Friday, April 9, 2010

Game 4: Redemption Song

Redemption might be my single favorite word in the English language. We all love a good redemption story. The media is squeezing every last drop of redemption they can out of Tiger Woods, and we're not even halfway through the Masters yet.

Sports are full of such tails of redemption. Sometimes it's not good enough just to win. Victories always seem sweeter when they erase the bitter taste of past failures. Winning then, cannot be its own victory in these situations. It has to mean something more to maximize the sense of fulfillment.

Taking the bump for the Yankees tonight is man who will be besieged by redemption storylines this year. Six years ago the Yankees brought Javy Vazquez to New York and signed him to a four year contract extension. After the departures of rotation stalwarts Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and David Wells after the 2003 season, the then 27 year old Vazquez was to be the cornerstone of the new Yankee pitching staff for the next several years.

As our friends at RAB pointed out earlier today, Vazquez got off to a running start, pitching masterfully in his Yankee debut. It was the start of an outstanding first half for Javy, one that saw him go 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and a selection to the All-Star Game. It was all downhill from there. Possibly nursing a shoulder injury, Vazquez stumbled down the stretch, posting a 6.92 ERA the rest of the way while allowing close to three baserunners every two innings.

The bottom came in the Yankees' final game of 2004, Game 7 of the historically disastrous ALCS. Vazquez was summoned from the pen in the second inning. Kevin Brown had dug the Yankees a 2-0 hole in the first inning, and left Vazquez a bases loaded jam with two outs to go in the second frame. With Johnny Damon at the plate, the first pitch out of Javy's hand was deposited into the right field stands, effectively ending the Yankees season and assuring the greatest post-season collapse in baseball history. Two months later, Vazquez was shipped to the desert, the centerpiece of a package used to acquire 41 year old Randy Johnson as the next would-be Yankee ace.

In the five years since, Vazquez has been vilified in the minds of several Yankee fans. He's shouldered a disproportionate amount of the blame for failing to clean up Kevin Brown's mess, and for being part of team-wide collapse that involved 24 other players, a manager, an entire coaching staff, and a fractured front office regime. Despite his continued solid to outstanding performance in the years since his departure, his return this past December was greeted with remembrances of "Home Run Javy", and claims that he doesn't possess the testicular fortitude to play in New York. Throughout the media beat and the blogosphere today, all manner of stories, this one included, have been some variation on the theme of Javy's potential redemption on his second turn through the Bronx.

The Vazquez story line has at once become both a personal pet project and personal pet peeve since his reacquisition. I would like nothing more than to see Javier Vazquez redeem himself in the eyes of the not-so-faithful this year. Not because I feel bad for him, or because I think he needs to atone for his 2004 performance, but because it would please me greatly for Javier Vazquez to shut up the naysayers who chose to selectively focus on a half-season of play, or worse yet a singular post-season pitch. I would enjoy it if he were to prove wrong those who have such a sense of entitlement as fans that they feel some sort of special breed of athlete is needed to be worthy of the honor of playing on the greatest stage in sports. It would make me happy if Vazquez would illustrate to the "he's OK as a fourth starter" crowd why he was arguably the best pitcher in the National League last year.

Javier Vazquez doesn't need any redemption for his role on a flawed team that flamed out at the worst possible time. But if he pitches well enough this year to make that simplification the prevailing story line, I'll take it.


On the other side of tonight's story are the Tampa Bay Rays. After surprisingly taking both the AL East and the AL Pennant in 2008, the Rays took a step back last year. Expected to contend in the always difficult AL East, the team received uncharacteristically poor performances from four spots in their line up and inconsistent pitching from the back end of their rotation. They fell 13 games from their 2008 record, finishing nine games out of the playoff hunt.

Yet the Rays are rightfully considered contenders again this year. They have a talented line up, including premium bats in Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and Carlos Pena. They have a young and deep pitching staff and play good defense. While this might be their last chance to contend with the likes of Pena and Carl Crawford, there is enough talent in the organization and the front office for them to be contenders for years to come.

David Price, the top selection in the 2007 draft, gets the ball for the Rays tonight. He's already made four appearances, three starts, against the Yankees in his young career. He enters tonight 1-0 against them, carrying a sparkling 2.25 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and .123/.220/.259 batting line against in 24 innings of work.


