Joe G is coming back. Jon Heyman tweets that it is a 4-year deal worth $16 million.
[Photo Credit: Nick Wass/Associated Press]
Via Chad Jennings, here’s what Joe Girardi said about Alex Rodriguez this afternoon.
[Drawing by Larry Roibal]
Joe Girardi’s father, Jerry, died today. He was 81. Giardi is expected to manage tonight.
Joel Sherman first reported the news on Twitter.
[Photo Credit: Bob Luckey / Greenwich Time]
Author’s Note / Excuse: Apologies for the delayed post. If you need further proof that the NFL, not Major League Baseball, is the National Pastime, try getting online between 1 and 4 p.m. on a Sunday to access photos from a baseball game to include in a recap. The requisite sites were performing at speeds not seen since 1997.
Threads in this space, elsewhere in the Blogosphere, the Twitterverse, Facebook — basically anywhere you search for Yankees information — have featured criticism of Joe Girardi for managing passively over the past week and a half. That judgment was typically reserved for his bullpen maneuvering, specifically in the one-run losses in Baltimore, Anaheim and Seattle, and then again in the series opener at Rogers Centre Friday night. Not as prevalent in those threads was that the “A” lineup, while physically present on the field, was doing little to help the winning cause.
Then on Sunday, with the Yankees’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot at five, the starting lineup looked more like one you’d see in mid-March than mid-September. Girardi has stated publicly that he’s been looking for places to give the regulars some rest. The counter, “Win the games, win the division, secure the playoff spot and then rest people.” And so it was that the only regulars in the starting lineup were Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher, A-Rod and J Martin.
The result was a feeble, fundamentally unsound 3-0 defeat that left the Yankees 4-6 on this season-long 10-game, four-city road trip. Brandon Morrow dominated the Yankees, striking out seven and walking only one. The Yankees had five hits, only two of which left the infield. Like in the early going Saturday, they ran themselves out of potential scoring opportunities. In the first inning, with Eduardo Nuñez Nuñez on second and Robinson Canó on first, Canó was thrown out on the tail end of a double steal. Later, in the top of the sixth, Nuñez, who Michael Kay and John Flaherty lauded on the YES telecast during his first at-bat, once again incited fans’ ire by inexplicably trying to turn a single into a double. Nuñez hit a clean single to rightfield. Nuñez tried to catch Jose Bautista napping, but it didn’t work. Bautista fired behind the runner to first base, where Edwin Encarnación fired to second to catch Nuñez by a mile. Inning over, potential rally over. Nuñez’s one-out double in the ninth inning marked the only other time in the game the Yankees had a runner in scoring position.
Meanwhile, Freddy Garcia surrendered three runs on five hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings, and he made a throwing error that contributed to one of the three runs. In short, Garcia did little to pitch himself into consideration for either five-man rotation over the final two weeks of the regular season, or the playoff rotation.
Other things we learned …
* The Ghost of Raul Valdes, who pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, may have shown that he could be the Yankees’ LOOGY over the next two weeks and into the postseason.
* The Yankees’ bullpen, in the last two games, pitched 9 1/3 innings of shutout ball. The group allowed just two hits and walked four — three by Scott Proctor — in that span.
* The Rays are white-hot. They beat up the Red Sox again and are surging toward a September comeback to rival the 2007 Colorado Rockies. The Yankees have a six-game edge over the Rays in the loss column, which may seem cushy with only 10 games left, but this week’s series at Yankee Stadium cannot be taken lightly. Depending on Monday’s result against the Minnesota Twins, sweeping the Rays would clinch that coveted playoff spot for the Yankees, leaving next weekend’s series against the Red Sox open for clinching the division.
This week features the games the regulars get paid the big money to play. Let’s see how the manager and the team respond.
Over at Pinstriped Bible, Steve Goldman asks: Why did Joe Girardi play for one run in a two-run game?
In the bottom of the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s game against the A’s at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees trailed 6-3 entering the frame. Jorge Posada led off with a solo home run off of A’s closer Andrew Bailey, closing the deficit to 6-4. Russell Martin followed with a double, and Brett Gardner reached on third baseman Scott Sizemore’s error, putting runners on first and second with no outs and bringing Derek Jeter to the plate.
