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Monthly Archives: July 2007

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High Score

The Yankees have scored 47 runs in their last three games and 54 in their last four. Mike Carminati has the historical significance of that outburst covered. The only question remaining is how much they’ll add to it tonight against Scott Elarton, who comes off the DL sporting a 9.17 ERA. Elarton is a famously homer prone pitcher who has given up 185 home runs in 169 career starts. This year he’s given up a dozen dingers in just eight starts. Though he’s been hurt most of the year (offseason shoulder surgery and most recently a sprained right foot), Elarton has not finished the sixth inning in any of his eight starts thus far, and has allowed fewer than four runs in only his first start of the year, which came against the hitless White Sox in mid-May.

By comparison, Chien-Ming Wang, who takes the mound for the Yankees tonight, has allowed just six home runs in 17 starts and none in his last four, over which he has posted a 2.03 ERA. An interesting side note, opposing basestealers are 0 for 3 against Wang in those four games, this after they started the season with five successful steals against him.

Johnny Damon will DH with Melky in center, Abreu back in right, and Shelley Duncan on the bench tonight.

In other news, Phil Hughes will make what could be his penultmate rehab start for triple-A Scranton tonight. He’ll be joined in the dugout by fast-rising 2006 draftees Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, who were just promoted from Trenton (Tyler Clippard and Chase Wright have been demoted to double-A to make room).

Carry On Wayward Son

After their offensive outburst against the Devil Rays over the weekend, the Yankees suffered a disappointing letdown in Kansas City last night. Their bats went cold, and they plated just nine runs, on only 13 hits and four walks.

Then again, it’s possible that Sunday’s 21-4 score may have warped my perspective somewhat.

Monday’s game was actually fairly close throughout the middle innings, but the Yankees won 9-2 behind a strong, no-nonsense performance from Roger Clemens, who went seven innings and allowed only four hits. He walked nobody and struck out three. The Royals scored in the 4th on a Mark Grudzielanek double, a groundout, and a wild pitch, and again in the 7th on a solo home run from the unfortunately named Ross Gload, but that was all. (And by the way, you don’t scare me, Grudzielanek — I’ve been typing out Mientkiewicz for months now. Punk.)

The Yankees scored early and late, and once again every Yankee starter had at least one hit. In the first, Hideki Matsui singled home Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter; in the second, it was Johnny Damon’s double that scored Robinson Cano and Shelley Duncan.

Those four runs turned out to be enough for Clemens, Luis Vizcaino – who is teaching me how to trust again – and Ron Villone. But the Yankees added five insurance runs in the ninth, anyway, off of Kansas City relievers, turning the game into a last-minute blowout and keeping Mariano Rivera in the bullpen. The first of those runs was Alex Rodriguez’s 100th RBI of the season, which came on a sharp single up the middle.

Other highlights:

-Melky’s nifty catch on a foul ball in the first. It seemed so certain to drop in that the YES cameras didn’t even bother cutting away from the batter, and the play occurred offscreen.

Cabrera’s batting average and OBP have risen steadily every month this season , from .200/.238 in April to .368/415 in July. Given that he won’t be 23 until August 11, that strikes me as encouraging, as does the fact that he’s started following A-Rod’s workout program. Seriously, if they trade this kid – even if it’s a smart trade that I should logically approve of – I’m going to throw a fit.

-There were several sweet familial moments during the game: Chris and Dave Duncan were in the stands watching brother/son Shelley, thanks to a Cardinals off-day, while in the Yankee dugout Tony Pena tried his best not to look happy when Tony Jr., the Royals’ shortstop, went 2 for 4. I think Tony Junior looks a little like an elf.

-Johnny Damon is starting to look human again; maybe he really has gotten healthy. He was three-for-five last night, and several of those were hard-hit.

-The Yankees announced that Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy have been promoted to AAA. Just typing that, I started salivating a little bit.

Damn Kansas, that song’s gonna be stuck in my head all day now. Carry on my waaaayward soooon, there’ll be peace when yooou are dooone, lay your weary heeead to reeest, don’t you cry nooo mooooooore…

The Kansas City Royals

This just in: the Kansas City Royals don’t suck. At least they don’t suck as much as they usually do. The Yankees’ next three series are against the Royals, Orioles, and White Sox and the Royals just might be the most dangerous of those three teams as they are currently tied in the AL Central with Chicago and just one game behind Baltimore in the overall standings, but have been much hotter than either of late.

Since the end of interleague play, the Royals have gone 13-8 while taking series from the Angels (a three-game sweep), Mariners, Red Sox, and Tigers. They also lost two of three to the Indians by a combined three runs and their only loss to Detroit came in ten innings. Over those 21 games, they’ve outscored their opponents 124-81, which works out to a .701 winning percentage (or a 15-6 record). By comparison, the Blue Jays are 11-13, the Orioles are 12-10 (not counting their suspended game with the Yankees), the White Sox are 14-12, and the Devil Rays are 5-20 since the end of interleague play.

Why have the Royals been so good against the league’s best teams? Their bullpen has a lot to do with it. Led by a finally healthy Octavio Dotel (3.34 ERA, 10 SV) and Rule-5 steal Joakim Soria (2.34, 10 SV while Dotel was hurt), and rounded out by the setup duo of veteran righty David Riske (2.42 ERA) and 25-year-old lefty Jimmy Gobble (2.67), the Royals’ pen has the sixth-best ERA in the American League, and things are only getting better as Zack Greinke is thriving in his new middle-relief role with a 1.88 ERA since June 10.

That strong performance by the pen means that the Royals can hold onto the leads handed to them by their surging offense, which scored 5.9 runs per game over that 21-game stretch. The leaders there have been veteran second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, who has hit .431/.453/.510 since coming off the DL on July 6, utility man Esteban German, who has hit .371/.443/.548 while starting 15 of those 21 games (initially in place of Grudzielanek at second, and since then spotting in at third base and pushing struggling überprospect Alex Gordon to first base), and rookie designated hitter Billy Butler, another top prospect, who has hit .373/.422/.590 since being recalled on June 20.

There’s something amiss, however. It seems no one else has really hit much at all over those last 21 games, and, since Grudzielanek and German essentially split second base over that span, that means the offense has been riding on two hot bats, Butler’s and the second baseman’s. Catcher John Buck, who leads the team with 16 homers (more than twice the total of second-place Mike Sweeney), has slugged .524 over that stretch, but with only three taters and a .292 on-base percentage. Reggie Sanders has the next-best season line on the team, but injuries have limited him to 16 starts on the season. He was just reactivated from the DL a week ago and has made just three starts since then, going 2 for 10 in those games. First basemen Ryan Shealy and Mike Sweeney (surprise) are back on the DL. Ross Gload, who seemed redundant earlier in the season, has instead been merely punchless filling in for Shealy. Despite occasionally threatening to fulfill his promise, Alex Gordon has hit just .240/.301/.320 over those last 21 games. David DeJesus and Mark Teahen have been better than that, but not by enough. Tony Peña Jr. was never supposed to hit in the first place, and hasn’t, but is still outperforming Emil Brown (.228/.288/.319 on the season).

