"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Emma Span

River Dance

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It’s the Pirates hosting the Reds. I like Cincy, they are a fun team but my heart is with the Pirates.

Everyone loves the Pirates, so says our pal Emma.

Never mind tomorrow:

Let’s Go Buc-cos!

[Photo Credit: TS Flynn]

Jeter’s Misbegotten Season Is Over

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Our pal Emma on DJ’s 2013 season:

Derek Jeter’s near-magical ability to hit his mark in the big moment, to rise to the occasion, has been the subject of some of this century’s worst sports writing, and sparked an understandable backlash in baseball fans who got sick of hearing him slobbered over. But even those who rolled their eyes when the sports media went off on one its over-the-top paeans to Captain Clutch would concede that Derek Jeter deserved a large percentage of that slobber.

So this season — a “nightmare,” as Jeter has repeatedly called it — has been jarring, even though we all know even the most larger-than-life stars are just people, and that people age and their bodies change, and that the end of the road for athletes is rarely neat or easy.

When Jeter came off the disabled list for the second time this season on July 28 (after just a one-game return earlier in the month), he did it yet again: In the very first pitch of his very first at-bat, he homered. “He’s back!” crowed the headlines. But he wasn’t; Jeter strained his calf four days later. Determined to help the Yankees with their tantalizing playoff hopes — only one game out of a wild-card spot, going into Thursday, despite everything — he came back in late August… this time for all of 12 games.

That makes 17 total games played in this lost season. And Jeter is 39. The number of players who have performed at a high level at that age, let alone those who’ve come back from very serious injury to do so, is not very large.

[Picture via It's About The Money]

Play Misty For Me (Part I)

84th MLB All-Star Game

Our pal Emma on last night’s game.

SUA

Here’s more.

[Photo Via: CBS; USA Today]

Easy-Peasy Lemon-Squeezy

Unpretty.

From In The Loop:

Simon: It’ll be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.
Toby: No, it won’t. It’ll be difficult-difficult-lemon-difficult. That is what it will be.

Nothing’s coming easy to the Yankees just now, even when they score 12 runs. So this wasn’t one of your cleaner games, and it didn’t restore massive amounts of confidence – but the bottom line is, they didn’t blow a 7-0 lead. They came as close as you possibly can without actually doing so, but the Tigers never did quite catch up, and New York won 12-8. Of course, just because it could have been much worse, doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been better.

CC Sabathia didn’t have the stuff he had Friday night, when I was at the Stadium and watched him pitch a strong, controlled complete game against the Mariners. The Tigers are also not the Mariners, though. That’s a serious lineup that can do a lot of damage if given half a chance, and they got plenty of chances in this one. On top of Detroit’s bloops, dings, and other weird sound effects, the Yankees threw in some errors (Robinson Cano, Casey McGehee) and sloppy play for good measure.

Sabathia made it into the seventh before things started to seriously unravel. He had given up three runs going into the inning, and when he was pulled his line was 6.2 IP, eight hits, five runs — though even here he maintained a sterling ratio of one walk to seven strikeouts. When he left, things became even less raveled under unlucky reliever David Robertson.

But Rafael Soriano continues to be way more reliable than I would have dreamed back when Rivera went down, and the lineup never rested on its laurels. Every Yankee batter had at least one hit; Curtis Granderson knocked in four runs, and Mark Teixeira and Eric Chavez (again!) claimed two each. Anibal Sanchez was cooked after three innings, and the Detroit pen lost the war of attrition.

The Yankees are 64-46, so there’s no need to panic, and never was. They do need to sharpen their game back up, though, or that record — like Tony Janiro post-Jake LaMotta– won’t be pretty no more.

Chicago-a-go-go

Viciedo's ninth-inning homer cooked the Yankees (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Going into Thursday night, Ivan Nova had a 1.27 ERA in four starts in June. This is good, because Ivan Nova is suddenly much more important to the Yakees than he was supposed to be. A day after CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte both headed to the disabled list, with Adam Warren and Freddy Garcia looming, an authoritative, effective performance from Nova was an oasis of relief — though, speaking of relief, that part of the equation didn’t go so well. The bullpen, specifically Clay Rapada and David Robertson, worked together to take turn a 3-1 lead in the ninth into a 4-3 loss thanks to a three-run homer from Dayan Viciedo. It was not a particularly charming party trick.

Any last-minute loss is a tough one, but this one was particularly so because it wasted a now-precious good start. Stinging even more was Clay Rapada’s ninth-inning throwing error, which cost the team a double play and probably the win, and the question of whether it all could have been avoided if David Robertson had just started the inning. Girardi said afterwards that he was trying to avoid overusing Robertson given his recent injury and use. I think that’s understandable, but of course Robertson ended up pitching anyway, and there’s room to second guess if you’re so inclined. It was hard not to feel for Rapada watching his postgame interview, in which he looked downright haunted, as if he had just accidentally run over Derek Jeter’s dog.

