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Monthly Archives: August 2011

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Is this the Express?

About three hours and 20 minutes. Twenty four base runners, 14 runs. Six different pitchers threw 266 pitches. What is this, the Giants visiting the Dodgers in 1965? Where was the soul-grinding we signed up for?

Josh Beckett had faced the Yankees four times already this year. He was 3-0 and the Red Sox won all four games. He’d allowed three runs total over all four games. As much as the Yankees expected to win last night with their ace on the mound versus John Lackey, the Red Sox were that confident squared going into tonight’s tilt.

Phil Hughes was the tissue paper in front of the roaring semi of Boston’s offense and Beckett’s guaranteed victory. His season is already lost to the ages as a piece of crap and where he goes from here is a complete mystery. If he gets to pitch a meaningful inning in the Postseason, it would be a shock. The question was not whether he would be effective tonight, the question was how long until he was flayed.

In the third inning, Jacoby Ellsbury set up Sox with a perfectly placed laser into the left field corner, just inside the line and just short of the wall. That put runners on second and third with nobody out and Boston cashed in both of them for a 2-1 lead. In the sixth, tied at five, it was Ellsbury again inflicting the telling wound, a two-out, two-run homer off one of last night’s heroes, Boone Logan, to clinch the game. Varitek added a two-run icer (the Sox third two-run homer of the evening) and Boston cruised home 9-5.

If he did not play for the Red Sox, I think Ellsbury would be one of my favorite players. I love his dangerous swing and he drills the ball to all fields. He has an open stance and lets the ball get very deep into the hitting area before committing to swing. Watching the double in the third in slow motion, I kept waiting for him to begin his swing until finally I thought they queued up the wrong replay. But then at the last second he lashed out at the fastball on the outside corner and whacked it right down the line.

To pull this off he’s got to have excellent bat speed  and he’s got to protect the inside corner as well. It’s easier to hit the outside pitch with authority deep in the hitting area because if he makes contact out there, it’s going to be on the barrel. But if he’s late on the inside fastball, he’s jammed. He’s got to identify the inside strikes and get the bat head out to meet them. He’s finally figured it out this year and has 24 home runs to show for it and has become a breakout star.

The Red Sox kept beating on Hughes as long as he was in there, but in fairness to the him and the other Yankee starters, the Red Sox are simply better at hitting than these guys are at pitching. CC Sabathia is a world class pitcher and he can’t get through this lineup without 128 pitches and a whole lot of luck. Was Phil Hughes bad, or just not good enough for this level of competition? I think the latter. On top of that, Jason Varitek’s P.O.S. “double” past Chavez and Gardner in front of Ellsbury’s game winning homer was the kind of bad luck he just can’t overcome against this team.

The challenge of beating Boston in the ALCS is clear. The Yankee starters can’t get through more than five innings, but the bullpen isn’t deep nor durable enough to pitch four innings in every game. For example, if the Yankees played this game to win, Hughes should not pitch the sixth. But the Yankees needed three innings out the pen last night, and it’s a good bet they’ll need a lot more than that tomorrow night. So Girardi sent Hughes out there to cough up the lead and then turned to one of their lesser relievers because it was too early to call the big guns. Twenty seven outs is about six too many for the Yanks to cover.

Do the Yankees get any love for scoring five off Beckett, taking two one-run leads, and putting the outcome of this game in doubt for a few minutes in the sixth? They are now 3-11 against the Red Sox, 0-4 against Beckett, and assured themselves of ending this series in second place. But at least they’ll have the muscle memory of crossing home plate with him on the mound should they meet in the ALCS. OK, I’ll give them Fresca-level love for that. But they only had six hits as a team against 11 strikeouts and folded completely after the Ellsbury homer – nine up and nine down. So even Fresca may be too good for them.

 

 

Cry Baby Special: This Time It’s Personal

 

Anyone have faith in Phil Hughes? If so, speak up, cause I know there will be precious little faith in A.J. Burnett tomorrow night.

Anyone dislike Josh Beckett? Well, I already know the answer to that one.

Yanks and Sox back at it tonight. Russ Martin is still dinged-up so Boston’s new favorite bad guy, the menacing Frankie Cervelli, gets the start. Oh, and word has it that Jesus Montero will be a September call up.

Brett Gardner LF
Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Eric Chavez DH
Eduardo Nunez 3B
Francisco Cervelli C

Don’t squeeze the charmin’ and:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo Credit: Bitchassbidness]

Afternoon Art

“The Ballantine” By Franz Kline (1958-60)

Beat of the Day

Fellas…

[Photo Credit: Shorpy via the great This Isn't Happiness]

Taster’s Cherce

Smitten Kitchen rules: simplicity wins again.

