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.
In college I learned a lot about feature stories. If you are not familiar with them or if you are unfamiliar with the journalistic term, feature stories are basically a break from the hard news; a look at people’s lives without the craziness of what is happening at that moment. They can be interesting, unique, and moving, if written or conveyed properly.
Tonight ESPN’s series E:60 began its new season. The show airs every Tuesday night and it is basically a program about feature stories; a break from SportsCenter and the game recaps with a focus on different athletes and their personal triumphs and tragedies.
On tonight’s season premiere, my eyes were opened – and eventually swelled. ESPN did an investigative and gripping piece on Christina-Taylor Green, the 9 year-old girl who was killed in Tucson, AZ on Jan. 8 of this year.
I didn’t realize until tonight that Christina was the granddaughter of Dallas Green, manager of the Yankees in 1989. Green also managed the Philadelphia Phillies to their first World Series in 1980.
Christina was born on Sept. 11, 2001, one of the worst days in American history. Her parents said she was a “glimmer of hope” in the wake of such tragedy; out of the worst day in America’s history came their sparkling little girl.
Christina enjoyed baseball and she was very close with her Little League teammates. I suppose she had to be, considering her background. There was only one other girl on her team, 8 year-old Mae Sinclair. Even as a girl, she had the respect of all her male teammates, and she never thought of herself of as a female ballplayer – just a ballplayer.
When she died, at the hand of a sick gunman who was looking to assassinate Senator Gabrielle Giffords, everyone around her seemed to be impacted in such a major way. Although I am not a parent myself, I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to lose a child at such a young age. Her grandfather seemed devastated and heartbroken while her young teammates expressed how sad they were, not to be playing with her this year.
“It feels good to be playing baseball again, but without her it’s a little bit lonely,” remarked one of her teammates.
Another said, “I think that it’s just sad that she’s not here anymore.”
The sincerity in the eyes of these young ballplayers was just overwhelming. I think the sadness in their eyes is what turned my eyes into Niagra Falls.
ESPN takes you the viewer through the whole story, as emotionally draining as it is. The most breathtaking part of the whole story is the end. They show how an angel, fashioned out of steel from the World Trade Center, now sits behind the field Christina once played on – as well as how that field is now named after her.
There have not been many programs or movies that I have seen that have driven me to tears. This story did, and more importantly, it taught me a lesson. One person, no matter how small, can make a world of difference in someone’s life. Christina’s personality seemed to touch so many people around her and I think it lives on through her legacy.
I also feel I learned that no matter how bad I think I have it, things can be worse. A young lady, who had such a zest for life and possessed such a positive attitude, is now gone. And not only is she gone, her loving family is without her and I know that I shouldn’t take my life for granted because there are other people who valued their life and aren’t here anymore.
If you would like to be moved and watch Christina’s story, click here.
Also, be sure to catch E:60 every Tuesday night at 7:00 on ESPN. You will see some wonderfully compiled feature stories and some top-notch reporting. I don’t agree with some of what ESPN has to say, but trust me, this show is a must-see for any sports fan.
The Yankees are known as New York’s number one baseball team. The Bronx has seen 27 World Series titles and has a history of winning. Year after year the Yankees are in the hunt for the playoffs and they always have a shot at winning it all.
But on the other side of the city in Flushing, Queens, the Mets have not had an easy run these past few years. The last time the Mets won a Championship was 1986 and the last time they even came close to a World Championship was 2006. The so-called “Amazin’ Team” made it to the National League Championship Series and pushed the St. Louis Cardinals to a decisive Game Seven.
The Mets played their hearts out in that NLCS. That was evidenced by an incredible catch made by Endy Chavez in the final game. In the top of the sixth, Chavez tracked a fly ball (hit by Scott Rolen) to the left field wall at Shea Stadium. He leaped up, stuck his glove out over the wall, and brought the ball back into the park for an out.
He turned a two-run homer into a spectacular double play.
Tied 1-1 going into the ninth inning, the Cards took the lead. Yadier Molina swung his bat and delivered a tie-breaking two-run home run to give St. Louis a 3-1 lead. The Mets threatened in the bottom of the frame, World Series in sight.
What could have been the Mets’ dream season ended with Carlos Beltran staring blankly at a disgusting breaking ball thrown by Adam Wainwright.
Strike three called. Beltran out. NLCS over. Cardinals win.
From that called strike three and basically losing the pennant by one pitch, it seemed the Mets never recovered – despite a number of attempts to better themselves. The team from Flushing has gone in a downward spiral; a torturous period of bad luck and misfortune. It just seems as if black cloud has followed the team around since Chavez’s catch.
Following the sad ending in the ’06 NLCS, the Mets went out and got the best pitcher on the trading block. Then-General Manager Omar Minaya made an offer to the Minnesota Twins and the Mets gave up some prospects for ace and two-time American League Cy Young Award Winner (2004, 2006) Johan Santana.
