Thursday, August 13, 2009

Game 115: Going Out West

The Yankees start their second West Coast swing of 2009 tonight, with four against the M's followed by three against the A's. The year's first trip was a bit of an easy one - travel wise at least - as the Yanks left a getaway day matinee in Minneapolis to head to Anaheim for a three game set before a four day All-Star break. We have to hope the results will be better this time, as the Yanks were swept by the Angels, playing bad baseball and seemingly mailing it in before the midseason vacation.

The Yanks have been on fire since then, going 19-6 over that stretch, playing their best baseball of the season, taking a 5.5 game lead in the AL East, and surging to the best record in baseball. That said, the travel itinerary won't be quite as nice this time around. Yesterday's game ended after five o'clock. Rush hour traffic from the Bronx, over the RFK, to LaGuardia couldn't have been pleasant, and I can tell you from making the trip myself several times, the NYC to Seattle flight seems interminable. The team probably did not arrive at their Seattle hotel until around midnight Pacific time - but at least they had all day to rest up while the M's went into extra innings.

Jet lag aside, the Yanks also got a little banged up between the lines yesterday. Jorge Posada had a rough day behind the plate, taking a foul tip off his throwing hand. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez both took nasty HBPs, but neither managed to hurl their helmet. Tonight was going to be a day off for A-Rod anyway. Jeter, per usual, says he'll play. We'll soon find out.

[UPDATE 8:25 PM: Jeter in, Posada out, A-Rod out as scheduled and unavailable]

In the pitching department, Mariano Rivera had a "cranky shoulder" yesterday. Given Alf's marathon appearance Monday, D-Rob and Coke going back-to-back games, and Chad Gaudin's start coming up on Saturday, the pen could also be a bit short tonight.

As for those who will play, CC Sabathia takes the ball for the Yanks. CC had an ugg-lee start against the M's back on July 2nd, getting tagged with the loss, 6 ER, and 10 H in 5.2 innings of work. In seven career starts at Safeco Field, Sabathia is 4-1 with 2.83 ERA. This is his time of year, tough. For his career, Sabathia is 30-9 with a 3.21 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP in 48 starts in August.

Sabathia will be opposed by Ian Snell. Snell was acquired with Jack Wilson just prior to the deadline as part of the Pirates' "Everything Must Go" firesale. Snell was pitching at AAA at the time of the trade, as poor performance and axiety issues forced him off the Pirates roster. Snell has made two starts for the M's, covering just 7.1 innings, yielding 5 runs, and 15 baserunners. Amazingly, he hasn't recorded a loss decision.

I really agonized over which video to pick for this song. Here's the original from crazy Tom Waits, which gets bonus points for being black and white, but loses points for being barely listenable - and somewhat disturbing. Here's some cool ones from Gov't Mule, all of which are exceedingly bad ass, including one from the Beacon Theater, and a classic one featuring the late, great Allen Woody. But today's video goes to a vintage Widespread Panic version of the song, featuring the late, great Michael Houser. Enjoy the game; we won't hold it against you if you can't stay awake for the end of it.

I'm going out west where the wind blows tall,
Cause Tony Franciosa used to date my ma,
They got some money out there,
They're giving it away,
Gonna do what I want,
Gonna get paid,
Do what I want,
Gonna get paid.

And I'm going out west,
Where they'll appreciate me,
Going out west,
Going out west.

Remembering The Mick and Scooter

August is a tough month. As a kid, August always represented the summer dying - vacation dwindling down, school supplies creeping into stores, the grass burning from green to brown, maybe even the first leaves falling from the trees.

As a fan of both baseball and music, August seems to be a tough month as well. We talked about the anniversaries of the deaths of Thurman Munson and Jerry Garcia earlier this month. Today came the news that guitar legend Les Paul passed away. Later this month the anniversaries of Allen Woody and Stevie Ray Vaughan's deaths will pass as well.

