Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ms 7, Yanks 6 (Or How the Streak Ended, But It Shouldn't Have)

It’s not like they were going to go 143-19. So why, then, is it so damn disappointing that the Yanks dropped the series finale to the Ms? (Thinking…thinking…thinking) I got it! It’s because we shouldn’t have lost the game in the first place.

The worst part about the loss is that we had multiple chances to put it away, recover from blunders, and prevent the Ms from getting on the board. Then again, the situations were quite unique, making it hard to place the blame squarely on anyone (well, except Jorge, and I’ll tear into him later). So, in the words of Paul Vitti, I’m real conflicted about it.

Who better to begin discussions with than the starter, Mike Mussina. After being spotted four in the first by this more than generous Yankees lineup, Mussina goes and blows half the lead via a Raul Ibanez double, scoring Randy Winn, and a single to Bret #$%& Boone, scoring Ibanez. Moose did settle down over the next few innings, allowing no runs and only one hit (a monster double by Wilson Valdez) over the next three innings. But then comes the fifth, where Moose’s pitch count was in the 90s, and it showed. Ibanez came through for the Ms again, doubling home Ichiro and Winn. Worst part about these runs is Mussina retired the first two hitters of the inning, but gave up consecutive singles to Ichiro and Winn before Ibanez tattooed his second double of the game.

Thankfully, by this point, Giambi had come through (how many more times are you going to hear anyone say that?) with two RBI, so the score was still 6-4. And even though Mussina was done after five, the Yanks were turning the game over to a bullpen that has been much more efficient over this ten game stretch (I don’t think they would have won ten straight otherwise).

So enter Sturtze, who I’m really keen on right now. And, for the most part, he did his job, though he could have done without walking Jeremy Reed. See, that’s why I’m not jumping all over Mussina for allowing four runs in five innings and running his pitch count up; he didn't walk a single batter. But, Sturtze rebounded from the walk nicely, getting Dobbs to pop up, and striking out Olivo to end the inning. What’s this you say? There was a two spot on the scoreboard in the sixth? Oh yeah, credit those to Jorge Posada. The splitter that struck out Olivo ended up in the dirt, and Jorge did a great job of blocking it and keeping it in front of him, but he abandoned all fundamentals thereafter, looking to first before he accomplished his primary task: picking up the ball. And you know how it goes; give them extra outs and they’re bound to capitalize. Yeah, Valdez singled home Reed and Olivo. Thankfully, Sturtze found a way to retire the next batter, Ichiro, to end the inning. AND he got the next three in the seventh. Pat on the back, Sturtze.

Now, notice what I just said about giving teams extra outs and them punishing you for it. See, the Yanks just didn’t do that, and it cost them the game. In the top of the sixth, with two away and the Ms still down 6-4, Sheffield hit a chopper to Valdez at short, surely the third out of the inning. But, Valdez made one of those blunders on a routine play, loading the bases for Godzilla, who had two hits and an RBI coming into the at bat. But Hasegawa picked up for his defense and made Matsui look foolish on a 3-2 pitch. End of threat.

Then our best friend Jeff Nelson comes on in the eighth and walks the leadoff man, and anyone who watches Yankees games and endures the commentating crew (I’m exempting Ken Singleton from this criticism) knows that a walked leadoff man scores 60 percent of the time. That stat, however, has to be adjusted when a rookie comes up and grounds into twin killings. I’m not bashing Cano here, I’m merely pointing out that while he hits the ball harder than anyone on the team other than Sheffield, but his newbie status is still evident.

Oh, and the ninth. Sheffield walked, followed by Matsui trying to make up for his big K by singling. First and second, one out and A-Rahd at the dish. Of course, my father at this point would expect him to go down whiffing, but I expect more from A-Rod at this point. He’s beginning to realize what it takes to win, and it’s been more evident over the course of the streak. So he pulls a Ron Villone pitch hard to the left side, but Valdez makes a heck of a play on it, and his momentum allows him to get Sheffield going into third. First and second, two out, Jorge Posada up, and he dinks an infield single – not exactly his forte – making it bases loaded, two outs, and Giambi’s ugly mug facing Villone.

