Tagged: David Ortiz

The Boone Identity: Remembering the Radical 2003 Yankees-Red Sox Saga

10-16-03 Yankees Aaron Boone on his way to9 HP after solo homer yankees victory

If you’re a Yankee fan, Oct. 16 holds a warm place in your heart. The memory of a mighty swing by Aaron Boone in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series to crush the dreams of Red Sox Nation has held up, and will continue to hold up forever more.

In honor of the 11th anniversary of this profound piece of Yankee history, this writer is going to take you on a ride back to the past and muse about the goings-on of the 2003 Yankees-Red Sox saga; perhaps point some things out that didn’t necessarily meet the eye to the average fan.

Join me, will you?


 

The background

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It took a long time before the Yanks and BoSox reached the climactic Boone game. A really long time, in fact. The two hated rivals had faced each other 25 times in ‘03 leading up to Game 7 of the ALCS. Their 26th meeting in the decisive game was historic, in the sense that no two teams – in any sport – had faced each other more times in a single season.

But so much more happened before Game 7.

In squaring off against each other so many times, the Yankees and Red Sox had generated some disdain for one another. Earlier in the season on July 7 in the Bronx, Pedro Martinez, Boston’s ace, had plunked both Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter – bean balls that were so intense they sent the two hitters at the top of the Yankees’ batting order to the hospital.

Jeter was hammered on his right hand while Soriano suffered a shot on his left hand. The after effects of the HBPs were so great that, after more than two weeks later, both hitters felt the pain of Martinez’s missed location; the captain’s hand was still swollen and Fonsy felt some aches just by checking his swing.

Roger Clemens, the Yankee ace, in return struck Red Sox first baseman and team ringleader Kevin Millar with a pitch. Millar, a colorful and outspoken player who had urged his team to “Cowboy Up,” would later express anger towards Clemens for the Yankees act of retaliation.

The late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner even got in on battle. The Boss was asked if Martinez was headhunting; throwing at the Yankees with intent. His response:

“I can’t answer that. But if he was, he’ll regret it.”

Steinbrenner had every reason to be suspicious about whether or not the hit-by-pitches were deliberate. In the past, 2001 to be exact, Martinez told the Boston Globe,

“I’m starting to hate talking about the Yankees. The questions are stupid. They’re wasting my time. It’s getting kind of old … I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. I’ll drill him in the ass, pardon the word.”

New Boston Red Sox ace pitcher Pedro Martinez resp

Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino then got his jab in, giving the Yankees a moniker in homage to the Star Wars franchise. He dubbed the Bronx Bombers “The Evil Empire.” Yankee Universe happily (or at least sarcastically) welcomed the nickname.

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So was Jeter Darth Vader? Sure, that makes sense.


 

How we got there

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The physical and verbal blows during the regular season were only the beginning, laying the groundwork for what was to come in the playoffs. The Yankees finished 2003 with a record of 101-61, six games ahead of Boston for the AL East. The 95-67 Red Sox captured the AL Wild Card – keep in mind that in ’03 there was no play-in game; the BoSox were automatically in the eight-team postseason tournament without having to fight their way in the door.

Most fans may not remember that the ’03 Yankees-Red Sox ALCS clash wouldn’t have happened if the Oakland A’s didn’t collapse. In the ALDS the A’s handed Boston a 5-4 loss in Game 1; Oakland winning in the 12th on a walk-off bunt single by catcher Ramon Hernandez. Game 2 wasn’t any better for the Red Sox, as the A’s poured it on and beat Boston 5-1 – Oakland was only one win away from the next round.

Yet, maybe in the spirit of some foreshadowing, the Red Sox fought back.

Boston won Game 3, 2-0. They then took Game 4 by a count of 5-4, and completed the comeback with a 4-3 win in Game 5. The Yankees were already waiting for the winner of the Boston-Oakland series, having disposed of the Minnesota Twins in four games to reach the League Championship Series; the Yanks outscoring the Twins 16-6 in their divisional round.

The rally vs. the A’s and the thrashing of the Twins set the New York-Boston rivalry up for an epic showdown. Yes, the Baseball gods had done it again.

Players on both sides knew the World Series was not just at stake, but bragging rights were up for grabs and in a lot of ways, the ending or the continuation of Curse of the Bambino was on the line.

“Everyone says, ‘we played them towards the end of the year, does it get any bigger than that?’ Well, yeah it does. And this is it,” Jeter told MLB before the ALCS.

The Red Sox took Game 1, beating the Yankees 5-2. However, the first salvo seemed to be fired in the seventh inning when reliever Jeff Nelson hit Red Sox big man David Ortiz with a pitch. The Yanks went on to take Game 2 with a 6-2 win, but in terms of the HBP battle, Boston punched back.

Future hero Boone was beaned by Red Sox starter Derek Lowe and Soriano was plunked by Bronson Arroyo. The ALCS was split 1-1, tensions were at an all-time high, and the teams were beginning to get rather physical.

What’s the worst that could happen in Game 3?


 

And then, everything explodes

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The energy level at Fenway Park on Oct. 11, 2003 was off the charts – not that I was there, but listening to the words of the players and examining everything that had led up to Game 3, everyone from the fans to the media was on edge.

What’s more, the fact that Clemens and Martinez were on the hill for their respective clubs made it even more enticing. During batting practice, Millar was about as hyped up as an 8-year-old after consuming 50 sugar cubes, enthusiastically saying,

“We got Roger and Martinez, Game 3 split, Championship Series, American League, all eyes on the Sox!”

To this day I wonder if even he knew how jumbled that sounded. Mic’d up, he stood next to Ortiz and yelled,

“You’ve got to be going with the Sox! This is the Sox Nation! Two thousand and three! And screw that curse!”

Ortiz couldn’t help but laugh at Millar’s zeal, but a few short innings later, no one was laughing.

In the top of the fourth, Martinez let up an RBI ground rule double to Nick Johnson, which gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. The very next hitter, outfielder Karim Garcia, took a pitch behind his head which appeared to nick him on the shoulder for another hit-by-pitch.

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Soriano came up next and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, though another Yankee run scored. Leaving the field, Garcia had some choice words for the Red Sox and a heated exchange ensued.

Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, chest protector and shin guards on, came out of the dugout looking like a Roman centurion ready to attack Martinez. The two feisty foes got into some jaw-jacking and a bit of a “pointing battle” – Martinez using his index finger to point at his temple, as if to say to Posada, “I’ll hit you there.”

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The Yankees, in a nutshell, were unhappy with Martinez’s antics, and had no problem expressing their grief. Yet somehow the umpires settled matters down.

That is, until the bottom half of the inning.

Clemens delivered a high and tight 1-2 fastball to hothead Manny Ramirez, who believed there was intent behind the pitch – when clearly there wasn’t.

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Ramirez angrily tried to approach Clemens with the bat in his hand before being subdued by his teammates when the benches cleared. Needless to say all Hell broke loose at Fenway, but the victim of the fracas wound up being a coach, not a player.

Yankee bench coach, the late Don Zimmer (72 at the time) lunged towards Martinez, who grabbed him by the head and force-fed him to the ground. The Yankee trainers were able to help him up and get him back into the dugout free of serious injury, but the ugly incident further proved how the Yankees and Red Sox were at extreme odds.

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Eventually the situation calmed, and Clemens fanned Ramirez with a fastball on the outer part of the plate to get the game going again; the players back to their professional ways.

But just when it seemed everything was back to normal, it became a mess again.

An altercation broke out in the Yankee bullpen in right field between Nelson and a Boston grounds crew member, Paul Williams. Garcia, stationed in right field, also sampled the action. He hopped the wall into the ‘pen and got involved; a scrum of police officers, security officials, and Yankee relief pitchers creating an unpretty scene.

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Days later the Yankees’ personnel, notably president Randy Levine, defended the New York relief corps. Meanwhile the Red Sox brass were less than happy, and went to bat for their groundskeeper, explaining that he did nothing wrong. The Yankee side relented, though, and contended Williams had antagonized Nelson, and wanted an apology issued from the Boston side.

Yeah. That never happened.

