"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: Mark Teixeira
Older posts           

Do the Tighten Up

TEXIRERA

If there is a bigger question mark for the Yankees this year than the health of Mark Teixeira I’d like to know what it is.

Sure, there’s Jeter’s health too, and C.C. Sabathia, and David Robertson as closer, and what’s what at second and third…OK, fine: there’s a bunch of things to gnaw over.

But Teixeira, man, I just don’t have a good feeling.

[Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin/N.Y. Daily News]

Don’t Hold Your Breath

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Tex, Alex and DJ to come to the Yankees’ rescue, writes Bill Madden.

[Photo Credit: Jevy]

Passin’ Me By

 

Tex goes back on the DL. Oy.

[Photo Credit: Victor Decolongon/Getty Images]

The Big Boo Boo

Again, this could be a long season.

No Bueno

 

Teixeira out 8-10 weeks tweets Jack Curry. Shaping into one of those years and it hasn’t even begun yet.

[Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images]

“There’ Nothing You Can Do That Can Justify a $20 Million Contract.”

Nice piece on Mark Teixeria by Daniel Barbarisi the other day in the Wall Street Journal:

“I looked at the first six or seven years of my career, I was in my 20s, it was easy. I wasn’t searching for the right formula. To think that I’m going to get remarkably better, as I get older and breaking down a little bit more, it’s not going to happen,” Teixeira said.

That makes sense. It’s the way it’s supposed to work: The years affect us all, and that is starkest for those who age in front of our eyes. But in baseball, where every player arrives at spring training having found the panacea that will make this the best year of their career, to hear a star player acknowledge the obvious sounds downright alien.

“Maybe I’m slowing down a tick. Look, I’m not going to play forever. Eventually you start, I don’t want to say declining, but it gets harder and harder to put up 30 [homers] and 100 [RBI],” Teixeira said.

This winter, Teixeira is accepting his new normal. After three seasons that for him would be considered down years, Teixeira is done tinkering with new ideas, done chasing a perpetual peak. If he is a .250 hitter, so be it. He is embracing his strengths—30-homer power, 90-walk patience, Gold Glove defense—and forgetting his weaknesses, on what he openly calls the backside of his career.

“This is my 11th year,” Teixeira said. “I’m not going to play 10 more years. I want 5 or 6 good ones. So that would say I’m on the backside of my career. And instead of trying to do things differently on the backside of my career, why not focus on the things I do well, and try to be very good at that?”

There’s more, too. Check out the entire piece.

[Photo Credit: John Munson/The Star-Ledger]

Good n Lucky (Or is it Lucky n Good?)

Hard to feel confident about your team winning a game in extra innings when they are on the road. The longer the game goes, the deeper into the bullpen your team digs, the greater the feeling of doom. Which is why I stepped out to go to the grocery score when the Yankees didn’t score in the top of the 12th inning today. I’d spent the afternoon in front of the TV, missed the better part of a gorgeous afternoon, and if the Yanks were going to lose the game, I didn’t know that I had the heart to watch.

What’s the worst that could happen if I let it be?

I didn’t even bring my phone with me to the store. Yet when I got home our boys held a 5-3 lead going into the bottom of the 14th. Mark Teixeira got the big hit, a two-run double against Brad Lidge. Jayson Nix hit an infield single to deep short to start the frame and then Derek Jeter failed to lay down a bunt on the first two pitches he saw. But he fouled pitches off and took some more; soon the count was full then Jeter hit a ground ball single himself. It was a stubborn, resilient at bat, and Jeter’s first hit in seven trips to the plate.

Lidge recovered to strike out Curtis Granderson and he got ahead of Teixeira but then hung one and the Yankee first baseman lined a ball to the right field corner.

Rafael Soriano wasn’t smooth and two men were on base when he got Bryce Harper to ground out to end the game. I thought Harper, 0-6 with five strikeouts at that point, would fulfill an ESPN highlight clip that I had running in my mind, but he did not. After the game, Washington’s manager Davey Johnson said that for the first time this year, Harper chased pitches out of the strike zone, anxious to make something happen.

By the time the game was over and Freddy Garcia, sixth of seven Yankee pitchers, was the improbable winner, the startrtd, Jordan Zimmerman and Andy Pettitte were a vague memory. Both pitched well. Zimmerman reminds me of Matt Cain. He’s got great stuff but the Yankees made him work and he was out of the game after six innings.

