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

When Godzilla Stomped on My Family Vacation

My wife argues that what I did was tantamount to deliberate sabotage of the family vacation. I disagree, but it’s a matter of degree, not substance. It’s about sorting my priorities, and I definitely put the making the finals ahead of anything else, including embarking on an important trip. For that, I deserved some heat.

The finals in question were for the 2015 Nippon Club Baseball Tournament. Mostly populated by teams representing the New York offices of Japanese corporations, we play throughout the summer, early on weekend mornings, on the nicely refurbished fields of Randall’s Island. My company’s team is decent and has made the semifinals three times in ten years, but we’ve never advanced to the final.

And what I did, or what was done to me, or whatever, was pain. It’s hard to writhe in pain on the infield dirt while also remaining still, but that was the advice raining down on me from members of both teams. Agony inspires an escape plan. Rolling around the dirt trying to crawl out of my skin was all I could come up with. That and screaming “fuck” a bunch of times. So while the not-moving advice was sound, I’m sure, all I heard was the little angel/devil voice inside my own head “Get up. Matsui is on the line. Get up.”

This was the semifinals and our chances of making the finals were in trouble. The finals of anything is usually a good place to be, so maybe that’s motivation in and of itself to get up off the ground and play. I don’t think my angel/devil’s advice would have been much different under normal circumstances, and hence my wife’s interpretation of the events gains even more traction, but this year was far from normal. Instead of facing one of the usual tournament powerhouses for the crown, we’d be facing Hideki Matsui.

“Wait, come again?” I asked.

“Hideki. Matsui.” elaborated my teammate.


He pointed to the outfield, where two centerfielders stood back-to-back, the way they do on overlapping fields without fences. This was the quarterfinals, a few weeks earlier, and our 12-run lead allowed ample time for the observation of the other games. There was no mistaking the tank standing in centerfield, wearing number 55. Two of me together might match the width between his shoulders. There stood the MVP of the 2009 World Series playing the sun field at too-damn-early o’clock on a Saturday and trying to get his team into the same semi-finals we were all but assured of reaching.

I went scrambling through the paperwork on the bench, looking for the draw and the future schedule. “Crap,” I said. “We’re on the wrong side.”

That Hideki Matsui was playing in the tournament probably should have been something I was aware of before the quarterfinals. However, I’m in a state of, if not semi-retirement, then of other-shit-to-do-ment. I coached the Little Leaguers on Saturday mornings and the Pee Wee Soccerers on Sunday mornings. Even if there were not direct conflicts, which there were, adding another sports-related commitment to the weekends would have been the last thing I did before being served with divorce papers.

The teams in the tournament occupy an athletic limbo. The overriding qualification for being on the roster is not any baseball skill, but simply a desire to play – beginning with the awareness that team even exists and culminating with the ability to drag yourself to the field for first pitches at 8:30 AM. This brings an assortment of ex-ballplayers and guys who haven’t played since the bases were 60 feet apart. I played into college, but blew my knee out in the winter of my freshman year and re-habbed on a bar stool for the other three-and-a-half years. I picked up playing in adult leagues for several years after that, but for the last decade or so, this tournament has been my only baseball. Our starting lineup features a couple of other guys who at least played in high school and a couple of guys who can most likely catch a ball thrown directly at them.

I don’t know that I can describe exactly why it was so important to play against Matsui, but as soon as I found out it was a possibility, I wanted it badly. I’ve told this story to many friends (and their friends, and their parents, and co-workers, and their dogs) and right away I can tell if they get it. Some cannot embrace the calculus that makes this awesome. The ones that do get a glimmer in their eyes.

I’m aware that you can pay to attend a fantasy camp and play against baseball legends. That is of no interest to me (well, I’d do it if you paid my freight, but I’m not writing that check). This isn’t star-fucking, well maybe, but different. This guy is coming to us. He’s coming to our tournament to compete for the same trophy we’re trying to win. He’s just having fun and trying to kick our asses. I mean, he’s a great Yankee too, and I’ve followed his career closely and all, but if it was Mike Piazza, I don’t think I’d feel much differently.

The dream scenario for how it would play out is vague in my mind. Is it hitting a long blast over his head and earning a tip-of-the-cap when he spots you standing on third? Is it robbing him of extra bases with a sliding grab? Is it watching him tattoo our pitcher with missile after missile? Is it just the thrill of competition to test yourself against the limits of your ability and shake hands when the dust settles? I guess that’s why I needed to play that game. Something’s going to happen, and whatever it is, I’m going to tell the story of that something for as long as I can summon the spit. And really any way it goes is going to be epic in the re-telling.

But, OK, I concede, give me the tip-of-the-cap.

There was some good news on the schedule, the semi-finals were on July 11th and our family vacation didn’t start until the 12th. We’d be going to visit my wife’s family until the 19th and given they don’t live next door, the kids getting to spend extended time with them is the whole point. The finals were also on the 19th so that would be a problem. And in between us and the finals was Mizuho Bank, a team we’d never beaten, and their star pitcher, ex-minor leaguer Rich Hartmann.

We had only four guys in the lineup that stood any chance against Hartmann. I was swinging the bat well in the tournament, and I’d had some success against him in the past, but that was long enough ago not to matter. I hadn’t seen a pitch at his speed in three or four years – the pitcher in the quarterfinals might not have registered on a JUGS gun.

First pitch of the semis was on a Saturday at 8:30am. This was too bad for us, as we learned Hartmann was suffering from a very painful case of gout and was unable to put any weight on his foot right up until midday Friday. His medication kicked in just in time.

There was not a cloud in damn sky. I cuss because I was leading off and the sun was right in my face. The ball came out of his hand, low-80s, just below the life-giver. I didn’t see any white, just a dark grey oval humming at the plate. I got one pitch to hit, couldn’t catch up to it. Fouled off one of his out pitches on the outer edge and geared up for another when he came back over the inside corner and caught me cheating. I don’t like striking out, and take great pains to avoid it, but this one… I had no chance.

The good thing about that sun though, it was just as much a bastard for them. Through two-and-a-half innings, the pitchers allowed two base runners, a bloop single and a walk, against double-digit strikeouts and zero well-struck balls. Before striking out yet another hitter in the third, our pitcher smiled at me and pointed to the other field where the other semi-final was taking place. Matsui was pitching. The whole infield just turned and stared. It reminded me of the scene in Eight Men Out when the plane flies over head and drops the dummy on the infield. We had to win this game.



The next time I got up with two outs in the bottom of the third, the sun was mercifully higher, still no help from the clouds though. I laid off a couple of loose breaking balls and found myself sitting fastball when he had no good reason to throw anything else. He obliged with a get-me-over-fastball, not his hardest by a long shot, belt high and inner third. I smoked a one-hopper to the right of the first baseman. He dove but couldn’t reach it. The ball skidded off the dirt and off the tip of his glove and caromed toward an empty second base. Given the pitcher was gout-ridden, even if the first baseman made a miracle stab, I was winning that foot race. I was relieved to notch the hit, but there was also a nagging feeling that I needed to do more damage with that one if we wanted to get some runs on the board.

I got ready to try to steal, but this guy had a pick-off move and the catcher could reach second. I could steal at will off the lesser teams. Before I could get on my horse, we were out of the inning. And two batters into the top of the fourth, we were losing. Double and single, both smacked and we were down a run. It looked like a massive run, even then.

But the inning wasn’t over there. Mizuho was finding the soft spots in the outfield – and there were many. Luckily, we were able to force the pitcher at second base from right field (the gout, again) to give us a shot at getting out of the jam.

With first and second and two outs, they tried for the double steal. Let’s review the situation as this daring play went into effect: I’m left-handed, I was playing well in front of the bag at third-base to compensate for the torn labrum in my throwing arm and the catcher can’t throw either. I hightailed it back to the bag, got in decent straddling position and looked up to see the catcher uncork a spectacularly awful throw, more in the general direction of shortstop than the third base bag. I instinctively lunged out towards the ball. The glove on my right hand came nowhere near the ball hurtling into space, but the action dragged my right leg directly into the baseline where a not-small, not-agile, 40 plusser was bearing down. He never really intended on sliding, I guess, but when he saw me block the bag, he went into a duck-and-cover pseudo-roll which planted his helmet just below my right knee.