The runs the Yankees did get came from two doubles in the fifth – Alex Rodriguez knocking Granderson home, and then Cano doing the same for A-Rod – and a Mark Teixeira solo shot in the eighth. Chicago starter Dylan Axelrod ended up with a solid line, even though at times it seemed the Yankees were about to crack him wide open: 7 innings, 6 hits, 3 walks, 4 Ks, 2 ER. In fact, it was just about identical to Nova’s except that the Yankee hurler tossed an additional third of an inning, struck out one more batter, and allowed one less run.

This series also gave Yankees fans their first glimpse of Kevin Youkilis in another kind of Sox uniform, which took me aback even though I was of course expecting it. Youkilis’ odd bat-waggling stance still makes me want to yell obscenities at my TV, just because - the guy is inherently infuriating - but I’m nevertheless a bit sad about his unpleasant separation from Boston, where up til just recently I imagined he might stay for his entire career. It’s not one of the world’s tragedies, but seeing him in the Chicago uniform – and whatever other uniforms are to come – will always be odd.  He was 0-for-4 on the night.

How much panic is necessary about the Yankees’ sudden pitching concerns is still unclear, and will largely depend on your individual brand of fandom. It doesn’t sound like Sabathia will miss much too much time, though of course you never know and I just reached down to knock on the wood floor after typing that. But we will not see Pettitte again until September, at best, bringing to a crashing halt one of the best stories of this baseball season. I was in upstate New York visiting my dad when the Yankees announced Pettitte’s return; there’s not much reception where he is, and when I checked my phone as we drove through a rare three-bar zone, the news was so unexpected that I wondered if the phone was actually working properly — as if somehow I had just received a delayed tweet from 2007. That he would not only come back, but do so the tune of a 130+ ERA and regularly pitch into the eighth inning, surpassed my dreams of a best-case scenario. Even his injury was caused by a comebacker, a freak accident, not age or rust. But so it goes.

Hopefully, the Yankees have employees guarding Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda and Nova 24/7, preventing staircase trips and cooking cuts and fending off stray meteors, lightning strikes and coyote attacks. I want their best men on it.

It’s a Clinch

The Yanks beat the Rays in the afternoon game today, 4-2, thanks to good pitching from seven different pitchers and some offensive muscle via Robinson Cano, and in the process secured a postseason spot – not that this had been too much in doubt the last few weeks. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Rays get a few wins in this series just to make the Red Sox sweat some more – there ain’t no Schadenfreude like Red Sox Schadenfreude – but as the night game went on, and the Sox lost, and the Yankees were poised to clinch the AL East, the whole enchilada… well, no complaining about that. It was 4-2 Yanks again, thanks to C.C. Sabathia and old pal and pinch-hitting hero Jorge Posada.

It was reassuring to see C.C. Sabathia looks slid after a few disconcertingly unsteady outings. The Big Man went 7.1 innings, allowed two runs, walked 2 and struck out 6. He did exit the game with the score tied at two, the bases loaded, and one out – but that’s what David Robertson is for. He entered and needed just a single pitch to get Ben Zobrist to ground into a double play and end the inning.

The excitement came in the bottom of the 8th, when Nick Swisher doubled, Mark Teixeira walked, Robinson Cano was intentionally walked, and then – somewhat to my surprise – Jorge Posada pinch-hit for The Jesus. You could hear a million Yankees fans, with the Al East title within reach, thinking “wouldn’t it be great if…” – and then he did. Okay, not a grand slam, the most dramatic possible outcome; but a nice two-run single that gave the Yanks the lead, the game, and the division. I don’t know how many more big ABs Posada has with the Yanks, but I’ll bet you can count them on your fingers.

I was one of those people who, before the season started, did not think the Yankees wouldd make the playoffs – I just thought they didn’t have the pitching. I’m not embarrassed by that prediction (unlike, say, my AL Central prediction, which I will aggressively suppress), because the Yankees’ staff, A.J. Burnett aside, has over-performed all year. No one expected Freddy Garcia, Bartolo freaking Colon, or Ivan Nova to be as good as they were- not Brian Cashman, not Joe Girardi, not even Garcia and Colon themselves. The team’s success is a testament to those guys, to the offense, and to the bullpen, with a hat-tip to Girardi – who drives me crazy at times, as all managers drive all fans crazy at times, but damned if he hasn’t pulled another good bullpen more or less out of his ass. Anyway, I thought they’d be good, but not this good, and whatever happens in the playoffs I am happy to’ve been wrong.

So many of this season’s big memorable moments have been about their aging greats – Jeter’s 3,000th, Mo’s 602nd, and now Jorge’s clincher, which while not supremely important – the Al East was not much in doubt – felt like a nice last hurrah. The old guard’s going out in a blaze of glory.

And you know, if the Rays were to win tomorrow…that’ll be just fine.

Yanks Flex Muscle, Girardi Flexes Neck Veins

This photo isn't from tonight, but it's basically what Girardi looked like.

The Yankees’ skeleton of a bullpen is showing, but still: after the embarassing Red Sox sweep, that was more like it for the Yankees. There was a benches-clearing near-brawl, and the offense woke up, and carried Ivan Nova and the team to an 11-7 win that wasn’t, for most of the game, actually all that close.

