Friday, September 29, 2006
One Hit Wonders
The Knack My Sharona, 1979
Nena 99 Luftballons, 1984
New York Yankees Robinson Cano, 2006
The Yanks went from 16 runs on 18 hits on Wednesday night, to 1 run on 1 hit Thursday night. Thankfully for Yankees fans, Robinson Cano broke up Daniel Cabrera's no hit bid with one out in the ninth inning. But I guess you need to give Cabrera credit. He went into the game with an ERA over 5, yet tossed a complete game, one-hit, two walk game at the Yankees. He threw 106 pitches, 71 for strikes.
Here is a secret for any opposing managers who might find themselves facing the Yanks in the playoffs: Start your worst pitcher, or better yet, a green rookie who hasn't thrown one MLB pitch yet. The Yanks won't be able to hit him.
Mike Mussina vs. the Blue Jays' Gustavo Chacín (9-3, 4.90) tonight.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Wang chosen over Johnson, Moose
Sophomore pitcher Chien-Ming Wang has been chosen by Yankees manager Joe Torre to start game 1 of the ALDS over veterans Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina. Wang has risen above the rest of the starting staff, and has laid claim to the title of ace. He won his 19th game Wednesday night, tied for the MLB lead with the Twins' Johan Santana. Wang shot to the top with his stamina, consistency, good head on his shoulders, and grace under pressure. He's the cream of the crop.
Wang has stood up in big series all season, has become the Yankees stopper, and there is no reason to feel he'll wilt under the pressure of the post-season. Wang gives the Yanks a lot of innings, goes deep into the game, and doesn't finish prematurely. If Wang gets in trouble, he usually wiggles out of it.
Wang in game 1 may be a surprise to some, but who would you rather have going for you, a young Wang, or an old Johnson?
Choosing Wang was not a hard decision, and by going in game 1, he'll be scheduled for the decisive game 5, if the series goes all the way. "I'm sure there will be some butterflies on Tuesday when they start introducing people," Torre said, "but this kid doesn't let you know how he's feeling." It's true. He's unflappable. Even if he serves up a dinger, you wouldn't know by his expression. Wang never gets bent out of shape. He's hard to beat.
My prediction: Wang will rise to the occasion and come up big in the playoffs. The competition will be stiff, but Wang will hold his own.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
David Wells, Gout Sufferer
I've always been a David Wells fan. The San Diego Padres picked him up from the floundering Red Sox last month for their stretch run against the LA Dodgers. It was a good move. Wells is a native of San Diego, pitched there in 2004, and is renowned for his big game and post-season success. Wells considers this his last season, so it was a good match. I'm happy that it looks like he'll go out with yet another playoff appearance.
But last night he was scratched from his scheduled start against the Cardinals due to a flare-up of his gout. Showing no empathy, Manager Bruce Bochy said, "He couldn't pick a worse time to come down with it." The San Diego Padres currently hold a two-game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West with six left to play.
Gout is caused by accumulation of uric acid crystals in joints. Your diet can help, or contribute to, the disease. Some things you shouldn't eat if you're prone to gout: alcohol (especially beer), anchovies (which are sometimes found on large pizzas), offal meats (tongue, tripe [stomach], haggis [sheep stomach], kidney, liver, head cheese), and sweetbread—which isn't as innocent as it sounds. Sweetbread is a dish made of the thymus (neck/throat/gullet sweetbread) or the pancreas (belly/stomach/heart sweetbread) or genitalia of an animal younger than one year old. Yum! I'm not necessarily insinuating that Wells eats this stuff. Well, maybe the pizza and beer.
Get well soon, David! As it stands now, The Padres and the Mets would hook up in the first round of the playoffs. I'll be rooting for Wells.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
* Last night, Captain Derek Jeter reached the 200 hit mark for the fifth time in his career. This is also the 10th time in eleven years that he's scored 100+ runs.
* Robinson Cano had two hits, including his 40th double of the season. He is now hitting .340, higher than Jeter's .338, and only four points behind Minnesota's Joe Mauer, who is at .344. He's still a handful of at-bats short of qualifying, but he'll make it before the season ends. He may be the surprise batting champion.
