Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Streak Strikes Seven

In a brisk two hour and fifteen minute game that was part pitchers' duel, part home run derby, the Yankees' winning streak reached seven games.

Andy Pettitte had a great outing, erasing the memory of his awful start in Atlanta last week, and turning in his best start yet at the new Stadium. He went seven innings, surrendering six hits and a walk against five Ks, throwing 63 of his 98 pitches for strikes. He surrendered two runs, with both Seattle tallies tying the game. In the fourth, with one out and runners on first and third, Wladimir Balentien tapped a potential inning ending double play grounder to Mark Teixeira. But Teix fumbled the exchange, getting just one out and allowing the run to score from third. Pettitte promptly added to his Major League record pickoff total to end the inning. His other run came in the sixth, as Ken Griffey Jr hit his 35th career HR against the Yankees.

Meanwhile, the Yankees generated all of their offense via the longball. Johnny Damon opened the scoring in the third, launching yet another HR to right, his fifteenth of the year. Melky Cabrera made it 2-1 in the fifth, lofting one over the leftfield foul pole into the loge, a shot that required replay confirmation.

With Mark Teixeira on first in the sixth, Alex Rodriguez stepped to the plate. Getting half the night off as the DH, A-Rod entered the at bat 0 for 2 on the night, including a first inning double play. He would get back to his hot hitting in this at bat, blasting his second mammoth home run in as many nights, this one a shot to straightaway center, landing in Monument Park. It broke a 2-2 tie and closed the scoring for the night.

The Yankee bullpen was also impressive. Joe Girardi played the match up game in the eighth. Alfred Aceves was called upon to get Ronny Cedeno, inducing a fly out to right. Girardi then called on southpaw Phil Coke to get Seattle's two best hitters: lefties Ichiro and Russell Branyan. Coke needed just seven pitches to retire them both, getting Ichiro to tap back to the mound and fanning Branyan. Coke has now pitched 13.1 innings in his last 15 appearances, giving up one earned run, five hits, three walks, and whiffing fifteen.

Mariano Rivera worked a perfect ninth, getting three groundouts for his 502nd career save. The Yankees have now won seven in a row and haven't trailed in a game in more than a week. They go for the sweep tomorrow. We'll be back then with plenty of good stuff to take you into the holiday weekend.

Game 77: In Bloom

After putting together six straight victories, the Yankees are a season-high 12 games over 500. It's already their second longest winning streak of the year, behind only the 9 game streak that ended on May 21st. In the month or so between those two streaks, the Yanks went 14-15, winning three straight games only once. They held the division lead once, but were sitting five games out heading into the series in Atlanta.

Then something clicked. Over the last six games they have averaged 7.5 runs per game while holding their opponents to just over 3.

It's certainly not a coincidence that over this run, A-Rod has gotten on base 18 times in 29 plate appearances (.621 OBP), hit three homers and driven in 8 runs. Like Tyler Kepner said very early this morning, "as A-Rod goes, so go the Yankees". He won't get one of his perscribed days off tonight, but Alex will be DH'ing as Cody Ransom holds down third base. Apparently Joel Sherman was right about Eric Hinkse. The only other option would have been Ramiro Pena, but he was officially optioned to Scranton today.

Looking to keep this winning streak blossoming tonight will be Andy Pettitte. The offense and the bullpen both saved his bacon after giving up 6 runs in 3 2/3 against the Braves, and the Yanks won 11-7 in spite of Pettitte's dud. Before that, he threw seven innings of one run ball in Florida, so who knows what to expect. His ERA is exactly league average and he's coming up with a run of the mill season so far; some solid performances mixed in with some shabby efforts.

Creating the second half of the lefty-lefty match up for Seattle is Jarrod Washburn. His name always comes up in trade talks because his salary is a bloated $10.35M this year and although the Mariners are only 3.5 games back at the moment, they aren't expected to truly contend for a playoff spot with the Angels and Rangers. Shedding salary always seems to be high on their priority list.

Washburn is off to an excellent start this year, so far compiling a 3.22 ERA in 89 1/3 innings, even though the Mariners lackluster offense has only allowed for a 4-5 record. In his career, Washburn has a 2.56 ERA against the Yanks over 81 innings, but the Mariners have lost nine straight games as guests of the Yanks in the Bronx.

Which one of those woefully incomplete statistics will turn out to be prophetic? Tune in and find out.

Happy 5th Anniversary, Jeter's Face & The Stands

My favorite regular season Yankee game of all time took place five years ago today. It was the day that the two things in the title met, however briefly, on the way to a thrilling extra innings victory.

