"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: September 2007

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Wild Ending

With Jorge Posada playing manager, the Yankees wrapped up their season with a 10-4 win over the Orioles, taking 2 of 3 in Baltimore and finishing the year with 94 wins and a wild card berth to the playoffs.

The game was a light-hearted affair, with Bobby Abreu getting his 100th RBI (he got two to finish at 101), Joba Chamberlain facing one batter (a groundout to end the seventh), and getting the starters out of the game before anyone got hurt being the primary concerns. All were accomplished in good order.

Sean Henn started and turned in three solid innings allowing just a Kevin Millar home run. Chase Wright followed with two frames and picked up the win. Ross Ohlendorf pitched the sixth and the seventh prior to Joba’s appearance, giving up a run on two hits and a walk and striking out one. Chris Britton pitched a perfect eighth. Kyle Farnsworth allowed a two-out homer to J.R. House in the ninth in a four-batter inning. I’ll take a solo homer with a seven run lead over a walk in the same situation any day. There was a moment of concern when Farnsworth knelt down after delivering a pitch having felt a twinge in his hip, but he turned out to be fine and finished the inning.

On offense, of the 12 Yankees who came to the plate, only Alberto Gonzalez failed to reach base. Wilson Betemit had a good day (2 for 5 with a double and 3 RBIs), which was important. Bronson Sardinha, who could make the postseason roster as a pinch-runner, singled and walked in two trips while playing third base in relief of Alex Rodriguez (Sardinha was drafted as a shortstop and was moved to third before finally settling in the outfield, where he has played all three positions, but most often right field). Rodriguez himself went 2 for 2 with a walk and an RBI to push his final line to .314-54-156. Doug Mientkiewicz went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk to keep his hot streak going. Jose Molina went 3 for 5.

The real action of the day, of course, took place in Queens, Philly, Milwaukee, and Denver.


Finish Line

Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon all had the night off, but that didn’t stop the Yankees from out-sluggin the Orioles, 11-10. Andy Pettitte was clobbered–he allowed eight earned runs over five inning–but still got the win.

Kei Igawa gets the start today. The regular season began with Carl Pavano and is closing with Igawa (there’s a joke in there somewhere).

Rodriguez is in the line-up today, gunning for homer #55 and RBI #156. I like the sound of a double-nickel, don’t you? Posada will serve as manager, Mike Mussina will be the pitching coach.

I watched most of the game last night but count me as almost completely distracted by the happenings in the NL East. We’ve got more than enough time to talk about the Tribe in the coming days. Today gives dying time for the Phils or Mets, unless it doesn’t and they are forced to play a playoff game tomorrow. Aw, man, imagine if it comes to that? On Friday, the Mets played scared and yesterday it looked as if the Phils were ascared. How will it all end? I’m just glad I don’t have a direct emotional investment. I’d be ready to throw-up if I rooted for either team right about now.

It’s absolutely gorgeous in New York today. Slightly overcast but still sunny, cool and crisp. A great day for playoff baseball. I still say the Mets win the division–the Phillies will find a way to lose, right?–but ya never know.

Let’s Go Base-Ball!

The Streak Is Over, Long Live The Streak (a.k.a. Squeeze Bunts Win Games)

When playing out the string on the way to the playoffs, the last thing you want is to have a hapless team rally from a multi-run deficit against your closer to force extra innings, then go on to win. You want to coast in. Lose a low scoring game because you’re resting your big bats. Lose a high scoring game because you gave a spot start to a rookie or a retread. Lose a blowout for both reasons, but you don’t want to go extra innings, and you never want to see your closer melt down against a 90-loss team.

The game was never pretty last night. Neither starter pitched well and the Yankees, who had leads of 4-1 and 7-2, were clinging to a slim 7-6 lead after five, all of those runs being charged to Jon Leicester and Mike Mussina, respectively. The Yanks padded their lead to 9-6 against Victor Zambrano and Rob Bell while getting a scoreless inning of relief each from Ross Ohlendorf, Kyle Farnsworth, and Luis Vizcaino.

Then came the bottom of the ninth. With the crowd at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox had defeated the Twins 5-2 behind an outstanding outing by Daisuke Matsuzaka, watching on the scoreboard, Mariano Rivera took the mound with a three-run lead.


Baltimore Orioles

Look, the Yanks have clinched. The O’s have given up. There’s no point to breaking down a terrible team that I’ve already analyzed five times this season, and that the Yankees just played last week. The O’s roster hasn’t changed since last week. There’s nothing to see here.

That said, the division is still in play. If the Yanks sweep and the Red Sox, who lost to the Twins last night, only win one of their remaining three against Minnesota, the Yanks will win the East via the tiebreaker of having won the season series against Boston. That said, neither team is going to fight for it. The Yanks are going to rest their regulars (though Melky’s the only regular who will rest tonight), continue the bullpen tryouts, limit Andy Pettitte to 60 pitches tomorrow, and go with a spot-starter in the season finale on Sunday.

Tonight they’ll let Mike Mussina throw his usual 100-or-so pitches. In three starts since returning to the rotation, Moose has gone 3-0 with a 1.37 ERA and has not allowed a home run. Two starts ago he faced the O’s in the Bronx and turned in his best start of the year. Sure, he’s faced Baltimore once and the depleted Toronto lineup twice, but the prospect of Mussina as the fourth playoff starter (or even the third if Clemens can’t answer the bell) is not as scary as it was just a few weeks ago.