One of my (many) flaws is that I don’t suffer injury quietly. I can play hurt, I can endure pain over long stretches, but at the moment of injury, I’m prone to dramatic reactions. So there was a lot of concern due to this particular reaction which was one of my most dramatic. The Nippon Club Tournament director didn’t even get mad at me for yelling “fuck” so many times. My reaction may have also caused everyone else on the field to ignore the fact that I had obstructed the runner, and as in the 2013 World Series, if he had made any attempt at home plate, he would have granted free passage there, scoring a run we could not afford to give up.

And then we had the yelling, the writhing and ultimately only these facts remained: it wasn’t broken and if you come out of the game, you can’t go back in.

There was nothing noble about staying in the game, as the guys on the bench didn’t wake up at 6:30am on their Saturday to watch me gimp around the field. This was a selfish thing and a deluded, though possibly accurate, back-of-the-napkin calculation that even with one leg, I was going to be better than any potential replacement. I’ll give you three guesses where the next ball was hit and the first two don’t count.

Low running grounder to my left, a play of moderate difficulty, but of course, everybody was holding their breath to see if my leg was going to come flying off. I leaned over, snagged it, took an impaired shuffle and slung some side-arm slop over to first and that was the inning.

Adrenaline is a hell of a thing, but apart from being fairly certain my leg was not broken, I had no idea about the extent of the injury. It was bad – the worst I’ve ever been hurt in a baseball game by far. Sitting through our at-bats getting stiff didn’t help. And we didn’t score.

They, however, tacked on another in the 5th when our left fielder turned a can-of-corn into a double. That’s not fair. There are no easy plays in this league. He was playing a little too shallow, got the wrong read on the ball, and then instead of turning and running back to where the ball was lazily drifting, opted for the back-pedal of death. He fell down over ten feet from where the ball landed.

I fielded one more grounder to end the sixth and came up to bat with one out and nobody on in the bottom of the inning. By now, the sun and clouds were far from my thinking as all I wanted to do was crush a fly ball so I could limp to first. He figured out his breaking ball, unfortunately, and dropped the first two into the zone, low and away. I swung at the second one, and it was not a swing for the archives. I tapped it straight into the ground and it hopped up over the pitcher’s head and settled on course to the charging shortstop.

I guess I could have just accepted this as an out but…no, let’s sprint-limp to first and try to beat this out. Somehow, there wasn’t even a throw. The shortstop didn’t handle it cleanly, but I’m pretty sure that was not required to throw me out. Anyway, that was the end of me. I well overdrew the account with that maneuver and couldn’t even get a first step toward second when the next pitch went to the back stop. Two outs later I took myself out of the game.

The tournament director brought me some ice. That was nice. I needed bacta. Back on the field, we continued to play well, but not well enough. Our pitcher went all nine frigging innings and held them at two runs. My replacement fielded two balls cleanly and when my spot in the order came up in the eighth, he got a hit. Damn, I would have given a lot to stay in, but he did more than I probably could have done.

We couldn’t score though. We put one more base runner on in the ninth, but yeah, this isn’t a happy ending. We lost 2-0, both pitchers throwing complete game gems.

Our game was over so quickly, that even after the ceremonial bows and team photos, we had time to catch the end of the other semifinal. I set myself up on the ground behind third base with the ice bag and watched Hideki Matsui in the on-deck circle. This was as close as I was going to get, so medical attention for my knee would just have to wait.

It was the top of the eighth, and the game was tied 1-1 and Team Matsui (that was literally their name, which is awful, but at least transparent) had two runners on base. The pitcher on the hill was struggling and fell behind, but no, this couldn’t be happening. He walked the hitter. In. Front. Of. Hideki. Matsui. So bases loaded, 1-1 tie, and the owner of 507 professional home runs stepped up to the plate.

Matsui batted right-handed. I mean, it makes sense and all, but sheeit. He felt it would not be fair and honorable to bat lefty in the tournament, but I can tell you not one player on any team wanted him to bat right-handed. So shove the honor and hit a bomb, please.


No matter though, because their pitcher beaned him on the first pitch. The go-ahead run crossed the plate. Beaned Godzilla. Team Matsui weathered a rally in the ninth and won. I watched Matsui jump four feet in the air celebrating during the 2003 ALCS Game 7 rally, so I can tell you that, apart from a minus-three feet off the jump in intervening 12 years, he celebrated pretty damn hard for that final out.

You can read about the final here. It was a doozy.

The end of my story is that I could not really walk or do anything that required any more than the crudest, slowest limping for the next three days. So packing the bags? Packing the car full of those bags? Driving four hours? Doing anything with the children in a haze of painkillers? Nope. I received as much sympathy from my wife as if I was badly hungover from a night at the strip club. Your call on whether or not this was sabotage, but it certainly screwed up her life for reasons that aren’t readily apparent to her.


At first I tried to argue with her. But it’s a loser. Injury is not the freak accident I pretend it to be, but rather the logical conclusion of continuing to play baseball, basketball and soccer at an advancing age. I’ve had three knee operations, the torn labrum, a broken nose and all of them put together were a picnic compared to the herniated disc and nerve impingement that screwed up our 2014. If I continue to play, I will continue to get hurt.

My father plays tennis often, and he’s in his mid-60s. He recently carried his doubles team, and his tennis club, to their league championship with a particularly awesome match. It’s probably the happiest I’ve seen him, maybe ever. A few years ago, his doubles partner died on the court next to him. And last week, another partner passed away the day after they played together.

We play the games of our youth to halt the passage of time and experience the thrills and joys only found on those fields. Yet playing, especially as we age, also contributes to the rapid deterioration of our physical selves. I guess some would look at our fragile mortality and say stay the hell away from those fields and crashing bodies. But if you do decide to play, it would be best for everybody if you’re able to get in the car and drive for four hours the next morning.

One @#$%ing Run

captain-eo-starring-michael-jackson-00Yeah, that’s about the size of it; Yanks have been playing a lot of games this season where they win or lose by (or annoyingly only scoring) one run. Not surprisingly, this was shaping up to be one of those shit-end-of-the-stick one run games; low scoring and other pitcher is lights out. Surprisingly, the team usually scores a lot of runs for The Composer (yunnow, Eovaldi, Vivaldi, ahh nervermind) , surprisingly his gem did not go to waste as Girardi and the batters themselves have a habit of pissing away these kind of efforts with “plays” or notebook strategies or just plain bad at-bats, but no.

Somehow, they managed to get on the good side of karma as the last inning saw them load the bases with none out and Beltran, known more for blown opportunities without even moving rather than good luck, managed to sky the ball enough to let Happy Nutheryearonearth boy Brett Gardner dash in with the winning @#$%ing run in the bottom of the night. Surprise, surprise, Yanks did not lose in extra innings (another annoying habit of late) and beat a surprisingly (if you are playing the Drinking Game with the word surprise, you are a lush) beating-the-league-like-they-owe-you-money Astros club by the score of @#$%ing 1-0.

It’s not that I hate low scoring games. It’s just that I hate having to go to bed in the middle of one with a summer cold and then wake up and write this before an early call. Oh well, enjoy your day and remember: @#$%!

August and Everything After


The Score Truck has been rumbling through the streets recently, and the Yankee bats were out in force again on Sunday afternoon in Chicago, piling up twelve runs against the White Sox to wrap up another series win and a successful 6-4 road trip.

Jacoby Ellsbury got things started when he jumped on the second pitch of the game from Chicago’s Jeff Samardzija and drove it into the stands just to the left of dead center field. Samardzija seemed to settle down as he retired nine of the next eleven Yankee hitters after that, but then the fourth inning happened.

It all started innocently enough. After striking out Mark Teixeira for the first out of the inning, Samardzija fooled Brian McCann enough to induce a weak pop up to the left side. McCann slammed his bat down in disgust, but the ball was headed towards the Bermuda Triangle between left field, center field, and shortstop, and it fell into the grass for a single. Carlos Beltrán followed with a four-pitch walk, and then Chase Headley singled to load the bases with one out.

