Friday, May 13, 2005

Boring, Boring Off Day

Since it was an off day and I’ve heard all I need to about the Jason Giambi situation, I’m going to address an issue that’s very prevalent (in my mind): the guys calling the game from the booth.

The Dodgers get Vin Scully: we’re saddled with Michael Kay. He used to be John Sterling’s color man on the radio and he performed that role nicely. Other than his rather annoying voice (maybe I’m just saying that because I dislike him so much, but probably not) I had no real complaints, mainly because I think Sterling is magnificent (this does not, however, mean that I don’t mind Suzyn Waldman. More on her later). But then the brass at YES Network had this revelation of sorts that Kay would be a perfect fit for television play by play. I genuinely am interested in the thought process that led to this conclusion.

“All right, we have Sterling for play by play on the radio, but we need to fill the slot for television.”
“We need a guy who the fans can relate to, someone on their level.”
“The problem with commentators is they know too much about baseball. Fans don’t know anything about baseball; how are they supposed to like a guy they can’t understand?”
“Um, sir, I think fans know just a bit about baseball. I mean, they are fans, after all.”
“No, no, the fans don’t know what they know. So we need a baseball dunderhead.”
“And he’s gotta be annoying! Fans are annoying, they’ll appreciate an annoying play by play guy.”
“Hey, isn’t Sterling’s play by play guy a doofus?”
“Oh, Michael Kay? Yeah, he’s quite the dolt. And Goddamn obnoxious. He’s hired!”

Even Bobby Murcer, who doesn’t know where he is most of the time, is a better play by play man than Kay. At least Murcer doesn’t refer to the first baseman as “Constantino Martinez.” Yes, Michael, I know that it’s not a common first name, and that at some point or another we all have pondered what Tino was short for, if anything. Thank you, thank you so much for providing that answer to me – every single night. Oh, and don’t forget about extra innings, or “bonus cantos” in the Book of Kay. Someone took a Latin class in college.

But the thing about Kay that pisses me off the most is his daily complaint about the length of the game. “Barely manageable” is used to describe a three-hour game, while anything three hours and ten minutes or more becomes “unmanageable.” I’m sorry, buddy, but your job is to watch and talk about 162-plus baseball games a year. Quit yer bitchin’.

Kay does have one thing going for him, though: he’s not Suzyn Waldman. She’s not so much John Sterling’s color woman than a commercial machine. I don’t know how Sterling isn’t going insane by now. His broadcast is a three hour (if barely manageable) dialogue with himself. Occasionally she’ll throw in a tidbit here and there (usually unprompted by Sterling):

STERLING: Ball three. So after walking two straight batters, Timlin has gone 3-0 on A-Rod.
WALDMAN: He just can’t find his control.

What insight! I was wondering what was wrong with Mike Timlin out on the mound, and bam! Just like that, Suzyn Waldman provides me with an answer. Now that’s sports journalism.

I could go on about her, but it would just be page upon page of me complaining about her reading off ads every fifth pitch. And about the fact that she obviously doesn’t watch the game. Ever.

Fortunately, Suzyn’s television counterparts don’t strike a nerve in the way that she and Kay do. Jim Kaat, though obnoxious at times, knows his stuff, and is generally interesting to listen to. The same goes for Ken Singleton, and especially Paul O’Neill (who I’m biased towards since he was my favorite Yankee during the World Series era).

Nice, 650 words of pure bitching. Oh, here’s one more thing to bitch about: the Yankees have one game in the next week that starts before 9 p.m. Stupid left coast trips.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Yankees 13, Mariners 9

Wow, I really wanted to kill A-Rahd in the first inning yesterday. Okay, maybe I didn’t want to kill him...but I at least wanted to slash his tires. How does a guy making $25 million a year botch a throw so horribly? And because it was A-Rod’s error, we obviously had to pay for it in the form of a five spot on the scoreboard.

But along comes the bottom of the inning, where the Yanks matched the M’s offering thanks to Bret !$@%# Boone’s rinky dink toss to Wilson Valdez, blundering a sure double play. That led to Matsui very politely declaring that his slump is officially over with a three RBI double cutting the deficit to two, which would dwindle to zero by inning’s end.

Oh, and Tino Martinez hit his fifth homer in five days. And you heard that here first.

My favorite inning had to be the fifth, where Jeter hit a solo shot over the right field wall, followed by a Womack single and Sheffield donking one over the dugout in left center. It appeared that Jeter had homered a few innings later, but after convening, the umps reversed the decision and called the ball foul. Yes, it was the right call, but what I can’t understand is how the ump blew the call here. A fan sitting to the right – as in stage right – of the foul pole caught the ball (and this was no hooking shot; it barely cleared the fence).

