Monday, September 14, 2009

Yanks Sweep Angels!

A one game sweep is still a sweep in my book. Well, when the Yankees win, anyway. There's no such thing as a must-win game when you are leading a team by 4 in the loss column for home field advantage, but the Yanks certainly wanted this game more than they have most of the ones they've played in recently. Rightly so, the Angels are 20-34 against them since the beginning of the 2004 season.

It certainly helped that Joba Chamberlain put forth his first respectable effort as a starter since July 29th in Tampa. He uncharacteristically didn't walk a batter in four innings while allowing 4 hits and striking out 2. Three of those were only singles but the other was a solo HR on a 2-2 curveball to Vlad Guererro in the 2nd. That was the only run Chamberlain surrendered and he appeared to be working more quickly on the mound, throwing 41 of his 67 pitches for strikes.

Both Alfredo Aceves and Phil Hughes gave up a run in relief. Aceves' put the Yanks in a 2-1 hole in the 5th and Hughes allowed the Angels to tie the game at 3 in the 8th. The Yanks picked both of them up by scoring 2 in each of the corresponding bottom halves of the inning. It could have been more in the 5th but the Yanks gave away two outs via a Derek Jeter sac bunt and a Melky Cabrera baserunning blunder in which he not only ran in Chone Figgins before he caught the ball, he got hit in the junk in mid-air trying to avoid it.

Mark Teixeira was the man of the night on the offensive side of the ball. He singled, doubled and tripled off the wall in center on an odd play where he both complained that there was catcher's interference and Torii Hunter lost his shoe attempting to make the catch.

Joe Girardi's new toy, Freddy Guzman, made his Yankees debut, pinch running for Jorge Posada in the 8th inning and advancing form 1st to third on a single.

It was one of those tight games where one team times their hits a little bit better. The Angels were 0-9 with RISP while the Yanks were 2 for 9.

Since it was a make-up game and the stands were much emptier than they would have been under normal circumstances, there wasn't much of a "playoff feel" despite being tightly contested and relatively important given the standings and the date. It was certainly a confidence builder for the Yanks though, giving them a chance to take the season series against the Angels for the first time since 2003 when they head out to Anaheim next Monday.

Game 145: Day Tripper

The Angels made their only scheduled trip of 2009 to the Bronx back at the end of April, starting a four game series on a Thursday. The Yanks took the first two, including one of their 13 walk off wins during the Friday night game, before the Halos took the Saturday contest behind journeyman starter Matt Palmer on Kentucky Derby Day. Sunday's series finale was rained out, leaving us with today's make up.

That weekend in early May however was not the last time these two teams met. The Yankees traveled to Anaheim for a three game weekend series just before the All-Star break and completely mailed it in, getting swept despite leading each game at some point. Fortunately, that series marks the last thing remotely resembling a speed bump this season, as the Yanks have gone 41-14 (.745) since.

Joba Chamberlain will oppose Jered Weaver in today's game. Joba has faced the Angels once, on July 10th this year, allowing 10 baserunners, 5 runs, 4 earned, in 4.1 innings. This will be his fourth intentionally truncated start; with any luck he'll be able to get through four innings today and be able to do it something resembling a reasonable pitch count. After a rough first inning his start last Wednesday, Chamberlain had an effective last two plus innings, retiring the final eight batters he faced. He'll look to build on that tonight.

Weaver has faced the Yankees twice this year and is 1-0 with 1.08 WHIP despite a 5.25 ERA over 12 innings of work. For his career, he's 4-1 in six starts against the Yanks but carries a 5.82 ERA against them. For the season Weaver is 15-5, leading his club in starts, innings, wins and strikeouts, and is second amongst Angel starters in ERA. He and John Lackey are the only Halo rotation members with an ERA lower than league average. He's been outstanding over his last three starts: 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA and 17:3 K:BB over 19.1 IP.

The Yankee bench will be a little more crowded tonight, as the Yankees did what I thought they wouldn't do, and recalled outfielder Freddy Guzman. Peter Abraham speculates that the Yanks are giving him a look as a potential post-season pinch running option. Not only do I think that's a bad idea, I don't even know if it's possible since Guzman was not added to the 40 man roster until today. To make room for him, Anthony Claggett was designated for assignment, becoming the third young, if unspectacular, pitcher the Yanks have DFA'd this year in order to make room for inferior talent. I imagine the Pirates will scoop him up just as they did to Steven Jackson and Eric Hacker. Scranton's already decimated roster is down two more bodies, but they will have Ian Kennedy available to start Game 2 of the IL Finals on Wednesday.