And all the sudden I’m feeling like Paul Vitti again. Giambi has already knocked in a run earlier in the night, so can it really be expected of him to come through a second time? Hell yes it can be expected of him! He’s a $120 million MVP! These are the situations where Giambi is supposed to earn his money. Well, not only did Giambi not earn his paycheck, but he didn’t even take the bat off his friggin shoulders with two strikes. Yes, big effin surprise, Giambi went down looking to end the game. Man, it must feel great to be able to collect a heavy daily paycheck for doing jack squat. Memo to Joe: this is exactly why Giambi shouldn’t be playing every day. Sometimes RBI early in the game aren’t enough; sometimes you have to come up clutch.

This leaves just one man left with blame on his shoulders, and that’s the set-up man himself, Tom Gordon. The worst part about his outing is that he didn’t even retire three batters. Posada had to take care of Olivo – who singled home the go ahead run – trying to steal second. And he damn well better have, considering his previous blunder that cost a few runs. The guy (Gordon) has appeared in 21 games, and has a mere seven holds. Now, I realize that earlier in the season he was called on to pitch while the Yanks were down, but come on. He’s 0-3 now, and I’m sure he hasn’t come into ELEVEN games without a lead. The guy is 37, he’s having an uncharacteristically crappy year…do you think he might be finished? I do.

I guess this was the best time for a loss on the road trip. The streak had to end at some point (obviously), so it might as well be the day before an off day. Now the Yanks can regroup and go out firing against cross-town mini-rival Mets. But here’s the problem: Kevin Brown is on the hill Friday. Back during the Yanks championship runs, Andy Pettite was always there to bail the Yanks out after a loss. That was his strength, that was what he brought to the table: he stopped the bleeding. Does Kevin Brown have the same effect on the team? Oh, hell no. In fact, if this was 18th century literature, Brown could very well be Pettite’s foil. But that’s nerdspeak.

If Brown wants to be effective and escape a few innings – particularly the first – unscathed, he’s going to have to reach back and get some heat behind that fastball of his. Oh, and he’s going to have to work the inside portion of the plate, even dusting some guys off if need be. Because we all know what happens when Browney, or any pitcher for that matter, leaves the ball over the plate. Yes, you get six run firsts like Brown has been accustom to this season.

Thankfully, his counterpart will be Victor Zambrano, the less charismatic, weaker throwing version of Rick Vaughn. Combine his wildness with the Yanks plate discipline, and I’d say we’re facing the bullpen by the third. So all Brown has to do is not run up the score early on, and we should be able to take this one with ease. Randy and Pavano are on tap for the following two games, facing Kris Benson and our beloved son, respectively. If the Yanks don’t take two of three, I’m going to have to question the team’s ability to make the postseason.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Yanks 6, Ms 0 (or How Carl Rebounded)

Carl Pavano is just what the Yanks needed (and I’m sure they wouldn’t mind him going there and wasting all their time). Six days following a dismal appearance in which he allowed five runs in the first inning, Pavano bounced back in dramatic fashion, putting away those same Mariners that roughed him up with a five hit shutout.

Pavano had retired 11 straight before Richie Sexson finally squeezed one through the Jeter-Rodriguez gap on the left side, followed by a Raul Ibanez single on the very next pitch. Now, I know a lot of people down on Pavano, and I’m sure they were thinking the worst, and not without reason. This is a guy who came in with huge expectations and has been lukewarm at best since he debuted with the team in April. But, Pavano did his best impression of himself in Florida and made a wind tunnel of the next batter, Bret Boone, to end the inning.

My favorite part of Carl’s performance? No, not his seven strikeouts, or his zero walks (though both of those sweeten the deal), but the fact that none of the five hits came off the bat of Ichiro. To hold him hitless is certainly a feat, considering his uncanny ability to get the bat on the ball and his blazing speed – which A-Rod recognized when he utilized his cannon to the fullest on a routine grounder to third, which beat Ichiro by a step, maybe a step and a half.

