Friday, October 22, 2010

ALCS Game 6: Free For All

There isn't much that needs to be said about tonight's game: win or go home.

Phil Hughes needs to have a start more like his first one in Texas than his last one in Texas and the Yankees need a result more like last Friday night's.

It's all hands on deck as the Big Fella says he's good for up to two innings out of the pen, on a just a day's rest, if needed. Mo and Kerry Wood are up for much as two innings apiece. The stakes are as high as they can get in this game of Texas Hold 'Em (off for at least more day)

Never before have I turned on you
You looked too good to me
Your beady eyes, they can cut me in two
And I just can't let you be
It's a free-for-all and I heard it said
You can bet your life
Stakes are high and so am I
It's in the air tonight



With Tex on the shelf, I suppose this is what you would call the "normal" lineup against right handed pitching. Berkman moves up to the five spot.
Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Lance Berkman 1B
Nick Swisher RF
Jorge Posada C
Marcus Thames DH
Brett Gardner LF

Phil Hughes RHP
Nelson Cruz and his sore hamstring are back in there; David Murphy gets the start with a righty on the mound. Bengie Molina returns to the lineup after Matt Treanor caught C.J. Wilson in Game 5.
Elvis Andrus, SS
Michael Young, 3B
Josh Hamilton, CF
Vladimir Guerrero, DH
Nelson Cruz, RF
Ian Kinsler, 2B
David Murphy, LF
Bengie Molina, C
Mitch Moreland, 1B

Colby Lewis RHP

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

ALCS Game 5: Nobody Knows You When You're Down & Out

It's been three long years since the Yankees have faced an elimination playoff game. Three years is long enough for the team to build a new stadium, destroy its old one, lose its owner and its voice and turn over the majority of its roster. It's certainly long enough to forget what it's like to have your whole season resting on one game, but over the last two nights at the Stadium, we got a taste.

As the Rangers went to work on the Yankees bullpen, destorying what little hopes there were of mounting a comeback, fans poured out of the exits like the Stadium was on fire. That sign of resignation is something you don't see very often in postseason baseball, much less two nights in a row in the damn Bronx. For a fanbase who isn't afraid to tout themselves as the best and most dedicated in the world to turn their backs on the team like that speaks volumes.

But today is a new day, and the Yankees are trotting out their best pitcher. No bullets will be left in the chamber. The best the Bombers can do is to avoid the indignity of losing the fourth straight game of this series in front of their home crowd and jump a plane bound for DFW later tonight. It ain't much, but it's all we got.

Down but not out.

Then I began to fall so low,
Lost all my good friends, I did not have nowhere to go.
I get my hands on a dollar again,
I'm gonna hang on to it till that eagle grins.

'Cause no, no, nobody knows you
When you're down and out.
In your pocket, not one penny,
And as for friends, you don't have any.

When you finally get back up on your feet again,
Everybody wants to be your old long-lost friend.
Said it's mighty strange, without a doubt,
Nobody knows you when you're down and out.

Yankees: The Big Puma will replace Mark Teixeira at first base while Marcus Thames will DH against the lefty Wilson.
Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Marcus Thames DH
Lance Berkman 1B
Jorge Posada C
Curtis Granderson CF
Brett Gardner LF
CC Sabathia LHP
Elvis Andrus, SS
Michael Young, 3B
Josh Hamilton, CF
Vladimir Guerrero, DH
Nelson Cruz, LF
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Matt Treanor, C
Mitch Moreland 1B
CJ Wilson LHP

The Fateful Fifth

Without falling victim to the fallacy of the predetermined outcome, there are is a rational way to look back at a baseball game and wonder what might have been. You have to identify a turning point in the game and restart from right there, assuming nothing going forward. But that method is always going to be unsatisfying because you can't say that that the Yankees would have won if a certain event didn't happen, you can only say that they might not have lost.

There are a lot of points that the Yankees probably wish they could rewind time and start last night's game from. Perhaps they'd like to put Brett Gardner up again with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning. The score was tied, but that was a real chance to break it open. Instead, Gardner settled for an RBI fielder's choice, Francisco Cervelli stayed in - instead of Jorge Posada pinch hitting - and struck out looking against Derek Holland and the Yankees walked away with a scant one run edge.

If they had to choose one spot though, it would likely be the moment before Mark Teixeira's fateful, balls-out sprint to first in the bottom of the fifth. As the ball dribbled up the third baseline, Teix reached for an extra gear that he apparently didn't have in order to beat out the double play and about fifteen feet from first, then reached for his right hamstring, lost his momentum and fell into an inadvertent feet-first slide, narrowly beating out the throw.

[As an aside... Could the hamstring have been weakened by the awkward attempt at tracking down the ball popped just into the stands by Nelson Cruz in the fourth inning? Maybe that at-bat would be a decent place to restart the tape from.]

Teixeira is a defensive wizard and generally a great hitter, but something about the postseason doesn't seem to agree with him. He's always said that one of the reasons he tends to start slow at the beginning of the regular season is that it takes time for both his right and left handed swings to align properly. Perhaps the long layoffs that are inherent to October baseball keep him too off balance to be the kind of devastating hitter he has the ability to be. In any event, it's not inconceivable that his replacement could hit better than he would have, in a small sample, from here on out. The Yankees will surely miss the plays Teix makes in the field (like the 3-6-1 DP he started in the top half of the fifth inning) but it's not impossible that the Yankees could win a World Series without him in their starting line up.

Nonetheless, this was still a soul-crushing moment. You could hear a groan of pure despair emanate from the crowd as he was helped towards the dugout and the feeling was that, even if the Yanks got out of this game with the win, their chances of defending their title just took a big hit. It was all too easy to forget that they were still holding at 3-2 edge, with men on first and second, only one out and had a roughly 75% chance of winning the game, according to WPA.

But A-Rod rapped into a double play, putting an end to what had begun as a two-on, no out potential rally and dropped that WPA down to 63%. That twin killing completed what might have been the worst imaginable outcome of having your 3 & 4 hitters up with two men on base and nobody out: force out (season ending injury), double play.

Still, it wasn't the end of the world. A.J. Burnett had acquitted himself quite nicely over the first five innings and seemed to be about as in control as one could rightfully expect him to be under the circumstances.

Burnett allowed a single to Vlad Guerrero to start the frame but sat down Nelson Cruz on a pivotal fielder's choice. Why is that important? Because Ian Kinsler, the next batter up, ripped a deep fly ball into center field that Curtis Granderson caught just off the warning track. The ball was so deep in fact, that Cruz tagged up from first base and slid safely into second, just ahead of a high throw from Granderson. Would Vlad and his ancient legs have tried to tag up under those circumstances? Highly doubtful.

So by advancing to second, Cruz opened up first base. And with David Murphy due up, Joe Girardi made one of the more controversial decisions of the evening and chose to intentionally walk him based on his history with Burnett, opting to face Bengie Molina with two men on instead of Murphy with just a man on second.

David Murphy is a capable hitter, but if Joe Girardi didn't like the match up, then why didn't he go to his bullpen in an attempt to shuffle the deck instead of putting a guy on base and leaving Burnett in?

