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Monthly Archives: September 2009

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Yankee Panky: Joba and the Playoffs

JOBA

This week, the Yankees secured a postseason spot, so they won’t be casual observers for a second consecutive October. It’s only right to want to project various playoff scenarios – who they will play, who will pitch, which division series they’ll choose, etc. – because with a week left in the regular season, there’s not much else to talk about.

That is … unless you follow the Yankees regularly and are tuned into the Joba Chamberlain situation. Despite the Nebraskan’s 6-inning, 86-pitch quality start last night, The Joba Situation is no longer at mission critical, but is still serious. Put it this way: there’s no reason to call “The Wolf.”

The commentary and range of quotes coming out of Seattle on Sunday were contradictory. On one hand, there was Joba, Clemens-like in denial that he had good stuff despite being shelled for seven runs int here innings. On another, there was the elephant in the room: the Rules that had the Yankees “building him up” to go six innings, so as not to exceed the limit of 165 innings set for him. Somewhere, Jim Kaat is railing this philosophy and not even icing his shoulder.

Looking at quotes from Joe Girardi and judging from the pundits’ assessment of the Yankees’ view, Joba was put to the coals. The “we want to see what you’re made of” rhetoric seemed to be coming a little late to have any kind of effectiveness. The tone, at least the way I perceived it, was a cover-your-butt for potentially mishandling him. The situation could have been avoided in two ways: 1) the Yankees could have kept him in the bullpen as the lead set-up man and eventual successor to Mariano Rivera, or 2) since making him a starter, unleash him the way Nolan Ryan is managing his young guns in Texas. In other words, let the opponent dictate when your starting pitcher should be removed from the game.

Prior to Friday night, the argument could have been made that Joba was put in a no-win situation, both literally and figuratively. He had either an inning limit or a strict pitch count, so there was no margin for error. Either way, if he was pitching well, he couldn’t lobby to stay in the game if he performed at an ace-caliber level. Jorge Posada’s quote following last Sunday’s debacle in Seattle, was telling, considering the source:

“It’s tough to pitch like that. It’s tough to pitch when you don’t know what’s going on … It’s just tough to pitch like that.”

Joe Girardi had a different take.

“I don’t think he can make that an excuse,” Girardi told the media. “You’re still getting the baseball and you still have a job to do.”

Could Joba have pitched better under those circumstances and restored confidence in the organization and the fan base? Absolutely. But he didn’t, and in so doing, put himself in a position where he was pitching for his future. Girardi made that clear in his pre-game press conference when he said – four times, per Daily News columnist John Harper – that he needed to “see Joba compete” and that there were “no guarantees” as far as Joba’s place on the playoff roster. Calling an athlete’s competitive fire into question is akin to emasculating him. That added more gas to a fire that was already smoldering.

What’s amazing about the Joba situation is that since the current rules were put into place (prior to the August 16th start at Seattle), the Yankees only went 3-4 . Save for the two forgettable outings in Seattle and the Toronto game where he pitched OK but Roy Halladay nearly no-hit the Yankees, they saved face.

So now what? We’re left with more questions, because we’ve seen this type of effort from Joba before. So much has been made about how the Yankees have managed Joba this season that after a while it all sounds like a test from the Emergency Alert System. That’s not to say every opinion offered has been bogus. ESPN Radio’s Don LaGreca made an interesting point Friday, when he noted that this type of procurement of pitchers is rampant among Major League teams, except it’s not seen at the top level. The only comparable example in the Majors, LaGreca said, was the Rays’ careful handling of David Price and the debate whether he should be a starter or a closer, based on his postseason success in 2008.

For now, Joba is a starting pitcher and regardless of what the organization is telling the media, he’s a better option than Chad “I can give you four innings of great stuff but then I’m going to implode” Gaudin. Banter colleague Cliff Corcoran nailed it in his game recap when he wrote:

“He … should be allowed to pitch without limits against the Royals in preparation for potential playoff work. His performance in that game could determine a lot, including which ALDS schedule the Yankees choose. If he’s similarly effective, the Yankees might prefer to let Joba start an ALDS game in order to keep him in the groove.”

We’ll see …

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. . . And That’s the Magic Number

Joba deals (AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)The Yankees dropped their magic number for clinching the AL East to three Friday night by beating the Red Sox soundly 9-5. Alex Rodriguez had a big night, going 3-for-3 with a two-run homer, four RBIs, and three stolen bases, but the story of the game was the respective highs and lows experienced by the opposing starting pitchers.

Jon Lester gave up a single to Derek Jeter on his first pitch of the game, and though he ultimately allowed only Jeter to score (following a stolen base on an Alex Rodriguez single), he needed 30 pitches to get through the inning. After stranding two runners in the second, including his second walk in as many innings, Lester got into big trouble in the third.

Mark Teixeira led off the third by concluding an eight-pitch at-bat with a single to left. Rodriguez then crushed an inside pitch into the second deck in left field (just the second time a fair ball has reached that level, both of them hit by Rodriguez). The Yankees then loaded the bases on a single by Hideki Matsui, a Robinson Cano double, and Lester’s third walk. With the bags juiced and one out, Melky Cabrera lined a 1-0 pitch off the inside of Lester’s right knee, plating Matsui and knocking Lester out of the game with what ultimately proved to be just a bad bruise. Hunter Jones replaced the injured Lester and allowed Cano to score before ending the inning with the Red Sox trailing 5-0.

Meanwhile, Joba Chamberlain, who suffered what seemed like a significant performance setback against the punchless Mariners in his last start, retired the first 11 men he faced before Victor Martinez deposited a high fastball in the Yankee bullpen in the top of the fourth. That solo homer came on what was just the 44th pitch of the night from Chamberlain. After stranding a subsequent single by Kevin Youkilis, Joba got into immediate trouble in the top of the fifth when a leadoff single by Jason Bay and a J.D. Drew double put men on second and third with no outs.

