And here’s Joe Pos on Pettitte.
[Illustration by Michael Marsicano]
Over at the USA Today, Bob Nightengale talks to Alex Rodriguez:
“I know people think I’m nuts,” he tells USA TODAY Sports, in his first extensive interview since last season. “I know most people wouldn’t want the confrontation. Most people would say, ‘Get me out of here. Trade me. Do anything.’
“But I’m the (expletive) crazy man who goes, ‘I want to compete. I want to stay in New York. I refuse to quit.’
“Maybe it’s stupidity, I don’t know, but I’m wired to compete and give my best. I have a responsibility to be ready to play as soon as I can.”
[Photo Credit: Chris O’Meara/Associated Press]
The news broke during the game and it came from ESPN’s Outside the Lines. Big names Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, along with 18 other big leaguers, will reportedly be suspended by MLB. For more, check out this quick analysis from Matthew Poullet. There will be much more in the days to come from apologists, moralists, conspiracy theorists, and amateur satirists. Buckle up.
Meanwhile, the ballgame. The Yanks held a tidy 4-0 lead going into the 7th inning. Dave Phelps was more like himself. Even when two men got on to start the 5th, he didn’t panic and got out of the inning without allowing a run. He doesn’t had overwhelming stuff but he’s a poor man’s Mike Mussina. There is an effective blandness about him, both in his performance and his appearance.
Mark Teixeira hit a 3-run homer, this one coming right-handed, Ichiro had an RBI base hit, and there was the 4-0 lead. But with two men on and two out in the 8th, Joba Chamberlain could not get the third strike against Drew Stubbs who poked a line drive over the wall in right. The Yanks loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the inning, Robinson Cano was at the plate, an ideal spot. But he got on top of a high fastball and pounded into the ground right at the second baseman who turned the 4-6-3 double play.
Tidy? The big hit? No Sir.
Instead David Robinson walked the lead off man in the 8th. Then Michael Brantley dropped the bat head down on a misplaced fastball and lined it to left for a base hit. That brought Nick Swisher to the plate and a feeling that the game was about the slip away for the Yanks. Swisher took a ball, swung over a curve ball and then nailed a fastball, hitting a low line drive. Ah, Fate. It was right at Jayson Nix, who flipped the ball to Reid Brignac, standing on second base to double off the runner.
And sometimes the sun shines out of a dog’s ass even at night in the Bronx. A harmless ground ball by Carlos Santana ended the inning and the threat.
In the 9th, Mariano Rivera entered the game and this is how it went down.
Mark Reynolds: Cutter, low and away, 1-0. Another cutter, lower and further away, 2-0. Fastball, high and outside, Reynolds waves at it. I feel the breeze all the way in Riverdale. Fastball outside corner, perfect, 2-2. Fastball right down the pike, moving in, Reynolds swings through it.
Giambo: Fastball paints the outside corner, 0-1. Cutter way inside, 1-1. Cutter, up, doesn’t get in enough, but it’s got enough movement for Giambi to just foul it back. Fastball, trying to paint the outside corner again, Giambi pokes it foul. He wasn’t surprised. Cutter, inside and up, almost hits Giambi in the hands, 2-2. Same pitch, high and out of the zone just not as far inside, and Giambi swings through it.
Mike Aviles: Fastball high, check swing. Bounces off Chris Stewart’s glove, 1-0. But Tony Randazzo the home plate ump says it’s a foul tip, so 0-1. Cutter low and away, 1-1. Cutter popped to right, Ichiro makes the catch. Ballgame. Aviles barks at Randazzo as he trots off the field as the Yankees shake hands.
It takes a cool hand. Little bit of luck never hurts.
Final Score: Yanks 4, Indians 3.
[Illustrations by Greg Guillemin]
Quelle Horreur! Our pal Emma defends Alex Rodriguez:
In the wake of the Biogenesis clinic scandal, Major League Baseball would plainly love to see Alex Rodriguez ride off into the sunset. And lord knows the Yankees would like to get out of the massive payments they owe their injured and PED-tainted albatross. There’s just one small problem: The evidence simply isn’t there, at least not yet. Maybe you believe that’s because it never existed; maybe you believe Rodriguez paid to have it destroyed, as “sources familiar with MLB’s investigation” have told ESPN. Either way, though, that means Rodriguez is probably not going away any time soon. Which means we — me, you, the media, the Yankees, the league — are going to have to make some sort of peace with his continued presence in the game, or risk going completely insane.