What was he going to get out of Burnett, one more inning at most? Burnett was supposed to be on a short leash. Girardi might be the biggest proponent of two out pitching changes in the history of the fucking sport. Joba Chamberlain had been warming up for roughly two hours at that point. WHAT THE FUUUUCCCKKKK!??!?1

Sorry, I lost it for a second there. But for all the talk that there would be a quick hook for Burnett, the decision to walk Murphy (in addition to the one not to pinch hit for Cervelli) simply don't make any sense. Girardi was trying to ride Burnett for as long as possible and he paid dearly for it.

We all know too well what happened next. Molina took the first pitch he saw deep into the left field seats an delivered the running cockpunch from which the Yankees wouldn't recover.

They surely tried, however. With the bases loaded and the Bombers down by four in the eighth inning, Nick Swisher tried to avoid an inside breaking ball that got away from Darren Oliver. Replays showed that it caught Swisher's pant leg and he should have been awarded first base, thereby forcing in a run and putting the go-ahead run at the plate with just one out.

But on a night where almost everything went just about as wrong as possible for the Yanks, Angel Hernandez didn't see the contact and didn't buy Swisher's attempt at selling the fact that he got clipped when was contorted in some sort of yoga position (the dying giraffe?) on the ground.

There are losses and then there are impossibly brutal, heart-stabbing defeats like last night. The Yankees are still technically alive in the series and are a good bet to win tonight behind CC Sabathia, but even if they take the next two games, they'll have to get past Cliff Lee in Game 7. It's not over, but it certainly fucking feels like it is.

Other incredible/horrible moments that didn't make the cut:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

ALCS Game 4: Deja Vu

With the series knotted up, the Yankees took the field for their first home game of the round. They squandered a gutsy two run performance from their southpaw starter before the bullpen let things get out of hand late. It wouldn't have really mattered anyway, because Cliff Lee was that good, dominating the Yankee offense for eight innings, not allowing a single earned run. Now down a game in the series, New York turns to the mercurial A.J. Burnett in attempt to pull things even.
Sound familiar? It could easily be ripped from a recap of last night's game. Except it's not. It's a two-bit synopsis of Game One of last year's World Series, where CC Sabathia yielded just two runs over seven frames before the bullpen let things get out of hand, just as it happened last night. Where Cliff Lee shut the Yankees out for eight innings, just like last night. When Lee walked only one batter, just like last night. When Lee allowed just one Yankee baserunner to advance past first base, just like last night, before a meaningless, unearned run crossed the plate in the last of the ninth.

A.J. Burnett took the ball the very next evening and pulled the series even, turning in one of his finest starts as a Yankee: tossing seven innings of four hit, two walk ball, allowing just one run while fanning nine. Given the circumstances, it was probably the single biggest performance by a Yankee starter in the 2009 post-season.

A lot has changed since then. Lee is no longer a Phillie, in Texas after a stop in Seattle. The Yanks head into tonight's game knowing they'll be facing elimination if they lose again, circumstances a bit less manageable than facing a potential 0-2 hole last year. Burnett, who had already displayed his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tendencies during his first season in the Bronx, is coming off a 2010 even rockier than his 2009. He hasn't pitched in eighteen days, hasn't had a decent start in over a month, hasn't been a reliable starting pitcher since Memorial Day, and has been the object of ceaseless whippings from Joel Sherman and all other corners of the tabloid media and Yankee blogosphere.

And yet, he remains the Bombers' best option to start this game. While many would advocate bringing CC Sabathia back on short rest, I'm not sure what good that would do. There's no way Phil Hughes is being brought back on short rest. So best case scenario is that CC opposes the Rangers' worst starter and pulls the Yankees even, but they are still left to start Burnett against Texas' number two in a Game Five that could send them to brink of elimination. Worst case, a short-rested Sabathia can't pull it off, and the club is left to send Burnett to the mound with the season hanging in the balance. I'll take my chances with Burnett tonight, thank you.

Of course, all of that is assuming that Burnett is utterly incapable of doing anything but imploding tonight. And I'm not buying that argument. There's no way to put a positive spin on Burnett's season. From June on, he went 7-15 with a 5.87 ERA over 28 starts. Opponents hit .291/.375/.481 off him over that stretch. It was downright ugly. But who is A.J. Burnett? What kind of pitcher is he? I think many assume that since he pitched very well against the Yankees during his days in Toronto, that since the pitching-desperate Yankees overpaid him in both years and average annual value after their poor 2008 season, that since he was deemed a "number two" as a result of that deal, that Burnett should be a CC-lite. And I think that's an unreasonable expectation. Burnett has always been an up-and-down sort of guy, and this year for the first time, has been more downs than ups. But that doesn't change the fact that Burnett remains a talented pitcher, and a pitcher capable of giving the Yankees the performance they need tonight.

And if that fails, perhaps Tommy Hunter is the cure for what ails the suddenly anemic Yankee offense. As Aaron Gleeman pointed out this morning, and Mike Axisa expounded upon, the Rangers should have some concerns of their own when it comes to their starter for tonight. I suppose it's a lot easier to stomach those questions when you're up 2-1, and when you're a late inning meltdown away from being up 3-0. But at the very least, if Burnett implodes tonight, the Yankees have a puncher's chance to outslug the Rangers anyway.

Three hundred fifty five days after Cliff Lee last put on a pitching clinic in the South Bronx the Yankees find themselves in a similar situation: A.J. Burnett taking the ball the next day in what's essentially the closest a game can be to being "must win" without a loss resulting in elimination. I'm hoping history repeats itself, or as Yogi might say, that it's deja vu all over again.

If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do
Don't you?
If I had ever been here before on another time around the wheel
I would probably know just how to deal
With all of you.
And I feel
Like I've been here before
Like I've been here before
And you know
It makes me wonder
What's going on under the ground
[Song Notes: From their debut album of the same name - at least their first album where Neil Young joined Crosby, Stills, and Nash, this performance of Deja Vu comes from 1991 and is missing the "Y" in CSNY. Side note, I once randomly ran into Graham Nash while walking down Newbury Street in Boston]


The lineup flips over to the standard vs. RHP format, with Granderson moving up, Swisher moving down, and Berkman replacing Thames. The big news however is that Francisco Cervelli will get the start behind the plate, further fueling the Posada-can't-catch-A.J. myth. Probably not the ideal move for a team whose offense is sputtering at present.
Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Lance Berkman DH
Brett Gardner LF
Francisco Cervelli C

A.J. Burnett RHP

Tommy Hunter RHP

ALCS Game 3 Recap

Well, not a full recap, just a mini one. I just got back from the Stadium and need to get some shuteye. Here's some footage I shot of the top of the ninth inning:

Monday, October 18, 2010

ALCS Game 3: Godzilla

After the two starting pitching performances the Yankees got from CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes in Games 1 & 2 in Arlington, they are lucky to be heading into tonight's game with the series all squared at one game apiece.

The Bombers will face a severe uphill climb this evening as they will be squaring off against a man with the raw power of Randy Johnson, the stamina of Old Hoss Radbourn, the heart of Jack Morris, the guile of Whitey Ford, the gusto of Pedro Martinez, the control of Greg Maddux and the soul of Satchel Page. Ladies and gentlemen, I could only be referring to the legendary, the unstoppable, the untouchable, and the immortal Cliff Lee.

There isn't a pitcher on Earth that a team would rather have starting a playoff game for them right now ahead of Lee except for maybe Roy Halladay, who oh-by-the-way gave up four earned runs en route to a Phillies' loss on Saturday night in what was supposed to be the greatest and most epic playoff pitching duel of all-fucking-time. Yes, the man who threw the second no-hitter in postseason history in the NLDS followed it up with somewhat of a dud against a pretty marginal lineup his next time out. A pitcher's duel not living up to expectations? Unheard of!