Are the Royals all smoke and mirrors? Yeah, probably. Butler is the real deal, and German is a criminally neglected player who deserves to start somewhere (the Indians should be banging down the Royals’ door for him), but Grudzielanek is obviously in way over his head, Gordon is really the only hitter likely to rise up to replace his production, and it just might be that Gordon isn’t as ready for the Show as the Royals thought he was. The bullpen is likely to cool off at some point as well, which leaves this team in the hands of Butler, German, and Gil Meche. There’s no doubt that the Royals are a better team than they were a year ago, but they’re still a legitimate last-place team (despite the White Sox’s best efforts). The only real danger is that they’re having a lot of fun playing the spoiler right now, and there’s nothing that says that’s going to stop this week with the Yankees in town. There are still eight players on this Yankee team who remember the devastating sweep the team suffered in Kansas City in 2005.

Tonight, Roger Clemens looks to get the Yankee road trip off on the right foot against lefty Odalis Perez. Clemens has a 2.63 ERA over his last three starts despite taking the only loss in the Yankees’ second-half-opening series in Tampa Bay. Perez, meanwhile, has a 7.47 ERA over his last three starts, but still managed to pick up a win against the Red Sox in his last outing (5 IP, 5 R) thanks to the four runs the Royals scored off Julian Tavarez in the fifth inning of that game. The big hits in that inning? Doubles by Grudzielanek and Butler. It sounds a bit extreme, but the key to this series may be making sure those two don’t get anything to hit in big spots.

(more…)

Series Wrap: vs. Devil Rays

Offense: Forty-nine runs in four games? I’d say that’s pretty good.

Studs:

Robinson Cano 11 for 16, 2B, HR, 6 RBI, 6 R, BB
Shelley Duncan 4 for 12, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB, 4 K
Hideki Matsui 7 for 19, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 5 R, BB
Alex Rodriguez 5 for 11, 2 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 6 R, 4 BB
Bobby Abreu 7 for 17, 2B, HR, 6 RBI, 6 R, BB, 2 SB
Andy Phillips 7 for 18, HR, 4 RBI, 5 R, BB
Johnny Damon 4 for 11, 3 2B, 5 RBI, 4 R, 2 BB, SB
Wil Nieves 3 for 5, 3 2B, 3 RBI, 3 R

Duds:

Uh, Miguel Cairo (1 for 5, 2B, 3 R, BB, 3 K)?
Sean Henn struck out in his only at-bat after Joe Torre decided he didn’t need a DH anymore in the finale.
Really, that’s about it.

Rotation: In four games, the Yanks got one start from their fifth starter and another from a minor league spot starter, so you knew it wouldn’t be pretty going in, but no one expected that Mike Mussina would have the worst start of the weekend (4 2/3 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 3 BB, 5 K, 1 HR). Andy Pettitte turned in the only quality start in the finale, doing just that (6 IP, 3 R) while allowing 11 baserunners (8 H, 3 BB), but striking out eight for good measure. Not a good weekend for starting pitching.

Bullpen: The pen actually did worse than Mussina in the opener (8 R, 7 ER in 4 1/3 IP). In the remaining three games they allowed 3 runs in 11 1/3 innings while allowing 15 baserunners, which is almost exactly what they did in the Toronto series (11 2/3 IP, 2 R, 15 baserunners). Take out Friday night’s disaster and that’s a 1.96 RA (that is Run Average, with unearned runs included) over seven games and a 1.30 WHIP. That’ll work.

The Good:

Sure, Sean Henn was facing a demoralized Devil Rays squad that was already down 18-3, but he still tossed two scoreless innings in his first major league work in nearly a month and a half, striking out three. Luis Vizcaino picked up both wins in Saturday’s double header on the basis of 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Mariano Rivera tossed a scoreless inning striking out two in his only work of the weekend in Saturday’s day game. Shockingly, Kyle Farnsworth did the same.

The Bad:

After a 14-day layoff, Edwar Ramirez had a disaster outing on Friday night. He entered the game with the Yanks down 5-0, a man on second and two outs. He then walked two men on nine pitches to load the bases and gave up a grand slam to Dioner Navarro, a sub-.200 hitter who had one prior home run on the season. He then walked two more men on eight more pitches before Mike Myers was brought in to get the one out Ramirez proved incapable of recording. Brian Bruney gave up four runs on four hits and two walks while getting just three outs. Scott Proctor gave up two solo home runs in addition to two other hits in two innings, possibly scuttling the rumored Proctor-Wigginton swap in the process.

Defense: Three errors in four games (Matsui, Nieves, Cano), curiously two of them led to unearned runs charged to Mike Myers, the only runs Myers allowed on the weekend.

Conclusion: The Yanks beat the snot out of the worst team in their division, as they should have, but all that offense hid some less than encouraging pitching. Still, three series into the cupcake part of their schedule, the Yanks are 9-3. They’re now alone in third place in the Wild Card race, 6.5 games behind Cleveland, but just six back in the loss column.

Blackjack

Well, that was a real nail-biter for about ten minutes there. Do you remember when, in previous recaps, I joked about how Andy Pettitte never seems to get any run support? Never mind. Playing Super Mario to the Devil Rays’ goombas, the Yankees won the last game of the series 21-4. Look at that box score… I mean, really look at it.

This wasn’t Andy Pettitte’s best outing. He was uneven, alternately dominating (8 Ks) and all too hittable, with 11 baserunners allowed in six innings of work. But he managed to ease out of most of his jams without too much damage, just three runs total — not that it mattered.

The Devil Rays took a one-run lead in the second on a Carlos Pena homer, and I hope that, for their sake, they really savored the moment. The Yankees tied it in the bottom of the inning off D-Rays starter James Shields, on another bomb from Hideki Matsui, who set a career high with five hits. I’d say he’s continuing his hot streak, but to be fair, a well-watered potted plant might have teed off on Tampa Bay’s pitching on Sunday. The Bombers took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the third, but Pettitte immediately gave it back with a series of singles that tied the game; as he wriggled out of the inning, I thought we were in for a slugfest, but a tense slugfest.

Then the bottom of the fourth happened. Rather than try to summarize the entire thing, I’ll just give you the straight play-by-play:

Robinson Cano triples.
Andy Phillips singles to left, Cano scores, 4-3 Yankees.
Shelley Duncan walks.
Melky Cabrera grounds into force out, Duncan out at second, Phillips to third. One out.
Derek Jeter singles to right, Phillips scores, Melky to third. 5-3 Yankees.
Bobby Abreu singles to right, Melky scores. 6-3 Yankees.
Double steal, throwing error, Jeter scores, Abreu to third. 7-3 Yankees.
Alex Rodriguez walks.
Hideki Matsui singles to center, Abreu scores. 8-3 Yankees.
Pitcher Casey Fossum replaces James Shields.
Jorge Posada singles to left, Rodriguez scores. 9-3 Yankees.
Robinson Cano singles. Matsui scores. 10-3 Yankees.
Wild pitch, runners advance.
Andy Phillips strikes out. Two out.
Duncan Shelly hits a three-run home run to left. 13-3 Yankees.
Melky Cabrera walks.
Derek Jeter grounds out.

