"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: October 2009

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Taking Advantage

The first two games of this World Series could have gone either way and did. CC Sabathia allowed just two runs in seven innings in Game One, but Cliff Lee allowed just one unearned run in nine as the Phillies cruised to a 1-0 lead. Pedro Martinez was sharp in Game Two, striking out eight in six innings while allowing just three runs, but A.J. Burnett was better, striking out nine and allowing just one run in seven, setting up a six-out save by Mariano Rivera which tied the series at 1-1.

The conventional wisdom is that when the road team splits the first two games of a best-of-seven series, they’ve succeeded in making it a best-of-five series in which they have the majority of the home games. That’s true, to a point, but it overlooks the sizeable advantages the Yankees retain in this series. To begin with, they still have home field advantage for what are likely to be the two most important games of the Series, Games Six and Seven, both of which will find at least one team a win away from the championship. The Yankees also have the edge in at least three of the remaining pitching matchups, including tonight’s and tomorrow’s.

Yesterday, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel announced that Joe Blanton, not Cliff Lee, would start Sunday’s Game Four. Lee will only have had three-days’ rest heading into Sunday, and he’s never started on short rest in his major league career. He also threw 122 pitches in his Game One shutout. Thus, Blanton, which gives the Yankees a sizeable advantage as Joe Girardi announced today that he will indeed start CC Sabathia on short rest in Game Four. Pitching on three-days’ rest in Game Four of the ALCS, Sabathia held the Angels to one run (on a solo homer) in eight innings. Sabathia also dominated in three consecutive short-rest starts for the Brewers as the 2008 season drew to a close (0.83 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 21 K, 4 BB, 0 HR in 21 2/3 IP). Until he was bested by Lee in Game One, the Yankees had won all three of Sabathia’s starts this postseason, and with Blanton opposing him in Game Four, the Yankees have to be heavily favored in that game as well.

Entering the Series, when it seemed that Manuel would start Lee on short rest, tonight’s game looked like most favorable pitching matchup for the Yankees. Cole Hamels pitched the Phillies to the title last year, but this postseason he’s been just shy of awful, posting a 6.75 ERA while allowing six home runs in just 14 2/3 innings over three starts (that’s 3.7 HR/9). That bad run actually extends back through Hamels’ last three starts of the regular season, giving him a 6.89 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over his last six starts.

The Phillies have actually won two of Hamels three postseason starts, both against the Dodgers, but did so by scoring a combined 18 runs. That doesn’t seem likely to happen tonight as Andy Pettitte has been his usual reliable self. Pettitte has lasted 6 1/3 innings in all three of his starts this postseason, walked just one man in each, and only once allowed as many as three runs. In fact, Pettitte’s last six postseason starts dating back to the 2005 NLCS have been quality starts (2.15 ERA, 4.0 K/BB), and in his last 13 postseason starts, including all of the 2003 playoffs and World Series, he’s posted a 2.64 ERA and turned in 11 quality starts. In his one regular season start against the Phillies this year, Pettitte gave up four runs in seven innings, but three of those runs scored on a home run by John Mayberry Jr., who isn’t even on the Phillies’ World Series roster.

Hamels is starting at home, where he his ERA was nearly a run and a quarter lower than his road mark this year, but Pettitte was significantly better on the road and has allowed just one earned run in 12 career innings at Citizens Bank Park. This matchup clearly favors the Yankees, and it will be on the offense and the bullpen to cash in these next two games, especially with the dominant Lee starting on full rest in Game Five (likely against A.J. Burnett on short rest).

Judging by the starting pitching matchups alone, this Series should return to the Bronx with the Yankees leading 3-2 and should find Sabathia, pitching on short rest for the second time in a row, lined up to face Hamels in a Game Seven matchup that also heavily favors the Yankees.

The only catch is the weather. If any of these games is rained out (and there’s a 70 percent chance of rain tonight, though the teams believe they’re going to get the game in), it could wipe out the Yankees’ hopes of starting Sabathia twice more and could line up his then-only-remaining start with Lee’s on Monday, thus making CC a near non-factor rather than the expected difference maker. If that happens, it will make taking advantage of something like tonight’s Pettitte-Hamels pairing all the more crucial to the Yankees’ success in this series.

Nick Swisher returns to the Yankee lineup tonight. He’s never faced Hamels before. Hideki Matsui rides pine due to the lack of DH at the National League Park. Expect a pinch-hitting appearance from Matsui in the late innings, but don’t expect to see him in the field unless there’s a substitution crunch (the Yankees have Gardner, Hinske, and Hairston who can go out to the field before Matsui would have to), particularly on a wet field. The Phillies’ lineup is standard.

I Got a Rock



or Treat?


