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Monthly Archives: June 2010

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Lip Service

Is Ted Berg the new Ted Baxter?

And is Johnny Damon a rootin’, tootin’, pop-gun shootin’ chickenhawk?

Say Word

On Saturday morning, our downstairs neighbor rang the doorbell. She just finished her sophomore year of high school. Her mother died of ALS this spring. She’s off with her father to travel around the country this summer. When they return they’ll  move to another, more affordable apartment. She brought us a bag filled with booze as a gift because “my dad doesn’t drink anymore.”

We don’t either but still we accepted the liquor and wished her a happy summer. You’d never tell by talking with her that her mother just died. We’ll miss them not being in the building but told her to stop by anytime.

So I had ALS on my mind and I wanted to share with you the story of Tom Judt. He is an accomplished historian who has ALS and has been writing wonderful, short essays for The New York Review of Books. Here is his latest, on words:

In “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell castigated contemporaries for using language to mystify rather than inform. His critique was directed at bad faith: people wrote poorly because they were trying to say something unclear or else deliberately prevaricating. Our problem, it seems to me, is different. Shoddy prose today bespeaks intellectual insecurity: we speak and write badly because we don’t feel confident in what we think and are reluctant to assert it unambiguously (“It’s only my opinion…”). Rather than suffering from the onset of “newspeak,” we risk the rise of “nospeak.”

I am more conscious of these considerations now than at any time in the past. In the grip of a neurological disorder, I am fast losing control of words even as my relationship with the world has been reduced to them. They still form with impeccable discipline and unreduced range in the silence of my thoughts—the view from inside is as rich as ever—but I can no longer convey them with ease. Vowel sounds and sibilant consonants slide out of my mouth, shapeless and inchoate even to my close collaborator. The vocal muscle, for sixty years my reliable alter ego, is failing. Communication, performance, assertion: these are now my weakest assets. Translating being into thought, thought into words, and words into communication will soon be beyond me and I shall be confined to the rhetorical landscape of my interior reflections.

Though I am now more sympathetic to those constrained to silence I remain contemptuous of garbled language. No longer free to exercise it myself, I appreciate more than ever how vital communication is to the republic: not just the means by which we live together but part of what living together means. The wealth of words in which I was raised were a public space in their own right—and properly preserved public spaces are what we so lack today. If words fall into disrepair, what will substitute? They are all we have.

There was a good, long profile on Judt by Wesley Yang  in New York Magazine earlier this year. Check it out.

[Photo Credit: Steve Pyke for the Chronicle Review]

Taster’s Cherce

Cool like a cucumber, that’s how we roll in the summertime.

There’s all sorts of ways to flip cucumbers (here’s a recipe for the salad picture above). When I used to wait tables the Amigos in the kitchen would slice cucumbers and sprinkle salt and chili powder on them, followed by a squeeze of lemon. It’d be a macho thing to see how much chili powder you could stand.

I usually have ’em plain with some kosher salt.

Bantermetrics: The 5 Starts of Death

As Cliff noted in his recap of Saturday’s loss, A.J. Burnett has been lit up recently.  Burnett has basically gone 0-for-June, amassing an 0-5 record featuring a slash stat line of .357/.455/.724.  In his first 11 starts of 2010, Burnett pitched to a 1.08 GB rate with 15% line drives.  The last five starts, those numbers are 0.63 and 22% respectively.

But I’m not here to opine on what ails A.J. (It can’t be as simple as not being able to find an Eiland on a map, can it?).  I’m just here to have fun with numbers (and avoid doing my laundry on this beastly hot day).

This is the third time in Burnett’s career, and the first time since 2005, that he’s had five consecutive starts with Game Scores no higher than 50*.  Now, to be fair, the prior two occasions each featured ERAs of 7.40 with only two homers allowed, while this fivesome is festooned with nine homers surrendered and an 11.35 ERA.  So, this is a whole ‘nother level of ugly.

The franchise record for longest streak of starts with game scores no higher than 50 is held by two Jeffs, current Dodger Jeff Weaver, and historical after-thought Jeff Johnson.  Weaver had 11 straight subpar starts from April to June of 2003, while Johnson’s rookie campaign of 1991 featured a Summer-full of bad pitching (July to September).