After today's little day trip, the Angels travel to Boston for three then on to Texas for three more. All of that is good news for the Yanks, as they're guaranteed to reduce their various magic numbers by at least one for all six of those days, whether it be to clinch a playoff spot, to clinch the AL East, or to clinch homefield throughout the playoffs. Counting tonight, the Yanks have four more games against the Angels this year. Given their troubles at The Big A over the last several years, it would be awfully nice if the Yanks can beat up on the Halos and ensure they have homefield throughout the post-season.

Bonus version with Jimi Hendrix

Tried to please her, she only played one night stands
Tried to please her, she only played one night stands, now
She was a day tripper, Sunday driver, yeah!
It took me so long to find out, and I found out

Jack Morris, Drama & Pitching To The Scoreboad

At one point during Friday's game, Michael Kay trotted out a concept commonly uttered throughout baseball, "pitching to the scoreboard". He and Al Leiter went back and forth in praise of Jack Morris, the unofficial mascot of said scoreboard pitching, saying ridiculous things like "If Jack's Morris's ERA was higher, it was because he wanted it to be higher" and "if you scored two runs, he'd hold the other team to one".

I think most people who are statistically inclined instantly dismiss the concept of pitching to the scoreboard, but it's the type of idea that would be quite tedious and time consuming to disprove. Luckily, a couple of people informed Joe Posnanski that the topic was being thrown around on the Yankees broadcast and he took a crack at breaking it down:
To pitch to the score, you would need to have your team score the runs FIRST before you gave them up, right? I mean, if you give up seven runs, and your team scores three in the ninth to win, you didn’t pitch to the score did you? No, your team saved your butt. In order to pitch to the score, your team would have to score eight runs and then you would be thinking, “Well, la la la, I can give up some runs now.” Does this make any sense to anyone?
Joe takes a quick look at Morris' record in games in which his team scored one or two runs, and (surprise!) finds that he was 5-49 with one run of support and 12-37 with two runs. He contrasts this with Burt Blyleven, who has the reputation of not being nearly as adept at pitching to score despite a lower career ERA, and finds that Blyleven had far better records in both situations.

The reason I find this interesting has nothing to do with Jack Morris; I was 8 years old when he threw his last pitch. It's that one of the things that makes baseball endlessly interesting but seemingly no one wants to admit is that, despite your best efforts, you can't really control when you succeed and fail. The difference between a flyball and home run is often a few millimeters on the bat or a fraction of a second. Guys hit home runs on pitches out of the strikezone. It's not a perfect science.

If you look at WPA, which measures the leverage at the time of each at bat, you'll see that the leaders fluctuate every year. If there is such a thing as "being clutch", it certainly isn't an indelible part of someone's character or else the same people would be atop that list each season.

Like he so often does, Posnanski really nails this point:
There’s something about the long season of baseball that encourages players to believe in jinxes and superstitions and breaks evening out, something about the days turning to weeks turning to months that inspires this closely held belief that players don’t succeed because of talent or luck or even hard practice but because of character, because of a certain courage or gallantry or substance of the soul.
Part of this the collective ego-stroking you're likely to see in any elite fraternity. The fact that these guys have all risen to the top, passing hundreds of people at every level from tee ball on up makes them extremely special. It's easy to see why they feel this way. But the in the effort to find story lines, the media propogates these ideas and inner fortitude of the players is far overrepresented as a factor in success.

Sports are often described in terms of drama. A dramatic play, a thrilling climax, a heroic performance, a storybook season. However, watching sports is infinitely better than a fictional play or movie because they unscripted and unfettered. There's no need to infuse them with contrived plot twists and ascribe the players with heroic character traits. But don't try to tell that to Michael Kay and Al Leiter.

Minor League Round Up

We don't give as much attention as we should to the minor league system here. With today being a slow day for us and the minor league seasons winding down, here's a look at a few things going in the Yankees system:
  • AAA Scranton won their semifinal playoff series against Gwinnett County (Braves) three games to one and will now face Durham (Rays) for the Governor's Cup. Despite having half their roster in the Bronx right now, Scranton is looking for their second consecutive International League title, as they beat Durham in the final last year. Top pitching prospect Zach McAllister made his AAA debut in Game 4 of the semis, and picked up the win in the clincher. The best of five championship series begins tomorrow.
  • AA Trenton fell short in their push for a post-season berth, getting eliminated Labor Day weekend during the final series of the regular season. Trenton's elimination is somewhat functional for the organization though, allowing them to redistribute Trenton's roster to other levels, particularly AAA, where help is needed.
  • High A Tampa is tied 1-1 in the best of five Florida State League Finals against Charlotte. In a surprise move, Ian Kennedy was activated to pitch Game 1 of this series. He was due to throw a simulated game that day anyway, so apparently the organization decided to let him face live hitters instead. He went two scoreless innings, giving up a hit and recording a K. Next stop for him is the Arizona Fall League as he returns from his aneurysm.
  • Low A Charleston did not qualify for the post-season.
  • Short-season Staten Island is in the New York-Pennsylvania League finals. The best of three series against Mahoning Valley (Indians) begins tomorrow.
  • The Rookie League Gulf Coast Yankees lost their one game semi-final against the Marlins.

