Friday, September 30, 2005

Three Games (Maybe Four)

As someone I know would say, "Lordy, is this exciting!" Last night, I almost became a Blue Jay fan, thinking that the Jays would hold their lead against the Red Sox.

Then David Ortiz happened. I spent a bit of time on BP's mailing list the other day, ragging on the Ortiz-for-MVP campaign. But it sure is hard to fight when the guy keeps on coming up huge the way that Ortiz has.

The Yanks come into Fenway with a one game lead--that's a chance to clinch an AL East tie with one win, two wins for a playoff spot (under any circumstances, I think, if the Yanks win two more games in the 2005 regular season, they're in).

It says a lot about this season that Chien Ming Wang leads off the most important series of the year. He faces David Wells, the loud-mouthed, former Yankee fan favorite (or is that "Yankee former fan favorite"?). I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

And I'm going to miss the whole thing. More married guy stuff. Leaving town tonight, just as the game begins, entertaining family in Michigan, during tomorrow's game, travelling again at gametime Sunday. Any volunteers to TiVO this?

Have a great weekend, and Let's Go Yankees!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Rain in Spain...

Between the raindrops, the Yanks win a laugher, 11-3, against the Orioles at Camden Yards. The Unit gets his 16th win with six innings of shutout ball. The Yankees carried the shutout into the ninth...but we'll get to that in a second. Jason Giambi hit his 31st, a comforting shot after the back troubles that have slowed him lately. Will Carroll believes that those back problems are related to some of the erratic throws that Giambi has had to take from Jeter of late--and from the fact that Sheffield is occupying the DH slot, which forces Giambi to play the field. Alex Rodriguez matched Giambi with 3 RBI, Jeter had 2 RBI of his own.

The Red Sox were less lucky than the Yankees with the weather. Their matchup with the Blue Jays at Fenway was rained out, and now they have a doubleheader scheduled for Tuesday.

This is big on a few levels: first, by winning while the Sox sit, the Yanks have put themselves a half game up; second, the Sox have no days off the rest of the way, and plenty of incentive to keep pace with the New Yorkers, which puts pressure on them; and third, maybe it messes up the Red Sox rotation for the weekend series against the Yanks. Schilling would have to pitch on short rest to keep his date with Randy Johnson on Saturday. More likely, the Unit and Tim Wakefield reprise their epic Sept. 11 matchup, because Wakefield's more likely to do well on short rest. That's a shame, because the Schill/Unit matchup was somewhat momentous--supposedly, the two greats had never faced each other in major league careers stretching back to the 80's.

The plot thickens.


After watching the Orioles get three runs off of him, in a garbagetime 9th tonight, I have to ask: can we just declare the Alan Embree Experiment over?

He sucked all year in Boston, he was released, he came to the Yankees, and he's continued to suck. This is supposed to miraculously change? There is no tomorrow for Alan Embree. If the Yanks want a lefty reliever, they have only a few days left to find him.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Tied (the Knot)

Long time no see, so I'm dropping you a note courtesy of my brother's wireless connection. In the interim, La Chiquita and I have become Wife and Husband. What preceded was a weekend of too many terrific meals in Chicago, an outdoor wedding washed out by lightning storms, only for the sun to burn through the clouds the second we locked into our indoor Plan "B," and more love and goodwill from our respective relatives (now simply "our relatives") that we have no way to repay or even appropriately give our thanks. It's been an amazing weekend, and I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.

Oddly, married doesn't feel any different. There's the ring, which is so light it constantly feels like it's gonna fall off. Otherwise, everything's the same.

More on this later.

Meanwhile, a lot of baseball happened, and I missed all of it. The Yanks were able to make that full game lead on Thursday, and hold it through Friday, until Saturday's loss locked the Yanks and Boston into their natural state of being, a mutual deathgrip from which one must go away crying.

It's strangely appropriate: these two teams were made to battle each other. Right now, the Wild Card leader (currently Cleveland) has a one-game advantage on the AL East leader, so if everyone kept pace over the next week, one AL East team would go home.

Enjoy the last week.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

One Half

It took a five-run 8th inning last night by Tampa Bay, but the Yanks are--for the moment--in sole possession of first place, by a half game. While the Red Sox were losing to the Devil Rays, the Yanks were riding the left arm of Randy Johnson, and the brought-back-from-the-dead bat of Matt Lawton to a tight, tight victory, 2-1 at the Stadium.

I'd doubted we would get here. But now that we are, the problems haven't gotten any simpler. The Yanks are still banged up, the pitching is still a question mark, the bullpen beyond Mariano Rivera and Tom Gordon is utterly suspect (and the dynamic duo aren't quite the sure thing they were last season, either). The defense is still bad.

But at this point, we'll enjoy first place while we can. Tonight, the Yanks complete their four-game set against the O's. The Orioles have lost the last three in a variety of painful ways--the walkoff, the slugfest (in which they lost their best player, Brian Roberts), and now the pitcher's duel. They have to want out of Yankee Stadium, bad.

