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Keep it Movin'

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

Never mind the payback, just win, baby.

[photo credit: Yohei Yamashita]

Old Man Pettitte Pitches like Young Man Pettitte

Saturday…in the Park.

Nick Swisher is the kind of player who shouldn’t be left to his own devices. After driving home Robinson Cano in the second inning with a double, Swisher came to bat in the fourth after Alex Rodriguez (dhing for the day) and Cano started the inning with base hits. So Swisher laid down a sacrifice bunt, taking the bat out of his and Curtis Granderson’s hands. The sacrifice worked, then the Angels walked Granderson to load the bases for Ramiro Pena and Frankie Cervelli. Pena, who played third and made a terrific diving catch, whiffed but Cervelli bailed Swisher out of a trip to the doghouse with a little single to left, scoring two runs.

Derek Jeter followed with a well-struck RBI single to center and the Yanks had a 4-0 lead, more than enough for Andy Pettitte as the Yanks cruised to a 7-1 win.

There was no hangover from Friday night’s contentious game. Pettitte was in control. His line: 8 innings, 6 hits, 1 run, 8 strikeouts and 0 walks. Leave it to Torii Hunter to have the line of the day when he told reporters:

“I’ve never seen Pettitte pitch this well,” Hunter said. “He looked poised. He looked like the Andy Pettitte of old, when he was young.”

…”The last two times Pettitte pitched against us, that’s about as good as we’ve seen him,” [Manager, Mike] Scioscia said. “He’s taken a sip from the Fountain of Youth or something. He really pitched well.”
(L.A. Times)

Damaso Marte pitched a scoreless ninth. Brett Gardner stayed hot with three more hits and Cano had four hits and scored three runs. The slumping Mark Teixeira had one hit and Nick Johnson had the day off due to a cranky back.

The Yanks have a chance to win the series later this afternoon when Javy Vazquez takes the mound.

[Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images]

The Good A.J.

PREFACE: Writing a game recap on the Sunday of the Masters Tournament is not the easiest thing to do for a golf nut like myself. I guess that’s what DVR is for. Not knowing what I should watch sandwiched between my daughter’s naps and my wife’s grading schedule, I decided to record both. I zipped through the Yankee game first and then caught up to the goings-on at Augusta National later on. Deadlines are deadlines…

The YES telecast was odd. The pregame show featured a segment with Michael Kay and Tino Martinez venturing into the stadium and dissecting key points to the game from a couple of empty seats. This being the first YES game I’ve seen this season, I don’t know if this is a one-off experiment or a regular feature to break up the previous formula of keeping the broadcasters off camera and filling that spot with video (B-roll). If you’ve read my work here for the past three seasons, you know I like to watch the games on mute — an old habit from my days working at YESNetwork.com — so this feature was even more hilarious with Tino Martinez moving his mouth and having no sound come out. Based on the reviews, that’s not too far from what happens with the sound on.

The new graphics and layout look clean and are clearly tweaked for HD. The pitch counter is a nice addition to the bug in the upper left-hand corner. That bug has also been condensed so that it doesn’t extend across the entire top border of the screen.

The question heading into Sunday, as it seems to be every time A.J. Burnett takes the mound, is “Which guy will show up?” The first inning featured the version we’ve come to sort of expect, going back to last October: 21 pitches, two runs allowed, two hits, a walk, only one first-pitch strike to the six batters he faced. His weakness in holding runners played a factor into the two runs scored, as both Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford stole second to set the table for the Rays’ lead. Bartlett took advantage of Burnett throwing an off-speed pitch, while Crawford just beat a bang-bang play on a pitch-out, which featured a strong throw from Jorge Posada.

Rays starter James Shields, although he may not possess the explosive stuff of Burnett — or implosive, depending on the day — does have similar foibles. Mainly, Shields is prone to falling behind early in the count and opening up innings for the opposition. The Yankees adhered to that scouting report in the second inning, when A-Rod led off with a walk and three batters later, Curtis Granderson ripped a 3-1 fastball into the right-field corner to cut the deficit to 2-1.

The meat of the order — A-Rod, Robinson Canó, Jorge Posada and Granderson — forced Shields into a similar predicament the next time around in the fourth inning. But after A-Rod led off with a double and Posada walked with one out, Granderson and Swisher stranded them both to kill the rally.

Burnett, on the other hand, found his rhythm after hiccuping his way through the first inning. He retired 10 straight batters from the point when he walked Evan Longoria in the first and B.J. Upton in the fourth. He fired first-pitch strikes to nine of those 10 hitters. Pat Burrell’s leadoff single in the fifth — the first hit allowed by Burnett since the first inning — came on a 2-0 count.