My friend Jon refers to Bernie Williams as the Human Double-Play Machine, and today there was evidence of Joe Torre catching on. With Jorge Posada on first (he should have been at second, but he trotted while he admired the ball he bounced off the wall) and a 3-2 count on DPM (Double-Play Machine, get it?), Posada takes off with the pitch. Now I’m no manager, but I know that Jorge Posada shouldn’t be stealing bases. Ever. But due to the frequency of Bernie’s DPs, it only made sense to send Posada here, because a strike him out, throw him out is the same result of a DP, and if Bernie actually makes contact and bounces into that DP, the steal avoids the out at second. But Bernie actually comes through and smacks a double, moving Jorge to third (though he should have scored. Bastard).

How ‘bout Quantrill, Sturtze and Gordon combining for five innings and zero runs? Eh, eh. They’d better be stepping up, since Felix Rodriguez is on the 15-day DL now with a knee problem (not sure exactly what it is) as a result of getting out of the shower. Don’t laugh, accidents in the shower account for 14.6% of baseball injuries*.

The blunder of the night surprisingly wasn’t off the glove of A-Rod (though he had two that had me smacking my head against the coffee table), but from the mouth of Joe Morgan. During the Cardinals-Dodgers game, Morgan seemed excited that Tino Martinez went five for five today. Sorry, Joe, but he in fact went one for five. But he hit his fifth home run in as many games, and the Yankees have a five game winning streak. Wrong fives, buddy. Oh, and Stu Scott said that Tino had two home runs during his Sports Center promo.

Finally, I’d just like to point out the obvious in that Tony Womack looks like a deer in headlights out in left. If we’re going to add a bat before the trade deadline, it had better be an outfielder. Womack just can’t survive every day out there.

Mussina on Friday, and we’ll see if he can put up three straight quality starts. On the other side is Rich Harden, who is looking to make up for Sunday.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Yankees 7, Mariners 4

Before I get into the game, let me just point out that I posted the idea of sending Giambi to the minors hours before the Torre-Cashman discussions on the subject were held. Yes, Giambi has to approve of such a move, but he believes that being with the major league team and working with Don Mattingly is the best route. So basically what he’s saying is that he can’t humble himself and accept this assignment where he’ll surely get more swings in game situations than he’s currently getting (why would Joe ever start this guy?). The lesson here: never sign – for any amount of money – a steroid taking head case, no matter what kind of numbers he puts up. That’ll all catch up to him sooner or later.

On to the game, and I’ll begin with a question: Jaret Who? Wright going on the DL may prove to be a boon for this season, as it allowed Chein-Ming Wang to make his major league debut. I know he’s young and only three starts deep into his career, but I like what I see so far from the Taiwanese youngster. He throws strikes, and his pitches have some decent movement to them. A little work with Mel Stottlemyre (well, if he makes it through the season) and this guy could have a bright future. Too bad it will probably be with another club, as we all know the Yankees tendency to trade prospects for geezers.

But Wang, despite a leadoff triple to Ichiro and two runs allowed in the first two innings, really settled down and kept the Mariners guessing all night until the eighth inning, when he found himself in a bit of trouble. Don’t worry, Flash Gordon to the rescue! Oh wait, that was LAST year. Opposing hitters are smacking around the aging Mr. Gordon this year, though his numbers don’t quite explain how terrible he is. Opponents are hitting .263 against him, and he has allowed eight runs over 15 innings. Of course, this doesn’t account for inherited runners scoring, which I think should certainly be a more relied upon reliever’s statistic.

But thank God for Mariano Rivera. Yankees fans through the tri-state area were calling for his head after two straight blown saves against Boston, and we were in full panic mode when his slump continued. Alas, this is Mo we’re talking about here, and in traditional Mo fashion, he has been mowing down opponents, nabbing two saves in the past week while striking out five in four innings of work. The only blemish on his record was Friday’s game against the A’s, in which he pitched a gem of a ninth, but faltered in the 10th. Conclusion: use Mo like Gagne, for one inning to ice a close game. He’s 35 and can’t work multiple innings like he used to.

I’m not going to make as big a deal about Tino’s home run streak as the local papers do, but I will share an amusing anecdote. I was watching the game last night with one of my roommates, enjoying a few brews in celebration of being done with college. Another roommate of ours, Dave, walks in with a cute little Italian girl and blurts out, “Bet you Tino homers in this at bat.” And waddya know, Tino took the next pitch over his favorite spot in the park: the short right field deck. I still maintain that this is more production that I expected from Tino all season.