As Alex pointed out at Bronx Banter, since the Red Sox are idle, the Yanks will finish the Orioles series either tied for first or a game up on Boston. Mike Mussina goes against Bruce Chen, just to make things even more pivotal.


New notebook piece at BP, this time about the Devil Rays. Since we're done with Tampa for the year, I get to give my boy Jorge Cantu his props, and take the Rays brain trust down a peg, if that's possible. Check it out.

Toronto's got next, at the Stadium. Can't guarantee much coverage, or any postings this weekend, because La Chiquita and I are walking down the aisle (figuratively speaking--we're actually getting hitched someplace that has no aisle). I'm sure you'll get along fine without me. Wish me luck, and go Yanks!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Requiem for a Dream

I'm not the kind of person that actually remembers much of their dreams, much less discusses them on the Internets. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to tell you about a weird freakin' dream that I had Tuesday morning, baseball related:

I dreamt that there was another Yankees/Sox ALCS, and that throwing aside all logic, I was at the game at or near field level. Batting practice was going on, and the Red Sox were each taking their turns at the cage. Then things got weird. There was one guy coming to the batting cage, it looked like his skin had been cooked off. Regardless of this fact, this Burnt Man took batting practice, launching bombs toward the leftfield seats. Although Burnt Man didn't look at all like Jason Varitek (aside from looking like something out of a monster movie, BM had the build and swing of former Yankee and Red Sock Jack Clark) I knew he was the Red Sox captain. So I said "Why is this guy playing, for pity's sake?" A helpful Red Sox fan nearby told me that the Burnt Man had cleared himself to play--lots of stuff about this being a big game and morale and all.

I couldn't pay more attention to the fan's rapt speech about Burnt Man's dedication, since it looked to me like the guy might just die at any moment. Burnt Man's mode of dress recalled the Incredible Hulk--uniform pants scorched, torn, and ruined to the extent of being shorts now, otherwise bare-chested and barefoot.

The game started, and Mike Mussina took the mound. Quickly, a Mussina Inning started, first with a single, then a pair of ten-pitch walks to load the bases. Burnt Man batted cleanup, in his same getup, only with a batting helmet on.

For some reason, I was incensed that Burnt Man was allowed to play out of uniform. It's one thing for a team's helmets to be loaded with so much crud that it looks like an elephant crapped on all their heads, quite another to send a shirtless, shoeless burn victim onto the field.

"Couldn't they at least get him a new pair of pants?" I asked.

"What, are you crazy?" a slightly meaner Sox fan interjected. "He's got second and third degree burns over 90% of his body. They try to take those pants off him, he'll die."

The mean Sox fan said it as if I'd intended to sign Burnt Man's death warrant by depantsing him.

I tried to retort, but before I could do so, Burnt Man sent a drive to dead left field, into the main section stands. As Burnt Man circled the bases gingerly, my emotions weren't anxiety or anger at Moose for putting us down 4-0. More, it was a sense of queasiness, knowing that at any moment Burnt Man's skin could crack and slough off like so much pustulous mud.

Then I woke up.

I got no clue what this means. Any dream interpreters in the audience?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Bumps & Bruises

...Brother J called Bubba Crosby's 9th inning walk-off shot, by the way.

But let's back up, first. The Yankees came into tonight's series opener against the Orioles on a huge downer. On Sunday, the Yanks lost an incredibly winnable game, 6-5. Now, you can't win them all, but the "music" from this loss was all wrong. It came on the same day as a Boston loss, so it was a missed opportunity. It ended with Derek Jeter at the bat and the tying run on base, something which is never supposed to happen, I guess.

The defense was bad. Please someone stop Ruben Sierra before he takes the field with a glove again! Sierra on defense was a bad idea eight years ago--Sierra's lateral movement is pretty bad, but the true horror comes if you ask Ruben to move forward or backward to get to the ball.

But the worst part of Sunday's loss, is that the Yanks looked beat up afterward. During the game, Jaret Wright managed to get nailed with a broken bat--not a shard of broken bat, but a fairly intact barrell came flying right at Wright, the second time a comebacker has hit Wright on the mound this season. Watching this on TV, it was absolutely scary: you couldn't tell if the bat made contact with Wright, but as he went down he was cradling that pitching arm of his.

I thought for certain something in that shoulder went snap.

As it turns out, Wright's elbow is bruised and bloodied; we don't yet have an idea of what that means, long-term. This is disquieting because Mike Mussina's bullpen sessions haven't gone too well, and Alan Embree sucks. The Embree part isn't injury-related, it's just reality.

But wait, there's more! Jason Giambi left Sunday's game with back spasms. Gary Sheffield revealed that he might not play the field again this season--and sadly, that has nothing to do with his love life, and everything to do with his strained thigh muscles.

