Tagged: Alex Rodriguez

Catching Up with Eli Manning

Look out, baseball world. The Yankees have caught fire.

A power surge in the eighth inning of last night’s game led to a 6-4 win for the Yanks over the Atlanta Braves, the fifth consecutive win for the boys from the Bronx. The Yankees have now won 15 of their last 19 games and are in sole possession of first place in the American League East – a game ahead of both the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.

Alex Rodriguez did his best Superman impression, saving the day for his team. The Bombers trailed 4-0 in the eighth, and with the bases chucked, Rodriguez delivered. He launched a game-tying grand slam, a screaming line drive off reliever Jonny Venters that took practically no time to leave the yard.

It marked A-Rod’s 10th homer of the season and his 23rd career trip to granny’s house, tying him with another Yankee, Lou Gehrig, on baseball’s all-time grand slams list.

One more homer with the bases loaded, and Rodriguez is the all-time leader.

Nick Swisher then finished the job with a two-run homer later in the frame, his ninth of the year, to put the Braves away for good.

While the Swisher and A-Rod came through in the clutch last night, this week I had the opportunity to meet and interview (along with a number of other reporters) another New York sports hero who always comes up big when it matters: two-time Super Bowl Champion and MVP Eli Manning.

For the sixth straight year Manning hosted the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Golf Classic in Mount Kisco, N.Y.  The Giants’ quarterback was asked by Pat Browne, a blind golf champion and friend of the Manning family from New Orleans, to attend the event six years ago. He happily accepted and each year since, he’s come back.

When I got the call from my editor to cover Manning’s appearance at the golf outing on Monday, I was absolutely ecstatic. Obviously I followed the Giants during the regular season this past year, and certainly enjoyed their Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots on Feb. 5.

I arrived to the Mount Kisco Country Club where the tournament was held and there were a lot of other media outlets present – both local and national. The Journal News, Patch, News 12, the New York Daily News, and even ESPN were all on hand.

Manning arrived and met with the press in what’s called a “media scrum,” or an informal press conference in which journalists/reporters gather around an interview subject and ask questions. On the High School sports scene, media scrums aren’t very common, so it felt extremely good to be a part of one among a group of fellow press members.

That’s me…well, the back of my head, on the right, next to the cameraman.

One reporter asked him about the recent arrest of teammate David Diehl, who was charged with a DWI earlier this week. Not knowing a lot about the situation, Manning had no comment.

After he fielded some questions, the reigning Super Bowl MVP then stood on the practice green for a demonstration. He sank a putt blindfolded, getting the feel for what blind golfers like Browne experience when they are putting.

He felt attempting to golf without sight was more difficult than throwing a game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of a football game.

“I don’t think I could play football blindfolded,” Manning said of the demo. “It’s a totally different game and I had no idea how long I was going to hit that putt.”

I then got a chance to ask him how excited he was, being that not only was he at a good event for charity, but after the golf classic he was heading to mini-camp with the Giants.

“It’s always been the day before mini-camp starts, so it’s an exciting week,” Manning answered me.

“The tournament is fun and it seems that it’s just grown and grown each year, and Guiding Eyes has grown – it’s moved on to helping kids with autism, so I’m just happy that it affects so many different people and helps peoples’ lives.”

Since no one had mentioned anything about it up until the end, I just had to go there…

“I heard Denver got a new quarterback during the off-season, and I heard he’s pretty good. If the Giants happen to play the Broncos in the future, what are you going to be thinking about?” I asked.

Manning kind of shot me that all-too-familiar “awww shucks” expression; he darted his eyes and smirked, right after I mentioned the Broncos.

“I’ll be thinking, how are we going to get some points on the board against that guy?”

Manning, myself, and the scrum of reporters let out a good-spirited laugh.

Overall, it was a great experience; one I hope to experience again with other big-ticket athletes. Manning was a great interview subject and it was a little bit of a challenge for me to keep my cool; maintain my excitement level (even as a reporter) being such a huge fan of his and the Giants.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what I am: a fan.

Base-Running Diary

Good evening fellow Yankee Yappers…

Instead of simply Tweeting the game tonight, I figured I would try something different. I’ll post what’s happening here on the blog as it is happening, giving everyone the fun experience of following me on Twitter, or just watching a game with me; complete with coverage and wise remarks, inside jokes, and obscure references.

Basically, it’s what we journalists call a running diary. Or in keeping with the baseball theme, maybe more appropriately, a “base-running diary.”

I’ll need feedback after this one: if you, the readers, like this concept, please let me know. If it receives a “vote of no confidence,” so-to-speak, it’ll only be a one-time deal.

Without any further ado, here’s my insight from tonight’s game, as the action unfolded…

  • Alright, 21 minute rain delay is over. Hopefully the leprechaun got the gold at the end of that rainbow. Many thanks to Roy G. Biv. Now let’s play some baseball! (7:32 p.m.)
  • CC makes quick work of Elliot Johnson, Ben Zobrist, and Desmond Jennings. Three up, three down. (7:40 p.m.)
  • Ugh. Jose Lobaton with a bloop RBI single to RF after B.J. Upton’s double to deep left-center. 1-0 Rays. I swear, I thought Michael Kay said “Toblerone” when he first said Lobaton’s last name. (7:55 p.m.)
  • Whack-a-doodle play right there. Wild pitch, Nick Swisher goes to third from second, Andruw Jones tries to advance from first to second, but stays put – while the Rays throw the ball past first base. Nuts. (8:07 p.m.)
  • Jayson Nix K’s for one out, Chris Stewart with an excuse me check swing; he’s out at first, Swisher scores. We got ourselves a 1-1 game. (8:10 p.m.)
  • Virgil…errrm…David Price whiffs Curtis Granderson to end the second. Knotted up at one. (8:17 p.m.)
  • Error on A-Rod, Johnson reaches first. Who does he think he is? The entire Rays team? I believe Tampa Bay is one of the league leaders in unearned runs… (8:21 p.m.)
  • Speaking of unearned runs, there’s one for the Yankees. RBI single for Ben Zobrist, Johnson scores, 2-1 Rays. (8:22 p.m.)
  • Right away, another hit. Jennings with a double, Rays are set up, second and third with one out. Buckle down, ace. (8:24 p.m.)
  • Sac fly for Upton, Rays go up 3-1. (8:26 p.m.)
  • Virgil gets the Yanks 1-2-3 in the third. (8:37 p.m.)
  • I should clarify that David Price eerily resembles Virgil, “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s bodyguard from the old WWF days. (8:38 p.m.)