The O’s send Jon Leicester, who has alternated good and bad starts since joining the rotation at the beginning of the month. The Yanks caught him two starts ago and rocked him for six runs in four innings. Tonight would be bad-start night for Leicester if he continues the pattern.

Series Wrap: @ Tampa Bay

Offense: Twenty-one runs in three games, and it might have been more if they hadn’t clinched in the middle game allowing Joe Torre to rest Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, and Jorge Posada in the finale.


Johnny Damon 10 for 15, 2 2B, RBI, 4 R, 3 SB, 2 K
Derek Jeter 5 for 10, 2 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 3 R, 3 K
Robinson Cano 6 for 13, 2B, HR, 5 RBI, 2 R, BB, 3 K, GIDP, CS
Doug Mientkiewicz 4 for 7, 2 2B, RBI, R, BB, 2 K
Jorge Posada 4 for 10, 2B, 3 RBI, R, GIDP


Melky Cabrera 0 for 8, RBI, BB, 3 K, GIDP
Hideki Matsui 0 for 7, 2 BB, 3 K
Wilson Betemit 0 for 5, 3 K
Jason Giambi 1 for 6, 3 K
Bobby Abreu 1 for 8, RBI, 4 R, 3 BB

Bronson Sardinha and Alberto Gonzalez both picked up their first major league hits, both singles, in the finale, which also saw them make their first major league starts (in right field and short stop respectively). Sardinha’s came in his first at-bat, but he went 0 for 2 the rest of the night and saw just eight pitches in his three trips. Gonzalez singled in his second at-bat and was plated by a Johnny Damon double. His last time up he walked and was promptly caught stealing.

Rotation: Even with Kei Igawa subbing for Roger Clemens and his hamstring, the three starters did great, allowing just three runs in 18 innings combined. Igawa pitched around five walks and a pair of singles for five scoreless frames. Chien-Ming Wang wasn’t at his best, but he struck out six in six innings while allowing just two runs. Finally, Phil Hughes had his best start since out-dueling Fausto Carmona in Cleveland in early August, allowing just one run on the requisite Carlos Peña home run (one of Wang’s two runs allowed was also a Peña homer) over seven strong, allowing just seven baserunners (Peña, three singles, two walks, and a hit-batsman). Of course, the Yankees are still hoping Roger Clemens can start the third game of the ALDS, so his absence from this series is of significant concern. Meanwhile, the only man here who is likely to start in the postseason is Wang, who was good, but not great.

Bullpen: Joe Torre’s postseason auditions led directly to a loss in the opener. That’s not a cause for concern, however, as the Yankees didn’t need to win that game, and the whole point was to figure out who could be trusted in October. Here are the results:

The Good:

Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain, of course. Mo picked up a ten-pitch save in the clincher. Joba pitched on back-to-back days for the first time in his life and turned in a pair of scoreless innings striking out three. That said, he got help from a ridiculous wall-crashing catch in center by Melky Cabrera in his first game, which he followed by giving up a single to rookie Justin Ruggiano and uncorking a wild pitch, and gave up a double to Raul Casanova in his second. True, that shot to center was off the bat of that man Carlos Peña, but ace relievers have to get everyone out. That said, Joba lowered his ERA to 0.38, so who am I kidding? Jose Veras pitched two shutout innings, working around a single and getting three ground ball outs to earn the save in the finale. Kyle Farnsworth, working from the windup, pitched a perfect eighth in the opener, striking out two and throwing ten of 13 pitches for strikes. Ron Villone got Peña to groundout to stop the bleeding in the sixth inning of the opener, then retired two of three batters in the seventh also on groundouts (the other walked). Chris Britton struck out Jonny Gomes to end that inning.

The Bad:

Edwar Ramirez and Brian Bruney each faced four men in the sixth inning of the oppener. Six of the eight scored. Staked to a 5-0 lead, Edwar walked the leadoff man, gave up a one-out double to plate that walk, then issued another walk. On came Bruney, who walked his first man to load the bases, struck out the next, then walked a run in and gave up a grand slam to 32-year-old minor league journeyman Jorge Velandia. It was Velandia’s first major league home run. Jeff Karstens gave up a game-winning home run to the only batter he faced in the tenth inning of that game. Luis Vizcaino gave up a double and a home run to the first two batters he faced in the eighth inning of the middle game, then gave up two more singles before finally getting out of the inning.

Conclusion: Farnsworth, Villone, and Veras look to be on their way to the postseason. Edwar, whom Torre said had a spot on the postseason roster, may have pitched his way off of it. That makes Vizcaino’s 11.57 ERA in September even more troubling. Torre’s doing the right thing in resting his regulars (Melky sat last night as well) and getting more at-bats for Giambi, Duncan, and Betemit. The rotation is what it is. Moose will start tonight. Pettitte will go tomorrow, but with a limit of 50 to 60 pitches. If the Yankees’ ALDS series opens on Wednesday, that would mean Pettitte would be on three days rest, but coming off a short outing, suggesting Wang as the Game One starter. If they wind up in the series that opens on Thursday, Pettitte would be on regular rest while Wang would have had seven days off. The biggest concerns heading into the post season, however, are Vizcaino and Clemens, and we’re unlikely to learn much about them from the season-ending three-game set that opens tonight in Baltimore.