Jeter is tremendously hot right now. He came into the game hitting .339 since returning from the disabled list and he went 3-for-3 with a walk prior to the ninth-inning plate appearance. Again, the Yankees needed not one run, but two. In baseball this year, teams that have put runners on first and second with no outs have scored an average of 1.4 runs, which is to say the Yankees stood a very good chance of scoring one run there and a solid chance at scoring another. Teams that have runners on second and third with one out see their expected runs go down to 1.3, a fractionally smaller number, but it’s still less of a chance to score. I leave it to you whether eliminating the double play was worth trading that fraction of a run as well as the possibility of having three chances to score those two runs instead of two. Again, we’re talking about old school Derek Jeter here, not April-June Jeter. The formerly ground-ball obsessed GDP expert has hit into just three twin killings in 40 games, the last one coming about two weeks ago. What do you do?
Girardi chose to take the bat out of Jeter’s hands.
Here’s the recap: The Twins beat the Yankees on Saturday night, blitzing through A.J. Burnett and cruising to a comfortable 9-4 win.
Now here’s the interesting part. Burnett was bad. Unspeakably bad. He couldn’t locate either his fastball or his curveball all night long — and by “all night long” I mean an inning and two thirds. Over the course of those five outs he gave up five hits, walked three, and was tagged for seven runs. He had his usual wild pitch to allow the game’s first run in the first, then yielded a sacrifice fly for another run before finally escaping.
He gave up a home run to Danny Valencia to open the second inning, then found more trouble when Luke Hughes doubled with one out, and Ben Revere singled him in an out later. It was 4-0, but it could’ve stopped there were it not for some bad luck. Revere took off for second and Russell Martin threw a dart across the diamond to nail him — except the umpire incorrectly called him safe. After a walk and another wild pitch, Burnett found himself at a crossroads. There were men on first and third and he had worked himself into a full count against one of the three recognizable names in the Minnestoa lineup, Joe Mauer. Burnett’s pitch came in at the knees and started off the plate before darting back towards the corner. It could’ve been called a strike, but it wasn’t. (To Burnett’s credit, he acknowledged afterwards that you shouldn’t expect to get a call on a pitch like that when you’ve had no command of the strike zone all night.)
With the bases now loaded, Joe Girardi made the decision to lift Burnett, and this is where things got interesting. The YES cameras zoomed in on Burnett as he stared hard at something. He could’ve been staring in disbelief at Girardi, or he could’ve been staring at a popcorn vendor in the stands. It was impossible to tell without a wider perspective, but Michael Kay and John Flaherty in the booth told us that he was staring down Girardi, and Kay jumped on the moment, calling all his fellow villagers to light their torches and storm the castle.
“What does Burnett want?” he asked incredulously. I’m just guessing here, but maybe he wanted to pitch better. Maybe he was upset that he had just faced a marginal AAA team and only managed to get five outs.
After he handed the ball to Girardi, Burnett walked towards the dugout but then turned back to the mound and clearly said, “That’s fuckin’ horseshit!” Flaherty then took the kerosene from Kay and said, “Looks like he had some words right there for Joe Girardi.” To which Kay responded, “I don’t know what those words could be that would be legitimate.” (As an English teacher, I cringe at the construction of that sentence, but that’s really what he said.)
Even as I watched it the first time through, I saw the whole exchange in a different light. Girardi looked like he responded to Burnett, but whatever he said was directed towards home plate and seemed to be peppered with the word “pitch,” as if we were telling home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn “That was a good pitch, that was a good pitch” in reference to the 3-2 pitch to Mauer that could’ve ended the inning. More on all this later.
So Burnett walked off the field, into the dugout — and straight into the clubhouse. The YES cameras later caught Girardi hopping off the bench, heading down the tunnel into the clubhouse before returning with Burnett, who dutifully sat on the bench and watched as Ayala allowed all three of his base runners to score.