Working to Pavano’s advantage was home plate umpire Doug Eddings’s gargantuan strike zone. If any part of the ball caught the bottom of the strike zone (which extended to the bottom of the knee), it was a strike, and he was calling pitches way outside. Normally I wouldn’t complain about the strike zone, but when Jeter, A-Rod, Tino and Womack all have complaints about it, there’s something wrong. It was as if Eddings was a Little League umpire, widening the strike zone every inning because he has a hot date later at night. Thankfully, Seattle’s pitching didn’t take advantage of these extended corners and left enough pitches over the plate for the Yanks to bring home six.

Now, I haven’t read the New York columnists yet (I try to pen my own words before I read others), but I’m sure the focal point of their pieces for the day is Giambi’s 3 for 3, 3 RBI performance last night, in which he belted a Matt Thornton pitch over the right field wall. As much as I’ve been complaining about Giambi’s swing resembling mine circa Babe Ruth ball, he looked like he definitely had his stroke tonight. Even in his fourth at bat, in which he popped up in foul territory to Dave Hansen, his stroke looked major league. So does Giambi’s five game hitting streak, which includes four RBI and two extra base hits, mean that he’s ready to be in the lineup on a daily basis? As I said yesterday, I just can’t see Giambi playing every day, since that would mean that either Bernie, Womack, Cano or Tino would have to sit. Maybe put them on a five-day rotating basis? As long as all five are producing, that seems a logical method. Will Joe utilize it? Most likely not.

But even though Giambi did turn in a solid performance, his RBI in the second was more due to A-Rod's smart base running than Giambi driving a pitch to plate a run. It was a dinky bloop just past the infield, and A-Rod noticed right off the bat that no one was going to get there in time for it, so he was around third by the time the ball dropped. If Reed or Winn are playing a step or two closer, it’s a pop out. Thankfully, all those ifs are moot.

Also worth mentioning is A-Rahd’s league leading 13th dinger, which wasn’t as notable for the fact that it pulled him ahead of Tino (Correction: and Derek Lee, who hit his 11th and 12th during the day Tuesday) for sole possession of first, but for the fact that I yelled “gone!” the second it left his bat. Gotta love those shots, especially when they find the left field seats in a hurry.

Other notables from the game: Matsui continues his climb out of a slump, lashing a single to right to lead off the second. Jeter went hitless, though he had a shot to the warning track that Jeremy Reed somehow caught up to. Cano provided another hit, though he struck out twice, something he hasn’t been doing much lately. Sheffield continues to inflate is OBP, walking twice and otherwise going 1 for 3.

Can’t say I have many complaints at this point. Everyone seems to be producing and it’s showing, considering the 10 game win streak. So it’s Mussina on the hill tonight, coming off two straight quality starts, going against Jamie Moyer, who the Yanks slapped around last time out. Then again, the Ms slapped around Pavano last time. Giambi is playing at first, which surely is pissing off Mussina. But who will sit tonight? My vote goes for Tony Womack, who put up an 0-for last night, meaning that Godzilla should play left, Bernie in center, and Tino DHing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Yankees 6, Mariners 3 (or Nine Straight)

Nothing makes my smile quite like Yankees haters. Take the fellas at ESPN’s Daily Quickie, who seem to be running scared now that the Yanks are beginning to prove that April was a fluke. Though, I certainly don’t see any real Yankees fans singing the same tune as the Quickie. We’re a bit more cautious bunch, waiting for series wins against teams like the Orioles, Red Sox and White Sox before we start thinking about October. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t starting to get a little giddy.

Kudos to Aaron Sele, who escaped major trouble in about every inning last night. Thanks to Ken Singleton mentioning it every time the Yanks came to bat, I know that he walked a batter in every inning except the fifth. But he lasted six full, allowing only one run, a sac grounder to third by A-Rahd. And it didn’t seem that Sele was in any trouble exiting before the seventh, since he has one of the best bullpen supports in the league this year according to Yanks broadcasters (only Johan Santana, Kyle Lohse, and Mark Buerhle are better). But after performing a search on this stat, I found that John Lackey, Jamie Moyer and Carlos Zambrano top the list. So what gives?

