Thursday, October 13, 2005

100th Entry -- Some Potpourri

Since this is going to be a potpourri column, I think it appropriate to begin with current events. And considering I’m doing this at noon on Thursday, and it won’t reach a single eye other than my own until 1 or 1:30, I won’t bother giving the details.

Nor am I really going to comment on what transpired last night in Chicago. All I will say is that it was definitely a toss-up, and the ump can’t go around deceiving players like that. End of opinion. However, there is a major, major downside that goes along with all of this that transcends what happens on the field.

Doug Eddings has successfully given Joe Buck and Tim McCarver a topic to chew up, spit out, and grind into the dirt for the next three weeks if the White Sox advance. Can you imagine this series going to seven games? Game Seven would be unwatchable, unless you hit the Mute or SAP button on your TV. These guys are going to harp on this subject until the White Sox are eliminated or win the World Series.

A controversial call like this is never good for publicity, and with the way broadcast journalism has moved over the past few years, it gets even worse. I can’t even begin to fathom how many times either of the two dunderheads in the FOX booth will bring up this fact. To venture a guess, I would say during each of Pierzynski’s at bats, and whenever there is a dropped third strike.

And by the World Series, should Chicago advance, McCarver will have such a jaded memory of the incident that he’ll start calling A.J. Pierzynski “B.J. Ryan,” and the umpire “Paul Edinger.”

I was hoping to comment on Game One of the NLCS, but there’s really not much to say. Pettitte just wasn’t at the top of his game, and the Cardinals played like a 100-win team and took advantage. There are worse things than losing Game One on the road, especially when you still have Clemens and Oswalt in your rotation. Tonight, however, is going to be a crucial game for the ‘Stros.

Losing tonight means sweeping three games at home, Three, Four and Five. The Astros have the ability to pull that off, but no one wants to paint themselves into a corner so quickly. Thankfully, they have Roy Oswalt on the mound to stop the bleeding. Unfortunately, Mark Mulder holds the ball on the other end.

I’m not going to offer up a prediction, because I think that becomes silly at this time of year. The atmosphere around these series is volatile at best, and what should happen rarely does happen. And no one can preach to that like Yankees fans over the last five years.

What I do know is that even if the Astros drop tonight’s game, I’m still not going to call them cooked. They’ve rebounded from worse (see: 15-30), and they have the horses to carry the load. Is it clear who I’m pulling for in this series?

I’m trying to hold myself back right now from filibustering about the DH rule, which always comes to mind at this time of year. Must…restrain…self. Argument…done…to death. Okay, I’ll compromise and allow myself one quick blurb on it.

Managing an American League game is like managing two games simultaneously, the hitting/fielding game and the pitching game. A change can be made in one with little or no consequence on the other. In the National League, however, the two games are intertwined, and the decisions made affect both parts of the game. These two styles have their ups and downs, and there are detractors on each side. I’m just pointing out the difference here, not opining either. Must…restrain…

For adequate restraint, I’ll simply move back to the Yanks, where there are 8 billion things to talk about at this time of year. Everyone’s getting antsy, including me, to find out exactly what’s going on with next year. The managerial and general managerial positions are the first on the list that have Yankees fans wracking their brains, followed closely by center fielder, bullpen help, and a catcher.

Once again I’m still waiting for the season to be officially over before I launch into my Yankees diagnosis for ’06. There are so many angles to consider that if I put one up today, it wouldn’t nearly be adequate. So many factors to consider, so many opinions to read so that a more full picture of the situation can be painted.

You know what’s funny about all of this? I rely more on message boards like Behind the Bombers for reasonable opinions on the state of the Yankees than sources like the New York Post or the Newark Star Ledger. Hell, even the paper I read religiously for sports, the New York Daily News has me frustrated at their lack of insight and foresight in this matter.

As the managerial/coaching questions are answered and positions are filled, the personnel decisions can be more clearly analyzed. I’m as impatient as anyone when it comes to this stuff, but without patience, we’re all just talking out of our asses.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

After the Hangover

Okay, now I’ve had time to recover. Yesterday’s words were penned immediately following the game, and they ran thick with emotion. Everyone was a little emotional following the game, and especially during this morning’s hangover (not the alcohol-induced type, but the devastating loss type). This kind of banter has become common over the last five years: the “this is what we need to do for next season” post-mortem.

Sure, I’ve done my homework and I know who will be on the market this winter, both via trade and free agency. And after assessing the needs of the Yankees and of the other 29 teams, I have come up with an idear or two about what the Yankees could do to improve this off-season. But I’ll hold those thoughts back for now, since 1) it’s a bit too soon to be speaking of these things and B) news about these players materializes daily, and thus my opinions will fluctuate.

