"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: April 2011

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The End of Easy

Easy April ends today. The Yanks wrapped up a very good month by beating the Blue Jays 5-4 for their fifteenth win against only nine losses – good for first place in the American League East.

The Yankees scored all five runs in the second and third innings, and then threw up donuts for the rest of the game. Apart from the explosion on Thursday, the offense has been silent in the late innings on this homestand with only one run after the fifth in all the rest of the games combined.

Burnett bent but never broke in six innings and enabled Plan A out of the bullpen – Joba to Soriano to Mo. Plan A calls for three scoreless innings, and for the first time since April 4th, they obliged. We debate the wisdom of having three strict roles in the bullpen, but this shows how rarely those roles are executed as envisioned.

The Yankees won this one with singles and walks. Their only extra base hit, a double by Teixeira, didn’t factor in the scoring. Don’t be fooled though, they ended this month averaging just under two taters in each contest and I think they’ll rely on the long ball for a long time.

Burentt was in trouble almost every inning but survived. If the rest of the season evolves such that we can re-define this as “bad AJ,” we’re going to be thrilled. Mariano threw 18 pitches and 14 strikes in a one-hit ninth. It looked to be short work, until Jose Molina refused to take a hint and dumped a double into the “gap” in centerfield. I say “gap” because Granderson was shaded so far to right, the ball went almost up the middle. No matter, the game ended a few pitches later and the tension didn’t last long enough for me to find a knife in the silverware drawer.

The team is in first place without being dominant. The Rays have fully righted themselves, and that’s without Longoria. By the end of May, I bet the Red Sox are back at or near the top as well. The good news is that the Yankees look to have another gear in them as well. Hopefully they will find it in May and keep their lead, but with easy April in the rearview mirror, the hard road’s ahead.

Strike Up the Band

 

We want big, fat, juicy runs, and a lot of them. We also want quick and easy outs from AJ by the handful.

Time for the Score Truck to make a showing.

That is what we want. What we need is to root-root-root for the home team.

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Picture by Florian Bayer]

A New Look is Coming

I’ve mentioned this in passing before but now a new Banter design is near. Looks like we’ll be launching the new look Tuesday morning if everything goes according to plan. I’m excited about it, thrilled really, but also anxious because it’s different–more of a website than the traditional blog. It will take a minute for all us to get used to it but I think it’s going to help bring out the best in the Banter. We’re going one step beyond!

Just wanted to give you a heads up, which I’ll do again tomorrow and then Monday so you are prepared. Change is near, and it’s gunna be good.

Nothing Semi-About Him

Here is Banter reader and Yankees fan @KRADec at the other night’s Bartolo Colon start, with his homemade colon sign:

Awesomeness. My work here is done.

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Beep, Beep, Beep, Beep…Yeah!

What's Poppin'?

Mmmmmornin’!

Them That's Not

…like that rally that wasn’t there?

At least not on Friday night at the Stadium. Down 3-2 the Yanks had the bases loaded in the fifth–on a gift, really, as a near triple play for the Jays turned into bases juiced nobody out–Mark Teixeira popped out to short and then Alex Rodriguez grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. In the eighth, Yanks down 5-3, they had the bases full again, but Derek Jeter whiffed–on a pitch out of the strike zone–and Nick Swisher tapped a harmless ground ball to first.

Freddy Garcia labored through five and David Robertson had a tough inning in the sixth; he gave up two runs and made a critical error. Robinson Cano hit two line drive home runs, absolute seeds, like pow!

But the Yanks couldn’t get a rally going and lost 5-3.

Nertz.

Likwit Fusion

Yanks and Jays: Cliff has the preview, Yogi drinks the Yoo Hoo. Francisco Cervelli returns.

We cheer: Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo Credit: Cuba Gallery]

Afternoon Art

Great Comic Book Covers Week, brought to you by 1979 Semi-Finalist concludes with…

Beat of the Day

Dig Jim Carrey and J Lo in the background…

Observations From Cooperstown: What's Up in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre?

