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Monthly Archives: April 2010

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Meet the Pres, Beat His Team

The Yankees began the week in Washington D.C., where on Monday they stood on risers like members of a high school chorus as President Obama addressed team personnel and then exchanged pleasantries with each individual member of the organization. They closed the week with President Obama’s Chicago White Sox visiting them in the Bronx.

Following the long 10-game road trip, despite the Yankees winning the last two games, they started off shaky and couldn’t get into a flow. Carlos Quentin’s line-drive double off Andy Pettitte in the top of the first was the last straw. That initial part of the opening frame Friday night was atypical for Pettitte, as far as this season is concerned anyway. Pettitte had allowed just four runs over his first four starts. Three of those four runs came in the third inning, usually the beginning of the second cycle through the lineup. Yet here he was having yielded three runs and four hits to an anemic White Sox offense that stood 11th in the American League in runs scored (88 total through 22 games).

Cue the coaching visit. Whatever was said resonated with Pettitte, because subsequently struck out Mark Teahen and Jayson Nix, and the Yankee offense got two runs back in the bottom half to provide a pseudo-bailout. Pettitte had trouble with that top third of the ChiSox order again and didn’t really settle down until he got Paul Konerko, whose three-run home run in the first did the initial damage, to fly out to end the second.

Pettitte threw 42 pitches over the first two innings and dug the Yankees a bit of a hole. In this way, it was a typical Andy Pettitte start — more than a hit per inning, four runs allowed, the offense having to score at least four or five runs to muster a victory. He didn’t run into any more snags until the fifth, when that same bunch of batters — Gordon Beckham, Alex Rios, Konerko and Quentin — staged a threat, which Pettitte deftly dodged.

Those are moments where as an observer you can say, “This could be a turning point.” It didn’t look that way when Freddy Garcia made quick work of Curtis Granderson and Francisco Cervelli, but when Brett Gardner singled and stole second to pass the baton to Derek Jeter, there was stirring. The stirring came to a boil when Jeter launched a curveball into the left-field seats to tie the game at 4-4.

“I was just looking for a good pitch to hit,” Jeter told Kim Jones on YES. “I haven’t been swinging at a lot of strikes lately, so I tried to bear down, and I got a good pitch that was up.”

Jeter got a pitch that was up again in the 7th against Matt Thornton, with runners on first and second. This time it was a 95-mile-per-hour fastball that Jeter inside-outed past a diving Jayson Nix into the right-field corner. Cervelli, who reached on an HBP, and Gardner, who gutted out a single before scored on the triple.

The two runs gave way to the formula: Damaso Marte for LOOGY duty and Joba to close out the 8th, then Mariano Rivera throwing straight cheese to retire the side in order in the ninth.

The 6-4 win gave the Yankees their first April with at least 15 wins since 2003, when they went 20-6. It also kept Andy Pettitte unbeaten in April for the first time in his career.

It was the kind of game we’ve gotten spoiled with over the last five or few years: fall behind early, come back in the middle innings, hold it down late. It’s the kind of win a President can appreciate. Then again, maybe not. He roots for the White Sox.


2010 Chicago White Sox

In the American League last year, only the Mariners allowed fewer runs than the White Sox, but only the M’s and Royals scored fewer runs. General Manger Kenny Williams has made a lot of changes to the White Sox dating back to his acquisition of a then-injured Jake Peavy at last year’s trading deadline, but despite all of his tinkering, I’m expecting more of the same from the Sox this year.

In April, the White Sox’ offense–restocked with Mark Teahen, Juan Pierre, controversial late-season waiver claim Alex Rios, and the ghost of Andruw Jones, the last being far and away the most productive of that quartet–has obliged by scoring just four runs per game (better than only the M’s, Indians, and Orioles), while the bullpen, stocked with veteran arms, leads all major league pens with 11.45 strikeouts per nine innings and is second in the AL to the Tigers with a 2.79 ERA. Twenty-five-year old lefty Jon Danks has been among the league’s best starters in the early part of his fourth season (3-0, 1.55 ERA, 4.33 K/BB, league-leading 0.82 WHIP). The Sox just need the rest of the rotation to shape up to fulfill the team’s destiny as an unbalanced mediocrity.