Given all that, the battle that Major League Baseball is waging against Alex Rodriguez — its own star, and not so long ago one of its most marketable — is, if not quite unprecedented, still fairly astounding. Some obvious comparisons leap to mind: Pete Rose, of course, and Shoeless Joe Jackson, who were each banned from the game. Yet neither hung around for years being loathed before their sentences were handed down, and both have plenty of defenders, even now. By the end of his career, MLB was none too fond of Barry Bonds, who felt (not without reason) that he was being blacklisted and forced into retirement; other PED users have also gotten a cold shoulder, but some, like Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi, have been forgiven. And Bonds and A-Rod’s fellow Biogenesis-linked bête noir Ryan Braun at least has a home team and fanbase that appreciates and enjoys him.
The same cannot be said of Rodriguez. It has been suggested that he should be banned from baseball, that he should be arrested, that he should be sued — just about everything short of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman killing him and making it look like an accident for the insurance money, and a poll would probably find some fans supporting that, too. There’s so much piling on, it’s almost enough to make you take the unnatural step of defending the guy.
Alex Rodriguez joined the Yankees’ A-List Celebrity Rehab clinic down in Florida yesterday.
Maddon likes to do what he calls “theme road trips.” There was the pajama road trip, the nerd road trip. For the nerd one, he had the players pose for a photo outside their chartered flight dressed in high-water pants, bow ties, and suspenders. “Some guys won’t do it,” Maddon says. “They think it’s not big-league. They can’t laugh at themselves.” David Price, the Rays’ Cy Young Award-winning left-hander, says, “He asks us for theme ideas. Once, we dressed as cowboys. It’s fun.” Ben Zobrist, a utility player for the Rays, adds, “Joe wants us to do one wearing skinny jeans. Never gonna happen.”
“You couldn’t do theme days with Alex Rodriguez,” I say.
Maddon shakes his head. “I dunno. I hope I could convince A-Rod to wear onesies. He’s not a bad guy.” He looks over at me. “I hear a lot of Yankees like him better than Jeter.”
Maddon says the most important thing he has to do as manager is listen to the players. “I coached for a manager once who told his guys, ‘There’s 25 of you and one of me, so you have to adjust to me.’ I hope I’m never like that guy. The days of dictatorial managers are over.”
When I tell him the hotdogging and emotional outbursts of B.J. Upton (the former Rays center fielder, now with the Atlanta Braves) offend my sense of the way the game should be played, Maddon says, “Aw, he’s a good kid. He was brought to the big leagues too soon. He had to make his mistakes in front of a lot of people and the media. He’s learning mental stuff he should have learned in the minors.”
[Photo Credit: Associated Press]
Via Chad Jennings, here’s what Joe Girardi said about Alex Rodriguez this afternoon.
[Drawing by Larry Roibal]
Kobe Bryant spoke with Alex Rodriguez the other day. According to Ramona Shelburne at ESPN:
“I just say to him, ‘You’re Alex Rodriguez. You’re A-Rod. You’re one of the best to ever do it,'” Bryant said. “I think sometimes he kind of forgets that and wants to try to do the right thing all the time. Which is the right team attitude to have. But other times you really have to put your head down and say, ‘Hell with it’ and just do your thing.
“Hopefully the next game they’ll kind of give him a chance, maybe put him back at third and let him respond to the pressure, which I think he’ll do.”
Although both are among the best to ever play their respective sports, Bryant and Rodriguez would seem to be very dissimilar.
“We’re different,” Bryant said. “But you’re talking about, ‘He’s one of the best to ever play.’ I think really the difference is, sometimes he forgets he’s the best….Where, I don’t.”
And here’s Doug Glanville in an insightful piece, also at ESPN:
In spring training of 2003, Alex’s locker was next to mine. We talked every day and I appreciated that he took the time to do that. I saw a super hard-working, talented player at that time. He was in the cage hitting curveballs, and he was one of the best shortstops to go with his amazing offensive capability. I also saw someone who tried hard to fit somewhere, to fit in, which for most mega-stars is unusual. They usually expect everyone to bend around them. He sought the statesman status of a Cal Ripken Jr. He worked to command an aura of baseball to emulate the most respected in the game but, probably frustratingly, he mostly found people unmoved.
It was hard to imagine someone so good being so worried at the same time, but I came to understand that he was a star with the same insecurities of a player fighting for that 25th roster spot. Knowing that in the end we were all renting time in the game, taking out a lease from the great history and future of the game.
Just as success leads to more success, lack of confidence in your performance breeds more lack of confidence, and if you do not find a way to turn it around quickly and regain the decision-maker’s faith in you, you could find yourself in a new role permanently. Or on a new team.
Keep in mind Alex Rodriguez is learning these lessons at the tail end of his career, in front of the world. Lessons that were usually reserved for the typical player, who would have long since learned them along the way. So many players break in this way, starting out as the pinch hitter, the emergency outfielder. Then without the coverage of a long-term deal, your struggles are rewarded with learning all the non-starting ways to be a team player — the fourth outfielder, the double-switch guy, the utility infielder — and without the contract coverage or the cheapness of being a young player, there is less incentive for a team to let you work out your kinks.