Shook Ones (Pt. II)

Scott Kazmir was good last night, but Phil Hughes was better. Joba Chamberlain pitched the eighth–including an emphatic strikout of BJ Upton–and Jose Veras earned the save as the Yankees won their 92nd game of the year, 3-1. It is looking more and more like the Yanks will face the Indians in the first round of the playoffs. You can throw the Yankees 6-0 record vs the Tribe out of the window–the Bombers only faced Fausto Carmona once this year, and didn’t see C.C. at all. But heck, the American League playoff teams–“the fantastic four,” as Brian Cashman called them the other night–are all tough. If the Yanks are to be champs, they’ve got to beat the best, ’nuff said.

Anyhow, I didn’t watch much of the game at all. I watched the Mets instead. Man, can you believe what is happening out in Queens? I have to say that I don’t derive a lot pleasure from watching a team fall apart like the Mets have over the past couple of days and weeks. I’m no fan of the Metropolitans, but I’ve got a lot of close friends who are. So while I don’t root for them to win, dude, I just can’t get into wanting them to lose like this. Think of the winter-long hangover they’d have to live with. Nah, that’s too much to wish on anyone other than a Red Sox fan.

Still, it ain’t over yet. So here’s the question of the day, if you don’t mind me shifting the conversation to the National League for a minute. Who will suck more (or less) this weekend: The Mets or the Phillies? The Mets are playing scared right now, though they said put up a brave front after the game, while the Phils are streaking. But these are the Phillies we’re talking about. If history tells us anything, it will be Philadelphia who folds. So if I had to take a pick, I’d say the Mets recover and make the playoffs, despite how awful they’ve looked this week.

But I’m rooting for a tie and a one-game playoff on Monday.

Yankee Panky # 25: And Then There Were Two

Some quick hits as we prep for the home stretch and hope like hell the Yankees don’t have to deal with Vlad Guerrero, Chone Figgins, Garret Anderson, Howie Kendrick and Orlando Cabrera, at least not yet:

  • The Yankees will be making their 13th straight October appearance. Never mind that they’d have clinched earlier had Joe Torre not mismanaged the bullpen Tuesday night at the Trop (more on that below.)

(It’d be 14 straight had it not been for the ’94 Strike, and Donnie Baseball would have a World Series ring following a five-game dispatch of the Expos. Tony Gwynn would have hit .400, too, but now I’m in Tangentville.)

For all the Yankee haters who relished at the thought of a regular-season failure, and Met fans who currently have no comeback for the line, “Well, at least we know we’re playing in October,” let’s reminisce, shall we? July 2007: 1050 ESPN Radio jock Don LaGreca’s sardonic soliloquy to fans on the last weekend of play before the All-Star break, where he said the Yankees would be interesting and would win games but it wouldn’t be enough. They had too many games to make up. Too many teams to hurdle. I’ll admit, the rant was pretty funny. Anyone else want to join me in submitting recipes for crow?

If any of you reading this happened to tune in to that particular segment of the Saturday show, what made LaGreca’s bit even funnier were the “Ta-dow, how you like me now?” calls from Met fans thinking their team had finally assumed the spotlight. Nope. This is still a Yankees town.

That fact is evident in the way the breadth of coverage the teams have shared lately (except in Newsday, where Mets stories have outnumbered Yankees stories due to a heavy Mets fan base on Long Island). The presentation has been mostly doom-and-gloom for the Queens franchise that borrowed elements from the three previously existing New York baseball teams so it’ll forever have an identity crisis. (It’s never good when the New York Times dedicates includes the Mets’ current nosedive in a special Metro Section bulletin featuring “Greatest New York Collapses.”) Yankees depictions have been mixed, depending on game results. I’ve found for the most part that the articles have reflected the mood of the players who made the news.


Here Comes Success, Over My Hill

I realized tonight: it’s a little strange that I have, literally, dozens of happy memories associated with watching a 60-something year old man weep openly on national television. That man, of course, is Joe Torre, and the occasion tonight was the Yankees’ 12-4 win and newly clinched playoff spot – in a year where, as you may have heard, they were at one point just a teensy bit back in the standings. You may hate Joe Torre’s managing style, you may think he should be fired at the end of the season, but it’s still hard to be unmoved by such a great example of a classic American type: the crusty, tough old outer-borough New Yorker with a sentimental streak a mile wide. Nobody in sports cries like Joe Torre.

Under the circumstances, you couldn’t ask for a much better hand of cards than Chien-Ming Wang vs. J.P. Howell at the Trop. In the days since they’ve dropped the “Devil” from their logo and uniforms, the Rays have attracted an enormous and enthusiastic crowd of devoted Christian fans, who — … okay, not really. The place was maybe half full, and by the sound of it, the crowd was at least 80% pro-Yankee.

Wang wasn’t at his best tonight, and struggled a bit with his control, but he kept the damage to a minimum. Despite allowing seven hits and three walks in six innings, he only allowed two runs. Meanwhile, the Yankees couldn’t do much against Howell their first time through the order (if they lost I was going to say the offense was a “Howelling abyss”, so be grateful they pulled this one out), but in the fourth inning they took a 2-1 lead on a Jeter solo shot and an error, walk, and series of groundouts. In the fifth, Howell lost it completely, and his bullpen relief didn’t do much better: the Yankees batted around and scored seven runs, with the big blows a bases-loaded Jorge Posada single, and Robinson Cano’s subsequent three-run home run.

