Champions on Display MLB

Friday, November 27, 2009

And The Shortstop Carousel Continues

With Alex Gonzalez signing a one-year deal with Toronto, the shortstop position in Boston is, once again, open for business.

You would think, after five years of being unable to find a steady shortstop, that Theo would consider resigning someone who hit .284 and had a .994 fielding percentage with the Sox for at least one more year. You know, as a precaution. Just in case Jed Lowrie breaks one of his glass bones or something.

Nope. That would be crazy. Instead, Theo lets A-Gonz walk away for a pittance and we now are looking at...who exactly? And the first one of you knuckleheads that says "Hanley Ramirez" gets banned for a week.

Right now we have Lowrie, who apparently is more fragile than a Faberge egg. In system we have a couple of guys who could potentially be great shortstops. There's Yamacio Navarro as well as the recent Cuban signing Jose Iglesias. And if Casey Kelly isn't traded and doesn't become a pitcher, he's in that "shortstop of the future" mix as well. But those guys are all 1+ years off. Who do we have right now? No one. And so we have to look through the FA/Trade junkheap.

That's where you find someone like Adam Everett, he of the .613 OPS, .288 OBP and a weaker glove than Gonzo's. Or maybe we could pick up Marco Scutaro from the Jays. He's only 34, which I hear is a great age for shortstops. He also had a .984 fielding percentage. That's lower than what Gonzo gave the Sox, right? Or maybe Theo could bring back Orlando Cabrera, at which point I will make the two-hour trip to Boston so I can throw myself on the third rail at Downtown Crossing. Because what screams "I have a plan!" more than bringing back the shortstop you never should have gotten rid of five years ago? Oh, and it's not like his glove has deteriorated during that time.*

Gonzo wasn't perfect by a long shot. But he was a better choice that the scrapheap the Sox can pick at in the off-season. Unless Theo is lining up some trade for a quality shortstop that no one even sees coming at this point, short will be the weak point - AGAIN - for the Sox going into 2010. Wheeeee!


* Which is to say, it has fallen off substantially. Between 2005-2008, Cabrera's FP held between .975 and .988. Last year it fell to .965 and his 25 errors (between Minny and Oakland) were the most Cabrera has had since he had 29 in 2002 back in Montreal. But hey, I'm sure it will all work out just fine.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

One Of The Best Baseball Stories Ever

This has nothing to do with the Sox or Yankees and everything to do with the great stories baseball gives to us to enjoy.

Dock Ellis was a pitcher in the 60s and 70s who is best known for his years with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1968-75). He played for four other teams (including the Yankees in 76-77) before finishing with the Pirates in 1979. He appeared in the 1971 All-Star game and won a title with the Pirates that same year.

Dock Ellis was also one of the most "colorful" players in the modern era. He hit Reggie Jackson in the face with a pitch in retaliation for a homer Jackson hit off Ellis in the 1971 All-Star game. In one game in 1974 he attempted to hit every batter in the Cincinnati lineup and was pulled in the first inning after hitting three guys in a row and throwing two pitches at Johnny Bench's head. Ellis was also a heavy user of "recreational" drugs, including LSD, and that is what brings us to this particular story.

In 1970, Dock Ellis threw the first no-hitter of the season in a game against the Padres in San Diego. What came out years later was that Dock Ellis was high on LSD when he pitched. That story came from Dock Ellis himself. He apparently had issues with seeing the ball and the batters. But don't take it from me. Here is James Blagden animating the story told by Dock Ellis himself. Enjoy.

For the record, after baseball Ellis went on to do many admirable things. Among these was becomig an anti-drug counselor in Los Angeles and starting the Black Athletes Foundation for Sickle Cell Research. Ellis passed away in 2008 at the age of 63.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Catchers and Pitchers

No...not yet. But the news out of Fenway the other day basically dealt with these two subjects. Let's start with the bigger news first.

Yesterday began the passing of the torch at catcher for Boston, as Theo announced that Victor Martinez will be Boston's starting catcher in 2010. This is really a no-brainer, since he is younger than Varitek and swings a much better bat. The decision now lies with Varitek about coming back with his $3M option as the backup or going into free agency and seeing if he can get a starting job elsewhere.

It hurts when an icon fades and is forced (for whatever reason) from his station. Varitek has been this team's catcher since 1998. He's a four-time All-Star and is one of THE faces of the franchise. But he is getting old and his bat is shot. I hope he stays here; he is still valuable to this team as a catcher and a teacher. But if he decides he wants to trying starting somewhere can't blame him.

The other news was the Sox signing Tim Wakefield to a two-year deal that could pay Wakefield between $5-$10M based on incentives. It replaces the perpetual $4m/yr deal he had previously and is widely recognized as representing his final two years in the game.

This deal is beyond fair to both parties (as Wakefield's contracts have always been) and gives Wakes a real shot at overtaking the all-time wins slot for the franchise. He currently has 175 wins with Boston. Cy Young and the Roid Rocket have 192 each. 18 wins in two years is a very, very attainable goal. Wakefield is also just 11 wins shy of 200 wins in his career. This is another reachable milestone under the terms of this deal.

If there is one person I identify with Boston over the past 20 years, it is Tim Wakefield. He joined the squad in 1995, the first season after I moved to Boston post-college. I saw every game he pitched at Fenway. And all anyone could say was "How did Pittsburgh let this guy go?" He went 16-8 that year with a 2.95 ERA and finished third in the Cy voting, finishing behind Randy Johnson and Jose Mesa. Since then he has done everything that was asked of him, be it start, close or do long relief. He has always left money on the table in his contract negotiations, a decision highlighted by the famous perpetual team option for $4M a year. He has been heavily involved in charity in the region. Wakes has always been a member of the team you could point out to your child and say "THAT is what a ballplayer should be like."