Once the roller coaster ride finally ended, the Yankees escaped with a 4-3 win and a 2-1 ALCS lead. The reaction by a couple of individuals after Game 3, however, was unlike anything this writer had ever seen in sports – ever.

In terms of the Martinez-Zimmer incident, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg went on the record saying, “If that happened in New York, we would’ve arrested the perpetrator. Nobody should throw a 70-year-old man to the ground, period.”

That would’ve been quite a sight: the Red Sox ace being cuffed and escorted off the Yankee Stadium diamond by New York’s finest.

BoSox skipper Grady Little only had this to say:

“I think we’ve upgraded it from a battle to a war.”

The war raged on. The Red Sox won Game 4, 3-2, to even the series, then the Yankees grabbed Game 5 with a 4-2 win, taking a 3-2 series lead back to the Bronx. The Red Sox raised the eyebrows of the world by beating the Yanks 9-6 in Game 6, overcoming both Andy Pettitte and a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd.

Game 7. Roger and Pedro, again. He we are.


Is this happening?

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Before Game 7 took place, Boston sportswriter Howard Bryant caught up with Willie Randolph, a longtime pinstriper who had endured the “Bronx Zoo” era of the late 1970s as a player, and enjoyed the year-by-year success of the dynasty of the ‘90s as the Yankees’ third base coach.

Bryant asked Randolph what he thought about the deciding game. What do you think?

“Listen,” Randolph said. “Every single time we’ve had to beat them, we’ve beaten them. Tonight’s not going to be any different.”

But in the early going, it was  different – a lot different. Clemens struggled, surrendering a second inning, two-run home run to Trot Nixon. Later in the frame a throwing error by starting third baseman Enrique Wilson allowed Jason Varitek to come in, making it 3-0 Red Sox.

Clemens pitched into the fourth, although “the rocket” was all but gassed by then. Millar backed up some of his talking by sending Clemens’s offering into the seats in left field, a solo blast to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead. Yankee manager Joe Torre had told starter Mike Mussina that he might use him out of the bullpen, which would’ve been the first time in his MLB career he would’ve pitched in relief.

A caveat, though:  Torre had told “Moose” that, if he were to use him, he’d bring him into the game when nobody was on base. That plan went by the wayside, as Mussina was summoned to mop up a first-and-third, no out mess.

Number 35, cleanup on aisle four.

Mussina was brilliant, striking out Varitek by utilizing his patented knuckle curveball, and followed by getting Johnny Damon to bounce into an unassisted 6-3 double play to skim out of further peril.

After the game Mussina teased Torre, inquiring, “I thought you said you were only bringing me in if there weren’t going to be men on base.”

Torre quipped back: “I lied.”

Jason Giambi, whom the Yankees had acquired after the fall of the dynasty in 2001, kept the Yanks close with two solo home runs off Martinez – a bomb in the fifth and another in the seventh.

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The Yankees trimmed the deficit to 4-2 but in the top of the eighth, Ortiz played pepper with the short porch seats, homering off another starter playing the role of reliever that night, David Wells. The solo job (that left Wells in utter disgust, putting it mildly) gave the Red Sox a run right back, making it 5-2 in favor of Boston.

Now Martinez, his pitch count over 100, came out to toss the bottom half of the eighth with a three-run lead, and while most members of Red Sox Nation thought this might ultimately be the year the Curse of the Bambino would be vanquished, some fans back in Beantown were not so convinced.

Baseball historian and Red Sox fan Doris Kearns Goodwin explained:

“When Pedro came back out in the eighth inning, we all started screaming ‘No! No! You can’t be doing it!’ I mean, fans think they know more than the managers – and often we don’t – but at that point everybody knew the pitch counts that Pedro would suddenly fall off the cliff, if he were over that pitch count.

“He was way over that pitch count, and so there was this huge sense of dread when he came to that mound.”

That dread was well-founded and soon realized.

Jeter pounded a one-out double off the wall in right field. Bernie Williams brought him in with a well-struck single in front of Damon in centerfield, cutting Boston’s lead to 5-3. The RBI base hit prompted a mound visit from Little, who shockingly stuck with his ace; Martinez not leaving the mound after the powwow, even with hard-throwing righty Mike Timlin and lefty specialist Alan Embree going double-barreled in the Red Sox bullpen.

Hideki Matsui, a left-handed hitter, was due up next. Embree would have been the obvious choice to match up with Matsui, but Embree could only watch from the ‘pen as Matsui ripped a ground-rule double down the line in right field off a tired Martinez, passing the baton to Posada.

The switch-hitting Yankee catcher, batting from the left side, punched a blooper into centerfield, falling in the middle of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, second baseman Todd Walker and Damon to bring both Williams and Matsui to the plate. Posada reached second base – getting the last laugh off Martinez, thinking back to their chinwag in Game 3 – and Game 7 was tied, 5-5.

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Martinez then departed to a Bronx cheer; there was no undoing the damage the Yankees had done. The decision to keep Martinez in the ballgame haunted Red Sox Nation for a year. Fans were outraged at Little for not removing Martinez before the game turned, but Martinez – and others – have defended the move.

“I was just trying to do it,” Martinez said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Why didn’t Pedro give away the ball? Well, they didn’t ask me to give away the ball. They asked me if I could face the guys. I said yes! Of course I can! I’m in the middle of the game; I’m here to do this.

“When Grady came out, the simple question was whether I could pitch to Matsui or not. And I said yes.”

Former Red Sox favorite Johnny Pesky (for whom the foul pole in right field at Fenway Park is named) also was a proponent of allowing Martinez to stay in the game, and was quoted as saying,

“When he’s your best pitcher, and he tells you, ‘skipper, I got enough left in my tank’ you’re not going to take him out.”

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The fans on the other hand turned their ire on the call, and even went as far as constructing a poem about it, penned by Boston loyalist James Bair:

Why Did You Keep Pedro In?


We couldn’t have got there without you.
We were five outs away from a win.
You were the smartest guy in the stadium.
But why did you keep Pedro in?


We don’t believe in those curses.
We could care less about old Harry’s sin.
But with such a powerful bullpen,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


Oh, Pedro was awesome for seven,
And it looked like he could hang in.
Those two liners showed he’d become shaky—
Why did you keep Pedro in?


Though whacked cold, Johnny Damon kept waving;
The guys always want to stay in.
Of course, Pedro’d say he could blow them away,
But why did you keep Pedro in?


He could have left the hill as a hero—
We’d say Pedro had smoked them again!
You could not deny that his pitch count was high,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


We know there is one consolation:
We know you’ll never do it again.
Still the cry rises from Red Sox Nation:
Why did you keep Pedro in?


With each move you had out-managed Torre.
Yankee cheering was growing quite thin.
With such talented benches for backup,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


You made us now root for the Marlins,
And we hardly know how to begin.
You almost upended the Empire,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


You brought new pizzazz to the clubhouse:
The crew found the cowboy within.
You did so much for the guys, but with tears in our eyes,
We say, why did you keep Pedro in?

 

The question could be asked until the end of time. But it was moot. The game was knotted at five, and the Yankees used the unflappable closer Mariano Rivera for the 9th, 10th, and 11th innings. The stage was set. The question was no longer, “why did Grady leave Pedro in?” Rather it became “how is this saga going to finally end?”


 Sleeping on the X-Factor

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What probably gets lost in the shuffle was the fact that Boone had come into the game as a pinch-runner during that eventful bottom of the eighth. He took over at third base for Wilson on defense, who was surely not the Yankee fans’ favorite player that evening, because remember – he committed that costly error in the third which led to a Boston run.

It’s funny to me because, personally, I can recall the “due up” graphic in the middle of the 11th inning, watching in my Yankee pajamas from my bed in Beacon, New York; soon to be a droopy-eyed high school junior the following day, but the exhaustion coming with the excitement of a possible World Series berth. I even said to myself,

“Aaron Boone. Forget it, easy out. The next few guys have to hit, though! Let’s win this game!”

Perfectly logical assumption. In 31 postseason at-bats, Boone collected just five hits. The Yankees, however, had a lot more faith in Boone than this scribe did. Before he went into the on-deck circle while knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was warming up, Torre told Boone,

“Just hit a single. It doesn’t mean you won’t hit a home run.”

