all won. Welp, today is another day. Let’s hope the Yanks come slugging tonight.

Yanks Jump Start Their Weekend

The Yankees and Orioles kicked off their weekend series this evening with some unfinished business. On June 28th, the Yankees lead the O’s 8-6 with two men out in the eighth inning when the game was suspended due to rain. RBI singles by Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter helped the Yankees rally from two down. It was raining like crazy as the Yanks came back and Baltimore third baseman Melvin Mora got himself thrown out of the game arguing with the umpires after the Yanks took the lead. The game should have been called sooner and you couldn’t blame Mora for being upset.

It was raining this afternoon in Baltimore but cleared up and the game resumed a few minutes after seven. All the statistics will count as June stats. Here’s the play-by-play:

The Yankees 8th
Rob Bell on the mound for Baltimore. He falls behind Hideki Matsui 3-0. This time Godzilla doesn’t swing at the 3-0 pitch, fastball strike. Then he grounds a sharp one-hopper to Kevin Millar at first and the side is retired.

Bottom of the 8th
Mike Myers, who had entered the game in the seventh inning starts the eighth inning against Nick Markakis. The first pitch is a breaking ball low for a ball. Another breaking ball, this one is high and away, ball two. Fastball on the inside corner, called strike one. Fastball, outside, Markakis swings late and fouls a ball to the left side. Breaking ball, Markakis waits, is late again but fouls it back. Another breaking ball, low and away, Markakis grounds a soft ground ball to Jeter. One out.

Slider inside, ball one to Chris Gomez. Fastball, high and away, ball two. Fastball, low and away, 3-0. Again low and away, four pitch walk. Aubrey Huff comes to hit and Torre calls for Mariano.

Mariano vs. Huff. Cutter, up and in, ball one. It didn’t cut so much as it swept. Another cutter. Huff swings late and grounds a chopper to Cano, who flips to Jeter, who throws on to first for an easy 4-6-3 double play. Nice and easy. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about, Mo.

Top of the 9th

Alex. Fastball low, ball one. Fastball, down the pipe, ground ball to short. That was a pitch to hit. You know he’s thinking about the home run. Well, so much for the Back-to-the-Future home run angle.

The first pitch to Jorge Posada is a fastball strike right over the plate. Slider, outside, 1-1. Another breaking ball, high and away, 2-1. Fastball grounded right at Brian Roberts at second. Easy out.

Bobby Abreu takes a questionable strike, low and away. Fastball, tailing away. Same pitch, same call. Same pitch again, low, 1-2. Another sinker, easy ground ball to second, side retired.

Bottom of the 9th

Miguel Tejada, who did not appear in the original June 28th game, leads off. Tonight gives his return from the DL. Mo’s first pitch is a cutter on the outside corner. Tejada swings and misses, strike one. Cutter in the dirt, 1-1. Fastball, low, Tejada takes an enormous cut and misses the ball. Upstairs, the ball cuts, and Tejada swings wildly through the ball. One out.

Corey Patterson fouls the first pitch–a cutter–off of his foot. Another cutter, this one doesn’t get in enough and Patterson lines the ball to right center. Abreu gets a bad jump, the ball gets in the gap and Patterson glides into second base with a double.

Ramon Hernandez is the pinch-hitter. Cutter, low and away, 1-0. Another cutter, low and away. Mo missed his target, 2-0. Posada was set-up inside. High and inside, ball three. Mo hasn’t been close in this at-bat. Pitches are really moving. Fastball strike, 3-1. Cutter, up and over the plate, lined up the middle. RBI single. Oy. Now, it’s 8-7 Yanks.

Jay Payton nubs the first pitch to Jeter who steps on the bag and quickly throws to first. But the throw is wide and Andy Phillips stretches to his right to catch it. His foot comes off the bag and Payton is safe. Jeter rushed his throw.