Everyone Takes a Beating Sometime

I worked for the Coen brothers for a little over a year, first as their personal assistant and then as an assistant film editor on The Big Lebowski. I didn’t become lasting friends with them but I got to know them some and had as good a time working for them as I did for anyone else in my short career in the movie business. They were definitely Jewish and definitely New Yorkers but they weren’t Jewish New Yorkers, not like any of the Jews I grew up around. They were from somewhere else, no place I knew from, a place with space and open sky. A place where there was a lot of silence and even more time for thinking.


I remember being in Joel’s apartment one time when I saw a small black-and-white photograph hanging on the wall. The picture, which must have been taken in the late Fifties or early Sixites, was of a man wearing slacks–pulled up high, a buttoned-up shortsleeve shirt, tie. But the photograph turned foggy at the man’s neckline and you could not see his head at all. Eraser head. It was a striking image but one that happened by accident–one of those in-camera mishaps, or maybe a screw-up at the developers.

Joel told me that he had taken the picture and the man in it was his father.

I looked at it was thought about what an artist friend once told me about the Coens. “They make pictures,” he said.  Their gift for the arresting image developed way back.

I looked at  the picture of Mr. Coen and Joel said, “Yeah, this pretty much says it all about my dad.”

A Serious Man is the Coen’s latest movie and it is the most personal movie they’ve ever made and one of the most Jewish movies I’ve ever seen. I don’t know that it is autobiographical in any literal sense, but it feels knowing in a special, intimate way.  In a fine review for the L.A. Times, Kenneth Turan writes:

Writer-directors Joel and Ethan have seized the opportunity afforded by the Oscar-winning success of “No Country for Old Men,” to make their most personal, most intensely Jewish film, a pitch-perfect comedy of despair that, against some odds, turns out to be one of their most universal as well.

Set in a very specific time and place — the Jewish community in suburban Minneapolis circa 1967 — that closely echoes the Coens’ own background, “A Serious Man” is a memory piece re-imagined through the darkest possible lens.

Yet the more the man of the title suffers the torments of Job, the more he tries to deal with the unknowability of the usual willfully absurd and decidedly hostile Coen universe, the more we’re encouraged to wonder if this isn’t just the tiniest bit funny. And the more real the pain becomes, the more, in a quintessentially Jewish way, laughter becomes our only serious option.

The movie is full of Jewish tradition and detail. And while it can be grotesque it isn’t mean-spirited or self-loathing. It is about passive-aggresive Jewish men and over-bearing Jewish women. It is about how important thinking, being a thinker, is for Jews, about having a moral center, about questioning the universe, and how in the end, none of the big, existential questions really matter. Unless, of course, they do. It is about dreams and the unconscious and mystery.  


My father’s family is Jewish but I never had a bar mitzvah and the only time I went to Temple was once a year to visit my grandparents on the high holidays. I can’t relate with much of the spiritual and moral questioning that defines many Jews, like my grandfather for instance.  When I think back on this movie I’m not drawn to trying to figure any of it out, necessarily, though I could see why some people would. Still, I feel eager to talk about it. It’s of those movies that you just want to talk about when you leave the theater.

I think it is one of the most successful movies the Coen’s have ever made. It is beautifully realized, disturbing, and often hilarious. The performances, the writing, the pacing, the images, are all wonderful. The Coens have rarely been integrated high and low culture as seemlessly as they have here. The movie feels fantastic and surreal, rational and irrational: completely authentic.


When it was over, I felt happy and content, even though the ending is a doozy. After the credits finished rolling (one of the last credits read, “No Jews were harmed during the making of this film”), an old woman who was sitting in front of me said, “Marvelous,” in a husky New York accent. The lights came on and I saw her face. “Simply marvelous.”  She was wearing a blue wrap around her head and couldn’t have been more than five feet tall. She turned to her friend and said, “That might be the sadest movie that I’ve ever seen, don’t you think?”  And it was sad in a way though I didn’t feel sad or depressed. I felt satisfied.

The pictures and sounds and stories in the movie were stimulating, and I felt like staying put and watching it again.


Joe Blanton will start Game 4.


Read the news over at River Avenue Blues, who picked it up from Joel Sherman.

