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I’ll Fly Away

In the ninth inning of a classic duel with Jon Lester, Masahiro Tanaka needed one more strike to Mike Napoli to send the Yankees to the home half of the ninth in a 1-1 deadlock. After several innings of excellent pitch selection and execution, his fastball up and out over the plate snarfled the elephant. Napoli extended his arms and smacked the ball just over the wall in right to win the game 2-1.

Masahiro Tanaka takes you all the way. That’s a rare feature in a starting pitcher in 2014. He pitched a complete game gem tonight – like it fell right off the Ace Manufacturing Co. assembly line. But the Yankees lost because Jon Lester straight up beat him.

Tanaka, for all his brilliance, can’t keep the ball in the yard. Nobody’s on base when it happens, but it happens. When an opposing batter lofts a fly ball, it’s got about a 15% chance of clearing the fence. Egads, that’s awful. Perhaps it’s unsustainable and he’s going to find the number descend towards league norms, about 10%. Or maybe it’s Yankee stadium, where he’s allowed nine of his 13 homers.

Most of the time, a solo homer or two won’t beat him. Tonight it did. And though we don’t discuss pitcher wins too much, this game had the distinct feel of two pitchers locking horns while the lineups were just there for window dressing. Jon Lester got a much deserved win and on the other side of that, I think Tanaka’s loss is an accurate measure of this game. He blinked. He blew that pitch to Napoli seven ways to Sunday in a spot where he absolutely couldn’t let up a dong.

How about the ninth inning? Uehara, don’t sleep on this, is half-way through his second season in row where he makes Mariano Rivera’s best closing seasons look ordinary. The guy threw pitches to McCann and Beltran (the two players running neck-and-neck for most likely to cause a broken plasma screen this season) that seemed to turn to mist when they got into the hitting zone.

Great baseball game played by two mediocre teams with a retched ending.

***

Today was also the last day of the Little League season here in Inwood. The boys got trophies and pizza and sun screen rubbed in their eyes. I had a blast coaching, but I could have done a much better job. I’m happy that the kids improved batting and throwing, but I don’t think I adequately conveyed the beauty of the game nor the logic of the game over the past three months.

It’s my fault because I wasn’t prepared for the vast spectrum of prior knowledge my 15 players would to the season. Some of these crackerjacks were 6 going on 16 while others were 5 going on 5. Even today I had kids ask me where first base was.

On this the last day of the season, with the aforementioned trophies looming, my own kids made sure I knew that baseball was “boring” and that they “never want to play again.” (They also got pumped up to bat and run the bases and had fun and those words were mostly cruel forms of Saturday morning protest when they’d rather be playing Minecraft or whatever instead of putting on their overly complicated uniforms, but when 15 kids are baking in the sun waiting for a ball that never comes, I understand what they’re saying.)

A lot of the parents asked me if I’ll coach again next year and I couldn’t give them a straight answer. But I’m sure as hell looking forward to swimming class tomorrow where I sit far away from the side of the pool and just watch.

 

 

Switching Channels

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Here’s what you need to know about the dreadful, fateful third inning. Matt Carpenter’s harmless grounder to shortstop bounced all the way to Brett Gardner because the Yankees were shifted around like he’s the second coming of Ted Williams. Joe Girardi ordered David Phelps to send Yadier Molina to first base, on purpose, even though Phelps had done nothing to inspire confidence that he was going to escape the bases loaded jam. The faux-baseman dropped the ball mis-applying a tag from an errant throw from the increasingly impaired shortstop. And the second baseman whiffed on an easy, inning-ending double play, and look who’s come around to score the fourth run, Yadier Molina.

So yeah, maybe the shift wasn’t uncalled for; I can’t say I know Carpenter’s spray charts all that well. And, yeah the intentional walk would have been a non-factor had the Yankees made routine plays. But man, that was systemic failure. From strategy to execution, it was an elementary school science class while the teacher is in the can. Acid, base, BOOM. Four runs.

Considering the 2013 throw-back lineup was on call tonight, four runs was way too much. The final tally was 6-zip. I would get over it quickly if I never saw Alfonso Soriano face a right handed pitcher again.