It's enough to get anyone down, and over at Baseball Primer, the Yankee haters were having a field day.

Which brings up our pre-game time silver lining. For all the kvetching, going into tonight's game the Yanks had won seven out of their last nine. They'd taken three straight series from division rivals. The complaints against the Yanks have been of the "well, they're not in first place, yet!" variety.

I'm bizarrely comforted by this. Rationalization seems to precede failure (remember when we were trying to convince ourselves that it was OK that the Red Sox won ALCS games 4 and 5 in Fenway, because that meant that we could clinch at home). Last weekend, when the Red Sox sounded like they were happy not to get swept by the Yankees, I detected a whiff of loser in the rationalization.

Which brings me to tonight's action. I missed most of the game, but looking at the box I'm heartened to see Tiger Wang back in the groove, A-Rod keep up his RBI thing, and Cano continue his hot hitting. But most of all I'm glad to see Bubba Crosby out there, rescuing the Yankees from the defensive stylings of Ruben Sierra. Hanging in there against a mediocre lefty can't hurt, either. Some help from the Devil Rays puts the Yanks within 1/2 game of first place in the East, holding steady for the Wild Card.


Whoa, the American League sure plunged into chaos, didn't it? I mean, there are bonafide divisional races in each division, the Wild Card is packed pretty tight, and the White Sox--set on cruise control a month ago, are in danger of seeing their playoff hopes dashed against the rocks.

In other words, good times. I just wish all of this excitement weren't likely to bite the Yanks in the petard.

Aiming a little higher than the rear end, the profile of Rickey Henderson in last week's New Yorker is just heartbreaking, some of the best sportswriting I've read this year. I wish it were available online so that I could link it.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Movie Review: The Constant Gardener

I've seen the Constant Gardener referred to as a "spy film," which is probably just a reaction to the fact that the movie is based upon a novel by John Le Carre. Given the modern associations to the concept of espionage--associations molded a score of James Bond films and their knockoffs--nothing could be farther from the truth.

Indeed, Constant Gardener's protagonist, Justin Quayle, would be too embarassed to order a martini "shaken, not stirred." He's not the type to shake anything up--a middle-management British diplomat perfectly content to mouth the party line, even if it's with a decided lack of enthusiasm. One day, while he's doing exactly that as a substitute lecturer, he comes under attack by Tess (the absurdly hot Rachel Weisz) , an activist who has all the passion Justin lacks, and then some. After meeting extremely un-cute, the two improbably wind up in the sack, and shortly after that, when Justin's work takes him to Kenya, the two wind up improbably married.

If you're wondering where the intrigue comes in, I should mention that the movie begins with the news of Tess's murder, and from there the story of Tess and Justin's relationship unfolds, in flashback. The mystery is, naturally, why is Tess dead? And each clue only adds to the mystery: Why was Tess inseparable from the Kenyan doctor she was traveling with just before her death? Why was that pharmaceutical company testing HIV-positive Africans for tuberculosis? Why was Tess constantly flirting with Justin's boss, Sandy? Why, exactly, did a wild flower like Tess marry a boring bloke like Justin?

Ralph Fiennes does an amazing job as Justin, one of the best performances of the year. It's one of those performances that is so subtle and well-contained that it's doubtful that Oscar voters will remember it once the "quality movies" season opens in November--there's simply no flash there. However, the whole story hangs on the audience sympathizing with Justin--and Fiennes does a great job of making Justin vulnerable and somewhat clueless rather than callous and petty. Here, Justin has to be suspicious and naive at the same time, all without looking like a loser. Fiennes does the trick.

Another prime asset in this film is Fernando Mereilles, whose direction I liked so much in City of God. I've criticized films about white people and Africa in the past, and it would be easy for this film to fall into the type of condescension that makes some films so annoying. So often, the mandatory "everyday life" shots that directors use to establish their location feel like walking through a photo gallery, as the director and cinematorapher try to capture "the essence of Africa" for the audience.

Mereilles, much as he did in the favellas of Brazil in City of God, has his camera mixing it up with the natives, running with them and around them, in a rather unsentimental fashion. In one throwaway scene, the camera follows some Kenyan children as they set up an impromptu road block to stop Justin's car, and shake him down for some money.

There's no judgment made, by the director, or by Justin when he haggles with the kids to let him pass.

Highly recommended, particularly in this brain-dead summer of major motion pictures.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Just Business, Never Personal

Now that the Yanks are in "must win every game" mode, even matchups against the Devil Rays have become epic struggles. In that context, Robinson Cano could be said to have come up with one of the big moments of the season, with a 6th inning Grand Slam, in the Yanks' 9-5 win over Tampa Bay. Cano's big fly tied a 5-1 game, and was followed by some more home run magic by Alex Rodriguez (tied for the league lead in homers with 42).

