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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.

A Big Mouth

Adam Jones, owner of a lifetime .322 on base percentage, has so many good, coherent arguments to make.

How was it for Tanaka to face Adam Jones? I will translate for Tanaka-san: Easy. Very Easy.

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Image via Underscoopfire.com

Smallball Loses

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Early April dumps muddy cleats at the doorstep. And it never seems as warm as it should be. Last night was one of those chilly April nights in the Bronx, where the Yankees dropped a close one to the Orioles. The best game of the season so far, unless you prefer to win.

At decision time, Baltimore’s bloop-ball strategy proved more effective than Jeter’s small-ball. You make the call for yourself:

Score tied 3-3, in the bottom of the 8th. Brett Gardner, polishing off his lead-off double, stood at second base and Jeter promptly bunted him to third. Ellsbury popped up harmlessly to third base, wasting the bunt. The inning ended with Gardner still at third.

Baltimore started the top of the 9th the same way against current bullpen ace Shawn Kelley – double and bunt - but their bunt went foul. With two strikes they chose to swing away and not try to get out. They dunked in three straight bloop hits in front of the outfield and scored two runs.

Jeter’s bunt is disappointing for a lot of reasons, but it’s not the worst bunt ever bunted. One thing it is not is unpredictable. Jeter favors the bunt in those situations and though I don’t know who made the call,  he would have bunted on his own if he hadn’t received a sign. 

The Yankees made it interesting in the ninth with two lead off hits, but if you blinked you missed the sac fly and double play. Yangervis, swinging to end the game with a homer, got jammed and ended the game weakly taping into a double play. 5-4 for the Orioles.

About Tanaka. In two Major League games Masahiro Tanaka has racked up 18 strikeouts against a lonely walk. He making guys swing and miss by combining a Clemens level splitter and a Duque level slider. And though the fastball is a set-up pitch, don’t sleep on it or he’ll paint the corner at 93 MPH.

He’s the real deal. Will hitters figure out his stuff as the season goes on? Or will his experience in the Bigs help him avoid those few crushable mistakes he’s made each game? It will be a lot of fun to watch it evolve.

 

 

He Arrives

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The Fantastic Four handled Galactus with the Ultimate Nullifier. Here’s hoping Buck Showalter is no Reed Richards. Taking the series from Balitmore would be a sweet way to gear up for the World Chumps. And oh yeah, Tanaka’s in da Bronx on a night striped with tidings of Spring.

Haven’t gotten wind of a lineup yet, but I will try to post it when I do.

Cover Art by Jack Kirby, Fantastic Four #48, publishedby Marvel Comics

Infieldels!

Mark Teixeira’s bum wrist might bother him throughout the season. Couple his sore wrist with his steep decline and unless he’s developed a hell of a sense of humor over the off-season, it’s hard to see what he’s bringing to the infield in 2014.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees

That’s just fine though because they’ve got Hall of Famers at short and third and an MVP candidate at second… hold on, I’m catching up on some news items. Oh. Oh no.

So the 2014 Yankee infield might be bad. How bad? Let’s look at the Steamer projections for the infielders:

1B: Mark Teixeira .247/.341/.465, 26 HR in 558 PA (2.2 WAR, not factoring in lingering wrist issue)

2B: Brian Roberts .251/.314/.379, 6 HR in 335 PA (0.7 WAR)

SS: Derek Jeter .281/.339/.376, 5 HR in 409 PA (1.3 WAR)

3B: Kelly Johnson .231/.311/.393, 15 HR in 490 PA (1.4 WAR)

UTIL: Eduardo Nunez .257/.307/.363 2 HR in 162 PA (0.1 WAR)

UTIL: Brendan Ryan .216/.284/.297 3 HR in 308 PA (0.2 WAR)

(While I don’t think WAR is a perfect metric to stand in for overall performance, I’m going to use it below since it was the only way to easily compile the infield-specific data for each team in Yankee history).

Unfortunately for the Yankees, Steamer only projects 2262 plate appearances, so they’d need another 350 PAs or so from total scrubs who were not good enough to make the above list. But save your shuddering until the end please.

