Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Detroit, Detroit (2 games)

Start spreadin' the news.

Began to write about Wright.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Yankees 5, Indians 2

One reason baseball is the greatest game is the number of times you walk away saying, "Well, I never saw that before."

Sixth inning, 2-0 Tribe, bases loaded, nobody out. A-Rod at the plate. Bingo, a big inning. And so it was.

A-Rod: hit by pitch. Run forced in. 2-1, Cleveland.

Giambi to the plate. Slow bouncer to first, One unassisted, run scores, Jeter advances from second to third, A-Rod from first to second. 2-2.

Matsui to the plate. Slow bouncer to first, One unassisted, Jeter scores, A-Rod to third. 3-2, Yankees.

Morgan Ensberg to the plate. A swinging, thirty-foot six-hopper dies in the infield grass. Ensberg, infield hit. A-Rod scores. 4-2 Yankees.

Four batters, four runs--and all without a batted ball traveling more than 95 feet.

Never saw that before.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Yankees 1, Indians 0

Superb work by Melky, Wang, Joba, and Mo.

It says a lot that for a .500 team, Wang (5-0) and Mo (.000 ERA) will both contest for the Pitcher of the Month.

But what's up with Georgie? The Yanks can be worse than the Patriots when it comes to injuries. Fifteen days, sixty, what?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Indians 6, Yankees 4

A one-pitch game. Pettitte, three run homer, thanks for coming.

Friday, April 25, 2008

White Sox 7, Yankees 6

A weird game right to the end, what with the rain-outs. In certain respects a disappointmnet, but the Yanks leave Comiskey (shut up) with two wins in their ball bag.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Yankees 6, White Sox 4

Lord, is there anything better than beating the White Sox?

I mean, anything?

Single malt scotch? A bloody red T-bone? Splitting four eights and having the dealer bust? The killing of Fanucci sequence in The Godfather, Part II?

Somehow, even beating the Red Sox doesn't even match the thrill of the last two days, in that a victory over the Red Sox is always met with the realization that there remains six or ten or fifteen Red Sox games to go, some with Manny up in the seventh or eighth with a one-run lead to protect. The Red Sox you respect as a worthy adversary. The White Sox . . .

Well, doesn't it all come down to the White Sox announcers, to Whoever and the Hawk, to Whitey's's Pick to Click, to "Put it on the boooooard . . . Yeeees!" Compared to the White Sox announcers, Brent Musburger calling LSU-Florida is a model of restraint.

As to the game. How good to see Moose get a win. I'll lay in front of the doors if I must, but if Moose gets to 280 wins it'll mean the Hall Of Fame.

And Rivera. It is time, soon, that Mo will need appreciation not just as the greatest closer of all time, not even as the greatest pitcher of all time, but as pretty damn near the greatest baseball player of all time. Take away two pitches--Sandy Alomar's homer, and the bunt he threw in the direction of the Superstition Mountains--and the conversation would be over.

But really: How great is it to beat the White Sox?

Yankees 9, White Sox 5

Ladies and gentlemen, your at-bat of the season, so far.

Seventh inning, two out, bases loaded, Bobby Abreu at the plate. 3-2, White Sox.

As the two teams I follow are the Yankees and the Astros, I am well familiar with the pitcher, righthander Octavio Dotel; he had just struck out Jeter with high fastballs and Ozzie Guillen, riding the emotion of the moment (or so speculated Kay, O'Neill and Cone), left him in to face Abreu.

For Yankee fans, this might have been the most propitious decision since Grady Little left Pedro in to face Posada in Game 7.

So yeah: Ball one, ball two. Fastballs not a foot near the plate.

2-0. Abreu looks dead red.

Gonzo. 6-3.

Some more excitement later, but that was your ball game.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Yankees 7, Orioles 1

Another game over in te first inning. Having watched Andy Pettitte pitch about 200 times over the past fourteen years, I can tell when his cutter (the pitch that sets up every other pitch) in snapping. At this moment, it looks better than it has since the second half of 2005, when Pettitte was the best pitcher in baseball en route to a 17-9 record.

I missed the start of the game. All it took, for me, was two pitches down around Melvin Mora's knees and I thought, with apologies to Eight Men Out, Man you guys are in trouble today.

