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When Godzilla Stomped on My Family Vacation

My wife argues that what I did was tantamount to deliberate sabotage of the family vacation. I disagree, but it’s a matter of degree, not substance. It’s about sorting my priorities, and I definitely put the making the finals ahead of anything else, including embarking on an important trip. For that, I deserved some heat.

The finals in question were for the 2015 Nippon Club Baseball Tournament. Mostly populated by teams representing the New York offices of Japanese corporations, we play throughout the summer, early on weekend mornings, on the nicely refurbished fields of Randall’s Island. My company’s team is decent and has made the semifinals three times in ten years, but we’ve never advanced to the final.

And what I did, or what was done to me, or whatever, was pain. It’s hard to writhe in pain on the infield dirt while also remaining still, but that was the advice raining down on me from members of both teams. Agony inspires an escape plan. Rolling around the dirt trying to crawl out of my skin was all I could come up with. That and screaming “fuck” a bunch of times. So while the not-moving advice was sound, I’m sure, all I heard was the little angel/devil voice inside my own head “Get up. Matsui is on the line. Get up.”

This was the semifinals and our chances of making the finals were in trouble. The finals of anything is usually a good place to be, so maybe that’s motivation in and of itself to get up off the ground and play. I don’t think my angel/devil’s advice would have been much different under normal circumstances, and hence my wife’s interpretation of the events gains even more traction, but this year was far from normal. Instead of facing one of the usual tournament powerhouses for the crown, we’d be facing Hideki Matsui.

“Wait, come again?” I asked.

“Hideki. Matsui.” elaborated my teammate.


He pointed to the outfield, where two centerfielders stood back-to-back, the way they do on overlapping fields without fences. This was the quarterfinals, a few weeks earlier, and our 12-run lead allowed ample time for the observation of the other games. There was no mistaking the tank standing in centerfield, wearing number 55. Two of me together might match the width between his shoulders. There stood the MVP of the 2009 World Series playing the sun field at too-damn-early o’clock on a Saturday and trying to get his team into the same semi-finals we were all but assured of reaching.

I went scrambling through the paperwork on the bench, looking for the draw and the future schedule. “Crap,” I said. “We’re on the wrong side.”

That Hideki Matsui was playing in the tournament probably should have been something I was aware of before the quarterfinals. However, I’m in a state of, if not semi-retirement, then of other-shit-to-do-ment. I coached the Little Leaguers on Saturday mornings and the Pee Wee Soccerers on Sunday mornings. Even if there were not direct conflicts, which there were, adding another sports-related commitment to the weekends would have been the last thing I did before being served with divorce papers.

The teams in the tournament occupy an athletic limbo. The overriding qualification for being on the roster is not any baseball skill, but simply a desire to play – beginning with the awareness that team even exists and culminating with the ability to drag yourself to the field for first pitches at 8:30 AM. This brings an assortment of ex-ballplayers and guys who haven’t played since the bases were 60 feet apart. I played into college, but blew my knee out in the winter of my freshman year and re-habbed on a bar stool for the other three-and-a-half years. I picked up playing in adult leagues for several years after that, but for the last decade or so, this tournament has been my only baseball. Our starting lineup features a couple of other guys who at least played in high school and a couple of guys who can most likely catch a ball thrown directly at them.

I don’t know that I can describe exactly why it was so important to play against Matsui, but as soon as I found out it was a possibility, I wanted it badly. I’ve told this story to many friends (and their friends, and their parents, and co-workers, and their dogs) and right away I can tell if they get it. Some cannot embrace the calculus that makes this awesome. The ones that do get a glimmer in their eyes.

I’m aware that you can pay to attend a fantasy camp and play against baseball legends. That is of no interest to me (well, I’d do it if you paid my freight, but I’m not writing that check). This isn’t star-fucking, well maybe, but different. This guy is coming to us. He’s coming to our tournament to compete for the same trophy we’re trying to win. He’s just having fun and trying to kick our asses. I mean, he’s a great Yankee too, and I’ve followed his career closely and all, but if it was Mike Piazza, I don’t think I’d feel much differently.

The dream scenario for how it would play out is vague in my mind. Is it hitting a long blast over his head and earning a tip-of-the-cap when he spots you standing on third? Is it robbing him of extra bases with a sliding grab? Is it watching him tattoo our pitcher with missile after missile? Is it just the thrill of competition to test yourself against the limits of your ability and shake hands when the dust settles? I guess that’s why I needed to play that game. Something’s going to happen, and whatever it is, I’m going to tell the story of that something for as long as I can summon the spit. And really any way it goes is going to be epic in the re-telling.

But, OK, I concede, give me the tip-of-the-cap.

There was some good news on the schedule, the semi-finals were on July 11th and our family vacation didn’t start until the 12th. We’d be going to visit my wife’s family until the 19th and given they don’t live next door, the kids getting to spend extended time with them is the whole point. The finals were also on the 19th so that would be a problem. And in between us and the finals was Mizuho Bank, a team we’d never beaten, and their star pitcher, ex-minor leaguer Rich Hartmann.

We had only four guys in the lineup that stood any chance against Hartmann. I was swinging the bat well in the tournament, and I’d had some success against him in the past, but that was long enough ago not to matter. I hadn’t seen a pitch at his speed in three or four years – the pitcher in the quarterfinals might not have registered on a JUGS gun.

