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

Where & When: Season 2!

Greetings ladies and gents and welcome to a new season of Where and When! No, it wasn’t a dream or a passing fancy of some lunatic minds, it was and is a rather fun puzzle game for our readers to utilize their deductive skills in tracking down the answers to life’s important questions… well, trivial maybe, but all games involve a certain amount of seemingly useless knowledge. Back by popular demand (and a moment to spare in a busy work schedule), I’ve brought to you something new to disseminate and ponder.  But before we get down to the nitty-gritty, a little background for the newcomers to Bronx Banter and/or this game we play…

Earlier in the year, Alex posted an interesting picture here from another site of a New York City landscape from the early part of the 20th century (so near, and yet so far) in which the writer asked help in identifying the location depicted in the picture.  After some pondering and sharing of our observations within the picture, several of our loyal readers (myself included) concluded that the picture was an early photo of Manhattan’s West Side along the Hudson River; facing north from the busy piers near Midtown and peering far into the distance where the George Washington Bridge was just under construction.  By this we were also able to determine the probable date the photo was taken.  Riverside Drive was the dominant roadway, but the Henry Hudson Parkway was also under construction at the moment the picture was taken.

It was a fun undertaking, as I later wrote to Alex, and I suggested making a game out of it.  “You’re hired” he responded, and I’ve been the administrator of this effort ever since. I’ve experimented with rules and formats throughout, trying to make it fair and more involving for everyone as our readers are so widely dispersed that some miss out on the game due to the difference in time from here to there part of the globe, but I’ve compensated in creative ways to involve them as well.  In the end, I settled for a free exchange of ideas and suggestions with the stipulation that whoever answers he questions fully explain the process they used to find the answers (the journey can be equally as, if not more entertaining than the destination itself).  The winners (the first person to answer the questions correctly) would receive a theoretical root beer; a Banter tradition that began with the jinxing of anyone who posted an identical comment to the comment prior to his or her own.  The rest of the players were given cream sodas as a consolation prize for playing.  I had something special in mind for the person who tabulated the most wins in a year, but because my work schedule began to interfere with regularly scheduled postings, I tabled that idea for the time being (but it’s still under consideration).

About the scheduling; I tried to adhere to a two or three-a-week schedule of games, but I ran into two big problems: life (big problem, supersedes everything fun) and supply.  I am a bit of a perfectionist, so I try to find interesting challenges for these games and generally avoid stock footage of standard New York City easy-to-identify landmarks. There are many sites with different photos of many places around the city, but even some of those are nondescript and would not provide a fair amount of clues to present as a challenge.  So with those limitations, I’ve often found myself painted into a corner concerning what to present.  Alex and I have discussed this at length and he has encouraged me to open my definition of what I consider interesting challenges as it were, bearing in mind that some people may be seeing these locales for the first time.  With that in mind, I am being more open minded about what to present so that I don’t run out of material and also to allow one of my main goals to come into fruition: to educate and enlighten our readers and players about the history and appreciation of our great city and its region of influence.  The most important thing to remember is that it is a game and was born from and meant for fun.

So let’s have some fun, shall we?

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Here we have an aerial photo of a region within the city that you may or may not recognize from certain features within the picture.  I think this is an easy one, but I’m sure that those of you not native to the region will want to look up some of the details in whatever manner you use to research. I can say this much, the features in this picture give a good indication of the time period of this photo, so I don’t have to drop many hints.  If you get it within the correct decade, you’ll get credit for the when answer.  So, if you answer Where this picture dipicts and When it was likely taken, you will win our traditional first prize, a frosty mug of high-quality root beer (which is always up for discussion).  As a bonus, if you can identify at least two major features within this photo with proper names from the time it was taken, you will get a scoop of ice cream to add to your root beer, making it a root beer float of course.  All players who participate in the discussion will receive a cold mug of cream soda for your efforts.  I will try to return during the latter part of the day to reveal the answers and discuss any trivia or history that’s associated.  You are all free to discuss whatever you like about it, but please avoid using the direct link in the photo credit (unless you find it during your research) and also as discussed before, show your math.