And this was a bad night to put on such a lousy show. The Rangers and Habs almost netted a dozen goals as the Rangers skated for a chance at the Stanley Cup. The Thunder reminded everybody that no, the Western Conference Finals are not best of three. And really, shame on us – this exact same thing happened two years ago. Has any team in the history of sports received such ridiculous praise for winning the first two games of a series? At home? The Mets and the Pirates were playing a game without the stench of incompetence hanging over the infield, well anymore than usual at Citi Field.

If you stuck with the Yankees after the third, you are a true fan. Or had to write a recap.

 

Image from Watchmen, DC Comics by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

 

Phelps in Phlux

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Getting the first game of this series with the Cardinals to pop up in the win column is a pleasant surprise as the Whitley/Wacha match-up was on the scary-side for Yankee fans. More fun tonight as David Phelps seeks to pad his bonafieds for a permanent spot in the starting rotation.

Phelps is 27 years old, which is something of a shock to me every time I see his age. He’s proven to be a Major League pitcher over 27 starts and a season in the bullpen, but we’ve yet to attach a more definitive adjective to that phrase. Serviceable? Dependable? League-average? Dare I suggest, Good?

Let’s see what the warm weather has in store for him, starting tonight.

Calling on the Cards

“Please, beat those Cardinals,” says the Pirates fan in this house, who has acquired an acute aversion to Red Bird over the last few years. When they eliminated Pittsburgh last fall… well. No fan escapes the game without scars, right?

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The A-grade aces will be missing this series as they both twirled on Sunday. But I think we can expect a corker of a series. At the very least, it’s fun to take on a franchise and a fan base that doesn’t suffer from a crippling inferiority complex. I’d rather see this play out in October some time soon (can you believe it’s been 50 years since they met in the Serious?), but hard to beat Memorial Day afternoon.

 

 

Photo by Beth Crawford

Starting Fresh

My daughter turned one last week. She has been on this planet for exactly one Masahiro Tanaka loss. Today’s not the day for another.

I would like to have a Tanaka card from Japan. I’ve been there a couple of times now, and I always grab a few packs of cards to bring home “for the kids” but I went back through them this morning and nope, no Tanaka. Here are a couple of cool-looking ones.

07 BBM 2nd Version Tanaka

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The Chicago Way

A win that looks a sure loss is an effective tonic. Following a loss that looked a sure win, it’s a necessary one too. And that’s what the Yankees got thanks to a furious ninth inning rally and tenth inning game-winner from Jacoby Ellsbury - Yanks 4, White Sox 3.

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Frankly this was shocking as the Yankees have looked like dead meat since coming to Chicago. Somehow, dead meat has emerged victors twice in five games and has a chance to play it even with a win Sunday and one pitcher who we actually expect  to deliver.

Sorry for the lack of threads and recaps these last few days, but we’ve ironed out the kinks and we’ll run light and smooth through the weekend and will be back to usual after the holiday.

Enjoy the win. Enjoy the Champions League Final (if you missed it live) and the NHL and NBA playoffs in hyperdrive.

Noesi? No problem.

Hector Noesi

The opposite of Chris Sale is Hector Noesi, so that means lots of hits, runs and a win for the Yankees tonight. Right?

Brett Gardner LF
Derek Jeter SS
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Mark Teixeira DH
Brian McCann C
Yangervis Solarte 3B
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Brian Roberts 2B
Kelly Johnson 1B

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

 

Lineup via LoHud

Let’s go Yanks.

Nothing’s for Sale

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After three innings last night, with Yankee bats and helmets flailing across the field, the likelihood of a Yankee hit seemed much less than the likelihood of a no-hitter. Chris Sale, whose pitching motion suggests a constantly encroaching wedgie, was the full filth.

Despite facing the most dominant left-hander in the American League, the Yankees had a few things going for them. Jose Abreu is on the DL. Sale, in his first game back from injury, was limited. And David Phelps pitched very well. Phelps kept them in the game long enough that a little late magic could have proven decisive, but thanks to an insurance run against human turnstile Alfredo Aceves, the Yankees’ two runs in the ninth came up short. 3-2 White Sox.

