All hail Helen!!

All hail Helen!!
Helen Carmona and your humble blogger

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tigers 6, Yankees 2

Right after Derek Jeter grounded out to Edgar Renteria to end the fifth inning, I scribbled this note at the bottom of my scorecard: Was that too fast? Pettitte just threw 20 pitches and looks gassed. Uh-oh....

On the second pitch of the sixth inning, Placido Polanco took Pettitte deep. Looking again at the question I had just scribbled, I wrote next to it, Yes.

Obviously, I'm not normally so prescient. If I were, I'd be living in a house outside Vegas and collecting my winnings every night. But will someone please explain this to me: When the Yankees are facing a pitcher who has a 1-3 record and who walked seven batters his last time out, and when that pitcher goes to a three-ball count on four of the first nine batters he faces and surrenders two runs in the first inning, why does this Yankee lineup decide that swinging early in the count is the rigth way to set about winning a game?

The Yankees had a rope around Jeremy Bonderman's neck in the first inning, forcing him to throw 27 pitches, only 14 of which found the plate. but after the first inning Bonderman's pitch counts looked like this: 15, 11, 9, 5, 11, 7, 15. And that would be fine if Bonderman had been dealing strikes and being generally unhittable. But from the second to the eighth innings Bonderman threw only 45 strikes out of 73 pitches (not a terrible ration, but not Hall of Fame stuff, either), and the Yankees swung and missed at exactly two pitches. Two.

The point is that they could have put wood on Bonderman's balls any time they wanted to, so why do it with a 1-1 count, or an 0-1 count? Why not let this guy run the counts deep and see if his tendency to walk hitters was still a problem? I simply do not understand a lineup that fails, nightly, to protect its pitching staff.

What is Joe Girardi preaching in that clubhouse before games? And for that matter, where the hell is Kevin Long? Do these guys ever take a look at how this team approaches at-bats and wonder if a different approach might be in order? Isn't Long paid to do more than just chit-chat with Giambi after Giambi gets back to the dugout?

It is infuriating to watch, game after game, when a lineup of veteran hitters like Damon, Jeter, Abreu, Matsui, and Giambi let struggling pitchers like Bonderman get away clean. In 32 trips to the plate in Wednesday's game, 11 Yankee batters put the ball in play on the first or second pitch. In those at-bats, the Yankees were 1-for-11. And the captain, Derek Jeter, pulled this stunt twice, going 0-for-2.

In a long baseball season, fans accept the inevitable 60-70 losses; that's what makes baseball such a different sporting experience. But losing games to average pitchers who are just begging to get beat gets old the first time. In two consecutive games now, the Yankee have faced struggling Tigers pitchers who were ripe to go down, and the Yankee batters have failed to earn their money.

It's enough to make me want to eat this damned scorecard.

They're kidding, right?

So now the Yankee front office, too proud to admit it was a little rash in insisting that Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy were ready for prime time, is inventing injuries and enabling Hughes' skittishness? An oblique strain that Hughes showed absolutely no signs of having while he was on the mound on Tuesday? Tell us another one, Brian Cashman, because this one's a real knee-slapper.

Hughes is no more injured than Joe Girardi is. Whatever problems Hughes has had on the mound this season, they do not stem from any abdominal injury. The only place Hughes might be hurting is in his pride. He was just too highly touted this early in his career. None of what has happened to Hughes is his fault, but be that as it may, he is still the guy collecting the paycheck, and it is still his ass on the line. He just has to perform better.

Call it a much-needed break from the stress of being in the rotation. Call it a trip down to the minors to work on some stuff -- like confidence. But to call it an injury is insulting. Girardi is creating a bunker-like mentality around his team when it comes to decisions and injuries and anything that might possibly lead to an advantage being gained by Yankee opponents. Okay, fair enough. Teams have to guard against leaking too much information in a highly-competitive league. But Girardi is dangerously close to the Bill Belichick model of how to appear the most paranoid in public. There's a fine line being secretive and being deceptive.

This Phil Hughes 'injury' seems very close to the latter.

Sit Cano, now!

Why is Robinson Cano still starting? Could the Yankee lineup be any less potent with Alberto Gonzalez and Morgan Ensberg at second and third base, respectively? Maybe Cano has more potential in his bat than either of those two, but potential is just French for "ain't done shit yet," and that about sums up Cano's season to date.

Bench him tonight, Joe G., and spare us all the pain of watching him slump his shoulders after popping up to short centerfield. If there's anything worse than watching a young player struggle, it's watching a young player sulk while he struggles.

Do us all a favor and let us get through a game (or two) without screaming at Cano through the television screen.

Season to date

The Yankees are 14-15, finishing their first month under Girardi with a sub-.500 record and in fourth place in the American League East, three games behind division leader Boston and one game behind Baltimore and Tampa Bay, whop are tied for second. The Yankees are now 0-2 on their nine game home stand.

Thursday's starting pitchers

Yankees: Ian Kennedy, RHP, (0-2, 8.53 ERA)
Last start: Kennedy threw 105 pitches in a five-inning start at Cleveland, allowing three runs, seven hits, walking one (with the bases-loaded) and striking out three.

Tigers: Nate Robertson, LHP, (0-3, 6.91 ERA)
Last start: Threw just 89 pitches in a seven-inning start against the Angels, but gave up four runs, including a two-run home run to Vladimir Guerrero.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tigers 6, Yankees 4

After one of the embarrassing losses that opened their season, the Detroit Tigers were reemed out by manager Jim Leyland in a post-game, clubhouse tirade. Before that tongue lashing, the Tigers were averaging fewer than 2.5 runs per game. Since then, that average has risen to a robust 6.4, and Detroit's season has turned around from a dismal 0-7 start to the 12-15 record they sport after defeating the Yankees 6-4 Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.

The point: When is Joe Girardi going to get sick of seeing his batting order let opposing pitchers off the hook, and administer the same kind of accountability speech that Leyland used so effectively?

The Tigers are baseball's second- or third-highest paid team, which is why Leyland got sick of them playing like a bunch of Class AA rejects. Well, Girardi skippers the highest paid team in baseball, a team whose bench, during one game last week -- whose bench! -- was three times the payroll of the entire Florida Marlins roster.

When is Girardi going to put the screws to this bunch and unleash that famous temper of his? I think Tuesday night would be a good time.

Blame Phil Hughes all you want -- he threw a first-pitch ball to 11 of the 20 batters he faced, and he managed to get to two strikes on only nine of those batters. He looked scared -- and even for a 21-year-old, it's time to look the part or get sent down to Scranton to grow up a little -- and he failed to respond when his offense did offer him some support. (In fairness to Hughes, new catcher Chris Stewart looked like he should be headed down the ladder of the minors, not up it.)

But what support Hughes did get from the Yankee lineup was minimal compared to what it could have been. As bad as Hughes was, Detroit starter Kenny Rogers was no better, at least not until the Yankee batters went to sleep in the fourth inning and allowed Rogers -- who at 42 years old brought a 7.66 ERA into this game -- to escape his last three innings by throwing only 26 total pitches. Absolutely inexcusable, and it doesn't matter who is on the DL.

The difference in this game was the three hits Tiger batters got with runners in scoring position, and the zero hits the Yankee batters recorded in their first five trips to the plate with runners ready to score. By the time Jason Giambi singled in Hideki Matsui from second base in the ninth inning, it was far too little, far too late.

The Yankees had Rogers on the hook early, and let him get away with surrendering only two runs, and those were on a Yankee Stadium home run off the toothpick that Robinson Cano has been swinging lately. In any other stadium, that ball is no more than a double off the wall, and maybe Magglio Ordonez runs it down in the gap for a long flyball out.

But that's neither here nor there. What matters is Giambi's pop-up with two outs and runners on second and third in the first inning, and Cano's flyout with the bases loaded and two outs in the third (not to mention Cano's game-ending strikeout with runners on first and second in the ninth). There is just no excuse, with a pitcher as shaky as Rogers, to let those chances go by, especially with a struggling Hughes on the mound. Hughes may be his own worst enemy right now, but he deserves some run support against a beatable target like Rogers.

But even worse is the way the Yankees folded after the third inning. In the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, Rogers had two outs under his belt before Yankee fans could settle back into their chairs. The guy was clearly laboring into the third inning, then poof!... the Yankee bats might as well have been made of cinders rather than ash (or maple, or oak, or whatever the hell...) Rogers coasted through his final nine outs like Hank Steinbrenner through a carton of Camels.

No one minds getting shut down by a C.C. Sabathia on top of his game, as the Yankees were on Sunday, and Hughes didn't really deserve more than he got. But when a 21-year-old rookie is struggling, the least his veteran teammates can do is help him out by stretching a pitcher who is clearly well off his best form.

This loss was tough to watch, tougher than most. And with the Yankees now batting .236 (54-for-229) with runners in scoring position this season, who can expect things to improve anytime soon?

Go figure Girardi

On Tuesday night's television broadcast, the YES Network's Michael Kay made what I think is a good point in reference to Girardi's decision to give Melky Cabrera a rest. Cabrera is 25 years old, and while his bat is not the most potent, he's been a semi-consistent performer in the lineup, and a terrific, if not an All-Star caliber, centerfielder. So why then rest Cabrera when Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are already out of the lineup, and especially when there is another everyday player who clearly needs some time off?

Robinson Cano's home run was not a mammoth shot that suddenly caused his dormant bat to awaken, any more than his game-winning home run in Tampa two weeks ago awakened it. (All one need do is look at the other at-bats Cano had on Tuesday.) And with the left-handed Rogers on the hill, why not sit the struggling Cano and allow Alberto Gonzalez to hit?

Gonzalez has proven to be a valuable asset while he's been up with the big club, but he is wasting away on the bench. Girardi said, the day Gonzalez was called up to replace Wilson Betemit, that "(Gonzalez) didn't come up here to sit down." So why then is he sitting against lefties while Cano continues to struggle against everyone?

Resting Cabrera weakened, at least defensively, a team already suffering through debilitating injuries. The Yankee outfield is strongest when Cabrera is out there. And the Yankee lineup, at least this month, is weakest with Cano in it. Girardi can do what he wants, but the thinking here is that it's Cano, not Cabrera, who needs a rest.

Season to date

Tha Yankees are 14-14 and in fourth place in the American League East, two games behind Baltimore and Boston, and one game behind Tampa Bay. Tuesday's loss came in the first game of this nine-game home stand.