While it won’t be something I can write about daily, I think this off-season will provide an adequately entertaining story. I will, however, share one quick tidbit from my notes for the off-season: Juan Pierre will not be included, and I will call for the head of the GM that pursues him.

(Seriously, folks, the guy hit .276 this year with a .328 OBP, and he’s being touted as a great leadoff hitter? Sure, he’s got some speed. But speed doesn’t mean a thing if you’re not on base to utilize it. And speed is about all he has in the outfield as well, compensating for the late jumps he gets when the ball comes off the bat.)

So what to write about today? I’m not a close, personal friend of any of the players, so I can’t speak for their moods on the day following the ALDS. I don’t work in the front office, so I can’t tell you how Steinbrenner is actually reacting to an early exit for the fifth straight year. And really, I have no real affiliation with the Yankees, so I’ve got nothing “meaty” to talk about.

But I do have my obsessive, lunatic fandom. And maybe I didn’t suit up for 162 games over six months, but I sat on the edge of my chair for the bulk of those games, my mood dictated by how the team was doing. And it got so bad in May that I couldn’t even fully enjoy graduating college, because the Yanks were playing sub-.500 baseball.

Even though bad Yankee baseball puts me down in the dumps, it’s better than having no Yankee baseball at all. Now I have to endure four teams that I don’t particularly care for battling for the prize. Put on a spot, I’d like to see the ‘Stros win another one for Pettitte. They also have two players I truly admire in Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. Add to that two young pitching studs, Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge, and even having Fat Roger on their team isn’t enough to make me root against them.

Put on the same spot, there’s no team I’m cursing harder than those blasted Angels of Anaheim. And the fact that they just squeaked out Game One of the ALCS against the ChiSox just makes me want to wretch. Please, the world does not need to see the Rally Monkey again. Ever, for that matter.

So tomorrow is another Yankee-less day. Hey, this has happened over the course of the past six months…it’s called the All-Star break. So what happens after my body wakes up to a fourth day of Yankee-less baseball? Will I go into sudden withdrawal, a la Reefer Madness?

Sure, I’ll have the LCS and the World Series to go, and I’m never one to turn down some good baseball. And shortly after the Series is over, the NBA will resume, giving me my nightly sports fix. Lucky, lucky, college basketball will be right on the NBA’s heels, and we’re back to a sport I can watch nightly and be passionate about.

(This isn’t to knock the NBA. I love watching the NBA, but I’ll watch a college game over it any day of the week. This stance isn’t unique; most sports fans I know take college over the NBA. Maybe it’s because they have more at stake, and don’t have $50 million egos to flaunt. Maybe it’s because I love team sports, and the NBA turns into five individuals too easily. Or maybe it’s because I’m not that far removed from college.)

And there will always be the NFL on Sundays, a day where I can kick back, hang with my buddies, drink beer and play Madden all day. There will never be a replacement for football, but I can’t enjoy it on the same level as baseball and basketball. It’s not a nightly event. Sure, storylines run deep, and at sites like Pro Football Talk, you can keep up with the soap opera of the off-field shenanigans.

None of them, however, will ever take the place of Yankees baseball. I’ll never be in a bad mood following a Rutgers basketball loss (though, I have to say I was pretty sullen after losing to Syracuse last year after being up by 21 at the half and having Shields’s – or was it Douby? – three pointer rim out at the buzzer), and the Jets have me so accustomed to football mediocrity that I can’t discern a win from a loss come Monday morning.

So as my body grows used to six months without any meaningful Yankees games, my mind will stay with the game. I’ll continue to write about the Yankees here, though I’m sure that my subject matter will expand to include basketball and some more football.

Tomorrow I’ll throw some NL banter your way, which will inevitably involve slipping into a diatribe on the DH rule. Friday we’ll chat some football, and then I guess I’ll wing it from there.

The 2006 Yankees…Champions in the Making.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Eulogy

It’s over. Not another inning of Yankee baseball until 2006. Same fate as the Red Sox, just three days later. I could write forever about Game Five, but the cynicism might tear through the page and strangle some innocent reader. For the masochists among you, I’ll post those thoughts at the end, below the purpose for today, the eulogy for 2005.

It was a nerve-wracking season, to say the least. From the sub par play of April and May, to the flat-lining in June, to the resurgent July, and all the way through the do-or-die September. This season was more than just six months of baseball; it was a story to remember for the ages. Though it won’t, because of the abrupt end in the ALDS.

Who could forget opening the season against the Red Sox, and taking two of three, despite the subplot of Rivera blowing two saves? An early low in the season, 11-19, immediately followed by a 10-game winning streak, asterisked with Tino’s eight ding-dongs over that stretch.

