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

Nolascoscorsumruns!

The Rubber Duck - Convoy

Apparently there was an early Score Truck sighting (a rare breed this season) as the team decided to do a few things done early today; of import to the game was scoring nine runs off of surprisingly happless starter Ricky Nolasco and his understudy in the first four innings with contributions from just about everyone in the lineup (except Beltran, who might want to reconsider surgery to remove those bone chips in his elbow at this point).  Of note, the Captain got hit number 3,400 for his career with a single in the ninth; the eighth player in baseball history to do so. That’s rather significant when you stop to take that in.  Hiroki Kuroda pitched into the sixth and gave up four runs; he was fairly cruising in the early innings when the Yanks were scoring, but he started getting pretty iffy near the end. The tired bullpen (which has been a source of mostly inspiration for the Yanks this season) gave up a few more runs to turn a laugher into a near picklement, but managed to hold off a disastrous wave of bad karma (that seems to be the notion of the weekend), with Tha Hamma saving it once again for a 9-7 win. If this continues, the Yanks might convince themselves they can make a run at the playoffs (uh-oh…) and make some moves to help them in their endeavor. Let’s not hold our breaths on that just yet, though clearing some current roster flotsam might be in order.

Among the other things the Yanks did early was trading a sort-of young lefty starter in Vidal Nuño (who’s pitching had grown old a whole lot quicker) for righthander Brandon McCarthy from the Arizona Diamondbacks. If the name strikes a bell, he’s the same pitcher who was on the almost tragic end of a line drive through the mound a few years ago with the Oakland A’s and has since bounced around a couple of places and was having as much luck with the Diamondbacks as Nuño was with the Yanks. What the Yanks hope McCarthy brings, besides a veteran presence (he’ll be 31 on Monday, helluva birthday present) is a consistent ability to miss bats, a low walk ratio and a high propensity for ground balls; something the 26-year old Nuño was sorely lacking in a hitter-friendly park (and will likely continue to haunt him in a new hitter-friendly park). Both pitchers were having a rough time to the tune of plus-5 ERAs, though with McCarthy it seemed more a product of a porous defense. He still has to deal with the same issue of pitching in a hitters park, but the defense will be somewhat more of a help (more often than not, you hope). McCarthy will take Chase Whitley’s spot in the rotation, with Whitley moving to the bullpen and Shane Greene for now taking Nuño’s spot.

The other early move, which had become as much of an unfortunate necessity as sending down Port Jervis a few days ago was, was to DFA Alphonso Soriano. Sori had become a virtual black hole in the lineup, and this was coming like a Pinto stuck on a train track with a diesel engine bearing down on it, but it’s sad considering the trade for him brought about some positivity in a frustrating season last year when he made an immediate impact with several key homers and extra base hits (he finished with 17 HR for the Yanks, 34 for the season with 101 RBI in total with nearly identical numbers in each league) and nearly helped push the team over the hump and into the playoffs. Also, as thelarmis noted, Sori needed 11 stolen bases in order to join the exclusive 300-300 club (300 HR/300 SB). Sori is said to be considering retirement at this point, so it’s likely he’ll never reach the door for that club. And all nostalgia aside, it was the right thing for the Yanks to do as they were getting practically nothing from him in any part of the lineup and looking very bad in the process.  For all the complaining and such we’ve done about Jeter’s visible decline this season, the decline and fall of Soriano, who was also a perennial All-Star at one point in his career, has been far more pronounced from last season to this.

I think in the balance he will be fondly remembered mainly for his early career when he was a young phenom international free agent signing who played in Japan and spoke Japanese as fluently as he spoke his native Spanish, wore his socks up to his knees and swung the bat like he was trying to smack the opposing team clear out of the old Yankee Stadium in one fell swoop. One can only think of what may have happened if Cashman had not answered the phone that February ten years ago…

I’m Just Going To Watch Soccer Because My Karma Is All Wrong For This Game

Dalai Lama

Boy you said a mouthful, RI.

I’ll skip all the gory details and just note that when Francisco Cervelli, filling in for Brian McCann who had a sore foot before the game, tossed the salad in the bottom of the eleventh with the bases loaded and the score tied at one, soccer suddenly became a really interesting sport. All things considered, the Yanks would probably do well to switch to MLS at this point, wouldn’t you agree?

If you still care to know (and I can’t possibly imagine why you wouldn’t), Yanks lost 2-1.

[photo credit: AP/Peter Dejong]

The Not-So-Evil Empire

Kelley

Because I’m a teacher by trade, I can’t just sit idly by and allow my children to spend their summer galavanting in the cul-de-sac or staring mindlessly at a television screen for ten weeks. Sure, that was good enough for me, but like all parents everywhere, I want better for my children. Summer is a time for cultural enrichment, so this vacation we’re exploring one of the greatest stories ever told, the Star Wars saga.

We’ve watched three of the movies so far. I started them with Star Wars and Empire, but jumped back to Episode I and we’ll watch Episodes II and III next, saving Return of the Jedi for last. (My youngest daughter, Kate, wasn’t happy about this; she really can’t wait to find out what happens to Han Solo, who’s currently frozen in carbonite, but my son Henry loved the idea of meeting Darth Vader as a little boy and can’t wait to see him next as a teenager.)