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Yankee Panky: Expert Texpert Choking Smoker …

The talk over the past four days of the World Series has been starting pitching, or rather, the managers’ decisions on who to take the hill. For Game 4, Charlie Manuel was excoriated for selecting Joe Blanton over Cliff Lee on short rest. When the Yankees took the 3-1 lead, the Philly media all but blamed Manuel, seemingly forgetting that Blanton pitched well enough to win, and save for a Brad Lidge meltdown, the series might have been tied at that point.

At the same time, the choice of Joe Girardi to start AJ Burnett was being put under the microscope, run through a centrifuge, and measured by any other number of scientific devices. “Why start Burnett on short rest?” The experts on MLB Network claimed. “With the lineup shaking out, Melky Cabrera being out, Jose Molina catching, this favors the Phillies,” to paraphrase Harold Reynolds. “Chad Gaudin can give five innings and then make it a bullpen game,” said Mitch Williams.

Tim McCarver, pleasantly old school, lauded Girardi’s choice to stick with three starters.

The most sane MLBN analysis came from Dan Plesac, who noted that the Yankees didn’t have a fourth starter as an option due to the way they (mis)handled Joba Chamberlain during the second half of the regular season. Thus, Girardi’s options were limited.

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Yankee Panky: Less Is Mo?

This week’s briefing begins with a note from WFAN’s Richard Neer. As I drove home from the golf course Sunday, Neer was entertaining a call from a Mets fan, who in typical Mets fan form – actually, he was calm – ranted about Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran and how the Mets’ core players don’t play smart, and they don’t play hard.

Neer poo-pooed the call, saying – and I paraphrase – that Mets fans are looking for things to get upset about while the team is in first place. Mets fans can’t exist unless there’s something to kvetch about. Well, those calls are even more heated now, since the team from Queens changed its logo from “METS” to “BEARS,” and replaced their names with the “Chico’s Bail Bonds” sponsorship patch.

It got me thinking, though, about the legitimacy of the recent Mariano Rivera arguments that have pervaded local and national Yankee telecasts. Are fans and media alike looking for a negative amidst the best positive streak the Yankees have had this season? Or is it valid that due to his age, Rivera 1) should not pitch more than one inning when called upon, and 2) should not pitch on consecutive days?

My answer to both questions is no. I’m actually surprised the Rivera argument is the focus, when he remains the most consistent pitcher on the Yankees’ staff. From a relief pitching standpoint, who is more reliable? Who has been able to consistently throw Strike One? Phil Coke has, sometimes. So has Alfredo Aceves. Jose Veras? Edwar “Leave off the ‘d’ for ‘Don’t you know I’m throwing a changeup with two strikes’ Ramirez? Brett “I gave up Mark McGwire’s 62nd home run in ’98 and now I’m a Yankee” Tomko? Not so much.

Yes, Joe Girardi has to be mindful of Rivera’s age and use him wisely. Take Monday night, for example. Rivera had logged three innings and thrown 44 pitches over the previous two games. He had not pitched three consecutive days all season and was given the night off. A wise move by Girardi, and with a big lead, his decision seemed validated. That was, of course, until the ninth inning, when the ESPN team of Chris Berman and Orel Hershiser strained as Coke struggled to a “save” to complete the series sweep of the Twins. Intermittently, ESPN cameras cut away to Rivera sitting in the bullpen with his jacket on, looking like he wanted to warm up and get in there if necessary. Poor Phil Coke. At least he didn’t have to endure Berman’s incessant references to “Coke Classic,” “New Coke,” and anything other beverage jokes he could come up with. And he did secure the victory, much to the chagrin of the headline writers of the Post and Daily News, who were probably salivating at the chance of plastering “PHIL CHOKE” on the back page.

Wednesday night, Michael Kay lamented Rivera’s eighth-inning entrance both during the game and in the post-game analysis. Kay’s main beef was that someone else should have pitched the ninth inning, especially after the Yankees blew the game open with six runs in the bottom of the eighth. Rivera threw four pitches in the eighth and needed 10 to get three outs in the ninth. He also yielded his fifth home run of the season.

Kay used those last two points to validate his argument, which upon reading over again, still seems weak, and here’s why: Recent history has shown that the guys who were available – Veras, Ramirez, Tomko, and Jonathan Albaladejo – could not be counted on to get three outs and hold an eight-run lead. Kim Jones didn’t ask why Rivera pitched the ninth on Wednesday, and if it was asked later on, Girardi’s answers will be column fodder for Thursday’s rags.

