Posted by: JoeD2133 | May 29, 2008

5/18-5/28: Five Below and Back

My twenty-ninth birthday was last Wednesday, May 21st.

I was not a professional baseball player on that day, nor a professional writer, or even a lawyer for that matter.

But you know what?  My wife went into labor with our second son, David Cook won American Idol, and the Yankees began to turn their season around with the first of five straight wins, en route to a 6-and-2 mark through last night. 

I mean, honestly.  Can anyone ask for a better birthday?

The secret to happiness, I have begun to realize, is appreciating what has been given to us, not what other people have or what they have accomplished.  And the secret to accomplishment is dedicating your sole purpose to physically getting something done, as opposed to dreaming about it on a nightly basis, or during the day in the back of a New York City bus, or on the couch with a beer and the ballgame.

Take, for example, the wonderful world of baseball.  If X player comes up in Y situation and does not come through, one team wins, one team loses, and that player has to deal with his failure.  However, if that same player causes Z to happen, well then, he is a hero, a winner, and a physical God all wrapped into one shining, clutch performance.  The difference between success and failure in all walks of life is doing that which you set out to do in the first place.  For an athlete it’s a hit, a pass, a catch, or a kick.   For an artist it’s an audition, a take, a track or a note.  For me, the indifferent law school graduate who wants to inspire himself before he even attempts to inspire someone else, it’s a thought, an idea, a paragraph, or a final draft.

One day I will finish something I’ve started in this crazy life, and that will make all the difference.  What I have been lacking for the last twenty-nine years is the effort to make it so.

And that’s what people want to see more than anything from someone on TV, across the airwaves, or embedded in a newspaper or magazine – effort.  They want to see you hustle, take risks, and leave it all out their between the lines, inside the frame, or up on that stage.   They want to see you sweat, suffer, and grow as you overcome all obstacles in your path, and they want to see you do it with grace and humility. 

This is why everyone loves Derek Jeter and questions Alex Rodriguez.

This is why the country crowned David Cook over David Archuleta.

This is what inspires people, and in the end, that is all the matters to most of us in this perpetual, corporate rerun of a fast food, cynical, sarcastic, and corrupt sitcom called Society.

Talent only begets opportunity.  Character and heart beget respect.  And respect, my friends, turns into the love, admiration, and inspiration required to do something truly great with your talent.

Take, for example, my courageous and gracious wife, who has inspired me for the better part of eleven years now.  Take also David Cook, who has inspired me for the past five months.  And, don’t look now, but the Yankees are on the verge of inspiring me once again.  As of last night’s 4-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, they are 26-27, Alex Rodriguez has returned to the lineup, and Joba Chamberlain is on his way to the rotation.  Signs of life and fire and effort are brewing in the Bronx, and all that is left now for this team to do is to physically accomplish that which it set out to do in the first place.

Win baseball games.

Take a lesson from David Cook, would you all please?  Dig deep, be true to yourselves as athletes and people, and let your hearts hang out there for the world to see on the TV, across the airwaves, or embedded in the newspapers or magazines.

Maybe then you will inspire yourselves, and become a truly great team.

Only then will you find the effort it takes to win it all.  I will be watching, of course, waiting for the inspiration that makes all the difference in the world.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | May 18, 2008

5/10-5/17: Two and Four

The sunlight warmed the nylon of his jersey like it hadn’t done in quite some time.  God, what a beautiful day for baseball, he thought to himself, the deep blue of the number two tracing hot lines in graceful arcs and right angles on his back.

Why is it that we always start so slow, he muttered to no one in particular, methodically swinging a black, weighted bat, back and then forth, as reciprocal and true as a metronome.

Why must we always give everyone else a head start?  If it’s our penance, I think I understand.

Derek thought long and hard in the on-deck circle.  Not about the Subway Series, or how Hank Steinbrenner’s Venezuelan dream was busy striking-out his fellow countryman, Bobby Abreu, from the extreme right side of the mound.  No, he thought about how his Yankees had just lost three out of four to the first place Tampa Bay Rays, and six of their last nine overall.  He thought about how pathetic and surreal his team’s name looked at the bottom of the standings.

This one’s for you, Hank.

Derek dug into the box against Johan Santana like he was just any other pitcher, exactly what you want your Captain to do.  He took a ball, he took a strike, maybe he fouled off a fastball or two.  Somewhere between Ian Kennedy’s last shellacking and Phil Hughes’ fractured right rib, however, DJ looked into the eyes of a hanging, drifting change-up from the blue and orange clad Santana, and smiled.

Boom.

Derek doesn’t turn on a pitch often, preferring to keep his hands in and angle base hits to right-centerfield all day, but on this afternoon he turned.  And he turned hard, didn’t he, smacking the wanderlust right off the face of that smug baseball, and sending it on a rope into the upper deck down the left field line.  Just like that, it was 2-0 Yankees in the bottom of the first, and now every fan in attendance smiled.

You see, who needs Johan Santana?

But then Johnny Damon got thrown out at the plate in the bottom of the third, snuffing out a sure-fire, Johan-killing rally, and Andy Pettitte had a three-run top of the fourth on only one hard-hit single from Carlos Beltran.  Add in a couple bloops, a couple walks, and one obnoxious swinging-bunt from Luis Castillo, and the score was now 3-2 Mets.

Man, you just had a bad feeling about this one.

How sad is that.  For the 2008 New York Yankees, as soon as they fall behind you feel like the game is over.  Even with a line-up that doesn’t have A-Rod or Jorge Posada, you still have your Jeters, Abreus, Damons, Matsuis, Giambis, and Canos, but they have shown no signs of tenacity, fight, or even a flair for the dramatic through the first quarter of the season.  In point of fact, this squad has not one come-from-behind victory when they are losing after six innings.

Not one.

And once again, they threw up another 0-fer with runners-in-scoring-position yesterday, dropping to a season-low three games under .500 without even a whisper of protest.  Of course, it doesn’t help when Kyle Farnsworth gives up three runs on two home-runs before he even records an out in the top of the seventh, but that’s to be expected, right, even when he is having a somewhat respectable year to this point.

What’s not to be expected in the Bronx is losing, and it’s starting to feel like this team is accepting their defeats, as opposed to fighting them off with every once of their competitive fire.

The Captain tried to send a message in the bottom of the first yesterday, to his new owner, to his teammates, and to this increasingly frustrated city.  But after the Yankees dropped their seventh game in their last ten, the question must be asked.

Was anybody in the dugout listening?

Posted by: JoeD2133 | May 10, 2008

5/3-5/9: Three and Three

Another week of baseball, another week of life, and everything feels .500.

You could sense the sun beginning to shine though, couldn’t you, with Mike Mussina winning his third and fourth games in a row, and Darrell Rasner giving up only two runs over six frames in his first big league start of the season.  But no, not so fast, because then the normally lights-out Joba serves up a three-run jack to blow a vintage Andy Pettitte performance – his first regular season runs allowed at Yankee Stadium ever – and this coming on the heels of another perfect seventh inning from the normally maddening Kyle Farnsworth, a twist a fate that emphasizes just how humbling this sport can truly be.

And then of course, Chien-Ming Wang gets out-aced by the Indians suddenly emerged pitcher of perfection, Cliff Lee, and the roller coaster continues for the Yankees.

Win two, lose two.

Get swept by the Tigers, go ahead and sweep the Mariners.

Maybe if Joe Girardi stuck with one line-up for more than one game, this on-again, off-again offense could start to develop a rhythm, even with Morgan Ensberg, Wilson Betemit, Shelly Duncan, and Jose Molina playing starters each night.  Even with Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi having to combine their averages to reach .300.  Even with the rotation being held together by one Ace, two aging, gritty veterans, my other brother Darrell, and – drum roll please – Mr. K. himself.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I please re-re-re-introduce, for your viewing pleasure, from the land of the rising sun, and direct from the Hashin Tigers… Kei “Triple-A” Igawa.

Last night he returned to the mound in Detroit, and the Detroit Tigers immediately returned the favor.  When it was all said and done, Kei allowed six runs in three-plus, batting-practice-type innings, and his debut ERA for the big club rang in at a resounding 18.00.

Please.

Whether you actually scouted him or not, Cashman, before you forked over nearly $50MM, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist now to realize this guy was not made for American League baseball.  His pitches are slow, his pitches are up, and his pitches just don’t move that much.  For lack of a better visual, it’s literally like watching batting practice.  The Yankees’ Triple-A rotation currently has their team in the division’s respective drivers seat, so there must be somebody else, right?

Please, anybody else.

Even a three-run, ninth-inning rally against Detroit’s pedestrian Todd Jones couldn’t give the Yankees their first come-from-behind victory of the season, and the boys from the Bronx fell back to one game below .500 at 18-19, losing this one by the score of 6-to-5.  If I didn’t love the game of baseball so much, and the New York Yankees for that matter, I might go out on a limb and call this team boring.  I might accuse these players of going through the motions.  I might even say that their new manager, for all the talk of fire and attitude and life, is looking about as flat and tired as Joe Torre ever did in that dugout.

And no, I don’t care if he stands up instead of sits, or paces instead of peruses.

This team is just different, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Ah well, what’s one week of baseball and one week of life if you can’t complain about the inconsistent, .500 performance of your favorite team for five consistent minutes.  Just as long as it doesn’t turn into another five consistent weeks, or five long months, and we’re not sitting here in September talking about injuries, unrealized potential, and a lack-luster 81-81 record.

You are the New York Yankees guys.  Start acting like it.

Or, at the very least, feeling like it.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | May 3, 2008

4/30-5/2: One and Two

So the Calendar turned from April to May, and the rain remained.

In fact, for the New York Yankees, the drizzle began to change to a steady pour.  No longer is it a question whether or not “Generation Tre” will remain in tact for a full season.  It was revealed Thursday that Phil Hughes has a stress fracture of the ninth rib on his right side – funny, he has a 9.00 ERA in six April starts – which will sideline him until July at the least, according to the suddenly talkative (or nervous) GM, Brian Cashman.  And as for his embattled compatriot, Ian Kennedy, after last night’s additional sub-par performance on the losing end of a three-game-sweep to the Detroit Tigers, he may finally be on his way back to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

Manager Joe Girardi, who is growing more and more irritated with the media by the question, revealed that the team will not need a fifth starter for a while, given the way the off-days fall in May.  This means that when the Yanks bring up Darrell Rasner to replace the “injured” Hughes (somewhat shockingly, Rasner has a 4-0 record and 0.87 ERA at Scranton thus far), Kennedy will be expendable on every fifth day.  Suffice to say, this has not been a great month for the Yankees experimental Youth Movement.

Unless, of course, you want to talk about Melky Cabrera.

Here is a young man from the Dominican Republic who couldn’t catch a routine fly ball when he was first called up in 2005 for limited action, but is now known for leaping over walls to rob the Red Sox hitters of home runs, and gunning runners down from his perch in center.  The Melk Man went from a fourth outfielder in 2006, to flat out taking the hallowed green lawn of Yankee giants Joe D. and Micky Mantle out from under Johnny Damon in 2007, never to relinquish this piece of real estate again.  Just like his ascension to the starting line-up over the past three seasons, Melky is quick, tenacious, and versatile, willing to hit lead-off or ninth whenever he is asked to do so.

Last night at the Stadium in the Bronx, Cabrera’s two-run double in the bottom of the second inning was the difference in the ballgame, as he reached down to the dirt with his bat and raked a nasty Eric Bedard curveball inside the third base bag.  With the ball screaming down the line and headed for the blue-walled corner, Morgan “the accountant” Ensberg ambled home from third, and slick-fielding newcomer Alberto Gonzalez raced all the way to the dish from first.  Melky, of course, trotted into second with a stand-up double, his confidence and machismo growing taller by the day.

Thus far, Cabrera’s bat is hovering around the .300 mark.  He is also tied for the team-lead in home runs (5) with the .167-hitting Jason Giambi.  Melky’s big hit last night against the Seattle Mariners quickly made the score 3-0, and that is all the Ace-turned-Stopper Chien Ming Wang would need, as the talented, evolving pitcher threw six strong innings of one-run baseball.

Driven to adapt by postseason failure from a year ago, Wang is now mixing in more and more change-ups and sliders with his bowling ball sinker, and this is one Yankees experiment that is paying early dividends, and paying well.  The man’s new pitches move like angry, hump-backed waves on a stormy, Taiwanese sea, and opposing hitters can no longer sit and wait to ride his sinker safely back to shore.  They have to think about what’s coming next, and by the time they recognize a particular break in the water, it’s way too late and much too futile.

Wang is 6-0 now through his first seven starts.  The word indispensable comes to mind, especially with Pettitte getting knocked around for his second straight start on Wednesday night.

Guess who didn’t get knocked around in the seventh inning against the Mariners?  Much to my chagrin, Kyle “the Farns” Farnsworth came in and mowed down three straight hitters with a steady diet of 97 MPH fastballs.  Could Brian Bruney’s freak ankle injury be just the opportunity Kyle needs to motivate himself toward the realization of his own tantalizing potential?  If the crowd’s standing ovation and his teammates’ post-game words of praise are any indication, Yankees Universe is sure hoping so.

 Much to my subsequent pleasure, the Farns was followed by the meaty right hand of Joba, and the ice-cold right hook of Rivera, quite possibly the deadliest and most intimidating combination in all of baseball.  This game was over when the Yankees reached the eighth with the lead, a game-shortening advantage they have not possessed since the glory years of the late-90’s dynasty.  If Farnsworth can gain the momentum and confidence he needs to lock down the seventh for the next two months, then we’d really be talking about something, wouldn’t we?  However, it’s a marathon not a sprint, and Kyle has a few more laps to run before I’m ready to move Joba back to the rotation.

Ah, the rotation.  While Wang turned the steady pour of mid-Spring back to a drizzle for a night, two through four now consists of Pettitte, Mussina, and Rasner.  Hey, maybe Darrell will be the ray of sunlight both Hughes and Kennedy were supposed to be, and May will bring out the flowers of winning baseball in the Bronx.  At 15-16 on May 2, I can almost smell the roses in the morning light.

Can you?

Or am I dreaming of roses… it’s hard to tell from my perch on the couch.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 30, 2008

4/28-29: One and One

Quiet.

That is my impression of last night’s game, and the game before that, and the whole month of April baseball for the New York Yankees.  Quiet like a construction man who walks alone from his worksite to the beat-up pick-up truck that will drive him home at day’s end, lost somewhere between the motions of time and endless routine.  Quiet like you’re already gone, and only the body remains.

Quiet like that.

Twenty-seven games in twenty-eight days, eighteen of their last twenty on the road, two all-stars hitting somewhere around .150, and the collective cast hitting just South of .220 with runners in scoring position.  Quiet like a team that is stuck somewhere over the skies of America for one month solid, uncomfortably asleep in their jet-like home of steel, always moving and never knowing exactly when the merry-go-round will spin to rest.  Maybe today is the day I love this game again, they think to themselves.

Phil Hughes knows quiet, doesn’t he?  It’s the sound of six starts in April and never a fourth inning reached.  It’s the sound of expectation and youth with their backs turned toward one another, unwilling or maybe incapable of looking each other in the eyes, of speaking the unspoken truths tickling the tongues of every one watching this early season progress.

Maybe this kid just isn’t ready yet?

Patience or no patience, maybe we need to think about sending him down, stretching him out, and rebuilding some of that no-no confidence he displayed in Texas last year, just before a hamstring cried “pop” and turned his season inside out.

Maybe six runs over three and two-thirds in last night’s loss to the Detroit Tigers, at the Stadium for once, is not the type of performance that will re-energize a team that won a 1-0 game on Sunday in Cleveland, and scratched out four runs in Monday’s win on the strength of one hit, one walk, two infield singles, and two RBI groundouts.  There is nothing wrong with winning by attrition occasionally, don’t get me wrong.  Except for the fact that your offense may start relying on fortune instead of firepower if allowed to continue.

Or maybe the Yankees just need to sleep.

I know I do, and all I do is write about what they do.

Quiet like a Stadium on its last tour of duty that has nothing to cheer about for one painful, obligatory ballgame, and the length of a night to think about leaving thirteen runners stranded on base.  Not to mention sending both Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez to the DL on two consecutive days.

Quiet like that, wouldn’t you agree?

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 28, 2008

4/23-27: Two and Three

Yesterday was one of the best days I can remember in a long time, and it had nothing to do with the Yankees.  My son and I did yard work in the cool of an overcast, late-April afternoon, and I knew at once why fathers are meant to have their sons.

Because they love you, unconditionally.

As mine followed me around the front lawn in true toddler earnest, trying to pick-up the shovel I was using to edge the shrubbery at one turn, trying to race his plastic dump truck faster than the breeze at another, I felt a closeness to him that cannot be explained, only related to by other fathers.  This was my son, and even at the young age of two I could see him looking up to me, wanting to do everything I was doing, wanting to impress me with every move, asking the questions that he knew only I could answer on this particular day.

For instance, was the bee really inside the yellow tulip?  I don’t know son, but let’s look together.  So we did, pulling apart the fragile, vibrant petals slowly, ever so gently, the excitement building as only searching for bees in the half-light can provide.  There was no bee on this occasion, but we would see him later, and I would explain to my son while we whispered how these insects use the flowers for food, much like he uses his plate at the dinner table with me and his mother.  Not the most perfect analogy when you think about it, but it was perfect to him, and only because I spoke the words.

On and on the afternoon went, me digging and knocking the dirt from the stubborn clumps of grass I had unearthed, Frankie’s golden locks running circles around the giant oak tree I was edging, as simple and sublime as a childhood memory with my own father.  Who would have thought pure happiness could be found in the tedious routine of yard work, the reason for life itself embodied in the love and admiration of a two-year-old little man?

