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Monthly Archives: September 2007

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Much Ado About Nothing

Sometimes one wonders if it is not necessarily better to have rallied and lost than to have ever rallied at all.

The matchup between Roy Halladay and Chien-Ming Wang lived up to it’s billing last night as the two pitchers entered the seventh inning locked in a 0-0 tie. The Yankees managed to put five men on base over the first six innings, but Johnny Damon’s infield single to start the game was erased by a rare caught stealing by Gregg Zaun, rendering Derek Jeter’s subsequent double harmless, and Jeter, who was pushed to third by a Bobby Abreu groundout, was stranded when Alex Rodriguez flew out to deep center. Hideki Matsui reached on an error to start the second, but was quickly erased by a double play off the bat of Posada. In the fifth, Posada singled and moved to third on a Robinson Cano double, but, with one out, Doug Mientkiewicz hit a foul pop over the tarp in short right field. Posada, thinking Blue Jay first baseman Matt Stairs was going to make the catch, tagged up and broke for home on the play, only to be gunned out by second baseman Aaron Hill, who reached over Stairs to make the catch. Posada was out by at least ten feet.

Wang only allowed four runners over those first six frames. Hill led off the second with a double into the left field corner and went to third when Damon bobbled the carom, but Wang got Russ Adams to pop out behind the plate, Zaun to ground out to third, freezing Hill, and Adam Lind to ground out to first to strand Hill. His other three runners all reached first with one out, moved to second on groundouts, and were promptly stranded.

The Blue Jays finally broke the tie in the seventh when Hill and Adams lead off with a pair of singles and Hill, who moved to third on Adams base knock, scored on a groundout by Zaun. Lind then singled to right and Adams, who had moved to second on Zaun’s grounder, was sent home. Bobby Abreu fired a one-hop strike to Jorge Posada that easily beat Adams, but Posada didn’t glove it cleanly and, when the dust cleared, the ball was on the ground behind Jorge and Adams was safe with the second Blue Jay run. Wang got a double play from ninth-place hitter Rey Olmedo to end the inning, but that would end his night after one hundred pitches (67 strikes, 14 of his 21 outs coming on the ground and four others by strikeout).

The Jays added a pair of insurance runs in the eighth against Edwar Ramirez when Ramirez hit Reed Johnson with his second pitch to start the frame, then, after getting Stairs to groundout, gave up a two-run homer to Alex Rios. Ramirez has now allowed six homers in 18 2/3 major league innings, an alarming rate of 2.9 HR/9IP. He has also hit three batters and uncorked three wild pitches. Over his last four appearances, Ramirez has allowed four runs and eight baserunners in 2 1/3 innings.

Halladay, meanwhile, just kept on cruising, pitching around an Alex Rodriguez single in the seventh and entering the ninth inning having thrown just 90 pitches, 68 of them (an astonishing 76 percent) for strikes. Johnny Damon led of the ninth with a double to left. After Jeter grounded out to short, holding Damon at second, Abreu singled Damon to third. Rodriguez followed with another single to erase the shutout and push Abreu to second. With Hideki Matsui coming up as the tying run and lefty Scott Downs warm in the bullpen, Toronto manager John Gibbons came to the mound to talk things over with his ace, but returned to the dugout without making a change. It was the right call, as Halladay got both Matsui and Jorge Posada to ground to second.

But wait! Aaron Hill’s throw to defensive replacement Lyle Overbay on what should have been the game-ending groundout by Posada bounced in the dirt and, as Overbay juggled the scoop, Posada crossed the bag safe, allowing Abreu to score and Rodriguez to move to third. With the score now 4-2 and Halladay at 110 pitches, Gibbons called on Downs to face Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi (who had hit for Mientkiewicz in the eighth only to strike out looking on three pitches from Halladay). With Bronson Sardinha running for Posada representing the tying run, Robinson Cano pushed a broken bat grounder past Hill for an RBI single that sent Sardinha to third. Giambi then flared a single to left to bring Sardinha home and tie the game at 4-4 as Halladay sat staring from the dugout with a look that recalled Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.

Unfortunately, that was the last run the Yankees would manage. Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain (who struck out four in two innings with his father in attendence), and Luis Vizcaino got the game into the 14th inning, but the Yankees were unable to break through. They came closest against rookie Brian Wolfe in the 13th when Jeter led off with a single, but Bobby Abreu replaced him on the bases via a fielder’s choice, and Alex Rodriguez missed his pitch, hitting a mile-high pop-up to short. Lefty Joe Kennedy then came in to face Matsui and walked him, but with Posada out of the game and no third catcher on the roster due to the 40-man roster spaces doled out to Juan Miranda and Andrew Brackman, Jose Molina was forced to hit and struck out on three pitches. Brian Bruney came on in the 14th (Kyle Farnsworth was unavailable with a tight shoulder) and struck out the side, but he gave up a solo homer to Gregg Zaun in the middle of it and Kennedy and Jason Frasor sealed the 5-4 win in the bottom of the inning, striking out pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit to end the game, which was only two minutes longer than last Friday’s nine-inning affair in Boston.

In Tampa, Josh Beckett out-dueled Scott Kazmir and the Rays’ bullpen coughed up a wad of insurance runs, so the Yanks are 2.5 out in the East once again. The Tigers staged a mid-game comeback to beat the Royals, and the Mets survived a long rain delay, some late-inning runs by the Marlins, and a minor injury to Carlos Beltran to keep pace with the Phillies, who also won.

Today, Phil Hughes moves up in the rotation, due to Ian Kennedy’s tight back (he says he feels fine) and Roger Clemens tweaky hamstring, to face Shawn Marcum. Because the Yankees were in a six-man rotation and had an off-day on Thursday both Hughes and Mike Mussina, who moves up to tomorrow’s game, will be on regular rest. Hughes has a 2.55 ERA over his last three starts, including a solid six innings against the Blue Jays in Toronto (3 H, 2 R/1 ER), but his walks are up and his strikeouts are down, and he’s still getting too many of his outs in the air. Marcum, meanwhile, has a 7.94 ERA over his last six starts, including allowing eight runs in 4 1/3 innings while facing Hughes in Toronto last week. Marcum has given up seven homers in those last six starts, including shots by Posada and Giambi, both of whom are in the lineup again today. Damon is the odd man out. Meanwhile, Jose Veras and Ron Villone also worked out of the pen last night (both were perfect). Farnsworth is still unavailable. Joba’s out per the rules, and I’m sure Torre would prefer to stay away from Vizcaino, who threw 24 pitches in his one inning. Ross Ohlendorf was warming behind Bruney in the 14th last night. He may see some action this afternoon.

Toronto Blue Jays

While panic sets in across town and to the northeast, the Yankees come off a restful, mid-homestand off-day looking to extend a four game winning streak with their ace on the mound looking for win number 19.

The bad news is that their opponent is the very same Blue Jays team that just swept the Red Sox, and that Toronto will send its four top starters to the mound in this series, beginning with ace Roy Halladay tonight. Halladay has failed to complete the seventh inning just once in his last dozen starts (going six full in the one exception), posting a 2.82 ERA with five complete games, one of them a shutout of the then-hot Mariners, and a 1.15 WHIP over that stretch. He’s faced the Yankees twice during that run, holding them to one run in seven innings in the Bronx in mid-July and allowing just seven base runners in seven innings while striking out eight in a match-up against Wang in early August (though Halliday did give up four runs in that game on a pair of home runs by Robinson Cano and another by Hideki Matsui).

