Monday, July 20, 2009

Game 92: Sing Me Back Home

The Yanks have a chance to stretch their current winning streak to 4 and their season series record against the Orioles to 7-3 tonight. Jose Molina is behind the plate, Eric Hinske is in right and Melky is in center with the rest of the defensive alignment in their prime offensive configuration.

Taking the mound for O's will be David Hernandez, a rookie who the Yankees have never seen. Perhaps it's just the attention that has been focused on these types of games, but it seems like the Yanks have faced more than their fair share of fresh meat so far this season. Hernandez is a big 24 year old righty, at 6'3", 215, and has a 4.30 ERA and a 2-2 record in 5 starts this year. He hasn't been dominant, striking out only 13 in 29 1/3 innings and walking 12 in the process.

For the Yanks, Andy Pettitte will be pitching on 9 days rest. His career numbers are slightly better on six or more days rest, which is a good sign, but his stats at the New Yankee Stadium leave much to be desired. Pettitte has been fairly vocal about his poor performances at the new digs. He's blamed his lack of success on his tendency to give up more home runs in the Bronx and a resulting reluctance to challenge hitters, leading to more walks. Here's what he said after his last start at home against the Blue Jays:
"It's very discouraging because I felt like I might've had my best stuff," said Pettitte, who surrendered five walks and five hits, including Alex Rios' three-run, third-inning blow to left. "I feel like a broken record saying I need to keep the walks down, especially here, where you just can't walk guys like that.

"I'm really scratching my head figuring out how I walked so many."
Pettitte's K/BB ratio is actually identical at home and on the road at 1.63, and his walk rate is slightly higher away from TNYS (3.52/9 to 4.13/9). He goes deeper into games on the road as well. True, his home run totals are dramatically different with 12 of them coming in the Bronx against only 3 on the road but that gap is narrowed a bit by the fact that he's thrown 15 more innings at home. To boot, 8 of the ones at home have gone out to left field, which by most accounts isn't that much easier to reach than it was in the old ballpark.

What I'm getting at is that I think much of Pettitte's struggles are in his head. Perhaps it's a product of bad luck. His BABIP is .054 higher at home which you would assume to be even higher, given all the home runs that are taken out of the equation. Bad luck doesn't change what happened in the past, but it does help to more accurately predict the future. In his career, Pettitte's ERA is nearly a half run lower at home and I'm guessing that New Stadium will be kinder to Pettitte in the second half of the '09 season, which very well could be the last of his career. Hopefully tonight will be a step in that direction for him.

Sing me back home with a song I used to hear,
Make my old memories come alive,
Take me away and turn back the years,
Sing me back home before I die.

News And Notes

While Jay and I were busy enjoying the weekend, there were some noteworthy tidbits coming out of Yankeeland.

First and foremost, Sergio Mitre will get the start against the O's tomorrow night. In nine minor league starts this year, Mitre is 4-1 with a 2.32 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. That's that good news. The bad news is that in 310.2 MLB innings since 2003, Mitre has a 5.23 ERA in the NL (81 ERA+) and a 1.55 WHIP. This is not a long term solution to the fifth starter spot.

To make room on the 40 man roster, Xavier Nady will likely be moved to the 60 day DL. Candidates to be moved off the MLB roster would have to be Mark Melancon and David Robertson, who both have options, or Brett Tomko who is on a Berroa-like streak of bullet-dodging.

Meanwhile, Alf Aceves and Phil Hughes, both superior hurlers to Mitre, remain in the pen where they continue to mow down opposing batters (or is that "Mo down opposing batters"?). Apparently the team has figured it better to play Russian Roulette for five innings every five days rather than for one or two innings each time through the rotation. At this point I've resigned myself to Hughes being in the pen for the remainder of 2009.

On a semi-related note, Brian Cashman is sending strong indications that the Yankees will not be a player for Roy Halladay as the deadline approaches. I support this position, though admittedly it could be tactical posturing on Cash's part. If the Yankees aren't going to pursue Halladay, that's one less option to sure up the rotation. Unfortunately, I don't think Mitre nor Chien-Ming Wang - who begins a throwing program today - is the answer for this year.

Damaso Marte is continuing his rehab with the GCL Yankees. He made his second appearance Saturday, this time throwing a perfect inning and striking out two batters.

HOPE Week begins for the Yankees today. The organization seems to have been more heavily involved than usual in charities and community outreach this year, and that's a great thing.