I want my children to know the story of Luke and Obi-Wan and Vader not just because I grew up believing in Wookies and trying to turn my lights on and off by using the Force, but because few stories are so ingrained in American culture. When Red Sox president Larry Lucchino invoked Star Wars lore in response to New York’s signing of José Contreras in 2002, famously referring to the Yankees as the Evil Empire, it warmed my heart. Sure, there are lots of heroes on the Yankees — Derek Jeter as the obvious Skywalker figure, Don Zimmer as Yoda, perhaps even Joe Torre as Obi-Wan — but the Yankees are better when they’re villains.

Or perhaps, more accurately, they’re more villainous when they’re better. These Yankees? They’re more like Jar Jar Binks than Darth Vader, and never is that more apparent than when they’re matched against the Red Sox. Late Saturday afternoon, as Masahiro Tanaka (this season’s version of Boba Fett) was cruising through a dominant performance against the Sox, I felt victory was certain and imagined that I might be writing about a sweep on Sunday night.

It didn’t work out that way. The Red Sox scraped out a run in the second inning off of Yankee starter Chase Whitley when Mike Napoli, who makes like Babe Ruth when facing New York, led off with a double and scored two batters later on a Stephen Drew single. An inning later things got a bit uglier when David Ortíz (Jabba the Hutt) launched his 450th career home run (a three-run shot) almost 450 feet (actually, just 424) into the second level of the bleachers in right field.

Overcoming a four-nothing lead for these 2014 Yankees seems almost as daunting as successfully navigating an asteroid field. (The odds, as we all know, are 3,720 to 1.) But Jeter never wants to hear the odds, does he? He came up with two outs in the bottom of the third and Ichiro just ninety feet from home. He battled Boston starter John Lackey (remember the bartender from the Cantina on Tatooine?) for eleven pitches, finally rifling a single between first and second to plate the Yankees’ first run.

In the fourth inning Mark Teixeira hooked a solo homer around the right field foul pole, and two batters later Carlos Beltrán socked a no-doubter into the stands in right, and suddenly the Yankees were down by just one at 4-3.

And then came the fifth inning. Whitley walked Jackie Bradley, Jr., on four pitches, so Joe Girardi lifted him in favor of Shawn Kelley, who walked Brock Holt on four pitches. Kelley finally managed to throw a couple strikes to Daniel Nava, but he walked him anyway to load the bases with none out. Just when it was looking like the Rebel Base was in range, everything was about to explode.

Dustin Pedroia, the cutest little Ewok you’ve ever seen, singled to right to drive in two for a 6-3 Boston lead. After David Huff came in and got Ortíz to pop up to shallow left, it looked for a moment like he might be able to minimize the damage. With runners on first and third and a full count, Pedroia took off for second  – but Huff had him picked off. But for the second time in a week, the Yankees botched the run down. They managed to get Pedroia (1-3-4), but they let Nava score in the process, and the Sox had a four-run lead at 7-3. Naturally, the next pitch was a ball, and Napoli walked, the fourth Boston batter to do so in the inning.

The top of the fifth ended without further incident, and the Yanks gamely fought back in the bottom half. Ichiro led off with a triple, then came home on a double by Brett Gardner, who eventually scored on a Jacoby Ellsbury ground ball. It was 7-5, but the Yankees would get no closer.

Boston plated another run in the top of the sixth. Huff started by walking rookie Mookie “The Wookie” Betts (if it seems like there were a lot of walks, you’re right; Yankee pitchers issued eight free passes) and then consecutive singles to Bradley and Holt to load the bases with none out. Girardi then came to the mound, and any lip reader could tell you that when he handed the ball to the new pitcher, he said, “Help me Dellin Betances, you’re our only hope.”

(A quick side note about ESPN’s coverage. Their field microphones are everywhere and bring fans closer to the game than ever before. On the one hand, I loved hearing Teixeira greeting Betts after his first career base hit: “Congratulations, rookie. Have a great career.” But when the bullpen phone rang during Holt’s at bat, the viewing audience clearly heard bullpen coach Roman Rodriguez tell Betances, “You got the next guy.” It seemed like too much information. Betances’s entry into the game wouldn’t have been a surprise even without this tip, but it still felt like ESPN had crossed the line.)

Girardi needed Betances to strike out the side if they had any shot at getting back into the game, and he quickly dispatched Nava on three pitches. But Pedroia followed that with a short sacrifice fly to right, and the Sox had that extra run and an 8-5 lead — and that was that.

It would be easy to give up on these Yankees. The free agents not named Masahiro have been vast disappointments, and they’re the only American League team over .500 with a negative run differential (and it’s very negative, -32; the Mariners, just for the sake of comparison, are +50).

But let’s not give up on them. Instead, let’s think about CC Sabathia, who should emerge from his carbonite encasement sometime after the All-Star break. No, he probably won’t ever be the old Sabathia, but he has to be better than the new Vidal Nuño. Beltrán and Brian McCann can’t hit .220 and .221 during the second half, can they? They certainly can’t get worse.

Through it all, the Yankees are still essentially in first place, tied with the Blue Jays and Orioles with 39 losses. There’s hope for this team. May the Force be with them.

[Photo Credit: Kathy Willens/AP Photo]

I’ll Fly Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

 

 

Push it Along

bussti

Slow Summer Friday here at the Banter. Tonight gives Tanaka vs. the Sox.

