Monday, October 12, 2009

Closing Out The Holiday

Well, we had a little fun today, mostly at the expense of others. That's not the ideal way to go about things, but hey, we've got four days of down time to fill. We started the morning focusing on the Columbus Day Holiday, so we might as well finish the day that way too.

I can't claim this as an original idea, because I do remember seeing this somewhere on the web before, but I don't remember the exact composition of the roster. Either way, in honor of the Genoa-born Columbus, here's my all-time, all-Italian Yankee team. You'll note a couple guys have been moved to their secondary positions in order to cover the whole field:
SP: Vic Raschi
RP: Dave Righetti
C: Rick Cerone
1B: Jason Giambi
2B: Tony Lazzeri
3B: Mike Pagliarulo
SS: Phil Rizzuto
LF: Yogi Berra
CF: Joe DiMaggio
RF: Joe Pepitone
DH: Steve Balboni

Coaching Staff: Joe Torre, Billy Martin, Joe Girardi, Frank Crosetti
Of all those guys, Bye-Bye Balboni, Pags, and Rags were the only ones ever to play for the Columbus Clippers.

That's it for me paesans. I'm heading home to eat some lasagna. Enjoy your evening. Take it away Signor Prima...

The Last One To Depart The 'Dome

FOTB Simon (on Sports) spotted this gem of a picture up on the AP photo wire at Yahoo.

You probably noticed this fellow making his mad dash during the bottom of the 9th inning last night, donning a Bert Blyleven jersey and showing remarkable awareness of the situation by taking off before the possibility of a game ending double play. It was the smartest running-related decision made by someone associated with the Twins all weekend.

Amazingly, the dude made it all the way to the baggie on right field before being corralled by the army of retirees the Metrodome retains as "security".

Nice try, my Burt Blyleven-boosting, bird-blazing buddy, you almost made it.

I'm not sure what's on the other side of the hefty bag, but I think we can agree that none of the Paul Blarts chasing him down were going to apprehend him once he got over it. He may never have left the Metrodome.

K Is For Kubel

At the risk of not giving the Twins proper credit for their remarkable late season comeback, they were a relatively weak playoff team. The won baseball's poorest division, and needed an extra game to do so. Three clubs (Texas, Florida, and San Francisco) sit at home this post-season despite having better records than Minnesota. Atlanta had the same 162 game record as the Twins, while Seattle, Tampa Bay, and the Cubs - three teams never even considered contenders down the stretch - all finished within three games of the Twins' 162 game record.

None of which takes away from the fact that had a couple breaks gone the other way, this series could still be going, and could be going with Twins in the driver's seat (more on that later this week). But the point is that the Twins were a weak division champion, and in this instance the Yankees actually benefited from the pointless rule that the supposedly weak Wild Card team cannot play its own Division Champion in the DS.

That said, the Twins had a razor thin margin for error heading into the series. Their starting pitching was average at best and they were playing what amounted to replacement level offensive players at as many as five spots in their line up. What the Twins had on their side was the law of averages and a short series (again more on that later), momentum (which doesn't matter nearly as much as sports writers lead us to believe), and a heart of the order that's as good as any other in the league. In order to win the series the Twins needed to catch some breaks (so much for that Phil Cuzzi), do the "little things" well (ditto Gomez and Punto), and get production from their three big bats.

They did get production from Joe Mauer (.417/.500/.500 in 14 PA) and Michael Cuddyer (.429/.429/.429 in 14 PA), but the third man in that triumvirate, Jason Kubel, was ice cold. For the series, Kubel went 1 for 14 with no walks and nine strikeouts. After fanning twice in Game One, he took the Golden Sombrero in Game Two before getting a base hit off Damaso Marte in the 11th, then followed that with a Silver Sombrero last night. Over the course of the series he went 0 for 2 with RISP and left seven runners on base. Even when he seemingly caught a break - like when Robinson Cano missed his liner in the fifth last night - bad luck caught up with him, as the ball went straight to Nick Swisher in right, allowing him to force Cuddyer, who had rightly retreated towards first, at second base.

The nature of baseball is such that one player truly can't win or lose a series on his own. Just as Alex Rodriguez wasn't solely responsible for the 2004 ALCS or the ALDS in 2005, 2006, and 2007, Jason Kubel isn't entirely at fault for the Twins getting swept. A bad three game stretch doesn't make him a post-season choke artist either. But his failure to produce in this series is a huge contributing factor to the Twins' ouster given how reliant their club was on those three middle of the order bats.

