“I got two for tonight. Who wants in?” I had called Tony Sherry, but Acc answered. Apparently the Sherry brothers, Mikey Juice, and Acc were all at lunch together in the Rock. Without bothering to ask how that happened, I just posed the question to Acc instead of Tony. “What do you mean you have two? I had the two and I gave them to Paddy B [of the 2006 Wifflemania Champion Blue Balls] and his brother. Do you have the three?” asked Acc, who was now confused. “No dude, these aren’t ours. I got them at work. They’re in section 14.” I heard Acc announce the situation to everyone at the table. Mikey Juice grabbed the phone. “Of course I’m in. Tell me where and when we’re meeting and I’ll be there.” “Alright,” I said, “Let me go get the tickets and I’ll call you back.” I hung up. Thirty seconds later my phone rings. It’s Acc directly. “Dude, Juice isn’t taking that ticket. I’m taking it. I’m in.” It didn’t really make a difference to me, and I figured Juice was cool with being usurped, as he was sitting right next to the big boy when he called me. “Okay, dude. See you at 1978….”
Wow. Flashbulbs popping everywhere, the crowd rabid. It was truly electric at the Stadium tonight. Not exactly in a playoff kind of way, more like a carnival. And the place just rolled in waves of alternating anticipations and explosions. For nine innings.
There is some housekeeping to attend to in the final analysis of this, the 106th game of the Yankee season. The Yankees tied their all-time record of 8 home runs in a game, as 7 different players hit bombs tonight. Perhaps most interestingly, of course, none of them were named Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees picked up ground on both Boston and Cleveland, and now find themselves just 3 games out of a playoff spot. For anyone interested in stats, the Yankees led all of major league baseball in runs scored at of the start of the Detroit game, although as of right now they’re behind by one. We’ve been talking a lot about run differential the last few days, and how it so pungently illustrates the Yankees outlier status on the statistical leader board. With all of the division leaders and wild-card leaders clogging up the top ten in run differential; there are the Yankees, all alone on the very top of the heap, with a major-league best 130 more runs scored than allowed, a full 5 runs better than second-place Boston. And yet they are not in first place, not currently in a wild-card position, and not even runner-up to a wild-card position. Just goes to show you what a wild first half it was for them.
It’s not like this should come as a great shock to anyone. The first half of the season saw Bobby Abreu having the worst three months of his professional career, Robbie Cano falling from an All-Star who was among the top 10 in the league in batting last year to a .240 hitter with no power. His buddy, Melky, looked like he was swooning in a vicious sophomore slump, was hitting .230 with no power. Johnny Damon was hurt and useless, and Jason Giambi was hurt and slightly less useless, as he was hitting some bombs before he went down. But when he went down he went down. Even the Ferocious Lion looked like a shadow of the player who was so devastating two and three years ago. Now you’ve got Damon healthy, hitting .250 and starting to come on, Abreu at .275 with his power stroke coming back, and Cano, Melky, and the Ferocious Lion all at .290 or better, with ever-increasing bombs. Which, frankly, is where they should be. And Allie and Jeter are both where they should be. The only positive outlier is Posada, who, bless him, is still hitting .339 after a four-hit night tonight. And with Phil Hughes coming back, you’ve got five very capable starters taking you through the last two months of the season. This is not a team to fool around with.
So the post-script on the trading deadline, for me, is that the Red Sox in essence swapped Joel Piniero for Eric Gagne on the 2007 roster, but were unable to land Jermaine Dye or a more reliable outfield bat than Wily Mo Pena/JD Drew. The moves beg a lot of questions for 2008, as Gagne will be a free agent this year, and the Red Sox already have a closer. We thought. But this isn’t 2008. It’s 2007. And they’re better today than they were yesterday.
As for the Yankees, they needed a back-up catcher, a set-up man, and maybe a better option at first. The catcher had to be someone who could give you something offensively and wouldn’t hurt you defensively. Jose Molina is that guy. Love the move. I don’t really get the Proctor for Betemit move. I know Proctor is whatever he is, but I’m not sure I understand why the Yankees are so in love with Wilson Betemit. Because he can play any position? So can Miguel Cairo. And he certainly doesn’t have any kind of offensive numbers that jump out at you. And he’s no kid, at 27. So I guess I’ll resign myself to being confused. The story, as far as the set-up situation, is not any deal made, but a bus ticket purchased. Joba Chamberlain is going to attempt to ride into town playing the role of K-Rod or Bobby Jenks in 2002 and 2005, respectively. Or Mariano in 1995, for that matter. So we’ll see how that works out. And it appears, waiver wire notwithstanding; that they will stay with Andy Phillips for the time being, as the hole isn’t as prominent when the rest of the team is hitting. It’s also not as prominent when it isn’t a hole. For now.
Two last things. As the big boy and I sat in section 14 (a little strange) tonight, who did I see sitting two rows in front of me? None other than mlblog’s Zack, the baseball collector. “Hey baseball collector,” I called out. He looked up, somewhat startled. “You here to catch A-Rod’s 500th?” “I’m going to try,” he said. “I enjoy your blog,” I said. “Best of luck to you.” “Thanks,” he said. And there you have it…
Last, Scott Proctor. I know he is not enjoying his flight out to the West Coast. He was erratic and tough to watch at times, but he was also the only guy outside of Mo you could trust at times. And you never saw him dog it, you never saw him go half-*ss, and you knew that every time he went out there, he wanted to do everything in his power to help the Yankees win. And I’ll take a guy like that any time. Best of luck, dude. Thanks for putting your heart into it.
