Wild Ride

“Is it weird that I’m completely crushed for the guy?  I feel terrible for him.”  It was last Friday night and I was on an impromptu conference call with Tony Sherry and Acc following what is generally known as the “Holy Cr*p” game. “Not me,” insisted Tony Sherry.  “I laughed right out loud and I’m still laughing.”  “Please turn on the MLB network right now,” Acc interjected.  “Please turn it on right now.”  Tony and I flipped channels just in time to see Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams drawing above Luis Castillo’s glove on the telestrator.  It was pretty bizarre.  “Honestly dude, do you want to not feel bad about it,” Tony asked.  “Yes,” I said, “What do you got?”  “Take a look at the replay again, and watch K-Rod as Castillo is about to catch the pop-up.  Watch what he’s about to do…”  And I watched it, and he was right.  K-Rod was about to go into yet another ridiculous mound-stomp after the last out of a save.  It couldn’t have happened to a bigger donkey.  Castillo, on the other hand, I have no beef with.  If it was Jose Reyes, I would have been laughing along with Tony.  But I still felt bad for Castillo.  That is, until Saturday afternoon, when Castillo lolly-gagged around the bases while Brett Gardner was flopping around like the scarecrow in the outfield on a routine fly ball that would have been the third out.  And didn’t score because of it.  After watching Texeira bust it the night before and win the game for his team, Castillo doesn’t bust it and costs his team a run.  Then I really didn’t feel so bad.  I was more glad that he wasn’t on my team, actually.  And I can say that I’ve never seen that kind of ending to a game before.  Never.  Brutal for the Met fans.  Big Joe was ready to puke.  Highway robbery for the Yanks.  After what happened in Boston the three days prior, I wasn’t going to argue with a win, no matter how it came.
    Speaking of K-Rod, there was a bit of a dust-up over the last few days between K-Rod and Brian Bruney.  Bruney echoed Tony Sherry’s sentiment when he said, basically, it couldn’t have happened to a bigger d*ck, meaning K-Rod.  K-Rod flipped out.  Here’s the deal: Bruney was right.  And, for that matter, so was Aubrey Huff.  If you act like an a*shole, expect people won’t take too kindly to you.  And it’s your own fault.  Pretty simple.  And that goes for K-Rod, Joba, and Papelbon.  The act-like-a-donkey-out-of-the-bullpen hall of fame…
    Was at the game today with the missus and my brother-in-law.  Evened out my record at 3-3.  It was a nice pick-me-up after yesterday’s sad showing.  On the radio here in New York yesterday morning, all of the Met fans were crowing about how if the Mets could come back and win after that kind of a loss, it would show how tough the team was, how resilient the team was, etc.  And they came back and won.  So was that really the big testimonial to the Mets resiliency?  Okay.  So what now?  They just got handed the second worst shutout loss in their history.  So now what do we know about them…  Your guess is as good as mine.  
    Speaking of yesterday, I have an easy rule of thumb with the Yanks.  If it’s cold and raining, they are going to lose.  There are a million other things going on with the Yanks this year, but that’s really just a quick simple one.  Cold, rainy; lose.  Write it down somewhere.
    So what of last week’s Red Sox series?  Ouch.  So after a few days to reflect, here’s what it comes down to.  The fact that the Yankees lost all eight to the Sox this year is a bit of an anomaly.  The fact that they’ve gotten the short end isn’t.  The Yankees aren’t as good as the Red Sox right now.  The truth hurts.  What can I say.  The Sox are great at home, and six of their eight wins have been at home, so that probably explains a good deal of the series sweep so far.  But it should probably be 2-6 , 3-5 at absolute best.  Here’s the way I see it breaking down.  The Red Sox and Yankees have similar starting pitching.  Take your pick.  Beckett, Lester, Wakefield, Penny, and Dice K.  CC, Burnett, Pettitte, Joba, Wang/Hughes.  The Red Sox bullpen is overrated.  They’re all hittable and they’ve all been hit hard in close games of late.  Bard, Delcarmen, Okijima, and Saito.  Papelbon has been a bend-but-don’t break guy this year, taking lots of pitches to close teams out this year, costing him appearances, e.g. last Friday night in Philly.  They’ve got good numbers, less good of late.  And they’ll even out more as the season goes on.  The Yankees, on the other hand, have a hilarious bullpen.  Sometimes you have to laugh.  Teams never miss against the Yankee bullpen.  Are they this bad?  I don’t know.  It certainly looks pretty bad.  In a playoff series, should they get there, I think Hughes and Joba would both end up in the pen, which would make the bullpen immediately and markedly better.  Until then, I guess we wait for Bruney and hope that he isn’t the sometimes-I’ll-throw-strikes-and-sometimes-I’ll-throw-balls guy he’s been his whole career.  But for me, the real reason the Red Sox have the edge right now is the same reason I’ve been talking about all season.  Their lineup has tougher outs.  It’s that simple.  Even with Ortiz feeling the long-term effects of his HGH romance (while we’re there, is there anybody out there who still doesn’t believe me about that?), Nick Green starting at short, and Varitek continuing his career as a .235 hitter, they have a tougher lineup.  That’s why they have the edge.
    And while we’re on that, do you know what’s almost as insane as the Yankees losing all eight to the Sox?  The fact that they’re still only two out.  That is completely insane.  We’ll see what happens from now until August, when they meet again.  
    So now the Yanks go on a two week inter-league journey.  Nine games on the road with the pitchers hitting.  Watch how different Santana looks in Citi Field, where fly balls all go to die.  And the Red Sox get to play six against the Braves….  Must be nice…

