"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Daily Archives: August 25, 2011

Simply Grand

Imagine you’re sitting at work tracking the game on your computer as you file this report or the other. You have high hopes because Phil Hughes looked so good during his last outing, and you know this is an important game — no one wants to be swept by the Oakland A’s. But things go bad quickly. You smirk at the screen as Hughes gives up a run in the first and another in the second, then implodes in the third. He only manages two outs in that frame before giving way to Cory Wade. When the inning finally ends the Yankees are down 7-1, and a sweep seems inevitable. You close your browser in disgust and snarl at your co-workers for the rest of the afternoon.

You’re still burning inside, choking on your own bile and grinding your teeth into dust as you leave work. You’re so distracted that you run smack into me as I’m tumbling out of a nearby sports bar, happy as a clam. You curse my ignorance under your breath, but then you stop dead in your tracks, doubting what you think you just heard me say: “I can’t believe they won that game!” You shout after me, begging for an explanation, and this is what I tell you…

Rich Harden was pretty much in control for the first few innings, but then things started to get away from him in the fourth. Russell Martin launched a home run to right, and even though the Yankees were still down by five runs, there was a sense that seven runs wouldn’t be enough for Oakland on this afternoon.

Derek Jeter (whose average would climb to .300 for a minute towards the end of the game) opened the fifth inning with a hard single to center, then Curtis Granderson followed with a walk. After Mark Teixeira struck out, Alex Rodríguez singled to load the bases for Robinson Canó. Was there any one of us who wasn’t thinking about a grand slam? When you’re wondering if your team can back into a game, there’s a tendency to slice large leads by imaginary grand slams, but it doesn’t usually happen that way. I don’t know whether or not that was in Canó’s mind, but he turned on an inside pitch from Harden and popped it into the right field stands. Suddenly it was 7-6 A’s, but it felt more like the Yankees were ahead than behind. A few minutes later Harden was lifted in favor of Craig Breslow, and the Yankees would load the bases again — this would be a recurring theme — but they wouldn’t score again that inning.

In the sixth inning, they left the A’s behind. Curtis Granderson was hit by a pitch, Alex Rodríguez drew a walk, and after those two advanced on a wild pitch, Nick Swisher was walked intentionally to load the bases for Martin — who hit a grand slam.

Things looked comfortable at 10-7, but it would get more comfortable in the seventh, which looked like this: walk, walk, walk, sac fly, walk (pitching change), single, ground out, walk, walk, single, walk, line out. It was just your standard six-run, two-hit inning, and the game was out of reach. Yankees 16, A’s 7.

But wait, there’s more. In the eighth the Yankees would bat around for the fourth inning in a row. By the time Granderson came up with two outs in the inning and the bases loaded — again — I started to feel sorry for the A’s, and certainly for pitcher Bruce Billings. I wasn’t wondering if Granderson would hit another grand slam, I was actually kind of expecting it. Afterall, how could the Grandy Man not hit a grand slam on Grand Slam Day?

So when he launched a fly ball high and deep to right center field, I wasn’t surprised. It was the team’s third grand slam of the day, something that had never been done before, and the Yankees were up 21-7. The A’s would actually bring in their closer, Brian Fuentes, to face Andruw Jones. Jones christened him by blasting his own homer to deep left.

And just in case things weren’t crazy enough, Jorge Posada was inserted to play second base in the top of the ninth. He even fielded a grounder, looked the runner back to third even though there were two outs, and took a professional crow hop before firing a throw to first baseman… Nick Swisher. Swisher somehow corralled the throw as he tumbled to the ground, and the game was over. Crazy enough for you?

So in case you missed it, in case you gave up early and your day was ruined, I’m here to tell you that everything is okay. Yankees 22, A’s 9.

A quick look at some of the damage:

  • Jeter: 3 for 6, 3B, .299
  • Granderson: 2 for 4, 4 runs, grand slam, 5 RBIs
  • Canó: 2 for 4, grand slam, 5 RBIs
  • Martin: 5 for 5, 2B, solo HR, grand slam, 6 RBIs
  • Nuñez: 3 for 5
  • Team: 21 hits, 13 walks, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 5 HRs
[Photo Credits: Chris Trotman/Getty Images]

Crying’s Not For Me

It’s dark and raining in New York. This might be a tough one to get in.

If they play, we’ll be rootin’:

Let’s Go Yank-ees.

Update: The start of the game is delayed. Check this out for fun while we wait.

[Photo Credit: Joel Zimmer]

New York Minute

I love legitimate theater.

Would a ticket to a night of one-acts inspired by Derek Jeter constitute the greatest gag gift ever given to a Red Sox fan?

I see a tough girl from the Bronx with a huge crush on Jeter. Her lumpy boyfriend, who is sweet but dim, takes her to a game for her birthday. Bleachers of course. He proposes at the game, fans jeer. And her answer is…?

