Monday, August 30, 2004

Yankees Week In Review: August 23-29

After the Yanks flunked last week, they were much improved in the last full week of August, going 5-2 against the Indians and Blue Jays. It was a good performance, coming against one team that had made a mad dash at respectability, only to fall back into a rut just prior to facing the Bombers (that would be Cleveland) and one team with absolutely no pitching, and far less offense than anyone expected, pre-season (that would be Toronto).

The Yanks' offense posted a .310/.403/.552 week, scoring just over 7 runs per game. That number is skewed, however, by the 18-6 riot in Toronto Saturday night. As you'd imagine, lots of guys put up great performances last week: A-Rod, fueled by his four-hit Saturday, hit .406 for the week, with 2 homers and 5 RBI; Jeter, Sheffield, and Posada each had a multi-homer week with 1.000+ OPS. But the most outstanding performance belongs to parttime player extraordinaire Tony Clark, leading the team with four homers and seven RBI for the week. Mind you, three of those homers and five of those RBI came in one game.

On the downside of the offense? Miguel Cairo hit .188/.188/.250 last week, and if he keeps it up, he might wind up giving Enrique Wilson a full-time job. I'd kind of hoped that the Yankees might get reinforcements at the keystone through a waiver-trade. The person I thought was a dark-horse candidate for pinstripes, Jeff Kent, has slid back into longshot contention for the NL wildcard.

Of course, I should be smacked for thinking about upgrading the offense when the team's pitching presents so many questions. The pitchers had a middling week, 5.02 ERA and 82 baserunners allowed in 61 innings. The top performer was Mariano Rivera, who threw four games, got four saves, and rung up four strikeouts. He didn't allow a run. Aside from Rivera and Orlando Hernandez (a quality start in the Yanks' loss to Cleveland) no-one was terribly impressive.

Least impressive were Esteban Loaiza and Mike Mussina. The Moose posted a 6.35 ERA in two starts last week, getting tagged with Sunday's loss. Loaiza pitched himself out of the rotation in his one start this week, giving up four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings, good for an 8.31 ERA. Also disappointing last week was Tom Gordon, who posted a 6.23 ERA, blowing the lead in two out of the four games he appeared last week (he did, however, pitch well in the other two games, getting a win and a save).

Stories of the week:

  • Loaiza to the pen. Least surprising development of the week. The upside hope is that he could be one of those guys that you tell "Just go at it as hard as you can for 25 pitches," and they do it and are effective. (Why do I say this? Because that cut fastball repertoire seems well-suited for relief) The downside is he winds up like Jeff Weaver. Hideki Irabu. Jose Contreras. Guys that sucked out of the pen, because I don't think Mel Stottlemyre ever gives out that "25 pitches" advice. The problem with that is you wind up with a pitcher in Limbo -- he makes too much money not to use him, but there's no role (other than blowout mop-up guy) for him. Means there's no hope that he's going to work his way out of a slump, and yet he's still waiting there, on the roster, to be used and fail at the worst possible moment.

We already have a fellow like that, name of Sturtze, ever hear of him?

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Should I Be More Concerned About This?

I hate the blase way that the Daily News tells me that I could be hit by a 75-foot high tsunami. Don't worry, though ... there'll be 8 to 10 hours notice before it happens!

All the crap I was already worried about -- terrorism, anarchists, New Jersey drivers, and now this? Don't we have Bruce Willis on call to prevent exactly this sort of disaster?

Nine Spot In the Ninth

After 13 straight games in which the Yankee starter didn't get the win, Kevin Brown finally picked up his 10th victory with a seven-inning, four run effort. Initially, it didn't look like Brown's four runs would be good enough against the Blue Jays' Ted Lilly. But a three-run blast by Tony Clark broke a 4-4 tie in the sixth. Clark would hit another homer in the top of the 8th. Paul Quantrill came into the game in the bottom of the 8th, and looked better than in recent appearances, but got into a spot of trouble. He had to be bailed out by Mariano Rivera when the Jays got within three runs, at 9-6.

Then in the top of the ninth, all hell broke loose. Some Maurer kid loaded the bases, and walked in a run. Ruben Sierra greeted Kerry Lightenberg with a grand slam, Ruben's 300th career homer. Then Tony Clark went yard, his third of the game, off the SkyDome restaurant.

That would have been good enough, but the hits kept on coming. Bernie and Jeter both singled, and Sheffield followed with a bomb that hit near the top of the fence. Two runs scored and Sheffield legged out a triple, only to be tagged out after he hopped off the bag in pain, having caught his cleats on the front edge of the bag.