Last year’s infield was also bad. In place of Teixeira, we mostly saw Lyle Overbay. Jayson Nix and Nunez took turns sucking at short and third, and when they weren’t bad enough, David Adams was there to be even worse. The 2013 infield produced 4.2 WAR, one of the worst in modern Yankee history, but not the worst thanks to Robinson Cano’s all-star season. Cano was worth 6 wins above replacement all by himself, so the rest of that collection of suck was worth -1.8 WAR.

At least the 2013 infield was not designed to be bad. The Yankees hoped for Teixeira and Cano to play their customary 150 games and for Jeter and Arod to be back on the field some time in the spring. And not the springs of 2014 and 2015. Even with performance declines and ample substitutions, that’s not a recipe for one of the worst infields in franchise history. In fact, those four guys led one of the best infields in Yankee history to the 2009 World Series title.

In contrast, the Yankees stumble into 2014 with eyes wide open. This is hardly revelatory, as the infield represents approximately 50% of the lineup, but it’s hard to win with a terrible infield. It’s obvious there’s a strong correlation between infield quality and winning percentage. What we’re about to experience is rare in Yankee history.

Let’s go way back to 1925, the year Lou Gehrig replaced Wally Pipp. Gehrig at 22 was good, but the rest of his cohorts were not, and the result was one godawful infield. Like Cano in 2013, only Gehrig’s presence keeps the group in postive WAR. The Yankees won only 69 games and finished seventh. The next year they added Tony Lazzeri, won the pennant, and, seemingly, made putting together a quality infield an organizational priority.

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From 1926 through 1964, the team from the Bronx became the Yankees as they are known today. Twenty six pennants in 38 years means that seeing the Yankees in the World Series was more probable than flipping a penny and seeing Lincoln’s mug. The infield was occasionally worth 20 WAR all by themselves and rarely dipped into the single digits. 

The average infield during that span accounted for around 14 WAR, or almost 3.5 WAR per position. After Gehrig, the Yankees didn’t employ slugging first basemen to rack up the WAR but instead relied on depth and diverse skill sets around the horn. Casey Stengel maximized value with strategic platoons. Rolfe, Crosetti, Rizzuto, Gordon, McDougald, Skowron, Richardson, Johnson etc. Hall of Famers some, but solid and productive all.

Since 1965, the Yankees have still been the class of baseball, but the pendulum has swung back to Lincoln’s visage in the battle of probability with the Yankees only appearing in the Postseason 22 times in 48 years. The twin killings of the player draft and CBS ownership made it harder for the Yankees to stockpile the best amateur talent and increased competitve balance across the game.

The Yankees have occasionally sucked in the last 48 years, and they haven’t always put together a decent infield. And not surprisingly, there’s some overlap there. Using last year’s total as a baseline for inepitude, here are the worst infields since 1926:

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1965 (77-85, 6th Place AL): 4.1 WAR 

Clete Boyer flashed quality leather as always at third, and Joe Pepitone contrbuted something at first, but this was the beginning of the Horace Clark era and the rest of infield gave us a sign of the mediocrity to come. Clarke burst onto the scene with a typically forgettable performance in 51 games, but as often the case with teams of this era, he was hardly responsible for the overall suck. Phil Linz, Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek combined to be truly awful as regular players.

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 1982 (79-83, 5th Place AL East): 1.3 WAR

Take post-1973 numbers with a grain of salt because it’s difficult to separate out the WAR of some of the DHs in here, but no amount of precision is going to improve this group to respectability. Off years from Randolph and Nettles made Roy Smalley the most productive infielder. There is so much negativity in this group it’s like my living room when Mariano Rivera blows a save. Steve Balboni blundered to -1.1 WAR in just 33 games and Bucky Dent deteriorated to -1.1 WAR in just 59 games. That’s sabotage with a quickness.

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1988 (85-76, 5th Place AL East): 2.6 WAR

Mattingly’s season was just fine, but he was merely an all-star and no longer able to carry the team. Randolph was nearing the end of his usefulness as a starting second basemen. And oh my, the suck of the left side of the infield. Randy Velarde, Rafael Santana, Mike Pagliarulo and Luis Aguayo combined to produce almost -3 WAR. 