As the Mets’ biggest off-season acquisition, Santana did not have a poor year in ’07 (15-13, 3.33 ERA) but he did lead the N.L. in home runs allowed with 33.
But the real story of the year wasn’t Santana. It was what has become known as “The Collapse.”
For most of the year, the Mets dominated the NL Eastern Division. Into the stretch, they played exceptionally well, as they were 21 games over .500 at 83-62 on Sept. 12.
As they say however, objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear – and the Phillies were not far behind the Mets.
Leading Philadelphia by seven games in the division – with only 12 games left to play – the Mets folded and lost six of their final seven games. In a deadlock for first place with Philly on the last day of the season, the Mets were beaten 8-1 by the Florida Marlins.
Meanwhile the Phillies beat the Washington Nationals 6-1 to win the NL East – the same NL East the Mets had a firm grasp on earlier that month. The Phillies were heading to the playoffs and the Mets were going home for the winter.
It couldn’t possibly get any worse for the Mets after 2007, right?
Not quite. After the ’07 collapse came the collapse of 2008.
Throughout ’08 the Mets had problems, as they fired manager Willie Randolph mid-season and they let go of Pitching Coach Rick Peterson. Jerry Manuel, a former Manager of the Year, took over. But even he couldn’t guide the bullpen in the right direction, as the Mets’ relievers failed them in big spots.
It once again came down to the Mets and the Marlins on the last day of the season.
If the Milwaukee Brewers lost and the Mets won, New York would have captured the NL Wild Card. If the Brew Crew won and the Mets lost, Milwaukee was in.
Lo and behold, the Mets lost 4-2 to Florida on Sept. 28 and the Brewers won, a tragic way to end the final regular season game at Shea Stadium. When it was all over and the meltdown was complete, the Mets of old came out for a postgame ceremony. Players like Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden were on hand to send off Shea Stadium in a nice way.
But to the fans, it felt more like a funeral than a celebration. Two years, two chances for a playoff appearance. And both times, the Mets came up just short at the last minute.
Since then there hasn’t been any room for a postseason collapse for the Mets, simply because they haven’t been in a playoff race following the ’08 meltdown. They attempted to fix their scuffling bullpen by signing closer Francisco Rodriguez prior to 2009. Yet even in trying to build the ‘pen, things didn’t work out.
Case in point: June 12, 2009.
Luis Castillo, a second baseman the Mets traded for in 2007, botched a pop-up that cost the Mets a game – and not just any game: a Subway Series game against their cross-town rivals, the Yankees.
With K-Rod on the mound, two outs, and the Mets leading 8-7 with two men on base, Alex Rodriguez swung and batted a popup behind second base. Castillo got underneath the ball and readied himself to catch it.
When the ball came down he closed his glove, only for it to pop right out and fall to the right field grass, like a piece of bread exploding out of a faulty toaster. Castillo, obviously without his wherewithal, failed to get either base runner out, throwing the ball to second base rather than home plate.
The Yankees scored two runs on the error and won the game 9-8.
It didn’t get any better for the Mets from there, as they ended their first season in Citi Field with a record of 70-92, good for fourth place in the NL East behind Philadelphia, Florida, and Atlanta.
After 2009 the Mets once again tried to land a big-name free agent. Left fielder Jason Bay, coming off a good year playing for the Boston Red Sox, was available and on Minaya’s radar. They signed him to be a power hitter in the middle of the lineup, hoping he would produce and drive in over 100 runs for the season.
Bay did anything but that.
He finished 2010 with a batting average of .259 and only hit six homers with 47 RBIs. It wasn’t exactly what the Mets had in mind, as he had hit 36 home runs with 119 RBIs in Boston the year before. He was also sidelined for a good portion of the year, as he sustained a concussion in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The unlucky outfielder smacked his head against the outfield wall while tracking down a fly ball.
Bay only played 95 games last year and began this season on the disabled list with a rib injury.
Beltran, who was another big-ticket free agent the Mets acquired, has also had a rash of injuries. He had surgery on his knee in January of 2010 and it sparked controversy. The Mets’ organization said the procedure was done without their consent and they stressed their disappointment in Beltran about not consulting them about it first.
Before the Mets signed Beltran before the 2005 season, he gave them – and every other team in baseball – a good reason to seek him out. The centerfielder had slugged 38 homers in ’04 for Kansas City and Houston, and put on quite a hitting show in the 2004 NLCS, which the Astros played against the Cardinals. In that NLCS, he crushed four homers, knocked in five runs, and hit .417.
In his first season with the Mets Beltran hit 16 homers, recorded 78 RBIs, and he averaged .266.
Not a bad season by any means, but certainly not what the Mets had hoped for. Beltran had one outstanding season for the Mets in 2006 – ironically the only season in recent years the Mets have been any good. In ’06 he clobbered 41 homers, registered 116 RBIs, and hit .275.
Statistically, Beltran’s power numbers have declined every year since ’06.
The offense has not been the only facet of the Mets’ game that has been suffering. Their pitching – namely the hurlers they signed to get the job done – have also betrayed them.