On July 1st of 2004, the universe was still aligned. The Red Sox were still a bunch of hopeless choke artists and the Yankees had just appeared in their sixth World Series in eight years. Despite trailing Boston in the season series 1-5 entering the series, the Yanks were up 5.5 games in the division. After outscoring the Sox 15-5 in the first two games of the series, that lead had swelled to 7.5. Their record was 49-26, which was the best in American League by six games.

That Thursday night, the Yankees prospects for victory didn't look so hot. Pedro Martinez was scheduled to start for the Sox while all the Yankees could counter with was Brad Halsey. Making just his third professional start managed to make it 5 1/3 innings and allowed only two runs, which came on a two run homer by Manny Ramirez. It was a dramatic improvement from his last outing in which he was destroyed for 7 runs by the Mets and chased in the fourth inning. The legendary Paul Quantrill cost Halsey a chance at a victory by giving up the tying run in the seventh inning.

Pedro wasn't perfect but he went 7 innings, allowed 3 runs and struck out 8. When he left the game, the score was tied 3-3, a position Yankees fans would have happily accepted at the outset of the evening.

Felix Heredia/Tom Gordon and Keith Foulke matched perfect 8th innings to keep the draw intact. Gordon delivered another scoreless frame in the ninth, but Foulke ran into some trouble. The Yankees loaded the bases with one out but Foulke got Ruben Sierra to strikeout swinging and Kenny Lofton grounded out to send the game into extras.

In Mariano Rivera's second inning of relief (the 11th), the Sox had runners on first and third with two outs. With Trot Nixon at the plate, Johnny Damon took second on defensive indifference. Then, on the 4th pitch of the at bat, Nixon popped one in back of third base, drifting towards the stands. Jeter, sprinting at full speed made the catch and unable to stop himself, flew head first into the stands.

Did the play decide the game? Probably not. Had Jeter not caught the ball, it would have landed in foul territory and Trot Nixon still would have had two strikes against Rivera, and regardless, the Yanks would have had a chance to respond in the bottom half. It most certainly defined the game, however.

I'm not sure if most Yankee fans would remember that Boston actually took the lead in the 13th on another homer by Manny and it took back-to-back-to-back two out hits by Ruben Sierra, Miguel Cairo and John Flaherty to vault the Yankees to victory. The lasting image was not of Flaherty rounding first base with his arms in the air, but of Jeter emerging from the stands and being tended to by Gene Monahan, his face bloodied and bruised.

It was a concrete representation of the mythical qualities and intangibles of Jeter, that can typically be dismissed as bullshit, all rolled into one photograph. It was part hustle, part toughness and part all-out effort.

Home from college for the summer, I watched that game at my friend John's house, over a soundtrack of powerful thunderstorms. We had plans to go out, but couldn't pull ourselves away from the extra inning drama. I'm glad we didn't.

The No-Hitter That Wasn't

Nineteen years ago today, the Yankees played their final game in old Comiskey Park, wrapping up a three game weekend series against the White Sox. The Yankees were in the midst of a historically bad season that was about to get worse.

Major League Baseball on the other hand was also in the midst of a good historic season. After zero no-hitters in 1989, and just one in both 1987 and 1988, no-hitters were growing on trees in 1990. Entering play that day, there had already been four, including Nolan Ryan's record sixth (he would add a seventh the following year) and two, from Dave Stewart and Fernando Valenzuela, just two days before on June 29th. Before the season ended, a modern record seven no-hitters were thrown. That mark would be tied the following year, but the events of July 1st would prevent 1990 from tying the 1884 record of eight no-hitters in a single year.

Andy Hawkins took the mound for the Yankees that day. Despite leading the team in wins with 15 the previous year (more than twice as many as any teammate), Hawkins was a bad pitcher. He had an ERA+ of just 80 to go with his 15 wins, and entered that July 1st game at 1-4 with a 6.49 ERA. He was surrendering a ghastly 10.85 H/9, but for that afternoon at least, he was able to put his troubles behind him.

Hawkins was perfect through four and two thirds, before surrendering back-to-back walks in the fifth. He induced a Sammy Sosa flyout to end the inning, then worked a perfect sixth. He allowed a leadoff walk in the seventh, but then retired the next two batters with a caught stealing sandwiched in between.

Meanwhile, the Yankee offense was as anemic as it would be that entire awful season. Chicago starter Greg Hibbard was perfect through five and a third, before surrendering consecutive infield singles to 8 and 9 hitters Bob Geren and Alvaro Espinoza. Hibbard then got Roberto Kelly and Steve Sax to end the threat.

In the seventh, the Yankees would get their final two hits of the afternoon, as Jesse Barfield and Jim Leyritz contributed two out singles. Mike Blowers then flew to center to end the inning. All three would figure prominently in the game's undoing in the bottom of the eighth.

