Thursday, September 29, 2005

Trying Not To Be Cocky

I don’t want to be the pessimistic fan and go talking about what can go wrong at this point. And for the most part, I won’t, since I’ve got a good feeling about the final four games of the season, having a one game advantage and all.

But Mother Nature might have a hand in tonight’s game. Last night, they were talking about constant rain all day in Baltimore, which may preclude the Yanks and Orioles from squaring off. This was an issue last night, but we all know how accurate weathermen are. As of right now, weather.com is saying that the rain will dissipate by four or five, meaning that not only will it not be raining during the game, but the field will have a chance to air out a bit before the first pitch.

Then again, what are the chances of the weathermen being right this time? Frankly, I don’t care how “right” or “wrong” they are (how right can you be when you keep changing your predictions? It’s like a gambler who bet against the Chiefs trying to change his wager after Dante Hall returned the opening kick for a TD). I just care that they get the game in tonight, because a make-up would be detrimental at this point.

Enough of this Negative Nancy crap. We just gained a game on the enemy, and nothing could feel better. Want to revel in it some more? Head to Boston Dirt Dogs, who are always much funnier after a loss. I absolutely love Boston fans when they’re down on themselves. I have to say, though, that if doomsday was actually coming, they’d be the most prepared.

On a quick, informal side note: if any one of you six people who read this here site want to start a project for the ’06 season similar to the Dirt Dogs, I think we could pull off a Yankees version. And it would be superior, too, just like the team.

Despite Boston’s current two-game losing streak, I’m trying not to be the cocky Yankees fan…yet. Sure, cockiness is a trait inherent with rooting for the Bombers, but since the guys wearing the pinstripes are putting aside their egos, I’m trying to lay mine to rest for the time being. Well, except in one instance:

My college buddy Brophy is a monstrous Braves fan. And while he was never geographically attached to them, he (purportedly, since I didn’t know him before college) was a Braves fan in the 80s when they sucked, much like I was a Yankees fan in the 80s when they sucked. So after the Braves clinched their 14th straight division title two nights ago, he went on a huge rant about it, saying that this is a dynasty that couldn’t be matched, even by the Yankees.

‘Scuse me? A dynasty? Sure, I admire everything Bobby Cox and Co. have done in the A-T-L, but in that 14 (well, 13, not counting this year) year span, they have won a whopping total of ONE World Series. Aren’t championships requisite of a dynasty?

Do we call the Philadelphia Eagles a dynasty because they’ve been in the NFC Championship game four years running? No, because they never finished the job. We refer to the Patriots as a dynasty because they won three in four years, and the ‘96-’00 Yankees for the exact same reason. It’s also why the latest Yankees dynasty is considered over – no championships since 2000.

Sure, it’s an undisputedly phenomenal feat the Braves have accomplished. But to call them a dynasty is to taint the word, and I’m sure Peter Goldenbock would agree.

I’d say I digress, but there really isn’t a main point/argument I’m trying to make here. So I guess I’ll stick with the only discernible theme and keep rambling about how good I’m feeling about the Yanks now.

It’s been said before, but last night was the difference between the April/May Yanks and the post-July Yanks. Back in the beginning of the season, there’s no way we win that game. And it all boils down to the pitching staff. In April/May, our starters were in arrears. They weren’t getting the job done, so they either put the team out of the game early or handed it over to the bullpen prematurely. And we all know the story with the bullpen.

And for your daily dose of stats, the Yanks team ERA by month:
April: 4.61 (10th in AL)
May: 4.54 (9th)
June: 4.42 (9th)
July: 5.09 (12th)
August: 3.78 (5th)
September: 4.62 (11th, though if you nix the 17 runs against the O’s, it’s 3.95 and 5th)

Also of note is our OPS against by month. We finished April 13th (second to last, to the D-Rays) in OPS against (.799), followed by 9th in May (.747), another 9th in June (.766), 8th in July (.782), 5th in August (with a much improved .705, thank you very much Small and Chacon), and 3rd in September (.723, once again, tainted by the 17-run Baltimore game).

This seems to be the only trend that comes close to telling the tale of this journey of a season. Not that we really needs stats to explain anything at this point, because WE’RE IN FIRST PLACE, BABY, with four to go!