Rattle Your Jewelry


There has been a lot of talk about the lame the vibe at Yankee Stadium in the first two games of the Serious. This is nothing new. Back in 1962, Roger Angell wrote about the “ignorance and moneyed apathy” of a World Series crowd in the Bronx:

This jet Subway Series moved three thousand miles east last Saturday, but in watching the reactions of the local crowds to the first of the three marvelous games in Yankee Stadium this week I had the recurrent impression that the teams’ planes had overshot their mark, and that the Series was being continued before a polite, uncomprehending audience of Lebanese or Yemenis. New York is full of cool, knowing baseball fans–a cabdriver the other day gave me an explicit, dispassionate account of the reasons for the Milwaukee Braves’ collapse this year–but not many of them got their hands on Series tickets. Before the first game here, on Sunday, the northbound D trains were full of women weighted down with expensive coiffures and mink stoles, not one of whom, by the look of them, had ever ridden a subway as far as the Bronx before. There was no noise in the stands during batting practice, and the pregame excitement seeemed to arise from the crowd’s admiration for itself and its size (a sellout 71, 431), rather than for the contest to come; ritual and occasion had displaced baseball.

…By the sixth inning, when the game was still scoreless, spectators had begun walking out in twos and threes, surrendering their tickets stubs to the perserving verticals; the departees had accomplished their purpose, which was to be able to tell their friends they had been to a Series game.

Now, the schmucks and schmuckettes behind home plate wave, talk on their phones, and spend more time texting than watching the game.

Tough Town, Good Eats


Philly it is.

world series 2-nolaurel

Poster can be found at Sports Propaganda.com.

The Beauty Part


They are as different as you can get, but last night Pedro Martinez and Mariano Rivera showed us once again that baseball is more about art than science. Both pitchers are great competitors, great performers–not only craftsmen, but true artists.

We are lucky to watch them work.

Who’s Your Erratic #2 Starter?

A.J. Burnett had a terrific start last night, as if unaware that millions of people were completely freaked out about his ability to do so, and a few of the Yankee hitters recovered from Wednesday’s Cliff Lee-induced  trauma, and so New York beat Philly 3-1 to even the series. And yet, naturally, the first thing I want to write about is Pedro.

“I know they really wanna root for me,” said Pedro of Yankees fans, smiling in what appeared to be a zoot suit stolen from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, shortly after (he claims) lecturing a man in the front row about using foul language in front of his daughter. “It’s just that I don’t play for the Yankees. That’s all. I’ve always been a good competitor, and they love that… You know, I’m a New Yorker as well, so – if I was on the Yankees, I’d be a king over here.”

He’s right, of course. Personally, I always appreciate athletes who understand that they’re also entertainers, and nobody gets that more than Pedro. He gets the fans, he gets the media, he plays his part with flair – he was a great villain; his ego is, to put it politely, healthy, but he’s backed it up often enough. By the end of 2003 I disliked him about as much as I’ve ever disliked a player (at least, a player who hadn’t committed some actual crime), but I’ve long since come around. It was seeing him on the Mets that mostly did it, watching him pitch smarter as he got slower, loved by the fans and his teammates no matter how often he was injured, and of course always good for a quote. And I suppose it was also realizing that he would be retiring soon, if not this year, and you won’t have Pedro to kick around anymore. I can’t wait for his Hall of Fame induction speech.

Pedro was going to be the story tonight no matter what he did, which is probably fine by him, and he pitched very well – but as far as the Yankees are concerned, the bigger news was A.J. Burnett’s excellent start. I think most fans knew he was capable of it, but didn’t dare to expect it. His curveball was a knockout punch, and he was refreshingly free of control issues: seven innings pitched, nine strikeouts, only two walks. There were moments in the game’s first half when he seemed like he might be teetering on the brink of chaos, but he never quite lost control: one second-inning run on a blooped ground-rule double and a single that probably should’ve been an E5 was all the Phillies got.

That was a good thing, too, since for the first chunk of the game, the Yankee bats were becalmed and the Stadium was way too quiet. Pedro and his sneaky stuff deserves the credit, but I wonder if he got any kind of assist from a Cliff Lee hangover. In the fourth inning, though, Mark Teixeira (it’s aliiiiiive!) whacked an 84 mph changeup over the right field fence to tie the game.

Hideki Matsui gave the Yankees the lead with another solo shot in the sixth, and I never call these things, but I have to say: I called that one. The Phillies got five-plus excellent innings and 90 pitches out of 2009 Pedro, against the Yankees no less, and I thought to ask for too much more than that was to push their luck.

Then in the seventh, a funny thing happened: Pedro Martinez stayed in the game. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Even six years ago, everyone watching the ALCS at home knew that after about 100 pitches, give or take, Pedro’s effectiveness took a nosedive – as great as he was then, he didn’t have a ton of stamina. Everyone knew it, and everyone was screaming it at Grady Little’s impassive face on their TV, yet here we are many years and multiple Martinez surgeries later… I don’t mean to make too much of it, probably the Yankees win this one anyway, with that Burnett start and Mariano Rivera. It’s just that if you pulled some random casual baseball fan off the couch and put him or her in a dugout, this is probably the one mistake they would absolutely know not to make.

