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Monthly Archives: April 2008

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Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles

2007 Record: 69-93 (.426)
2007 Pythagorean Record: 70-92 (.431)

Manager: Dave Trembley
General Manager: Andy MacPhail

Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Oriole Park at Camden Yards (101/102)

Who’s Replacing Whom:

Luis Hernandez inherits Miguel Tejada’s playing time
Adam Jones replaces Corey Patterson
Luke Scott replaces Jay Gibbons and some of Jay Payton’s playing time
Brandon Fahey inherits Chris Gomez’s playing time
Guillermo Quiroz replaces Paul Bako
Adam Loewen returns from the DL to replace Erik Bedard
Brian Burres takes over the starts of Garrett Olson, Jon Leicester, and Radhames Liz
George Sherrill replaces Chris Ray (DL)
Dennis Sarfate replaces Danys Baez (DL)
Greg Aquino replaces John Parrish
Matt Albers replaces Rob Bell
Randor Bierd replaces Kurt Burkins
Jim Jones replaces Paul Shuey

25-man Roster:

1B – Kevin Millar (R)
2B – Brian Roberts (S)
SS – Luis Hernandez (S)
3B – Melvin Mora (R)
C – Ramon Hernandez (R)
RF – Nick Markakis (L)
CF – Adam Jones (R)
LF – Luke Scott (L)
DH – Aubrey Huff (L)


R – Jay Payton (OF)
L – Brandon Fahey (UT)
R – Guillermo Quiroz (C)


R – Jeremy Guthrie
R – Daniel Cabrera
L – Brian Burres
R – Steve Trachsel
L – Adam Loewen


L – George Sherrill
L – Jamie Walker
R – Chad Bradford
R – Greg Aquino
R – Dennis Sarfate
R – Randor Bierd
R – Matt Albers
R – Jim Johnson

15-day DL: R – Chris Ray, R- Danys Baez, R – Fernando Cabrera, L – Troy Patton, R – Jim Hoey, R – Rocky Cherry, L – Freddie Bynum (UT)

Typical Lineup:

S – Brian Roberts (2B)
R – Melvin Mora (3B)
L – Nick Markakis (RF)
R – Kevin Millar (1B)
L – Aubrey Huff (DH)
L – Luke Scott (LF)
R – Ramon Hernandez (C)
R – Adam Jones (CF)
S – Luis Hernandez (SS)


Observations From Cooperstown–The Birth of the DH

What do Don Baylor, Ron Blomberg, Jack Clark, Chili Davis, Jim Ray Hart, Glenallen Hill, Cliff Johnson, Kevin Maas, Ken Phelps, and Danny Tartabull have in common? Aside from being retired major league sluggers, they all spent significant parts of their tenures as Yankees playing the role of the DH. In many ways, it’s easy to forget about them, since some of them passed through the Bronx quickly and quietly, while others were well past their prime by the time they joined the Yankees. Besides, how many designated hitters become beloved figures? If you’re asked to name your favorite Yankee catcher of all time, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada are names that might come immediately to mind. But who’s your favorite Yankee DH? That one is a little tougher to answer.

It seems that with each year we hear more and more disdain for the DH. Some fans don’t like it, because it destroys the symmetry of a game where every player is supposed to bat and play the field. Purists hate it, since it runs contrary to the idea of "nine men on a side." And plenty of owners and general managers don’t like it, because the DH invariably ends up making one of the largest salaries on the team.

It’s now been 30 years since the designated hitter rule first came into play in the American League, but the idea for a DH has origins that date back nearly 80 years. In 1929, a man named John Heydler proposed that pitchers, who carried reputations as weaker hitters, should not be allowed to bat. Although he actually never used the term "designated hitter," Heydler suggested that a "10th man" be allowed to hit in place of the pitcher. Ironically, Heydler was the president of the National League, which historically has maintained staunch opposition to the DH, and remains the only professional league in North America not to employ the rule.

Heydler’s suggestion failed to gain acceptance during his lifetime, and the issue of the DH fell into the background. In the 1960s, at a time when pitchers were beginning to dominate the game, Kansas City A’s owner Charlie Finley pushed hard for the adoption of a designated hitter, a rule that he felt would increase the amount of "action" in the game by aiding each team’s offensive production.

At first, the other major league owners resisted Finley, whom they considered a brash and unsophisticated maverick. By January of 1973, a sufficient number of major league owners had come to see the potential benefits of the DH. The American League, which had seen its attendance decline in recent years, saw a particular need for the fan interest that the DH might spur. On January 11, the owners agreed to allow the American League to use the DH on an "experimental" three-year basis.


The Old Man…Is Down the Road

Before yesterday’s game, Pete Abe posted the following tidbit:

Manny Being Manny is an insane 52 of 110 (.473) against the Yankees since the start of the 2006 season with 12 homers and 35 RBI in 32 games. He has 53 homers and 153 RBI against the Yankees in his career.

I asked Mike Mussina last week what the Yankees have done to try and stop this. “Everything,” he said. “Nothing works.”

You don’t say. Last night, Mussina didn’t feel “right” from the get go. According to the Daily News:

“I didn’t feel very good in the pen,” Mussina said of his pregame warmups. “I didn’t warm up very well. I got to the mound and the first guy (Jacoby Ellsbury) I got him 1-and-2, I think, and then I hit him. I squared him up and it’s 1-2. I mean, at that point I was still trying to figure out what was going to happen but as soon I did that I immediately knew it was going to be a real hard effort.”

