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Monthly Archives: May 2011

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Flame On!

Yanks-A’s, Oakland again with a tough pitcher and for us another late game, but here at the Banter, it’s more of the same:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Stuck in Reverse?

What to do with the struggling Ivan Nova? Over at PB, Jay Jaffe examines the options:

While Phil Hughes remains at least a month away from returning — he’s scheduled to throw live batting practice soon, though some would argue that’s exactly what he did during his three ugly starts — the Yankees do have other options should they turn away from Nova. Hector Noesi has been impressive in three relief outings, throwing 9.1 innings while allowing just one run. His 5/4 K/BB ratio isn’t anything impressive (particularly given an 11/9 K/BB ratio in the minors), but he’s shown a proclivity for pounding the strike zone for the bulk of his minor league career; his K/BB ratio on the farm is a stellar 5.1. One of his major league walks was intentional, and particularly during his four-inning major league debut during that epic in Baltimore, the kid — who’s all of two weeks younger than Nova, by the way — has shown some moxie with runners on base. According to Texas Leaguers, he’s thrown six different pitches: four-seam fastball (48.1 percent), slider (24.0 percent), curve (10.1 percent), changeup (7.0 percent), two-seam fastball (7.0 percent), and cutter (3.9 percent). While there may be some classification crossover amid these admittedly small samples, he’s clearly not afraid to use multiple offspeed offerings. Furthermore, he’s getting swinging strikes about three times as often (12.8 percent) as Nova.

Also looming in the organization is Carlos Silva, who has compiled a 22/6 K/BB ratio and a 2.13 ERA in 25.1 innings over five minor league starts, most recently at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He has an opt-out clause in mid-June if he’s not promoted, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to imagine that with another solid start from him, and another rough outing from Nova, the Yankees might take a peek before they risk losing him. The chances of the team catching lightning in a bottle with another corpulent castoff aren’t all that high, but Silva hasn’t drawn reports of looking completely washed up as Kevin Millwood did during his slog through the hinterlands.

Taster's Cherce

Perfect day for an Arnold Palmer…


You've Lost That Magic Feelin'

Joe Pos on the trouble with Joakim Soria:

Here was the thing: Joakim Soria seemed magical. That was the word. Magical. He came to the Royals in late 2006 as a Rule 5 draft pick, an almost complete unknown at 22, and by the end of April ’07 he was already being asked to close some games. He had a nearly two-month stretch — from the end of May to the end of July — when he did not give up a single run. By the end of the 2007 season, he was the Royals’ full-time closer. Over the next three seasons, he averaged 38 saves and had a 1.84 ERA for bad Royals teams, and while his nickname around Kansas City was the Mexicutioner, he was known around baseball as “One of the Royals’ few bright spots.”

The thing that made him magical, though, was that he succeeded subtly. Mysteriously, even. There was no OBVIOUS or BLATANT reason why he dominated hitters. He did not throw his fastball in the mid-to-high 90s like other dominant closers. Often, he did not even throw his fastball in the low 90s. He did not have a Mariano Rivera cutter or a Trevor Hoffman changeup or a Bruce Sutter split-fingered fastball. He did not have a wild-man act, did not stomp around the mound or glare batters down or intimidate in the slightest. He mainly looked like he had just woken up from a particularly refreshing nap.

Straight, No Chaser

Here’s Jeff MacGregor on W.C. Heinz:

Too often on American sports pages, we use the long-bomb language of war to talk about games. And too often on the editorial page, we use the slam dunk language of sports to obscure the realities of war. By doing so, we corrupt our honest understanding of both. The symbols and mythologies, the lessons and the metaphors might seem interchangeable — devotion, honor, fortitude — but one is a harmless funhouse reflection of the other. Sports are a kind of necessary human nonsense. War is the abject failure of everything that makes us human.