Brain Roberts takes a cutter for a strike. He was taking all the way. Posada is set-up inside. Mo taking a long time. I’m surprised Roberts hasn’t stepped out. Cutter, inside, 1-1. Another cutter, flat, high and outside. Posada was set-up inside. Mo missed badly again. Cutter “drilled deep to right field,” says Michael Kay. But he’s just too quick and the ball is foul, 2-2. The crowd jumped at that one. Now they are cheering. Fastball away, Roberts lines the ball down the third base line. Payton reaches third, Roberts holds first. Nice hitting by Roberts. The ball was up at little but it was outside; Roberts just stayed back and went with it.

Homina, homina, homina. Brandon Fahey takes a ball, 1-0. The crowd is rowdy. Another cutter low, Fahey fouls it off, 1-1. He did Mo a favor swinging at that pitch. Another cutter–slow chopper hit up the middle. Cano ranges to his right, leans over and backhands the ball. Without breaking stride he steps on second base, beating Roberts for the final out of the game.

And that’s that. Whew. Jeez, that was a bunch of excitement early in the evening. Mo gives up a run but the Yanks win. They now trail the Red Sox by seven games. The regularly scheduled game will begin in about twenty minutes. Y’all come back now, ya hear? In the meanwhile, check out this article I wrote about shortstops for SI.com.

The Baltimore Orioles

Sam Perlozzo was fired after the penultimate game of a nine-game losing streak in late June. Dave Trembley’s first game as Orioles manager was the team’s ninth-consecutive loss, but since then they’ve gone 18-12 (.600). Along the way, their runs scored have surpassed their runs allowed, putting them in the Pythagorean black with a 51-49 make believe record. More recently, the O’s have won 9 of 12 and enter this weekend’s 3 1/2 game series on a four-game winning streak, the first three games of which saw them allow a total of just one run to the A’s and Devil Rays.

Indeed, pitching has been the reason for the O’s recent success. The offense is still awful, though it should get a boost with the return of Miguel Tejada from the DL for tonight’s action. Nick Markakis has been raking (.359/.435/.500 in July), but only has one homer on the month. Corey Patterson has hit his way into the two-spot in the order with a .337/.353/.530 line and team-leading four homers and eight steals in nine attempts in July, but other than a singles-driven surge from Chris Gomez, no one else could be described as “hot,” and only Kevin Millar, who has moved up to the cleanup spot in Tejada’s absence, and Brian Roberts have been acceptably productive. Rather it’s been the work of staff ace Erik Bedard (7-2, 2.09 ERA since the end of April and 6-0 with a 1.89 since the departure of Perlozzo) and the $40-million bullpen that has put the O’s on the winning track.

The Yankees are fortunate enough to miss Bedard this weekend, but tonight’s starter, 28-year-old fourth-year rookie Jeremy Guthrie, has pitched in as well. Guthrie held the Yankees to two runs over 6 1/3 innings and struck out six when these teams last met. In his last two starts he’s allowed just two runs in 13 innings. He did have something of a hiccup in between (a 6.11 over three starts, all Oriole losses), but that was his only rough patch since joining the rotation in early May. Guthrie has 13 quality starts in 15 tries this season and in one of the two “non-quality” starts he struck out seven and walked none while allowing just four hits in eight innings. In fact, that game was what is known as a “blown quality start” as Guthrie had held the Angels to three runs over seven innings, but having thrown just 88 pitches, was left in the game by Trembley only to surender a solo homer in the eighth to “blow” the quality start.

The good news is that the Yankees have a potential momentum buster with the completion of the teams’ suspended game from June 28 preceding tonight’s scheduled game. The game was stopped with the Yankees leading 8-6 with two outs in the eighth, Derek Jeter on second, and Hideki Matsui coming to the plate. That gives Matsui an immediate chance to break his RISP 0-fer. It also means the Yankees only need six outs to secure the win (though both Luis Vizcaino and Chien-Ming Wang, the latter of whom is on his throw day today, have already been used in the game; Mike Myers is the active pitcher). Of course, that win wouldn’t break the Orioles’ winning streak (though it could mess with Alex Rodriguez’s 500th homer), and an Oriole comeback could be devastating to the Yanks, who I’m sure have had this one penciled in as a win for the last month.

