Bronx, N.Y., July 30, 2006 — The Yankees and Devil Rays presented a clear distinction in personnel Sunday afternoon in the Bronx. The upstart Rays, in just their ninth big-league season, started young James Shields, 4-4 in his first season, while the 106-year-old Yankee franchise sent 37-year-old veteran Mike Mussina out, in the league since 1991 and in search of his 237th victory. In this battle of Yesterday vs. Today, the veteran was the clear winner. Continue reading
Bronx, N.Y., July 28, 2006 — It would overstate the case to say that the manner in which Chien-Ming Wang dispatched the frustrated Devil Rays Friday night in the Bronx lacked excitement. It’s just that once he retires the side while facing just three batters on 12 pitches or less in seven of nine innings, things start to get a bit predictable. Continue reading
Bronx, N.Y., July 16, 2006 — The Yankees survived a sloppy game and a nightmare of an evening for third baseman and slugger Alex Rodriguez Monday and eked out a 4-2 victory over the visiting Mariners. Game righty Chien-Ming Wang battled through with less than his best stuff, and shut down Seattle using his trusty weapon, coaxing 16 ground ball outs in seven innings.
And he could have been better, but Alex Rodriguez uncorked three wild throws that extended rallies and denied Wang further ground-ball outs. Coupled with Jorge Posada’s pickoff attempt that sailed past an unaware first baseman Andy Phillips in a one-run Mariners top of the first, the Yanks committed four miscues, while the M’s chipped in with three. Wang and Seattle southpaw Jarod Washburn deserved a better fate.
In fact, the only earned run Washburn allowed was on a towering Jason Giambi home run to right that stretched the Yanks’ lead to 4-1 in the fifth inning. The ex-Angels starter was on top of his game, denying the Yankees any scores in any of the four frames they got their leadoff man on, via three singles and a Jorge Posada sixth-inning double. In fact, it was the two innings in which Washburn retired the first two Pinstripers that all of the Yankee damage was done.
Giambi’s blast came with two down in the fifth, but the two-out rally that cost the Seattle lefty a “W” this nignt was the one the Yanks mounted in the second inning. The Mariners had taken the early lead after Ichiro Suzuki smacked Wang’s first pitch of the game up the middle for a single. The Mariners right fielder moved to third with one down on the first of two walks to Willie Bloomquist and a fielder’s choice. Raul Ibanez scored him with a sac fly to left.
The Yanks replied in the bottom of the second. But while it is true that all three runs would be unearned, each of the six Yankee at bats of the inning produced well-struck missiles. Posada’s one-hopper was snagged at second and Bernie Williams drove an “at’em” ball to rookie Adam Jones in center. But Andy Phillips broke the spell with a hard single to right and Melky Cabrera rocketed a liner off a startled Richie Sexson’s glove at first for the pivotal Yankee at bat of the inning, and of the game. The ball was smoked and, looking into Sexson’s eyes from the upper deck, I thought the E3 was a tough call.
But whether or not it should have been ruled a hit is bookkeeping. The ball rolled down the line as Phillips and Cabrera each took two bases. Miguel Cairo promptly delivered both with a single reminiscent of the big two-out rbi hit he stroked against the White Sox Sunday. Johnny Damon drove in Cairo with a single in a nine-pitch at bat that started at 3-0, and the Yanks had a 3-1 lead they would never relinquish.
Echoing Sunday’s contest in game plan, though certainly not in quality, the rest of the game featured failed Yankee rallies and a spirited attempt by the M’s to close the gap. Once Damon was picked off to close the second, the Yanks produced three leadoff singles and an inning-opening double around Giambi’s crucial home run the next five frames, and failed to advance any of them even one base.
Mr. Wang, meanwhile, though not turning in a routinely superb outing (he has set the bar awfully high), was dominant through the fourth, posting nine outs after the first on just 27 pitches. He bent but did not break in a 21-pitch fifth, where he had to overcome A-Rod’s second miscue following a Yuniesky Betancourt single and before the second walk to light-hitting second sacker Bloomquist, escaping unscathed on two bouncers to Cairo at second. He surrendered the second M’s run on three sixth-inning singles, but emerged from that frame and the seventh by coaxing his second and third ground ball double plays of the night.
But Wang was cooked at 96 tosses through seven, and Joe Torre needed to fashion an effective eighth inning out of his pen. There was no question that Mariano Rivera would not be asked to get six outs on back-to-back July days, particularly with an intense east coast heat wave sapping the strength of everyone in the park. Mike Myers used two pitches to retire lefty swinger Ibanez on a gounder to second, one pitch more than it took him to do a similar job in the squeaker in the Bronx the day before.
Kyle Farnsworth got two fly outs in Sunday’s seventh, but his eight inning wasn’t nearly as effective, and Torre needed to bridge this one to Mo. Scott Proctor was the hero of the Yankee pen in early ’06, to the extent that such a title is even a little open in a place where Mariano Rivera works his magic, but as the season progressed, Scott struggled from apparent overuse. But fresh from the All Star break, he was dominant in Saturday’s laugher, pounding the Chsox with 96-mph heat with a sharp slider. He retired four straight that day, two on swinging strike outs. Monday’s result was similar, only he got the two big K’s while facing just two guys, and upped his speed quotient to 97. The Mariners swung and missed at his nine pitches five times.