Let’s make it two tonight with three to go.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Half Full

I checked the score once at work, 5-3, quickly looked away. Waiting, pacing for 9:00 to roll around. I thought about checking again at 10 to nine but decided that the Baseball Gods might not be too happy with that move. So I waited until 9:10 and walked with purpose (i.e. I wasn’t speed walking, but I was moving as fast as humanly possible without looking like I’m hurrying somewhere) and turned my car on, hearing a commercial on 880.

Good, I thought to myself, I’ll catch a score in a second. And then my mind drifted to sugar plumbs and Leiter, thinking that maybe he worked a few scoreless innings and maybe we cut the lead. First thing I heard was Suzyn Waldman announcing the score as 8-7, but Sterling pissed on the fire a bit and said it was the top of the fifth.

Okay, this could be worse. F-Rod pitched a perfect, 10-pitch inning last night, so maybe he could quell the Orioles rebellion for an inning or two. Plus, Proctor (.191 against righties, hence my man-crush on him) can help out, and soon enough we’ll be to Sturtze, Gordon and Rivera.

As the game progressed, the sad fact that I was living in a fantasy world became apparent. I was a dunderhead to think Leiter could hold a lead. I want to cut him a break and mention that in his last two appearances, he’s gotten a 1-2-3 in this first full inning, but I’m too pissed at him at this point.

But no worry, here comes my boy Proctor to slam the door. Except Javy Lopez beat him to the punch. And after he loads the bases, here comes F-Rod, Mr. Ten Pitch. “He’ll get a double play and we’ll be out of this one,” I quipped to Dad. See, fantasy land. I just hadn’t pieced it together yet. It was much clearer to me after the wild pitch and two walks.

It’s just sickening that two key plays were a wild pitch and a passed ball. I didn’t witness Leiter’s impression of Rick Vaughn, but I’m sure it ended up somewhere near Cleveland. Jorge’s passed ball, however, was reminiscent of me in high school. I can remember a time or two when my mind drifted to normal high school thoughts while I was behind the plate (Mary wore a HOT skirt today), and just plain missing a pitch. But I was in high school and wasn’t raking in $11 million this season. My mind was allowed to drift; his is not.

All things considered, Wayne Franklin didn’t do a bad job at all, though we could have done without the bases loaded walk. Best performance by a Yankees reliever tonight, hands down. But that’s like saying the original Scream was the best of that series; decent, not impressive, surrounded by putrid company.

So the glass is half full, so at least Boston and Cleveland didn’t gain any ground. Sure, they missed an opportunity to capitalize, but it could have been worse. In fact, I felt as if a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders when Michael Kay announced that the Blue Jays had finalized their 7-5 win at Fenway. Of course, I was Game Casting it, but it was still in the bottom of the 8th when Kay said the game was over, and the Sons of Sam message board was moving slower than David Ortiz around the bases.

The most emphatic question mark to emerge from last night’s debacle is that of Mike Mussina and his start in the season finale on Sunday. He made us all uneasy by not only getting hammered, but by getting the hook way too early, thus not getting much work in. That was the whole point of bringing him back last Thursday, so he could fit three starts in before the end of the season. But with his abbreviated start last night, he really didn’t get much time to work the rust off.

This leaves a few potential scenarios heading into the weekend that may have Joe even more perplexed than last night, if that’s humanly possible. If the situation works out where the Yanks and Sox are tied going into the series and they split the first two, do you really want Mussina starting the rubber game? Sure, it’s Schilling for Boston, and he showed what his balls are made of last night.

But what are the other options? Jaret Wright? If he’s not pitching scared because of the barrage of flying objects that have struck him, he’ll be pitching crappy, as is his norm.

So in a moment of clairvoyance, I have figured out what the Yanks need to do: win the first two at Boston. That should solve any problems surrounding Sunday and will allow Torre to start Moose without having a barf bucket next to him on the bench.

As always, tonight is a must-win, and I like our odds. Chacon v. Cabrera. In 12.2 innings against the Yanks this season, Cabrerea has allowed 12 hits and walked 8, for a tidy WHIP of 1.67. We didn’t face him during the series last week, but he had questionable starts right before and right after. Though, laying into him shouldn’t be an issue; we laid into the O’s hurlers last night, but we just couldn’t get anything out of our boys.

But this is Chacon, the steal of the season. Sure, he’s had bad outings this year, but I have faith that he’s really found himself and is ready to contribute.