That August 8 game saw Chien-Ming Wang struggle through 2 2/3 innings in what was easily the worst start of his career. There’s been an alarming symetry to Wang’s starts since then as his earned run totals in his seven stars since look like this: 5, 3, 1, 0, 1, 3, 5, bringing him back to the rematch with Halladay tonight. Here’s hoping he breaks the pattern.

As for the Blue Jays, they’ve finally shut down Vernon Wells in anticipation of his shoulder surgery. Wells had gone 0 for 17 in the Jays’ recent series against the Red Sox and Yankees, so that’s hardly a loss to the Jays. They also managed to sweep Boston without the help of Troy Glaus, who was shut down prior to Yankees series in Toronto and has since been placed on the 60-day DL with a season ending foot injury, or Lyle Overbay, who’s been limited to pinch-hit and defensive-replacement duty over the past week in anticipation of his having four pins removed from his hand when the team travels to Baltimore on Tuesday.

Matt Stairs has become the regular first baseman in Overbay’s stead, but he was just 1 for 10 with a pair of walks and three Ks against Boston. Russ Adams, who has filled in for Glaus, was more troublesome, going 3 for 8 with a double and that back-breaking grand slam off Jonathan Papelbon on Wednesday night. Adams had seven RBIs altogether in the Boston series and was 4 for 10 with a double and three walks against the Yankees when they were in Toronto last week. Alex Rios is the only Blue Jay other than Wells to play center field this year. That means the Jays will replace Wells in the lineup with a corner outfielder. With Stairs already in at first base, that means the Jays will have Reed Johnson and Adam Lind in the corners, which fully exhausts the supply of outfielders on their roster, though recent addition Joe Inglett, who was claimed off waivers from the Indians to take Glaus’s place on the roster, and Hector Luna, who preceeded Inglett in making the move from Cleveland to Toronto, are both legitimate utility men who can play both infield and outfield if needed.

As for Johnson and Lind, Johnson only drew one start in each series against Boston and New York, going 0 for 8 with no walks and three Ks in those games, but he went 7 for 15 while starting all three games against the Orioles in between. Adam Lind went 1 for 7 with a pair of Ks in two starts against Boston and 0 for 2 as a pinch-hitter against the Yanks, but did walk and homer in the finale against the O’s.

As you might suspect by now, the Blue Jays beat the Red Sox with pitching, holding Boston to just five runs over three games. Dustin McGowan, who will face Roger Clemens on Sunday, set the pace with a complete game on Monday in which he allowed one run on five hits and no walks while striking out nine. A.J. Burnett, who will rematch with Phil Hughes in Monday’s makeup game, followed by striking out 11 and falling one-out shy of another complete game in a contest decided by an Eric Gagne blown save in the eighth (lefty Scott Downs struck out Jacoby Ellsbury to earn an easy one-out save). In the finale, fifth-starter Jesse Litsch limited the Sox to just two hits, one of them a J.D. Drew solo homer for the only Boston run, over 6 2/3 innings, then got 2 2/3 innings of one-hit/no-walk relief from his bullpen with closer Jeremy Accardo striking out three of the four men he faced (Mike Lowell, Drew, and Jason Varitek) to earn the save.

To that end, this series is a great test run for the playoffs as the Yankees will have to hit great pitching and out-pitch great pitching to come away with a win. The Red Sox, meanwhile, face their nemesis Scott Kasmir in Tampa. Kazmir, who has more starts again Boston than any other team in his young career, has a 2.62 ERA with 109 Ks, just 76 hits, and six hit batsmen in 96 1/3 career innings against the Red Sox. Most recently, Kazmir held the Sox scoreless for seven innings while striking out ten and allowing just seven baserunners in a 1-0 Devil Ray win on September 10. The Sox counter with Josh Beckett, who’s looking to become the majors’ first 20-game winner this year.

Just for good measure, the Mets send Pedro Martinez to the hill in Miami, while Cy Young contenders Jake Peavy, Fausto Carmona, and Johan Santana also toe the rubber, though the last does so without any postseason implications. Should be an interesting night of baseball.

Update: Per Peter Abraham, Ian Kennedy’s been scratched from his start on Saturday with a tight upper back. That moves everyone in the rotation up a day starting with Clemens. No word on whether or not the Yanks will try to have Kennedy start in the final week, or if they’ll just shut him down for the season. If this were Hughes, I’d think the latter would be the no-brainer decision, but Kennedy has been pitching better than Hughes recently and could be valuable as a long man out of the pen in the postseason. Balancing the current year’s run for an unlikely championship against the long-term health of the young franchise arms will likely continue to be a major story throughout the postseason and all of 2008.


Couple of Three Things…

Over at BP, Joe Sheehan thinks the Red Sox are being smart in giving some of their starting players a breather:

It would behoove Joe Torre to start doing this as well. The Yankees are up five games in the loss column on the Tigers, with a magic number of seven for the wild card. If form holds through the weekend and the Yankees’ magic number reaches three or so, Torre needs to worry less about seeding and more about making sure his aging team is ready to go on October 2. Alex Rodriguez has missed two games all year, and none since August 8. Robinson Cano hasn’t missed a game since May 6. Jorge Posada has played his usual 130-odd games behind the plate; a couple of extra days off next week couldn’t hurt. I can’t quantify the effects of rest on a player’s performance, but I can say that the cost of doing so—possibly ending up as the wild card versus winning the division—is essentially zero.

At ESPN, Buster Olney thinks that Alex Rodriguez could find a good home with the L.A. Dodgers:

Rodriguez might be a perfect addition at the perfect time for the Dodgers. He would give them the power they need, in home run production and in marketing; they could build their business plan around his pursuit of Barry Bonds’ home run record.

Friends of A-Rod don’t think he would be interested in playing in the National League. We’ll see. Some within the Yankees’ organization wonder if any team will be willing to pay A-Rod as much as the Yankees can pay him; others think that it’s all but a lock that A-Rod will leave the Yanks.

If he does go, the Dodgers would be a perfect landing spot for him, if the team is ready to spend big.

Finally, in the Times, Goose Gossage says he likes Joba. That’s not a shocker. Neither is this:

“I really don’t see how they can think about making him a starter after what we’ve seen,” Gossage said in a telephone interview. “You can find starters — I know they have other young kids — but how are you going to find another character like him? How are you going to replace him? Before he came up, those setup guys were killing them.”

Goose, we love ya, but um, got to disagree with on this one. However, this quote is more like it:

“I saw him throw those two pitchers over Kevin Youkilis’s head when they played Boston,” he said. “I loved it. The same thing used to happen with me when I tried to get it inside. When I missed, my body would get out front, my arm would lag and the ball would fly.

“And guess what? It was a great purpose pitch, only now they’re protecting these hitters every chance they get. It makes me sick. I went crazy when they tossed the kid that day. I screamed, ‘What the heck is this game coming to?’ “

Back when I played…

Series Wrap: v. Orioles (Postseason Roster Edition)

Offense: They scored enough to win against Brian Burres, a lefty who has given them trouble all year, and put up 20 runs in the other two games. I’d say that’s a job well done.