It took Joba just seven pitches to work out of that jam. Jason Varitek popped out on the first pitch he saw. Alex Gonzalez struck out on four, and Jacoby Ellsbury grounded to Mark Teixeira on a 1-0 count. Teixeira took Ellsbury’s ball to the bag himself, but Joba was running over to cover just in case and simply turned right and ran right into the dugout as Tex made the play.

A walk to Dustin Pedroia to start the sixth and a two-out two-run homer to lefty by David Ortiz soured his final inning, but overall the night was a huge success for Chamberlain, who had been showing progress in his two starts prior to his disappointing outing in Seattle. Though his recent innings limits were partially to blame, the game marked the first time Chamberlain had completed six innings since August 11, his first win since August 6, and his first quality start since he dominated the Rays on July 29.

Joba will make one more regular season start, on Wednesday against the Royals. The Royals aren’t much to contend with, but neither were the Mariners. Joba had a 90-pitch limit Friday night and used just 86 of them in six frames. He has thrown 152 2/3 innings on the season, but should be allowed to pitch without limits against the Royals in preparation for potential playoff work. His performance in that game could determine a lot, including which ALDS schedule the Yankees choose. If he’s similarly effective, the Yankees might prefer to let Joba start an ALDS game in order to keep him in the groove.

Meanwhile, the Yankees stole seven bases against Jason Varitek in this game, providing a preview of how they might play against the Sox in a potential ALCS matchup. Varitek has thrown out just 15 men all year, a mere 14 percent of attempting basestealers. Victor Martinez has been equally inept at catching thieves, throwing out just nine men for an identical 14 percent caught-stealing rate. The Yankees, meanwhile, have four starters in double digits in steals (Jeter, Rodriguez, Damon, and their center fielder, be it Cabrera or Gardner), and Robinson Cano contributed with a steal of second Friday night. Mix in a postseason roster that could include Freddy Guzman and the Yankees could give the Red Sox fits on the bases, turning singles and walks into doubles with regularity, rendering irrelevant Joe Girardi and Derek Jeter’s irritating fondness for the bunt. Keep an eye on those Yankee baserunners over the final two games of this series.

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Boston Red Sox V: That’s The Magic Number

The Yankees went 2-12 against the Angels and Red Sox in the first half of this season. Since then, they’ve gone 9-2 against those same two teams. Tonight, they return home from Anaheim having taken two of three from the Halos despite spending most of that series auditioning borderline candidates for the postseason roster, which they’ll do again tonight with Joba Chamberlain making the start. So much for the absurd meme that the Yankees couldn’t beat the “big boys.”

The Yankees clinched a playoff berth in Anaheim and enter this weekend’s series against the Red Sox leading Boston by five-games in the loss column with just just nine games left on the schedule. That puts their magic number at 5 and sets the Yanks up to clinch the division with a weekend sweep. Not that I expect that to happen. Still, just one win in this series would reduce the magic number to 3 and a series win would drop it to 1. Meanwhile, even if the Red Sox sweep the series, the Yankees could clinch by simply splitting their remaining games if the Sox lose just twice in their remaining seven games against the admittedly weak Blue Jays and Indians.

So, once again, the Yankees’ goals in this series are to keep everyone healthy and sort out the final few spots on the postseason roster. Speaking of which, the Red Sox’s current roster is at the end of this post, but below the jump I’ll take a stab at projecting their likely postseason roster.

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Bronx Banter Interview: Arnold Hano

Part One

You don’t know Arnold Hano. How could you? You live in a world of bullet points and exclamation points, a place where sports writers aspire either to the pomposity of ESPN’s Sports Reporters or to the cacophony of Around the Horn. Where once a journalist would worry about supporting an argument with keen observations or weighty statistics, all that seems necessary now is a good set of lungs to shout down dissenting opinions.

Arnold Hano is more than this. If you do know him, you’ve probably read A Day In The Bleachers, Hano’s account of the first game of the 1954 World Series, or you might’ve read some of the pieces he wrote for Sport Magazine or Sports Illustrated over the ensuing thirty years. If you’re a television watcher, you might have come across some of his profiles in TV Guide, and if you’re a fan of pulp fiction, you’ve undoubtedly read one of his dime store novels.

I knew all this about Mr. Hano before I met him this past February. In some ways, he was exactly what you would expect from an eighty-six year-old man. He was direct, and to the point, and didn’t bother with unnecessary chitchat. We spoke on the phone twice, and when I asked if he’d consent to an interview, he started out by interviewing me. He asked about my interest and questioned my intentions. He wasn’t suspicious, he was just wondering why I wanted to talk to him and if I would be worth his time. Even when we finally agreed on a date, he offered to give me thirty minutes or so, with an option for more “depending upon my ability.” We ended up talking for close to two hours, the greatest compliment he could’ve given me.

Mr. Hano and his wife live in the tiny town of Laguna Beach, a city best known for its art scene and a television series on MTV. I walked up the steps to the house on a crisp Sunday morning and was greeted by Mrs. Hano, who led me into a small study, one wall of which was packed with books from floor to ceiling. In the corner sat a small, thirteen-inch television set. Mr. Hano pointed towards it, saying, “You can see that we read a lot more than we watch television.” And with that, we were off.

BronxBanter:  I want to start at the beginning. Tell me about where you grew up. New York City, right?

Arnold Hano:  New York City. Mainly I tell people I grew up in the Bronx, and sometimes I tell people I grew up in the Polo Grounds, which is across the river in Manhattan, but I was born in Washington Heights, which is at the top of Manhattan. And then when I was about four years old we moved across the Harlem River and into the Bronx. I grew up in the Bronx and went to DeWitt Clinton High School, which is the high school at the north end of the Bronx, and we were there until I was maybe fourteen or fifteen when we moved into Manhattan. The formative years were those years between maybe four and fifteen.

BB:  You talk about those formative years. How important were sports, either playing sports or following sports, in your daily life?