But that’s going to hinge on my exit from fantasyland being permanent.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Game Log

I’m sitting here, bored off my ass, with an ESPN Classic bit on Karl Malone droning in the background. Sure, I could be doing something productive now, but I’m finding it difficult to derail my mind from the track it’s on: the pennant race. Sure, I love thinking about baseball, but this is becoming a nuisance. I can’t even focus on my struggling Madden team or Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis, the book I’m currently reading (which is wonderful thus far).

So I’m sitting here on the Internet, unable to find a decent blog or message board with a discussion thread on the Red Sox game (2-0 Sox in the bottom of the 2nd right now). So what have I reduced myself to? Reading the game on ESPN Game Cast and hitting the reload button 18 times a minutes on Sons Of Sam Horn.

So, in the tradition of Red Sox die hard Bill Simmons, I’m going to keep a running diary of this game. This may set a precedent, since I don’t think anyone has logged a game strictly through a text rendition and a message board.

As I mentioned parenthetically earlier, it’s 2-0 Sox, now in the top of the third.

Top 3
I just found out that Gabe Gross pulled a Matsui in the bottom of the 2nd, having the ball hit his glove as he lost the ball in the sun. Ouch. Thankfully, Damon grounded out and the threat was ended.

And now I’m confused. There are two red dots next to “outs,” but the play box lists the only plays as, “G Gross fouled out to catcher,” and “F Catalanotto walked.” Furthering my confusion, Alex Rios just grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning. Checking the play by play…but it says the same thing. The lesson here: pony up the $10 to get the Down the Stretch MLB package. Seriously, I’m going to squander those ten bucks on booze or something this weekend, so why not throw it down to watch the Sox-Jays series?

I guess the fact that I work until nine tonight through Thursday is the main deterrent.

Bottom 3
I’ve ascertained that a bunch of the guys on Sons of Sam Horn (SOSH) are Game Casting the game at work as well, yet haven’t been asking the tough questions, like “why the hell were there only two outs last inning?!?” I guess that since they’re Red Sox fans, they don’t care much about the Blue Jays only being allowed two outs. Is this going to go on for the rest of the game?

Holy #$%&!, the mighty Ortiz struck out, which is immediately followed by a Manny drilling. Good strategy, I say. Two outs, no one one, and Trot poses much less of a threat. And as I type that, I see the text, “T Nixon popped out to shortstop” appear on the screen, and I am happy.

Top 4
According to Bosoxx05, it was a curveball that hit Manny, so it was more of a lucky break than strategy. Actually, now that I really sit down and ponder it, we don’t need the Jays pitchers drilling Red Sox and getting them fired up. It’s actually the last thing we need.

Quick moving game, I have to say, as Wakefield is mowing down Blue Jay after Blue Jay. I thought these guys were to the Sox what the D-Rays were to the Yanks. So much for that.

And Hinske pops out to second, leaving Wakefield with a five-pitch inning and a no-hitter through four. There, maybe that will jinx it.

Bottom 4
Thankfully, David Bush has settled into a groove, not giving up a hit since the Gross blunder. During Olerud’s at bat (at eight pitches right now), I checked the play-by-play to try and solve the top of the third question, but it still has the same three plays listed (effing Olerud just walked). Deciding to cease being a dunderhead, I just checked the lineup and realized that there is nothing is listed for the catcher, Guillermo Quiroz. So he got out, but I’ll never find out how. How un-disappointing.

Mirabelli just struck out for the second time in two at bats, reaffirming the fact that I like him behind the plate more than Varitek.

They’re having a discussion now about the Pro (Mueller) and the Gold Glove. Too bad there’s a guy named A-Rod that plays the same position. Oh yeah, Cora grounds out to end the inning after I read the following post:
Cora to rip the ball down the RF line on a low, inside cut fb.
Yes, and upon first glancing at it, I thought it had actually happened. But now I realize it was just some dumbass Red Sox fan making a dumbass prediction.

Top 5
Boy, do those Sox fans love predictions:
Timmeh holds em here and Sox score 3 in the bottom of the 5th.

My eyes lit up (and I hit reload 100 times on the message board) when I saw that scrub Frank Menechino single, and that a Manny error allowed him to advance to second. And you’re welcome, for jinxing the no-no.

And now Menechino is standing on third with one out. Jays gotta bring him in and cut this lead. And Gabe Gross is up, needing to pull a Cano and make up for a previous blunder. PASSED BALL! 2-1, Sox. And now it’s evident that Gross needs to plant one in the seats. But he flies out, proving that he’s near worthless. And with a guy hitting .120 up now, it looks like Bush is going to have to work some magic to keep the Jays in the game.