The Yankee scoring started in the first and didn’t really stop. Jeter, Teixeira, and Rodriguez all walked — it really was not Fausto Carmona’s night — and then Cano’s RBI single,Swisher’s sac fly, and Posada’s single gave the Yanks a quick 3-0 lead. it was Jorge Posada Figurine Night, which seemed like a cruel twist of fate a week ago, but Posada got 3 hits tonight and seems to be struggling back towards respectability, at least for the moment.

The second inning is where things got a bit exciting: Curtis Granderson homered, and immediately afterwards, Carmona plunked Teixeira square in the upper back, and too close for comfort to his head. You never know what someone’s thinking, of course, but it looked about as deliberate as these things ever do. Teixeira came up yelling at Carmona, Carmona yelled back, Joe Girardi rushed out and pushed Teixeira out of the way so he could scream at the Indians himself. The benches cleared, the bullpens emptied. No punches were thrown, and no one was ejected, but Girardi and Indians manager Manny Acta were screaming into each other’s faces, inches apart. No one’s veins pop more alarmingly than Girardi when he’s furious; it’s quite a sight.

The Yankees kept hitting after that, and the Indians couldn’t keep up — despite the best efforts of the Yanks’ depleted bullpen — but things didn’t escalate further. The other really noteworthy hit came in the bottom of the fourth. The Yanks were up 5-0 when Alex Rodriguez absolutely annihilated a pitch into the bleacher seats just left of dead center – if not the longest homer that’s been hit in the new Stadium, certainly up there. When A-Rod jogged by and high-fived Robbie Thomson, the coach looked downright frightened.

The game got closer than it should’ve; in his major league debut in the eighth inning, newly arrived reliever Kevin Whelan seemed to have a nasty case of nerves, walking four hitters batters and forcing in a run. That made it 11-3 – the Yankees had continued tacking on – but things deteriorated further in the ninth. Neither Amauri Sanit nor Lance Pendleton was any better than you might’ve expected, and finally Girardi called on Mariano Rivera to prevent disaster. It worked – but it also underscored just how much the Yanks need a good reliever or two.

Still: all in all, just the kind of night New York needed. If Ivan Nova figured something out, well, that would just be a bonus.

Sweet dreams, and may your weekend be devoid of popping neck-veins. (Unless that’s your thing, in which case, have a popping-neck-vein-palooza!).

Millenial Rivera

The Yankees picked up today right where they left off in the ninth inning last night. Back-to-back doubles by Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson drew first blood in the first inning; that was followed by a two-run Andruw Jones homer in the second, and a Garnderson double and Mark Teixeira homer in the third. Jones’ second two-run homer three innings later was nice insurance, but the Yankees had the game well in hand by then.

Freddy Garcia, meanwhile, hasn’t been as impressive as Bartolo Colon this year, but I wonder if his generally competent but non-dazzling performance is more sustainable. Garcia gave the Yanks 6.1 innings and allowed three earned runs, walked none and struck out four, and his ERA stands at 3.26. I doubt that’ll last, but he’s already contributed much mroe than I would’ve guessed. Can’t complain.

After Robertson and Chamberlain did their parts, Mariano Rivera took care of the ninth – it wasn’t a save situation, but he needed to get some work in. It was his 1,000th career appearance, and like most of them was largely uneventful – single, fly out, fly out, strikeout. What does 1,000 appearances mean to you?, Kim Jones asked him after the game. “It means I’m old,” Rivera said.

Yeah, we should be lucky enough to get old like Rivera is old.

Final Score: Yanks 7, Jays 3.

No Va

Last night's game won't do much for Amaury Sanit's blank expression, nor yours.

By the end of the 4th inning of last night’s game, the Yankees were down 8-0, having made two costly errors and had not a single solitary base runner. Things improved from there – hey, it wasn’t a no-hitter! – but not dramatically much, so forgive me for not describing all the gruesome details. The box score tells the story, although it doesn’t stress how bad Cervelli looked behind the plate, but you can thank me for that later. Final tally: Royals 5, Yankees 11.

Nova wasn’t fooling a soul last night, but in his defense 4 of the 8 (!) runs he eventually allowed in his three innings were unearned. If the night had a bright spot… well, it didn’t, but if it had a spot that was slightly less moonless-night-dark, it would have to be Amaury Sanit, who… yeah, wait, who? Don’t feel bad, he was summoned to the majors today to spare the ‘pen, and will likely return tomorrow from whence he came. While here, he pitched 4.2 uninspired but serviceable innings, insuring that bigger names will available for the weekend series. Yay, I guess. Also, Cano and A-Rod homered, Cervelli had two RBI, and nobody injured themselves seriously.

No team likes losing a series to the Royals, but these are not your slightly older sibling’s Royals, and in any case, the Yankees pitching staff — given that it is currently 60% replacement player and yet has actually been pitching remarkably well over the last few weeks — was due to fall back to earth. I would love for Colon’s resurgence to be for real (and the techniques that contributed to it are pretty fascinating), but it’s too soon to know really, and so for now the Yankees have two reliable pitchers, one of whom is AJ Burnett. Don’t get me wrong, Burnett has been very good this season, but raise your hand if you feel completely confident when he takes the mound.