One thing about Zimmerman, he made two excellent plays in the field. The first, after catching a line drive, had him making a pinpoint throw to the shortstop as they tried to double Eric Chavez off second. The next play was another throw, this one home, that nailed Nick Swisher (Swisher’s leg collided with the catcher’s knee and the cheerful outfielder’s day was done).

Pettitte was outstanding, again, and held a 3-2 lead after seven. He’d thrown 95 pitches but with three right handed hitters coming up in the eighth inning was pulled in favor of Corey Wade who retired the first two batters on two pitches. He got ahead of Ian Desmond 0-2 and then threw a bad pitch, a meatball that missed its target by plenty. Desmond smacked a 400 foot home run and the game was tied. After a walk to Tyler Moore, Boone Logan relieved Wade. Dwayne Wise, who’d replaced Raul Ibanez in left to start the inning, shifted to right and Nix went to left. Adam LaRoche was the pinch hitter and he singled to right. Wise fielded the ball and made a strong throw home. Russell Martin tagged Moore for the third out.

It was a stirring play for the Yankees as well as a lucky one as the replays showed that Moore was safe. But this is how it goes when you are on a wining streak–luck is on your side. Right now, the Yanks have more than a little bit of luck. Everything is going their way. We’ll take it.

Oh, yeah, this was their first win all season without hitting a home run. Tomorrow they go for their ninth straight.

Unt we am Heppy Kets.

Final Score: Yanks 5, Nats 3.

[Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images]

That’s Better

When Mark Teixeira hit a long home run to left field in the first inning I figured the Yanks would make it a short night for Bruce Chen. It was a two-run shot and the longest homer I recall seeing Teixeira hitting from the right side since he’s been in New York.

But, Nooooooooo.

Chen settled in, the Royals scored a couple of runs against C.C. in the bottom of the first, and it remained 2-2 until two outs in the top of the seventh when Eduardo Nunez–yes, that Eduardo Nunez–broke the tie with an RBI triple. Chris Stewart–yup, that Chris Stewart–added an RBI and then Derek Jeter–indeed, that Derek Jeter (he of the .404 batting average)–ripped a two-run homer to end Chen’s night the way it was intended.

C.C. went eight and David Robertson struck out the side in the ninth as the Yanks three-game losing streak is history.

Final Score: Yanks 6, Royals 2.

[Photo Credit: Minda Haas]

Picture This

Tex by Dave Choate.

Perfect Day for the Bomb Squad

This past Thursday the wife and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. We got married, just the two of us, in the Bahamas. After the ceremony and the pictures, we returned to our hotel room. It was a Thursday afternoon. The wife went into the bathroom to wash up and I clicked the TV on and saw on the ESPN ticker that the Yankees were losing to the Indians. I turned the TV off and after the wife and I consummated the marriage we later turned the TV back on and saw that the Yanks had won, and that Alex Rodriguez hit a game-ending grand slam.

This afternoon the wife and I went downtown to enjoy massages. I e-mailed a Red Sox pal of mine and predicted one thing–that Freddy Garcia would get his tits lit, which was precisely what happened. I saw that the Sox scored twice in the first on my phone just as we arrived at the spa. Bad enough there was troubling news about Michael Pineda before the game. Dammit. I turned the phone off and didn’t turn it back on until we left a good while later. Score was 9-5. Swisher had just hit a grand slam after the Yanks trailed 9-0. Predictable, I thought. Well, at least they are making it respectable.

Little did I know that the White Sox pitcher Phillip–Don’t Call Me Humbert–Humber was on his way to completing a perfect game against the Mariners in Seattle. The Yanks were down 9-1 in the 7th, with one out and Russell Martin on first when Fox cut away to the White Sox game. By the time Humber had his perfecto and was interviewed for TV and Fox returned to Boston, Swisher’s grand slam got the Yanks back in the game. Runners were on the corners and Mark Teixeira was at the plate. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver were excited. Tex already had a solo homer and now, batting left-handed, he popped a three-run dinger over the Green Monster. Most of the damage was not televised.

image.jpg

The score stood at 9-8 when the wife and I got to the restaurant for dinner. The game was on the TV at the bar and so I stayed at the bar, with the wife’s blessing–she sat in our booth following on the phone–as we waited for our food. That’s where I saw the Yanks take the lead. And then some. The Bombers scored 7 in the 7th and 7 more in the 8th on their way to a ball-busting win that will not soon be forgotten. Games like this, even in April, are memorable. It was a rousing win for the Yanks and a punch-in-the-face loss for the Sox, “rock bottom,” according to Bobby Valentine.

