Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Frankie Files Fourteen

Tonight's game had a little bit of everything: some nice defensive plays, timely hitting, quality relief pitching, and few strategical moves that paid dividends. In the end, it added up to the Yankees fourteenth walk-off victory of the season, this time at the hands of Francisco Cervelli.

The Yankees jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Derek Jeter drew a leadoff walk and came around to score a double that Mark Teixeira crushed to deep center field. Hideki Matsui then drove Teixeira in.

After a scoreless second inning, Toronto tied the game in the third. Jose Bautista destroyed a leadoff homer to center, falling just short of the facing of the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar, short hopping the concrete wall on the left center field side of Monument Park. After Gaudin took a Marco Scutaro liner off his arm and then made a circus behind-the-back play on an Aaron Hill comebacker, Toronto tied the score on an RBI groundout from Adam Lind.

In the sixth, Gaudin was gave up the go-ahead run on another groundout and exited shortly thereafter. Despite leaving the game trailing, it was another solid if unspectacular start from Gaudin, a representative effort from a back of the rotation starter.

Damaso Marte relieved Gaudin, notching a big strikeout of Travis Snider to end a first and third two out threat. Marte gave way to Brian Bruney to start the seventh. Bruney allowed hits to both batters he faced and was promptly yanked, earning himself a mid-inning hook for a mind-numbing eighth consecutive outing. Phil Coke cleaned up Bruney's mess, but allowed one of the inherited runners to score giving Toronto a 4-2 lead.

The Yankees threatened in the bottom of the inning. Robinson Cano hit a one out double, followed by Melky Cabrera reaching on an error. Johnny Damon pinch hit for Jose Molina and whiffed; Derek Jeter walked to load the bases, and then Jerry Hairston ended the inning by grounding into a fielder's choice. Joe Girardi then made an astute double switch, inserting Francisco Cervelli in Hairston's spot as the new catcher, and Brett Gardner in Damon's spot.

After Phil Hughes held the fort in the eighth, the Yankees finally broke through in the bottom of the inning. With Alex Rodriguez on first, Hideki Matsui launched a home run to right to tie the game at four. It was Matsui's 25th long ball of the year, tying the second best season total of his Major League career. It also tied Yankee club record for most home runs by a designated hitter, matching Don Baylor's mark from 1984. It was also Matsui's 12th HR of the year against left handed pitching.

Mariano Rivera took care of business in the ninth, leaving the Yankees positioned for the walk-off. Thanks to Girardi's earlier double switch, Brett Gardner led off. He singled, then promptly stole second base despite everyone in the park knowing he was going to attempt to steal the bag. Gardner moved to third on Jeter's groundout, setting the stage for Francisco Cervelli's single to left to end the game. With that, the Yanks split the two game set with the Jays and set themselves up for a far more enjoyable Thursday off day.


Game 147: It's All Over Now, Baby Blue (With Update(s) On Jorge's Suspension)

Tonight will be the final time the Yankees and Blue Jays meet this season. After this, the Jays are free to sail off into oblivion as they only play one series against a team who even factors into the playoff race for the rest of the year. This should give them some extra time to figure out how to discretely kill Vernon Wells or figure out some other way to take his horrific contract off the books. The Yankees, on the other hand, can focus on things like winning the division and setting themselves up for the postseason.

The Yankees will face Brian Tallet for the third time this year. In the first two meetings he made solid showings, allowing two earned runs in six innings each time but took a loss and a no-decision in those two. His most recent outing was not as successful performance-wise, allowing 5 runs in 5 innings on 8 hits and 3 walks, but he walked away with the win because Sergio Mitre and a terrible Yankees defense gave up 11 runs against him.

Instead of drawing Andy Pettitte as was originally intended, Tallet will be facing Chad Gaudin. The versatile righty has made four relief appearances and three starts since coming over from the Padres. Each of those starts has come against a team he has played for in the past; Oakland, Toronto & Tampa Bay and tonight will obviously be no different.