To me, Wakes is a much a part of this franchise's history and legacy as Doerr, Williams, Yaz, Rice, Fisk and the rest of the greats. Forget those two years in Pittsburgh; as far as I am concerned Tim Wakefield is a Boston lifer. And I truly pray that this contract allows him to take over the all-time wins total for the team.

Monday, November 9, 2009

And So The Off-Season Begins

Now that the back-patting and somewhat-nauseating parade in New York have faded to some extent, it's time to focus on the off-season. More importantly, what do the Red Sox have to do to reclaim control of the AL East?

There are a few obvious areas to work on. Others would be nice to upgrade. In no particular order...

1. Get Adrian Gonzalez. I was pushing this back at the trade deadline and I am far from the only one pushing it today. The Boston Globe ran a whole article about how important that kind of move would be for the Sox yesterday. He is a young, affordable left-handed power hitting first baseman who would make the Monster his personal playground. The only downside is that former Assistant GM Jed Hoyer is now the GM in San Diego and he knows not only how much Boston covets Gonzalez but what the players in the Boston system are worth. But San Diego is going nowhere fast and even though he is the face of their franchise, San Diego has to know that Gonzalez is their only asset that could be traded to start rebuilding the franchise.

If the trade went through, you'd have Gonzalez at first and Youk at third. Then it's a question of who do you keep at DH, Lowell or Ortiz? Tough call; Ortiz had the better power numbers but Lowell had the better average, OPS and has a very tough contract to move ($12M in 2010). But I think it is clear one of them would have to move on.

2. Re-sign Jason Bay. The more I look at the Jeremy Hermida deal (a great move in and of itself) the more this nervous voice in my head says "Theo is going to run with Hermida is Bay doesn't sign the Sox offer. NO!" That, I think it is clear, would be a huge mistake. A outfield platoon on the bench of Hermida and Baldelli would make my day. But left field must be occupied by Bay for the Sox to compete in 2010, and that means the Sox have to pony up the dough.

36 homers, 119 RBI, a .921 OPS and a clean fielding sheet make Bay's case with crystal clarity. He is the best option the Sox have in left (don't even pretend Holliday or Jermaine Dye is an equivalent choice) and the Sox will regret it for years to come if they let Bay walk. This is THE most important move for the Sox in the off-season.

3. Figure out what the hell they are doing at shortstop. Since letting Cabrera walk after the 2004 season, shortstop has been the bleeding ulcer on the Red Sox body. The only guy who has stepped up in the intervening five years and stabilized the position is Alex Gonzalez...and the Sox just turned down his option. Now, I understand why they did that ($6M is a bit pricey) but the Sox are taking a risk. Both sides say they will negotiate, but free agency is free agency and anything can happen. If he should walk, the Sox are left with an injury-prone Jed Lowrie as the primary shortstop. Not a good place to be come February.

4. Find one more starter. The Sox need, I feel, one more solid starter to push their rotation over the top. And this will be interesting to watch. Usually, getting a top-level starter is only possible through trade. If the Sox do pursue Adrian Gonzalez, then a lot of their best chips won't be on the table any more. But this year, there is a prime target in John Lackey. And the Yankees, having signed CC and AJ last year and exhibiting a new awareness of what players cost, probably won't be in the hunt.

Lackey will be 31 and coming off of seven 10+ win seasons in a row. He would be a nice compliment to Beckett, Lester and Buchholz in the rotation. And while he costs more money, he doesn't cost you any prospects.

The other two options that leap to mind are Feliz Hernandez in Seattle and Roy Halladay. If the Sox trade for Gonzalez, then forget about King Felix. The prospects required for either deal make pulling both off near-impossible. But might be possible. He isn't happy in Toronto, Riccardi completely botched the trade deadline last year and his value to the Jays deteriorates every day he remains on the club. The Jays have limited talent and some serious cash issues. In short, it's a ideal situation for the Sox. While dealing for Halladay would cost Buchholz at a minimum, he would give the Sox a front three that rivals any other team.

5. Who catches? This is something that will get more press in the days and weeks ahead. The Sox like V-Mart as a catcher/1B hybrid because it gives them so much flexibility in their lineup. But Youk and Gonzalez at the corners obviates the need for a regular rest period since Lowell wouldn't be there. So that means to keep Martinez's bat in the lineup would require him catching on a regular basis. And so how does that dovetail with Varitek, who will likely return at that $3M option he holds for 2010? I suppose you could use V-Mart as your DH, but then you're catching Varitek almost all the time and either Lowell or Ortiz is rotting on the bench. This is a lesser issue since it depends on something else occurring first, but it could become a major issue in a hurry.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

My Official Response To The Horrific Event Of November 4, 2009

With gratitude and thanks to Berkeley Breathed...

Enjoy it, New Yorkers. Next year we're taking it back.

Godzilla Delivers 27

After nine long years, it's just as sweet as I remember.

And hearing the words, "New York Yankees, World Champions," doesn't ever get tiring, either.

Hideki Matsui, the series MVP, homered and drove in six runs, Andy Pettitte gutted out 5-2/3 innings on short rest, and Mariano Rivera was where he belong, closing out the deciding game of the World Series as the Yankees beat the Phillies 7-3 in Game 6 Wednesday at Yankee Stadium to win world championship No. 27. It is their first championship since beating the Mets in 2000.