Like Beltran, Santana has had one standout year (2008; 16-7, 2.53 ERA) but other than that season, he has been rather ineffective. He has been hurt for three straight years going back to 2009 and at the end of last year he left his Sept. 2 start early and was ultimately shut down. Later that month he had surgery on his pitching shoulder.
This year Santana has yet to pitch and will not begin the 2011 season until end of June or early July.
K-Rod, who had set the all-time saves record in a single season (62 in 2008) before going to Flushing, has not done anything close to what he did while playing for the Los Angeles Angels. Rodriguez went 3-6 in his first year with the Mets and blew seven saves (35 saves in 42 opportunities). He also had a back injury in 2009, once again an unfortunate happening for a player the Mets put a lot of stock into.
This year K-Rod already has one blown save, but one win. Against the Marlins on Saturday, he blew what would have been his first save of the year. However the Mets rallied and bailed him out, scoring three runs in the tenth to beat the fish 6-4.
The day before on Opening Day, the Mets suffered their first loss of the year, a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Marlins. A person who works for SNY, the Mets’ cable network, played a clip from the TV show “Family Guy” that poked fun at how poor the Mets have played these past few years.
With all of the collapsing, the breaking down, the failure year after year, the injuries to the big stars, the question has to be asked: if you sign with the Mets, are you committing career suicide? No matter what they do, will they ever be contenders again? Is the team, which has basically been reduced to nothing more than a laughingstock, going to eventually turn things around?
This year, probably not. The Mets just do not have the pitching to go toe-to-toe with the Phillies and some of the other teams in the division, such as the Braves. Combine that with the lackluster run production the Mets showcase, they do not stand a chance.
Even though the Mets are failing, Stewie Griffin is poking fun at them, and the state of the team is seemingly in a state of flux, one thing remains constant: the fans.
Mets fans are very loyal. They know that they are doomed to watch their team fall down and never garner enough energy to pick themselves back up. Yet they still go out to Citi Field, and still root for players like Beltran, Santana, Bay, and K-Rod, and others like David Wright, Ike Davis, and Jose Reyes.
I don’t know how they put up with losing, but they do. I tip my (Yankee) cap to them all.
Through 5 2/3 innings, the Yankee pitchers kept the Phillies off the bases. That is until Wilson Valdez smacked a line drive homer off Hector Noesi, a shot that landed over the left field fence at Steinbrenner Field. That blow ended the combined perfect game the Yanks’ hurlers were compiling and plated the only run for the Phillies, as the Bronx Bombers went on to beat them 7-1 this afternoon in an exhibition.
In the bottom of the second Eduardo Nunez crushed a three-run home run deep to left field off starter Roy Oswalt, giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead. Curtis Granderson came up to the plate the next inning and pulled a two-run shot over the left field fence, and the Yanks took a 5-0 lead.
Oswalt was pulled after 2 2/3 innings pitched, and he gave up five runs (three earned) on four hits. He walked no one and struck out three.
In the bottom of the fifth, Jorge Posada singled to plate Brett Gardner. Later in the frame, Granderson scored on an RBI single off the bat of Eric Chavez, giving the Yankees seven runs.
A.J. Burnett started for the Yankees and did not give an inch. The lanky right-hander tossed three perfect innings without allowing a walk. He only had one strikeout, but it was a big one. Burnett whiffed brand name first baseman Ryan Howard.
So far this spring Burnett has tossed five scoreless innings.
Notes & Things to Look Out For
· Obviously A.J. Burnett is doing something right, at least to this point. I mentioned after his first start that he looks like a different pitcher, and it’s the truth; his delivery and arm angle are not the same. His different look gives me a sense of confidence in him, because he didn’t have a good spring like this last year. In fact, I believe I made a remark last spring saying, “His numbers this spring are worse than Joe Biden’s mouth.”
· On a side note about Burnett, he tossed 45 pitches and 30 were strikes. He is demonstrating command – another positive. He looks as though he will be OK, but he is still a work in progress and he’s got a long way to go. Baby steps.
· Jorge Posada laced a double in the bottom of the third, and came around to score on a single by Eric Chavez. Oh wait…he actually didn’t. Posada missed the base and pitcher Vance Worley (who relieved Roy Oswalt) appealed at third and Posada was called out. It helps to touch the base when you’re running. It’s a general rule.
· Nick Swisher made a stellar catch in the top of the fourth to rob Placido Polanco of a hit. In foul ground, Swisher bent over the bullpen railing to make the catch, then front-flipped into the Yankee bullpen. He held on for the catch. It kind of reminded me of July 22, 2009 – the day Swisher ran up the right field wall at Yankee Stadium to make a fantastic catch, worthy of the highlight reel. I was at that game and the crowd went nuts. Everyone loves Swisher.
· Right after Swisher’s catch, Jimmy Rollins chopped a ball off Chavez’s glove at first. He stayed with it and flipped the ball to Joba Chamberlain, who actually covered the base. The big man got to the bag in time, getting Rollins out. Score that crazy play 3-1. It looked more exciting than it sounds.
