Thursday, April 30, 2009

Three in a row

Just about what they needed.

The turning point was Jeter's single-plus-Abreu's-error. Yes, the Angels came back to tie the game up, but there's always that point whwere you just know who will win, and that was it.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Well, all right then

Yankees 11, Detroit 0.

More important even than the victory is the notion that Phil Hughes, (who, if the Yankees wore names on their jerseys, might as well be NOT JOHAN SANTANA), might, dear god, be the real thing.

What ESPN called a slider seemed like a slow curve. No problem: stay healthy, Phil.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tigers 4, Yankees 2

So we turn to Earl Weaver, who once said, "May God, we're playing so bad that back-to-back home runs means one today and one tomorrow."

And: "Our best game last week was the rainout."

I mean, this game was against Justin Verlander--that's Chen Mieng Verlander until today, at 0-2 at 9.00 coming in. Good news for him, he got better against the Yankees.

If this were blackjack, the Yankees would grab their chips and run. But they gotta play tomorrow.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sox Sweep

Knew it was coming. Knew it was coming. Knew . . .

Ah, what's the use? I used every excuse not to watch the game, all the way up to and including taking Astro-Girl's car to the gas station put air in a tire, then drive azll the way home, then out again.

Our newest car will tell you if a tire needs are. It won't tell you which tire, and since the equipment is so sensitive you'll never find out simply by kicking the vulcanized rubber. You need a tire gauge, which I took some time finding. Lovely use of a Sunday evening.

Come home, turn on Jeff Goldblum's debut on Law and Order: Criminal Intent.


Astro-Girl: "Don't you want to at least check out the score?" Turn on the small TV in the kitchen.


Left the TV on, set it to mute, walked back to the living room . . . then spent the rest of the evening peeking around the corner, like a kid on the lookout for a truant officer.

1-0 Yankees.

"Only a matter of time," I said.

1-1 Red Sox.

"Only a matter of time," I said.

Went away, came back. 4-1 Boston.

"Ballgame," I said, and turned off the TV.

After the Aaron Boone game in 2003, one of Bill Simmons's readers memorably wrote that rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for the house in blackjack. Long time ago.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I don't want to talk about it

I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to talk about it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

. . . . and sometimes, it rains

So a breather on Monday, and a first look at the standings. Down 2 1/2. Meh.

Word all weekend was about balls flying out of Yankee Stadium at a "record pace."

Interesting. Twenty home runs in four days? Considering something like sixteen of them were served up by Wang, that's an outlier. So the joker who emailed Rome yesterday to ask, "Since when does someone spend a billion and a half on a softball field?"--yeah, funny, guy, you can sit down now.

Still, it will be funny to see what a couple of years brings--and, really, that's the only way these things can be measured. When Minute Maid opened as Enron Field, it was derided as "Ten-Run" Field, a softball track that was reconfiguring batting records as much as steroids. Jeff Bagwell, not given to complaining about anything, openly admitted to mental exhaustion, saying it was difficult to come to the park knowing you had to score six runs just to keep you in the game.

A big hint about that first season came on a Thursday afternoon game I attended, an early-season game against the Cubs. Jose Lima, a change-up/breaking ball pitcher, had won 37 games the previous two seasons feasting on the cold, dead air and faraway fences of the Astrodome, quite possibly the worst hitters' park of all time. Enron Field, and specifically this game, ended his career as we knew it. It wasn't that he gave up four home runs in the first inning. Nor was it that he gave up four home runs and none of them were hit by Sammy Sosa (and this was 2000, mind you, when Sosa could have run in the Kentucky Derby). What struck us all was the sheer towering magnitude of the home runs he gave up: something like, say, a line-drive beneath a left field archway, two scorching line drives off the left field facade, then finally, a shot by Henry Gonzales up to the train tracks that had the assembled Astro faithful giving up any pretense of the 'Stros actually winning the game and shouting, "Whoaaaaaaa!," like ten year-olds watching fireworks.