(Now you, with your hand raised – did you bring enough to share?)

Tomorrow night, our man : goes for the Yanks, so root for him and his stem cells.

Nothing Semi-About Him

Here is Banter reader and Yankees fan @KRADec at the other night’s Bartolo Colon start, with his homemade colon sign:

Awesomeness. My work here is done.

Blurgh

Well. At least the starting pitching’s been good?

Ivan Nova was nearly as good as AJ Burnett was the night before — granted, this is the White Sox, who have not been tearing things up at the plate lately — and he ended up with no more to show for it.  Yep, tonight’s game has to be the leader for Most Frustrating Loss of the early season.

Given that Brian Cashman was (perhaps unwisely) honest about not wanting to sign Rafael Soriano at all, his leash with his new team is even shorter than the one most middle relievers get. And after his disappearing act on Monday night’s pop-up, a strong performance tonight would have been… nice. Instead, he gave up a two-run homer to Paul Konerko, and the lead along with it. A homer to Paul Konerko isn’t anything to be ashamed of in and of itself; the guy had 369 of them already. But it was preceded by a hit batter and followed by a walk, and while I don’t believe it’s wise to read too much into a player’s “body language” while sitting on my futon, Soriano’s general demeanor did not inspire confidence. There was much angry stomping around.

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ only offense came via a Robinson Cano homer in the 2nd, and a Brett Gardner (!) solo shot in the 5th. This against Gavin Floyd, who went eight innings and struck out 10. At least that’s less embarrassing than the previous evening’s stifling at the hands of Philip Humber.

There are plenty of questions to ask about Joe Girardi’s management last night (starting with: has anyone seen Joba Chamberlain anywhere? Someone want to check under the clubhouse sofa cushions?), including his choice to go to Soriano at the most crucial point of a one-run game (current ERA: 7.84), and, although it didn’t matter in the end, following him with Boone Logan and Buddy “Who?” Carlyle. Never trust anyone named Buddy, my mother didn’t used to tell me but probably should have.

Adding injury to injury, if you will: after Soriano plunked Carlos Quentin, just before the Konerko home run, he was taken out of the game and replaced with Brent Lillibridge… who went on to make not one but two game-saving catches in the bottom of the ninth inning. Derek Jeter led off the inning with a dribbler of a single, Granderson bunted (which I didn’t like, but can see the argument for in the ninth inning of a one-run game). The Sox pitcher was Matt Thornton, who leads the AL in blown saves with 4, and Ozzie Guillen wasn’t messing around this time – once Thornton walked Mark Teixeira he was out of there. Two on, one out, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano coming up… enter Lillibridge, with an excellent catch against the right-field wall and another on a flat-out dive.

Via LoHud, here’s Ozzie Guillen after the game:

“When Alex hit the first one I said, here we go again. The last guy that I wanted to see in that situation was Cano. When you look at the lineup that’s going to be due up in the last inning, you know you have to bring your best bullets. The ball bounced our way tonight. That’s just the way the way the baseball is. Baseball is so crazy.”

This is definitely the kind of loss one might stew over if one were so inclined. Perhaps some sort of sacrifice to the Baseball Gods is in order, to make things right.

Fun fact: I was at Monday night’s game, which it turns out is tied for the lowest-scoring game ever at the New Yankee Stadium with one other… a 2009 15-inning Red Sox match which, as it happens, I also attended. Flee before me, runs!

Bobbing For Gossip

Yesterday we got our first looks at Ian O’Connor’s new Derek Jeter book, “The Captain,” with promises of dirt and controversy. And, in turn, we got our first backlash and criticism of the book from fans who dislike this kind of rumor-mongering coverage of Jeter – who may be playing like an Eduardo Nunez with less range but is still, dammit, Derek Jeter.

The Post (of course) trumpets the book as “a soap-opera saga filled with power and betrayal.” Dun dun DUN! But when you look at what the book actually contains, that seems to be overstating things a bit. Here’s what the Post followed that up with:

Jeter’s unyielding insistence on loyalty and his dislike for A-Rod during the third baseman’s early years in pinstripes was so legendary that one Yankees official admitted he was too scared to talk to Jeter about making amends with his teammate.

“It would’ve been the last conversation I ever had with Derek,” the official said. “I would’ve been dead to him. It would’ve been like approaching Joe DiMaggio to talk to him about Marilyn Monroe.”

Don Mattingly, then the hitting coach and former captain, tried to intervene, citing his own unfriendly history with teammate Wade Boggs.

“I faked it with Boggs,” he told Jeter. “And you have to fake it with Alex.”