[Picture by Bags]

*Facepalm*

kirk-facepalmWarning: watch the highlights of this one at your own risk (and with soft gloves on). Bad Phelps showed up to get smacked by former Yankee farmhand Dioner Navarro (remember when he was the next coming of Jorge?) and then TheOldMan@short.com added a bedeviling touch when a ground ball was hit to him and… and… ah, forget it. The Captain can still do things mere mortals can’t, like make up for his apparent mental lapse by leading off the very next inning by pounding the ball over the wall in left.  I have no idea what his expression was like after that; if he was sheepish in his turn of luck, if he was professional and drew a straight line across his face (as would be his default) or if he punched the air like he was beating a heavy bag over his head and screaming F@#$ Yeah! kinda like Kirk Gibson did that one time. I was stuck listening to the game on the radio as Ma & Pa and their latest sportswriter guest were carving up the turkey about the Yankees’ problems as a whole.  And it’s not as though some of us (me-me-me!) weren’t having a heaping plate of WTF ourselves, but you Just. Get. Tired of hearing it over and over again, just as you get equally tired of watching the team fail with runners on or just play kick-the-can at the most inopportune moments.  Bad luck only goes so far with a team with this much “experience” on the field.

At any rate, the Jays did try to pull a fast one on the Yanks by giving the game back to them when Dustin McGowan, relieving the main attraction Mark (High Wire) Buehrle in the seventh, put on an act of his own with music (borrowing a suggestion from our own Weeping for Brunnhilde) and frills and spills and hey how about that, tie game.  Had me going for a minute, you naughty Jaybirds; you brought in a hard thrower who swooped in like a masked fire inspector and shut down the carnival.  Then to top it off, because of the ringing in our ears from how loud that out was in the top of the ninth when the Yanks once again failed to score when the opportunity was there, and the fact that Dellin The Dancing Bear was already gone with two innings of work to hold you Jaybirds off for a while, Joe had to bring in Adam Warren to try and keep it going in the ninth.  Only Jose Reyes said no, I’m getting on base and winning this sumbeach, smacking a double to right.  Then guess who comes up to do due diligence and move him nicely to third but mu(beeeeeeeep!) Melky Cabrera with a sacrifice bunt to third, which Good Ol’ Charlie Brown Solarte picks up and–

**** Due to the graphic and sensitive nature of this commentary, this post has been truncated for the betterment of society as a whole.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled morning letdown. ****

Lights Out

LightsOut

After winning games with Chase Whitley and David Phelps on the mound, Saturday night’s game with Hiroki Kuroda on the rubber arrived with more than promise. After getting those two unlikely wins, surely Kuroda would provide the win that would stretch the team’s winning streak to five and make the road trip excellent instead of just good.

It didn’t work out that way.

Scott Kazmir was working for the Athletics, and he quickly made it clear that he wouldn’t be giving up much on the evening. You remember Mr. Kazmir, the one-time super-prospect who fizzled and eventually found himself out of baseball. This year he’s finally become more pitcher than thrower, and he’s suddenly one of the best in baseball. If you missed him last night, you’ll surely be able to catch him in July at the All-Star game.

Kazmir set down the first eight Yankees without breaking a sweat, and with the A’s already up 2-0 thanks to the bespectacled Eric Sogard’s two-out, bases loaded single in the second, there was cause for concern even at that early juncture. But Kelly Johnson worked a walk with two outs in the third, and raced all the way around to third on Brett Gardner’s single up the middle. Derek Jeter followed that with a grounder deep into the hole at short. Andy Parrino made the play nicely enough, but he airmailed the throw over Brandon Moss’s head at first base, and Johnson was able to score to split the lead to 2-1.

Early in the game Ken Singleton and Bob Lorenz had noticed a bank of lights in left field that hadn’t turned on correctly, and they had jokingly wondered what might happen if they weren’t fixed and who the unlucky guy was who’d have to climb the tower into the lights. When the lights still weren’t on in the middle of the fourth, we found out. As the Yankees took the field for the bottom half of the inning, Oakland manager Bob Melvin met with the umpires and a stadium official in a scene normally seen before a rainstorm. But instead of peering into the clouds and waiting for raindrops, the group stared into the darkness above left field, looking for light.

Joe Girardi revealed afterwards that there was a moment when the game was about to be cancelled, but the man who climbed the tower was able to solve the problem and it turned out to be only a 38-minute delay before Kuroda returned to the mound and set down all three A’s without incident.

The bottom of the fifth, however, was different. Kuroda walked Sogard to start the inning, which is never a good thing, then allowed Coco Crisp to reach on a bunt single. Catcher John Jaso looked to bunt the runners over, but a passed ball on John Ryan Murphy moved them to second and third without the sacrifice. Jaso gave himself up anyway with a ground out to first, but he got an RBI out of it as Sogard scored and Crisp took third. Three pitches later Crisp scored on another passed ball. The A’s were up 4-1, and after giving up a single to Brandon Moss, Kuroda’s night was over.

The Athletics put together another run in the sixth when Parrino doubled to left to score Craig Gentry all the way from first, but that was just window dressing. The final score was 5-1, but that might as well have been 50-1. The Yankee bats, never impressive on this night, had been essentially silent since the blackout. Kelly Johnson had doubled to lead off the fifth, moved to third on a Gardner ground out, and been thrown out at home when Jeter grounded to first, but that was it for the Yankee offense. After that Johnson double, Oakland pitchers Kazmir, Dan Otero, and Sean Doolittle retired the next fifteen Yankee hitters, and there was nary a hard-hit ball over the course of those five innings. Lights out? Indeed.

