"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Good A.J.

PREFACE: Writing a game recap on the Sunday of the Masters Tournament is not the easiest thing to do for a golf nut like myself. I guess that’s what DVR is for. Not knowing what I should watch sandwiched between my daughter’s naps and my wife’s grading schedule, I decided to record both. I zipped through the Yankee game first and then caught up to the goings-on at Augusta National later on. Deadlines are deadlines…

The YES telecast was odd. The pregame show featured a segment with Michael Kay and Tino Martinez venturing into the stadium and dissecting key points to the game from a couple of empty seats. This being the first YES game I’ve seen this season, I don’t know if this is a one-off experiment or a regular feature to break up the previous formula of keeping the broadcasters off camera and filling that spot with video (B-roll). If you’ve read my work here for the past three seasons, you know I like to watch the games on mute — an old habit from my days working at YESNetwork.com — so this feature was even more hilarious with Tino Martinez moving his mouth and having no sound come out. Based on the reviews, that’s not too far from what happens with the sound on.

The new graphics and layout look clean and are clearly tweaked for HD. The pitch counter is a nice addition to the bug in the upper left-hand corner. That bug has also been condensed so that it doesn’t extend across the entire top border of the screen.

The question heading into Sunday, as it seems to be every time A.J. Burnett takes the mound, is “Which guy will show up?” The first inning featured the version we’ve come to sort of expect, going back to last October: 21 pitches, two runs allowed, two hits, a walk, only one first-pitch strike to the six batters he faced. His weakness in holding runners played a factor into the two runs scored, as both Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford stole second to set the table for the Rays’ lead. Bartlett took advantage of Burnett throwing an off-speed pitch, while Crawford just beat a bang-bang play on a pitch-out, which featured a strong throw from Jorge Posada.

Rays starter James Shields, although he may not possess the explosive stuff of Burnett — or implosive, depending on the day — does have similar foibles. Mainly, Shields is prone to falling behind early in the count and opening up innings for the opposition. The Yankees adhered to that scouting report in the second inning, when A-Rod led off with a walk and three batters later, Curtis Granderson ripped a 3-1 fastball into the right-field corner to cut the deficit to 2-1.

The meat of the order — A-Rod, Robinson Canó, Jorge Posada and Granderson — forced Shields into a similar predicament the next time around in the fourth inning. But after A-Rod led off with a double and Posada walked with one out, Granderson and Swisher stranded them both to kill the rally.

Burnett, on the other hand, found his rhythm after hiccuping his way through the first inning. He retired 10 straight batters from the point when he walked Evan Longoria in the first and B.J. Upton in the fourth. He fired first-pitch strikes to nine of those 10 hitters. Pat Burrell’s leadoff single in the fifth — the first hit allowed by Burnett since the first inning — came on a 2-0 count.

The bottom of the fifth inning may have been the turning point of the game: Burrell, who was running on 2-and-1 as part of a hit-and-run, got hung up near second base when Dioner Navarro lined to Granderson in center. Granderson, after making a nifty sliding grab off his shoelaces, fired a neat one-hop throw to Mark Teixeira at first to complete the double play. Grandy fittingly ended the frame one batter later with an over-the-shoulder catch in the right-center field gap off the bat of Sean Rodriguez. Those two plays made Joe Girardi’s decision of Grandy in center and Gardner in left look s-m-r-t smart.

As the game developed more of a personality during the middle innings it felt like one area of the Yankees would eventually feed off the other, provided both the offense and defense remained patient. The dam broke in the top of the sixth. When Canó drilled a one-out double into the right-field corner to send Shields to the showers in favor of Randy Choate, I thought, “Game Over. Now I can watch The Masters.” Three pitches later, Posada launched one about a dozen rows into the left-center field seats to confirm my theory.

I was going to go to picture-in-picture or throw on the Masters recording entirely until I remembered Burnett was pitching, and turning away could adversely affect this write-up. So I stuck with the game. Glad I did, because Burnett nearly barfed up the lead by loading the bases with two outs. Burnett pitched out of it by forcing Upton to pop out.