Fortunately for the White Sox, the guys who need to shape up are Jake Peavy, Mark Buehlre, Gavin Floyd, and Freddy Garcia. Peavy and Buehlre are givens. Floyd has allowed a .406 average on balls in play after four starts, so positive correction is guaranteed. Garcia, well, he’s 35, has made just 23 starts over the past three seasons, and has gone 0-2 with a 5.82 ERA this season despite a .217 BABIP, so maybe he won’t be there, but he’s the fifth starter, so the Sox will take what they can get there.

Looking at this weekend’s series, on paper, Garcia versus Andy Pettitte tonight is a win, and Danks versus Javy Vazquez on Saturday afternoon is a loss, which boils it down to a Sunday rubber game between Buehrle and Phil Hughes. I’m looking forward to that one.


Afternoon Art

Detail from The Rape of Proserpina, By Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1621-22)

Beat of the Day


Posada’s Wounded Knee

Over at Baseball Prospectus, Will Carroll offers up an opinion on Jorge Posada’s injury, and how it may be treated going forward:

Ben Wolf . . . points out something about Posada getting hit by a pitch Wednesday that hadn’t occurred to me: “Was reading your latest column and saw that Posada was hit in the fibular head (I had just read knee in the general news).  Even if there isn’t a fracture, there’s a risk of the injury being more of a long-term problem if he ends up with any restriction in the superior tibiofibular joint, especially considering the demands of a catcher squatting on the knee (including that joint specifically I think), not to mention any mechanistic problems he could have running.  I suppose we will see.” . . . .  Posada says he could catch if it was an emergency, but it’s clear that it’s the squatting that’s the problem. We’ll see how the Yankees deal with this over the weekend, but expect Posada to miss time. At best, he could DH, but I think they’ll hold on to the retro DL move until they’re more sure.

Step Up Front

Howard Bryant’s first book Shut Out was a crisply-reported history of racism in Boston sports that suffered from, among other things, poor editing. Bryant made a huge leap forward as a writer with his second book, Juicing the Game. The prose was cleaner, more confident, the narrative structure, sound, the reporting still sharp. It was a real page-turner and a worthy sequel to John Helyar’s Lords of the Realm (full-disclosure–this book was edited by Cliff Corcoran).

Now, comes Bryant’s most ambitious project to date, the one where he aims to hang with the big boys, The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron. I give Bryant credit for his reach–he’s read all the right guys (Halberstam, Cramer, Montville, Haygood)–and has a compelling subject in Aaron. Bryant is Reggie here, it’s October, there are men on base, game is on the line, and all eyes are on him.

I just got my copy in the mail and am eager to tear into it. It is “of weight,” an exceedingly handsome-looking book.

In the meantime, dig this excerpt:

In 1959, the writer Roger Kahn would attempt to profile Henry for Sport magazine. He encountered the same frustration that sports editors of the Mobile newspapers had: Depending on the day, Henry would tell a different story about his origins, and, when placed side by side, no two stories ever exactly meshed.

Kahn was never quite sure if he found himself more frustrated by Henry’s early story or by Henry’s unwillingness to tell it. “I did not find him to be forthcoming,” Kahn recalled. “He wasn’t polished and really did not have the educational background at that time to deal with all of the things he was encountering in so short a time. If there was a word I would use to describe him then, it would be unsophisticated.”

Even as a teenager, Henry was expressing his lack of comfort with public life. On subjects both complex and innocuous, he would not easily divulge information, and he developed an early suspicion of anyone who took an interest in him. The reason, he would later say, was not the result of any personal trauma, but, rather, that of growing up in Mobile, where the black credo of survival was to focus on the work and let it speak for itself. It was a trait that was equal parts Her­bert and Stella. Not only did Stella remind him never to be ostentatious but Herbert and all black males in Mobile knew what could happen to a black man who drew too much attention to himself. “My grandfather used to say all the time, ‘They don’t want you to get too high. Know your place,’ ” recalled Henry’s nephew, Tommie Aaron, Jr. “I think a lot of that rubbed off on all of us.”