First pitch of the semis was on a Saturday at 8:30am. This was too bad for us, as we learned Hartmann was suffering from a very painful case of gout and was unable to put any weight on his foot right up until midday Friday. His medication kicked in just in time.

There was not a cloud in damn sky. I cuss because I was leading off and the sun was right in my face. The ball came out of his hand, low-80s, just below the life-giver. I didn’t see any white, just a dark grey oval humming at the plate. I got one pitch to hit, couldn’t catch up to it. Fouled off one of his out pitches on the outer edge and geared up for another when he came back over the inside corner and caught me cheating. I don’t like striking out, and take great pains to avoid it, but this one… I had no chance.

The good thing about that sun though, it was just as much a bastard for them. Through two-and-a-half innings, the pitchers allowed two base runners, a bloop single and a walk, against double-digit strikeouts and zero well-struck balls. Before striking out yet another hitter in the third, our pitcher smiled at me and pointed to the other field where the other semi-final was taking place. Matsui was pitching. The whole infield just turned and stared. It reminded me of the scene in Eight Men Out when the plane flies over head and drops the dummy on the infield. We had to win this game.



The next time I got up with two outs in the bottom of the third, the sun was mercifully higher, still no help from the clouds though. I laid off a couple of loose breaking balls and found myself sitting fastball when he had no good reason to throw anything else. He obliged with a get-me-over-fastball, not his hardest by a long shot, belt high and inner third. I smoked a one-hopper to the right of the first baseman. He dove but couldn’t reach it. The ball skidded off the dirt and off the tip of his glove and caromed toward an empty second base. Given the pitcher was gout-ridden, even if the first baseman made a miracle stab, I was winning that foot race. I was relieved to notch the hit, but there was also a nagging feeling that I needed to do more damage with that one if we wanted to get some runs on the board.

I got ready to try to steal, but this guy had a pick-off move and the catcher could reach second. I could steal at will off the lesser teams. Before I could get on my horse, we were out of the inning. And two batters into the top of the fourth, we were losing. Double and single, both smacked and we were down a run. It looked like a massive run, even then.

But the inning wasn’t over there. Mizuho was finding the soft spots in the outfield – and there were many. Luckily, we were able to force the pitcher at second base from right field (the gout, again) to give us a shot at getting out of the jam.

With first and second and two outs, they tried for the double steal. Let’s review the situation as this daring play went into effect: I’m left-handed, I was playing well in front of the bag at third-base to compensate for the torn labrum in my throwing arm and the catcher can’t throw either. I hightailed it back to the bag, got in decent straddling position and looked up to see the catcher uncork a spectacularly awful throw, more in the general direction of shortstop than the third base bag. I instinctively lunged out towards the ball. The glove on my right hand came nowhere near the ball hurtling into space, but the action dragged my right leg directly into the baseline where a not-small, not-agile, 40 plusser was bearing down. He never really intended on sliding, I guess, but when he saw me block the bag, he went into a duck-and-cover pseudo-roll which planted his helmet just below my right knee.

One of my (many) flaws is that I don’t suffer injury quietly. I can play hurt, I can endure pain over long stretches, but at the moment of injury, I’m prone to dramatic reactions. So there was a lot of concern due to this particular reaction which was one of my most dramatic. The Nippon Club Tournament director didn’t even get mad at me for yelling “fuck” so many times. My reaction may have also caused everyone else on the field to ignore the fact that I had obstructed the runner, and as in the 2013 World Series, if he had made any attempt at home plate, he would have granted free passage there, scoring a run we could not afford to give up.

And then we had the yelling, the writhing and ultimately only these facts remained: it wasn’t broken and if you come out of the game, you can’t go back in.

There was nothing noble about staying in the game, as the guys on the bench didn’t wake up at 6:30am on their Saturday to watch me gimp around the field. This was a selfish thing and a deluded, though possibly accurate, back-of-the-napkin calculation that even with one leg, I was going to be better than any potential replacement. I’ll give you three guesses where the next ball was hit and the first two don’t count.

Low running grounder to my left, a play of moderate difficulty, but of course, everybody was holding their breath to see if my leg was going to come flying off. I leaned over, snagged it, took an impaired shuffle and slung some side-arm slop over to first and that was the inning.

Adrenaline is a hell of a thing, but apart from being fairly certain my leg was not broken, I had no idea about the extent of the injury. It was bad – the worst I’ve ever been hurt in a baseball game by far. Sitting through our at-bats getting stiff didn’t help. And we didn’t score.

They, however, tacked on another in the 5th when our left fielder turned a can-of-corn into a double. That’s not fair. There are no easy plays in this league. He was playing a little too shallow, got the wrong read on the ball, and then instead of turning and running back to where the ball was lazily drifting, opted for the back-pedal of death. He fell down over ten feet from where the ball landed.

I fielded one more grounder to end the sixth and came up to bat with one out and nobody on in the bottom of the inning. By now, the sun and clouds were far from my thinking as all I wanted to do was crush a fly ball so I could limp to first. He figured out his breaking ball, unfortunately, and dropped the first two into the zone, low and away. I swung at the second one, and it was not a swing for the archives. I tapped it straight into the ground and it hopped up over the pitcher’s head and settled on course to the charging shortstop.

I guess I could have just accepted this as an out but…no, let’s sprint-limp to first and try to beat this out. Somehow, there wasn’t even a throw. The shortstop didn’t handle it cleanly, but I’m pretty sure that was not required to throw me out. Anyway, that was the end of me. I well overdrew the account with that maneuver and couldn’t even get a first step toward second when the next pitch went to the back stop. Two outs later I took myself out of the game.

