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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.

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The Fugly Follies

Random thoughts from a crazy 11-9 Yankees victory that had highs, lows, and a lot of agita in between…

The lead-up to this quickie two-game set between the Yankees and the Red Sox featured several back stories:

1) The Red Sox were not a threat. They entered Monday night’s action in fourth place, three and a half games behind the Blue Jays, the starting pitching reduced to mediocrity, the bullpen reduced to tatters, and riddled by the combined struggles of David Ortiz and Victor Martinez, and injuries to Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury.

“The Red Sox don’t scare me,” so said 1050′s Seth Everett on Sunday. “They’re not a threat. David Ortiz doesn’t scare me. Not even now that he’s started to hit a little bit.”

“It’s not a rivalry right now,” said Mike Francesa. “It’s not a rivalry until the standings dictate that it’s a rivalry.”

To paraphrase Buster Olney, who subbed on “Mike and Mike in the Morning”: “By the end of May, Theo Epstein will evaluate and look at this team and restructure with 2011 in mind.”

Thank you, Cliff Corcoran, for bringing some sanity to the matter and giving the “Sox are dead” sayers a nice punch to the stomach. The Red Sox don’t suck and they proved it. (More on this later.)

2) Because Mariano Rivera hadn’t given up a run to date and was inhumanly infallible at Age 40, the fact that he yielded his first grand slam at home since 1995 and first grand slam since Bill Selby in July of 2002 to blow the save Sunday meant that something was wrong and the end was near. The likes of Olney, Craig Carton, and Mike Francesa all thankfully decried this notion. Olney said Rivera was allowed to have a bad day, Carton pointed to Teixeira’s drop of a line drive that would have ended the inning, and Francesa downplayed the importance of a Sunday game in May against a team the Yankees have owned in recent years.

3) Javier Vazquez is incapable of starting against the Red Sox, regardless of location. Monday morning, stories appeared stating that manager Joe Girardi planned on using Vazquez in the bullpen this week against the Sox and Rays to supplement a start. He struck out Kevin Youkilis on four pitches in the ninth inning — and was the winning pitcher — but even with that appearance, there’s a chance he may not start against the Mets at Citi Field Friday, in favor of the inimitable Sergio Meat Tray. If Vazquez is not good enough as a starter to get the Mets lineup out, in a National League ballpark, then why trot him out to the mound at all? That might be the kind of situation to get his confidence back.

In his postgame presser, Girardi got testy when the words “Javy Vazquez,” “skipped,” and “because of the Red Sox” were used in the same sentence.

“Absolutely not,” Girardi said. “I want to make this clear, OK?” His voice was stern and he was waving his hand in a karate chop motion. “He was not skipped because of that situation. Our bullpen is a mess. I needed a long guy today. We could not activate Chan Ho Park if you didn’t have a long man.”

Fine, but he was still skipped a second time during a Red Sox series. The reporter was right to ask the question. Girardi, to his credit, added that he didn’t want to use Vazquez because he still wanted to be able to start Vazquez on Friday, but with Joba Chamberlain unavailable after getting up twice to warm up on Saturday, and David Robertson unavailable, he had few options. After throwing just four pitches, Vazquez can still go Friday.

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Yankee Panky: Jay-vee Vazquez?

Javier Vazquez’s second turn in New York is going about as well as the last portion of his first. In other words, like the Brazilian soccer star, Kaká.

The 1-3 record and 9.00 ERA would be remotely permissible if Vazquez showed a certain level of aggression on the mound. He was booed in his first start at Yankee Stadium. We remember Game 7 in 2004 and much of the second half. We remember “Home Run Javy” and that 18 of the 33 home runs he allowed that year came with two strikes. And contrary to popular belief, there are many of us who remember that he completed at least six innings in all but three of his starts prior to July 1 of that year, and that he made the All-Star team.

But the lasting memory is that Johnny Damon grand slam in Game 7 that sealed the 3-0 ALCS choke. Following another debacle in Anaheim that saw him cough up a 3-0 lead and use his fastball sparingly over 3 2/3 innings, Vazquez was this week’s piñata. Craig Carton defended Yankee fans’ right to boo him when some got on the soap box and decried fan behavior (Hell, I booed him from my living room on Sunday). Mike Francesa said that Vazquez is “caught in a situation where he has to convince Yankee fans to believe in him, that he has the guts to succeed here, and that’s not a place you want to be in New York.” He also mentioned that Vazquez “expected to be booed” on Saturday.