Now that’s what I call Farnsworth-proofing. It was not unlike batting practice, except, according to Torre in the Times, even better:

“I’ve never seen anything like these last two days,” Manager Joe Torre said. “Even in batting practice you don’t get hits every time you swing the bats. This was incredible.”

Ouch. This all took more than half an hour, and Pettitte was understandably a bit rusty on his return to the mound, despite having retreated to the clubhouse to throw into a net… but by that point, nobody cared.

The Yankees scored seven more runs before the end, including homers from Abreu, Cano, Rodriguez, and Duncan, again. The rookie’s now gotten three curtain calls in two days, and while there’s really nowhere to go from there but down, his goofy, intense enthusiasm has been charming; I plan to enjoy it while it lasts.

The Devil Rays, meanwhile, dragged out a series of interchangeable, young, overmatched relievers, of whom only Gary Glover was at all effective. And thank god for him, because otherwise the Yankees would probably still be batting in the sixth. The bullpen wasn’t helped by its fielders, who were charged with two errors but made a considerable number of other sloppy mistakes besides. “Some of the play today, and in this series – it’s just not acceptable at the major-league level,” said Al Leiter, sounding pained.

By the end of the game, Miguel Cairo was at short, Johnny Damon was inserted in right field, Andy Phillips played third and Duncan was at 1st. Sean Henn planted himself at the far outside edge of the batter’s box and struck out, in his first Major League at-bat, as the Yankees had lost their DH. Posada was still behind the plate, however; new Yankee Jose Molina had only just arrived, and could be seen looking on with bemusement at the Yanks’ increasingly giddy dugout antics. He only narrowly avoided getting caught in the bouncing Cabrera-Cano sandwich that engulfed A-Rod after his home run.

 

–Fun Facts: Every Yankee starter was on base at least twice, scored at least one run, and had at least one RBI; the team has scored 38 runs in its last two games, on 45 hits. For perspective, the Yankees haven’t had two 20-hit games in a row since they were just proto-Yankees at the dawn of the 20th century, and haven’t scored this many runs in back-to-back games since the Great Depression.

–Among the many balls careening out of the Stadium yesterday was Alex Rodriguez’s 498th career home run, which means his 500th is likely to come on the road. That’s too bad, but really, it seems ungrateful to complain about any aspect of A-Rod’s current season. While I realize that RBIs are an unreliable, largely team-dependant statistic and rarely pay them much mind… if you have 99 of them on July 22nd, you’re doing something right.

Those of you more intrigued by the sultry siren-song of sabermetrics might be happy to learn that Magglio Ordonez’s reign of VORPish terror has finally come to an end, and A-Rod has resumed his rightful place at the top of the charts, 59.3 to 54.

 

–Several commenters have made less than totally flattering remarks about Shelley Duncan‘s appearance over the last few days (it’s those deep-set eyes and the high forehead, I suppose), but I’m still trying to figure out who he reminds me of. In any case, he’s got that old-school ballplayer look, doesn’t he?

 

 

 

Momeana, Molina

During the nightcap of yesterday’s double header, the Yankees announced that they had traded minor league relief pitcher Jeff Kennard to the Angels for catcher Jose Molina. Molina will become the Yankees’ new backup catcher as soon as he arrives in New York (or Kansas City if he doesn’t make it today), at which point Wil Nieves will be designated for assignment.

First, let’s dispense with Kennard. He’s a right-handed relief pitcher who throws a mid-90s fastball with no movement and gets a bit wild from time to time. He turns 26 later this week and has yet to crack triple-A. This describes Scott Proctor in mid-2003 just before the Yankees acquired him in the Robin Ventura deal, except that Proctor had some experience as a starter and Kennard has made just one start as a professional. Besides, who needs two Scott Proctors? The Yankees used to have another Scott Proctor named Bret Prinz. Prior to the 2005 season, they traded Prinz, then 28 and with 95 major league games under his belt, to the Angels for Wil Nieves. Prinz has since pitched his way through the Rockies and White Sox organizations and is getting lit up for the triple-A Iowa Cubs in the Pacific Coast League. These guys are a dime a dozen, so there’s no harm using one to try to upgrade a position that’s sorely lacking at the big-league level. Kennard had been on the 40-man roster only because he’d been in the minors so long that the Yankees had to add him to keep him out of the Rule 5 draft. They did that because they thought they had made a breakthrough by dropping Kennard’s arm slot. Kennard was pitching well for Trenton, but he was no Edwar Ramirez.

As for the catching situation, Wil Nieves went 2 for 3 with two doubles in last night’s game. That makes him 4 for his last 10, all four hits being doubles. That recent surge pushed Nieves’ season line to .164/.190/.230. It’s obscene that the Yankees waited this long to make a move. Given that Nieves hit .259/.298/.346 in triple-A last year, there was nothing to wait around for. Anyone, even last year’s failure Sal Fasano, would have been an improvement (in his brief time with Toronto this year, Fasano hit .178/.229/.311, which is a hair better than what he did for the Yankees last year). By acquiring the middle Molina, the Yankees have done better than Fasano: The Sequel, though not by a whole lot.

Molina is ultimately little more than Wil Nieves four years in the future (though without a big brother clearing the way for him, Nieves is unlikely to get the opportunity Molina has had). A career .245/.314/.319 hitter in the minor leagues, Molina first sniffed the majors with the Cubs in 1999 at the age of 24 (Nieves did the same at the same age with the Padres). After brief appearances with the Angels in 2001 and 2002 (though more extensive than the ones Nieves had with the Yankees over the last two years), Molina finally cracked the 100 at-bat mark in 2003 with a Nieves-like .184/.210/.219 line. The next year, however, Molina got all the way to 203 at-bats and looked like a major league backup catcher, hitting .261/.296/.374 (hey, that’s what these guys hit). It’s been downhill from there, however, as Molina’s production has declined annually, bottoming out at .228/.246/.293 thus far this year.

Yes, Jose Molina, 32-year-old, righty-hitting backup catcher, is a terrible hitter (ML career .238/.276/.339), but even that dreadful career line would be better production than the Yankees have had from a backup catcher since 2004. Read it and weep:

2005: John Flaherty (.165/.206/.252)
2006: Kelly Stinnett (.228/.282/.304)
2006: Sal Fasano (.143/.222/.286)
2007: Wil Nieves (.164/.190/.230)

The Yankees had no idea how good they had it with Kelly Stinnett.

Molina has one other advantage over Nieves: he can throw out baserunners. Nieves has thrown out only six of 27 baserunners this season (22%), and 10 of 43 on his career (23%). Molina has thrown out 28 percent of baserunners this season and a far more impressive 41 percent in his career. Over the last three seasons (2004 to 2006), Molina has thrown out 47 percent of the men trying to steal on him.

So the Yankees have made a very modest upgrade at their least important position (only Kevin Thompson, Chris Basak, and Shelley Duncan have had fewer plate appearances for the Yankees than Wil Nieves this season) for a minimal expense. They say nothing ventured, nothing gained. Both may be true in this case, but if Molina gets hot (last year he hit .377/.414/.642 from the beginning of July through mid-August), it’ll be a great move. If he tanks like Fasano did last year, he’ll replicate Nieves’ production and provide better defense. In that way this is something of a win-win for the Yankees. If nothing else, the fact that Edwar Ramirez and Shelley Duncan have had recent callups and that Wil Nieves has been replaced (and not by triple-A duds Raul Chavez or Omir Santos) proves that Brian Cashman is paying attention. Every little bit helps, even if it’s a very little bit. I just hope Mike Mussina can handle the disruption.