Anyway, the much-maligned Jerry Hairston Jr. singled, and Brett Gardner ran for him, advancing to third on Melky Cabrera’s single. Jorge Posada came up to pinch-hit, but we were all denied the drama of that matchup when Manuel finally strolled to the mound and summoned Chan Ho Park. Posada singled anyway; 3-1 Yankees. Derek Jeter then struck out on a foul bunt. That’s right, he was bunting with two on and no outs, Yanks up by two in the seventh, and he kept bunting with two strikes, and then he struck out on a foul bunt, and I don’t want to talk about it.

In other Bad-For-Baseball news, the umpires then blew a call when Johnny Damon’s line drive was called an out in the air, though it looked like in fact it had hit the ground before Ryan Howard caught it, and so Posada was called out too, doubled off. I have run out of umpire jokes. The Phillies got screwed the very next inning, when Chase Utley and his hair were called out at first to complete a DP against Mariano Rivera; it looked on replays like he was most likely safe. Ragging on the umps is an ancient and respected part of baseball tradition, but things are getting out of hand.

Mariano Rivera had a choppy eighth inning, but persevered, and the ninth was more like it. The Yankees now head to Philly, and to paraphrase Ol’ Blue Eyes, if you can’t hit a ton of home runs there you can’t hit a ton of home runs anywhere.

Discussion question: if you were picking a baseball-related Halloween costume, what would you pick? And is there any way to go as an umpire without being insensitive to the visually impaired?

The Return of El Diablo, le Petit Prince Magnifique!*


This is one of those fun games where all the analysis goes out the window because you can basically see any number of things happen. Pedro could get bombed, AJ could get bombed. Burnett could throw a gem. Pedro could be decent. He could maybe plunk somebody, just cause, you know? Homers and errors and relief pitchers and it’s past midnight and they are still playing. Or a pitcher’s duel. How about a so-so game, where they both allowe 3 or 5 runs in 5 or 6 innings. I can’t call it. And that’s the beauty part, right?

It’s one of those games that could be pedestrian but feels like it’s going to be surreal and nuts like so:

For pure theater, it should be good. Pedro Martinez has been a great bad guy in the Bronx and never fails to angry up the blood.


Pedro is one of the few players that draws upon the hatred of a crowd instead of needing to respond off the enthusiasm of a home crowd (and that’s the difference between Pedro and Cole Hamels according to the men that make the moves for the Phillies). Course I’d love nothing more than to see him get served, but with Pedro, you never know. Who’ll be shocked if he pitches a gem? He’s a great artist and you never know with those guys if they’ve got one last great flourish in them.

He’s never pitched in the new Yankee Stadium, that’s one thing. I’m sure the Yankee hitters will be happy to face him compared with Cliff Lee.  Yeah, the offense should be fine tonight. Yes, Joe Girardi is already working hard starting Jerry Hairston over Eric Hinske or Brett Gardner. But the mashers are supposed to mash here, so, c’mon: mash dummies.

The $99,000 question is what it has been all season: Burnett.

We’ve said all year long around here, the Yanks win the World Serious if they’ve got Burnett pitching well.

Nu? So, C’mon Meat. You kin do it. We’ll be dying right with ya.

Bombs Away, Fellas.


Let’s Go Ya-Kees!




Jerry Hairston in for Nick Swisher; Jose Molina in for Jorge Posada.

Like the Hairston move, but as for Molina…Yipe!

The Big Bopper


Word-for-word, piece-for-piece, I think Lee Jenkins is one of the best writers at Sports Illustrated these days. His latest piece, previewing the Serious in this week’s issue, is on Blastmaster Ryan Howard:

Howard’s bat measures a stout 35 inches, 34 ounces, but in his hands it looks like a toothpick.

Those hands, big as a middle infielder’s mitt, are what former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick noticed the first time he saw Howard play six years ago in the Arizona Fall League. When Gillick is scouting a player, he looks forward to shaking the player’s hand. A strong handshake portends home run power. “That’s where the evaluation begins,” Gillick says. When he thinks back on the strongest handshakes he has felt in more than 40 years of scouting, he rattles off some formidable names: Eddie Murray, George Bell, Alex Rodriguez and Howard. (After shaking this reporter’s hand, Gillick said, “Didn’t hit many home runs, did you?” So true.)

Teammates compare Howard’s drives to golf shots because they backspin out of the ballpark and don’t stop rising until they’re out of sight. “When you hit one flush, you don’t feel a thing,” Howard says. “You just hear the pop.”

Speaking of Howard, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but man, does he ever remind me of the Boogie Down’s own, Kris Parker, KRS-ONE for short.