· Speaking of Joba Chamberlain, he had a good line today: one inning pitched, no hits, no walks, and no strikeouts. It was a step up from his outing on Saturday against the Washington Nationals: one inning pitched, two earned runs on two hits, two walks, and no Ks. I hope this isn’t another up-and-down year for Chamberlain. Whatever Burnett is doing, he needs to do the same. Chamberlain’s ERA this spring is now 4.50.
· Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez did not play. Today was a split squad day (meaning there are two games; some players play in the first game and others play in the second). The regular infielders will play later tonight at the Orioles.
· What happened to Roy Oswalt today? He couldn’t get through the third inning. I think it was just an aberration for him, much like CC Sabathia’s poor start on Saturday vs. the Nationals (five runs in 2 2/3 innings). Against National League hitters this year, he’ll hold his own.
· Brett Gardner was 1-for-3 today with an RBI, a walk, and a stolen base. He was hitting from the leadoff spot today and seems capable of that role. He will most likely have to improve his bunting if he wants to hit in the number one hole.
· I have the feeling the fifth infielder spot is going to come down to Chavez and Nunez. Today Chavez had three hits in three at-bats, knocked in a run and came around to score once. He is batting .471 as of press time. Nunez showed a great amount of power with his home run and he is averaging .286 at the plate so far. Ramiro Pena might be the odd man out, only hitting .063 so far. He will have to turn on the jets if he wants to make the team right out of camp.
· “Perpetual” Pedro Feliciano tossed a perfect fifth inning with two Ks. I get the feeling he will be the primary lefty specialist. Sorry Boone Logan.
· Curtis Granderson is batting .357 this spring and has hit two homers so far. He hasn’t even played in every game, and if his numbers are any indication, he is primed for a big season.
· Mark Prior pitched around a Pete Orr double in the eighth, not allowing a run. He didn’t walk a batter and he fanned one. As I wrote a few days ago, I am pulling for him and I want him to be this year’s big comeback story. He is a hard worker and I get the feeling he wants nothing more than to bounce back and help the Yankees. So far he is proving he can do it.
· Jesus Montero went 0-for-1 at the plate today and struck out, leaving a man on base. He hasn’t really had the opportunity to break out, yet he is still hitting .250. His counterpart Austin Romine will get the start at catcher in tonight’s exhibition vs. the Orioles.
· Former Yankee Nick Johnson signed with the Cleveland Indians today. I feel sorry for them.
· Tomorrow afternoon the Yanks will travel to the Wide World of Sports to visit the Atlanta Braves (the game will be broadcasted on the YES Network). Freddy Garcia will make the start for the Bombers.
· The Yanks are now 4-5-1 in Grapefruit League play. (Subject to change, pending the outcome of the game vs. Baltimore tonight)
Following a 5-4 loss in the Grapefruit League opener, the Yankees beat the Phillies 7-3 in Clearwater this afternoon. The Yankees scored two runs in the fourth inning on a two-run, opposite-field home run hit by Curtis Granderson. The Yanks padded their lead in the sixth with four runs, started by an RBI double by Nick Swisher which scored Brett Gardner.
Later in the frame Ryan Howard committed a throwing error, allowing Jordan Parraz to score. Jorge Posada then doubled to score Granderson and top catching prospect Jesus Montero singled to plate Daniel Brewer.
Jorge Vazquez crushed his second homer in as many days in the top of the ninth, a solo homer to left field to give the Yanks their seventh run.
Ben Francisco knocked in all three of the Phillies’ runs. In the seventh he doubled to score Carlos Rivero and he crushed a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth.
Ivan Nova took the ball for the Yankees today and his line was strong: two innings pitched, no hits, no runs and two strikeouts. The Phillies’ fifth starter Joe Blanton got the nod and his line was also impressive: three innings pitched, no hits, no runs, a walk, and a K.
The Yankees will play Detroit in Lakeland tomorrow afternoon, but there were many storylines and a lot more to take away from today’s win over the Phils.
· In an off-the-field matter, we lost a legend today. Duke Snider, an eight-time All-Star and a two-time World Series Champion, passed away at the age of 85. He enjoyed a wonderful career playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, and San Francisco Giants. Snider was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980. R.I.P. Duke.
· Ivan Nova will obviously be fighting for a spot in the rotation, and he made a strong case for himself today. Aside from Chase Utley, who is out with tendinitis in his right knee, the Phillies fielded many of their regulars today. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, and Placido Polanco all started. Nova got many of them to groundout, pitching to contact. But his pitches were down and they had sink today. He looked great; almost reminiscent of Chien-Ming Wang a few years back.
· Dellin Betances pitched the fifth inning and demonstrated pretty good control, solid velocity, and accuracy. He struck out the side, albeit allowing a walk. But his fastball was moving, he used his breaking pitch effectively, and he showed a wicked knuckle-curve. He topped out on the speed radar at 97 mph. I can’t wait to see what else he has this spring.