If you page down that list, you’ll note that the last Yankee to have five or more straight starts like this was Javier Vazquez, who managed to begin his second tour of duty with the Yanks as he ended his first one, getting hammered.  Vazquez’s streak of eight starts was preceded chronologically by some equally frustrating stretches by the likes of  Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, Chien-Ming Wang (though we might give Wang a pass due to injury), Carl Pavano (here we might NOT give Pavano a pass due to injury) and Sidney Ponson.

Now clearly, Burnett has enough of a track record to make one think he’ll snap out of it after pitching well enough for the majority of his first 1+ seasons with the Yanks.  The question now becomes, will Girardi let Burnett pitch himself back to normalcy without a bullpen stop?  It should be interesting what the return of Dave Eiland does for A.J.’s fortunes.

* - 50 is the baseline score used for assessing starting pitcher's
outings, as developed by Bill James.

Ray of Light

BJ Upton and Evan Longoria screamed at each other yesterday in the Ray’s dugout. The Rays are a frustrated team at the moment. Jonah Keri, who is writing a book on the organization, offers 10 Things the Rays should do to compete for the Whirled Serious.

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

Sunday night’s rubber game between the Yankees and Dodgers didn’t deliver on its promise as a pitchers duel. Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw was nails, but Andy Pettitte made two throwing errors on bunts in the third, putting the Yankees in an 3-0 hole, then coughed up two more runs in the fourth, the latter on a Ronnie Belliard solo homer, to put the Yanks down 5-0.

Kershaw, meanwhile, allowed just three baserunners through five innings, those coming on a Derek Jeter leadoff single, a pitch that hit Brett Gardner in the wrist, and a single by Gardner’s replacement, Chad Huffman (Gardner will see the team doctor on Monday). Jeter singled again to lead of the sixth, but Kershaw struck out Nick Swisher, and Casey Blake made a nice play on a hard grounder to his right by Mark Teixeira to force Jeter at second. That brought up Alex Rodriguez with two out. Rodriguez worked the count full, then turned on an inside fastball, sending it over the “Mannywood” sign in left for a two-run home run, his third jack in the last five games, to bring the Yankees within 5-2.

The Dodgers added an insurance run against Joba Chamberlain in the eighth, handing a 6-2 lead to their dominant closer, Jonathon Broxton, in the ninth. Broxton entered the game with some ridiculous numbers, including a 0.83 ERA, 13.2 K/9, and 9.60 K/B, and had allowed just one earned run in his previous 23 appearance, including 1 1/3 hitless innings against the Yankees on Saturday.

The Ox started his night by striking out Teixeira on four pitches, but Rodriguez singled on his fifth. Alex took second on defensive indifference on the first pitch to Robinson Cano, and when Cano connected for a double to right, Rodriguez scored to make it 6-3 Dodgers.

That brought up Jorge Posada, who quickly fell into a 0-2 hole, then battled Broxton for seven more pitches, working the count full before singling to right to bring the tying run to the plate. Following Posada’s nine-pitch battle, Curtis Granderson worked Broxton over for an eight-pitch walk, putting the tying run on base and loading the bases for . . . Chad Huffman?

With Brett Gardner knocked out of the game and no designated hitter, the Yankees’ rally came down to Chad Huffman and Colin Curtis, who had gone in for Nick Swisher as part of a double-switch, a pair of rookies who to that point in their major league careers had combined for three hits and three walks in 15 plate appearances. Joe Girardi’s bench at that point consisted of Francisco Cervelli, the backup catcher, and Ramiro Peña. On the mound stood the 300-pound Broxton, one of the game’s most dominating closers. It hurt to watch.

Until Huffman singled to right on a 1-1 pitch, scoring Cano and Posada and pushing Granderson to third. Suddenly all Curtis had to do was deliver a productive out with a speedy runner at third to tie the game. Curtis fell into a quick 0-2 hole, but then took three balls, one of which looked like strike three at the knees, and one of which, a slider in the dirt, almost tied the game on its own. With the count full, Curtis fouled off four pitches. Then, on the tenth pitch of his at-bat and Broxton’s 40th of the inning, he hit a hard grounder to James Loney at first base.