Randolph then issued the ultimate sign of faith:

“That inning, he came to the dugout and I met him at the top step. I patted him on the back and I said, ‘listen. You’re my sleeper pick. You’re the x-factor of the series.’”

Keith Olbermann – a bright sports pundit and someone for whom I have respect, albeit I disagree with him on plenty of topics – analyzed Boone’s at-bat this way:

“The odds were favoring a hitter in a slump. Because a hitter in a slump’s timing is already off. A knuckleball pitcher throws your timing off. Put a guy with bad timing, and add more bad timing to him, suddenly he has good timing – it’s a zero sum game in terms of timing.

“So you’re thinking, who on earth is going to get the base hit for the Yankees? Who can do anything against Tim Wakefield? Boone.”

Sure enough, the timing worked out. Everything worked out.

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Aaron Boone after hitting homerun in 2003 ALCS

Boone slaughtered Wakefield’s first pitch for a home run deep into the New York sky; the ball landing behind the wall in left field to give the Yanks a 6-5 win, sending the Bronx Bombers to their 39th World Series in franchise history. Pandemonium commenced; Yankees Stadium completely erupted, became unglued.

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The Red Sox were crushed, the pennant was won, and the Curse of the Bambino was alive and well.

Boone was speechless after clubbing the death blow, and managed just a few words:

“Derek told me the ghosts would show up eventually. And they did.”

The Captain verified those words postgame, saying,

“I believe in ghosts, and we got some ghosts in this Stadium!”

Torre went on to admit he thought there was some divine pinstriped intervention, later saying,

“It is weird to me that certain things happen that don’t seem logical. Yeah, you have to believe we’re getting some help from somewhere.”

What’s also not well known is that, after the bliss of a love-fest at home plate for Boone and the champagne celebration; after the presentation of the Will Harridge Award, and after Rivera was named ALCS MVP, the Yankee players made a pilgrimage out to Monument Park, donned with championship hats soaked in champagne. Specifically, they made a visit to Babe Ruth’s monument.

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“Look, he’s smiling! He’s smiling!” the Yankees gleefully exclaimed, whilst rubbing the forehead of the Great Bambino’s likeness on the monument.


 The aftermath and the impact of another curse

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While Little was quickly fired by the Red Sox and the image of Boone’s home run was tattooed on the minds of Red Sox fans everywhere, the Yanks were in the 2003 fall classic, matched up with the Florida Marlins – who Chicago Cubs fans felt had snaked their way in on account of fan interference in the ’03 NLCS. The Cubs had been winning 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game 6, and had they held on would’ve punched their first ticket to the World Series since 1945.

Steve Bartman, a Cubs fan sitting in the front row of the left field stands, accidently reached for a foul ball that was perhaps catchable for left fielder Moises Alou near the wall. Bartman got his hand on it, and the ball took a wrong bounce back into the seats, not going for an out – much to the infuriation of not only Alou, but every Cubs fan in the ballpark. Almost right after the gaffe, the Marlins wound up rallying to score eight runs to win the game, and carried on to win Game 7 by a count of 9-6.

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Not unlike the Red Sox and their Curse of the Bambino, the Cubs had the Curse of the Billy Goat hanging over their heads – a long story about a Chicago bar owner, who in 1945 was asked to leave Wrigley Field because the stench of the pet goat he brought to the park was bothering other fans.

He proclaimed, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

Subsequently the Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908.

I can’t help but think how the ’03 World Series would’ve gone had it been Yankees-Cubs, the matchup America wanted to see, instead of Yankees-Marlins – a bland fall classic that ended in a six-game series win for the fish.

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Would the Yankees have been able to beat the 1-2 punch of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior? Would they have been able to silence the bat of Sammy Sosa, who just five seasons earlier had smashed 66 home runs, and had hit 40 during the ’03 regular season? Would the Curse of the Billy Goat been upheld in the fall classic, the same way the Yanks kept up the Curse of the Bambino in the ALCS?

Would 2003 have been the year of title number 27 in the Bronx, if only the Yankees faced the Cubs and not the pesky Marlins, equipped with the likes of scrappers Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Josh Beckett and Juan Pierre?

We’ll never know.

To this writer, though, the ALCS was the World Series in 2003. Passion, heat, unmitigated physicality, the will to win intense rivalry games, and excitement that puts you on the edge of your seat – you want nothing more than that as a fan, or at this stage in my life as a journalist.

Hopefully we see it again, in baseball, sometime soon.

And hopefully, again, it’s between the Yankees and Red Sox.

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 SOURCES FOR THIS PIECE: Websites: Baseball Almanac, Baseball Reference.

DVDs: The Boston Red Sox vs. The New York Yankees: The Ultimate Rivalry (2005)

Ken Burns: The Tenth Inning (2010)

Yankees Are Swinging, Red Sox Must Rise

This week Spiderman once again webbed his way onto the big screen and into our hearts. In just about two weeks’ time, Batman will yet again make everyone say “oooohhhh” and “aaaahhhh” when “The Dark Knight Rises” hits theaters.

While Spiderman and Batman will be squaring off against their sworn enemies – the Lizard and Bane, respectively – the Yankees will do battle this weekend against their primary foes, the Boston Red Sox.  The Yanks will travel into enemy territory tomorrow and play four games (including a doubleheader on Saturday; making up a rainout from April 22) in three days.

The Yankees are standing about as tall as the caped crusader on top of a Gotham City skyscraper at press time; 49-32, in first place, five games ahead of the second place Baltimore Orioles in the AL East. The Red Sox on the other hand look more like a defeated Joker, at 42-40 in fourth place in the east.

Tomorrow night Hiroki Kuroda (8-7, 3.17 ERA) will put on his cape and cowl, to do battle with one of New York’s fiercest adversaries, Josh Beckett (4-7, 4.06 ERA). Kuroda has only faced the Red Sox once in his career – and it was a losing effort – but did not see many of Boston’s current hitters in that game.

However, two hitters Kuroda must look out for are Adrian Gonzalez and Cody Ross. Gonzalez is .261 lifetime off Kuroda with two homers and five RBIs. Ross is just as pesky, as he is .263 in his career with a homer and four RBIs against him.

Beckett has to watch out for Robinson Cano, who currently owns a .302 lifetime BA against him with two homers and 10 RBIs. Curtis Granderson has also punished Beckett in the past, hitting .241 with three home runs and four RBIs.

If they want to escape tomorrow night with a win, the Yanks have to step up. Despite his poor numbers on Cano and Granderson, last year Beckett puzzled the Yankees, going 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA against the Bronx Bombers.

Although it hasn’t been formally announced yet, Phil Hughes (9-6, 4.29 ERA) will throw on his cape and start one of Saturday’s games, coming off his spectacular winning performance on Sunday over the Chicago White Sox. Hughes will likely go head-to-head with Franklin Morales (1-1, 2.50 ERA).

Hughes is in a groove right now, but does not have good career numbers against Boston (2-5, 6.65 ERA).  He must be on the lookout for David Ortiz, who yesterday clubbed his 400th career home run. Two of those 400 came off Hughes, and he’s knocked in seven runs off the 26-year-old righty – all while possessing a lifetime .471 batting average against him.

The Yankees haven’t seen much of Morales, but Russell Martin does have an RBI on him.

Freddy Garcia (2-2, 5.94 ERA), almost playing the role of Robin filling in for Batman – helping fill the rotation void for a hobbled Andy Pettitte and an injured CC Sabathia – is slated to start the other game of the doubleheader.

Last time Garcia toed the rubber in Boston, it wasn’t pretty. At least not to begin with.

The Red Sox put a hurting on him, lighting him up for five runs in just 1.2 innings pitched on April 21. With some super-duper heroics, the Yankee offense bailed him out though, rallying from a huge deficit to beat the Red Sox, 15-9.

Felix Doubront (8-4, 4.42 ERA) started Boston’s losing effort on April 21, and will probably face Garcia again. Doubront has to beware of Granderson: he homered off Doubront last time and drove in two.