Andy Pettitte, who seems to have righted his ship in the second half (2-0, 3.38 ERA, 19 K in 18 2/3 IP) will start the scheduled game for the Yanks. Meanwhile, Chris Basak has been recalled, replacing Kei Igawa who has been optioned back to Scranton (which suggests that the fifth starter will be skipped following Monday’s off day and that Phil Hughes will take the turn when it next comes due). Meanwhile, could it be that Miguel Cairo could be heading to the Mets or Phillies, both of whom need a second baseman following the broken bones suffered by Jose Valentin and Chase Utley? That’s baseless speculation on my part, but youneverknow.


Series Wrap: @ Royals

Offense: The Yanks scored 25 runs in the first three games of the series, but went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position in their 7-1 victory on Wednesday night (a game that was 3-1 after seven innings) and 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position while being shutout in the finale. I still can’t give the offense a mixed review, but that’s a bit worrisome.


Robinson Cano 6 for 14, 2B, 3 BB, 2 RBI, 4 R
Johnny Damon 6 for 15, 2 2B, BB, 3 RBI, 3 R, SB, CS
Derek Jeter 7 for 19, 2B
Jorge Posada 4 for 12, 3B, 4 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB
Hideki Matsui 5 for 18, HR, 4 RBI, 4 R, 2 BB
Melky Cabrera 4 for 15, 2B, HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, BB
Jose Molina 2 for 4, 2B


Shelley Duncan 1 for 8, BB, R, 2 K

Rotation: Roger Clemens turned in the only quality start (7 IP, 2 R in the opener), but Chien-Ming Wang gave the Yankees six solid after growing cold on the bench while his offense sent nine men to the plate in each of the first two innings on Tuesday, and Mike Mussina protected a 2-1 lead for 5 2/3 innings on Wednesday. Kei Igawa, however, took a step backwards allowing five runs in 5 2/3 innings after allowing a combined five runs in ten innings over his two previous starts. Good signs for Igawa: no homers and just two walks.

Bullpen: Allowed just two runs in 10 2/3 innings, 12 baserunners. Both runs and five of those baserunners were surrendered by the last man out of the pen in the finale, meaning the Yankee pen had tossed 8 2/3 scoreless while allowing just seven baserunners prior to that.

The Good:

Everyone but Sean Henn. Everyone pitched, and Mike Myers was the only other reliever to allow as many as two baserunners in a single inning. Luis Vizcaino was again the best, throwing two perfect innings and striking out three.

The Bad:

Sean Henn allowed those two runs on three hits and two walks in the last two innings of the finale. One of those walks was the first taken by Tony Peña Jr. in 244 plate appearances.

Defense: Just one error in four games. In his first appearance as a Yankee in the finale, Jose Molina threw out the only Royal to attempt a stolen base in the series (Emil Brown).

Conclusion: The Yankees remain on mission, but one worries that the offensive explosion will yield to a slump.


Just like that the Yankee offense turned back into a pumpkin last night as they were blanked by the Royals, 7-0. It’s not that they didn’t put runners on base–once again they did that very well. They simply could not get a big hit. Hideki Matsui failed twice with runners on. In the first inning he popped up a 3-0 pitch with runners on the corners and in the the fifth he grounded out, swinging at the first pitch, with the bases loaded.

Then there was Kei Igawa. More mediocrity. Igawa gives up hits when he’s ahead in the count, and runs with two men out. He’s an entirely frustrating pitcher to watch and with Phillip Hughes about set to return to the majors, it is likely that Igawa’s days in the rotation are numbered. And if Joba Joba gets called up to pitch in the pen, the running man Igawa might find himself back in the land of Dunder Mifflin.

No soup for Alex Rodriguez either, who is sitting on career homer #499.

Hey, the Yanks were due for a stinker. They lose a game to the Red Sox who pounded the Indians in Cleveland. The Bombers now head to Baltimore to face the O’s, who are coming off a three-game sweep of the Rays.

