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Monthly Archives: May 2008

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Don’t Call It A Comeback

Pitching on an extra day of rest due to a mild calf strain suffered in his last start, Chien-Ming Wang wasn’t sharp this afternoon. Joe Girardi speculated that the sinkerballer may have been a bit too strong due to the extra rest. Jose Molina reported that there was almost too much movement on Wang’s pitches. Indeed, Wang walked four men in his first four innings.

With the game tied at 1-1, Wang walked Adrian Beltre on five pitches to start the fourth frame. Kenji Johnjima hit the next ball to shortstop, but came away with an infield single when Derek Jeter’s throw pulled Shelley Duncan off the bag. Wang then walked Richie Sexson on five pitches to load the bases. Alex Rodriguez kept the game tied by picking up a hard grounder off the bat of Wladimir Balentien and firing home to force out Beltre, but Yuniesky Betancourt followed with a single past Rodriguez that gave the Mariners a 2-1 lead and kept the bases loaded with none out. Ichiro Suzuki, who had homered into the right field box seats for the first Mariner run in the previous inning, then hit a grounder to second that Duncan botched, allowing all hands to move up safely, making it 3-1 M’s. Two pitches later, Jose Lopez hit a shot right at Duncan, who dropped the line drive but recovered in time to start a 3-2-6 double play as Suzuki had to hold near the bag on the liner, thus allowing Jose Molina to gun him out at second base to end the rally.

Their initial run having come on a two-out Johnny Damon double and Jeter single in the third, the Yankees squeaked out another tally in the fifth when Cano led off with a walk, Jose Molina singled, and Melky Cabrera bunted the pair to second and third base. Although it came fairly early in the game, I didn’t have a problem with the bunt, as moving up two runners like that is actually the highest-leverage bunt a manager can call for short of a squeeze as it puts the offense an out away from one run and a hit away from two. In this case, it set up that situation for the top of the order with the Yankees trailing by exactly two runs. Unfortunately, Damon and Jeter only managed the outs thanks to a diving stop of a would-be Damon double down the right field line by Richie Sexson.

Hanging in with a 3-2 deficit, Joe Girardi sent Chien-Ming Wang back to the mound in the seventh inning having already thrown 97 pitches. Betancourt hit a bullet all the way to Johnny Damon for the first out, but the next three men all picked up hits, the last of them plating the first two to drive Wang from the game at 112 pitches trailing 5-2. Edwar Ramirez held the line there, but the bottom of the Yankee order failed to mount a threat against reliever Sean Green in the bottom of the seventh. Melky Cabrera did single with two outs in the seventh, but I found myself rooting against that hit, preferring that the top of the order be given a chance to mount a comeback against J.J. Putz’s set-up men with a clean slate in the eighth. As it turns out, Damon grounded out as well and that’s exactly what happened.

Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the eighth by battling back from 1-2 to draw a walk off Green. Inexplicably, Mariner manager John McLaren then emerged from the dugout to remove Green and give the ball to Arthur Rhodes. I know McLaren was going for the lefty-on-lefty matchup against Bobby Abreu, but if there’s one thing every major league manager should know, it’s don’t give Arthur Rhodes the ball against the Yankees. Rhodes faced three men without getting an out in Saturday’s game and today battled Abreu for eight pitches before surrendering a booming double into the right-field gap that made it 5-3 Yankees. That seemed to shake McLaren out of his stupor as he then removed Rhodes, who thus failed to get an out in two appearances in this series, and brought in his closer, Putz. Facing Alex Rodriguez who represented the potential tying run, Putz walked the defending AL MVP on six pitches and struck out Jason Giambi looking.

Girardi then sent up Hideki Matsui to pinch hit for Shelley Duncan, who had started in Matsui’s place against the lefty Washburn. Matsui took a bad swing at the first pitch he saw and tapped a lousy hopper to the right of the mound, but it was just far enough to the right to cause problems. Putz lept off the mound and snagged the ball on a dive, falling face first into the grass and likely breaking up an easy 4-3 putout in the process. Gathering himself as Matsui reached the bag, Putz then inexplicably threw to first from his stomach, firing over Richie Sexson’s lofty head and allowing Abreu to score and Rodriguez to advance to third base.

With the tying run now just 90 feet from home and only one man out, Robinson Cano creamed a 1-1 pitch from Putz to deep right center for a game-tying sac fly that was deep enough to allow Matsui to tag from first and advance to second on Ichiro Suzuki’s arm. Jose Molina appeared to hit the next pitch to the same spot, but on a higher arch. Everyone in the park, including Molina, though it was the third out, but apparently he got it just far enough around to right (and perhaps just enough of the late-afternoon sun got in Suzuki’s eyes) that the ball dropped on the lip of the warning track for an RBI double that gave the Yankees their first lead of the game.

As Mariano Rivera began to warm in the bullpen, Melky Cabrera grounded out on just two more pitches. Giardi thus let Ramirez warm up for the ninth only to pull his should-be set-up man just before the official start of the inning. Rivera, old pro that he is, warmed in a hurry and came in to pitch a perfect ninth inning, striking out the third and fourth men in the Seattle order to finish the job and nail down the 5-4 win.

That win, which was the Yankees’ second late-inning comeback in the last four days as well as their second of the season, gave the Yankees their second three-game sweep of the season (both of the Mariners at home), brought their overall record back up to .500 at 25-25, and moved them out of last place in the hyper-competitive AL East, a half game ahead of the Orioles, whom they just beat in two of three games at home and will face in a three game series in Baltimore starting tomorrow afternoon.