For all intents and purposes the game was over, though New York did tack on three more in the next inning against Jeff Ridgway, proud owner of a 189.00 ERA. (But did I mention that they’ve removed the “Devil” from their uniforms? Come on down!). I don’t think anyone was paying much attention to the last four innings, including, judging by their defense, the Rays. And Jorge Posada was apparently so surprised to see Jay Witasick still alive and pitching in the majors that he did a violent double-take, and appeared to tweak his neck (that’s my theory, anyway), but stayed in the game. Joba Chamberlain got through a scoreless inning with help from an excellent Melky Cabrera catch; Jose Vizcaino ran into trouble in the eighth and gave up two runs; Mariano Rivera came on for the ninth, not because he was needed, but because Torre wanted his stalwarts in the game when they clinched.

Which they did, finally, when Greg Norton popped out to Robinson Cano. Torre, as he has so many times before under similar circumstances, had already begun to tear up when the ball hit the mitt. It was a relatively subdued celebration on the mound – lots of smiles and warm hugs, a little jumping around, but not too much craziness. That didn’t last once the team reached the clubhouse, however: most of the bullpen ganged up on Roger Clemens, who was at the receiving end of at least five spraying bottles at once, and was so blinded Jorge Posada had to lead him to safety. Mariano Rivera got it just as bad. Derek Jeter, on the other hand, stayed mostly dry – “I know where to hide,” he explained later, when it was safe (I don’t think Jeter really starts celebrating until the ALCS).

A sopping wet Joba Chamberlain was asked by Kim Jones if he even feels nervous on the mound anymore: “I play it off pretty good, don’t I?” he asked with a grin. "With the playoffs coming we’ve got a chance to do some special things and THAT’S REALLY COLD,” he added, as Edwar Ramirez doused him in beer. (You’ve gotta love the part of the celebration where they run out of champagne and just switch to Bud). Later, a tag team of Ramirez, Cano and Chamberlain succeeded in completely and utterly distracting Abreu from his YES interview, leaving him laughing helplessly in the middle of a lost thought, as Ramirez gently toweled him off.

The emotional highlight, though, was as always Joe Torre. He was already looking dangerously sniffly when the interview began; when Cano and Cabrera dumped two entire bottles of champagne on his head, he choked up. “You love them,” he said. “I mean, I can’t help it.” When Kim Jones told him the vets had been praising his leadership and resilience, the real waterworks began.

Torre’s status for next year is up in the air, and if the Yankees go down in the Division Series again, this could very well be his last emotional, booze-soaked moment of triumph with the Yankees. He took a lot of criticism this year, some of it very valid, but there’s no doubt he’ll be missed when he’s gone; maybe he can manage a bullpen better or maybe not, but will Joe Girardi ever be as moved by a couple of giddy kids bouncing around with champagne?

Howell They Do It?

The Yanks have only one more team left to eliminate in order to clinch the Wild Card. If the Yanks win, or the Tigers lose, they’re in. Chien-Ming Wang takes the hill, looking for more support than he got last time out, when Roy Halliday shut down the Yanks, wasting a strong outing by Wang. Jay Ken Thurston J.P. (as in James Phillip) Howell takes the mound to try to stop them. Howell went 1-4 with a 7.36 ERA in eight starts in June and July. He’s made one start since being recalled with expanded rosters, turning in a strong outing in Anaheim (6 IP, 2 R, 8 K), but took a hard luck loss as the Rays only managed one run against Ervin Santana and company.

Shelley Duncan gets the call at DH as Matsui gets a rest. Duncan hits seventh, pushing Cano and Posada up. The rest is the usual.

It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

Cliff and I both contributed chapters to the new BP book, It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over: The Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book. Tonight, I’ll be up at Columbia U with some of the authors, including Steven Goldman, Jay Jaffe, Kevin Baker and Allen Barra. The chat starts at 7:00 at Alfred Lerner Hall (lower level), 2922 Broadway. If you are around the neighborhood, swing by, it’d be great to see you. In the meantime, dig this chapter from the book, written expertly by Goldman. I think you will really enjoy it.

Book Excerpt

How to Break Up the Yankees


From the mid-1930s through the mid-1960s, baseball struggled with how to “break up the Yankees,” at one point even adopting a rule forbidding teams from trading with the previous year’s pennant winner—which was always the Yankees. The rule lasted but one winter, that of 1939 to 1940. New York didn’t win in 1940, Detroit did. The rule hadn’t been intended to harm the Tigers, so it was quickly rescinded.

The no-trade rule had little chance of hurting the Yankees anyway, because so much of their talent was homegrown. When Branch Rickey’s farm system began transforming the way major league talent was developed, Yankees general manager Ed Barrow, something of a reactionary, had been resistant to the new methods. In 1932, team owner Jacob Ruppert overruled him, buying the Newark Bears of the International League and hiring independent minor league operator George Weiss to build a complete farm system. An injection of New York revenues turned Rickey’s farm into a factory. Of the key players on the champion 1939 Yankees, none of the position players were acquired via trade, and just a handful of the pitchers were acquired this way.