What a Difference a Day Makes

What better way to rebound from a dispiriting loss on Friday than to pummel that same opponent in a double-header sweep on Saturday? That’s exactly what the Yankees did, rebounding from Friday night’s 14-4 drubbing to win a pair by a combined 24-8 score yesterday.

The Yanks fell behind early in game one as Kei Igawa gave up solo homers in the first and second innings, but Igawa got out of a bases-loaded jam in the third when Delmon Young lined into a 4-3 double play, and Hideki Matsui tied things up with a rocket two-run homer into the right field seats in the fourth. Igawa again left the bases loaded in the fifth. Luis Vizcaino took over in the sixth, and in the bottom of that frame, the Yanks dropped a five-spot on reliever Jae Kuk Ryu. That rally almost didn’t happen. Following a leadoff single by Bobby Abreu and a pitch that drilled Alex Rodriguez in the lower back (later prompting Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano to good-naturedly mock Rodriguez’s dance of pain in the dugout), Ryu struck out Matsui and Jorge Posada. Fortunately, Cano delivered a tie-breaking two-out single that plated Abreu, then took second on the throw home, which allowed him to score on Andy Phillips’ subsequent game-breaking two-RBI single. Shelley Duncan then drove the nail in the D-Rays coffin with his first major league home run, and the Yankees got more laughs out of Duncan’s overly enthusiastic hi-fives (he almost beheaded Andy Phillips after crossing the plate, and nearly tore Kim Jones’ shoulder out of the socket when she tried to join in the fun by asking for a hi-five during the post-game interview).

Scott Proctor gave one back in the eighth on a solo homer by backup catcher Raul Casanova (whose beard and batting scowl make him look more than a little like Ice Cube) to set the final score at 7-3 Yanks.

The Yankees would be doing more laughing in the nightcap as Tampa Bay spot-starter J.P. Howell appeared to be throwing batting practice. Johnny Damon set the tone. Akinori Iwamura hit Matt DeSalvo’s first pitch deep into the corner in left where Damon, starting in left field in place of the DH Matsui, made a brilliant leaping catch, slamming in to the wall on his way down and then flexing at Melky Cabrera in celebration. After DeSalvo struck out the next two men, Damon drew a four-pitch walk from Howell, then stole second to jump start the Yankee offense. A single by Derek Jeter and doubles by Abreu and Alex Rodriguez make it 3-0 Yankees before Howell had recorded an out. The Rays countered with two, but the Yankees added one more in the second and three more in the third, with a double by Wil Nieves, of all people, being the big blow in the latter inning. That made it 7-2 Yankees, much as the first game had been, but this time the Rays rallied scoring two in the fifth to drive DeSalvo from the game and one in the sixth off reliever Brian Bruney. That was as close as they’d get, however, as the Bombers greeted former Yankee Jay Witasick with another five-run sixth inning, this one capped by Alex Rodriguez’s 497th career home run (and 33rd of 2007). Brian Stokes got thet same sort of greeting in the seventh with Hideki Matsui’s second homer of the day capping off another five-run inning that set the final score at 17-5.

Thus the Yankees keep the dream alive with the opportunity to win the series today as Andy Pettitte takes on James Shields, a match-up the Yankees won in Tampa to kick off the season’s second half thanks in part to fourth-inning home runs by Jeter, Rodriguez, and Abreu off Shields.

As for yesterday’s starters. Igawa again bent, but didn’t break and struck out six men in five innings along the way, earning another start. DeSalvo de-salvaged (sorry) his standing a bit with a passable outing that saw him strike out more than he walked for the first time in a major league appearance. Nonetheless, he’s headed back to Scranton and will be replaced by Sean Henn, who heads to the bullpen to take Edwar Ramirez’s spot. Since he was last optioned down to triple-A in late-June, Henn has posted a 2.03 ERA in 13 1/3 innings, striking out 10 against just one walk. Luis Vizcaino, meanwhile, earned the win in both games yesterday. Vizcaino, who also picked up the win on Opening Day, is now 8-2 on the season. That four of those wins have come in the last week is a testament to Joe Torre’s increasingly and surprisingly wily use of his most effective set-up man.

Flattened

The Yanks not only got smoked by the Rays tonight, they used up six pitchers in the process. Moose was terrible and Edwar Ramirez wasn’t much better and when it was all over, the Rays won 14-4. To make matters worse, the Sox rolled tonight, and just like that, the Yanks are eight games out again. With a killer double header tomorrow. Who is gunna pitch if things get dicey? Oh man, it could be a long weekend.

You may commiserate in the comments section below.

The Devil Rays

The Yankees have done exactly what they’ve needed to thus far in the second half, taking three of four from both the Devil Rays and Blue Jays. Along the way they won five games in a row prior to yesterday’s loss, but the only one of those games that was decided by more than two runs (Wednesday’s 6-1 win), saw the Yanks trailing 1-0 in the seventh. Perhaps these close games are helping the team maintain its focus and avoid any bad habits that might emerge in garbage time at-bats, but I’d think they could use the emotional respite that a nice blowout win could provide (certainly Luis Vizcaino and Mariano Rivera could use an extra day of rest having pitched in six and five of the last eight games respectively).

The pressure won’t ease up until the Yankees either clinch a playoff spot or get eliminated, and it’s right back on them tonight. Having taken three of four from the Devil Rays last weekend, they need to do the same this weekend, and with Matt DeSalvo and Kei Igawa getting the starts in a double header tomorrow that’s sure also see Wil Nieves get a start behind the plate, there’s extra pressure to win tonight behind Mike Mussina, who will be caught by Jorge Posada for the first time since he gave up seven runs in 6 2/3 innings to the Red Sox on May 22. (For the curious, Mussina has posted a 3.40 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in 11 starts with Nieves behind the plate and a 9.00 ERA and 1.89 WHIP in four starts with Posada behind the plate, one of them being his injury-shortened outing in Minneapolis in April).

As for the Devil Rays, after losing three of four to the Yankees, they took two of three at home from the scuffling Angels by a combined score of 15-8. The Rays have also made a trio of roster moves since the Yankees were in town. Most importantly, they’ve activated closer Al Reyes from the DL, farming out lefty Jon Switzer in the process. They also just tipped their roster from 11 to 13 pitchers in preparation for the four games they’ll play over the next three days in the Bronx. Specifically, they optioned out infielder Jorge Cantu and designated outfielder Dustan Mohr for assignment while calling up righties Jae Kuk Ryu and Scott Dohmann. Word is the Rays will make yet another move to bring up J.P. Howell for a spot start in the second game of Saturday’s double header, while Ryu could get the start in the day game if Jason Hammel is needed to eat innings for Edwin Jackson tonight.