 

  • Drew Sutton with a two-run double off the LF wall. 5-1 Rays. Not looking like a sweep. (8:47 p.m.)
  • Bases chucked in the fifth for the Yanks, one out. They created a chance, now they have to cash in. (9:18 p.m.)
  • Virgil Price just hit 97 mph on the speed gun, his 94th pitch of the night. Still firing bullets with a high pitch count. (9:20 p.m.)
  • Whoa. A-Rod strikes out swinging with the bases loaded for the second out of the fifth. An 11-pitch battle which Price won; went off-speed on him. That one hurt. (9:25 p.m.)
  • Virgil gets Robinson Cano to bounce into a 4-3 putout. Price wiggles out of danger, Rays up 5-1 at the end of five. (9:30 p.m.)
  • Into the Ray’s bullpen – and down go the Yanks, quietly. No problems for Tampa’s ‘pen…yet. (9:47 p.m.)
  • CC with 12 Ks…and the poor guy is losing. Are you kidding me? (9:52 p.m.)
  • Granderson is going shopping after the game for a specific hat: a golden sombrero. Struck out by former Hudson Valley Renegade Wade Davis to end the seventh, his fourth K of the night. Ouch. (10:05 p.m.)

 

  •  Yankees have six outs to get four runs for the tie. Perfect time for “Mystique” and “Aura” to appear. (10:15 p.m.)

 

  • A one-out walk for A-Rod and a single by Cano; forces a Rays’ pitching change. Hmmm… (10:19 p.m.)
  • Swisher strikes out on a pitch up, out of the zone, but pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez knocks in A-Rod with a single through the right hole. 5-2 Rays in the bottom of the eighth with two outs, runners on the corners. (10:29 p.m.)
  • Tying run at the plate in the place of Eric Chavez, but he beats it into the dirt; grounds it right to first base. Got one back, at least (10:32 p.m.)
  • Aaaaaand the Yanks give it right back. Sutton with a line drive to RF, Swisher boots it, allowing Matt Joyce to come around to score. E9 on Swisher, 6-2 Rays. (10:43 p.m.)
  • Very next batter Johnson knocks Sutton in with an RBI double, 7-2 Rays. I think they have successfully avoided the sweep.  (10:44 p.m.)
  • I think I picked the wrong night for this little blog experiment. It’d be more fun if the Yanks were winning. (10:45 p.m.)
  • Bottom of the ninth. Last licks for the Bombers. (10:50 p.m.)
  • Russell the Muscle! Martin with a solo homer, his sixth of the year. He went oppo over the right-centerfield wall to leadoff the ninth. 7-3 Rays. (10:52 p.m.)

 

  • Derek Jeter grounds out, Granderson avoids a platinum sombrero with a 2-3 putout, and Teixeira…gets plunked by J.P. Howell. Game’s still not over. A-Rod is due up and closer Fernando Rodney is coming in. (10:58 p.m.)
  • Rodriguez pops it up to right field, Joyce puts it away, ballgame [mercifully] over. Final: Rays 7, Yankees 3. Bombers’ three-game win streak snapped. (11:02 p.m.)

 

  • W: Price (8-3) L: Sabathia (7-3) (11:05 p.m.)
  • Moving on. New York bragging rights start tomorrow with the first Subway Series of 2012 at Yankee Stadium. Yanks will be heading into tomorrow night’s game vs. the Mets with tonight’s loss; the Mets beat the Nationals 3-1 this afternoon. (11:08 p.m.)

Little Big Leaguer

The Yankees made it two in a row tonight, winning a decisive 8-3 game against the Royals to take the series two games to one. The Bombers received their second straight brilliant outing from the returning Andy Pettitte, who walked one and struck out eight over seven innings of work. The crafty lefty only made two mistakes, solo homers served up to Billy Butler and Mitch Maier.

Other than those two hiccups, Pettitte twirled a gem. (Stands, applauds)

The Yanks finally saw some production out of Alex Rodriguez, who hadn’t homered since May 6. Tonight Rodriguez smacked two long home runs to help push himself out of his slump. Curtis Granderson also homered, his 14th round-tripper of the year and his first in a week.

The Yanks roughed up Kansas City starter Will Smith, who if you follow me on Twitter or the Yankee Yapping Facebook page, was the butt of every “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” obscure reference tonight. 

It’s funny how after being read the “Yankee Yapping Riot Act” the bats came alive. The trick for the Yanks will be to keep those bats alive and kicking when they begin their series on the west coast Friday night against the 22-23 Oakland Athletics.

While it’s nice to see the Yanks slowly but surely come out of their funk, something caught my attention over the weekend that I didn’t get a chance to write about, as reporting about the High School sports scene here in the New York suburbs for my newspaper is occupying a lot of my time these days.

This past weekend the Yankees played the Reds, losing their first interleague series of the year, 2-1. Cincinnati has a third baseman by the name of Todd Frazier, who played in the Little League World Series in 1998 – and won.

Frazier, a New Jersey native, was on the Toms Rivers squad that beat Japan in the ’98 LLWS, and once they mentioned that series it was almost as if a spark had gone off in my head. I actually remember that Little League World Series, all because of one memory.

1998 was the first year I played Little League, and at the end of the season each Little Leaguer in the country was issued a newsletter. In the newsletter was an article about the Toms Rivers team winning the LLWS; in fact I vividly remember the picture that came with the article of the team celebrating and the Little Leaguers walking out of South Williamsport, PA with the trophy.