Edwar Ramirez got the win and still hasn’t allowed a run in 12 2/3 major league innings this year, but has struck out 15 men in those frames. He should get some serious attention as a set-up replacement for the transitioning Joba Chamberlain, who will pitch again Tuesday or Wednesday.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Derek Jeter’s throws have been poor all season. It appears that he’s been releasing the ball late, thus firing the ball into the dirt and to the outfield side of the bag, as was the case in the play described above. As for Duncan’s misadventures in the field, Shelley also went 0-for-3 at the plate and is hitting .176/.259/.275 on the season. If he’s not going to play a viable first base or contribute at the plate, he may be the player who loses his roster spot to Jason Lane this week. The positive indicators for Duncan are that he’s hitting .258/.333/.419 against lefties and not striking out at an inordinate rate in general. That’s not great, but it’s a sign of life.

What the Yankees have done since Alex Rodriguez has returned from the disabled list, a 5-1 record to this point, is a far more encouraging sign of life. Sure it’s come against one poor team and one awful one, sure today’s comeback was the result of a few lucky breaks, but this team has needed something to remind them that they’ve been here for years. Last year, the Yankees were seven games below .500 and 13.5 games behind the Red Sox on the morning of June 1. This year, they could have a winning record and be within five games of first place when the calendar flips to June. Don’t call it a comeback.

No Surprises

Carlos Silva entered yesterday’s game with a 9.62 career ERA against the Yankees. After two innings, he and the Mariners were trailing 4-0, thanks in large part to a three-run home run Silva gave up to Jason Giambi. Mike Mussina gave those four runs back in the top of the third on a three-run Jose Vidro homer and a solo Adrian Beltre shot, but Silva held up his end of the bargain by giving the Yanks an extra run in the bottom of the frame and coughing up a two-run Bobby Abreu home in the sixth to give the Yanks a 7-4 lead.

Arthur Rhodes came on in relief of Silva in the bottom of the seventh with a 7.13 career ERA against the Yankees. He left three batters later having surrendered a run without getting an out. Brandon Morrow relieved Rhodes with a 15.00 career ERA against the Yankees and let in three more runs. Ryan Rowland-Smith relieved Morrow with a 19.29 career ERA against the Yankees and allowed one last Bomber tally before getting the final out.

Joba Chamberlain took over for Mussina in the sixth inning. He made a nice leaping stab of a bounding comebacker for the first out of the sixth and then struck out the next two batters. In the seventh, he gave up a lead-off single to Yuniesky Betancourt and walked Jose Vidro on five pitches with two outs, but stranded both men. He was effective, but inefficient, using up 40 of his allotted 45 pitches in those two frames, only 55 percent of which were strikes. Given the length of the bottom of the seventh, and the fact that Chamberlain was only five pitches under his target, the Yankees opted to end his day there.

Kyle Farnsworth entered the eighth inning having allowed 2.57 home runs per nine innings. With one out, Jeremy Reed won a 13-pitch battle against Farnsworth with a single. Three pitches later, Richie Sexson homered to the retired numbers. That set the final score at 12-6 Yankees.

Jose Veras pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, but it wasn’t without incident. With two outs and the count 1-1 on Beltre, Veras poured in a strike and home plate umpire Larry Vanover gave his strikeout call, prompting Jose Molina to pop out from behind the plate to shake Veras’s hand and the stadium P.A. to start blasting out “New York, New York.” Thing is, the count was only 1-2. Beltre pointed this out to Vanover, the song was cutoff, all of the players were sent back to their positions, and the at-bat continued for five more pitches before Beltre grounded out to officially end the game. Curiously, two of those pitches were right at Beltre’s head, but Beltre laughed both off (in the YES booth David Cone described them as curves that didn’t curve). Still, it seemed suspicious to me, and it was even stranger when Beltre, apparently because he was looking the other way, ran right into Veras on his way back to the dugout. Still, none of it appeared to mean anything. That was just about the only surprising thing about Saturday’s game.

The Yankees have scored 25 runs in the first two games of this series, have averaged 8.8 runs per game in their five games against the Mariners this year, and in going for the sweep this afternoon will face a pitcher with a 6.99 ERA on the season and a 12.23 ERA over his last four starts in Jarrod Washburn. Washburn, however, has a 2.52 career ERA against the Yankees. Here’s hoping Chien-Ming Wang’s calf is okay and that he can rebound from allowing seven runs to the Mets in his last outing. If the Yanks sweep, it’ll be just their second three-game sweep of the season, both of them having come against the Mariners.

Sliva Platta

A series in which the Yankees initially had to contend with the two good starting pitchers on a bad team has taken a fortuitous turn. The Yankees scored nine runs off Erik Bedard last night and Felix Hernandez has been scratched from his start today due to continued soreness from a right calf cramp he experienced during his last start. Instead, the Yankees will face Carlos Silva a day early and Hernandez will pitch against the Red Sox on Monday. Seems things are finally starting to break the Yankees’ way this season.