[Photograph by Hengki Koentjoro]
King Felix Hernandez worked out of trouble repeatedly last night as great pitchers often do. Fourth inning, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez singled and Robinson Cano got ahead 2-0 then fouled off fastball, slider, curve, change-up before popping up for the first out. Mark Teixeira walked but Raul Ibanez whiffed and Eric Chavez flied out. And that’s how it went.
But I’ve buried the lead. The story of the night is not that the Yankees lost it’s that Hernandez hit Rodriguez in the hand on a 3-2 change up–a 90 mph change-up at that–in the eighth inning and the news is not good: a non-displaced fracture. While the Yankees believe that Hernandez hit Rodriguez–or Derek Jeter or Ichiro, intentionally–Rodriguez will not play for the next 6-8 weeks.
“We lost Mo. We lost Andy and now we have lost Al,’’ Jeter told the New York Post. “We will see how good we are. It will be a challenge.’’
“It’s very unfortunate, a big loss. Alex was swinging the bat well,’’ Mark Teixeira added.
The hope is that he’ll recover with enough time to get his swing back before the playoffs. He couldn’t do it last year with a different injury. Either way, it’s a major drag. He goes out 128 hits away from 3,000; 63 RBI from 2,000.
He’s in decline but he’s never stopped playing hard and this year he stole bases and played smart. Another substantial injury for the Yanks to overcome. They can make it, of course, but even as an old man, Rodriguez makes the team better.
[Photo Credit: Kevin P. Casey/AP]
The Braves batted in the bottom of the first inning when the subway emerged from the ground at Dyckman Street. In the top of the inning, the Yanks had put two runners on base but Alex Rodriguez popped out and Robinson Cano grounded out. I was on my way home from the gym and tuned in to John Sterling on the radio. By the time the train reached 231st Street the Braves had loaded the bases and Sterling proved to be so inept–botching several calls–that I angrily switched to the Braves station. Just in time for a bases clearing double.
That was the major damage against C.C. Sabathia, who pitched well enough. The Braves added an insurance run in the seventh and the Yanks didn’t do much of anything against Mike Minor, who was excellent.
A one-out single by Derek Jeter in the eighth chased Minor from the game and Curtis Granderson slapped a base hit to left field against Jonny Venters who then walked Teixeira. Bases loaded for Rodriguez, hitless on the night and hapless this season with the bases loaded. If there were any Yankee fans confident in Rodriguez to come through with a big hit I’d like to know who they were.
The first pitch, a 95 mph fastball, was low and in the dirt. The next pitch, a slider, had a sharp break but fell well short of the plate. Two-and-zero, bases loaded, and still no confidence, right? Double play, right? The next pitch, another fastball, another one in the dirt. Venters threw a fastball over the plate for a strike and then Rodriguez had a decent pitch to hit but was late and fouled it out of play. This is what we’ve been talking about for weeks, Rodriguez fouling off fat, juicy pitches. The next fastball was inside and Rodriguez fouled it off his left foot.
The crowd, a noisy combination of home town fans and invading Yankee fans, made itself known.
And then he got another fastball. Rodriguez was ready, turned on it and hit a line drive to left field. It was a pea and looked to be a sure double. But it was high enough to clear the fence, good for a grand slam. A kid in the front row made like he was going to catch the ball, then wisely turned to the side at the last moment when he recognized how fast the ball was moving. The boy caught the ball in his hat. Smart kid.
The game was tied as Rodriguez also tied the Iron Horse for the most grand slam’s in major league history. We knew it was going to happen sometime.
Go fuggin’ figure.
Robbie Cano looped a single to center field and after a pitching change and ball one, Nick Swisher pounded a home run over the 390 foot mark in right center field.
Clay Rapada, who the wife calls “Ramapo” worked around a one-out walk in the eighth and held the Braves down.
“Why do you call him ‘Ramapo’?” I asked.
“Because that’s what I called him that time the other week, remember? I don’t remember why I came up with it but I did and it’s sticking.”
The wife knows.
In the ninth, Rafael Soriano faced the two-three-four batters. Martin Prado hit an 0-2 pitch, with “plenty of overspin,” according to Kenny Singleton on the YES broadcast, between short and third. Rodriguez took a few steps to his left, fielded the ball on a high hop and threw Prado out at first. Prado returned to the dugout and banged his helmet. Brian McCann was next, fell behind, and whiffed on an 84 mph breaking ball. Sharp, over the plate, nasty.
