Friday, June 11, 2010

Game 61: Houston Don't Dream About Me

Since their inception as the Colt .45s in 1962, Houston and the Yankees have played just six meaningful games against each other. Yet, despite the scarcity of contests between the two the clubs there is a good amount of shared history between the Astros and Yankees.

When Houston opened the Astrodome - the Eighth Wonder of the World - in 1965, they chose the Yankees as their opponents for the first exhibition game to be played there. Mickey Mantle batted leadoff that day, giving him the honor of being the first batter in the first indoor baseball game. He singled in that at bat, and later hit the first home run in Astrodome history.

Thirty five years later, when the Astros opened Enron Field, it was once again the Yankees who served as their first opponent. Once again, a Yankee hit the first longball in the park's history. This time, it was the slightly-less-famous Ricky Ledee.

After Yogi Berra was fired just sixteen games into the 1985 season, he vowed never to return to Yankee Stadium so long as George Steinbrenner owned the team. In exile from the franchise with which he was most associated, Berra spent his final four seasons in a Major League uniform as a coach with the Astros.

When Andy Pettitte didn't feel the Yankees made enough of an effort to re-sign him following the 2003 season, Pettitte returned home to Texas, inking a three year deal with the Astros. That signing was enough to sway Roger Clemens, who had intended to retire, to sign with his hometown team as well. The two combined with Roy Oswalt to give the Astros a potent rotation, and led the team to their first World Series in 2005. Three years later, both Pettitte and Clemens would return to New York.

Between the lines, the two teams first met in an interleague series in 2003. Seven years ago tonight, six Astros pitchers combined to no-hit the Yankees. It was the first no hitter tossed against the Bombers since 1958*. More recently, the Yankees played an interleague series in Houston in 2008, where Chien-Ming Wang notoriously injured his foot rounding third base.

(*Hoyt Wilhelm tossed that 1958 no hitter against the Yankees. Wilhelm was also the surname of George Costanza's boss on Seinfeld, during George's time with the Yankees as assistant to the traveling secretary. One of Costanza's tasks during that time was to host a team of Astros executives exploring the possibility of interleague play. Hilarity ensued.)

Tonight New York and Houston will begin their third interleague series, with Andy Pettitte taking the ball for his first career start against his former team. He'll be opposed by former Phillie / wife-puncher extraordinaire Brett Myers.

Despite their 5-1 career mark against the Astros, the last two series between these clubs have brought some disastrous results for the Yankees: their only hitless game in the last 51 years and what looks to be the end of Chien-Ming Wang's career as an effective pitcher. As Houston brings the Majors' sixth worst record and an offense bordering on historically poor into the Bronx for this weekend series, the Yankees are hoping for something far less eventful, and that their dreams about Houston don't turn into nightmares this time.

Just trying to make high ground
Has kept us on the run
There's no crime in toeing the line
Cause fortune is smiling on us baby
And we're gonna walk in the sun

I might dream about Houston
But Houston don't dream about me
If I could keep this between the lines
Who knows what will be

[Song Notes: I hate throwing up a video that has nothing but the album cover as its image, but I like this song and it works well for tonight. The Black Crowes have performed the tune in concert only fifteen times since debuting it last year, so live performances are a little scarce, just like Yankees-Astros games. I spent last Friday night catching the Crowes at the Cape Cod Melody Tent, I'll spend tomorrow morning scoring tickets to their local stop on their farewell tour this fall, so it only makes sense to use them for tonight's preview.]


The bad news is that Alex Rodriguez' groin malady will keep him out of the lineup again tonight. The good news is that it's nothing more serious than tendonitis in his right hip flexor and is entirely unrelated to last year's surgery. He's day to day. With A-Rod out, Nick Swisher drops to the clean up five spot and Curtis Granderson moves up to the two spot. Brett Gardner will miss his third consecutive start, but took BP earlier today.
Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Jorge Posada DH
Francisco Cervelli C
Ramiro Pena 3B
Kevin Russo LF

The lineup isn't yet posted, but I'm fairly certain that the lineup the Bad News Bears brought to the Astrodome during Bad News Bears in Breaking Training is more potent than whatever the Astros will trot out tonight. Sure Lance Berkman probably has a slight edge on Kelly Leak as a big bat in the middle of the lineup, but not by much, and certainly not by enough to make up for the rest of their punchless order.

Obligatory World Cup Post

Good morning Fackers. Things have been a bit slow here at Fack Youk this week, as other responsibilities have largely prevented us from living up to our usual mediocre standards. Similarly, things are slowing down in the sporting world at large. The Stanley Cup Finals wrapped on Wednesday night, with the Chicago Blackhawks lifting Lord Stanley's Cup for the first time in 49 years. Congratulations to Chicago head coach, and former longtime Hartford Whaler, Joel Quenneville and his outstanding 'stache. Meanwhile, over in the Association, there are at most three games left in the Finals, as both the Lakers and the Celtics are just two wins away from the title. Soon, Major League Baseball will have the entire professional sporting landscape to itself for the first time since early last September.

Of course, there is an international sporting event kicking off today that will spend the next month captivating the attention of most of the civilized world. The 2010 FIFA World Cup begins this morning, with host nation South Africa facing Mexico at 10 AM. Tomorrow afternoon, the U.S. Men's National Team begins group play with a much-anticipated match against England. The Brits are favored, but the U.S. scored a major upset over England in the 1950 World Cup, and if memory serves, the U.S. fared pretty well against them circa 1776 and 1812 as well.

While the U.S. team is often referred to as the "Yanks", there is another connection between the soccer team and the Yanks we usually follow here. Midfielder Michael Bradley and his father/head coach Bob Bradley have blood ties to a former Yankee.

