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Tag: CC Sabathia
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Boy, That Escalated Quickly

The last time Sabathia and Price faced each other, I compared it to Dinocroc vs. Supergator. This time around I’m afraid it was more like Sharktopus vs. a blonde in a bikini; the Rays creamed the Yankees 10-1 in a game that saw Sabathia uncharacteristically implode, and Javy Vazquez not entirely uncharacteristically implode.

Neither starter was as sharp tonight as they were in their last matchup, but Price and Sabathia hung in there well enough to keep things close for the first five innings. The Yanks took an early lead when Marcus Thames (“Glenallen Hill Historical Re-Enactment Society Chairman Marcus Thames,” as Jay Jaffe dubbed him) hit a big ol’ homer to left, scoring Robinson Cano. The Rays came right back in the third, as a series of singles allowed Ben Zobrist to score Jason Bartlett; but in the bottom of the fifth, Greg Golson reached home on a gentle Nick Swisher single, and with Sabathia on the mound guarding a 3-1 lead it looked like the Yankees might get the best of this series.

It was at this point that the game got out its MetroCard and hopped on the 9:15 crosstown handbasket to Hell.

Carl Crawford singled, Evan Longoria doubled. Fine – these things happen. Rocco Baldelli singled, which is a bit more surprising but, given all he’s been through, hey – good for him, you know? 3-2 Yankees. Willy Aybar singled; Kelly Shoppach walked. It was at this point, with the game tied, that I began to suspect an evil alien force had possessed Sabathia, and when he then walked Sean Rodriguez, it was all the confirmation I needed. C.C. Sabathia just doesn’t do that sort of thing, and I only hope Gene Monahan and the Yankee trainers have some good exorcism strategies to get this demon out of the Yankee ace before the playoffs start.

Joe Girardi came to this realization around the same time I did, and yanked Sabathia in favor of Joba Chamberlain, who turned 25 today, and also gave up a ground-rule double to B.J. Upton and a single to Carl Crawford. This was probably Sabathia’s worst start of the year – it was the most runs he’s ever given up as a Yankee – and certainly his worst since May, when he scuffled for a few weeks. It was 8-3 Rays, but at this point it looked like a run-of-the-mill bad game, just one of those nights. It took Javier Vazquez to elevate things into Grand Guignol.

I don’t generally buy into the whole “he just can’t handle playing in New York” idea, but if anyone ever changes my mind on that point, it will be Javy Vazquez. I don’t know if he was merely having a very, very bad night or if we just witnessed a Steve Blass-style mental and physical breakdown live on television; Vazquez came into the game and walked Ben Zobrist, then hit the next three batters in a row. This tied the American League record, and was only the eighth time in all of Major League history that a pitcher has hit three in a row. Whether to conserve his pen or to allow Vazquez to reclaim a shred of dignity by letting him clean up his own mess, Girardi left him in the game. The worst was over, but it was one hell of a discouraging moment for a pitcher who’s had a number of them in the Bronx.

The inning finally bled out; it was 10-1 by then and not even the most die-hard fans could envision a comeback. By the end of “God Bless America”, most of the crowd had evaporated and Girardi had replaced his regulars with most of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster. Inspired by that choice, I’ve decided to do the same thing and remove myself from this recap.

Now typing for Emma Span: her dog Pearl.

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Saturday Night Special

Big CC Going for win number 20…

Batter Up:

Serve ’em up fresh, CC.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!


And so it is that CC Sabathia, unbeaten at home since July 2 of last year, has now been defeated. After Tuesday’s anemic 6-2 loss, the words “CC Sabathia” and “Cy Young Award frontrunner” are not being used in the same sentence. Sabathia, three times a 19-game winner, saw his ERA jump to 3.14 from 3.02, and he may have blown his best chance to finally hit the 20-win plateau. His next start comes Monday against the Rays. He has one more start against the Orioles before finishing against the Rays and either the Blue Jays or Red Sox.

Sabathia’s problems started immediately. The first five Orioles reached base and three runs scored before he recorded his first out. We could sit here and analyze location and nitpick his mechanics, but to simplify it, he was off.

“Could you have a worse beginning?” John Sterling asked the radio audience. The question, framed in his trademark condescending harrumph, was not rhetorical. Ty Wigginton could have hit a grand slam and the O’s could have scored five runs before making their first out. Sabathia showed his toughness by coming back to retire the 6-7-8 hitters and escape with a disappointing yet manageable 3-0 deficit.

Lost in that initial series was how poor defense led to the craptastic start. Jorge Posada alone cost the Yankees two runs: 1) His passed ball allowed Brian Roberts to advance to second base. Roberts would score two batters later, on Ty Wigginton’s bloop single. 2) His inability to hold on to Brett Gardner’s throw allowed Nick Markakis to slide home safely with the Orioles’ third run.

