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Fly, Flied, Flew

In Game 5 of the 2000 World Series, Mike Piazza represented the tying run with two out in the bottom of the ninth. Mariano Rivera was on the hill for the Yankees protecting the 4-2 lead and attempting to shepherd home another World Championship. Rivera uncorked an 0-1 cutter and Piazza appeared to make solid contact and drove the ball to center field.

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The ball took off and spun Bernie Williams around as he raced back in pursuit. But Shea Stadium isn’t a band box and the last second cut of Mariano’s signature pitch guided the ball past Piazza’s sweet spot and down towards the end of the bat. Bernie caught up to the ball easily before the warning track and the Yankees were champions again.

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Mike Piazza flied / flew out to center field.

Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct and expert linguist (among other things), says, “In  baseball, one says that a slugger has flied out; no mere mortal has ever “flown out” to center field.”

Before you trust him implicitly, be careful, dude’s a Red Sox fan.

Let us know your preference in the comments.

Not That Smart

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I hurt my knee on November 10th and it took me a month to schedule a doctor’s visit. Partly because I hoped I would just heal on my own and partly because I’m intimidated by the prospect of finding the “right” doctor. More than seeing this as a chance to solve a problem and improve my life, I saw it as an opportunity to expose my ignorance.

When I finally navigated the insurance web site (no, not THE insurance web site) to find an in-network doctor close to my office, I called them to schedule an appointment and carefully combed over the details of my policy with the receptionist. I still somehow ended up with an appointment with his partner who does not take my insurance. I regretted the decision while making it. Still, I went ahead with the visit just so I would not have to call, again, and reveal my stupidity.

How I long to be the smartest guy in the room and that’s rarely true unless that room is the bathroom and it’s cockroach-free at that moment. I think that’s a universal feeling and it influences the way we talk about the Yankees. But should it? I don’t really care if the Robinson Cano contract is a laughing stock or the Yankees are perceived as stupid for giving it to him. All I care about: is Robinson Cano the best guy they can get to play second base? Yes? Then why isn’t he a Yankee?

In the run-up to Robinson Cano signing with the Seattle Mariners for $240 million over ten years, many Yankee fans thought a contract for seven years for $175 million was OK, but ten years was prohibitive – because they didn’t want to pay him for the very end of his career. The difference ended up being three years, $65 million for Cano’s 38-40 year-old seasons. A similar amount, after accounting for inflation, to what they just gave Carlos Beltran for his 37-39 year-old seasons.

Between the McCann deal, the Ellsbury deal and the Beltran deal we have seen all of the facets of the Cano deal play out over three different players. I observed the following general reactions to these deals:

Brian McCann (C, 5 years, $85 million – with an easy vesting option for a 6th year at $15 million more) – A premium price to be sure, but offense at catcher is so rare that it’s worth it. Also, McCann may not be catching by the end of the deal, but the near-term upgrade is so attractive that we’ll deal with the end of the contract when we get there. There’s always first base and DH, right?

Jacoby Ellsbury (CF, 7 years, $153 million or 8 years, $169 million) – WTF? That’s a lot of money for a guy who’s had two really good seasons. But he’s a solid player and evidently can be an important cog on a championship team, so I’m glad to have him around. Still, that seems like too much money – $22 million a year. Does this mean the Yankees are planning to shoot past the $189 million limit? I sure hope so.

Carlos Beltran (OF/DH, 3 years, $45 million) – Excellent hitter, too bad the Yankees didn’t get him when he could also field and run the bases! Oh well, he’s a one dimensional player now, but will be a nice solution for the middle of the lineup. Three years is at least one year too many since he’s so goddamned old, but that’s the price of doing business I guess.

So that’s the premium price for positional scarcity, the scary high average annual value, and the overpay for the mega-decline years that we’re mocking Seattle for giving Cano. The Yankees are guilty of as much stupidity as the Mariners, the only difference is the Mariners ended up with the best player. Oh yeah, in addition to the oppportunity to pay a 37 year old in 2014 instead of in 2022, the Yankees still don’t have a second baseman for next year.

We can compare projected WAR totals and stab at how badly the Yankees have allocated resources here, but regardless of the metric, wouldn’t the 2014 (15, 16, 17 etc) Yankees have been a better team with Robinson Cano plus the quality outfielders they could acquire with this cash they are throwing around than they will be with Ellsbury and a crappy second baseman? And if they plan to blow past the salary cap, then wouldn’t they be much better with both of them?

I don’t see as much hand-wringing about these three deals. They just represent run-of-the-mill stupidity. Yankee fans will likely never hear another word about them even if they fail spectacularly. The Robinson Cano deal has the potential to resonate for a decade and I think Yankee fans no longer want to see their team top the list of “worst contracts.”  We’ve been hearing about how stupid the Yankees are ever since the winter of 2007, when they gave Arod all the moons of Saturn, and they’ve won 3 Division titles, played in 3 ALCS and even a World Series during these dark days.

Did you know a strain of Yankee fan exists that is mad that Robinson Cano didn’t accept fewer years from the Yankees just so he could finish his career reflecting the glory of the franchise? This is a logical fallacy, because the Yankees did not offer Robinson Cano a contract that would take him to the end of his career! And the same fans applauded their restraint. In fact, it was this tail end of his career that scared so many Yankee fans away from the ten-year deal. “Yes, we want you to be a Yankee forever, right up until you are no longer great.”

How can we ask Robinson Cano to invest in the idea of being a career-Yankee when the Yankees were not willing to do the same? The Mariners showed more faith and loyalty to Cano than the team that profited (heavily) off of him for the last nine years.

I’m open to engaging any baseball argument about why keeping Cano is a bad idea. Is his durability a mirage? Is his less-than-max-effort running the bases a big deal? Has he stopped hitting lefties? Is he a PED bust and precipitous decline waiting to happen? But this is where the debate has to be for me because the accounting angle doesn’t work. I cannot prioritize the possibility that 1/25th of the roster (and what, 8% of the payroll?) might be a bad contract in 2022 over winning in the here and now.

Because if we agree that Cano is the best player available, I find it hard to fathom how the Yankees could have spent all this money and still whiffed on the most vital acquisition. It would be like buying the most expensive cranberry sauce for Christmas dinner but refusing to pony up for a goose.

For those of you who have celebrated the Yankees’ intelligence for not matching Seattle’s offer, please consider this question: When will this decision pay dividends for the Yankees? I am a fan who wants to see the Yankees win the World Series as soon and as often as possible. I think that employing the best second baseman in baseball is a step towards making that happen. Will letting him go get the Yankees to the World Series any faster? Any more often? If the answers lie in 2022, then the questions are moot.

The Yankees famously refuse to hang banners for pennants and division titles. I wonder if they’ll alter that philosophy when their fans proudly declare them “smartest team in the league” because that’s the only title they figure to win.