A-Rod is hurt. My guess is we'll see if Morgan Ensberg can help out. If there is one guy you want to root for, it's Mo. When he was an Astro, Mo (along with Dan Wheeler and Eric Bruntlett) was legendary for working the pre-game autograph line down the right field railing. An fellow ex-Trojan, he signed my USC cap and shook my hand before one game--this, during his one All-Star season, also 2005, when the 'Stros had him figured into their plans for the next half-dozen years. With his short, compact swing, he looked good for twenty balls a year into the Crawford Boxes alone. But injuries and ineffectiveness killed him; the enormity of expectations turned him into the symbol of everything the Astros wee not after their first World Series. in the end, given the choice of Ensberg, Mike Lamb, Mark Loretta and Ty Wigginton, the 'Stros went with Ty, who could provide a steady .260 and field his position.

Now, it appears Ensberg gets another chance. It really and truly almost hurts, since Ensberg is one of those players you almost feel protective toward. (Yankee fans might think of Tino Martinez in his second go-around.) Here's hoping.

Now, a whole off-day to think about Hillary and Obama and Pennsylvania.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Orioles 6, Yankees 0

Nothing more than this weekend makes me miss the Yankees of a decade ago. The Yanks of 98-99-00 played around 19 games against Baltimore and around 19 games against Tampa, and in those 38 games the Yanks were good for, say, 25-13, easy.

That left 124 games remaining. Go 70-54 in those games, and, bingo: 95 wins, and the playoffs.

As for yesterday's game, there is nothing to say except: Wow, in retrospect, it was all over when Damon made that baserunning blunder in the first, overunning first base like a Little Leaguer. Jeter follows with a triple, dies on third . . . and that's your ballgame, folks.

Totals coming up.

What is there to say? Anyone? SunDevil Joe recommends promoting Shelly Duncan, who apparenting is knocking down fences in Scranton. Duncan would go to first. That would keep Damon in left and Matsui DHing. Ensberg can float as the fifth infielder, and Jason (.413 in March!) Giambi can sit waaay down the end of the bench until he finds his stroke. Or a new supplier.

(There appears, finally, to be some recognition on Girardi's part that there is a problem with Giambi. Posada at first, anyone?)

Robbie-Boy asks: Do I agree that Joba has to stay in the bullpen? Yes. I'm not keyed in the New York talk radio, and I haven't been following the message boards, but let me go way out on a limb and guess there is a groundswell of support for Joba to move to the rotation. Which, of course, makes no sense: you don't want to mess up one of the few things on your team that is working. The one thing this Yankee team has, for at least now, is straight from the glory days of 1996: the ability to hold a lead late.

The way the team has been hitting, that's an edge to valuable to lose.

As for the rest, one can say: Wait until everyone heals, until Posada gets back behind the plate, etc., etc. That would matter more if Molina and Moeller weren't doing perfectly serviceable jobs back there.

What matters is the pitching. Moose is getting creamed out there. Hughes seems rattled, missing his spots so badly on Friday that Moeller had to lunge for his pitches. (There is one thought: Gary Carter was famous in baseball circles for almost never setting up with rookie pitchers, never moving his mitt around. Carter would stick his glove right behind the center of the plate, his message plain: Just throw strikes, kid. And under his guidance, Doc Gooden, Ron Darling, Bobby Ojeda, Sid Fernandez and David Cone all became stars until drugs, arrogance, groupies and a certain hedge trimmer destroyed what should have been the Mets dynasty. Worth considering, no?) Kennedy is one forward, two back.

Brian Cashman is going to be reminded nine thousand times this season that Hughes and Kennedy are the reasons our rotation doesn't go Santana, Wang, Pettitte at the top; why instead it's Wong and Pettitte and then forget it.

Time for the kids to show us something.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Baltimore . . . ah, I turned the thing off

It would be all right for the non-Joba pitching prospects (you know, the ones the team hoarded so as not to get Johan Santana) to show up right now.

And Giambi, right now, is just killing the team.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Yankees 15, Red Sox 9

One of the more salutory wins, never mind that the starters were both in their street clothes by the fifth inning.

It is an truism that the Yankees will go nowhere unless they can outslug the Sox.