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1990 (67-95, Last Place, AL East): 1.2 WAR

Nobody will be surprised to see this team on the list, as they won only 67 games. This was the year Don Mattingly’s back spasmed him into oblivion. Alvaro Espinoza got 150 games to prove he was nothing close to a Major Leaguer and neither Mike Blowers nor Jim Leyritz could handle third. Steve Sax at least had a pulse, but if it wasn’t for Kevin Maas coming out of nowhere to hit a bunch of homers, the Yankees would have had negative WAR for the infield. (Also, some of Mass’s 1.3 WAR came from 25 games at DH, so really, this total should be even lower.)

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2000 (87-74, 1st Place AL East, World Series Champions): 3.7 WAR

A World Champion. Maybe there is hope for 2014 after all! Derek Jeter was in superstar mode at the plate hitting .339/.416/.481. But he picked the wrong year for that slash. Since offense was so jacked up in 2000, his numbers merely tabbed him as an all-star instead of the MVP candidate he’d be in virtually any other context. UZR hates his defense so much that he racked up only 3.7 WAR. You will notice, with some non-rigorous number-crunching, that means the World Champs got exactly zero from Tino, Knobby, Brosius and their understudies.

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2013 (85-77, 3rd Place AL East): 4.2 WAR

We went over this, it was all Robinson Cano. And he’s a Mariner.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays

2014: 6.4 WAR (Projected before Teixeira’s wrist revelation)

So 6.4 WAR is probably more like 4 or 5 WAR when you discount Teixeira and add in the scrubs who will use up the rest of those plate appearances we’re missing. If Teixeira is bad enough, it’s possible that McCann plays first base and the infield will receive a shot in the arm. Though that’s still bad news for the Yankees, because they’ll be sacrificing the catching advantage they paid handsomely to obtain this offseason. I’d be surprised if the 2014 infield is better than the 2013 infield.

The problem is that these players are too old to have much hope for upside. Kelly Johnson, I guess, could put together something special if everything breaks perfectly for him, but the other guys? Guys in their late 30s coming off career-altering injuries do NOT have career years. If we are very, very lucky, they have seasons that resemble their career averages. More likely, they play poorly and infrequently.

It’s going to be a very bad infield, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a very bad team. The Yankees will need heavy lifting from the outfield and the catcher and they paid the price for that muscle this offseason. The top of the rotation is going to have to outperform their 2000 counterparts, as the bullpen lacks 2000′s Rivera, Stanton and Nelson.

But that’s definitely possible. If Sabathia bounces back (and it’s reasonable to expect him to be a good pitcher this year), the 2014 staff could be excellent. The real problem is that the rest of the AL East is much better than it was in 2000, so the 2014 Yanks could outperform the 2000 team byseveral games and still be shut out of October baseball.

Flip things around and look at the best infields in team history (1927, 1929, 1936, 1942, 2002, 2007, 2009) and there’s much more security in booking your Postseason parties. Starting in 2015 (or this July), when second base, shortstop and probably third base are all holes to fill, it’s time to build another one.

What $189 Million Costs

In the winter of 2011, a plan was hatched. That plan, to get the payroll under $189 million for the 2014 season, formed the guiding principle of player acquisition for the Yankees until last week, when the Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka. I love the Tanaka signing, but we have to acknowledge that it signifies two years of wasted effort. 

Fans excused certain decisions because this plan loomed like a dark cloud. They can’t even think about going outside to talk to Zack Greinke because it’s going to rain! Kevin Youkilis for a one-year-deal adequately addresses 2013 without impacting 2014!  

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The Yankee rosters for 2012 (AL East Champions, ALCS losers) and 2013 (tied for 3rd in AL East) were forged with these constraints in place. How might things have played out had the Yankees been operating as usual?