Scott Bradley, Bob's brother and Michael's uncle, was selected by the Yankees in the third round of the 1981 draft. The New Jersey native made his professional debut at short-season Oneonta that summer and ascended through the Yankee system. In 1984 he arrived at AAA Columbus, where he batted .335, leading the International League. He also led the IL in games played and hits and finished second in doubles on his way to capturing IL MVP honors.

Bradley parlayed his strong season into a September call up to the Yankees, making his Major League debut on September 9th. He appeared in nine games down the stretch, going 6 for 21 (.286) and seeing time in left field in addition to his customary spot behind the plate. He broke camp with the Yankees in 1985, but was soon returned to Columbus, where he again batted better than .300. He received a pair of additional call ups over the course of the season, but didn't fare so well, posting a .163/.196/.245 batting line over 51 plate appearances in 19 games. He spent the majority of his time as a DH rather than catching.

Just prior to the start of Spring Training the following year, Bradley was sent to the White Sox as part of a seven player trade that saw catcher Ron Hassey*, who the Yankees had traded to the White Sox just two months before, come back to the Bronx.

(*Between December 4, 1984 and July 30, 1986, Hassey was traded four times. Each trade was between Chicago and New York, as he went from the Cubs to the Yankees to the White Sox back to the Yankees and back to the White Sox again. The three trades between the Yankees and White Sox occurred in less than eight months' time.)

Bradley spent only nine games with the White Sox, spent most of his time as their property in AA, and then was traded again in June, heading to Seattle in exchange for slugger Ivan Calderon. Upon his arrival Bradley became the Mariners' primary catcher and served as such through 1988 season, before spending three more years as Dave Valle's back up. In 1990, Bradley was behind the plate for Randy Johnson's first career no-hitter. Bradley finished his career seven games split between the M's and Reds in 1992.

While he played his college ball at North Carolina, Bradley's post-playing career brought him back to the Garden State. He spent 1997 as an assistant coach at Rutgers. The following year, he accepted the head coach position at Princeton, where his older brother Bob went to school and had spent twelve years as the head coach of the men's soccer team. Scott still serves as the Princeton head coach today, and in his thirteen years there he has coached three eventual Big Leaguers: Will Venable, Chris Young (the pitcher, not the outfielder), and former Yankee Ross Ohlendorf. Fifteen other Tigers have been drafted under Bradley's watch, including former Yankee farmhand Spencer Lucian.

Nothing will ever replace the Yankees as the primary focus of my sporting attention, but I'll be watching the U.S. team closely for as long as they're alive in the World Cup. For some background on Bob Bradley, had a great piece earlier this week.

Game 60 Recap

[WE data via FanGraphs]

Like they did the night before, the Yankees fell behind the Orioles 2-0 early and fought their way back to take a 3-2 lead. However, the A.J. Burnett couldn't hold the O's there and the offense couldn't come up with a timely hit as the innings wore on.

It probably didn't help that Alex Rodriguez was pulled from the game before he even had a chance to come to the plate. Eariler, Alex felt a cramp and/or some stiffness in his groin - the same thing that sidelined him last weekend against Toronto - but thought he could work through it in warm ups. During the bottom of the first, Adam Jones hit a two out ground ball that A-Rod said he should have fielded "10 times out of 10", but his groin "locked up" on him and the ball rolled past and into left field, allowing Miguel Tejada to score the O's second run.

Alex had warned Ramiro Pena prior to the start of the game that he wasn't feeling 100% and told him to be ready to come in. Nino got his chance in the top of the second and led off the frame batting clean up.

The Yankees offensive problems extended well beyond Pena batting in the heart of the order, though. The line up already had Chad Moeller and Marcus Thames in it and they were facing a good, young pitcher with whom they were unfamiliar. As I mentioned in yesterday's preview, Jake Arrieta has been all but unhittable in the minors so far this year. He brought that ability with him in his Major League debut, holding the Yanks to just 4 hits over six innings. He did walk four but two of them were distributed intentionally in the crucial sixth inning.

During the bottom of the fifth, the Orioles tied the game on a homer by Scott Moore, but Mark Teixiera brought the Yanks right back by leading off the sixth with a double. Ramiro Pena came to the plate and executed what Ken Singleton (whose birthday it was) pointed out on the broadcast was probably the first sacrifice executed out of the clean up slot all year for the Yanks. Juan Samuel had Arrieta put Cano on base, creating the potential for a double play with Jorge Posada coming up. The O's didn't get the DP they wanted but Jorge flew out to shallow center, not deep enough to bring in the run.

Although he obviously wasn't going to go on the play, Mark Teixeira executed a good enough fake to draw the throw. When Adam Jones unloaded the ball, Robinson Cano took off for second. On his way there, Ty Wigginton made a great play to cut off the throw and fired to second base. It looked like Cano might have been out, but he was ruled safe, making an intentional walk of the lefty Curtis Granderson to bring up the righty Marcus Thames the obvious move. Arrieta struck him out on four pitches, three of which were breaking balls down and away.

In the bottom half of the six, Luke Scott "tripled" on high fly ball that brought Nick Swisher all the way back to the scoreboard in left. Swish tracked it, made a leaping effort and thought he made the catch but didn't and momentarily lost track of the ball when it landed. Adam Jones struck again in the next at bat, slashing a double to right center, adding his second RBI of the game and giving the Orioles the lead.

The Yanks worked three walks in the last three innings, but that was it. Their 10 game winning streak over the Orioles came to an end and A.J. Burnett took the first loss of his career at Camden Yards. The Yanks still won the series, however and head home to face Houston tonight as Andy Pettitte squares off against Brett Meyers.