Monday, May 28, 2007

Week in Review: Memorial Day

Since I'm away, this will be a way abbreviated Week in Review, no breakdown, no frills.

Week 8: May 21-27, 2007
Record for the Week: 2-4, 27 RS, 29 RA
Overall: 21-27, 7.5 games behind Detroit for the Wild Card

Player of the Week: Robinson Cano, after the abuse he took last week, seemed born again hard after the Mets series, batting .391/.417/.652 with a team-leading 5 RBI. Andy Pettitte is a runner-up with a nice start (1 R in 7 IP) against Boston. Oh, and Wil Nieves, after going 0 for April, had a perfect day on Sunday, with two hits, a walk, and two RBI. As signs of the apocalypse go, this falls before rivers turning to blood, but after the rain of frogs.

Dregs of the Week: Luis Vizcaino is still throwing batting practice, and should be falling somewhere behind Mike Myers on the relief depth chart. Scott Proctor had a bad outing on Sunday, allowing the Yanks to get swept by the Angels. But he had a lot of help. The strange thing about this week is that there aren't a large number of outlying bad performances for a 2-4 week--just a general mediocrity. Bobby Abreu hit .150, but at least he got back to his always-on-base ways with four walks. Melky Cabrera stank up the joint in limited playing time, going 2 for 10. Tyler Clippard only went four innings in his second major league start.

Story of the Week: The Record for the Week section says it all. There's no reason to talk about the division standings right now--the Yanks are 12.5 games back, and in fourth place. From this point, we talk about the Wild Card, even though there's precious little reason to even say anything about that, either. The Yanks are 7.5 games behind the Wild Card lead, the eighth team in line for the Wild Card. They're only four games out of the worst record in the league.

We're not starting the funeral, yet, but this is just plain ugly. Something's gotta give; and change for change's sake--be it firing the manager or dealing away just about any player shy of Wang, Hughes, Cano and Jeter--is looking more likely by the minute.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Updates and Notes

So, having split their six games against the Mets and Red Sox, the Yankees now have to face their third first-place team in a row, the AL West-leading Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, of California, of the United States of America (the LAAoCAUSA, for short), at the Stadium. Then it's on to a week-and-a-half on the road against Toronto, Boston (again) and the White Sox, before the Interleague thing starts up again. This is a tough stretch, and despite their recent signs of life, the Yankees at 21-24 need to make up ground, desperately.

Caught some of the Rocket's second tuneup at the pool hall on Wednesday, and that didn't look like imminent rescue was on its way. True, for Clemens it's more like a Spring Training start--more about getting your pitches in and working on your stuff than serious competition-- but Roger didn't show much command (4 walks in 5 1/3 innings), and the AA batters didn't look overwhelmed by his stuff. Still, it seems that whether or not Clemens makes one more minor league start--this time at Scranton--will be a call the Rocket himself will make.

In other news, I forgot to plug my new series at Baseball Prospectus in this space. It's called Prospectus Toolbox, my attempt to explain some of the numbers that the Prospectus crowd throws about, in language fit for a layperson. You can check out the debut installment, a bit about VORP, here, and the follow-up, with a comparison between VORP and WARP, here.

In sadder news, Anne Ursu, the indominable Batgirl, has decided to hang up her legos (hat tip to BTF). Even though she has no love for the Yanks, Ursu's site has been the best Twins blog out there, and a great source of humor for all baseball fans. The rest of us will be flying in the missing blogger formation during her absence. There's hope that she'll return after she's done teaching her newborn, Dashiell, how to keep score and to throw a slider.

Speaking of taking time off, I'm away at a friend's wedding as I write this, so posts might be scant for the next week or so. But there should be some pretty fun stuff coming down the pike...stay tuned.