Robinson Cano 6 for 11, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 3 R, HBP
Derek Jeter 6 for 13, 2 2B, 3 R, BB, 3 K
Doug Mientkiewicz 4 for 11, HR, 6 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB, SacB, 2 K
Hideki Matsui 4 for 13, 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R, K
Melky Cabrera 2 for 6, 3 RBI, BB
Jason Giambi 0 for 1, 3 BB, HBP, 2 R


Alex Rodriguez 1 for 11, SacFly, BB, 4 K
Johnny Damon 1 for 8, RBI, R, BB, 3 K
Shelley Duncan 0 for 3, BB, 2 K

Wilson Betemit singled, Jose Molina flew out, and Bronson Sardinha struck out each in their only at-bats, all of which come in the eighth inning on Tuesday night. Alberto Gonazalez also appeared as a defensive replacement in that game, but did not come to bat.

Rotation: Outstanding, with only Phil Hughes falling short of a quality start, doing so by being pulled with one out in the sixth in the opener. Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte combined to allow just one run in 14 2/3 innings.

Bullpen: The bullpen turned in something of a quality start of its own, compiling this line: 6 2/3 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 7 K. That’s a strong outing by a starter, but the pen needs to do better than a 4.04 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP against a team that’s laying down on the job, which is essentially what the the Orioles are doing.

The Good:

Luis Vizcaino struck out two in 1 1/3 scoreless innings in the opener, allowing only a single. One of those Ks came when he replaced Edwar Ramirez with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning of that game. Jose Veras struck out one in a perfect inning on Tuesday night. Ron Villone also pitched a perfect inning in that game. Joba Chamberlian struck out the only man he faced on four pitches in the finale.

The Bad:

I’m being hard on Mo, but despite his not allowing a run and getting the saves in the opener and the finale, he did allow an inherited runner to score in the opener, and allowed four men to reach base in his 1 1/3 innings in the series. That means half the men Mo faced reached base. Over his last three outings, all converted saves totaling just 2 1/3 innings, opposing batters have hit .300/.533/.600 against him with three doubles and four walks. Over his previous 65 innings this season, Rivera had allowed just six doubles and walked only eight men. Those three outings have all come since Mo was hit in the right pinky by an errant Eric Gagne toss in the Boston bullpen on Sunday night, so he has an excuse. Joe Torre may also want to use that excuse to give Rivera, who has worked four of the last six games, a few nights off this weekend. Of course, Mo could have had Monday off had Kyle Farnsworth not stunk up the joint in the ninth inning of the opener, walking the leadoff man with a five-run lead, then throwing a wild pitch and giving up a pair of singles to plate one run and force Torre’s hand with two outs in the inning. Earlier in that game, Edwar Ramirez got a huge strike out in relief of Hughes with two out and the bases loaded and the Yanks clinging to a three-run lead, but then passed the same situation on to Luis Vizcaino in the next inning (albeit with two more runs on the board for the Yanks).

Conclusion: The O’s have rolled over once again, and the Yanks swept them, as they should have.


Sign of the Times

I was at the Stadium last night and have to admit, I already feel a sense of melancholy being there, knowing we’ve only got one more season left in the House that Ruth Built. One of the most striking moments of the night came before the game when Jose Feliciano sung the National Anthem. That caught me completely by surprise.

Feliciano caused a considerable stir when he sung the Anthem before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series. His rendition was condemned as nothing short of unpatriotic (Mickey Lolich, the Tigers starter that day, who, like most pitchers is a creature of habit, blamed the length of Feliciano’s version for his shaky first inning). Last night, Feliciano sung the same version that was so controversial almost forty years ago, only this time there was no percieved outrage. In fact, as he came to the finish, the crowd began to roar–a heartfelt, patriotic ovation.

My how times have changed.

Knocking On The Door

Andy Pettitte came up big last night, holding the Orioles to one sixth-inning run in 7 2/3 innings on his way to his 200th career victory. It wasn’t easy, however, as Brian Burres was nearly as good, striking out seven in 7 1/3 innings while limiting the Yankees to two runs on five hits and three walks.

The first Yankee run scored in the third inning on a Hideki Matsui solo homer into the old Yankee bullpen, his second tater of the series. The second scored in the fifth when Doug Mientkiewicz led off with a single and came around on a Derek Jeter single, a Bobby Abreu groundout, and a wild pitch that Burres threw on a fly to the backstop with Alex Rodriguez at the plate. The O’s got their tally in the top of the sixth when Brian Roberts drew a one-out walk, stole second and third, and was plated by a Melvin Mora single.

In the eighth, Joba Chamberlain made his first mid-inning relief appearance, coming in with two out and none on to strike out Melvin Mora on four pitches, two of them nasty sliders. Mariano Rivera pushed things to the limit in the ninth. Nick Markakis doubled on a flare to no-man’s land down the line in right. Then, after Kevin Millar flied out, Mo pitched carefully to Aubrey Huff and Ramon Hernandez, walking both of them to load the bases before finally retiring rookie pinch hitter Scott Moore to deliver the 2-1 win.

While Mo was making things interesting in the ninth, the news came across the out-of-town scoreboard that the Blue Jays completed a sweep of the Red Sox with a 6-1 win, the big blow being a Russ Adams grand slam off Jon Papelbon in the eighth that padded their own 2-1 lead. As a result, the Yankees are now just 1.5 games behind in the East, and only one game back in the loss column, while the Red Sox have slipped a half game behind the Indians and Angels for the best record in the American League. The only bad news there is that the Yankees have to play the Blue Jays next.

In other news, Melky Cabrera went 1 for 3 with a single and a walk, making him 2 for 6 over the last two games. Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 with a pair of strikeouts, but did cream one ball to the wall in left, where Brandon Fahey (in for Jay Payton who got tossed after tossing his helmet after a third strike call) made a great running catch. Rodriguez also made a great play by charging and bare-handing an infield dink by Brian Roberts in the eighth to keep the tying run off base. That play was assisted by an impressive stretch by Doug Mientkiewicz, who made three such plays on the night in addition to scoring the winning run. The first of those plays came on a double play, the first of three the Yankees would turn behind Pettitte on the night. Shelley Duncan made his first start since September 5, drawing a walk and striking out in three trips as the DH while Johnny Damon got the night off. Finally, Jason Giambi had an MRI on his right foot, which was hit by a Daniel Cabrera slider in Monday’s game. The test came back negative and Giambi is expected to return to the lineup once the soreness from the bruise subsides.

Coming Into Focus

The Indians completed their sweep of the Tigers this afternoon, giving the Yankees a five game lead (six in the loss column) in the Wild Card race with eleven left to play. Meanwhile, the win gave the Indians a half-game lead on the Angels for the second seed in the American League.

As for the division, even if the Yankees go 8-3 over the rest of the season (which essentially means they have to take three of four from the Blue Jays best pitchers and sweep one other series, though a win tonight would count for that sweep), the Red Sox will have to go 5-5 for the Yankees to take the division via the tiebreaker of their head-to-head record. That’s not impossible, but it is unlikely.