* Melky Cabrera hit his 25th double and drove in his 50th run. He's hitting .285 with 73 runs scored.
* Chien-Ming Wang improved to 18-6 with his win, and is now 26-11 in his short career.
* Jorge Posada took a broken bat to the side of his head in the 9th inning, but stayed in the game. Makes me feel better about my job.
* Mariano Riviera made his first appearance since August 31st, and struck out the side in the 9th to earn his 34th save. He threw 21 pitches, 14 for strikes.
* Garry Sheffield made his first appearance as a firstbaseman. Flashed some leather, too, making a few good grabs on some low throws.
* Carl Pavano is still injured. He's shooting to return by the Old-Timers Game in 2022, in which he plans to start.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Yankees Win A.L. East Championship!
Manager Joe Torre and Captain Derek Jeter enjoy their annual champagne bath.
The New York Yankees wrapped up their 9th consecutive A.L. East division title Wednesday night, not with a win, but with a Red Sox loss to the Minnesota Twins. NY has gone to the post season every year under Torre's watch—11 straight, and the 12th consecutive when you add in Buck Showalter's wild card in 1995.
Even as a fan watching the clubhouse celebration on TV, I could tell what a different feel this year's version was. There is a looseness, a better sense of fun on the team. Some of this can be attributed to the addition of Johnny Damon's mischievous personality to the club, but also to all the young blood. New guys like Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano—seen below partying— are HUGE contributors to this year's success. Then you have the veterans like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Randy Johnson, who have been through it all—and are totally focused on winning the World Series—but appreciate the enthusiasm of the young players. It rubs off on them. That's what makes this team so great, the balance of experience with hungry youth. This is what separates the 2006 Yankees from the more staid 2004 and 2005 version.
In the upcoming Division Series, the Yanks will face the loser of the Central Division. Detroit is currently 1/2 game ahead of the hard-charging Minnesota Twins. The winner of the Central will play the Western Division Oakland A's, while the wild card will go to the second place team, with the series starting in New York.
The good news for the Yankees is that with the Tigers and Twins battling it out for the Central Division, they won't have the luxury to rest players, or set up their starting rotation in the order they would prefer for the Division Series. The Yanks do have that luxury, and have been resting guys like Mariano, Giambi, Damon, Jeter to let some of their nagging injuries heal. And Torre and Guidry can select the proper order for their starting pitchers for the ALDS.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Beating the Dead ARod Horse
Honestly, I'm sick of hearing about ARod's slump. There are so many positive stories on this year's team to talk about instead: Robinson Cano's emergence as a true star, Derek Jeter's MVP play, Melky Cabrera's exciting ball playing, Chien-Ming Wang's chase of 20 wins, Johnny Damon's enthusiasm, Jorge Posada's big year, Bobby Abreu fitting the Yankees like a glove, the kid pitchers chipping in. So let's finish flogging this horse so we can bury it and move on already.
Sports Illustrated's new cover story by Tom Verducci, entitled "The Lonely Yankee," gives insights into the team's attempts to deal with Alex Rodriguez's storied Slump of '06. How do you go about helping someone in such a deep batting funk?
Well, first, the player has to admit that he's in a slump. If a tree falls in the woods but no one is around, does it make a sound? If a player strikes out 14 times in 20 at bats but he doesn't acknowledge that fact, is he really in a slump? Yes, ARod, you were deep in the throes of an extended, excruciating, seemingly endless slump. Jason Giambi even got in on the act, asking manager Joe Torre to "stop coddling him" and give ARod some tough love. According to Verducci's article, Torre said, "When the rest of the team starts noticing things, you have to get it fixed. That's my job. I like to give individuals what I believe is the room they need, but when I sense that other people are affected, teamwise, I have to find a solution to it."
Apparently, the solution was to keep ARod in the lineup and let him kill rally after rally until he broke out of the slump.