With two outs, Huffman on first, and Granderson on third as the potential tying run, Loney had two choices. He could either throw home to prevent the run, allowing the inning to continue, or he could throw to second in the hope of turning a game-ending double play. Loney chose neither of those options, instead trying to accomplish both at once by scrambling over to force out Curtis at first, then firing home to get Granderson. Only Loney’s throw tailed away from the runner and the time it took him to get the force was enough to allow Granderson so slide in clearly ahead of Russell Martin’s tag with the game-tying run.

From there, the Dodgers lost their cool as both Garret Anderson (who entered the game in the ninth as a defensive replacement for Manny Ramirez) and Martin got ejected for arguing over called strikes that were indeed strikes, while the Yankees made it look easy. Mariano Rivera worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth around Anderson’s ejection. Robinson Cano responded to Joe Torre’s decision to bring in lefty George Sherrill to face him in the top of the tenth by launching a two-run home run to left center, and Rivera worked around an infield single and Martin’s ejection to nail down the 8-6 win in the bottom of the tenth.

Meanwhile, the ESPN camera’s lingered on Joe Torre, who had the look of a man watching his ex-wife make out with an underwear model. Torre said before the game that he was looking forward to putting this much-hyped and emotionally charged series behind him. I don’t imagine that was ever more true than when he was watching Mariano Rivera nail down a comeback win against him for the first time.

The Payoff

The one positive to A.J. Burnett crapping the bed Saturday evening is that we now get one heck of a rubber game to cap off this hotly-anticipated series between the Yankees and Dodgers. Starting for the visiting Yankees is Andy Pettitte, who has been one of the best pitchers in the American League thus far this season and is having his best season as a Yankee at the age of 38. Pettitte has averaged 7 1/3 innings pitched over his last six starts while posting a 2.25 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, and 4.11 K/BB. Every single one of those six outings has been a quality start, and Pettitte hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in any of them. In fact, Andy has allowed more than two earned runs in just two of his 14 starts this season.

Opposing Pettitte will be 22-year-old lefty Clayton Kershaw, who was the seventh-overall pick in the 2006 draft. Kershaw allowed more than two runs, earned or otherwise, in just two of his first 11 starts, but has fallen off a bit in June, allowing three or more runs in three of four starts. Not that he’s been bad. He’s 2-1 with a 3.90 ERA and 10.1 K/9 in his four June starts, his only real dud being his last start in which he gave up five runs in 6 2/3 innings against the Angels, all of those runs coming in his final two frames. The Yankees should be able to get their walks against Kershaw, but his impressive four-pitch arsenal (which includes a mid-90s fastball, big yakker of a curve, changeup, and slider), has shut-down potential. Over the past two seasons, a stretch of 262 2/3 innings, Kershaw has posted a 2.95 ERA and struck out 9.9 men per nine innings.

For those of you wondering if Joe Girardi would leave Curtis Granderson in the lineup against a tough lefty like Kershaw in a rubber game, the answer is yes (you’d prefer Chad Huffman, a player with just one major league hit to his name, or Kevin Russo, who is hitting .196/.260/.239 in 51 plate appearances?), but he’s dropped him to seventh in the order. Swisher bats second. Posada is back behind the plate and batting sixth. Marcus Thames, meanwhile, joined Triple-A Scranton last Tuesday, but has yet to begin playing rehab games there.

S’More Sunday Soul


[Picture by Bags]

What The Ray?

On Friday night, Edwin Jackson became the third pitcher to no-hit the Tampa Bay Rays in the last calendar year. No team has ever been no-hit three times in a 12-month span before. What’s more, the Rays are one of the best teams in baseball and have one of the top offenses in the game.

What gives? I search for an answer to that over at SI.com.