So after eight runs, there's the Yankees MVP writhing in pain on the SkyDome carpet. As Joe Torre noted after the game, that base has been unkind to the Yankees, it having also been the scene of Derek Jeter's separated shoulder on opening day, 2003. Luckily, Sheff was able to walk off the field (leaning heavily on Torre) and his X-Rays are reportedly negative.

Alex Rodriguez capped off the scoring with a homer, which will probably earn him a gripe for his "inconsequential home runs" in Lupica's column.

Lupica may, however, forget to be mean to Mariano Rivera, who after pitching out of a 2 out, 2 on jam with a 9-6 lead in the 8th, came back for the 9th inning to earn a pretty cheap 12 run lead save.

As for Sheff, my Brother-in-Blog offers the following advice over on the Page o' Stuff:

Wrap it up Sheff, ice for the next 24 and increase your Vioxx dose to the max
allowed, then walk it off babe, you can rest it after we've brought the trophy
home and dumped confetti on ya.

Hear, hear! Boston won last night, to extend its current win streak to five, and remain 5 1/2 games back.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

That Olympics Thing...

Generally speaking, I don't show my ignorance by branching into other sports. More than that, given how short my off-duty time has been this summer, I usually just don't have the time for anything other than baseball.

So I figured I'd blow off the Olympics again this year. I completely ignored Sydney four years ago (aside from the cute Maori runner they had light the Olympic flame, I can't remember a damn thing about the Games that year. Not quite true. When I search the memory, I get the name of an anorexic-looking girl called Strugg (or something like that) with a bad foot. But I don't have any idea what she did on that bad foot to get my attention.) I can't even remember where the Winter Olympics were in 2002 (ed. note: was that Salt Lake City? I remember something about hookers).

But La Chiquita is Greek, and her family members have been emailing her week-by-week updates on Athens' preparation for these Games, so I wound up watching the first weekend. It's a slippery slope.

You get fascinated by the gymnasts, and the pretty people doing goofy strokes in the pool (what, for exaple, is the practical purpose of the breast stroke?). Then something happens, like the Paul Hamm gold medal. Suddenly, you're intrigued and you wind up following the Olympics, common sense be damned.

Anyway, there have been some good stories this Games -- my personal favorites have been the hurdlers, Fani Halkia winning a surprise gold in front of her home crowd, and Felix "Super" Sanchez winning the Dominican Republic's first ever gold medal. The Iranian weightlifter was pretty cool, too.

[While I was writing this, I just saw the emblematic moment of the Mets' season: Cliff Floyd being picked off of second base to stimy a two-on, one out threat. Mets still lead, 2-1.]

But those stories get balanced off by the typical BS that turns me off about the Olympics. Testing for enhancers, and subsequent disqualifications. Ruling controversies like they had in swimming, and, most ironically, with the same Mr. Hamm that really got Olympic interest going.

Two of the worst stories of Athens came to a conclusion Friday, as Marion Jones failed to medal in both of her events, and the US basketball team was eliminated from gold medal competition.

Jones, the Nike-appointed face of the US Olympic effort, spent the lead-up to these Games getting embroiled in the BALCO scandal, then spent the Olympic qualifiers underperforming. She only qualified in one of the three events for which she won gold in Sydney -- the long jump. At the last minute, she was added to one of the US relay teams.

Jones underperformed in the long jump, coming in sixth, and fumbled her hand-off in the relay, disqualifying her team.

But at least her failure is overshadowed by the "Nightmare Team" the American basketballers that were beaten by Puerto Rico and Lithuania in the preliminary round, and fell to Argentina on Friday to put them in the Bronze medal game.

The US Basketball Team was getting slammed since before the games began, going back to a loss to Italy in the pre-Olympic warmups. People (including some on the team) criticized a number of NBA stars for begging out of the games. Some criticized the players that were selected as replacements for those stars, noting that the process seemed better geared toward promoting the NBA than toward winning Olympic gold.

Now, after arguably the US's worst basketball performance in Olympic history, the pros in Athens are getting beat like piƱatas. In defense of the Nightmare Team, Jason Whitlock (one of the folks hoping to inherit the mantle of the late Ralph Wiley) proclaims that the criticism of the Nightmare Team is spurred by racism:

This team is being discussed unfairly in the media and being treated unfairly by American sports fans. There's a lot of convenient denial going on. No one wants to deal with the truth because they're having too much fun blasting a bunch of black millionaires for being lazy, unpatriotic and stupid. With the exception of adding the word "millionaires," this is a very familiar tune.