Manny Ramirez popped two dingers off Mussina and Josh Beckett pitched eight innings as the Sox beat the Yanks, 7-5. New York scored two runs in the ninth against Jonathan Paplebon but still came up well short. The biggest excitement of the evening came when Kyle Farnsworth threw a pitch behind Manny’s back. Both teams were immediately warned and nothing more came of it, at least for the time being.

This, from Anthony McCarron:

“Well, you know, we hit one of their best players (Wednesday) night and I guess they wanted to send a message,” Ramirez said, referring to Alex Rodriguez getting one in the back. “They need to back up their players and they did.”

Asked if he was upset, Ramirez said, “Not really. I like to compete. I like that challenge. It’s part of the competition.”

Right now, between Manny and the Yanks, there is no competition.


Today was the first great warm spring day of the year. It was downright hot in the sun. Dude, there was a lot of giggling out there if you know what I saying. It was just great. Beautiful night for baseball. Best of the season so far. Let’s hope we get good Moose and not stewed Moose. And hope that Beckett isn’t killin’ it like he’s wont ta do. Irregardless, as they say in the Bronx, let’s hope they can get this in at a running time something this side of Shoah.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

The Crowd Sounds Happy: Book Excerpt

From “The Crowd Sounds Happy” (due out May 6th)

By Nicholas Dawidoff

I acquired a clock radio of my own. It was a Realistic Chronomatic 9 model, low-built and squared-off at the corners like a shoe box, with a faux-oak plastic cabinet, chrome and clear-plastic control dials, and rounded hour and minute hands that in the dark were backlit a dim lunar orange. These features had aspirations toward sleekness, but only a few months of ownership made clear that my radio was drab in the way the design ideas dominating mainstream consumer electronics in the mid-1970s were all drab. It was a look that was somehow between looks, one in which everything resembled everything else and nothing so much as the dashboard on the clumsy, rowboat-like LTD station wagons Ford was then producing. But if I stared at my Chronomatic 9 long enough, in the right mood it could seem, if not beautiful, almost handsome. My attachment to what came out of the clock radio quickly grew so intense I wanted an appearance to match.

What I was listening to in my room were Boston Red Sox baseball games. I hadn’t been able to get the Boston games on my old transistor, and to discover now that reception was possible on the Chronomatic 9 was joy. By game time I would have spread my homework along my bed, distributing the books and papers lengthwise, so that when I positioned myself on the floor, knees to the rug, chest pressed against the edge of the mattress, head bent over my books, to Sally and my mother passing behind me, it must have looked as though I was supplicating myself to physics and Lord Jim. The radio was to my left, on the night table, and, as I worked, the team broadcaster, Ned Martin, said, “Welcome to Fenway Park in Boston,” and right then a part of me zoomed down the I-91 highway entrance ramp and lifted out of New Haven. Martin and his commentating partner would discuss the game to come, building the anticipation until Martin cried, “Here come the Red Sox!” As he introduced the players position by position—”Jim Rice left field, Fred Lynn center field”—it was like having the cast of characters read aloud to you from the beginning of a Russian novel. All quieted as the crowd rose to listen while an organist played the National Anthem, and I stood too, put my hand to my heart, and with no flag in the room to gaze upon, instead stared fixedly at a red, white, and blue book spine on my shelf for the duration of the song. My mother began to come in and watch me standing there in still, patriotic tribute. At first I wished she would just leave me alone, but over time I began to like her observance of my observance, and when the door didn’t open, I’d reach toward the radio and raise the volume to let her know she was missing the Anthem.

Early in the game, sometimes the reception would be erratic, clogged with static, and I’d have to jiggle the tuning knob, making such minute adjustments my hand trembled. It often helped if I stood near the radio in a certain position, invariably contorted, with one arm akimbo, another limb up in the air, a palm hovering inches over the speaker, trying to maintain position, barely breathing, as the sputtering details came out of the Chronomatic 9. Then the evening progressed, and the connection grew pure. Some nights when the Red Sox weren’t playing, around the fifth inning, I could even begin to pick up broadcasts from Philadelphia or Baltimore or Pittsburgh. That had the appeal of combining the pleasures of baseball with the exploring of distant, unknown places. Between the Red Sox and me it was about something more.


The Sun Rises in the East

Albert Chen visited Taiwan in the off-season and now presents this interesting profile of Chien-Ming Wang in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated:

Other than for the rare public appearance, trips to the gym are pretty much the only times that he leaves his apartment in Tainan, his off-season home. Some 7,800 miles from New York City, in his native country — where his famously stoic face gazes from billboards, ATMs, credit cards, cellphones, bags of potato chips, milk cartons; where the people call him, simply, Taiwan zhiguang (the pride and glory of Taiwan) — Chien-Ming Wang is everywhere and nowhere, a hero and a prisoner. For an intensely private, excruciatingly shy 28-year-old, being a national icon is a heavy burden. “It’s crazy,” he says in his slow and soft voice. “I think, This is strange. I’m just one man.”

Wang had little control last night in his worst outing of the young season. Still, don’t play yourself, Chen’s piece is worth checking out.

Is It Over Yet?

Chien-Ming Wang had his first bad start of the year last night, and Clay Buchholz had the first bad start of his major league career. Ross Ohlendorf and Julian Tavarez didn’t help out much in relief. LaTroy Hawkins (wearing number 22), Billy Traber (who got David Ortiz to pop up on one pitch), and Brian Bruney managed to lock things down for the home team starting in the sixth. As for the visitors, after a couple of decent innings from David Aardsma, Mike Timlin opened the spigot again in the eighth. The result was a nine-inning game that lasted four hours and eight minutes and saw 42 men reach base and 341 pitches thrown. After all of that, the Yankees emerged with a 15-9 win that put them two games over .500 for the first time on the season and evened their season series with the Sox.