Wednesday's starting pitchers

Yankees: Andy Pettitte, LHP (3-2, 3.23 ERA)
Last start: Pettitte was cruising along in Cleveland until back-to-back home runs from Jhonny Perralta and Franklin Guttierez derailed him. Pettitte struck out three and walked three in picking up his second loss of the season. His last start against the Tigers was August 1, 2007, when he pitched eight innings and gave up just one run.

Tigers: Jeremy Bonderman, RHP (1-2, 4.28 ERA)
Last start: Although he allowed only two hits and two runs, Bonderman walked sevenTexas Rangers batters last Friday. In his career, Bonderman is just 2-6 against the Yankees (1-3 at Yankee Stadium) with a 5.58 ERA. Yankee left fielder Johnny Damon is .438 (14-for-32) in his career against Bonderman.

Yankees 5, Indians 2

How much stranger can this season get, at least offensively?

The Yankees entered the final game in Cleveland batting 2-for-24 with runners in scoring position – nothing new, since a lack of situational hitting has been the main reason the Yankees were 13-13 coming into Monday’s game.

So what happens on Monday? Indian starter Aaron Laffey, just up from Class AAA Buffalo, gets a 2-0 lead and throws five no-hit innings at the Yankees. How do the Yankees respond? By producing one of the strangest innings they’ll likely have all season.

Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter dribbled back-to-back infield singles to start the sixth. Then Bobby Abreu followed with a solid line-drive single to left centerfield (yet another Yankee hit with runners in scoring position that failed to plate any runs). Alex Rodriguez then got plunked by Laffey, forcing in Cabrera with the first Yankee run.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s two improbable dribblers for singles, a single that doesn’t score anyone, and a wayward pitch from a steady Laffey, all cutting the Yankee deficit to 2-1. From there, it got even better. Or stranger.

Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui followed A-Rod with two groundball outs – nothing new for the Yankees, as they’ve consistently failed to get hits with runners on base this season, and this time the bases were loaded. But wait just a moment: both groundballs were right at Indian first baseman Ryan Garkos, who was playing deep for the double play. Because Garkos failed to charge either ball, the runners moved up on each play.

So again, if you’re scoring at home, the Yankees take a 3-2 lead when two batters fail to get hits with runners on base. What’s going on here?

But yet, there’s more.

With two outs and A-Rod still on third, and reliever Jensen Lewis on for Laffey, Morgan Ensberg hits a pitch for – you guessed it – another infield single, scoring A-Rod for a 4-2 Yankee lead.

So here’s the total for that whacky inning: three infield hits, a hit batter, two potentially harmless groundouts, and one major league caliber single. Oh, and four runs for the Yankees.

That’s not strange. That’s stranger than strange. That’s bizarro-baseball.

So after 26 games when the Yankees can’t get a meaningful hit to save their lives, they win a game by going 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position, and two of those five hitless at-bats produce the tying and go-ahead runs.

I give up on trying to figure out this game…

Rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated

Mike Mussina? Back-to-back victories? Getting out of April with three wins on his record? Show me the Yankee fan who had that figured coming out of spring training, because I sure didn’t.

We’re way past the stage in Mussina’s career when we’ll ever again use the term “vintage Moose” in the present tense (and I had him pegged for a 1-4 April), but with the Yankees getting subpar pitching at least half the time, and with a new team injury seemingly every day, Mussina’s two wins in the last stages of this road trip are huge for the Yankees. Chien-Ming Wang has deservedly gotten all the accolades this month, but Mussina has rebounded nicely from his previous fiasco with Boston. His last two outings won’t make anyone forget that Mussina should pretend to have the flu the next time he’s due to start against the Red Sox, but wins are wins, especially when the team is struggling.

Hats off to Moose for five fine innings on Monday.

Cano can’t do

At what point does manager Joe Girardi sit Robinson Cano for more than just a single game?

Three horrendous at-bats on Monday show that Cano is nowhere near breaking out of his offensive slump (.153/.217/.214), and with his body language after every piss-poor swing, it looks as if Cano’s hitting woes are now embedded in his psyche.

With Alberto Gonzalez on the bench, and the Yankees facing left-handed starters in three of their next four games, maybe it’s time to sit Cano for a few games and let him avoid the rain of boos that is likely on its way every time he jogs back to the Yankee dugout after another pop-fly out at the Stadium this week.

Looking ahead

It will be nice to play, finally, a team that’s having an even more disappointing season than the Yankees are having. Welcome to the Bronx, Detroit Tigers!

With a legion of baseball pundits touting the Tigers for this season’s World Series, the Motor City kitties got off to an 0-7 start (with the first six losses coming at home!). They’ve rebounded since then, and will come into Yankee Stadium on Tuesday with an 11-15 record but still mired in last place in the American League Central Division.

Let’s hope they leave that way.

Season to date

The Yankees are 14-13 and one game behind Baltimore, Boston, and Tampa Bay, all tied atop the AL East standings. The Yankees won the final two games in Cleveland to even the series at 2-2. Tuesday’s game with Detroit opens a nine-game home span with the Tigers, Seattle Mariners, and Cleveland.

Tuesday’s starters

Yankees: Phil Hughes, RHP, (0-3, 7.85 ERA)
Last start: Hughes was off to one of his best starts of the season after two innings in Chicago, throwing two innings and allowing just one hit. But a 50-minute rain delay led to a short night for the rookie pitcher, as manager Joe Girardi did not send Hughes back out in the third inning. The last time Hughes faced Detroit, last August 26, the Tigers scored five runs in six innings.

Tigers: Kenny Rogers, LHP, (1-3, 7.66 ERA)
Last start: The 42-year-old Rogers allowed six runs, three walks, and nine hits, and walked in a run with the bases loaded, in just 3 and 1/3 innings against the light-hitting Texas Rangers. Lifetime against the Yankees, Rogers is 5-7 with a 6.45 ERA.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Yankees 1, Indians 0

I don’t have total recall of all 86 games Chien-Ming Wang has started for the Yankees, but if he has pitched a better game than today’s 1-0 win over the Indians, someone will have to show me the tape in order to convince me.

He may have given up only two hits in Boston two weeks ago, but that was far from vintage Wang. He served up a smorgasboard of flyball outs, and he was lucky J.D. Drew’s solo home run was the only ball that left Fenway Park. Sunday’s duel with Cleveland starter C.C. Sabathia showed an infinitely better Wang.

Nine strikeouts is the stat that immediately jumps off the scorecard. That’s three more than Wang’s previous season high this year. But Wang was even better than his strikeout total. Only one Indian baserunner made it as far as third, and that was due to a wild pitch.

But even more impressive than that was the way Wang never let himself become rattled. His difficulty pitching from the stretch is well-known to Yankee fans, yet on Sunday, after allowing the leadoff batter to reach base in four of the first five innings, Wang had no trouble settling in to his stretch move and getting the next three batters out. Only in the first inning did the Indians put two runners on base.

By the fourth inning, Wang was cruising. Over his final four innings, seven of the 12 outs came via the strikeout. Any Yankee fan can be forgiven for wanting to see Wang come back out for the eighth inning. With that two-hit, complete-game gem in Boston, Wang proved he is durable enough to go nine innings. But Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera are paid to perform in the late innings of tight games, and with the Yankees nursing a skinny 1-0 lead, manager Joe Girardi had seen enough of Wang.

But only for today. Wang is now the American League’s only pitcher with five wins on the season (he’s 5-0 with one no-decision in six starts), and anyone associated with the Yankees will be looking forward to seeing as much Wang as possible over the next five months.

And as a healthy, heterosexual male, I never thought I’d write a line like that……

Seen enough C.C.

Wang’s wasn’t the only brilliant performance from the mound on Sunday. Cleveland ace and returning American League Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia was in top form, holding the Yankees to a single run. For once, however, that was enough for the Yankees to pull out a victory.

Sabathia tossed 111 pitches (and a whopping 78 for strikes) through eight complete innings, striking out eight and walking only one. It was a tough-luck loss that dropped Sabathia to 1-4 for the season, but lowered his ERA by nearly three runs.

What kept Sabathia in the game was his ability to do what nearly every other pitcher has done to the Yankees this season – get outs when the Yankees had runners in scoring position. The Yankees were 0-for-5 on Sunday in that department, dropping them to a miserable 2-for-24 (.083) in this series with Cleveland.

Monday’s starter for the Indians, Class AAA call-up Aaron Laffey, will hopefully provide a few punchlines for the Yankees as they try to get a woeful offense back on track.

And your home run leader is…

Wait for it…… Melky Cabrera, ladies and gentlemen!

If there was an offensive hero for the Yankees on Sunday, it was Cabrera, who clubbed a one-out, fifth-inning solo home run that provided all the offense for either team. It was Cabrera’s team-leading fifth home run of the season. The Yankee centerfielder hit only eight all of last season.

And it is worth noting that Cabrera’s home run was thirty seconds from being a two-run blast, if not for the continued hard luck of Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano. After Cano legged out an infield single (to boost his .151 average), he was picked off and caught in a run down between first and second. One pitch after he made the out, Cabrera went deep.

And so it goes…

Hip, shoulder, Jorge!

For the first time in his career, Yankee catcher Jorge Posada is on the disabled list. The most durable of Yankees over the past 13 seasons, Posada will now watch as his shoulder problems heal and the Yankees try to turn around a 13-13 start without him.

The Yankees have been lucky this season in only a few departments, and back-up catcher is one of them. Jose Molina and Chad Moeller have been as good as can be expected. Now, the back-up label will be off Molina for the foreseeable future. With Moeller uncertain to return (he is still on the “designated for assignment” list, which means the Yankees cannot reclaim him until at least Tuesday, perhaps Wednesday, if no other team in the major leagues takes him first), the Yankees now will be scrambling to fill the back-up catcher position. Journeyman Chris Stewart has been called up from Scranton to join the team on Monday.

Get well soon, Jorge. The team won’t be the same without you.

Too early for MVP votes?

Of course it is, but if the Yankees have a player in early contention for MVP, or at the very least April Player of the Month, it has to be Mariano Rivera.

The aging closer has put last April’s swoon – and premature talk of retirement in the media – behind him and is now seven-for-seven in save chances in 2008. But that perfect save percentage is hardly River’as most impressive stat.

Rivera has allowed four baserunners (all hits) in 10 innings, and has 10 strikeouts to go along with his 0.00 ERA.