So ladies and gents, welcome back and have fun!

photo credit: Wired New York

Filth in the Fifth

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Brett Gardner batted with bases loaded and two outs in the fifth. He represented the tying run. The home plate ump rang him up on a pitch that split the border of Weehawken and Hoboken. Gardner unleashed the power of a thousand exploding suns, or at least a bunch of frustrated Yankee fans.  He got ejected and, yeah, it was worth it.

It’s hard to believe, but the Yankees actually had a legitimate shot to win this game before Gardner got tossed. They opened that inning with five straight base runners. But because Carlos Beltran could not score from second on a double over the head of Cespedes (he got a bad read, he’s old, he’s slow, the there were no outs, the ball was somewhat close to being caught, all true, but gotta score on a clear double from second base unless your hamsting rips apart) Martin Prado ran up the back of Brian McCann at second and was tagged out. They still ended up scoring two runs in the inning, but with the gift out on the bases and the bridge and tunnel whiff of Gardner, the Red Sox only needed to get one out on their own. 

That’s not to say the Yankees didn’t get walloped. They lost 9-4 as the youngsters from Boston clobbered homers off an off-model Shane Greene. I know this is heresy, but I like both Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts and am kind of excited to see what they become.

The loss was awful and the Yankees look less and less like a team that will play meaningful baseball in September. That’s OK. When they lost four of six in Detroit and Toronto, that was the official sign to stop thinking about October. Of course there’s no reason to write them off until they’re eliminated, but I no longer feel the need to check the standings or the scores of the more realistic contenders. If they play improbably great baseball for the rest of the month and get back into it, fabulous.

 

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

No Horseplay, Please.

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My glass is always half full, but I had a bad feeling heading into this game. When the news first broke that Jusin Verlander was being pushed in favor of a kid making his major league debut, the prevailing thought was that the Yankees had caught a huge break by avoiding the former Cy Young winner. My first response? “Oh, no.”

I seem to remember seeing some statistics indicating that the Yankees don’t perform as poorly as we think they do against rookies, but my memory tells a different story. Even when the Yankees were regularly running roughshod over the American League, unknown pitchers were their Kryptonite, and so it was on Thursday afternoon at Comerica Park in Detroit.

Hiroki Kuroda, as usual, was good enough to win, even though he didn’t. He pitched seven strong innings, giving up just two runs while allowing only four singles and a walk, an effort the team would clearly have signed up for on Thursday morning.

The problem, of course, is that Detroit’s Kyle Lobstein was just as good — or more accurately, just as effective. He didn’t strike out a single hitter, and Yankee batters were able to hit several balls hard, but it never amounted to anything. He lasted six innings, yielded only four hits, a walk, and two runs (one earned).

As a result, the game zipped into the late innings tied at two, with each team desperate for a win to get closer to a playoff spot, and each team squandering opportunities. Dellin Betances took over for Kuroda in the eighth and eventually found himself facing the best hitter on the planet with two outs and the potential winning run on second base. Demonstrating his growing confidence and maturity, Betances didn’t give in to the temptation to prove his strength by overpowering Miguel Cabrera with a triple-digit fastball. Instead, he froze him with two consecutive 82 MPH curveballs. Cabrera let the first go by without a swing, then waved feebly at the second to strikeout and end the inning.

In the top of the ninth, facing Grizzly Chamberlain, the Yankees mounted a two-out rally. Mark Teixeira walked, Carlos Beltrán singled him to third, and Brian McCann came to the plate needing only a single to put his team in position to win. Joba elevated his second pitch, and McCann absolutely crushed it — but it hooked to the wrong side of the foul pole, leaving the Yankees only inches from what would’ve been a three-run lead. Joba pumped two more pitches past him and the inning was over.

Betances had thrown only 13 pitches in the eighth, so I hoped he’d come back for the ninth, but instead we were treated to Shawn “Horsehead” Kelley. The trouble started immediately. Victor Martínez led off with a double deep into the right field corner, then J.D. Martínez milked a seven-pitch walk and the Tigers had runners on first and second with none out. From there he dug his hole even deeper, working himself into a 3-2 count on Nick Castellanos before recovering with a perfect pitch on the outside corner for a called strike three. Next he toyed with pinch hitter Torii Hunter, overpowering him with 95-97 MPH fastballs and teasing him with marginal sliders before finally finishing him with the heater.