The new CBA that inspired the 189 plan followed the 2011 season. In the off-seasons of 2011-12 and 2012-13, the following free agents signed contracts that extended into 2014 – the danger zone for the Yankees:

PLAYER POS TEAM 1st YR of Deal YRS TOTAL
Albert Pujols 1B Angels 2012 10 $246.842MM
Prince Fielder 1B Tigers 2012 9 $214.000MM
Jose Reyes SS Marlins 2012 6 $106.000MM
Zack Greinke SP Dodgers 2013 6 $147.000MM
C.J. Wilson SP Angels 2012 5 $77.500MM
Anibal Sanchez SP Tigers 2013 5 $80.000MM
B.J. Upton CF Braves 2013 5 $75.000MM
Josh Hamilton OF Angels 2013 5 $125.000MM
CC Sabathia SP Yankees 2012 5 $122.000MM
Jonathan Papelbon RP Phillies 2012 4 $50.000MM
Mark Buehrle SP Marlins 2012 4 $58.000MM
Yoenis Cespedes OF Athletics 2012 4 $36.000MM
Michael Bourn CF Indians 2013 4 $48.000MM
Nick Swisher OF Indians 2013 4 $56.000MM
Angel Pagan CF Giants 2013 4 $40.000MM
Edwin Jackson SP Cubs 2013 4 $52.000MM
Josh Willingham OF Twins 2012 3 $21.000MM
Michael Cuddyer OF Rockies 2012 3 $31.500MM
Jimmy Rollins SS Phillies 2012 3 $38.000MM
Wei-Yin Chen SP Orioles 2012 3 $11.388MM
Heath Bell RP Marlins 2012 3 $27.000MM
Aramis Ramirez 3B Brewers 2012 3 $36.000MM
Jeremy Guthrie SP Royals 2013 3 $25.000MM
Jonathan Broxton RP Reds 2013 3 $21.000MM
Shane Victorino OF Red Sox 2013 3 $39.000MM
Kosuke Fukudome OF Japan 2013 3 $5.500MM
Jeremy Affeldt RP Giants 2013 3 $18.000MM
Marco Scutaro SS Giants 2013 3 $20.000MM
Brandon League RP Dodgers 2013 3 $22.500MM
Cody Ross OF Dbacks 2013 3 $26.000MM
Jeff Keppinger 2B White Sox 2013 3 $12.000MM
Randy Choate RP Cardinals 2013 3 $7.500MM
Kyle Lohse SP Brewers 2013 3 $33.000MM
Maicer Izturis SS Blue Jays 2013 3 $10.000MM
Kevin Correia SP Twins 2013 2 $10.000MM
Torii Hunter RF Tigers 2013 2 $26.000MM
Jack Hannahan 3B Reds 2013 2 $4.000MM
Ryan Ludwick LF Reds 2013 2 $15.000MM
Ryan Dempster SP Red Sox 2013 2 $26.500MM
Jake Peavy SP White Sox 2013 2 $29.000MM
Jonny Gomes LF Red Sox 2013 2 $10.000MM
David Ortiz DH Red Sox 2013 2 $26.000MM
David Ross C Red Sox 2013 2 $6.200MM
Joel Peralta RP Rays 2013 2 $6.000MM
Joakim Soria RP Rangers 2013 2 $8.000MM
Jason Grilli RP Pirates 2013 2 $6.750MM
Francisco Liriano SP Pirates 2013 2 $1.000MM
Russell Martin C Pirates 2013 2 $17.000MM
Mike Adams RP Phillies 2013 2 $12.000MM
Adam LaRoche 1B Nationals 2013 2 $24.000MM
Rafael Soriano RP Nationals 2013 2 $28.000MM
Hisashi Iwakuma SP Mariners 2013 2 $14.000MM
Brandon McCarthy SP Dbacks 2013 2 $15.500MM
Kyuji Fujikawa RP Cubs 2013 2 $9.200MM
Scott Hairston OF Cubs 2013 2 $5.000MM
Carlos Villanueva SP Cubs 2013 2 $10.000MM
Ty Wigginton 3B Cardinals 2013 2 $5.000MM
Tom Gorzelanny RP Brewers 2013 2 $5.700MM
Gerald Laird C Braves 2013 2 $3.300MM
Melky Cabrera LF Blue Jays 2013 2 $16.000MM
Hiroyuki Nakajima SS Athletics 2013 2 $6.500MM
Joe Blanton SP Angels 2013 2 $15.000MM
Sean Burnett RP Angels 2013 2 $8.000MM
Ichiro Suzuki RF Yankees 2013 2 $13.000MM

I have no idea what free agents the Yanks would have pursued, but we can predict, with some degree of certainty, that they would have signed more than just CC Sabathia and Ichiro Suzuki.