The tournament director brought me some ice. That was nice. I needed bacta. Back on the field, we continued to play well, but not well enough. Our pitcher went all nine frigging innings and held them at two runs. My replacement fielded two balls cleanly and when my spot in the order came up in the eighth, he got a hit. Damn, I would have given a lot to stay in, but he did more than I probably could have done.

We couldn’t score though. We put one more base runner on in the ninth, but yeah, this isn’t a happy ending. We lost 2-0, both pitchers throwing complete game gems.

Our game was over so quickly, that even after the ceremonial bows and team photos, we had time to catch the end of the other semifinal. I set myself up on the ground behind third base with the ice bag and watched Hideki Matsui in the on-deck circle. This was as close as I was going to get, so medical attention for my knee would just have to wait.

It was the top of the eighth, and the game was tied 1-1 and Team Matsui (that was literally their name, which is awful, but at least transparent) had two runners on base. The pitcher on the hill was struggling and fell behind, but no, this couldn’t be happening. He walked the hitter. In. Front. Of. Hideki. Matsui. So bases loaded, 1-1 tie, and the owner of 507 professional home runs stepped up to the plate.

Matsui batted right-handed. I mean, it makes sense and all, but sheeit. He felt it would not be fair and honorable to bat lefty in the tournament, but I can tell you not one player on any team wanted him to bat right-handed. So shove the honor and hit a bomb, please.


No matter though, because their pitcher beaned him on the first pitch. The go-ahead run crossed the plate. Beaned Godzilla. Team Matsui weathered a rally in the ninth and won. I watched Matsui jump four feet in the air celebrating during the 2003 ALCS Game 7 rally, so I can tell you that, apart from a minus-three feet off the jump in intervening 12 years, he celebrated pretty damn hard for that final out.

You can read about the final here. It was a doozy.

The end of my story is that I could not really walk or do anything that required any more than the crudest, slowest limping for the next three days. So packing the bags? Packing the car full of those bags? Driving four hours? Doing anything with the children in a haze of painkillers? Nope. I received as much sympathy from my wife as if I was badly hungover from a night at the strip club. Your call on whether or not this was sabotage, but it certainly screwed up her life for reasons that aren’t readily apparent to her.


At first I tried to argue with her. But it’s a loser. Injury is not the freak accident I pretend it to be, but rather the logical conclusion of continuing to play baseball, basketball and soccer at an advancing age. I’ve had three knee operations, the torn labrum, a broken nose and all of them put together were a picnic compared to the herniated disc and nerve impingement that screwed up our 2014. If I continue to play, I will continue to get hurt.

My father plays tennis often, and he’s in his mid-60s. He recently carried his doubles team, and his tennis club, to their league championship with a particularly awesome match. It’s probably the happiest I’ve seen him, maybe ever. A few years ago, his doubles partner died on the court next to him. And last week, another partner passed away the day after they played together.

We play the games of our youth to halt the passage of time and experience the thrills and joys only found on those fields. Yet playing, especially as we age, also contributes to the rapid deterioration of our physical selves. I guess some would look at our fragile mortality and say stay the hell away from those fields and crashing bodies. But if you do decide to play, it would be best for everybody if you’re able to get in the car and drive for four hours the next morning.

Trouble in Texas


Sorry Yankee fans, I should have realized no team is above superstition. Tanaka was in trouble for his entire outing and did his best to keep the game in reach, but the Yankees didn’t have the wingspan in this one and lost 5-2. Beyond the box score, the Rangers made the big news of the night acquiring Cole Hamels for some shiny prospects and Matt Harrison.

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead and showing signs that the deluge of runs from the previous night was no fluke, the tap ran dry. And that lead didn’t last long. Tanaka struggled in the second in a way we rarely see - at the mercy of the hitters.

The two key batters of the inning were Choo and De Shields and they both beat our guy. Choo smacked a drifting splitter, the second dead-fish splitter of the at-bat to tie the game and DeShields snagged the lead when he reached out for a 1-2 fastball off the plate. That one was tougher to swallow because it wasn’t a bad pitch. Probably needed to be elevated a little more.

Give the 2015 Yankees credit, their recent play suggested they could win this game right up until the end, even though they never really got it going again after the second. An easy loss to shake off as they can still take the series with a win Thursday.

As we rush to meet the trade deadline, the Yankees options are dwindling. I bet they make a major push for Price, but if the Dodgers want him, they have the better players to offer. So the Tigers will work the Dodgers up to the last minute and only turn to the Yankees if they come up empty-handed. I’ve always admired Price, so I hope he ends up a Yankee, but I don’t have my hopes up.


Two Steps in Texas…


…and two more to go. The Yankees send Masahiro Tanaka to the bump tonight to extend their modest, but spectacular, four-game winning streak. His fly balls turn into homers with enough frequency that this could get dicey. He faces off against Colby Lewis, who never seems like much and the Yankees have handled pretty well throughout his career. So do we even need to reverse jinx this one? The 2015 Yankees have earned the benefit of the doubt in a game like this. Make it so, fellas.

Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Brett Gardner LF
Alex Rodriguez DH
Brian McCann C
Carlos Beltran RF
Chase Headley 3B
Garrett Jones 1B
Didi Gregorius SS
Stephen Drew 2B

And we cannot ignore the trade deadline. The Tigers just spiced things up by announcing they will be listening on David Price. This gives the Yankees a lot to consider in a short space. Between Cole Hamels and a decent contract for three years or David Price and no commitment after 2015 or just going with internal solutions, that’s a meeting I’d like to attend. Or at least get the jist of.