Who knows? Maybe Garcia vs. Doubront II will be another roller coaster ride; one that would put butterflies in the stomach of the Incredible Hulk.

Finally on Sunday night Ivan Nova (9-3, 4.05 ERA) will suit up to take on lefty Jon Lester (5-5, 4.33 ERA). Nova will look to get back in the win column on the road, having suffered his first loss away from Yankee Stadium since June 3, 2011 on Tuesday at the Rays.

No Red Sox hitter has numbers against Nova that jump out, except Dustin Pedroia, who has a .600 BA vs. the 25-year-old righty and two RBIs. Lucky for Nova and the Yanks, Pedroia has been ruled out for this weekend’s series with a thumb injury.

Lester meanwhile needs to be careful with several Yankee hitters. Granderson, Derek Jeter, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teixeira have each homered off Lester in their respective careers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jayson Nix in the lineup Sunday, as he sports a .333 average against Lester with two homers and five RBIs.

When facing the Yankees Lester must feel like Lex Luthor, trying to beat Superman. But his biggest form of kryptonite has to be the Yankee third baseman.

Alex Rodriguez has three homers lifetime off Boston’s southpaw, with six RBIs. A-Rod has a chance to add to that total and hurt the Red Sox ace even more to close out the series.

Like Spiderman, the Yankees are swinging. But the Red Sox need to be more like Batman – and rise – if they wish to keep their postseason hopes and dreams alive.

And this weekend could be their only chance.

If the Yankees were to unleash a Boston Massacre, and sweep these four games in three days, it would put the Red Sox in a position where they would need to do nothing but win after the All-Star break.

For the Heck of It? Spit Happens

The Yankees have begun somewhat of a winning streak, beating the Royals 10-4 on Sunday and following it up with a 5-3 win last night over the Rays. David Robertson nailed down his first save of the season, giving the Yanks their first taste of life without Mariano Rivera.

Although he didn’t make it easy on himself – and he never does – Robertson slammed the door.

Andy Pettitte is set to make his return to the Bronx on Sunday, as he will start against the Seattle Mariners. Pettitte hasn’t exactly been dazzling in his minor league warm-up starts. Nonetheless, he will look to aid the inconsistent and banged up rotation.

Tonight David Phelps will take the hill vs. Tampa Bay, hoping to roll the Yankee win streak over to three games – that is, barring a rainout.

Yes, it’s been a soggy day here in New York.

While things are OK in Yankee land, something happened on Sunday that was all over baseball; something dirty. Something that I just had to write about and express my opinion on.

The Washington Nationals hosted the Philadelphia Phillies, and lost 9-3. In the first inning, Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels beaned 19-year-old rookie outfielder Bryce Harper with a 93 mph fastball, right on the back between the “3” and “4” on his jersey.

Harper recovered and eventually made Hamels pay for it, stealing home plate straight up later in the inning. The Nationals also received retribution by retaliating, plunking Hamels in his first turn at bat in the third inning.

After the game the media questioned Hamels about the HBP. His response:

“I was trying to hit him,” he said. “I’m not going to deny it. That’s something I grew up watching, that’s kind of what happened. So I’m just trying to continue the old baseball because I think some people are kind of getting away from it.”

Basically the message Hamels sent was, “Welcome to the big leagues, kid.”

I’m sorry, but that’s just not a good enough reason to intentionally hit someone. It’s a classless act of shameless unsportsmanlike conduct. The way it appeared, Hamels almost seemed proud of himself after the game; happy he got a piece of the new kid everyone is talking about because of his ability and talent.

Unlike Hamels, Harper showed some class afterward. He called Hamels a good pitcher and in a lot of ways brushed the bean ball off his back, not making much of the situation. Harper proved he has a lot of, I’ll say, Jeterian qualities.

Now in certain circumstances, intentional HBPs are…I don’t want to say “acceptable,” but understanding. A hitter can be plunked but for a good reason, such as last year in David Ortiz’s case. He flipped his bat, showed up the Yankees, and as a result CC Sabathia hit him with a pitch later in the Yankees’ series vs. Boston.

It’s just business. And even I have been guilty of such actions, when it was called for.

In fifth grade I played CYO basketball. I was on a travel team and we had a long season; not a lot of my teammates had ever played organized ball before and we took our lumps pretty hard. As a matter of fact we didn’t win a single game that entire season.

One game we were getting absolutely pounded, losing by a significant margin. Late in the fourth quarter, the other team didn’t bench its best player; he was still in the game, knocking down 3-point field goals like it was nothing.

I contested one of his last shots from outside the arc, trying my best to throw him off-balance so that he would miss the basket. It didn’t faze him, though. He put the ball up through my arms and into the net for another 3-pointer, following it by pumping his fist in celebration.

His team and its supporters went bananas for him, cheering and hollering as loud as they could.

As any player with pride and an ego would, I didn’t take kindly to it at all. There was absolutely no reason he still needed to be on the floor with his team winning by that much. Not to mention he came off about as conceited and cocky as any player I had ever faced.

When the final buzzer sounded and the beatdown was over, our teams lined up to slap hands, as all teams do following a game in honor of sportsmanship. I made sure to be the last player in line – he was lined up first on his side.

I figured that would be the best way to execute my little retaliation scheme.

When no one was looking, I hocked the biggest loogie of my life, and then spat it into my right hand.  I smeared the matter all over my palm, making sure it was saturated with my slime.

He looked at me with a huge, egotistical ear-to-ear smile on his face as I approached him.

“Good game!” he said to me, with enthusiasm.

As he received a handful of my snot and saliva, I grinned back at him.

“Yeah. Good game.”

Right away he became angry, as any player would after being spat on. He tried to confront me, but my teammates separated us before any other kind of altercation ensued.

He may have shown me up on the court, but I got the last laugh.

It wasn’t long after that I quit playing organized hoops and started playing baseball. The next season I began my Little League career and played baseball through my second year in High School – and never again did I spit on my hand and slap an opposing player with it after a game.

Yet at the same time, I never again faced an athlete as full of himself as that one basketball player.

Was it the nicest way to get retribution? Absolutely not. It was disgusting, actually.

Did it need to be done? In my mind, yes. He had to dish what he served.

As a competitor, you can’t let someone get away with being a show-off. The same way the Yankees couldn’t let Ortiz get away with the arrogant bat flip, I couldn’t let that kid get away with making me and my team look like a bunch of losers.

A message had to be sent – and I made sure to send it.

But going back to the topic at hand, and to bottom line it, Harper didn’t deserve to be hit by Hamels. He didn’t show-off; didn’t show-up the Phillies. In no way did the situation call for a bean ball, and for Hamels to openly admit he hit Harper simply as a so-called “welcoming” to the majors is absurd and nonsensical.

Had Harper crushed a 450’ homer off Hamels, and then danced his way to home plate – the way that kid remained in the basketball game and hit a 3-pointer when his team was already up big, and then reacted as if he had just won the NBA Finals – I would understand it; the situation would call for it.

But the way Harper has conducted himself so far – as a gentleman – it was totally unnecessary. I can only hope the next time he faces Hamels, he does take him deep.

Hamels deserves it. The same way that player deserved a handful of my slobber.

Breathing Down Our Necks

The 2012 MLB season is just about three weeks away. Players are currently in camp fighting for roster spots, getting in shape, and preparing for what will be a summer-long grind.

29 teams have the mentality of, “let’s put a good team together and have a fun season.”

The Yankees on the other hand have the mentality of, “when camp breaks we need to win the division, win the pennant, and then win the World Series.”

Good logic.

And as usual, it won’t be easy. A number of teams have bettered themselves during the off-season, and will pose huge threats to the Yankees bringing title number 28 home to the Bronx in October. A few teams will be breathing down the Yankees’ neck and they need to keep a sharp eye on them.

The top five are…

The Rays

When the Tampa Bay Rays first entered the league, they were almost a laughingstock; a joke that always finished at the bottom of the AL East. But in 2008 they came out of nowhere, capturing the division over the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, and then going on to win the AL pennant.

