Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cano K.O.

I guess I should start by telling the Red Sox trolls not to worry. The Yanks are still extremely, massively out of position to win the division. More importantly, the division is a bit irrelevant. Sure, it's nice to have home field advantage for a round or so, but you can go ahead and ask David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez if their rings are any less real because they earned them from the Wild Card spot.

So the game for the Yanks isn't really looking at Boston. It's Seattle, and Detroit, and to an extent Cleveland and L.A. So the big news for the Yanks is that they've won three in a row, while the M's were getting swept by the Angels, and the Tigers were dropping two of three in Kansas City. That the three wins came against the Red Sox is good--it's more of the tough part of the schedule out of the way--but it's not much more meaningful than that.

I mean, even after a sweep the Red Sox lead is five. The Yankees could sweep them again in their next series, in a couple of weeks at Fenway, and it still it wouldn't matter so long as the Sox stay even with the Yanks in all their other matchups.

But still, you have to think that Wednesday's win, and the 5 1/3 no-hit innings he threw at the Sox were big for Roger Clemens. It wasn't so many weeks ago that Sox fans were bragging about how happy they'd be to see the Rocket a broken down old man playing out the end of his career in front was it that Bill Simmons put it? "Twelve thousand fans watching an under-.500 ballclub?"

So that must have felt nice for him. Today's win must have felt nice for the Wormkiller, pitching wonderfully with what looked like a sizeable Taiwanese contingent catching the afternoon action. This time, too, it looked like we were in for a special day, until the whole thing was undone by the Captain, who looked like he rushed a throw to catch the slow-as-molasses Mohel of Swat (as Steven Goldman once dubbed him) Kevin Youkilis.

It was definitely a good day for Robinson Cano, whose two dingers were pretty much the offense against Curt Schilling. After a lackluster first half (and that's putting it kindly) Cano's come on with a vengeance. He's one of the most perplexing pieces of this team--he obviously nonchallants some plays, some game, even. Then, just as you get frustrated with him, he'll put on some bizarre bit of hustle. Or he'll hit the ball like it was slow-pitch softball.


On to the notes:

Schilling, to his credit, really did a good job aside from the blasts he gave up to Cano. Wang was just better, and the Yanks were able to put the game away against the vaunted Red Sox bullpen.

Yes, Youkilis was out in the seventh. YES kept on showing the rule on running outside the baseline to avoid a tag Rule 7.08--but I think they had an old copy of the rule book. (I can't be sure. I was watching the game with the sound off--my wife and I work at home together, and while I will sometimes turn on the TV during the workday, it would be a total breach of etiquette to subject her to Michael Kay.) Rule 7.08, which was re-written during the off-season, specifies that the player can't go more than three feet away from his baseline--that is, the straight line from the path he is running when the play happens to the base he's trying to reach. In the replays, you see Youkilis running on the outfield side of the baseline, then dramatically swerved all the way to the infield grass. If you consider where he started the play, Youkilis wasn't just barely out of the baseline, he was a good 5-6 feet out of his personal baseline.

To answer three other questions--yes, Alex Rodriguez should have gone for the around-the-horn DP, although that's 20/20 hindsight; yes, Youkilis was safe on his first set of evasive maneuvers, avoiding Giambi's tag on Jeter's error; and no, I don't think Joba was throwing at the Basepaths Ninja in the ninth inning. I don't have a psychic link to Chamberlain or anything, but his demeanor didn't seem like he was throwing at someone. He looked puzzled after both of the high/inside pitches--sure maybe he was asking himself "why didn't that hit him in the head?" but it just didn't look like that kind of party.

Speaking of Joba, can anyone tell me if there was theme music for this appearance? I'd read a disturbing story from Peter Abraham that Joba had requested "Indian Outlaw" by Tim McGraw as his entrance music. Based on the snippet of the song I heard on iTunes, I sure hope someone had the wisdom to veto that selection. This is New York baseball, not the Country Music Awards--I don't think that listening to McGraw drawl out a rhyme between "outlaw" and "choctaw" really send the message,"Here comes a complete and total badass to shut your offense down."

Yes, I know Joba's a Native American, and likely a country music fan, to boot. Quite honestly, I think things got out of control when the position players got to pick the music that plays before their at bats. It puts the whole thing backward--the music at the ballpark is for the fans, not the players. Given his choice, do you think that Mariano Rivera would ever have selected "Enter Sandman" as his music. He's made it clear that he didn't know from Metallica before hearing it every day on his run in from the bullpen.

Whoever chose the music for him, made a good choice. I hope someone makes a good choice in entrance music for Joba. I keep thinking that if he wants to honor his heritage with his entrance music, there has to be a song that would actually get a New York crowd excited, that accomplishes that purpose, too. I just couldn't think of any cool pop or rock songs about Native Americans. If you have any ideas in that regard, use the comments section (that's what it's there for!).

Monday, August 27, 2007

Week in Review: Ouch!

Week 21: August 20-26, 2007

Record for the Week: 2-4, 40 RS, 43 RA
Overall: 72-58, 2 games back of Seattle for the Wild Card

The Rundown:
All right...let's bring the pain--

8/20 -- Yankees 6, Angels 7
We should really keep track of the worst losses of the season. Looking back at the stats, it's easy to spot bad margins of defeat, like week 20's 12-0 pounding from the O's; it's a little harder to remember the ones that were just painful, like this. Two comebacks, an exhausted bullpen, an extra inning loss--and since it's California time, you get to wait up all night for the pain!

8/21 -- Yankees 9, Angels 18
I'd say this was a lot easier to take, except it wasn't, really. At least there was the comfort of knowing that the starting pitcher never gave you a decent chance at the win--Mike Mussina pitched like someone who doesn't belong in the majors. That doesn't mean that he can't hack it in the big leagues anymore, it just means that he can't hack it right now--since the All Star Break he's got a 6.33 ERA. He's got to turn it around soon, because this is killing his team.

8/22 -- Yankees 8, Angels 2
Great job by Andy Pettitte, stopping the bleeding in Anaheim. Matsui, Posada and Cano each had three hits, Bobby Abreu went yard.

