- TRACHSEL– WOW. Welcome back to the Mets. Your pitching presence was praised as iconic. Your absence was bemoaned. Your minor league rehab starts were celebrated. Hard to believe, right, after the abuse you garnered as an active player? Fear not. After a win backed by 12 runs, Zambrano — who was rumored to be fighting for his starting life — may have your slot. So, pitch your heart out, Steve! And if things don’t work out, the Yankees have been eying you for years. Toss a baseball-in-a-bottle into the East River, and the message will get to Uncle George. (Right, Mr. Steinbrenner? Right?!)
- LOAIZA– Will Nationals’ fielding and run-support FINALLY allow him to reach .500? Tonight the Nationals host the newly-crowned best-in-baseball Cardinals, sans their star Scott Rolen, and led by Suppan (RHP- 12-8, 3.94). Home-Field Advantage? Loaiza (RHP- 8-9, 3.66) could use any advantage the his own team can spare. Remember, except for that one pitch to first-day-in-the-majors Jacobs, he shut out the Mets in New York last week.
- PLAYING FAVORITES? Randy Johnson (LHP- 11-8, 4.34) starts at the Stadium tonight (against Kansas City’s Mike Woods: RHP- 4-4, 4.09). We — I speak loosely — laid into Randy Johnson for giving up 6 runs in the 4th on Sunday in Chicago, and chose not to emphasize the multiple shutout innings he pitched on either side of the anomaly. The same “we” took in stride Mussina’s 8-run 5th inning a few days later against Toronto, noting with regret that Moose has been known to “throw” a single inning in an otherwise well-pitched game. With outrage, the same “we” flogged and sent away Kevin Brown for losing his first rehab start following weeks on the DL — rather than admitting that we may have destroyed the closing of a great pitcher’s career by denying him even one real rehab start, which is a low-pressure, innings-limited outing in a minor league game. We have descended to misrepresenting an epiphany he made the mistake of announcing — that he is pitching the last games of his career — to mean that he is unsure about continuing to pitch. I suppose I could continue this list by contrasting the huge leash Clemens was given to lose games as he adjusted to New York with the few games Loaiza was allowed before being sent to the bullpen in a move that may have lost the Yankees the 2004 ALCS.
- SABATHIA– In Chicago, where I spent last week, commentators spoke with respect of the strength of Cleveland’s CC Sabathia (LHP- 10-9, 4.76). I don’t hear much good about the inconsistent lefty here in NYC, though I have been curious about him for some time. Of course, fans here were spared seeing him beat us as the Indians — featuring slugger Aaron Boone — laid us flat at the Stadium. And, the White Sox have to watch their backs in their own division, and the Indians are nipping at their heels from closer than they have been for some time this season. He faces a weaker link in the Blue Jays’ rotation, Dustin McGowan (RHP- 1-1, 8.63), who is filling-in for Yankee-Killer Roy Halladay, who is on the DL. Go, CC. (By the way, watch out for Vernon Wells.)
- A RAMIRO MENDOZA SIGHTING! After months of invisibility on Yankee minor league webpages, Mendoza (RHP, middle reliever) has made an appearance. He is now with the AAA Columbus Clippers, after a short stint with the Gulf Coast Yankees. Can the Bronx be far off? No rush. He needs to take care of that shoulder. Maybe he really can “die a Yankee,” as he confessed was his dream just before he was handed off to the Red Sox for the 2003 season. Mr. Steinbrenner, are you listening? Please? (As evidence that I was am only a recently-converted Red Sox scorner, I produce the support and pride I sent out to the mound from my Saturday Tier Reserved season-seat, as Mendoza not only started for Boston but WON!) (Continuing your rescues from the Red Sox, Mr. Steinbrenner, might you consider scraping-up #16, who sold-off his #3 to Renteria right before beating us at home? A faded, fabled, #33 tattoo may be visible under his jersey.)
Off my proverbial chest I foist the following:
- ERRORS are not being called on sloppy and questionable fielding plays. Managers are taking out pitchers for relievers when sharper fielding would prevent baserunners. This undermines pitchers and destabilizes weary late-season teams. To paraphrase a dazzled, recently traded starter: ” It’s so different when there are people behind you who might catch the ball.” Losers: Esteban Loaiza: WAS @ PHI — 8-17-05, Aaron Heilman: NYM — at least twice this season — I haven’t followed the Mets closely lately. Steve Trachsel: NYM — several times over the last couple years. David Wells: as a NYY (I’m not talking about the first time, when Jeter talked to him about trusting that his teammate-trust needed work) If I were a pitcher, I would feel secure, even fortunate, if Aaron Rowand had my back in Center, Tino Martinez covered 1B, etc. More on this to come.