The Unwritten Ruler

Hey look, it’s Brian Fucking McCann.

Don’t walk, strut or stand,

Just run to first as fast as you can.

And don’t you dare clap your hands,

Says Brian Fucking McCann.

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If you have a rhyme, please leave it in the comments.

PS:  He should still sign with the Yankees. They have no sense of humor either.

The Right Guy for This?

“Get me Hughes,” said the Captain.

“Is Hughes the right guy for this Cappy?” asked the Lieutenant.

“Of course not,” said the Captain and he slammed the door leaving the Lieutenant on the other side with his stupid questions.

The newspaper pressed the headline before the clerk opened the case file. The crime scene was so fresh it didn’t even stink yet. Two patrolmen waited for a detective to arrive. They stretched yellow tape around the perimeter and snuck glances at the mess inside, hoping they wouldn’t shudder and diappointing themselves when they did.

The city disgorged a heavy case load that week. All over town, things were falling apart and each detective paired up a new crime until all the dance cards were full. Well, all except for Hughes. Hughes had once been a hot-shit-detective, advancing through the academy with unprecedented talent – the test scores and the muscle to back them up. Now he was just hot-shit.

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Hughes had at a desk in the back corner of the records room. If you searched his mug, you’d have to sift through equal parts Bailey’s, sugar and donut chunks before you’d find any coffee. His muscles and test scores were now buried under fat layers of failure. Everyone knew he was gone the next time the department made cuts, so everyone ignored him. Until the night the Lieutenant ran through the room yelling his name.

Hughes blinked his eyes repeatedly to wipe the fatigue away. He cracked a raw egg into his coffee mug and swallowed the whole thing in one gulp before his brain could formulate the question, “how long have I had that egg?” He felt the fat on his ribs jiggle when he belched.

He could tell the Lieutenant was eyeing him slantways as they walked upstairs to the Captain’s office. Hughes still had great instincts, especially when he directed them towards himself. The Lieutenant was thinking “why Hughes?” but didn’t have the guts to say it out loud. He didn’t have to; Hughes was thinking the same thing.

Why accept the assignment then? It occurred to Hughes to just hand the file right back to the Captain. In fact, that was what he intended to do, but when his fingertips touched the thick manilla folder, he felt a spark and a current ran up his spine. He stood taller than he had in years.

Hughes looked the Captain in the eyes so there was no misunderstanding between them. Neither man thought Hughes could do the job. But both men knew the department in and out, and while maybe one or two of the junior guys could make a go of it, Hughes was the only one that had a prayer in Hell of bringing it all the way home.

Hughes knew all the usual suspects. On the back side of that coin is that all the usual suspects knew Hughes. Whatever happened that night, it wouldn’t be a surprise. Hughes would get his man, like he had many times in the past, or the man would get Hughes. The only real question was how long it would take.

The rain didn’t make a difference. The evidence had been preserved and Hughes got to work. His tools were rusty, but the hammer still hammered and before long he had a lead. He also had support. Perhaps the rest of the department didn’t count on him anymore, but they didn’t hate the guy. And what the hell, they all wanted to close the case.

Hughes had that lead and he was going to follow it to the ends of the earth. He came to work the next day in pinstripes that mostly fit. But the Captain looked at him and he couldn’t see the muscles and the test scores. He thanked him for the lead and he handed it to Huff. Hughes didn’t even know Huff’s first name, but he understood. He went back to his desk.

Before he sat down, he grabbed his mug and went to the sink to give it a good wash.

Of course Hughes took the case. When his wife introduced him to her friends at parties, she would say “This is my husband Phil and he’s a cop.” At least that’s what she would say if anyone would marry him or invite him to a party. A bad doctor couldn’t pretend he was a shoe salesman if some poor soul walked up to him with a knife stuck between his ribs. He rolled up his sleeves and did his best. A bad cop is still a cop.

***

Rain delays suck the most on school nights. A nuclear meltdown by David Robertson in the 8th inning threatened to extend this game deep into the recesses of a responsible bed time. But after a fortunate run in the ninth to retake the lead, Mariano Rivera ended things on the happy side of midnight with a 6-5 win.

The game moved quickly enough through six innings – even though the Yankees led 4-1, Chen settled down and began striking out Yankees with alarming ease. Then in the seventh Granderson homered off Chen and that started the Orioles bullpen machine. In the bottom half of that inning, a Markakis homer off Huff got the Yankees up in arms. Joe Girardi used three pitchers to get through the seventh – including rookie Cesar Cabral facing the tying run with two outs.

David Robertson started the eighth with a three-run bulge. Machado took him deep to left and Soriano raced to the wall on a collision course with the burgeoning homer. His leap looked perfect but he hung his head as if he missed it and everybody held their breath. He popped the ball out of his glove and snatched it with his bare hand and smiled. If you weren’t laughing with him, you were probably cursing at him. Maybe both.

Michael Kay blathered about how that play had to knock the wind out of the Orioles. The Orioles tied the game four batters later and the fifth was standing on second with two outs, poised to take the lead. The big blow was Danny Valencia’s three run homer off a grooved first pitch fastball. Soriano’s antics would have played better if the O’s didn’t splatter Robertson all over the infield grass. Somehow, Robertson rebounded and found his curve ball to strike out Wieters and “preserve” the tie.

Brendan Ryan chose a good time to notch his first hit as a Yankee to lead off the ninth. Jim Johnson air-mailed second base on the subsequent bunt and the Yanks had two on with no out. Granderson also bunted and set up Alex Rodriguez for the big moment. The third pitch to Alex was short on a Little League field and bounced to fence allowing Ryan to score. I am not sad that happened, and I’m not certain Alex was going to come through, but I didn’t dread his at bat there like I did a year ago. I thought he was going to get it done.

The O’s walked Alex and got Soriano to bounce into a double play to hold the score at 6-5 for Mariano. He’s pitched a lot lately and not always well, but he was on today. He mowed through three hitters in ten pitches, many of them unhittable. Manny Machado almost broke his wrists swinging at an inside heater.

The strange night didn’t end with the ball game. Turns out the official scorer was so offended by Robertson’s performance that he refused to give him the win. He transferred the win to Mariano, which is all well and good, but if Mariano gets the win then he doesn’t get the save. Nobody should really care about that, but if in 20 years, Craig Kimbrel is breaking Mo’s record, I wonder if they will remember this one.

Rays and Indians won. The Yankees kept pace and head to Boston. Probably without Brett Gardner, who strained an oblique in the first inning. That’s not a quick heal usually, but hopefully Gardner is back out there very soon. All hands on deck and all that.