Some of the good players are rendered moot before we start. Derek Jeter erases Jose Reyes. Mark Teixeira eliminates Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. Mariano Rivera bumps off Papelbon. We can’t consider David Ortiz an actual option for DH, can we? Robinson Cano blocks second base and though Alex Rodriguez was mucking things up as usual, you’ll notice a distinct lack of free agent third basemen above. So if the Yankees were going to spend in 2011-2013, it was going to be on pitching, catching and the outfield.

Because there are five rotation spots and very rarely five starters who are both good and healthy at the same time, the starting rotation can always stand some sprucing up. Anibal Sanchez was available, affordable and miles better than anyone else the Yankees had at the back of the 2013 rotation. (Zack Greinke was also miles better than anyone the Yankees had, but he was neither as affordable nor as available, depending on what you believe about his interest in pitching half of his games in New York.) Other guys might have interesting names, but even with the benefit of hindsight, I can’t pick out obvious targets for the Yanks other than Sanchez and Greinke, two guys they didn’t even sniff around.

The bullpen, eh, I can’t find fault there. The Yankees employed Rivera, Robertson and Soriano during this time period and all of their bullpens were pretty good. It would be great if they landed a guy like Grilli or whatever, but throwing a lot of money at the bullpen is just not the best way to spend dough regardless of the overall agenda.

Catching was obviously a self-inflicted wound. The only good catcher on this list is Russell Martin and he was already a Yankee. The Yankees went with budget catching in 2013 and it contributed to them missing the Postseason.

The outfield is a pretty tough puzzle to solve because, like the rotation, there is almost always room for a new face. But the 2011 Yankees had a sweet outfield.  The 2012 outfield was also going to be very good, but Gardner could not stay healthy enough to play with Granderson and Swisher and Ibanez could not replace him. Enter Ichiro, who gave them some life in 2012 but drained all that and then some in a vampiric 2013 performance. And then, of course, Vernon Wells.

The decision to re-sign Ichiro after his 2012 stint was extremely damaging as he got a 2014 contract – the only other 2014 contract the Yankees handed out was to CC Sabathia. Obviously, the outfield needed help in 2013. But who was there that the Yankees would have employed?

Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton were busts of epic proportions. Imagine a scenario where Vernon Wells was preferable! That actually happened. But I guess the Yankees would have been in play for Hamilton. Maybe his addictions would have steered them clear, but I can’t be certain. For other proven Major Leaguers, it boils down to retaining Swisher or correctly predicting Victorino’s resurgence. Either upgrade would have been huge.

But proven Major Leaguers weren’t the only available players. As we have already discussed, international free agents such as Yoenis Cespedes as well as Yu Darvish and Yaisel Puig, remain the biggest misses for the Yankees during this time period. And the Yankees didn’t even swing. I didn’t even really notice the Iwakuma signing in Seattle, but I’d love to have him on the team. It’s possible that the Yankees didn’t think these players were any good, but it’s also possible that, with the failure of Kei Igawa fresh in their minds, they did not want to allocate any of their precious 2014 budget on relative unknowns - even if the upside was that they turned out to be bargains and enabled them to contend while pinching pennies.

On top of all this are the unexplored trades. Since the Yankees needed salary cleared for 2014, they had to be very careful about trade partners. Typical salary dumps became much more complicated or non-existant. We have no idea what kinds of trades might have been possible, but look at how they handled the Soriano trade. They gave up a prospect they liked in order to get the Cubs to pay more money.

The Yankees cut off several avenues of talent acquistion: they did not sign Major League free agents to 2014 contracts; they did not sign international free agents to 2014 contracts; and they did not trade for players with large 2014 contracts. When you turn the talent spigot off with such force, it’s requires a lot effort to turn it back on. Hence the rampant spending this year doesn’t even cover all the holes.

Without the 189 plan, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees being worse in 2013 than they actually were, but it’s also no sure thing they would have had a contender. The above list shows there were many pitfalls strewn about the jewels of free agency. They could just as easily be stuck with Josh Hamilton now as they could be enanmored with Anibal Sanchez.