Just a year ago, we were wondering if Mariano was near the end, and six months ago we were wondering if he was worth another long-term deal from the Yankees.

After another brilliant outing on Sunday – Rivera followed Joba Chamberlain’s perfect, two-strikeout eighth inning with a perfect, two-strikeout ninth -- who’s wondering now?

Season to date

The Yankees are 13-13 and in fourth place, one and a half games behind Baltimore, Boston, and Tampa Bay, all tied atop of the AL East standings. Sunday’s win broke a three-game losing streak, the team’s second three-game losing streak of the season.

Monday’s pitchers

Yankees: Mike Mussina (2-3, 4.94 ERA)
Last start: Mussina won his 252nd career game with a solid performance in Chicago, giving up just two runs in seven innings. (Both runs came on solo home runs.) He is 4-3 lifetime at Cleveland’s Jacobs Field, with a 5.88 ERA.

Indians: Aaron Laffey (0-0, no major league starts this season)
Last start: Laffey is 3-1 with a 3.13 ERA for Class AAA Buffalo this season, with 20 strikeouts and six walks in 26 innings pitched. Last season, in nine starts for the Indians he went 4-2 with a 4.56 ERA, including 4 and 2/3 scoreless innings against the Red Sox in Game 6 of the ALCS.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Indians 4, Yankees 3

Some thoughts on Saturday's game...

Why the Yankees lost

Yes, another Yankee reliever blew it (and two others tried), but there's no way this game should have been tied at 3-3, not with a triple-A pitcher going for the Indians and the Yankees having 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

If it weren't for Jorge Posada's pinch-hit, bases-loaded, bases-clearing triple in the sixth inning, the Yankees would have had only a single hit to show for their dozen at-bats with runners on and ready to score. And to be honest, only David Dellucci's poor angle at Posada's line drive allowed that ball to scoot under his glove and get to the left-field wall. Properly played, that's probably a one-RBI single.

And you gotta hand it to the Yankees, for only they can invent so many unbelievable ways to screw up.

How often does Jason Giambi fly out to left field? Once a week? Twice? So why in the world, in the fourth inning, with men on first and second and no outs, would he decide that was the time to go the other way with a pitch? Giambi is ripping the ball these last few games, so why not just pull that thing to right, let Jeter advance to third, and let Duncan's flyball out to the left-field warning track (in the very next at-bat) become a sacrifice fly?

And what was that at-bat by Melky Cabrera after Johnny Damon's leadoff double in the seventh inning? (Kudos to a rejuvenated Damon for all-out hustle, by the way. But more on Damon later....) After Cabrera's first, little league-esque bunt attempt, why try another? And why then try to make up for both by swinging at an outside pitch outside that was above the visor of his batting helmet? Jeter followed with an infield single (a sign of recent Yankee bad luck: about a third of our hits with runners on second have been the infield hit variety, which fail to score a run), then A-Rod strikes out and Giambi pops to short. Sigh...........

Then, of course, there was Jeter's double play to end the ninth..... and so it goes.

The numbers remain ugly. With the team batting just .249 for the season with RISP, before this game started, a 2-for-12 night just seems par for the course. As I was marking my scorecard at home, I just kept shaking my head, not in anger but rather with a here-we-go-again sort of resignation. I know this was a strange Yankee lineup, with four starters -- Abreu, Cano, Matsui, and Posada -- sitting out, but these are still major league hitters, and 2-for-12 is just wrong.....

What was Girardi thinking?

And about those four starters on the bench.... I know it was a combination of things that led to the decision. A day game after a night game, with Abreu needing a rest and Posada still easing his way back into everyday catcher status. And with Cano looking like he never held a bat before, and a left-handed pitcher going, it made sense to sit him and Matsui. But look at the Yankee box score, and tell me what was accomplished by having all those right-handed hitters at the bottom of the order?

The first four batters -- Damon, Cabrera, Jeter, and A-Rod -- went 10-for-19 on Saturday. And how many of them scored? One, A-Rod, on Posada's pinch-hit triple. Of course, a manager never knows how a lineup is going to hit against a certain pitcher, but with a young guy on the mound, why not throw your most dominant batting order at him and make this kid sink or swim against real live sharks?

The doubleheader Cleveland played in Kansas City last Thursday really gave the Yankees a break in terms of the pitchers they were going to face, so why let the Indians off the hook by allowing Sowers to pitch to Duncan, Gonzalez, Ensberg, and Molina? Those are all big-leaguers, for certain, but the Yankees are going through a tough stretch, and it just seems odd to waste a chance to get back on the winning side by beating up on a young pitcher.

Sure, guys need rest and righties should hit better off of lefties, but I can't help but wonder how Abreu and Matsui might have helped score some of the runners the Yankees stranded on Saturday.

Kennedy turning a corner?

He looked terrible - surprise, surprise -- over the first three innings on Saturday -- seventy-six pitches, more walks issued than hits allowed, a still-horrendous strikes-to-balls ratio -- but after staking Cleveland to a 3-0 lead in the second inning, starter Ian Kennedy settled in, threw only 29 pitches over his final two innings, and didn't have that stunned look in his eyes that he's carried to the mound so often this season.

Best of all, Kennedy didn't get saddled with another confidence-crushing loss. He certainly did not pitch well enough to win, but after the way he settled down and got himself under control, he deserved that no-decision. For all the good the Yankee offense did not do on Saturday, one thing it did do was get Kenendy even in the score line.

Let's hope the young lad carries that middle-inning composure over to his next start against the Tigers in the Bronx.

As he goes, so go the Yankees....

If only that were true.

Earlier in the season when he was ice cold at the plate, Johnny Damon said, "As I go, so the team goes." That's true of just about every leadoff batter, so one would think that with Damon's recent surge of offensive production -- he was hot again on Saturday, going 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles -- the Yankees would be surging, as well.

Not so, as we all know. But despite the poor support Damon's getting from the rest of the lineup, he gives the Yankee fans hope that things will turn, and soon, and maybe the upcoming home stretch will see the Yankees put together a nice eight-wins-in-ten-days kind of run.

Of course, what's more likely, given the (hard) luck of this early season, is that Damon will go into an 0-for-18 slide as Jeter gets rolling.

Yankee baseball, 2008, ladies and gentlemen!

And finally...

You gotta hand it to the Yankee bullpen. It never disappoints.

LaTroy Hawkins threw 22 pitches over his two innings. Only eight of those pitches were for strikes. How Hawkins got away clean, without a run surrendered, is a mystery. (Actually, it isn't a mystery. Alberto Gonzalez's terrific unassisted double play to end the sixth inning saved Hawkins from giving up at least two runs.)

On comes Kyle Farnsworth in the eighth. At least Farnsworth bettered Hawkins, throwing 10 of his 21 pitches for strikes (Yay, Kyle!). And the two walks Farnsworth issued didn't hurt the Yankees. They only hurt the eyes of Yankee fans.

Not to be outdone, Ross Ohlendorf put four men on base, and the final one was Victor Martinez, whose bases-loaded single won the game for Cleveland. (And I'm guessing Joe Girardi was saving Mariano Rivera for today's game.... why? Why else wouldn't Rivera be in there last night in the ninth? He gets paid for those kinds of appearances, right?)

In April, Farnsworth, Hawkins, Ohlendorf and Billy Traber have pitched 49 and 2/3 innings and allowed 86 baserunners. That's a WHIP of 1.73. Incredibly, 24 of those baserunners have gotten on base via the walk.

How the piss is a bullpen supposed to hold or save games when it allows nearly two runners per inning, and a third of its runners allowed get on base without even swinging a bat?

Throughout the Yankee blogosphere, these guys (especially Ohlendorf and Traber) have their defenders, fans who think they just need time to get it going. But for shit's sake, are we supposed to wait until July before these guys start throwing strikes?

You know.... David Wells is available. Could he be worse coming out of the bullpen? (That's half a joke...... I think.)

Let's end on a high note

Alberto Gonzalez. Really..... how much longer can it be until he's full-time at short? Derek Jeter (whom I love....) has to go to first base next season. Can anyone give me a real, solid, baseball reason as to why we should wait on this?

You could make the argument, and I'm going to right now, that the Yankees win Friday night's game if Gonzalez is at short, because those two groundball hits in the fifth inning, Gonzalez gets one of those. As sure as I'm typing this, Gonzalez gets one, and Pettitte is out of the inning.

The time has come. Girardi needs to make the move after the season. Tell me I'm wrong.

Season to date

The Yankees have lost three in a row and are 12-13, two and a half games behind the Orioles and Red Sox.

Today's pitchers

Yankees: Chien-Ming Wang (4-0, 3.94 ERA)
Last start: Got the win against Chicago. Six and 1/3 innings, 10 hits, three runs.

Indians: C.C. Sabathia (1-3, 10.13 ERA)
Last start: Got the win against Kansas City. Five innings, four hits, two walks, 11 strikeouts.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Real Yankee fans are not happy today

I'm not going to be naming any names, but certain people who leave certain posts on certain Yankee-based blog sites need to grow up. The corpse from last night's 7-6 loss to the White Sox in Chicago was still warm when apparently gleeful Yankee 'fans' were all over the Internet laughing over the dent in the armor of relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain.

What kind of fan takes an ounce of pleasure in his team's loss? A pretty shitty fan, if you ask me. We all know the motivation behind these posts, but it's worthwhile to spell it out just the same.

The debate over Joba's role with the team has splintered Yankee fans into two camps, one hostile -- the 'he must start, and the sooner the better' bunch; and one still chilled out -- the status quo, Joba-as-reliever supporters. But that second camp is getting increasingly hot under the collar as the first camp gets more and more incensed over the uncertain timetable of the Yankee plan to move Joba into a starting role... eventually. As the fans who favor Joba as a starter grow angrier, they start to needle the members of the other camp, and that's what is happening this morning.

"Oh look! Mr. 'Perfect for the Eighth Inning' isn't so perfect now, is he?" seems to be the tone of the day. The pro-starter crowd is tickled to finally have some 'evidence' that Joba might not be the god of the set-up. Yet none of them, or very few of them, are mentioning that ace starting pitchers, which they think Joba is destined to be, don't win all their games, either. Nor are they bothering to mention that that other god of relief pitching, Mariano Rivera, doesn't own a perfect resume. All ballplayers fail, eventually and fail often. Last night was Joba's time, and he dealt with it, as I'm sure all the Yankees and most of their fans are dealing with it, like the non-event that it is.