There were also interviews in the newsletter with Derek Jeter and Pettitte – and they talked about their experiences in Little League, which was cool to read about. I recall reading about how Pettitte was an opponent of Little League pitchers throwing curveballs, for fear of ruining their arms at a young age.

Whenever someone mentions Little League, I get this warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling inside; it brings back a flood of memories. The Little League I played in was located in Beacon, NY, and I still feel to this day we had one of the best programs in our area at that time.

Our teams were named and fashioned after actual MLB teams: there were the Mets, the Red Sox, the Indians, the Giants, the Dodgers, the Pirates, the Cardinals, the Orioles (although the second year I played they became the Blue Jays), and the Athletics, among others.

As fate would have it, I wound up on the Yankees. Believe it or not, this was my uniform…

Little League was a struggle at first, but I learned as I went along that hard work pays off. Basically the entire first season I played, I only reached base if I walked. I also had to watch each one of my teammates receive the game ball after every game we won for their efforts, always having the feeling I would never be given the game ball because I struggled so mightily.

It was enough to get down on myself and get dejected. But I didn’t quit. I kept trying.

Gradually my swing got a little better; I started making contact. Eventually I recorded my first base hit and first RBI off the Indians, a sharp line drive single to center field which drove in a runner from third.

After the game my coaches awarded me the game ball; my first hit and my first RBI. It felt incredibly good to finally do something positive offensively and even better to be recognized for it. I still have the ball and I will probably hold onto it forever.

The second year I played I was given the game ball after a win over the Dodgers. I drove in what turned out to be the winning run by laying down a bunt, and reaching second base on the throw. Because of my hustle I got the ball – and yes, I kept that one, too.

My Little League years are a cherished time in my life; they were sweet and innocent. I was just a kid who loved baseball, I got to play, and even enjoyed a little bit of success. Obviously not to the degree that Frazier did, but it doesn’t matter. Only a small amount of Little Leaguers do get to enjoy success at the Major League level.

To all the Little Leaguers playing out there this season: my message is to enjoy yourselves. I hope you love taking the field day after day as much as I did when I played.

If you were to ask me to describe my Little League experience in one word, it would “fun.” And that’s what baseball is supposed to be.

The Riot Act

Yesterday night the Yankees snapped a three-game losing streak, beating the Kansas City Royals, 3-2. In typical fashion as of late, the Yanks didn’t make it easy on themselves, putting the tying run on third in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Yankee Universe held its collective breath as Rafael Soriano got Alcides Escobar to ground out, just missing an infield single that would have tied the game.

Yes the Bronx Bombers won, but claimed victory in the ugliest way ever: on a wing and a prayer.

Lately the team has struggled overwhelmingly on offense, getting outscored 36-18 over the last week. The Yankees have lost seven of their last 10, good enough for fourth place in the American League East. Barely keeping their heads above water, the Bronx Broskis are 22-21, just a game above .500.

It’s not as if the other teams are necessarily winning these games. On the contrary, the Yankees are losing them; beating themselves by not cashing in on chances they create. The team seems to fail at every opportunity with runners in scoring position; in fact, in Monday night’s 6-0 loss to the Royals, they went 0-for-13 with RISP.

Plenty of players need to be held accountable for this recent string of sucktitude.

Curtis Granderson

 

It’s pretty unfortunate when arguably the best hitter on the team can be read the riot act.

On Saturday the Yankees trailed the Reds 6-3 entering the ninth inning. They fought back however, pulling to within one run with the tying run on third base and two outs. Curtis Granderson worked the count to 3-0, but made some of the worst decisions a hitter could make as the at-bat progressed.

On 3-0, he swung, fouling the ball off to the right. Still in good shape on 3-1, he check-swung at an inside breaking ball that dipped out of the strike zone, a pitch that would have undoubtedly been called ball four to keep the line moving.

Then, with a full count, Granderson beat the payoff pitch into the dirt, grounding out to first to end the game. Yankees lost 6-5, the resilient magic running out of power at the last minute.

Right after I watched them lose, one thought entered my mind: “In 2009, they would have won this game.” Not only that, but it killed me to see Granderson not take a pitch, being in a hitter’s count for basically the entire at-bat.

Granderson is batting .250 for the year, and his BA with runners in scoring position is just .219. He is still leading the team with 13 home runs for the year but hasn’t homered in a week, cementing the Yankees’ slumping status.

 

Mark Teixeira

The Yankees’ first baseman has been battling some sort of bronchial infection, and he did not start this past weekend’s interleague series vs. the Cincinnati Reds – a series the Yankees lost, two games to one.    

Teixeira has only collected 35 hits in 153 at-bats this year, with five homers and 20 RBIs.

I don’t want to say Teixeira is on the decline, because he’s hit 30 or more home runs every year he’s been in the majors since his rookie year – and even in his rookie year (2003) he hit 26. Yet, if Teixeira isn’t hitting a home run, he only seems to pound the ball into the infield shift for a groundout.

Last night he got lucky, weakly squeaking a hit through the shift for a single.

Right now Teixeira’ batting average is at a miniscule .229, his on-base percentage is just .281 and his slugging percentage is only .386. In key spots, when Teixeira is up, the Yankees have to be cringing.

It’s obvious an adjustment has to be made. Whether it’s his batting stance, his swing, his bronchial ailment, or a mental block, Teixeira has become a hitter that the Yanks can’t depend on at the moment.

 

Russell Martin

There’s an old saying about catchers: if a team has a catcher that can hit, it’s a bonus. For a long time the Yankees had that bonus in Jorge Posada, and it continued for them when they signed Russell Martin.

Lately however, Martin must have forgotten that he is a hitter because he’s on the interstate at .179, with only 19 hits in 106 at-bats. He’s smacked four homers and has driven in 10 runs.