On the downside, the magical pixie dust on Aaron Small seems to have worn off a bit--since shutting out Oakland on September 3rd, he's given up nine runs in 13 innings. He is still undefeated, but this looks like a blinking warning light on the dashboard. Also, there was a bit of struggle by Gordon and Rivera to close out the game--Gordon couldn't finish out the inning, forcing Torre to extend Mariano, again--before the boys put up a couple of insurance runs in the top of the ninth.

It's great to finally sweep the Devil Fishies, but man, that was a lot of effort. Luckily, everyone else seems to also be "grinding it out" in the AL: the Indians are within five games of the seemingly-untouchable White Sox; the A's and Angels are locked together, and haven't been much more than three games apart for a month or two; and the Yanks are within two games of the Red Sox, who have been continuously rescued by the dramatic homers of David Ortiz. This is a white-knuckle ride, and I'm just happy I can still type with my hands gripping the handlebars (metaphorically speaking).


This is one of those things about clubhouse chemistry--when he was with the Twins, Ortiz was branded a bad clubhouse guy. Bad conditioning, didn't like to work, wouldn't accept coaching--and this was why Tom Kelly, who planted these stories with the press, kept on jerking him around for a job.

Now, Ortiz is one of the more universally-admired types in the game. He's the glue that holds the Red Sox together. Even though Ortiz has murdered the Yanks time and time again I cannot bring myself to hate him.

Was Big Papi magically transformed when he came to Fenway? Did he learn hard lessons from all that time in AAA, which made him from a crumb to a solid clubhouse citizen? Maybe. Or it could be that much of the time, what we are told is "clubhouse chemistry" is actually just a story made up by sportswriters, based upon the agendas of their clubhouse sources?


Remember back in October, when we said that heads would roll for the Yanks' 2004 ALCS loss? This may be like one of those Samurai movies, where you see flash of the sword, but only after a five second dramatic pause does the opposition's head fall away from the body. If you believe Bill Madden in the Daily News, the rolling head belongs to Stick Michaels, who has been marginalized among the Yanks' Tampa Politburo by Damon Oppenheimer and Bill Emslie. Given that Michaels is on the outs, Cashman's in his walk year, and Steinbrenner has receded from public life, we could be looking at a full-fledged coup d'etat in Yankeeland. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Taking Out the Trash

I've missed the past two games against the D-Rays (work stuff) but I can't complain about the results. On Tuesday, the Yanks whupped up on Tampa Bay with a vengeance for all the trouble the Devil Fishies have caused the Yanks' playoff hopes, 17-3. Jason Giambi hit is 30th homer, and had five RBI. Jorge Posada picked up his weak season totals with four RBI, and was on base four times on the night. All of this came backing a strong outing by Jaret Wright.

Whenever you have that kind of win, there's always a strong possibility of letdown. Back in April, the Yanks scored 13 runs in one inning on route to a 19-8 win against Tampa, and then the next day they couldn't even beat Hideo Nomo.

The Yanks avoided that fate this time out, but by a more narrow margin than you would like, posting a 6-5 victory against the Rays in Tampa. Chien Ming Wang (5 R in 6 1/3 IP) hasn't been the same fellow who lit up our lives earlier this year. Since he's come off the DL he's allowed 8 runs in 11 1/3 innings. Or maybe it's just the D-Rays? Both of Wang's post-DL starts have been against Tampa Bay, and back in May, the D-Rays became one of the few clubs to lay a glove on the Wangster, again dishing out 5 runs in his six innings of work.

Here's hoping for a sweep, and for one of the rivals (in order: Red Sox, Indians, Angels) to stumble.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Film Review: A Sound of Thunder

Just in case anyone thought that all I do is give positive reviews, here's a true, natural-born turkey. Peter Hyams' new film, A Sound of Thunder is bad. Way bad. I'm pretty certain it's the worst movie I'll see this year, and it may just be the worst movie I've ever paid to see.

Here's the plot of the Ray Bradbury short story that the movie is based upon, which I skimmed in about three minutes while waiting for a train at Penn Station: man interested in exotic pleasures goes on time-travel safari where they're hunting dinosaurs; despite repeated admonitions not to stray from a safe path, things go wrong and man goes off path; when they return to the present, they find that things have been changed by man's misadventure--a german despot has been elected president--and man discovers that even the most insignificant creature can have a profound effect on the future; man gets wasted by his safari guide, who is understandably miffed that man has destroyed his reality.

It's a fairly simple story, not terribly long, quite deep for its time, although it is so well-known and imitated that other stories have taken better advantage of its premise by now.

To extend this very short story to a 103 minute screenplay, great violence is done to Ray Bradbury's creation. The basic premise of a time travel safari remains, as does the name of the tour guide. Everything else seems to get chucked--Nazi's take over the world is replaced by some silly concept of gradual reality change with "time waves" which change the evolutionary path of creatures, in reverse order of their evolutionary complexity.