There was hope. As I saw the rest of the game in my mind’s eye, I imagined Kelley overpowering Alex Avila — perhaps striking him out on three pitches — and charging off the mound and into an energized Yankee dugout. His teammates would undoubtedly parlay that momentum into a tenth-inning rally, David Robertson would come in for the save, and the Yankees would escape from Detroit that much closer to the playoffs.

In the time that it took that daydream to wind its way through the corners of my optimistic brain, Avila strolled to the plate, took a hack at Kelley’s first pitch (an inviting slider rather than a crackling fastball), and rocketed it towards the wall in right center. Ichiro raced out towards the gap, but he wasn’t able to make the play (replays showed that perhaps he should’ve made the play), and the game was over.

Kelley was beaten with his second-best pitch, and he seemed to know it. He slammed his mitt to the turf in frustration, and when asked afterwards about how he felt, his answer was direct. “About as bad as I’ve felt walking off a mound in my career. Not good.”

Is this loss worse than any of the other bad losses we’ve suffered through this season? Probably not, but it stings a bit more simply because it reminds of who this team actually is. They simply aren’t going to win six of every seven games they play, but there’s still hope. Masahiro Tanaka is pitching simulated games, Michael Piñeda continues to dominate, Shane Greene has been great, Brandon McCarthy has been much better than anyone could’ve expected, and Hiroki Kuroda has now had three solid starts in a row.

Games like this are frustrating, but it’s not the end of the world. I promise.

Deep Sixed

All losses at this point are tough ones. Even the games that don’t hurt, hurt. But let’s be positive. Maybe the Yankees have stumbled on the recipe for October baseball. Let’s see if they can follow: Win five, lose one. Repeat until the end of the year.

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In this game, like real estate, location was everything. As in, the Tigers had men located on the bases for timely hits late in the game and the Yankees scattered nine hits in such a way that two Ellsbury bombs accounted for two measly runs. As in, Brandon McCarthy, who had only walked seven in eight starts for the Yanks, walked in the first run of the game on a 58-foot worm-killer.

I have fond feelings for McCarthy. Fond enough to stick with him as he let the game slip away in the sixth? Maybe. I definitely didn’t want to see him in the seventh, though. The final score was 5-2, but maybe there was a closer game in there somewhere.  

The Yankees squeezed three games out of four against the Tigers after the trade deadline. The series was a ray of hope quickly obscured by the shittiness of mid-August and forgotten just about the time they dropped their fourth game of five tries against the Astros. Now they face Price and Verlander (though that means something vastly different this year) and need to start a new streak.

Oh, the rollercoaster of the mediocre. But it was this way when they were good too. Then it was the best record in baseball  or an annoying Red Sox team that hadn’t had it’s will broken yet that was causing the turbulence late in the season. Maybe it’s only the really bad teams, like this year’s Red Sox, sorry defending World Champion Red Sox, whose will came broken in the box, that flatten out in the dead of August.

Thank these Yankees for playing just well enough to still matter as we creep towards September. They will need an excellent stretch, with very few games like this one, to extend this any further than that. And it needs to begin now. 

Drawing by J. Calafiore, Sinister Six #17, 2010, DC Comics

 

You’re Allowed to Laugh

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That was fun. Strange and fun. But mostly fun last night and then more strange this morning when I looked up the following information:

1) At 8-1, the seven run margin of victory was the third largest of the year.

2) That eight run total was only the tenth time this year they’ve scored eight or more runs.

3) At 68-61, their current seven game bulge over .500 is the high water mark of the year.

Back to the fun bits. Michael Pineda, who defines for me the scouting term “big frame”, was excellent. Apart from the Red Sox incident (and you know, barely taking the mound in almost three full seasons) he’s been great every time out there. I was guilty of only seeing him pitch once or twice in Seattle and attributing much of his pre-trade success to Safeco. But his stuff will play in every park, if you know, he actually pitches in that park. And while I’m impressed with how few people he’s walked thus far, I think it we’d have to invent the three-pitch walk to give a free a pass to a Royal. They play only hack-a-thons.

