Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Notes from Sox-Yanks

I look up at the MLB.com Gamecast of yesterday's game before I leave the office, and I see that it's 8-2...and Van Buren's pitching!

Oh, like I'm the only one that remembers that eight fingers was the secret gang sign of the Van Buren Boys? 'Cause, y'know, Van Buren was the eighth president...

Anyway, at that point Andy Phillips and Jason Giambi had hit homers to send Josh Beckett to an early shower. With that kind of offensive support, Mike Mussina won ugly (allowing five runs in his six innings of work), 13-5.

Tonight was a completely different animal. Chien Ming Wang outdueled a skinny thing called David Pauley. Wang's sole miscue was a pitch to David Ortiz that looked like it was going to punch it's way straight through the upper deck, and not stop til it hit the Bronx County Courthouse. On the other side, Pauley allowed Bernie Williams to show him the Bronx in the bottom of the fifth, a solo shot that tied the game. The margin of victory came in the seventh, when Pauley loaded the bases with two out and Jason Giambi at the plate. Rudy Seanez came in to relieve Pauley, and proceeded to walk Giambi to force in a run. The Red Sox aren't carrying a lefthanded pitcher on their roster right now, and it seems to have cost them there.

The unifying story of these two games is that Melky Mania is sweeping the nation! Last night, Melky captivated everyone's attention by scoring from first after a steal and throwing error by Jason Varitek. Tonight, in the eighth inning with two outs, Melky leapt and snagged a home run away from Manny Ramirez. After the catch Melky bounced off the wall and fell on his face, but held on to the ball. Johnny Damon, who was racing toward the fence along with Cabrera, had a priceless reaction even as Melky was tumbling to the ground, because he saw the rookie had the ball in his glove. Channel 9 also caught a couple of great reaction shots away from the play. Kyle Farnsworth, who'd thrown the pitch to Ramirez, was standing next to A-Rod watching Ramirez's blast fly over the fence, and Rodriguez's face when he saw Cabrera make the catch was priceless. Then, as Cabrera ran into the dugout, Farnsworth grabbed him to give him a big hug.

The Yanks are up 2-0 in the series with Jaret Wright facing Curt Schilling in the third of four games.

Yesterday marked my second Prospectus Game of the Week column, this time covering the Braves and the Diamondbacks' Sunday tilt:
After the Braves strand a runner in the bottom of the first, Sosa’s on the mound again, facing Tony Clark. Clark has some history against Sosa--he’s 4-4 with a walk in his career against him, including three homers in his last three at bats (as an FYI, those at bats came in this game against the Braves, last season, and this 2004 game, when Clark was with the Yankees and Sosa was with Tampa Bay).

Now, matchup data like this is pretty controversial. On the one hand, four at bats is a ridiculously small sample, and it’s seldom that a batter and pitcher will face each other frequently enough over the course of a season--or even a few seasons--that you could draw any serious conclusions from the results of their confrontations. Too often, one good encounter can lead a manager to the fallacious conclusion that such-and-such player “owns” a pitcher.

On the other hand, when anyone has homers in three consecutive at bats against a pitcher, it seems prudent to give them a shot at keeping the streak alive. Facing Sosa in the second inning, Clark crushes a 3-2 pitch to deep right center field. Clark’s slugging percentage against Sosa is now 3.400. That’s pretty good.

We all remember Clark's weird, streaky ways. He wound up having an amazing game--4-5 with two homers, his one out a bullet that bounced off secondbaseman Marcus Giles. As much as I hated his horrible performance in the 2004 ALCS--remember, when Olerud got hurt, Clark took his place, and the Yanks lost four straight with Clark as an anchor sinking the offense?

In other news, the first day of baseball's amateur draft was today, and the Yanks loaded up on pitchers. Their first pick was a finesse guy, Ian Kennedy out of USC. BP Scouting Guru Kevin Goldstein said Kennedy "might be the safest pick of the draft." Even more promising was the Yanks' pick in the sandwich round, a pick they acquired because the Phillies acquired Tom Gordon. Joba Chamberlin, a pitcher out of Nebraska, was thought by some to have the kind of talent to go in the top 10 picks of the draft, until tendonitis derailed his college season. The Yanks got him with the 41st pick, and if the guy can stay healthy, could be a big sleeper.

It's a risk, but also a return to a draft strategy that netted the Yankees Derek Jeter back in the day. Some of you might recall that the Captain had suffered a leg injury prior to the draft, which curbed some teams' enthusiasm for him, and let him drop to the Yanks who drafted sixth(?) that year. There's no comparison between an arm injury for a pitcher and a leg injury for a shortstop, but at least the Yanks realize that they have to try to get some edge in amateur talent acquisition, and that taking a risk sometimes is worthwhile.

Draft day never comes by without my thinking about Brien Taylor, the Yanks' former first overall pick, and basically a Ghost of Draft Day Past for all the Major Leagues. Brother T pointed me to this cool article by Jeff Passan about the lefthander whose golden arm turned to lead.
Give it a look.

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