Saturday, June 13, 2009

Game 62: New York, New York

It's a nice Saturday afternoon and we'll see our second New York - New York match-up of 2009. Today's game can't be any sloppier than yesterday's can it?

Fernando Nieve will start for the Mets in place of the recently DL'd John Maine. After a respectable rookie season for the Astros in 2006, Nieve has only pitched 12.2 MLB innings since, beset by both injuries and ineffectiveness. It would be awfully nice if the Yanks would hang a crooked number on him this afternoon.

And they may well need it. In 18 career regular season starts against the Mets, Andy Pettitte is 8-4 with a 3.46 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. But, Pettitte has not been particularly sharp of late. He's been battling a balky back, and has been allowing base runners at an uncomfortble rate. His WHIP currently sits at 1.53 and in his last five starts he's given up 35 H and 16 BB in just 29.2 IP. Still the team has gone 4 and 1 in those games, with Pettitte registering three of the victories. As Joe Girardi likes to say, Andy has a way of bending but not breaking. Hopefully he'll have a little extra room to bend today in opposing a replacement level pitcher.

Two updates courtesy of Pete Abe: Bruney tossed a perfect inning in AA earlier this afternoon. He threw 8 of his 12 pitches for stirkes and hit 94 MPH. Secondly, Damon returns to the line-up today, but it's Nick Swisher, not Brett Gardner, who takes a seat on the bench.

Regarding Swisher, perhaps it's a delayed benching for his numerous boneheaded plays earlier this week. But if Girardi wouldn't sit him in May when he was slumping horribly, I find it odd that he chooses to now. As for the pinch hitting situation last night, Abe also relays that Girardi's rational was indeed that Swisher has poor numbers against K-Rod, and that he hoped Gardner would get on and steal second. I still say that Swisher's 11 at bats mean very little and that Damon was more likely to reach base and steal second than Gardner. But I digress.

With Johan Santana going for the Mets in Sunday's finale, it'd be nice to put the series away today and be playing with house money tomorrow.

Today's game is on FOX, so it's pick your poison time: Buck, McCarver, and that little weasel Rosenthal on the tube or Sterling and Waldman on the dial. Jeez. I think maybe I'll listen to Howie Rose on the FAN.

The particularly poignant video I wanted to use today can't be embedded. You can view that one here, or view the Letterman performance of the same song below. Or view both. One way or another, enjoy the game.

Love don't play any games with me
anymore like she did before
The world won't wait, so I better shake
that thing right out there through the door
Hell I still love you New York

A Win Is A Win

(Castillo picture from NY Daily News, all others via AP)

Well it wasn't pretty. It wasn't even something you're likely to see again. But a win is a win. And coming off three stomach punch losses against the Sox, an ugly loss to the Mets would have been far worse than a cheap win. The lasting memory of this game will be Luis Castillo dropping A-Rod's would-be game ending pop up. But there was far more to the story than that.

Joba Chamberlain turned in a bad start, no two ways about it. He needed just 31 pitches to get through the first two innings, allowing just one base runner. But, only 16 of those pitches were for strikes. It would foreshadow problems to come.

Chamberlain allowed two runs in the third without allowing a hit: BB, FC, BB, HBP, BB, K, HBP. He threw 43 pitches for the inning, just 23 strikes. In the fourth Chamberlain retired the first two batters, walked the next two, then managed to get out of it. But it cost him 26 more pitches, only half of them strikes. He was done.

Chamberlain has had problems getting deep into games this year, and on a night when the team could have used some length from their starter, he burned through 100 pitches in four innings, just 52 of them for strikes. Not quite Burnett-esque, but certainly not acceptable. After seemingly make a leap forward against Cleveland nearly two weeks ago, this marks two mediocre starts in a row. All that, coupled with the poor bullpen performance the last two nights will only provide ammunition to those who want Chamberlain back in the pen. I can't wait for the impending assault on common sense.

What's worse, Joba's early exit made way for Brett Tomko. Despite his craptasic track record, Tomko entered the game having been fairly effective in 2009. His carriage turned back into a pumpkin tonight. Another major fielding miscue by Nick Swisher, which inexplicably wasn't scored an error, didn't help Tomko, but it certainly wasn't the main cause of his demise. His final line: 0.2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, highlighted by a mammoth Gary Sheffield home run just inside the left field foul pole. Suddenly Tomko's 2.53 ERA is 5.56. By the time Girardi sent David Robertson in to relieve him, the Yanks were down 6-3.

As often happens at Yankee Stadium, the long ball kept the Yankees in the game. The first four Yankee runs came on a second inning solo shot from Robinson Cano, a two run homer from Mark Teixeira in the third, and a fifth inning solo shot from Derek Jeter. Then in the sixth, Hideki Matsui welcomed just-recalled Jon Switzer back to the Majors by launching his third pitch into the right field mezzanine to give the Yankees a 7-6 lead. Matsui hit a game winning grand slam on his 34th birthday, but the three run shot on his 35th was just as big.

In the seventh, the Yankees conceded the tying run in exchange for a double play. The score was still tied with two outs in the eighth, when Girardi summoned Mariano Rivera to face the formidable duo of Carlos Beltran and David Wright. Rivera issued just his third walk of the season to Beltran, who then scored the go-ahead run on a Wright double.

I don't particularly have a problem with bringing Rivera in here. Given his age and off-season surgery he should be handled carefully, but on principle I have no issue with using him to get one out in the eighth inning when the Mets have their two best hitters coming up. What I do question however is what made Friday's game more important than Thursday's? I can appreciate not wanting to tax Rivera for six outs on Thursday. However, from a leverage standpoint, there was far more on the line Thursday, in a division game, with a one run lead, the bases loaded, no one out, and the number three hitter due. I'd rather use my best reliever in that spot (and have a lesser pitcher go in the ninth if necessary) than in a tied interleague game with the bases empty and two outs. Maybe it's second guessing on my part, but it appears to me to be inconsistent decision making.

Regardless, the score remained tied into the Yankees trailed by one in the bottom of the ninth. Brett Gardner, the number nine hitter led off, leading me to believe that Johnny Damon's assorted ailments would leave him on the bench for the remainder of the night. Gardner popped out, and as Jeter stepped into the box, Damon entered the on-deck circle to hit for Nick Swisher.

This one makes even less sense to me. You're down to three outs and you let the worst hitter in your line-up lead off the inning, then use your pinch hitter on a guy who's OPSing at .930?!?! Look, I know Swisher has made some terrible mistakes both in the field and on the bases the past few days. But if you're going to send him a message, sit him down from the first pitch, don't start when the game is on the line. Michael Kay suggested Swisher's 1 for 11 career numbers against K-Rod, but an 11 at bat sample size shouldn't dictate such a decision. If so, Damon should have been saved for A-Rod, who after the E4 is now 1 for 15 against K-Rod.

In the end, right or wrong, it worked. The Yankees won, and that's a very good thing. Another deflating loss would have been very tough to bear. I certainly didn't want to start my weekend that way. It's nice to be back in the win column. And after getting shut down by MLB's second most obnoxious closer the last two nights, it was nice touch up the reigning champion tonight. Unfortunately for K-Rod, blown saves can't be tagged on a second baseman.