Or a couple of low-lifes drink beer in a dark apartment working up the courage to go out and rob a convenience store. The ballgame is on in the background as they alternate between bickering and goading. The game turns dramatic, Derek Jeter sends it to extra innings with a clutch hit. Do the guys still commit the crime?

What do you see?

Color By Numbers: Who Wants Pie?

Entering this week’s series against the Athletics, the Yankees had a dominating 26-5 record against Oakland since 2008. Perhaps that’s why it seemed inevitable that the Bronx Bombers would rally to win each of the first two games. At least that’s how it must have felt to the Athletics. However, in both games, the comeback fell short, which gave Oakland consecutive wins against the Yankees for the first time since July 1, 2007.

The Yankees’ lack of late game heroics against the Athletics echoes a season long trend. Despite having the American League’s second best record and compiling statistics that rank among franchise highs in several categories, one area in which the Yankees have come up short (in some cases, as on Tuesday night, literally by inches) is in games played close and late. Under those conditions, the team’s current OPS+ of 107 would rank near the bottom since 1996, and lag, in some cases significantly, every championship season during that time period.

Yankees’ OPS+ in Close & Late vs. Winning Percentage When Tied or Trailing in the 7th Inning or Later

Source: baseball-reference.com

Because of the small samples involved, it’s hard to draw a meaningful conclusion about the future from this one split. However, looking back, we can probably conclude that the Yankees failure to produce late in games has cost them a few comeback victories. In fact, the team’s current winning percentage of .204 when tied or trailing entering the seventh inning is one of the lowest since 1996. When you consider that the Yankees’ bullpen leads the league in ERA and WAR (and important factor because offense alone demonstrates only a slight correlation to winning percentage in this split), the onus seems to fall squarely on the relative lack of late-game offensive production.

Yankees’ Walk-off Victories, Since 1950

Source: baseball-reference.com

Regardless of the implications of the Yankees’ muted offensive levels in close and late situations, whether looking forward or back, the team’s inability to finish off comebacks has robbed the season of one important element: the fun and excitement of the walk-off victory. To this point, the Yankees have left the opposition on the field in only three games, which pales in comparison to the 15 walk-offs recorded just two years ago. Although dramatic victories are not a pre-requisite for winning championships, they do provide enjoyable highlights over a long 162-game schedule. After all, anything that has Yankees’ fans clamoring to see A.J. Burnett must be pretty special.

Since 1950, the Yankees have had 441 walk-off victories prompted by outcomes ranging from home runs to reaching base on an error (the following pie chart, and what better way to display walk-off data, provides a break down). Just over half have come in the bottom of the ninth, with the rest occurring in extra innings, including one walk-off as late as the 20th frame: Horace Clark’s game winning single against the Red Sox’ Jose Santiago on August 29, 1967. Speaking of the Red Sox, the Yankees have left their rival on the field 57 times, more than any other opponent.

Yankees’ Walk-offs Since 1950, by Event and Opponent (click to enlarge)

Source: baseball-reference.com

Although the terminology wasn’t around at the time, no Yankee has authored more walk-offs than Mickey Mantle, who had 16 game-ending events. Among the current crop of Bronx Bombers, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez also rank in the top-10.

Tippy Martinez remains the Yankees’ most frequent walk-off victim, having surrendered five game-ending hits to the Bronx Bombers, including, most notably, Bobby Murcer’s two run double that cinched victory in the Thurman Munson tribute game. Of particular interest to current Yankees’ fans, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon ranks among the large group of pitchers who have surrendered three Yankees’ walk-offs. Provided he remains in the American League for most of his career, Papelbon could eventually claim the victim’s mantle from Martinez.

Yankees Most Common Walk-off Heroes and Victims, Since 1950

Source: baseball-reference.com

Complaining about the lack of walk-offs from a team with a .600 winning percentage probably won’t sit too well with other teams’ fans, but those who follow the Yankees have grown accustomed to having their pie and eating it too. Besides, even though winning is fun in its own right, doing so in dramatic fashion makes it that much more memorable.

I can still vividly recall Don Mattingly’s game winning home run against Ron Davis on May 13, 1985 as if it happened yesterday. And, I am sure fans of every team can do the same. How about you?

Beat of the Day

My old pal Ras Beats has a new single out featuring two legendary rappers:

Side A:

Side B:

The Brave and The Bold

As Jayson Stark points out, the Braves have tapped into an extraordinary vein of bullpen dominance with Jonny Venters setting up Craig Kimbrel. They’ve held hitters to absurdly low averages and only allowed two home runs between them. Respectively, their ERAs are 1.10 and 1.70.

The Yankees have a pretty impressive duo themselves, in Mariano Rivera and David Robertson. But Girardi has only used those guys for 100.1 innings while the Braves have called on their tandem for 137.1 innings. That divide scuttles any comparison.