But Hank Steinbrenner's childish belly-aching last Sunday, and the fervor it stirred up, have given Joba's every pitch and every outing a value far exceeding it's actual worth. He's one cog in the 25-man Yankee wheel that is trying to win as many games as possible. He's a minimum salary employee who's role happens to place him in the spotlight whenever he takes the mound, and now Steinbrenner has made that spotlight seem hotter and heavier than it needed to be. Now, every Yankee fan who demands that Joba enter the starting rotation will be pointing fingers and blaming the other Yankee fans, those who see Joba's time as a reliever as a matter of helping the team while it shores up a better bullpen, for the 'disaster' that was -- a one-run loss in Chicago -- and the 'disaster' that looms -- Joba being wasted by denying him a spot in the starting five.

Not to make too much of baseball -- because at the end of the day, we all have other lives to live -- but for those who do cherish this game and who do spend a lot of time and money following it, this is a dangerous time for Yankee fans. This wedge that divides Yankee fans is unfortunate. Rather than pulling together and cheering the team after losses, fans are hurling nasty comments at one another regarding an issue that not a single fan can control. Whatever a fan's position on the Joba matter, I hope all fans will remember that this is one Yankee team and we are one, united group of Yankee fans.

Personally, I'm more in the Joba-as-starter role than I was before. I've been persuaded by some terrific arguments that make a lot of sense. Whenever the Yankees get around to doing it, I'll support it. Until then, I'm backng the boys, all the way. Joba is a reliever now, and I want his every outing to be as dominant as it can be. For the life of me, I can't see how a single "real" fan is delighted by anything that happened with Joba in last night's ninth inning.

Let's all remember who we are, and which team we root for: the greatest professional sports team in the world. Let's act like it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Now that's more like it!

"If you're gonna give him all the shit, you gotta give him all the credit."

That's the infamous Michael Irvin, live-on-television quote about Barry Switzer after the Dallas Cowboys won the NFC title game in 1996 and advanced to the Super Bowl, where they would defeat Pittsburgh. Switzer had been much-maligned during his first two seasons in Dallas, and Irvin was going to bat for his beleaguered head coach.

Fast forward to April 23, 2008, and the same comments could apply to a gem of a game pitched by beleaguered Yankee starter Mike Mussina, although I'm not sure Derek Jeter or Jorge Posada would be quoting Irvin.

Mussina's seven-inning, four-hitter was sparkling to watch. The two home runs he gave up were solo shots, which is all you can ask of a pitcher who has no real swing-and-miss potential anymore: Just don't fall to pieces with guys on base. Mussina didn't really have that problem last night, as he only had three other runners on base (minus the homer bashers) all evening.

Was it Hank Steinbrenner's calling out of Mussina in public? Was it the embarrassment of getting torched by Manny Ramirez in two straight appearances? Was it the steadying presence of Jorge Posada (who, ironically, has never been Mussina's favorite battery mate)?

Who knows? It may have been a little of all three, or maybe Moose just got tired of looking like he should have retired three years ago. Whatever the reason, Yankee fans had to be pleased to plop down in front of the TV for this one.

Hip, Hip.... you know the deal....

Welcome back, Jorge Posada. Not the Posada who came back behind the plate Tuesday night, but the Jorge Posada who was a legitimate challenger to A-Rod for the 2007 AL MVP award, and who was Wednesday's unquestioned star of another solid Yankee win on Chicago's south side.

Four-for-five at the plate? Doubles in three straight trips? A pair of RBI to break open a tight 3-1 game and give Mussina a 5-1 lead? Wow! Who needs A-Rod when Posada has the wood working like he did last night? (Just kidding about A-Rod...)

And Posada's influence in handling Mussina was just as important as were his at-bats. And it won't be forgotten that it was Posada who gave manager Joe Girardi a second thought when Girardi was signaling for LaTroy Hawkins in the seventh inning (Girardi should have a third thought, then a fourth, then a.... you know where I'm going with this...). Leaving Mussina in allowed Moose to get the final out of the inning, and a huge confidence boost for his next outing.

There has been some discussion around Yankee blog sites as to whether or not Posada is an all-time Yankee great and whether or not his number deserves retirement consideration someday. I've always been a huge Posada believer, and while one game isn't really a microcosm of an entire career, just ask Yankee fans how much better they feel about things when Posada is on the field.

Of all the great Yankees of the Joe Torre era, Posada is easily the most underappreciated. He may not have been the starting catcher for all those World Series-winning teams, but he's been as solid as anyone over the last nine seasons.

Wednesday night was fun to watch for all Jorge fans.

And then, there's this....

Into every life, a little rain must fall. And so it goes with the Yankees whenever the bullpen is given charge of a game.

LaTroy Hawkins just can't put a week of good relief work together. In a third of an inning Wednesday night, he put two more runners on base, and was followed by the totally ineffective (lately) Billy Traber, who surrendered a single to Jim Thome. On came Mariano Rivera, who got the final five outs to preserve the well-deserved win for Mussina (and Mo's sixth save in six tries).

I'm not a boo-bird (I have a personal policy against booing whenever I attend games), but Hawkins is getting close to forcing me to violate my own ethics. And he's way past the point of adding more white hairs to my beard.

How many more solid efforts from starters is Hawkins going to put in jeopardy before he becomes the garbage-garbage reliever, only coming in when the Yankees lead or trail by double-digit runs?

Or, more probably, how long before Hawkins is an ex-Yankee?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Finally hitting when it counts

A win's a win, and last night's 9-5 victory over the White Sox in Chicago was as good as any other.... but it may have been even better, since the Yankees, for the first time this season, came from behind late in a game to win it.

Bobby Abreu's grand slam may signal that the three-week lack of clutch hitting is over, at least for a while, and Yankee fans will take that. During the 10-10 stretch that ended with Monday's off day, Yankee fans were not so much upset at the record as they were pissed off at how the record was attained -- poor clutch hitting and terrible relief pitching (not to mention three-fifths of the starting rotation taking its time getting into gear).

The poor clutch hitting ended last night, at least for one game. Besides Abreu's slam, Johnny Damon rapped a three-run home run. Both himers came with two outs, and Abreu's erased a 3-2 Yankee deficit. Damon's padded a lead, something the Yankees have not been able to do all month.

And while Jason Giambi's solo shot to lead off the second inning may not have been clutch, it gave the big man something to smile about and a chance to take a deep breath. That Robinson Cano came on later with a double means all three struggling Yankees -- Cano, Damon, and Giambi -- had nights to remember.

Their bats were needed to bail out a less-than-stellar Chien-Ming Wang. Wang got the win, but hardly looked like a 4-0 pitcher. He was lucky to get out of last week's Boston game with a no-decision, and Abreu's timely slam last night got Wang off the hook for another potential loss. For more than a few games now, Wang has been abandoned by his signature ground-ball out. With Posada back full-time (hopefully), maybe Wang will re-discover what got him here.

But all's well that ends well, and the Yankees got it done at the plate last night against a decent pitching staff. As for the Yankees' poor relief pitching...... that's another story.

Nothing comes easy

That might be the unofficial motto of the Yankee bullpen this season. Even with a 9-3 lead, how many Yankee fans were resting easy watching this one get wrapped up? Not many.

Bring in Billy Traber to get a lefty out; Traber walks the lefty. Bring in Brian Bruney to get through the seventh, and Bruney walks his first batter. Bruney got a strikeout but gave up an infield hit to A.J. Pierzynski. Bring in Joba Chamberlain... and another walk to force in a run!


Chamberlain settled down and got through the seventh and the eighth with no further trouble. But in comes Kyle Farnsworth, in a non-save situation, and what happens? A solo home run to Pierzynski. That made it 9-5, and a collective groan must have risen up over New York City.

We're all going to age a decade before the end of this season's stress.

Mussina must be joking

Tyler Kepner doesn't give the exact quote in his piece on the New York Times website, but if Mike Mussina really said something to the effect that he isn't really upset about the way he's pitched this season, then he's either senile, in denial, or just plain careless about letting himself think out loud.

Mussina would be nuts to take any measure of satisfaction from the way he has pitched this season. Saying that he "must have figured something out" to still be in the big leagues after 18 seasons means Mike is looking at his legacy rather than worrying about how to help this team, this season.

Is it any wonder that rumors have never stopped circulating that Mussina is one of the least-popular players in the clubhouse? If Kepner's reporting is accurate, then Mussina's selfishness ought to give fans cause to worry if he has any hope of improving what has been a completely unsatisfactory performance in 2008.

Bad Moose.... Baaaaaaaaaad Moose!

Surprising Sox tough get for Yanks

Before the season, no one was giving the Chicago White Sox much of a chance to overtake Cleveland or Detroit for the AL Central title. Three weeks in, however, we all know how Detroit (7-13) has struggled this season, and Cleveland (7-12) has yet to get going. But the ChiSox are 11-7, in first place as the only AL Central team over .500.

Although it's only April 22 and things could change a ton by the All-Star break (Yankee fans can only hope so!), Chicago has to be taken seriously for their record to this point.

Here's a look at the home team as the Yankees settle in for a three-game series:

The Arms

Chicago's pitching staff is everything the Yankee staff wishes it were. In every major statistical category, the Sox are ahead of the American League averages. The Yankees... well, you know already.

Chicago is second in the league in staff ERA at 3.45 (AL avg.: 4.20). The Yankees: 4.60.

Chicago has surrendered only 61 earned runs, best in the league (AL avg.: 81). The Yankees: 89.

Opposing batters hit .248 against Chicago pitchers, good for second in the AL, tied with Boston (AL avg.: .262). The Yankees: .270.

Chicago pitchers have issued only 57 walks, good for a tie for second in the league with the Angels (AL avg.: 69). The Yankees: 62 (finally, a category where Yankee pitchers do better than the AL as a whole!)

Strikeouts is the one area where the Yankee arms outdo those of the Sox. The league average for total strikeouts is 117. Yankee hurlers have fanned 125 opposingbatters; the White Sox, 119.

And finally, the Chicago staff WHIP is a stellar 1.28 (AL avg.: 1.40). Yankees: 1.40.

What does all this mean for Yankee hitters? It means Yankee pitchers are going to have to be uncharacteristically stingy this week. The ChiSox don't give away anything from the mound, and the Yankees haven't been able to take much from other teams. The Yankees have scored an average of 4.25 runs per game this season. Fans should not look for that stat to get much higher over the next three nights.