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Hughes spent the rest of the week in those pinstripes. He watched the Captain put the file on a merry-go-round from Huff to Warren to Cabral to Robertson and of course they fucked it up. He could have told the Captain that if you keep looking you’ll find the guy that doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Luckily there was one guy in the department that could close any case, Rivera. He picked up the case where it was left for dead and meticulously put the pieces back together. He got the usual suspects to talk. How did he do it? Hughes never really knew but he suspected there was a pile of broken bats somewhere. Hughes was satisfied to be a small part of a happy ending.

Rivera walked past Hughes desk. There was no reason for him to be in the records room. “Nice suit,” said Rivera.

 

The Negative Zone

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When Mariano Rivera blew the game Thursday night, my foot slipped. When the 8-3 sure-fire-win on Friday night became another loss, my shoulder dipped. And when Mariano blew Sunday’s game, my ass flipped right over my head and I was lost in the Negative Zone. Not even winning Sunday could draw me out; I was adrift and doomed.

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And I’m not coming back. Not this year.

CC Sabathia gave a decent effort when nothing short of his best would do. The Yankees didn’t hit Chris Tillman, who’s been good this year, but hardly Tom Seaver and the 4-2 loss is the latest nail in the coffin.

In the first inning Alex Rodriguez smacked a home run and things looked up for about a minute. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but CC Sabathia couldn’t hold the lead. Not even for an inning. Nick Markakis hit a lead-off double and scored two batters later.

The game stayed knotted at one, but the Yankees were never going to be the team that loosened the knot. Sabathia kept the ball in the park, but off-the-wall can still hurt you. A handful of doubles, productive outs and timely hits put the Yankees in a 4-1 hole after seven.

Tillman retired 13 in row at one point. He struck out three straight to napalm the seventh and then Lyle Overbay scraped the sky with solo homer to start the eighth, so Showalter brought in Tommy Hunter to strike out the next three. The Orioles struck out 12 Yankees in all.

Alex hit a blue dart to center to lead off the ninth. After two ground outs, Curtis Granderson hit a full-count fastball to the middle of the warning track in center. I can’t say what it looked like from your seats, but nobody here in the Negative Zone thought it had a chance.

 

Hughes, be thou Huge

02yanks-600That’s a picture of Phil Hughes from 2007. That’s his second start, in Texas – the near-no-hitter and the leg injury. I think that was the last disappointment-free moment of his career for Yankee fans. Not all Phil’s fault of course.

He contributed to a World Series championship. He submitted a few decent seasons. But we expected an ace. Scouting reports prepared us for Tom Seaver and Roger Clemens and we got, well, not them. We got a guy whose best years are league average and whose worst season, which we are in the midst of right now, is replacement level.

But the Yankees don’t have any healthy pitchers, Phelps, Nuno and Pineda being 6-8 on the depth chart and unlikely to pitch again this season. So Phil Hughes gets the ball and the Yankees must win. They must sweep. And that means we root for Phil, for 2007′s sake.

No Streaking Allowed

Everything was lined up for the Yankees with six innings in the books and a 3-o lead. Andy Pettitte couldn’t get an out to start the seventh, then Shwan Kelley couldn’t get an out behind him and then this happened.

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Boone Logan relieved Kelley and he also couldn’t record a single out. Then Joba Chamberlain plopped to the mound and the Orioles felt so bad about how things were going that they gave the Yankees an out just to be nice. But not that nice because then this happened.

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Two three-run homers and seven total runs made the seventh inning stretch a cruel exercise for Yankee fans. The Yankees put a couple of guys on in the eighth, but didn’t get them in and lost 7-3.

The B-team bullpen, which has been good this year, blew the game, but had Curtis Granderson pulled back J.J. Hardy’s home run in the seventh, it might have been a much different outcome. The ball was catchable, but Granderson’s timing was off and he crashed into wall before he could extend his arm.

It would be too much to call it another nail in the coffin, but with Tampa losing again, missing the chance to cut the lead to 2.5 games feels like a nail in something.

 

Photos by Rich Schultz / Getty Images

Three Times Lucky

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Andy Pettitte has been quite good lately, even considering that shellacking by Chicago. The right teams keep losing and the Yankees have leapfrogged both Cleveland and Baltimore and only trail Tampa for the last Wild Card spot. This is going up before the lineup is announced, but it wasn’t correct yesterday and we survived, so hopefully we’ll manage without one today.

Supercalifragilisticexpiali-Nova

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Chris Davis breathes on the ball these days and it’s a ground rule double. I’ve seen highlight reels of wrong-footed homers he’s hit on half-swings. So, with one out and one on in the ninth, when he sand-wedged a 2-2 breaking ball high into the afternoon sky, it looked like a pop-out, but I feared it would be a game-tying home run.

The ball flew so high that Ichiro Suzuki had time to order sunglasses from Amazon and have them delivered to the right field warning track before settling under it. And he didn’t exactly settle as much as he sidled. Ichiro moved sideways and slantways and longways and backways, taking up a position under the ball that suggested either the easiest can or corn on the shelf or utter catastrophe. Perhaps the earth turned while the ball was in flight just enough so that it nestled into Ichiro’s waiting glove instead of one-row deep.

The Stadium crowd was still exhaling as Adam Jones lined out to Derek Jeter and Ivan Nova dusted off his complete game shutout. The Yankees won 2-0 and moved ahead of the Orioles for third place in the East and it was all Nova, all the way.

Well, Nova and Cano, who drove in both runs and continues to play so well that it makes it impossible for me to imagine the Yankees without him. Robinson Cano bookended a light day of hitting for the Yankees as he doubled into the right field corner to drive in Gardner in the first and homered to deep right to drive in himself in the eighth. Another terrific game as he enters what could be his final month in pinstripes.

Nova might actually have words for Cano in the locker room, wasting that late homer on a day when he clearly only needed the one run to win. Nova was simply brilliant. The umpire seemed to favor the low strike, which played right into his game plan. The worms weren’t exactly in danger of extinction, but when the Orioles did hit grounders, they continually drove the top eighth of the ball into the dirt and the Yankee fielders scooped up the easy pickings. Nova fielded three himself and should have had a fourth in the ninth.

Six Orioles reached base (three hits, a walk and 2 HBP) but two of them were erased on double plays. The DP Jeter started in the top of the eighth fired up the whole team and gave Nova more than enough gas to get through the ninth. Good thing too, because Jeter killed two rallies by grounding into double plays himself.

Nova was so good I don’t think anybody in Yankeedom wanted to see Mariano Rivera. That’s pretty damn good.

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We’ve got two wins down in the front, do I have a third from the gray haired gentleman in the back? The one with the dimple in his chin? Does pulling your cap down to shield your eyes signify a bid? I need a ruling here.