When he squared off with the Blue Jays earlier this month, he allowed 3 runs in 3.2 IP. He had worked three scoreless innings before running to a snag in the 4th where he gave a walk, three singles and a HBP before Alfredo Aceves come on to get the final out.

Gaudin's last start was markedly better, throwing six innings of one run ball against the Rays last Tuesday. He's functioning on long rest, but has been used irregularly ever since joining the team and it hasn't seemed to affect him either positively or negatively.

With the lefty Tallet on the mound, Johnny Damon will get the night off and will be replaced by Jerry Hairston. Even though no word has come down from the MLBPA in regards to Jorge Posada's suspension, Jose Molina will catch tonight, in a pretty transparent attempt by Joe Girardi to diffuse any tensions that might have carried over from last night's skirmish. Update 5:20PM: Via PeteAbe Double Update 6:22PM: Both Jorge Posada and Jesse Carlson have been suspended 4 games and fined $3,000, not $30,000 as orginally reported. Via SportsCenter, By not contesting the suspension, Posada's has been reduced to 3 games.

As a result, Jose Molina will do the catching tonight. The 4 suspension carries less weight for a position player (Posada) than a pitcher (Carlson) meaning the MLB found Jorge to be more at fault for the incident, which I can't really take issue with.

The games between the Yankees and the Blue Jays have been extra contentious ever since the "HA!" episode in June of '07. Since then, the Yanks have dominated the series 30-20 and lead this year 11-6. So let's hope all goes peacefully tonight and the Yanks can move on with the season and leave the unpleasantness of last night and the Blue Jays behind as they move on to bigger and better things.

Leave your stepping stones behind,
Something calls for you.
Forget the dead you've left,
They will not follow you.

Some Links To Get You Over The Hump

It's Wednesday. It's 3:00PM. It's one of the low points of the week. It's not an especially great day in the Yankisphere either, but here are some links to get you through the rest of the workday.

Fire Joe Morgan has been resurrected and taken over Deadspin for the day. I'm guessing that most of you are familiar with one or both of those entities, but even if you're not, check out this piece skewering Allen Barra's pitch for Derek Jeter as MVP. The headline sarcastically says it all.

PeteAbe reports that the Yanks have hit Torontowith pitches 8 times in the last five games between them while the Jays have hit the Yanks only twice and wonders if there is more to come tonight. We would also be remiss if we didn't point out that Pete is still claiming that the pitch Carlson threw behind Posada was off-speed and that John McDonald caused Joe Girardi's injuries that were visible on TV last night. It was a 90 MPH fastball according to Gameday and McDonald clipped Joe G. on the right side of his head as Matt pointed out this morning.

Pete also checks in with the official press release on 2010 ticket pricing which the Yankees oddly released a few minutes after the brawl last night.

Mike at RAB wraps up a three part series on Yankee prospect Andrew Brackman's tumultuous season down in Charleston. Check out parts one (the good) and two (the bad) as well.

Right on cue, Will Leitch ponders the implications of the loss of Andy Pettitte. To answer his last question, no, it isn't nice to finally have something to worry about.

Rob Neyer doesn't seem too concerned, though.

Tom Verducci checks in with his All-Decade Team and statistical leaders of the Aughts. Andy Pettitte has the most wins, A-Rod the most homers, Mo the most saves, and Jeter and Posada both find themselves with spots on the roster.

Here's someone from Boston who thinks Youk doesn't get the respect he deserves, in the national press (via BBTF). I think I know someone who would agree with that sentiment.

The fine folks at the Wall Street Journal have created a board game in honor of the Mets' season.

A complaint about Yankee Stadium security from the Bronx County Examiner. Don't worry, the problem had nothing to do with the writer of the article being a dick.

While looking for some background on the National Sports Daily, mentioned in a Deadspin post yesterday, I found a video promoting the now defunct newspaper that was supposed to revolutionize sports journalism back in 1991. It features editor-in-chief Frank Deford as the pitch man and has a cameo by the always smarmy Mike Lupica.