It’s shocking how much this journey teaches us, the when and the why always the mystery and the pleasure at the same time.

I remember college, and rebellion, and cross-country road trips.  I remember Jack Kerouac and Ernest Hemingway, and never wanting to let up.  I remember a fire inside that gave life to dreams and poured gasoline on words that could only burn on paper, and I remember that I was going to write it all before I was even twenty-five.

Well, it has been a long, winding, unbelievable road since I sat on the edge of the Grand Canyon for what seemed like an evening, since I crossed the Great Plains alone and slept in the basement of a church in a Minnesota cornfield.  It was on this night that I waited for God to walk through the door and into my room, maybe to tuck me in for the ending of youth, and maybe just to tell me everything was going to be alright.

For one, crystallized period of time, everything was so real… so alive.

Somewhere between that quiet, lonely basement and my front yard today, the Great American Novel never got written, and my Academy Award-winning screenplay never produced.  But you know what, I am happy in a way I never saw coming, and maybe I never would have been if my dreams of fame and fortune and endless wandering had somehow come true.

Everything happens for a reason, I truly believe it so.

Maybe that’s why Aaron Boone hit the home run that knocked me out of bed on 96th street, and slammed not only my fist into the ceiling, but baseball back into my life.

I love the New York Yankees because my father does.  And now, I am suddenly coming to realize, because they give me an excuse to write, every single day.  Maybe my former boss dubbed me Yankee Joe for a reason, looking back on it now.  Maybe these words, my lightly-trafficked blog, and this pin-striped team are my chance to finally write something worth reading… to finally see if the potential will ever find the courage and the discipline to step up to the plate, every pun intended.

Or maybe I should just stick to the action across the diamond, and leave these late-night revelations to Chris McCandless, somewhere out there in the wild.

We are twenty-six games into this thing now, and the Yankees stand at 13-13.  Not spectacular, but not terrible either, just predictably inconsistent for a team that is indeed in transition.  When Mussina finally pitches a gem to stifle his critics for a much-needed night, such as last Wednesday against the White Sox in Chicago, the always dependable Pettitte gets battered around like a rookie, a la Friday’s opener with the Cleveland Indians.  When both rookies Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy turn in decent performances of their own to stifle the eminently quotable Junior Boss, both Thursday’s weather and Saturday’s untimely hitting serve to put a damper on their outings.

Such is baseball, especially in April.

What has not been so predictable is Chien-Ming Wang’s record, 5-0 after he pitched seven shutout innings yesterday in a pitchers duel against Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia, and Mariano Rivera’s 0.00 ERA, the number as it stood when he closed out Wang’s game and earned his seventh save in only thirteen Yankee wins.

Pitching and defense wins championships, as we are told time and time again by the experts.  Well, the Bombers are winning their share of games so far without an inkling of timely hitting, so maybe it’s pitching and defense that is getting the job done.

Either way, it’s still April, and I’m still in my front yard in the half-light, even if only in my mind.  There will be better stretches of games for the Yankees over the course of this season, mark my words, but there may never be another day as perfect as the one I just had with my son.

Here is to happiness, like only championship rings and searching for bees can bring.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 24, 2008

4/22: Yankees 9, White Sox 5

                Bobby Abreu witnessed Derek strike out.  Taking his easy, fluid swings from the on-deck circle at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, he watched in quiet amazement as Octavio Dotel blew a high heater right past the Captain on a 2-2 count.

                “Whoosh,” said the bat, fighting the air on its way through the strike zone.  Derek just shook his head and stared back at the mound, looking as comfortable with his failure as he does with his countless success.  Try teaching that in Little League, coach.

                Bobby was amazed though.

The more he thought about it, the more it didn’t make any sense.  The bases are loaded right?  There are two outs in the top of the seventh, and we are down 3-2… the game is hanging in the balance, am I wrong?  Bobby wrinkled his brow into deep, wavy furrows and began digging his back foot into the batter’s box.  He was miles away in the far reaches of his mind.

Why didn’t Jeter get a hit?

“Whap,” the glove grunted, Octavio having throw ball one.

Suddenly, oh so subtly, Bobby realized the inevitable truth.  This game is on my shoulders now, isn’t it?  It’s up to me, and nobody else in that dugout over there, to make sure Wang-er gets the win.  After a gritty, gutsy, less than perfect six innings of work, Chien-Ming Wang could only sit and observe, a jacket and a towel wrapping his valuable right arm in warmth.

So valuable, in fact, the Taiwanese stock market fluctuates on its performance.  Can that be true?

“Whap,” the glove shouted this time, Octavio having thrown ball two.

Alright, Bobby, time to wake up.  He’s gotta groove one right here.  No way he’s going 3-0.

So Bobby came back down to earth, and with the clarity and conviction of a wandering, salt-of-the-earth prophet, launched the fastball that he knew was coming deep into the Windy City night.  The left-fielder leapt, Bobby Abreu tossed his bat, and just like that, the Yankees went for losing this game 3-2, to winning 6-3.  Talk about a New York minute.

And talk about a clutch, two-out hit.

No, talk about a baseball player picking up his Captain, and dusting off his ace.

Even when Billy Traber and Brian Bruney loaded the bases on three walks and one strike-out in the bottom of the seventh, Joba rolled in and picked up his fellow relievers.  Pumping in nasty heat and snapping off ridiculous sliders, the young stud from Nebraska got out of the jam without breaking a sweat.  He did walk one run home to tighten the score to 6-4, but shrugged it off and got Juan Uribe to pop-up on the very next pitch.

Try teaching that in Little League, coach.  Try moving this kid into the rotation now, Hank.

The heart of a champion beats with the blood of a fighter, a cool, calculated, single-minded confidence that cannot be taught, and cannot be denied.  Jeter knows how it feels, so does Mo, so does Pettitte, and as is becoming more and more obvious by the New York Minute, so does Joba Chamberlain.

Bobby Abreu got a taste Tuesday night in Chicago.

Don’t think.  Just swing.  Grand Slam.

Sweet, saucy, Venezuelan perfection, and the Yankees win.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 22, 2008

4/18-20: One and Two

A weekend with the kids in Baltimore… what could be better?

According to the animated statements of Hank Steinbrenner in yesterday’s New York Times, Joba Chamberlain in the starting rotation for the New York Yankees.  After Phil Hughes couldn’t get out of the fifth inning Friday night at Camden Yard, and Ian Kennedy couldn’t get out of the third in the same, beautiful, brick ballpark on Saturday, the faith of the organization as a whole – especially Brian Cashman’s – is suddenly being put to the test.  These two young guns are the same two prospects that Brian would not trade for Johan Santana in the offseason, a deal that Hank was less than casual about wanting to consummate, so here we stand today.

Is anyone the least bit surprised?

Twenty games into the 2008 season, with the Yankees record at 10-10, Boston’s at 12-7, and the team’s collective starting ERA hovering somewhere around 10.00, management is being asked to exercise patience with the enthusiastically proclaimed “future” of the franchise.  They are being asked to stick with the plan, no matter what the outcome.  In other words, they are being asked to act in a very unfamiliar way for the Tampa Faction, and most notably the Steinbrenners, even if it might be very familiar behavior to the majority of other teams in Major League Baseball.

Have a little faith, right?  These kids are exactly that: kids.  They need to learn and grow and mature into Cy Young candidates, and that takes time, persistence, and above all else, that enviable, hard-to-wait-out virtue known as patience.

After all, they did watch Andy Pettitte take a perfect game into the fifth inning on Sunday against the same orange-colored birds from Baltimore, finishing the day with seven strong, veteran innings of work.  In assuming his very familiar role of “stopper”, Andy tutored by example, pitching a gem with only well-located 86 MPH fastballs, diving sliders, and of course, tailing cutters.

You don’t have to be a flame-thrower to be a good pitcher, and Hughes, Kennedy, and maybe even Mussina could stand to take a few notes from Pettitte’s latest outing.

Maybe even Steinbrenner could learn a thing or two from No. 46 as well… you don’t have to spout flames in the newspaper to show that you have passion for your baseball team.  We all know your last name, so dazzle us next time with a few well-located, eloquently spoken words.  A show of patience, possibly.

Location, just like timing for the rest of us, makes all the difference in baseball.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 19, 2008

4/17: Red Sox 7, Yankees 5

               Sometimes you have to swallow your pride as a pitcher, and realize that your 86 MPH fastball just isn’t good enough.  Sometimes, you have to realize when an opposing hitter has your number categorically, and just walk the guy.  Live to fight another day, in other words, and give your team a chance to win the ballgame.

                Since some indeterminate, star-crossed pitch a few years back, Manny Ramirez of the Boston Red Sox has owned Mike Mussina, plain and simple.  And may I be the first person to say that the Moose is either too smart for his own good, too stupid for somebody so smart, or just plain stubborn in his decisions to both pitch to Ramirez in the first place, and then in his particular pitch selection during each at-bat.

                In whose reality is an 86 MPH fastball going to get buy, sneak past, or even surprise one of the best all-around hitters to play the game, especially when it has a tendency to drift back toward the middle of the plate, every, single, frightening time?

                Just walk the guy, Mike.  Everyone will understand.

                But no, the lukewarm heater is thrown, the red-hot man with the elongated dreads takes his stride, and with each lightening, powerful swing that sends these pitches on a permanent vacation from the Stadium, his smiles grow wider, his homerun trot more loose and more confident.

                And there Mike Mussina stands, alone on the mound with his thoughts, as his personal nemesis circles and circles like a hawk on the breeze.  During Thursday night’s final game against Boston until July, Manny was Manny not once, but twice off of Mike, playing a prominent role in knocking him out of the game after only three innings and five runs scored.  Jonathan Albaladejo pitched well in relief but allowed two more runs over a few innings of work, and this game was quickly 7-0 Red Sox with Josh Beckett on the mound for our bitter rivals.

                Let’s be honest though, the Beckett versus Mussina match-up – twice in the past week, no less – is not exactly a game stacked in the Yankees favor is it?

                So when The Farns reared back in the late innings and drilled Manny Ramirez with a fastball between the numbers, the Stadium finally had something to cheer about, and Ramirez finally had something to think about at the plate.  Farnsworth would later say the pitch had “slipped… sometimes the balls get dry and they slip out,” but that’s because he has a 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, and he was exercising it well.  After all, it was only one night earlier that A-Rod was drilled between the numbers by Boston reliever Brad Aardsma, so nobody is going to fault The Farns either way.

                If anything, it served to brighten Kyle’s image in the eyes of the fans, in a way that having the back of your teammates always does, and inflicting some level of discomfort on your hated opponent’s best hitter tends to do.  In short, it put a smile on my face, what about yours?

                Maybe Mike Mussina should just start drilling Ramirez too.  There’s no doubt that it would be a lot more effective, and less damaging to his ERA, that’s for sure.  How could it not be?

                This sleepy, frustrating affair was over early in the Bronx, probably around the second time Manny traced an arcing, happy circle around his favorite Yankees pitcher, and Beckett’s loan three-run hiccup in the sixth only stirred the comeback thoughts for a heartbeat, and then they were gone.  The Boston Ace went on to work eight complete, efficient innings of winning baseball, and even Papelbon’s shaky close wasn’t enough to turn this one around.

                Sometimes, when the winds change for the long haul, short term corrections in the air patterns still must be endured, and hopefully, used as a learning experience.

                Mike, just walk Manny.  Please.

                Manny, watch your back, kid.  These aren’t the same Yankees.

                And  Paps, you are not invincible, son, especially when you’re trying to close out your city’s biggest rival.  The list of shaky ninths, and blown saves, is growing longer by the day.

                Remember all of this for July, when New York versus Boston resumes. 

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 17, 2008

4/16: Yankees 15, Red Sox 9

Numbers have always meant something to me, ever since I can remember.

Call it a mild case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or the inherent superstition that develops in a childhood filled with sports and big dreams, but the numbers have always played a role, giving reason and meaning to consequence.  My birthday, for example, is May 21, so any combination of numbers that add up to twenty-one, such as a phone number, zip code, or locker combination, had special significance to me.  In sports, I always wanted to wear No. 5 (for the month of May) or No. 21, or at least a number that added up, subtracted, or multiplied to derive one of the two, such as 37, 23, or 26, the latter being the simple addition of both together.

                I looked for these numbers everywhere in youth, their presence a sign of good things to come, their absence an indicator of worry.  I must admit, I still look for these numbers today, even adding my wife’s and my son’s birthdays to the mix.  For instance, my two-year-old baby boy, Frankie, was born on March 5, 2006.  If you look hard enough, the number 3 (for March) multiplied by 5 equals 15, and 15 plus 6 (for 2006) equals 21.  Never was there a better birthday for a son of mine, whose arrival in this world and every day since – next to meeting my wife, of course – has indeed been the best thing that has ever happened to me.

                So, you ask, what does all of this have to do with last night’s Yankees game against the Red Sox at the Stadium?  Well, I respond matter-of-factly, the numbers were everywhere.

                Take for example, the talented Mr. A-Rod, who entered last night’s contest tied for 15th place on the all-time homeruns list with Ted Williams and Willy McCovey, sitting pretty with 521 dingers at the tender age of 32.  Recognize any of these numbers?  No sooner did I finish clapping for Bobby Abreu’s two-run blast into the left-field bleachers off of Boston’s rookie phenom Clay Bucholz, than did Alex launch a prodigious shot over Monument Park (filled with retired numbers) and into the Red Sox bullpen.  This was his fifth homerun of April, coming in the Yankees’ sixteenth game, two numbers that just happen to add up to the blessed No. 21.

                Now comes the crazy part, lest you think my ramblings above are sane.

The official end of the most recent Bronx Dynasty has long been dated to October 2001, during the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  A month before this fateful frame, in which the invincible Mariano Rivera would blow the biggest save of his life, the once invincible city of New York was dealt it’s greatest tragedy of record: 9-11-01.  This forum is not the time or the place to go into my personal beliefs concerning that historic and catastrophic event, but the numbers and symbolism involved do have a strange way of tying into the fortunes of New York City’s iconic baseball franchise since that terrible day.

Tom Verducci, the prolific and much admired sports writer for Sports Illustrated, noted shortly after the 2001 Series ended that, when Luiz Gonzalez stepped up to the plate to face Mo with the game, the history, and outright destiny hanging in the balance, the clock in the ballpark read 9:11 P.M.

We all know what happened next.

Much like this great city has been recovering from the fallout of September 11 for the past seven years, the great Yankees franchise has been recovering on the baseball diamond from the fallout of this one, single defeat.  Never quite out of the race entirely, but never quite as strong and confident either, each subsequent postseason seeing them drift towards and then away from their past glory, each offseason trade a hopeful reach for the missing piece that will return them to the promised land.

Mark my words, that missing piece now sits quietly and patiently in Nebraska, giving his father all of the strength and support he needs to recover.  Our prayers are with you Joba.

Returning to last night’s game against the rival Red Sox, the first meeting between these two ancient foes in the last year of Ruth’s famous house, suddenly the numbers 9 and 11 were everywhere all at once.  After the Yankees surged ahead in the bottom of the fourth inning to take a 7-3 lead, Clay Bucholz being knocked out of the game by his boyhood idol, Derek Jeter, with a two-out, bases-load, Jeterian single to right, Chien-Ming Wang suddenly forgot how to pitch.  In the top of the fifth, the Red Sox scored six maddening runs over a combination of five straight hits allowed by Wang, and three valiant outs recorded by his young replacement, Ross Ohlendorf (only one run was charged to Ross).

The scoreboard line for the Red Sox now read 9 runs on 11 hits.  Doom and dread filled the Stadium to its silent core, as the once invincible four-run lead handed to our staff Ace disappeared into thin air.

However, showing the same dogged, detemined fight of a city that always gets back on its feet, the Yankees quickly counter-punched their smiling opponent.  The smoking hot Hideki Matsui stroked a one-out single off of Boston reliever Julian Tavarez, then Jorge Posada followed with jam-shot RBI double down the right-field line.  When Robinson Cano cracked an RBI single that chased Posada to the plate, the scoreboard line for the Yankees read 9 runs on 11 hits.

Hmm…

As if this one wild game was a microcosm for the relative fates of both the Yankees and Red Sox over the past seven years, maybe things were about to change.

Sure enough, the Bombers plated two more runs in the frame on a would-be, bases-loaded, inning-ending double play, where the return throw from shortstop Julio Lugo sailed as if on wings into the thundering stands.  Now the Yankees had 11 runs to the 9 posted by Boston, another stunning reversal in this instant classic of a game.  The Red Sox had also just committed their first error, changing their numbers on the scoreboard to read 9-11-1.

If that doesn’t send chills down the back of your neck and arms, I don’t know what will.  Could these numbers and events be a sign of a change in the winds, which began somewhat quietly last year with the late-August arrival of a boy from Nebraska?  Only time will tell, but remember this: numbers give reason and meaning to consequence, and the numbers were everywhere last night at the mythic, historic, oft times spiritual, Yankee Stadium.

Just ask Latroy Hawkins.

Maligned by the fans since Opening Day for choosing to wear the former number of the people’s warrior, Paul O’Neil – hey, isn’t that No. 21 – Hawkins jogged out to the mound amidst the turmoil sporting a brand new No. 22 jersey.  Before I continue, let me point out that Latroy now has a sticker in his locker that reads “Retire No. 21”, which has raised my respect level for him exponentially, not to mention my image of the man.  Self-deprecating humor and humility can go a long way in this world, especially when your job puts you front and center on the YES Network, night in and night out.

