Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Whoa

A rookie pitcher issuing seven walks and yielding four runs in under five innings. A pitcher with a 5.10 lifetime ERA going seven solid, allowing a mere two hits. A late inning rally that falls just short. These kind of games happen, and as long as you can shake them off and move on, it’s just one botched game out of 162.

It becomes immeasurably easier to shake off a loss like Monday’s when your ace is on the hill the following night. And when your ace is Randy Johnson, there should be even less worries. And when your opponents are the lowly Devil Rays, you can even ditch the handkerchief you use to wipe your brow.

The Yankees seemingly had the same thoughts coming into last night’s game, and it showed. I’m sitting here during the bottom of the fourth, inexplicably still watching this painful, painful game. And Giambi just popped out to the warning track in right. Way to get all of that one, buddy.


That was what I was writing in the early innings of last night’s – is there even a word in the English language that quite captures the essence of last night? If I had begun my writing after the game, it might have looked a little like this:

To: Randy Johnson

Good for one free pass.

Signed
Derek Jeter, Ruben Sierra, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Bernie Williams, Robinson Cano, Mike Stanton, Buddy Groom, Tom Gordon, and to a lesser extent, Tony Womack and Jason Giambi


To attempt in depth commentary on this game would be to be futile; what can be said about a 13-run inning other than “wow, great effin job!” You can talk about proving something to themselves all you want, but I believe it’s not even that complex.

It’s more like this inning was the culmination of early season failures to come back in the late innings. Instead of nabbing two or three runs late in the game over the course of April, May, and most of June, the Yanks just put all that comeback luster from last year and jammed it into what will prove to be the most gratifying half inning of baseball this year. If only we could have done this against Boston.

I’ve been on the record this season saying that I don’t like to get excited about a breakout performance, mainly because the Yanks have had a tendency to go and botch subsequent games. This, however, is a completely different story. A-Rod didn’t pummel the ball over the wall three times back in April when the Yanks were down in the late innings.

The Yanks actually scored 13 in an inning earlier in the season against the D-Rays, but that rally came in the second inning with the score tied at zero. True, the Yanks ended up needing those runs, as my favorite disappearing act Jaret Wright allowed eight of his own in five and a third innings. But that performance obviously isn’t to the same caliber.

If I was sitting with the guys on Baseball Tonight, my “Most Important Thing” from last night would be the way the Yanks never went away. Even as Johnson and Proctor allowed 10 effin runs before three and a half innings were played, the Yanks continued to chip away. One in the second, one in the third, and four in the fifth kept the Yanks within striking distance, whereas without those runs, the eighth inning might not have turned out like it did. So major credit is due to Bernie, Sheff, and Jete, who provided the scores that kept the fire burning in the dugout.

If I have one complaint (other than Randy – he has his one free pass), it’s Tanyon Sturtze. I’ve been raving about this guy all year, and I’m in no way off his bandwagon, but I’m just disappointed that he gave up a run that put the D-Rays up 11-7. The team had worked so hard to get themselves back in the game, and even Stanton and Groom didn’t allow a run. So it’s a major disappointment to me that my boy Tanyon put the team further out of it. Earlier in the season, that may have been the final nail in the coffin for these guys.

Great win for the Yanks. Now go and follow it up with a couple more against this pathetic, pathetic team. There’s just no more excuse for losing to a team that is being managed by a guy so obviously trying to get fired.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Could Be Worse

Despite my words from yesterday about the Yanks needing to steamroll this pathetic D-Rays team if for nothing else but revenge, I’m not too miffed about the game last night. It was an experiment of sorts, and it failed. Worse things have happened. It’s not like Kevin Brown was out there and pulled the same stunt Henn did; I would have been pissed in that case. But when a rookie pitcher – who wasn’t even remotely impressive in his first outing – goes out and walks seven guys on his way to putting the game out of reach, it’s different. You kinda have to say, “okay, we made a mistake, so let’s learn from it and get this kid the help he’s going to need to be effective in the future.”

Then again, I’m not so sure that Sean Henn has a bright future in pinstripes. Yeah, he’s young and he’s a lefty, and he already has that confounded Tommy John surgery out of the way, but the kid has more than a thing or two to learn about control before he’s going to be able to step into the rotation. But the kid is 24 this year, and that makes you wonder if he’ll ever be ready for the Bigs.

So in two brief paragraphs I’ve written off the pitching problem as an aberration that most likely won’t repeat itself this year, as Henn – in all likelihood – won’t be making another appearance. But Brownie is still on the DL, and someone has to step into that fifth spot. Fortunately, just about anyone is going to be more productive in the rotation than Brown, which must have been the logic behind using Henn (that, and to showcase him for trade). Enter Tanyon Sturtze.

Admittedly, I got this idea from Sterling and Waldman on the radio, but it makes all the sense in the world. The Yanks are positively stuck right now with this situation, as they need a fifth starter come Saturday against the Mets. So instead of bringing up another schmuck from AAA, why not just let Tanyon start the game? Sure, you lose him out of the bullpen for a bit. But is there a better option at this point? Maybe bring up Jason Anderson to fill the void in the bullpen.

What about the rest of the season, though? I don’t think the team can count on Brown to stay healthy, and even if he does miraculously finish the season without another stint on the DL, his performance has been lackluster at best. So while the Yanks are supposedly entertaining the idea of speaking to Billy Beane as to the availability of Mark Kotsay, the need for pitching looms its head again.