Make it a Double

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The Yankees need a winning streak but quick and lookie here, a chance to win two in a row. Ivan Nova’s breath-of-fresh-air blows to the mound against mid-season trade acquisition Scott Feldman. Feldman has only completed six innings in four of nine starts for Baltimore and this is the Yankee lineup looking to knock him out of the box:

Brett Gardner CF
Derek Jeter SS
Robinson Cano 2B
Alfonso Soriano DH
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Curtis Granderson LF
Mark Reynolds 1B
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chris Stewart C

RHP Ivan Nova

Play today; win today.

Start Me Up

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It’s going to take an absurd run to catch the Oakland A’s or Tampa Bay Rays. The A’s coast through the California Penal League to finish the season and while the Rays have it a little bit tougher, they have only three match-ups with the Yankees for the rest of the year. If the Yankees have an absurd run in them, they better start this weekend when the Yanks play the Orioles (also ahead of the Yankees), the Indians (also, also wik) play the Tigers and the A’s and Rays go head-to-head.

After much consideration, the Yankees need to win a bunch and the Rays need to lose a bunch and then the Yankees need to beat the Rays head-to-head. That’s the only way this goes down the way we want it to. So root for the A’s tonight and for the rest of the weekend, and root, root, root for the Yankees, but that goes without saying.

The Yankees took care of their end of the bargain tonight as the lineup bailed out CC Sabathia with a fifth-inning onslaught and the bullpen nailed down the victory with 3.1 scoreless innings. Of all the story lines for the season, the sudden pumpkinization of CC Sabathia is the most perplexing and, for me, the most frustrating. Some might say the injury heap, but I think if we considered which was more likely in December – a lot of injuries or CC Sabathia being healthy and shitty, we’d say the injuries without a blink.

CC will be here for a long time and I’d hate to have this version of him around for the long haul. Not just because the Yanks need him to be their ace, but because, damn, the guy has a great career going and it would be a shame for the bottom to just fall out like that. Anyway, CC was on his way to another depressing loss in a huge game when the revamped Yankee offense seized control. Doubles from Granderson and Reynolds preceded a long homer by Ichiro. Romine, Gardner and Jeter loaded the bases and Cano singled home two to make the score 7-4, and the Yankees held on from there to win 8-5.

“Held on” could have been “romped” but the O’s cut down three Yankee-runners on the bases (Reynolds at third, Reynolds at home and Soriano at home). Reynolds at least made reasonable decisions, but we have to discuss Soriano’s insane play in the seventh.

With two outs and an 8-5 lead, Soriano stole third and Arod followed to second. It’s not “by the book” but replays showed the defensive alignment allowed him to get a good jump and the play wasn’t close, so maybe he just knows what he’s doing? Then he got thrown at home by 15 feet on the next play.

Granderson bunted against the shift to net himself a single, but Soriano wasn’t ready for the bunt and froze midway down the line. Machado fielded the bunt and had no play at first and barely twitched as he looked up to see Granderson fly by. That twitch was enough for Soriano to break for home. Machado flipped to the catcher and Soriano was a dead duck.

Soriano made corn-beef hash out of the play for sure, but the bunt was a dumb play from the get go. Since Soriano didn’t know it was coming, Granderson took the bat out his own hands. He gets a single, but with two outs and first base open, the Yankees would rather have Granderson swing away against a right-hander to break the game open and save Mariano for later in the series. A little signal there from hitter to runner and the bunt scores an important run.

There was one fan in right field who was sure happy that the Yankees didn’t break the game open. As Mariano Rivera entered the game, the YES cameras caught her shaking with joy as he jogged to the mound. “I love you Mariano!” she said over and over again. You could read her lips without any trouble. It was a sweet moment and I couldn’t complain about the blown chances any longer.

Mariano didn’t get any breaks from the ump. Not that he should have, but he usually does get some leeway on the outside edge when a left-hander is in the batter’s box. No matter, a few potential strike threes turned in to ball threes, but he eventually set the side down in order.

Can’t be a winning streak if it doesn’t start after a loss. Right Yogi?

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Let the record reflect, the doll nodded.

The Score Cycle

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The Yankees pounded out 19 hits on Tuesday, 12 hits on Wednesday and I was worried the hittin’ shoes would be all worn out for Thursday’s afternooner, which I’d be attending with the extended family. The Yankees kept on hitting – 15 more hits today – but they stopped at third most of the time and wound up in a familiar spot, the losing end of a Phil Hughes start.

Next time, leave the cycle at home boys, and back up the score truck.

My father has fed a steady stream of criticism to Hughes through the TV this season, so I’m sure he was overjoyed when his Father’s Day gift turned out to feature the much maligned starter. We took bets on his outing: six innings / two runs; seven innings / three runs; four innings / four runs. Overall, we were an optimistic group and came close to nailing the actual line, six innings and three runs.

Hughes got touched for a run on a couple of singles in first, but he struck out Mike Trout on a slider with teeth so you almost had to forgive him. The Yankees were all over C.J. Wilson with hits in every inning and multiple base runners in most of them. But they turned a triple and three singles into only the tying run in the third as Vernon Wells rapped into rally-killing 5-4-3 double play with the sacks packed.

The Angels reclaimed the lead with a quickness in the fourth. It was the bottom of the order, and I don’t know if Hughes let up or if it was just one of those things, but they punched him up for a big double (Erick Aybar), a long sac fly and a 2-out homer (Chris Nelson) that really let the air out of the crowd.

But this is not the limp-bat lineup we’d have written off a few weeks ago. This team had plenty of offense left and, to their credit, the crowd perked up each inning rising to a crescendo in the bottom of the seventh. Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez both took big hacks at tying the game. All the kids in my row were really hollering, making up chants and cheers for the hitters. But neither big hack resulted in the much wished for big fly. And this time the air was out for good.

Mike Trout hit a 2003-ALCS-Game-7 double to lead off the top of the 8th and my seats for today’s game (third base side, upper deck) gave me the same vantage point as when Posada hit his double all those years ago. I could see right away that the ball was falling in and instead of watching Cano track into short center, I focused on Trout sniffing the double from about halfway up the first base line. He turned on the jets and, well, damn. That’s the best player in baseball for you.

Trout appeared to be stuck there at second, but with two outs, Girardi got cute, walked a .236 hitter intentionally and set-up the end game. Logan battled the no-stick catcher Hank Conger and lost him to an unintentional walk. Then Chris Nelson wacked him for a grand slam. Nelson had two RBI in ten games for the Yanks earlier this season. He had five RBI and quite possibly won the game this afternoon.

You know, it’s not everyday that you get to see Phil Hughes and Joba Chmaberlain get beat around by the same team – it’s every fifth day. Wocka, Wocka. Hughes wasn’t terrible though, especially for the new-look lineup. The Yanks had one more rally in them in the ninth, but they were too far behind and the final score of 8-4 is both unfair to the Yankees and the Angels in a weird way.