So…Alex Rodriguez really annoyed Derek Jeter? No kidding. (I am way more interested in this Mattingly-Boggs feud. Tell us more, Donnie!) I admit to finding the above quote somewhat interesting just because I’m always curious to know how players talk to each other when there aren’t ESPN cameras and reporters nearby. But I also recognize that all of this is massively silly. These are grown professionals, not middle schoolers in the cafeteria. Who really cares whether Jeter and A-Rod like each other? Does anyone think that was a bigger issue for the Yankees than, say, pitching? There’s more:

“If you do something to hurt [Jeter], that’s it, you’re done,” Mike Borzello, a bullpen catcher close with Jeter, told the author. “You had your chance.”

Jeter got a measure of revenge at the 2001 All-Star Game, when a smitten Rodriguez introduced him to Latin songstress Joy Enriquez. Jeter wasted no time — the singer and the shortstop began dating.

I think this is abut as close to scandal as we’re getting here, and it hardly qualifies. But I did actually find this bit kind of interesting as a look into clubhouse dynamics:

In the 2008 off-season, Cashman set his sights on signing prized free agent CC Sabathia, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Cy Young Award winner.

“CC’s main concern was our clubhouse, and how people got along,” Cashman told the author. “I told him the truth. ‘Yeah, we are broken. One reason we’re committing [$161 million] to you is you’re a team builder. We need somebody to bring us together.’ ”

The Yankees ponied up extra cash — the most expensive contract for a pitcher to date — to bring the clubhouse Band-Aid to the roster.

Meanwhile, time — and most importantly wins — softened the rift between the two players.

“Derek understands Alex’s positives and negatives,” said Buck Showalter, who managed both Jeter and Rodriguez early in their careers. “He’s come to understand the way Alex is.”

Oh sure, credit time and wins if you want to… Is there nothing C.C. Sabathia can’t do? Can we send him to the middle east?

Anyway, it seems like this book will be a font of fresh details, but it doesn’t appear to describe any big events or ideas that we didn’t already know about. There’s also apparently a significant amount in here about Jeter’s most recent contract negotiations – ESPN NY has some of those details -  but, again, while it sounds like a detailed account it’s also mostly what we’d already inferred from the winter coverage. I don’t think I’ve ever met O’Connor; he’s been around for a long time and has very good sources, as well as a talent for stirring things up. I remember a few years ago (I can’t seem to find the article – anyone remember when it was?) he drew some criticism for tracking down and interviewing Steinbrenner at his house, at a time when the Yankees owner was maybe no longer sharp mentally and not talking to the press. I think that was defensible, in that Steinbrenner was still the team’s owner, officially, and as such a public figure; at the same time, I can’t say it wasn’t uncomfortable to read. That’s hardly an issue here, though – Derek Jeter can take care of himself and is a perfectly valid target for a juicy book.

In fact, for all the people who are already criticizing the book – while Jeter wants to make sure people know that he’s not officially affiliated with it, he did talk to O’Connor for it, and allowed many of his friends and coworkers to do the same. Guys like Mike Borzello, quoted above, aren’t about to agree to an interview with O’Connor without checking with Jeter first. Technically it’s “unauthorized,” but Jeter clearly cooperated to a certain extent, so presumably he at least got the chance to explain his side of things.

Without having read it I can’t say anything for certain, but from the information at hand, I don’t think it’s the sordid mud-flinging that people seem to be expecting. Maybe a little embarrassing, sure. But fans’ views of Derek Jeter this year will be influenced by how, or if, he hits, much more than by any tidbits in “The Captain.”

Rainout III: Son of Rainout

This is going to be one of those years, isn’t it? Where instead of spring, it just rains for months and then gets hot. Ah well: tonight’s Yankees-Orioles game is a no-go due to the inclement weather, the Yanks’ third rainout already in this young season, and their second with the Orioles. We’ve got some doubleheaders to look forward to down the road.

Meanwhile, I’m still all out of sorts about Bud Selig’s new expanded-playoffs plan. And I’m not a purist – I like the Wild Card, but ten playoff teams? One third of all teams making it to the postseason? I think that’s too many. Now, we don’t have details yet, so I will try to (try, not necessarily succeed) keep an open mind…. but it seems like a money-grab to me, rather than something that would improve baseball for most fans. We’ll see what the actual plan is when all’s said and done.

Better news: Francisco Cervelli is ready to play in rehab games. There’s nothing like a Gustavo Molina to make you appreciate your regular backup catcher, eh? Thing is, as of now, Molina’s only played in one single solitary Yankees game. If the team can somehow make it through Cervelli’s broken foot while using Molina only once, I will be impressed and amused. And I’m guessing Russell Martin will be tired.

Speaking of Russell Martin, the other day Brian Cashman talked about him:

“He’s the toughest Yankee,” Cashman said. “He’s as tough as nails.”

Is Martin the toughest Yankee? In a clubhouse that includes Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, who each have five World Series rings, has Martin already soared to the top on the tough-guy meter? According to Cashman, he’s soared even higher.

“He’s Thurman Munson-tough,” Cashman said.

Look… I like Russell Martin a lot. He’s been fantastic. I think he was a very smart addition to the team, and I don’t doubt that he’s plenty tough. However: “Thurman Munson-tough”? No. No, no, no, no, no. Nope. Come on.