In all seriousness, the Yankees are going to need a strong effort from Andy Pettitte and a much better offensive output than either game they played in Texas. That means getting some runs on the board early instead of spotting the Rangers five and trying to pull an eighth inning underwater straight jacket escape like they are David Blaine or some shit. It was great when it worked on Friday night, but as we saw on Saturday afternoon, the stars don't always align when attempting to make up a five run deficit with your last six outs.

Of course, getting those early runs on the board is going to be the tough part. What makes Lee so tough is that he constantly throws strikes. He hasn't walked anyone in two starts this postseason and gave up only 18 free passes in 212 innings in regular season play, which, unsurprisingly, led the Major Leagues. The Yanks generally try to work the count and let pitchers put them on base, but employing that approach against guys who pepper the strike zone relentlessly will just get you behind in the count.

To get to Lee, the Yankees are going to have to do so with their bats and not their eyes. Baserunners will need to come in the form of hits. If they are to run up his pitch count, they'll need to do it primarily by fouling pitches off. Lee doesn't do much to hurt himself, so like Marcus Thames told Jack Curry, the Bombers need pounce on the mistakes that Lee does make.

All of this is easier said than done of course, but the Yankees have the most potent lineup in the game and therefore should have as good a chance as any team at knocking off the mythical beast that is Cliff Lee and regaining the edge in the series.

With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound,
He pulls the spitting high tension wires down.
Helpless people on subway trains,
Scream for God as he looks in on them.
He picks up a bus and he throws it back down,
As he wades through the buildings toward the center of town.

Oh no, they say he's got to go—
Go, go, Godzilla..
Oh no, there goes Tokyo—
Go, go, Godzilla...


With a left hander on the mound, the Game 1 lineup makes a return.
Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Marcus Thames DH
Jorge Posada C
Curtis Granderson CF
Brett Gardner LF

Andy Pettitte LHP
Rangers: Francoeur has good numbers against Pettitte in 11 career ABs, so Ron Washington is giving him the start in right field. Bengie Molina and Mitch Moreland get to keep their spots are each driving in a run in Game 2.
Elvis Andrus SS
Michael Young 3B
Josh Hamilton CF
Vlad Guerrero DH
Nelson Cruz LF
Ian Kinsler 2B
Jeff Francoeur RF
Bengie Molina C
Mitch Moreland 1B

Cliff Lee LHP

Saturday, October 16, 2010

ALCS Game 2: It Ain't Over

On the YES Network Postgame Show last night, Michael Kay was not shy about his feelings in regards to the Yankees' chances going forward. Standing next to Ken Singleton on the field in Arlington as the Ballpark was dark and empty aside from a few maintenance men lingering in the background, Kay emphatically declared the series "over".

That is a pretty bold stance for a broadcaster to take on the air, especially one who was covering the team in 1997 when the Yankees fell into a 5-0 hole in the first inning of Game 1 of the ALDS against the Indians and clawed their way back to a 8-6 victory, only to lose the series in five games. Or in 2001, when the Yanks stole devastating back-to-back-extra-inning-walk-off victories in Games 4 & 5 of the World Series by way of Byung-Hyun Kim but ultimately fell just short of a fourth straight WS title against the Diamondbacks in Game 7 in Arizona.

To be sure, the Yanks' thrilling come-from-behind victory fueled by a string of seven straight batters reaching base safely in the eighth inning was the stuff of October lore, hearkening back to the late 90's dynasty years when the team felt nearly invincible and never out of a game or series. The Bombers trailed 3-0 before CC Sabathia even recorded an out and the deficit only widened before the top of the eighth rolled around and Brett Gardner stepped to the plate. His hustle play opened the floodgates and the five runs plated in that frame took them from four runs down to one ahead. From there Kerry Wood picked off Ian Kinsler to stifle a rally in the bottom half of the inning and Mariano Rivera worked around a leadoff single to Mitch Moreland to seal off the improbable victory.

But unfortunately for the 2010 Yankees, you can only win one game at a time.

To snatch victory from the jaws of defeat the way the Yanks did last night obscures the fact that anyone who had thought the Yankees were going to win this series likely assumed they would take Game 1 behind their ace, Sabathia. They may have done so in dramatic, soul-crushing fashion, but is that so much better than controlling the game from the outset? Would Michael Kay be so certain of a World Series berth for the Bombers if they had taken an early lead last night and went on to win?

Colby Lewis might not match up especially well with the Yankees, but if he and the Rangers can get though Phil Hughes and win tonight, the series will be all square with Cliff Lee looming large in Game 3 and the notoriously unreliable A.J. Burnett slated to take the ball for the Yanks in Game 4.

The Yanks have done what they can so far, but make no mistake, this series is far from over.

Hey now, hey now, don't dream it's over yet.
[Song notes: The sample quoted is from this song by Crowded House, which kind of sucks. But hey, it's appropriate!]


Yankees: Facing the right-handed Lewis, Curtis Granderson moves up to the two hole, while Nick Swisher is pushed back to sixth. Lance Berkman gets the start at DH and will be down in the eighth slot, where he managed his fair share of heroics in the Twins series.
Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Jorge Posada C
Lance Berkman DH
Brett Gardner LF
Phil Hughes RHP
Rangers: The bottom third of the Rangers' lineup gets turned over against the righty Hughes. Bengie Molina will catch instead of Matt Treanor, David Murphy gets the start in right over Jeff Francoeur and Mitch Moreland will man first base in lieu of Jorge Cantu.
Elvis Andrus, SS
Michael Young 3B
Josh Hamilton CF
Vladimir Guerrero DH
Nelson Cruz RF
Ian Kinsler 2B
David Murphy LF
Bengie Molina C
Mitch Moreland 1B

Colby Lewis RHP

No-No-No-No-No-No-lan Ryan Face

I'm not sure if the Nolan Ryan Face from last night will reach full internet meme status because the netting in front of his face is kind of distracting, but here's us trying to do our part:

Friday, October 15, 2010

ALCS Game 1: Friday Night Lights

Being a Yankee fan this week has been a lot like being a football fan. After dispensing with the Twins by completing a three game ALDS sweep last Saturday night, we've been left with an interminable wait for tonight's ALCS Game One. In the interim, the mainstream media - both local and national - and the blogosphere have filled the football-like week long gap between games with football-like coverage. That is, there hasn't been nearly enough legitimate news to cover six news cycles, so every little tidbit of information has been overly dissected.

As the Yankees return to the field tonight after five days off, perhaps the football connections are appropriate. Fall is upon us. And when C.J. Wilson's first pitch kicks off the 2010 American League Championship Series, it'll be on a Friday night, under the lights, in Texas, where Friday night high school football is akin to religion.

Back here in the tri-state area though, baseball is the predominant sports obsession, and we'll get our fix tonight as the Yanks and Rangers play Game One of the ALCS, featuring a pitching rematch from game one of their regular season series. CC got the better of C.J. in that match-up of initialed southpaws, but Mother Nature got the best of them both, as rain stopped the game after six innings, with the Yankees taking home a 5-1 win. Sabathia wouldn't face the Rangers again during the regular season; Wilson would face the Yanks twice more and fail to record a decision in the two Texas victories.