Okay, enough with the calmness. Time to start getting amped.

A Good Life

I was saddened to hear the news that Terry Miller, Marvin Miller’s wife, has passed away. Tim McCarver mentioned it during the broadcast last night.

I met her once, in their apartment, almost two years ago. It was the day before Christmas and they were celebrating their 68th wedding anniversary that day. I came on business and brought her flowers. She had short hair and wore a necklace that looked straight out of the Sixties. She was pleasent but tough. Not cold, just tough. Their apartment was bright and flooded with light (it is where the Miller interviews from Ken Burns’ Baseball were shot). It was clean and decorated in a minimal style. I imagined there would be more books. A copy of my book on Curt Flood was on one of their shelves which will forever be a part of my personal highlight reel.

I didn’t stay long. But it was a great honor to meet them both.

Terry Miller was 90.

God is My Daddy

So sayeth Pedro the Mouth, the man Yankee fans love to hate.

I was e-mailing with a friend this morning who played ball in college. He wrote:

I want to see a ton of hard hit balls tonight. I want LOUD outs when they make outs. Give AJ the lead, rip Pedro early, don’t let him sit there mugging for the cameras after 4 scoreless, reducing AJ to a supporting character in Pedro’s comeback drama. AJ will not react well to that, if it’s a staredown, AJ will blink first. Win tonight and any scenario is back on the table for the Yanks.

Pedro’s pitches are much slower and much less intimidating. He CANNOT throw the fastball by them, so he will try to get everybody out with the changeup. This is high school baseball strategy for the hitters: when the opposing pitcher canot throw the fastball by you, you adjust your approach. You try to hit the slow stuff up the middle and try to take the fastball the other way. If you gear your timing to the slow stuff, you can’t be fooled. I won’t be upset if they guess fastball while ahead in the count and take big swings and misses, but there should be minimal strikeouts and minimal weak shit induced by being way out in front of the changeup. With 2 strikes, stay back, hit the changeup back up the middle, fastball the other way.

Sounds like a plan.


Du Calme

No reason to get un-Dude, here. Lee was a sombitch, not much you can do about that (I couldn’t decide if I hated him or loved him for his deadpan Buster Keaton catch). We’ll have plenty of time to get amped about Mr. Pedro and Mr. Burnett as the day rolls along.

For now, how about a deep breath, and some lightness of being:

Cliff ‘Em All

For seven innings of Wednesday night’s opening game of the 2009 World Series, the hotly anticipated matchup of left-handed aces and former Cleveland Indians teammates lived up to its billing, but in the end there was just Cliff Lee.

Cliff Lee delivers (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Lee, who shutout the Rockies in the first postseason start of his career in Game One of this year’s NLDS and entered the game having allowed just two earned runs in 24 1/3 innings this postseason, was simply dominant. On a cold, wet night in the Bronx, Lee was quick, sharp, almost robotic in his efficiency, and seemed utterly indifferent to significance of the game.

In his first two innings of work he allowed just a Jorge Posada single and struck out four. After allowing another hit in the third, a two-out double by Derek Jeter, he struck out Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada in order in the fourth. For both Teixeira and Rodriguez it was their second strikeout in as many at-bats against Lee.

The Yankees got the leadoff batter on in the fifth on a Hideki Matsui single, but he was promptly erased by an unusual double play on a sinking flare off the bat of Robinson Cano to Jimmy Rollins at shortstop. Rather than charge the ball to catch it chest-high, Rollins stayed back on the ball in an apparent attempt to snag the short hop and turn a conventional double play. After gloving the ball, Rollins did just that, stepping on second and firing to first, but Cano beat the throw. The trick was that Rollins actually caught the ball on the fly, thus his throw to first doubled off Matsui. It took the umpires a while to figure that out, but after huddling up they eventually got the call right.

Lee pitched around a Johnny Damon single in the seventh, then didn’t allow another baserunner until the ninth.

Meanwhile, CC Sabathia, after surviving a two-out bases-loaded jam in the first, nearly matched Lee, with two crucial exceptions. With two outs in the third, Chase Utley battled Sabathia for nine pitches. Chase Utley goes deep for the first run of the Series (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)The last was a knee-high fastball that was supposed to be in, but drifted over the plate, allowing Utley to deposit it in the first few rows of the right-field box seats to give the Phillies an early 1-0 lead. The home run was a short-porch shot to be sure, but likely would have been out of the old Stadium as well.

Utley’s next at-bat came with one out in the sixth. Sabathia had retired every man he faced since Utley’s home run and got two quick called strikes on Utley, who then fouled off the third pitch. Sabathia’s fourth offering was a thigh-high fastball that was supposed to be inside, but drifted over the plate, allowing Utley to deposit it in the first few rows of the right-field bleachers, a no-doubter that gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead. Given Lee’s dominance and the fact that the Yankees were down to their last nine outs, that deficit felt much larger than it actually was.