Final Score: Yanks 15, Sox 9.

I couldn’t think of a sweeter anniversary gift from the so-called Baseball Gods.

Thank you. And the wife thanks you, too.

 

 [Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin/N.Y. Daily News]

Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey

In 2008 the Yankees missed the playoffs and had a hole at first base. They hoped to remedy both that winter by signing Mark Teixeira. Healthy as a horse, Teixeira has delivered homers, RBI and defense as expected and the Yankees have been in postseason all three years he’s been on the squad. They also won their first championship since 2000.

No buyer’s remorse there right? Who’s gonna argue with 111 home runs and 341 RBI in just three years? Two Gold Gloves to boot? A runner-up for MVP? Just keeps getting better and better with big Teix. Until it gets worse.

Yankee fans are shaking in their boots about the rest of Teixeira’s contract and here’s why: it looks like he can’t hit righties anymore, and out of six Postseason series with the team, he’s been dog poop in five of them.

These are not minor quibbles nor inventions of the back pages and call-in radio programs. These are the legit facts. Teixeira’s batting average against righties has fallen from .282 to .244 to .224 in the last three years. And his cumulative postseason triple slash with the Yankees over 123 plate appearances is .170/.276/.302. Eighteen hits in 106 at bats.

The postseason futility is a bummer and not a small reason why the Yanks have been bounced in 2010 and 2011, but it’s not predictive. He might have a good series down the road and help them win another title. And all those games when he didn’t hit, he was out there making some good defensive plays. If he choked because he was scared of the big stage, wouldn’t he be bad in field as well? He sucked, but it’s over

The real concern when it comes to his performance is the decline against righties. Has he hit bottom? Will this trend continue? Will he rebound?

Let’s look at the damage. His overall average has declined from .308 the year before he joined the Yanks to .292 in his stellar 2009 campaign to .256 and skidding down to .244 for a pedestrian-yet-productive-2011. Obviously, the shrinking average indicates Teixeira is trading hits for outs. But let’s try to figure out what’s going on in that exchange.

First thing we have to do is to separate his left-handed stats from his right-handed stats. His right-handed season was excellent – in fact, he’s hit for big power and good averages all three years as a Yankee. That’s no surprise as he has always hit lefties well. He’s hitting more homers, maybe due to Yankee Stadium’s cozy corners, but overall, he’s a carbon copy of the guy the Yanks thought they were getting.

His left-handed stats paint a stark contrast. At first glance, everything looks down from his career norms, and it is, in absolute terms. But diving into the components, we find it’s not that simple. Even as the batting average plummets, Teix is walking and whiffing with the same frequency, and his ISO (SLG – AVG) is also at his career norm. So if he’s turning hits to outs, they are not turning into more strike outs (phew) and the hits themselves are just as powerful as ever.

So where are the hits going? When Mark Teixeira bats left-handed, he often faces a shift – an extreme defensive alignment where the opposing infielders give up ground on the left side of the diamond to overload the right. Teixeira, a pull-hitter from the left side, hits a lot of balls into the shift and very few the other way. He loses some hits to the shift and he’s not making them back by exploiting the vacancy on the right side of the infield.

Could the shift account for most of Teixeira’s troubles against righties? Looking beyond batting average to his average only on balls in play, this theory starts to make some sense. As a left-hander, Teix had a pitiful BABIP of .222 (and only .256 in 2010). For the meat of his career his BABIP has been reliably between .290 and .314. Eureka?

If Teix is the same player he always was, and opposing teams have figured out exactly where to stand to rob him of singles, then the case should be closed. Teix is losing singles from the left side of the plate because of the shift.

But Teix is not exactly the same hitter he always was. The shift is playing a part, and Tyler Kepner cited Yankee research this summer which indicates it’s stealing 20 points off his average from the left side, but it’s not the whole story.