When you think about the depth the 2013 Red Sox acquired via free agnecy, though, you can see that talent was available for those free to spend. In fact, the absence of Yankee dollars from the market probably played a role in driving that talent to Boston. Kind of like a black hole sucking Victorino, Napoli, Drew and Uehara through the Bronx and into a frightening dimension on the other side where they would become World Champions for the Red Sox.

So yeah, add Swisher and Martin back to the 2013 team because the Yankees failed to replace them and maybe they win the Wild Card. But then subtract Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran from the 2014 Yankees. I don’t see a clear choice there.

But a Yankee team in 2013 with Darvish, Cespedes or Puig in addition to Swisher and Martin? And maybe they found the needle in the haystack with Sanchez and blocked Uehara or Victorino from signing with the Sox? Oh well, they probably would have all wound up on the DL together anyway.

In Limbo

Today the Yankees agreed to contracts with all of their remaining arbitration-eligible players. Their projected payroll, based on the 25-man roster using league minimum players to fill in wherever there is not an obvious starter, is now at about $188 million dollars.

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Masahiro Tanaka appears to be a player the Yankees want desperately. Will they break their backs for him? Ponder this current roster this weekend and do whatever kind of dance you need to do to help the Yankees land Tanaka.

If they do, they’ll have no chance at shrinking the payroll enough this season to fit the original austerity plan and they’ll be free to sign more bullpen and rotation depth and to try to upgrade second and third base through trades. But if they don’t sign Tanaka…

Can you imagine them stepping over the $189 million threshold for Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana or anyone else that’s currently available? The Yankees have been crash-dieting ever since 2011. Masahiro Tanaka is the diet-breaker – the butter-soaked porterhouse. These other guys aren’t even Kit-Kats.

New York Minute

subway lions

A New York City Safari - lions on the inside.

Hall of Mirrors

So this Hall of Fame vote is going to be a train wreck and there’s nothing that can be done about that. It’s too bad, because players that deserve a fair discussion aren’t going to get one with the stable of candidates bulging with elite players who may have used setroids.

This problem gets personal for us as Bernie Williams has already been dumped from the ballot while Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and probably Mike Mussina are likely to encounter similar ignorance. Of course Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera won’t be largely delayed, but looking down the road doesn’t promise a smooth path for any player who isn’t a certified member of the G.O.A.T. club, certified “clean” division.

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Of course the glow of the anointed warms a body for a spell, but the Madduxes, Jeters and Riveras can’t boil the blood like the Morrises and Posadas. And those raucous debates are being pushed to the margins by the glut of all-time talents with steroid taint.

This is a shame because Hall of Fame is a great place for Yankees and their fans, and that debate around each election is especially fun when Yankees are involved. Moreso, reflecting the Hall of Fame back on Yankee history is a favorite diversion. One barely has to squint to assemble entire rosters of Yankees related to the Hall of Fame.

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ALL TIME GREAT YANKEE HOFers

Infield: Yogi Berra, C; Lou Gehrig, 1B; Joe Gordon 2B; Tony Lazzeri, 3B; Phil Rizzuto SS

(Lazzeri has to shift to 3B to fill out the infield. He played 166 games there over eight seasons, so it’s not crazy.)

Outfield: Mickey Mantle, LF; Joe DiMaggio CF; Babe Ruth RF

Bench: Reggie Jackson, OF; Dave Winfield OF, Earl Combs OF, Bill Dickey C

(I guess Reggie could be a starter on the team below, but I prefer him here.)

Rotation: Whitey Ford, Red Ruffing, Lefty Gomez, Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Jack Chesbro

Relief Ace: Rich Gossage

Of course, Rizzuto is just warming Jeter’s spot and the Goose is about to get some help in the bullpen. Absurdly stacked lineup, but the back-end of the pitching plumbs the depths of HOF standards. 