Stepping up to the plate was Didi Gregorius. If they had an award for Comeback Player of the Year within the year, Gregorius would win it in a landslide. After hitting .206 in April, Gregorius hit a robust .317 in July to bring his overall average up to a more-than-respectable .260. He’d end up hitting .438 on this ten-game road trip, and it’s gotten to the point where I actually expect him to come through in important situations. So I wasn’t surprised at all when he poked a single into left center to plate McCann and Beltrán (with a nifty slide) to give the Yanks a 3-0 lead.

Next up was Stephen Drew (don’t look now, but the average is almost up to .200), who naturally singled to load the bases again for the top of the order. An Ellsbury sacrifice fly to the wall in center field pushed the score to 4-0, but with two outs and runners on second and third, Brett Garnder’s at bat felt huge. Sure, the Yanks already had a four-run lead, but a base hit in this spot would bury the ChiSox, and Gardy provided just that as he shot a single to the second baseman’s right, throwing two more shovels of dirt on the Sox and bringing the score to 6-0.

Those six runs would have been enough, but the Bombers weren’t done. They’d add three more in the next inning on a Teixeira home run (his fifth in the last four games) and a two-run double from Drew, then three more in the seventh on a two-run triple from Drew and an RBI groundout from Ellsbury for an even dozen runs.

But as impressive as that offensive performance was, the story of the game was Ivan Nova. We know that this Yankee team will score runs (the OPS numbers of the top five hitters in the lineup look like this: 729, 824, 918, 958, 789), but with Michael Pineda recently landing on the DL, Masahiro Tanaka showing signs of regression, and CC Sabathia being CC Sabathia, suddenly we’re counting on an awful lot from Nova, Nathan Eovaldi, and a kid who still hasn’t thrown a pitch in the major leagues.

All Nova did on Sunday was dominate the White Sox hitters with a strong fastball, a confident breaking ball, and a diving sinker. The only hint of trouble he faced in the early going came in the third inning, and it wasn’t of his doing. After Adam Eaton singled with two outs, he stole second and advanced to third when McCann’s throw squirted into center field. The score was still only 1-0 at the time, so Eaton carried an important potential run with him, but Nova quickly extinguished the threat with a strikeout, one of seven he’d pile up on the afternoon.

Nova did yield a run in the sixth on a walk, a fielder’s choice, and a ground ball base hit, but he did so with a nine-run lead. He seemed a bit irritated, but he recovered nicely to strike out Avisail Garcia on three pitches (three swings and misses) to end the inning and put a cap on his six-inning performance. Final score: Yankees 12, White Sox 3.

So things are good in the Yankee Universe. They’ll bring their six-game division lead back to Yankee Stadium for three games against the hapless Red Sox, and they won’t have to travel out of the Eastern time zone until a potential playoff game in someplace like Houston, Kansas City, or Anaheim. Better still, only 24 of their remaining 58 games will be played on the road, and three of those road games are against the Mets at Citi Field. While teams all around the league have retooled and traded prospects for a shot at the brass ring, the Yankees just might be in better position than any of the other contenders as we head into August and September… and October.

It’s good to be Yankee, and it’s good to be a Yankee fan. Some things never change.

Trouble in Texas


Sorry Yankee fans, I should have realized no team is above superstition. Tanaka was in trouble for his entire outing and did his best to keep the game in reach, but the Yankees didn’t have the wingspan in this one and lost 5-2. Beyond the box score, the Rangers made the big news of the night acquiring Cole Hamels for some shiny prospects and Matt Harrison.

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead and showing signs that the deluge of runs from the previous night was no fluke, the tap ran dry. And that lead didn’t last long. Tanaka struggled in the second in a way we rarely see - at the mercy of the hitters.

The two key batters of the inning were Choo and De Shields and they both beat our guy. Choo smacked a drifting splitter, the second dead-fish splitter of the at-bat to tie the game and DeShields snagged the lead when he reached out for a 1-2 fastball off the plate. That one was tougher to swallow because it wasn’t a bad pitch. Probably needed to be elevated a little more.

Give the 2015 Yankees credit, their recent play suggested they could win this game right up until the end, even though they never really got it going again after the second. An easy loss to shake off as they can still take the series with a win Thursday.

As we rush to meet the trade deadline, the Yankees options are dwindling. I bet they make a major push for Price, but if the Dodgers want him, they have the better players to offer. So the Tigers will work the Dodgers up to the last minute and only turn to the Yankees if they come up empty-handed. I’ve always admired Price, so I hope he ends up a Yankee, but I don’t have my hopes up.


Two Steps in Texas…


…and two more to go. The Yankees send Masahiro Tanaka to the bump tonight to extend their modest, but spectacular, four-game winning streak. His fly balls turn into homers with enough frequency that this could get dicey. He faces off against Colby Lewis, who never seems like much and the Yankees have handled pretty well throughout his career. So do we even need to reverse jinx this one? The 2015 Yankees have earned the benefit of the doubt in a game like this. Make it so, fellas.

Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Brett Gardner LF
Alex Rodriguez DH
Brian McCann C
Carlos Beltran RF
Chase Headley 3B
Garrett Jones 1B
Didi Gregorius SS
Stephen Drew 2B

And we cannot ignore the trade deadline. The Tigers just spiced things up by announcing they will be listening on David Price. This gives the Yankees a lot to consider in a short space. Between Cole Hamels and a decent contract for three years or David Price and no commitment after 2015 or just going with internal solutions, that’s a meeting I’d like to attend. Or at least get the jist of.




What does it take to get CC Sabathia a win these days? Homers, lots of them. And a quick hook, so he doesn’t decompose after the fifth. And it doesn’t hurt at all for the other starter to leave injured after three innings. Maybe the bullpen bailing him out when he gets in trouble and some shiny defense along the way at points, but that’s the crux of what needs to happen. And if the baseball gods smile upon him and allow him to keep the ball in the yard during his abbreviated stint, well, there’s a chance.

Mark Teixeira supplied two homers and some shiny defense. Drew, using this season to prepare for his upcoming audition as an extra in The Walking Dead, chipped in another blast. Joe Girardi supplied the quick hook and the bullpen locked things down until the freshly reinstated closer Andrew Miller almost undid all that careful work.

Before his injury, Andrew Miller had only allowed two hits once in 26 appearances. And he only allowed one home run. He doubled the tally on both accounts, but held the lead at 5-4. And CC got a very rare win.

Sabathia’s demise calls to mind another very sad baseball story – that of Catfish Hunter. Both mega-stars in their twenties who came to pitch the Yanks into the World Series for big bucks, their careers dashed in their early thirties due to chronic health problems. Hunter did not have Sabathia’s opt-out clause and subsequent extension, and he retired at the end of his original five-year contract at the age of 33. If Sabathia had not re-worked his deal before his opt-out clause kicked in, he’d be retiring at the end of this year, at the age of 35.

Hunter had won so often so early and he appeared so regularly in October that when he did retire, he had done enough to get Hall of Fame votes. His career pales considerably when viewed with current metrics, but you don’t often hear too many people complain about his inclusion.

Sabathia has been the better pitcher for me, but I wonder if two more years of getting smashed by every right-handed hitter in the league will put a permanent stain on his record. Both guys are damn easy to root for though, maybe that will throw a veil over the gory ending.

It’s sad to be finsihed before you’re ready and I don’t think anybody was ready. Probably CC most of all.


Photo via Sports Illustrated

Walking in the Spiderwebs


A little over four years ago I wrote a piece here imagining a world in which Ivan Nova had developed into the Yankees’ ace while CC Sabathia had become the team’s fifth starter and even been sent to the bullpen for the postseason. The year I was imagining was 2015, which seems kind of hard to believe, but that future is now.

Has Nova become the ace I once imagined? Prior to his elbow surgery he had had his moments of brilliance, but he never looked like a consistent frontline starter. Now, however, he’s been cast as the savior for a rotation that’s been consistent only in its unpredictability. (In fact, the most dependable starter, Adam Warren, was shipped out to the bullpen on Tuesday, but more on that later.)

Nova sent hopes soaring with his debut outing last week, posting seven scoreless innings with stuff just as electric as we remembered, but things were different on Tuesday night in Anaheim. He found trouble early, giving up two singles in the first inning before getting a strikeout from Albert Pujols and a ground out from Erick Aybar to escape that jam, then loading the bases in the second before wriggling free from that one.