In the last two years Teixeira has seen career highs (or close to them) in O Swing % (the amount of time he swings at pitches outside the strike zone), FB% (the percentage of contact that results in fly balls) and in IFFB% (the percentage of contact resulting in pop ups on the infield). Since we already know his walks and whiffs are not changing, we know that the result of these tendencies is a sacrifice of line drives and ground balls, both of which go for hits more often than fly balls and pop ups.

What kind of balls in play will the shift snare? Mostly ground balls and line drives. Teix is surely losing some hits there, we can see it happen. But since his whole batted ball profile is transitioning away from ground balls and line drives, the shift can’t be solely responsible.

I find it hard to believe teams weren’t shifting on Teix in 2009 or on previous teams. We know Giambi faced shifts before Teix even entered the league, why would the opposition wait until 2010 to try it against Teixeira?

While we can’t be certain, swinging at pitches outside the strike zone sure sounds like a confused hitter, mired in a slump, trying to hack his way out of it. When that hitter swings at pitches outside the strike zone, pitches that are harder to drive with authority, he gets jammed and pops out. He gets under high fast balls and hits towering fly outs. And he yanks outside pitches right into the teeth of a shift.

Frustration leads to desperation. Desperation leads to poor decision-making. And the batting average continues to fall, caught in a negative feedback-loop. It’s possible the pitchers are getting wise as well. In 2011, Teixeira saw a fewer percentage of pitches in the strike zone than ever before. (That must be why the walks stayed the same even though Teix was swinging at slop.)

Teixeira faces a combination of four factors eroding his average from the left side. The shift, hitting more fly balls and pop outs, swinging at bad pitches more often, and of course, some good old fashioned bad luck on balls in play. He can rebound from the bad luck and rededicate himself to not swing at bad pitches.

But if Teixeira wants to hit a respectable average again, he’s going to have to make some alterations. He’ll need to take the ball to all fields to punish the shift when the location of the pitch dictates. He’ll need to revisit film from earlier in his career and try to figure out why he is hitting so many harmless pop outs. He’ll need to exchange those easy outs for liners and hard grounders. Some of those will end up as outs because of the shift, but he needs Kevin Long’s support to ride those out and stick with his new (old) plan.

Jason Giambi had a fine Yankee career. But his .260 batting average was a far cry from the .308 average he brought with him. He had to deal with the shift and injuries and whatever it was that going on and off steroids was doing to him. He never found a way to reclaim those points of batting average after his first year, but he still mashed with homers and walks and was a part of many great offenses.

Teixeira can do all of that minus a few walks and play good defense as well. If the worst case is that Teix is now a .250 hitter, that’s a bummer and he won’t be worth his contract, but he’ll still be good. But from what we’ve seen and heard of the guy, I’m pretty sure he’s not going to be satisfied down there. He’ll work his butt off to improve, and luckily, the Yankees just have to go to fangraphs.com to pinpoint where he needs to direct his attention.

All statistics from fangraphs.com & baseball-reference.com

[Images via nj.com & southernbelle.mlblogs.com]

Teix Marks the Spot

Alex Rodriguez has been getting killed by the press since the Yanks were bounced last week, but that’s nothing new. He’s getting killed by fans–at least the ones I’ve talked to–and that, too, is nothing new. The one Yankee player who has benefitted most from this is Mark Teixeira. Over at SI.com, Tom Verducci weighs in:

Teixeira, who came to the Yankees as a .290 career hitter, followed that .256 season with another decline, to .248. Put him in a postseason environment, with better pitching and home runs tougher come to come by, and Teixeira’s rally-killing style is going to be more pronounced. He has hit .167 over his last 108 postseason at-bats.

His troubles are particularly acute from the left side. Teixeira batted .224 from the left side this year while getting only four hits all year to the opposite field.

His batting average on balls in play has dropped every year with the Yankees: .302, .268, .239. That’s not unlucky. It’s symptomatic of his hitting style. His fly ball rate has increased every year as a Yankee (37 in 2008, followed by 44, 46, 47). His infield pop-ups, which are no different than strikeouts, and were as low as 14 in 2008, have grown to 21, 30 and 27 as a Yankee.

Teixeira’s swing simply is not built to make him a consistent clutch hitter. After coming to the Yankees with a .308 average with runners in scoring position in 2008, he hasn’t come close to that kind of reliability with New York (.264, .273, .268) — especially in the postseason environment.