Curiously, this is all beginning to feel like a replay of 2005 when the Yankees rallied from a poor start of the season behind an MVP season from Alex Rodriguez to take the division from the Red Sox via a tiebreak in the final two days of the season. That year, the Yanks, Sox, and Angels all finished with 95-67 records, while the Indians, who were ahead of both for the Wild Card with six games left, finished just out of it at 93-69. Of course, all of that late-season drama was for naught as both the Yanks and Sox got bounced in the ALDS and the White Sox went on to sweep their way to a World Championship.

Tonight Andy Pettitte looks to bounce back from his rough outing in the opener of the Boston series and hand the Yanks a sweep of the Orioles. As great as Andy has been in the second half, he has a 5.94 ERA over his last three starts and has allowed 27 hits in those 16 2/3 innings, nine of them going for extra bases. The Yankees need Pettitte to pitch the way he did in August (6-0, 2.36 ERA) in order to have a chance in the ALDS, no matter how the matchups shake out. Andy will make one more regular season start after tonight, after which he’ll be in line for Game One of the Division Series. He needs to use these starts to sort things out.

Opposing Pettitte is Brian Burres, who has split time between the rotation and bullpen for the Orioles this year. Burres has been far more effective as a starter, the role he filled in the minors each of the last two years. He’s also handled the Yankees well this year, limiting them to a run on four hits and three walks while striking out eight in 7 1/3 innings between one start (6 IP) and one relief appearance. In Burres’ last start, his first since August 4, he held the Blue Jays scoreless over seven frames.

Chew on This

Derek Jeter passed Bernie Williams on the all-time Yankee hit-list two nights ago. I’ve been thinking a lot about Bernie recently. What is he doing? (He’s actually playing at a benefit concert this Saturday night) Does he watch the games? That kind of thing. Some of my questions were answered in this piece by Wayne Coffey in last Sunday’s Daily News.

Alex Rodriguez was supposed to get a day off a month ago when the Yankees were in California. It’s understandable why he hasn’t, though it now seems time to give him a breather. He’s had bad at-bats for the past few games. Last night, in particular, looked ripped out of the 2005-06 playoff handbook–missing fat pitches, chasing poor ones. Let’s hope Torre rests him soon. Moreover, it’d be nice to see Posada get some time off as well.

Speaking of Jorge, I was e-mailing with Joe Sheehan last night and he posed the question: Has Posada ever had a great post-season? Not a fine isolated series–he was good last year against the Tigers–but a real strong couple of series?

Finally, here are a couple of things to check out: Joel Sherman’s post about filling-in for S. Waldman on the radio last week; Jonah Keri on 100 players you love to hate, and John Heylar on Dr. James Andrews.

Chocolate Moose

Mike Mussina didn’t just pitch well last night, he turned in his best start of the season, holding the Orioles scoreless over seven innings while striking out six. After walking Brian Roberts to start the game, Mussina allowed just three singles, one of which didn’t leave the infield, and didn’t allow a man to reach second base until there were two outs in the seventh. Along the way, Mussina got nine of his outs on the ground, two of them on a double play he turned himself. Indeed, in addition to his great pitching, Moose put on a clinic in the field, making three assists (one a screaming liner at his face that he knocked down for an easy 1-3 putout) and two putouts. The one infield single he allowed came when he ranged far off the third base side of the mound to glove a grounder by Tejada and attempted something of a Jeter jump throw while falling toward the foul line. That came in the seventh inning in which the two other batters grounded back to the mound and the fourth struck out. Put simply, it was an outstanding night for Mussina, who had great movement on his fastball, which dove back over the plate after coming in on the lefties, solid velocity around 90 miles per hour, and a sharp 70-mile-per-hour curve. Moose will make one more start this season in the finale of the Yankees’ series in Tampa Bay. It will likely take two great starts from Ian Kennedy and a complete collapse from Mussina his next time out for Moose’s performance last night not to have earned him a spot in the postseason rotation.

While Moose was cruising, the Yankees were moleicesting Jon Leicester, dropping a six-spot on the Baltimore starter in the fourth inning with Doug Mientkiewicz delivering the big blow in the form of a three-run homer to the upper deck in left. The Yanks plated a leadoff walk by Posada in the sixth, then lept all over Cleveland castoff Fernando Cabrera in the seventh, scoring five more times against him and Rob Bell to put the final score at 12-0. Jose Veras and Ron Villone swept up, with a Alberto Gonzalez error leading to the only base runner, one quickly erased by a double play.

The Orioles seem to heal all the Yankees’ wounds last night. Not only did Mussina have his best game of the year, but Hideki Matsui went 2 for 5 with a double and three RBIs, and even Melky Cabrera came up with a two-RBI single in the five-run seventh, which snapped his 0-for-16 skid. Melky also had a sac fly for three RBIs on the night. Elsewhere, Mientkiewicz drove in four, and both Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano went 3 for 4 with a double, while Shelley Duncan struck out in his first plate appearance since September 5 and Bronson Sardinha did the same in his second major league at-bat.

Oh, and the Red Sox and Tigers both lost, so the Yanks are 2.5 games back (two in the loss column) in the East (which is nice, but with just ten games left, likely meaningless), and have a 4.5-game lead (five in the loss column) in the Wild Card (which, with just ten games left, all but guarantees them a playoff spot), while the Indians will remain tied with the Angels for the second seed in the AL should the Angels hold on to their 2-0 lead against the Devil Rays.

Moosecapades II: The Revenge

The Yanks can get an easy series win tonight of Mike Mussina can pick up where he left off in Toronto. Moose returned to the rotation with 5 2/3 shutout innings last Wednesday. Of course he walked three, struck out only one, and got a great deal of help from his defense, but considering how quickly things went all kablooey on him and the resulting jolt to his confidence, it’s not impossible that a few innings of good fortune could turn things around just as quickly by confirming his belief that he does in fact still know how to pitch.

Opposing Moose will be Jon Leicester, a 28-year-old righty who had a solid rookie season in the Cubs bullpen in 2004, but pitched his way off the team the following April, struggled in the triple-A rotation, was flipped to the Rangers that winter, lost the 2006 season to a knee injury, joined the Orioles as a minor league free agent, suffered a shoulder injury in May, and has been fighting his way back through the Orioles’ minor league system since returning to action in July. Leicester, who posted a 2.29 ERA in 74 2/3 innings across three minor league levels this year (most of them coming in triple-A), will be making his third start for the O’s. He beat the Red Sox and Angels in his first two, but for vastly different reasons. Against the Sox he gave up four runs in five innings, but his offense scored eight off Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2 2/3 and went on to a 11-5 win. Against the Angels, however, he turned in an outing that was nearly identical to Mussina’s outing in Toronto.

Doug Mienkiewicz, who is 3 for 4 with a pair of walks over the last two games, gets his third straight start today, with Jason Giambi being the odd man out (Matsui plays left, Damon DH).

Yankee Panky # 24: Red Alert

Since the All-Star break, it was a given that for the Yankees to have any chance of making the playoffs, even as the Wild Card team, they would have to win 70 percent of their remaining games. Hopping into the Wayback Machine and pulling a 1978-caliber comeback to win the Division would entail sweeping the last two series with the Red Sox, or at the very least, taking five of six.

