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Tag: Mark Teixeira
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From West Coast Halo to East Coast Hero

Sunday afternoon’s nail biter at Angel Stadium was the ultimate swing game for the Yankees. Not only would it determine the winner of the three-game weekend set with the pesky Halos, but it would end the Yankees’ long west coast adventure at either a mediocre 5-4 or an excellent 6-3.

Showing some killer instinct, the Yankees opted for the latter mark, as they finished off the Pacific swing in style. A pair of ex-Angels played a role, most notably Mark Teixeira. It’s easy to forget that Teixeira played for the Angels toward the tailend of the 2008 season, but Angels pitching had little trouble remembering that today. They watched the Yankee first baseman pound out a pair of monstrous home runs in support of Bartolo “Chubbsy Ubbsy” Colon and the Yankee bullpen. A 5-3 victory had its share of shaky moments (when do games against the Angels not have such moments?) but the combination of power and clutch bullpen pitching proved good enough in the finale of the eventful road trip.

The Yankees set themselves up for a big inning in the second when Robinson Cano led off with a double and Nick Swisher followed with a walk. That brought up Jorge Posada, whose lack of hitting, especially with runners in scoring position, is fast becoming an albatross at the bottom of the order. Posada grounded into a weak 3-6-1 double play, essentially taking the Yankees out of a multiple-run inning possibility. (Later, Posada committed an atrocious baserunning error as he legged out a double and then foolishly tried to advance to third on what he perceived as an overthrow to second base. Posada was hung up between the bases and easily tagged out.) Thankfully, Brett Gardner salvaged the inning by grounding a two-out double down the right field line, scoring Cano with the game’s first run.

Teixeira added to the Yankees’ lead in the top of the third. After Curtis Granderson bounced into a double play, Teixeira scooped up a low sinker and slammed it into the right field bleachers. The lengthy solo home run gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

The two-run advantage seemed as if it would hold up, given Colon’s effectiveness over the first two innings. The other ex-Angel on the Yankee roster, Colon retired the first six batters he faced, but then ran into sudden and immediate trouble in the third inning. Rookie of the Year Candidate Mark Trumbo picked on a first-pitch fastball and pile-drived it over the center field wall for his 11th home run of the season. Hank Conger followed with a long double to the gap, moved up on Maecer Izturis’ tapped infield bleeder down the first base line, and then scored on Erick Aybar’s line drive sacrifice fly to right field. Colon managed to escape the inning with a tie score thanks to Robinson Cano’s terrific barehand play of Torii Hunter’s slow chopper that wafted between the pitcher’s mound and the second base bag.

The score remained tied until the top of the fifth inning, when Teixeira lofted a towering home run to right field, his 18th blast of the season, scoring Curtis Granderson ahead of him. Now ahead 4-2, Bartolo Colon could not stand prosperity. The Angels bounced right back in the bottom half of the inning, scoring a run courtesy of a two-out rally and narrowing the score to 4-3.

With Colon lacking some command and nowhere near as sharp as he was in his previous west coast start against the A’s, Joe Girardi turned to his bullpen with one out in the sixth inning. David Robertson worked out of an eventual bases-loaded jam, stranding all of the Angels’ runners by striking out the thorny Izturis. He then retired the leadoff man in the seventh before giving way to Joba Chamberlain, who struggled through a stretch of an inning and two-thirds, but managed to keep the Angels off the board.

In the top of the eighth inning, the Yankees added to their lead thanks to one of Nick Swisher’s best at-bats of the season. Battling back from an 0-and-2 count, Swisher took hold of a 3-and-2 fastball and lofted a home run just inside of the right field foul pole.

Handed a two-run lead in the ninth, Mariano Rivera made it a late-game thriller by allowing a bloop single to Izturis and a line drive safety to Bobby Abreu, but ended the dramatics by inducing Hunter to bounce into a 5-4-3 double play. The win maintains the Yankees’ sole possession of first place, just in time to welcome the second-place Red Sox to town on Tuesday night.

Final Score: Yanks 5, Angels 3.

Yankee Doodles: Derek Jeter banged out a single against Angels starter Joel Pineiro, good for career hit No. 2,986. That brings Jeter within 14 hits of Roberto Clemente and the 3,000-hit mark. Barring an injury, Jeter will almost certainly reach the milestone later this month… Francisco Cervelli’s presence on the major league roster continues to mystify. Cervelli went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and is now batting .167 as the backup to Russell Martin… Former Yankee Jim Abbott threw out the game’s ceremonial pitch, as the Angels continue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their franchise existence. Abbott was the Angels’ ace in the early 1990s before coming to the Yankees in the trade that sent first baseman J.T. Snow and pitchers Russ Springer and Jerry Nielsen. Abbott pitched a no-hitter for the Yankees in September of 1993.

Zip, Zip, Zip

Welp, nobody could have predicted the performance Bartolo Colon has given the Yankees so far this season. But as much as the team’s success seems to ride on Alex Rodriguez, I’ve felt all along that this is Mark Teixeira’s time to shine. Robinson Cano had a great season last year but this should be Teixeira’s team. He started off with a bang in April, then cooled some, although his OBP remained high. Now, he’s hot again, and hit another long home run today as the Yanks jumped to a 3-0 first inning lead which proved to be more than enough against Oakland’s hapless offense.

