Tagged: Detroit Tigers

99 Problems

Well…at least it may seem like that way. Although the Yankees don’t technically have 99 problems, the gaping holes in the pitching staff are not making things easy for the Bronx Bombers.

Despite a late-game attempt to stage a comeback this afternoon at home, the Yankees dropped the second game in their three-game series with the Detroit Tigers, 7-5.

The loss rested primarily on the shoulders of, no surprise, the starting pitching. As a matter of fact, most of the games the Bombers have lost this year were the result of the starters putting the offense in a hole they weren’t able to climb out of.

Something undoubtedly needs to be done, but the solution to this problem isn’t as simple as calling up a young arm to replace a scuffling starter. Even the highly-touted young men in the minors are in trouble.

To bottom line it: the Yankee pitching hasn’t been consistent. Today’s culprit…

Freddy Garcia

For the second consecutive start, Freddy Garcia only pitched 1.2 innings. His last time out the Red Sox shelled him at Fenway; seven hits, five earned runs before the end of the second inning, and it was time for him to hit the showers.

But the Yankee offense miraculously bailed Garcia out, coming back from a nine-run deficit to win.

Today, he wasn’t as lucky.

The Tigers tattooed Garcia for six earned runs on five hits, chasing him from the game before the second inning concluded. The Yankees tried to chip away on the strength of two home runs off the bat of Nick Swisher and one from Curtis Granderson.

A valiant effort, but it could not be done.

Not that I ever want to wish ill of the Yankees or want them to lose, but in a strange way, I’m glad they did – only because Garcia deserved the loss, which he recorded. Garcia is now 0-2 this year with a skyscraping 12.51 ERA.

He has only pitched 13.1 innings in the four starts he’s made and has allowed 19 earned runs in those games. If that isn’t enough, opponents are averaging .403 against Garcia.

It’s only been four games, nonetheless the question right now is: how long are the Yankees going to let this continue? The fans have lost their patience, as evidenced by the deafening chorus of boos he received walking off the mound today.

Garcia’s nickname is “The Chief.” It’s my presumption that soon he’ll be the Chief of a different tribe.

But Garcia isn’t the only starter who has hasn’t pitched up to his potential.

Phil Hughes

In 2007 Sports Illustrated dubbed Phil Hughes the “Pocket Rocket,” comparing him to a young Roger Clemens. It’s hard enough to live up to such a comparison, but even more difficult trying to live up to it in pinstripes.

Hughes hasn’t exactly been a total bust, but he certainly hasn’t been what the Yankees had hoped for. He’s been a big leaguer since April, ’07 – that’s five years and the start of a sixth, by my math – and really only has two good seasons to show for it.

In 2009 Hughes was relegated to the bullpen where he shined in a setup role for the better part of the year. He went 8-3 and struck out 96 batters in 86 innings pitched. Hughes helped lead the Yankees to the ’09 World Series title and followed up with a stellar overall record in 2010, pitching out of the rotation.

Hughes won 18 games, but started to decline; his arm tired. Since the end of the ’10 season, he hasn’t been the same pitcher, going 5-5 last year with disabled list stints and poor outings.

This season Hughes is 1-3 with an elevated 7.88 ERA. His pitches look flat and his fastball has no movement, giving hitters the ability to feast upon it. Each of Hughes’s losses have been convincing defeats; he’s let up 14 earned runs in the 16 innings he’s pitched.

It’s just not working out for him right now.

I’m not sure if there is an answer for it, other than the Yankees may have flip-flopped him too many times; juggled him from the ‘pen to the rotation too much. The constant role reversal from starter to reliever may have caused too much wear and tear to his arm, and more particularly, his rotator cuff – which he had surgery on.

The same way I have no answer for his sudden pitching neurosis, I have no answer for what the Yankees should do about Hughes.

Trade him? His value is too low.

Send him to the minors? No point.

Hughes may be having a rough go of it, but not as rough as his partner….

Joba Chamberlain

While Joba Chamberlain may not have been given a special nickname by Sports Illustrated (except for maybe “Joba the Hutt” in a joking manner) he was the most excitable and energetic pitcher to come up through the Yankee farm system.

Like Hughes, Chamberlain debuted in 2007 and made an immediate impact, throwing close to 100 mph every time he came out of the bullpen in relief. Another way he was like Hughes: his constant role reversal.