…Before he became a sports writer, Bill Heinz was a war correspondent. He spent months in the North Atlantic; landed at Normandy; chased Patton across France. He drank with Liebling and with Hemingway and watched American boys felled like trees in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest. That’s what I think made him great. Not just the writing or the craft or the work ethic. But in knowing exactly how much — and how very little — is at stake in sports.

Because every word Bill Heinz ever wrote about sports was informed by what he carried out of that war. By the things he could never forget.


Card Corner: The 1961 Yankees: Bobby Richardson

Bobby Richardson might not have made it in today’s game. To be more specific, he might not have been able to start for most teams at second base. He was a reliable and rangy defender with hands of silk at the keystone, but as a .260 hitter who drew few walks and hit with little power, he probably wouldn’t have carried the offensive standard of today’s game. Of course, that should do little to diminish his complementary role on those great Yankee teams of the early 1960s.

Emerging as a 19-year-old rookie, the handsome Richardson made his big league debut in 1955. He was hardly an overnight success. He didn’t hit much over his first four seasons and had to settle for a role as a part-time player and utility infielder, while spending time on the minor league shuttle to Triple-A Denver. When Casey Stengel played him at second base, it was usually in a platoon with veteran infielder Jerry Lumpe. In many ways, Richardson seemed out of place on a Yankee team filled with hard hitters and big drinkers. Richardson’s clean living and deep religious beliefs prompted a famed remark from his manager, Casey Stengel. “Look at him. He don’t drink, he don’t smoke, he don’t chew, he don’t stay out too late, and he still don’t hit .250!”

It was not until 1959 that he started to hit better and finally took hold of the second base job, essentially succeeding Gil McDougald at the position. Richardson played well enough to earn a berth on the All-Star team, hit a tidy .301, and fielded everything hit in his direction. Unfortunately, after making appearances as a bit player in the 1957 and ‘58 World Series, Richardson was denied a more meaningful role in that fall’s World Series; the ‘59 Yankees finished 79-75, a disappointing and distant third in the American League pennant race.

In 1960, Richardson’s hitting fell off to .252, as he reached base barely 30 per cent of the time. Although he looked like a leadoff hitter, he didn’t play like one. Frankly, the Yankees would have been better served leading off with either Tony Kubek, who had a slightly better on-base percentage and far more power, or Hector Lopez, who reached base 36 per cent of the time. Fortunately, the Yankees did not need a ton of offense from Richardson because the rest of their lineup was so potent.

In reality, Richardson always led with his glove. He had the perfect physique for a second baseman. At five-foot-nine and 175 pounds, Richardson was built strong and low to the ground, making him an immoveable object on takeout slides at second base. He worked extremely well with Kubek, his shortstop partner and his best friend on the team. Richardson’s rock-solid defensive play more than satisfied the Yankee brass, which recognized the subtle role that his fielding played in helping the team regain the pennant after a one-year absence.


Morning Art

Sally Mann

New York Minute

I don’t know if this is strictly a New York move but here it is anyway: when reaching for a paper at the newsstand you never take the top copy, but dig down the stack three or four copies for a fresh one. One that is still neat and compact.

Beat of the Day

Rise and Shine:

The Iron Horse

Our good pal Ray Robinson has a piece on Lou Gehrig in the Times:

Lou Gehrig, Columbia’s most eminent sports figure, died June 2, 1941. The next day, I received my bachelor’s degree from the university.

I became a Gehrig enthusiast from the day I saw him play for the first time when I was 9. In the haziness of my memory of that long-ago afternoon, Gehrig did little with his bat. In fact, I paid more attention to Babe Ruth, his Yankees teammate, mincing around the bases after a home run. Yet it was Gehrig, the shy, unassuming first baseman, whom I ultimately preferred over the Rabelaisian Ruth as a boyhood hero.

As I took the Broadway trolley up to the Columbia campus on the morning of June 3, 1941, I felt a mix of sadness over Gehrig’s death and pleasure at getting my degree. Although he retired in 1939, I didn’t know Gehrig had been wasting away from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the incurable disease now named for him. He died 17 days before his 38th birthday.