And yet with all that, there was still a sense the Yankees would find a way to dig back against Jake Arrieta. They had their chances, too. They plated a run in the first inning and seemed primed for more, with runners at the corners and one out, until Nick Swisher bounced into a double play. In the second, Seth Everett doppelganger Lance Berkman led off with a single only to be erased on a Posada double play. That double play began a stretch of nine straight Yankees being retired.

On the other side, Sabathia continued to labor and the defense continued to falter behind him. Wigginton led off the third with a double — a long fly ball to the right-center-field gap that Granderson had a bead on and nearly caught, but it bounded off the heel of his glove. Two batters later, Nolan Reimold launched a first-pitch fastball around the left-field foul pole and into the second deck. Granderson’s seventh-inning error led to the Orioles’ final run of the game.

It was only a matter of time before the Yankees had a stinker like this, especially with Sabathia on the mound. The offense, despite valiant efforts and numerous opportunities created, couldn’t bail him out. The Yankees were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position; they were hitless in their last nine at-bats with RISP. Perhaps the play most emblematic of the Yankees’ night occurred in the bottom of the seventh inning, when with runners on first and third and one out, Alex Rodriguez, pinch-hitting for Ramiro Peña, ripped a line drive off the glove of third baseman Josh Bell, only to have it carom to shortstop Robert Andino, who fired to Roberts at second to force Granderson. Berkman, watching the play develop in front of him, had to hold at third. He’d be stranded there as Brett Gardner grounded out to end the inning and the last Yankee threat.

The Yankees have now followed their season-long eight-game winning streak with three straight losses. Tuesday’s defeat marked the first series loss at home since the Toronto Blue Jays took two of three August 2-4.

Credit the Orioles, though. These are not the Dave Trembley/Juan Samuel led O’s that mailed in the season before the All-Star break. They’re playing inspired baseball under Mr. Showalter. In fact, in the 35 games since he assumed managerial duties in Baltimore, the O’s have the best record in the AL East at 21-14, one game ahead of the Yankees.

It was previously thought that with the upcoming trip to Texas, and 13 games against the Rays and Red Sox, the two series with the Orioles would not necessarily be gimmes, but chances for the Yankees to pad the win column and keep the Rays at arm’s length. Not so. The former Yankees manager has given the young O’s a reason to play spoiler.

What’s a four letter word that rhymes with Buck?

20th Century Fox

CC looks to tame Buck’s killer B’s and win number twenty.

After a two-game losing streak, we’ll be rootin’ extra hard.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees. Make us a memory.

[Picture by Bags]

Lucky Be a Lady…Late Edition

We know the old cliche–heck, when it comes to sports and sports writing, sometimes everything feels like a cliche–“He pitched just well enough to win,” or “He pitched good enough to lose.” Last night, Johan Santana, vexed by bad luck on a bad team, pitched just good enough to lose. Again. Meanwhile, CC Sabathia, a good pitcher on a good team, pitched poorly, but well enough to keep his team in the game.

As Tyler Kepner writes in a good column today about Felix Hernandez:

Mike Mussina used to say that the best pitchers win half their starts. Mussina did that almost precisely over 18 seasons, winning 270 of his 536 career starts. Mussina understood the finicky role luck plays in wins and losses. But he also knew that, over time, a pitcher’s luck tends to even out. He deserved 270 victories, and that is what he got.

When the smoke cleared–presumably from all the fireworks that explode after a White Sox hits a home run–the Yanks survived a wild night of offense, 12-9. A good thing, as the Rays edged-out the Red Sox. Once again, the Yanks and Rays are tied for first place.

For the best and brightest of recaps, check out our friends at: River Ave Blues, Yankeeist, the Daily News, New York Post and New York Times.

Mark Teixeira left the game early and is listed as day-to-day with a bone bruise.

[Picture by Bags]

Splish Splash

It was raining at the Stadium this afternoon when Robinson Cano launched a gram slam into the bleachers. That gave the home team a 5-0 lead for CC Sabathia, more than enough even after a long rain delay. When it was all said and done, Cano had a career-high six RBI and the Score Truck put a ten spot on the board as the Bombers cruised to a 10-0 win. That’s win number 17 for CC.

Nice Job, Ace

Having scored just one run over their last two games despite getting solid pitching from the entire staff — even the Meat Tray has allowed just one hit and no runs over his last three outings, spanning 5 1/3 innings — there was still a sense of unease among Yankee fans heading into Tuesday’s matchup against Detroit. Derek Jeter bounced into a double play to stifle a ninth-inning comeback attempt. The Yankees, as has been the case for what seems like the past 15 years, continue to make pitchers they’ve never faced before look like a combination of Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. Andy Pettitte’s timetable for return remains uncertain; first he suffered a setback in a simulated game, then the news of an MRI following his latest bullpen session “basically to set his mind at ease.” A-Rod was out of the lineup due to a strained calf muscle. Lance Berkman’s still on the shelf with the ankle injury suffered in Kansas City.