Chamberlain was made a starter in 2008, and then as everyone knows, placed on the infamous “Joba Rules,” limiting his innings in ridiculous ways. In ’09 he worked as a starter and out of the ‘pen before once again being made a full-time reliever.

You would think the Yankee brass would just come up with a definite plan for their young arms, right?

Think again.

The injury bug has bit Chamberlain so many times over the last two years. Most recently, a trampoline incident fractured his ankle, probably ending his season. Chamberlain has made it clear he is adamant about returning this year, but even if he does, it’s fair to say he might not be the same flamethrower he was when he first joined the show.

The Yankees made a trade in the off-season, most likely to help make up for the lack of production they were getting out of Hughes and Chamberlain.

How’d that work out?

Michael Pineda

On Jan. 13 the Yankees swapped one of their prime young bats, Jesus Montero, in exchange for Michael Pineda, a promising starting pitcher who was a sensation in Seattle; the supporting cast member to Felix Hernandez’s star.

After a good-looking Spring Training, Pineda experienced pain in his pitching shoulder. He got it checked out, was diagnosed with tendinitis, and was ultimately placed on the 15-day DL literally right before the first game of the year.  

Following Pineda’s tendinitis, an MRI revealed he has a torn labrum, forcing the Yankees to shut him down for the entire season.

The 23-year-old will not pitch in 2012 while Montero currently has three homers and 12 RBIs for the Mariners.

Talk about a punch in the gut.

I joked the other day that when the Yankees visit Seattle this year, Brian Cashman should walk right up to the Mariners’ GM and simply say, “You hustled me, man.”

All kidding aside, it remains to be seen whether or not Pineda will pay dividends, because his injury hasn’t given him the chance to show the Yankees what he can really do. But until at least 2013, the trade basically was useless.

The Yankees have two other young arms waiting in the wings; possible hole-fillers for Pineda.

 However…

Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos

It’s tough to analyze each of these young hurlers, because they’re both pitching in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. I haven’t seen first-hand what they have been doing, so it’s tough to say if their numbers are indicative of how well or how poorly they’ve pitched.

But what’s that old saying? The numbers don’t lie?

24-year-old Dellin Betances has made five starts this year and is 1-2 with a 7.25 ERA. He’s allowed 22 hits in the 22.1 innings he’s pitched, along with 21 runs (18 of which have been earned). He’s struck out 19 batters – but that doesn’t look good next to the 21 walks he’s issued.

In 2009 Betances had Tommy John surgery and right now it seems as if he isn’t one of those pitchers that has had the procedure and thrived afterward.

After today’s loss, a lot of fans said, “Call up Betances and designate Garcia for assignment.” But from the way things are looking right now, that scenario would be almost as useful as replacing Garcia for…well…Garcia.

According to the numbers, Betances hasn’t been pitching well at all. And his teammate, 21-year-old southpaw Manny Banuelos, is having the same bad luck.

Banuelos has made two starts this year and is 0-1 with a 10.13 ERA. He’s thrown just 5.1 innings and let up six earned runs on 14 hits. Banuelos walked seven batters in those two games and only struck out two.

Making matters worse, Banuelos is currently on the DL, making his improbable call-up basically impossible. After a stint on the DL, I don’t see any likely scenario this year in which Banuelos gets the call to the big team.

What do you do when your present and future are betraying you?

Turn to the past…

Andy Pettitte

Although I have expressed my disdain for Andy Pettitte’s decision to come out of retirement – disdain that I still uphold – I did follow up by mentioning I wish no ill will on Pettitte and that if he returns and succeeds, more power to him; it will only help the Yankees.

And the Yankee pitching is hurting in the worst way right now. Therefore, I don’t see how Pettitte can do anything but help.

Due to inclement weather conditions, Pettitte will pitch for Class-A Tampa in his next start (he had been slated to start for Double-A Trenton). From there he will be evaluated and hopefully, for the Yankees’ sake, be ready to join the team and aid the banged-up rotation in the coming weeks.

The Yankees’ 39-year-old lefty has had noted groin and elbow issues in the past. Hopefully the Bombers can catch a break for once, however, and Pettitte will return and fill the void left by the fledgling, young members of the rotation.

Rest easy, Yankee fans. Help is on the way.