That game did it: Shell-shocked Astros pitchers were afraid to step on the field. They seemed to start every at-bat down 2-0. In May, in pretty much the game that sealed the season, Billy Wagner gave up a ninth-inning home run to Ken Griffey, Jr., that landed somewhere in downtown Conroe. People called in sports talk shows demanding the playing field be restructured. Radio guys wondered aloud if Drayton McClane would simply tear out the left field Crawford Boxes (let's see: 1700 seats at forty bucks per, every one of them sold out for every game . . . let me do the math here . . . oh, I got it: No).

Then . . . nothing. Pitchers adjusted, and began treating Enron/Minute Maid like any other ballpark. The whole place kind of settled, the way a new building does. And this season, in the last four days, in a four-game wraparound series with the Reds, the 'Stros pitchers allowed, in order, two, zero, four and four runs, and lost three of the four games. Absolutely common.

Fixating on the X number of homers the Yankees have allowed in four games makes as little sense as those "at this pace" items people used to run anytime somebody got multiple home runs on Opening Day, long before Sportscenter and Jim Rome shamed them into stopping it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

In progress . . .

I was just getting worked up to crapping about the local Houston FOX station carrying the Cubs-Cardinals instead of the Yankees, when I was greeted by this:

Indians 9, Yankees 2. Second inning.

If you're scoring at home, Wang's ERA now stands at thirty-four point five-oh.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What I wanted to say before

The first sports team I loved was the 1972 Boston Bruins.

This was the first team for which I had best four-of-seven explained to me. I was allowed to stay up for one period and then sent to bed. When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, my mother waited until the following morning to slap the Boston Globe in front of me. Waking kids up to celebrate championships never took hold until (uh oh) 1986, when Red Sox Nation thought it had a World Series title in hand.

Okay, what I wanted to say. Wilt's 100 points cast a shadow over Bill Russell's 11 championships.

Oh, damnit, you know what I'm getting at. Bobby Orr, who as a stickhandler was second to none except Gretzky, had an Irish fistfighter's mentality, and therefore was the greatest hockey player ever.

The owners of the Bruins need to answer for why the franchise has devolved. If they win, I will dance in the streets.

Well, all right then

An especially touching essays today from Bill Simmons.

This is written in the shadow of Celtic Kevin Garnett being gone for the season. I grew up a Celtic fan and Yankee fan, and no, I'm not a frontrunner, I grabbed onto both those teams in the earlyt seventies, in the shadow of their twin Dark Ages. The only winning team I latched onto was the Bruins, this when the Boston Bruins ruled Boston over the Celtics, Red Sox, and god forgive, the Patriots.

Anyway, along the whole "oft thought, but ne'er so well expressed" deal, I thought back to November, when the Celtics were being roasted for letting James Posey go, the thought being Posey might be the difference between beating or losing to Cleveland, and hence having a rematch with LA in the finals. Now it turns out that Posey would have made no difference at all, because without Garnett there would be no title. So . . . Simmons writes:

My dad and I had the same conversation five times in the past month, as it became clearer and clearer that Garnett was more injured than the team was saying, and we had it again today: Was one title (and a memorable season) worth giving up Al Jefferson, a few first-rounders and Ratliff's expiring deal that maybe could have been used to trump the Lakers for Pau Gasol? Yes. Yes it was. The goal is to win the title. We won a title. I would do it again. There is no statistic to capture the effect Garnett had on the rest of these guys; they played with a collective heart that reminds me of only one other Celtics team.