It’s not the 1995 Cleveland Indians or anything, but as currently constituted, this a fairly dangerous lineup and a well-rounded team. It almost looks like a contender if they were starting today.

But they’re not, and that’s why we had a blast at this game. For pennant fever, we watched the scoreboard for Pittsburgh-St. Louis updates (we’ll be in Pittsburgh on Saturday for the D-backs) and for sheer baseball excellence, we watched Mike Trout. And oh-by-the-way, the Yankees have some great players too, as Cano (Henry’s favorite), Arod, Granderson, Soriano and Gardner reminded us with 11 hits and three walks.

Much like Henry and this ice cream cone, the battle was lost but it was a hell of a ride.

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Long and Whining

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The Yankees returned from the All-Star Break in fourth place in the standings and somewhere around eleventy-th place in our hearts. The first-place Red Sox, palpably better than the Yankees a la 2008 or 1916, took the first game of this three-game series playing it close at 4-2 but without breaking a sweat.

Andy Pettitte pitched into the seventh and put himself in great shape for a win in any other year of his Yankee career, but allowing four runs in front of the 2013 Yankees is a death sentence. And though the bullpen did cough up that last run for Andy, his performance, marred by two early homers, was nothing special.

The Yankee lineup, weak as a kitten under normal circumstances, lost outfielders Zoilo Almonte (hurt ankle) and Brett Gardner (hurt feelings) mid-game to drop them to Threat Level Koala. Let’s put it this way – in the crucial eighth inning, the Yankees had the tying runs in scoring position, two outs, and Luis Cruz, who was released earlier this year by the Dodgers for failing to be a better hitter than any of their pitchers, was allowed to bat for himself.

The season will likely slip away from the Yankees in the next few weeks as they face superior competition on the road. They have one asset that might bring back a meaningful player for their future and that’s Robinson Cano. But will whatever they get back for Cano be better than just signing the best second baseman in baseball to a long term deal? If the Yankees want to keep Cano long term, then they become buyers, but with a long, non-2013, view. And that allows them more flexibility and less urgency at the deadline.

I hate contemplating the end of the season at the break but the team is filled with bad players playing badly. Ichiro, who has been much maligned, is the third best offensive player on the team. Derek Jeter crawled back into his Bacta Tank and I saw Curtis Granderson’s face on a milk carton this morning.

Alex Rodriguez is reported to be coming back though, so the good news is that, finally, we’ll have somebody to blame for all of this.

 

Aloha Means Goodbye, and Also Hello

Let’s pick this up at 3-1 in the fifth inning. Leonys Martin had just hit his second homer of the night off Hiroki Kuroda and Yu Darvish had a two-run lead to protect against this year’s gluten-free version of the Yankee lineup. Darvish dropped a little curve ball into Brett Gardner’s trigger zone – low and in – and boom, 3-2.

This curve ball was not the worst curve ball Darvish threw all night, but it was the wrong pitch in the wrong spot to the second best hitter on the New York Yankees (shudder). No, the honors for the worst curve ball of of the night must be split between the loopy bits of nothing Darvish threw to Travis Hafner (in the fourth) and to Jason Nix (in the seventh) which were both also hit for solo jacks.

Yu Darvish has been ridiculously good this year, loading up strikeouts against very few hits and walks. The only thing keeping him from full flight is a few more homers than you’d like to see – 14 after tonight. I can’t speak for the first 11, but for one game at least, he was handing out lollipops.

I snuggled up with Willa, the recent addition in our house and main reason why I’m not around the Banter much this season, and administered her first full-inning dose of Mariano Rivera. She stretched out on my chest and filled her diaper just about the time that Mo’s nastiest cutter reduced Lance Berkman’s bat to so many matchsticks.

Both catchers gunned down potential base stealers in the late innings to ratchet up the excitement a few notches. Chris Stewart pegged Elvis Andrus with the help of Robinson Cano’s nifty sweep tag. But A.J. Pierzynski evened the ledger by wiping Brett Gardner off the map in the bottom of the ninth. If you told me a few years ago that Brett Gardner became the Yankees second best offensive player while simultaneously losing his ability to steal bases, I’d have asked you how you got a hold of Doc Doom’s time machine and why you hadn’t also altered the 2001 and 2004 postseasons if you were planning on creating alternate Yankee universes.

The game seemed destined for extra innings, though with Rivera and Robertson nothing more then empty casings on the dugout floor heading to the top of the 10th, not many extra would likely be required. Then with two strikes and two outs, Ichiro lashed out and bit into a 97 MPH heater from Tanner Scheppers and ended things right then and there. Yankees 4, Rangers 3.

Hiroki Kuroda and Yu Darvish battled to a stand still. Darvish was more brilliant, but inefficient and only lasted six innings. Kuroda had plenty left in the tank and only came out because Leonys Martin had his number. And if any Japanese fans (I know a few who scalped tickets tonight) felt they didn’t get their money’s worth with the double no-decision from the starters, they hit the jackpot when Ichiro said sayonara.

And here’s our newest fan, as captured by my wife just after the homer, happy with a great victory over a good team.

 

Photos by Jason Szenes (1 & 2) / Getty Images & Kathy Willens (3) / AP & Amelia DeRosa (4) 

 

 

Willing to Wait

The sun hung up through the early evening begging for some baseball to be played. Anyway, that’s what I thought. One boy wanted to race scooters with a legion of cohorts. The other wanted to dig for buried treasure – gold, jewels, something ancient. “If it’s valuable, we can sell it and become rich and famous.” I stood with the bat on my shoulder. Baseball had to wait.

We heard the bracing cough before we came through the door. Pregnant to popping and sick with cold and fever, my wife was holed up in bed. We shut her door and proceeded towards bedtime with the boys taking advantage of me when they could, as always. The Yankees were already in the second inning, I guessed.  Baseball would have to wait some more.

“The laundry bag looks like a ghost,” Henry said. He has chosen a bedtime story about a boy who imagines monsters for three nights in a row and he’s mastering the racket. Last night is was a painting of a giraffe that’s been stationed on his wall since before he was born. The Yankees must be halfway to a win by now.

When I came out to warm up Chinese food and watch the game, I found my wife stretched out on the couch. “All I want to do is to fall asleep with the TV on,” she said. I didn’t have the heart to suggest a ballgame and I figured I would try to catch the ninth if Mariano was pitching. But to my surprise, she already had the TV switched to the Yanks and Astros.

I came in just as Kuroda found his groove and the Yanks scored some runs. Kuroda was as terrific as you can be after being terrible for a few innings. The first part of the game must have been a sluggish affair with all the base runners and walks.

David Robertson had one of those innings where he looks like the best pitcher in baseball but lets up two runs including a big homer. He absolutely blew the Astros away except for when the Yankee shift turned a ground out to short into a single. He had his chance to strike out Chris Carter, just about any kind of pitch in any spot would have done it, but the one Robertson threw unluckily hit Carter’s bat and ended up 20 rows deep.