Soxenfreude: Closing The Door On 2009

There are plenty of Yankee fans out there who wanted to face the Red Sox in the ALCS this year and heading into the playoffs, it looked like there was a pretty good chance they would get their wish. It was a season that had the earmarks of a possible rematch with a season series that was constantly lopsided in one direction or the other but ultimately even. It was the first time since 2007 that both teams had made the postseason. The Yanks figured to take care of the Twins and the Sox looked to be a decent bet to knock off the Angels. And it just seemed like it was due to happen. 2004 was a long time ago, you know?

I'm not one of those fans who wanted to see the Sox. Sure, there would have been a massive dose of satisfaction resulting from an ALCS victory over them, but there would have been the same amount of agony on the line stemming from a loss. Plenty of bragging rights inherently tied to them not making it out of the first round, also. I'll take the sure thing, thanks.

Even when the Angels took a 2-0 series lead, I didn't dismiss the Sox' chances. They are simply a different team at home offensively and they'd won too many elimination games in previous years to count them out. Scott Kazmir had the most wins among active pitchers as a visiting player at Fenway but the Boston bats hung 5 runs on him by the end of the 4th inning. The Sox sat atop a 5-1 lead but since the Giants were so thoroughly destroying the Raiders over on CBS, I kept flipping back to the to TBS to check on the game and watched the Angels systematically chip away.

Juan Rivera added an RBI off of Daniel Bard in the 6th. Then Billy Wagner came in, allowed a flukey ground rule double to Bobby Abreu off of ow-ah boy Youk, walked Vlad Guerrero and after Kendry Morales moved the runners over, left men on 2nd and 3rd with two outs for Jonathan Papelbon.

Although our second least-favorite Red Sock had a lower ERA this year than last, he walked three times more batters than in 2008 leading to more baserunners and more nail-biting saves. He had lost much of his luster among Sox fans and there were whispers that the Sox were thinking of getting rid of him. Those whispers just got considerably louder.

With his first pitch of the game, Papelbon surrendered a single to Juan Rivera, cutting the Sox lead to 5-4. However, a pickoff of pinch runner Reggie Willits temporarily quelled the rally.

The Sox were able to tack on another run in the bottom of the 8th via a Mike Lowell single, but that wouldn't prove to be enough of a cushion.

Papelbon got two quick outs and with the Sox leading by two, they were microscopically close to getting back in the series. But the Angels clawed back with a single by Eric Aybar, a walk to Chone Figgins and a double by Bobby Abreu to cut the lead to 1 run. The Sox intentionally walked Torii Hunter but Vlad Guererro made them pay with a go-ahead two RBI single. Papelbon, a former hero among Red Sox Nation was booed off the mound.

The Sox went down in order in the bottom of the 9th and despite some wishful thinking by TBS's scoreboard guy, their season was over.

As my buddy Jim said afterwards, "You could hear a tear drop on Landsdowne". There was a truly disappointing lack of crowd shots after the loss, but I did manage to get this one in the bottom of the ninth.

Youk looks pretty crushed. And who's the mysterious lady???

Don't cry, Jason Bay. At least you're not a Pirate anymore.

Peace out, Papi. Don't worry, it's not your fault.

/checks series stats

//sees line of .083/.083/.083 with no RBIs

I take that back. Have a nice winter, though!

Happy Columbus Day

Good morning Fackers, and it certainly is a good morning today. In addition to the Yankees completing the sweep last night, it's Columbus Day today. Despite my limited Italian heritage, this holiday is essentially meaningless to me now since I haven't had it as a day off since I was in college a whole eight years ago (that's a depressing thought in its own right). Just be thankful I didn't lead into this holiday weekend with a Pearl Jam preview on Friday night.

Anyway, in honor of the holiday, we're naming future Yankee back up catcher Frankie Cervelli and former Yankee back up catcher Sal "Paesano" Fasano as honorary Fack Youk mayors for the day. As their first order of business, they've taken Joba Chamberlain's locker from him and pressed him into indentured servitude for the day. He was last seen preparing calzones for the mayors. The Latin American players on the team seem to think their lockers may be the next to go, though A-Rod is said to be excited that Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria could possibly be mannish looking strippers.

Like I said last night, we've got a lot of dead time to fill until Friday. Meanwhile, head on down to your local butcher's shop to get your Columbus Day eats...

Pettitte, Posada, A-Rod Key Sweep

It wasn't quite as overwrought with drama as Friday's Game Two, but the conclusion to Division Series between the Yankees and Twins was certainly an exciting, nail-biter of a game.