As Moshe pointed out at TYU last night, there's some irrational pessimism plaguing many Yankee fans currently, as many are assuming that Cliff Lee's two starts and A.J. Burnett's one start essentially guarantee three Texas victories. In that line of thinking, it becomes critical that the Yankees win all four remaining games to ensure a series victory. I certainly don't subscribe to those theories, but with their ace on the mound tonight, it is important for the Yankees to get off to a good start.

(By the way, while Lee does appear to be some sort of post-season savant in the way guys like Mo and Pettitte are, it doesn't mean he's untouchable. He went through quite a rough patch following his trade to Texas. The Yankee offense is good enough to put runs on the board against anyone. And Lee is matched up against certified Big Game Pitcher Andy Pettitte. It may be an uphill battle, but it's certainly not insurmountable. As for Burnett, however unlikely, it's not totally out of the realm of possibility that he might actually pitch well. Even if he doesn't, he's matched up against Tommy Hunter, who the Yankees might easily knock around the yard. But what do I know, I'm the same guy who foolishly suggested that the Rangers should part ways with Ron Washington last spring).

So the waiting is nearly over. No more talk of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira (and Marcus Thames for that matter) returning to Texas as if they've never been back since being traded away. No more talk of the largest payroll disparity in post-season history (funny how people forget that the Yankees and the rest of MLB subsidized the bankrupt Rangers mid-season acquisitions of Bengie Molina, Lee, Jorge Cantu, Christian Guzman, and Jeff Francoeur). No more worrying about Burnett and Lee in later games. Tonight it's just about Game One, and Sabathia and Wilson under the Friday night lights of Texas.

I'll leave you with one final thought: The Minnesota Twins began life as the Washington Senators in 1901. They entered the 2010 ALDS with a nine game post-season losing streak against the Yankees. The Yankees swept them to keep the streak alive. The Texas Rangers began life as the Washington Senators in 1961. They enter the 2010 ALCS with a nine game post-season losing streak against the Yankees. I don't think that means anything, but I hope history repeats itself.

So, in honor of this Friday night in Texas, here is quite possibly the lamest song choice in Fack Youk preview history. It's the theme song from the TV show that stars Derek Jeter's special lady friend:


It's the standard lineup vs LHP, with Marcus Thames as the DH, Swisher in the two spot and Granderson batting eighth. There was some speculation that Austin Kearns, who has hit Wilson well, might get the nod over Granderson or Gardner, both of whom have not hit Wilson well. But both lefties have been productive of late and Kearns, who was not played in nearly two weeks now, has not.
Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Marcus Thames DH
Jorge Posada C
Curtis Granderson CF
Brett Gardner LF
With C.J. Wilson on the mound for Texas, his usual catcher Matt Treanor gets the nod over Bengie Molina. With CC Sabathia on the mound for the Yanks, righty bats Jorge Cantu and Jeff Francoeur play over lefty swingers Mitch Moreland and David Murphy/Julio Borbon.
Elvis Andrus SS
Michael Young 3B
Josh Hamilton CF
Vladimir Guerrero DH
Nelson Cruz LF
Ian Kinsler 2B
Jeff Francoeur RF
Jorge Cantu 1B
Matt Treanor C

Sunday, October 10, 2010

162 > 3: In Defense Of Ron Gardenhire

Postseason baseball can be a thrilling month-long adventure, or it could be a terrible trip that lasts less than a week. A six month season will be judged on what happens to a team against top-tier competition under pressure-packed conditions in what can be as few as three games. Some players who have a terrible year can totally redeem themselves with a few big hits in a postseason series while others who have done yeoman's work since April can turn into a goat because of a split-second reaction in the outfield, one pitch left over the plate or a feeble at-bat with runners in scoring position.

The same goes for managers. A skipper can be viewed as a genius or a dummy after the fact, based on how he aligned his rotation, filled out his lineup card or inserted his relievers into a game. Or in this case, just the end results of three games against a superior team.

Take it away, David Pinto:

Ron Gardenhire has now lost 12 straight playoff games. He’s been swept by the Yankees two years in a row. If he were the Yankees manager, he would have been fired last season. I really don’t care how well the team has done under him.
I believe what Pinto is trying to get at here is that he doesn't care how they've done during the regular season under Gardenhire, which of course is incredibly stupid. Regardless of how much you think a manager can influence a baseball game, 162 of them tells you a whole lot more about someone's abilities as a manager than three nights in October do.

Managers just don't have the ability to affect games over the short term, unless they want to pick a pitcher from High-A ball to start Game 1 of the series, pencil players into the wrong defensive positions and order them to bat from the opposite side of the plate they are accustomed to. Good managers are skilled at steering the ship over a interminable season and making good decisions that will work out well in the long run, but simply can't exert much pressure in the span of three games without trying to throw the series.

I'm sure losing 12 straight playoff games absolutely sucks for the Twins' organization and their fanbase, but what does the 2004 ALDS have to do with the series that concluded last night? Do you know how many players started games for the Twins in both series? Two. Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel, and they might actually be the same person.

Pinto's not done yet:
The Twins team is good, but they need to be sent a message that getting swept every year is unacceptable. Firing Gardenhire will send that message.
I'm pretty sure that the Twins are aware that getting swept every year in unacceptable. Does this look like a bunch of dudes who are thrilled to be starting their offseason already?

What exactly has Gardenhire done to deserve being fired? What thing that was under his control did he screw up? Did he start someone that deserved to be benched? Was it the way he set up the starting rotation? A boneheaded bullpen move?

It's not any of those, of course. Pinto is just judging Gardy in black and white terms, which is something that a casual fan or George Steinbrenner at his most impulsive would do, not someone who goes by the Twitter handle @StatsGuru.

It's not like Gardenhire has some "Marty Ball" scheme and manages differently in the playoffs. It's not as if he has a pregame ritual wherein he runs around the clubhouse wearing only an unbuttoned Harmon Killebrew jersey screaming at the top of his lungs, which renders his pitching staff incapable of holding a lead.
The Twins, however, need someone ruthless in the playoffs who can find a way to win not only a game, but a series.
What "ruthless" mystery manager is going to be able to lead the Twins to postseason glory and by what means? Should we exhume John McGraw so he can get into a fistfight with an umpire? Perhaps an undead Gus Schmeltz would be willing to whip every fielder who makes an error with a riding crop and force the team to take batting practice using a lead pipe and jagged rocks.

Because THAT would send a message, goddammit. And that message would read, "The Minnesota Twins don't understand the concept of small sample sizes or the role that luck can play in a short playoff series, so they fired one of the best managers in baseball in favor of a sadistic zombie. Muthaphuckkkazzz1!!!!!"

Thursday, October 7, 2010

ALDS Game 2: Positively 4th Street

Good afternoon Fackers.

We're breaking nearly two months of radio silence to come back today. Before we get into it, Jay and I would like to thank all of you who have still been checking back and leaving comments over the past couple months. We're thankful that you're still checking in. We're both still alive and well, but unfortunately neither of us are in a position to keep Fack Youk updated with even semi-regular content. But for today at least, it'll be like old times as we're bringing you one of our signature game previews.