The Onion, in its merciless way, included Vazquez in its lampoon of the “True Yankees” myth:

“To have Javier Vazquez don the same pinstripes as Mariano Rivera or Jorge Posada is…well, it’s unthinkable,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said as Curtis Granderson modeled the sterile, black-and-white uniform with a large, boxy, non-interlocking “NY” stitched across the front of the chest. “The untrue Yankees will wear a blank, unfitted ball cap until they have their big Yankee moment. They’ll wear their last names on the backs of their lesser uniforms as a badge of shame.”

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Meet the Pres, Beat His Team

The Yankees began the week in Washington D.C., where on Monday they stood on risers like members of a high school chorus as President Obama addressed team personnel and then exchanged pleasantries with each individual member of the organization. They closed the week with President Obama’s Chicago White Sox visiting them in the Bronx.

Following the long 10-game road trip, despite the Yankees winning the last two games, they started off shaky and couldn’t get into a flow. Carlos Quentin’s line-drive double off Andy Pettitte in the top of the first was the last straw. That initial part of the opening frame Friday night was atypical for Pettitte, as far as this season is concerned anyway. Pettitte had allowed just four runs over his first four starts. Three of those four runs came in the third inning, usually the beginning of the second cycle through the lineup. Yet here he was having yielded three runs and four hits to an anemic White Sox offense that stood 11th in the American League in runs scored (88 total through 22 games).

Cue the coaching visit. Whatever was said resonated with Pettitte, because subsequently struck out Mark Teahen and Jayson Nix, and the Yankee offense got two runs back in the bottom half to provide a pseudo-bailout. Pettitte had trouble with that top third of the ChiSox order again and didn’t really settle down until he got Paul Konerko, whose three-run home run in the first did the initial damage, to fly out to end the second.

Pettitte threw 42 pitches over the first two innings and dug the Yankees a bit of a hole. In this way, it was a typical Andy Pettitte start — more than a hit per inning, four runs allowed, the offense having to score at least four or five runs to muster a victory. He didn’t run into any more snags until the fifth, when that same bunch of batters — Gordon Beckham, Alex Rios, Konerko and Quentin — staged a threat, which Pettitte deftly dodged.

Those are moments where as an observer you can say, “This could be a turning point.” It didn’t look that way when Freddy Garcia made quick work of Curtis Granderson and Francisco Cervelli, but when Brett Gardner singled and stole second to pass the baton to Derek Jeter, there was stirring. The stirring came to a boil when Jeter launched a curveball into the left-field seats to tie the game at 4-4.

“I was just looking for a good pitch to hit,” Jeter told Kim Jones on YES. “I haven’t been swinging at a lot of strikes lately, so I tried to bear down, and I got a good pitch that was up.”

Jeter got a pitch that was up again in the 7th against Matt Thornton, with runners on first and second. This time it was a 95-mile-per-hour fastball that Jeter inside-outed past a diving Jayson Nix into the right-field corner. Cervelli, who reached on an HBP, and Gardner, who gutted out a single before scored on the triple.

The two runs gave way to the formula: Damaso Marte for LOOGY duty and Joba to close out the 8th, then Mariano Rivera throwing straight cheese to retire the side in order in the ninth.

The 6-4 win gave the Yankees their first April with at least 15 wins since 2003, when they went 20-6. It also kept Andy Pettitte unbeaten in April for the first time in his career.

It was the kind of game we’ve gotten spoiled with over the last five or few years: fall behind early, come back in the middle innings, hold it down late. It’s the kind of win a President can appreciate. Then again, maybe not. He roots for the White Sox.

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The Rivalry: 2010 Edition

If the Yankees and Red Sox met for the first time this season in late April, I might complain that it was too soon to feel meaningful, but Opening Day feels just right . . . or it would if it wasn’t actually Opening Night. [shakes fist at ESPN]

Given that I expect the battle between the Yankees and Red Sox to define this season, ideally climaxing in an American League Championship Series battle that will send the eventual world champion to the World Series, this gives me a great opportunity to whip out that hoary-yet-eternally-enjoyable tale-of-the-tape standby, the position-by-position comparison.