Colon threw a shut out–dig it, a shut out–the game moved quickly, and Yankee fans were happy.

Final Score: Yanks 5, A’s 0.

And here’s the dinner I had on my cousin’s roof this evening:

 

A Grand Finale

Mark Teixeira

Mark Teixeira finished what Curtis Granderson started. (Photo Credit / Michael Heiman - Getty Images)

Some of the Yankees’ most memorable moments at home over the past 15 years have occurred in the month of May. In 1998, David Wells’ perfect game against the Twins and the brawl against the Orioles sparked by Armando Benitez’s plunking of Tino Martinez took place May 17 and 19, respectively. In 2002, Jason Giambi’s 14th-inning game-winning grand slam in the rain, also against the Twins occurred on May 17.

Here we are in 2011. The Yankees had only won four home games this month. “Consistently inconsistent” would probably be the best description for their play. The pressing trend has been the team’s inability to hit with runners in scoring position. They were too reliant upon the home run.

Speaking of home runs, this series against the Blue Jays was billed as a duel between the Majors’ top two home run hitters: Jose Bautista of the Jays and Curtis Granderson of the Yankees. Bautista won Round 1 Monday night. Granderson won Round 2 on Tuesday. Granderson keyed the Yankees’ comeback from a 4-1 deficit with a leadoff double in the eighth inning, leading the “Thank you for taking Ricky Romero out of the game” charge. He later scored on Robinson Canó’s RBI double. With two outs in the ninth, Granderson singled to drive in Chris Dickerson, tying the game at 4-4. Minutes later, he scored the game-winning run on Mark Teixeira’s single.

Granderson went 4-for-5 on the night, bringing his current line to .275/.347/.618. He has been the Yankees’ best all-around player this season, and a top-5 player in the American League. Granderson remains second in home runs to Bautista, is fourth in RBI, second in runs scored, third in slugging percentage, and fourth in OPS.

The Yankees’ last four runs were all scored with two out. They went 4-for-6 with runners in scoring position over the last two innings, 4-for-4 with two out and runners in scoring position. This is the stuff that builds a team’s self-belief. Late-inning comebacks like this helped carry the team to a World Series title two years ago.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. We don’t yet know the identity of this Yankee team, or where they’re going to end up. For one night, here’s what we do know: Curtis Granderson’s efforts led to another pie at Yankee Stadium III. They made a winner out of CC Sabathia, who delivered the Yankees’ first complete game in 341 starts.

And they put the Yankees in first place.

Thunder Storms in Balti'mo

The Yankees lineup slumps as a team and hits as a team. The slump: Wednesday night. Fourteen innings, fourteen singles, and a 1-for-14 effort with runners in scoring position was the epitome of the Yankees’ recent bout of anemia. The hits: Robinson Canó’s 2-RBI double in the 15th inning not only broke the singles brigade and the RISP issues, it was the beginning of an avalanche of offense.

Derek Jeter led off the game with a double, and Curtis Granderson followed with an RBI triple off the top of the right field wall. A productive out by Mark Teixeira had the game at 2-0 before some people realized the game had even started. Later in the inning, Brad Bergesen drilled Cano, walked Russell Martin on four pitches, threw a wild pitch and was forced to walk Jorge Posada to load the bases. Nick Swisher unloaded the bases with a double. 5-0 after a half inning. Score truck idling on Eutaw Street.

Ahead to the fourth inning, where Brett Gardner and Jeter hit back-to-back triples, and then Big Teix went yard. 9-0 and pray the rain held out. It did. The game was official. Tack-on runs in the fifth and sixth. Even Eduardo Nuñez belted a home run to cap the scoring.

The early barrage was more than enough for CC Sabathia, who was on auto-pilot from the get-go. About as economical as he gets: average of 14 pitches per inning through his 8 IP, and struck out nine. No walks. Seventy-seven percent of his pitches went for strikes.

As good as CC was, make no mistake, this game was about the offense. Up and down the lineup, it was like a huge exhalation. A channeling of several days of frustration. The Yankees did what they’re supposed to do: destroy bad pitching. And the timely hitting was there. Eight of 13 runs were scored with two outs. They went 6-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

This was the type of victory the Yankees needed. Now if they could only have this kind of effort against teams other than the Orioles…Wait, how about the Mets?

NOTES:
* Jorge Posada was in the field, at first base, and went 1-for-3 with an RBI, a run scored, and two walks. His long flyball out to center field in the eighth inning has him 0-for-25 vs. LHP this season. A great note on Posada, though, from YES Network’s Jack Curry, via Twitter: Since he asked out of the lineup Saturday, Posada has reached base in 7 of 9 plate appearances.

* Another beauty from Mr. Curry: Swisher had 4 RBI tonight. He had just 3 in his previous 17 games.

* When Sabathia was removed in favor of Amauri Sanit for the ninth inning, the Yankees extended their MLB record streak of consecutive games without a complete game to 337.

* Courtesy of Larry Koestler at YankeeAnalysts, the Yankees have never had their starting pitchers go 8 innings on consecutive nights. Sabathia and Bartolo Colon just did it.

The Eyes Have It

Ivan Nova threw a fine game on Sunday and Curtis Granderson’s three run homer was the difference as the Yanks beat the Jays, 5-2 to take the weekend series in the Bronx.