Juror #8: I just want to talk.
Juror #7: Well, what’s there to talk about? Eleven men in here think he’s guilty. No one had to think about it twice except you.
Juror #10: I want to ask you something: do you believe his story?
Juror #8: I don’t know whether I believe it or not – maybe I don’t.
Juror #7: So how come you vote not guilty?
Juror #8: Well, there were eleven votes for guilty. It’s not easy to raise my hand and send a boy off without talking about it first.
Juror #7: Well now, who says it’s easy?
Juror #8: No one.
Juror #7: What, just because I voted fast? I honestly think guilty. Couldn’t change my mind if you talked for a hundred years.
Juror #8: I’m not trying to change your mind. It’s just that… Supposing we’re wrong?
Juror #7: Supposing we’re wrong! Supposing this whole building should fall down on my head. You can suppose anything!
Juror #8: That’s right.
Juror #8: I just think we owe him a few words, that’s all.
- From “12 Angry Men”
I’m pretty sure this is unprecedented, but I’m going to start with two quotes today. The second comes from our very own Raoul. Here’s the comment, posted earlier today:
“I have to admit some of the reasoning you use for the Yankees reminds me of a slimy lawyer trying to get a guilty party off. However, this post about run differential has merit. The first solid evidence that NY may indeed be who you claim, a post-season team. I’m going to grant a continuance.”
Forgive me, Raoul, but you seem to have confused your role. Slimy lawyer? Okay. But you know what? I like your broader analogy. So let’s start with this. Let’s take your analogy, exactly as you suppose it. The BPS is the counsel for the defense, and the charge that we are defending, as you state it, is that the Yankees are not a playoff team. I’m tempted to say that the charge of slimy lawyer is utterly outrageous, because as counsel, our history has been that we have answered this charge before, in 2005. To an overwhelmingly confident prosecution team, a cheering, bloodthirsty mob outside the courthouse, and a seemingly damning mound of evidence. And as our client won the division and made the playoffs, they were, in the end, innocent of all charges. And in 2006 the BPS found itself once again in the role of counsel for the defense. The charge this time? That the Yankees weren’t going to finish with the best record in baseball. Because as we have made crystal clear, the BPS will not offer its services to defend a team against a charge that it won’t win the World Series. As we’ve said many times, any team – any team – can string the right three or four games together (see 2006 Cardinals). And as we’ve said many times, the only way you can measure the best team is who has the best record after the most grueling and statistically relevant regular season in professional sports – the 162 game baseball season. Sometimes 163. (Raoul/Joseph, 1978 would be an example of a 163-game season, in case you’re interested – do you guys remember that one?) And once again the BPS faced fierce, fierce opposition. And then the Yankees finished with the best record. The accused was acquitted. Again. So slimy lawyer? I think not. Try the lone voice willing to be heard in the name of an unpopular truth. A voice proven correct again. A voice that is, in fact, undefeated. It’s also important to note that the judge and jury, in this case, is the baseball season. It will prove you a playoff team or not a playoff team. So by definition, the judge and jury is not….Raoul. You, Raoul, are in fact, part of the mob outside prematurely calling for the guilty b*stard to hang. A mostly passive part, I’ll admit, but you’re standing amongst them, to be sure.
I’m tempted to say that, but I don’t really see it that way. I prefer to think of the BPS as juror #8 in “12 Angry Men,” the one played by Henry Fonda in the 1957 movie. The one who cast the lone “not guilty” vote in the first ballot against a boy eventually proven not guilty. Maybe the Yankees are as bad as everybody’s made them out to be. Maybe they have no shot. Maybe they are a bunch of underachieving mercenary chumps. Maybe this is the year they will be guilty of not being a playoff team. That’s certainly looked like the right answer for most of this season. The easy one, anyway. But supposing they’re wrong? I just think we owe them a few words, that’s all….
“Are you boys ready?” It was my mother-in-law at the top of the stairs yelling down. Uh oh. This meant dinner was imminent. Very imminent. And the Yankees weren’t ready for dinner quite yet. Things were still tenuous. They had a one-run lead in the top of the eighth, and Kyle Farnsworth was looming in the bullpen with a big bag of “here you go O’s” that he was getting ready to open up like Santa Claus fresh out of the chimney. I looked over at Big Joe and he looked back at me. This was tricky. We had to play it just right. If you push things back, the girls might back-burner the whole thing and go get caught up in a Grey’s Anatomy rerun on Lifetime. Then we’re stuck in limbo for a while. But if we bailed and went right up, we stood to miss the whole thing going down in the street. Because this game had the potential to get weird. Luckily, my mother-in-law took this very obvious hesitation to mean that we weren’t quite ready. “Do you need fifteen minutes?” she called down. Big Joe saw our chance. “Maybe a half-hour,” he called back up from the couch, his eyes still glued to the Yankees brewing eighth-inning rally. It was a bold move. She gave us an inch, Big Joe took a mile. But I was grateful he stepped up, as we probably would need a half-hour, judging by the way things were going. We got no response from my mother-in-law. We didn’t know if this was good or bad. In any case, we had to stay focused on the matter at hand. The Yankees needed a big hit. They had gotten another run on a Johnny Damon double, pushing their lead to 6-4. That was good, but the camera shots of Farnsworth warming up reminded us that it wasn’t good enough. Jeter walked. “This is it, I said to Big Joe. Three runs will do it. They get this run in and I’m making the call.” “Yeah?” he said to me, not quite convinced. “Yup,” I repeated. They get that run in it’s over.” Bobby Abreu put a good at-bat on Danys Baez, who usually does a job on the Yankees, running the count full. Then, base hit. Two runs score. “That’s it Big Joe.” He didn’t hesitate. “Peg!! We’re ready!!”