…………………………………………………………

Just a Thought

Today I was texting with a friend while Garcia was getting lit up. He suggested the possibility of signing free agent Roy Oswalt.

If the Yankees could get him cheap, I’d say it’s a great idea. Low risk, possibly a high reward.

Like I said: just a thought.

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.

What I’ll Remember About the 2011 Season

Casey Stengel once said, “Most games are lost, not won.” And let’s be honest the Detroit Tigers did not win Game Five of the American League Division Series – the Yankees lost it. The Bronx Bombers dropped the decisive game of the ALDS 3-2, forcing them to an early postseason exit.

It marked the first time the Yanks have been knocked out in the first round since 2007, when they were bumped at the hands of the Cleveland Indians.

And with their loss, they collectively became the second person (if you will) to break my heart this year. That’s no lie. More on that later in this entry.

In the bottom of the fourth the Yanks had the bases loaded with one out and failed to score a run. Russell Martin popped out to first base for the second out, and Brett Gardner – who had been raking this entire series – popped the ball up in foul territory behind third, and it landed in the waiting glove of Don Kelly.

Then in the seventh with one out, the Yanks put the ducks on the pond again. Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging, but Mark Teixeira drew a walk forcing home a run to make the game 3-2. But Nick Swisher came up to the plate and murdered the rally with a K.

The Yankees received their first run on a solo home run off the bat of Robinson Cano in the fifth, his second of the ALDS  – his first being a Game One  grand slam. Derek Jeter nearly clubbed what would have been a go-ahead, two-run home run in the eighth.

With Gardner on first, the Captain launched a ball deep to the right field warning track, but it slowly lost wind and fell short of a potential game-winning round-tripper.

What can you say? It just wasn’t meant to be this year.

The Tigers – not the Yankees – will now advance to the American League Championship Series to face the Texas Rangers. A rematch of last year’s ALCS was just not in the cards.

The postseason magic was not there; the aura was absent. But there are a lot of memories and thoughts I am going to take away from this year. Here are a few things I’ll never forget about the 2011 baseball season:

Opening Day

There is nothing like the thrill of Opening Day. Spring is in the air, you get the sense of new life, and warm, happy feelings envelope you. Baseball is back and the Yankees did what they couldn’t do in the ALDS: they beat the Tigers.

Curtis Granderson punished his former team with a tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning, and threw in some defensive, game-saving web gems, leading the way to a 6-3 Yankee win over Detroit.

The Bronx Broskis started their year with a clean win over the Tigers. I think I speak for most Yankee fans when I say I wish they could have finished off Detroit in the ALDS the way they did on Opening Day.

May 12 vs. the Kansas City Royals

The Yanks hosted the Royals on May 12, and it was my first trip to the big ballpark in the Bronx this year. Just as Opening Day has a certain, special appeal to it, going out to your first game of the season is always fun.

The game turned into a stinker in a hurry, as the Royals put up six runs in the second inning. The Yanks wound up losing 11-5, really only receiving offense from Cano and Rodriguez, who both went yard.

What I remember isn’t so much the game action, but the people (and more particularly a person) I was with at that game. I am not the type of writer who would bury anyone I personally know in this or any other blog or column, but let’s just say (using no names) I was with the other person who broke my heart this year.

If she is reading this, I don’t know about you, but I had a blast at that game; the time of my life, and I was very happy and blessed to have spent that time with you. Thanks again for the chili dog you bought me, too.  I still think it was the best chili dog I ever had. 🙂

This game was the only time I can ever recall seeing the Yankees lose, but still being happy at the end of the night. In fact, I was probably the happiest person at the Stadium that night, and I can only hope she shared my happiness at the game.

I wouldn’t have traded the feeling I had for anything, not even a Yankee win.

June 15 vs. the Texas Rangers

On my birthday the Yankees met up with the Rangers – the same team that eliminated them from the ALCS in 2010. I once again went out to the Stadium, and wanted so badly for the Yanks to exact a little bit of revenge on Texas – and boy did they ever.

The Bombers squadoosh’d the Rangers 12-4, playing long ball to an eight-run victory.

Teixeira crushed two homers in the game, and Cano and Ramiro Pena also went deep. But the most special home run the Yankees hit probably came off the bat of Eduardo Nunez – it was his 24th birthday too!

A group of people, who I believe was Nunez’s family, were sitting in front of me, going absolutely crazy after his home run.