Sunshine in May

If only I could get this tilted umbrella to stop swirling around.  A minor malfunction, I think.  It’s late Sunday afternoon in Big Joe’s yard.  “The Fear” by Lily Allen is cranking on my iPhone, I’ve got an ice cold Coca-Cola next to me, and the Yankees are – yes- in first place.  For the first time in almost three years; through a manager change, the midges in Cleveland, the emergence of Joba, the retirement of Sean’s boy, the Moose, another playoff appearance by Joe Torre (just not here), the first playoff miss since I was in college, the birth of my baby boy – first name Donald, middle name Mattingly (just kidding), and the indignity of watching the Tampa Bay Rays playing in the World Series – the Yankees are in first place.  In fact, the interesting thing about today was that not only were the Yankees in sole possession of first place, they were assured of being in first place tonight, regardless of what happened around the league today.  Yeah, it’s a good day today, regardless of the fact that the tilted umbrella won’t stay put on it’s base, creating a crazy unintentional sunlight show around me as I type on the laptop.
So what did they do today?  They lost.  Oh well.  I understand you can’t win every game, but I wish they would finish these games off.  They tied the game, and then put the go ahead in scoring position with less than two outs twice, not getting it done.  At least they keep coming at you.  Cleveland had to pull everything they had out today, including what can only be considered a desperation move, bunting with two strikes and a man on first in the bottom of the ninth.  I think they figured they had no shot at the bottom of their lineup generating anything, so they had to try to get what they were going to get right there in the ninth.  Here’s a better strategy; as soon as the Yankee bullpen comes in, put the bats on your shoulders and don’t swing.  Because the Yankees have two Achilles heels, and one is that the bullpen is hilarious.  Just stand there.  They’ll either walk you or fall behind and serve up a nice fat ice cream cone.  Scoop of mint-chocolate chip, scoop of coffee, just like Acc likes it…  Today was both.  Thanks Dave Robertson.  One piece of good news.  Despite the fact that he pitched well, Carl Pavano got a no-decision.  No, Carl, you do not get to walk away with a win against the Yankees; the baseball gods and the lords of karma simply will not allow it.  Here’s an idea.  Why doesn’t Carl Pavano ask what he can do for the Yankees on the charity front.  Maybe something with Jeter’s foundation, or some sort of appearances.  I don’t care what it is.  All I know is I’d be looking to make somebody whole if I stole $40 million from them…
I was out in Jersey today at Nicky the Sack’s kid’s three-year old birthday party.  Brooklyn’s Own Mike Dantone and I were monitoring the game on the iPhones.  You take what you can get in life, sometimes…  
So we know the bullpen is one Achilles heel.  The other is that the Yankees are no longer the patient team they were in the late 90’s, early 2000’s.  That is a bygone era.  You’ll still hear people refer to them as a patient team that takes a lot of pitches, but the numbers don’t bear it out.  They invented it, basically, at least in terms of a philosophy.  People like to refer to the “Moneyball” influence, but most Yankee fans know the famous story of Gene Michael laying out the blueprint for the next Yankee era on the flight back from Seattle after the 1995 playoff loss.  The base was to be patient, smart hitters, who took a lot of pitches and a lot of walks.  The Wade Boggs mold.  That blueprint was to manifest itself in the acquisition of Chuck Knoblauch, Scott Brosius, and Tino Martinez, among others.  They basically perfected it, riding the formula to four championships in five years, and six pennants in eight years.  Baseball hasn’t seen a run like that since, well, the Yankees….  And they did it before Billy Beane was anywhere near Oakland.  So now the Red Sox have taken up the mantle, with everyone framing Theo Epstein as a “Moneyball” disciple.  Right.  Who was in second place all those years, when the Yankees were serving themselves the American League for the better part of a decade?  The Red Sox.  Every year.  Theo Epstein is no “Moneyball” disciple.  He was just an observant kid who knew how to play monkey-see, monkey-do.  But the fact remains that the Red Sox are the preeminent high-pitch-count team right now.  The Yankees aren’t even a high-pitch-count team, in fact.  They swing, swing, swing.  Jeter, Cano, Melky, Molina, and at times everybody else.  Good pitchers last a long time against them, because they’re swinging away.  I’m not saying it’s always a bad thing.  Teams have been successful by swinging away.  The Angels have done it very well the last few years, including a World Championship.  And the Yankees are having a lot of success right now by swinging away.  I just don’t like it as a formula when you’re in a hostile park against a premier pitcher.  Look what happened today as soon as they got Pavano out of the game.  If they hadn’t let Pavano stay on the mound until the eighth inning, it probably would have been bombs away much earlier.  Not my preference, this swinging early and often stuff, but I’ll deal, I guess.  It just makes me uncomfortable as a long-term strategy…
So here’s the problem if you’re the Red Sox or a Red Sox fan.  If you think that the Red Sox are going to continue their domination of the Yankees, there is no problem.  If you think that the fact that the Yankees and Red Sox have played to a statistical dead heat over the last ten years of head-to head play is a thing of the past, if you think that the Red Sox will continue to get the miracle two-out, bottom of the ninth comebacks against Mo without any reciprocity, that they will be able to continue to come back from six runs deep, that it didn’t make a difference that A-Rod was out of the lineup and Texeira was in no-man’s land in the five games they’ve played thus far, then you have no issue.  If you think it was a fluke that the last time the Red Sox started out 5-1 against the Yankees, in ’07, the Yankees ended up winning the season series anyway, and if you think that the Red Sox will end up with a season series record of 12-6 or better, then you have no problem.  Otherwise, you are like me.  You think that the possession arrow is squarely with the Yankees right now, and at some point the Yankees will get their wins against the Red Sox.  If the Red Sox go 7-6 in the remaining 13 games against the Yankees, they will end up 12-6 against the Yanks this year.  And it certainly could happen, don’t get me wrong.  In fact, if you want to argue in their favor, you could say that the Red Sox play their best games in band box, HR happy parks, and all 13 games will be just such.  So you’ve got a case.  But just know that it would be against every single rule of the last 10-15 years between these two teams.  When the Red Sox came back from three runs down in the ninth against Mo to start the year in ’07, A-Rod got Papelbon with a bomb later that year in the bottom of the ninth with two outs
.  And so on and so on…  So the bad news if you’re the Red Sox is that the Yanks will get their wins eventually.  And they’re already a game up in the loss column.  So what else do the Sox have to worry about.  Well, they can’t win on the road.  Again.  It cost them the division last year, and then it cost them the pennant.  And this year they’re just as bad.  And the Blue Jays are right next to them.  The only team in the AL East that wins on the road is the Yankees.  But then again that was true last year too.  Whoops…  And although I say boneheaded things all the time, it seems I wasn’t so far off on the Red Sox staff.  My points at the start of the year – everyone was thinking that Jon Lester, he of exactly one full season in baseball, would be an automatic stud this year (and for years to come).  I wanted to see him do it for two years, consistently.  Next – everyone was letting Dice K’s numbers last year wash over what everyone could have and should have seen with their naked eyes – that he wasn’t dominating anybody.  Eight wins when he didn’t make it past the fifth inning last year should have been a clue.  Well, I felt that this year it would come home to roost.  So where are we this year?  Lester and Dice K have been awful, with ERA’s of 5.6 and 9 as of today.  Beckett’s also struggled, but at least he’s got history on his side.  Lester and Dice K have one good year apiece.  Guys, you need more than that to anoint them a great staff.  The Red Sox even had to make up an injury for Dice K to try and get him right with some minor league starts, the same thing the Yankees did with Wang.  So the Red Sox have struggled just a tad with starting pitching.  Some seem to think Smoltz will be the answer.  Really?  Smoltz?  He’s spent his entire career pitching in the comfy, cozy National League, he’s coming off major arm surgery, and at times over the last five-six years has been absolutely abysmal.  You’re going to throw this guy in the middle of the AL East at the age of 67 and expect that he’s going to be the savior?  Okay…. 
Last thing on the Red Sox.  I got a big kick out of all of my Met fan friends pouring e-mails and texts to me after the inter-league series about what a-holes the Red Sox are.  Their big beef was Youkilis jawing at Santana after he leaned into a pitch with an 0-2 count and two outs (“Why would he jaw at him there??!!  It makes no sense that he was trying to hit him.  What a jack*ss!!) and the Papelbon incident (“Didn’t he notice that the guy who got thrown out – Youkilis, the biggest whiner of them all – didn’t even argue the call??!!  What was Papelbon doing charging out of the dugout??!!  I’ve never seen that before!  And Pedrioa was right behind him!  Unbelievable!!”).  I just laughed and laughed.  “Yup,” said I.  “That’s the Red Sox.”  It was therapeutic for me.  The Red Sox and Mets fans have always been kindred spirits, of course.  I get it.  Common enemy, etc.  Our boy Sean coined a great term for it – “Met Sox Nation.”  So it seemed to me that the Met fans felt a little betrayed when the Red Sox went all jack*ss on them.  Newsflash to Met fans – don’t be offended.  It’s not you.  They do it to everybody.  They are the whiniest sports team I have ever seen.  The Kobe Lakers come close, admittedly.  But this Red Sox team is number one.  And as I’ve said many times before, it all starts with their captain, Varitek.  At least I think he’s the captain.  It’s tough to tell…  Oh no wait…  He’s got that big ridiculous “C” on his uniform.  If you’re captain acts like a whiny a-hole, your team is going to act like whiny a-holes.  I loved that when Beckett was whining about balls and strikes the other night, and Varitek jumped in and got tossed, people tried to act like he “took one to protect his pitcher.”  They missed the point.  Why is his pitcher whining about balls and strikes in the first place?  First of all, the ball wasn’t a strike.  Second of all, who does that?  Seriously.  How many pitchers can you think of in Major League Baseball that consistently whine about balls and strike calls?  Beckett, Lester, and Papelbon are maybe the worst offenders.  If Varitek was any kind of captain, his team wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place.  Met broadcaster Keith Hernandez said it best (speaking specifically to Papelbon, and with an incredulous tone in his voice); “Get back in the dugout!!”