Monday, May 21, 2007

WiR: The Titanic Edition, Con't

Story of the Week -- Here are three non-stories of the week:

Yanks consider voiding Giambi's contract -- Uh, yeah, sure. Wake me up if someone files something with the commissioner's office. Or even better, with a local court. The word "consider" is the tell that this story is essentially meaningless. You can consider anything. Anyone who clicks the Fantasy Girl links on Gleeman's blog considers, at least momentarily, having sex with Jessica Alba. Considering it doesn't make it happen, doesn't make it more likely to happen, doesn't mean that you're actually doing anything to make it happen. The Yanks can consider away, my money says they're still paying Giambi to play baseball next season.

Kyle Farnsworth criticizes Clemens' Family Plan Clause -- First of all, it's been reported the "Family Plan" clause doesn't exist. It's just a handshake agreement between Clemens and the ballclub, just as it was in Houston. Second of all, Kyle should spend more time worrying about his poor pitching this season, and less time worrying about his teammates. Last I heard, Farnsworth was hardly in a leadership position with this team. Finally, the many, many sportswriters who've taken up criticizing Clemens for his clause, and for signing with the Yankees, need to check themselves. It's been three years that Clemens goes home between starts. His teammates were so bothered by his selfish conduct, that the Astros made it to the NLCS twice during his Astros tenure, winning one of them. Sportswriters were so bent out of shape by the way that Clemens was disrespecting his Houston teammates that they awarded him the Cy Young in 2004, and he was third in the voting in 2005, and all the while he was going home to see his kids' high school games on days that he wasn't pitching. The horror!

It's time to fire Joe Torre -- Last year Joe Torre held together a club that lost two-thirds of its starting outfield, got the Yanks their ninth straight division title, and was rightly hailed for the job he did, finishing fourth in the Manager of the Year voting. That only lasted until October, when the Yankees lost out in the Division Series, and people called for him to be fired. So it's no surprise that with the Yanks under .500 in mid-May, the calls would start again.

But is Joe Torre really what's wrong with this ballclub? Torre couldn't have protected Darrell Rasner or Jeff Karstens from the line drives that broke their bones, and I haven't heard it suggested that he was responsible for the hamstring strains that cost Wang and Mussina DL stays in April. He didn't sign Kei Igawa, or Doug Mientkiewicz. Is it Joe's fault that Mariano Rivera looks mortal? That Bobby Abreu's swing broke down? That Carl Pavano suffers from whole body systemic failure?

Torre hasn't changed his approach one bit from the style that made him one of the most successful managers in Yankees history. What's changed is his roster, which has gotten older and more fragile, not to mention more expensive.

There's always the chance that this club needs a change of scenery, and that a manager who is more of a hardass than Torre could light a fire under these guys. But if Torre goes, it will be change for change's sake.

Week In Review: The Titanic Edition

Week 7: May 14-20, 2007

Record for the Week: 2-4, 27 RS, 26 RA
Overall: 19-23, 3rd Place AL East, 10.5 games behind Boston

The Breakdown:

05/15 -- How unexpected! More rain, just in Chicago this time.

05/16 -- Double Dip, Game 1: Yankees 3, White Sox 5
Mike Mussina can't get through the sixth inning, the Yankees can't get more than three runs. Lesson learned: Our syllogism of the week. The Yankees can't beat lefties. John Danks is a lefty. Therefore, the Yankees can't beat John Danks.

05/16 -- Double Dip, Game 2: Yankees 8, White Sox 1
Chien Ming Wang spares the Bombers the indignity of losing to onetime Yank Jose Contreras, and the bats come alive, particularly Hideki Matsui's (3 for 5, 4 RBI). Lesson learned: One Yankees foreign free agent from the 2002-3 offseason negates another. Which makes me wonder if somehow Jaret Wright and Tony Womack could heal Carl Pavano.

05/17 -- Yankees 1, White Sox 4
Yanks get confused, maybe think that John Garland is lefthanded. Matt DeSalvo forgets that Jermaine Dye is a good hitter, despite his Mendoza-line batting average. Dye roughed DeS up for a double, a homer, and his first major league loss. Lesson learned: Yanks tend to play like they just want to get on the plane on get-away day, once again.