They Yankees, have made a roster move of their own, calling up Shelley Duncan and optioning Kevin Thompson back to Scranton, while moving Doug Mientkiewicz to the 60-day DL to make room for Duncan on the 40-man roster. Duncan has been raking at Scranton, hitting .295/.380/.577 with 25 homers and 79 RBIs, but also 88 strikeouts. A big (6’5″) outfielder/first baseman who’s not particularly adept at either position, he’s got the Adam Dunn skill set, but from the right-hand side of the plate. Duncan is no Dunn, however. He’s 40 days older than Dunn, was a career .251/.334/.468 hitter prior to this year, and didn’t crack triple-A until late last year on the verge of his 27th birthday. Duncan has 128 home runs in his minor league career. Dunn has 224 in his major league career. That Duncan went to college (University of Arizona), but Dunn didn’t is not enough to explain even a fraction of that discrepancy. Still, it’s worth a shot to see if Duncan can keep his bat hot (he’s hitting .367 with four homers since the break) as the Yankee DH, which is where he’ll start tonight (Johnny Damon will play center as Melky Cabrera’s sitting due to the abdominal strain he suffered in yesterday’s game).

Tonight’s mound match-up of Mussina and Jackson is a rematch of Sunday’s finale in Tampa, which the Yankees won 7-6 after some shoddy work by both bullpens. In that game, Jackson, who sports a season ERA of 7.14, held the Yankees scoreless for four frames before coughing up a four spot in the fifth. He finished after six innings having allowed just those four runs on six hits and two walks while striking out six. Mussina got the better of Jackson by allowing just three runs over six innings, but he also allowed five more hits and struck out none. Jackson has been a significantly better pitcher on the road this year, while Mussina has been a touch worse at home, so tonight is no given for the Yanks. They’ll have to keep on fighting.

Card Corner–Chris Chambliss

 Chris Chambliss—Topps Company—1977 (No. 220)

With two episodes of The Bronx Is Burning in the books, I can safely say I’m a big fan of the ESPN miniseries. Though it has received mixed reviews, I think the adaptation of Jonathan Mahler’s book is exceedingly well done, full of both entertainment and educational value for someone like me who actually lived through 1977 in the greater metropolitan region of New York. (The interpretations of Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner by John Turturro and Oliver Platt, respectively, have been wonderful. And Leonard Armond Robinson has been appropriately hysterical as Mickey Rivers.) There are some smaller quibbles, such as the lack of a muscular frame or convincing home swing on the part of Daniel Sunjata as Reggie Jackson, but in a film like this, I’m less concerned with the on-field realism as I am the off-field by-play between Jackson and the other major characters.

As with any good historical film, The Bronx Is Burning has shed some light on otherwise little-known facts associated with that tumultous 1977 season. I’ve already learned two tidbits that I wasn’t previously aware of: that Bobby Grich claimed Steinbrenner "threatened" him during failed contract negotiations and that Steinbrenner dropped a hint to Billy Martin that he would pursue Frank Robinson if Martin failed as manager. Of course, The Boss would have needed to work out a deal with the Indians, who had F. Robby under contract as their manager at the time. I wonder if Steinbrenner would have tried to pull off a managerial trade, sending Martin to the Indians for Robinson, a bigger name but one who was less skilled in the area of game management.

In honor of those 1977 Yankees, I thought it might be fitting to pay tribute to perhaps the quietest and least controversial member of that team: Chris Chambliss. Only three seasons earlier, Carroll Christopher Chambliss had joined the Yankees as the centerpiece to one of the most famous "massacres" in the history of the franchise. While Most Yankee fans fondly recall the "Boston Massacre," the memorable four-game sweep of the rival Red Sox in 1978 that helped the New Yorkers claim the pennant, fewer fans likely remember another "massacre"—the "Friday Night Massacre." It took place in 1974, when the Yankees traded away nearly half of their pitching staff in a stunning and controversial deal.

On Friday night, April 26, the Yankees edged the Texas Rangers, 4-3, to remain within a half-game of first place in the AL East. In the meantime, the Yankee braintrust put the finishing touches on a monster seven-player deal with the Cleveland Indians. The Pinstripers surrendered four pitchers—right-handers Fred Beene, Tom Buskey and Steve Kline, and left-hander Fritz Peterson—or 40 per cent of their 10-man staff. In exchange, the Yankees received pitchers Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw and a young first baseman named Chris Chambliss, pictured here in a 1973 Topps card—one of the last times that he would be seen in an Indians uniform.

The trade shocked both Yankee players and fans. "I can’t believe this trade," star outfielder Bobby Murcer told The Sporting News while expressing his belief that the front office had lost confidence in the team’s ability to win. "You don’t trade four pitchers," longtime ace Mel Stottlemyre informed Yankee beat writer Phil Pepe. "You just don’t." Stottlemyre’s batterymate, the often gruff Thurman Munson, offered an even more candid assessment. "They’ve got to be kidding," said a not-so-diplomatic Munson. Yankee fans seemed to agree with the assessment of the team’s veteran players. Hordes of Yankee followers flooded the team’s switchboard with calls of complaint. And when Chambliss, Tidrow, and Upshaw made their first appearances at Yankee Stadium, they received a barrage of boos from the rush-to-judgment contingent in the Bronx.

The media also joined in the criticism—and the questioning. Why did the Yankees give up so many pitchers in one trade, especially someone like Buskey, who had been named the team’s outstanding rookie during the spring? Why did they trade for a first baseman when they really needed a second baseman? (The 1974 version of the Pinstripers struggled to find a pivotman. They started the season with an aging Horace Clarke before making trades for mediocrities Sandy Alomar and Fernando Gonzalez.) What in the world was the front office thinking in making such an unbalanced deal? One Cleveland writer suggested the Indians should send the Yankees a thank-you note for their generous gift of a quartet of pitchers. "Make sure you thank them for me, too," declared ex-Yankee Fritz Peterson in an interview with Cleveland beat writer Russell Schneider.

The barbs didn’t faze Yankee president Gabe Paul, the architect of the blockbuster trade and the man who had created a "Cleveland Connection" with his onetime organization, bringing in former Indians like Sam McDowell, Graig Nettles, Duke Sims, and Walt "No-Neck" Williams over the last two years. Paul maintained that the deal conformed to his general philosophy on making trades. "The way to evaluate a deal is to sit down and look at your club before a deal, and then look at it after a deal," Paul explained to The Sporting News. "If the club looks better after the deal, go ahead and make it. I think we’re a better club with Chambliss…" Paul clearly held a high opinion of Chambliss, whom Yankee pitcher Ken Wright had praised only 10 days earlier by hinting that he would win a batting title. "I think we got an outstanding first baseman in Chambliss," Paul said proudly. "[He’s] a fellow who could be our first baseman for 10 years."

Chambliss didn’t last 10 seasons in Pinstripes, but that was about the only prediction from Paul that proved to be an exaggeration. After flailing away in his first Yankee go-round, hitting only .243 with a mere six home runs in 400 at-bats, Chambliss began to contribute in 1975, hitting .304 and playing an excellent first base. His lack of power (nine home runs) and plate patience (29 walks) remained a concern, but he improved his power output in 1976, accumulating 17 home runs and 96 RBIs and nearly duplicating it in 1977 with 17 home runs and 90 RBIs. All in all, Chambliss solidified the Yankees at first base, which had become a revolving door for one-dimensional players like Mike Hegan (good field, not much hit), Ron Blomberg (good hit, no field, and always injured), and Bill Sudakis (no field, occasional power).