In fact, Henry would employ the recipe for star power best articu­lated in the old Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” That, too, was fitting, because as a movie fan, Henry fell in love with Westerns. He did not volunteer much truth, so the scribes printed the legend. There was more than one drawback to Henry’s approach, however: As difficult as it was to piece together his early years, writers—virtually all of them white, carrying the prejudices against blacks that were common at the time—filled in the blanks for him, defined him, creating a cari­cature, from which he would not easily escape.

Taster’s Cherce

Yes, please.

Card Corner: Claudell Washington

Whenever I see Atlanta’s super phenom Jason Heyward, the odds-on favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year, I think of Claudell Washington. Although Heyward is actually four inches taller and 25 pounds heavier, they have similar body types: they are both long and lean in the mold of a Darryl Strawberry, both left-handed hitters, and both right fielders. Additionally, of course, they are both African American. Heyward is more hyped–he is generally considered the top prospect among position players in today’s game–but Washington was also a highly touted prospect with the A’s in the early to mid-1970s.

Washington also possessed the perfect sporting body. He featured shoulders so broad that one sportswriter claimed he looked like someone who had stuffed a wire hanger into his jersey. From there, his torso tapered off to the slimmest of waists, making him look like a male model. Muscular enough to hit home runs, Washington remained lean enough to run the bases as if he were running track, the ideal combination of speed and power.

The A’s certainly liked what they saw, to the point that they brought him to the major leagues at the age of 19. At one time, the A’s regarded Washington as the new Reggie Jackson, only with more footspeed and better defensive ability. Well, it never quite happened that way. Disappointed in his development and his attitude, Oakland owner Charlie Finley dealt Washington to the Rangers for the paltry package of Rodney “Cool Breeze” Scott and left-hander Jim Umbarger. From there, Claudell went to Chicago as part of a package for Bobby Bonds. Washington patrolled right field for Bill Veeck’s White Sox, but Chicago fans did not take to the lackadaisical Washington. One disgusted bleacherite brought a banner to Comiskey Park, infamously displaying it in the right field stands. The banner pronounced three succinct but memorable words: “Washington Slept Here.” Given the way that Washington seemed to sleepwalk through games in Chicago, no one could reasonably argue with the sentiment.

The Mets eventually did the White Sox a favor by taking Washington off their hands, but only by giving up the measly return of minor league pitcher Jesse Anderson, who would never play in a major league game. Washington played one lackluster season in Queens before realizing the benefits of baseball’s newly created free agency. In one of the most puzzling contracts ever doled out in the free agent era, the Braves rewarded the mediocre Washington with a five-year deal worth $3 million. That might not sound like much in today’s baseball economy, but in 1980 it was the kind of money given to a superstar. While talented and still reeking of potential, Washington was several levels shy of superstar caliber. For all of his talent, he had never hit more than 13 home runs, and had never drawn more than 32 walks in a single season.


Robinson Cano Will Accept Your Tithes of Gold and Women Now

A couple weeks ago, the closed captioning at Yankee Stadium translated A.J. Burnett as “A.J. Burning Net,” and I decided that’s how A.J. would be known in my household from now on. It also prompted me to check for A.J. Burnett anagrams*, which turned up, among other gems, A Burnt Jet and Nut Jar Bet. Being a natural pessimist, I tend to fixate on Burnett’s unpredictability. But when he’s on, he makes you forget all about those kind of jokes, and tonight was one of those nights; the Yankees strapped themselves on the back of the sizzling-hot Robinson Cano and cruised to a 4-0 win over Baltimore, winning the series and getting back on track after a few minor early-season blips.

Cano continued what I like to think of as his “Oh, You Didn’t Know? You Better Call Somebody” tour of the AL with two more home runs, a double, and a killer defensive play in the third inning  – ranging way over to his right, then hurling the ball against his momentum right to Mark Teixeira’s glove, throwing out poor Nolan Reimold with one step to spare – that left A.J. Burning Net standing on the mound with his hands on his head in disbelief, and Derek Jeter staring at him like he’d just grown an extra head. He provided plenty of offense all by himself, but the Yankees also scattered 11 hits and a walk against Orioles pitching throughout the game; Baltimore starter Brian Matusz did pretty well in limiting the damage to three runs in six innings.