05/18 -- Yankees 2, Mets 3
Yanks get all their offense against Oliver Perez in the juncture between their two functioning bats--AL batting race leader Jorge Posada on board for Hideki Matsui's homer. Andy Pettitte makes one huge mistake to Endy Chavez, and the Yankees continue to show no signs of life. Lesson learned: It turns out Oliver Perez is also lefthanded!

05/19 -- Yankees 7, Mets 10
Endy Chavez, batting second, breaks the index finger on Darrel Rasner's pitching hand. Which makes me think--has someone on the Yankees wronged Endy? And if so, could they please just apologize. Trying to patch things over with Mike Myers and Luis Vizcaino works about as well as expected, and Robinson Cano commits three errors, playing defense as if his arms were loaded up with novocaine. Lesson learned: Seriously, this is the way the Yankees' season goes down the tubes? Endy Chavez? David Wright smacks you around that's one thing, but Endy friggin' Chavez?

05/20 -- Yankees 6, Mets 2
The Captain's two-run shot cements a 4-1 lead against John Maine in the fourth inning, and Tyler Clippard controls the Mets offense, outside of a moon shot by David Wright in the second inning. Lesson learned: When Clippard strikes someone out, he does what I now call the "Clip Strut", walking the long way around the mound. Nice to see someone showing a bit of fire...

Player of the Week: Total no-brainer--Jorge Posada is leading the league in hitting, with a line of .476/.542/1.000, two doubles, and a team-leading three homers. Honorable mentions go to Derek Jeter (.304/.407/.609), Hideki Matsui (.346/.370/.577), Chien Ming Wang (1.29 ERA, win) and Tyler Clippard (1.50 ERA, win).

Dregs of the Week: We're going to overlook Mike Mussina (8.44), Matt DeSalvo (10.80), and Johnny Damon (.235/.316/.294), not to mention Doug Mientkiewicz, Jason Giambi, and Melky Cabrera (weak numbers in short time too numerous to mention). The guy who got Dregs honors this week didn't post a horrible line--.261/.261/.478, and he even hit a homer in the game I'm upset at him about. If you haven't guessed it, I'm talking about Robinson Cano.

Cano's performance on Saturday was simply brutal. He had a multi-hit game, only his third of the month, but he played with what Tim McCarver poetically called "nonchalance." I don't know if maybe Robbie was sick or distracted by things in his personal life on Saturday, but the fact is, this isn't the first time this season that he's been dragging, looking like he couldn't be bothered to run to first or set himself before making a throw. In some of the Yanks' worst games, his late inning at bats have the look of someone who just wants to get out of there.

I hate to pick on Cano, because I like him. I've seen him play at his best, and this doesn't look like that player. Hopefully, it's nothing a decent winning streak won't fix. I say that mainly because the Yanks have absolutely no depth in the infield.

Story of the Week: I'm in a bit of a rush, so I'll come back with this tonight.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Is It Always Darkest Before the Dawn?

It's been a rather miserable week in Yankeeland, with the ice-cold squad getting a two-day layoff thanks to a Monday off-day and Tuesday rainout, then splitting a day-night doubleheader with the White Sox, followed by Matt DeSalvo's first loss in Chicago. The team's record stands at 18-21 (just in case any of us Yankee fans forget, don't worry, Bill Simmons will remind us...) just as the team heads into a six game swing against their two biggest rivals, who also happen to be winning about two-thirds of their games, each. Oh, and they're going to have to call up yet another rookie, most likely Tyler Clippard, to pitch Sunday's nationally televised game

There's nothing I'd love so much as to see the Bombers give these teams a good, strong kick in the teeth--sweep one, take two out of three from the other, If there was ever a nice time for Alex to break out a ten homer barrage over the next week, this is it. Ever a good time for Andy Pettitte to throw 16 shutout innings over his next two starts? This is it. Ever time for Bobby Abreu and Robinson Cano to remember that they are actually hitting machines? Now. Time for Enter Sandman to be punctuated once again by the sound of opponents' bats breaking? Now, now, now.