Silva’s always been a punching bag for the Yankees and enters this afternoon’s contest with a 9.62 ERA in five career starts against the Bombers. Silva’s faced the Yankees once every year since 2004, and the only start in which he gave up fewer runs than innings pitched came back in 2005, the best overall season of his career. Today marks Silva’s second start of the year against the Yankees. In the last, he gave up eight runs in three innings including back-to-back home runs to Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera which account for a third of the home runs he’s allowed all season. Jarrod Washburn and his 6.99 ERA will go tomorrow as the M’s take advantage of this past Monday’s off day by moving Silva and Washburn up to normal rest.

Mike Mussina starts against Silva today. Moose broke a string of five great starts on Tuesday by turning in with the worst start of his career. The upside is that he only threw 41 pitches, thus enabling him to come back on three-day’s rest to give tomorrow’s starter, Chien-Ming Wang, suffering from a sore right calf of his own, an extra day off. Better still, Moose will be backed up by the second extended relief outing in Joba Chamberlain’s conversion back to starting. If Moose goes five or six, you can expect Chamberlain to follow him into the game and pitch two or three frames, with the Yankees looking for a slight increase on the 35 pitches Joba threw in his last outing.

After three games against lefty starters motivating three starts by Shelley Duncan, the Yankee lineup against the righty Silva resets to it’s default position.

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Why Ya Buggin?

From Tyler Kepner in the Times:

After the game, the clubhouse shook with 1980s rap music (“Mary, Mary” by Run-D.M.C.) coming from an iPod on Johnny Damon’s speaker system. It was quite unlike the Yankees, who have rarely played music in recent years, and victories in May are not often cause to let loose.

But the Yankees were enjoying their blowout, and on some level, they probably knew things could be worse. All they had to do was think about the team down the hall.

From John Hickey in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

“Playing with this team and seeing what is happening around here, I see something beginning to fall apart,” center fielder Ichiro Suzuki said. “If I was objectively watching this team and what’s been happening, I’d be drinking a lot of beer and booing.”

All you can say to that is, “What kind of beer?”

“I usually like Japanese beer,” Ichiro said. “But after this, I wouldn’t care if it was from Japan or from Papua New Guinea.”

Bottom’s Up.

Mo’nin!

 

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It’s a gorgeous, sunny morning in New York. 

Breaks of the Game: More Bounce to the Ounce

The Yankees were both lucky and good on Friday night as they beat the woeful Mariners (who were both unlucky and bad) about the face and neck to the tune of 13-2.  It was a beautiful night–crisp and cool–for a laugher in the Bronx.  Manager Joe Girardi sat this one out after being suspended for his theatrics last night, but I’m sure he liked what he saw on TV as Andy Pettitte featured a sharp slider and mixed his pitches effectively, striking out a season-high nine over six innings. 

The Yankee offense featured a few well struck balls (Hideki Matsui had three hits, the slumping Shelley Duncan cranked a three-run homer, while Bobby Abreu and Robinson Cano had a couple of hits each), but mostly featured a chorus line of dinkers and dunkers, 18-hoppers through the infield and off-the-end-of-the-bat flares to the outfield.  In fact, such a collection of cheap-o and fortunate hits I can’t recall seeing in some time.  And during the eight-run fifth, Derek Jeter deftly kept himself in a rundown until the two runners behind him advanced; on the next play, Alex Rodriguez got a tremendous jump on a soft liner to center and scored easily, and later Matsui slid under a tag at the plate to score another run.  In the eighth, Matsui even threw out a runner at the plate who was trying to score on a sac fly.  Go figure.  It was that kind of night.

Everything broke New York’s way as they won their third straight.  Maybe it’s Giambi’s mustache. Whatever the case, we’ll take it and we like it.    

 

    

Seattle Mariners Redux

The Mariners have the worst record in the American League and the second-worst record in all of baseball. When they last visited the Bronx at the beginning of the month, the fell victim to the Yankees’ only three-game series sweep of the season (and the Bombers’ last series win prior to their just-completed defeat of the Orioles). Since then, the M’s have gone 5-11, with two of those wins coming against the Padres, the only team in baseball with a worse record than Seattle’s. The Mariners’ offense has been every bit as impotent as the Yankees’ this season, and their pitching has posted the second-worst ERA+ in the AL.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, in this weekend’s series they won’t see any of the three pitchers most responsible for Seattle’s pitching woes. Starters Miguel Bautista (6.47 ERA) and Jarrod Washburn (6.99) pitched the last two days, and long-reliever Cha Seung Baek (5.40 in 30 IP) was just designated for assignment in favor of knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Instead, the Yanks draw the M’s two aces, Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez, tonight and tomorrow. At least they’ll have Carlos Silva to kick around on Sunday. And, hey, they beat Bedard and King Felix in early May.

Andy Pettitte takes the hill against Bedard tonight. It took a strong Chien-Ming Wang outing, a lock-down bullpen, and four Mariner errors to beat Bedard last time he faced the Yanks. Pettitte is coming off a bounce-back quality start in which he struck out a season-high seven men in six innings. Tomorrow, Mike Mussina comes off his 41-pitch disaster outing against the O’s to start on short rest with Joba Chamberlain’s second transitional outing backing him up. Sunday, Wang takes the ball after being pushed back a day by a mild right calf strain.

Tonight, Joe Girardi will serve a one-game suspension for his ninth-inning tirade last night, leaving bench coach Robby Thompson in charge. Thompson lost the two games he managed during Girardi’s early-April suspension for the team’s spring training shenanigans. The lineup penned by Girardi has Derek Jeter leading off with Johnny Damon getting a day off, Shelley Duncan playing first, and Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui rotating to DH and left field, respectively. Chad Moeller is behind the plate for the third time in six games.