Martin isn’t having the worst offensive season; it could be worse. But like the rest of the team, he is not coming up with hits when chances are created. His groundball percentage is 70% with runners in scoring position for the year.

What also puzzles me is that Martin is known for calling a good game behind the plate, yet when the ace of the staff pitches, he is on the bench. Chris Stewart is CC Sabathia’s personal catcher, and unlike Martin, Stewart poses virtually no offensive threat, whatsoever.

In a nutshell, not only is he almost as useful as a screen door in a submarine at the plate, he can’t catch when the Yankees’ number one pitcher is on the mound.

 

Alex Rodriguez

On Monday night Alex Rodriguez struck out in the ninth inning, getting blasted by a deafening chorus of boos and jeers as he walked back to the dugout. After the game the press questioned him about getting booed at home. Like a true professional however, he owed up to it, saying he deserved it for his lack of production.

What’s scary about A-Rod’s slump is that he has stated his physical condition is fine. Usually when he struggles offensively there is more to it; a lingering injury or some soreness.

But it’s not the case.

He was recently quoted as saying that he’s fine physically, capable of hitting for power. Obviously that statement has not exactly gone well-founded, considering he hasn’t hit a home run since May 6. With RISP, A-Rod is scuffling just as the rest of the team is, with a groundball percentage of roughly 61 and a .154 average.

Not so good for a player who claims to be in perfect health.

 

Hiroki Kuroda

The 37-year-old starter certainly hasn’t been what the Yankees had anticipated, as he currently leads the majors in losses with six. His latest defeat came on Monday when he surrendered three earned runs on seven hits to the Royals, striking out four and walking three in 5.1 innings pitched.

Although the stat column for his last start doesn’t sound incredibly poor, Kuroda was absolutely shelled on May 16 in Toronto. The Blue Jays lit him up for seven earned runs on eight hits in just five innings. Kuroda served up three home runs in the loss, and is now 1-3 over his last four starts.

What I can’t understand is his position in the rotation. Clearly he isn’t pitching up to his potential, and it’s costing the Yankees. Maybe a move from the number two slot in the starting five could help him; perhaps Joe Girardi should push him down to the fourth hole and see how it goes.

 Either way, something needs to be done.

 

Phil Hughes

In 2010 Phil Hughes won 18 games, pitching extraordinarily well throughout the first half of the season. After the All-star break he seemed to just fall off the face of the earth; he hasn’t been the same, consistent pitcher since the first half of ’10.

Lately Hughes has been making a case to change that, winning three of his last five games – but those three wins on his ledger are deceptive.

Hughes beat the Seattle Mariners on May 12, a team that has been no-hit this year. He then followed it by beating the Royals, a team eight games below .500, twice. In between he was beaten by the Blue Jays and also lost to the Orioles – two of the three teams in front of the Yankees in the East.

Last night Hughes gave up a home run to Jeff Francoeur and is now the first pitcher since Runelvys Hernandez (2006) to give up at least one homer in each of his first nine starts of the season.

Possibly Hughes’s biggest Achilles Heel has been his pitch count. I lost track last night of how many hitters fouled off his pitches, but I do know that he was up over 70 in the fifth inning. It’s pretty much the story of his every start: the opposing hitters just put good swings on his flat, straight fastball and his pitch count steadily climbs.

Now that Hughes is on a bit of a good streak, I think this is the perfect opportunity for the Yankees to see what they might be able to get for him on the trade block. For awhile now, I’ve heard a lot of chatter about how his value is down and nobody would want him.

But since he’s pitching well at the moment – and he isn’t even signed for next year – I say the Yankees should cut their losses and say goodbye to him. As nicely as Hughes is pitching now, I don’t expect it to continue late in the season against teams like the Rangers, Tigers, and Rays.

Odds are his arm will tire, as it has these past two years, and he will crack down the stretch.

…………………………………………………………………..

There are so many other players that deserve to be called out.

Dewayne Wise has only collected three hits in 23 at-bats, and yet is in the starting lineup.

Nick Swisher is batting .239 right now.

Robinson Cano had 31 RBIs on May 23 last year. He has 17 on May 23 this year (barring any RBIs in tonight’s game).

CC Sabathia has lost his last two starts.

Ivan Nova’s ERA is 5.69.

The bullpen is about as makeshift as ever without Mariano Rivera and backup closer David Robertson, not to mention third string closer Rafael Soriano came dangerously close to blowing the save last night.

The whole team is contributing to this mess.

Some serious changes need to be made if the Yankees want to pull this sinking ship from the depths of the ocean that is the AL East. Because the way they’ve been playing, it’s crazy to even put the words “World Series” and “Yankees” in the same sentence.

After one of the recent losses, Derek Jeter made a declaration:

“I don’t see anybody popping champagne in May.”

While the Captain is right, he should heed that currently there are a lot of teams better than his at this point in the season. If the Yankees, for whatever reason, don’t make the playoffs, it will be the second time in Jeter’s career (2008) he won’t be popping champagne.  

And for the first time in his career the Captain will be eating crow.

Centennial Spoiled: Yankees Beat Red Sox

I can’t even begin to imagine what life was like 100 years ago. People my age were getting ready to fight in the First World War, the Titanic sank like a stone to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and gas cost 7 cents per gallon.

Oh, and Fenway Park opened. And while many things have changed a century later, the home of the Boston Red Sox has not. Fenway has such a rich history and what some people may not know is that the 100-year-old ballpark once belonged to the Red Sox most hated rivals.

That’s right. The Yankees once owned Fenway Park.

When the Yankees signed Babe Ruth, the deal included a $300,000 loan backed by a mortgage on Fenway Park. Ergo, not only did the Yanks receive Boston’s best player, they owned Fenway Park at the time. 

But the Red Sox eventually gained back ownership of their home. And yesterday Boston’s favorite sons honored their ballpark’s centennial with a beautiful pregame ceremony – and to a Yankee fan like myself – an even more beautiful 6-2 loss to the Bronx Bombers…or should I say the New York Highlanders.