Even if he did little else (and he did plenty), Chambliss forged himself a piece of pinstriped history in 1976, when the Yankees advanced to the postseason for the first time in 14 seasons. In the fifth and final game of a nip-and-tuck American League Championship Series against the Royals, Chambliss deposited a dramatic home run over the right-field wall, victimizing Kansas City relief ace Mark Littell and sealing a New York pennant for the first time since 1964. Providing a calming influence in a turbulent clubhouse, Chambliss then played a key role in helping the Yankees win the World Series in both 1977 and ’78. In the 1977 World Series against the Dodgers, Chambliss hit a solid .292 and slugged .500 in helping the Yankees bring some measure of satisfaction to the Bronx—along with the other troubled boroughs of New York City.

Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books on baseball and also writes the Cooperstown Confidential blog for MLB.com. He, his wife Sue, and their daughter Madeline live in Cooperstown, NY, a short drive from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Series Wrap: vs. Blue Jays

Offense: Blew hot and cold, scoring six runs in games one and three and a total of five runs in games two and four. In their defense, they faced Roy Halladay in game two.

Studs:

Robinson Cano 6 for 16, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, BB
Hideki Matsui 7 for 16, HR, BB, SB
Alex Rodriguez 4 for 15, 2B, HR, 5 RBI, 4 R, BB, HBP
Derek Jeter 5 for 16, 2B, BB, SB

Duds:

Johnny Damon 0 for 13, 4 BB, 3 K
Wil Nieves 0 for 3, K

Rotation: The worst of the four starts was, predictably, Kei Igawa’s. While he looked pretty awful, the end result wasn’t all that bad (5 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 7 K). Indeed, the Yankees won his game. The other three men turned in quality starts, with Pettitte and Clemens allowing just one run each and Pettitte and Wang both finishing seven innings. Overall, a solid performance against a lineup that contains some dangerous hitters.

Bullpen: Allowed just two runs in 11 2/3 innings, but 15 base runners, and both runs resulted in lead changes.

The Good:

Luis Vizcaino pitched three scoreless innings, one hit, no walks. Mike Myers was brought in twice to face a lefty. He retired both to end Blue Jay rallies. The first time he left the bases loaded. The second time he made a great play on a comebacker to turn an inning-ending double play. In total he threw six pitches, four of them strikes, and got three big outs. Mariano Rivera picked up two more saves, one of them a five-out save. He did allow a triple to Troy Glaus in to lead off the ninth in game one, but stranded him on third by striking out the next two batters. Although Joe Torre got fed up when he walked the first batter in the eighth with a 4-1 lead in game three, Bruney retired four of the five batters he faced in the series.

The Bad:

Proctor and Farnsworth again. Proctor allowed eight base runners in 2 2/3 innings including a solo home run by Alex Rios that tied up Monday’s game at 4-4. It was Proctor that loaded the bases for Myers in game three. Farnsworth came into a tied game on Tuesday, gave up a leadoff single, made a wild throw to first with the runner standing on the bag, then gave up a double to plate the go-ahead run.

Defense: Farnsworth’s wild throw was the only Yankee error of the series, though their overall play was less spectacular than in the previous series in Tampa.

Conclusion: Torre seems to be sorting out the bullpen and the rotation seems to be getting on its feet in the second half. The offense is spreading things around (Andy Phillips had some big hits, Bobby Abreu drove in the only runs in the finale, and only Damon didn’t come through in one way or another). Overall, the team is playing well, though the offense is still a bit underwhelming. An offensive outburst could give the team an emotional breather and allow Vizcaino and Rivera to get some real rest and Edwar Ramirez to get some work (though, regrettably, Ramirez will likely be farmed out on Saturday so that Matt DeSlavo can make a spot start in that day’s double header, so I guess it would be too little too late for Edwar for now). Overall, they Yankees are getting the job done, having won their last four series. They’ve also pulled into third place in the Wild Card race, though they still have a long way to go to catch the Indians.

Can’t Win ‘Em All

With the Yankees having already taken the series by winning the first three games against the Blue Jays, this afternoon’s finale lacked much punch. Indeed, the game itself was rather listless. Bobby Abreu doubled home a pair of runs against Dustin McGowan in the first inning. Chien-Ming Wang retired the first 11 men he faced before Vernon Wells doubled with two outs in the fourth. There was a brief downpour in the third. Otherwise, nothing much happened until the seventh when the Blue Jays broke through with three runs off Wang on a leadoff double by Matt Stairs, an infield single off Wang’s shin (he was fine), a fly out that moved both runners up, an RBI groundout, RBI triple by Aaron Hill that shot past Melky Cabrera in the right field gap, and an RBI single by Gregg Zaun. The Yankees went down in order in the seventh and eighth against McGowan and reliever Casey Janssen. Alex Rodriguez lead off the bottom of the ninth with a flair single to right, but Hideki Matsui popped out, Melky grounded out, and Robinson Cano flied out to end the game. 3-2 Jays.

Other items of note: Wil Nieves caught the day game after night game, so Posada will catch Mussina tomorrow night. The two catchers will likely split Saturday’s double header. Melky Cabrera appeared to tweak a stomach muscle while at bat in the middle innings, but stayed in the game and showed no further discomfort.

Creepin’

My wife has gotten used to listening to me rant and rave as we watch the Yankees each night. All of my shouting and cursing used to drive her up the wall–she just couldn’t understand why I would let something I have no control over get me so upset. She probably still doesn’t understand but she’s come to accept my neurotic behavior. Last night, I was in good form, gloom and doom from the start. “Honey, I don’t think the Rocket’s got it tonight, he’s going to get pounded.” I screamed like Ed Harris in Glengarry Glen Ross when Alex Rodriguez hit into a double play to end the forth inning. You can imagine how bad it got by the time the bullpen–Proctor, Bruney, Villone–were issuing walks late in the game.

All this on a night the Yankees won. Imagine how infuriated I would have been if I rooted for the Jays? Toronto left runners on base in each inning but the second and the ninth. They left two on in the third, fifth, sixth and eighth and left the bases loaded in the seventh, and were 1-14 with runners in scoring position (they are 3-30 with runners in scoring position since Monday). This allowed the Yankees to come from behind and beat the Jays for the third straight day. Final score: Yanks 6, Jays 1. It was another rousing win the Yanks who have won six of seven since the break.

Roger Clemens allowed nine hits and a walk over six innings (Alex Rios had four hits, three against Clemens), but repeatedly worked his way out of trouble. Shawn Marcum threw twelve pitches to Johnny Damon to start the game, but was remarkably efficient after that. He wasn’t necessarily dynamic, but he was extremely impressive, changing speeds, throwing strikes. He fell behind Rodriguez 3-0 with runners on the corners in the fourth inning and just one out. He then threw Rodriguez two beautiful change-ups, and got the double-play to get out of the inning.