Teixeira turns 32 years old next season. The Yankees already have age-related issues with Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. You can put Teixeira in that category, not because of health, but because his pull-happy, fly ball swing is the kind that doesn’t age well, sort of like those of J.D. Drew and Adam Dunn.

I wonder how long before Teixeira starts to feel the heat?

Phil-in’ Good …

Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira

Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira bolstered the Yankees' offense.

The general consensus heading into Tuesday night’s matchup with the Chicago White Sox was that Phil Hughes, ye of the 8.24 ERA and 1.90 WHIP, would be the odd man out of the Yankees’ newfangled six-man outfit. In his last two starts, he chumped his way through the Oakland A’s lineup in a way that Ivan Nova didn’t when being given a huge lead, and then struggled through six innings against a Seattle Mariners team that is redefining feeble.

Hughes was seen throwing in the bullpen during Saturday’s Game 2 blowout, and later confirmed it was a scheduled throw day and he was still trying to find his mechanics. Maybe something clicked in that session and he didn’t leave it all on the range, so to speak.

Hughes barreled his way through the White Sox lineup, allowing just three base runners in six innings, and throwing only 65 pitches before rain halted play prior to the bottom of the seventh inning. It was the hardest Hughes had thrown all year — he was consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball and spotted it as well as he has all year. He was aggressive when reaching two strikes on hitters. Hughes ended the first inning with a 95-mph fastball on the outside corner to strike out Carlos Quentin looking. In the second, he struck out A.J. Pierzynski on a nasty 0-2 curveball and later blew away Gordon Beckham with a letter-high fastball clocked at 94 mph. We haven’t seen Hughes at that level of attack mode since 2009, when he was Mariano Rivera’s setup man.

In addition to being aggressive, Hughes, who had averaged 15 pitches per inning and slightly better than 5 1/3 innings pitched over his first seven starts of the season, was efficient. He needed only 65 pitches to get through his six innings. Hughes had also entered the game with a decidedly higher ratio of flyball outs to groundball outs (2.23-to-1). He balanced that out to an even 1-to-1, inducing seven groundball outs and seven flyball outs.

On the YES telecast at the start of the rain delay, Michael Kay opined, “If someone said to Brian Cashman, ‘Hey Brian, if you could acquire a 25-year-old All-Star, would you take it?’ He might get that back right now.” Is Kay’s praise overstated? Hughes looked an awful lot like the pitcher who earned an All-Star selection in 2010, won 18 games and was the No. 2 starter in the playoffs before his mysterious deadarm period. It was his best outing of the season to date. It was also the third time in his last four starts that he completed six innings, so perhaps Hughes’ stamina is increasing along with his arm strength.

Perhaps Hughes’ success coming on the road should not be viewed as a surprise. Last year, in 13 road appearances, Hughes’ ERA was more than a run lower (3.47 to 4.66), his BAA was 10 points lower (.238 to .248), opponents’ slugging percentage was more than 100 points lower (.336 to .443), and his K/BB ratio was better than 3-to-1, compared to 2-to-1 at home.

What to make of this? We need to see a larger sample size to get a true gauge of what Phil Hughes is, and what he will be. The Yankees like their “proven guys” heading into the playoffs. That he didn’t lose his spot in the rotation after his DL stint, despite numbers that resembled Chien-Ming Wang circa, well, since he injured himself running the bases in Houston in 2009, proves the Yankees want Hughes to be one of their guys down the stretch and beyond.

Hughes still has some proving to do, but the initial signs are encouraging.

BIG BATS, BIG TEX
Hughes benefited once again from great run support. Sixteen times last year the Yankees scored 6 runs or more for him, and they’ve now done it in two of his last three starts.

The Yankees jumped on lefty John Danks early, scoring in each of the first three innings. They broke the game open with two more in the sixth. Mark Teixeira homered from both sides of the plate to come within one of Jose Bautista’s American League lead. The two home runs were also historic: his first home run, a two-run shot in the fourth off Danks (batting right-handed), marked the eighth straight season Tex has hit at least 30 home runs. His solo shot in the sixth off Jason Frasor (batting left-handed), marked the 12th time in his career he’s homered from both sides of the plate in the same game. Teixeira is now the all-time leader in that category.

In another under-the-radar note, Derek Jeter’s first inning single moved him past Rafael Palmeiro for 24th on the all-time hits list. His next hit will tie him with Lou Brock. At his current pace, he should pass Rod Carew (3,053), Rickey Henderson (3,055), and Craig Biggio (3,060) and finish the season at No. 20.

