Monday, June 23, 2008

42 Games Left: Sweep Aversion

After rampaging through the Astros and Padres, it looked like a shot of interleague play was just what the doctor ordered for the Yanks. But the Cincinatti Reds, dead last in the NL Central, provided a roadblock, with potential All-Star Edinson Volquez breaking up the team's seven-game winning streak on Friday night--allowing only two runs in seven innings of work wasting a pretty decent Mike Mussina outing. Then Darryl Thompson did Volquez one better, leading a five-pitcher shutout of the Bombers on Saturday. Again, the Yankee offense--this time joined by a porous bullpen--helped waste Dan Giese's fine effort in his first start in Pinstripes.

So coming to the ballpark yesterday, the Yanks were in a tight spot, a fun romp through a weak NL schedule suddenly turning into a must-win situation to stop a three-game losing streak at home. Sunday's starter, Johnny Cueto, is someone I think will be better than Thompson or Volquez in the long term. Physically, he reminds me a little of a young Tom Gordon--short but long-armed--just with a better assortment of pitches.

True to that promise, Cueto was a surgeon against the Pinstripers for four innings yesterday, allowing just a couple of Bobby Abreu singles, and a hit by pitch against six strikeouts. He was hitting spots with a 95 MPH fastball and his breaking stuff was darting in and out of the strike zone. Fortunately, Andy Pettitte was just as fine for the Yanks, working his way out of a bases-loaded one-out jam in the fourth. It was a gutty performance, with the veteran lefty having a classic eight-pitch confrontation with one of the top rookies in the NL, BP's #1 prospect, Jay Bruce, to close out the inning.

The forecast had said thunderstorms, which kept some of the, shall we say, less intrepid elements from coming to the Stadium. My brother T, who signed on as my wingman on the late side, got to the ballpark extremely late--he missed Pettitte's fourth-inning drama, if I recall correctly. He also brought a dark and foreboding cloud to the ballpark with him: up until that point it had been pretty nice weather. Still, his timing was perfect. He arrived, the Yanks rallied to score a run off Cueto on a Jason Giambi single, a Hip-Hip-Jorge! double and a Robinson Cano sac fly. Pettitte worked a clean top of the sixth, interrupted a couple of times by huge dust clouds kicked up by the incoming high winds. Then the skies opened up in the most discrete and tidy rain delay I've ever experienced: maybe 20 minutes of hard rain and thunder--just enough time for a bathroom break and a short search for snacks among the Stadium's concession stands--then a short period of light rain, and about 20 minutes of cleanup. The crowd was oddly complacent, during the delay--someone asked me if the game was official, as if asking for permission to go home, and it did seem that the crowd was thinner after the tarp was removed from the field than it had been when it was put on.

When the game resumed, it was no longer fireballing Johnny Cueto on the mound for the Reds, but Gary Majewski, the centerpiece of the Austin Kearns trade a few years back, who almost immediately came up lame after joining the Cincy ballclub. The Yanks staged a second rally against Majewski and former Rockies reliever Jeremy Affeldt, capped by an opposite field double by Jason Giambi, and an RBI single for Posada that ran the score to 4-0.

At that time, I abandoned my perch in the left field Main boxes, to meet up with Jay Jaffe by his seats in the upper deck. Jay'd run into Rob Neyer and some friends during the rain delay, so he invited me to visit, now that the crowd had thinned out and his section had a fair number of empty seats in. It's from there that I watched the game to its conclusion, made a little bit too exciting by a couple of singles off of Mariano Rivera in the ninth. Good win for the Yanks to take on the road to Pittsburgh, en route to a rematch with the Willie Randolph-less Mets.
Even though both of these teams have struggled, to some extent, the Yankees would be well advised not to take either of them for granted--after all, they just lost 2 of 3 to the Reds.