ARod's dead bat was smack in the middle of the Yanks lineup—a batting order that was already down two sluggers due to injury (Matsui and Sheffield)—and this didn't go unnoticed by his fellow teammates. What matters is what a player does in the clutch, and in the heat of a pennant race. While the Yanks and Red Sox were battling it out this summer for first place, "In the 80 games the Yankees played from June 1 to Aug. 30 -- almost half a season -- Rodriguez hit .257 with 81 strikeouts while committing 13 errors." Once the Yanks built a double-digit lead over Boston, ARod's bat came alive. I'm a Yankee fan; I'll take this current hot streak. I want him hot through the end of the year and into the post-season. I want the Yanks to win the World Series. But his failure in the clutch is what has tagged him with the choke artist label. A reputation is a hard thing to shake.
This leads me to believe that maybe the problem is mine, not ARod's. Because, really, what it comes down to, is that ARod isn't Derek Jeter, or Paul O'Neill, or Tino Martinez. Or even Jim Leyritz. But I want him to be. That's the problem. Expectations. It isn't the money—I'm not signing the checks. I just want him to get a hit when it counts. But I'm not the only one.
"We're all rooting for you and we're behind you 100 percent," Giambi told Rodriguez, "but you've got to get the big hit."
The post-season is looming. ARod's fate is in his own hands.
Monday, September 18, 2006
Jack Nicholson, Oscar® Winner, Yankee Fan
You can only suffer for your art so much. There are limits. While filming the new gangster flick "The Departed" about the Boston mafia, New Yorker Jack Nicholson refused to wear a Red Sox cap in one scene. Legendary director Martin Scorcese, also a New Yorker, asked Jack to don the Sox cap. After Jack responded along the lines of, "Are you shitting me?," Scorcese backed down. Supposedly he wore a Yankees cap instead. Thank you, Jack.
I forgive you for that piece of crap Something's Gotta Give.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Carl Pavano, Living the Life
The soap opera known as Carl Pavano continues, as more details of his car accident are revealed. The Daily News has reported that Yankees pitcher (I use that term loosely) Pavano had a passenger in the car with him when he plowed into a truck in Florida. Sexy model Gia Allemand (seen above) thankfully, was not hurt in the accident. The brittle Pavano broke two ribs, and finished off any hope he had of making it back to the Yankees rotation this year. But, hell, he's got two more years on his contract! He'll still get paid!
He signed a 4-year $39.9 million contract with the Yanks prior to the 2005 season. Seemed like a good move for NY at the time. They signed both Pavano and Jaret Wright, both 29-year old starters to add some youth to the rotation. But they've turned out to be less reliable that the old guys. Still, Wright has contributed his five-inning starts this year, and has chipped in with 10 wins. Pavano hasn't pitched since last July.
This guy is living the life. He earns 10 mil a year, is cruising around in a Porsche with a hot, young model, doesn't have to work, and is guaranteed great playoff/World Series seats! How do I sign up for this gig?!
As long as he's drawing a check, I suggest the Yankees insist he works for it. Can't pitch? How about working a concession stand, operating the Diamond Vision scoreboard, taking over for Cotton-eye Joe, unrolling the tarp during rain delays?
My prediction: Pavano will miss the entire 2007 campaign, too, with assorted injuries and mishaps. He'll return for the last two months of the 2008 season, just in time to rack up 5 or 6 straight wins, which will be enough to sucker some other team into signing him to a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract.
But at least GM Brian Cashman and the Yankees won't have to babysit him any more.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Running the Bases
Barry Bonds hit his 24th homerun of the season, and 732nd of his career. Does anyone outside of San Francisco really care what steroid-boy is up to? 23 to tie Hank Aaron's record, 24 to break. What a shame. In other news, Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds' personal trainer and alleged (ha, ha) steroid supplier, is still rotting in jail for refusing to testify to the grand jury investigating the tainted slugger. Why is this guy taking the fall for Bonds? I hope he's at least getting a good pay-off (but I doubt it).