Ray’s biography of Lou Gehrig is a must for any serious baseball fan.

Zip, Zip, Zip

Welp, nobody could have predicted the performance Bartolo Colon has given the Yankees so far this season. But as much as the team’s success seems to ride on Alex Rodriguez, I’ve felt all along that this is Mark Teixeira’s time to shine. Robinson Cano had a great season last year but this should be Teixeira’s team. He started off with a bang in April, then cooled some, although his OBP remained high. Now, he’s hot again, and hit another long home run today as the Yanks jumped to a 3-0 first inning lead which proved to be more than enough against Oakland’s hapless offense.

Colon threw a shut out–dig it, a shut out–the game moved quickly, and Yankee fans were happy.

Final Score: Yanks 5, A’s 0.

And here’s the dinner I had on my cousin’s roof this evening:


Holiday Cheer

The Yanks begin a three-game series in Oakland today. Three tough pitchers…Cliff has the preview.

We kick back and cheer:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Ramblin' Man

Ozzie is a good un.

So Pretty in the Sky

Jim Mudcat Grant remembers his old pal Harmon…

Heppy Holidaze

It’s raining in the Bronx this morning. Dark sky. Let’s hope it clears up for everyone who is planning a picnic or barbecue. Meanwhile, here’s something refreshing to start your day:


Take the plunge…

Paintings by Sarah Harvey

Delish and Terrif

Nick Swisher hit a solo home run in the second inning to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead over the Mariners this afternoon in Seattle. The following inning, the Yanks put the first two runners on but Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez both grounded out and another potential rally looked to be dead. But Robbie Cano singled home a run and a few batters later, Andruw Jones hit a double with the bases loaded. Exhale. With the big fella C.C. Sabathia on the hill the Yanks never looked back and cruised to a 6-1 win.

It was a stress-free afternoon for Yankee fans after the Jones double, a welcome tonic after the previous two nights. Eduardo Nunez provided the comic relief when he belly flopped into third, a crash landing if you’ve ever seen one, on his first triple of the year, and David “Fangraphs” Cone was again a pleasure to listen to along with Ken Singleton.

Yup, it was a tasty game all round.

Speaking of just desserts, the wife and I went to L’Artusi, a terrific Italian place in the west village last night. Here are the flix.

crisp potatoes

sweet peas in little pockets


The spread

Snap Peas with Chilies

Orecchiette with sausage and tomatoes

A Happy Wife

Here's that dessert again, olive oil cake with raisin marmellata, vin santo, creme fraiche mousse

Mmm, Mmm, good.

Just Desserts

Okay, so the Yanks blew two games they could have won and it hoits. It hoits I tells ya.

But today, they’ve got their ace on the mound so fug what you hoid, time for a Score Truck beatdown.

Enjoy the barbecue, keep cool, and…

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Picture by my uncle Herve, sent fresh direct from Belgium]

Sunday Spoonful

Did I stut-stut-stutter mothertrucker?

A Long Night's Journey Into Day

First of all, I apologize for the title. There are few things that irritate me more than when someone says, “Hey, I’ll see you tomorrow…” and then checks his watch, notices that it’s a minute or two after midnight, and corrects himself. “Actually, I’ll see you later today!” Unless it’s New Year’s Eve, can we all just agree that the next day starts when you wake up… the next day? So if you’re waking up the next day and wondering how the Yanks made out in Seattle, you might want to head back to bed. It didn’t end well.

The part you probably saw — a struggling Felix Hernández giving up a solo home run to Robinson Canó in the second and a two-run blast to Mark Teixeira in the third — started out well. Even Ivan Nova looked good, inducing one ground ball after another as he cruised through the first three innings allowing just a single run, and even that run came home on a ground out.