As Kevin Youkilis popped out to shallow left to end the top of the eighth, I rolled over on my remote, accidentally hitting the pause button on my DVR and freezing a long shot of Hideki Matsui in the large, empty pasture staring up at the darkness, waiting for a ball that wouldn’t come down. That pretty much sums up my feelings on last night’s game. I’ll take the win. I just wish I didn’t have to watch it.

Red Sox Redux: Redux Edition

Unlike the Rays, the Red Sox haven’t changed a lick since the Yanks last saw them. Of course that was just two days ago in Boston. Both the Yanks and Sox swept two-game series on the road to start the week (the Sox doing so in Cleveland while the Yanks were in Tampa). The two rivals reconvene in the Bronx tonight with a rematch of the last series opener that saw Chien-Ming Wang outpitch and outlast Clay Buchholz as the Yanks won 4-1 behind Wang’s two-hitter.

The Yankee offense has averaged 5.17 runs over it’s last six games, but averaged just four per game in Boston. The last time through the rotation they allowed 4.6 runs per game. The Red Sox averaged 4.3 runs per game against the Yanks over the weekend and allowed 3.8 runs per game the last time through their rotation.

Joe Girardi posts his 16th unique lineup in 16 games tonight with Chad Moeller still catching and Jorge Posada back at DH at the expense of Johnny Damon, who yields left field to Hideki Matsui. Melky Cabrera leads off. Posada hits sixth between lefties Matsui and Jason Giambi.


Sheets of Sound

I am reading and thoroughly enjoying Nicholas Dawidoff’s new memoir “The Crowd Sounds Happy: A Story of Love, Madness and Baseball” (due out on May 6th). It is the first thing I’ve ever read by Dawidoff though I’m well familiar with his name. One of the first gifts my wife ever gave me was a book that Dawidoff edited–Baseball: A Literary Anthology, a fine collection. I’ve also long heard good things about his celebrated Moe Berg biography. Dawidoff, who began his career writing for Sports Illustrated (here is a brief sampler–pieces on Andy MacPhail, Sandy Amoros and Berg), has written several other books, including a memoir about his grandfather, a Harvard professor.

His new book is ostensibly about growing up as a Red Sox fan, but it’s not really a baseball book at all. It is about Dawidoff’s childhood, growing up in New Haven with his mother, a school teacher, and his sister. And it is about his father, who was mentally ill. There is so much in the book that resonates with me. Dawidoff, who is about eight years older than me, had a beloved aunt who lived in Croton, a New York suburb, the town my mother moved to when she and my father split up. I went to junior high and high school in Croton and my brother, sister and I would visit our father in Manhattan on the weekends. Pop lived on the Upper West Side. My grandparents’ apartment was on 81st street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, not far from where Dawidoff’s father lived (I actually took a handful of guitar lessons when I was in high school from Peter Tork who lived on the same block as Dawidoff’s pop). While my old man was not mentally ill, his alcoholism made him unpredictable, and at times, terrifying.

I can see myself in Dawidoff, a bright, careful, somewhat effete kid who constantly played sports, who was devoted to his team and who worked very hard at fitting in. His was a house without a TV, so Dawidoff was raised on Ned Martin and Red Sox radio. The descriptions of what the team and players meant to him, the order and companionship they gave him in a fatherless upbringing are wonderful. The book is permeated by sadness and yet it is hopeful too.

Dawidoff writes honestly and with empathy and is a true craftsman. For instance, check out this description of going to visit his father’s office in midtown:

If we were in New York on weekdays, my father might take us to the office. How transporting it was to be in the middle of everything in the center of Manhattan, moving alongside the early crowds going to work with my father. From the sidewalk outside my father’s building I saw the men in business suits surging uphill from Forty second Street, many of them carrying a folded-over newspaper and a briefcase as they went ducking into Chock full o’Nuts, emerging a minute or two later with a steaming paper cut in hand. They were all in a hurry. There was a delicatessen across the street, and at lunchtime through the window I could see them rushing in, yelling out their sandwich orders, and rushing out. It seemed to me that in these rhythms of the masculine professional day, I was watching how my father lived without me around.

My father worked on the eighth floor. Bolted to the wall in the corridor beside the entrance door to the suite were engraved and burnished nameplates for each of the lawyers in the firm. There was not a nameplate for my father. Inside were the firm’s lawyers with their suit jackets off and ties loosened, clients waiting to see the lawyers, a secretary, and the braying visitors paying calls to the other room that the firm rented out in the suite—a succession of enormously obese men rushing in and out from consultations with the tenant who turned out to be the parking garage tycoon Abe Hirshfield, a man so wealthy he could have bought an entire office building for himself.

My father was tucked in the back of the suite, near the emergency exit and across from a wall lined with shelves holding leather bound legal casebooks. He had a heavy desk, an extra chair, and one window with no screen that in summer was kept open a crack so that you could hear the M-1 Madison Avenue bus exhaling into second as it rumbled slowly uptown, could smell the city, which in those months had a pleasantly rank bouquet like the one that enveloped a kitchen when someone ran hot sink water into a pot after overcooking a meaty stew. Once the M-1 had crossed Forty-second Street, aside from the soft toots of horns and the anguish of a distant siren, it was quiet in my father’s office. The olive green rotary dial telephone seldom rang unless it was my grandmother checking in on us, and nobody came inside, though once in a while, if we’d closed the door, I’d open it to encounter a lawyer consulting a casebook. Those lawyers would seem startled to see me, and it would take a second before they said, “Well hi there, young feller.”