AH:  Both, both, both, both. I played everything, and I read everything, and I followed everything. My father brought home two newspapers everyday. He brought home the Herald Tribune and the New York Sun. I said, “How come you read the Tribune and not the Times?” And he said the Tribune was better written. So I was reading sports pages in the Tribune and I started reading Bill Heinz in the Sun when Heinz was just breaking in. Do you know Heinz at all? Great writer. I played all the ancillary games. I played punch ball, I played stick ball, I played stoop ball… There was a game in the playground called box ball, that was a very good game that we played. And then I started playing baseball in sandlot games and Police Athletic League teams and stuff like that. I was a walk-on in my senior year of college as a pitcher. I know looking at me you don’t believe all this, but I was once actually tall. I’ve lost five inches of height to issues with my spine.

BB:  And what school was that?

AH:  That was Long Island University out in Brooklyn. I’ll tell you about the walk-on later. But I played basketball, I played football, all the sports. I ran, I did everything. I was very involved in sports. I remember when I was a kid we had a stickball league behind our house. There was a length of houses, lots of room. I hit fifty-three homeruns in one season, I remember that! [Laughing.]

BB:  That’s so funny, because I remember when I was a kid we had a field, a grass field – it wasn’t stick ball in the alley – but I remember keeping track of things like that, how many home runs we had hit in this make believe season that we played whenever we wanted.

AH:  That’s right… So I was very involved.

BB:  So did young boys in the 20s and 30s, did they dream of growing up to be sports heroes as much as they do today?

AH:  I did. I can’t tell you their dreams, but I dreamed of standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium and striking out Lou Gehrig. That was a dream of mine, to throw my screwball past Lou Gehrig. Carl Hubbell had been one of my heroes, so I learned how to throw a screwball. I could control a screwball better than I could control a fastball. When my brother and I – my brother was three and a half years older, he was my mentor, he was the greatest big brother anybody ever had. He and I would go to ballgames, and in those days at the end of the ballgame you could run out on the field. We would slide into the bases before the bases were uprooted, and we would stand in centerfield and see whether we could see home plate, because of the mound, and we were little kids. He could and I couldn’t, and that sort of stuff. It was just a wonderful growing up experience to have, especially to have the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium across the river from each other within spitting distance. My grandfather was a cop in the New York City Police Department, and he had year passes to the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium, and he left them to me, so I got in to see as many games as I could see every summer. I was a Giant fan more than a Yankee fan, but I was a Babe Ruth fan, so I would do both.

BB:  What was that like, growing up like that? You can’t really relate to that now. Even the Mets and Yankees are far apart, and the Dodgers and Angels here aren’t even in the same city. What was it like with those teams so close together?

AH:  I’ll tell you even how closer it was. We lived in an apartment building in Washington Heights – this was from the time I was born until I was four – where Bob Meusel and Irish Meusel lived. Bob Meusel played left field for the Yankees, Irish Meusel played left field for the Giants. One would be using the apartment while the other was on the road, so they shared that apartment. They lived one story above us. You can’t get any closer to baseball than to have as your neighbor Bob Meusel and Irish Meusel. I used to ask my father, “Who’s better, Bob Meusel or Irish Meusel?” And my father was very, very diligent about questions like that. He’d say, “Bob Meusel has a better arm, he’s a better fielding left fielder. Emil…” He never called him Irish. “Emil Meusel has more power.” I’d say, “Well who’s better?” And he’d say, “You have to decide that.” So having the two teams there, my brother was a Giant fan and I was a Yankee fan up to 1926 when Tony Lazzeri struck out against Glover Cleveland Alexander and the Yankees lost that ballgame by one run and the Series. My brother said, “See, I told you how lousy they were.” So I shifted in 1926 to the Giants, and 1927 began the Yankee dynasty that may have been one of the greatest teams ever. But I didn’t really care because I still remained a Babe Ruth fan. I loved watching him hit homeruns.

BB:  Now tell me about Babe Ruth, please. I know…

AH:  You know the fat guy.

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News of the Day – 9/25/09

Today’s news is powered by Miles Davis and friends:

Rodriguez arrived after missing five weeks this season due to right hip surgery, relieved of the pressure he feels every season to justify his big contract and high profile. The Yankees knew he would be limited in some ways, and were happy to accept whatever he could offer.

It has been more than anticipated. With 27 home runs and 89 RBIs in 115 games, Rodriguez has found himself at the heart of a lineup that is headed for the postseason for his fifth time in six seasons with New York. The clinching this week gave Rodriguez reason to reflect on how far he’d come.

“Just shaking hands with the guys and giving a few hugs takes me back to where I was in February and March, Colorado and Tampa,” Rodriguez said. “It just feels good to be part of it and contribute a little bit.”

ekanenh (Capitol City): Shouldn’t a clear-eyed Yankee fan be concerned about starting pitching in the playoffs?

Joe Sheehan: Absolutely. Andy Pettitte‘s quality start Monday certainly makes everyone breathe easier, but A.J. Burnett is a dice roll, and they have apparently screwed up Joba Chamberlain something fierce. (The lesson here is that very-low-pitch-count starts are apparently not the way to manage workloads for young starter.) Only CC Sabathia is someone you can expect to be healthy and effective throughout October…and he’s the guy who’ll be facing Verlander and Lester. The rotation is the Yankees‘ biggest concern, and at that, they’re the postseason favorite.

sprechs (Brooklyn): How would you construct the Yankees’ post-season roster? Girardi seems pretty set on having both Guzman and Gardner–does that make any sense?

Joe Sheehan: Think of it the way Earl Weaver would…how will I use each player? If Girardi wants to start Gardner, which he should, he’ll want an extra set of legs on the bench to pinch-run tactically for Posada, Matsui and maybe Swisher. Facing a RH reliever who doesn’t hold runners well–like Papelbon, for one–Guzman could be a key element. Given that the Yankees need somewhere between zero and one backup infielders, Guzman could be a good weapon to have. I’d certainly rather him than a seventh (or EIGHTH) reliever.