Yes, Yankees fans, as we woke up this morning, we woke up knowing that Hell, which had frozen over when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and again in '07, has thawed out and that world is once again back to normal with the Yankees once again ruling the baseball universe.

But this game will likely go down as the Godzilla Game because of Matsui's performance. His six RBI tied Bobby Richardson in 1960 for most in a World Series game. Richardson, however, did it in a series the Yankees lost to the Pirates on Bill Mazeroski's homer. Matsui did it the deciding game of a championship.

Just as Reggie Jackson's three-homer game in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series is his biggest Yankee moment, Wednesday's game will forever be Godzilla's biggest moment.

We just don't know if it will his last moment.

Matsui will be a free agent and the Yankees face a tough decision. This performance and this World Series (.615, 3 HRs, 8 RBI) only makes that decision tougher.

He is still a tremendously productive hitter, but his body is breaking down. He played the entire season as DH, but still needed to have his knees drained twice.

The head says bringing Matsui back could result only in diminishing returns and possibly a bad contract.

The heart says, he needs to finish his career in Pinstripes.

For seven years, he's been a perfect Yankee: unassuming, productive when healthy, clutch, well-liked, never in trouble. He would have been a perfect fit on the dynasty teams and of the Yankees not part of the Core 4 of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Rivera and Pettitte, there was no one more deserving of a world championship.

He put the Yankees on his back Wednesday and got that championship.

It was clear from the start that the Man Who Would Be King, Phillies starter Pedro Martinez just did not have it. In a 13-pitch first inning, the three nothing back changeups and sliders. Not one fastball.

And when a pitcher who features a changeup is afraid or won't throw his fastball, that spells trouble. The changeup is only effective if a pitcher has a good fastball and keep hitters offbalance. Pedro, on this night though, didn't have a good fastball.

He finally threw one to Alex Rodriguez on ball four leading off the second. That heater lacked heat, measuring just 86 mph, according to's Gameday.

And with a runner on base, Pedro was in trouble. He couldn't afford to fall behind, which meant he was forced to use that weak fastball more.

And that spelled trouble against Matsui, who had hit the go-ahead homer off Pedro in Game 2.

Matsui worked Pedro through an eight-pitch at-bat, taking the count full and fouling off pitches as he seemingly was measuring up Pedro, get down his timing.

And on the eighth pitch, Matsui timed an 89 mph fastball just right, turing on it and blasting it into the short portch in right to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

Pedro got through the inning with anymore damage, but found trouble again in the third as Jeter hit a one-out single before Pedro's control deserted him and he walked Johnny Damon hit Mark Teixeira.

Pedro managed to strikeout A-Rod, but that should have been it for him. He had nothing and Matsui was locked in on his pitches. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is similar to Joe Torre. He trusts his players and uses his gut.

He trusted Pedro too much.

Matsui fell behind 0-and-2, but then jumped on a 90 mph fastball and lined it to single to bring in two more runs and make it 4-1. However, Damon strained his calf on the play and had to come out of the game, replaced by Jerry Hairston Jr.

Pedro would get through the fourth, but was done after that, giving the Phillies a disappointing performance. He allowed four runs on three hits and two walks in four innings. He struck out five and threw 46 of 77 pitches for strikes.

Matsui, however, wasn't done as the Yankees blew the game open in the fifth.

Chad Durbin replaced Pedro and surrendered a leadoff double to Jeter, who legitimately could have been named World Series MVP after going 11-for-27 (.407) with five runs.

Hairston followed with a sacrifice and Teixeira brought in Jeter with a single to make it 5-1. A-Rod, who can no longer be called an unclutch and selfish player after hitting .365 with six homers and 18 RBI this postseason, drew a walk to knock out Durbin, who was replaced by lefthander J.A. Happ.

The lefty-lefty move, however, did not work out for the Phillies as Matsui jumped on a 2-and-2 slider and crushed it to the wall in right for a two-run double to give the Yankees an insurmountable 7-1 lead.

But what was most important about Matsui performance was that it took all the pressure off Pettitte, who was pitching on three days' rest for the first time in four years.

And because Pettitte is an older player, there were questions by some, such WFAN'S Mike Francesa, about how he would hold up physically. Would he be able to get the job done?

The answer was a resounding yes!

No, Pettitte did not have his best stuff. His breaking ball was rolling, this cutter not sharp, his fastball lucking to touch 90 mph and his control wasn't precise.

But Pettitte is a champion. He's a competitor and he knows how to make pitches on guts and guile.

And most importantly he knows how to win.

He allowed a run in the third as Carlos Ruiz hit a one-out triple and scored on Jimmy Rollins' sacrifice fly to right to make it 2-1.

Pettitte got through the next two innings before finally running out of gas in the sixth. Had the Yankees not scored three runs in the fifth, Joe Girardi might not have sent Pettitte back out there, but with a six-run lead, Girardi made the right decision. With that large of a cushion, every out Pettitte could get would be huge.

Pettitte got Shane Victorino to ground out to start the sixth, but he walked Chase Utley before throw a first-pitch slider that hung a bit over the outside corner for Ryan Howard to muscle over the wall in left to cut the lead to 7-3.

Pettitte came back to strike out Jayson Werth, who had homered twice of Pettitte in Game 3, but when he allowed a double to Raul Ibanez after that, Pettitte's gutty night was done.

He allowed three runs on four hits and five walks, striking out three and throwing 50 of 94 pitches for strikes. The result was postseason win No. 18, series clinching win No. 7, World Series clinching win No. 2 and World Series ring No. 5.