Tonight's pitching match-up is a rematch of Game Three of last year's ALDS: Andy Pettitte against Carl Pavano. The two hurlers are a contrast in reputations. Pettitte is widely considered both a gamer and big game pitcher, a player who learned early in his career the difference between pitching injured and pitching hurt, and who's known to battle through and find a way even when he doesn't have his best stuff. Pettitte has been the winning pitcher in six series clinching games, including all three series enders in the 2009 post-season. Pavano on the other hand, is thought to have a glass jaw, easily injured and quick to hop on the DL at the slightest ache or pain. His four years with the Yankees were filled with a litany of injuries, but just 26 starts (not counting 14 rehab starts), and he has not recorded a win in any of his three career post-season starts.

Yet, this year it was Pettitte who missed two months of the season with a groin injury, while Pavano made 32 starts, finished sixth in the AL in innings pitched, and topped 199 IP for the second straight post-Bronx season. He led the AL in both complete games and shutouts, was second in BB per 9, and seventh in wins. It was the type of high-quality season Pettitte seemed on pace for prior to a pulled groin knocking him out his July 18th start. Instead, Pettitte sat on the shelf for nearly two months, made two Pavano-like rehab starts for AA Trenton, and was knocked around in three September starts back with the big club.

There's also some question as to whether either pitcher is his team's ideal started for Game Two. Many Twins pundits preferred to see Pavano, with his nine career post-season games, get the Game One nod over the inexperienced and often excitable Francisco Liriano. Meanwhile many Yankee observers wanted to see Phil Hughes, who has been markedly better on the road than at home this year, start in homer-suppressing Target Field rather than homer-friendly Yankee Stadium. But in the end, Liriano's superiority earned him the Game One nod, while Minnesota's vulnerability to left-handed pitching and Pettitte's big game experience earned him starts in Game Two and a decisive potential Game Five.

If The Yankee Years is to be believed, Joe Torre and several Yankee players had no problems holding Pavano's feet to the fire over his injury history. The Yankee fanbase has no shortage of blood-lust for Pavano, but in the two years since he's left New York, they've yet to be satisfied. The Yankees did not face him this season and managed just four runs and twelve baserunners over 13.1 innings regular season innings last year. Pavano held them to just five hits and two runs over seven innings in last year's ALDS Game Three. While he was the losing pitcher, he certainly wasn't knocked around in that start as solo home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada were just enough to hand Pettitte and the Yankees a 2-1 victory and a three game sweep.

Revenge aside, today's twilight tilt is big game for both pitchers. Pavano is looking to snap the Twins' ten game post-season losing streak and avoid falling in an 0-2 hole as the series shifts to New York. Pettitte is looking to shake off the rust that plagued him in his three September starts, reward the club's faith in him, and give the Yankees a commanding 2-0 lead to take some pressure off Hughes when he makes his first post-season start Saturday.

Will today be the day Yankee fans finally get to see their team slap Pavano around the yard? The numbers don't favor it. Target Field has suppressed power all year, yielding the fourth fewest home runs of any park. Further, Pavano doesn't put the ball in the air very often, his 51.2% groundball rate ranking fifteenth in the Majors thanks to both his sinker and changeup. He doesn't walk many either, just 1.5 per nine, so if the Yankees are going to put up any crooked numbers they'll likely have to come via a string of hits. Game Three of last year's ALDS showed that a little could go a long way when it comes to getting to Pavano, so perhaps the Yanks can beat him without bludgeoning him. At this point in the year, Yankee fans will take a win however they can get it, but I have a feeling that the vitriol towards Pavano isn't going anywhere regardless of today's result.

You got a lotta nerve
To say you are my friend
When I was down
You just stood there grinning

You got a lotta nerve
To say you got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on
The side that’s winning

You say I let you down
You know it’s not like that
If you’re so hurt
Why then don’t you show it

You say you lost your faith
But that’s not where it’s at
You had no faith to lose
And you know it

I know the reason
That you talk behind my back
I used to be among the crowd
You’re in with

Do you take me for such a fool
To think I’d make contact
With the one who tries to hide
What he don’t know to begin with

You see me on the street
You always act surprised
You say, “How are you?” “Good luck”
But you don’t mean it

When you know as well as me
You’d rather see me paralyzed
Why don’t you just come out once
And scream it

No, I do not feel that good
When I see the heartbreaks you embrace
If I was a master thief
Perhaps I’d rob them

And now I know you’re dissatisfied
With your position and your place
Don’t you understand
It’s not my problem

I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you

Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is
To see you

[Song Notes: One of my favorite Dylan tunes, his bitterness seethes through the lyrics of this one. Forty-five years after the song's initial release, no one is quite sure what had the man who was born and raised in Minnesota so fired up. Perhaps the most popular theory is that "Positively 4th Street" is Dylan firing back at his Greenwich Village neighbors, specifically the folkies who lambasted his going electric at 1965 Newport Folk Fest (which, incidentally, we touched upon in one of our playoff previews last year). Another theory posits that the song references Dylan's time as a student at the University of Minnesota, where Minneapolis' 4th Street S.E. is the main road through the part of campus where Dylan lived.

Whatever Dylan's motivation, I've spent the past two seasons waiting for a Pavano start against the Yankees so I could use this song for the preview. The lyrics read like an airing of grievances between the fans and Pavano, or alternatively, Pavano lashing out at those who questioned the validity of his injuries.]


With a righty on the mound tonight, the hot-hitting Curtis Granderson slides up to the two spot. Nick Swisher drops down to the middle of the order, replacing Marcus Thames in the six hole, while Lance Berkman takes Thames' spot as the DH and will bat eighth.
Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Jorge Posada C
Lance Berkman DH
Brett Gardner LF

No changes for the Twinkies
Denard Span, CF
Orlando Hudson, 2B
Joe Mauer, C
Delmon Young, LF
Jim Thome, DH
Michael Cuddyer, 1B
Jason Kubel, RF
Danny Valencia, 3B
J.J. Hardy, SS

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Do The "Right" Thing

Mike Vaccaro has some, um, interesting suggestions as to what the Mets should do in the wake of the injury that Francisco Rodriguez "almost certainly" sustained when he assaulted the grandfather of his children last week:
So K-Rod is kaput for now, and now the Mets must prove they have the intestinal fortitude for more. If ever there was a situation that screamed for a baseball club to do the right thing, to send an unbending message, it is now.

First, they have to fight to void that portion of the contract that will coincide with his time away from the team. That means the rest of this year, at a minimum.

And then they have to rid themselves of the headache for good. If that means exiling Rodriguez in the offseason — a move that would almost certainly entail them having to eat most of his remaining deal — that’s fine. If that means going after the balance of the contract in what would be a precedent-setting move the commissioner’s office would probably rather them not fight — even better.
Obviously, the Mets are going to do what they can to void this year's portion of the contract, because I'm pretty sure that if Aaron Boone tearing his knee apart playing basketball negates his deal with the Yankees, injuries sustained while punching someone in the face (if they can prove that) would do the trick for K-Rod.

But is Vaccarro really suggesting that the Mets should eat Rodriguez's 2011 salary of $11.5M and a buyout of $3.5M in order to "do the right thing" and "send an unbending message"? What message would that be and who would it be directed towards, exactly? That would be a pretty damn expensive statement to make. It would be way cheaper to just take out a full page ad in every newspaper in New York.

The bottom line is that, in the world of guaranteed contracts, getting "fired" doesn't really mean anything, because you still get paid, so the intended message wouldn't even be reaching the person at the center of this whole embarrassing episode: K-Rod. The deal he signed with the Mets before the 2009 season was worth $37M. Although we are desensitized to those kinds of numbers because of the megadeals that other guys sign, that is still generational wealth.