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‘Kin Guys

Fats All Folks

huston

Okay, here’s the last of our extended riffing on Fat City. From John Huston’s autobiography An Open Book:

I had done bits of films in the United States, but it was a long time since I’d made an entire picture there. Ray Stark was responsible for my reappearance on the American scene with Fat City, a novel by Leonard Gardner. “Fat City is a term jazz musicians used to designate success with a capital “S.” It’s about people who are beaten before they start but who never stop dreaming. Its main characters are two fights: one aging, slightly paunchy, who’s had his moment of glory in the ring who whose next stop is Skid Row, and his younger counterpart who’s headed in the same direction despite the living lesson before his eyes.

We had hope to have Marlon Brando play the part of the older fighter. Ray and I ment him in London. He had read the script and liked it, but refused to be pinned down, saying that he would call us by the end of the week. The time passed, we heard nothing. I despair at chasing actors, so we started looking elsewhere. (Some time later I heard Marlon had injured feelings at having been “passed over.”) The man we found was another actor whose star was rising–Stacy Keach. I had never met him, but when I found that he was making a picture in Spain, I went over and paid him a visit. There was a quality there. I also saw him in a beautiful, sadly neglected little film called The Traveling Executioner. His performance was exceptional, and I knew I was lucky to have him in Fat City.

Most of the other actors–apart from Jeff Bridges, who had a few pictures to his credit, and Susan Tyrell, who’d done some theater–were non-professional. som of the cast came right out of my own past–fighters I’d known in my youth. Others turned up in Stockton itself. I remember particularly one black man we pulled out of the onion fields to try for a part. In the film he was to walk side by side with Stacy, hoeing weeds in a tomato field and telling a long story about the break-up of his marriage. This old fellow came to my apartment and read for me, his eyes glued to the pages of the script. He read as though the words were his very own. I asked him whether he tought he could learn the part.

“I already have,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t read. I was just pretending.” Someone had read the part to him a few times, and he had memorized it.

Then there was an arrogant sixteen-year-old black kid from the local high school. When Muhammad Ali saw him on the screen during a special showing I had for him, he stood up and shouted, “Stop the picture! That’s me up there! Listen to that…that’s me! you hear?” The kid was that good.

We shot most of the picture of Stockton’s Skid Row. It’s now a thing of the past; they’ve wiped it out. I wonder where all the poor devils who inhabited have gone. They have to be somewhere. There were crummy little hotels; gaps between buildings like missing teeth; people–blacks and whites–standing around or sitting on orange crates; little gambling halls where they played for nickels and dimes. Many of the signs were in Chinese because the area had a large Chinese population. The police were very gentle with the derelicts. As long as they stayed within the sharply defined boundaries of the neighborhood, they could sleep in doorways, win bottle in hand; if they wandered out, the police simply shooed them back. They were completely harmless, defeated men.

Fat City had a great reception when it was first shown, at Cannes in 1972. After the screening I walked into an adjoining hall to meet the press, and they gave me a standing ovation. When that happened, i was sure it was going to be a success. But no. Wherever it was shown, it was beautifully reviewed, but audiences didn’t care for it. It’s a fine picture, no question–well conceived, well acted, made with deep love and considerable understanding on the part of everyone involved. I suppose the public simply found it too sad. It has at least one devoted fan: Ray Stark considers it the best picture he has ever produced.

Loud Mouth

When I was younger I used to day dream about being the good samaritan hero. I’d save an old lady from being hit by a car, or take a bullet for my girlfriend. Then I’d be in the papers and I would be humble. It spoke to my sense of insecurity. I felt that if I could be a hero, if I could prove myself, people would recognize me as a good guy. They would appreciate me.

A spell of Indian Summer hit New York yesterday. This morning, the humidity covered the autumn chill like a heavy wet blanket. The sun was shining. I walked out of my apartment building, a block away to 238th street, and turned right. 238th street is a narrow block that runs downhill. I looked up and saw the fat bearded man that I see every morning on the far end of the block with his three small children waiting for the school bus. Today, he was in the middle of the block, having just walked out of his apartment building.

He walked to the curb and then crossed the street. His kids trailed behind him but didn’t go across the street. The smallest son, maybe five or six years old, was closest behind him. The boy wore a blue yarmulke that covered his head; he was weighed down from behind by his backpack. The boy stopped at the curb and watched his father. I was about thirty or forty feet away, looking downhill at them. I absent-mindedly watched the father and wondered what he was doing on the other side of the street.

The second son, taller, though not by much, than his brother, watched his father too but didn’t stop at the curb.  Out of the corner of my left eye, I saw a car coming down the hill. The boy didn’t stop so I shouted. I don’t remember what I said but I said it loudly enough for the boy to stop dead in his tracks. The car came to a halt too. And everything was quiet. It was like pressing pause on a VCR. It was about to happen and then it didn’t.

Everyone was awake now.

The father, standing on the other side of the street, looked at me and then at his son. “What is the matter with you,” he said in a thick accent that I couldn’t place. “I said to stay there.”

I looked at the driver of the car, a metallic-blue sedan. She was in her forties I guessed. She looked back at me, a flat expression on her face. I looked down and exhaled. I thought of the boy, seeing me tomorrow, and every day after that, mortified at my presence, a reminder of his carelessness. Then again, maybe he’d already forgotten about me.

I apologized to the boy. And then, to the father, “I just wanted to get his attention.” The father said something back but I don’t remember what it was. I looked at the driver again, she turned back ahead and the car rolled away.

She would have hit the boy if I hadn’t said anything. I thought about the anxiety that parents must live with every day and I started to sweat as I walked away. I imagined the impact, the reaction on the father’s face, the blood, screaming. I thought of the boy in rehab learning to walk again, a funeral.

I didn’t feel special. I felt unsure and insignificant. I had a thought to walk back home, wake up my wife and hug her but I kept walking down the hill. I thought about how safe and small my life is and how everything can change in a moment. I didn’t speak but I could feel my voice going away, like water down the drain.

I didn’t feel heroic. I felt like I was going to be sick.

News of the Day – 9/24/09

Today’s news is powered by Bruuuuuce! (He turned 60 yesterday):

Yankees utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. was removed from Wednesday’s 3-2 win at Angel Stadium after feeling a popping sensation in his left wrist and will undergo an MRI examination on Thursday in New York.