Pettitte also will be a free agent, but for the past several years, he has been considering retirment. Clearly, he still can pitch well, the question is whether he has the desire. If he does decide to walk away, Pettitte could not have produced a better farewell start.

Joba Chamberlain finished the inning by getting Pedro Feliz to ground out before getting two more outs in the seventh, be leaving with runners on first and second.

Girardi then turned to the hero of the bullpen this postseason, Damaso Marte. Who would have ever thought that would happen?

The guy wasn't good when the Yankees traded for him and Xavier Nady last year. He injured most of this year and largely ineffective, and for the most part, the trade was looking like a major bust.

But Marte was everything the Yankees were dreaming of in the playoffs. After a rough first appearance in the ALDS in which he allowed two hits with out recording an out, he's been untouchable, recording 12 straight outs with five strikeouts.

In the World Series, he ended up goin 2-2/3 perfect inning, mostly facing the heart of the Phillies order in Utley and Howard.

He was impressive. And that certainly was the case in Game 6 as he struck Utley on three pitches to end the seventh and then needed just three more pitches in the eighth to whiff Howard, who struck out a World Series record 13 times.

And with five out remaining, Girardi didn't mess around. It was time to go to Mo.

Early in the postseason, Girardi butchered his bullpen, overmanaging by mixing and matching when he really didn't need to.

But as this World Series wore on, Girardi settle down. The pitching changes grew less frequent as Marte was able to get into a rhythm and Joba as able to regain some effectiveness.

The thing is, he is now a World Series-winning manager. He owns this town now and he can expect and should receive a fat contract extension. He's grown tremendously since he took the job and has proven himself.

Is he perfect? No. He has made mistakes and he will make more going forward. But that happens to every manager. The thing is that he is a smart man and he does learn.

He is due a lot of credit.

But with Mo on the mound, the Series was all but over. Mariano is unlike any closer in the game today. Nothing rattles him and he knows how to pitch for more than one inning.

This was not a save situation, but in a game this big, there was no need to wait to bring him in. This was the moment to close the door on the Phillies and secure this World Series title.

He allowed a double to Ibanez with two outs in the eighth and a walk to Ruiz in the ninth, but nothing was going to stop him from closing the door, getting Victorino to ground out to Robinson Cano to start the celebration.

And so, the inaugural season of the new Yankee Stadium ends just like the first season of the original Yankee Stadium ended in 1923 -- with a World Series Championship.

Let hope that's a sign that this stadium will hold at least as many championships and memorable moments.

Runners In Scoring Position
World Series
13-for-43 (.302)
Game 6
3-for-8 (.375)
Game 5
2-for-8 (.250)
Game 4
4-for-11 (.364)
Game 3
3-for-7 (.429)
Game 2
1-for-5 (.200)
Game 1
0-for-4 (.000)
12-for-64 (.188)
6-for-17 (.353)
Regular Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)

Up Next
Friday, Parade down the Canyon of Hero, YES and local TV
Followed by Pitchers and Catchers in February and the start of the Quest for No. 28

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

AJ Produces A Dud, So It's Back To N.Y.

The Yankees needed A.J. Burnett to be great, just like he was in Game 2.

Instead he spit the bit, producing one of the worst starts in World Series history.

Making matters worse, Phil Coke was just as ineffective as the Yankees dropped Game 5 of the World Series 8-6 to the Phillies in Philadelphia Monday.

The Yankees still lead the best-of-seven 3-2 as the series shifts back to Yankees Stadium for Game 6 Wednesday with Andy Pettitte going on three-days' rest against the man who would be king, Pedro Martinez.

But with a chance to close out Championship No. 27 and cement a reputation as a pitcher who can handle New York, Burnett came up oh so small.

He allowed a three-run homer to Chase Utley before he could even record an out in the first. It was as start similar to the Game 5 of the ALCS against the Angels, when Burnett allowed four in the first without recording an out.

At least in that game, Burnett settled down and allowed the Yankees to mount a comeback. In this game, he couldn't even do that, allowing walks to Utley and Ryan Howard to start the third inning before Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez singled to drive in runs to end Burnett's night.

It was an ugly start and the first time this postseason a Yankees starter failed to go at least six innings.

Burnett ended up allowing six runs on four hits and four walks in 2+ innings. It was the shortest World Series start since Game 1 of the 2005 World Series, when the Astros' Roger Clemens left after two innings because of a strained hamstring.

Some will point to Burnett pitching on three-days' rest as the cause of his awful start, but I don't buy it. Burnett has started on short rest and performed well. He's also started on full rest and been just as bad (see Game 5 of the ALCS).

The simple fact of the matter is Burnett is not a reliable starter. He can be great or he can be terrible, and as result of that inconsistency he'll never be anything nothing more than a No. 3 starter at best. You just throw him out there and hope you get the good A.J.

Monday, the Yankees got the very bad A.J. and paid.

David Robertson followed Burnett and stabilized the game, allowing a run to score on force out by Carlos Ruiz as the Yankees found themselves trailing 6-1 after three.

It was a night, though, that had a promising start as the Yankees jumped on Phillies ace Cliff Lee and took a 1-0 lead in the first. Johnny Damon hit a one-out single and scored on Alex Rodriguez's two out double.

But Lee settled down after that, allowing just one runner in the next three innings. Lee was strong, but not nearly as dominant as he was in Game 1, when he held the Yankees to one unearned run.

And when the Yankees pushed across a run in the fifth, it looked as if they might be able to claw their way back into this game.