Michael Kay, John Flaherty, Ken Singleton, and Jack Curry would all interpret these events the same way. Burnett was upset with Girardi and cursed him as he left the mound. He was so angry that he violated baseball protocol and went straight to the clubhouse, hoping never to return. Girardi would have none of this, so he chased him down, scolded him, and dragged him by his ear back into the dugout. Presumably, there would be no dessert for him either.
I don’t think any of this happened. When Jack Curry asked Girardi about what had happened between Burnett and him, Girardi looked legitimately stunned, then became as angry as I’ve seen him in his tenure as manager. “You can write what you want, and you can say what you want. He was pissed because he thought he struck out Joe Mauer.” When asked about the dugout situation, Girardi only got angrier. He explained that he had gone down into the clubhouse to look at the replay of the pitch. Curry kept pressing him, but Girardi finally shut him down.
As for Burnett, he looked just as surprised when asked about the “confrontation,” and his explanation made even more sense. He explained that Martin had said to him that 3-2 pitch had been a strike (Girardi also mentioned this), and that his horseshit statement was simply expressing his agreement with Martin’s assessment of the call. When asked about whether or not those comments might actually have been directed at his manager, “I was not talking to Joe, absolutely not. No matter how mad I get. That guy’s taken my back, every day I’ve been here. No matter how boiling I’m gonna be, I’m not gonna say that towards a manager, not him, not a chance.”
The only two voices that mattered were the only two voices that made any sense.
What doesn’t change, though, is that Burnett isn’t getting people out. There’s been a lot of talk recently about how Burnett’s contract should be separated from any discussion about his effectiveness, but the pressure will only continue to build the closer we get to October. Regardless of how large his paychecks are, can Burnett be trusted to take the ball in Game 2? Only time will tell.
[Photo Credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images]
Dictionary.com lists 13 definitions for the adjective form of the word oblique. As it pertains to anatomy, oblique muscles are those that run at an angle, as opposed to transversely (horizontally) or longitudinally (vertically). In the abdominal wall, the obliques are the muscles that form the side cut of a six-pack. They’re the love handles.
Synonyms, as listed within the aforementioned link, include “indirect,” “covert,” or “veiled.” But oblique strains have directly, overtly and obviously affected the Yankees this Spring, with Greg Golson, Sergio Mitre, Joba Chamberlain and now Curtis Granderson all falling victim to the injury. Granderson’s injury may put his Opening Day availability in question. This is no surprise, given that recovery time ranges from 10 days up to 3 weeks, depending on the severity of the strain.
Chamberlain missed 10 days. He returned to action Tuesday and was throwing 95 miles per hour. Golson also returned Tuesday, after missing 15 days of action. Mitre, meanwhile, was making his first appearance since March 14. MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, in a mid-afternoon post Tuesday, reported that Mitre thought he had a roster spot secured when he arrived in Tampa 6 weeks ago. Tuesday’s start, Mitre’s first since he suffered his oblique strain, may be giving the Yankees pause about adding him to the 25-man roster. The following quotes are priceless.
First, Mitre is confidently unsure:
“I don’t look at it as a setback. I’m hoping they don’t base everything off of one spring start. If that’s the case, then we’ll see what happens, but I don’t think that’s the case — at least toward me. They know I can get people out and they know they can rely on me, I hope.”
Let’s examine this: two home runs yielded, a sinker that didn’t sink, Nova and Colon basically acting in full carpe diem mode. But this wasn’t a setback. Fans have little to no confidence that he can get anyone out. The numbers over the past two seasons prove as much. Plus, he wears the accursed No. 45. From Steve Balboni to Cecil Fielder to Chili Davis to (gulp) Carl Pavano, that number never helped anyone in a Yankee uniform over the last 25 years. And yet I digress …
More from Mitre:
“I don’t think there should be any reason why not. If I still have to worry about that, then I’m probably not doing something right.”