At any rate, as if the change in numbers has changed the predetermined fate of the much-traveled Latroy, he became the unlikely savior of this game when he quieted the Red Sox bats for the sixth and seventh innings.  Quietly, honorably, and somewhat surprisingly, Hawkins has now pitched seven scoreless innings in his last five outings.  Funny, I didn’t hear any boos last night, did you?

On came lefty-specialist Billy Traber in the top of the eighth inning, his one pitch to David Ortiz inducing the desired popup and ending his night all at once.  Brian Bruney then touched 97 MPH on the radar gun as he closed out the eighth, the new Yankees bullpen stepping up in the absence of their young stud flamethrower.  I must say, the performance of this bullpen in the early going is a world of difference from anything the Yankees have put together in the past four-to-five years, and that in its own right is a sign of good things to come.

In the end, the 9-11 score held up until the bottom of the eighth inning, when the suddenly combustible Yankees offense exploded for four more runs off of the aging Mike Timlin, allowing Mariano Rivera – already warming in the pen – to take a seat for the final three outs.

Fitting isn’t, it?  It was Mo on the mound the last time the winds changed and ended a dynasty, and it was Mo’s teammates that picked him up last night, giving him the rare opportunity to sit back, relax, and enjoy the new wind on his grateful, veteran skin.

That is the best sign of another Bronx Dynasty taking shape, isn’t it?  An offense that picks up its Ace, and a bullpen that picks up its closer.  Teammates and friends coming together, one number at a time.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 16, 2008

4/15: Yankees 5, Rays 3

                Two out runs win ballgames.  And good pitching, of course.

                In the top of the fifth inning at The Trop last night, with the New York Yankees sporting a 3-2 lead over the hometown Tampa Bay Rays, Johnny Damon worked a two-out walk against the powerful but notoriously wild, Edwin Jackson.  In this situation, with your speedy lead-off man at first and your most clutch singles hitter, Derek Jeter, at the plate, it makes a lot of sense to send the runner early in the count.  If Damon makes it to second base, then you are set up for a two-out RBI.  On the other hand, if he gets gunned out at second, then you have The Captain leading-off the top of the next inning.

                Again, two outcomes that you can live with as a manager, worry-free.

                So when Damon took off like a rabbit toward second early in Jeter’s at-bat, I smiled the smile of a fan who has watched enough baseball to think along with his favorite team, and thought right.  Johnny slid in under the tag and popped up to his feet in one, fluid motion.  Then, as if written on a script that Joe Girardi had folded neatly in his back pocket, Jeter ripped a single into center that prompted the young and supremely talented B.J. Upton to challenge Damon’s hard-charging dash to the plate.  The throw was late, Johnny was safe, and Jeter took second like any in-tune, heads-up ballplayer should remember to do.

                Perfect, textbook execution.

With one two-out run in the books and Jeter standing on second, looking for more, Bobby Abreu delivered.  He ripped his own RBI single, this particular baseball careening over the second baseman’s head and into the right-centerfield gap.  When Jeter slid across the dish in a hazy cloud of dirt and chalk, the scoreboard changed its white, wooden numbers to read, Yankees 5, Rays 2.  Another clutch, two-out run scored, helping solidify a victory for the gritty, high-80’s-only performance of Andy Pettitte, who battled in vintage fashion from the first pitch of the game, batter after batter.

And that’s what Andy Pettitte does best – he battles.  The Family Guy from Texas doesn’t have the mid-90’s fastball, the Mariano cutter, or the Joba slider, but he has been extremely successful over the course of his career for one very important reason – he knows how to pitch.  Last night was a prime example of this trademark quality, as he worked out of a first-and-third, one-out jam in the first, and then a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second.  After getting touched up for two runs on two hits in the third, Pettitte dug in and threw two consecutive 1-2-3 innings in the fourth and fifth frames.  Similarly, after the Rays final run scored from third base on a routine ground ball in the sixth, Andy finished his outing by recording a perfect seventh.

Vintage Andy.  Bend but don’t break, and give your team a chance to win.  That is why he has been a successful pitcher for so many years.  To me, that’s what makes him a Yankee.

Now, what makes Kyle Farnsworth a Yankee is a completely different story.  So when the vaunted Bombers lineup failed to buy any insurance during a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the top of the seventh inning, and then again during a bases-loaded, two-out situation in the top of the eighth, I started to get a little worried.  Joba Chamberlain, our lock-down, lights-out setup man was not available for both personal and admirable reasons, which left the unpredictable and deeply frustrating Kyle Farnsworth as the next logical choice to pitch the bottom of the eighth.  When the cameras finally panned to the bullpen and showed me that my single greatest fear was indeed true, I nearly switched off the TV.

I can’t do it.  I can’t watch him blow this game, I said to myself.

But I did watch.

And do you know what happened next?  The Farns, as if sent down to the mound from way on high, pitched a 1-2-3 scoreless inning against Johnny Gomes, Mike DeFelice, and Eric Hinske.  Suddenly, after Kyle’s final fastball struck out Hinske swinging, a chorus of angels appeared over centerfield, singing the softest, gentlest, and most sublime version of “Hal-le-lu-ya” I have ever heard.  It was amazing, it was magical, and truly the most surreal experience I’ve ever had watching a baseball game on television.

Okay, so there were no angels hovering, and no sweet, soft music being sung, but Kyle getting the ball into Mo’s right hand without blowing the game to smithereens truly was a vision unto itself.  It was something I fully appreciated, given his history with the team, and something I will never forget.

Fine.  I will stop now.

Mariano Rivera then did what Mariano Rivera does best – close – and the Yankees had themselves a two-game sweep of their divisional foes, the Tampa Bay Rays, heading into tonight and tomorrow night’s throw-down with the Red Sox.  All the boys have to do now is beat Boston soundly at the Stadium, not once but twice, and the chorus of angels will reappear, hovering quietly over the Bronx, ready and waiting to sing.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 15, 2008

4/14: Yankees 8, Rays 7

“Robbie!” the Manager cried out,  twisting to face his players.  “Get in there and get us a hit, kid.  You’re up.”

                Adrenaline surged into Robbie’s veins as if fed through intravenous tubes.  He quickly snapped to his feet, grabbed one of his favorite black, wooden bats from the rack, and picked up his helmet on the way up the dugout steps.  Striding slow and deliberate toward the box, he heard the P.A. announcer’s voice call out his name, both loud and low as it echoed through the cavernous rafters of Tropicana Field.

                “Now pinch-hitting for Gonzalez, number twenty-four, Robinson Cano.”

                God that sounds good, he thought to himself, the hair on the back of his neck already at full attention.  Passing Alberto Gonzalez on the rookie’s way back to the dugout, a mutual fist pound was exchanged, and now it was all business for New York’s struggling second baseman.

                He dug his first foot into the soft, manicured dirt of the left-handed hitter’s box, and tried to erase the .170 batting average from his mind, telling himself that he was indeed the player who hit close to .500 this Spring Training, and the player who hit nearly .340 in his second full season in The Bigs.  Even when he stumbled out of the gate last year, he had finished with an average North of .300.  Why is this happening to me again?

                No no, Robbie, get that crap out of your head.

                Digging his front foot in now, feeling for that familiar, comfortable distance with his cleat, he tried again not to think about the parade of ground balls and pop-ups coming off his bat in celebratory style, and tried to visualize centering a pitch on the barrel for the first time in fourteen games.  I’m better than this, he repeated in his mind, over and over, as the opposing pitcher went into the windup.

                Fastball, down and away.  Okay, I’ve got his speed now.  This guy’s got nothing.

                Fastball, swing Robbie!  Damn, that was close.  I hate foul balls, c’mon.

                What’s he gonna do now, what’s he gonna do?  Probably something off-speed.  Yeah, sit off-speed, Robbie, keep your weight back.  Keep your hands back, kid, here it comes.

                Gotcha!

                In baseball, there are homeruns that have a chance off the bat, the ones where everyone holds their collective breath and watches the movements of the closest outfielder to determine if the ball is gone.  Then there are homeruns like the one Robinson Cano hit last night for the Yankees, the game knotted at 7-7 in the top of the eighth inning, where everyone watching – players, coaches, fans and commentators alike – know it’s gone as soon as we hear that “CRACK!”  These homeruns are the no-doubters, and they are a beautiful sight to behold, sweet and powerful perfection sailing high above the diamond.

                Robbie knew it too, because he felt that feeling in his hands and in his arms that you only feel when you connect with a baseball as square as you possibly can.  Two-and-a-half weeks of frustration and angst rocketed through the air of Tampa Bay’s indoor stadium, the trajectory of the ball halted only by the stands in right field.  Cano flipped the bat, allowed a slight smile to warm the corners of his face, and began the most satisfying, triumphant trip around the bases his sport can offer – the homerun trot.

                Finally, our All-Star second baseman appeared, right before our very eyes.

                And finally, after two torturous, second-guess type moves in Boston over the previous two nights, Joe Girardi looked like a manager who knew exactly how to motivate his struggling athlete, something only the truly good managers in the game know how to do.  After giving Robbie the night off, presumably to allow his mind to stop obsessing and worrying about each at-bat, or maybe it was done so that he could witness someone else succeeding and having fun at second base – only Joe knows – Girardi called on No. 24 in a situation where both the team and the player needed a big-time boost.  On this night, it was the perfect call in the perfect situation, and it just might turn out to be the hit that puts Cano back on the fast-track to .300.

                The offense as a whole seemed to feed off the fresh breath of warm air in Tampa, reaching season-highs in hits (14) and runs (8) as a unit.  Case in point, Johnny Damon hit his first homerun of the year on just the second pitch of the ballgame.  Alex Rodriguez then tied Teddy Ballgame on the all-time homeruns list (521) on the fourth pitch of his first at-bat (he would finish the night 4 for 5), and Morgan Ensberg continued to rake as a part-time first baseman when he launched a hanging slider deep to left in the top of the second inning for his first homerun as well.

                Even journeyman catcher Chad Moeller, called up yesterday to fill-in for both Jorge Posada (shoulder) and Jose Molina (hamstring), played a pivotal role with his bat in the four-run fourth inning that knocked Tampa Bay starter Andy Sonnanstine out of the game.  With Melky Cabrera at first base and nobody out, Sonnanstine tried to execute a pitchout.  However, Joe Girardi had called a hit-and-run for the Yankees, so Moeller leaned across the dish and slapped a single through the hole at second base created by the covering Akinori Iwamura.  He literally hit the ball right out of the glove of the standing catcher, John Riggins, truly a bizarre but heads-up play that set New York up for a big inning.

                After Damon ripped an RBI double down the first base line, and the Captain Derek Jeter smashed an RBI single to center in his first game back in exactly a week, young rookie pitcher Ian Kennedy held the score firm at 7-2 through six solid innings of work.  However, he was forced to depart the game abruptly in the seventh, taking a screaming, come-back liner off his right front hip.  The usually solid pair of relievers, Billy Traber and Brian Bruney, then lost him the win just as abruptly.  Both pitchers combined to allow three homers and five earned runs in the inning, which evened the once laughable score at seven, just like that.

                 But, before the impending panic that follows blowing a huge lead had time to take root, in walked Robbie, sent in by Girardi, each man earning a small level of redemption with one sweet, swing of the bat.

                And then, as always – we are so, unbelievably spoiled – Mariano Rivera slammed the door shut with a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth, carving like a knife through Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and B.J. Upton, the legitimate and powerful heart of the Tampa Bay order.  The aging, one-pitch wonder is now four-for-four in save opportunities on the early season, with a 0.00 ERA.  How this guy continues to dominate game after game, year after year, with a single cutting fastball is beyond my comprehension.  But he does, and he will continue to do so until he can’t anymore, and that’s what makes him Mo.

                What makes Joba the man amongst boys that he has become today starts and ends with the unconditional love and support of his father.  Before the first pitch of tonight’s two-game-series finale against the Rays, let’s all say a silent prayer for Harlan Chamberlain, who continues his daily battle against fate and health from a hospital bed in Nebraska.  Maybe that’s why Joba is the mature and grounded individual that he is, and quite possibly, the next “warrior” for the New York Yankees – from living his life in the constant presence of true strength and true grace.

                His dad.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 14, 2008

4/13: Red Sox 8, Yankees 5

                There should be a rule in Major League Baseball that reads, “When it’s cold outside and your team is struggling to score runs on a nightly basis, and your offense has runners at first and second base with no outs in the top of the eighth inning at Fenway Park, down by two runs, a Yankees manager must instruct Johnny Damon to bunt or else be subject to ejection from the game.”

                Even if he gets thrown out at first, which is not a one hundred percent certainty by any means, the tying run would be at second base with the heart of the order coming to the plate.  Instead, to my extreme shock and subsequent disgust last night, Joe Girardi allowed Damon to swing away in this same exact situation, and the worst of all possible scenarios took place: he hit into a double-play.

                Rally over, game over, series over.

                For all of the top billing about Girardi’s acumen for National League style baseball, more commonly referred to as Small Ball in the increasingly educated media circles, there was never a more obvious place to bunt the runners over to second and third, and he did not pull the trigger.  This decision, of course, came on the heels of Saturday’s risky bet that Mike Mussina could pitch carefully to Manny Ramirez with the game on the line.  Two situations requiring a manager’s marching orders, two chances for Girardi’s Northwestern intellect and career of catching experience to impact two important baseball games, and he failed to make the obvious and arguably routine decisions, twice.

                Not sure how I feel about all of this.

Conflicted is a good word, or perhaps disappointed, but I think surprised might be the most accurate.  How do you not bunt in that situation, Joe?  The Yankees were not in need of a big, four-run inning at this particular juncture.  What they needed to do was score the two runners that were on base already, which would have tied the game and kept their chances of winning alive.  At a bare minimum, you have to score the guy from second base, especially because he arrived there with no outs recorded, but neither of these desired outcomes took place last night.  Instead, another foolish bet was placed on the table, and on a second consecutive evening in Boston, the wager did not pay off.

Oh well.  You live and you learn, right?  Let’s just hope our Joe Girardi is a better student than he is a gambler.

Leading up to the fateful eighth inning, Phil Hughes threw thirty-nine pitches in a rocky first, recorded a decent second frame, then failed to induce a single out in the third before he was pulled from the game, much to the delight of the Fenway faithful and their endearing chants of “Yan-kees Suck”.  By the time Ross Ohlendorf did manage to wiggle out of the frame, the Yankees were trailing the Red Sox by a score of 7-1.  All seven runs were charged to the young, impressionable Hughes, whose last two outings have been on par with a pitcher who is twenty-one years of age, but drastically subpar for what the Yankees both need and expect out of their future ace.

Straining to see the positive side of this game, the bullpen did throw a few zeroes at the base of the Green Monster until the deciding eighth, and the Yankees offense – minus Derek Jeter and his barking left quadricep for the sixth consecutive game – clawed back to within 7-5, the fifth run being a Jason Giambi homerun off of Mike Timlin (only his third hit of the season) to start the eighth.

But then, like a greedy card player who never knows when to turn and walk away, the foolish wager was placed on Damon.  Robinson Cano followed up the double-play with a weak ground ball to end the Yankee threat, continuing his bizarre struggles at the plate in the early going.  After he ran through the bag at first, as required, it appeared he wanted to throw his hands up in surrender, looking younger and less professional than he has in a long, long time, probably since he was first called up in May of 2005.

Man.  Where have you gone, Mr. Robinson?

In the latter half of the eighth, my favorite Mr. Farnsworth entered the game and promptly gave up a run to the bottom three in the Red Sox order, as he is oft prone to do, removing the Yankees from the hope of a bloop and a blast in the ninth, and hammering home the proverbial nail.  As the final game of the opening series against Boston wound down to its grinding, exhausting close, there was a lot to be frustrated about – for Yankee players and their fans alike.

But alas, the duel excuses of April and Weather are always there to comfort us in the first two weeks of the season, and thus, there is no need to panic just yet.  Girardi is still learning, Hughes is still learning, and the Red Sox are only separated from us by one game at the bottom of the American League East.  If worrying about the Rays, Jays and (gasp) the Orioles was not on any of our minds up until last night, maybe it should be for the next thirty days.

Or maybe it shouldn’t, but in baseball as well as life, only time will tell.

Maybe, just maybe, we should worry about other David Ortiz jerseys buried deep beneath the hardening concrete of the new Yankees Stadium.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 14, 2008

4/12: Red Sox 4, Yankees 3

                Again, I didn’t watch this game.  I had to check my Blackberry for updates between a countless, seemingly endless supply of cold beers, find ESPN on the hotel room TV at 2:00 A.M. for extended highlights, and of course, scan the back pages of the Big Three daily newspapers in New York – the Post, the Daily News and Newsday – to find out early this morning what everybody else already knew.

                This game came down to two key moments, and the Yankees lost out on both.

                Of course, the big question mark of the evening was an easy one to ask: why would Joe Girardi allow Mike Mussina to pitch to Manny Ramirez with the game on the line, bottom of the sixth inning, Red Sox runners standing confidently at second and third base.  There were two outs, Joe, first base was open, and the Moose was hanging tenuously to the slippery ledge of a 2-1 lead in Boston.  Why was there even a conversation on the mound concerning NOT intentionally walking Manny Ramirez?

                As it is beginning to feel like more and more in this storied rivalry, the outcome was written before it was ever decided.

                First pitch, a hanging breaking ball inside the black of the outside corner, and Ramirez did what he does best with mediocre pitching, especially when that pitching comes by way of the New York Yankees: he ripped a screaming, lead-changing double deep into the Fenway triangle in centerfield, a blast from which the Yankees would never recover.

