"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Jon DeRosa

The Art(s) of Hitting

Or science(s), if you prefer.

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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.

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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

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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

 

Update:

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.

 

 

S-c-o-o-p

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.

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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

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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

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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.

To Sweep, Perchance to Dream

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The Yankees have the chance to leave Boston with a red smear on the bottom of their spikes. They’ve won the series either way, but putting an exclamation point after the third game would be a welcome conclusion.

It’s a Sunday night special, under the lights. Adam Warren and Joe Kelly have the honor of trying to keep the game under five hours. Godspeed to them. It’s a fortunate schedule as it’s majestic outside right now.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled for the lineups, but in the meantime, enjoy a heckuva day.

The Flayed Man

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The Yankees beat the Red Sox today 4-2, and through 24 games, this season has been a breath of fresh air. Suck it in, savor it, because here comes the stench.

Word-murderer Brian Cashman announced after the game that the Yankees have chosen not to pay Alex the six million dollar bonus he earned last night. He says they are honoring the contract by opting out. As dumb as that sounds, it sounds even dumber when I don’t paraphrase. This from the Wallace Matthews ESPNNewYork.com article :

“We’re going to honor our responsibilities of the contract,” Cashman said. “(But) how it’s been reported . . . and what the contract actually says are two different things. It’s not ‘you do this, you get that.’ It’s completely different. It’s not all of a sudden, we’re choosing not to do something. If we choose to pursue something we’ll choose to pursue it. If we choose not to, it’s our right not to. In both cases, we’re honoring the contract.”

There are a few people who are privy to the exact wording of the contract, but it’s very hard to believe it’s written in such a way that the Yankees can honor a contract built to pay a player for hitting home runs by not paying him for hitting those home runs. For this to be the case, these well-reported milestone bonuses would rather be Yankee-held options on marketing contracts that they get to consider when the homers are hit. If that sounds absurd just on the face of it, consider this contract was written in 2007!

It makes no sense for Alex to give the Yankees right of first refusal on a marketing partnership so many years in advance without getting something for it. What he got, or obviously what everybody thought he got, was a guaranteed $6 million pay out when he hit the dingers. And the Yankees were going to Steinerize and memorabiliorate until the cows came home with profits. The cows appear unladen and the Yankees are backtracking, feebly.

Putting the organization’s shamelessness aside (After all, that’s the primary reason Cashman is still around right? He’s SO willing to be publicly humiliated on a semi-regular basis) the focus for all of us fans and all other players ever contemplating signing another free agent contract with the Yankees should be on the willingness for the Yankees to have this debate in the public forum. Just as last year, when they relied on our distaste for Alex to join with Bud Selig to railroad him out of baseball for an entire season (112 games more than the CBA dictated) again they are cocksure that we’ll take their side when they deny him his bonus.

This organization became caretakers of the longest running success story in American sports history, experiencing victory in every conceivable way from 1994-2012 (forgiving 2008) and took a pillow to it. They’ve been so ruthlessly effective that just two-plus years removed from the last division title, Yankee fans are gobsmacked by a hot streak in April. The team was so dead on arrival this year that I got an email asking if I’d like to come to Opening Day. On Opening Day. And the fact that they have a pulse on May 2nd is thanks to the surprisingly strong heartbeat of the very man they plan to screw six ways to Sunday.

The Yankees are the devil masquerading as a bank but appearing as a joke. It’s time for the inverse of Seinfeld’s laundry theory. Root for the flesh and blood. Fuck the pinstripes.

 

Thank You Alex, May We Have Another?

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Hopefully the Yankees celebrated last night’s victory and Alex’s historic homer with an early bedtime and chaste reflection. Though actually the 1986 Mets would be just getting back to the hotel right now, and that worked out pretty well, so who knows.

Either way, it’s a day game with Nathan Eovaldi and Wade Miley as the most recent versions of National League exchange students who very well may soil themselves when pitching in front of the Green Monster. (Burnett, Pavano, Wright, Vazquez, Clement, Penny, Dempster… will they ever learn?)   Here’s hoping that Eovaldi, and not Miley, breaks that cycle.

I won’t be in for the lineups, but let’s hope Alex is in the game and mushing 661 with the sun high in the sky.

Say Hey-Rod

Six. Six. Oh, so sweet.

When I was a kid, I cared deeply about Reggie hitting his 500th homer and climbing the ladder of all-time greats. Even with the all the bias of the fanatic, I knew there were some numbers that would never, ever fall. 660. 714. 755.

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And even though a slew of sluggers have crashed the club in the recent era, only one guy knocked down those big three numbers, and Barry Bonds is the greatest hitter I’ve ever seen. In the eighth inning tonight, Alex Rodriguez launched a game-winning missile over the Green Monster for, get this, the first pinch-hit homer of his career. And it was also #660, tying him with Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time list.

But this was a scene within a scene. Alex began the game on the bench as Girardi stacked the lineup with lefties against right-hander Justin Masterson and his notorious platoon split. He had come off a brutal game in Wednesday’s extra-inning loss and surely wanted to get back on the horse. YES had already generated graphics showing the long homerless stretches that accompanied his previous milestones.

When Joe called on Alex to pinch-hit in the 8th, the score was tied 2-2 as the lefties created chances but never really broke through. Oh, the boos. Sustained, lusty boos rained down on Alex when he came up. He took some close pitches and found himself at 3-0. In the interview after game, he told Meredith Markovitz that Girardi had directed the Yankees to rethink their approach and take more advantage of just such counts. Alex said he heard Joe’s voice in his head right before the pitch…

He took advantage. Junichi Tazawa centered a 94 mph fastball and Alex lashed a blue dart right down the line. The ball didn’t clear the wall by a lot, but there was nothing cheap about it.

