"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Staff

The Ghost of Phenoms Past

Whenever I think of Homer Bailey, I’m reminded of how treacherous it is to anoint a pitching prospect as a future star. Sure, things worked out with Clayton Kershaw, but we don’t have to look beyond our own backyard to remember the trials and tribulations of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. According to Baseball Prospectus, the top five pitching prospects in 2008 were Clay Buchholz, Joba Chamberlain, Clayton Kershaw, David Price, and Homer Bailey. That group has produced a first-ballot Hall of Famer, an occasional All-Star, a middle of the rotation innings-eater, a flash in the pan, and Bailey.

Homer’s had a nice career, if you allow that any eleven-year stint in the major leagues is a nice career, but he appears to be nearing the end of the road. He’s only made six starts this year, but they’ve been forgettable. In 27.1 innings he’s allowed 26 runs (I’ll spare him the embarrassment of calculating that ERA) along with 43 hits and 13 walks. He did manage two wins in his first two starts of July, allowing a total of two runs over 12.1 innings, but his last two starts have been abject disasters — 14 runs in 4.2 innings. (That sound you hear in the background is Gary Sánchez starting up the Score Truck.)

It seems perfect that the Yankees have their own phenom on the mound today. Luís Severino has been exactly what you’d expect from a young pitcher with a huge future. He hasn’t been Dwight Gooden, but no one has, really. There have been bumps in the road, but in general he seems to be getting better over the course of the season. At his worst he tends to lose focus and make mistakes; at his best he is virtually unhittable, carrying his 100-MPH velocity deep into his starts. His spot in the rotation is the one that I look forward to the most. Each dominant outing pushes my memories of the misguided handling of Hughes and Chamberlain deeper into my subconscious. Severino will be a star.

All of this, of course, points to a huge win and a series sweep for the Yankees, so relax and enjoy!

As Alex would say, Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Gardner, LF
C. Frazier, RF
Sánchez, C
Holliday, DH
Gregorius, SS
Headley, 1B
Triple Play Frazier, 3B
Ellsbury, CF
Torreyes, 2B

Severino (6-4, 120.2 IP, 136 K, 30 BB, 104 H, 3.21 ERA, 1.11 WHIP)

Wrestling with the Reds

When I think of the Cincinnati Reds, I will always and forever think back to the Big Red Machine of the 1970s. I’m not old enough to remember watching those teams, but after a fortuitous trip to Yankee Stadium when I was seven years old transformed me into a Yankee fan for life, I vividly remember flipping through a pack of baseball cards and painfully reading about the Yankees’ sweep the previous year at the hands of the Reds in the 1976 World Series. Sure, that was decades ago, and the Reds have since given us players like Paul O’Neill and Aroldis Chapman, but the little boy in me still holds that grudge.

Tonight the Reds come in to town for a brief two-game series. It would behoove the Yankees to win both games, because these Reds aren’t big, and they aren’t a machine. Only three teams in baseball have worse records than Cincinnati, and if it weren’t for Scooter Gennett’s four-homer game from a few weeks ago or the trade rumors surrounding shortstop Zack Cozart, they’d be completely irrelevant.

Our young Jordan Montgomery takes the mound against the equally young Luís Castillo. The Yankees have historically struggled against rookie pitchers (Castillo will be making just his seventh career start), but hopefully that won’t be case tonight. Perhaps the Score Truck will even make an appearance. As Alex would say, “Let’s Go Yank-ees!”

Gardner, CF
C. Frazier, LF
Judge, RF
Holliday, DH
Gregorius, SS
Headley, 1B
T. Frazier, 3B
Wade, 2B
Romine, C

Montgomery (6-5, 101.1 IP, 93 K, 32 BB, 4.09 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .247/.305/.413)

The Little Things

The Yankees have had lots of disappointing losses over the past six weeks, so many that after a while it became pointless to label one or another as the “worst loss of the season.” Saturday night’s game in Seattle certainly doesn’t fit into that category, but I’m certain that several different Yankees went to bed wondering about what might have been, about all the small ripples that could’ve bent this game in New York’s favor.

Things begin nicely enough with a run in the second, but the manner in which the run came across is a bit troubling. Todd Frazier may have been acquired more to keep him from the Red Sox than for any benefit he may give the Yankees – so far that benefit is minimal – but he’s been struggling. He came to the plate in the second inning with no one out and runners on first and second, and wasted little time in killing the rally. After swinging through two pitches to dig an 0-2 hole, he bounced into a 5-4-3 double play. The run scored, but a big opportunity was missed. Todd Frazier likely did not sleep well last night.

Masahiro “Box of Chocolates” Tanaka was on the mound for the Yankees, and after two uneventful innings, things unravelled for him in the third. Mike Zunino led off the inning with a homer to tie the game at one, and two batters later Ben Gamel whacked a dinger of his own to give the Mariners a 2-1 lead. Tanaka rebounded by striking out Robinson Canó for the second out, but then there was an infield single by Nelson Crúz, a splitter that landed on Kyle Seager’s foot, and then consecutive RBI singles from Danny Valencia and Mitch Haniger. Tanaka threw 39 pitches and allowed four runs in the inning, adding to the confusion which swirls around the most enigmatic pitcher on the Yankee staff.

But then things got even more confusing for Tanaka. He set down the side in the fourth on just six pitches, then did the same in the fifth with only eight. He had to work just a bit harder in the sixth, but he still managed a one-two-three inning on thirteen pitches. If you happened to duck away from the game for some reason during the third inning, you probably think Tanaka had a brilliant outing, and except for that third inning he did. In his other five innings he faced just seventeen batters and allowed only two singles. In that fateful third frame, however, the Mariners sent all nine batters to the plate and produced three singles, two homers, and a hit batsman. Were it not for that inning, this would’ve been an easy win for the Yankees. Masahiro Tanaka likely did not sleep well last night.

After Tanaka righted the ship, the Yankee batters began to chip away at Seattle’s Ariel Miranda. They cut the lead to 4-2 in the fifth inning when Garrett Cooper tripled and came home on a sacrifice fly from Ronald Torreyes, and Aaron Judge lofted a ho-hum homer to right to make it 4-3 in the sixth.

In the eighth, another opportunity was missed. Brett Gardner singled with one out, bringing up Clint Frazier. (Yesterday, by the way, I campaigned for Frazier to continue playing over Jacoby Ellsbury; I can only assume that Girardi reads the Banter, because before Saturday’s game, the manager said he’d continue to play the youngster, and revealed he’d explained this to Ellsbury.)

Frazier looked at the first pitch he saw from Seattle reliever and former Yankee David Phelps and hit a laser that looked like it might make its way into the stands in left field. Instead the ball hit the yellow line that marks the top of the wall and fell to the turf for a double that pushed Gardner to third. Only two inches, perhaps, separated the Yankees from a 5-4 lead, but they’d at least get the tying run two batters later when Matt Holliday came up with the bases loaded and produced a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Gardner and moving Frazier to third.

Next up was Gary Sánchez. Last year’s phenom hasn’t matched the obscene numbers from his rookie campaign, but it could be because he seems to hit rockets into fielders’ gloves at least once or twice a game. Batting with two out and runners at the corners here in the eighth, he did it again. He sampled a 2-0 pitch and sent a rope out to right field that seemed certain to be an RBI single (or perhaps more), only to watch Haniger race in to snare it for the final out of the inning. An inch here or there and this would’ve been a huge inning. Clint Frazier and Gary Sánchez likely did not sleep well last night.

As the game moved into the bottom of the eighth, all signs seemed to favor the Yankees. With a relatively fresh holster of flame-throwing relievers, Girardi would be able to bring one in after another, casually putting zeroes up on the scoreboard as confidently as a riverboat gambler laying aces on the table. All he’d have to do was wait for the Yankee offense to scratch out another run before playing his final card and securing the win, right?

That idea lasted about thirty seconds. Fresh off Friday night’s dominant performance, David Robertson came in to face Canó as he led off the eighth. Robertson put a fastball exactly where he wanted it – at the knees and on the black – a perfect pitch that would’ve crippled any ordinary left-handed batter, producing a ground ball to second if he swung or an 0-1 count if he didn’t. Robinson Canó, however, is no ordinary hitter. He reached out across the plate with his smooth-as-molasses swing and served the ball out to left field. The ball carried deep and deeper until it finally settled into the stands for a home run and a 5-4 Seattle lead.

After following the path of the ball into the bleachers, Robertson immediately snapped his head back towards Sánchez in disbelief. The replay of Canó’s swing showed Sánchez equally surprised, turning his empty glove and his bare hand up to the heavens in the universal symbol for “what the hell just happened?” Robertson easily mowed through the next three batters, but the two continued discussing the pitch as soon as they got to the dugout. Afterwards Robertson admitted that he had put the pitch exactly where he wanted, but acknowledged he had simply been beaten by a great hitter. David Robertson likely did not sleep well last night.

So after scraping their way back into the game and looking poised to win, the Yankees were suddenly three outs away from defeat. Didi Gregorious led off the ninth with a walk, but when Todd Frazier fouled out, dropping his average to a lusty .201, and Chase Headley (batting for Cooper) flied out to center, the Yanks were down to their final out, and this is when the gears started turning.

Ronald Torreyes was headed to the plate, and Girardi could’ve pinch hit Ellsbury, but instead he chose to use Ellsbury to run for Gregorious, explaining afterwards that he felt like he needed to steal a base. I suppose the marginal upgrade in that spot outweighed what would be (sadly) a similarly marginal upgrade had he hit for Torreyes.

You probably already know that it worked out, and Torreyes drove in the tying run, but unless you were watching you don’t know how it happened. Torreyes, naturally, fell into an 0-2 hole, putting the Yankees even deeper into the jaws of defeat, but when Ellsbury stole second on the next pitch, suddenly there was a glimmer of hope. On a 1-2 count, Seattle closer Edwin Díaz threw a slider that darted away from Torreyes and into the opposite batter’s box. Having already committed to his swing before realizing he couldn’t possibly reach the pitch, Torreyes did the only thing he could do; he threw his bat at the ball, barely clipping it to stay alive. The bat came to rest just behind the pitcher’s mound, and Díaz politely retrieved it for him, only to have his next pitch rudely laced into left field, easily scoring Ellsbury with the tying run.

The bottom of the ninth inning was interesting for two reasons. First, all of Girardi’s maneuvering had left him with a makeshift infield: Todd Frazier was still at third, but Torreyes had moved over to short, Headley was placed at second for the first time in his major league career, and Austin Romine came in to play first. (Part of the problem was that Starlin Castro had been put on the disabled list earlier in the day, and his replacement, Tyler Wade, hadn’t been able to get to Seattle in time for the game; the Yankees were playing a man short.) The second interesting thing was Tommy Kahnle, who continues to be dominant. Guillermo Heredia reached on a hit by pitch (the play was upheld by review, but I still don’t believe the ball hit him), but Kahnle struck out the other three hitters he faced, something I think we’ll see a lot of over the course of the summer.