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Yankee Panky # 51: The Tao of A-Rod

Injuries or prolonged absences tend to spring the mainstream media into a mode of touting the exploits of a superstar player and his value to a team (the value not quantified by Baseball Prospectus’s VORP stat). This was especially true over the last week while the Yankee offense was comatose.

Talk about a 180-degree turnaround. When Alex Rodriguez first came to the Yankees, there was the stigma of his exorbitant contract and the fracturing of his friendship with Derek Jeter. Three seasons later – seasons that included two MVP awards and team records for right-handed power hitters, playoff series of subpar performance and strange/lurid/bush—league behavior both on and off the field, Alex Rodriguez was still portrayed as an outsider.

Then he went on the disabled list and the Yankees became the Tankees, plummeting to mediocrity, struggling to beat the Tampa Bay Rays.

Had the Yankees been pitching well, hitting in a representative manner and winning, the perception would not have taken shape that the Yankees had become reliant on the production of A-Rod to kick-start the team. Three games into his comeback, Rodriguez is writing the stories for the beat, with two home runs in each game, which can hopefully kick things into gear and give Joe Girardi some lineup stability. With Jeter out of the lineup, A-Rod’s presence and the need for him to succeed are magnified. The writers and detached local TV reporters won’t let him forget it.

Watching A-Rod, though, he seems to be at peace with all of it, finally.


RANDOM THOUGHTS: GREAT EXPECTATIONS


Does it roil anyone else to hear “fans” discuss baseball and then say something asinine like this?

 “I don’t really watch a lot of baseball, but for the money these guys make, they shouldn’t make any errors, I’m sorry.”

I heard that yesterday morning at the gym and nearly gave myself a headache from biting my tongue.

Equally ridiculous – and I admit this – is something I’ve said for years : No major league hitter should ever strike out looking. That comes from years of watching and playing the game, and covering it. I know if I was a Major Leaguer, I’d be up there to hit and swing the bat, and if I go down, I’m going down swinging. Of course, I’d only swing at strikes, so that I could increase the odds of boosting my OBP and OPS. 

RANDOM THOUGHTS: SUBWAY STINKER

 

 

How far has the Subway Series fallen? I don’t mean the Yankees’ performance, which was akin to watching a loop of American Idol rejects. From the media radar, I mean. The hype was tepid – largely due to the absences of Jeter and A-Rod. The anticipation, as usual, was greater from the camp of Mets fans, and the media coverage was bland.

The only thing that came out of it, in my opinion, was that on the heels of Carlos Delgado’s three-run home run that was ruled foul, MLB could – and perhaps should – give serious consideration to Instant Replay. Joe Morgan had one lucid comment about the incident: “The job of the umpires is to get the call right, and in this case, they didn’t get it right.” When Jon Miller set him up to give his thoughts on Instant Replay in baseball, Morgan always came back to, “No, I don’t think there should be instant replay, because then you’ll see umpires go to it in the fifth inning, like tonight.” Huh? That call would have given the Mets a 6-0 lead. Was it not a critical time in the game?

More curious was that Miller did not challenge is broadcast partner or ask the question: “Well, Joe, you said that the job is to get it right. If there’s a questionable call and none of the umpires get it right, why does it matter when IR is used?” No solutions were presented. It could have been a great discussion, and it fell flat.

RANDOM THOUGHTS: MORE MORGANISMS


“That’s what I mean when I’m talking about accountability.”

I bet this kept the guys at firejoemorgan.com busy on Monday morning.

The Hall of Famer said that at least 15 times in a 3 minute span Sunday night when analyzing the locker room controversy that Billy Wagner started, when he called to attention the fact that the Latino ballplayers had left before the media could interview them about the game. David Wells used to do this occasionally when he had a horrible outing.

Morgan’s quote referenced Delgado apologizing to Wagner, and then whenever he did something positive on the field, that tied into his accountability for shirking reporters. Actions on the field make you accountable to your teammates and nothing else.

Morgan didn’t have a problem with Delgado and Carlos Beltran ducking. As a reporter and fan, I do. The first rule is you get the quotes from the people who most closely influenced the game.  If they bail, you mention that they left early and work around it.

On the broadcast, Morgan theorized that players “only being accountable to their teammates, not to the media.” Maybe that was true 35 years ago, when there wasn’t a 24/7 news cycle and players were making good money, but not eight figures a year, but not now. Leaving without explaining matters is selfish and it doesn’t help a player’s standing with fans, or as Wagner showed, in the clubhouse. Barry Bonds was icy with the media, but at least he told writers he wasn’t going to talk.

The papers are not free from blame here. The tabloids blew the incident out of proportion, made Wagner the story and turned it into the Sharks vs. the Jets, which was wrong. It was a revenge play to sell papers and create drama within the team, and it worked.

Until next week … Enjoy the holiday.

 

Card Corner–Dock Ellis

 

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This 1973 Topps card of Dock Ellis (No. 575) shows the talented but temperamental right-hander where he seemed to feel most at home—on the pitching mound. The photograph, taken at a game at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, is very similar to his 1972 "In Action" card, which appears to have been snapped in the same game but only a moment sooner in his pitching motion.