A lot to go over here.  First of all…

Pregame Respect

The Red Sox celebrated Fenway’s 100th year with a wonderful ceremony before the game. Countless players from the days of old were brought back and honored, not unlike the last game at the old Yankee Stadium in September, 2008.

I have to admit, watching it gave me goosebumps. The Red Sox fans are just as passionate and as sentimental about their players (past and present) as the Yankee fans are. The history is another comparable aspect of both teams. Obviously a comparison can be drawn, considering the long and storied existence of the Red Sox and Yankees.

Personally, I got a little teary-eyed when I saw legends Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky in wheelchairs, being wheeled out to the field by recently-retired Red Sox Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.

Doerr and Pesky mean so much to their franchise, and it was nice to see them get the ovation they did.

It seemed the loudest reaction of the afternoon went to ex-manager Terry Francona. Tito came out and Fenway became unglued. I think the Boston faithful truly miss him, and would rather have a smart leader at the helm of the team (like him) rather than what they have now in Bobby Valentine.

Towards the conclusion of the ceremony, the Red Sox offered (an awkward) toast to the fans and to the ballpark. Longtime Yankee nemesis Pedro Martinez saluted the crowd, then he and Kevin Millar grabbed microphones, and had some words while everyone went bottoms up.

“Who’s Karim Garcia?” Martinez asked, referencing the Game 3 brawl the Red Sox had with the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS.

“One more time,” Millar shouted. “Cowboy up!” – his catchphrase during the ’03 and ‘04 playoffs.

After that bizarre exchange of words, the ceremony ended. And with the Red Sox sporting the uniforms the team wore in 1912 – and the Yankees donning the vintage Highlander outfits, the game began.

Ivan Nova

What can you say about this young stud, other than that he has been the Yankees’ most consistent pitcher thus far. Ivan Nova tossed six strong innings and gave up just two earned runs on seven hits.

He didn’t issue a walk and struck out five batters.

Nova has really done a lot of good for himself, only three starts into this young season. It’s obvious he is locked in and focused; mixing his pitches, attacking batters with his slider, fooling hitters with his curve, and getting them to groundout with that tricky sinkerball.

What’s more, he isn’t killing himself with walks. He’s only issued two free passes this season – and both base-on-balls came in the same game (last Sunday vs. the Angels). He isn’t going out there and beating himself, to say the least.

With the win, Nova has now been the winner in his last 15 decisions, going back to last June – he hasn’t lost since June 3, 2011. His streak is the second-longest in Yankee history, behind Roger Clemens who won 16 consecutive decisions back in 2001.

Now at 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA for the year, Nova will have at least one more start this month (Wednesday April 25 @ Texas). If he manages to beat the Rangers, who are one of the hottest teams on the planet right now, I think it’ll be safe to say Nova is undoubtedly going to go on to have a wonderful year; possibly a Cy Young Award candidate when it’s all said and done.

It never hurts a pitcher to get off to a great start.

Long Ball

Derek Jeter reached base on an error by Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia in the top of the first; as a matter of fact, “Luis Castillo” trended on Twitter because of the miscue. Alex Rodriguez came up later in the frame, smacking a single to bring Jeter to the plate.

But from that point on, it was a home run derby, Highlander-style.

Nick Swisher took Boston starter Clay Buchholz deep in the second inning, an opposite field homer over the Green Monster. Later in the frame Eric Chavez took Buchholz’s offering over the centerfield wall.

And he wasn’t done.

Chavez homered in his next at-bat, another shot that just cleared the wall in center. It marked the first time since Sept. 18, 2005 that Chavez smacked two home runs out of Fenway Park. He previously accomplished the feat as a member of the Oakland A’s.

After Chavez’s homer barrage ended, it was Rodriguez’s turn. A-Rod absolutely slaughtered a ball over the Green Monster, out of the park and onto Landsdowne Street. It marked Rodriguez’s 631st career homer, and with it he passed his old teammate Ken Griffey, Jr. on baseball’s all-time home runs list.

A-Rod is now in fifth place on the all-time homers list. In front of him? Now, only Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.

You’d think that would be enough taters for one day, but it wasn’t.

In the top of the sixth, Russell Martin got a hold of one, smacking a home run over the monster and hitting the Sports Authority billboard. It was Martin’s first home run of the year, and it was all the Yankees needed to beat Boston.

What surprised me the most was that each home run the Yankees hit today was a solo home run; not one runner was on base when each hitter went yard.

Buchholz gave up all five solo blasts – and it wasn’t the first time this year a Boston starter surrendered five round-trippers in a single game. Josh Beckett gave up five home runs to the Detroit Tigers on April 7.

It’s encouraging to see the Yanks hit some bombs, but there’s an old saying about “living by the home run and dying by the home run.” They cannot be reliant on the long ball all year, but I suppose if you get an exemplary start, as Nova gave them today, it doesn’t matter.

Overall

This was a big win for the Highlanders…Yankees today. Beating the Red Sox the day they celebrated their ballpark’s centennial: that’s huge.  

Imagine if the Yankees had hosted the Red Sox instead of the Baltimore Orioles in the final game at the old Yankee Stadium – and the Red Sox had beaten them. What kind of feeling would every Yankee fan have had?

Probably a very sick feeling. And that’s probably the feeling the Boston fans had today. As for the Yankee fans…it’s just another reason to gloat; another notch in our belts.

It was a major battle won for the pinstripe patrol, but the war is far from over. In fact, the soldiers will be right back out on the battlefield today at 4:00.

Freddy Garcia (0-1, 6.97 ERA) will lead the Yankees into battle, facing off with Boston starter Felix Doubront (0-0, 5.40 ERA).

Home Opener Thrills and Chills

F-18 Navy Hornets, gigantic American flags, player introductions, the Mayor and…

Kermit the Frog!

All the wonderful elements of the Yankees’ home opener this afternoon against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. What sweetened the whole deal? A 5-0 shutout of the Halos behind a brilliant outing from new Yankee Hiroki Kuroda.