As is my usual style, I handle the everyday players by position in the lineup rather than position in the field, making some small swaps where a better match can be made, and comparing only offense, reserving fielding for a separate team-wide category.

Also, this is bound to be a long post, so I’ve put the two Opening Day Night rosters in the previous post.

And awaaaay we go . . .

Lineup:

Derek Jeter
2009: .334/.406/.465, .310 EqA; career: .317/.388/.459, .293 EqA
Dustin Pedroia
2009: .296/.371/.447, .280; career: .307/.370/.455, .283

Already fudging the lineups, I start my comparison with the Red Sox’s second-place hitter and the Yankee lead-off man who used to hit second because they’re such similar offensive players. Both hit for average, get on base, have modest pop, and will swipe a fair number of bases at a roughly 80 percent success rate (over the last two years, Jeter has stolen 41 of 51, Pedrioa 40 of 49). Both also hit into a fair amount of double plays, though Jeter is far more likely to strike out.

Pedroia has had a significant home/road split in his career, and it was downright severe in 2009 as he hit .318/.388/.514 at Fenway but just .273/.355/.381 on the road, but then Jeter lost nearly 60 points of slugging away from the New Yankee Stadium last year.

The big difference between Pedroia’s 2008 American League Most Valuable Player season and his still-solid 2009 campaign was his performance against left-handed pitching. In 2008, he hit .313/.376/.528 against lefties. In 2009, he hit just .277/.366/.399 against them. Given that he’s a right-handed hitter, I’d expect some rebound from Pedroia there. Combine that with some expected regression from Jeter coming off one of his most productive seasons and factor in the relative age of the two players (Pedroia is 26, Jeter will be 36 in June), and this one is closer than it might appear from the rate stats above, all of which give Jeter the edge.

Nick Johnson
2009: .291/.426/.405, .293*; career: .273/.402/.447, .299
Jacoby Ellsbury
2009: .301/.355/.415, .276; career: .297/.350/.414, .274

Jeter and Pedroia are so well matched that it’s disappointing to see this mismatch result from putting them together. Johnson and Ellsbury are completely different types of players. Ellsbury is a hitter who lacks secondary skills (power, patience) and gets a lot of his value from his legs (120 steals at 84 percent over the last two years). Johnson is a hitter whose primary value is his patience and ability to get on base. Johnson’s on-base percentage is more valuable than Ellsbury’s speed and makes Johnson a more reliable offensive performer (if Ellsbury’s singles don’t find holes one year, his production will collapse, and he won’t get many chances to steal). The catch is that Johnson is unreliable in his own way due to his inability to stay healthy. When both are in the lineup, the Yankees have the clear advantage, and one that could be even larger if Kevin Long’s work with Johnson does indeed result in increased power production. The big question is whether or not the Yankees can maintain that advantage with Johnson’s replacements when Nick hits the DL. If you add Ellsbury’s net steals to his total bases and subtract his times caught stealing from his hits, he “hit” .282/.334/.508 last year.

Mark Teixeira
2009: .292/.383/.565, .318; career: .290/.378/.545, .304
Kevin Youkilis
2009: .305/.413/.548, .317; career: .292/.391/.487, .296

One of the main arguments against Mark Teixeira’s MVP candidacy last year was that his production wasn’t unique for an American League first baseman in 2009. In addition to Youkilis, there was Miguel Cabrera (.311 EqA), and a tick below those top three Kendry Morales and Carlos Peña (both .298). Youkilis was an especially appropriate comparison because both he and Teixeira are superlative defensive first basemen, but Youkilis adds even more value by being able to play third with some regularity and even spot in the outfield.

Limited to their offensive games, Youkilis is an on-base threat who hits for power and Teixeira is a power hitter who gets on base, the differences largely coming out in the wash. Teixeira switch hits, but the righty-swinging Youkilis actually hits his fellow right-handers as well or better than he hits lefties, so that’s largely moot as well. Both got a nice slugging boost from their home parks last year, with Teixeira seeming to have benefited from his home parks more over the course of his career than Youkilis, but as per those park-adjusted career EqAs above, that too comes out in the wash.