Anyway, if Sele had impeccable bullpen support before last night, it sure didn’t hold up. I began salivating when Shigetoshi Hasegawa entered the game, mainly because I think he sucks. So after singles to Sheff and Godzilla, he walked the slumping A-Rahd to get to Tino Tino Tino. But even though the game wasn’t at Yankee Stadium and Tino didn’t have that short right field deck that he’s plunked the majority of his homers, Mike Hargrove opted to bring in the lefty, George Sherril. He sort of accomplished his mission, getting Tino to shatter his bat and ground to Adrian Beltre, who got Sheff at the plate (and oh MAN was that a dirty slide. It looked like Sheff was going right for the back of the knee of Olivo), but Richie Sexson blundered the throw to first, keeping the inning alive.

But Bernie Williams was coming up, and this is a guy who hasn’t been in the lineup lately. Combine some rust with his age, and you’re looking at a nearly automatic out in such a clutch situation. Oh, but the Ms made a mistake of their own, bringing in J.J. Putz. So you’re asking “how is this a mistake? J.J. hasn’t been terrible this year.” Oh, my sweet innocent friend, the mere fact is that his name is PUTZ. Can you really trust a guy with such a laughable surname? Yes, I realize it’s immature and high schoolish to poke fun at someone for this reason, but honestly, whenever anyone hears his name for the first time they’ll inevitably chuckle and say, “heh, Putz.”

So J.J. made a Putz move and gave up a dong to Bernie, clearing the bases and putting the Yanks on top 5-2, which was more than enough for Chien-Ming Wang, who picked up his second victory of the season. Every time this guy is on the hill, I start to like him more. He had a rough first and was getting into a bit of the trouble in the seventh, but he still looked sharp in the interim innings. His pitches were low in the zone, and the movement that I was talking about previously was still there. Consequently, Wang induced plenty of grounders and a few dinky infield pop-ups. Once again, Jaret who?

And how about that rook Robinson Cano going 2-5 batting in the two hole? He’s hot and showing that he deserves to stay up in the majors, but that doesn’t mean he has his share of flaws. In 45 major league at bats, Cano still hasn’t drawn a walk. But, he has only struck out four times, and those came early on. He’s making solid contact now, driving the ball to all fields. His other glaring flaw: that .091 batting average and .182 OPS against lefties. Luckily, Tony Womack is .344/.726 against lefties. Do I smell a temporary platoon here? It makes perfect sense, since it is an opportunity to get Bernie and/or Giambi in the lineup as well. A little work with Mattingly should solve both of the rook’s problems.

Speaking of Giambi, he kept his hit streak alive last night, actually taking a pitch the other way for a single (though I didn’t notice a blatant shift on him). It’s too bad that he looked absolutely horrible in the two at bats in which he struck out. True, most hitters don’t look pretty when they swing and miss, but Giambi just looks like a fool when he goes down swinging. Good hitters like Jeter usually shorten up their swing with two strikes, but it seems as if Giambi actually lengthens his swing, and has a chip in his brain that forces him to swing at balls in the dirt. Jason is 4 for 16, four games deep in his six game trial period, with a mere two free passes. So what does Joe Torre do if, after the six game sample, Giambi has similar numbers? The purpose of the trial period was to see if Jason could still produce, and slapping one dinky single a game doesn’t really count as productivity. True, he had what proved to be the game-winning RBI on Sunday, but barring that, he hasn’t done crap. The most likely scenario is that he falls back into the role he was in previously, playing once, maybe twice a week – meaning that nothing got solved in the process.

I know I’m not the only fan getting nervous about tonight, considering what the Ms did to Pavano last time out. If I have one wish for tonight other than a W, it’s that Carl avoids putting Ichiro on to lead off the game. Please, oh please, start the game with an out.