So here we are, six years and one day since Javier Vazquez' Yankee debut, and one year to the day since Fack Youk's first musical preview. The Yankees are back in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area after having just left last Saturday. The Rays are looking to redeem themselves after a disappointing 2009, and are looking to land the first blow against one of their primary competitors in the AL East. Javier Vazquez is just looking to pitch, but many are looking for him to redeem himself after his first stint with the Yankees fell short of expectations. In light of all that, we'll go back to a tune we used once before, a long time ago:



With the lefty Price on the mound, Brett Gardner grabs some pine again and Curtis Granderson takes the nine spot. Nick Swisher moves up to seventh, and Marcus Thames will play left and bat eighth. Joe Girardi's comments prior to Game Two seemed to indicate that Gardner, Granderson, and Nick Johnson would alternate sitting in favor of Marcus Thames against lefties. Thus far, Gardner has gotten the short straw both times.
Jeter SS
Johnson DH
Teixeira 1B
Rodriguez 3B
Cano 2B
Posada C
Swisher RF
Thames LF
Granderson CF

Bartlett SS
Crawford LF
Zobrist RF
Longoria 3B
Pena 1B
Upton CF
Aybar DH
Navarro C
Rodriguez 2B

Sabathia To Serve As Honorary Judge

Major League Baseball issued this press release Wednesday, announcing their 2010 campaign in association with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. As they did last year, MLB will sponsor an honorary bat girl contest, with CC Sabathia serving as an celebrity judge. Also on the panel will be Red Sox pitcher John Lackey, White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy, Giants' closer/musical genius Brian Wilson, and my favorite MLBN analyst.

The Yankees participated in this contest last year as well. Polly Tompkins served as the Yankees bat girl during the May 20th game against the Orioles. She was graciously hosted by Nick Swisher, who caught the ceremonial first pitch from her, and proceeded to have a pretty good game for himself.

I'm happy to see continued participation in such events by the Yankees and their players. While it's easy for others to push or embrace the "Evil Empire" persona, the Yankees did an outstanding job last year in giving of their time and talents to reach out to the community and support worthy causes. HOPE Week was a great success in July, and coincidentally or not, their charitable initiatives off the field often ran parallel to extended stretches of success on the field.

And of course, even though they had to shake down Moshe and friends for the domain name, the organization maintains their Yankees Universe charity, with proceeds benefiting pediatric cancer care at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

We all support the team when it comes to what happens between the lines. I think we should all consider supporting some of these off the field efforts as well. In the grand scheme of things, they're far more important than baseball games.

Back with the preview in a bit.

Friday Linkaroo

Joe West says these links are "pathetic and embarassing", but Mariano Rivera thinks they are fine they way they are:
Moshe from TYU offers detailed explanation from a scout of Curtis Granderson's new "handset". Click through for the breakdown and the pictures. I'm guessing this is something Curtis and Kevin Long worked on this offseason.

Speaking of The Grandy Man", it appears that John Sterling has a new home run call for him. Instead the obscure reference to Finian's Rainbow he used on Sunday night, during Wednesday's game he busted out the Sammy Davis Jr. homage instead. Glad to see that Sterling came to his senses, relatively speaking, of course.

Larry from Wezen-Ball's quest to time every home run trot this year rolls on, although it may have hit a few bumps yesterday.

Jeff Passan responds to Jonah Keri's optimistic rebuttal to Jeff's original piece on the Rays on Yahoo on Does that make sense? It's less confusing if you just click the first link.

Bloomberg sports offers a fantasy-centric AL East Preview.

Here's another article on Tom Tango and his role with the Blue Jays like the one I linked to a while back, except this one focuses more on his anonymity than anything else.

Yesterday Craig Calcaterra got some interesting information from a source about the allegations of collusion being levied by the Player's Association against the League. Teams are free to request information about a free agent from the league - Tango reproduces an image of that form - but Craig's guy (or gal) tells him that very similar offers are being received almost simultaneously. It's going to be hard to prove that the owners are actually comparing notes, but Craig thinks they Union might actually file a grievance this time around.

It's been one year since Nick Adenhart was killed in a car crash. Craig ponders the hardest part of any loss: the return to normalcy.

JJ over at Masters of WAR tries to quantify just how good the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant All-Star Softball Team really was. Well, not really, because it was a cartoon, but you know what I mean.

I'll bet you didn't know that Billy Wagner was an alpaca farmer. I didn't, anyway.

The Fightins are not pleased that they used the Rocky music for David Wright's new commercial with The Situation from The Jersey Shore. I see their point but it's a pretty funny montage nonetheless.