Home plate umpire Pat Hoberg decided to insert himself into the game during the tenth inning, and a disgruntled Yankee fan could easily argue that Hoberg decided the game. Clint Frazier led off the tenth against Tony Zych and worked his way into a 2-2 count. The next pitch came in low, probably an inch or two below the knees, but Hoberg saw it as a strike, and Frazier returned to the bench. Judge was up next and pushed the count full before taking a pitch and immediately tossing his bat back towards the Yankee dugout. He had taken three steps towards first before Hoberg rung him up for strike three. Perhaps more than any Yankee, Judge has a firm understanding of the strike zone, and this pitch was a clear ball, even a touch lower than the one which had victimized Frazier. So instead of having runners on first and second with no one out in the top of the tenth, the bases were empty with two outs. Holliday followed all that with a grounder to short, and the inning was done.

Adam Warren came in for the bottom of the tenth and was promptly touched for a loud double by Ben Gamel, and suddenly the game was there for Seattle’s taking. After an intentional walk to Canó, Nelson Crúz stepped to the plate looking to be the hero. The real hero, though, would be Hoberg. With the count 1-1, Warren threw a pitch at the knees, a pitch that appeared to be even a hair or two higher than the strikes to Frazier and Judge, but Hoberg didn’t flinch. He saw it low, and Gary Sánchez wasn’t happy about it. His body slumped in disbelief when he didn’t get the call, and he turned his head to bark at Hoberg twice before returning the ball to Warren. Still not satisfied, he got up from his crouch and said a few more words before finally sitting back down. I’d like to think that Hoberg gave him some leeway because he knew he had missed the call.

Ten seconds later the game was over. Swinging aggressively at a 2-1 pitch (instead of defensively, had the count been 1-2), Crúz lashed a single to right, and Gamel scored easily. Mariners 6, Yankees 5. I’d like to think that Pat Hoberg did not sleep well last night, but I’m guessing he probably slept like a baby.

If Friday night’s game was the blueprint for future success, Saturday night was the ghost of failures past. It was the fifth time the Yankees had been walked off, something that happened only four times last year, and it lowered their mark in one-run games to an abysmal 9-19.

The good news, of course, is that tomorrow is another day and another chance to win the series. It won’t be the most important game of their season, but it’s certainly a big one. Don’t worry, though, I feel a victory coming on, as likely as hot coffee on a rainy day in Seattle.

The Face of Things to Come

If the Yankees are going to track down the Red Sox and make a push towards more meaningful games in September and October, Friday night’s game in Seattle will serve as the blueprint, starting with the pitching.

After Luís Severino set the tone in the series opener and laid to rest any thoughts that he might not be the Yankees’ ace, the elder statesman of the staff came out and reminded fans that he’s far from done. CC Sabathia has battled well-publicized issues on and off the field over the past few years, so this season has been something of a revelation. He pitched to a 4.54 ERA from 2013-16, but on his 37th birthday, Carsten Charles earned his ninth win (matching his nine wins in 2016 and his total from ’14 and ’15) and lowered his ERA to 3.44.

In the first inning, however, it didn’t look like Sabathia would be in the mood to celebrate anything at night’s end. The first two batters went down harmlessly enough, but Robinson Canó singled and went to third on a booming single off the bat of Nelson Crúz. (How Crúz could end up at first after hitting a ball to the base of the wall is completely beyond me. Cadillac much?)

Sabathia did his best to get out of the jam by getting a ground ball from Kyle Seager that should’ve ended the inning were it not for the inexperience of Chad Headley at first base. The ball was hit hard to Headley’s right, but instead of leaving the ball for Starlin Castro, who was pulled over and deep in a shift for Seager, Headley took a dive and missed. When Castro fielded the ball easily, Headly had to scurry back to first to take the throw on the run while searching for the bag with his foot, something he’s likely never done at third base. He missed the bag, and the Mariners had a 1-0 lead.

Seattle had Andrew Moore on the mound, and in the third inning the Yankees began to take his measure. It was the bottom of the lineup that started things off. Headley set about redeeming his earlier misplay with a leadoff double to center, then came home on rocketed double to right center off the bat of Clint Frazier. A quick word about Frazier – there’s no way this kid should be going anywhere. Whether you want to believe the numbers or what you see with your eyes, he has the résumé of a major league ball player. In addition to this RBI double, he also produced a diving catch in left that would fit comfortably on any outfielder’s highlight reel. I understand that Jacoby Ellsbury is making roughly forty times Frazier’s salary, but is there anyone out there who thinks Ellsbury is the better player? Anyone?

But back to our game. That Frazier double tied the game at one, and after a fly out from Brett Gardner and a walk to Gary Sánchez, Aaron Judge came to the plate with runners at the corners. Judge got a good pitch to hit from Moore, but he just missed squaring it up – and lofted a sac fly to the wall in center field. It was 2-1, Yanks, but there would be more from Judge later on.

Sabathia, meanwhile, was fighting through his start. He wouldn’t allow a run after that first inning, but there was a loud double from Ben Gamel in the second, and then a walk and a hit batsman in the third. It wasn’t easy, but then suddenly it was. After hitting Seager, Sabathia coasted through the next eight batters, striking out four of them.

Normally, that would be the story of the game, but Aaron Judge simply isn’t normal. Judge came to the plate in the fifth inning with one out and runners on first and third and watched the first two pitches sail outside the zone. He fouled off a 2-0 fastball and was clearly frustrated that he had missed his pitch, possibly also frustrated that it had been ten games since his last home run.

He didn’t miss the next pitch. Moore left a slider up around the belt and on the inside half of the plate, and Judge hit a ball as hard and as far as any he hit during last week’s Home Run Derby. Everyone in the park knew it was gone immediately, so Judge took a glance towards left field during his followthrough, but his head was down before leaving the batter’s box, and he didn’t look up again until rounding first, long after the ball had been caught by a fan in the upper reaches of the upper deck. Another ten feet and it would’ve left the stadium, a feat not accomplished in the eleven-year history of Safeco Field.

How prodigious was this home run? It was too big for Statcast, which couldn’t track the blast. (The Twitterverse ate this up, by the way.) With no high-tech data, people were forced to do it the old-fashioned way, with Mariners’ PR people offering a ludicrous estimate of 415 feet before someone, somewhere, settled on 437, a guess which calls to mind our President’s estimates of his Inauguration crowd.

But as many have said, it’s probably better this way. The Legend of Judge grew a few sizes on Friday night, and on Saturday people will take selfies in the seat where the ball landed and an intern will no doubt be dispatched with a tape measure, just like the days of Jimmy Foxx and Mickey Mantle.

Oh, and another thing – don’t worry too much about Judge and his second-half slump. The big fella appears to be just fine.

The scoring was done for the night, thanks mostly to the Yankee bullpen. Sabathia walked the leadoff batter in the sixth inning, and Joe Girardi didn’t hesitate, jumping at the chance to unwrap the back end of his bullpen, gifts that just keep on giving. First up was Tommy Kanhle, who touched 100MPH on the gun while setting down all three batters he faced, and then David Robertson and his high socks took the seventh and struck out the side. (Welcome back!)

Dellin Betances had the eighth and worked around a double and a single before giving way to Adam Warren who faced just three batters in the ninth. In total, the bullpen logged four innings and struck out six while yielding just three hits.

So this 5-1 Yankee win is the blueprint for how the team might climb over the Red Sox and back into the division lead. Of course, before we start thinking about division flags and playoff rotations, these Yankees have to win a series, something they haven’t done since early June. This is the time.

Out of the Wilderness

Sevy

My son and I went to see the Yankees play in nearby Anaheim on the night of June 12, and it couldn’t have been better. Angels Stadium was overrun with Yankee fans, a boisterous group who came to praise Aaron Judge and bury the past few seasons of Yankee mediocrity. All of us got what we came for as Judge launched a homer to put the game away (eliciting chants of M!V!P!, right there in Mike Trout’s house) and the Bombers won their fifth straight game, reaching a high-water mark for the season at 38-23.

What’s happened since has been well documented. The seven-game losing streak that began on June 13 was just a taste of the slide yet to come. The Yankees have won neither a series nor consecutive games since then, wandering through the wilderness on a 10-22 streak that threatens to erase all the hard work and good fortune of April and May, and eliminate any hope for October.

Thank the Ghosts for Luís Severino. Feel free to fall in love with Aaron Judge if you haven’t already, keep holding that torch for Gary Sánchez, and lament all you want about Clint Frazier’s impending demotion, but Severino deserves as much hype as those three. (The next Core Four? Dare we dream so big so soon?)

Severino opposed the Mariners’ Felix Hernández, who is somehow already 31, and the two of them traded zeroes through the game’s first five innings. The Yankee hitters offered little resistance, earning just a second-inning walk, a third-inning single, and a walk that produced a fourth-inning double play. Early on, it was just another one of those games where you sat wondering how they’d ever manage to score.

Thinks weren’t quite that easy for Severino, but he rose to the occasion when challenged, aided by a fastball that’s rapidly become one of the best weapons in the league. (By the way, here’s an interesting article in which Tom Verducci explains that even though Yankee pitchers have the highest average velocity on their fastballs, no staff in baseball throws as few fastballs as they do, a trend that seems to be spreading throughout baseball.) But back to Severino. He blazed a 99-MPH fastball past Kyle Seager with runners on first and second to end the first, induced a pop-up from Mike Zunino to end the second with a runner on third, and wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth by victimizing Jean Segura, showcasing 100-MPH heat just off the plate before using a curve to induce a feeble ground ball to short.

The spell was finally broken in the top of the sixth. Five minutes before midnight Eastern Stadium Time, Brett Gardner crushed King Felix’s ninetieth pitch, launching it deep into the Seattle night for a 1-0 Yankee lead. It still seems odd to see Gardner hitting no-doubters, as he occasionally does, but that’s what this was. Hernández was cursing himself before finishing his follow-through, Gardner was in his home run trot just a step out of the batter’s box, and Robinson Canó immediately began examining the dirt between his feet at second base. No doubt.

But would that single run be enough? Severino came back out and immediately took the game by the throat, retiring the Mariners on ten dominant pitches in the sixth and just eleven in the seventh. How good has Severino been lately? In his last two starts, opposing Chris Sale in Boston and King Felix in Seattle, his numbers are impressive: 14 IP/12 H/1 R/3 BB/12 K/1.07 WHIP/0.64 ERA. The Yankees may be sliding, but Severino is riding a personal three-game winning streak.