As a final game note, I’d just like to ask what the [expletive] Robinson Cano was thinking in the third when Jeter dinked an infield single. Cano was going with the pitch (a great move, since Jete had two strikes on him with two outs. I’d trade the inning for Jeter getting a fresh count in the case that Cano gets caught stealing), and didn’t slide into second on a ball hit to the infield. Yes, I realize that there are two outs, and you’re supposed to go on anything, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon all baserunning knowledge. Or did he forget that the only base you can overrun is first? Regardless, he was toast before Beltre fired the ball towards Ichiro. An assessment after a week of Cano in the lineup: he looks like a deer in headlights.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Yankees 4, Mariners 3

Most college students complain about their finals because, to be frank, they’re a bitch to study for. My finals dilemma actually had nothing to do with reviewing class notes or reading mounds of textbooks. My final final (of my college career) was last night at EIGHT FRIGGIN’ PM. And, since Rutgers has the absolute worst bussing system during finals, I had to leave my house to wait for the bus at seven. So how is this all relevant?

I missed the entire Yankees game. Not one pitched passed by these eyes. I had to leave my house just before the 7:05 start, and arrived home – actually, at the liquor store – as Michael Kay was doing his wrap-up. So all I knew before perusing ESPN.com and watching Baseball Tonight was that Randy Johnson pitched eight “gritty” (a term that I am now dubbing cliche) innings, Womack supplied the game winning single, and Tino went yard for the seventh time this season. Oh, and that slumping Matsui continued his climb out of the bottom with another RBI.

It seems that a lot of the early season fears are beginning to alleviate. The pitching is coming around, though we’re not getting the dominance we expected from Randy. In any case, he’s still pulling his weight, giving us quality start after quality start, though nothing stellar. Isn’t it understood that he should have a shutout under his belt by this point in the season? I guess Steinbrenner isn’t familiar with that formality just yet. I have no doubt Pavano will be good for 15, 16 wins, Mussina will rake in just a few less, and who knows what’s going to happen with Wang. If there’s one thing sure in my mind about the Yankees pitching staff this year, it’s that Jaret Wright won’t be a prominent part of it.

Which brings us to Kevin “friggin” Brown. Yes, he looked solid in his last outing, but can more of the same be expected? Absofrigginlutely not (I seem to have a fixation on the word “friggin” today). To the contrary, I expect more starts like his previous ones, where he gets into trouble early and works the team into a hole. Too bad they aren’t the comeback team they were last year, or this wouldn’t be the gargantuan problem that it presently is. So what to do with the $15 million arm of glass? Scratch putting him into the bullpen, though he’d fit right in with team AARP. I guess the decision has to be made at some point whether his being on the roster is like playing with a 15 pound weight around the team’s neck.

As a final note for the day, I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that Giambi be demoted to AAA. The team is going to be paying his salary for the next four years no matter what, so they might as well embarrass him as much as he did them.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Yankees 6, Athletics 0

Excuse my giddiness, but two straight shutouts is something to giggle about like an 8th grade girl asking out her first boy. Factor in that they came from the arm of Mussina Saturday and the Brown-Gordon-Sturtze combo on Sunday, and we may have something going here. Then again, the last time I said we might have something going was A-Rod’s 10 RBI night, and we won, what, 2 games between then and Saturday?

Damn, after re-reading that paragraph, I think I have to make a disclaimer here. You may have noticed that I have referred to the Yankees as “we.” Be warned that I will be doing this from time to time, mainly due to my umbilical connection to them.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to listen to/watch much of the game Saturday. My buddy Al and I were headed to Queens for a movie, and he was having me listen to the new Beck album (which gets a 7.5 out of 10 upon initial aural inspection), so the only chance I got to flip to the radio was when he was on the phone. Accordingly, I’m not going to be able to provide any analysis/limited insight as to Mussina’s performance, but a four-hit shutout is a four-hit shutout. Of course, my dad the pessimist comes up with this gem, “The A’s aren’t known for their hitting, they’re known for their pitching. It’s not a big deal.”