The Japanese-born starter twirled an absolute gem, tossing eight-plus innings while not allowing a run. Kuroda allowed just five hits, walked two, and struck out six.

Talk about a fine way to introduce yourself to the Yankee faithful.

Kuroda probably would have finished the game had he not given up a leadoff infield single to Bobby Abreu in the top of the ninth, but he was at 109 pitches, therefore gave way to David Robertson.

Robertson got Albert Pujols to ground into a 6-4-3 double play before fanning Kendrys Morales for the final out.

Kuroda and Robertson were backed by a solid amount of run support, started by a bases-clearing double off the bat of Nick Swisher in the bottom of the first. The two-base hit plated Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira.

Up 3-0 in the bottom of the third, Rodriguez added a run with one swing. The slugging third baseman crushed a leadoff home run deep to centerfield, a shot that landed in the netting above Monument Park. With that homer, A-Rod tied his former Seattle Mariner teammate Ken Griffey, Jr. for fifth place on the all-time home runs list with 630 career round-trippers.

Curtis Granderson put the icing on the cake with a screaming line drive bullet home run over the right field wall in the fifth. Granderson’s solo blast gave the Yanks all the offense they needed to put the Angels away and boost their win streak to four.

Analysis:

Hiroki Kuroda

The Yankees couldn’t have asked for more out of their number two starter. The bullpen had thrown 11.1 innings in the final two games the Bombers played in Baltimore, and after an off-day yesterday, the relief corps basically received another day of rest.

Length was key, and Kuroda gave the Yanks more than enough.

It was a nice rebound start for Kuroda, having given up six runs in 5.2 innings in Tampa Bay last Saturday. He used his fastball to his advantage and his slider was dancing all over the strike zone.

Not even the mighty Albert Pujols could figure Kuroda out.

He didn’t utilize his split finger much, but he didn’t need to; he neutralized the strong hitters like Pujols and Morales without giving an inch.

In Japan, the best pitcher on the staff wears the number 18. Kuroda chose to wear number 18 upon his arrival in the Bronx and today he earned the right to wear that number. A crackling fastball, a moving slider, six K’s against a deep Angels’ lineup, and a win – that’s enough to sell me on him.

Now at 1-1 on the year, he will look for his next win Wednesday at home vs. the Minnesota Twins.

Alex Rodriguez

Manager Joe Girardi chose to bat Alex Rodriguez third in the lineup today. Having only collected three hits in the first five games of the season without knocking in a run or hitting a homer, it was clear A-Rod needed to move from the cleanup spot on account of lack of production.

All that changed today. The move clearly had an impact.

A-Rod went 3-for-4 this afternoon and belted his first home run of the year, a bomb that landed in Monument Park – not a cheap homer.

With the home run, Rodriguez tied his old buddy Ken Griffey, Jr. for fifth place on baseball’s all-time home runs list. It was A-Rod’s 630th career homer. He also raised his batting average from .174 to .259.

That’s the beauty of baseball: one day can turn everything around.

Nick Swisher

The Yankee right fielder is becoming a valuable asset to the team in the early-going. Nick Swisher has reached base in every game this season. He’s hit safely in six games and in the one game he didn’t reach base by way of a hit, he drew two walks.

Last Saturday against the Rays, it looked as though the Yankees were done in the ninth when Swisher stepped up to the plate. He proceeded to cream the ball for a home run to keep the Yankees alive, although they eventually lost 8-6.

In the series finale at Camden Yards vs. the Orioles, Swisher came up huge with what proved to be the game-winning home run, a two-run blast that gave the Bombers a 6-4 lead they held onto for the victory.

Today Swisher had the huge double in the first to clear the bases and give the Yankees an early lead and a ton of momentum.

So far this year Swisher has two homers, nine RBIs, has seven hits, has drawn five walks, and has scored three runs.

If there is a Yankee hero at this moment, it’s Swisher. Right now, he can do no wrong.

Honorary First Pitch

A special dignitary tossed out the honorary first pitch this afternoon: recently-retired catcher Jorge Posada. The Yankees stood behind the mound out of respect to their former teammate and watched as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

There was a lot of speculation as to what was going to transpire during this particular part of the Opening Day festivities. I had heard a rumor Posada was going to go to the mound, then one of his teammates would switch with him – and he would actually catch the honorary pitch rather than throw it, because that’s what he is most known for in Yankee lore.

But that didn’t happen.

While his teammates and family watched, Posada threw the first pitch to his dad who stood behind the plate to catch it. Following the first pitch, Posada emotionally hugged each of his Yankee friends.

It was a touching moment and Posada received a well-deserved standing ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd.

Overall

It was a promising win for the Yankees. The Angels are the only team with a lifetime winning record against the Bombers and with the additions of Pujols and starter C.J. Wilson (who the Yankees will get a look at tomorrow afternoon) they only got stronger; more difficult to beat.

But they got beat today – stifled by a lights-out performance from Kuroda.

Curtis Granderson’s bullet home run marked the second year in a row he has gone yard in the Yankees’ home opener. He homered last year in the Yanks’ win over the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium.

Phil Hughes toes the rubber tomorrow against the Angels, gunning for win number one on the year. Hughes threw the ball well in his first start on Sunday in Tampa Bay, but came up just short.

He will look to pick up his first win and roll the Yankees’ win streak over to five games.

…………………………………………………………………………………

On a side note, is anyone else growing tired of the promos for the new “3 Stooges” movie?

If the three stooges walked up to me and paid me $50 to see this abomination, I would hand them a $100 bill and simply say, “Let’s pretend this never happened.”

I understand it’s totally irrelevant to the Yankees, but the TV spot kept popping up during YES’ broadcast of the game this afternoon. I just know a bad movie when I see one – and I won’t be seeing the “3 Stooges.”

Hot Flashes

Every so often a player will come along in any sport, and set the world on fire. Big plays, clutch performances and wild finishes typically define these players, as they become the talk of the town upon emerging.