Mission accomplished on both fronts. The Yankees have put together five win streaks of at least five games to leapfrog seven teams and assume control of the Wild Card. A once-comfortable lead in that race dwindled to 2 ½ games over the weekend before the Cleveland Indians did the Yankees a favor Monday night. Thus, with 12 games left — all against division opponents with losing records — the odds of a 13th consecutive postseason appearance are in the Yankees’ favor. Remarkably, a 10th straight AL East title is not impossible, especially with the Red Sox facing the Blue Jays, Devil Rays, A’s and Twins, series where they could face Roy Halladay, Scott Kazmir, AL Cy Young candidate Dan Haren, and Johan Santana.

Following Monday’s one-game swing, the possibility of the Yankees overtaking the Red Sox was the headline. As a corollary to that, ESPN.com’s baseball page has an "If The Playoffs Started Today" table with the potential matchups. The Yankees would face the Indians. A division crown might mean a date with the Los Angeles Is Not in the O.C. Angels. As Yankee fans, if you had to flip a coin to pick the team’s playoff opponent — "heads" for the Indians and "tails" for the Angels — wouldn’t you snag a two-headed coin?

Regarding last weekend’s head-to-head matchup, there were plenty of media notes on a fourth ALCS rematch between the Yankees and Red Sox, amid the playoff atmosphere that pervaded Fenway Park. With the Yankees winning two of the three games in dramatic fashion, those notes were justified.

What struck me about the Fenway series wasn’t so much that the Yankees beat the Red Sox, but how they did it. Ace-level pitching has stifled the Yankees’ offense all season; Josh Beckett proved that Saturday afternoon. But the Yankees bested three of the Sox’ top arms, in Hideki Okajima, Jon Papelbon and Curt Schilling. Success against such elite pitchers bodes well for the postseason.


* * *

About six weeks back I commented on the lack of historical context in some beat writers’ postgame wraps, and some TV commentary. This weekend offered a 180-degree turnaround.

For example, in Monday’s NY Times, Tyler Kepner noted the similarity between Jeter’s game-ending catch Sunday night to the putout that capped Game 5 of the 2003 ALCS. None of the other beat guys had that particular nugget in their game pieces. (I should point out that the Times gives Kepner more room to add such information — between 700 and 1200 words, depending on the situation. Papers like the Post, Daily News and Newsday max out at 600-700 words, sometimes less.)

On TV, John Flaherty and Ken Singleton proved to be prophetic with the following comment during the Red Sox’ half of the seventh inning, roughly 15 minutes before the Yankees staged their 6-run rally:

FLAHERTY: "As poorly as the Yankees have played, they still have a chance here. This game is 7-2, but it could easily be 12-2. A five-run deficit in this ballpark is not that difficult to overcome."

SINGLETON: "No. Just get your swing going toward the wall, get a few guys on base and start the merry-go-round."

Considering the Red Sox rallied from a six-run deficit to blister the Devil Rays only two nights earlier — although they began their comeback in the middle innings did so against a bullpen whose ERA is approaching Tampa’s area code — that may not seem like poignant analysis. But it was poignant because it was proved correct, and the tone wasn’t meant to sound homerish. It was stated matter-of-factly from an ex-player’s point of view. Flaherty would probably have said the same thing if the Yankees had the 7-2 lead.

Other highlights to the weekend series on TV:
• Michael Kay blasting Terry Francona’s bullpen moves Friday night in the sixth and seventh innings, primarily the decision to remove the left-hander Felipe López in favor Okajima, another lefty. "You can tell how important Terry Francona feels this game is. He’s the one managing like he’s trailing the Division by 5 ½ games. He’s the one managing like this is a must-win. It’s a must-win for the Yankees."

• Historical context alert: Kay outlining Papelbon’s vulnerability by referencing A-Rod’s ninth-inning home run off the sophomore closer in April when Papelbon entered the game to protect what was a 7-4 Red Sox lead.

Things I would have liked to see during the weekend’s telecasts:
• The elimination of the phrase "all-important loss column."

• A random Tim McCarverism where he’s forced to say Bernie Williams’s name. Let’s all say it together: Bernie WEE-yums.

• Any of the Yankees announcers calling Bobby Abreu by his real first name: Bob (gets me every time).

(I did not see Sunday night’s game, so I missed the patented Miller/Morganisms that surely occurred. Like the combined age of the starting pitchers being one year less than the number of years between Red Sox championships. Please enter your favorites in the Comments section.)

Most interesting quote of the weekend, at least, to me:
"There’s no managing left. My job is to sit there and be a fan and be nervous like anyone else."
— Joe Torre on his mood following his mound visit with Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning Sunday night

From the ESPN’s Opinions Vary From Show to Show Files: 
• On SportsCenter Friday night, John Buccigross voiced over an AL Playoff Race graphic and effectively said the Sox, Yankees, Indians and Angels would be the four AL playoff teams. All that’s left to determine is the seeding. … Sunday morning on "The Sports Reporters", Howard Bryant — a former beat writer for both the Yankees and Red Sox in the past six years — stated that the Yankees’ postseason ticket isn’t guaranteed yet.

From the Stephen A. Smith Bluster!@#$! Files:
"I don’t care what A-Rod does in the regular season. I’m from New York. When you’re representing this city, if you don’t perform in the postseason, you don’t matter." Smith added that A-Rod has never carried a team to the World Series and that he’s not Derek Jeter. Truly revolutionary arguments.

I’d go on a Stephen A. rant, but despite his huffing and puffing, he’s right, although adding Jeter to the comparison was unnecessary and tired. For the most part, I’ve echoed Smith’s sentiments in this space throughout the season, albeit not as bluntly. Following Smith, Bryant coolly refuted him in a "yeah, but …" sort of tone, adding that the Yankees wouldn’t be in position to claim a playoff spot without A-Rod’s bat.

The merging of his regular season success and postseason disappearance over the last two years — lowlighted by three hits in the last nine postseason games and batting eighth in last year’s swan song — will likely be the biggest storyline as the pennant chase begins.


Until next week …

A Long and Winding Win

First, the good news. The Yankees beat the Orioles, 8-5 last night at The Stadium while the Tigers and Red Sox both lost. The Bombers are three-and-a-half games ahead of the Tigers in the wildcard standings (four in the loss column), and just three-and-a-half behind the Sox in the AL East. All the makings of a good night.

We shouldn’t complain. It’s just that sitting through another interminable Yankees-Orioles game almost takes the fun out of baseball. Last night’s game lasted 3 hours and 54 minutes. Oy and veh.


The Baltimore Orioles

The Yankees have gone 14-5 in their 19 series since the All-Star break. Of those five loses, one came in Anaheim, one came in Detroit, one came at home against the Devil Rays (something of a let-down series after the Yanks had swept the Red Sox), and two came against the Orioles. The first of those series came while the O’s were running off an 8-2 stretch to start Dave Trembley’s managerial career. The second came after the O’s had taken two of three from the Red Sox via a pair of walk-off wins. Since the last time these two teams met, however, the O’s have been a staggeringly awful 8-21 (.276). Curiously the slump began immediately after it was announced on August 21 that Trembley would return as the O’s manager next season, with the Birds promptly embarking on a nine-game losing streak after the announcement.