Jeter and A-Rod look to be shifting into high gear. Abreu and Matsui seem good for the long haul. Georgie will recover. Cano will get into shape, the fat putz. And the Baby Yanks are coming through.

Yet another game won without Joba. A good sign.

Yankees 5, Rays 3

Does Pettitte have a little magic left in that left arm?

Another nice, brisk win, the sort the Yanks of '98 made their specialty.

So okay: bring on the Sox.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Yankees 8, Rays 7

The old Arizona State coach Daryl Rodgers always explained that W's are W's and L's are L's, but if here is anything like a bad win, we saw it.

Those who barked at Girardi for putting Joba in the set-up spot should shut up right about now. Joba's absence from the bullpen exposed the Yankee bullpen's soft underbelly, its lack of anyone not named Joba or Mo to hold a lead.

Great relievers not named Gossage, Eck, Hoffman and Mo tend to blaze and fade, but Joba maybe headed for the closer's role.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sox Take Series

Missed Saturday night's game; I'm told Girardi made a blunder with Moose re Manny.

Flipped off tonight's when it got to 5-1. These famn games seem to happen lately.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Yankees 4, Red Sox 1

A textbook game of a pitcher winning "without his best stuff." With one exception (the home run Abreu misjudged and actually should have caught) Wang walked a tightrope, keeping his sinker too high but benefiting from the Red Sox batters either getting just under his pitches or else hitting their screaming line drives directly at Yankee outfielders.

Rarely has there been a more precarious complete-game two-hitter.

Still, nothing succeeds like success, and, as we speak, Wang sits on a 3-0 record and a 1.23 ERA, and furthermore has provided a day of rest to a bullpen exhausted after the thrills and chills of KC.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Candygram

Courtesy Jonah Goldberg at the Corner (scroll down), The Fifty Funniest TV Sketches of All Time.

I could quibble with a few omissions (such as SCTV's extended "Godfather" Sketch, with John Flaherty, Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Dave Thomas and John Candy at the top of their games), but one holds a place in my heart: #11, "Land Shark," from the first season of Saturday Night Live.

I've seen the sketch twice--the last time, maybe twenty-eight years ago. And I'm laughing right now thinking about it.

Not that Astro-Girl would understand.

"It's based on Jaws," I explained. "Except the Land Shark swims up on shore, goes to women's apartments and rings the bell. And then when the woman answers the door, he eats her."

"O-kay," she said.

"Sometimes he says he has a telegram," I said. "Another time, he says he's a plumber. But when Larained Newman says, 'We didn't order a plumber,' he then says, 'Candygram.' And then she opens the door and he eats her." (Spasm of uncontrollable laughter.)

"That's good, sweetie."

"Well," I said. "The writers back then were notorious for all the pot they smoked."

"Um, you think?"

One mistake the writers of the list make is identifying Belushi as Police Chief Matt Hooper. The chief was named Brody of course, played by Roy Scheider in the movie and I forget who in the skit, and their best moment in the skit is when they undrape what appears to be the remains of the girl in a plastic bucket. One of them looks down.

"Oh God," he says. "Tunafish again!"

Yankees 6, Royals 1

Pettitte!

Royals 4, Yankees 0

Can't anybody here hit the ball?

Wanna know something funny? So anemic has been the Yankee offense of late (six runs once so far, eight runs total in their three other wins, two runs total in their last eighteen innings against Kansas freaking City) that I had a feeling the game was over as soon as John Buck's homer splashed into the waterfall beyond center field.

1-0, ballgame.

Last year, through the end of June, A-Rod, Posada and Jeter seemed to be playing three against nine.

Now, with both Georgie and Jeter hurt, make it one against nine. Melky and Matsui string together a few good at bats; Cano gets a hit now and again. Abreu had a few good games in what seemed a long time ago, ie last week.

But, come on, four runs allowed by a cadre of relief pitchers would seem to be enough. Sheesh.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Royals 5, Yankees 2

Well, the Yanks are hurt, the hitting is crummy, and only Wang--of the top three starters--has put together two good starts in a row, so instead I'll share with you the one thing that made me laugh out loud today. In "The Sports Guy," on ESPN's page two Bill Simmons shares this nugget:

STRANGEST HOLLYWOOD STORY OF THE WEEK
Jack Klugman wants his millions in "Quincy" residuals, and he wants them right now! I love the concept of "Quincy" losing money since it has been off the air -- how is that even possible? Not even James Dolan could pull that off. And since the subject is "Quincy," here's my imitation of the last line right before they headed to the first commercial of every "Quincy" episode: "It wasn't suicide, Sam, it was murder!!!!!!!" Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week.