Hawkins retired the first two batters before the wheels came off. Sosa bounced what should have been an inning-ending grounder to Blowers at third, but he reached when Blowers booted it. After Sosa stole second, Hawkins issued his fourth and fifth free passes of the afternoon, loading the bases.

Hawkins coaxed a flyball to left off the bat of future Yankee Robin Ventura. This too should have ended the inning, but Leyritz dropped it, clearing the bases and putting the Yankees in a 3-0 hole. The next batter, the late Ivan Calderon, flew to right, where Barfield dropped the ball, scoring Ventura and capping the scoring at 4-0. A pop to short off the bat of former Yankee Dan Pasqua ended the six out inning for the ChiSox.

The Yankees went quietly in the ninth, as Chicago managed to work around an error of their own. Hawkins' final line: 8 IP, 0 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 3 K. Because he didn't go nine innings and his team didn't win, he is not credited with an official no-hitter. Not nearly as unjust as Harvey Haddix' 12 perfect innings in a losing effort, yet perfectly indicative of the ineptitude that was the 1990 Yankees.

Less than two weeks later, the Yankees would be on the other end of a no-hitter that wasn't. On July 12th, facing the same White Sox at Yankee Stadium, Melido Perez, a future Yankee and brother of then-Yankee Pascual Perez, surrendered no hits in a complete game outing that was shortened to seven innings by rain. Again, because he didn't go nine innings, the game doesn't count as an official no-no.

Hawkins, by the way, took the loss in that one as well. But perhaps the start he made between the two White Sox games was the cruelest of all. Facing the Twins in the first game of a July 6 doubleheader at the Stadium, Hawkins threw nine shutout innings. Unfortunately, the Yankees' dead bats society couldn't push a single run across. Hawkins stayed in, throwing a scoreless tenth and eleventh. He had two outs in the twelfth when back-to-back singles scored the two men he'd previously walked. The Yankees lost 2-0. Over two starts Hawkins threw 19.2 innings, gave up just six hits and two earned runs, and had two losses to show for it. Such were the 1990 Yankees.

Tomorrow we'll be back with a look back at a more pleasant no-no.

Moving Day At IIATM,S

Those of you who frequent this site should in turn be familiar with our friend and fellow Yankee blogger Jason at It Is About the Money, Stupid. That link will lead you to the new location of his blog and the pitcure above gives you a glimpse into the new design.

I've adjusted the link on the Blogshelf on your lower left and would encourage you to adjust your bookmarks and RSS feeds in accordance. If you haven't bookmarked or subscribed, now would be a great time to get on board. Jason brings an angle of observation and discourse to the table that you just won't find anywhere else in the sports blogosphere.

No, Watching Al Leiter Pitch Was Boring

PeteAbe this morning on Joba Chamberlain:
Frankly, Joba has become boring. The Yankees are 10-5 in the games he starts but he has only six decisions. His ERA is 3.89, which is just OK. He has allowed 79 hits in 81 innings, pretty good. He has 73 strikeouts, not bad. The 40 walks are too much.
That's right, the Yankees most exciting pitching prospect in over a decade is boring because he only strikes out 8.1 guys per 9 innings, good for second best on team and eighth in the American League. Meh, not bad...

You know who's ERA is "just OK"? Andy Pettitte's at 4.38 and 100 ERA+. Does he put you to sleep too, Pete? At 3.89, Joba's is the second lowest on the team, behind only C.C. Sabathia and good for 19th among starter's in the AL. That is good enough to be the second best starter on any team in the AL besides Tampa Bay, Detriot, Seattle or Toronto and those teams either have great defenses or play in pitcher's parks.

He gives up fewer than a hit per inning, and only 22 other AL starters can say they do any better. His walk rate is the third highest in the league, but you know who is in 2nd place? A.J. Burnett. Is he boring too?

Joba might be inefficent and struggle to make it through the sixth inning more than any of us would like. He might throw too many breaking balls in counts where hitters don't even flinch at them. He certainly walks too many guys.

But for fuck's sake, he's not boring. If I'm going up to the Stadium to catch a game, I'd rather see Joba take the mound than anyone else except for maybe CC Sabathia. I accept his flaws because, he's, you know, 23 years old and young pitchers tend to have those problems. Like Brandon Morrow last night, and Rick Porcello earlier this year, and Hughes & Kennedy last season and the next young stud the Yanks try to work into the rotation whenever that happens.

Sorry he's not a great postgame quote, and his starts on average take a little bit longer, but you're not going to get a lot of sympathy from the people who read your blog, because most of them have 9-5 desk jobs that would make a start by Joba Chamerblain look like the last 10 minutes of The Departed by comparison.