And oh yes, there’s that small matter of the Tampa Bay Rays winning two straight while the Yankees lost two in a row, to climb into a first-place tie.

Amid Hope Week, fans were dialing the Batphone.

But the Yankees had two things going for them: 1) They had CC Sabathia, unbeaten in his previous 18 starts at home dating back to last season, on the mound. 2) At least they had faced Justin Verlander before, so there was a chance that their luck would turn, despite their lack of success against him. The fact that he had an ERA of over 7.00 in the first inning was a clue that if the Yankees didn’t get to him early, they might not get to him at all (a point that was beaten senseless by all Yankee commentators, both on TV and radio).

Things didn’t look too good after Austin Jackson yoked CC Sabathia’s first pitch of the game into the left-field seats and then surrendered two loud outs. Curtis Granderson made two tremendous catches to bail him out and minimize the first-inning damage to just one run.

In the bottom half, Brett Gardner (leadoff single) and Derek Jeter (walk), set the table for a two-run inning. The Yankees had a chance to pile on, loading the bases with one out, but Marcus Thames grounded into an inning-ending double play. Granderson’s leadoff home run in the second provided more of a cushion for Sabathia, who cruised through the next five-plus innings, until yielding a solo home run to Brandon Inge in the seventh. After Triple Crown and MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera, there was no one in the Tigers’ lineup to pose a threat to Sabathia. Save for the Tigers’ 13-run explosion on Sunday, they had scored more than four runs in a game only two other times since August 1.

The Yankees’ offense, meanwhile, applied constant pressure to Verlander, advancing runners to scoring position in each of the first four innings. They were as patient as Verlander was wild, drawing five walks and forcing him to throw 114 pitches. There was a prevailing sense of uneasiness, however, because the Yankees didn’t capitalize on many of those opportunities. They had chances to blow the game open and did not. The Yankees did manage to eat up Detroit’s middle relief, scoring three runs against Daniel Schlereth — one in the sixth and two in the seventh — but again missed an opportunity to tack on runs in the seventh. With the bases loaded and one out, they only managed to score one run in that situation, courtesy of a Ramiro Peña’s sacrifice fly. The Yankees finished the night 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

A four-run lead heading into the eighth inning is a little more secure these days, with David Robertson and Mariano Rivera teaming up to shut the door. The tandem did just that on Tuesday to preserve the 6-2 victory and keep the Yankees tied with the Rays for first place in the division and the best record in baseball. CC Sabathia became the American League’s first 16-game winner.

Wins aside, Sabathia has to be considered among the frontrunners for the AL Cy Young Award. He’s in the top 10 in seven major pitching categories, has a 2.34 K/BB ratio, 7.08 K/9 ratio, and has already thrown 181 2/3 innings. Perhaps most impressive, CC Sabathia has pitched at least seven innings in 18 of his 26 starts. That’s an ace.

And that’s what we saw Tuesday night.

At some point, opposing managers will learn that keeping a left-hander in to face Robinson Canó means nothing. Canó’s frozen-rope home run in the seventh inning off Schlereth was his 22nd of the season and 12th off a left-hander. He is now slugging .585 versus lefties this season.

Nice move by the Yankees to pay homage to Bobby Thomson, who died Tuesday at the age of 86. Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round The World” on Oct. 3, 1951, put the Giants into the World Series, where the Yankees defeated them 4-2.

Kansas City Royales Avec Fromage (and other fine condiments)

Everything’s up to date in Kansas City…

…where the eats am good…

…and the ball park is lovely:

The home team is scrappy but remain kind of blue, stuck in last place again:

The Royals are 47-67.

Our old pal, the Ace of the Staff, is on the hill, and I figure he’s gunna have worked-up an appetite. Especially against freakin’ Bruce Chen.

Sure would be nice to see the Score Truck make a pit-stop in town for the weekend.

We’ll be watchin’ and rootin.’

Our boy Cliff does like he do in his new digs:

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

Ace of Cakes

Victor Martinez led off the second inning on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium and CC Sabathia fell behind him, 3-1. On the Fox broadcast, Tim McCarver said that Martinez was probably looking for a fastball on the inside part of the plate. When Sabathia delivered just that, Martinez hit a home run over the left field fence. Adrian Beltre doubled and then Mike Lowell doubled Beltre home.

But that was the only scoring the Red Sox would do as Sabathia pitched eight innings and the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 5-2. Sabathia fell behind hitters in the early innings but found his way, throwing more off-speed stuff than gas. He had some help from the home plate umpire, Jerry Layne, who called some wide strikes, particularly to David Ortiz.

Perhaps the late afternoon shadows gave Layne as much trouble as it seemed to be giving the hitters. The Yanks tied the score in the bottom of the second when Curtis Granderson tripled home Lance Berkman and then Ramiro Pena, a last minute replacement for Alex Rodriguez who was accidentally struck by a line drive off the bat of Berkman during batting practice, grounded out but collected an RBI (Rodriguez is day-to-day).