The Yankees tagged James Shields, who has been good-not-great this year. I think Shields is a fine pitcher and I’m not too concerned about this most recent ass-kicking, but I can envision a Yankee press conference introducing him this winter and I fear that would be… sub-optimal. The imagined justification: we like Lester way better, but we only had to commit four or five years to Shields. The sooner the Yankees stop this penny-pinching crap and get back to trying to win every year, including the year we’re actually living in, the better. And if they’re going to pinch pennies in the rotation, just pinch the shit out them and re-sign McCarthy.

Speaking of Brandon McCarthy, he’s battling Martin Prado for my favorite acquisition of the trade deadline. McCarthy has the stellar performance and the fun internet presence. Prado has had big hits and weirdly, looks like he’s always worn a Yankee uniform. His power outage in Arizona made him a buy-low and, if it returns, he’s a borderline All-Star.

In closing, the Royals are in a position to end years of futility by making the Postseason. They might even win the division, thus skipping the Wild Card peril and ensuring themselves a home game in front of delirious fans. Among those fans will no doubt be some of the vile lot that abused Robinson Cano in the All-Star Game in 2012. There was a time when I would have liked the Yankees (or even the Mariners, new home of the abused) and the Tigers to give them a big shit-burger to eat. But I’m letting this go because a path of tallying offenses doesn’t lead anywhere I’d like to go.

The season looked lost when they showed their stink side to the Astros last week. But a winning streak cures all and that’s what’s underway. Keeping up the winning ways this road trip will be a challenge, so at least they are starting off laughing.

 

 

(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

 

 

 

 

 

Tigers, Minus the Bite

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Justin Verlander is broken; that’s the word anyway. He had off-season surgery on his core muscles and he’s responded with possibly the worst season of his career. (It’s definitely due to my ignorance of the human anantomy, but when I hear “core muscles” I think of some heavily-fortified, organic power core, like the center of the Death Star.) We know something about this kind of stink – CC Sabathia fell off dramatically last year and instead of rebounding, looks like he’s crashed through floor and it’s an open question whether or not there’s a crane in existence equipped to lift him out.

Verlander is not Sabathia however. He’s younger, slimmer and still taking the ball every fifth day. His diminished velocity had him throwing in the 91-93 range last night with the power to kick it up to 95 mph when facing Carlos Beltran in a big spot in the fourth. Verlander owerpowered Beltran with the fastballs and then put him away with a baffling change-up.

With a curve ball bending mostly to his will, Verlander did not look broken last night. He didn’t look like the pitcher he was in 2011-2012, but he was good. The Yankees didn’t get to him at all until the fourth and they didn’t do any real damage until the fifth. 

Credit Paul O’Neill with the blueprint for how to beat him last night. After watching Verlander cruise through the early part of the game, O’Neill said he might only make a few mistakes tonight and that the Yankees better hope those mistakes end up in the seats. Chase Headley did the honors in the fifth, clubbing a less-than-baffling change into the second deck in right. And then Brian McCann did the same to one of those low 90s fastballs in the seventh. 

Another solid contribution from the booth accompanied McCann’s blast as Michael Kay noted that Verlander’s late-game velocity was nothing like it used to be. Hard to imagine McCann turning on that high fastball on the outer edge if it was 97 instead of 91. (We get on the announcers a lot so it’s only fair to point out when they make a good point, no?)

But how to make two solo homers stand up against the division-leading Tigers? Chris Capuano dealing is one way I guess. Derek Jeter booted the first play of the game and that set-up the Tigers’ only run off Capuano. Thanks to change-up that did not deviate from baffling all night, he never really faced any trouble until the Tigers paired two-singles in the seventh. Adam Warren shut down that inning and then stuck around to help himself out of what could have been a back-breaking eighth.