Beyond the Box Score dusts off their power rankings for the first time this year. Instead of the typical arbitrary order most major site put them in, BtB bases theirs on the statistics they have compiled thus far this season. That's why the Yanks are in 5th.

And this has nothing to do with baseball, but give the special guests we have been introducing to our WPA graphs, it's almost kind of relevant. Regardless, it's pretty fucking awesome.

Minor League Round Up

Good morning Fackers. Full season minor leagues had their Opening Night last night, and the Yankees had their AAA, AA, high A, and A teams in action. The organization went four for four on the night, sweeping their slate of games.
  • Jesus Montero made his AAA debut, catching and batting sixth. He doubled in his first at bat, then went 0 for 2 the rest of the way. Scranton beat Buffalo, the Mets' affiliate, 1-0 behind a David Winfree home run and a combined shutout from Ivan Nova, Mark Melancon, Boone Logan, and Jonathan Albaladejo. For Opening Night at least, the infield was Kevin Russo, Eduardo Nunez, Reegie Corona, and Juan Miranda from third to first. Colin Curtis, Greg Golson, and Winfree were the outfielders with Jon Weber DHing. Here's the full Scranton roster at present, courtesy of Pending Pinstripes.

  • Recently acquired Chad Huffman was not in Scranton's line up last night, presumably because he hadn't arrived yet. Padres' assistant GM and Moneyball superstar Paul DePodesta had some comments on Huffman yesterday, and Rob Neyer extrapolated on them.

  • Back to Montero, RAB's Mike Axisa, in his other gig over at MLBTradeRumors, took a look at Montero's status as a blocked prospect.

  • Elsewhere in Scranton, Kei Igawa is heading to the bullpen. While Bronx Baseball Daily's Chris Barrows is in favor of the move, I don't like it. Igawa would be no better than the club's third best option for a lefty reliever, behind Boone Logan and Royce Ring. Behind them at AA are southpaws Wilkins Arias and Wilkin De La Rosa. Igawa is of even less value to the Yankees as a reliever. He's proven to be a successful starter at the AAA level, but a disaster in the Bronx. By no means should he be in the Scranton rotation ahead of more viable prospects, but if nothing else he can serve as an innings eater there. If he's of no value doing that, it's high time the Yankees flip him to a lesser club that has some use for him. He's not going to hack it in the Bronx; his posting fee and contract are sunk costs; the club might as well take a flier on a C-level prospect in exchange for him.

  • Ivan Nova left his start last night after only four innings, but don't fret, he was pulled after a rain delay. Trenton wasn't quite so lucky with their starter, as their 4-o victory was marred by a sixth inning elbow injury to starter Christian Garcia. It's just the latest in long line of injuries for Garcia, and unfortunately the early returns are that it's pretty serious. Garcia has always had great stuff, prompting this glowing review from former scout Frankie Piliere earlier this spring. But since being drafted in 2004 Garcia has topped 65 IP just once - in 2005 - missed all of 2007, and threw just 25 innings last year. He's on the Yankees 40 man roster and since he was injured in minor league play, he cannot be transferred to the 60 day DL to clear a roster spot. If he is indeed out for the year the Yankees would either have to recall him and DL him, or DFA him to clear the spot.

  • Prospects Austin Romine, David Adams, Brandon Laird, and Damon Sublett all made their AA debuts last night. Romine and Adams had a base hit apiece, Laird had two, and Sublett took the collar. Reid Gorecki, the odd man out in Scranton's outfield crunch, is also on the Trenton roster after seeing action in 31 Major League games for the Braves last year.

  • High A Tampa also won via shutout, taking a 4-0 victory over Lakeland. Hector Noesi, added to the 40 man roster in the off season, went six strong innings, allowing two hits, a walk, and fanning six. He's the most likely candidate to take Garcia's spot in Trenton.

  • Charleston was the only affiliate to allow a run last night, beating Lexington 5-2. Charleston's roster is comprised mostly of last year's draft picks who played at short-season Staten Island last summer. Slade Heathcott is not amongst them at present, as he'll begin the season in Extended Spring Training.
We don't do a ton of minor league coverage here, but with last night being Opening Night and the big club having an off night, today was a good day to go through this. For day-to-day minor league coverage be sure to check out Mike's nightly Down on the Farm post at RAB as well as Greg and Sean's work at Pending Pinstripes. Further, both Scranton and Trenton have excellent beat writers providing great coverage. Donnie Collins takes over for LoHud's Chad Jennings at The Times-Tribune, and Mike Ashmore maintains Thunder Thoughts.