Jay will be back with tonight's preview shortly.

Old Timers' Day Ruminations

As I mentioned this morning, Old Timers' Day is probably my favorite day of the regular season. This was the fourth consecutive one I've attended, and for me, they don't get old. The Yankees were not a very good team in my early years of following them. But part of what I really enjoyed about the franchise was their history. My family had a copy of the 1987 documentary New York Yankees The Movie, detailing the team's history. I watched it until the tape wore out.

My father has a library of books on Yankee history, from the Bronx Zoo years, back to the Dynasty era, to the Ruth and Gehrig years. Once I devoured all of them, the local library was an excellent source of other books on Yankee and baseball history.

So for me, I really enjoy seeing the Old Timers come back. And while the Hall of Famers and the players from the most recent dynasty get the biggest pops, I enjoy knowing who "Bullet" Bob Turley and Luis Arroyo and Hector Lopez are when they're introduced.

I can appreciate why outsiders may be somewhat disgusted by it. It's highly self-congratulatory and self-indulgent, and that appearance isn't helped at all by twin blowhards John Sterling and Michael Kay continually trying to one-up each other introduction after introduction. But baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, is built on its own history. To my knowledge, the Yankees are the only franchise that still celebrates Old Timers' Day anually, a tradition that dates back to 1946. And as a fan of the team, I'm happy that the franchise gives the fan a day each year to bring back the heroes of the past. It's something that I wish fans of other teams had the opportunity to experience.

Last night, Mike at RAB linked to post from NBC's Circling the Bases blog, that criticized the Yankees' annual tradition. Yes, there is a sense of overkill following the closing of the Old Stadium and the opening of the New Stadium, but those are rare, once in a lifetime experiences. Old Timers' Day is 60+ year tradition. It should not be ended; it should be duplicated throughout baseball. Yes, Mantle and DiMaggio and Scooter and Murcer have all passed on. Outside of Yogi and Whitey, who are certainly on in years, Old Timers' Day doesn't really have any of the top tier Yankee Legends any more. But it's not just about the all time greats, it's really a day to celebrate anyone who contributed through the years, anyone who ever gave the fans cause to cheer.

In Peter Golenbock's Dynasty, an account of the 1949 through 1964 Yankees that won 14 pennants and 9 World Series, there's an interview with Johnny Blanchard, a Yankee platoon player from 1959 through 1965. I don't have access to the exact quote at present, but essentially Blanchard spoke of how important it was to him to go back to Old Timers' Day each year - to see his old friends and teammates, to relive the memories of years past. I think he may have even said he would die if they wouldn't let him come back anymore.

Blanchard was a fixture at Old Timer's Day. He passed away just prior to the start of this season and was remembered Sunday in the list of baseball deaths from the past year. I hope the other former Yankees in attendance yesterday remembered him, and remembered why it was an important day for all of them. In the aforementioned documentary there's a great quote from Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez: "Once a Yankee, always a Yankee". I'm grateful we have Old Timers' Day to remind us of that.

Above The Clouds

Both of my parents were still in high school in 1969, so I really have no concept of what the world was like at that point. It was the year Mickey Mantle announced his retirement and Stan Musial was voted into the Hall of Fame. The league had just added four teams (the Royals, Padres, Expos and Seattle Pilots who eventually became the Milwaukee Brewers) so the Yankees were now playing in the AL East as opposed to the AL at large.

There was no DH and the Yanks had a four man rotation headed by Mel Stottlemyre. Thurman Munson and Bobby Murcer were just breaking into the league as full time players at age 22 and 23 respectively. The team finished a forgettable 80-81 under Ralph Houk but one of those 80 victories (and 11th inning walk-off, no less) came 40 years ago today on Bat Day at Yankee Stadium.

I only mention that because a far more significant event took place during the course of the contest: the climax of the Apollo 11 mission. Our pal Lar at wezen-ball (who was also just a dot on the horizon when it happened) dug up several accounts from around the Majors to see how they handled such a transcendent moment and found an impossibly detailed account of the announcement made during the Yankees game that day from Leonard Koppett of the New York Times:
'Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please,' came the voice of Bob Shepard, the public address announcer.

The umpires, according to prior arrangements, waved their arms and stopped play.


'You will be happy to know,' Shepard continued, 'that the Apollo 11 has landed safely...'