[Photo from Old New York]

Weight Watchers

Sometimes it seems like the Yankees must have their weight scrutinized more closely than any group besides models and female actors. Just this spring we had C.C. Sabathia’s diet tips (hint: cut out one box of Cap’n Crunch per day) and a flurry of stories about Joba Chamberlain’s weight gain. Now it’s Phil Hughes’ turn. From Joel Sherman in the Post:

I talked to a person with strong ties to the Yankees who threw out a theory I had not yet heard on what happened to Phil Hughes’ velocity: He lost too much weight.

This person said that while everyone was focused on Joba Chamberlain’s weight gain and his having to go for individual workouts following the standard spring training workouts in order to shed pounds, it was missed by the media that Hughes also showed up overweight and was dispatched also to what the team refers to as “The Fat Farm.” This person said he believes Hughes is a player who needs the extra bulk to pitch and that it was possible the loss of the bulk explains the decreased velocity.

I asked Yankees GM Brian Cashman about the theory and he essentially said: “hogwash.” He did confirm that Hughes was sent to “The Fat Farm,” but said that he was not asked to drop below last year’s playing weight and, in fact, was still above it a bit when the season began.

This manages to pull off the neat trick of calling Hughes both too fat AND too thin, a treatment usually reserved for starlets in tabloids. Look, I don’t know what’s wrong with Phil Hughes… maybe there’s something to this, maybe not. I certainly don’t blame Sherman for bringing it up – it’s what his source told him, and he’s passing it along. But as an explanation, it feels to me like grasping at straws. It seems a bit more logical to point to the fact that he pitched many more innings last year than he ever has before, but of course that’s just speculation, too.

Meanwhile, the show must go on. Is that a “baby bump” I see on Freddy Garcia?!

Nothing Semi-About Colon

Well, well, well. Bartolo Colon, huh?

Coming into the season, Colon was the subject of many of my jokes about the Yankees, not just because I’m spiritually twelve years old and enjoy making colon puns, but because as As Diane noted in her recap of last night’s game, the Yankees biggest reclamation project kicked some ass last night. He had already been surprisingly solid, almost dominant, in relief, but this was his first major league start since 2009. I wasn’t surprised to see him being smart with his off-speed stuff, but a 93-94 mph fastball? I wasn’t predicting that. Neither was Colon, apparently.

When I think of pleasantly surprising Yankees, the first to come to mind are probably the Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon duo of late 2005. Small, especially, was a journeyman struggling to hang on in the majors when he inexplicably (well – explicably, but still surprisingly) went 10-0 for the Yanks down the stretch and, along with some solid work from Chacon, helped them make the playoffs despite numerous injuries. Small only ever started three games in the majors after that, but as witnessed by how clearly I remember it six years later, he made an impression.

Colon, having been a great pitcher in the past, is a horse of a different color – it’s surprising that he still has something, but he’s no journeyman. I remember disliking him intensely when he was on the Angels (at a time when I generally disliked anybody on the Angels) and I have particularly fond memories of Alex Rodriguez taking him deep three times in one game – also in 2005, as it happens. Still, given the expectations I had coming into the season, even if he flames out next month he’s given them more than I’d hoped.

Anyway, like most people I can’t help loving an underdog, and the Yankees have fewer of those than most teams, so while my expectations are still not what you’d call sky-high, I’ll be rooting for Colon. Although I make no promises about cutting down on the colon jokes. For a nickname, might I suggest “The Yankees’ Large Intestine”?And can some fans start showing up on days he starts with signs that just say “:”?

Who do you remember as the most pleasantly surprising Yankees?

Paternity Test

I wasn’t going to write about this Colby Lewis paternity leave debate, because it seems like such a cut-and-dry issue to me. Basically: Lewis missed a start last week to be there for the birth of his child; a Dallas Observer writer thought that was “ludicrous”; many people begged to differ. But I remember from our discussion here of Mark Teixeira’s missing games for his child’s birth last year that many people have a different take, so maybe it’s worth bringing up again. For one thing, Rob Neyer, a generally eminently reasonable guy, played devil’s advocate and thought the Obvserver writer had a point.

I guess there’s an argument to be made for a player staying with the team rather than taking paternity leave (which has a three-day maximum limit, by the way), although I would certainly not make it myself. But what rubbed me and, I think, many other people so much the wrong way about Richie Whitt’s blog post was its obnoxiously scornful tone:

But a pitcher missing one of maybe 30 starts? And it’s all kosher because of Major League Baseball’s new paternity leave rule?

Follow me this way to some confusion.

Imagine if Jason Witten missed a game to attend the birth of a child. It’s just, I dunno, weird. Wrong even…

…Baseball players are paid millions to play baseball. If that means “scheduling” births so they occur in the off-season, then so be it. Of the 365 days in a year, starting pitchers “work” maybe 40 of them, counting spring training and playoffs.If it was a first child, maybe. But a second child causing a player to miss a game? Ludicrous.