Here’s Mark Teixeira hitting a dinger in the first inning:

Robinson Cano bruised his hand and is day-to-day; Alex Rodriguez is in a slump. Nick Swisher hasn’t hit. Jorge Posada–who did have a double today–and Derek Jeter have been awful. But again, Nova pitched well, and the bullpen didn’t allow a run. Mariano got his 10th save and the Yanks are in first place.

The Sounds of Spring: Boo Boids in the Bronx (Let the Season Begin!)

Before I got off the subway in the Bronx tonight, I checked the MLB app on my phone and was pleased to see the score: Yanks 4, Twins 0. Mark Teixeira with another dinger, again of the three run variety. Andruw Jones with a solo shot–Hey, Now.

I ran for the bus on 231st Street and put on the John Sterling radio call once I got on board. Ol’ Silver Throat usually annoys me but tonight I was comforted by the sound of his voice. In the early innings of an April game, with the Yanks ahead and C.C. Sabathia on the mound, Sterling was unhurried, almost sedate and entirely pleasant.

Now, if you stand too close to the back door of a New York City bus an automated voice comes over the loud speaker and says, “Please step away from the rear door.” A man wearing earplugs was too close to the door and the message repeated. This didn’t bother him any on the count of the earplugs. I focused on Sterling’s patter when I heard a vendor in the distance on the radio broadcast. A thick Bronx accent barked, “Hot dogs…hot dogs…hot dogs.” You know the tone–imploring and insistent.

So the music in my ears went from electronic to authentic: “Please step away from the rear door,” “Hot Dogs,” Please Step away from the rear door,” “Hot Dogs.” The rhythm made me happy and I remembered an old Simpsons episode: “Dental plan,” Lisa needs braces,” Dental plan,” “Lisa needs braces.”

I got home and watched the rest of the game. Sabathia was visibly frustrated with himself but he sailed through the Twins lineup anyhow, retiring the last 17 batters he faced.

So it was a mild surprise to see Rafael Soriano come out to pitch the eighth and disconcerting when he walked two of the first three men he faced (and the comments section here at the Banter lit up like a suicide hotline in Detroit). Denard Span slapped a single to left and the bases were loaded. But Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a slender guy, struck out on three pitches, and waved his hand at the umpire. Enter Joe Mauer, and restlessness at the Stadium. Soriano walked him on five pitches and his night was over.

(more…)

Ka-Snooze!

Sure, it was only the third game of the season and there was no lack of excitement–plenty of home runs, some nice fielding–but it was also a tedious affair, and for long stretches, boring. Phil Hughes struggled and threw 60 pitches before recording the seventh out of the game; Miguel Cabrera hit two long home runs against him. Max Scherzer wasn’t much better though a couple of the dingers he allowed were aided and abetted by the wind and a short right field porch.

Jorge Posada hit two home runs against Scherzer. Here’s the second…

Bartolo Colon ate innings and gave up runs. The Yanks kept scoring too, Russell Martin, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira (who hit another home run), all had good days at the plate. But they couldn’t manage more than a touchdown and came up empty in the 8th and 9th. Yup, there was plenty of bang at the Stadium on Sunday afternoon but the game itself was soporific.

Final score: Tigers 10, Yanks 7.

Billy Crystal stopped by the YES booth for half-an-inning and after the third out, just before they cut to commercial, he said to Kay, “You still married?”

“Seven weeks and one day,” said Kay. Ken Singleton laughed.

“Seven weeks and one day,” Crystal repeated, imitating Phil Rizzuto. “Holy cow…I’m on the Bridge.”

Signs of Life

Alex Rodriguez sure is having a productive spring, huh? But he’s not alone–Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are swinging the bat well, too.

Man, the season is so close you can almost taste it. It’s raining again in New York today but it’s nice to know that the Yanks are geared up and ready to roll (knock on everything).

Season Effective Disorder

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.

Snore.

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Innnnteresting

It’s been an eventful offseason for the Yankees’ various relationships with Scott Boras. First he picked up Robinson Cano as a client – in time for Cano’s first really big payday. Then it was reported that Nick Swisher had switched to Boras, but that turned out not to be true (he actually went with Dan Lozano). And today Mark Teixeira told reporters that he’s dropping the man. From Marc Carig in the Star Ledger:

“Now that the contract is over with, I don’t want to be ‘Scott Boras client,’” he said. “I want to be Mark Teixeira, baseball player, helping this team win championships.”

Teixeira has contemplated a switch for more than a year, even hiring another agency to handle his off-field charitable efforts. Though their business association has ended, Teixeira said Boras will continue to collect his percentage of the first baseman’s salary.

“Scott did a great job getting me my contract,” Teixeira said. “I wanted to be in New York from the beginning, and everything that I’ve asked for has come through so far. And from here on out, there’s no reason to worry about the contract. It’s all about winning championships and helping out the community.”

Given how Alex Rodriguez’s relationship with Boras went, it seems that while Boras is clearly the most effective agent in the game for getting big money contracts, he’s not particularly sensitive to his clients’ other desires.

Now, a ton of baseball players talk about “helping out the community” and then just set up an unspectacular charitable foundation on the side and leave it at that, but the Yankees at the moment have a few players who seem to take it very seriously (most notably Sabathia, Granderson, and Swisher), and maybe Teixeira is really serious about doing a lot in that area. He’s such a carefully bland guy in interviews that’s it’s hard to get a sense of what he’s actually like, or what he really cares about – but I can’t write him off as entirely dull because on the field, he often reacts to opponents like a real red-ass. And it takes some guts to fire Scott Boras, I’d imagine. Anyway, another footnote in the Boras saga – one day, though maybe not til well after he’s retired, there’ll be a fascinating book written about that guy.