You can put your conspiracy theories away, however, as the O’s, despite their history of closing up shop early, have an excuse this time: injuries. Cy Young candidate Erik Bedard won the day day of Trembley’s extension, but tanked his next start after which he revealed he’d been pitching through an oblique strain, which has since shut him down for the season. Two weeks later, Jeremy Guthrie left a game with the same injury and hasn’t pitched since. A week after that Danys Baez tore something in his elbow which ended his season. In the meantime rookie Garrett Olson, who was attempting to replace Bedard, strained his forearm (he hasn’t even thrown on the side since then), and Radhames Liz, who was competing with Olson for a rotation spot, got roughed up so badly that he was banished to the bullpen despite the injuries to the others. On offense, center fielder Corey Patterson, who was hitting .313/.333/.458 in the second half, has been out since September 5 with a sprained ankle, and Melvin Mora was benched for four games with a tight back.

It’s no wonder the O’s have packed it up, shipping Steve Trachsel to the Cubs and taking flyers on repeated castoffs Victor Zambrano and Fernando Cabrera, who are trying to make good in the rotation and in the rotating closer spot respectively.

Still, the O’s seem to be figuring some things out, having won three of their last four by shutting out the Angels on Thursday and taking two of three from the Blue Jays over the weekend. Tonight the O’s send the erratic Daniel Cabrera to the mound in the Bronx. Cabrera’s coming off a stinker against the Angels (4 1/3 IP, 10 R). That was preceeded by an outing in which he was ejected after instigating a fight with the Red Sox after giving up three runs in 3 2/3 innings. Before that he turned in two nearly identical quality starts (6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 4 BB, 7 and 8 K) against the Sox and Rangers. Before that another stinker (5 IP, 6 R), and before that 6 2/3 shutout innings against . . . the Yankees (who walked six times but managed just two hits). Go figure this guy, anyway.

The Yanks counter with Phil Hughes, who’s had two good starts in a row, battling back from an ugly first two innings in his last outing in Toronto, and posting this combined line in those two starts: 12 IP, 8 H, 4 R (3 ER), 1 HR, 5 BB, 7 K. He’s still not the Phil Hughes who dominated the Indians and nearly no-hit the Rangers, but he seems to be figuring things out. Here’s hoping he continues that trend tonight.


Series Wrap: @ Boston

Offense: Much like the last series against Boston, the Yankees scored just 4.33 runs per game (it was 4.67 in the previous series), but the Sox only allow 4.04 runs per game, so that’s above average. The offense disappeared in the middle game against 19-game winner Josh Beckett, but came from behind to deliver wins in the other two games.


Derek Jeter 5 for 14, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R
Robinson Cano 3 for 12, 2 solo HR, 2 K
Jason Giambi 2 for 6, 2B, HR, RBI, R, 2 BB, HBP, 3 K
Doug Mientkiewicz 2 for 3, R


Melky Cabrera 0 for 10, 2 BB, R, GIDP, 3 K
Alex Rodriguez 1 for 11, RBI, BB, HBP, SB, 5 K
Hideki Matsui 1 for 7, 3B, RBI, 2 BB, 2 K

Jose Molina, Alberto Gonzalez, and Bronson Sardinha were each 0 for 1, though Molina executed a sac bunt, and Sardinha scored a run as a pinch runner but also hit into a double play in his only major league at-bat thus far. Wilson Betemit appeared as a defensive replacement, but did not come to the plate.

Rotation: Go figure baseball sometimes. Chein-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte, the two aces of the Yankee staff, posted this combined line in the first two games of this series:

9 2/3 IP, 18 H, 10 R (9 ER), 0 HR, 5 BB, 8 K, 2.38 WHIP, 8.38 ERA

Meanwhile the other four men starters combined to do this in their most recent turns:

24 2/3 IP, 11 H, 4 R (2 ER), 0 HR, 13 BB, 13 K, 0.97 WHIP, 0.72 ERA

In other words, Clemens good, Wang and Pettitte bad. That said, the good showings from the rest of the rotation are a very good sign. The big question is if Clemens and Mussina especially can do it again the next time around.

Bullpen: Awful. The pen allowed nine runs and 20 baserunners in 10 1/3 innings. Torre’s mismanagement of his enlarged relief corps in the middle game didn’t help, nor did the Joba rules, Luis Vizcaino’s sore elbow and back, or Kyle Farnsworth’s stiff neck. With the exception of Vizcaino, Villone and Henn, you can take my designations below with a grain of salt.

The Good:

Vizcaino pitched a perfect eighth, needing just ten pitches, seven strikes, to retire the side while striking out one in the opener. I have to lower my standards after that. Edwar Ramirez struck out two of the three men he faced in the middle game, but he walked the middle batter and was inexplicably pulled after sixteen pitches. Joba Chamberlian gave up a double and a solo homer, but no other base runners while striking out three in two innings and stranding that leadoff double by Hinske. Ross Ohlendorf came into a bases-loaded situation and walked in a run. He then gave up a solo home run in the next frame, but those were his only two base runners and he struck out the other four men he faced.

The Bad:

Mariano Rivera walked two, hit a third, and gave up an RBI double while protecting a two-run lead in the finale. On the series he allowed five baserunners in his two innings, though he did convert both saves and struck out two. Ron Villone walked the only man he faced. Sean Henn faced four batters and retired none of them, giving up a pair of singles and walking two while allowing three of his four inherited runners to score. Jose Veras was perfect in his first inning of relief, but gave up a pair of singles in his second frame, necessitating an intentional walk to Ortiz, plating a run, and prompting Torre to call on Henn in a vain attempt to get the third out. Brian Bruney struck out Bobby Kielty with the bases loaded to stop the bleeding after Henn and Veras on Friday night, then worked a perfect seventh, earning the line-up card from Torre after the game. He then gave it all back the next day by giving up an RBI double and a walk before picking up a strikeout and prompting Torre’s second call for Henn.

Farnsworth did not pitch, nor did Chris Britton.

Conclusion: Saturday’s game was a disaster on all fronts, while Friday’s game was a stirring comeback, but both were sloppy. Sunday’s game felt like a postseason win with plenty of gutty performances to go around and all of Torre’s decisions paying off. The only thing that was really consistent in this series, however, was the shakiness of the bullpen. Heck, even Joba gave up an earned run. Still, the Yanks have nothing but cupcakes left on the schedule, are no longer distracted by hopes of winning the division, and merely have to keep pace with the Tigers who are three games behind in the loss column. That should give Torre an opportunity to sort out the pen and rotation. Here’s hoping it also gives Melky and Matsui time to solve their problems at the plate. If not, I just might find myself in favor of starting Mientkiewicz at first in the postseason with one of those two taking a seat each day.

Instant Classic

It was a crisp, autumnal New England night in the major leagues’ oldest ballpark last night as two old warhorses, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, took the mound against one another for the first time since Game Seven of the 2001 World Series. Nearly six years have gone by since then, and both pitchers have lost nearly as many miles per hour off their famous fastballs, but they turned back the clock last night for a stirring pitchers’ duel that recalled not only that famous finale in Phoenix, but also, albeit to a lesser degree, Clemens’ legendary duel with Pedro Martinez on Sunday night baseball the year before.