What we have here are two of the top offensive threats in the league. If there is any meaningful difference between the two, it’s in career trajectory. Youkilis was a late bloomer who didn’t earn a starting job until his age-27 season and didn’t slug above .453 until his age-29 season in 2008 but has hit .309/.401/.559 over the last two seasons combined. Teixeira was a first-round draft pick who was in the Rangers’ starting lineup as a 23-year-old rookie and has  been remarkably consistent ever since. That means that Teixeira, who turns 30 a week from today, has had six years of production at his current level, while Youkilis, who is almost exactly a year older, has had just two. That is unlikely to mean much this season, but a few years down the road, when Youkilis suffers an Ortiz-like collapse and Teixeira is slugging his way into a Hall of Fame argument, the Yankees’ advantage will become clear.

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The Rivalry: Opening Day Rosters

New York Yankees

2009 Record: 103-59 (.636)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 95-67 (.586)

Manager: Joe Girardi
General Manager: Brian Cashman

Home Ballpark: Yankee Stadium 2.1

Bill James Park Indexes (2009):
LH Avg-99, LH HR-120
RH Avg-99, RH HR-133

Who’s Replacing Whom:

  • Curtis Granderson replaces Johnny Damon
  • Nick Johnson replaces Hideki Matsui
  • Randy Winn replaces Melky Cabrera
  • Marcus Thames replaces Eric Hinske
  • Francisco Cervelli inherits Jose Molina’s playing time
  • Javier Vazquez replaces Chein-Ming Wang, Chad Gaudin, and the 17 starts made by Sergio Mitre, Aflredo Aceves, and Phil Hughes
  • Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain swap roles
  • Chan Ho Park replaces Brian Bruney, Jose Veras, and Edwar Ramirez
  • Damaso Marte reclaims Phil Coke’s innings

25-man Roster:

1B – Mark Teixeira (S)
2B – Robinson Cano (L)
SS – Derek Jeter (R)
3B – Alex Rodriguez (R)
C – Jorge Posada (S)
RF – Nick Swisher (S)
CF – Curtis Granderson (L)
LF – Brett Gardner (L)
DH – Nick Johnson (L)

Bench:

R – Marcus Thames (OF)
S – Randy Winn (OF)
S – Ramiro Pena (IF)
R – Francisco Cervelli (C)

Rotation:

L – CC Sabathia
R – A.J. Burnett
L – Andy Pettitte
R – Javier Vazquez
R – Phil Hughes

Bullpen:

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Chan Ho Park
R – Joba Chamberlain
L – Damaso Marte
R – David Robertson
R – Alfredo Aceves
R – Sergio Mitre

Lineup:

R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Nick Johnson (DH)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Curtis Granderson (CF)
S – Nick Swisher (RF)
L – Brett Gardner (LF)

*   *   *

Boston Red Sox

2009 Record: 95-67 (.586)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 93-69 (.574)

Manager: Terry Francona
General Manager: Theo Epstein

Home Ballpark: Fenway Park

Bill James Park Indexes (2007-2009):
LH Avg-108, LH HR-85
RH Avg-107, RH HR-95

Who’s Replacing Whom:

  • Mike Cameron replaces Jason Bay
  • Adrian Beltre takes most of Mike Lowell’s playing time
  • Mike Lowell picks up the at-bats of Casey Kotchman and Jeff Bailey
  • Victor Martinez takes most of Jason Varitek’s playing time
  • Jason Varitek picks up George Kottaras’s playing time
  • Marco Scutaro replaces Nick Green, Alex Gonzalez, and Julio Lugo
  • Jeremy Hermida replaces Rocco Baldelli
  • Bill Hall replaces Mark Kotsay
  • John Lackey replaces Brad Penny and John Smoltz
  • Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka will compete to take starts from Tim Wakefield
  • Scott Schoeneweis replaces Takashi Saito
  • Scott Atchison replaces Justin Masterson

25-man Roster:

1B – Kevin Youkilis (R)
2B – Dustin Pedroia (R)
SS – Marco Scutaro (R)
3B – Adrian Beltre (R)
C – Victor Martinez (S)
RF – J.D. Drew (L)
CF – Mike Cameron (R)
LF – Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
DH – David Ortiz (L)

Bench:

R – Mike Lowell (3B/1B)
L – Jeremy Hermida (OF)
R – Bill Hall (UT)
S – Jason Varitek (C)

Rotation:

R – Josh Beckett
L – Jon Lester
R – John Lackey
R – Tim Wakefield
R – Clay Buchholz

Bullpen:

R – Jon Papelbon
L – Hideki Okajima
R – Daniel Bard
S – Ramon S. Ramirez
R – Manny Delcarmen
L – Scott Schoeneweis
R – Scott Atchison

Lineup:

L – Jacoby Ellsbury (LF)
R – Dustin Pedroia (2B)
S – Victor Martinez (C)
R – Kevin Youkilis (1B)
L – David Ortiz (DH)
R – Adrian Beltre (3B)
L – J.D. Drew (RF)
R – Mike Cameron (CF)
R – Marco Scutaro (SS)

15-day DL:

RHP – Daisuke Matsuzaka (back)
RHP – Boof Bonser (groin)
SS – Jed Lowrie (mononucleosis)
RHP – Junichi Tazawa (Tommy John surgery)

Yankee Panky: Paging Howard Beale

The 1970s featured some of the greatest films of all-time. On my list is Network, which starred Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall and Ned Beatty, among others. I believe it’s one of the greatest of all-time in large part because it’s still relevant. The theme of ratings ruling success, damn the people responsible for creating the programming, hasn’t changed. Corporations who own the networks need a positive return on their investment. Money rules. Always has, always will.

Howard Beale, portrayed by Finch, who won an Oscar for the role, is a network anchor who is fired due to low ratings. Then, he is allowed to stay on the air and responds by announcing he’s going to kill himself on television during his final broadcast. The stunt, plus his famous rant, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” leads to huge ratings over the next two weeks, in which time the network exploits Beale’s insanity rather than take him off the air.

How does Howard Beale pertain the New York Yankees? Consider the case of Joba Chamberlain. The once-upon-a-time can’t-miss phenom has come full circle. He’s back in the bullpen for the 2010, where he’ll have to “earn” his spot as Mariano Rivera’s 8th-inning bridge. Or maybe he’ll pitch the seventh inning or be a swingman. Joe Girardi still doesn’t know.

Pitching coach Dave Eiland has told anyone who will listen that even in the event of an injury to starters ace through four, or mediocrity from Phil Hughes in the fifth spot, Joba will remain the bullpen. GM Brian Cashman called him a “starter who can relieve.” Joba is taking this like Cush from Jerry Maguire: “I just want to play baseball.”

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Yankee Panky: Offseason? You Want To Talk Offseason?

To take a page from Roger Kahn, who our fearless proprietor Alex Belth credited in Lede Time II, “Every year is next year for the Yankees.” Apparently, it’s next year already. The offseason doesn’t exist anymore.

Less than a week after the World Series, the news cycle has shifted to the GM meetings and the Hot Stove League. At least we got to enjoy the parade for a day or two.

Columns talking about 2010 and dismantling the team that were written within days of the Yankees doing their victory lap around the New House left as sour a taste as the bogus basking-in-the-afterglow pieces of Mike Lupica and Wallace Matthews. How quickly they changed their tunes; two days prior, they took Joe Girardi to the rails, one driving the “Win Game 6 or the s—t hits the fan from the Steinbrenners” bandwagon and the other riding shotgun.

It seemed like too much, too soon. Maybe that’s because for the first time in six years, the Yankees’ season went beyond the first week of October. Maybe it’s also because the Free Agent declarations were made public on Monday.

The Red Sox have already exercised the option on Victor Martinez, signed Tim Wakefield to a two-year deal, and traded for outfield/bench help, acquiring Jeremy Hermida from Florida. If it’s about keeping up with the Joneses, then the Yankees are playing their typical game of Snake in the Grass. They are the Joneses.