- STRATEGICALLY SIGNIFICANT CALLS AGAINST SOME TEAMS IN HIGH PLACES ARE INCREASING (and not against their opponents): Losers: CWS, NYY, WAS, etc. I stick my neck out with the inference, but announcers wonder about the calls even when their own team benefits. Full disclosure: I support the Yankees, obviously. However, to me, they do not appear prepared for this year’s post-season. I have no interest in false wins. It’s hard that everyone comes to the park with their best game when they play the Yankees, but the players are paid well because they are expected to handle the extra attitude and prepartion that opponents bring to the game. When they fail to do that, they fail, and an umpire has naught to contribute. They can fail on their own, and I have seen them fall by their own hand a lot this season. They can handle the responsibility. I don’t need to blame umpires for stupid mistakes that players make on on their own. Given that every fan wants their teams to get lucky breaks, “we’re all in” the same boat as I see it. However,… keep your eyes open if your team is doing too well, is too popular, or is too rich to BE popular!) More on this to come.
- That said, GET OFF THE LATE-SEASON YANKEE-BASHING! I mean it. It’s amazingly predictable to correlate cheap shots about the Yankees with poorly-researched commentary. You really can’t buy a World Series team. They would have. Look at the last 4 years. If you could buy one, they’d have 29-30 rings by now, not 26. Can you buy advantage that may be unfair? Sure. Before we go there, please find out and tell me what the low-performing and under-funded teams DO with the dollar-for-dollar cash that Steinbrenner hands over when the Yankee payroll exceeds the salary cap. When their payrolls hold steadily low, and when they annually collect the Yankee subsidy, do they really think that building a newer-than-Yankee-Stadium (est 1923, fyi) will foster a fanbase more reliably than investing in a productive farm system? I grow cliched. I stop. in new stadiums that lose money rather than invest i continue Serious observers have noted fatalistically that the Yanks have been “building” up not just a hugely talented and expensive team, but also a twisted underdog status — as in, how could they possibly keep losing? This is complex as well as painful to write about. Unless you believe they are intentionally dropping games for betting, or are covertly planning some sneaky (and risky) come-from-behind surprise (WHEN? After how many losing postseasons?! Hurry!! Just kidding), you are wise and sane enough to be weighing alternatives. Your stomach may be stronger than mine. More on this later.
Aug. 9, 2005: CWS 2 @ NYY 1
Here’s the reasoning, starting with Chacon-as-Slugger:
- Shawn Chacon pitched the cuffs off those way-too-long pants of his. He allowed 1 HR, and it barely qualified. He fielded. He kept runners honest at first. For 7 innings, he did everything necessary to earn the W. Except HIT. Well, let’s put him to work!
- Chacon’s career batting average is .155 — remember, he’s from the National League, so he’s had some actual at-bat time. In 2002, his average got up to .257, and as recently as this year, his on-base percentage is .227. Knock off a couple points for the Coors Field Effect, and he’s still got respectable numbers.
More reasoning: We couldn’t hit off WHOM?
- Contreras. Yep. The one and same. You know, the second Cuban. No leg kick. Key to his game: His uniform number (52) really IS his age. Just kidding (translate: not officially confirmed), and it wouldn’t have mattered on the YAARPEES anyway, but he really couldn’t handle New York, though he did improve after George sent the Yankee Yacht down to rescue his family. Just to be safe, we tried to give him away, added a LOT of cash, and walked away from the White Sox trading table with 21-game winner and All Star Esteban Loaiza. Don’t let me get going on how we managed to use him as trade bait as he was turning into a real Big-Game Bronx Bomber.
- Contreras came into this game 6-6. Enough said. A pitcher — meaning Chacon in this case — might be able to muster enough shame to avoid being shut down by a .500 colleague.
More reasoning: We have no Designated Hitter!
- Ruben Sierra’s hamstring is in question.
- We gave up David Delucci (ouch).
- We gave up Karim Garcia.
OK, RULEBOOK WONKS! We’re putting out the call. Is this just fantasy?
Yesterday, 7-15-05, was a great day for pitching match-ups. David Wells (video highlight) starting for the Red Sox against the team he loves most still agitates the achiest spot in my breaky baseball heart. I couldn’t bear to write it, and, without that one topping the list, there were no Games To Watch.
Today’s much easier, and hardly less exciting.