The Yankees pitching staff has been well-decimated thus far and it’s especially apparent when running into two aces back-to-back. Jeff Samardzjia and Chris Sale retired 39 of the 46 Yankees they faced making the third base coach especially lonely as nobody ever visited him.  That the Yankees won one of these games lessens the sting somewhat.

The good news is that David Phelps has been getting better and going deeper into his games. Last night’s performance was the best of the year for him and he’ll need to pitch like this more often than not as all signs point to him becoming a mainstay in the rotation this season.

Phelps got tagged with the tough-luck loss when the White Sox staged a two-out opposite-field rally in the second. The key hit was a run-scoring double by De Aza down the left field line. Almonte executed the outstreched hero’s dive to near perfection, but the left-handed-spin had the ball tailing away from his glove and cozying up to the foul line. There were but a few square inches where the ball could have landed fair and also missed his glove, and there it landed. And there was the game.

The Yankees were relieved any time they saw relief pitchers these last two games and responded with runs. I hope the same applies for these other, more obviously mortal pitchers in Chicago.

 

 

When a Tree Falls

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On March 26th, the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers clashed in their ongoing battle for the first seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and the home-court advantage that comes with it. Indiana was not letting Lebron James get near the basket unmolested, and the officials didn’t see anything wrong with the extra attention beyond the nominal foul call here and there.

Lebron James, perhaps frustrated by a perceived lack of protection from the refs, rushed the basket in the fourth quarter with intent to make contact with whatever got in his way. Specifically, Roy Hibbert’s head got in the way. Lebron’s elbow felled the big fella. Hibbert crashed to the floor, attempted to get up, and promptly crashed down again.

Hibbert went to the locker room after the fall, but, by rule, was forced to re-emerge to take the foul shots resulting from Lebron’s flagrant. (The rule, Jeff Van Gundy instructed, was that Hibbert had to take the free throws or else he would be unable to return to the game.)

A few days later, April 2nd, he fell to the floor after a flagrant foul from Charlie Villanueva. He went to the locker room, receiving attention to his head and neck. He returned to that game as well.

Up to March 26th, Roy Hibbert had played in every Pacer game of the season. He shot .459 from the field, grabbed 7 rebounds and scored 11.3 points in his 30 minutes per night. Though not the most efficient big man around, this year’s numbers were in line with a career shooting percentage of .473 over 295 games through last year.

After March 26th Hibbert played in nine games, shot .272 from the field with 3.4 rebounds and 6.8 points in 26.4 minutes per game. In five more playoff games, he’s shooting .313 from the field and down to 3.4 rebounds and 4.8 points in just 21.9 minutes.

Indiana did win the coveted first seed and home-court advantage, but they now face elimination by the lowly Hawks. Hibbert’s play has been so putrid, many have taken notice. Other pundits have gone so far to say his career may be over. Here’s one of many things Bill Simmons noted about Hibbert’s recent decline:

The Law of Mutombo tells us this: You never know when a tall center is about to lose it, but when they lose it, you know right away. Artis Gilmore gained the nickname “Rigor Artis” in the mid-’80s. Shaq turned into Mummified Shaq somewhere between Phoenix and Cleveland. Dikembe was kicking ass and wagging fingers right until the 2001 Finals, when Shaq turned him into a lumbering, uncoordinated, elbow-laden mass of uselessness. Even if Hibbert is only 27, what if this wasn’t a slump? What if the Law of Mutombo struck him early?

It’s been reported that Hibbert passed concussion tests on both March 26th and April 2nd. Still, statistcal collapse such as Hibbert’s demands that we consider the possibility of severe and sustaining injury. It appears further investigation to his condition is warranted – whether the man is jacked up or not, he’s playing jacked up.