The stories coming out now as they pertain to the champs — random aside: now YES Network really is “the home of champions” — will center around three storylines:

1) Age (Keep 36-year-old Johnny Damon and 35-year-old Hideki Matsui, who’s now nothing more than a DH? Keep one? If so, which one? Or Jettison both?)

2) Pitching. Lots of decisions to be made outside of re-signing Andy Pettitte, non-tendering Chien-Ming Wang, and placing Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain in the rotation.

3) Economics. The GM Meetings taking place at the Airport Hilton at Chicago O’Hare did not signal a depressed market. A weak free agent class does.

Where does that leave the Yankees as the Hot Stove premiere shows tape for YES and MLBN this week? Perhaps the most intriguing article came from John Harper at the Daily News. In his “10 Ideas For 2010” list, No. 8 was especially provocative:

CONTENT WITH CANO?
Robinson Cano’s abysmal postseason confirmed what scouts say about him, that he’s an undisciplined free swinger who is always going to put up numbers during the season against a lot of mediocre pitching, but should be an easy out on a big stage against elite pitching.

It doesn’t mean the Yankees should trade him. Indeed, he improved his focus in 2009 after his late-season benching in 2008, and for the most part played a brilliant second base. But it does mean the Yankees shouldn’t rule it out, in case some team sees him as their No. 3 hitter and is willing to give up a golden arm for him.

The Cano conundrum is interesting, mainly because the same things were said about Alfonso Soriano after the 2003 World Series loss. All the Yankees did that winter, albeit right before pitchers and catchers reported in February of ‘04, was send Soriano to the Texas Rangers as part of the blockbuster trade for Alex Rodriguez.

While Harper was just tossing an idea around as thought snacks, Joel Sherman preheated the oven with rumblings of Curtis Granderson heading to center field for the Yankees. Leave it to Sherman to leave some crumbs as the Winter Meetings approach.

This is the time of year when the good reporters in the industry elevate their games and separate themselves from the rest of the pack. On the TV side, the hangers-on from the local networks who are generally detached will be further removed from the process, leaving the info-gathering to the people who are typically in the trenches. In the coming weeks, you’ll see which beat writers and columnists have the most connections and go to the greatest lengths to source their stories. Their methods are not as scientific or analytical as the respective crews of Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs, but that doesn’t mean they’re ineffective. They have a more difficult task: being first or being right.

And for us, the group that’s largely on the receiving end of all the tidbits, we have to decide which line is most credible.

Better Lucky Than Good

Joe Buck summarized it perfectly in the ninth inning: “What. A. Game.”

Game 2 of the American League Championship Series went the way pundits and prognosticators figured every game between the Yankees and Angels would. There was great pitching, timely fielding, and enough punching and counter-punching from both sides to merit an HBO documentary. And like Game 2 of the Division Series against the Minnesota Twins, nine innings weren’t enough to decide the outcome.

Question marks defined the lead-up. Would the weather hold? Would AJ Burnett? How quickly would the Yankees offense strike against Joe Saunders and get into the Angels’ bullpen? Would the Angels rebound after matching the worst defensive performance in their postseason history?

The answers were yes (until the ninth inning); yes, sort of quickly but not with enough oomph to force Scioscia’s hand; and kindasorta.

The scoring reflected the team’s personalities: The Yankees flexed their power while the Angels thrived on their speed and ability to execute small ball. In no inning was this more apparent than the 11th: Alfredo Aceves followed 2 1/3 innings of splendid relief by Mariano Rivera by promptly walking the leadoff man, Gary Matthews, Jr. A sacrifice bunt by Erick Aybar put the lead run in scoring position for Chone Figgins, whose first hit of the postseason plated Matthews to give the Angels a 3-2 lead. In the bottom half, Angels closer Brian Fuentes, who led the AL with 48 saves during the regular season and was a stalwart to the Colorado Rockies’ run to the World Series two years ago, made the mistake of throwing an 0-2 fastball up and out over the plate to Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod drilled a line drive to right field — a 320-foot Yankee Stadium Special into the second row to tie the game at 3-3.

”I just can’t imagine a scenario where you would go braindead and want to do that,” said MLB Network’s Joe Magrane, referring to Fuentes’s decision on 0-and-2 to throw the fastball in that location.