Naturally, the Yankees kept pummeling the bullpen. Jeter led off the seventh with a single and stole second, Tex worked a walk, and A-Rod drove them both in with a ringing double off the left-field wall. Nick Swisher’s home run in the eighth was additional insurance.

Speaking of the eighth, the move to pull Burnett seemed curious to me, considering that he was still retiring batters with relative ease. At this point, I turned the sound on to see what Kay, Tino and Paul O’Neill would say about Burnett’s effort. Kay made a big deal about Burnett having only one strikeout. “A strange line,” he said. Tino and O’Neill went into detail about Burnett how strikeouts can take up more pitches, but after the first inning, complimented how well Burnett spotted his fastball and made due without his best curveball.

“Who cares if the ball’s put in play?” O’Neill said. “Ground balls are good things. Saves pitch counts, gets you through seven.”

Tino’s response: “Maybe he’ll pitch to contact more and think, ‘I don’t have to strike everybody out.’”

What neither of them mentioned was that it was Burnett proved he could pitch and not just throw. He succeeded without his best stuff. If there’s a sign of encouragement from Burnett’s start, that’s it. His outing was a solid follow-up to C.C. Sabathia’s near no-hitter, and served as a perfect segue to Andy Pettitte’s turn in tomorrow’s Home Opener.

The 7-3 victory gave the Yankees consecutive series wins on the road against their two most difficult division opponents. And they won without everything clicking. At 4-2, the sample size of six games isn’t enough to see how the rest of the season will bear out, but they are in excellent position heading into this week’s homestand against the Angels and Rangers. The signs are there for this Yankee team to be very dangerous and perhaps even impervious to long losing streaks. That’s especially true if the top three starters continue the upward trend, and Mark Teixeira’s offense picks up, they’ll be in excellent position far beyond next week.

PLAYER OF THE GAME
Granderson. The RBI double and the strong defensive plays. He made it look very easy. Having seen him for less than a week, it’s clear he’s one of those players who you can’t appreciate his skills unless you watch him play every day.

KEY STATS/OBSERVATIONS
* Burnett held the Rays to a .200 batting average (3-for-15) with one RBI, one strikeout and a walk when throwing first-pitch strikes. The Rays hit .429 (3-for-7) with two walks and a sacrifice when Burnett threw a first-pitch ball.

* The Yankees batted .071 (1-for-14) with five strikeouts when Shields threw first-pitch strikes. They batted .500 (3-for-6) with two walks and an RBI when Shields threw a first-pitch ball.

* Rays’ Bullpen line for Sunday: 3.2 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, BB, K, 12.26 ERA.

* The Yankees’ 4-7 hitters went 6-for-15 (.400 BA, .867 SLG) with 5 RBIs, 4 runs scored, and two walks.

* Mark Teixeira, although he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, saw an average of 6.4 pitches per at-bat. He’s only batting .125, but the last two days gave the impression that he’s not far from breaking out of his slump.

IT’S NOT IRONIC, IT’S JUST GOOFY BASEBALL STUFF
* B.J. Upton made the last out in each of his four plate appearances.

37 comments

1 The Hawk   ~  Apr 11, 2010 5:33 pm

" ... dissecting key points to the game from a couple of empty seats."

I think it's probably a better choice than doing it from a couple of occupied seats.

2 The Hawk   ~  Apr 11, 2010 5:51 pm

"Burnett proved he could pitch and not just throw. He succeeded without his best stuff. If there’s a sign of encouragement from Burnett’s start, that’s it."

I agree. Hadn't thought of it like that but if it's true it's very encouraging. Though it would potentially mean an end to why I like watching Burnett, which is because he's so unpredictable. Of course, it's to the benefit of the team if he can find some equilibrium.

I wouldn't say Burnett almost "barfed up" the lead, fwiw. That nonsense with Longoria threw him off and I don't blame him, really.

3 RIYank   ~  Apr 11, 2010 5:54 pm

[1] I was going to point out that Kay and Tino were surely occupying them, but then it occurred to me that a seat occupied by Michael Kay is arguably still empty.

4 Alex Belth   ~  Apr 11, 2010 6:21 pm

I thought Tino was fun paired with O'Neill.