Today marks the 14th anniversary of Mickey Mantle's death. Maybe it was because he had high profile celebrities like Billy Crystal and Bob Costas who worshipped the ground he walked on and romanticized every bit of his legend, but Mantle's death struck me as being just as much as the end of a cultural phenomenon as it was the passing of a baseball legend.

For a generation of American males, Mickey Mantle was an icon. I suppose his death in 1995, as that generation moved into middle age, was not only the passing of their boyhood idol, but also the severing of one of the last remaining connections to their youth. I guess each generation of fans faces this at some stage, but that's not something I even want to consider right now.

Like many of that generation, my father's favorite player from his childhood years was Mantle. The Mick was winding down his career as my father began following the game, but he still had some of his former magic. A yellowed cover of The Daily News from when Mantle hit his 500th homerun still hangs in my parents' basement.

I grew up down the street from a golf course that used to host celebrity tournaments. When I was an infant, Mantle was playing in a tournament there. Mom convinced Dad to take a ride up the hill, and sure enough, there was The Mick. Awestruck, my father was rendered speechless for the entirety of the encounter. My mother was unimpressed enough to get a picture.
Though seperated for a number of years, Mickey and his wife Merlyn never divorced, and she was at his side at the time of his passing. Eerily, she passed away Monday.

Today is also the second anniversary of Phil Rizzuto's passing. Phil Rizzuto Day was the first Major League game I ever attended. It didn't dawn on me until today that Rizzuto and Mantle died on the same date. Oddly, Mantle's death in some way contributed to Rizzuto finally leaving the broadcast booth. WPIX decided that Bobby Murcer, another close friend of Mantle's, would represent the network at Mantle's funeral, forcing the Scooter to stay in Boston to call the Yanks game. The decision upset Rizzuto greatly, causing him to leave the booth mid-game, and announce his retirement shortly thereafter. He was persuaded to return for one final season in 1996. After I mentioned Jerry Remy's return to the Sox booth last night, I guess it's in some way appropriate that today we also remember a beloved Yankee announcer.

Cranky, Eh?

If this bit of news were recorded by PeteAbe himself and not his fill-in Josh Thomson, I wouldn't have needed to make this connection:
Mariano Rivera didn’t throw at all today and was unavailable to pitch. “He was feeling a little cranky today,” Joe Girardi said. Rivera told us his right shoulder was sore, but he did not classify the soreness as painful. He said he has felt this pain before and felt fine soon after. Girardi said he’d be “shocked” if Rivera weren’t available tomorrow in Seattle.
Of course, "cranky" was the term Girardi used at the end of last season, when Mariano was supposedly leaving to go back to New York from Toronto for "a physical" instead of going with the team to Boston:
Girardi was asked several times and in several ways whether Rivera had an injury to his elbow and shoulder. He denied it every time. The questions were very exact. “He said his whole body was cranky,” Girardi said.
The beat writers all found this to be perplexing, since Rivera could have got a physical just about anywhere and if they were intent on having it done by a certain team doctor, they could have flown him out to Mo, not the other way around. Some of the writers called Brian Cashman, who said that Rivera need an MRI which ultimately revealed that he needed surgery.

Again Mariano is making travel arrangements separate from the team for personal reasons, according to Thomson in the same article. Marc Carig of the Star Ledger talked to team spokesperson Jason Zillo who said it has nothing to do with health issues. "No tests were done and none are scheduled" and Mo will be in Seattle for the game.

Is there a reason that Girardi chooses "cranky"? Cranky is a strange and vague term to use for describing injuries. We all know was "sore" and "stiff" and "tight" mean. It seems like cranky is his go-to line when he doesn't want to give away information about an injury because it means nothing to anyone but him. Cranky is what a four year old is when you wake them up from a nap. Cranky is how your grandmother got when your little brother broke her lamp.

Rivera hits these rough patches seemingly every season and Girardi has dramatically improved the way he relates to the media so hopefully the the connection is nothing more than semantics. If nothing else, every time there is an sort of uncertainty about Rivera's health, it makes you take stock of how important and valuable he is to the team. In Mo we trust.