· Jesus Montero was 1-for-3 with an RBI single today. He probably will not make the team right out of camp, as many are already noting. But if today is any indication, he will have a good year and probably see some time in the show.
· Jorge Vazquez’s home run may not have gone as far as it did yesterday, but he is making a really good first impression. Another home run today, this time to left field. He is now leading the Yankees in round-trippers this spring. Not bad for a player wearing number 94.
· It was comforting to see Curtis Granderson go “oppo” and smash a home run to left field. We really didn’t see that a lot last year and if he can adjust his swing and get around the way he did today, he will be a very dangerous hitter in 2011.
· Regular position players Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Robinson Cano did not make the trip to Clearwater today.
· After the game, pitching coach Larry Rothschild spoke more about A.J. Burnett. He said last year Burnett looked like a “confused pitcher” but he is expecting him to come back with a strong 2011. He noted that” Burnett’s heart is in the right place” and he will get him in the right frame of mind to pitch this year. As mentioned yesterday, Burnett will start on Wednesday (March 2) vs. The Houston Astros at Steinbrenner Field–which is also the next televised game on the YES Network. All eyes on A.J.
· Sergio Mitre pitched the third inning today, giving up no runs on one hit. No walks and no strikeouts, but he did register the win this afternoon. He will be fighting for that fifth spot in the rotation.
· The Yankees are now 1-1 in Grapefruit League play.
It’s the same story ever year when it comes to the first Spring Training game.
The Yankees play the first game in their home pinstripes, but every game after that sport their navy blue batting practice jerseys. There are critics who say, “It’s Spring Training. Who cares? These games don’t matter.” Then there are so-called “marks” (like me) who say, “Baseball is back. It’s not exactly Opening Day, but we are watching a Yankee baseball game in the winter.”
There are players wearing numbers in the high 90s and contrary to regular season games, Spring Training games can end in ties. What’s more, by the time the game reaches the sixth inning, there’s usually no one but minor leaguers on the field.
Still, it’s baseball. And a lot of people remain interested in these exhibitions.
Today the Yanks began their Spring Training journey with a 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies…or basically Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Raul Ibanez and a whole bunch of Phillies who will either be backups or start the 2011 regular season in the minors.
Most of the Yankee regulars played today, aside from Russell Martin–his knee is still recovering from surgery and according to Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, he might be behind the plate catching live by the end of next week.
Francisco Cervelli started at catcher today and got the Yankees on the board in the bottom of the second. After Robinson Cano reached on an error (originally ruled a base hit) Cervelli laced a double down the left field line to knot the game at one.
Mark Teixeira looked good in his first game with an RBI triple in the fifth to score Eduardo Nunez.
Minor Leaguer Jorge Vazquez had two hits, one being a bomb. Vazquez smashed a two-run home run over the batter’s eye in centerfield, which gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh. Unfortunately their lead was short-lived.
A blooper by Dan Sardinha in the top of the eighth off Eric Wordekemper plated two runs for the Phils and gave them a 5-4 lead.
The Phillies previously scored two runs in the fifth off reliever and 2010 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, David Phelps. Pete Orr doubled to score Wilson Valdez and Orr later came to the plate on an RBI single by Ross Gload.
Jeff Larish grounded into a 6-4-3 double play which scored Ben Francisco to give the Phils a 1-0 lead in the top half of the second. Francisco tripled to reach third on a ball Nick Swisher could have played for a single.
Was it an ugly game? Yes, but most Spring Training games are. Are the Yankees looking to win? Yes and no. It’s more to get a feel for the season and to prepare, and even the most jaded fan can tell they are not “loading up with big bullets and guns,” so-to-speak.
Bartolo Colon got the nod to start by Girardi, who felt Colon would be ready to pitch since he played winter ball. Colon’s line wasn’t terrible: two innings pitched, two hits, an earned run, a walk and no strikeouts. He only tossed 36 pitches.
For Philly, Hamels made the start and his line was almost identical to Colon’s: two innings pitched, one hit, an earned run, a walk, and two Ks.
The Yanks and Phillies will travel across Tampa Bay and play again at the Phillies’ home base in Clearwater tomorrow afternoon.
Notes & Things to Out Look For
· The Yankees honored the late George Steinbrenner with a ceremony before their first Spring Training game today. Only fitting, considering it was their first preseason game without their boss. It was a beautiful gesture and I am sure the Steinbrenner family is appreciative of all the love the Yankees are showing their fallen boss.
· Ken Singleton of the YES Network said A.J. Burnett threw to hitters during live batting practice the other day and looked exceptional. According to Singy, Burnett’s fastball was “crackling,” his curveball had tilt, and his delivery “has been re-visited.” It sounds as if new Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild has helped him a lot and the season hasn’t even started yet. He will pitch Wednesday March 2 vs. the Houston Astros.
· It’s already been established that Joba Chamberlain will be a bullpen pitcher this season. He does look heavier, but he was pretty good in relief today. Chamberlain pitched a 1-2-3 third inning with one strikeout. He topped out on the speed gun in the mid-90s.