Eric Hinske pinch hit for Robertson and drew a one-out walk, moved to third on Derek Jeter's single and scored on a groundout by Damon to make it 6-2.

Meanwhile, the Yankees bullpen was doing the job as Alfredo Aceves came on to pitch two scoreless innings.

Then Coke entered to start the seventh.

For the Yankees to have any hope in this game, they needed their relievers to keep the Phillies off the board.

While the offense was struggling to score runs off Lee, it was make him work. Through seven innings, Lee had thrown 103 pitches and was tiring. In addition, closer Brad Lidge had thrown 30 pitches the night before, making him a risky play for the Phillies.

Instead Coke, a lefthander, failed to do the one thing the Yankees were counting on him to do: get the Phillies' big lefties out.

Utley led off by blasting his fifth homer of the series to tie Reggie Jackson's single-series record. Coke rebounded to strike out Howard and get Werth to fly out to center, but he couldn't finish the inning without any more damage.

Ibanez followed by crushing another homer to right to make it 8-2 and put the Yankees in a hole that would prove to be too deep to escape.

It's a shame because the Yankees' bats did mount that rally.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel sent Lee back out to start the eighth despite his high pitch count. That turned out to be the opening the Yankees needed to get their offense going as Damon led off with a single and went to third on Mark Teixeira's double. And when A-Rod followed with his second double of the game to drive in two, Lee's night was done.

Lee ended up allowing five runs on seven hits and three walks, the fifth run scoring on Robinson Cano's sacrifice fly off Chan Ho Park, but that was good enough to escape with the win.

Manuel went with Ryan Madson to close out the the game in the ninth and protect an 8-5 lead, and for a second it looked as if Madson might melt down.

Jorge Posada led off with a double and went to third on Hideki Matsui's pinch single. Jeter, however, grounded into a double play to bring in Posada and make it 8-6, but that's as close as the Yanks would get as Teixeira struck out to end it.

It was an ugly loss, the stuff of nightmares. But it's just one loss. And this was going to be a difficult game to win, anyway.

Here's the reality: the Yankees are still up in the series 3-2 with two games to go at Yankee Stadium. And had I told you after Game 2 that the Yankees would win two games in Philadelphia, every Yankee fan would have signed up for that in a heartbeat.

Pettitte, who has won a postseason record 17 games, including a record five series clinchers, gets the call and he will deliver World Championship No. 27.

In Andy we trust. Count on it.

Runners In Scoring Position
World Series
10-for-35 (.286)
Game 5
2-for-8 (.250)
Game 4
4-for-11 (.364)
Game 3
3-for-7 (.429)
Game 2
1-for-5 (.200)
Game 1
0-for-4 (.000)
12-for-64 (.188)
6-for-17 (.353)
Regular Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)

Up Next
World Series Game 6
Wednesday vs. Phillies, 7:57 p.m., FOX

Martinez (5-1, 3.63 ERA; Postseason: 0-1, 2.08 ERA in 2 starts)
vs. Pettitte (14-8, 4.16 ERA; Postseason: 3-0, 3.24 ERA in 4 starts)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dark Days Ahead, Sox Fans

We know it's coming. Like an approaching storm, the first cold wind of an imminent blizzard or the first ad for a new Wayans Brothers movie, a whole pile of suck is about to drop on our heads.

The Yankees have all but won this thing. Yes, if any team can lose three in a row, it is the Yankees. But with Ryan Howard deciding that hitting the ball is a mortal sin and Brad Lidge doing his best imitation of a reliever from the 1961 Reds, the Phillies have tossed away two winnable games in a row. At worst, this series should be tied at 2-2.

But this seems to be New York's year. They have had everything they needed to get to the cusp of another title. Good play, solid pitching, some breakout seasons (or post-seasons, in A-Rod's case), and a healthy dose of luck. Almost every call New York needed to go their way...went their way. I am not implying malfeasance or intent on the part of the umpires here. But every team that hoists that trophy come year's end had their fair share of breaks and luck. And New York is no different in that regard. You could see it coming once the umpires blew that call on Mauer's hit in the ALDS.

So the Canyon of Heroes will see ticker-tape once more and those Damned Yankees will add another trophy to the case. And we here in New England (and around the world) have to suck it up and deal...for now.

But take heart, fellow Boston fans. The odds of the Yankees repeating are rather slim. No team has won two or more titles in a row since the Yankees of 1998-2000. And we all know why that was possible*...Some of their key contributors in the post-season are getting old and likely will start to fall off production-wise and may not even be back. They avoided a lot of injury problems as the season progressed, something that rarely happens year after year after year. Once you got past May of this year, the only Yankee of note who went on the long-term DL was Wang in July. Other than that, it was just a lot of day-to-day stuff. And then there are the calls, the lucky bounces...that is something else that doesn't happen every single year.

It's like I say about the Sox; expecting them to win a title every season is insane in this day and age. Likewise, expecting this to be the dawn of a new Yankees dynasty that wins a title every season is insane. That simply isn't going to happen. They, like Boston, will be competitive every year. Which will make for a lot of great baseball in the years to come. But even with their win this year, any Yankee fan who is being honest will admit that Boston and New York are even in talent and ability as we approach the last year of the first decade of the 21st century.

In fact, even with New York's apparent win factored into the equation, you could argue that Boston has been the better team so far between 2001-2009. They have two titles to New York's one (if current trends hold), with each team making four appearances in the ALCS. The Sox are no longer an also-ran or poor cousin to the Yankees. They are the two Behemoths of Major League Baseball. And if Henry and Co. ever loosened the purse string a little more with all that non-baseball revenue pouring into Fenway these days**, they'd run neck-and-neck with the Yankees in the "Insane Contract" Department.