The game began as a fast moving pitchers' duel. For Andy Pettitte, it was like old times, as he was perfect through four and carried a shutout through five and two thirds. For Carl Pavano, it was bizarro world, as the maligned pitcher was perfect through two and two thirds, didn't allow a ball out of the infield until the fifth, took a shutout through six and a third, threw first pitch strikes to seemingly every batter, struck out nine, and walked none over the course of his evening.

Once the game finally saw some offense in the bottom of the sixth, the pace of the evening ground to a halt. As they did Friday night, the Twins did their damage with two outs, starting with a Denard Span single. As Pettitte worked to keep the speedy Span close to first base, he seemingly lost focus on Orlando Cabrera at the plate, falling behind 2-0. Span finally swiped second on a 2-1 pitch that narrowly missed being called a strike, and a pitch later Cabrera had drawn a free pass, bringing Joe Mauer to the plate. The probable AL MVP wasted no time in delivering, driving the first pitch to left field to score Span and give the Twins a 1-0 lead. Pettitte got out of the jam by striking out Michael Cuddyer, but he was none too pleased with surrendering the lead after getting two quick outs.

Just as in Games One and Two, and throughout the season series against Minnesota, the Yankees answered after falling behind. With one out and no one on, Alex Rodriguez was in an 0-2 hole, battled back to work a full count, and then delivered once again, destroying a Pavano offering deep to right field to tie the score. Two batters later Jorge Posada stepped to the plate and took a 1-0 offering the opposite way, just clearing the left field wall. Despite an outstanding pitching performance, two solitary pitches put Pavano and his Twins behind 2-1.

Staked to a lead, Andy Pettitte took the mound to start the seventh and fanned Jason Kubel yet again. Despite pitching masterfully and needing just 81 pitches (58 strikes) to get through six and third, Joe Girardi decided to turn the game over to his bullpen. Pettitte finished his night with a brilliant line: 6.1 IP, 3 hits, 1 ER, 1 BB, and 7 Ks.

Girardi turned to Joba Chamberlain. After allowing a double to Delmon Young, Chamberlain left the potential tying run in scoring position, getting Brendan Harris to bounce to third and striking out Jose Morales. The Yankee bats went quietly again in the eighth, and Phil Hughes took the ball in the bottom of the inning.

With Joe Mauer due fourth in the inning and the lead still just a single run, it was a safe bet that Hughes was facing just three batters no matter what. He had another somewhat rocky outing, allowing a leadoff double to number nine hitter Nick Punto. When Denard Span followed with a bouncer up the middle, the Yankees were the beneficiaries of yet another Twins baserunning blunder.

Derek Jeter fielded the high hop on the outfield turf on the second base side of the bag. After the game Jeter said he didn't think he had a chance at the speedy Span, but as he glanced back to third base, he saw that Punto had failed to pick up his third base coach. Most likely assuming that the hopper had made it through to the outfield, Punto was attempting to score the tying run. By the time he threw on the brakes and dropped into a slide to stop himself, Jeter had astutely thrown a one hopper home to Posada, who in turn fired back to third in time to get Punto. Rather than the potential tying run on third with no one out, he was on first with one out.

Hughes got Orlando Cabrera to fly to center for the second out, and as expected, Girardi called upon Mo to face Mauer. One the second pitch of the at bat, Mo got his trademarked cutter in on Mauer's hands, shattering his bat and getting an easy hopper to Mark Teixeira to end the inning.

The Yanks added a couple insurance runs in the ninth, as four different Twins relievers walked four successive Yankee batters before Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano picked up RBI singles. Mo allowed a lead off single to Michael Cuddyer in the ninth, then struck out Kubel (again), Young, and got Harris to bounce to Jeter to end the series.

The Yankees have advanced to the ALCS for the first time in five years and won their first post-season series since beating the Twins in the 2004 ALDS. The sweep allows the Yankees to enter Friday's ALCS Game One as well rested as the Angels, and to set up their pitching staff with Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte taking Games One through Three again.

Just as in the season series, this ALDS against the Twins was far closer than the ledger indicates. The Yankees caught a few breaks, but more importantly, they got the top notch starting pitching that they've so sorely missed in their recent postseason appearances. They also got big contributions from Jeter, Mo, Posada, and Pettitte, just as in the dynasty years, not to mention huge hits from Hideki Matsui and A-Rod, the other holdovers from the last Yankee squad to win a postseason series. It's going to be a slow, torturous wait until Friday, but it's far better than having to wait until April.