Prime Cut


Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Yankee offense did it’s best to keep ahead of A.J. Burnett’s advancing vortex of suck Saturday evening. Before Dodger starter Hiroki Kuroda could record an out, the Yankees were up 3-0 thanks to walks to birthday boy Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson and a home run by Mark Teixeira, who extended an eight-game hitting streak during which he has homered as many times as he’s struck out (thrice each). Burnett gave two of those runs back in the bottom of the first, the big hit being an RBI double by Manny Ramirez on a fastball up in the zone, but he worked around a walk in the second and the Yankees got a run back in the third on singles by Jeter and Granderson and a throwing non-error by Blake DeWitt on a would-be double play pivot.

That 4-2 lead lasted all of four batters. Burnett’s bottom of the third started with a five-pitch walk to Matt Kemp, an Andre Ethier single, a wild pitch that moved both runners up, a walk to Ramirez to load the bases, and a game-tying single by James Loney. After a five-pitch walk to Casey Blake to reload the bases, Burnett got Russell Martin to hit into a double play, though the go-ahead run scored in the process. Burnett then walked DeWitt and struck out the pitcher, Kuroda, to end the inning.

Amazingly. Shockingly. Stunningly, after that performance, Joe Girardi let Burnett hit with runners on the corners and one out in the top of the fourth. Burnett sacrificed, but didn’t squeeze, trading an out for putting a second runner into scoring position. Kuroda then struck out Jeter on three pitches to end the threat.

If it wasn’t already clear that Girardi was less than fully committed to trying to win the game at the expense of blowing out his bullpen, after Burnett lasted just two batters in the bottom of the fourth, he brought in Boone Logan, who suddenly seems to be some sort of long man for Girardi despite the fact that righties were hitting .289/.372/.421 against him entering yesterday’s action. Logan swelled the Dodger lead to 7-4, after which Chan Ho Park added on a couple more runs to set the final at 9-4.

Meanwhile, Kuroda quashed a two-out Yankee rally in the fifth, and fireballing lefty Hong-Chih Kuo stranded two runners for Kuroda in the sixth. The Yankees did bounce old frenemy Jeff Weaver before he could complete the eighth, but George Sherrill and Jonathon Broxton shut things down from there.

Burnett is now 0-5 with a 11.35 ERA in June. By way of comparison, Javier Vazquez had a 9.78 ERA in his first five starts of the year in which the Yankees went 1-4. That was enough for the Yankees to skip Javy’s next turn. Ivan Nova, meanwhile, has a 1.34 ERA over his last five starts for Triple-A Scranton. Nova threw three scoreless, walkless innings for the Yankees in mid May. I say it’s time to give him another look and let A.J. work things out in the bullpen for a while. Logan can be optioned to make room for Nova.

There Will Be No Encore

You couldn’t really have asked for much more than Friday night’s game delivered: a tense pitching duel; Alex Rodriguez coming up big in what for him was a grudge match against his former skipper; a little bit of hit-batsman antagonism with Vicente Padilla, but everything kept safely below the waist; CC Sabathia coming up big and striking out his last man in the eighth; Mariano Rivera coming in to face Manny Ramirez, who had an RBI single and a dropped fly ball earlier in the game, and striking out the side to pick up the save with no margin for error in a 2-1 win. It won’t get better than that, so I hope you all stayed up for it.

In fact, with A.J. Burnett on the mound this evening, things could get a lot worse in a hurry. Burnett has gone from poor to awful in June, providing a counterweigh to Sabathia’s strong month by going 0-4 with a 10.35 ERA in four starts while allowing nine home runs in just 20 innings pitched, inflating his season ERA by a run and a half in the process. Part of Burnett’s inconsistency is that you don’t expect his struggles to last long, either, but it seems as though each of Burnett’s starts this month has been worse than the last (not exactly true, but close), and with Dave Eiland on leave for a personal matter there are some have begun to wonder if Mike Harkey isn’t up to the task of getting Burnett back on track, while others, including the general manager, are wondering if Burnett is tipping his pitches.