More Please

The Yankees have already won this four-game series against the Royals but man it sure would be nice if they win again tonight. Greed is good, cousin. The very iffy Kei Igawa goes for the Yanks, while Jorge De La Rosa is on the hill for K.C. As you may have already heard, Alex Rodriguez hit career dinger #499 against De La Rosa. Everyone in the park will likely know this fact by the time Rodriguez comes to hit and I’m sure they’ll remind us a couple of several times on the YES broadcast too. I wouldn’t count on A Rod getting too much to hit but who knows? The way he’s been going this year, De La Rosa just better not make a mistake.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

Yankee Panky #17: Reading the trades

The last week in July is arguably the most fun time of the baseball season from an editorial perspective, with the non-waiver trade deadline drawing ever closer. I also thought August was fun, when teams start unloading players onto the waiver wire and buyers eye the last piece or pieces to put together a run to the postseason. 

The big questions every year were: Which teams are buying? Which teams are selling? Who’s available? What will the market bear? And where do the Yankees fit into all of it, because they’re always involved somehow.

The most difficult aspect of this, I found, was separating truth from rumor. At YES — the dot.com at least — we were at a slight disadvantage because we weren’t around the team every day, and while we had contacts both internally and within the league, we were under strict orders to not break news. We were not a news gathering organization, although we tried to report. This was the Catch-22. Come trade deadline time, I didn’t mind this so much, but selfishly, I wanted YESNetwork.com to be the go-to place for Yankees content, and I wanted us to be the first to get the story. If I noticed something in a blog or in a local paper or TV/Radio broadcast, I’d pitch a reaction story to one of our broadcasters or outside contributors for some analysis and perspective on the matter. We also had access to wire copy and could run with an AP story.

How is the 2007 trade deadline being handled? If the Yankees were closer to the Red Sox, or even in first place, I believe there would be more of a push from the papers and the talkies to stir activity. Right or wrong, it’s part of the fun of this time of year. This week and the days leading up to the Winter Meetings are the days you see information come from “sources close to the situation.” The only trade the Yankees have made thus far was acquiring Jose Molina from the Angels in exchange for minor league pitcher Jeff Kennard.

There was the annual convention of team brass to discuss the grand plan, which the papers all used as Notebook leads from Tuesday night’s game coverage. Brian Cashman has told reporters for months now that one trade is not the answer; it won’t be enough to help the team because the current players haven’t played to their capabilities. According to numerous reports, Cashman is intent on holding onto Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain and using them as the foundations of the Yankees’ future pitching staff. He will not sacrifice them to land Mark Teixeira; he took a similar stance 2 ½ years ago, refusing to include Robinson Cano and/or Chien-Ming Wang, his best trade chips, in any deal.

The hot rumor has been Ty Wigginton for Scott Proctor, and that story has taken a couple of twists. First the Rays were interested; the Yankees wanted to give them Kyle Farnsworth, but he was too expensive. Then the Rays said they didn’t want to trade within the division. Then they were interested again, but wanted Proctor because he fit the Rays’ budget.

Perhaps the best trade to be made is one made from within, as Joel Sherman suggests. But is Joe Torre ready to stop giving Kyle Farnsworth the benefit of the doubt?

There’s still talk of bringing in a first baseman not named Andy Phillips: Wigginton, Shea Hillenbrand, and Big Tex are the names being bandied about, but until something happens, it’s best to think a trade involving the Yankees is hearsay.

Many of you expressed your enjoyment of John Sterling several posts back when I posed the question about your preferences for Yankees, Mets and Red Sox coverage. I will concede that Sterling is a capable entertainer. Sports are a form of entertainment, and with his flair for the dramatic, he fits that bill perfectly.

But John Sterling the baseball announcer is not as formidable as John Sterling the entertainer. Mike and the Mad Dog razz Sterling for his melodramatic calls and his homerism, and in many cases, it’s justified. The 28 seconds of dead air that followed A-Rod bouncing into the 9th-inning double play in Game 4 against the Angels in ’05 is just one example of patented Sterling. It sounded as if he took off his headphones in disgust, walked out of the booth to collect himself, and then came back when he was ready. Had Suzyn Waldman not been camped near the clubhouse to prep for postgame coverage, one of two things would have happened: 1) Sterling would have stayed put; 2) If Sterling was frustrated enough to cut off his speech, Waldman likely would have picked up on it and rehashed the double play and transitioned the broadcast to the next at-bat.