What does it take to get CC Sabathia a win these days? Homers, lots of them. And a quick hook, so he doesn’t decompose after the fifth. And it doesn’t hurt at all for the other starter to leave injured after three innings. Maybe the bullpen bailing him out when he gets in trouble and some shiny defense along the way at points, but that’s the crux of what needs to happen. And if the baseball gods smile upon him and allow him to keep the ball in the yard during his abbreviated stint, well, there’s a chance.

Mark Teixeira supplied two homers and some shiny defense. Drew, using this season to prepare for his upcoming audition as an extra in The Walking Dead, chipped in another blast. Joe Girardi supplied the quick hook and the bullpen locked things down until the freshly reinstated closer Andrew Miller almost undid all that careful work.

Before his injury, Andrew Miller had only allowed two hits once in 26 appearances. And he only allowed one home run. He doubled the tally on both accounts, but held the lead at 5-4. And CC got a very rare win.

Sabathia’s demise calls to mind another very sad baseball story – that of Catfish Hunter. Both mega-stars in their twenties who came to pitch the Yanks into the World Series for big bucks, their careers dashed in their early thirties due to chronic health problems. Hunter did not have Sabathia’s opt-out clause and subsequent extension, and he retired at the end of his original five-year contract at the age of 33. If Sabathia had not re-worked his deal before his opt-out clause kicked in, he’d be retiring at the end of this year, at the age of 35.

Hunter had won so often so early and he appeared so regularly in October that when he did retire, he had done enough to get Hall of Fame votes. His career pales considerably when viewed with current metrics, but you don’t often hear too many people complain about his inclusion.

Sabathia has been the better pitcher for me, but I wonder if two more years of getting smashed by every right-handed hitter in the league will put a permanent stain on his record. Both guys are damn easy to root for though, maybe that will throw a veil over the gory ending.

It’s sad to be finsihed before you’re ready and I don’t think anybody was ready. Probably CC most of all.


Photo via Sports Illustrated



Bad news all around for the Yankees today as Andrew Miller hit the DL with a forearm strain and the cascading bullpen shuffle hamstrung Girardi and contributed to a tough loss.

The Yankees struck in the bottom of the seventh again, turning an 0-2 hole into a 4-2 lead. But instead of the Betances-Miller hope-killer, we saw Eovaldi start the eighth. He allowed a hit and when Jacob Lindgren came out of the pen, something was officially NOT RIGHT.

Lindgren pitched OK for a guy who gave up a game-tying homer. He got Bryce Harper, the key at-bat, we thought, and induced a possible inning-ending double play. But Stephen Drew double-clutched when a single-clutch was all that was called for and the inning leaked forward for pinch-hitter Michael Taylor to ruin a really nice day.

Extra innings played out as Yankee fans began filing missing persons reports for their bullpen aces. When neither appeared in the 10th and 11th, the looming loss crystalized. It was Denard Span with chopper in the eleventh if you’re looking for the official cause of death. Nats pulled it out, 5-4.

The Yankees dropped three of four to Washington overall and at least two of those losses were real stingers. But losing Miller is the real test here. The bullpen hasn’t been anything special outside of those two dynamos, so we’ll see what happens when rubber meets the road.

Fielder’s Choice


Masahiro Tanaka out-aced Max Scherzer in a titanic pitching duel last night. The final score skews Yankees because of a seventh inning bulge that came very close to not happening. But before that, it was a doozy.

Let’s pick up the two Tanaka-Harper showdowns that changed the game. In the 4th inning, Tanaka zipped a low fastball that caught a good chunk of the plate. It wasn’t a bad pitch, but I doubt anybody is surprised that Harper got good wood on it. The landing spot however, would be a surprise for most other hitters. Harper festooned just left of dead-center with a moon-shot and that tied the score at one apiece.

It was still tied when Harper batted again in the 7th and this time, Tanaka was better. For a few pitches. He dipped three splitters in and out of the zone and Harper fell behind in the count. Then Tanaka’s splitter slipped and meatball alarms blared throughout the stadium. If Harper had hit a 93 mph heater, low and away, out to the deepest part of the park, what was he going to do this 88 mph floating orb of “hit-me”?

Turns out he was going to bunt it foul. As our friends at the firm of St. Hubbins and Tufnel have held forth, there’s a fine line between clever and stupid and Harper found himself squarely in stupidtown. He took the bat out of his own hands during a crucial spot in a tight game facing what very may well be the best pitch he’ll see all season.

The Yankees quickly turned good fortune into runs in the bottom of the inning. Evidence that Alex Rodriguez has not yet won back the hearts and minds of the Yankee organization? He didn’t get credited for the hit that won the game. With Scherzer on the ropes and passing one hundred and eleventy pitches or so, Alex smacked a first-pitch sitter towards left field. Desmond made a great dive to his right to snag it and save the run, but he wanted to end the inning as well. From his knees he gunned to third, but failed to calculate Pirela’s Flores’ ETA correctly and his throw nicked Flores as he slid and bounced into the seats.