Jason Stark notes that Kimbrel and Venters are possibly the best we’ve ever seen since the advent of current bullpen dogma. But he doesn’t consider Mariano Rivera and John Wetteland in 1996. Admittedly, their rate stats don’t come close to Venters and Kimbrel, but the Yankees got 171.1 innings  from their tag-team (thanks to heavy lifting – 107.2 – from Mo).

They didn’t stop there. Rivera and Wetteland spun another 26.2 innings in the postseason, allowed only four runs (1.35 ERA) and won the World Series. Wetteland was named World Series MVP. They toiled in a league which scored 5.36 runs per game. The 2011 Braves play in a league which socres 4.16 runs per game.

The Braves guys have a month and a half to go and could approach the innings total of Rivera and Wetteland. If they do that and maintain their statistical dominance, they’ve passed the Ol’ 96ers. But if Fredi González eases back on their usage or if they cough up some leads, I think you could at least make a good argument that the Yankees were as impressive covering more innings in a much harsher environment.

Looking at it another way, Rivera and Wetteland put up a combined 8.3 bWAR and 5.7 fWAR in the 1996 regular season. Kimbrel and Venters are at 6.7 and 5.0 and counting.  The Yankee hurlers combined for 9.658 WPA plus another 2.841 WPA during the title run. The Braves guys have only accumulated 7.6 WPA thus far. They have some work left to do.

I’m sure there were other duos that deserve inclusion. Wagner and Dotel combined for 172.3 stellar innings in 2002. Can you think of any others?

It also makes you wonder what Mo and Robertson could do if Girardi took off the leash? Mariano may be too old to give much more than he is giving now, but Robertson surely has gas in the tank. Would another ten innings for Rivera and another twenty from Robertson wreck their rates or put them in the conversation with Kimbrel and Venters?

For Yankee fans though, as long as Rivera and Roberston are strong in October, the title of best duo in the same bullpen can go to Atlanta.

Statistics from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs

This One Goes to…

Check out this fine portrait of the 2011 Dodgers by Lee Jenkins in the current issue of Sports Illustrated.

Stow was in a coma. Half his skull had been removed to allow his brain to swell. He required seven forms of medication to limit his seizures. “He came as close to not making it as you can come,” says Dr. Gabriel Zada, Stow’s neurosurgeon at USC. His parents, Dave and Ann, and his sisters, Bonnie and Erin, spent seven hours a day at the hospital. At night they retreated to the downtown Marriott and toasted “the Great Hodge,” a nickname Stow gave himself as a boy. On April 6, a candlelight vigil was held outside the hospital. Hundreds attended, including Dodgers officials and a local talk-show host on KFI 640 AM named Bill Carroll. Ann invited Carroll to Stow’s room. Standing next to the bed, where Stow was covered in tubes and bandages, Carroll decided to make this story his own. He led his show with it most afternoons. He had Zada on as a regular guest. He sometimes took calls for three hours about the case, and when he went off the air, phone lines were still jammed. Everyone seemed to have survived a traumatic ordeal at Dodger Stadium, and they knew just who was responsible. “It was a convergence of two stories,” Carroll says. “People said, ‘I knew this would happen because McCourt let the team go downhill and security do the same.'”

Even after the Dodgers announced, on April 4, a $25,000 reward for information on Stow’s attackers, talk-radio host Tom Leykis pledged $50,000 of his own money in an attempt to embarrass McCourt. Leykis was also harassed at Dodger Stadium, by two fans during a game in 2009, and has not been back since. “I grew up in New York so I’m used to going to Yankee Stadium and seeing drunken louts threaten each other,” Leykis says. “Then I moved to L.A., and it was much different. Dodger Stadium was more like Disneyland. You have fun and feel safe and drift off into this dreamlike world. But now we’ve got this carpetbagger from Boston who never took the time to understand the deep connection of Dodger Stadium to Southern California. I’m not a dramatic person, but it hurts my heart. It kills me.”

Dodgers fans were not the only ones desperate to rid themselves of the carpetbagger. Commissioner Bud Selig told confidants that the Stow beating was “the final straw” for McCourt. By the time the Dodgers returned home from their first road trip, on April 14, Selig had dispatched a six-man task force to Los Angeles, led by MLB executive vice president John McHale Jr., to evaluate stadium security. McCourt’s hold on the franchise he had diminished was slipping.

Jenkins is an excellent reporter with a smooth prose style who has become one of SI’s top talents (he’s got two features this week). This is a long piece but worth reading.

Sad News

Mike Flanagan, a former pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles–and a damned good one–is dead.

Mike Flanagan, left, with his manager, Earl Weaver

He was tough on the Yanks. I remember watching him pitch when I was a kid. Sad news, indeed.

[Photo Credit: Yahoo!]

Taster’s Cherce

‘Tis the season.

At the famrer’s market this morning.

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