8/24 -- Yankees 6, Detroit 9
As I said Friday morning, didn't we already see this game on Monday night? Trying to decide which is more painful between that loss and this one is like deciding between a punch to the kidney or one to the solar plexus. (I say this from a pain standpoint only, obviously. You're much less likely to suffer permanent damage from the gut punch than the shot to the kidney.) Thanks to the four-hour rain delay, they even played the game on Pacific time--that should have been an advantage for the Yankees, right?

8/25 -- Yankees 7, Detroit 2
Chien Ming Wang takes the team on his broad shoulders, and Johnny Damon (homer, triple) and Melky Cabrera (bases-clearing triple that broke the game open) did some damage on offense. Nice.

8/26 -- Yankees 4, Detroit 5
You ever experience the announcer's jinx? The first time I did was in 1988, I was listening to the game on the radio, and the announcers (I'm ashamed to admit I can't recall off the top of my head who the voices were) were going on and on about Cal Ripken's home run drought. Hadn't hit a homer since May something, which was more than a month past. And while they were running this topic into the ground, Ripken slams a homer (I want to say it was a three-run shot, but I'm not going to retrosheet this). You could just hear it coming. On Friday, when the rain delay finally ended, Michael Kay couldn't shut up about how poorly Curtis Granderson was hitting, what a slump he was in. You knew nothing good could come from this. He beat the stuffing out of the team on Friday, with four hits, then greeted Phil Hughes with an inside the park homer to start Sunday's game. Of course!

Player of the Week: Alex Rodriguez hit four homers and collected 8 RBI in a .333/.448/.833 week. The homers all came in Yankee losses, which might re-ignite the "unclutch" claims, until you look at the fact that those homers on Monday and Friday brought the team pretty close to victory. Hideki Matsui spent July looking like A-Rod, with all the homers, but he's shifted into being Ichiro Suzuki in August, the prodigious hitter of singles. He hit .440/.517/.600 for the week. Both men are runners up to the big men of the week, Andy Pettitte (7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 6 K) and Chien Ming Wang (8 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K) whose extreme competence saved the Yanks from completely flushing this road trip down the toilet (Mike Mussina's start tonight will go a long way in determining how bad the flush-job is). An additional honorable mention has to go out to Kyle Farnsworth (3 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 4 K), who seems to be doing his best to quit the sucking day at a time.

Dregs of the Week: Speaking of sucking...there was a lot of that to go around this week, particularly on the pitching staff. Mike Mussina's start was the obvious dregs (7 R in 1 2/3), but Sean Henn also took a couple of extra-innings beatdowns, with a crappy long-relief whipping in Tuesday's blowout in between. Why did Mike Myers walk the plank again? To make room on the roster for Jim Brower?

Let's not get bogged down, though. The Rocket (10.80 ERA in 5 IP) and Phil Franchise (7.30 ERA in 12 1/3 IP) also disappointed this week, as did Melky Cabrera (.240/.296/.320) and Robinson Cano. (.208/.240/.333). On the part-timer front, Jason Giambi and Wilson Betemit combined for a 3 for 23 performance, but made up for a bit since two of those hits were homers.

Story of the Week: We knew a hard week was coming, but this team really played down to expectations. Other teams in the AL have passed the Yanks in the bad one-run record race, but with another two one-run losses (and Friday's game would have added to that tally had Carlos Guillen's fly not left the yard) this week, the Yanks stand 11-17. The only other AL contender under .500 in this measure is Boston--they're 18-19.

Time's running out to hope that things will balance out. The Yanks are lucky that the Mariners dropped a couple against Texas over the weekend, or else all the warning lights would be flashing. Two games out of the Wild Card with a month to go is still being alive in my book. There's a must-win game behind a stone-cold Mike Mussina tonight, and then the Red Sox come into Yankee Stadium knowing that they will still lead the AL East on Friday morning, and with the distinct possibility that they can end any contest for the division right here. For their part, the Yankees have to focus on white-knuckled survival. Maybe they could also find a way to use Joba Chamberlain more than two innings this week.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

So Much for Help...

Boston beat the White Sox by a combined score of 21-4 in their double-header; King Felix led Seattle to a 4-2 win over Texas; and a four-hour rain delay wasn't enough to keep today's Yankees/Tigers matchup from getting up into the fiasco zone. It was deja vu all over again--in a virtual replay of Monday night's game, Alex Rodriguez pounded a homer to give the Yanks the lead, the starter (Clemens instead of Hughes this time) gave up six runs, again Jorge Posada keyed a big comeback to tie it, and again the whole thing fell apart in extra innings, with Sean Henn having to work as the "last guy in the bullpen" to eat the loss.

The Yanks had a ton of chances in this game, with 16 baserunners over 11 innings. They couldn't deliver on anything after the fifth inning. It might've helped a bit if Torre allowed any of his relievers to pitch more than one inning or if Roger Clemens could have given the team more than five poor innings of work.

At the very least, tomorrow brings another chance to try to make some headway, or at least to try to mitigate the damage from this road trip. Hopefully, this will be the only game of the series to finish after 3:00 AM.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hold Those Tigers?

The Yanks got out of rat-infested Los Angeles of Anaheim having lost only one net game on the Mariners and Red Sox, which is as good as fiascoes like that series get. I hate the Angels. It's like the whole team is designed specifically for the purpose of giving the Bombers fits (which it may well be). That said, the Yanks were in Monday's game and won Wednesday's game, only really getting outclassed in Tuesday's 18-9 pelting. A few random notes:

  • On Monday, we saw the first casualty of the Joba Chamberlain rules, since Joba's nine pitches on Sunday disqualified him from entering the game at any of the big points where a win could have been salvaged. Publicly announcing that there are special rules on how you're going to use Joba (or Jon Papelbon, or Mariano Rivera) are fine bits of public candor, with the side benefit of shielding management's backside when things don't work out, the old "We couldn't use him in that spot. My hands were tied by the rules." But you have to wonder the strategic cost of telling the other team which pitchers aren't available ahead of time in any game. Wouldn't you rather keep them guessing?
  • At some point the need to protect a young bullpen arm from Torre (and Joba needs the protection--just ask Scott Proctor, Paul Quantrill or Ron Villone what happens when you become Joe Torre's favorite toy) will have to be balanced against the fact that this team does have a shot to win this year, and that flags fly forever. When will that happen? Last week of the season? In the playoffs, when one ace reliever can really make a difference?
  • OK, I know I'm starting to sound like Michael Kay, who seems to bring up the Joba Rules thing each game, asking the exact same questions, as if Al Leiter and John Flaherty are suddenly going to change their answers. I have to say, I'm impressed by the way Kay sounds freshly flabbergasted about this issue each and every time he raises it.
  • BTW, the Joba Rules means that the Yanks carry three relievers with special care tags on their usage--Chamberlain, Rivera, and Farnsworth--which, added to the fact that two of those pitchers are their best relievers, is a managerial straightjacket.
  • Tuesday's matchup of Mike Mussina's slow fastball against Garrett Anderson's slow bat was just a perfect nightmare. Mussina's still a good enough pitcher to get you through the regular season, but as things stand right now, would anyone be comfortable with him making a start should the Yankees make the playoffs?
  • Has anyone considered that maybe the crap that Orlando Cabrera has on his batting helmet might be contributing to Angels Stadium's rodent problems? I guess to some people, the giant craplike smear of pine tar says "valued member of the 2004 World Champions." To me it just says "slob, and a possible Health Code violation."
  • One more Joba point. He needs a nickname. Given the fact that he's a big guy, this "Joba the Hutt" thing is just waiting to blow up in our faces the day he shows up to Spring Training 20 pounds overweight. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, like naming your girl-child "Britney" or "Paris" these days. We've got a lot of creative energy amongst the Yankees Faithful--someone needs to find a better name.
  • I wrote a small bit on the (for the moment) demise of the Puerto Rico Winter League on BP's Unfiltered blog. Take a moment to check it out.
  • Despite a horrible series against the Angels, the Yankees are still in a spot where, with a little help from the Tigers and White Sox, next week's series against Boston could be very interesting. More on this (I hope) over the weekend.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Week In Review: The Joba Rules, Part II

Continuing with our look at week 20 of the 2007 season...

Player of the Week: The player of the week is the Sweet Tooth, Bobby Abreu (.375/.464/.750 3 HR) bracketed on offense by a bunch of guys trying to justify their playing time for the new regime--Jason Giambi (.294/.333/.706 in 18 PA), Johnny Damon (.357/.438/.643 in 16 PA), Andy Phillips (.375/.412/.438 in 17 PA) and Shelly Duncan (homer, single and a walk in 8 PA) all trying to make arguments for time rotating through the DH/1B/corner outfield spots. Unlike last year, when the return of Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield made for an uncomfortable roster crunch, this time the surplus is made more comfortable by the fact that most of the guys involved aren't stars. I didn't believe it would happen, but Joe Torre has seemed to embrace his roster's flexibility. On the pitching side, Andy Pettitte's Friday start against the Tigers was sterling, and Edwar Ramirez (no runs and only 1 hit in 4 1/3, and 6 strikeouts) and Joba Chamberlain (3 IP, 5 K , 1 H) have staked claims to bullpen roles...and in Joba's case, more than that.

Dregs of the Week: Derek Jeter got a day off on Sunday, and with good reason--he was having a week to forget (.167/.231/.167). A lot of Yankee bats (Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Jorge Posada) were pretty cold for the week, too. The week's worst pitching performance was by Jeff Karstens (3 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 1 K 1 HR)--who somehow, is starting to physically resemble Kei Igawa. Who knew that Igawa was contagious? Dishonorable mention goes out to the Sandman, with one blown save and one out-and-out loss for the week. As always, when Mariano falters, there are questions about his elbow, old age, all sorts of stuff. Those questions have been met with blanket denials--but it was around this time last year, that the Yanks started resting Rivera in anticipation of shutting him down the first three weeks of September.

Of course, the Pinstripers had the luxury of resting their closer, since this time last year the Yankees were leading the division by five and a half games. This year, there's no such cushion, and accordingly, we've got to be a little skeptical when told that everything's A-OK in Never-Never Land. Looked back to being himself on Saturday, though.

Story of the Week: As per the title, I was going to talk about the special rules for using Joba Chamberlain in this space, but I think I'll leave that for a little bit later, and talk a little bit about what this past week, and the stretch of contenders that the Yanks are facing this month, means for this ballclub.

This has been the most uncomfortable Yankee season in years. "Uncomfortable" sounds negative, but in a strange way, I have to say I don't mind. I'm not with the folks that trot out the "entitled" cliche as a description of Yankee fans--I don't think the description quite fits, and it's a bit lazy. The adjective I'd go for is complacent.

"Complacent" is a strange word to use for a crowd to whom anything less than a World Series victory is considered inadequate, but complacency implies more than a lack of ambition--it also implies self-satisfaction and an unconcerned manner, two trends I've found myself associating with Yankee fandom over the past few years (including, sometimes, my own). The easy first place finishes this team has collected in recent seasons, have often found us in a zone of complete comfort, an easy attitude of "they'll come around" when the team plays badly. Sure, you always have the yahoos screaming on WFAN about how the Yankees need to pick up Johan Santana (as if Johan Santana is the kind of player you just...pick up), need to get Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from Florida (neither would do, individually, it's gotta be both). But more common than that is the attitude that the Yanks obviously have had great teams with superstar players, and if they just live up to expectations, winning will be easy.

Well, the 2007 edition isn't a great Yankee team, and this hasn't been an easy season. And in large part, because of's been really exciting. There's always been the risk that this team will be swept by the Orioles (as they very nearly were last week) or the Devil Rays, or that the teams ahead of the Yankees won't open the door to give the Bombers a shot at the playoffs. Somehow, the Yanks became the first underdogs ever with a $200 million payroll.

That's part of the reason that Yankee fans' reaction to Joba Chamberlain has been so irrationally overwhelming (as Brother Joe notes in his column today). Sure, the arrival of any highly-touted Yankee prospect is a big deal, but this isn't the usual situation where the new arrival can be hidden in the #5 rotation spot, or the #9 lineup slot. With Scott Proctor gone, Rivera suddenly mortal, and Kyle Farnsworth about as reliable as Britney Spears, this bullpen needed front-line help. The promise of front-line help where it's needed is what drives fans to start chanting your name before you have ten major league innings pitched. I can't even imagine such a thing happening in any of the previous seven or eight years.