If that last sentence sounds like nonsense, that's because it is. It's all an excuse to repopulate the planet with scary monsters--killer vines, giant bats, toad/dinosaur/ape things--for a Special Effects Extravaganza(tm). The idea is that the past has been changed, repopulating the earth with all these beasties in waves (like a video game). Now, this is wholesale change of reality, but all the buildings and stuff remain the same. Don't ask.

Now, maybe think that the nonsense could be justified by the filmmakers creating a world of fantastic creatures so real, that you're not about to quibble with the details. You'd be wrong. These are the worst digital effects ever, perhaps the worst special effects seen since Plan 9 from Outer Space. The background keeps shifting from absurdly artificial backgrounds (I'm talking stuff out of Tron, here) and hideously cheap--but all too real--sets. I won't be the first to claim it, but the CGI dinosaur in this movie somehow looked worse than the cheesy special effects in the Saturday morning TV series, Land of the Lost. It was just brutal.

The star of this flick is Ed Burns, cast as a reknowned biologist/hunter--in a world where wild animals have all been wiped out by a mysterious plague. Casting Burns as a biologist is a stroke of genius based on the fact that all of his characters exhibit such curiosity. By this I mean, that in almost every film where Ed Burns has appeared as an actor, he plays the role of the plain-spoken, down-to-earth working class guy, who always has the line "What I don't get is..."

As in "What I don't get is, how anyone who read this script willingly paid a single dollar to help make this movie. I simply can't understand this. Can you explain this to me?"

Yep, sounds like a scientist to me (that line, specifically, is not in the movie; however, it might as well be). Early in the film, Burns engages in "witty" banter with a HAL-like computer. At the time, I told my pal Rich, who came with me to see this turkey, "I bet that's the most chemistry he shows with anyone in this movie." I was right.

More credibly scientific is Catherine McCormack (who looks like she's aged about 20 years since Spy Game) as the Scientist Who Knows of the Danger. Her roll consists of looking mildly daft and extremely passionate, while simultaneously knowing altogether too much about the movie's cockeyed idea of time travel theory. She does an excellent job of keeping a straight face while uttering complete idiotic nonsense. Generally speaking, she deserves a better script, role, lighting, and makeup, than she gets in this film.

The other performances barely merit any mention whatsoever. Ben Kingsley is in this movie, albeit for just a ridiculous over-the-top cameo. The mortgage must have come due, or perhaps the movie's producers had photos of the great thespian in bed with a dead woman or a live boy. The other actors serve no other purpose than to act as cannon fodder in the great game of "who gets eaten next?" The answer is almost always who you expect, using the standard rules of engagement for monster movies.

After all of this, I must admit that--in a perverse way--I enjoyed this movie greatly. Don't get me wrong, it's bad, but it's so bad that if you're in the right frame of mind, you can get some good laughs out of the brutally dumb stuff that's in this movie.

What makes for a "so-bad-it's-good" movie is that a few smart ideas are sprinkled in with the dumb ones. For example, there are little touches about the time travel that make sense: the time travellers wear space suits, for example, to prevent the possibility of leaving microbes from the future in the past. They also use bullets made out of ice, so that no evidence is left behind when they kill the dinosaur.

But for everything this movie gets right, something huge is bound to go mind-numbingly wrong. Take this example of peliculum non comprehendis, the characters make it quite clear that each time they go on safari, it's the same dinosaur, that they're killing. That, I guess, excuses them from having to have multiple dinosaur effects, or something.

But does that make any sense? They go on multiple safaris during this movie, and the movie gives the impression they've done many, many, more. How can you go back to the exact same place and moment in time, over and over again, to kill the same creature? Wouldn't the hunting parties run into each other? It makes no damn sense!

Man, I just realized I could have done this review in a single sentence. Stay away from this film, unless you're in the mood to experience some Mystery Science Theater 3000-level sci-fi.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

September 11, Again

As promised, I left town to attend the very excellent wedding of my pals Pete and Lei Ann, up in Boston. The whole thing simply could not have been better--there was simply a massive turnout of Lei Ann's relatives, from as far away as Hawaii and the Philippines, and lots of Pete's and my pals from college. The whole thing was a real treat, working on the tux squad with old and new friends.

We started off on Friday, with a dinner for family and friends that coincided with Yanks/Red Sox, David Wells against Aaron Small. Small's dream season continues, but largely due to great run support. Small survived a three run breakout in the second inning, thanks to home runs from Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez, and some overall sloppy play by the Sox in an 8-4 victory. Not that I knew any of this as it happened. The only piece of the game I saw was the pitching change when the removed Small in the 7th inning--I saw this and the score while passing by a bar on my way from the party to our next stop of the evening.

