Friday, May 7, 2010

Game 28: Station Blues

Twenty one months ago, the Yankees arrived in Boston for a three game weekend series, much like the one they will play this weekend. In the Friday night game, Boston sent Josh Beckett to the mound, just as they will tonight. He was opposed then by a young right hander from the Yankees, just as he will be tonight. Despite tossing seven innings of one run ball that night, Beckett was outdueled. Joba Chamberlain did him one better, going seven shutout innings of three hit, one walk ball, fanning nine Sox on the night. It was, and remains, the best start of Chamberlain's career.

Tonight Phil Hughes gets his crack at Beckett and the Sox. Hughes and Joba have been linked throughout their young careers. Both are former first round picks, Hughes in 2004, Chamberlain in the supplemental round two years later. Both made their much-heralded Major League debuts in 2007, Hughes as a starter in late April, Chamberlain as a set up man in mid-August. Both were counted upon to be key contributors in what proved to be a disappointing 2008 season, Hughes exiting with a stress fracture in his rib in late April, Chamberlain hitting the DL with a sore shoulder in early August. Both battled for the fifth starter spot in Spring Training this year, with Hughes emerging the victor.

They've also been a study in contrast thus far. Hughes is seen as poised and collected, Chamberlain as demonstrative and impulsive. Hughes took some time to find his footing as a Big Leaguer; Chamberlain burst on the scene with a storybook rookie campaign, earning instant celebrity. Hughes took some lumps as a starter before emerging as a dominant reliever last year and finding his way back to the rotation this season. Chamberlain debuted as a dominant reliever, experienced early success as a starter before scuffling through much of last year, and is back in his former set up job this season.

I'm not sure what bearing all of that has on tonight's game, other than that I'm hopeful Hughes can turn in a Fenway performance tonight that equals that of Chamberlain's there nearly two years ago. Given Hughes' success through his first four starts this year, there's no reason he can't turn in such performance tonight. At the very least, it should go better than Hughes' only other career start at the Fens, a two inning outing two years ago in which he allowed nine baserunners and seven runs, six earned. For his career, Hughes sports a 7.62 ERA and 1.92 WHIP in 13 IP against the Sawx, but he has struck out 15 batters over those frames.

The Yankees last saw Beckett on Opening Night, touching him up for eight hits, three walks, and five runs while forcing him to throw 94 pitches through just four and two thirds. He exited in line for the loss until Chan Ho Park let him off the hook. He pitched better in his second and third starts, but then got knocked around to the tune of 23 baserunners and 15 runs over 10 innings in his next two starts. He pitched well against Baltimore last Sunday, and enters tonight with a 6.31 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, and just one decision through his first six starts. His K/9 is the lowest it's been in his career, and his BB/9 is at its highest since his subpar first season in Boston. FIP and xFIP say Beckett should be better off than his traditional stats say, but even those numbers aren't too pretty for a guy who's supposed to be fronting the rotation of a contending team. Most of the Yankee regulars have had success against Beckett; they'll look to keep that going tonight.

The Yankees hearkened back to the days of flannel uniforms for their trip to Boston, heading down to the station in New Rochelle yesterday and hopping a three car private train up to Boston's South Station. Despite the spat of minor injuries of late, things have gone quite well for the Yankees since they last were in the Hub. They've won eight of nine series, have the second best record in baseball, and generally life is good. It would be tempting to say they're sitting on top of the world, but Tampa's still a game and a half in front, and as past seasons have taught us, where things are in May aren't always indicative of where things will be in October.

After a disastrous three game sweep at the hands of the Orioles left the Sox with the blues, Boston has taken four in a row and are back on the right side of .500. A series win this weekend would do a lot for their psyche and for that of their fanbase. Regardless of what happens over these next three games, both teams are going to have to work all the summer if they want to work this fall.

I went down to the station
Looked out in the yard
Get me some freight train
Work done got hard
But now she’s gone, but I don’t worry
Sittin’ on top of the world

I worked all the summer
Worked all the fall
Had to take Christmas
In my overalls
But now she’s gone, and I don’t worry
Sittin’ on top of the world
[Song notes: Another blues song, another song with a lengthy and storied history. "Sitting on Top of the World" was first recorded in 1930 by the Mississippi Sheiks, taking elements from earlier songs by Al Jolson, Tommy Johnson, and Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell, whose "You Got to Reap What You Sow" featured old friend Tampa Red.

Sitting on Top of the World quickly became a cross-genre standard, covered by Charlie Patton, Big Bill Broonzy, Ray Charles, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, the legendary Howlin' Wolf, Bill Monroe, Carl Perkins, Memphis Slim, Doc Watson, Chet Atkins, John Lee Hooker, and numerous others. Once rock and roll exploded and artists started looking back at roots music, bands like the Grateful Dead and Cream performed the tune as well, and it continues to be performed by contemporary blues and roots artists like Robert Cray, Taj Mahal, Jack White and a host of others.

Growing up in the north Mississippi hill country, Luther and Cody Dickinson learned the tune from one their mentors, Othar Turner. When the brothers Dickinson joined with Chris Chew to form the North Mississippi Allstars, they included a version on their debut album of traditional hill country blues songs, Shake Hands with Shorty. Their version however, was dubbed "Station Blues", as that's how they learned it from Turner.

The performance above comes from NMA's 2004 appearance at Bonnaroo, dubbed the Hill Country Revue, and featuring Jim Dickinson, hill country legend R.L. Burnside, his son Duwayne - then a member of NMA, the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, and R.L. Boyce - who emcees this particular performance. It's a lengthy clip, from the NMA documentary Do It Like We Used to Do. Turner had passed away at 95 a year earlier, and the band pays tribute to him by playing his "Shimmy She Wobble", made famous in Scorsese's Gangs of New York, as a segue into the song.]


Jorge Posada is out for third consecutive game. Chad Moeller was not recalled, as previously speculated. However, pitcher Romulo Sanchez is up, with Greg Golson, on the roster for all of two games, being sent down. I'm not quite sure I understand this series of moves. I suppose with you can never have too deep of a bullpen for a series in Fenway Park, and with Sergio Mitre likely earmarked for a Tuesday spot start, the pen is a bit short.
Derek Jeter SS
Nick Johnson DH
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Brett Gardner CF
Francisco Cervelli C
Randy Winn LF

Red Sox:
Courtesy of old friend Pete Abe
Marco Scutaro SS
Dustin Pedroia 2B
J.D. Drew RF
Kevin Youkilis 1B
David Ortiz DH
Adrian Beltre 3B
Jeremy Hermida LF
Jason Varitek C
Darnell McDonald CF


  1. Jason from The Heartland5/7/10, 5:28 PM

    Smokin' jam, Matt! I'm all kindsa revved up, having listened to that while sipping a huge rum-and-Dr. Pepper.

    Bring on The Rivalry. Yanks take 2 of 3.

  2. Thanks Jason; NMA are my favorites and that Bonnaroo performance might be their all-time best. The other videos linked to in the song history are all pretty damn good too.

    I'm fighting my way out of the office, but I have some good tunes and Crown Royal waiting for me at home.

  3. I would like to fight Josh Beckett