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PART TIME YANKEE HOFers

Infield: Frank Chance, C; Johnny Mize, 1B; Home Run Baker, 2B; Wade Boggs, 3B; Joe Sewell, SS

(Here we have to take some liberties. Frank Chance didn’t become part of a famous poem hiding behind catcher’s gear. Nevertheless, he did play 187 games there, just none for the Yanks. Home Run Baker never played second base, but the defensive spectrum may have been inverted back then and he probably could have hacked it at second better than Boggs. And Sewell made it into the HOF for his days at short, but he only played third base for the Yankees.)

Outfield: Wee Willie Keeler, LF; Rickey Henderson, CF; Enos Slaughter, RF

Bench: Paul Waner OF, Leo Durocher IF

Rotation: Catfish Hunter, Phil Niekro, Clark Griffith, Gaylord Perry, Stan Kovaleski, Burleigh Grimes, Dazzy Vance

This is a fun team because all of the starting position players save Frank Chance made real contributions to the Yankees. Six of the eight players fit easily within the top 200 Yankees and even Enos Slaughter was around to play in 15 World Series games and notch a salami against the Dodgers in ’56. The pitchers beyond Hunter and Niekro were just passing through. 

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NOT QUITE HOFers

Infield: Thurman Munson, C; Don Mattingly, 1B; Willie Randolph, 2B; Frankie Crosetti, SS

(Crosetti is probably too far away from the HOF to make this team, but we need a SS.)

Outfield: Charlie Keller, LF; Bernie Williams, CF; Tommy Henrich, RF

(I know there are no campaigns to elect Keller and Henrich, but they lost a lot of playing time to WW2, so let’s give them a boost.)

Bench: Roy White, OF; Elston Howard, C; Gil McDougald IF

(I remember reading Bill James entry on McDougald, something like “McDougald could have been a Hall of Famer elsewhere, but he was fated to be a Yankee,” and feeling McDougald got the better fate. I think that’s what James meant, too.) 

Rotation: Ron Guidry, David Cone, Tommy John, Allie Reynolds

Bernie Williams and Willie Randolph are interesting cases to compare. Both up-the-middle All Stars on fantastic teams. Both highly respected indivduals. And if they could flip-flop in the timestream, they might both be in the Hall of Fame.

Bernie has several HOFesque hitting seasons, albeit without the career counting stats. He has the memorable postseason moments that sometimes rate. There was nobody out there taking up Bernie’s flag and he dropped off the ballot in his second time around.

Bernie had little support because the defensive statistics currently favored by the cognescenti show him to be among the worst fielding centerfielders of all time. And certainly at the end of his career, he was clearly pretty bad out there. So the group most likely to support him (the SABR people who, in the very recent past, would have placed extremely high value on the excellent-hitting center fielder of a dynasty team) wanted nothing do with him. The mouth breathers looking for 3000 and 500 wouldn’t touch him. And most of the bloggers aren’t exaclty weeping on their keyboards to see a beloved Yankee get kicked to the curb. He deserved better, even if he didn’t get ultimately get in. 

Willie Randolph came up for election in 1998, a year when 11 second basemen hit double digit home runs. Randolph was an excellent player, whose speed and abilty to take a walk combined with his defense at second made him a central figure for perenially contending and occaisionally triumphant Yankee teams. He received 1.1% of the vote and was dropped in his first year.

I don’t remember any discussion of his candidacy at all, though admittedly, I wasn’t paying close attention. Now the same fielding statistics that reduce Bernie Williams to an after-thought elevate Randolph to a very credible Hall of Famer. Randolph’s career fWAR (62) is wedged right between Roberto Alomar’s and Ryne Sandberg’s. Today, Willie Randolph would be given a much longer look than he was in 1998, even if the result were the same.

This rotation may be getting jammed up soon. David Cone suffers from the same issue that dogs many of the star pitchers of the recent era – when hitting stats skyrocket, pitching stats suffer. It’s hard to get your ERA under 3.00 when the league is scoring almost 6 runs a game. Pettitte and Mussina may be on the way to keep Coney company.

And of course we have players whose careers have been truncated by tragedy, segregation, WW2, and injury. Howard battled segregration AND had to serve in the military before he could start his career. Keller lost possibly his two best years to service (his 27 & 28 year-old seasons) and then his back finished him at 30. Mattingly fell apart at 29! This team may not have the all-timers, but I get the sense these players receive the most love from the fans (Munson over Reggie, Mattingly and Randolph over Winfield and Henderson, Cone over Clemens, Bernie over Jeter.)