The factory system fed the Yankees dynasty, which was only occasionally interrupted between 1936 and 1964. Not until 1965, with the advent of the amateur draft and with ownership’s cutbacks in player development on the eve of selling out to CBS (the Yankees had never been generous with bonuses anyway), did the factory shut down. The Yankees stopped producing young players, and shortly thereafter, the team stopped winning.

Over the more than 40 years since, the Yankees have resisted getting back in the habit of producing youngsters. During its brief ownership, CBS didn’t know how. George Steinbrenner, who bought the team from the Tiffany Network, didn’t care to. For all Steinbrenner’s financial largesse, the posture damaged the club almost from the first moment of the regime. The first test was offered by Otto Velez in 1974. The club failed it and, as a direct result, lost the division title to the Baltimore Orioles.


One Down, One To Go

The Indians beat the Mariners 4-3 in 12 innings last night, eliminating Seattle from the playoffs. That was as close as the Yankees would get to a clincher, however, as the Tigers stomped the Twins 8-0 and the Yanks lost another extra inning contest.

Kei Igawa pitched as well as could have been reasonably expected, holding the Devil Rays scoreless over five innings. It wasn’t pretty, Igawa walked five and had to get out of a second-and-third one-out jam in the first (he did so by striking out B.J. Upton and Delmon Young, Kei’s only two Ks of the night), and two-out bases loaded jam in the third, but he only allowed two hits, both singles.

The Yanks got on the board right away against Jason Hammel with a Johnny Damon single, stolen base, and a Derek Jeter double. Alex Rodriguez then padded the lead with a grand slam in the third, which pushed him past 150 RBIs on the season. Edwar Ramirez and Brian Bruney gave it all back plus one in the sixth, however, as Ramirez walked Upton, gave up an RBI double to Dioner Navarro, then walked Jonny Gomes. Bruney then entered with one out, walked Greg Norton to load the bases, and struck out Josh Wilson on three pitches. With two out and the bags packed with the tying runs, Bruney walked Akinori Iwamura on five pitches to push the second Tampa run across, then gave up a batting practice grand slam to that man I warned you all about, 32-year-old minor league lifer Jorge Velandia. Velandia, who is on his seventh cup of coffee, had never hit a home run in the major leagues before.

Ron Villone and Chris Britton held things down from there as the Yankees plated a leadoff double by Jorge Posada in the eighth to tie the game at 6-6. Then Joe Torre started a parade of scary relievers. Kyle Farnsworth, working from the windup for the second straight appearance, aced the eighth. Jose Veras, showing a nifty curve, pitched around a walk in the ninth. Jeff Karstens . . . not so much. Karstens first two pitches to tenth-inning leadoff hitter Dioner Navarro were balls. The third was a meatball. Home run to right. Rays win 7-6.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

The Yankees dropped two of three to the Devil Rays at the beginning of the month, but the Rays had won six of seven coming into that series and went on to win five of their next seven after leaving the Bronx. In other words, the Rays were hot. Entering this penultimate series of the season, the Rays have won just three of their last twelve. They’re also playing without Carl Crawford, who hasn’t played in two weeks due to some muscle strains in his legs, and James Sheilds, who would have started tomorrow, but won’t because he’s reached his innings limit for the season (he’s thrown 215 innings this year after throwing 185 2/3 innings between triple-A and the majors as a rookie last year). Both are breaks for the Yanks as Shields had emerged as a strong number two in the Tampa rotation and, in an otherwise disappointing season, Crawford has hit .380/.436/.500 against the Yankees this year.

The Rays are also without second baseman Brendan Harris (shoulder), which is news less because of his absence than because of the player who has replaced him, 32-year-old minor league lifer Jorge Velandia, who is with his fifth organization in as many years. Velandia is a career .247/.304/.356 hitter in the minors and last sniffed the majors with the Mets in 2003, but he returned with a rage last week and went 10 for 18 with four doubles and four walks over his first six games as the Rays’ starting second baseman. He’s 1 for 8 with four Ks over his last two games, however, so perhaps the Yankees be fortunate enough to see the real Jorge Velandia at the plate over the next three days.

They better hope so, as Kei Igawa is starting tonight in place of Roger Clemens, who has been scratched once again due to his tweaky left hamstring. Clemens will not appear in this series, but the Yankees are still expecting him to pitch against Baltimore and answer the bell for the postseason. Much like they are with Ian Kennedy, the Yankees are being overly cautious with Clemens now in the hope of getting more out of him in October. Here’s hoping it works out that way, at least in Clemens’ case (with Kennedy ticketed for the long relief role, something will have to go wrong for him to see much if any postseason action).

Igawa made seven starts since his last demotion to triple-A Columbus, posting the following line:

43 2/3 IP, 45 H, 20 ER, 8 BB, 44 K, 1.21 WHIP, 4.12 ERA, 3-2

Four of those seven starts were quality starts, including his final three. Igawa’s only faced one batter since August 31. That came on Saturday and the batter, Toronto’s Hector Luna, hit an RBI single.