Derek Jeter's hitting streak is still alive, and now stands at 23 games. Jeter is flat out having an MVP season. Average, OBP, RBI, defense, stolen bases, runs scored, leadership. About the only thing this guy isn't doing for the Yankees is mowing the infield grass (and for all I know, he very well may be).
Dr. Z. It's been at least a week since I've seen a Dr. Z. commercial. I want to thank Daimler-Chrysler for pulling these ads. I can just see the big-wigs at Chrysler being pitched this ad campaign and thinking it was just so clever, one of those campaigns that wins awards and has people standing by the water cooler (or the modern-day equivalent, the printer) talking about how funny it is. It isn't. It wasn't. I mean, what was Chrysler trying to sell me, a car or Dr. Z? Here's a question for Dr. Z.: Did you at least get a new car out of the deal before they axed you?
Francisco Liriano and the Twins got good news and bad news. The bad news is that the lefthander (12-3, 2.16) is out for the rest of the season and playoffs due to a strained ligament near his elbow. The good news is that an MRI showed no structural or ligament damage. He has already begun a rehab program with the hope of being ready for the start of next season.
Wild Card The wild card leaders going into today: San Diego by 2 games over Philadelphia in the N.L, and Minnesota by 2 games in the loss column over the defending World Champion Chicago White Sox.
That's all for now.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Godzilla spotted in New York!
Hideki Matsui made his long-awaited, triumphant return to the Yankees line-up last night. Starting as the designated hitter—and batting in a very unfamiliar number eight slot—Matsui went 4 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored. He even threw in a walk.
When leftfielder Matsui and rightfielder Gary Sheffield went down around the same time in May, it looked like it could be a devastating blow to the Yankees chances of winning the A.L. East, or even the wild card for that matter, with three good teams battling it out in the Central division. But the Yanks didn't panic—this is not their first time in the rodeo. GM Brian Cashman and the front office know it's a loooong season, and panic moves— trades for established stars—will screw you down the road and wipe out your farm system. Instead they brought up Melky Cabrera (see post below) to play left, and used a combination of Bernie Williams and Aaron Guiel in right until someone became available at a reasonable price. That someone was Bobby Abreu, who last night drove in seven runs and upped his combined RBI total for the year to 96.
Back to Matsui. The additions of Cabrera and Abreu solidified the Yankees, and added young blood and an experienced RBI bat to the lineup. The Yanks were complete, and ready to win a championship. But wait! Here comes Hideki! The Yanks offense is so insane now, it's almost unfair. Torre has so many options, he can mix and match, pinch hit, rest players, play the hot hand. And it's not over yet—Gary Sheffield is waiting in the wings, chomping at the bit to get in there and contribute.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Look who is Number 1 in the A.L.!
The Central division Tigers were the toast of baseball through the first 2/3 of the season, playing .700 ball. Gee, what happened? Not only have they lost their hold on the best record in the league (which determines who has home-field advantage in the playoffs), but they are also on the verge of losing first place. The Minnesota Twins are 2 games back now, but only 1 in the loss column. Meanwhile, in the East, the Yankees continue to steamroll their way to their 9th consecutive division title.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
The real story of the '06 Yankees (to be continued)
I love the Yanks, but I have to admit the 2004 and 2005 versions were lacking something. Something intangible. Call it chemistry. Heart. Hunger. No need to recount the '04 disaster. Last season's ALDS loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California who play in Anaheim but are called the Los Angeles Angels in five games was an anti-climatic—but not totally surprising—abrupt end to the season. The '04 and '05 teams were so stacked with all-stars, I think they believed it was their right to play in the World Series without having to put in the work to get there. They were wrong. They were flat, lacked spirit, lacked drive, lacked personality.
Step one to fixing that was the signing of Johnny Damon. He has not only added the spark at the top of the line-up that was missing for so long, but he also added that spark in the clubhouse as well. His presence shouted, Hey, it's fun to play on a great team in front of the greatest fans in the country! Enjoy it!
Then came Melky.