They held up signs that read, “Happy Birthday Eduardo!” and they were all wearing “Nunez 12” tee-shirts. Plus, they all bore a striking resemblance to him – so I’m convinced to this day it was the Nunez family in the row of seats in front of me that night.

A home run must have been a nice birthday present for Nunez. And a convincing, vengeful Yankee win was a nice gift for me.

Derek Jeter Leaves the Yard for 3,000th Hit

In what was probably the biggest story of the summer, the Yankee Captain, sitting on 2,999 career hits, smacked a home run on July 9, becoming the first player to ever record his 3,000th hit wearing pinstripes.

It was a moment for the ages.

All the Yankees came out of the dugout and congratulated Jeter, hugging him and giving him his legendary credit. The only picture I take away from that moment was Jorge Posada, his teammate since 1995, embracing him in celebration right after he crossed home plate.

If you were to ask Jeter, I’m sure he would say he was happy to have reached his milestone – but even happier the Yankees won the game. The Captain has always put the good of the team above himself and the Bombers topped the Tampa Bay Rays on July 9, 5-4.

Robinson Cano Wins the Home Run Derby

The prelude to the All-Star Game is the Home Run Derby. Certain clubs show off their most powerful sluggers, and Cano participated in this year’s home run contest in Arizona. To everyone’s surprise, the studly second baseman won it.

Now, I have to ask, what’s better than having a Yankee win the Home Run Derby?

How about a Yankee beating a Red Sox player to win the Home Run Derby!

Because that is exactly what happened.

Cano outdueled Boston first baseman Adrian Gonzalez 12-11 in the final round, becoming only the third Yankee (Tino Martinez, 1997, and Jason Giambi, 2002) to take home the Home Run Derby crown.

August 23 vs. the Oakland Athletics

 

This would mark my third and final trip to the Bronx this summer, a game against the A’s. My good friend and fellow die-hard Yankee fan Micheal Robinson was in New York, visiting from Atlanta.   

He got incredible seats right behind the wall in left field, and although the Yankees once again lost, they nearly capped an unreal comeback late in the game.

Down 6-0 entering the bottom of the eighth, the Yanks plated three runs on a three-run Swisher home run to cut the lead in half. In the bottom of the ninth Posada clobbered a solo home run, and the Yanks later loaded the bases.

We thought we were in for an improbable comeback.

With the bases chucked and two outs, Cano drew a walk, cutting the lead down to 6-5. Then Swisher came up again and clubbed a towering drive to deep left-center field. On the edge of our seats, Micheal and I slowly stood up watching the ball fly, ready for a whipped cream pie celebration…

Only for the ball to slowly die on the warning track for the final out. Yanks lose, 6-5.  

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the game. It was a great night with a great friend. My record in attendance at 2011 Yankee games ended at 1-2.

 

Mariano Rivera Becomes Baseball’s All-Time Saves Leader

On Sept. 19 at Yankee Stadium Mariano Rivera recorded his 602nd career save, passing Trevor Hoffman on the all-time saves list. Rivera, who has been lights-out at the end of each Yankee game for the better part of the past 15 years, only solidified what we have known all along:

That he is the greatest closer in the history of baseball.

In typical Rivera fashion, he mowed down the Minnesota Twins 1-2-3 in the ninth inning, wrapping up a 6-4 Yankee win. When he was finished closing the game, he humbly put his head down, and shook his catcher’s hand.

But after that show of sportsmanship Rivera (of course) realized what he had done and acknowledged the love and support he received from his home crowd. Posada even pushed him back out to the mound where he was cheered overwhelmingly.

Again, in typical Rivera fashion he thanked God, his family, the Yankees, and the fans.

It was just another wonderful moment in 2011 – and in Yankee history.

Boston Losing Out of the Postseason

I know I’ve told this story more than once, but for one last time, I’ll tell it again.

All the way back in January I was with a few friends down at a New York City bar watching the Jets’ AFC Title game vs. the Steelers. Although it was a football game, me and each of my friends were wearing Yankee apparel.

In walks a drunken Red Sox fan, wearing a 2004 Championship shirt. And he began to taunt us.

“Are you guys ready for Michael Kay this year? Swisher on the track, at the wall, looking up, SEE YA! Another home run for Carl Crawford and the Red Sox lead, 7-3!”