The Yankee offense got started in the top of the second when Mark Teixeira launched a towering fly to left center field for his 19th homer of the season, which seemed like a promising start. After that, however, the bats on both sides started to collect spiderwebs.

The Yankees were facing Andrew Heaney, who was making just his second major league start. If you’ve been following the Yankees closely over the past fifteen years — and I know you have — you know that rookie pitchers are their Kryptonite. I don’t have the stats to support this, and it may very well be that the stats don’t support this, but my memory tells me that the Yankees always seem to go down meekly when facing pitchers they’ve never seen before. And so it was with Heaney.

He retired the Yankees in order in the first, gave up Teixeira’s homer in the second, yielded a single to Brett Gardner in the third, walked Chase Headley in the fifth, and walked Teixeira in the seventh. And that was it. Thanks to a couple of double plays, Heaney faced only 24 batters in seven innings. He was the one who looked like the future ace.

After Nova’s early struggles, however, he was matching Heaney pitch for pitch. He cruised through the third, fourth, and fifth innings, giving up just a single and a walk and never really breaking a sweat. In the sixth, however, the bubble burst. Pujols turned on Nova’s first pitch of the inning and produced a majestic home run deep into the trees that grow beyond the centerfield fence; two pitches later Erick Aybar followed suit with a shot of his own to center, and suddenly the Angels had a 2-1 lead. Nova would get one out in the inning before Matt Joyce hit a ringing double down the right field line and sent our future ace to the showers.

Adam Warren came in to make his first relief appearance of the season, and guess what? He was good. He skated through the final two innings and change, allowing just a hit and a walk and perhaps a regret or two from Joe Girardi. But we’ll never know about that last part.

For their parts, the Yankee hitters didn’t do much the rest of the way. Didi Gregorius reached on an error with one out in the eighth, but he was quickly erased by a Stephen Drew double play ball, and the top three hitters went down quietly in the ninth. Final score: Angels 2, Yankees 1.

There is good news, however. While the Yankees have forgotten how to win, the rest of the American League East has been sputtering as well, and the Pinstripes have lost no ground in the standings. So that’s something. Nova didn’t get the win, but he pitched well, something most of us probably weren’t counting on this year. He might not be the ace yet, but he’s pitching.

Oh, and here’s one more thing. My son and I will be in the stands instead of on the couch tomorrow afternoon, so things are already looking up!

[Photo Credit: Jae C. Hong/AP Photo]

Tragic Kingdom

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that I despise the California Angels, the Anaheim Angels, and the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim in equal measure, so instead of rehashing my usual litany of invectives against Gary DiScarcina and Garret Anderson and Mike Scoscia, I’ll instead focus on the game at hand, the opening frame of a three-game set in Anaheim.

CC Sabathia was on the mound for the Yankees, which means that expectations weren’t too high, but old CC pitched fairly well. Sure, he coughed up a run in the bottom of the first, but it wasn’t anything too awful. Johnny Giavotella, or Johnny G, as the Angels announcers love to call him, singled to lead off the game, then came all the way around to score on a two-out double from the resurgent Albert Pujols. Nothing to worry about yet, right?

The Yankee hitters got that run back in the top of the third, but it could’ve been more than that. DiDi Gregorius walked with one out and moved to second on a single from Brett Gardner, which brought up Chris Young. Young hit a rocket to left center, a ball that would easily have scored both runners for a 2-1 Yankee lead, but Mike Trout raced deep into the gap, reached across his body at the warning track and made the grab for the second out of the inning, sending the runners scampering back to their bases. Alex Rodríguez came up next and punched a ball to right field to tie the game and salvage something of the inning, but Trout’s play still stung.

In the bottom of the third, Trout would sting the Yankees again, this time with his bat, as he slugged a homer just ten feet or so beyond the spot where he had robbed Young in the top of the inning. I can never look at Mike Trout without imagining him in pinstripes, patrolling center field and thrilling a generation of fans who weren’t lucky enough to have followed Mattingly and Jeter before him. If only.

The game stayed at two to one until it looked like the Yankees might tie it up in the top of the fifth. Gardner, the reigning American League Player of the Week, stood at second base after a quirky double down the right field line, and Chris Young stood at the plate. Once again he launched a blast deep into the left center field gap. This ball was fifteen or twenty feet to the left of where the last one had died, but Trout was still coming and coming and coming. Once again he leapt at the last second, and once again he broke Young’s heart, this time with a catch that was even more impressive than the first. Young stared out at Trout for a second, then waved his hand in disgust before heading back to the dugout. After the game he suggested that baseball’s rules be changed to give a team half a run on plays like that, just to make the hitter feel a little better. In the space of three innings, Trout had stolen two runs with his glove and added one with his bat. That’s what greatness does.

If Sabathia had skipped over the odd innings on Monday night, he’d have thrown a shutout, but just as there are no half runs, there are no skipsies in baseball. And so came the bottom of the fifth (an RBI double from Kole Calhoun) and the bottom of the seventh (a towering homer from C.J. Cron) and suddenly the Yankees were down 4-1.

Their best opportunity to get back in the game had come back in the top of the seventh when Brian McCann led off with a walk and Gregorius pounded the Baltimorest chop you’ve ever seen off the front of the plate for an infield single to put two runners on with nobody out. I know that Brett Gardner is about ready to burst into flames, and I know that the Angels were creeping in at the corners, but I just couldn’t figure out why Joe Girardi didn’t send Gardy up there to bunt. It was only 3-1 at the time, and I sure would’ve liked to have seen Young and Rodríguez get shots to drive in the tying runs, but Girardi didn’t see it that way. Instead Gardner popped out to left, Young bounced into a fielder’s choice, and A-Rod grounded out to short. The Yankees felt dead in that moment; Cron’s home run in the bottom half just made sure. Nothing of interest happened after that, but tomorrow is another day.

[Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images]



Bad news all around for the Yankees today as Andrew Miller hit the DL with a forearm strain and the cascading bullpen shuffle hamstrung Girardi and contributed to a tough loss.

The Yankees struck in the bottom of the seventh again, turning an 0-2 hole into a 4-2 lead. But instead of the Betances-Miller hope-killer, we saw Eovaldi start the eighth. He allowed a hit and when Jacob Lindgren came out of the pen, something was officially NOT RIGHT.

Lindgren pitched OK for a guy who gave up a game-tying homer. He got Bryce Harper, the key at-bat, we thought, and induced a possible inning-ending double play. But Stephen Drew double-clutched when a single-clutch was all that was called for and the inning leaked forward for pinch-hitter Michael Taylor to ruin a really nice day.

Extra innings played out as Yankee fans began filing missing persons reports for their bullpen aces. When neither appeared in the 10th and 11th, the looming loss crystalized. It was Denard Span with chopper in the eleventh if you’re looking for the official cause of death. Nats pulled it out, 5-4.

The Yankees dropped three of four to Washington overall and at least two of those losses were real stingers. But losing Miller is the real test here. The bullpen hasn’t been anything special outside of those two dynamos, so we’ll see what happens when rubber meets the road.

Fielder’s Choice


Masahiro Tanaka out-aced Max Scherzer in a titanic pitching duel last night. The final score skews Yankees because of a seventh inning bulge that came very close to not happening. But before that, it was a doozy.

Let’s pick up the two Tanaka-Harper showdowns that changed the game. In the 4th inning, Tanaka zipped a low fastball that caught a good chunk of the plate. It wasn’t a bad pitch, but I doubt anybody is surprised that Harper got good wood on it. The landing spot however, would be a surprise for most other hitters. Harper festooned just left of dead-center with a moon-shot and that tied the score at one apiece.

It was still tied when Harper batted again in the 7th and this time, Tanaka was better. For a few pitches. He dipped three splitters in and out of the zone and Harper fell behind in the count. Then Tanaka’s splitter slipped and meatball alarms blared throughout the stadium. If Harper had hit a 93 mph heater, low and away, out to the deepest part of the park, what was he going to do this 88 mph floating orb of “hit-me”?

Turns out he was going to bunt it foul. As our friends at the firm of St. Hubbins and Tufnel have held forth, there’s a fine line between clever and stupid and Harper found himself squarely in stupidtown. He took the bat out of his own hands during a crucial spot in a tight game facing what very may well be the best pitch he’ll see all season.