 

Photo by Brent Drinkut / Indy Star

Caught, Red-Necked

 

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If you look quickly at the above picture of Michael Pineda from tonight’s game, you probably won’t see any evidence of a foreign substance in play. But look again. Be sure to focus on the lips and the surrounding area. Then carefully inspect the cheek and the chin. But don’t stop there. The most damning evidence is in the most damning place. All over the right hand.

When a Major League pitcher goes to such great lengths to conceal his wrongdoing, David Cone thinks the other manager might look the other way. Relying on his experience in the big leagues, Cone noted that if a pitcher shoved his cheating in the face of the opposition, then and only then would the umpire be called in to inspect.

How then are we to react to cases such as tonight? Where the infraction was expertly crafted and deployed with such care that Sherlock Holmes himself would be unable to penetrate the subterfuge?

Tip your cap. That’s what Holmes would do. And that what the Yankees did, to their credit. So impressed with the Red Sox superior character and sportsmanship, the Yankees gave up their remaining at bats for strike outs in deference. Only the incompetence of John Lackey checked the total at 14.

The box score says the final was 5-1 to the Red Sox, but who can really measure the difference between angels and demons?

Mama Said Tanaka You Out

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I should credit my friend Scott for the headline as he mentioned it as a possible name for his fantasy squad, but he ultimately rejected the handle because he’s a godforsaken Red Sox fan and couldn’t stand the idea of giving such an honor to a Yankee. So screw him.

When the Yankees signed Tanaka, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief as they had put the team before the tax and filled the hole in the rotation with the best available pitcher. But we didn’t exhale completely because we really didn’t know what we were getting. After today’s 3-0 win, my exhale is complete.

Sure he did it against a Cubs team that would make Ernie Banks say, “Let’s play none.” But we’re talking two lousy bunt hits away from a no-hitter. This is straight filth. What I have thoroughly enjoyed about his pitching is that his late innings are just as damn unhittable as his early ones. Moreso thus far.

Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury continue to hit, though there wasn’t a lot in the pot for the offense today. No matter. Tanaka was so strong, Girardi traded a free base for an out just to be damn sure he plated the third run.

When Ellsbury nicked Baker’s glove and the ball dribbled into play in the fifth, he could have advanced to first, setting up first and third for the clean up hitter with one out. Instead, he took the out and the extra run, which must have seemed like ten more to the Cubs.

It’s so damn cold, Girardi would be well within his rights to rest some regulars tonight and the probabilty of a sweep isn’t going to be as high as I’d like. Still, I can’t see these Cubs running around the bases unless it’s a mascot race or something.   

Use this as your game thread for the nightcap. I will try to get you lineups when I see them.

 

Frost on First

There’s ice on the windshield this morning. God damned ice on the windshield. Girardi’s got a bunch of old guys with tweaks and playing in 35 degree weather ain’t what the doctor ordered. Here’s the lineup, Jeter’s not in it.

Brett Gardner LF
Carlos Beltran RF
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Alfonso Soriano DH
Brian McCann C
Yangervis Solarte 2B
Kelly Johnson 1B
Dean Anna SS
Scott Sizemore 3B

Today’s the day all of Tanaka’s cold-weather preparation pays off.

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Double Drip

The Cubbies brought along their perpetual gloom when they arrived in the Bronx. The Yanks are rained out tonight and the two teams will have separate tilts tomorrow at 1 and 7 pm.   

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Rumor has it that the Cubs have all sorts of talent close to the Majors and might be good soon. But not by tomorrow, so let’s see a sweep please.

Too Late & Too Early

I had an early flight this morning, so I will have to guess the outcome. After 21 innings, Ichiro homered off Jonny Gomes to win it 9-8. Feel free to correct me in the comments.DSC_0003

And discuss how much we’ll miss mornings like the one in this picture.

Sixes and Sevens

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The Yankees are either going to be 7-6 or 6-7 after tonight and that’s not much to notice. But taking three out of four from Boston feels like it might drive the season in the right direction, doesn’t it? Plus three of four from Boston is s feel-good story no matter the time of year.