Thankfully, a day game awaits.

[Photo Credit: Jason O. Watson/Getty Images]

Road Warriors

Gardy

Dig this stat. Since April 28, the Yankees are pitching to a 2.63 ERA on the road, best in the bigs. Contributing to that on Friday night in Oakland was David Phelps, who turned in a brilliant outing, throwing 6.2 scoreless innings and allowing just two hits and three walks while striking out four to earn the win as the Yankees pounded the A’s, 7-0.

On the offensive side, Derek Jeter continued his hot hitting with two more hits, making him 9 for 16 over his past four games, and Jacoby Ellsbury brushed off those hip issues and extended his hitting streak to 17 games. Eight different Yankees had base hits, six scored at least a run, and all six RBIs were spread across half a dozen players.

Here’s hoping for more of the same on Saturday night.

[Photo Credit: Ben Margot/AP Photo]

Cut to the Chase, Part II

Chase

The last time I was in Seattle — actually, the only time I was in Seattle — my family and I ran past Safeco Field in a desperate (and fruitless) attempt to catch a train for Portland. It’s a beautiful ballpark, even when viewed through a glaze of sweat while carrying a five-year-old. But we really didn’t have time to stop and appreciate the nuances — the warehouse look on the outside, the retractable roof atop the structure. Considering the business-like approach the Yankees took during their three-game sweep of the Mariners, I’m not sure they were much interested in any of that either.

There were three stories in last night’s game, the first being Derek Jeter. He took the first pitch he saw in the first inning and flipped it out into short right field, just like he’s done about a thousand times, and then four pitches later he was trotting around the bases behind Jacoby Ellsbury’s fourth home run. Just when I was starting to wonder about Ellsbury, he’s rattled off a sixteen-game hitting streak, bumping his average from .258 to .290. How good has he been? This month he’s hitting .386 with an OPS of 1.006. The only bad news is that he left the game late with tightness in his hip; there’s not much to worry about, but you might want to keep your fingers crossed anyway.

But the biggest story of the night has to be Chase Whitley. Young Whitley had been good in each of his first five starts, working to a 2.42 ERA and allowing the Yankees to win four of those five games, but he arrived on Thursday night. The 2014 Seattle Mariners will never be compared to the ’27 Yankees, but they’re still a major league ball club, and Whitely navigated their lineup with ease.

This was my first prolonged look at him, and I was impressed immediately. He cruised through the first, but when he left a pitch out over the plate to Logan Morrison in the bottom of the second, the first baseman rifled the ball into the right field seats and split the Yankee lead in half at 2-1. Even at the time, it seemed like a blip; Whitley seemed bothered, but not fazed.

The Yanks put two more runs on the board in the top of the third. Jeter singled again to the lead off the inning (two pitches, two base hits), and Ellsbury walked to bring up Alfonso Soriano with one out. Soriano has been mired in such a slump that I almost felt like Girardi should have conceded his at bat like a six-inch putt in match play, just to keep the game moving. But Sori proved me wrong, rocketing a laser into the gap in left center, easily scoring both runners to boost the lead to 4-1.

For a moment in the bottom of the third it looked as if Whitley might choke on all that prosperity. John Ryan Murphy threw a pickup attempt down the right field line, allowing Brad Miller to race all the way around to third base, and two pitches later Whitley plunked our old friend Robinson Canó to put runners on first and third with two outs. But putting Canó on, regardless of the method, was probably a good thing. Kyle Seager followed, and Whitley quickly dispatched with his fourth strikeout of the night.

Our man Captain Jeter singled in two more runs in the top of the fourth to open the lead to a comfortable 6-1, and then all eyes focused on Mr. Whitley. He faltered a bit in the fifth, yielding a double to Miller and an RBI single to James Jones, but he was rescued when Ellsbury made a spectacular leaping, possibly-home-run-robbing catch at the wall against Canó to end the inning.

You won’t see too many catches like that — unless you happened to watch the rest of the game. Brett Gardner moved over center field in the seventh inning after Ellsbury’s hip flared up, and he made an almost identical play. Mike Zunino blasted a ball over Gardner’s head with one out in the inning, and Gardner raced back over his right shoulder, following the same path Ellsbury had two innings earlier. He leapt at the wall at the last second, and for a moment only he knew where the ball was. Bob Lorenz was on the mike, and he initially called it as a homer for Zunino before we all saw Gardner – who had paused for a moment of drama, standing on the warning track with both arms at his side – casually flip the ball into the infield.

Gardy

Whitley, meanwhile, was still cruising. After that Jones single in the fifth, he retired the next nine hitters. With two outs in the eighth inning, having thrown only 82 pitches, he seemed poised to go for the complete game. That pitch count, after all, wasn’t a concern. In his previous three starts he had thrown 91, 83, and 87 pitches, but with Canó headed to the plate, Girardi came out and pulled him. Considering the four-run lead at the time, Girardi’s decision was more about player development than game management, and I think he made the wrong choice. He had an opportunity to push his young starter just a bit in a relatively safe situation. The experience of facing one of the league’s best hitters in the eighth inning would’ve been an invaluable learning moment for Whitley; instead, he watched from the bench as Matt Thornton came in and walked Canó.