· David Robertson pitched a scoreless fourth inning with two strikeouts, no hits, and a walk. He and Chamberlain might be battling this spring for the primary middle relief role, what with Rafael Soriano in the eighth inning role. Either way, the Yankee bullpen will shape out. I think they will be a solid corps of relievers and probably be at the top of the league.
· Top pitching prospects Dellin Betances, Andrew Brackman, and Manuel Banuelos have been nicknamed “The Killer B’s.” All will be starting 2011 in the minors but can make that push for the bigs. Girardi said Banuelos is “way ahead of his age” (only being 19, but will turn 20 on March 13).
· David Phelps is a 14th round draft pick out of Notre Dame and the Yankees’ Pitcher of the Year for 2010. He didn’t really impress me much today, giving up two earned runs on three hits. But it’s only the first game. Lucky for him, he has time to impress.
· Alex Rodriguez hit a double today but didn’t score. He looks good and I expect him to have a typical “A-Rod season,” if you will. No need to overanalyze him.
· Andruw Jones played in pinstripes for the first time today. He drew two walks and struck out, and was also picked off at first base. He isn’t as fast as he used to be, but he will definitely be a better defensive player than Marcus Thames. Jones is wearing Johnny Damon’s old number, 18.
· The end of the top of the seventh inning today ended in style. Outfielder Justin Maxwell, who was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the off-season, made a sweet diving catch to end the frame. Very nice work from Maxwell; he could be a great asset to the Yanks. Or trade bait. Today I read Francisco Liriano is on the Yankees’ radar.
· When I said that Jorge Vazquez’s home run was a bomb, I meant it. He crushed the ball over the batter’s eye in centerfield–not a cheap home run. He also had a base hit in the ninth to keep the Yankees’ little rally alive, although they couldn’t finish it. If that isn’t making a great first impression, I don’t know what is. Finally, a guy named Vazquez doing something positive for the Yankees…
· Bartolo Colon is fat. We all know.
Last night, several memories from October of 2006 came back to me. That was a month which started off nicely and ended terribly. The Yankees had made the postseason after convincingly winning the American League East and were the favorites to win the World Series.
The Detroit Tigers dashed the Yanks’ dreams of winning the fall classic by eliminating them in the ALDS. What’s more, by the end of the month, my girlfriend broke up with me. Needless to say, in more ways than one, my spirit was overwhelmed within me; my heart was broken.
Minus the girlfriend issue, the same defeated feeling enveloped me after last night’s 6-1 loss.
The Yanks will not go back to the World Series to defend their crown and the Texas Rangers will represent the American League in the fall classic. Texas will face either the San Francisco Giants or the Philadelphia Phillies, pending the outcome of the NLCS.
28 will have to wait. Until next year, at the very least.
A number of things went wrong for the Yankees in the ALCS and there are plenty of things to consider heading into the off-season.
The ALCS: WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED?!
I’ll start with the obvious: Phil Hughes.
In the division series against the Twins, Hughes started Game Three and he was an absolute stud. The young righty shut the Twins down in seven scoreless innings of work and picked up the win in the clinching game.
When I heard Hughes was starting Game Two of the ALCS vs. Texas, I was confident. Knowing Hughes’s past against the Rangers and taking into account that he won 18 games during the regular season, I had a great feeling about his chances. After Game Five, I had said that Hughes possessed the ability to bounce back after a rough outing, and he usually did during the regular season.
Although those feelings were well-founded, it did not translate to anything good.
Hughes pitched 8 2/3 innings over his two ALCS starts and coughed up a total of 11 earned runs on 14 hits. He walked seven batters and struck out six, becoming a huge part of why the Yankees lost this series. He did not give the Yankees quality, he did not give the Yankees a chance to win the two games he started, and he put the Yankees in a tough spot heading into Game Three.
In both games Hughes started in the ALCS, he registered the loss.
If Hughes had been able to win Game Two, with the Yankees going into a Game Three vs. Jesus Christ A.K.A. Cliff Lee, things could have been quite different. Every news outlet had the Yankees defeated in Game Three at the hands of Lee, and unfortunately for the Yanks it came to fruition.
And speaking of Lee, he was another vital part of the Yankees’ failure to win the pennant.
In Game Three, Lee simply dominated. He made the Yankees look like Little Leaguers and his numbers this postseason (vs. Tampa Bay and New York) are absoluteLEE ridiculous.
· 24 innings pitched
· 13 hits
· Two runs (both earned)
· One home run allowed
· One walk allowed
· 34 strikeouts
· Record of 3-0
· ERA of 0.75
Lee was plugged into the number three spot in the Rangers’ rotation because he started the final game of the ALDS vs. Tampa Bay and could not take the hill in Game One. If the pitching matchups had gone accordingly (Lee vs. CC Sabathia, ace vs. ace) I suppose things could have been different–not saying they would have, but who knows.