Soriano bent over before he pitched, as if he was bowing to the hitter. It reminded me of the bit that Mike Mussina used to do but Soriano faced home plate.
Dan Uggla, 5-11 lifetime against Soriano, popped the first pitch foul then took two pitches for balls before ripping a fastball foul. The crowd stood and cheered–oh, those Yankee fans. Some of the crowd booed too I suppose but they could not be heard. The next pitch was another crisp breaking ball. Uggla swung over it and the Braves, who had runners on base in every inning but one, will have a long night as they try to figure out how this one got away.
Final Score: Yanks 6, Braves 4.
For the Bombers, that’s another series in the plus column. Some nice wins, this one, the second two games against the Mets, and guess who sits alone in first place?
Rodriguez singled on the first pitch he saw from Price in the first inning, a fastball, and then Price got him out the next time on off-speed pitches. Now, he went after Rodriguez with more soft stuff. Rodriguez fouled pitches off, good pitches, nasty pitches. Until he saw 11, almost all soft (3 hard fastballs mixed in there for good measure). It was a riveting at bat and if Yankee fans felt that Rodriguez was bound to whiff at least he wasn’t making it easy on Price.
Then he struck out on a change-up, or was it a slider? Doesn’t matter. Rodriguez was booed–unfairly, it says here–on his walk back to the dugout. Robinson Cano was next and the 1-1 pitch was a 97-mph fastball, right down the middle. Cano put a good swing on it but fouled it off. He too ruined a couple of good pitches by Price before grounding out weakly to second base to end the threat. Cano was not booed but he had the best chance of the inning–the one true mistake that Price made (I’m not including the two walks).
That ended Price’s night but it was also as close as the Yanks would come (Eric Chavez, pinch-hitting in the eighth inning, represented the tying run and missed a fat pitch, fouling it off, that could well keep him up tonight if he’s the sensitive kind). Just a nervy performance by Price in the fifth.
C.C. Sabathia had an effective slider but made a few too many mistakes (an error by Rodriguez did him no favors, either) as the Rays escaped New York with a win.
Final Score: Rays 7, Yanks 3.
The Yanks couldn’t take advantage of an Orioles loss to move into first place so they remain in second as our attention turns to the dreaded Subway Serious. You can guess the narrative: the Mets are scrappy, full of gamers–they’ve got spunk! they’ve got heart! they’ve got guts!–they are fun, they are what baseball is supposed to be about. The Yankees, meanwhile, are boring and bloated, overpaid, a regular snoozefest. Wonder who the reporters are pulling for?
[Photo Credit: Bags; Seth Wenig/AP; Jim McIsaac/Getty Images]
Derek Jeter led off the game with a home run to right field, a few innings later Alex Rodriguez turned around a 95 mph fastball from Justin Verlander and hit a grown-up homer to left (eat your heart out Miguel Cabrera).
But I buried the lede–Phil Hughes was terrific. His fastball was in the mid-90s, the curve ball was crisp, and he out-pitched the Tigers’ ace as the Yanks sailed to a 5-1 win. Hughes went the distance (four hits, three walks, eight strikeouts), a remarkable comeback after his lousy outing in California. A solo homer to Prince Fielder was the one blemish on one of the finest performances of his career–he even struck the great Cabrera out twice.
I didn’t see this one coming. But after last night’s tense game, this one was a cool breeze.
Yanks have the day-off tomorrow and then will host the Rays followed by the Mets. Should be a fun week.
I have been in New York for 18 years. Every time I have gone to Yankee Stadium with my two sons and my daughter, I am somehow brought back to my boyhood. Perhaps it is because baseball is so very different from anything I grew up with.
The subway journey out. The hustlers, the bustlers, the bored cops. The jostle at the turnstiles. Up the ramps. Through the shadows. The huge swell of diamond green. The crackle. The billboards. The slight air of the unreal. The guilt when standing for another nation’s national anthem. The hot dogs. The bad beer. The catcalls. Siddown. Shaddup. Fuhgeddaboudit.
Learning baseball is learning to love what is left behind also. The world drifts away for a few hours. We can rediscover what it means to be lost. The world is full, once again, of surprise. We go back to who we were.
I slipped into America via baseball. The language intrigued me. The squeeze plays, the fungoes, the bean balls, the curveballs, the steals. The showboating. The pageantry. The lyrical cursing that unfolded across the bleachers.
[Photo Credit: N.Y. Daily News]
Tonight, the Knicks are in Indy to play the Pacers. I’m curious to see how the New Yorker’s will respond after a beatdown at the Garden last night.
More NCAA, too.
Alex Rodriguez had a great spring training last year and it didn’t carry over to the regular season because of injuries. He’s not going to be too happy about having a good game yesterday, according to Chad Jennings. Here’s more from Wallace Matthews.