But I stand corrected, as Quiroz singled. Seriously, gotta keep this inning going. I know, I know, that was a Captain Obvious statement, but it’s more than true. And there goes Catalanotto, screwing up again.

Bottom 5
Taking a break now to post this and get some grub. If ANYONE is reading this, please take five seconds and comment on this post, as I’m curious to see how it will go over. A simple “yes” or “no” will suffice.

Bigger Than A Half Game (Or: #@%&! You, Embree)

That’s the only way to describe the Baltimore Orioles last night. Rumor has it that they’ve been down on themselves for quite some time now, and as the Sterling/Walden tandem reported yesterday, they’re “counting the hours” until the end of the season.

Imagine that team cooped up for an hour and a half. A fight would break out, except everyone is too apathetic to pick one. The only thing this team looks to accomplish by the end of the year is insuring the departure of interim manager Sam Perlozzo. Not that this is his totally his fault, but his inability to hold this team together speaks to his ability to manage egos.

Sure, there were a duo of hustling, even spectacular defensive plays by David Newhan and Eric Byrnes, but those are two guys with plenty to prove. Newhan is a career backup sitting on a .201 average, and Byrnes is hitting in the interstate since leaving Oakland in mid-July.

But the story isn’t about the Orioles, it’s about the Yankees and their flat out sprint for the AL East Title, in which they got the first step out of the box. Sure, Boston didn’t lose, but now they’re playing two tomorrow. Then again, that doesn’t have the normal effect of dinging up the rotation, since Ole Rubber Arm can go on three days rest Saturday, juggling him with previously scheduled starter Mr. Big Mouth. But if there’s a strike in Boston’s column, it’s that they’ll wake up tomorrow ½ game behind the Yanks.

(Just as an aside, I’m actually typing this as I’m watching the waning minutes of the game. And yes, I’m about to bitch about Alan Embree, who can’t even manage a scoreless inning against an Orioles team that surely want to go home and squirt out some knuckle children at this point. Yeah, normally they’d go out for an 8-ball and some hookers, but tonight’s loss was much too depressing for even that.)

I was actually a bit nervous with the whole rain delay thing, since the notoriously fra-gee-lay Randy Johnson was the scheduled starter. I was on edge, expecting a barrage of doubles followed by a post-game interview riddles with excuses about the weather and not being able to keep warm. But Randall surprised me with his tenacity, plowing through the pathetic O’s for six innings before being yanked for a breather before his finale on Saturday.

Hopefully the O’s keep up this sloppy play for the next three days (and there’s no indication that they’ll pick it up) and we can continue to run up the score and keep Mo and Gordon in their seats. Nothing could be more beneficial than Mo and Flash going one inning each before Boston. Wishful thinking, yes, but it isn’t completely unfeasible.

Actually, I take that back. Nothing could be more beneficial than Toronto managing a split with Boston this week. Going into Boston up two would be monumental, though this also falls under the category of wishful thinking.

Realistically, we have to figure on being deadlocked heading into the weekend, winner of two takes all. It’s like a prelim round to the ALDS. A three game series, with the winner advancing to the ALDS for a five game series.

And, as I feared, I’ve run out of material following a blowout. Eh, it happens. So for the rest of this space, I’m going to turn the story over to The Boston Dirt Dogs for a very interesting piece on Schilling:

"When he comes into the game, people cheer him like he's the Pope? You think they'd let Pedro get away with this? Why does he get a free pass?"
- Anonymous Red Sox player on Curt Schilling

The guy over there overwhelmingly believe it is Keith Foulke, and why not? He holds the smoking gun. He’s being scrutinized for a poor season following his World Series heroics while Schilling is still Mr. Popular despite a similarly disappointing season. Foulke wants out of Boston after this season, so why not make a gripe like that to the press?

But how great would it be if Manny was the one who made that statement? Manny has always been – I don’t want to say ‘loose cannon’ since that’s too common a description of him, but it’s dead on, so I’m going to bite the bullet and use it. He expressed desire to leave town before the trading deadline, and what better way to force Boston’s hand than criticizing Schilling during a pennant race? Plus, the quote refers to Pedro, one of Manny’s buddies. There always a possibility of seeing them both in orange and blue next year.

I somehow doubt this will really shake up the Red Sox clubhouse. From reading the article in the Herald (linked to on Dirt Dogs), it seems the comments were made a week ago, and the newsworthy portion of the article is Schilling’s reaction. They’ve been down this road before; they know how to act like men. But, like all my fellow Yankees fans, I’ll be intently watching for them to break down this week.