(Insert laugh track here)
Three weeks into Yankees Spring Training, and we’ve learned this: New York is a Basketball town. Alex has written about this, and I remember Sweeny Murti talking about covering the Yankees while the Knicks made their run to the 1994 Finals. It’s true. The Knicks are the sleeping giant, and now with Carmelo Anthony, they will own the back pages unless something either major or catastrophic happens in Yankeeland.
This is actually a good thing, because Spring Training for the Yankees is basically a time suck. While it’s great to see baseball — hell, grass — after being battered with snow and sub-freezing temperatures for the better part of the last two months, doesn’t seem as cool when the biggest questions year after year are who the 5th man in the rotation will be, and who the 24th and 25th man on the roster will be.
Obvious storylines have been played up like they’re original concepts. For example:
* Derek Jeter reported to spring training and in his press conference intent to prove that last year was an anomaly and that the man who is above statistics is actually going to try to enjoy the moment when he reaches 3,000 hits this summer. In a year or two, he might need a position change.
A Christmas Carol has remained popular and continually adapted for several reasons. The first is that it is a timeless, joyful story with themes that still resonate today; the second is that it’s in the public domain. Dickens’ classic has been reimagined (and sometimes mangled) so many times over by now that I don’t feel too bad about jumping in, with assistance from fellow Banterers/muppets Alex, Diane, Will, Jon, and Matt, with yet another version and a new cast.
Our protagonist this time is no cheapskate Scrooge, but Brian Cashman, an elf/businessman in the middle of a difficult offseason. This Christmas Eve, he’ll undergo a life-altering experience…
STAVE 1: MARLEY’S GHOST
There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot — say Saint Paul’s Churchyard for instance — literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.
Scrooge never painted out Old Marley’s name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley.
Marley: George Steinbrenner, of course.
Bob Cratchit: Joe Girardi, who will have to break it to his family that thanks to his bosss, they won’t be able to have a Cliff Lee or even a Carl Crawford for dinner this year.
Tiny Tim: head Bleacher Creature Bald Vinny.
‘A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!’ cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.
‘Bah!’ said Scrooge, ‘Humbug!’
He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.
‘Christmas a humbug, uncle!’ said Scrooge’s nephew. ‘You don’t mean that, I am sure?’
Scrooge’s nephew Fred: Nick Swisher.
STAVE 2: THE FIRST OF THE THREE SPIRITS
It was a strange figure-like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white; and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm….
…’Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?’ asked Scrooge.
The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance.
‘Who, and what are you?’ Scrooge demanded.
‘I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.’
‘Long Past?’ inquired Scrooge: observant of its dwarfish stature.
‘No. Your past.’
The Ghost of Christmas Past: This ghost changes its shape as it moves through Ebenezer’s past; at one moment, it looks like Carl Pavano; at another, Mike Mussina; at times, it takes on the ghostly form of Sir Sidney Ponson.
Old Fezziwig (under whom Scrooge apprenticed): Gene Michael.
Belle, Scrooge’s former fiancee, who released him from their contract when he became too concerned with “gain,” and her joyful current family: Cliff Lee and the Phillies.
STAVE 3: THE SECOND OF THE THREE SPIRITS
It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrification of a hearth had never known in Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many and many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.
‘Come in!’ exclaimed the Ghost. ‘Come in! and know me better, man.’
Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though the Spirit’s eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.
‘I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,’ said the Spirit. ‘Look upon me!’
The Ghost of Christmas Present: C.C. Sabathia.
Mankind’s children, Ignorance and Want: Kyle Farnsworth and Kei Igawa.
STAVE 4: THE LAST OF THE SPIRITS
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.
It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.
He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.
‘I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?’ said Scrooge.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.
The Ghost of Christmas Future: Sergio Mitre.
STAVE 5: THE END OF IT
‘A merry Christmas, Bob!’ said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he claped him on the back. ‘A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!’
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him. He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!
You know you’ve just taken a tough job when, in your introductory press conference, you feel compelled to clarify that you’re not “an evil devil.” Here is new Mets manager Terry Collins, earlier today:
“I’m full of energy, full of enthusiasm but I’m not the evil devil that a lot of people have made me out to be,” said Collins, the 20th manager in team history.