The Yanks have played themselves into the playoff picture, but there is no comfort, no easy feeling that they're destined to win. They managed to beat down on the AL Central contenders over the past ten or so days (wrapped around yet another series loss to the Birds), and are now on the most challenging stretch remaining in the season--off for three games at Rodent Park in Los Angeles of Anaheim, then off to Motown for four more against Detroit, then back to Yankee Stadium to meet the AL East leaders, all without an off-day. This team could just as easily win six of the next games as lose six of eight, and the difference could have huge implications on that three game set against Boston to end the month.

Not comfortable at all, but pretty darn thrilling anyway.

Week In Review: The Joba Rules, Part I

I'm splitting this entry in two, with the awards to follow--hopefully in time before the start of tonight's West Coast tilt.

Week 20
: August 13-19, 2007

Record for the Week: 4-3, 35 RS, 38 RA
Overall: 70-54, 0.5 games behind Seattle for the Wild Card

The Rundown:

8/13 -- Baltimore 6, Yankees 7
Staked to a 5-3 lead in the fourth, Wang keeps the game close , giving up five runs in six-plus innings work, and opening the door for Mariano Rivera's second straight shaky outing. Luckily, with the game tied in the ninth, Melky Cabrera was brought around by Derek Jeter's walk-off fielder's choice. Before the ninth inning comeback, Bobby Abreu and Wilson Betemit hit homers, and Joba Chamberlain made his Yankee Stadium debut.

8/14 -- Baltimore 12, Yankees 0
Aubrey Huff and the O's smoke emergency starter Jeff Karstens like a Cuban cigar, and smack Jim Brower around so hard he woke up in AAA. Neither of the Yanks' two hits manage to plate any of the 9 guys the Orioles walked. Bad show, all around.

8/15 -- Baltimore 6, Yankees 3
Another disappointing Hughes start at the Stadium, this one larded down with bad defensive play. Another dramatic ninth inning comeback, this time courtesy of Matthew Lilla--er, I mean Shelly Duncan. Another bad outing by Rivera. Mariano's first batter hit the ball 385 feet and missed a homer by about a foot and a half, his second batter, Miguel Tejada, hit a liner over Hideki Matsui's head, and his fourth batter, Huff, jacked a two-run shot. Our second full-blown Mariano Panic of the season kicks into gear, as the Sandman's cutter goes blunt for a third straight appearance.

8/16 -- Detroit 8, Yankees 5
Bad Mike Mussina shows up early, giving up a Grand Slam to Carlos Guillen. Even when Good Mike showed up belatedly, he wasn't all that good. It's a shame, because the Yanks worked Justin Verlander as well as could be imagined, getting him to 119 pitches and out of the game in the sixth inning.

8/17 -- Detroit 1, Yankees 6
This was like turn back the clock night--close your eyes, and the sound of Giambi bashing two homers homers and Pettitte stifling a good offense for eight innings would bring you back to 2002. In 2002, however, Joba Chamberlain was still in high school, and couldn't have been imagining that within five years, fifty thousand people at Yankee Stadium would be chanting his name for the entire length of his appearance.

8/18 -- Detroit 2, Yankees 5
Roger Clemens, who's old enough to be Phil Hughes' dad, got his strikeout mojo back, whiffing eight through six, but was also hittable, allowing ten safeties, including Tigers' phenom Cameron Maybin's first major league homer. Clemens was pitching off ten days' rest after the Canadian Beanball Wars, which may have been both a help and a hindrance. Also coming off a bit of rest was Mariano Rivera, who looked his normal self in the ninth.

8/19 -- Detroit 3, Yankees 9
Wilson Betemit looked bad in his first three at bats, then heroic in his last two, providing the four RBI that broke open the game in the seventh and eighth innings. Before that, forgotten man Johnny Damon hit an upper-deck shot to remind everyone he's still on the team. The Tigers kept it close at the beginning through aggression on the basepaths--running on Damon's stringbean arm and Wang's poor move. Wang, in particular, looked rattled by the baserunners scrambling around on him, but he gutted it out to complete six innings for the win.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bronx in Mourning

Got sidetracked on my way to writing the story of the week yesterday, first by my day job and then by my Prospectus column, which continues my epic series on strikeouts. I was actually in the act of submitting my Prospectus column when I heard the news, that Phil Rizzuto, the Scooter, the 1950 AL MVP, the voice of the Yankees during my youth, the guy on Paradise by the Dashboard Light, was gone.

It wasn't really unexpected. Rizzuto'd been sick for quite a while, and wasn't well enough to appear in public for some time now. Last fall, when he auctioned off a lot of his memorabilia collection, it felt like an admission of mortality. And while all of us at Old Timer's day this year hoped he'd be well enough to do a quick stand-and-wave along with Yogi, none of us were surprised when the emcees read a prepared statement instead.

We've had a lot of that lately. I didn't comment on the Conde Nast story by Franz Lidz--mainly because I was worried about slipping on Lidz's slime trail--about the Boss's deteriorating health, as well as the many armchair diagnoses it prompted of Alzheimers or senile dementia. (Who knew the field of geriatrics was so simple you could master it without taking so much as a correspondence course!) I, for one, don't fault Steinbrenner for doing his public communications through a PR guy and through written statements if he doesn't feel up to interacting with the press personally.

Old age comes for us all, eventually, and how hard it hits seems directly proportional to our vanity. I don't know if what Lidz did was a violation of journalistic ethics (or if that term has any meaning, at all); but I find it hard to stomach any argument that says that Steinbrenner isn't entitled to whatever privacy he needs to maintain his dignity.

Alex Belth was dead on before this season when he said that 2007 was all about a sense of impending loss in Yankeeland. Joe Torre's lame-duck contract, the Stadium's impending demise...the Bombers Faithful have good reason to wonder if, by the time the new ballpark opens in 2009, there will be anything left to recognize this franchise by, other than the pennants. So Rizzuto's death, while not really a shock, is a huge step away from the Yankees we know, and toward an uncertain future.

I'll remember Phil Rizzuto mainly for his voice, and his laugh. There was a wonderful excitement he brought to the broadcast booth, almost always sounding delighted to be watching baseball, even when he got so caught up in one of his stories that he'd forget the teams were still going at it on the field. Scooter had a wonderful air of naivete about him that kept him oblivious to the fact that he should aspire to some professional neutrality--unlike some of today's schemers (I'm lookin' at you, Sterling!), he was a homer because it simply didn't occur to him to go about his job any other way. In the end, the homerism didn't really matter--he made people like baseball, and that was what mattered.