After Stephen Drew made corned beef hash out of a grounder, the tying and go-ahead runs were on third with one out. Adam Warren fell behind the suddenly dangerous J.D. Martinez 3-0 and pumped three fastballs in there for the crucial whiff. Strikes two and three were of the giddy-up variety, challenging Martinez high in the zone and blowing him away.

The Yankees scored insurance runs in their part of the eighth, which are truly some of the best kinds of runs for my money. Warren’s heroics after Capuano’s heavy-lifitng gave both Betances and Robertson a much deserved night off and the Yankees won 5-1. The Yankees look to take a shocking-but-necessary three of four from the Tigers this afternoon. This typically would be a day for a house money lineup, but not this is not the season for one. All hands on deck please.

Image via moggyblog (Copyright by the owner)

The Unbelievables

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Think back to spring training and those lovely days of innocence when all things seemed possible for these New York Yankees. Raise your hand if you thought that the first week of August might see Brett Gardner leading the Yankees in all three slash categories and just one off the team lead in RBIs? Who thought Dellin Betances would emerge as one of the most dominant pitchers in the league, or that he would team with David Robertson to form perhaps the most formidable eight-nine combination the Yankees have had in more than a decade? And even if you had wanted to imagine the loss of 80% of the Opening Day starting rotation, who ever could have dreamed that the team would not just stay afloat but even contend in the American League East?

No one in his or her right mind would ever have predicted any of that nonsense, but all of it has come to pass, largely because of the work of general manager Brian Cashman, who has done some of his finest work this season in cobbling together something that doesn’t remotely resemble the powerhouse teams we’ve grown used to seeing in this Derek Jeter era but still might send the Captain out with one more playoff appearance.

How good has Cashman been? More big names than usual exchanged jerseys in the days leading up to last week’s trading deadline, but the Yankees either chose not to get involved or failed to take advantage of the free for all. We’ll never know if the Yankees ever had a shot at Jon Lester or David Price (probably not) or if they even came close to getting Marlon Byrd, but look at the small pieces that they were able to acquire. Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, and Martín Prado were all in the lineup against the Red Sox on Sunday night, and each player makes the Yankees marginally better than they were a few weeks ago. Cashman didn’t add a frontline starter, but he did get Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano and dip into the minors for Shane Greene. Those three don’t look like Lester, Price, and Jon Lackey, but they don’t look much like Vidal Núño or Chase Whitley, either. (Okay, maybe there are some similarities there, but let’s keep this positive.)

But here’s the point. When the Yankees opened this series against the Red Sox, just hours after the Boston Fire Sale saw management jettison their top three starters and one of their best bullpen arms, I felt that anything less than a sweep would be a disappointment for the Yankees. After Esmile Rogers (!), Betances, and Robertson shut down the Sox over the last five innings (no hits, two walks) and allowed the Yankee bats (!) to pound their way back into the game before Gardner rocked a homer that would be the deciding run in an 8-7 win, I changed my mind.

With contributions from their 2014 MVP (Gardner, 3 for 4, 2B, HR, 3 RBIs), a cast-off from Toronto (Esmil Rogers, 3 IP, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K), and a player the Red Sox gave away as an afterthought (Drew, 2 for 4, 2B, 4 RBIs), this game seemed like a microcosm of the Yankees’ entire season. Yes, I had expected a sweep, but when you look at this lineup and rotation, you realize that maybe it doesn’t make sense even to expect a single win, let alone three in a row. These Yankees have no right to be winning games, and no right to be in the playoff hunt, but there they are.

These Yankees are the Unbelievables.

[Photo Credit: Jim Rogash/Getty Images]

Park At Your Own Risk

bugs-bunny-baseball-2-o_thumbI’ve never been to Fenway, but I have driven past it a couple of times.  It does seem awfully close to the road, and I can’t really imagine parking my car too close to it, considering the propensity for balls flying out of it is probably higher than the Green Monster itself.  Ask Shane Greene. Mike Napoli hit the crap out of one of his offerings and nearly caught a windshield in the third inning, giving the Sox a 2-0 lead in the second inning, and a third run came in by the end of the inning. I’m guessing this was another one that seemed to have “oh well, let me mow the lawn” written all over it, except that Boston’s pitcher Allen Webster wasn’t really all that good as he promptly gave up the lead the next inning, starting  with three straight walks.  After a visit to the mound to exchange recipes, Jeter dinked a double to right field, pushing in two. Ellsbury followed with a run-soring ground out, and you’d think it was pretty much over after Teix grounded out, but it only got better for the Yanks as Beltran (getting his second wind, no doubt) singled and scored Jeter from third. Two walks later and Mr. Webster took his dictionary to the showers. Such is life in the big leagues.