There were times over the next few innings where both teams wasted scoring opportunities. Jeff Mathis belted a two-out double in the top of the 12th and was stranded when Matthews struck out to end the inning. In the Yankees’ half, A-Rod popped up with the bases loaded and the winning run on third. In the top of the 13th, Robinson Cano, for the second time in the game, misplayed a routine grounder off the bat of Aybar. And for the second time, the pitcher bailed him out; David Robertson induced an inning-ending groundout from Vladimir Guerrero, which left Aybar at third base.

The Yankees did not waste their chance in the 13th. Jerry Hairston, Jr.’s leadoff single plus Brett Gardner’s sac bunt had the Yankees set up well. After an intentional walk to Cano, Melky Cabrera, the Yankees’ designated walk-off king during the regular season, hit a bouncer to Maicer Izturis at second base and Izturis, instead of getting the sure out at first base, threw to second to try to force Cano. The throw was wide, pulled Aybar off the bag and rolled to Figgins, who had a play on Hairston at the plate. Figgins bobbled the ball, Hairston scored and the Yankees won thanks to another Angels miscue. The Yankees’ ability to play small-ball and manufacture runs has been lost in the series analysis.

From a fan standpoint, it was a welcome sight to see the Yankees celebrate another extra-inning playoff win. The last time the Yankees played an extra-inning game in the LCS was 2004, when David Ortiz singled home the winning run in the 14th inning of Game 5 to keep that epic comeback alive.

Now it’s on to California, and the big question: With a 2-0 series lead, regardless of what happens Monday, will Sabathia pitch Game 4?

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Yankee Panky: We Want The Red Sox

Today’s column is written as a fan, not from a myopic, academic viewpoint of the media’s coverage of the team.

I’ve been traveling a bunch over the past couple of weeks, doing a lot of driving. Naturally, since radio stinks and I don’t feel like listening to the same CDs on a loop, I fall into the sports talk radio trap. All I wanted to do yesterday on my drive to Pennsylvania was get into some Yankees-Red Sox chatter and analysis, since Aug. 6 has been marked on the calendar since the two teams were tied atop the AL East at the All-Star break.

Instead, I got drivel from Craig Carton about how last night’s game was a “look-ahead” or trap game, that it was irrelevant in the grand scheme. This, we all know, is ridiculous, because the victory combined with the Sox’ loss gives a 2 1/2 game cushion heading into the weekend. On ESPN Radio, I got next to nothing on Yankees-Red Sox ALL DAY. It was so bad that for two hours during the afternoon drive, Don LaGreca and Ian O’Connor, who were pinch-hitting for Michael Kay, were discussing why Eli Manning is not a beloved quarterback in New York and comparing his numbers to Joe Namath. Yes, for two hours.

(I don’t know about you, but as a fan I can’t really get into football until the Yankees are done. Let the Met-Jet fans get excited about football season now. They’ve got nothing else to root for. At this point, I don’t care about Manning’s contract or where he ranks among other NFL quarterbacks or debating the merits of his contract. It’s all about Yankees-Red Sox, dammit. Where are the priorities?)

Thank you to WFAN’s Evan Roberts and Joe Benigno for getting me through a crawling jam on the Belt Parkway during afternoon rush hour. They didn’t spend a lot of time on Yankees-Sox, but Roberts made a point to mention that this weekend is all about CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett. One caller asked to compare the Yankees’ record during their starts to the Red Sox’ record when Josh Beckett and John Lester have started. The Sox have a four-game edge — 30-13 to 26-18. In terms of the pitchers’ records, Beckett and Lester are a combined 22-11, while Sabathia and Burnett are a combined 21-12, an even one-game difference.

Roberts, who I covered many games with and for whom I have a great deal of respect, opined that neither Sabathia nor Burnett have performed to the “ace” level at which they’re being paid to perform. I will grant that based on the aforementioned records that may be true. All but Beckett are considered to be having off-years. Roberts went on to say that Sabathia and Burnett haven’t been “lockdown guys;” that if you polled Yankee fans if they have confidence the Yankees will win when Sabathia or Burnett are pitching, they’d say no.

I disagree on both counts.

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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