That's part of why I don't mind his place in the Hall of Fame, which I feel was secured as much by his broadcast career as by his accomplishments on the field. Even if his performance record doesn't quite stack up, that wasn't the limit of his contribution to the game.

If God has a sense of humor, I have to think that a cow was stationed at the gates of Heaven today, to meet Phil Rizzuto. Rest in peace, Scooter, our love and condolences go out to your wife Cora and the rest of your family.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Week in Review: Like Max Rockatansky...

Week 19: August 6-12, 2007

Record for the Week: 5-1, 40 RS, 27 RA
Overall: 66-51, virtually even (OK, .001 behind, one game in the loss column) with Seattle for the Wild Card

The Rundown:

08/06 -- Yankees 5, Toronto 4
Melky Cabrera tops a 3 hit game with a triple. By the end of the week, the Yanks have collected 23 triples on the year, more than they've had in any year of the 21st century. Most years, the Yanks have finished dead last in this category. This year the Yanks have two players, Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano in the top ten in the league (technically, top 12, because there's a five-way tie for seventh place).

08/07 -- Yankees 9, Toronto 2
The Wrath of the Mighty Blue Jays: A Play in Three Acts
AGGRIEVED PARTY: You have done me a mortal offense! You just wait 'til I see you again, in two months! You're gonna get it, eh!
OFFENDING PARTY: Two months? But we're seeing each other again in like, six, seven weeks. In New York, remember? Why don't you take your vengeance then?
AP: Nay! When we meet in New York, I shall be completely civil. I'll wait two additional weeks, until we're back here in Canadia, to have at thee, ruffian!
OP: Dude, if you're so damned offended, what are you waiting for? Don't worry, it's not like the crowd at Yankee Stadium is gonna jump you or anything. They've got all sorts of security there these days.
AP: Nay, I said! I am now honor-bound to see you in New York, act perfectly civil, drop three out of four games, then meet you again in August, when you shall learn that indeed, revenge is a dish best served cold...
OP: It's gonna be August. That's pretty warm, even in Canada.
So that's what revenge, Canadian style looks like. I'd say it was impressive, if throwing fastballs at a guy's knee weren't so chippy, and if former Yankee coach Brian Butterfield didn't then cry like a broad watching the English Patient over a couple of hard slides at second base. Whatever. Nice pitching performance by Roger Clemens, who gets the suspension that the Blue Jays pitchers--who spent two days trying to plunk A-Rod--somehow missed. Venal stupidity obscures Joba Chamberlain's big league debut, Abreu's four RBI.

08/08 -- Yankees 4, Toronto 15
So the Blue Jays' nefarious plan after the infamous "Ha!" Game was not only to hit Alex Rodriguez in the leg, but to drop five out of their next seven games against the Bronx Bombers...but win the two series finales, so as to tease the Yankees with, then deny them, the possibility of the sweep. Well played, sirs! Chien Ming Wang has his worst start, like, ever; Robbie Cano takes Halladay yard twice, which would be more impressive if the Yanks hadn't been down 14-3 by the time he hit that second homer.

08/10 -- Yankees 6, Cleveland 1
The kids are all right. Philip Hughes to Joba Chamberlain to Mariano Rivera is a nice thing to see on the pitcher's linescore, and it worked like a beauty on Friday night. A-Rod homered and Derek Jeter had three hits.

08/11 -- Yankees 11, Cleveland 2
The Indians scored off Mike Mussina in the first, then allowed ten unanswered Yankees runs, including two homers by Rodriguez, and Jason Giambi's first homer since May 29...when the Yankees were in Toronto! (It all ties together!)

08/12 -- Yankees 5, Cleveland 3
Andy Pettitte throws a nice start, manages to pick a guy off first base with the bases loaded, and gets treated to some excitement in the end courtesy of Mariano Rivera, who puts the tying run in scoring position before striking out his last two batters to end the threat. Jason Giambi hits another homer, and just to make Joe Torre's life difficult, Melky Cabrera raps another couple of hits to keep over .300.

Player of the Week: Crowded house. Robinson Cano (.439/.528/.810, 2 HR), Alex Rodriguez (.353/.500/.882, 3 HR), and Welcome Back Jason! Giambi (.400/.400/1.000 2 HR) all deserve consideration, but it's Melky Cabrera (.440/.423/.800 with two triples) that gets this week's prize. Strong starts by Mussina, Clemens, and Hughes earn them honorable mentions.

Dregs of the Week: Awful week for Andy Phillips (.158/.190/.158), particularly since with Giambi back in the saddle, he's gotta produce. But his bad week takes a back seat to the horror that was Wang's wednesday appearance. That was uglier than ugly: 8 runs on 9 hits and 2 walks, in 2 2/3 innings. Gotta get those bad starts out of your system, I guess. Wang was fooling no one.

Story of the Week: We'll come back with the story in a bit.

Friday, August 10, 2007

What I'm Watching

Sorry for the lack of posting this week, as my writing energy has been consumed by work at Baseball Prospectus--including my weekly column, a chat session, a quick comment on Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron's record--and my day job. I was feeling tapped on baseball writing right now so you get a non-baseball post, on the TV shows I've been watching this summer whenever I'm not watching baseball. Enjoy, and if you have any favorites you think I should check out, hit the comments section.

Mad Men -- The best way to describe Mad Men is to say that it's a lot like Deadwood, just set in New York City in 1960. The story follows the lives of employees of a Madison Avenue advertising agency at the end of the Eisenhower administration as they dress impeccably, fool around with anything that moves, and generally live lives of quiet desperation. Like Deadwood, you get the feeling of being shown the seamier side of an era that's somewhat romanticized in American history. What's more impressive is that even though it's on AMC, and features just about nothing in the way of violence, nudity, or even profanity, Mad Men feels just as adult as one of the big HBO or Showtime series.

The only thing I really dislike about this show is the commercial breaks. They have a gimmick where they present advertising factoids, then follow them up with advertisements by the companies featured in the factoid (so a note about the name of Tylenol's first product is followed by a regular, present-day Tylenol ad). It's enough of a pain to sit through commercials, I don't need someone rubbing my nose in the artificiality of TV advertising while doing it. Very highly recommended.