In the top of the eighth the Yankee hitters scratched out another run, but that single run should’ve been so much more. Aaron Judge found himself at the plate with the bases loaded and only one out, and I found myself irrationally hoping for a grand slam that would ice the game and soothe any concerns about Judge’s current slide. Instead it was a soft liner into right that moved everyone along ninety feet. If it were a fish you wouldn’t throw it back, but you wouldn’t mount it on the wall either. Matt Holiday came up next and grounded into a third-to-first double play, and the inning was over. (Side Note #1: Seattle’s Tony Zych faced the final three batters of that inning, and to confirm what you’re wondering, I looked it up. Assuming they still publish a hard copy of The Baseball Encyclopedia, Zych would be on the very last page. Side Note #2: On the first page of that volume you’ll find one-time Seattle pitcher David Aardsma, meaning that the Mariners are the alpha and omega of Major League Baseball. Kind of.)

Severino had thrown an easy 100 pitches over seven frames, and even though it might’ve been nice to send him out for the bottom of the eighth and squeeze another inning out of him, it seemed the perfect time for Joe Girardi to take advantage of his shiny new bullpen (The Embarrassment of Pitches?). I expected to see our old friend David Robertson in the eighth inning role, but Delin Betances came in instead. Even though the boxscore makes it look like he struggled, it wasn’t that serious. Sure, the hit by pitch was concerning, but the single that followed was just a harmless ground ball that found its way between Castro and Headley, and were it not for a botched double play, the inning could’ve been over a batter earlier than it was. (It also could’ve been much worse; that botched double play went to review, and I was ready for them to rule that Castro hadn’t actually secured the (wild) throw from Betances and put the runner back on second, loading the bases with just one out, but the ruling came down in favor of the Yankees.) The inning ended uneventfully.

Even after Double Agent Cano gift-wrapped two runs with a throwing error in top of the ninth, doubling the Yankee lead to 4-0, Girardi still sent Aroldis Chapman out to pitch the ninth, no doubt hoping to get his closer straightened out. That didn’t happen. If you weren’t watching, you still know exactly what it looked like. The fastball was live, but there was no control. He walked Mike Zunino to lead things off, then two pitches later he missed his target by about four feet, blazing a fastball past a lunging Sánchez for a wild pitch that sent Zunino to second. Chapman recovered to strike out Jean Segura and Ben Gamel, but it took 14 pitches for him to slog through those two at bats, and it didn’t seem that much had been straightened out. Due next was Canó, who reached to his shoes to slash at a slider and lace a double to the gap in right center, driving in a run and shrewdly maintaining his cover. The next batter popped up harmlessly to the right side, and the game was done. Yankees 4, Mariners 1.

Ah, but tomorrow night brings the question the Yankees haven’t been able to answer since that night in Anaheim more than five weeks ago. Can they win two games in a row? Tomorrow night they will. Book it.

A Day to Remember, A Moment to Forget

Fowler

Imagine for just a minute that you’re Dustin Fowler. As the 2017 season unfolds, you watch as one of your former minor league teammates becomes the biggest star in baseball, and as spring ripens into summer, one prospect after another climbs through the ranks and debuts in New York. Undaunted, you continue to grind at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, putting together a season that turns heads and has many observers wondering when you might join the rest of the Baby Bombers at the major league level.

In late June your hard work pays off. On Wednesday night your manager pulls you aside and tells you that tomorrow will be your day. Instead of riding the team bus to Thursday night’s game in Syracuse, you’ll be hopping a plane to Chicago and the major leagues. To make the day even more special, you get word on Thursday afternoon that you’ve been named an International League All-Star. For a moment you wonder about the league All Star Game, but it only takes seconds before you realize that you’d trade twenty minor league all star games for just one game in the show.

Your parents can’t make it to Chicago for the game, but when you arrive at the stadium and see your road jersey hanging in a locker marked “Fowler,” your parents are the only thing you can think of. Just as it still is for millions of kids across America, your baseball journey began with your parents. Games of catch with your father in the waning twilight after work, countless rides to practice and games, rolls of quarters and trips to the batting cages, and on and on and on. Because they were there then, you are here now.

It doesn’t take long for the media to find you during warm ups, and you answer different versions of the same question with different versions of the same answer. “It’s hard to put into words how excited I am,” you explain, “but it’s great to be here. It’s what I’ve worked for my whole life, and I’m just excited to get my career started.”

Before you know it the game arrives. A two hour and fifty minute rain delay does nothing to dampen your spirits, and when you sprint onto the field to take your position in right field before the bottom of the first inning, you float. After two quick outs Jose Abreu flicks a fly ball in your direction down the right field line. You take off after the ball in a flash, just as you’ve tracked thousands upon thousands of fly balls. There’s no thought, only reaction laced with twenty-two-year-old adrenaline, and before you know it the stands are rushing towards you far faster than they should. The ball you’ve been chasing curls harmlessly into the seats just as your body slams into the restraining wall. You’ll shake it off like you’ve shaken off so many bumps and bruises, but then your right foot hits the ground and you collapse in a heap.

Before you realize what’s happening, you’re surrounded by teammates and coaches and trainers. Steve Donohue crouches down and examines your knee while Joe Girardi buries his face in his hands, wiping tears from a face that’s seen fifty years of baseball. Veterans and rookies who had celebrated your arrival only hours before, form a circle of sorrow around you. Their words are positive and encouraging, but you see something different in their eyes. When they look at you they see Moonlight Graham, a player who came and went on this very day in 1905.

And then you’re on a cart driving out of the stadium with your knee in a splint and your heart in your mouth, the day your whole life has been pointing towards suddenly crashing down around you.

The game, of course, continues without you. Your team had taken advantage of an error to grab a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, but the White Sox jump back with two runs in the second, a rally made possible when your replacement, Rob Refsnyder, simply drops a fly ball. Your Yankees never lead after that, and nothing much of interest happens the rest of the away aside from a spotless performance from the much maligned bullpen (3.1 innings pitched, one hit, zero runs, zero walks, five strikeouts), and the curious case of Aaron Judge.

You know Judge well and nothing he’s doing surprises you, but as you listen to the end of the game while being prepped for surgery on your torn patella tendon, two things strike you as odd. First, with two outs in the seventh and the bases empty, Judge draws an intentional walk, making him only the third player this season to get a free pass with no one on board. That’s certainly strange, but in the ninth inning something happens that doesn’t fit the game you’ve grown up with.

After getting the first two outs of the inning, White Sox closer David Robertson gives up a clean single to Brett Gardner, setting up a showdown with Judge, and this is where things stop making sense. Even though the speedy Gardner carries the tying run in his pocket, the White Sox choose not to hold him on. Even though the speedy Gardner carries the tying run in his pocket and isn’t being held on by the White Sox, the Yankees choose not to have him steal second. The White Sox want Girardi to send Gardner, which would open up first base and allow them to walk Judge, but Girardi doesn’t take the bait. Judge eventually strikes out to end the game, but it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.

The final score of the game is White Sox 4, Yankees 3, and the Yankees have fallen out of first place, but as the anesthesia creeps into your lungs and begins to fog your mind, your last conscious thought is for yourself. Again you see Abreu’s fly ball slicing off his bat, but this time it stays in play, this time you easily gather it in, this time you trot down the line towards the dugout, your adrenaline rising as each step brings you closer to your first major league at bat.

To The Surprise Of Absolutely No One, Yanks Beat The (B)uck Outta The Orioles

potpie-4

“Oh Look, it’s the Score Tru–“NEEEYYOWWWW!!!!

No, that would be the right fielder. Let’s just call him Score Truck so everyone can get out of his way. This guy is amazing (in the good way, not the Northern Blvd way). And the best part is that it seems like it hasn’t gone to his head yet.  Here’s hoping that it remains that way for the entirety of his career and whatever follows. But I’m not here to anoint a new Chosen One; all things considered, Aaron Judge has been better than anyone could imagine so far, but that’s the thing: did anyone really expect this?

Well, later for that; what’s even more amazing is that he’s far from the only one doing major damage for this team. Everyone in the lineup from lead-off to the nine-spot has the potential (and pretty much has in this series) break out with a moonshot or two: ask the guy whose been playing serious catch-up lately, Gary Sanchez (thank goodness they wised up and put him back in the middle of the lineup instead of the two-spot? Really?) Ask Brett, Ask The Other One >;), Starlin, Matt, Didi, well not so much Chase though he could and has before… but Chris Carter is probably the home-runningest guy hitting ninth and that’s not getting into the nicks-and-scratches guys on the bench. These guys got that swing.  The Mostly Baby-Faced Bosses were last seen making chicken pot pie out of the visiting Baltimore Orioles to the tune of 38 runs to the Orioles’ 8 over three days in the Bronx.  Talk about a critical beatdown…

So yeah, that’s all I wanted to say for now.  This team is pretty much speaking for itself and is constantly leaving people speechless. I suppose some folks are busy stuffing bad pizza in their orifices due to that unfortunate promotion offering half off anything when the Yanks score six or more runs in a game… but we won’t speak of that either. Chicken Pot Pie is a nice alternative for the time being. Starting pitching is still a hold-your-breath kind of issue, but so far I enjoy what I’ve seen for the most part. Happiness is a win in front of the home crowd, after all). Next up: 31934

 

P.S.: 495 feet… I mean, who does that?

Tell ‘Em Tiny Montgomery Says Hello

YS 3What’s good, everyone? My first post of the season happens to coincide with a couple of other firsts: first major league start for rookie lefty Jordan Montgomery, who impressed just about everyone with his steady Spring Training, and for yours truly, my first visit to the new iteration of Yankee Stadium. Yep, first time;  thanks to my buddy Omar Nieve Capra for the belated birthday gift! I brought another buddy Joe Hunt with me to journey to this new planet…

YS 1

Hey babe… take a walk on the Chyll side…

And what a gift it was: Jordan Montgomery, part of a cadre of young and apparently effective farmhands making their presence known to us and the rest of the baseball world was making his major league debut at Yankee Stadium 2.0; a ballpark that from what I had always heard reminded me of an indoor mall with a baseball field in the middle. More on that later. Well, I wish I could say that Tiny (all 6’6″ of him) set the place on fire the moment he stepped foot on the tiniest grain of dirt on the edge of the mound (more on that later).  He is a rookie, and the rookieness showed within his first few batters. After getting the first two outs on a couple of sketchy fly-outs, he walked the venerable Yankee pain-in-the-ass Evan Longoria worked out a walk. Rickie Weeks Jr…. Rickie Freakie-Deakie, Leakie WEEKS… JUNIOR fercryin’outloud… took a pitch and sent it packing over the left field fence, with Aaron Hicks kinda looking at it like it was a fine lady in a red dress on her way to Paris by levitation or something; just looking and wondering… where she was going, what she was doing, could he get them digits, well never mind.  Back to work.

Joe was disappointed, but I figured that this would be a good opportunity to test the kid’s mettle. After all, he’s gonna be the fifth stater for a little while, and this is New York, and his parents were probably here watching from somewhere special, right? Give the kid a chance. He got the third out and the Yanks went to work.