Acc and I exchanged text messages last night.  Saying, basically, that it’s fun being a Yankee fan again.  They’re going to be there this year.  Even my Aunt May sent me an e-mail (yup, Aunt May is not afraid to be over 70 and sending e-mails) saying “The Yankees are playing great!”  Yes, Aunt May, the Yankees are playing great.  And for tonight, anyway, the breeze is cool, the sky is blue, the birds are chirping away, and the Yankees are in first place.  The world is finally right side up again… 

Walk-Off, Cubed

                I’m going to start with last week’s post.  Because I’m so rarely right…  I flipped the game on last Tuesday when I got home, rolled my eyes, and went back downstairs to eat dinner with the missus and the baby boy.  The missus had whipped up some chili; the last of the year, said she, as the rainy, cold days of the spring were due to break any day.  Throw in some crusty brick-oven bread from Paneantico on Third Avenue and you’ve got yourself a fine Tuesday night dinner.  I was in no hurry to get back to the game.  As I detailed last week, I was pretty sure I knew how it was going to go.  And that’s how it went.  Maddeningly.  I was pretty confident Burnett was going to pitch well.  He’s been pitching well all year.  The only hiccup has been that one game at Fenway when he couldn’t stop the usual ping-pong game at the original launching pad, Fenway Park.  And the Yankees don’t handle the good pitchers the way they should, so they were going to be toast.  So sometimes I know what I’m talking about.  Or I just got lucky…

            This was a mighty fine stretch of exciting finishing for Yankee fans, I must say.  The last few years it seemed we were on the losing end of these things far more than the reverse.  So I’ll take what transpired this last weekend with the Twins, whose last few seasons at Yankee Stadium have been the baseball version of Jennifer Aniston’s love life.  Plucky, interesting, but ultimately sad.  For them.  Not for me.  Walking-off is no way to go through the season, of course, because the fact that you can’t close the deal and need to keep relying on your last at-bat tells you that you’ve got things that need to be fixed.  Friday night was highway robbery.  A two-run deficit against Joe Nathan in the ninth inning, and then a run down with two outs, well, what can you say.  That was funkadelic.  Saturday’s game should have been closed out before any extra-inning nonsense ever happened.  Joba put you in the driver’s seat, and Phil Coke and Edwar Ramirez puked it right up.  You need to close that out.  And today’s game was a great come-from-behind win, and the Yankees did a lot of things right, but the Ferocious Lion swung at ball four and ball five with the bases loaded in the eighth inning, taking a run and a lead off the board with two ill-advised swings.  And that crazy play in the ninth should have put Robbie Cano in the batter’s box with one out and the fastest man in America on third.  In fact, I was scratching my head when, after Swisher walked and Gardner went in to pinch run, Melky bunted him over to third.  Why are you bunting there?  Just steal the base.  You’ve got a better-than-average chance he makes it, so why don’t you just give it a whirl.  You left it up to Ramiro Pena/Francisco Cervelli with a runner on second and one out?  Didn’t love that play.  Point is, the Yankees should have won that game before the dramatic Johnny Delicious swing.