So let’s look at the series. The Yankees, after scoring 56 runs in 36 innings during their winning streak, threw up 2 runs in 26 innings in this funk. But I’m going to come back to that. They lost a very winnable game on Saturday (what else is new), helped along by a horribly ill-conceived call (what else is new) and another perfectly ill-timed bloop by an opposing batter who was fooled (what else is new). The bloops will happen, so I’ll leave that alone. But I want to take a second on the call. There’s a gigantic hole in the MLB rulebook that only gets exploited when an ump is trying to justify a mistake. I’m talking about this whole business of “it went over the bag fair.” The Yankees got b*tch-slapped by home plate umpire Bob Davidson and third-base umpire Randy Marsh on Saturday when Miguel Tejada, with two outs, hits a two-run “double” that clearly landed in foul territory. Davidson and Marsh (not sure which one made the call, but I think Marsh) call it fair. The Yankees flip out. The word comes back that it “went over the bag fair.” Probably Marsh wanted to cover himself, not really knowing it landed foul. But here’s why this is a fallacy. Umpires do not call balls fair that “go over the base fair.” It happens all the time. Almost every single ball that hooks foul in the outfield starts out as much as twenty-five feet inside the first or third base bag before it hooks into the seats. Happens constantly. Probably five times a game. According to the rules, shouldn’t all of those be ground-rule doubles? Every single one of them goes over the bag fair. But they’re not called fair. Ever. Neither are the balls that go over the bag fair and land just foul. Unless a guy blows the call and wants to cover himself. Point is, be consistent with the rule. Either it’s fair or it isn’t. And if it is, be prepared for a radically different element to the game. I don’t need a two-run gift given away in a game I end up losing by two runs.
Next point. I mentioned that the Yankees had a wildly drastic drop-off in run production from one run to the next over the past week. This, in fact, is the key to the Yankees season. The key to winning a baseball game, of course, is to score more runs than you allow. Pretty simple. The key to a good season is to try and score way more runs than you give up. So how do the Yankees stack up in run differential so far this season? Well, the Red Sox are leading the majors with a 127 run differential (scored 127 more than they allowed on the season). Makes sense. They have the best record in baseball. In fact, a glance at all of the division leaders is a who’s who of run-differential success. The Tigers are at 94, the wild-card leading Indians are at 53, and the Angels are at 51. Over in the National League, quadruple-A, the numbers are a bit lower, as expected, with the Mets, Brewers and Dodgers at 37, 36, and 33 respectively. In fact, Sweet Lou’s plucky Cubs are at 61, leading them all. But all of these teams are in the top ten. So where are the Yankees? Just at 117, second only to the Red Sox in the entire Major Leagues, and 23 runs better than next-closest Detroit. So what does this mean? It means that the Yankee runs this season have been stunningly ill-distributed. Is this bad? Yes. But not all bad. If you’re a believer in the law of averages, like I am, you have to note that if the Yankees continue to score more runs than they allow at the clip they have all season, they will start to win far more games than they lose. This is because the runs that have been so bunched up for no rhyme or reason will start to spread out. The Yankees are a colossal outlier on the run-differential board. That never lasts. We’ve talked about their futility in the one and two-run games. That’s a great example. It will turn around. There’s no reason for it, and it will revert to the mean. It’s worth noting that Seattle’s run differential is a lowly 7. A lot of right place at the right time, I guess. But they aren’t going to stay ahead of the Yanks for long unless they change that pattern, quickly. When they get breaks like that Willie Bloomquist “safe” on a steal call that they got at the Stadium, you can see how they’ve pulled this feat off so far.
Bottom line – don’t bet against the Yankees catching Cleveland and Seattle. The numbers are telling us that it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of when. Just like Big Joe and me heading up to the dining room for pot roast. We had to delay things a bit, and it may have been a bit of an inconvenience, but we got there…. We always get there….
Did anybody not see this coming? I sat in front of the TV in the living room after the missus and I finished dinner, not wanting to flip to the YES network. I hadn’t checked yet, but I figured it was probably about the fourth inning. And I didn’t want the run to be over. “Is it possible that we can run the streak to 7?” I asked the missus. No answer. She was washing some sort of pot or something, so maybe she didn’t hear me. Maybe I just mumbled it. I’m not really sure. I just know I didn’t feel good about the game. I’m a bit of a pessimist when it comes to the Yankees, as Tony Sherry likes to remind me. But I like to think I’m a realist. It’s just hard to win four in a row against any one team. It’s not easy to sweep a four-gamer. And when you have Kei Igawa on the mound, it’s even harder. So we lost.
Kudos to Boston. The Yankees are in the middle of a red-hot stretch against some dreg teams, and the Sox have matched them every step of the way. The good news for the Yankees, and bad news for the Sox, is that Seattle and Cleveland look less and less like playoff teams every day. And with the Yankees right there, they loom like a gigantic shadow over everybody that may make the playoffs. Everyone – everyone – is going to talk tough, but nobody is going to want to play the Yankees.
Funny how the Yanks are good for this, though. Put on a legendary display of offensive firepower, only to throw up a goose egg right on the heels of it. They do like to stick to their themes. I guess this is one of those games you can’t complain about. You’ve won three four-game series in a row. You’re just not going to win every game. You can’t. So you have to deal with a night when you just don’t have it.