The Right Side of Things

Mark Teixeira, who told reporters the other day that he plans to be “buried in pinstripes” does not want to start the season slowly, as he has done for the past two years. According to a piece by Ben Shpigel in the Times:

“To me,” the hitting coach Kevin Long said, “it’s taken him too long in the past to get going.”

…According to Long, Teixeira told him, “I’ve probably taken for granted my hitting is always going to be there.”

“I told K-Long, give me some tough love if you need to,” Teixeira said.

It says here that Teixeira will have a good start this time around. Fearless prediction, I know, but hoop, there it is.

[Photo Credit: NJ.com]

Behind the Mic

Being a broadcaster has been a dream of mine going back to childhood. Perhaps I’ve mentioned it here and there in four years’ worth of columns here at the Banter. From hosting a college football audio chat show with Terry Bowden — now, this would be equivalent to a podcast — to doing web-specific video and actual TV fill-in work for Chris Shearn while at YES, to doing guest spots here on Bronx Banter TV and other SNY blog bits, I’ve been fortunate to have had a wide range of on-air experience, even though being on the air wasn’t the sole focus of any job I’ve had. It was a nice diversion.

Back in college, I did play-by-play, color commentary, anchoring and reporting for about a dozen Ithaca College and Cornell sports for Ithaca College television and radio. The best experience, though, was the five months I spent in Los Angeles as public address announcer for UCLA Baseball. I was lucky enough to announce every home at-bat for Chase Utley and Garrett Atkins that season, as well as visiting at-bats from Mark Teixeira (Georgia Tech), Xavier Nady (Cal), Eric Munson (USC), David Parrish (Michigan), and Joe Borchard (Stanford); and pitchers Justin Wayne and Jeremy Guthrie (Stanford), Kirk Saarloos (Cal State Fullerton) and the inimitable Barry Zito (USC). All the while, I had Bob Sheppard on my mind as the singular person to emulate for doing public address for baseball.

SHAMELESS BOOK PLUG ALERT: It’s probably worth noting that my entry in the Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories compilation is about a chance meeting with Sheppard.

On Dec. 2, I was awarded another break on the announcing front. I’ve been doing corporate voiceover work at my current job, which also provides a connection to the New York Islanders, perhaps my favorite team of all the teams for whom I hold an allegiance. I attended games for years as a kid while my uncle had season tickets in Section 310, Row O. I still have the ticket stub and promo giveaway from January 2, 1986, when Denis Potvin was honored for breaking Bobby Orr’s record for points by a defenseman. That night, Mike Bossy scored his 500th goal. I was there the night Bossy’s number 22 was retired. April 24, 2002, Game 4 versus the Maple Leafs, the night of the Shawn Bates game-winning penalty shot goal, was one of the first dates for my wife and I.

I auditioned for the backup public address gig earlier this year and am on standby for any of the 41 home games this season. My debut came this past Thursday against perhaps the team I hate the most as a fan on any level, in any sport: the New York Rangers.

I was nervous. I was excited. I was afraid I would unload a “The Rangers Suck” over an open microphone when the organist played “The Chicken Dance” and Islander fans at the arena invariably launch that chant during the break in the music. Sitting rinkside among the off-ice officials, being credentialed, I had to put my fandom away for an evening, as I had to do for so many years covering the Yankees.

Hockey is much different than baseball, and it has nothing to do with the differences in the playing surfaces. The pace of the game is much faster. The regular-season affair was way faster than the intrasquad scrimmage I worked 2 1/2 months ago for my audition. More than anything, though, the role itself is different. The PA Announcer doesn’t effect a hockey game like he does a baseball game. For example, player changes happen on the fly. It’s not as if the coach needs to wait for the PA Announcer to announce a player into the game in order to make a strategic move. The role is more of an MC, an in-arena host. You’re the voice of the arena, and as part of the Game Event staff, responsible for providing the atmosphere that shapes the fan’s experience at the venue.

With that said, there are similarities to the role between sports: There’s no margin for error with the reading. You can’t operate under the assumption that people can’t hear you or worse, aren’t listening. The timing has to be spot-on. There’s a game event rundown and an outline of what’s happening and when — all stuff within the flow of the game that doesn’t happen on the field or the ice — that requires precise execution. Communication between the Game Operations staff and the PA Announcer, which like a television production takes place via closed-circuit headset/intercom, has to be frequent, clear and concise. If you can’t compartmentalize, you’re doomed.

The stuff within the game, that’s actually the easiest part. There’s no time to think. It’s action-reaction. You have to pay attention at all times. In fact, the part I was least worried about heading into the Islander-Ranger whirlwind was the game itself: announcing goals, penalties, times of each, video replays, timeouts, etc. Having watched hockey since I was 5, I’m comfortable with the French-Canadian, Russian and European names that pervade NHL rosters.