On Saturday, I was in the church, trying to make sure that the groom didn't see the bride at the start time of game 2, Curt Schilling vs. Shawn Chacon. By the time I was unrolling some sort of white carpet for the Bride's entrance--don't ask--Schilling had done his best to prove me wrong, wrong, wrong for what I wrote in my recent Notebook piece about him. The Schill cruised through eight innings, yielding only two runs and striking out six. Meanwhile, the Red Sox made Chacon their girlfriend, popping him for five runs in three innings of work. Alois finally came out of the bullpen, but only for a surrogate start, pitching 5 2/3 innings in a 9-2 loss. I caught the score sometime between the photo session (now ingrained into my memory: "keep your weight on your back foot," and "fingers don't photograph well") and the coolest reception ever.

Today, it was back on the road before game time, with little hope to make it to New York before it was all over. So, for the first time in ages, I experienced the Yanks on radio, starting with Red Sox-side coverage in Mass and Northern Connecticut, shifting over to Sterling and Suzyn Waldman for the later innings. I'll admit that I enjoyed the Sox coverage better, even though they seemed to have a harder time doing the simple stuff--like telling us the score. We were with the Sox broadcasters when Kevin Youkilis collected the Sox first hit of the day, "[Randy] Johnson just screamed out something I can't repeat on seeing he gave up a Texas League hit."

Turns out he should have been upset, his stuff was that good.

Another interesting tidbit from the Boston radio crew:

Color guy: Johnson's into photography, that's his hobby.
Play-by-Play guy: ...You'd think that being a photographer, he wouldn't push around camera men...
Color guy: Maybe he's into still lifes.

The Boston guys also trilled with glee as Tim Wakefield racked up strikeout after strikeout, completely confounding the Yankee lineup, and at one point stranding Bubba Crosby at third after a one-out triple.

By comparison, the Yankees broadcast was rather dreary, although less homeristic than I expected, given the regular abuse this radio team suffers. They didn't seem to slight any of the Boston players, and indeed were extremely impressed by Wakefield's start. However, Waldman is hideously underutilized in that booth, contributing little other than reading live spots (game-context radio ads). Aside from that, Sterling's voice steam-rolled over hers, on what sounded like a microphone that was set at times and a half the volume of Waldman's. Not fun.

Anyway, the Unit, Tom Gordon, and Mariano Rivera combined to make Jason Giambi's homer off Wakefield stand up for a 1-0 win, after a bunch of unnecessary excitement in the 8th and 9th innings. Overall, the Yanks took two out of three from the Sox at home, leaving the weekend three games behind Boston. At the same time, they lose ground to the Indians, and are now 1.5 games back of the Wild Card.


One of the downsides of this beautiful weekend was that the weather itself reminded me of tragedy of four years ago. In Boston, Pete and Lei Ann's wedding was blessed with gorgeous weather--warm but brisk, clear and sunny, with a "high sky" of clear blue with only the slightest wisps of clouds. Exactly the same weather as there was in New York on September 11, 2001.

The weather took me back to that day--the hushed streets and quiet foot traffic, looking to give blood, and all the while not knowing that there weren't enough survivors to need a pint of my A positive. The blood banks kept turning us away.

The memory has had me on edge all day, particularly hearing the moment of silence during the 7th inning stretch of the Yankee game. Four years after the terrorist attacks, and nothing has improved. Nothing has been built at the WTC site. We haven't even started to fill up the sky over the Big Empty, instead taking four years to select an ugly, unorthodox, design, quarrel with the landlord over the ugly design, only to make it more conventional, then scrapping it for a mediocre but completely conventional design, built on top of a "super safe" steel box.

After the September 11 attacks happened, there was a hopefulness that fell into place after the attacks. While people feared terrorism, it also energized and galvanized them. There was a feeling of resolve and enthusiasm in the American landscape. People were ready to do anything to make a difference against the type of terrorism that had killed so many people in the Towers and at the Pentagon, and you had the feeling that all anyone had to do was point us in the right direction and we'd surge to the cause--riveting war planes together, conserving fuel, translating Farsi--whatever we could do to help out.

Four years later, that enthusiasm has been wasted. No one pointed us in any direction, and life continued as normal. For a while, there was a great feeling of community, at least in New York. I still remember cheering fire trucks as they rumbled down the street: a strange combination of "thank you" and "condolences on your losses."

Compare that with what has gone on in New Orleans over the last few weeks. The community broke down under the pressure of rising water, and set upon each other with guns. Is this an aberration, or the future?

As day faded into night, the "Pillars of Light" came on, towering over lower Manhattan. That memorial--still far more simple and effective than all the fancy video screens and reflecting pools that have been planned, but not built, at Ground Zero. Hit me like a gut punch. I can't believe it's been four years. I can't believe how little progress we've made.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Wayne Franklin: Murderer of the Yankees' Season

I've got good news, and bad news, and bad news, and bad news.

The good news is that Chien Ming Wang made it back to the Bronx, after being derailed with shoulder problems.

The bad news is that Gary Sheffield couldn't start, with a strained thigh muscle suffered in Wednesday's game. Sheff may miss part of the Yankees' showdown with the Red Sox, this weekend.