We just laughed it off and walked away. On the way home from the bar we made fun of him for not even teasing us the right way.

“Hey, at least he gave the Yankees three runs in his little fantasy game,” we snickered. “If he were smart, or maybe sober, he would have made it 15-0 in favor of the Red Sox.”

Boston failing to make the postseason – when practically everyone on this planet had them picked to win the World Series – in my eyes, was just epic; one of the worst, if not the worst collapses I have ever seen.

I would have loved to see that guy’s face when Tampa Bay battled back from nine games behind the Wild Card standings – and when Baltimore crushed Boston’s hopes at a postseason run on the last day of the regular season.

Unbelievable.  

I will never forget how that Red Sox fan basically had his team in the World Series before the season even began and they didn’t even make the playoffs, going 6-20 in the month of September.

The Boston collapse proved two things to me:

1)      You can never speak too soon, and

2)      You can’t win games on paper. The Red Sox may have had the best-looking team on a lineup card, but if the best-looking team folds like an accordion when it matters, it doesn’t guarantee you anything.

Well, Yankee fans. It was one helluva season; one I’ll probably never forget. It is unfortunate the Yanks could not create the magic for us and bring home Championship No. 28.

I’d like to thank everyone for sticking it out this season and reading Yankee Yapping. I promise to write as much as I can during the off-season while the MLB hot stove cooks, boils, bakes, burns, or does whatever it does.

Hopefully I’ll be blogging about Ivan Nova winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award, and either Granderson or Cano winning the AL MVP.

Until then, I’ll say the same thing I did when the Yanks got booted in last year’s ALCS:

Keep your heads up, Yankee fans.

And just remember: we still own 27 World Titles, and we’re still the best team in the world.

Back to the Bronx!

Let me tell you a little about my day, and in what direction I thought it was going in.

This afternoon I was in my car, driving of course. I was stopped at a traffic light, minding my own business. Then…BOOM! I got rear-ended by some lady who was not paying attention to the road. Thankfully my bumper was only scratched: not really any major damage to my (new) car. Oh, and if you’re wondering, no. I wasn’t hurt; just a little rattled at the time, although I did have a mild headache when I got home from work.

People, driving requires 100% of your attention. Remember that.

I only thought my headache was going to get more severe, considering A.J. Burnett was starting for the Yankees in Game Four of the American League Division Series, down two games to one, at the mercy of the Detroit Tigers. I’ll be the first to admit, I felt very uneasy with Burnett on the mound, an 11-11 record this season with a 5.15 ERA.

His numbers alone are enough to give anyone a headache, even without getting rear-ended by a car.

Some Yankee fans, most notably Yankee roll caller and lead Bleacher Creature Bald Vinny, started a Facebook campaign: “I Believe in A.J.” Despite the doubt a lot of people had concerning Burnett’s ability to pitch in an elimination game, it is evident the fans got behind him.

All the faith was rewarded.

Aside from one inning, he didn’t disappoint. Burnett helped lead the way to a 10-1 Yankee win in Game Four, forcing a Game Five on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.

The key play in the game came in the bottom of the first inning. The Tigers loaded the bases with two outs, and Don Kelly smacked a liner into centerfield. Curtis Granderson dove, laid out and made a game-saving grab to end the inning.

Burnett owes his centerfielder dinner after a catch like that.

Had the ball gone over Granderson’s head, anything could – and would – have happened. Kelly would have definitely cleared the bases and he would have undoubtedly made it to third – or even home. In perspective, it could have been an inside-the-park grand slam, and Burnett’s confidence may have disappeared, allowing Detroit to run up the score.  

But it didn’t happen.

Burnett had walked three batters in the first (Miguel Cabrera was walked intentionally) and looked a bit jittery, but seemed to settle down nicely after the shaky frame. He ended the night with 5 2/3 innings pitched, and he gave up just one earned run on four hits. Burnett walked four batters and struck out three.

The only blip on Burnett’s radar was a home run to Victor Martinez in the bottom of the fourth, and yet it didn’t really matter because the Yankees had already put two runs on the board.  

When Burnett left the mound, he got a lot of love from his teammates. I’d say if you took one still frame from the game tonight, the picture of the infield players collectively patting Burnett on the back speaks volumes about the amount faith they had in him.