But things soured for Nova in the fourth. Franklin Gutiérrez led off the inning with a hard ground ball that spun off the heel of Derek Jeter’s glove. (The play was initially (and properly) ruled an error on Jeter, but that decision was apparently changed at some point, as it’s recorded in the box score as a hit for Gutiérrez.) Adam Kennedy followed that with a double to push Gutiérrez to third, and Miguel Olivo bounced a ball over the fence in right center for a ground-rule double and a 2-1 Seattle lead. Nova then tightened the screws on his own fingers as he wild-pitched Olivo to third before allowing him to score on a Brendan Ryan single up the middle.

That was it for Nova, and for a good long time, that was it for the Seattle offense. Hector Noesi, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, and Luis Ayala marched in and out of the game over the next 7.1 innings and gave up almost nothing. Here’s their line: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 7 K, 1 BB. Impressive stuff.

The problem, of course, is that there wasn’t too much going on with the Yankee bats during all this time. They managed to climb back in the game with two out in the seventh when Jeter walked and Curtis Granderson lofted a ball to deep right center. Ichiro was tracking the ball all the way and looked poised to make one of his Spider-Man catches, climbing the wall to pick the ball out of the stands, but something curious happened just as he leapt — the ball hit the wall, probably two or three feet below the top. With Ichiro’s arms and legs flailing it was difficult to track the ball, but it bounded off of the wall far enough to allow Jeter to score as Granderson raced around the bases for a triple. With King Felix struggling with an elevated pitch count, it seemed like the Yankees might have an opportunity to grab a lead. When he walked Teixeira on five pitches, the stage was set for Alex Rodríguez to do something special, but it wasn’t meant to be. A-Rod struck out to end the inning.

After that, there was a whole lot of nothing from both sides. The Mariners managed a single off Robertson and a walk from Joba in the eighth, but couldn’t cash it in. The Yankees got consecutive singles from A-Rod and Canó in the tenth, but Russell Martin popped out end that threat. The only interesting thing, really, was the steady stream of knucklehead fans who kept running out on the field throughout the game, one of whom chose to do so without clothes.

All of which brings us to the twelfth inning. In case you’ve forgotten how great Mariano Rivera is, here’s the proof. By at least one measure — ERA+ — he is the greatest pitcher of all time by a considerable margin, but for some reason he seems to struggle in non-save situations, and he struggled on Saturday night. He certainly wasn’t hit hard, but he was hit. After dispatching Chone Figgins for the first out in the inning, Rivera allowed Justin Smoak to reach on a looping liner that a charging Brett Gardner wasn’t quite able to snare. Jack Cust did hit the ball hard, doubling down the left field line to put the winning run on third with one out. Manager Joe Girardi then consulted with Rivera and it was decided that Gutiérrez would be walked intentionally to face Kennedy. Much was made of what a tough match-up this was for Kennedy and how a double play was a strong possibility, but it didn’t work out that way. Kennedy was able to find a cutter that found just a little bit too much of the plate. Had it cut deeper into him, it likely would’ve dribbled out towards second for a double play. Had it cut a bit less, it would’ve hung up long enough for Granderson to race under it for the second out. But it cut neither too much nor too little, and Kennedy was able to bloop it out into very short center field, and the game was over. Mariners 5, Yankees 4.

All of that’s fairly depressing, but now let me kick you with some stats while you’re down. In games in which he issues an intentional walk, Mariano’s career ERA is 7.61. In road games this year, he is 0-1 with three blown saves, and a 7.50 ERA; opponents are hitting .423. (He’s yet to blow a save or allow a run at home.)

Don’t worry, though. I predict nine innings from CC on Sunday and an appearance by the Score Truck.  Everything will be fine.

[Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson/AP]

The Once and Future King

Nah, he’s still the King right this minute, ain’t he?

The Yanks send Ivan Nova up against Felix Hernandez tonight in Seattle. Meanwhile, Verlander goes against Beckett up in Boston.

Should be good…

We’ll be rooting: Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Picture by Ant Skelton]

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