The Yankees quickly turned good fortune into runs in the bottom of the inning. Evidence that Alex Rodriguez has not yet won back the hearts and minds of the Yankee organization? He didn’t get credited for the hit that won the game. With Scherzer on the ropes and passing one hundred and eleventy pitches or so, Alex smacked a first-pitch sitter towards left field. Desmond made a great dive to his right to snag it and save the run, but he wanted to end the inning as well. From his knees he gunned to third, but failed to calculate Pirela’s Flores’ ETA correctly and his throw nicked Flores as he slid and bounced into the seats.

Flores scored the run and the Yanks tacked on with big hits from McCann and Beltran and, get this, a second homer from Stephen Drew. They won 6-1. But man, how is that not a hit for Arod? Desmond had no other plays around the diamond and it would have taken a degree from MIT to figure out where to the throw the ball in order to keep Rendon on the bag and avoid hitting Flores. From his knees. Imagine the whining we’d hear from David Ortiz if his home park official scorer jobbed him on a play like that?

With a big lead lead, Miller and Betances seems like overkill, but with a day-off coming, why not. Miller and Betances and no more chances. Miller and Betances and you better sit out these dances. Remember when Joba came up and was the best reliever we’ve ever seen for 24 innings? Betances is that, but now over 122 innings.


NBA Finals, do not sleep on this. LeBron James went to Miami and became just about the perfect basketball machine. He was lethal and efficient and, when Wade and Bosh were firing, often didn’t have to break a sweat to level a team. One year later and he has scrapped that model completely and become a tornado of basketball ability, barely harnessed and unleashing destruction all over the court. It’s hard to watch him miss so often when he had basically eliminated bad shots from his game over the last four seasons, but the fact that he’s found this gear under these circumstances is one of the great individual performances in basketball history. I hope he’s got two more wins in him.


Artwork by Bob Layton, Marvel Comics


Here We Are Now, Entertain Us


So what was the bigger surprise, the Yankees torching Felix Hernández on Monday night or Stephen Drew coming through with two clutch hits on Tuesday night? Well, let’s just say that if you were to play that exacta at Pimlico, you’d be buying drinks that night.

CC Sabathia and Seattle’s Mike Montgomery came out strong, trading zeros over the first two innings, but things got a bit crazy in the top of the third. With one out and a 3-2 count, Brett Gardner fouled off four straight pitches before getting fooled by the tenth pitch of the at bat. He tried to check his swing, but his bat clearly broke the plane of the plate. Gardner lowered his head and took two steps across the plate towards the Yankee dugout, but then home plate umpire Mike DiMuro sent him to first. Ball four.

Replays showed what everyone knew to be so. Gardner had struck out, but instead he was trotting to first base, and Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon wasn’t happy. Even amateur lip readers were able to easily make out his loud complaint, “He was going back to the dugout!” Well, now he was standing on first.

Two batters later it was Alex Rodríguez’s turn to stir the pot a bit. A-Rod checked his swing on another 3-2 pitch, and again the Yankees received the benefit of the doubt. It was ball four. (It should be noted that these were two different umpires and that replays seemed to show that A-Rod had checked his swing.) McClendon shot out of the dugout like a George Brett and raced towards first base umpire Will Little. Little listened for about two seconds before tossing him from the game, and somewhere in the commotion someone had also ejected Mariners’ catcher Mike Zunino, so McClendon figured he’d get his money’s worth. He crossed the diamond to engage Randazzo and then had a visit with DiMuro behind the plate, yelling, spitting, and kicking at all three stops. As he finally left DiMuro and headed to the clubhouse, he gestured angrily at the three umpires in question and yelled out, “All three of you!”

It’s easy to see how a young kid like Montgomery, pitching in his first major league game, might be a little rattled by all that, so it came as no surprise when Mark Teixeira jumped on the first pitch he saw and rocketed a double down the left field line to score Gardner. The Yankees led, 1-0, and I’m sure something in the Seattle clubhouse paid the price for it.

Sabathia, meanwhile, was pitching pretty well. He gave up a single run in the bottom of the third when the M’s strung together three hits by Austin Jackson, Robinson Canó, and Nelson Cruz, but that was all. Once again Sabathia was pitching well enough to be winning, but once again he wasn’t. After the bottom of sixth, he’d be losing.

With two outs and a runner on first, CC gave up a single to right to put runners on first and third. Girardi came out and lifted Sabathia in favor of David Carpenter, who proceeded to give up a run-scoring double to Austin Jackson. Mariners 2, Yankees 1.

The score stayed right there until the ninth inning. Facing Seattle closer Fernando Rodney, who’s been fairly awful this season, the Yankees manufactured a rally. But with two outs and runners on first and third, Stephen Drew walked up to the plate with the fate of the game resting squarely on his shoulders.

Drew quickly fell into a 1-2 hole, and Rodney was poised to shoot another arrow into the night. Instead, Drew pounced on the next pitch and roped a ringing double down the line in right to the tie the game at two. A stranger thing I’ve never seen.

Dellin Betances brought his spotless ERA out of the bullpen for the bottom of the ninth, and for a moment it looked like the Mariners might get the best of him. Jackson walked to lead off the inning and then stole second on the first pitch to Seth Smith, but Betances easily struck out Smith and then dominated Canó, ending the at bat with two fastballs, one at 99 mph and the next at 98, that simply overpowered Robby as he struck out. Nelson Cruz grounded out, and the threat was over.

The Yankees had a golden opportunity to jump ahead in the top of the tenth. Garrett Jones singled and Teixeira drew a one-out walk, bringing Chase Headley up to the plate. Headley smashed a one-hopper directly at first baseman Logan Morrison, but the play didn’t unfold as you might have expected. Morrison took a look at second to see if he could cut down Teixeira, but when he reached into his glove for the ball, the ball squirted free and fell to the infield dirt. By the time he picked it back up, Morrison had no play and the bases were loaded.

All Beltrán had to do was lift a fly ball into the outfield and the Yankees would have a 3-2 lead, but he wasn’t able to do that. He rolled a soft bouncer up the middle where Canó gobbled it up to start an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.

In the eleventh, once again it was Stephen Drew. Ol’ Reliable stepped to the plate and with two outs and two strikes he dug deep and came up with a clean single to right. Gardner followed that with a double to the gap in left center, and suddenly the Yankees were in business. Garrett Jones came to the plate knowing that all he needed was a ball that found the outfield grass, but he ended up getting much, much more. Lefty Joe Beimel had been brought in to face the left-handed Jones, but he gave up his advantage by starting Jones out with two balls to run the count to 2-0. His next pitch ended up in the seats 401 feet away, and the Yankees were finally ahead, 5-2.

In perhaps the most bizarre incident of this crazy night, Andrew Miller actually gave up two hits and a run in the bottom of the eleventh, but he was able to right the ship and bring home the 5-3 win. You know, because that’s what he does.

[Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson/AP Photo]

Butterflies and Moonbeams and Zebras and Fairy Tales


My youngest daughter is at a wonderful age. She turns ten years old next week, so even though she’s smart enough and inquisitive enough that she’s rapidly figuring out the way the world works, she hasn’t yet let go of the magic. Every time she sees a rainbow she wonders about the pot of gold, and she was thrilled when she lost a tooth the day before Easter because she wanted the Tooth Fairy to meet the Easter Bunny when their paths crossed in her bedroom that night. In short, she believes.

So Kate surely would’ve believed me if had told her on Monday afternoon that the Yankees were going to jump on Seattle’s Felix Hernández for seven runs in the first five innings. In her world, everything is possible. In our world, what happened in Seattle defies all explanation.

With each team’s best pitcher on the mound, the game started out exactly as you’d expect, with lots of zeroes. In his return to the team that traded him away a few years ago, Michael Pineda was good, holding the Mariners scoreless over the first three innings, but Hernández was even better.

King Felix faced only nine batters over those same three innings, but no one came even close to a hit. Brett Gardner struck out on three pitches, Chase Headley and Alex Rodríguez grounded out, Mark Teixeira struck out on three pitches, Brian McCann lasted five pitches before fanning, Carlos Beltrán popped up the first pitch he saw, and finally Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew, and Ramon Flores all grounded out. It was a 21-pitch clinic that was so impressive that I watched it again in full after the game ended. For the second time on the road trip the Yankees were staring a no-hitter in the face; not a single New York hitter had come close to touching the King.