As if to accentuate his command of the game, Lee got Johnny Damon to hit a badminton birdie back to the mound in the bottom of the sixth. Lee barely moved his feet to catch Damon’s floater. He simply stuck out his glove and made a casual, one-handed catch as if he was receiving a return throw from his catcher. The next inning, Jorge Posada hit a chopper to the first-base side of the mound. Rather than flip it to first base, Lee ran directly at Posada in a play reminiscent of the last out of the 2003 World Series, and rather than tag Posada on the chest or stomach with two hands, Lee gave the hot-headed Yankee catcher a roundhouse pat on the rear end to retire him. In the next frame, Robinson Cano led off with a hard hopper that Lee casually caught blindly behind his back. It was Cliff Lee’s night, the Yankees and the 50,207 fans in the stands were merely supporting players, and mild-mannered ones at that.

Other than Utley’s two homers, the Phillies managed just two hits against CC Sabathia, one of them a Ryan Howard double in the first inning, but they worked deep counts, drew three walks, and bounced the Yankee ace from the game after he threw 117 pitches in seven innings. That allowed the Phills to sink their teeth into the Yankees’ suddenly shaky middle relief corps.

Phil Hughes was the first lamb to the slaughter. He started the eighth by walking Jimmy Rollins on eight pitches and Shane Victorino on seven more before getting a quick hook. Damaso Marte came on and struck out Utley and got Howard to fly out, but David Robertson, in to face the righty Jason Werth, loaded the bases on a four-pitch walk, then gave up a two-run single to Raul Ibañez that doubled the Phillies’ lead. Brian Bruney, who hadn’t seen game action since the regular season, got two quick outs in the ninth, but Rollins reached on a slow roller that stopped short of Alex Rodriguez on the infield grass, and Victorino followed with an RBI single. Joe Girardi then turned to Phil Coke to face Utley and Howard. CoRollins and Victorino score in the eighth (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)ke fell behind Utley 3-1 before getting him to fly out, then Howard doubled into the right-field corner, plating Rollins to increase the lead to 6-0.

Those insurance runs were killers, particularly after Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon opened the ninth with singles off Lee that otherwise would have given the Yankees hope of yet another comeback. The shutout was lost when Rollins threw wild to first base trying to turn Mark Teixeira’s ensuing grounder into a double play, but Lee stopped the Yankees there by striking out Rodriguez and Posada on a total of eight pitches to give the Phillies a 6-1 win and an early 1-0 lead in the Series.

2009 World Series: Yankees vs. Phillies

The Yankees and Phillies have more in common than just winning their respective league pennants. Both boast their league’s best offense (the first time the two top offenses have reached the World Series since the Red Sox and Cardinals met in 2004). Both are likely to try to get three starts out of a left-handed ace who won the Cy Young with the Cleveland Indians and has been dominant in three postseason starts this month. Both will have a lineup that includes three lefties when an opposing lefty is on the mound (both have two left-handers in their rotation). Both have seen their elite set-up men struggle in the playoffs to this point. Both play good defense and steal bases efficiently with speed not only at the top of the lineup, but from some of their big power guys as well. Both are home-run hitting teams that play in homer-friendly ball parks. Both have been led by a superstar cleanup hitter who has been white hot in this postseason. Both won the Eastern division and beat the Wild Card and Western Division champion to reach the World Series. Both have lost just two games all postseason. Both already have one championship this decade and are looking to tie the Red Sox with the most in the decade with another win.

The Yankees return to the World Series after a five-year break (which, amazingly, is their third longest pennant drought since the acquisition of Babe Ruth) as the favorites, but that seems disrespectful to the defending World Champions. The Phillies are the first team to win back-to-back pennants since the 2000 and 2001 Yankees, and the first championship team to defend their title in the World Series since that ’01 Yankee squad. When the Yankees last went to the World Series in 2003, many were of the mind that their knock-down, drag-out ALCS against the Red Sox was the real championship and that the ensuing World Series, which saw a battered Yankee team stumble to a six-game defeat, was an afterthought. That is not at all the case this year. While the ALCS was tightly contested six-game series against a hated rival, the Yankees were clearly a better team than the Angels going in. They are likely still a better team than the Phillies on paper, but the margin has closed to such a degree that the difference between the two teams is almost negligible.