The word "snapped" might have applied to Ellis at various times during a successful and storied major league career. At times, the behavior of the Pirates’ right-hander would have qualified him for work in an episode of "The Twilight Zone." In 1970, Ellis pitched a no-hit game against the expansion Padres. (The Padres had only two good hitters in their lineup back then—Nate Colbert and Downtown Ollie Brown—but a no-hitter’s a no-hitter.) In and of itself, there’s nothing bizarre about such an accomplishment, which can represent the pinnacle of a pitcher’s performance. Years later, however, Ellis revealed that he had forged the masterpiece only hours after ingesting considerable amounts of LSD.

And then came the ugliness of a 1974 game, in which Ellis displayed his determination to punish the Reds for some condescending pre-game words they had said about the Pirates. (The Reds had a recent history of beating the Bucs; Ellis felt his teammates needed a wakeup call.) In the first inning, Ellis proceeded to hit each of the first three Reds’ batters—Pete Rose, Little Joe Morgan, and Dan Driessen—with pitched balls. With three of his first five pitches having hit his intended targets, Ellis continued his assault on Cincinnati’s lineup. He threw two pitches behind the head of Tony Perez before eventually walking the Hall of Fame slugger. With one run already having been forced in, Ellis refused to let up on his game plan. He threw two pitches at Johnny Bench that barely missed making contact. Amazingly, the home plate umpire allowed Ellis to remain in the game. (Obviously, this was not baseball in 2008.) But his manager, Danny Murtaugh, mercifully walked to the mound and removed Ellis before he could do any additional damage.

In perhaps his most celebrated incident (though not as controversial as his efforts to bean every member of the "Big Red Machine" or his pitching a no-hitter under the effects of illicit drugs), Ellis walked out onto the field before a 1973 game against the Cubs wearing a head full of hair curlers. The incident shocked several of his Pirates teammates, manager Bill Virdon, and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. The latter’s opinion mattered the most; he threatened to fine and suspend Ellis if he continued to appear on the playing field looking like James Brown in a dressing room. Much to the delight of the commissioner, Ellis eventually backed off on his insistence on wearing curlers and restricted them to the clubhouse—or presumably to his home—for the balance of his career. Unfortunately, no one from Topps had been at Wrigley Field that memorable afternoon to snap a photograph of Ellis in his best "just-out-of-the-showers" look.

All of these bizarre stories involving Ellis have become pertinent again given the revelations of the past week. On Sunday, I was distressed to read a story in the New York Post about Ellis and his health, which has suddenly turned much worse over the past six months. A former Yankee—he pitched for the franchise in 1976—Ellis has lost 60 pounds since last fall, when he was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. Ellis needs a liver transplant soon; otherwise, the outlook is dire.

Ellis has certainly made more than his fair share of mistakes over the years, including his ill-advised usage of LSD prior to a game, his attempt to turn the Reds into human pin cushions, and his repeated efforts at undermining his managers. But almost all of that behavior occurred during Ellis’ playing days in the sixties and seventies, while he was trapped in a haze of alcohol and drug abuse. After his retirement in 1980, Ellis successfully abandoned his drug addiction and used his experiences to become a counselor against drugs and alcohol. An emotional public speaker, Ellis has worked diligently to advise youngsters not to repeat his own mistakes. Beginning early in his career, Dock has also made efforts to help prisoners in the Pennsylvania state penal system, soliciting their input in making suggestions for prison reform.

Considering his own personal reforms and the social consciousness that Ellis has displayed, he has become one of the game’s good guys. Let’s say a prayer that he receives some financial help for his mounting medical bills, which have become more problematic given his lack of health insurance. More importantly, let’s hope Dock receives that much needed liver transplant—quickly, before we lose a colorful character who began to find his way only 25 years ago.

Bruce Markusen’s upcoming book, Out of Left Field, includes a lengthy profile of Dock Ellis. 

Joba Ranks

That kid has one of the better arms in baseball,” said former Braves and Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone. “If you have an arm like that, he shouldn’t be a setup guy. Your setup guy doesn’t do you any good if your starting pitchers can’t get you to him.”

…”I don’t think the Yankees are risking injury by starting him,” Mazzone said of Chamberlain. “I’ve always felt that if you have a regular time to pitch and programs to get the pitcher ready in between starts, it’s easier to start than be in the bullpen.”
(Anthony McCarron, N.Y. Daily News)

Pat Jordan likes to bust my chops about the Yankees, the team he grew up rooting for. He doesn’t much like them much these days and never misses a chance to get under my skin when they are not playing well. His favorite rant this spring has been about Joba Chamberlain, about how the Yankees are wasting Chamberlain as a set-up man instead of using him as a starter. Well, that’s one gripe Pat can’t beat to death now that Chamberlain has officially begun the process of moving from the pen to the starting rotation.

In the Daily News, John Harper writes that this is a sign that, without conceeding anything yet, the Yankees are looking beyond this season to 2009. I agree. One thing that occured to me yesterday was how exciting it is going to be to watch this all unfold. To see Chamberlain pitch two, then three, four, five innings. I imagine his demeanor will change somewhat. All that fist-pumping is part of what comes with being a late-inning reliever, but I don’t expect he’ll do quite as much of as a starter–unless he gets out of a big jam in the sixth, seventh or eighth. Regardless, I’m goosed about the whole thing. Ain’t you?