I love the clear and exacting image of the “rank bouquet” smell of New York in the summer, how he goes back-and-forth between long sentences and shorter ones. Dig this, from an on-line interview with Dawidoff:

I think the thing is, that part of the fun of writing books is experimenting with language. Although I don’t think anyone would call me a pyrotechnic writer. I try and put a lot in each sentence and spend a lot of time with each sentence. I want each sentence to sound like me. My grandfather’s hatred of cliches is definitely my hatred of cliches. I really like to play with language. I really like to see what language can do, and I like to be precise. I really want words to be active and be somehow the spirit of language to represent the spirit of the subject. That’s not in any way unique to me, but it’s something I think a lot about and I sweat a lot over. Each sentence I write, it seems to me I write more slowly. This is not because I am trying to be more complex. I see more and more potential for language. Maybe as you husband and compress all the potential into whatever you are going to make it just takes longer.

Any fan of good writing will appreciate this book. You don’t have to love baseball or even the Red Sox to admire it. But for Sox fans of a certain age it will be especially poignant.

Catchers? We Don’t Need No Stinking Catchers!

So remember when, last week, I wondered about Jorge Posada and the importance of game calling? “Kyle Farnsworth is probably going to do some Farnsworthing no matter how meticulously you’ve planned your pitch sequence,” I wrote, “and Mariano Rivera could probably strike batters out if he threw to a lump of clay.”

Well, apparently the Yankees took that as a challenge.

In all fairness, sudden catcher Chad Moeller has done a good job so far under difficult circumstances, with a higher-than-expected VOLC (Value Over Lump of Clay). The Yankees scraped some runs together, Andy Pettitte didn’t let the Rays scrape together quite as many, and in the end it was a 5-3 Yanks win.

“Pettitte did a solid job despite not having great stuff”: I feel like I’ve written variations on that sentence about 30 times over the last year or so. Which means it’s probably time for me to adjust my idea of what Andy Pettitte’s stuff actually IS these days, huh? Clearly he can still be plenty effective, but it’s not 1997 anymore (thank god), or even 2005. Anyway, Pettitte had a rough few innings to start the game – allowing seven hits in the first three frames, some blooped and some smashed – but he got through it with only two runs scored, then settled in for the long haul, eventually giving up three runs in seven innings on exactly 100 pitches.

As for the Yankee offense, it wasn’t exactly a banner night – they left the bases loaded three times – but it was enough. Hideki Matsui started the scoring with a solo shot in the second, and in the fourth Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez scored on a groundout and a wild pitch, respectively. (Rays pitcher Edwin Jackson, in his general demeanor on the mound, struck me as a bit of a Nuke LaLoosh “I want to announce my presence with authority!” type, but maybe I’m being unfair). The Yanks tacked on two more the next inning, when Jeter singled Damon home – one of his three hits on the night – and was then driven in by Abreu.

Mariano Rivera got the save with his usual panache, but with Joba Chamberlain still home with his father, Kyle Farnsworth pitched the 8th inning. And you might want to sit down for this: he set the Rays down 1-2-3. In a two-run game. Frankly, I’m paralyzed. Do I make a joke about the apocalypse and Revelations? Quote the old Ghostbusters “cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria!” line? Or should I reveal my suspicion that Farns has been replaced by a remarkably lifelike android/mutant/alien pod creature, which – even if it helps the team – probably ought to be stopped? I don’t know. I was not prepared for this contingency!

Finally, in other news, LaTroy Hawkins – on the advice of Jeter and Rivera – has apparently decided to give up #21. I think most Banter readers will agree that Hawkins did nothing wrong in trying to honor Roberto Clemente, and that booing him for his choice of uniform number was definitely uncalled for… but I have to admit that part of me is a little happy he’s switching. Not the smart, logical part, mind you*. But I do find it oddly touching that fans are still so devoted to O’Neill, even if they choose to express it a dumb, counterproductive sort of way.


*All together now: "What smart, logical part?"

Hit List

I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I can’t let the seventh anniversary of Jay Jaffe’s seminal baseball blog Futility Infielder pass without comment. Jay was the first person connected with the blog world that I ever met in person. It was right around this time, the spring of 2003. We had lunch at Christine’s, a polish diner on Second avenue just south of 14th street that I frequented often as teenager with my friend Mary Lou, who lived right around the block.

Jay and I have remained friends ever since. We generally go to a couple of games at the Stadium every year, and we watch a handful more together at our respective cribs (Brooklyn, Bronx). Jay is one of the all-time baseball conversationalists. I always come away from our conversations knowing more, curiosities satisfied, others stimulated. And we never fail to have laughs. A spontaneous schtick that we did watching Paul LoDuca late last season has forever altered my ability to take LoDuca seriously ever again. I can’t not laugh at Paulie when I see him, read about him or hear his name.

And more than just that, respect due, cause Jay is strictly OB: Original Blogga. He’s one of a small group of guys, which include Geoff Young, whose Ducksnorts started in 1997, that is still around. And even if he doesn’t blog as frequently as he has in the past, Jay’s writing–particularly the work he does at Baseball Prospectus–is better and more prolific than ever. He’s polished when talking in front of audiences at bookstores, he knows his s*** when talking on the radio. He’s a pro.

Anyhow, I’m happy to call him a pal, and I’m really impressed with how he’s developed and honed his work over the years. And I wanted to say as much.

Now, come on you guys, let’s git ’em!