Then, John Lackey went to work and looked impressive. The shadows were looking especially tough as Lackey cruised through the first two batters in the bottom of the fifth. But then four straight singles–Swisher, Teixiera, Cano and Posada–gave the Yanks the lead (man, does Cano ever look good swinging the bat these days). Pena’s RBI single in the sixth was the cherry on top. Mariano Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 ninth and the Yankees’ lead over Boston is back to six. Even better, the Bombers gained a game on the Rays, who were blitzed by the Jays this afternoon, 17-11.

So, for the moment, my nerves have settled. Curtis Granderson had a couple of hits, Pena had a nice game (despite making an error and looking uncomfortable at third), and even though Berkman went hitless, and got booed as a result, I think it’s just a matter of time before Fat Elvis starts hitting.

This was a game the Yanks had to have. AJ Burnett is on the hill tomorrow night and that won’t fill Yankee fans with confidence, but who knows? Maybe Burnett goes out and throws a gem. Hope is the thing with feathers, said Emily D. And that’s word to Todd Drew.

[Photo Credit: Mike Stobe/Getty Images]

Take Two

Yanks, Sox: Lackey, Sabathia.

Do it.

[Picture by Bags]

Always Be Closing

Over at the Baseball Analysts, Jeremy Greenhouse takes a look at three pitchers who possess another gear.

Kiss On My List

I have a bunch of things up over at SI.com today.

First, there’s my weekly Awards Watch column, which this week looks at the two Cy Young award races. Those who haven’t been paying attention will be surprised to see that Ubaldo Jimenez no longer tops the National League list. Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes, who were regulars on the American League list earlier in the season, are both off but have been replaced by one current Yankee and one former Yankee that will likely send the average Bronx Banter reader into hysterics.

Then, I noticed that SI linked to the gallery of the top ten Hall of Fame classes that I ranked and captioned last year. This year’s class of Hawk, the White Rat, and God didn’t threaten to dent the list, so it’s just as relevant now as it was then and a fun read, if I do say so myself.

Finally, I have the lead baseball story for the day (until a trade bumps it) in which I take a look at five of the biggest holes on contending teams. One of those five exists in the Yankee bullpen. Dig:


Need: Relief pitching

8th Inning: 4.74 ERA

MLB average 8th Inning: 3.88 ERA

The Guilty: Joba Chamberlain (5.66 ERA, 41 1/3 IP), David Robertson (4.76 ERA, 34 IP), Chan Ho Park (5.74 ERA, 31 1/3 IP)

Potential Targets: Scott Downs (2.41 ERA, 41 IP), Shawn Camp (2.92 ERA, 49 1/3 IP), Aaron Heilman (3.60 ERA, 45 IP), Koji Uehara (2.35 ERA, 15 1/3 IP)

When the Yankees moved Chamberlain back to the bullpen, he was supposed to return to being the dominant set-up man he was in late 2007 and early 2008. Instead, he has brought the inconsistency he showed in the rotation to the ‘pen, helping to make the eighth the most problematic inning for the Yankees other than the sixth (when starters typically start to tire and relief pitchers frequently become involved). With Robertson and Park also struggling and Alfredo Aceves and lefty Damaso Marte on the disabled list, the Yankees are running out of in-house alternatives. They still have the majors best record and look like a safe bet to make the playoffs, but the defending world champions will need to lock down those set-up innings if they want to go deep into the postseason again.

Keep it Movin'

The banged-up Yanks are even more banged-up today after a painful win on Friday night in Boston. Cano is out today; Nick Johnson is headed to the DL. But CC Sabathia is on the hill. He’ll go against Clay Buchholz, who has been Boston’s best starter this year.

Never mind the payback, just win, baby.

[photo credit: Yohei Yamashita]

Short Work

CC you later, Texas. After nine games against very good, and very disciplined offenses, it was friggin’ beautiful to see the Texas Rangers swing at everything. And they missed almost everything, so that made it even better. The rain shortened the affair to a 5-1 Yankee victory in only six innings, but the only consequence of the premature end was to cap the number of whiffs for CC at nine. Had the weather been dry (and had Jeter made a very makable play in the first inning) we’d be looking at a second consecutive deep dominant game and quite possibly a nifty little 16 or 17 inning April scoreless streak.

CC had all his pitches working tonight. Check out how he worked over the Rangers for the nine whiffs. It was a classic case of a brilliant starting pitcher turning the lineup over like a flapjack. As he got into the fifth, he had tempted three lefties to chase the slider. And three righties went fishing for the change-up (he also froze Cruz on a fastball in the first). Then a string bean named Arias (a previous changeup fisherman) held back long enough on another well placed two strike changeup to guide it into centerfield for a base hit.