There wasn’t room to create my own style for the first gig. Referring back to my baseball experience, I couldn’t draw on the subdued style of Sheppard. I couldn’t draw on John Condon from Madison Square Garden or John Mason, who has made “Deeeee-troit Baaaas-ket-ball” a household piece to the experience at the Palace of Auburn Hills. I drew mostly from the current PA Announcer, Roger Luce. He’s got a deeper, richer voice than me, but his delivery isn’t that much different from what he does every morning on WBAB here on Long Island. He’s just a solid pro. I wasn’t out to copy anyone, but to just be myself. I wanted to bring enthusiasm to the game, feeding off the energy that only a Rangers-Islanders game can provide.

The one thing that was said to me prior to the game — in a sarcastic tone, but dead serious — was “Don’t screw it up.” Did I make mistakes? Yes. But they weren’t glaring. After 25 years of training, I’m rarely uncomfortable behind a microphone. I validated myself, which above all else, was my goal. After watching a recording of the game, I know exactly where I need to improve if given the opportunity to do it again. I’ve already worked on some templates to standardize a few things to help my in-game performance.

The road probably wasn’t easy for Sheppard, Condon, Mason, or Luce, either. Sheppard was a linguistics teacher. Condon, in addition to his PA duties for the Knicks, was the boxing publicist at the Garden before becoming president of boxing at MSG in 1979. Mason and Luce are radio personalities, with distinctive and familiar voices to their fans. Like Condon, I’m fortunate to work in a place that provides a direct line into the organization. It’s a great diversion that keeps up my broadcasting chops, much like writing this column allows me a forum to maintain my writing chops. I can only thank the gentlemen mentioned in this column for giving me a canvas.

Thursday, Dec. 2 was a tremendous escape. More than anything, it was an opportunity to be a part of my favorite team. And it was a blast.

Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Win

C.C. Sabathia pitched pretty well, but pretty well wasn’t going to get it done against Francisco Liriano tonight. No, scratch that. Liriano was magnificent, but in the sixth inning his slider turned back into a pumpkin and the Yankees – no, never mind, in the sixth inning Sabathia lost it and the Twins finally – nope. It was Curtis Granderson – no, it was Mark Teixeira who – it was Mariano – the blown call in the ninth could’ve… screw it, the Yankees won, 6-4.

I went through quite a few different ledes tonight.

Initially, it looked like Francisco Liriano was going to out-ace C.C. Sabathia. The Hefty Lefty wasn’t bad, but his mistakes were taken full advantage off: a two-run Michael Cuddyer home run in the second inning, and a failure to cover first base quickly enough one inning later — combined with heads-up Orlando Hudson base running and a Posada passed ball — led to a 3-0 hole for the Yankees. At the time, that seemed like a lot of runs.

Meanwhile, for the first five innings, Liriano alternated between merely pitching well and making the Yankees look ridiculous. During his streak of 10 New York batters retired in a row, hitters like Gardner and Granderson and Alex Rodriguez were cutting loose with swings that came nowhere near the ball in either time or space.

But then all of a sudden Liriano turned mortal – or perhaps, to be less dramatic about it, in their third time through the order the Yanks just got a better feel for him. Mark Texeira got things started with a double, and Alex Rodriguez, who had struck out flailing on three pitches in his previous at-bat, worked a walk. Robinson Cano singled, and after a rather hapless-looking Marcus Thames struck out, Jorge Posada had a fantastic at-bat and pushed a single into right. Curtis Granderson’s triple finished the Yanks’ scoring in that inning, and also finished Francico Liriano’s night.

The bottom of that inning wasn’t any kinder to Sabathia, who had a very un-C.C. meltdown (“you’re being very un-Dude, Dude”). A walk, a double, and another walk loaded the bases, at which point Sabathia walked in the Twins’ tying run in the person of Danny Valencia (who has been a pleasant surprise for the Twins this season and is about to become an unpleasant surprise for a lot of Yankee fans). Yoicks. He recovered to strike out J.J. Hardy and end the inning, but the lead was already gone and everyone headed into the seventh inning all tied up at 4.

It was Texeira who led the second Yankee comeback, too, following a Nick Swisher single with a high, slow two-run home run just fair to right field. (I don’t know if it was an actual phenomenon or just a product of weird camera work, but the fly balls hit tonight seemed to have an unusually long hang time; I could’ve recited “Jabberwocky” in its entirety while waiting for that ball to come down on one side of the foul pole. Joe Girardi was shown yelling “Stay fair! Stay fair!” and his leadership skills with inanimate objects must be impressive, because it worked). So now the Yankees had a 6-4 lead, but with as many reversals as this game had, nobody was relaxing.

The Yankee pen kept things right there, although not without a few terrifying moments. It took the combined efforts of Boone Logan, David Robertson, and Kerry Wood to get the ball to Mariano Rivera, with two outs in the eighth and runners on second and third. And Rivera — who one of these days will start showing some cracks in his 40-year-old facade, but not today — got Denard (“No Relation Unless He Has Some Short Uncoordinated Jewish Relatives We Don’t Know About”) Span to do what hitters traditionally do against Mariano Rivera, and ground out.

The ninth inning would’ve been another by-the-numbers Rivera classic except that the third out, a shoestring catch by defensive replacement Greg Golson, was incorrectly ruled a trap by the umpires. As if we needed yet another argument for instant replay in the postseason, and if the Yankees had gone on to lose I would’ve suggested a Tweet-up at MLB Headquarters with pitchforks and torches. Instead, Jim Thome popped up the first pitch he saw, and the 6-4 lead held up.