            There were actually three defining plays in today’s game for me.  Obviously one was the walk-off bomb.  The second was the crazy play in the ninth.  So let’s go back to that crazy play for a second.  Was Gardner too aggressive?  Yes.  Do I have a big problem with it?  No.  I want the other team back on their heels.  I want them nervous that he’s going to do something off-the-wall like that.  Fielders who are concerned about stuff like that will often rush things and find themselves butter-balling things.  I’ll take it.  The hero of that play, obviously, was Joe Mauer.  It might have been the best play I’ve ever seen a catcher make.  The reason wasn’t so much the athleticism (world-class) but the thought.  There was an out to be had at first.  He would have gotten Cervelli, and it would have been the second out, seemingly exactly what you would have wanted.  Watching the play live, I was surprised he didn’t throw it.  After having a minute to drink the whole thing in, you realize why.  If he had thrown it, they never would have gotten Gardner coming around third.  Never.  And Gardner expected him to throw it, which is why he never broke stride.  Clever.  Mauer pump-faked it.  More clever.  Then he turned and won the foot race back to the plate.  Brilliant.  Other-worldly.  The other pivotal play was the Ferocious Lion tagging from third on Melky’s pop-up to tie the game in the seventh.  That was a therapeutic moment for me, if I can be unnecessarily dramatic for a second.  I can’t say it long enough or loud enough.  You have to go there.  Make them make a play.  If you play it safe and don’t tag up in that spot, you’re again relying on Ramiro Pena with two outs, and only a base hit gets it done.  This was an opportunity to force the issue.  The only thing the runner has to do in this case is not leave early and run as fast as he can.  The fielder has to catch it cleanly, transfer it cleanly to the throwing hand, make a strong throw that will beat the runner, throw it accurately enough to beat the runner, the catcher has to catch it cleanly and apply the tag cleanly and quickly enough to beat the runner.  Granted, if all of those things had happened the Ferocious Lion was a dead duck.  The ball wasn’t that deep.  But when you look at what had to go right for the defenders, it was check, check, check, whoops.  Run scores.  This is how Mike Scoscia has been eating the Yankees’ lunch for what seems like a century.  Kudos to Rob Thomson the third base coach.  I love the work he’s doing down there.  That was the game, if you ask me.  That run doesn’t score, and I’m probably still huddled in a corner shivering and muttering to myself about the Ferocious Lion swinging at balls four and five in the eighth.    

            The New York media has decided that Allie’s return is the reason Tex has busted out.  Maybe, maybe not.  I tend to think that a guy whose average is hovering 100 points below his career number is going to turn it around at some point.  Might as well be now.  It is getting towards late May…  And although Allie clearly doesn’t have his timing all the way back, you can’t argue the difference he makes in a game.  Big-moment bombs on Saturday and Sunday.  Plain and simple, you didn’t have anybody to hit those bombs for the first six weeks of the season.  Is Allie the reason they’re 6-2 since he’s come back?  Who knows.  But he hasn’t hurt things…

            I hope they ride this wave a while.  It’s nice to be back within striking distance.  And three days of walk-off wins is not a bad way to spend a weekend…       