Paging Doctor Goodwin

My buddy Frank spotted this rather amusing typo in the Post yesterday on our way down to the Giants game.
You guys remember Dwight Goodwin, don't you? I believe he used to play left field for the Yankings and the Vets.

And check out this guy who was sitting in front of us in section 306.

He spent 90% of the game standing up and gesturing wildly to the people behind him. I believe that by buying patterned shirt of your favorite NFL team, you thereby agree to attend every home game and act like a douchebag. Fun times though, as the Giants won by a final score of 23-17 even though they outplayed the Redskins by far more than that. Eli Manning looked sharp, completing 20 of his 29 passes to his new receiving crew. We also walked away with roughly 3 of the calendars and towels they were giving away at the door per person. The only bummer is that rookie wideout Hakeen Nicks is out for a couple of weeks with a sprained foot.

I'm still recovering from yesterday, so content may be a little fluffier than usual around these parts. Bear with me.

My Friday Night

Good morning Fackers. In the very first post I ever authored for Fack Youk, I recounted a brief meeting I had with Kevin Youkilis prior to attending the game in which Manny Ramirez hit his 500th career home run. That night, he became the twenty-fourth member of that exclusive club.

Witnessing that was the most historic event I attended in person since the very first game I ever went to: Phil Rizzuto Day at Yankee Stadium, where Tom Seaver won his 300th career game, becoming the seventeenth member of that exclusive club.

Friday night I was fortunate enough to be in the park for something that wasn't quite as historic as either of those two events, but was thoroughly more enjoyable, even if I did spend a large portion of last week making the argument that Derek Jeter setting the franchise hit record wasn't quite as big a deal as the media, particularly the YES network, was making it out to be.

If you read here with any degree of regularity, you know that both Jay and I like music a lot, and that we quite regularly weave it into what we do here. One of the things that I don't like about music is that there's a tendency amongst fans to overblow the importance of things. There's a certain breed of fan for whom every show they attend is the greatest show ever, or every new album released their favorite band is the best one yet. I think part of that is because music is a very subjective thing, but much of it is because people want to be part of something. If they trumpet up a certain performance as being historic then they become part of history.

Sports don't often fall prey to that sort of mindset. Sports are far more objective, there are winners and losers, people can tell the good from the bad pretty easily, and the historic milestones are pretty clearly defined.

Derek Jeter setting the career hit record for the game's most storied franchise is a big deal. Not as big a deal as when he reaches 3,000 hits or any hit milestones beyond that, not as big a deal as when Alex Rodriguez becomes the seventh member of the 600 home run club sometime next year, but it's a big deal.

What was most impressive to me Friday night was the crowd reaction. One of the things I mentioned last week was the possibility that the hit chase was being made into a bigger deal than it was to provide a platform for the fans to pay tribute to Derek Jeter. If that was the case, we certainly seized the opportunity to thank Jeter for all that he's done over the past fourteen seasons. Maybe we as fans just wanted to be part of history. The ovation, both in terms of intensity and duration, was something very impressive to experience in person, as was the genuine outpouring of congratulations from Jeter's teammates.

As fans of the Yankees, we get a bit a spoiled from time to time. The expectations are perpetually high, the goal each year is singular: win the World Series or the season is a failure. I'm not saying it right or wrong, but it's reality. And as we live and die with the team day in and day out for six plus months each year, it's easy to lose site of the forest while we're staring at any given tree.

Perhaps more than anything else then, Jeter's chase last week gave me cause to pause and reflect upon what we've all been fortunate enough to experience over the past fourteen years. It's not just the division titles, the pennants, or the World Series championships. In Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte, we've been fortunate enough to watch the careers of a collection of Yankees the likes of which haven't been seen in generations. Jeter will go down as one the top six or eight players in the history of the franchise. Rivera is the greatest relief pitcher in history. Posada is a borderline Hall of Famer and the best Yankee catcher not named Berra or Dickey. Pettitte is now third on the team's career win list and is one of the top five or ten pitchers in franchise history.

We've been very fortunate to observe the wondeful careers of these four individuals. And I consider myself very fortunate to have seen Jeter break that record Friday night - and even more fortunate to have witnessed it without having to listen to Kay, Sterling, or Waldman put their own stamp on it. Thanks for the ticket Gripp.