Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Game 76: Nearly Lost You

The Yankees return home for the first time since Father's Day, opening a six game homestand with a three game set against the Seattle Mariners. The M's were the darlings of the off-season, unloading the onerous contracts of Carlos Silva and Kenji Johjima, signing spark plug Chone Figgins away from their division rivals, and making a series of lesser low risk, high reward moves. But far and away, the biggest coup for GM Jack Zduriencik was sending a package of prospects to Philly for Cliff Lee.

Everything seemingly has gone wrong for the M's since then. Franchise legend Ken Griffey Jr's continued decline and possible narcolepsy culminated in an uncomfortable retirement and a possibly fractured clubhouse. Off-season signing Ryan Garko didn't even make it to Opening Day, while fellow signee Eric Byrnes lasted a mere month before riding his bicycle off to the California keg leagues. Their offense has been abyssmal, with Figgins taking a nose dive, Milton Bradley providing plenty of problems but little pop, and virtually everyone but Ichiro and Franklin Gutierrez failing to hit at an acceptable level. All of which leaves Seattle entering the series with baseball's sixth poorest record and the AL's worst offense by a long shot.

As such, Cliff Lee and his expiring contract have become the hottest commodity on the market with the trade deadline 32 days away. There has been no shortage of rumors about whether the M's will hang on to him in an attempt to turn it around, or if they'd prefer the two draft picks his Type A status will net, or where he'd land if he were to be traded. There's been a ton of contradictory information out there, but the latest seems to be that the M's are quietly prepared to make a move.

As when any big name player hits the market, the Yankees have been rumored as a potential landing spot, with reports that Seattle has scouted the Yankees system. Yet even though a vocal segment of Yankee fans have been loudly clamoring for Lee since before Spring Training even began, a deal to the Bronx is unlikely. Despite A.J. Burnett's recent struggles, the Yankee rotation has been a strength for the team this year. As we saw with Javier Vazquez earlier this season, good pitchers may struggle for stretches, but they won't struggle forever. And with pitching coach Dave Eiland returning to the club tonight, perhaps Burnett's turnaround is coming soon. There just isn't the need nor the room for another front line starter.

Even if there were, there is no recent precedent for the Yankees making such a move. Following the 2007 season, the Yankees passed on an opportunity to acquire Johan Santana, who had a full year remaining on his contract. In his refusal to make the deal, Brian Cashman made his position clear: he is reluctant to pay twice - in both prospects and contract extensions - to acquire a player. He held fast to that philosophy the following summer, when in desperate need of pitching, he refused to deal for CC Sabathia and his expiring contract, content to gamble that the big lefty would be there for the taking on the free agent market after the season. He was, and after last season's World Series, Cashman appeared to be quite shrewd for biding his time.

If that's not enough to quell those covetous of Lee as he takes the Yankee Stadium mound tonight, then the pitcher in the other half innings should be. Phil Hughes was the centerpiece of the package the Yankees would have shipped to Minnesota had they pulled the trigger on the Santana deal, and had the Yankees pursued a Sabathia trade the asking price would have begun with Hughes as well. Instead Cashman chose to hang on to his top pitching prospect. After suffering through an injury plagued 2008, the organization was rewarded with a breakout 2009 from Hughes the set up man and is now enjoying a 2010 in which Phil Hughes is one of the top starters in the American League.

It's very possible that one of the two starting pitchers tonight will throw the first pitch of the All-Star Game in Anaheim two weeks from tonight. While it's tempting to think of Cliff Lee in Yankee pinstripes, that temptation isn't enough for me to feel comfortable sacrificing potential future All-Stars in Jesus Montero or Austin Romine or Manny Banuelos or Andrew Brackman or any number of other good Yankee prospects Seattle would want in exchange for Lee. The Yankees nearly lost Hughes two and a half years ago. I'm not prepared to lose the next Hughes in exchange for three months of Cliff Lee. Cashman runs the risk of losing Lee to another club now, but as the Sabathia situation taught us two years ago, sometimes a little patience leaves you with the best possible deal.

Did you hear the distant cry
Calling me back to my sin
Like the one you knew before
Calling me back once again

I nearly, I nearly lost you there
And it's taking us somewhere
I nearly lost you there
Let's try to see now

[Song Notes: Any series against the Mariners always has me thinking of the Seattle bands of the early nineties. Rather than going with one of the name brand grunge bands, tonight we'll go with the Screaming Trees. Though lesser known than Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains, they had a few good tunes to their credit, this being one of them. Just goes to show that you don't always need to go shopping on the top shelf to find what you're looking for.]


Brett Gardner's sore wrist keeps him out of the lineup tonight, but he is reportedly available for defense and pinch running duties. With a lefty on the mound Chad Huffman gets the start in left. There's a likely a roster move coming as well, as it's widely speculated that Dustin Moseley will be added to the bullpen in advance of him exercising his opt out clause today.[UPDATE 6:45 PM: No Moseley tonight, as he's still with Scranton.
Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada DH
Curtis Granderson CF
Chad Huffman LF
Francisco Cervelli C

RHP Phil Hughes
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 2B
Russell Branyan 1B
Milton Bradley DH
Jose Lopez 3B
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Jack Wilson SS
Rob Johnson C
Michael Saunders LF

LHP Cliff Lee

1978 World Series

When the two teams met again the following fall, it was very much an encore of the previous season. Once again, the Dodgers knocked off the Phillies in the NLCS, while the Yankees ended the Royals' season for the third straight year. Of course, the Yankees struggled to even reach the ALCS. The 1978 AL East wasn't the summer long three team dog fight that it had been the previous year, but the Yankees needed a furious late season comeback and one game playoff in Boston to win the division. Oddly enough, the big blow in that game - Bucky Dent's improbable go-ahead homer - was served up by Mike Torrez, who had signed with Boston after winning Game Six of the '77 Series for the Yankees.