Two issues came up in discussion after I joined Jay's party in the upper deck, and I fear both made me look like a New York fanboy rube. First, talked about the "Tell Big Papi Where to Hit a Homer" at the Home Run Derby promotion. There's next to no chance that this promotion will come off, thanks to David Ortiz's wrist injury, but now that my credential application for the ASG has been rejected, can I just say that this was one of the dumbest ideas, ever? Maybe I'm mis-remembering (as Roger Clemens would put it) but I don't think that Major League Baseball built too many promotions around Yankees ballplayers the last time the All Star Game was at Fenway. No, as I remember it, that game was all about Red Sox history, Ted Williams coming out in his motorized scooter, that sort of stuff. Featuring a Red Sox player in the last All Star Game at Yankee Stadium is a bit like inviting your fiancee's ex-boyfriend to your wedding, then letting him have the first dance with the bride. I know MLB promotes the living daylights out of "the Rivalry" but seriously--is this where attention should be at this event? Does that make sense?

Regardless of my feelings about the promotion, I'm pretty sure that if I'm in attendance at David Ortiz's last game--or even just his last game at Yankee Stadium--I will cheer for him. The same goes Manny Ramirez, or Curt Schilling: regardless of their status as "enemies" who've killed the Pinstripers repeatedly over the years, at some point you've got to get beyond that and just be a baseball fan. And as a baseball fan, it'd be pretty damn small of one not to acknowledge the accomplishments that any those guys have had, the mark they've left on baseball history.

Just the same, the cheers caught in my throat when it was time to recognize Ken Griffey on what is likely to be his last game at Yankee Stadium. Junior likely ended his Stadium career yesterday with a homer, the six hundred and first of his career, and it came in a perfect spot (from a Yankees perspective): a solo shot in the late innings of a game in which the Yanks were comfortably ahead. But I just couldn't bring myself to cheer a guy who's spent so much of his career venting vitriol at the Yankees franchise and fans. I don't mind an opposing player beating the Yanks on the field--after all, that's their job--and Griffey certainly put the knife in the Yanks a few times, most notably in the 1995 ALDS. But for his entire career he's carried a chip on his shoulder against the franchise, apparently because Billy Martin yelled at him when he was a kid. Griffey may not have noticed, but Billy died quite a while ago--the same year that Junior made his major league debut, in fact. You'd think that the adult thing to do would be to let go of the insult at some point, but in interviews this weekend, Griffey was surprisingly graceless. Rather than fondly recall any of the 18 homers he'd hit in the Cathedral, his response to a question about his time spent at Yankee Stadium was "My favorite Yankee Stadium memory? It's leaving Yankee Stadium...For us [the Reds], it's a trip we have to make, not something to look forward to."

For most of his career, I found myself wishing that I liked Ken Griffey Jr. more--the same way some people wish they enjoyed classical music. After all, he was one of the most important players of the 90s. It looks like I'll have to go on wishing. I only managed a half-hearted golf clap for Griffey's homer, and if that makes me a bad fan, then so be it.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


I was cooped up in the New York Public Library today during the game, working on an upcoming project that has yet to be announced. I was happy to be indoors out of the heat, but sad to be missing the game--until I checked the score online, and saw the Yanks were down 10-6 in the seventh inning. That's life, these days, I guess. We saw on Friday--when the Yanks' late-inning comeback hopes were stifled by Joakim Soria--that the reason that comebacks like the one the Yankees engineered on Thursday are so special, is because they don't happen every day.

But can comebacks happen every other day? The next time I checked the scores, the Yanks had won the game 12-11. I excitedly clicked through to check out the game story at, and I got this headline:

Pettitte, Yankees scorched by Royals

Had I misunderstood the score? The story was 350 or so words long, and started like so:
If the heat wasn't making the Yankees uncomfortable -- game-time temperatures soared into the 90s -- then the outcome certainly was. For most of Saturday afternoon's game against the Royals, the Yankees either possessed the lead or possessed a chance. But neither possession helped them to win.

Jose Guillen hit a tie-breaking grand slam off Andy Pettitte, and the Yankees fell, 10-8, to the Royals at Yankee Stadium. It was their fifth loss in seven games.