Scott Proctor was an adventure in the seventh, hitting a batter, giving up a single and walking a man to load the bases. He did retire two men and Mike Myers came in to get the final out of a half-inning that took 25 minutes. The long stretch was just what the Yankees needed to drive Marcum from the game. Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu singled to start the bottom of the seventh and Rodriguez came to the plate with men on first and third. He drove a fastball over the head of left fielder Reed Johnson, good enough for a double and two RBI (Abreu got a great jump on the ball). That makes 92 Rib-Eye Steaks for Rodriguez on the season. Later in the inning, Andy Phillips singled home two more. Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano added RBI singles in the eighth.

Bruney and Villone each walked a man in the eighth, bringing the tying run to the plate. Mariano Rivera came in and he retired all five men he faced, lowering his season ERA to 3.18. The Red Sox lost to the Royals and the Yanks are seven back, six in the loss column. While I’m still cautiously optimistic about the Yankees chances of making the playoffs, they are now winning games that they had previously been losing.

So yo, happy 67th boithday, Joe Torre.

It’s all about baby steps for the Bombers who go for the sweep this afternoon with Chien-Ming Wang on the hill.

Mr. Splitty for the Split

Having taken the first two games of their four game set against the Blue Jays, the Yankees need only split the remaining two to stay on target and win the series. With Roger Clemens and Chien-Ming Wang set to pitch, that’s a pretty good spot for them to be in. Clemens, of course, had the one dud start in Tampa, but that came after two outstanding eight-inning gems, so one can expect some bounce back tonight. He’ll face 25-year-old Shaun Marcum who is 4-1 with a 3.14 ERA since joining the Jays’ rotation in mid-May. Marcum’s one bugaboo is that he’s a bit homer prone, having surrendered 12 dingers in his 12 starts.

In other news, down in Trenton earlier today, Phil Hughes struck out five in four innings while allowing one run on a pair of hits and a pair of walks. He’ll make one more rehab start for Scranton on Monday and could rejoin major league club after that. The Yankees also think that Jason Giambi, who is working out in Tampa, could rejoin the team in early August, which, combined with Andy Phillips’ solid play at first base, could fill the hole in the Yankee lineup, provided that Joe Torre recognizes that the hole is currently being created by Johnny Damon (.238/.339/.330 and .207/.312/.281 since June 1) not Melky Cabrera (.282/.335/.384 and .333/.382/.453 since June 1) or Phillips (.300/.354/.433 and .375/.419/.500 in July). Of course, if Torre realized that he might have stopped batting Damon leadoff by now seeing as even Robinson Cano has gotten on base more often than Damon since June 1 (Cano since June 1: .288/.333/.474).

Still Fighting

Andy Pettitte and Roy Halladay both entered yesterday’s game trying to get on track after a series of ugly outings. After the first inning, it looked like this just wasn’t going to be their night. Pettitte threw 25 pitches in the top of the first, allowed a run on a single, a walk, and a Frank Thomas double, and was fortunate to strand runners on second and third. Halladay threw 28 pitches in the bottom of the first starting with a five-pitch walk to Johnny Damon, who moved to third on a pair of groundouts. With two outs, Alex Rodriguez drove Damon home with a single and the Yankees proceeded to load the bases only to strand all three men when Robinson Cano grounded out.

To recap, that’s 53 pitches, seven base runners, and a 1-1 score after a single frame.

Pettitte threw another 23 pitches in the top of the second, but avoided giving up a run when Reed Johnson’s two-out double near the line in left bound into the stands, forcing Royce Clayton, who had singled, to hold up at third. Pettitte then struck out Alex Rios to preserve the 1-1 tie.

Then everything changed. Halladay retired the Yankees in order in the second. Pettitte did the same to the Blue Jays in the third on just nine pitches, including a three-pitch strikeout of Thomas. Suddenly it was the top of the eighth and the scoreboard still read 1-1.

Halladay and Pettitte matched each other almost exactly:

Halladay – 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K, 112 pitches
Pettitte – 7 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 7 K, 116 pitches

With Pettitte staring down 120 pitches, however, Joe Torre needed to bring in someone else to pitch the eighth. Luis Vizcaino would have been the obvious choice based on recent performance, but he had pitched in each of the last two games and in four of the last five. Scott Proctor pitched two innings on Monday and has allowed eight base runners in his last 2 2/3 innings. Ron Villone’s last outing was a blown save. Edwar Ramirez hadn’t pitched since before the All-Star break and remains an unknown quantity. Mariano Rivera, having closed each of the last three games and four of the last five, was not a candidate to go two innings. Mike Myers is a specialty guy whom Torre is now refusing to use even for that purpose (more on that below). That left supposed “eighth-inning guy” Kyle Farnsworth and Brian Bruney, both of whom were fully rested. Torre chose the wrong guy.

I doubt there was a Yankee fan watching who didn’t assume the Blue Jays would take the lead when they saw Farnsworth taking his warmups in the top of the eighth. Indeed, Frank Thomas led off with a single. Toronto manager John Gibbons pinch-ran with Howie Clark, and Aaron Hill doubled Clark home to give Toronto a 2-1 lead.

It was actually a bit more interesting than that. Farnsworth, who made a wild throw to first in the 11th inning of a 1-1 game against the Angels just before the All-Star Break, yanked a pickoff throw past Andy Phillips to send Clark to second base. The best part is that Clark was standing on first base when Farnsworth threw over; he hadn’t even taken his lead yet. Curiously, Lyle Overbay then lined out directly to Phillips, who was playing back because he didn’t have to hold on Clark, but it was all rendered meaningless by Hill’s RBI double.

The Yankees staged another two-out rally in the eighth against lefty reliever Scott Downs. Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada both singled to put the tying run on second base with two outs, but Downs threw Robinson Cano six straight looping curve balls, and Robinson missed badly at the first two and the last to end the inning.

Having burned through Farnsworth, Joe Torre then called on Brian Bruney in the ninth. Bruney retired the heart of the Blue Jay order (Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, and Troy Glaus) in order on 11 pitches, seven of them strikes. Here’s hoping Joe noticed.

Andy Phillips, who had the game-winning hit in each of the previous two games, lead off the bottom of the ninth with a single against Jays closer Jeremy Accardo. Torre then pinch-ran for Phillips with Miguel Cairo, and Cairo stole second on a 1-0 count to Melky Cabrera to put the tying run in scoring position. Melky then attempted to bunt Cairo to third (as he should have), but bunted foul for strike two (he had purposely swung through the pitch on which Cairo stole second). Melky then followed that failed bunt attempt with a single through the hole into right field. Larry Bowa sent Cairo home as Alex Rios fired to the plate. Cairo slid to the outside of the plate as Gregg Zaun lept for Rios’s throw. As Zaun came down with the ball, he collided with Cairo, who was reaching in for the bag. Having received a hip-check to the head, Cairo was stopped cold and tagged out. Had Cairo headed directly for the plate, he would have been safe easily, but there was no way for him to anticipate that the play would unfold as it did.

Fortunately, Melky moved to second on the play, so, after all of that, the Yankees still had the tying run in scoring position with one out. With a 2-1 count on Johnny Damon, Cabrera stole third as Accardo appeared to have forgotten about him. Accardo then walked Damon and, as Cabrera and Damon danced of third and first respectively, Accardo came set, bent his back knee, and stepped off the rubber, balking home the tying run. Suddenly the Yankees had the winning run on second with one out, but Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu, who were a combined 0-for-10 in the game, both grounded out to push the game into extra innings.