From time to time, I’ll be spotlighting key players and highlight moments for the Yankees’ Triple-A team at Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Though I wish the team was still called the Red Barons (back when the city was affiliated with the Phillies), Scranton will be an interesting stopping point for both veteran and younger minor leaguers this season. In this week’s first sampling, let’s take an overview of Dave Miley’s team.

Given the mix of established veterans and legitimately talented prospects the Yankees have assembled at Triple-A, I expected the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees to be a powerhouse this spring and summer. Well, they have not disappointed. Through the first 21 games of the International League season, the Scranton Yankees have posted a record of 14-7, despite playing the majority of their games on the road. Only the Columbus Clippers, the former affiliate of the Yankees, have fared better. The Indians’ affiliate has gone 16-5 to lead the Western Division.

So is there help on the way? Yes, both in terms of immediate reinforcements and future assistance. Francisco Cervelli will be completing his rehab stint any day now; when he does, he’ll take the place of the very limited Gustavo Molina as the No. 2 catcher. The Yankees face a tougher decision with veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood, whose velocity has been spotty. In his first game for Scranton, Millwood pitched a seven-inning complete game (as part of a doubleheader). But then on Thursday night, Millwood was torched for six runs and sent to the whirlpool after only two innings. Here’s the dilemma facing the Yankees. They have a Sunday deadline by which they must promote Millwood to the major league roster, or else he can opt out and become a free agent. The Yankees could always make room for Millwood by cutting the non-descript Buddy Carlyle; Millwood has the better resume and could conceivably work as a spot starter and long reliever. My bet’s on Millwood being promoted, but don’t place any money on that possibility.

From an offensive standpoint, Scranton has two regulars slugging over .650. They are veteran minor leaguers Jorge Vazquez, who’s playing first base, and Justin “Cornbread” Maxwell, who’s been sharing time with Greg Golson in center field. Both have eight home runs, but Vazquez is outhitting Mad Max by 100 points, .345 to .246, and has an OPS of 1.021. He’s also riding a nine-game hitting streak heading into weekend play. Right now, the Yankees don’t have a need for either Vazquez or Maxwell, simply because of how strong the Eric Chavez/Andruw Jones bench has been. One of the Yankees’ corner infielders or outfielders would have to go down with an injury; otherwise, there’s just no room at the inn for the free-swinging Vazquez and the fleet-footed Mad Max.

The two top position player prospects, Jesus Montero and Brandon Laird, have produced a mixed bag of results. Laird is slugging only .265, so he has a long way to go just to build himself up for a September call-up. To no one’s surprise, Montero is hitting a robust .365, but he has only home run and has strangely failed to draw a single walk in 64 at-bats. (He also missed a few games this week with an injured groin before returning on Thursday.) The Yankee brass will want to see significantly more power and patience before even considering Montero as a replacement for the slumping Jorge Posada at DH.

Then there’s the starting rotation, where Scranton has an abundance of riches. Eight different pitchers have made starts, including the five prospects (Andrew Brackman, Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps, and Hector Noesi). None have been dominant, but Mitchell has been the most efficient, with a 2.95 ERA and one complete game to his credit. Mitchell will have to cut down on his walks, though; he has walked almost as any batters as he has struck out. In terms of the veterans, Mark Prior just made his season debut with a one-inning relief stint, but hefty Carlos Silva remains in no-man’s land. He has yet to be assigned to Scranton, which is only delaying his possible elevation to the Bronx.

All in all, returning manager Miley (one of the better minor league skippers around) and batting coach Butch Wynegar have plenty of options to work with. Miley’s biggest challenge may be finding sufficient playing time for all of his talented regulars; many of them deserve to play every day, but like former Red and Brewer Chris Dickerson, they may be subject to platooning at some point this spring. Still, it’s a pleasant problem to have.

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

Here Comes the Sun Queen

Is it summer yet?

[Picture by Hugues Erre]

Vinyl Mania

[Photo Credit: Jhalal Drut]

Which Pitcher is the Story?


The story of the past week has been pitching, in a number of facets. But which pitcher was THE story? Let’s take a look at the items up for bid …

* Mariano Rivera blew two consecutive saves after converting his first seven save opportunities and looking as superhuman as ever. And he wasn’t booed, because these saves were a) blown on the road; and b) didn’t come against the Red Sox at home.