And a tremendous cheer drowned the words 'on the moon.'

The cheering continued for about 45 seconds. On the scoreboard, the message section read 'They're on the moon.' People stood. They waved the bats back and forth. Shepard kept talking, but his words could not be made out through the din.
Sounds like a pretty incredible moment, doesn't it? Click through to read the whole post. Lar is great at finding contemporary accounts of historical baseball moments and this is one of my favorite posts of his. He also has a graphic of the territory covered once the astronauts actually walked on the moon, superimposed over a baseball diamond. Wezen-ball is certainly a quality over quantity type of baseball blog and I would highly recommend adding that to your reading rotation.

The moon landing now seems to be distant history and something that I must admit I take for granted. The moment shows up in popular culture so much, like in Forrest Gump, the Ali G Show, the intro a Gang Starr song, and Dumb and Dumber, it's easy to become familiar with it, without actually appreciating the full magnitude of what it meant at the time.

It would be as if Columbus' chance encounter with North America was instantly relayed to Europe at the exact moment that it happened. Except NASA knew exactly what they were doing when they landed on the moon; they weren't trying to get to Mars. The level of science, technology and innovation necessary to put a man on a moving planetary body 238,855 miles away is still staggering 40 years later. It redefined what was possible.

In Koppett's account, he mentions that Sheppard, along with the other voices who made the announcement paused for a moment of silent prayer for the mission's safe return. Since we already knew how the story ends, I hadn't thought about the level of uncertainty involved with the second half of the journey until I read that.

Sure, it was sort of a pissing contest between the U.S. and the Soviets to see who could get there first and there weren't any tangible direct societal benefits from it. But sometimes it's good to do something just to do it. It's why people climb Everest and swim the English Channel. For the sake of saying you did. So now when people look at the Moon, it doesn't seem that far away.

What A Weekend

Good morning Fackers. Well, we have another weekend in the books, and I don't know about you, but we sure enjoyed ourselves. Jay was participating in another golf tournament. I had a helluva a cookout at my place Saturday, starting just after I watched the Yanks take game two of the series from the Tigers. I now have enough empties on my porch to get more than $10 in bottle deposit refunds. You could say it was a pretty fun Saturday.

Sandwiched around the cook/drinkout, I attended both the Friday and Sunday games. The biblical downpour on Friday night was something else. In the past three years I've sat through more rain delays than I can even remember. It seems as if it rains every other time I go to the Bronx. But none of them compare to Friday. We stayed at our seats in the very last section of the left field terrace until the official rain delay was called. And we got under cover just in time to avoid the worst of it.

I don't know how much footage YES showed of the rain, but it was incredible. The upper deck concourse has down spouts coming down from the roof. They were running like fire hydrants. There was a full pond back around the home plate area of the concourse. Thankfully, that would be the last inclement weather of the weekend, and in some ways, the torrential downpours were preferable to the oppressive humidity that preceded it.

More impressive than the rain was the performance from Phil Hughes. I still have some serious concerns about how he's being deployed. But watching him record all six outs via K on Friday, and 8 of 9 total on the weekend is very impressive.

With the possible exception of Opening Day, Old Timers' Day is my favorite day of the season, so it was very cool to be in attendance with my brother, father, and uncle on Sunday. I love a good pitchers' duel, and Sunday certainly was one of those. I'm not ready to say all is well with Joba based on just one start, but Sunday was a leap in the right direction.

Last week started with the end of an ugly three game sweep at the hands of the Angels. With no baseball for the next four days, there was much talk of the Yanks' troubles against the division leading Angels (2-4) and Red Sox (0-8). But baseball is a funny game. Just as the Yanks found a way to lose all three games in Anaheim, all games that they led at one point, they found a way to win all three games against Detroit this weekend, all games that they trailed at some point. The sweep ran the Yankees record against the division leading Tigers to 5-1. It's almost as if the baseball gods put things back to equilibrium as soon as possible. I'm sure Detroit is happy they won't be seeing Joba, Hughes, or Mo again this regular season.

In all, a great weekend. An exciting three game sweep of the division leading Tigers, featuring two classic pitchers' duels. That coupled with two Sox losses pulled the Yanks back to within a game of first. The tenth anniversary of David Cone's perfect game, the annual Old Timers' Day celebration, great weather, etc. It all adds up to make this Monday morning look a little less daunting than most.

Back with more later.