If Rodriguez never gets another dime or playing baseball after this, he is still set for life. However, even if the Mets send the sort of bullshit "message" that Vaccaro is talking about, some other team is invariably going to give him a shot because he can get Major League hitters out. That's how sports work. It's not about morality, it's about winning (and the money).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Morrow's Sorrow Recalls Stieb's Near No-Nos

Good morning Fackers. Despite merely splitting this weekend's four game wrap around series against the Red Sox, things couldn't have gone much better for the Yankees over the past four days. The split against Boston leaves the Yankees six games up on their archrivals with more than two thirds of the season completed. It's far, far too early to start counting magic numbers, but as the wounded Red Sox continue to limp along, this weekend's series pushed them four games closer to elimination.

Of greater importance to the Yankees right now is the favor that the Blue Jays performed for them over the weekend, sweeping the Rays in a three game series, allowing the Yanks to extend their lead over Tampa Bay by a game and a half. Toronto snuck by with a narrow 2-1 victory on Friday; dropped a 17-11 beatdown on Saturday, featuring eight home runs by the offense and a four for five, eleven total base debut by J.P. Arencibia; then took another pitcher's duel with 1-0 victory on Sunday.

It's of course Sunday's game that is most memorable, as Toronto starter Brendan Morrow came within one out of being the third pitcher to no hit Tampa Bay this season, and the fourth in the last thirteen months. Morrow was masterful, striking out a 2010 MLB high 17 batters, walking just two, allowing just six balls out of the infield, and losing his no-no on an infield single by Evan Longoria with two outs in the top of the night.

The instant Longoria reached first base safely, my thoughts immediately turned to former Toronto ace Dave Stieb, something that wasn't lost on the good folks at Big League Stew as they recapped the game yesterday. The heartbreak suffered by Morrow yesterday and Armando Galarraga earlier this year is something the Jays' mustachioed and criminally underrated 80's ace could relate to all too well. And the Yankees played a role in two of Stieb's near misses.

In 1988, Stieb carried no hitters into the ninth inning in both of his final two starts. In Cleveland on September 24th, Stieb struck out Andy Allanson leading off the ninth, then got Willie Upshaw to ground out. With just one out separating him from a no hitter, Stieb faced Indian's leadoff hitter and future batting champ Julio Franco. Already thirty years old at the time and with nearly twenty years left on his Major League career, the jheri curled second baseman took a ball, then two strikes, then fouled off three straight pitches before working the count even at 2-2. On the eighth pitch of the at bat, Stieb's 123rd on the night, Franco bounced a base hit through the middle. Stieb then retired Dave Clark to the end game, settling on a one hit, two walk, 1-0 victory nearly identical to Morrow's outing Sunday.

Six days later, in the opening game of Toronto's final series on the season, Stieb took the mound at Exhibition Stadium as the Jays hosted Baltimore. Once again, Stieb was outstanding. He was perfect through six and a third, with his lone walk of the day being erased on a subsequent double play. Facing the bottom of the order of a feeble Baltimore team that would finish a Major League worst 54-107, Stieb once again came within one out of a no-no. Both Brady Anderson and Jeff Stone tapped back to Stieb. With just one out to go, O's skipper Frank Robinson sent Jim Traber to pinch hit for rookie third baseman Craig Worthington. To that point, Traber was just one for eight against Stieb in his career. But Traber lined a 2-2 pitch to right field for Baltimore's first hit, and for the second time in as many starts, Stieb had his heart broken just one strike away from finishing a no hitter.

His luck didn't get any better in 1989. He started in Kansas City in the second game of the season, and held the Royals to four hits, two walks, and a lone run over eight frames, but his offense could only manage one run of their own, courtesy of a solo homer by Jesse Barfield, who was just 25 days away from being traded to the Yankees. For the ninth inning, Stieb gave way to Todd Stottlemyre, son of former Yankee ace and future Yankee pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. After getting two outs, Stottlemyre surrendered a double to future Yankee Danny Tartabull and a single to former Yankee first round pick Pat Tabler, allowing KC to walk off with a 2-1 win. But compared to his two previous starts and his next start, Stieb's hard luck no-decision in Kansas City was nothing.

Five days later, Stieb took to the hill at Yankee Stadium in the opening game of a three game series. Again, Stieb would allow just one hit. This time at least, he got it out of the way early, yielding a fifth inning single to Jamie Quirk.

Stieb wouldn't have any more near misses until four months later, when he faced the Yankees at Skydome on August 4th. This was perhaps Stieb's best start of all. He needed just 82 pitches to retire the first twenty six batters he faced, eleven by strikeout. For the third time in eleven months, Stieb stood a lone out away from a no hitter. If he could retire the young Yankee center fielder Roberto Kelly, he would complete just the eleventh perfect game in baseball's modern era.

Kelly was in the midst of his first full season as the Yankee center fielder. He made a brief cameo in 1987 and entered 1988 as the starting center fielder. But after a slow start, he lost his job to Claudell Washington, and by July he was back in Columbus. 1989 was a different story. With Washington having signed with the Angels in the off-season, center field was Kelly's to lose. This time, he got off to a strong start, and with Dave Winfield out for the year following back surgery and Rickey Henderson's contract demands resulting in a June trade back to Oakland, Kelly was the Yankees best outfielder on that woeful '89 team and the best player outside of Don Mattingly. As he stepped in against Stieb with two outs in the ninth, he was batting .328/.389/.448.

Not quite nine years old at the time, I can recall watching the game with my father. At some point in the ninth inning, referencing Stieb's tough luck over the previous year, Dad predicted the Yanks would find a way to spoil Stieb's night. Kelly got ahead 2-0, then lined a double down the left field line. Steve Sax followed with a single to spoil Stieb's shutout. A groundout from Luis Polonia put an end to the game, but once again Stieb had come so close without sealing the deal.

In a span of 25 starts, Stieb had pitched three one hitters and a two hitter. Three times he had lost a no hitter with just one out to go, one of them a would-be perfect game. In the history of baseball, just four men (Johnny Vander Meer, Allie Reynolds, Virgil Trucks, and Nolan Ryan) have pitched two no hitters in one season. Stieb was four batters away from recording four within eleven months. Over the four starts, Stieb tossed 36 innings, allowed five hits, one run, seven walks, and recorded twenty eight strike outs, four complete games, and three shutouts. Still he failed to get his name into the record books.

Just over a year later, Stieb would finally break through. The 1990 season, much like this year, was marked by an unusually high number of no-nos. As Stieb made his start on September 2nd, there had been six already on the season, not including the Yankees' Andy Hawkins' lost no-hitter against Chicago on July 1st nor future Yankee Melido Perez' rain shortened no-no against the Yankees on July 12th.

Facing the Indians at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, the site of his first heartbreaker nearly two years earlier, Stieb recorded the seventh and final no hitter of 1990, and the first in Blue Jay history. He walked four, but struck out nine, getting Jerry Browne to line out to right for that elusive twenty seventh out.