For all the tsuris over how hard the Yankees should play for the Division as opposed to the Wild Card, the Twins lost their home field advantage along with this game. Andy Pettitte starts Game 2 tomorrow for roughly the 300th time in his career, and with the Yanks up 1-0 in the Series, I look forward to actually being able to breath during that one.

I Haven’t Got Time for the Pain

That’s Mark Teixeira, who has been playing–and will continue to play–with a broken toe. Mark Feinsand has the details.

Now That’s Progressive

The Cleveland Indians, stuck in last place in the AL Central, one game behind the Kansas City Royals, inspire such excitement that the following exchange took place during the YES telecast in the top of the fifth inning:

KEN SINGLETON (To John Flaherty): “Take a look a the light towers here. … Look at ‘em! Don’t they look like toothbrushes?”

FLAHERTY (after a long pause): “You know, I see it more looking at the shot on TV. I was looking out there and I didn’t get that feel.”

Oh yeah, exciting stuff. Never mind the fact Singleton had a point: the light towers at Progressive Field do resemble the shape of a flat-headed toothbrush.

Amid the stimulating intellectual chatter, a baseball game did occur, albeit a largely nondescript one save for the eighth inning. In the top half, with the Yankees trailing 2-1 and making Jake Westbrook look like he should be pitching for a contending team before the end of the week, Jorge Posada led off, battling back from an 0-2 count and singled to left. It was only the Yankees’ third hit of the night. Curtis Granderson followed by drilling a sinker that didn’t sink deep into the right-field seats to put the Yankees on top. The 8, 9 and 1 hitters — Francisco Cervelli, Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter — went quietly to hand the lead to Javier Vazquez.

Vazquez had pitched reasonably well through seven innings. Yes, Vazquez benefited from an impatient Indians lineup that swung at anything near the strike zone, which kept his pitch count low, but he threw strikes and when he put runners on base, he did a fine job pitching out of jams and minimizing damage. It was one of those outings that had “hard luck loser” written all over it until the Granderson bomb. Vazquez faltered when handed the lead, though, walking leadoff man Michael Brantley. The hiccup prompted Joe Girardi to bring in David Robertson, who succeeded in his audition for “the 8th inning guy.” Robertson threw a first-pitch ball to Asdrubal Cabrera, but overpowered him with fastballs thereafter. On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Cabrera bounced one to short that seemed to handcuff Jeter, who uncomfortably backhanded the ball but quickly fired to Robinson Canó at second. Canó’s quick turn and rocket toss to Mark Teixeira completed the double play and eased tensions. That was until Joe Girardi emerged from the dugout to take the ball from Robertson and hand it to Boone LOOGY. LOOGY did his job, though, striking out Shin Soo Choo to set up the inevitable with Mariano Rivera.

As Yankee fans, we truly are spoiled. Even when Rivera allows a leadoff hit and that runner advances to scoring position, rarely is there a doubt that he’ll pitch out of the jam. Three broken-bat groundouts later, game over.

The Yankees needed this one because Rays won’t go away. They blanked the Detroit Tigers 5-0 paced by Matt Garza finally putting Tampa on the correct side of a no-hitter. The lead is still three games and hasn’t wavered from that number since July 18, when the Yankees took two of three in the Bronx. The Yankees and Rays are the only two teams in MLB with 60 wins and run differentials of more than 100 (the Yanks are at +129, the Rays are +120). Clearly, they’re the two best teams in the game and they’re both treating games at the end of July as if they were being played in mid-September with a playoff spot and seeding on the line.

THE UMPIRES STRIKE BACK
On June 2, Jim Joyce gave Jason Donald a gift call in Detroit and in the process, took a perfect game away from Armando Galarraga. Tonight, second-base umpire Dale Scott gifted two calls to the Indians in consecutive innings. In the top of the fourth, with one out and Mark Teixeira on first base, Alex Rodriguez hit a sinking liner to left field that Trevor Crowe appeared to have trapped. It was ruled a catch, he quickly threw the ball to the infield, where Donald promptly tagged Teixeira to complete the double play. Teixeira, A-Rod, and Joe Girardi protested the call. In real speed, it looked like a trap, and the slow-motion replay confirmed it. The biggest clue was that Crowe slowed up as the ball continued to sink, and then squared up to field the ball like an infielder. If Crowe intended to catch that ball on the fly, he’d have charged it.

In the top of the fifth, with one out and Posada on first, Granderson hit a long line drive to right that caromed off the top of the wall. Choo played the ricochet perfectly, barehanding the ball off the wall and hurling a seed to second base. The throw beat Granderson by about a step, but Granderson’s slide looked to have beaten the tag from the shortstop, Cabrera. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t believe the thought that if the throw beats the runner, the runner will automatically be out.

At least neither blown call changed the complexion of the game.

Come Back Tomorrow

It started ugly for Serge Mitre today, deep counts, base hits, boiling-hot afternoon, and by the time he left the game, seven runs were on the board for the Royals, which proved to be enough to hold-off the Yanks, 7-4. Jose Guillen crushed a home run into the second deck in left field. Can’t recall seeing one hit up there in the new park yet, man, it was a shot.