                Now, I know Mike Mussina was pitching well up to this point, and I know he had just struck out the struggling yet still-freakishly-intimidating David Ortiz, but this was Manny.  The same Manny who is hitting north of .350 in April, the same Manny who always hits the Moose well (he had already hit a ridiculous home run over the Monster in his first at bat), and the same Manny whose career numbers against the Yankees are too extensive – and thus depressing – to list.

                Joe Girardi, well known already for his tireless studying of statistics, pitcher-to-hitter match-ups, and his overall aptitude for situational baseball, made his first mistake of the 2008 season.  No big deal, right?  The problem, of course, is that the mistake came against the Boston Red Sox, giving an excited, disgruntled push in the back to the swarm of negative media attention in today’s headlines.  However, whether the Moose asked to pitch to Manny, or player and manager agreed to be careful with the pitch selection, or both men genuinely forgot who was digging into the box at home plate, there is no excuse.

                You pitch to Kevin Youkilus with the game on the line, not Manny Ramirez.

                The second key moment of the night involved none other than Alex Rodriguez, but that is hardly a surprise anymore to fans hailing from New York.  His chance to produce a pivotal, game-changing hit came in the top of the eighth inning, with two-outs and runners in scoring position.  The Yankees trailed by only one now, prompting Boston skipper Terry Francona to go to his young, enigmatic, flame-throwing closer, Jonathan Papelbon.

This was a match-up worth watching, wasn’t it?  This is the reason fans like you and I can never have enough of the Yankees-Red Sox eternal grudge-fest.  This is a pitcher Alex can mash, we all thought, as memories of last season’s game-winning, top of the ninth inning homerun into the Boston bullpen came flashing back to life.

Alright.  Here we go boys.

                The problem, of course, was a two-and-a-half hour rain delay, an exceedingly unfortunate, frustrating circumstance that sucked all of the life and intensity out of this classic power-versus-power confrontation.  When the heavens cleared, the tarp rolled, and the players re-took the field, it didn’t take long for Papelbon to strike-out A-Rod, adding a satisfying notch to his side of the ledger in this growing battle with No. 13.

                Young Jonathan then struck out two in a one-two-three ninth, as effortless and efficient as can be, and the game was in the books for good.  Not for the good of the Yankees, but recorded nonetheless, another chapter to add to this engrossing, dynamic anthology between rivals.

                And what did Joe Girardi learn from re-reading his second chapter of work?

                My guess is that it has something to do with Manny being Manny.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 12, 2008

4/11: Yankees 4, Red Sox 1

                It’s not every day that a complete game gets pitched anymore.  In today’s baseball, you have a deep and over-extended bullpen consisting of long men, left-handed specialists, and a designated pitcher or two for the seventh inning, the eighth inning, and the close of the game.  Gone are the days of 300-inning gunslingers who would rather their arms fall off than get pulled.  Gone are the days of expecting complete games on a routine basis from your number one and number two starters.  That’s just the reality of Major League Baseball in the twenty-first century, and the game is not going back.

                Hey, it gives managers something to do in the late innings, right?

                So when Chien-Ming Wang ambles into Fenway Park, takes the hill in classic, stoic form, and two-hits the formidable Red Sox lineup over nine solid, impressive frames of work, that performance is worth talking about.  Throw in a few raindrops and your mind starts to drift to the immortal sports film, The Natural, except that Robert Redford is just a little older, a little blonder, and a tad more eloquent with his words than young Mr. Wang.

                Who cares.  Anyone who can two-hit the Red Sox at Fenway Park, especially when that someone pitches for the New York Yankees in the biggest rivalry in all of American sports, has my respect.  Anyone who can get off a plane at 4:00 a.m., sleep for a few short hours, then go out and dominate the reigning World Champions like its going out of style, has my complete and undivided attention.

                Except for the fact that I was on my way down to Delaware last night, stuck on a fast-moving, just-crowded-enough Acela train, more excited to be reuniting with my college roommate for two nights of intoxicated revelry – his bachelor party – than I was to be watching a Yankees-Red Sox game.

                That’s unheard of, by the way.  It takes a small miracle for me to miss any televised Yankees game, let alone the first match-up of the season between my boys and hated bunch of dread-locked nitwits from Boston.  Some things in life take precedence over sports and entertainment – not much, but some – and this weekend qualifies in this category for me.

                So, like a lot people who enjoyed their Friday night out with friends and family, I caught bits and pieces of the game as it progressed, a strike-out of Ramirez here, a Big Papi double-play there, and a shot of Joe Girardi pacing the dugout in his first taste of The Rivalry at the helm.  And from what I could gather, the story started, developed, and ended with Chien-Ming Wang.

                Nice.  Wang starts 2008 with three straight wins, or half of the Yankees win total to date.

                I’m hung over today and my ex-roommate is all fired-up and ready to depart at 8:58 a.m. – yeah – so this story will continue tomorrow, when I’m hung over again and trying to find a way home to my wife.

                Yankees 4, Red Sox 1, season series 1-0 Bombers.

                That’s story enough.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 11, 2008

4/10: Yankees 6, Royals 1

                There is a reason you like Andy Pettitte.

                Long known as a man of his word, who values family, religion, and honesty above all else, there is something simple and real about his good ol’ boy, southern Texas drawl that pulls everyone in, letting you trust this one, professional athlete.  Just this one, right?

                You believe him when he speaks.  You pull for him when he pitches.

                And it doesn’t hurt that when Andy is on the field and hard at work, he is the pitcher who wins when the Yankees need it the most.  This type of pitcher is known as a “stopper”, and No. 46 has filled this role better than any other hurler for New York in recent memory.  When your team is losing, or not hitting, or just flat tired, kind of like the team we’ve been watching play against the Royals on this cold and wet tour of lovely Kansas City, Andy is the man you want on the mound to stop the bleeding.

                The man who can pick his teammates up off the dirt, brush off their shoulders, and get everyone headed in the right direction again.

A stopper.

For all the Billy Beane admirers out there who champion the Oakland GM’s objective, statistical, and analytic approach that has changed the sport of baseball forever, for better or for worse, there is one element of this game that an Ivy League graduate with a laptop computer will never be able to quantify, calculate, or crunch… heart.

                Andy Pettitte has heart, and that is why we love to watch him play.

                Last night at Kauffman Stadium, another rainy and windswept affair on the open plains of America, was vintage No. 46.  In fact, as the YES Network commentators, manager Joe Girardi, and Andy himself would each point out at various points along the way, Pettitte pitched better after the forty-five minute rain delay than beforehand, shrugging off the adversity with the focus and determination of a true fighter.  He found a new rhythm embedded in the restart, and only allowed the one, first-inning, two-out run over six-and-two-thirds innings, saving his team from a dreaded sweep at the hands of the upstart Royals, on the eve of another late-night flight into the friendly confines of Boston.

                At one point in the fifth inning Andy even saved his own life, snaring a rocketed, line drive off the bat of Jose Guillen that was headed right for the bill of his cap, and tumbling backwards onto the mound with the force of the impact.  As his teammates huddled around to make sure he was okay, a few sly smiles curling the lips of Alex Rodriguez and Morgan Ensberg, there was never a doubt that Pettitte would pick himself up off the dirt, brush off his own shoulders, and get himself headed in the right direction again.

                That’s just who No. 46 is, isn’t it?

                Now, there is also a reason you like Joba Chamberlain.

                A tall, stocky, corn-husking farm-boy who grew up in Nebraska and finished his college career in Lincoln, only a leisurely three-and-a-half hour drive from the Royals’ home ballpark, he appears to be a man amongst boys at the tender age of twenty-two.  So confident are you that he will succeed in his one or two innings of relief work that you forget how young he really is, how much of a rookie he still remains, and you start having the same expectations for him that you do of Mariano Rivera.

                Nobody is gonna hit this kid, you say to yourself.  And even when they do, like in the bottom of the eight inning last night, you have a very strange, very innate feeling that this man amongst boys is only toying with his opponents – working on a pitch perhaps – waiting for the perfect opportunity to blow them away with his freight train of a fastball.

First and third, two outs, clean-up man Jose Guillen worked diligently into a 3-2 count, representing the tying run from cleats to helmet.  Every baseball game has one, defining, game-on-the line type of moment, and this was it last night.  One swing of the bat, even if it was an inept, lucky swing, could even the score in a hurry.  Joba peered in to Molina somewhere between his glove and the flat bill of his cap, gave a subtle, affirmative nod, then unleashed furry in the form of a 99 MPH heater right down the middle of the plate.

Here, he said to Guillen.  See if you can hit this.

The ball crashed into Molina’s mitt with the force of a small hurricane, and Guillen looked like a hitter who couldn’t even remember if he had swung or not, staring blankly into the void between man and boy, caught somewhere between home plate and the mound.  He had swung, in fact, and hit nothing… just the wake of the wind left behind by the pitch.

Strike three, inning over, thank you for playing, Sir.

Can this kid really be this good, this poised, this dominate, in such a short period of time?  Yes is the only word popping into my mind, as lightening has quite possibly struck twice now in the Bronx, in the form of two unreal, iconic relief pitchers, in a span of only twelve, short years.

With that said, there is also a reason you like Mariano Rivera.

Because he throws one pitch and is still the best you’ve ever seen.  Because he is going to teach young Joba everything he needs to know over time.  Because he closed out last night’s game like he always does, short, swift, and confident, bringing the Bombers’ record back up to .500, the same as Boston’s no less, on the eve of a rivalry renewed in Beantown.

The first of eighteen begins tonight.  And Alex Rodriguez, whose solo home run in the top of the ninth inning yesterday tied him with Micky Mantle on the all-time RBI’s list with 1509, now has the chance to both tie and pass Ted Williams on the all-time home runs list with 521 and 522.  In Boston, at Fenway Park, in front of the most deserving baseball fans in the world… can you imagine?

Yes is the only word popping into my mind.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 10, 2008

4/9: Royals 4, Yankees 0

                Ian Kennedy, all smiles and jovial in defeat, hesitated when asked the question.  He stared into the tops of the twenty microphones encircling his head like pointed spears, each one oscillating slightly with the holder’s hidden arm movements, and thought hard.  Finally he spoke.

                “Different.”

                Brian Bruney was asked the very same question, moments later.

                “Different.  It was definitely different.”

                Of course, both Yankee pitchers were referring to swapping roles for the evening.  Only minutes before first pitch last night, Joe Girardi made the intriguing decision to use the bullpen to start the game, just in case the forecasted rain rolled through Kansas City and washed out the contest.  Why get your young starter all fired up and ready to go if he might have to be shut down two innings later?  Why not use the bullpen first, guys who are used to pitching one or two innings at a clip, and see what happens?

                Sounds like a good idea.

                So, after Johnny Damon lead off the second straight game with a walk and failed to get to second base for the second straight game – Girardi never ordered a steal, Robinson Cano tapped weakly into a double-play, and Bobby Abreu grounded out – Bruney took the hill.  In his two innings of quiet, continued excellence, he gave up one hit and struck out four, and the rains began to fall.

                You see?  Our new manager is a genius, just like everyone said.

                However, the veteran umpire crew would never call the game, and never once ordered the ready-to-rock Kauffman Stadium Grounds Crew to cover the field, even as the rain began building interlocking puddles on the infield dirt.  Even as the players and their uniforms began to drip.  Even as the nothing-nothing score moved slowly, perfectly, and inevitably into the hands of Kyle Farnsworth.

                As is often the case with The Farns, it’s not so much the number of earned runs that he coughs up on any given day, but how and when he gives them up.  Take last night for example.  For four-and-one-half innings of wet and dirty, no-runs baseball, all you could think about was which team would score first before the fifth inning ended, so that if the game was actually called due to the rain, that team would get an easy “W” in the win column.

                Using that mindset as our backdrop, in jogged Kyle Farnsworth in the bottom of the fourth inning, half-skipping like a kid who loves to play outside in the rain.  He pitched okay in the fourth, allowing one single and striking out one, but he also got help from the Royals when Joey Gaithright – who had just stole second base – got greedy and tried to swipe third on Jose Molina.  The Yankees backup catcher had been personally insulted the night before when the young, aggressive Royals ran all over an ailing Jorge Posada, and he gunned out the speedy Gaithright by two steps with a perfect throw to A-Rod, who never had to move his glove.  This was the second caught-stealing of the night for the proud Jose, arguably the best backup backstop the Yankees have had since Jorge himself filled this role for Girardi, or vice versa.

                After Damon struck-out-swinging with a runner in scoring position and two outs in the top of the fifth, a familiar feeling since he struck-out-looking in the same situation in the third, Textbook Farnsworth trotted out to pitch the bottom of the frame.  Now remember, this is the bottom of the fifth, for the home team, in a game that is in jeopardy of being called off due to the rain.  If the Royals managed to score a run here, it would essentially be like giving up a walk-off hit, allowing the umpires to hand the contest to the Royals at their whim.

                So, you tell me what happens next, given your vast knowledge of the history of Kyle Farnsworth.

                First batter, second or third pitch, monster home run.  Sound familiar?

                Again, It’s not so much the number of earned runs allowed, it’s the when and the how that digs deep into one’s brain, twists and turns, and waits until you start twisting and turning your head in disgust.

                On the postgame show, YES Network commentators David Cone and Ken Singleton would both use the word “maddening” to describe the emotion most endured when watching Farnsworth pitch on a regular basis.  John Buck, batting eighth in the Royals lineup, hit that homerun a country mile – literally – an estimated 440 feet into the peaceful, colorful fountains in straight-away center.  Kyle never even turned to look, recognizing that all-too-familiar sound of a wooden bat knocking the living daylights out of a pitched ball that he has thrown.  To add insult to injury, he would walk the home team into another scoring opportunity with two outs, then hang a weak slider in an 0-2 count to Jose Guillen, allowing the big bopper to slash an easy RBI single to right field.

                Coney, one of the most accomplished pitchers from the Yankees late ‘90’s dynasty, took particular exception to that 0-2 pitch, wishing that Farnsworth would, for once, use his brain and expand the zone in that situation.  “He just doesn’t seem to think well at certain times, does he?”

                No he doesn’t, Coney, and thank you for your honesty.  Kyle was very honest himself in Spring Training, when he outright blamed Joe Torre for his struggles on the mound during his first two seasons as a Yankee, so maybe it’s time for people to start being honest with Kyle.  Or maybe he just needs to look in the mirror the next time he decides to blame somebody.  Maybe then he would start to use his brain on the mound more often, and pitch like everyone is waiting for him to pitch.

Maybe.

                John Buck’s majestic homerun is all the Royals would need on this evening, another frustrating, head-scratching washout for the slumbering Yankees offense.  Alex Rodriguez, who made two sparkling plays on wet, slow-hit rollers to third, mashed a double and a single to go two-for-four, but that was the lone bright spot.  The Bombers were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, and everyone was left to wonder when that elusive “click” is going to come.  Ian Kennedy would finally pitch the last three frames of the game, allowing two runs and two walks while striking out three, but according to Girardi, it is the lack of a productive offense that is his biggest concern in the early going.

                “We’ll hit,” he said, a certain discontent with the outcome and the media spread across his drill sergeant face.  “But you can’t win when you don’t hit, can you?  We need to start hitting.”

                You see?  Genius, if I’ve ever heard one.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 9, 2008

4/8: Royals 5, Yankees 2

                The Yankees’ plane touched down on the Heartland sometime between three and four A.M. Tuesday morning, its half-asleep passengers stumbling off its wings and into an idle bus that would take them to their unfamiliar beds.  Once there and tucked away, the sun already putting the hotel’s thick, hard-to-move, window curtains to work, it would only be a few hours before they would have to rise themselves and head to the home ballpark of the Kansas City Royals.

                So excited was reliever Brian Bruney about this choice of scheduling that he had posted a thank you note on the wall of the Yankees’ clubhouse the day before, addressed specifically to ESPN.  The sports network of all sports networks was televising their game Monday night, requiring a primetime slot over the lower expected ratings of daytime TV.  This executive decision, coupled with the Royals scheduled Home Opener at 3:00 P.M. CST yesterday, forced the Yankees to play a day game immediately following the previous night’s clash with Rays.

                Such is the life of a Major League Baseball player, where sleep comes at a premium on the road, and productive games at the ballpark live and die by the schedule.

Just ask Phil Hughes.

                For starters, the young right-hander was matched up against Brian Bannister, another Mets trade-away who has found a new home – not to mention a sub-4.00 ERA – with a team that really wants him.  Off to a good start for the first time in recent memory, the 2008 Royals are much like the vastly improved Rays team that the Yankees just finished playing in the Bronx: young, athletic and hungry to win, with decent starting pitching, a good bullpen, and a nice mixture of young kids and veterans.

In other words, Hughes wasn’t going to get a break from any angle yesterday, no matter how much sleep he had managed the night before.  Nor was he going to get much help from the moody offense, which definitely made it on the plane to Kansas City with the team this time, but may have missed the bus to Kauffman Stadium.

Somebody should’ve checked room 521.  I heard that’s where the lumber slept.

Johnny Damon lead off this groggy, overcast, Home Opener for the Royals with a walk, but never made it past first base.  New manager Joe Girardi, continuing to enforce his non-aggressive, no-steals policy in the early going (the Yankees have zero stolen bases through the first eight games) never sent Damon, and Robinson Cano preceded to strike-out swinging, his eyes quite possibly closed.  Bobby Abreu then tapped into a quiet, inning-ending double-play, and the Yankees shuffled out onto the field.