“I’ve learned to mellow a little bit…but my love for the game itself leads me to want the game to be played correctly.”
“This is a very proud day for me. I love this job, I love this game, and I will do whatever it takes to bring success to the New York Mets. The personality is there, the energy is there. All we have to do is execute.”
Yeesh… managing. I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “thankless”job – the pay is good enough – but it’s sure a tough one. Everything you do and say is scrutinized and criticized; you’re ostensibly the boss of people making many more millions a year than you but have limited power to hire or fire anyone; even if you do every single thing perfectly you’re unlikely to add more than a handful or wins to your team’s total, but every move that doesn’t work out is considered the main reason and a game is lost. And it’s an even tougher job with the Mets right now, a team whose fanbase has utterly exhausted all its patience in the last four years. It’s hard to see how the Mets would be able to dramatically turn things around in 2011, and it’s hard to see that going over well with the crowd at Shea.
Better him than me.
(Which always gets me wondering… think there’ll ever be a female manager? Maybe one day, but I have to say, it’s hard to imagine how it would happen – not because a woman couldn’t do the job, but because the managerial pipeline is almost entirely former players. You don’t have to have been a good player, but the vast, vast majority of managers throughout major league history played professionally, even if just in the minors. I can see the path a female GM might take, and I’d think that will happen one of these years – or decades – but manager is tought. And of course, there’s a reason most managers are former players — presumably that gives them insight into the game and their personnel that others wouldn’t have. But I have to believe that if women can be neurosurgeons, rocket scientists, and Secretary of State, then probably there are women who can figure out when to hit-and-run).
Anyway, the situation Terry Collins finds himself in makes me think Joe Girardi has it pretty good, even though Yankee manager has to be one of the country’s ultimate ulcer-inducing positions. And I wouldn’t want to be the guy who eventually, one day, has to sit down with Derek Jeter and tell him he’s batting seventh. Those guys get paid well, but the more I think about it? Probably not enough.
Okay, show of hands: How many of you starting singing “Start Spreading the News” when Cliff Lee got pounded last night?
I’m just sayin’…
Looks like Joe Girardi is set to sign a 3-year, $9 million contract to manage the Yankees (Joel Sherman and George King have the scoop in the Post). I can only imagine that this news will be met by mixed reviews from the Banter Crew.
So…have at it.
The Manhattan Bridge is the closest, and the Brooklyn Bridge isn’t far, but such a cliche — the Verrazano, now that’s fairly convenient, bit more interesting, less overdone…
Oh, hi! Sorry, I didn’t see you there. Is it recap time?
That was a hell of a game, and not in the good way. Join me on a journey back through the mists of time to the first inning of Game 4… ah, we were all so young then. A.J. Burnett profoundly surprised me by pitching, under the circumstances, pretty well. Certainly as well as anyone could have expected given that the last time he pitched a good game, pterodactyls soared above the ballpark. The crowd was behind him, but to me it wasn’t heartwarming so much as desperate – c’mon, fella, you can make it! It’s just a flesh wound! You’ll be fine! He was okay, though. He allowed two runs in the second, after walking David Murphy (fatefully, not for the last time), hitting Bengie Molina with a pitch (if only he… no, no, mustn’t think like that); Mitch Moreland bunted and Elvis Andrus grounded out, but then came Michael Young, who hit a softish two-RBI single. Burnett may not have been dominant, but he got out of the inning and held the Rangers there through five innings; going into tonight’s game I would’ve taken that and not complained.
Meanwhile, the Yankees scraped together a few runs: a Robinson Cano homer that just ticked over the right field wall, possibly aided by some fans who made it hard for Nelson Cruz to make a catch – that’s what Cruz argued, anyway. I thought it was out anyhow, but the fans didn’t exactly improve anyone’s image of Yankee supporters. (Although I have to admit they cracked me up). The umpires declined to review it, which seems weird since that’s why instant replay exists, but again: it was out, so no damage done. Later in the inning a Lance Berkman fly to deep right was reviewed and correctly found to be foul. It wasn’t the umpiring tonight… it was just, you know, everything else. Anyway, the Yanks tacked on in the third inning when Derek Jeter tripled (!!!) and Curtis Granderson singled him home, and again in the fourth, when A-Rod was hit by a pitch, singled over by Cano and Berkman, and scored by a Brett Gardner ground out. Paralleling Burnett, this was not exactly Murderer’s Row, but they had a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning.