What A Difference A Day Doesn't Make

Since August 9th, when the Yankees completed their four game sweep of the Red Sox, they have been on top of the baseball world. They've had the best record in the majors at that point (69-42) and are tied for the best record since (24-11). Much credit goes to their offense, who plated 6.26 runs per game over that time, which would put them on pace to score over 1000 runs if carried out over an entire season. But more importantly, they've relied on solid pitching, holding their opponents to 2 or fewer runs 14 times in the 35 games and winning every one of those.

Andy Pettitte was a major contributor to that success, going 4-0 with a 3.48 ERA while the team went 6-1 in games he appeared in. He was easily the second best starting pitcher on the Yankees over that stretch behind CC Sabathia and one might say the Yankees only other reliable starter behind the big fella.

Yesterday, Matt noted that the the Yankees starting pitcher for tonight, who was supposed to be Andy Pettitte, was listed as "TBA". As he conveyed earlier today, Pettitte was scratched due to a shoulder fatigue, casting some doubt on the Yanks' playoff rotation.

Meanwhile, in Boston, Daisuke Matsuzaka, who many had left for dead this season after he was exiled to Fort Myers, made a triumphant return to the Red Sox rotation, throwing six innings of shutout ball against the Angels. It seemingly breathed life into a team that had just begun to secure it's playoff spot and left some Boston scribes positively giddy.

After the Red Sox won that game 4- 0 1, the now infamous battle between Carlson and Posada took place, which will most likely cost the Yanks their starting catcher for 5 or 6 games coming down the stretch. Posada's actions led several beat writers to chide him as if he were their son, all pointing to the fact that he could have harmed the Yankees postseason chances if someone got injured during the brawl.

As a result, it might seem as though the Yankees are swirling in chaos while the Red Sox are poised for postseason glory. Fortunately for Yankees fans, the truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. Matsuzka is not likely to have completely reinvented himself nor is Pettitte's shoulder injury necessarily going to have an ill effect going forward. Posada will serve his suspension and his place will be filled just fine by Jose Molina and Francisco Cervelli.

With the finish line now in view, every little thing that happens takes on a percieved added significance. Every loss can be portrayed as a harbinger of a mortal weakness and every triumph an indication of What It Takes To Win In October®. Go ahead and read the tea leaves, but don't forget that they are going to look different every single day until October 7th.

Cause For Concern

Beyond impending suspensions, we have some cause for concern this morning. It's certainly not enough to start sounding the alarms yet, but enough to keep us a bit anxious until Monday.

As you've likely heard by now, Andy Pettitte will be skipped tonight due "shoulder fatigue" and will not start again until Monday, ten days after his previous outing. Pettitte said the shoulder gave him problems in his start last Friday, but he did throw a bullpen this past Monday and said he felt fine. He will throw again this Friday. Joe Girardi said he was confident that rest would do the trick.

This shouldn't be a big deal. Andy Pettitte is 37 years old. His left arm has logged close to 3,000 Major League innings, including 178.1 this year and 204+ in each of the previous four seasons. His arm has a history of getting "cranky" from time to time. It's late in the season and the Yankees have a relatively comfortable lead in every important race. There's no point in rushing him back out there and every reason to give him a little extra rest if needed.

However, it was a problem with his throwing shoulder that hampered Pettitte through a miserable second half last season. The second half this year has seen Pettitte be the Yanks' second best starter behind CC. Given his October pedigree, his performance over the past couple months, and the struggles of both A.J. Burnett and Joba Chamberlain over the past six weeks, Pettitte is being counted upon in a big way for the post-season. Beyond that, we don't even want to consider the implications of Chad Gaudin or Sergio Mitre having to slot into the four spot in the rotation.

With any luck, this will play out just the way that Girardi and Pettitte think it will and Andy will start Monday and be fine. If this the biggest thing Yankee fans have to worry about this month it's probably a good thing. But until then, this is a potential turd in the punch bowl.