And with A-Rod possibly out for the series with a quad strain and the imminent birth of his second child, the Yankees are staring at the loss of their most productive hitter to date this season.

The Bats

The Sox aren't just having success with their pitchers. Chicago is second in the AL in runs scored (98; Yankees: 85), but it's how those runs have scored that is the eye-opener, and it shows just how badly the Yankees have suffered because they can't hit with runners in scoring position.

Chicago has a terrible team batting average, .242, next to last in the AL, while the Yankees sit in fourth with a .264 average. But the Sox leapfrog the Yankees in on-base percentage, with a .336 OBP, good for sixth in the league (the Yankees sit in eighth at .334). And when total bases are factored in, the Yankees are 30 ahead of the ChiSox, 284 to 254.

So what does all that mean?

It means the ChiSox -- for the most part -- don't hit so well, but they get on base (four Sox batters are among the top 30 players in the AL in walks earned). And when they get on base, they score. The Yankees are putting guys on base, but they're leaving them there.

How are the ChiSox scoring so often when they're not hitting well as a team? Quality, versus quantity.

Four Chicago batters -- Joe Crede, Jim Thome, Carlos Quentin, and Paul Konerko -- are in the top 19 in the AL in RBI. The Yankees? Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez are tied for 37th in the league with 10 RBI each.

The Chicago lineup is patient, but it has its potent bats, too. Jermaine Dye (.344) and A.J. Pierzynski (.339) are among the league leaders in hitting. And Dye (.403) is second on the team in OBP (Nick Swisher is first at .421). Contrast that to the Yankees, where Hideki Matsui (.405) is the only regular -- aside from the soon-to-be-departed Chad Moeller -- who approaches those numbers.


Add it all up, and the series looks something like this: The White Sox are going force the Yankees to hit the ball, and the Yankees are going to have to string multiple hits together because the Sox are not going to walk guys around the bases.

And Yankee pitchers are going to have to throw strikes. Chicago batters walk, and walk a lot. If the Yankees can keep the ball in the strike zone, they can keep the score down against a White Sox lineup that has depended on the base on balls to help get runs across the plate.

Look for a series of low-scoring games, with the Yankees relying on pitching rather than hitting to get out of Chicago with a series win. That's not much of a stretch with Chien-Ming Wang on the mound tonight, but it means Mike Mussina (tomorrow) and Phil Hughes (on Thursday) are going to have to step up their games off their previous, disappointng starts.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Taking stock on a day off

Twenty games into a season may be too early to panic and start shooting your mouth off, as a certain son of a certain owner might do, but it's not too early to take stock of what we've seen thus far. Plus, it's an off day, and I'm tired of thinking about Hank Steinbrenner.

Things to cheer about

1. Back-up catchers. First Jose Molina (that's his job, so no real surprise there), but then Chad Moeller...??!! It's not a stretch to say that the Yankee back-up catchers have been the two-headed MVP of this first segment of the season, and not necessarily for their offensive production, although Mo-Mo have combined to bat .339 (19-for-56) with nine doubles, a home run, and 5 RBI. What has been more important is their stabilizing influence at one of the most important positions on the field. One of the things Joe Girardi has not had to worry about is the quality of play at catcher.

2. Andy Pettitte and Chien-Ming Wang. They're a combined 6-1 with a 3.13 ERA. Only Wang's meltdown against the Red Sox has been a real black mark on their combined record. When the Yankees have needed a strong start, these two have provided them. Wang had the complete game two-hitter at Fenway, and Pettitte has gone seven sturdy innings in each of his last two outings. Besides the wins, they've provided the young starters with some terrific on-the-job training.

3. A-Rod. Yes, he's been as guilty as anyone for the dismal team average with runners in scoring position, but there's no way to ignore .308/.357/.551, four home runs, seven doubles, and 10 RBI. He's not having an MVP-level April as he did last season (and his 17 strikeouts leads the team), but he's been the best offensive player thus far.

4. Abreu, Jeter, and Matsui. They're batting a combined .313/.371/.469. They have 18 of the team's 63 extra-base hits and 30 of the team's 79 RBI. The problem hasn't been the hitting; it's been the timing.

5. Mo-Joba. A 5-for-5 save record (Mo). A 1-0 won-loss record (Joba). In 13.2 combined innings, they've given up a total of one run between them, for a 0.66 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. They've got 16 Ks (eight apiece) against just two walks (both Joba's). Joba may not be in the pen much longer (Google: Steinbrenner, Hank, hot air), but Mo's place there is as secure as ever, and whatever problems he had last April, there's no sign so far that he's anything but ready for another 40-plus save season. If only the starting rotation wil give him the chance.

Things to forget about

1. Clutch(less) hitting. The numbers with runners in scoring position have sunk so low they're undetectable on my radar, despite yesterday's 5-for-10 performance in Baltimore. The Yankees have scored 85 runs in 20 games, good for eighth in the American League. But consider these numbers: the Yanks are third in the league in total bases (284), and the power numbers are great (.759 SLG, also third in the AL), but stranding runners after doubles and triples is keeping the team at .500 in the standings.

2. 0-5/9.20/2.21. That's the combined won-loss record, ERA, and WHIP of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. Add in the 23 walks-to-23 strikeouts, and it's easy to see why Hank Steinbrenner's smoking habit is now costing him more money than his payroll. And the Hughes-Kennedy combined stat of 4.1 innings per start is largely responsible for item number 3, below...

3. 2-1/4.20/1.40. That's the combined won-loss record, ERA, and WHIP of the bullpen, minus Mo-Joba. Those numbers look great next to the numbers of Hughes and Kennedy, but 55 hits in 55.2 innings isn't what a team needs from its relievers. On the plus side, there are 49 strikeoutss against just 19 walks issued, but striking out a batter after giving up a run (or more) isn't very effective.

4. LaTroy Hawkins and Kyle Farnsworth. Subtract these two from the pitchers used to tally the stats above, and those stats improve to this: 1-0/2.84/1.26. In short, these two have been horrible, particularly Hawkins. A 9.64 ERA is just.... Little League-esque.

5. Mike Mussina. There's no way to make it look good, and for the life of me I can't understand the "he hasn't been that bad" crowd. A 1-3 won-loss record? A 5.75 ERA? A 1.53 WHIP? Absolutely no ability to get hitters out in clutch situations. Almost no swing-and-miss potential from opposing hitters. Inability to locate a sub-standard fastball. Unwilling to adapt his style to his 39-year-old stuff..... Maybe people are right. He hasn't been that bad. He's been worse.

6. Cano, Damon, Giambi. Forgettable? Try painful. They've got 32 hits in 188 at bats, leading to a .170/.314/.303. And the .314 OBP is thanks only to their 27 combined walks. Only Damon has shown any sustained life over a multi-game span, and those spans have been brief and infrequent. Cano is down in the eighth spot -- when Giambi isn't occupying it -- and Damon may be regretting talking himself out of retiring. Both he and Giambi look great after hard-working offseasons, but 90-year-old Jack LaLanne's in great shape, too, and no one's giving him a contract to play baseball.

Things to wonder about

1. Joe Girardi. A 10-10 record is no mean feat with a horrific April road schedule, a terrible run of minor injuries, substandard offensive output, triple-A pitching three-fourths of the time, and weather that makes Scotland look like Scottsdale. Joe has to get a B+ thus far. But the team hasn't looked very energized, and the young pitchers can't seem to shake the deer-in-the-headlights expressions on the mound. Girardi has had to manage 19 different lineups in 20 games. Once he gets a full-time lineup together for a month, we'll see just how he can inspire a team that might need some major pepping up after a sluggish start.

2. Joba, where and when? Brian Cashman responded to Hank Steinbrenner's rant by saying the team would remain in the same configuration as it's been in thus far. How long will that remain the case? Everything about Joba is speculation and wonder -- except the numbers he's put up as a back-end reliever. It's April 21 and he's in the bullpen. There's just no telling where he'll be May 21. Scranton? Starting in the Bronx? Setting up Mariano? Not a single person knows right now.

3. The Season of Hank? Are we in for a 1970s-era circus with an owner using the newspapers to make team announcements, or can Cashman and Girardi get Hank Steinbrenner to stay in Tampa and disconnect his phone? No Yankee fan wants the former. Living through one volatile Steinbrenner administration is enough for one lifetime. With all the question marks surrounding this season, another one involving the potential repeated disruptions by Little Stein isn't what the Yankees need.

I can see this happening...

Remember, at the end of this season, the Yankees will have tons of cash to play with after Mussina, Giambi, Pettitte, and Damon come off the books. But will Hank Steinbrenner let Brian Cashman have the checkbook.................?

SCENE: Brian Cashman's office. The Yankee GM is on the phone when Hank Steinbrenner walks in, followed by Hal and another unidentified Yankee flunkie (Oppenheimer?)

BC: Hey, Hanky...

HS: You have to answer for Pavano, Brian. You signed him from the Florida people.

BC: (Looks scared; hangs up phone.) Hank, you got it all wrong.

HS: Ahhhhh... That mega-deal you signed with that loser. You think that would ever fool a Steinbrenner?

BC: (Rising from his chair.) Hank, I'm innocent. I swear on Phil Hughes.

HS: Sit down. (Cashman sits.)

BC: Please don't do this to me, Hank. Please don't.

HS: (Sitting.) Torre's gone. So is Mattingly. Mike Mussina. Gator. Giambi. This year I settled all team business so don't tell me that you're innocent. Admit what you did. (Cashman starts sobbing.)

HS: (To Hal.) Get him a drink. (To Cashman.) Don't be afraid, Brian. Come on, you think I'd let you go do Baseball Tonight? I'm the new Boss. Go ahead. Drink. Drink. (Cashman drinks.)

HS: No, you're out of the New York end of the business, that's your punishment. You're finished. I'm putting you on the Amtrak to Trenton. Hal... (Hal hands Hank a train ticket.) I want you to stay there, you understand? (Cashman nods.) Only don't tell me that you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence, and it makes me very angry. Now, whose idea was it? Torre or Mattingly?

BC: It was Torre.

HS: Good. (Rises from his chair.) There's a car outside that will take you to the airport. I'll call your wife and tell her what flight you're on. (Cashman rises to put on his jacket.)

BC: Listen, Hank... (Tries to hug Hank.)