After Burnett left, yesterday’s goat Rafael Soriano came in – and Granderson once again flashed the leather, making another beautiful catch in centerfield to end the inning. Not only did Granderson save Burnett, but he aided Soriano with a spectacular web gem.

The pitching and defense was there, but you need offense to win a game. And the Bomber bats came alive in this one.

The Yankees were retired 1-2-3 in the first and second innings – and it looked as though it was going to be another stagnant and dead night at the plate. But right before Derek Jeter stepped into the batter’s box, I put on my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles slippers.

Right after I put them on the Captain crushed a two-run double to plate Jorge Posada and Russell Martin. The Yankees took the lead and never relinquished it.

“I think my slippers may have been the Yanks’ good luck charm,” I thought to myself. “I’ll keep them on.”

If they were a good luck charm, they were working in the top half of the fifth. The Yanks added two more runs on a double by Granderson which knocked in Brett Gardner. Alex Rodriguez later hit a sac fly to drive in Jeter.

Hanging onto a 4-1 lead, the Bronx Broskis exploded for six runs in the eighth – and batted around. A balk by Al Albuquerque sent Rodriguez to the plate, a single by pinch-hitter Jesus Montero drove in Mark Teixeira, and then Gardner plated Chris Dickerson (who pinch-ran for Nick Swisher).

And they still weren’t done.

A Daniel Schlereth wild pitch allowed Montero to score, then Robinson Cano knocked Martin and Gardner in with an two-run single.

10 runs in the game. And now we’re heading back to the Bronx, the ALDS tied 2-2.

The last time the Yankees played a Game Five in the ALDS was 2005, and it didn’t go well for them. The Bombers played in Anaheim and were outdone 5-3 at the hands of the Angels.

This time around, however, the Yankees will not be on the road. They will be in the comfort of Yankee Stadium and essentially they have home field advantage and momentum again.

In more good news for the Yanks, the last time they played a Game Five in the ALDS at home, they beat Oakland all the way back in 2001. Strangely enough they won the ’01 ALDS Game Five by the same score they lost the ’05 ALDS by: 5-3.

The Yankees broke the trend tonight. They seemed to be following the 2006 ALDS script a little too closely, but now they have the chance to make a little comeback and beat the Tigers; an opportunity to punch the proverbial ticket back to the American League Championship Series.

Ivan Nova, who dazzled in Game One, will take the mound in the deciding game, hoping to keep the postseason dream alive. He will be opposed by Doug Fister, who the Yankees got to on Saturday.

If the Yanks win Thursday, the Texas Rangers await them in the ALCS – a potential rematch of last year’s Championship Series.

Speaking of breaking playoff trends, the Yankees lost to the Rangers last year.

They will have to break that trend, too. But they have to get there, first. I’ll be working a high school football game Thursday night at 6:00, so I’ll probably only miss the first and maybe the second innings of the game.

When I get home, one thing is for sure: I am putting on my ninja turtles slippers.

Trending Topics

October 3, 2006: The Yankees beat the Detroit Tigers 8-4 in Game One of the American League Division Series at home – a rather easy win, a good start out of Chien-Ming Wang, and overall a well-played game.

October 1, 2011: The Yankees beat the Detroit Tigers 9-3 in Game One of the ALDS. Again, a relatively easy win in front of a partisan Yankee Stadium crowd; a good amount of offense (namely from Robinson Cano) and a good pitching performance from Ivan Nova led the way to a decisive victory for the Bronx Broskis.

October 5, 2006: The Tigers beat the Yankees in a close game, 4-3, taking game two – and home field advantage – away from New York.

October 3, 2011: The Tigers beat the Yankees 5-3, another close game, and swiped home field advantage, taking the series back to Detroit.

Noticing a trend here?

If you’re wondering, the Yankees were shut out in Game Three of the ’06 ALDS, 6-0, at the (greasy) hands of one Kenny Rogers. Their task tonight is to beat 24-game winner and American League Cy Young Award shoe-in Justin Verlander – a task which may prove to be very daunting.

On Saturday at Yankee Stadium before Game One was suspended, Verlander didn’t look like himself. His pitches were missing up out of the zone, and he walked two batters while giving up an earned run in the lone inning he tossed.

But that could have just been an aberration.