Andrew Miller (we don’t talk about pitchers becoming TRUE Yankees like we do with hitters, but Andrew Miller makes a pretty great Yankee, don’t you think?) capped three scoreless bullpen innings and CC Sabathia pitched just as well as you could hope a down-on-his-luck lefty could pitch in Fenway.

I hope there’s a kid out there who cares about this homer as much as I did when Reggie hit his.

“A” is for April

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The Yankees won April. That’s one more month than I thought they were going to win. But they’re only up one game on the Rays and Sox and barely more than that over the Orioles and Jays. One bad weekend and we can turn these standings upside down.

Of course, it’s more than the records. The Yankees have held their own against their direct competitors and their series wins against Detroit and the Mets are more impressive than anything else the AL East has mustered. But one bad weekend and… you know.

The coming weekend series, whether good, bad or otherwise, is up in Boston against those second-place Sox. The Yanks would do well to leave Boston with the Sox in third or fourth. But just keeping them in second would be a major accomplishment.

The Red Sox, against all odds, do not have the starting pitcher with the higher ERA in tonight’s matchup. CC Sabathia, 0-4, would fit right in the Boston rotation however as they, as he, have served it up to all comers thus far. Chops will be licked in Fenway tonight.

Jacoby Ellsbury CF

Brett Gardner LF

Mark Teixeira 1B

Brian McCann C

Carlos Beltran RF

Chase Headley 3B

Garrett Jones DH

Stephen Drew 2B

Didi Gregorius SS

Lineup via LoHud

 

Thirteen

The Yanks lost to the Rays 3-2 in thirteen innings today, and #13 was el-stinko, going hitless in six at bats, striking out four times and ending the game as the winning run by grounding into a double play. Egads, lock that game in a box and drown it. Alex… he’s come a long way, but he ain’t there yet.

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They had chances to win with a base hit in the 10th and 12th, but Didi Gregorius kept finding himself holding the bat in those spots and I’m not 100% certain he knows how to use that thing. Oh well, the Rays weren’t going to lose every game they play against the Yanks this season.

The Yankee bullpen, reprising it’s ongoing Winston Wolf impersonation, backed up a good-not-great Pineda with 7.3 spectacular innings. They struck out seven, and allowed only five baserunners (four of those in the last two innings by Shreve, one of which was an intentional walk). And the bullpen took the loss. Tough luck.

So the Yanks are stuck on thirteen wins, but still in first place for at least another day. Boston is only one game behind and that’s who’s on deck. Another series win would be sweet.

 

 

 

Ask It If It Can Pitch

Likely exhausted from the many, arduous takes of that omnipresent bobblehead commercial, Masahiro Tanaka is going to be out for a long time. The Yanks say he’ll sit on the shelf for at least a month, right next to the damn doll. Though it’s hard to guess the return date, the “forearm strain” is quite often the precursor to full-blown ligament replacement. Screw that! “Maybe only a month” is what I’m choosing to hear.

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That leaves it to Michael Pineda to slide up a day (he’s still on normal rest however, so it’s nothing crazy) and take the ball for this afternoon’s series finale. The Yankees have already taken the series from the Rays and sit on top of the AL East by two full games, so no matter what happens today, they’ll wake up tomorrow in first place. Wow, just wow to that notion.

But since we’re here anyway, maybe just win this one too?

(Today’s lineup via LoHud)

Jacoby Ellsbury CF

Chris Young LF

Alex Rodriguez DH

Mark Teixeira 1B

Carlos Beltran RF

Chase Headley 3B

John Ryan Murphy C

Gregorio Petit 2B

Didi Gregorius SS

 

(Photo by Charles Wenzelberg, Via NY Post)

Why Don’t You Stay Awhile?

Chase Whitley threw 75 innings for the 2014 Yankees. Huh. (File that to the long list of things that I missed about the 2014 Yankees.) The Yanks called on him for a spot start in May that turned into twelve. It’s happening again.

Called up for a spot start Tuesday, Whitley found himself in the rotation before throwing a pitch as Tanaka’s forearm injury will sideline him for a month. Whitley, for his part, didn’t make things awkward since he went out and pitched well into the sixth in another Yankee victory, 4-2, over the Rays. Those of you well-attuned to the 2014 club will also know the Yankees won eight of Whitley’s twelve starts last year and won’t be that surprised.

These Yanks, what’s the word for them? Versatile? I’m open to suggestion. They’ve won all kinds of ways thus far.

They’re at the top of the league in homers and doubles. But they’re not winning slugfests every night. And they keep tacking on runs throughout the game, as opposed to, you know, not scoring many runs at any time. They’re winning the tight ones where the Plan-A bullpen has to lock down four innings, like last night. Last night the Plan-A bullpen wasn’t even available and they plowed through the Rays just the same.

The only kind of game they haven’t won yet is that 1-0 or 2-1 starting pitcher duel. And sadly, when they win one of those, it probably won’t be their best pitcher on the hill. It’s a shame to lose Tanaka, but if there’s a less-surprising DL stint not involving Carl Pavano, I can’t recall it.

Step inside, Chase Whitley, step inside.

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(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson via ESPN.com)

Filth in the Fifth

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

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

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

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

 

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Deep Sixed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

You’re Allowed to Laugh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

 

 

 

 

 

Tigers, Minus the Bite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image via moggyblog (Copyright by the owner)

The One with the Sideburns

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

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

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

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

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

***

 

250px-Carl_Yastrzemski

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

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

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

 

Image from simpsonswiki.com

 

I’ll Fly Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

 

 

Switching Channels

968full-ozymandias

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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