God help the Yankees.
Before Boston just landed the Angels’ ace righty John Lackey, the Yankees needed to sign a major arm. We all watched New York strain through the postseason on 3 starters and the fumes of their fabled closer Mariano Rivera. Make that 2 starters and a Burnout. Having dropped tens of millions last year to acquire the top half of their rotation plus a first baseman who can field even better than he hits, the Yankees were nonetheless widely reported ready to take on another huge starting salary for one of 2 newly free agent righties: Toronto’s perennial phenom Doc Roy Halladay (RHP) or Bulldog John “It’s Mine” Lackey. This surprised me, and I could not take it for granted, especially after Detroit’s Curtis Granderson joined their outfield committee a few days ago.
When I heard that Boston was loosening its hold on their expensive left fielder Jason Bay, the quease started. What were they going to do with that money? Was it worth it to switch-up Matt Holliday for Bay? Or,…
Sure enough, early today I read the Twitter sighting: Lackey was seen at Fenway. I couldn’t eat for hours. Next thing I knew, the MLB Network was reporting a 3-way deal that would send Halladay to the reigning NL Pennant holders, the Phillies, whose recently-acquired World Series star lefty Cliff Lee would move to Seattle. Well, if a hunger strike could help the Yanks, well, by now I was losing my appetite the way some people lose keys. Good thing Guinness is food.
We are in trouble. And who knows how tired-out Sabathia and Pettite will be. While we are wondering, let us pray that God continues gracing Mo’s cutter with divine inevitability and ministerial conviction.
I’m home. Well, that’s not technically true because I never lived here, in my mother’s place outside Chicago.
I’m here because she died. I can’t understand that. We never got to finish watching Kevin Costner’s movie about Shoeless Joe, though she did take the El with me down to see the White Sox in 2005, when the Yankees’ Shawn Chacon beat former and soon-to-be-again Yankee El Duque. She actually said aloud that she wished Mariano Rivera, her favorite player, had gotten to pitch. She knew about him because she loved me and baseball was the only thing besides fear of not going to work that could get me to stop sleeping back then when I was sick. So she watched Yankee games so that we could talk about them, and that’s how she learned about him. So I’m going to use this blog to steal away for a minute and talk about baseball. And the Dodgers, whom she and my dad took me to see so many times in LA, where she helped me dress up as Ron Cey for Halloween one year, and where I grew up until my Dad was transfered to the Chicago area just before Postseason of 1981, setting off 15 years of avoiding baseball, except a few games at Wrigley. And Brooklyn, where I work now, in the high school where Sandy Koufax played (Lafayette). And Jackie Robinson, who made that team what it is, and whose number is worn only by my mom’s favorite baseball player. Because, as Mark Gremse said so often “That’s baseball.”
But, on the surface, these are really just a few trivial lines about movie: WYIN – public television out of NW Indiana – is showing The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), which, as I just discovered, can be viewed on Google Video here.
Regular readers know I’m a softie for great lines from broadcasters. Here’s one from the movie, spoken right before Jackie steps to the plate in the 9th, with the Dodgers down by 1 and hoping to clinch the Pennant: “Brooklyn hearts have skipped more beats than an absent-minded policeman.”
Today before the game Joe Torre took the line-up cards tothe chief umpire himself. Since when does Joe take the line-up card
out himself, except during the World Series? He went on to shake the
hand of every umpire. Except Jeff Nelson.
NOTE: If the NY DAILY NEWS (or anyone else) covers this story, they should credit Suzyn Waldmann for the idea. Anthony McCarron, who was a guest of WCBS Radio booth during the "DAILY NEWS 5th" inning, said he had not noticed when Ms. Waldmann mentioned the line-up card and hand-shaking routine. They discussed yesterday’s post-game report with John Sterling, who calls play-by-play during the game. He said he had been struck by how intensely Mr. Torre repeated the sequence of events that led to the game-ending call by Jeff Nelson.
I enjoyed the game at Yankee Stadium yesterday, my first of the season. We lost to the Angels, but Wang kept us in the game, and Mo closed us out beautifully, 1-2-3. Our bats q up about halfway through, and the slumping players got on base by hit or walk — Cano, Melky, Abreu. A-Rod hit a single and fielded well. Mank…witc (However you spell it — first baseman, #11) got on base and made an incredible stop. Damon pinch-hit a single in the 9th.
Early in the game I joked to Floraine Kay — who got me these 2 tickets for my birthday a long while ago — that John Sterling must be appreciating the home plate umpire, who was calling the pitches expeditiously. (Mr. Sterling can be eloquent and very funny filling time while waiting for the more deliberate umpires to signal "strike" or "ball.") We didn’t know his name at the time, but that home plate umpire was Jeff Nelson.
Throughout the game, we noticed a number of questionable calls which could have affected the score of the game. Having forgotten to bring my radio, we were cut off from what was apparently a lively discussion, particularly at the end of the game.