Also, don't think Mickelson is going to blow this one...good for him.

5 ms october   ~  Apr 11, 2010 7:39 pm

[4] yeah i really feared the worse with tino but he was fun with o'neill - i thing o'neill does a good job of bringing that side of the stiff ones out.

i was doing a lot of stuff during the game so i didn't watch every pitch focused, but i do think burnett "battling" was a good sign.

6 a.O   ~  Apr 11, 2010 9:09 pm

I nominate Jorge for quote of the year on Longoria's pop fly ground rule "single":

"There's not much we can say," Posada said. "Whatever they're going to call, whatever they saw. It's not a baseball stadium. You can't have balls going all over the place. Really, that's sad."

from MLB.com.

7 flycaster   ~  Apr 11, 2010 9:12 pm

"Burnett nearly barfed up the lead by loading the bases with two outs."

A bit harsh, given that the key play in the loading of the bases was a towering pop-up by Longoria, which Tex was camped under half way up the 1st baseline. Problem was, it hit something (speakers?) hanging from the roof and fell untouched in fair territory near second base. The groundrules at the Trop (or whatever it's called now) mandate that in such an instance the batter be awarded a single. Further evidence (as if any were required) that the Trop will not be missed by any who care about the game. Anyway, AJ deserved a better fate and should be given credit for hanging in there and pitching out of trouble.

8 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Apr 11, 2010 9:22 pm

Great wrap up! Although, I can't compute a few things..who exactly is Phil Mickelson? Looked him up on google and all I found was an overweight guy in bad clothes, hitting a tiny ball off the grass...is this some new version of baseball?

Let's hope we smash the Angels after getting ring #27!

9 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 11, 2010 9:42 pm

[2] [7] Yep, "almost barfed up" is a gross mischaracterization of that inning. After giving up a two out single, Longoria popped out (but got lucky with the speaker) and then it seemed to me as if he very smartly pitched around Pena. Instead of being critical of that inning, I think it actually reflected favorably on Burnett. Instead of tyring to blow Pena away a reaction to getting a bad break, he intelligently worked his way through the jam.

[4] I also liked the Tino and O'Neill pairing. The problem is Kay, who doesn't realize he needs to be a play by play man with those two in the booth. Instead, he played the role of "one of the guys". Kay needs to let Tino and O'Neill have the fun.

10 Will Weiss   ~  Apr 11, 2010 9:57 pm

[9] et al ... Regardless of the circumstances -- let's call the Longoria single the equivalent of "rub of the green" in golf -- to go from two outs and no one on to bases loaded, thereby putting the tying and lead runs on base with a dangerous hitter in Upton at the plate, I think he almost barfed up the lead. ... Let's agree to disagree.

And Philly Mick winning the Masters. Love it. Great win for a great champion. Well-deserved.

11 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 11, 2010 10:03 pm

[10] Have no idea what "rub the green" means, but I couldn't disagree more strongly. When a pitcher gets Evan Longoria to pop up, he did an excellent job. Just because it hits a speak, doesn't mean he barfed up a hit. Similarly, walking Pena was an intelligent bit of pitching. He refused to allow Pena to do major damage, and instead went after a struggling, right handed BJ Upton. Again, criticizing a pitcher for smartly working a lineup doesn't make much sense. Circumstances do count when you are evaluating performance.

12 thelarmis   ~  Apr 11, 2010 10:08 pm

i very much appreciated granderson's skills before seeing him play every day. i don't understand that comment about this player...

13 thelarmis   ~  Apr 11, 2010 10:14 pm

oh, and the home opener is tuesday, not tomorrow. i'm glad andy is pitching it. fitting with the rings being handed out. i'm glad matsui will be there, too.

poo-holes just went yard. pretty good hitter, that albert guy...

14 RIYank   ~  Apr 11, 2010 10:16 pm

Cool fact via Chad Jennings:

Here’s a little bit of inside baseball.

Nick Swisher swings a 31-ounce bat. He’d never used anything else in a major league game until his last at-bat this afternoon. Swisher had been out front all game, and in an split-second decision, he thought a 34-ounce bat might slow him down just enough.