Mother of Mercy

        Sad that it had come to this.  I was at my in-laws on Saturday night, finishing up some Mother’s Day ice cream from Baskin Robbins.  I had watched the first half-inning of the game a couple of hours earlier, saw the Yanks fail to score in the first and watched Phil Hughes go 0-2 on the first batter while Michael Kay talked about his last outing, specifically about the fact that he didn’t get an inch from the ump in his last start.  Then the chicken parm/pepper & egg heroes showed up.  And as I finished off my hero-and-a-quarter, I realized I didn’t want to check the score.  I was afraid to check to score.  Sad, like I said.  Much later on, after my last spoonful of pistachio, I finally checked.  Sickening.  
       Fast forward to this afternoon.  I was discouraged.  No other way to say it.  I was about two hours behind the game, and I was blowing through it on the DVR in about 20 minutes.  It’s Mother’s Day, of course, and I was doing the heavy lifting with the boy today, while the missus took some time to relax.  I finally caught up in the bottom of the sixth before I got pulled away again.  Losing again.  At one point I wondered if the Yankees’ season was on the line.  Of course it’s early in the season, and you don’t want to be too dramatic.  But still.  If the Yankees lost again, you’d be looking at 6 1/2 games out and sinking like a stone.  Last night I sent a text to Acc saying that I was “a hair away from writing off the 2009 Yankees as a joke.”  I remember that 1992 Mets team that sparked the Sports Illustrated headline “The Worst Team Money Can Buy.”  Man, is that what we were talking about here?  I found it hard to believe.  Looking at the Yankee roster, you had to scratch your head as to why this was happening.  It didn’t make much sense.  Tough to argue with the results though.  And like I said, I was discouraged.  And then, Johnny Damon.  Again.  Thank you Johnny.  
       I had a few occasions to listen to some of the talk on sports radio shows on my iphone while out this past week for walks at lunch.  And judging by the tone of what I heard, there are plenty of negative voices out there chattering.  And I’m one of them, at times.  Just not on the radio.  So for today I’m going to throw a few things out there that are more on the glass-half-full side.  First of all, as I said early on, the Yankees had a tough draw early on in the season.  They played 15 of their first 21 on the road, and played a record-low 7 games at home in the entire month of April.  And then when they did come home, they had eight games to play against the Angels, Red Sox, and Rays, all in a row.  That’s a pretty brutal first 29 games.  I know nobody likes to make excuses, but I’ve always said that the schedule will tell you a lot about your season.  When and how your tough stretches come will go a long way towards how your season will take shape.  If you look at what the Blue Jays are doing right now, it’s extremely similar to what the Rays did last year.  They played a ton of games at home early and stayed away from the tough games on the schedule early.  By the time those tough games did show up, they were playing with a lot of confidence and had the benefit of a big lead in the standings.  Nice work if you can get it.  It doesn’t always work out, as the Baltimore Orioles of a few years back can tell you.  But if you’ve got a good team that has a history of underachieving, you might find a spark.  The Yankees are in a “just hang on” stretch of their schedule.  Last year they went into one of these stretches just after the all-star break.  We talked about it here on the BPS at the time.  They didn’t.  They tanked the latter part of that stretch, and their season was finished.  So it could be worse, folks.  But it’s still not good.  Lucky to walk away with one today.
        I’ll go back to the Michael Kay comment for a minute.  He talked about Phil Hughes getting squeezed by the umps against the Red Sox last week, while Jon Lester and Josh Beckett were getting some friendly calls all night.  Yankee fans have been whispering this for two years.  Phil Hughes and Joba can’t buy a call.  It has a way of changing games, I’ll tell you.  I know.  It’s tough to excuse Hughes after getting smacked around for a thousand runs on Saturday.  I don’t disagree.  But it has a way of changing games.  Take last Tuesday, for instance.  The Yankees were making a charge and got a stroke of bad luck when Melky Cabrera’s sure RBI double bounced over the wall, forcing the tying run to return to third base (not the first time that would burn the Yanks this week, crazily).  Then, with bases loaded and one out, Ramiro Pena watches Beckett’s 2-1 pitch sail about a foot outside the strike zone.  Strike.  It was awful.  Purely awful.  And as we’ve talked about many times, one strike call can completely turn a game around.  A 3-1 count became a 2-2 count, and it was all going to be downhill.  A pitcher getting a call like that is always more pronounced than a batter getting the call.  If the batter gets a call (i.e. a ball), the pitcher can simply throw to a different part of the zone.  If the pitcher gets a gift call, the umpire is trapped, and with him the batter.  The pitcher is going to go right back to the spot, because, as it’s not really a strike, it’s going to be impossible to hit with any authority.  And what’s worse, the batter knows that the pitcher just got the pitch, and will probably get it again, so he has to swing.  And either he’s going to miss or he’s going to hit it weakly someplace.  This sequence played out to the letter after Beckett got the call, and Pena missed.  Threat over.  But that’s not the call that bothered me most of all this past week.  Now, the Yankees have been terrible.  I get it.  They’ve lost, lost, lost.  But the one that sent me into fits was the Wednesday game against Tampa.  The Yankees get a huge two-run bomb to tie the game in the eighth (the first of many this week), and have first and second in the bottom of the ninth with one out.  Pena hits a dribbler to short and beats out the throw.  Call: out.  Replay: safe.  Clearly safe.  The everyone-in-the-ballpark-knew-it kind of safe.  Call: out.  Would have been bases loaded with one out, and Molina’s long fly ball would have scored the winning run.  Ballgame over, Yankees win.  I know you can’t assume things would have played out the same, but I’m saying bases loaded, one out there in the ninth, the Yankees win that game.  Period.  So that one bothered me.  Really bothered me.
        So that’s my excuses/explanations segment.  Allie’s back, so I’m feeling pretty good about that.  Headed up to Toronto.  Not feeling so good about that.  The Yankees are not going to go on a true run until they get a good string of games against the bummier teams.  And that’s not Toronto and it’s not Minnesota, the next two up.  
         Apropos of nothing, here’s how the game is going to go on Tuesday.  The Yankees don’t touch Halladay, Burnett pitches well but gives up a couple of tough runs.  As the game goes on the Yankees swing earlier and earlier in the count (after the game they’ll say, “You have to swing early against him, because he’s going to throw strikes.”)  The Yankees are down 2-0 when Burnett comes out in the seventh, the Jays scratch out two more runs against the Yankee bullpen, and the Yankees get a cheap bomb off whoever pitches the ninth (Halladay will go eight).  Yanks lose 4-1.  The truth hurts, what can I say.  Maybe, by some stroke, between now and then they’ll realize that the object is not to hit Halladay.  The object is to get Halladay out of the game.  Simple as that.  
         Happy Mother’s Day everybody, love the BPS.  And Johnny Damon…..     