I’m a have to try this one.

New York Minute

Son, I’m sayin’

[Photo Credit: Pam Hule]

From Ali to Xena: 30

The Wrong Fit

By John Schulian

I had come up in the newspaper game and I had succeeded in it, even if I was in the penalty box. I thought I had to be a sports columnist again, if I was doing any thinking at all that summer. But I was so numb that I couldn’t even get angry when my phone didn’t ring with offers. I just climbed on my bike and pedaled away, numb to a business that would take its own sweet time to acknowledge my existence again.

Finally, the sports editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called to ask what I’d think about working there. I actually liked the town, but not well enough to make it the next place I rolled the dice with my career. The Philadelphia Daily News was a different story. I’d considered jumping to the News in ’81 or ’82, when a beguiling character named Gil Spencer was running the paper. Gil was the kind of free spirit you don’t find in an editor’s office anymore-–a Main Line kid who hadn’t bothered going to college, an ex-marine, a devout horseplayer, a Pultzer prize-winning editorial writer, and a tabloid guy in the best sense of the word. Here’s how smart he was: he gave Pete Dexter a column when Pete was a reporter best known for getting himself in bizarre situations. The first time I met Gil, he was driving me to lunch. “While we’re fucking around,” he said, “why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?” How could I not like an editor like that?

By the time I was on the market again, Zach Stalberg had replaced Gil. Zach was someone to like, too, a Philly guy who wore cowboy boots, an ex-City Hall reporter, a bit of a swashbuckler. But it wasn’t Zach who came after me. It was the paper’s executive sports editor, Mike Rathet, who had been an Associated Press sportswriter and a Miami Dolphins PR man. And I still don’t know why.

Sometimes I think it was because Rathet liked the way I wrote. Other times I think it was because he wanted to say he’d tamed John Schulian. He made a point of telling me my column could be edited, and he made sure I knew that he was making more money than I was.

I took a 25 percent pay cut when I went to the Daily News, although I’m not sure anyone at the paper except the brass knew it. I always had the feeling that everybody, in and out of sports, thought I was still pulling down six figures. It probably didn’t help that I bought a little restored farmhouse out in Bryn Mawr when most everybody else on the paper seemed to live either in the city or in the South Jersey suburbs. The way it turned out, though, I traveled so much while I was at the Daily News that I should have just rented a motel room by the airport. Between work and vacation, I was gone 195 days in 1985. I get tired just looking at that number now, but back then, I was glad to be on the move.

It quickly dawned on me that Philadelphia was going to be a hard city to embrace. Chicago still owned my heart, and the only two cities in the country that could compete with it in my mind were L.A. and New York. If Philly had any charms, they eluded me. The cheesesteaks were borderline inedible, the drivers were second only to Boston’s when it came to apparent homicidal urges, and the city’s general disposition seemed to flow from those same drivers.

It wasn’t much better at the Daily News. Once I got past Zach Stalberg and his secretary, the only people outside of the sports department who engaged me in real conversations were Maria Gallagher, a reporter who later married Ray Didinger, and Gene Seymour, who went on to write about movies and pop culture at Newsday. And Pete Dexter, of course. He was already on his way to becoming a great novelist when he told me with a straight face that he really wanted to write an episode of Bob Newhart’s TV show. Pete could always make me laugh, but something in his eyes said he knew how it felt to be an orphan in the storm, too.

That solitary feeling followed me into the sports department. I’d invaded territory to which the Daily News’ other columnists had long ago staked claim. Only the unfailingly gracious Didinger refused to let that stop him from treating me like a friend. Stan Hochman, who had always been so amiable when I was an out-of-towner, warily kept his distance, and Mark Whicker left the impression that he’d rather talk about me than to me. Not surprisingly, Bill Conlin proved harder to read than any of them. I assumed hated me – what can I say, he just has that way about him – but we bonded over our antipathy toward Whitey Herzog at the 1985 World Series.

Even if we’d all been singing “Kumbaya,” however, it would have been hard to get the sports staff together because we were always racing somewhere to cover the next big story. I had dinner a couple of times with Rathet and his delightful wife, Lois, who would die much too young, but that was about it. The one person I truly connected with was a woman who didn’t even read newspapers. She was very artsy, very stylish, and brave enough ultimately to live through four years with me.