He hit his first home run of the season.

Swisher has a 34-ounce bat for the offseason, batting practice and the on-deck circle. He gets used to that weight, then feels stronger when he uses a lighter bat in the game.

“When you get that lighter bat, you get that feeling of dominance,” he said. “It feels like a toothpick.”

He was swinging the 34 ounce bat on deck in the eighth inning and decided to take it with him to the plate for the first time. He doesn’t expect it to be a permanent change, but it’s an in-game adjustment he might make again at some point.

15 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 11, 2010 10:50 pm

[12] I agree on that too. Granderson not only had a good day in the field and at the plate, but he single handedly created a run by stealing 2B, taking 3B on a ball to the pitcher and then scoring on a wild pitch. Granderson is definitely a fun player to watch and root for.

16 Will Weiss   ~  Apr 11, 2010 10:55 pm

[15] and [12] Understood ... it's different, though, appreciating him as a player from afar and then seeing him every day when he's helping your ball club. I felt the same way about Mark Teixeira, even though I'd seen a lot of him in college and with Texas, etc. Even Gary Sheffield. Same thing.

17 thelarmis   ~  Apr 11, 2010 11:06 pm

trevor hoffman is just not a hall of fame pitcher. i know saves are a meaningless stat, but i do wish mariano had more than him.

after i typed that, albert hit a 2-run homer off him. his 2nd of the night.

[16] i guess i don't really get what you're saying. i watched a lot of Tex, esp when he was here at Ga Tech & with the Braves. i always appreciated him and was a fan. he was great at the plate and in the field. i'm glad i get to watch him more now, but i always appreciated him.

18 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 11, 2010 11:07 pm

Huge blown save by Hoffman...Pujols and Holliday go back to back.

19 thelarmis   ~  Apr 11, 2010 11:08 pm

wow. holliday and pujols go back to back. 2 outs in the 9th. tie game. trevor's 2nd blown save this week...

20 thelarmis   ~  Apr 11, 2010 11:09 pm

[18] great minds and stuff! ; )

21 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 11, 2010 11:10 pm

[20] While I was watching the game, I was thinking how does Hoffman have so many saves when every time I see him pitch he seems to cough it up. Hoffman has had more than his fair share of high profile blown saves. He isn't in Mariano's class, but will probably make the Hall on Mo's coattails.

22 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 11, 2010 11:16 pm

Winning pitcher...Trevor Hoffman.

23 Will Weiss   ~  Apr 11, 2010 11:21 pm

[17] You had gotten to see a lot of Teixeira, so now seeing him in a Yankee uniform is having that feeling all over again. ... Granderson, sure, there was a level of appreciation, but it's greater now that we get to see him every day. He's better than I thought he was. I apologize for not articulating that point better in the column.

24 thelarmis   ~  Apr 11, 2010 11:21 pm

[22] no way. what happened? i turned it off...

25 thelarmis   ~  Apr 11, 2010 11:23 pm

i've been wanting granderson for awhile now. i'm psyched he's here and looking forward to the next 3 seasons w/ him. tex was such a treat. i'll never forget when i found out we got him. i knew we'd win last year!

looks like mcghee hit a walk-off homer...

26 thelarmis   ~  Apr 11, 2010 11:25 pm

[23] oh, and no apology necessary, of course! you still find any time for dumming?!

27 Chyll Will   ~  Apr 11, 2010 11:42 pm

[26] Hee-hee, sure hope that was meant to be ironic!

28 thelarmis   ~  Apr 11, 2010 11:48 pm

[27] nope. will is a hobbyist drummer, i believe!

29 Chyll Will   ~  Apr 11, 2010 11:54 pm

[28] Oh, so spare time for dumming... >;)

30 thelarmis   ~  Apr 12, 2010 12:01 am

[29] yeah, and for me, i have to keep "perfect" time; otherwise, i lose my jobs!

31 Chyll Will   ~  Apr 12, 2010 12:08 am

[31] Well played, sir. I will retire from teasing you for the missing "r" as that was obviously intentional. G'nite! (and good news on the horizon, I'll check in when it's confirmed.)