Final: 6-0 (7 innings).

Delay of Game

AJ Burnett

AJ Burnett is now 31-33 since joining the Yankees.

AJ Burnett is like a golfer who shoots good scores, but has two or three bad holes per round that sully the scorecard. Friday night’s start was indicative of just that. Burnett, for the most part, was solid against a Baltimore Orioles lineup that has some punch. He pitched eight innings, struck out a season-high 10 batters, and walked only two. He ended five of the eight innings with strikeouts. That was the good. The bad: five poor at-bats led to four runs.

In the second inning, Burnett walked Derrek Lee with one out, and then left a fastball on the outer half to Mark Reynolds, who launched it over the right-center field fence into the Yankees’ bullpen. The same part of the order bit him in the fourth inning. Consecutive doubles by Vladimir Guerrero and Lee made it 3-0. In the sixth, Lee victimized Burnett yet again, this time with a home run to right-center. That blast completed the Orioles’ scoring.

Overall, Burnett’s night was the equivalent of shooting 74 or 75, with five or six birdies, but a bunch of bogeys submarining what could have been a fantastic round.

Paul O’Neill summed up Burnett’s night perfectly during the top of the ninth inning on the YES telecast: “AJ Burnett didn’t make too many mistakes tonight — far fewer than in his last game — but the mistakes he did make ended up going for home runs and doubles.”

The loss left Burnett winless in July. It is the third winless month in his Yankees career. How goofy of a season has this been for Burnett? Friday marked the third time this season that he’s pitched into the eighth inning. The Yankees have lost each of those games, and Burnett has been the pitcher of record.

The burden of the 4-2 defeat should not fall squarely on Burnett, though. It was the type of game that if the vaunted Yankees offense did anything to support him, the outcome would have been different. Jeremy Guthrie, a pitcher the Yankees have owned over the last two years, turned the tables and was in complete control. Of the 69 strikes Guthrie threw, 19 were called strikes and 21 were foul balls. He had mid-90s velocity on his fastball with good movement, and he changed speeds effectively to keep the big bats off balance.

Watching the game, the telltale sign that it would not be the Yankees’ night was that the second and third time through the order, usually when they make minced meat of pitchers like Guthrie, the grinding at-bats the Yankees are known for didn’t yield positive outcomes — Mark Teixeira’s solo home run in the sixth inning notwithstanding. When they did put runners on base, Guthrie made a pitch to get the Yankees out. They were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position; a common refrain when analyzing Yankees losses over the course of this season.

A ninth-inning rally against Kevin Gregg fell short when Brett Gardner, who swung through nearly every hittable pitch that came his way in previous at-bats, capped an 0-for-5 performance by striking out swinging to end the game. The key pitch in the at-bat was the fastball Gregg threw with the count at 3-and-1. Gardner thought it was outside for ball four. Gardner turned toward first base and was three steps up the line when home plate umpire Mike Dimuro called the pitch a strike and ushered Gardner back the batter’s box. Replays confirmed the pitch was off the plate by a few inches, but it was too close to take.

Following the whiff, Gardner slammed his bat on the ground in frustration, cracking it in half. Given that the Red Sox lost to the White Sox and another chance to cut into the 2 1/2-game deficit was wasted, they should be frustrated.

X Marks the Spot

Mark Teixeira comes across as polite and vanilla in interviews but he’s go the redass on the field. He plays hard, is a good fielder, and is easy to root for. I wonder if that’s the reason why he doesn’t face more criticism for his declining offensive game. He doesn’t get ripped in the papers. There are no vicious campaigns against him on-line. But the truth is, Teixeira is getting paid to be a superstar and .242/.345/.499 just doesn’t cut it.

[Photo Credit: Newsday]

Fixing a Hole

Over at ESPN, Mark Simon looks at the fielding of Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira.

Phew!

Russell Martin, Carlos Pena

Russell Martin absorbed heavy contact and kept the Yankees ahead. (Photo Credit / Getty Images)

Former Marlins teammates AJ Burnett and Ryan Dempster squared off in the middle game of the marquee interleague series of the weekend, at Wrigley Field. There was potential for a pitchers’ duel, if the “Good AJ” showed up, and if Dempster maintained the good control he’s shown at home thus far (almost a 4-to-1 K/BB ratio in 52 1/3 innings pitched at Wrigley this season).