Hairston was batting in the seventh inning against right-handed reliever Jason Bulger with New York leading, 3-2, and took a ball from the hurler. He tried a practice swing after the pitch and felt something strange and painful.

“It’s just been bothering me the last three weeks or so,” Hairston said. “It felt really weird. I’ve never had that. I felt something pop and I tried to take another swing and felt kind of a sharp pain. Right now, I’m hoping it’s scar tissue or something I can play through.”

At 37, Pettitte’s been an effective mid-rotation starter . . . but the consistency in his workload over the years is astonishing. Aside from two seasons with arm problems in 2002 and 2004, Pettitte’s always been a workhorse. He’s put up four straight years of 200+ innings, and if he gets 16 more innings this season, he’d have his 11th season with 200+ IP. At 215 wins, Pettitte’s unlikely to hit the 300-win milestone, but he’s also an interesting case for the Hall of Fame. The Yankees are far enough ahead in the standings that they can do things like give Pettitte a week off to rest up, and given his results last time out, it appears that worked. . . . The age and workload may have worn him down a little, but the Yankees are smart enough to get him the needed rest.

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Rally Monkeys in the Mist

So of course I knew things had been bad with the Angels, but I didn’t realize that the Yankees had not won a series in Anaheim since May of 2004. Judging from the hilarious “Yikes, really?” look on Joe Girardi’s face when Kim Jones asked him about this after the game, neither did he. But that streak ended today, and if the Yankees showed last night that they can win at Angel Stadium, today’s 3-2 squeaker showed that they can even do it with Damon, Swisher, A-Rod and Posada tied behind their backs. (Although I would prefer not to see them try it again, okay? Thanks!)

More important than the outcome of today’s game was A.J. Burnett’s solid start. True, he only went five and two thirds innings, but that was largely because it was 95 degrees today in Anaheim and Girardi, as he explained afterwards, wanted to err on the side of caution. Burnett allowed seven hits and three walks,  more than would be ideal, but he also had 11 strikeouts and just two earned runs. Not bad, and for my money far more impressive than his last start against Seattle, because the Angels are an excellent offensive team whereas most of the Mariners could not hit water if they fell out of a canoe.

Scott Kazmir started for the Angels, but since Al Leiter wasn’t in the booth today, Michael Kay was unable to ask him for the 73rd time about that rumor that the Mets traded Kazmir because he switched Leiter’s music in the gym one day without asking. With Swisher and Posada recovering from yesterday’s foul-ball bruises and Damon and A-Rod resting, the Yankees’ lineup was not exactly at its most ferocious; things got even rougher when Jerry Hairston Jr left the game with a wrist injury, resulting in a batting order that included Jose Molina, Shelley Duncan, and Ramiro Pena, along with both Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner. Nevertheless they scraped three runs together – two on Robinson Cano’s lovely single in the fourth, another when Cano scored on Cabrera’s  subsequent double – and then hung on for dear life.

After Marte, Albaladejo and Coke had all flirted with disaster, Ian Kennedy got the call in the eighth inning, which was a nice moment on a purely human level. Baseball-wise it was a little strange, but I suppose the team needs to find out soon if Kennedy can help them in tense postseason situations or not, and this was probably as good a time as any to find out. Although since Kennedy first hit a batter and walked the bases loaded, then worked his way out of trouble for a scoreless inning, I’m still not sure what the answer is. Nature took its course in the ninth  as Mariano Rivera came in and worked his 42nd (nice) save of the year.

The Yankees are off tomorrow and hopefully will get some rest before this weekend’s series, the season’s last against the Red Sox — or is it? Dun dun dun. Friday night Joba Chamberlain faces Jon Lester, and I’m sure that will go absolutely swimmingly… now please excuse me a moment while I wipe the dripping sarcasm off my keyboard.

Finally, for those of you who are into this sort of thing, I just joined Twitter. My “followers” so far include Cliff, Diane, and about 17 porn spambots, so feel free to join the party.

Two, Three…Break

After today’s game, the Yanks are done with the Angels and the west coast for now. 

AJ looks to put together another solid start.

sunset

Hell with the beach balls, let’s go Yan-Kees.

Card Corner: King Kong Keller

Keller

When I first saw that Brian Bruney had switched his uniform number to ‘99,’ I thought that he had become the first Yankee to sport the highest of the two-digit numbers. After all, the Yankees have always been a conservative organization. They would never let one of their players wear a number like ‘99,’ or ‘0,’ or ’00.’

As so often happens, the subsequent research did not support my initial instinct. While it’s true that no Yankee has ever worn ‘0’ or ’00,” the No. 99 has come into play once before. Former Yankee outfielder Charlie Keller, a mainstay of the forties and early fifties, beat Bruney to the punch by well over 50 years. During the 1952 season—his final year in the major leagues—Keller played in only two games as part of a late-September comeback, but wore different uniform numbers each time. In one game, he wore No. 28. In the other, he took the unusual route and wore No. 99, giving himself a strange milestone achievement in Yankee lore.

I have no idea why Keller wore 99 for that one game. Perhaps he sensed the end of his career was near and wanted to do something flashy before he stepped aside completely. That’s simply speculation on my part. What is not speculation is this: Charlie Keller was one of the more underrated Yankees of his era, a damned fine hitter who registered high OPS numbers before anybody knew what in the world OPS meant.

Just how good was Charlie Keller? For his career, most of which came in pinstripes, he compiled a .410 on-base percentage and a .518 slugging percentage, both lofty numbers. Like so many left-handed power hitters in team history, he made good use of the short porch at the original Yankee Stadium, all while displaying one of the keenest batting eyes of the 1940s. As a Yankee, he never struck out as many times as he walked in a single season. Not even close. When observed more broadly, Keller was a primetime player from 1939 until 1946, a period of time that saw him reach 30-plus homeruns three times, 100 walks five times, and 100-plus RBIs three times. For nearly a decade, Keller (who played mostly in left field), center fielder Joe DiMaggio, and right fielder Tommy “Ole Reliable” Henrich formed what might have been the greatest outfield of all-time.