See, you can disagree with a player taking paternity leave… but “ludicrous”? Of course it’s not ludicrous. That’s a massively entitled attitude for any fan or writer to take. A team, the player’s employer, might have a right to ask a player to stay with the club – ask, not tell – but what right do the rest of us have to make that kind of demand? Anyway, there were about 80 comments on the piece last time I checked, most of them calling Whitt a jerk. Rob Neyer, however, is not a jerk, and here’s some of what he had to say:

What if we’re talking about your favorite NFL team’s quarterback? Do you want him skipping Sunday’s big game to attend the birth of his third child? Yeah? What if it’s the Super Bowl?

The answer’s not so obvious now, huh?

I’m going to be honest here, as I have been since the first time this came up, some years ago (official paternity leave is new, but players taking a game off to attend childbirth is not) … As a human being, I think this is fantastic. As a baseball fan, though? If my team’s in the playoff hunt, I’m sorry, but I don’t want one of my starting pitchers taking the night off. We’re not talking about some guy who works on the assembly line for the Integrated Widget Corporation. We’re talking about one of the most talented pitchers on the planet, not easily replaceable. What if your team finishes one game short of the playoffs? Was it really worth it?

Neyer’s much more reasonable than Whitt, as you might expect, but I don’t find his argument remotely convincing here. There are dozens of moments and events that cause a team to miss the playoffs by one game; to blame that on a player missing a start makes no more sense than blaming it entirely on one pitch, one play, one middling relief pitcher. I’d also add that players miss games all the time – for the flu, for a sore back, for a stiff neck – for reasons that, while they may be physical and therefore a different beast, are also vastly less important than a birth. Most players miss a few games here and there during a season, and every team expects it. Beyond that, in the U.S., the only jobs I can think of for which employees are expected to miss childbirth are military positions – and even then, when it’s possible the army will arrange a soldier’s leave so that he can be there for childbirth. As much as I love baseball, Colby Lewis’s presence in any given game is hardly a life-or-death issue or a matter of national security.

What if it’s a playoff game, a World Series game even? Well, that’s a harder decision, but one that the player and his family should be allowed to make for themselves. I wouldn’t judge someone on that either way. And I know if I ever have a baby, I would absolutely not be okay with the father missing it for his job, unless we needed that particular paycheck to survive or unless he was literally saving lives. Neither is the case for a pro athlete, though, however much a World Series win might mean for fans.

I know that not all of the Banter’s regular commenters agree with me on this, though, so marshall your arguments below…

What's in a Nova?

Fans like to call Ivan Nova “SuperNova” when things are going well. But keep in mind that, in fact, a nova is a cataclysmic nuclear explosion that triggers runaway nuclear fusion. To be fair, Nova’s start wasn’t all that bad, but I was reminded of that definition in the fifth inning tonight.

Given Phil Hughes’ trip to the DL, a solid start from Ivan Nova would have been nice and reassuring tonight. As it was, he did keep the Yankees more or less in the game, but it wasn’t pretty and it ended unfortunately. Nova pitched into the fifth inning and was charged with 5 runs on 4 hits and, more disconcerting, 5 walks (a career high). That’s no way to live, and the Yankees lost 5-3.

Nova’s trouble started in the second, with a double, a single, and a run-scoring groundout, and continued in the third, with an RBI Michael Young double. But despite the walks and general air of impending runs, the real trouble didn’t come until the fifth. It was a sad story, and it went like this:

  • Mitch Moreland walks.
  • Julio Borbon hit by pitch. Mitch Moreland to 2nd.
  • Coaching visit to mound.
  • With Ian Kinsler batting, wild pitch by Ivan Nova, Mitch Moreland to 3rd. Julio Borbon to 2nd.
  • Ian Kinsler grounds out softly, shortstop Derek Jeter to first baseman Mark Teixeira. Mitch Moreland scores.
  • Elvis Andrus walks.
  • Michael Young singles on a ground ball to left fielder Andruw Jones. Julio Borbon scores. Elvis Andrus to 2nd.

That was, as you might imagine, that. Joe Girardi trotted out, retrieved Nova and beckoned David Robertson. If there was a silver lining to tonight’s game for the Yankees, it was that the bullpen was strong again, freezing the Rangers at 5 runs. David Robertson, Boone Logan (obligatory beard link), and then three quite impressive perfect innings from newest Yankee Lance Pendleton in his major league debut. That’s how you make a good first impression.

Rangers starter Matt Harrison doesn’t have a spectacular track record — it was one of those “this guy? You can’t hit this guy?” nights — but he’s off to a fine start this season, now 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in 14 innings. He did give the Yankees a few fat pitches, but not too many, and displayed an irritating tendency to wipe out base runners with double plays (New York hit into six tonight).

As for New York’s scoring, it started in the third, when Nick Swisher, Thursday night’s hero, singled home Curtis Granderson. Granderson, who is looking good these days, came through again in the 8th inning with a solo homer (off a lefty in case you were wondering), and in the ninth, Alex Rodriguez doubled and came home on an Eric Chavez pinch-hit single. Not a terrible night by any means, and not in fact a cataclysmic runaway nuclear explosion, just one of those games.