Then Simmons writes something close to my heart:

The best thing about winning an NBA title is defending it. My favorite Celtics team ever was the 1986-87 group. They lost Lenny Bias 48 hours after drafting him. They lost Bill Walton and Scott Wedman for basically the entire season. Kevin McHale injured his foot near the end of the regular season, played on it and broke it (and gamely kept playing). Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge and Robert Parish were limping around on sprained ankles by the second round. Only Larry Bird was healthy -- he ended up averaging an inconceivable 44.1 minutes in 23 playoff games. In the second round, they fended off a really good Bucks team, winning Game 7 even though they trailed by 10 with six minutes to go. In the Eastern finals, they held off a hungry Pistons team by winning two of the greatest games in the history of the Garden: Game 5 (Bird's famous steal from Isiah) and Game 7 (an unforgettable display of heart and will, with a little luck thrown in: the Dantley/Microwave collision). In the Finals, they came within Magic's baby sky hook and Bird's miracle 3-pointer missing by a sliver of tying the series at 2-2 against one of the five best basketball teams ever. When they got bounced in Game 6, every Celtics fan said to themselves, "I cannot ask for anything more than I just got."

Now that, my friends, is a title defense.

Man after my own heart.

Oh, yeah, nice of the Yankees to win today, Jeter with the winning home run, the bullpen saving Joba. Forget what I wrote.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bronx Bummers

Opening day at the glistening new Stadium. Anthem by Bernie, first ball courtesy of Yogi, first homer by Georgie, out-his-ass start by CC, and . . .

. . . thanks, bullpen. No really--as they say in the sixth grade, no applause, just throw money.

Nine runs. If Dave Eiland were throwing batting practice from behind a screen, it's hard to see the Indians scoring as many.

If CC, AJ, Lefty, Joba and Mo stay healthy this year, the Yankees may give up more runs in innings seven and eight then the other seven innings combined. No, really: I'm not kidding. This may actually happen. Throw out Wang's starts, it might be true already. (Wang, we'll save for another day.)

AJ and CC seem--early early early on--the real thing. Joba is young and strong and is headed for great things. Pettitte will, barring injury, give you his 200 innings and 14 wins. Mo is Mo. Wang, at the moment, is a bonus, and we're talking about a pitcher who was on year-by-year Cy Young watch until that dreadful Father's Day in Houston when he rounded third and ended his season.

Early on, Jeter and Posada are partying like it's 1999. Someone kicked Cano in the butt. Gardner hasn't embarrassed himself. Swisher has been that rara avis: the bench player who disrupts his manager's Grand Plan by playing well enough to force himself into the starting lineup. (The last timer I saw this happen, Hunter Pence did it to the Astros, batting like .460 in Spring Training and screwing up all of Phil Garner's plans. Garner still sent Pence down to Triple-A--for a month, before finally giving in.)

So where are we left? Looking for set-up men who look like they're not auditioning for Eastbound and Down.

Meanwhile, Astro-Girl, in heaven because of the 'Stros two-game winning streak, decided to concentrate on a potential trip to Louisvill next spring. I mentioned the Muhammad Ali Museum.

Astro-Girl: They have a Muhammad Ali Museum in Louisville?
Me: Yes. Plus a Horse Museum.
AG: They have a museum filled with horses?
Me: No, mostly horse memorabilia. Statues of horses.
AG: Like who?
Me: Secretariat. Out front.
AG: They make a horse stand out front?
Me: No. His statue.
AG: They make him stand next to his statue?
Me: The horse doesn't stand anywhere. He's been dead for thirty years.
AG (wrinkling nose): But woudn't he smell by now?
Me: No, the horse is in the ground.
AG: But you said he was out front. Is he out front in the ground?
Me: No, his STATUE is out front. In front of Churchill Downs.
AG: Did Winston Churchill live there?
Me: No.
AG: Is that why they named it after him?
Me: NO. He never lived there.
AG: Then why did they name it after him?

Say goodnight, Gracie

Friday, April 10, 2009

Yankees 11, Orioles 2

How tired do you have to be to take a nap while the Yankees lead the Orioles 3-2 in AJ Burnett's maiden Yankee start, in a game in which "Treacherous Tex" (Baltimore fans are really reaching for villains these days) has already homered?

Very tired.