But I'm not feeling it. This club, this $200+ million juggernaut, feels thin. Fragile. The lineup leans too far to the left, and the bench features way too much Miguel Cairo. Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi--who apparently, thought this was finally the right time to publicly admit that he used PEDs--are in a strange, possibly permanent "not 100% because of nagging injuries" zone. And the whole group lacks energy right now, seemingly resolved to the see-saw where good run support means bad pitching, and good pitching means cold bats.

Usually, at a juncture like this, the solution would be a trade to change this team's look and feel. But I can't even begin to imagine how this would work. Who on this team is actually movable with all the eight figure salaries and over-30 bodies attached to them?

Meanwhile, the Yankees' white knight gets in the saddle tonight, as Roger Clemens does his first tuneup start at Class A Tampa. We'll be watching, either on ESPN2 or But by the time the Rocket comes riding in, the season might be irreparably broken. Pardon my Spanish, but it's cojones check time for the Bronx Bombers.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Week In Review: And the Wheel Goes Round...

Week 6: May 7-13
Record for the Week: 3-4, 26 RS, 28 RA
Overall: 17-19, 3rd place AL East, 8 games behind the Red Sox

The Breakdown:

05/07 -- Seattle 3, Yankees 2
Matt DeSalvo's major league debut spoiled by a missed call on a Willie Bloomquist caught stealing, and Adrian Beltre hammering Mariano Rivera for a game-winning solo homer. The Yankees put lots of guys on base, to no avail. Lesson learned: We spent August and September last season saying how ungrateful Phillie fans were, booing Bobby Abreu. Abreu's 7 men left on base maybe gave us a window into their point of view.

05/08 -- Rangers 2, Yankees 8
Alex Rodriguez breaks a two-week homer drought, and Andy Pettitte controls the Texas offense for seven innings. Lesson learned: Jerry Hairston in center field is not a good idea.

05/09 -- Rangers 2, Yankees 6
The Yanks' new-look lineup--Abreu bats second, and Jeter and A-Rod bat back-to-back in the 3-4 slots--does a good job against the Texas, and Mike Mussina gives the Yanks their third consecutive quality start, and their fourth in five games. Lesson learned: If you go five years between major league hits, like Wil Nieves did, you might forget to stop at first when you finally end the Nieves did.

05/10 -- Rangers 14, Yankees 2
On getaway day, the Rangers totally got away with one to save themselves from the series sweep. Brandon McCarthy stifled the bombers into the sixth inning, by which time the Texas offense had already staked him to a 4-1 lead off Chien Ming Wang. Things would get ugly for Wang in the seventh inning, and in the later innings the game became an out-and-out laugher. Lesson learned: Luis Vizcaino can turn a big 7-2 lead into an ego-building, 10-2 lead. That, and onetime Met Victor Diaz can sure turn on a fastball.

05/11 -- Yankees 0, Mariners 3
A nice Darrell Rasner start is wasted when the Yanks can't seem to get anything going against Jarrod Washburn, despite putting seven men on base through eight innings. Lesson learned: When a team that thrives on getting starters to throw a lot of pitches and then feasting on the soft middle relief, can't get Washburn up over 100 pitches until his 8th inning of work, they're probably in trouble. Another possibility is that they simply suck against lefthanders.

05/12 -- Yankees 7, Mariners 2
A big second inning gives the Yanks and Matt DeSalvo their revenge against Miguel Batista. Three Yankees (Jeter, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada) get three hits. Lesson learned: Matt DeSalvo is on track in the quest to become this season's Aaron Small.

05/13 -- Yankees 1, Mariners 2
Andy Pettitte's effort makes it six quality starts in the last eight games. Horacio Ramirez's effort makes for the fourth time in a week the Yankees were held under six runs. This didn't work out too well. Lesson learned: Yeah, they just suck against lefties. Against lefthanded pitchers, the Yankees hit .267/.339/.385 as opposed to .282/.362/.436 against righthanders.