Anatomy Of A Basebrawl

Good morning Fackers. Last Friday, Yankee Stadium - with an eye towards its boxing past and eye towards a potential boxing future - hosted a press conference promoting the Miguel Cotto-Manny Pacquiao fight to be held November 14th in Las Vegas.

Then, on the day that we ran a post about boxing analyst and blog favorite Max Kellerman, a fight broke out in the Bronx. But before we get into the specifics of the bottom of the eighth inning, let's step back a bit.

On August 6th, a night in which former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali was honored in a bizarre pre-game ceremony, in the opening game of the four game set against the Red Sox, Mark Melancon was on the mound in the eighth inning. The Yankees were ahead 13-4 and Dustin Pedroia was leading off the inning. After getting ahead 0-2, Melancon uncorked a 95 MPH four seam fastball over little Dusty's head. Four pitches later, Melancon pegged Pedroia in the back with another 95 MPH four seamer.

I didn't think it was intentional at the time. Why would the Yankees court trouble in a critical game in which they had a nine run lead? Others, particularly on the Red Sox side of things, weren't so sure. The Girardi Yankees have been far less shy than their predecessors when it comes to pitching inside, protecting their hitters, and the accompanying collateral damage. In the previous eight games against the Red Sox in 2009, the Yanks plunked nine batters, including Jason Bay by Melancon in his Major League debut on April 26th.

Regardless, nothing came of the Melancon incident against the Sox. He was sent down two days later to bring in a fresh arm after the 15 inning game and was recalled when rosters expanded on September 1st. In his first appearance after his recall, he pitched in Toronto on September 4th, where he proceeded to plunk John McDonald with a 93 MPH 1-0 four seamer. In that instance, the Yanks were down 3-0, there were runners on second and third with two outs, and the dangerous Aaron Hill was on deck. I highly doubt Melancon hit the offensively anemic McDonald to face Hill with the bases loaded.

All of this my long winded way of saying that despite excellent control in his minor league career (1.9 BB/9, 6 HBP and 5 WP in 53 AAA IP this year), Melancon has been a bit wild on the big boy mound this year, entering last night's appearance with 3 HBP, 1 WP, and 9 BB in 15 MLB IP. Deserved or not, Melancon may already have earned a reputation around the league as a bit of a head hunter.

Back to last night. Trailing 5-2 in the sixth inning, Sergio Mitre came up and in on Edwin Encarnacion, hitting him with the pitch. Nevermind that it was an 81 MPH changeup, the story will be that Encarnacion homered in his previous at bat and Mitre, getting bombed and with but one batter left to face on the night, exacted his revenge.

Two innings later, Melancon found himself on the mound again. The Yankees trailed 8-2 and there were two outs and no one on when Aaron Hill came to the plate. With his first pitch, Melancon hit Hill square in the back with a 93 MPH fastball. It may well have been intentional. However, it bears mentioning that Melancon had already thrown a wild pitch by that point, would throw another before his night was over, and would have another control challenged pitch ruled a passed ball against Jorge Posada. Immediately following the Hill HBP, Melancon threw five consecutive pitches out of the zone, before a Vernon Wells single ended his evening. On the night, just 13 of his 23 pitches (56.5%) were strikes.

Now none of what transpired in the bottom of the inning could or should be blamed on Joe Girardi. However, it was September 15th. The Yanks had a comfortable lead in all important races, were down seven runs with six outs to go, had a slew of September call-ups sitting on their bench, and had pitched Sergio Mitre, Edwar Ramirez, Melancon, and Mike Dunn on the night. That quartet of pitchers was a sure a sign as any that they weren't going all out to win this one. So why, oh why, were the full compliment of starting position players still in the game when the Yankees' win expectancy was one half of one percent?

Whatever the reason, they were all still in the game when Jorge Posada came to plate in the bottom of the eighth with no one on, one man out, the Yankees trailing by seven, and lefty Jesse Carlson on the mound. With his first pitch, Carlson threw a 90 MPH four seam fastball level with Posada's lower back, but well behind him. Posada took a step or two forward, but moved more laterally, toward the Jays dugout. He could be seen saying "You don't want to do that" a few times. The benches and bullpens needlessly emptied, both benches were warned, etc.