Kei Igawa. It’s gotten to the point where I kind of feel bad for the guy. I know, you really have to think about how you’re going to feel bad for a guy who is cashing a $40 million check from the Yanks. But the truth is, money or no money, this guy is not having an easy time of it right now. He’s in a foreign country, doesn’t speak the language, all of the fans collectively hate him, then they hate him again because he’s stealing money from the Boss, but maybe worst of all, he knows he’s hurting the team but can’t really communicate with them. Not easy. So you kind of feel bad for the guy. Don’t get me wrong – not enough to ever want to see him ever throw another pitch for the Yankees. But you know, a little.
So what do you do with him? You can’t trade him. His contract is so hilarious it belongs in a Farrelly brothers movie. No one in their right mind would take him. Not that anyone would want him. So what do you do? Send him to the minors and have him wallow down there? What good is that going to do anyone? Plus, they’ll never acknowledge a $40 million mistake. They’re going to stick him in the bullpen. Has to be. There’s no other way. And then what? Who knows… But that was a truly awful signing. When you look at how dominating Dice-K has proven not to be so far, after the legend he made for himself in Japan, you really have to ask yourself how high the ceiling is for Igawa. I don’t have high hopes. Haven’t since spring training, when I said, “Let’s write Igawa’s name in for the fifth starter in pencil, if it’s all the same to everybody.”
Heard some noise that the Yankees were trying to move Damon and Giambi. Good luck with Giambi. Maybe I could see the Angels taking a flier on him. Damon too. They both have obstreperous contracts, but sometimes when you need a guy you need a guy. I think the Damon news is the result of Melky coming back out from the break on fire, bringing his average back up to the .280 range. I think the Yankees would take .280, great D, and the threat on the bases that Melky gives you as a satisfactory alternative to Damon. We’ll see. The contract is kind of tough, but it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen.
Well, this is a true test. There could be no better way to p*ss me off than blowing this two-run lead we got in the rain in the unfinished game in Baltimore. Seriously. Two innings. You need to hold a two-run lead for two innings. I will say this, though. I have enjoyed having this win sitting in our pocket for a while. That was kind of cool. Now let’s finish it off and get on another streak. Like Joe Torre says, these don’t mean anything if you don’t make them stick.
“I was listening to the radio today,” Big Joe says to me a couple of minutes ago. That means sports talk radio, probably the FAN (WFAN here in New York). “Mussina’s not happy with the way he’s pitching,” he said. “He says if he isn’t able to pitch the way he wants to he doesn’t want to be out there.” I hadn’t heard that, but it makes a lot of sense. Moose has always been a surly, cerebral kind of guy. He looks for perfection, and he’s a bit prickly when he doesn’t find it.
I’m toggling back and forth to the MLB gamecast as I tap the keys. The Yanks have a two-run lead in the bottom of the second with two outs and two on for the Royals. [John Buck just flied out with men and second and third – end of the second.] Ordinarily I’d be up in the loft watching, but Big Joe called, and I happened to be sitting in the blue room, so we’ll do it this way for a while. So Big Joe and I talked a little bit about the Moose before he had to go run in to play basketball with his Wednesday night guys. “Moose at this stage in his career is a little bit like Glavine,” I said to Big Joe, “If he doesn’t get the calls he’s dead. He might get a ton of run support or the opposing team might swing at a lot of pitches, but for the most part he’s in for a long night if the borderline calls are called balls. As I was saying this, I was looking at Moose’s pitches dot the box on the gamecast. It was 3-1 to Esteban German. The three green “balls” were sitting right on the line graphic that marked the strike zone. The one red “strike” was sitting right with them, also on the line. Now, admittedly, those marks are placed at the discretion of the dude “gamecasting” the ballgame for MLB. But it probably tells you that those things were borderline. [The Ferocious Lion just grounded into a double play, killing a first and second, one-out rally.] And although emotion is conveniently left off the table when you’re in gamecast mode, something tells me that somewhere in Kansas City, the Moose is p*ssed that he’s not getting the calls.