Since then, the Rays have been pests; a team that won’t go away, no matter how many times a knockout blow is delivered to them. Last year they swiped the AL Wild Card from underneath Boston’s nose, and have been to the playoffs three of the last four years.

On offense this season, Tampa Bay might be under the microscope, at least a little bit. The Rays didn’t re-sign Johnny Damon in the off-season, but signed Luke Scott – who hit just .220 last year – to supplant him. After a year with the Chicago Cubs, Carlos Pena is returning to the Rays – and he only averaged .225 at the dish in 2011.

One of the only true powerhouses the Rays have at the plate is Evan Longoria, who only batted .244 last year, yet clubbed 31 homers.

With their seemingly thin offense, one might get to thinking, why are the Rays such a threat?

The answer is their starting pitching.

Number one man James Shields went the distance last year, tossing 11 complete games to lead the league in that category. He also threw four shutouts to lead the league, winning 16 games along the way.

Behind him is the pride of Vanderbilt, southpaw David Price. Last year Price compiled a 12-13 record; not the best numerically, but he was an All-Star and was coming off a season in which he won 19 games. He did prove to be a workhorse despite his uneven record, logging 224.1 innings and making 34 starts, which led the league.

Behind the 1-2 punch of Shields and Price is a supporting cast of excellent arms. 24-year-old Jeremy Hellickson is the reigning AL Rookie of the Year. He threw 189 innings in ’11, won 13 games, and notched an ERA of 2.95.

Jeff Niemann won 11 games last year, as did Wade Davis, giving the Rays five pitchers with double digit wins.

If a team has that kind of efficiency out of their starting five, they are going to be very tough to beat.

The Red Sox

Boston seems to be in a little bit of a state of flux. This off-season was busy in Beantown, as they let go of revered manager Terry Francona and signed on the ever-colorful Bobby Valentine to be their skipper. They allowed closer Jonathan Papelbon to walk, as he took his flame-throwing arm to Philadelphia to be the Phillies’ closer.

Two of their big-ticket starters, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, have undergone Tommy John surgery. Lackey will miss the entire 2012 season and Dice-K will be out until at least June or July, leaving the Red Sox with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester as their top starters.

Other than Beckett and Lester, the Red Sox have a ton of questions marks as far as their rotation in concerned. How will Daniel Bard make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation? Is Clay Buchholz going to perform at a high level?

Will Felix Doubront be a factor? What about Alfredo Aceves, who has had back problems in the past?

The starting pitching is not the only part of the team under scrutiny. Boston signed Andrew Bailey to replace Papelbon in the closer role, and will insert former Yankee Mark Melancon into the setup spot, supplanting Bard.

How will Bailey handle closing in Boston as opposed to Oakland? Will Melancon rise to challenge of setting him up in close-game situations?

All of these questions won’t be answered until the season commences, but if the Red Sox score runs – and they are capable of scoring runs – it won’t be a problem. Although Boston got off to a horrendous start and a fatal finish, they still scored 875 runs, which was good enough to lead the majors in ‘11.

And they always seem to give the Yankees a hard time.

Last June Boston swept the Bombers in three games at Yankee Stadium, being led by Yankee killer David Ortiz. Big Papi smacked two homers in the series, and stirred up controversy when he flipped his bat in what many felt was a move to show up the Yanks.

Bottom line: Ortiz proved he still has it when it comes to making the Yankees’ lives miserable.

Along with Ortiz, 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia will undoubtedly be swinging a hot bat this year, as will All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who hit .338 last season with 27 homers and 117 RBIs.

Like the pitching, speedy left fielder Carl Crawford and butch third baseman Kevin Youkilis are question marks. Crawford is dealing with a wrist injury that many analysts say caused a decline in his numbers last year. Youkilis had season-ending thumb surgery last August.  

If Crawford and Youkilis come back – and return to form – the Yankees, and all American League pitchers for that matter, need to look out. These two sluggers have the potential to cause major problems for the Yankees when they are at 100%.

All things considered, the Red Sox will have a potent lineup. And no matter what anyone says, the Red Sox are always in the back of the Yankees’ minds. Always.

The Tigers

Last October the Detroit Tigers dashed the Yankees’ hopes and dreams of winning the World Series, eliminating the Bronx Bombers in five games in the ALDS. New York was forced to watch the Tigers celebrate on their soil, as the team from the Motor City proved to be too much for the Yankees to handle.

And it may have just gotten more difficult to beat them.

This off-season the Tigers signed power-hitting lefty Prince Fielder, who clobbered 38 home runs and drove in 120 runs last year. The hefty first baseman has twice averaged .299 at the plate (2009, 2011) and in 2007 Fielder led the National League in homers with 50.

It’s what you can expect from a big guy, but don’t let the size fool you.

Despite his heavy, 275-pound frame, Fielder is durable. He has played in all but one game since 2009, appearing in all 162 games in 2011 and 2009. He played in 161 games in 2010.

Fielder will join the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Delmon Young, two powerhouses who have already proven their worth in Detroit. Last season Cabrera led the league in doubles (48) and batting average (.344). Like Fielder he is also durable, as he appeared in 161 games in ’11.

Young dazzled in last year’s ALDS vs. the Yankees, punishing them with a .316 BA while clubbing three homers and posting a .789 slugging percentage. He collected six hits in the five game series and drew two walks, showing his worth when the stakes were high.

Detroit is obviously the front-runner to once again win the AL Central, and behind ace Justin Verlander – the reigning AL Cy Young winner and AL MVP – their chances of taking the central are high. The other teams in that division pose virtually no threat, and potentially the Yankees could face the Tigers in the ALDS again this year.

If a rematch is in the cards, the Yankees have to adjust accordingly. It didn’t work out for them in last year’s postseason.

The Rangers

It’s no secret that Texas is one of the prime teams to beat, as they have represented the American League in the World Series the past two years. The Rangers lost their number one starter C.J. Wilson to a division rival, the LA Angels, but something tells me it’s not going to matter. The Rangers’ pitching will still be top notch.

Colby Lewis won 14 games last year, as did Matt Harrison. If you were to ask manager Ron Washington, he would probably say both Harrison and Lewis possess the stuff to be number one aces.  Alexi Ogando went 13-8 last year with a 3.51 ERA and he’ll be another weapon in the Rangers’ rotation.

Throw Neftali Feliz and Yu Darvish into the mix, and you have quite a set of pitchers, although there are some questions surrounding Feliz and Darvish.

Feliz is making a transition from the bullpen to the rotation, so much like Bard in Boston, his performance depends on how well his stuff translates; how well he works being stretched out. If it goes well for him, and he throws as hard as he did working in the closer role, he’ll be a feared pitcher in the American League.

Like Feliz, Darvish is making a transition – but not from the bullpen. He’ll be making the switch from Japan to MLB. In his native country, Darvish was one of the finest and most revered pitchers. Last year alone Darvish struck out 276 batters over 232 innings of work, and won 18 games with a 1.44 ERA.

Those numbers can be deceitful, however.

Ask Matsuzaka, or Hideki Irabu, or Kei Igawa, or any pitcher who sparkled in Japan and fell apart here. Pitching in the states is much different than pitching in the Far East, so Darvish is basically going to be an enigma until we really see what he can do – and we won’t know what he can do until he logs some innings here in the good ol’ U.S.A.

As far as the Rangers’ offense goes, they won’t have many problems if Josh Hamilton stays healthy. Even if he spends time on the disabled list, they have plenty of power to make up for it. Mike Napoli, the Rangers’ catcher, smacked 30 homers and drove in 75 runs last year.

You know you’re going to be alright when you’re getting that kind of production out of the catcher spot.

Along with Hamilton and Napoli, there’s Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, and Michael Young – a perfect combination of veteran and youthful offense.

A message to the Yankees: when you’re in Texas, look behind you. ‘Cause that’s where the Rangers are going to be! (I couldn’t resist the cheesy/obscure Walker, Texas Ranger reference).

The Angels

In recent times the Angels have almost had the Yankees’ number, being the only team with a lifetime winning record against the Bronx Bombers. LA’s pesky hitting coupled with their stellar pitching are going to make the Halos one of the best teams in the league this season, if not the best.