                On the mound, Hughes’ uniform rippled like a flag caught high in the wind, and his pitches seemed to be fighting the elements all day long.  Lead-off man Joey Gaithright quickly stroked a single to center, then as one of the fastest men is baseball is required to do, he stole second base off of Jorge Posada – on a pitchout no less!  Jorge would later join Captain Derek Jeter on the bench, who came out of Monday’s game due to a strained quadricep muscle, with a non-descript “weakness” in his throwing shoulder.  Any Yankee fan knows how rare it is to see one of these stalwarts miss a game due to injury, so seeing both on the sidelines in the eighth game of the season was a little troubling.  However, the baseball game continued, as it is required to do.

                After a Mark Grudzelenik ground out and an RBI double by Mark Teahan made the score 1-0, Hughes showed some of the veteran grit and poise that has made Brian Cashman such a fan.  With Teahan in scoring position at second, Hughes fell behind slugger Jose Guillen 3-0.  Digging his heels in now, Hughes pumped two fastballs over the outside corner, working all the way back to 3-2, and eventually getting Guillen to pop-up.  The much lauded rookie Billy Butler was next, but Hughes made quick work off him with his nasty curveball, inducing him to strike out swinging.

                Inning over, only one run scored, hope springs eternal.

                The Yankees came right back in the top of the second inning, starting a rally from scratch with two outs.  Following a strike-out-looking by A-Rod and a ground out by Hideki Matsui, Posada singled, Jason Giambi worked a trademark walk, and Wilson Betemit finally made contact with a baseball, delivering a clutch RBI single.  Melky Cabrera and Damon would both get free passes next, Bannister showing signs of his relative youth (to that of Hughes!), and the score changed direction to 2-1 Bombers.  However, Robinson Cano would strike out swinging – again – chasing another elusive curveball in the dirt.

And that, Yankee fans, was goodnight for the offense, at 3:31 PM, CST.

By the middle of the fourth inning, Hughes had worked himself in and out of two, two-out, bases-loaded jams of his own making, rocketing his pitch-count north of ninety and requiring him to leave the game.  He had allowed three earned runs on the day.  Not terrible for a twenty-one-year-old kid in the Big Leaues, but nowhere near as good as his first outing last week against the Blue Jays.

                Such is the life of a young Yankees pitcher, where expectations run as high as pitch-counts, and adjustments need to be made on the fly in order to stay afloat.  It is a long, grinding season chock-full of peaks and valleys, especially for the young players, and yesterday will best be remembered as a learning experience for Hughes.

                Philly the Kid will be fine… once he gets some rest!

                Fellow right-handed rookie Ross Ohlendorf relieved his teammate at this point, and after stranding his two inherited runners in the fourth, two earned runs jumped up to bite him in the bottom of the fifth, and the score found its final resting place for the day, 5-2 Royals.  Over the course of the next four innings the Yankees got a head start catching up on their sleep, evidenced by a combined eleven strike-outs on the afternoon (four by Mr. Rodriguez), and nary another scoring threat to describe.

                Such is the life of a one hundred and sixty-two game marathon, where one day you’re hot, and the next… your tired.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 8, 2008

4/7: Yankees 6, Rays 1

                If you didn’t know any better, you would think they were booing the guy.

                Instead, each time Mike Mussina notched two strikes on a batter last night at the Stadium, the trademark “Moose Calls” began their patented reverberation amongst the crowd, loud, long, and low, filling the cold air with life.  For a pitcher who was supposedly done last season after a horrific three game stretch in August, there was a lot of love circling down to the mound where he stood, feet together, glove to his heart, right arm weighted straight down by his heavy, clenched fist.  If Wang’s mound presence reminds one of an ancient, religious statue, than Mussina is the picture of a politician fielding questions at the podium, the slight forward lean his way of engaging the audience better.

                A Stanford graduate of noted intelligence, you can almost hear Mussina thinking along with his catcher as he peers in, eyes squinted thin, analyzing each option he is given against a mental history of the batter at the plate.  Once a particular selection passes the risk profile for the precise situation in the game, a slight nod is given, and the Republican from Pennsylvania is ready to deliver his speech.

                Last night against the Tampa Bay Rays, his pitches were talking.

                Whether it was the graceful, soft arc of the knuckle curve, or the in-and-out movement of his deceptive fastball on the corners, the Moose was persuasive enough that the umpires were listening, and the hitters were missing.  When he needed a third pitch to drive a point home, Mike floated a changeup toward the plate that stared the likes of Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton and Eric Hinske dead in the eye, induced an excited, wild swing, then disappeared from sight like a surprised fish in water.  At times during this final game of the Opening Week home-stand, Mussina looked near unhittable, twisting his words and their meanings any way he wanted, always with the same result – resounding applause.

                In truth, he looked like a confident pitcher who has accepted his fate, and learned to adjust, much like an aging candidate would in the primaries against a younger, stronger opponent.  To put it another way, he looks like a thirty-nine-year-old Mike Mussina should, which is better than many, if not most, of the twenty-nine-year-old starters in the League.

In the end, he pitched six innings of one-run, two-hit ball, throwing only eighty-two pitches in the process and striking out three, the last of which tied him for 21st place on the all-time strikeout list with David Cone.  The eventual win, his 251st, tied him with Bob Gibson on the all-time wins list.  Not bad for a guy who was labeled “done” after three bad starts in August last year.  Not bad for the 2008 Yankees rotation, which is an entirely different story with an efficient and effective Moose on the mound, exactly the way he was last night at the Stadium.

What was also an entirely different story last night was the Yankee offense.  After scoring only two runs on nine hits in the previous game Sunday, you could feel a storm brewing in the Bronx, lurking in the hitting tunnels beneath the old cement foundation, waiting for Tampa’s innocent yet hapless, number five starter, Jason Hammel, to appear on the mound.  And when he did, in the bottom of the first inning, Bobby Abreu continued his torrid first week by unleashing a bolt of lightening over the wall to right, giving the Yankees a thunderous two-run lead, just like that.  The cheery Venezuelan would finish the game three-for-three, a double away from the cycle, and batting .400 after the first seven games.

In the top of the third, Johnny Gomes temporarily weathered the storm for his Rays by taking Mussina’s one mistake pitch deep and gone to left for a solo home run, and the resulting 2-1 score held firm until the bottom of the sixth.  As if realizing that Mussina’s gem was in need of further protection before he officially departed the game, the Yankees whipped-up the winds once more.  This time they pushed two all-important insurance runs across the dish on an Abreu triple off the top of the wall in right-center, a broken-bat RBI single by A-Rod, and a scorching RBI double down the line by Hideki Matsui, the ball racing just under the adept glove of Rays first baseman, Carlos Pena, who had been holding the runner.  In strategic fashion, manager Joe Girardi had A-Rod running on the crucial 3-2 pitch to Hideki, allowing him to score easily from first.

Two more tack-on runs were scored in the bottom of the seventh, Matsui and Cano making Mother Nature proud during this particular front.  With two outs and runners in scoring position, each Yankee pelted the sunny Rays with an RBI single, ratcheting up the score to 6-1 and putting the game out of reach.

For Cano, it was his first RBI of the season, a good sign when such a talented hitter is struggling.  For Matsui, who came into the game with a career .331 average against Tampa Bay, he finished the four game series seven-for-fifteen with five RBI, a good sign for any hitter in any country, whether he plays in Japan, the Caribbean, or the Unites States.  The Yankees offense would wind up finishing the night with eleven hits as a unit, a great sign for a team headed out on an eight-game road trip to Kansas City, Boston, and back down to Tampa Bay.

Let’s hope that turbulent weather, for the visiting team at least, remains in the local stadium forecasts.

Even after last night’s storm cleared, however, and the bullpen combination of Brian Bruney, Kyle Farnsworth, and Latroy Hawkins held on to the five-run lead, this game was all about Mike Mussina, as it should be.  The Republican from Pennsylvania had his pitches talking, and Yankee faithful everywhere were listening.

Yet another sign of good things to come.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 7, 2008

4/6: Yankees 2, Rays 0

                Wang to Joba.  Joba to Rivera.  Yankees win.

The simplicity of the formula is what makes it so potent, not to mention beautiful.  It has been a long, long time in the Bronx since an owner, a coach, maybe even the players have felt comfortable with the pitching staff in a tight ballgame.  With that said, it has been a relative eternity for the fans.  The three Yankee wins during the first week of this season, however, have come by way of scores 3-2, 3-2, and now 2-0, each time the starting pitcher getting the lead into the hands of rookie phenom Joba Chamberlain, who politely powers the ball into the hands of the surgical Mariano Rivera.

Game over.

So simple, so powerful, and thus, so unbelievably hard to find.  If you’re looking to place a value on such a commodity, just remember this.  The vaunted Yankee offense definitely missed the team plane out of Tampa last week – it has been confirmed – but the Yankees are still winning games.  You don’t need ten runs a night when you can win with two, and you’re not going to get ten runs a night amidst the current, cold weather patterns in the Northeast.  Similarly, and more importantly, you’re not scoring ten runs a night in a five-game playoff series where you’re facing your opponent’s three best pitchers.

Based on the Yankees’ three, consecutive, first round ousters from 2005 through 2007, the value of this formula just went to Pluto… and back.

Again, it has been a long, long time.

                And again, how in the world did Joba Chamberlain fall to the forty-seventh pick of the 2006 draft, into the waiting, outstretched arms of Brian Cashman?

A turning point indeed.

                Back in the Bronx, Part One of the formula went to work yesterday beneath a thick, gray blanket of clouds, which only changed position, it seemed, due to the slow, methodic rotation of the earth.  In much the same manner as those expressionless, slow-moving clouds above, the six-foot-four pitcher from Taiwan towered like a statute on the mound, the only signs of life taking shape when he broke free from the mold to raise his arms high overhead.  Then followed an eerily quiet pause, the Stadium holding its breath in anticipation, and a change in foot placement.  What happened next was the effortless release of pure momentum, as our statute bent at the waist, bent at the knees, and drove his heavy frame toward the plate.

                Each ball traveled fifty of the sixty required feet belt-buckle high, then dove like a targeted missile in the desert, exploding through the lower-half of the zone.  Those hitters unlucky enough to make contact felt the vibrations first in their fingers, then in their hands, and finally up their forearms to the shoulder region, almost like electricity following a conductive chain of metals.

Chien-Ming Wang has become famous because of this Power Sinker, inducing ground ball outs at an uncanny rate since his Major League debut three years ago.  Yesterday, however, he mixed in a biting slider with his heavy sinker, and was orchestrating a no-hitter through four, solid innings of work.  More telling though was his four strike-outs through those same four innings.  If Wang can learn to consistently command a quality strike-out pitch, such as the slider he was throwing at the Rays with ease yesterday, there is no way of knowing what his ceiling may be.  Without such a pitch, he has won more games in the past two years than any pitcher in baseball (38), so you do the math.

As for the struggling offense, A-Rod kicked the tires in the bottom of the fourth inning by sending a booming double to the wall off of the Rays starting pitcher, James Shields, who of course was having the best game of his career versus the Yankees.  One batter later, however, Hideki Matsui decided to replace the tires altogether when he slammed his second home run of the season into the lower deck in right, staking his ace and teammates to an early two-run lead.  Godzilla would finish the day three-for-four, putting to rest for the afternoon any fears that age and injuries have sapped the monster of his ability to terrorize opposing pitchers.

Wang’s lone bit of trouble came in the seventh inning, when he allowed two consecutive singles to Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske.  Joe Girardi, back in the dugout for the first time in three days due to illness, trotted out to the mound and called for his big gun with decisive fervor.  No way was this two-zip lead going to anyone but Joba, and no way was Joe going to wait any longer, two moral certainties only six games into the young season.

As a reward for his manager’s confidence and faith in his abilities, the kid delivered once again, striking out the first batter that dug in against him, a petrified Wily Aybar, and retiring all five batters he faced on the day.  First and second, no outs, eighth inning of a 2-0 game, Coach?  No problem.  Let me get this thing to Mo, and let’s go home.

And that’s exactly what happened, isn’t it, yesterday in the Bronx?

Joba goes two, Mo strikes out two, Yankees win.

Again, it has been a long, long time.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 6, 2008

4/5: Tampa Bay 6, Yankees 3

               The sun glistened off the water to our left as we descended down the narrow, oft precarious, Harlem River Drive.  What a day for baseball, I thought, my favorite series of potholes bumping me back to reality.  After a few excited, high-speed lane changes brought us around the bend, Yankee Stadium came into view, rising like a sentinel on the opposite bank, tall, proud, and stoic.  Something was different though, wasn’t it?  On this particular day, the sentinel had company.  A just as tall, just as proud, awe-inspiring structure stood to its immediate left, looking more like the great Roman Coliseum than any venue for Major League Baseball should.

                “Look at that,” I half whispered.  “There it is.”

                Indeed, it was a sight to behold, the new structure’s smooth, young concrete basking in the rays of a crisp, April afternoon.  Above the outer shell you could actually see the underside of the new upper deck, row after row climbing like stairs into the sky, as if following their dreams of glory to come.  I smiled, shook my head in wonder, then deferred back to the Stadium that had raised me with a nod.   This is the building that houses my memories, I reasoned.  This is the building I love.

                And believe it or not, the Stadium nodded back, as if to say, “Thanks, kid.”

                Inside its hallowed walls, however, the Yankees still couldn’t find their offense – anywhere – probably beginning to wonder if some rookie had forgot to load it on their plane out of Tampa last week.  Yesterday’s Cy Young candidate for the Tampa Bay Rays, Edwin Jackson, who has been a riddle for the last couple of years (mid-to-high nineties heat, good movement, but less control than Nuke Lalush down there in Durham, North Carolina), put all the pieces together against the sleepy Bomber bats, and the predictably good but shaky Andy Pettitte.  Of course he did.  If you’re going to find the strength to finally put all of your tools together and dominate, why not do it against the New York Yankees, at the venerable Yankee Stadium.

                It’s amazing how many visiting players raise the level of their game when playing in the Bronx.  We should be proud, shouldn’t we?  Was that too much sarcasm, or just the right amount?

                The game started for the Yankees in a much different fashion, however.  Pettitte, the only professional athlete with the backbone and morality to straight-up admit to his use of performance-enhancing drugs in years past, received a warm, appreciative, standing ovation from the near capacity crowd.   He then proceeded to pitch a scoreless top of the first, his only hiccup a well-deserved plunking of the Rays best left-handed hitter, first baseman Carlos Pena.

In the bottom of the frame, Johnny Damon worked a lead-off walk to get things rolling, but the air was quickly sucked out the Stadium’s lungs when the Captain struck out swinging, on a weak breaking ball off the plate no less, and Bobby Abreu flied out to left-center.  This brought Alex Rodriguez marching to the plate with two outs and a runner at first.  The clean-up man drew in a long, deep breath, dug into the box, and delivered.

The sound of the ball connecting with his bat – “TH-WACK!” – could be felt from your stomach to your toes, bringing out a collective “ooohhhh!” from the Yankee faithful on hand.  As if shot out of a cannon, the ball careened on a straight line deep into the left field corner, short-hopped the wall, then bounced around just enough to allow Damon to race all the way home from first.  Everyone was on their feet, clapping, stomping, some chanting “M-V-P”.  Alex stood tall and bright at second base, hands on his hips, soaking in the crowd and the sunlight with veteran aplomb.

One-zip Yankees.  Today was going to be a good day.

But the hometown offense started and stopped with A-Rod’s ringing double in the first, Jorge Posada’s bases-loaded, two-run single in the eighth serving only to make the score more respectable, as opposed to changing the momentum of the game.  This game changed direction back in the second and third innings, never to recover.

Tampa Bay’s Johnny Gomes lead of the top of the second with a shot to right that appeared to clear the wall for a home run, but somehow bounced back into the outstretched, bare hand of Bobby Abreu.  The right-fielder fired the ball back to Jeter on a rope, who then preceded to tag Gomes out between first and second base.  Gomes, thinking his big fly was long gone, had his head down and was engaged in a full homerun trot when Jeter applied the tag.  He looked up, realized what happened, and the Stadium laughed.

However, the laughter stopped right there.  After the Yankees failed to take advantage of a bases-loaded, one out situation in the bottom of the frame – in part created when Gomes failed to catch a routine fly ball off the bat of Hideki Matsui in the very same right-field corner as his phantom home run! – it was Gomes who delivered the go ahead sacrifice fly to center in a sloppy, error-prone, top of the third.  The ball wasn’t actually hit that deep, but Damon was playing center-field in the place of Melky Cabrera, and his throw to the plate, while valiant in its effort, landed well short of the mark.

Funny how this game of baseball works, isn’t it?  Melky was out of the game because he was serving the second day of his two-game suspension for his part in the Spring Training brawl with the Rays, which escalated into a fight only when Gomes came barreling into Shelly Duncan from right field, albeit provoked by Shelly’s unprecedented, spikes-high slide into second.  It was Shelly’s throwing error in the third inning yesterday that setup the Rays’ lead-changing two runs, and it was Gomes three-run homer in the fifth that knocked both Pettitte and the Yankees out of the game for good.

Not so funny now, is it, says Johnny Gomes.

You know what’s really not funny?  Long the doormats of the American League East, the Tampa Bay Rays appear to finally have a strong mix of veteran and youthful talent, a decent bullpen, and at least four starting pitchers that can control a baseball game: Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Andy Sonnanstein, and now, Edwin Jackson.  Add this team to the Yankees, the formidable Toronto Blue Jays, and the defending champions, the Boston Red Sox, and the American League East seems more like a free-for-all than the traditional two-horse race.

Now, did our offense make the plane out of Tampa last week, or not?