Burn Notice -- A few years back, Jeffrey Donovan had a starring role in a basic cable series called "Touching Evil," which I thought was brilliant, but was quickly canceled. After landing guest appearances in about a half-dozen TV series since the cancellation, he's finally gotten another shot as a leading man. In Burn Notice, Donovan plays a covert operative for the U.S. government, who finds--as they used to say on Mission:Impossible--that the Secretary has disavowed all knowledge of his actions. After getting brushed off by the government, he's stuck in Miami, where he gets bit work as a bargain-basement Equalizer while trying to figure out how he can get his job as a spook back.

"Bargain-basement Equalizer" may not sound like much of an endorsement, but Burn Notice is an action-comedy, complete an action-comedy Hall of Famer, Bruce Campbell, in a supporting role as Donovan's best friend, and forgotten 90's hottie Gabrielle Anwar as his IRA-member ex-girlfriend. You know how there are popcorn movies? This show is good popcorn television. Highly recommended.

The Bronx is Burning -- We already covered this in my review a couple of weeks back. Now more than halfway through the story, three things are evident:
  1. John Turturro will likely win an Emmy and/or a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Billy Martin. Erik Jensen should probably also get some recognition for his work as Thurman Munson.
  2. The New York City stories intercut with the Yankees' pennant chase were just window dressing. The subplots about the blackout, mayoral race, and even the hunt for the Son of Sam killer didn't even scratch the surface of those topics, and only serve to set up archival news footage of the actual events and floating newspaper headlines. What exactly caused the blackout? Why did Bella Abzug lose the Democratic primary? Why should we care about the Post's reporting of the Son of Sam case? Guess I'll have to read the book.
  3. Regardless of my disappointment, I'll stick with this miniseries to the bitter end. It may just be a sports movie with delusions of grandeur, but it's a Yankees movie with delusions of grandeur.
Mildly recommended.

Top Chef -- Not a fan of reality TV. I hate third-rate celebrities debasing themselves for media attention by allowing camera crews to follow them around, I dislike most talent competitions, and I'm pretty cold on the genre that follows around people who are the self-declared best at [pick your occupation--cutting hair, personal training, bounty hunting, motorcycle detailing, real estate brokering, running a hotel, whatever] and whose supporting staff usually tends to be a bit too straight out of central casting to be in any way believable.

[The exception to my distaste for that last category, by the way, was Showtime's Family Business, which was about a guy who produces porn. That show avoided most of the pitfalls of the genre by featuring a very small cast that didn't seem absolutely desperate to make an impression on the viewing audience at all times. And by being about porn. I was single back when I subscribed to Showtime.]

Anyway, Top Chef is the one reality show that consistently gets my attention. It's essentially the Apprentice mixed with Iron Chef. Unlike Bravo's similar reality contests about interior design, fashion design, and hair-cutting, cooking is a venture that has a pragmatic element to it that I think relates to my life. Also, more so than most reality series, the contestants don't seem to put on outlandish personas for the sake of their 15 minutes of fame. I also kinda like how the show has the least subtle product placement in the history of products or placements, all courtesy of judge/spokesmodel Padma Lakshmi, who has the amazing talent of being able to (with a straight face) read copy absolutely festooned with product plugs, as in "you'll pack it all up in your Gladware (tm), then get in your RAV4s (tm) and bring it all back to the Kenmore (tm) kitchen, where..." It'd probably be irritating if she wasn't unbelievably gorgeous. Recommended.

The Closer -- Not proud of this one, but I had to be honest. Yes, it's yet another one of those procedurals, featuring a brilliant-but-flawed this genre I've already given up on Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Monk, and there are weeks when I start to waver on House. The thing about the Closer that has kept it fresh is Kyra Sedgwick's portrayal of the main character, and the writers' restraint in making sure that character doesn't devolve into self-parody. TV's other Sherlock Holmes surrogates are psychoanalyzed to the point of sometimes being nothing more than personality disorders with riddles to solve. Unlike those tortured souls Sedgwick's Deputy Chief Johnson doesn't really need a shrink or an A.A. meeting--she's just insecure, not nuts. She also doesn't have deus ex machina-style knowledge of all things esoteric or trivial.

This show is most often discussed as a pale imitation of Helen Mirren's British police mini-series, Prime Suspect--which may be what the Closer's makers were going for at the beginning. But the show and the character has evolved in such a way that what Johnson most often resembles is the sheriff character Frances McDormand played in Fargo. In this world of brilliant, tortured, detectives that's a breath of fresh air. Recommended.

My Boys -- I generally don't do sitcoms, and this show, basically a chick-flick sitcom, would be even lower on the list. But I'll admit I got hooked on this show about a female Chicago sportswriter and her too-tidy group of male friends last season. The series started on the wrong foot last season, but for some reason I can't quite understand, I gave it a second chance and the second episode was better, and the whole thing improved throughout My Boys' first season run. Sadly, the series has stumbled out of the gate again this season, and I'm thinking of dropping it from my DVR recording list.

The problem is, the show sometimes chokes on its premise a bit. From time to time the characters' line readings about sports are as stilted and unnatural as a fake science discussion on Star Trek. Even worse, the show's writers don't really seem to understand the job that they've given the main character. She's a Cubs beat writer, but she has plenty of free evenings during the summer to host poker night at her apartment. She never seems to be on the road, or have her work get in the way of hanging out with her pals. In the second show of this season, the show's writers have her making plans, at the beginning of baseball season, to go on vacation to Europe in October. Yeah, it's not like baseball writers are ever busy...during the playoffs!

For obvious reasons, I take these issues seriously.

So why watch My Boys at all? Basically, it's for Jordanna Spiro's performance as the archetypical tomboy main character. Spiro manages to capture the sense of a woman who knows that there is a "girly" way that she should be responding to life, but she just can't bring herself to act that way--and her reaction to situations is often both touching anf funny. I wish the writing and the supporting cast around her were stronger. Very mildly recommended.

In addition to those shows, there are a couple I've sampled, and haven't made up my mind about.