To make matters worse, the pitcher opposing Burnett this evening, Hiroki Kuroda, is just the kind of crafty, off-speed groundballer prone to giving the Yankees fits. Even if he wasn’t, his success this season speaks for itself (3.06 ERA, 2.92 K/BB, career-best 7.1 K/9). In stark contrast to Burnett, Kuroda has been aces in his last three starts, the last two of which have come against the best offense in each league, the Reds and Red Sox, in those teams’ hitting-friendly ballparks. In total, Kuroda has posted a 0.95 ERA with 23 Ks in 19 innings against just four walks and no homers in those three starts (the third of which came at home against the Cardinals, who have some dangerous hitters themselves). That line works out to a 10.9 K/9 and 5.75 K/BB to go with that sub-1.00 ERA and 0.89 WHIP.


Jorge Posada, who fouled a pitch off his healing right foot last night but stayed in the game, gets the night off. Francisco Cervelli hits seventh ahead of Brett Gardner and Burnett. Curtis Granderson remains in the two-hole. Nick Swisher bats sixth.

The good news is that, if the Yankees do drop this game, as it seems they’re likely to do, it sets up a hell of a rubber game on ESPN tomorrow night with the Dodgers’ young lefty ace Clayton Kershaw facing off against veteran southpaw Andy Pettitte, who thus far is having his finest season as a Yankee at the age of 38. Well, that and the fact that you won’t have to stay up ’til 1am to watch the carnage tonight.

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

I am not a soccer fan, not by any stretch, but I’m incredibly fired up about today’s World Cup match.  We’re a bit late posting this thread, but feel free to pull up a chair as you watch the U.S. boys take on Ghana.

Cooled Out

There is no higher…

A Tad Warm…

Very hot, very hot.

It’s as hot outside as Mattingly was last night after the last out.

Keep cool.

[Picture by Bags]

California Love

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

When I was a young boy growing up in Southern California but obsessed with a team that played three thousand miles away, I often went to sleep listening to Dodger games.  In those dark days of the early 1980s when not even George Jetson dreamed of the internet, there were three ways that I could get a Yankee score.  One, I could wait until the next day and read about it in the morning paper; two, I could wait for the sports report on the local news at about 11:20 and hope they included out of town baseball scores; or three, I could listen to the Dodger game and hope I could stay awake to hear the scoreboard recap.

I usually chose option number three, which meant that I would lie in bed and listen to Vin Scully spinning yarns about Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays and Stan Musial.  Thirty years later, I sometimes watch Dodger games — not for the game, but to listen to Scully.  And so when faced with the choice this afternoon between spending ninety minutes in traffic and $300 in tickets to take the family out to Chavez Ravine, or watching the game on the couch with Vin Scully on the mic, I chose Scully.  (The added bonus being that I could spend the afternoon rearranging the garage, much to my wife’s delight.)

Leading up to this series, I focused completely on all the feel-good stories.  Grandpa Joe Torre would get to see the four kids he raised into Hall of Famers (I know you want to quibble with that, but that’s not really the point), Captain Don Mattingly would pose for photos with Captain Derek Jeter, and people like Tommy Lasorda and Reggie Jackson would have good fun recounting past battles.  What’s funny to me is that I didn’t remember the snarky angle — Alex Rodríguez would be on the same field as Torre, the guy who sold him out to SI’s Tom Verducci in September of 2006, dropped him to eighth in the lineup in an elimination game a month later, and then finished the job by going back to Verducci for last year’s tell-all, The Yankee Years.  Even if I forgot all this, the Associated Press did not, as almost half of their game recap focused on the Torre-Rodríguez rift.  (For the record, I love Joe Torre, but I hate the way he handled A-Rod.)