HS: Go on. Get out of my sight. (Exuent Cashman.)

SCENE: A limo. Reggie Jackson in the backseat, behind Cashman. Tino Martinez on the other side.

BC: Reggie.....

RJ: Hello, Brian. (The car pulls away, and Reggie pulls out a jock strap and pulls it down over Cashman's face...)

Cue the theme song: Wah.. Wah-wah... Wah-wah-wah......... Wah... Wah-wah... wah-wah.....

Raise your hand if you knew this was coming....

On the air during Saturday's 6-0 Yankee loss in Baltimore, YES announcer Michael Kay compared Joe Girardi's ashen-faced, post loss countenance to that of former Yankee manager Billy Martin, who was known as a gritty competitor, a sometime elevator/barroom, clubhouse brawler, and a basbeall near-genius.

Kay's comparison was limited to the gut-wrenching way the two managers take losses (or took, if you like, since Martin has been dead for nearly twenty years), but for those who remember well the fiery Martin and the turbulence that accompanied his brilliance, the reminder of the Martin years was a fun one.

And now, Yankee fans have a whole new reminder of what those years were like. Enter, Hank Steinbrenner. After Hank's verbal volley in the New York Times story posted on the paper's website on Sunday evening, Yankee fans will be waiting to see and hear Girardi's response. We all recal the jousting that took place between Billy Martin and Hank's dad, the original Boss, George Steinbrenner.

The hire-fire-rehire-and-repeat tango they danced together was legendary, and for good reason: no other owner-manager tandem in American sports history had the color, contrast, and headline-grabbing ability of their dynamic duo. With the passing of Martin in 1989, and with the fading of George Steinbrenner into the background of Yankee affairs, fans thought the fun and frolic of the 1970s and '80s was gone forever.

Could we have been wrong? We'll see.

George Steinbrenner, until last season, rarely meddled with Joe Torre in print. Their correspondence remained largely private, as much out of Torre's refusal to dance in the media as out of George's losing the energy to hook-and-jab with reporters. But Girardi doesn't have the lengthy baseball pedigree that Torre had when he took the Yankee job. And Hank is not the mellowed -- even ill, perhaps -- senior citizen that his father has aged into. This new manager-owner dynamic in the Bronx has a lot of questionmarks, mostly because it's just twenty games into its first season together. But now, with Joba Chamberlain's uncertain role with the team, and with the failure of the other young pitchers to carry their weight so far, the first crisis of the Hank-and-Joe Show has been brought to light.

It's up to Girardi now to decide how to respond. The timing is unfortunate for Joe G.: An off-day in Chicago will give the media no game to cover, and after the obligatory "How's A-Rod?" questions, the media frenzy will start in full-force. Girardi has to be shaking his head; just when the Yankees get a much-needed day of rest, here comes Hank, banging on the door, demanding answers.

Welcome to the Bronx, Joe, retro-style. It's the '70s and the '80s, all over again.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What harm's been done?

First off.... fuck Peter Gammons.

I have always appreciated his commentary and his writing, but if he's going to get on his high horse on television, make a childish, schoolyard remark like "Ugh! Triple-A pitchers... give me a break!" in reference to Kyle Farnsworth, then end it right there without any further substantive remark about the Farnsworth pitch behind Manny Ramirez, then he's chipping away at his own well-earned reputation for impartiality.

Gammons is a Bostonian, or something like it, and we're all certain he danced with glee after the 2004 and 2007 seasons ended. Good for him. But he's paid to comment on major league baseball. he's not paid to allow his love of the Red Sox color his commentary. Gammons apologists will defend his Farnsworth utterance, but the man has an obligation to explain himself a little better than "Ugh!...." -- especially when it comes to a situation involving the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Not his finest hour, but this really isn't about Gammons.

What baffles me is this righteous indignation that people have over the Farnsworth pitch. It was a pitch that never came close to Manny. It wasn't as if Manny had to get out of the way of a pitch targeted for any part of his body. It was a message pitch, and the message was: "Look, you're the other team's top hitter. Your pitchers have no qualms about plunking our batters -- in the middle of the back! Here's a reminder that if we wanted to, we could make this situation ugly, in a hurry. Now get back in the box and hit..... punk."

Where's the crime? Where's the suspendable offense? This wasn't Armando Benitez taking direct aim at Tino Martinez back in May of 1998. And this wasn't Pedro Martinez plunking Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter, in the same inning, and sending both to the hospital, at Yankee Stadium in July of 2003. (And by the way, where was all the negative commentary about Pedro back then? All people have ever said about him was that he was a tough competitor who tried to own the inside corner. Please..... the guy was a great pitcher and at the same time a jerk who got away with stuff that other pitchers never could have, and good for him. I hated him, and still do, but I have no beef with his style.)

Farnsworth's toss was a no-harm, no-foul pitch that didn't even upset Manny. And now you have announcers and fans preaching from the soapboxes about potential career-ending injuries and other such nonsense. Give me an eff-ing break. Major League Baseball can take the paper their suspension was announced on and wipe their asses with it. Farnsworth did the right thing.

The refrain is getting tired, but here it is one more time: For the length of the Joe Torre era, Yankee batters took shit from opposing pitchers, especially Red Sox pitchers, for God knows what reason -- taking the high road; being classier than the other guy; bringing the game into a new era; whatever..... But when Yankee batters had to step into the box, knowing it was open season on them because Yankee pitchers wouldn't retaliate in kind, it had to be frustrating. When the other teams are playing by the unwritten rules of baseball, but your own pitchers refuse to play along, then how secure can you be in the bonds between teammates?

Kyle Farnsworth might be a lot of undesirable things -- shaky reliever; a touch whiny; unreliable in any serious pressure situation -- but at least he's a teammate who has someone's back. I'm gald he didn't hit Manny, because I'm not a sadist; I don't want to see human beings down on the ground in agony. But Farnsworth wasn't trying to ignite a beanball war; if anything, he was trying to end one before it started. If Sox pitchers got the message, then this thing can die a death right now. If they didn't, then so be it.

At least one Yankee pitcher is willing to carry the water for the guys who get drilled. Although they can't do it publicly, the players -- hopefully -- gave Farnsworth a high-five after Thursday's game.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Blow out the candles, forever

I've only been there three times, and I'll never sit in it again, but it's never been about a single fan or the number of trips one could make to see it. It's always been about The Place.... and no other place in American sports has ever captured the magical mixture of grace, triumph, passion, and excellence the way Yankee Stadium has captured those things from the day it opened, eighty-five years ago today.

Happy Birthday, Yankee Stadium.

Turn the Moose loose

I sincerely hope Mike Mussina wins 12-15 games this year, because I'm not a mean-spirited guy. But I also sincerely hope he wins those games for another team. I hope I never see him in a Yankee uniform again.

I will see him in pinstripes again, because there's no other choice. But can someone please explain why he would ever pitch to Manny Ramirez again? EVER!!?? At this point in his terrific career, Mussina couldn't throw a ball by Ty Cobb's corpse or the head of Ted Williams. And if the accounts of last weekend are accurate -- that Girardi wanted Mussina out of the game in Fenway, but out on the mound, Mussina persuaded Joe G. to leave him in (one just hopes he didn't utter the ridiculous phrase, "I can get this guy.") -- then Girardi is as much to blame for last night's shame as anyone.

Managers are paid to make tough calls, and if you have to embarrass a veteran by taking him out or making him intentionally walk a guy he can't get out, then cash your check, Joe, and consider it an honest day's work. Mussina's -- Jesus God, Almighty! -- "stubborn streak" is a piss-poor excuse for failing to face reality. YOU'RE A SIXTH STARTER, MIKE! DEAL WITH IT, AND STOP KILLING THE TEAM TRYING TO RE-LIVE 1993!

It is obvious Mussina cannot live up to the dictate to live inside and back hitters off the plate, not above-average hitters, anyway. The only stunner from last night's game was that the Boston DH didn't get off his personal schnide and wrap two home runs of his own. It's tough to be a Yankee fan and watch Mussina stick to his limp-dick guns while Manny is getting hard-ons in the batter's box, waiting for the inevitable wheelhouse pitch. If I were an emotional eater, I'd have gained fifty pounds in the first three innings last night.

And for God's sake... if you're going to plunk someone, why the hell would you plunk Ellsbury? TWICE!!??

I can't talk about it anymore....

Papal Bullsh*t

Did you hear the one about the Pope who walked into a baseball stadium and said, "A baseball has as many seams as a Rosary has beads, my ass! You guys hit the road!"

Don't wait around for a punch line, because that's no joke. Because the pope needed a place to put 50,000 people, the Yankees can't celebrate the final birthday of their 85-year home. What, Shea wasn't available?

It's hard to believe that God has such a hard-on for Yankee Stadium that he needed the pope to pass out his blessings there. Are you telling me that if the Pope had picked up the red phone and said, "God.... it's me or baseball. You call it," God would have chosen to kick the Yankees, his favorite team, out of town? No way in Hell that happens.

Somebody screwed up. It is criminal that today has to be spent on the road. No... it is sinful.

A thousand Hail Marys for the pope. And I want to hear them all.........

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Smell that sh*t? The Red Sox must be in town

Let's get right to it. It's the 2008 Yanks-Sox, Part II....

Be realistic

"You go back, Jack, do it again..."

Not a chance, that's my read. No way Chien-Ming Wang repeats last Friday's two-hit performance -- okay, not no way, but the odds are reaaaaaaaaally slim -- so let's study some history for a minute, then we'll rub the crystal ball and see what might be more in store for tonight.

In 13 career starts vs. Boston, Wang has a 6-5 won-loss record, averages 6 and 1/3 innings per start, surrenders 1.05 hits per inning, has a 4.05 ERA, and issues nearly four walks per nine innings to Red Sox batters. (And the ERA was over 6.00 before last week's complete-game shutout). Career stats are meanignful in baseball because, all things being equal, those numbers usually bear out at any given time.

Last Friday, all things were not equal. Wang was giving up fly balls as if Fenway measured 400 feet down the lines. He was lucky only one left the park. He didn't issue a walk, which isn't that surreal (in his career with the Yankees, Wang has gone to a 2-0 count on only 93 batters, and only 42 of those guys have gotten to 3-0; the guy just doesn't like to live outside the strike zone). But the Sox have worked their way onto base against Wang, and it's likely to happen some more tonight.