And then a new low, 30-32, after a game against the Cardinals that should have been won – also, the decline of Sturtze begins. Into the All-Star break we went, winners of seven of eight, and the only thing I see is the ESPN ticker claiming that Chien-Ming Wang is possibly out for the season with a rotator cuff injury.

Wang gone? Well, Pavano wasn’t ready to go yet, and Wright had been out since April. Henn had been rocked against the lowly D-Rays (who we would learn weren’t so lowly after all), and Darrell May, the quickie from San Diego in exchange for Paul Quantrill, had surrendered that lone loss over the last eight games. And through all this, we needed not one but two starters for the upcoming series against the Red Sox.

The fist solution obvious: the other end of the Quantrill deal, Tim Redding, a guy who had a dream to pitch for the Yankees. The other we would eventually learn, was Al Leiter, recently released from the Marlins because of his 3-7 record and 6.64 ERA. But hell, we needed a pitcher, and he was by far the best option.

So after witnessing the 17-1 drubbing the Sox put on Redding, they got an adequate performance by the Big Unit, and a stellar job from Leiter to take three of four from Boston, and making this a season again. And even though they had a mediocre finish to July (7-6 after Boston), and lost the first two in August, the secret weapons had yet to be revealed.

If these two men were called secret weapons before the turn of September 1st, the baseball world would have been imitating a Dane Cook crowd. To imitate Bill Simmons: there’s comedy, there’s high comedy, and there’s the thought that your season can be salvaged by Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon.

But it was. Not that a few comeback wins by Jaret Wright didn’t help. Or Randy Johnson being Randy Johnson just for a few weeks, shutting down the Red Sox twice in September in crucial spots. How about the whole team coming together to go 14-3 entering the last series of the year against those damn Red Sox?

I don’t think those seventeen games can be put into proper words. At least not without a novel deal. To be short, it was a team of individuals who put their egos aside for the sake of winning. And for the last part of the month of September, it worked.

But October would not be friendly to the Yankees Faithful. It would tear out our innards, and cut the aorta before the ALCS could happen. It wasn’t supposed to end like this, not with the way they played down the home stretch.

Then again, it wasn’t supposed to even get to this, judging by the team’s dismal start. So many people counted them out so early. Dan Graziano of the Newark Star Ledger wrote their eulogy in June. I believe the words he used were, “The Yankees are no good.” Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe announced his position in July, declaring that the Red Sox were going to run away with this one, and making some reference to Secretariat.

The 2005 Yankees overcame disappointing performances from big names, enough egos to fill a 4 train, and injuries that had you wondering if there was really some existential force working against them. And all they have to show for it is the hope that next season, with a few intelligent off-season moves, maybe things will work out better. Maybe they can learn something from this season and carry it over, only with more apt personnel.

It really pains me to say “next season” at this point.


---

And now to more cynical matters. Game Five may have been the most frustrating game I’ve ever witnessed. At the very least, it rivals Games Four and Five of last year’s ALCS and the entire ’01 World Series. There’s a reason for that.

The Yanks looked so good so early. Ervin Santana looked vulnerable, and the carnivorous Yankees dug their teeth in deep, Sure, the inning was marred by Cano’s caught stealing and A-Rod’s big K to end the threat, but we had gotten to the young pup, and there was no relenting.

Except they relented. After a homer to Garrett Anderson (solo job – it’s only one run – worse things can happen), Moose was Moose, putting a few guys on before putting away the inning. But then disaster struck when Crosby and Sheffield couldn’t decide who would catch Adam Kennedy’s deep fly. Three – two, and I felt like we were toast. I didn’t think we were toast, per se, and certainly didn’t let that feeling on. But another two runs as the result of the umpteenth blunder of the postseason was not a good omen in my book.

But it was only 3-2, and with plenty of time to go. Then Mussina comes out for the third, looking like he’s got a hot date after the game and has to make good time. Cabrera, Guerrero, Anderson and Molina all worked well with what Mussina gave them, which was very hittable pitches. Funny how guys tend to capitalize when you throw them stuff they can handle.

Thankfully, Randy and Flash shut the door the rest of the way. I would be more thankful for this if anyone stepped up and actually put us a position to win with the bats. And my apologies to Jeter, who did all he could do as the game wound down: homered to lead off the seventh, singled to lead off the ninth.

This is where I get to my gripes, but I think they’re all shared between the Yankees Masses. A-Rod is now May-Rod, as he just can’t get the job done in the postseason. Two years now, and still nothing. Maybe he should be scheduling extra sessions with his therapist in the offseason so he can figure out how to not choke in the clutch.

And how about Matsui, who entered the series as the guy most Yankees fans would want up in a big spot. He effectively left the series as the guy most Yankees fans would want up should we need a dinky pop out. All I have to say about Matsui is that he actually made his re-signing half an issue.