The Yankees would have had to face Lee tonight of they had gotten past the Rangers last night. I have a feeling now that it would not have gone well for the Bronx Bombers, but as I stated, anything can happen in a Game Seven. Would the Yanks finally have been able to get to Lee and finally remove him as thorn in their side?
Who’s to say what could have been. I guess it makes no difference now.
Another reason they were done for was the inconsistency in the offense. Save for their 7-2 Game Five win, when runners were in scoring position, the Yankee bats turned into ghosts. They could not get it done when runners were on second and third.
Prime example: Game Three. Brett Gardner led off with a single. Derek Jeter struck out, but Gardner moved to second on a stolen base. Nick Swisher grounded out allowing Gardner to move to third. Finally Mark Teixeira came up and was set back down, ending the frame without a Yankee crossing the plate.
They were only down by two runs at that point. They could not build the run; could not even cut the lead in half. And that was just one issue.
The two key players that needed to be producing and igniting the bats were about as silent as a 1920s picture film. Teixeira (before the injury) and Alex Rodriguez were as off as they could be and could not come up with the big hit when the Yanks needed it.
Teixeira was 0-for-14 in the ALCS before the hamstring injury put him out for the remainder of the year.
Rodriguez hit .190 in the ALCS with no homers, two RBIs, three walks and four strikeouts.
No offense, no pennant.
Teixeira and Rodriguez are two huge bats in the Yankee lineup. When they are not coming up when it matters, the Yankees do not win games. The offense went dead cold at the absolute worst time to go dead cold and as a result, they did not win.
Along with the offense, the middle relief served no help. Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, and David Robertson practically gave it up in the middle-to-late innings in close games, notably Games Three and Four. In Game Three the Yankees were trailing by two runs entering the top of the eighth inning.
Because of them, two runs turned into eight runs, making it impossible for the Yanks to even attempt to mount a comeback in the last two frames. The Yanks lost Game Three 8-0.
In Game Four, the Yankees were only down by two runs (5-3) going into the late innings. Logan and Chamberlain both surrendered earned runs and Mitre gave up three, once again not giving the offense a chance to come back from a deficit.
The Yankees lost Game Four 10-3.
One last factor I believe was pivotal in the Yankees’ ALCS loss was Manager Joe Girardi’s decision in Game Four. I am not going to say A.J. Burnett pitched a bad game; that could not be anything further from the truth. He made maybe one or two bad pitches (notably the Bengie Molina home run) but other than that he held his own very nicely; decent command of his pitches, nasty breaking ball, and a fastball up around 96-97 mph.
The Yankees were down two games to one. They had just been dominated by Lee and they were up against a pitcher who could easily be beaten in Tommy Hunter. Down by two games and in danger of going down 3-1 (which ultimately they did) I feel Girardi should have used CC Sabathia to get them back in the series.
Had Sabathia pitched Game Four, he would not have been on three days rest, but in actuality he would have been pitching on the fourth day of rest. I truly believe that had Sabathia started, pitched the way he usually does, and won Game Four, it would have gotten the Yanks’ morale back and things may have been different.
Burnett could have pitched Game Five on Wednesday afternoon and he probably could have won, especially if he had gone out and thrown the ball as well as he did in Game Four. Not to mention it would have given the Yankees a good chance to go up 3-2 on the way back to Arlington as opposed to down 3-2.
Again, who is to say if it would have been different. But I do know that if I were Girardi, I would have gone in a different direction down two games to one and going into Game Four. Using Sabathia on three days rest worked out perfectly in 2009.
If it worked then, why should it be any different now?
There were so many things not going the Yankees’ way; the Rangers had everything clicking for them. And for a team to win the World Series (let alone get to it) everything has to be going their way.
As for Next Year…
I expect a number of things to be different and the Yankees need to make a few decisions regarding some of their players.
· For one, Nick Johnson and Javier Vazquez should not be welcomed back. If the front office so much as talks to either one of these two at the possibility of coming back, they need to have their heads examined.
· Marcus Thames. Do they want him to be the everyday designated hitter or would they rather have an All-Star in Lance Berkman? It’s a toughie. Thames hit 12 homers and came up in some big spots during the season. But aside from being a DH, Berkman can play the field and alleviate some pressure on Mark Teixeira at first base.
· Something needs to be done about the catching situation. As much as I love Francisco Cervelli, he has no power and struggles in terms of throwing runners out. Jesus Montero and/or Austin Romine in 2011? We’ll see how they do in Spring Training…
· Derek Jeter’s contract is up. The Yankees need to pay the captain and show him some respect. I would say give him four years with the option for a fifth and pay him well.
· Mariano Rivera said at the beginning of the year that he doesn’t know if he is going to pitch next year. I get the feeling he will (call it a hunch) but like Jeter his contract is up. The Yankees need to make him a respectable offer and get him back.