Now For Something Different

After yesterday's fracas, let's do something a little bit different today and say something remotely nice about the Red Sox - who I know I said I wouldn't address until next week's series - but this warrants mentioning.

As my friend Art and I returned from the game yesterday, we stopped at a local bar to grab some dinner. The Sox game was on, and I was very happy to see that longtime Red Sox announcer Jerry Remy was in the broadcast booth, visiting for an inning.

Remy has missed the majority of this season recovering from lung cancer. While his absence has allowed for the Dennis Eckersley experience, the Sox booth won't be right until Remy returns - even if he is the President of Red Sox Nation.

The relationship that broadcasters - particularly in baseball - can forge with a fanbase is one of the most unique things in sports. While someone of us are stuck with windbags, self-serving blow hards, or nails-on-a-chalkboard announcers, Sox fans are lucky in that they have an announcer who enjoys calling games for them as much as they enjoy listening to him.

Get well soon Remy.

What Just Happened Here?!?!

Good morning Fackers, and those of you who are still sticking around to tell us how "facking qweaah" we are.

Well it was quite a day around here wasn't it? Thanks to some Tuesday night shenanigans in Boston, some tedious work with and Windows Movie Maker by Jay, and gracious links from Big League Stew, Deadspin, The 700 Level, The Legend of Cecilio Guante, and the Cleveland Frowns, this place absolutely blew up. Good thing Jay and I didn't both go the Yankee game or anything like that..... oh wait, we did.

In our absence, what was conceived as a well earned jab at some jackass-ish behavior somehow devolved into a cesspool of anonymous tough-guy commenting centering around steroids, tainted championships, relative payroll levels, fanbase paranoia, recent playoff history, and a bunch of other horseshit. Oh, and I think I might have been invited to visit Texas as well. I'm still trying to discern what the hell any of that has to do with what happened in Boston Tuesday.

So at the risk of stirring up yet another shitstorm, let me see if I can offer as objective an outlook on Youkgate as humanly possible from a dirty facking Yankee fan. The way the first game and two innings of the Tigers-Sox series unfolded, I suppose something like this was bound to happen. The Sox were coming off a four game sweep at the hands of their division rival - a series that had its share of hit batsmen tomfoolery - and were playing their worst baseball of the season.

Monday night's game saw three hit batsmen: Miguel Cabrera in the top of the fourth, Youkilis in the bottom, and Brandon Inge in the the eighth. On Tuesday the teams picked up right where they left off. Cabrera was hit again in the top of the first, causing him to leave the game. For what it's worth, I didn't think that pitch was intentional. In the bottom of the inning, Porcello came inside on Victor Martinez. Martinez didn't like it. I don't think Porcello was trying to hit him, but I'm sure his intent was to come inside. Whether that was retribution or whether it was because that's just a good way to pitch I'm not entirely sure.

Either way, the climate was perfect for a fight when Youkilis led off the bottom of the second. I'm convinced that sometimes, particularly when tensions are high like that, a batter will go to the plate having already made the decision to make a big deal out of anything close to hitting him. That's how we wound up with Manny Ramirez inciting a bench clearing incident in the 2003 ALCS on a pitch that was high, but over the plate. That's how we wound up with Richie Sexson charging the mound on a pitch that was outside. And that's how we wound up with Youkilis, who had already been plunked once in the series, charging the mound on a two seam fastball that appears to have hit him without any intent.

According to pitch f/x, Tuesday night Porcello threw eight four seam fastballs, averaging nearly 93 MPH and topping out at 94 MPH. He threw half as many two seamers, averaging just under 92 MPH, and topping out at 92.2 MPH. MLB Gameday had the two seamer that hit Youkilis at a blistering 89 MPH. According to fangraphs, Porcello's pitch selection and velocity Tuesday, despite the small sample size, was in line with his results this season. So if he wanted to hit Youkilis, why would he choose to do it with a two seamer, a pitch that he throws half as often and anywhere from 1 to 5 MPH slower than his four seamer?