The bad news is that Wang wasn't sharp, and allowed three runs in five innings.

The bad news is that after Wang finished his work for the day, Joe Torre turned the game over to Wayne Franklin, who retired the first batter he faced, then allowed a single to the bad Alex Gonzalez, and a double to Joey Gathright. He then gave way to Scott Proctor, last seen melting down against these same Devil Rays in extra innings. Two doubles later, the game is 6-0.

The bad news is that the Yankees lost a series, at home, against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Cleveland Indians have taken the Wild Card lead.

I won't mention minor good news--that the Red Sox were shut out, so the Yanks don't lose ground in the divisional standings--because this was a terrific chance for the Yanks to gain a game, put themselves in a place where they could (not will, not should, just could) sweep their way to the division lead. That's out the window now.

Why is Wayne Franklin here? Why on earth is Joe Torre giving this guy non-garbage time innings? The Yanks came back to score four runs. Might've been meaningful if the Yanks hadn't just donated some additional runs to the Devil Fishies for no damn reason.

The losses get dumber and dumber. Maybe this team doesn't deserve to make the playoffs.


I'm unlikely to get much commenting done about this weekend series because I'm busy seeing my pals Pete & Lei Ann off to matrimony. So congrats to them, and have a nice weekend if we don't speak before then.

I'll have a Notebook piece up at Baseball Prospectus later on (in case ya can't get enough of me), this one dedicated to the Pirates and Lloyd McClendon.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Flippin' Through the Notebook

Just in case you think I've given up on writing about the Yankees, I have a piece up at Baseball Prospectus on the Bronx Bombers. It's about roster uncertainty in the House that Ruth Built, and it goes a little something like this:

A more interesting possibility is that--should the Yankees find sufficient depth in the rotation--Alois Leiter could find his way to the bullpen. Leiter has been effective against lefties over the past several years (664 OPS against), which indicates that he could be effective as a LOOGY in relief.

Like many of the other solutions the Yankees have stumbled across this season, putting Leiter in the bullpen would be more creative than their roster usage has been over the past several years. It’s a cliché to state that necessity is the mother of invention, but it’s only fair to point out that the Yankees haven’t had this much necessity in nearly a decade.

A LOOGY, for those of you new to these shores, is a Lefty One-Out GuY, the reliever you send in to get that critical lefthanded batter (coughDavidOrtizcough) in a tough spot. Right now, the Yankees would probably use Tom Gordon in that spot, because Mariano Rivera is a "closer" and because the rest of the bullpen, particularly the lefties, are rather craptastic.

After my Notebook piece hit the presses, word hit the streets that Leiter is scheduled to be skipped for his next start, with the Yanks starting Chien Ming Wang against Tampa Bay, instead. So it looks like Leiter may have a shot at bullpen glory. And I'm cheering for him, if only because I consider the alternatives.

Alan Embree has looked promising at times, but we have to admit that 50% of the appeal of picking up guys like him and Mark Bellhorn is the off-chance that they will provide an in-your-face moment in the ongoing war against the Red Sox. Steinbrenner has always operated this way, realizing that there is room for a little psychological warfare in the game of baseball. That's why he has always picked up the opposition's discards--in the past ten years, the most prominent ones have been Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden from the Mets, Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens from the Red Sox, but there have been others.

While none of those stars shone quite as brightly in pinstripes as they had for the Yanks' rivals, anything you get out of such players not only helps the home team, but it chips away at the opposition. It killed some of my Mets fan friends to see Doc Gooden pitch a no-hitter in Yankee Stadium. Wade Boggs' horse ride after the '96 World Series win put a knot in the stomachs of my pals in Boston.

There's a chance that Embree gets a key strikeout, or Bellhorn hits a key home run down the stretch, or (if they make it) in the playoffs. And if they manage to do that, Red Sox fans are going to wind up scratching their heads--why exactly did Boston DFA two players at positions (second base, lefty reliever) where their arch-rival needed help? Couldn't they pay off one of the baseball Syberias to take these guys off their hands, and keep them out of Brian Cashman's clutches?

However, aside from the PR benefits of playing Embree and Bellhorn, you can't quite depend on them to carry the team to a pennant. After all, there were reasons the Sox let these guys go, and reasons the rest of baseball didn't snap them up on waivers. So it pays to have a Plan B. In this case, that's Leiter, and the sooner he practices jogging to the mound from center field, the sooner we discover if he can serve the team as a reliever.


Damned Devil Rays. The bad news is that the Devil Rays own Randy Johnson. The good news is that if the Yanks get to the post-season, Johnson doesn't have to worry about facing the Devil Rays. On the other hand, if the Yanks don't make the postseason, Vince Naimoli and the Tampa crew get to say "In your face!" to Steinbrenner and the Yankees.