For a moment it looked like Girardi’s decision would completely blow up as Seager launched a ball to deep right. Ichiro had been inserted into right field when the outfield had been reshuffled the inning before, and now he sprinted back, chasing Seager’s drive over his right shoulder just as Ellsbury and Garnder had earlier. Ichiro leapt at the wall, crashed in a heap as Lorenz refused to make a call one way or the other, and emerged with the ball and the final out of the inning.

If there’s been one frustration I’ve had with the Yankees this season, it’s that Girardi has refused to accept the things he cannot change. This team is not going to score a lot of runs. With that in mind, he should take steps to prevent as many runs as possible. Conventional wisdom holds that an outfield of Gardner, Ellsbury, and Ichiro simply won’t provide enough offense. Corner outfielders have to combine for thirty to fifty home runs, right? But that trio would be far and away the best defensive outfield in the game and probably the best in Yankees history. Give in to the DH platoon of Soriano and Carlos Beltrán and be done with it.

But back to the game. Jeter grounded out in the ninth, his bid for a fourth hit coming up just a fraction short, but has he turned and jogged back to the dugout after what was certainly his last at bat in Seattle, the city that saw his first major league hit back in 1995, the home crowd gave him one of the warmest ovations he’s received on this victory tour. The cheers swelled with each step he took, and Jeter acknowledged the crowd with a quick wave of his hand when he reached the steps. It was a nice moment.

Shawn Kelley looked a bit rusty in the ninth and turned a four-run lead into a save situation, but David Robertson came in and quickly restored order, striking out Zunino and Miller to send everyone home. Yankees 6, Mariners 3.

[Photo Credits: Ted S. Warren/AP Photo; Otto Greule, Jr./Getty Images]

A Rickety Staircase

School-stairsA lot of strange things to see around this team these days.  Low scoring affairs that are more often lost than won, the bullpen struggling to hold leads, the Hall of Fame-bound captain losing his focus either while fielding or running the bases, and strangest of all a slightly-better than .500 team only four games back in the loss column from first place (a place they’ve held more often than not while enduring such strange conditions).

Granted, injuries to the pitching corps with middling replacements has had a lot to do with this situation, but then when those pitchers hold the opposing team to a low score, the offense doesn’t show up. The Scuffle of Kansas City was definitely on the minds of many as the Yanks shuffled west to battle a former teammate who is slowly, yet steadily revealing how important he actually was to his former team, Robbie Cano and his (yes, his) Seattle Mariners.

The Mariners threw righty Hisashi Iwakuma; a former senior teammate of current Yankee ace/stopper/rookie/everything M. Tanaka, who led off the first by striking out Gardner, then giving up a hard single to Jeter. He eventually moved to second on a Teixiera single, then scored on a Beltran double. Brian McCann followed that with an infield single that scored Teixiera and sent Beltran to third. But, as has happened far too often, the team left those two on base when Solarte grounded out.

Vidal Nuño; you just want to give him your faith when you see him pitch well, but seems to fall through the bad step in a rickety staircase when you do. After getting the first two outs of the inning, old buddy Robbie let everyone see what a hitter he actually is by doubling to left. Robbie, for what it’s worth, has built his average back up since his slow April and his averaging above .300, though his power has yet to return to expectations. Cole Gillespie followed with a single that scored Cano and I’m willing to bet most of you began to think “oh here we go” again. But Gillespie was subsequently caught stealing, momentarily short circuiting any potential rally, which for all intents and purposes is a good thing.

While Iwakuma cruised through the next several innings with little intrigue, Nuño continued to climb the stairs carefully through the next innings. Kyle Seager sent a pea to right field, but Ichiro channeled his inner Mighty Mouse with a leaping, tumbling grab of a certified double; you could only just shake your head and clap for the man. Later in the fourth, crumble! With two outs, Michael Saunders launched a high fly to center that was either going to nail the top of the wall or sneak over. Jacoby Ellsbury was on his horse though, cruising back to the wall, leaping and snagging the delinquent sphere that would have instigated much weeping and gnashing of virtual teeth. A fine catch on radio, I can assure you; let me know what you think about what you may have seen on TV. Nuño without a doubt was pleased that the staircase held his weight; I imagine there will be a steak dinner in the future for those two.

In the sixth, however, Robbie once again took advantage of the situation and singled to center, prompting Girardi to bring in the burgeoning star righty Dellin Dancin’ Bentances, who finished off the inning by inducing a ground ball from pinch hitter Endy Chavez. But in the seventh, Betances’s dance managed to stomp a hole through the step as he lost the plate and hit catcher Mike Zunino with a breaking ball, then uncorked a wild pitch that sent Zunino into scoring position; a chip that was cashed in two batters later by Dustin Ackley. Nuño, who had one of his good days that we always hope for, was suddenly out of the picture and Betances was staring cockeyed at a western omelet. Well, there was nothing for it at this point, so he wiped off the mess and squelched the impending rally two batters later by striking out Willy Bloomquist to end the inning and leave the game tied. For what it’s worth, Betances is growing; not quite what you would expect to say about a guy 6’8″ at 26 years old, but he’s steadily becoming a pitcher’s pitcher.

The following inning was a sine wave of philosophical impulses; do you believe in luck and if you do, is this a sign the Yanks’ bottle of good stuff has turned to vinegar? John Sterling had this to say in Gardner’s subsequent turn at bat:

“…THERE IT GOES TO RIGHT! IT IS HIGH, IT IS FAR, IT ISSS… FOUL..?