Rainy Sunday

Dude…” Vino was yelling at me from the condiments table, holding up a bottle of barbeque sauce.  i motioned for him to chuck it over.  We were at the Brother Jimmy’s Southern Barbeque stand at the Stadium on Friday night.  Vino, Big Willie, and I did Citi Field last week, and Friday night I hosted them up in Terrace Level Suites.  And as I was slathering hot sauce on my pulled pork sandwich, I was sinking into the dark hole that I go into when I’m watching things go south at a Yankee game.  It was a miserable night, rainy with the temperature in the 60’s, yet somehow still humid and steamy.  Gross.  This was my second trip to the Stadium; the first, of course, being Opening Day against the Indians.  I made the fateful decision to drive from Brooklyn instead of taking the subway, and it was a disaster.  A trip that generally takes a half-hour took me an hour and ten.  Big Willie and Vino were waiting for me so long in Billy’s Tavern across the street from the Stadium that they called me and asked if they should just buy a ticket and go in.  We finally made it in with two outs in the top of the third.  Needless to say, I missed the Yankee four-run first inning.  So when the Angels started pouring the runs in as we were walking to Brother Jimmy’s in the sixth inning, it occurred to me that my experience at the new Stadium had been abysmal.  When the situation bottomed out and the Yankees were down 9-4, some quick math told me that, because I missed the four-run inning, I had seen the Yankees score exactly one run in the new Stadium, while I had seen the Yankee opponents score 19.  19-1.  That was my Yankee Stadium experience.  “I hate this place,” I announced to Vino.  He was trying to be diplomatic.  “Two games, dude.  No bid deal.”  I would not be denied.  “Nope.  I hate it.  19-1?  How am I supposed to feel good about this place?  I hate it.”  I sent a text to Acc.  “I hate this Pepsi h*ll-hole.”  “You’re a very pessimistic fan, dude,” Vino decided.  “I’m a very pessimistic in-game fan,” I corrected him, “I’m an optimistic between-game fan.”  It was  a very important distinction, and one I fully stand behind.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an awful guy to watch a game with.  I always think the sky is falling.  But I’m very pragmatic as soon as I’m able to shake off an individual loss.  In any case, I called Acc (I’m shocked he took my call, as he knew full well I was going to be a lunatic), and he tried to talk me off the ledge.  It all looked bleak.  And then, wow.  Yankee Stadium was back.  We were back.  The Yankees were back.  The magic was back.  Before you know it I was singing New York, New York with Vino at the top of my lungs, Big Joe was calling with congrats, and a text from Acc appeared on my phone.  “Yes buddy, this Stadium loves u.”
      I’ll take it.  Two out of three against the Angels is not easy for the Yankees.  It’s been well documented that these Yankees have had all kinds of fits against the Angels in the last thirteen years, with the Angels playing kryptonite to the Superman Yankees.  Nothing else you can say.  It’s been brutal.  The Saturday game was a shame, though.  In results-oriented Yankeeland, C.C. Sabathia took a beating for losing his third game in four decisions, although the story has not been that bad.  You want to kill Wang?  Be my guest.  You want to kill the bullpen, I’ll yawn while you do it.  But C.C. was great on Saturday.  Shutout inning after shutout inning, betrayed only by Jeter’s error.  Then he got a huge strikeout and couldn’t get the last out.  It should never have come to that.  Facing a thirty year-old rookie, the Yankees should have been nursing a 5 run lead by then.  They let the guy completely off the hook in the first inning and then went to sleep until the 9th.  Tricky strategy, boys.  Bottom line; C.C. will show up as a member of this team when all is said and done.
       I’ve spent a good part of the season saying I don’t like this Yankee lineup, and they’ve spent a good part of the season scoring a million runs, making me sound like I don’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about.  Not a problem, as I often don’t.  I’ve killed Melky in particular, and although he’s had some really bad at-bats in big spots, he’s also had some clutch hits in big spots and some decently patient at-bats as well.  So things are still up in the air, as far as I’m concerned.  I don’t know what I think.  I do think the best news thus far, though, has been the resurrection of the Ferocious Lion.  Shaky on the knees at the start of the season, often in the seven and eight hole, he’s slowly started taking the ball the other way, hammering it with authority, and most importantly, driving in runs.  He can be found in the clean-up spot these days, and that’s great news for the Yanks.  Especially when they get their two best bats back, Allie from the DL and Texeira from whatever planet he’s been spending the last month on.  I know we all heard the guy was a slow starter, but whoa.  Last time I looked he was hitting .182.  That’s pretty weird.  This is what Cano did last year.  I hope that wrist is healthy, because when they talk about Texeira as a notoriously slow-starter, they’re talking about him hitting .250 in April.  Not .182.  I hope it’s soon.  This offense will be tough if the Ferocious Lion, A-Rod, Texeira, and Cano can come together at some point.
      Funny.  The Red Sox were laughing hard and long last week when Ellsbury stole home against the Yankees.  The cameras kept finding their way back to the dugout where the Red Sox, while backslapping and high-fiving, were all having an uproarious laugh.  Not laughing so hard today, when Carl Crawford tied the record for stolen bases in one game against them, were they….  Congratulations, Varitek.  Couldn’t have happened to a bigger d*ck.  What does that “C” on your jersey stand for?  “Can’t?”  Keep laughing guys…
       While we’re at it, the Red Sox have not solved their chief bugaboo from ’08.  They can’t win on the road.  It cost them the pennant last year, and so far this year, the story is just as bad.  The Red Sox are a fabulously resilient team and a brilliantly patient offense.  They get as much mileage out of their home park as humanly possible.  Their famous patience is compounded by their almost-as-famous whining, with guys like Youkilis, Pedrioa, and Varitek throwing their heads around and gesticulating wildly when calls don’t go their way.  I have no data around it, but I’d love to know what the ball-strike ratios for the Red Sox look like at home versus on the road.  Combine that with all the righty Red Sox bats doinking balls off of the monster, and you’ve got one dangerous home team.
       So the Yankees have drawn the top two Red Sox starters this week.  Again.  Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain had a good start apiece, but the Red Sox are not a good draw for those guys.  They need to pound the zone, then pound it again and again.  Otherwise, t
he pitch count will go up, and the bullpen will make an early appearance.  Never good.  I didn’t see Hughes’s last start, but the last few years his problem has been the inability to finish hitters off.  He had the Dice-K problem.  He could throw a lot of pitches for strikes, but everybody would foul off his 2-strike pitches and his pitch counts would go sky-high.   I don’t love the match-up in either game.
      Yanks vs. Sox in the new Stadium.  I’ll be there Tuesday night with Acc and Tony Sherry…
      If this rain ever stops….. 

Awesome Guys. Awesome.