Oh, and remember that long home run Napoli hit in the second? In the fifth, Teix said, “that’s nothing” and smacked one over the wall just a few feet less, but just as impressive as it flew over Lansdowne Street and bounded past parked cars and rolled to a stop, pondering the realities of life in the big leagues; maybe took stock in what just happened and thought about its next step in its career. That and in the seventh switch-teamer Stephen Drew doubled in Beltran to add another insurance run, which was good because the Sox tried hard to mount a comeback after that, but only managed to get one of the runs back on an Ortiz sac fly off of Betances in the bottom of the inning that was charged to Adam Warren.  But other than that, it was a bullpen win as Shawn Kelley ended up with the win and Betances and David Robertson nailed down the last two innings respectively.

So in essence, the Yanks smacked back at the Sox with this one 6-4, and look to claim the series before heading home to deal with the Tigers and their new addition to the rotation (but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we?)

Kids These Days (boy, I tell you…)

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AB: I know I should be above it, I know not to expect too much from this team, but when they lose to the Red Sox, I’m 8 years old again, more upset than I really should be. (censored, LOL)

CW: It just seemed inevitable. Between the combination of mediocre and under-performing talent with Girardi’s bemusing insistence on managing by the numbers, I feel almost drained following them this season.

Which is really worse when you put it into the context of professional sports? A bad team in a weak division that commits seppuku at the trade deadline with an eye towards resurrecting itself in the near future or a mediocre team in the same division that makes small moves to keep itself going and hope it can overtake the other weak teams? I can’t help but get philosophical as Alex and I bantered about the effects this rivalry has on fans who have been following two teams that have been slow since last winter (even though one had just won the Whirled Serious a couple of months before).

It was journeyman thirty-something  Chris Capuano for the visiting Yanks facing twenty-something rookie Anthony Renaudo for the home team. That’s right; no Lester, no Lackey, not even a Dubront or anyone we would have heard of this season for Boston (except for Clay Buchholz; who like our own Hiroki Kuroda is the last man standing in the rotation, although for entirely different reasons), and considering how the Yanks have lost four-fifths of it’s starting rotation to injury and replaced it with spit, gristle and a little bit of luck, we’re really in no position to talk. Capuano himself had been purchased from the Colorado Rockies’ farm system; having signed with the organization three days after being dumped from the team he was about to face.  His younger counterpart, born and raised in Freehold, NJ (home of The Boss, Bruce Springsteen) was making his major league debut. You know what that means…

AB: I only get drained when I expect more than is reasonable…like any time they play the Red Sox. But I suppose I really want them to make the second wild card so that Jeter’s final game isn’t at Fenway Park. Then again, would that be worse than flying to Anaheim and getting trounced in a one game playoff game? At least the Sox fans will appreciate DJ properly.

CW:Exactly; it’s more discouraging to me when they make the playoffs and get wiped out because it prevents them from getting a better pick (crucial when you consider how close they were to getting Mike Trout) and gives them the false impression that they are better than they are constructed.