This point dovetails nicely with my post the other day about the NBA betting scandal. And also along those lines, there was an excellent article in the Times today by Selena Roberts about the way the NBA has rendered itself vulnerable to exactly this type of problem. [Well, I just took a break to eat a Grandma’s Pie from Nino’s on Third Avenue with the missus. Watched “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” while we ate. Somewhere there’s a star vehicle for Wayne Brady. This isn’t it. The show is almost as lame as its name. By the time I got back to the blue room, it was the bottom of the sixth, two outs and no one on, with the Yankees still up 2-0. Lucky me. I clicked over just in time for a Ross Gload double and a Reggie Sanders single. Now it’s 2-1. In the first few months of the season, this game would have loss written all over it. The offense jumps out to an early lead and then goes straight to sleep, while the opposing team hangs around, chipping away, and then….the pain. We’ll see if this is a brave new world for this post-all-star break version of the Yanks.] Anyway, Roberts’ point was that the league had fostered this problem by coddling and protecting the officials to the point where they all developed a God-complex. Boy does that same theme apply to MLB umpires. Some (Joe West, CB Bucknor) are absolutely unbearable. You can see the indignant self-righteousness in their eyes as they rip off their mask to upbraid those who dare to question their infallibility. [As I checked a few minutes ago, Posada was leading off the seventh. And seconds ago I got a text message from the Big Boy. “Yes.” I flipped over to the gamecast and saw that Melky was batting with men on second and third. He was probably a minute ahead of me. Clearly Melky got a base hit. But no. When the gamecast refreshed I realized it was a sac fly. Nice, but I was expecting more if Acc took the time to throw out the text. He generally saves texts for bigger bangs. Usually a sac fly in that spot would just make him nervous that it’s going to cost us that we didn’t get more. Or is that me? Either way, I’ll take it.] The major league umpires are in a situation similar to the NBA refs. They are in command of the balls and strikes calls. And when you’ve got a control pitcher on the mound, a guy who is constantly looking to bite the corners; the home plate umpire will hold that game in the palm of his hands. And as I said a few posts back, it doesn’t mean that the ump is going to be crooked. But it does illustrate brilliantly the extent to which the umps can directly affect the outcome of a game. [Another text message from the big boy – “Not Good.” As I toggle over I see the Yankees have gotten themselves into another jam after getting two outs and no one on. Two on and two out after we hit a dude. Awesome.] Roberts made the point in her article that “David Stern [NBA commish] has never acknowledged a human element in officiating.” Beautifully said. Ditto for MLB. And the media and the players, for that matter. At least not outside of their own house. Everyone pretends that the game was won on the field by the players, every single time. MLB does use ques-tec to score the umps, but the results are a bigger secret than the black room at Los Alamos. They are afraid of the same thing the NBA is afraid of – that if officiating errors become public, the results of the games would be questioned. Which would be absolutely appropriate. How would you feel if your team just got beat 1-0 on a strikeout in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded that ques-tec would have scored a base on balls? That would get messy for MLB. So it pretends all of the umpiring is perfect to the outside world, while supposedly giving the real skinny internally. And we, the ****** public, will never find out what MLB thinks is too messy for us to know. [Apparently the Yanks got out of it. Still 3-1 with Jeter on in the eighth and nobody out. Stop the presses. Tony Sherry just called. Allie just blinitzticrated number 499, and The Ferocious Lion followed it with a what-just-happened special. At 7-1, this game is quickly becoming….over.]
So Boston lost and the good guys continue their march. Nice. The headline in the Times today said it best. "The Yankees are Playing Like, Well, the Yankees." Indeed.
I got a call from Tony Sherry sometime after 9pm. “I have three questions,” he says to me. “A) Is it true? B) Is it really happening? And C) Do people really understand what’s happening?” Very typical Tony Sherry. Sort of dis-jointed, sort of non sequitur, but in the end, you know what he’s talking about. He was at his brother Mike’s house, and had just gotten off the phone with his girl, who told him the score. While I was on the phone with him I walked him through the third inning at-bat by his favorite player, the Ferocious Lion. He K’d. What can you do…
I got an entirely different call from the big boy towards the end of the fifth. “Dude, are you feeling comfortable about this game?” The missus had asked me the same question about five minutes before, as she walked in the door from having been out to dinner with her crew. She was slightly disappointed that they didn’t go to Da NOI, the second choice; because they later found out that apparently Bobby Flay ate there tonight. Only when she posed the question it was more like an incredulous, “Why wouldn’t you feel comfortable with an 8-2 lead?” But by the time Acc called, the game was slightly more precarious. Slightly. “No,” I fired back to the big boy. “You’re never comfortable,” he said to me. “Not true, dude,” I protested. “My mood swings with the trend. If I don’t like the way the game is trending, I’m not comfortable. And I don’t like the way this game is trending.” By this time the score was 8-4. The fifth had just ended. The Yankees had immediately thrown 7 runs up on the board in the first two innings, and had been all over the Royals bullpen for the next three, but were only able to put up one more run. Meanwhile, the Royals had been pesky. And by the time they closed to 8-4, I was working on scenarios in my mind that could have turned things weird.
Luckily, the uneasiness was slightly unfounded. Although the Royals were dastardly against the Red Sox and the Tigers, we seem to have gone in there glowing hot. So we get another one. And although the Red Sox keep hanging on, Cleveland lost, Seattle lost two, and Detroit lost two. Granted, those guys are in a different part of their schedule right now, but the Yankees have earned this stretch. They ran into a brick wall of a schedule early on. So these Yanks, who were left for dead a while back, are exactly four games in the loss column out of a playoff spot. That’s striking distance, in every sense of the word.
Wang wasn’t sharp tonight, but he hung on to get the win. He was behind a lot and he got way too many fly ball outs. That’s not a good recipe for him. Luckily, he got what he should get. Plenty of run support against a team like the Royals. Again, the bats look like they’re settling in. Johnny Damon is continuing his march up to .280. Slowly but surely. This is what this offense is capable of. They came off the all-star break like a kill switch, bad opposition or no bad opposition, and are taking care of business. The Yanks were victims of a crazy anomaly in the first half, as, you could argue, the Sox were in the second half last year. That said, no reason the Yanks can’t be on the other side of that anomaly in the second half. They are already seven games over .500 (an inning and-a-half on Friday would make it eight), and hoping to pad it against the soft underbelly of their schedule. Seven games is a lot, when you think about this team being under .500 at the break.
Bobby, I’m glad you stopped in to the BPS. This way you get the BPS clan stirred up and we get more comments. Although Happymeds, Lucky, JD, Mike, TS Mike and the boys are usually in charge of greeting guests, I do have a couple of quick points. First, never fall in love with your bullpen, dude. I’ve always said that bullpens are bullpens for a reason. They can go at any time. Especially yours. Because last time we saw your team, we did your two guns for a blown save and a loss. And record is the most important thing…..you would think. Except in the wild card world. The Yankees had a much better record than the Sox in ’04. Just as a reminder.