Yankee Panky #48: Mellow Drama

DISCLAIMER: Yankee Panky will be on vacation for the next two weeks, as the author will be sightseeing in Italy. Maybe a comparison to how the Italian media cover soccer to how our fine professionals cover baseball would be a good column. You can provide your thoughts below.

* * * * *

Nothing injects excitement, drama and absurdity into the New York media like a Yankees-Red Sox series in April. Last weekend’s series in Boston seemed to have snuck up on people — except we ever-observant schedule-hawking fans — whereas in years past the buildup was suffocating.

To me, the tipoff for this was the "Curse" story at the construction site of the New Yankee Stadium, where a worker who happened to be a Red Sox fan buried a David Ortiz jersey in the cement. It’s light-hearted and it’s funny. Yankees COO has said they’ll investigate the worker and potentially prosecute. On what charge? Vandalism? Does that apply?

With all the opportunities to go "Daily Show" or "The Soup" on this particular topic, I was surprised and disappointed that no Jimmy Hoffa jokes were printed anywhere, not even on Deadspin. Maybe it’s me, but I thought that was an easy one. Everyone swung and missed.

To the series coverage … There were the obvious angles of Joe Girardi’s first Yanks-Sox series as a manager, and the comparisons of the rivalry now to when he was embroiled in it as a player. Thankfully, the papers sounded the "Dead Horse Alert" on those stories early. The most striking articles were the commentaries on Girardi’s decision-making and overall demeanor with the media. It was presented as his first major test: How would he react to the intense scrutiny and second-guessing from the Fourth Estate? Newsday’s Ken Davidoff had an innovative take, intertwining Girardi’s Sunday pre-game powwow, in which he chronicled his media colleague’s interrogation of the Yankee manager, with a pining for the past. Davidoff opined that this arena was where Torre shined. Davidoff noted that Torre would have deflected the questions with humor, whereas Girardi visibly became agitated answering the same questions. An interesting read, to be sure. No Maas took a more pointed approach, superimposing a puffy white cloud in Torre’s likeness over Girardi’s right shoulder.

More than any series in recent memory, I noticed a heavy amount of overlap in the coverage. Mainstreamers on the print and TV side, and the non card-carrying observers in cyberspace peppered us with different takes on the same stories. It demonstrates how difficult it is to provide information that you can’t get anywhere else. The key is presentation.

• Is Joel Sherman angry? Are his comparisons correct in that Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy are the second coming of Matt DeSalvo and Tyler Clippard? Or Sam Militello? I disagree with his opinion, but his statistical analysis of pitches-to-outs is eye-opening.

• Kim Jones’ quick-burst postgame interviews rarely unearth any information, but in the event they do, it restores faith that the right questions can elicit genuine answers. Following a 4-for-5 effort which included his 521st career home run, Kim Jones asked Alex Rodriguez about any specific adjustments he made during a pre-game batting session with hitting coach Kevin Long. A-Rod openly mentioned shortening his stroke and swinging with less effort; that he was getting ahead of himself and swinging too hard in Boston. It was refreshing to hear something other than "stay back," "stay inside the ball," or "let the pitch dictate the swing."

• I wonder if the Yankees-Red Sox game was earlier and had a more exciting finish — the Yankees coming back to win, perhaps — if that story would have trumped Tiger Woods’ second-place finish at The Masters.

Eight Is Enough

Three of the first six Yankees to come to the plate against Andy Sonnanstine last night hit solo home runs, including one on the second pitch of the game by Johnny Damon (Alex Rodriguez and Morgan Ensberg, who got his second start of the year at first base, hit the other two). When the Yankees bounced Sonnanstine (“Sonny” per the inscription on his glove) in the midst of a four-run fourth inning, it seemed the Bombers would cruise to an easy victory.

Making just his second actual start of the season, Ian Kennedy held the Rays to two runs over six innings (7 H, 2 BB, 4 K) and came back out to start the seventh, but the first batter he faced in that frame, Jason Bartlett, lined a comebacker off Kennedy’s right hip. Kennedy emerged with just a bruise, but was in obvious pain, so with Bartlett on first and the three lefties at the top of the Rays’ order due up, Girardi called on Billy Traber. Traber got Akinori Iwamura to fly out for the first out of the inning, but gave up a two-run homer to Carl Crawford on a 0-1 pitch to make it 7-4 Yankees. Traber then hit Carlos Peña on the hand and was pulled in favor of Brian Bruney, who promptly gave up another two-run homer, this one to B.J. Upton, to make it 7-6, and then Even Longoria’s first major league tater to tie the score.

Facing Al Reyes in the top of the eighth, Girardi pinch-hit for Alberto Gonzalez, who had started at second base in place of the struggling Robinson Cano, with Robinson Cano and was rewarded when Cano hit a taser . . . er, laser out to right field to give the Yankees an 8-7 lead.

Brian Bruney, who had gotten the final two outs of the seventh after giving up the two homers that tied the game, got the first two outs of the eight, but the second was a long fly ball to left and, with those lefties at the top of the order coming back up, Girardi brought in Mariano Rivera for a four-out save, which is exactly what Mo delivered, along with an 8-7 Yankee win.

A few game notes: Derek Jeter went 2 for 5 and, though he didn’t run all-out, didn’t appear limited by his quadraceps. Gonzalez and Hideki Matsui were the only Yankees without hits, though Gonzalez drew a walk. Alex Rodriguez went 4 for 5 with his 521st career homer. Morgan Ensberg went 2 for 5 in his spot start and is hitting .385 as a Yankee despite his infrequent use thus far. The Yankees’ eight runs and 15 hits were both season highs.