Derek Jeter (.334/.406/.465, 18 HR, 30 SB @ 86%)
Jimmy Rollins (.250/.296/.423, 21 HR, 31 SB @ 79%)

Providing a nice set of bookends for the 2009 season, Jeter and Rollins began the year sharing the shortstop job for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and will now conclude it as opposing shortstops in the Fall Classic. Back in March, I thought Rollins was the obvious choice to start over Jeter in the WBC as the two had been comparable at the plate in 2008, and Rollins was clearly superior in the field. Then the regular season started and Rollins fell into an awful slump that lasted three months (.205/.250/.319 though July 1), while Jeter rebounded from what had been one of his worst offensive seasons in 2008 to have a near-MVP-quality season. What’s more, Jeter, working with new first base and infield coach Mick Kelleher, had perhaps his finest defensive season, while Rollins brought his struggles out to the field. As a result, Jeter trumped the 2007 NL MVP in every phase of the game in 2009.

Rollins made a nice comeback over the last three months, hitting .288/.334/.510 with 20 steals in 23 tries after July 1, but he’s looked more like the first-half Rollins thus far this postseason, hitting .244/.279/.317 with no walks or steals to Jeter’s .297/.435/.595.

Johnny Damon (.282/.365/.489, 24 HR, 12 SB @ 100%)
Shane Victorino (.292/.358/.445, 13 3B, 25 SB @ 76%)

Damon’s road numbers (.284/.349/.446) look a lot like Victorino’s overall line this year, while switch-hitter Victorino get’s a nice spike against lefties (.314/.385/.459). If this Series goes seven games, Damon will get four games at friendly Yankee Stadium (.279/.382/.533, 17 HR), while Victorino could make four starts against lefty pitching. Damon shook off his Division Series slump with a .300/.323/.533 line against the Angels in the ALCS, but Victorio, is a career .299/.370/.577 hitter in 26 postseason games and has been red-hot this October, hitting .361/.439/.722 with a trio of homers. Folding in the larger regular season sample, I’m going to call this one even.

Mark Teixeira (.292/.383/.565, 39 HR, 122 RBI)
Chase Utley (.282/.397/.508, 31 HR, 93 RBI, 23 SB @ 100%)

Add those 23 stolen bases in 23 attempts to Utley’s total bases and his slugging jumps to .548. And, yes, Teixeira can switch-hit with similar results from both sides, but lefty-hitting Utley hit .288/.417/.545 against lefty pitching this season. Teixeira has been slumping this postseason, but he does have three big hits (the bloop before Alex Rodriguez’s game-tying blast in Game Two of the ALDS, the game-winning home run in that contest, and his bases-loaded double in Game Five against the Angels), and was 4 for his last 9 in the ALCS, which means a big World Series breakout could be around the corner. Utley, meanwhile, has just one extra-base hit this postseason. Tex has the edge here, but it’s small enough to be meaningless in a short series.

Alex Rodriguez (.286/.402/.532, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 14 SB @ 88%)
Ryan Howard (.279/.360/.571, 45 HR, 141 RBI, 8 SB @ 89%)

These are the mashers. Both men have had their share of postseason struggles in the past, but both have put those concerns to bed this postseason. Howard has hit .355/.462/.742 with a hit and an RBI in every game until the clincher against the Dodgers. Rodriguez has hit .438/.548/.969 with five home runs and has had a hit in every game and an RBI in all but one. In nine games, Rodriguez has 12 RBIs to Howard’s 14 (the record for a single postseason in 19 held by David Ortiz ’05, Scott Spiezio ’02, and Sandy Alomar Jr. ’97, while the homer record is 8 by Carlos Beltran in ’04).

Howard, who has hit 45 or more home runs in each of the last four seasons, has more pure power, if that’s possible, but Rodriguez is the better overall hitter and player (though Howard is underrated in the field and on the bases because of his bulk). Most significantly, Howard is the one starter on either team who is really defanged by lefty pitching. He hit just .207/.298/.356 against southpaws this year with a strikeout roughly every three plate appearances. That tips the balance in this matchup decidedly in the Yankees’ favor.


Bring it

It is raining in New York City. The sidewalks are covered with leaves. But that can’t squarsh our excitement.


And more from us:

Over at Baseball Prospectus, Jay previews the Serious. Be sure to pop by Jay’s live chat this afternoon, starting at 2 p.m. est too.

Card Corner: The 1976 Pennant


The Yankees’ hard-fought six-game win over the pesky Angels has me thinking: this is the franchise’s second most satisfying American League pennant of my lifetime. Now I’m sure that a few Yankee fans will point to the 1996 Championship Series, which ended a 15-year World Series drought, or the 2003 pennant, capped off by the unlikely home run from a slumping Aaron Boone against the dreaded Red Sox. Without question, those two watershed postseason moments rate very near the top of the list, but in my mind, the 2009 pennant victory over the Angels ranks as second only to the satisfaction that came in the fall of 1976.