It's just more denial. The truth -- and what needs to be discussed -- is that African-American basketball players no longer have a lock on the game. The rest of the world has caught up, at warp speed. The game has been exported and redefined in superior fashion.

There might be something to Whitlock's point about the world game evolving, but does anyone really believe that the U.S. team, had it been composed of the country's best basketball talent, couldn't beat these opponents? Unlike the Canada/Hockey example Whitlock uses, there isn't a single dominant team in this game that have supplanted the U.S., competitively -- this basketball team lost to four different international squads. Does Whitlock really mean to say that the whole world caught up to us in basketball, all at once?

This basketball team is a disappointment. It is an All-Star team, and has been treated as such by the players -- I think I'll skip the Olympics this year, get some rest during the break. Like an All-Star team, it doesn't look like anyone thought about how these parts would fit together. NBA rookies LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are on the squad because they're "The Future of the NBA", not because they help the team win. Other players seemed to have been picked because they were the next guy on the list, rather than for their actual skills.

The League wanted to use the Olympic stage to showcase its stars. It never considered that not all publicity is good publicity. Stock in LeBron and Carmelo is trading low today, because of this team's performance. Anthony's reputation, in particular, has been damaged because of reports of whining about playing time and clashing with coach Larry Brown.

This is the guy the league is marketing as the "next Larry Bird", to complement James's "next Magic Johnson". Now the two come away looking like the next Vince Carter and the next Penny Hardaway, more of the hype overkill for which the NBA has become famous.

And that's the thing: I think the anger at the Nightmare Team is more directed toward the NBA than toward any of the individual participants. Iverson's taken some heat because he's the team captain, and with his tatoos and cornrows he makes for a colorful picture to put on the back page when the U.S. loses. But he's played in an impossible position -- broken thumb, broken, ill-prepared team. I think most fans understand that. Usually the coach would be to blame when a team fails to gel like this one has, but Larry Brown is still protected by the afterglow of the Piston's NBA championship. So who's left to blame? The Team, in an abstract sense, as a bunch of ball-hogging millionaires; and the League, as in David Stern, who picked out this team to send to Athens.

When Whitlock complains about people "rooting against the U.S. basketball team," he forgets that a vocal minority has always been against the pros playing in the Olympics, going back to Dream Team II. These folks have been waiting for the pros to fail, not because they're racist or unpatriotic, but because they thought it was unfair to unleash the pros on the World game, and they disliked the way the NBA was commercializing the Games, and they thought that our college players were doing a fine job of representing the country.

After Dream Team I, a group of Hall of Famers sent out to avenge the US's loss to the Soviets in 1988, the professional U.S. Olympics teams were unsympathetic -- undefeatable bad guys who acted boorishly and seemed to think that they could beat the world without even trying. Bored by the level of competition, these U.S. teams went out there for style points -- it was the only way to get the media to pay attention to their blowout victories.

These teams were Goliaths waiting for David. As my non-Yankee fan friends keep reminding me, dominance is boring. You knew that the second that one of these "Dream Teams" was vulnerable, the American audience would turn on them. Not because we're all racist crackers, giddy-happy that the African American millionaires have failed, as Mr. Whitlock alleges, but because this is one of those classic tales of hubris. Each Dream Team got more and more complacent -- and less and less talented -- until they had to fail.

Say what you will about the world's evolving game, but their best athletes showed up to play. The opposition's best athletes are often professionals -- some in the NBA, others in leagues around the world -- just like our guys. But the best guys from just about every other country made the time to come to Athens. They weren't frightened by "security concerns".

Sure, the other nations' athletes -- like all athletes -- were motivated by money and glory. But they all put forth their best national effort toward winning the Gold in Athens. Can the U.S. Olympic team really say the same?

Friday, August 27, 2004

Yet Another Late-Innings Win...

It's good to see Alex get the big hit at SkyDome Thursday night. After stranding 5 runners on the night, and being subject to increasing criticisms for his failure to hit with runners on (Larry Mahnken, here, and Steven Goldman, here have put together rational discussions of A-Rod's runners-on woes) if he hadn't gotten that double with Bernie and Jeter on in the 9th, he'd have been cooked.

Alex Belth probably described the scene in the SkyDome best:

As he entered the dugout, smiling and looking relieved, Rodriguez stumbled down the steps and almost wiped out. As you can imagine, this was a source of great amusement for his teammates. First, Willie Randolph busted his chops and soon enough, Derek Jeter was letting him have it too. Jeter sat on the bench flanked by Sheffield and Rodriguez. Jeter was doubled over in laughter. Rodriguez looked slightly pink and very much like a little kid. As great a player as he is, Rodriguez looks far more vulnerable than either Sheffield or Jeter do. He comes across as a classic younger brother. He may be a superior talent to Jeter, but there is something about him that suggests he needs validation and acceptance in a way that Jeter or Sheffield do not.

