Saturday, May 23, 2009

Team Walk-Off Marches On

As the Yankees faced a three run deficit in the fifth inning, a friend texted me:
Him: Apparently we don't measure up to the world champions
Me: Meh. They'll put a few on the board.

Little did I know that in doing so the Yankees would have their fourth walk-off win in their last nine games, and their second courtesy of Melky Cabrera.

The Yankees fell behind 1-0 in the second on the second Raul Ibanez HR in as many days. The soon-to-be 37 year old is simply tearing the cover off the ball right now, with an MLB leading 17 HRs.

The Yankees used a Robinson Cano double and some small ball in the bottom of the inning to tie the score and it would remain that way until the top of the 5th. Shane Victorino led off with a single, followed by a free pass to Pedro Feliz. Then John Mayberry Jr, making his Major League debut, hit a three run homer to left to make it a 4-1 game. Mayberry joined Jayson Werth as sons of former Yankees to go deep against their pop's old team this weekend.

Despite the two long balls allowed, Andy Pettitte pitched well, scattering 5 hits and 2 walks over 7 innings while striking out 5. He wasn't dominant but he pitched well enough, and more importantly, he gave the team length on a day where the bullpen still was not at 100%. On the other side of the ball, J.A. Happ was very impressive in his first start of 2009.

Derek Jeter cut into the lead in the 6th with his second homerun in as many games. In the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees would threaten thanks to a pinch hit double from Brett Gardner. But Philly set-up man Ryan Madson worked around it in striking out the side, recording a scoreless inning for the second consecutive day.

Phil Coke made his first appearance since getting hit with a line drive Wednesday, and kept the score at 4-2 in pitching the eighth and the first two out of the ninth, before Jose Veras came on to record the final out.

In the ninth Philly turned to closer Brad Lidge. After being virtually untouchable last year, Lidge has been downright combustible this year, walking to the mound with a 7.85 ERA, a 1.91 WHIP, and two blown saves in ten opportunities. As much as I felt last night would be an uphill battle, I had a feeling the Yanks would get something going in the ninth.

Lidge went 3-0 on Johnny Damon to lead-off the inning, battled back to 3-2 thanks to a generous strike two call from home plate umpire Lance Barksdale, then walked Damon on the sixth pitch of the PA. After throwing all fastballs to Damon, Lidge went to all sliders to whiff Mark Teixeira on three pitches. Despite looking silly against Lidge, Teix continued his hot hitting turning in a 2 for 4 day and upping his batting average to .263.

A-Rod then tied the game with a dramatic two run homer to right field, his sixth in the last eight games. When Robinson Cano followed with a base hit, I thought it might be a good idea to try to swipe second, putting the tying run in scoring position with one out, negating the double play, and giving Melky Cabrera and Nick Swisher two shots at the win before the offensive black hole of Angel Berroa and Kevin Cash came to the plate.

The Yankees must have thought the same, as Cano easily stole second. Melky then dropped a 2-1 slider into right-center field to give the Yankees the win. It was the third walk-off hit delivered by Cabrera this season. Post game, A.J. Burnett made certain that both Cabrera and Cano caught some pie to the face as the pair was interviewed by Suzyn Waldman. Waldman got caught in the crossfire, and with any luck, the trauma will keep her out of the radio booth for a couple days.

It appears the Yankees have started over again, and for today at least, the breaks went their way once again.

Game 43: Let's Start Rap Over

We all knew a loss was going to happen eventually, but that didn't make last night's game any easier to watch. With the first pitch of the game being sent into the seats by Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies set the tone for evening and it was all downhill for the Yanks from there. Momentum can be a fickle bitch and the kinetic energy accrued by having all the breaks go your way can vanish as quickly as it came.

Today, Andy Pettitte, owner of a 4-1 record but a 4.18ERA opposes J.A. Happ, he of a 2-0 and 2.49 resume. However, Happ's numbers might be a bit deceiving since this is his first start of the year, as he is filling in for Chan Ho Park. His longest outing was 3 2/3 innings in a losing effort against the Mets a little over three weeks ago, mopping up for Jamie Moyer who was shellacked for 7 runs in 2 1/3. He's thrown three innings only one other time this season and that was back on April 19th. Happ hasn't pitched since May 15th, so he should be rested enough to reach the requisite 100 pitches if Charlie Manuel so chooses.

For the Yankees, A-Rod is DH'ing today and Ramiro Pena will man third base. As a lefty, Pettitte should have a bit of an advantage over the Phillies three most dangerous hitters this season, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez (all southpaws). We'll see if Andy can buck the recent trend and keep the ball in the park today. As of now, it's a calm 71 degrees, so he won't have the heat or wind to blame if the shots start sailing.

Cliff, Meredith and I will be up at the Stadium today as the Yankees look to erase the memory of last night's game and start things over.

Let's start love over,
Back to the way things were,

Forget about them,
Cause all we got is us,
We can make it,

Said if we try,

I want to start love over,

Let's make it do or die.