Keller retained his standard of excellence in World Series play, even elevating his level of power. In 72 at-bats spread over four different World Series, Keller pumped five home runs to the tune of a .611 slugging percentage. He also batted .306 in postseason play, helping the Yankees to four world championships in five attempts.

All of these accomplishments would have formed a prelude to a Hall of Fame career, if not for a chronic back injury that rendered Keller a part-time player by the age of 30 and forced him to retire completely by the age of 35. Even given his shortened career, a few Sabermetrically inclined writers have made pleas for his case as a Hall of Famer, especially if he’s given credit for having lost all of 1944 and most of 1945 to military service in World War II.

Beyond the numbers, Keller also brought some distinct imagery to the American League landscape of the forties and fifties. With his dark, bushy eyebrows and solid-as-stone 190 pounds on a five-foot, ten-inch frame, Keller took on an intimidating stature at the ballpark and in the batter’s box. As physically strong as any player of the era, Keller found himself being called “King Kong” by members of the writing establishment. Reserved and serious, Keller hated the nickname—hey, being likened to a giant gorilla has never been a desired comparison—but it fit, both in terms of description and lyrical quality. For a good part of his career, he was known as King Kong Keller first, and Charlie Keller second.

Clearly, Keller deserves to be remembered, both for his numbers and his raw power. Like Willie Randolph, Hank Bauer, Eddie Lopat, and Vic Raschi, he remains one of the most under-recognized Yankees of all-time. So the next time you see Brian Bruney wearing his No. 99 in a game, think about Charlie “King Kong” Keller, at least for a little bit.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.

News of the Day – 9/23/09

Today’s news is powered by the Double Dutch Bus:

The Yankees announced on Tuesday that they plan to welcome United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Panama President Ricardo Martinelli to throw ceremonial first pitches this weekend at Yankee Stadium.

Sotomayor, a Bronx native, will take the mound on Saturday, prior to the Yankees’ game against the Red Sox. Martinelli will perform the honors the evening before, on Friday, as New York opens its important three-game series with Boston.

The invitations are part of the Yankees’ continuing celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

  • AL Cy Young contender Zack Greinke speaks of the comfort of pitching in KC:

Had he waited until free agency, or even just until the end of this year, he would have been in line for tens of millions more. But security had substantial appeal, especially given that Greinke recognized that Kansas City offered him a comfortable environment, on and off the field.

Even so, Greinke’s growing confidence becomes evident in hearing him suggest that he could succeed outside of the cocoon of the only organization that he has ever known.

“[The environment] had a lot to do with [signing the extension], for sure,” said Greinke. “Now, maybe New York would bother me, but I don’t think anywhere else would bother me anymore. Even though I’m in Kansas City, I’ve gotten used to it a lot more. New York, I still might have trouble in New York. I probably would. But I think almost everyone does.”

(more…)

Angels and Demons

by Hank Waddles

I am optimistic to a fault. There are some things that I worry about, I suppose, but in general I assume that everything’s going to work out for the best. Perhaps that’s what drew me to baseball as a boy. Baseball is a game of hope, much more so than any other sport out there, in the long term as much as the short. If you’ve ever watched until the last pitch with your team down seven runs or thought about your team’s playoff rotation in the early days of March, you know what I mean. Baseball is hope.

Except when the Yankees are playing the Angels. I can’t explain what happens to me when these two teams hook up, especially when the games are in Anaheim. Take Tuesday night, for instance. A normal person would’ve looked at that early 5-0 lead and felt confident. The optimist would note that Ervin Santana was getting hit hard and that Chad Gaudin looked remarkably like a number four starter, but the pessimist would answer that Santana’s diving changeup had led to seven early strikeouts and that Gaudin was, well, Chad Gaudin.

The optimist would look at all those two-out, two-strike counts and head for the kitchen to grab a snack, but instead I sat nailed the couch, certain something bad was on the way. Sure enough, something bad usually was. It started in the fateful fifth, when an Angel hitter worked a full count after two were already out. (The name on the jersey said Figgins, but we all know it could’ve been any of a dozen pesky Angles, all cut from the same bedeviling cloth. In fact, I’m not sure why they don’t just stitch ECKSTEIN on everyone’s back and be done with it.) Rather than striking out and grabbing his glove, Figgins lofted a pop fly to right which slithered around the foul pole. It was cheaper than any Yankee Stadium home run, which seemed just about right. Damn those Angels.

Two batters later, our old friend Bobby Abreu earned another full count, but Gaudin walked him, and to borrow a phrase from Vin Scully, the Angels finally had a look at the game. Up next was Vlad Guerrero, who quickly hacked his way to an 0-2 count. If ever there were a time to throw a pitch about two feet off the plate, this was it, but instead Gaudin spun a little breaking ball belt high across the center of the plate. The only surprise was that the ball stayed in the park. Minutes earlier Gaudin had been a single pitch away from five shutout innings and a shot at a win; now he was walking slowly to the bench.

Vulture Aceves quickly got out of the fifth inning, but the Angels kept chipping away, scoring their third run when pinch hitter Gary Matthews, Jr., lined an 0-2 (!) pitch to right, and their fourth when Abreu drew a bases-loaded walk on a 3-2 pitch. In the eighth, Yankee-killer Howie Kendrick reached on an error by Canó, then took off for second on the first pitch and kept going to third when Posada’s throw sailed into the outfield. Moments later Kendrick was trotting in behind a Macier Izturis single, and the game was tied. Damn those Angels.

But then a funny thing happened. Brett Gardner walked up to the plate to lead off the ninth inning, and my optimism returned. “If Gardner gets on base here, the Yankees will win,” I told myself. “He’ll steal second on the first pitch and someone will knock him in.” I had it almost right.

Gardner singled and stole second on the secondpitch. The Yankees managed to survive some questionable bunting decisions (Jeter squared on a 3-0 pitch, but I have to believe he was taking all the way, and Damon followed with a risky two-strike bunt that pushed the runners to second and third) and A-Rod game up with a chance to win the game. He turned on the first pitch he saw from Darren Oliver, sending a sac fly to left and plating Gardner with the winning run.