But then Sunday happened. Now, when you know it’s Kevin Brown going against Rich Harden, the panic alarm goes off. Even my brother and I, who are considerably less pessimistic about the ’05 Yankees than our dad, were thinking, “crap, just when we have a game that can get the ball rolling, we have Kevin Brown on the hill against Rich Harden, who has the AL’s lowest ERA.” In fact, as my parents were leaving to go to a family party (my brother and I resolved to stay home until the Yankees scored a run), my father and I had the following dialogue:

Me: Dad! Bases loaded, no outs in the second. Go figure.
Dad: For us or for them?
Me: Them, of course.
Dad: [bleeping] Brown.
(Random grumbling noises. Door slamming)

I actually had to get up at this point and go do something productive to channel my ire to somewhere other than the TV. Upon returning about ten minutes later, I noticed that the Yanks were up. Then I noticed that little scoreboard in the top left corner of my screen read “A’s 0, Yankees 0.” Brown got out of it! How the…? I’ll take it!

Alas, two full innings later, in the top of the third, Brown digs himself into another bases loaded jam, but this time with two outs. This, of course, is the cue for Brown to lay a hanging slider over the heart of the plate for Marco Scuttaro (of all people) to send somewhere around South America. But what does Brown do? He got Scuttaro to pop it up to Matsui. What is going on here? This looks more like the Kevin Brown who pitched with the Dodgers in ’03 than the Kevin Brown who hurled (his back out) in New York last season.

I should also disclaim here that my dad is the most intense A-Rod hater I have ever encountered. Take Curt Schilling’s hatred for everyone in the league and channel it into one person, and that’s my dad’s hatred for A-Rod. So it’s only fitting that I embellish each and every A-Rod achievement this year (and you better believe he heard it after the 10 RBI night, followed by a night where he supplied the lone run).

So we’re in the bottom of the fourth with no score, knowing that it’s only a matter of pitches before Brown starts lobbing meatballs over the plate. We need run support, and who better to provide it than A-Rahd? Boom. Solo jack, putting the Yanks on the scoreboard, and my brother and me in the car on the way to the family function, my uncle’s to be specific, who lives and dies by the Mets (an honorable trait, considering he’s 60 and has had to live through their pretty much horrific past).

The Yanks would plate five more runs over the course of the remaining five innings, and all of them came off the bats of guys that need to start stepping up if the Yanks are going to pull out of this uncharacteristic funk. Matsui, who has been in a dickens of a slump, went 2-3 with a walk, an RBI and a run scored (courtesy of Tino’s shot), and a ho-hum Jorge Posada lifted one into Monument Park.
I have to say, this has probably been the biggest win of the Yankees season, and hear me out before you cast me aside as a loony. First, it accomplished something the Yanks haven’t done much at all of this year: win two in a row. And if you remember the advice of Lou Brown, “We won a game yesterday. If we win today, that makes two in a row. If we win again tomorrow that is called a winning streak. It has happened before.” Second, the run production – aside from A-Rahd’s dinger – came from guys who are going to need to produce if the Yanks plan to contend this year. I’m not really concerned about Matsui, since he’ll surely break out of his slump, but Jorge and Tino concern me (and most Yankees fans) a bit more, considering their age and performance thus far. Third, this win came at the hands of Rich Harden, who – as previously mentioned – had the AL’s lowest ERA entering the game (not anymore, Richy). Fourth (and I’ll end the list here), eight of the nine Yankees that appeared at the plate reached base safely, and the only absence from the base paths was rookie Robinson Cano.

While we’re on Cano, I’m still cutting him a break. How much longer I’ll be giving him a pass, I don’t know, but the guy showed great potential in AAA. Plus, my brother was talking about this guy last August, so it’s not like this is just a guy who had a quality spring. Problem is, Bernie is all but done as an outfielder, and we’re going to have to acquire another body to fill center/left field if Cano keeps up this dismal pace. Though, I’d still rather have him on the roster than Jason Giambi…

Randy goes up against Gilgamesh and those pesky Mariners tonight. Let’s keep on rollin’.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

I Guess I Should Get the Ball Rolling...

Yes, I am fully aware that the last thing Internet punditry needs is another Yankees fan. Yes, it has crossed my mind that there are other – presumably more productive – things to write about other than baseball in general and the Yankees in specific. But, ever since I took to writing, the one (heavily cliched) piece of advice I’ve received is, “write what you know.” And of all the things I know, I definitely have to say that Yankees baseball ranks #1 in terms of what I’d like to write (followed closely by boobies, music, movies, and boobies).

Thankfully, I’m not going to limit myself to the Yankees. But beware: when you’re from North Jersey like me and have been following the team Karl Ravich so endearingly calls the Spankees since you were too young to speak, it’s going to be a natural tendency to want to write about them. And trust me, you won’t be hearing any “woe are the Yankees” rants here. I fully realize that the team put themselves in this damn predicament that has defined the ’05 season thus far.

But enough of this boring intro. It all begins tomorrow morning…