Which is when the baseball gods started pulling at a loose bit of yarn, and before you knew it, but also in a kind of weird slow motion, the whole sweater unraveled.
I don’t think you can say that Mark Teixeira is underrated or underappreciated – he is an extremely well paid star on a popular team; he’s not under any radars. But I was a little unprepared for what a gut-punch it was to watch him cringe while running hard to first, fall into an awkward slide, and stay down until the Yankee trainers could help him off the field. It was a grade 2 hamstring strain, and the last we’ll see of Mark Teixeira until spring. And while he didn’t have his best year at the plate, I’d sure rather see him up there than Marcus Thames; and you know you’d rather see him manning first base than Nick Swisher. He’s not A-Rod, and these days he’s not Cano, and he’s not one of the remaining 90s Yanks, and hell, he’s probably the blandest star athlete in recent memory… but the Yankees are going to miss him quite a bit, even if they only have one game left in which to do so. It sucked all the air out of the Stadium.
That came during an aborted rally in the bottom of the fifth, after a somewhat shaky Burnett got himself through the top of the inning. Many people were surprised to see Joe Girardi turn to Burnett again in the sixth, and although I didn’t think it was such a clear-cut choice, in retrospect it was clearly not wise: Vladimir Guerrero singled, moved to second on a force out, and then — this, I did have a problem with — Burnett intentionally walked David Murphy, in order to face Bengie Molina.
What did I say about Molinas before this series? Huh? WHAT DID I SAY, A.J.?! JOE? Goddammit, no one ever listens to me.
Molina homered, the Rangers took a 5-3 lead, and while that’s hardly insurmountable, this began the “slow-motion unraveling” portion of the evening. Burnett got out of the 6th, but Josh Hamilton homered off Boone Logan in the 7th, and the Rangers tacked on another run off of Joba Chamberlain. Ron Washington’s love of the bullpen shuffle worked out well for him this time around; the Yankees had chances — they even got the tying run to the plate in the 8th inning — but couldn’t break through. In the ninth Sergio Mitre came in and everything went south (HR Hamilton, HR Cruz), but by then it was all over but the crying, anyway. 10-3 Rangers is your final.
Joe Girardi made a number of questionable moves tonight. I can’t get too worked up about them since I think, ultimately, the Rangers have flat out-hit and out-pitched the Yanks, and different managerial moves probably wouldn’t have made a huge difference. But there’s no way to know that for sure, and it’s still plenty frustrating, which may be part of why tonight’s game got under my skin in an unpleasant way. Tomorrow, the Yankees have to win or go home — and if they win, they need to do it twice more. I’m not optimistic, frankly. But every day in late October that you still have a game to watch is a good day, so here’s hoping C.C. Sabathia pitches like C.C. Sabathia tomorrow, and the Yankees live to see Game 6.
Molinas… why’s it always have to be Molinas?
When it comes to late-September series in Toronto that carry postseason implications, the Yankees have a mixed history. In 1985, the Yankees entered the season’s final weekend needing a three-game sweep of Bobby Cox’s Blue Jays to force a one-game AL East playoff. They won the first game but lost the second game and watched the Jays celebrate their first-ever playoff appearance. The next day, the season’s final day, Phil Niekro won his 300th game.
Ten years later, the Yankees were the ones celebrating. They swept the Blue Jays to complete a 22-6 September and clinch their first playoff berth since 1981. The image of Don Mattingly pounding his fist on the top step of the Rogers Centre dugout, knowing he was finally getting his chance to play in a postseason series, is ingrained in the memories of Yankees fans.