Mark Teixeira continued his hot hitting–even the balls he hits foul are ripped these days–with two dingers but made the final out of the game. It was a tough play, two men on base, Teixeira the tying run, Alex Rodriguez, sitting on career homer #599 on deck. Replays showed that Teixeira just beat out an infield hit, but it was a close play and he was called out. Tough way to end the game, but Teixeira didn’t argue.

The Yanks can still win the series tomorrow.

Hose off, people. Grab something cool, get a nice beverage, and we’ll see youse in the morning.

[Photo By Nick Laham/Getty Images]

Yankee Panky: Intentional Pass?

On Monday, as I was continuing to gather research for the column I thought I’d be writing this week, Alex Belth sent me an e-mail with a topic idea that I found so intriguing, I had to put my other one on the back burner.

Why has Mark Teixeira received a free pass from the NYY fans and the NY media?

Interesting question, no? He hasn’t really gotten a free pass from the Bronx Banter community. We don’t apologize for anybody. Hell, I was still killing Brett Gardner when he was catalyzing the offense. But the question is warranted. It got me thinking.

Naturally, on my way home from work that night, I threw on WFAN and Steve Sommers had the recently engaged Sweeny Murti on to schmooze, and Sommers immediately asked him about, among other things, when Teixeira would start hitting. I wondered if Alex’s question had merit. When the Yankees arrived in Minny, Tex’s line was .209/.327/.378. Thanks to his efforts of the last couple of games, Teixeira is over the .215 mark and a little further away from the Mendoza Line. But the consistency hasn’t been there; he has gone hitless in exactly half of the Yankees’ 46 games. He had the big three-home-run game in Boston and has only four dingers in the other 45. We know Tex a slow starter, but April’s supposed to be the only bad month. We’re nearing Memorial Day, and Mark Teixeira’s numbers look like they should be on the back of Steve Balboni’s baseball card, not his.

(Speaking of the “baseball card” theory, can we put a moratorium on that whole thing? The premise that players off to bad starts will ultimately rise to the stats that appear on their baseball card is just tired. It’s not a real answer to the short term, even if that ultimately will be the case.)

And yet the majority of the local scribes, while maybe not letting him slide, haven’t heaped criticism upon him like the Boston writers have done with David Ortiz both last year and this year. Last season, when Teixeira got off to the slow start, the “he’s a slow starter” refrain was common, and he was still taking a lot of walks and getting on base, which helped deflect some of the criticism that could have come his way.

In all my years of Yankee fandom and in the time I covered the team, the only person I can recall who got similar treatment during this bout of adversity was Bernie Williams. Bernie would routinely hover near .200, .225 or .250 for the first six weeks of the season (in 2002, he was a .236 at the end of April and ended up hitting .333), and then when Memorial Day came around, find his stroke, usually from the right side of the plate, and go through long stretches when he’d carry the offense.

Alex offered up a list of reasons why he thought Tex was getting off easy:

1. The Yankees are winning.
2. He’s a good fielder.
3. He’s good with the media.
4. The Yankees are winning.
5. He plays with A-Rod.
6. The Yankees are winning.

(more…)

Don’t Mess With Tex

With Joel Piñeiro going for the Angels this afternoon and Javy Vazquez taking the hill for the Yankees on Sunday, last night’s loss was a tough one for the Yankees to take, but while Kendry Morales’s two-run homer off Joba Chamberlain might have been the decisive blow, the more memorable one came in the third inning when Mark Teixeira, after being hit in the triceps by a pitch, rounded third and absolutely flattened Angels backup catcher Bobby Wilson, who was making his first major league start.

After the game, both managers (both former catchers) said they thought the play was clean, and despite a few more bits of accidental contact and hit batsmen later in the game, there was no jawing between the teams, no real sense of anger or conflict. Despite all of that, I thought it was a dirty play on Teixeira’s part, not only because Wilson had set up behind home, giving Teixeira a clear path to the plate, but because of Teixeira’s behavior in the immediate after math of the collision.

After leveling Wilson, Teixeira stood up and went back to touch home, clearly indicating that his initial target had been the catcher, not the plate. As he then spun back around to head toward the Yankee dugout, his eye caught Wilson sprawled out in the dirt, clearly in pain, but not only didn’t he ask Wilson if he was okay, he didn’t acknowledge him at all and showed no concern after returning to the dugout despite the fact that Wilson had to be helped off the field and carried down the dugout stairs. After the game, Teixeira spoke kindly of Wilson and said he intended to call him to make sure he was okay (Wilson was taken to a local hospital for a CT scan and was diagnosed with a concussion), but in the heat of the moment, I don’t believe Teixeira had any regard for the well being of his opponent.

Was it because of the hit-by-pitch? Because of the virulent booing he’d gotten from his former home fans at Angel Stadium? Was it boiled-over frustration because of his slow start? Probably not, though all likely helped bring out the red-ass in the Yankee first baseman.