Brett Gardner LF
Carlos Beltran RF
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Alfonso Soriano DH
Brian McCann C
Yangervis Solarte 2B
Kelly Johnson 3B
Francisco Cervelli 1B
Dean Anna SS

No Jeter again, but all his vitals check out. Maybe this is just Joe Girardi channeling his inner Popovich. If you’ve got nothing to do tomorrow, enjoy the game tonight.

Power Bombs

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The Yankees put the toothpicks away and broke out the heavy lumber yesterday. Five home runs piled up enough runs for Kuroda and the bullpen to secure the victory. The Yankee pitching has held the Red Sox in check if they haven’t shut them down and now they’ve got a chance to win the series by taking the Sunday Night Deluxe.

I didn’t see a pitch of this game because our Little League team had their Opening Day yesterday. Both boys are on the same team this year and I’m their coach. After two practices, a parade, a photo shoot and a game, I’ve been a much better coach to the strangers on the team. I’ll excuse all manners of grab-assing and dirt-clodding, chalking it up to their very young age. My kids get the stink-eye. I tell them to think of me as their teacher instead of their dad when we are at the field and then I immediately forget to treat them like the students. Nine games left to improve on that thankfully.

The team is sponsored by Garden Cafe. I nicknamed them the Gnomes, but it wasn’t tough enough apparently. The kids voted on a new team name and they chose Power Bombs. And they were right; they can hit.

At the first practice, I asked them all their favorite team and player. Two votes for the Mets and David Wright. Mostly Yankee fans. By far the most named player with five votes: Mr. Alex Rodriguez.

 

 

Reclaimed

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Last night’s recap: The Red Sox have sprinkled their magical beard dandruff on Grady Sizemore and turned him into a player again. It’s already cost the Yankees a game in the standings and Skinny C a notch in the loss column.

Today, I’d prefer the Yankees to win. Whaddya say?

Brett Gardner LF
Brian Roberts 2B
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Carlos Beltran DH
Brian McCann C
Alfonso Soriano RF
Kelly Johnson 1B
Yangervis Solarte 3B
Dean Anna SS

 

Waiting for Lefty

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This frog butt to all the fuss about the pine tar. You know it’s a non-issue when even David Ortiz, who’s never shy to ham it up, let it slide. Game Two of this four-game set rocks tonight with Lester and Skinny C dueling. Got off on the right foot last night, now hop to the left with the southpaws. It will be interesting to see how Sabathia goes after this tough lineup with his softer stuff.

Jeter SS

Ellsbury CF

Beltran RF

Soriano DH

Cervelli C

Solarte 3B

Suzuki LF

Roberts 2B

Johnson 1B

Lineups Via LoHud

 

Michael, Plain and Tall

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At first blush, Michael Pineda, crooked capped and floppy limbed, looks like a prehistoric squid was handed a baseball and pointed in the general direction of home plate. And then cattle-prodded. Watching him plow through the Red Sox for six innings, deftly cutting the ball this way and that, the precision within the spasm is evident.

Pineda’s physical dominance and emphatic delivery will make a lot of hitters uncomfortable before he even throws a pitch. And then if his pitches are like this, woo boy. He might just have to hit a mascot in the head now and then to remind those hitters what’s at stake.

David Phelps converted the rare seven-out save to nail down Pineda’s well-deserved 4-1 victory. There was talk of a short bullpen, but regardless, it was refreshing to see Girardi stick with Phelps.

A pair of lefties, Sabathia and Lester, line up for the Friday night special.

The Chumps are Champs

Boston RedSox 2013 WS Ring

The Werld Champeen Red Sox ride into the Bronx atop a 4-5 record. Same as our heroes. Lots of season left for these two squads to define themselves and this early meeting might just be step one in that process. Clay Buchholz will face Michael Pineda in the opener this evening. Two righthanders going in Yankee Stadium, expect the left handed hitters to populate the lineups.

Brett Gardner LF
Derek Jeter SS
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Carlos Beltran RF
Brian McCann C
Alfonso Soriano DH
Kelly Johnson 1B
Yangervis Solarte 3B
Dean Anna 2B

via LoHud

Start the series on the right foot, fellas.

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