Tuesday night, Toronto was the site of yet another Yankees playoff clincher. Following Monday’s two-and-a-third degree burn from the Purple Pie Man, there was a sense of confidence and calm with CC Sabathia on the mound. CC was back to his ace-level self, powering through the first eight innings, allowing one run on two hits in that span.
Sabathia was pulled in the ninth inning after putting the first two runners on base and retiring Jose Bautista. With a 6-1 lead, manager Joe Girardi could have summoned anyone to get the final two outs — I’ll be honest, I was ready for any combination of Javy Vazquez, the inimitable Chad Gaudin, even the Meat Tray — but he put one over on those of us who thought he was mailing it in since last Wednesday by calling on Mariano Rivera to close it out. Six pitches later, it was done. If corks didn’t pop, sighs of relief were definitely released.
Two thousand miles to the south, the Rays’ ace, David Price, shut out the Orioles to secure Tampa’s spot in the playoffs and keep them a half-game ahead of the Yankees.
Now the Yankees have a decision to make: Be content with just reaching the playoffs and rest the aging veterans prior to the start of the Division Series, or go for the Division crown and home field? Two games separate the Rays, Yankees and Twins. Only two of those teams will open their first-round series at home.
Girardi has said he wants to win the division. He has four games to prove it. At the very least, though, it’s nice to see that “x” next to the Yankees’ place in the standings.
QUICK GOOFY GAME NOTE
The Yankees did a great job of plating runners with less than two outs. And none of those runners scored as a result of a hit. While the Yankees did muster two hits with runners in scoring position, five productive outs — three sacrifice flies and two groundouts — and a bases-loaded walk provided the six Yankee runs.
Over at PB, Steve Goldman writes that Joe Girardi is not to be confused with John McGraw (or even Billy Martin).
Sunday wasn’t Joe Girardi’s best day as Yankee manager.
Things seemed to be going the Yankees’ way in the early innings of their rubber game against the Angels in Anaheim on Sunday afternoon. Angels starter Scott Kazmir seemed oddly determined to hit Robinson Cano leading off the second, missing him with a fastball up and in then hitting him in the rear with the next pitch. Kazmir’s next pitch was also a fastball, and Jorge Posada sent it into the new trees beyond the center field fence to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. Marcus Thames followed with a ringing double, and the Yankees were in business.
Unfortunately, Thames was starting for the red-hot Brett Gardner (11-for-24 in the team’s last seven games) instead of the ice-cold (1-for-15 over the last six games) and lefty-challenged Curtis Granderson. So, it was Granderson who followed Thames in the lineup with a second-inning sacrifice bunt. Thames did score on a subsequent groundout by Derek Jeter, but (say it with me) when you play for one run, that’s all you get, and that’s all the Yankees got, letting Kazmir and the Angels off the hook with a manageable 3-0 deficit.
Bobby Abreu got the Angels on the board in the third when he homered off Yankee starter Javier Vazquez for the tenth time in his career (tying Manny Ramirez against Jamie Moyer for the most homers by an active batter off a given pitcher). Fair enough. Abreu clearly owns Vazquez, and though the pitch Abreu hit was a flat slider, Vazquez did start to get his fastball up to 91 mph in the third inning after starting out in the high 80s in the first two frames. In fact, Vazquez struck out the side in the third around Abreu’s solo shot, and he experienced a similar increase in velocity in the middle innings of his last start, a win over the A’s.
Unfortunately for Vazquez, he was no longer facing the punchless A’s in their forgiving ballpark, and in the fourth inning, things fell apart. After Hideki Matsui flied out. Kendry Morales singled, Juan Rivera was grazed on the forearm by a pitch, Howie Kendrick singled Morales home, and Mike Napoli worked a walk to load the bases. That brought up Brandon Wood, the Angels third baseman who has looked lost thus far this season and struck out swinging at a pitch that nearly hit him the previous inning. This time, Wood jumped on Vazquez’s first pitch, a hanging curveball, and hit a sinking liner to left field were Thames, again not Gardner, was playing. Thames broke late and made an awkward and unsuccessful dive toward what proved to be a two-RBI double that gave the Angels the lead. A Maicer Izturis grounder then scored Napoli to make it 5-3 Halos, and Vazquez’s day was over after 78 pitches in just 3 2/3 innings.