But then something unexplainable happened. Samson was shorn, the king lost his crown, the jester lost his jingle. Whatever analogy you choose, it falls short. Getting his second look at Hernández, Gardner led off the top of the fourth and put his bat in the way of a fastball, slapping it into left field for a single. On a 3-2 pitch to Headley, Gardner took off for second and cruised into third when Headley’s ball fell in front of centerfielder Austin Jackson. Neither hit was authoritative, so as A-Rod dug in with runners on first and third, there was no reason to believe the Yanks would get another opportunity like this against Hernández. But Felix’s humanity began to show. He bounced a 1-0 changeup through his catcher’s legs for a wild pitch, allowing Gardner to score the game’s first run. Three pitches later A-Rod watched ball four and headed to first; a minute later King Felix issued another free pass, this time to Teixeira, and the bases were loaded for McCann.

The Yankee catcher worked himself into a 2-0 count, but then banged into a 4-6-3 double play. Headley brought in the second run, but the rally was dead. Beltrán worked a seven-pitch walk, the third base on balls in the inning, but Gregorius foolishly swung at the first pitch he saw and grounded out to first.

Hernández had survived the fourth, but the sharks were still circling when the fifth began. Felix started the frame by walking the fearsome Stephen Drew, Flores singled crisply to right, and Gardner walked (the fifth in eight batters) to load the bases yet again. Headley poked a sacrifice fly out to left to score Drew from third, but then A-Rod grounded a ball to left field to load the bases yet again, bringing Teixeira to the plate.

At this point is was clear that we weren’t seeing the real Slim Shady. Hernández had lost the plate, and home plate umpire Tony Randazzo, whose strike zone had been more than generous in the first three innings, was now punishing the King’s lack of control by squeezing the zone tighter and tighter. When Teixeira jumped out to a 2-o count, the urgency was palpable. The Yankees needed a hit in the worst way, to give Pineda some breathing room and to push Hernandez out the door.

The next pitch was a lazy 90 mph fastball, and Teixeira hammered it to right center field. The only reason it wasn’t an obvious home run off the bat was because of who had thrown the pitch; it landed several rows beyond the 380 foot marker, and suddenly the Yankees had a touchdown edge on the best pitcher in the American League. Five pitches later Beltrán shot a double to left center, and after just four and two-thirds of an inning, the King was dead.

As it turned out, Pineda wouldn’t have needed that grand slam. He had struck out three Mariners in the bottom of the fourth, and now with this huge lead he put his foot firmly on the gas, striking out four of the next six hitters while setting the Mariners down in order in the fifth and sixth innings. He faltered in the seventh, yielding a single, a triple, a double, and a walk as the M’s scored twice, but it hardly mattered. Pineda had been the best pitcher in the stadium on Monday night, and it hadn’t been close. Yankees 7, Mariners 2. Dreams, apparently, still come true.

Can You Hear the Sound of Hysteria?


As I said, it’s gonna be like this, and the sooner we come to terms with it, the better. The Yankees will lose two or three or eight games in a row, and hysteria will follow. The team  is awful, the general manager is asleep, the manager should be fired! But soon enough, things will look up, and so it was on Saturday night.

After the disappointment of the previous two games, the Yankees hit the ground running in the first inning when Chase Headley and Alex Rodríguez each singled to put runners on first and second with one out. Mark Teixeira struck out, but that brought up Brian McCann, the hottest man in the Yankee lineup. He watched strike one, then laced a single into right field to score Headley, extending McCann’s impressive string of eight straight games with an RBI and giving his team a 1-0 lead.

Nathan Eovaldi was on the mound for the Bombers, and he pitched the way he almost always does, like a tightrope walker in a rainstorm; every step was an adventure. Before we even had a chance to enjoy that 1-0 lead, Eovaldi had worked himself into a first-inning jam with runners on first and second and two out. Josh Reddick singled to left field, but the newest Yankee, Ramon Flores, recently called up to replace Slade Heathcott, charged the ball and fired home to nail the runner at the plate. It must’ve been nice for Flores. The first time he touched a ball in a major league game he turned it into an out at the plate. Sure, McCann helped him out with a nifty diving tag, but when he tells the story to his grandchildren years from now that throw will have become a laser that split the dish and caught the runner by three strides. (In the next inning Flores made a play that won’t have to be exaggerated, as he raced fifty feet to his right to make a diving grab in foul territory. Quite a debut for the youngster.)

Eovaldi’s struggles continued in the third inning. Even though his fastball was consistently in the mid 90s, the Oakland hitters weren’t in the least bit frightened. Billy Burns, Marcus Semien, and Stephen Vogt opened the frame with singles to load the bases, but Eovaldi limited the damage, I guess, by allowing just a sacrifice fly and a run-scoring single before getting the final two outs. Even so, the A’s had the lead, 2-1.

For the fourth straight inning the A’s led off with a single, and this time it was the bespectacled Eric Sogard. In this day and age of lasik surgery and contact lenses, there are few things more rare than a baseball player wearing glasses. Sure, there’s an occasional middle reliever who will sprint in from the bullpen wearing sports goggles, but Sogard’s frames look like something your mother used to wear when she went to Mah-jongg Mondays with the other housewives on the block. All that’s missing is a chain dangling around his neck. I can only assume that he lost a bet at some point and doesn’t realize that he’s playing on national television every night.

At any rate, Sogard singled to center, moved to second on a groundout, and then eventually scored on a single from Marcus Semien. The A’s had their third run, and it looked so easy.

Finally, in the top of the fifth, the Yankee offense began to stir. Jose Pirela started the rally with a two-out single, and the inning stayed alive when third baseman Brett Lawrie (probably still celebrating Friday night’s home run) flat out dropped Brett Gardner’s line drive, putting runners on first and second. Headley took advantage with an RBI singled grounded up through the middle, and the Yanks were within striking distance at 3-2.

Eovaldi got two outs in the fifth before allowing a single to Lawrie. It was the eleventh Athletic hit of the night, and Joe Girardi had finally seen enough. He lifted his starter in favor of Chasen Shreve, who would calmly strike out Mark Canha to end the inning, and then all four A’s batters in the sixth.

The Yankee hitters, meanwhile, struck again in the top of the fifth when Carlos Beltrán socked a two-run homer to dead center field to give New York a 4-3 lead with only six outs to go until the firm of Betances and Miller could turn out the lights.

After Shreve coasted through his inning and a third, Justin Wilson came on for the seventh to retire Semien and Vogt before an anxious Girardi brought in Betances to get the final out.

The game was pretty much over at that point, but the Yankees tacked on another run in the eighth, just to be safe. Teixeira led off with a single, and when he noticed that the A’s weren’t holding him on, the speedy Tex swiped second without a throw. It wasn’t defensive indifference, it was defensive ignorance. Three pitches later McCann grounded out to the right side, allowing Teixeira to trot to third, and then That Man Beltrán slapped a single to left to bring Teixeira home with the insurance run. Speed kills.

Betances cruised through the bottom of the eighth, making you wonder if he’ll ever give up an earned run this season, Andrew Miller took care of the ninth, and the Yankees had their win, 5-3. Tomorrow they’ll get another, just you watch.

My Head Grew Heavy, and My Sight Grew Dim


Well, the good news is that it might only take 85 wins to claim the American League East, which means the Yankees just have to keep doing what they’re doing to reach the playoffs. The bad news, of course, is that we’ll have to watch them.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’m down on this team. There are plenty of guys that I like to watch and love to root for — Brett Gardner, Alex Rodríguez, Michael Pineda, Dellin Betances, and a few others — but more and more it’s beginning to look like these Yankees are who they are. There will be stretches of something less than brilliance, like that three-game sweep in Kansas City, but there will also be dark times when you’ll wonder how they ever managed to beat anyone at all.

Guess where we sit now? Tonight’s matchup certainly favored the Athletics, as they had a true ace on the mound in Sonny Gray, while the Yankees trotted out Chris Capuano, the very definition of a fifth starter.