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 5, 2008

4/4: Rays 13, Yankees 4

The bullpen door opened slowly, begrudgingly.

After a few, quiet moments of hesitation, the bent, blue wall spit Kyle Farnsworth onto the misty-wet grass of the Yankee Stadium outfield.  Jogging in cadence toward the rising mound in the middle of the diamond, the stadium looked half empty to Kyle.  He scanned the upper deck with a curiosity reserved for public school children on a fieldtrip, not professional athletes, and could actually see backs turned toward him now.  The disgusted, intoxicated fans filed like Lemmings into the evenly-spaced tunnels, indifferent or unaware of the pitcher’s entrance.

                How did it come to this, Kyle thought to himself, his cleats digging into the firm sand of the infield for a few, long strides, then back into grass.  This isn’t what I expect.  The place looks different and sounds different when Mariano – or that other kid – enters the game.

                Kyle climbed the back of the mound now, already frustrated and jaded by circumstance.  His manager handed him the ball, seemingly without a word.  His teammates slowly backed away.

There is no lonelier place in baseball than Kyle Farnsworth on the mound at Yankee Stadium.

                How did it come to this, he repeated in his mind, over and over, louder and louder with each angry, bitter, warm-up pitch.  Is that Bon Jovi I hear, playing in the background?

                Then, as if coming into a 10-4 game in the eighth inning to mop up for Latroy Hawkins’ perfect mess wasn’t answer enough, Kyle promptly put an exclamation point on the reason for his present status in the Bronx.  Whether it was the second or third pitch to Carlos Pena, I cannot remember.  But no sooner had I turned to my half-asleep, fully-pregnant wife and said, “Watch this, honey”, did Pena destroy a straight fastball from The Farns into the upper, upper deck in right field.

                First batter, second or third pitch, three-run home run.  Nice.

                And Pena hit that pitch a mile – I mean, absolutely hammered it – and there wasn’t a fan in attendance, or in front of a television set, or even behind the wheel of a moving car who didn’t see it coming.  That is how you came to this, Kyle.  Through your own, consistently inconsistent, mind-numbing performances on the field of play (he would go on to strike out three in one-and-a-third innings of work).   That is why you are coming into a 10-4 game, in the eighth inning, to mop up the perfect mess that is Latroy Hawkins.

                Heads were shaking last night, from 161st Street to the Bowery.

It hurts just to think about, doesn’t it?

                Looking back now, yesterday as a whole was not a good day for the New York Yankees.  For a reduced sentence (two games instead of three), Melky Cabrera and Shelly Duncan both agreed not to appeal their suspensions stemming from a Spring Training brawl with these very same Tampa Bay Rays. And Joe Girardi, only his fourth day on the job, succumbed to an upper-respiratory infection shortly before game time that kept him from managing in the dugout.  On top of that gloomy forecast, the skies above New York were still gray and dreary from an April weather system that will not go away.

                Then there was the issue of Ian Kennedy, our other young-stud starter, whose pitching line for the night (two-and-a-third, 4 hits, 4 walks, 6 earned runs) was only slightly outdone by that of Hawkins’ line in relief  (two-thirds, 7 hits, 6 earned runs).  After much younger, much cheaper, and thus much more inspiring relievers Jonathan Albaledejo, Ross Ohlendorf, and Billy Traber worked four-and-two-thirds scoreless innings to keep the Yankees in a 6-4 game, Hawkins and Farnsworth combined to give up nine hits and seven runs in one inning of work to catapult the game out of reach.

                Excuse me?

                Nine hits and seven runs.  In one inning.  And these are the two guys that Cashman gave “guaranteed” jobs to in Spring Training, the same guys who are “supposed” to handle the eighth inning if or when Joba Chamberlain is converted back into a starter this season.

                The mere thought of this scenario just made the rock that is Manhattan shudder.  Did you feel it?

                Keep Joba right where he is, Cashman, keep bringing up young, talented, and hungry relievers who can work scoreless frames, and keep praying Hawkins and Farnsworth never have to pitch in a game-on-line situation in September.  Just because you pay them more, doesn’t mean you have to pitch them more.  Survival of the fittest is a widely-known, and hugely successful, concept – is  it not?

                Oh, what a pair these two relievers make.  One gets booed on Opening Day – Opening Day for crying out loud – and the other gets serenaded with chants of “Paul O’Neil” while embroiled in a six-run outing, simply because he’s wearing the number twenty-one on his back (for the record, The Warrior did admit the other night that the sight of Hawkins with his number is “a little weird”).

                Enough.

The beautiful part about the game of baseball, especially in April, is that there is always another game to play.  And this means that there is always another chance to turn things around.  For the sake of the rock that is Manhattan, and the conflicted conscience of the bent, blue bullpen door in center, I pray that Hawkins and Farnsworth take full advantage of each chance they are given this season.

Here’s to today’s brand new game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

All rise for The Honorable Mr. Pettitte.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 4, 2008

4/3: Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2

          Another cold night, another close battle, another game won for the Yankees with good young pitching.  This time it was Phil Hughes’ opportunity to shine, and the twenty-one-year-old did not disappoint.

          “Wow… to be twenty-one again,” Johnny Damon would say during his post-game interview, wide-eyed and giddy with unseen memories.  He would go on to say how proud he is of Phil for the hard work the rookie put in this past off-season, efforts which translated into a dominant first outing.  Hughes, the second youngest player currently on a Major League roster, allowed just two earned runs through six, sharp, economical innings of work, striking out four in the process.

          Damon concluded his interview with a sentiment that must have been hanging in the air around every locker in the Yankees clubhouse.  In truth, that while having Johan Santana would have been a nice addition to the rotation, having an “ace-in-the-making” is even better.

          Solid words from a class-act veteran who now, as time continues to pass unabated, can fully appreciate the hope and possibility young, power arms bring to a ball-club.  After all, if it only took money and offense to win championships, the New York Yankees would never lose.

          At the center of a whirlwind this past winter – the proposed Santana trade to the Yankees – Phil Hughes was the rumored cornerstone of a package the Yankees would have to surrender to complete the deal, along with centerfielder Melky Cabrera and a couple of prospects.  Hank Steinbrenner, the newly appointed Boss with a penchant for talking candidly to the press, was itching to pull the trigger.  One could almost imagine the conversations between father and son, where sagely advice honed in on the wisdom, adrenaline, and pride of pulling-off the biggest free agent trade of the winter, every winter.  That’s just the way things are supposed to be in the Bronx, am I right son?

          But Brian Cashman, the little man with the giant plan for returning the Yankees to postseason glory, namely through a combination of youth, pitching, and fiscal responsibility, won the first of what may be many battles in the trenches for his boys.  Neither Hughes or Cabrera, or Ian Kennedy for that matter, was going anywhere, even if it meant passing on a twenty-nine-year-old ace that many consider the best pitcher in all of baseball.  Cashman has a plan, a well-rooted tree that may not bare fruit overnight, and for having the guts to put his job on the line simply to stay true to his plan, I commend him for his efforts.

          And Hughes commends him for the chance he’s been given, or at least he pitched last night like he does.  He pitched like a young stud with a couple years of experience, not one.  He pitched like he had something to say, never once looking scared, in awe of his surroundings, or like the much-speculated pressure that comes with NOT being traded for Johan Santana was getting to him.

          If anything, it was fueling him.

          And that, my fellow Yankee fans, is called makeup.  That intangible, limitlessly valuable, gift from the gods which cannot be bought, sold, or traded for, is called self-confidence, and it makes all the difference in the world.

          Hughes took the mound last night like he belonged in that spot, at that precise moment, much like Joba would do later in the game, and Kennedy will do tonight.  He believed he was the pitcher we’ve been reading about for three years now.  The same pitcher who was throwing a no-no thru seven last year, before his hamstring tightened up and decided to betray him.  The same pitcher who shut down the Indians in relief of a Rocket, securing the Yankees only postseason win of 2007.

          To me, personally, he was the same pitcher I traveled to Trenton, New Jersey to watch with my dad, one of those few, sublime experiences you rarely get with your old man once you are your own man, with your own wife, children, and thirty-year mortgage.  In a very real sense, Phil Hughes represents a lot more than talent to Yankee fans – he represents hope – and this kid has the presence and maturity to prove right everyone who believes in him today.

          He looks like he belongs on that mound because he does, plain and simple.

          One, two, three went the Blue Jays in the first, with both Matt Stairs and Alex Rios caught staring at perfection for strike three.  The kid walked purposefully off the mound, head down, the brim of his hat a little straighter than that of the veterans, because that’s what you do when you’re twenty-one.

          One, two, three went the Blue Jays in the second, on seven pitches no less.

          One, two, three went the Blue Jays in the third, and by now the Stadium itself was smiling.  Finally, it whispered to the blanketed crowd.  Finally, a kid who knows how to pitch.  A kid who knows how to attack the zone.  I am happy.

          Hughes encountered his first real test in the fourth inning, when The Pest himself, David Eckstein, blooped a soft base hit down the right-field line that turned into a double.  Matt Stairs followed with a ground-out that moved Eckstein to third, and then the newest and youngest Yankee-killer, Alex Rios, extended his twenty-something-game hitting streak against the Yanks by ripping a single into the gap, scoring Eckstein.  Okay, one run on the board, how is our kid going to respond?

          During the next at-bat against Vernon Wells, Rios stole second then moved to third when Jose Molina’s throw went through to center-field.  Runner at third now with only one out, Wells at the plate, so what do you do, kid?  Well, Hughes dropped a steady diet of twelve-to-six curveballs on Wells, painted a few corners with mid-nineties heat, then snapped off another breaking ball for a huge, swinging strikeout.   When the Big Hurt came up next, the same, mechanical, powerful attack ensued, and Frank Thomas was caught looking at an inside screamer, end of the inning.

          Not bad kid.  Not bad at all.

          Hughes would give up another run in the fifth on a two-out walk, double, and infield single, but that was all for the night.  He finished his evening with a one, two, three sixth, and the Yankee bats came alive for him in the bottom of the frame to tie the game at two on a bases-loaded, no-outs passed ball, and a sacrifice fly from Giambi.  All in all, it was a strong, controlled, and confident no-decision that did not go unnoticed by anyone.  Quite the opposite, I would venture to say.

          In another strong, encouraging performance by the bullpen, new lefty Billy Traber came in to face old lefty Lyle Overbay in the top of the seventh, and promptly struck him out.  A rejuvenated, long-haired Brian Bruney finished off the frame by throwing gas on top of his strikes, getting a ground out to second and a weak fly ball to right.

          Not bad gentlemen.  Not bad at all.

          Joba worked a scoreless top of the eighth, giving up a single and striking out one, but showing more and more signs that the Joba who ignited New York in the second half of last season is the real deal. Of particular note, the brim of his hat is even straighter than that of Phil Hughes, but that is to be expected, right, given his cult-hero status?  Seriously, has anyone ever seen someone take over the collective conscious of a city so quickly, and with such an exclamation point?  Maybe the Captain, Derek Jeter, in 1996, but it’s a close, close call.

          At any rate, in the ensuing bottom of the eighth, Joe Girardi finally got the chance to show off his small-ball mentality by bunting Damon with Melky at first and no outs.  Damon reached safely when Blue Jays pitcher Scott Downs mishandled the ball up the line, and The New Joe put on the bunt again with Jeter in the very next at-bat.  Derek, who looked safe from every angle but the one the umpire must have had, successfully advanced the runners, and the strategy paid off quickly when Bobby Abreu punched an arcing single to center to score the go ahead run.  In just the third game of his first season at the helm, a defining moment for Girardi, who sits comfortable, if not eager to prove his worth, in the shadow of Joe Torre.

          Not bad skip.  Not bad at all.

          One run is all the incomparable Mariano Rivera would need, even if Vernon Wells made it to third with two outs.  Quietly, defiantly, Mo pumped his patented cutter over the inside corner of the plate to freeze Aaron Hill in his cleats, and seal the first series of the season for the Yankees.

          Two 3-2 wins in three days, with solid performances by both the starters and the bullpen, just like old times.  The bats will warm up when the weather does, but nothing is warmer than seeing your hard-fought plan put into action, and succeed.

          It’s early, it’s April, but for the present moment, Brian Cashman is feeling as warm as can be.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 3, 2008

4/2: Blue Jays 5, Yankees 2

          And there he stood, once again.

          Bottom of the ninth, down by three, runners on first and second, Alex Rodriguez stepped into the box.  He stood tall, confident, and with socks pulled high, visions of April walk-offs saturating the hearts and minds of all those fans who remained on this cold, abrasive, early spring night.

          Jeremy Accardo, the Blue Jays young closer, had nowhere to put A-Rod.  The Captain had reached first on an infield single when Aaron Hill, after making a diving stop in the second base hole, couldn’t come up with the ball cleanly.  Bobby Abreu then muscled a fastball into centerfield for a looping base hit, and every person watching cracked that same, smug, yet incredulous smile.

          Here it is, we thought.  Here is the moment.  Games played for this team and in this stadium always find their way to Number 13.

          And so, without the slightest hesitation, game number two of the 2008 season was coming down to Alex.  Why should this night be any different?

          Only two innings earlier, in the bottom of the seventh, A-Rod had connected on a pitch from A.J. Burnett when nobody else could, knocking the ball through the thick air and gusty wind with such force that it left the yard to straight-away center.  With one swing of his bat, Alex reminded everyone who was in the house.  Jeter came to the top step of the dugout as his teammate circled the bases, a grin mixed with equal parts joy and amazement stretching from ear to ear.

          And there he stood, once again, digging into the box.

          A-Rod would later say, “I took my cuts,” and the truth is that he did.  Accardo came right after last year’s American League MVP, the crowd serenading their star with the rhythmic chant of “M-V-P!”  He fouled off a few, took a few, and rapped a hanging slider just wide and short of the left field foul pole.  Eventually, somewhat inevitably, the count was three-and-two.

          Accardo then twisted back, and uncorked heat.   A-Rod took his stride, focused his eyes, and unleashed the bat.  Everything slowed down now as two opposing, natural forces prepared for the dance, each focused squarely on the journey, never the finish line.  On this night however, a happy baseball found leather, not wood, and the mighty Alex had struck out.

          The Yankees would end up losing this Mussina-Burnett matchup 5-2, even after Giambi sent a ball to the track in the wake of A-Rod’s strikeout, even after the aging Moose with the aging stubble pitched a decent, gritty game.  Looking back, if not for one bad pitch to Vernon Wells in the top of the third, which resulted in a two-run homerun into the first few rows in left field, the crafty veteran was looking at a two-run evening over five-and-two-thirds.  Instead, he gave up four, Latroy Hawkins gave up one in relief, and a ninth-inning rally that looked so much like last April never materialized.

          But hey, today is April 3, 2008, and baseball is back in town, right?  Rest assured, Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees will live to fight another day.

          The best part about last night is, we all believe now that Number 13 will come through for us in those game-on-the-line situations, more often than not.  The energy lighting up the ballpark in the ninth inning confirms this belief, which is a world away from the depths and the boos of 2006, and a lifetime away from the opt-out controversy of October 2007.

          I guess that’s what happens when you hit .452 with 19 homeruns and 42 RBI’s in the ninth inning last season, then take back control of your life from your overbearing, ego-maniacal agent during the winter.  I guess that’s what happens when you commit the remainder of your career to the city of New York, even when we haven’t always made it easy for you.

          In short, welcome back, A-Rod.

          You’ll get’em next time.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 2, 2008

4/1: Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2

          Somewhere between five and six o’clock yesterday, the rain let one, final curtain unfurl, then disappeared.  All that was left was the setting sun, a few, fast-moving clouds painted red by the fading light, and baseball.  Yankee Stadium would have a beautiful evening for its final Opening Day, its replacement taking its seat in the background, respectfully.

          Walking back to my office shortly before introductions, the city buzzed with a sense of renewal.  People could be seen crossing Fifth Avenue with Yankees caps and jerseys faithfully adorned, smiles on their faces, and a strut to their step.  Something feels different about this season, I thought.  All the pieces are falling into place. 

          Rookies, veterans, health.

          A new manager, conditioned athletes, a sense of purpose.

          Could this finally be a team that feels like it has something to prove?  All that talent, all that money, but now, all that chemistry.

          It’s time to dominate again, isn’t it?

          Sometime after 7:05 P.M., Chien-Ming Wang took the hill to do battle with one of baseball’s best gunslingers, Doc Halladay, a pitcher who wears his emotions on his sleeve, which is to say, a pitcher much unlike Chien-Ming Wang.  As the Yankees’ workhorse grooved his first fastball in there for a strike, the emotions of a city were enough to fill any player’s sleeves on that field.  Light bulbs flashed, a cheer erupted, and a season began.

          This game was destined to be a classic before it was ever played, wasn’t it?  Pitching, defense, and timely hitting – that’s what wins championships right?  Well, all three were on display last night at the Stadium.

           In the top of the first, Wang had runners on first and second with one out, and a little too quickly it was the 2007 ALDS again, when the Yankees’ de facto ace couldn’t get through three innings of two different starts against the Cleveland Indians.  Things got quiet and uneasy amongst the crowd, unsettled in their seats as they were, but all of the anxiety quickly turned to joy when Robinson Cano floated up to meet a soft line drive, then doubled off the runner on first.  Such is the game of baseball, where there is no script, no predictability, and definitely no safety net.  Everything turns on the next pitch.