Well, not exactly.  Tampa Bay starter Blake Snell shut down the side fairly easily in the first. with a fly-out by Jacoby Ellsbury, a grounder back to Snell by Hicks and an infield pop-fly by Matt Holliday to end the inning pretty easily.  Joe got the feeling that this might be a long and kinda rainy afternoon for the Yanks.  No doubt a thousand others felt the same way after that inning, but I wasn’t about to give up.  Let’s see how the kid does.

In fact, Tiny did pretty well. He sat down his side of the inning as well, and kept getting them out through the third and fourth.  In fact, in the fourth the umps decided to help out a little when catcher Derek Norris lined a single to left, and for some strange reason decided that Aaron Hicks wasn’t good enough to get him out at second. As the throw came in, I saw that Norris didn’t know what the hell he was likely thinking as the ball was in Starlin Castro’s glove, waiting with open arms.  Perhaps a little too open in fact; Castro applied a high tag to Norris, who managed to get his foot around him and on the bag at the same moment.  From our right field foul pole vantage in the upper deck, it sure looked like he was out by a mile, but upon video review, we could see he beat the tag, so we waited for the inevitable reverse of the out-call.  But guess what: it didn’t happen.  The crowd erupted in glee as the umps held the bad call. Wowzers.  Okay, one for us.  Stupid umps.  Tiny escaped the inning with no more base-runners and no runs, and the kid was proving to be kinda badass.

The fifth is where the train came in to the station; Tampa right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (what, another one?) doubled to left (maybe Norris was onto something?), but Tiny struck out CF Kevin Kiermaier and the surprisingly ineffective Longoria; not without a long battle that ran up his pitch count. “This is his last inning,” I predicted to Joe. “He can’t get anything but a loss,” Joe mused. “The Yankees haven’t done anything all day, aside from Castro getting a hit.”  “Well,” I replied insistently, “all they have to do is get into Tampa’s bullpen and they can get back in it, Trust me, that’s all they need to do. ” Montgomery did in fact leave after that, having thrown about 89 pitches in 4-2/3rd innings, giving up 2 earned runs, walking two and striking out seven. Not bad, kid.  Next, another kid: Bryan Mitchell.  With a runner on second, Mitchell pitched to RickieWeeks, who dashed the ball to Castro at second, who somehow let the ball bounce away from him while Souza scored behind him, but then Weeks tried to go for two and, heh, he was thrown out without question.

In the bottom of that same inning, Chase Headley, who has taken upon himself to rebuild his stock as a viable third baseman, hit a hard single over the middle into center.  Big Bad Aaron Judge (aka Mark Gastineau from Joe’s vantage point and hopefully the comparisons stop right there) walked, pushing Chase to second.  Kyle Higashioka, who came up to spell Gary Sanchez while he recovers from a bicep strain, grounded lightly to third, and the play went to second to force out Judge. However, Girardi decided to challenge the call; from our vantage point it looked like he was out, but the video made it look closer than it was. In fact, the video so impressed the umps that they again reversed the call and Judge was safe.  Lesson: Judge, but don’t judge…?  Bases loaded.  Defensive specialist Pete Kozma, starting at shortstop against the lefty for whatever reason, battled a bit, but popped out to second.  Ellsbury, on the very first pitch, the very first pitch he saw… popped out in foul territory to third.  Boooo! My buddy Joe kept reminding me that the Yanks really needed to make something of this, or they weren’t gonna win.  Oh, Joe, just be patient.  The bullpens will make the difference in this game.  Hicks worked out a walk and Chase brought in the Yanks’ first run. The Tampa infield decided to hold a meeting and as I looked to the scoreboard to our right, I saw immediately that they had decided to do the inevitable.

YS 5

LIIIiiiife’s.. a wind parade!

“Oh look,” I said to Joe, “they’re bringing in Fat Bernie!” If Joe had anything in his mouth, he must have spit it out because he inexplicably collapsed in a fit of chuckles. “Don’t do that to me, Will,” he choked, “you know I wasn’t prepared for that. He even has the glasses, too!” Neither was I prepared for Fat Bernie, better known as Jumbo Diaz. As he jumbered out from the bullpen in center, I wondered if he was not in fact bigger than Aaron Judge.  He certainly lived up to his name. More importantly, he could throw some gas, which is exactly what Tampa Bay brought him in to do. As a matter of fact, he spilled some behind the catcher as the ball bounced underneath his glove and Judge ran a tight end route to home with another run.  Diaz continued to have issues as Holliday walked to again load the bases. But then Chris Human Out Machine Carter, with a pretty wide and rusty-looking swing, brought the rally to a halt with a ground-out.  Yet I turned to Joe and said, “I told you so.”

Bryan Mitchell held the Rays in the top of the sixth, and Jumbo Diaz continued to spill gas in the bottom. Castro beat out an infield single that was close (but no replay) and Headley followed with a sharp single.  It’s important to note that Chase Headley is actually making good contact and hitting the ball hard to various places, as he will have to be significant in order for the Yanks to have a shot at making it through April in good position, never mind being serious contenders by the All-Star Break.  Judge followed with a single that allowed Castro to bring in the tying run. Higashioka, who I think is a better hitter than this, bunted toward third, but he did not lay it down like a bunt is supposed ++ to be, but popped it toward third, which created another fielder’s choice situation and this time Judge was forced out at second (with no replay).  But by this time, the Rays had had enough and brought in Xavier Cedeño in relief of Diaz. Girardi countered with Brett Gardner for Kozma. Hmm, now we’ll get some runs in, I said. Where they stick him after that is beyond me, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

Brett is one tough cookie, that’s for sure,  He worked the count, getting 3-0 before letting the obligatory strike cross the plate, then fouling off another pitch.  3-2 with runners on first and third. one out. The pitch: a slow come-backer to the pitcher. Cedeño looked at around and then threw low to Weeks at first, but he couldn’t pick it cleanly and reached over the baseline to get the ball. *** WHAM!!! *** Two trains collided.  Joe and I heard the impact from the upper deck.  I watched the two fall away in opposite directions; two trees falling away from each other and into the river, struck by lightning as it were.  Weeks remained face down while Brett, with a spark of life left, struggled to reach over and touch the base, then seemingly passed out.  Both trainers bolted out of their dugouts and were the first to reach the prone bodies.  The crowd, who had cheered the play as it happened, fell hush with uncertainty.  Momentarily, Weeks climbed up and was ushered back to the Rays dugout, with applause from the crowd for his ability to walk away from the accident. Brett took longer.  he lay face-up on the grass as several people attended to him, the look decidedly not good. After what was a good minute, but felt a lot longer than that, Brett sat up.  The crowd cheered. A few more moments and he was up, walking back to the dugout, and presumably to the clubhouse.

YS 4

…hump bump bump, get bump…

You have to think… for a guy like Brett, who by most metrics is small for a major league outfielder at 5’10”, but is built like a tank if you get close enough to notice and gets injured often because he plays as hard as a tank, it’s hard to baseball.  Harder than you think.  But he keeps going.  That play alone illustrates why it’s a hard notion to give him away to some other team so easily.  Nothing about this cat is easy except his ability to be a good teammate. Maybe I’m getting a little soft in my getting-older age, but I was impressed, not by the knockdown, but the get up. Moreover, he got a run in.  Yanks with the lead, yay.  Shorty Ronald Torreyes, aka Brett’s Mini-Me, came in to run in his stead.  Jacoby Ellsbury sort of redeemed his earlier fail with a sharp single that brought in Fielder’s Choice Higashioka, and Hicks, having a productive game himself, grounded in another run to bring the tally to six for the Yanks.

Tyler Clippard, yeah he’s still here, he took over relief duties and shut down the Rays in the seventh by sandwiching a groundout between two strikeouts.  In the bottom, with Erasmo Ramirez in for the Rays, Chris Carter finally managed to swing and make decent contact, landing the ball softly in right.  For the designated all-or-nothing guy with a country swing, we were willing to take it.  After Castro popped out, Judge came back up.  “Please Aaron,”, I pleaded softly, “hit one up here and into my hands. Knock Joe’s hipster hat of his head…” Well, to Judge’s credit, he tried.  He looked for the right pitch and swung, hard, yet easy.  However, the ball sailed in the wrong direction.  Instead of right field down the line and well into the upper deck, he hit it fairly straight away to center field and over away from us, somewhere between Monument Park and the restaurant that have near it. Maybe somewhere behind those two.  Wherever it landed, it wasn’t in my hands and Joe still had his hat on. I was slightly annoyed, but I gave Judge credit for listening and trying to fulfill a humble birthday wish. Dude is huge; gave the Yanks a huge lead, 8-3.  “See, what did I tell you?” I reminded Joe.  That capped the scoring for the Yanks.

After enduring the groundskeepers’ “YMCA” routine and standing for Kate Smith during the seventh inning stretch, I asked Joe if he wanted to stay or try to beat the rush out the door. Joe looked around, seeing that the stadium was already half-empty at this point, so figured that getting out wouldn’t be an issue and decided we should stay to the end.  Good choice, because after Tommy Layne came on and gave a run back to Tampa Bay in the eighth (just for fun, I imagine), then Jonathan Holder couldn’t keep a couple of base runners off in the ninth, we got to see the fire. Remember the fire? That fire alluded to earlier in the recap? Yeah, that fire, aka Aroldis Chapman, aka Best Reliever in Baseball Right Now (among other things). And yeah, he brung it. What was left of the stadium crowd burst into flames, the scoreboard burst into flames, the sound system, the field, the Rays, everything burst into flames.  There was definitely a theme; the sun decided to pay attention and brought shine and heat for the occasion. Tall, dark and handsome ran like a man with a mission to the mound, warmed up (hah!) quickly and got to work. Flame on!  First pitch: woosh! 99! Second pitch: Zoom! 100! The pitch after that? Floof! 101! Chapman sets places on fire. If you’re still wondering why the Yanks paid stupid money to bring him back, stop.  It was for this, for the hundreds. After that first pitch, he only threw two other pitches less than 100: one at 83? that badly fooled Souza who popped out to first, and I don’t even remember the other one.  He struck out poor Kevin Kiermaier with a 101! is all I know, and that was that. Yankees win, Aaron Judge was the hero and the highlight.

YS 6

Leave your worries behind (Leave your worries behind) ’cause rain, shine, won’t mind, we’re ridin’ on the groove line tonight…!

My Takeaways:

– Aaron Judge will be a star for a good while if he maintains his health and a good work ethic.  Please don’t trade him for anything. A combi of him, Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez, with Didi and maybe eventually Gleyber Torres and Clint Fraizer  and the Yankees will have a monster team in a couple of years and for years to come (again, provided they all remain healthy and in good habits).