As a Yankee fan who was born during the winter of 1965, I had known only of mediocre baseball in New York, brief moments of unsustainable success, and a string of perennial also-ran finishes, a period of frustration that lasted through the end of the 1975 season. My early years as a baseball fan exposed me to the decline and retirement of Mickey Mantle, the unfulfilled promise of Johnny Ellis, the torn rotator cuff of Mel Stottlemyre, and the all-too-frequent domination by the rival Baltimore Orioles. By the summer of 1976, when I turned 11 years old, I was ready for some newfound success and an end to the nostalgic pining for the glory days of the early 1960s.

The bicentennial year brought not only a yearlong celebration of the country’s independence, but also the best Yankee team of my young life. Guided by a brilliant Billy Martin, who was in his vintage years as a manager, the Yankees won the American League East despite the lack of a legitimate cleanup man. A nice fellow named Chris Chambliss, a solid figure of a first baseman and a voice of reason in a chaotic clubhouse, occupied the cleanup role in caretaker fashion. He would serve the Yankees respectably as the No. 4 hitter (or the fifth-place hitter against left-handers), but fell several rungs short of stardom and was really only buying time in the middle of the order until the Yankees could acquire someone of more Ruthian quality. Or Jacksonian quality, as the case would be.


Gee Whiz: A Look Back at the 1950 World Series

1958 Topps Richie AshburnOne of the happy side-effects of the Yankees’ general dominance over major league baseball since 1921 is that they have a postseason history with nearly every other team in the game. In the American League, only the White Sox, Blue Jays, and Rays have never faced the Yankees in the playoffs, and in the senior circuit, only the Rockies, Astros, Brewers, and Expos/Nationals have never faced the Yankees in the World Series (the ‘Spos/Nats have never been to the World Series, period), and the Brewers faced the Yankees in the 1981 Division Series.

Of the 24 teams the Yankees have faced in the postseason, they’ve faced 22 of them since their lone meeting with the Phillies in the 1950 World Series (the exception being the Cubs, who they last faced in the 1938 Serious). To give you a sense of just how long it’s been since the Yankees swept Philadelphia’s Whiz Kids, the 1950 World Series was the last Fall Classic to feature two all-white teams.

That fact is not as trivial as it might sound. The Yankees’ struggles in the late 1960s and early 1970s had several sources, including the institution of the amateur draft and the corporate ownership of CBS, but their failure to properly exploit the African American talent pool was undeniably a contributing factor. When they finally emerged from that slumber, it was with black stars such as Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph, Chris Chambliss, Roy White, Oscar Gamble, and Gamble’s replacement, Reggie Jackson.

Similarly, the Phillies’ surprising pennant in 1950 fed the organization’s resistance to integration. The 1950 Whiz Kids got their name not only because they won the pennant, but because they were the youngest team in the National League on both sides of the ball. In fact, the 1950 Phillies were the youngest pennant winners ever. The Phillies’ oldest regular was first baseman Eddie Waitkus (the player whose shooting the previous year inspired The Natural). Just one of the six men to make more than ten starts for them was over the age of 26, and future Hall of Famers Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts were both just 23.

Assuming that young squad would only get better with age, the Phillies didn’t even begin scouting black players until 1954, when Roy Hamey took over as general manager following four seasons in which the Phillies finished between third and fifth place. The Phillies didn’t field their first black player until 1957, didn’t have an African-American starter until 1961, and didn’t have an African-American star until the arrival of Richie Allen in 1964.

That was awful timing for Allen, who despite one of the best rookie campaigns in major league history, fell victim to the Phillies infamous Phlop, in which they blew a 6.5-game lead over the final dozen games of the season thanks to a ten-game losing streak (during which Allen hit .415/.442/.634). Allen’s ensuing battles with the Philadelphia faithful as well as the organization’s brutal treatment of Jackie Robinson back in 1947 were key factors in Curt Flood’s decision to refuse to report to the Phillies after being traded from the Cardinals, ironically for Dick Allen, after the 1969 season. The Phillies wouldn’t return to the postseason until 1976 (again ironically with Dick Allen back in the fold as their first baseman), and despite the Philadelphia fans’ affection for center fielder Gary Maddox and a late-career cameo by Hall of Famer Joe Morgan on the superannuated 1983 pennant winners, the Phillies didn’t have a black superstar who was embraced by the city until the arrivals of Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard in the new millennium.


Put the Needle to the Groove

Playin’ Records.


This is one is so hype. (I dig it to death.)

This one is so sweet.

How about makin’ records? Like Pete.

Or using them to sell smokes. Like Fred.

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