That left the game to Mariano, who did what he did Sunday, making the crowd nervous as the first two M’s reached, then retiring three straight, two on strike outs. Thus the Yankees stayed right on the heels of the first place Red Sox, and crept another half game closer to the idle White Sox in the Wild Card race.
With the rotation settling in, the last three wins excluding the laugher Saturday could become the template of what we’ll be seeing down the stretch, battling opponents in tight, low-scoring games, and delivering a lead to the best closer ever. Tomorrow we begin to see if Sydney Ponson can give Joe Torre a full house of starters. Perhaps next week, Octavio Dotel will lend the pen another solid arm. Pitching in rotation with Dotel and Farnsworth, a well-rested Proctor appears ready for a monster second half.
Bronx, N.Y., July 16, 2006 — The danger when talking about today’s Yankee win over the White Sox 6-4, and their three-game sweep on the weekend, is that you run out of superlatives. On the visiting end, Freddy Garcia battled gamely through seven in a losing cause. But although it would be fair to say Jaret Wright pitched well enough long enough for the win, he performed as well as I have ever seen him during one big at bat.
Wright drove the paying customers to distraction by walking leadoff man Scott Podsednick starting both the first and third innings. With 52 homers awaiting him in the third and fourth spots in Chicago’s order, he appeared to pitch around the speedy left fielder who has reached all of two outfield fences in the season’s first three-plus months. But one of the fabulous things in this battle was that superb Yankee defense bailed him out in both cases.
Things looked bleak in the first when Jim Thome blistered a double into the right field corner with no outs after Tadahito Iguchi followed the walk with an infield single that rolled to a stop 20 feet down the third base line. But down 1-0 with two in scoring position, the Yankee defense stiffened. Iguchi was off on contact on a bouncer to third, and was nailed at the plate, though he kept the rundown going long enough for Thome to creep into third. Small matter, because Rodriguez started a truly stupendous double play on Jermaine Dye’s hard one-hopper down the line, grabbing the ball and wheeling in one motion, then firing a low bullet to Miguel Cairo at second. Cairo’s turn was perfection and his relay beat Dye by a full step for a 5-4-3.
The gem was huge because the Yanks then posted a quick and loud three-run first, a lead the two stunted Chisox rallies failed to equal. Melky Cabrera led off this day with Bubba Crosby in center for Johnny Damon, who left Saturday’s blowout early with an apparent tweak in his leg. Melky flied out to center, but Derek Jeter blasted an 0-1 Garcia fastball to the back of the visiting bullpen for the quick equalizer. Despite a terrific year at the plate, the Yankee Captain hadn’t homered in two months, and the blast was a welcome sight. The ever-picky Jason Giambi then walked and Rodriguez quickly un-tied it with a two-run home run to left. It speaks volumes about A-Rod’s power that he appeared to hit this ball off the end of his bat.
But Wright was at it again in third, starting Podsednik with a called strike and then missing on four straight. Iguchi’s second single was barely better struck than the first, but the Sox were set up with two on and no out yet again. In fact, one theme of this game was that Chicago had their first two on in five different innings, and scored just two runs in those instances. Had they scored one run each time, they would have won the game. Iguchi was forced on Thome’s bouncer to Cairo, but Podsednik scored the second Sox run when Paul Konerko stroked an apparent single to right. I say “apparent,” because Yankee right fielder Aaron Guiel was on the liner like a hawk, and his quick peg to second caught the lumbering Thome for the rare 9-6 force. Dye’s routine fly to right brought the inning to a close.
Cabrera led off the Yankee third by doubling to right center on a 2-0 pitch, then raced to third on Jeter’s hard liner to right. It may sound silly, I know, when talking about a guy who is third in the league in on-base percentage, and who just trails the home run leaders by a few, but Jason Giambi followed with what may have been his best at bat of the year. He looked bad swinging and missing at Garcia’s first two tosses, an uncharacteristic approach for this Yankee DH. But he fouled off four of the next seven pitches, just barely nicking a few. Then he delivered the Yanks’ fourth run on a sac fly easily deep enough to left field.
Wright dominated in retiring the Sox in order on three popups in the fourth clinging to a 4-2 lead, and the Yanks did what they did in Saturday’s blowout, tacking on runs before the White Sox could recover. In the bottom half, Garcia got two quick outs, but Andy Phillips, coming off a double, home run, four-rbi game the day before, doubled to left. Down 0-2, Cairo recovered to single to right for one run; then Crosby doubled the same way for another, and the Yanks had a 6-2 lead. It’s a credit to the game Garcia that those were their last two Yankee scores.
