Monday, July 27, 2009

Game 99: The Road And The Sky

The Yanks departed last night for Tampa after an incredibly successful homestand, but are now staring down one of the tougher stretches of their season. They embark on a 9 game road trip tonight against the Rays, White Sox and Jays come back for a 7 game homestand (four of which are against the Red Sox) and then are sent on a 10 game swing that takes them through Seattle, Oakland and then back cross-country to Beantown. This means that 19 out of their next 26 will be away from the Bronx and 18 will be against teams with winning records.

They've been solid on the road so far this year, going 25-21, but this stretch comes on the heels of the news that that Brett Gardner is out with a broken thumb and Chien Ming Wang is likely done for the season.

It seems a little early to say this, but the series that kicks off tonight in Tampa is a pretty important one in the context of the season. The Rays are 4 games out of the Wild Card and 6.5 back in the division, and losing 3 straight to the Yanks might turn them from buyers to sellers at the trading deadline. On the other hand, if the Yanks drop three to Tampa, they could relinquish their grip on first place and the Rays would appear much larger in their rearview mirror.

Luckily, the Yanks are summoning their three best starters in terms of ERA for this series (A.J., CC & Joba), while the Rays counter with their three best by reputation, James Sheilds, Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza.

Sheilds' ERA is a touch lower than A.J. Burnett's on the season (3.70 to 3.74), but he's been unlucky with his won-lost record, currently at 6-6. He's made 8 quality starts that haven't resulted in a win, including taking a loss despite holding the Mariners to just 1 run over 7 1/3 IP in April and getting a no-decision after throwing 8 1/3 innings of shutout ball against Oakland back in May. He hasn't faced the Yankees yet this year, but in 3 outings against the Bombers in 2008, he held them to 4 runs over 19 innings and struck out 17 while walking only 3.

A.J. Burnett remained hot in his last start against Baltimore, picking up his 9th win on the strength of 7 innings of two run ball. He's nailed down 7 quality starts in a row and watched his record go from 5-3 to 9-4 in the process.

The lineup returns to full strength with A-Rod back at 3rd and Matsui DH'ing as the Yanks look to start this 9 game, 10 day adventure off on the right foot despite some ominous signs above.

Now can you see those dark clouds gathering up ahead?
They're going to wash this planet clean like the Bible said,
Now you can hold on steady and try to be ready,
But everybody's gonna get wet,
Don't think it wont happen just because it hasn't happened yet.

Saturday At The Stadium

It was a fairly quiet weekend around these parts, because as Matt mentioned yesterday, he's in SoCal and I had the esteemed pleasure of filling up a 14' U-Haul truck with the contents of a 5th floor apartment only accessible by a very narrow staircase. You never realize all the shit you've accumulated until you have to drag it down the 5 flights of stairs one trip at a time.

As foreshadowed in Saturday's preview, Big Willie Style and I were in attendance during that day's game. We went up to the Stadium with the intention of scalping some cheap seats. We got there during the second inning and were looking to get in the Stadium as cheaply as possible. The best we could do were two separate $40 tickets in the 200 level. We kept searching and but ended up gave up our quest for the cheapies before settling for two seats in Sec 103 for $50 each. It was more than we wanted to spend, but the seats were pretty sweet; just underneath the right side of the bleachers and next to the home bullpen. Unlike our old Saturday package seats in Section 7 of the Old Stadium, these were subject to the full wrath of the sun. It was in the low 80's but felt much hotter.

During the 7th inning meltdown, Will and I met up with our pal Jason from IIATM,S for the first time in person. It was his first trip to the Stadium (which he chronicled beautifully over here) and it will likely be our last for a little while, so it was cool that our paths crossed as such. It's funny getting to know people over these here global webernets. You can exchange countless emails with someone, but you don't feel like you actually know them until you see them in person. We didn't talk to Jason's son, who was also at the game with him, but since Will and I were double-fisting Bud Heavys out of our souvenir cups, it was probably better that way. We're not great role models.

Anyhow, there was some saving grace after Aceves left that 0-2 pitch out over the plate to Landon Powell. After meeting up with Jason, we went back to our seats and drowned our sorrows while watching Mark Melancon warm up in the pen. Sec 103 is in pretty prime HR territory, so it was certainly in the back of our minds that one could come our way. Lo and behold, the illustrious Derek Sanderson Jeter ripped a two run shot into the first few rows of our section in the top of the 8th.

That would be us, circled in red. We had no chance of catching it, but there's nothing cooler than watching a ball travel and quickly figuring out that it's coming right towards you. Especially when said ball is coming off the bat of a player from your own team and you are sitting in home run territory.

As a cool side benefit, after Jeter hit that HR, Mo started warming up in the bullpen. Nearly everyone who was still there and within 15 seats or so started working their way over to catch a glimpse of the man in action. After a few minutes, the usher came down and started clearing the aisle and was met with a chorus of "Awww..."s, to which she replied "Hey, I don't make the rules." I go, "Right, you just selectively enforce them".

The Yanks threatened again in the 9th after starting off with back to back walks to bring the winning run to the plate but Jorge Posada hit into a rally-killing double play and that was that. We sat in the stands, a little stunned that it was already over in under three hours despite the long 7th and 8th innings.

The last bright spot was this character to the right, dwelling outside of the Stadium, presumably with the intention of luring unsuspecting children away from their parents. Yes, friends, that would be a grown man in a Spiderman costume playing the saxophone. What else could posess an adult to thrown on a full body costume on a hot summer day and play an instrument outside of a sporting venue?

So, all in all it was it was a good time, despite the final score. We were okay with attending the only loss of homestand. We're team players like that.

Rickey Enters The Hall

We've already taken a look at former Yankees Joe Gordon and Tony Kubek who were honored in Cooperstown this weekend. The one remaining former Yankee to examine is easily the best of the bunch, Rickey Henderson.

Henderson is best remembered for his days in Oakland, and rightfully so. But Rickey spent four and a half of Rickey's best years playing for the Yankees. The A's shipped Rickey to the Bronx after the 1984 season. It was the first of several transactions in Rickey's career, as Rickey would go on to have a 25 year career that included 13 different stints with nine different teams, including twice with the Padres and four times with the A's.

The Yankees paid a hefty price for Rickey, surrendering top prospects Jose Rijo and Stan Javier, as well as valuable bullpen arm Jay Howell and prospects Tim Birtsas and Eric Plunk. But Rickey paid immediate dividends for the Yanks. Rickey combined with Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield to give the Yanks a potent offensive core.

In his first season with the Yankees, Rickey led the AL in runs and stolen bases and set a then career high in OPS+ with 157, surpassed only by Rickey's MVP campaign in 1990. Rickey finished third in the MVP voting in 1985, was an All-Star and won the Silver Slugger as well. The Yankees finished just two games out of first in the AL East.

In 1986, Rickey again lead the league in both runs and stolen bases, but saw significant drops in his AVG, OBP, and SLG, causing his OPS+ to drop to 125. Rickey also began to gripe about playing centerfield, where Rickey had been moved upon Rickey's arrival from Oakland.

In 1987 Rickey split time between left and center, but perhaps all the stolen bases and the stress of playing center had taken its toll on Rickey, as Rickey played in only 95 games. Rickey got Rickey's OPS+ back up to 145, but it was also the only year from 1980 to 1991 that Rickey didn't lead the AL in SB.

Rickey rebounded in 1988. Moved back to leftfield full time, Rickey set a franchise record with 93 stolen bases. Rickey also scored 118 runs, good for third in the AL. On July 21st in Kansas City, Rickey led off the game with a homerun, passing one-time Yankee Bobby Bonds for the all-time mark.

In 1989, Rickey was unhappy with Rickey's contract situation. Rickey was in the final year of Rickey's contract and Rickey was the less than enthused about that situation. It was reflected in Rickey's play, as Rickey was batting just .247 and slugging just .349. So the Yankees shipped Rickey back to Oakland. They received Eric Plunk, who they had shipped out for Rickey nearly five years earlier, Greg Cadaret, and Luis Polonia for the first of his three stints as a Yankee. Needless to say, it turned out to be a bad trade, occuring in the midst of the first of four consecutive losing seasons for the Yankees.

Rickey was an All-Star are four of his full seasons in the Bronx and remains the Yankees career stolen base leader with 326, with Derek Jeter 33 behind Rickey entering play yesterday. Rickey also has the top three single season SB totals in Yankee history.

For Rickey's career, Rickey is the all-time leader in stolen bases, caught stealing, and runs, is second in base on balls, and fourth in games played and times on base. Rickey is baseball's all-time greatest base stealer and leadoff hitter. Rickey is also one of baseball's all-time characters, as these stories can attest. Rickey loved to play the game, not officially announcing Rickey's retirement until Rickey was hired as a coach by the Mets in 2007, and often playing in independent leagues hoping for another shot at the Bigs.

Another Yankee Honored in Cooperstown

Friday we took a look at Joe Gordon, the most recent Yankee Hall of Famer. In the post, I took the time to get up on my high horse and pontificate as to how Gordon is largely forgotten by Yankee fans and overshadowed by more famous teammates. Well, I forgot another former Yankee who was also honored in Cooperstown over the weekend.

Tony Kubek was this year's winner of the Ford C. Frick award, given annually to a writer or broadcaster who has made major contributions to the game. Kubek spent decades doing the Game of the Week on NBC, and also covered numerous All-Star and post-season games. His former NBC broadcasting partners Curt Gowdy and Joe Garagiola have also been given the Frick Award.

Kubek came up with the Yankees in 1957 and won the Rookie of the Year award as the Yankees won the AL pennant for the third consecutive year. Kubek was a utility player initially, spending time in left and center, as well as at third and short. He served a similar role again in 1959, but for the rest of his career he was the Yankee shortstop.

He was a three time All-Star and in 1960 he finished eleventh in AL MVP voting. That fall, as the Yankees faced the Pirates in the World Series, an eighth inning ground ball in Game 7, off the bat of future Yankee manager Bill Virdon, took a bad hop and hit Kubek in the throat. It knocked him from the game and was a critical point in turning the game for the Pirates. The Pirates put up a five run inning, erasing the Yankees' three run lead, and setting the stage for Bill Mazeroski's walk-off homerun in the ninth.

In a losing effort, Kubek hit .333 with a .394 OBP for the Series. In his nine year career, Kubek played on seven pennant winners and won three World Series. Kubek's best season came in 1962 when he posted a 115 OPS+, but he played only 45 games that year due to military service. A back injury kept him off the World Series roster in 1964 - the final pennant of the Yankees Dynasty era - and would end his career after the 1965 season, when Kubek was just 30 years old. Like Gordon, Kubek is largely forgotten these days. But in the years before Derek Jeter arrived, Kubek likely ranked behind only Phil Rizzuto as the best shortstop in Yankee history.

In addition to his work with NBC, Kubek also called games for the Toronto Blue Jays for the first thirteen years of their existence. When NBC lost their national broadcast rights following the 1989 season, Kubek returned to the Yankee family, calling games on MSG Network from 1990 through 1994. Disillusioned with the state of the game following the 1994 strike, Kubek retired and has hardly been heard from since. Since retiring, he appeared at Old Timers' Day only once.

Kubek joins Mel Allen, Red Barber, Curt Gowdy, Joe Garagiola, and former Yankee teammate Jerry Coleman as former Yankee announcers to receive the Frick Award.

Some Thorns Amongst The Roses

Good morning Fackers. Another work week is upon us, and it's something of a mixed bag this morning. On the good side, the Yankees just wrapped up a 9-1 homestand. Coming off an a four day All-Star break that was preceded by an awful three game sweep at the hands of the Angels, the Yankees rebounded by sweeping the Central leading Tigers, the basement dwelling O's, and taking three of four from the A's. This nice little run has left the Yanks with a 2.5 game lead in the AL East as they hit the road for the next nine games before returning home for a big four game set against the Sawx.

On the bad side of things, the Yanks have some bad news on the injury front. The nightmare continues for Chien-Ming Wang. He did not throw as scheduled Friday and is currently on his way to visit Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham. Wang had an MRI last Tuesday that showed damage to his rotator cuff. At this stage it's unclear whether the damage is new or if it's residual from his 2000 procedure, performed by Andrews. Wang also missed time in his rookie year of 2005 with rotator cuff issues, though that injury did not necessitate surgery. If surgery is necessary, Wang will miss the remainder of this year and at least part, if not all, of next year. At this point I can't feel anything but bad for CMW. I hope he can put his career back together at some point.

While CMW has contributed next to nothing this year, Brett Gardner, after a rough start, has been very valuable. I've been pretty vocal here about my opinion that Gardner should be playing regularly in CF. Now a broken thumb will leave him sidelined until mid-August. So on the same day the best base stealer in Yankee history was inducted into the Hall of Fame, the Yankees lose their best base stealing threat since Rickey. It's as of yet unclear who will take Gardner's roster spot. Jonathan Albaladejo was recalled for yesterday's game, but logic would dictate that another position player, specifically someone who can back Melky up in CF, will be needed. Word is that it won't be Austin Jackson at this time, and I still think that's the right move. Ramiro Pena has played CF just five times since being demoted, but went 3 for 3 with a HR last night for Scranton.

We're four days away from the non-waiver trade deadline. Certainly these injury developments impact the Yankees' plans, but given Brian Cashman's statements over the past several weeks, I don't imagine that he'll allow himself to be strong armed into a deal based on this latest news. It will however be interesting to see if Cash pulls the trigger on a deal for a starter before Wang sees Andrews. If Wang is lost for the year, the Yankees leverage will be significantly decreased when the news becomes public.