Clemens, who hadn’t pitched in nearly two weeks and left his last start after struggling through four innings due to elbow pain, was a bit tentative in the first inning. Clemens started the game with three straight balls to rookie Jacoby Ellsbury. On 3-1, Ellsbury lifted a soft fly to left that Johnny Damon lost in the lights to put the Red Sox’s leadoff man on base. After Dustin Pedroia flew out to right, Ellsbury stole second on the first pitch to David Ortiz, setting up what might have been an intentional unintentional walk by Clemens. Mike Lowell then stroked a single to left to plate Ellsbury. Clemens retired the next two men on four pitches, but it took a spectacular play by Doug Mientkiewicz that saw him first dive toward the foul line to glove a hard hopper off the bat of Jason Varitek, then dive to beat Varitek to the bag to get Clemens out of the inning. The Rocket settled down from there. Hitting 93 on the ESPN gun and showing good movement on his slider, Clemens didn’t allow another hit until Lowell again followed a walk to Ortiz with a single in the sixth. Along the way Clemens struck out Ortiz, Lowell, J.D. Drew, and Varitek in order amid a streak of retiring eleven straight batters in a row.

Meanwhile, Schilling allowed just two singles through the first four innings before Robinson Cano led of the fifth by taking an 88-mile-per hour fastball up and away and depositing it in the Monster Seats in left for a game-tying homer (shades of Alfonso Soriano’s tie-breaking shot in 2001).

Clemens escaped his jam in the sixth when Johnny Damon made up for his first-inning error with a sliding catch on a sinking liner by Varitek to end the inning. Though Clemens had only allowed two hits and one unearned run to that point and thrown only 87 pitches through six, Joe Torre–who made all the right moves all night, including giving Mientkiewicz his first start since coming off the DL–decided to take no chances and go straight to Joba Chamberlain in the seventh. Chamberlain gave up a leadoff double to Eric Hinske, who was promptly bunted to third by Coco Crisp, but recovered to strike out Julio Lugo on four pitches and get Ellsbury to ground into another excellent play by Mientkiewicz to maintain the tie.

Schilling entered the eighth inning having allowed just one run on three hits and thrown just 69 pitches through the first seven. He then struck out Melky Cabrera to start the eighth (Melky, incidentally, is 1 for his last 27 with eight Ks and no RBIs). Doug Mientkiewicz followed with his second single of the night at which point Torre again went for the jugular. Despite the fact that Jorge Posada started at DH and the Yankees have inexplicably not called up a third catcher, Torre sent Jason Giambi to the plate to hit for Jose Molina. On a 2-2 pitch, Schilling sawed Giambi’s bat off at the handle with a 93-mile-per-hour cut fastball up and in, but the ball trickled foul. Giambi then cracked the next pitch, a breaking pitch on the outside corner, off the top of the Green Monster, missing a two-run homer by a couple of feet, for a double that pushed Mientkiewicz to third. With Bronson Sardinha running for Giambi, Schilling sawed off Damon as well, getting a weak ground ball that Dustin Pedroia fielded in on the grass for the second out. Mientkiewicz held on the play, likely due to the confusion of bat shards flying through the infield. That brought Derek Jeter to the plate with the go-ahead run on third and two outs.

Jeter missed badly on a breaking pitch low and away to start the at-bat, then took a pair of fastballs away, the first of them clocking in at 95-miles-per-hour, to get ahead 2-1. Jason Varitek then went to the mound to talk things over with his pitcher. As Jeter stood waiting at the plate with holding his bat on his shoulder with his right hand, he began to smirk. Schilling’s next pitch was a splitter low and away, which Jeter fouled off with a check swing. That brought Varitek back out to the mound. Schilling came back with another 95-mile-per-hour heater up in the zone which Jeter flared foul just two rows deep where the seats angle toward fair territory down the first-base line. As Varitek took a third trip to the mound, the smirk returned to Jeter’s face. Schilling’s next pitch was another fastball, but one that was ten miles per hour slower and belt-high on the inside corner. Jeter turned on it and creamed it to the last row of the Monster Seats for a game-breaking three-run home run that drove Schilling from the game.

With Posada catching, Chamberlain gave up his first major league earned run in the bottom of the eighth when Mike Lowell took a letter-high 98-mile-per-hour fastball over the Monster, but Joba struck out two of the other three batters he faced, both on his seldom used curve ball, and got David Ortiz to fly out to left. That gave Mariano Rivera a two-run lead to protect in the ninth.

Mo had an off night, however, and started the ninth by walking Varitek on seven pitches. A pair of ground balls moved Varitek to third, but also put the Yankees one out away from the win. Then Julio Lugo crushed a head-high heater into the gap in left for an RBI double. Mo’s next pitch hit Ellsbury in the left kneecap. Pedroia then battled back from an 0-2 hole to work a nine-pitch walk and bring David Ortiz to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth and a chance to win the game with a well-placed single, or tie it with a walk.

Joe Torre went to the mound to meet with Rivera and his infielders. Then Rivera went back to work. The best place to pitch Ortiz is in on his hands and that’s exactly where Posada set up for the first pitch. Rivera’s offering, however, drifted toward the outer part of the plate and Ortiz fouled the 95-mile-per-hour fastball back for strike one. Rivera then hit Posada’s target with another fastball low and away for ball one. Jorge Posada then set up under Ortiz’s hands again, but Rivera floated a letters-high fastball over the plate for ball two. As a smirk came across Joe Torre’s face in the dugout, Posada set up under Ortiz’s hands again and Rivera threw a fastball right on the inside corner that Ortiz grounded just foul outside of first base where it was gloved by Mientkiewicz, who was playing on the line. Finally, on the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Rivera hit Posada’s target with a cutter up and in on Ortiz’s hands that Papi muscled to shallow center. Derek Jeter, who was playing at normal depth, unlike the last time Rivera faced a bases loaded situation in the bottom of the ninth of a game started by Clemens and Schilling, hauled it in for the final out to seal the 4-3 win.

And so the Yankees take the series and five of six from the Red Sox over the last three weeks and maintain their 2.5-game lead (three in the loss column) over the Tigers, who swept the Twins over the weekend. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Jim Thome hit a walk-off tater to beat the Angels and join the 500-home run club, thus preserving the tie between the Indians and Halos for the second seed in the American League. Cleveland and Detroit now face of four three games at the Jake starting tonight. Yankee fans should be pulling hard for Cleveland to pull of an unlikely sweep in that series. As for the Yanks, only a bakers’ dozen against the cupcakes stands between them and a thirteenth-straight playoff berth.

A Positively Final Appearance

Roger Clemens bids farewell to Fenway, for realsies this time, doing so in style by taking on Curt Schilling in a rubber game on national TV. The Sox’s win yesterday might have iced the division for all intents and purposes, but the Yanks still have a series to win, and Clemens still has to prove that his elbow hasn’t finally gone kablooey on him.