And it starts with one of their gigantic off-season acquisitions.

The biggest, obviously, is first baseman Albert Pujols. The slugging 3-time NL MVP signed with the Angels on Dec. 8 – and, as if LA wasn’t hard enough to beat already, they just got that much more difficult; that much deeper.

Pujols adds a surefire power bat to the lineup that already includes scrappy, young hitters like Howard Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis, and Mark Trumbo. Former Yankee Bobby Abreu gives the Angels a veteran presence, as do outfielders Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells.

Last year LA scored 667 runs. Expect that number to go up in 2012.

Along with their strong offense, the Angels have stacked the deck as far as their pitching is concerned. As noted, the Halos snatched the Rangers’ ace C.J. Wilson over the winter, and he will join Dan Haren and Jered Weaver – who were both in double figures in the wins category last year. Haren notched 16 Ws while Weaver put up 18.

Ervin Santana sealed 11 wins last year with an ERA under four. If he does the same working in the back end of the Angels’ rotation this year, they are going to win a lot of games.

The Angels are pretty much the team that has it all; the complete package. If you were to ask me for my World Series pick, on paper, it would be the LA Angels.

But as Yankee Captain Derek Jeter always says, “on paper doesn’t win you ballgames.”

True. But the Angels look awfully dangerous, and have eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs twice, in 2002 and 2005. The last time the Yankees and Angels met in October (2009) the Yankees came out on top, beating the Halos in six games.   

They may need to do it again if they want to win number 28.

Fight back, you bums, fight back!

Last night was embarrassing. Let’s face it. The Yankees, who had just taken two out of three from the Los Angeles Angels, came home to face their hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox. Having won six of their last seven games, the Bronx Bombers were stopped dead in their tracks, losing 6-4 to Boston.

But the Yanks didn’t just lose. They brought it to a new level.

In the first inning, Yankees’ starter Freddy Garcia surrendered three runs, putting the Bronx Bombers in a quick hole. Already down in the game, Boston starter Jon Lester beaned Mark Teixeira in the right knee cap, forcing the Yankees’ hottest hitter out of the game.

Later in the frame Russell Martin was hit, as Lester had no control at the outset of the game.

Luckily for the Yanks, Teixeira’s x-rays were negative. There is a contusion on his knee and he will be reevaluated today. As for him playing tonight, Yankee manager Joe Girardi said, “probably not.”

Were the bean balls intentional?

 No. Lester was going to his cutter and it wasn’t cutting.

Could it have cost the Yankees if the injury had been worse?

Absolutely. If Teixeira had broken his knee cap, the Yankees would be in serious trouble.

At the end of the inning: two hit-batsmen and no retaliation. OK.

The Bombers scraped one run across the plate in the bottom of the first, receiving an RBI single off the bat of Robinson Cano. They blew their chance to break out and erase the three-run first however, leaving the bases loaded to end the first inning.

Down 4-1 in the top of the fifth, David Ortiz stepped up to the plate with Adrian Gonzalez on first. Reliever Hector Noesi threw an inside pitch (middle-in) that brushed Ortiz off the plate.

Big Papi looked a bit flustered, but clearly there was no intent.

The next pitch, Ortiz crushed over the right field wall. Instead of just dropping his bat and running, he flipped the bat in a rather cocky manner, as if to show up the young Yankee pitcher.

So now: two hit-batsmen, an act of cockiness, and the Yankees were losing. Perfect grounds for retaliation and the Yanks did not respond.

May I ask why?

After Ortiz’s bat flip, one thing came to my mind; I thought back to the worst movie in the Rocky series, Rocky V. In the final fight scene, Tommy Gunn and Rocky Balboa were fighting in the streets. Balboa knocked Gunn down, then Gunn’s manager, George W. Duke, screamed at his protégé, “Fight back, you bum, fight back!”

My sentiments exactly. The Yanks should have fought back.

In the bottom of the fifth, New York got two runs back and cut the lead to 6-3. Nick Swisher, who had grounded out in the first to leave the bases loaded, came around and clubbed a two-run double.

The Bombers made one last ditch effort to win the game in the bottom of the ninth. Brett Gardner walked, but Captain Derek Jeter, now 12 hits away from 3,000, lined out to right field.

Curtis Granderson struck out, setting up Jorge Posada, who replaced Teixeira at first base. Gardner took second on defensive indifference and scored on a single by Posada.

Up came Alex Rodriguez, the tying run, 0-for-4 on the night. He made it 0-for-5 with a strikeout to end the game.

But there was plenty of blame to go around; enough goats in this game, other than A-Rod.

Granderson was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and left three men on base. Quietly he has gone into a little slump, and his batting average has dipped to .269.

Andruw Jones was another non-factor, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. He stranded three men on base. Girardi started Jones because he is a right-handed hitter and Lester is a lefty; he hoped Jones would have an advantage, righty vs. lefty, on the Boston hurler.

I guess there is no such thing as an advantage against Lester.

What bothered me the most about the game was not retaliating against Boston following Ortiz’s showboating. There was no reason for the conceited bat toss and no reason the Yanks should not have responded to it. It seemed as if the Yankees were just laying down for Boston without caring.

Plus, if they couldn’t beat them on the scoreboard and they’re showing off, beat them with the ball. Show some gumption and some fight by hitting back.

I couldn’t help but think of May 23, 2006, when the Red Sox hosted the Yanks at Fenway. Manny Ramirez belted a long, three-run home run, but before he ran the bases he stood in the box and admired his shot.

The home plate umpire even had to intervene, telling Ramirez to get out of the box and run.

Did the Yanks fight back then?

Nope. They just let it slide.

After the game Girardi let the media know that he was not a fan of the bat flip and he took offense to it.

“I didn’t care for it,” the Yankee skipper said.

“I don’t know if Ortiz was upset that he (Noesi) came in hard at him. I never had a problem with David; he has always played the game hard. I’m just protecting my young kid.”

Ortiz’s comments on the matter:

“That’s Papi style,” he said with a smile on his face.

“It’s not the first time and it’s not my last one. I’m a home run hitter. It’s not like I do it all the time. What can I tell you? Just another homer for Papi.”

The whole situation could mean retaliation tonight, but if history repeats itself and they just let it go as they did in ‘06, they won’t do anything back.

Yet tonight’s starter A.J. Burnett (6-3, 3.86 ERA) has a history of being wild. Whether he means to or not, there’s a good possibility a Boston batter could get hit with a pitch tonight. He is 2-0 with a 3.44 ERA and 15 strikeouts in his last three starts, and it will be his first start of the season against the Red Sox.  

The Yanks will face 44 year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (2-1, 4.40 ERA) who took the spot in the Boston rotation left by Daisuke Matsuzaka, who needs Tommy John surgery. Over the last 10 years alone vs. New York, Wakefield is 7-13 with a 4.58 ERA – and he’s been around longer than 10 years.

The Yanks have had a good amount of success vs. Wakefield, but in turn Boston (34-26) has handled Burnett in the past.

     

It could be a wild one in the Bronx tonight, but only if the Yankees (33-25) show some fire; if they show some hustle. If they show they won’t lay down in front of their arch-rivals.

If they show some fight.

The Yankees vs. The Red Sox on Paper: The Outfield and Designated Hitter

 


Yanks/BoSoxIf you read Part I of my analysis of the Yankees and Red Sox on paper, here’s Part II

Right Field: Nick Swisher vs. J.D. Drew

Swisher vs. Drew

Right field is such an important position on the field and playing the position requires a strong amount of defense. The Yankees and the Red Sox do not have the best defensive right fielders in the A.L., but both do so much to help the team win.

J.D. Drew was signed as a free agent prior to 2007 and had a history of injuries. Boston took a risk signing him, but with that risk has come a pretty good reward. Drew, for the most part, has stayed fairly healthy with Boston and his offensive numbers have climbed over the past couple seasons. Last season he hit 22 home runs and drove in 68 RBIs, despite holding a batting average of .255.

In the Bronx, Nick Swisher has quickly become a fan-favorite. His light-hearted attitude and funny personality has brought calmness to the Yankees and he brings a strong clubhouse presence to the table.