· Andy Pettitte will be 39 years old next June and a groin injury sidelined him for the better part of this past summer. His contract is also up, so it’s certainly up to him what he intends to do. If he wants to give it another try and re-sign with the Yanks, great. But if he wants to hang it up, that’s alright with me too. He’s done pretty darn well for himself over the years.
· If I were the Yankees I would definitely hold onto Kerry Wood. Unlike the majority of the bullpen, he pitched like a champ in the postseason. If Rivera signs back, he is the perfect man to set him up.
· Carl Crawford is a free agent. The Yankees need to decide whether or not Brett Gardner is the left fielder of the future or if they want a player with a little more power in Crawford (19 homers in 2010). I heard it said best earlier this year: “Gardner is almost like a cheaper version of Crawford.” Very true. If you want my opinion at the moment, Crawford no. Gardner yes.
· The manager. Along with Jeter, Rivera, and Pettitte, Joe Girardi’s contract is up. There has been some speculation as to whether or not he will come back to manage the Yankees and I have heard some chatter about the possibility of the Chicago Cubs wanting the Yankee skipper to manage them.
That speculation has me wondering, especially since the Cubs recently told Ryne Sandberg they do not want him to manage them. Are they waiting to negotiate with Girardi? I’m unsure. Kim Jones of the YES Network tweeted last night that she expects Girardi to return. She is more of an insider than me, so right now I believe her.
But then again, anything is possible when a lot of money is involved. If the Cubs make him the right offer, he might be leaving town. And the question is, if he does leave town who replaces him? I certainly have no answer to that question.
· The biggest free agent of them all: Cliff Lee. This past July, Lee was literally within hours of becoming a Yankee. The Yanks were ready to ship out minor leaguers and money to Seattle and land the dominate lefty, but it was not meant to be. Texas swiped him out from under the Yanks’ nose and as a result, he helped lead them past the Yankees to the pennant.
Next year Lee is a free agent and according to several insiders, Texas will never be able to pay him, especially if the Rangers win the title; if Texas wins it all, Lee’s value will steadily rise and all the big market teams including the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels will undoubtedly be out to get him.
If you want my insight as of right now, Lee will be in pinstripes in 2011. When the Yanks almost got him from Seattle this year, Lee and Sabathia’s wives were talking about where he might live in New York.
Plus from their Cleveland days, Sabathia and Lee are great friends. In fact when they squared off against one another in the ’09 World Series, they spent time with each other off the field. Just from that, I have a feeling Lee is headed for the big apple.
Derek Jeter usually says, “It’s a failed season if we (the Yankees) do not win the World Series.” The captain has the attitude of the late George Steinbrenner, and I know that somewhere in Heaven last night, the Boss had that disappointed look on his face; he was turning his head and throwing his hands outwardly as if to say, “The hell with this.”
I know that’s what I was doing.
I felt at the beginning of the season that a lot of the magic had left the team. I know Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera did not have the best years numerically this season (especially Cabrera) but they were all part of what made the 2009 Yankees so special.
While the yanks were getting beaten last night by a clearly better team in the Texas Rangers, I thought about Damon stealing two bases in one play and later scoring on an Alex Rodriguez double. I thought about Matsui single-handedly tearing apart the Phillies in Game Six of the World Series last season–an accomplishment worthy of the World Series MVP honor.
I even thought about Cabrera’s weak groundout that turned into an error in Game Two of the ’09 ALCS, in which Jerry Hairston came around and scored the winning run.
And then I wondered where that all magic went? It simply wasn’t inside the group of players known as the 2010 Yankees.
Yet it was inside the Texas Rangers and I tip my cap to them. I won’t act as a sore loser; I won’t be angry with them, they wanted it more. The magic that was in the 2009 Yankees is in the 2010 Rangers. Perhaps now they can do what the Yankees did last year; go into the fall classic and show the National League who rules the MLB.
In any event it was disappointing for every Yankee fan. We took a huge step forward last year, we seemed to be moving in the right direction but it was just halted at the hands of a hotter team.
Yet who knows what can happen next year. If the Yankees make the correct moves in the off-season, they will be the team to be beat. 2009 may serve as our modern day 1996, meaning:
The Yanks won it all in 1996. They lost it in 1997, only to go on a huge World Series winning streak in 1998, ’99, and ’00.
In 2009 the Yankees won the World Series, but came up short in 2010. Maybe 2011, 2012, and 2013 can be the next Yankee Dynasty.
At this time I’d like to extend a HUGE THANKS to everyone who read and kept up with Yankee Yapping this year. It was a fun season. I only wish it had turned out a little better in the end for our beloved Bronx Bombers.
The Yankee Yapping Facebook page is up to just over 730 “likes.” I hope it can grow a little more and maybe get up to 1,000 soon! Once again thanks for the support. This blog would be nothing without its loyal readers.
I’ll definitely be blogging during the off-season and over the winter while the hot stove cooks.
Just keep your heads up Yankee fans. And remember that we’ll always have 2009 and our 27 titles. It’s not the end of the world and the Yankees WILL be back on top in the future. It always happens.
Until then, GO YANKEES!!!