Pulling Vazquez there and then was the best decision Joe Girardi made all day, as Boone Logan and Alfredo Aceves combined to hold the Angels into the seventh, and Robinson Cano got the Yankees within one by extracting further revenge on Kazmir via a solo homer to left in the sixth (Cano’s third home run off Kazmir this season in just five official at-bats).
Then, with one out and none on in the seventh and Aceves having thrown just 15 pitches (13 of them strikes), Girardi brought in Damaso Marte to face Bobby Abreu. Marte walked Abreu on five pitches, but with David Robertson warm in the pen, Girardi stuck with Marte against righty Torii Hunter, whom Marte hit in the back knee with a slider. That put two men on for Hideki Matsui, a left-handed hitter whom, as Girardi should well know, has had considerable success against lefty pitching. Though he had yet to get an out, Marte stayed in the game and got a check-swing fielder’s choice for the second out, a lucky break that wasn’t quite enough to save the Yankees in this game.
Matsui’s tapper set up the key at-bat in the game. With men on first and second, two out, and the Yankees still just one run behind, switch-hitter Kendry Morales stepped into the right-handed batters box. Girardi initially called for Marte to intentionally walk Morales with the intention of bringing Robertson in to pitch to righty Juan Rivera with the bases loaded, but after one intentional ball, Girardi popped out of the dugout, seemingly to have Robertson issue the walk himself. Two steps out of the dugout, the Yankee manager froze, perhaps called back by one of his coaches, climbed back down into the dugout, called off the walk, then sent catcher Francisco Cervelli out to the mound, seemingly to stall for more time.
Marte’s next two pitches were balls anyway, and with the count 3-0, Girardi later admitted he thought of putting up four fingers again, but instead he, bench coach Tony Peña, and pitching coach Dave Eiland simply reminded Marte and catcher Francisco Cervelli that Morales would indeed swing on 3-0, implying that there would be no gimme strike. Nonetheless, Marte grooved a fastball, and Morales, true to the Yankee coaching staff’s warning, swung, connecting for a game-breaking three-run homer.
And that was that. Facing relievers Fernando Rodney and Scot Shields in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, the Yankees managed only a leadoff walk by Mark Teixeira in the eighth that was erased by a Cano double play. The 8-4 loss handed the Yankees their first series loss of the young season and sends them back east with a sister-kissing split on their six-game trip to the west coast.
After the game, Girardi took full blame for his indecision in the seventh, uncharacteristically second-guessing himself for not going with his first instinct (the IBB plus Robertson). However, the amateurishness of that sequence of events overshadowed the other poor decisions he made in this game including starting Thames in the field when Nick Johnson was already on the bench with a stiff back leaving the DH spot open (Posada was the DH after a day off Saturday with Cervelli catching for the second day in a row), playing Granderson over Gardner then calling for a second-inning sac bunt from Granderson, pulling a cruising and efficient Aceves from a one-run game, and sticking with Marte at least two batters too long.
As for Marte, his description of the decisive pitch against Morales, delivered in his broken Dominican rasp, summed up this head-slapper of a loss: “Three ball, no strikes, you know. Waiting for a fastball. I throw the fastball in the middle. He hit.”
A month into spring training has yielded little in terms of newsworthy occurrences in Yankee camp.
The team announced it would not discuss or negotiate contract extensions for Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, or manager Joe Girardi until after the season, which is consistent with recent club policy. Nick Johnson missed time with back stiffness (uh-oh), but then rejoined the lineup (phew!). Indications, per Girardi, are that Johnson will bat second and that speed isn’t important, since Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are hitting behind him. That means Curtis Granderson, who Girardi hinted would be the team’s starting center fielder, will likely bat seventh or eighth, depending on Nick Swisher’s exploits. Granderson in center, coupled with Brett Gardner’s wet-noodle bat, means Randy Winn, um, win(n)s the left field job.
That brings us to the first of three major subsections of this week’s column.