We’ve seen that before. Last year, in a game against the Twins, Tex almost got into it with Carlos Gomez because the Twins’ center fielder was crossing first inside the bag and Teixeira was afraid of a potential collision. We’ve also seen him level catchers before. The first thing I thought of when I saw Tex flatten Wilson last night was the play in that wild triple-comeback game against the Rangers in May 2006 in which Jorge Posada was knocked back into the homeplate umpire on a collision at the plate but held on to the ball for the out. The baserunner on that play? Mark Teixiera. From Alex’s recap:

By the end of the next inning, the Yanks would have a one-run lead. But before the home team came to bat, Jorge Posada was involved in what will go down as one of the unforgettable plays of his career, let alone the 2006 Yankee season. With two men out, Hank Blalock laced a double down the left field line. The ball hugged the corner and Melky Cabrera fielded it nervously–he looks unfamiliar and uncomfortable out in left. Mark Teixeira, who had a great night with the stick and seems to have gotten his groove back, raced around second and now charged towards home. Cabrera finally got the ball to Jeter who fired to Posada. The ball skipped home in time, Posada fielded it and then was crunched by Teixeira, who lowered his shoulder and let him have it. It was as hard a collision as I can ever remember Posada being involved with. The blow knocked Posada backwards and into the leg of the home plate umpire. But he hung onto the ball and the place went nuts.

Best I can tell, Mark Teixeira didn’t play football in college (though he’s a big football fan, both college and NFL), but given his ability to lay a hit on an opponent, he should have.

So, Tex put a little extra heat in this series. We’ll see if anything comes of it. For now, the Yankees need to win two unfavorable pitching matchups to avoid their first series loss of the year. (I told you it wouldn’t be easy.)

This afternoon, Andy Pettitte takes on Joel Piñeiro on FOX. Both starters have been outstanding in their first three starts, Pettitte going 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA, Piñeiro going 2-1 with a 1.77, his one loss coming in a quality start in which he got just one run of support from the Angels’ offense. Piñeiro dominated the Yankees for seven innings in the Bronx last week, striking out seven against no walks while allowing just one run on five hits, the key hit being an RBI triple by Nick Swisher. The night before that, Pettitte held the Halos scoreless for six frames, striking out six.

Don’t Mess With Tex

It weren’t pretty, but the Yanks took a broom to the Twins last night, capping off their thrilling “Walkoff Weekend” (TM) with a 7-6 win to complete a four-game sweep of Minnesota and extend their winning streak to six games.

Unlike the previous three games, most of the action in last night’s contest took place in the first inning. The Twins pushed across a pair of first-inning runs against Andy Pettitte, with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau each delivering an RBI single, the second enabled by Melky Cabrera missing the cutoff man on the first allowing Mauer to go to second.

Tex heating up with his three-run homer in the first inning (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)Unfazed, the Yanks scored four against lefty Glen Perkins before making their first out as Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon singled then Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez each homered to left field. After Nick Swisher flied out to the warning track, a shot that looked like a third-straight homer off the bat, Robinson Cano sliced a ground-rule double into the stands along-side left field and Melky Cabrera singled him home. After a passed ball and a Ramiro Peña fly out, Francisco Cervelli hit a chopper up the middle that somehow missed Perkins’ glove, then hit the side of second base, avoiding both diving middle infielder. On the YES broadcast, Ken Singleton remarked that, “if there ever was a seeing-eye base hit, that was it.” Cervelli’s hit plated Cabrera with the sixth Yankee run and drove Perkins from the game with just two outs in the first.

Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey held things down from there with 4 1/3 scoreless innings, while the Twins tried to chip away. Michael Cuddyer led off the fourth with a solo homer to make it 6-3. Carlos Gomez singled, stole second, and scored on a Denard Span single in the sixth to make it 6-4. Span later hit a solo homer off Edwar Ramirez in the eighth, but that came after Teixeira added a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the seventh, this one from the left side of the plate, the second time he’s switch-hit homers in a game this season.

That extra run proved to be the winning margin. With Mariano Rivera having thrown 44 pitches over three innings the previous two days, Joe Girardi gave his closer the night off. Lefty Phil Coke, who relieved Ramirez and struck out Morneau for the last out of the eighth, was given the ninth in Rivera’s place. It wasn’t pretty. Coke’s first two pitches to leadoff man Joe Crede, who entered the game with a .296 on-base percentage, were balls. He recovered to go 2-2, but Crede fouled off four full-count offerings and ultimately drew a ten-pitch walk. Matt Tolbert then ran for Crede and moved to second on a wild pitch, to third on a groundout that required Teixeira to range far to his right, and home on another groundout. With two outs, Carlos Gomez, who entered the game with a .286 on-base percentage, nearly replicated Crede’s at-bat, getting ahead 2-0, then even at 2-2 and ultimately working a seven-pitch walk. Mike Redmond seemed to be doing the same thing (2-0, then 3-1, then a pair of full-count fouls), but mercifully grounded to Cano for the final out of the game. Coke’s performance made the news of Brian Bruney’s impending activation (expected tonight) all the more welcome, though to the always forthcoming Coke’s credit, he humorously confessed to having been unnerved by the situation.

As for Teixeira, he was hitting .182/.354/.338  with three home runs and 10 RBIs on May 3, but has hit .351/.397/.789 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs in his last 14 games. Though his average will take a while to rebound (he’s still at just .239), he’s on pace for 45 homers and 127 RBIs, even with that slow start factored in. On-pace numbers can be very misleading, and Teixeira’s current single-season best for home runs is “just” 43, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Tex comes very close to those numbers come late September. Teixeira’s career month-by-month splits show steady improvement with each flip of the calendar, and his defense was an important part of the Yankees’ sweep of the Twins. He’s going to be a lot of fun to watch the rest of the way as, by extension, are the Yankees.

(more…)

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.

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