Yankees @ Red Sox 1:20
Randy Johnson LHP (9-6, 4.16) @ Matt Clement (10-2, 3.45)
Johnson can handle the hostility at Fenway Park, and I think he can feed off it. Dare I suggest that he’s not afraid to hit a batter? I still hold that the Yankees lost to Boston so often last year in part because they didn’t know how to channel revenge through their inherent good manners.
Watching Clement pitch for the Cubs at Wrigley years ago, I remember picking up a funny feeling from him. He was solid but uneven, and the unevenness has stayed with him. Despite his grand improvements, this all-star can crack.
White Sox @ Indians 1:20
Mark Buehrle, LHP (10-3, 2.58) @ Jake Westbrook RHP (6-11, 4.57)
In a late switch, all-star Mark Buehrle will start for the first place White Sox in place of John Garland. Hard to argue with that.
Even Westbrook’s high-ish ERA shows that he has been better than his Win-Loss record indicates. Lately, he’s allowed an unusual amount of runs to score for this season, which has been a fairly successful one for him.
Astros @Cardinals 4:15
Roy Oswalt, RHP (12-7, 2.39) @ Jason Marquis, RHP (8-6, 3.89)
After a promising few pitches in the All-Star game, Oswalt lost some luck and let go of his cool. His record speaks for itself, however. Marquis may well be up to the challenge. I’ve always liked his chances, though he didn’t look too good in the postseason last year.
Nationals @ Brewers 7:05
Esteban Loaiza RHP (5-5, 3.57) @ Chris Capuano (10-6, 3.63)
Now that the Nationals are hitting behind him, Loaiza — who seemed to rely on his own run-support for awhile — should be able to relax back into the sophisticated and tough pitcher he is. I look forward to seeing his opponent for the first time.
Braves @ Mets 7:10
Tim Hudson, RHP (6-5, 3.78) @ Victor Zambrano, RHP (4-7, 3.58)
Floraine Kay always says to be wary when the Braves are willing to give up on one of their pitchers. A corollary: Note well when Atlanta picks up a pitcher who has been written off as finished. Everyone had something to say when Oakland kept only one of their dominating triumvirate of Hudson-Mulder-Zito. Leo Mazzone, Atlanta’s longtime pitching coach, seems to be having the last word.
When Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson said he needed only a few minutes with Zambrano to “fix” him, I was instinctively skeptical. I still am, but I must cite the complicity of the Mets’ bats in constructing his failing Win-Loss record.
Angels @ Twins 7:10
Bartolo Colon, RHP (11-5, 3.42) @ Johan Santana, LHP (7-5, 3.98)
Colon is another all-star pitcher who started well and ended up unlucky in Tuesday’s game. He deserved better. If you ask the Yankees, Santana is much more dangerous than his record appears. This should be fun to watch.
NATIONALS @ PHILLIES 1:35 ET MLB TV & Audio
I believe I’ve already told you how I feel watching Loaiza pitch. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to see this one, which should be a beauty, agains former Cubs & Yankees starter Lieber. He’s prone to getting hurt, but once he climbs off the DL, he just needs a few starts to get back into it.
METS@ PIRATES 1:35 ET MLB TV & Audio
Pedro Martinez, RHP (9-3, 2.80) Kip Wells, RHP (6-8, 4.25)
Before his last start, Wells worked out a lot of kinks with Pirates pitching coach Spin Williams, and the reformatting was very effective. Williams got him to reposition his stance on the mound to avoid throwing across so much of his body. They also worked throwing more strikes, resisting Wells’ temptation to nibble. The improvements may well hope. But will the Pirates’ squad be able to score against Pedro? Maybe, if they can tire him out — Willie Randolph fulfulled managerial tradition by leaving Martinez in one too many innings last time out.
P Martinez — L (9-3, 2.80) E Loaiza — W (5-5, 3.61) C Cordero — S (30, 1.22)
Yes, Yes, I’m a Yankee fan.
But there’s no hiding the feeling I get when Esteban Loaiza pitches. It’s not quite nostalgia — he wasn’t with the Yankees long enough. (more on that later) But well before then, I must have read something, because I was always searching through the Box Scores for his name, from his first days with the White Sox and onward. I was at Yankee Stadium the day he made the jaws of the Yankee brass drop to the sticky concrete beneath their feet. He shut us DOWN. There was wonder in the voices of John Sterling and Charlie Steiner, and even Joe Torre was mystified beneath his complacent, comforting tones.
More to come.
The Yankees have won their nearly-annual July 4th contest against the Orioles. Mariano Rivera gets the save. His third in 3 days.