Rivera closed up shop, and my optimistic heart started pumping again. Instead of worrying about a sweep, I was now expecting A.J. Burnett to bring home a series win with a good start on Wednesday. Instead of worrying about the division lead, I noted that the Yankees had clinched a playoff spot, ending our long national nightmare. Instead of obsessing on the Angels, I thought about the Twins and Tigers and a path to the World Series.

Is it too early for that? Of course not. Baseball is hope.

Do It

The Yanks are on the brink of clinching a playoff spot. Why not tonight? Yeah, I know Chad Gaudin is pitching but the Yanks have to pick it up one of these nights.

 bbstock9

Why not tonight in the land of light and sun?

Go git ‘em, dudes.  Let’s Go Yan-kees!

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Projecting the Postseason Roster

The Yankees are clearly using their final 20 games to figure out who will make their 25-man roster for the ALDS. That’s why minor league journeyman speedster Freddy Guzman is on the major league roster and why relievers such as Brian Bruney are getting game opportunities that otherwise seem unearned given their overall performance.

There are still some questions that need to be answered, chief among them whether or not David Robertson will be available and effective by season’s end, but prompted by Joe Girardi’s use of Bruney and Jonathan Alabaladejo last night and Brian Cashman’s comments about Joba Chamberlain (coming up), I thought I’d weigh in on the subject.

First, here are Cashman’s comments on Joba via Pete Caldera’s blog:

He needs to declare himself. He’s no different than anyone else. Everybody loves his tenacity,but we’re going to take the best 10 guys. There’s no assumptions there. He’s put himself in a position where the manager has to make a decision that there’s not one guy ahead of him that he needs to give the ball to. He might not realize it, but he’s in competition with any number of guys to take the ball.

Also relevant to Joba’s situation is the fact that the Yankees, assuming they finish with the best record in the league, will be able to chose which of the two ALDS schedules they’ll play. One would require a normal four starters, but the other includes and extra off-day and would allow them to use just three starters in the first round. Given how Chamberlain has pitched of late, I’m guessing they’ll go with the three-starter scenario.

While I would understand the team trying to send a message to Joba by leaving him off the ALDS roster (while simultaneously allowing him to pitch simulated games to stay ready for the ALCS), I’d be surprised to see them pass up the chance to use him out of the bullpen in the ALDS.

Cashman’s quote indicates that the Yankees will bring just ten pitchers to the ALDS, which should result in something like this:

Rotation:

L – CC Sabathia
L – Andy Pettitte
R – A.J. Burnett

Bullpen:

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Phil Hughes
L – Phil Coke
R – Alfredo Aceves
R – Joba Chamberlain
L – Damaso Marte
R – Chad Gaudin

Marte has allowed a run in just one of his eight appearances since returning from the DL. In those eight appearances, he hasn’t allowed any of his ten inherited runners to score, hasn’t allowed a home run, and has struck out six in 5 1/3 innings against two walks. Gaudin, whose start tonight could significantly reinforce or undermine his chances for making the postseason roster, has a 3.68 ERA as a Yankee and can be an effective long-man in case of an early exit by a starter, a deep extra-inning game, or can eat innings in a blowout.

Note that David Robertson is currently rehabbing a sore elbow and was last seen playing catch at 60 feet. If he’s able to return effectively during before the season ends, he could bounce Marte, Gaudin, or even Chamberlain from the roster.

So, if the Yankees are only taking ten pitchers, who are their 15 position players? First the starting nine:

1B – Mark Teixeira
2B – Robinson Cano
SS – Derek Jeter
3B – Alex Rodriguez
C – Jorge Posada
RF – Nick Swisher
CF – Melky Cabrera
LF – Johnny Damon
DH – Hideki Matsui

Then the top bench guys:

CF – Brett Gardner
OF – Eric Hinske
UT – Jerry Hairston Jr.
C – Jose Molina

That leaves two spots, which is where you might find a third catcher (Francisco Cervelli) a bonus speed-and-defense player (Freddy Guzman), or an extra infielder (Ramiro Peña). Given the lack of opportunities given to Shelly Duncan since his recall, I don’t think he’s being considered as a right-handed pinch-hitting option. By that same token, Guzman has only appeared in two games thus far, suggesting that he’s not being seriously considered either. It could be that one of those spots goes to a healthy Robertson, giving the Yankees 11 pitchers and an eight-man bullpen in the ALDS.

There are 11 games left on the Yankees’ regular season schedule, including tonight’s. That’s enough time for those last two bench players to make themselves known or for certain relievers to pitch themselves on or off the roster. Alabaladejo and Bruney did themselves no favors last night. We’ll see if Gaudin can do better tonight.

Fat City Redux

fat city

Sometimes you can tell right away that you’re going to like a movie. I had that experience Friday night when I saw Fat City at the Film Forum with Alex (who posted his thoughts here and a few more here). It starts with an atmospheric Kris Kristofferson song – “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” which I downloaded about 30 seconds after getting home – and on-location establishing shots of dingy Stockton, California, then finds its central figure, played by a rough around the edges Stacy Keach, waking up in a bare flophouse room in his underwear. There follows a long, entirely visual sequence in which he grabs a cigarette, checks for matches, searches for them in his pants pocket, coat pocket, and on the end table, gets dressed and goes outside, looks around blinking in the sunlight for a few seconds, throws his unsmoked cigarette down and goes back to his room. I’m not sure if that scene would play as funny on every viewing, but that night in that particular theater it did, and by the end of the sequence I was sold.

I went in with pretty high hopes, too, because the movie was directed by John Huston, but as it turns out a lot of the Huston movies I’d seen and loved don’t have much in common with Fat City – the stylized awesomeness of Maltese Falcon or the fun camp of Key Largo or even Treasure of the Sierra Madre, although the underlying worldview of that last one is probably not all that different. Fat City is in the gritty*, naturalistic vein of a lot of 70s cinema, with a loose plot but a very specific setting and characters. Stacy Keach plays Billy Tully, a 29-year-old itinerant semi-ex-boxer on his way from low to lower, and a ridiculously young Jeff Bridges is Ernie Munger, just starting out in the ring and headed nowhere that great.