That wasn’t to be, though. The game was tight and low-scoring, but more because both teams missed opportunities, rather than Burnett and Dempster dominating. Both pitchers followed the “bend but don’t break” M.O. Burnett allowed two runs, struck out eight and walked three in 5 1/3 innings pitched, while Dempster allowed only three runs while walking a season-high six batters, and struck out six.

The Yankees had their chances. They had base runners every inning, but were only able to push runners across in the third and sixth innings. In the third, Curtis Granderson led off with a single — doesn’t it seem like when the Yankees score, he’s in the middle of the rally? — and later scored on Robinson Canó’s double. Nick Swisher followed with a sacrifice fly to bring in Alex Rodriguez, who singled and advanced to third on the Canó double.

The Cubs tied the game in the fourth, making Burnett pay for issuing a leadoff walk to Blake DeWitt. Two batters later, Carlos Peña hit a laser into the right-field seats.

Sometimes, the most important moment in a game isn’t a timely hit, it’s a baserunning mistake. Following a one-out walk to Kosuke Fukudome, Starlin Castro lined a single to center. On that hit, Fukudome was running on the pitch but did not advance to third. On the FOX broadcast, Tim McCarver said there was “no excuse for Fukudome to not be on third base with one out, or at least get thrown out trying.” The next batter, DeWitt, who figured in the Cubs’ first rally, bounced into a 4-6-3, inning-ending double play.

Eduardo Nuñez carried the positive vibes from the solid turn of the double play into the top of the sixth, lining a single up the middle on an 0-2 count and later scoring on a Granderson sac fly to give the Yankees the lead. (The Granderson RBI was off lefty James Russell. Granderson, versus lefties this season: .277/.341/.651, 20 RBI.) In the ninth, Nuñez drove in what would be the go-ahead run with a double.

Mariano Rivera made things interesting, yielding a leadoff home run to Reed Johnson and a single to Alfonso Soriano. But he needed just four more pitches to record three outs, inducing Geovany Soto to ground into a double play and striking out Jeff Baker.

That would be the high-level overview of the game. Two plays in particular preserved this victory for the Yankees: the first was the double play that ended the fifth. The second came in the sixth inning. Canó missed an easy catch on a force attempt that turned a potential first-and-third, two-out situation into a bases-loaded, one-out scenario. On a full count, Soto lined to left. Brett Gardner made up for his base running gaffe in the top of the sixth by making a nice catch on the liner and firing a one-hop strike to home. A huge collision ensued between Peña and catcher Russell Martin. Martin hung onto the ball, showed it to both Peña and home plate umpire Sam Holbrook.

Sometimes over the course of a season, winning teams win games despite an odd boxscore. Saturday, the Yankees walked 10 times and only scored four runs. They got 11 hits and went 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position yet left 13 men stranded. They committed two errors and ran themselves out of an inning.

Yet in the end, the formula that usually leads to a victory — timely hitting, a few key defensive plays, above average starting pitching and a capable bullpen effort — put a W up for the Yankees. By all accounts, they should have beaten the Cubs about 11-3 in this game. But as the better team, being able to hang on and win the close game is encouraging and should serve them well as the season wears on.

Code of Hammurabi? Meh.

Joe Girardi, Gene Monihan, Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez was hit by a pitch for the second time this week. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

An excerpt of the Code of Hammurabi, courtesy of Thinkquest:

Although it follows the practice of “an eye for an eye”, it does not allow for vigilante justice, but rather demands a trial by judges. It also glorifies acts of peace and justice done during Hammurabi’s rule.

What does this have to do with the Yankees? Alex Rodriguez got plunked in the sixth inning of today’s game after Curtis Granderson homered to make it 2-0. Much will be made of Alex Rodriguez getting plunked in the sixth inning after Curtis Granderson’s home run increased the Yankees’ lead to 2-0. There will be much ado because while Mitch Talbot was ejected immediately (wet mound conditions or not), yet again, the HBP went unanswered by a Yankees pitcher. The Yankees have had eight hit batsmen in the last five games. They’ve hit only one. The Boston Red Sox sent a message that teams can hit the Yankees’ batters without repercussion.

To date, despite Joe Girardi’s emphatic stance, the message has gained traction.