Most recently, Sterling has fallen into the “I think” syndrome. It surfaced Monday night during the Kansas City broadcast, specifically Alex Gordon’s second at-bat, when was discussing how two of the Royals’ recent top draft picks — Gordon and Billy Butler — were in the lineup. It had potential to be a good note and a chance to educate Yankee fans about a player to watch for years to come. Except … in Sterling’s description of Gordon, he mentioned how the 23-year-old third baseman “was a star at Wichita State, I think.”

I’m sorry, but Sterling should have known Gordon played college ball at Nebraska and not Wichita State. He has the Royals’ media guide. He has game notes. He has access to the Internet. He has every means necessary to be more than adequately prepared for such a talking point during the broadcast, and he dropped an I think.

In April, during the Yankees’ first trip to Tampa Bay, when A-Rod was on his first home run binge and hit his 12th homer of the season, Sterling estimated how many home runs he needed to reach the 500 benchmark. The math was simple. He started 2007 with 464, and had 476 at the time of that home run. He needed 24 to get to 500. Sterling should have known the number — put it on an index card or something.

As a fan of the game and, at one time, an aspiring broadcaster — my dream job was to be a baseball PBP announcer, and I continue to study anyone I can. It upsets me when Sterling or anyone in such a position makes simple mistakes like the ones mentioned above, which give the audience the impression that he’s unprepared.

I did play-by-play for five different sports in college, including baseball, and was fortunate enough to do a couple of minor league games each of the past two years, and the most important thing you can portray to your listeners is a knowledge and understanding of the game itself and of the players represented on both teams. Sterling only does this in spurts. You might say I’m focusing on the mistakes, but to me, mistakes like this are inexcusable. Especially when you’re dealing with a team like the Yankees, whose fans are arguably the most passionate and knowledgeable in all of baseball. 

John Sterling has a great voice. But in this town, I think we deserve more than just a voice, theatrics, stories and a few chuckles.

Until next week…

Taking Care Of Business

Your game recap this morning courtesy of Mike Mussina:

“Melky got into one early and gave us a lead, and I just did the best I could to hold them down until we could scratch out some more. We got to 3-1. I felt pretty good about it, and then we busted loose and scored four runs late so that kinda just put it away from there.”

To flesh that out, Melky Cabrera hit a two-run homer of Gil Meche in the second. Mussina held the Royals scoreless through five thanks to a couple of extra ticks on his fastball and good command of his curve. The Royals bounced him with two outs in the sixth when Ross Gload doubled and Reggie Sanders singled him home to make it 2-1. Ron Villone got Alex Gordon to end that threat. The Yanks added a run in the top of the seventh. Mike Myers bailed out Scott Proctor in the bottom of that frame, and the Yanks exploded in the eighth with Alex Rodriguez hitting career homer number 499 off Gil Meche, a two-run shot to right. That bounced Meche in favor of Jimmy Gobble, who was greeted by a Matsui solo shot and then gave up a second run on a Cano single and an Andy Phillips double to put the final at 7-1.

So the Yanks win their fourth straight four-game series and, for the first time in that stretch, have a chance to sweep. Good signs: they’ve won Kei Igawa’s last three starts, are on a six-game winning streak in which they’ve scored a minimum of seven runs in every game, and are 17-6 (.739) in July.

It’s Not the Size of the Moose in the Fight . . .

The Yankees need to win just one of these final two games in Kansas City to stay on target by taking three of four from the Royals. Unfortunately, they’ll have to do it with the weak back end of their rotation. Mike Mussina, who takes the ball tonight, is better than the disaster outing he had last time out in the series opener against Tampa Bay, but not by as much as he’d like to think. He has a 4.97 ERA on the season and a 4.71 ERA over his last five starts. He’s very clearly the Yankees’ number-four starter at this point, and his delicate diva act is getting old fast (and I say that as someone who finds his post-game churlishness hilarious and oddly endearing).

Before his last start, I reported that Mussina had a 3.40 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in 11 starts with Wil Nieves behind the plate and a 9.00 ERA and 1.89 WHIP in four starts with Jorge Posada behind the plate (one of them being his injury-shortened outing in Minneapolis in April). That night, Moose was caught by Posada and gave up six runs in 4 2/3 innings pushing his Posada ERA to 9.53 and WHIP to 1.94. Well, Nieves is gone and Posada will be behind the plate again tonight, so Moose had better crank up his way back machine and remember how he turned in Cy Young-worthy seasons pitching to Posada in 2001 (3.15 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) and 2003 (3.40 ERA, 1.08 WHIP). Or, better yet, remember that it was Posada’s advice on his changeup that stimulated a last gasp of brilliance early last season (2.42 ERA, 0.95 WHIP through the end of May (he might want to thank Jorge for his current two-year, $23-million deal while he’s at it).

Whatever it takes, it sure would be nice not to have to rely on Kei Igawa’s high-wire act for that third win of the series. Further complicating the issue, however, is the fact that the Yankees will face the Royals best pitcher tonight, the maybe-not-so-overpaid-after-all Gil “Ga!” Meche. Meche has gone 7-6 with a 3.63 ERA (130 ERA+) for a team playing .434 baseball, and very much deserved his All-Star selection. Then again, Meche has been coming back to earth over the last two months, posting a 4.50 ERA in June and July and a 5.40 ERA in his last six starts (yet somehow going 3-0 over that same six-start stretch). Still, Meche held the major leagues’ best offense to two runs on five hits and no walks over seven innings in his last outing, which took place in Detroit as the Royals romped to a 10-2 win over the Central Division leaders, and in his only outing against the Yankees last year held the Bombers to two runs on five hits and a walk in six innings while striking out six.

Things have been easy for the Yankees over the last five games. That will likely change tonight. Here’s hoping they can reignite that fighting spirit they displayed in last week’s Toronto series.

Is It Over Yet?

I don’t mean to seem ungrateful, after all, the Yankees won 9-4, but did it have to take four hours?

The Yanks scored six runs off Scott Elarton before making their sixth out, driving Elarton from the game after 1 2/3 innings. Lefty reliever John Bale then walked the first three batters he faced (two of them on four pitches) to push across the one runner Elarton had left on base. That made it 7-0 after an inning and a half. When he got a chance to pitch, Chien-Ming Wang wasn’t at his best, but he didn’t need to be, and one can forgive him a lack of sharpness considering the amount of time he spent waiting for his team to stop hitting. Wang, who actually got more outs in the air than on the ground, gave up two in the second and two in the fifth and yielded to the bullpen after six innings and 98 pitches. By then the Yankees had tagged on two more runs to set the score at the eventual final. Derek Jeter had the big night going 4 for 6 with a double (though oddly he drove in no runs and scored only one), while Robinson Cano tied a career high with three walks.

In total, the Yankees put 23 men on base (13 hits, nine walks–six of them by Bale–and a hit batsman) and forced the Royals to throw 224 pitches (Elarton and Bale threw 109 pitches in a combined three innings). The only inning in which the Bombers were retired in order was the eighth (by Joel Peralta) which was the first time the Yankees had gone down in order since Al Reyes’ 1-2-3 eighth inning in Saturday’s nightcap, a streak of 24 innings with at least one base runner. Somewhere around the seventh inning I gave up and watched The Daily Show. The game was still in the eighth inning when I flipped back.

Updating Mike Carminati’s statistics, the Yankees have now scored 56 runs in their last four games, which is the second-highest four-game total since 1950 when the Red Sox scored 1,027 runs in 154 games, one of just two 1,000-run seasons since 1936 (the other being the 1999 Indians, who scored 1,009 runs in 162 games). Those 1950 Sox scored 6.67 runs per game, the fourth-best average of all time (the 1931, ’36, and ’30 Yankees being the top three). The current Yanks have now scored 5.72 runs per game on the season, which remains second in the majors to the Tigers’ 5.82.

More importantly, the Red Sox beat the Indians again, which is exactly what the Yankees want to see as they’re gaining much faster in the Wild Card race, where they’re now just 4.5 games back. If they can get within three by August 10, they’ll be in position to take the lead by beating the Tribe head-to-head.

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