Player of the Week: Andy Pettitte (1-1, 1.88 ERA, 14.1 IP) and DeSalvo (1-0, 1.98 ERA, 13.2 IP) were great in their four starts last week. Sadly for the Yankees, they each got minimal run support in one of their starts. On offense, Derek Jeter was the man, collecting seven of the Yanks 22 RBI for the week, and hitting .480/.581/.560. Honorable mentions out to Jorge Posada .440/.440/.560 and Doug Mientkiewicz (.368/.381/.579)? Weird week, that's all I can say.

Dregs of the Week: We already mentioned Bobby Abreu (.143/.172/.179). He's joined by Robinson Cano (.111/.111/.185) and Jason Giambi (.000/.125/.000 in 16 PA)--although Giambi gets an injury dispensation for his heel spur. On the pitching side of the ledger, Chien Ming Wang followed up his near-perfect effort with a butt-ugly seven run 6.1 IP performance. This hurts us as much as it does you, Tiger.

Story of the Week: This was a week without any one dominant story, just a bunch of little ones, so in no particular order:

1) Igawa Goes to Tampa -- I feel we've seen this movie before, acted out by such luminaries as Hideki Irabu and Jose Contreras, all sent down to Tampa to bask in the wise glow of pitching gurus such as Billy Connors. Does this ever end well? Is there ever a time when you send someone who's regarded as a skilled veteran down to the minors to work on their skills, and they actually turn into the pitcher you expected? It's a shame that the Yanks' needs at the end of Spring Training were such that they couldn't afford to send Igawa down to the minors to start off, let him work his way up. That sound you hear is fifty someodd million dollars circling the toilet bowl...

2) Reversal of Fortune -- That's the way it goes sometimes. In April the Yanks were dying because they couldn't buy a decent pitching performance. Now they're getting quality starts from the likes of Matt DeSalvo, along with oldsters Pettitte and Mike Mussina...and they can't score. Bad times. In May, Robinson Cano is looking up at the Mendoza line, and Bobby Abreu, the perennial Prince of the Base on Balls, has only walked once in the last two weeks. Jason Giambi has been old and injured, and Josh Phelps hasn't made an impact. And then there's the other issue...

3) Power Outage-Rod -- Alex Rodriguez's May numbers aren't bad (.277/.393/.383) but they're a pretty strong indicator of what's gone wrong with this offense. The overwhelming power surge that drove Rodriguez to a historic April has flatlined. It was frustrating to watch on Sunday, Rodriguez flailing away against a scrub like Horacio Ramirez (7.62 ERA going into his start with the Yanks), and then coming up empty in his big opportunity in the eighth inning--two on, two out against rookie Brandon Morrow. Giving the rook some credit, Morrow struck Rodriguez out on a near-perfect pitch--knee-high and painting the outside corner with mid-90s heat. But despite that, you could see that Alex's swing wasn't really working well before strike three. As pointed out above, there's plenty of blame to go around, and Alex shouldn't be expected to hit 15 homers each month this season. Still, he's got to get on track if the Yanks are going to get back in the race.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Week In Review: Everything Old is New Again

Week 5: April 30-May6, 2007

Record for the Week: 5-1, 43 RS, 22 RA
Overall: 14-15, 2nd place AL East, 5.5 games behind Boston

The Breakdown:
05/01 -- Yankees 10, Texas 1
Jorge Posada (3-4, BB, 2 RBI) and Robbie Cano (4-5, 3 RBI) bust loose with two doubles apiece in the lone star state, and A-Rod goes 3-4 in his old stomping grounds. It's all doubly overshadowed by Phil Hughes a) pitching 6 1/3 no-hit innings, then b) limping off the mound after feeling a "pop" in his hanstring. Lesson learned: That thing where they say it's always darkest before the dawn? A lie, an out-and-out lie.

05/02 -- PPD at Texas
Tornadoes threaten Arlington as Strength and Conditioning--er, Performance Enhancement Coach Marty Miller does the Walk of Shame out of the Yankee clubhouse. Lesson learned: scapegoating is fun and easy?

05/03 -- Yankees 4, Texas 3
Andy Pettitte gives the Yankees consecutive quality starts, Luis Vizcaino throws batting practice, Jason Giambi (homer), Melky Cabrera (3-4, triple) and Hideki Matsui (2 RBI doubles, including the go-ahead run in the 8th) key the offense. Lesson learned: Texas's defense is bad to the bone. That, and Luis Vizcaino looks tired already.