Stieb pitched two more injury plagued seasons for the Jays before signing a free agent deal with the White Sox. He made just four appearances in a Chicago uniform before being released less than two months into the season. He spent four full years out of baseball before resurfacing with Toronto as a 40 year old swingman in 1998. His second to last Major League appearance came on September 20th, against Tampa Bay, the team Morrow nearly no hit Sunday. Stieb came on in relief of a Blue Jay making his Big League debut: Roy Halladay, who of course tossed a perfect game of his own earlier this season.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Waka Waka Walking Papers

The Fozzie Bear bad joke of a season continues in Seattle, as manager Don Wakamatsu has reportedly been handed his walking papers. We've touched on their season a few times earlier this year, and I'm still amazed that a club that generated this much buzz in the off-season has not only played this poorly, but has done so in a such an amazingly self-destructive fashion: naps in the clubhouse, fights in the dugout, falls in the bathroom, reported player mutiny, and no offense to speak of between the lines.

Oh, and just to rub salt in the wound: Justin Smoak, the prospect Jack Zduriencik preferred to Jesus Montero as the return centerpiece for Cliff Lee, was optioned to AAA a week ago after hitting just .159/.169/.270 with Seattle following the deal. Montero, meanwhile, has hit .347/.446/.622 since the start of July.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Game 108: What I'm Here 4

The last time the Yankees and the Red Sox squared off it was for a two game set in the middle of May which, somewhat incredibly, was 68 games ago. At the conclusion of that series (which was a split), the Yanks held a 5-3 edge in the season tilt, were 4.5 games ahead of the Sox but three in back of the Rays. Plenty of ebbs and flows have occurred since then, but entering play today, New York sits atop the standings by the slimmest of margins (1/2 game) and the Sox are a distant six back (seven in the loss column).

We are entering the point in the season when series, especially four game ones, can be potentially pivotal. By the time the game on Monday night reaches its conclusion, the Yanks could be anywhere from two to ten games ahead of their arch rivals with about 50 to go, including six head-to-head in the last two weeks of the season. That could be the difference between a nerve-wracking fight for the Wild Card or a relatively leisurely stroll towards the finish line.

Of course, in all likelihood, the margin will be four (Sox take three of four), six (a 2-2 split), or eight (Yanks win 3) all of which leave the picture much more murky than if one team finds a way to finagle all four.

The pressure is clearly on the Sox to make up some ground in this series, but all eyes will be on our boy Javy Vazquez tonight. The Yankees went to great lengths to make sure that Javy didn't start against Boston earlier this year when he was pitching terribly, although he did vulture a win when he struck out da' Yooooooouuuukkk in a one batter relief appearance in the top of the 9th inning during the first game of that quick set in May.

The Fackin' Youkstah is done fah the yey-ah after undergoing surgery on a torn abductor muscle in his thumb, so the Sox lineup won't be quite as formidable as it could be. Still, this will be the most important game that Vazquez has pitched in this stint with the Yanks and for better or worse, the results of his outing will hold a disproportionate amount of weight in the eyes of the fans in relation to the seven shutout innings he threw against the Mariners, for instance.

But hey, that's what makes this rivalry great. Those games in Tampa last weekend were probably more important than the four upcoming and certainly felt different from your typical three game series at the end of July. However, they took place in a sterile dome where the crowd was somewhat divided between the home team and the visitors. There will be no such balance tonight as the vast majority of the 48,000 or so that come through the turnstiles will be yelling for the Yanks. This is what it's all about.

It's the message in the song that makes you rock on,
Some people go to places where they don't belong.
Whether wrong or right, a lot of people fight,
But I'm here to bless this mic, aight?

I take action the minute that the crowd gets hype,
I'm type crashin, down like a meteorite,
I'm Bogart-ing, mics and whole stages,
Destroying MC's dreams, from words to whole pages,
Their rapbooks, look more like scrapbooks,
with their fictional fairytales and frail ass hooks.
A lot of shit has happened, since I started rappin',
There's been enough beef, and enough gat clappin',
There's been mad signs, for this brother to heed,
and while some choose greed, I choose to plant seeds,
for your mental, spirit and physical temple,
Bob your head to it, there's the water you've been lead to it,
Bathe in it, a long time you've been cravin it,
Prance to it, use your third eye and glance through it,
Your state of being, becoming advanced through it,
While others rhyme with no reason I be breezin',
Their mics I seize them, then I try 'em for treason,
I used to always like to hang out,
Now I lounge in the rest writin bombs while tracks bang out.
I know you peeped me in the club then,
but now I'm in your speaker, with the voice that you're lovin'.
[Song Notes: Since Guru grew up in Boston and eventually came to New York before making it big, I always look to GangStarr when the Yanks play the Sox. And man, this is my motherfuckin' jam right here. Guru at his finest with a sick D.J. Premier beat (sampled from this Young Holt Unlimited tune) jingling along underneath. Typically, I try not to quote an entire verse of the song, but the whole thing is just so damn smooth and contiguous, there's no logical place to cut it.]



Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hellickson's Debut Causes Flashback

A.J. Burnett's fifth inning meltdown last night, coupled with another win by the Rays has New York and Tampa Bays knotted atop the AL East. The Rays won last night on the strength of an outstanding Major League debut by stud pitching prospect Jeremy Hellickson. Hellickson went seven innings of two run ball, allowing just six baserunners and fanning six.

That the touted rookie played such a critical role in the Rays climbing back into first for the first time since June 19th reminded of something that happened during the Yankees' stretch run in 1996.

The Yankees had entered a tie for first place on April 28th and never looked back. Three months later, their lead over Baltimore swelled to an even dozen games. But from July 29th through September 16th, the Yanks went just 22-24 while the O's went a blistering 31-15. As Baltimore came to the Bronx for a critical three game series starting September 18th, the lead had shrunk to just three games. The Yankees sent their ace, sophomore Andy Pettitte, to the mound that night. He carried a 21-8 record as he opposed Baltimore's Scott Erickson.

Baltimore took a 1-0 in the top of the first on the strength of Brady Anderson leadoff double, a sacrifice bunt from Robbie Alomar, and an RBI groundout from Todd Zeile. The Yankees used the same blue print to tie the score in the fifth, with a double from Jim Leyritz, a bunt from Mariano Duncan, and an RBI groundout from Wade Boggs. Eddie Murray then singled home Bobby Bonilla in the seventh to put Baltimore up 2-1.

Down to their final three outs and trailing by a run, the Yankees faced Oriole closer Randy Myers in the ninth. Paul O'Neill drew a leadoff walk. Hobbled by a torn hamstring that would plague him for the remainder of the year, O'Neill was lifted for pinch runner Ruben Rivera.

A cousin of the Yankees then set-up man Mariano Rivera, it was Ruben who was more likely to be the future Hall of Famer as the two came up through the minor league system. Ruben won back-to-back MVP awards in the NY-Penn and South Atlantic Leagues in '93 and '94, was named the Yankees minor league player of the year by Baseball America for three years running, was the #2 overall prospect entering 1995, and the #3 overall entering 1996. Though Derek Jeter had beat Rivera to the punch in becoming a Big League regular, the two were considered equally promising prospects by the organization.

Rivera moved to second when Cecil Fielder walked, then scored the tying run on Bernie Williams' RBI single. Mariano held the fort in the top of the tenth. Ruben was due up fourth in the bottom of the inning.

Derek Jeter led off the inning with a base hit. Charlie Hayes bunted him to second, and Tim Raines' groundout moved him to third. With two outs and the winning run just 90 feet away, Rivera stepped into the box for just his 82nd Major League plate appearance. He was batting an impressive .270/.400/.460 on the season, but had been to the plate just 19 times in the three plus weeks since his last recall, going just four for sixteen with three walks in that time.