#42 paves the way. Finally, we can stop listening to arguments about whether the last player to wear that number — fellow closer Mariano Rivera — will make the Hall. It’s not the color line, but a different sort of threshold in baseball has been crossed by a relief pitcher wearing that historic number, the first to enter the Hall of Fame pitching out of the bullpen. Congratulations to Bruce Sutter for his admission to Cooperstown, where he will highlight his Game 7 close of the 1982 World Series by going in as a Cardinal. Thanks to Andrew Tarica, who took the time to write the MLB.com article about his pitching coaches, — an undercovered topic, I think — we’re reminded that he was raised by the "father of the split-fingered fastball," ace Fred Martin, who "taught the young hurler how to throw the derivation of the forkball that he’d mastered back in the Texas League while pitching for the Buffs." That would be the 1941 Houston Buffaloes, whose rotation he aced as the club played its way into minor league greatness. On the Class A Midwest League Cubs in 1973, Martin taught the rookie who’d secretly just had elbow surgery how to throw his signature pitch. 1974 was his breakout season in the minors, with AA Midland, and he was promoted from the AAA Aeros to the Cubs in 1976. After 1979, when Martin died, another Cubs coach, Mike Roarke, picked up his mantle. Tanica quotes Sutter’s movingly matter-of-fact tribute to his 2 mentors: "’I owe an awful lot to those two men,’ Sutter said. ‘Without their help, my stuff was just average.’"
Selected quotations from Tarica’s article:
"When I used to throw hard, I would split my fingers when I threw my change-up," Sutter said. "But I never used my thumb, the way I do with the split-fingered fastball. The pitch has a spin on it, so it’s harder for the hitter to tell whether it’s a fastball or a split-finger.
"They say that if the hitters just laid off of it, it’d fall out of the strike zone. But it’s hard to lay off because they have to make that decision in a split second."
"’We’d go two weeks without winning,’" recalled former Major Leaguer Dennis Lamp, who pitched with Sutter at each stop in the Minors and ultimately with the Cubs as well, ‘but once Bruce started throwing that split-fingered fastball, it was like, "Oh my God." No one had ever seen a pitch like that.
"’It looked like it was over your head, and then it landed in the strike zone. He’d strike guys out and the ball would get by the catcher and roll all the way to the backstop.’"
Written with great debt to Andrew Tarica’s MLB.com article "Sutter Mastered Special Pitch in Minors: Split-fingered Fastball Put Reliever in Cooperstown," published 1-11-2006. Why the replay here? I am interested in pitching coaches as well as relievers (obviously) and wanted to have the information handy.
- WANG was spectacular. With him, Chacon and Small, we have 3 big-game pitchers who are healthy. All have indicated that they can handle Yankee-style pressure on the mound, and they seem impervious. Thank goodness. I’m still a big fan of the seniors — and, in fact, I’d like to raise the average age of the rotation by restoring our favorite emotional rollercoaster David Wells to his rightful place. I still think we used bad, if not immoral, judgement when we forced Kevin Brown to make his first rehab start at Yankee Stadium; we may be responsible for ruining his career and his memory in the minds of many. The way we treated Brown, Wells — twice, Mendoza ("I want to die as a Yankee") and Stanton when letting them go, etc., has created bad karma. I’m not superstitious enough to say that’s why we haven’t won since…, am I?
- BUBBA CROSBY interfered with Derek Jeter’s catches twice. Is he just overeager, now that he has felt the good feeling? (Scoring the winning home run on Sept 2 plus a couple fabulous catches) He reminds me of the CANO, who was fielding everywhere but 2nd base earlier this season. He’ll settle down soon. Soon enough? We need to keep an eye on Cano, too, — yes, without killing his spirit, of course. That was a big running error today.
- GARY SHEFFIELD. The Man. RBI sac fly and an important 3-run home run, widening the gap in a game in which confused fielding (see Crosby above) cost the Yankees a run off Mariano in the 9th.
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.
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
I get nervous when Rivera pitches more than the 9th. Sure, he loves to pitch. When does a reliever turn down a chance to pitch? Seriously, I’m really curious. Does anyone in the pen ever tell Mel "Hey, you know I’m always ready — but 5 days in a row might be pushing it." What if Quantrill had spoken up last year, or in years prior? (It wouldn’t be the first time a Dodger manager burned-out an arm) Maybe we’d still be going with confidence to our most reliable righty set-up man since Mendoza.
Not that Mo’s been overtaxed lately. And, he hasn’t given up a run in a long while. SHOULDN’T THAT TELL US SOMETHING? The man does WELL when he’s not overused.
Against every instinct, I thanked God Mariano replaced Gordon in the 8th. It took 6 bullets to strike out Larry Walker, with runners on 2nd and 3rd, and Pujols up next. 6 to pop out Pujols in the bottom of the 9th. 4 to strike out Sanders, and 4 to strike out Grudzialanek for the game.
Yankees 5 Cardinals 0 Johnson W Mulder L Rivera SV (14)
It wouldn’t be right to be glad Gordon got hurt.* But those were scary at-bats. He does NOT handle pressure well. I was gratified to come across Bernard Ozarowski‘s comments on Gordon’s 2004 playoff stats (6.97 ERA) and record against the Red Sox (8.10 ERA).
I do miss last year’s Quan-Gor-Mo. Poor Flash Gordon. You still remember your curve, right? Please!
*But WHY would he use his THROWING HAND to protect his FACE? At least Kevin Brown used his glove hand to punch out the wall last year. Would that it had been gloved!