Opposing Igawa will be Jason Hammel. Hammel was supposed emerge in the rotation along with Shields, but stumbled badly in his last four starts last year, starting with a stinker against the Yanks at the Stadium. He then failed to make the Rays out of camp, arrive in mid-June to post a 6.11 ERA out of the bullpen, then increased that to 7.44 over his first eight starts (the first of which saw him allow two runs in four innings in the Bronx). However, Hammel has posted a 2.35 ERA over his last four starts, allowing just one home run and striking out 17 against just four walks in 23 innings. That streak also started in the Bronx–Hammel threw five innings of one-run ball striking out seven and walking none the last time these two teams met–and has continued with games against the Blue Jays, Mariners, and Angels.

Hammel will face the same lineup the Yanks ran out there yesterday, though Damon will play in the field and Matsui will DH.


Series Wrap: v. Blue Jays

Offense: The Yanks scored an average of six runs per game over four games against a team that has allowed 4.3 runs per game on the season, so that’s good. In an unusual twist, however, all four games were decided more by the Yankee offense than by the team’s pitching. That credits the bats with two wins, but also two loses. The Yanks won the middle two games of the series by scoring 19 runs and simply out-hitting the failures of the bullpen, but they lost the opener by failing to take advantage of five scoreless innings by the pen, and lost the finale by simply failing to hit Jesse Litsch.


Alex Rodriguez 7 for 17, 2 2B, 5 RBI, 4 R, 4 BB, 2 K, CS
Derek Jeter 7 for 21, 2 2B, RBI, 2 R, SB, 4 K
Doug Mientkiewicz 4 for 10, 2 2B, RBI, R, 2 BB, HBP, K
Jose Molina 3 for 6, 2B, 3 RBI, R, K


Jason Giambi 1 for 10, RBI, IBB, 4 K
Wilson Betemit 0 for 3, 2 K

Shelley Duncan appeared as a defensive replacement in the opener, but did not come to bat. Bronson Sardinha scored the tying run in the ninth inning of the second game as a pinch runner. Alberto Gonzalez did not appear in the series.

Rotation: A good showing by 4/5 of the Yankee rotation, especially considering that Hughes and Pettitte, especially, were given short notice (though full rest) prior to their starts as a result of the injuries to Ian Kennedy (who, it seems, will be shut down for the season) and Roger Clemens (who, as of this writing, is still scheduled to pitch tonight in Tampa). Chien-Ming Wang was the best, matching Roy Halladay for six innings in the opener before finally coughing up two runs (one unearned) in the seventh. Mike Mussina was second best, allowing three runs in his only bad inning out of seven on Sunday. Andy Pettitte recovered from a rough second inning and an unearned run in the third to eek out a quality start in the finale (6 IP, 3 ER). Phil Hughes fell an inning short on Saturday due to inefficiency (5 IP, 99 pitches), but otherwise pitched fairly well (3 R, only one walk, no homers, 69 percent strikes).

Bullpen: The Yankee pen had to work 17 innings in this four game series, which is the sort of workload (nearly 4 1/3 innings per game) that killed the pen back in April. The good news is that the Yankees have a 16-man thanks to expanded rosters, so even with that high work load, four Yankee relievers didn’t pitch at all (Matt DeSalvo, Ty Clippard, Chase Wright, and Sean Henn). Those who did had a wide variety of results, but altogether allowed 13 runs and 25 base runners in those 17 frames, a dismal collective performance.


Card Corner–Pags


Quickly now, who led the 1987 Yankees in home runs? Don Mattingly, the team’s best hitter? No. Was it Hall of Famer Dave Winfield? Sorry, that’s incorrect. How about future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson? That’s wrong, too. Maybe Jack "The Ripper" Clark? Nope, that’s the wrong year; Clark was a Yankee in 1988, before evolving into Lance McCullers, Jimmy Jones, and Stanley Jefferson.

The correct answer, for those who haven’t noticed the baseball card image just yet, is Mike Pagliarulo. Or "Pags," as he was called, despite the silent "G" in his name. That’s the same Pagliarulo who was no better than the fourth best position player on the ’87 Yankees, or perhaps only the fifth best, if we put him behind the perennially underrated Willie Randolph. In what amounted to a career year, the 27-year-old Pagliarulo belted 32 home runs that season, as he did his best Graig Nettles impression during a failed run at the American League East title that saw the Yankees finish a respectable fourth—with 89 wins—in a stacked division.

Pagliarulo also slugged a career-high in 1987 (.479), and reached his best single-season mark in RBI’s with 87 RBIs. He never came close to those numbers again, but in a way, that shouldn’t matter at all. Here’s a guy who wasn’t supposed to have a major league career at all. Dubbed a non-prospect early in his professional career, Pagliarulo was never expected to make an assault at a major league roster spot. Fortunately for him, and all of the other young third basemen in the organization at the time, the Yankees traded Graig Nettles to the Padres in the spring of 1984, opening up third base for veterans Toby Harrah and Roy Smalley. That was the plan, but the 35-year-old Harrah had already seen his best days, while Smalley struggled in making the conversion from shortstop to third base, fielding the hot corner at a horrid .905 clip. There was then a failed experiment with Dale Berra, who was saddled with drug problems and the high expectations created by his last name. With no one else in the pipeline, the Yankees turned to Pagliarulo only by default in 1984 and ’85.