It inched too far to the right of the foul pole, apparently. Bad luck? Then what did you think of the next pitch, which Gardner had the nerve to hit high and far to center, only for it to be caught at the warning track? Sucks to be him, I guess. But it didn’t suck to be Derek Jeter, who followed that drama with a big, big double to left center that also chased Iwakuma (up to this inning still cruising) from the game, and the Mariners gambled on their bullpen to hold it for the remainder to give their big hitters a chance to break the tie in the bottom.  Only that didn’t happen; what did I say about luck? Ellsbury singled to the other alley and Jeter raced in with the go ahead run. All you needed now was for Adam Warren to hold the lead into the ninth so that The Hamma’ could nail it down and get a sorely needed win. Could he do it? Sure, though Cano once again punched a hole in the theory that he was not going to be badly missed with yet another single.

So all that was left was to root for Robertson to save the game. Zunino struck out. Saunders struck out. Ackley walked, and Lloyd McClendon pinch hit John Buck for Brad Miller. Buck is that guy who strikes out a lot and has a scary low average, but when gets a hold of one, he beats it like it owes him money. The Hamma’ was having none of that. Swing! Swing! Oops… Swing! Good night (morning?) from the far reaches of the north west corner of the nation, see you again tomorrow. Hopefully, the Yanks will finally bring some more scoring with them.

But hey, they at least won, 3-2.

[photo: Positive Exposures]

Tuesday Night in the Bronx

umbrella

The A’s are in town for 3 games. The tough Oakland A’s. Our man Hiroki’s on the hill.

Brett Gardner LF
Derek Jeter DH
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Yangervis Solarte 2B
Alfonso Soriano RF
Scott Sizemore 3B
John Ryan Murphy C
Brendan Ryan SS

Supposed to storm tonight.

Never mind the lightning:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Picture by Bags]

Where & When: Game 54

Well I guess it’s about time for another Where & When.  The last couple of games have been pretty interesting if I do say so myself, here’s hoping I can keep that ball rolling (as opposed to what the Yanks defense did last night) with his, as it turns out, rather dour entry to the canon.  I dedicate this one to our rather illustrious Gloomy Guses of the Banter:

Where & When Game 54I’m going to spare you a whole lot of drama on this one, because unless you’ve got a real eye for details you’re likely not going to get a clue within this picture of where this can be.  It’s in New York, in a place that would become very well known and lit up with activity starting a few years after this picture was taken (in fact, it was sort of already lit up at this point, but not nearly as much as it would be in the ensuing years).  In the direct center of this picture, a person who would become world renown and whose works would become synonymous with the neighborhood was born in a room in the building to the left of the lamp post. The picture was taken about nine years after his birth. Also, relative to what yesterday’s game ultimately was, the region would change it’s name in a few years and in time begin a tradition that endures to this day.

I’m tasking you with naming this region and the year this picture was taken.  I know it’s a long shot, but if you consider the clues I’ve given you, you won’t suffer as much.  Bonuses to whomever determines (my logic for one) the name of the person I refer to being born in the building I pointed out, the name of that building in particular and how this is relative to the people I dedicated the game to today (in jest, naturally).  It’s a long season as we fairly predicted it would be, so we gotta keep each other up until reinforcements arrive (and hopefully not by postponing the future yet again).  Root beers, cream sodas, floats and brownies, all that.  You know the routine, let’s do this like Leeroy Jenkins.

PEACE!!! >;)

[photo credit: MCNY Blog]

Where & When: Game 53

Here we are again with another Where & When! (That dumb rhyme was unintentional; it happens.) Speaking of happens, it just so happens you might get this without looking too hard, but I was inspired by the old and almost equally lost neighborhood play:Where & When Game 53

An interesting, if far from glorious picture, but I will link to some of the glory from this location after you figure out where this location actually is.  I don’t have an actually reference date for this photo, so for the when let’s go with what you know about the location.  For the bonus question, tell us two prominent features near the location that still exist today (you’re either gonna laugh or tsk me this one).

So you know the rules; show your work and complete answers, first one to he finish line gets the frosty mug of root beer and the bonus gets you a scoop of ice cream; all others get a cold mug of cream soda for the effort.  Stick around for a little history lesson (feel free to enlighten us and you might get a brownie) and we’ll see each other on the game thre… wait, are the Yanks playing tonight? No? Oh… well, stick around and chat!

[photo credit: Dyre Avenue Line Memories]

 

 

 

Switching Channels

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Phelps in Phlux

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

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

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

Where & When: Game 52

Greetings, welcome back to another exciting episode of Where & When.  It’s a slow day today, so I took a moment to fill in the doldrums with a “challenging” excerpt from the five boroughs:

Where & When Game 52This picture was taken a year after the subject of this picture was opened for service.  So, I task you to find out where and when this picture was taken, not to mention what it is.  You know the rules; show your work, share your ideas and stories, utilize whatever you prefer to find the answers and the first one with the complete answer will get the icy cold root beer award, while the rest of us who participate get to drink to that person’s health with a frosty cream soda.

Oh, and the bonus ice cream scoop goes to the person who can describe the style of the object or objects in question.

So have at it and we’ll see each other on the game thread.