The Yankee scoring began in the first, when Jeter came home on Alex Rodriguez’s sacrifice fly. Cano’s first home run, a booming no-doubter, came in the fourth; he followed it with a double in the sixth, and Marcus Thames knocked him home with a double of his own. Finally Cano burned Alberto Castillo for his 8th homer of the year, and this one wasn’t cheap either (Ken Singleton: “I’ll have what he’s having”). We’ve seen Cano do this before for a few weeks at a time, usually later in the season, and obviously he’s not going to hit .407 all summer; but it’s spring, and for now I think I’ll just enjoy the many pleasant possibilities.

The Orioles threatened only mildly against Burnett, who eased through eight innings and 116 pitches (77 of them strikes) even without much of a curveball, and Mariano Rivera polished them off with 13 pitches, fava beans and a nice Chianti in the ninth. It all looked easy tonight.

*That same (very productive) evening, I discovered that Curtis Granderson has by far the best anagrams on the Yanks, including but not limited to: Corianders Strung, Transcends Rigour, Scarred Tonsuring, Crusader Snorting, Sardonic Restrung, Contrariness Drug, Unerring Cad Sorts, Graced Rosins Runt, and Rug Torn Acridness.

Also, one anagram for Michael Kay is: Lama Hickey. You’re welcome.

Dis, Dat and duh T’oid

From Joe Sheehan at SI.com:

[Mark] Teixeira is, in some ways, lucky. Whether it’s the afterglow of a championship, a bigger target in Javier Vazquez or the team’s 12-7 mark, his brutal April has escaped the tabloids’ spotlight. Perhaps this is progress, because in every measurable way, Teixeira, 30, is the same hitter he was a year ago. There are some fluctuations in his contact numbers — not quite as many line drives, a few more ground balls — but nothing that indicates a change in talent level given the limited number of plate appearances. No, Teixeira is mostly hitting in bad luck; he has an absurd .137 batting average on balls in play, the second-lowest mark in the game to Travis Snider, who has just been sent back to Triple-A. Also, just 9.5% of his fly balls have left the yard, about half of his career rate. Teixeira is doing what he does, just not getting the same results; his slow start in 2009 featured similar, if less extreme characteristics. There’s nothing to worry about here.

Be nice to see Teix break out tonight. Here’s hoping AJ Burnett is strong–but not too strong–and that the Yanks take the series before they return to the Bronx for the weekend.

Ya hoid?

[Photo Credit: Ken Aviation]

Afternoon Art

Supper at Emmaus, By Caravaggio (1610)

Beat of the Day

The b-side wins again:

On a more distressing note, here are more details on a sad story that just keeps getting sadder.

taster’s cherce

Okay, I know it’s early for blueberries but this just looks so damned tasty I couldn’t resist:

Top of the Pops

The Wall Street Journal ranks the the greatest Yankees by their stats, economic impact and cultural relevance. No surprise at number one.

Catch of the Day

If you didn’t see this story by Jason Fry, do yourself a favor, it’s a gem.

I also really dug this piece by King Kaufman about playing catch with his seven-year-old son:

It is fun. I’d forgotten that. It’s been coming back to me as we toss the ball back and forth, usually from only 40 feet or so. I just love playing catch. I always have.

…I’ve never really felt that some great mystical communication was going on when I was playing with a friend, or with my dad. It’s fun to play catch with someone I hardly know too. I love the rhythm of it. The simplicity. I love the sound, the pop of the glove when there’s a little mustard on the throw and it’s caught square in the pocket. Catch is a little hypnotizing. It ought to be the most boring thing in the world, but I’ve never ended a game out of boredom. I’ve worn out my arm a few times, though.

I love playing catch with my son not because some magical, wordless discourse travels between us but because I love playing catch and I love that he enjoys playing it with me.

I don’t know about anything mystical but having a catch is one of the great pleasures in this life, at least when you’ve got the right partner. My brother is one of those guys (Jon DeRosa is one of those guys, Glenn Stout is too). Can’t think of many things better, really. My bro knows how to throw, how to pitch, how to toss pop flys and grounders, just the way I like. We have fun with it, and have a lot of laughs.