Almost from the day he arrived in the majors, I heard that Pagliarulo couldn’t play. Oh, he had some power from the left side, but that was about his only discernibly good habit. He would never hit consistently enough to keep himself in the lineup, didn’t have much range at third base, and had absolutely no footspeed. In other words, he appeared to be a placeholder—someone who would fill a spot on the left side of the infield until a better prospect came along in a few years. That prophecy appeared mostly accurate when Pags made a lackluster pinstriped debut in 1984, batting an inconsequential .239 with merely seven home runs in just over 200 at-bats. Forget about Graig Nettles, this guy looked more like a left-handed version of Celerino Sanchez.

Pagliarulo might have gone completely by the wayside in 1985, and back to Triple-A Columbus, but instead he went to work. Adopting a philosophy that seemed to be borrowed from the relentless Don Mattingly, Pagliarulo registered excruciatingly long hours in the batting cage, refining his swing, sharpening his timing, and improving his ability to recognize pitches. Pags also made efforts to upgrade his fielding, through the sheer repetition of handling hundreds of pre-game ground balls. (If anything, Pagliarulo worked too hard, sometimes exhausting himself by the time that September rolled around.) Not satisfied with merely taking up space in The Baseball Encyclopedia, a determined Pagliarulo became hell-bent on having an impact as a major leaguer. He also became my favorite Yankee, at a time when most fans preferred following the cult of Mattingly, or Winfield, or Henderson, or even Randolph.

Emerging as the Yankees’ third baseman against right-handed pitching, the pull-hitting Pagliarulo clubbed 19 home runs in 380 at-bats during the 1985 season. The following year, he played almost every day, against right-handers and left-handers, compiling 28 home runs and a .464 slugging percentage. Heck, this guy was no Celerino Sanchez, or Rich McKinney, or Jerry Kenney. He had evolved into a slightly poor man’s version of Nettles, and on a team with stars like Henderson and Mattingly, that was plenty good enough.

Pagliarulo’s status as an overachiever, coupled with a rare toughness, made him a winner in the Markusen household. The antithesis of soft players like the Giants’ Chris Brown, Pagliarulo displayed the kind of grit that was beginning to fade on the major league scene during the 1980s. After being hit in the face by a pitch during the 1986 season, Pags missed only one game, then immediately returned to the lineup. Showing no signs of fear, Pagliarulo proceeded to hit home runs in three consecutive games. Forget about Nettles, this was Clint Eastwood in pinstripes.

I also liked Pagliarulo because of his willingness to speak out against what he considered to be wrong—specifically a member of the Hollywood elite. While I generally like to write about politics as much I like to opine about brain surgery, it fits the storyline here. Back in the mid-1980s, as the Yankees prepared to play a game at the Stadium, Pagliarulo noticed that actress Jane Fonda was on the premises. When asked about Fonda, one of the most reprehensible figures in American pop culture (and a highly overrated actress, to boot), Pagliarulo made no effort at hiding his contempt. Citing Fonda’s anti-American stance during the Vietnam War, Pagliarulo delivered his uppercut swing (verbally, of course) at "Hanoi Jane." I loved it.


Second Best

The Yankees finished second to the Blue Jays in yesterday’s makeup game, which doubled as their regular season home finale. Thus, the half game in the AL East standings was rounded up, and the Red Sox hold a two-game lead with just six games left. The good news is that the Tigers came in second to the Twins, so the Yanks clinched a tie for the Wild Card, and can clinch outright with a win over the Devil Rays or a Tiger loss tonight.

As for the game it self, A.J. Burnett was supposed to start for the Jays, but had to head home for personal reasons. Instead, the Yankees faced Jessie Litsch, who beat the Sox his last time out. Yesterday, Litsch seemed to do one of two things, get groundballs right at his fielders, or give up doubles. Unfortunately for the Yankees, he did a lot more of the former. Of the 30 Yankees Litsch faced over 7 2/3 innings, eighteen hit a grounder right at an infielder and four doubled.

The first double was hit by Doug Mientkiewicz with one out (a ground out, of course) in the third. He moved to third when Curtis Thigpen booted a grounder by Melky Cabrera (the only Blue Jay error of the day), held when Johnny Damon hit a week grounder down the first base line, and was stranded by a rare fly out hit by Derek Jeter. The second double was hit by Hideki Matsui with two out (both ground outs, of course) in the fourth. Jorge Posada jutted his right knee into a pitch to reach base, then Robinson Cano grounded out to end the inning. Derek Jeter hit the third double leading off the sixth, moved to third on an Abreu grounder, and scored on a grounder by Alex Rodriguez for what would be the only Yankee run of the day. The last double was hit by Bobby Abreu with two outs (both ground outs, of course) in the eighth. It finally drove Litsch from the game after just 99 pitches, but Casey Janssen got the final out to strand Abreu, then picked up the save in the ninth.

Andy Pettitte, meanwhile, had a rough second inning, allowing three runs on a walk and three hits, including doubles by Thigpen and John McDonald. The Jays added a run in the third when Alex Rios doubled with one out, moved to third on a fly out to right, and scored when Derek Jeter booted the third out. Andy faced the minimum over the next three innings, but, with Litsch cruising, the damage was done. Final score 4-1 Jays.


Swing Game

The Yankees wrap up their series with the Blue Jays this afternoon with a makeup of the game that was rained out on April 25. The way the Yanks were playing back then, the rain out worked in their favor, as they’re far more likely to win this afternoon than they were when facing a full-strength Blue Jays lineup amid a seven-game losing streak in late April.