So this will sting...a lot. To re-use a phrase of mine, it's like getting gutshot with a howitzer. But that will fade over the winter. And then the questions will be "Who will sign Lackey?" "Where is Chapman going?" "Can the Sox resign Bay?" And like that, the focus will fall on 2010. And the Sox have as good a chance as anyone, including the Yankees, of winning it all.


* Don't start with the "Hey, Manny and Ortiz cheated!" stuff. No one is taking away your titles. But let's be honest here, the Yankees had like 11 guys on those 99-00 teams using some kind of PED. That's a wee bit more than...two.

** I went to the Paul McCartney concert at Fenway with my wife this past summer. Believe me, Henry and Co. are making a mint off of these concerts. $5 bottles of water in 90 degree's a moneymaker. Oh...awesome concert, BTW. Just flat-out incredible.

One Win Away

It figures it would take an Idiot to help erase one of the more painful memories from the 2004 ALCS.

Johnny Damon stole second and third on the same play in the ninth and scored on Alex Rodriguez's double as the Yankees went on to a 7-4 victory over the Phillies in Game 4 of the World Series Sunday in Philadelphia.

The Yankees lead the series 3-1 with Game 5 set for tonight. A.J. Burnett will get the ball on three days' rest and face Cliff Lee with a chance to send the Yankees to their 27th World Series championship and first since 2000.

But before the Yankees could get there, they needed to pull out Game 4, a game that seemed to be theirs for the taking as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first and carried a lead into the eighth.

Joe Girardi brought in Joba Chamberlain to bridge the game to Mariano Rivera and Joba seemed up to the task, using a blazing fastball to blow away Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez. He seem poised to blow away Pedro Feliz, jumping ahead 1-and-2, but Feliz worked the count full and hammered a 97 mph fastball that got too much of the plate and sent it over the wall in left to tie the score at 4.

The Phillies suddenly had momentum and properly brought in closer Brad Lidge to get through the ninth and give their offense and chance to win it.

The problem is Lidge, despite his 16 career postseason saves, is not Mariano Rivera. Lidge is vulnerable and the Yankees got to him.

Using a filthy slider that dives down into the dirt and a strong, but not dominant fastball, Lidge got pinch hitter Hideki Matsui to pop out and then struck out Derek Jeter.

That brought up Damon, who worked the count full before lining a soft single to left on the ninth pitch.

Damon then came up with one of the most heads-up plays in World Series history.

With Mark Teixiera up and batting left-handed, the Phillies employed a shift, swinging the shortstop to the right side of the field and moving Feliz, the third baseman, into the shortstop hole. That means on a steal, Feliz would have to cover second and either the pitcher or catcher would have to rotate to cover third.

Damon took off on the first pitch to Teixeira, a slider in the dirt that was a tough pitch for catcher Carlos Ruiz to handle. Ruiz came up with the ball and got off a poor throw to second that bounced a couple of times and had no chance to get Damon. Feliz fielded the ball in front of the base and step on the first-base side of the bag.

Damon slid into the bag with a pop-up slide and noticed no one was on third. With Feliz taken out of position on Ruiz's throw, that was the opening Damon needed. Damon took off and outraced Feliz, Lidge and Ruiz to swipe third as well.

It was the most important postseason stolen base since Game 4 of the ALCS, when Kevin Millar led off the ninth against Rivera with a walk and pinch runner Dave Roberts stole second before scoring the tying run on Bill Mueller's single. Damon was a member of that Red Sox team, known at the "Idiots," which went on to rally to win the ALCS and the World Series, as the Yankees became the first baseball team to blow a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series.

Damon's stolen bases Sunday may go down as the turning point in the series. Had the Phillies pulled that game out, they would have been back in the series with their ace on the mound tonight and a chance to take a 3-2 lead. Instead, Lee is hoping to the Phillies alive.

That's because with a runner on third, Lidge couldn't be as aggressive with that slider. If one were to get away from Ruiz, the go-ahead run would score. To that point, Lidge had thrown 21 pitches: 11 sliders, 10 fastballs. He would throw nine more pitches, seven of which were fastballs and only two sliders.

Lidge then hit Teixeira, bringing up the slumping Rodriguez.

A-Rod had been 1-for-13 with seven strikeouts to that point, looking very bad as he continually chased offspeed pitches out of the zone.

But against Lidge, A-Rod kept it simple and seemed to slip back into that mind-set that allowed him so much success in the ALDS and ALCS this year. He knew a single would be enough to get the Yankees the lead and didn't try to do too much.

A-Rod took a first-pitch fastball for strike one, but turned on a second straight fastball, lacing it down the left-field run for a double that scored Damon to make it 5-4.

That normally would be enough for Rivera, but Jorge Posada made sure there would be no doubt in the bottom half by following A-Rod's double with a two-run single to make it 7-4.

And with a three-run lead, the game was essentially over. Rivera has never blown a three-run lead in the postseason and was not about to start, getting Matt Stairs to ground out, Jimmy Rollins to pop out and Shane Victorino to ground out for his 39th career postseason save and 11th in the World Series.

To say this was a must-win for the Yankees would be an overstatement. Had the Yankees lost, there still would be three games left, two at Yankee Stadium. But it was clear that with ace CC Sabathia on the mound against journeyman Joe Blanton, the Yankees felt they had a big opportunity to take control of the series and didn't want to let that opportunity slip.