Mariano had a night a little bit like mine. He was all set to go when Robertson hit Carter’s bat, but then the Yanks added a whole bunch of insurance in the ninth. Eduardo Nunez had an especially nice game and Ichiro and Hafner chipped in as well. Mariano sat back down, figuring it wasn’t his night. But Shawn Kelley got touched up and the score got close enough for Mariano to earn a save with one sweet strikeout, 7-4.

Winning is always worth the wait.

  

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images via ESPN

Stiff Upper Lip

One trip through the Blue Jays’ order and Hiroki Kuroda did not look long for this April Night. The first eleven batters racked up six hits, all bullets. Kuroda rolled a double play and stranded some runners, or else Toronto’s two homers would have accounted for more than the three runs they got. The Jays could be forgiven if they thought they were going to romp.

But Kuroda worked through his early-bird specials and began serving up the good stuff by striking out Jose Bautista to end the second. That began a string of 13 of 14 Jays who wouldn’t reach base – the only runner safe on Lyle Overbay’s error in the 4th. It was a resilient performance and the Yankees didn’t waste it.

Robinson Cano again tested the breadth of his back and found it stout enough to carry the team to victory with a three-run shot in the third. Francisco Cervelli and Vernon Wells bookended Cano with solo blasts and the scoring held at 5-3 for a satisfying Yankee win.

Cano’s homer came on a 3-1 “fastball” from Mark Buehrle. Buehrle seemed to hit his spot on the inside corner, but he had two problems – he threw it 86 MPH and he threw it to Robinson Cano. Cano’s so quick on the inside pitch that he can get the barrel to a much faster pitch in the same location. Say what you will about his hitting approach, he doesn’t often get jammed.

Flip to the ninth inning and consider what Mariano Rivera, pitching as well at 43 years old, I’m pretty confident, as any pitcher in Major League history, did to Colby Rasmus with pitches is the same vicinity. Obviously, the cutting action of Rivera’s pitch separates it from Buehrle’s, but even more telling than the pitch action and velocity is the swing path.

As Rasmus whiffed at two of Rivera’s insidious cutters and scragged a bat on a true devil, I drifted off imagining a match-up between Cano and Mo. I think Mariano would be able to use Robbie’s aggressiveness and get him to chase high pitches. But I bet Cano would fair better against the inside/outside cutter gambit than almost any other left-handed batter.

I snapped out of it just in time to witness a true “Mo-Classic” (I woke up realizing that this should be a “Mo-fecta”) – three up, three down; strike out swinging, broken bat, strike out looking. I wonder how many times he’s done that in his career?

 

Photo by Kathy Willens via AP/ESPN

Everybody Loves a Hit Parade


On the way to lunch this afternoon I spotted a shiny new Frito Lay delivery truck, adorned with navy blue pinstripes and a giant interlocking NY on the back door. I tried to maneuver to get a picture for tonight, but a baked potato cart was blocking the good stuff. Ah well, I thought, the Yanks probably won’t hit enough to warrant a score truck picture anyway.

If you didn’t see the game and are reading this for the first time on Wednesday morning, the good news is you had two hits last night and one of them was a homer that went about 420 feet. The Yankees reached .500 with a 14-1 victory over the Indians with an offensive explosion that overshadowed a second fine performance from Andy Pettitte.

The hit parade featured every Yankee starter but Hafner. They pounded out five homers (Cano, Ichiro, Youkilis, Boesch and Overbay) and six doubles. Around those bases the Yankees shall roam.

Speaking of parades, this weekend was the opening ceremony for the Inwood Little League. It’s over-the-top in all the right ways and the kids felt 100 feet tall walking up Broadway.


Google maps tells me the parade route was 1.25 miles. If I asked my kids to walk a quarter mile to get an ice cream soda and meet Spiderman, they’d fall down on their knees in tears accusing me of child abuse. They did this walk without complaint with pants drooping down around their ankles, hats falling over their eyes and carrying a banner designed specifically to make them trip over like the Keystone Cops.

If there are further notable items from our family’s first foray into organized baseball, I’ll let you know.

Old Fashioned

The Yankees won their first game of the 2013 season like they have won so many others – with Andy Pettitte throwing the first pitch and Mariano Rivera throwing the last. As contemplating the starting lineup remains a daily dose of disappointment, Andy and Mo served much-needed notice to all us sad-sack fans – there is still something very special about rooting for the Yankees.

After CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda issued the Red Sox seven free bases in 6.3 innings, Andy Pettitte reminded us of the benefits of staying in and around the strike zone. He walked only one in eight strong innings and avoided  trouble almost all night long. Three ground balls with men on base turned into three double plays. On the third double play, the key play to getting Andy through the eighth, an audible “hoot” leapt from my couch. I was surprised to learn it came from my throat.

Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli hit solo homers to give the Yankees a little breathing room in the ninth and set the stage for Mariano’s return to the mound for the first time since his knee injury last May. Mariano’s cutter broke sharply throughout his outing and, as David Cone noted, looks more and more like a suped-up slider every year.

He battled Dustin Pedroia but lost him to a walk when the umpire didn’t bite on a 2-2 pitch just off the corner. It was a ball, but it’s a call Mariano gets nearly every time. Jonny Gomes yoinked a double just over the third base bag which set up Pedroia to score on the second out of the inning. Even though the tying run was up in the form of very impressive rookie Jackie Bradley, there was no need to fret. Mariano gave the lefty-hitting rook a time-capsule experience.

The first pitch was the show-me cutter, hard and low but over the plate for a called strike. The second pitch started on the inner half and rode so far in on Bradley’s hands he could do nothing but foul it off his own chest. And on the third pitch Mariano pegged a blue dart at the outside corner which might as well been a mile away to poor Bradley. It was a ball, but the umpire finally caught on to what was happening and rung him up. Yanks 4, Sox 2.

It was the 69th time Mo saved one of Andy’s wins. But as familiar as it was, it’s also the new blueprint they’re going to have to follow to win while the lineup features the understudies. Starting pitcher keeps it close. A few timely hits and good defense. Bullpen holds the line.

There ‘s no shame about not being geeked up for this season given the injuries and the looming payroll decisions. I’ve haven’t been less personally invested in the Yankees since 1982, but I’m sure glad I watched this one.

 

 

International Men of Austerity

After the owners and players agreed on the most recent CBA, the Yankees, and everybody who followed the Yankees, saw there was a giant, flaming loophole begging to be jumped through in 2014. It’s entirely possible the loophole was forged and set aflame specifically to incentivize the Yankees to lower their payroll – temporarily or otherwise.

