Friday, June 12, 2009

The Ghosts Are In The Building

The ghosts have found their way across the street.

That's the only feasible way to explain what happened at Yankee Stadium Friday night.

With the Yankees trailing by one, runners on first and second and two outs in the ninth, Alex Rodriguez lifted a 3-and-1 pitch from Francisco Rodriguez into short right field.

It looked like an easy play for Luis Castillo to make and end the game.

Except the ball started drifting, and as Castillo drifted with it, the ball hit his glove, popped out and fell to the ground, allowing the tying and winning runs to score in the Yankees' 9-8 victory over the Mets, snapping a painful three-game losing streak.

It was stunning. It was inexplicable. It can only be explained by those ghosts who lifted the Yankees to so many stunning victories at the old ballpark -- and several all ready at this one. The Yankees have 21 come-from-behind victories this season.

“You never assume, but that’s about as close as you can to the game being
over,” Jeter said. “It’s one of those things that happens. You can see
that play 1,000 more times and it’ll never happen again.”

The play is also one you want to have on tape if you are a coach or have a child learning to play baseball.

In Little League, we're all taught to run everything out because you never know what might happen. Yet, how often do we see major leaguers not hustle on a lazy pop? More often than we care to admit.

Yet Friday, there was Mark Teixeira sprinting off first as the ball popped off A-Rod's bat. It was that hustle, that attention to detail, that professionalism and that belief in always executing the fundamentals that allowed Teixeira to score on that play with ease.

When Teixeira was struggling so badly in April, some fans were wondering if he was another free agent bust who just took the money and didn't care about winning. After watching that play Friday, no one should ever question his desire again.

It was a wild ending to a crazy game. The teams traded leads six times with Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui all homering for the Yankees, and the Mets scoring twice in the third without benefit of a hit.

And while I can gush about the Yankees' offense and its ability to scratch and claw and never give up, even against an elite closer such a K-Rod, we have to be very concerned about the pitching staff.

Joba Chamberlain allowed two runs on one hit and five walks in four innings. He struck out three and hit 94 mph with his fastball, but he threw only 52 of 100 pitches for strikes. He exited with a 3-2 lead, but left a short Yankees bullpen scrambling to eat up five innings.

It was the third game in the last four in which the Yankees starters failed to go even five innings, with A.J. Burnett and Chien-Ming Wang joining Joba with control issues. In fact, the bullpen also had control issues, with Brett Tomko walking two, David Robertson walking one and even Mariano Rivera walking only his third batter of the season, leading to the Mets' go-ahead run in the eighth.

Here are some staggering numbers for the staff: 83 homers allowed and 245 walks, both of which are second worst in the American League ... and it's not just the bullpen. The starters have allowed a league worst 156 walks. They are seventh at 45 homers allowed.

Now, the many of the homers can be attributed the homer-haven that is Yankee Stadium, but there is no excuse for all those walks. I like to say walks=not good, meaning bad things happen when pitchers start walking batters. Long innings. Multi-run innings. High-pitch-count innings. We've seen that over and over with this team and Friday was no exception.

In the third, Joba walked three and hit two batters, allowing two runs to score. The first batter Tomko walked in the fifth scored, as did the batter Rivera walked in the eighth. If you're counting, that's four of the Mets' eight runs -- and countless extra pitches.

Setting aside the bullpen for a moment, the starters are talented and deep. CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Wang and Chamberlain did not have reputations for have poor control entering the season.

Including Burnett and Hughes, all six have nasty stuff. Yet for some reason, they don't attack hitters and the strike zone consistently.

Meanwhile, that bullpen has been a disaster, but there are young, talented arms out there. And you have to wonder why they aren't developing quicker.

These pitchers just aren't performing at a major league caliber and that had to change quickly.

I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that Dave Eiland is not a major league-caliber pitching coach. He has not shown that he is very effective a correcting pitchers' mechanical flaws (see Wang). I can't think of any pitchers I'd give him credit for improving at the major league level, and in fact we've seen Burnett and Pettitte regress. And the staff doesn't seem to have a clear, coherent philosophy.

When starters are performing well and going deep into games, the Yankees are in good shape. They are the only team in the majors that are unbeaten (21-0) when it allows three runs or less in a game. But it has done that in only a third of the games this season, and that's just not often enough.

The Yankees can't continue with the staff pitching like this. They pulled it out Friday. They got lucky. But how often can that continue to happen?

If Eiland doesn't get this figured out soon, a change -- maybe the return of Nardi Contreras -- should ... no ... needs be coming.
The ghosts won't always be able to save them.

Runners In Scoring Position
2-for-9 (.222)
145-for-561 (.258)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
79-for-293 (.270)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Saturday vs. Mets, 4:10 p.m., Fox
Fernando Nieve (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Andy Pettitte (6-2, 4.22)

With the bullpen pretty spent, the Yankees desperately need Pettitte to at least get through the sixth. Coke and Robertson likely won't be available and Mo might not be either after going 1-1/3 innings.

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