05/03 -- Yankees 5, Texas 2
Doug Mientkiewicz busts out his third homer, Derek Jeter goes 3-5, and (more importantly) Mike Mussina returns to the rotation with five good innings. Lesson learned: Even with three good starts, the bullpen still had to chip in 9 2/3 innings in this series.

05/04 -- Mariners 15, Yankees 11
The M's put up an eight-spot against Kei Igawa, Colter Bean, and Luis Vizcaino, which is how you lose a game in which you score 11 runs. After confounding the Red Sox in his last appearance, Igawa gets slapped around for 8 runs in 4 innings, making him an early candidate for Most Frustrating Yankee of 2007. Lesson learned: Colter Bean may be the pitching equivalent of Andy Phillips--a guy we've pimped relentlessly for his minor league performance, left to rot on the vine by the brass, then once he's past his sell-by date, the team decides to give him playing time. It's a sad story if true.

05/05 -- Seattle 1, Yankees 8
Chien Ming Wang takes a perfect game into the eighth inning, Jeff Weaver shows his stripes in the fifth. Probably the most enjoyable game of the entire season. Lesson learned: When Broussard hit the homer to end Wang's perfecto, I was actually relieved that the perfect game, no-hitter, and shutout ended that way, rather than with Wang limping off the mound. It was that kind of week.

05/06 -- Seattle 0, Yankees 5
I already wrote about this one yesterday, so no need to belabor the point. Lesson learned: With Rocket's support, Cotton Eyed Joe could plague us for decades!

Player of the Week: Clearly, I'm going to give co-players of the week to Chien Ming Wang and Phil Hughes. Those were two great, inspirational, exciting starts--even if neither of them will get its own commemorative DVD. Many of the hitters also deserve honors, but we can only spare honorable mentions for Hideki Matsui (.348/.444/.696 with 5 doubles, a homer and 7 RBI) and Jorge Posada (.500/.600/.750 with 5 RBI).

Dregs of the Week: The week's worst on offense, Bobby Abreu, wasn't really all that bad (.276/.267/.345), so it looks like the honors again go to a pitcher. Colter Bean's infinity ERA is too easy a target, so let's give it to Kei Igawa, for bringing Yankee fans so low after giving us such a thrill against Boston last week. Dishonorable mention to Luis Vizcaino, who coughed up the lead and scavenged a win in Pettitte's start in Texas, then coughed up a pair more runs in the big ugly Friday night game against Seattle.

Story of the Week: As I promised yesterday this is all about Roger Clemens. The Rocket's landing in the Bronx is the epitome of a deal that makes sense for both sides. For the Yanks, the injury to Hughes, the news that Pavano's shopping for Tommy John surgery, Igawa's ineffectiveness and a sub .500 record all added up to a mandate to get more pitching. Clemens is the best pitcher out there, and unlike any trade options all he costs is money (we'll talk about the money in a second). For Clemens, he had the Yankees about as far over the barrel as he could get them, far enough that they'd give him a historic sum of money to come pitch for two thirds of a season. Even from where the Yankees stand today, they're as good a shot to make the postseason as any team in baseball, and they're more likely than the Astros to make any moves necessary to improve themselves mid-season. So Clemens picked the right moment to strike, and the right place to go (unlike Red Sox fans, Yankees fans didn't hate Clemens after he left; unlike Red Sox fans, we won't be secretly hoping for him to fail).