I certainly won't begrudge Carlson for doing what he thought was necessary to protect his teammates. It may not be civilized or pretty, but it does have a place in the game. What I do have an issue with is his throwing behind Posada. Aside from throwing at a batter's head, throwing behind a batter is the worst thing a pitcher can do. It exploits the hitter's tendency to do what he's trained to do on a pitch bearing in on him - turn and bail - and leads him right into the lion's den. Posada would likely have been less angry, and everyone better off, had Carlson just plunked him in the thigh.

Posada eventually drew a walk. That should have been the end of it. In fact, given what had transpired and the fact that Posada is both somewhat of a hot head and as slow a runner as there is on the Yankees' roster, he should have been pulled for a pinch runner. But he wasn't. Instead, he moved to second on Robinson Cano's single, then came around to score on Brett Gardner's double.

That's when things got interesting again. Carlson, who should have been backing up well behind the plate, took his sweet time getting there, taking a circuitous route down the first base line in foul territory, and pausing just before the path Posada took jogging from the plate to the dugout. Whether or not Carlson had any business even being in that spot at that time is up for debate. But Posada seized on the opportunity to foolishly throw an elbow at Carlson on his way by. Posada was immediately ejected. Words were exchanged, benches and bullpens emptied again, and this time we had an honest to goodness fight.

I'm not at all surprised that this happened. I'm not terribly upset that it did happen. But it certainly wasn't necessary. At times, these brawls can help a team come together - the Tino Martinez/Armando Benitez incident in early 1998 for example. This was not one of those times. By all accounts the Yankees have excellent team chemistry. For all intents and purposes these last 17 games serve as nothing more than getting things lined up for the post-season. Meanwhile the Blue Jays have absolutely nothing to play for at this point. The Yankees had everything to lose in this one, and the site of Posada, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Johnny Damon, CC Sabathia, Joba Chamberlain, and Andy Pettitte all being right in the thick of the fray was a something no one associated with the Yankees wanted to see.

Thankfully no one appeared to get injured. As Jay showed in the recap, Carlson wound up with a nice raspberry on his forehead. For the Yanks, Girardi may have taken the worst of it, getting a cut on his left ear and what Michael Kay repeatedly referred to as a "mouse" around his left eye. Kay attributed Girardi's rodent to John McDonald, who replays showed inadvertently caught Girardi in the face during the fracas. Nevermind that the replay, shown repeatedly, clearly showed McDonald hitting Girardi in the right side of his face - don't let the facts get in the way of the story you want to tell, Michael.

Anyway, this one isn't over yet. These two teams play again tomorrow. Thankfully it's their last meeting this year. Though Posada and Carlson were the only players ejected, there should be some suspensions coming out of this. Posada certainly will get - and deserve - one. Home plate umpire Jim Joyce's post-game comments placed the blame squarely on Posada. That Jorge made some contact Joyce in going after Carlson will not help him at all, though it appears that Toronto catcher Rod Barajas may be just as much to blame on that count. Also not helping is the fact that third base umpire and crew chief Derryl Cousins - a 31 year veteran and one of the most respected umpires in the game - was injured as part of the melee and had to leave the game (even if a fan was at fault for his injury).

There's plenty of blame to go around on this one. And once Bob Watson rules on it, there will be plenty of discipline to go around too. Thankfully, no one appeared to be injured and Posada will likely lose some cash and get a few more days of rest than were initially planned for him. Let's just hope we get through tonight's game with less excitement.

Yanks (Officially) Reduce Ticket Prices For 2010

A quick bit of news before we get to last night's rumble.

Odds are, you won't be seeing too many pictures like this when next season rolls around. Darren Rovell of CNBC got his hands on the pricing list the Yankees are about to distribute to season ticket holders in a couple of days and here's the main takeaway:
CNBC has exclusively obtained the 2010 ticket price list that the Yankees will send out to its season ticket holders in the coming days and prices for more than 80 percent of the stadium will remain the same.