Saving Grace -- Since Broadcast News, I've had a crush on Holly Hunter. So when a series starts off with Hunter naked (even though it's 20 years later, and even though she's strategically covered to keep things PG rated) it'll get my attention. But the pilot's Touched by an Angel-meets-Prime Suspect concept really didn't click with me. Maybe it was the horrible angel-wings CGI on Hunter's tobacco-chewing guardian, Earl; maybe it was the fact that shows that try to combine religion and entertainment television tend to trivialize religion and not manage to be entertaining, either. Might give this one another chance, but then again might not.

Damages -- Recorded the pilot for this one but haven't bothered to watch the whole thing. I'll report back if it happens to be worthwhile viewing.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Week in Review: Healthy Homestand

Week 18: July 30-August 5, 2007

Record for the Week: 5-1, 64 RS, 31 RA
Overall: 61-50, 1/2 game behind Detroit for the Wild Card

The Rundown:

7/31 -- White Sox 3, Yankees 16
When the White Sox had their amazing year in 2005, the most shocking thing about it was Jose Contreras suddenly turning into a stud pitcher, perhaps even the ace of their staff. It's like he decided, "Wow, I made it out of Yankee Stadium with the Yankees' money. Time not to suck anymore!" So seeing him get shelled by the Bombers in the Bronx was not just a welcome sight, it was like a restoration of the natural order of things.

8/1 -- White Sox 1, Yankees 8
Quietly, Andy Pettitte's thrown four straight quality starts, after a suspect stretch in late June/early July. Over the first two games of the White Sox series, the Yanks had 13 home runs.

8/2 -- White Sox 13, Yankees 9
The requisite letdown game. The Yankee bats remained potent, Wilson Betemit went yard in his first Yankee at-bat, but sadly, Roger Clemens was throwing batting practice. He allowed an eight spot in the second inning and had to be relieved with two outs. Bad, bad, ugly loss.

8/3 -- Kansas City 1, Yankees 7
How popular is Chien Ming Wang in Taiwan? Recently a Taiwanese presidential candidate visited the Stadium, and wanted to meet Wang, have a photo op, that kind of thing. Apparently, Wang wouldn't meet the guy--nothing personal, he just didn't want to influence the results of the election!

8/4 -- Kansas City 8, Yankees 16
There'd been a moment in late in Thursday night's game when one of the Royals' relievers started off Alex Rodriguez with a fastball down and in--the perfect pitch for Alex to drive--which he took for a strike. With two on in the first inning of Saturday's game, I saw KC's catcher setting up on the inside corner, and announced "here it comes" to my wife, just before Rodriguez crushed his 500th homer. There was a brief, shining moment of well-being in the Yankee fan community--the 500 homer monkey was off Alex's back, Phil Hughes was back on the mound and looking good, everything was right with the world. Reality ultimately intruded--Hughes got roughed up and didn't make it through five, the Yanks had to scramble to put up another football score for the win--but it was a nice moment.

8/5 -- Kansas City 5, Yankees 8
Hideki Matsui hits a milestone--he's only 400 homers behind Rodriguez in his MLB career--and Bobby Abreu has his fourth three-hit game of the week.

Player of the Week: Bobby Abreu went nuts on the White Sox and Royals, to the tune of .600/.667/1.050 with 3 HR and 9 RBI. Robinson Cano hit .478/.556/1.087, also with three homers and nine RBI. Jorge Posada hit .444/.575/1.111 with three homers, and also homering three times was Hideki Matsui (.348/.407/.783). In addition to that, Chien Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina all had good starts.

Dregs of the Week: Clemens, easy. You want more? Mike Myers managed to convince Joe Torre that the team doesn't need a LOOGY anymore, and Kyle Farnsworth has gotten to the point where I'm starting to wonder if he's intentionally doing poorly, just out of spite. Farnsworth's driving me crazy...I don't even enjoy hating him anymore.

Here's an idea. Let's all pretend we don't hate him anymore. Stop booing the second he warms up. Be supportive of the big lug. We seem to be stuck with him, and wishing a horrific demise upon him hasn't been working for us Yankee fans. So how about a 180 degrees different approach, a group hug-type thing? I'll try it:

Hang in there Kyle! We got ya back!

God, that felt unnatural. But sometimes you gotta take one for the team.

Story of the Week: Slowly this team is turning into what was expected--and just in time, because after this week's series in Toronto, things get tough--three games against AL Central leading Cleveland, then home for three against Baltimore, then a nightmare stretch with four at home against Wild Card leader Detroit, then out to Los Angeles of Anaheim for three against the hated Angels, then to Detroit for four more games, then back to the Bronx to play three against the Red Sox. That stretch right there is the crucible of this season, where the whole thing will fly or founder, to mix metaphors. The season won't be finished , by any means, but it's likely that the Yankees will only have six games against contenders in September.

So August would, notionally, be harder.

The team is drawing pretty close to full strength. Phil Hughes is back--had a tough start, but I'm not down on him. Joba's due this week, and Giambi might be back by the end of the week. One Yankee who won't be with this team is Mike Myers, who was waived to make room for Jim Brower, of all people. I got an email from Joe Sheehan on this when it was announced that gave me pause:

I hate the seven-man bullpen, but what the hell? Myers not only does the LOOGY thing as well as anyone alive, but he'd taken on the role of mop-up man without bitching.
If they actually made this move because of a short-term blip in his LHB BA against, they're all idiots.
Mike Myers has faced appx. 82 LHBs and struck out 18 of them, walking nine and allowing one HR.
Ron Villone has faced appx. 48 LHBs and struck out THREE of them, walking three and allowing two HR.
Sean Henn (demoted Saturday) has faced appx. 44 LHBs and struck out FIVE of them, walking four and allowing one HR.

Now, Joe's absolutely right--if you're going to keep one of the team's lefthanders, between Myers, Henn and Villone, I don't see where Villone is the pick. Unlike Myers, Villone isn't really a lefty-killing type lefty--his delivery doesn't contain a lot of deception--he has a worse track record than Myers, he was a guy who couldn't find a job with another club in Spring just doesn't make sense. Meanwhile, Myers' problems with lefthanders come down to a .390 BABIP, which is frequently stathead shorthand for "bad luck." Myers has been DFA'd, which means there's a chance that the Yankees will be able to deal him rather than just releasing him; you'd have to think that a number of contenders looking for a LOOGY would be interested.