Despite last night's moment in the sun, with a batting average with runners in scoring position that probably can't be salvaged -- even if Alex had a phenomenal September -- and with the A-Rod-less Rangers hanging in the postseason hunt, Rodriguez may be cooked, anyway. Should the Yanks lose in the postseason, Rodriguez looks like an obvious fall guy. (No pun intended. Really.)

Like Roger Clemens, there's something about Rodriguez's manner the New York press will never quite warm up to. And then there's The Contract, which tends to bring out the green eyed devil in those who discuss Alex, and likely will for the rest of his career.

But I think Alex Belth has hit this one on the head: for all the aloofness and artificiality that Rodriguez projects as his public persona, he's just someone that's eager to please, desperate to fit into the role in which his tremendous talent and performance have placed him. Early this season, lots of folks speculated that Jeter's struggles were due to the pressure put on him by Alex's acquisition. Now we may be looking at the inverse being true: Rodriguez pressing to match Jeter's confidence, the golden place that Jeter holds in Yankees fans' hearts.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Weblog Reloaded...


If you're here, you probably followed the breadcrumbs from the Original Weblog That Derek Built, and are probably familiar with the kind of stuff that I write. For anyone that's curious, the little Mission Statement I have somewhere on this page (as I write this I don't actually know what my Weblog looks like, yet) will give you the basics. I liken it to that little bit of narration during the opening credits of a TV series -- the one that tells you that Felix Unger's wife kicked him out of the house, that Caine is looking for his lost brother, that the Enterprise is on a five-year mission -- that sets you up with the basic premise for each episode.

Why do I feel the need to keep elaborating? Because this is a new website, and I'm breaking it in, I guess.

The main character in the writing I do here is the game of baseball. Specifically, the Yankees -- the team I've followed since I was 8 years old. I try to approach baseball writing with a little bit of history, a strong dose of analysis, and a large pinch of humor.

Aside from baseball, I do have a side project of reviewing every movie I see in a movie theater. I'll try to make these as quick and painless as possible.

Beyond that, nothing's out of bounds. I might bring in a friend or two to write about sports other than baseball, or arts other than film. I'm making this up as I go along, pretty much the same as I've been doing since January of this year, when I started in the blogging game.

I finally have a comments section, so feel free to tell me what you think, make suggestions or requests (hopefully not of the please-jump-off-a-tall-building type), or just say hello. If you click on the title to this post you'll find a link to my old webpage, so that you can read my archived articles. Soon, I'll give you links to all the other bloggers and newssources I waste my day on.

Below, you'll find that I've gotten a head start on my blogging. Enjoy, and feel free to sound off about anything you read here.

Yanks' Squirrely Night (NY Daily News, McCarron)

Just the other day, it seems, I was noting that setting a record for comeback wins might not be the healthiest thing your ballclub can do.

Last night, the Yanks proved me right, by doing their comeback thing, then giving the lead (and the game) back to the Indians in the 8th.

Two stories here. First, A-Rod keeps on doing badly with runners in scoring position. Rodriguez effectively killed the Yanks' comeback rally last night with a men on first and second, no outs double play. Since Alex is taking a volcano's worth of heat about his low batting average with men in scoring position, that's bad news.

The other story is a damn squirrel (hence the title), which at one point last night interrupted Jeter's at bat for about seven or eight minutes. You could tell Jeter wanted to step out and squash the thing with his bat, but thought better of it. Not good PR to be a squirrel-killer.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Hurricane Anna

Because I think you would demand it, here is a sampling of the wit and wisdom of Anna Benson (from the NY Post, Kevin Kernan):

Anna is not a favorite of the old baseball adage: No making love on game day.

"That rule has been broken many times," she said. "With everything going on today with athletes cheating on their wives, Kris and I are making a stand for fidelity. I think the real pigs are the guys who run around on their wives."

She is more than just a beautiful face.

"If you take Oprah Winfrey and you meshed her with Howard Stern, that would be who I am," Anna said.

"I can be raunchy, and I can be irreverent, but I can be compassionate and caring."

It's a shame to see a lovely young lady like that have a such a lack of self-esteem. She should really work on being more open, and more talkative with the press. She's in New York now, y'know.