Now, you know that John Sterling is beside himself. The more he anguishes that Mo doesn’t get to pitch, the more likely it seems that Mo will pitch. In consecutive games, no less. To “Suzy’s” credit [Was that a slip, or have John and Suzyn Waldman been bumping knees beneath the mikes?], she asserted on air today that even the great need to rest. Did she read yesterday’s blog? No, of course not. It’s just that obvious. It’s so obvious that no one talks about it. Right?
I love Sturtze. Floraine Kay calls his zone “The Tanyon Canyon.” As in, here it comes, strike, another one down the Tanyon Canyon. Sturtze was game, as he should be, to be a starter for the day. Joe Torre is sometimes too quick to plant people in the bullpen before their range has been explored. I’ll never quite forgive him for demoting Esteban Loaiza last year. The bullpen is not a demotion for pitchers who carve out a place for themselves there. Aaron Heilman, for example, may be considered a bullpen success for the Mets, though I think it’s still too early to label him, especially since his record this season does not adequately reflect the circumstances that compromised it. Same with Ramiro Mendoza, who started for the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium in the last game in which I could in good conscience support a Boston win. He beat us good, much like David Wells did earlier this year, also at the Stadium. We deserved it. We let them go, and they were YANKEES. They loved nothing so much as this team, and they dug-in their best for those W’s. Remember when Mendoza said “I want to die as a Yankee”? We had already screwballed Wells once by then, in exchange for Clemens, who never did his best work with the Yanks. Then we sent Mendoza to the Red Sox, redeemed ourselves with Wells, then sent him to Boston too, albeit the long way, with an incentive-and-insult-ridden minor league offer of $300,000 at the end of the 2003 season. Now that Mendoza is allegedly back with us, let’s hope we do things right by him, though our second dispatch of Mike Stanton doesn’t bode well for our karma.
Stanton and Paul Quantrill are entitled to bolt down a round of scotch shots on Steinbrenner’s tab for each run given up by Scott Proctor and Jason Anderson in long relief for the sole long reliever we have left. But if revenge is sweeter than cognac, I hope our veterans prefer vodka. Since they were dropped, Flash Gordon has stepped up, and our fair closer has risked his arm for games we didn’t have a fly ball’s chance of winning.
I’ve got to track down Torre’s spring 2003 quotation. It went something like this: “There’s such a thing as too many pitchers.”
John Sterling, the Yankees play-by-play radio announcer, couldn’t repeat himself enough. July 3: The Yanks have Mariano Rivera, the best closer in baseball, but you’d never know it. He never gets to pitch. Why? The team doesn’t win enough, and, when it does, it”s by a margin too large for a save. They can’t get to him. That’s why the world’s best closer doesn’t get to pitch.
So, what have we learned, folks? (to paraphrase John — nothing against him, now that he’s stopped undermining his new color commentator Suzyn Waldman on air — he’s just working a little too hard on his nostalgia factor for my taste, that’s all) — which held a tight 1-0 lead against the hard-hitting Tigers — is that Gordon and Rivera CAN be counted-on 2 days in a row, IFF (you do recognize the mathematical urgency in this abbreviation, right? trans: if and only if) they’ve had plenty of rest beforehand. Gordon made my stomach surge a couple times, but, except for July 2, when hasn’t he? (There’s a reason we pay to scream on rollercoasters, and watching Flash is like riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. I mean that in the best way. Will he make his curve?) I was even able to appreciate the spectacle of Flash Flaherty catching Flash Gordon. (Did I really hear somewhere that Gary Sheffield called Flaherty “the real Flash”? Maybe I invented that memory as a placeholder for something else like it.)
But let’s not lose today’s lesson amid my asides. Rivera needs his rest. Never have I grasped the heresy in contemplating the acquisition of a back-up closer — even though we have the alleged and probable best in baseball. If Stottlemyre and Torre could put Loaiza in the bullpen last year, if Randy Johnson is going to pitch on 3-days’ rest after his recent struggles, and if we’re locking Sturtze out of the bullpen this week to save him for Pavano’s start, then we’re already thinking outside the proverbial diamond (well, it IS a box), and we ought to consider the radical possibility that having our Mo is not the same has pitching him, too. If Mo closes in a save situation today, is it really statistically less probable that we’ll need someone to do that very thing tomorrow? As I so often whine, no one in the bullpen is going to turn down a chance to pitch, and our relievers nurture a messianic spirit. As it should be. Except when their stoicism risks the Win, and that brings us back to my point: Even though we’ll never acquire a back-up closer for Mo, we should tolerate the possibility that maybe he too benefits from some occasional relief.
To come: Thoughts on losing Stanton and Quantrill