“I mean, dude, which is it?  In or out?  You need to decide dude.  None of this sometimes cr*p, whenever you want.”  It was Saturday afternoon, beautiful and sunny, and Vino was breaking my chops about my sporadic posts as we sat in section 110 at Citi Field taking in the Mets-Nationals game.  Big Willie was with us.  “I go on there every day, and nothing.  Nothing, nothing, and nothing.  If you’re not going to do it, shut it down dude.  Or at least pick a day and do a post that day, once a week.”  Of course, he’s right.  I don’t have any excuses.  Just my own laziness…  So at the very least, I’m going to try to do Sunday nights.  Here we go….
    I just watched Mike Francesa crush the Yankees for the last 12 minutes on “Mike’d up,” the show he does every Sunday night here in the New York Metro area at 11:30pm.  Francesa is as pompass as they come, but he is a unique sports commentator in the New York area for one reason.  He’s a Yankee fan.  It’s kind of funny.  With two 24-hour all-sports radio networks and four New York-based TV sports channels, there is exactly one guy who roots for the Yankees.  Everybody, but absolutely everybody, is a Met fan.  Not sure why that is…  But this is why I’m curious as to Francesa’s take, because at least I know he’s not another Met fan reveling in Yankee problems, coming at it with an agenda.  He’s not going to pull a lot of punches.  The Mets guys usually take a sky-is-falling posture with the Yankees, often seemingly trying to make it so.  So tonight, Francesa was laying waste to the Yankees, saying that the organization from to to bottom is completely and totally out-classed by the Red Sox, and that it was on display in spades this weekend.  And he’s not the only one.  There’s a lot of that flying around today…
    So I’ll take a little bit different posture.  Not because I don’t agree with a lot of what Francesa said, but because I’m not as completely convinced that we can put this in the book and call it a season.  So if you’re going to accuse me of looking at the world through Yankee glasses, for today at least, I’m completely guilty.
    A couple of reasons this weekend was not as defining as people will make it out to be:  The Yankees were playing with a depleted lineup.  We all know about A-Rod.  Matsui is still not 100% (who knows how healthy he will get, but he started the weekend clearly not healthy).  Mark Texeira, an always-awful hitter in April, was playing in, well, April.  Nady is out, and the Yankees haven’t had a chance to plug that hole.  Nick Swisher was not brought to this team to hit in the 3,4, or 5 hole.  Yet that’s where he’s hitting.  All of this meant that the Yankee bats were not anywhere near where they will eventually be in a month or two.  And yet the Red Sox needed the miracle Friday night to beat them, and had to get every nugget of offense they could on Saturday when this battered Yankee lineup hung 8 runs on their best pitcher, and another 3 on their bullpen.  The Red Sox only have one injury to their lineup right now, and it’s in the nine-hole.  Most of their hitters are perfectly healthy and on fire.  They have six guys in their lineup hitting .293 or better.  And the Red Sox bullpen, which was widely touted as a strength, was clobbered by the Yankees, giving up runs in key spots and creating jams all over the park.  Even Papelbon struggled in both of his outings.  The Yankee bullpen, never touted as a strength, was devastated on Friday when Brian Bruney, who had been electric lights-out this year, was unexpectedly sent to the DL at the worst possible time.  And perhaps most importantly, there is one thing you have to remember when looking at this weekend’s mess.  The Red Sox got to enjoy their meaty, soft, succulent, home ballpark.  The Red Sox are a magical ballclub in their own home park.  Don’t get me wrong; good teams tend to make their own magic at home.  But the Red Sox have made it almost comical.  They’ve always been a plucky bunch, but in this ten-game home stand they came back from 7 runs down in one game, 6 runs down in another, and pulled off a down-two-with-two-outs miracle against Mo in the bottom of the ninth.  Say whatever you want.  That stuff doesn’t happen on the road, and it won’t happen twice in one season.  The Red Sox can enjoy that one, because at some point this season, the Yankees will get it back.  And neither team gets two…  That’s how it goes with these two teams.  There is a lot that has to go right to pull one of those off, and luck is a huge part of it.  And the last point along those lines is that the Red Sox have now played 12 of their first 18 games in Fenway.  Last year they were otherworldly at Fenway and mediocre on the road.  And it cost them the pennant, as they couldn’t beat Tampa in Tampa when they had to.  They could pull off one of their miracles in Fenway, but they couldn’t close the deal on the road.  And their road record this year is exactly 3-6.  The Yankees, meanwhile, will play 15 of their first 21 games on the road, including a franchise-record low 7 games at home in the entire month of April.  Make of it what you will.
      My big issue with the Red Sox before the season began was that their starting pitching was not as good as people were making it out to be.  And over these three games, I saw absolutely to convince me otherwise.  Their top two guns, Beckett and Lester, were not good in their own home park.  Lester was bad, Beckett was absolutely disgusting.  And Justin Masterson, whose outing will be portrayed prettier than it was as a few days go by, made it five and a third innings and ran out of gas.  My big beef with the Yankees was that their lineup was not that good.  Again, I remain convinced.  I still don’t think Nady is the answer, so they need to find another bat.  A-Rod needs to come back, Matsui needs to get healthy, and they need to go get another bat.  This is only more crucial now that we know that Yankee Stadium is going to have more trouble keeping balls in play than the old Kingdome. 
     A couple of other points.  Melky Cabrera is Joe Girardi’s siren.  Girardi seems to be mesmerized by the fact that Melky is a switch hitter.  He can’t resist the lure of Melky’s decent outfielding, slightly above average speed, and of course, his spellbinding ability to switch hit.  What Girardi doesn’t realize is that Melky Cabrera is a cancer in a lineup.  Steer your ship too close and it will crash in a rocky heap.  Swinging at bad pitches, a pathetic approach at the plate, and an absolute guaranteed out with men on base
, Melky Cabrera cannot be a part of your lineup if you want to win.  Period.  He needs to go.
    So outside of the playoffs, this had to be three of the most satisfying days of baseball in Boston that there ever was.  What else could you ask for if you’re the Red Sox?  I guess it could be the harbinger of things to come, of a season in which Boston solidifies its dominance.  But if you’ve watched this rivalry over the last few years, it was too perfect.  These series always seem to even out.  And as I always say, if you look at history, this always happens.  The Red Sox always find a way to beat the Yankees.  They always find a way to end up on top, to get the last laugh.  No matter what they try, or how hard they fight, the Yankees just can’t find a way to beat the Red Sox….in April.     