The stakes is high this afternoon as the Red Sox are idle. The result of this game will erase that half game in the AL East standings for permanent either to the Yankees’ benefit (an even one game back) or to their detriment (a solid two games back with just six left to play). Fortunately, the Yanks have their second-half ace Andy Pettitte on the hill coming off a strong outing (7 2/3 IP, 1 R) against the admittedly half-assing Orioles. Andy has handled the Jays well this year, posting a 2.25 ERA over 20 innings in three starts while striking out 17 and not allowing a home run. The bad news is that the Jays counter with A.J. Burnett, who stuck it to the Yankees in Toronto two weeks ago (8 IP, 1 R, 8 K), the lone run coming on a Johnny Damon homer. Burnett twirled a gem against the Red Sox as well in his last start, but as a result has thrown 244 pitches over those last two outings. Still, since coming off the DL in mid-August, Burnett has gone 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP, and 57 Ks in 59 2/3 innings.

Damon is the DH this afternoon, with Matsui in left, Posada back behind the plate, and Mientkiewicz at first base.

Oh, and if the Yanks win and the Tigers lose in Minnesota tonight (Nate Robertson v. Carlos Silva), the Yankees will clinch their 13th consecutive playoff appearance.

A Rule Meant to be Broken

The Yankees won another close one against the Jays on Sunday afternoon, 7-5. Mike Mussina was impressive again, Jose Molina had three RBI, and Joe Torre broke the so-called “Joba Rules,” as Chamberlain earned his first big league save.

It was a beautific afternoon at Yankee Stadiuma and the late afternoon shadows swept across home plate at a quarter to four. I love the way the light in September is different, deeper more mellowed, than the bright harsh light of March and April. Long, elegant shadows trailed the pitchers early in the game and it all looked great on the HDTV. (I tell you sports on HDTV is absolutely the greatest thing since sliced bread.)

In a playoff preview, Torre went to Chamberlain with two men on and two out in the eighth inning. You got to love Torre picking this spot to try the kid out because, rules be damned, you know that Joba is going to get the call in a couple of weeks. Torre isn’t the kind of guy who is going to pass on a sure-thing like Chamberlain in the playoffs. After all, Joba is the best young pitcher the Yankees have had since Mariano Rivera.


Scooter Sunday

After yesterday’s marathon victory, Mariano Rivera told Pete Abraham, “That would have been a very bad game to lose, but it’s a great game to win.” Amen to that, especially with Dustin McGowan going today and A.J. Burnett pitching tomorrow. McGowan, coming off a strong start against the Red Sox, has been terrific in the second-half. However, with the Yankees’ magic number down to three, even I’m not going to sweat too much today. The important thing is for everyone to remain healthy. It’ll be nice to give Jeter, Rodriguez and Posada some rest later this week.

Damon and Melky will man the outfield today, while Godzilla is the DH. Posada and Giambi have the day-off, and so does Shel Dunkinuts. Mike Mussina is on the hill for the Yanks. It is a ridiculously beautiful day in New York. There is a pre-game ceremony honoring the Scooter this afternoon.

Let’s hope fer good things all around and Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

The Melkman Always Rings Twice

I arrived at Yankee Stadium at 9:30 on Saturday morning and left shortly after 4. The Yankees were trailing the Blue Jays 3-2 at the time. I took a gypsy cab back to my apartment, took a shower, and hung out with Emily for about a half-an-hour. I saw the Yankees score four runs in the bottom of the sixth, highlighted by Alex Rodriguez’s two-run, bases loaded double. Then I saw them give it back in the top of the seventh as the Jays hit pay dirt with a flurry of bloop hits. Kyle Farnsworth was looming. I was Audi 5000.

I was off to a cocktail party that kicked off the Jose Feliciano/Bernie Williams concert at the Utopia Loews Paradise Theater on the Grand Concourse. In truth, I was going to see Ray Negron and the short play he was putting on to start the show. Negron is a special advisor to George Steinbrenner who wrote a children’s book last year, “The Boy of Steel.” He recruited Cathy Moriarty, Jose Guzman, Michael Kay, Scott Clark and Darryl Strawberry to appear in the show. Ray has been a bat boy, Reggie Jackson’s gopher, an actor, an agent–he’s just about done everything, and he’s hustled a career for himself in the game. He takes sick kids on his own personal Stadium tour, he translates for the young Spanish ballplayers with little Enlgish, like Melky Cabrera. Ray seems to know everybody and he’s always on the move.


Puddle Jumpers

Roger Clemens was supposed to start this afternoon in place of Ian Kennedy but was a late scratch. Nothing serious, according to Joe Torre. Clemens was on the field at a quarter to ten this morning watching his eldest son perform running drills in right field under the guidance of a trainer.

About an hour later, Harlan Chamberlain made his way from the bullpen to the Yankee dugout. His red scooter moved slowly across the warning track and then down the left field line. Chamberlain stopped to shake hands with some fans. As he approached the Yankee dugout, he shook more hands. “Harlan, we love your son.” He is clearly enjoying every moment of his first trip to New York.

John Turturro is also at the park. After his daily pre-game conversation with reporters, Torre chatted with the actor, several photographers snapping pictures several feet away. Torre also spent a few minutes talking to Harlan.

It’s 12:40 now and it’s raining. The tarp is on the field, but rain wasn’t in the forecast so I don’t imagine the game will be delayed long.

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