Both clubs carried relatively the same rosters as in '77, but for the Yankees there were two major changes: one in the bullpen, one in the dugout. Goose Gossage was signed as a free agent in the off-season, relegating Sparky Lyle to a lesser role in bullpen. Or, as Graig Nettles put it, causing him to go from Cy Young to sayonara. Meanwhile, the ever present tension amongst Steinbrenner, Martin, and Jackson finally boiled over in July. Martin suspended Jackson for failing to follow a bunt sign, then choosing to follow it after it had been taken off. Feeling that Steinbrenner didn't have his back, Martin quipped "The two deserve each other. One's a born liar, the other's convicted", referencing Steinbrenner's earlier conviction for illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon. Citing his health, Martin resigned before he could be fired, replaced by Bob Lemon. Then, in a move perfectly representative of the Bronx Zoo years, at Old Timers Day, five days after his resignation, it was announced that Martin would return as Yankee manager in 1980, with Lemon being promoted to the general manager's position.


The Series began in L.A. on Tuesday October 10th. Tommy John, who had lost Game Three to the Yankees the year before, started for L.A. The Yankees countered with Ed Figueroa, who had just become the first, and thus far only, native of Puerto Rico to post a twenty win season. The Dodgers chased Figueroa early, with homers from Dusty Baker and Davey Lopes knocking him from the game in the second. Ken Clay, Paul Lindblad, and Dick Tidrow didn't offer any relief, combining to allow an additional eight runs. The Yankees put up five over the seventh and eighth, including another homer from Reggie Jackson, but it was a drop in the bucket as the Dodgers won 11-5.

The Yankees sent Catfish Hunter out to oppose Burt Hooton in Game Two. A two run double from Jackson gave the Yankees the lead in the third. The Dodgers got on the board with a Ron Cey RBI single in the fourth, and took the lead when he hit a three run homer in the sixth. Jackson brought the Yankees within one with an RBI groundout in the seventh, and had a chance to tie it in the ninth. Jackson came up with two outs, runners on first and second, and the Yankees trailing by a run. Lasorda called on fireballing twenty one year old rookie Bob Welch. In a 1-2 hole, Jackson fouled off four pitches in working the count full. On the ninth pitch of the at bat, Welch blew one by Jackson, putting the Dodgers up two games.

Back in New York for Game Three, the Yankees sent Ron Guidry out to avoid falling behind three games. Guidry had just turned in the finest pitching season in Yankee history, going 25 and 3 in 35 starts, his final victory coming in the one game playoff in Boston. He led the league in wins, winning percentage at .893, ERA at 1.74, shutouts with nine, WHIP at 0.946, and hits per nine at 6.1. He also led the league in WAR on his way to capturing the Cy Young Award and a second place MVP finish. He had a convincing victory against Kansas City in the ALCS and with his team in desperate need of win in Game Three, Guidry found a way to dominate without having his best stuff. He struck out only four and worked around eight hits and seven walks, but allowed just one run in nine innings of work. Graig Nettles made no fewer than four outstanding plays at the hot corner to help Guidry work out of trouble. The Yankees got a second inning home run from veteran Roy White, and RBIs from Dent, Munson, Jackson, and Piniella to take a 5-1 victory.

Game Four was a rematch between John and Figueroa. A three run homer by Reggie Smith in the fifth opened the scoring. The Yankees got two back in the sixth. A single by White and a walk to Munson put two on for Jackson. His single scored White to make it 3-1, but his biggest contribution came from his butt rather than his bat. With Munson on second and Jackson on first, Lou Piniella bounced a tailor made double play ball to short. Bill Russell made the force at second, but as his relay throw sailed towards first, Jackson, caught halfway between the bases, not-so-subtly turned his right hip into the path of the ball. The ball bounced off into short right field, allowing Munson to score despite the protests of Tommy Lasorda. In the eighth, Paul Blair led off a with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice from White, and scored the tying run when Munson doubled him home. Welch and Gossage kept the slate clean in the ninth. In the bottom of the tenth White drew a one out walk. Without two outs, Jackson turned the tables on Welch, singling to keep the inning alive. Piniella followed with a base hit, and the Yankees walked off with the Series tied at two.

For Game Five, the Yankees turned to young Jim Beattie, passing over Hunter. The tall 23 year old rookie had made the fourth most starts for the club on the season, but was also demoted mid-season and was skipped on several occasions. He put the Yankees in a two run hole over the first three innings, but his offense soon came to his aid. White, Munson, and Piniella combined to drive in four runs in the third, then Rivers, White, and Munson combined for three more in the fourth. Beattie shut the Dodgers down the rest of the way and the Yankees added five more in the seventh and eighth to take a convincing 12-1 victory and come back from being down 0-2 take a 3-2 lead in the Series.

Back in L.A. the Yankees looked to Catfish Hunter to close it out, while the Dodgers asked Don Sutton to save their season. Davey Lopes' leadoff home run gave the Dodgers a 1-0 first inning lead, but in the top of the second Brian Doyle, subbing for an injured Willie Randolph, doubled home Nettles, and Bucky Dent followed with a single that scored Jim Spencer and Doyle. Lopes made it 3-2 with an RBI single in the third, but it was the last offense the Dodgers would get. Hunter, pitching in the 22nd and final post-season game of his career shut the Dodgers down into the eighth. Doyle and Dent added RBIs in the sixth, and Jackson hit a two run shot off Welch in the seventh to make it 7-2. Gossage retired the final five in a row, and the Yankees had won their second consecutive title and their twenty second overall.