Maybe they get some value for him. But honestly, this looks like a huge waste. The only counterpoint in the Yanks favor has been that Myers' 2.50 ERA aside, he hasn't looked good against lefties--they look like they've been hitting him pretty squarely. The fact that Myers has been more effective against righthanders than lefthanders as a Yankee is actually a strike against him, as a guy who was brought on to be the Yankees' LOOGY. He never really had a chance for a larger role like Mike Stanton played back in the day.

Hopefully, the electronic "ink" I've spilled just now about this guy will far outweigh the contribution Myers would have made down the stretch and in the playoffs, even under the best of circumstances.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

July in Review: Righting the Ship

Record for the Month: 19-9, 202 RS, 124 RA

Player of the Month: I gotta say--he was looking pretty sluggish for much of the first half. He came into July hitting .270/.350/.434. Those are decent numbers for a second baseman, but not terribly big production for a left fielder. One month and thirteen homers later, Hideki Matsui's season totals were .294/.369/.529. It's been the best month of his career--on this side of the Pacific, at least.

Close behind Godzilla was the born-again bat of Robinson Cano (.385/.420/.633) and the steady march to free agency of Jorge Posada (.360/.466/.558). Heck, during Tuesday's blowout, it even looked like Robbie was trying to draw a walk--a true "will wonders never cease" moment. On the pitching side, Mariano Rivera and Luis Vizcaino combined for 29 1/3 innings striking out 31 and only allowing 27 base runners.

Dregs of the Month: The Yankees scored 202 runs in July, most in the majors by far. No Yankee with more than a dozen plate appearances had an OPS of less than 737. Yankee pitching wasn't equally compelling, so that's where our Dregs come from this month. Andy Pettitte allowed 59 baserunners in 32 1/3 July innings, to the tune of a 6.96 ERA. On a lesser level, Brian Bruney labored to the tune of a 10.80 ERA in ten appearances, Mike Mussina had a 5.08 ERA, and Edwar Ramirez had that one nightmare inning that ended his first stint in Pinstripes.

Story of the Month: The string of hellos and goodbyes in a month that clearly made them "buyers" rather than "sellers" in the player trade market. Good-bye to Kei Igawa, another Dregs guy with a 6.56? ERA on the month. Good-bye to Everyday Scottie Proctor, who had a decent month, but was showing signs of creeping gopheritis that were starting to give the Yanks pause. I have to say, having come into my own as a Yankee fan at a time when it seemed like most Yankee pitchers couldn't break a pane of glass with their fastballs, I (mostly) enjoyed Everyday Scottie's pitching stylings with the Yankees. The exception, of course, was the patented Proctor Special(tm)--from time to time in ninth or extra innings, tied game, on the road, Proctor would suffer a total meltdown, lose the strike zone, and walk in the winning run. Still, when it was working it was nice to see him throw that high 90's heat.

The big hello goes out to Wilson Betemit, whom the Yanks picked up from the Dodgers in return for Everyday Scottie. Betemit was an underappreciated part in L.A., a guy with low BA, big power, and a decent number of walks. He can play third or short, and the Yankees say he's going to be tried out at first base as well. Now, Betemit's never played that's an iffy thing. Betemit's a switch-hitter, but one who's much better as a lefthanded hitter (.818 OPS) than as a righthanded hitter (.643) over his career--so he's not the guy to solve the Yanks' platoon problems against lefty pitchers.

Even more exciting than the guy we got are the fellows we might be getting back soon. Phil Hughes spent July rehabbing--he's allowed one run in five starts. He'll be at the Stadium on Saturday. Jason Giambi started his rehab assignment at the end of July, and he'll head to his final tuneup, at Scranton, this weekend. Joba Chamberlain spent July striking out 28 guys in 17 2/3 innings at Trenton, and another 10 in five more innings at Scranton. In August he's throwing out of the pen, and he could be the Yankees' September surprise (a la Francisco Rodriguez a few years back).

And the Yankees will probably need the help. Boston just had Christmas in July on Tuesday, with the Celtics landing Kevin Garnett and the Red Sox swapping a handful of minor leaguers--ranging from B-prospects to extremely long-term lottery tickets--for Eric Friggin' Gagne. Have fun, guys, and may the Celtics win several NBA titles. The Red Sox? May they also win a few NBA titles. Big Papi would make a lovely power forward.

Extras: Can we please have someone give Michael Kay an electric shock every time he mixes up the names of Andy Phillips and Andy Pettitte?

Daisy May's BBQ is damn good food, which makes me wonder--couldn't they have a better commercial on YES? I'm not sure that "you'll go crazy with every bite you chew"--sung off-tune, mind you--is really the kind of lyric that says "Yeah! Let's go there!" to prospective customers.

What's that sound? That's the smallest violin in the world playing for Bud Selig, recently seen whining about having to attend eight whole baseball games as Barry Bonds pursues the career home run record. It's not surprising that Selig approaches the game with all the vigor and enthusiasm of a guy going for his annual digital rectal exam--his initial reluctance to try to attend Bonds' record breaking game only melted after Barry threatened to break the record in his back yard, in Milwaukee. But shouldn't baseball's Commissioner at least be able to fake enjoyment of the game? Sure, maybe he has public support in his passive-aggressive treatment of Bonds, but what does it say to fans in San Francisco and L.A. when baseball's top executive considers luxury accommodations at their ballparks drudgery?

The bigger question is: why did anyone want Bud Selig at the record-breaking game anyway? If you're at the ballpark, would you rather sit next to a knowledgeable, enthusiastic fan who cheers good plays and is involved in the action, or some sour-faced suit grumbling into his cell phone about how he wishes the damn game would end already, so he can go back to working on his big presentation for the owners meetings on the 16th? Personally, I'd rather sit with people who think a day at the ballpark is a good time.

Speaking of which, last night I had the opportunity to meet Joe Posnanski, who was in town to talk about his book, The Soul of Baseball, which recounts Posnanski's travels with Negro League player/manager Buck O'Neil. O'Neil, who was a legendary scout in the majors, as well as MLB's first black coach, was the kind of ambassador of the game that I wish the Commissioner could be; he found the perfect counterpart in Posnanski, one of my favorite mainstream baseball writers precisely because he never lets you forget that he enjoys the game--even though (or, perhaps, particularly because) he covers a team that's only had one winning season since the 1994 strike.