– Disappointed to not see Bird or Sanchez (or Betances for that matter) play, but ‘dems the breaks’. Perhaps we should revisit this in May or June…

– Revisit? Yankee Stadium 2.0 is certainly a remarkable edifice worthy of the team itself, but it’s different than the old stadium in quite a few ways.  It’s brighter and fresher, more open air and inviting.  But that’s just the thing: the old stadium was a factor. It was close and personal, dark and foreboding, yet familiar and exciting. In my youth, Yankee Stadium was some place you didn’t dare go alone to, but you were glad you went because you were part of something big, whether they were playing for something big or not. It didn’t necessarily have class, but it didn’t need it because it had spirit.  New Yankee Stadium is charming and sparkly, but sort-of in a billion-dollar college sports complex kind of way.  With stores and restaurants. It screams EXPENSIVE!! everywhere you walk.  And if you were like my buddy Joe and spent $20 on a leftover footlong and a tall cup of light beer, you don’t want to be reminded of how EXPENSIVE!! everything is because when you get hungry again, you don’t feel like spending any more money.  It adds up quicker than Chapman’s fastball.  Sure, it was pretty much the same in the old stadium, but the old stadium gave you a lot more to think about.  This is a paradise I can’t afford except when someone like Omar decides to give me a gift. How soon I revisit depends on how soon a friend wants to gift me with a ticket or two.  Where we sit doesn’t really matter if it’s a good game.

This will be an interesting year for the Yanks. Despite their best efforts to handicap the filed by taking on a Chris Carter or batting Gary Sanchez second, they’ve got the firepower to take them far.  But as I told Joe, it really depends on how they can (or IF they can) solidify the rotation with bonafide innings-eaters and an ace or two to take the stress off their surprisingly good bullpen.  You can’t run your bullpen into the ground before mid-season, which is what I fear might happen if they can’t get their starters past six innings more often than not.  So Jordan Montgomery still has some growing up to do, as good as his start was for the most part. They do have room to play with a handful of young considerables when needed, but hopefully nothing unfortunate occurs to force them to spend some of their considerable depth too soon if not at all. For now, I will say that they’re best bet is a wild card, but that won’t be easy.

YS 2

…and that’s the Triple-Truth… RUTH!!!

Feduciary (yawwwwn!)

Nick SwisherToo tired to put up a real post and not wanting to spoil the tribute post to a recently passed well-known and respected contemporary jazz singer/entertainer, I’m tossing this up for discussions on various things baseball and Yanks related. Among those things:

Nick Swisher retired. Well, at least he didn’t drag it out too long. But he was one of those guys who always seemed to let the kid inside come out and play. I’ll miss that.

Both Tyler Austin and Mason Williams have injuries that, although not career-threatening, will certainly alter their destinations after Spring Training (unless they have super powers).

Front office is sounding quite jerky yet again. I mean, you can be right and correct, but you can also control the impulse to gloat about it, and Randy Levine continues to make the team (and its fanbase by proxy) look like complete [insert favorite expletive here]s. Which, maybe they are, but we don’t seem to want anyone else to say it. What it means down the road is almost obvious though, and it would be really disheartening to lose great talent because the person or people in charge are loose-lipped sociopaths, which is certainly a New York sports-related specialty of late.

Okay, never mind with the vague grinding of axes, let’s get on with the show already!

Go Fish, Gin Rummy, Five Card Stud & Other Games The Yanks Apparently Aren’t Playing This Offseason

peanuts-5So far, there’s been relatively little of seriousness to discuss this off-season, which is par for the course these days around this portion of the year (unless you consider cashing in Brian McCann and his post-trade thoughts for a couple of futures worthy of going ballistic in the comments section). As I (meaning me) have suggested recently, it would be surprising if the Yanks made any tectonic-scale moves to bolster (replenish?) their starters in either the batting lineup or the pitching staff, but don’t be surprised if they swap out some guys for bullpen help or to shore up their bench. In fact, considering how well 2009 went regardless of our initial beliefs, anything’s still possible, so save that thought.

According to Mark Polishuk at MLB Trade Rumors (who apply their own accord on this to George A. King III), Yanks are in on our old pal Aroldis Chapman, though they are considerably wary of going five years with him. Similarly, but to a lesser extent, they are also interested in the hard-hitting Edwin Encarnacion, but are equally uninterested in a five-year deal with him. Both would represent considerably improvements in their area of expertise, though their need for Chapman outweighs their need for Encarnacion based on the presence of Gary Sanchez and (again) to a lesser extent the expectations placed on both Greg Bird and Aaron Judge. To this, we also add the possibility of the Yanks bringing back Carlos Beltran, though they might not get that chance either if they are trying to stay within their given budget parameters.

I would think that considerable attention should be paid to third base, where Chase Headley has been somewhat of a letdown and where the Yanks are considerably thin in their system having traded their former Trenton Thunder 3B Eric Jaigalo (their first pick overall in 2013 and by all accounts their closest-to-ready 3B prospect for the majors, even if he wasn’t really that close) and three others to bring in Chapman last off-season. Among their top ten prospects, none are slated to play third, which along with second has been a perennially overlooked issue with the Yanks of late. Maybe Cashman believes one of their infield prospects will take to the hot corner well enough to cover this seeming oversight, maybe he thinks Starlin Castro or Lil’ Ronnie Torreyes or a player to be discovered later will be good enough, or maybe he even thinks Headley can only go up from here. Perhaps, even, the Yanks can’t afford to go deep on any more starting infielders without trading for one that would ultimately upset the balance he’s creating with all of the prospects he’s stacking in the system at the moment (or because of, you know, the budget). Who really knows? As fans, all we can do is react and speculate, and I’m all out of Big League Chew

So here we are, waiting to see if Cashman can figure out a way to bring back the best closer currently playing in the majors (who you still might be a little wary of considering how he was used by manager Joe Torr–err, Maddon during the post-season) without breaking the bank or the system or future plans in the process, and also hope that while you know in the back of your mind there’s not much hope for contention in the coming year, they can at least make it interesting for far longer than they did this past season.

Ahem, take your time processing all that, it looks like it’s gonna be a long winter at any rate.

Good Bye, Alex

ARod

I was at a baseball card show in the winter of 1996, and I crossed paths with Alex Rodríguez. He had just spent a few hours signing autographs, and was wandering the floor of the convention hall, sifting through baseball history laid out on 2 1/2 by 3 1/2 inch pieces of cardboard.

I didn’t like him. He wasn’t a Yankee, but more importantly, he wasn’t Derek Jeter. In those early days of the late 90s, Jeter and A-Rod were intertwined (along with Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra) as the glamour shortstops of the day. You couldn’t read a feature article about one without seeing references and comparisons to the other, and they were often side by side on magazine covers ranging from Sports Illustrated to GQ. (Looking at one of those covers in April of 2000, my wife casually mentioned that A-Rod was better looking. What’s interesting is that I wasn’t bothered that she was saying this about another man, I was bothered that she had chosen him over Jeter.)

But it didn’t take me long to come around once he inevitably arrived in New York, so I’m sad to see him go. No story about Alex Rodríguez will ever be written without mention of his PED issues, both his admission to use in Texas and his season-long suspension in 2014, but those high profile scandals were only the most egregious missteps of a career fraught with controversy. Whether he was posing shirtless on the rocks in Central Park, commissioning a portrait of himself as a centaur, or dating Madonna, he was as bad at publicity as he was good at hitting a baseball.

But there was baseball drama as well — he scuffled with Jason Varitek, he slapped a ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove, and even yelled (“Ha!“) at two infielders who were trying to field a pop-up — and those childish antics couldn’t have endeared him to his bosses. What other elite player in the prime of his career would ever be slotted eighth in the lineup in a playoff elimination game? Only Alex. What other elite player would force his general manager to publicly tell him to “Shut the fuck up“? Only Alex.

He was the most talented player in baseball, and probably the most insecure. Four or five years ago, back when he was still one of the most feared hitters in the game, rather than posing after hitting a majestic home run, A-Rod would instead snap his head to the right and look immediately into his own dugout, preferring to watch the celebration of his teammates rather than the flight of the baseball. Even with hundreds of home runs on the back of his baseball card, he still needed the approval of his peers.

Somehow all of this made me love him. His tragic flaws could’ve been penned by Shakespeare, and just as Hamlet and Othello were doomed, A-Rod’s destiny was always written in the stars, and once again that destiny was intertwined with Jeter, now his teammate. When the Captain notched his 3,000th hit with a home run, the world stopped and grown men cried; when A-Rod matched that feat with a home run of his own a few years later, his teammates stood on the top step and applauded politely. When Jeter left the game he did so with a season-long parade; A-Rod’s announcement on Sunday morning put an end to what had been a month-long march into oblivion. Yes, Rodríguez was always a superstar, but he was never beloved.

But as you might expect from a player as complicated as this, there’s much more to A-Rod’s legacy. We’ve always heard about his ability as a teacher of the game, and on Sunday morning manager Joe Girardi credited Alex for elevating Robinson Canó from an average hitter to a superstar. We’ve seen A-Rod laughing with the younger players on the bench, and Girardi talked about that also, remembering the sound of their laughter echoing from the clubhouse down the hall to his office. And the general manager who publicly feuded with his all-star third baseman? When asked about A-Rod’s legacy as a Yankee, Brian Cashman didn’t mention any of the controversies. Instead he pulled an enormous championship ring from his finger and dramatically slapped it down on the podium. “That’s the ’09 ring. That doesn’t come along to this franchise’s trophy case without Alex’s contributions, significant contributions.” (A-Rod slashed .365/.500/.808 and hit six home runs during that postseason.)

This is the way it is with retirements. We gloss over or choose to forget the negatives and instead accentuate the positives. Not even in your line of work do people stand up and complain about the boss who made them stay late on a Friday night. But there was something genuine in the voices at the podium on Sunday. The tears that welled in Girardi’s eyes weren’t manufactured, and Cashman wasn’t exaggerating when he threw down that ring.

Somehow A-Rod had mended those relationships, and somehow he made me a fan as well, even though I know that doesn’t make sense. He cheated and lied, he squeezed every penny he could out of the Yankees, and he embarrassed the franchise on several occasions, but there was still something about him that allowed me to overlook all that. More accurately, I was able to accept all of that as well as his other weaknesses. He was human, and he gave proof of that humanity with each misstep. His personality flaws were on display for all to see, but he never shied from the spotlight.

It will likely take decades for baseball fans and historians to reconcile A-Rod’s momentous statistics with the reality of this Steroid Era, but right now I can say two things. I’m glad he was a Yankee, and I miss him already.