If you have access to the game, watch CC’s reaction as the ball floats up the middle and past Jeter. He was pissed. He had this guy dead to rights, and then he’s standing on first base. He knew at that moment, he had gone with plan A long enough. But with all his pitches working, plan B was dynamite, and if he needed it, he could have come close to completing the alphabet. The next time a righty got two strikes, CC suspected Teagarden was sitting on the change-up, so he dropped in an impeccable slider for the backwards K. Then when he got two strikes on a lefty, he encouraged Hamilton to expect the slider away, and promptly buried him on the inside corner with the heater.


Opening Night

I hate to be that guy, but while I’m as excited about Opening Night against the Red Sox, set to commence in little more than a half an hour, as anyone else, I must temper my and your expectations for tonight’s game with a reminder about CC Sabathia’s tendency to stumble out of the gate. Against a career mark of 3.63, Sabathia has posted a 4.54 ERA in 39 career starts in April to go with a decidedly unimpressive 1.96 K/BB on the month. The last two years, coming off heavy workloads, his early starts have been worse.

In 2008, coming off his Cy Young season and a huge jump in innings pitched from 192 2/3 in 2006 to 256 1/3 (including the postseason) in 2007, he gave up five runs in 5 1/3 innings on Opening Day against the White Sox and after four starts was 0-3 with a 13.50 ERA and as many walks as strikeouts. Last year, in his Yankee debut against the Orioles on Opening Day in Baltimore, he gave up six runs in 4 1/3 innings while walking five against no strikeouts while clinging to a heating pad between innings. He didn’t struggle quite as much thereafter, but after six starts was 1-3 with a 4.85 ERA and a 1.6 K/BB. Sabathia’s 7.23 ERA and 3.85 BB/9 in spring training this year (which doesn’t include a minor league start in which he was lit up but does include the five runs in 4 2/3 innings he allowed in his final spring start) don’t offer much hope for his bucking that trend this year.

If there’s a positive for Sabathia going into tonight’s start, it’s that he was nails against the Red Sox last year, going 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA and 5.17 K/BB in four starts. Then again, the Sox have added two right-handed power bats, one of whom, Mike Cameron, has hit him well in the past (6-for-13 with five extra base hits and just two strikeouts, though most of that came when Cameron was with the Mariners and he hasn’t faced Sabathia since 2004). Cameron, however, is the only member of tonight’s Red Sox lineup to have had any significant success against Sabathia.

As for Josh Beckett, he struck out 22 men against just five walks in 19 1/3 spring innings and allowed just two hits in seven innings while striking out ten Rays on Opening Day at Fenway a year ago. The key matchup for the Yankees against Beckett is new fifth-place hitter Robinson Cano, who has gone 15-for-44 (.341) against the Boston righty in his career with eight extra base hits (three of them homers) and just four strikeouts. Brett Gardner, meanwhile, has never reached base against Beckett in ten career confrontations.

Finally, thanks to Steve Lombardi at the Baseball-Reference Blog, we know that the Yankees and Red Sox last opened the season against each other at Fenway Park in 1985. Oil Can Boyd beat a 46-year-old Phil Neikro that day and the Yankees went on to lose the division to the Blue Jays by two games. (For more Opening Day ephemera, check out Diane’s debut Bantermetrics column.) The Yankees and Sox last opened the season against each other in 2005 doing so in a Sunday Night game at Yankee Stadium in which Randy Johnson beat David Wells. That year, the two teams finished with identical records, but the Yankees won the division by virtue of a head-to-head tiebreaker. The Yankees were 10-9 against Boston that year. You could say they won the division on Opening Day.

Yankee Panky: The Wheels On The Bus Are Coming Off

From Banterer PJ: “What happened to our friend Will Weiss? I really wish he stop by so the Yankees can start winning again.

No Will Weiss at Banter is unacceptable…”

PJ, you’re absolutely right. It’s unacceptable. As Cliff will tell you, a new daughter and the associated parental duties, plus a new job with some travel thrown in will deregulate the writing schedule and stretch the boundaries of acceptability. At least our fearless proprietor Alex is one of the most understanding people in the business and is unyielding in his support for all of us who contribute. I will say this: my daughter likes watching the Yankees (although there hasn’t been much to watch lately), and she let out a shriek of delight when I told her Jose Veras was designated for assignment.

On to the column…

Since I don’t have to ride a train to work anymore and I don’t own an iPod (gasp!), I have been listening to a lot of sports talk radio. In the mornings, it’s a flip between Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton on WFAN and Mike and Mike on ESPN, and in the afternoons it’s Mike Francesa and Michael Kay/New York Baseball Tonight. (I still haven’t decided if this is a good thing. Now that Matt Pinfield is back, I think I’m going back to music in the morning.)