Don’t even have to talk. I like that. The satisfying pop of the glove when the ball hits the pocket just right, the appealing sensation of hitting the target dead-on. I like the feeling of knowing how to throw and catch, knowing that I’ve got good mechanics and that I look good doing it. My vanity about it cracks me up. In my mind’s eye it makes me feel competent and good, the realization that I could have a catch with a big leaguer and not humiliate myself. I may not have been any good as a player but I’m certain that I can at least imitate one.

[photo credit: Weblog of the Turner Family]

Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed

A night after opening their series in Baltimore with a bumbling loss, the Yankees won a comparatively clean, crisp game 8-3, making life easy for ace CC Sabathia, who wasn’t in top form, but still gave the Yankees 7 2/3 quality innings. The Yankees got to Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie early, putting up two runs in the first, three and the second, and holding a 6-1 lead after the third. The rest was just killing time.

Nick Swisher had the big day at the plate, going 3-for-5 with a two-RBI triple in the second on a ball off the base of the wall in center that O’s center fielder Adam Jones failed to field cleanly. The only Yankee who failed to reach base in the game was Alex Rodriguez, who still contributed with a sac fly in the first.

The only negative for the Yankees came when Guthrie hit Jorge Posada on the side of his right knee with his first pitch of the second inning. Posada stayed in to “run” the bases, jogging gingerly to second on Curtis Granderson’s single, then sauntering home just barely ahead of Granderson on Swisher’s triple. Francisco Cervelli went into the game in the bottom of the second and went 2-for-4 with an RBI the rest of the way.

The early diagnosis on Posada was that he just has a bruise and is day-to-day. Joe Girardi suggested that he won’t start the series finale, though Posada will be further evaluated on Thursday. For the short term, the Yankees should do just fine with the defensively superior Cervelli, who is 8-for-18 with a double and three walks in the early going, though there’s some concern about the fact that, with Posada out, Ramiro Peña is the backup catcher.

Wake-Up Call

Failing to complete a sweep of the A’s, that was no big deal. Losing two of three to a good Angels team in Anaheim, you almost expect that. Losing the opener against a struggling Orioles team that had only won three games all season then looking back and realizing you have lost four of their last five, that’s a wake-up call. The Yankees need to win the next two games in Baltimore to avoid an embarrassing series loss to the lowly O’s as well as a losing record on their three-stop road trip. Fortunately, they have CC Sabathia on the mound tonight to help get the team back on track.

Sabathia’s last three games have been a near no-hitter and a pair of shortened complete games (six innings in a rain-shortened game, eight innings in a 4-2 loss), which makes this one of his better Aprils on record. One point of warning: CC has been pretty hit-lucky, holding opponents to an absurdly low .197 batting average on balls in play. As is typical for CC in April, his walks are up a bit, and his strikeout rate is no better than it was last year (which was a four-year low for the big lefty). We all know he’ll only get better from here, but those peripherals show there’s actually room for him to do so.

With Nick Johnson back in the lineup as the DH, Sabathia will pitch to Jorge Posada for the first time since Opening Day Night. That shouldn’t effect his performance, but Sabathia’s breakout game as a Yankee came here in Baltimore with Francisco Cervelli behind the plate just less than a year ago, on May 8, 2009. The opposing pitcher that night, Jeremy Guthrie, is on the hill for the O’s again tonight. All four of Guthrie’s starts this season have been quality (three of them against the Rays and Red Sox) and he has walked just five batters total. Despite that, the Orioles have lost all four of those games due to poor run and bullpen support. Guthrie faced the Yankees five times last year and turned in three quality starts, but his and the Orioles’ only win in those five games was Guthrie’s Opening Day matchup against, yes, CC Sabathia. In fact, tonight Guthrie and Sabathia face off for the fourth time dating back that Opening Day tilt. CC holds a 2-1 advantage in those matchups.

Afternoon Art

Judith Beheading Holofernes, By Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1599)

Beat of the Day

Cool and gray in Gotham. Time to cool out…

Meanwhile, dig this dope mix, A Downtown Affair by Osita and Osore.

Junior Miss Mircophone Fiend


The good folks at SNY are running a fun kidcaster contest, for kids ages 7-15. The winner gets a half-an-inning in the SNY booth at a Mets game. If only I was still a kid…

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