Just as Alex Murphy was transformed into RoboCop in Detroit (I’m not holding back with the obscure Detroit/RoboCop references for this series) tonight Verlander has the chance to morph back to what he really is; erase that mediocre first inning from Game One – and do it in front of his home audience at Comerica Park.

The Yankees will counter with their ace, CC Sabathia. The big man only pitched two innings before the first game was suspended, and while he recorded four strikeouts and didn’t issue a walk, he gave up a solo homer to Delmon Young in the first inning.

Over the last 10 games of the regular season, Sabathia was 4-3 with an ERA of 4.06. He allowed 87 hits in 68 2/3 innings, and gave up 31 earned runs.

Down the stretch, Sabathia seemed to struggle, yet the ace still posted 19 wins and finished with an ERA of 3.00. Even in the face of a scuffle, Sabathia showed he can still put up solid numbers.

Tonight Sabathia will have to stand toe-to-toe with the probable AL Cy Young Award winner – and the Yankee bats have to come alive, more alive than they were in Game Two. Yesterday they made Max Scherzer, a pitcher with nine losses and a 4.43 ERA this season, look like Nolan Ryan.

Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez are the three key offensive players that need to lead the team at the plate – especially A-Rod. Rodriguez is 0-for-8 in this series thus far. In another strange trend, he went 1-for-14 in the ’06 ALDS.

If Verlander happens to outduel Sabathia, the Yanks will find themselves in the same spot they were in back in 2006, down two games to one in the Motor City – and the pattern could continue.

Their ‘06 fate might be duplicated in ‘11.

October 7, 2006: Down two games to one, the Yankees sent Jaret Wright to the mound in an elimination game. Wright labored through two innings and gave up three runs, putting the Yankees in a quick hole they were never ever to climb out of. The Tigers went on to beat the Yankees 8-3 for the ALDS win.

October 4, 2011: The Yankees will send A.J. Burnett to the hill in what could be an elimination game; a loss tonight makes the series two games to one in favor of the Tigers. Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA this season – and you don’t have to sell any Yankee fan on how poorly Burnett pitched this year.

There is no Yankee fan anywhere in the world (at least that I know of) that has any faith in Burnett.

Tonight could make or break the series for New York. If the Yanks can pull out a win, then no matter what, at the very least they will be coming back to the Bronx for a Game Five.

But the Yankees will have to break this vicious trend if they want that to happen.

ALDS Game 1

It may have taken about 24 hours to complete – but Game One of the American League Division Series is in the books. The Yankees had to wait, but for them, a win like tonight was probably worth waiting for. The Bronx Bombers took Game One from the Tigers in convincing fashion, 9-3.

Obviously the two standouts from this game: Ivan Nova and Robinson Cano.

Nova finished what Sabathia started yesterday night, pitching 6 1/3 innings – and he nearly finished the game, although if he had, it would not have gone is the record books as a complete game because the game was suspended. Nova stood tall and refused to be rattled, only allowing two earned runs on four hits.

The walks may be a concern, as he issued four free passes, but he did strike out five.

Moving forward, the Yankees have to be feeling a lot more confident about him. Remember: Nova is a rookie, and for a rookie to basically start an important playoff game – and pitch the way he did – is impressive and reassuring.

If the Yankees are lucky, Nova will not have to pitch again until the American League Championship Series. Undoubtedly he will continue to be tested throughout this postseason. And if he duplicates what he did tonight, he will pass the playoff test with flying colors.

And then there’s the studly second baseman.

Cano came up in the bottom of the fifth with the score knotted 1-1 and went oppo, crushing a double off the left field wall that plated Curtis Granderson. The play went under review, as it looked to go over the wall and come back, but in fact bounced off the top of the wall. It stood as a two-base hit.

He may not have cleared the wall in left field in the fifth, but he sure as heck cleared the right field wall in the sixth.

Brett Gardner singled to drive in Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada, but Cano then stepped up with the bases chucked and creamed a grand slam into the second deck in right field, completing a six-run sixth inning for New York.

That granny was the first slam in a Yankee postseason game since Ricky Ledee crushed one in Game Four of the 1999 ALCS – off Rod Beck (†) at Fenway Park.

You’d think a grand slam and a go-ahead RBI double would be enough for anyone in one game.

But Cano still wasn’t done.

In the eighth he doubled again, this time driving home Derek Jeter, registering six of the Yankees’ nine runs in the game. With his hitting show, he became the eighth Major League player to drive in six runs or more in an LDS game.  