The May injuries to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield forced the Yanks to quickly plug some holes. They called up 21-year old Melky Cabrera (who had a cup of coffee with them last year) to fill in for Matsui in leftfield. He's since become a spark, with his clutch hitting, aggressiveness on the bases, and sterling outfield defense. And who knew he had such a gun for an arm? He always seems to be in the middle of a big rally, or an important defensive play. This kid is good. One wonders what will become of Matsui once he returns from the DL. Could this be another Wally Pipp/Lou Gehrig scenario?
The other young bucks on the team are in their sophomore seasons: 26-year old Chien-Ming Wang who has become the ace of the staff and currently leads the team with 17 wins, and 23-year old Robinson Cano, who is currently batting .337 and has a legitimate shot at a batting title. The future is now.
Throw in newcomers like on-base machine Bobby Abreu, Kyle Farnsworth, Mike Myers, and Ron Villone and you have a solid, well-rounded team hungry to bring a championship back to the Bronx. More than any recent team, this one really feels like the teams from the late 90s and '00-'01. You know, the Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius teams.
This is what the media should be talking about. We already know ARod is having an off-season. How about spotlighting some Melky, some Wang, some Cano? How about reporting that the so-called Evil Empire has rebuilt from within, that they are young, hungry, and bound to be a force to be reckoned with for a long time?
How about talking about anything but ARod's strikeouts? Or would that require actual work?
Friday, September 08, 2006
Yes to YES Network Announcers
Jim Kaat My favorite announcer on the YES Network. Intelligent, well-spoken, insightful, fair, and with a good old-fashioned sense of the game. An old veteran, his smooth style oozes confidence. Love his funny baseball anecdotes, too, especially the one involving Graig Nettles. Back in the day, Kaat was facing Nettles when Nettles stepped out of the box to swat at a butterfly fluttering by. Graig quipped to Kaat, "I thought that was one of your fastballs." Kaat immediately buzzed him with the next pitch.
Ken Singleton My second favorite annoucer on YES, and not just because he's from my hometown of Mt. Vernon, NY. Smooth, assured, and kick-ass knowledgeable about baseball. Ken has a nice, easy-going style that makes you feel like you're sitting in his living room with him, casually discussing the game in progress. A month or so ago, he was forced to announce a game solo, and did an incredible job. Singleton and Kaat could broadcast the phone book to me and I'd listen.
Michael Kay Kay knows his stuff. He can come off a bit arrogant, though, and with his own YES show, CenterStage, he has even more of a reason to have a swelled head and believe he is the star of the YES family. But you know what? I like this guy. He makes some really good points during a game, issues that I myself had been thinking, and he is not afraid to be critical of the Yankees on the air. He doesn't shy away from issues like steroids, and actively tries to engage the other announcers in debates.
Al Leiter Leiter is growing on me. He has a good voice, a strong vocabulary, and is still close enough to the game (having played with most of the guys just last year), that he can really explain what's going on on the field, and what's going through a player's head in a certain situation. Will continue to improve.
Paul O'Neill Paul is likeable, but doesn't work enough games to improve his style. He loves baseball, and that comes through, but sometimes I feel like he'd just rather be on the field. I wonder: If he has a bad game broadcasting, does he knock over the coffee pot?
Bobby Murcer Murcer seems to be the pinch-hitter of the broadcasters, filling in when someone else can't make a road trip. He also seems to be a bit of a failed experiment; YES was probably hoping he'd become the new Phil Rizzuto. A home-grown Yankee who moves into the booth and becomes a lovable personality—folksy, and an obvious rooter for the home team. But it didn't pan out. Sometimes it's painful to listen to the games he broadcasts. But his heart is in the right place.
John Flaherty John Flaherty has made a smooth transition from the field to the broadcast booth. I really like his matter-of-fact style, the catcher's intelligence that he brings to the booth, and the confidence he already displays. I can see him following in Joe Girardi's steps, however, and bring his knowledge of the game into the manager's office.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
The Chambliss Tapes
While the Yankees enjoy a day off as they travel to Baltimore for a four game set, I'll take this opportunity to plug a baseball story written by someone very close to me. The Chambliss Tapes is included in the anthology Rebellion: New Voices of Fiction, published by Rebel Press. It's a time travel story that revolves around Chris Chambliss' historic 1976 A.L. Championship Series pennant-winning walk-off homerun for the New York Yankees. To purchase the book, click on the book cover image to go directly to the Amazon page, or click on the image of Chambliss to visit the publisher's website, where you can buy the book directly.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
The Big Unit on the Rise
Sometimes I still can't believe he is a Yankee.