Bananas Foster! That was it. Thanks, Krystopolski. I knew one of you dudes would know.
Moose against Meche tomorrow. I hate this matchup. That guy always gives us fits. Once again, I hope the bats show up. Seannie, your boy’s up.
It was a nice change of pace. The Yankees, in middle America for the near future, weren’t starting until 8pm Eastern. So the missus and I were out to dinner in Manhattan at the Waterstone Grill on Stone Street. I started with the lobster risotto, switched gears entirely to go with the flank steak, then followed the whole thing up with bananas something-or-other… Can’t remember what it was called, but it had cinnamon, ice cream, brown sugar, caramelized bananas. The missus would know. In any case, what’s not to like? And we were still home in time to see the Rocket working a 4-0 lead in the fourth.
The Red Sox are hanging on nicely. As were the Indians until yesterday. The Sox did what the Yankees could not. They rode the perfect storm, as they came out to a lightning-bolt start while the Yankees suffered a three-standard-deviations-from-the-mean, fall-on-your-face start. But the truth is that there is nothing about that team right now that is better than the Yankees, other than their record. And you can say the same for Cleveland. They are a team that shouldn’t be the least bit comfortable right now. A five game loss-column bump over the Yankees in July is no time to be printing playoff tickets. And that team isn’t scaring a lot of people right now. So stay tuned.
It’s tough to win a four-game series. It just is. Lots of things have to happen to win four games in a row against the same team. So this is a stretch in which the Yankees have to be consistent and take care of business. I can’t remember the last time the Yankees played five four-game series’ in a row. Granted, one was a make-up game day-nighter. But still, it doesn’t make it any easier to win the games. But so far, so good. These are the games you need to win. No two ways about it. This is when you need to tighten things up, to make up ground. This is when you put yourself in striking distance. And so far, all signs are good.
The Yankees are getting consistent starting pitching. The bullpen is getting more stable. The one guy that Torre hoped would get going, Vizcaino, has been a machine for the last few months. Mo has overcome his shaky start. And the bats are going great guns. The key guys, the guys that had to get going, Abreu, Cano, Melky, the Ferocious Lion, and Johnny Damon, have all exploded. Okay, so almost all. But Damon threw up a three-for-five tonight, coming in at .244 after the game. Baby steps. Yesterday I said I would take .240. But the rest of them are getting level, and the good news is that they’re not way over and above their heads. They’re all starting to level off at or near their career averages. Andy Phillips is way over his head at .300, and Posada is still over his head at .334, but everyone else is either at or a little under their career number. So they’ve got some sustenance at this level. But let’s be fair. They’re playing some s*cky teams. But it is what it is. Right now, do you like Cleveland to hang on to a five-in-the-loss-column lead in the Wildcard? I don’t know if I do. I know, I know, we really want Boston. But I’m just talking out loud, here.
Small, but notable details in tonight’s game. Mark Grudzielanek dropped an Andy Phillips pop-up in the ninth, bringing home the ninth Yankee run. Phillips, who disgustedly flipped his bat out of the box, jogged to first, p*ssed. And that’s why he wasn’t standing on second when that play ended. Bad play. That’s not how you stay on a major league baseball team. Also, Shelley Duncan batting next in that inning with two outs and a 9-2 lead. Home plate umpire Doug Eddings called the first two pitches, both preposterously outside, strikes. Half of me can’t blame him. The game was out of reach, there were two outs, and he’s thinking, “Let’s get this thing done and these people home.” So the count is a sour-tasting 0-2 on Duncan. But I wonder what’s going through Duncan’s mind. This guy is getting his shot. Who knows how long it will last. And you’re sticking him with a BS at-bat because you want to go home. Duncan struck out two pitches later. Lucky for him, the three bombs over the weekend will buy him some time. But what about the guys who are getting their shot and haven’t hit three bombs in two days? Something to think about it.
Wang back in the saddle tomorrow night. Damon stays hot and Allie, he of 100 rbi’s, hits number 500. Okay, maybe it all doesn’t happen tomorrow, but soon.
“Are you watching this?” It was Tony Sherry on my cellphone, asking me if I was watching the Yankee game on Saturday afternoon. I wasn’t. “No, dude. Just finished 18 holes at Highbridge Hills.” I knew he was jealous. “Hoh! You went to Jersey?” he thundered. It was worth noting, I must admit. Jersey and I just never saw eye-to-eye. The street signs are funky, you can’t make left turns – the whole thing just throws me off. But I did make it out on Saturday for the second-annual Back Row Invitational. Although JJ might dispute that it was official, for the simple reason that he wasn’t there. Good reason, I guess. If you’re him. “Good things are happening,” Tony continued. “We’re winning 7-3. Early though. Sixth inning. And the new guy hit a bomb.” “What new guy?” I asked. “You know. The new guy. The guy they just brought up.” I didn’t know. In fact, I had absolutely no idea. “Not following you, bro. I didn’t know they brought anybody up.” Tony didn’t have a lot more to give me. “He played yesterday too, I think. DH.” That definitely didn’t help me. The minute I turned on the game night before and saw they were losing 9-0; I bailed and watched the “Brooklyn Dodgers” special on HBO. Shecky Greene could have DH’ing that game and I would have been oblivious. But Tony was right. Apparently the new guy had blasted a home run.