Some of the highest price seats will see reductions of up to 40 percent, including those in the Legends area and the Delta Sky 360 Suite.
The 80% of the Stadium that will remain the same are obviously the affordable areas like the bleachers, upper deck and second level. Which is understandable, because demand exceeded supply for those seats already. But hey, at least they aren't increasing them.

Rovell later adds that the Yankees, despite all the backlash and bad press surrounding the New Stadium, still lead the Majors in attendance.

Regardless, it was pretty obvious the Yankees had to do something about the prices for the suites, but the outstanding question was what they were going to do with the contracts that people had purchased extending into 2010 and beyond. Those who have made long term commitments for the newly-reduced suites will only be on the hook for the lower prices the Yankees announce in a couple of days. The most expensive Legends tickets are $1500 instead of $2500, which is a huge drop percentage-wise, but still pretty outrageous.

For the vast majority of fans the most relevant effect of the reduction in prices is that the seats is that there will be fewer of the empty seats that we saw early last season. Whether dropping the price to $1500 will fill out all the vacant spots is up for debate, but I'm guessing it won't.

Yanks Take Some Lumps, Hand Some Out

In the eight starts Sergio Mitre made for the Yankees since being called up from AAA, he gave up 4 home runs in 41 innings. Of the 61 hits he allowed, only 14 went for extra bases. As a result opponents were hitting .337 against him (insanely high), but slugging .486 (not as much).

The Serg had certainly done his fair share of sucking this year, but he did a decent job of keeping the ball in the park, mainly getting singled to death in his poorer starts.

Not tonight though. Mitre got pasted for 4 homers in 5 innings, allowing 6 runs and leaving men on 2nd and 3rd for Edwar Ramirez before getting yanked without getting an out in the 6th inning. Ramirez wriggled out of the jam, allowing only 1 run, but the shitshow raised Mitre's ERA to 7.93 and certainly didn't help his case to make the postseason roster.

Roy Halladay wasn't dominant as Yankees' bats actually accumulated 11 hits and a walk with him on the hill, but couldn't get him to break. They advanced at least one runner to second base in each of the six innings he pitched but only scored two runs off of Halladay, both in the 2nd. It was a frustrating night at the plate, something that could have contributed to what happened later in the game.

Things got a little heated in the bottom of the 8th inning when lefty reliever Jesse Carlson threw one well behind Jorge Posada's back, apparently in retaliation for Mark Melancon hitting Aaron Hill in the top of the frame. Melancon was clearly having control problems as he had walked a batter, thrown a wild pitch and another in the dirt. He hit Hill squarely in the back, but it didn't seem intentional at the time.

Carlson, on the other hand, had thrown 18 of 29 pitches for strikes and then threw one a foot or more behind Posada. Jorge didn't appreciate that and took a few steps toward Carlson saying "You don't want to do that". The dugouts emptied but the situation diffused quickly and the benches were warned. Posada ended up working a walk and advanced to second on a single by Robinson Cano.

Brett Gardner then doubled to right, scoring Posada. On his way back to the dugout, Jorge brushed up against Carlson, who turned around and yelled some choice words to Posada. The catcher, never one to back down from a confrontation, spun back and charged at Carlson, again emptying the benches but this time resulting in a full scale brawl.

Joe Girardi was ensnared in fight, walking away with a cut on his ear and a lump over his left eye. Posada and Carlson were the only two ejected although other players (ahemShelleyDuncancough) appeared to be heavily involved. We'll take a closer look at the ruckus first thing tomorrow morning, complete with a video clip. I can offer you this screenshot of the ugly lump on Carlson's head to hold you over, for now.

When the dust settled, the Jays and Yanks both added a run in the 9th inning and the final tally was 10-4 in favor of Toronto although the Yanks outhit them 15 to 13. It wasn't a good night for the Yanks, but things could get worse depending on the fall out resulting from the fracas.