Attsa Fine

My wife Emily is composed and polite and very careful not offend. Too careful. However, she also works in a hospital emergency room and it is not uncommon for her to come home at night swearing like a sailor. I love this, not just because it is amusing to hear such obscenities coming from such a nice girl but also because it allows me to curse with equal vigor without fear of being scolded. Em’s had a tough week and last night as I watched the game, she blew off steam in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. She vented about just about anything that came to mind. “…And another thing…” And she carried on some more, preaching away from her little soap box. At one point I had to put a cap on what turned into a seemingly endless tirade. “Okay honey, I get it, you are pissed off, that’s fine. I appreciate that. Now, you’ve got 15 more minutes to get it all out, do your worst, but then you’ve got to shut the f*** up.”

In the spirit of tantrums, Joe Girardi got himself run from the game with one out and a man on in the ninth inning last night. A belated third strike call was what set him off and it was clear from the moment he left the dugout that Girardi was going to leave it all out on the field and get tossed. Girardi looks smaller to me as a manager than he did as a player. Maybe it’s because he is usually wearing a Yankee jacket with the collar up or maybe it’s the thick white soles of his spikes or perhaps the TV just shrinks him. Whatever the reason, he reminds me of Chico Marx half the the time (a terrible call, but nevertheless, it is what pops to mind). He put forth a decent showing with the home plate ump and then the crew cheif said calmly, “You made your point Joe.”

Girardi fumed and carried on near home plate which prevented the pitcher Jim Johnson from staying warm. When the game resumed, Johnson walked pinch-hitter Bobby Abreu on five pitches. Then, with men on first and second, Robinson Cano lined a fastball into left field for a base hit, Hideki Matsui rounded third and beat a good, but high throw from Jay Payton to the plate for the game-winner. A good end to a good overall night from the Bombers as they won, 2-1.

After the customary celebrating, Cano was greeted by Derek Jeter in the dugout. Jeter was smiling. He looked peaceful, like a mermaid that had been on land too long and had finally been returned to the sea, and looked directly into Cano’s eyes and said a few words. It was as if he was saying, “That’s more like it, boy-o. Winning is fun, remember?”

There was a lot to be pleased about last night. Cano’s hit, Damon collecting three of his own. The game moved quicky (all three games were played under three hours each, which must be some kind of a record for the Yanks and O’s) and the pitching was crisp. Ian Kennedy had his best outing of the season. After retiring the side in order in the first two innings (thanks in part to a double play that ended the second), Kennedy gave up a one-out single and then triple in the third. Then, he walked Brian Roberts and Payton to load the bases. But he rallied to strike out Nick Markakis, who has been striking out a lot these days, and got Aubrey Huff to fly out to left. It was the biggest moment of the season for Kennedy, who went on to pitch six innings. Jose Veras pitched the seventh, Kyle Farnsworth the eighth, and Mariano tossed a perfect ninth to put the Yankees in position to win it.

For the second time this season, Orioles’ starter Brian Burres pitched well against the Yanks, the lefty throwing on the corners, lots of breaking stuff. He was impressive. But this was just the kind of game the Yankees needed to win and they did just that. A weak Seattle team is in town this weekend but they’ve got Bedard and Hernandez tonight and tomorrow which is no walk in the park. Still, let’s hope they can win another series and keep it rolling in the right direction.

Fo Real or Fugazi?

 

Untitled

Yanks seek to keep looking good tonight with a (gasp) second straight win tonight against the Boids.  Ian Kennedy smirks and smiles a lot for a kid whose been pitching like a bum so far.  Like to see him smile for the right reasons tonight.  We’ll see if he’s got anything.    

Go git em smiling Jack.    

Let’s Go Yan-kees.

   

The Way it Was vs. The Way it Is

Slate has the latest from Pat Jordan, Josh Beckett Won’t Return My Phone Calls:

In January, I got an assignment from the New York Times Magazine to write a profile of Josh Beckett, the Red Sox pitcher. I was excited about this because I had always admired Beckett as both a pitcher and a person.

…But, alas, in a single-sentence e-mail from his agent, Beckett declined to be interviewed by me or anyone else. I could understand that. Why would he want me poking around in the closet of his life? Maybe I’d spend four days with him, and catch him saying something derogatory, in a moment of weakness or fatigue, about his manager, Terry Francona, or about Manny Ramirez. He was making, what, $10 million a year? He had just pitched superbly in the 2007 World Series after compiling a brilliant 20-7 record during the season. He didn’t need a New York Times profile or recognition for anything but his pitching.

…But, still, I thought it was a shame Josh wouldn’t let me profile him in the Times. I had a long lunch with him a few years ago, when he was with the Florida Marlins, and came away thinking he was an interesting young man. At the time, and even now, Beckett had a reputation for being a surly, hard-ass, rednecked, Texas country boy in the way of old-timey ballplayers. But the Josh I met over lunch was smart, caustic, funny, sophisticated, and a much deeper and more nuanced man than his public gave him credit for. I would have loved to have burnished his image, to have shown his fans that side of him in a profile. But it wasn’t to be. His fans then lost an opportunity to know the real Josh Beckett.

This has become the curse of modern sports journalism. Writers and fans alike no longer get to know the object of their affections in a way they did years ago. Athletes see us as their adversaries, not as allies in their achievements. They are as much celebrities as rock stars and Hollywood actors are. They live insular lives behind a wall of publicists, agents, and lawyers. They don’t interact with fans or writers. They mingle only with other celebrities at Vegas boxing matches, South Beach nightclubs, and celebrity golf events, all behind red-velvet VIP ropes. We can only gawk at them as if at an exotic, endangered species at a zoo.