* Rafael Soriano, however, was booed, and deservedly so, during and after Tuesday’s 8th inning meltdown. Strong pieces at ESPN New York by Johnette Howard and the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Barbarisi on Soriano’s fragility.

* Phil Hughes went to the DL, tried to throw, his arm was a noodle, and now a mysterious shoulder ailment that may or may not be Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is being discussed as a possible diagnosis. Compression of either the nerves, artery or vein in the clavicle area signify TOS. One of the possible causes of the “repetitive trauma”. The pitching motion classifies as repetitive trauma. In more severe TOS cases, surgery is required. Former Yankee Kenny Rogers had surgery to repair TOS in 2001. He came back and pitched seven more seasons.

* Pedro Feliciano, it was great to meet you. Who is Lance Pendleton?

* Bartolo Colon, who many believed should have been in the rotation anyway based on his performance in Spring Training, replaced Hughes and tossed an 8-inning gem. Even more impressive was the consistency of his velocity: 95 in the early going, and 96 in the later innings. Is he the Yankees best pitcher right now, as Wally Matthews suggests? Maybe.

* Freddy Garcia, who pitches tonight, has a matching WHIP and ERA (0.69), and has allowed just 5 hits in 13 IP thus far.

* AJ Burnett may be the best story of all. He suffered a hard luck loss on Monday because the Yankees’ offense is ineffective against pitchers that a) they’ve never seen before; b) pitch like Mike Mussina in the 86-89 mph range, but change speeds and have movement on their pitches. Despite the team result, he may have pitched his best game of the season. The question, as it always is with Mr. Allan James Burnett, is consistency. Will he breathe out of the correct eyelids in May?

* Ivan Nova proved he may be able to get past five innings. Small sample size, yes. But still …

* And of course, there’s CC Sabathia. He’s the ace, the grinder, and the guy who more often than not, somehow makes the right pitch to wriggle out of jams. An ace isn’t always a dominant strikeout pitcher. The main job, keep the opposition off the scoreboard and give your offense a chance to support you. He did it Thursday, just as he did so many times the previous two seasons.

Of those guys, which story had the greatest impact? My vote is for Hughes, because of the trickle-down effect it’s caused in the rotation. If Colon and Garcia keep this up, they get the Aaron Small / Shawn Chacon Memorial “Surprise MVPs” Award.

Feel free to agree / disagree below, in Comments.

[Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun/AP]

New York Minute

On the subway this morning…A shirty voice on the loud speaker. “Attention passengers. Please do not leave…Your Arm…Your Leg…or…Your Bag…in the door. Step all-the-way into the car so we don’t delay the train behind us.”

And then, as cold as ice: “Thank You and Have a Nice Day.”

Ah, some good, old fashioned New York irritation to greet the day.

[Picture by Edi Weitz]

Royale with Cheese

Woman outside of Applebee’s this morning watching the Royal Wedding.

You Can Find This In The Sporting Goods Department

It was a tough night to be a baseball at Yankee Stadium. After a stretch of relatively low-scoring games, New York’s offense broke through, apparently trying to give CC Sabathia a month’s worth of run support in one night, and the Yankees split their four-game series with the White Sox, winning 12-3.

Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter sat this one out, but it didn’t slow the offense any (not that… well, never mind, out of respect for Derek Jeter let’s leave it at that). Things completely unraveled for Edwin Jackson in the third inning, when he walked three batters in a row, and then four good measure a fourth – Nick Swisher, who got the RBI. One sac fly later it was 2-0 New York although at that point Edwin Jackson had a no-hitter going.