Given his career numbers against the Sox, Wang is likely to check out of tonight's contest sometime in the seventh inning, probably with one out, with at least three runs given up and maybe a guy on base.

We'd all love a repeat of last week, but it's not very likely to come off that way.

Say it ain't so, Mo

And keeping Wang's numbers in mind, I have to ask: Why was Mariano Rivera in that game last night?

With Joba gone until probably Friday, and with Farnsworth looking okay, did we have to use Mariano to close out Tampa? I know he only threw 14 pitches Monday night, and only another 13 last night, but has Joe Girardi lost so much faith in the rest of the pen that he will risk making Mo unavailable, with Joba out of town and the Sox coming in?

Maybe I'm overreacting, and maybe the Yanks win 10-3 tonight, but it just seemed unnecessary to risk a long outing with Mo when he'll be potentially more crucial for these two games in New York. I just thought we could've gotten by without him.

The LOB stat

Does anyone keep a stat for teams leading the majors in runners left on base? I've been to lazy to look it up, but if there is one, the Yankees have to be league leaders. Another 21 runners were stranded last night. What's the threshold before Girardi starts having everyone steal home? 25? 30? The Yankees had more walks than hits last night -- 9-to-8 -- but runners are just not coming around to score. It's almost as if fans are starting to take for granted that guys on the bases are just going to be standing there a while.

At least we get to lip-read a lot of conversations between Derek Jeter and opposing fielders. Last night, I think I saw him say "Goos-frobba" to Carlos Pena.

Where's Terry Benedict when you need him?

The fictional casino owner of Ocean's 11 was renowned for ruining the lives of cheaters, and the families of cheaters. There's a debate going around the Internet about whether the Yankees should sue this jackass who buried the Sox jersey in the bowels of the new Stadium. Some worry it will make the Yankees look vengeful and ill-humored, but.....

I say, bury the guy. Ruin him. Make him a martyr! If his brother-in-law owns a tractor dealership, bankrupt it! If his father owns a bank..... rupt it! Make every Sox fan quiver at the thought of defiling hallowed ground.

Or..... we could just forget the whole thing and beat their asses in October.

Either way, I'm down.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Joe has a Joe moment

During the insanely successful Joe Torre era, there were times, especially during the dynastic years of the late 1990s, when Torre seemed to conjure managerial magic where others saw only helpless failure. (And yes, I know, Torre made his share of mistakes, disastrous ones, but that's another post...)

Leaving Mariano Rivera in for a third inning of relief against Boston in game seven of the 2003 ALCS? Joe did it, and the Yankees won.

Putting Aaron Boone in to run for Ruben Sierra in the same game, when Boone was a terrible post-season player? We all know what happened not long after that.

We could do this all day. The point is, every manager lives and dies with two things, one he controls, and one he doesn't.

The one he doesn't: Players coming through not when they're supposed to, but when they have to. No manager can make the play from the dugout steps. Only players in the field can.

The one he does: Making the right call at the right time.

Joe Girardi got both things right in Tampa last night.

With the game inexplicably tied at 7-7, after disastrous 7th-inning relief appearances by Billy Traber and Brian Bruney, Girardi tried to shake things up offensively. He had a slumping Robinson Cano on the bench and a young Alberto Gonzalez at the plate. Gonzalez had a walk in three appearances and was 0-for-2, and with the very hittable Al Reyes (13 home runs given up in 60 innings in 2007) on the mound for Tampa, Girardi wanted some more big bat potential, only he waited too long and forgot to tell Gonzalez he was coming out.

With Gonzalez already at the batter's box, about to step in, Girardi had to call him back. (He later apologized to Gonzalez, in the dugout, for the embarrassment.) Up walked Cano, with his .170 average and fragile confidence. A minute later, Cano was back in the dugout, and the Yankees led 8-7 after his solo, pinch-hit home run.

The move did not make perfect baseball sense -- aside from Cano's current slump, Reyes had struck out Cano in the only two previous times he faced the Yankee second baseman -- but supposedly sound moves, made by managers every day, often go up in smoke (the best laid plans.... yada yada yada). So what Girardi did was just trust his gut, and this time, his gut was right.

Fans -- especially, but not only, those who are using Torre, unfairly, as a gold standard for the new manager -- have grumbled some about Girardi's moves so far this season. But Yankee woes thus far have had as much to do (I think) with an unforgiving schedule and piss-poor weather as they have with any moves Girardi has made or not made. Not so Monday, when a Yankee victory came directly off the bat of a player sent to the plate specifically for the situation in which he succeeded. Credit must go to Girardi for making the call (and, of course, to Cano, for making the play).

There wil be plenty of opportunity to criticize Girardi as the 2008 season wears on; there always is, for every manager. But Monday night's win, a seemingly insignificant April victory, might go a long way to helping team and manager get that much more acquainted with one another.

Nothing bonds men together more effectively than going through an intense competition together, and getting a good result in a game that was going south faster than Bill Clinton's pants can only help to make this a tighter team, especially during this god-awfully-long road trip.

Score one for Joe.... just like in the old days.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Cano can do!

Not that one pinch-hit, solo home run to win a game on the road and save a team from a disastrously dispiriting loss can make up for batting a paltry .170 over the first thirteen games, but on Monday night Robinson Cano did show why manager Joe Girardi is so high on him, and why your humble blogger thought Cano was a pre-season candidate for MVP in the American League.

It will take a few 3-for-4, 3 RBI nights for Cano to vault himself into elite player status, but anyone who saw the ease of that home run swing in Tampa can see just how much talent Cano possesses. Over the last two weeks, Cano has repeatedly said that he felt he was swinging well, and that very well may have been true. But anyone who has watched Cano reach out, again and again, to try to pull outside pitches, only to pound them into the dirt for weak groundouts to second base, knows that Cano may have been swinging well, but his swing decisions were terrible. That changed, at least for the time being, on one swing Monday.

Cano will always be a free swinger (he walks only once every 23.5 plate appearances, but strikes out once every 8.3 trips to the plate), so pitchers who can locate balls outside are going to tempt him into bad at-bats every now and then. But if Kevin Long -- who after Monday's game was called the "greatest hitting coach I've ever worked with" by a 4-for-5 Alex Rodriguez -- can get Cano to cut that strikeout rate and raise the walk ratio, Cano's MVP odds will increase tremendously.

And my pre-season prediction won't look quite so insane..... which is what I really care about, right?

Kennedy deserved better

Rules are rules, and baseball history is littered with pitchers who could have had better records if it weren't for piss-poor relief perfomances, but it's tough to reason out how Brian Bruney can walk away with a win last night, and Ian Kennedy gets nothing to show for a pretty good outing.

Bruney has been one of the bullpen success stories thus far in 2008, but that wasn't the case on Monday. A horrible first inning of relief saw Bruney pelted for two home runs, including the first major league dinger for Evan Longoria. Billy Traber wasn't much better, surrendering a two-run shot of his own before Bruney came in to go Traber one better. By the time both relievers had finished making a mess of the seventh inning, Kennedy's 7-2 lead was gone. Sure, Bruney got the first two outs of the eighth before making room on the mound for Mariano Rivera, but for him to get the win just because of Cano's timely pop just seems wrong.

Bruney better buy a big dinner for Kennedy back in New York Wednesday night. He owes him at least that much.

It's gotta be the dome!

Fifteen hits. Five for extra bases, including four solo home runs. A .357 batting average for the game (and a .381, on-base percentage). A stolen base. Clutch hitting with the pitchers struggling. Could all that have been due to the move indoors and out of the frigid weather of the northeast? Probably. (Consider: the Yankees are a mixture of aging vets with creaky bones and young Latin players from sunny climes. April's showers can't be good for these guys...)

While the hitting with runners in scoring position still isn't top-notch (.286, 2-for-7 on Monday), the Yankees did just about everything else right at the plate on Monday. Games with 8-7 scores are the kind most people think the Yankees will need to win in order to reach the postseason in 2008. Personally, I'll take a 2-0 Wang win over Monday, anytime. But a win's a win, and being .500 is better than being below average. And if it takes getting warm indoors in Tampa, then maybe dome baseball has its uses after all.

Now, can we just get some relief pitching tonight?

The future is in view

In all likelihood, El Capitan, Derek Jeter, will take his place at shortstop tonight in Tampa, and that's great for any Yankee fan to see.

But sadly, it also means no more Alberto Gonzalez patrolling the left side of the infield, and that's just sad.

If anything productive came from Jeter's six-day break from a quadriceps pull, it was witnessing the eventual successor at short, and what a sight it was to behold. Gonzalez is so sure-handed already that watching him play short for six games made me take out a mental pencil and scratch out in my head this imaginary 2009 lineup: Cabrera, cf; Jeter, lf; Cano, 2b; A-Rod, 3b; Abreu, rf; Matsui, dh; Posada, c; Duncan, 1b; Gonzalez, ss. (I have my flak jacket on, so fire away with your responses to that one...)

Is it too crazy to start spitballing which position Jeter might be playing in a year? Some have suggested left field; others first base. I think he's too athletic to waste at first base -- not that all first basemen should look and move like Kent Hrbek. What I mean is Jeter helps the ballclub more at a position where his athleticism might be more essential to fielding the position.

I know it is sacrilege, in some corners, to think about Jeter playing anywhere but in the six hole, but let's get real: No athlete cheats age, unless he's really cheating age. Teams, dynasties even, have suffered for years because they held onto sentiment and didn't want to do the prudent thing by asking an aging star to change his role. Some speculate that Jeter's ego will prohibit him from accepting any move, and that it will always be his call to make. I doubt that. I think Jeter always has the team in mind first.

(And if not, then Jeter ought to heed the Bernie Williams disaster. If WIlliams had spent one off-season learning how to play first base, he -- and not Andy Phillips -- might have been on the team last year.)

Whatever the timetable, Jeter will eventually be moved out (or move himself out) of the six hole. (I suspect it will be like this: Girardi approaching Jeter, then the move being announced as if it were Jeter's idea all along...) When that happens, there is no doubt that a terrific replacement will step in and keep the left side of the diamond secure.

We have seen the shortstop of the future, the shortstop of the new Yankee Stadium. It'll be Jeter, at least to start the season in the new ballpark. But will Jeter finish 2009 the way he starts it? When will Alberto Gonzalez finally step in full-time for the captain?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Enough already!

I know Phil Hughes was terrible on Sunday night, but I'm laying the blame for the early 3-0 hole on A-Rod.