While hardly a cheery flick, it was not so slit-your-wrists grim as I’d been expecting from a movie that’s usually summed up as “70s boxing flick about losers and drunks,” and lot of that is thanks to Nicholas Colasanto (aka Raging Bull’s Tommy “He ain’t pretty no more” Como) as the boxers’ small-time manager, and Art Aragon as his assistant and foil. It’s all in the delivery with those two, and they’re pitch-perfect, often very funny and 100% believable – Aragon was a professional boxer in the ’40s and ’50s, and I was actually surprised to learn that Colasanto never was.

Fat City is not a movie with a particularly high opinion of women, but then, as Alex pointed out afterwards, it’s not a movie with a particularly high opinion of anyone. Susan Tyrrell was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Tully’s dumb, shrill, alcoholic pseudo-love interest, and although she’s completely convincing in the role the character is so irritating as to be almost unwatchable. On the other hand it’s hard to argue that Tully, who finds a way to make bad luck worse four times out of five, really deserves much more.

What I liked most about Fat City was its subtlety – so few movies trust their audience to that extent. I kept waiting for something melodramatic to happen: Tully hits the woman, or her ex gets out of jail and tries to kill him, or a boxer is killed in the ring, or the characters scream at each other about their feelings… well, non-spoiler alert, nothing like that happens. There’s plenty going on in a given scene, but Huston never feels obligated to spell it out for anyone.

Finally, I realized in writing this that I actually have no idea why it’s called Fat City. But put in on your Netflix queue, and then when you watch it, lemme know what you think… or better yet see it at the Film Forum where it’s playing through October 1st. This is one of those movies that might get lost on TV and benefits from a big screen, dark room and into-it crowd.

*Ugh, not only was that word already overused when talking about movies, but now I can’t hear it without thinking of David Eckstein. New Year’s resolution: I will stop using the word “gritty.” Right after this post.

News of the Day – 9/22/09

Today’s news is powered by a Yellow Submarine:

The Yankees are monitoring Chapman’s situation and will undoubtedly be interested in signing a 21-year-old left-hander whose fastball exceeds 100 miles an hour and who was touted as the best pitching prospect in Cuba. So far, General Manager Brian Cashman has not commented on Chapman, but the Yankees have been aggressive in signing international pitchers like Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras.

Roberto González Echevarría, a professor at Yale University who has written extensively about Cuban baseball, called Chapman “the most promising young pitcher” to leave Cuba in 50 years.

  • Friend of the Banter Allen Barra is concerned about the Yanks:

(Joba) Chamberlain went just three innings, was hammered for seven runs on six hits and three walks, handing the Yankees their second series loss in the last ten days. And the excuse was the recent A.J. Burnett mantra: “If not for one or two bad pitches …” Memo to A.J. and Joba: a three-run homer is not — repeat, not — one mistake. It is, at the very least, three mistakes.

Joba hasn’t gone more than five innings since August 11, and in his last seven starts, has gone just 20 innings, giving up 39 hits and walking 12 against just 17 strikeouts. Let’s make that even more dramatic: in his five starts since the Yankees began this ridiculous “New Rules” (with apologies to Bill Maher) approach, Joba has pitched 16 innings, given up 23 hits, struck out 10, and given up 14 earned runs for an eye-gouging ERA of 7.87. . . .

Is there a team in baseball with a worse record of developing young pitchers than the Yankees? Was there any more illogical way to bring Joba along than to put him in games where he was expected to only go three or four innings? If whoever is calling the shots in the front office had conferred with Joe Girardi and pitching coach Dave “No Man Is An” Eiland and at least agreed to put Job aback in the bullpen to be worked in front of Phil Hughes, they might at least have something to show for all the absurd coddling and pampering of Joba. All they’ve got now is a big fat ugly decision as to whether or not he should be included on the postseason roster — and if the numbers mean anything, the answer to that question is an emphatic no.

(more…)

Shouldering On

The Yankees lost 5-2 to the Angels Monday night as Joe Saunders pitched a gem. Saunders allowed solo homers to Alex Rodriguez and pinch-hitter Hideki Matsui (Godzilla’s first career pinch-hit tater) in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, but otherwise allowed just five hits, no runs, and walked no one. Meanwhile, the Rangers crushed the A’s 10-3 to postpone the Yankees’ postseason clinch at least one more day.

Andy Pettitte's left shoulder looked good Monday night (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)None of that was particularly important, however. The most significant thing that happened for the Yankees on Monday night was that Andy Pettitte turned in a quality start, recovering from a rocky, two-run first inning to retired the Angels in order in the second, third, and fourth before giving up a third run in the fifth on a walk and a pair of singles. Pettitte then retired Vlad Guerrero, Torii Hunter, and Juan Rivera in order in the sixth, finishing his day at 91 pitches with just five hits allowed in six innings.

Pettitte had skipped his last turn due to some shoulder discomfort in his previous start, but after shaking off some rust in the first, he looked sharp, and more importantly, said he felt good after the game. In fact, Pettitte said his shoulder hasn’t hurt since that previous start ten days earlier. That’s a tremendous relief given Joba Chamberlain’s disaster start on Sunday and A.J. Burnett’s inconsistency. The Yankees’ biggest concern entering the postseason is the effectiveness of their starting rotation. Having Pettitte healthy and effective is of utmost importance.

Trailing 3-0, Joe Girardi used the remainder of the game to audition relievers for the postseason roster, giving the seventh to Brian Bruney and the eighth to Jonathan Albaldejo. Neither made much of a case for himself. Bruney gave up two hits including a booming home run to pinch-hitter Kendry Morales (Bruney said after the game that he was trying to be too fine with the pitch). Albaladejo gave up a run on a Vlad Guerrero single and a double to the wall by Juan Rivera.

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