The Yankees, as gleeful, recidivist violators of the salary threshold, stand to be punished at ever-increasing rates according to the new CBA. However, if they get under the salary limit in 2014 ($189 million), they can reset their clock. The next time they go over, which we all hope and pray will be 2015, they will be punished as first time offenders and save a ton of dough.

Thus a goal was born in the winter of 2011 - to trim annual salary from the customary $210 million down to $189 million within two years. This is made more difficult because the Yankees owe a lot of money to CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira in 2014, and Alex and Teix no longer play up to their paychecks. To field a World Series contender in 2014 would take creativity, starting right then and there.

Spending big on free agents isn’t as easy under these new constraints, but there are other ways to acquire talent. International free agents have no track record and less bargaining power, so their first contracts are often very reasonable. Posting fees don’t count towards the salary cap and the contracts that follow them are also very reasonable.

Of course without the Major League track record comes a huge risk of getting a crappy, Kei-Igawa-level talent. That’s why the Yankees usually have an advantage when it comes time to sign them; they can absorb that hit better than anyone else. The Yankees employed Hideki Irabu, Orlando Hernandez, Jose Contreras, Hideki Matsui and Kei Igawa via these routes and, on the whole, they received excellent return on their investments.

Two major players came down the pike just after the Yankees signed the CBA. The Oakland A’s Yoenis Cespedes was one of the best outfielders in the American League last year. He makes nine million dollars a year.

Rather than find out just how much ground Brett Gardner can cover, the Yankees just gave Ichiro Suzuki a two year commitment for $13 million. And now they’ve pumped more 2014 cash into Vernon Wells, where’s there’s plenty of room where his baseball talent used to be. There no question that Cespedes was a risk, but I have a hard time thinking he was a bigger risk of failure than the players who have already proven they have straight sucked eggs for the last two years.

Yu Darvish was hot topic around here last year and he divided the room. Japanese pitchers have faired poorly in the USA, though not universally, domo arigato Kuroda-san, and Darvish came attached to a big posting fee. He won 16 and struck out 221 in 191 innings for the Rangers. He walked too many and wasn’t a Cy Young candidate or anything, but he sure looks good at $9.3 million a year for the next five years. After one-year deals to Kuroda and Pettitte expire and Phil Hughes files for free agency, the 2014 rotation looks like CC Sabathia and a wishing well.

The Yankees did not seriously pursue either of these players, nor did they get close to Aroldis Chapman, though his courtship took place before the current CBA and its loopholes. Whether that makes the Yankees lack of effort to acquire his raw yet undeniable talent more or less forgivable is up to you.

Either the Yankees don’t know how to evaluate international talent or they are cheaper than we thought. When Chapman came and went without any news of an offer from the Yankees, I was surprised. When they lost with a whimper on Darvish and Cespedes (not to mention Jorge Soler)?

The acquisition of Wells and Suzuki suggest a combination of penny-pinching and incompetence and incompetent penny-pinching that is downright scary.

Three Times Dope

When Pablo Sandoval launched his third homer on Wednesday night, I selfishly rooted for the ball to hit the wall. I didn’t like seeing Reggie’s signature moment so easily matched. It used to be just Reggie and Babe and that properly placed the feat on hallowed ground. And fine, if they had to make room for someone, then living-legend Albert Pujols was the right guy. But in the instant Sandoval’s shot soared towards center field, I decided the guy named after a cartoon Panda wasn’t welcome.

As many decisions hastily reached and selfishly born, this one does not stand up to scrutiny. First of all, two of Sandoval’s homers were off Justin Verlander, the best pitcher in the game right now. Second of all, those first two homers occurred in a very tight game with an unreliable pitcher on the mound for the Giants. And he did it in his own home park – a notoriously hard place to dinger. 

I remembered Pujols’ homers did not seem critical in their Game 3 blow out of the Rangers lat year. I know Reggie’s homers like I hit them myself, but I didn’t know much about Ruth’s.

Shall we?

Babe Ruth 1926 – Game 4

The Yankees were down two games to one against the Cardinals. The Redbirds threw a pitcher named Flint Rhem. Rhem is not a household name, but he pitched over 1700 innings in the big leagues, and in 1926 he led the National League in wins while posting an ERA of 3.21, 22% better than the league. It would be wrong to call him the ace of a staff that included two Hall of Famers (Jesse Haines and Pete Alexander), but he did have the best numbers and the most innings pitched that year.

The Babe did not have the advantage of hitting in a ballpark built to his specs for this game, but Sportsman’s Park was, by the standards of the day, one of the easiest places to hit homers. The Cardinals and Browns both played their home games there, and though the two teams didn’t have much else in common, their pitching staffs finished one-two in homers allowed in 1926 (and 3-4 in 1928).

In the top of the first, Babe Ruth hit a solo homer with two down to draw first blood. St. Louis countered with a run off of Waite Hoyt in the bottom of the first, so it was all tied-up again when Ruth batted with two down in the third. He hit another solo homer, giving the Yankees the lead for a second time.

The Yankees tacked on another run in the top of the fourth inning and the Cardinals put up three of their own in the bottom half. Babe Ruth walked in the decisive Yankee rally in the fifth, which left the score 7-4 in favor of New York. When he hit his third homer, it was a two run blast in the sixth off a relief pitcher named Hi Bell and it put the game out of reach, 9-4. The final score was 10-5. 

Looking back over the game, Ruth gave the Yankees two early leads and sealed the victory. His homers accounted for only 40% of Yankee runs however. His cumulative WPA for the homers (hWPA) was 0.31, but then again, two Yankee doubles in the fourth had bigger impacts on the result (by WPA) than any of the homers.

The Yankees needed this game to even the series. They ended up losing in seven games, but this outcome was vital to the extension of the season. Ruth added two walks to his three jacks, scored four and drove in four. His total WPA for the game was 0.35 and his third homer still had impact on the outcome, at 0.09 WPA, something none of the other guys can say.

Babe Ruth 1928 – Game 4

In a revenge series, the Yankees stood on the precipice of a sweep of the Cardinals in Game 4 in St Louis. The Yankees again turned to Waite Hoyt as the Cardinals pitched Bill Sherdel. Sherdel, like Rhem in 1926, was the best pitcher in the St. Louis rotation that year, leading the team in innings, wins and ERA. But he was one of four interchangeable parts and probably not at the top of the pecking order. 

The Cardinals broke a scoreless tie in the third on a sac fly by Frankie Frisch. Ruth knotted the score one batter into the fourth with a solo homer. The Cardinals struck back with a run in the bottom half. Sherdel and Hoyt kept it there until the seventh. Ruth again homered to tie the score. This time Gehrig backed him up and took the lead for good.

It was 6-2 when Ruth took his final hack in the eighth and plopped another solo bonk to finish the Yankees scoring. A few outs and one meaningless Cardinal run later, the Yankees were World Champs, four games to none.