Heading into the home half of the 7th inning in Baltimore, the Red Sox sat atop a 10-1 lead. John Smoltz pitched only 4 innings due to a rain delay but held the Orioles to one run. The bullpen had kept them off the board in the two innings following Smoltz's early departure.

Then something happened. Something improbable and fantastic and impossibly satisfying all at the same time.

Justin Masterson, Hideki Okijima and Takashi Saito and thayuh fackin' awesome closah combined to allow 10 runs on 13 hits in two innings. The final two of those runs crossed the plate when the mighty Jonathan Papelbon came in to try and shut the O's down with one out in the 8th inning but allowed both of the runners he inherited to score. Those were the final the final straws in a contest the Sox led 10-1 but ended up losing 11-10.

Their loss, combined with the Yankees' victory, narrows the gap atop the AL East to 2.5 games, down from 5 one week ago.

It Comes Full Circle

After the hour long rain delay and amusing awkwardness of the National Anthem, the Yankees brought out Mariano Rivera to throw out the first pitch. Perhaps our friend and first pitch aficionado Josh at Jorge Says N0! could answer this question: When was the last time an active player threw out the first pitch for his team in a game he would evnetually appear in? I'm pretty sure Kevin Millar did for a Red Sox playoff game in 2008, but he was on the Orioles at that point. Does anybody know?

In any event, I'm pretty sure that if this has happened before, that player did not also throw out the last pitch of the game for a filthy swinging strikeout to convert a save. It doesn't seem like Mo is capable of accomplishing just one unusual feat at a time anymore.

Fittingly, as Matt detailed in the preview, the two starters in the game have both been shifted between starters and relievers before, just as Rivera was early in his career.

The Yanks got to Brandon Morrow in the bottom of the second. It started with two straight singles by Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada and the first run scored on a throwing error by Chris Woodward. The second one came home on a sac fly by Melky Cabrera and the Yanks were out to an early lead.

In the third, the M's struck back on a homer by their ninth hitter Ronny Cedeno. And that's #9 hitter in the worst run producing line up in baseball, no less. It was only Cedeno's 16th homer in 1090 Major League plate appearances.

The Yanks loaded the bases with no one out in the fourth inning as the inning was led off once again by back to back singles by Cano and Posada. Nick Swisher then popped up, invoking the infield fly rule for the first out. Melky drove in another run without getting a hit, grounding into a force out that allowed Cano to score. Morrow struck out Jeter on a 95MPH fastball to hold the damage to one run.

The Mariners bounced back in the top of the fifth as Ichiro led off with a single and promptly stole second and third and scored on a Russell Brayanan line drive. Joba gave up another run on a single to Franklin Guttierez, but with four men reaching base, it could have been much worse.

Again in the bottom half of an inning, the Yankees loaded the bases via a single by Teix and walks to A-Rod and Jorge. Morrow had already recorded two outs in the inning, but with his pitch count at 98, he was lifted in favor of Chirs Jakabauskas. He got Hideki Matsui to ground out and end the threat. Morrow went only 4 2/3, allowing 5 hits and 5BB, but gave up just one earned run.

With the score even at 3-3, Joba entered the sixth inning with 88 pitches. He threw 7 more to Kenji Johjima in an at bat that ended with a single to center. Ronny Cedeno laid down a successful sac bunt on the first pitch he saw from Chamberlain, and Joe Girardi called to the bullpen for Phil Coke. The lefty got two quick outs and although Joba has forfeited his chance to win the came, now couldn't lose it either. It was his 9th no decision in 15 starts.

The score remained tied 3-3 until the bottom of the seventh. After Johnny Damon led off with a double, Teix struck out, failing to advance the runner. No matter because A-Rod rocked a two run shot to deep left center that he knew was gone immediately after he hit it. He broke the tie, but only for the time being.

Despite the fact that Phil Hughes threw a flawless top of the 7th inning using only 9 pitches, and he can most certainly throw several inninngs if necessary, Girardi called on Brian Bruney to come out for the eighth. Bruney shaved off his 'stache before the game because he didn't like the way he has been pitching, but it didn't change anything. The Mariners immediately led off with three consecutive singles and by the time the inning was over, had tied the game at 5-5.

The Yanks didn't miss a beat and began with the bottom of the eighth with four consecutive hits: double, single, double, single and regained the lead 8-5 before making an out. The go ahead run was once again provided by Magic Melky adding to his collection of huge hits. That's where the score would remain when Mo came out to pick up save number 501. The first batter he faced was Ken Griffey Jr., who drilled a liner just foul down the right field line. The side went down in order and the Yanks pulled out the victory.

It wasn't pretty. Blowing two leads and going 2-14 with RISP in the first 7 innings probably isn't how they drew it up, but the Yanks' bats showed up when it counted.