Can’t Buy A Thrill

“It’s hard times befallen/The sole survivors”

Josh Beckett wears number 19 on his back and now he’s got a matching figure on his ledger as he dropped a gem on the Yankees to earn his major league-leading 19th win of the season. Beckett held the Yankees to three hits and just six base runners while striking out seven in seven innings, the one blemish on his line being a solo homer to dead center by Derek Jeter in the first inning. That would be the only run the Yanks would score all evening as Mike Timlin and Bryan Corey swept up the final two innings.

Chien-Ming Wang, meanwhile, was off his game. Wild up in the zone, Wang gave up singles to three of the first four batters he faced to allow the Red Sox to tie the game in the first. In the third he walked the bases loaded with two outs as David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, and J.D. Drew took 16 straight pitches (only four were strikes), but Jason Varitek swung at the first pitch and popped out to preserve the tie. Wang worked a 1-2-3 fifth, but all three outs came on fly balls to center (he’d have more fly ball outs than ground ball outs on the night). Wang got Dustin Pedroia to ground out to start the fifth, but after getting ahead 0-2 on Kevin Youkilis, he lost one up and in which caught Youkilis in the back wrist. The Jewish God of Squawks immediately flew in to his usual cursing and complaining routine and left the game with what was ultimately diagnosed as a bruise. Fleet-footed rookie Jacoby Ellsbury was put in to run and eventually came around to score on singles by Ortiz and Drew, giving the Sox a one-run lead after five.

Things got worse in the sixth. Erik Hinske, who had started in left and moved to first after Youkilis left the game, led off the sixth with a double. Coco Crisp followed with a single to center that pushed Hinske to third. After a Julio Lugo fly out, Crisp took second uncontested. Pedroia then grounded to Robinson Cano who was pulled in to try to cut off the run. He did just that. Despite Jorge Posada gesturing for him to go to first, Cano whipped a throw home which Posada caught as he fell to his knees and got positively flattened by Hinske. Hinske hit Posada high across the chest with a forearm, knocking Jorge’s mask and helmet clean off, but Posada held the ball for the second out of the inning. It was all for naught, however, as Crisp took third on the play, Pedroia stole second uncontested, and Ellsbury and Ortiz singled them both home, with Ellsbury scoring from first on Ortiz’s single as Jorge Posada, despite perfectly blocking the plate, forgot to actually make the tag. That made it 5-1 and drove Wang from the game.

In the seventh, Edwar Ramirez, who had struck out Mike Lowell to end the sixth, walked J.D. Drew, then struck out Jason Varitek, then was inexplicably pulled so that Ron Villone, who hadn’t faced a major league batter since August 21, could pitch to the lefty Hinske. Villone, of course, walked Hinske on five pitches. Torre then called in Brian Bruney, who earned the lineup card the night before with a crucial scoreless inning that set up the big comeback. On this night, however, he gave up a ground rule double down the right field line to Coco Crisp that scored Drew, and walked Lugo on four pitches before striking out Pedroia. Torre then tried another lefty matchup with Sean Henn, whose only major league appearance since being recalled saw him fail to get an out on Friday night, against Ellsbury and Ortiz. Henn gave up a two-RBI single to Ellsbury to officially put the game out of reach at 9-1, then walked Ortiz to load the bases for good measure. That allowed Torre to go to Ross Ohlendorf, who walked Mike Lowell to force in a run on four pitches, but then proceeded to strike out four of the next five batters he faced (though he did also allow a solo homer to Hinske in the eighth).

Somewhat fittingly, Bronson Sardinha made his major league debut as a defensive replacement in the eighth, then, in his first major league plate appearance, swung at the first pitch and ground into a game-ending double play in the ninth. Final score 10-1 Sox, who erased any lingering doubts about their winning the division with the victory.

Elsewhere in the Cy Young race, Johan Santana gave up four runs in the first inning to the Tigers, who currently hold a 4-2 lead in Minnesota in the bottom of the fifth.


Hey Nineteen

“No we got nothing in common/No we can’t talk at all”

The contrasting styles of the two American League wins leaders, groundballer Chien-Ming Wang and fireballer Josh Beckett, face off this afternoon in Fenway, with both pitchers looking for his nineteenth win, and the Yankees likely still flying high off their improbable win last night. That word improbable has been popping up a lot between these two teams recently, all in the Yankees favor. Things also went in the Yankees’ favor the last time each of these two pitchers took the mound against today’s oppenent. Beckett gave up a career-high 13 hits (including a solo homer by Alex Rodriguez) and allowed four runs in an otherwise solid outing, losing to tomorrow’s starter Roger Clemens. The next day, Wang no-hit the Sox for 6 1/3 innings, allowing just one hit (to Mike Lowell) over seven scoreless to pick up his sweet sixteenth. Wang is 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA over his last five starts.

Many have positioned this game as a battle for the American League Cy Young. C.C. Sabathia and even Johan Santana may have something to say about that, but considering the inappropriate emphasis the voters place on wins, this game could indeed be crucial to their decision making.

It’s been a rainy day in Boston thus far, but the late FOX start time should allow the weather to blow over, while the clouds could prevent the shadows from interfering as they often do in late afternoon contests. Here’s hoping the Yanks can make tonight a wonderful thing.

Friday Night Lights

Here’s more about last night: Edes, Cafardo, and Malloy in The Boston Globe; Bradford, Massarotti, and Buckley in The Boston Herald; Sherman and Vaccaro in The New York Post; Lupica and Harper in the News, and from the blogosphere, here’s Beth from Cursed to First, and the wrap-up from Yanksfan v Soxsfan.

Beckett and Wang later this afternoon…

Stink Pretty, Sleep Well

“We lucked out. That eighth inning was incredible,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “The only thing predictable in this ballpark is the unpredictable.”

…”It came apart in a hurry,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.

Turgid and tedious, that’s what it was, suddenly capped by a burst of joy, a shot of espresso. Hot dog. The Yankees played a sloppy game tonight but scored six runs in the eighth inning to beat the Red Sox in dramatic fashion, 8-7 at Fenway Park. The game lasted 4 hours and 43 minutes, just two minutes shy of the longest 9 inning game in history–a mark set last year by the Yanks and Sox. Andy Pettitte struggled, the offense left a ton of runners on base through the first six innings, Jason Giambi was a butcher at first base (botching three plays, the last one leading to two runs), and Melky Cabrera inexplicably slid into first base again, costing himself an infield hit in the process. And yet, down 7-2, the Bombers came back against Boston’s two best relievers, Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Paplebon. Jason Giambi started the comeback with a solo homer, Robinson Cano followed with one of his own, and Bobby Abreu delivered the key hit, a two-run double off the top of the center field wall. Alex Rodriguez drove in the game-winning run–a solid single to left against Paplebon–and Mariano Rivera earned the save in what has to qualify as one of the biggest wins of the season for the Yanks.

It wasn’t pretty–in fact, it was downright ugly–but it was sweet. Yanks will have to play a much cleaner game tomorrow against Josh Beckett, who is sure to be fired-up. The Sox have handled Chien-Ming Wang in the past, so the fielding must be sharp. My biggest concern this weekend was the Red Sox sweeping. It’d be great if the Yanks can win at least one of the next two. Here’s hoping the Twins offer some help against the Tigers.

But for the moment–stay in the moment, kid, stay in the moment–things feel pretty good.

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