In both seasons Swisher has been with the Yankees, he has hit a total of 58 home runs and has knocked in 171 runs.

Center Field: Curtis Granderson vs. Jacoby Ellsbury

Granderson vs. Ellsbury

Speed and concentration are probably the two characteristics that define center field. Both the Yankees and Red Sox own center fielders that have those key essentials.

Curtis Granderson provides the Yankees with solid defense. He has the ability to catch fly balls on the run, has shown a decent arm (five outfield assists last year) and has overall demonstrated good leadership in center.

The only knock against him is his strife against left-handed pitching. Yet he still hit 24 home runs last year and knocked in 67 runs with 76 runs scored. If Granderson can show a little more patience at the plate and draw more walks, he will really be dangerous next year. He only walked 53 times in 2010.

Jacoby Ellsbury only played 18 games last season, being sidelined with an apparent rib injury. He didn’t hit any homers and only recorded five RBIs, but when he is healthy, he is deadly. In 2009, Ellsbury led the league in triples (10) and stolen bases (70).   

 In terms of his defense, Ellsbury is known to take a lot of risks; he dives for a lot of fly balls and his success rate is probably above average. But throwing caution to the wind one too many times can be costly, as evidenced by his injuries.

Left Field: Brett Gardner vs. Carl Crawford


Gardner vs. CrawfordThe Red Sox have a slight advantage here, but only in terms of offense.

Defensively, Carl Crawford is as good as they come. As everyone knows he has the speed needed to be an impactful outfielder. Crawford won the Gold Glove for left field in 2010, showing once again he does not need to prove himself as a defender.

Brett Gardner was described by Michael Kay as, “Carl Crawford, just as a cheaper price.” In a lot of ways he was correct, being that Gardner is just as fast as Crawford, maybe faster. However, Crawford is a four time All-Star, an All-Star Game MVP (2009), and came in seventh in last year’s MVP voting.

Gardner was sidelined in 2010 with a wrist injury and he needed surgery in the off-season to rectify it. In 2010 he hit five home runs with 47 RBIs and batted .277.

Crawford on the other hand hit 19 homers, batted .307, drove in 90 runs, and led the league in triples with 13.

Designated Hitter: Jorge Posada vs. David Ortiz


Posada vs. OrtizPosada’s offense has already been highlighted, but as mentioned before, he will be the Yankees’ everyday DH. The Red Sox will counter that with their Big Papi, David Ortiz.

Like Rodriguez, people can say what they want about Ortiz being on the “down side” of his career. But if last year was any indication, Big Papi still has a lot left in the tank. Boston’s slugger clubbed 32 homers last year and knocked in 102 runs on a .270 batting average.

Ortiz says it all the time, “All I do is hit. That’s what I am here for, because I don’t play defense.”

And Ortiz can still hit. When he steps up to the plate, there’s no doubt that his presence alone can intimidate a pitcher.

Posada may not intimidate a pitcher the way Ortiz does. But the Yankee DH did have 18 home runs last year, as previously mentioned.

 

A Look Ahead to 2011 and the Top 10 of 2010

 

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all!

I apologize for not blogging in quite awhile. I have been busy with work and the holidays set me back, so I haven’t really had a chance to do a lot of Yankee Yapping.

Since my last blog entry, Cliff Lee signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, going back to the city of brotherly love for his second tour of duty. Am I upset the Yankees didn’t land him?

Bye bye Andy? :(

Yes, but only because he was really their only option. Andy Pettitte is expected to retire any day now and looking at things objectively, the Yankees have about two and a half pitchers in their rotation: CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett, who counts as a half a pitcher.

I checked out the free agent starters on the open market. There’s not much to look at, unless you count Carl Pavano and Ted Lilly as top-notch pitchers–both of whom have already faltered in pinstripes in the past.

Bottom line: the Yankee rotation needs help. And soon. The bullpen? Well…

Yanks got Feliciano

Pedro Feliciano is coming across town from the Mets. Who knows how he will do, but he better pitch well. Kerry Wood is headed back to the Chicago Cubs, which upset me. He was probably the best part of our bullpen towards the end of last season, outside of Mariano Rivera.

Russell Martin came over from Joe Torre’s Dodgers, and hopefully he will exhibit better skills behind the plate (at least in terms of throwing out runners) than Jorge Posada, who has already been named the 2011 designated hitter.


Russell Martin is a new Yankee 

Posada lost his starting catcher job. Sad, because more likely than not, this is his last year as a Yankee.

Reportedly, the Yankees were talking to Johnny Damon about a possible return. I hope he does come back because I have always liked him. It was a mistake to lose him to Detroit in the first place and I hope a deal can be reached. He would definitely improve the lineup, because everywhere he goes, the team gets better.

I really don’t know what to expect for 2011. I know the Red Sox have certainly improved, adding Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Bobby Jenks–joining the already dynamic group of players the Red Sox have, like David Ortiz (who can still hit for power) Dustin Pedroia (pesky little punk) Kevin Youkilis (annoying, strong hitter) and J.D. Drew (who can’t stay healthy with any team but Boston).

Buster Olney already compared the 2011 Red Sox to the Yankee Dynasty teams of the late 1990s. 

As much as that scares me, it doesn’t make sense. They haven’t played a game yet. Who knows what kind of team chemistry the BoSox will showcase, and if they will click or stay healthy, or even pitch effectively. I mean, they haven’t even played a game yet.

On paper, they are the best team in the American League. But as Derek Jeter always says, “On paper doesn’t win you ballgames.”

Still, Boston scares me. Their off-season reminds me of what they did prior to 2007 and they went on to win the World Series that year. They missed the playoffs in 2006 and came storming back with a great off-season and a Championship year to follow.

Are the Red Sox already the winners???

I get the feeling they can do that again, as much as I hate to admit it. Boston is stacked.

But enough about that. Now that I have outlined some of the dreadful thoughts for this upcoming season, and in the spirit of the New Year, I’ll review the top 10 Yankee moments/plays of 2010.

10) CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes Flirt with No-Hitters

CC Sabathia (middle) and Phil Hughes (right) came close to no-hitters in 2010

2010 was definitely the year of the pitcher. Perfect games and no-hitters were thrown by the likes of Roy Halladay, Ubaldo Jimenez, Dallas Braden, Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson…and almost by Armando Galarraga, but we all know what happened there.

On April 10, CC Sabathia took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays. Through 7 2/3 innings, Sabathia shut down the Rays’ potent lineup until Kelly Shoppach lined a sharp single into left field to break it up.

So close. But the Yankees won 10-0 and Sabathia picked up his first win of the year–his first of 21 wins.

Fast forward to 11 days later in Oakland and Phil Hughes on the hill.

The Yankees played the Athletics on April 21, and Hughes nearly tossed a no-no of his own. The 23 year-old righty stud pitched 7 1/3 innings before giving up a come-backer to Eric Chavez–a hit that caromed off Hughes himself. He ended the night with 10 strikeouts, a career-high for him. He only walked two batters.

Although he did not get the no-hitter, the Yankees once again prevailed, beating Oakland 3-1.

9) Opening Day at Yankee Stadium

Yankees get their rings

I feel especially biased towards this day, simply because I was there to witness it.

On April 13 the Yankees celebrated their 27th Championship with a ring ceremony and a game vs. the Los Angeles Angels. It was a glorious day and it meant a lot to me, spending it with my friends and family.


My cousin got a BP ball on Opening Day 

My cousin Thomas got a batting practice ball, the Yankees got their 2009 World Series rings, and I got a whole bunch of memories that will last for the rest of my life.

The Yankees beat the Angels, 7-5.

8) Comeback vs. Boston

Thames wins it!

May 17 was a memorable night for all Yankee fans.

Down 9-7 in the bottom of the ninth, Alex Rodriguez clobbered a game-tying home run off Yankee pariah/ Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Marcus Thames came up later in the frame and crushed a walk-off home run deep into the left field seats to end the game. Yankees 11, Red Sox 9.

Papelbon walks off in shame, Thames walks off the hero. And the Yankee fans go home with smiles on their faces.