Of course, Randy, soon to turn 42, is not the same pitcher he was when he was reeling off all those Cy Youngs. He's lost a mile or two off his fastball, he gives up more than his share of dingers, and his ERA has hovered near 5 all season (though it's been sinking steadily of late).
But this version of Randy Johnson is in some ways better than ever. That's because his early struggles in the first half of 2006 has finally convinced him that he isn't the young flamethrower he once was. He's accepted that fact and moved on, adjusted, become craftier, using his experience to get the outs he needs, without relying on the strikeout. But a funny thing has happened since he's made that adjustment. He's throwing shutout innings, and striking out batters again. Maybe it's just a case of his creaky back feeling good; I think it's mental. He's found his place in the rotation, feels comfortable on the mound, and has learned to trust his catcher, Jorge Posada.
It couldn't happen at a better time.
With the post-season fast approaching, Johnson may become what the Yankees hoped for when they acquired him: an ace to get them over the hump, and bring a World Championship back to the Bronx.
His record is now 16-10, with a 4.76 ERA, and 153 strikeouts. And believe it or not, he actually has a shot at 20 wins. Depending on health, and how Joe Torre sets up his rotation for the post-season, Johnson will have 4 or 5 remaining starts to reach that goal.
Here's hoping the Big Unit comes up big.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
So, ARod is Hitting Again...
They've repeated their theory so many times, it has almost become truth. They should get into politics. This is their belief: Yankee fans will never accept ARod until he wins a championship with the Yanks.
This is complete bullshit. Let me tell you why.
Most of this current team hasn't won a World Series. The core is still there: Jeter, Mariano, Posada, and Bernie. After that, all new blood since the last WS win in 2000. Have the Yank fans not accepted Matsui, Mussina, Giambi, Damon, Cano, Cabrera, Abreu, et al? Of course we have. It has nothing to do with winning a World Series. It has everything to do with performing in the clutch. This is what the fans want and expect. Think of Paul O'Neill fouling off ball after ball until he gets one he can drive. Think of Boggs working an important base on balls. Think Leyritz thrusting the team back into the '96 World Series with one huge swing of his bat. Think of Jeter inside-outing one into right. This is clutch.
Now think of ARod.
For the first half of the 2006 season, the Red Sox were in first place. The Yanks, despite injuries to Matsui, Sheffield, and Cano, made their move on the Sox. The two teams flip-flopped the top position for a while, then NY caught and surpassed Boston, finally putting some distance between them with the historic five game sweep up in Boston. During this whole stretch, ARod was committing throwing errors seemingly every day, and worse, popping up weakly or striking out when we needed him most, with runners in scoring position in a close game. Not even a measly sac fly, or an RBI groundout to push home a run. He (literally) dropped the ball.
Now the Yanks have a nine, ten game lead in the loss column over Boston. And ARod's bat has suddenly come alive. But according to Joe Buck and his ilk, the Yankees fans are booing because ARod hasn't won a World Series, or because Jeter hasn't stood up for ARod and asked the fans to support him. Try again, Buck. The Yanks built a lead despite ARod, not because of him. Now that we have a comfortable lead he has remembered how to hit. This is why we boo.
We want him to do well. We want to clap and whistle. We want to encourage him to come through. We cheer when he approaches the plate with men on. Because there's only one thing we want.
We want clutch.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Welcome to my blog. Here I'll talk mostly, but not exclusively, about my favorite team, the New York Yankees. I welcome comments from readers, and occasionally I'll have a surprise designated blogger pinch-hitting. But for now sit back, grab some peanuts, open a brew, and enjoy some baseball.