Finally, while Cano’s homer was obviously the key hit in the game, my favorite might have been Chad Moeller’s first Yankee hit. With one out and Melky Cabrera on first base in the fourth, Girardi put on the hit-and-run. The Rays guessed correctly and pitched out, but Moeller reached out and slapped the pitch past Iwamura (who was heading over to cover the bag for the expected throw) picking up a single and moving Cabrera to third base. Both men ultimately scored on a double by Johnny Damon amid the Yankees four-run rally in that inning.

Rays Redux: Woe Is We Edition

The Yankees wrapped up four-game split with the Rays just a week ago, but the Rays have undergone a lot of changes since then, most of them injury-related. Matt Garza didn’t pitch in the Bronx and wasn’t scheduled to pitch in the brief two-game set against the Yankees that opens at the Trop tonight, but it’s still worth noting that the team’s big off-season addition hit the DL with a nerve issue in his pitching elbow and is expected to miss at least four weeks (home-grown pitching prospect Jeff Niemann pitched well in his place last night as the Rays beat the O’s 6-2). In addition to Garza and catcher Dioner Navarro, who hit the DL in the Bronx after slipping and cutting his hand in visitor’s dugout, the Rays have also had to place DH Cliff Floyd and third-baseman Willy Aybar on the DL. Floyd, who is one of the most fragile players in the game, has a tear of the medial meniscus in his right knee. Aybar strained his left hamstring.

There’s irony in the latter injury as losing Aybar to the DL has forced the Rays to promote top prospect Evan Longoria and install him at third-base, where he’s likely to remain well into the next decade. Longoria should have opened the season in the majors, but, best I can tell, the Rays were hoping to delay the start of his arbitration clock. The Rays could have continued with that plan by installing Eric Hinske at third–Hinske did start two games at third in place of Aybar before the latter was officially placed on the DL–but it seems the Rays are quickly tiring of seeing Hinske in the field. Hinske started in right field in three of the Rays first six games, including two at Yankee Stadium, but hasn’t played the outfield in any of the team’s six games since. Instead, with Floyd on the DL and Longoria at third, it appears the Rays have adopted platoons in right and at DH with lefty Nathan Haynes and righty Justin Ruggiano splitting right field and the lefty Hinske taking Floyd’s place in the DH platoon with righty Jonny Gomes.

The end result is improved team defense, but a decrease in offense. There’s no comparison between Longoria and Aybar long-term, but Aybar was swinging the bat well in the early going, hitting .292/.370/.500 before hitting the DL. Longoria, who is 2 for 6 with a pair of walks after two major league games, could match those numbers, but as a 22-year-old rookie, he’d be hard pressed to surpass them. Hinske and Gomes are also swinging well, but squeezing them into one spot to make room for the punchless Haynes is sure to have a negative effect on the offense. What’s more, after a hot start, catcher Shawn Riggans isn’t hitting a lick. Still, the Rays have played .500 ball since leaving the Bronx and have scored 5.17 runs per game against the Mariners and Orioles while allowing just 3.83 runs per game.


Country Club

Shortly after Shaq Fu was traded to Phoenix a few months ago, the Suns were playing a nationally televised game against the Spurs. At one point, Shaq was lying on the ground and Tim Duncan offered him a hand. Shaq ignored him. Hey, just like the olden days, I thought. Which brought to mind a story that Jeff Pearlman wrote for SI on the changing nature of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry back in 2002:

Like many notable encounters, this one was accidental—a simple, unexpected meeting of…well, rear ends. Really, it was perfect. How many times over the years had they crossed paths and thought of growling, Kiss my ass? And here they were, Dwight Evans and Willie Randolph, posterior to posterior on one of their old battlegrounds, Yankee Stadium.

This took place last Friday, roughly two hours before the first-place Boston Red Sox and the second-place New York Yankees, baseball’s greatest rivals, were to meet for the ninth of the 19 games that their fans are being blessed with this season. Randolph, the Yankees’ third base coach and their former six-time All-Star second baseman, was standing on the pitcher’s mound, gathering the balls left scattered from his team’s batting practice session. Evans, the Red Sox hitting coach and their former three-time All-Star rightfielder, was strolling toward the hill to begin tossing BP to his club. As he was chatting with Red Sox infielder Carlos Baerga, Evans accidentally backed into Randolph, who was bent over at the waist. The two men turned around, and for an instant their eyes met. Then they spoke.

Evans: “Hey, Willie, how’s it going?”

Randolph: “Pretty good…pretty good.”

And that was that. As Randolph jogged toward the home clubhouse, he was stopped by a reporter who had witnessed the scene. Randolph shook his head and sighed. “Man,” he said, embarrassed that there’d been a witness to the friendly exchange. “You saw that?”

From 1976 through ’88, when Evans and Randolph were principals in the great rivalry at the same time, the two teams detested each other. It wasn’t just that the clubs were routinely clawing for American League East supremacy. (Over those 13 seasons, the two combined for six division titles and five World Series appearances.) No, members of each team had a genuine dislike for the other. “It was hatred, no question,” says Randolph. “I’m sure they thought we all had attitudes, and we felt the same way about them. There was no talking before games, no hanging out by the batting cage. Just snarling.”

As Randolph was speaking, a familiar scene unfolded nearby that curdled his old-school blood. Two Yankees jogged alongside a couple of Red Sox, chatting like long-lost brothers. And in the outfield a gaggle of Boston pitchers exchanged pleasantries with their New York counterparts. There was laughter with backslaps and—egads!—handshakes, the byproducts of free agency run amok. “I guess it’s O.K. for me to say ‘Hi’ to Dwight because he’s a coach now,” says Randolph. “But as a player I wouldn’t even look at him. Nowadays you see Red Sox and Yankees running in the outfield, hugging each other. That bothers me, but what can I do? Nothing’s the same anymore. Everything’s changed.”