True to form, my career butted in line ahead of my personal life as I set about re-living what I had gone through as a columnist in Chicago. But the first time was a thrill: to discover that I was good at it, to be anointed a star, to be covering the sports events that every writer dreamed of. The second time, in Philly, was borderline torture. It wasn’t because of the chilly reception I received at the Daily News, either. I’d been the new kid in school more times that I cared to count. I could deal with that, even though it was a bit disconcerting to think that I was getting along better with editors than I was with my fellow troops. What I hadn’t counted on was the toxic reaction I found myself having to the job itself. I’d long ago tired of airplanes and hotel rooms and room service meals that were guaranteed to shorten my life, but now the dread with which I faced them was spreading. I couldn’t generate any excitement for the crowds, the bright lights, or even the biggest games and fights and horse races. The stories all felt like I’d written them before. Worse, I could barely stand to read my own prose.

I needed a new challenge, not one I’d already conquered. I needed something to save me from a future as a grumpy, overweight sports columnist who was odds on to keel over dead while running to catch a plane. Shortly before dawn on the day I turned 40, I discovered what my ticket out was. It had been in my head nearly all my life.

Click here for the full “From Ali to Xena” archives.

Blue Blood

Over at SI.com, Cliff takes a look at the CY Young races. Check out who he’s got leading the NL race:

1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (3)
Season Stats: 16-5, 2.51 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.8 K/9 (207 K), 4.31 K/BB, 4 CG, 2 SHO
Last Four Starts: 3-1, 1.59 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 5.00 K/BB

Six weeks ago, Kershaw reappeared on this list at number five. Three weeks ago he was at number three. Now he’s on top for the first time all season. Here’s why: In his last 13 starts, dating back to mid June, Kershaw has gone 10-2 with a 1.65 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 105 strikeouts in 98 innings against just 19 walks. He has averaged more than 7 1/3 innings per start over that stretch, not allowed an earned run in six of those 13 starts, struck out nine or more men in six of them, and finished three of them, including a shutout of the AL Central-leading Tigers back in late June.

Those 13 starts account for nearly half of his season (27 starts total), and the other half was hardly lacking. Kershaw was 6-3 with a 2.62 ERA at the end of May with nine quality starts in 12 turns including four in which he did not allow a run and four in which he struck out nine or more. Two duds in hitters’ parks (Cincinnati and Colorado) separated those 12 starts from his last 13, a reminder that he has had more success in his friendly home stadium. That’s true of the majority of the pitchers on these lists, though, including Beckett and the three Phillies below, all of whom pitch in parks that typically favor hitters.

It’s been a drag of a season for the Dodgers but they’ve got a horse in the CY Young race and a bona fide MVP candidate in Matt Kemp. Love it that Kemp went 1-1 with an RBI, a run scored and four walks last night.

[Photo Credit: A Window Would be Awesome and  Zimbio]

My Mind is on the Blink

We deserve each other. The Yanks and Sox have similar teams, the at bats are interminable, the games drone on. They are exciting but painful.  More than that, the fans on both sides are a bunch of whiny babies. I was crying and carrying on for the Yanks last night and I e-mailed and texted a few Sox fans who were doing plenty of bitching and moaning themselves. Never mind the reporters in Boston and New York.

Deserve each other. I’m exhausted, and it’s just August.

[Photo Credit: Timrobisonjr]

Frankie Says Relax

Can you imagine the venom that must flow in the streets of Boston at mere mention of the name Francisco Cervelli? He is the player on the opposite team that you hate without reservation. It isn’t the type of dislike for a great player that comes with a sprinkle of respect, it’s one hundred percent hatred. He’s a bench player, after all, but he celebrates his small achievements as if he’s just driven in the game-winning run in game seven. His favorite bit comes after a big strikeout to silence a scoring threat at the end of an inning. He pops out of his crouch, hops towards the dugout, and begins pumping his fist as if shaking salt into his opponent’s open wound.

But he’s our Frankie Brains, and we love him. (Sure, his bat is anemic, but that doesn’t fit with this narrative so we’ll ignore that part.) We love that he’s a grinder. We love that he seems to know that he’s living a major league dream and won’t blink for fear of missing something. Frankie Brains.

Tonight in Boston, Frankie took things to another level, but we’ll get to that. When he stepped in against Ugly John Lackey to lead off the top of the fifth, things were already going well for the Yanks. Everyone knew this was big game, not just for the Yankees as they were chasing the Red Sox in the standings, but also for Tuesday night’s starter, CC Sabathia, who had been repeatedly chased by the Red Sox, giving up six, six, and then seven runs in his last three starts against them.