Nice Catch

The first mitt I remember owning was given to me by my father as a birthday gift. It was a letdown. There was no fingers inside, just a mushy place to put your hand, a strange feature that my father thought was clever. I didn’t agree. He bought himself a glove at the same time that was a traditional glove (a Joe Morgan autograph version). At the time, I wished I had had his glove and felt somehow as if he was telling me that I wasn’t ready for a regular mitt yet.

I don’t know how long I had that mitt, but through high school it seemed as if I lost a mitt each season. Which wasn’t the worst thing because I so thoroughly enjoyed the process of breaking a glove in–oiling it, bending it back and forth, throwing a ball into the web over and over, and then tying up the mitt with a ball in the center at night and putting it under my pillow.

During my second year of high school, my coach gave me his old Wilson A2000, which had been lovingly broken in and used for years. I lost that one too, leaving it behind on the field at an away game. I don’t recall having my own mitt after that, although there were always a couple around the house. Then, about ten years ago, I bought a new one even though my baseball activities had been reduced to the occasional catch. It is a Nokona 12″ second baseman’s glove, a swell mitt, one that was desinged and suited for baseball and really too small for softball.

I got to thinking about the glove after reading Steve Lombardi’s wonderful post featuring some of his mitts–he’s owns seven!

Anyone got any good glove stories? And, do you call it a mitt or a glove?

Krup You! (Jealous Ones Envy)

A few years ago I was heated about something or other concerning the Hall of Fame. I happen to be talking with a noted baseball historian and he just shrugged my complaints off. “This is the institution that elected Tom Yawkey, how can you take them seriously?” Marvin Miller, one of the most important figures in the history of the baseball business, sure doesn’t. According to an article by William Rhoden in today’s New York Times:

In a letter to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, Miller wrote:

“Paradoxically, I’m writing to thank you and your associates for your part in nominating me for Hall of Fame consideration, and, at the same time, to ask that you not do this again.”

Miller added: “The antiunion bias of the powers who control the hall has consistently prevented recognition of the historic significance of the changes to baseball brought about by collective bargaining. As former executive director (retired since 1983) of the players’ union that negotiated these changes, I find myself unwilling to contemplate one more rigged veterans committee whose members are handpicked to reach a particular outcome while offering the pretense of a democratic vote. It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sports writers and especially to those baseball players who sacrificed and brought the game into the 21st century. At the age of 91, I can do without farce.”

Miller said he planned to write a separate letter to the Hall of Fame board asking them to withdraw his name from consideration. “I simply want to make sure that they know how I feel,” he said. “I don’t want to be nominated again. By anybody.”

Miller doesn’t need the Hall of Fame to be remembered as the Giant that he is. And neither does Buck O’Neil.

Yazzie!

Mike Piazza was arguably the best position player ever to play for the Mets and he certainly was one of my favorites. He retired a few days ago. Over at ESPN, Rob Neyer argues that Piazza was the best-hitting catcher of all-time:

I’m certainly open to suggestion, but I have a hard time figuring how you come with anyone but Piazza when searching for the best-hitting catcher ever. Perhaps there’s a case to be made for Josh Gibson, especially someday when we actually are allowed to look at the Negro Leagues data the Hall of Fame has embargoed. But Gibson died when he was 35, and had for years been suffering the ill effects of drug abuse and a brain tumor. Gibson may have been as talented as any catcher who ever lived, but his performance did not match his talent. In my opinion.

Piazza certainly was the best-hitting major leaguer of them all. Here are some nice tributes to Piazza, from:

Jay Jaffe
Jon Weisman
Joe Posnanski
Tim Marchman
Pete Abraham
and, who else, of course, but
Tommy Lasorda

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a right-handed batter with the ability to blister line drives to right field like Piazza. Heck, one time I saw him line a shot to left, and the left fielder dove two steps to his left for it like he was an infielder and the ball got by him. But his home runs to right were awesome. Yo, remember that moon shot he hit off Ramiro Mendoza, the one that went over the fuggin tent at Shea?

Here is a piece I wrote for Baseball Prospectus when Piazza returned to Shea as a Padre and hit two home runs (and almost hit three) back in August of 2006. So long, Yazzie, thanks for the memories.

And Now For Something Completely Different

The Yankees didn’t just break a four-game losing streak last night, they stomped the Orioles, cruising to a lopsided win for the first time since they beat the Mariners 8-2 on May 4, more than two weeks ago. Darrell Rasner and Joba Chamberlain combined to recorded just the third Yankee shutout of the season and first since April 27, while five Yankees had multi hit games (led by Alex Rodriguez, who went 3 for 4 with two doubles and a solo homer) as the Bombers scored eight runs for just the fifth time all season and first time since that May 4 game against Seattle.

Rasner, who is now 3-0 in as many starts, was nails, retiring the first eight Orioles in order, striking out a career-best six men, and allowing only that many to reach base while using up only 95 pitches in his seven scoreless innings. Rasner has walked two men in his three big-league starts this season, has a 1.89 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, and is averaging 6 1/3 innings per start. What makes that all the more impressive is that he was even better in his five triple-A starts before being called up, going 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and averaging 6 2/3 IP/GS. Darrell Rasner isn’t this good, but I’ve long believed he’s a legitimate back-of-the-rotation starter. At this moment, he’s the Yankees best starter. Not bad for a pitcher who was claimed off waivers while still in double-A two years ago and then slipped through waivers this past offseason and wasn’t even on the 40-man roster until he was called up in early May. Heck, Rasner was skipped the last time through the rotation (I’m still trying to figure that one out).