You Know What They Say About All Good Things...

Sorry guys. My first night back in town and the Yanks snap their longest winning streak since the one that ended on June 15th, 2007. That loss same during an interleague game as well (against the Mets) with Roger Clemens on the hill. I know the Rocket's playing career is aging in dog years at the moment, but doesn't that see like forever ago? The last time they won 10 straight was in 2005, after starting 11-19. The winner of the 10th game? Carl Pavano.

When the streak began, Roy Halladay had just beaten the Yankees into submission and A.J. Burnett had left the mound to a Rogers Centre with a sneer on his face, to a distinctly Canadian chant. It ended when Burnett gave up 3HR and 5ER against the Phillies last night. He didn't collect a win in his start during the streak, either, although he pitched pretty well against the Twins. Despite the fact that Burnett snipped the streak on both ends, he will be most remembered for delivering three consecutive pies in the face after the Twins games walk-offs, which is fine by me. 

It was the best of times, friends. I wish I could have followed the games more closely from the road, considering I have the package, but I was basically never in the hotel room from 7-10 (which one really shouldn't be when they are on vacation). But I'm back now, and the streak is at zero. 

I also want to take a second to thank Matt, Boston Bren and Joe for keeping the site afloat while I was away. They put up more content that I would have during the course of a typical week and I'm guessing that you didn't really miss me too much. As you've probably gathered by now, Matt is going to be a big part of the site going forward, which I'm sincerely looking forward to. 

Now get out and enjoy the weather before the game starts. 

Home Run Derby

(thanks for the photos)

Perhaps by virtue of their home parks, perhaps by virtue of their potent line-ups, perhaps by a combination of the two, the Yanks and Phils entered interleague play tonight leading their respective leagues in HRs. No matter the cause, neither team broke character tonight, as the Phillies snapped the Yankees nine game winning streak and seven balls left the park.

Jimmy Rollins set the theme for the night, taking the game's first pitch into the right field stands. Burnett plunked Chase Utley high and hard with the very next pitch, though it appeared from Burnett's reaction that there was absolutely zero intent. A single to the en fuego Raul Ibanez followed, leaving Burnett in a first and third, no out jam already trailing by a run. But Burnett bore down and got out of the inning without further damage. That would be as good as it got for Burnett this night.

Two pitches into the the bottom half of the first, Brett Myers got even on behalf of Utley, putting a 92 MPH fastball behind Derek Jeter. Earlier this week we debated the merits of HBPs and knockdowns. I've always felt that throwing behind a batter is a greater transgression than plunking him. From a young age, hitters are taught to "bail out" when a pitch is bearing in on them. Throwing behind a batter exploits this by leading the batter right into the lion's den. Thankfully, Myers pitch was at belt level, Jeter escaped unscathed, and he exacted his revenge by lacing the next pitch for a base hit. It would be for naught, as the Yankees failed to carry a lead into the second inning for the first time since Sunday.

Things were no better for Burnett in the second as Carlos Ruiz took him deep on two run shot. It was the first of several notable events involving Ruiz on the night. He would go on to steal his first base since last July, then later get foolishly doubled off first on a fly ball to noodle-armed Johnny Damon.

In the top of the fifth, the long ball bit Burnett again. This time Jayson Werth blasted a two run shot, becoming the first player to put one into the left field mezzanine.

The Yanks got their licks in as well, but it would be too little, too late. A-Rod deposited one in the Philly bullpen in the 6th and Jeter dropped one in the Yankee bullpen in the eighth. Two batters later, Mark Teixeira just missed the first upper deck shot in the new Stadium's history, launching a home run into the right field club level between the mezzanine and the upper deck. Teix stayed hot at the plate, going 2 for 4 and adding a few defensive highlights for good measure.

The recently activated Chien-Ming Wang relieved Burnett to start the seventh. Wang had been scheduled to start in AAA tonight until last night's comebacker at Joba and recurring injuries left the bullpen in shambles. Wang threw the final three innings, saving the pen from further use, and as with Burnett, that's about the nicest thing that can be said of him tonight.

Wang was not sharp. The second batter he faced, Raul Ibanez, touched him up for the Phillies 4th and final long ball on the night. He needed 51 pitches to get through the final three innings, throwing just 57% for strikes. He lacked command, allowing 7 baserunners over 3 innings. He allowed 2 ER over 3 IP yet his ERA dropped from 34.50 to 25.00. I should be concerned, but given the circumstances of Wang's sudden recall and emergency usage, I'm willing to give him a pass on this one.

The streak is over, but it was bound to happen sooner or later. After staying lucky for a week a plus, all the breaks seemed to fall to the Phils tonight. Given the bullpen turmoil and roster shuffling, this one just felt like an uphill battle from before the first pitch, and Jimmy Rollins made sure it would be.

Tomorrow they try to start the next streak. See you then.