But let's not go too crazy here. This move doesn't make the Yanks the favorite to win the division. It doesn't guarantee them dominance the rest of the season. Clemens is still a very good pitcher, but he won't give you what the Yanks need most, which is a pitcher other than Wang who will go deep into the game and give the bullpen a breather. What's been accomplished, at considerable expense (some $46 million, plus maybe $15-18million more in luxury tax) is reconstituting the 2003 starting rotation--the same rotation the Yankees let go of three years ago because they'd gotten too expensive, too long in the tooth, and they hadn't produced all that spectacularly in the 2002 or 2003 playoffs. Well, let me tell you, they haven't gotten any younger, better, or more durable since last Clemens, Mussina, and Pettitte were all in pinstripes together. Sadly, all the Yanks alternate plans fell through in the intervening years--Jeff Weaver? No way. Javy Vazquez? Nope. Jose Contreras? Heck, no. Let's not even mention Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson. It was all just a lot of work and money to wind up right back where we started from.

Speaking of money, the phrase my Brother J and I tend to utter when we talk about the Yanks' spending is "it's just George's money." The contract that Clemens will reportedly receive is HUGE--$28 million prorated, or $18.5 million from June 1 to the end of the season. Even if the Yanks get back a huge chunk of Carl Pavano's salary back in insurance money, it likely wouldn't defray the luxury tax that'll be owed on Clemens's salary, some $7.5 million. But this is actually a situation where the Yanks' spending on the here and now makes a lot of sense. There is a lot of uncertainty about the team after this season--Alex Rodriguez can opt out of his contract, Pettitte could decide to be a free agent, Posada and Rivera will be free agents, the team has to decide whether to pick up Abreu's option--so it makes sense to go for the title while this ballclub is still together.

It was pretty much either sign Clemens, or write off the season. Brian Cashman made the right call.

Link of the Week: Nice retrospective on Ruben Rivera by John Sickels. Check it out.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sunday Surprise

Just got back from the Stadium, a nice 5-0 win that was completely overshadowed by events in the seventh inning. No, I'm not talking the standing about and shouting that stands for a "brawl" in Major League Baseball, I'm talking about the announcement between innings.

It was strange. They cut off "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" abruptly for an announcement by Bob Shepard, saying "Ladies and gentlemen, please turn your attention to the owner's box for an important announcement." The whole thing was so sudden, I halfway expected an announcement that George Steinbrenner had passed away. There was a second of shocked silence that passed through the Stadium when Roger Clemens, in jacket and tie, was shown on the Diamondvision scoreboard approaching the mike. And then came the applause, and more applause. I actually couldn't hear what he said, it got so loud. But then, just in case there was any doubt, the words appeared on the scoreboard: Roger Clemens is a Yankee. Clemens would come back on the screen later to introduce Cotton-Eyed Joe (of all things).

We'll talk repercussions tomorrow during the Week In Review.

After the announcement, I could hardly keep my scorecard going. The game was good, although most of the Yankees runs were scored off Seattle's butt-ugly defense. The official scorer charitably took a couple of errors away from Raul Ibanez, reversing a call on Matsui's sixth-inning fly ball (the reversal in scoring gave Hideki his 2000th professional hit, tallied between his time here and in Japan) and granting a double on a routine fly that Ibanez straight-out dropped in the seventh inning. Darrell Rasner was good...while he lasted. I have trouble seeing how a pitcher's throwing from side to side of the plate, but I could definitely see Rasner moving the hitters' eye levels all over the place. I also saw him in the 90s more often than in his previous starts (although they had him at 94 MPH for one pitch, which is a pretty good time to ask if your radar gun's broken).

As for the "brawl"...ho hum. In the fifth, Josh Phelps absolutely clobbered Kenji Johjima on a play at the plate, just flat-out leveling the Mariner catcher as he waited for the throw from the outfield. In the sixth, predictably, M's pitcher Jarrod Washurn retaliated when Phelps came up to bat again. Then, in the seventh, it seemed Scott Proctor threw inside at shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, getting Proctor ejected and starting the low-energy milling, I mean, brawl. The ump must have issued a warning when Phelps was hit, but I'm still glad that Proctor at least tried to stand up for his teammate, since--even though I think all this retaliation stuff is pretty juvenile--it seems that the word is going around the league that you can target Yankee hitters with impunity. Still, to call what ensued a "brawl" is a farce. The funniest part is when the bullpens empty, and the pitchers run onto the field. At Yankee Stadium, there's one common entrance to the field for both bullpens. If these guys are spoiling for a fight, how come they're contentedly jogging side-by-side toward the infield, instead of wrestling each other in one giant scrum on the leftfield grass. One of these days the pitchers should do that, if only as a joke.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tornado Warning