And I’m nearly considering buying the MLB.TV Down the Stretch package for $10 just to watch the day game today.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Walking Away?

There are more important issues to discuss at this juncture of the season, but after watching the tribute to Bernie during Sunday’s bout, I think something needs to be said.

What does Bernie have to gain by leaving the Yankees? In what way would a change of scenery be beneficial to the aging star? There are a few reasons that guys bolt from their team when their contract is up, but realistically, none of them play to Bernie’s advantage. Let’s break this down, shall we?

Free Agent Departure Reason #1: Dolla Dolla Bills, Y’All
And Bernie has made plenty of them over the years, having signed that $89.5 million deal following the ’98 season. Now I’m no agent, so I’m just reporting hearsay on this issue, but I believe Bernie also received compensation for the Yanks not picking up the eighth year on his deal, to the tune of six large. So that’s roughly $95 mil he’s pocketed, just off this contract. He still had those years from ’91 through ’98, and while he wasn’t raking in $12 mil a season, $3 mil (his 1996 salary) is far from chump change.

Once again, I can’t back this with hard evidence, but Bern doesn’t seem like the kind of athlete that squanders his fortune. My only iota of knowledge of this is Bernie’s lack of non-baseball headlines during his tenure in New York. I can’t say for sure that Bernie still has a ton of money socked away; for all I know, he could be laying down Benjamins nightly for cocaine, booze and hookers. But from all the tidbits I’ve read, and not read, regarding him over the last 14 years, he seems like a sensible guy.

So it’s not like Jerry Rice, who reportedly blew through his NFL paychecks and needed another payday. And even if he could use a fiscal boost, what team would pay more for a 36-year-old center fielder than the Yankees? Let’s assume George is willing to part with between two and three mil for Bernie next year. What other team needs a center fielder so desperately that they’d be willing to toss significant dough at a 36-year-old? Especially a 36-year-old who has been scrutinized throughout the season for the way his body has been breaking down.

Free Agent Departure Reason #2: PT
Because no one, especially a former batting champ and four time World Series winner, wants to rot away on the bench. Not when they can be starting in another city. It’s been said that if Bernie does return to the Yanks next year, he would be playing a greatly diminished role. So if he was to get an offer elsewhere as a starter, it would make sense for him to pounce on the opportunity.

The problem with that, however, is similar to the financial conundrum. Is there a team out there desperate enough for an outfielder to pay Bernie? It would have to be a contender, since a team like Kansas City is infinitely better off with a young guy out there.

When you factor in his stats from the last three seasons, it makes even less sense for a team to pick up Bernie as a starter.
2005: .252/.325/.373
2004: .262/.360/.435
2003: .263/.367/.411

Additionally, Bernie’s Value Over Replacement Player this season is 10.0. Now, I realize many readers may not understand this statistic, as it is relatively new and still not frequently used. But to put this number into perspective, he ranks 13th in the American League and 15 guys in the NL have a better number. This does not bode well for Bernie.

Free Agent Departure Reason #3: Ill Will
Like T.O. last year, sometimes there’s just not enough money in the world that would make a player happy in a certain city. Maybe it’s the organization, maybe it’s the city, but either way, ill will is becoming a more common reason for guys bolting.

Now, I’m not 100 percent certain as to what Bernie’s stance towards the Yanks is. But I’m just figuring, based on the four world championships and the $100 mil they’ve handed him in paycheck form, he’s not exactly down on them. Sure, Steinbrenner is a pain in the ass, but those dollars double as a healing ointment, or so I’m told.

As for the city, well, what Bernie feels towards New York should be the antithesis of ill will. This is a city that embraced him when he subbed for Roberto Kelly – then one of our biggest names – when he was injured back in ’91. We loved the way he kept a low profile and just played the game, scorching homers and line drives on his way to becoming an elite center fielder.

Hell, we even overlooked the soap opera in the late autumn of ’98, when he nearly signed with the enemy. We forgave his spiel about it being time to move on, that he’s had great years in New York, but it’s not the place for him any more. He was welcomed back with open arms when George opened his man purse and anted up the requisite coin to hang on to him.

So why would Bernie, in the twilight of his career, don a new uniform when there’s only one he has worn to this point? Why leave a city that loves him unconditionally? Why walk away from George’s money?