The Yankees could really use some length tomorrow from Freddy Garcia. In related news, I could really use a free trip to Barbados.

One very nice thing: MLB may not do all that it could on Jackie Robinson Day (as Jay Jaffe notes at BP today and has noted before), but many of the players spoke on the subject today with real feeling and eloquence, not just canned PR lines. It’s moving to see how much Robinson still means to the guys who play the game, and how much very real respect they have for him.

Baseball Player Name of the Week

The Tigers recently called up Alberto “Al” Alburquerque.

That man’s parents had absolutely the right idea. If my last name were Alburquerque, which sadly it is not, I would name my son the same thing and my daughter Alberta. Al is a 24-year-old pitching prospect from the DR, and I wish him a long and productive major-league career. It’s also at times like this that I fiercely miss Bob Sheppard. How much do you wish you could hear him say “Now pitching for the Detroit Tigers, Alberto Alburquerque”? I would cut off a toe.

Not only does the name roll off the tongue, but it gives me an excuse to link to my favorite clips from one of my favorite movies, Billy Wilder’s inky-black and still alarmingly relevant social and media satire, Ace In The Hole. Sadly the clip can’t be embedded, but check it out:

“Even for Alburquerque, this is pretty Alburquerque.”

The longer Al stays in the majors, the more often I get to say that, is the way I look at it.

Flock of Runs

So there seems to be a formula to the Yankees’ wins in this young season: a whole big juicy bunch of runs. Yes, yes, April, I know – but thus far the Yankees have only won when they’ve scored 4 or more runs, and it’s usually more. Not that there’s anything wrong with scoring lots of runs, of course. And on the plus side, tonight those runs were paired with a nice, solid, hope-giving start by A.J. Burnett, as New York won 7-4.

It didn’t look so hot at the beginning, as the first two innings took more than an hour; and although A.J. Burnett didn’t allow a run in that span, he did burn through about 50 pitches and labored in and out of trouble. In the meantime, though, the Yankees went to town on Baltimore’s struggling starter Chris Tillman. The most damage came from Alex Rodriguez, who hit a three-run homer in the first, apparently being over his head cold, and then Robinson Cano in the second, with a two-run double. Jeter picked up a couple of infield singles, which if not exactly awe-inspiring at least got him on base and nudged his average towards respectability. And later, Jorge Posada broke an 0-for-19 streak with a booming solo homer.

Better yet, Burnett settled down after those first innings and came back to pitch a strong, encouraging game right into the 7th inning – which in retrospect may have been a bridge too far, as he promptly gave up two two-run homers. But as the Yankees had seven runs on the board by that time, there was no real harm done, and the trio of Robertson, Soriano, and of course Rivera ushered the team safely to a win. Which, weirdly, means that A.J. Burnett now has more wins by himself than the Red Sox. That’ll last a day or two max, but might as well enjoy these early season flukes where you can.

A much as I’ve been mistrustful of the Yankee rotation, a solid Burnett makes it merely short as opposed to horrendously short. Well – depending on what you think is going on with Phil Hughes.

Rolling the Dice-K

The other night the Red Sox, who still haven’t won a game against anyone besides the Yankees, got blown out by the Rays (who have now amassed three entire wins), mainly because of a dreadful start by Daisuke Matsuzaka. Being in a contemplative mood at the time, I thought back to his signing – lots of exciting, tense negotiations and lots of freaking out by the Yankee fan base. I thought Matsuzaka was going to be an ace, or if not, at least a very good player. Why not? His career in Japan was fantastic. I can’t find it at the moment, but I remember writing something to the effect of, it’s going to be really tough for the Yankees to compete against that rotation now.

Mostly I loved the rumors about his mythical “gyroball.” So far as I know Matsuzaka didn’t start the rumors, but cannily, he didn’t deny them either, deciding that if batters wanted to psych themselves out waiting for the ball to do something crazy he wasn’t going to stop them. I spent a few weeks covering spring training in 2007, Matsuzaka’s first season in the U.S., and several batters who faced him in Grapefruit League games swore up and down that they’d seen the gyroball. In turned out that all they’d seen was a good slider, but the gyroball hype was a lot of fun, even though it didn’t last into the season. I wish more players would pretend to have imaginary pitches.

Anyway, Matsuzaka hasn’t exactly been a flop – not like, say, Kei Igawa, who the Yankees signed more or less in response, in a fantastic example of How Not To Make Baseball Decisions. Dice-K had an okay 2007 and a very a good (if lucky) 2008, got injured in 2009, and last year was mediocre but not useless. And of course his fate this year is hardly sealed; I don’t expect him to return to his 2008 form, but I also don’t expect him to keep being as bad as he was the other night, although I suppose it’s possible. In any event he hasn’t been the game-changer that it seemed like he could be, and while that’s good news for the Yankees it’s also somewhat sad. I don’t have much of a sense of Matsuzaka’s personality, largely because of the language barrier, but his body language and baby-face have always been expressive and he seems affable enough. It’s just yet another reminder, if we needed one, that when it comes to scouting players – especially pitchers – we still don’t know all that much.

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