If you’ve never seen Gray pitch, imagine a 12-year-old boy with a David Cone delivery and a 95-mph fastball, and you’ve pretty much got it. The baby-faced Gray wouldn’t look out of place at an AAU tournament, but he certainly wasn’t intimidated by the Yankee hitters on Friday night. He faced only twelve batters through the first four innings, yielding just a leadoff walk to Gardner before erasing him with a double play.

While Gray was dicing through the Yankee lineup with coldblooded efficiency, Capuano was struggling in the early going. Thanks to some Steve Garvey-like decisions by backup first baseman Garrett Jones, the A’s were able to load the bases in the second inning. Jones fielded a grounder with the plodding Billy Butler on first, but he backed away from the easy throw and chose instead to take the out at first. Two batters later with runners on first and second, Josh Phegley slapped a single to right. Forgetting perhaps that Butler had no shot of scoring from second, both runners behind him took wide turns around their respective bags. Jones could’ve thrown out either man after cutting off Beltrán’s throw (replays showed Brian McCann screaming and pointing towards first base), but he held the ball again. Capuano got Mark Canha to fly out to left to end the inning. Only two innings had been played, and no runs had been scored, but somehow it felt like the Yanks already trailed.

After the next inning, they would. Billy Burns of the Oxford Commas led off with a double and then went to third on a Marcus Semien single. Ben Zobrist then hit a two-hopper to Chase Headley at third for what should’ve been a room service double play, but the second hop didn’t hop as much as Headley expected. The ball dove like a rabbit through Headley’s legs. The A’s had a run and a rally. Butler whacked the next pitch off the wall in left for a double to score another run, and Stephen Vogt rapped the next pitch down the line to right for another double and two more runs. To be fair, it was Headley’s error that opened the wound, but Capuano did nothing to stop the bleeding.

As Gray toed the rubber to start the top of the fifth, I can’t imagine that anyone watching wasn’t thinking about the no-hitter. He had a four-nothing lead, but it might as well have been forty-nothing. He pumped strike one and strike two past McCann, but then the Yankee catcher took the next pitch and pounded it over the wall in right for a home run to spoil the no-no and cut the Athletic lead to 4-1. (Two notes: McCann has now homered in four straight games, and he’s the first Yankee catcher since Yogi Berra to have RBIs in seven straight.)

Capuano, meanwhile, was settling down. He coasted through the fourth and fifth innings, giving the bullpen just a bit more rest. More importantly, he kept his team in the game. In the top of the sixth, Didi Gregorius, of all people, took advantage. He shot a double into the gap in right center, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scampered home on a Gardner groundout, and suddenly the Yankees were down only 4-2.

Esmil Rogers came on in the sixth and was solid in relief of Capuano, striking out three over an inning and two thirds, but rookie Jacob Lindgren ran into trouble in the eighth. He walked the leadoff batter when he lost a ten-pitch battle to Vogt, then things got worse when Brett Lawrie blasted a two-run homer to left to stretch the lead to 6-2. (Quick note about Lawrie: I don’t like him. He was barking all the way around the bases and arrived in the Oakland dugout as if he had just won Game 7 of the World Series. He’s positively begging for a fastball in the ribs.)

The Yankees mounted something of a rally in the ninth, putting two runners on and forcing manager Bob Melvin to bring in his closer, Tyler Clippard, but it didn’t amount to anything. Stephen Drew popped up, and the game was over. Athletics 6, Yankees 2.

It was appropriate that Drew made the final out, because I think it’s time that he’s finally put out. He’s had 152 at bats and he’s hitting .158. Not only is that average the worst in baseball, it’s twenty-four points below the next worst, the Angels’ Matt Joyce. (Gregorius, by the way, is hitting .211, which is eleventh-worst. New York’s keystone combination has combined to hit .183. Go back and read that sentence again.) Meanwhile, Rob Refsnyder is hitting .286 down in Scranton. I think it’s time.

[Photo Credit: Ben Margot/AP Photo]

The Sun Goes Down Alone


So what are we to make of these Yankees? They race out to a first place lead in April and stay there long enough to make folks think about the playoffs even if there were more than 120 more games to play, then they suffer through the team’s worst run in twenty years, losing ten of eleven, before righting the ship with a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals. (And by the way, that was a fun series, wasn’t it? I’ll never get tired of the old clips of Brett and Nettles throwing haymakers; they’d each get ten-game suspensions today for behavior like that, but in the boys-will-we-boys era of 1977? Nothing at all.)

So as the Yankees headed out to the West Coast for four games against the hapless Athletics, there were hopes that the momentum would continue. For a while, that’s exactly what happened. The Bombers got on the board first when Brian McCann laced a homer into the right field seats with one out in the second, staking CC Sabathia to a 1-0 lead.

I don’t think anyone in the organization expected much from Sabathia this season, but still he’s somehow managed to fall short of those low expectations. Tonight, however, he wasn’t bad, not nearly as bad as the box score would indicate. The A’s put together something of a rally in the bottom of the third, and for a while it looked like the type of inning that’s been CC’s undoing over the last few years. With one out Josh Phegley hit a flair to right center, Mark Canha grounded a single up the middle, and Billy Burns blooped a ball in front of Carlos Beltrán in right. Three unimpressive singles had loaded the bases, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if the next hitter had blasted a grand slam. Instead, the old Sabathia showed up for a bit. He struck out Marcus Semien on a high fastball, then painted the inside corner with another fastball to get Ben Zobrist looking to end the threat. Hope?

The Yankee hitters took that momentum and turned it into another run in the top of the fourth. Alex Rodríguez blasted a ground ball through the teeth of the shift for a leadoff single and then moved to second when Mark Teixeira walked. When McCann followed that with a solid single to center, A-Rod came rumbling around third looking to score the Yanks’ second run, but he was called out after the umpire ruled he had missed the plate.

Here’s one thing I like about the instant replay system. A-Rod knew he had touched the dish with his left hand as he had slid by the plate, but he didn’t get angry at all. After being called out he simply turned to the dugout and motioned for Joe Girardi to challenge the play. A minute later his run was on the board. In the old days he would’ve jumped and screamed and nothing would’ve changed; I like this way better.

In the top of the fifth Brett Gardner started a one-out rally with a single to right, then took off on a 3-2 pitch to Chase Headley and coasted into third when the third baseman stroked a single to right center. A-Rod produced a professional at bat, lofting a sacrifice fly to right field to tie Barry Bonds on the all-time RBI list at 1,996 and give the Yanks a 3-0 lead.

There was nothing fancy about any of it, but the workmanlike efficiency was comforting. Sure, there had been some missed opportunities for more, but a three-run lead against this quadruple-A team seemed pretty comfortable. In fact, when a kid named Billy Burns hooked a ball about six inches over the wall and six inches from the left field foul pole for a homer that cut the Yankee lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth, I wasn’t the least concerned. (If you want to know the truth, it didn’t break my heart. I picked up Burns in my fantasy league a couple days ago. That home run might’ve hurt CC and the Yanks, but it helped keep my Oxford Commas comfortably in first place.)

It was the sixth inning when things fell apart. After giving up a ringing double to Zobrist on the first pitch of the frame, Sabathia dug deep again, getting Billy Butler to fly out and striking out Stephen Vogt. But for some reason he altered his delivery to Brett Lawrie, going to a slide step even though Zobrist was sitting firmly on third base with no place to go. The resulting pitch floated up a bit, and Lawrie pounded the mistake into the seats to tie the game. One bad pitch undid six innings of work.

Making things worse, Sabathia opened the seventh by yielding a single to Phegley and a walk to Canha, and that would be all. David Carpenter came in and made a mess of things (single, bases loaded walk, sacrifice fly for a 5-3 Oakland lead), but Sabathia wasn’t nearly as bad as the numbers make him look. In fact, if he could manage to pitch this well every time out the rest of the way, the Yankees would win the division. Sadly, it wasn’t good enough tonight.

The Yankees mounted a two-out rally in the bottom of the ninth against the ex-Yankee Clippard, scoring a run when Brett Gardner rocked a double to the wall to score Garret Jones, but when Burns hauled in Headley’s fly ball on the warning track in left center, the game was over. Athletics 5, Yankees 4.

[Photo Credit: Ben Margot/AP Photo]

The Art(s) of Hitting

Or science(s), if you prefer.