With the eager Yanks smelling a sweep and the proud Sox dreading one, the game became one of attrition between New York arms and Chicago bats. Wright retired Juan Uribe to start the fifth, but leadoff hitter Podsednik battled him for an eight-pitch, grounds-rule double down the right field line. Podsednik did his job this day, reaching safely on his first four at bats, though he would fail dramatically in his fifth. Iguchi singled weakly yet again when his hopper up the middle barely cleared Wright’s outstretched glove, but Jeter saved a run by knocking the ball down with a sprawling stop. Then Wright, who had seemed merely good enough to that point, had his moment, in a pivotal battle with slugger Thome.
Jaret had overpowered rather than fooled Chicago batters most of the day, not bad when you consider that he exceeded 92 mph on the gun just once entering the fifth. Mixing in just an occasional curve and a change of pace with his relentless fastball, Jaret hadn’t managed to make a Sox hitter swing and miss until Joe Crede did so with one down in the fourth. But he pounded Thome at 94 mph and Jim swung and missed for strike one. But two more 94′s, a 93- and a 95-mph hard one produced no better than two balls and two fouls, and Wright tried to fool the big guy with an 83-mph change. But Thome is not just a home-run guy but a quality hitter, and he recovered and flicked it foul. Undaunted that his little ruse had failed, Wright backed it up with another low, outside 83-mph change, and Thome flailed and missed for Jaret’s only strike out of the day. Konerko fouled to Posada and the Yanks were three outs closer.
But the Sox did not give up, and drove Wright from the mound in the sixth. With one down, A.J. Pierzynski singled and Crede doubled down left. Ron Villone relieved and allowed a sac fly to pinch-hitting center fielder Brian Anderson, and Uribe drilled a 1-2 single to left. But Melky Cabrera charged and scooped the ball and his peg to Posada at the plate beat Crede by two steps and the Yanks clung to a 6-3 lead.
Podsednik led a seventh-inning charge with a leadoff single, and when Jeter rushed for the dp on an Iguchi bouncer to short, he bobbled the ball and the Sox had two on. But Mike Myers retired Thome on a pop to left on just one pitch and Kyle Farnsworth dispatched Konerko and Dye on easy flies to right.
If there is a lesson to be learned in the Yankee-fans-booing-A-Rod spectacle this year, it is that Yankee fans remember nothing. Thus they booed Farnsworth, who had just closed the seventh in fine fashion, when Pierzynski homered off him on a 3-2 pitch leading off the eighth. With the score now 6-4, the boos produced their usual result, and Kyle struggled still further. Crede and Anderson singled, and Joe Torre summoned closer Mariano Rivera for a six-out save. No problem, Mo seemed to say, as he popped Uribe out to second and finally retired Podsednik on a 4-6-3 to close the eighth.
But the Sox reached Rivera for three singles and two runs on Friday; they would not go quietly this day either. Iguchi collected his fourth hit by doubling the other way to start the ninth and when Thome walked, the Sox had their fifth two-on, no-out threat of the day. But Rivera stiffened, retiring Konerko on a 6-4-3, and he struck Dye out for the win and the sweep.
It was a hot day in a packed house Sunday, and the Yanks and the Sox treated the fans to a fabulous game. The inestimable and seeming everlasting Bob Sheppard introduced ex-boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard to handle the ceremonial first-pitch chores, and Jaret Wright pumped in a 90-mph fast ball for the first “real” pitch at 1:09. In the middle of the third we were informed that A-Rod’s first-inning blast was his 448th, moving him into sole possession of 33rd place on the all-time home run list. I look forward to watching his future climb. The fans thrilled to Metallica’s Enter Sandman in the eighth with the game on the line and the one and only Rivera coming in from the pen. It was exactly three hours after Wright’s first toss pounded Posada’s glove that Rivera went 94 for the last strike of the day.
And then we were treated to the pro forma strains of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York, as we usually are after Yankee wins. But something today was different and Frank’s anthem was strangely interrupted. The cause? The Yanks broke in to tell us that on this day Mariano Rivera had garnered his 400th career save. I could go and on on how I feel about a guy I have watched dominate baseball for 11 seasons without ever winning a really significant postseason pitching award. I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’ll let Roy Hobbes from The Natural> speak the only words that truly tell the tale:
“The Best That Ever Played the Game”
Bronx, N.Y., July 15, 2006 — Yankee fans could have been excused for being a little nervous about coming out of the All Star Break hosting the world champion White Sox in three at the Stadium. Although the Bombers have been holding their own of late, these White Sox dominated last year’s post season and they swept the Yanks in the Bronx in 2005. But those fears appear unfounded following the home team’s 14-3 laugher Saturday afternoon, following the tightly played Bombers 6-5 win Friday night. Continue reading
Bronx, N.Y., July 2, 2006 — One wonders if any of the 55,000 crowded into Yankee Stadium for Sunday night’s crosstown interleague tilt with the Mets were dismissive of Alex Rodriguez’s three-run tracer that thumped off the facade of the black seats in dead center in the fifth inning. After all, it simply changed a 13-5 Yankee lead into a 16-5 one. You can hear the talk-radio drumbeat now: a “tack-on home run.” Continue reading