In the last two weeks, we’ve been bombarded with stories about Jorge Posada’s management (or mismanagement, depending on your perspective), of the pitching staff; Joe Girardi’s management (or mismanagement, depending on your perspective), of well, everything; the defense that went a record 18 games without committing an error has committed at least one error in 14 of the last 19 games; and oh yes, there’s Derek Jeter’s inability to drive in runs in clutch situations. Of these stories, the Posada issue is not new and the Dead Horse Alert is strong in my ear; the defensive woes would not be a story if the team was winning, and Jeter’s malaise is not subject to just him. This is not to give Jeter a free pass, but when you score 15 runs in one game and then proceed to score 12 over the next seven, it doesn’t seem right to single out one player.

Jeter alone is not the reason the team has not won three in a row since May 27-30. A-Rod has one hit in his last 22 at-bats – a span of seven games – and hasn’t had a multi-hit game since going 5-for-5 at Texas on May 25. Mark Teixeira has driven in only four runs in the last 10 games. Plus, there’s the team’s Achilles’ heel: pitchers they’ve never faced before. Even in their championship heyday of the last 15 years, rookie/no-name pitchers look like All-Stars pitching against the Yankees (see Pete Caldera’s recap in the Bergen Record for more details). Most recently, it’s been Fernando Nieve, John Lannan, Craig Stammen, Josh Johnson and Tommy Hanson. Johnson and Hanson will be big-league studs, but to lose four of six to the Nationals and Marlins, teams the Yankees were supposed to beat up on to gain ground on the Red Sox, is a reflection of something deeper.

Which brings me to Girardi. If the manager sets the tone for the team, then his management of A-Rod and CC Sabathia could be leaving the team in a lurch. This from Bob Klapisch:

…There’s more to managing than simply bodysurfing a winning streak. Girardi looked crisp and in control when the Yankees were mauling the AL a month ago, launching all those crazy comebacks. But now they’re struggling — the Red Sox’ domination of the Bombers is nothing short of humiliating — and Girardi’s confidence has turned to a square-jawed form of desperation.

That’s why A-Rod played every day until he couldn’t bring his bat through the strike zone anymore — and, as he’s hinted, his hip is so stiff. It’s the reason why no one comes to Sabathia’s rescue in the seventh or eighth innings.

It’s because Girardi knows his managerial career will be over if he gets fired by the Yankees.

The decision to sit A-Rod due to fatigue came from above Girardi. Sabathia says he’ll pitch Friday, but Cashman is putting on the brakes. Girardi is in the background.

Esiason and Carton posit that Girardi is being made to be the fall guy for the team’s travails. If he is managing for his job, he should stand up for himself the same way he did in Florida. Esiason added that despite Girardi’s championship credentials, he doesn’t believe the players respect Girardi in the same way they did Joe Torre.

Maybe that’s true. Some veterans are describing Girardi as “tight,” as Klapisch also notes in his column. We don’t know what is said in the clubhouse – and it should stay there – but the rash of flat efforts leave much to be desired. I don’t get the sense he’s inspiring confidence in his players. I’d love to hear him say something like, “We’re not overlooking any teams on the schedule. Sure, we’re at a slight disadvantage playing in National League parks, but our lineup should be able to hold up against any pitcher in any park.” Instead, we get the same monotone and the tired lines about how interleague play is a necessary evil and that it’s unfortunate the games count in the standings. Does that get you fired up as a fan? Me neither.

What’s left? Could the Yankees pull the trigger on Girardi mid-season? They haven’t made such a managerial change since Bucky Dent replaced Dallas Green after 121 games in 1989. Granted, this Yankee team isn’t nearly as lost in Mark Knopflerville (aka Dire Straits) as the ’89 squad, but if the team falls further south of Boston in the standings, it may seem that way to the powers that be.

The wheels on the Yankees bus … need air.

Yankee Panky: The Tao of Pooh-vano

There was so much hype about Carl Pavano facing the Yankees. The tabloids ate it up, and Suzyn Waldman, as far back as the Texas series, said, “If there’s any justice, C.C. Sabathia will pitch against Carl Pavano in Cleveland.”

Sabathia and Pavano both pitched, but not against each other. Sabathia faced his No. 2 two years ago, Fausto Carmona, on Saturday, while Pavano squared off against Phil Hughes, which may have been a more intriguing matchup considering Pavano’s history with the Yankees and his five victories in May, and Hughes’ stellar outing in Texas and continued effort to stay in the rotation.

As I was listening to the game on the radio (another Sunday spent driving), I got to thinking about the myriad options the local editors and writers had for the game. Would Pavano be the lead? Would I make Phil Hughes’ mediocre start coupled by Chien-Ming Wang’s three scoreless innings of relief the lead, playing up the intrigue of Wang’s possible return to the rotation? Poor umpiring was a theme of the day. Where would that fit in? Are all these topics combined into one or do you do take one story as your base and go with the others as supplemental pieces?