My opinion: Girardi made the right move. As I’ve written in this space before, and reviewed many times when Steven Goldman’s columns passed my edits, sometimes a save occurs in the eighth inning. This game against the Orioles was one of those times. Leaving him in to pitch the ninth: why not? Isn’t that partly why he’s getting paid upwards of $15 million? What about the possibility that Rivera asked to pitch the ninth? Having been his former catcher, isn’t it possible that Girardi believes that Rivera knows his body better than anyone and that maybe he left the decision to the future Hall of Famer?

Looking at Rivera’s profile, his 2009 workload is being carefully planned, primarily based on pitch count. Wednesday was only the third time all season River was asked to get more than three outs in an appearance – it just so happened that it was the second time in his last three games. And he was pitching on two days’ rest, so he was fresh. Rivera averaged 30 pitches in the two four-out or more appearances. He threw just 14 on Wednesday.

If you were the Yankees manager, how would you handle Rivera? I would likely do the same thing Girardi’s doing. Oh, and under no circumstances, ever, would I have Tomko warming when I need to get one batter out in the ninth inning.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“When the misses are in the same spots (up and in to lefties and up and away to righties) and no adjustments are made, you have to wonder if anything’s going on between the ears.”
– Orel Hershiser, during Phil Coke’s ninth-inning struggles Monday

Until next week …

FIP To Be Tied

Yankee Panky: Paralysis By Analysis?

The past 10 days have seen an immense range of stories leapfrog to the forefront of New York sports fans’ collective consciousness. In no particular order, with some analysis and commentary mixed in…

• The Yankees slashed prices for the primo seats, an altruistic move that still leaves many of us thinking, “You know, you have your own network, and it’s on my cable system. I’ll contribute to your bottom line that way and I won’t feel like I got stabbed in the wallet.”

• Alex Rodriguez did everything necessary in extended spring training and returned to the lineup Friday. He punctuated the return with a home run on the first pitch he saw, thus fulfilling his job as the media-anointed savior of the team’s season. He proceeded to go 1-for-10 with two strikeouts in the remainder of the series, and perhaps fearing aggravating the hip injury, didn’t hustle down the line to run out a ground ball, thus reclaiming his role as the team’s most prominent punching bag.

• The Yankees lost two straight to the Red Sox at home and have lost the first five meetings of the season. (Sound the alarms! Head for the hills! There’s no way the Yankees can win the division without beating the Red Sox! Except that they can, and they have. In 2004, the Yankees went 1-6 in their first seven games against the BoSox, ended up losing the season series 8-11 and still finished 101-61 to win the American League East by three games.)

• Joba Chamberlain 1: His mother was arrested for allegedly selling crystal meth to an undercover officer. Following Chamberlain’s own brushes with the law during the offseason, it stood to reason that the tabloids attacked this story like starving coyotes. It’s remarkable that he was able to pitch at all given the negative attention he received.

• Joba Chamberlain 2: Flash back to Aug. 13, 2007. Chamberlain struck out Orioles first baseman Aubrey Huff in a crucial late-inning at-bat to end the inning and in the heat of the moment pumped his fist in exultation. Yesterday, following a three-run home run in the first inning that gave the O’s a 3-1 lead, Huff mocked Chamberlain’s emotional outburst with his own fist pump, first while rounding first base, and again when crossing home plate. Apparently, Mr. Huff holds grudges. Thanks to the New York Daily News’s headline, “MOCKING BIRD” with a photo of the home-plate celebration, this story will have wings when Baltimore comes to the Bronx next week. Even better, as it currently stands, Chamberlain is due to start in the series finale on Thursday the 21st. Get ready for a rash of redux stories leading up to that game.

• Mariano Rivera surrendered back-to-back home runs for the first time in his career last Wednesday night, a clear signal that something is wrong. Maybe.

• The team as a whole. The Yankees are 15-16 through 31 games, and some rabid fans (the “Spoiled Set,” as Michael Kay likes to call them; the group of fans between ages 18-30 that only knows first-place finishes for the Yankees) are calling for Joe Girardi’s head. As in the above note on the Red Sox, some context is required. The Yankees’ records through 31 games this decade:

2000: 22-9 (finished 87-74, won AL East)
2001: 18-13 (finished 95-65, won AL East)
2002: 18-13 (finished 103-58, won AL East)
2003: 23-8 (finished 101-61, won AL East)
2004: 18-13 (finished 101-61, won AL East)
2005: 12-19 (finished 95-67, won AL East)
2006: 19-12 (finished 97-65, won AL East)
2007: 15-16 (finished 94-68, won AL Wild Card)
2008: 15-16 (finished 89-73, missed playoffs)
2009: 15-16 (finish TBD)

No one is going to make excuses for the team with the billion dollar stadium and the highest payroll, least of all your trusted scribes here at the Banter. Looking at the last three years — including 2009 — it should be noted that similar issues of injury, age, and woes throughout the pitching staff have befallen the Yankees.