His name (pause for effect) is Shelley Duncan. He’s 27 years old. He’ll be 28 in September. In other words, like Andy Phillips, this isn’t some gem who is waiting to set lofty records playing for the Yankees. He’s a guy who seems to be very comfortable hitting big flies against minor-league baseball teams. Enter the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. So I have no idea what we’re going to get from this guy. Will he be a one-weekend flash-in-the-pan? Will he give you a Shane-Spencer-circa-1998 wild ride in the second half? Who knows…. He does bring a baseball pedigree to the table, with his father Dave Duncan a long-time pitching coach and his brother Chris playing for the Cardinals. But still, you just have no idea what to make of him. In any case, what a weekend. Whatever happens, he’ll have that.
What a weekend indeed. The Yankees rebounded nicely from that gob-smack they got on Friday night, I think it’s safe to say. Today’s game was particularly precocious. All 11 position players in the game got a hit and scored a run. Bombs from Allie Boy, the Ferocious Lion, Shelley Duncan, Shelley Duncan, Robbie Cano, and Bobby Abreu. That’s pretty good thunder. Nothing like a little stat-padding. Cano’s up to .291. Melky’s up to .283, The Ferocious Lion’s up to .291 (with some ever-increasing power numbers), Abreu’s up to .273. Now if we could only get Johnny Damon up to .240 we’d be all set.
Interesting sidelight going on with the betting scandal over in the NBA. Interesting in that, for me, it underscores the point that we make all the time here in the BPS. When it becomes clear that an official is making calls with an agenda, all of the sudden everyone acknowledges the implications that even one single call can have on a specific game. How true. And there is no similarity at all to an official booting a call on purpose in order to affect an outcome and an official who makes an honest mistake and blows a call that he was trying to get right. Except, of course, in the result. But who wants to note that nasty little detail? Certainly not the mass media. When a guy like Tim Donaghy makes a call in an attempt to affect the outcome of a game, the mass media will roar that the result is tainted. Some may ask why. The answer, certainly, would come back that it was obvious. It’s not fair. This game should have ended differently. A ref called a shooting foul, pass-interference penalty, outside strike, whatever, and one of the teams got a free win. But because we like to believe in the ideal of a level playing field, before anyone knows that the fix was in the media will all bend over backwards telling you that the call in question is not why the team lost, that the call wasn’t wrong, it was “close,” or “controversial,” or “could have gone either way.” In many cases they won’t even mention it. Instead, they’ll wrap the game up in a neat little box, telling us that one team wanted it more and the other team just wasn’t ready to play. They might throw in a few other cliché’s just for good measure, like one team wasn’t rested, or one team was offended that a certain opposing player had made a certain comment. Everyone, for some reason, likes to believe that all of the games are won on the field. It takes something like a crooked ref to demonstrate the impact officials have on sporting events. That there are indeed times when outcomes change because of them. Probably vastly more than we realize. So what’s my point to all of this? Well, I often say that I am always in favor of getting calls right, no matter what. I don’t subscribe to any ancient religion of the “charm” of the human element. There’s too much at stake to suffer an ump who burns a guy on a strike-three call because he didn’t like the way he looked at him the inning before, or tosses a guy because he thinks his gumare will be impressed at what a bad-*ss he looks like on TV. I am in favor of anything that actually will level the playing field. Like automated ball and strike calls, although technology is probably not there yet, or instant replay, if somehow it wouldn’t prolong the already unmanageable time-of-game. I’m not asking anyone to agree with me, as admittedly it’s just one man’s opinion. And I’ll admit I’m biased, because generally the better team wants to eliminate the volatility, because volatility will always give the lesser team a better shot. Similar to the underdog rooting for snow in a football game. A wild variable mitigates some of the favored team’s strength. And as a Yankee fan, I am generally going to be on the short end of that stick, because I am never the underdog. Again, one man’s opinion.
Kansas City. Guys…we know what needs to happen here.
“We got a problem.” I was on the phone with Mike Sherry late this afternoon, and I could hear him through the phone talking to his brother. They were clearly concerned. “He needs to regroup,” Mike was saying. Faintly, I could hear Tony asking his brother what the problem was. “What does is he, sick or something?” “Worse,” Mike said. "The Yankees just blew a 2-0 lead in the seventh.” “That is way worse,” I could hear Tony say. “Wait a minute, the game’s on right now?”