On that, more in a second. But consider this:

Follow-up note: I defy you to find a weirder opening credit sequence for a TV show than the one "Quincy" had -- it's a detective show about a coroner, only the music makes it sound like he's a bartender in the Caribbean, and then there are some slapstick sequences (like all the cops fainting) and everything ends with Quincy making time with some babe on a boat. He's a coroner! That might have been the goofiest show from that era that actually made it. Also, I love that there were no other stars from the show. It was like Jack Klugman knew back then, "They're gonna screw me on residuals 25 years from now. I can't have any other stars on this show!"


Yeah, pretty much.

Oh: I followed the link Simmons provided; it's the age-old story. Twenty-five years ago, James Garner was on Donahue saying precisely the same thing about "The Rockford Files."

In Hollywood there live accountants who will tell you, with a straight face, that Forrest Gump and Jurassic Park lost money.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Yankees 6, Rays 1

My first Minute Maid Park play-by-play.

The 2008 Houston Astros made their home debut tonight, so Astro-Girl and I proceeded to our usual Opening Day Stations in our partial season-ticket seats.

(Have you ever been asked what law you could pass, if ever you could pass, by fiat, a law? I've long had the answer, up to now: Opening Day should be a national holiday. (One of my students informed me that a holiday was not technically a "law," but never mind.) Now I think I've got it. In all 29 American baseball cities (can't help Toronto) that city team's home opener should be a city holiday. Close the schools, close the banks, have one big party.)

It's odd, having a home opener after your team has been on the road; odder still to have a home opener after a bruising seven-game road trip against, first, a pennant contender (San Diego) and, second, a hated division arch-rival (the Cubs).

Some teams are just, "Huh?" Last year, the Mets. Year before, the Phillies. This year, we may be looking at the Astros. They've got veteran power/average (Tejada, Berkman, Lee), promising youth (Pence, Towles, Bourn), and a massive upgrade defensively, with Bourn patrolling Minute Maid's immense center field, Pence (last year at center) moving his range and cannon arm to right, and Kaz Matsui (soon as he can, ah, sit down) taking over at second for the sainted Bidge. Plus, defensively, Towles has a better arm than Ausmus, though it remains if he can even come close to Ausmus's wizardry with the pitching staff: calling pitches, calling timeouts, the intangibles that made Brad essentially a second pitching coach on the field. Whatever the team lost, trading Adam Everett's range at short for Miguel Tejada's, they almost make up for it with Mickey's arm.

Offensively, the team has upgraded or stayed the same at every position. At catcher, Towles can hit for distance. Infield: Berkman will be better than last year--healthier, anyway. Matsui will improve over Bidge. Tejada v. Everett? Please. Wigginton will, merciful God, take us away from the Ensberg/Lamb psychodrama. Call it five upgrades.

The outfield? Position-by-position, Pence will be a huge upgrade over Scott/Lane in right. Bourn will be slightly down from Pence (not as much power). Lee will be Lee: pencil him in for 150 games, 35 homers, 130 RBIs, a .290 average. Call it a wash.

Starting pitching. So far, Backe, Chacon, Wandy and Sampson have actually exceeded expectations, and kept the Astros in every game they pitched. Their record in starts? 3-3. Meaning: it falls to the early disappointment, Royo, to pick up the slack.

Relief pitching. Well? They can't hold leads, they can't hold ties, they can't keep the team close in close games. Otherwise, they've been fine. Is "Valverde" Spanish for "Lidge"?

Yankees 2, Rays 0

Yes, yes, Wang and Matsui and all, but consider two stats.

Joba: Sixteen pitches, six outs recorded.

Joba and Mo together: eight batters faced, nine outs recorded.

With a splendid fielding from Cano and Betiment, who turned a line-drive RBI into a double play in the eighth.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2

Hughie Jennings, who managed the Detroit Tigers during the Ty Cobb era, was famous for what he would tell his players before each game.