Former Yankee Alan Mills was on the mound for Baltimore and had two bases open. But he needed just one out to extend the game for another inning, and he had top of his potent line up due to bat in the top half of the eleventh. Mills was going to go after the rusty rookie rather than take his chances with whoever would pinch hit for Pat Kelly (who had run for Fielder the inning before).

Rivera fouled off the first two pitches, leaving him in an 0-2 hole. He battled back to even the count at 2-2, and on the fifth pitch of the at bat he lofted a hump back liner over the head of Robbie Alomar, giving the Yankees the win. The Yankee lead was back to four games; Baltimore would get no closer over the season's final eleven days.

One week later the Yankees clinched their first division title in fifteen years when they took the first game of a doubleheader from the Brewers, a 19-2 rout. Rivera played right field that day, and despite the blowout score, took a pair of opportunities to show off his rocket right arm. The next day he awoke with shoulder soreness, which eventually required surgery the following spring. He never played for the Yankees after that, instead serving as the centerpiece of the package the Yankees shipped to San Diego for the rights to Hideki Irabu in April 1997.

Rivera never fulfilled his promise in San Diego, or in any of his three other Major League stops. He had a chance to rejoin the Yankees as a back up outfielder in 2002, but blew that opportunity when he stole a glove from Derek Jeter's locker during Spring Training and sold it to a memorabilia dealer. After a brief return to the Yankees' minor league system in 2005, Rivera has spent the past four years posting impressive numbers in the Mexican League.

Just as Rivera did fourteen years, Hellickson helped his team to a big victory last night. For Hellickson's sake I hope he fulfills his promise better than Rivera did. For the Yankees' sake, I hope Hellickson's heroics last night prove less decisive than Rivera's were on that September night against the O's.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Bright Light City

The bright lights of New York have apparently set Lance Berkman's soul on fire. Twenty four hours from now he can officially waive his 10 and 5 rights and approve a trade to the Yankees.

The price is reportedly a non-prospect minor leaguer, with the Astros' main benefit coming in the form of salary relief. Berkman is owed $7.3M for the remainder of 2010 plus a $2M buyout on his $15M club option for next year.

Welcome to the Big Apple Fat Elvis.

And thanks to all you Fackers for your friendly comments on our sort of farewell post.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sailing On

This won't come as any surprise to those of you who have been trying to keep up with this site despite the lack of content lately, but Matt and I wanted to officially say that we are taking a step back from the day-to-day grind of blogging.

This summer has been a busy one for both of us and despite our best efforts, we just haven't been able to post a steady volume of content. The best blogs are the ones that are updated frequently enough to make you want to check them at least once a day. I'd like to think that we achieved that status for a pretty long stretch here (over a year and a half), however, it requires a massive amount of time and dedication maintain that pace, two things that are in very short supply right now.

As Dennis "Cutty" Wise said in one of the more poorly acted scenes in the greatest television show of all time, "the game ain't in me no more".

I'm hardly at my computer at all during the day, which has taken me out of the rhythm of writing and Matt's schedule has been especially frenetic as of late. Maintaining a blog shouldn't feel like an obligation, and when you are doing it as a hobby, don't have a huge readership and the only chances you have to write most days come before and after work, eventually the inspiration to read and write voraciously enough to blog competently is going to dry up. It was only a matter of time.

It's not as if we are going to shut down the site completely, however. We just aren't going to attempt to keep up with previews for every game and there likely won't be any recaps either. Instead, we'll probably end up writing more analytical or historical pieces, jumping into the conversation every so often instead of trying to tread water and keep up with torrent of news and issues going on with the Yanks on a daily basis. If we find the time to post, this is where it will go, but whether that will be every couple of days, once a week or even less will vary.

As I have many times in the past, I would suggest starting up an account on Google Reader and subscribing to our feed. That way, you'll be automatically notified when we post something as opposed to having to come to the site and check, which could get pretty annoying as the flow of posts slows to a trickle. If you want to keep up with us on a more frequent basis, you can follow our shared items on GReader (Jay, Matt) as well. We got a pretty fantastic crew of ShareBros including the dudes from River Ave. Blues, Moshe from TYU, Jonah Keri, Tommy Bennett, Rob Iracane from Walk Off Walk, Lar from Wezen-Ball, Andy Hutchins from The Sporting Blog and many others.

See you around, Fackers.

Sailin' on, sailin' on,
I can hear sweet voices singin, hear sweet music playin',
Sailin' on, sailin' on,
Oh, I wish you were here with me when I'm sailin on.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Game 94: Flashing Lights

In the three years my two friends and I had our Yankees Saturday package, we were only in our seats one time when the first pitch was thrown. The trek typically began from my apartment on the Upper West Side and it's tough to get three hungover dudes up, showered, out the door, on the subway, through the turnstiles, up into the upper deck in time for a 1:00pm start. We never left before the game ended, we just had real issues with getting there on time.

But August 4th, 2007, we decided we absolutely had be seated in Section 7, Row M, seats 15-17 before Phil Hughes through his first pitch. We took it somewhat easy the night before, got up early, ate breakfast and hopped on the train by noon. We were milling around outside the stadium at 12:45 and were in line to get beers when the National Anthem came on. It was a balmy summer day, probably near 90, and I remember removing my hat and listening to the recording play as the line momentarily stood still.

Phil Hughes worked a 1-2-3 first inning and after Derek Jeter singled and Bobby Abreu drew a walk, Alex Rodriguez came to the plate looking for his 500th career home run. This was the one and only reason we had been anxious to get there early - the chance that he came to the plate in the first inning.

He had gone eight games since his last homer and each night, what stood out - as it did during Jeter's pursuit of Gehrig - were the countless camera flashes that would go off when he was at the plate. Although the electricity surrounding each at bat - both literally and figuratively - had diminished by that Saturday afternoon, there was still a palpable sense of anticipation in the stands.

It wasn't there for long, because on the first pitch off of Kyle Davies, he launched a high, hooking drive right down the left field line. A-Rod was leaning on his right side, staring at the ball through his sunglasses to see if it would stay fair, but from our perfectly positioned seats, it was already obvious that it was gone.

As Joe Posnanski beautifully detailed earlier today, the milestone home run numbers have lost much of their luster over the past 20 or so years, but it didn't feel like it to us at that point. Just by shear luck, that homer came on a Saturday home game and we had the chance to witness something that, even though it's less rare than it used to be, still doesn't happen very often.

Just under two years, ninety-nine homers and some image-shattering PED revelations later, A-Rod is on the cusp of another big, round number. He hit his first Major League homer against the Royals and his 499th, 500th and 599th against them too. He has three homers in 10 plate appearances (seven ABs) against tonight's starter, Brian Bannister. He will be facing Davies - the man who served up #500 - tomorrow and Anthony "career 2.6HR/9IP" Lerew on Sunday. Perhaps his search for 600 will drag on like the quest for 500 did, but it seems likely that he'll pull it off sometime this weekend. If he does it tonight, you can be sure it will happen under plenty of flashing lights.

As you recall, you know I love to show off,
But you never thought that I would take it this far,
What do you know? Flashing lights, lights,
What do you know? Flashing lights, lights.

Yankee Lineup:
Brett Gardner LF
Derek Jeter SS
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada DH
Curtis Granderson CF
Francisco Cervelli C
Colin Curtis RF

RHP A.J. Burnett
A.J. Burnett RHP