Sunday, July 19, 2009

Yanks Claim Another Pitchers' Duel

(Photos from AP/ESPN)

Saturday's game, which we did not recap thanks to it being too nice a weekend to be writing recaps, was a classic pitchers' duel between established aces CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander.

As Jay metioned in the preview, Sunday's game featured less established starters who tease with their potential. Edwin Jackson is in the midst of a breakout season at age 25 after struggling through his first six Major League seasons. Joba Chamberlain has displayed extended flashes of brilliance in his career, but has also been mired in a stretch of bad starts which has seen him labor, exit early, and seemingly deny his problems. Both pitchers would be on top of their games Sunday.

The afternoon started in typical frustrating fashion for Chamberlain. He needed 23 pitches to get through the first, allowing a walk and a single. He walked the leadoff batter in both the second and the third, then surrendered a leadoff homer in the fourth. At that point, in 3+ innings of work, Joba had issued three walks, two hits - one of them a homer, and needed 57 pitches - just 33 of them strikes - to get nine outs and fall behind 1-0. It appeared it would be another wasted start, but from there something seemed to click.

Joba reverted back to his old form. The rest of his afternoon would consist of 3.2 scoreless innings. He needed just 50 additional pitches, 35 of them strikes. He would allow just one more hit (thanks to some inventive defense by Nick Swisher), one hit batsman, no walks, and record 6 of those 11 outs via strikeout. His velocity increased to 96 and 97 MPH according to the Stadium gun.

Perhaps most telling was his work in the fifth. With the game tied at one, Chamberlain found himself in a first and third, one out jam, with the dangerous Miguel Cabrera at the plate. Chamberlain induced a pop out from Cabrera, then fanned Marcus Thames with a 95 MPH heater on a critical 3-2 pitch.

Jackson was just as good. He cruised through the early innings, needing just 40 pitches to get through the first three, facing one over the minimum. Staked to a 1-0 lead in the fourth, he got two quick outs before he gave the run back on a mammoth homerun to left by Alex Rodriguez. He followed that with consecutive walks to Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada, but worked his way out of the jam.

Jackson gave up another moon shot in the sixth, this one to Mark Teixeira. He again followed that by pitching into a jam, an A-Rod single and Posada double putting runners on second and third with two outs. Once again Jackson was able to minimize the damage, but enough damage had been done.

In position to win and having already thrown 97 pitches, I had hoped Chamberlain wouldn't return to the mound for the seventh. It isn't that I'm opposed to pushing him, but given his recent history I felt it important that he exit the game on a high note. Joba made good use of the extra rope he was given, fanning both batters he faced. With the top of the order and the dangerous Curtis Granderson due up, Joe Girardi then went to the bullpen. He was booed by the crowd, but I felt it was the right move - again, it was important that Chamberlain exit on a high note.

The move worked like a charm. Phil Coke needed just one pitch to get Granderson to loft a soft liner to short, ending the inning. The Yankees threatened again in the bottom of the inning, and again came up empty. It didn't matter; the one run lead was all they needed. Phil Hughes had a dominant eighth, recording two more Ks, and Mariano Rivera despite issuing his fourth walk of the year, pitched a scoreless ninth to close out the sweep.

Back with more in the AM.

Game 91: Old Time Rock And Roll

The Yankees have been hosting an Old-Timers' Day in its current format every year since 1946. It's amazing to to think that, even back then, the Yankees had enough distingushed former players that they felt the need to honor by hosting a pregame ceremony once a year. This year will include the largest number of attendees ever, probably due in part to the fact that it's taking place at the New Stadium.

Among those donning pinstripes will be legends such as Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Whitey Ford, Don Larsen, Moose Skowron, Dave Winfield, and Paul O'Neill. The widows of Thurman Munson, Elston Howard, Catfish Hunter, Phil Rizzuto and Billy Martin will also be there to represent their husbands. Don Zimmer, now a member of the Rays coaching staff (for home games only), will be back in Pinstripes for the first time since his angry departure in 2003. Always a fan favorite, Zim promises to get one of the louder ovations from the crowd.

Far smaller hands will be given to the likes of Aaron Small, Homer Bush, Andy Carey, Jeff Torborg, Brian Doyle and other relatively obscure former Yanks. You can't fault those guys for accepting the invite, even though their presence might drag out the ceremony a bit. The Yankees have taken a "more the merrier" type of approach to Old Timers' Day and I think overall, that's probably a good thing. The events start at 11:45 and the first pitch of the game is slated for 2:05.

On the mound today will be two pitchers who are anything but old-timers. At age 25, Edwin Jackson has had a breakout season thus far. He's got a 2.52 ERA and has given up only 94 hits in 121 2/3 IP. Even with 35 walks, his WHIP is still a dominant 1.060. In his only start against the Yanks this year, Jackson threw six innings of shutout ball in what started off as a pitcher's duel against Phil Hughes, but the Yanks blew the game open in the seventh and won 11-0. Part of the reason for their success back in April was working Jackson's pitch count to 117 and getting him out of the game early so they could do their damage against Tigers' bullpen (now without Joel Zumaya). One would imagine they will be taking a similar approach this afternoon.

Joba Chamberlain will be the Yankees' hurler this afternoon, at least for the first 4 or 5 innings anyway (kidding... hopefully). We are all heavily invested in Joba's ability to become a dominant starter his last two outings, totalling 8 innings, haven't been especially encouraging. He was charged with 7 runs over those two games, but 6 unearned runs came to the plate when he was on the mound as well. The Yankees were lucky to win the first of those starts 10-8 but lost then next 10-6. The team is 12-6 when Joba starts, but that is more of a testament to the offense and the bullpen than it is to his contributions as a starter. He needs to get it going if he wants to be back for some Old-Timers' Days down the line.

Still like that old time rock and roll,
That kind of music,
just soothes the soul,
I reminisce about the days of old.