Called in for emergency duty, Luis Vizcaino, despite missing a few miles per hour off his fastball, pitched around a one-out single to send the 2-2 tie to the bottom of the tenth. Casey Janssen, in for Accardo, opened the inning by plunking Alex Rodriguez on the elbow pad with a 0-1 pitch. Janssen then threw a 2-2 pitch to Hideki Matsui in the dirt and Rodriguez alertly moved to second as the ball squirted into fair territory and Zaun stumbled attempting to corral it. Earlier in that at-bat, Matsui missed a game-winning home run by mere feet, pulling a ball about three seats foul into the front row of the upper deck in left. Janssen rallied to strike out Matsui on a bad pitch up in the zone that was such a miss that it fooled Matsui completely. With first base open, the Gibbons then walked Jorge Posada to pitch to Robinson Cano, who had twice failed to deliver the hit that could have made the difference in the game, leaving five men on base in the process. This time, Cano laced Janssen’s first pitch into the corner in deep left, plating Rodriguez and winning the game, 3-2 in ten innings.

It was a great win for the Yankees, and puts them in a great position as most had assumed that with Kei Igawa starting for the Yankees on Monday and Roy Halladay starting for the Blue Jays last night, the Yankees would lose at least one of those games. The game also comes with a lesson.

(more…)

Just One Day Out Of Life

The Yankees have won 9 of their last 12 games and the last four games they’ve lost have been started by Scott Kazmir, John Lackey, Johan Santana, and Dan Haren. You really can’t complain about that, though it is cause for concern heading into tonight’s game against another big name pitcher, Toronto’s Roy Halladay. Here’s the good news: after a fantastic April (4-0, 2.28 ERA), Halladay’s been something of a mess, posting a 6.35 ERA over his last eleven starts and a 6.85 ERA over his last four. The bad news is that it seems a significant part of that has been bad luck. Halladay has allowed 92 hits in his last 66 2/3 innings, which can be traced to his inflated .323 opponents average on balls in play. That cannot, however, be traced to the Toronto defense, which is fifth in the majors at turning balls in play into outs and puts a solid in field quartet behind the groundballing Halladay.

More bad news is that Andy Pettitte’s recent history is actually worse than Halladay’s. He’s posted a 6.99 ERA over his last eight starts, a 9.00 mark in his last five, and a whopping 13.14 in his last three. More encouraging signs are that Pettitte fell just one out short of a quality start in Tampa last week, and handled the Blue Jays expertly in a hard-luck loss back in late May when he was undone by poor defense and run support and Aaron Hill’s steal of home. Halladay last faced the Yankees in September of last year, leaving the game after 3 1/3 innings with a forearm strain.

Yankee Panky Week 17: Sticks and Stones, and Acidic Tones

By Will Weiss

At the Winter Meetings in 2003 in New Orleans, not long after news broke that Gary Sheffield—then a free agent—would sign with the Yankees, I asked his former manager at the time, Bobby Cox, the kind of player he was, how he would fit in the Yankee clubhouse and most importantly, and how he would get along with Joe Torre.

“Joe’s gonna love him. He never gave me a problem,” was Cox’s response.

While Sheff was in uniform for the Yankees—for the first two years at least—he was arguably the most important hitter in the lineup. He provided protection for Derek Jeter in the three slot and for Alex Rodriguez or Jason Giambi if he batted fifth, got on base and drove in runs. His right-handed bat gave Torre the option to alternate lefty-righty from one through nine, which he loved. And he had a competitive, angry edge from an everyday player not seen since Paul O’Neill’s retirement. He played hurt and he played hard. His teammates respected him.

That reputation, at least among his former Yankee teammates, is likely gone.

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Well, whadda ya know?

The Yankees won the kind of game last night that they’ve been losing all year. Kei Igawa was doo doo, getting killed by the long ball (after being ahead in the counts, no less). But he escaped trouble in both the first and second inning, a turn of events that would prove costly for Toronto. Scott Proctor later gave up a game-tying homer, still the Yanks prevailed, thanks to a two-out, two-run single in the seventh by Andy Phillips.

“It’s a lot of joy to see what he’s doing, especially with what he’s been through,” said Jorge Posada, who singled to start the two-out, tie-breaking rally against Josh Towers. “He’s come out here and getting a chance to play, and he’s doing everything we ask for. It’s a lot of fun to see.”
(Tyler Kepner, N.Y.Times)

Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez all homered as the Yanks beat the Blue Jays, 6-4. Mariano Rivera gave up a lead-off triple to Troy Glaus in the top of the ninth–Glaus narrowly missed hitting his third dinger of the night–but then struck out The Big Hurt swinging, Lyle Overbay looking, and got Aaron Hill to ground out to third to end it.

It was Mo’s third save in as many games. The Bombers have won four of the first five games since the break. It’s nice to see them playing better but I’m not letting myself get too excited yet. Let’s see how they fare tonight against Doc Halladay.

The Toronto Blue Jays

The Yankees did what they needed to do by taking three of four from the Devil Rays over the weekend. They’ll now need to do the same against the Blue Jays at home this week. The Jays are the toughest opponent the Yankees will face until they head to Cleveland on August 10 and they’ll face them seven times prior to that date, adding a three-game set in Toronto to wrap up the cupcake portion of their schedule in the first week of August.

The Blue Jays, who have gotten Roy Halladay, Greg Zaun and Reed Johnson back from the DL since the Yankees last saw them in late May, have played well of late. They opened the second half by splitting a four-game set in Boston and concluded the first half by taking four of six from the Indians and A’s. That said, the Jays are the definition of a .500 team (a game below in reality, a game above according to Pythagoras), while the Yankees are desperately trying to prove that they’re more than that. In that way, this could prove to be a huge series for the Bombers.

The Blue Jays hold a 3-1 advantage in the season series entering tonight having beaten Phil Hughes in his major league debut in a rain-shortened one-game series in the Bronx in April and taken two of three in the “Rod Said ‘Ha!’” series in late May. Of course, the Yankees’ starting pitchers in those four games were Hughes in his debut, Matt DeSalvo, Andy Pettitte, and Tyler Clippard, so the Blue Jays have yet to really face the Yankees’ best.

Not that they will tonight either. Kei Igawa takes the mound in his fourth start since returning from the minors. In his first three he’s posted a 6.19 ERA while walking nine and allowing three home runs in 16 innings (all three dingers coming in the middle start against the A’s). The Yanks will have to outhit whatever Igawa gives them tonight and will look to do so against Josh Towers. Towers’ last start (on July 8) was far and away his best of the season as he held the Indians scoreless on three hits and no walks over eight innings. He was nearly as good against the Tigers back on April 15, but otherwise has been more of a five-inning, four-run starter. He won’t walk very many, but he’ll give up his share of hits and homers. The Yankees have only faced Towers in relief this year, plating a run against him in 2 2/3 innings in their only win over the Jays on the season.

(more…)

Hangin On

Man, guess who is playing for the Long Island Ducks of the Independent League these days? Welp, the roster includes Jose Offerman, Ed Yarnall, John Halama, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carl Everett and Pete Rose Jr.

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