Old demons seemed to have repossessed the Yanks’ bats last night, as Casey Fossum -- yes, THAT Casey Fossum – held the team to two hits through seven innings. But, before guys start calling in to sports radio saying that the Yanks can’t hit, let’s just point out one fact. Fossum was throwing heat between 92 and 95 mph last night, and mixed that with a low 70s curveball and a changeup. That’s just brutal, having to make a 20 mph adjustment. And as much as the guy sucks in the long run, when you’re on with that kinda stuff, even the best teams aren’t going to hit you.

You think George is making calls as to Fossum’s availability?

But then Lou Piniella made a fatal mistake in the top of the eighth. Apparently – and this is according to the YES broadcast team – Lou told Fossum “good game, hit the showers.” But why in the world would you send the game to a piss poor bullpen when your starter has allowed only two hits all game? Well, either Fossum made a stink about it or Lou came to his senses and sent Casey back for the bottom of the eighth.

My buddy Andy and I were watching the game, and had turned it off multiple times already out of disgust. After that situation, I turned to Andy and said, “I bet this rattles Fossum and we get to him in the bottom of the inning.” And then we turned it off for good.

Apparently Lou was on my wavelength, as he immediately gave the hook to Fossum after giving up a leadoff single to Cano. Not quite a meltdown, but at least one guy in the D-Rays dugout saw something coming. Unfortunately, when your bullpen consists of one man who is fit to work little more than one inning, you’re stuck.

Enter Lance Carter, who did what was human and gave up a hit to Jete. Then comes Womack, who predictably popped out. A single by Sheff brought in Jeter and gave the Yanks a bit of life with A-Rod coming to the plate with two on and one out. Alas, A-Rod further diminished his “close and late” batting average by popping out.

But who better to bail us out than Godzilla? His three run shot surely would have had Andy and I out of our seats had we been tuned in. So now Lou decides it’s time for his closer, and the Yanks catch a break as Jorge draws a walk against Baez. And up comes the hero from last week, that fat piece of crap Giambi, who proved true a comment I had made yesterday:

“For every walkoff homer Giambi hits, he strikes out four or five times in those situations.”

So I guess we have some waiting to do.

Monday, June 20, 2005

It's Not Getting Any Easier...

It figures that just as I pen a (very abbreviated) series on what’s wrong with the Yanks, they go and rattle off six straight with four against the dismal D-Rays in the coming days. But who is to say they’ve solved these problems? From my vantage point, the Yanks are just suffering from another bout with inconsistency.

What does this current winning streak mean if the Yanks go and hit another 3-9 slide? They’d be at the same impasse as last week except this time a) they’d be much further out of contention in the division and b) they wouldn’t have nearly as many games to make it up.

So basically, for the Yanks to be taken seriously this year, the losing streaks need to be out of their system. This isn’t to say that they need to be hitting six in a row and 14 of 16 for the rest of the season, but any more four-plus game losing streaks are going to kill any playoff hopes, as I don’t foresee Boston and Baltimore playing this flat for much longer.

Actually, it’s not like either team is playing very flat right now anyway. While the Yanks have been busy trying to propel themselves back into the race, Baltimore and Boston each went 5-1 last week, meaning that the Yanks have only gained a game on each. Whoopee.

The road to the All-Star game is rocky at best for the Yanks. After the D-Rays this week – whom we should thoroughly rough up for revenge’s sake, the “struggling doesn’t quite define how they’re doing now” Mets are on tap for the weekend. If the Yanks play to the level they have over the past week, there is no reason why the winning streak shouldn’t be extended to 13 games. At this juncture in the season, against such lousy teams, there is no excuse for losing more than one of the next seven.

But then we hit some turbulence during a mini-road trip that takes the team to Camden Yards and Comerica Park. The series next week against the Orioles will be a defining series in the year, since it will not only gauge the progress the team has made since last facing the Orioles (dropping five of six), but it will begin the process of separating the division.

Then to Detroit, where I don’t think we’ll find the same results as last time against the Tigers. Sure, a sweep is a possibility, especially if the Yanks are really rolling at this point. But the team has hit roadblocks against far lesser teams than the Tigers.

The pre-All-Star game schedule wraps up with a home stand, but I don’t think anyone is really looking forward to clashing with the O’s for two and then the Injuns, who have just rattled off nine straight of their own.

I guess my pessimism is apparent throughout this piece, but I don’t think it’s unwarranted. The team has done very little to prove themselves worthy this year, and at times it seems like the negatives are outweighing the positives. Inconsistency has been the plague, and the only cure – stellar pitching – isn’t as potent as it once was.

The optimist’s view of the road ahead is that this is a chance for the Yanks to prove themselves, to show that they’re not just a bunch of playground bullies who knock around the little guys. Then again, analogizing them to bullies may not be the best way to put things, unless the Royals are Booger to the Yanks’ Stan Gable.

In summation, the Yanks had better get these easy wins while they can, because as the season unfolds and we get past the All-Star break, their schedule isn’t getting any easier. Just after the break, they face the Red Sox, the Angels, the Twins, the Angels again, Cleveland, Toronto, the greater of the two Chicago teams, and Texas again before they get a break with the D-Rays, only to head back to Chicago for another bout with the Sox. Do you see any 10-game winning streaks forming in the midst of that schedule? Neither do I.