JORGE POSADA

FUTURE YANKEE HOFers?

Infield: Jorge Posada, C; Mark Teixeira, 1B; Robinson Cano, 2B; Alex Rodriguez, 3B; Derek Jeter, SS

Outfield: Tim Raines, LF; Ichiro Suzuki, CF; Gary Sheffield, RF

Bench: Jason Giambi, 1B; Carlos Beltran OF; Bobby Abreu OF; Johnny Damon, OF; Andruw Jones, OF

Rotation: Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte

Relief Ace: Mariano Rivera

Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia have a lot of work to do, and both took turns in their careers recently that bear monitoring, so let’s leave them alone. Mark Teixeira is nowhere near the Hall of Fame and is falling further away with every pop-out and popped tendon sheath. Jason Giambi also is not getting into the Hall of Fame on merit. I also skirted over guys like Lance Berkman and Pudge Rodriguez who didn’t even play a full season with the Yankees.

So then let’s break this down (ignoring steroids) into those that are clearly in and those that will cause a debate. Rivera, Jeter, Clemens, Arod, Unit, and Ichiro are well above any statistical line voters can draw. Posada, Raines, Sheffield, Beltran, Abreu, Damon, Jones, Mussina and Pettitte are not necessarily.

I eyeball this as Posada, Raines, Sheffield, Beltran, and Mussina are HOFers. Abreu, Damon, and Pettitte are not. Jones probably is, but I just don’t understand defensive statistics well enough and his hitting doesn’t get him there alone. (I expect Raines, Beltran and Mussina to actually get in.)

The future team would be a helluva a lot more fun to contemplate if Robinson Cano were still around. Maybe Brian McCann gets back to an All-Star-level and his strict adherence to baseball etiquette eventually puts him over the top. Otherwise, hope the Alabama Hammer puts nails in the ninth inning for a decade or so, because it’s about to get lonely on this squad.

The Hall of Fame is a cool place to visit. I went there three times from the ages 12 to 18, but then I haven’t been back in 20 years. So even for big time patrons, it exists mostly as a topic to argued over in the winter before spring training starts. To me, that dwarfs the problem of Barry’s plaque – which I may or may not ever see even if ever gets one. We are losing the chance to discuss Jorge Posada’s piss-stained hands until we are pinstriped in the face. And over the years, that’s become the most popular wing of the museum.

Duke & Duke & Arod

A few weeks ago, the Yankees were signing everybody in sight and the idea of operating this offseason in shackles imposed by the 189-constraint seemed like the forgotten details of a bad dream.

Yay, money!

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Then they didn’t sign anyone expensive to play second base nor to compete for the closer/8th-inning job. They haven’t filled in the vacancies in the rotation. They sit, on December 20th, with a prospective payroll of about $213 million for 2014. But of course, that includes $27.5 million slotted for Alex Rodriguez. In fact, if Alex Rodriguez plays a full season, he’ll cost $33.5 million because he’ll pass Willie Mays on the homer list, so really they are looking at $219 million.

And what’s $219 million minus $33.5 million? $185.5 million. Snugly under the 189-constraint. We’re back to this shit again, just in time for the holiday.

Is it possible that the Yankees front office has been given the following program to run:

Step 1) Assume Alex Rodriguez is suspended for the entire 2014 season.

Step 2) Spend right up to $189 million

Step 3) Wait to find out if Alex Rodriguez is suspended for the entire 2014 season.

Step 4) If suspension upheld, keep payroll as is and proceed to spring training.

Step 4A) If suspension overturned, TURN THOSE MACHINES BACK ON!

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Unfortunatley, if that’s the plan, just as Randolph and Mortimer Duke found out, it’s probably too late. The price the Yankees will pay for waiting this long is at least a crappy second baseman. And what happens if the starting pitchers don’t wait for them?

The 189 plan screwed up the 2013 team. And looking over at second base, it’s hard to say it won’t impact 2014 as well. We won’t know for sure what they’re going to do until they do it.

But ladies and gentlemen, if this is your 2014 Yankees, yeesh.

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.

***

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.

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