Cleveland Rush

WOWZERS-640x360

graphic credit: mashthebuttons.com

So it appears that the Cleveland Indians believe they have what it takes to knock the hustle on the reigning World Series champion Kansas City Royals by fulfilling the wish of most Yankee fans (around here, at least) and trading for their All Star closer Andrew Miller. Yep, Cleveland beat out all comers to go for the gold, as it were.  Cashman, to his credit this season, had managed to acquire the top relieving talent in the AL and has been seemingly wise in what has to be a real first for Yankeedom; bartering good MLB players for good prospects.  Seriously, how often has this even happened, never mind worked out well for the Yankees in their history? The closest I could come up with (or at least the most recent example) was when the Yanks traded starting pitcher Doc Medich for, among others, up-and-coming rookie Willie Randolph in December 1975. That seemed to work out pretty well, if I recall. However, the Yanks have had a strong tendency as well know to be on the opposite side of the spectrum when dealing with prospects; usually giving away prospects (whom a lot of times turn into All Star talent) in exchange for OPP or middling MLB players who either break few waves or write regrettable footnotes in Yankee history.  Is it not fair to think of Jose Rijo, Fred McGriff, Jay Buhner  and other Yankee prospects from the early 80s (well into G. Steinbrenner’s reign of terror as Yankees overlord owner)  ending up as perennial All-Stars and borderline HoFers on other teams because of an incessant need for overvalued or ill-suited veterans led by shell-shocked or bi-polar managers who entered and departed like the steamy vapors of Old Faithful. HOw many of us felt the burn in those times, good times…

But this: unprecedented in nature and in scale.  Instead of discarding a useful veteran or cashing in a bunch of great prospects for a two-month playoff push in the hopes that they can catch the same lightning that David Justice brought with him many moons ago, instead of shuttling off a headache or embarrassment for the tender mercies of their trade partner’s leftovers, the Yanks have practically admitted something obvious to the entirety of the Yankee universe: rebuilding is a viable option.

Rebuild.  What a strange, funny little word that has for so long struck terror in the hearts of fans and administration alike, but somehow has managed to bring us a sense of relief in that now this team has a definitive plan, a course of action that says to all who observe that yes, the team does recognize the signs and has decided to focus on what lies ahead.  There are too many holes to patch, too much money in the pit and much more time on our hands than we know what to do with. But Cashman, the de facto Leader of the New School, somehow got the okay to look forward and trade a couple of his cash cows for some magic beans. And let’s be real, this is what they really are for now… so who are these magic beans exactly?

Clint Frazier; No. 2 prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization, an outfielder and No. 5 pick overall in 2013 (nj.com)

Justus Sheffield: No. 3 prospect of the organization, LH Starter in A-Ball, but no, he is NOT related to Gary Sheffield (contrary to this and other reports, it has been asserted as a myth) (nj.com)

And for gits and shiggles, they threw in a couple more minor league cheeseheads, Triple-A reliever Ben Heller and Double-A reliever J.P. Feyereisen. (yeah you guessed it, nj.com)

What does it all mean? Well, Cleveland’s obviously going for it, and they think highly enough of Miller that they can afford to give up at least two prized prospects to get him.  Good for Miller, he’s a very stand-up guy who deserves a shot at a ring during his prime, but while deserve’s got nothing to do with it, pundits are now seeing Cleveland as a true contender (the Royals seemingly spit the bit early on with injuries to key players and sub-par replacements) who will likely be waiting at the gate while Toronto, Baltimore, Texas and Houston figure out their respective positions. Provided that Miller stays healthy the rest of the way and Terry Francona doesn’t suddenly lose his mojo in the clubhouse, the playoff push promises to be pretty interesting.  For the Yanks: The future is now for one Dellin Betances (provided he doesn’t get traded himself, which doesn’t seem likely at this point, but we are treading unfamiliar waters here). If he stays, he will now get the chance to lock down the closer position for years to come; a position that was inherently his from the moment he came up, but required (and may still require) some seasoning before he could fully embrace it.  He’s got about two months. For the rest of the team, it’s put up or shut up.  The White Flag has been raised, the retooling begins.  Time to analyze who has an actual future with this team in 2017 or even within the next couple of months.  Do they sit down a couple of under-performing players and bring up kids to test them out? Does the hype of these major trades invigorate provoke the rest into Super Saiyin mode and they go on a .750 tear the rest of the way and burst into the playoffs as the most dynamic team this side of hydrogen and oxygen? Or do they play with their shoelaces the rest of the way? Perhaps a little from column A, B and C?

At any rate, this has been likely the most interesting part of the season to date.  So long, A. Chapman, so long A. Miller; you’ve both been great here and we thank you for keeping most of us at least peripherally interested in what’s happening at that mall we call Yankee Stadium nowadays, but it’s time to go forth and make history for your new teams (both Cleveland and the Chicago Cubs having a good chance to make big history by winning it all). while Betances holds down the fort and waits for the new arrivals to mature along with him and bring forth an interesting and perhaps exciting new era of baseball in New York; the likes of which we haven’t seen since the mid 90s perhaps? If so, it will likely change the narrative we’ve had on one Brian Cashman and cement his place in baseball not only as a visionary executive, but a legendary survivor.  Too much, too soon? It’s okay, we just made a couple of big trades that we don’t ordinarily do, as if they finally listened to us and said, “Eh, why not?”

We can afford a little bit of euphoria for a minute. We shall see.

Sunday in the Park

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[Yesterday was no good, so let’s join our man Hank from two days ago instead.—AB]

Because it’s summer, and because it’s baseball, my son Henry and I hopped on a train from Anaheim to San Diego to catch the Yankees against the Padres in a Sunday afternoon matinee. The drive from L.A. to San Diego can be painless or soul-crushing depending on traffic, so I felt like I was already ahead when we settled into our luxuriously large seats on the top deck of Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner headed down the coast. It would be the most relaxing two-hour drive imaginable.

Folks on the East Coast probably take the train regularly or even daily, but in California it will always be a novelty, with the trip as much fun as the destination. The first family we saw on the train was a young Amish couple with an infant and two toddlers. They sat facing each other across a table with a deck of cards to pass the time. It was as if Amtrak had hired them to enhance the already quaint atmosphere. We were headed to San Diego, but we’d taken a detour through Lancaster County.

As the train rumbled down the California coast, sometimes only inches from the sand, we sped past children building castles, couples flying kites, and surfers riding waves, and my son asked the questions he usually asks. Who is my favorite Yankee now that Derek Jeter has retired? Who is the best player on the team? Who do I hope hits a home run today? Difficult questions all.

We walked off the train in downtown San Diego at 10:15, giving us just enough time to grab breakfast (chilaquiles and pancakes for me, chorizo and eggs for Henry) before heading to the ballpark. Petco Field is absolutely amazing. I had been there once before for a night game, but it simply must be seen during the day, when it sparkles like the jewel that it is. The stands weren’t yet open when we arrived at 11:30, but the grounds were already buzzing. Children played whiffle ball in a mini-Petco, families laid out picnic blankets on a large green overlooking the field, adorable dogs and cats sat waiting for adoption, and to complete the carnival atmosphere, a man on stilts walked through the crowd giving directions.

A bronze statue of Mr. Padre himself, Tony Gwynn, stood atop a hill overlooking it all, and as Henry and I made the short climb to pay tribute, I explained to him that Gwynn was not just the greatest Padre ever, he was probably the best pure hitter of a baseball I had ever seen.

When the attendant finally raised the gate and allowed the patrons into the park, we walked the concourse and headed to our seats — Row 21 behind the Yankees’ first base dugout. Always the rule follower, Henry wanted to find our seats and immediately sit down, but I guided him instead towards the field, pointing out players that he knew — Michael Pineda here, Masahiro Tanaka there. But then I saw someone that he didn’t know but who had been larger than life in my childhood — Reggie Jackson. He stood on the dirt in front of the dugout wearing a blue golf shirt and a white Yankee cap, having a conversation with an official while casually catching baseballs from fans, scrawling out his signature, and tossing them back.

“That’s Reggie Jackson, Henry. He’s one of the best players ever to play for the Yankees.”

“Can we get his autograph?”

I didn’t know. I had nothing but a scorebook for him to sign, and that didn’t make much sense, so we sprinted up the steps and looked for a souvenir stand with a baseball. We bought a San Diego All-Star Game commemorative ball for nine bucks, headed back, and found that the crowd had more than doubled in size. I stood behind two or three rows of people and noticed that Reggie was more involved in his conversation than he had been before. He was talking, only signing occasionally. It didn’t look hopeful.

“Will he sign it?”

“I don’t know. Keep your fingers crossed.”

“Hey, Reggie,” I called down to him. When he looked up, I held the ball in my hand and shook it, like a pitcher asking the umpire for another ball. He pointed directly at me, I threw him a strike, and he returned it with his autograph, just as Henry had hoped. (Not until typing that last sentence did I realize that I played catch with Reggie Jackson, which is pretty cool.)

“You da man, Reg! You da man!”

And he kept signing, working his way down the left field line for thirty minutes or so.

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The game was still an hour away, but we’d already gotten our money’s worth, especially considering my expectations were rather low. These have been troubling times for the Yankees, but I still watch. This team doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs, and as we sat in the park where the All Star Game will be held, it was hard to find a Yankee who deserved a return trip next week.

But there will always be hope. The 28th World Series win is always on the horizon, it just seems like that horizon is farther away than most would like. Even so, as we settled into the stands we were surrounded by Yankee fans. To my left was an older gentleman from the Bronx wearing a Staten Island Yankees cap and spinning stories of players from fifty years ago. “Mickey Mantle, Moose Skowron, Tommy Tresh… The good ol’ days!”

Rookie Chad Green gave us a peek at the good ol’ days that might lie ahead as he dominated the Padre hitters with a fastball that sat in the low to mid 90s and a brand new cutter that produced eight strikeouts over six innings. (The Yankee rotation has been a train wreck all season long, so it was no surprise that Green was given Nathan Eovaldi’s slot the morning after this performance.)

Meanwhile the Yankee hitters were showing minor signs of life while allowing Padre starter Andrew Cashner to wriggle off the hook time and time again. Didi Gregorius (one of Henry’s favorites) delighted the Yankee crowd with a laser that slipped just inside the foul pole for a home run and a 2-1 lead in the fourth, and for the next three innings it looked like that was all the offense would be able to muster.

As Mark Teixeira walked to the plate to lead off the eighth inning, a chorus of grumbling rippled through the crowd. He had struck out three times already, and at no point in any of those at bats did he look remotely comfortable. It wasn’t just that he was swinging and missing, he was flailing and missing. My friend from the Bronx was disgusted.

“Here comes Teixeira to strike out again.”

I wasn’t as pessimistic as he, but I couldn’t argue. As if on cue, Teixeira swung at the second pitch and popped up a ball to short right field. We thought. It was a towering fly, but for some reason right fielder Matt Kemp kept drifting back and drifting back and… finally the ball settled into the seats for a home run. I stood with outstretched arms as if I had witnessed a miracle.

Joe Girardi sent Alex Rodríguez to pinch hit to lead off the ninth. (A quick word about the lack of the DH. This was my first time scoring a game in a National League park, and it makes for a messy scorebook. Just another reason to bring the DH to the senior circuit.)