Heck, in team history, the Yankees are 13-1 when they take a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series. We all know the one loss. And as a result, we know the Yankees still have a lot of work left to do in this series.

Jeter and Damon made sure the Yankees got off to a fast start as Jeter singled to lead off the first and Damon doubled to put runners on second and third. Teixeira brought in Jeter with a sharp grounder to first.

Blanton then hit A-Rod, causing the umpires to issue a senseless warning just because it was the third time in two games that A-Rod had been hit. Blanton wasn't trying to hit A-Rod in that spot and even if he was, the World Series would not be the place the Yankees would want to seek revenge. That will wait for spring training.

Posada then followed with a sacrifice fly left to score Damon and give the Yankees the 2-0 lead.

But the Yankees would end up needing more because Sabathia wasn't his sharpest.

With one out in the bottom half, Victorino and Chase Utley, who homered twice off Sabathia in Game 1, hit back-to-back doubles to cut the lead to 2-1. But that's all the Phillies would get as Ryan Howard and Ibanez struck out with Werth receiving an intentional walk in between.

Sabathia retired the side in order in the second and third, but ran into trouble again in the fourth.

Howard led off with a soft single to center and surprised everyone by stealing second. Werth then grounded out to third and Ibanez flied out and Sabathia was on the verge of escaping the jam. Feliz, however, lined a single to left, driving in Howard, who plowed over Posada and scored, even though he failed to touch the plate to tie the score at 2.

The Yankees, though, answered right back. Nick Swisher led off the fifth with a walk and went to second on Melky Cabrera's single. Sabathia then struck out while attempting to sacrifice, but Jeter and Damon picked him up.

Jeter grounded a single through the hole between short and third to bring in Swisher and Damon hit a soft single to right that Cabrera got a great read on, allowing him to score ahead of the throw from Werth to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead.

Blanton, however, escaped further damage, getting Teixeira and A-Rod to fly out to end the innings. Blanton had a solid start for a No. 4 starter, allowing four runs on five hits and two walked in six innings. He struck out seven threw 58 of 94 pitches for strikes.

The Yankees, however, needed Sabathia to deliver the lead to the bullpen, and he did, escaping a first-and-second, no-out jam in the fifth by getting Utley and Howard to pop up before striking out Werth.

Sabathia, however, wouldn't get through the seventh, allowing a two-out, 1-and-2 homer to Utley. Against Sabathia in the World Series, Utley has three homers, a double and four RBI. He's done nothing against any other Yankee in this series.

Still it was a good start for CC, allowing three runs on seven hits and three walks, two intentional. He struck out six, threw 67 of 107 pitches for strikes and left in position to get the win.

The hope is we won't have to see Sabathia on the mound again this year and the Yankees can close out the Phillies in Game 5 or 6.

Unfortunately, it's likely we won't see another Yankee this season. Cabrera injured his hamstring while running out a grounder in the sixth and was forced to leave the game. Brett Gardner replaced him and will start in center tonight.

Runners In Scoring Position
World Series
8-for-27 (.296)
Game 4
4-for-11 (.364)
Game 3
3-for-7 (.429)
Game 2
1-for-5 (.200)
Game 1
0-for-4 (.000)
12-for-64 (.188)
6-for-17 (.353)
Regular Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)

Up Next
World Series Game 5
Monday at Phillies, 7:57 p.m., FOX

Burnett (13-9, 4.04 ERA; Postseason: 1-0, 3.55 ERA in four starts)
vs. Lee (14-13, 3.22 ERA; Postseason: 3-0, 0.54 ERA in four starts)

Lee allowed one unearned run and six hits as the Phillies won Game 1. Burnett allowed one run in seven innings as the Yankees bounced back in Game 2, however, he'll be going on three days' rest, though that may not be a bad thing. In his career, Burnett has made four starts on short rest and has gone 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA, 1.074 WHIP and 24 strikeouts in 27 innings.

The key to this game is going to be whether Burnett can match Lee pitch for pitch, just as he did against Josh Beckett at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 7 in a game the Yankees won 2-0 on A-Rod's homer in the 15th.

If Burnett can do that and the offense can grind out some at-bats and make Lee work, the Yankees will have a chance to finish off the Series tonight.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bats Finally Break Out

Andy Pettitte didn't have his best stuff Saturday and that could have spelled big trouble for an offense that had struggled to score runs in the first two games of the World Series.

And with Phillies starter Cole Hamels looking sharp through three innings, the stage was set for a long night for the Bombers.

But that all changed on Alex Rodriguez's instant replay-confirmed, two-run homer in the fourth as the offense finally broke out to lead the Yankees to an 8-5 victory in Game 3 at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia.

The Yankees lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 scheduled for tonight with CC Sabathia going against Joe Blanton. Saturday's victory also means the only way Jimmy Rollins can be right about the Series going five games is if the Phillies lose. Jimmy, I'm getting that plate of crow and humble pie ready right now.

It was clear from the start that Pettitte wasn't sharp, working around a leadoff single by Rollins in the first, but throwing 20 pitches.

Pettitte wouldn't be so lucky in the second, though the reality is that most of the damage could have been avoided had the Yankees properly defended a sacrifice bunt.

Pettitte started the inning by falling behind Jayson Werth 3-and-0 before battling back to run the count full. Pettitte then fired a knee-high slider that Werth was able to reach and launch into the stands in left for a 1-0 lead. It was the first of two homers Werth would hit off Pettitte.