Some might point out that entering last night's game, Porcello had hit just one batter in 111 IP in 2009. That's a fair point, but in his lone minor league season, Porcello plunked 11 batters in just 125 innings of work. But I mean, that's all in the past right? 20 year old Major League pitchers should have impeccable control.

Either way, Youk charged the mound and threw his helmet like a coward. Porcello, giving up about twenty pounds, executed a nice hip toss that would have made Tito Santana proud, leaving Youk at the bottom of the pig pile.

Despite what the pro-Sox contingent commenting here had to say, Youk isn't winning this one on the national stage. The Deadspin comments - not the best gauge but definitely not a biased cross section - were decidedly anti-Youk. Keith Law tore him a new one before the game was even over. MLBN was none too kind to him Tuesday night, and what little coverage I saw on ESPN wasn't too complimentary either. In a way, even the MLB suspensions speak to that: Youk got five games which he began serving last night. Porcello, his ejection dubious to begin with, was also given five. However, most starting pitchers suspended for similar "offenses" have been given six games. The Tigers can easily work Porcello's suspension around an off day, making sure he doesn't miss a start. Alternatively, if Porcello's appeal reduces the suspension by a single game, it will cover his normal rest. But whatever, ignore what's being said on the national stage - several dozen anonymous commenters here can't be wrong.

Now, I don't want to pick through all ninety-some-odd comments we had on the initial post and critique them one by one, but there are two that I'd like to highlight.

First, we have the Greco-Roman wrestling expert who proclaims (sic'd) "The man on defense has the advantage when he knows its coming". Well, sure they do, that's why it's called going on the defensive. Wait - never mind - it's called going on the offensive, because, you know, it's better to attack than be attacked, particularly when you have a running start, your opponent is retreating, and you elect to use protective gear as a missile. I may not be the fighting expert that this anonymous commenter apparently is, but I have taken several physics courses, and I do know that Youkilis' 220 lbs coming at a full sprint is preferable to Porcello's 200 lbs at a standstill. Momentum equals mass times velocity. And for future reference Youk, next time you attack a guy who has you by four inches but is giving you twenty pounds, it might be a better idea to go low. Perhaps if you had spent more time with the Huggins Thugs during your time at Cincy you would know this.

Secondly, we have "I love how you end the clip before youk rolls over on him like he is about to ground and pound him to a bloody pulp". Yes, I'm sure that's exactly what was about to happen next. We've all seen this guy before. He's usually the one who talks a bunch of shit, tears his shirt off, then begs his friends to "hold him back", you know, for the other guy's good, not because he's really a pussy and doesn't actually want to fight. Alternatively, he's the guy who gets his ass kicked, and upon the merciful ending of the fight asks his friends, "Why'd you break it up?!?! I had him right where I wanted him".

Anyway, thanks for the record-shattering day everyone. With just one post we received about a month's worth of traffic. Too bad most of it was a barren wasteland of anonymous idiocy. Despite what I've described above, I see now that we probably should have blindly praised Youkilis for his gritty guttiness and his gutty grittiness. The rest of the post should have been about how the Yankees suck and all take steroids and buy championships and how insecure they are with a 5.5 game lead more than two thirds of the way through the season.

Never mind the fact that I completely unfairly slammed the guy on Monday for his outfield play over the weekend, and no one said peep. The guy took one for the team when it was needed, put himself on the line, and we (predictably) made fun of him for it no one called us out on it. The lowest common denominator wins again.

I realize that calling the blog "Fack Youk", though done somewhat tongue-in-cheek, is antagonistic. As such, a certain amount of what happened yesterday is to be expected when people don't get the joke. But I'm utterly amazed that what I thought was a fairly cut and dry post spurred the pissing match that followed. But what do I know? Keep the comments coming; let's just try to up the collective IQ a bit this time around. As for me I've said my next-to-last about the Sox until the next head-to-head series starts next Friday.