           In the bottom of the inning, A-Rod chased home Bobby Abreu from first base with a scorching double to the wall in right-center, a good sign that the reigning MVP is coming back for more.  The Blue Jays then proceeded to score two runs over the next several innings, using a highly-choreographed string of broken-bat singles and swinging bunts off of Wang.  Things could have gotten much worse for the Yankees in the fourth inning, when Wang’s sinker began its inevitable rise, if not for the acrobatics and energy of the young centerfielder, Melky Cabrera.

           On back to back plays in the top of that frame, each worthy of their own ESPN “webgem”, the Melk-Man delivered the enduring images from this game.  On crushed ball number one, he glided effortlessly back to the wall in right-center, then leapt, caught, and crashed into the wall with a resounding thud.  No problem.  On crushed ball number two, Melky raced to his right at full tilt, then lunged, caught, and crashed into the damp earth, sliding past Damon to a stop in left field.  This was the third out of the inning, and as Cabrera brushed off the sticky, green blades of grass on his way back to the dugout, the Cathedral was rocking with approval.

           And just for good measure, Melky put together the best at bat of the night against Halladay, a ten-pitch battle in the bottom of the sixth that ended with a towering shot down the right field line.  As attending fans rose to their feet and viewers at home undoubtedly leaned toward their sets, a gentle gust from the baseball gods carried the ball just past the glove of a leaping Alex Rios, and the game was tied at two.  Oh what a night for the Melk-Man, whose subsequent curtain call was later described as a “straight scissor-kick” by Giambi, who was clearly amused with his teammate’s display of energy.  Just another sign of chemistry, I guess.

          And speaking of Giambi, he was scooping at first, shovel-passing to Jeter, snatching line drives, and pausing on the base paths with the best of them, this last tactic ensuring the Yankees would score the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning, as it kept the team out of a  crucial, rally-killing double-play.  I guess whatever Girardi had to say this past off-season resonated with the thirty-seven-year-old Giambino, who looks five years younger and played ten times better last night.  Little things make all the difference in tight baseball games, and Girardi’s small-ball influence was evident in the Yankees play all evening.

           A three-two lead was handed to Joba in the eighth inning, and the stage was set.  After experimenting with his curveball through the first few batters, Alex Rios reaching first via a base on balls then stealing second, Joba reared back and hucked three patented fastballs by the aging Frank Thomas.  He spun, he fist-pumped, he screamed, and the Stadium shook with the kind of pure octane that only a young, confident, and charismatic flame-thrower can bring to the table.  With Chamberlain cemented in the set-up role for the time being, the Yankees finally have that killer one-two punch in the bullpen, much like they did in ’96 with Rivera and Wetteland.  They have shortened the game again, and the value of this fact can not be over-stated.

           Taking Mo completely for granted, as we must in the face of such efficiency and perfection, Rivera was Rivera in the ninth.  When it was all said and done, he walked the game ball over to his ex-battery mate and new skipper, Joe Girardi, and put the rock in his hands.  “This one’s for you, Joe, the first of many”, and the game’s best closer shook the man’s hand.

           Short, simple, sweet – for the new Yankees manager and for their fans alike.

           Something looked familiar to us all on that field last night, didn’t it?  Maybe it was a team that played like it had something to prove.  In shape, confident, and ready to do what it takes.

           Young Joba said it best in his post-game interview: “Pressure is what you make of it.”  For the first night of the last year of old Yankee Stadium, the New York Yankees fed off the example of their red-hot star and got their swagger back, winning a classic, tight ballgame against one of the League’s finest pitchers.

           Like I said before, all the pieces are falling into place.

           And just in time… right Cathedral?

Posted by: JoeD2133 | March 31, 2008

Opening Day, Almost

         Fitting, isn’t it?

           A gray, rain-kissed afternoon for the final Opening Day in the most storied house in baseball, as if Ruth himself sat down on his big, gold bench in the sky, and tried his hardest to fight back the tears.         

           It has been a long, glorious ride, hasn’t it?

           Today, the Yankees begin the annual quest toward their next World Series championship, and at the same time, play the first of their final eighty-one regular season games in The House that Ruth Built.  I think the term for the emotions being felt across New York on this day is “bittersweet”.  So bittersweet, in fact, Ruth just couldn’t bear to watch (game postponed due to the rain).

           So here we go again, Yankee fans.  Are you ready?

           For the first time in what feels like more than a decade (probably because it’s been twelve years since 1996), the Yankees break camp with an influx of promising young players expected to make an immediate impact in key positions.  Much like Pettitte, Jeter, Mariano, Jorge and Williams helped forge a dynasty in the late ‘90’s when thrown into the cauldron with veterans O’Neil, Martinez, Cone and Wetteland, the 2008 Yankees sport a similar chemistry to that fabled 1996 squad.

          This year, outright rookies such as Joba, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Hughes take the field with established youngsters Cano, Cabrera and Wang.  Each of these players has the benefit of learning every day from the veteran core of Jeter, Jorge, A-Rod, Pettitte, Mariano and Mussina, and let’s not forget the power and the patience of Giambi, Matsui and Abreu.  If this team can stay relatively healthy for 162 games, what a final season the old Cathedral will have – a true swan song filled with all the symbolism, symmetry, and pride this great city can handle.

          I know I’m ready for it to begin, I’m just not sure I’m ready for it to end – know what I mean?

          Here’s to the next six months of Yankees baseball, and all the joy & heartache, elation & frustration, endurance & release that only a long, grinding season can provide.   In the end, I believe this will be a special year for the New York Yankees, as they attempt to bring down the house built by the biggest legend the game has ever known.

          And waiting in his large, out-stretched wings… is No. 13.

          Fitting, isn’t it?

Posted by: JoeD2133 | February 20, 2008

NEXT: Project A13.2

Welcome back, Yankee fans (and the haters as well, who make our lives “interesting” at the very least). 

What started as a website for positive change in the Bronx last season – a project designed to elicit both reaction and reflection from all walks of baseball fans – will now become a vehicle for progress in 2008. While the original website has been taken down and the contents saved away (mission accomplished), this blog “Bringing Down the House” will attempt to build off of the attention Project A13 received in 2007, and the amazing MVP season that its focal point delivered.

In short, I believe that 2008 – the last year of “The House that Ruth Built” – is going to be a special one for the Yankees, and right on cue, for this generation’s equivalent of Babe Ruth himself: Alex Rodriguez.

How else could it end, right?  And if I’m right, what a story it will make.

My goal is to chronicle the Yankees’ every game, much like a beat writer would for a New York paper, with the end result being a compilation of articles that will form a definitive, unique, and fan-centric account of this magical season.  It is my personal ambition that this blog become one of your daily visits for a report on each Yankee game played, and a forum for your comments concerning both the on-field action and my posts.

And of course, the underlying focal point of the writing will be No. 13, without whom there would be no A13. So, people – continue to support and continue to believe. Baseball is in need of a hero again, much like baseball needed Babe Ruth way back in the 1920′s.

Isn’t it nice to know that the hero they’re looking for is wearing pinstripes?

Stay tuned, and as always, thank you.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | November 15, 2007

Just When You Thought…

NY Daily News

I have to admit, I thought he was gone.   I was starting to get comfortable with the idea of a Yankees Future without the future Home Run King.

But all that has changed in the past two days, hasn’t it?  Now, instead of thinking about how Cashman and the Junior Brents could get their hands on the next Scott Brosius, we have to prepare for the “World of A-Rod” – and all that it brings to the table, good and bad – for the next ten years.

Ten years.  This is a monumental shift for the psyches and thought-processes of the faithful Yankees fans around the globe.

Sit back.  Try to relax.  Let this one digest.

In the end, this is the best thing that could’ve happened to the Yankees this offseason, whether you believe A-Rod came back to the Yankees without Boras because he wanted to remain a Yankee, or you think he came back without Boras because Boras couldn’t get him the new mega-deal that he had promised.

Either way, the Yankees will not lose one top prospect to fill the third-base hole, and in turn, they have retained the most talented player in baseball for the next decade, a time-frame when he is sure to be chasing every major record in the books.

As for the elusive postseason glory that has been dodging the Yankees and A-Rod since his arrival, we all have the next ten years to watch and see.  If nothing else, this “The Pursuit of Happiness” will be as exciting and eventful as only Alex Rodriguez knows how to be.

Cross your fingers New York.  This thing could go either way.  I for one believe A-Rod’s day will come, and now we all know it will come in pinstripes.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | October 3, 2007

Did You Know…?

Babe Ruth did not bring a World Series Championship to New York until his fourth season with the Yankees – 1923.

2007 is A-Rod’s fourth season as a Yankee.

Check out this amazing article by Howard Bryant on ESPN: “King of Gotham?”

Posted by: JoeD2133 | September 25, 2007

Where Have You Gone, Joe D.?

Or so I have been asked, by Tish Tash below.

Well Tish, I decided to stop preaching and just let A-Rod and the Yankees go about their business.  The boos stopped long ago, and the Yankees have become the best team in baseball again, so I figured my work was done.

Isn’t it amazing, though?  Booing Alex Rodriguez is not even an afterthought these days, when only a year ago it was the cool thing to do in New York – the hot topic referenced each and every day in the media, offices, and bars of this great city.  Yes, he has put up unbelievable numbers this season.  And yes, October baseball will be his final test.  But you know what - there were slumps and errors this year that could have been serenaded with boos, and they weren’t.  There will be opportunities in the future to boo, and we won’t.

Something has changed for Alex and New York this season, and we all know it.  He got knocked down in 2006 – worse than anyone in recent memory – and he has come back this season stronger than ever.  That is something New Yorkers can stand behind.  That is something this city admires.  Yeah, maybe the guy is a little awkward sometimes with his quotes, and maybe he acts a little dramatic sometimes when he gets hit by a pitch, but come on – this guy can play the game of baseball, and he can play it well.  We have all had a chance to witness greatness this year, and that’s what keeps us coming back to the Bronx game after game, season after season.

Where would the 2007 Yankees be without A-Rod this year, who almost single-handedly carried them through the valleys, with the exception of Posada and Jeter of course?  Who knows.  Certainly not on the edge of October.  Certainly not on the heels of the most anxiety-filled AL East Champs in baseball history (and that’s assuming the Yankees don’t blow right by them over these last six games).

MVP stands for Most Valuable Player.  For Alex Rodriguez, it stands for Most Visible Player.  And wow, what a sight he has been in 2007.

Thank you all for your support.  Now you know the effects of positive thoughts on a player, a team, and a city.  This October is going to be special for New York… especially in the Bronx.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | August 1, 2007

‘Nuff Said, NY

NY POST: “Yankee Fans Key to A-Rod’s Decision”

Posted by: JoeD2133 | July 7, 2007

This Coaster is Climbing… Again

Well, here we go everyone… the optimist in me sees a monster start from Clemens today (did you see his last start), which will allow the Yankees to go for a sweep of the Angels on Sunday.  Couple that with the Red Sox possibly getting swept this weekend in Detroit (their pitching doesn’t match up well) and the Yankees COULD POSSIBLY BE 8 GAMES BACK (in the loss column) at the All-Star break.  8 games.  Better than 14, one game behind where they were before the never-to-be-mentioned-again road-trip to Colorado and San Franscisco.  In other words, “headed in the RIGHT direction”.  Hang on tight.

Wild Card?  What Wild Card?  Never think Wild Card until there’s no other choice.

As for Proctor and the struggling bullpen – again – was it something I said (or maybe it was the equipment bonfire)?  Since my last frustrated post below, Proctor has suddenly become unhittable, and both Vizcaino and even Farnsworth have appeared reliable.  Once more, hang on tight.  This could get interesting, especially when Edwar Ramirez gets some more experience… his stuff is just plain nasty.

And as for A-Rod, what can I say.  The boos are a distant memory, the numbers continue to climb (29 HRs, 82 RBIs), and the clutch hits continue to come (with last night’s laser home run being no exception).  Michael Kaye continues to call it a “dream season” for Alex, and it’s only the half-way mark.  I say with Maris’ record a legitimate target, and a possible postseason resurrection hanging precariously on the horizon, we haven’t seen anything yet.  While nobody can offer solid, evidencial proof that this website and the RISE Campaign have had an intangible effect on A-Rod’s season thus far, it is incredible that both are unfolding side by side…

I think it’s time for a new campaign New York.  Unless we want this generation’s Babe Ruth to play out the rest of his career somewhere else, let’s ask Alex Rodriguez to STAY.

Be on the lookout for instructions.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | June 27, 2007

Hello Mr. Hyde

Let me start by saying this: I am not mad at Scott Proctor.

Scott Proctor did last night what he is apt to do in tight situations.  Lose.  The man’s record in 1-5… hmmm.  Who I am mad at is a certain manager who threw him out there in the top of the ninth, when that manager knew Scott’s past performances all too well, and knew his team needed a win to stop this current bleeding.  When was the last time Rivera even pitched?  I think a two or three inning outing for Mo would be have been GOOD for his health.  Instead, we got Proctor’s 39th average appearance of the season, and the Yankees lost the game.

I am also mad at a certain General Manager who constructed this bullpen of horrors, especially with the amount of resources the Yankee High Command gives this General Manager.  Should we have expected any different outcome last night?  Proctor, Bruney and Farnsworth are all the same pitcher: hard-throwing righties who don’t trust their stuff enough to dominate, and thus walk too many hitters, and get beat too often on their third best pitch because they’re constantly pitching out of hitter’s counts.  Vizcaino, Villone, Henn and Meyers… are you kidding me???  You can’t go very far with a one-man bullpen, and it had to be constructed by someone.

I applaud Brian Cashman for the current youth movement, but unfortunately for him, the effects of bad decisions over the past six years are manifesting themselves in every way this season – injuries, six-inning starters, below-average bullpen, and inconsistent hitters – and the youth is nowhere near ready to help… or are they?

How many times can you keep going back to the same players who just aren’t getting the job done?  Why are the Red Sox suddenly grabbing guys like Beckett, Matsuzaka and Okajima, and the Yankees are getting Pavano, Igawa and Farnsworth?  These are the questions on my mind as the Yankees go from terrible, to incredible, to terrible again… this week, Mr. Hyde is wearing the pinstripes.

I know this sight is supposed to be all about A-Rod, but his consistent defense at third, consistent clutch at-bats, and overall amazing season is on the backburner for all true Yankees fans out there.  What do these Yankees need to do to get consistent, confident production?  Any suggestions anyone (besides a new bullpen!)?

Posted by: JoeD2133 | June 18, 2007

On All Cylinders

From eight-under to three-over in three weeks.  From 14-and-a-half desperation to 8-and-a-half confidence.  From a seemingly lifeless, aging ballclub to a cohesive, well-blended powerhouse, both at the plate AND on the mound.

What happened?

A lot of things.  One, Torre’s much-needed team meeting in Toronto, just before the “Ha!” play and the winning began.  Two, A-Rod’s extremely clutch two-out, two-strike, game-winning home run off of the seemingly unbeatable Jonathon Papelbon.  Three, Wang and Mussina rounded back into form around stalwart Andy Pettite, and the Rocket returned to the Bronx.  Four, Bobby Abreu rediscovered how to play baseball, and really well I might add.  And five, the substraction of Jason Giambi allowed for the addition of Melky “Leche” Cabrera, infusing the club with much-needed youth, athleticism and spark, not to mention allowing Johnny Damon to regain his legs.

And last but not least, Mr. Rodriguez regained his patience at the plate, and wow… have you ever seen a player with 27 home runs and 73 RBI’s on June 18?  I know I haven’t.  That’s a good season for the majority of players in Major League Baseball, and this guy is just getting started.  Not only has Alex proved he could shrug off his May slump like a true New Yorker, but he’s showing us all just how true he is as a ballplayer.  Take notice.

Good things come to those who wait (i.e. those who have patience).  His numbers have recently been aluded to as “Ruthian”, among other things.  Sit back (or stand up) Yankee fans, relax, and enjoy this unbelievable ride with A-Rod.  I’ve got this strange feeling that we haven’t seen anything yet.

A-Rod is back, and – surprise – the Yankees are back.  Where are all my haters now?

Posted by: JoeD2133 | June 7, 2007

Hmmm… 5 of 7

Well, including the “Ha!” night in Toronto, the Yanks have now won 5 of their last 7, including a win against the Red Sox powered by a two-out, two-strikes, game-winning A-Bomb off of Jonathan Papelbon – nice.  Was it something I said (I posted for the first time in weeks that very morning)?

As for the one blogger who got angry at that last post – claiming I had given up on A-Rod and the Yankees this season – please reread.  Nobody else took it that way, and that’s because we are all voicing our frustration with the seeming lack of life our favorite Yankees have displayed to date.  It’s a natural reaction to seeing a group of people we know can play this game NOT playing up to their potential, especially when we vest so much of our time and support in that group of people.  Nobody is giving up, least of all me, so I apologize if my last post came out that way.

Now, hold on a minute – things are starting to gell a bit for our boys, aren’t they? – especially with Melky playing a nasty centerfield (another strong putout tonight) and Miguel Cairo becoming a much-needed, well-rounded role player at first.  Johnny Damon is starting to hit with the rest his legs are getting, Abreu has hit .500 over the last week, and Robby Cano is staring to be Robby Cano again… oh, and let’s not forget the Rocket Relauch on Saturday (I have tix) and the boost The Yankee Clippard is providing at the bottom of the rotation (he’s been a huge bonus, given the current status of Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, and Phillip Hughes).

Finally, some consistency across the board.  This is the way we all want – and know – the Yankees can play baseball.  Let’s go!

Posted by: JoeD2133 | June 3, 2007

Sorry for the Delay

Alright people, I’m back.  This whole ‘graduation from law school’, ‘time to start my Bar Review class’ has done a number on my available time, but today I have something to say.