7) Grand Ol’ Days

10 Grand Slams--THAT's what's up!!!

The Yankees smacked 10 grand slams this season, more bases-loaded home runs in one season than I can ever remember.

Alex Rodriguez had three: May 14 vs. the Minnesota Twins, May 31 vs. the Cleveland Indians, and July 7 at Oakland. Rodriguez now has 21 career grand slams, and he will tie Lou Gehrig for most career grannies (23) if he hits two slams next season.

Jorge Posada crushed two grand slams this year: June 12 and 13 vs. the Houston Astros. Two grand slams in as many games–now that’s impressive.  

Robinson Cano also hit two: May 28 vs. the Indians and Aug. 22 vs. the Seattle Mariners.

Curtis Granderson smacked a granny in Baltimore against the Orioles on June 8.

On July 3, Brett Gardner crushed his first career grand slam at home vs. the Blue Jays, a game my friends and I were going to attend. We opted instead to make a trip to Cooperstown to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

I was however at Yankee Stadium on June 20, when Mark Teixeira clobbered a grand slam off Mets’ ace Johan Santana.

It’s safe to say the Yankees did a number on opposing pitching when the bases were loaded in 2010. What’s more, the Bronx Bombers won every game they hit a grand slam in.

6) Derek Jeter’s Inside-the-Park Home Run

Jeter slides in to complete his inside-the-park home run on July 22

On July 22, Derek Jeter rounded the bases all the way for an inside-the-park home run in the Yankees’ game against the Kansas City Royals. It was only his second career in-the-parker, and ironically enough, his first also came against the Royals.

One could argue it was not exactly the prettiest inside-the-park home run, because center fielder David DeJesus had a play on the ball. He could not come down with it however, and he crashed into the plexiglass in right-center field. Jeter caught a break and was able to motor all the way around to tie the game at three.

DeJesus injured himself on the play and was taken out of the game. If he hadn’t fallen down, Jeter may not have been able to complete the home run.

In any event, it was one of the coolest home runs of the year. The Yankees went on to beat the Royals that day by a score of 10-4.

5) Joe Torre vs. The Yankees

Look out, Joe.

Former manager vs. former team. Teacher vs. his students. Joe Torre vs. the Yankees.

In June the Yanks met the Dodgers for a three-game series during interleague play and for the first time since 2007, the Yankees saw their old skipper Joe Torre. It was an interesting weekend; a turning point in the Yankees’ 2010 season.

The Dodgers and Yanks rekindled their old rivalry and traded victories in the first two games. Los Angeles handed the Yankees a decisive 9-4 win in the second game while the Bombers slipped past the Dodgers 2-1 in the first game.

The rubber game looked to belong to the Dodgers, as they led 6-2 in the ninth with flamethrower Jonathan Broxton on the mound. The resilient Yanks would not have any of it, as they rallied to score four runs in the ninth to knot the game at six.

An RBI double by Robinson Cano, a two-run double by Chad Huffman, and a fielder’s choice by Curtis Granderson, and the Yankees are back in it.

Cano came up in the top of the tenth, belting a long two-run home run to left-center. The Yankees went on to win 8-6 and beat their former teacher, winning the series 2-1.

I cannot speak for the rest of the Yankee fans, but to me, it felt SWEET to beat Torre. Sweet.

4) Mark Teixeira’s Big Day in Boston

Teixeira blasted three homers vs. Boston on May 8

Once, twice, three times the “Tex Message.”  

The Yankees visited the Red Sox on May 8, beating them 14-3. It was one of those great days to be a Yankee fan, to say the least.

Mark Teixeira accounted for a large amount of the scoring, hitting three home runs and driving in five runs on a total of four hits. He scored three runs and became only the second Yankee in history to hit three homers in one game off Boston–second only to Lou Gehrig.

I can remember watching that game with so much joy. Anytime the Yankees embarrass the Red Sox on a Saturday afternoon Fox Game of the Week, it’s a good day.

What also made it more enjoyable was what happened afterward.

Me on the YES Network!

The YES Network hosted their “Extra Innings” postgame show, where they ask the audience to write in their thoughts, ideas, or comments. If they like them they use them on the show.

I noticed how Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre had eight errors to that point in the season, and it was only May 8. I wrote in a comment and it made it to TV. The YES Network analysts said my name on TV and discussed my comment on the show.

There could not have been a better way to cap off a big Yankee win over the Red Sox.

3) The ALDS

Pop champagne!

October of 2010 was certainly different than October of 2009. They ended in different ways, but began in the same fashion.

The Yankees swept the Twins in the ’09 American League Division Series and did the same in 2010. This year the Yankees did not have home field advantage and had to win two games at Target Field before coming home to clinch the division.

In all honesty, I thought this year might be the Twins’ moment; I thought it may have been time for the Twins to get over the hump and finally beat the Yanks in the playoffs.

No such luck.

Another year, another early exit at the hands of the Yankees for Minnesota.

Although the ALCS was painful–unbearably, absoluteLEE painful–to watch, sweeping the Twins was a great start to October. After the Yanks swept, I thought history would repeat itself yet again. Unfortunately the magic vanished to the Texas Rangers.

But nothing can take away the feeling of beating the Twins. It was a great feeling.

2) 600

Really?

Alex Rodriguez, one way or another, is going down in the history books. Whether or not people recognize him as the greatest hitter of all-time, or just another major leaguer who tried to cheat the system, he will always be known and remembered.

On Aug. 4 A-Rod crushed his 600th career home run–exactly three years to the day after he hit his 500th home run. He joined baseball’s “600 Home Run Club” with the likes of Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Sammy Sosa.

A lot of folks, namely the New York Daily News, were quick to judge Rodriguez’s home run as a tainted accomplishment. Many people and baseball fans believe that because Rodriguez admitted steroid usage in his career, the feat means nothing.

Me on the other hand…well, I believe it still means a lot. I have offered my opinion on steroids and do not condone drug usage. However, I believe it takes more than steroids to hit 600 home runs. Plenty of players who were on the juice never came close to 100 home runs, let alone 600.

I still consider it a great moment for A-Rod and a great moment for the Yankee organization.

1) The Game for the Boss and Sheppard


For Bob and The Boss 

On July 13 the Yankees lost their principle owner. I used to refer to George Steinbrenner as “The Godfather” of the Yankees, and this season he lost his life at the age of 80.

Steinbrenner was the longest tenured Yankee owner in team history and he died just two days after the Yanks lost their longtime public address announcer, the legendary Bob Sheppard.

On July 16, the Yanks’ first game following the All-Star break–and more importantly their first game after losing their Boss (and only their second game after losing Sheppard), they dramatically rallied back to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4.

The night started off in emotional fashion. The team could barely hold in their tears and Jeter, our fearless captain, could hardly keep himself together as he addressed the crowd during the pregame ceremony. There was a two-minute period of dead silence during the ceremony, and not one Yankee fan made a peep.

All that was heard throughout Yankee Stadium during those two minutes: the whipping sounds of the flags blowing in the wind and a passing subway train. That’s how much respect Sheppard and Steinbrenner commanded.

Mariano Rivera placed two long-stemmed roses over home plate in remembrance of their fallen comrades.

The Yanks scuffled a bit during the game, giving the Rays a 4-3 edge heading into the eighth. Nick Swisher had other plans, crushing a game-tying home run in the bottom of the frame before recording the big game-winning hit in the ninth, a single which plated Curtis Granderson.

We win!!!!

Yankees win an emotional game for Sheppard and the Boss.     

Later in the season, Steinbrenner was honored with a plaque out in Monument Park. The Yankees invited many of their former players and dignitaries, including Joe Torre and Don Mattingly. Everyone filed out to the area behind centerfield and another ceremony was held unveiling the plaque on Sept. 20.

For George

Unfortunately the Yankees could not capitalize and win their 28th title the year of Steinbrenner’s passing. However, it’s important to remember that when he passed away, the Yankees were reigning champions.

It is only fitting that Steinbrenner went out a winner.

 

 

Well, that about puts a cap on 2010.

May 2011 bring many more great Yankee memories, and hopefully the 28th World Series Championship.

Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training next month!