Wednesday was a travel day. Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time--on the theory, I was told growing up, that DST would burn what little grass existed in the state. Or else DST was a Communist plot. Or we had so much daylight we didn't need to save it, thank you. The only effect on me growing up was that, sometime in October, Monday Night Football went from starting at six to starting at seven, and I had to listen to the end on the radio, in my room, in the dark.

So: basically between just after St. Patrick's Day and just before Halloween, Phoenix, which sits in the same time zone as El Paso, sets its clocks the same as San Diego.

So, in late afternoon, long past when the game should have been over. I awoke in my parents' casita. Didn't want to hear from my father. Didn't want to hear that Burnett had been the third Yankee millionaire to be knocked out of the box. That Rivera had given up a broken-bat blooper in the ninth, three inches past Jeter's glove.

No, more. I didn't so much as want to see the expression on my father's face that foretold bad news. I hid in the guest cottage and watched ESPN's scroll--luckily, for only ten minutes.

Well, all right then.

From Houston, Astro-Girl was on the phone. The Astros had been thumped by the Cards the previous night.

"I don't want to talk about it," she said. Then she proceeded to talk about it.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Joba's DUI caught on video


Complete with shots at Yogi: "He's probably not as tall as the front of your car."

Question: who has gone down in history with the worst DUI mug shot? Glen Campbell, then Nick Nolte . . . yeah, that's about it.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Still think "reset" was a bad idea?

'Stros 3, Cubs 2--10 innings.

What I know now.

1. When Lance Berkman strikes out with men on and the Astros losing by one run, do not describe the third strike to Astro-Girl.

Me: "Huh. Went chasing that high fastball."

Astro-Girl: "I know."

Me: "Yeah, okay."


Astro-Girl: "I mean, I have eyes."

Me: "Yeah, okay. Fine."

Astro-Girl: "I mean, I'm sitting right here watching."

2. Nine out of every ten Astro mid-inning one-run leads has an expiration date. For tonight's reference, see Soriano, Alfonso.

3. We'll learn. Or else we won't. Decades ago, journeyman NBA center-forward Rich Kelley found himself with the Phoenix Suns. In his first game with his new team, a home game, he provided solid off the bench brio--say, 10 points and five rebounds--and with the game well in hand, left the floor to a standing O. Afterward, the attending sportwriters asked, essentially, Not a bad reception, ay?

"Don't worry," Kelley said. "They'll learn."

Regarding tonight's late-inning heroes, Michaels and Keppinger, we'll learn. Or else we won't.

Yankee Links

Turns out CC had no faith in his fastball yesterday. Funny you should mention that, CC . . .

But wait! Not a single strikeout? The Post asks: couldn't Darrel Rasner have done better? (Or, one wonders, Carl Pavano? Steve Trout?)

Sitting in Minute Maid Park, watching the Orioles pile up runs in the eighth and put the game away, I did my best Superintendant Chalmers impersonation: you know, when Chalmers shouts, "SKINNERRRRR!" Except, without matching the scoreboard's posted jersey number to the specific pitcher--in other words, without being told who was going down in flames--I reflexively shouted, "BRUUUUNNNEEEYYY!" Correctly, as it turned out.

What has hurt the Yankees, post-2003, was the arm-falling-off work given to the Flash Gordons and Scott Proctors, who found themselves unable to pick their noses in the post-season, never mind stand up to Manny and Vlad. (I remember standing in Minute Maid Park in 2004, watching a monitor as an exhausted Gordon heaved the ball in against the middle of the Boston lineup. I thought, Well, maybe they'll hit a line drive at somebody--just as David Ortize did just that, hitting the ball right at some guy sitting in the fourth row of the Monster Seats.) Joba was the answer two seasons ago until . . . well, let's not revisit that Cleveland fiasco again.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Orioles 10, Yankees 5

Perhaps ask Obama if he's got another "Reset" button around. Can we have a do-over and start the season over tomorrow?