Jacoby Ellsbury, quiet, balanced and deadly quick, is a joy to watch at the plate. He’s in the middle of a tear right now and you can count on three line blistered drives a night, but even when he’s not scorching, the swing is still a thing of beauty.

It’s a stark constrast to his partner in the outfield and atop the lineup. When Brett Gardner came up I had never seen a worse swing from a Major League player. He’d often lose his bat into the stands, flinging it further than the balls he hit. But Gardner’s swing evolved as he slowly added pull-power to an already useful profile.


Look into their numbers and you’ll be there all day (I mean, if you go for that sort of thing and you have some free time, I’m endorsing frivolous procrastination or anything) as you compare and contrast all their different methods to skin the same cat. The cursory glance reveals Ellsbury to have more power, but that’s purely a shadow of the Green Monster.

Ellsbury makes more contact than Gardner, for good and for bad. Fewer whiffs but fewer walks as well. Despite a higher batting average for Ellsbury, Gardner actually gets on base just as often. Neither needs a platoon partner and of course, they have the wheels. But by appearance, you’d never mistake one for the other. Especially the follow-thru. Gardner’s one-handed, full-extenstion epee flick versus Ellsbury’s balanced, two-handed broad-sword sweep.

Their swings may be “beauty and the blech” but the results are damn similar (a good lesson to observers who like me, tend make a quick judgment on who can and cannot hit by the shape of their swing). And when they click like this, they’re an especially annoying echo chamber for the opposition. And Yankees are going to win a lot of games.

Like last night. Ellsbury and Gardner reached base five times between them and scored three runs. That alone should have been enough for the Yankees, but in between a strong 8-inning outing from Michael Pineda and a final out from Andrew Miller, David Carpenter got smeared for three runs. No matter though, as the Yankees had three more in their pocket and won 6-3.


And now I return you to your regularly scheduled host, Alex Belth. Thanks to Alex and all of you for letting me fill up the space this week. I will head back to twin forges of Little League and Pee Wee Soccer coaching and emerge at the end of June hoping to see the Yankees doing what they’re doing. Playing solid, winning baseball. The only difference is that I won’t be so surprised anymore.


Ellsbury Photo by Brad Penner via USA Today and NJ.com

Gardner Photo by AP via Newsday.com

Play it Cool


Time for the Yanks to play it cool and rebound from the tough loss with a big win, like good teams usually do. I’m still not convinced this is a good team, but might as well act like one either way since they’re already in first place by a couple of games and all.

Feels like Michael Pineda is just the big lug the Yanks need to establish their presence with authority and even up this series.

Jacoby Ellsbury CF

Brett Gardner LF

Alex Rodriguez DH

Mark Teixeira 1B

Brian McCann C

Carlos Beltran RF

Stephen Drew 2B

Didi Gregorius SS

Gregorio Petit 3B

Lineup via LoHud



Lohud also says Jose Pirela has joined the Yankees in Toronto, but has not been activated. The “for rent” sign on second base has grown thick with dust. Let’s hope he takes it and does something with the place.




Anybody play “scoops” growing up? Chucking short-hops at each other until someone spells “s-c-o-o-p”? Like “horse” but more likely to cause a black eye. But I’m ahead of myself.


In the bottom of the 8th inning last night, the Yankees clung to a 1-0 lead, delivered to the bullpen by a sterling Chase Whitley. Dellin Betances, who has been nigh mo-tomatic lately, was not summoned to face the Jays’ three best hitters. Instead, Chris Martin got the very high-leverage appearance and the go-ahead run was on base within three batters. (I didn’t have audio and I haven’t found out yet for sure, but my guess is Miller’s long outing yesterday made Girardi attempt to sneak through this game without him.)

Then came Betances, then came baseball. Dellin’s slow hook got Encarnacion to loft a weak fly ball, but whereas Ellsbury was in the perfect spot to preserve Sunday night’s win, Gardner was in the perfect spot to lose Monday’s lead. The big swing coupled with the weak contact led Gardner on a long, curving route and the ball nestled softly into the corner for a double.

With the go-ahead run on third base, Betances got the second out before facing old-friend Russell Martin. Betances went after him with a steady diet of breaking balls, but with the count full, Martin has seen enough of the knuckle-curve and smacked a hot shot down the third-base line. Chase Headley, playing deep, sprung towards the foul line and snagged the grounder prematurely, as it was surely ticketed for the left field corner. Headley was on his feet and firing across the diamond in an instant, turning a double into a possible out. I’d bet good money the name “Brooks Robinson” was mentioned in the booth. The play was that good.

Too good to be true. Headley’s laser-beam throw from behind the third base bag was right on line but just a hair short. The ball skidded off the dirt as first baseman Garrett Jones stretched heroically but futilely. He swiped his glove at the short-hop, found the ball land true for the briefest moment before failing to squeeze it for the out. The ball skipped to the middle of the infield and two runs scord and the Jays won, 3-1.

It was almost a play for the season’s highlight reel and instead it’s a tough loss. Maybe Teixeira makes the scoop. Maybe. Probably.

Of course he does.


Back of the Line


The Toronto Blue Jays are you at the Halal cart, next in line to order chicken over rice, white and hot sauce please, waiting patiently and quietly, perhaps distracted by an interesting cloud formation or a bike-messenger’s near-miss with a yellow cab. Meanwhile, the rest of the American League East pushes around you, yells over you and slaps their money on the counter and doesn’t even bother to look at you, let alone apologize, as they plant an elbow in your rib cage and knock you back to last place.

And look at that, the Yankees travel to Toronto and find the Blue Jays are in last place. The Rays drafted their way to the front of the line when the Yanks and Red Sox were both still trying and the Orioles have at least taken advantage of the latest Yankee “blue period” and the Boston cellar/series/cellar Oreo to play October baseball. The Jays are going nowhere, fast, again.

A few times the prognosticators have anointed them, most especially when they were able to off-load Vernon Wells on the Angels. But unloading a terrible contract doesn’t necessarily lead to being a good team. Shedding salary (albeit unconscionable salary) just creates empty space. Bautista, Encarnacion and now Donaldson are fun as heck as they swing from the heels and try to hit everything in orbit, but it still seems a sideshow thus far this year.

That doesn’t mean they can’t bloody a team in a short series. Look no further than opening week when the Yanks were fortunate to win one of three and were outscored 15-8. Chase Whitley will find a different breed of hitter in this game than he did against Tampa. And R.A. Dickey has handled the Yankees well as a Blue Jay. But even still, the Yanks have muscled their way into first place, now’s not the time to look back and apologize.


Photo via Wikipedia

Parting is Such Sweep Sorrow


It’s hard to imagine ever saying this, but a couple more games in Boston would be pretty great right about now. Those guys will get it together at some point this season and they’ll revamp the rotation with young guns or Cole Hamels or whatever and they will not be such easy-pickens.

Even with this vulnerable squad, the Sox turned an 8-0 hole into a nail biter as David Ortiz was one swing away from winning the game with bases loaded and two outs in the ninth. Andrew Miller will not, apparently, save every game in 1-2-3 fashion, so he might be human after all. He issued an ominous lead-off walk that opened the door to the top of the lineup where Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia survived his entire arsenal to reach base (a walk and panic-sweat inducing error by Headley).

Miller went to the slider to bury Ortiz and it looked like he wouldn’t test his shovel as the first two pitches baffled Papi. But Ortiz buckled down in that annoying way great hitters do and that last strike a lot tougher than the first two. He spit on two chasers and then lashed a liner to center. With all the shifts in baseball, especially with hitters like Ortiz, it’s always a mystery as to where the fielders are standing when they cut to the field camera. Fortunately, this time Ellsbury was standing right where he needed to be and wrapped up the win (and a wonderful night for himself), 8-5.

And now to Canada! Through customs and everything, to face the Blue Jays who so rudely ruined the season opening series by kicking Yankee-butt. Fortunes have flipped though and let’s hope the Yankees can return the favor.


After a very thorough second-grade Social Studies unit on Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, we went to visit the museum and ride the ferry. The kindergartner was very taken with the immigration process as we moved from Great Hall to examiniation room around the island. When we had visitors from Boston a few weeks later, he checked with me, “Will they have to go through Ellis Island to get here?” They should Henry, they should.

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