But back to A-Rod. Love him or hate him, he’s the ultimate lightning rod. He hopped out of the dugout as soon as the Yankees came off the field, and the show began. Yankee fans recognized him right away and stood to get photos on cell phones and iPads, but it wasn’t until his name was announced that the Padre fans began their booing. More than at any point in the game, the park was alive, and each of his mighty swings drew a surge of electricity from the crowd until he finally grounded out harmlessly to first for the first out of the ninth.

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After Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner reached base with a walk and a single, it looked like the Yankees might be rallying, but my friend wasn’t hopeful. “Teixeira will probably ground into a double play.”

“Don’t worry, he’s hot now!” I was obviously joking, but the words had only just escaped my mouth before Teixeira pounded the first pitch he saw deep to right center for a three-run homer and a 6-1 lead. I could only doff my cap in respect as Big Tex rounded the bases celebrating his 401st career home run, those three helpless strikeouts a distant memory.

Coming into the game I had hoped to get an up close look at the Big Three. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller had pitched the seventh and eighth, but now Aroldis Chapman wouldn’t be needed. Until he was. Anthony Swarzak yielded a two-run bomb to Alex Dickerson, and Chapman was in the game before the ball landed in the stands. After a fly ball to center, a strikeout, and a weak ground out to third, the game was done. Yankees 6, Padres 3.

Even in this dark season, there is still hope. Rookies still dazzle, sluggers still hit homers, relievers still hurl hundred mile per hour fastballs, heroes still sign autographs, and fathers still take sons to the ballpark. Baseball is still baseball.

As we walked from the park to the train reviewing all that happened, Henry asked what my favorite part had been.

“That’s easy. Spending the day with you.”

“Yeah, me too.”

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Are We There Yet…

I mean, really? Cool, the Yanks beat up a bad Angels team and sure, they beat the always perturbingly difficult Detroit Tigers in game one of that series, but then Ace turned back into Dexter and got waxed for the last three games. Meanwhile, body parts are flying every which-a-way and guys are doing everything they can to avoid the DL.  Basically, it’s like they are supposed to be .500 regardless of how well or badly they do.

Well anyway, here is River Ave  Blues with tonight’s lineup:

CF Jacoby Ellsbury
LF Brett Gardner
2B Starlin Castro
3B Chase Headley
SS Didi Gregorius
RF Aaron Hicks
1B Ike Davis
C Austin Romine
RHP Ivan Nova

So, never mind the lukewarm lemonade, Let’s Go Yanks!

All Tied Up In Nots

Walk_in_walk_out*Sigh*, let’s see what the Bumm- uh, Bombers did last night…

Hmm, lots of goose eggs in the box score, oh look they managed to push across a run in the second, and dayum, Austin Romine nearly had an extra base hit that could have possibly sparked a much needed and welcomed rally, but some guy on the Blue Jays named Kevin Pillar, whose name sounds too coincidentally like another former Yankee Killer, secured a spot on the Summer Olympics swim team by completing what amounts to be a horizontal swan dive to catch Romine’s sure-shot double, wowing fans and broadcasters alike, while at the same time diminishing any hope that the Yanks would have at least a break in the monotony of loser baseball.  Not just losing, mind you; everybody loses, but when you’re third to last in OPS throughout the season, can’t quite catch up to .500, have essentially five DHs in the lineup who hit for horseshit (our favorite type of fertilizer in these parts, though nothing seems to be growing from it) and a notebook full of whimsy and mystical wonders, you my friend are looking at loser baseball.  Of course, the advantages are clearly potential; higher position in the draft (and thank the stars James Dolan doesn’t run the this team or we’d be out of the draft for the next ten years), time for your prospects to prepare themselves for the leap by adjusting to (or as the case may be, healing from ) AAA play, and in effect driving advertising and broadcast package rates down a notch in the long run because no one in their right minds would pay high rates to watch this over and over again (at least I would hope not for their sake).

This team has me writing in sarcasm-laden parentheticals these days. Bummer.

So, in short, J.A. wins again because he somehow owns the Yanks, CC loses again mainly due to the lack of offense and a neurotic need to use the bullpen to stave off BB (Bulllpen Boredom), and Yank fans are likely contemplating a membership to AA (no need to explain).  Yanks lose 4-1. *sigh*

This Offense Is Lacking… Yep And The Offense Is Missing, Too

05497-732What is there to say? CC, showing obvious signs of being a real pitcher, was let down once again by the lineup (and some would say The Binder, which is steadily taking on more significant (if not welcome or tactful) connotation. Let’s not waste too much time on this: despite feasting on weak teams like any Yankee team should, they have a hard time (as usual of recent seasons) dealing with competitive teams.  Toronto may not necessarily be as competitive as they were last year, but they have more operative pieces than the Yanks do this season, and those came to use for the Jays today, enough for a 3-1 victory.  Meh.  This is what mediocre looks like. If the plan goes the way most hope, we won’t have to look at this for too long (as long as a a couple years is not too long for you).

Some news of note, Chad Jennings also reports that Slade Heathcott has again been released by the team. The popular, but oft-injured outfielder was removed from the 40-man so A-Rod could return from the 15-day DL, also noting that while the team had other options, they chose to release Heathcott.  Being that he’s currently on the DL, is this merely a procedural move in order to sign him to another deal as before, or has he basically run out of time? With Ben Gamel coming off the bench for the big team and a plethora of OF options, it’s hard to tell, but it’s not a good look.  (Update: looks like a big fat Nope) Also, catching über-prospect Gary Sanchez has a displaced thumb fracture on his throwing arm.  While this is a blow to SWB as he was very productive to this point, there is actual (if not exciting) organizational depth to cover his absence for the time being.  All this, plus Greg Bird gone for the season and now Sanchez in limbo, it’s been a very forgettable 2016 overall.  Yet .500 is within reach and at least… well, at least… I dunno, it’s not that cold anymore?

Just Another Game By The IRT

Luigi

A few things we knew going into this last game with Houston:

  1. Carlos Correa is a helluva hitter. His homers have mad hops.
  2. When healthy, Mark Teixeira’s homers have mad hops, too.
  3. It’s kinda cold outside.

Knowing that, we had time to speculate a little further about the near future. Starlin Canostro (hat tip to GaryfromChevyChase), our newest budding star at second, is on a pretty good roll to start the season, considering that he’s playing off the position he started his career with.  Can he keep this up for a little while longer please? Will Nathan Eovaldi continue to evolve from where he left off with intriguing stuff that produced an occasional pearl before he was shut down last September? Can the rest of the lineup keep pace with the outburst they unleashed in last night’s prime time drama?

*(See answers below)

Eovaldi was, to say the least, kinda inconsistent. He zipped through the first inning on six pitches and he probably felt so bad about it that the next inning he struggled through the next inning on 38 pitches, spotting Houston three runs on a long double, followed by back-to-back jacks by Tyler White and Preston Tucker. I’m gonna have to assume that they are part of Houston’s revitalization plan from when they stunk for several years, carefully cultivated for the day when they and Correa and perhaps a few more could be unleashed and strike fear in the AL.  Maybe not, I dunno.  But it did show that Eovaldi still has some work to do coming back from his ouchies from last season; no time like the present. Yet, I’m also hoping that the Yankees are also establishing a trend of their own by fighting back when their down, kinda like how all those teams from the 90s into the early part of the millennium did.  They managed to get a run back on a sac fly by Headley, scoring Teixeira from third, followed next inning by a double by Ellsbury which scored Didi (who is continuing to hit and get on base).  The game was close again going into the fourth, but Eo gave up a two-run single to White.  This probably would have been a problem any other time, but this is Game Three at the start of the season and the Yanks seem to have a tiger in their tank; first McCann led off with a solo shot to right, then two outs later Castro smacked one deep over the left field wall for another run.  Ah, down by one, come back and watch why don’t cha…

At this point, Eo was cruising through the fifth inning, retiring the side on 12 pitches.  However, because of that second inning, his pitch count was in the red zone and his night was over; 94 pitches over five with 5 runs, 7 Ks and no walks.  Not bad, but not necessarily that good either; fairly inconsistent and staring at a loss for his efforts.  But the lineup bailed him out tonight, with A-Rod singling in Ellsbury to tie the score, and there it remained with five apiece through the top of the seventh.

Anybody get a good look at this guy Kirby Yates? The box scores says he acquitted himself rather well in the sixth, going through a tough part of the lineup and giving up only a single sandwiched in between a fly-out and two strikeouts.  If I could have seen him, I’d wonder what his body language was showing, because I guarantee the bullpen’s gonna need more results like that going forward.  Chasen Shreve started the seventh and also acquitted himself well,  keeping the score tied into the bottom half of the Seventh.

Hero Time.  Tonight’s guest: Mark Teixeira.

After Ellsbury grounded out, Gardner singled to right and Houston brought in last night’s reliever of note Ken Giles.  After getting A-Rod to chase two, he somehow managed to single to center. Tex was next hitting from the left side, and after watching a ball go by, he lashed out and poked one near the end of his bat the opposite way. Was it enough?

Tonight, in the beginning of a new season, with so many questions about himself, about the lineup, about starting pitching and even about the bullpen… tonight, it was.

Tonight, Betances came in and held down Houston like an Eight Inning Man™ should.  Tonight, giving up a couple of singles with his left hand while ignoring the pain in his right wasn’t a bad thing, because Andrew Miller used his left hand to strike out three to close the game and seal the win.  Tonight, the third of at least eighty (and hopefully more), here in a pearly open backyard palace in a usually snarled part of the boogie down, it is what it was. Just another game.

 

*Basically, yep.

Them 2016 Yankees, Episode 2: “Blaow! How You Like Me Now?”

Agent_MackWhat was that?

Some say it was a bird, some say it was a plan, but I say it was just pure madness at bat. Not the berserker kind, but the ice cold focus on obliterating your opponent for what he did to your brother kind of mad (though both kind of have the same messy results). Oh, it was just an ugly mess for those mopes on the mound in the bottom half of the first three innings. Tsk-tsk, shake your head, here kid put this bag on ugly. A crime happened here this evening and we have to figure out which Law & Order unit to call and pitch a script to…

Isn’t it nice when you’re on the winning side of that introduction?

Well, lets take a look at the evidence. Michael Pineda, who allegedly has that stuff they call stuff, kinda forgot to be good for a minute and Carlos Correa (okay, you should know you’re going to hear his name a lot for the entire year, never mind this series) to pulled a fast one on Big Pine into the left field stands for a solo jack. Okay, not so bad, it was one run, right? So he gives up a double right after that, who cares.  He finished the inning and the Yankees come to bat.