I probably would have made Pavano the focus of the game story and made Hughes/Wang a featured supplement, tying in the early note that Andy Pettitte expects to be ready to start on Wednesday. How would you have presented Sunday’s game? Thinking of the broadest audience possible, how would you have set up your Yankees section as an editor? How would you have attacked the game if you were on-site? It’s two different thought processes. I’m curious to get your thoughts.

An examination of the eight local papers covering the Yankees revealed the following:

NY TIMES: Jack Curry had Pavano leading but alluded to the Hughes/Wang situation, melding everything into a tidy recap with analysis and historical context. Typical goods from Mr. Curry.

NEWSDAY: Three individual stories from Erik Boland, who’s now off the Jets beat and has replaced Kat O’Brien: Hughes/Wang leading, a Pavano piece tied with notes, and a short piece on Gardner’s failure to steal.

NY POST: As of this writing, only George King’s recap had been posted. Interesting to see that he focused on the bullpen, specifically Coke and David Robertson. (Had I been reporting, that would have been the angle I took with the game recap.)

NY DAILY NEWS: Mark Feinsand tied everything together, but it looked and read strangely like an AP wire story.

JOURNAL NEWS: No full game recap posted, but Pete Abe gives more in about 200 words on a blog than most other scribes do in 800.

STAR LEDGER: Marc Carig copied off Erik Boland’s paper in that he had individual stories on Gardner and Wang/Hughes, But he had a couple of other tidbits: 1) His recap was short and had additional bulletpointed notes. I thought this was an interesting format. It reminded me of an anchor calling highlights and then reading key notes off the scoreboard graphic. 2) He had a full feature on Phil Coke and his blaming the umpire’s call on the 3-2 pitch to Trevor Crowe. Check out the last paragraph. Looks like he copied off Pete Abe’s paper, too.

BERGEN RECORD: Only one story on the game from Pete Caldera, but boy does he know how to write a lead paragraph.

HARTFORD COURANT: Associated Press recap. Not much to say except this paper is an example of what’s happening in the industry. Dom Amore’s words are missed.

And this just in … on the “Inside Pitch” segment of the midnight ET edition of Baseball Tonight, Karl Ravech and Peter Gammons said the Yankees were the best team in baseball. This revelation comes hours after the ESPN ticker read “Pavano dominates Yankees” in the first half of its description of the game. I’m not sure what to make of this. I know Ravech, my fellow Ithaca College alum, is as good as it gets, but when Gammons agrees, I get concerned.

I’d say the best team is the team with the best record, and the team that’s playing most consistently on a daily basis. That team is being managed by Joe Torre.

Rhythm Is Gonna Get You

Sabathia wipes his brow (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)CC Sabathia couldn’t command his fastball in yesterday’s season opener, and though the Yankee offense made a valiant attempt to dig out of the early hole their new ace put them in, they fell just short. Then the bullpen allowed things to unravel.

Sabathia struggled from the very beginning, opening his Yankee career by allowing a single to Brian Roberts, bouncing a wild pitch to move Roberts to second, and issuing a four-pitch walk to Adam Jones. Another wild pitch moved the runners to second and third with just one out, but Sabathia got out of that jam with a couple of ground ball outs.

Sabathia worked a 1-2-3 second, but started the third by giving up a leadoff single to Cesar Izturis on a 3-1 pitch and walking Roberts. Adam Jones tried to bunt the runners up on the first pitch he saw from Sabathia, but after bunting the first pitch foul, swung away and crushed a second-pitch fastball to the right-field gap for a triple, plating both runners. Jones then scored himself on a sac fly.

A slick 4-6-3 double play got Sabathia out of another jam in the fourth after he put runners on the corners with one out, but he wasn’t so lucky in the fifth. Roberts led off that inning with a soaring ground-rule double just beyond Brett Gardner’s reach in the right-field gap. After that, the Orioles bled him, scoring three more runs without getting another ball out of the infield.

Jones followed Roberts’ double with a single that tipped off the glove of a diving Cody Ransom, who had been playing in to guard against the bunt. With runners on the corners, Nick Markakis hit a tapper on a hit-and-run to the vacated shortstop position. Derek Jeter was able to get to the ball, but not in time to get an out. That scored Roberts. Melvin Mora followed with a well-hit ball down the left-field line that Ransom was able stop, but didn’t field cleanly, allowing Mora to reach with a bases-loading single. Aubrey Huff then plated Jones and advanced the other runners with a groundout to Cano. With first base open, Joe Girardi had Sabathia intentionally walk righty Ty Wigginton to pitch to lefty Luke Scott with two outs and a force at every base. Sabathia walked Scott, ending his Yankee debut with this line: 4 1/3 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 5 BB, 0 K.


Yankee Panky: Full Circle

The last time a sense of newness and expectation this powerful converged with the New York Yankees was 2002. The YES Network had been clear for takeoff — it launched on March 19 on Time Warner Cable and RCN in New York (Cablevision would be left out until March 31 the following year). The major signing was a power-hitting first baseman brought to New York from an American League West stalwart.