But there was an actual game played on Friday night, and it was a good one.  On the Dodger side, things started out nicely as they scratched out a run against CC Sabathia in the first inning with a lead-off walk and stolen base by Rafael Furcal, a ground ball to first by Andre Ethier to move him to third, and an RBI-single to right by our old friend Manny Ramírez (more on him later). (more…)

2010 Los Angeles Dodgers

I’m pretty jazzed up for this weekend’s interleague set between the Yankees and Dodgers. Not just because of the familiar faces in the opposing dugout (yes, Joe Torre, but also Don Mattingly, who has also never been part of the Yankees’ opposition before tonight and who never wore another team’s uniform before following Torre to L.A. for the 2008 season, and former undesirables Manny Ramirez and Jeff Weaver, whose presence helps stir the emotional pot), but because it’s Yankees-Dodgers. This matchup was the greatest World Series rivalry in baseball history. From 1947 to 1956, the Yankees and Dodgers met in the World Series six times in ten years, and from 1977 to 1981 they met three more times in a five-year span. Altogether, the Yankees and Dodgers have played 11 World Series against one another, the most of any paring in major league history, with the Yankees holding a 8-3 advantage in those Series.

Given that history, it’s shocking to me that this is just the second interleague meeting between the two teams and that they have yet to play an interleague game in the Bronx (which means the the final dozen years of Yankee Stadium’s existence passed without such a matchup). Since the Dodgers come-from-behind victory in the 1981 World Series, the Yankees and Dodgers have played just one series, a three-game set in Chavez Ravine in mid-June of 2004 that the Dodgers took two games to one. The winning pitchers in that series were Brad Halsey for the Yankees in the middle game and Weaver (who, in his first Dodgers stint immediately following the Kevin Brown trade, beat Javy Vazquez in his first  stint with the Yankees) and the late Jose Lima for the Dodgers.

This year, Weaver is in the bullpen and Vazquez won’t pitch until the Yankees return home next week, but the matchup is even more compelling. Beyond that history and the familiar faces, this series pits the defending world champions against the team that lost the last two National League Championship Series. Say what you want about Joe Torre, but he has kept his postseason streak alive since leaving the Bronx.

I figured the Dodgers would make it 15 straight seasons for Torre before this season started, and though they got off to a slow start (13-17 and six games out of first place on May 8), they turned things around in a hurry with a nine-game winning streak, the start of a 23-7 run from May 9 to June 9 that put them a game ahead of the inexplicable Padres. They’ve only won three of their last 12 since then, however, and have fallen back to third place, three games behind San Diego. Included in that swoon has been a 1-5 performance against their local rivals in Anaheim and a three-game sweep at the hands of the surging Red Sox in Boston, where the return of Ramirez and old rival Torre added a similar charge of emotion.

The bad news for Yankee fans is that despite the Dodgers slide, Manny has been red-hot, hitting .421/.463/.711 with three homers in his last ten games (nine starts) and enters this game with a six-game hitting streak. The Dodgers are finally seeing some signs of life from Andre Ethier as well. Ethier was having an out-of-his-mind season before breaking a finger in batting practice in mid-May. He didn’t hit a lick upon returning on May 31, but has gone 5-for-13 with a pair of doubles in his last three games. The same goes for Matt Kemp, who slumped badly for most of June but went 4-for-13 with a double and a homer in those three games. The Dodgers also just got Rafael Furcal back in the lineup after he missed close to a week on bereavement leave.

The most favorable pitching matchup in this weekend’s series for the Yankees is tonight’s as CC Sabathia takes on Vicente Padilla. CC has been sharp in June, going 4-0 with a 2.48 ERA 28 strikeouts in 29 innings, a 3.11 K/BB and just two home runs allowed, both in his first start of the month. Padilla, meanwhile, has made just one start since April 22 due to a nerve irritation in his right forearm that shelved him for nearly two months. Padilla gave up four runs in 5 1/3 innings at Fenway his last time out. In his last start against the Yankees, on June 2 of last year while he was still a Texas Ranger, he gave up seven runs in 3 2/3 innings.


Live Long and Hit Dingers

Eh, I just wanted an excuse to show this old movie poster. Not a terrible movie from what I can remember. I’ve always liked William Petersen though I don’t know him from his recent success on TV.

Afternoon Art

Bill Sienkiewicz

Hello, My Friend

Over at SI.com, Cliff takes a look at ten signature moments from Joe Torre’s years in the Bronx. Check it out.

And as far as the weekend series goes, make sure to pop by the indispensable Dodger Thoughts, our old Baseball Toaster pals.

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