What is the delay with these New York Yankees?  Every day, every game, we are all waiting for the moment this strange-but-true season turns around (heck, I even wrote about it in my last post below).  But, every day, every game, it’s not happening.  Whether it’s a well-pitched game with a failure of the bullpen (Proctor), a well-pitched game with a failure of the offense (too many to list), or a hard-fought win that ends up feeling negative anyway because of a certain player’s “scrappy” play (for the record, I did not agree with the “Ha!”), the switch just won’t flip.

What gives?  It’s hard to stay positive with the constant injuries (Roger that), the daily back-page tabloids (A-What?), and the constant feeling that for every step forward, this team has a knack for immediately taking two steps back (I don’t even want to discuss yesterday’s seventh inning, or Mussina’s constant inability to hold a lead when his team needs it the most).  What are we going to do, New York?

You know, for all of my talk about keeping your calm, being patient, and staying postive, I ERUPTED yesterday during the bottom of the seventh – oh yes, things were thrown across the room.  I am just so tired of seeing the same players screw up again and again, day after day, game after game.  At some point this has to end, right?  At some point, these players have to man-up, step-up, and show some pride in the way they play the game of baseball… right?

What if they are just not good enough?  What if this group of players are too old, too injury-prone, or just too average in terms of baseball skills?  Is this possible?  Could a $200M team actually be in this situation due to six greedy years of bad contracts on past-their-prime veterans, and bad trades that didn’t work out (and depleted the farm system at the same time)?  The answer, New York, is yes.  And we all know it, don’t we?

This is our bed as exhausted fans of the 2007 New York Yankees.  This is our bed as exhausted fans of an all-star who can hit .355 one month, and .235 the next.  If anything is going to turn this season around, it has to start with the men wearing pinstripes on the field, every day, every game – not the fans.

I will try my hardest to stay positive in the meantime, and I know the rest of the loyal fans out there will as well.  After all, this is still June, this is still America’s pasttime, and we still get to watch this team play 100+ games before it’s all said and done.  I just hope the Yankee players refuse to be done, and feel like they have a lot more to say.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | May 21, 2007

A Bloop and a Blast

Can one falling flare off the bat of Johnny Damon change the course of a season?  How about one lazer home run off the bat of Derek Jeter three pitches later?  Before that half-inning yesterday at Shea, EVERYTHING seemed to be going against the Yankees… every bounce of the ball… every crazy umpire’s call… every injury to a pitcher… every slump to every player happening at exactly the same time.

Yes, I believe that a half-inning can change things in a sport that is as unpredictable as it is beautiful.  The baseball gods have been frowning on the Yankees all season, and FINALLY a ball fell in yesterday, igniting a four-run inning and maybe – just maybe – an incredible team that had begun to feel sorry for itself, like no Yankees team ever should.

And, let me take this time to say thank you, Mr. Clippard.  What didn’t you do yesterday to help your teammates remember who they play for?  As many times as I’ve heard the mantra repeated over and over by “the experts”, good pitching really does change the game.  Confidence was the feeling I got from every pitch out of Tyler’s hand, and quite obviously, so did the Yankees. 

It’s time to remember, New York.  Tonight it’s time to begin three more games against the Red Sox.  Step up.

Oh yeah, and despite the lack of any big hits of late, A-Rod has hit two home runs in the last two games… maybe it’s time for his resurgence as well?

Posted by: JoeD2133 | May 18, 2007

A Need for Consistency

Well, New York, our boys are digging themselves quite a hole lately, aren’t they?  As a few of the players have noted, first the pitching was bad and the offense was on fire, and now the roles have completely reversed.  In order for things to change in the Bronx, the good pitching and defense must begin to coexist with timely hitting.  Sounds easier said than done, but this is a line-up stacked with underperforming .300 hitters – something’s gonna give, and soon.

With the exception of amazing averages for Jeter and Posada to date (two Dynasty stalwarts who know how to “grind it out”), here is a rundown of the team’s elite hitters: Damon (.256), Matsui (.275), Giambi (.273), Abreu (.236), and Cano (.234).  Even A-Rod (who hit .355 in April) has had a sub-.250 average for the month of May.  Again, what are the odds of all six of these hitters going into funks at the same time?  Something’s gonna give, and soon.

The damage now stands at 9.5, with six crucial games against the Mets and Red Sox in the next six days.  As our project spells out, let’s stay consistent with our support - as fans – and collectively will these slumping Yankees to rise up to their All-Star potential.  There is a dire need for consistency in the Bronx, and I believe it will begin with three emotional games in Queens.

“LET’S-GO YAN-KEES”

Posted by: JoeD2133 | May 14, 2007

The Captain Agrees

“I think what you’ve got to try to do, when there’s a lot of things going on, is try to stay positive.  I think that’s the biggest thing.”

“I just try to stay positive, regardless of what happens. Even if we’re not playing well, you can still try to draw some positives from an individual day. That’s what I try to do. I’m still optimistic by nature.”

- The Captain, Derek Jeter

If anyone knows how to win and be successful in New York, it’s the shortstop being quoted above.  This whole Movement is about exactly what he is saying – building from the positive always, even when things aren’t going your way, and you will be rewarded.

Things aren’t going the Yankees’ way of late – obviously - but as hard as it seems now to keep your faith in individual players or the team, by doing so you show class as a fan.  It’s easy to put down people when they’re struggling, and to cheer for them when they’re doing well.  What is hard, and admirable, is staying positive when your team is eight games back in the Division, and half the offense seems to be mired in extended, individual slumps.  Listen to the Captain – it’s the only way out of this whole.

Am I worried? A little.

Am I confident the Yankees can turn this thing around?  Definitely.

Show your true colors as a fan, now, when your team needs the support.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | May 10, 2007

Back to the Basics

Well, the Yanks are back to .500, and so much for the high-powered AL East – .500 puts us in second place.  With that said however, the starting pitching has been dominant over the last week and a half, and this has translated into a 7-2 record over the last nine games.  So, for everyone out there who continues to think the Yankees are in trouble this season, look beyond the overall record.  Since Steinbrenner’s public statement after the 9-14 start, the Yankees have responded to win 7 of 9 (and this is without The Rocket or his heir apparent, Phil Hughes).  Patience is a virtue, so keep thinking positive – our boys will be where they need to be in due time.

And as for Mr. Rodriguez, not only was he named April’s Clutch Player of the Month , he seems to be in a great state of mind recently, even as he’s weathered what some may call a “mini-slump” (given his numbers in April, ANYTHING less is considered a slump!).  This is important, because baseball is all about peaks and valleys.  Not only is it productive for the fans to support their players during both the highs and the lows, it’s imperitive for Alex to keep the same, calm, positive approach whether he’s hitting a home run every 5.1 at-bats or not.  This shows balance, maturity, and confidence in his abilities.

With this frame of mind on full display, expect A-Rod to enter another peak-period very soon.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | May 7, 2007

The Remix

Wow – what a weekend for Yankee news.  I was at the Stadium on Saturday for Wang’s almost-perfect game, and then I was listening to the post-game on 880 yesterday when I heard about The Rocket’s dramatic landing in the Bronx.  And all the while, the Yankees have been quietly winning their way back to .500.  May is going to be a good month if this first week is any indication.

Well now, seeing how Pavano may need surgery again (are you KIDDING me???) and Igawa likes to play Jekyll and Hyde with us on alternating weeks, the rotation in June should look like this:  WANG, PETTITE, MUSSINA, ROCKET, HUGHES (and keep in mind, Hughes is probably a number one or two pitcher when he’s on, and will most likely move up this list as the season progresses). 

I’ll take that rotation any day, even if the Yankees had to reach into their wallets for Mr. Rogers.  He’s a proven winner in the Bronx, a true warrior, and I believe he wouldn’t put himself back on the mound if he didn’t think he could perform at a high level.  Plus, what he brings to the clubhouse is immeasurable, and I like the idea of the “Real Rocket” grooming “The Next Rocket” over the course of this season.

One of the reasons we love being Yankee fans is because of days like Sunday.  And oh yeah, A-Rod continues to hit, and hit in the clutch, even if the balls aren’t leaving the park as often as the were in April.  So far this season, Alex is 8 for 12 with RISP and two outs, with 5 home runs and a boatload of RBI.  Keep up the great work everyone! 

Posted by: JoeD2133 | May 2, 2007

The Oh-No Show Continues Tonight

Wow – have you ever seen more injuries to a team, especially a starting rotation, than what the Yankees have had to endure so far this season?  Last night was especially gut-wrenching since “The Next Roger Clemens” was on his way to a no-no – a truly dominating performance, I must say – before he pulled up lame on one follow-through.  One pitch (one curveball, to be exact) and seven innings of growing excitement and hope walked right off the field.

All I know is this: when the Yankees do win yet another Division crown in five months time, they will have truly overcome their share of obstacles.  Hey, maybe the rest that will now be given to young Phil Hughes’ arm will pay dividends for the Yankees towards the end of the season.  Instead of burning out too early, maybe our young gun will be peaking in September and October…

…I’m trying my hardest to find the positive, people.  The offense looked amazing once again last night (10 runs scored without a home run), so let’s hope it continues tonight in support of our age-old gun, Mr. Pettitte.  I’m predicting a .500 record by this Saturday, my next game in Box 638.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 30, 2007

The Ultimate Off-Day

Everyone – during this week’s episode of YES Network’s “The Ulitmate Road Trip”, Brenda can be seen wearing the Project A13 t-shirt toward the end of the show!!!  This will hopefully be the first of much TV time for The Movement, so check out a replay of the show on YES this week.  Hey, at least something positive can be reported on today.

As for A-Rod and our Yankees, just keep the faith.  The whole purpose of our project is to continue offering our support no matter what, and at 9-14 as a team – and after a key double play ball in the 8th from Alex – today officially qualifies as “no matter what”.  Winning baseball will return soon to the Bronx, and A-Rod will continue to be productive.  Tomorrow is May 1st, and five months of baseball still remain – don’t forget how unbelievable the first three weeks of April were just because of the last 9 days.

Oh, and as for the Joe Torre “chatter” starting up again, give me a break.  He is not in the batter’s box or on the pitching mound, so I won’t even join that conversation.  He has my support NO MATTER WHAT!

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 29, 2007

Order Restored

Well, so the spark wasn’t an A-bomb and the gem wasn’t thrown by Kaarstens – poor kid – but I was close.  A much-needed gem was pitched by Kei Igawa today, and A-Rod picked up his struggling closer with a bare-handed play on a slow roller in the ninth.  This was a team win across the board, and a state of normalcy returned to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.  We need the ability to win 3-1 games going forward, and today was a textbook example.

In truth though, when Kaarstens went down on the first pitch of the game, the groans ran rampant through the stands.  However, when Mr. K got Big Papi to hit into a HUGE double-play, and eventually escaped the first inning without giving up a run, you could sense a turning point happening for the pitcher – and quite possibly for the Yankees.  I think Jason Giambi said it the best after the game:

“I was hoping, when he came in, this could be a big turning point for him and us.  I hope it’s that time. We’ll look back 60 games down the road or whatever and say, ‘Wow, that was the time that really turned it around for us.’”

Here’s to winning baseball for the next 60 games, so we can all look back and realize Jason was right! 

And as for Project A13, I heard no boos at the Stadium this afternoon, even though A-Rod has cooled off a bit, and even though the Yankees and their fans have been frustrated of late.  It was heartening, to say the least, as was the amount of people rising to their feet for each of his at-bats.  Progress on all fronts yesterday in the Bronx.

For all of you attending today’s rubber-match against the Sox, TRY TO GET A SIGN ON TV!!!

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 28, 2007

Today’s The Day

Hey everyone – sorry for the short lapse in my posts here on the blog.  I was on business in San Diego most of the week, and got a little sidetracked.  Fortunately, however, I have tickets to today’s game, so I will be in attendance and rocking the green t-shirt.  Has anyone brought a Project A13 sign to the Stadium yet, and if so, has it made it onto TV?  The Yankees need all the positive vibes they can get this weekend, in an effort to turn this thing around.

With that said, I think Kaarstens is going to answer the bell today, and the Yankees are going to jump all over Wakefield.  All it takes is one good game, and the momentum will change.  Keep your heads held high, and remember, it’s still only April.  The Red Sox have a history of taking early Division leads, and no history of winning the Division.

Today is also going to be the day A-Rod hits number 15.  I will be in Loge Box 426 (got better seats thru work) so look for the green t-shirt, the Logo posted to the blue facing of my section, and a home run from number 13.  The Yankees need a spark this afternoon, and it will come in the form of an A-Bomb.  Let’s go to work.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 24, 2007

Torrid April Continues

Despite the Yankees lackluster pitching of late, the high-powered Yankee offense continues to churn out runs, and no one at the level of Alex Rodriguez.  With his two home runs last night in Tampa Bay, A-Rod has now tied the record set by Albert Pujols last year for the most number of home runs hit in the month of April – 14 – and there are still 7 more days to go before the calendar turns to May.

In short, this man is having the best month of April in the history of Major League Baseball.  The best month of April EVER, and we are all witness.

While this may be bittersweet at the present time due to the Yankees overall record, there is no denying that A-Rod is locked, loaded, and able to carry his team until a healthy, effective pitching staff returns.  Listening to Joe Girardi’s commentary last night, he has noticed a growing confidence within Alex when the third baseman steps to the plate, and this confidence is carrying over to all other areas of his game – namely, fielding and baserunning.   Twice yesterday, A-Rod went for – and reached – an extra base that put the Yankees in a better position to score.  The offensive onslaught is now helping him with the details of baseball, and what a complete player the Yankees have at third.

The pitching will return, I promise.  In the meantime, let’s enjoy watching history unfold in Pinstripes over the next 7 days.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 23, 2007

Deep Breaths…

Breathe, New York.  This weekend at Fenway was the Red Sox at their best, and the Yankees at their worst, and we were still in every game to the final pitch.  Basically, Boston can’t get any better as a team, and the Bombers have no where to go but up.  They threw their three guns at us – Schilling, Beckett, and Matsuzaka – and we tagged them each for 5+ runs (even without Matsui, Posada, and Damon on occaision).  An overworked bullpen due to an inexperienced rotation (due to injuries, as always) is the main concern at the moment – not the Red Sox.  We will get better as we get more healthy.

And as for A-Rod this weekend, even though Okajima and Papelbon won their ninth inning battles against him on Friday night and Sunday night, respectively, every Yankee fan in the world wanted him at the plate in those two spots.  Even on Saturday, it was awesome to hear John Sterling trying to game out what it would take to get A-Rod to the plate one last time, to give the Yankees a chance.  This is a huge amount of progress in terms of support for Alex, from both the media and us, the fans.  Let’s continue to stay positive – even after a weekend as dissapointing as this one – and the rewards will follow.

We all know Alex is capable.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 20, 2007

Ride the Wave

Think back to my original articles (Choose. Believe. Rise.) and compare the arguments made about belief, the power of positive thought, and the momentum of the media to some of these quotes from today’s sports pages:

“Watching Rodriguez walk to the plate in the ninth inning yesterday was sort of like watching Michael Jordan in his prime walk onto the court in the final minute of a tight game: You couldn’t help but feel that something big, something remarkable, was going to happen.”

- Barbara Barker, Newsday

“A confident person. A free-and-easy person, unburdened from all the soap operas and criticism (justified and not) that have dogged him from the day he put on the Yankee pinstripes for the first time in 2004. A year ago, it was as if he faced these game-on-the-line situations with dread. The bat was gripped tighter and all the while, the fear of failure was on his mind. Now it is as if he suddenly has a Reggie-like karma about him, welcoming the moment, relishing it.”

- Bill Madden, The NY Daily News

“For the second time this season, Rodriguez hit a two-out, game-concluding homer at the Stadium. This one, a three-run laser to center, culminated a stunning Yankees rally for an 8-6 triumph over Cleveland. Here is the amazing thing: It felt inevitable.”

- Joel Sherman, The NY Post

But my favorite quote from yesterday came from the skipper himself:

“All I know is I’ve never had a player with Alex’s ability.”

- Joe Torre, The NY Yankees

MORE ARTICLES:

Sky Might Not Be The Limit Anymore” – Mike Vaccaro, The NY Post

Red Hot A-Rod Awaits Red Sox” – George King, The NY Post

In the Ninth, A-Rod Again” – Mark Feinsand, The NY Daily News

A-Rod Has Been Cool Beans” – Mike Lupica, The NY Daily News

Walk-off HR and Walking On Air” – Anthony Rieber, Newsday

Yankees Newest Video: ‘A-Rod Gone Wild’” – Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 19, 2007

WALK THIS WAY!!! A-Rod Hits Second Walk-Off HR

For once, I am absolutely speechless.  Down by four, bottom of the ninth, two quick outs… then the Yankees begin a rally that eventually leads to A-Rod, and BOOM!  Game over.

We are witnessing greatness, New York.  Just comment – my words will not do justice to what happened today.

Posted by: JoeD2133 | April 18, 2007

GEAR UP: The Official T-Shirt (First Generation)

NOW AVAILABLE!!!  This was the only “green” that CafePress offers, but I think it matches the color most of you were requesting.  Be seen, be loud, and be heard – at the Stadium, or wherever you go.  SHOW YOUR SUPPORT for The Movement.

The Official T-Shirt (Front)The Official T-Shirt (Back)

Price: It would cost me $14.99 to buy from CafePress, so that is the price I’m offering to each of you.  Zero mark-up until our project gains some steam, then I will readjust so that we can generate some charitable profits.

Spread the word, and get this t-shirt to the Stadium – RISE.

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