The latest player to set the world ablaze: New York Knicks’ point guard Jeremy Lin.

The 23-year-old phenom is a classic feel-good story. Lin was a nobody; just days away from being cut. When the Knicks were scuffling he was given a chance to play – and it’s safe to say he made the most of that opportunity.

Among some of his accomplishments, “Super Lin-tendo” outscored basketball god Kobe Bryant on Friday, netted the game-winning 3-point field goal vs. the Toronto Raptors last night, was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and became the first player in NBA history to score at least 20 points and record seven assists through his first four starts.

“Linsanity” has swept the nation. Even I have caught the fever. I bought this the other day:

Lin is on a roll, but keep in mind, he has only dominated a small number of games – six to be exact. He has certainly shown what he can do, seeing as how the Knicks are undefeated in the so-called “Lin Era.” The question has to be raised however:

Will Lin be a mainstay or just a flash in the pan?

After last night’s dramatics, Lin has me sold. I truly feel he will be a great player for a long time, as he has demonstrated remarkable ability to elevate his team. The Knicks were getting their faces rubbed in the dirt. Lin came along, picked them up, dusted them off, and made them relevant again.

This whole “Lin-credible” craze got me thinking about the Yankees: which Bombers came out of nowhere, made an immediate impact, and lifted the team?

Here are a few names that came to mind…

Kevin Maas

Never heard of Kevin Maas? Neither did I, until I began my research for this blog entry.

According to what I read, Maas was a first baseman who played for the Yankees from 1990-93. He crushed 10 homers in just 77 at-bats and finished his first season with 24 homers, playing in only 79 games.

A lot of people even went as far as saying Maas was going to be Don Mattingly’s heir.

But it all declined for him. His numbers slowly but surely decreased as the time passed. Despite clubbing 23 homers in ’91, he hit just .220 in 148 games. He only hit 11 homers the following year and nine the year after.

Maas eventually went to the Minnesota Twins in 1995 and was cut after only 22 games. I suppose he will just remain an anomaly; a one-hit wonder who set the baseball world aglow literally right before I started following the Yankees.

I’m actually very surprised I didn’t know about him until today.

Shane Spencer

In September of 1998, a 26-year-old outfielder who tore apart the minor leagues was called up to the show. Shane Spencer, who in 1997 hit 30 homers and knocked in 86 runs for the Columbus Clippers (the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate at the time), took New York by storm.

Unexpectedly, Spencer smacked 10 home runs in the month of September, in only 67 at-bats. Of those 10 homers, three of them came with the bases loaded. A lot of the veteran Yankee players and fans were right behind Spencer, on the edge of their seats every time he stepped up to the plate.

Much like the barrage of Lin nicknames, fans in the crowd held signs that read,

“Shane Brings da Pain!” Not to mention even the Sports Illustrated recognized his outburst.

Unfortunately for Spencer, in a lot of ways, he was just a one-hit wonder. Aside from his spectacular “September to Remember” he didn’t accomplish much else of note, save for a few accolades. Spencer did collect three World Series rings, being with the Yanks from ’98-00, and hit two home runs in the ‘98 ALDS vs. Texas.

He also smacked a home run in the 2001 Fall Classic vs. Arizona, while only securing a .222 batting average in eight postseason series.

It’s kind of sad what happened to him after the hype vanished. Spencer got in some off-the-field trouble for drunk driving and reports surfaced that he had problems with the Florida police around Spring Training, 2004.

Nevertheless, his late-season spark of the ‘98 Yankees may never be forgotten by the most devout pinstripe faithful.

Aaron Small

In 2005 the Yankees were coming off arguably the worst time in their franchise history. The 2004 Boston Red Sox rallied back from an 0-3 ALCS deficit to not only beat them, but also embarrass them.

Boston made history. The Yankees became history.

The following season however, the Bombers re-tooled by signing the overpowering southpaw Randy Johnson, as a lack of solid starting pitching was cited as their 2004 playoff downfall.

But the Big Unit couldn’t do it all by himself.  Other starters had to step up.

Cue Aaron Small, a 34-year-old right-handed journeyman. Small had stints with six other ball clubs before finding his way to the Bronx. He emerged at just the right time, filling a hole in an injury-ravaged starting rotation. He made his first start on July 20, 2005, beating the Texas Rangers.

Small would go on to win 10 games in 2005 – without ever losing. In fact, he became the first Yankee to win his first nine decisions since Tommy John (1979) and just the fourth player in MLB history to win 10 games without recording a loss.

He turned Yankee Stadium into “Smallville,” I guess you could say.

The Yankees began the ’05 season with a lopsided 11-19 record through their first 30 games. Considering where they were, it’s not crazy to say Small played a huge role in terms of getting his team back into the playoff hunt.

Much like Spencer, Small’s success didn’t last. He recorded the loss in Game 3 of the 2005 ALDS vs. the Los Angeles Angels, and went on to go 0-3 in three starts for the Yanks in 2006. Small was designated for assignment on June 17, 2006 and signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners prior to the 2007 season.

He was released by the Mariners in May and shortly after called it a career.

Small’s contribution in ’05 was remembered by the Yankee brass, as he has been honored at two Old Timer’s Days (2008, 2011). Before his appearance at Old Timer’s Day ’08, Small won a battle with encephalitis, which had put him in a coma for eight days.

To me, Small will always be remembered as a winner; a player who stepped up when everyone else was struggling. If you ask me, by no means is that a bad way to be remembered.

Shawn Chacon

Much like Small, Shawn Chacon emerged at the right time. The Yanks’ starting rotation in ‘05 was in disarray and the starters needed to step it up. The 28-year-old righty was having a rough go of it in Colorado, going 1-7 for the Rockies before being dealt to the Yanks for minor leaguers Ramon Ramirez and Eduardo Sierra.