Flores scored the run and the Yanks tacked on with big hits from McCann and Beltran and, get this, a second homer from Stephen Drew. They won 6-1. But man, how is that not a hit for Arod? Desmond had no other plays around the diamond and it would have taken a degree from MIT to figure out where to the throw the ball in order to keep Rendon on the bag and avoid hitting Flores. From his knees. Imagine the whining we’d hear from David Ortiz if his home park official scorer jobbed him on a play like that?

With a big lead lead, Miller and Betances seems like overkill, but with a day-off coming, why not. Miller and Betances and no more chances. Miller and Betances and you better sit out these dances. Remember when Joba came up and was the best reliever we’ve ever seen for 24 innings? Betances is that, but now over 122 innings.


NBA Finals, do not sleep on this. LeBron James went to Miami and became just about the perfect basketball machine. He was lethal and efficient and, when Wade and Bosh were firing, often didn’t have to break a sweat to level a team. One year later and he has scrapped that model completely and become a tornado of basketball ability, barely harnessed and unleashing destruction all over the court. It’s hard to watch him miss so often when he had basically eliminated bad shots from his game over the last four seasons, but the fact that he’s found this gear under these circumstances is one of the great individual performances in basketball history. I hope he’s got two more wins in him.


Artwork by Bob Layton, Marvel Comics


The Art(s) of Hitting

Or science(s), if you prefer.


Jacoby Ellsbury, quiet, balanced and deadly quick, is a joy to watch at the plate. He’s in the middle of a tear right now and you can count on three line blistered drives a night, but even when he’s not scorching, the swing is still a thing of beauty.

It’s a stark constrast to his partner in the outfield and atop the lineup. When Brett Gardner came up I had never seen a worse swing from a Major League player. He’d often lose his bat into the stands, flinging it further than the balls he hit. But Gardner’s swing evolved as he slowly added pull-power to an already useful profile.


Look into their numbers and you’ll be there all day (I mean, if you go for that sort of thing and you have some free time, I’m endorsing frivolous procrastination or anything) as you compare and contrast all their different methods to skin the same cat. The cursory glance reveals Ellsbury to have more power, but that’s purely a shadow of the Green Monster.

Ellsbury makes more contact than Gardner, for good and for bad. Fewer whiffs but fewer walks as well. Despite a higher batting average for Ellsbury, Gardner actually gets on base just as often. Neither needs a platoon partner and of course, they have the wheels. But by appearance, you’d never mistake one for the other. Especially the follow-thru. Gardner’s one-handed, full-extenstion epee flick versus Ellsbury’s balanced, two-handed broad-sword sweep.

Their swings may be “beauty and the blech” but the results are damn similar (a good lesson to observers who like me, tend make a quick judgment on who can and cannot hit by the shape of their swing). And when they click like this, they’re an especially annoying echo chamber for the opposition. And Yankees are going to win a lot of games.

Like last night. Ellsbury and Gardner reached base five times between them and scored three runs. That alone should have been enough for the Yankees, but in between a strong 8-inning outing from Michael Pineda and a final out from Andrew Miller, David Carpenter got smeared for three runs. No matter though, as the Yankees had three more in their pocket and won 6-3.


And now I return you to your regularly scheduled host, Alex Belth. Thanks to Alex and all of you for letting me fill up the space this week. I will head back to twin forges of Little League and Pee Wee Soccer coaching and emerge at the end of June hoping to see the Yankees doing what they’re doing. Playing solid, winning baseball. The only difference is that I won’t be so surprised anymore.


Ellsbury Photo by Brad Penner via USA Today and NJ.com

Gardner Photo by AP via Newsday.com

Play it Cool


Time for the Yanks to play it cool and rebound from the tough loss with a big win, like good teams usually do. I’m still not convinced this is a good team, but might as well act like one either way since they’re already in first place by a couple of games and all.

Feels like Michael Pineda is just the big lug the Yanks need to establish their presence with authority and even up this series.

Jacoby Ellsbury CF

Brett Gardner LF

Alex Rodriguez DH

Mark Teixeira 1B

Brian McCann C

Carlos Beltran RF

Stephen Drew 2B

Didi Gregorius SS

Gregorio Petit 3B

Lineup via LoHud



Lohud also says Jose Pirela has joined the Yankees in Toronto, but has not been activated. The “for rent” sign on second base has grown thick with dust. Let’s hope he takes it and does something with the place.




Anybody play “scoops” growing up? Chucking short-hops at each other until someone spells “s-c-o-o-p”? Like “horse” but more likely to cause a black eye. But I’m ahead of myself.


In the bottom of the 8th inning last night, the Yankees clung to a 1-0 lead, delivered to the bullpen by a sterling Chase Whitley. Dellin Betances, who has been nigh mo-tomatic lately, was not summoned to face the Jays’ three best hitters. Instead, Chris Martin got the very high-leverage appearance and the go-ahead run was on base within three batters. (I didn’t have audio and I haven’t found out yet for sure, but my guess is Miller’s long outing yesterday made Girardi attempt to sneak through this game without him.)

Then came Betances, then came baseball. Dellin’s slow hook got Encarnacion to loft a weak fly ball, but whereas Ellsbury was in the perfect spot to preserve Sunday night’s win, Gardner was in the perfect spot to lose Monday’s lead. The big swing coupled with the weak contact led Gardner on a long, curving route and the ball nestled softly into the corner for a double.