Now here’s where the story gets kinda interesting. Here’s an excerpt from a witness who happened to be on the scene and witnessed most of the criminal activity:

“So this guy named Collin McHugh was pitching for Houston, see, and he walks this guy they call Jake (played by Jacoby Ellsbury), then he turns around and walks this guy they call Gardy (Brett Gardner), and then he does it one more time with A-Rod (Who Else), so you got all these guys on base and who do you think comes up next? It’s that guy Tex (Mark Teixeira) over from the Lower East Side (1B), he singles to right and Jake ran home, but the bases are still loaded, so that guy McCann (Brian McCann) says, ‘ahh that’s not enough, watch this’ and he launches a double to right, Gardy and  A-Rod score and he’s sitting there at second looking like the cat that ate the canary. You’d think that be enough, but then after that other guy Carlos (Carlos Beltran) grounded out and oh, by the way, Tex came in with another run on that play, this guy named Heddy… Heddy? No, Headley! (Chase Headley) he puts a single up the middle, McCann scores and they knock the poor schlub out who was pitching, that McHugh guy? Pssh, you know what? It was a wrap for him.”

So what happened after that?

‘What happened? I’ll tell you what happened. They send in a new pitcher, this guy named Michael Feliz, and Headley steals second on him.  Then if that ain’t enough, the new guy, what’s his name, uh, Castro (Not that one. Not that one either. Yeah, that one, but I don’t think he’s related), you know what he did yesterday, right? Well he keeps going with a single to center and Headley goes home. Man. And then there was another hit, uh Didi, a couple of outs, a walk and another out and that was it for now.”

So it looks like there was some sort of offensive ruckus there; we should probably alert Inspectah Deck about this. No? Okay, let’s look over some more testimony.

“Word up, knawsayin’, you’d think the Yanks would be wilin’ out and (Shasta) but no, they ain’t do that, cuz them Astro Boyz is nasty. Knawmean?  You wanna know what happened? They went back and got they’ own (shucks) and jumped that (Betty Crocker) like a double dutch tournament. I’m sayin tho, single, double hit by pitch, then this dude Springer, he sprung’im all right, sprung him all the way to left center for a Grand-(mambo-combo)-Slam, yo.  Homeboy had pickles and onions on that (shoebox). Knawmean?”

So Pineda was the victim of retaliation.  Did he survive?

“Word, it was (French) up, but yo, he hung in there. It’s not like they took him out or nothin’, he just got hit up real bad.  I was like, dayum!, that was some cold (salsa), but my dude was still in there and they kept going ham* and (Snapple)…”

Hmm. Interesting. Let’s find out what happened next.

“Dude, I couldn’t believe what happened next. It was like, the next inning and Tex struck out and I was all like, dude! but then McCann walked and Beltran-dude singled and I was like ‘all right!’, but then Headley struck out and I was like ‘duuude’…, but then, but then… Castro was all like “BING!” and I was like “whoaaaaaah! Four-hundred and twenty-eight feet to left-center! Duuuuuuude!” It was a totally awesome shot, dude, you so had to be there.”

Was there more?

“Not really, but then I looked at the scoreboard and I was all like, ‘whoa, it’s only like the second inning? Duude!”

Just so.  It appears to just get uglier from there.  Not the kind of ugly that would stand side-by-side with a sick walrus and help it get a contract with Luis Vutton, but the kind of ugly that yo mama could change her name to Legoland with if ugly was made from colorful plastic small kids could potentially choke on. Well, maybe not quite so bad.  9-5 in the second would inspire impatience in some and hubris in most, which was almost the case before the bottom half of the second. But for some reason, this game was a clear assault on pitching prowess for the most part.  Tex would strike again in the very next inning with an equally impressive and equally damaging shot of his own to his favorite part of the stands (mid-upper deck in right), while the rebellious Carlos Correa would later outdistance them both in the top of the fifth with a humongous shot to center that was measured at 459 feet. Good thing there wasn’t anyone on that time, or at least good for the Yanks at least.  And not to be outdone, The Other Carlos hit a solo shot of his own the next inning, perhaps in retort (wonder what he looked like?)…

Was there anything else? You bet your sweet Aspercreme. According to reports, players identified as Aaron Hicks and Ronald Torreyes, playing the parts of Beltran and Headley respectively, hit a single and a triple also respectively, with Hicks and McCann both scoring on Torreyes’ hit, then having Castro drive him home with yet another hit. By this time, Ivan Nova, the once-and-future starting pitcher, was shutting down Houston’s game for the last four innings and then the carnage was over.  Blood everywhere.

EPILOGUE

So what does this mean? Is this what we can come to expect of this Yankee team; heartbreaking, headache-inducing hiccups in one game and then Rock’em-Sock’em Score Trucks the next? That would be interesting, and would certainly make an exciting recap  every night.  But the reality is, it’s too early to tell.  Houston is ostensibly a really good team, and if Carlos Correa has anything to say about it, they will certainly give the reigning champs a run for their money in the post-season. Bu that’s there and not here.  Today was like a noir crime mystery, or a good old fashioned butt-kicking, or something really gnarly.  You can’t explain a game like this, it just happens. That’s Chinatown for you, on to the next one.

PS: That relatively young second baseman guy Starlin Cano Castro? He did something cool: his seven RBIs in these first two games of his Yankee are the most by any player in franchise history.  Any. Including Todd Greene.  That’s how you make a good impression at your new job. Keep up the good work, kid!  Maybe Papa Sterling will think of a better home-run call for you the next time around… (or maybe not)

Oh, and Happy Nutheryearonearth to Yours Truly… >;)

Methinks The Season Doth Commence (A Nuanced Perforomance)

Yanks Recap Game 1 2016The season has begun, and many of us have returned to bond over a new season of baseball (welcome back, everyone!) So, what do we have here? After an early rainout, our heroes finally took the field to host the “all that losing is finally paying off” Houston Astros, following a similar trajectory to the now-champion Royals and looking to usurp their mid-west rivals for the throne this year.  But first off, they have to take a detour through the Deegan, which may or may not be an easy task, depending on your proclivities. If anyone has something to say about what the Yanks will do this year, Masahiro Tanaka would be the first one to the podium.

Or so you’d think.

To be honest, there had to be a lot of tightness going into this game, wondering whether the Astros’ Dallas Keukel; reigning AL Cy Young award winner, would continue his dominance from last season or show some indications of a fluke.  Actually, he was mostly as good as he was last year, but he didn’t have his usual control and he didn’t face Starlin Castro last year, who starts his Renaissance Campaign with a two-run double in the second inning, thus ending a 29-inning scoreless streak against our heroes.  Tanaka, for his part, turned it up a notch from an uneven Spring with a moving two-seamer that held the Astros to one run through four innings on a Aaron Hicks misplay on a Jose Altuve hit that turned into a double and later a run on Carlos Correa’s fielder’s choice. However, that very same Carlos Correa would reach out and slap a misplaced slider in the fifth over the the right field wall for a solo homer that tied the game and suddenly made it tense. Not so much because you weren’t sure the Yanks could score any more off Keuchel (though they didn’t), but you had to wonder if Tanaka could hold it together after that with his bomb-under-the-shoulder, so to speak. He did pitch 5-2/3 innings without giving up more than that, and he did pitch well, which is what we expect of The Ace.

But later the roof collapsed, and not in a spectacular fire-fashion, but more of a threw-a-lit-gas-can-on-the-roof fashion.  The Official Eigth-Inning Man™ Dellin Betances walked Jose Altuve to start off the inning, which seemed innocent enough to some, he managed to induce Carlos Correa into hitting a slow roller up the first base line. Correa, running on the inside grass, passed in front of Betances who picked up the ball… and shot-putted it over Mark Teixeria’s head, allowing Altuve to run around the bases and score. Boy, was Joe Girardi mad… he came out and jawed with home plate umpire Dana DeMuth in what was likely an effort to get himself kicked out of the game, and when that didn’t happen he  decided to play under protest. Naturally at this point, Betances was probably pretty spooked and gave up a two-run single before exiting the game. It was pretty much over, even though Sir Didi smacked a 96-mile hour fastball from a pretty damn good reliever in Ken Giles for the Yanks’ first homer of the season. It just wasn’t enough, Didi, not nearly enough.  Yanks drop the opening game 5-3 and gave their followers a headache in the process.

After the game, Girardi discussed his issue with the call/non-call on Correa’s running out of the base path which led to the go-ahead run. The rules were explained by DeMuth and it had to be accepted; had Betances simply nailed Correa in the back, in essence, he would have been out by runner interference.  But Betances, probably being  the young nice guy that he is, didn’t think to do that and tried to loop it over Correa’s head and misjudged his Olympian strength (how likely that throw would have gotten him in time if he did make it right is also up for speculation) and created a fine news story for the local and national beat. I wouldn’t get on Betances too much (like some of the broadcasters did); if Girardi was outraged at the prospect of nailing someone with a fastball to get the out at first, then it was probably never mentioned to Betances that he had that option.  Other players who were asked about the play were not too sanguine about Joe’s opinion, but did not argue against him in that regard either, instead taking the high road along with Betances in agreeing that the play just had to be made.

See, stand-up guy, now you know so you can blow a hole through his midsection if you have to make the out and likely Girardi doth not protest to much, methinks..

 

 

Dear Phife

820The Hip Hop universe has awoken to some more tragic news this morning; Malik Taylor, aka Phife Dawg “The Five-Foot Assassin” and “The Funky Diabetic” , a founding member and literal cornerstone of the world renowned Golden Age of Hip Hop era group A Tribe Called Quest, apparently succumbed to the very disease he had made a favored appellation of and in recent years had struggled with. As of this writing, no official announcement has been made yet, but news sources had independently confirmed his passing, first noted on Twitter by legendary DJ Chuck Chillout.

I cannot for the life of me run down the details of his life at this point; having been a huge fan from the beginning and A Tribe Called Quest being on the itinerary of my musical young adulthood, it’s just mind-numbing to have lost someone critical too soon by anyone’s measure. Not to mention, we are losing so many dearly-held artists from so many areas in music these days that I can honestly say that I was shocked to hear about this, but that shock was quickly replaced by that very numbness that such an event would often inspire days later when you’ve had time to process the entirety of a person’s life, impact and death while you compare feelings and moments with friends and fellow fans.  If there is PTSD for music, I must be in the throes of it, and it’s not something I would wish on anyone.

Nevertheless, instead of a eulogy culled from multiple news items, I present a link to an article from Vulture.com that was published last November in which Phife runs down his five favorite songs of A Tribe Called Quest; one from each album they made together.  Perhaps at a later date I will revisit the idea of discussing the band’s impact on Hip Hop and music as well, as they are certainly worthy.  Meanhwile, Rise In Power, Malik Taylor.

More Interviews with Phife Dawg:

NPR

Noisy (Vice.com)

Rolling Stone

Interview Magazine

Q102.1 (Andrew Liu) – YouTube

Lastly, the title is borrowed from this track I came across while thinking of what to write.  Listening to it again, I finally broke away from the numbness I implied earlier and had a moment with my inner self.  We all can relate to that moment because we all have someone or something that touches that button one last time before they go on their journey, leaving something for us to think about; what was, what could have been.  I just don’t know.

 

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