[photo credit: NYC Bridges]

Close to the Vest

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When the Yankees and the Cardinals met in the World Series in 1964, it marked the end of a Yankee dynasty that had stretched back 25 years. Though most favored the Yankees at the time, it wasn’t because they were the superior team, it was just because, well, they were the Yankees. (If you’re looking for a good summer read, by the way, you can’t go wrong with David Halberstam’s October 1964, which chronicles that matchup between the Yanks and the Redbirds. (If you want something with a happier ending, try Summer of ’49, also by Halberstam.))

When the two teams got together again on Monday afternoon in St. Louis is marked the 50th anniversary of that Fall Classic. After an hour-long rain delay, the Yankee hitters came out swinging as Brett Gardner walked, Derek Jeter singled to center, and Jacoby Ellsbury singled to drive in Grdner with the game’s first run.

The Cardinals responded quickly, getting the tying run when Matt Carpenter led off with a triple and then scored on Kolten Wong’s double.

Tied at one, the pitchers took advantage and then took control of the game for a stretch. Michael Wacha coasted through the early innings, retiring all nine men he faced in the second through fourth innings, and the Yankees’ Chase Whitley was almost as good over that same stretch, giving up just a harmless single in the third and two more singles in the fourth. I’ve no idea if this kid has a future with the Yankees, but it’s been fun watching him this month.

The Yankee hitters went to work again in the fifth. Ichiro walked and Brian Roberts singled to right, then Kelly Johnson singled up the middle to score Ichiro. Two batters later Gardner hit a sacrifice fly to score Roberts, and the Yankees had a 3-1 lead.

But that lead didn’t last long. Whitley faltered in the bottom of the sixth. He faced only three batters, and they all reached (Matt Holliday double, Michael Adams single, and a hit by pitch for Yadier Molina). Manager Joe Girardi had no choice but to make a move, and in strolled Preston Claiborne. Bases loaded, nobody out. No pressure at all.

Claiborne did give up two runs to allow the Cardinals to tie the score at three, but the damage was minimal. He had kept the Yankees in the game.

From there the respective bullpens took over, and the hitters went to sleep. The one highlight of those late innings from the Yankee point of view was Dellin Betances. He continues to dominate, but on Monday he was throwing harder than ever, touching 100 MPH on the radar a couple of times. With Bettances, Adam Warren, and David Robertson manning the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, the back end of the Yankee bullpen is as good as it’s ever been.

Ellsbury drew a walk to lead off the top of the twelfth, then challenged Molina and came up with a huge stolen base to put the go-ahead run on second base. Brian McCann was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second, and Yangervis Solarte dutifully bunted them along to second and third. Ichiro was walked intentionally to load the bases, putting the game in the hands of Roberts.

Roberts fouled off a pitch, then smoked the next one through the left side of the infield to score the go-ahead run. Soriano followed that with a sacrifice fly, Brendan Ryan singled in another run, and the Yankees were suddenly up 6-3.

Robertson allowed a run in the bottom half, but only his ERA cares about that. Yankees 6, Cardinals 4.

[Photo Credit: Dillip Vishwanat/Getty Images]

Calling on the Cards

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

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

 

 

Photo by Beth Crawford

Time Travel, Brian Cashman, and the Broad Shoulders of Masahiro Tanaka

Tanaka

I don’t think there was ever a time when the Yankees weren’t seriously pursuing Masahiro Tanaka, but no matter how much they wanted him, there’s no way they could have predicted how invaluable he would become.

Let’s imagine you had a time machine. Because you would be ethically opposed to using this machine to make millions in the stock market or to win every sports bet on the board, you’d instead choose to blow people’s minds. Armed with newspapers and magazines and photographs, you’d pop up in various places to give people glimpses of the future, just for fun. For example, you might show up in this photograph and have a conversation with Governor Wallace: “You see, Governor, in my time the President of the United States is Barack Obama.” Or you might check in with Billy Ray Cyrus in 1992, drop off a VHS copy of the 2013 VMAs, and suggest that he keep a close eye on his unborn daughter’s career path.

Or you could simply go back to November of last year and pop in on Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

Cash: Who let you in here?
You: We don’t have time for that. You MUST sign Masahiro Tanaka.
Cash: Well, it’s not that simple. There’s the posting, the bidding war… And we DO have a budget…
You: You don’t understand. You MUST sign him. He’s our only hope.
Cash: Easy, Princess Leia. Our rotation is pretty solid. Tanaka would be a…
You: I know, I know “a third starter.”
Cash: Right! We expect big things from Nova, Pineda will be healthy, and CC’s our ace…
You: Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.
Cash: Excuse me?
You: Nova will start four times, then have Tommy John surgery on April 29th.
Cash: Well, Pineda will be great — he’ll make everyone forget about Jesus Montero.
You: You’re half right. Everyone will forget about Montero, but let’s stay on topic. Pineda will be great for three starts, then he’ll be suspended for pine tar…
Cash: Pine tar? But everyone uses pine — I mean, our pitchers don’t use illegal substances!
You: And then he’ll go on the DL for a month.
Cash: Well, at least we’ll have our ace, right?
You: Sabathia? He hasn’t been an ace for two or three years now.
Cash: But he’s lost so much weight — he’s in great shape…
You: That just means that instead of looking like Forrest Whitaker, now he pitches like him.
Cash: <silence>
You: And he’ll be on the DL by the middle of May with no estimated return.
Cash: <silence>
You: By Memorial Day your rotation will be Tanaka, Kuroda, Phelps, Nuño, and Whitley.
Cash: Whitley? Who the hell is Whitley?
You: Exactly.
Cash: Dear God.
You: Exactly.
Cash: But what do I do? How do I stop this?
You: Sign Tanaka. Give him whatever he wants. He’s your only hope.