That’s the great thing about Rasner. He’s so dull, you barely even notice him. He doesn’t have any eye-popping pitches. He dominated the Orioles last night, but never looked dominating. He just mixes his four pitches, throws strikes, and works fast. Before you notice he’s pitching, he’s back in the dugout. Even his post-game interviews are impossible to pay attention to. All of that makes the nickname Shelley Duncan used for him while introducing the Yankee lineup on FOX a couple of Saturday’s ago perfectly inappropriate: “Razzmatazz” it is. Razzle Dazzle ‘em, Mister Cellophane.

By the way, that game for which Rasner was called up in early May was that May 4 game against the Mariners. Though he’s needed just seven runs total to win his three starts, Rasner has received an average of seven runs of support per game, making him just about the best thing to happen to the Yankees this year. Last night, the offense in support of Rasner drew five walks and bounced left-handed Baltimore starter Gregg Garrett Olson in the third inning after plating six men and making Olson throw 79 pitches. Queens native Dennis Sarfate, part of the Miguel Tejada booty from Houston, shut things down for a couple of frames after that, but the Yanks pounced on subsequent reliever Lance Cormier for two more tallies in the sixth.

Both of those sixth-inning runs should have come on Alex Rodriguez’s second home run of the game (his third in his two games since returning from the DL), but, in an echo of the botched Carlos Delgado home run call on Sunday, the umpires erroneously ruled Rodriguez’s hit, which bounced off the yellow stairs in front of the right field bleachers, a double. Rodriguez seemed a bit too concerned about the extra two bases with one out in the sixth inning of a 7-0 game, but a passed ball and an RBI groundout from Shelley Duncan got Alex home with the final run of the Yankees 8-0 victory.

So the Yankees got what they’d been desperate for, not just a win, but a clean, crisp victory with errorless play on the bases and in the field and dominating performances on both sides of the ball. What could possibly overshadow a win like that?

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Hey, Howze About an Old Fashioned Win?

 

Mr. Rasner is on the hill for the Bombers tonight who are in desperate need of a win, of something, anything to feel good about.  The Yanks are wearing us out early once again, our legendary calm and patience being put to the test.  But that’s cool, we ain’t going nowhere.  So, nevermind the bollocks

Let’s Go Yankees!

World Wide

During and immediately after the War there was precious little work to be found in Belgium, so my mother’s father, a man’s man in the Ted Williams mold (although far more reserved), who had a considerable amount of wanderlust, moved his young family to the Congo, where my ma lived from the time she was three (1947) until she was a teenager.  I learned about my father’s family, from Russia and Poland respectively, mostly through the oral tradition, endless stories, and even some writings.  But I learned about my mother’s family chiefly through photographs and 8 mm home movies, a) because of the language barrier (they speak broken English, I speak broken French), and b) because they took an extraordinary amount of pictures.  You can imagine how exotic it was to me as a kid to see photographs of my mom in Africa.  "You grew up there and you wound up in the suburbs?" I used to kid her when I was a wise-ass teenager.  

As it turns out, my mom and dad met in Addis Ababa, of all places.  1966.  My father was there working as a production manager on a National Geographic Special on Africa.  My mother was there with a group of friends, making a short documentary for graduate school about their trip from Northern Africa down to Ethipia. 

Dig this.  Which one you think is Ma Dooke?

And here’s the old man, in full Elliott Gould mode:

 

So, where did your folks meet?

Everybody Loves the Sunshine

Earlier this spring, my wife Emily and I visited her sister in Albuturkey, New Mexico.  Even though the climate was dry and cool I have never experienced such oppresive heat from the sun, which was the hottest in the late afternoon.  The sun was omni-present.  Even when it was slightly overcast you could feel it.  One day, we were at a used bookstore and the guy who ran the place told us that when native New Mexicans leave the state they go into shock because of the lack of sun. 

In New York, you learn to savor the sun because it comes to us as fractured light, in bits and pieces.  Native New Yorkers know where the sun will be, at what time of day, during each time of year.  The sun is more precious here which makes you appreciate it all the more.  But it’s not only the sun.  Being in New York, all you need to do is look up and pay attention and you will see the most stunning sights.  For instance, a few weeks ago, I met Richard Lederer and his son Joe outside of their hotel on 42nd street and 3rd avenue.  As I waited, I happen to look up and saw, through a crack in the awning, a gorgeous view of the Chrysler Building.  Of course, I’d never seen it from that perspective before, and it is likely that I’ll never see it from there again.

I feel the same way going to games at the Stadium.  Although I have sat in the same seats more than once and I’ve been to many sections in the park over the years, I certainly haven’t been to all of them.  Not nearly.  Each seat offers you a distinct perspective that makes the game fresh and new.  Last night, I was at the game, and enjoyed the view from some very cushy seats, about twenty rows deep behind first base.  When hard ground balls skipped foul up the first base line you could hear them woosh along the grass; when Kevin Millar caught a line drive, we heard a loud WHAP, and when Derek Jeter was hit in the hand, a resounding crack. 

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