"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

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.

As far as how the Mets’ and Yankees’ playoff standings were portrayed, the point was accurately made that the Yankees have a failsafe. It’s a longshot, but the possibility remains that the Yankees can win the division. They’d try to win their remaining four games regardless, but if they don’t tie or pass the Sox it’s not the end of the world because they already have the wild-card locked up. The Mets, meanwhile, have continued to stumble like Maggie Simpson, and are approaching a certain creek and losing paddle supplies. In a week’s time, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins’ “we’re the team to beat quote” from spring training has gone from “are you kidding?” to “he might be right” status. 

  • Comparisons to the 1978 and 2005 Yankee seasons have been made both in this space and throughout the “traditional” media outlets for much of the past 12 weeks. Clearly, there are parallels. The parallel will truly come to fruition if the Yankees and Red Sox end up tied following Sunday’s action.
  • Did anyone else catch Michael Kay go Moose hunting Tuesday on his radio show?

    The short version: Mike Mussina’s comments that the Joba Rules should be done away with (there’s a case for it, sure), and that he deserves a postseason start based on his last three starts and his experience level set Kay into a frenzy. Mussina’s quote on the topic was that it would be “ridiculous” for him not to start. Kay railed back on the air saying it would be ridiculous for Torre to slot him in at all.

    Here’s the catch: If William R. Clemens and his pro-rated $28 million hamstrings aren’t healthy, Torre’s alternatives will be slim.

    To me, the rant sounds like it had personal overtones. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Even if Kay is right — that Mussina’s experience does not entitle him to a postseason start — is that a reason to let whatever hostilities may exist between the two of them spill into his diatribe? Such incidents lead to “I wonder if they hate each other” banter on discussion boards like this.

    So my question to you, the reader, is this: If you were a commentator and were forced to cover and discuss a player you may dislike – for whatever reason — how would you present your opinion in a situation where said player issues a comment that touches a nerve with you? Me, I wouldn’t avoid the issue, but I would try to argue for or against it using hard data and try to maintain an even temper. At the very least, I’d invite the player on my show to interview him and get his side. If the situation escalates from there, so be it.

  • To my first bullet point…I’ve posed the question at various times throughout the season – most recently with the Joba Rules – about Joe Torre plugging certain relievers into situations to either hold big leads or keep the Yankees in a game, and pulling the wrong string. Tuesday night’s mess was a perfect example. Blowing a five-run lead in one inning and allowing the Devil Rays to score five runs with two outs is unacceptable, especially when you want to clinch a playoff spot and keep the division title within reach.

    I turned on the game in the bottom of the 6th (had to watch House first), when the Rays had runners on first and third and Edwar Ramirez on the mound protecting a 5-1 lead. When Torre called on Brian Bruney to replace Ramirez, I said to my wife, “This game will be 5-5 in about five minutes.” I flipped channels and when I returned to YES, it was 6-5 Rays.

    The move that really irked me, though, was summoning Jeff Karstens to pitch the 10th inning. I understand the philosophy of calling on a guy who can potentially eat innings at that stage of the game. But you need to bring in someone who has shown he can get batters out. Karstens hasn’t done that at all, at least, not since his return from a broken leg. Karstens’ H/IP ratio at the time of his Tampa appearance was almost 2-to-1, and his ERA was 10.43. Moreover, pitching in a similar situation Saturday, had it not been for Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, and an assist from the pitcher’s mound, Karstens may have cost the Yankees a victory. All Kay and Al Leiter could say of the move when reciting Karstens’ stats was, ‘The numbers aren’t good, but he’s had a long run of bad luck.” That may be true, but at this point, as a fan, I don’t want to hear a “sprinkles on poop” rationalization of a bad move.

    Johnny Damon told reporters following Tuesday’s loss that Torre is “trying to find the guys he’s going to use” in pressure middle relief spots in the postseason. I was surprised at the lack of commentary on that point. Winning games trumps second chances. Play the people who give you the best chance to win. Period.

Torre didn’t have to massage anyone’s ego last night, as the Yankees broke the game open in the middle innings and Chien-Ming Wang was on the mound. His only real decision, predictably, was to give Mariano Rivera some work. He pitched the ninth to nail down the eight-run, berth-clinching win.

Aside from Rivera, Joba, and maybe Vizcaino and “I’m good if I can pitch from the windup” Farnsworth, there simply isn’t anyone who can consistently get outs. If Torre doesn’t know how he’s going to use his guys by now, the Yankees will not win.

Next week … awards and a playoff coverage survey.

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