If Cano stays as red hot as he was tonight, the Yankee offense can breath easily.

Tomorrow afternoon Freddy Garcia will take the ball and hope to keep the Yanks winning. He will face off with Max Scherzer in Game Two.

I think the most important thing for the Yankees to keep in mind is that the series isn’t over. Indeed it was a motivating and encouraging win, but anything can happen.

Remember: in the 2006 ALDS vs. Detroit the Bronx Bombers started with a Game One win – and then dropped three in a row to lose it all.

Complacency is not an option. They still have two games to win in this series.

And I’m sure they know that. Now it’s just a matter of putting it together.

See you after Game Two.

Rain, Rain Go Away

Quite an inauspicious start to the American League Division Series. Come to think of it, “inauspicious” might not be the word for it. “Wet” and “Soggy” are probably the operative words.

Yankee skipper Joe Girardi had one thing to say about the weather once again ruining a night of baseball at the new Yankee Stadium:

“It’s too late to build a roof.”

The Yankees and Tigers looked primed to be in a battle tonight, tied 1-1 heading into the bottom of the second inning. Delmon Young went the other way in the first inning for a solo home run, depositing the ball on the short porch and putting the Tigers on the board.

But the Yanks answered with a groundout by Alex Rodriguez which plated Derek Jeter in the bottom half of the first to knot it up.

Then, like many times this season, the skies opened up, rain poured down over Yankee Stadium, and we entered a rain delay. About two hours after the game officially started, it was officially called, much to the chagrin of all Yankee fans.

My Facebook and Twitter feeds blew up.

“I hate rain!”

“Screw you, Mother Nature.”

“Game One postponed?!”

“This ruined my Friday night.”

What This Means For the ALDS

Game One will resume tomorrow night at 8:37, picking up right where we left off: in the bottom of the second inning, the score knotted 1-1.

CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander started tonight – and they will not pitch tomorrow.

Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland already knows how he is going to configure his pitching staff for the remainder of the series. Doug Fister will pitch the resumed Game One tomorrow night, Max Scherzer will start Game Two (to be played on Sunday afternoon at 3:07), Game Three he will re-send Verlander to the mound – and Game Three is Monday night.

If it goes to a fourth game, it will be played on Tuesday night and Rick Porcello gets the ball. If the series goes the distance and reaches a decisive fifth game on Thursday, it’s Fister again.

This rain-out could mean good news for the Yanks: they’ll only see Verlander once.

Girardi indicated that rookie Ivan Nova will start the resumed Game One tomorrow night. Freddy Garcia will start Sunday, but from there, he doesn’t yet know what direction he will go in.

In his owns words, “Nova will pitch for us tomorrow, Freddy will go Sunday, and after that I can’t tell you how we’ll do it.”

More likely than not, Sabathia will take the ball in Game Three, although from what I read he may lobby to pitch Sunday.

But the way things look right now, just as Verlander is only pitching once in this series, Sabathia might have to suffer the same fate. There is a chance the Yankees might need a fourth starter in this series, and the skipper hinted at who he will probably turn to.

“It’s obviously something we’re going to have to talk about,” Girardi said of a fourth starter.

“A.J. is obviously the most stretched out for us, in that situation.”

Cue the barf bags.

This certainly isn’t what either team wanted or expected, but as the old saying goes, you cannot predict or fight the weather. I’ve recently learned there are things in life you can and cannot control, and rain falls into that category.

Yesterday I wrote about the similarities and differences between this ALDS and the ALDS the Yankees played against the Tigers in 2006. This rain-out is another parallel that can be drawn between ’11 and ’06. There was a rain-out in that series as well which affected the Yankees.

No matter what happens now, at the end of this series, whoever loses is probably going to point to tonight and say the rain-out did not help. I don’t anticipate either team or manager to make excuses, but if there isn’t a sweep, they have to play four days in a row – and that is not favorable to any team in a playoff series.

Unfortunately for the Yankees and Tigers, just like tonight, heavy rain is in the forecast for tomorrow night. If the game gets rained out tomorrow night, I’ll be officially convinced that God is laughing so hard at the Red Sox collapse that He’s crying – which in turn is creating rain over Yankee Stadium.

If that is the case: God, I love you, but please stop. And let the Yankees play ball.