Early on it looked like Boston might have more of the same planned for CC. The Yankees had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the second when Eric Chavez had squeaked a soft line drive through the infield, but Boston seemed poised to erase that early lead. Even Sabathia’s outs were difficult, and when the Sox loaded the bases in the second inning, there was a very real sense that the game might have been hanging in the balance. (Less optimistic fans can be forgiven for thinking the entire season was riding on each pitch.) When Jacoby Ellsbury finally grounded out to end the inning, the Red Sox still hadn’t scored, but Sabathia had already spent 51 pitches to record just six outs. The outlook wasn’t brilliant.

Curtis Granderson drew a walk to open the fourth inning, then Robinson Canó stepped up and reminded any skeptics that he’s the best hitting second baseman in baseball. (But Boston fans probably know this. Canó entered the game with the highest career batting average of any Yankee at Fenway Park with a minimum of 200 ABs. His .352 put him two points up on a guy named Lou; his 2 for 3 night on Tuesday would widen that gap.) After fouling off a pitch from Lackey, Canó smoothly stroked a long fly that bounced high off the wall in the left center before nearly bounding over Ellsbury’s head. Granderson scored easily, and the score was 3-0.

Things got sticky for CC in the the bottom half. After retiring Jed Lowrie for the first out, Sabathia gave up a no doubt home run to Carl Crawford. Pitchers make mistakes, and good hitters hit mistakes, so maybe that’s all this was. But then Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled firmly to center, Darnell McDonald singled to right, and suddenly Boston was rallying. Sabathia buckled down and struck out Ellsbury, but Marco Scutaro — of course — rifled a double down the third base line to score Saltalamacchia and the Sox only trailed by a single run. Sabathia rebounded to strike out Adrian González, but at that point this game had all the markings of a classic Yankee-Red Sox tilt that wouldn’t be decided until the final pitch was thrown.

All of which brings us to Cervelli’s at bat in the top of the fifth. Frankie worked the count to 3-1 against Lackey, then launched an absolute bomb over the wall in left. For just a minute now, put yourself in Frankie’s shoes. Before Tuesday night you’ve had a total of 176 at bats and hit only two home runs. Here you are in what some people might say is the biggest series of your team’s season, and you’ve just hit a home run over the Green Monster to double your team’s lead. Might you be a little fired up?

Frankie was fired up. He clapped his hands a single time as he planted his foot on home plate and turned back towards the third base dugout. I understand that there are hundreds of unwritten baseball rules out there, and for the most part I accept them, but I’m not sure why you can’t clap your hands when you hit a home run. When you’re Derek Jeter and you do it after every single base hit, it’s okay. But when you’re Francisco Cervelli and you do it after hitting a big home run, apparently it isn’t.

The next time Cervelli came up he was leading off the seventh inning and the Yankees still led, 4-2. Lackey’s first pitch was a straight fast ball aimed directly at Cervelli’s shoulder, and the benches cleared. Viewers at home were immediately treated to a replay of the fifth inning home run, but this time we also saw a clip that showed Lackey staring down Cervelli as he touched home, clapped, and headed to the dugout. The smoke signals bellowing from his ears sent a clear message: “The next time you come up I’m going to drill you.” And drill him he did.

Once order was restored, Cervelli advanced to second on a past ball, then went to third when Brett Gardner earned a single by beating out a sacrifice bunt. Derek Jeter grounded into a double play, but Cervelli scored (without clapping), exacting a measure of revenge. Nobody messes with Frankie Brains.

Sabathia had made it through six gutty innings, throwing 128 pitches along the way and striking out ten, and Cory Wade had taken care of business in the seventh, bringing us to Rafael Soriano and the eighth. When he walked Ellsbury to open the frame, the Fenway faithful began to smell blood in the water. Marco Scutaro came to the plate and a strange thing happened — I was worried. Now, I ask you, what has the world come to when the thought of Marco Scutaro walking to the plate strikes fear in the heart of anyone except the fans of his own team?

Scutaro worked the count to 2-1, then showed me exactly why I was worried. He roped a line drive that was plainly ticketed for the gap in left center field. Ellsbury would score standing up, Scutaro would coast into second, and suddenly the Red Sox would be in serious business, down only two with a man on second, nobody out, and González, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortíz due up.

But the ball didn’t fall in. Last week our man Jon DeRosa wrote a great piece on the analysis of defensive statistics, and one thing those numbers will tell you is that Brett Gardner is the best left fielder in baseball. I don’t need statistics to tell me that because I watch him do amazing things game after game. The ball that Scutaro hit was an absolute rope, and Gardner had no business getting to it. Gardner always plays shallow, but Fenway’s Monster lets him play even closer to the infield. To get to Scutaro’s ball he had to get a perfect jump, take the exact right line, and be fast enough to beat the ball to the spot. He did all that, but just barely. He had to leap a bit at the last second to snare the drive, and Ellsbury, who had already gone just beyond second, had to race back to first. The Great One would come on to get the final three outs in relatively uneventful fashion (unless you consider Girardi’s ejection eventful), but the save should probably have gone to Gardner.