Pettitte settled down and struck out lefty Raul Ibanez, but Pedro Feliz the hammered a double to right and Carlos Ruiz walked and the Yankees were in trouble.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel then asked Hamels to sacrifice and Hamel laid down a beautiful bunt down the third base line, however Pettitte and Posada appeared to have a mixup as to who should field the bunt, resulting in Hamels reaching first and being credited with a single to load the bases.

Pettitte then walked Rollins to force in a run before Shane Victorino lofted a sacrifice fly to left to make it 3-0. Fortunately for Pettitte a lefthander was due up next and he struck out Chase Utley to end the inning.

The Phillies started three left-handed hitting position players in this game -- Ryan Howard, Utley and Ibanez -- and they combined to go 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts.

Pettitte, though, settled down after that, allowing just one runner to reach on a throwing error by A-Rod until the sixth, when Werth led off with his second homer.

Pettitte ended up allowing four runs on five hits and three walks in six innings. He struck out seven, threw 59 of 104 pitches for strikes and ended up earning his record 17th postseason victory. It wasn't close to his best peformance, but it was good enough on this night.

That's because the offense came to life, though for a while it looked as if the lineup would struggle to score again.

Hamels was sharp through three innings, allowing just one runner when he plunked A-Rod leading off the second. Last year's World Series MVP had command of his fastball and was throwing a nasty changeup.

But that changed in the fourth when he threw is first curve of the game to Mark Teixeira with one out. Hamels jumped ahead of Teixeira 1-and-2 when he threw and missed with that first curve. He then missed with two straight fastballs to walk Teixeira.

Hamels then threw a change for a strike to A-Rod, but his next pitch, a fastball, missed its spot, drifting toward the outer half of the plate for A-Rod to hammer high to right field. Initially, the umpires ruled the ball hit off the top of the railing, giving A-Rod a double, but the ball actually had hit a TV camera hanging over the railing, and after consulting replay, the umpires correctly ruled it a homer to make the score 3-2.

It was A-Rod's first hit of the World Series after going 0-for-8 with six strikeouts in the first two games. It also strengthened the case for expanded use of replay in baseball. After a postseason filled with blown calls, one can only hope commissioner Bud Selig will come to his senses after seeing how replay helped the umps get the call right and protect the integrity of the game and umpires.

Hamels got through the rest of the inning unscathed, but it was clear he was a changed pitcher, one lacking confidence that his fastball and change would be enough to get Yankees hitters out the second time through the order.

In the fifth, Hamels began featuring that curve more and was burned repeatedly because of it.

Nick Swisher, who was back in the lineup after sitting in Game 2 and had been 4-for-36 in the postseason to that point, hammered a 2-and-2 curve to left for a double. Hamels did not throw one fastball and just two changes in the at-bat.

After striking out Melky Cabrera, Hamels then started Pettitte off with a curve that Pettitte was able to line to center for an RBI single that tied the score at 3.

Derek Jeter then hit a first-pitch fastball to center for a single before Johnny Damon delivered the knockout blow, a two-run double that gave the Yankees a 5-3 lead they'd never relinquish.

Hamels' night was done after 4-1/3 innings, allowing five runs on five hits and two walks. He struck out three and threw 49 of 69 pitches for strikes. He unravelled quickly and just wasn't the same pitcher after throwing that first curveball to Teixeira.

J.A. Happ relieved and got out of the fifth, but the Yankees' offense was just kicking into gear.

Swisher may have made Joe Girardi wish he had sat his starting right fielder sooner, say in Game 5 of the ALCS, by crushing a one-out homer to left in the sixth to make it 6-3. Swisher was a changed player in this game and that was apparent in every at-bat.

Jorge Posada added a two-out RBI single in the seventh to make it 7-4 and Hideki Matsui hit an opposite-field, pinch homer in the eighth to give the Yankees' suddenly shaky bullpen plenty of cushion.

But the bullpen, for the most part, was back in midseason form as was Girardi, who stopped overmanaging and did not try to match up at every opportunity. If a reliever was throwing well, Girardi let him stay in.

Joba Chamberlain handled the seventh with ease, retiring the side in order on nine pitches and getting Utley to fly to center to end it.

Lefthander Damaso Marte then breezed through the eighth, striking out Howard and Werth, a righthander, before getting Ibanez to line to third.

The only down note came in the ninth, when the Yankees had a four-run lead and Girardi was hoping to get Phil Hughes back on track. Hughes got Feliz to ground out, but then served up a homer to Ruiz.

And with Hughes having struggled so badly in the postseason, Girardi was not about to push his luck, bringing on Mariano Rivera to close it out on five pitches and secure control of the Series.

The Yankees now have a golden opportunity tonight to take command of the series. Sabathia will be going on three days' rest after his solid, but losing effort in Game 1. This is a big spot for CC and the Yankees are counting on their ace lefty to put them in a position where they can close out the series with one win in remaining three games.

Meanwhile, the offense will have to continue what it started Saturday. Blanton is a solid starter, but not anything special.

Runners In Scoring Position
World Series
4-for-16 (.250)
Game 3
3-for-7 (.429)
Game 2
1-for-5 (.200)
Game 1
0-for-4 (.000)
12-for-64 (.188)
6-for-17 (.353)
Regular Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)

Up Next
World Series Game 5
Sunday at Phillies, 8:20 p.m., FOX

Sabathia (19-8, 3.37 ERA; Postseason: 3-1, 1.52 ERA in 4 games)
Blanton (12-8, 4.05 ERA; Postseason: 0-0, 4.66 ERA in 3 games, 1 start)