And then you’ll invite Cashman to watch a DVD of Sunday afternoon’s game against the White Sox as your final argument. It’s the only evidence you’ve brought with you, so hopefully it will be enough to convince Cashman to do what he has to do. You crack open a couple beverages, slide the DVD into the machine, and guide Cashman through the game.

After Brett Gardner grounds out for the game’s first out, Derek Jeter comes to the plate and rifles a clean single to right center.

Cash: Look at this guy. He looks the same as he did two years ago. Guess I’m gonna be back at the table negotiating with him in November.
You: Actually he’s going to announce his retirement when Spring Training opens up. This is his last season.
Cash: Are you shitting me?? That’s great! Wait — you’re not a reporter are you? Are you gonna print that?

In the top of the second Yangervis Solarte singles to right to start a Yankee rally.

Cash: I was starting to believe you, but you’re telling me that this guy is our starting third baseman? And he’s hitting over .300? He has 25 RBIs? I call bullshit.
You: I know, I can’t believe it either, but keep watching.

Two batters later Ichiro singles up the middle, then Brian Roberts walks to load the bases for Gardner, who promptly singles in two runs. Jeter is up next, and he singles to right field again to make it 3-0 Yankees.

Cash: You’re sure he’s retiring? Brendan Ryan can be our shortstop now?

After Jacoby Ellsbury scores Gardner on a sacrifice fly, the Yankees have a 4-0 lead.

You: We’re gonna skip ahead to the top of the 4th. It’s still 4-0, but I want you to watch Jeter’s at bat here. Watch how he falls into an 0-2 hole, then takes a ball before fouling off three pitches. Okay, now watch this…

Jeter catches a pitch on the inside part of the plate, but somehow he does what he always does — he pulls his hands in and still manages to get inside the ball and drive it deep to right center field. Center fielder Adam Eaton races into the gap, but his dive is far short, and the ball bounds to the fence. Jeter coasts into third base with his first triple since 2011.

You: Did you see that? He actually broke it down a step before second base. He’s so cool he Cadillacked a triple.
Cash: So Brendan Ryan can really be our shortstop next year?
You: Focus, man. He’s gonna come home on a wild pitch in a minute to make it 5-0, but let’s take a quick look at your boy Tanaka.

In the bottom of the fourth Tanaka strikes out Gordon Beckham, gives up his first hit of the game when Conor Gillaspie singles to left, but rebounds to get Dayan Viciedo to foul out and Adam Dunn to ground out. In the fifth he gets Paul Konerko to ground into a double play and ends the frame by striking out Alejandro De Aza.

Cash: You’re right — he looks really good.
You: But here’s what you’re not getting — even though he’s gonna go 6.2 innings and allow just one run on five hits and two walks with six strikeouts, you’re not seeing him at his best. This is just average Tanaka, and it’s still better than anyone else on the staff. Do you understand what I’m saying?
Cash: But the payroll…
You: NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE PAYROLL!
Cash: Look, after we resign Canó, we’re going to be really limited…
You: We’ll talk about Canó later. Right now, let’s get back to the top of the sixth.

Alfonso Soriano doubles over Eaton’s head in centerfield, but he’s still standing on second with two outs when Jeter comes to the plate again.

Cash: Don’t tell me.
You: I’ll let you find out for yourself.

On a 3-1 count Jeter pounds a ball through the center of the diamond to drive in Soriano and pick up his fourth hit of the game.

Cash: So you’re saying he’s retiring? Do you think maybe I’ll be able to convince him to come back for another year?
You: Maybe you can try to get Rivera back while you’re at it.
Cash: That’s not a bad idea…
You: And Torre?
Cash: Let’s not get crazy.

Tanaka finds himself in some trouble following the seventh-inning stretch. He walks Dunn and gives up a single to Alexei Ramírez, then Konerko ropes a line drive — that Jeter snares and turns into a double play when he catches Dunn straying off second.

You: See? He’s still got that Gold Glove form!
Cash: Let’s not get crazy.

Tanaka walks De Aza, and Joe Girardi pulls him in favor of Adam Warren, who quickly strikes out Tyler Flowers to end the inning. You eject the DVD.

Cash: What are you doing? What about the rest of the game?
You: It’s not important. Brian Roberts hits a solo homer, some guy named Matt Daley gets the final three outs, and the Yankees win, 7-1.
Cash: Still, it would’ve been nice to see. I love when they walk out on the field to shake hands, I love when John Sterling screams out, “Yankees win! Thuuuuuuuuuh…”
You: Look, Cash, stay with me. It isn’t about this game. It isn’t even about Derek Jeter, if you want to know the truth. (Okay, it’s a little bit about Derek Jeter.) But mainly it’s about Tanaka. If you don’t sign him, if you don’t do everything in your power to make sure he’s in pinstripes, this season will be a complete disaster. You need this guy. We need this guy. So much depends on Masahiro Tanaka!
Cash: Okay, okay, you convinced me. I’ll get him. And what were you saying about Canó?

Brian+Cashman+New+York+Yankees+Introduce+Masahiro+pcgX2e973ldl

[Photo Credits: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images & Sim McIsaac/Getty Images]

 

Starting Fresh

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

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

07 BBM 2nd Version Tanaka

Tanaka-Konami1-211x300

 

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