Back in the Bronx

     The audio on the mlb app on my iphone kicked in just as I walked past the Stock Exchange.  “Joe Maddon is managing this game like it’s the seventh game of the World Series,” remarked Suzyn Waldman.  “He’s about to use his fifth pitcher.”  Nick Swisher, apparently, had just k’d for the second out in the eighth.  Johnny Damon had tied the score earlier in the inning with a double down the line.  And Suzyn Waldman was right.  Maddon was strangely h*ll-bent on winning this game.  Where the h*ll was the Big Boy?  He should have been all over this.  I should have been getting texts, updates.  I got nothing.  Luckily, the iphone came to the rescue.  Unfortunately, As the 4 train came rumbling into the station at Bowling Green, I clipped out just as Girardi was bringing on Bruney to relieve Pettitte.  When I emerged at 95th St in Brooklyn 40 minutes later, the first thing that popped onto my screen was a text from Vino.  “Jeter!” it said.  I knew things must have ended well.  Quickly tapping the mlb app again, it was official:  4-3.  Sorry Joe Maddon.  Five pitchers weren’t enough.  Neither were six.  The Captain strikes again.

      I didn’t love the Yankee lineup when the season began.  I still don’t love it.  I didn’t like Nady, as I look at him to be a .278 hitter with maybe 17 bombs and 68 rbi.  I feel like we swapped out Abreu for Texeira, two guys who have put up very similar numbers in their careers; both patient hitters.  Jeter, Posada, and Damon are another year older, I hate Cano’s approach at the plate, and who knows what Gardner is going to give you.  Let’s leave Allie Rod aside for the time being.  The big surprise has been Swisher, obviously.  Mike Sherry is convinced he’s going to be this year’s Lenny Kozlowski (Scott Brosius).  Tony Sherry said he might surpass the Ferocious Lion as his favorite player.  But aside from him, the fears have been borne out, to some extent.  The Yankees in a perfect world, would score more runs.  But I’m not expecting too much.  Hopefully Al Rod comes back with some pop.  And hopefully the Ferocious Lion can stay healthy.  Or get healthy.  Stop hitting in the point-zero-teens, anyway…
       The good news, obviously, is the starting pitching has been as advertised.  Except for that first egg from Sabathia and the two Wang disasters, the Yankees have gotten extremely strong outings from their starters.  That’s why they were able to come back with a winning record on a nine-game road trip to start the season.  Burnett has been extra-special.  Man, if he can pitch like he did last year, the Yankees will win some games.  As it is, they should do well at avoiding prolonged slumps with those starters.  I hope they can keep it up.
     They were killing Texeira on the radio this week for not playing in those three games.  For any of that Tex-bashing to ring true, you have to buy into the idea that this wrist injury is indeed “a little tendonitis” that “should be gone in a couple of days.”  I’m not so sure.  I’m a  bit nervous about that.  Too many times you see a guy who has this mysterious injury to a key body part pop up that ends up getting worse and sidelining them for a chunk of the season.  Big HGH went through this just last year.  I don’t like it…  
     Nady is now going to be gone for an “extended period of time,” apparently.  I don’t really care.  The only issue is you just got a little less deep off the bench.  I wanted to play Swisher over Nady anyway.  Well, as of last week anyway.  Before that I couldn’t for the life of me understand why they would ever get a bum like that to play for this team.  But what do I know….
       I’m going to be at the Stadium tomorrow, so I’ll try and do some sort of journal on my day.  Maybe I’ll even post some updates via the iphone.  Probably not, as I am the laziest man on Earth.  But maybe.
      I watched the Mets opening ceremony at Citi Field the other night.  The poor Mets.  I remember when they closed the Stadium last year, and Tom Terrific bounced that pitch to Piazza before they closed the gates.  How fitting, I remember thinking.  I also remember thinking it was fitting that they closed it on a day that the Mets put the cherry on the top of yet another devastating late season collapse.  The poor Mets…  So there they were the other night, opening up brand-spanking new Citi Field, as pretty as a picture.  And when Seaver threw out the first pitch to Piazza, it was a strike right down the middle.  Maybe this really will be a new era for the Mets, I thought.  Maybe the cosmos will align for them.  And then Pelfrey (Really?  Pelfrey is your Citi-Field opening starter?  Really?) puts the first pitch right over for a strike.  The crowd went bananas.  Maybe it really will be different, I thought.  And then Jody Gerut smashes the third pitch of the game out of the park.  The first-ever regular season batter at Citi Field.  Can it get any worse?  Yes, actually.  After the Mets thrillingly tied the score on a three-run bomb by David Wright, they end up losing on… a balk.  Dude….  The poor Mets.   Hey, love the ballpark, though.  Great spot.  And I thought the opening ceremonies were great.
      One thing strikes me about the new Stadiums in New York. They really are a reflection of the guys who run things right now.  Guys in their late fifties, early sixties.  The new Yankee Stadium is really an homage to the old Yankee Stadium, which is cool.  I’m all for the history.  It just means a little less to me because I was never in the old Stadium.  I grew up in the post-1976 Stadium.  Like I said, still cool, just less relevance for a guy like me.  Citi Field is also an homage, to the old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, where Fred Wilpon used to wile away summer afternoons as a kid with his dad.  The one and only thing about that field that could have been improved was its location.  Ebbets Field looked perfectly in place on Sullivan Street in Brooklyn, as the angled entrance sat on a street corner, with all of the atmosphere of the Brooklyn neighborhood wrapped around it like a cozy sweater.  Citi Field still sits in the middle of a parking lot, essentially, so the shape of the Stadium looks a bit confused.  And you miss out on the atmosphere of a surrounding neighborhood.  Great once you’re inside, though.  I haven’t been there yet, but I’m going next weekend.  Another sign the old guys are in charge: Seaver and Piazza walked from the bullpen to the mound with “Beginnings” by Chicago blasting from the sound system.  Appropriate enough title, I guess, but you’re talking about a song that was recorded five years after Shea Stadium opened.  A curious choice, I thought.   
       Excited about the big day in the Bronx, boys.  Here’s hoping we start things off right.