The Babe’s impact on this game was muted slightly because he hit into a double play in the first and grounded out with two on in the fifth. The hWPA was 0.33, higher than in 1926, but for overall WPA he landed at 0.24 since he helped kill two rallies as well. Gehrig’s homer which finally gave them the lead was the biggest play of the game, but Ruth homers occupied the next two places in line. 

Of course this was Game 4 of a sweep, so there was more margin for error than during his previous three-pronged attack. But the fact that he clinched the Series is pretty cool too.

Reggie Jackson 1977 - Game 6

Moving to more familiar territory, there’s Reggie Jackson eliminating the Dodgers in 1977. Reggie did it in Yankee Stadium, making good use of the short right field porch for his first two homers. He could have used the Grand Canyon for the third one.

Burt Hooton got the ball for Game 6 and tried to get the Dodgers to Game 7. Like the Cardinals above, these Dodgers featured a deep staff of which Hooton was just one of several good pitchers. He didn’t age as well as Don Sutton or Tommy John, but at the time, he was as good as any of them, leading the 1977 Dodgers in ERA. He pitched 59.7 Postseason innings and went 6-3 with a 3.17 ERA (3-3 against the Yankees from 1977-1981).

Reggie had hit a meaningless homer in the ninth inning of Game 5 in Los Angeles. The Dodgers routed the Yanks 10-4 to force Game 6 and they kept the pressure on when Steve Garvey tripled home two runs in the top of the first. Reggie led off the second inning with a four pitch walk and Chris Chambliss homered to tie the game.

The Dodgers scored again, so when Reggie batted in the fourth with Munson on first, the Yankees trailed 3-2. Reggie hit the first pitch on a line into the right field seats. The Yankees led 5-3 when Reggie faced Elias Sosa in the fifth. Reggie again leaped on the first pitch he saw and ripped it into the stands in right and the Yankees took a 7-3 lead. It was probably a double in most other parks.

For his final at bat of the night, Reggie must have been very happy to see knuckle-baller Charlie Hough on the hill. Hough had pitched a scoreless seventh but Reggie was fortunate they left Hough in to face him. Reggie killed knuckle-ballers. Reggie sent the first pitch into orbit and if you squint at the replay you might see the scorch marks from re-entry as the ball settles way back into the black seats in center.

Mike Torrez gave the Dodgers one more run but he completed the game and the Yankees won 8-4. Reggie had homered on four consectutive swings if you go back to Game 5. His first homer, which gave the Yankees the lead, was the biggest play of the game. He amassed 0.35 hWPA and, overall, 0.39 WPA thanks to his walk, four runs scored and five RBI. His three homers accounted for five of eight total runs, the highest percentage on this list. The margin of victory was also the slimmest, along with Game 4 of 1928.  

The Yankees won the Series and prevented a do-or-die Game 7 with a Dodger team that was unlikely to go quietly. It was a happy day at the zoo.

Albert Pujols 2011 - Game 3

The 2011 World Series will go down as one of the most dramatic ever, and very little of that memory will be devoted to Albert’s three homers. The Cardinals and the Rangers had split the first two games and 14 (!) runs were already on the board at the hitter’s paradise in Arlington when Pujols hit a three-run shot off of flame throwing reliever Alexi Ogando in the sixth. This was a critical blow in the game as it turned a two-run lead into a five run bulge and the Cardinals were not threatened again.

 

Pujols added a two-run shot in the seventh (off Mike Gonzalez) and a solo shot in the ninth (off Darren Oliver). The sum total of the WPA for those two homers was 0.02 as the outcome was pretty much decided when he hit his first bomb. The hWPA is the lowest of all the three-homer games, clocking in at 0.17. Pujols had himself a very good game overall, going 5-6 with two lead-off, rally-starting singles, but there were so many runs scored in the 16-7 drubbing, that his contribution to the victory was only 0.23 in terms of WPA.

Hey, all World Series wins are huge wins, but being tied at 1-1, this game did not have the pressure of an elimination game nor a clincher. The loser would not love his fate, but neither would he be on the brink of disaster. Fun to watch and an amazing performance, but the context puts Albert’s day at the bottom of this list.

Pablo Sandoval 2012 – Game 1

As you know, Pablo Sandoval cracked three homers on Wednesday night. McCarver said that AT&T Park had yielded the fewest homers in baseball this season. This is in a league which contains San Diego’s cavernous PetCo.

Sandoval caught up to a neck-high Justin Verlander heater to give the Giants a 1-0 lead in the first inning. It was the only home run Justin Verlander allowed on an 0-2 all season. With a 2-0 lead and two-outs in the fourth, Sandoval reached down and away and redirected a low fastball into the left field seats. It didn’t look like much off the bat, but it certainly did the trick. The two-run homer made the score 4-0 for the Giants. 

Verlander missed by a lot on the high heater in the first. He got the elevation, but instead of forcing Sandoval to reach to the outside corner, he threw it right over the plate. This second homer was off a nastier pitch: down, hard and slicing away from the left handed batter. 

The Tigers were trailing 5-0 and pinch hit for Verlander in the fifth. So Al Alberquerque got to give up the Panda’s third dong. He threw a decent breaking ball but Sandoval is gobbling up nasty pitches right now, so don’t bother with decent. His homer made the score 6-0. The two teams traded runs and the game ended 8-3.

Sandoval’s homers gave the Giants 0.26 hWPA, but his single in the seventh didn’t move the needle, so his total for the game was also 0.26. Obviously, that number does not take into account the fact that Barry Zito was facing the best pitcher in baseball and nobody had given the Giants much chance of winning this game.

If you rank the homers by hWPA, it goes Reggie, Ruth (28), Ruth (26), Sandoval and Pujols. If you consider the pitcher faced, the score of the series, park effects and anything else you want to throw in there (Bronx Zoo stuff, the spectre of Pujols leaving St. Louis etc), it gets cloudier. I think we can safely put Pujols at the bottom and then work from there.

Reggie’s homers depended on the cozy dimensions of right field in Yankee Stadium. Babe Ruth may have had similar help in Sportsman’s Park. I like that Ruth gave the Yanks two different leads in 1926 and two different ties in 1928. I like that Sandoval abused Verlander. I can’t forget the fact that the Yankees lost the 1926 Series. I also know that the first game of a Series is probably the least important – maybe even less important than Game 4 of a sweep given the scars we now wear from 2004.

The only real knock against Reggie’s game is that one of the homers was a true Yankee-Stadium Special. He did it in a clincher deep in the Series with a charging opponent. He turned a deficit into a lead and then he turned a narrow lead into a safe one. And I’ll admit bias; it’s the foundation stone for my interest in baseball. Reggie’s got the top spot for me and I’ll call it a tie between Sandoval and the two Ruths.

So make room for the Panda, he deserves to roll around and hock bamboo chunks on this hallowed ground.

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