Though a valiant second wind from the likes of Brett Gardner, having a career year with heretofore unrealized and hopefully unplugged power, not to mention a surprise appearance of contribution from Carlos Beltran and a big pop from The Captain, the Yanks were simply not capable of overcoming their Achilles Heel: The Unheralded Rookie Pitcher.  Couple that with some mishaps from Ichiro in right that turned a single into a double and let runners get into scoring position, cashed in by the actual hitters in the Sox lineup, and you had the makings of a frustrating night.  It did get somewhat interesting when Junichi Tazawa gave up a booming shot to Jeter over the Monster to bring the game close, but Ellsbury’s shot to deep center was grabbed by the fleet-footed Mookie Betts, a converted second baseman playing center who made an awkward leaping catch that will inevitably be played over and over again in yearly highlights. It was an important grab because Tazawa was hit hard that inning, and had Ellsbury been on base he would have scored and tied the game. Such is the luck of the Yanks this season. Sox closer Koji Uehara relieved the otherwise ineffective Tazawa and shut down the Yanks.

AB: Right. Whom do you prefer, the A’s or Tigers? No who do you think will win but who’d you root for? Or would you pull for the O’s to upset them?

 CW: I think the Tigers would win, but I’d be rooting for the A’s. I can’t root for the Peter AngelO’s.  Plus Buck has gotten to be more of an ass as he ages. If you don’t mind, I’m going to incorporate this conversation into the recap :)

 AB:  Sure thing. Just don’t mention that (redacted, blah blah blah, none of your business)

CW: Copy that.

Yanks lose 4-3

The One with the Sideburns

The Yankees swept through Texas on the way to World Championships in 1998 and 1999. When they faced off in the Division Series, each squad featured a team OPS of over .819. They were two of the better hitting teams in a juiced-up era.

In last night’s game, each lineup featured exactly one player who can top the team OPS of 15 years ago – Beltre for the Rangers and, here we have to cheat a little bit, Cervelli in a limited roll for the Yanks. If we don’t get to cheat, then the Yanks top starter was Brett Gardner, though his .789 OPS is well short of what the 1999 Yanks could do.

No player is better-suited to thrive in today’s game than Brett Gardner. A glove-first speedster who could get on base a little but couldn’t hit it out of the infield, he’d never have made it on the field in the late 90s. The Yanks weren’t sure how to account for stellar defense and weren’t too sure how much it was worth to them anyway. In recent years, even powerless, Gardner became one of the Yankees’ better players. In 2014, reaching a dozen homers while the calendar still says July, he’s added enough power to his game to be a star and the Yankees MVP. And a rarity – a very good contract.

The Yankees were very fortunate to have him last night, as he got them on the scoreboard and gave them a real chance to win with two solo homers. He now has four career homers off Yu Darvish which strikes me as near-impossible. But David Phelps couldn’t retire J.P. Arencibia when it mattered most and lost the game 4-2. J.P. Arencibia is hitting .153 and getting on base at a .198 clip. He’s indistinguishable from a statue except the statue would probably take more walks. Phelps allowed all four runs on two-out hits in the fifth.

The Yankees threatened a couple of times and really handled Darvish as well as you can possibly expect them to, but they could never get the meaningful hit with men on base. When Darvish attacked McCann with a 91 MPH heat-seeker aimed at his back leg in the seventh, it was like watching Mariano’s cutter gone feral. McCann struck out of course, but the pitch just kept boring in past the point of recognition and carved out a unique-looking trajectory.

***

 

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The last batter of the game was Derek Jeter and he stung a one-hopper to short but Andrus handled it easily. That put an end to one of Jeter’s best games of the year. Three hits and a walk. One of them a double!

The third hit, a perfectly executed hit-and-run before the McCann whiff in the seventh, was his 3420th and sent Jeter past Carl Yastrzemski into seventh place by his lonesome on the all-time hit list (according to Elias and MLB.com). Honus Wagner is up next, 10 hits away, and that’s as far as Jeter can get this year. He’d need another 94 hits in the Yankees remaining 57 games to catch Tris Speaker for the fifth spot.

I watched each of Jeter’s at bats with an enthusiasm I have not been able to muster since Masahiro Tanaka got hurt. I wish there were a few more doubles sprinkled into Jeter’s season, but otherwise, he’s had a very enjoyable year and I look forward to the last two months. I would not be surprised at all if his batting average keeps creeping up towards .300, like in 2008 when the Yanks season was crap and the stadium was closing and he rallied the fans around his pursuit of the previously obscure Stadium hit record.

 

Image from simpsonswiki.com

 

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]

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