With the go-ahead run on third base, Betances got the second out before facing old-friend Russell Martin. Betances went after him with a steady diet of breaking balls, but with the count full, Martin has seen enough of the knuckle-curve and smacked a hot shot down the third-base line. Chase Headley, playing deep, sprung towards the foul line and snagged the grounder prematurely, as it was surely ticketed for the left field corner. Headley was on his feet and firing across the diamond in an instant, turning a double into a possible out. I’d bet good money the name “Brooks Robinson” was mentioned in the booth. The play was that good.

Too good to be true. Headley’s laser-beam throw from behind the third base bag was right on line but just a hair short. The ball skidded off the dirt as first baseman Garrett Jones stretched heroically but futilely. He swiped his glove at the short-hop, found the ball land true for the briefest moment before failing to squeeze it for the out. The ball skipped to the middle of the infield and two runs scord and the Jays won, 3-1.

It was almost a play for the season’s highlight reel and instead it’s a tough loss. Maybe Teixeira makes the scoop. Maybe. Probably.

Of course he does.


Back of the Line


The Toronto Blue Jays are you at the Halal cart, next in line to order chicken over rice, white and hot sauce please, waiting patiently and quietly, perhaps distracted by an interesting cloud formation or a bike-messenger’s near-miss with a yellow cab. Meanwhile, the rest of the American League East pushes around you, yells over you and slaps their money on the counter and doesn’t even bother to look at you, let alone apologize, as they plant an elbow in your rib cage and knock you back to last place.

And look at that, the Yankees travel to Toronto and find the Blue Jays are in last place. The Rays drafted their way to the front of the line when the Yanks and Red Sox were both still trying and the Orioles have at least taken advantage of the latest Yankee “blue period” and the Boston cellar/series/cellar Oreo to play October baseball. The Jays are going nowhere, fast, again.

A few times the prognosticators have anointed them, most especially when they were able to off-load Vernon Wells on the Angels. But unloading a terrible contract doesn’t necessarily lead to being a good team. Shedding salary (albeit unconscionable salary) just creates empty space. Bautista, Encarnacion and now Donaldson are fun as heck as they swing from the heels and try to hit everything in orbit, but it still seems a sideshow thus far this year.

That doesn’t mean they can’t bloody a team in a short series. Look no further than opening week when the Yanks were fortunate to win one of three and were outscored 15-8. Chase Whitley will find a different breed of hitter in this game than he did against Tampa. And R.A. Dickey has handled the Yankees well as a Blue Jay. But even still, the Yanks have muscled their way into first place, now’s not the time to look back and apologize.


Photo via Wikipedia

Parting is Such Sweep Sorrow


It’s hard to imagine ever saying this, but a couple more games in Boston would be pretty great right about now. Those guys will get it together at some point this season and they’ll revamp the rotation with young guns or Cole Hamels or whatever and they will not be such easy-pickens.

Even with this vulnerable squad, the Sox turned an 8-0 hole into a nail biter as David Ortiz was one swing away from winning the game with bases loaded and two outs in the ninth. Andrew Miller will not, apparently, save every game in 1-2-3 fashion, so he might be human after all. He issued an ominous lead-off walk that opened the door to the top of the lineup where Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia survived his entire arsenal to reach base (a walk and panic-sweat inducing error by Headley).

Miller went to the slider to bury Ortiz and it looked like he wouldn’t test his shovel as the first two pitches baffled Papi. But Ortiz buckled down in that annoying way great hitters do and that last strike a lot tougher than the first two. He spit on two chasers and then lashed a liner to center. With all the shifts in baseball, especially with hitters like Ortiz, it’s always a mystery as to where the fielders are standing when they cut to the field camera. Fortunately, this time Ellsbury was standing right where he needed to be and wrapped up the win (and a wonderful night for himself), 8-5.

And now to Canada! Through customs and everything, to face the Blue Jays who so rudely ruined the season opening series by kicking Yankee-butt. Fortunes have flipped though and let’s hope the Yankees can return the favor.


After a very thorough second-grade Social Studies unit on Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, we went to visit the museum and ride the ferry. The kindergartner was very taken with the immigration process as we moved from Great Hall to examiniation room around the island. When we had visitors from Boston a few weeks later, he checked with me, “Will they have to go through Ellis Island to get here?” They should Henry, they should.

To Sweep, Perchance to Dream


The Yankees have the chance to leave Boston with a red smear on the bottom of their spikes. They’ve won the series either way, but putting an exclamation point after the third game would be a welcome conclusion.

It’s a Sunday night special, under the lights. Adam Warren and Joe Kelly have the honor of trying to keep the game under five hours. Godspeed to them. It’s a fortunate schedule as it’s majestic outside right now.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled for the lineups, but in the meantime, enjoy a heckuva day.

The Flayed Man


The Yankees beat the Red Sox today 4-2, and through 24 games, this season has been a breath of fresh air. Suck it in, savor it, because here comes the stench.

Word-murderer Brian Cashman announced after the game that the Yankees have chosen not to pay Alex the six million dollar bonus he earned last night. He says they are honoring the contract by opting out. As dumb as that sounds, it sounds even dumber when I don’t paraphrase. This from the Wallace Matthews ESPNNewYork.com article :

“We’re going to honor our responsibilities of the contract,” Cashman said. “(But) how it’s been reported . . . and what the contract actually says are two different things. It’s not ‘you do this, you get that.’ It’s completely different. It’s not all of a sudden, we’re choosing not to do something. If we choose to pursue something we’ll choose to pursue it. If we choose not to, it’s our right not to. In both cases, we’re honoring the contract.”