Thinking of You

It goes without saying that everyone here in the Bronx Banter community is sending best wishes to Harlan Chamberlain today.

What A Drag

The Yankees dropped their second straight series last night, losing the rubber game in Boston by a score of 8-5. The game took a ridiculous three hours and 55 minutes to play and saw 336 pitches thrown. The majority of those pitches, 193 to be exact, came out of the hands of Red Sox hurlers, including 116 in five innings from Daisuke Matsuzaka, who walked six and allowed four runs in his five frames. Unfortunately, the Yankees were only able to scratch out one more run against the underside of the Boston bullpen (on Jason Giambi’s second solo homer off Mike Timlin of the series). That wasn’t enough to overcome the hole dug by Phil Hughes and Ross Ohlendorf.

Hughes, who had looked so sharp in his first start of the year, was even less effective, and less efficient, than he had been in Kansas City. It took Hughes 39 pitches to get out of the first inning. He started things off with a seven-pitch walk to Jacoby Ellsbury. On the 0-1 pitch to Dustin Pedroia, the Yankees pitched out. For the third time on the road trip, the Yankees correctly identified when an opposing baserunner was stealing, but for the third time they failed to get the runner as Jose Molina’s throw sailed into center field and Ellsbury went to third. Hughes rallied to strike out Pedroia, who was completely bewildered by a wicked curve up and in (Pedroia flinched twice as the pitch dropped into the strike zone), but that K took another seven pitches. Hughes then walked J.D. Drew on an ironically efficient four tosses before Manny Ramirez ended another seven-pitch at-bat with an RBI single that sent Drew to third. In that at-bat, Hughes got ahead 0-1 and 1-2 with his fastball, then threw a pair of heaters up and in, had yet another low and inside fouled off, then finally came with a curve, which Ramirez served to center. Kevin Youkilis was disposed of with just two pitches, but his sac fly placed Drew. Hughes then got ahead of Sean Casey 0-2 only to even the count and give up a 375-foot ground-rule double to right that pushed Ramirez to third. Hughes then again got ahead 0-2 on Jason Varitek, but with Casey on second, Hughes and Molina developed some communication issues. The second strike of that at-bat caught Molina off guard and was dropped at the plate. After a fastball that just missed the outside corner and a pair of fouls, Hughes crossed up Molina again, throwing a curve when Molina was expecting a fastball. Molina popped out of his crouch to catch what he though was a high fastball only to have the ball dive and get by him allowing Ramirez to score. After Molina’s third trip to the mound of the at-bat, Hughes got Varitek looking on a fierce curve on the outside corner to end the inning, but the Red Sox were already up 3-0 and Hughes was half-way in the bag.

Hughes appeared to settle down in the second, surviving a bunt single and stolen base by Coco Crisp (both calls that could have gone either way) by getting a groundout, a pop-up, and a strikeout (Pedroia again, this time swinging at a fastball just below the knees and slamming his bat down in frustration). Hughes needed just 11 pitches to get through those four batters, but it all went wrong again in the third.

Drew led off with another walk, this one on five pitches (though ball four looked like strike two). Manny Ramirez followed by working the count full and lining a fastball off Alex Rodriguez’s glove for another single. Youkilis and Casey then followed by singling hard on fastballs down and in to plate Drew and Ramirez, driving the score to 5-1 and Hughes from the game.

All totalled, Hughes threw 65 pitches in two-plus innings and just 54 percent of those offerings were strikes. Hughes struck out three men, but allowed nine others to reach and five to score on his watch. Ohlendorf then allowed both of the baserunners he inherited from Hughes to score, pushing Hughes’ tally to seven runs (one unearned due to the passed ball). From what I saw, Hughes only threw three pitches that weren’t fastballs or curveballs, all of which were taken for balls. The lack of an effective third pitch as well as a general lack of command seemed to be the problem. Hughes had a huge break on his curve, and he wasn’t wild, but he wasn’t hitting his spots, often just missing the strike zone or having a strike called a ball because Molina had to reach for it. Unable to put the ball where he wanted it, he was getting deep into counts and getting hit.

I’d shrug it off if it was just one start, but it’s been two straight now (aggregate line: 5 IP, 12 H, 10 R (9 ER), 7 BB, 5 K). Only 2 of those twelve hits went for extra bases (both doubles) and Hughes is getting his strikeouts, but giving up 19 baserunners in 5 innings almost exactly how Mike Mussina got himself yanked from the rotation last August. Suddenly Hughes’s next start becomes pivotal. If he struggles again, the Yankees may have a decision to make.

The upside to the game was that despite being down 7-1 after three, the Yankees got the tying run to the plate several times and on base once while Ohlendorf, LaTroy Hawkins, and Kyle Farnsworth ate up the remainder of the game while allowing just one run of their own. Also, Alberto Gonzalez went 1 for 2 with a single and a walk and made a nice over-the-shoulder catch in shallow left in the third, and Jose Molina went 2 for 4 with yet another double. The Yankees five runs were their third-best total of the season.

The immediate downside is that Molina strained a hamstring, forcing an odd late-game maneuver in which Joe Girardi pinch-ran for Molina with Wilson Betemit following the catcher’s eight-inning single while simultaneously pinch-hitting Melky Cabrera (who got the day off with Jorge Posada–1 for 4–again DHing) for Gonzalez. Melky singled, but the Yankees didn’t score, and Posada had to catch the ninth, pushing Farnsworth into the lineup (though his spot never came around and Morgan Ensberg was still around to pinch-hit). Posada clearly had instructions not to throw during his inning behind the plate as both Crisp and Pedroia stole off him uncontested, with Crisp scoring to set the final score.