Frankly, I was surprised he was left in that long, along he did manage to get himself out of the inning with just two runs in, and recovered to pitch a clean fourth. In the fifth, he had the opposite problem he’d had in the second – now he was throwing strikes, but too much so. The first four batter Jackson faced there combined for a cycle – Brett Gardner homered, and as if that wasn’t unlikely enough Eduardo Nunez doubled, then Curtis Granderson tripled, and Swisher singled, scoring Granderson and finally driving Jackson out of the game. New pitcher Tony Pena (no relation) didn’t fare much better, as Robinson Cano singled, Alex Rodriguez doubled, and so on and so forth until Pena left with discomfort in his elbow. Will Ohman restored order, but by the time he got the third out twelve batters had come to the plate, and the Yankees left the inning with an 8-0 lead. The Yankees kept tacking on later, most notably via a Nick Swisher home run, his first of the year and clearly a weight off his shoulders. He and Ozzie Guillen famously did not get along well – I’ve never quite understood why, since Swisher seems plenty affable whatever else he is, but maybe he was less affable when he was hitting so poorly in Chicago. I imagine he particularly enjoyed breaking out of his slump while the Sox were still in town. A tree stump could have broken out of a slump tonight*, but still.

*No offense to Jorge Posada, who was 0-4.

As for Sabathia, he struggled a bit in the early going and had to pitch his way out of a few jams, but he kept the White Sox off the board until the seventh inning, after the game was essentially clinched, and pitched through the inning. Lance Pendleton took it from there, and did not even have to fall back on his hefty cushion of runs. Next up: Toronto, and the slightly less-than-marquee match-up of Ricky Romero and Freddy Garcia. As Ozzie Guillen said just the other night, baseball is crazy, so who knows what kind of game we might end up with?

Or Better Yet a Hunk of that Funk

It rains and then it stops, it’s dark and then light. Who knows what tonight will bring? But if there is a game being played in the Bronx know this: we’ll be root-root-rootin’ for dem Score Truck Kids. Mr. Sabathia is on the hill…

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Picture by Bags]

Afternoon Art

Great Comic Covers Week continues…

 

Word to 1979 Semi-Finalist.

The Gift of Gab

I love to talk but when it comes to writing I have learned that you can talk too much. You can talk a story out before you’ve finished–or started–writing. Some talking is good because it helps formulate your thinking but I’ve discovered that it can go too far.

Talking comes naturally. When I was younger I talked because I was anxious, talked because silence was terrifying. But talking also runs in the family. My twin sister loves to talk. My old man was a champion talker. He loved the sound of his own voice. He talked instead of working. (Maybe that is why I am attracted to but mostly repulsed by Fran Lebovitz.) On the other hand, my mother walked the walk; she was pragmatic, a worker, not a dreamer.

I got to thinking about talking when I read this piece on James Agee by John Updike, a review of “Letters of James Agee to Father Flye”:

Alcohol—which appears in the first Harvard letters (“On the whole, an occasional alcoholic bender satisfies me fairly well”) and figures in almost every letter thereafter—was Agee’s faithful ally in his “enormously strong drive, on a universally broad front, toward self-destruction.” But I think his real vice, as a writer, was talk. “I seem, and regret it and hate myself for it, to be able to say many more things I want to in talking than in writing.” He describes his life at Harvard as “an average of 3.5 hours sleep per night; 2 or 3 meals per day. Rest of the time: work, or time spent with friends. About 3 nights a week I’ve talked all night. . . .” And near the end of his life, in Hollywood: “I’ve spent probably 30 or 50 evenings talking alone most of the night with Chaplin, and he has talked very openly and intimately.” And what are these letters but a flow of talk that nothing but total fatigue could staunch? “The trouble is, of course, that I’d like to write you a pretty indefinitely long letter, and talk about everything under the sun we would talk about, if we could see each other. And we’d probably talk five or six hundred pages…”

He simply preferred conversation to composition. The private game of translating life into language, or fitting words to things, did not sufficiently fascinate him. His eloquence naturally dispersed itself in spurts of interest and jets of opinion. In these letters, the extended, “serious” projects he wishes he could get to—narrative poems in an “amphibious style,” “impressionistic” histories of the United States, an intricately parodic life of Jesus, a symphony of interchangeable slang, a novel on the atom bomb—have about them the grandiose, gassy quality of talk. They are the kind of books, rife with Great Ideas, that a Time reviewer would judge “important.” The poignant fact about Agee is that he was not badly suited to working for Henry Luce.

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