An A for effort, but B for performance to Sheffield, Giambi, and Cano. Bubba would get near a B if he had enough appearances to qualify for a grade. Have to hand Posada a C+, which would have been lower had he not drawn more than his share of walks. Bernie with a C-, followed by A-Rod and Matsui with big fat Fs.

The pitching is pretty self-explanatory for the series. Moose gets a C- because he sucked that much last night. Randy gets a B for his rebound last night. Leiter gets a B-, which could have been much better had it not been for Game Three. Chacon with an A, Wang with a B.

That’s how you know it’s the end of the season, when you’re giving out grades to your favorite players.

But it’s not the end of the column until I bitch about the umps. Seriously, could Joe West be more anti-Yankees? The Cano neighborhood call in Game Three. The Figgins pick-off in Game Four. The vastly narrower strike zone in Game Five, not to mention the completely outrageous out of the baseline call on the Cano strikeout.

Eff you, Joe West. Eff you because you have the second greatest job in the world, and you can’t even perform it well.

There. I said my piece. Onto dreams of ::sob:: next season.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Take Two

I am beside myself right now. I literally cannot believe that the Yankees pulled that one out. On a night when the Angles pitching seemed unhittable. On a night when the Angles struck first, and it seemed like a keeper. On a night, once again, when the top of the order wasn’t taking care of business.

Two hits. Two hits is all the production that came from the top six. But hell, the whole lineup – 11 guys strolled to the plate in all – managed just four. But they mattered. Well, except Jorge’s, but I’m not here to split hairs.

Part of my disbelief is due to the sixth and seventh innings, in which the Yanks left the bases loaded and runners on second and third, respectively. After the sixth I was thinking, “Oh no, here we go. Didn’t capitalize, and it’s going to bite us in the ass.” After the seventh, I was mumbling expletives under my breath.

Apparently, two important facts slipped my mind. 1) This isn’t April, despite the way this team sometimes plays. 2) Dude, it’s Mariano. And don’t give me any lip about his history with the Angles like the FOX commentators. They see numbers on a piece of paper and yelp them out as if they’ve discovered the secret to cold fusion. Intelligent fans of the team, however, can see those numbers and put them in a thousand different contexts.

We all know Mo in tight spots. We all know he was well rested and up to the task, shaky history with the Angels or not. Oh, and don’t remember his history with two-inning saves, which the commentators wouldn’t let us forget. Yes, Games Four and Five were mentioned quite often. And 2001’s Game Seven. But hey, he’s still the greatest closer in the history of the game, and I’d rather have him tossing than Tom Gordon and his 7.79 career postseason ERA.

Last night, we may have witnessed Mo at his very best. Six up, six down, and it’s not like he really sweated through these guys. Sure, there were a few full counts mixed in there, but Jorge and Mo know what they’re doing.

And how sweet was it to get Vlad for the last out of the game? I guess the only one more appropriate for the scenario is Bengie Molina, who absolutely owns us. Even last night, even as the team knew his weakness, he was still able to slap a single to center. Hopefully Moose has done a bit of studying a la his days at Stanford and knows to pitch Molina low and away, with that tender elbow and all (Molina’s, not Mussina’s).

I’m actually not fretting too much about tonight. Okay, so there’s a pile of chewed off fingernails next to me, and I counted six gray hairs when I woke up this morning. And I have a record for pressing the “backspace” button, because my hands are so jittery that I can’t type a string of correctly spelled words. But other than that, it’s really not that bad.

I’m thinking coherently, though, which is a step up from last night. I really wish I had a tape recorder for my brain last night during the game, so I could go back and reflect on the ri-goddamn-diculous thoughts racing through it. So why this sense of ease tonight compared to last night, when the stakes were the same?

It isn’t the starting pitching, because I have just as much faith in Chacon as I do Moose. But on the Angels’ side, I actually fear Lackey more than I fear Colon. Lackey is an enigma, a guy who thrives off the big situations. He came back last night with three days of rest, tossing like he hadn’t missed a beat. If I was managing Game Seven of the World Series and had a choice of any starter in the majors to go for me, Lackey certainly would be in my top seven. It took every ounce of power from the Yankees juggernaut to finally get to him.

But Colon, we can get to him. At least we know A-Rod can, and he had better. Sure, he’s drawn his share of walks and has scored a few crucial runs, but two hits all series just isn’t going to cut it. I’m not counting him out yet, not until he steps into the box against Colon.

So one team flies to Chicago tonight to play zombie-ball with the White Sox tomorrow in the ALCS. The other says their good-byes and heads into the ‘05-’06 offseason, during an era in baseball when your team stands a fair chance of being dismantled after each season.

Let’s just hope the Angles don’t board a flight tonight.