But no, the box score was pretty clear--the Yankees won. Johnny Damon had six hits, including the game winner. He had four RBI, and Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada each hit homers. Obviously, someone had let an early version of Anthony DiComo's game story--before Damon tied the game at 10-10 in the eighth inning, before Mariano Rivera gave up the lead on a David DeJesus homer, and before Posada tied the game again with his homer, setting the stage for Damon's walk-off hit--get up on the front page. A couple of hours later, his real story was up on the site, talking about the "rather ugly maple bat" Damon used to match the Yankee record for most hits in a ballgame. The headline was amended to "Damon, Yankees Scorch Royals." It's a nice piece--check it out, just remember that it could have come out much differently.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Comeback: A Pornstache Story

I've been running around like a lunatic the last few days, tending to a lot of real-life developments. So it wasn't surprising that I was walking through midtown today, and when I passed a bar I was completely clueless that the Yanks were playing an afternoon game. And losing, 7-6.

The score held until I could get to a bar myself, over on the far west side of what used to be known as Hell's Kitchen. It's been a while since I saw a game in a bar--fortunately, it's like riding a bike, you never really forget how. The patrons were really into it, which was mildly surprising for a weekday before 5PM. During the Yanks' tease of a rally in the eighth, there were audible gasps when Brad Wilkerson (Brad Wilkerson?) caught Johnny Damon's gapper. And the disappointment and restlessness were palpable when Blockhead Kyle pitched himself into trouble and put the team one more run in the hole in the top of the ninth.

But then our Co-Player of the Month of May, the master of the Pornstache himself, Jason Giambi, came up to the plate against B.J. Ryan (there's a certain Beavis and Butthead symmetry to the pornstache facing B.J. with the game on the line). As it turns out, Giambi abused Ryan for a three-run, walkoff upper deck shot. I said before the season that with his Yankees contract finally coming to an end, the Giambino would be motivated to perform in 2008, and (at least where the bat's concerned) that prediction seems to be bearing fruit.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Month in Review: May 2008

Record for the Month: 14-12, RS: 124, RA: 119

Player of the Month: The bats came alive this month, none more than the one belonging to Jason Giambi. Giambi's porn-stache makes him look like some bizarre refugee from the 70s, but if he continues to hit like he did in May (.315/.446/.644, team-leading 6HR and 14 RBI), he can walk around wearing a feather boa for all that Yankee fans will care. Hideki Matsui followed up strong on his good April, hitting .350/.409/.480 last month with 13 RBI and a team-leading 21 runs scored; Bobby Abreu also got hot with the bat (.330/.407/.570, 14 exta-base hits), although his fielding this month has been ghastly.

Giambi, however, has to share player of the month honors with a couple of pitchers. Mariano Rivera repeats his player-of-the-month honors from April, with an 0.64 ERA and 7 saves, and Darrell Rasner (3-1, 1.80 ERA in May), who came out this month throwing his middling fastball and decent slider around as if he had the heat of Nolan Ryan and the breaking ball of Ron Guidry. Sadly for Rasner, the season didn't end May 31: he got raked in his first start of June. Honorable mentions on the pitching staff go out to Edwar Ramirez (one run allowed in 11 2/3 May innings) and Mike Mussina (5-1, 3.72 ERA).

Dregs of the Month: Three players--Chad Moeller, Morgan Ensberg, and Alberto Gonzalez--combined for 82 AB in May, without a single extra-base hit. That's how the Yanks are rolling for depth right now. Ensberg was DFA'd in June, likely meaning that the Yanks threw away $1.75 million on a guy who barely got a chance to play. Shelley Duncan (.163/.213/.256), Jose Molina (.207/.230/.276), and Melky Cabrera (.234/.270/.319) also contributed to the team's unbalanced "Stars 'n' Scrubs" lineup. On the pitching side, it was a bad month to be a young Yankee, not named Joba. Phil Hughes went on the DL, Ian Kennedy sucked a bunch (0-1, 6.27 ERA in 4 starts) and then joined him, and Ross Ohlendorf--a guy who could move up, seeing how the Yanks will now be relying on Blockhead Kyle and Latroy Hawkins to get them from the starters to Rivera--was all over the place (6.94 ERA on the month, with four good outings and three awful ones). Oh, and Kei Igawa's name might as well be Pavano, right now. What are the odds he'll make another start in Pinstripes?

Story of the Month: actually happening this month. A down-in-the-mouth Yankees congregation turns its lonely eyes to Joba Chamberlain, tonight, hoping that the beginning of his career as a starter helps get us over the disappointments of this season. Ask Mets fans about how young starters can make your year (see 1986) or break your heart (see Generation K).