32 monkeypants   ~  Apr 12, 2010 12:31 am

[17] trevor hoffman is just not a hall of fame pitcher. i know saves are a meaningless stat, but i do wish mariano had more than him.

[20] He isn’t in Mariano’s class, but will probably make the Hall on Mo’s coattails.

Hoffman is not in Mo's class, but then again, given that Mo is the best of all time, who is? It's sort of an unfair comparison. And while Saves are highly overrated, they are not meaningless. Successfully closing out nearly 600 games does have value. As for other career stats, Hoffman is 5th all-time in K/9 (ahead of Mo), 6th in K/BB (Mo is 4th), 4th in WHIP (Mo is 3rd), 5th in ERA+ (Mo is of course #1), 11th in Win Probability Added (Mo is 6th). Inexplicably Baseball-reference does not have (or I cannot find) blown saves, but a quick scan of the interwebs suggests that Mo and Hoffman have about the same total.

So, if one accepts that relievers---namely closers---should be in the HoF, Trevor Hoffman is a no doubt Hall of Famer on his own right.

And of course Mo is better.

33 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 12, 2010 8:01 am

[32] While I think that relievers do belong in the Hall of Fame, I don't think Hoffman is a no doubter.

As for your comps, you can throw the ERA+ reference out the window. Hoffman may only be 4 places behind Mo, but the gulf is 203 to 146. With only 1,000 innings, an ERA+ of 146 loses a lot of luster. In order for that to really have meaning, you need to be off the charts like Mo.

Furthermore, when comparing Mo and Hoffman (or any closer), you also have to consider post season, and we all know how that falls.

Finally, Mo has pitched in the AL East, while Hoffman has pitched in the NL Central.

Mariano is in a class by himself. He is the only pure closer who belongs in the Hall of Fame. In order for a "1-inning" closer to be enshrined, they need longevity, consistency, a high level of dominance and post season success. Mariano tops all four lists. Hoffman only checks the first two.

34 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 12, 2010 8:02 am

[33] Hoffman has pitched in the NL West and Central.

35 OldYanksFan   ~  Apr 12, 2010 8:13 am

[32] Agreed. Hoffman has fantastic numbers and also has been doing it for a LONG time. He's certainly #2 in his field.

However, I don't believe stats can adequately compensate for League/Division. Any pitcher who has spent a lot of time in the AL East has certainly faced better hitting then pitchers elsewhere. Mo has done it against the best... Hoffman and others, so so much.

I think it's time for stats to be adjusted, AB by AB, depending on the pitching and defense faced at each AB.

36 Will Weiss   ~  Apr 12, 2010 10:37 am

[26] Excellent typo ... Every day, I try to block out 15 minutes or so to work on rudiments. The first app I downloaded on my iPod was a metronome. It doubles as a helper for drumming and getting good tempo for my golf swing. My daughter is now 14 months old and is showing solid rhythm, so I try to do as much as I can in front of her, because she gets into it.

37 monkeypants   ~  Apr 12, 2010 1:03 pm

[33] Hoffman may only be 4 places behind Mo, but the gulf is 203 to 146.

That's sort of a silly argument. 5th all time is still fifth all time, regardless of how far out in front the #1 is. When Babe Ruth retired in 1935, he was about 300 HRs ahead of #2, Lou Gehrig, but had Gehrig retired the same year he too would have been an HoFer.

Mariano is in a class by himself. He is the only pure closer who belongs in the Hall of Fame.

This is really the issue. If you set the bar at the best one-inning closer by a longshot, then yes, I would agree that Hoffman does not belong in the HoF...in fact, neither does anyone else, except Mo, who only barely gets in by that criteria.

I do think it is interesting that you believe (from debates) that Mo is the best reliever of all time (regardless of reliever role): better than Goose, etc. So, by the extension of this logic, for a one-inning reliever to get into the HoF, he must not only be the best one-inning reliever in the history of the game, he must be the best reliever period.

Maybe I am simply not clear on your criteria. How would you rank (ordinal) all of the relievers in the HoF as well as many of the current 'candidates'? Where would the cutoff for HoF be?

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