This year, a massive new stadium — in size and cost — sets the backdrop for a Yankee team that has brought in another powerful first baseman from the AL West, but two stud pitchers to solidify the starting rotation.

The Yankees opened the 2002 season on a Monday afternoon in April, in Baltimore. The same scenario comes to the fore today. Seven years ago, Roger Clemens took the hill and was tattooed in a 10-3 loss. Clemens injured his pitching hand trying to snare a hard-bouncing ground ball with his bare hand.

What will the outcome be today? Will history repeat itself? Will C.C. Sabathia, the highest-paid pitcher ever, try to barehand a line drive and damage the investment the Yankees have placed in him? Will Mark Teixeira, the topic of much discussion over the weekend, particularly after Saturday’s two-home-run performance, do what Jason Giambi couldn’t: get off to a great start in New York and convince the fans that he can hang in New York?

The greatest differences: the 2002 team, while starkly different than its predecessor, was coming off a Game 7 loss in the World Series and a potential four-peat. This Yankee team, at least in the makeup of its core players, is not that different than last year’s, and is coming off its first playoff absence since 1993.

How about the season? Will history repeat itself there also? The opening-day loss didn’t faze the 2002 group, which went on to finish 103-58 and coasted to a fifth straight AL East title only to get complacent and lose to the Angels in the first round. A 103-58 record is possible, but the intradivision competition is tougher. The Angels lurk again.

From everything I’ve read, seen and heard, I sense the air of purpose from this team is as strong as the Joe Torre championship teams. I’m as curious as the rest of you to see how it all plays out, and I can’t wait.

Yankee Panky: Hodgepodge

An open letter to A-Rod’s handlers …

To whom it may concern:

In light of recent events where Alex Rodriguez has spoken to the media, in both controlled and extemporaneous settings, it is my belief that you should consider a gag order for your client/relative. (New York Times columnist Harvey Araton agrees.) Certainly, you’ve read the analysis of his press conference performance in this space and elsewhere, and are aware of the dent your client/relative’s credibility has taken. This past week, his comments about Jose Reyes would have been fine if he hadn’t added these 13 words: “I wish he was leading off on our team, playing on our team.” In fact, it spurred the Daily News to run a Top 10 list of dumbest A-Rod quotes last Wednesday.

Now, with the labrum tear in his hip — naturally, people will jump to conclusions that it’s steroid-related, despite reports to the contrary — there are greater questions to ponder. Why do the partial surgery as opposed to getting the whole thing done? Is this short-term solution best for the long term? What led to that decision? Is Alex in consistent pain? Does the hip hurt after extended periods of rest? Sleep? How about walking up and down stairs? While cortisone shots would help, would they have an adverse effect on the healing process? Inquiring fans want to know, provided he can tell us something without inadvertently offending someone and then issue an apology through a publicist. Maybe the Yankees don’t want him to speak and potentially say anything incriminating. Judging from the commentary of how the organization has handled his hip injury over the last 10 months, you have to wonder if Brian Cashman and the rest of the brass are not fully committed to nine more years of Alex Rodriguez in a Yankee uniform.

We know Alex is going to be a target. He’s the highest paid and arguably most talented player in professional baseball. In general, Yankee fans are concerned about his health, mainly because it’s impossible to replace the production he can provide in the lineup. He’s still the most important piece to their offense. We want to see Alex recover, get back on the field and help the Yankees win their first World Series since the turn of the century. What we don’t want to see is him speaking to the media, fumbling his words and giving us more reasons to liken him to Manny Ramirez with a different type of insanity. Some fans are already at that point.

Maybe Bernie Williams is right; time away from the team, and the game, will be good for him.

We hope so.

Will Weiss


• Harvey Araton espouses on the First Amendment, A-Rod, and Selena Roberts in a column published last Monday. For anyone entering Journalism School or interested in reporting and mass communication/media theory, this is a must-read. [Props to Diane Firstman for the recommendation.]

• With A-Rod out, the shift in Yankee coverage is shifting toward C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. This makes sense, since both will be under even more pressure to perform, now that the team will be without Rodriguez for an extended period of time.

• Though he’s not affiliated with the YES Network anymore on a full-time basis, Jim Kaat shared his thoughts on the PED issue with Kevin Kernan of the Post, and proved once again why he’s one of the classiest individuals you’ll ever meet.

• Maybe this is being nitpicky, but did anyone else notice that the flag patch on the right sleeve of the United States’ World Baseball Classic team’s uniforms had the stars on the wrong side? (It was in the upper right corner, instead of upper left.) Neither Dave O’Brien nor Rick Sutcliffe noticed it on the ESPN broadcast. And nothing I read as far as game coverage noticed the gaffe.

NEXT WEEK: What should the key stories be as we count down to Opening Day, and how would you like to see them covered? Send your submissions here.

Until then …

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