Per Pete Abe, with Posada still unable to catch because of his shoulder and Molina unable to play because of his hammy, the Yanks will have to call up Chad Moeller. It remains to be seen if Molina’s bad enough to require a DL stay. The good news is that Derek Jeter is expected to return to the lineup tonight, which could mean the Yankees could farm out Gonzalez to make room for Moeller and have Molina take Jeter’s place as the unusable player with a short-term injury on the bench. Did I really just call that good news?

Treasure Hunt

My first job out of college was as a runner on the Ken Burns “Baseball” series. I stuck around until the job was over. My final task was to empty the research office, which was stuck in the old Technicolor Building on 44th street and drive all the stuff they wanted to keep up to Walpole, N.H. My brother, who I was able to get on as a second hand, and I helped throw away tons of books, magazines, photographs that I’d now think twice about getting rid of. I kept some stuff for myself, of course, and gave a lot away to my friends.

I have a friend from high school who has kept the four boxes of books that I gave him in the spring of 1994. He told me that I could have them back a few years ago, but he lives in Long Island and I’ve never found the time to truculate my fat ass out there to get them. Then his wife said that if the books aren’t out of the house by the end of the month they are going to the library. So I went out there today and took home five boxes of books.

I waited until I got home before I look inside. When I did, I found a bunch of of junk, but good copies of “Birth of a Dynasty,” “Steinbrenner’s Yankees,” and “Baseball Anecdotes,” plus a terrific little green paperback copy of “The Chrysanthemum and the Bat” by Robert Whiting, and a first edition hardcover of “The Diamond Appraised,” uncracked, with Craig W Wright’s business card tucked in the center crease. Best of all, there is a beat up copy of “The Reggie Jackson Scrapbook,” my favorite baseball book growing up. I remember my friend having this book long after I had lost my own edition. It was one of two things I coveted at my friend’s house. The other was an unopened can of Coke from Israel.

I was secretly hoping that the Reggie book would be in one of the boxes. And damn if it was at the bottom of the last pile of books. But when I got there I let out a cry. I startled Em, but couldn’t help myself. It felt like my whole body was breaking out into a smile.

Mr. Hughes tonight.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!


Well, that sucked. Tough 4-3 loss for the Yanks. A long rain delay helped prolong the agony for the Yankees but the crucial moment in the game was when manager Joe Girardi let Mike Mussina pitch to Manny Ramirez in the sixth. This is Manny we’re talking about.

Jonathan Papelbon finished the Yankees off.


Both teams are now 6-6. Phil Hughes goes against Dice K tonight. Are you ready for some Joe Morgan!

Buck Buck Goose

I was in 10th grade when the Mets and Red Sox played in the 1986 World Serious. It was the first and last time that I ever rooted for the Sox. They were the American League team, I figured, but the real reason I pulled for them–even after they beat my second-favorite team, Reggie Jackson’s California Angels–was because I knew more Met fans than Sox fans, had more of a daily battle cooking with them than any Sox fans.

I had always liked Bill Buckner. We had WGN and so I watched a lot of Cubs games after school during my middle school years. Buckner was a grinder, much like my hero, Don Mattingly. In the mid-80s, Tom Boswell wrote a piece on Mattingly and mused that “He’s Wade Boggs with power. Eddie Murray with hustle. George Brett but younger and in a home run park with Rickey Henderson on base and Dave Winfield on deck.”

None of these parallels charm Mattingly much. “I appreciate it…but it doesn’t help me on the field. So let it go. I’d compare myself more to Bill Buckner. He’s consistent, hard-nosed, good in the clutch. I love the way he plays. If it’s biting it takes, then it’s biting; if it’s scratching, then scratch…I’ll take a ground ball off the chest, get my uniform dirty.”

Of course, Bucker isn’t best remembered for being a very good player, he’s remembered in a single image–that of a feeble old man letting a slow ground ball dribble through his legs. It is an unfair way to remember the man but sometimes that’s what happens in sports. Awful moments coexist along with the wonderful ones. Bad things can happen to anyone. But I sure don’t know anyone who ever blamed Buckner for them losing that game.

Still, when Billy Bucks threw out the first pitch on Opening Day in Fenway earlier this week, my initial reaction was, That’s nice. Followed shortly by a more cynical one, Jeez, took ’em long enough–funny how they reached out to him now that they are a winning club. But I was off on my thinking. Red Sox fans have in fact given Buckner love for a long time. He received a standing ovation on Opening Day in 1987, and another one in 1990 when he had another brief stint with the tam. Check out this piece The Hub Hails its Hobbling Hero, by Peter Gammons from the SI Vault (November 10, 1986).

As much as I like to moan about Sox fans, they can be pretty great. Remember the ovation they gave Joe Torre back in ’99?

Okay, enough love. I can’t let one beautifully pitched ballgame–and I won’t be surprised if Wang’s performance last night turns out to be the finest of the season for a Yankee starting pitcher–get me all mushy. Especially with Mussina v. Beckett on tap this afternoon. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand Yankee-Sox games that are broadcast on Saturday afternoon on Fox. I think the Yanks have an okay record against Boston on Fox Saturdays but it feels as if they don’t. These are the blowout games, the ones that last four hours.

Who knows, maybe we’ll be in for a surprise? Stranger things have happened…but I wouldn’t count on it.

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