"Keep it close, boys," Jennings would say. "I'll think of something."

One had this feeling during last night's Yankees game, even as the Yanks fell behind early, 2-0. Something was going to click. When it did--when Damon beat out that bunt in the sixth to bring up Derek Jeter, first and second, nobody out, Yankee faithful were on the same page: Ah, got 'em now.

Phil Hughes and Billy Traber joined Joba and Melky as the latest Baby Yanks to impress.

Ian today.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Blue Jays 5, Yankees 2

Ahhh. Death byt dribs and drabs.

The gamne was over when Jeter tried to stretch that error to second base, and was thrown out by yards.

Everyhing else: window dressing.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Opening Day: Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2

Like the Yankees of old:

Solid starting pitching.
Clutch defense.
Timely hitting late.
Stifling set-up.
Mo.
Ballgame.

Outside of the Yanks' will-they-or-won't-they winter pursuit of Johan Santana, nothing about baseball held me in thrall this winter. The problem was not just Roger Clemens' self-immolation, nor Andy Pettitte's hair shirt, nor Joe Torre's departure, nor the A-Rod melodrama.

What brings a sense of melancholia is the notion that, as the years pass, an entire generation of baseball achievements may--in the minds of future generations--be wiped from the boards, turned to non-event, the way the Chicago White Sox, to this day, refuse to fly the pennant of the 1919 Black Sox at whatever their ballpark is called this year.

Consider: we may, on a permanent basis (or until Alex Rodriguez reaches 800 homers), have a Hall of Fame that does not include:

*The All-Time home run leader (Barry Bonds)
*The winner of the most Cy Young Awards (Roger Clemens)
*The pitcher with the second-most career strikeouts (Clemens, again)
*Every batter who hit 62 or more home runs in a season (Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa)
*And, because their records, clealy achieved, would pale by comparison to the apparent cheaters, a generation of clean superstars whose career marks would have been more than enough for entry, pre-2000 (start with Jeff Bagwell)

But enough of that today. A columnist for The New York Posthad a terrific account of how this year's Yankees might be an improved model on '07. Basically, the argument boils down to two words: Joe Girardi.

What struck me--I had no idea this was the case--was the fitness regimen Girardi imposed on the squad in Tampa through February and March. Joe Torre, for all his qualities, mostly trusted the veterans to work themselves into shape; he was, in retrospect, laid back even for a sport whose daily training regimens usually boil down to:

9-9:30 am Batting practice
9:30-10 am Shagging flies
11 am-5 pm 18 holes

The last few years, some players showed up to Tampa in game shape (A-Rod and Jeter manifestly). Some did not (Abreu, Giambi and Cano most prominently, and there may not be a connection, but the '07 Yankees were nearly out of it by the end of June due in no small part to the crappy play of those three, plus the desultory performance of Matsui, who at least couldn't be blamed on this score).

Apparently, this changed thanks to Giradi, who remains, in retirement, such a physical fitness nut that, during the broadcast of the game, Astro-Girl kept mistaking him for one of the players. ("Why are they showing him so much? Are they going to put him in?")

Now, one crisp 3-2 victory means as little, in the long view, as Houston's desultory loss last night. But when (to paraphrase John Updike) the first kiss tingles down to the toes, one's memories retain a bit sharper.

A partial list: Wang gutting it out early, with his sinker unsinking. A-Rod, who probably needed an opening-day hit as much as anyone, RBI doubling to the track. Melky's great catch, then--one play later--his really great catch, a tumbling, diving two-out grab.

Wang, settling down, snapping his sinker off batters' ankles. The suddenly trim Jason Giambi, in for the bunt, stabbing a liner that would have given the Jays the lead.

"Okay," I said. "Now Wang comes out with the tie, the Yanks go ahead to qualify him for the win, then Joba, then Mo. Ballgame."

I say it here, it comes out there. Melky Cabrera, taking his place along the Babe (first home run in the Old Stadium's last season) with the homer in portion of the a park originally designed to maximize the Babe's prowess.

Joba Chamberlain, now looking oddly (and a little creepily) like comedian Frank Caliendo, picking up where he left off last year, pre-Lake Erie bugs. (All well and good, but if Joba's worked up a mean John Madden impersonation, I am officially worried.)

Mo.