There are a few people who are privy to the exact wording of the contract, but it’s very hard to believe it’s written in such a way that the Yankees can honor a contract built to pay a player for hitting home runs by not paying him for hitting those home runs. For this to be the case, these well-reported milestone bonuses would rather be Yankee-held options on marketing contracts that they get to consider when the homers are hit. If that sounds absurd just on the face of it, consider this contract was written in 2007!

It makes no sense for Alex to give the Yankees right of first refusal on a marketing partnership so many years in advance without getting something for it. What he got, or obviously what everybody thought he got, was a guaranteed $6 million pay out when he hit the dingers. And the Yankees were going to Steinerize and memorabiliorate until the cows came home with profits. The cows appear unladen and the Yankees are backtracking, feebly.

Putting the organization’s shamelessness aside (After all, that’s the primary reason Cashman is still around right? He’s SO willing to be publicly humiliated on a semi-regular basis) the focus for all of us fans and all other players ever contemplating signing another free agent contract with the Yankees should be on the willingness for the Yankees to have this debate in the public forum. Just as last year, when they relied on our distaste for Alex to join with Bud Selig to railroad him out of baseball for an entire season (112 games more than the CBA dictated) again they are cocksure that we’ll take their side when they deny him his bonus.

This organization became caretakers of the longest running success story in American sports history, experiencing victory in every conceivable way from 1994-2012 (forgiving 2008) and took a pillow to it. They’ve been so ruthlessly effective that just two-plus years removed from the last division title, Yankee fans are gobsmacked by a hot streak in April. The team was so dead on arrival this year that I got an email asking if I’d like to come to Opening Day. On Opening Day. And the fact that they have a pulse on May 2nd is thanks to the surprisingly strong heartbeat of the very man they plan to screw six ways to Sunday.

The Yankees are the devil masquerading as a bank but appearing as a joke. It’s time for the inverse of Seinfeld’s laundry theory. Root for the flesh and blood. Fuck the pinstripes.


Thank You Alex, May We Have Another?

IMG_7502 copy


Hopefully the Yankees celebrated last night’s victory and Alex’s historic homer with an early bedtime and chaste reflection. Though actually the 1986 Mets would be just getting back to the hotel right now, and that worked out pretty well, so who knows.

Either way, it’s a day game with Nathan Eovaldi and Wade Miley as the most recent versions of National League exchange students who very well may soil themselves when pitching in front of the Green Monster. (Burnett, Pavano, Wright, Vazquez, Clement, Penny, Dempster… will they ever learn?)   Here’s hoping that Eovaldi, and not Miley, breaks that cycle.

I won’t be in for the lineups, but let’s hope Alex is in the game and mushing 661 with the sun high in the sky.

Say Hey-Rod

Six. Six. Oh, so sweet.

When I was a kid, I cared deeply about Reggie hitting his 500th homer and climbing the ladder of all-time greats. Even with the all the bias of the fanatic, I knew there were some numbers that would never, ever fall. 660. 714. 755.



And even though a slew of sluggers have crashed the club in the recent era, only one guy knocked down those big three numbers, and Barry Bonds is the greatest hitter I’ve ever seen. In the eighth inning tonight, Alex Rodriguez launched a game-winning missile over the Green Monster for, get this, the first pinch-hit homer of his career. And it was also #660, tying him with Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time list.

But this was a scene within a scene. Alex began the game on the bench as Girardi stacked the lineup with lefties against right-hander Justin Masterson and his notorious platoon split. He had come off a brutal game in Wednesday’s extra-inning loss and surely wanted to get back on the horse. YES had already generated graphics showing the long homerless stretches that accompanied his previous milestones.

When Joe called on Alex to pinch-hit in the 8th, the score was tied 2-2 as the lefties created chances but never really broke through. Oh, the boos. Sustained, lusty boos rained down on Alex when he came up. He took some close pitches and found himself at 3-0. In the interview after game, he told Meredith Markovitz that Girardi had directed the Yankees to rethink their approach and take more advantage of just such counts. Alex said he heard Joe’s voice in his head right before the pitch…

He took advantage. Junichi Tazawa centered a 94 mph fastball and Alex lashed a blue dart right down the line. The ball didn’t clear the wall by a lot, but there was nothing cheap about it.

Andrew Miller (we don’t talk about pitchers becoming TRUE Yankees like we do with hitters, but Andrew Miller makes a pretty great Yankee, don’t you think?) capped three scoreless bullpen innings and CC Sabathia pitched just as well as you could hope a down-on-his-luck lefty could pitch in Fenway.

I hope there’s a kid out there who cares about this homer as much as I did when Reggie hit his.

“A” is for April


The Yankees won April. That’s one more month than I thought they were going to win. But they’re only up one game on the Rays and Sox and barely more than that over the Orioles and Jays. One bad weekend and we can turn these standings upside down.

Of course, it’s more than the records. The Yankees have held their own against their direct competitors and their series wins against Detroit and the Mets are more impressive than anything else the AL East has mustered. But one bad weekend and… you know.

The coming weekend series, whether good, bad or otherwise, is up in Boston against those second-place Sox. The Yanks would do well to leave Boston with the Sox in third or fourth. But just keeping them in second would be a major accomplishment.

The Red Sox, against all odds, do not have the starting pitcher with the higher ERA in tonight’s matchup. CC Sabathia, 0-4, would fit right in the Boston rotation however as they, as he, have served it up to all comers thus far. Chops will be licked in Fenway tonight.