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Yankee Panky: Q&A with Kat O’Brien

One of the hottest stories this year has been the continuing decline of the newspaper industry. I’ve written about it in this space, and with the shuttering of the Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle P-I going to a completely online format, and more papers reducing coverage of their hometown teams, the current trend is not likely to change any time soon.

What does this mean for baseball coverage? Russell Adams and Tim Marchman presented a telling look at the industry in an April 7 Wall Street Journal article. Being a baseball reporter for a newspaper used to be a job people would kill for. Now it’s likely a job that will be killed.

With that in mind, I’ve begun asking numerous questions of veteran baseball writers and columnists to get their respective takes on the industry. This series of Q&As will run periodically throughout the season and beyond, as trends develop. The first is with Newsday’s Kat O’Brien, a Yankees beat writer since 2007. Prior to moving to New York, O’Brien covered the Texas Rangers for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram from 2003-06.

In her short time on the beat, O’Brien has witnessed the sweeping changes and cutbacks in the industry firsthand, and has decided to leave the beat to go to graduate school. The following exchange was conducted over a series of e-mails last week.

Will Weiss: What made you want to be a sportswriter? Even more specifically, what made you want to be on a beat?

Kat O’Brien: I never really set out to be a sportswriter. I was interested in writing and journalism, and sort of wound up in sports. I went to Notre Dame, and initially worked on both sports and news on the daily (Mon-Fri) student newspaper. That was too time-consuming, so I focused on sports, as it was a lot more fun and more-read among the students. For a long time, I thought I would switch back to newswriting, but I kept having great opportunities on the sports side and I enjoyed it. Doing a beat was kind of the natural progression. Baseball made sense as it was one of my favorite sports, and I also speak Spanish, which is useful in covering baseball.

WW: When and how did you use your Spanish? I’m curious, because I speak the language also and have written several anecdotes through the years about my adventures in the Dominican Republic, and with various Latino players in the Yankee clubhouse.

KOB: I double majored in Spanish in college after studying abroad. I’ve gone to the Dominican Republic a few times to do some baseball stories. I use it more on a day-to-day basis, both in interviewing players whose English skills are minimal (i.e. Melky Cabrera) and in talking to players who are comfortable in both languages (i.e. Mariano Rivera and Bobby Abreu). Even with the latter, I often find it helps build a rapport with players when they know you speak their language. It was huge with Alfonso Soriano when he got traded over to the Rangers, who I was covering at the time.

WW: Did anything specific happen to make you thinking about changing your career path?

KOB: It wasn’t any one thing but a combination of things. The writing jobs I had aspired to long-term, like writing takeout features and so on, barely exist anymore. I feel that there are other jobs I would enjoy doing and would be good at, and that this would be a good time to move in that direction. I’ll miss a lot about writing and covering baseball, particularly the relationships you form on the job. But this is the best move for me long-term.

WW: What changes in the industry have you witnessed in your time on the beat?

KOB: Wow, so many, and that is in just a few years. The Internet was not even a shadow of what it is now when I began. Now the Internet is priority No. 1, and it should be. The blogs have become extremely important, and most of those did not even exist when I started.

I also think there is a tendency towards more negativity and sensationalism, not necessarily on the beat, but in the media in general. This may be at least in part due to trying to compete with Internet sites, some of which are more gossip than news, but it’s not a good change in my opinion.

WW: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said recently that newspapers should give up trying to compete (with Internet sites). In your opinion, are newspapers dead? If not, what would you do to try to revive them?

KOB: I really hope that newspapers are not dead or on life support. That said, things don’t look good for most papers at the moment. One thing that is crucial is finding a way to get revenue from the internet. One idea I like is that of getting as many papers as possible to join a consortium. Then a person could pay a subscription fee — say $10-20 per month — and get access to all those papers. Because it’s not realistic to think people are going to pay to read every paper they ever look at online, but papers need revenue.

But papers have to stop cutting costs so much that their best and brightest are either forced out or leave because they don’t think the quality of the product is worth sticking around and being a part of.

WW: You told me offline that given the current state of affairs, leaving the beat is the best decision for you and your future. Why?

KOB: Unfortunately, I am not at all confident about the future of newspapers. I’m sure there will always be some sort of journalism by which people get their news and information. But it’s been devastating to watch newspapers get torn apart in the last couple years, due partly to the failure of the industry to get on-board with the internet early and adapt, and partly to economic conditions.