I don't know if I've mentioned the BP mailing list jinx here--I discussed it in a Game of the Week piece I did last year, when Anibal Sanchez threw a no-hitter. Basically, at any one time that Major League Baseball has games going on, the guys at BP are cumulatively watching about 85-90% of the games on the schedule. It's not by design or anything, it's just what happens when you get a large group of baseball fans all around the country, many of whom are armed with or Extra Innings subscriptions. If something happens in the majors, someone on list is probably watching, and will drop everyone else a line.

The jinx comes in when someone, anywhere in the majors, is throwing a no-hitter. Someone on the BP list will pick up on this sometime after the fifth inning, and alert everyone else--at which point, the no-no is almost always broken up immediately thereafter. It started as a joke, then got creepy with the long drought of no-hitters in the majors. Lately, we've seen folks on-list enlisting the jinx's help to break up a no-hitter against their favorite team, or being thrown by a pitcher or team they don't like.

So around the fourth inning of Tuesday's game, it got into my head that the Rangers weren't going to get a hit off of Phil Hughes. In high contrast to his first start last Thursday, the rookie was dominant against a Texas lineup that admittedly doesn't include any one hitter who's as good as Frank Thomas (or Vernon Wells). They weren't making good contact, they didn't seem to have any idea what was coming, and Hughes kept changing their eye level and mixing up his pitches. The radar gun didn't have Hughes throwing that hard (90-93 MPH, IIRC) but he was throwing the four-seamer past the Rangers hitters. It was beautiful.

Naturally, when I thought there would be a no-hitter, my thoughts turned to the jinx. I thought about sending out a message to the group "Anyone who says anything about this before it's over gets broken kneecaps," but I reconsidered. I joke a lot, so no one would have taken me seriously. It probably would have invited comments like "What the heck is he talking about?" followed by replies of "Oh, Phil Hughes' no-hitter," leading to a long thread discussing this, and me using up all my frequent flier miles to travel around the country to harm people I genuinely like. That, and I was halfway thinking that the threat email, itself, might activate the jinx.

We get through the sixth and I'm abuzz. The biggest obstacle I see is Hughes' pitch count, which is in the 80's. How far is Torre going to allow the organization's crown jewel to go?

By now everyone knows what happened in the seventh. Hughes retired his first batter, got ahead of the next batter, then he over-strode on a pitch, hyperextending the knee on his landing leg. Right away, you could tell something was wrong--Hughes hopped up and grabbed his thigh--and it looked like maybe he'd strained a groin muscle. Then he was limping around the mound, and Ron Guidry came out to talk to him. And that was it for Hughes, not only for the night, but for the immediate future.

What most of you don't know is that right before this happened, an email came through BP's list. The subject line? "Jinx." After calming myself down, I wrote an email to the group, asking that someone take away my access to BP's author address book, because I didn't want to know [BP author who shall remain anonymous]'s home address. Everyone laughed. But I was only half-joking. The other half of me was compiling a list of states between here and the Pacific Northwest which have weak gun control laws.

A broken-up no-hitter I can take. Crippling the Phranchise I take personally.

Hughes' injury turned out to be a type II hamstring strain, a level of seriousness beyond the strains that kept Chien Ming Wang out a month and have kept Mike Mussina out for three weeks. He goes to the DL, and the conservative estimate is that he's out 4-6 weeks. It's only May, and that's the kind of season it has been.

Yesterday I was inundated with work, and Arlington was inundated with rain and high-speed winds. There was a tornado warning, which could just be a manifestation of Yankee fans' moods right now. The head that rolled--so far--isn't Torre's or Cashman's, it belongs to the Yanks' Director of Performance Enhancement, Marty Miller. I've already talked about Miller, and his mouthful of a title, to which we can now add "/Scapegoat."

More after today's doubleheader.