Jacoby Ellsbury CF

Brett Gardner LF

Mark Teixeira 1B

Brian McCann C

Carlos Beltran RF

Chase Headley 3B

Garrett Jones DH

Stephen Drew 2B

Didi Gregorius SS

Lineup via LoHud



The Yanks lost to the Rays 3-2 in thirteen innings today, and #13 was el-stinko, going hitless in six at bats, striking out four times and ending the game as the winning run by grounding into a double play. Egads, lock that game in a box and drown it. Alex… he’s come a long way, but he ain’t there yet.


They had chances to win with a base hit in the 10th and 12th, but Didi Gregorius kept finding himself holding the bat in those spots and I’m not 100% certain he knows how to use that thing. Oh well, the Rays weren’t going to lose every game they play against the Yanks this season.

The Yankee bullpen, reprising it’s ongoing Winston Wolf impersonation, backed up a good-not-great Pineda with 7.3 spectacular innings. They struck out seven, and allowed only five baserunners (four of those in the last two innings by Shreve, one of which was an intentional walk). And the bullpen took the loss. Tough luck.

So the Yanks are stuck on thirteen wins, but still in first place for at least another day. Boston is only one game behind and that’s who’s on deck. Another series win would be sweet.




Ask It If It Can Pitch

Likely exhausted from the many, arduous takes of that omnipresent bobblehead commercial, Masahiro Tanaka is going to be out for a long time. The Yanks say he’ll sit on the shelf for at least a month, right next to the damn doll. Though it’s hard to guess the return date, the “forearm strain” is quite often the precursor to full-blown ligament replacement. Screw that! “Maybe only a month” is what I’m choosing to hear.

New York Yankees

That leaves it to Michael Pineda to slide up a day (he’s still on normal rest however, so it’s nothing crazy) and take the ball for this afternoon’s series finale. The Yankees have already taken the series from the Rays and sit on top of the AL East by two full games, so no matter what happens today, they’ll wake up tomorrow in first place. Wow, just wow to that notion.

But since we’re here anyway, maybe just win this one too?

(Today’s lineup via LoHud)

Jacoby Ellsbury CF

Chris Young LF

Alex Rodriguez DH

Mark Teixeira 1B

Carlos Beltran RF

Chase Headley 3B

John Ryan Murphy C

Gregorio Petit 2B

Didi Gregorius SS


(Photo by Charles Wenzelberg, Via NY Post)

Why Don’t You Stay Awhile?

Chase Whitley threw 75 innings for the 2014 Yankees. Huh. (File that to the long list of things that I missed about the 2014 Yankees.) The Yanks called on him for a spot start in May that turned into twelve. It’s happening again.

Called up for a spot start Tuesday, Whitley found himself in the rotation before throwing a pitch as Tanaka’s forearm injury will sideline him for a month. Whitley, for his part, didn’t make things awkward since he went out and pitched well into the sixth in another Yankee victory, 4-2, over the Rays. Those of you well-attuned to the 2014 club will also know the Yankees won eight of Whitley’s twelve starts last year and won’t be that surprised.

These Yanks, what’s the word for them? Versatile? I’m open to suggestion. They’ve won all kinds of ways thus far.

They’re at the top of the league in homers and doubles. But they’re not winning slugfests every night. And they keep tacking on runs throughout the game, as opposed to, you know, not scoring many runs at any time. They’re winning the tight ones where the Plan-A bullpen has to lock down four innings, like last night. Last night the Plan-A bullpen wasn’t even available and they plowed through the Rays just the same.

The only kind of game they haven’t won yet is that 1-0 or 2-1 starting pitcher duel. And sadly, when they win one of those, it probably won’t be their best pitcher on the hill. It’s a shame to lose Tanaka, but if there’s a less-surprising DL stint not involving Carl Pavano, I can’t recall it.

Step inside, Chase Whitley, step inside.



(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson via ESPN.com)

Filth in the Fifth


Brett Gardner batted with bases loaded and two outs in the fifth. He represented the tying run. The home plate ump rang him up on a pitch that split the border of Weehawken and Hoboken. Gardner unleashed the power of a thousand exploding suns, or at least a bunch of frustrated Yankee fans.  He got ejected and, yeah, it was worth it.

It’s hard to believe, but the Yankees actually had a legitimate shot to win this game before Gardner got tossed. They opened that inning with five straight base runners. But because Carlos Beltran could not score from second on a double over the head of Cespedes (he got a bad read, he’s old, he’s slow, the there were no outs, the ball was somewhat close to being caught, all true, but gotta score on a clear double from second base unless your hamsting rips apart) Martin Prado ran up the back of Brian McCann at second and was tagged out. They still ended up scoring two runs in the inning, but with the gift out on the bases and the bridge and tunnel whiff of Gardner, the Red Sox only needed to get one out on their own. 

That’s not to say the Yankees didn’t get walloped. They lost 9-4 as the youngsters from Boston clobbered homers off an off-model Shane Greene. I know this is heresy, but I like both Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts and am kind of excited to see what they become.

The loss was awful and the Yankees look less and less like a team that will play meaningful baseball in September. That’s OK. When they lost four of six in Detroit and Toronto, that was the official sign to stop thinking about October. Of course there’s no reason to write them off until they’re eliminated, but I no longer feel the need to check the standings or the scores of the more realistic contenders. If they play improbably great baseball for the rest of the month and get back into it, fabulous.


Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

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