I see so many colleagues who have been forced from their jobs, or who want to try something else but are constricted due to family considerations, children and mortgages. I am young enough that I can go back to school, so I am doing that while I can.

WW: While it may not be the case with the major New York papers, numerous papers around the country have cut costs by not sending writers to road games, etc., and in some cases local teams receive no hometown coverage at all. Is this a disservice?

KOB: It is a disservice, but unfortunately an unavoidable one right now. Many papers are barely surviving — slashing jobs and costs wherever they can. Local team coverage is one of those costs being cut.

WW: Is the philosophical divide between print and online generational?

KOB: I think there is somewhat of a generational divide between print and online. I see a bigger generational divide over blogging, though. That seems by and large to be more accepted among younger people.

WW: I remember that some of the beat writers who are staunch traditionalists resisted to the blog movement; not only that they were being required to post to blogs, but to the group of writers that has made a name through the blogosphere. What was your reaction to this, and what’s your opinion of baseball writing on the web? Who do you read now and how do you see baseball reporting growing?

KOB: I think there is a place for all sorts of baseball coverage, both traditional and of the blog variety. I think the web permits a much broader amount of coverage. There’s a long list of blogs that I follow. But an example of the different types of writing would be in three of the Yankees blogs I read most often: RiverAveBlues, BronxBanter and WasWatching. All three do a great job of keeping up with Yankees stuff, but each has a different slant/angle. Each site has its favorites and its least favorites on the team, and each provides a different writing style.

Still, there can be a danger in losing sight of the fact that the blogs don’t necessarily provide the same information as the traditional newspapers/sites since many are giving opinion or compiling information instead of doing reporting themselves. I am not saying this in any “anti-blog” fashion, just that I think both are necessary.

WW: Thanks for the compliments and for following us here at BB. What, if anything, could both the blog sites and the newspapers do better to coexist?

KOB: Probably give each other a little more credit where credit is due. Not in all cases, but there are definitely some snarky comments from one side to the other, and vice versa.

WW: What will you miss most about the beat? The least?

KOB: Most: A number of things. Being there to get the story firsthand, the story that people are talking about and reading about and you are giving it to them. Writing for a large and passionate audience. And I’ll especially miss the people — the other writers and the people I am writing about such as players, coaches, managers, GMs, and behind-the-scenes folks.

Least: Witnessing and worrying about the constant decline in the newspaper industry. And it might be nice to have a somewhat more normal schedule, with less travel and more nights and weekends off.

WW: What’s next for you? Do you see yourself eventually getting back into sport media, or editorial?

KOB: I’m going back to school. I start a dual degree program at the University of Pennsylvania next month, getting a Wharton MBA and a Masters of Arts in International Studies from the Lauder Institute. I don’t envision myself getting back into sports media or editorial on a full-time basis. I would love to keep my hand in by doing free-lance writing. After I graduate I might get involved in the business side of sports, but that’s yet to be determined. I’ll miss sportswriting and all my friends in the biz, though.

Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #34

By Maggie Barra

The big deal over the end of the Yankee Stadium is over and before long we’ll be seeing pictures of the Stadium being torn apart. But I don’t want to see those images because I want to keep my memories alive.

The first time I remember going to Yankee stadium is one of my earliest childhood memories. I can’t recall every detail, but I vividly remember the first time I looked out on the field. I was six; I know that because I got to leave my first grade class early. My father was already there, my mother and I joined him.

I remember being perplexed by the slanted ramps that seemed to never merge and were separated by black vertical bars. I remember the dark blue paint next to white everywhere and knowing that they were the Yankee colors. I followed about two feet behind my mother. The game had already started, and most of the people were in their seats. There was a small square doorway resembling a miniature tunnel; the walls were navy again with a hint of shine that felt sticky and reminded me of rubber, especially against the unremarkable concrete floor.

There was a slight upward climb past the door. My mother’s high heels clacked as she hurried, then suddenly she stopped at the edge, seeming to stand in the open with no roof over her. I came up behind her and saw it for the first time. Before I noticed the actual stadium, a deafening roar arose from all around me and a lit up sign announced "Home Run!" I had heard of a home run before, but wasn’t sure what it meant, but I knew from the crowd’s reaction that it was good.

As I stood there, I felt a little breathless as I managed to take in this very large, wonderful place. I noticed the green grass with a crisscross pattern, the white letter-looking sign behind home plate, the endless supply of people surrounding the field except for the spaces with no seats, and at the back, a black area underneath the scoreboard. The net behind the plate expanded like a spider web.

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