He came to the Yankees with low expectations, but went above and beyond what anyone could have hoped for. Right from the get-go Chacon made a splash, tossing six innings without surrendering a run to the Angels in his first start in pinstripes. Although he didn’t get the decision, the Yanks beat the Halos behind Chacon, 8-7.

Chacon ended 2005 with a 7-3 record for New York while notching a 2.85 ERA. He also picked up Small, winning Game 4 of the ALDS vs. the Angels. The Yanks went on to lose the ALDS, yet many baseball analysts felt Chacon was going to continue to pitch well in 2006, and become a key member of the Yankee rotation.

Not so much.

He started ’06 off slowly, though he began to pick up the pace in late April. Chacon started the infamous “Crazy Tuesday vs. Texas” game, giving up seven runs to the Rangers – a game Jorge Posada eventually won in dramatic fashion for New York. He eventually landed himself on the disabled list, and after a brutal game vs. the Cleveland Indians on July 4, was sent to the bullpen.

By the 2006 trade deadline Chacon was swapped for Pirates’ left-handed bat Craig Wilson, thus ending his Yankee tenure. He was last seen pitching for the Houston Astros in 2008 and to my knowledge is not currently signed by any MLB team.

My best memory of Chacon actually came in virtual reality. I was throwing a perfect game with him in MLB 2006 for PlayStation 2. It didn’t end well. You can read more about that sad story here, if you’d like.

Shelley Duncan

The 2007 baseball season was mostly known for one thing: the unrealistic, clutch season that belonged to third baseman Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod put the Yankee team on his back and carried them to win after win, hitting unfathomably long home runs that would have probably left Mickey Mantle in disbelief.

But midway through the year a career minor leaguer came up by the name of Shelley Duncan. At the time his father Dave was the pitching coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. His brother Chris was an outfielder, also with the Cards.

A second generation player, Duncan was called to the show on July 20, 2007 and ignited the Yankees. In his first game, he recorded his first hit and his first RBI against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The next day he crushed his first home run, and then followed with a multi-home run performance the day after.

Duncan became such a fan-favorite for his enthusiasm. He would give hard high-fives to his teammates and even injured clubhouse reporter Kim Jones, smacking her hand as hard as he could in celebration of a Yankee win during a postgame interview.

A website even surfaced: Shelley Duncan Facts, a play off the famous “Chuck Norris Facts” site.

At the end of ’07, Duncan had 19 hits in 34 at-bats, including seven home runs on his ledger. He registered 17 RBIs while securing a .257 batting average and an on-base percentage of .329.

Did “Duncan-Mania” survive? No, it didn’t.

In 2008 Duncan had just one homer in 57 at-bats for the Yanks and batted a measly .175 through 23 games. He was reassigned to the minors and never really became what the Yankees might have hoped for; never made the same amount of noise he made throughout the second half of 2007.

Before 2010 Duncan signed with the Cleveland Indians, where he is today.

Joba Chamberlain

Unlike the other players on the list, Joba Chamberlain still has a chance to shed his status as a flash in the pan. The 26-year-old right-handed hurler has life left in him, but only time will tell if he can go back to what he was when he was first called up.

Go back to August of 2007 for a second. Chamberlain made his MLB debut in a game the Yanks played vs. the Toronto Blue Jays, fanning the first batter he faced. He went on to throw two scoreless frames in a Yankee win.

But the brass didn’t want to ruin his arm at such a young age. Being only 22 years old at the time, the Yankees put him on the “Joba Rules” – a system which didn’t allow Chamberlain to pitch on consecutive days, and if he pitched in multiple innings, he would have that many days off.

For example, if he tossed two innings, he wouldn’t be available pitch again for another two days.

Chamberlain finished the ’07 regular season with a tiny ERA of 0.38 out of the ‘pen, getting all of the Yankee fans behind him. Whenever he raced in from the bullpen, the crowd would go absolutely bananas.

And he was just as fired up.

After every strikeout, Chamberlain would aggressively pump his fists, charged up by the emotion of the moment. Unfortunately he was the victim of a vicious attack by midges in Cleveland during the ’07 ALDS vs. the Indians, a series the Yanks went on to lose.

From there, it’s extremely difficult to describe what happened to Chamberlain. Under new manager Joe Girardi in 2008, he began the season in a relief role then was made into a starter. He only made one noteworthy start in ’08, a brilliant nine-strikeout performance in Boston, outdueling Josh Beckett in a 1-0 Yankee win.

Not long after that game, Chamberlain injured his shoulder, and was placed on the 15-day DL. When he came back he was a reliever again. His role was just never defined – and it got even more confusing in 2009.

Beginning the season as one of the starting five, the “Joba Rules” were rewritten to accommodate the rotation. Girardi would only pitch Chamberlain for a few innings, and then when applicable, would use him on six days rest. It seemed to disrupt his mental balance, to say the least.

The Yanks thought about demoting him to the minors and leaving him off the postseason roster, but ultimately decided to keep him. During the playoffs he took on the role of reliever yet again, and captured a Game 4 victory over the Phillies in the ‘09 Fall Classic.

A good end to a rather turbulent season.

Since then Chamberlain has not made a start. In 2010 he went 3-4 out of the bullpen with a 4.40 ERA, and opponents hit .429 off him. On a light note, his strikeout total went up, as he K’d 77 batters in 71 2/3 innings pitched.

Despite a 2-0 record with a 2.83 ERA this past year, 2011 marked another setback period for Chamberlain. He was sidelined with a torn ligament in his throwing arm in June, ending his season and forcing him to undergo Tommy John Surgery.

This off-season the Yankees and Chamberlain agreed on a one-year contract worth $1.675 million. With that in mind, this could be his last chance to keep wearing the pinstripes. If he continues to scuffle and his arm problems draw on, I don’t see the Yankees holding onto him beyond 2012.

However, if he can rekindle that spark – the spark he lit in 2007 – he will be fine.

To Chamberlain, I can only say good luck and I hope it works out for him. To the rest of the players on this list, I guess I can only say one thing:

It was fun while it lasted.