They had pretty big plans. They wanted to head into Manhattan, and frankly, I was their ride. Hence their concern. I might throw a wrench into things. Luckily, I’m not such a total psycho that I shut down when the Yankees lose. Close, maybe, but not a complete shutdown. So they really didn’t have anything to worry about. But I was miserable, I’ll admit. This is part of the dark side of being a Yankees fan. You’re so spoiled that you get mad when you don’t sweep a four-game series. And don’t get me wrong, I understand that it’s very difficult to sweep a team, especially a four-game sweep, and especially a good division rival. But I think it was more the way it happened. We had them. Seventh inning. Wang cruising. A leadoff double to Matt Stairs, who I thought was safely retired by now. That guy always seems to do it to us. And then two rbi hits, a triple and a single, with two outs. Ugh. But maybe the part that had me the most upset was what happened next. After pulling off a couple of sick wins in a row (including four by one or two runs), you’d think the Yankees would have gotten the little things right. Nope. They put together three of the worst offensive innings I’ve seen from them in a long time. Nine outs in ten batters. But worst of all, they allowed Dustin McGowan, who had thrown 71 pitches through three and two/thirds, to throw a full seven innings. Absolutely inexcusable. The inning right before the Blue Jays took the lead, McGowan was right up against one hundred pitches. So what do the Yankees do? Go down in about eight pitches. Although in fairness, Allie got called out on a bogus strike three call with a full count to lead off the inning. Huge, huge call. John Hirschbeck, who had an awful day behind the plate with a wildly erratic strike zone, rung him up. It was clearly not a strike. Then the Ferocious Lion rips a base hit. As always, fallacy of the pre-determined outcome aside, first and second with no outs would have been nice there. Instead we got an inning-ending double play on the next pitch. Ugh again. So then, after the Blue Jays take the lead, they gamble by sending McGowan back out. At this point, they smelled it. They wanted a win and they were going to pull out all the stops. But it was clearly a gamble with McGowan. The guy is recovering from two major arm surgeries, after all. So what do the Yankees do? They last for all of six pitches. Nice, guys. Cano swinging at the first pitch. Great. The eighth was more clownishness. Damon, useless. Jeter, swinging at a ball over his head. Abreu, nothing. So then you figure now or never in the ninth. It was still a one-run game. Allie leads off with a base hit. Awesome. But then he doesn’t steal. Somebody explain that to me. You have a fast, smart baserunner on the basepaths, a pitcher who doesn’t hold runners on very well, a catcher who can’t throw runners out, and a team as a whole that is notorious for not being able to throw anybody out. And the Yankees don’t steal. So here’s my question. If not then, when? Ninth inning. You’re down a run. Fast guy on and a team who can’t throw runners out. I’ll ask the question again. If you’re not going to steal a base there, with all conditions in your favor and in dire need of the run, when are you going to steal a base? With a ten-run lead? It doesn’t make one lick of sense, no matter how many times you twist and turn it around. I’ve made the point before, but it just deserves to be said again and again. The Yankees need to get aggressive on the bases. You saw some aggressiveness during and subsequent to the Angels series, as there is no better reminder of how aggressive baserunning wins games than watching Mike Scoscia’s teams do it to you time after time. But then the short memory kicks in, and the Yankees stop running. The Yankees should take heed. This is how the Rockies and Giants humiliated them. By running, running, running. You’d think the Yankees would have earned their lesson. Apparently not.
Apologize for my absence the last two days. Stuck in DC, as the big boy posted on the comments.
So I get that it’s tough to sweep a four-gamer, but this could have been done. Annoying. But I did make it into Manhattan with the Sherry brothers and Robbie Wonderful. So I pulled it together. Let’s hope the Yankees pull it together this weekend for a big pile of games against Tampa. Matt DeSalvo and Igawa on Saturday? Man, I hope those bats show up…
Andy Phillips. This is a guy you root for. This is a guy the Yankees have been rooting for the better part of the last three years. “He can hit,” they say, as they’ve said all along. Well, what does that mean, exactly, the Yankees fan would answer. We don’t see it. You’re talking about a career .239 hitter. He can hit where? In the minor leagues? “Yup,” they said. “Every step of the way in the minor leagues, he could hit.” Yeah, but the big club is different….239…..the Yankees fans would answer again, their voices drifting off.
I was that guy. I am that guy, I guess. And it’s true. Andy Phillips hasn’t proven to anyone beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can hit major league pitching at the major league level. But sometimes all of that stuff doesn’t matter.
For a few warm summer days in July, hundreds and hundreds of miles away from Alabama, where Andy Phillips has a thousand things to worry about other than baseball, he’s getting his chance. He’s been here before, with mixed results. He can make a good play for you every once in a while, he can hit you a bomb for you every once in a while, he can get you a base hit for you every once in a while. But he’s always playing the role of stopgap. While Giambi’s hurt. While Dougie’s hurt. While Tony Clark is hurt. Even while Sheffield and the Ferocious Lion were hurt. He’s the Clay Bellinger of this team. Ready to go anywhere and play anywhere, always giving you just enough of a taste to keep him around. He’ll give you those moments when you say to yourself – that guy could probably start on a bunch of different teams. And maybe he could and maybe he couldn’t.
But maybe what you love most about Andy Phillips is the Moonlight Graham in him. You really get the feeling that he doesn’t want to go wallow in Kansas City for three or four years. You get the feeling that he gets up in the morning because he can’t wait to put on the pinstripes. That he thinks about wearing them to bed at night as pajamas. Which would make him the third guy to do it, right behind best buds Melky and Cano. You really get the feeling that’s he’s going to be sitting with his grandkids on his knee one day, and he’s going to start the story this way: “Let me tell about when I was a Yankee….” Forget that he was a major leaguer. He was a Yankee.
This is still Andy Phillips. A guy can’t make a baseball career on the basis of a couple of weeks (although Carlos Beltran may argue that the fall of 2004 might prove that theory worthless). Kevin Maas and Shane Spencer learned that. He’s still going to have to find a way to lay off the benders low and away. That’s the book on him. The pitchers know it, and the good ones will keep it right off of the tip of his bat. He needs to keep working. There are only so many dog teams in the American League. He needs to keep battling, every day. And he knows it.
But sometimes, all of that stuff disappears into the warm summer breeze. Sometimes, a guy who’s had a few tough breaks in life finds some unlikely success at just the right time, in just the right place. Sometimes the kid who’s had to work harder than everybody else, play through more pain than anyone else, fight through more tears than anyone else; sometimes, every once in a while, that kid comes through. And that’s when the cheers are loudest of all.
I don’t know if Andy Phillips can keep this up. But whether he can or not, for a little while, when he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, he still had room to carry his team, the New York Yankees, right up there with it. And one day, when he’s got those grandkids on his knee, maybe he can start his story a little differently; “It was July, 2007. Man it was hot…..”