When you're the reigning league MVP, when you're destined to become one of the top 20 run producers of all time, when you're coming to the plate to face a pitcher who can't find the strike zone, when you have two runners on and only one out -- and when you're making more money this week than 90 percent of the fans will make this year -- you don't swing at the first pitch, even if it's a straight fastball down the middle. And you especially don't swing at the first pitch when it's a breaking ball on your shoetops. But that's what A-Rod did, and just like that, the Red Sox get a groundball double play, and Dice K gets off the hook that he tried, over and over again, to hang himself with all night long.

But leave it to the 2008 New York Yankees to fail to make him pay the price.

There were tons of reasons for this loss: A-Rod and Robbie Cano going a combined 0-for-10 and leaving a combined seven runners on base; Johnny Damon grounding into a double play instead of moving the runners over with the tying runs on base and no one out in the eighth; and Phil Hughes, Phil Hughes, Phil Hughes.....

How pissed off can you get at a rookie pitcher in his first start in the worst possible environment for a Yankee rookie? Fenway Park, freezing temperatures, first-inning control issues. It was unlikely Hughes was going to last long. But that's not the story of this game.

The story -- again! -- is the failure to go after pitchers in trouble. I'm too depressed to do the numbers right now, but what is the current Yankee average with runners in scoring position? .oo3? .002? Those guesses can't be too far off. Fans don't mind losses, even in Boston, but we do get tired of this failure to capitalize on situations where this team should be scoring at least two more runs per game. For all the talk of Kevin Long being this other-worldly hitting coach, he sure isn't turning around this atrocious offensive approach.

In the first inning, if A-Rod lays off that first pitch from Dice-K, it's a 1-0 count. Now Dice-K has to throw a fastball to avoid going down 2-0, a count that would have really given the Yankees a lift in this game. At the very least, A-Rod could have sat back, taken a strike to go 1-1, and maybe later in the at-bat forced Dice K into a situation where A-Rod would likely have gotten a pitch he could have driven somewhere. And even if he had eventually struck out, that would have been better than a first-pitch double play grounder. Ugh!

I was projecting a conservative 16-13 April record, considering the road schedule and the weather, but now that prediction seems not so much conservative as it does wishful thinking. With this offense, try flipping that record, and the Yanks will seem lucky to be that good at the end of this month.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Does deadbeat fan know where he is?

I could be like most bloggers, and get on here today and talk about Chien-Ming Wang (briliiant), Jose Molina (better every game), Jason Giambi (finally!), Alberto Gonzalez (slick), Hideki Matsui (Matsui means Mr. Consistent in Japanese), or any number of things from last night's series-opening win in that cesspool called Fenway Park. But I'm not here to talk about all that..... yet.

I'm here to ask a question: What is up with that stiff who sits right behind home plate at every Red Sox home game?

You know the guy I'm talking about. He combs his hair like Robert Redford and sits there, unsmiling, unmoved, (dead?) no matter what's happening. I once saw this guy sprint for the exits not half a second after some play ended a Yanks-Sox game in Boston's favor.... and it wasn't any ordinary play. I forget whether it was a home run or a strike out. The crowd exploded like it was the seventh game of the World Series, but not this mannequin-faced wet blanket. He turned tail and hauled ass up the steps as if the parking fees were about to triple at midnight.

Last night, as Wang was blowing through Sox hitters like Lindsay Lohan going through a crack buffet, I noticed this guy, again, sitting there, stern-faced and frozen, as if he couldn't enjoy himself because of Wang's mesmerizing performance. But then I realized it: I've never seen this mope enjoy himself.

And I know what some will say: What do you care, Wolf? And you'd be right. I'm being a complete 12-year-old in worrying about how this guy passes the time at a baseball game. But here's the point: if you scored season tickets to the prime seat in the house, and you made the effort to be at the game every night -- or even worse, only when the Yankees were in town -- wouldn't you show a little spirit now and then? Wouldn't you act like you were actually at a Sox-Yanks game?

Ugh! The guy just annoys me! Anyway.....

Wang means king in Mandarin

Screw being called an ace. Wang is the king of the hill as far as Yankee pitching is concerned. To try to apply superlatives to last night's outing would be pointless. Sometimes, the numbers just have to speak for themselves: 9.0/2/1/1/0/3.

To be fair, that hits number should probably be a three, not a deuce. A-Rod should have that error expunged from his fielding record. Hopefully, Boston's official scorer will rectify that decision, which was made in defense of the no-hitter possibility.

And to be even more fair, Wang got away with some really dangerous fly balls in the fifth inning. He's lucky only J.D. Drew's drive left the park. As great a performance as it was, it didn't fit the Wang template of ground ball-outing teams to death. Ten fly outs, two pop outs, and two line outs made it a decidedly un-Wang-like game. No one's arguing with the results, but all the deep flies and the sinking line drives gave this game a definite "fate" feeling, as if it didn't matter what Wang did wrong, every ball put in play was going to find a glove somewhere.

Don't hurry back, Jorge

That line is made only half in jest. There are two good reasons why there's no need for Jorge Posada to rush to get back behind the plate: 1) he's 37 years old, and at that age he's better off taking all the time he needs to heal; and 2) we're doing just fine with Jose Molina back there.

With a pair of deep doubles Friday night, Molina is now tied for the American League lead in two-base hits, with six. Read that again: a Molina brother is tied for the league lead in doubles. While doubles aren't triples, this is Jose Molina. The guy has been terrific, and it wouldn't be a stretch to say that, with his offensive output and his steady plate presence on defense, he's been the Yankees' most valuable everyday player this season.

He'll need a break soon, however, which means Jorge either has to come back and catch a game, or we all have to get ready to see a slide in Molina's numbers as the toll of catching so many games catches up to him.

But even if his numbers dive next week, so what. He's been heroic thus far.

A persistent problem

While Wang was terrific last night, he was forced to walk a bit of a tightrope because the Yankee offense failed to put the Red Sox away, and the offense had plenty of chances.

The Yankees are now 15-for-82 with runners in scoring position. That's an anemic .183 average. If they were just 16-for-82, with another hit last night, the game would have been over long before the ninth inning.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Loving the loathing life

I have no idea what it says about certain fans who never outgrow their hatred for the enemy teams of their youth, whether it means they're developmentally arrested, emotionally challenged, insane, or just plain stupid. Whatever it says, then label me all of the above, because I hate the Red Sox, and as former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips would say, I hate them "more than a little bit."

I wouldn't want to eat in a restaurant where Sox fans ate. I wouldn't take a job in Boston if it paid 'screw you' money. I wouldn't go to my daughter's wedding if she ever decided to marry a Sox fan (she wouldn't). If my best friend (whose a Phillies fan) got hit by a truck and suffered a life-changing head injury, and one of those life changes led to him wearing a Sox cap, he'd need a new best friend.

I know these things, because I know I never want to go to prison, which is where I would end up if I were ever forced into any of the above situations. I once stabbed a man through the wrist with a pencil because he beat me at cards and he was wearing a Celtics arm band. What would happen to me if I had to hang around Sox fans after a Yankee loss? I don't want to think about it.

It's a Yankee-Red Sox weekend, and I'm prepared to break a few things, like a remote control, a glass of Coke, or a few knuckles on the wall near the TV, maybe even a blood vessel near the brain. But all of that is okay. It would be better to have a baseball-induced stroke while sitting alone in a Taiwan apartment than it would be to share a single molecule of oxygen with any fan of those red-clad jackasses from New England.

Having said that, here's a preview of tonight's game:

Wang rarely right in Boston

In Chien-Ming Wang's two and a half seasons with the Yankees, 34 players have accumulated 15 or more at bats against him. Those 34 batters are a combined 216-for-687 (.314 BA/.396 OBP).

Of those 34 players, seven are currently on the Red Sox roster -- Julio Lugo, Mike Lowell, Coco Crisp, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Varitek, Manny Ramirez, and the Boston DH. Those seven players have hung Wang out to dry in a way that is just scary. Combined, those Red Sox hitters are 53-for-167 with 15 extra-base hits (including five home runs) against the Yankee ace, with a .317 average and a ridiculous .497 on-base percentage (Youkilis alone has worked eight walks of Wang). And no one makes Wang suffer as Manny does: 13-for-22, .591/.654, with a pair of home runs and four walks. Five ninety-one!!??

It isn't all bad, however. Wang did beat the Sox three times in five starts last season, and the Yankee ace is a respectable 2-3 lifetime at Fenway Park, but -- there's always a but -- with a shaky 6.17 ERA. In his last start in Boston (Sept. 15), Wang was tortured for five earned runs on nine hits in just five and 2/3 innings of a 10-1 Red Sox rout.

(On the opposite side of the ledger, Wang has struck out the above Red Sox contingent a combined 22 times, and Lugo has whiffed six times against Wang, more than any other batter Wang has faced.)

It's a new year, maybe a new Wang as far as Fenway is concerned. As a new Yankee blogger, I may invent a few new words if I'm writing after a particularly tough loss this weekend. But there's no sense in worrying ahead of time. Let's have faith in Wang and let's hope Manny slips on a fake dreadlock extension and rips his knee in 75 places.

Mold that Clay

The Yankees have no history against upstart Red Sox starter Clay Buckholz, but that's no reason not to hate him and wish ill upon him. He had a so-what no-hitter last September and is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA this season. Let's not waste any more time or space on him. The Yankees have a chance to ruin this kid's life tonight.

There's always hope.

Whither Derek Jeter?

Will the Yankee captain play tonight? Will Giambi make a go of it? Can Jorge do anything with that lifeless limb? ...... Who cares? Remember your Henry V, and Wish not one man more!

This team, as is, is ready to roll. One of the benefits of this injury streak is the flowering of Alberto Gonzalez and the emergence of Jose Molina as terrific role players who can handle every-day duties. Let's dance with whomever brings us to Boston.

T-sh*t Controversy

And to this loser who thinks he did something original by burying a Red Sox t-shirt under the visitor's locker room at the new Yankee Stadium, don't get hurt patting yourself on that yellow streak down your back. Any jackass can make a claim that's unverifiable. Go buy 100 copies of the New York Post and wallpaper your mother's basement.

And if the shirt really is there, I hope the Yankees dig up the spot and build a toilet over the thing. It would only be fitting, since we've been shitting on the Red Sox for almost a century, anyway.