Columnists are clamoring for the Yankees to follow Girardi’s lead, to start showing some fight and “protect their own.” David Wells, who was patrolling the clubhouse on Saturday, told reporters the Yankees need to “grow some.”

Perhaps Talbot’s ejection led the Yankees to be more cautious in their retaliation strategy. But a passive-aggressive approach has been the Yankees’ stance for years. The recent beanball wars are reminiscent of 2003, when the Red Sox, more specifically Pedro Martinez, routinely hit Yankees batters, often without repercussion. On July 7 of that year, Pedro and Mike Mussina engaged in a classic pitchers’ duel. Martinez opened the game by hitting Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano on the hands, knocking them both out of the game. Mussina wouldn’t retaliate. Didn’t even buzz anyone. Fans were miffed. Writers were, too.

At the time, George Steinbrenner said of Martinez: “I don’t know what was going through his mind, but if it’s what it looked like, it’s not good. It’s not good for his team, not good for baseball.” Mussina’s response: “It was a situation that was pretty delicate. I think if I go inside to somebody, the umpire’s going to warn both benches. I didn’t want to lose half the plate. It’s a tough spot. You try to do what’s right. I’m not sure what anybody was thinking, but I felt I had to get guys out.” Not until Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, when Roger Clemens threw a fastball to the backstop with Manny Ramirez at the plate, igniting a bench-clearing brawl for the ages, did the Yankees exact revenge according to the common interpretation of Hammurabi’s Code.

If the code glorifies acts of peace and justice, then the Yankees are doing the right thing and should be applauded by being professional, acting above hitting Indians’ batters and winning the game. But do they have to hit someone to demonstrate protection? Pitch inside. Buzz someone. Make the batter uncomfortable. Move his feet. That could work.

Would the umpires allow the Yankees to pitch inside or buzz someone, or would they warn the benches immediately and put the pitchers in a bind, as Mussina feared? It’s a tough call. Joe Torre, who managed the Yankees in that 2003 game, now sits in the League Office and has jurisdiction over this exact issue. He also caught Bob Gibson, who you know full well would have given an opposing batter a shave by now if his teammates were getting hit at the rate the Yankees’ guys are. At what point will Torre get involved? Should he get involved?

It’s unlikely. The Yankees will do what they believe is right. But will they lose players as they consider the appropriate time to punch back?

OH YEAH, THE GAME …
Three solo home runs and a clutch RBI single by Jorge Posada in the seventh inning provided the scoring for the Yankees. The arms of Bartolo Colon, David Robertson and Boone Logan did the rest. The most important juncture of the game was the eighth inning. While it won’t go in the box score as a save, Robertson should get one for his yeoman effort. After allowing consecutive singles to start the inning, and then balking the runners over to second and third, respectively, his strikeouts of Asdrubal Cabrera and Grady Sizemore preserved the shutout and pretty much ensured the Yankees would emerge victorious.

Robertson and Logan combined to allow just two hits and struck out four. Contrast that to Friday night, where in a blowout, mop-up scenario, Kevin Whelan and Lance Pendleton yielded five runs on five hits, and walked five. Their performance led Girardi to pull an “I have no other recourse” move, bringing in Mariano Rivera to end the losing streak.

HAMSTRUNG
Big Bart pulled up lame covering first base in the seventh inning. He had thrown just 83 pitches and was working on a two-hit shutout at the time of his exit. Given his age, weight, and conditioning (or lack thereof), Colon could be looking at a long stint on the disabled list. The only good news from this: if and when Phil Hughes returns, there’s no doubt where he’ll be slotted in the rotation.

NEEDLESS COMPARISON
Granderson’s home run was his 20th. Mark Teixeira’s was his 19th. YES Network’s announcers got homer happy. Ken Singleton brought up 1961, and that the recent home run barrage reminded him of that seminal year in Yankees history. Michael Kay mentioned that Maris had 20 home runs and Mantle 18 on this date 50 years ago. Please stop. Granderson and Teixeira are not Mantle and Maris. Moreover, the 2004 Yankees hold the team record for home runs in a season (242). Granted, they didn’t have two guys going shot for shot the way Granderson and Teixeira seem to be right now, but it’s worth noting that the ’04 group, not the ’61 group, is the most prolific Yankees team in that category.

Older posts           
feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver