Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Game 51 Recap

Sometimes it's good to be wrong. Really, really wrong.

I devoted pretty much all of tonight's preview to how poorly I assumed that Javy Vazquez was going to pitch, but the actual results couldn't have been further from the truth. Vazquez gave up just one run through seven innings, got nine grounders and seven strikeouts as opposed to three fly balls and five line drives, and gave up only four hits and a walk. In short, it was almost the polar opposite of his last outing in Minnesota.

Javy had faced just one over the minimum in the sixth inning when he grooved a belt-high 1-2 fastball to Corey Patterson that got sent into the mezzanine level in right field. That shot tied the game at one and the Yankees and O's took turns blowing great scoring opportunities in the next two half innings.

A double by A-Rod and a single by Robinson Cano gave the Yanks runners on first and third with no one out in the bottom of the sixth. However, Marcus Thames and Francisco Cervelli both popped out and Curtis Granderson struck out on a 2-2 curveball that replays showed was clearly off the plate.

In the top of the seventh, Vazquez got into his first real jam of the night. The O's strung together a single and a double, putting runners on second and third with one out. Vazquez intentionally walked Matt Wieters to get to Adam "Not Pacman" Jones, who struck out looking in part because of a called strike on a 1-1 pitch that was well below his knees. Javy got Julio Lugo to ground out to short to end the inning and his night was complete.

In the home half of the seventh, the Yanks had runners on second and third with two outs when A-Rod rolled over on the first pitch he saw and bounced it to Miguel Tejada at third base. Tejada fielded it cleanly but bounced the throw to first and Ty Wigginton couldn't hold onto the throw as both runners scored. The error went against Tejada but I'd venture to guess that Wigginton would take responsibility for it because it was in his glove and bounced out.

Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera combined to record the final six outs while allowing just one baserunner - Luke Scott, who singled off of Mo in the ninth. Final score: Yankees 3, Orioles 1.

IFs, ANDs & BUTs
  • I guess the bruise on Javy's finger is feeling better? That or the Orioles just really suck. Or both.

  • Mark Teixeira fouled a ball off of his foot in the first inning and was taken out of the game in the top of the fourth. He bruised his foot, X-Rays are negative and he's day-to-day.

  • If there was a movie made about the Yanks this season, wouldn't it have to be called Day-To-Day?

  • Curtis Granderson ripped a homer off of the left handed Brian Matusz in the fifth inning, his fourth hit off of a lefty since emerging from the DL on Friday.

  • That was the only run Matusz really gave up because the other two scored on Tejada's throwing error. He deserved better.

  • 2007 Joba is BACK! For realz this time, yo!
Same time, same place tomorrow night as Phil Hughes faces Brad Bergesen.

Game 51: Lost Highway

The last home game that Javier Vazquez started took place exactly one month ago. It didn't go well. Facing the manager who validated the belief that many people had already held about Vazquez's inability to pitch under pressure, in front of an increasingly restless home crowd, Javy allowed more runners to reach base (11) than he retired (9). He came out for the fourth inning but went single-homer-walk against the bottom third of the White Sox line up and was pulled after issuing a walk to punchless leadoff man Omar Vizquel.

Since he was removed from the game mid-inning - something that Joe Girardi probably wanted to avoid at all costs - Vazquez handed the ball over and made the long walk from the mound to the dugout while being serenaded with a chorus of Bronx cheers (and probably much worse things that I couldn't make out from watching the game on TV).

Since then, due to some shrewd pitching rotation tinkering and a couple of skipped starts, Vazquez's only other three outings in May came on the road in what are considered to be three of the best six or seven pitcher's parks in the league: Comerica Park, Citi Field and Target Field.

The Yankees claimed to have other reasons for the re-shuffling, but from a distance it seemed as if they were trying to give Javy a chance to build up some confidence without the relentless home crowd breathing down his neck and waiting to vocally object to his failures. And for the most part, the plan went fairly well. He threw seven innings of two run ball in Detroit and six shutout frames against the Mets before injuring his finger on a bunt attempt. However, Vazquez's most recent outing in Minnesota was far less impressive.

Whether or not the bruise on his finger had anything to do with it, Javy was hit hard by the Twinkies. He gave up 11 baserunners and couldn't finish the sixth inning. But I think his performance was actually worse than his line (5.2IP, 5ER, 8H, 3BB, 2K) indicates. Javy got only 4 swinging strikes in 112 pitches while allowing seven line drives and ten fly balls. The Twins were making solid contact over and over again, and Javy was lucky not only that Sergio Mitre got the final three outs of the fourth without allowing any inherited runners to score but also that more of the Twins' balls in play didn't fall for hits. Or that he wasn't pitching in a different ballpark where more of them likely would have ended up as home runs.

It hurts to even think this, but that start reminded me of one of Chien-Ming Wang's last year where the ball just seemed to be breaking right along hitter's swing planes and they could hardly miss.

In my opinion, if you want to be optimistic about Vazquez's chances putting together a strong performance tonight, you have to A) have absolutely no respect for the Orioles, B) convince yourself that the flat, tailing fastballs and hanging breaking pitches in Minnesota were a result of the bruise on the top of his index finger but that has healed up over the long weekend or C) completely disregard that game in Minneapolis all together. I can't bring myself to do any of the three.

Maybe this is just an elaborate, subconscious form of reverse psychology, but I have less confidence in Vazquez heading into tonight than I've had at any point since they reacquired him over the winter. It certainly felt like he made some progress in those two starts against the Tigers and Mets and there is a chance that he shuts down the Orioles, who have scored the fewest runs in the American League by a wide margin. But I can't shake the sneaking feeling that this is going to turn into another ugly scene with a sub-par effort and subsequently rowdy fans.

What I don't think many Yankees fans want to acknowledge is that Vazquez is skating on some very thin ice right now. He's clearly working with a diminished pitching arsenal and has produced all of two quality starts in his eight times out. The Yankees have been nothing but patient with him this far, but tonight he's going to have to make that outing against Minnesota look like it was the anomaly, not the two good ones in Detroit and Queens. He's going to have to put together a strong start at home or else he might not have too many more chances to do so. There are only so many exits left.

Oh the day we met, I went astray,
I started rolling down that lost highway.

I was just a lad, nearly 22,
Neither good nor bad, just a kid like you,
And now I'm lost, too late to pray,
Lord I paid a cost, on the lost highway.
[Song notes: There is a musical, a book and several collections of songs dedicated to the life and times of Hank Williams entitled "The Lost Highway". There was also a shitty movie that came out in 1997 and a terrible Bon Jovi song by the same name, but you didn't think I was going to use that one did you?

Interestingly, "Lost Highway" was not actually Williams' original song. It was first recorded by Leon Payne, most famous for his tune "I Love You Because". Williams' version wasn't popular when it was first released but because he died while on the road in a Cadillac on New Year's Day, 1953, it took on increased significance.

It's a poignant tune regardless of Williams' untimely demise, and like many of his other songs, the combination of his voice and the slide guitar in the background is uniquely evocative. I'm not a country music fan by any stretch but I do thoroughly enjoy a lot of Hank Williams' catalog.]


Matt here with the lineups. Derek Jeter's sore hamstring was enough to force him to leave yesterday's game, but not enough to keep him out of tonight's. With a lefty on the mound Nick Swisher replaces Curtis Granderson in the two spot. Granderson drops to eighth. Brett Gardner gets the night off with Kevin Russo starting in left field. Marcus Thames is the DH and Jorge Posada has not yet been activated, so once again it's Francisco Cervelli behind the plate.
Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Marcus Thames DH
Francisco Cervelli C
Curtis Granderson CF
Kevin Russo LF

Remembering The Weekend

Welcome back, Fackers. In a perfect world, the time away from work afforded by holiday weekends would give you some time to catch your breath and recharge your batteries. However, if you really try to make the most of the relatively brief hiatus and shoehorn a bunch of things in, you typically end up tired and foggy at your desk on the morning you come back, finding ways to avoid beginning the arduous process of digging through emails sent by assholes who actually got things accomplished over the weekend and trying to remember where you left off on Friday (or possibly Thursday if that's when you mentally checked out). That's probably why you're reading this post, in fact.

In general, I find that the more time I spend away from work, the less I want to go back to it. In that case, I suppose that a taste of honey is worse than none at all. Maybe that's just because I've never had a job that I actually liked, but how many people can honestly say they do?

/hacky talk radio segue

Well, the Yankees certainly embraced their occupation this weekend as they gave the Indians a signature Bronx beatdown!!1/!11!

Our song choice for the four games was somewhat presumptuous but the Bombers did not disappoint, taking three games out of four. Of course, the one that they lost was in spectacular fashion due to a bullpen meltdown which begun with an ineffective and ultimately injured David Robertson, was exacerbated by Joe Girardi matching up with a four run lead and completed by Joba Chamberlain, who faced six batters and got only one of them out. The Yanks had a 97% chance of winning the game after the completion of the fifth inning on Saturday but allowed the Indians - who hadn't scored 10 runs in a game all year - to plate seven in the top of the seventh and win by a score of 13-11.

There was a very scary moment earlier in that game, as Alex Rodriguez lined a pitch right off the side of the head of Cleveland's starting pitcher, David Huff. The 25 year old left hander was wheeled off on a stretcher after lying motionless on the ground for several minutes but gave raised his hand to signify that he was okay while being lifted and luckily, a CT scan didn't show any serious damage. When it happened A-Rod appeared to be legitimately torn up over it as he put his hands on his head and took a knee in the infield while the medical staff tended to Huff.

After the game, Rodriguez tried unsuccessfully to make it to the hospital where Huff had been taken only to find out that he was back at the Stadium, but did finally get in touch with him. Huff called the effort "one class act", something that you don't typically hear directed towards A-Rod from a low profile player on another team.

In other comparatively minor injury news, David Robertson suffered some back issues and had to be removed from Saturday's game and Derek Jeter left yesterday's contest after getting hit in the back of the thigh with a pitch. Both of those are thought to be minor issues and each player should be available tonight. Perhaps Jeter will DH just to be safe.

Now that we've got the bad out of the way, the most encouraging sign of the weekend (despite the fact that the Indians' pitching is one of the worst staffs in the league) was the resurgence of the offense. The Yanks plated 37 runs in the four game set and scored more in every single one of the games than they had in any contest since they hung eleven on Boston two weeks ago in Fenway. They tallied 55 hits and hit two grand slams, one by Robinson Cano on Sunday and one by A-Rod (the 20th of his career) after the Indians threw an intentional ball four to Mark Teixeira yesterday. A-Rod is now 5-5 when Teix is given a intentional free pass in front of him.

The offensive resurgence coincided with the return of Curtis Granderson but his four hits (three doubles) only went so far. Derek Jeter had a solid weekend, collecting nine hits and scoring five runs. Cano was the best of the bunch, picking up ten hits (two homers) while extending his hitting streak to 14 games and driving in ten runs.

With the exception of Saturday's poor showing by CC Sabathia and the bullpen, the Yanks' pitching was solid in the balance of the series, allowing just four runs over the other 27 innings. Phil Hughes tossed seven frames of two run ball on Friday night, A.J. Burnett gave up three (only one earned) in his eight innings on Sunday and Andy Pettitte improved upon his career best start to the season with seven innings of one run ball yesterday. Having throw only 90 pitches and given up just four baserunners to that point, Pettitte wanted to go deeper into the game, but the offense batted around and plated six runs during the seventh inning. The 45 minute wait was too much for Andy and he took the easy win, leaving a little bit in the tank.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the weekend (from my recollection, anyway) came from Mariano Rivera. In the process of getting the final out of Sunday's game, Mo dodged a broken bat from Luis Valbuena and fielded the soft grounder that arrived considerably after the lumber in enough to to easily convert the out at first base. The ultra slow motion replays make it look like something out of The Matrix.

Rivera jumped over the bat but kept his glove down and reached for the ball, nearly snagging it in mid-air, but still knocking it down in the process. It happened incredibly quickly in real time, but the the super slow replay revealed that every motion that Mariano made was smooth and purposeful, completely unfazed by the fact a sharp, heavy object was flying at his shins.

They say the greatest athletes can process things so quickly that time seems to go by slower in their minds. Watching that replay affirms what Matt and countless others have said about Rivera: he's more than just a great pitcher.


Of course, part of the reason that the Yankees looked so good over the weekend was because they were playing the hapless Indians, but the Yanks performed like the team that started the season 21-8, not the one that went 5-10 in the fifteen games following that.

It's foolish to keep taking the temperature of the team and attempt to project it out onto the rest of the season, but it's hard not to be optimistic after this weekend. The Yanks lost one game they should have won (Saturday), won one they should have lost (Sunday) and utterly dominated a team that they should have beat in a wraparound series.

In a similar vein, hopefully this weekend foreshadows a great summer ahead. The weather couldn't have been much nicer. I played fairly decent in my golf tournament even though my partner and I got beat in two out of our three matches, and despite not having spoken to Matt yet, I have reason to believe he returned home alive from Charleston.

Today might be a little slow around here as we attempt to work through the mental cobwebs that have built up from not writing at all for three days, so in the meantime, I'll leave you with this phenomenal feel-good Slick Rick jam and "bring that lovin' feeling back to rap".