The old legend of living in Brooklyn is that one could walk down Flatbush Avenue and hear--through a series of open windows--an uninterrupted Red Barber narrative of that afternoon's or evening's Dodger game. The modern version of this phenomenon exists in every available media form, as witness today. To start, the first few innings on the YES network, during which CC Sabathia seemed determined to earn all 10 trillion dollars of his contract in his first thirty pitches, and succeeded in two wild pitches, one that hit the brick backstop so hard it bounced back like a raquetball, and I thought seriously for an instant Posada could have cut down the runner at third. With a little help from Jeter, CC fought his way out of an inning, at which time two possibilities arose: 1. "Baltimore missed its chance, CC is about the settle down; 2. It's only a matter of time, he's staving off the inevitable."

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Door Number 2, which I witnessed via the internet at work. Then, more damage the hard way, in one of those insidious Sports Flashes where Golden Throat starts off, "The Yankees scored two more in the sixth . . . (Cool! Too more in the sixth!) . . . but still trail the Birds, six to three."

Okay, just die, Radio Guy. And calling them "the Birds" isn't fresh, it doesn't show you're smart, so shut up! Shut shut shut shut shut up!

Off to Minute Maid and the wooden scoreboard. I should tell you our seats this year are at an odd angle, so the innings and the runs in each inning do not quite measure up. When the Yankees scored to come within 6-5 in the seventh, I thought it was in the eighth. When they scored zero runs in the eighth, I thought, therefore, the game was over.

So only when the Orioles scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth did I realize it was the eighth . . .

. . . which meant the game was not only not over . . .

It was worse than not over, it was not over plus a crucial portion of the 2009 Yankee squad, the keep-a-deficit-close portion of the bullpen, had officially crapped the bed in the first game of the season.

All this, meanwhile, was while Astros v. Cubs, Oswalt v. Zambrano, was unfolding.

First inning: Alfonso Soriano hits the ball 350 feet into the runway behind the Crawford Boxes. 1-0.

"Okay," Astro-Girl says, "Royo got it out of his system."

Second inning: Aramis Ramirez hits the ball into the Crawford Boxes.

"No problem," Astro-Girl says, "Now Royo really got it out of his system."

No matter. Zambrano plus Astros plus lead equals boat race. True, Astro Kaz Matsui made a baserunning error that was totally excusable were Kaz a) eight years old, and b) eight years old. I wondered aloud, "Does Jose Cruz need to learn how to say, 'One out' in Japanese?"

Ah, too depressing. Robby-Boy picks us up:

Well I pulled my kids out of school at 1:00pm for a "family function" I had to tell the office secretary.

We popped the corn and watched the first pitch. Jeter leads off with a gutty 2 strike single. Then we watched C.C. have ZERO control over his fastball.

Posada goes deep and has a great play at the dish!

Gardner looks really good in center, Godzilla looks to be in his old forum but alas C.C. digs us to big of a hole to climb out of today.

But it is baseball and there is always tomorrow, or Wed in the Yanks/O's case.

The re-relaunch

Shows what little I know about this stuff. An Opening Day has driven me back here and streamlined this to sports. Politics I'll place elsewhere soon (though I do note the that opening day in Chicago has been cancelled due to frigid weather and two inches of fluffy white global warming).

Tankees start in three hours. CC Sabathia is--who? Catfish Hunter, Tommy John, Mike Mussina, the Roger Clemens of 2000-2001? Or Ed Whitson, Carl Pavano, the Randy Johnson of 2005?

Meanwhile--Minute Maid at 6:05. Astros-Cubs. Oswalt-Zambrano. Astrogirl's and my 33% season tickets are down the left field line, twenty rows up--in other words, precisely to give us a perfect view of Manny Ramirez when the Dodgers come on April 21st. This might be the only time I'd regret a game being a regular-season instead of spring training, as it lessens dramatically the chances Manny coming to sit with us in the stands.