So the Yankees now sit tied with the Red Sox in the loss column, but with twenty-nine games left on the schedule, it’s tempting to discount the importance of this game. I can’t do that. Since they managed a win (and since it was credited to Sabathia, his eighteenth) it’s a good win. If they had lost, however, cementing the idea in some minds that neither they nor their ace could beat the Red Sox, this game could’ve been hugely important. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that right now.

[Photo Credit: Winslow Townson/AP Photo]

 

Mind Games

Yanks and Sox start a three-game series in Boston tonight (yes, yes, again).

Cliff’s got the preview.

C.C.”I Got My Pride” Sabathia goes against Big John Lackey.

Brett Gardner LF
Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Eric Chavez 3B
Jorge Posada DH
Francisco Cervelli C

Never mind the angst:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo Credit: Whereisthecool via Je Suis Perdu]

Smooth Move, Slick

“The Art of Fielding” is the debut novel by Chad Harbach. It’s received a good deal of hype and will be one of the “it” books of the fall.

Here’s an excerpt over at Vanity Fair:

Afternoon Art

“Woman with a Lute Near a Window,” By Johannes Vermeer (1662-64)

Beat of the Day

 

Happy Rap (with dirty words).

[Photo Credit: Ellie Niemeyer]

Dollars and Sense

I’m a little late on this, but here’s Rich Lederer on the recent Jered Weaver contract extension.

Caps for Sale

All Eric Nusbaum wanted was to buy a Dodgers hat.

Silence

Here’s a couple of pieces over at Grantland to check out.

First, Louisa Thomas on Venus Williams:

She has always seemed to have an ambivalent relationship to tennis. She is the most recognizable exponent of the game (even more than Serena, perhaps, because she came first) and also a vanishing act, an ambassador and outsider at once. She wanted to be the best, but it wasn’t always clear that she wanted to play at all. Richard Williams said he wanted his daughters to be extraordinary, to stand apart. They do. But that doesn’t quite capture Venus. Nothing does. She is elusive.

The challenge, Venus made clear early on, was to change the game without letting it change her. She has always held something back. Her story isn’t one about a rise and fall, glory and fade. She has become a kind of ghost.

This isn’t because she has other interests outside of tennis, which is often the knock. The spookiest thing about her is that she is one of the greatest competitors in the women’s game, but also one of the most indifferent. She’s a winner who somehow doesn’t need to win. So — and this is the question that has always bugged me, and the question I’ll be thinking about as I watch her in this tournament, and write about it here — why does she continue to play?

Next, Jane Leavy remembers Mike Flanagan:

Unlike my colleagues who have written in recent days of having covered him over the past 30 years as a pitcher, pitching coach, general manager, and broadcaster for the Orioles, Flanagan was in and out of my life as quickly as I tried to get in and out of the locker room. But he stayed with me in ways I didn’t realize until I heard about his death. What struck me about the conversation that day in the locker room was his interest in me. Most athlete-cum-celebs are too busy bemoaning the obligations of public personhood, too consumed by the ego-distorting attentions of doting reporters hanging breathlessly on every not-so-well-chosen word, to think about anyone other than themselves. But Flanagan really wanted to know about me, and because his interest was palpably authentic I told him things I never expected to reveal in a major league clubhouse, where revelation was supposed to be the other way around. I told him the naked truth.

…Flanagan’s suicide and that of former Yankee pitcher Hideki Irabu after the spotlight passed them by, that of Denver Bronco’s receiver Kenny McKinley and LPGA golfer Erica Blasberg after suffering debilitating injuries, and that of former Pro Bowl safety Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest so his brain could be studied for evidence of trauma-induced disease — which was found to be ample — cry out for the availability of on-going psychological services for professional athletes and for a reexamination of the fallacious assumptions we make as a result of their sturdy professional lives.

[Photo Credit: moonchild1111]

New York Minute

I’ll meet you at the Bat.

…under the Big Board.

…next to Alice.

…under the Button and Needle.

…sitting near the Fountain.

…at Love.

“At the Bat” and “Under the Big Board” (at Penn Station) have backfired repeatedly, yet I still use them all the time.

Where do people meet you?

Taster’s Cherce

Just off Riverside Drive.

Hey, if the price is right.

New York Second

This is the first thing I saw when I walked out of the subway onto the street today.

Goooooood mornin’. Toon Town, NYC Style.

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