I'd include Lou Piniella in there, except I think that if the Yanks miss the Playoffs, Piniella will be in pinstripes in short order.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Notes from a 24 Marathon

Yesterday was Labor Day, and the weather, at least in New York City, was glorious. Warm, but with just a touch of a breeze to remind you that Fall is on its way.

So whose brilliant idea was it to give the Yankees a day off?

Last day of the summer, federal holiday. Y'know, the type of occasion where people might want to spend some time at the ballpark, experiencing one of life's true joys--daytime baseball. Except MLB's schedule makers decide to only run eleven games today, out of a possible 15.

It's not that I begrudge the ballplayers a holiday off, but it does seem like they could just as easily rest on Tuesday. Just my $0.02.


Few things will suck you in faster or more precipitously than a "24" marathon. The real-time nature of the show lends itself to people catching it in large chunks. Week-to-week, it's pretty hard to follow, but four or five episodes in a row is an excuse to waste your afternoon.

It also has side-effects. After watching a few episodes of Jack Bauer's crisis management style, La Chiquita's speech patterns changed. What would usually be "Honey, could you please get me some ice water?" became "I need water, ice and a glass, NOW!"

Or maybe she's just preparing for marriage.

I know I'm not the first to mention this, but, I remember when A&E stood for the Arts and Entertainment Network. They used to show high-fallutin' fare about history and artsy movies. Their signature program was Biography, which now has its own network, somewhere in the Cableverse.

Watching the commercials during the 24 Marathon, A&E should just change its name to the Trailer Park Network. Basically, outside of reruns of broadcast network series like 24, the network is completely dedicated to reality TV shows. And listen to some of these winners: Dog the Bounty Hunter (about a family of bounty hunters who dress and look like professional wrestlers); Inked (which seems to be Bravo's Blow Out, just set in a tattoo parlor); Growing Up Gotti (about being famous because you're related to criminals); Intervention (a reality show about people televising their interventions for drug addicted relatives). This is real highbrow stuff.

I fear that it's just not profitable enough to try to appeal to smart people. This is sad.


One more note: here's wishing a happy 29th to my little brother, TJ.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Links & Notes

Since they bested King Felix, the Yankees have lost 5-1 to the Mariners, as Jaret Wright got nailed by a line drive which hit him on the collarbone, and then were humiliated 12-0 by the Oakland A's, with news that Mike Mussina may be done for the season, with his painful elbow.

This is the way it is, in Yankeeland 2005. One minute you're riding high--won 5 out of 6, guys are coming off the DL and back into the rotation, Randy Johnson's looking better, and then suddenly you've lost 3 of 4 and you've scored 13 runs on the week, the majority of them on Monday.

Aaron Small starts today, and if he pitches the way he has, it looks like he might have a permanent job. A word to Chien Ming Wang--get better, soon. Al Leiter might have found his way into the bullpen, although I'm not sure that he'd be all that effective in the role. I'd run that down here, but I'm on deadline for my monthly Yankees jam at Prospectus, and I have to prestidigitate something to talk about.

I'm feeling gloomy about baseball on a glorious pre-Fall day outside. Let's look at some links:

I mentioned my Prospectus Notebook gig before. Friday I took on the Red Sox, looking at the decision to perform experimental surgery on Schilling's ankle--an injury which still hasn't healed, 10 months later. Enjoy.

Over at Baseball Analysts, they have a great piece by Bob Klapisch about his obsession with pitching. I've never been a great fan of the Klap's columns--I always got the impression that he was just a little too in-your-face for my comfort level, the kind of guy who injects himself into the team's story. But to hear him talk about playing catch with Al Leiter, in the context of a blog rather than a piece of reporting? It's good stuff.

I was reading an article by Bill Simmons (another person who needs a permanent link on the righthand side, there) earlier this week about the possibility of an NFL strike, when it occurred to me: part of the reason that the NFL is so popular is because they managed to crush their players' union. It's ironic--football players are (other than boxers) the athletes who take the most physical punishment for our amusement. They sacrifice their health, and often leave the sport with their bodies broken, or seriously impaired. But NFL fans begrudge the players guaranteed contracts or a decent pension. I guess that's because if NFL players had these luxuries, you'd never know if they were trying their hardest.

Bleagh. As Brother Joe mentioned this week, people suck.

When you call a show "Battle of the Network Reality Stars" you probably don't know what an oxymoron is. The appeal of the old Battle of the Network Stars specials was that they showed a bunch of actors--people who are actually stars--competing in an unfamiliar, non-fictional setting, sports. These reality TV guys aren't stars, just celebrity wannabes. All that we've seen them do is compete in silly games on TV.

In other words, I'm pretty damn tired of Omarosa being herself on TV. And I haven't even seen any of the things she's been in since the Apprentice. Next time I see any of these guys, I want to see them exhibiting some sort of skill they actually have--be it singing, acting, or (most likely) taking my order at a local McDonalds. Other than that, please go back to your damn lives.